Sports

30th March
2011
written by Jeff

Wow, it has been a LONG time since I’ve written on this blog. Maybe I’m lame. Maybe I’m lazy. Well, I’m both of those things, but that isn’t the reason. I’ve been busy, damnit, and who are YOU to question me?

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Let’s move on amicably. Ok, great.

So, anyhoo, I wrote a cover story for the Houston Press this week. Kinda cool, right? The story is on KGOW, 1560 the Game, a small, independent sports radio station in Houston. I took the photos for the story as well.

Writing like 5000 words is not easy, but since my mouth is big enough to utter that many words in the span of mere minutes, it makes sense that I could type them too.

Plus, I’m not going to lie. It was fun and, quite frankly, a HUGE honor to be able to do this. I read guys like John Nova Lomax and Craig Malisow, who write feature stories with the kind of regularity I change my cat’s cat box litter, and I’m in awe. I can’t imagine doing this all the time, but it was a blast doing this one and I hope I can try my hand at something else in the future.

Until then, you can read this one:

Blog Intro
Full Story

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15th June
2010
written by Jeff

What has happened to our sports? I understand that we all giggle when football announcers say things like “he needs to get deep penetration into their backfield” or golf commentators say “he’s lost a lot of balls in the deep rough” or baseball guys describe their recent visits to prostitutes, but what is going on at the World Cup sickens me.

It should be noted that I do not watch the World Cup or any soccer for that matter. I have nothing against it. I played soccer for many years in my youth and, while I’m dubious of any sport that can end in a zero-zero tie and be considered “exciting,” it’s clearly very popular and the kids, well they just love it to death, don’t they.

But, I’ve got to believe that parents will be thinking twice about letting their kids watch or even play a sport that would allow such vulgarity in its most important tournament.

I’m talking, of course, about vuvuzelas.

I’ve been reading that they are blown in the stands with regularity and that the sound this creates is a problem for fans, teams and even viewers? Well, I should HOPE SO! I’m surprised that so many women would allow this to happen in public.

Look, whatever you want to do in the privacy of your own home is fine with me, but you don’t go blowing on someone’s vuvuzela in public! It’s indecent! There are children watching, for Christ sake!!!

Sure, I guess it could be a turn on for some of you perverts out there, but that’s what the internet is for.

What does seem strange to me is that the sound made during this activity is a loud buzzing noise. I don’t think I’ve ever heard something like this creating a buzzing sound. Maybe it is some South African tradition. Also, I’m confused as to why anyone would blow on a vuvuzela. I guess it could be stimulating to some, but a whole stadium of…

Ok, so I just got an email from someone after sending out a rant to all my relatives about this vuvuzela telling me that it is some oddly shaped horn that makes an annoying sound when blown at soccer matches. Well, color me embarrassed.

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11th May
2009
written by Jeff

The winding story of the Houston Rockets’ season has rarely made room for logic, linear thinking or any standard notions of cause and effect. Star players disappear, expectations sink and the Rockets surge.

They are confounding and exhilarating all at once. – The New York Times

RowdiesI am an unabashed Houston Rockets fan. I have been since I was just a kid and Calvin Murphy was such a hero of mine, I carried his basketball card around with me in my back pocket.

Like the Rockets, I am unashamed of my love of the city of Houston.

In honor of both and the amazing win yesterday over the Lakers, I give you the five ways the city and the team are alike.

Both are unselfish.

The Rockets play some of the stingiest help defense in the NBA. They also willingly move the ball to find the open man. Ron Artest, their best player now that Yao Ming is out, had a bad shooting game yesterday, but piled up six assists. Even their bench spends most of their time standing. They are the quintessential team, banding together no matter what the circumstances and realizing that what is good for the whole is good for the individual, not the other way around.

The city of Houston gives and gives and gives. When Katrina hit, Houston opened its doors without question or regret for the people of New Orleans. When most of the country forgot that we had a hurricane last year, we sucked it up and went to help our neighbors in Galveston when no one else would. I once read that Houston represents one percent of the population of the United States, but totals nearly 11 percent of its volunteer hours. When you need help, Houston is there.

Neither pretend to be something they aren’t.

The Rockets don’t try to outscore opponents because that isn’t their game. They don’t run up and down the floor with a fast-paced, wild and free offensive game. They don’t gamble on defense. They don’t try to be better athletes. They play smart and hard and they play their game with no apologies. They never allow another team to out work them and they remain true to their approach through the most difficult of circumstances.

