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Thompson: Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant rift and what the fall out could mean long term

By Marcus Thompson II Nov 13, 2018 162
The​ future​ might​ point back to this moment​ as the end.​ A random​ November game​ at​ Staples Center,​ against​​ a Clippers team that history wouldn’t otherwise remember, was the opening salvo in the destruction of a dynasty.

Who gets the blame depends on who you ask.

Some will blame Draymond Green for unleashing a tirade on Kevin Durant, one so personal and biting things could never be the same afterward.

Some will point to Durant, who repeatedly dangled free agency over the heads of his teammates and tested the patience of his peers, several of whom suspect he’s leaving at the end of the season.

Perhaps the lion’s share should go to general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr, who escalated the stakes by suspending Green for a game without pay, costing him $120,000 but most importantly morphing an in-house feud into a public rebuke of Green and open support of Durant.

The irony. In the end, it may not be the Houston Rockets or the Boston Celtics to dethrone the Warriors. What if it’s failing organs and internal bleeding that lead to the end of the Dubs dominance? What if one of the greatest teams in NBA history was broken apart by a front-office attempt at appeasement?

By now, everyone knows how this all started. I talked to multiple sources — in the locker room, the front office and to adjacent parties — to find out what happened and what happens next. The drama didn’t begin until the end of regulation against the Clippers on Monday. That’s when Durant barked at Green for not getting him the ball in the final seconds. The two-time Finals MVP pounded the chair in frustration as he chided the team’s leading assist man.

Green took exception to how Durant addressed him. The exact dialogue couldn’t be recounted as it was said, but it began with Green immediately firing back.

Who the fuck you talking to?

According to multiple sources, Green then went on to make it clear he’s been making plays for years. He reminded Durant the Warriors were winning before Durant showed up so he wouldn’t stand for Durant talking to him as if he were a scrub. Green accused Durant of making the whole season about him even though he was going to leave after this season. Green let out his frustrations about how Durant has handled free agency — keeping his options open and keeping the story alive, consuming the Warriors and their season with talk of what Durant will do next.

That’s the mild version. The original version included Green calling Durant a “bitch” several times — disrespect that management said was too harsh to overlook.

Tuesday morning, Myers and Kerr met with Green and told him they were suspending him for a game. They acknowledged his propensity to live on the edge but said he crossed over this time. They had to punish him and they had to do it this way.

Green was surprised by the heavy-handedness. A fine was expected. Green had just come back from injury, giving him a rest day for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta and a private fine would have been an acceptable rebuke of his behavior. He was fined a few thousand dollars when he went after Kerr in the locker room in Oklahoma City in 2016. He didn’t think this incident was nearly as bad, so the punishment being drastically worse was shocking.

Why didn’t they just fine him privately as they have before?

“If we thought that was the right thing to do,” one front office executive said, “we would have. We have to do what we think is right.”

The issue isn’t the money but the message the punishment sends.

Durant’s free agency has been a low-key issue with the players. It registered as a small irritation. The burden of talking about it, reading about it, hearing about it, grew heavier in Year 3 of the Durant Experience. Players like Green and Klay Thompson, who also have free agency pending, have been lumped into the frenzy. Both have declared they want to stay with the Warriors. But because of Durant’s uncertainty, the future of the dynasty is in the air and such leads to speculation Green and Thompson have to address.

According to several in the locker room, Durant could have ended this by just saying how much he loves playing with the Warriors and his teammates and leave it at that, even if he departs in the offseason. They are all prepared for him to leave so they just want the cloud hanging over them to go away. Another option would be to reject all questions about free agency and force the media to focus on this season, a way of protecting his teammates.

Durant has said he doesn’t want to lead anybody on. But Green is part of a contingent that believes Durant has a hand in creating the hype about his free agency, a tangential focus that detracts from their mission of winning a third straight title.

Myers and Kerr were made aware of Green’s concerns in their meeting. Green also shared them with Stephen Curry, who visited Green’s house before Tuesday’s game to get Green’s side — Curry’s efforts to repair the situation.

The general consensus: Green was wrong for going so hard at Durant instead of having a hard-but-civil conversation, and Green was wrong for when he decided to address this situation — in the middle of a game they were trying to win. Green admitted as much to Curry and several believe he would have (and still will) cop to that. But the general consensus also is that Green’s concerns about how Durant has handled free agency weren’t off base.

Durant’s teammates have made it clear privately they aren’t on board for another Please-Stay-KD tour. And Durant has said he doesn’t want to be recruited. But the decision to suspend Green publicly seems to be a signal from management that they do care about recruiting Durant.

Management is holding fast to its stance that Green crossed a line that can’t be crossed. Some say it’s just “Draymond being Draymond.” At least two said he did go too far, attacking his teammate personally. One player was even concerned that Green may have lost his authority in the locker room, the berating was so over-the-top.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Of course, Green now has to be wondering who is protecting him. He is the one committed to the Warriors and who has given everything. He is the one who has declared he wants to stay with the Warriors. He was one of the founders of this dynasty and he built it with the same fire that scolded Durant on Monday. And they know who he is. They know it’s only a matter of time before he owns up and makes amends. Why was this time so unbearable? Why was this offense the final straw?

If Green loses out in the power struggle with Durant, who can win outside of Curry?

It’s hard not to wonder how Green and Kerr, who have such a volatile history of love and hate, get through this. It must be measured how deep the crack is in Green’s allegiance to the Warriors now that Myers, who with Curry is Green’s biggest supporter in the franchise, has signed off on this stance.

Is this a referendum on Green? If so, did they just lose him — if not physically yet, spiritually? Did they just signal to him he’s the All-Star they are willing to part with, and does that quench his fire for the Warriors?

What if Durant decides to leave in free agency and Green wants out? Do the Warriors make a trade to head off that potential outcome?

Divides have been created that now must be repaired. The relationship between Green and Durant is rubble and needs to be rebuilt. The relationship between Green and management seems to be similarly in shambles, but it has been before and perhaps can be spared again. Then there is the relationship between the Warriors and Durant, who is probably sour on the whole Warriors experience now, and how that impacts the rest of the season.

This isn’t a situation that will just blow over. Teammates are at odds and, forced to or not, management appears to have chosen a side. The only answer is another championship.

One player is certain Durant and Green can co-exist because neither wants to be the reason they don’t win. The Warriors just might have enough talent to overcome resentment and bitterness in their midst.

The question is whether anyone has words powerful enough to bridge chasms now permanent.

In the middle of the visiting locker room at Staples that night, as voices rose with the tension, an unlikely source stepped up and re-shifted the focus of the defending champions.

It wasn’t Curry. He wasn’t with the team in Los Angeles thanks to a groin injury. It wasn’t Green, the spark of the drama. It wasn’t Durant, who fumed in silence while the Warriors conversed heatedly amongst themselves.

It was Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ most carefree star, who spoke up, an occasion rare enough to turn the room down a few notches. While respected veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston did their usual part to restore order, Thompson hit the mark as if it were a spot-up 3.

“We all want to win,” Thompson said in the locker room after the game, per accounts of people in the room. “That’s all this is about. We all want to win. I think we’re the only team that can beat us. Nobody else can beat us. So let’s go kick ass.”

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:04 (five months ago) Permalink

thx!

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:11 (five months ago) Permalink

Aw shit dawg this is good

Wld the site get in trouble for housing all the content tho?

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:13 (five months ago) Permalink

I mean there’s always pastebin

F# A# (∞), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:14 (five months ago) Permalink

we could put on 77?

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:16 (five months ago) Permalink

i mean...i think it's fine probably

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:17 (five months ago) Permalink

yeah kinda doubt the athletic is out there policing things and like half this board is subscribers, ill prob become one soon based on reading the illicit good content, really its more advertising for them if anything we shd be getting affiliate benefits

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:20 (five months ago) Permalink

cn someone post this one next https://theathletic.com/653527/2018/11/14/durant-vs-draymond-theories-on-why-these-two-warriors-stars-are-fueding

im living for dubs drama rn

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:21 (five months ago) Permalink

at the very least feel like the thread should be deindexed

k3vin k., Wednesday, 14 November 2018 17:57 (five months ago) Permalink

yeah just deindex it*

*i don't know who would do this or how it works

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:23 (five months ago) Permalink

>>> i'll post this cuz i don't like to leave my guy lagoon high n dry and thirsting for drama.

however, feel like a mod should weigh in or an ILX illuminati elder

Durant vs. Draymond: Theories on why these two Warriors stars are feuding

Andre​ Iguodala is​ at​ his locker, in a locker room​ that’s emptied out​ earlier​ than usual.​ The​ nearby Kevin​ Durant​​ space is conspicuously vacant. KD loves to talk, and usually lingers, riffing with teammates and reporters. Tuesday night he dressed quickly, gave a brief, sullen press conference and exited. In the press conference, when asked about his friendship with Draymond Green, Durant replied, “I don’t really think that even matters right now.”

I ask Andre if the Warriors can win with KD and Draymond at odds like this. Andre responds, “Shaq and Kobe ain’t like each other.”

Me: “But that ended in a way you wouldn’t want this to end, right?”

Andre: “They won three championships in a row. Ain’t that what you want to happen?”

Me: “I guess all things come to an end.”

Andre: “Everything come to an end.”

A dynasty is a fragile kind of dominance. That’s the paradox of ultimate victory. Once superiority is achieved, and achieved again, the game loses a certain internal logic. Why prove what’s proven? Why win what’s won? Invincibility is a holding pattern that can only remain so fulfilling. People, even the most competitive of people, are designed to chase goals, not maintain a grip on them in perpetuity.

