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Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker about how Netflix uses a ~70/30 combination of data and human judgment to determine their recommendations and what shows/movies to make.
Over the years, however, I've started to wonder whether Netflix's big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix's embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher ("House of Cards"), Jenji Leslie Kohan ("Orange is the New Black"), Ricky Gervais ("Derek"), John Fusco ("Marco Polo"), or Mitchell Hurwitz ("Arrested Development"). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company's programming, like "Marco Polo," hasn't seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, "House of Cards." In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here -- but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.
I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm," moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. "It is important to know which data to ignore," he conceded, before saying, at the end, "In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix." But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? "Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment," he told me later. Then he paused, and said, "But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense."
This reminds me of the situation in chess, where cyborg human/computer teams can beat computer- or human-only players in chess, although perhaps for not much longer.
Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of "freestyle chess," where humans can use any and all tools available -- most of all computers and computer programs -- to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that "man plus computer" is a stronger player than "computer alone," at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken's explanations are a bit dense for those who don't already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.
I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald's or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?Tags: chess games movies Netflix Tim Wu
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 1:08 pm PST
From the newly launched site for the National Audubon Society, some gorgeous photos of owls from Brad Wilson.
Brad Wilson photography
It's not easy to get owls to mug for the camera. Even in captivity the birds remain aloof, unruffled by the flash and unmoved by attempts to bribe them. Photographer Brad Wilson learned that lesson firsthand after trying to win over owls from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis and The Wildlife Center near Espanola, New Mexico. He spent hours with each bird, trying to capture its direct gaze. "It's hard to get animals to look at you like humans do," he says. "That shot became my holy grail."
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 11:39 am PST
The producers of A Most Violent Year, one of the year's most acclaimed movies, are doing something interesting to promote their film. They're running a blog that posts all sorts of media and information about NYC in 1981, the year the film is set. Today, they released a short documentary that features interviews with some people who were scraping together lives in NYC circa 1981. It's worth watching:
Featuring Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, performance artist and former Warhol Factory fixture Penny Arcade, actress Johnnie Mae, Harlem street-style legend Dapper Dan, auto body shop owner Nick Rosello, and trucking union rep Wayne Walsh.
The trailer for A Most Violent Year is here...I've heard good things about this one and hope to catch it soon.Tags: A Most Violent Year crime movies NYC video
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 10:25 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 30 Jan 2015 | 9:44 am PST
From Marginal Revolution University, three short videos on the economic concepts of supply, demand, and equilibrium using oil as an example good.Tags: economics video
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 8:39 am PST
This is an ultra-HD time lapse of planet Earth in infrared. Infrared light is absorbed by clouds and water vapor, so the result is a sphere of roiling storms and trade winds.
Here's a video with both hemispheres at once and another offering a closer view. If you've got a 4K display, this will look pretty incredible on it. James Tyrwhitt-Drake has done a bunch of other HD videos of the Earth and Sun, including Planet Earth in 4K and the Sun in 4K.Tags: astronomy Earth James Tyrwhitt-Drake time lapse video
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 7:34 am PST
Administrators at Palm Desert High School in California have banned 66 students who never got measles vaccinations.
"I think some parents see it as a personal choice, like homeschooling. But when you choose not to vaccinate, you're putting other children at risk." From WaPo: Why this baby's mom is so angry at the anti-vaxxers.
"I respect people's choices about what to do with their kids, but if someone's kid gets sick and gets my kid sick, too, that's a problem." A Marin County father has demanded that his district keep unvaccinated kids out of school.
Vox: How an Amish missionary caused 2014's massive measles outbreak.
Bonus tweet: "If my kid can't bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn't be able to bring preventable diseases."medicine science vaccines
Source: kottke.org | 30 Jan 2015 | 6:37 am PST
In the tradition of the 80-minute video of the South China Sea shot from the bow of a container ship, here's six high-definition hours of 8000 fish and other aquatic animals swimming in the massive Ocean Voyager tank at the Georgia Aquarium.
Are you relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxed? (via @riondotnu)Tags: video
Source: kottke.org | 29 Jan 2015 | 8:53 am PST
A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, an apt word because the flocks move like a rumor pulsing through a crowded room. This is a particularly beautiful murmuration observed in Utrecht, The Netherlands.Tags: video
Source: kottke.org | 29 Jan 2015 | 7:51 am PST
Clive Thompson writes about the newest innovation in junk mail marketing: handwriting robots. That's right, robots can write letters in longhand with real ballpoint pens and you can't really tell unless you know what to look for. Here's a demonstration:
Clive Thompson robots video
But it turns out that marketers are working diligently to develop forms of mass-generated mail that appear to have been patiently and lovingly hand-written by actual humans. They're using handwriting robots that wield real pens on paper. These machines cost up to five figures, but produce letters that seem far more "human". (You can see one of the robots in action in the video adjacent.) This type of robot is likely what penned the address on the junk-mail envelope that fooled me. I saw ink on paper, subconsciously intuited that it had come from a human (because hey, no laser-printing!) and opened it.
Handwriting, it seems, is the next Turing Test.
Source: kottke.org | 28 Jan 2015 | 2:39 pm PST
I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.
Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)Tags: Anthony Bourdain Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown food Iran travel TV
Source: kottke.org | 28 Jan 2015 | 1:41 pm PST
Unreal Engine 4 is the latest edition of Epic Games' acclaimed gaming engine for creating realistic gaming worlds. UE4 and its predecessors power all sorts of games, from Gears of War to BioShock Infinite to iOS games. But level designer Dereau Benoit recently used UE4 to model a contemporary Parisian apartment and damn if it doesn't look 100% real. Take a look at this walkthrough:Dereau Benoit Unreal Engine video video games
Source: kottke.org | 28 Jan 2015 | 11:08 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 28 Jan 2015 | 10:15 am PST
In their latest full episode, Radiolab examines the concept of worth, particularly when dealing with things that are more or less priceless (like human life and nature).
This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.
I have always really liked Radiolab, but it seems like the show has shifted into a different gear with this episode. The subject seemed a bit meatier than their usual stuff, the reporting was close to the story, and the presentation was more straightforward, with fewer of the audio experiments that some found grating. I spent some time driving last weekend and I listened to this episode of Radiolab, an episode of 99% Invisible, and an episode of This American Life, and it occurred to me that as 99% Invisible has been pushing quite effectively into Radiolab's territory, Radiolab is having to up their game in response, more toward the This American Life end of the spectrum. Well, whatever it is, it's great seeing these three radio shows (and dozens of others) push each other to excellence.Tags: audio death economics podcasts Radiolab
Source: kottke.org | 28 Jan 2015 | 9:47 am PST
Being an avid eater and cooker of steak,1 a passage at the end of Tom Junod's profile of Wylie Dufresne / obit of WD-50 caught my eye:
"That's why I'm really proud of what we did here," he said over his cup of sake. "I'm proud of the big things, but I'm also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked."
"The advantage of sous vide," someone said.
"But it wasn't sous vide!" Dufresne said. "That's the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds ... And so that question you asked me before, about food and music -- that's my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be 'When the Levee Breaks,' but it's definitely 'Achilles Last Stand.'"
I couldn't recall hearing about this fast flipping technique from the many pieces Kenji Lopez-Alt has published about how to and how not to cook steak, so I pinged him on Twitter. He responded with Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times For Better Results.
Let's start with the premise. Anybody who's ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there's one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it's to not play with your meat once it's placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.
The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking -- as often as every 30 seconds or so -- will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!
It works for burgers too. Thanks, Kenji!
Although honestly, I eat and cook steak a lot less than I used to. Burgers too. A belly full of steak just doesn't feel that good anymore, gastronomically, gastrointestinally, or environmentally. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and especially seafood. Actually, I'm not really trying...it's just been working out that way. I still really like steak, but it's almost become a special occasion food for me, which is probably the way it should from a sustainability standpoint. ↩
Source: kottke.org | 28 Jan 2015 | 7:38 am PST
A bit late for today, but for future snow day reference, here's a crowdsourced map of good places to go sledding in NYC.
(via @alainabrowne)Tags: maps NYC
Source: kottke.org | 27 Jan 2015 | 1:57 pm PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 27 Jan 2015 | 10:42 am PST
Wyatt Hull is a designer and photographer who has had this idea kicking around in his head for a while: a wall calendar that uses the signs of the Zodiac (Capricorn, Libra, Pisces) as the "months". Hull has turned this idea into a labor-of-love personal project on Kickstarter, the Astrologicalendar.
I admit to being initially skeptical when I first heard about the project because the pseudoscience of horoscopes have given the Zodiac a bad name. But after trading emails with Hull and watching the video, I was persuaded because 1) this doesn't have anything to do with horoscopes (aside from the winking references to Mercury being in retrograde); 2) the Astrologicalendar simply trades one arbitrary measure of a year's time (the Gregorian calendar) for another (the Zodiac); and 3) and the calendar itself is a beautiful design object. The calendar runs from Aries 2015 (Mar 21) to Pisces 2016 (Mar 20) and each page features an aerial photograph taken by Hull superimposed with a simple star chart of the corresponding constellation...no woodcut fish or crabs to be seen.
In addition to single calendar orders, Hull is also offering bulk orders (2, 5, or 10 calendars at a time), signed 12x12" and 20x20" prints, and even a personalized calendar with custom photography and important dates. Astrologicalendar is a fun and unusual way of contemplating the passage of a year; head on over to Kickstarter and get yours today.
Thanks to Astrologicalendar for sponsoring kottke.org this week.
Source: kottke.org | 27 Jan 2015 | 9:00 am PST
Related to my post last November about how the biodiversity of Yosemite Valley was mismanaged, author Michael Crichton shared a story at a 2005 talk about how the National Park Service has grossly mismanaged nature at Yellowstone National Park, resulting in less biodiversity, the disappearance of many natural species from the park, and catastrophic fires. Since this anecdote was part of a longer talk, I'll quote the whole thing from the transcript.
Long recognized as a scene of great natural beauty, in 1872, Ulysses Grant set aside Yellowstone as the first formal nature preserve in the world. More than two million acres, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. John Muir was very pleased when he visited in 1885, noting that under the care of the Department of the Interior, Yellowstone was protected from, quote, "the blind, ruthless destruction that is going on in adjoining regions."
Theodore Roosevelt was also pleased in 1903, when as President, he went to Yellowstone for a dedication ceremony. Here he is. This was his third visit. Roosevelt saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote and many thousands of elk. He wrote at that time, "Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred."
But in fact, Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the Park Service acknowledged that whitetail deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.
What they didn't say was that the Park Service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting the animals for decades, even though that was illegal since the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew best. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.
What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error, but to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then, it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years, the number of elk in the park exploded. Here you can see them feeding them hand to hand.
Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals on his visit, and he'd noticed that the elk were more numerous than in his previous visit. Nine years later, in 1912, there were 30,000 elk in Yellowstone. By 1914, there were 35,000.
Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and although they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. Bears were increasing in numbers, and moose and bison as well.
By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and he urged scientific management, which meant culling. His advice was ignored. Instead, the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.
In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn't predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.
Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they're quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.
The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.
Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.
Now, we're in the 1970s, and bears were recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged in the park. Here're people coming to watch bear feedings. There's a show at a certain hour of the day. And here's one of my favorites. Setting the table for bears at Lake Camp in Yellowstone Park. You see they're very well behaved.
But that didn't actually continue-the good behavior, I mean. There were more bears, and certainly there were many more lawyers, and thus the much-increased threat of litigation, so the rangers moved the grizzlies out. The grizzlies promptly became endangered. Their formerly growing numbers shrank. The Park Service refused to let scientists study them, but once they were declared endangered, the scientists could go back in again.
And by now, we're about ready to reap the rewards of our 40-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear and all that. The Indians used to burn forests regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every year. But when these are suppressed, branches fall from the trees to the ground and accumulate over the years to make a dense groundcover such that when there's a fire, it is a very low, very hot fire that sterilizes the soil. In 1988, Yellowstone burned, and all 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.
Then having killed the wolves, having tried to sneak them back in, they officially brought the wolves back. And now the local ranchers screamed. The newer reports suggested the wolves seemed to be eating enough of the elk that slowly, the ecology of the park was being restored. Or so it is claimed. It's been claimed before. And on and on.
Update: As Crichton notes above, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995 and their presence started what's called a trophic cascade. From Wikipedia:
Trophic cascades occur when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter traits (e.g., behavior) of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is a herbivore). For example, if the abundance of large piscivorous fish is increased in a lake, the abundance of their prey, zooplanktivorous fish, should decrease, large zooplankton abundance should increase, and phytoplankton biomass should decrease. This theory has stimulated new research in many areas of ecology. Trophic cascades may also be important for understanding the effects of removing top predators from food webs, as humans have done in many places through hunting and fishing activities.
In a TED talk, George Monbiot explains the surprising effects the wolves had on Yellowstone...they even changed the courses of the rivers flowing through the park.
Fascinating. A sort of trickle down ecology. (via @gasperak and several others)Tags: Alston Chase George Monbiot Michael Crichton Yellowstone National Park
Source: kottke.org | 27 Jan 2015 | 8:20 am PST
This will really appeal to a certain type of nerd: the complete archives of Popular Electronics magazine in PDF format. Popular Electronics was the most popular magazine about electronics for hobbyists and was published from 1954 to 1982. If you're interested in this, the rest of the American Radio History site is amazing as well.Tags: magazines
Source: kottke.org | 26 Jan 2015 | 12:42 pm PST
Using ice-penetrating radar and ice cores, NASA has been able to map the layers in the Greenland ice sheet.
This new map allows scientists to determine the age of large swaths of Greenland's ice, extending ice core data for a better picture of the ice sheet's history. "This new, huge data volume records how the ice sheet evolved and how it's flowing today," said Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and the study's lead author.
Greenland's ice sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth, containing enough water to raise ocean levels by about 20 feet. The ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and warming temperatures will mean more losses for Greenland. Scientists are studying ice from different climate periods in the past to better understand how the ice sheet might respond in the future.
One way of studying this distant past is with ice cores. These cylinders of ice drilled from the ice sheet hold evidence of past snow accumulation and temperature and contain impurities like dust and volcanic ash that were carried by snow that accumulated and compacted over hundreds of thousands of years. These layers are visible in ice cores and can be detected with ice-penetrating radar.
Ice-penetrating radar works by sending radar signals into the ice and recording the strength and return time of reflected signals. From those signals, scientists can detect the ice surface, sub-ice bedrock and layers within the ice.
New techniques used in this study allowed scientists to efficiently pick out these layers in radar data. Prior studies had mapped internal layers, but not at the scale made possible by these newer, faster methods. Another major factor in this study was the amount of Greenland IceBridge has measured.
It's amazing that the detectors and data analysis are sensitive enough to pick out different layers in the ice just from radar. (via @ptak)Tags: Greenland NASA science video
Source: kottke.org | 26 Jan 2015 | 11:15 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 26 Jan 2015 | 10:04 am PST
From the Russian Space Agency, a video of what the sky would look like if the Sun were replaced by some other stars. It starts off with the binary star system of Alpha Centuri, but watch until the end for Polaris, which has a radius 46 times that of the Sun.astronomy remix science space Sun video
Source: kottke.org | 26 Jan 2015 | 8:34 am PST
Removal of items from US National Parks is illegal (or at least highly frowned upon). In the case of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the removal of petrified wood has come to be seen by some as unlucky. Bad Luck, Hot Rocks is a book and web site containing "conscience letters" from those who are returning stolen rocks to the park.
Tags: Petrified Forest National Park photography
In the more than one hundred years since its establishment in 1906, however, some visitors have still been unable to resist the urge to remove wood from the park. Some of these same visitors eventually return their ill gotten souvenirs by mail, accompanied by 'conscience letters.' The content of each letter varies, but writers often include stories of misfortune, attributed directly to their stolen petrified wood. Car troubles. Cats with cancer. Deaths of family members. For many, their hope is that by returning these rocks, good fortune will return to their lives. Other common themes include expressions of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and warnings to future visitors.
Source: kottke.org | 26 Jan 2015 | 7:25 am PST
Amazon has compiled a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime "to create a well-read life". Lots of the usual suspects here, including Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But there are also some quirkier and more recent picks like A Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Fault in Our Stars, and Unbroken. Went through and counted...I've read 29 of these.Tags: books lists
Source: kottke.org | 23 Jan 2015 | 1:23 pm PST
If you'd like to relax for 80 minutes, watch this 4K video shot from the bow of a container ship navigating the South China Sea. Strangely compelling.
If you put this on the biggest, highest definition screen you have, it really looks like you're on the deck of a ship looking out at the ocean. Pretty cool.Tags: video
Source: kottke.org | 23 Jan 2015 | 10:23 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 23 Jan 2015 | 9:28 am PST
All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show's wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here's the press release.
"We're incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off," said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. "Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew."
Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.
Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions...$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent...if you're not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.Tags: Amazon Transparent TV
Source: kottke.org | 23 Jan 2015 | 8:24 am PST
Matchbook Diaries is an Instagram account collecting photos of NYC restaurant matchbooks. Some notables:
Tags: food NYC photography restaurants
Source: kottke.org | 23 Jan 2015 | 7:50 am PST
The food is fresh. Natural. Locally sourced. Sometimes even organic. That might sound like your local farmer's market, but it's actually part of a new and growing movement in the fast-food industry. Think Shake Shack, Chipotle, Panera. While we're not exactly seeing tractors in the drive-thrus, the rise of these chains (and the pressure on their predecessors that placed a lot more emphasis on the fast than the food) tell us a lot about economic inequality, the modern workday, and fries. From The New Yorker's James Surowiecki: The Shake Shack Economy.economics food James Surowiecki Shake Shack
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 3:38 pm PST
Someone called TolkienEditor has cut the three Peter Jackson The Hobbit movies down into a single 4-hour film and put the result up on BitTorrent. Their goal was to make the film hew more closely to the book, put the focus back on Bilbo as the main character, and to quicken the pace of the narrative.
The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.
The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.
I enjoyed PJ's The Hobbit, particularly the second one, but my main criticism was the lack of focus on Bilbo. I couldn't rustle up any interest in the dwarves or their quest...they were a bunch of ex-rich dudes trying to get their money back. Bah! Martin Freeman was an amazing Bilbo and we just didn't get enough of him. (via @tcarmody)books J.R.R. Tolkien Martin Freeman movies Peter Jackson The Hobbit
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 2:23 pm PST
A bloom of Noctiluca scintillans, a large, green marine dinoflagellate that exhibits bioluminescence when disturbed, was captured in photos made earlier today in Hong Kong, with a long exposure showing an eerie glow along the seashore. The luminescence, also called Sea Sparkle, is triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye. Noctiluca itself does not produce neurotoxins like other similar organisms do. But its role as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of toxins in the food chain, according to R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University.
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 22 Jan 2015 | 1:58 pm PST
What if the Busy Busy Town Richard Scarry wrote about was Silicon Valley circa 2015? Meet the fine citizens of Business Town. Great stuff, but did someone forget to credit Ruben Bolling's comic strip Richard Scarry's 21st Century Busy Town Jobs for the inspiration?Tags: books remix Richard Scarry
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 1:07 pm PST
As you know, I love videos of how stuff is made. (See below.) Well, I just discovered this treasure trove of more than 300 14-minute videos from a Japanese show called The Making: playlist #1, playlist #2. Each video shows how a different thing is made, from wires to sugar to trophies to cheese and all of them are dialogue-free. Here's the one on how golf balls are made:
I can't wait to show some of these to the kids. Their favorite online video, which they request weekly, is this one on how croissants are made.
When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I watched this program on PBS that showed how a snack food manufacturer came up with a new snack food, from design to manufacturing. The thing that stuck with me the most was that they showed a number of the missteps in-between...like they tried a certain shape with a certain filling and it didn't work out in taste tests, that sort of thing. I LOVED seeing that trial and error in action. I only saw the show once, but it's one of my most vivid childhood TV memories. Maybe it's why I ended up becoming a designer?
Wait, wait! Holy shit, holy shit! I found the show! It was a NOVA program called How to Create a Junk Food that aired in 1988, when I was 14. I couldn't find the video or even a clip, but here's a review in the LA Times.
The ultimate weapon is the flavorist, a 20th-Century alchemist who analyzes natural things like Danish blue cheese or barbecued beef, reconstructs them chemically in the lab and produces their essences to punch up the taste of bland fillings.
Marketing and technology co-produce a croissant-dough cone with a moist meat or cheese filling that appears perfect. But when they test it on the mouths of real consumers (English housewives), it's a bloomin' flop.
Undaunted, the technologists go back to their gizmos and test tubes. After doing such goofy things as gluing electrodes to a chewer's cheeks to get "chew profiles" of different fillings, they come up with a second prototype, Crack a Snack. The wheat-cracker wrapped "savory tube" is called a "triumph of food engineering," which, we're warned, if it is given the proper image, "there's little doubt we'll buy it."
New Scientist wrote about Crack a Snack around the same time.
So yeah, now you know I'm the sort of kid who gleefully watched food engineering documentaries on PBS at 14. But you probably already suspected as much. (via @go)Tags: how to video
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 12:16 pm PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 22 Jan 2015 | 11:12 am PST
American Museum of Natural History books Extraordinary Birds illustration museums NYC
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 9:15 am PST
Alastair Humphreys writes about making his living as an adventurer. But really, this advice works for anyone who wants to turn their hobby into a job. For instance, this list of reasons he's an adventurer is pretty much why I did the same thing with kottke.org almost 10 years ago.
- I love almost every aspect of what I do.
- I love being self-employed: the freedom and the responsibility and the pressure.
- I think I'm probably now un-employable.
- I love being creative.
- I appreciate that building a profile helps generate exciting opportunities. (And I have come to accept -- though not enjoy -- the weird world of relentless self-promotion that being a career adventurer requires. I remain uncomfortable with people praising me more than I deserve, and I continue to get very angry and upset with the inevitable haters that your self-promotion will attract.)
Notice I don't mention "going on adventures", because there are loads of ways to do that in life. Don't become a career adventurer solely because you want to go off on fun trips. There's easier ways to do that.
That third point is a real double-edged sword. I can't imagine what other job I would be even remotely qualified for other than this one. Feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net sometimes. (via @polarben)Tags: Alastair Humphreys kottke.org working
Source: kottke.org | 22 Jan 2015 | 7:03 am PST
Stephen Biesty is a illustrator for books who draws "illustrations that are unrivaled for their ambitious scope and attention to detail". I love this but somehow I hadn't seen any of his apparently quite popular books. Many of them appear to be out of print, but there are some available on Amazon: Stephen Biesty's Incredible Cross-Sections, Stephen Biesty's Incredible Everything, and Into the Unknown.
Looking through these illustrations and also thinking about Richard Scarry's books, I'm reminded of the intricate cross-sections from Wes Anderson's movies. For instance, the boat from The Life Aquatic:
Biesty's first book with this illustration style came out in 1992, the same year a 23-year-old Anderson shot his first short film, Bottle Rocket. But the director's first real use of the cross-section didn't happen until The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, and even then it wasn't explicit...but the tour of the Tenenbaum house definitely felt detailed in the same way as Biesty's intricate cross-sectional drawings. I'm not the first person to draw parallels between Anderson's work and Scarry, but I wonder if Biesty is somewhere in there too. (via @aaroncoleman0)Tags: books movies Stephen Biesty The Life Aquatic The Royal Tenenbaums Wes Anderson
Source: kottke.org | 21 Jan 2015 | 4:23 pm PST
In early 2011, inspired by the widespread "Arab Spring" movements in countries across the Middle East, opposition groups in the small island nation of Bahrain rose up in a series of protests against the ruling Al Khalifa family. Within months, most of the demonstrations were violently broken up by government forces. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds were jailed. In the four years since, the pro-democracy movement has grown quieter but never died away. Jailed opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman awaits trial next week for "promoting political change using illegal forceful means and threats." Prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was just sentenced to six months in prison for "insulting a public institution" in a message sent out on Twitter. The tweet insinuated that Bahrain's armed forces served as ideological incubators for the jihadist ideals promoted by ISIS.
On the street, demonstrations continue sporadically, sometimes devolving into violent clashes—just yesterday, an activist was apparently shot in the face by security forces while protesting, an incident caught on video. Gathered here are images of Bahrain's continued uprising, taken over the past year.
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 21 Jan 2015 | 10:30 am PST
Paul Ford writes about how Greg Knauss scaled Paper's web site after they broke the internet with nude photos of Kim Kardashian.
Via email, Jacobs told Knauss that PAPER believed "they've got something that they think will generate at least 100 million page views, and will their current infrastructure support that?"
"This sort of cold thrill goes down my spine," Knauss said, "and the only thought that makes it out of my brain is, 'Eep.'"
He continued: "I reflexively begin designing the architecture in my head. It's a nerd impulse. Dogs chase after thrown balls, system administrators design to arbitrary traffic."
I love this article for a whole bunch of reasons (including that it's written by a friend about two other friends, one of whom is responsible for keeping kottke.org's servers going), but I was just talking about the burstable web scaling issue with a friend the other day. She was trying to make a reservation for a ferry. The reservations open for the entire season on a particular day at a particular hour and in a matter of hours, most (if not all) of the reservations are taken. And of course, their tiny web site and backend systems melts into a huge puddle that day, people can't get in, and everyone wastes 4 hours of their day trying to make a simple reservation. Basically, the ferry company needs to be Ticketmaster, but only for 3 or 4 hours every year. That's a weird problem and it's been an issue on the web since forever, and no one has solved it in an entirely off-the-shelf way. Someone get on this, riches await.Tags: David Jacobs Greg Knauss Kim Kardashian magazines Paul Ford WWW
Source: kottke.org | 21 Jan 2015 | 10:15 am PST
Last week, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on Yosemite's El Capitan. It's been called the most difficult climb ever completed. The NY Times has some good coverage of the climb, including an interactive feature/map of the wall and a 3.4 gigapixel zoomable photograph of the climb in progress. Here's a 3-minute video of Caldwell navigating Pitch 15, one of the most difficult sections of the climb:
"The crux holds of pitch 15 are some of the smallest and sharpest holds I have ever attempted to hold onto," Tommy wrote on his Facebook page. Four unique camera angles reveal those minuscule holds and the 1,300 feet of exposure under Tommy's precarious foot placements. While multiple pitches of extremely difficult climbing remained above, the completion of pitch 15 was considered the last major hurdle to the eventual success of this seven-year project.
It gets intense around 1:30. Jesus, my palms are sweating right now. I feel like I'm gonna pass out! (via @sippey)
Update: I totally didn't notice but several people pointed this out on Twitter: Caldwell only has 4 fingers on his left hand. He cut off his index finger with a table saw, got it reattached, and then removed again so it wouldn't hinder his climbing.1
And as if completing the most difficult climb in the world with only 9 fingers and discarding a finger to pursue a passion isn't quite enough for one life, Caldwell and some friends were captured by rebels while climbing in Kyrgyzstan. Caldwell helped save the group by pushing one of their captors over a cliff.
All the scheming comes to nothing, until at one point three of the rebels go away leaving a lone man in charge of the captives as they climb a steep ridge. Then, near the top ...
Tommy Caldwell: Our captor sees that the hillside is easing off and he starts to run ahead. He has been really scared this whole time on this cliff because he's not a climber. So I asked Beth if she thinks I should do this.
Beth Rodden: And at that point I just thought that this was our best opportunity.
Tommy Caldwell: So I ran up behind him and grabbed him by his gun strap and pulled him over the edge. We were probably about 2,000 feet (610 meters) above the river, but it's a cliff that is pretty sheer. We saw him fall 20 feet (6 meters), bounce off this ledge, and then fall basically into the black abyss below. I totally panicked. I broke down. I couldn't believe I'd just done that, because it's something that I never morally thought I could do and I never wanted to do. And Beth came up and, you know, gave me a lot of comfort as well as Jason and John.
Beth Rodden: I told him he'd just saved our lives and now we had this opportunity to run and hopefully find the Kyrgyz Army.
Reading that story makes my palms sweat almost as much as watching the video. Jesus.
Little known fact: there's a photo of Caldwell's severed finger next to the definition of "dedication" in the dictionary.↩
Source: kottke.org | 21 Jan 2015 | 8:52 am PST
Worth viewing larger...that's a 12-lane highway running through the center of this monster. (thx, bill)Tags: Dubai photography traffic
Source: kottke.org | 21 Jan 2015 | 8:12 am PST
In 1958, Fortune magazine published the first major essay by Jane Jacobs that laid out her case against modernist urban developers. Downtown is for People was the catalyst for the publication of Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities three years later.
Tags: architecture cities Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities
You've got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York's handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 2:13 pm PST
People ask me why I ski.1 A: Because sometimes it's as insanely fun as this guy makes it look.
He. Skis. THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN. Also, if you can, pause it right after he jumps off the lift platform...the kid on the lift with his dad is like ( ﾟoﾟ).
No one has ever asked me this. No one ever asks people questions like this. "People ask me..." is a phrase writers use to create a sense of an ongoing story. It's better than "This is a cool video"...you can only use that one so many times. ↩
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 12:38 pm PST
I've started posting more links to the @kottke Twitter account and including them on the front page of the site (pinned to the second post on the page). Read on for an explanation of why and where this is (maybe) going.
More than 12 years ago, before kottke.org became my full-time job, I made 2-3 posts per day. Maaaybe up to 5 on a good day. For whatever reason, in December of 2002 I started posting a bunch of links to the site every day. Like 10-12 per day...sometimes up to 20.1 The next month, I stuck that link blog in the sidebar of the site and called them "remaindered links". I kept at it, posting a few things to the main blog each week and dozens of remaindered links every week. Eventually, I pulled the remaindered links out of the sidebar and into the main column. The link descriptions became longer, I started pulling short quotes from the articles I was linking to, and eventually, these links became full-fledged posts. These remaindered links, these leftovers, they are kottke.org now.
The links gave the site a velocity it didn't previously have. I hadn't really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do kottke.org full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band...trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I've traded that velocity for quality (or, if you'd prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.2 That means there's a ton of very interesting but not-quite-right-for-whatever-reason stuff that I see but don't have time to share. And that's been frustrating me lately.
So, I've begun posting those extra links, those remainders, to the @kottke Twitter account. Then I pull those links in from Twitter and publish them to the front page of kottke.org. There's no permanent archive, I might stop at any time, they're not gonna show up in RSS, on Facebook, or on Tumblr, and there are no plans beyond what I've already done. I wanted to start with the simplest possible thing and see if it sticks or goes anywhere.
I do have a few ideas on where it could go, however. As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness? Using those new tools, 13 people built Instagram into a $1 billion company with millions of users. I'm not after billions, but I'd settle for making kottke.org sustainable in the future and not having to get a regular job again.
