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Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

March Madness is set to begin this week, and Buffalo’s usual college basketball rooting interest – Syracuse – is out on a self-imposed ban. To make up for the loss, though, the UB Bulls picked up the slack. Accumulating a sparkling 23-9 record, the Bulls won their conference, picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament bid, and are now 12-seeded in the Midwest bracket with most onlookers pegging them a potential Cinderella team. People are starting to awaken to and embrace UB Athletics, and having gone to that school myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope the March Madness brackets fall into chaos and fire!

Buffalo, however, doesn’t embrace basketball the way it does football, hockey, or even baseball. The sport has a flashy image here, perhaps because so many of the sport’s face teams – both college and professional – like to depend on players who are runners and gunners. Flash doesn’t reek of brutal, unrelenting physicality, and since Buffalo is a very ruffian city, flash and dash mojo isn’t something we’re able to relate to. But for those willing to look beyond the sport’s advertised razzle dazzle, there is a rough and tumble sport in which all the sports positives we want to pass on to the younger generation remain true: Defense wins championships. A great player can be overcome by good, old-fashioned teamwork. Work hard, practice, cooperate with others, and never give up or let up, and you can succeed. Basketball is also a sport anyone can play – the only real necessity is the ball. Really, it’s surprising more people in Buffalo don’t take to the hoops, and that’s just a shame because Buffalo has contributed so much to the sport. Here is the hidden history of basketball in Buffalo and how it made some powerful contributions to the sport we’ve come to know and love.

Yes, yes, the Braves. It wasn’t an especially long time ago that Buffalo was home to the Buffalo Braves, a fast break team similar to the Golden State Warriors teams of the last few years. The Braves are still around these days, plying their trade as the Los Angeles Clippers, and with the Clippers having been the poster children of terrible basketball until a few years ago, the Braves shadow still hangs over them; until Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Braves years were the only consistently good years in the team’s history, and even they weren’t out of control, video game records. Focusing only on the fact that the Braves are now the Clippers, though, ignores a bunch of more individual contributions from the team that are written on the NBA’s hardwood.

There’s no conversation about the Braves that can be a proper conversation without Bob McAdoo. The second overall pick of the 1972 NBA Draft, McAdoo is still the name most people who are knowledgeable on all things NBA associate with the Buffalo Braves. For the first five years of his career, McAdoo was a Brave and a possible all-time great. In the 1974 season, McAdoo became the most recent NBA player to average 30 points and 15 rebounds per game, and led the league in field goal shooting percentage. The following season, he was given the league MVP Award. Now, I don’t know if the people reading this are NBA fans, but if not, here’s something you have to know about the NBA’s MVP Award: They don’t give it to schlubs. The NBA gives us arguably the greatest displays of athleticism on the planet, and its MVP Award means more than it does in any other league. Consider that in baseball, the MVP is most often a guy who hits a ball three times out of ten, is on and off the field the other seven times, and therefore isn’t getting a ton of time on the field, and that’s not even covering the fact that there’s a controversy about how often pitchers are given the award. In football, there are no two-way players – you’re either on offense or on defense, and there seems to be a serious bias against defensive players in the MVP voting there as well. Hockey players frequently do play two ways, but 20 minutes a game is a lot. NBA stars are expected to play around 35 minutes of a 48-minute game in both directions. In any case, McAdoo was also a three-time scoring champion, five-time All-Star, and Rookie of the Year. While his NBA career ran for another ten years after the Braves cut him loose – and he reeled in a pair of rings on the bench for the Showtime Lakers – all of his great individual achievements happened during his first five years in Buffalo.

The Braves also helped usher in the era of coaching legend Jack Ramsay. Ramsay was by far the best best the Braves had in their eight-year existence. After leaving the Braves, Ramsay established his reputation as a coaching genius in 1977, his first year as the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, by leading them to their first – and so far, only – NBA Championship. Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers until 1986, then took over head coaching duties for the Indiana Pacers until 1988, when he retired for good. Although no one would throw Ramsay’s coach cred against Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Gregg Popovich, or Pat Riley, he is still mentioned alongside others like Chuck Daly, Red Holzman, and Lenny Wilkens as one of the all-time great NBA coaches.

The accolades don’t stop there. The Braves actually produced a small handful of people in the Basketball Hall of Fame: Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Adrian Dantley, Dolph Schayes, and for all of two games, Moses Malone. McAdoo, Dantley, and Ernie DiGregorio were all Rookies of the Year with the Braves, and perpetual fan favorite Randy Smith was once the MVP of the All-Star Game.

Did you know, though, that the Braves were only the second professional basketball team in the city’s history? In 1946, the NBL created a team called the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons, however, were apparently not sustainable, and the team got up and walked out after the first 13 games of its existence. Although they left Buffalo, that doesn’t mean they were dissolved, even though it was professional basketball’s wild, anything-goes era. The Bisons merely hightailed it to Moline, Illinois, a city in what was called the Tri-Cities area (it’s now called the Quad Cities area), and became the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. That lasted longer, until 1951, when the Blackhawks decided they needed to move to a bigger city and change their name a little, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks. In 1955, the team moved to St. Louis, and for the next 13 years, the St. Louis Hawks matured, came of age, won their only Championship, and were one of the marquee teams in the NBA. The good times didn’t last, though, but the Buffalo Bisons are still around, and in fact, they’re the best team in the Eastern Conference as I write this. You know them as today’s Atlanta Hawks.