That’s the backdrop of a more salacious circumstance, a gripping tale of how this dynasty might be unraveling. These are all meaningful parts of the story. The names, the dates, the feuds. It’s all very real right now, and suddenly. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Warriors revealed a situation perhaps beyond repair. And the internal slights matter, but one wonders if it could all be transcended if everyone felt the project worth repairing.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on this organization’s sometimes tempestuous relationship with Draymond Green. It was given the baity title, “Golden State’s Draymond Green Problem.” From my perspective, it wasn’t about how Draymond was a problem, but more about how he could tip the Warriors’ future in either direction.

Fast forward two championships.

Yesterday, people kept sending me this article, asking if current events are pertinent to its themes. Did yesteryear’s hyperbole prove prophetic?

My take? No, not necessarily. First, because championships two and three qualify as glorious successes. Second, because, much as we can parse Draymond’s actions, and much as they can cause strife, the current state of affairs speaks to something bigger than him, an issue he could perhaps mitigate but not solve: Winning isn’t enough.

Players talk about just wanting to win all the time. About the only player I’ve ever met who might actually, literally mean it is Steph Curry. Because winning isn’t done for its own sake. Winning is a means to certain ends. Beyond the camaraderie of collectively conquering a goal, beyond the money, there’s the adulation that comes with achievement. Winning correlates to winning at life, vastly increasing your status in the eyes of fans and peers alike.

Ask yourself: Has this obvious benefit of winning happened for Kevin Durant as a Warrior? Over the past two-plus seasons, perhaps the Warriors All-Star in need of the most adulation got the least adulation. His reputation is more or less what it was when he arrived. The man was incredible in back-to-back NBA Finals. Had he faltered, he would have been mocked in a manner only trumped by what LeBron James experienced in 2011. Lost in Monday night’s chaos was Clippers owner Steve Ballmer sidling onto the court to schmooze it up with Durant. He, like other owners this summer, offers to fill the void that winning did not. Also, note that Draymond has a view of such cajoling.

This might be a bigger issue than just Kevin Durant. The media landscape has changed. In the past, might made right, and winners were worshipped sans much nuance. Now, a social media-driven conversation picks apart historic accomplishments while basking in a perpetual present. Coming here and winning big was supposed to make KD the face of Nike. Instead, to many jaded fans, that swoosh looks like a coattail. The quaint idea that you can silence your critics with a trophy is just one of a million norms that have fallen by the wayside over the past few years.

This is the big problem for Warriors HQ, as they proclaim not to care about anything other than winning a championship this season. I’m not certain there’s a solution to Winner’s Ennui, but there are methods for recalibration. I have some thoughts on that, and I want to emphasize that they are my own. The thoughts are in contrast to what I’m being told, repeated assurances that, “This happens, Draymond does this, it’s happened before, etc.” Today’s turmoil can indeed be tomorrow’s footnote. This isn’t even the first time Draymond caused discord by calling someone a “bitch.” He did that to Steve Kerr back in 2016, when they were separated in the Oklahoma City locker room. It might have actually been the least vulgar thing Draymond said to Kerr in that exchange.

Anyway. The most interesting comment in Kerr’s pregame press conference Tuesday was perhaps the most boring, superficially. When asked to describe the relationship between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Kerr said:

“They have won championships together, they have been teammates now for three seasons and they were teammates on the Olympic team. You can draw your own conclusions.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a brotherly bond. Not exactly a reaffirmation of what brought them together. Whatever is happening could pass, but whatever is happening is not being treated like it will. And that is rather strange.

Kerr and Bob Myers are not stupid men. They levied this suspension, knowing it would escalate a situation that could otherwise be dealt with in private. They knew this could seriously alienate Draymond. There’s broad agreement within the organization that Draymond crossed a line, but the public punishment is curious. It’s not a move that makes a lot of sense in a vacuum.

Unless there are other forces at play. Draymond Green will be 30 years old when he’s up for his next contract, which would be a $226 million super max in 2020 if he had his druthers. Draymond turned down a more modestly priced three-year extension in pursuit of a bigger prize. He is an amazing basketball player, who’s still underrated. You could see him continuing a career of defying NBA odds well into his 30s. Then again, not everybody buys this trajectory. Some within the Warriors might note that NBA longevity correlates with size, and shooting, neither exactly an advantage for Mr. Green.

The Warriors will never replace what Draymond Green has meant to them, but they could get a good starter at a third of the price going forward. You think Joe Lacob is unaware of this? And if losing Draymond is the cost of keeping KD? Lacob’s choice is obvious, emotions be damned. Of course, losing both players is, theoretically, the worst of all worlds, and a real possibility in this high stakes poker game. But the cost of paying these salaries keeps rising and there’s still an open question as to whether the Warriors want Draymond at the price he sees fit. That question would be open even if KD left. One wonders if this current catastrophe presents its own opportunity, its own pretext. As another Master of Coin once said, “Chaos is a ladder.”

Again, Draymond Green isn’t the problem. Winner’s Ennui is the problem. Sadly, there’s no solution to this problem but to shake up the roster, as recalibration can serve as its own challenge. Perhaps that means letting KD leave for New York or wherever else and recapturing a “Strength in Numbers” ethos. That’s likely not the outcome Lacob favors, even if Draymond is his guy. Two superstars are still better than one.

Iguodala is right when he says, “Everything come to an end,” but the owner of this team wants to end “the end” and reign over this league forever. That’s great for Warriors fans, insofar as an impossible aspiration can be maintained for a while. For individual players, perhaps not so much. Hard calls must be made, and feelings suppressed. The future is uncertain for a team that remains title favorites. Draymond might not be the problem, but the Warriors showed the world that he might be Kevin Durant’s problem. Perhaps it’s a last ditch effort to impress the seriousness of this situation upon a man who has meant so much to this franchise. That would be the more innocent read. It’s possible, even within the bounds of a business that remains jagged and brutal. As Kerr says, “You can draw your own conclusions.”

— Reported from Oakland

Greta Van Fleek (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:25 (five months ago) Permalink

Reading that first article I can't help but think Draymond's self-defense amounts to:

Yeah, big deal, so I fucked up and stepped way over a line that I shouldn't have, disrespecting my teammate. Sure, I expect to be punished for that, but quietly and maybe have to cough up a bit of pocket change in the way of a fine, and now it's so UNFAIR that I was slapped down hard in public -- even though I slapped KD just as hard and just as publically. And *ouch* that's a lot of money! Why'd they hafta do that to ME?!

iow, just a lot of bullshit self-regarding

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 14 November 2018 20:36 (five months ago) Permalink

thx! xp

lag∞n, Wednesday, 14 November 2018 21:00 (five months ago) Permalink

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:14 (five months ago) Permalink

oh nice may need some + content at some point

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17 (five months ago) Permalink

i hate paying the mouse but my status as a draft thought leader has been eroded by lack of insider access

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:19 (five months ago) Permalink

(feel good abt paying the athletic)

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (five months ago) Permalink

bless u

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:20 (five months ago) Permalink

Lagoon your thought leader status must be preserved at all costs

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:33 (five months ago) Permalink

im glad were on the same page here

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:35 (five months ago) Permalink

lagoons thought leader status is critical to maintain if ilh wants to have synergy with its core competencies and best practices, and of course to remain the omni channel king of hoops

Spottie, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:39 (five months ago) Permalink

its mission critical to our brand identity and product market fit

lag∞n, Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:41 (five months ago) Permalink

ok i just dropped a hundo subscribing to the athletic and espn+ lol god bless im a responsible content consumer now, let me know if u need any draft info pasted here

― lag∞n, Thursday, November 15, 2018 2:14 PM (six hours ago)

I for one welcome our new content overlords. I too have subscribed to this great online service

k3vin k., Friday, 16 November 2018 02:04 (five months ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

Where does the NBA's MVP race stand nearly two months into the 2018-19 season?

It's never too early for MVP narratives to take hold, as what was once a topic for the spring now has become a season-long discussion. And indeed, betting markets and straw polls suggest that Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the early MVP leader on the strength of his team's surprising start, with LeBron James the other leading contender in pursuit of his fifth Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Yet narratives don't always match statistical reality, so let's ponder some of the big questions about the MVP with the help of advanced metrics, including whether Giannis is the right front-runner.

Can a center be most valuable?
The leaderboards in most advanced stats at this early stage have a decidedly tall slant. Basketball-Reference.com's value over replacement player (VORP), for example, rates six centers and four other players listed as power forwards (one of them is Kevin Durant, who has actually played more minutes at small forward) among the league's top 14 players. Meanwhile, the PER leaderboard -- once we've filtered out low-minutes players -- is even more heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with 19 centers in the top 30, including reserves Montrezl Harrell, Nerlens Noel, Jakob Poeltl, Dwight Powell, Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas.

These results reflect a topic I addressed ahead of the NBA draft: Because the floor is so well spaced, it's never been easier to get productive play from centers. Indeed, consider the average PER by position (as defined by Basketball-Reference) weighted by minutes played:

Avg. PER (Weighted For Minutes)
POS PER
PG 14.7
SG 13.1
SF 13.0
PF 14.9
C 19.6
Across all positions, the average PER is always set to 15.0. However, that varies widely across positions now, with centers naturally dominant and wings much weaker. It's not just the very best centers who are most productive, but also the ones who are cheaply available to teams -- including Noel and JaVale McGee, both of whom are in the top 30 in PER after signing one-year deals for the veteran's minimum as free agents this summer.