Anyway, your thoughts, questions, and feedback are always welcome.
I went to a conference once and posted 50-60 things a day. It nearly killed me. Now everyone routinely does this on Twitter. Tools matter.↩
I mean, interestingness is not the only criteria, but it's probably the most important one.↩
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 11:10 am PST
Every January, on Saint Sebastian Day, the streets of Piornal, Spain, fill with residents armed with turnips, seeking to punish the Jarramplas. The Jarramplas is a devil-like character portrayed by a man wearing a costume made from colorful strips of fabric, a frightening mask, and body armor underneath. In a centuries-old tradition, he walks the streets and beats a drum while residents throw turnips at him as a punishment for stealing cattle. The exact origin of the festival are not known, various theories exist from the mythological punishment of Caco by Hercules, to a cattle thief ridiculed and expelled by his neighbors.
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 20 Jan 2015 | 10:02 am PST
The idea behind the Flip Band is simple. It's a double-sided wristband you wear every day that reminds you to do just one thing, something important that you want to turn into a daily habit: call your folks, go for a run, do your homework, or brush your teeth. When you accomplish the task for that day, you simply flip over the band to the "feel good" green side. Mission accomplished! From the Kickstarter page:
Most people fail because they want to change too many things in their lives at once and as a result never really commit to any single change. Wearing a Flip Band forces you to focus on one change at a time. If you do this and end up forming one new good habit each month, you'll end up building 12 good habits per year... not bad.
I love the behavioral psychology at work here. When your task isn't done for the day, the unflipped band sits there on the end of your arm, gently taunting you as you're working or pecking away at your phone. And then after you've done the thing, the flipped band is a little victory medal that gives you warm fuzzies throughout the rest of your day. Flip Band reminds me a bit of the idea behind Jerry Seinfeld's joke-writing calendar hack: small actions done daily can add up bigtime if you're using a prominent mindfulness enforcer.
So head over to Kickstarter and order your Flip Band today.
Thanks to Flip Band for sponsoring kottke.org this week.
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 9:22 am PST
This article attempts to explain, in great detail, what happens when you type 'google.com' into your browser and press enter.
To pick a zero point, let's choose the enter key on the keyboard hitting the bottom of its range. At this point, an electrical circuit specific to the enter key is closed (either directly or capacitively). This allows a small amount of current to flow into the logic circuitry of the keyboard, which scans the state of each key switch, debounces the electrical noise of the rapid intermittent closure of the switch, and converts it to a keycode integer, in this case 13. The keyboard controller then encodes the keycode for transport to the computer. This is now almost universally over a Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Bluetooth connection, but historically has been over PS/2 or ADB connections.
An I, Pencil for the internet age.Tags: Google WWW
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 7:31 am PST
Lucky Peach, the publishing arm of the Momofuku restaurant group, recently launched their new web site with a bunch of online content. Among their offerings is a series of videos featuring David Chang making various foods, including this omelette flavored with an instant ramen seasoning packet:David Chang food Momofuku video
Source: kottke.org | 20 Jan 2015 | 6:13 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 19 Jan 2015 | 10:01 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 16 Jan 2015 | 8:50 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 15 Jan 2015 | 1:31 pm PST
Deep in Brazil's Amazon jungle, more than a hundred miles from the nearest city, stands South America's tallest structure, the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO). Reaching 325 meters (or 1,066 feet) into the sky above the trees, the ATTO is taller than the Chrysler Building or the Eiffel Tower.
Built in a collaboration between Germany's Max Planck Institute and Brazil's National Institute for Amazon Research, the tower will be equipped with high-tech instruments and an observatory to monitor relationships between the jungle and the atmosphere beginning in July. According to the institutes, ATTO will gather data on heat, water, carbon gas, winds, cloud formation and weather patterns.
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 15 Jan 2015 | 9:13 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 14 Jan 2015 | 11:01 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 13 Jan 2015 | 9:44 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 11 Jan 2015 | 11:26 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 9 Jan 2015 | 9:38 am PST
On this day 102 years ago—January 8, 1913—a photographer in
Wuppertal, Barmen [Eds note: Barmen merged with other nearby towns in 1930 to become Wuppertal], Germany, captured this image of the unique suspension railway that runs through the town, with cars hanging above the Wupper River. The 13 km rail system known as the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn had just been completed 12 years before, and became well-used by locals—by 1925 the company claims it had transported almost 20 million passengers. The Schwebebahn is also famous for an incident in 1950, when a young circus elephant named Tuffi was given a ride as a stunt. Tuffi apparently was not a fan of the railway, causing a ruckus on board that led to her falling out a window, dropping 12 meters to the river below. Tuffi survived with just a scrape, living to the age of 43. The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn remains in operation to this day, carrying around 25 million passengers a year. See a current Google Maps street view version of the photo below.
[Editor's note: This is the first of a new semi-regular series called "On This Day" at The Atlantic's new Photo section. From time to time, I'll be posting single images from the archives, taken on the same calendar date some time in the past.]
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 8 Jan 2015 | 10:41 am PST
Sometimes in the afternoon, or in the evening if a shoot goes long, the stuntman and self-described truth-seeker Reuben Langdon will make a cup of something called Bulletproof coffee. The drink — developed by the Silicon Valley millionaire and biohacker Dave Asprey — consists of black coffee, two tablespoons of butter, and two tablespoons of MCT oil, which Langdon describes as a high-grade coconut oil “that does good things for your brain.” He used to get raw butter, but has since switched to Kerrygold, which is sourced from grass-fed cows in Ireland, after he learned that the raw butter in California showed low-level traces of radiation from the Fukushima fallout.
Langdon can flip, tumble, and fall from heights of 30 feet on demand. Some of his stunts play out in the real world, though most take place in virtual ones through a process called motion capture, wherein physical movement is abstracted into lines, curves, dots, and data later used to animate 3-D models.
Unlike Andy Serkis, a mocap performer who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and has become practically synonymous with the idea of the actor you know without seeing, Langdon is a subcultural figure, someone whose name doesn’t mean much to most people but means a lot to a few. His résumé is a mosaic: bit parts and star turns, candy commercials and blockbusters. He has worked on projects as marginal as Latin Dragon1 and as big as Avatar, where he did motion-capture stunts for the movie’s hero, Jake Sully. Much — if not most — of his work is in video games. A lot of what he does now didn’t exist when he started out, and a lot of the work he did starting out has taken on the rosy glow of a bygone era, where real-live superheroes risked all for the dazzle of a good take. Trace Langdon’s career and you see a shift from people being people to people being machines, from one performer doubling another to one performer standing in for a multiplicity of roles, outfitted in pixelated skins taken from digital libraries like shirts in a closet. Langdon is thoughtful about his work but doesn’t trip on it. “Just think of it as the evolution of makeup,” he says.
He and I are standing in the kitchen of Just Cause, a media and production company Langdon cofounded in 2001, run out of a warehouse just south of Venice. I have driven out from Alhambra to see a mocap shoot for an upcoming movie, but the shoot, it turns out, is so red-taped that not even Langdon is entirely sure what it is. “Usually the video-game guys are more secretive than the movie guys,” he says, but that’s about it. Instead we make Bulletproof and bide our time.
Langdon is 39 but treats age as a flexible condition. Sometimes he seems 90; a placid, monklike presence who speaks of the universe’s interconnectivity as though it were a truth so settled in him not even death could shake it. Then, suddenly, he is 12, discussing what he thinks is cool about spaceships or what might make a fight sequence even more awesome, his voice dropping into the campy exaggerations of kung fu. Though his face is almost never shown onscreen, it is handsome and matter-of-fact, like a falcon’s. Witness his headshots, where his red-blonde hair is styled to make it look as though he has just swooped in through an open window.
Bulletproof is not what I expect from coffee, or what I want, really. It dulls all the bitterness and edge. It is beyond coffee, or maybe uncoffee, but I drink it because Langdon made it for me and because I trust him to have at least a few interesting ideas about the future.
Langdon grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, where he fell in love with a cartoon called Robotech. The show, which aired for three months in 1985, told the story of a series of wars between planet Earth and a race of humanoid aliens called the Zentraedi. Langdon liked Voltron fine, but it was Robotech that touched his heart. “They had relationships, girlfriends,” he says. “It wasn’t Tom & Jerry. It wasn’t nonsense.” He pauses, then admits that it probably was still nonsense, but it was more salient nonsense, especially to an elementary-schooler wondering if all the crazy feelings he was feeling were what other people were feeling, too.
One afternoon he was at a Star Trek convention when something in a vendor’s booth caught his eye: a TV screen, playing a show that looked like Robotech and felt like Robotech, but was dubbed in Japanese. He asked the man in the booth what it was. “Macross,” the man said, going on to explain that Robotech was more or less just the American version of this “Macross” thing, which was not from America at all.
A scattering of stars joined in constellation. “I realized that there was this one place that had everything I loved,” he says, “and it was called Japan.”
In high school, he enrolled in Japanese classes at the local community college and took a job at a duty-free store in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he scanned customers’ boarding passes for Japanese names and practiced conversation when one turned up. A couple of nice Japanese women he worked with even made him a sign, which he kept out on the register: Nice Young American Looking for Homestay Opportunities in Japan.
After graduation, he gathered his savings and bought a one-way ticket to Narita International Airport, outside Tokyo. It was the first time he’d been away from home.
He spent two days sleeping on airport benches and drifting through the terminals with a growing hunch that he had made some colossal error. On day three he reached out to a man at Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base in Kanagawa Prefecture — the only person who had responded to his sign at the duty-free. The base took him in and gave him work. “I was surrounded by Americans,” he says, “but at least I was in Japan.”
With the help of a Japanese sponsor, he managed to get an apartment in Tokyo, where he subsisted in part on modeling jobs. “It was a welcoming culture,” he says, “especially for a blond-haired white guy.” His goals then were simple:
His big break — or crack, at least — was on B-Fighter Kabuto, a Power Rangers–esque show in which otherwise ordinary people put on bionic suits and save the world in confusing, third-act bursts. Langdon played an exchange student named Mac Windy. In one scene, he materializes out of nowhere in the middle of a basketball game only to nail a bank shot in slow motion; in another, he eats a mountain of sushi while what sounds like a John Philip Sousa march plays in the background — a farce of the American golden boy. “It’s so bad,” Langdon says, adding, “it’s so good.”
Traditionally, Japanese action clubs — where young martial artists are trained, in part, to become aware of how to fight for the camera — expect loyalty from their charges. “If you work at Toyota, you’re a Toyota guy; if you work at Honda, you’re Honda for life,” Langdon explains by way of analogy. B-Fighter Kabuto made him a novelty, almost an accessory — “Mac Windy, token white guy,” he says. They were amused by him. (Langdon — professional without seeming slick and not above embarrassing himself for the sake of a joke — is genuinely amusing.) Though he’d never studied martial arts before, he was able to drift from school to school, cherry-picking ideas, dabbling without ever having to commit. “Luckily, they never beat me with sticks,” he says, without elaboration.
Langdon continued working in Japan, and eventually in Hong Kong, where his attitude toward the social hierarchy of the film business soured. “The director could be a complete asshole and piss on everybody, and it’d be OK,” he says. “But it’s not OK.” It was in Hong Kong that he met Takuya Shibata, his future partner at Just Cause. Together with a writer named Shotaro Suga, the three dreamed of breaking away and making a movie called Messengers, in which a hero … whose cells are encoded with top-secret information … has to fight his way from point A to point B for extraction … with immeasurable perils in between. If he were to die, the valuable code would die with him.
They loved the concept in part because it was a way to make action without guns, because, as Langdon explains, “in every action movie, we’re always looking for an excuse to fight without guns. In the modern-day world, there are guns, and pow, you’re dead.” Langdon seems only half-aware that the story’s conceit — of a person whose body becomes a shell for the transmission of data — mirrors his own life.3
Initially, motion-capture work was an expedient — a way for Langdon and Shibata to get the money and credentials to make Messengers the way they wanted to make it. Japanese video-game companies like Capcom had been drawing on Japanese movie stuntmen, later voiced by English-speaking actors; Langdon and Shibata figured the process could be streamlined. Efficiency was the goal; quality was almost a happy byproduct. “We wanted to make the process more cinematic,” Langdon says — less like video games, more like movies.
Langdon’s first mocap job was for a game called Resident Evil: Code Veronica for the now-defunct Sega system Dreamcast — part of an already popular series that combined complex puzzles with the brainless task of slaughtering zombies. Langdon did most of the motion capture for the game’s hero, Chris Redfield, described by the Resident Evil Wiki as a possible victim of post-traumatic stress disorder who cares deeply for the lives of innocents, and by one of the series directors more simply as a “blunt, tough-guy type.”4
The project used a system called magnetic capture, in which performers wore a suit covered with receivers that were connected by wire to a central transmitter, which created data by measuring the distance between it and the receivers. The transmitter was basically a giant radio, blasting powerful frequencies to everyone in range. “We could only be in the room for two or three hours,” Langdon says. “You’d feel like someone punched you in the face, or like you just woke up.”
Part of understanding motion-capture performance is understanding the nature of the media in which the performance is used. If you want to put an ostrich in a movie, you can go to a zoo and rent an ostrich. If you want to put an ostrich in a video game, you have to build an ostrich out of numbers. If movies use CGI and motion capture to make the experience more fantastic, video games started to use them to make it more realistic. Even with a rudimentary system like magnetic capture, the trace presence of a human body — its fluidity, its grace — was a way to trigger primal identification with a character (we wince when we see a good punch) and deepen the level of immersion one could have in a game overall.
Letoya B. Jackson, founder of the Reuben Langdon Fan Club on a popular community-driven art site called DeviantArt, says she first became familiar with Langdon through his role as a character named Dante in a game called Devil May Cry 3, which for her “was a big deal because other than Metroid, which I had played since I was younger, Devil May Cry was probably the first game series I got behind with learning the characters and canon without my boyfriend shoving it down my throat like he did with Final Fantasy 7 and 8, LOL.”
The game, which came out in 2005, was one of the first instances in which a motion-capture performer combined stunts, voice work, and what most people would call “acting” into a single character. The job made Langdon a star, at least contextually.5 “I knew it was an iconic character that I had to live up to,” he says, in part because the producers reminded him constantly. He remembers being told how to squat, how to point his toes — how, even, to position his thumb. The two of them — Langdon the person and Dante the character — have become yoked the way Adam West is with Batman. “It was an honor,” he says, “but I started liking being bad guys after that. There’s more freedom in being a bad guy.”
Part of Langdon’s rise as a personality has to do with the evolving values of video games in general, which over the course of the last 40 years have transformed from cute, non-narrative puzzles like Ms. Pac-Man and Q*bert into experiences that mimic the sweep and complexity of an epic film, or at least attempt to. (Meanwhile, more and more video games — including several Resident Evil titles — are somehow being reverse-engineered into feature films.) In some ways, Langdon met the industry at the moment it was ready for him. RESphenatic, another DeviantArt fan, says “every time we play a game now and the acting feels substantially more natural, we have him to thank.”
By the time he became Dante, Langdon was not only wireless, but could see himself as the animated character he’d end up being onscreen in almost real time — the philosophical identity split of all actors, rendered literal. “It’s like the early days of theater,” he says. “Performers and directors.” Imagination becomes paramount, limitless. In a sense, Langdon’s world is just an extremely high-dollar game of make-believe, where pillow forts become castles and anything is a car as long as people pretend to drive it. “On the post[-production] side, you can get somewhere unique and different,” he says. “But it’s still up to us to bring the room alive.”
It’s a few minutes before nine on a Saturday morning and Langdon is in Just Cause warehouse, running in place. Opposite him is a man named Vince Argentine, who is also running in place. Argentine stops running and begins doing neck rolls, and Langdon starts doing neck rolls, too. This goes on for another minute or so, members of another species locked in mimetic dance, trying to figure out whether they speak the same language.
Argentine is the senior motion-capture supervisor at Just Cause, and has worked with Langdon for about eight years. Today, Langdon will play a large white robot. Two other performers are there, as is a small production crew. Langdon is dressed in a tight synthetic suit and an Under Armour–like performance garment worn to, in the words of the mocap performer Aaron Toney, “keep things from getting too stinky.”
The performers — Langdon, Toney, and a wine barrel of a man named Seth Austin — walk into a dressing room, where they are studded with a series of hollow rubber balls called markers. The balls are about the size of standard-issue marbles, and are covered with reflective material that bounces LED light from mocap cameras back into the room, letting the cameras know where the performers are. Langdon, Toney, Austin, and Vince Argentine discuss where to place the spherical ones, which get clearer data and cost about six dollars apiece, and where to place the hemispherical ones, an older model that the performers joke about finding in the dryer.6
“Are you falling today?” Argentine asks, as Langdon is being outfitted.
“Yeah,” Langdon says. “I’m just a … ”
“Are you falling on your back or your front?”
Argentine gives Langdon a cool look and whispers the word damn.
The markers are held in place by Velcro, which is not a material I expect to see so much of in a room outfitted with a million dollars’ worth of infrared cameras. Still, it serves as a reminder that virtual worlds don’t exist without physical ones — sweat, muscle, gym mats, and trampolines. “Oh,” Argentine says, gesturing to his kingdom, “this whole place is Velcro.”
Most of the studio is taken up by a room called the volume, a 2,250-square-foot space with baffled ceilings and a low row of cameras — 96 in all — lining its perimeter. With their red LED lights on, the cameras look like robot flowers edging a lawn.
For the next 12 hours or so, Langdon, Toney, and Austin leap, tumble, and fall. Between takes, they discuss their beats: Who should punch where, how they should punch, how long a combo is too long a combo, and other sundries of performed battle. Occasionally, they shuffle to the sideline and pull out some action figures, modeling their moves the way 10-year-old boys might when daydreaming in their parents’ basement, before cartwheeling back into the volume like the real thing.
What emerges is the grace of chamber music, of movements that, when they fall, seem to fall exactly as they should, telegraphed by some higher balance and sense of symmetry. There is a beautiful moment in which Langdon, Toney, and the director, Ken Ohara, file down a sequence to a series of moves so perfect that it seems to slip directly into the pocket of the universe, and the three break into joyful laughter. This is one of the ironies of motion capture: What happens in the volume is often more amazing than what happens onscreen.
After lunch, I sit with Vince Argentine. Argentine grew up taking acid and hacking phones. He seems to intuit highly technical subject matter the way some people can play songs on the piano after hearing them once on the radio. I point to his motion trajectory curves, a series of data points that graph the performers’ movements in millimeters over time, and ask him what he sees. The short answer is “a lot”: when a performer hits something; whether they’re running, jumping, or at rest; whether their landings are hard or soft. Argentine, who speaks in the lunar drawl of someone who might occasionally forget what month it is, shrugs and says it’s basically like reading the Matrix. “I watch TV while I do it,” he says, his eyes locked on the screen, scanning for hiccups in data. “I have six monitors going. This one is TV, this one is trajectories, this one is downloads … ”
I ask about Reuben, at whose data Argentine has spent incalculable hours staring. “These other guys have very crisp movements,” Argentine says, gesturing into the volume. “Reuben tends to embellish a little more. His acting is” — he looks up in search for a word — “it’s a little more sarcastic.”
Then he shows me a model on another screen — this one a rough skeleton made of colorful polygons — and points to its knees: “He’s also bowlegged.”
Argentine sets Langdon’s skeleton in motion and toggles on a series of lines that create streamlike trails of where certain nodes on the body have been. We watch, momentarily hypnotized. The best is with breakdancing, he says, or ballet, which produce trails that look like blossoms.
At the panels Langdon hosts, we hear about UFOs, GMOs, time travel, chemtrails, astral projection, and a whole host of other subjects most people would not bring up with their employers.
One of the day’s last shots is of Langdon alone. Argentine locks him in and Ohara gives the cue. On action, Langdon begins his walk, a slow, lumbering march. He stops and pivots. The room is silent except for the sound of his voice, which makes a steady dzh, dzh, dzh — the gears of his limbs grinding to life as he crushes everything underfoot.
At some point I notice a grasshopper on the floor near the dressing room. How a grasshopper has made it into a warehouse in a light-industrial area near the Southern California coast, I don’t know. It is a weird animal to look at, legs too big and facing the wrong direction, pieced together by some tired god. Then I shift my foot, and the grasshopper springs what seems like an impossible distance into the air.
CGI is now so common that movies have started to promote their stunts as “CGI-free,” as though it were a food additive recently discovered to be cancerous. About 130 cars were destroyed in the making of a 2013 movie called Getaway, while Need for Speed — a video-game adaptation, incidentally — has inspired tough-guy headlines like “Need for Speed Kicks CGI to the Curb.”
In a well-publicized scene for Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise — not a stunt double — dangled outside a window of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 1,700 feet above street level.7 When asked at a press conference what was going through his mind as he swayed back and forth above the silence, Cruise answered, “I hope I don’t fall.”
At the heart of this bluster is a quest for reality. The late Hal Needham, who started his career on a billboard for Viceroy cigarettes and went on to become synonymous with the myth of the American stuntman, once told NPR that he thought CGI took the reality out of the experience. “I just can’t stand it,” he said. “Even as a director, I never did that stuff. We did it for real. I can look at it onscreen and go, ‘That’s B.S. That don’t work. You can’t do that.’ And so I lose all interest in the film.”
It’s a familiar complaint: Technology separates us once again from so-called “real” experience. Justin Lin, director of several movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, once told Screenrant.com that while he finds CGI to be a useful tool, “There is something very special and unique when you crash a car.”8
One morning, I call up an old-school stuntman named Diamond Farnsworth. Farnsworth is in his mid-sixties, and grew up as a cowboy in the Hollywood Hills, taking his first job at 18 on a Clint Eastwood–Lee Marvin movie called Paint Your Wagon. Since then, he has performed in a vast array of movies and TV shows, and for the past 11 years has served as a stunt coordinator on NCIS, for which he has been nominated for two Emmys. His father was a famous Western-movie stuntman turned actor named Richard Farnsworth, who once doubled Gary Cooper and rode a horse through the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races, later earning an Oscar nomination as the lead in David Lynch’s The Straight Story. His daughter, Courtney, does stunt work, too.9
Farnsworth’s narrative of movie history follows the arc of technology: horses first, then motorcycles, then cars. He remembers shaky rigs on the Disney backlot, “where they’d just string a cable from one end to another and whip you down there.” Work, then, was a kind of gamble: They wanted to be safe, but they were still just bodies, vulnerable and limited, riding on the backs of fast, uncertain things.
Farnsworth doesn’t have to worry about staking out territory anymore, and regards motion-capture work with the faint suspicion of someone on the homestead watching a stranger come into view over the hill. His one brush with it was in 1983’s Fire and Ice, which used an early form of mocap called rotoscoping. “You’re fighting nothing, you’re jumping over nothing, and then they put in this monster with computers. It was fascinating,” he says, adding, “but I felt like an idiot, jumping over a tail where there’s no tail.”
For Farnsworth, the story of motion capture is in part a story of loss. “In the original James Bonds, you’d have a great opening stunt,” he says. “There was a guy, doubling Bond, who skied off the mountains and kicked the parachute up.” His voice is wistful, as though he were watching the scene fade inside his head. Now, when he meets young people who ask him how they might one day become like Diamond Farnsworth, he gives them simple advice: “Go into computers.”
The stereotype of the stuntman is one of stoicism and resilience — a real-life crash-test dummy with the raw strength and psychological fortitude to stand in the line of danger. Their world is a perpetually exploding one, measured in milliseconds, and we recount their impossible feats the way we might the feats of a war hero.
And though synonymous with action, the work actually took shape in part through silent-era comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, whose performances didn’t accentuate the danger of the job or the bravery of its doers, but their dumb luck in the face of a world ruled by accident. Think of the symphonic confusion of Chaplin’s police chases, or of Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr., peeling himself off the ground in the middle of a windstorm and doing a couple of recalibrating neck rolls before the façade of a two-story house drops directly on him, spared only by the grace of an open window. The image isn’t one of the hero, but of the dope unequipped for the physical world — not a man of power but of comedic powerlessness.
Keaton called these stunts “cartoon gags” — gestures unmoored from character or narrative, whose exaggerations were played mostly for laughs. Reality had never been the point. Instead, it was something wilder and less tethered, a blurring of reality rather than a reinforcement of it — something, to borrow Argentine’s description of Langdon’s acting, more sarcastic.
And despite the precision and quant and rigor of mocap work, unreality remains the grail, the spark at the periphery that keeps viewers dreaming. At some point during my visit to the Just Cause shoot, the Tokyo team protests that a sequence is not quite right. It should be more tekunikaru, they say — more “technical.” Langdon turns to me to clarify. “They don’t mean technical technical. They just mean cool.”
It’s not until I am sitting next to Vince Argentine, watching a loop of Langdon’s robot falling after a virtual collision, that I realize that the director doesn’t appear on Argentine’s screen at all: Without markers, the camera doesn’t think he exists.
Above the urinal in Just Cause’s bathroom is a comic-book-style rendering of Ken Masters, a Street Fighter character whom Langdon has voiced in several video games. The picture is addressed to Langdon and autographed by Jo Chen, a celebrated Taiwanese artist who occasionally works on covers for Street Fighter comic books.
He still goes to Street Fighter tournaments sometimes, and mentions in passing the strange, secret joy of standing next to a competitor who doesn’t know that he, Reuben Langdon, is, in a way, Ken.
Langdon grew up playing the game as Ken, haunting the malls of Georgia in search of competition.10 He remembers the delirium he felt when he walked into an audition and realized what he was auditioning for. “I thought maybe I’d get to be Guile,” he says, referring to a lesser blonde-haired Street Fighter. He still goes to tournaments sometimes, and mentions in passing the strange, secret joy of standing next to a competitor who doesn’t know that he, Reuben Langdon, is, in a way, Ken.
The nature of Langdon’s work is that performers have to surrender the features that make them most recognizable. In another era, you can imagine the framed image on the wall as a photograph of Langdon, maybe a headshot, maybe of him standing with his arm draped around a fan, with his handwriting instead of Chen’s, hanging on the wall of a restaurant or the office of an admirer. Instead, the picture is Langdon’s, a gift from someone who helped illustrate a role that Langdon later brought to life.
Some days, Langdon is not only a star, but the extras, too. In the zombie game The Last of Us, he played so many characters that he no longer remembers them all. There was James, who takes a butcher knife to the neck after being discovered to be infected, and there was Joel, the game’s main character, whom Langdon didn’t voice or perform but did do stunt doubling for. And then there were the nameless hordes that, as Joel, you have to mow down on the way to safety. Langdon spent most of the day dying, a different death every time.
One afternoon about seven years ago, Langdon was doing laundry at his apartment complex in Glendale when he saw a cluster of lights in the sky. They looked like stars, he says, but in the daytime. He set his basket of clothes down and stared at them for about 30 minutes. One by one, they faded away.
Something so improbable would have to make the local news, he thought; maybe even national. Hours passed, then a day. Nothing. This is when Langdon became convinced, in a surge both of logical deduction and pure faith, that the only explanation for what he saw — and why he heard nothing about it — is that the lights belonged to UFOs.
“That’s when the door opened for me,” Langdon says, “but it’s not when I went through it.”
He started reading. The deeper he went, the more incontrovertible the evidence seemed. “You tell me,” he asks, arching his eyebrow. “What travels at Mach 10 and makes 90-degree turns?” He eventually joined up with an activist named Stephen Bassett, who has spent the last 20 years trying to end what Bassett, on his website, describes as “the 65-year government imposed truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.” In April 2013, he helped Bassett convene an event called the Citizens Hearing on Disclosure, in which six former members of Congress heard public testimony on the subject of extraterrestrial life for five straight days and from 40 different people, including a former employee of the British Ministry of Defence and two retired U.S. Air Force pilots who, in 1980, went into the woods to investigate some bright lights and came upon a triangular craft, which raised up and sped into the sky.
I first met Langdon in February 2014. At the time, he was about to leave for Atlanta to do live-action stunt work on Ant-Man, a movie that temporarily imploded in May and has shuffled its cast and crew dozens of times since. With time on his hands, Langdon began to look at his life. He started going into the forest, running in the hills, chopping wood. “Something shifted in my soul,” he says.
He has since relocated from Los Angeles to a house near the woods outside Atlanta, about 15 minutes from his old high school. For the moment, he has stepped away from the day-to-day work at Just Cause, though he still flies back for shoots and keeps in good touch with Shibata and the rest of the team. His attention has turned to more distant horizons. He spent several months hunkered down at a cabin near Big Bear Lake, east of L.A., helping edit a documentary called Truth Embargo, which contains footage from the Citizens Hearing. He has also been crisscrossing the country collecting material for a project called Interview With E.D., about people who channel beings from other dimensions.11
Between takes at Just Cause, we discuss whether the American spiritualist Ram Dass really gave acid to a Hindu guru (and whether the guru really didn’t feel anything); the experiments of the late Japanese entrepreneur Masaru Emoto, which posit that people can change the crystal structure of water by exposing it to positive or negative emotions; and a self-study book about spiritual transformation called A Course in Miracles, written by a medical psychologist at Columbia University who identified her inner voice as Jesus.
In October, I watch a two-hour-long interview with Langdon on a video-game chat show called Twin Galaxies Live. Langdon, who is accompanied by a bearded Englishman named Charles, spends most of the first hour talking about UFOs, getting deep into what he calls “the peanut butter.” Commenters in the side bar mock him, but Langdon remains good-humored. “If you don’t believe me,” he says, “just do some research.” He leans back in his chair, clasps his hands behind his head, and grins. The host seems by turns curious and terrified, admitting that one of the reasons she loves video games is that it gives her a place to bury her head away from all this complicated stuff. Later, Langdon asks if she ever meditates (she has, a little, but she struggles with ADHD), then, if she has ever eaten mushrooms. She shakes her head no and spins nervously toward the camera as though it might rescue her. Eventually, Langdon submits to video-game talk: Has he played this, has he played that, does he think that this particular iteration of a franchise redeemed the character or dulled it. He remains charming but becomes distracted. This is hacky-sack — fun enough, but neither here nor there.
Now, when Langdon appears at Comic-Con types of events, which happens with some regularity, he gives a two-part panel discussion called “Enter the Matrix,” in which he wades into these new worlds, one PowerPoint slide at a time. We start with a Scientific American article called “The Universe Really Is a Hologram, According to New Simulations.” Then comes a gloss on quantum physics, and an introduction to the idea that all experience is more or less projection. We hear about UFOs, GMOs, time travel, chemtrails, astral projection, and a whole host of other subjects most people would not bring up with their employers.12 Each panel is about four hours long. “I make sure everyone knows that this isn’t Devil May Cry or Resident Evil 5,” he says.
