Warriors heighten expectations

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Warriors heighten expectations

Once again Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors blew a golden opportunity to bring some calm, rational, sane perspective to their season.

They won in Miami. They won a close game in Miami. They won because a rookie saw a veteran overplay the wrong guy and another veteran not cover his overplay and broke to the basket wide open for the winning layup with .9 seconds to play.

[HIGHLIGHTS: Green's last-second layup gives Warriors win in Miami]

In other words, they continue to get people heated up about a season that would make We Believe look like We Feel Like Our Cough May Be Abating A Bit.

(It is at this point that we should warn those of you who are sarcasm-impaired that the rest of this story will continue along this vein. If you find that off-putting, confusing, or excessively left-handed, you should go somewhere else. Or grit your teeth and misunderstand it with all your might. The choice if yours. For the rest of you, we will continue).

In beating the defending NBA champions on their own floor for only the fourth time in 31 tries going back 20 years, the Warriors have done the unconscionable – they have forced a fan base accustomed to temper its hopes and expectations to ratchet them wildly upward.

And that means what, children? Demands, more expectations, more demands. Suddenly folks on the street are going to remember that they know more about basketball than the coaches and players, and that if they were only coaching or playing the team would be much better than the one which is currently on a pace to win 56 games.

(And yes, we know that “on a pace to” is the lousiest phrase in sports. Go with us here a bit, will ya?)

It means angst and arguing about what will happen when Andrew Bogut returns, and how Andris Biedrins should be in the rotation more, and when Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes are going to hit the rookie wall, and whether Carl Landry or Jarrett Jack should win Comeback Player of the Year.

[RELATED: Ratto -- What will Andrew Bogut's return mean to the Warriors?

It means bullying their way into conversations about the NBA that Laker and Heat and Celtic and Maverick and Spur and Thunder fans have been holding behind their backs for . . . well, 35 years now.

It means tavern fights.

All because the Warriors don’t know how to gradually escape earth orbit. They are 5-0 on a seven-game road trip, entering Orlando Friday night – the same Orlando that so thoughtfully reminded them that the NBA is no place for children by slapping them on their own floor a week and change ago.

And all because they couldn’t turn down the thermostat a bit by losing at Washington the night after winning at Brooklyn.

And all because they are doing this while the Lakers are aggressively stinking out the division. They’ve suddenly become some sort of ESPN charity case, as though the Staples Center was damaged in Superstorm Sandy and desperately needs not only Steve Nash’s return but a relief concert with Billy Joel and Paul McCartney as the septuagenarian headliners.

Now how do the Warriors expect the customers to hold their pants on with all that happening?

It is this level of wasteful emotion that imperils what we have all safely and comfortably predicted for them – a nice 38- to 42-win season in which improvement is evident yet not overwhelming. It is a classic example of getting out over one’s skis, as the tragically hip like to say. They are Peaking Too Early.

Not for themselves, of course. They presumably have been told that every win now is a game that cannot be a loss later, and that playing defense and rebounding are not just a jocular repudiation of the failed basketball of the last two decades, but a way of life. They’re doing fine.

But in doing fine, they imperil the rest of us. The bandwagon hasn’t even been fitted for the second axle yet and already it looks like a refugee ship. The carefully crafted plan for slow, solid growth that can last more than a few years is being abandoned for the more fashionable win-two-out-of-every-three-games nonsense that has attracted the Heat and Mavs and Lakers and Spurs and Celtics.

We are faced with a choice far too early in our development – buy in now, buy in later, or don’t buy in at all. The third choice seems increasingly foolish, the second seems prudent but a bit Elmer Fudd-like, and the first just seems throw-the-empties-out-the-sun-roof reckless.

Warrior fans are not used to this level of agony before Christmas. This is plainly wrong and unfair, and the mass vertigo of the moment cannot be good for anyone’s constitution.

Maybe what the Warriors need, then, is a Great Time Out.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll run out the back door so as not to be struck by any flying beer steins.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

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AP

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.
 

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.