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When we're determining value, then, position has to be taken into account. To be as relatively valuable on a per-minute basis as a small forward with a 25.6 PER (like Kawhi Leonard), a center would need a PER of 32.2 -- something that's never been achieved in NBA history.

In other words, it's probably not possible for the best center in 2018-19 to be more valuable than the best wing player, which has important implications for the MVP chances of not only Joel Embiid (who's not actually among those high-rated centers, ranking 17th in PER and 26th in VORP) but also Anthony Davis (mostly -- though perhaps not exclusively -- a center).

Should Giannis be the front-runner?
Although I used PER over average to make that point, the better way to define value in the context of MVP is as compared to replacement level -- the production we'd expect from a free agent signed for the minimum salary -- so as to properly credit players for their durability.

My wins above replacement player (WARP) metric now reflects a much higher level of replacement for centers, and to a lesser extent power forwards, as compared to wings in particular. With that adjustment, here's how WARP ranks this year's most valuable players (projected to 82 team games so as not to disadvantage players whose teams have played fewer games thus far).

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/82
LeBron James LAL F 19.2
James Harden HOU G 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW F 18.3
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 16.5
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 16.2
Kemba Walker CHA PG 15.2
Anthony Davis NOP C 14.1
Mike Conley MEM PG 13.5
Projected to 82 team games
While LeBron tops this list, surprisingly it's last year's winner who's in a virtual tie with him. James Harden's stat line is basically identical to what he posted in 2017-18, but because his Houston Rockets have stumbled to an 11-12 start after winning a league-best 59 games last season, he's gotten zero attention as a possible repeat candidate. It will be interesting to see whether that changes if the Rockets turn things around. Damian Lillard, whose Portland Trail Blazers have fallen off after a strong start, is in a similar position after finishing fourth in last season's MVP voting.

The most interesting MVP candidate that position-adjusted WARP identifies is Paul George, who also ranks third in wins produced based on ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM), which isn't adjusted by position. George has played a key role in the Oklahoma City Thunder's league-leading defensive rating and has helped keep their offense afloat with 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook missing eight games. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Oklahoma City's offensive rating drops to a dismal 94.7 points per 100 possessions with George on the bench.

Those takeaways noted, let's dig deeper into the comparison between Giannis, LeBron and KD -- only two of whom can make the All-NBA first team because they all play forward. Why does Antetokounmpo lag behind the other two stars?

The first reason is the lower replacement level at small forward, where Cleaning the Glass estimates James has played 66 percent of his minutes and Durant 65 percent as opposed to 12 percent of Antetokounmpo's minutes.

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The eight-part docuseries, produced by UNINTERRUPTED and airing on ESPN+, will follow LeBron James and Maverick Carter's improbable journey from Akron to the global stage. Watch on ESPN+

The Lakers' positionless lineups show the challenge in using position to determine value. Cleaning the Glass considers LeBron the small forward when he plays alongside power forward Kyle Kuzma, but in practice the defensive matchups with those lineups depend more on the opponent than any rigid position. And offensively, James tends to operate more as a point guard (particularly during Rajon Rondo's absence, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst recently broke down) than as a forward.

However, I think Durant's example reinforces the importance of positional replacement level. His ability to defend small forwards has allowed the Warriors to start Jonas Jerebko -- another big man who's excelled while making the veteran's minimum -- at the 4 in Draymond Green's absence rather than going deeper into their weak wing rotation.

The other key factor here is minutes played. Not only has Giannis missed a game due to injury, he's playing fewer minutes per game (33.8) than either LeBron (34.8) or KD (35.7), meaning Milwaukee has relied slightly more on its bench than those teams. While the difference isn't dramatic, along with position it helps explain why Antetokounmpo can rate better on a per-minute basis than James and Durant, yet still land behind them in terms of value.

When it comes to RPM, Antetokounmpo is actually third of the group in terms of per-possession rating and just 12th overall in RPM wins. As a result, I don't think Giannis should be considered the MVP front-runner based on advanced stats.

How many games does Curry need to play? How about Kawhi?
Though playing time is a relatively small difference between the MVP front-runners, it's a huge factor for Stephen Curry (who has missed 11 of Golden State's 26 games) and a large one for Leonard (he's missed six of 26). When Harden won last season, the 10 games he missed were the most for an MVP since Allen Iverson (11) in 2000-01. That would basically imply Curry can't miss any more time and have a chance to win.

However, history should be considered a guide rather than a hard-and-fast rule, as Westbrook winning the MVP on a 47-win team offers a recent reminder that voters can always rethink MVP tradition. So instead, let's ponder the question of how many games Steph and Kawhi would need to play to be most valuable statistically. If we flip the leaderboard to WARP per 82 player games rather than team games, Curry shoots (pun intended) to the top:

2018-19 WARP Leaderboard
PLAYER TEAM PS WARP/G
Stephen Curry GSW PG 22.4
James Harden HOU SG 22.1
LeBron James LAL PF 19.2
Kevin Durant GSW PF 18.3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL PF 17.3
Kawhi Leonard TOR SF 17.2
Paul George OKC SF 17.1
Damian Lillard POR PG 17.0
Kyrie Irving BOS PG 17.0
Russell Westbrook OKC PG 16.8
Per 82 games played
Nonetheless, in part because he's played just 33.3 minutes per game, Curry will be hard-pressed to lead the league in WARP. Harden would beat him if they both played the remainder of the schedule at their current pace, and LeBron's 82-game pace isn't far behind. Voters might be willing to reward Curry even if he's slightly less valuable if it's strictly due to injury, but he can't miss many more games.

Since he hasn't been as dominant when he's played, Leonard's task is even more difficult. While he cracks the top 10 on a per-player game basis, Kawhi is still behind both Giannis and LeBron and would have to rely on the narrative power of leading the Raptors to the NBA's best record. They're currently three games up on the Denver Nuggets for that honor, with the Warriors four games back.

Curry staying healthy the rest of the season might actually have more impact on other candidates for MVP than his own hopes. If Golden State surges ahead of Toronto with Curry (the Warriors are 12-3 in games he's played this season and 5-6 without him), that could hurt Leonard's candidacy. It also becomes a lot more difficult for voters to pick Durant if he's not even the most valuable player on his own team -- something that was evident when Golden State struggled early on in Curry's absence, though it did give Durant the opportunity to put the team on his back during the Warriors' final four games without Curry, when they went 3-1 with an overtime loss in Toronto.

Whether Curry can stay healthy the rest of the season is just one of the many questions to be answered about the MVP race, which should still be considered wide open with more than two-thirds of the season left to be played.

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:02 (four months ago) Permalink

thx. interesting.

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:11 (four months ago) Permalink

btw

love my adidads celtoes

— Les Alizés Dénudés (@Marco0o0os) December 7, 2018

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:16 (four months ago) Permalink

oh damn, great minds etc.

mine is pulled from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLcN_rzouEI

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:19 (four months ago) Permalink

nice

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:21 (four months ago) Permalink

pete rock >>>>> premo

The Poppy Bush AutoZone (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:49 (four months ago) Permalink

alright lets MFN DO THIS lol

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 20:50 (four months ago) Permalink

I LOVE that album btw.

not sure i'd go that far xp but it's pretty close! poll it!

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:55 (four months ago) Permalink

tube amp warm glow vibes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdUr9mClegU

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 20:58 (four months ago) Permalink

cool pete rock song imo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiTy71nSkKw

lag∞n, Friday, 7 December 2018 21:00 (four months ago) Permalink

thats warm too. v good

Celtoes Adidas (Spottie), Friday, 7 December 2018 21:10 (four months ago) Permalink

On the road with an NBA spy: The grinding work and lifestyle of an advance scout

Ethan Strauss Dec 12, 2018 78
“Goddammit!​ Fucking​ shit!​ Would you​ look at​ this​ fucking guy!” Our​ scout is pointing​ at​ a portly man who stands​ between​ us​​ and the escalator pathway. This is the truest enemy he knows. Our scout is never present for when the team that employs him faces a rival franchise. His only rivals are those who thwart arrivals on the league’s loneliest trail.

Every night features the arena’s stimulus overload, the roaring crowd, honking hype men and jangling music. His work ends in the wee hours of the morning, in a hotel, poring over film. It’s disorienting. My brain broke from merely observing. Details started blurring. I nearly missed a flight due to a dead certainty that my hotel was attached to the airport. Wrong, my brain was holding on to what had been true the night before, in a different city.

The problem was, I had no system for whatever this lifestyle is, not like our scout had. He was on a well-worn path. Our scout did not see the North American landscape as a collection of cities to be enjoyed, each with their own character and customs. No, he saw this terrain through the portals of his convenience. This city’s tram gets you to the hotel from the airport. This city’s skyways shield you from the cold. New York’s “N” train is all you really need to know about. Turn here. Down this hall.

The man is a travel sherpa, guiding you through the chaos of the ambling crowd. Every movement is propulsive. Every movement smoothly assertive, at least until those damned people get in the way. There’s a mini human traffic jam as we step onto an airport tram. “Folks who try and get on before everyone exits piss me off,” he mutters. You wouldn’t know from the running commentary, but this man is not a misanthrope. He’s actually quite kind, considerate even. He keeps looking out for me as I blithely lose myself in more crowds than Waldo. The road may have taken this man’s patience, but it hasn’t stolen his soul.

“Anyone flying to New York?!” a sharply dressed guy shouts to the tram passengers. There’s a gleam in the stranger’s eye, one that stays burning despite the lack of response. “Anyone flying to New York?!” He then asks our scout for the time and gets a blank stare. We exit the tram.