His aims are earnest but his sense of humor seems to have emerged intact. Describing his new calling, Langdon says he not only ended up walking through the door, “I fell down the stairs.”
The morning after the Just Cause shoot, Langdon and I meet on the patio of a vegan restaurant to pick through some details. Quickly we are in cloudier realms. He tells me the Holodeck isn’t here yet but we’re sure getting closer. He tells me his interest in extraterrestrials is partially just an extension of his interest in technology, in fuel efficiency, in the end of war and the mutual advancement of all peoples. Considering all of this, I want to know what his perspective is now on his work — on movies and video games, on the bang-up worlds of fantasy and action.
“There’s all this hoopla about how (video games) negatively influence our children,” he says. “Some people argue against it, some argue for it. I’d always felt like it didn’t matter. People should do what they want to do, and it doesn’t matter. Which is still the point of view I have now, but the difference between now and then is that I know that negativity does influence people. The intention, the fear that comes from zombies showing up and you killing them creates an emotion that I think the world has enough of.”
“You don’t think it’s released or defused by playing the game?” I ask.
“To an extent,” he says. Then he says that while he acknowledges that it’s only his personal belief (an acknowledgement he makes often), he thinks the universe is made entirely of frequencies — the brick wall next to us, the air around us, our emotions, our thoughts — and that negative feelings create negative frequencies that create physical negativity, a transubstantiation by which these hidden things — thoughts, feelings — cross the threshold into the real world.13
Whether Langdon is a visionary or a basket case is a question that can’t be answered. Society has a way of rounding off its edges. Less arguable is that Langdon is someone who seems built to evolve. Sometimes I picture him at 19, pacing back and forth across the floors of the Narita airport, lost, planless, unable to communicate, an even longer road ahead of him than the one behind. He could have reached for the big red button then, or melted into a puddle on the floor, but he pressed ahead. Some people are just free that way.
We talk for about two hours. Something unusual can happen to a person when they stare into another person’s eyes for a while. A deep end opens up, a landscape fathomless and weird and yet familiar, almost natal, a kind of suspended animation. I have this feeling that I don’t matter and he doesn’t matter either. What matters is us. Then a dog knocks over some dishes near the busing station and I am suddenly here again, in Santa Monica, where we’ve been all day.
Later, I think of something he told me back in February: “We can create volcanoes exploding, historical events, Transformers, robots destroying buildings falling from the sky, big tidal waves wiping out cities … but what’s lost [in motion capture] is that moment when the camera looks straight into the eyes of the performer. That has yet to be cracked.”
We parcel out the last of our shared tempeh scramble and our buckwheat-flax pancake and discuss the self-imposed burdens of being human. “A lot of times we go through life bouncing from one thing to the next,” he says, imagining ourselves to be victims of the circumstances around us. And while Langdon still acknowledges that those circumstances are real, he also feels as though the difference between now and then is that now he sees what creates them, what drives them, what makes them move the way they do. Life is more of a ride to him now, more of a video game.
“Typically, we’re driving around and we see from the driver’s seat,” he says. “But in a game, you pull out, and you have this — it’s not a POV, but it’s a third-person shooter. You’re actually pulled out behind the car. That’s when you can finally see the rest of the scene.”
Mike Powell (@sternlunch) is a writer living in Tucson, Arizona.
Source: Grantland » Features | 8 Jan 2015 | 7:03 am PST
Corey Linsley has a theory about offensive lines. He stumbled onto it this fall, in his first few weeks as the Packers’ starting center. The rookie from Ohio State took over in late August, when likely starter JC Tretter went down with a bum knee. After a few practices, Linsley started to notice that his new line seemed familiar. Actually, it looked just like his old one.
The Packers, in many ways, fit the same mold as the Buckeyes. Right guard T.J. Lang is Andrew Norwell,14 the game-day motivator, “the tough S.O.B.,” Linsley says. Jack Mewhort15 is right tackle Bryan Bulaga — the purebred, a casually talented early-round pick amid a collection of mid-round gems. Josh Sitton, Green Bay’s All-Pro left guard, is in quiet command, the steadying hand. That was Marcus Hall at Ohio State. And David Bakhtiari, well, he’s the cool guy. Bakhtiari has the hair; Taylor Decker had the tats.
As Linsley lays out his theory, four of the five Packers starters — Bulaga is still recovering from a concussion suffered against the Bills a few days earlier — are sitting at a table in the bowels of Lambeau Field. The loss to Buffalo was Green Bay’s roughest outing in months, but it was also the line’s best all season, proof that each week they were only getting better.
The hiccup in Linsley’s theory is that in this group, his own role is the only one he can’t place. Appealing to the crowd isn’t helping, either.
“I was about to say meathead,” Bakhtiari suggests, “but that’s Bryan.”
“I’d take meathead,” Linsley says.
“If you’re arguing to be the meathead,” Lang shoots back, “then you’re the meathead.”
Ted Thompson started scouting offensive linemen around the time Linsley was born. Yet after more than two decades, the Packers general manager has come to the same conclusion. “I think in my lifetime in football, offensive linemen, guys that you’ve been around, they’re all kind of the same,” Thompson says. “They’re like pack animals.”
The personalities may be similar, but as a whole, this collection of Packers stands apart. In July, Mike McCarthy said it had the chance to be his best line in nine seasons as head coach. He was right. Not long ago, Aaron Rodgers was among the most terrorized quarterbacks in football. This year, few have been pressured less,16 despite his tendency to squeeze all he can out of a given play.17 A unit that has spent most of the McCarthy-Rodgers era being maligned has finally earned some respect. “I’ve been through six seasons,” Lang says. “[Josh] has been through seven. And up until this year, all you heard was how bad the offensive line was.”
No single factor has pushed the Packers from the league’s dregs to the top. How they’ve gotten here is how any line might. Bulaga is healthy; the injury storm that usually ravages eastern Wisconsin never hit this year. Linsley has been better than anyone could have hoped. Bakhtiari can barely recognize the player he was a year ago. Time and maturation have morphed Lang and Sitton into one of the best guard duos in all of football. Combine all that with a lot of luck, and we arrive here. These are the men who protect The Man, and they have made the difference for the league’s best offense.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Left tackle David Bakhtiari (foreground)
Linsley’s right about Bakhtiari. He does look like the cool guy — Khal Drogo if Drogo would get off his ass and into the weight room.
The cool guy got his job last season with three marker strokes on a white board. It was a Sunday morning in August. Green Bay had played its annual Family Night scrimmage the previous day, and at a point during the practice, Bulaga needed help getting off the field. He’d been the left tackle all of two months, after McCarthy decided to move his two best players to the prestige side of the line. The team was grabbing its late-night snack when reserve tackle Don Barclay told Bakhtiari the news. Bulaga’s ACL was torn.
Speculation followed. Bakhtiari was in a fight with veteran Marshall Newhouse for the right tackle job, a fight he was confident he’d win. He was also a rookie fourth-round pick — not the sort a team entrusts with an MVP’s blind side. That night, Bakhtiari asked Clay Matthews for his thoughts. The pair had spent the offseason working out in Los Angeles. They were friends before Bakhtiari even arrived in Wisconsin. “Clay told me to my face that they were going to move Marshall back over, and I was going to be the starting right tackle,” Bakhtiari says. “I was like, ‘Thanks for the confidence.’”
Early the next morning, coach James Campen walked to the front of the room and, without a word, started writing the numbers of his starting line. Moving from left to right, “69” was first on the board. Coming into the league, Bakhtiari had had a crude but optimistic plan for his career. He’d spend a season or two at right tackle, easing into the league before flipping to the left side a couple of years in. That plan had just accelerated. Two weeks into his first training camp, he was the left tackle for the Green Bay Packers. At the Packers’ offensive walkthrough that afternoon, Rodgers congratulated Bakhtiari in front of the group, loud enough for everyone to hear. As he leaned in for a hug, he whispered in the rookie’s ear: You better not get me killed.
That wasn’t going to be easy. Green Bay opened against Aldon Smith and the San Francisco 49ers. From there, Bakhtiari faced Washington’s Brian Orakpo, before facing off with the Bengals’ Michael Johnson in Week 3 and Terrell Suggs two games later. “He had a nasty gantlet there of high-end [defensive] ends,” Sitton says. Bakhtiari struggled at times. Smith finished with 1.5 sacks. Johnson added 1.5 more. Only a handful of players got caught holding more last season. But for the most part, he earned what all left tackles crave — anonymity. “There were stretches last year, and then this year, where I have barely anyone talk to me,” Bakhtiari says. “And I take that as a compliment.”
Bakhtiari’s goal coming into this year was to remove the “for a rookie” qualifier from his play. He no longer wanted to be evaluated with a caveat. Sitton saw the jump coming early. Bakhtiari was bigger. He was stronger. Their double-teams were gaining ground.
“Last year, I don’t think he was ever 300 pounds,” Sitton says.
“I was flirtin’,” Bakhtiari responds. “Me and 300, we went on a couple dates.”
They’re married now, with a three-bedroom colonial in a dead-end cul-de-sac for pass-rushers. “I look at film of me last year, and it’s almost disgusting,” Bakhtiari says. “It’s like, ‘I can’t believe that’s me. That’s gross.’ Some of the things I was doing, it’s almost like two different players.”
After a string of compliments are thrown Bakhtiari’s way, Sitton, by lineman obligation, mutes his love with a zing. “Just another classic fourth-round steal from Ted,” he says, lathered in sarcasm. Everyone laughs.
Sitton was a fourth-round pick. So was Lang. Linsley went one round later, after 30 other linemen. No one can quite figure out why. “It’s not like we’re all the same guy,” Sitton says.
Ted Thompson has the same aw-shucks response. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t presume that we think that we have some secret thing that we look at that puts us ahead of other people,” he says. “In our case, I think the fact that we were able to get some good players in the middle rounds was good coaching, but probably a lot of luck.”
Lang guesses that with the exception of Linsley, each came from a college football also-ran. Sitton went to Central Florida. Lang went to Eastern Michigan. Bakhtiari played at Colorado. “And even though it’s the Pac-12 … ” Lang says.
Sitton finishes the thought. “It’s a shitty football program.” The laughs come even harder this time.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Center Corey Linsley
The only light in Corey Linsley’s room at the Westin Bellevue came from his phone. His roommate, wide receiver Jeff Janis, was long asleep. Midnight had come and gone. In less than 24 hours, the Packers would open their season in Seattle, against the league’s most terrifying defense, in front of the entire country. Linsley had been the starting center for a total of 10 days. Earlier that week, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin told reporters he’d be praying for the Packers’ rookie. He wasn’t the only one.
On the field the next day, Linsley remembers, he looked out at the open-ended north side of CenturyLink Field, a sight he’d seen only while playing Madden. “Ariana Grande was singing, and there were fireworks and all this crazy shit,” Linsley says. “The crowd was going nuts. And it’s like, Damn, man, there’s no going back. I’m either about to embarrass everybody I know, or I’m about to have a pretty good game.”
Before the Packers left the locker room, Aaron Rodgers gave a short speech. At some point, he told them, every player has his “I belong” moment in the NFL. He singled out Linsley, Davante Adams, and Richard Rodgers — the rookies on the Green Bay offense. “He told us,” Linsley says, “that tonight, we would have ours.” Linsley’s came on the third play of the game.
As Linsley tells the story, Bakhtiari cuts him off.
“Wait,” Bakhtiari says, “it took you a couple plays into an actual football game?”
“Bro, I had no idea what was going to happen!” Linsley says. “Bruce Irvin’s praying for me. Kam Chancellor’s got that visor, looks pretty cool. I’m like, ‘These guys are going to torch me.’”
Prepping his emotional doomsday bunker is part of Linsley’s routine. His voice is quiet, soft even. It sounds nothing like he plays. “I’m not a confident person,” he says. “That’s just me. I just have that personality, where my mind-set constantly is ‘worst-case scenario.’ Whenever I’ve been confident about a situation, it leads me to be overconfident. It relaxes me. I feel like, if I go out there and think, I’m going to get killed, my nervous system says, Wake up. Or you’re going to get killed.”
His teammates weren’t nearly as worried. During the Packers’ first padded practice this offseason, Josh Sitton saw Linsley move left to hit the nose guard before peeling back to a linebacker moving the opposite direction. “It’s called a cross key,” Sitton says. “And it’s not easy to see as a young player. He did that, and I said, ‘OK, he’s going to be the guy.”
When Rodgers took his first snap with Linsley, in the days leading up to the Seattle game, he didn’t know what to expect. “It’s been pleasantly surprising the entire time,” the quarterback says. “He fits in great, personality-wise, and then physically, talent-wise, he’s as good as we’ve had.”
Linsley hasn’t looked much like a rookie, but he does remember the season’s low point. It came during the Packers’ win in Chicago. Two plays after getting called for holding, Linsley was flagged again, only this time, it was after Rodgers had somehow evaded three Bears and heaved a pass across his body and into the arms of Davante Adams in the end zone. It was the play of the year, now lost. As they walked out of the film room the next day, Rodgers told Linsley, in his best Icelandic accent, “Corey, you lost it for me.” When he was met with a blank stare, Rodgers asked Linsley if he’d ever seen Mighty Ducks 2. “[Aaron] was like, ‘I was hoping you would say, “You lost it for yourself.’” I felt like an idiot.”
The Packers’ actual foray into Hollywood started with too many men crammed into an ice bath. For months, the Pitch Perfect soundtrack blared from every speaker, from practice carpools to the line’s corner of the locker room. “The Riff Off,” Bakhtiari says, “we pretty much know by heart.” Bakhtiari was the one who brought the film to the rest of the group, and he was also the one who told them about the sequel. It was decided. They needed to be in this movie.
Some extensive tweeting eventually led to a post on BuzzFeed. Not longer after, at practice, Bakhtiari’s phone buzzed.
@elizabethbanks is now following you on Twitter
The actress is also the sequel’s director, and Bakhtiari spent the next day planning his direct message. “I asked [the O-line] what I should write, and they were just saying complete nonsense.” Eventually, the message was sent, followed by a response, from Banks’s husband and producer, Max Handelman. Months of emails and phone calls later, Bakhtiari, Sitton, Lang, backup tackle Don Barclay,18 and Matthews were off to Louisiana for filming. “They absolutely loved it, as much as they want to say they didn’t,” Bakhtiari says. “They were little girls out there, having a good ol’ time.”
The trip to Baton Rouge was more than a chance to start an IMDb profile. It was a three-day, beer-filled vacation with teammates who’ve become great friends. “I’m just happy to say that some of my best buds are on that offensive line,” Bakhtiari says. “I have so much fun with them. They’re awesome. Last year was tough, being a rookie, doing all the rookie duties. I mean really, this year, I’ve gotten so close to the older guys like Josh, T.J., even Bryan.” Thursday-night dinners happen regularly. Bowling nights too. Rounds of golf, when the Wisconsin weather allows, are common. A group traveled to Kohler to play a few for Lang’s bachelor party. In recent years, Aaron Rodgers has become a regular attendee, and his count of pulled punches is still at zero.
“They’re ruthless,” Rodgers says. “You cannot be sensitive. The first time you show sensitivity to a comment — about a feature on your body, or about something in your personality, or something in your past — they will absolutely pulverize you. Which is how I think it should be in the O-line room. It’s all in good fun, because they really do love each other.”
The way Lang sees it, the bonding is as practical as it is enjoyable. More than any other position, a line is a group of players acting together. A round of golf or a few games of bowling are ways to learn how one’s line mates talk, how they think, and, most of all, what makes them tick.
“The more you care for the buddy playing next to you, I don’t want to say the harder you’re going to try, but there’s a little extra motivation to keeping him safe and wanting him to do well,” Lang says. “If I was playing next to a right tackle whose name I barely knew, why would I go out of my way?”
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Right tackle Bryan Bulaga with Aaron Rodgers
The word “prodigy” has never been misapplied to Bryan Bulaga. To remember the last time football didn’t come easy, he has to think back to freshman year, when he was called up to the sophomore team at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, Illinois. “I was getting the crap kicked out of me every Friday,” Bulaga says. One year later, he was a varsity star. After gaining 25 pounds in a single offseason before arriving in Iowa, he started for head coach Kirk Ferentz as a true freshman.
“We’ve had a pretty healthy amount of really good linemen come through here,” Ferentz says. “Bryan’s the only guy of the group that pretty much walked in and was really accelerated in terms of being ready to play. He was extremely talented, gifted.” Bulaga started for three seasons before the Packers took him 23rd overall in 2010. That February, at 21 years and 322 days, he became the youngest player in history to start in the Super Bowl. When the group golfs, Bulaga wins. He shoots in the high 70s now, after picking up the game only a few years ago.
The game may come naturally to him, but Bulaga’s actual career has been less smooth. He missed the second half of the 2012 season with an injured hip, and the ACL tear cost him all of last season. The hip injury was only a small fracture, “just like having a broken bone heal,” Bulaga says.
“The knee was the harder one,” Bulaga says. “Every day, you’re doing the same rehab. It’s not as much a physical grind as it is a mental grind. I think you could ask any guy that’s had an ACL done, and he’ll say the mental aspect of it is harder than the physical aspect.”
When Bulaga returned this offseason, there wasn’t much conversation about where he would play. “Technically, I’d only ever played right tackle,” he says. The change was who was playing next to him. After spending his entire career next to Sitton, it was his first time working with Lang. A brand-new collection of habits and tendencies had to be resolved. In typical Bulaga fashion, it took two weeks.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Left guard Josh Sitton
Leaning back in a leather chair, stuffed into a small interview room at Lambeau, Josh Sitton’s feelings about his fame come through in one giant yawn. “It’s perfectly fine with meeeeeee,” he manages. “I don’t want anybody to know my name, except for the people who vote for the Pro Bowl.” Those people knew it this year. Sitton was just voted there for the second time in seven seasons.
“If we were ’N Sync,” Lang says, “[Josh would] be Justin Timberlake. He’s Frankie Valli, and we’re the Four Seasons.”
Bakhtiari goes on, thinking ahead an album or two: “If he wanted to, he could go solo, and we’d all fizzle out.”
Sitton is matter-of-fact in the way of someone in total control. But it wasn’t always that way. Game days used to be full of awful jokes, endless chatter, anything to fill the time and convince both him and his teammates that his nerves had been calmed. Now, seven years in, they are. At 28, Sitton is the oldest member of the lot, a title that’s still hard for him to believe.
“It’s crazy to make that transition to the leader of the group, the old guy,” he says. “It’s weird, because I feel like I just got into the league, but I’m closer to retiring than I am to starting.”
There’s no ascending to this level without being physically superior, but what Sitton’s teammates continue to bring up is his mind. There’s no way to put this kindly. Sitton doesn’t fit the physical profile of a genius — not with that hair, or that beard, or that gut. But both Linsley and Bakhtiari mention that his tutelage has helped ease them into the league. “I told him this the other day, he’s the epitome of ‘You’re a lot smarter than you look,’” Bakhtiari says. “He is brilliant, but he looks like a dumbass.”
Since he started playing in seventh grade, Sitton has always found pleasure in figuring out football. There’s satisfaction to be found in planning angles, devising the perfect play. Each Wednesday, Green Bay brings its quarterback-center meeting to three dimensions with a walkthrough. The session invariably becomes a proof for Sitton and Lang, each with their own ideas about the best approach. “They’ll study the looks, and they’ll kind of pick each other’s brain, and I’m just sitting there listening to them bounce ideas back off each other,” Linsley says.
When the Packers are in shotgun formations and Linsley’s head is stuck between his legs, Sitton and Lang are responsible for all the line’s calls, and their familiarity with every moving part of the offense creates a constant dialogue with Rodgers. The offense is able to avoid bad plays because they have three players searching for the right one. “Especially at home, they can just tell me if they like the play or not, and we can move forward,” Rodgers says. “They can tell me what blocking scheme in the heat of the moment, whether it’s in the huddle, or on the line of scrimmage, what scheme they would like to use at that point. It makes my job a lot easier.”
Joe Robbins/Getty Images Right guard T.J. Lang (70)
Sitton can’t remember exactly when he picked up the phone. It was in the spring, April maybe, a few months after the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010. He’d been thinking about the future of the Green Bay offensive line, and he knew the best version of that future involved T.J. Lang. Left guard Daryn Colledge was almost surely leaving in free agency, and the job was Lang’s if he wanted it. The worry was that so far, Lang hadn’t wanted much.
“I told him that we needed him to step up and take his job more seriously,” Sitton says. “We needed him to be the guy. You knew he could be a player. You could see it.”
In his first two years, Lang’s affinity for Green Bay’s bars outweighed his affinity for football. There aren’t many, but there were enough. “If they were serving beer,” he says, “I was there drinking it.” Lang grew up in an Irish family where gatherings meant a steady flow. Without much else to do in Green Bay, Lang continually retraced the few hundred feet from his downtown apartment to the nearest stool. There were plenty of days when he rolled into practices on a few hours’ worth of sleep.
The sound of Sitton’s voice staggered him, but the sounds of his own life are what finally pushed him to change. There was the silence of that summer. The lockout meant no football for months. Lang was left staring into what his days would be without the game. And then there were the imagined coos of his first child, due to arrive in August. It was time to grow up.
“He’s gone from a party animal who didn’t give a shit about football,” says Sitton, “to being one of the best guards in the league.”
If Sitton is the line’s brain, Lang is its voice. In a conversation with the group, Linsley and Bakhtiari defer to him on nearly every question. On Sundays, his words dominate.
Those small but telling contrasts are what define a relationship around which the rest of the line is built. When Sitton made his phone call that spring, he wasn’t doing it only as a teammate. He was doing it as a friend. Sitton stood in Lang’s wedding party this summer. They’ve vacationed together.
“It’s almost like we’re the same person sometimes,” Lang says. “There will be times when coach will be talking in the meeting, and him and I will blurt out the same exact thing at the same time. I dunno.”
With his short stint at left tackle last preseason, Bulaga is one of the few players who has lined up next to both guards, and he says their on-field ticks mirror who they are off it. As a pass-blocker, Sitton concedes more ground, content to let rushers come to him. It allows him to survey the field and to rely on his powerful lower body to anchor down against bull rushers. Lang is more aggressive. It’s not impatience, just a desire to establish control. He wants to end the play before it starts. It’s a combination that defines what the entire line has come to be.
The nuances of the Green Bay guards define Bulaga’s game. Different pass sets mean having to alter his depth, too. One step forward or one step back allows a twist stunt inside to work, or gets another lineman picked by a slanting tackle. More than individual talent, continuity is the most important factor in any line’s success. The tiniest details become vital.
“I think it’s everything, to be honest with you,” Bulaga says. “When you can play that much next to a guy, and you can understand what he’s doing, or how he’s going to set an angle up for you, that’s huge. Not having to talk and understanding what the guy next to you is going to do is very important.” When a turned ankle sent Lang to the sideline against the Saints, some of the non-verbal cues necessary in the Superdome were lost on his replacement, Lane Taylor. During away games, the dialogue at the line of scrimmage becomes a mix of sign language and choreography, and shuffling players in and out can end in toes being stomped.
By keeping the same five linemen almost the entire season, the Packers have been able to build their vocabulary into an entire language. “We’ve got so many dummy calls,” Sitton says. “Half the shit we say doesn’t mean a thing. It’s pretty cool when you can evolve within the season, learning a whole new thing.” In past seasons, the line has been a band forced to replace its drummer or bassist every week. The entire offense goes from writing songs to relearning chords. This year, they can riff, take chances. They can be a 1,500-pound Radiohead.
“When you get a hodgepodge line that’s changing week to week, you just kind of have to go by the base rules on a lot of plays,” Rodgers says. “The base rules are decent, but when you can incorporate your own creativity to the plays at the offensive line positions, you can really enhance them. So the communication has been amazing.”
One of the few stretches when the group wasn’t intact was late in the loss against Buffalo. Bulaga’s concussion sent him to the sideline, and Tretter, the old starting center, replaced him at right tackle. When Mario Williams beat him for the game-ending sack, it was the first Green Bay had given up all game to the best pass-rushing team in the league. “I think as a whole, we played well, but it’s hard to take pleasure when you don’t win the game,” Lang says.
Green Bay rushed for 6.6 yards per carry against a stout run defense, but on this team, there’s no comparison between a big day on the ground and a sack-free game. “When you play for the Green Bay Packers,” Bakhtiari says, “you choose sackless.” There have been a few of those this year. Lang says that now there’s a reputation to uphold, a new standard that has been set.
“Offensive line isn’t an individual position,” Lang says. “When people look at you, they say, ‘Is your offensive line good or bad?’ They don’t say, ‘Well, the left guard’s good, the right tackle’s not good.’ They look at you as a whole.” This year, the whole adds up to more than it ever has.
Source: Grantland » Features | 8 Jan 2015 | 5:29 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 7 Jan 2015 | 11:16 am PST
Welcome back to our 30 for 30 documentary short series.
Reggie Ho never dreamed of playing football in college. Growing up in Hawaii and of Chinese descent, he always imagined he’d be a doctor like his father. He enrolled at Notre Dame as a premed student and didn’t think much of playing football until he decided he needed a more well-rounded life. He was the placekicker on his high school football team and decided to walk on to Notre Dame’s. At 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds, Ho was one of the smallest players in a major college football program — and suddenly became a celebrity on and off campus. As a walk-on, Ho didn’t receive any financial support from his school: a pure student-athlete. He did it for the love of the game and for the love of Notre Dame. After the 1988 season, the walk-on walked off the field. Ho continued his premed degree, but no longer played football. Yet he was a crucial part in Notre Dame’s most recent undefeated season.
• Robbed, directed by Eric Drath »
• Our Tough Guy, directed by Molly Schiot »
• The Great Trade Robbery, directed by Stuart Zicherman »
• Fields of Fear, directed by Alex Gibney »
• Kid Danny, directed by Andrew Cohn »
• The High Five, directed by Michael Jacobs »
This post has been updated to correct an error: Ho’s season was not Notre Dame football’s only undefeated one, just the most recent.
Source: Grantland » Features | 7 Jan 2015 | 8:00 am PST
When Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy began his first NFL job in 1993, as a Kansas City Chiefs offensive assistant working with quarterbacks, he immediately inherited a rather tricky assignment: coaching Joe Montana.
McCarthy had gone to K.C. to work with his mentor Paul Hackett, the Chiefs’ new offensive coordinator and a former assistant for Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers. While working together at the University of Pittsburgh, Hackett and McCarthy had installed a version of Walsh’s legendary West Coast offense, which had powered four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s. McCarthy became enamored of the system during those years with the Panthers, immersing himself in the offense that was taking over football. By the time he went to the Chiefs, McCarthy felt he was ready for any challenge.
Well, almost any challenge: Prior to the 1993 season, the Chiefs traded for Montana, the veteran quarterback with extensive West Coast offense experience and four Super Bowl titles, and the man Jerry Rice referred to as “God.” McCarthy told Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel that the gravity of the assignment didn’t register until he excitedly let some of his close friends know that he’d be coaching Montana, and one responded by asking, “What in the [expletive] are you going to teach Joe Montana?” It was a good question, and it led McCarthy to become as much Montana’s student as his teacher, soaking in all the knowledge he could from the future Hall of Famer.
More than 20 years later, on the brink of a divisional-round playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, McCarthy again finds himself in a teacher-student partnership with an elite pupil: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Though McCarthy is facing a similar challenge of figuring out how to help one of the game’s best quarterbacks get even better, his relationship with Rodgers is far more collaborative than his pairing with Montana ever was, allowing coach and quarterback to try to improve themselves, each other, and the very offense Walsh taught Montana so long ago.
Focus on Sport/Getty Image
At some point, the story of every great quarterback morphs from anecdote to myth, and Rodgers’s narrative fits the mold. Barely recruited out of high school, Rodgers wound up at Butte Community College, where Cal coach Jeff Tedford (while scouting a tight end) noticed a skinny QB running around making accurate throws, and offered him a spot with the Golden Bears.
Under Tedford’s tutelage, Rodgers vaulted from unknown passer to surefire first-rounder, wowing pro scouts by tying an NCAA record with 23 consecutive completions to start a game in a near road upset of top-ranked Southern Cal, a team loaded with future NFL stars (and coached by some guy named Pete Carroll). Rodgers looked like the potential first overall pick, but he fell to no. 24, where the Packers selected him as Brett Favre’s heir apparent. Favre, of course, was uninterested in mentoring his replacement, famously telling ESPN, “My contract doesn’t say I have to get Aaron Rodgers ready to play … I’m not obligated one bit to help anyone.”
It was an inauspicious start for a young quarterback, but Rodgers credits his early years as being crucial to his development. Though the player Rodgers is today stems primarily from his talent and work ethic, being a successful NFL quarterback requires luck as well as skill, and being lucky usually means getting to work with the right people. When the Packers fired Mike Sherman and hired McCarthy as head coach after Rodgers’s first season, it altered the direction of both McCarthy’s and Rodgers’s careers.
McCarthy was hardly a slam dunk hire, having coached relatively pedestrian offenses in New Orleans from 2000 to 2004, and having spent the 2005 season as offensive coordinator for the 49ers, a 4-12 team that finished a woeful 30th in the league in scoring and 32nd in total yards. But Packers general manager Ted Thompson brought in McCarthy hoping the coach’s deep knowledge of the West Coast offense and renowned touch with quarterbacks would tame Favre after a 29-interception season, while also developing Favre’s anointed replacement. Though Favre bounced back under McCarthy, throwing for 4,155 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions in 2007 en route to the NFC title game, he began to threaten retirement, and by 2008 Thompson and the organization were ready to switch to Rodgers, convinced after witnessing his dramatic improvement that the QB had the makings of a future star.
Since his days as an assistant under Hackett at Pitt, McCarthy has run a “QB school” every offseason, where, away from the pressure of preparing for a weekly opponent, McCarthy can teach his quarterbacks the finer points of the position. In addition to extensive drill work, McCarthy often gives his quarterbacks lengthy written tests, once (according to the Sentinel) even asking his non-Montana quarterbacks in Kansas City to write an essay describing the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense “from a philosophical perspective.”
Rodgers has clearly benefited from McCarthy’s training. As good of a prospect as Rodgers was coming out of Cal, it’s striking how different he looks now: he’s more athletic, more natural, and has a stronger arm. While primary credit goes to the long hours Rodgers spends developing his craft on his own, McCarthy provided a structure for that process.19
Specifically, when Rodgers arrived in the NFL, there was what McCarthy has labeled a “stiffness” to his game. Under McCarthy’s tutelage, that has since melted away to reveal the fluid, smooth quarterback we see today. Tedford, Rodgers’s college coach and a current CFL head man, is an excellent quarterback teacher, but his college passers tended to be a bit robotic: They all dropped back, held the ball, and released it the same way. That made sense for raw high school and junior college passers who had to quickly learn the fine points of quarterbacking in order to execute Tedford’s pro-style attack, but great NFL passers must make their fundamentals serve them, not the other way around.
