North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

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Elsewhere: My 2015 NBA Playoff Diaries

This spring, I’ve been writing occasional NBA Playoff Diaries for Flagrant Fowls. Here’s a complete list of them, all in one space!

Playoff Diary #1: Baller Alerts (On following the Raptors/Wizards series through Twitter updates)

Playoff Diary #2: Spirit of the Radio (On listening to game seven of the Clippers/Spurs series on the radio)

Playoff Diary #3: The Wild, Weird West (On a wild Clippers/Rockets second-round series)

Playoff Diary #4: I Hate Injuries! (How the Atlanta Hawks postseason was derailed by injuries)

Playoff Diary #5: Looking Forward, Looking Back (NBA Finals Preview)

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Ten Years of Posts: My Favourite Pieces

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I’ve been doing this a long time, but even though it’s been nearly ten years (or longer, depending if I count pre-North stuff), there isn’t really as much content as you’d think there’d be. Maybe because I spread stuff out so much. Or because I concentrated on other sites. Or because, frankly, I don’t have a lot to say.

Anyway, it makes picking my favourite posts pretty easy.

Over the years, I’ve had a couple of posts get big traffic. The first was a MVP column I wrote that somehow found it’s way into a Ball Don’t Lie link-post, which gave me literally thousands of pageviews. The second is a post I don’t even remember writing, where I picked apart some hack’s column for some reason. It’s not something I’d do now; it seems kind of petty and mean as I read it now. I’m not going to link to either here.

Instead, I’m going to focus on stuff I’m glad I wrote, posts that still hold up. I think all blogging is a transitory medium –  even the best stuff is meaningless the next day – so apologies for linking material that’s dated, stale and otherwise out-of-context. I still like these ten posts anyway.

A Final Memo From the Ugly Seats
November 2005

An early stab at reporting, from my pre J-School days, when I didn’t know how to put together a feature and my big inspirations were Hunter Thompson and Dr. Z. It’s a mess, but I can see something forming here: a little media criticism, some first-hand observations, and for some reason, a mention of violence in the city. It’s a mess, but it’s the only thing I wrote in the early years I’d still read. Even if it’s super derivative:

By the end of the Third Quarter the outcome of the game was sadly apparent – Montreal possessed the lead as Toronto fumbled or was intercepted seemingly every time they had the ball. Just down a few rows from me sat two lonely Montreal fans, cheering and screaming wildly whenever their team did something, from scoring to making a tackle to calling a timeout. The other people in my section would scream and throw food at them, but their spirits never dampened, they were the winners here and they knew it…

“Did…Did you not see the game? (Maniacal Laughter)” – Montreal fan, replying to slanderous insults

Is Sports Journalism Dead?
March 2009

Well, is it? Did Twitter, Bill Simmons and brand managers change the game? I could’ve written this post last week, you know. And I’m still not sure about the answer.

Five Hockey Pitches for 30 for 30
December 2009

I’d still watch any of these five films, you know: the 1987 World Juniors, the time the power went out during a Cup Final game, the 1993 playoffs, the closing of the Montreal Forum and the 1987 Canada Cup. And since then, they’ve released, what, one hockey movie?

Awarding the Sports Pulitzers
April 2010

Now talk-radio host Dan Levy mocked me on a podcast over this one! But at least people were reading me!

Just Asking A Question About Damien Cox Asking A Question
August 2010

What happens with a local columnist defends his baseless accusations by saying he’s “gotta ask the question?” Well, I’ll ask why he had to ask!

Radio Host Says Controversial Remark About Women’s Sports, Internet Outraged
March 2011

I don’t really remember the context here – I guess McCown said something stupid, as is his wont – but this was one of the first times I delved into the gender divide and it’s a topic I’ve written about a few other times. The particular story’s dated, but my attitude is the same:

It’s different than just watching the odd WNBA game and making cracks about how they can’t dunk. When you’re there all the time, one realizes there isn’t as much a difference between men’s and women’s sports. Talented athletes will excel at their sport regardless of gender. Yes, the WNBA only recently had it’s first dunk, but that’s doesn’t make it a lesser league, only a different one.

Words From the Worst Sports City in the World
September 2011

Conversely, when a popular website publishes a clickbaity piece by one of Canada’s most annoying writers, you’d better believe I’ll rip into it:

After all, it’s horrors beyond horrors that Toronto hasn’t won anything since 1993 (unless you count the Argos, which Marche doesn’t do until it suits his hypotheses). I wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt, sweat-drenched, angry beyond words about Tie Domi on a semi-regular basis. But it also isn’t that big of a deal: so what if the Leafs lose every year. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and life has gone on there ever since. The Jays lost tonight. C’est la vie.

