This is a weekly column from Leitch.
It seems like less of a big deal this time, doesn't it? Each decade has its own personality and greatest-hits collection; the '90s were grunge and flannel, the '80s were cocaine and big hair, the '70s were key parties and disco, the '60 were hippies and astronauts. (Note: Previous sentence is somewhat of an oversimplification.) It doesn't feel like the 2000s have been going on long enough to develop that much of a personality. Or, more accurately: Too much has happened, in too short amount of time, to develop any sort of coherent takeaway. What are the "aughts" — such a terrible term — going to be known for? It's gonna have to be September 11, and everything that happened in its wake, isn't it? That's going to make for some real downers of retrospective clip shows: "Now THAT'S What I Call Terrorism!"
Obviously, What The Aughts Meant will dominate all news coverage pretty much from Columbus Day on, but I suspect they're going to have considerable trouble pulling together a single unifying theory for a retrospective that doesn't just show the World Trade Center on fire for two hours. (Though, of course, the World Trade Center was not actually on fire that long.) What else is there? Obama, Bush, Iraq, Google ... they all feel just like offshoots of the day, spinoffs, supporting characters. Also: We do so much instant analysis of everyday occurrences — Best Hour Ever! — that a recap of 10 years seems unnecessarily massive. Last week's news already seems like a rerun. Gary Condit? The AOL/Time Warner merger? Hanging chads? God, did we even have TV back then?
I love lists, and nostalgia, and snap remembrances of matters long forgotten. But I think this decade has been too much, and too little, for any of it. We all just adjusted to this decade arriving, and it's already almost gone. I don't know about you, but I'm hoping the 2010s are boring and inconsequential. I'd love a decade when the main debates were "Nirvana, or Pearl Jam?" or "Was Dan Quayle right about 'Murphy Brown?'" I'm not sure we handle Importance well anymore. There's too much Importance for anything to feel important anymore. Let's get this damn decade over already.
Mind you, it's possible that the Y2K virus destroyed all of humanity, and you all exist as simply my last spasm flicker of brain activity until the lights go out. That would explain a lot.
Hélio Castroneves. I know nothing about auto racing, obviously, so I have no idea if my assumption that Sasha Baron Cohen's character in Talladega Nights was based on Castroneves is true or not. But man, it should be, particularly considering the picture right there, taken after his win at the Texas Motor Speedway over the weekend. I can only guess that it was called the Yosemite Sam 500. Doesn't this seem like a character that will show up in Bruno?
Roger Ebert. The main reason I majored in journalism at the University of Illinois was because Roger Ebert had done it. My life goal was to be a film critic (I'm lamely still trying this), and I figured if I just did what Ebert did, I'd have a chance. It didn't work out that way, but Ebert's still a personal hero, and I remind again, you must check out what Ebert's doing over at his site. He apparently has decided to save the Sun-Times Media Group singlehandedly, reviewing everything in site and writing mammoth personal posts about great trips he's taken, the home he grew up in and death itself. Ebert is still recovering from thyroid cancer and cannot speak. He is channeling all his excess energy into his site and his writing, and the blessing is all ours. (He even responds to people personally in comments.) Ebert's energy, wit and open-heartedness is a gift, and one you almost feel bad about him wasting my having to sit through My Life In Ruins. I remain optimistic, and positive, that Ebert's going to live a long life and keep producing at an optimum level for many years to come. But you should still check out what he's doing, right now, and savor it. It's kind of an amazing thing. "I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris."
Roger Federer. Whenever Roger Federer does something great, like he did by winning the French Open on Sunday, sports commentators always point out that Federer is "underrated," or somehow unappreciated by the unwashed fan masses. There's a simple reason for this: Roger Federer has never been involved in any sort of scandal. This is the world we live in now. We invest more interest and gravitas in a Kobe Bryant, or a Charles Barkley, or a Barry Bonds, because they're trouble: They're neurotic and weird and dangerous and vaguely out of control. We find ourselves hating them in spite of their success, and because of it: Their failings at normal human activities attach weight and importance to their athletic prowess. It's fun to boo Kobe, and when he succeeds, he gives us all something to talk about it, allows us to mutter "oh, we know what happened in that hotel room" when he's winning yet another championship. Federer doesn't give us any of this. He's just methodically brilliant and overpowering. Federer's never going to become a superstar in the United States until he kills a drifter. 'Tis the price of fame. If only he had decapitated that guy who ran on the court Sunday.
Zach Galifianakis. If you made it out and saw The Hangover this weekend, you're aware of the most ridiculous, batshit insane hilarious performance since, I dunno, Nicolas Cage in anything. I giggled uncontrollably every time he showed up: By the midpoint of the movie, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had eaten a live chicken, right there on screen. (Considering what we see over the end credits, eating a live chicken would almost seem restrained.) Galifianakis is most famous these days for his standup, but I'd forgotten that he had a short-lived, heavily hyped talk show on VH-1 a few years ago. I remember seeing advertisements for it back then, and, like everybody else, said, "Who the hell's that guy?" and moved on with my life. It's probably because he didn't have a beard back then: Everybody's funnier with a beard. If you haven't seen this movie, you need to. Even if it doesn't have a sarcastic font.
