Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks on February 4 at Barclays Center.
Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
If you weren’t convinced already, the cascading, increasingly insane events of the last fortnight in the NBA should have done the trick: It is now more fun to follow the drama and intrigue of professional basketball than it is to actually watch professional basketball. (Some of us have been beating this drum for a while.) I love the NBA, I love watching the NBA, I love how basketball’s most efficient form (unlike, say, baseball’s, which is mostly just dudes striking out) turns out to be fast-paced, athletic, and aesthetically gorgeous. But there’s no way a full two-and-a-half-hour basketball game can possibly compare to a 30-second clip of Kevin Durant flipping out at reporters for endlessly speculating about whether he’s going to leave one of the greatest teams of all time to join the Knicks.
Frankly, the NBA is at full speculative tilt, and what happens on the court is increasingly irrelevant. The Rockets’ James Harden just became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score 30 points in a game for 30 consecutive games, and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook notched a triple-double for the tenth straight game, the first time that’s ever happened (also breaking Chamberlain’s mark). We are literally watching basketball players attain heights no one has ever attained before, every night. And yet the lead stories on every NBA site today barely mention either feat. Instead: How do the Lakers trade for Anthony Davis now? Can the Knicks bring in Durant and Kyrie Irving? Can the Raptors hang on to Kawhi Leonard? Will the 76ers keep Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris, or both?
Part of this is a reaction to the seeming inevitability of this season, the certainty that we’ve all had that the Golden State Warriors are going to cruise to their third consecutive championship without much resistance whatsoever (a certainty that’s all the more so for how seamlessly DeMarcus Cousins has meshed with the team). When you already know what’s going to happen on the court, who can blame you for spending more time focusing on all the stuff happening off of it? But it’s not just that — and not just because, one reminds me, the Warriors came within one game of not even reaching the NBA Finals last year. The fact is, all the drama is fun, and far more aligned with the way we currently consume sports — in short, in snackable bursts, from the RedZone channel to fantasy sports to gambling spreadsheets — than taking the time to actually sit down and watch a whole game. What’s more enjoyable at this moment: Talking about Kevin Durant joining the Knicks, or physically looking at a Knicks game? Steve Kerr, the coach of the Warriors, summed it up: “We’re actors in a soap opera.”
Thus, every team’s a part of it, and it is, in particular, going to lead to an absolutely fascinating Eastern Conference playoff this year, as the Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors, teams which have desperately maneuvered their rosters to and fro so that they might take advantage of LeBron James’s first year outside the conference and reach the NBA Finals (where they’d be summarily stomped by the Warriors, but hey, it’s about the journey, not the destination). Though even the games are precursors. Each team has a major pending free agent (Irving on the Celtics, Butler and Harris on the 76ers, Leonard on the Raptors) whose off-season decisions could blow up their teams, or the whole league. The games are the pregame.
But, if you are a holdout in this shift, if you are supportive of the players’ hard-earned rights to control their own futures but are also perhaps growing a bit cross-eyed keeping track of all this, if you still hold the old eras of traditional team-building and continuity dear, if you want things to just slow the heck down for a second, I might have a team for you. Witness: the Milwaukee Bucks.
It is the Bucks, not the Warriors, not the Raptors, not any of these teams tossing their rosters in the air at random, who currently have the best record in the NBA. And they have done it in a way that has pleasingly balanced the old-school and the new-school. They are as analytically oriented as any team in the sport, with a spread-out offense that has taken obsession with the efficiency of the three-point shot — and, more to the point, with never taking inefficient “long two’s,” either shooting from far out for three points or very close for two — to a nearly cartoonish level.