Those teams don’t cover all the players who were born in Buffalo. The most notable Buffalo natives in the NBA are probably Bob Lanier, the Detroit Pistons great who owned a 20.87 PPG career average, and Cliff Robinson. Buffalo native Greg Oden was a first overall draft pick in 2007 who didn’t pan out. Christian Laettner, arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, also came from the area, which is actually a little bit regretful because it makes it more difficult to properly hate Duke. I guess when that’s considered, it’s only appropriate that one of Laettner’s teammates, Bobby Hurley, is the current coach of the Bulls.

If you want to bring the whole of upstate New York into it, then get this: Today’s Sacramento Kings are the oldest team in the NBA, having started out as a factory team in the 1920’s called the Rochester Seagrams in Rochester, while the Philadelphia 76ers began as the Syracuse Nationals. There’s also the little matter of that basketball-oriented university team in ‘Cuse that produced Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Coleman, and several others who averaged double-digit PPG.

Could you imagine the Buffalo All-Star team? Jack Ramsay as coach, and featuring Lanier, McAdoo, Robinson, and all the others. I can surmise that if we were to put the Buffalo All-Stars against the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 1986 Boston Celtics, 1996 Chicago Bulls, or any of those other all-time great squads, we would see… Well, uh, we’d see the Buffalo team get kicked to the curb in an epically one-sided stomping. (If we want to bring the rest of upstate New York into it, though, including players for the relocated teams, it would be a whole other story; any legend team brought to the hardwoord would find itself also dealing with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Webber, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, and Allen Iverson as well.) In any case, though, anyone with respect for the sports history in Buffalo would do well to give basketball a chance.

If I were Infallible Dictator… I Mean, uh, Mayor

If I were Infallible Dictator… I Mean, uh, Mayor

What say, for a minute, that Buffalo’s Mayor was suddenly and tragically killed in a snow, football, and chicken wing-related incident and, through a series of wacky mishaps, I fell into position as Mayor of Buffalo. I can tell you now the first thing I would do: Assuming that everyone on the City Council died “mysterious” deaths, I would use the ensuing power void to tighten my grip and expand my authority, thus making myself from the mere Mayor into the Infallible Dictator of Buffalo. Maybe that comes off as a little harsh, but considering what I have in store for the city, I can’t take the chance of anyone there standing in the way of my grand plans. Yes, a giant laser would be involved. Actually, now that I think of it, two of them would be involved: One pointed at Albany and the other aimed straight at New York City. Before I started going all Bond villain on the state’s ass, though, I would first try to spruce up the quality of life in Buffalo in the following ways:

NFTA
It’s not a public secret that Buffalo’s public transit system is neither. What I would want to do is introduce the NFTA to the free market, so that when it died its inevitable death, it would go out knowing exactly how much it sucks. Buffalo’s public transit issues would ideally be solved when I brought a few enterprising transportation visionaries to Buffalo and gave them a few incentives to set up shop as the local people movers. Hopefully, the competition would drive the NFTA to get its act together, quit dropping routes to the city’s poorest neighborhoods, start providing something that resembles weekend and holiday services, and send its buses around on inner ‘burb routes more than once every two hours. If it acted the way it acts now in the face of real competition, I would watch and laugh as it died its slow death and their leaders kept begging for more funding. It had its chance. It blew it. And as a bonus, the city could finally liberate that undeveloped waterfront property the NFTA owns and refuses to do anything with.

Main Place Mall and Tower
A free market solution won’t do much more to the building that got me into The Buffalo News – the free market already killed this place, but its owners are too dumb to know it. One could liken Main Place Mall to a movie villain that just doesn’t go down, no matter how much the good guy keeps shooting at it. At any rate, the place gets demolished, and we get replica replacements of the Erie County Savings Bank and every other building that was wiped out to make room for Buffalo Place, except with updated, modern amenities. (Actually, I would hope the architect for this project would try to reproduce the interior of Main Place Tower’s lobby; to the little credit that can be given to it, the lobby is gorgeous.) Maybe we could also convince the Liberty Building owners to demolish that enormous nook on the mall side that ruins its symmetry in order to connect the two. For now, though, well, you do realize Seneca Mall was razed when people stopped going and businesses weren’t renting space there anymore, right?

Skyway
This is my infrastructure archenemy. While I’ve seen numerous proposals to turn it into a long, floating park, all those proposals have the same problem: They’re impractical. Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea, but there’s no way it’s getting done. Think about it; we’re barely able to maintain the skyway the way it is now, and one of the popular ideas involves year-round maintenance of lawn, glass-enclosed walkways, safety devices, asphalt pathways, and god only knows what else on top of the current structure. Meanwhile, tearing the whole thing down would be $10 million. The city spent more than that on Pilot Field! Therefore, I’m doing the easy thing here and ripping down the skyway. It would remove an eyesore, open up the waterfront to the Old First Ward, and make Tifft Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard more accessible. We could also get more green space in the city without it sitting there by giving the ruins a light landscaping makeover.

