Wimbledon at the Quarters and Mountain Running

Wimbledon

The Championships at Wimbledon are just beyond the half-way point, so we almost have the quarters filled-in and those battles set to go.  Some very intriguing storylines.  In a previous post, I thought Stan Wawrinka might be feeling a bit too much of his French Open hang-over to pose much of a threat on the grass at Wimbledon; he even had an early exit at his warm-up on the lawns at Queens Club.  He has a huge game and has proved he can handle some big spotlights against big opponents.  His two grand slams are vs. Nadal and Djokovic, for instance.  And he overpowered both.  But part of me thought his inability to sustain the 2014 breakthrough, his age (30), etc., meant more subdued expectations.

An interesting thought on his French win last month vs. his 2014 Australian Open is that he might not have felt completely validated in his win over Nadal because the Spaniard was dealing with injury in that 2014 final.  Granted, a win is a win, but there might be some truth to him not gaining as much confidence as one might’ve thought from that first major.  He failed to really capitalize on that big career win, which supports this argument.  Fast forward to the 2015 French.  He destroyed Federer (his royal mentor) in the quarters and bludgeoned Djokovic in the final.  Both Federer and Djokovic have been in fine form, especially the Djoker, clearly the world’s #1.  Apparently, those close to Stan have noticed a different Stan following this win, a much more confident Stan. Stan is into the quarters, playing some tight matches but advancing fairly business-like.  Looking at the draw, we look to have Roger and Murray on a collision course in that one semi-final and Stan looking like he’ll face Djokovic in the other. That’s the top 4 seeds.  So, upsets aside, we have good cooking at The Championships.

The first week had a few surprises, the biggest being that Nadal went down to a wild card German Rastafarian bloke who used to make a living stringing rackets on the tour.  Nadal losing like this is not that shocking if you asked me.  He’s been free-falling.  He’s only 29 years-old.  The whispers of his possible drug use (PED) earlier in his career would help explain this kind of decline.  Granted, he has a very aggressive, physical style of play, but he’s only 29 and has battled injury throughout his career.  A big red flag for drug use is this kind of physical deterioration, of the knees, hips, etc.  It’s not a ankle, or an ACL type of injury that plagues drug users. Rather there seems to be this odd kind of deterioration.  Tiger Woods is having the same kind of end to his career (a known PED user).  Baseball players like Alex Rodriguez, the same. But beyond all of this speculation, Nadal is circling the drain at 29 and this really undermines the arguments that he is the GOAT.  Such claims are hollow when you see this kind of loss this last week to Dustin Brown in the second round.  As I have always said: he is a clay court specialist who did find success at the other majors.  No doubt, he is a great competitor, but the rumors and this kind of inconsistency is tough to ignore.  Of course, the other part of the argument for Nadal his record against Roger.  I will listen to this; I saw all of it with my own eyes.  But Roger at 33 is threatening to win his 8th Wimbledon and 18th overall.  The Swiss bleeds and breaths class.

One final note on the grass: Djokovic fell behind to S.African Kevin Anderson 0-2, but battled back to even it at 2-2 before the match was suspended for darkness.  The huge hitting Anderson was in complete control until the match turned. Early-on, Djokovic looked like the player who got run off the clay by Stan.  Passive, seemingly not completely invested. His game is so balanced at such a high level perhaps he assumes he will find a way – though that seems to include him waiting for opponents to be overwhelmed, make too many mistakes, etc.  There are some really strong players on tour; that strategy is doomed to failure.  If he can win that last set vs. Anderson tomorrow, he has Stan waiting in the semis. That loss at the French is a huge statement of Djokovic’s legacy.  I see the same vulnerability in his play at this tournament.  He could shut me up and win this championship.  He’s #1, which means he should win it.  But I will not be surprised if he does not.

A bit of mountain running

The typical news sources are pretty good at giving us results and all that good stuff.  I mainly want to weigh in on the recent efforts of some US mountain running folk.  I have enjoyed following Peter Maksimow via Instagram.  He was involved in the Team Colorado win at Mt. Washington, along with Andy Wacker, who is achieving some marvelous results himself.  That team consisted of Andy Wacker, Zach Miller, Peter Maksimow, Simon Gutierrez, and Rickey Gates.  Go Team CO!  Legendary manpower.  Maksimow and Wacker were then joined by Mario Mendoza and David Roche who together grabbed a team USA silver at the World Mountain Running Association’s Long Distance Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland.  The Peter Maksimow show has been an entertaining feed – mountain running and beer (along with some solid facial hair) is a glorious marriage; the mountains of Switzerland, mountain running and beer is the great ménage à trois. Serious mountain running personnel, seriously historic races and great results from some American runners.  Have to enjoy it.  The 27 year-old Wacker seems to have a very bright future.  His team silver was added to his individual silver.