“Con artist,” our scout says. “I’ve seen it before. My job is to size things up.” The con artist, if he is a con artist, would be employing a predatory strategy called, “Forced Teaming,” as coined by Gavin de Becker in his bestselling book, “The Gift of Fear.” Good luck trying that on a professional lone wolf.

We keep walking, his steps always a few in front of my own. He’s as excited about Toronto’s tram to downtown as he was fearful of delays at customs (“You never know when there’s some damned Canadian holiday!”). Our schedule is always calibrated to hit ports of entry at the point of minimal crowding. “You see, if we were here in the morning …” is a common refrain.

Our scout is a middle-aged man who has been at this longer than seems sustainable. His specific trade is “advance scouting,” or NBA spying to put it in layman’s terms. He sits as close as possible to coaches and intercepts their play calls for upwards of 150 road games per season. Though this is the job description, it’s a less than clandestine existence. Teams know who he is, why he is there and even provide him the credentials. It’s part of NBA culture: Everyone is allowed to do this and may the best spies win.

Our scout is regarded as one of the best. Though his job is difficult and highly routinized, he made an exception for a slight detour. After my article on NBA spies garnered more interest from readers than anticipated, our scout wondered if I might delve deeper. I had only cracked the surface here. To understand this life, I had to live it, just a bit.

So, I would trail this member of a monastic sports caste. I would see how he fights for a team absent the camaraderie supposedly essential to team competition. It would be six games in seven nights, which by the way, is a merciful slice of schedule. Our scout has done 13 road games in 13 nights before. It’s not like merely high-level business travel, the kind represented by George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” character. This way is a blast furnace aimed at all your senses, interspersed with moments of crushing solitude.

So why does he do this?

The Rosetta Stone
One reason is because, unlike so many people, he can do this. The job requires a certain visio-spatial acuity. While walking briskly to an arena, our scout self-assesses, “I believe I might be on the spectrum.” I cannot offer a free diagnosis but can conclude that he’s capable of things that, to my mind, read as incredible.

At a hotel, we flip the TV to the end of a game involving a team he had recently seen in person. I ask for a running commentary of a crunch-time play, which our scout obliges, augmented by quick gesticulations. “They did this in the game we were at. These two guys are going to scissors off this pick. He’s going to cut to that corner, he’s going to cut to that corner. He’s going to pin that guy to the top. And then high pick-and-roll.” Boom. Boom. Boom. The play unfolds as predicted.

Our scout can tell us what’s going to happen before it happens, with the reliability of a “Minority Report” precog, and that’s even without the benefit of seeing the coach’s hand signal. One wonders how much a team could improve if all its players somehow magically absorbed this knowledge. Instead, teams settle for a more realistic reduction of this vast database, specifically tailored to each opponent, taught in film session to the roster, game by game.

Right now, our scout is deep into his hotel room routine, the work he does in addition to the report he sends from the arena. He’s typing away on Fast Draw, the league’s favored play diagramming software. The program is the evolutionary descendent of the days when IBM, as a major NBA sponsor, manufactured something to get NBA coaches toting ThinkPads on the sidelines in nationally televised games. Unfortunately for IBM, computer-based play diagramming, like writing, was always meant for solitude. The whiteboard just wouldn’t relinquish its grip as the public face of strategy.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich uses a whiteboard to draw up a play against the Warriors. (File photo from 2013: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Once all the plays are drawn, our scout adds the personnel report (statistics, depth chart, top plays and player tendencies). Finally, the capper, a written report with offensive and defensive notes, which normally includes the future opponent’s top-play frequencies. In his room, “call sheets” are strewn across the table, records of team plays with their corresponding coach’s hand signals. I ask for the Warriors’ records, since I want to learn about the team I supposedly know all about. “It can’t be that much material,” I say, “Considering how many of their offense is transition play.”

/Bloof

He plunks the file down with a thud.

“Here, take a look, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “It ain’t our team’s secrets.”

Before me lies the intellectual framework of the Steve Kerr era, represented in the NBA’s version of hieroglyphics. Everything I theoretically knew, or at least saw at some point, has been chronicled for a particular kind of posterity. Or perhaps more accurately, this is Kerr’s basketball 23andMe results, a genealogy of thought. There are over 100 plays, with tally marks to indicate frequency. I ask to know where all this comes from. What can we divine of Kerr’s influences while leafing through these pages? Our scout starts rattling off what he sees.

“Hmm, all the Weak and Strong series is Gregg Popovich. All the Pop clones run Strong and Weak. Another big one is Doc Rivers, by way of Alvin Gentry, ’cause Alvin was his first lead assistant. Dribble, Drag, Backdoor is 100 percent from Doc Rivers. The Floppy series is from Pat Riley. He never played for Pat, but that got around the league. His Loop series is Popovich. His Pistol series, originally known as the 21 series, is Mike D’Antoni. His Pick-and-Roll series is called ‘Rub,’ and that’s from Popovich. He and Pop both rub their chests when they call that, but Pop sort of does it like he’s straightening his tie. Kerr also has a Slice series and that’s definitely from Doc Rivers. His Wedge series is Pop.”

I’m not hearing one name in particular. Whenever I followed the Warriors to New York, their local media would obsessively ask about then Knicks president Phil Jackson, hoping to draw some connection between Kerr and his former Hall of Fame coach. They often asked some version of, “Are you running the Triangle?”

“To be honest, looking through this playbook, I don’t see anything from Phil Jackson,” our scout concludes. “Not one damned thing.”

To be fair, there is at least one damned Phil Jackson thing in the Warriors repertoire: an out of bounds play called “What The Fuck” that dates back to the Bulls days. Perhaps there are some other plays, here and there. But in general, Jackson’s strategic influence on Kerr appears dwarfed by some coaches Kerr never even played for or worked with. Maybe Jackson’s impact is more subjective and generalized. Maybe the Zen Master’s legacy is a more abstract echo, like the loudest of one-handed claps.

Popovich’s legacy looms largest, perhaps over the league and certainly over Kerr’s whiteboard. Pop’s “Weak Roll,” a play that gets the ball moving side to side, is an absolute favorite of Kerr’s. Our scout chuckles about Kerr’s proclivity with that one. He pictures the coach rubbing his hands together in glee like Monty Burns at the mere prospect of calling this play. “Ah yes, yes, Weak Roll,” our scout intones with a grin. He’s not necessarily against the predictable nature of coaches, but he does find it amusing on occasion. “Lemme tell you something. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is a creature of habit like NBA coaches are.”

How it works
Time is of the essence because there’s a lot of work that needs doing. When I look over our scout’s shoulder, I’m watching a chain reaction. Minutes after the buzzer, he’s sending his work to the organization for processing and later, implementation. It’s a process by which thousands of miles and many hours of effort will get condensed down to a 6-8 minute video that our scout will never see.

Here’s how the chain works, the exact process by which your favorite teams prepare for battle. Our scout flies to a game featuring a team (let’s call them the Kings) that’s say, two games away on the schedule from playing his own. Ideally, he is granted a courtside seat, “the down seat” in scout parlance. Armed with a pen and a laptop, he watches closely and listens carefully, with extra focus on Kings coach Dave Joerger, a “pain in the ass” who’s liable to obscure his play calls from prying eyes. Our scout spends all game looking for visual and vocal representations of plays, followed by the plays themselves. A call of “fist up!” paired with the making of a fist reads easy enough, for instance. Or it would, anyway, if “fist” had a universal meaning.

NBA coaches have a tendency to use the same visual terms (fist, horns, thumb) to mean all manner of different things. It’s as though everyone speaks the same language, but nobody means the same thing when they speak it. The same holds true for defensive calls, which, unlike offensive calls, tend to be colors (“red,” “blue,” etc.) rather than visual representations. With an uncommon understanding of this Tower of Babel, our scout types the visual call, vocal call and resulting action into his “call sheet.” The pen is for noting new plays and frequencies of plays. The buzzer finally sounds and it’s time to quickly send this information to the video coordinators for tagging purposes.

Back at Team HQ, a video guy has stashed a few games of the upcoming opponent “in his editor,” most likely in a program called SportsCode. He’s working on a refining process, purging these games of random, useless filler, preparing a reel for the assistant coach tasked with the Kings matchup. “The video guy will go through and remove all the crap plays, the garbage, maybe they didn’t run something right,” our scout says. “He’ll clean all of that out and what he’ll give the assistant coach is all of the actual plays.” There’s an optimal kind of play to feature, with an eye towards the motivations of athletes. “Preferably, the play is an example of proper execution. We tend to want examples where they score. We want to play up the fear to the guys.”

With the assistance of our scout, the video guy now can tag these plays according to their names and visual representations. It’s one thing for your players to see tendencies and another to know they’re coming, when they’re coming. Watch for this next time you’re at a game in person, because the television vantage rarely picks it up. Often when the camera is trained on the after basket inbounds, a defensive player is out of view, on the other side of the court, gesticulating the offense’s next play to his teammates.

Steve Kerr uses a hand signal to call a play during a Warriors game in Utah earlier this season. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Before such information can take root, it must be prepared, reduced down to a digestible size. In further consultation with the assistant coach, the video guy produces that 6-8 minute video of the opponent’s most common plays, to be shown in morning shootaround and again in pregame. This video serves as the basis for morning “walk-through,” when players are physically guided through their strategy preparations. “Normally the video edit is going to highlight two examples of the opponent’s top plays, and include maybe a dozen to 15 plays total,” our scout says. “At walk-through, you might physically go through a half dozen of the most important ones.”

