Presenting The Grantland Staff Bracket (Round One)

I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but it is indeed borrowed from SI’s Richard Deitsch via Twitter.  It was created solely in jest to poke fun at Grantland’s affinity for making up brackets and polls.  I used a combination of the staff’s quality of writing, quantity of production for Grantland.com ONLY, and my own personal bias in creating the seeds (thus a guy like Wright Thompson gets dinged because he has produced maybe five pieces for Grantland while writing extensively for ESPN).  Admittedly I could have used additional help in creating it.  I was more in a rush to be the first to devise and publish Deitsch’s great idea.

Please scroll below the actual bracket to take part in the first round of voting.  We’ll update the brackets Wednesday morning with the winners of the first round and continue until we get a champion.

Presenting the 2012 Grantland Staff Bracket: 

  FIRST ROUND SECOND ROUND QTRS SEMIS FINALS SEMIS QTRS SECOND ROUND FIRST ROUND  
1 bill simmons               chuck klosterman 1
16 mark titus               carles 16
8 david shoemaker               chris ryan  8
9 jonah keri               robert mays 9
5 brian phillips               shane ryan 5
12 patrice evans               michael kruse 12
4 jay caspian kang               jonathan abrams 4
13 mark lisanti               rany jazayerli 13
6 rembert browne               rafe bartholomew 6
11 michael weinreb               louisa thomas 11
3 bill barnwell               molly lambert 3
14 jonah lehrer               colson whitehead 14
7

10

mark harris

hua hsu

              wesley morris

alex pappademas

7

10

2 charles p pierce               katie baker 2
15 david jacoby               wright thompson 15

1. Bill Simmons vs 16. Mark Titus

Bill Simmons
Mark Titus

8. David Shoemaker vs 9. Jonah Keri

David Shoemaker
Jonah Keri

5. Brian Phillips vs. 12. Patrice Evans

Brian Phillips
Patrice Evans

4. Jay Caspian Kang vs. 13. Mark Lisanti

Jay Caspian Kang
Mark Lisanti

6. Rembert Browne vs. 11. Michael Weinreb

Rembert Browne
Michael Weinreb

3. Bill Barnwell vs. 14. Jonah Lehrer

Bill Barnwell
Jonah Lehrer

7. Hua Hsu vs. 10. Mark Harris

Hua Hsu
Mark Harris

2. Charles Pierce vs 15. David Jacoby

Charlies Pierce
David Jacoby

1. Chuck Klosterman vs. 16. Carles

Chuck Klosterman
Carles

8. Chris Ryan vs. 9. Robert Mays

Chris Ryan
Robert Mays

5. Shane Ryan vs. 12. Michael Kruse

Shane Ryan
Michael Kruse

4. Jonathan Abrams vs. 13. Rany Jazayerli

Jonathan Abrams
Rany Jazayerli

6. Rafe Bartholomew vs. 11. Louisa Thomas

Rafe Bartholomew
Louisa Thomas

3. Molly Lambert vs. 14. Colson Whitehead

Molly Lambert
Colson Whitehead

7. Wesley Morris vs. 10. Alex Pappademas

Wesley Morris
Alex Pappademas

2. Katie Baker vs. 15. Wright Thompson

Katie Baker
Wright Thompson

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Great Sports Writing: “Lawdy, Lawdy, He’s Great”

We’ll continue the celebration of the Champ’s birthday with his famous Sports Illustrated piece written shortly after the Thrilla in Manila.  It was the third and final match between Ali and Joe Frazier, perhaps the two greatest heavyweight champions of all-time.  The piece does a wonderful job capturing the raw brutality of the match, going into painful details of just how much agony was inflicted on that evening.  On a more metaphysical side, the writer, Mark Kram, does an excellent job capturing the souls of the two fighters, nailing perfectly what exactly drove the two men to complete such a brutal affair.  Unlike a lot of the pieces I normally link to, this is a relatively short read and many consider it to be the best piece ever written for Sports Illustrated.  From SI:

A hint of shift came in the fourth. Frazier seemed to be picking up the beat, his threshing-blade punches started to come into range as he snorted and rolled closer. “Stay mean with him, champ!” Ali’s corner screamed. Ali still had his man in his sights, and whipped at his head furiously. But at the end of the round, sensing a change and annoyed, he glared at Frazier and said, “You dumb chump, you!” Ali fought the whole fifth round in his own corner. Frazier worked his body, the whack of his gloves on Ali’s kidneys sounding like heavy thunder. “Get out of the goddamn corner,” shouted Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer. “Stop playin’,” squawked Herbert Muhammad, wringing his hands and wiping the mineral water nervously from his mouth. Did they know what was ahead?