Of course, Ricky Gates gave Kilian a run for his money at Mt. Marathon.  Nice to see Ricky Gates continuing to perform in big races with such a big resume already in tow.  The accessibility of these “stars” who kick ass and seem to still enjoy themselves, not taking themselves too seriously, makes this sport of the mountain so much fun to follow.  I recall being a lot more in tune with this more styled and focused mountain running, especially that of the European genre – steep and technical slopes with very competitive mountain goats – a few years ago when I followed and wrote regularly about many of those historic and dramatic races.  I look forward to getting back in-touch with the races, which only inspires my own taste of the mountains and beer, here in So Cal.

Speaking of some of those older battles I used to cover weekly, nice to see Marco de Gaspari grab the FKT of a crazy steep high point in the Eastern Italian Alps (Ortles -12,812 ft).  Pretty inspiring stuff. Especially, the crew he had, including aerial coverage and ice cold champagne to celebrate the achievement.  Great stuff.

Lastly, also nice to see we have more high-end mountain running on the horizon to determine the personnel to represent the US at even more high-end mountain running. From the site: “Nike Trail Running will sponsor the USA Mountain Running Championships coming up in Bend, Oregon on July 25. As the sole selection race for the US Mountain Running Team, this event has become the premier sub-ultra distance trail race in the United States and historically features the fastest trail runners in the nation.” 

You go, Nike!  Isn’t there a future that has our world governed by Nike, Apple, Google and Stone Brewing (the evil craft beer giant)?  Facebook, by the way, jumps the shark in about ten years and sinks to the bottom of the world.

Max King apparently designed the national championships course.  Given Max’s pedigree, the recent successes of Joe Gray and Andy Wacker, the field will certainly be stacked.  Of course, the results of this July 25th race will determine the team to represent the US at the world championships to be held in the Snowdonia region of Wales in September.  Can’t wait for that Selection Saturday.

PS If Kilian doesn’t destroy the counter clock-wise CR at HR100 next weekend, everyone pray for some sort of explanation.  Granted, we shouldn’t be too surprised by anything, other than no surprises, but I can’t imagine he’s anything but completely rested and reaching great form for that adventure.

The 100: A Personal Poem II

I clarified my full appreciation of the display put on by Mr. Krar at WS100 last weekend, of the state of elite 21st century 100 mile mountain racing.  Wow.  Hence, my subtle comparison of that experience to some classy beers.  I charted my thought process and came to, what I believe, is a much more mature and fully developed reaction to that 14:48 and change.  I think Krar has within his grasp the wherewithal to take that CR, but perhaps he knows too well how that fine-line, what it would have meant to dig that much deeper for the CR, has potentially devastating consequences.

As Running On Empty makes the rounds, people have to be more concerned.  My concern for this trend in 100 mile racing goes way back.  Tim and I (Tim of 100 mile distance fame) talked about the unsustainability of the distance almost five years ago.  I’m repeating myself here, I know.  One can’t ignore the evidence.  That article comes clean on Kyle Skaggs, among others.  These athletes didn’t simply tire of the ultra life and decide to farm organics in the mountains, ala Skaggs.  The Krupicka/Skaggs/Roes/Wolfe/Olson narratives chart like the elevation profiles of some of the mountainous courses they dominated, with a mammoth decent towards “the finish.”  This is sad.  What a waste of mountainous athletic talent.  The culprit has two faces: we’ve argued that the distance kills, but what clarifies this argument is the speed at the front of the race.  These elites are stronger, faster, commit to the sport more fully.  And RACING 100 miles at that kind of speed, in those kinds of conditions (heat, elevation, etc.), simply doesn’t work for long.  The development of the sport is not the issue.  Sponsorships and advanced training and gear and trail access are fantastic examples of the evolution we know and love.

What motivates my clarion call has been the uninhibited ignorance of this reality.  Those championing this pathology are relentless and unashamed.  Folks, this is a problem.