The point of walk-through isn’t just to key your players on what to watch out for, but also to specifically prepare them for such actions with an organized defense. It’s a process that got more granular with time, fit according to whatever talent you’re facing. “Back in the day, there was ‘The Rule of Nowitzki,’” our scout recalls. “You had to adjust to defend him. The real key to this is not just identifying who they are. As soon as you get that call, not only do you need to know what’s coming, but also how to stop it.”

Scout’s honor
We are in a hotel lobby, with a younger scout from another team. We sit near the bar, but not at the bar. They haven’t the time for drinks but commiserate a bit over the college game playing in the background. Finally, as our scout gets ready to leave, the younger scout asks, “Hey, did you get all the plays tonight?” Younger scout missed a few and our scout is happy to help. This is part of the culture, in the way that offering lecture notes to a friend in college might have been part of yours.

Oftentimes, in the bowels of an NBA arena, two scouts from different franchises meet in a conspiracy against the home team. It’s a common sight if you know what to look for. You might be in Brooklyn, in the media room, watching the Pacers scout and Wizards scout at one table, trading secrets on how to foil the Nets next week. As the ancient proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In that media room, these scouts are brothers-in-arms, united in purpose against a common enemy. That is, until the Nets scout and the Wizards scout find each other in Indiana’s arena, both looking down the barrel at an upcoming Pacers game. Then it’s time to forge a new, convenient bond.

Collegiality has its limits. In Memphis, a seat next to our scout goes wanting. It was allotted to another team’s scout who never bothered to show. We have it on good authority that this scout got trashed the night before and decided to sleep this game away. Though this is a job often given to grinders, it’s also a spot where fringe NBA characters can get stashed on a part-time basis. Sometimes, it’s just a place for coaches to get a buddy a gig.

That’s fine and well, so long as such people don’t expect any help. Our scout sees the slacker at the airport the next day. On the plane, he gets approached and queried on whether he got all the plays. “How’d you make out?” the truant scout asks. He adds that he was there but bought a game ticket because he just wanted a better angle. This is bullshit. In Memphis, scouts tend to get the courtside seat and last night was no exception. He would know this if he actually showed up to work. “I did OK,” our scout says curtly. That reply effectively ends the conversation.

“I would have helped him if he just admitted he got bombed,” our scout says. Then he mutters, “serves them right for hiring a regional scout.”

The professional advance scouts largely look down on regional scouting, a system by which teams outsource scouting to hired guns in certain cities, some of whom are employed by multiple NBA teams. It was a system popularized by Popovich in the mid-2000s, theoretically out of mercy for the league’s most brutal profession. There was also some sense to Pop’s push back then. That era’s top Western Conference teams featured known quantities like Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman. Why grind some poor soul into dust when you already have so much information on these veteran coaches? The West has since been shaken up, but Pop’s reform lingers. Our scout believes the system is less reliable. “I can’t trade notes with a regional scouts. You never know if what they’re getting is right.”

Though Popovich might have undermined advance scouting as a profession, head coaches are the traditional allies of NBA spies. General managers and assistant GMs don’t tend to feel similarly. After I published my initial article on advance scouting, I received pushback from staffers in the GM camp. They weren’t sold on such spycraft mattering in the end.

“That sounds like GMs,” our scout says, when I relay this. “We can’t do shit for a GM. Their reputation is based on making a big personnel move. It’s the coaches who have an appreciation for us busting our asses on the road to get them what they need.” Whatever the merits of either perspective, this much is true, politically: The advance scout is yet another salary under the coaching aegis, rather than capital devoted to a GM’s cause.

Trade made
Our scout is inhaling a mound of vanilla ice cream, a guilty pleasure in Philly, which features one of the lesser credentialed guest meals. When asked why he’s not fat, given his lifestyle, our scout shrugs and says, “genes. And a lot of walking.” A younger staffer from his team happens to be at his table, looking at Twitter. “We made a trade!” the young guy says, having just learned the breaking news from social media. Our scout shrugs and offers that he wishes they’d do a deal for a younger player who’d been struggling. “What have you got to lose?!”

I ask if anyone from the team is calling. No, our scout’s phone is not blowing up. He’s not getting an inside scoop on how this all went down. On personnel decisions, he is out of sight, out of mind, a far off satellite that delivers perpetual information, tethered to his home planet by the most tenuous of gravitational tugs. This won’t change his job at all. He keeps eating.

The team that pays his salary seems to almost exist in a parallel universe. Our scout is never there for the games he studies for. When I hopped on the road with him, I looked in anticipation to his team’s upcoming game against the opponent he was spying on. We traveled thousands of miles following this prey, as he stalked them as the most dedicated hunter. When that game finally arrived, I had to remind our scout that it was in progress. We were at yet another game, in yet another arena, and he was tracking a new foe. “I hope my work helps, but there isn’t enough time to live and die with the game results,” he says. Our scout was already a few days in the future, the only place he truly resides. A glance at his laptop is a peek through a rear view mirror, where the present reads more like a quickly disappearing past than a moment the world lives in.

People have a finite amount of attention and this is certainly the case for our scout. He needs to prioritize, taking exactly what he needs in the moment and leaving everything else. When you’re, say, spying on both coaches in one game, basic game details slip away. “Often, I can’t tell you if one team is up by 40 or down by 40,” he says. Our scout is only fixated on what teams are running, a focus on process that fully eclipses results. In the end, our scout lives inside this riddle: He watches games but does not see the score and he prepares for games he does not see at all. Such is life in the alternate time space.

Dog, house
His house is nice, if a little unkempt. Good neighborhood, two stories. There’s water damage that he might fix if he were ever here long enough. When I arrive it’s darkly lit but for the radiant energy generated by his loyal four-legged companion, a buoyant yellow lab. Scout dog is back from day care and thrilled to see his nomadic man. The grizzled scout takes a soothing tone with the dog, whispering baby talk to the happy beast. After we leave the house, our scout says, “I gotta be honest. If it was most people in the river and my dog, I’m saving my dog.” He now takes the dog on the rare, close road trip. Certain hotels have more relaxed restrictions than others. I’m told the dog makes connections with hotel workers faster than our scout ever did. The road is less lonely with a dog, not just due to the companionship, but also because strangers seem to offer more of their humanity in the presence of an animal.

Beyond his evident popularity, scout dog provides stability in a life on the go. Not everybody can or would keep up. Our scout is single, his longest romantic relationship having lasted eight years. Our scout has plenty of friends, though, especially in the basketball business. They see him all the time, just not so much in person. His phone regularly pings with the same kind of text message: a photo of our scout on TV, seated courtside, staring with a coldness that could make a rink out of hardwood. As he shows me the latest such text, he smiles widely, and suddenly looks unrecognizable from the haunted visage on the phone.

Our scout achieved a measure of emotional fulfilment when his team won the NBA championship. It was the culmination of a career, and moreover, just plain fun. Unlike everyone else, he got to relax a bit through the process, as his side of the preparation was largely done. He got to watch the games with his own team for once. He wasn’t out on the road by himself for once. And then, there was the thrill of ultimate victory and the quiet satisfaction in knowing you pitched in.

Except, that night, the euphoria had an undercurrent. “My celebration was kind of, you know, muted,” our scout remembers, with a grimace. That girlfriend of eight years had finally left him, weeks before the championship, for someone else. It was all fairly predictable. How can you share a life with someone who’s never there? How can you plan for the future with a man who lives entirely in an alternate time space? When asked if he has any regrets regarding multiple relationships this job undermined, our scout is steadfast. “No. Basketball was all I ever wanted to do.”

Why? That part is less clear. He was in love with the game growing up, so much so that he traded away certainty for whatever this is. He was premed at a top-flight college, only to ditch it all when a college coaching opportunity came up. He never looked back. “If you could have told me, back then, that I’d be working in the NBA? Shit. Of course I’d do it all again.”

What is the reward system for such labor? It used to be clearer. One of his happiest memories and biggest accomplishments happened long ago, back when he was working as a college assistant coach. He prepared like hell for an undefeated Duke team, despite his squad’s lack of a realistic chance. The college game is simpler, with not as much strategy altered according to opponent. Our scout had some different ideas for big, bad Duke, suggesting pick-and-roll coverages, fit according to the offensive threat. Nothing groundbreaking, but unexpected at that level.

Duke was caught unaware. The Blue Devils shot poorly, got somewhat unlucky and lost. The upset unleashed bedlam in the college town. Our scout went to a bar his friends often frequented, taking in the crazy scene he knew he had a secret hand in causing. A woman he was hooking up with at the time approached him. She did not mince words. They would be getting together later that night. “That felt pretty good,” our scout says, reminiscing.

Life is a bit different these days. When victory happens, there is no bedlam and no visceral spoils. It’s usually hundreds of miles away and hardly registered. Winning and its rewards have been traded for the process that once secured that massive victory over Duke. Now that our scout is older, this process not only remains but sustains. “I like the work,” he says. At least it remains constant.

The end
“Go! Go! Go!” Our scout is exhorting me into the car with the verve of a NASCAR pit crew member. This will be our last trip, and unfortunately, it will be a hurried adventure. He’s running late and the streets are choked with weekend festival-goers. After struggling with the trunk, I leap into the front seat and suddenly feel my face engulfed by a warm dampness. Scout dog is here and he’s saying hello, nearly licking my glasses off. We zoom out to the doggy day-care dropoff and then to the airport.