The most obvious example of Rodgers making this shift is that he used to hold the ball up near his ear while in the pocket on the theory that it cut down on the time he had to bring the ball back before throwing it forward. Under McCarthy and Packers quarterback coach/offensive coordinator Tom Clements, however, Rodgers gradually began holding the ball between the middle of his chest and his throwing shoulder, a more natural spot that keeps his throwing motion compact while allowing him to rotate his body just enough to create extra velocity.20
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
More subtly, Rodgers has improved his accuracy, which might sound crazy when discussing a guy who once completed 23 passes in a row in college. But in the NFL, accuracy must be an every-snap thing, particularly in the West Coast offense. Walsh used to jump all over Montana and Steve Young if they missed the precise spot he wanted on a given play — the upper right corner of a receiver’s jersey, a receiver’s left eye, etc. For Rodgers, the key to improved accuracy was perfecting his footwork. “Learning to time up my drop with each route has been a big thing with me,” Rodgers told ESPN The Magazine in 2011. That didn’t just mean opting for a three-step drop versus a five-step drop, but instead learning that while a hitch route might require a three-step drop with one big and two quick steps, a slant route might benefit from three big steps. Rodgers said that mastering those nuances for every conceivable route allows him “to throw the ball in rhythm and hit the same release point with every throw, meaning that no matter what else is happening, the ball comes out on a similar plane. That’s when accuracy comes.”
Indeed, Rodgers is the most visceral of today’s great quarterbacks, oscillating effortlessly between quick timing passes and lasers thrown while on the move after being flushed from the pocket. He often reminds me less of a traditional quarterback than of a great jump shooter in basketball who can hit a shot falling sideways and out of bounds because he always maintains perfect upper-body form. But the real fun comes from watching Rodgers operate the Packers’ modernized West Coast offense, a system perfectly tailored to his quick release and even quicker mind.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
The offense Rodgers operates in Green Bay is based on the same ideas, concepts, and even specific plays that Hackett, McCarthy, and Montana used in Kansas City and that Montana and Hackett had run with the 49ers, all of which is rooted in Walsh’s West Coast offense. While most people think of short timing passes when they hear the term “West Coast offense,” Walsh’s coaching tree — and the coaching tree of his coaching tree — is so long because his insights extended beyond well-designed pass plays to encompass a uniquely thorough, detailed approach to game planning, analyzing defensive weaknesses, and teaching and developing players. Those precepts are Walsh’s true legacy, and they now fuel the Packers’ offensive success.
In McCarthy’s early years, he immersed himself in Walsh’s ideas and language — 22 Z-In, 2 Jet X-Sluggo Seam, and so on. But rather than adhering religiously to those lessons, McCarthy and Rodgers have crafted a version of Walsh’s offense that constantly evolves to keep pace with a changing game. Quoting former Chiefs assistant Jimmy Raye, McCarthy once told USA Today: “‘Football is a cycle. You’re going to see things in this league or out of this league and in college football.’ It’s very important to stay on the front side of that cycle.” The Packers’ offense may be rooted in the playbook McCarthy learned from Hackett 20-plus years ago, but it works because he and Rodgers have subtly blended in new-school tactics.
While the West Coast offense dominated the NFL in the 1990s and early 2000s, it has increasingly fallen out of favor because its emphasis on precision and preparation has too often translated into inflexibility and needless complexity. The traditional West Coast offense features a seemingly countless number of plays — former Packers coach Mike Holmgren once said his playbook contained at least 1,500 plays — because on each play each player had a specific job, such as running a post or a slant. As a result, the only way to take advantage of a shifting, evolving defense was to add yet another new play and hope to call it at the right time, in what amounted to an impossibly hard game of rock-paper-scissors.
That’s not a feasible approach against modern, malleable defenses, and with Rodgers under center, it’s also not necessary. For example, one of the Packers’ most productive pass plays is “three verticals,” in which Green Bay’s receivers have the option to change their routes based on the coverage, trusting Rodgers to see their adjustments in real time.
On this play against the Panthers, both outside receivers, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, can run either straight down the field on “go” routes (as Nelson does to Rodgers’s right) or stop after 12 to 15 yards if the defender is playing soft coverage (as Adams does to Rodgers’s left). Meanwhile, the slot receiver, Randall Cobb, runs a “middle read”: If the defense plays with two safeties deep, Cobb will split the safeties and run deep down the middle, but if there’s a deep middle safety like on this play, he’ll turn his route into a square-in and break across the field into Rodgers’s vision.
While this play, which the Packers run over and over again, requires Rodgers and his receivers to all be on the same page — and requires Rodgers to process all of this information and make an accurate throw in fractions of a second — it also replaces as many as 10 different plays from the traditional West Coast offense.
This idea of multiple concepts within each play flows through Green Bay’s offense. Under Favre and in Rodgers’s early seasons, this typically meant combining multiple pass concepts within the same play and letting the QB pick the side based on the defense. More recently, however, the Packers have made extensive use of “packaged plays,” which combine run blocking from the offensive line with screens or downfield passes by the receivers, while the QB has the option to hand off to a running back or throw downfield.
Under McCarthy, Green Bay was among the first NFL teams to begin using packaged plays, which first began bubbling up in college football roughly five years ago. (McCarthy has several friends coaching college on whom he leans for new ideas, including Kevin Sumlin, the forward-thinking coach at Texas A&M.) The above inside zone running play married to quick “pop” or seam routes by the slot receivers is straight from college football, and is a simple way to keep defenses honest if they try to crash down on Eddie Lacy and Green Bay’s increasingly productive run game. It’s also a way for the Packers to use Rodgers’s quick decision-making ability without putting him in harm’s way.
But the Packers’ success doesn’t stem solely from their ability to embrace the latest and greatest; while Green Bay excels at innovating, it’s also better than any other NFL team at executing many of the same plays Walsh used with Montana, most notably the slant pass. Hard as it is to believe, few NFL teams consistently throw the quick slant anymore, as most have replaced it with skinny posts or quick square-ins, or stopped bothering altogether. Put on a Packers game, though, and it can feel like watching old 49ers game film.
It’s not uncommon for Rodgers to complete five to 10 slant passes in a game — he likes them against soft coverage because they give him easy access, and he loves them against the blitz. When New England tried to bring pressure on Rodgers late in the half, he checked into a basic slant to Nelson and, 45 yards later, Green Bay had scored.
The most famous Joe Montana anecdote so perfectly meshes with his reputation as “Joe Cool” that it seems more written than real: Standing around during a TV timeout, with the ball on the 49ers’ own 8-yard line and his team down three points to the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, Montana saw that his teammates, including lineman Harris Barton, had tensed up. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something else. “There, in the stands,” he said to Barton. “Isn’t that John Candy?”21 His teammates immediately relaxed, Montana marched them down the field for the game-winning touchdown, and his legend grew. Great quarterbacks come in different flavors, but the preternaturally relaxed field general is an archetype as old as football itself.
Rodgers is a few Super Bowls shy of earning direct comparisons to Montana, but — particularly compared to Peyton Manning’s manic nerdiness and Tom Brady’s newfound love of high fives, head butts, and F-bombs — he’s the closest thing we have to a modern-day Joe Cool: This season alone, Rodgers pointedly told Packers fans to R-E-L-A-X after a loss and, on one of the most remarkable plays I’ve ever seen, calmly threw a game-winning touchdown pass without even bothering to buckle his chin strap.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) October 12, 2014
By all accounts, Rodgers has always been this way. At a coaching clinic in 2011, Tedford recalled that, before the aforementioned crucial game against USC, Rodgers “was just walking around in the locker room with a smile on his face and getting [his teammates] going, but also getting them relaxed. He was not going haywire and yelling and screaming. He had this confidence about himself, and his leadership ability was unbelievable.”
Of course, similarities in demeanor between Rodgers and Montana wouldn’t matter if the two weren’t also so similar on the field. “When I think about fundamental quarterback play, I think of Aaron and Joe Montana,” McCarthy told the Sentinel. “The productivity is obviously there, but just the way they play the position — their footwork, the balance, the athletic ability, the accuracy of the football, the vision.” I see it too. Montana’s gifts were his accuracy, his decision-making, and his feet, and Rodgers boasts those same attributes — plus a stronger arm.
Rodgers’s talent, drive, and approach to mastering the hardest position in sports have gotten him to this point, but so has his collaboration with McCarthy. Together, coach and QB are on the cusp of winning their second Super Bowl. They’ve already taken the Packers, the old West Coast offense, and the quarterback position into the modern age.
Source: Grantland » Features | 7 Jan 2015 | 5:40 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 6 Jan 2015 | 11:49 am PST
Even the ending was classic Rex Ryan. The man almost upset his own firing.
Sunday, December 28, just after 4 p.m. Pandemonium in the bowels of Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a Magoo-ish rich eccentric out of central casting who wears a goofy green tie to Sunday games and looks like he might play with toy trucks on all the days in between, is looking in vain for a safe route through the stadium tunnel.
Johnson looks miserable. He’s just hours away from sealing his fate as the most unpopular man in all of New York sports. Nobody wants him to fire Ryan: not the players, not the majority of Jets fans, and certainly not the assembled Jets media, who are already mourning the last hours of what for six years was by any measure one of the most entertaining gigs in the history of sportswriting.
No, the only people at this moment who genuinely want Johnson to fire Ryan are the fans of opposing AFC East teams who are tired of ugly surprise losses like this final-week 37-24 beating of the Dolphins, people like the security guard who wolf-whistles at Johnson as he tries to slither down the tunnel.
“The best decision of your life!” the man shouts. “Best! Decision! Ever!”
Johnson frowns, rattled, and presses past me.
“Having second thoughts?” I ask.
No answer. Johnson scoots away and the team’s beat writers gang-chase him. Halted for a moment, he mutters a single noncommittal sentence and then waves the writers off like they’re a cloud of blackflies. The beat pack rushes back in a frenzy of Kremlinological speculation.
“Something about it being all about the players,” snorts a reporter on the way back.
Poor Johnson. He was almost home free. All he had to do was fly down, watch his Jets suffer another agonizing 13-8 smothering (extra-innings-baseball-type scores are one of the great legacies of the Rex Ryan era), flash a frown, and fly home. The next day, he could have waltzed into his Florham Park headquarters and more or less frictionlessly fired his all-time headline-grabbing coach, perhaps with some distracting new front-office meat in the form of a Charlie Casserly or a Ron Wolf (or both) by his side.
Instead, what happens? His turnover-machine front man, Geno Smith, achieves a perfect passer rating — how many millions of Americans would have bet their own children’s lives against such a thing happening? How many likely did? — and leads the Jets to a shocking, script-souring ass-whipping of the favored Dolphins.
The whole situation is both classic Jets and classic Ryan, who over the past six years has established himself as one of this century’s great American characters — part showman, part salad antagonist, part unlikeliest sex-taper, and, more than occasionally, a big part genius underdog coach. Echoing Houdini (or Andy Kaufman), underdog Rex made a mockery of his own funeral, beating the favored Fins with a dazzling array of balls-out coaching decisions. And the locker room is oddly joyous afterward. There are plenty of negative things to write about Ryan, and there are some sizable holes in his legend — more on that in a bit — but that thing about his players loving him? That seems more true the more time you spend around his team.
“When I first came up here, he greeted me and told me I was part of the family, that’s what I remember,” says tight end Zach Sudfeld, a former New England Patriot who, one guesses, didn’t get a similar welcome-to-the-family bear hug as an undrafted rookie up in Foxborough. “I was like, ‘Wow.'”
“Deep down inside, we love him as a person,” says offensive lineman Willie Colon.
“It’s weird,” says Newsday’s Bob Glauber, who has covered the team for years. “The players have always loved Rex. Even after the last four years, after all the losing, after this horrible year, they still love him.” He laughs. “It’s almost wrong.”
This year something was wrong, for sure. Finding bizarre ways to lose games has been a Ryan-Jets trait since he arrived in the Meadowlands, but not until 2014 did it become a mathematical constant. Each week of this season seemed more horrible than the last.22
There was the “Butt Touchdown” game against Kansas City (a pale but still humorous sequel to the infamous Mark Sanchez Butt Fumble), in which linebacker Calvin Pace knocked down a pass by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, only to have it caught by casually seated tight end Anthony Fasano. There was the Week 2 loss to Green Bay in Lambeau, with the team stealing a game-tying touchdown from itself in Keystone Kops fashion, thanks to a pre-snap sideline timeout call by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who legally wasn’t even allowed to call one.23
But if you had to pick a moment that encapsulated the futility of the 2014 New York Jets, it would be the October 26 contest against Buffalo that was the metaphorical bookend to the final Miami win, a game that saw Geno Smith compile a Zen-like perfectly negative 0.0 passer rating, with two completions and three first-quarter interceptions. It was one of the worst passing performances by a starting quarterback in the history of a league that until very recently employed Tim Tebow. That particular nightmare prompted four haggard and frustrated Jets-fan friends to begin a grassroots billboard campaign to fire general manager John Idzik that won national headlines, ultimately succeeded (in a way), and seems like it ought to serve as a template for future fan uprisings. “We just couldn’t take it anymore,” says Jason Koeppel of FireJohnIdzik.com of the moment he decided to take to the virtual streets. “We had to do something.”
But through it all, none of the ire was really directed at Ryan, who inexplicably arrived in Miami with the fan base still behind him. He strode into his last postgame presser looking defiant and transformed. A year full of horrifying losses, along with his lap band surgery from years before, had made the once-gorgeously obese coach look progressively smaller as time wore on. But after this win he was Big Rex again, towering over the press corps like an Easter Island statue in an NYPD hat.
It could have been awkward. The group he was addressing had, over that weekend, variously reported that (a) Rex had already cleared out his desk, (b) Johnson really was wavering and considering keeping him, and (c) Rex was irritated by Johnson’s wavering, because he needed an answer soon, before other opportunities dried up.
The win was a big middle finger to all of that — Rex has always specialized in the middle-finger game — but it was even more of a middle finger to Johnson. He was asked if he’d talked to the owner after the final whistle.
“Yeah,” he said gruffly. “I said, ‘Hey, boss, I’m going to give the whole team a game ball. Sorry.'” As in: Get your souvenir from your next coach.
The next day, of course, Woody whacked Rex, along with his billboard-inspiring general manager, Idzik.
Was it a mistake? We’ll never be sure. But it never felt real, this long-predicted breakup — it’s been like watching two married people who really love each other foolishly divorce after a few bad years. Sure, coaches without rings have short lives, and uprooting whole bunches of them and their families during the holidays has become a sordid annual ritual. But if there were ever a city and a coach to break that pattern, it would be Jets Nation and Rex Ryan, the Luke and Laura of the NFL.
But that was one hell of a six years we just lived through. Can we give it up, one last time, for the Rex Ryan era?
“That first press conference,” says linebacker David Harris. “That’s when I knew.”
Ryan had the Jets at hello. His first presser, on January 21, 2009, was one of the great moments in the annals of balls, bluster, trash-talking, sweat, saturated fats — hell, even fashion. Fresh off a wildly successful 10-year run coaching defense for the swaggadocious Baltimore Ravens, Ryan didn’t just talk big. He was big. He introduced himself to New York in a sensational costume that screamed, “Get a load of me!”
Unlike his frumpy predecessor Eric Mangini (or, more to the point, unlike Bill Belichick, whose name will come up a lot in this story — the smallish, moribund, clam-faced, Giants-pedigreed Patriots coach is paradoxically both Rex’s alter ego and his perfect Dostoyevskian opposite), Ryan was a massive physical presence. At his intro he seemed to be at least 900 pounds of resplendent manhood crammed into a shiny jacket-and-striped-tie ensemble that featured an amazing, unapologetically booger-green color. He looked like the Incredible Hulk come to work at a Baskin-Robbins.
His bulging neck-bag glistening with sweat, he looked down at all the cameras and croaked a prediction.
“With all the cameras and all that, I was looking for our new president back there,” he said. “You know, I think we’ll get to meet him in the next couple of years anyway.” At the White House visit, after his Jets had won the Super Bowl, naturally.
The newspapers called it a “Namath-like” guarantee, which it surely was. But it was more than that. Ryan was also poking a stick at the pusillanimous conventional wisdom of the modern NFL (and especially of coaches like Mangini and Belichick), which says you should always tremble before the Football Gods, never take anything for granted, never look past the next game, never give even the weakest opponent bulletin-board material. In his first few minutes, Rex dropped trou on all of that as so much old-fashioned superstition.
Fuck the Football Gods! Fuck karma! We’re the fucking New York Jets! “And I think that’s going to be more than you can handle,'” Rex said. He spent a lot of his first offseason talking trash about upcoming opponents, famously offering to fight Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder (“I’ve walked over tougher guys going to a fight than Channing Crowder”) and even more famously announcing that “I didn’t come here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings.”
The media had seen trash-talkers before, but the sports world had seldom ever seen a coach who trash-talked more than the athletes themselves. Jets players like Harris bought in right away. Six years later, Harris still buys it. “We love it,” he says. “It’s like he’s got our back, and we’ve got his.”
The Jets started off 3-0 that year before promptly dipping into one of those agonizing swoons for which Ryan’s teams would become famous, losing game after heartbreaking game in some of the most unlikely ways NFL fans had ever seen. There were botched-but-makeable field goals, wasted timeouts that always proved critical, even failed attempts at allowing touchdowns (a key to a brutal 24-22 loss to Jacksonville). Things peaked when they lost a crucial late-season game to the already-eliminated Atlanta Falcons on a play in which Ryan correctly predicted a pass to Tony Gonzalez but watched as the Hall of Famer beat a triple-team anyway for a winning TD.
After that game, Ryan famously sighed, “We’re obviously out of the playoffs, and that’s unfortunate.” A stunned press room suppressed a gasp: The Jets actually weren’t eliminated at all. Ryan quickly reverted to Sergeant Slaughter mode, boasting and bragging about an upcoming matchup with the juggernaut Indianapolis Colts, who at 14-0 were chasing an undefeated season. At a news conference, he opened with a list of players on the injury report. “Manning, Clark, Addai, Reggie Wayne, Freeney, Mathis, Brackett — all those guys will not play.” Then he paused. “Oh, hold up. That was my wish list for Santa Claus.”
Caldwell curiously complied with Ryan’s joke and sat his stars in the third quarter, not just killing a chance at history but handing the game — and a playoff berth — to Ryan and the Jets.
Afterward, instead of acknowledging the gift handed to him by those Football Gods, Ryan took a characteristic power steamer on Monday-morning decorum and refused to apologize for the Jets’ sort-of win over the powerhouse Colts.
‘‘For half the year, people played against our backup nose tackle,” he deadpanned, preposterously, referring to an early-season injury to star Kris Jenkins. “I don’t think anybody’s made note of that. I know this is Peyton Manning or whatever, but he did play three and a half quarters.”
(This disingenuous little speech wasn’t Ryan’s proudest moment, but it had one brilliant side benefit. It sent New York radio legend Mike Francesa, one of Jets Nation’s most loathed enemies, into a seizure-like rage fit from which he has never recovered. It’s impossible, listening now, not to laugh at how unbelievably mad this stuff made Francesa — real human fury! “Dat’s outrajuss!” screamed Francesa, in his trademark consonant-massacring Long Islandese. “You begged dem to take the-yah playaz out last week! You sed you wanded it for Chrismuss!”)
But a few weeks later, those “same old Jets” had first beaten the Bengals and then upended the heavily favored Chargers in the playoffs, leading to an actual AFC title showdown with those powerhouse Manning-led Colts. To this day, that run remains Pace’s favorite memory of Rex. “After that Chargers game,” he says, “nobody thought we had a chance. And there we were.”
Nobody could believe it when Rex’s Jets were surprisingly whipping Manning 17-6 at halftime of the AFC Championship Game. But they faded down the stretch, thanks in large part to the atrocious play of his rookie quarterback, Sanchez. (Along with shocker-underdog wins and absurd act-of-God losses, the quarterback-ghoulishly-crapping-himself game would become a staple of the Rex era.) And while the season may not have ended in a title, Rex entered 2010 as the biggest thing in sports. His public shtick was a roaring success, and since part of his act was that he was sometimes a crass, unfunny boor, even his worst material worked. It was comedy nirvana. A nation obsessed with dieting loved him for his 7,000-calorie-a-day intake. They loved him even more when “a source” told the New York Post that “I have never heard him order a Cobb salad.” (There was a lot of this sort of investigative reporting in the New York tabloids during the Rex era.)
Still-ascending Rex then went to an MMA event in Miami and told a boisterous pro-Dolphins crowd to “Go fuck yourselves,” giving a big middle finger for emphasis — the picture ended up on the front page of the Post, like almost everything else Rex said and did back then.
Then a fateful decision by the Jets and HBO in 2010 to team up to make what would turn into the far-and-away greatest season ever of Hard Knocks turned Ryan into a mainstream pop-culture icon approaching the level of Tom Cruise, Kanye West, or the Pope. Ryan’s coming-out party was the timeless “Goddamn snack” speech, some of the most inspired gibberish ever captured on film — it sits somewhere between Sally Field’s “You like me!” Oscar speech and Benito Mussolini’s “This is the hour of irrevocable decisions!” declaration of war against Britain and France.
“Let’s make sure we play like the fucking New York Jets and not some slap-dick team!” Ryan shouted. “That’s what I want to see tomorrow! Do we understand what the fuck I want to see tomorrow? Let’s go eat a goddamn snack!”
To this day, nobody really knows what the hell the “goddamn snack” speech is about, but that was never the point. “The snack thing, that was pure Rex,” chuckles Pace.
Exactly in the manner of the more successful modern presidential candidates, he also won over a new generation of fans/voters addicted to new forms of media — reality TV, the Internet, etc. — that stressed emotional cues and “genuineness” over the actual meaning of the things people said. Even Koeppel, the FireJohnIdzik spokesman, invoked the Great Presidential Campaign Cliché when talking about why he and his friends didn’t blame Rex. “He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with,” he said, contrasting Ryan with the disingenuous Idzik.24
In his next, even more improbable run to the AFC title game in that 2010 season, he seemed to be in Jim Caldwell’s head throughout the Jets’ wild-card matchup with the Manning-led Colts. The game turned on Caldwell’s inexplicable decision to call a timeout to stop the clock for the Jets as they were driving toward a game-winning field goal with time running out. Peyton Manning himself threw his hands up in shock at the move — it’s in the top 10 of the all-time Peyton Manning Face moments — and Caldwell was more or less finished in Indianapolis from that moment on.
In the next round, Ryan shocked reporters by upping the ante on his anti-Belichick rants. Ryan by then had been outed in the weirdest wife/foot-fetish/unidentified-toe-sucker sex-tape scandal that sports (or any other industry) had ever seen, and just slightly less significantly had also been on the business end of a 45-3 bulldozing at the hands of those same Patriots on Monday night only weeks before. What coach in that circumstance pushes the trash talk to 11?
“He’d been dialing it back on Belichick,” recalls Newsday’s Glauber. “So I asked him, are you dialing it back? And he says, ‘No, I came here to kick his ass.’ And I’m writing it down, going, ‘Yeah!’”
What did that accomplish? “Well, he definitely got in their heads a little bit,” Glauber insists.
And it’s true. Would Wes Welker have made 11 references to feet in a single pregame press conference if the coach of the other team hadn’t been Rex Ryan? Would he have poked that particular sore if it had been Ken Whisenhunt’s or Mike Munchak’s wife caught on tape? Chan Gailey’s? Joe Philbin’s?
No way. But because it was Ryan, who surely would have held a pregame parade with a city-block-length papier-mâché foot float if Footgate had been Bill Belichick’s scandal to bear, Welker violated the Patriot Prime Directive, forcing Belichick back into a Punji trap of his own rules. The Hoodie blinked, benching Welker to queer the start of a divisional-round debacle that to this day ranks with the greatest victories in Jets history.
The Jets then went to Pittsburgh full of high hopes at a Super Bowl shot. And again, they almost made it — a Sanchez-led comeback from 24-0 down fell just short. The loss stung New York fans badly, but nationally, it did nothing to dim Ryan’s star.
And why should it have? The first two years of the Rex Ryan era surely rank with the greatest stretches of coaching in the history of the league, and let’s not hear any whining about how one can’t say that because Rex’s Jets never won it all during that time. If Belichick can have his ring kissed by national pundits for just missing the playoffs in 2008 with Matt Cassel and a supporting roster a season removed from a 16-0 record, then Ryan deserves at least equivalent praise for twice just missing the Super Bowl with Darrelle Revis, a nice blitz package, and the horrifying blooper-reel fixture Sanchez under center.
Ryan seemed destined not just for all-time NFL coaching greatness, but for the kind of permanent national celebrity rarely reserved for sports stars not named LeBron or Jordan. Players all over the NFL were dying to come play for the franchise. Rex was on top of the world.
And then it all went to hell.
Al Pereira/Getty Images
The Jets fan base is one of the weirdest in all of sports. As the perennially losing AFL little brother in a global financial capital long ruled by the legacy Giants franchise, the Jets remain the only NFL team in America that doesn’t claim even one county majority-populated by its fans. Even in New York, everywhere in New York, the Jets have always been second bananas, and the franchise has been dogged by an inferiority complex for its entire existence. Hell, its first owner, Harry Wismer, decided upon the team’s first name — the Titans — because he had a size obsession with the crosstown rival Giants. “Titans are bigger and stronger than Giants,” Wismer insisted.
Ryan relished the underdog role of the Jets and perfectly understood the psyche of the people who supported them. Although his regular-guy credentials were certainly a little suspect (he grew up in NFL locker rooms, after all), he was a hero to the rude, in-your-face side of New York, to “Do you have the time or should I just go fuck myself?” New York, to guys with jackhammers and hard hats and hack licenses. Simultaneously he was an ongoing affront to the city’s smug, overpaid elites — particularly the tie-clad New York Times reader who probably commuted in from Connecticut every morning, ran a pension-raping desk at some evil bank by day, and rooted for the “classy” Giants in his spare time.
But it was the Giants who won yet another title in Ryan’s third year, while the Jets began a long slide downward. The two teams passed like ships in the night toward the end of the 2011 season, when they met in an infamous Christmas Eve battle that somehow changed everything. Ryan spent all week before that game bragging about how much better the Jets were, and then on the field the Jets folded like a cheap tent, the backbreaking play being a 99-yard Victor Cruz touchdown with the Jints backed up third-and-10 from the 1.25 Sanchez tossed his usual two picks and Big Blue won running away.
Ryan approached Brandon Jacobs after the game and reportedly snarled, “Shut the fuck up. Wait till we win the Super Bowl.”
Jacobs told Ryan he’d punch him in the mouth. He then complained to TV reporters about other Ryan antics, like the Jets’ lame decision to put black curtains over the Giants’ Super Bowl trophies in the stadium the two teams nervously shared. “Rex Ryan is a very disrespectful bastard, and that’s just the way he do things,” Jacobs said bluntly. But it wasn’t trash talk because the game was, you know, over and already won.
From that point forward for the Jets, it’s been bad bounces, bad juju, and one too-colorful debacle after another. The signature low moments in this period of Jets history are so well known that they all have catchy nicknames, like political scandals, Brazilian soccer stars, or supermodels (the world eagerly awaits the Victoria’s Secret debut of a Cape Verdean girl named Buttfumble).
New York Daily News
It had already begun in 2010 with Footgate. But then there was also Tattoogate (pundits were torn over what was weirder, that Ryan had a tattoo made of a Mark Sanchez jersey or that it was his wife wearing the jersey in the tattoo) and Tripgate (“Fortunately the young man wasn’t injured,” a nervous Rex insisted to a chortling David Letterman, reliving the time Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripped Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll). Santoniogate came when Ryan named notorious locker-room killer Santonio Holmes a team captain and then watched as Holmes, among other things, did a mocking “Fly, Eagles, Fly” TD celebration in the second quarter of a 45-19 loss to the Eagles that will probably forever stand as a monument to when not to make love to oneself in the end zone on national television.
Of course the worst scandal of all was the 2012 Butt Fumble, a play that will someday rest in the opening antechamber of the Internet museum, on an endlessly replaying monitor between Dramatic Chipmunk and Kim Kardashian with Ray J.
There’s no understating what that play meant to Rex and to the Jets franchise. When Sanchez coughed up a fumble-for-touchdown after getting spun around on a broken play, running straight into the backside of guard Brandon Moore — “He didn’t run to daylight, he ran to the opposite of daylight!” cackled a now-triumphant Francesa afterward — he forever turned the 32-yard line of MetLife Stadium into the Golgotha of the Rex era.
A hugely rated Thanksgiving night game, this was a long-awaited chance for the franchise to do some heavy lifting for the league in a big Nielsen slot. Instead, the NFL’s whole target audience — non-football fans, pre-verbal children, pets, visiting foreigners, everyone — was treated to endless loops of a man slamming his head against another man’s buttocks. What were the rules of the game again?
But the worst thing of all about the play is that it happened against the New England Patriots and Belichick.
There’s no way to talk about what went wrong with Rex Ryan without talking about his confrontations with Belichick. The Pats-Jets battles in these years encapsulated everything that was good and bad about Ryan. He won shocking upsets and his fluency in the X’s and O’s regularly diminished Tom Brady, the fastest on-field mind of his generation. But he also lost horrific games by inches to a moody obsessive in Belichick, whose entire raison d’être was to take just such advantage of “Fuck the details!” emotional instigators like Ryan.
The two men endlessly exposed and bloodied each other, and the argument still isn’t settled. You could look at it from the Jets’ perspective and say that Belichick just had a way better quarterback during these years. But the Patriots’ point of view would be to say that Ryan’s steady six-year collapse is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale come to life — proof of the cosmic fall that awaits those who talk too much. No matter what, it made an eerie kind of sense that when it came time for the End, the Last Gasp, it was the Hoodie standing on the other sideline.
Sunday, December 21, 2014. MetLife Stadium. The 11-3 Patriots, seeking to wrap up a bye, were taking on the 3-11 Jets, who had nothing at all on the line, except maybe — who knows — one last mad dash to save Ryan’s job?
“No way,” cracked one Jets beat writer in the press box just before kickoff. “Not even Woody is that stupid.”
“Think of what you’re saying,” said the other. Both men burst out laughing.
But sure enough, two and a half hours later, the score sat at Jets 13, Patriots 10, and the upset was in New York’s grasp. Across the MetLife press box, you could feel reporters tinkering with “One more year?” ledes.
The game had played out like so many previous Ryan-Patriots battles, with Brady battered and beaten and seeing triple in the face of a fearsome Jets front seven. You watch these games and think: Brady’s seen this so many times before; how can Rex still be in his head? But he is. And who knows, maybe the nature of Rex’s celebrity comes down to something as simple and dull as this: Coaching NFL football is really, really hard, and the guy is just good at it.
