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Chasing Bad Air Around the World

February 17th, 2018 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, The National, The Sun

This dawned on me the other day. Even before we made the drive up (and back) through California’s Central Valley.

I have spent nearly the whole of my life breathing bad air. Polluted air. Sometimes thick enough to taste. Sometimes particulates so tiny they never come back out a person’s lungs.

Didn’t plan it that way, but that is how it has worked out.

Maybe some of you have struggled through the same thing.

Let’s recap:

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Tumbling into the Generation Gap

February 16th, 2018 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Pulling into Modesto around 8 p.m., looking for a place to have a beer and maybe a salad.

We found a brew pub named “Commonwealth”, which apparently is quite popular in this Central Valley outpost, because nearly every stool was taken at its long/seat-yourself tables.

We spotted facing open spots near the bar, and asked a woman sitting next to the open places, maybe 24 years of age: “Do you mind if we sit here?”

And she said: “Not at all, if you don’t mind vulgarity!”

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Visiting the U.S. and Encountering Sticker Shock

February 15th, 2018 · No Comments · France, Spain, Travel

We once lived decades in southern California. We feel like we know the place pretty well. Certainly from the Mexican border to, say, Sacramento.

We had been outside the country for more than a year, and what we found here on our return yesterday has been … astounding.

When did California prices get out of control?

And not just for housing?

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Lonzo Ball and the $199 Autographs

February 14th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, Kobe, Lakers

Two things I believe about sports autographs.

1) No one past the age of 12 should ever ask for one. Adults don’t ask for the signatures of other adults — unless they plan to sell them on for more money, which is vile, and another good reason why adults should not ask for autographs.

And, 2) Athletes should never charge for autographs. Do them for free or don’t do them at all.

Don’t know if lots of adults will be clamoring to hand over $199 to Lonzo Ball for his autograph, but we do know Ball is charging stupid money for them, and that puts him in the “grasping loser” category of athletes inhabited by the likes of banned baseballer Pete Rose.

Lonzo Ball has signed a four-year contract with the Lakers for $33.4 million. But he still needs $199 per customer for an autograph?

The Lakers officially have Lonzo Ball issues, and this is just another aspect of it.

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Who Gets to Claim Chloe Kim as a ‘Local’?

February 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Landon Donovan, Olympics, soccer, Sports Journalism

Not that it matters much anymore, with print journalism in collapse, but for fun we can revisit a topic that would have been of great interest to sports journalists of 10 or 20 years ago:

Where is “home” to the latest great athlete?

Like, say, Chloe Kim, snowboarding gold-medallist at the Pyeongchang Winter Games?

Chloe Kim, from … where?

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Victory for the Status Quo: What Now for U.S. Soccer?

February 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, soccer, World Cup

A former colleague who is involved in grassroots soccer may still be in mourning.

He was adamant that the U.S. Soccer Federation needed new blood at the top … but the presidential election over the weekend went the way of the two establishment candidates, with the former federation vice president and Goldman Sachs partner (no, really) winning election on the third ballot.

Congrats, Carlos Cordeiro!

We’re confident you will meet the little people — just as soon as you hire someone to make the introductions.

Cordeiro, 61, was one of eight candidates running to replace Sunil Gulati in the unpaid presidency role, and Cordeiro survived the first round of voting thanks to the unanimous support of professional soccer players. Which either says something good about Cordeiro or something bad about the players.

Their support allowed the India native and former Gulati ally to hold off Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing — “the marketing arm of Major League Soccer”, whose candidacy collapsed when MLS went over to Cordeiro in the third round, giving him 69 percent of the vote and victory.

Meanwhile, the folks at the bottom of the U.S. soccer heap, parents and poor kids and unpaid coaches watching games played on vacant lots, remain disenfranchised, and it is hard to see how they will be able to move forward in the direction (and with the speed) they had hoped for if their candidate, former national team striker Eric Wynalda, had been elected.

My former colleague was more than a little partisan in this.

He said: “Missing this summer’s [World Cup] has made leadership change necessary. Sunil is out and now it’s either Eric or we riot in the streets! Anything less and we have failed and are doomed to mediocrity.

“I’m less-than-half joking.”

No riots to report.

So, what happens next?

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Elfrid, Meet Absalom

February 11th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, NBA

Elfrid Payton is a point guard drafted out of Louisiana Lafeyette by the Orlando Magic with the 10th pick of the 2014 draft. Last week, the Magic traded him to the Phoenix Suns in a move from one bad team to another.