The conversations bounce around various topics. Our scout discusses what he’s read most recently, a book on George S. Patton. He doesn’t have the free hours for many hobbies but enjoys reading about World War II. “Not joining the military is one of my biggest regrets,” he says at one point, adding that, when he sees military members on his flights, he feels guilty. Tactics and hardware obsessed him from an early age. He can rattle off details from different battles, the tanks they used, what technology proved decisive and differentials in man power.

With the clock ticking, we get to life subjects. What exactly happened with that long-term girlfriend? What happens now in your life? The former has a clear answer, but the latter far less so. Our scout eases into a parking space and opens the door. I get a text informing me that my flight is delayed. I wish to relax in my newfound pocket of languor but will keep pace with the hurried for now. Our scout says, “You know, I do want to have kids. Someday, if I meet the right woman …”

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly. He will make his flight. He had more time than he thought, just not nearly as much as I did.

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 17:38 (four months ago) Permalink

I couldn’t finish that pretentious shit. Barely made it through the intro.

EZ Snappin, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:07 (four months ago) Permalink

ESS is really a lot to handle it's true

J0rdan S., Friday, 14 December 2018 18:47 (four months ago) Permalink

We exit the vehicle and commence walking briskly.

lol

lag∞n, Friday, 14 December 2018 18:52 (four months ago) Permalink

he can be a lot but i really liked that one

call all destroyer, Friday, 14 December 2018 19:07 (four months ago) Permalink

i love ethan

тпсбlack (Spottie), Friday, 14 December 2018 19:11 (four months ago) Permalink

non basketball but supposed to be amazing

https://theathletic.com/721275/2018/12/18/

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:33 (four months ago) Permalink

lol the title alone is very good

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (four months ago) Permalink

The Passion of Mike Piazza: How the midlife crisis of a baseball Hall of Famer led to the demise of a 100-year-old Italian soccer club

By Robert Andrew Powell 227
When​ Mike Piazza arrived​ in Reggio​ Emilia,​ he was greeted​ as a hero.

It​ was June 18, 2016.​ Everyone​ remembers​​ the exact date. Piazza had just purchased a controlling interest in A.C. Reggiana 1919, the Italian city’s soccer club. Few locals had heard of him. Even fewer understood his Hall of Fame career catching for the Mets, Dodgers, and three other teams in the American sport of baseball. “When I learned he was the new owner, I went out and bought his autobiography,” says Jacopo Della Porta, a reporter for La Gazzetta di Reggio. “I think I’m the only one here who has read it.” Piazza was obviously rich. His U.S. citizenship gave him a certain baseline allure. Above all, it was his stated plan to return Reggiana to the top flight of Italian soccer that inspired several thousand fans to squeeze into a public square to see him in person.

Reggiana had languished in Serie C, the Italian third division, since the turn of the century. For a club that has known glory—Carlo Ancelotti coached the team into Serie A, in 1996—the long spell of mediocrity has been dispiriting, even embarrassing. Piazza declared, in translated English, that the club was back in solid financial shape. He said he was in Italy for the long haul, invested in the community, and committed to Reggiana’s success. At the rally, smoke from ignited flares swirled around him. Maroon flags waved. Ultras raised their scarves and chanted songs and reached out to shake Piazza’s hand. “Dai c’andom!” Piazza shouted. “Come on!”

Two years later, A.C. Reggiana no longer exists. The club is bankrupt. A court-appointed accountant is distributing its assets.

In what should have been Reggiana’s centennial season, a different team, not owned by Piazza, now represents the city, down in Serie D, which is only semi-pro. The mayor of Reggio Emilia accuses Piazza of “disrespecting” his town. Those ultras who initially cheered Piazza painted death threats on the walls of the team’s headquarters.

When it all ended last summer, Piazza and his family fled Reggio Emilia so abruptly that the fans—along with team, staff, and even the players—felt blindsided. “They ghosted us,” says Sonya Kondratenko, an American who handled social media for the second and final year Piazza owned the team.

Piazza thought he had embarked on a romantic new chapter of his life. He believed he would stay in Italy for the next three decades, running Reggiana and eventually handing the club down to his children. His wife, Alicia, who never wanted him to buy a soccer team, to whom Piazza handed control of the club after a disastrous first year, and who many in Reggio Emilia blame for the club’s implosion, saw the possibility of a different ending. As they stepped off the stage in the plaza, she pulled her husband aside.

“Either we’re going to have the best experience ever,” she told him, “or we’re going to get rolled.”

‌‌‌

Reggio Emilia is a small city about an hour’s train ride south of Milan. Nestled in Italy’s “Food Valley” alongside Parma, Bologna, and Modena, Reggio Emilia is known for its pumpkin tortellini and its namesake cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. The tricolor national flag first flew in Reggio Emilia, in 1797, its creation celebrated in a museum in the old town center. The headquarters of fashion house Max Mara sit not far from a new train station designed by Santiago Calatrava. Locals are well-educated; Reggio Emilia is known around the world for its progressive schools. They’re also wealthy, though they tend not to flaunt it. The city has a history with communism and retains a collectivist ethos. “We work,” one resident tells me, summing up the city’s view of itself.

The Piazzas, for the two years they ran Reggiana, lived in a rented villa outside the city. They spent their summers in South Florida, where they’ve kept a home for more than a decade. I visited them in Florida in August, arriving as the sun set on Sunset Island II, a triangle of extremely expensive homes connected by a short bridge to Miami Beach.

“This interview’s going to be wet,” Mike said soon after I arrived. He stepped toward a bar in the living room and smiled. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Mike poured me a glass of Grande Alberone Quintus, a red blend. Alicia sipped a chardonnay. My crystal glass was etched with the letter P in a curled script. Mike cupped his glass in his fingers as if it didn’t have a stem or a base.

“We do this every night,” Mike said, popping a chunk of cheese into his mouth as he settled into a striped Louis XIV chair. Behind him glimmered a swimming pool, and then the calm waters of Biscayne Bay. Alicia sat opposite Mike, near a tray of vegetables.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mike said of his soccer-team ownership. “Like an opera.”

“It was fucking hell,” said Alicia.

After retiring, Mike slipped into the languid life of ex-athletes in Florida. I’d seen pictures of Mike and Alicia appraising paintings at Art Basel. They hosted a benefit for the National Italian American Foundation at their waterfront house. He smoked cigars and golfed with Mario Lemieux and Michael Jordan and James Pallotta, the American owner of Italian soccer club Roma. He golfed a bit more than he cared to, actually.

“I think we got to a point in Miami where we got a little too melancholy,” Mike said. “Maybe that was part of it what fueled what I was doing. I wanted to do something different. And I wanted to do something interesting, and I wanted to do something creative.”

Piazza, who recently turned 50, came of age during the best days of the North American Soccer League. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he was a fan of the Philadelphia Fury, and also the indoor Fever. After he retired from baseball, his appreciation for soccer blossomed. He sat in the stands in Genoa in 2012 when the U.S. men’s national team defeated Italy for the first time. He and a friend flew to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup—“a bucket list sort of thing.” He loved how, unlike baseball, soccer is truly global, played and watched in every country. He began to think that owning a soccer team might be the most interesting thing someone in his position could do.

“I was retired when my second daughter was born,” he said. “And it’s my kids—I would never trade them for the world—but I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, I used to be hitting home runs in front of 43,000 people, and now I’ve got shit under my fingernails from changing diapers.’ There is nothing you will ever do after you retire that will give you the same buzz as playing. I’m sorry. I was able to recognize that and rationalize it and come to a point in my mind where you know maybe it”—buying a soccer team—“was like this super rebound.”

First, he looked at the Premier League. Everton. He flew into London and took a train up to Liverpool, visiting the port city for the first time. Eventually, he concluded the numbers would never work. He dropped down a league to investigate Reading, and also Leeds United. (“I’ve always liked Leeds. It’s weird.”) He pivoted back to the Americas, meeting with the president of Liga MX to discuss maybe buying Las Monarcas de Morelia. (“That would have been crazy.”) Then he investigated his options in Italy. That country seemed like the best fit.

There was the chance to actually live in Italy. Mike’s maternal grandparents are from Sicily. (Piazza translates as “public square;” the welcome rally in Reggio Emilia was held in Piazza Prampolini.) He didn’t visit his homeland until he was in his 30s, but when he did, he felt Italian. He loved the food, the wine. He identified with the people. Also, the soccer landscape appeared much more open.

“I believe that Italian soccer clubs are the most undervalued assets in sports,” says Joe Tacopina, the American owner of Venezia FC. Tacopina was also part of the initial group of Americans that bought Roma, in 2011. “This worldwide club, one of the best-known teams on the planet. And we paid just 110 million euros. For the whole club! For Roma! You can spend that much on just one good midfielder!”

Piazza first wanted to buy Parma, a Serie A club then in bankruptcy. Ultimately he felt Parma carried too much debt for him to absorb. Reggiana looked more attractive. Despite being in Serie C, the team’s passionate fans bought an unusually high number of season tickets. Reggiana also played in a top-flight stadium shared with Serie A club Sassuolo. Unlike a Premier League team, or a team already in Serie A, this was a club he could buy cheap and build.

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

“It’s not easy for an American to come to Italy and try to do business in Italian soccer,” says Gaël Genevier, a midfielder and the Reggiana team captain during Piazza’s ownership. “It’s a jungle. And when you have money, it’s even worse. Mike had a big wallet, he was American, and he didn’t know the soccer in Italy. And I think that’s why he had a lot of problems.”

Soon after Piazza bought Reggiana, he set out to raise the visibility of the club. He gifted Jimmy Kimmel a maroon jersey, on air. The New York Times flew over a reporter for a feature story. On Sports Illustrated’s “Planet Fútbol” podcast, Piazza talked about market discipline, about having a financial plan, about sticking to the plan for the long haul.