Tim and I started Elevation Trail, following our work at the notorious Inside Trail, with a few podcasts that focused on the lack of structure in the “sport.”  Following a series of odd-ball casts, we humorously threw our hands in the air like we just don’t care and announced, it’s not even a sport: it’s a picnic.  This lack of competitive structure (lack of leadership) is the broken home in which the culprit (distance and speed) lives.  Leadership and structure would help athletes negotiate these issues.  Instead, athletes wearing cool new gear and, ironically, pitching their healthy oils and recovery drinks are running amok, seemingly only finding genuine ultra credibility in the much longer versions of the sport.  In other words, the 50s (kilometers and miles) and 100 kilometer races should be enough to float your boat.  A bucket list kind of adventure could define a 100 miler.  But as the nuts and bolts, the mainstream of a competitive racing season?  Get outta here.

This all brings us back to the 100 as a personal poem.  That’s one way of looking at it.  Krar wrote a beauty last weekend.  A masterpiece.  I needed a couple of beers and a jog to reach that conclusion.  He nailed it.

Poetry, indeed, has structure, but we’re using here the connotation that prevails in much of our understanding of the genre.  It’s romantic, whimsical, can move us to reminisce, fall in love, become motivated to act, sing, take off fall of our clothes and jump into the pounding surf.

These athletes that take to the 100 with daunting CRs in sight and fans cheering them from the rafters are walking a very tight rope that straddles a very deep drop.

Rob Krar is riding a brilliant wave of ultra running success.  As I’ve said, I think his pre-100 racing was even more brilliant than his latest chapter that develops a focus on the 100 miler; it’s at least more sustainable and in many cases includes more competitive fields.  He’s got UTMB on the 2015 calendar and perhaps even UTMF.  He might have the aesthetics to write a brilliant and powerful closing stanza to his incredible ultra career, which hopefully lasts for years.  His 2015 WS100 might be a fine template with which to compose this poetic journey.  We’ll have to wait and see.

The 100: A Personal Poem

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Beer and An Analogy

Writing this and sipping a Stone RuinTen, indeed a “recklessly hoppy” triple IPA.  I like it a lot.  There’s a lot going on: starts with a sweet little lift-off and lands grapefruit and malty pine, pursuing a bitter, satisfying end.  Like most big beers (or endurance events to strike the obvious analogy), it’s a journey (but a reckless journey?).  Rob Krar had himself quite a journey last weekend, as did hundreds of other Western States 100 runners.  Congratulations to them all.

Let’s recap the Saturday had by Krar and some of the other elite men; hopefully, as a result, let’s enjoy whatever perspectives we may garner from analyzing the events, the aftermath, and the complicated yet sublime mathematics of this treacherously progressive ultra-running narrative.

The Race

As we previously surmised, this was all about Rob Krar.  My simple deduction proved terribly prescient :).  Who can go sub 15:00, flirt with 14:45?  There was no evidence to suggest anyone could stay with Krar.  That was simple deduction.  The ONLY question concerned the CR.  That was certainly my approach.  I wondered what business Krar would have at the race, having already won in historic fashion (2nd fastest time).  He had to be targeting the CR.

The twitter coverage was solid and I proceeded to walk and run around all Saturday glancing down at my phone for updates.  He had isolated a couple of foreigners. . . oh and there’s Seth Swanson lurking AGAIN. . . Bowman hanging tough top-ten, Magdalena Boulet doing work!  Everything was rounding into form.  Go ahead and drop these boys, Rob, and finish this thing.  All seemed predictable, all seemed right with the way this should go.  I had flashbacks to one of the greatest Saturdays of all-time (and I’ve had a lot of great Saturdays): Roes’ 2010 masterpiece (which is still probably the sickest of all and I’ve only been around for a cup of coffee.  Sorry, but that race, with all of the celebrity and upset dramatics. . . holy shit – remember too how Mackey paced him to the track which included an absolute ambush of the punch-drunk Krupicka?! Ahoy!).

Sure enough, Krar makes his move.  He’s under CR pace.  It’s just a matter of time.  The weather is actually facilitating a bit, behaving, if you will.  You all know how it ends.  He misses the CR by a couple of minutes. 14:48. Wow.  I’ve pointed-out the athletic significance of what’s to unfold at The Championships, especially as it concerns the world #1 and #2.  But this type of 100 mile theatrics, the stuff we’ve seen at these big ultra venues (despite my criticisms of the distance), is so impressive.  Mind-boggling.