But they are also built in as “traditional” a way as you can imagine. Essentially, the Bucks, a small-market team that hasn’t exactly had much success in convincing free agents to come to their decidedly unflashy city (it should be pointed out here that Milwaukee is in fact a fantastic city to live in and to visit, though the nightclub scene is indeed a bit lacking), drafted a superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and then went about building everything around him in order to convince him to stay. They draft and sign role-players who don’t need the ball in their hands and can simply benefit from the attention Antetokounmpo brings with him; basically, he storms the lane like the monster he is and they wait for him to find them. Add in the right coach (Gregg Popovich protégé Mike Budenholzer), the right pieces, a prudent, patient process, and a media environment that isn’t constantly screaming at everyone, and the Bucks have built the best team in the sport in a way not all that different from what the old Chicago Bulls used to do with Michael Jordan. Get the guy, and then only get guys he needs. Use the parts of the current NBA that benefits teams, but not the parts that don’t. And it’s all working perfectly — the Bucks are beating teams by nearly ten points per game, an average that puts them in the top 15 in the history of the league.
Thus, the Bucks have succeeded where the Pelicans (with Davis), the Pacers (with Paul George), and the Timberwolves (with Butler) all failed: They’ve made the superstar happy with where he is. Antetokounmpo has been up-front and loud about how much he loves Milwaukee, saying, “I don’t like all these flashy cities like LA or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities,” and emphasizing he never wants to leave Milwaukee.
Now, the arc of history is long, and if you think the league is earthquaking because of Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, imagine what happens if Antetokounmpo changes his mind about “flashy cities” before he becomes a free agent in 2021. But right now, all these superstars are daydreaming about how much nicer the yard is on the other side of the fence. (Imagine wanting to leave the Warriors … for the Knicks!) But the one who is winning the most is sitting tight, right where he is. LeBron’s in LA, Davis and Leonard want to be in LA, Durant and Kyrie may be in New York. But the best team, and the most fun story, is in Milwaukee. It’s enough to make you want to go and watch an actual basketball game there. If you’re still into that sort of thing.
The Bucks Are the NBA’s Most Compelling (On-Court) Drama
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West Virginia making an underdog’s case for “Most Bigoted State With Virginia in the Title”
Delegate Eric Porterfield, who represents West Virginia’s 27th district, has a history of anti-LGBT stances. But things came to a head last week during a House meeting over a proposed amendment to an anti-LGBT-discrimination bill.
During the February 6 meeting Porterfield called the bill, which would include LGBT people as a protected class under the state’s Human Rights Act, “bigoted,” “intolerant” and “discriminatory.”
Reaction to his comments was swift. On Thursday, House Democrats took turns condemning Porterfield for his comments. On Friday, the West Virginia Democratic Party issued a statement calling for Porterfield to resign.
But Porterfield took the opportunity to double down on his statements.
“The LGBTQ is a modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods, with their antics of hate,” he reportedly said.
green new deal
McConnell Wants to Troll Democrats With Green New Deal Vote
By Matt Stieb
McConnell hopes to get 2020 Democrats on the record about the policy moonshot, so Republicans can hit them with attacks mischaracterizing the deal.
The Trace got together a team of 200 teenage journalists to investigate the 1,200 Americans under 18 killed by gun violence
The 12-month period starting Feb. 14, 2018, saw nearly 1,200 lives snuffed out. That’s a Parkland every five days, enough victims to fill three ultra-wide Boeing 777s. The true number is certainly higher because no government agency keeps a real-time tally and funding for research is restricted by law.
The Trace, an online nonprofit news organization that covers firearms issues, wanted to commemorate those lost lives. It assembled a team of more than 200 journalists — kids themselves — to research and write short portraits of every victim, 18 and under.
When they weren’t taking cover from school shooters, young Americans died as a result of murder-suicides, jealous rages, indiscriminate drive-bys, targeted attacks and horrific preventable accidents.
Several died in explosive video game disputes. One young man was killed when, according to a witness, a loose gun inside a box he was hauling discharged. A 10-year-old girl was gunned down while scampering toward an ice cream truck. A father shot his 6-year-old girl by accident while cleaning his gun.
Medicare for All (over 50)
Another horrid twist in the Justin Fairfax scandal
The woman who has accused Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin E. Fairfax, of raping her said that a former N.B.A. player, Corey Maggette, raped her at Duke University 20 years ago and that school officials did not pursue the claim, according to a childhood friend of the woman and Facebook messages the woman exchanged with another friend.
Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer for the woman who accused Mr. Maggette and Mr. Fairfax, Meredith Watson, said in a statement Friday that Ms. Watson had been raped by a Duke basketball player during her sophomore year but did not name the player. Ms. Smith also said that Ms. Watson had reported her rape to an unspecified dean at the university, but that the dean had “discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.”
Years before Ms. Watson came forward as the second woman to publicly accuse Mr. Fairfax of sexual assault, inflaming a political crisis in Virginia, she told multiple friends that she had been raped by Mr. Maggette, according to one of those friends and Facebook messages exchanged with another.
Mr. Maggette denied the accusation through a spokesman Monday evening.
Democrats rebuke Trump’s claim that the Senate investigation “found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!”
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are pushing back on a claim by the panel’s chair, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), that the committee’s two-year investigation has not found “anything that would suggest there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” And they dispute an NBC News report saying that Democrats agreed with Burr that they have yet to see clear evidence of a conspiracy between President Donald Trump and Moscow.
“That’s not true,” Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, told Mother Jones. “I think it’s misleading. The intelligence committee hasn’t discussed the matter, let alone released a committee report.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), a senior Democrat on the panel, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, also said they have not reached any conclusions about their investigation. “I disagree,” Warner said Tuesday when asked about Burr’s claims.
Dick Cheney’s former doctor finds the president’s decision not to release results from his physical to be suspect
Trump Proposes July 4 Parade in D.C., Which Already Exists
By Matt Stieb
“We’re thinking about doing, on the Fourth of July or thereabouts, a parade, a ‘Salute to America’ parade.”
Dreams of rail travel from LA to SF are dead, but rejoice! Hopes for a train from Merced to Bakersfield are still alive.
“The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long,” [California Governor] Newsom said during his first State of the State address. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
The project was long championed by Newsom’s predecessor Gov. Jerry Brown, but had lost support among voters, who approved $9.95 billion in bonds for the train in 2008, as the cost of the project skyrocketed.
“Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA. I wish there were,” he said. “However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”
“The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there’s another story ready to be told,” he said. “A story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians that deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.”
U.S. Senate Does Rare Good Thing And Passes Major Conservation Legislation
By Sarah Jones
The bill will create over one million acres of new, protected wilderness.
Sounds like the president is mentally preparing himself to agree to $1.375 billion in border wall funding
Was just presented the concept and parameters of the Border Security Deal by hard working Senator Richard Shelby. Looking over all aspects knowing that this will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources….
….Will be getting almost $23 BILLION for Border Security. Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!
Amazon wouldn’t be the only tax cut bleeding out the city
Each year, the city and state combine to issue more than $5 billion in “tax expenditures” for economic development projects, and much of what’s being granted to Jeff Bezos is routinely handed out to other companies as well: “Nothing in the Amazon transaction is new,” Cuomo insisted in November. “The tax incentives we provide for single business transactions are usual and typical and have been operational for decades.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson promptly called for phasing out the two programs, and all signs are that they will soon be gone. (Though their costs may live on — more on that later.) But it still leaves the question: How did two tax breaks rumble on for decades, costing the city a total of $400 million and counting, without anyone asking if they were worth the expense? And will other, more lucrative tax breaks — like the ones that are fueling the Amazon deal — be subjected to the same scrutiny?
[In the 1990s] Giuliani, though a critic of “corporate retention” deals on the campaign trail, had already begun to warm to them: He would go on to approve more than $1 billion worth of special tax breaks during his two terms in office. The mayor quickly had a bill submitted to the state legislature — which, as in so many other areas, has ultimate control over city taxes — to establish the Commercial Revitalization Program to provide Reiter’s requested tax breaks. The legislation passed the state assembly 145-4 and the state senate 53-1, and was soon signed into New York state law by Governor George Pataki.
The new program was initially set to expire in 2000. Yet five years later, with downtown vacancies having fallen to historic lows, not only was the CRP renewed, it got a little brother: the Commercial Expansion Program, which provided similar tax breaks for commercial renovations above 96th Street and in the outer boroughs. Initially intended to last only three years, the CEP was instead extended multiple times, as was its older sibling.