The Whole Stadium Issue
When Ralph Wilson died last year, I was impressed as I watched The Buffalo News raise the question of whether or not it would be right for Buffalo to keep the Bills. Then Terry Pegula bought the team, and The News dropped all pretense of economic and logistic issues and started debating about where to put the new stadium. It’s offensive that the idea of placing a stadium anywhere downtown is even being considered – a new downtown stadium would mean devastating property blows to Larkin, or the Cobblestone District, or both. The Larkin and Cobblestone Districts are both being held up as shining examples of the New Buffalo. Both are new neighborhoods which were built up around stagnant, abandoned property thought to offer nothing but potential parking lots. A downtown stadium would be a classic example of Buffalo shooting itself in the foot, 60’s urban renewal style. A good alternate site would be the old Central Terminal – we could give the classic piece a shining and buffing, and build the stadium right around it, perhaps turning the train platforms themselves into the entryway and the building into a fan zone and souvenir shop. Oh, and one more thing: I won’t be taking any shit from the NFL. It makes $9 billion a year. It’s footing the bill for this thing. Otherwise, the Bills are playing at Southside Elementary until I’m formally able to throw them out of the area.

One HSBC Tower
No, I don’t care what name they’re slopping all over it at the moment. Hell, the only reason I’m calling it One HSBC Tower is so it has a proper reference that everyone knows. To me, it will always be the oversized refrigerator box ruining the skyline that even cockroaches think is below their standards. The place is almost completely vacant, and knocking down the tower would immediately improve the skyline. We can hang on to the base, though – it would make a fine new convention center. Not because it’s any prettier than the tower (or the current Convention Center, in fact), but because it wouldn’t destroy the skyline, and it doesn’t choke off any streets.

Buffalo Convention Center
Speak of the devil. This is an ugly disparagement to the city’s radial pattern which also chokes off traffic. It just gets destroyed.

Delaware Park
I don’t think Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of Delaware Park, would have approved of the huge landscaping blunder which guts it: The Scajaquada Expressway, which some idiot city planner thought would be a good idea to place in the middle of the park, bisecting it. Let’s face it; placing a high-speed road in the middle of a park doesn’t exactly scream “Welcome to our fun, friendly place of relaxation, meditation, and escape;” instead, it says “Nobody in this city gives a shit about physical exercise and fresh air, parks are just another span to drive across when you’re late for a football game.” This just isn’t going to do. Therefore, I’m going to make it into a large bicycle and walking trail, planting a few trees along the sides and through the middle, basically turning this chunk of the Scajaquada into a nice, tree-lined boulevard without the cars.

I guess I can amend this to say that all brutalist and modernist architecture built during the revitalization era from the ’60’s to the ’90’s should be removed and replaced with more of the Victorian and Gothic buildings that stood the test of time. We’re not trying to win any height contests here; we’re trying to bring some beauty to the area and get rid of the empty monuments that remain of the people who jumped ship. I can almost certainly think of more things to do than this – off the top of me head, the Buffalo Museum of Science could use an expansion, and why the hell does the city have so many parking lots? – but this should be enough to get the community’s creative juices pumping again. Maybe some of you think these ideas are a little farfetched, but if so, just remember two things: First, our (ongoing?) fiasco with the Peace Bridge involved a suspension bridge twin span which looked nothing like the current bridge; second, the city was once dangerously close to hinging its entire economic development plan on a fishing store.

As Seen in the Buffalo News

As Seen in the Buffalo News

I’m guessing a few of you who are stopping by over the next week are new here and dropped in because my name turned up in The Buffalo News, so first of all, here’s a quick explanation: I became a victim of the economy a few years ago, which forced me to move from my adopted hometown of Chicago back to my native Buffalo. I started this blog as a personal journal for my friends back in Chicago. I still write posts like that sometimes, but this blog slowly turned from that into a running cultural commentary, so I went with the gradual transformation. (My life, by the way, is almost back on track – I just have a couple more humps I’m trying to get over. They’re big ones, but not insurmountable.)

Second, I’d like to thank The Buffalo News for the mention, and Stephen T. Watson in particular. The few things I’ve said about The Buffalo News here haven’t been especially nice, but for this, I can give them high marks for real professionalism.

Third, between schoolwork and my ideas running a little dry at the moment, this inspired my next post – it will be an explanation of what I would knock down and replace if I was the Mayor of Buffalo. So check back for that in the next few days.

Fourth, here’s the article Watson mentioned:
https://windynickel.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/buildings-in-buffalo-that-look-like-they-could-be-found-in-star-wars/

And here’s a more in-depth attack on Main Place Mall:
https://windynickel.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/the-commercial-death-star-the-worlds-most-useless-shopping-mall/

Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s: The Ultimate Donut Shop!

Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s: The Ultimate Donut Shop!

Ah, donuts. Quite possibly the world’s most perfect pastry treat. It says something that whenever people begin their attacks on large, corporate fast food chains, the big donut shops always seem to escape relatively unscathed. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, it’s saying, but I’m sure it’s something. In any case, donuts are delicious. I love them, you love them, and there’s nothing better than going into a neighborhood donut shop on a freezing winter day to order our favored center-hole (or cream-filled) pastry with a nice cup of hot coffee and reading for an hour.