Came the sixth, and here it was, that one special moment that you always look for when Joe Frazier is in a fight. Most of his fights have shown this: you can go so far into that desolate and dark place where the heart of Frazier pounds, you can waste his perimeters, you can see his head hanging in the public square, may even believe that you have him, but then suddenly you learn that you have not. Once more the pattern emerged as Frazier loosed all of the fury, all that has made him a brilliant heavyweight. He was in close now, fighting off Ali’s chest, the place where he has to be. His old calling card — that sudden evil, his left hook — was working the head of Ali. Two hooks ripped with slaughterhouse finality at Ali’s jaw, causing Imelda Marcos to look down at her feet, and the President to wince as if a knife had been stuck in his back. Ali’s legs seemed to search for the floor. He was in serious trouble, and he knew that he was in no-man’s-land.

Whatever else might one day be said about Muhammad Ali, it should never be said that he is without courage, that he cannot take a punch. He took those shots by Frazier, and then came out for the seventh, saying to him, “Old Joe Frazier, why I thought you were washed up.” Joe replied, “Somebody told you all wrong, pretty boy.”

Great Stuff.

[Sports Illustrated]

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Great Sports Writing: “Magic Faces The Music”

Let’s continue with the theme of trying to figure out who exactly LeBron James is by taking a trip back to the 1980s to examine this curious piece on Magic Johnson.  Now that his career is long over, I think it’s fair to say everyone considers Magic one of the five greatest players ever…at least.  He’s widely celebrated as one of the biggest sports successes of all time having conquered the worlds of basketball and business with his gregarious personality and famous smile.  But that wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when he, like LeBron, was the most scrutinized athlete on the planet.  Take the time to go back and read this piece and examine how similar it is to the narrative surrounding LeBron right now.  The lesson, as always: winning heals everything.  From SI:

Whatever hurt Johnson felt then was only to intensify as the summer went on. He was stunned at the way he was carved up by the press that had once doted on him. He was particularly wounded by the suggestions that, with the championship at stake, he had choked. “I sat back when it was over,” Johnson says, “and I thought, ‘Man, did we just lose one of the great playoff series of all time, or didn’t we?’ This was one of the greatest in history. Yet all you read was how bad I was.” A headline that appeared on a column in The Los Angeles Times asked EARVIN, WHAT HAPPENED TO MAGIC? A month later, a columnist for The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner referred to Johnson as “the tarnished superstar” and “the goat of the series,” and pointed out that with the world watching him, and “right there against his arch rival, Larry Bird, he failed.”

“Those wounds from last June stayed open all summer,” says Riley. “Now the misery has subsided, but it never leaves your mind completely. Magic is very sensitive to what people think about him, and in his own mind I think he heard those questions over and over again to the point where he began to rationalize and say, ‘Maybe I do have to concentrate more.’ I think the whole experience has made him grow up in a lot of ways.”

“If you noticed, before when he was playing he used to smile a lot,” says Christine Johnson, “but now he doesn’t smile as much. It’s just a sign of his new determination. I see him settling down now and becoming more of a man.”

People always seem to be deciding that Magic Johnson has finally grown up, anticipating the arrival of his new maturity as if it were a long-overdue bus. And yet growing up and settling down are matters about which Johnson has remained largely ambivalent.

He came into the NBA in 1979, a magnificent child of 20, charming and funny and, in the way of most children, almost oblivious to any world other than his own. “I’ll never forget walking through airports with him,” says L.A. Clipper guard Norm Nixon, who played with Johnson on the Lakers for four years. “He’d have his Walkman on and all of a sudden you’d hear somebody singing, and there he’d be—stopped in the middle of the airport, singing his song and dancing with himself.”

Sound familiar?  Oh by the way, Pat Riley is now the President of the Heat and there could be no single person more capable of bringing LeBron through this than the man who was there with Magic.

Happy Friday everyone.

[Sports Illustrated]

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Great Sports Writing: “All For One Sure Beats One For All”

Okay so this may not be as electrifying an example of sports writing at its finest, however I’m picking this selection for selfish reasons.  Why is that?  I happen to think this upcoming Dallas/Miami Finals is the evolutionary version of the 1977 NBA Finals where the Portland Trailblazers defeated the mighty Philadelphia 76ers behind the superb play of Bill Walton and all of the fundamentals of team basketball at its finest.  Take a look at some of the parallels:

-both Dallas and Portland are/were lead by revolutionary big men in Dirk (first seven footer to consistently spread the floor and knock down long jump shots) and Walton (considered perhaps the greatest passing center ever, analysts swear there was no one better at starting the fast break than the big red head).

-It was considered a miracle that Portland was able to achieve what it did and most especially how it did it.  Blazers head coach Jack Ramsey was praised the rest of his career for the “miracle” of getting modern athletes to play within his rigid system and buy into his strict discipline.  Coaches now speak of the ’77 Blazers season as if it were some myth that might never come true again.  Portland didn’t have all the talent of some it’s counterparts in the NBA but everyone bought into the system and, most importantly, they had Walton.  Dallas is doing the exact same thing: playing within the system, executing flawlessly, overcoming huge odds for the most improbable of NBA Finals runs, and, most importantly, they have Dirk.

-Both Miami and Philadelphia are/were considered juggernauts of athletic talent, the likes of which have never been seen.  LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh speak for themselves, and by the same token you had that Philadelphia team with Dr. J (basically the patriarch to the style of basketball LeBron thrives on), Doug Collins (perhaps the best shooting guard in the league at the time, much like D-Wade), George McGinnis (a tremendous big man known for his scoring and rebounding, McGinnis famously choked severely in the ’77 Finals.  Chris Bosh anyone??) and others like Lloyd “World B.” Free, Henry Bibby (Mike Bibby’s dad) and Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant (Kobe’s dad).

Go back in time and read why exactly the Blazers were able to overcome an initial 2-0 series deficit and come back to trounce the Sixers over the next four games to win the NBA title.  Pay particular attention to the comments by Dr. J and his overall attitude toward the game/series.  It’s scary how much he sounds like LeBron.  Also take notes on Walton’s comments and how much his approach to the game is similar to Dirk’s.

What this all says about the upcoming finals and whether Miami is really the spiritual descendant of this Sixers team though, well, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.  From Sports Illustrated:

But with eight seconds remaining, the Doctor shot from straightaway behind the foul line and missed. (“As a rebounder and defender I assume everybody’s going to miss,” said Walton.)

With five seconds to go, Free shot from the baseline, but he was sandwiched between Hollins and Gross. His shot didn’t go in either and Gross knocked the ball out of bounds.

With one second left, McGinnis, driving to the right, pushed up one final funny shotput jumper, but this one bounced off also. After Walton leaped to knock the ball away and secure the NBAchampionship for Portland, he whirled, ripped off his shirt and heaved it in the general direction of where he’d been swatting the Sixers’ shots for a whole week: right into the heart of Blazermania.

“If I had caught the shirt, I would have eaten it,” said Lucas. “Bill’s my hero.”

Not to mention the hero of everyone who has ever set foot on the Oregon Trail. “Did I plan the shirt?” Walton laughed at the question as people tried to shower his red hair and beard with champagne, beer and other wicked libations. “I only planned on winning,” he said.

“Dr. J is incredibly tough,” he added, “but we are not into stardom here. The 76ers played with their guts and their pride today and they didn’t try to star. That’s why both teams played close. But once we learn how to beat a team, we can do it and keep doing it.”

Then Walton asked, “Where’s my fruit juice?”

Happy Friday everyone.  Enjoy the long weekend.

[SI]

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Great Sports Writing: “Bad Nights In The NFL”

Four plus years after it all took place, travel back in time to the night Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed outside a Denver night club after celebrating New Years.  It’s taken that long to get the story straight and SI writer Thomas Lake does an excellent job capturing everything that contributed to the promising young athlete’s death.  We like to mix it up between all-time classic sports writing and instant classics.  This week’s falls into the latter category as this piece ran last week in SI.  It’s a must read and will leave you with a lot of questions about a former Denver teammate of Williams: Mr. Brandon Marshall.  From SI:

The incident in Denver remained mysterious to the public for more than three years. In October 2008 a grand jury indicted a local gangster named “Little” Willie Clark for the murder of Darrent Williams. The indictment said Clark fired the bullet that killed Williams, but it didn’t fully explain why. And the full explanation didn’t come until February and March 2010, over the 14 days of Little Willie’s trial.

By then it was possible to see New Year’s Eve 2006 as a turning point in many lives. In almost every case, the change was for the worse. Nicole Reindl, the young woman saved by her ringing cellphone, still had part of a bullet lodged next to her skull. Brandon Flowers of the Billion Dolla Scholars still had his bullet, too; he could feel it in his leg whenever he climbed the stairs. Rosalind Williams could no longer enjoy New Year’s Eve, or Mother’s Day, because without Darrent she had no children. When the trial began, Darrent’s eight-year-old daughter, a competitive runner named Jaelyn, had only recently recovered from her fear of the starter’s pistol. Her 10-year-old brother, Darius, wouldn’t stop playing an old copy of a football video game that let him use the avatar of his father.

And then there was Brandon Marshall, the Broncos’ receiver, whose fortune turned the other way. On the night of the shooting he was a fourth-round draft pick who had just finished an uneventful rookie season. Over the next three years he made 307 catches. Defenders called him the Beast because his chiseled 6’4″, 230-pound frame was so hard to bring down. Now, taking the stand as a crucial prosecution witness in Little Willie’s trial, he’d become one of the best players in the NFL. He raised his large right hand and swore to tell the truth.

PROSECUTOR TIMOTHY TWINING: New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2006, in the early morning hours of January 1, ’07. Do you remember that night?

MARSHALL: I think about it every night.

Great, great stuff from Lake on one of the most tragic days in Broncos franchise history.

[Sports Illustrated]

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Great Sports Writing: “The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch”

It’s the first day of April and baseball season is in full swing. Keeping the day in mind take a trip back to 1985 and please read George Plimpton’s legendary Sports Illustrated profile on Mets prospect Sidd Finch.  It’s one of the best examples of humor ever allowed to reach the pages of a major sports publication and Plimpton does an extraordinary job crafting perhaps the greatest April Fool’s joke in sports writing history.  From Sports Illustrated:

The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement. It may have started unraveling in St. Petersburg, Fla. two weeks ago, on March 14, to be exact, when Mel Stottlemyre, the Met pitching coach, walked over to the 40-odd Met players doing their morning calisthenics at the Payson Field Complex not far from the Gulf of Mexico, a solitary figure among the pulsation of jumping jacks, and motioned three Mets to step out of the exercise. The three, all good prospects, were John Christensen, a 24-year-old outfielder; Dave Cochrane, a spare but muscular switch-hitting third baseman; and Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets’ lead-off man of the future.

Ordering the three to collect their bats and batting helmets, Stottlemyre led the players to the north end of the complex where a large canvas enclosure had been constructed two weeks before. The rumor was that some irrigation machinery was being installed in an underground pit.

Standing outside the enclosure, Stottlemyre explained what he wanted. “First of all,” the coach said, “the club’s got kind of a delicate situation here, and it would help if you kept reasonably quiet about it. O.K.?” The three nodded. Stottlemyre said, “We’ve got a young pitcher we’re looking at. We want to see what he’ll do with a batter standing in the box. We’ll do this alphabetically. John, go on in there, stand at the plate and give the pitcher a target. That’s all you have to do.”

“Do you want me to take a cut?” Christensen asked.

Stottlemyre produced a dry chuckle. “You can do anything you want.”

Christensen pulled aside a canvas flap and found himself inside a rectangular area about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide, open to the sky, with a home plate set in the ground just in front of him, and down at the far end a pitcher’s mound, with a small group of Met front-office personnel standing behind it, facing home plate. Christensen recognized Nelson Double-day, the owner of the Mets, and Frank Cashen, wearing a long-billed fishing cap. He had never seen Doubleday at the training facility before.