Magic Johnson. All right, it's probably time to address Magic Johnson on ABC/ESPN/Hyperion's NBA Finals telecasts, isn't it? Listen, Magic's an inspiration for a lot of people — particularly those who have the money to cure their own HIV — and has done more with his life to help other people than I will ever, ever do. But man, is he ever horrible on television. The ongoing Magic As Media Superstar business was confusing even before his talk show disaster. It's worth remembering that disaster though, because it's still hilarious, a decade later. It's worth noting that the only clips of the show I can find anymore are the ones of Howard Stern's appearance. (I still can't believe Magic let Howard's "band" just fart on the air for five minutes. Yikes.) In that Bracketology book I keep referencing all the time, New York Times television writer Bill Carter talks about how there's something uniquely humiliating about having a talk show canceled because it's a direct refutation of the host as a human being and personality. If that's true, there was never a more definitive refutation of a personality than what the viewing public gave to Magic Johnson. And he doesn't seem to know anything about basketball anymore either! I mean, Stuart Scott is the second smartest guy on that panel ... and that's just insane. But hey: If the series keeps going as it's going, we all get to watch Magic hug Kobe and tell him how awesome he is over, and over, and over, in about four days. Fantastic. Maybe Howard Stern and the Losers can play then too. Magic: Every time you talk on television, you make us forget everything good you've ever done. Please stop.
Tony La Russa. I think Daulerio's still a little mad at me for stupidly "breaking" the news that La Russa was suing Twitter on my Tumblr page. I have no idea why I did that: Maybe I was subconsciously hoping ESPN would put "The Will Leitch Experience reports" on the crawl. (I want my Josh Elliot shoutout! Without Blog Buzz, bloggers are simply screaming into the nether! Before Blog Buzz came around, why did we ever bother?) Anyway, the excellent Ken Davidoff points out that La Russa is a free agent manager this offseason, and if the Cardinals keep offering up Khalil Greene, Yadier Molina and Nick Stavinoha as Albert Pujols' lineup "protection," La Russa might decide enough is enough. (I doubt this will happen, but it's something to talk about, anyway.) I still love the idea that the Yankees would fire Joe Girardi and decide to bring in La Russa. God, that would be such a shitshow, I'm almost curious to see it happen. La Russa would never stop punching Joel Sherman in the face.
Mike Locksley. In the offseason, Ron Zook's Illini lost assistant coach Mike Locksley, who became the head coach of New Mexico. It seemed like an odd move: Locksley was considered one of the top recruiters in the country, and one would have thought he could find a better job than all the way out in New Mexico. What was the deal? Well, it looks like the athletic directors of college football might have done some advance research: Within six months of being hired, Locksley lost his first big recruit and, more ominous, was sued for sexual harassment and age discrimination. No details have been released yet — which is a terrible way to get some wind at the back of your sexual discrimination lawsuit; come on, lady, think Woody Paige! — but Locksley says, "Change and transition is always tough on everybody." That's quite a first impression. By the time Locksley coaches his first game, I want him to have accused Wyoming coach Dave Christensen of "cheating" and, for good measure, impregnated a Lobo cheerleader. You're running the place now, Mike: You're under Zook's thumb no longer. Make it yours!
Nate McLouth. I absolutely cannot stop cracking up over the Pittsburgh Pirates' overheated reaction to the trade of Nate McClouth. As commenter BitterBuffal0 pointed out, the timing in the wake of Nick Adenhart's death is awfully suspect, but it's important to remember that baseball players spend six-seven months out of the year simply hanging out with each other and, therefore, are completely batshit. This also explains the ridiculous facial hair baseball players come up with: There really isn't anybody around to say, "Uh, Ryan Franklin? That's not a good look for you." To those Pirates, it really was like Nate McLouth was dead, rather than a guy making $2 million and now playing on a team that actually does seem to care. (Even if there aren't that many more fans, really.) Though, to be fair, if you've ever tried to drive around Atlanta during rush hour, you can imagine how it would feel like you are, in fact, dead.
Ross Ohlendorf. I loved Tim Kurkjian's piece of Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, who is a genius, I guess. Well, a genius in the baseball way, which is to say: He can actually turn in a senior thesis, and he has heard of Bill James. Kurkjian's story is strange, because it's half a serious look at Ohlendorf's thesis' claims — that signing bonuses are, on average, a good deal for the team — and half human interest, "Holy crap, there's a smart baseball player!" story. I'm not sure I understand his study — by Ohlendorf's rationale, you should just give big bonuses to draft picks regardless of the individual player's circumstances because, hey, it has worked in the past! Also, there's a weird median/mode/norm difference that Ohlendorf just flatly ignores — but yes, I am proud of him nevertheless. For the record, Ohlendorf received a $280,000 signing bonus, right about the time he wrote that thesis.
Shinji Okazaki. Thanks to a goal by Okazaki — whose
club national team is the awesomely named "Blue Samarai" — Japan became one of five nations to clinch a spot in the 2010 World Cup over the weekend. (The others are The Netherlands, Australia, South Korea and host South Africa.) I can't believe it had slipped my mind that the World Cup was next year. We had so much fun around here live-blogging the 2006 World Cup, and it boggles my brain that it's already time to start thinking about the next one. We are just more than a year away from the first match, and other than the baseball-and-dads book I'm working on as we speak (early book plugs! Whitlock will be so mad!), I can't think of a better Father's Day gift than a one-way ticket to Johannesburg. If you think maybe South Africa might not be the most bitchin' place for the world's most massive sporting event, you can wait until 2014, when they have it in Brazil, where the women will be wearing less clothes. Like you, I've spent most of my life trying to figure out when I'm going to make it to South Africa. Finally, my chance. By the way: I watched the U.S. win over Honduras, and look! Freddy Adu is still alive. Good for him.