The big question, of course, is figuring out where you want to go to do that. Well, of course there’s always your local joint, but as much as I promote as much locality as possible in matters like this, there are those local places that just aren’t suited to the quiet atmosphere you’re looking for to get out of the cold and lose yourself inside a book for awhile. So as much as I don’t like going to the big places, they’re good at serving that purpose, and I frequently like to take advantage. If you live in the United States or Canada, your choices for such a joint are set in stone: Americans can take advantage of Dunkin’ Donuts, while Canadians have access to Tim Horton’s. But what if you’re living along the border and have ready access to both? Which one do you go to? Well, I’m one of those rare border people who is as likely to visit Dunkin’ as much as he is Timmy’s, and I say it’s time to mine a definitive answer to which one of these places is better. So let’s do this! Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Horton’s. One day, I’ll learn.

Donuts
Well, these places are both donut shops, so we might as well start with the obvious. Both Dunkin’ and Timmy’s are known and, well, at least tolerated for their abilities to whip up batches of creative donuts. Both bakeries have a habit of expanding their selections on a seasonal basis – Dunkin’ even offers a selection of donuts for Valentine’s Day, featuring donuts filled with cookie dough or brownie batter. Timmy’s goes for a more localized basis, and when football and hockey seasons roll around, they have pastries dedicated to the local teams – even the Bulls if you happen to be on the University of Buffalo campus. In the fall, Timmy’s has pumpkin donuts, and Dunkin’ has a seasonal selection more based around apples. When it comes down to the actual structure of the donuts, though, well, those tend to be pretty different too. The donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts are bigger and more dense while the ones at Tim Horton’s are fluffier, airier, and easier to chew on.
Winner
I know this is blasphemy in this area, but I’m giving this edge to Dunkin’ Donuts. Although I think Tim Horton’s probably has the better selection, I tend to think of donuts as dense treats that need to be washed down with a nice batch of brewed coffee, so the variety at Timmy’s just isn’t going to be an acceptable substitute if I decide I want a regular, classic Boston Creme or peanut donut. Dunkin’ does the classics pretty well, and that’s what this whole section comes down to.

Coffee
There’s nothing like a cup of bold, robust coffee to wash down your pastries, so both places offer combinations that include it, along with a wide variety of ways to spice it up. Both places offer iced coffee and dark roasts, as well as a set of cappuccino drinks. There’s not much else to say about coffee – it’s pleasantly bitter and hot, can go with any food, and is a nice way to warm up.
Winner
Tim Horton’s wins this one by a mile. Not only is their dark roast better, but if you go to Dunkin’ Donuts, you have to order the dark roast in order to have a drink that tastes even remotely like coffee. And even then, the Dunkin’ Donuts dark roast is more like one of those vending machine coffees; something that’s there, quick, painless, and convenient that you can drink when you’re in dire need of a pick-me-up. The regular Dunkin’ Donuts coffee has been likened to dishwater, although I personally prefer to compare it to hot water which has been flavored with ink. There’s not much difference, though, and the message remains the same: Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is something that can be thrown out without regret.

Bagels
The redheaded stepchild of the regular donut, bagels aren’t as soft or sweet, but you get to fill them up with butter and cream cheese. And Dunkin’ Donuts makes its bagels considerably bigger than Tim Horton’s, so there’s more for the price and more room for cream cheese. Unfortunately, Dunkin’ bagels also tend to be rather chewy, and also very difficult to bite off. They’re more like the bagels a lot of us get from grocery store bakeries. The bagels at Timmy’s are smaller, and they don’t offer quite as much variety when it comes to toppings, but if you want the bagel sliced and toasted, first of all, it really tastes like its been sliced and toasted and not merely heated in a saucepan for ten seconds. They are hard but just soft enough for you to be able to eat without chipping your teeth, but Timmy’s isn’t quite as generous with the cream cheese. Both places offer a great variety of bagels, from your regular flavors to temporary seasonal offerings.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. Not only are the bagels more like real bagels, they go a lot better with butter if you’re not up for cream cheese. Also, their bagels are a lot more flavorful and taste like exactly what they’re supposed to taste like. The way they’re baked is excellent – you don’t wear yourself out trying to chew one of them.

Muffins
The larger, tastier, more filling, and less healthy alternative to the donut is an incredible treat at Dunkin’ Donuts. Moist, gooey, and packed with whatever flavor you ordered, there’s really not much of a contest to be had in this department… Until you get to know the various branches of Dunkin’ Donuts are realize they all seem to use very different muffin recipes. And that’s a real key here – Dunkin’ muffins COULD be the best you find anywhere, IF you happen to find a branch that does them well. Unfortunately, just as often, you’re also likely to find Dunkin’ muffins that are stale or dry. Tim Horton’s muffins are significantly smaller, and their best don’t hold a candle to the best at Dunkin’. However, there’s a more interesting selection at Timmy’s, and some of their muffins have small pockets filled with an appropriate cream or jelly. Although Dunkin’ ultimately has the higher quality muffins, Timmy’s makes up for its lesser quality with better consistency – a muffin cooked is going to be done in a particular way whether it’s done at Harborcenter or the University of Buffalo campus. The quality remains the same no matter where you are.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. And my god, what a place for Dunkin’ Donuts to squander its potential. Dunkin’ seemed to find the perfect way to make muffins, and yet, it can’t get that method of baking to every store. Hell, in my experience, it can’t get its baking methods to half its stores, and so you have a scattershot chance of finding the best of any particular kind of muffin that gets served at Dunkin’ Donuts. This kind of roulette has never happened at Tim Horton’s. I’ll grant that Dunkin’s blueberry muffins are consistent, but sometimes, I just want a damn chocolate chip muffin that isn’t fucking stale! Or a pumpkin muffin that doesn’t completely crumble after I take my first bite!