And yet: I was a bit stunned, actually.  What happened?  No CR.  I texted a friend something along the lines of Krar must be a little disappointed, don’t you think?  I never heard back from this friend.

The Aftermath

This type of racing is hard to penetrate.  I know I can’t, but I try without turning my life and the people I love into some kind of stray-cat fight.  I certainly appreciate the distance and the mountains,IMG_1517 but can’t begin to wrap my thin brain and heart around such an intense life-death-and-rebirth.  I’ve had smaller versions of such loss and triumph, despair and ecstasy; we all have. But racing that intensely in such conditions is almost reckless, or, indeed reckless.  (Oh, Swami’s.  A must have.)

My disappointment was so short-sighted, even a bit obnoxious.  I had taken for granted so much story, so much commitment and focus and fitness and sacrifice. . . I was a bit embarrassed to have even felt that tinge of disappointment.

What sealed this reflective truth were the post race interviews and recalling what I already knew (and overlooked) about Krar.  He was euphoric after the race.  He talked of being in a great place in his life, with his beloved, with his profession, and his commitment to racing.  AJW’s short but heart-felt interview at the finish was pretty telling.  Krar articulated all of those emotions with succinct profundity.  He also said a couple of times that he gave the race everything he had.  This seemed directed at the CR question.  AJW, like all of us, asked if the CR played into his approach and strategy.  Krar deflected.  The heat was a huge factor going in and he raced with everything he had that day.  Well said.  I STFUP.  I really liked AJW’s characterization of Krar: he raced with a certain aplomb, with a class and humility that spoke to his style and dominance.  Great stuff.  Krar building the discourse, expanding the community’s reach, and adding to its soul and. . . its refinement.

The 2015 Western States 100 was Rob Krar’s personal poem.  More than the race itself, this seems to be about Krar himself.  He’s in a great stride aside from WS100.  This is just good news and it has overshadowed the race, I’m afraid.  I learned a lot from watching and following these events.  I learned more having watched and thought about it than I have many a sporting event.  I am truly stoked for Krar.  He does have style and insanely polished ultra racing skills.  What a joy to watch (even more so, oddly enough, in retrospect).  What a champion.

Olson

I suppose you have heard about Timothy Olson.  Not that he is a two-time champion of WS100.  Rather, the fact that he has been struggling on the racing circuit since 2013.  Among his struggles include a very tough finish at Hardrock last year and his DNF this last weekend at TNF Lavaredo Ultra Trail.  I got a text from a pal with the now infamous Facebook blog from Olson about his DNF. My friend, I suspect knowing my views on these mammoth distances, is quoted as saying “another one bites the dust.”  Olson’s struggles don’t sound good at all in terms of his ability to compete in these kinds of mountain ultra races.  This is bad news.  When I published my latest 100 miler commentary, I honestly had no idea Outside Magazine was going to publish its expose on the sport two weeks later.  Sure I feel validated to certain extent, but this is bad news.

One can not deny that runners are falling apart in these extreme conditions.

Look at what went down at WS100 this weekend in terms of the carnage.  DBo might be at a kind of crossroads himself.  He heatstroked at a shorter off-road event this spring, and has had a few other tough, grueling finishes to go along with his successes.  His DNF Saturday might just be a “bad day” scenario, but this too could be a sign of something more.

I have another perspective on Krar’s win.  He knew.  He saw the life of the desperado, the line one crosses toward pursuing the “dreams” of these insane endurance events.  I happen to think he chose not to cross that line.  Granted, he would have probably crushed Olson’s WS100 CR; but Krar has to have some, even subconscious, understanding of what is at stake on these stages, in this sport.  Along with the triumphant victory laps around the proverbial and literal tracks, we’re made to hear harrowing stories of premature demise.  I’ve chronicled this unfortunate pattern at length.

Rob Krar, at the 2015 WS100, showed us how to dominate in style without (hopefully) falling victim to such history.

2015 Western States 100

Looking at the “deep” field for this year’s WS100, I suppose this overused adjective is evidence of the community’s optimism, hoping for an amazing competitive event that craters common sense with the insane high-end endurance exploits of these elite men and women.  The other rationale for the use of “deep” is the general unpredictability of this kind of event.  Hell, anything can happen on those trails, in those canyons, and in that heat.  So, looking at the names, their race resumes, etc., one assumes it’s up for grabs.