“When I took over the club I had a meeting with all the staff,” he told host Grant Wahl. “I said, if you don’t believe we can get to Serie A in five years, then I respectfully ask you to leave right now.”

Turns out, that’s not how it works in Italy. Piazza was free to fire anyone, but whoever he did fire still had to be paid, often for years. Contribute, they call it. In the three months between Piazza’s purchase of Reggiana and the moment he actually took over operations, the number of people employed by the club ballooned. The sporting director he inherited collected a bigger salary than the sporting director of Lazio, in Serie A—and for three years, guaranteed, no matter what. The players’ contracts were exceptionally generous for the Italian third division. The team captain told Piazza so. “They were attractive contracts for even B, one level up,” Genevier says. Piazza was overpaying for everything.

The year before Piazza bought Reggiana, the club finished in seventh place in its division, with operational costs of around 500,000 euros. In Piazza’s first season with the club, Reggiana finished in fifth place, but at a cost to Piazza of more than six million euros.

“When the auditors told us that, it was deafening to our ears,” recalled Alicia. “I turned to Mike and said, ‘What the fuck did you just do?!”

Mike decided he could no longer work with the front office he’d inherited. He also cut ties with his original partner, an Italian he knew from Miami. Looking around for someone who could protect his interests, he didn’t see many options.

“Alicia became the only one I could trust,” Mike said. “I basically took the budget and I turned to her and went, ‘Help. I don’t know what to do.’”

From that point on, Alicia Piazza took charge of Reggiana. And she started making changes.

Alicia Piazza began modeling in her teens and kept at it for a decade. After appearing in Playboy—Miss October, 1995—she saved some lives on the TV show “Baywatch” before showcasing a Broyhill dinette set as one of Barker’s Beauties on “The Price is Right.” She earned a master’s degree in psychology while in Miami. For more than a decade, she had seen herself primarily as a mom to their three kids.

Suddenly, she was vice president of AC Reggiana 1919.

Cost-cutting became her priority, in a way that felt personal. Every dime squandered was a direct hit to the family’s net worth. She ordered the drivers for youth team buses to stop dropping off players at their houses, to save on gas. She ordered the players to wash their own uniforms. (“I don’t think she realized that in Italy not everyone has a washing machine,” says Kondratenko, the American who handled social media for Reggiana.) She typed angry texts, calling employees she fired “conmen” and “frauds” and “liars.” The salutation of one text Alicia shared with me, sent to the team’s former sporting director: “Fuck off, loser.”

“I was the bitch,” she admitted. “I was the bad guy. And I’m sure I have a lot of enemies, and I’m sure you heard a lot of bad things about me and I don’t give a shit. I ripped the mask off so many faces.”

The Piazzas put their Miami Beach house on the market in January. Alicia sent a general email asking if anyone in the front office might want to buy it, asking price $18.5 million. She encouraged a friend of hers in Parma—the one who compared Reggio Emilia to Pittsburgh—to design a jewelry line to celebrate Reggiana’s 100th anniversary. The whole office sat in meetings to decide which rings and bracelets in the collection worked best. “I always thought the club would never fold before the anniversary, just because of all the time she put in on the jewelry,” says Kondratenko. Deviating from her mission to cut costs, Alicia renovated the players’ locker room, adding new tile and an extra toilet. One day, Kondratenko was pulled from her regular work assignments to shuttle Brande Roderick—a Playmate, a “Baywatch” lifeguard, and Alicia’s close friend—to the train station.

“My life plan is not to be doing errands for Playmates,” Kondratenko tells me.

The clear goal in the second season was for Reggiana to earn promotion to Serie B. New sporting director Ted Philipakos, an American who came over from Venezia FC, upgraded Reggiana’s quality on the pitch. He also found a new coach in Greece, where Philipakos holds dual citizenship and retains connections in the sport. They agreed on terms. The coach flew up to Reggio Emilia with his staff, ready to sign his contract and get started. Only after he arrived did the Piazzas balk at the compensation. Alicia offered to pay him and his staff 15,000 euros less than the original offer, a relatively small sum. After the coach protested, she floated a smaller cut of 7,500 euros. The coach flew back to Athens, on principle.

When Mike named Alicia the club vice president, he stepped back a bit. “He likes to stay above the fray,” she said. “It’s not like he’s a pussy or he needs his wife. It’s the way he’s comfortable. He’s always been like that.” In her newly elevated role as Reggiana’s “first lady,” she became a bit of a media sensation. She gave interviews at the team headquarters. She answered questions at restaurants when reporters approached her table, filming. “Alicia always talked down about Reggiana being a peasant team in a peasant town,” says Kondratenko. “She thinks these people have no class, but in some aspects they were super impressed with Alicia. She has money, she’s from the U.S., she has a Chanel bag and a Gucci bag.”

The influential magazine Sportweek invited Alicia to sit for a long interview. It’s her understanding that she was the first club vice president ever to be formally interviewed, and the first woman at any level in Italian soccer.

“I knew we had to get our story out about the stadium,” she said. “And I was feeling there was a conspiracy and I was feeling something (dark) in this underbelly.”

When Reggiana rose to Serie A in 1993, the club and the government of Reggio Emilia recognized the need for a home stadium worthy of the top flight. Locals funded much of the new stadium themselves, purchasing season tickets years into the future to cover construction costs. But Reggiana lasted only two campaigns in Serie A. The club itself went bankrupt. Ownership of the stadium reverted to the city, and the mayor put it up for auction. A billionaire named Giorgio Squinzi bought it, cheap.

Squinzi is the head of Mapei, a conglomerate that sells paint and adhesives. He also owns Sassuolo, a Serie A club which now plays its home games in Reggio Emilia, in the stadium Reggiana built, which Squinzi renamed after his company. Reggiana still played there, too, though they had to pay rent. In a development that Alicia noted on Instagram, the rent almost doubled in the short time between when Mike bought the club and when he actually took over its operation. That’s what Alicia wanted to talk about with Sportweek publisher Andrea Monti.

“He’s balding but he’s powerful and he’s become sexy,” she said of Monti. “He apparently never comes into these interviews, but he comes in and shakes my hand. Everyone thinks it’s because I’m cute, I know. But I was hungover and I was not cute that day. He crosses his legs and he stays for 45 minutes. Then he says this to me, which I will never forget:

“‘Reggio is a strange town and it’s run by the politicians. Don’t you wonder why that town has the (Calatrava) train station? There’s a lot of money there but it’s all controlled by Squinzi. But I think you, my dear, are going to give him a run for the money.’”

From that meeting on, Alicia vowed “not to give fucking Mapei another dime,” she said. “And let me tell you, that was the point where it was like, ‘Alicia sank the company.’”

On March 8th, reportedly at Alicia’s urging, Mike Piazza held a press conference to address Reggiana’s growing debt to Mapei. “It was the worst day of my life,” says Kondratenko, who recorded the press conference in a video that went viral, not just in Italy but around the world. Piazza sat at a table, Alicia silently on his right, an interpreter to his left. Ads for Riunite wine and Parmigiano Reggiano flashed and dissolved on a screen in front of his microphone. “We’re invested in this community,” he said in his opening. “I’ve moved my family here, my children here, to be part of this community.” He slapped the table, hard. “And we deserve respect!”

While Mike spoke in English, he showed impressive fluency in Italian hand gestures.

“We are not going to be PUSHED AROUND by a multi-billion dollar corporation,” he continued. “The stadium was built for this team.” He tapped his index finger on the table three times. “By these PEOPLE!” He tapped a couple more times, furiously. His voice almost cracked when he said, “We’ve reached out in friendship to try to form a coalition with the mayor, with Mr. Squinzi, with Sassuolo, with Mapei, and we’ve gotten”—he slammed down a fist—“NOTHING!” His hand slashed the air with a karate chop. “NOTHING!” He pointed his index finger. “And I’m sick of it! I’m tired and sick of Reggiana being pushed around. I’m frustrated and I’m….” He inhaled a breath. “Ffffffffreakin’ pissed off!” He fell back in his chair and let the translator have at it. Alicia remained motionless.

This went on for more than 10 minutes. He said he isn’t a quitter, but he has his limit. If the rent wasn’t lowered to at least the league average for Serie C, he’d walk away.

“Probably that was the first step in an exit strategy,” says Gazzetta reporter Della Porta.

There was a period early in the second season, in the fall of 2017, when Alicia wasn’t there. She returned to Miami for a bit, to prepare their house for sale. Right after she left, in a development Reggiana supporters tell me is no coincidence, the play of the team dramatically improved. Reggiana strung together two unbeaten streaks of eight games each, vaulting the club from 15th place into second, tantalizingly close to automatic promotion to Serie B. Mike, who stayed in Italy, got hands-on with the team, pulling players aside for one-on-one interviews.

“We knew he was a good athlete, he won a lot of things,” says Genevier. “His Italian wasn’t very good—he spoke in English and the translator translated everything to the players—but he was very, very positive inside the locker room. I remember the players were very happy after each speech of Mike’s. He was the president but he was like a player.”

Without the Greek coach they’d failed to sign, the team was forced to use a Frankenstein’s monster for a manager: One man, who had his coaching license but no experience in Serie C, became the titular leader, while two coaches from the youth teams—both lacking the proper licenses—picked the rosters and the tactics and ran the training sessions.

Somehow it worked. Mike witnessed away victories over Santarcangelo and AlbinoLeffe. Before kickoff, he’d shake hands with the ultras and give his pep talks in the locker room. He followed the action closely.