Sandwiches
There’s a decent selection of sandwiches at both donut joints. At Dunkin’ Donuts, you get the feeling that everything that’s not one of their breakfast sandwiches was whipped up in a hurry using leftover breakfast materials with lunch meat. Not that I’m docking them for that in itself, because some of those selections are pretty tasty – their turkey sandwiches make a good, fast lunch sandwich in a pinch. Tim Horton’s does subs – or, really, half-subs, bigger than the sandwiches you’re likely to find at Burger King. There aren’t a whole lot of varieties of them, and it feels more like Timmy’s is banking more on its own selection of infallible breakfast sandwiches, which include biscuit sandwiches. Their selection of breakfast sandwiches is pretty standard, and has the usual ingredients, like eggs, sausage, cheese, and bacon.
Winner
Tim Horton’s. Dunkin’ Donuts seems to have whipped up half its menu as a compliment to its putrid coffee. That’s a bad enough crime as it is, but Dunkin’ compounds it by demanding you pay lunch sandwich prices for most of them. At Tim Horton’s, you can actually get a sizable lunch sandwich for an appropriate price.

And the winner of this contest is Tim Horton’s, and a four-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer destroys one of the silliest, most unsophisticated uses of the word “dunk.” Although, let’s be honest: The real winner in this contest would be Ipsento. Or Spot. Or Coffee Culture, or Sweetness 7, or whatever other local cafe serves coffee and pastries for the local intellectuals. The small places seem to get it right every time.

Health, Models, and the Fashion Media

Health, Models, and the Fashion Media

I can’t say I ever understood the appeal of those waif-thin models that kept popping up everywhere back in the 90’s. Their figures were terrible – they all looked like they would soon be whisked away in the next light breeze, plus their apparent attitudes seemed to run the gamut from neutral to indifferent. Occasionally, they might come across as surly. Sure, there was Tyra Banks, but she was an exception; the general rule of 90’s models was that if you threw them off the top of the Sears Tower, they should be able to float down, unharmed.

When Adrianna Lima first broke through in the mid-millennium, I got the sense a big shift in the modeling landscape was about to occur. Then Kate Upton appeared, and all bets were off. It would be a great lie if I wrote that Upton’s radiating sex appeal had nothing to do with her impressive chest, especially considering how often fashion designers put her in clothes which serve to accentuate it. (Let’s call this the Tomb Raider approach.) There is, however, more to Upton’s sex appeal than merely her breasts. I think the ultimate appeal of Kate Upton is that she appears to be healthy and happy working in an industry which, until recently, demanded that no one in it – man or woman – be either. Far from being the bitchy cheerleader or vapid, humorless icebox, Upton always seems prepared with a smile and a witty quip, signs of her being warm, personable, and approachable. Her body type is also different from the 90’s prototype: Although we can’t trick ourselves into believing the average Jane will ever have a body resembling Upton’s, Upton herself doesn’t seem to show any of the typical signs of starvation or deprivation that were once everywhere in the industry. Her ribs aren’t about to claw their way out of her thorax, and her skin doesn’t seem to have any abrasions or tightness which would signify her sharing of one mini-carrot a day with three other models as a diet. In short, Kate Upton takes care of herself.

The fashion media – and hell, we can expand that to include the entire high fashion industry itself – can’t seem to bring itself to figure this out. Both the industry and the media dedicated to covering it have decided that models need to look a certain way, right down to facial expressions during runway shows. Upton is, for some odd reason, assailed by fashion commentators for being too fat. Other criticisms include that she has an average face and that her waist is too large for a true hourglass figure. Upton also has a habit of speaking candidly instead of letting herself being reduced to a smiling, nodding corporate token in her interviews.

Anyone who read my last extinct list knows how I feel about the fashion media, and its appalling treatment and inability to make heads or tails of Kate Upton is a major reason why. The fashion media is the one wing of the news which is even more useless than Fox News. Everyone who covers high-end fashion seems to be even more out of touch with the public than the United States Congress. That, though, could just be the nature of the business. After all, this is a group of so-called journalists who spend all their time watching runway shows which feature clothes with space hooker designs which never seem to find their way to the masses, worn by size -3 models which, because the big-name designers have decided -3 models are the standard-bearers of beauty, the journalists have decided the designers know what they’re talking about and therefore follow suit by being disgusted by a size -2 anorexic.