Before I say “however” and boil this race down, this is, indeed, a very unpredictable affair.  Looking at the weather, there will be massive carnage in such heat, at the front, all over, dreams shattered, sponsors freaking-out at their athletes’ failure to endure and represent. . . okay, that’s a bit dramatic.  Actually, that’s a scene from the up-coming movie Ultra Rules, being produced and directed by Elevation Trail.  Stay tuned for that.

Anything could happen.

However, this is all about Rob Krar.  I said recently that he’s the next vanishing act of the 100 field. He’ll follow those others who’ve notoriously walked the plank, disappearing into a mountainous mist of catastrophic injury and fatigue. I said, “The way the theory goes […] Krar is in the last stages of his dominance. He will get CR at WS100 this year and that just about ought to do it. Check please.”  Part of me wanted to revise that and say he might be an outlier, a guy with the perfect ultra career.  Hear me out: he’s closing in on 39 years, so if in fact he is nearing the end (age alone makes this hard to deny), what a career!  Pops-up by smashing the R2R2R FKT, then proceeds to wreak havoc on some of the bigger stages against the world’s best. All that’s left is a couple of closing acts, maybe an encore and then he’s off to pasture in Flagstaff or beyond.

This scenario seems difficult to deny.  I simply predicted that this Saturday is one of these closing acts.  He finishes second to Olson in ’13 (his first 100), and comes back and wins in ’14, flirting with Olson’s CR, but coming-up a little (~7 min) short.  Yet he’s back for 2015 States.  What does he have in mind?  Even iRunfar practically laughed when they asked what he was doing back in Squaw Valley after winning last year.  It’s not like this guy (or so one might have thought) is some kind of Western States groupie.

This is all about Rob Krar.  Here’s a question?  Can anyone run 14:40?  Ryan Sandes has a 15:03, so the South African shows some potential winning pedigree, but if Krar, who smashed the Canyons 100k specifically as a training run for his master plan, goes definitively sub 14:50, this is all about Rob Krar.  Granted, D’Haene could be able to hang late, or certainly one or two others might possess enough madness in the torrential heat to surprise us, but if Krar is at all having a decent day, this is all about the WS100 CR, which is the only reason he might have tweeted #seeyouinsquaw.

The only pause I have in completely buying-in to such a foregone conclusion – that he is on a hara-kiri mission to break Olson’s CR – is the wear and tear of the 100 I have talked about at length.  In my earlier diagnosis, recounting his 2014, I referenced his diet of 100 milers and actually left one out: Leadville (which I wrote about).  It’s my sense he has lost that 50 miler type speed he once possessed, that must’ve sent chills through out the sport.  But that was then and this is now. He’s gone long and he’s not looking back.  Did he do too much?  Has he begun to walk the plank?

I suspect he will win in epic fashion, but of course anything can happen.

That’s what I’m watching for on Saturday.  There are many great runners, men and women, taking huge adventure to those storied California trails.  If Varner is healthy, who knows what he might do, and personally I’m pulling for DBo.  But, in the end, this is all about Rob Krar, chasing his WS100 CR, chasing his demon.

European Tennis and (a little) American Mountain Running

Let’s start with the grass, then move-on to the harder stuff.  I stated the obvious in a previous post that Roger and Andy, though each a little tight out-of-the-gate at their respective Wimbledon warm-up tournaments, were finding good form. They both came away victorious, Roger actually claiming his eighth Halle, Germany title (Gerry Weber Open).  The Swiss continues to pile-up the career wins, gliding into the sunset with his balletic tennis that still dazzles to the day.  His athletic prowess transcends the tennis court, so I encourage anyone interested in the human race, what its capable of athletically (beauty), to sit and watch the Fed Express for a set or two.

Who did Roger beat in the final?  Andreas Seppi, of course.  I mentioned Seppi is in good form and I actually gave him a slight shot to beat Federer last Sunday.  Although he did beat Roger in the 2015 Australian Open in four sets, I think the Italian will have trouble surprising people like he did Roger in Melbourne back in January.  Of course, Halle is best of three and we’ve already pointed-out that Rog is still world class in that particular format.  None the less, great tournament for the Italian, who’s got a nice athletic grit to his game.  I’m a fan.