“When that ball went into the net, I felt like I was playing again,” Mike said. “I’ve never done cocaine, I’ve never done crystal meth, I’ve never done hard drugs, or any drugs for that matter besides aspirin. But let me tell you, that was fucking intoxicating.”

Reggiana finished the regular season in fourth place in their division. The team could still rise to Serie B by winning a playoff tournament. In the quarterfinals, Reggiana matched up against Siena, a strong club, for a home-and-home series. Reggiana won the opener, 2-1. In the second leg, down in Tuscany, Siena held a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. The tie in aggregate meant Siena would advance thanks to that club’s better regular-season finish. But in the first minute of stoppage time, Reggiana scored. In his box, Piazza leapt from his seat.

“Mike was into these games,” says Philipakos. “Obviously he had a lot of money on the line—that was a factor. But the raw emotion wasn’t just about protecting his investment. It was about competition. He was very engaged. When we equalized in stoppage time, he exploded. What followed minutes later was visible heartbreak.”

What followed was decried as “unjust” by Reggio Emilia mayor Luca Vecci. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, a Siena midfielder lofted a ball into the Reggiana box. In the scramble, a Siena player pushed over one of Reggiana’s defenders. Somehow, the referee called a hand ball on the toppled fullback. Yes, the ball briefly touches the player’s arm, but he was on his back from the fall, and he fell because he’d just been bodychecked. Still. Penalty. Siena converted in the 109th minute, with the last kick of the game. Reggiana lost the series. No promotion. Ultras stormed the pitch, looking for blood. Even the mayor ran to midfield.

“It was horrible,” says Genevier, the team captain. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve played more than 300 games in Italy and this one was really the worst one.”

The next day, Mike Piazza posted a message on the official Reggiana website:

“Last night I could not comment because I had to go home with my children. I regret that they had to witness such corruption and incompetence. I’m deeply disgusted and angry. I’m really sorry for our fans, they do not deserve this. It’s really a sad day for Italy and for Italian football. I will never understand how some dirty and corrupt individuals managed to make something so beautiful so repugnant and ugly. I’m sick.”

Two days after the Siena loss, the Piazzas appeared to have emotionally recovered. They hosted a thank-you rally in a small, old stadium near the center of Reggio Emilia. The ultras turned out, as always. Flares burned, flags waved. Smoke floated around Mike, just as it had two years earlier at his grand arrival. The players trooped out in their jerseys, Genevier holding the hand of his young son. The Piazzas stood in front of them. Mike spoke first, in little snippets followed by pauses for translation.

“I want to thank the first lady,” he said, turning to Alicia. She curtseyed in her orange dress. The fans chanted her name. “I’m just going to tell you how much work she has done in the office behind the scenes. And it’s true when I tell you the only reason we’re here today after this beautiful season is because of Alicia. She convinced me to go on. So we all owe a debt of gratitude to her. Grazie!”

Mike kissed her. The ultras continued chanting her name. A female fan stepped onto the grass to offer Alicia a bouquet of white flowers.

“These guys played their asses off and they played with so much heart and determination,” Mike continued, turning to the players. “And it’s really sad the way it ended. But that doesn’t change the effort and the drive and the love they applied.”

Mike held up his fists over his head, a signal of strength and resolve. “I salute this team,” he concluded. “God bless! Enjoy the summer! Well done.”

Everyone left the rally thinking the mission continued. The team would stay together, the Piazzas would remain as owners.

“From my perspective, we had righted the ship,” says Philipakos. “If not for a totally absurd referee’s decision maybe we’d be in Serie B right now. We still had all these great things in place. The key players weren’t going to go anywhere. Most of the starters were under contract. We could have hit the ground running, and should have been a really strong favorite for promotion.”

The rally took place on June 5th. Mike flew to New York to throw out the first pitch before a Mets-Yankees game. Alicia stayed in Italy. On June 8th, a Friday, she invited the front office to lunch at a neighborhood café. Everyone shared a spread of cured meats, cheeses, and fresh pasta. Corks popped off wine bottles. It felt upbeat and celebratory. Alicia told them that with the season over, they should all consider themselves on vacation.

She meant more than that. On Monday, a chain and lock hung on the front door to the offices. Zip ties secured the gates to the parking lot. The Piazzas were gone. The players didn’t know what to do. Should they find new teams? Kondratenko says she didn’t know any more than the players. Should she fly back to the States?

“I woke up to a thousand WhatsApp messages asking what was going on,” she recalls. “I couldn’t take a coffee because so many people were coming up to me asking for information.”

On the 13th of June, on the team website, Mike Piazza announced that he’d put the team up for sale. Alicia issued her own statement: “Unfortunately, Reggiana has been under attack from negative forces since Mike’s arrival. … The suspicious loss in Siena was the final blow. We are generous but we are not crazy.”

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

At their house in Miami, drinking wine, both Piazzas told me the end was inevitable. The plane was in a nosedive when they entered the cockpit—when they first arrived in Reggio Emilia—and they knew it immediately. They hung on for two full seasons, at great personal expense, only to get robbed in the playoffs against Siena.

“And we had enough!” Alicia shouted. “And they’re like, ‘Well, let’s sign up for next year and lose another four million euros altogether.’ Who’s losing the four million? We are! We’re losing the four million and not you. So we each took a pill”—she’s speaking figuratively—“we said, ‘Romeo and Juliet did this, we’re going to kill ourselves before you fucking get to kill us.’”

The Piazzas and their Italian attorneys initially tried to sell the club to a group of Reggio Emilia businessmen. When a deadline for fielding a team in Serie C passed, the businessmen opted to simply start up their own, new team, with the mayor’s blessing. Reggio Audace—“Bold”—play down in Serie D, with a roster of amateurs and unpaid professionals. The president of the new team tells me he’s still friends with the Piazzas. He wants them to grant him the official Reggiana name, now that they are done with soccer in the city. The Piazzas have said they will probably turn over the name, once the dissolution is complete.

In the public square where Mike made his initial arrival, there’s a small sign stating that it was there, in the same plaza, that Reggiana was founded 100 years ago. The square is ringed with restaurants and shops, including the official Reggiana team store. Piazza still owns the store, technically. When I was there in August, team jerseys remained for sale even though the team itself no longer existed. One T-shirt featured the “C’mon!’ phrase that Piazza cried out at his introduction. A poster of Piazza, from his days in baseball, had been taken down. No one wanted to see it anymore.

“Maybe it could have been different,” Mike told me in Miami Beach. “If I could re-engineer the whole thing I’d go back and save a lot of the money that was squandered. I’d put in my own people, people that knew what we’re doing. But that’s what we learn! We learn those lessons the hard way! There’s a lot of shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I don’t regret doing it.”

I can still see why it was attractive. In the States, Mike Piazza is a former great. A legend. In Reggio Emilia, with Reggiana, his role was active. Running a soccer team in Italy: It really is a romantic idea. He wasn’t simply a rich guy drinking wine on an endless vineyard tour. He wasn’t merely eating incredible food or lounging in a seaside cabana. He was living. He had an identity beyond his days of baseball, which by now are well behind him. “I need to have a project,” he once told Kondratenko. “I don’t want to just play golf all the time.”

I can also see why Alicia wanted out: She never wanted in. “I’m free,” she told me. Instead of sinking more of the family’s cash into a soccer team, they can spend that money weekending in Barcelona, or how about London? “My kids will be fluent in Italian and maybe also French,” she said. “I’m happy.” She didn’t want the soccer project the way Mike wanted it. But then, she’s never hit a home run in front of 43,000 people.

The Piazzas returned to Italy in late August. “I’m surprised they did this,” says Gian Marco Regnani, a calcio blogger in Reggio Emilia. “They’re the enemy.” The family rented the same villa outside of town from when they owned the team. Recently they moved closer to Parma, where the kids go to school. The Piazzas told me their status as outsiders might have been a central problem. They had the ability to pack up and fly away, while for everyone else Reggio Emilia is home.

“I always had a feeling that they were going to leave,” says Regnani. “I never thought they were going to be here forever.”

When I spoke with the Piazzas in Miami, Mike was careful to stress that he had not bankrupted Reggiana. He and Alicia were “dissolving” the club, he said. They were “executing a soft landing.” But they didn’t “bankrupt” a 100-year-old soccer team and civic institution, he insisted.

That was in August. On December 4th, the Piazzas asked a judge to declare the club bankrupt. On December 5th, the judge granted the request. More than 100 creditors, including Mapei, are currently carving up the Reggiana carcass.

In October, Mike flew to Scotland for a week on the Old Course at St. Andrews. In November, he posted a picture from a golf course in Tuscany.

I’ve spoken to him a couple times, at length, since he returned to Italy. The last time we talked, we discussed Reggiana for a while, naturally, but the team and its problems and his brief time running the club seemed like a closed chapter. We talked about Donald Trump and how being an American abroad has given Piazza a wider perspective on immigration. We talked about the Mets for a bit. He told me he’s started getting into rugby on TV. And also Formula 1. He said he doesn’t like to watch Italian soccer anymore. Not even Serie A. “I just don’t,” he said. “Or I think I’m just too hurt to care.”

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:35 (four months ago) Permalink

the wife's quotes are completely out of control

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:37 (four months ago) Permalink

lmao i can hear her

lag∞n, Wednesday, 19 December 2018 03:50 (four months ago) Permalink

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the fuck ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

J0rdan S., Wednesday, 19 December 2018 04:42 (four months ago) Permalink


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