Now the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue this year is featuring two models who are being constantly referred to as plus-size models. Although current Jeter girl toy Hannah Davis is featured on the cover, the newest Swimsuit Issue is being noted for the presence of Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley. Lawley is a size 12 and Graham flaunts her size 14 figure. Both of them are drop-dead gorgeous… And both of them are being attacked in the fashion media for having bodies which, by most accounts, can be considered both attainable and normal. Hell, Lawley is deflecting shots these days because there’s a whole other crowd of people who are in an uproar that anyone would ever consider her plus-size. Graham – whose picture I’ve placed in the inset – appears to be a bit bigger than average, but she’s definitely not out of shape.

Now comes the money question: What’s the big deal? Lawley and Graham are a hell of a lot closer to what the girl next door actually looks like. Is the problem with them that Mr. Klein can’t make a bigger version of an outfit which is a dress on one leg and a pant leg on the other that is only going to be seen in show once before the plebes all forget about it? Because if that’s the problem, the uber-rich designers are probably in the wrong line of work.

2015 is shaping up to be one of the most annoying, palm/forehead smacking, bemusement-sighing years on record – it’s only February, and yet the year has already seen some of the most inane controversies imaginable. And this might be the most absurd: Two otherwise gorgeous and healthy women who happen to have very normal body types are in a magazine full of near-naked women. The outrage is being fueled entirely by a wing of the media which is apparently offended by the fact that Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley both lack visible skeletal structures. That’s the only impetus I can really decipher behind all this animosity.

Suddenly, the days when Barbie was catching flack for her unrealistic body type don’t seem so far gone. We know more about healthy lifestyles then ever before, and there’s a growing section of the populace which is altering its lifestyle in order to be healthy. And yet, here are the vapid chimps in the fashion media, desiring and promoting a body type which little girls were literally starving themselves all throughout the 90’s in order to attain, even as most of the men called the Flockhart body unattractive. Thanks to a band of writers who apparently can’t make their livings writing things that are legit, the planet is now taking a giant step backwards in regards to healthy lifestyles. They’ve gotten so obsessive about unhealthy, impossible thinness that we’re considering normal-sized women fat.

So, how many of these commentators do you think adhere to the standard of beauty they’re busy trying to maintain themselves? My guess is that it’s not too many of them.

Marcus Borg and the Atheist

Marcus Borg and the Atheist

I went atheist in 2005, and in retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have taken that long. After all, I had spent an enormous number of the previous years being told half-truths and outright falsities in two different religions which effectively brainwashed me into thinking the sky god was going to smite my ass the second I had any kind of thought he considered impure. Of course, impure thoughts to my god were more like what popular culture considered impure thoughts to god: No booze, no sex, no swearing, no blasphemy – you know, all the best-known euphemisms for “no fun.” I had also learned in both direct and indirect manners that I had to look down on all the heathens and work hard to show them the great holy light.

Unfortunately for all the ministers I had during that time, I also had an inquisitive personality and had met enough different kinds of people that I learned to overlook their backgrounds. There was no way I would ever be able to do this religion thing both ways, and seeing as how the latest text message from either of my religions had arrived in the Dark Ages, it was god and religion that finally got the boot. Switching religions is a weird experience, and leaving it completely can give a longtime believer the heebie-jeebies. I developed an immediate hate for all religions at first which sent me into a good year-and-a-half-long spat with, for lack of a better term, shock. Religious belief isn’t something you can turn on and off if you were interpreting your teachings the way I was. It was a slow, gradual realization, and by the time I reached my big “Eureka!” moment, I was overcome with anger – anger at myself for being a blind dummy, anger at this god I suddenly didn’t believe in, and anger at the system that had successfully warped me into thinking “can’t sleep; god will eat me” all the damn time. I entered a period where all discussion about religion resulted in my impersonation of a Fox News pundit.

Ten years after the fact, my relationship with god is still irreparably ruined. My relationship with religion, though, began a significant upturn in the last half of 2006. I happened to be invited into a religious community with an open mind and an acceptance of anyone at face value. I gravitated toward them because I could talk or ask questions about religion and not get simple answers. Later, we held book groups, and it was in those groups that I started reading the work of Christian scholar Marcus Borg.

Most of my friends claimed Borg’s most famous books, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, as their biggest influences. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten around to reading either of those, so my first look at a Marcus Borg book was The Heart of Christianity. To put it bluntly, it was a whopper. There was eye-opening, revelatory material on virtually every page. Borg frequently questioned the stuff written in The Bible and invited his readers to look at the old historical context of everything written in it. It was primarily through the writing of Marcus Borg that I started to realize my beef with religion wasn’t exactly religion itself so much as it is the contemporary way of practicing it. It soon dawned on me that I’d had it all wrong – religion was never about easy answers or morally black and white viewpoints, and my big mistake all these years was in trying to interpret it that way.

I later got around to reading more of Borg’s work, like Speaking Christian and The Last Week. They kept right on crushing everything I thought I knew about religion. What I keep interpreting out of Borg’s work are messages contemporary followers of Cowboy Jesus fight like hell to deny: Religion is a dynamic entity that keeps growing and changing with the times. As religion evolves, its followers also evolve for both better and worse. So while both the fundamentalists and progressives are both willing to argue that followers in the past had it wrong, they frequently disagree on the direction in which religion was meant to evolve in. My view on Jesus himself was also radically altered; I ultimately began subscribing to a view of Jesus as a radical rebel who was executed in a gruesome way because he spent his life mouthing off to the wrong social caste. This was a form of Jesus I could actually follow and appreciate.