Andy Murray took care of business at the Queens Club Championships, beating the lanky South African Kevin Anderson in the final in straight sets.  Anderson had a solid run, taking care of Wawrinka in two tough tie-breakers (Stan perhaps still a bit tipsy from his Rolland Garros celebration) before taking care of the tough Spaniard Garcia-Lopez and the veteran Frenchman Simon in the semi-final.  Murray looks ready to make another deep run at the much anticipated Wimbledon Championships fortnight that begins in less than a week!

As far as a quick bit of prediction for Wimbledon, let’s just say that the usual suspects will probably keep us entertained. This is definitely a major that Roger can still win.  He has seven Wimbledon championships, equaling Pete Sampras, and was runner-up a year ago to Djokovic, so figuring he has a decent shot is not out of the question.  With Nadal struggling (fading), the Murray/Federer/Djokovic threesome looks to be obvious favorites, with Djokovic almost certainly in the best position to win and secure his second major of the year, his third Wimbledon and ninth career major.

However, was the 2015 French a microcosm of Djokovic’s career?  He comes-out hot, wins with ease (5 of his 8 majors are Australian Opens, the first major of the year) and seems to fade.  He has yet to master the clay (tough for most players), has 2 at Wimbledon and a single US Open.  That’s a bit of a pattern.  His spring was amazing, winning in Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte-Carlo and Rome.  Dominant tennis.  The loss at the French I have already put in perspective.  Let’s see if he can turn this pattern around and FINISH strong, winning on surfaces that suit him just fine.

As for any possible dark horses, I don’t see Stan having a similar run in him.  I could see Nick Kyrgios making things tough for a lot of players although he has apparently just split with his coach Todd Larkham. Not sure how that will affect him, but his big serve and sensational though erratic game can be a huge threat out there.  With Tsonga hurt and Dimitrov is some kind of slump, the grass will be ruled, in my estimation, from the top.  I don’t see the likes of a Berdych or Nishikori (guys in the top five or ten) being able to challenge the big three on the famed lawns of Wimbledon.

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A quick shout-out to Joe Gray for his American record at Mount Washington.  That sub 1 hour club is a who’s who of American mountain running, which seems to make MWRR a true mountain running crucible.  Gray, Blake, Canaday, Gates, and, of course, Carpenter.  Wow.  IMHO, there’s at least one version of your American MUT Rushmore (mine, at least, which doesn’t include the zombies of the 100 miler variety – ha).  What a fantastic venue and history.  Having said that, Jono Wyatt’s 56:41 seems just ridiculous.  What a shame Carpenter and Wyatt weren’t able to tangle.  Granted, Carpenter has him by about seven years, but truly, needless to say, legends in our midst.  And looks like Gray is establishing his own similar kind of mountain dominance for the ages.

I suppose I might fancy some predictions for Western States, but I’ll save that for the next couple of days.  I’ll most likely update the NBA off-season with respect to the Bron Bron Phenomenon, as well.  The writing is on the wall, folks.  Don’t be surprised.

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Lastly, I certainly hope Dustin Johnson keeps it together after that epic collapse.  I think he’ll be fine.  Just keep your nose clean, buddy.  St. Andrews is right around the corner.

Cheers!

Warriors Want to Come-out and Play and Tennis, Yup

First of all, with all of the celebration and dust settling in the Warriors’ and Cavs’ respective camps, a lot of stories are rolling out.  On the Cavs’ front, wow.  What’s funny is that some of this seems to be presented as news, such as the Blatt “controversy.”  In the end, the point of my previous article is that Lebron’s basketball character, the narrative that’s really under pen, is shaky.  Great talent, but some of that talent is either embellished or undermined by his shenanigans and/or inability to close the deal.  That’s my point.  A lot of interpretation going on while a lot of this argument is being written.  Bizarro.  And certainly I am aware that he has hit last second shots.  We’re beyond the micro analysis at this point.

In the Warriors’ camp there’s stuff like this; such consistent smack talk toward Lebron from other players, Iguodala, Thompson and Green, et al, seems pretty revealing in today’s smoochy kissy universe we’re living in.  I absolutely see where they’re coming from.