But he seems to have an equal talent for losing not just by fractions, but by fractions of fractions. In this case, the Pats eked out a 17-16 win in typically heartbreaking/insane fashion, thanks in part to an almost mystical officiating decision in which New England was awarded a first down despite the whole world seeing a ball on X-treme TV close-up that clearly sat several links short of the sticks.
No other explanation: God had reached down into New Jersey and fixed the game. There might as well have been a giant Flying Elvis–shaped burning bush on the 48-yard line. Ryan would later call it a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” play.
After the game, the difference between the two teams couldn’t have been clearer. Jets players were all over the place emotionally, alternately swaggerific about the almost-win and prematurely mournful about their lost coach. Defensive end Sheldon Richardson started off by bragging about how badly he and his line mates had kicked Brady’s ass (“Feasting. Fea-sting”), then moved on to talk about how he hoped to change the Jets-Pats script post-Rex.
“Don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season, but I’ve got to make sure I’ve got something to work for,” he snapped.
Meanwhile, in the Patriots locker room, the victors, even after clinching a week off, stayed numbingly, humorlessly on-message. As usual, nobody in the press got a single thing from any Patriot, about Rex, the weather, anything.
I tried right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, figuring a foreigner might slip and actually answer a question about whether he was going to miss these Rex-Belichick rivalry games. The enormous German paused, remembered his coaching, and deadpanned, “As far as I know, we’re still playing him next year,” then shot me an expert fuck you look before turning back to his locker to get dressed.
Ryan, forced at the postgame podium to answer the inevitable presumptuous questions about his last Jets home game, bragged in defeat for old times’ sake, talking about how “we’re the team that always gives [Brady] the biggest challenge, whether he admits it or not.”
Belichick, meanwhile, showed up for his postgame presser wearing his trademark Autopsy Table Face. And the only time his heart rate rose above 19 was when someone asked about the formation on their fourth-quarter field goal rush. Brightening, the Hoodie went on and on about it, to the point where reporters were glancing at each other in confusion — Belichick’s description of how Vince Wilfork got through the A gap was not quite a Thomas Pynchon novel, but close.
“We changed our alignment a little bit … It was a long kick, like the one in New England … ”
It’s subtle, but hilarious. Here’s his last game coaching against the rival who most confounded him both on and off the field for six long years, and Belichick’s farewell is a monotonal dive into the mysteries of special teams formations. If you speak 21st-century New England Patriot, it’s a giant middle finger, every bit as tall and proud as the one Rex laid on that crowd of Dolphins fans back in the day.
As for these two coaches, who will likely be linked together forever in a bitter, mostly one-sided rivalry along the lines of Sampras-Agassi or pre-2004 Woods-Mickelson, here’s the thing: As a media story, as sports/WWE-style theater, they seem like diametric opposites, perfect foils. Rex is huge; Belichick is little. Rex is an open book; Belichick’s face looks like something tightened with a torque wrench. Rex gives the media something every day, while Belichick wouldn’t piss on a reporter if he were on fire — unless he had plenty of reserve piss and it were Tom Jackson, or maybe Ron Borges.
And on the field, Rex is known to send the house on defense and dare opponents to hit the big one, while Belichick, for years equally hailed as a defensive genius, is known for keeping everything in front and daring opponents to execute yawn-inducing 15-play drives.
It’s fire versus ice, balls versus brains, the perfect Hollywood cliché duo. And for the last six years, Rex expertly played the role of John McClane, the tough-talking, shoot-from-the-hip everyman who ignores the long odds and leads with his gut (at times literally, in Rex’s case). And Belichick? He’s been cast as America’s Hans Gruber, the evil smart guy who revels in planning for every last eventuality and irritates us because he knows what a bearer bond is.
It’s great theater, but it happens to be total crap. The two men are far more alike than they are different. Both are coaches’ sons who grew up in the game and became celebrated defensive coordinators. Officially now, both botched their first head coaching jobs. And both had enormous learning curves with the media in those first efforts, only in opposite directions. Belichick needed a whole decade to learn to be minimally polite, while Rex will need about that long to learn minimal restraint.
The major real difference is that they have opposing philosophies about how to manage players. Belichick is the overprotective dad who stays up all night worrying about the trouble his kids might get into, while Ryan, whose own wife, Michelle, described his leadership style as the “fun parent,” is the indulgent one who lets his kids make their own mistakes.
After a Jets practice one day I ask Sudfeld, who has played for both of them, if the two men have much in common. “Absolutely,” he says. “It’s the competitiveness. They both hate to lose. The philosophies are a little different, but the intensity is the same.”
“Rex is just more out in front with his personality,” agrees former O-lineman and ESPN analyst Damien Woody.
And then there’s the on-field similarity. Ryan is known as a gambler and Belichick as the plodding player of probabilities, but the fact is that both of them are famous for flipping off fan and media expectations and trying absolutely crazy things in their football operations.
Belichick will do things like cut every single viable NFL safety on his roster just before a season starts (like he did in 2011) and then field a would-be contending team with guys like Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown protecting his back line. He annually drafts someone ESPN doesn’t even have tape on in the second round, he’s sent Julian Edelman to cover Anquan Boldin with the Super Bowl on the line, and his preseason whacking of a beloved All-Pro like Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, or Logan Mankins has become a New England tradition as dependable as autumn foliage or coked-out bar fights in Southie.
And Rex is just the same. A classic demonstration came in Week 13 against the Dolphins, when Ryan didn’t even attempt to pass the ball, continually trying to run Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson past the Dolphins’ overaggressive outside rushers, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. With minutes left in a game lost by a single field goal, the Jets had more than 240 yards on the ground and Geno Smith had just eight attempts. It was a lunatic, brilliant, infuriating strategy that drove reporters crazy — and nobody else, with the possible exception of Bill Belichick, would have dared to try such a thing.
Rich Schultz /Getty Images
Belichick was an obsession of Rex’s right up to the end. He brought him up before Patriots games, before non-Patriots games, when it made sense, and when it didn’t. When reporters hounded him for not passing in the first Dolphins game, he pointed to his 200 first-half rushing yards and pleaded, “Even Brady and Belichick would take that.”
He was constantly comparing himself to his rival, and while the rest of his swaggery predictions felt increasingly hollow toward the end, in more reflective moments he actually started to sound eerily like … Bill Belichick. After practice on Christmas Eve, for instance, one of the beat writers asked him what he thought he’d be doing this time next year.
Rex sighed, for just a fleeting moment flashing a Foxborough Death Mask. How many different ways would reporters try to ask him about whether he was about to get fired? Recovering quickly, he shook his head, waved a hand, and smiled.
“Come on, are you going to make me say it?” he said. He slipped into Belichick mode: “I’m just thinking about Miami.”
Everybody laughed. “It’s going to have to be one hell of a game plan,” one of the reporters quipped.
And it was. It just wasn’t enough this time.
And that might be the final similarity to Belichick, that it will only all come together for Rex in his second chance. Of course it would be the most Jets thing ever, Rex going elsewhere and winning pretty much instantly with someone like Matt Ryan or Colin Kaepernick or even, God forbid, Jay Cutler. But it feels inevitable that the second-act success story will come somewhere. The perfect situation would probably be someplace like Atlanta: good quarterback, depressed defense, and first-tier intra-division foils in Drew Brees and Cam Newton. They’ll have to teach him where the city of Tampa is, how to offend its residents, etc., but he’s a quick study.
The NFL has seen some great showmen over the years: Namath; Jerry Glanville; Bum Phillips (we really can’t find another coach to either wear a cowboy hat or call himself “Bum”?); Rex’s dad, Buddy; even Jerry Jones.
But there’s never been anyone like Rex Ryan. This is a man who (a) maxed out the barnstorming potential of the digital age, (b) simultaneously authored both some of the greatest coaching performances of the generation and some of the worst football ever played (the Internet equally devours the genius and the train wreck), and (c) successfully marketed himself to fans not just in New York but everywhere as the fun-loving, recognizably human challenge to the staid, corporate, calculating side of the NFL represented by villainous androids like Roger Goodell.
The central question with Rex is whether fun can coach and win in the modern NFL, or whether too much fun and “fun parenting” leads inevitably to Butt Fumbles and botched snaps and karmic debacles like Marty Mornhinweg calling Chris Johnson a “first-ballot Hall of Famer” minutes after he signs. And honestly, that may be a dumb question — if Rex Ryan had lucked into a Brees or a Rodgers or a Manning anytime in the last six years, we wouldn’t even be asking it. But he didn’t, and now the Jets have lost the man who was born to coach here, and it sucks.
This article has been updated to correct the date of Geno Smith’s 0.0 passer rating achievement; it happened on October 26, 2014, not November 24.
Source: Grantland » Features | 6 Jan 2015 | 10:37 am PST
While rain pelts downtown Oakland, Klay Thompson finds shelter inside the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility. The storm disrupts the entire Bay Area, triggering school closings and flash-flood warnings. Thompson, however, enjoys the inclement weather. It reminds him of growing up in Oregon. “I used to hoop all the time in the rain,” he says. “It never bothered me to go outside to shoot in my backyard all day.”
A banner representing the Warriors’ last championship — from nearly 40 years ago — hangs on the wall. Many of Thompson’s teammates have scattered after practice. Golden State beat Houston the previous night, to stretch its franchise-best win streak to 14 (it would end at 16, with a loss the following week to the Memphis Grizzlies). Stephen Curry shoots on one basket. Andy Thompson, one of Klay’s uncles and a vice-president of production for NBA Entertainment, is in town for a visit. He attempts a few shots on the near court and clanks a long jumper. “You didn’t see that,” Andy says.
“I heard it,” Klay responds with a laugh.
Klay Thompson returns to a conversation about why he chose basketball. “It’s one of the few sports where you can work on it individually — just go in the gym with a basketball and a hoop,” Thompson says. “[Or] not even a hoop. You can just have a basketball. I can go out there with nine other people and play five-on-five, [or with] three other people and play two-on-two. You don’t need pads. You don’t need much gear. All you need is a ball and a 10-foot hoop. It doesn’t even have to be a good ball or a good hoop.”
Thompson remembers playing with his brothers, before they all began pursuing careers as professional athletes, when they challenged each other out of nothing but competitive instincts and the sheer enjoyment of the game. “I did not expect to be this good, really,” he concedes. “It still shocks me how effective I’ve been in the league so far. I thought I was going to be a good role player, a guy that could shoot and defend a little bit, a three-and-D guy, but now that I can maybe even be a franchise cornerstone truly shocks me. I never thought I’d get to this point.”
Thompson’s game has blossomed after a summer that was full of challenges and rewards. In the span of a few short months, Thompson saw Golden State fire Mark Jackson, the coach whose unwavering support steadied Thompson’s confidence, and then he heard his name floated in so many Kevin Love trade rumors that he began imagining himself on the receiving end of Ricky Rubio assists. But Thompson also shone as one of Team USA’s top performers at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and when he returned with his gold medal, he signed a near-max contract worth around $70 million to remain in Golden State. While Thompson hated seeing Jackson lose his job, he has flourished under first-year coach Steve Kerr, who has granted him more freedom in the Warriors offense. Thompson has long looked the part of a prototypical NBA shooting guard: long and lean, a pure shooter, a dedicated defender, and a willing passer. And this season he’s acting the part, averaging a career-best 21 points per game and shooting 43.1 percent on 3-pointers. Thompson’s ascent has been one of the main reasons for the Warriors’ NBA-best 26-5 record, as the team finds itself atop a historically deep and competitive Western Conference.
Thompson has flashed new dimensions of his game this season. He attacks off the dribble more than in previous years, visiting the paint more frequently and more aggressively. When he comes off a ball screen, then splits a double-team before lofting a feathery runner from a step inside the free throw line, Thompson appears to be incorporating touches of his backcourt partner’s game. And indeed, Thompson credits competition between teammates for his development into an all-around scoring threat. “Trying to chase Steph,” he says. “That’s how you stay hungry. Try to do what he does. I can’t do that. I don’t think anyone on this planet can.”
As Thompson and Curry have grown into what many believe is the NBA’s best backcourt, it has become clear that they’re linked by much more than their catchy Splash Brothers nickname. Their fathers, Mychal Thompson and Dell Curry, both had successful NBA careers before becoming broadcast analysts for the Lakers and Hornets, respectively. Their mothers, Julie Thompson and Sonya Curry, both played volleyball in college. And their brothers, Mychel Thompson and Seth Curry, are fellow basketball pros who have pushed and prodded Klay and Stephen on their paths to the NBA. But if genetics alone could determine NBA greatness, there would presumably be more Jordans in the league today. “It’s dedication and work ethic,” Dell Curry says. “You can be around it, but you still have to go out there and do it. That’s what makes you proudest as a parent and ex-player.”
Klay and Steph understand that their genes and their fathers’ NBA experience placed them on the inside track to becoming the athletes they are today. But both Thompson and Curry had once been lightly recruited and considered too frail for the NBA game. Of all the common traits between them, this might be the most important: They know how hard they worked to get here. They know they can get even better if they keep working. The best backcourt in the NBA expects to improve.
“For the last couple of years, Steph has been knocking on that door of the top guys in the league,” says Warriors forward Draymond Green. “Now he’s there, but you can see that he’s not satisfied. He wants to get great. Steph went to Davidson, wasn’t highly recruited, probably had a few scholarship offers, didn’t really play AAU. So he was never that highly touted guy.
“Klay, coming out of high school, he wasn’t highly touted,” Green says. “He went to Washington State, but Washington State isn’t a basketball powerhouse. This territory is new to him and you can see that. You can see that it’s new to them. All of a sudden it’s like, ‘Let me get more. I want more.’ And it’s that hunger — you can see it.”
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
About an hour after practice, Stephen Curry heads to a clothes fitting. A hotel room high above downtown Oakland is covered in a rainbow of shirts, ties, suits, and shorts. Curry jumps from one ensemble to the next. One moment, he looks like James Bond in a tuxedo; the next, he’s beach-ready, sporting a pair of swimming trunks.
One of the stylists compliments Curry’s look. “But don’t quit your day job,” he cautions. “Male models don’t make much.”
If Thompson’s steady, season-by-season improvement from promising rookie to potential All-Star represents an ideal form of progress for NBA players, then Curry’s game resembles something more like a video game cheat code. Curry looks quick, and then when he moves on the court, he’s even speedier than he looks. The release on his shot seems impossibly fast, and his stroke remains smooth from distances that should require a heave. “For me, it’s about not being defined as just a shooter,” Curry says. “It’s about [being] a guy that plays the point guard position in a totally unique way and hopefully [becoming] one of the best point guards in the history of the game — shooting the basketball and being a playmaker with a couple of championships to show for it.”
The stylist tells Curry that he thinks a great backdrop for a photo shoot would be the south of France, maybe Saint-Tropez. “When is your offseason?” he asks.
“End of June until September,” Curry answers.
Until a couple of years ago, Curry could have answered “mid-April.” That’s when the regular season ends for non-playoff teams, when the Warriors traditionally clocked out for summer. “That was the worst feeling,” Curry says. “A month before the season’s over, you know it’s done. Cats got their bags packed, cars packed.”
Golden State lucked into drafting Curry seventh overall in 2009, after Minnesota made its now infamous decision to select two point guards, Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, back-to-back ahead of Curry. The Warriors, who had tried and failed to trade up to draft Curry, were thrilled that the Davidson guard fell to them. That offseason, Golden State was in transition. Its marquee point guard, Baron Davis, had left the team through free agency the year before. A few leftovers from the 2007 “We Believe” team remained on the roster, but that group never coalesced after their memorable playoff run, and the team’s veteran core had lost faith in coach Don Nelson and the direction of the franchise.
As a rookie, Curry tiptoed into turmoil. Although the Warriors tried to welcome him into their fold, the team couldn’t stop star guard Monta Ellis from telling reporters at team media day that he and Curry were too small to play together in the same backcourt. Nelson played Curry less than three minutes in his eighth NBA game after fielding the first-year guard for more than 20 minutes in each of the previous seven. “We had lost Baron Davis and our team was in flux and I had some issues with some veteran players,” Nelson recalls. “I had to bring [Curry] along slower than I wanted to. Otherwise, I would have thrown him in right away. But we were still trying to win games, so I did bring him along slowly. In my mind, before long he was going to be my starting point guard, which he ended up being.”
Curry endured the upheaval and submitted a solid rookie season. But Keith Smart, who replaced Nelson in 2010, often chose to finish games with Acie Law over Curry. Smart wanted a caretaker to close out games, and Curry was turnover-prone early in his career. The Warriors replaced Smart with Mark Jackson in 2011, but the organization continued to stumble, sputtering to a 23-43 finish in Jackson’s first year, the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, while persistent ankle injuries threatened to derail Curry’s career.
That all seems so long ago.
Curry stands in front of a mirror, sizing himself up in a black tux. “Just seeing the change from my rookie year to now, what being a Warrior means [has] changed,” he says. “When I came into the NBA we were irrelevant. Now, to be championship contenders, it’s pretty special.”
Thompson’s rookie year came in that dreadful, lockout-shortened season. He didn’t know what to expect from himself — how good he could be as an NBA player. Back then, he said about two words a day. Now, he’s comfortable with his teammates, with the media, and with his game, and Curry has noticed.
“The ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as opposed to just being a scorer, that’s the best thing for him and [for] us as a team,” Curry says. “He’s almost impossible to guard if he can do that. I don’t know what clicked, whether it was just the confidence that he can make a play in traffic and get where he wants on the floor — it’s pretty cool to see.”
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Jerry DeBusk remembers how quiet Klay Thompson was when Thompson arrived at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California. “As a sophomore, he spoke in two- and three-word sentences,” DeBusk says. “As a junior, he actually would complete the full sentence. And as a senior, we had really good dialogue.”
Thompson grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon, near where his father, Mychal, had played with the Trail Blazers. To Klay and his brothers, Mychel and Trayce, Clyde Drexler wasn’t just one of the league’s premier guards, but also their dad’s pal. Whenever the Thompson kids joined a youth sports team, the coach would invite Mychal to offer a motivational speech. “I would just roll my eyes, like, ‘I’ve got to hear this at home every day,’” Klay recalls. “‘This is nothing new to me.’ But a lot of my friends would like it and have their eyes glued [to him], and I’d just be laughing, like, You guys don’t even know.” Mychel was the oldest boy, then Klay. Trayce, the youngest, was bigger than Klay when they were growing up.
“Trayce was a year younger than me, but he was physically just bigger,” Klay says. “So I couldn’t punk him, and Mychel would punk both of us, so I would be the one always getting punked. It was so frustrating. We’d have some intense games — one-on-one, one-on-two. That’s why I got good fast in high school.” When Klay was about 15, he beat Mychel in basketball for the first time. “Anybody in the NBA with siblings will tell you how important [that is],” Klay says. “As a kid growing up, you don’t want to beat anybody so badly as your brother. [Mychel] kicked the ball so far on the school roof that I never saw it again.”26
Yet despite his basketball pedigree, Klay’s game confounded coaches and scouts during his high school career. After the family had moved to Orange County, when Klay played for Santa Margarita teams that were stacked with Division I talent, he remained relatively unheralded. DeBusk set out to prepare Klay for the college level. “I used to be critical of his defense,” the coach says. “I thought he was slow as far as moving his feet, but I finally realized that he glides. He covers a lot of space because he’s so long. It was a mistake on my part to think that he wasn’t really busting defensively.” As far as his shot? “All he needed was a step and he’d get open and just drill it,” DeBusk recalls. “A couple kids that I’m coaching now say they’re shooters. I say, ‘No, Klay Thompson is a shooter.’”
Mychel, who starred at Santa Margarita before Klay and now plays for Golden State’s D-League affiliate, never doubted that his younger brother could become an elite player. “People saying he wasn’t a good athlete and the things I’m seeing him do — it [didn’t] make any sense,” Mychel says. “I’ve seen him dunk on plenty of people. He’s athletic, blocks shots. I [didn’t] understand why people would try and say he’s not athletic. Just because he’s not the highest jumper? OK, but he can shoot and he’s more athletic than you think.” The major Pac-12 programs recruited Thompson lightly and offered spots to other star guards from the region. USC landed DeMar DeRozan, UCLA signed Jrue Holiday, and Arizona chased Brandon Jennings, who wound up playing in Italy before declaring for the NBA draft. Being treated as second-tier talent put a chip on Klay’s shoulder, and he embraced that underdog’s mentality.
“I was right in UCLA’s backyard, Cal’s backyard,” Klay says. “[But] with Washington State, I was attracted there because Tony Bennett really sold me on his guys that were under the radar. I bought into that. People think because I was a player’s son, I was supposed to be this All-Star right away, but I was kind of a late bloomer.”
Playing at Washington State, far away from the Pac-12 spotlight, ended up being an important step in Thompson’s career. It allowed him to develop into an NBA prospect without facing the same level of scrutiny and pressure as his peers at glamour programs. “I thought I was going to make the NBA,” Thompson says. “But if I had went to UCLA, I probably would have felt I had to perform right away. Washington State was kind of unique — we are just a blue-collar school. I think I would have put a lot more pressure on myself if I was that five-star recruit coming out of high school. I probably would have gotten a little big-headed. [Instead], I was really hungry when I came to Washington State.”
Thompson started as a freshman on Bennett’s team. He averaged 12.5 points and led the Cougars in 3-point shooting and free throw percentage that season. By his junior year, Thompson was an all-conference player and the Pac-12’s leading scorer at 21.6 points per game. Still, when Thompson declared for the draft after that season, he remained somewhat unknown to NBA scouts. “I played on the West Coast and up in the Pacific Northwest, in Pullman,” Klay explains. “Really in obscurity.” In pre-draft workouts, he was often paired with Mychel, who was two years older than Klay and who’d just finished his college career at Pepperdine. The brothers were part of the same draft class, and their workout battles weren’t much different from the driveway clashes of their childhood. “It wasn’t easy” Mychel recalls. “When you have scouts come and having to compete against him and he’s making every shot.”
In 2011, Bob Myers was named the Warriors’ general manager. That June, he would have to make his first NBA draft pick in that position. It was also the first draft for the Warriors’ ambitious new ownership group, headed by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Klay Thompson, true to himself, had been reserved during his pre-draft interview with the team. “I sensed a quiet confidence,” Myers recalls, “which is hard to see, because when you’re interviewing potential players, often the ones that speak the loudest are the most memorable. It’s harder to read the introverts and it’s harder to read somebody that’s a little less gregarious.”
The Warriors took Thompson with the 11th overall pick. Adding Thompson to a roster that already included two ball-dominant guards seemed like a risk. Jackson had just been hired to coach the team, Monta Ellis and Curry were still learning to coexist, and incorporating a third wing scorer threatened to upset the lineup’s balance. At least, when Thompson joined the team, Curry gave him a kinder welcome than Ellis had offered Curry a few years before.
“When I first got here, I’d shoot with him and have competitions,” Thompson says. “I was good enough to win sometimes — just set shots — but when I started trying to put the dribble combinations together like him and do the things he does around the rim, my percentages didn’t look good,” Thompson adds. “His ball handling surprised me. I didn’t know he was that smooth with the ball, and how he has it on a string so much, and how quick he was to get his jump shot.”
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Back in the hotel, Curry has modeled nearly all the garments that have been laid out for him. All of a sudden, Kobe Bryant’s voice booms from the television. It’s audio from a recent Lakers practice, in which Bryant railed against his teammates, cursing them and calling them soft as toilet tissue.
Curry smiles. “Yeah, Kobes,27 talk to them.
“I like it,” he says. “I’ve been in practices like that before — when you’re trying to figure it out, trying to spark something. I know his competitiveness. He’s trying to figure that out.”
Not too long ago, most casual fans would probably scoff at uttering Curry’s name in the same breath with the NBA’s franchise cornerstones — players like Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. In 2013, after Curry narrowly missed making the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team, his mother, Sonya, remembers the patronizing support of one acquaintance, who told her, “Good try, but he’s really not LeBron or Kobe or anybody like that.”
Sonya Curry never doubted. Even when Stephen was a scrawny teenager, she saw he had the intelligence and work ethic to succeed. All he needed was a growth spurt. “We were praying that God would not leave our son with size 13 shoes and 5-foot-6,” she says. “Part of that was just praying, ‘Lord, you can’t have my child running around here with these big feet as tall as I am.’” And even though he grew to 6-foot-3 — an above-average height for an NBA point guard — and became a star at Davidson, scouts still wondered if Curry’s slight frame could withstand the toll of the league’s physical style and endure the grind of its unforgiving schedule. They questioned whether he’d be fast and explosive enough to create separation for his jump shot. But Sonya Curry never doubted.
Basketball, Dell and Sonya taught their children, was their father’s job and not a form of entertainment. Like Klay and Mychel Thompson, Stephen would battle his brother, Seth, on the court. “It would be hard for a game to finish because we’d go back and forth,” says Seth, who now plays for the D-League Erie BayHawks. “We’d foul and we’d end up almost getting into fights and my mom would have to break it up.” But Sonya Curry intervened only when the scuffles threatened to get serious. “Dell and I are both competitive as husband and wife — in everything — so we knew that our children were going to be like that too,” she says. “You don’t want to interfere too much because that’s just natural stuff. They grow and learn through it. But we were always there at the end to say, ‘What’s the lesson in this? Let’s check our attitudes and let’s move on.’”
At Charlotte Christian School, coach Shonn Brown got used to meeting college coaches who saw Curry’s slim build and questioned his potential. “I couldn’t tell you the number of coaches that were like, ‘He’s not athletic enough,’” Brown says. “It became comical to our staff, because we were like, ‘If I brought him to your college practice right now, he’d be the best shooter on your team.’ It was like, ‘You guys really aren’t understanding.’”
Curry’s Davidson exploits are the stuff of college basketball legend. During the school’s 2008 NCAA tournament run, March Madness descended on Davidson’s tony North Carolina campus and Curry became a national sensation. And although it’s easy for basketball fans to recall the images of Curry burying 3 after 3 in wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin, there’s another memory that Davidson coach Bob McKillop rarely mentions when he talks about that season.
“In the year we went to the Elite Eight, prior to our opening game of the season, [Curry] was contemplating having surgery on his hand and sitting out the year,” McKillop says. “Not many people know that. If you look at tape from that year, you can see his thumb was taped up quite a bit and he played through it, and it was just remarkable, the resiliency that he had.”
During the Davidson years, America fell in love with Curry’s elegant game — the soft touch on his high-arcing jumpers and those delicate little teardrops he’d loft above the fingertips of opposing big men. A kind of sweetness shines through when you watch Curry play. But … “Don’t ever take that little baby-faced look and think he’s not competitive,” cautions Jerry West, who serves on the Warriors executive board. “He’s unbelievably competitive.”
“Nothing was ever given to me, regardless of what people think,” Curry says. “I had a dad that played in the league, but it wasn’t a cakewalk to get to this place. I’m obviously blessed to have natural talents, but for me, it was all about hard work and discipline when it came to getting to this level.”
Every player who enters the NBA, no matter how good he is, experiences a moment of doubt early in his career, something that makes him ask, “Am I good enough for this league?” Curry struggled at times in his rookie year, and his friend and former roommate Chris Strachan remembers that Curry would watch his old Davidson highlights to remind himself of how good he was. “It was like, Yeah, this is how I play,” Strachan says. It was as if Curry were thinking, “This is a new league and a new 3-point line and new teammates and different personalities and everything, but this is how I play right here. This is what I need to do.“
That’s when Curry began to gain the confidence necessary to succeed against the most talented and competitive basketball players in the world. He’d already built that self-belief over the first two years of his career, but it received an even greater boost when Mark Jackson was hired to coach the Warriors. Jackson, who’d been one of the most brash players of his generation, assured Curry that he’d be on the floor to finish games, and he demanded that Curry play with the same edge and attitude that Jackson once had. Although Jackson was fired after three seasons in Golden State over disagreements between himself and the front office, there’s no debating that he instilled confidence in his players and that they enjoyed playing for him.
“I spoke what I believed of those guys even if some of them didn’t believe it and even if the world didn’t believe it,” Jackson says.28 “I said that those guys were the best shooting backcourt that ever played this game. People looked at me like I was crazy [at the time], and now it’s a throwaway line. I said that Klay was the best two-way shooting guard and it looked like I was biased. I said Steph Curry was a superstar and we would be in the playoffs and we would be successful and we’d play defense. Draymond Green, people thought I was crazy for letting him shoot 3s. You believe in these guys, and sooner or later, it’s going to catch fire. I didn’t lie. Everything I said, I believed.”
The moment Curry knew he could be a superstar arrived randomly, during a road game against Dallas early in the 2012-13 season. “We were down in the second half and we had a huge comeback on the road,” he says. “And the last eight or so minutes of the fourth quarter was like my best performance ever as far as taking over the game. It was a random game, but it gave me a lot of confidence that I could do that — perform in big moments when I needed to.”29
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
Klay Thompson had a similar moment midway through his rookie year, during a ho-hum game in Denver. He was nervous in his first several games, but the breakneck pace of that lockout-shortened season meant Thompson had no time to worry about feeling butterflies in his stomach. He just had to play, and that night against the Nuggets his game came together in a flash and revealed Thompson as the kind of scorer he could be. He scored 19 points in less than 18 minutes. “I was like, ‘Man, did I just do that?’” he says. “I realized from there that I could be a good player in this league.”
Mychal Thompson saw proof that his son would find NBA success even before Klay’s performance in Denver. It came against the Lakers in Los Angeles. “Knowing what a killer Kobe was on the court and how he likes to test young players,” Mychal says, “if Klay could hold his own against Kobe, then I thought, OK, he’s ready for this league, because there’s no better competitor in this game than Kobe Bryant.” His son hit six of eight shots in a loss to Kobe’s Lakers. “I just played as hard as I could,” Klay recalls. “I tried to contest every shot to the point of the ball. It was a cool moment for me because my family was in the stands. My friends were in the stands. They’re all Kobe lovers and Lakers lovers.”
From there, Jackson kept tutoring Thompson, showing the rookie tricks that the coach’s former teammates, like Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin, had used to free themselves for shots. “He just gave me extreme confidence,” Thompson says. “He really felt I was the best 2-guard in the NBA on both sides of the ball. It was fun playing for him every night. He was really motivational and he really had me believing.”
The best explanation for the steady improvement Thompson has kept up throughout his career might also be the simplest: He doesn’t have many interests besides basketball. There’s his dog, Rocco; his video games; and basketball. “I just really do want to play,” Thompson says. “I’m not out there trying to make a fashion statement or pump my chest or have the most social media followers. I just love basketball.” Thompson’s numbers have improved every year he’s been in the league. He averaged 12.5, 16.6, and 18.4 points in his three full NBA seasons.
Late in Thompson’s rookie year, Golden State traded Monta Ellis to acquire Andrew Bogut. The deal marked the official turnover of the team to Curry and freed more playing time for Thompson. “I give Bob Myers and Jerry [West] and all the guys in basketball ops great credit for pushing to do the Bogut trade,” Lacob says. “It allowed Steph to blossom and take over without Monta, and the pairing with Klay was perfect.” Myers admits that the deal was more about landing Bogut than anything else. “Klay gave us the opportunity to explore dealing Monta because we saw that [Thompson] could be a high-level 2-guard,” the GM says. “But this franchise had been centerless for 20 years. The chance to grab a guy [who] we felt we could grow with and was relatively young, it was too good to pass up.”
Andre Iguodala guarded Thompson when Golden State faced the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. The series, which the Warriors won, played a role in Iguodala’s decision to sign with Golden State the following offseason. Iguodala envisioned himself as an ideal backcourt complement to Thompson and Curry.
“There’s no such thing as a bad shot [with Klay],” Iguodala says. “There’s no such thing as a play that can’t be made. If he makes a mistake, it’s almost as if he didn’t make it, because the next time, he’ll try it again and make it happen.” That confidence, Iguodala says, distinguishes Thompson from other gifted shooting guards: “Everyone in the NBA is talented, but the mental part of it goes [overlooked]. That’s something that’ll never show up in analytics. It’s hard to measure that as a GM — what type of guy [a player] is. But Klay is one of the very few who you can measure it [for], because there is no fear.”
Last season, Curry and Thompson’s long-range assault truly came into its own — and terrorized opponents. They made a combined 484 3s, the most ever by two teammates in a season. “I try to get a little shove off my defender, get as much space as possible,” Thompson says of how he creates separation when he curls off screens. “You can kind of feel in the back of your head how much space you’ve got, if you’ve got a good push on him. I don’t need a lot of space to get it off. If I feel like I got a good push off him, it’s going up every time.”
When Golden State reached the 2014 playoffs, Bogut was sidelined by a broken rib, and the Warriors dropped a tense seven-game first-round series to the Clippers. Both Curry (with playoff averages of 23 points and 8.4 assists) and Thompson (16.4 and 3.6) impressed.
By the end of last season, Curry and Thompson’s incendiary scoring runs had become so common that fans almost began to expect them. “It’s kind of unfortunate, because as a player, you want that surprise,” Draymond Green says. “You want that, Man, you see that? You want someone to feel that way about the work you put in. But at this point, it doesn’t surprise me when they run off 12 or 14 straight. Both of them are just so good.”
The 2014-15 season opened after a summer of uncertainty. To the dismay of many players, Golden State replaced Jackson after his relationship with the front office deteriorated. Steve Kerr was hired as the Warriors’ new coach. “That was tough to handle because the whole year, I knew there was obviously questions about his job security and there wasn’t many people, especially in the front office, backing him,” Curry says of Jackson. “So he was kind of just left hanging until the end of the season and they obviously pulled the trigger on the decision. [At first] I wasn’t very happy about it, and then you’re kind of uncertain about who they’re going to hire. I approached it as two separate decisions. I wasn’t happy with the first one [to fire Jackson], but happy with the second, knowing that we’re getting a good head coach, highly touted [for] his basketball IQ and his background.”
The offseason was even more nerve-racking for Thompson, whose name continually surfaced in trade rumors with Minnesota for Kevin Love. The question of whether to make a run at Love split the Warriors front office. “Clearly, we had an opportunity to make a big deal, which would have involved Klay, and it was a very complex decision,” Lacob says. “It went on for quite a long time. Really a couple of months. It’s always a tough call on something like this. There are great players going both ways. But at the end of the day, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are maybe the best backcourt in the NBA. That doesn’t come along every day.”
After months of speculation, Kerr sent a text message to Klay: You’re not going anywhere. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to coach you.
Curry and Thompson both earned gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where Thompson was one of Team USA’s stars. “He has an edge to him, which we liked,” says Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball. “If you’re having a conversation with him, he’s always rocking. He’s always on his toes. He’s ready to play all the time.”
After the United States pummeled Serbia in the tournament final, Thompson approached his mother. “Mom, I can’t imagine how it would feel to win an NBA championship,” he remembers saying. The comment caught Julie Thompson off guard. Klay hadn’t even bothered to take a victory lap with his gold medal. He was already focused on the upcoming NBA season.
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images
Steve Kerr has maintained an “aw shucks” demeanor while helming the Warriors to the best record in the NBA. He lucked into this position, he says. The pieces were in place, he says. He just tells his players to shoot, he says. He praises the job Mark Jackson did before he arrived.
All that is likely true. But Kerr’s humility camouflages what he’s done to help Golden State reach a new level of success. He has an understated confidence that comes from the years he spent as a player on the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, learning from Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. If Kerr took the wrong approach going into the season, he could have enflamed a tense locker room full of players who didn’t fully approve of how Jackson had lost his job. Kerr called each player individually to deliver the message that he believed the Warriors were already a great team. He was not a savior, he told them, because the organization didn’t need one. He explained that he just planned to implement some tweaks that would hopefully inch Golden State to the next level.
Still, Kerr is the coach who, during his playing career, once got into a fistfight with Michael Jordan at practice. He wants to win as much as do all the players on his roster. Before the team’s first film session, Kerr broke the ice by splicing in a montage that mocked the team’s assistant coaches. He included a photo of Alvin Gentry from his college basketball career in the 1970s, when Gentry sported a huge Afro; there was another vintage photo of Ron Adams and a Family Guy clip that mocked Luke Walton’s playing ability. On the second day of training camp, however, Kerr lit into his team. “And we deserved it,” Thompson says. “We had come out sloppy. He hates to lose, man.”
Kerr has tasked Curry with defending opposing point guards game after game.30 “It’s important, especially as a captain and a point guard, for a player like that to take the challenge,” Kerr says. “It sets a good tone, but it also means that in certain matchups, we stay more solid because a lot of teams will have a great point guard and then a couple great wing players. It’s nice to keep Klay on a big wing rather than look at a possible mismatch.” Curry has been among the league leaders in steals this season, and Warriors assistant Adams emphasizes that Curry’s steals don’t come at the expense of team defense. “He’s deflecting passes that people are trying to throw through him to feed the post,” Adams says. “He’s getting a hand on the ball and then he’s picking up the turnover and going with it. That’s to be contrasted with a lot of the steals with guys who are running out in lanes and trying to get the steal, and if they don’t, it’s a five-on-four.”
Kerr has pushed Thompson to put the ball on the floor more often and to sharpen his decision-making for when to pass, shoot, or drive. “Coach Kerr told me I’ve got to be greedy,” Thompson says. “That’s getting into the lane, getting to the free throw line, getting my shot.”
Young teams that skyrocket up the standings often experience power struggles within their rosters. Think Shaq and Penny with the Orlando Magic, Shaq and Kobe with the Lakers, or even, to some extent, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are only so many shot attempts, so many contract dollars, and so many endorsement opportunities to go around. But Golden State believes that type of friction won’t develop between Curry and Thompson. “I’ve never heard Steph come to anybody and say, ‘I need this many shots. I need to get the ball,’” Thompson says. “That’s not my nature, either. I know I’m going to get shots up if I just play my game and keep moving without the ball. For us, it’s never been about, ‘Oh, he’s the franchise guy,’ or ‘Oh, he gets all the accolades.’ I think we all put our egos aside.
“I know my strengths,” Thompson continues. “I know I’m not as good as Steph with the ball in my hands. I’m better moving off the pick, off the ball, in position to catch and go, instead of standing still with the high ball screen. So let’s say it’s the end of the game and Coach Kerr calls a drag screen for Steph. I’m not going to argue because I know that [Curry]’s going to draw enough attention that I’m going to get a shot. Or I know I’m a better post player than Steph, so if I have a mismatch, he’ll recognize it and throw me the ball. [But] at times, both of us have to be selfish to get into a rhythm and a groove or just to put pressure on a defense.”
This outlook has spread among the rest of the Golden State roster. “Steph don’t care if Klay gets the shot,” Green says. “Klay don’t care if Steph gets the shot. So if you’re on their team, how can you get mad at something like that?”
The public expectations for this Warriors season have skyrocketed — perhaps more than Jerry West would prefer. As great as the team has played, it will always be held back by concerns about Bogut’s health. The oft-injured big man, the key anchor to the Warriors’ league-leading defense, recently had platelet-rich plasma therapy performed on his right knee and hasn’t played since December 8. He’s expected to return mid-January. West insists that this is a team and roster set for the long haul. “You can’t even talk about a championship at this point in time,” West says. “I think it’s inappropriate because this is a work in progress. I think we’re starting to get more confident. I think we can get a lot better. I really do. When I look at other teams, how many can get a lot better? I don’t think there are a lot.”
But regardless of whether West deems it proper to anoint the Warriors as a potential championship team, as long as they’ve got the best record in the NBA and continue to pull away from the field in a historically competitive Western Conference, fans and the media will keep Golden State high on the list of title contenders. And the pressure will be on Curry and Thompson to prove that they can be just as devastating in the postseason.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson offered similar descriptions of how it feels when they can’t miss on the basketball court — when every shot, from everywhere, seems like it will be swallowed by the net.
“The rim looks bigger,” Curry says. “The ball feels better. Your body feels in sync no matter where you are on the court, or what happens before you rise up and take the shot. It just feels like the ultimate confidence. Because you know the opposite of that. You know when your timing is off or something doesn’t feel right and every shot is awkward for whatever reason. But when you’re on fire, [you] could rush a shot, [you] could force a shot and it still feels like it’s going in.”
Says Thompson: “Once you see that ball go in three or four times, you feel like you can’t miss. Once you see it go straight through the net — that swish — that’s the best feeling in the world. When it doesn’t even touch the rim and you don’t even have to hold your follow-through. That’s when you’re in the zone. At the beginning of the game, you hold your follow-through. Once you come off that curl, though, and you feel like you can’t miss, you shoot real quick, cock back, and that’s a great feeling. Individually, that’s probably one of the best things in basketball as a scorer. You feel on top of the world.”
Back at the Warriors’ practice facility, with the rain still pelting Oakland, Klay Thompson had time for one last question.
“The definition of ‘Splash Brothers’?” he says. “The definition is make it rain, like to hear the net go swoosh — that beautiful sound. The definition is just two shooters who are locked and loaded from 30 feet in and you can’t relax.”
Source: Grantland » Features | 5 Jan 2015 | 6:29 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 5 Jan 2015 | 6:08 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 2 Jan 2015 | 6:43 am PST
A quote from last year’s bracket, appropriately titled “Who Won 2013?”
With every passing year, I’m closer and closer to trashing the “Who Won” bracket model in exchange for “Who Lost.” Or “What Ruined This Year for Me The Most, a Bracket of 1024.”
I’m no oracle, but there was definitely something in the air in December 2013, and that something was clearly trying to warn me about the following 12 months. “Don’t go,” the sassy fog would say as it whisked past my ear. But I didn’t listen. In my mind, the little annoyances of 2013 were as bad as it could get, suggesting that the only direction the new year could go was up.
The thing I was complaining about this time last year: “wedding hashtags.”
I suggested a “Who Lost” bracket because of things like #Jamelcky (when a Jamal marries a Becky) and #BakesTakesDave (ask Katie Baker).
That’s how good we had it a year ago. A year that wasn’t defined by ISIS, Ebola, and hacks of every shape and size. A year without conflicts abroad and at home in Ferguson. A year in which Robin Williams, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amiri Baraka, Joan Rivers, and Tony Gwynn were still alive. A year in which a plane disappeared.
A goddamn plane disappeared into thin air. And, as a collection of rational earthlings, we’ve kind of decided to just accept that as truth and move on. And then nine months later, tragically, another plane disappeared. That’s the kind of year 2014 was.
This was the next passage from the 2013 bracket, referring to the urge to go the “Who Lost” route:
Thankfully, we’re not there yet. There are still some things worth celebrating.
Barely. Because, as you will see, a considerable chunk of the items that made the 2014 bracket are not worth celebrating in the slightest. They are deplorable things that, because it’s been that type of year, still found ways to win.
In the years to come, I know I will try to treat 2014 like the 13th floor in most buildings, but occasionally I’ll be forced to look back at it. And when I do, it will be impossible not to be reminded of a year in which you could be terrible, be called out for your terribleness, and continue to prosper.
This year’s bracket is not a celebration. Past years’ brackets have been fun to put together, a nostalgic look at all the joys of the previous 12 months. But some of this year’s winners actively made the year worse. So many of us were forced to come to terms with many of the world’s terrible realities this year, and so must the fourth edition of this bracket. Not even a maniacal 10,000-word piece of Pulitzer-worthy end-of-year pablum can exist in blissful ignorance. This year was truly the realest, for everyone and everything.
As noted in previous years, this is different from Grantland’s other, more participatory brackets. This bracket cannot be trusted in the hands of the human population that picked Will Forte over Kenan Thompson. Sorry I’m not sorry, but trust has to be earned. Which is why, again, I have deemed myself the legislative, executive, and judiciary branch of deciding who won the year. Three kings, biatch.
Previous years’ brackets:
(If you’re wondering whether I made that 2011 bracket in a combination of Microsoft Excel and MS Paint, know that the answer may be “maybe.”)
The 2013 Final Four: Kanye West, the pope, cultural appropriation, and LeBron James, with Yeezus losing to cultural appropriation in the final. It was the third consecutive year a member of the Knowles-Throne family (Bey, Ye, Jay) made it to the final. Unfortunately for Kanye in the final, the act of learning about someone else’s culture and then messily attempting to make it your own because it’s fun to go to blackface/Native American headdress parties was simply too powerful.
As in years past, the winner gets TRL-retired from the competition. So cultural appropriation along with the Knowles-Thronedashians (the Bey-Jay-Kim-Ye collective, not the individuals) and Twitter are not eligible to participate in 2014.
If you didn’t think there were rules to this, you’d be wrong.
Structurally, it is a bracket of 32, with entrants picked from four segments of the cultural landscape: Sports, Celebrities/Entertainers/Personalities, Technology/Internet, and Movements/Trends/Phenomena. Eight “things” are in each category and, even in a year when nothing made sense, eight multiplied by four still gives you 32.
Yeah, I said it.
The Deceased: Not included. I’ve never wavered on this and I never will. Dying can be profitable and bankroll bonuses at CNN, but it’s still not a win. Because dying is never a win.
The Royal Babies: I still can’t include Blue Ivy Carter and North West, because I can’t imagine knocking them out. They’d be on opposite sides of the bracket, would defeat everyone in their path without explanation, and upon meeting in the final, I’d suddenly say my Wi-Fi stopped working and disappear until the following year. But this is the last year, ladies. These babies have adults blogging about their fashion (the 18th-saddest thing that happened in 2014), so they’re ready to be scrutinized like everything else. It’s like what Bernie Mac said: “If you’re grown enough to talk back, you’re grown enough to get fuuuuucked up.” In the bracket, of course.
The Seedings: You won’t remember this in about 45 seconds, but I don’t really control the seeds. It’s the one part of this process in which I relinquish a smidge of tyrannical control. The seeds are determined by an objectively subjective criterion: followers.
For the majority of the qualifiers, that’s Twitter followers (the objective part). And for those not on Twitter, another measurement of popularity is used — be it a semirelated Twitter account, a Facebook page, or perhaps even a YouTube video. “Another measurement of popularity” is where it gets subjective. It’s not my fault that in 2014 certain things still haven’t gotten hip to the winner of 2011, Twitter. And because of that, I’ve granted myself full license to use whatever I see fit.
BUT FOR THE MOST PART, THE MORE TWITTER FOLLOWERS = THE HIGHER YOUR SEED.
AGAIN: SEEDS ARE BASICALLY TWITTER FOLLOWERS.
IF YOU COME AT ME IN MY MENTIONS ABOUT “SO-AND-SO IS TOO LOW,” PLEASE BELIEVE I’M GOING TO FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU LIVE, BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE, AND REPLACE ALL YOUR FORKS WITH A SECOND SET OF SPOONS AND THEN LEAVE AND NOT LOCK THE DOOR.
Outside of that, there’s only one more rule: Not everything can make this bracket. Because it’s a cold world. And for the following entrants, there are no blankets in sight.
The Honorable Mentions: These are the nouns that were considered but just didn’t have enough firepower to make the top eight of their respective divisions.
Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Davis, Sidney Crosby, Meb Keflezighi, Offset, the L.A. Kings, Mike Trout, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch When He’s Not Playing Football, Rory McIlroy, Jason Aldean, Stedman Graham, YG, DJ Khaled, Miles Teller, Takeoff, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell Williams, FKA Twigs, DJ Mustard, Secret, Normcore, Racists, Homophobes, Sexists, Clayton Kershaw, Laverne Cox, Quavo, Ed O’Bannon, Gregg Popovich, T.J. Miller, Michele Roberts, Ariana Grande, Supermodel Cliques, the Nae Nae, Channing Tatum.
The Really Honorable Mentions: These are the nouns that were in the bracket at one point. But they just couldn’t pull through in the end. Basically, a bunch of ’95 Nick Andersons.
Sam Smith, Bae, Madison Bumgarner, Michael Sam, Shailene Woodley, ClickHole, That Kim Kardashian Mobile Game, Dr. Dre, Becky Hammon, SoundCloud, Twitch, Caring About Cleveland, Solange Knowles, Rap Ad-Libs, Anyone Who Had a Song That Drake Added a Verse to Thus Extending Their Career for Exactly 200 Days.
The Case of Instagram: Instagram made the bracket in 2011, 2012, and 2013. An interesting thing about those three years: Instagram did not kick off Rihanna during that time. But then 2014 rolls around and it commits the ultimate crime in giving Rihanna the boot. Although she’s back on now — you forgive, but you never forget.
The Case of Derek Jeter: I like Jeets’s post-retirement venture, The Players’ Tribune. But no one has ever gotten cooler by going from being an athlete to a blogger. Take my word for it, world-class athlete turned blogger.
The Case of Pitbull: Only Pitbull stood in the way of Pitbull making this bracket. In addition to being the only Mr. Worldwide that the world has ever known, his song “Timber,” with glitter goddess of the seas and oceans and winds and clouds and skies Kesha, was gigantic and the official song of the NBA playoffs. It was announced this year that he would be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he released an album called Globalization (see: Worldwide, Mr.), and he had the official 2014 FIFA World Cup song (with Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte), “We Are One (Ole Ola).”
That last item, however, is where he faltered. In 2010, Shakira’s official FIFA World Cup song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” sold almost 10 million units, going no. 1 in 15 countries. Pitbull’s song, comparatively speaking, was a dud. Because it’s not very good.
When they shot that flaming arrow in Barcelona to light the Olympic torch in 1992, Atlanta had to come correct in ’96. So they got Muhammad Ali. The Pitbull song following Shakira is as if they’d gotten Ali Larter.
That’s it. No more rules, no more explanations, no more disclaimers. It’s time to present 2014’s 32 non-losers. And now, the categories.31
The San Antonio Spurs: a team; @spurs
***LeBron James: an athlete; @KingJames
Richard Sherman: an athlete; @RSherman_25
The Canadian Men’s and Women’s Olympic Hockey Teams: two teams; @CDNOlympicTeam
Mo’ne Davis: a teen; @Monedavis11
The German Men’s National Soccer Team: a team; @DFB_Team
Adam Silver: a boss; Adam Silver’s Facebook page
Roger Goodell: Darth Maul; @nflcommish
Chris Pratt: an actor; @prattprattpratt
Shonda Rhimes: a showrunner; @shondarhimes
Iggy Azalea: a rapper; @IGGYAZALEA
Lupita Nyong’o: an actor; @Lupita_Nyongo
Aubrey Drake Graham: a Canadian; @Drake
John Oliver: a host; @iamjohnoliver
***Jennifer Lawrence: a volunteer; Jennifer Lawrence’s Facebook fan page
**Taylor Swift: comptroller of Tribeca; @taylorswift13
Uber: a car; @Uber
TMZ: a video; @TMZ
*Vine: a clip; @vine
Venmo: a transaction; @venmo
Drones: an unmanned aerial vehicle; @drones
Tinder: a date; @Tinder
CNN: a network; @CNN
Hackers: the people who are constantly crashing parties they weren’t invited to, leaving five minutes later with everyone’s password and a copy of Perfect Dark; @YourAnonNews
Protesters: the streets; @stlcountypd
The Ice Bucket Challenge: the videos; @alsassociation
Legal Weed: the flowering herb; @MarijuanaPolicy
The McConaissance: the Texan; @McConaughey
Serial: the podcast; @serial
Hashtagtivism: the cause; @MichelleObama
Footage: the evidence; @RayRice27
Shmoney Dance: ABOUT A WEEK AGO (WEEK AGO); “Shmoney Dance” YouTube video
That’s the bracket of 32. And yes, the bracket regions (“Antidope,” “Fight Night,” “Handsome and Wealthy,” “Emmitt Smith”) are songs from Migos’s 2014 mixtape, No Label 2. And no, your eyes aren’t betraying you. There’s no Jay Z. No Beyoncé. And no Kanye West.
I told you it was a terrible year.
This is such a perfect way to start. Two of the year’s most overwhelming phenomena. Two things your gut tells you to dislike even though there’s not a great reason for the utter disdain.
If only the Ice Bucket Challenge weren’t for a good cause is something I thought once. Twice, actually. Which is terrible. The fact that I wanted the charitable aspect of the documented ice-water-on-head-ooh-look-at-me-I’m-a-wet-activist to disappear just so I could feel better clowning anyone still uploading Facebook videos, is not an admirable thing. But in my mind this was just a first cousin of Icing, if getting on one knee and chugging a Smirnoff Ice also came with a suggested $10 donation to Kiva.
But I was wrong. Because there was nothing that wrong with it. Sure, it became a Harlem Shake–like fad for good, tapping into that bro adrenaline you’d hope would transfer to other causes (see: equal rights), but tens of millions of dollars donated to the ALS Association can be traced back to the challenge. And even though some claim the majority of people uploading videos weren’t actually donating, it’s hard to call it a net negative.
Also, Marshawn Lynch did it. So it must be a force for good.32
As for Taylor, let’s just say this: The only thing that could be more annoying than T-Swift is T-Swift doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Which, had it ever happ—
Unavoidable. Diddyesque levels of “everywhere.” That’s Swift in 2014. But when you’re the first artist in 2014 to go platinum, you’ve arguably earned the right to declare yourself president of New York, duchess of the Metro-North, princess of the United States of America. And not just platinum, but platinum in the first week, the biggest first week in 12 years, with her album 1989.
How’d she do it? Three reasons: (1) She’s a sorceress, (2) she’s a genius, and (3) 1989 is a very good pop album.
Swift is about as interesting as a cauliflower sample sale, but failing to give her credit as a once-in-a-generation pop star would be pure hateration. And this bracket is not about hating, nor is it a dancerie. It’s about facts. And the truth. Because I am a disruptive millennial thought leader.33 This is about winning, and Taylor Swift is arguably the most powerful person in the music industry — the only person in America who has no idea that album sales have been aggressively slumping for the past decade — so she moves on. Easily.
Shonda goin’ up / On a Thursday.
That’s a rap joke.
Really funny rap jokes aside, Shondaday (formerly known as “Thursday”) is a real thing. And her Emanski-like back-to-back-to-back shows taking up three hours of television (8 p.m., Grey’s Anatomy; 9 p.m., Scandal; 10 p.m., How to Get Away With Murder) is just unreal. Like Norman Lear/Aaron Spelling levels of “this network needs me more than I need this network” unreal.
As for the McConaissance, much like Shondaday, we’re still very much living it. Even though his reascension began in 2013, Naked Texas Bongo Man won his Golden Globe and Academy Award in 2014 (for Dallas Buyers Club), accepted an award at the American Cinematheque Awards while he drank a beer and tended to his daughter, and starred in one of 2014’s biggest television events, True Detective, as well as one of the highest-grossing films of the year, Interstellar.
What we’ve got in this matchup is a beautiful thing: two fortysomethings (they’re two months apart) schooling beaucoup youngins with style and grace. But there is something Shonda has that Matthew just can’t touch. Sheer power. That “I can make you disappear” power. That “Katherine Heigl, your new name is ‘Cardboard Box’” power.34 Shonda has been a force in television for years, but 2014 — in addition to adding a third hit show — was the year Shonda truly began saying whatever was on her mind, with no fear of repercussion. Because you can’t hurt her.
She’s not Oprah powerful. But she’s en route. Which is why she advances.
This isn’t fun. Just know that I tried to rig this bracket so Lupita wouldn’t lose to Iggy in the first round. And I’ve failed you.
Lupita had a hell of a year. She won an Oscar (for 12 Years a Slave) and made one of the more memorable Academy Award speeches, became a fashion icon who seemingly could not falter, landed on numerous magazine covers, became the face of Lancôme, is set to star in the new Star Wars and the film adaptation of
Beyoncé’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, made it into The Selfie, and is such a star that even her brother was allowed to rudely crash The Selfie.
There’s only one woman in this bracket who’s dating Los Angeles Lakers legend Swaggy “Nick Young” P, and it’s Iggy Azalea.
If you want any idea of how monstrous and out of nowhere Iggy’s 2014 was, consider this: I just ctrl-F’d “Iggy” in last year’s bracket — a bracket won by cultural appropriation, let me remind you — and she didn’t even pop up.
Her song “Fancy,” with Charli XCX, is tied for the record of most consecutive weeks at no. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs Billboard Charts.35 Eighteen straight weeks. Four full months, May through August. In itself that makes for a landmark year, but then there was “Work”; “Black Widow,” with hologram Rita Ora (five weeks at no. 1 on the same chart); “Problem,” with Ariana Grande; “No Mediocre,” with her boss T.I.; and “Booty,” with Jennifer Lopez. The New Classic beat Aubrey Drake Graham’s Nothing Was the Same at the American Music Awards for “Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album,” and she’s nominated for four Grammys, all of which she will probably win, because why not.
Iggy’s 2014 Fantasy Hip-Hop stats are Calvin Johnson–esque, which upsets many people. I’m pretty sure “mad at Iggy” became a vertical at numerous websites (the infrastructure was already there; just had to replace the silhouette AVI of Macklemore). I truly understand and agree with a considerable percentage of the criticisms, mainly because Iggy’s not mind-blowingly great at her day job. But “great” is not an adjective that mattered — and certainly was not a prerequisite for winning — in 2014.
It seems only fitting, in the chorus of criticism that follows Iggy’s every move (some of which she has no control over, some of which she most certainly does), that she knocks International Black Sweetheart of the Year Lupita Nyong’o out of the bracket. In the first round.
HOW DARE YOU, IGLOO AUSTRALIA, HUMAN EMBODIMENT OF THE CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS.
But let the record show: Don’t blame me, blame Iggy.
I listened to the entire Serial podcast. I also listened to every song Drake was featured on in 2014. One of those things left me confused, intrigued, and frustrated. The other made me demand that music be played whenever I walk through halls. Ultimately, the person behind Serial, Sarah Koenig, had to put in a lot of work in order to create a phenomenon — to go from 0 to 100, IF YOU WILL. Drake, on the other hand, had arguably his most fun, interesting year to date. He co-headlined the Drake vs. Lil Wayne tour. He hosted Saturday Night Live and his performance was met with rave reviews. He made it impossible to forget about him, musically, landing on Lil Wayne’s “Believe Me,” YG’s “Who Do You Love?,” Nicki Minaj’s “Only,” and Young Money’s “Trophies.” And then the guy got two Grammy nominations for a song he put on SoundCloud (“0 to 100 / The Catch Up”), a third as a featured artist on Beyoncé, and a fourth for adding a much-needed verse to ILoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” (an artist he promptly signed to his label, OVO Sound).
Also, it’s worth noting that the beginning of Drake’s “Tuesday” verse is assumedly about Shonda Rhimes.
Squad goin’ up
Nobody flippin’ packs now
I just did three in a row
Them shows is back-to-back-to-back now
I can’t lie, this was pretty rude. It’s almost as if I put Serial in the bracket just to knock it out. But who knows? All that matters is that of course the winner is Aubrey, the best ESPYS host since Rob Riggle.
LeBron James’s 2014 can be summed up with two words: “loser,” “hero.”
His Miami Heat got embarrassed in the NBA Finals in five games by a collection of substitute teachers from San Antonio. And just like that, the dynasty in South Beach was over. LeBron was unable to pull off the three-peat like Jordan and Kobe. So he left.
This would all be embarrassing had he not completely owned the hero narrative by returning to Cleveland. Just look at this spectacle.
Yep, I’m convinced. Related: just flipped a table.
There’s NO WAY Cleveland deserved this man twice. And even as the Cavs stumble in the beginning of the season, and LeBron’s cosign of fellow Cleveland athlete Johnny Manziel is even more embarrassing than losing to the Spurs in five, this is still a landmark year for King James.
Going against LeBron is the future that arrived way earlier than expected: drones. This time last year, I remember laughing at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when he made the mere mention of drones, transforming their use from war machine to book-delivery robot. Twelve months later, I’m trying to decide if I want to buy one online or at my bodega. In a year dominated by seeing and hearing things you weren’t supposed to see and hear — being spied on or being a spy — drones encapsulated how privacy and the protection of privacy manifested itself in 2014. No one wants to be spied on, but everyone wants to know what others are up to, especially if you think the “others” are spying on you.
This is only the beginning with drones. Next year, as the topic of how they’re regulated intensifies, you get the feeling they’ll eventually be talked about along the same lines as certain drugs and other sometimes-legal “vices.” But that’s 2015. Right now, however, they’re facing LeBron James, a man who actually touched Kate Middleton’s shoulder with his American athlete hand.
Big win for LeBron, big win for America. He moves on.
Richard Sherman might not even be the best player on his team, but he was the most important person in the NFL in 2014. Use whatever adjective you want to describe him, but the one that sets him apart is that he’s a complete troll — but for good. In order to be a troll for good, you have to be fully confident that you’re smarter than those who wish to control you. You have to occasionally be willing to take hits financially to call out the hypocrisies around you. And you have to believe that in the court of public opinion — you versus overlords — you will win. Every time.
That’s Sherman’s 2014. And he’s not only one of the few who can pull this off in the NFL, but across the entire landscape of professional sports.
He’s not too far from someone like Shonda Rhimes or Chris Rock, using his platform to actually say what’s on his mind. As the personal brand of a celebrity continues to grow in importance, we get further away from truly knowing how our superstars actually feel and think about things. It’s why Sherman’s 2014, from his response to being called a “thug” to his not-so-subtle shots at the NFL, is so important.
It’s a shame he’s going against something prepared to go beast mode all over this bracket: FOOTAGE.
It’s a blurry image and you know exactly what it is. Because we spent our year hearing and looking at things we weren’t supposed to see. Things not meant for public consumption. There’s been so much that it’s almost hard to account for the sheer number of giant stories that centered on a “tape.” The Donald Sterling recordings. The Eric Garner video. Ray Rice in the elevator. Spending weeks speculating what Solange was saying to Jay Z in that elevator.
You couldn’t go too long without something surfacing. And whenever it did, it felt odd to become so captivated — but we couldn’t help ourselves.
Sherman had a great year, the first of many, I’m sure. But it’s hard to even consider this year without the sheer amount of footage that typically remains private. Which is why it’s moving on.
LEGION OF BOOM, OUT.
Remember Sochi? Of course not. Anyway, there was an even-year, non-warm-weather Olympics in 2014. In this Olympics, there were a bunch of events that humans competed in, humans from like 12 countries, most from the same cul-de-sac. Canada is one of those countries. And in hockey, the Canadian men’s and women’s teams came through and swept, which put a big frownie face on the United States’s collective knucklepuck. It was impressive.
So yeah, TMZ advances.
ICYMI, marijuana is here to stay. Legally. And even where it’s illegal to some degree, there’s still an overall feeling that no one really feels like fighting this battle anymore. Even people like mayors and police commissioners.
In 2014, it was legalized for recreational use in Washington, D.C.; Alaska; and Oregon, all of which join Colorado and Washington state as the stankiest places to live in the United States. Also, Congress just proved, in its $1.1 trillion federal appropriations bill, that it’s secretly super into medical marijuana or something like that.
ALSO, THE OXFORD DICTIONARIES WORD OF THE YEAR IS VAPE.
What a year. Just an incredible run that icky is having.
Going against alcohol 2.0 is Jennifer Lawrence. She stars in two of the seven highest-grossing films of the year, X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. She’s still terrifyingly popular, so much so that she doesn’t have to trip on her dress anymore. And she’s getting to a point where she can’t seem to miss on film.
But then a terrible thing happened. Lots and lots and lots of her private photos were hacked and put online. It was an absolute violation of privacy and one of the more disrespectful, embarrassing things that can happen to someone. Even while having done nothing wrong, it still wasn’t clear how she’d respond to this breach, and if her somewhat edgy-yet-perfect reputation would suffer.
It didn’t. All of this happened before 2014 Katniss. And weeks after its release, Mockingjay is still doing ’04 Confessions numbers.
But reputation isn’t everything. Regardless of how she’s perceived, she was still terribly violated. And even if your fans stay with you and you’re somehow even more revered than before, a violation is rarely ever a win.
Lawrence is very good at making it into the bracket. She’s also great at not making it that far. And for a third year, she’s out earlier than the experts predicted. This year it’s not on her, but as I will continue to articulate in every dialect I can quickly learn, terrible things happened this year.
This is a matchup for the kids. It basically is, what’s more fun: being 19 or 26?
Vine represents a certain type of freedom, the ability to express yourself in an easily digestible format. Venmo represents some form of new adulthood, this idea that you’re not ashamed to borrow money, because you can always pay them back, because you probably have some money in your account, and because you’re completely fine with the idea of these transactions playing out to some extent in public.
If you talk to people in their forties, chances are neither will register much. It’s very clear that the Vine target audience is teens and young adults.36 Who uses Venmo is a little more subtle, until you take a step back and think about its three most essential functions:
1. Someone opened a tab at the bar and wants to leave it open but most certainly needs 80 percent of that money back the next day in order to buy coffee.
2. Only one of the three people sharing this apartment are actually on the lease, so that person writes the full check and everyone else TEXTS TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS BECAUSE THAT’S SAFE.
3. Someone bought something from a different someone in a Chipotle parking lot for a group of people to share.
One of the things that separates the two is that Vine has proven that it’s not a fad. That it’s very much here to stay. That even if you don’t use it actively, as an uploader of content, it can be used as one of your foremost mediums of entertainment. A world in which one doesn’t have a television but looks at Vines all day is a very real world.
Venmo still has to prove its staying power.37 In terms of gaining traction as a “must-have” app, 2014 was a huge year for Venmo. But 2014 was the year Vine became much bigger than just an app. It’s an all-out wing of media. Which is why it’s moving on.
Here’s a quote from Bloomberg Politics:
2014 was not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s finest year. Yet despite numerous scandals involving domestic violence, child abuse, drug raids and even a Bloomberg Politics poll that showed 50 percent of Americans don’t want their sons playing football, Goodell was never really in trouble.
I was ready to make the point that even if Goodell isn’t in trouble, the NFL is certainly struggling. And then I learned that viewership is actually up this year. So you can’t even knock him down a notch on that front.
Goodell is the embodiment of the failing-upward spirit of 2014. Incompetence, perceived dishonesty, and scandals left and right don’t matter if you keep making the people you technically work for, the rich owners, even richer owners. He’s so winning, in this, one of the NFL’s worst PR years ever.
If there’s anything that’s the opposite of Goodell, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the always-good, team-first giant killers that not only won the NBA championship, but ended an era. They broke up the Big Three of James, Wade, and Bosh. And they make a strong claim that they’re a dynasty (five titles in 15 years). A dynasty, now, with Becky Hammon, the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports.
But, as always with the Spurs, their excellence is never the front-page story. Even when they win, the takeaway story is the losers. As for Goodell, when he loses, he seems to win even more. Which is depressing. And a perfect embodiment of this year. Which is why, unfortunately, he marches on.
There’s rude and then there’s what Germany did to host Brazil in the World Cup semifinals.
It’s a legendary shellacking. It’s like getting invited over for Thanksgiving dinner, then parking on the lawn, not flushing, and stealing all the food before your uncle shows up to say grace.
And to rub it in, Germany went on to win the World Cup. And then, somehow, after topping the mountain, it found a taller mountain. And made it to the top of that mountain. Mount Rih.
If this bracket were “Who Won July 2014?,” every entrant would be Germany. And Germany would play Germany in the final. And Germany would win.
But that’s just July.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver had to be great all year. Unlike his NFL counterpart, Silver was unproven. He’d have to handle everything as close to perfectly as possible, for both his own sake and that of the league he was running.
About three months in, he had to deal with Donald Sterling. It was a scandal involving an owner, which immediately made it a scandal involving the commissioner. Silver’s play was to ban an NBA owner from the league. For life. The almost universal response to his shocking decision: long live Adam Silver.
He’s done a lot of other notable things in 2014, but the handling of his first major crisis will long define how history sees his tenure as commissioner, which so far is an example of what can happen when power is wielded for good. He was one of the feel-good winners of 2014, which undoubtedly feels more true when contrasted with his American football counterpart.
For that, he moves on, beating the Germans. Two commissioners, moving on in the region dubbed “Handsome and Wealthy.”
As they say, handsome is in the eye of the wealthy beholder.
This is a perfect example of why you can’t do end-of-the-year roundups too early. Life doesn’t stop because the Internet is making lists. Case in point: Bobby Shmurda.
This is Shmurda, in New York Magazine, representing reasons to love New York by way of “Because New York Rap Is Awesomely Weird.”
This partially makes sense, because a guy named Shmurda whose name slant rhymes with “murder” gave the country one of the feel-good dances of the year with the “Hot N----”–inspired Shmoney Dance.
It started with the video, then the dubbed-over R&B Vines, and eventually made its way to real celebrities of all kinds doing the dance, one defined by utter indifference and sass absolute. Just look at Swaggy P and DeMarcus Cousins.
This is how big it got — the USA men’s basketball team did the Shmoney Dance after winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup, not to the corresponding song, but to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”
It was a phenomenon. And chances were, if you were in a place that would play it once, they’d play it seven times.
But Shmurda was arrested on December 17 on a series of gun-related charges, along with 14 other members of his GS9 crew, as part of a narcotics sting. The level of enjoyment gained from listening to “Hot N----” and the act of carrying out the dance has dropped exponentially. Because the sheer passive hope that what he’s saying in the song wouldn’t catch up to him didn’t prove to be enough.
So the dance isn’t advancing. It was so close to making it out of 2014, but it didn’t. I’m going to save my thoughts for role model and Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis for the next round. Enjoy this rare bye, MDot. You were probably going to win anyway, but feel free to tweet at me or double tap some of my Instas.
If there’s one thing that truly benefited from a year of fear and tragedy, it’s the 24-hour news networks. And of those outlets, CNN stood above the rest. Which is not a compliment.
Robin Williams dying? That’s a ground-rule double. Riots in America? A stand-up triple. A MISSING PLANE? Back-to-back-to-back grand slam walk-off home runs in Game 7 of the World Series.
Good people work at CNN and there are good shows at CNN, put there assuredly in an attempt to balance out the US Weekly–esque coverage of strife and sorrow. But it doesn’t outweigh the bad, and the public truly began to take notice of the opportunistic tendencies this year. One of the catalysts: Ferguson protesters in St. Louis and throughout the country.
It wasn’t just CNN — many wings of the media were appropriately lambasted for so blatantly wishing for ruin so they’d have something to put on air, on a blog, and in a photo gallery. But, again, CNN was the most visible outlet, and also the most deserving of criticism.
Who can forget CNN accidentally airing a “Fuck CNN” chant:
(Don’t gloss over the best part, the cut back to Anderson Cooper, who chalked it up to people “playing for the cameras,” because #kettle.)
There was also Track 2 of the greatest hits, “You are Promoting a Certain Narrative.”
And never forget Tracks 3-150, which are anything involving a camera, an audio feed, and Don Lemon reporting.
Speaking of Lemon, in 2014, he became the official face of the decline of CNN. But like those before him in this bracket who righteously failed up in 2014 (Iggy, Goodell, CNN itself), he’s getting stronger with every act of victim blaming and declaration of respectability politics.
Few things this year were as undeniably powerful as CNN, but protesters were most certainly one of those things. In the fourth quarter alone, cities were taken over by people — upset, fed-up people. Often thought to be apathetic, this generation that brands and politicians refer to as “millennials” has proven, offline, that they care. And that they’re willing to risk discomfort and even punishment to stand up for what they — we — believe in.
The protests aren’t perfect, but they are influential and have a profound ability to disrupt. And, if anything, there’s more of a need than ever to get out there, to participate, and to see what’s happening with your own eyes when you’re not convinced you can trust what you’re seeing on television.
Protesters found a way to overcome CNN in real life in 2014. Which is why they’re taking down the network in this bracket.
This is a throwback bracket matchup: two people who actually did great things and, because of it, had great years. The notion seems so simple, analogue even. John Oliver went from The Guy With the British Accent on The Daily Show to Wait, the British Daily Show Guy Is Going to Be a Talk Show Host to John Oliver Might Be the Best Host on Television, all in one year. Last Week Tonight, on paper, doesn’t work. Between it being hosted by Oliver, landing on HBO instead of one of the prime-time networks or basic cable, attempting to tackle an entire week’s worth of news in a 30-minute block, not always booking the most famous guests (and often not even having guests), everything had to land perfectly for it to work.
And it regularly did. Because the strength is in his segments. Segments that take place on Sunday dominate the next day’s Internet watercooler (do they still make these?), and are relevant until the following Sunday’s slate of segments. And in these segments, his ability to nail the takedown is couched in his gift of seeming genuinely fed up with nearly anything. Like this one, on sugar:
Against Oliver, Chris Pratt. 2014 was never supposed to happen for Chris Pratt. Which is not to say he was supposed to die before 2014, but that he wasn’t supposed to become Earth’s biggest leading man. Pratt was the top-billed actor in two of the top four grossing films of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie.
I know. You and me both, Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec, who is actually Chris Pratt, Earth’s biggest leading man.
Am I going to advance Pratt over Oliver because he’s an inspiration to people who aren’t initially taken seriously? To people who, with the right haircut and facial grooming technique, can finally be invited to gala events? Yes. Yes I am. Sorry, John. Maybe work on your rags-to-riches narrative and get back to me in 2015. BECAUSE @PRATTPRATTPRATT and I are going all the way.
You know the saying “The early bird gets the worm”? That’s true, except for this bracket. The longer and longer in December I wait to begin, the more accurate it’s going to be with regard to crowning the one true winner. Two weeks ago, Uber wins this matchup. Why? Because Uber is now a verb. And that’s a big deal. But then hackers, who were already having a big ol’ rude year, crippled Sony via email hacks and then got a major motion picture, The Interview, temporarily canceled. And then, just to top it off, Uber’s very unsympathetic crisis surge pricing finally made international news, as price hikes took place during a hostage situation in Sydney. And then it announced a $2 booking fee ON THE LAST GREAT THING ON THIS EARTH, UberT. Uber will continue to fail up as its PR blunders coincide with becoming increasingly powerful, but this ninth-inning run by hackers is just too much to defeat.
Also, considering the worst thing Uber could do to a hacker is triple a fare, I think hackers have the upper hand, especially since they could turn around and probably delete Uber from everyone’s phones in four minutes. (I have no idea how hackers work, but I’m assuming they can do anything and I wouldn’t dare kick them out in the first round. Are you crazy?)
#BringBackOurGirls. #BlackLivesMatter. #UmbrellaRevolution. #Ferguson. #ICantBreathe.
This was the year the hashtag finally grew up. The year it blossomed out of the confines of simply an aggregator and became a catalyst for movements. Or the name of the movements themselves. 2014 was the year grassroots activists realized they couldn’t proceed without the Internet, as well as the year the Internet decided it wanted to actually cause change and would consider walking away from a computer to do so. So they met in the middle, and that middle was the hashtag. And while movements and protests and attempts to cause change would have happened to some degree without these hashtags, there’s no ignoring how powerful it is to rally around one word, one phrase, one message.
Tinder’s dope if you enjoy doing thumb exercises on your phone while you poop (there’s a good “swipe” pun to be made somewhere in there). But, unfortunately, that’s just not going to get it done against many mini-revolutions. #HASHTAGTIVISM (a portmanteau of #Hash and #Tagtivism) is off to the Sweet 16.
Let’s cut to the chase. This comes down to who is more influential to society at the end of 2014: Taylor Swift or Shonda Rhimes. Taylor’s richer, Taylor’s more popular, Taylor’s probably more powerful, but somehow Taylor’s opinion still doesn’t seem to matter.
Take it away, Chappelle:
Stop worshiping celebrities so much. Just don’t pay attention. I remember right around September 11, Ja Rule was on MTV. That’s what they said. “We got Ja Rule on the phone. Let’s see what Ja’s thoughts are on this tragedy.” Who gives a fuck what Ja Rule thinks at a time like this, n ----, this is ridiculous. I don’t wanna dance. I’m scared to death. I want some answers that Ja Rule might not have right now. You think when bad shit happens to me, I be in the crib like “Ohh my god this is terrible. Could somebody please find Ja Rule? Get hold of this motherfucker so I can make sense of all this. Where is Ja? Find me Ja Rule.”
Sub out “Ja” for “Tay” and it works eerily well.
And then there’s Shonda. Outside of her shows — shows that do make her insanely powerful — her year has been littered with making statements that have either been conversation shifters or the final word. She gave a commencement speech at Dartmouth and told everyone that “a hashtag is not helping,” followed later by “don’t be an asshole.” She received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award from The Hollywood Reporter and gave a speech addressing the glass ceiling while paying tribute to the female trailblazers who helped make her career possible. She was called an “Angry Black Woman” by New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley and instead of attacking Stanley, sent a few tweets and let Stanley dig her own quasi-Internet quasi-apology grave. She’s getting lifetime achievement awards. And when something happens in the culture and she tweets about it, Shonda’s opinion becomes news.
Taylor’s tweets also become news. But, as you can see, comparing Shonda and Taylor is like comparing apples and oranges.
I have no vested interest in taking anything away from Taylor Swift. But two years ago Taylor Swift was an entertainer, last year Taylor Swift was an entertainer, and this year Taylor Swift is an entertainer.
Shonda, in the past year, has become a cultural force. And she’s got answers that neither Ja Rule nor Taylor have. Throughout 2014, we’ve collectively been like “get ahold of this motherfucker [Shonda] so I can make sense of this.” And she’s delivered, voluntarily, in a way few celebrities do. And for that, she shakes Taylor off and does the wobble into the Elite Eight.
The winner of this, a musician versus a musician, goes against Shonda. And Shonda just knocked out Taylor, arguably the biggest musician of the year. So, being quite realistic about this, there’s no way Iggy or Drake beats Shonda. Because Shonda is not playing. Shonda has no time for these ’80s babi—
Shonda versus Amethyst? Oh yes. This feels right.
But before I give it to Iggy, mostly because I like the idea of Shonda beating Iggy more than Shonda giving Aubrey side-eye until he takes his elbows off the table, there is one reason that Iggy actually wins this matchup. They’re going head to head at the Grammys. And if Iggy wins the Grammy, she’s a winner because she won a Grammy. And if she loses the Grammy, she also wins because she won’t have to deal with people denouncing her entire existence, calling her “Chriggstopher Columbus” or whatever the kids are saying these days.
But if Drake loses to Iggy, Drake is CORNY.
Grammy advantage: Iggy. Iggy advances to face Shonda, which I, for one, am so excited for.
Yes, LeBron saved the city of Cleveland from being traded to Real Madrid for cash, but his winning in 2014 isn’t only defined by his move back home. He’s becoming that superstar athlete who transcends the playing of a sport. And not just in popularity, but in impact. He’s the star who knows his fellow athletes are taking cues from his actions, the star who knows if he speaks up, the league will be forced to take note and even listen and change its ways.
LeBron picks his spots. And in 2014 he picked well. As in, he seemed authentic. He stated “there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league” and after the Darren Wilson non-indictment, he Instagrammed an illustration of Mike Brown walking, arms over shoulders, with Trayvon Martin.
These are all things he doesn’t have to do — potentially polarizing things — but this year he embraced his leadership role within the NBA, within professional sports, and as a powerful black American. It’s been fascinating to watch him come into his own in this regard.
And if he had not lost in five games to the Spurs, he might have stood a chance against footage.
It’s pretty incredible that the Atlanta Hawks now have the first chief diversity and inclusion officer in the NBA, Nzinga Shaw, all stemming from an email that led to the release of an audio recording in which the GM of the Hawks, Danny Ferry, maybe/absolutely insinuated that Luol Deng’s African heritage (“he’s got some African in him”) suggests either he’s not who he seems, is not to be trusted, and/or is a fraud (“he has a storefront out front that’s beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you”).
But let’s look for silver linings in 2014: At least there’s now a chief diversity and inclusion officer. Who knows how long that would have taken had Ferry not been snitched on and the tape of his views on the connections between being African and being shady not been made public?
And this might not even be a top-10 moment in which audio and video footage brought the news cycle to a standstill. Which is why it will continue to trample over very good athletes. Bye, LeBron. See you next year.
This was the first year it was widely acknowledged that TMZ not only would be first, but that TMZ would also be correct. That, in itself, is a gigantic win for the website (and a sizable loss for any other outlet that prides itself in breaking stories). How TMZ gets its information, who knows? But in this, a very hit-or-miss-or-miss-or-miss-or-miss year for online reporting, the question of standards is a universal concern, not just at the Harvey Levin empire.
Not only did TMZ break the Sterling–V. Stiviano story, but it posted the video of Ray Rice attacking his then-fiancée in the elevator. Footage, made public by TMZ, was one of the stories of 2014.
The only thing standing in its way is Legal Weed.
But it’s not really standing in its way. The only way TMZ gets knocked out this early in 2014 is if weed had been legalized in all 50 states and Barack Obama renamed his daughters Hasha and Malijuana. ONLY THEN.
So there it is. TMZ vs. Footage. Which is confusing to parse out, because they’re so interconnected.
“Last year Taylor Swift was an entertainer, and this year Taylor Swift is an entertainer.” —Rembert Browne, about six to eight minutes ago, depending on how slowly you’re reading this
This year’s Taylor Swift is even bigger than last year’s Taylor Swift. But, at the core, she’s still purely entertainment. And even though Vine became an increasingly important tool for protesters to upload footage, for the most part, “pure entertainment” is also where Vine falls. In a year during which even the most joyous things could be looked at through a cynical lens, Vine found a way to escape that. In some ways, Vine was one of the great, highly necessary tools of distraction in 2014.
The bad things that Vine helped distract you from were the bad things that also distracted you from Roger Goodell. And did he ever have bad-thing distraction after bad-thing distraction in 2014, yet another reason why he won so tremendously this year. Even other members of his 1 percent club, like Sterling, bailed him out. Goodell surely got lucky this year, but that’s only half the story. The thing is, he has all the life cheat codes — codes that allow him to keep his job and elite standard of living, no matter what he does, no matter what he says, and no matter what he doesn’t do or say.
That Roger Goodell still has a job as 2014 comes to a close is proof that everything’s out of balance.38 It’s proof we (non-Goodells) can say anything and everything about him, but our tweets at @nflcommish aren’t really going to do much. Or at least they didn’t in 2014.
In a year that brought unheralded amounts of shame to the NFL, the league’s owners could have fired Roger Goodell. But the NFL owners did not fire Roger Goodell. So Roger wins.
Look at this:
Notice anything? Of course you do. Mo’ne Davis: NOT VERIFIED.
Now look at this:
This sums up 2014 and Mo’ne Davis. We got more from her than she got from us. Everyone seemingly had a plan, a suggested narrative, an opinion about who she is and what she wants, the 13-year-old pitching phenom. And Mo’ne has consistently responded by not playing the game we’ve attempted to trap her in, the game we play with every other inspirational celebrity in the history of ever.
I’m sure Twitter has asked Mo’ne if she wanted to be verified. And while unconfirmed, I would not be surprised if Mo’ne was like, “Nah.”
“None of my friends are verified, but thanks for asking.”
Easily one of the sports stories of the year, Mo’ne beasting tween fools in the Little League World Series turned her into a phenomenon. Look at her, striking out the side during a two-hit shutout.
But it wasn’t just on the field. Off the field, be it in the dugout or on camera, she was as impressive as she was on the mound. She wasn’t a child (ignorant of her position in society and just happy to be there) and she wasn’t an adult (unwilling to accept the responsibility that goes with her suddenly elevated position). Mo’ne is a unicorn, the rare sports superstar who got it.
Mo’ne, on the media:
I can always say no, so that’s like my special weapon for the media.
Mo’ne, on being a role model:
I never thought that I would be a role model at this age. It was kind of shocking to me when I first came down to watch a game. There was a crowd of people. I was kind of nervous but I was, like, excited for it. So I just have to be myself.
Mo’ne, on creepy adults:
People were like, “Oh, there are going to be people running up to you taking pictures,” and I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids. But it’s grown-ups! And that’s, like, creepy.
An absolute legend. Already.
Going against Mo’ne is NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
This is Silver and Davis, flanked by a tall man and a short man, at the SI Sportsman of the Year event.
Knowing Silver — which I don’t — he doesn’t want to knock Mo’ne out of the bracket. But knowing Mo’ne — which I don’t — I know she’s not out here to be the centerpiece of some dumb Internet experiment.
A major difference between the two is that Silver is forced to care about the way he’s perceived, whereas Mo’ne is just Mo’ne. She doesn’t have the time to be bothered with anything beyond the nonessentials. Every move Silver makes, on the contrary, is under scrutiny. Which is as it should be.
Mo’ne came out of nowhere, became a darling, and then did everything right, further establishing herself as important. Silver began in the red and had to spend the entire year working his way to a place where he could be trusted. He’s in an easily criticized position, and these days we expect the worst from a commissioner.
And somehow, he became a respected, trusted, and at times beloved character in 2014. Not as much as Mo’ne (impossible), but he went above and beyond the call of duty. Between the handling of Sterling, writing New York Times op-eds on the need to legalize and regulate professional sports betting, and picking Mark Tatum as the NBA’s deputy commissioner and COO, Silver commissioned like a man who wants his league to mirror the times.
In 2014, Silver needed to convince us that he was a winner, and he did. So he’s moving on. Selfishly, we’re all the real winners when it comes to Mo’ne, because we got Mo’ne. She’ll be OK, though. Because she’s above this. And Goodell doesn’t deserve her as an opponent. Also, she’s got Snapchats to send and bat mitzvahs to attend. Having her lose is for the better.
This is a safe space, so I’ll just be honest. When I wrote the first-round entry for Chris Pratt, I hadn’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Then I procrastinated for a few days between writing the Round of 32 and Sweet 16, and in that time period, finally learned what all the Groot fuss was about.
That movie is incredible and Pratt is incredible. And he’s good in this way that you know it’s not a fluke. Even beyond the 17 future Guardians movies I’m sure they’ll make, he’s got something to him — a humor even in serious situations, a Clooney-esque streak — that is going to work as long as great scripts are thrown his way. Which I’m sure they will be. For years to come.
And just like that, I’m out of things to say about Pratt. There’s no world in which a nation divided by the act of protesting loses to Pratt, a man many people have opinions on, many more don’t, and a handful do but are actually talking about Chris Pine. Being a protester, the act of protesting, and countrywide protests have become one of the stories of the second half of 2014, with seemingly everyone having an opinion, either as a participant, as an onlooker, or as one vehemently against the act of this type of disturbance.39 Either way, the impact is being felt. The sheer fact that protesting is back in the culture as an effective way to get a message across is huge. Of the unpredictable things that became realities in 2014, the reemergence of the protester is up there, if not at the top of the list. So it moves on.
We’ll always have the first round, @prattprattpratt. Weird how I knocked you out after seeing you being amazing in that amazing movie. Yes, I know the saying “life comes at you fast,” @prattprattpratt. And yes, this would apply to you right now. Sorry, man.
If there are two things in this bracket that cannot be judged simply in black and white, it’s hacking and activism by way of the hashtag.
There are hackers for good (white hat) and hackers for bad (black hat), hackers who leak things that need to be leaked, hackers who are out to entrap, and hackers with the sole goal of stopping other hackers. It’s very confusing. Unfortunately for hackers, the idea of winning is complicated because there doesn’t seem to be any common goal — or a clear idea of what a “win” would even be. It’s clear some hacks don’t represent the entire community of those doing the hacking, but this year, the most high-profile, privacy-invading, nefarious ones got the most press, and thus defined the species.
And then there’s Hashtagtivism. On the Internet, becoming part of a movement sometimes obscures the actual goals of the movement. Being on the right side of history, on Twitter, rarely translates to a world beyond sitting behind a laptop and typing. But in 2014, the “slacktivist” concept began to wilt.
We got to a point, by the end of 2014, when we had both #ICantBreathe and #ICanBreathe trending at the same time. It was hashtag activism becoming political, using one hashtag activist movement to take down another hashtag activist movement. This happened online, but the conflict was also out in the streets, shouted by those protesting and standing up for themselves.
Hackers definitely left their mark on 2014, but in just a 12-month period, it seems as if much of the edginess that once surrounded the idea of the breach has given way to panic that surrounds blackmail (threatening Iggy Azalea with a leaked sex tape), humiliation (stolen celebrity nude photos), and fearmongering (threatening violence on any movie theater that showed The Interview). While that’s certainly what some people want, the world of hackers as a truth-seeking unit took a hit in 2014. Because this was the year that hacking almost becoming synonymous with cyberterrorism.
That’s not how you get a win. Also, The Interview eventually was released, so that whole fear thing didn’t really work out. Sorry, but I just made the call on that. So that’s the end of the road for hackers.
YOU HAD A GREAT RUN, THOUGH, SO PLEASE HAVE MERCY ON THE SOULS OF THOSE WHO STILL DON’T HAVE TWO-STEP VERIFICATIONS.
Before going on, yes, I will address the rumors that this is working out a little “too” perfectly. Footage vs. TMZ? Protests vs. Hashtag Activism? ROGER GOODELL VS. ADAM SILVER?
I see where you’re coming from, letter writers. But riddle me this: Shonda vs. Iggy? What sense does that make? None, right? What point am I trying to prove with that? Answer: There is no point. Things just work out the way they were meant to sometimes. Kind of like when Serena and Venus would somehow play each other in a Grand Slam final.
My spokeswoman has something to communicate regarding this scandal, on my behalf.
Thank you, Beyoncé. I couldn’t ask for a better JPEG spokeswoman if I tried.
For a considerable chunk of 2014, Iggy has been in the middle of a cyclical debate pertaining to the “whitewashing” of black culture, this idea of a white artist finding her or himself in a once-maligned, now mainstream black medium and achieving levels of success that a black counterpart typically does not (or cannot) achieve.
She’s long been called out about this by critics, but as the year has raced to a close, it’s increasingly become her fellow artists who are joining in. Iggy’s beef with fellow rapper Azealia Banks is seemingly never-ending. And then there was A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip, who went elder statesman on Iggy, giving her a lesson on hip-hop over Twitter. When it comes to Banks, Iggy has pushed back, which would be admirable had it not been so dismissive, which as you could guess, has not helped her cause.
Getting into the intricacies of this back-and-forth is a tangent that would get away from the task at hand (declaring Shonda the winner), but there is a takeaway from Iggy’s 2014 that is connected to Shondaland: this idea of proving your worth.
Is it fair, having to do more than some of your peers to be respected? No.
Is it fair, having to go out of your way to prove your legitimacy, when others around you are granted a pass? No.
Is it fair, having to convince the public you’re not a fraud? No.
What seems to rub so many the wrong way is that Iggy doesn’t seem to acknowledge that many others live in this unfair world. And when it comes to getting respect, black artists — especially black female artists — constantly live in a world where they have to do more, prove more, convince more just to be taken seriously. Taken as seriously as someone like Iggy Azalea.
Someone like a Shonda Rhimes couldn’t just hop off the bus in Hollywood and start demanding prime-time airspace for her show ideas in a world of powerful white men. She had to do more than her peers to be respected, and she had to go out of her way to prove her legitimacy in order for there to eventually be a land of Shonda called Shondaland. Was it fair she had to jump through more hoops? No. But we don’t live in a fair society. But Shonda still got it done.
Which is why Shonda advances to the Final Four.
I set this up to seem controversial and complicated, but this is actually a pretty simple decision. TMZ gave us some of our most important audio and video footage of the year.
But there was footage that was not TMZ-related that changed the course of 2014. Some of the year’s most brutal imagery — things you never want to see — like Staten Island’s Eric Garner being put in an unsanctioned chokehold and killed, were not spread via TMZ but instead by way of a man, Ramsey Orta, sharing his video from his phone with the Daily News. The video of Tamir Rice being shot in Cleveland or John Crawford being shot near Dayton were both captured by surveillance cameras, though not aired by TMZ. This is the footage that proved what many have long believed to be true, that the relationship between the police and black men is often anchored in suspicion, fear, and in some cases, complete lack of regard for human life. And in large part because of the existence of these videos, the country has exploded.
It all comes back to the footage. And while the celebrity audio and video that TMZ did unearth helped define the year, it’s even bigger than TMZ. Which is why TMZ’s run is over in the Elite Eight.
Nice guys finish last. For now.
When it’s all said and done, I believe history will look at this moment — two polar-opposite professional sports commissioners representing two very different models on how to lead — and will remember Adam Silver in the most favorable light. But this shit right here — this is not history. This is right now. And of these two men, one was a good boss and the other is a borderline dictator.
Not many people win in a dictatorship. Which is why Roger Goodell won in 2014.
This is how powerful Roger Goodell is: I’m not convinced that he can’t fire Adam Silver. How that would even happen, I haven’t the first clue, but after everything that happened in 2014 that didn’t disrupt his path to becoming a more powerful commissioner, why not?
So there it is. Roger Goodell beats Adam Silver because Roger Goodell could probably fire Adam Silver.
And yes, if you’re keeping score, one of the four finalists in Who Won 2014 is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Told you this bracket was dark.
It was a groundbreaking year for the protester in 2014, but we’ve been here before. What is being protested, condemned, and marched about has changed, but what happened in 2014 isn’t a new phenomenon. Two of the primary reasons 2014’s acts of protests are different than years past are because of the footage we have to support anger and the laundry list of movements that have gained steam and branded themselves by way of hashtags online.
“I Can’t Breathe” has been one of the foundations of protests in many cities across the country. But that doesn’t happen without #ICantBreathe, nor does it happen without the gut-wrenching tape of Garner pleading for his life.
This is one of those moments when “win” isn’t really the right word. So many of these protests come from a place of pain, as do these movements that began online.
What has happened, however, is a reversal of fortune. Hashtag activism has long engendered backlash, but slowly it found ways to legitimize itself in 2014. Even moments like the recent argument that protesters (and the support of protests) are responsible for things such as anti-cop sentiments, which are then responsible for the killing of cops, were just a setback. It doesn’t diminish their importance, but it does makes the protests pawns in a blame game.
Eventually, these protests will result in a win. And hopefully that’ll come in 2015. But in 2014, in a moment of heightened emotion, these hashtags — online and in the streets — got people to rally around the same message and gave moment after moment much-needed solidarity. And for that, they move on to the Final Four.
This run of Shonda’s has been one for the ages. Defeating McConaughey, Swift, and Azalea is almost like Tiger at the 1997 Masters, taking out a team full of Toms (Kite, Tolles, Watson) to win his first major.
Almost like Tiger. Because Tiger won that tournament. And golf is very different from this bracket. And at the Masters, Tiger didn’t have to face off against Sauron.
Actually, the only real way it’s the same as Tiger is that a bunch of white people got beat in a game they don’t usually lose. There really aren’t any other parallels.
BUT SHONDA. BOW DOWN TO SHONDA.
You scared, Roger?
Here’s a leaked conversation between myself and Roger Goodell after I told him he might win this bracket:
Browne, R: Roger, you’re almost in the final.
Goodell, R: Of what?
Browne, R: My bracket for Grantland.
Goodell, R: What’s Grantland?
Browne, R: Bill Simmons’s site.
Goodell, R: Who’s Bill Simmons?
Browne, R: You know … ESPN.
Goodell, R: What’s ESPN?
Browne, R: Whatever. Anyway, you beat the Spurs.
Goodell, R: What is the Spurs?
Browne, R: THEY WON THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP, ROGER.
Goodell, R: What’s the NBA?
Browne, R: You’re insane. After that, you beat Vine.
Goodell, R: Oh, I LOVE VINE. Was it close?
Browne, R: You know what Vine is? And no, you destroyed Vine.
Goodell, R: That’s too bad. “Do it for the vine, do it do it for the vine.”
Browne, R: And then you beat Adam Silver.
Goodell, R: Of course I did, I just fired him.
Browne, R: I KNEW YOU COULD FIRE HIM.
Goodell, R: Duh.
Browne, R: And now you’re up against Shonda Rhimes.
Goodell, R: Ooh, Scandal lady?
Browne, R: Yeah. I don’t know, Roger, she might have you beat.
Goodell, R: I want to beat her.
Browne, R: But–
Goodell, R: She’s out.
Browne, R: This isn’t your–
Goodell, R: I’ll make you and Shonda disappear.
Browne, R: I HATE YOU, ROGER.
Goodell, R: Wait, who are you again?
When you’re Roger Goodell, you hear and see only what you want to hear and see. And the same goes for the people you keep around you. So, in Goodell’s inner circle, he’s probably killing it. So, in that sense, Goodell thinks he’s killing it. Because, for what it’s worth, Goodell’s still killing it.
Shonda, this isn’t your fault. In a year in which winning equates to doing good things, this is your bracket to win. But that’s not what 2014 was all about. And for refusing to fail up, you’re out of this bracket.
Roger Goodell is in the final of Who Won 2014. Awesome.
Millions of people could tweet #FireRogerGoodell and nothing would happen. Activism can’t take down Goodell. Only proof. Evidence. And even that will have an uphill battle, as we saw when it came to footage of Ray Rice. Whether Goodell saw all the Rice footage became one the most crucial points in the case. Goodell said he did not see the second tape. But in November, a judge ruled that the Rices accurately informed him of its contents.
And that’s where we are with that. But it wasn’t a movement that almost uprooted him. It was the existence of footage and whether Goodell saw it. And while Goodell was left relatively unscathed in that Ray Rice tape melee, it was the first time in 2014 he seemed remotely rattled.
Footage, be it personal or obtained from other sources, proved repeatedly in 2014 to be the foremost way of getting the nation’s attention and rattling the power structure. Hashtags got us talking, but footage is what made us believe. Which is why it’s advancing to the final.
In this no-good year, it was footage that repeatedly rocked us to our core. But in those low moments, it also forced us to conduct a healthy self-examination to figure out how to make things better.
Seeing Solange, Jay, and Beyoncé in that elevator crumbled this naive, artificial idea of what the perfect family represented. It also made us question what right we had to jump into the life of a family — a family with issues just like every other family. Seeing Ray Rice hit his then-fiancée made us turn away in shock. It also brought domestic violence out from the confines of the home and threw it in the country’s face as a problem we all need to deal with. Hearing Donald Sterling talk comfortably and confidently about the racial composition of an arena made us shake our heads at how disrespectful an owner can be to his own team’s fans. It also made us broadly question how those in power truly feel about anyone seen as “beneath.” And watching videos of black men being killed by police officers confirmed for some that black lives didn’t matter to wide swaths of the population. It also bound much of the country together, people of all kinds chanting “black lives matter.”
Seeing and hearing these things in 2014 made it impossible to ignore some of society’s taboos. Each time, it brought on a mix of anger, shame, confusion, and sadness. But what emerged was a sense of hope. A sense that, if what we’re seeing is rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
That’s bigger than some football commissioner. Because the footage that came out in 2014 was bigger than a game. It repeatedly reminded us of how far we have to go, and also how far we’ve come. The response to the year’s revealed footage has been the silver lining, the exact momentum needed to actually believe 2015 will be a step in the right direction. And not simply more of the same.
Source: Grantland » Features | 30 Dec 2014 | 7:11 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 30 Dec 2014 | 6:04 am PST
Increasingly, I find myself processing each passing year not as a string of events but as a series of shifting moods. Instead of discrete milestones, I recall sensations: an intense rush of ecstasy, late-afternoon shock, a week of fatigue, a season of contented bliss. This year, the moods I remember with an unusual fondness — the ones that offered a reprieve from the rest of life, on and offline — were brought on by strangers playing music on the Internet.40
I spent a remarkable amount of time in 2014 digging though YouTube to seek out covers of songs I knew and loved, whether by Drake or obscure Glaswegian crash-pop bands. I collected these clips as I collect and obsess over records from distant cities I will never visit. I’d like to say I was driven by a curiosity about the lives of others, but that’s not quite right. Other than looking at what other videos they’d posted, I never learned anything about who they were or where they lived; I never scrutinized what they were wearing, the books on their shelves, or the color of their carpet. But I felt like I recognized something in their performances. It was in the way they leaned into certain words, the melodic gloss that wasn’t in the original songs’ versions, the way they twisted someone else’s plaintive lines into something strange and desperate. They were making these songs their own.
Earlier this year, while looking on YouTube for a live clip of Slowdive’s “Alison,” I noticed a cover version by a user named fooberdoobs in the sidebar. I had always assumed that the song’s production was complex and laborious, and I didn’t think a lone person with an acoustic guitar could reproduce its majesty. The original is the perfect distillation of shoegaze, a haunting melody swaddled within layers of golden gauze. Interpreted by fooberdoobs, the song is slower and more deliberate. The heavy reverb fills the room with noise; it swells with a kind of sad euphoria. The sidebar recommended a different and no less singular cover version by a user named AgeKeey. AgeKeey took a much more strident approach, unearthing a choppy aggression that had been tamed in the original. Soon I was just searching out random songs I remembered from middle school, ones I never imagined anyone would have bothered to cover. Two girls reading the lyrics of “Sally Cinnamon” off an iPhone. Two guys — presumably Russian? — doing the Verve’s “Slide Away.” One of them earnestly strums while the other builds walls of sound to match his trippy shades.
Cover versions are about living with music. They’re about letting a song daze and entrance you, studying its surfaces and running your finger along its edges and angles, taking it apart and putting it back together again until the only thing left to do is to reshape it in your own image. You trace its highs and follow its lows and figure out the center so you might figure out a part of yourself. There’s something strange and voyeuristic about watching strangers on a screen do this. These aren’t the kinds of performances that aspire toward stardom; it’s unlikely that these clips will land anyone a spot on tour with a pop star. More often than not, they communicate a kind of intimacy and generosity, a gift that asks nothing in return but an ephemeral moment of communion. Maybe someone in that vast, unknowable audience will like it enough to share it with someone else.41
These covers remind us of all the new possibilities tucked within old songs. Pavement’s lyrics make even less sense when someone sings rather than speaks them, and Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” never sounded so sweet and desperate as it does shorn of its epic frame, sung through a rolled-up magazine. Sometimes the performers seem too shy to look at the camera; sometimes it looks like they’re purposely pointing their music somewhere else in the room. A kid discovering something faintly jazzy about Animal Collective’s “Fireworks.” A Spanish guy having a blast assembling a one-man-band version of Inner City’s “Good Life,” a song intended for dance floor fellowship. At a time when living on the Internet has the capacity to feel dispiriting and casually abusive, these clips feel like the very opposite of trolling. They create scattered micro-communities of encouraging fans wishing each other well. A Japanese kid plumbing the droll flatness of the Vaselines’ “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” and then commiserating in the comments section with a new fan from China about how nobody else around here listens to cool music. In case you ever wanted to hear an acoustic version of Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” by two kids in Reno, that exists too.
I couldn’t stop listening to a user named Alofa Gould interpret PartyNextDoor’s “Persian Rugs” via King Krule’s “Baby Blue.” It becomes a thing of majestic, shaky beauty. (Gould also records as Ikea-Graveyard.) My favorite clips were by a user named Brenna Thomas, who also turned to PartyNextDoor for inspiration. She transforms his shapeless, cocky “West District” into something off-kilter and bluesy. “Yeah my name is NazT and the trigger finger function,” she smiles, adapting the line to her name. “Silly n---- might lose his life on assumptions,” she continues singing, and it sounds like a realer threat than the slick, cavernous original. Halfway through, it dissolves into Drake’s “Days in the East.” On the original, Drake is all squint-eye come-hither, sensitive sext croons over synth kicks and a swarm of underwater bees. She turns it into something entirely different, adding a bit of sneering menace that feels feigned in the original. Drake balls up his fists and looks out a penthouse window; she looks straight through you, and she feels sorry for you.
Allan Kingdom and Spooky Black’s42 blissed-out “Wavey” was one of these Tumblr micro-hits that attested to what was now possible so long as you had some ideas and software. It felt like a massive, blockbuster hit turned inside out. When Thomas covered it, she stripped it bare, erasing Kingdom’s falsetto and upping Spooky Black’s faux-machismo. Whereas the original sounded tentative and prankish, her cover took everything for face value, turning it into something teasing and strong.
I realize that all of this is one step removed from saying: “YO. PODCASTS!” Normal people doing normal things on the Internet isn’t a particularly new phenomenon, but it was one I kept returning to over the course of a year in which history seemed to alternate between moving too fast and too slow. Maybe this is just what happens when you live a life in search of distraction and diversion. Maybe it just speaks to the amount of time I spent on the Internet, a version of the world calibrated to intensities, where everything that matters is either the best or the worst thing ever — where things are ranked and raked over until they are drained of meaning. To me, these videos had more modest aspirations, each one a message in a bottle. They chronicled everyday moments of discovery and faith. At a time when anyone with a decent computer and a vision can make music that sounds big and polished, a lot of stuff on YouTube remains bare and unadorned, and maybe that’s why I was drawn to its smaller scale. Nothing has to sound this way anymore.
It could be that I’m idealizing what’s going on here, trying to call people singing songs on YouTube some kind of outsider art. Maybe everyone secretly wishes to become a star; maybe this was as much a version of someone else’s “reality” as reality TV. All I know for certain is that this was some of the best music I heard all year, music that reminded me of bygone thrills: accidental discovery, browsing, the lure of imperfection, the smallness of a stage. At a time when anything on the Internet could spark controversy or court abuse, it was vital to escape into someone else’s world for a few minutes at a time. It was quietly inspiring to see people send each other long-distance props and ask for guitar tablature.
On Facebook, a friend of a friend kept posting images of James Foley’s beheading; it was her way of forcing everyone to reckon with true evil. Lying in bed, needing to sleep, unable to stop watching a livestream from the streets of Ferguson. The trauma of being trolled. Fireworks from the perspective of a drone. The what-time-is-it-there disorientation of seeing familiar blocks of Taiwan and Hong Kong occupied by cheery idealists. A grainy clip of a man paying an unjust penalty for selling loosies. A web-savvy terrorist organization capitalizing on how the Internet works. A web-savvy president riffing between two potted plants. And then you read about all that you don’t see, and you feel worse. In many ways, searching for these covers was a retreat from everything else — not an escape, but a pause from the unrelenting rhythms of life and politics, a diversion from the bad and a chance to recall the good. And in this way, I found comfort in all of these modest offerings. A song for your thoughts.
Source: Grantland » Features | 29 Dec 2014 | 6:58 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 29 Dec 2014 | 6:08 am PST
Source: The Atlantic Photo | 26 Dec 2014 | 6:10 am PST
Sometimes you see something that feels like it was pulled straight from your imagination. It can almost feel invasive — like someone has aggregated all the things that interest you, that haunt you, that titillate you, that you celebrate or loathe about yourself and others, and put it onscreen. That was True Detective, for me. It had Camel Lights, drugs, and Lone Star; it had Wu-Tang Clan, Lucinda Williams, and Grinderman; it had undercover police work, criminal conspiracies, and the occult; it took place at the intersection of the real world and some kind of purgatory that resembled it. It was about the construction of alternative personal histories; it was about truth, fabrication, and self-delusion; and it asked: What is the right way to live, and would you live that way if you thought there was no punishment in this life, or reward in the next? These are all things that interest me.
And it had the shot.
There’s a scene toward the end of Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography in which Michael Chapman talks about the work he did with Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull. He mentions Scorsese’s understanding of what “the storytelling of a shot is really going to be … all you need is this one shot, and it’s so good, and so evocative, and so powerful, emotionally, that it will get you from A to B without any coverage, without any worry.” Chapman is referring to this moment in Raging Bull:
After watching Visions when I was a teenager, I became acutely aware of how the visual aspects of a film impacted me. I was fascinated with lighting, framing, and camera movement — especially tracking shots; searching takes, from directors like Scorsese, Orson Welles, Max Ophüls, and Brian De Palma; Steadicam shots and crane shots. Whether filming the mundane or the action-packed frame, it didn’t matter.
Over the last 20 years, I have always found my eyes gravitating toward the lower corner of a screen when watching a movie. That’s where I first notice the camera moving. A tracking shot just feels so wonderfully cinematic, a unique element of the medium. If film is a hybrid of theater and photography, a tracking shot is something neither of those two art forms can replicate. Deployed judiciously, tracking shots can make you feel like you are experiencing some kind of heightened version of moving life. I like a lot of directors, but the ones I love tend to be able to move their cameras.
By the time the fourth episode of True Detective aired in mid-February, the series had built up momentum. It wasn’t just because of Rust Cohle’s ruminations on locked rooms, the art brut drawings on burned-out church walls, references to a yellow king, or Charlie Lange’s jailhouse rants about a place called Carcosa and the rich men who sacrificed women and children there. And people weren’t just tuning in for Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, or Michelle Monaghan. They were watching for Cary Joji Fukunaga.
I had liked Fukunaga’s previous efforts, Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre, and had even enjoyed his “Go Forth” campaign for Levi’s.43
He was obviously a talented filmmaker, but it didn’t seem like he was getting funded to do projects that had the scope to match his talent. That project was True Detective. Over the course of eight episodes, Fukunaga essentially rewrote the visual language of a televised cop show. Gone were the traditional establishing exterior shot of a police department, leading to an establishing shot of an office, a two-shot of the players, and a series of reaction shots between them as a conversation takes place. Here we had a director who seemed to take every frame, every movement, every bit of shadow, and every movement of the camera as seriously as the story. Take the first interrogation of Lange, by Cohle and Hart.
You have the basic framing of this two-shot of the detectives, with the cheap wooden wall in the background, that just-slightly inordinate amount of space above the pair’s heads, and a weird trick where Cohle seems farther back in the frame than Hart, even though they are sitting next to each other. Something is just a bit … off. And it should be. Notice how the camera pulls back, just a little bit, at the last second. Lange is about to tell them about his ex, Dora, the first victim we see on the show, and how she called him one night, babbling, high out of her mind, telling him that she had “met a king.”
No shot was “just a shot” for Fukunaga. His considered, flair-filled style was perfect for the material. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing has been criticized for its portrayal of women, its jerkoff philosophizing, and the fact that he at least heavily borrowed from Thomas Ligotti. But I still greatly admire it. True Detective reminded me of the poetry of Richard Hugo and the fiction of James Crumley, Larry Brown, Daniel Woodrell, late-period Cormac McCarthy, and early Richard Ford. It is, first and foremost, a story about storytelling. Characters are constantly talking about “characters.” (“This world is a veil. And the face you wear is not your own,” says the preacher, Joel Theriot, at a tent revival.) The investigation into the identity of Dora and Marie Fontenot’s murderer becomes an investigation into how we tell ourselves stories in order to live. One of the first things Marty says to Rust is “You attach an assumption to a piece of evidence, you start to bend the narrative to support it, prejudice yourself.”
All of this takes place in a kind of dreamworld version of the Louisiana and East Texas Gulf region. It’s as if True Detective happens in a diorama. Walking out of a coroner’s office, Cohle tells Hart, “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town. And the memory’s fading.”
Staring at this diorama like a blinking god, watching these men at a crossroads, watching their cars coursing across gray highways is Fukunaga’s camera. With the wonderful cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom, Top of the Lake), he captures the two protagonists as they are pulled toward their inevitable reckoning.
In the early episodes, this perspective has a unique power. It’s like Cohle and Hart are the only two people on earth. True Detective’s pacing mirrors Cohle’s drug use. In the first three episodes, it’s moody and ponderous, as Cohle pounds cough syrup and swallows ’ludes. But as Cohle hooks back into the “Crash” persona and meets up with his old Iron Crusaders cohort, switching to speed and coke, Fukunaga tightens the vise — the cutting gets quicker, the scenes play faster, and the camera movement goes from languid to frenetic.
The tracking shot is the most intense moment of the series. The most fascinating thing about the shot isn’t just that it’s long (it is), or that the shootout feels so convincingly unstaged (it does) — it’s the way Fukunaga’s camera functions as a kind of character in the house. It’s Cohle’s perspective, just heightened. The camera pauses to gaze, to wander, to linger on characters.
When this episode ended, the floodgates opened. I don’t think I’ve exchanged that many text messages about a single piece of television since the penultimate episode of Season 3 of The Wire. My friends and I were shooting each other YouTube clips from Touch of Evil …
And Hard Boiled …
Usually this kind of conversation would happen after a “We have to go back” or “I am the one who knocks” moment — a bit of dialogue or a twist in a story. That night, it was because of a shot.
“One of my priorities as director was to defend craft despite the constraints on my time and budget,” Fukunaga told The Guardian in March. “In every episode I wanted to at least try to find specific moments in which you could treat the visual side of the medium with the same importance as we were treating the dialogue.”
It has become pretty common to call television the new home of serious storytelling. As films increasingly become the dominion of caped crusaders, we go to the movies to learn what it takes to be superhuman. We go to television to learn what it is to be human.
Great. But what about the filmmakers? At least in the public’s understanding, television was a writer’s medium that became a showrunner’s kingdom. From about 2000 on, we began ascribing the same kind of auteurist powers we once gave filmmakers to the likes of David Chase, David Milch, David Simon, Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan, Amy Sherman-Palladino, and Jason Katims.
If the Golden Age of Television was defined by the rise of the writer, whatever comes next will be defined by the arrival of the directors. Over the last few decades, filmmakers had dipped their toes in the small-screen water, for sure — Barry Levinson on Homicide: Life on the Street, Quentin Tarantino on E.R., Nicole Holofcener on Six Feet Under, Peter Berg on Friday Night Lights. But since 2010, things have been changing. Episode orders have gotten smaller (less time commitment), budgets have gotten bigger (a more attractive working environment). Scorsese directing the Boardwalk Empire pilot was the prologue. Then David Fincher, Jane Campion, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green followed suit. In 2014, we saw more and more major filmmakers move to television — Steven Soderbergh, Jill Soloway — and in the coming years, we will only see a larger spike.44
If we’re starting a new chapter in the history of television — one in which the director’s chair becomes as important as the writers’ room — then this six-minute tracking shot from “Who Goes There” could be the turning of the page. Fukunaga, for his part, is going back to features — he is finishing the West African war film Beasts of No Nation and preparing an adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Crazy as it sounds, he might have said all he has to say as a director of television. After guiding a camera through that six-minute maze of tension, desperation, booby-trapped safes, helicopters, double-crosses, and getaway cars, it’s hard to imagine what else he could do to top his small-screen work. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine anyone could.
Source: Grantland » Features | 23 Dec 2014 | 8:22 am PST
At the start of this year, Russia — a country that had recently banned gay “propaganda,” harassed and imprisoned political dissidents, and was run by a man who appealed to imperialist traditions and fear of foreigners — turned a seaside summer resort not far from a hotbed of separatist and terrorist activity into an impregnable military zone, and hosted the Olympic Games.
The second Fundamental Principle of the Olympic Charter calls for “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Russia, of course, wasn’t the first nation to roll up the Olympic Charter, light it on fire, and call it a torch. In 2008, the Chinese government used the Beijing Summer Games as an opportunity to crack down on dissidents. In 2004, Greece paid more than $11 billion to host the Games, loosening fiscal restraints and building debt, contributing to a crisis that ultimately helped trigger a global recession. In 1996, Coca-Cola alone spent $350 million on promotions, advertisements, and tie-ins. In 1984, the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles Summer Games. In 1980, the United States boycotted the Moscow Summer Games. In 1972, Palestinian terrorists massacred 11 Israeli Olympic team members. In 1968, military and police in Mexico City killed dozens of protesters only 10 days before the opening ceremonies. In 1936, Nazi Germany hosted the Olympics. Hitler hosted the Olympics!
So 2014 wasn’t exactly the year the Olympics failed its own ideals. But it was the year it had a hashtag for failure. Within days, the Twitter account @sochiproblems had hundreds of thousands of followers — more than Sochi’s official account.
The opening ceremonies themselves provided the perfect example of #SochiFail. At the start of the show, five enormous, sparkling snowflakes were supposed to explode into the Olympic rings — but the fifth malfunctioned and failed to open. It just hung there: a glittering, giant asterisk, a symbol of the first global sporting event that was collectively watched as a massive spectacle of irony instead of hope.
It was funny, for a while. Fifty billion dollars couldn’t buy a door handle that worked? #SochiProblems. The faucets spewed sewage? #SochiFail. The temperature during the Winter Olympics hit 68 degrees? LOL. Hiccups are charming when they’re happening to someone else. Before long, everything started to intermingle. Social media became the filter for watching the Games — and the games around the Games. Everything seemed only a few thumbstrokes away from becoming emoji. Stray dogs roamed the streets of Sochi — and the newsfeed of my Facebook account — and became so ubiquitous that late-night shows lampooned them. Athletes tweeted about elevator doors opening onto empty shafts — or not opening at all. There were slideshows of a pair of flamboyant figure skating analysts. Vines of a dance-off between bobsledders from Jamaica and Team USA. Pictures of Vladimir Putin drinking with Dutch athletes at the Holland Heineken House. And then pictures of Putin posing with Team USA. Photos of semi-professional Cossack security guards whipping punk-rock protest group Pussy Riot with short, thick, braided leather whips.
Even as ski jumpers landed in puddles of melted snow and pixies lutzed and twirled in Sochi, civic unrest led suddenly to the collapse of the Russian-backed government in Ukraine. Within days, Russian soldiers were moving. Within weeks, Putin had used the provocation as a pretext to annex Crimea. It had nothing to do with the Olympics, and yet the Olympics had everything to do with it. Sochi, in the unruly mountains at the edge of the country, haunted by an old empire, was part of the same projection of power, and the same vision of an almost mystical national identity and strength. Citius, altius, fortius. Faster, higher, stronger.
Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
By the end of the year, Russia was under sanctions and mired in a currency crisis. People watched their wealth vanish by the hour. Last week, Putin gave a press conference to discuss the economic catastrophe. The sanctions, the demands for nuclear disarmament, the warnings against military interventions in Ukraine — they were all part of a long-planned plot by the West, Putin claimed, to cripple Russia. Even before the annexation of Crimea, “unprecedented and clearly orchestrated attempts were made to discredit our efforts to organize and host the Olympics.” Russia’s aggression, he insisted, was actually self-defense. He likened the country to its national symbol (and the Sochi mascot): a bear. “They will always try to put him on a chain,” Putin said, “and as soon as he is put on this chain, they will pull out his teeth and claws.”
The slightly gleeful, prurient quality of the crowdsourced chronicling of Sochi’s difficulties — disaster journalism-lite — disguised a deepening disquiet about the Olympics. It may have been easy to get excited about Norway’s curling outfit or T.J. Oshie’s holy-s#!t shootout goal, but it was harder and harder not to feel cynical about the costs.
The Olympics demand you to accept that sport is not only a matter of who wins and who loses, but also a spiritual endeavor. They were meant to connect support to virtue — uncorrupted even by money. But if you want to host them, you’d better be ready to pay. Not as much as Russia did; Sochi’s reported $50 billion cost is misleading. Russia had to construct a winter park from scratch, build infrastructure not directly related to the Games, and address special security concerns, and likely lost millions to graft; Sochi’s operating budget was closer to $2 billion. Still, a state-of-the-art sliding center for luge, bobsled, and skeleton costs tens of millions — which, considering the popularity of luge in most countries, is money you might as well set on fire. Study after study has shown that, economically, hosting the Olympics is almost never a good idea. The bigger price, though, and the one that was harder for some to swallow, was demanded by those noble idealists at the International Olympic Committee: stocked bars, special hotels, dedicated traffic lanes, free Samsung phones. (And this was after the IOC had been caught up in a bribery scandal 15 years ago.)
Eighty-eight nations competed at Sochi, a record for a Winter Olympics; at the London Summer Games two years ago, a combined 204 countries and territories sent 10,000 athletes. In May, NBC agreed to pay $7.65 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics until 2032. The Olympics are too big to fail. But they are also becoming too big to host. Bids between Munich and St. Moritz for the 2022 Winter Olympics were scrapped after public referendums. Stockholm made a formal bid but then withdrew. Krakow pulled out of the race after nearly 70 percent of voters rejected the bid in a referendum. Oslo withdrew its bid this fall. “Some people feel that that kind of money should be spent for hospitals, roads and so on and so forth,” Gerhard Heiberg, the Norwegian IOC member who had headed the organizing committee for the 1994 Lillehammer Games, told the New York Times. As for the bid made by Lviv … well, Ukraine had other things to worry about. That left Beijing, which is 120 miles from a ski slope, and Almaty, Kazakhstan — two places that were never about to put their bids to a popular vote.
The IOC, under new leadership, recognizes that the Games are troubled. It recently passed reforms to its bidding process in order to help host countries cut down on costs (most notably allowing host nations to hold an event in another country where the geography is more hospitable). But the reforms will only go so far.
The economic, moral, and political failures of the Olympics have created a strange dissonance — at least for me. Because I loved the Sochi Olympics. I spent every day — and much of the night — during the Games watching downhill skiing, ski jumping, speedskating, everything I could. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. to catch events live. I studied highlights. I read about the biathlon and learned its rules. I felt my heart race as I watched cross-country ski races. I studied tactics and weather conditions. I learned about the athletes. I wondered about the way their minds worked and watched their bodies move. I was in awe.
There are the Games, and then there are the games themselves. 1936 was the year that Hitler hosted the Olympics, but it was also the year that Jesse Owens became the first man to win four track and field gold medals at a single Olympics. Owens was black, the grandson of slaves. Swastikas on flags fluttered in the breeze.
The first man to congratulate Owens after he won the long jump was a tall, blue-eyed German named Luz Long. “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens later said. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
That handshake, of course, could do nothing to counteract the awfulness of Hitler’s vision of a world dominated by Aryan Übermenschen, a vision that hosting the Olympics was intended to project. Nor could it erase the treatment that Owens received when he returned to America. “When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus,” Owens said. “I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either.” As an amateur, of course, he’d been unable to earn a living as an athlete; later, he’d race horses or dogs for wages.
But that handshake mattered. Athletes are not the saints that the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, promised. They are human. They make mistakes, and some of them do terrible things. (This was also, of course, the year that Oscar Pistorius was charged with culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend.) Every year is the year we’re let down by our heroes. But sometimes they act in brave and beautiful ways, and those things resonate. It matters when brave and beautiful things happen anywhere, of course, but when brave and beautiful things happen on a field, while people are watching, the resonance builds.
Jesse Owens’s running also mattered — not more, but not less. The angle his body took against the track as he stretched out from the starting blocks. The way he held his slight, compact body erect when he ran — arms driving, legs churning, feet blurring, head perfectly still. The way he blew past others — because winning mattered too.
It may be a mistake to connect virtue to sports. It certainly felt that way this year. But watch a runner run. Let yourself be moved.
Source: Grantland » Features | 22 Dec 2014 | 11:13 am PST