I started reading books written by other religious scholars as well, the most notable of which is probably Brian McClaren. They all managed to drill into my head a lot of things my younger, more fundamentalist self would have cringed at: Probably the most important thing they had to teach me was that being a good Christian meant doubling down to improve your community rather than your church. I also started to see that being Christian as applied during the Roman Era didn’t mean switching your set of religious beliefs, which meant that anyone who wanted to be Christian within the community was welcome – early Christianity, in fact, was considered just an odd little offshoot of traditional Judaism. In other words, truly old school Christians were able to be anything while still being Christians. Since Christianity was based more around the strength of a community which rejected the Roman caste system, being Christian didn’t require the acceptance of the god/man hybrid today’s Christianity revolves around. In fact, it didn’t really revolve around the acceptance of a god at all.

That makes possible what should be an impossible contradiction: My reconnection with Christianity went hand-in-hand with a fierce reinforcement of my atheism. No, I’m not going to call myself a Christian again, but the work of Marcus Borg has given me a view of religion which is a little like The Doctor’s view of humanity: Extremely frustrating because of what it gets used to justify, but I’m also in awe of its potential for good. Yeah, you might say I’m now completely lost and confused, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; after all, being lost and confused is frequently the best way to see clearly.

The Rooters’ Rules: A Guide to Sports Loyalty

The Rooters’ Rules: A Guide to Sports Loyalty

Well, it’s that time of year again. Five months and 20 football games ago, the NFL set sail for its 2014 season. Now it’s playoff time, and the field of 32 has been narrowed down to 12 – actually, it’s eight now that Wild Card Weekend is over – and the biggest league in the United States will soon be crowning its national champion. You might be familiar with a particular NFL commercial which has been airing all season in which a typical midwestern woman explains how her family of Vikings fans gradually turned into a family with Eagles, Bengals, Cowboys, and Steelers fans, and I’m not sure I’m remembering the entire mass of adopted team loyalties there. Now, astute observers might have noticed that later versions of that commercial made a very subtle but important change to one of the lines: When explaining how one of the family members became a Steelers fan, they say he did it because he moved to Pittsburgh. The first version said he became a Steelers fan after he ate a few burgers at a local restaurant which were named after the Steelers’ quarterback. It’s a good change; the original version implied that the kid made a loyalty change because he ate a burger. I’m less finicky about attacking team loyalties than most other fans, but really, that one hinged on “Dude, why do you even bother at all?!” territory. As far as loyalty switches go, that one was inexcusable.

It did, however, make me start wondering about what rules we follow for keeping our sports loyalties, which allowed me to come up with this little guidebook about picking and holding onto your favorite sports teams.

General Guidelines for Picking a Team
First and foremost: If the area you live in has a particular loyalty to a team in the sport you follow, you must follow that team. If you live in a city that doesn’t have a team, then it’s helpful to follow whatever team the other locals are following – this is why it’s helpful to follow the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin and the New York Yankees in New York – although it frees you up to pick any team you want. Your city isn’t directly involved with any sports rivalries the preferred team may have, after all, so you can do what you want.

If you’re in a place without a team, you’re free to try on teams like hats to see how they fit. You have to remember, though, you’re not necessarily looking for the best team. You’re looking for the one that’s the best fit. There’s a difference. Hanging on to the winning team for no reason other than an obsession with choosing the best team makes you look like a pathetic bandwagoner. If you choose one of the league’s face teams, brush up on your history because you’re going to need to defend yourself. Hell, brush up on your favorite team’s history anyway. Not only will it make you appreciate what you’ve gotten into to a fuller extent, it will help you understand the beliefs and traditions of long-term fans, and form a bond with the team.

If you live in a city without a team in the sport you follow and the league suddenly drops in with an expansion team, you have the option of either keeping your old team or adopting the expansion. You can do as you will; this is one instance where no one will bother you about a switch. You better be willing to suffer and grow if you adopt the new one, though; trying to jump back to the old one during a good stretch makes you a bandwagoner, especially if the new one is going through typical expansion pains.

When trying on teams, look for local connections. I started following an entire sport because a guy who went to my high school was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. After he fell out of the NBA, I spent the next few years adopting new teams to see which one fit me the best, and I ran through loyalties the way a plow runs through snow. (I even started this blog during a phase of trying-on with the New York Knicks, and have run through three more teams since. Eventually, though, I made my way back to the Sixers. I’d like to see you accuse me of bandwagoning for THAT switch.) Feel free to waive a local connection if the team was ever based in your city and left, though; you wouldn’t stick with them if they walked out during your lifetime, so no one will blame you for avoiding them now.

Along those same lines: If your hometown did once field a team, but that team left before you were born, you’ve hit the statute of limitations. Don’t feel guilty about adopting them just because they walked off. Older fans may give you grief, but younger fans won’t care.