Just Another Sunday at the Rogers Centre
August 2012

Even in a lost year, I found some things about the Jays season to remember, which is kind of what I try to here: even if Toronto sports can get negative really quick, there’s always lots of fun things to remember. Like Rajai Davis making a killer grab at the wall. Accentuate the positive, as NRBQ used to sing.

Just Another Friday Night in the City
November 2012

I hung out outside the 2012 Grey Cup so you didn’t have to. I also linked to a video of a horse in a car.

It’s Been A While and It Might Be A While
May 2013

The only Leafs postseason appearance while this blog’s been operating. I picked Boston to win in si;  if only I knew how this series would end. A notable aside:

Some people who have died since the last Leafs postseason game: Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Gerald Ford, Jack Layton, Jay Reatard, Evel Knievel, Norman Mailer, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Trish Keenan

 

Written by M.

May 11, 2015 at 11:29 am

Breaking Down 100 Good Points

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I don’t know if there’s any writing more disposable than sportswriting. Maybe grocery lists. Certainly posts like this. The best sportswriting is timeless: nobody’s ever going to forget about Pat Jordan, Red Smith or WC Heinz, let alone pieces like Norman Mailer’s report in the Ali/Frazier fight. But mostly, it’s uneventful stuff. “Then the Habs scored two quick ones, bang, bang, and it was 3-2 for the good guys,” that kind of thing. Most sportswriting is on deadline and is dated by the next day. It’s not meant to be read a week later.

That said, what I do is less reporting and more blogging. My title’s Contributor and I almost never get press credentials, although I don’t apply for many to begin with. And I’ve been lucky enough to bang out words on a weekly (and more usually, biweekly) basis for The Good Point, so there’s a little more latitude when it comes to writing. So instead of covering things, I usually write about whatever’s been happening in the world of sports and react to them. On a bad day, I’m not any more interesting than a hack columnist on some small town newspaper, offering uninteresting and instantly dated opinions (see: this column about the NHL coming to Markham). I feel for editor and general behind the scenes wizard Rob Boudreau, who deals with me every two weeks. He’s probably my most regular reader.

But on a good day, I’d like to think I’m able to shine a little light into some of the more offbeat corners of sports. Over the four years I’ve been writing at The Good Point, I’ve covered a huge range of topics, including some I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone else write about; I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of wider interests than the average sports-scribbler or on my complete inability to function as a journalist.

I recently filed my 100th post for The Good Point. I have no idea how I got to this number, I never thought I’d be there for a full year (then again, I always thought I’d be a beat writer of some sort by now). What follows is a few links to some of my favourite posts and a few words on each.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

July 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

Elsewheres: Neil Young, David Stern and more

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Things have been a little busy, which is why this blog hasn’t addressed things like:

  • The Winter Classic being cancelled
  • The Kyle Lowry Show
  • The Argos making the playoffs
  • The last game at Ivor Wynne Stadium

So until I get around to those, hopefully sooner rather than later, here’s some links to what’s been keeping me busy.

The Good Point – Stern: Driving the Boat No Longer

When I think about Stern, I think about him at the draft last June and how a rowdy crowd booed him constantly. Is he the most unlikeable commissioner in sports? He’s certainly more popular than Gary Bettman. And he’s actually more than a little likable; when he was booed, he held his hand up to his ear, feeding off it like the heel in a pro wrestling show.

What will his legacy be? That’s a tough, large and ill-defined question. Instead we should look at what he’s done: he was in charge just as the league started to blossom in popularity, brought in changes that helped make the sport more fun for the casual fan and been there as the NBA became a global league.

 

Flashfact: Time Fades Away, Neil Young’s Lost Album

Think back to 1972 for a second: Young had just scored a number one hit with Heart of Gold. When people went out to see Young, they were expecting something like that. They got something else entirely instead: a hard rocking band, with Young screeching on a Flying V which barely stayed in tune. They didn’t get the gentle country from Harvest, they didn’t even get the jamming rock of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. They got something else entirely: loud, dissonant  downright punkish country-rock. And goddamn, is it good.

 

Flashfact: More Than Just A Funny Guy: Frank Zappa and the Mothers – Roxy and Elsewhere

(P)resent, though, was the emotional center of this band: Napoleon Murphy Brock and George Duke. Brock played sax, Duke played keyboards and they both spent a lot of time at the mic, goofing off and jamming. When Zappa fans say this was their favorite band, they usually mean these two: Duke’s funky keyboards gave Zappa’s band a sound it’d never had before (or ever would again, really) while Brock’s sense of humor and personality shine through, even decades later. He’d never quite get this same chemistry on stage again. This was a funny band but it could play its pants off too. To paraphrase band percussionist Ruth Underwood, Zappa thought this band could conquer the world.