Houston isn’t scenic like San Francisco or glamorous like New York and our weather isn’t perpetually perfect like San Diego. But, we love who we are – a friendly, opportunity-driven, quirky, southern city with great food and a giant heart. We aren’t a tourist destination and don’t want to be. You come here for the people not the views and you come here to live not to visit a theme park. We are who we are and that’s just fine with us.

They both defy the odds and the critics.

The above quote from the NYT about the Rockets’ season is absolutely accurate. They began the season with high hopes of a long run deep into the playoffs, perhaps even to the title. They lost Tracy McGrady halfway through the season, traded away their starting point guard in favor of two youngsters and lost Yao Ming to yet another foot injury. The Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice even penned a eulogy for them in his blog saying, “They’ll almost certainly play their final home game of the season Sunday afternoon against the Lakers.”

But, that’s the thing about these Rockets, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, they just won’t quit and they won’t go down easy. You have to kill them. No matter what the odds, they seem to constantly come up with ways to win and change whenever necessary to make that happen.

Built on a swamp and false promises from the Allen Brothers, most people didn’t think Houston would survive. But, we scratched and clawed our way up through oil boom and bust, dot com success and failure. We turned a muddy ass ditch into the second largest port in the US. We built the first indoor sports stadium with “fake” grass when people said we were crazy to try. Hell, for all the crap we take about our strip malls, humidity and flooding, “Houston” was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon!

Like any great city, we re-invent ourselves while staying true to our nature, but unlike most cities, we always manage to do it with a smile on our faces and a wink that says, “We’re pretty freaking awesome, aren’t we?”

Neither back down from a challenge.

Shane Battier had to call out to an official because the gash above his forehead was bleeding profusely and pouring blood down his face. A few stitches later, he was back in the game facing off against perhaps the game’s best player. Yao took a hard shot to his knee – the same knee that had required surgery – and refused to go to the locker room, finishing off the game and the Lakers in game 1 of the playoffs.

Ron Artest, having taken an elbow to the throat, made sure to tell superstar Kobe Bryant he wasn’t backing off much the way Luis Scola got in the face of Lakers players when they didn’t like his hard play. The Lakers are, arguably, the best team in the NBA and the Rockets have stared them down at every opportunity.

When they lose players, they just re-invent themselves. No T-Mac, no problem. Run the offense through Yao. No Yao, no problem. Run a bunch of screen and rolls with your young guys. Trade your veteran point guard, no problem. Let the youngsters run teams out of the building.

Artest’s motto of “no layups” is perfectly appropriate for a team that refuses to go down without a fight and is intimidated by no one.

In the 1970’s and early 80’s, Houston was struggling through the decline of the oil industry. At the same time, hordes of people moved into Houston from places like Michigan where jobs were scarce. Did Houston crumble under the weight? Of course not. We converted our blue collar workforce into one of the most powerful white collar energy industries in the world. When Katrina hit and 250,000 of NOLA’s citizens descended on us, many of their most needy becoming permanent residents, did we run out of room or have resource scarcity? Not a chance. We integrated them just like we do every other member of our incredibly diverse city.

We’ve suffered through hurricanes, economic crisis, floods, political scandals and managed to come back each time emerging stronger and better equipped to face the future. In the dictionary next to the word “resilient,” there should be a picture of the Houston skyline.

Both are surprising.

Just when you think they are dead, they come right back at you. Outside of die hard Rockets fans, who knew that Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry could run circles around opponents? Like Charles Barkley joked about Chucky Brown in the mid-90’s, I’m sure that Pao Gasol thought, “This Chuck Hayes guy can’t guard me.” When McGrady went out in February, Von Wafer, a guy other teams threw on the scrap heap, emerged as a young, athletic talent with a silky jump shot.

Whatever happens to this team, they just seem to morph in whatever is necessary to keep them winning. It’s an incredibly endearing and surprising quality in an era dominated by big salaries and often even bigger egos.

I’ve often had people tell me, “When I moved to Houston, I thought it was a horrible place, but the more I lived here and discovered all the great things about it, the more it grew on me.” That’s how this city is. We’re the fourth largest city in America, but few know about it. Anyone who doesn’t get this, just look out your window when you are flying over the city. For a place that is supposedly a concrete jungle, note the massive amount of greenery.

Much like the shock over how many trees we seem to have if you look at it from above, our beauty seems to be hidden in plain sight. Most of what is most exceptional about Houston tends to be what we don’t realize exists or forget about like the Orange Show or the Farmers’ Market or the hike and bike trails along White Oak Bayou or 11th Street Park or Tacos-a-Go-Go. And those are just a few things I I happen to love and come up with off the top of my head. There are a million other things just like that which makes living here such a constant source of the unexpected. I have lived here for 40 years and am STILL finding things I never knew about.

Like the Rockets, Houston isn’t a city of surface, but rather a city of substance, which is why I love both and why millions of others do too.

GO ROCKETS!

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19th January
2009
written by Jeff

We have a great bunch of outside shooters. Unfortunately, all our games are played indoors.

Scooby Doo Meet the Harlem GlobetrottersI’d like to tell you a little story about a college basketball coach, a cab driver, a valet and the coach’s wife. I’m sure you are thinking that this sounds an awful lot like the beginning of a porno. That’s quite true. In fact, I believe that particular title is White Men Can’t Hump starring John Hardwood, but, that’s for another blog post or maybe another blog.

No, children, this is the true story of how the simple flaring of tempers can turn into something hilarious.

Enter Andy Kennedy, the basketball coach for Ole Miss. On December 18, he was arrested for assault in an encounter with a cab driver that has grown more complicated with lawsuits and counter suits.

First, Kennedy sued the driver and a valet for defamation when the driver said that Kennedy punched him and used racial slurs in the incident. The valet backed the driver’s story. The driver counter sued claiming the need to protect himself.

Stupid, yes, but not terribly uncommon, unfortunately. But, here’s where the fun begins.

Kennedy’s wife, Kimber (yes, I said Kimber), filed suit against both the driver and valet. Do you know why? Seriously, you’re going to love this.

Kimber sued the two for…well, I’ll let the story do the talking.

Kennedy’s wife sued that cab driver and a valet driver who backed his claims to police and the media, saying their accusations had harmed the couple’s personal relationship, including their sex life.

[…]

The basketball coach sued Jiddou and valet Michael Strother for defamation the day after his arrest, and Kimber Kennedy filed a lack of consortium suit Dec. 22 against the pair.

That’s right. Mrs. Kennedy sued the cab driver and the valet because she claimed the incident kept her from getting “off the bench” and having any “playing time.” Now, they’ll have to go to “court” since her husband is no longer a “baller.” Did you get that? They aren’t, you know, “having sex.” Those quotes were for emphasis and I was just being, you know, “funny.”

Anyway, you’re thinking, “Wow, Jeff! That’s freaking hilarious. Thanks for telling me this humorous anecdote. You’ve made my day. And the quotes you used for humor are awesome. You are the best and you’re totally hot. Plus, your blog is the bestest ever and supermodels must want to have your babies.” But, that wasn’t the funniest part.

Now, you’re saying, “Oh, my God, Jeff, you can’t possibly be funnier or better. You’re like a blog God or what I like to call a ‘Blod.’ See, I can use quotes too. You think you are so clever, don’t you, Blod. You can just fling around quotation marks like they grow on trees – delicious quote trees. Well, Blod, you’ve got another thing coming…”

Whoa, slow down there. Keep reading and I’m sure you’ll calm down or have a seizure from fits of laughter.

Please consult a physician before reading any further. Jeff Balke and all related parties assume no responsibility for laughter related death, disease or dismemberment.

The wife filed suit on December 22. The husband was arrested on December 18. She is claiming that their sex life had been disrupted for FOUR DAYS!!!

Seriously, I like sex as much as the next person, but four days? What happens when the guy goes on a road trip? Is she going to sue the university for making her vagina lonely? In fact, I would urge her to do exactly that. Use the lonely vagina defense that worked so well in Hooker versus the State of California.

Everyone knows a vagina is a terrible thing to waste, or that might be the mind is a terrible thing to screw. I get these things confused.

Why are you looking at me like that? Kneel before Blod!

Since Superman II, I’ve been wanting to say that, except Zod, not Blod, but whatever.

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5th January
2009
written by Jeff

Wayne Campbell: [holding a bag of Doritos] Maybe I’m wrong on this one, but for me, the beast doesn’t include selling out. Garth, you know what I’m talking about, right?
Garth Algar: [wearing Reebok wardrobe] It’s like people only do these things because they can get paid. And that’s just really sad.