There’s no habit lower than fantanking. You spend your money to see the greatest athletes in the world play at their best, and yet you’re demanding they go against all their competitive instincts in a race to the bottom of the standings on the half-chance they’ll pick up the next great superstar in the next draft and be competitive in, oh, say, three more years? Read that out loud and see how absurd it sounds. Then try to imagine how bad it sounds to a guy who makes his living playing a professional sport. Those athletes aren’t going to be able to play forever, and asking them to play dead for multiple years while their teams maybe build a contender if everything goes right and a half-witted thought which doesn’t even guarantee success in a few years, so just stop it.

If you live in an area loyal to multiple teams, you get to pick only one of them.

You’re allowed to switch teams outright for the following reasons: 1 – The team moves; no one would blame you for adopting your old team’s archrival for that. 2 – The ownership is a complete embarrassment to the sport. We’re not talking about ordinary bad stretches here; every team goes through those. We’re talking about galactic sins which are evidence of an owner hating his fanbase. You think I never fantasized about leaving the Sabres after Terry Pegula bungled the front office? I did, but Pegula ultimately isn’t a villain. We’re talking guys like Dan Snyder, James Dolan (a major reason I finally concluded the Knicks would never be my team), Jeffery Loria, and Donald Sterling here. (Ironically, I ended up adopting the Chicago Blackhawks when they had reached this depth with their last owner.) 3 – Or you move to a new city and have reached your loyalty limit, and thus have to jettison one of your former teams if you’re hoping to fit in with your new community.

Loyalty Rules in Major Sports (MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS)
You’re allowed to take from one to three teams, but before you go taking more than one, make sure you have some sort of connection with the host city first. A relative, a place you lived, your best friend moved there, something. If you’ve lived in more than three cities, then pick the teams from the cities that contributed the most to who you are.

If you like a team because of a particular player, then you like that player, not his team. I have no problems with switching teams to keep track of a player, but ‘fess up to it. The commercial I was talking about in my opening is a decent example of this – one family member decided she was a Cowboys fan because she met Emmitt Smith, although it goes a bit further there because she had a small bit of face time with him. I do think it’s important for players to try to make time for fans, and if a fan returns an especially pleasant encounter with an opposing player by switching teams, I can accept that. It’s not a solid excuse, but there are so many teams and players presenting themselves as above and beyond the regular folks that I can understand why it would warrant a switch.

When two of your teams play against each other, it’s okay to be neutral.

I can’t emphasize this enough: DO NOT pick a team just because it’s successful. You might be flying high on the recent successes of the New England Patriots, but Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will both retire someday, and when they do, the entire league is going to totally relish the traditional revenge beatings. The Los Angeles Lakers have turned into a freak show as of late. The Detroit Red Wings keep squeaking into the playoffs on a sixth seed, and all the big prize players want to play for their archrivals now. Every team has down periods, including the Yankees, and no one is ever going to admire you for latching on to a team from outside your area, either. So don’t expect anyone to pat you on the back for following whoever is doing well.

Loyalty Rules in Minor Sports
I emphasize keeping yourself local, but in minor sports, you have absolutely no excuse not to. If you’re following a minor league for a major sport, there’s an excellent chance of a team existing in your area. If you’re following a more unusual sport, it will probably be the local team that piqued your interest in it, so don’t turn your back on them just because the dominant team isn’t yours. Minor sports are difficult to follow in a lot of places, so you only get one team per minor league to carry.

Team existences in minor leagues can be insane. Minors think nothing of expanding when they don’t have to, winning three straight titles right off the bat, then folding two years later. Even the most diehard fans can get stuck without teams to follow for years at a time, because every league is a crazy cousin. Therefore, if you move from one area to another, it’s easiest to just switch to the team in your new home than to try to keep following the old one.

Don’t attack opposing fans. While this is always a good rule, it goes double in minor sports because if there are too many incidents, the league may not survive. The last thing they need is to lose fans because of you, so be hospitable.

Exceptions
Some sports are so odd that they require a few exceptional rules of their own.

College Sports
You can pick up as many teams as you want, as long as you were a student at those schools. If you never went to college, you get one team.

If you were a fan of a particular school but you attended college at a different school, it’s okay to keep pledging your loyalty to your old team, but you must always, Always, ALWAYS cheer for the team from your school. If your old favorite team plays against your school, yes, you have to cheer for your school. In short, your school’s team is your team, over and out, no matter how much you claim to prefer the other guys.

You don’t get to split your school loyalties based on sports. That makes you a bandwagon fan. You can only have one school to encompass all the sports, so pick the school that’s best at the sport you like the most.

European Soccer
After your team tryout phase, you get to pick one team. You’re not allowed to switch, ever. Even if your team gets relegated, they’re still your team, and you just have to wait it out until they make it back to the top level. If you made the mistake of adopting Cardiff City FC last season because their first promotion to the top level in 51 years was a nice feel-good story, too bad. You’re stuck.

NFL
Although I cited the NFL above, they’re an exception to every last one of these rules. You’re allowed to carry anywhere from one to 32 teams. The league doesn’t give a shit about its fans, so each and every fandom rule is void. Do anything you want. Someday, the way the NFL is going, it’s all going to be played on a soundstage before a live studio audience anyway, so don’t bother attaching any civic importance to it.

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