Payton is best known for one thing: His comically long hair. Which is an impression a man playing in the NBA probably should not accept, let alone embrace.

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Somewhere, Bonny Warner Was Smiling

February 10th, 2018 · No Comments · Olympics

I first interviewed Bonny Warner in February of 1984, a week before the Sarajevo Olympics.

She grew up in Mount Baldy Village, a hamlet on the shoulder of the mountain, and went to school in San Bernardino County, where our newspaper circulated.

So we snapped to attention when we realized that a college kid from our market was a U.S. qualifier for an Olympic event. Even if it was what, at the time, seemed like a particularly exotic sport:

Luge.

An Olympic standard since 1964, mostly overlooked in the U.S.

The story got more interesting as we dug into it. It was about a series of not-particularly-likely events that led to Warner being considered an outside candidate for a medal in Yugoslavia — despite the fact that no American had ever medalled in luge.

In three tries, she never did win that medal, though she came close in Calgary 1988, when she was sixth. But her story was interesting enough and she was good enough at the high-speed sliding event that she earned the respect of the Europeans who dominated the sport and became a sort of ambassador for luge in the U.S.

She was involved in clinics to help identify and recruit promising candidates for her sport; I seem to remember sleds on wheels being sent down the road from Mount Baldy.

By Nagano 1998, the breakthrough came; American men won silver and bronze in the men’s doubles. In Sochi 2014, an American woman won a bronze.

That left only men’s singles as an event with zero American medal-winners and, today, that box was checked when Chris Mazdzer earned a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games.

And somewhere, Bonny Warner smiled.

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Cold and the Winter Olympics

February 9th, 2018 · No Comments · Olympics, Sports Journalism

It ought to be, right? Cold. Plenty cold. Unpleasantly cold. It’s the Winter Olympics and we have sports based on snow and ice.

Opening Ceremonies for the Pyeongchang Games were held tonight, in South Korea, and it did not look like a shorts-and-T-shirt sort of event, no.

Well, duh.

It seems the current generation of Olympics media are not clear on the concept. Perhaps because the last three Winter Olympics were not particularly wintry — as this graphic (scroll toward the bottom of the item) on accuweather.com makes clear.

These Winter Games are expected to be the coldest since Lillehammer 1994, 24 years ago.

I was there, in Norway.

To get to Lillehammer, go to Oslo and turn north. Drive for several hours till you are at nearly 62 degrees of latitude — which is not all that far from the Arctic Circle, at 66 degrees (and change) north.

I loved the Lillehammer Games, as I have mentioned several times on this blog. The best of the six Winter Games I covered; people who live there embrace the winter, and it felt like a particularly legitimate winter experience — unlike Sochi 2014, for example, when temperatures did not reach freezing even once.

My recollection of Lillehammer is that many of the locals slept out on the cross-country course to have a good vantage point the next morning and ring cow bells. Like that.

I was cold in Lillehammer, and often much colder than the folks at the temporary stadium in Pyeongchang were tonight — which apparently was about 27 degrees Fahrenheit, with a cutting wind.

But, too, organizers handed out survival gear to everyone who had a ticket which included a blanket, a rain coats and heating pads. Also, a few tents were put up with space heaters inside. No one ever handed me a blanket as I went to Winter opening.

Back to Lillehammer. That was serious winter, and I have some recollections. Of course I do. (I have done a separate item on generic recollections of covering sports in the cold.)

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Isaiah Thomas and How Everyone Gets Humbled

February 8th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, NBA

No one rides high forever. We may think we will, but it never quite ends that way. Life and/or death humbles us.

That notion hit me again tonight, as the Cleveland Cavaliers offloaded guard Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Eight months ago, Thomas finished fifth in the NBA’s Most Valuable Player voting, just ahead of Stephen Curry, just behind LeBron James, after averaging 28.9 points per game for the Boston Celtics, the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded playoffs team.

The gritty, even reckless little point guard, all of 5-foot-9, then led the Celtics to the finals of the conference finals, versus Cleveland, after they ousted the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards.

In Game 2 of the Cleveland series, Thomas’s right hip pretty much broke. He could not return to the series, won by the Cavaliers in five games.

And his descent from “star player for the best team in the Eastern Conference” began.

Starting with the realization that Thomas, a “bargain” player in Year 3 of a four-season, $27 million contract, is not going to get that sort of exorbitant payday a player with his success over three seasons in Boston could expect.

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