Calvin MurphyI have been a fan of the Houston Rockets since the late 1970’s when socks were long and shorts were short, when Calvin Murphy was shooting jumpers, not broadcasting games and when Rudy Tomjanovich was running the floor, not coaching the Rockets or scouting for the Lakers (shiver).

They’ve won two titles for the city – the only two by a major franchise (no offense Comets or Dynamo) – and have been good members of the community. Unfortunately, like most sports teams, they make bonehead maneuvers from time to time.

The latest is the pending release of their new “fan” wiki site supposedly set for release this weekend. The site is billed “for the fans, by the fans” if for the fans means for “ticket holders” and by the fans means by “Rockets’ staff.”

They have access to fans in all sorts of ways – through sites like ClutchFans.net, the undisputed heavyweight champ of NBA fan websites, through Twitter, through Facebook, etc. – and yet they choose to create a wiki site that looks like a 1997 Geocities website and appears to be a poorly disguised atttempt to generate positive spin on negative stories and control what is posted on the internet.

With blogs – particularly those on Chron.com – and the negative comments that are frequently left by readers, organizations like the Rockets want to better control information because they know the web can be a pretty vitriolic place. The result of such negative press can be slowed ticket sales, particularly in rough economic times, and hurt feelings of fragile players (*cough* I’m looking at you T-Mac *cough*).

Now, you could take the cue of companies like Comcast, a much maligned corporation that has embraced Twitter and used it to bolster sagging customer support. You could generate a REAL blog with REAL information about what goes on behind the scenes. You could – if nothing else – pull a Mark Cuban and actually respond to emails and engage the fans at their level transparently and honestly.

But, this abomination is the wrong way to go. For Pete’s sake, the site is sponsored by HP!!! Who has a sponsored wiki???

The very concept of a wiki is the free collaboration of people with many different attitudes and ideas. There is virtually no chance this will happen when the Rockets have shown no intention in the past of doing this on any level, and I speak from experience.

I have worked with the Rockets quite a bit in the past 10 years including the fact that my business partner owns and operates the aforementioned ClutchFans.net and has covered the team for 13 seasons. I can tell you from experience that saying the Rockets worry about what information is made public is like saying Amy Winehouse sometimes uses drugs or Jared from Subway used to be a little chubby.

Knowing them as I do, I’d like to take this opportunity to write a little letter to team owner Les Alexander and the Rockets organization.

Dear Mr. Alexander,

Hey, Les! I can call you Les, right? Cool. I know the market crash must be pissing you off. But, being an investment guy like you are, you must be ok, right? Got any tips for me? I’m kidding.

Seriously, let’s talk about this whole Fan Wiki site you guys are doing. What’s up with that, bro? I know you have struggled with the fans with them calling you a carpet bagger and getting grumpy about your support for PETA in a rodeo town, but this isn’t the way to do it.

Remember that time you fired Calvin Murphy right after you bought the team and everyone freaked out? Then, you hired him back because you looked like a douche? Good times.

Look, I know you don’t like the negative press. None of us like Fran Blinebury and we only really tolerate Richard Justice. We all know that most of the commentors on blogs are high on crack or barely old enough to masturbate. You just gotta let that roll off your back, bud.

You can’t overreact and try to control your own press. That’s called propaganda, Les, and while these people on the internet may be a little crazy, they are also nerds. They know this is just some corporate bullshit. Did you see how they hacked the Twitter accounts of Britney Spears and Fox News today? You want someone to start posting “Les, UR gay!” all over your wiki?

I didn’t think so. Do the right thing, Lester. Let fans find their own ways to participate. Nobody expects you to be Mark Cuban though they may occasionally want you to be indicted for something. But, don’t try to fool us into thinking you are being our pal when you just want our money. Fans aren’t stupid, buddy.

Oh, and while you’re at it, could you put some buzzers or electric seat cushions on the seats of the folks in the expensive seats and zap them every time they refuse to get off their asses and cheer. Maybe you could tell them to rattle their jewelry like John Lennon. I bet they’d get a good hearty guffaw from that, wouldn’t they, old chap?

Thanks for listening.

Your bestie,

Jeff

P.S. Do you have an in with any of the Power Dancers, because a couple of them are hot. I’m just sayin’.

Follow the discussion on the ClutchFans BBS.

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