Christensen bats righthanded. As he stepped around the plate he nodded to Ronn Reynolds, the stocky reserve catcher who has been with the Met organization since 1980. Reynolds whispered up to him from his crouch, “Kid, you won’t believe what you’re about to see.”

A second flap down by the pitcher’s end was drawn open, and a tall, gawky player walked in and stepped up onto the pitcher’s mound. He was wearing a small, black fielder’s glove on his left hand and was holding a baseball in his right. Christensen had never seen him before. He had blue eyes, Christensen remembers, and a pale, youthful face, with facial muscles that were motionless, like a mask. “You notice it,” Christensen explained later, “when a pitcher’s jaw isn’t working on a chaw or a piece of gum.” Then to Christensen’s astonishment he saw that the pitcher, pawing at the dirt of the mound to get it smoothed out properly and to his liking, was wearing a heavy hiking boot on his right foot.

Christensen has since been persuaded to describe that first confrontation:

“I’m standing in there to give this guy a target, just waving the bat once or twice out over the plate. He starts his windup. He sways way back, like Juan Marichal, this hiking boot comes clomping over—I thought maybe he was wearing it for balance or something—and he suddenly rears upright like a catapult. The ball is launched from an arm completely straight up and stiff. Before you can blink, the ball is in the catcher’s mitt. You hear it crack, and then there’s this little bleat from Reynolds.”

We hope everyone has a good weekend.  Get outside and enjoy some baseball!

[Sports Illustrated]

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Great Sports Writing: “Extreme Makeover”

The first half of the NBA season came to a conclusion last night and we’re headed into the All-Star weekend. The Spurs have obviously been dominant in the first half and perhaps the only team that could challenge them for the title of best team in the NBA thus far is the Boston Celtics. With this idea in mind, we invite you to take a trip back in time and re-examine the story that went into the assembly of Boston’s Big Three.  You’d be surprised by how fascinating it is to go back and re-examine details you had forgot about in just three short years (example: at the time, everyone thought Boston was taken advantage of in the deal for Ray Allen because Seattle got Delonte West — a coveted young guard at the time, Wally Szczerbiak, and the number five pick in the draft which became Jeff Green).  Step back in this literary time machine and watch how Danny Ainge assembled the best team in the Eastern Conference and brought back Celtic Pride.  From SI’s Ian Thomsen:

The Celtics’ 24-58 record last season was their worst in 10 years and included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak while a demoralized Pierce watched from the bench with a left foot injury. “We’re going through 10, 11, 12 games in a row lost, 13,” recalls Pierce, who missed the first 16 of those losses. “I was thinking, This team really has a future?”

Yet Ainge was not discouraged. Despite taking heat in Boston for his regular overhauls of the team, he felt he had accumulated enough assets to pull off a blockbuster trade. But even Ainge didn’t imagine last March that he would swing two significant deals that have dramatically revived the championship hopes of a franchise that had won only three playoff series since Larry Bird’s retirement in 1992.

By acquiring shooting guard Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics and power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves without relinquishing Pierce — forming an unparalleled trio of still-in-its prime NBA talent, with a cumulative 21 All-Star appearances and career scoring average of 65.6 points — Ainge made the Celtics relevant again.

As both a Boston player and executive, Ainge has not been afraid of the risks involved in acting boldly. Back in 1988, when he was one of the Celtics’ backcourt starters, he was seated at a table with Bird, forward Kevin McHale and team president Red Auerbach during the organization’s Christmas party. At the time Boston was reportedly considering trades that would have sent Bird and McHale to the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. “Look at these two guys,” Ainge told Auerbach, over the surrounding conversations of other players and their families. “Larry’s got casts on his feet [from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels], Kevin’s got a screw in his foot [to repair a stress fracture] — you’ve got to trade these guys.” Everyone laughed at Ainge’s typical audacity, but he wasn’t joking. “I would have traded Larry Bird,” he insists today.

A fascinating sub-plot this weekend is how Boston’s all-stars are going to treat the rest of their East teammates.  The Celtics are incredibly old school and have made it known they have no intentions of trying to get all buddy-buddy with the other players.  We’re predicting Doc sends out his four stars paired with Dwight Howard to form one of the most dominant All-Star team defenses ever seen.

[SI]

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