Reading List: July

“Empty Garden” by Jason Zengerle, The New Republic

From April, 2009, this profile of Lance Stephenson as a 18 year-old provides an interesting insight into the world of New York City high school hoops, and allows us to consider how complicated the maturation process of a prospect can be when the spotlight starts shining on him as a 12 year-old.  It also allows us to appreciate how important Lance Stephenson was in the 2013 playoffs and is to the future of the rising Indiana Pacers.


“Made Not in America: Is Avoiding American Players the Secret to the Spurs’ Success?” by Seth Wickersham, ESPN the Magazine.

Wickersham examines the types of personalities that have adapted well to the Spurs’ system and the way that Popovich leads.  After reading, you gain a better grasp of Popovich’s “My way or the highway” sensibility, and his military-like focus and certainty, as well as the dedication of the entire Spurs staff toward player development.  You also learn more about Tiago Splitter.  Thinking back to the Warriors-Spurs series in May, it is hard to overestimate the importance of a good screen-setter.  Shooters can’t be shooters unless they can get open.  Teamwork at its best, but maybe people don’t talk enough about how much of an a**hole Popovich can be. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a great coach, but he might enjoy being viewed as the leader of the anti-NBA team a little too much.


“The Myth of the Passive Hitter” by Dave Cameron,

Cameron debunks the popular explanation (passive hitting approaches) for increased strikeout rates in the major leagues, with a great deal of evidence, as always.

“Here is essentially what we know: hitters are swinging at and making contact at about the same rates they have for a long time, umpires are calling more strikes, and during the era in which we have the most technology, there do not appear to be an increasing number of pitches actually thrown in the strike zone. That’s what the data shows.”


“Ryan Braun Proves the Guiltier They Are, the Louder They Protest,” by Joe Posnanski,

“So, yes, you might expect cheaters to lie about it afterward. One seems to fit into the other. But superior athletes, hugely successful business people, powerful leaders, they did not achieve those levels by simply playing it down the middle. They play to win. And so, the vehemence of their denials overpower the senses. They shout their denials from mountaintops. They viciously attack and discredit those who try to unveil. They play the victim — they are not only innocent, understand, they have been terribly wronged. They act the way they expect a not-guilty person would act, and add on about 20 percent.

So Ryan Braun does not just take his bit of good fortune and enjoy his freedom, no, he stands up and says, “But at the end of the day, I recognized what was best for the game of baseball.” Lance Armstrong does not just hide behind his clean (and apparently dishonest) drug tests, he goes on a wild spree, attacking the integrity of anyone who challenges him. Alex Rodriguez does not just try to hide while the steroid storm passes overhead, he goes on “60 Minutes” to say that he not only never took steroids, he has never even tempted to do so.”


Kiese Laymon, “The Worst of White Folks” for

Way back in the day when Twitter was a bootleg reindeer name, David Rozier invented farting during Mass. A few minutes before we marveled at the six Catholics at Holy Family Catholic School sipping out of one gold goblet, and right after Father Joe suggested we offer each other “a sign of peace,” David tapped me on my shoulder, swung his right arm around his back and farted in his hand. Father Joe rolled his eyes from the pulpit as David proceeded to shake the hands of Ms. Bockman, Ms. Raphael, and all the other sixth-and seventh-graders in our row.

An excerpt of the novel Long Division, by Kiese Layman

I thought to myself that if ever there was a time to bring my Serena Williams sentence game to the nation, this was it. With all that still water in his eyes, LaVander Peeler was in no shape to win, or even compete. I figured he’d miss his first sentence, or maybe he wouldn’t even try, and then he’d have to sit on that stage for two long hours, with drowning red eyeballs, watching me give those fools that work.

“We’d like to welcome you to the fifth annual Can You Use That Word in a Sentence National Competition,” the voice behind the light said. “We’re so proud to be coming to you from historic Jackson, Mississippi. The state of Mississippi has loomed large in the history of civil rights and the English language. Maybe our next John Grisham, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker Alexander, William Faulkner, or Oprah Winfrey is in this contest. The rules of the contest are simple. I will give the contestant a word and he or she will have two minutes to use that word in a dynamic sentence. All three judges must agree upon the correct usage, appropriateness, and dynamism of the sentence. We guarantee you that this year’s contest will be must-see TV.

“Before we begin, we’d like our prayers to go out to the family of Baize Shephard. As you all know, Baize is a young honor-roll student who disappeared a few weeks ago in the woods of Melahatchie, Mississippi. We will be flashing pictures of Baize periodically throughout the night for those of you watching live in your homes. If you have any information that might help in the investigation, please alert your local authorities. Let us take a moment of silence for Baize Shephard.”

“LaVander Peeler,” the announcer resumed, “is our first contestant. I’m sure most of you know that LaVander tied for first place in the state of Mississippi competition with our second contestant, Citoyen Coldson.” Seemed weird that we were going to be first and second. “LaVander Peeler, your first word is ‘lascivious.’”

LaVander Peeler stood up with his balled fists at his side. He stepped to the microphone and looked down at his feet.


Tim Marchman, for Wall Street Journal, “Why Even Have Baseball’s Draft?” on the MLB Draft and why drafts don’t make sense:

All sports drafts are scams, more or less. No computer engineer right out of Carnegie Mellon has to go straight to a job at Comcast for a predetermined salary. Electronic Arts representatives aren’t lurking the halls of Northwestern with charts and craniometers. The concept is absurd on its face, and just as absurd when applied to young athletes.

What makes Major League Baseball’s draft, which takes place in two weeks, especially ridiculous is that in addition to being clearly unjust, it’s also inefficient. Drafting is no exact science in basketball or football, but at least in those sports the top amateur talents are both readily identified and actually available. Eight of the top 10 finishers in this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player voting were top-five draft picks overall, for example, and Marc Gasol and Tony Parker, who weren’t, were both special cases.


Currently reading: 

– Philip Lopate, To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

Renowned personal essayist Lopate sheds light on the evolving craft of the personal essay in the modern age.

– Get Buckets put together an all hoops e-zine featuring a wonderful treatise on the parallel dynasties of the Boston Celtics and Blue-Note Records, by Steve McPherson.  Bookmark if you want a new and nuanced slant on the sporting world and fandom.

– Immigration in the U.S. in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  Tutoring U.S. History this summer means I’m forced to learn some things, too.

Randolph Bourne’s essay “Trans-national America,” was incredibly prescient and should be required reading for all high school students.

Published in July 1916, as World War I unfolded in Europe, intensifying ethnic antagonisms, native-born Americans became increasingly suspicious of the pockets of immigrant culture thriving among them. In 1916, critic and essayist Randolph Bourne challenged such attitudes with an essay—now considered a classic of forward thinking—calling for a new, more cosmopolitan conception of America and a reconsideration of the “melting-pot” theory.


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