In tennis, the grass season is greener in Europe right now and the tennis has been pretty much blowing-up since we turn toward the build-up to Wimbledon.  Murray and Federer are shaping into some decent form for now at their respective tournaments (Queens Club and Halle, Germany).  Each had a sniff of trouble in their opening matches (Murray’s tough 2 setter with Y. Lu and with Federer facing a match point to Kohlschreiber).  Nadal, after winning a grass court tournament last week, lost in the first round at Queens.  This, I’m afraid, is more accurate with respect to his overall game/grass game.  Other names out early at Queens Club: Dimitrov, Raonic and Wawrinka.  Raonic’s game is just awkward.  He’s too big and just hasn’t quite made that next jump, nor do I believe he will.  Played some good tennis this spring but I just don’t see enough of that consistent excellence.

The only thing I’ll note in Germany is the continued quality play by Andreas Seppi.  I like his game a lot.  He can go five sets with almost anyone and is still alive.

Wimbledon begins June 29, so here we go.

The Bron Bron Phenomenon

Here’s the thing: with the NBA playoffs behind us, in this aftermath of a tremendous run by the Warriors and another devastating blow to the city of Cleveland, most people caught in the fierce current of the mainstream have fallen for Lebron James.  Head-over-heels.  He’s a great athlete; that is undeniable.  But the surrounding froth and standing Os have become really pretty delusional and romanticized.  The question has two possible built-in answers: is he legend or myth?  I want to look at the side few are on because I contend that this is another case where there’s an important gap to recognize between myth and reality.

Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger context of the Bron Bron Phenomenon.

Do the numbers lie?  His statistics during the finals have been recited by most fans (casual and supposed expert).  He averaged nearly a triple-double.  These are enormous numbers, no one could ever do that, he carried that team further than anyone ever could, etc. etc.  In reality, he shot below 40% from the field and below 30% from the 3.  Those are awful percentages.  That has to be brought to bear on his preternatural production.

We would need game film and play-by-play analysis, I’m afraid, to really flush this out, but these numbers are fluffed, padded, whatever you want to call them (despite being not very efficient in the first place).  Cleveland AS A TEAM played well during most of the playoffs and through the first three games of the finals.  If we look at that film, we would see much better ball movement, and role players playing well (along with James’ undeniably huge efforts).  But the series became very quickly Lebron vs. Golden State.  That the rest of his teammates are so shit, so bottom of the barrel NBA talent is just a big-time over-statement.  The injuries hurt the Cavs, no doubt.  But I’m not buying the story that Lebron had no one to rely-on, so he had to do it all by his lonesome.  That’s more a flaw in his game than it is his teammates (all of them) are crap.  We have ridiculed Kobe for this same style of play.  Why does Lebron get such a huge pass?  The Cavs were suddenly standing around watching Lebron.  Design some plays, make a cut to the rim.  Standing around not only killed the Cavs’ offense, but gave Golden State a huge break on D.  Only the guy covering Lebron had to work.  What about the rest of the bench?  Why did he recruit Mike Miller and the Matrix?  That it was Lebron vs. the Warriors (OMG, amazing, super-human!) is over-blown bullshit.

Sure there were the injuries.  The-injury-to-Love excuse is not a huge mystery.  His loss was crushing?  He was ineffective all year.  He and Lebron (this is common knowledge) did not get along and Love played like crap all year, lost.  Lebron forced that trade (common knowledge) before the season began (Wiggins for Love) and then alienated Love.  Lebron orchestrated a lot of deals, we can be sure.  That injury was a loss, but look at the bigger picture; Love was not a critical cog in that machine; Lebron made sure of that.  The Irving injury?  Tough loss for sure.  But none of this discounts the fact that the Cavs had enough pieces to win that series.  In the end, Lebron managed and coached that team (this is well documented), so he needs to take more responsibility than he is.  Period.  His presence in Cleveland, especially now, is too inflated.

The only time Lebron James has had success in basketball (championship success, this is not summer YMCA fun ball) is when he’s had people around to hold him accountable.  In Miami he was told to get into the post because he’s such a big body, and could dominate down there; Miami had stars who could make plays elsewhere.  Pat Riley, Dwayne Wade and even Spoelstra forced this accountability and they were finally (after getting embarrassed by Dallas in 2011) able to win two titles (before getting embarrassed by San Antonio).  In Cleveland?  David Blatt and Kyrie Irving balance the power.  Who can say no to him in Cleveland?  Watch Tristan Thompson get a max contract this year.  Why?  He is a solid power forward who had a good playoff run.  But he’s Lebron’s friend; they share an agent and Lebron has said that Thompson should get a max or near-max contract.  He’s holding the franchise hostage.  This is not healthy.  That’s a reality.