The Good Point: A review of John McPhee’s Levels of the Game

On the surface, “Levels of the Game” is a compact, powerful profile of two tennis players: Clark Graebner, a conservative white player from Ohio, and Arthur Ashe, a liberal black man from the south. Their styles of play reflect their personalities. Graebner plays the odds, a grinding, powerful style of tennis, heavy on driving the ball past the opponent. But Ashe plays risker, gambling on big shots and hits with a powerful backhand. On a deeper level, these two are the faces of America as the 1960s ended and the sporting culture began to shift.

 

Plus, I’ve been contributing to a few other places and done a few smaller features for Flashfact and The Ogopogan, including a movie review, a story about the rejected BCE/Astral Media merger and some stuff on Quebec politics. For full updates, keep an eye on my twitter account!

Written by M.

November 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm

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Elsewhere: Dream Team, Nordic Pop and the Montreal Expos

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Things are getting pretty ugly with the Jays, so look for a post on that forthwith. But until you do, here’s a few links to some of my stuff that’s appeared elsewhere.

Earlier today, the Toronto Review of Books ran my review of Jack McCallum’s history of the 1992 Olympics, Dream Team. From my essay:

And when McCallum covers familiar ground, like Bird reluctantly accepting a role on the team or Jordan covering up a Reebok logo with a flag during the medal ceremony, he sheds new light on these stories with his access. Everybody involved, including McCallum himself (who covered this team for Sports Illustrated), remembers everything clearly, from on-court play to playing off of it, in all-night high-stakes card games at the hotel. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look.

Click here to read the whole thing!

Meanwhile, over at Flashfact, my latest music column takes a look at several Scandinavian indie acts I like and you might like, too. Click here to check it out and listen to some nice tunes, too!

Finally, The Good Point ran a piece of mine on Monday, where I look at the surging and playoff-bound Washington Nationals and wonder what connection they still have to the Montreal Expos. Can a finally successful team be the spiritual successor to the longtime loser? And is that a legacy they want?

This is the year the Nationals are putting it all together: Strasberg will finish with a 15-6 record, a 3.16 ERA and a 2.6 WAR. Now starting at first base, Adam LaRoche is hitting with an .842 OPS and Ian Desmond’s OPS is .846. As a team, the Nationals are second in the NL in home runs (172), fourth in OPS (.749) and first in ERA (3.28). Their wins total tops both leagues and gives them a comfortable division lead. As the season winds down, the Nationals might be the best team in baseball.

As they get set for the postseason, is it worth it to keep thinking back to what could have been in Olympic Stadium?

Click here to read the whole thing.

Written by M.

September 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm

The Good Point: The re-invention of the NBA through the Western Conference Finals

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Over at The Good Point, I weigh in on the NBA’s Western Conference Final and especially on how the San Antonio Spurs have changed from a boring, borderline unlikable team into one of the most exciting and compelling in basketball. To wit:

Don’t make the mistake of sleeping on this Spurs team. Yes, Duncan is old, as at 3, he’s older than everyone on the Thunder, save Derek Fisher. They don’t have the same star power Oklahoma City does. Durant finished second in MVP voting, Parker a distant fifth and Duncan picked up one fourth-place vote. Yet they roared into the postseason with the top seed in the west with the best SRS in their conference and were tied with the Bulls for the best record in the NBA.
Still, it’s more than that. It’s taken years, but the Spurs have emerged as one of the most enjoyable teams in the league. It wasn’t too long ago that the Spurs played a style of basketball usually called boring: Duncan backing into the post, a half spin, a bank shot that rattles in. Their most recent championship was a Finals sweep of the LeBron-led Cavs, where the Spurs scored around 80 points per game. They were a team easy to dislike and easy to hate, especially after bloodying Steve Nash.

Click here to read the whole thing! 

Written by M.

May 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The Good Point: Pujols with a few holes in his bat

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My latest for The Good Point takes a look at three of the American League’s biggest bats – Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols – and how each has started the 2012 season, be it on fire, slowly or not at all.

From my piece:

Back on May 6, the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the LA Angels, 4-3. It wasn’t exactly the most memorable game except for one at-bat. In the bottom of the 5th, on a 2-2 pitch, Albert Pujols hit his first dinger of 2012, a shot to left over the head of Eric Thames.
It was Pujols, you may remember, that was one of the marquee signings of the 2012 offseason. He signed with Los Angeles for an astronomical sum: $254 million over 10 years, the second-highest contract in MLB history. And this season has not been kind to him.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Written by M.

May 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm