Have thoughts on LeBron's parenting? The greatness (or lack thereof) of Kobe Bryant? Now is the time to share.
Welcome to the Weekend Read. This week we canvas the abyss of bad sports takes that occupy the summer, wave hello to the Dream Team and run through our favorite stories of the week. Enjoy.
• Alabama and Clemson are 1–2 in our preseason college football rankings, but we foresee a different foe taking on the Tide in the national title game.
• MLB is a multibillion-dollar business, yet it still needs each baseball to be rubbed with “magic mud.” Meet the man who’s been harvesting it for decades at a secret location. (By Emma Baccellieri)
• Trevor Lawrence is not only the face of college football, but also of a youth movement at QB like we’ve never before seen. (By Ross Dellenger)
• The stories of two minor leaguers who have hit .400 since Ted Williams—one in the Jim Crow South, one in independent ball—are monuments to the resolve it takes to succeed in baseball. (By Tom Verducci)
• Dave Gettleman is the most interesting GM in football—that’s not always a good thing. (By Jonathan Jones)
The Summer of Bad Takes
Parenting isn’t a sport. Yet there it was, being debated on America’s sports networks. In case you were lucky enough to be on vacation, a quick recap: Two weeks ago, LeBron James had some fun at his son’s AAU tournament, dunking pregame and then celebrating—sometimes on the court—as the North Coast Blue Chips went on to win Las Vegas’s Big Time Hoops tournament. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Scene. Until TV got involved.
Clips appeared harmlessly at first, used as “Best of the Weekend”–type filler on ESPN, before Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock ripped James, calling him a “fame and social media junkie” while colleague Skip Bayless called the performance “embarrassing.” Astonished defense from athletes and commentators came swiftly (*Dick Vitale voice:* Skip u can’t be serious), but a shameful news cycle was already born. It limped on this week, as John Wall joined the legion backing King James.
And now here I am commenting on all that commenting. Why? Because what else is there to comment on. The real shame is that LeBron’s antics could have sparked serious conversation about generational and cultural differences in parenting expectations, about how adults should behave—and often misbehave—at their kids’ games. Alas, the invisible consumer screaming silently over every production studio and newsroom demands takes. So we feed.
If sports media’s job is to take the raw ingredients of competition and chef it into something digestible, bloviators stuck between NBA free agency and football season have used up all the fresh herbs and moved onto making mulch stew. Maybe there’s some flecks of sports detritus in that dirt. (Baseball clearly isn’t on the menu.)
Monday, the NBA addressed the attention vacuum with an All-Decade Team. In return, ESPN’s Max Kellerman whipped up a particularly nauseating position. Rather than being on the third team, Kobe Bryant deserved to be on the “All-NBA Worst Team,” he said. Host Molly Qerim walked off the set in response. Forty-five seconds later, Qerim had to come back, because we all do, at least in this industry. You, on the other hand, should’ve stayed on vacation. The quip, which surely felt rehearsed, got Kellerman trending on Twitter and even had fellow spewer Ben Shapiro posting yearly VORP stats to defend Bryant.
Those particularly abhorrent moments were of course surrounded by a steady, raw stream of inane absurdities that we now let pollute our eyes and ears when we could be so much more productive. Entire leagues could be propped up with support over these dog days, the NWSL and WNBA among them. Or someone in the sports world could come up with its version of Shark Week. We could even funnel the energy into boosting a new sport. I’d watch more of that noggin tennis ESPN showed Wednesday. There are likely literally a million better ways to spend our time.
What if we stopped coming up with rebuttals and instead promoted alternatives? Batting down bad takes like a Jeopardy! viewer clenching a pen won’t improve the discourse, sadly. So, I don’t know, read a book? But here we are.
Hard Knocks and the Little League World Series means there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. Sports topics worth sinking your teeth into are just around the corner. The good stuff will come in a seemingly infinite supply. And then it will run out.
Most likely we will be in this exact same spot a year from now, suffering through the same silliness. Just look at 2018 us. There was LeBron dunking with his son, and then us dissecting it. “I’m not the least bit interested in hearing anyone’s opinion on this,” ESPN's Mike Greenberg said on the matter, July 30, 2018. Blessed be he, when the controversy comet returned for this cycle, he actually was on vacation.
In Greenberg’s stead, Rich Eisen, having been subjected to the Twitter tumult asked on his show, “Who the hell cares?”
We do, evidently. God help us.
Vault Photo of the Week: Meet the Dream Team
This summer might be filled with bad takes and plenty of non-story stories, but times were much simpler in 1992. USA Basketball's "Dream Team" was the story of the summer and continues to maintain relevance as the greatest collection of talent on a court. As they prepared for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, a few players you may have heard of sat for a photoshoot with SI's Neil Leifer.
That team won gold, as expected, 27 years ago this week after trouncing Croatia by 32 (!) in the final game.
Best of the Rest
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Jacob Feldman.
• On the topic of our current discourse, Tommy Craggs of Mother Jones spoke with “four extremely online writers” to find out “How the Internet Broke Our Brains and How We Can Unbreak Them.”
• Burn some time before Succession returns to HBO Sunday with this fun profile of Nicholas Braun, aka Cousin Greg, via Gabriella Paiella of GQ.
• Roberto José Andrade Franco delivered a powerful story on soccer and so much more from Juárez for Deadspin.
• Morning Consult polled fans on whether 99 different activities were sports or not. Escape rooms weren’t included in the survey, so I’m going to unilaterally vote yes. Rachel Sugar of Vox explains why they are now everywhere.
• You’re busy, but don’t tell me you don’t have time for a Q&A with Nicolas Cage, via David Marchese for New York Times Magazine.