In other words, too much Lebron (“I am the best player in the world”) ethos, which means an unchecked guy who is trying so hard to write the ultimate basketball narrative, being general manager, coach, captain, the man, the savior.  Doesn’t work.

More on the inflated numbers, which, again were derived from total isolation ball that yielded terribly inefficient numbers. The NBA is a much softer league now compared to much tougher styles of play 10-20 years ago.  The league is now perfect for a guy with Lebron’s skill-set.  He is a very well-rounded player, can play great on both sides of the ball, but given his size and the rules that now permit no hard fouls, no hand-checking, etc., he gets a free pass.  If you are stumbling into NBA spectatorship now, you have no idea the differences in the game.  In the 70s and for the next 30 years, the game was brutally physical.  Elbows and forearms were common defensive strategy, guys got worked going to the rim.  Go watch some video, read some accounts.  The game is softball now by comparison.

This is a huge advantage for a guy like Lebron, especially if he shoots thirty or forty times.  He’s going to pile the numbers.  But they’re inflated.  This reality is totally overlooked.  Look at the bigger picture.

More on this ultimate basketball narrative: the Bron Bron Phenomenon.  More numbers: 2-4.  An interesting dichotomy to this story is that alongside all of the fanfare for Lebron James, history could be much harsher on his legacy.  As a culture, we love winners.  Many of us think of Lebron as a winner, still.  But he’s stacking-up the losses where they really count.  He is an unbelievable three-point shot by Ray Allen and a Spurs’ choke-job away from being 1-5 in the finals.  That’s a fact.  But let’s look at the 6 finals.

I think there is some belief out there that James is unlucky.  Let’s put two of his finals in that category, his first in 2007 and this last one in 2015.  The motto for both, I guess, is his team was not good enough to win it all.  Two more were embarrassing losses where he was on a team that had plenty of talent, no?  If you go back to 2011, he was terrible, despite this talent.  There was a take-away from that experience that Bron Bron was a choke, couldn’t score/win in the big-time.  Tough to explain that away.  Then you have his two finals wins where he was with the Big 3 of Miami.  He didn’t “run out of talent” with that team.  Many observers see Dwayne as the finisher of those teams.  But Lebron was definitely more successful those two years.  He confirmed his greatness, indeed.  That’s a slightly more analytical approach at making sense of his 2-4 record in the finals.  I don’t think that really makes him look so dominant and most people, in the end, will not parse the experience as such.  They’ll just see 2-4.

Ah, but he’s going to win next year and 2-3 more championships after that when everyone is healthy!  Go back to the Lebron-as-owner-general-manager-coach-team-captain-go-to-player-is-totally-unhealthy-and-LOL-destined-to-fail theory above.  There is no guarantee that the coaching situation will improve and it has to (will they bring in a real coach that can actually design plays and be able to push back at Lebron’s control?).  Quick aside: you can’t blame Blatt and give Lebron carte blanche.  Those two points are incongruous.  Lebron brought-in all of his boys (Mike Miller and Shawn Merion, James Jones) and they really had no effect.  Will Irving stay healthy?  What’s going to happen with the roster? And what about Lebron’s contract?

Aside from all of that, this just in: he is on the decline.  If you think Lebron will continue to be so effective (which hasn’t been that effective if you look at all the numbers), you got another thing coming.  He puts a lot of wear and tear on that body.  He has played a lot of basketball.  You think he’s going to be “the best player in the world” in two years?

Lastly, here’s the real tale of the tape: Lebron grew up in Cleveland and fortunately was drafted by the Cavs.  He made it to the finals and got beat pretty bad (sweep).  Must have thought this is pretty lame, so he went to Miami; and really pissed off a lot of people, especially in his beloved hometown.  Did pretty well in South Beach with his all-star friends.  He went 2-2 in the finals there, but then they got beat pretty bad (4-1) in 2014, so I guess he looked around, saw the thinning resources (and perhaps too much push-back from leadership) and went back to Cleveland.  This second abandonment got renamed the Lebron is coming home show.  And now he’s in Cleveland running the show, all by himself, apparently.

He is an all-time great.  But let’s not become foolish prisoners of the moment.