The percentage of people “alarmed” by global warming has grown 8 percent in just under a year
Photo: Katharine Hayhoe
Setting the scene for Paul Manafort’s alleged Russia contacts
The 2016 nominating conventions had recently concluded and the presidential race was hitting a new level of intensity when Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, ducked into an unusual dinner meeting at a private cigar room a few blocks away from the campaign’s Trump Tower headquarters in Manhattan.
[Manafort] met with an overseas guest, a longtime employee of their international consulting business who had flown to the United States for the gathering: a Russian political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik.
It was at that meeting that prosecutors believe Manafort and Kilimnik may have exchanged key information relevant to Russia and Trump’s presidential bid. The encounter goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a federal judge in a sealed hearing last week.
One subject the men discussed was a proposed resolution to the conflict over Ukraine, an issue of great interest to the Russian government, according to a partially redacted transcript of the Feb. 4 hearing.
Ah, the issue Republicans used to pretend to care about
WASHINGTON (AP) — The national debt has passed a new milestone, topping $22 trillion for the first time.
The BBC’s North America editor writes about seeing his cameraman attacked at a Trump rally Monday night
I would really love to be able to say when I heard about the attack on our cameraman Ron Skeans that I was surprised. Or shocked even. I wasn’t.
Once I found out that he was OK, and that the rest of the team were OK, I thought this was a pretty unsurprising event. What is shocking is that my reaction should be like that – because surely it can never be right that a person going about doing their job, in a country which cherishes the First Amendment and the rights of a free press, is pushed to the ground. But it is an incident that’s been coming for a long time.
The idea that someone would attack Ron is frankly preposterous. He’s the wrong guy. But of course it wasn’t Ron that was being attacked.
Allying with the president doesn’t seem to have helped the National Enquirer financially
The publisher of the National Enquirer, currently under attack by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, has been facing steep financial losses that have left the once-loyal keeper of Donald Trump’s secrets with more than $1 billion in debt and a negative net worth.
The closely held American Media Inc. – led by the president’s longtime friend, David Pecker – recorded a $31.5 million loss in the six months that ended Sept. 30, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg. That marked an improvement over the previous year, but nonetheless brought the company’s total losses over the last 5 1/2 fiscal years to $256 million. AMI owed about $203 million more than its assets were worth.
If there’s one thing we know about the president, it’s that he cares deeply about reporters’ well-being
Sarah Sanders: “President Trump condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people – including members of the press. We ask that anyone attending an event do so in a peaceful and respectful manner.”
Newsom Derails Jerry Brown’s Pet High-Speed Rail Project
By Ed Kilgore
The project has been far over-budget, behind schedule, and not very popular. The only surprise was how rapidly Newsom gave it the heave-ho.
A new report on Klobuchar’s management style may be the most damning yet
Many of those who worked for Klobuchar knew that when Klobuchar declared her intention to run for the presidency — something she has longed to do for years — they would be forced to decide about how much they should say about what they had witnessed while in her employ.
“This was coming,” one former staffer said.
Speaking out could lead to retribution from Klobuchar, should she be able to identify them. She has been known to grow irate at staffers who find work elsewhere, calling their new employers to have the offers rescinded. The practice, which three former staffers for Klobuchar described and one other Capitol Hill veteran confirmed, was seen as vindictive, mystifying and counterproductive. It was also a sign of how far Klobuchar would go to punish those who she thought betrayed her.
One former Klobuchar staffer says she and others have been sharing a recent Washington Post column by conservative (and anti-Trump) pundit George Will in which he called her the Democrat “best equipped to send the current president packing.” In particular, those former staffers have found laughable — and flagrantly inaccurate — Will’s assertion that Klobuchar’s “temperament” is “her special strength.”
The Bucks Are the NBA’s Most Compelling (On-Court) Drama
By Will Leitch
The NBA is a soap opera off the court. But if you want some on-court fireworks, look to Milwaukee.
President Hannity has voiced his displeasure with the new Congressional compromise
On his radio show, Sean Hannity calls the immigration deal a “garbage, typical swamp, sewer ‘compromise,’ whatever you want to call this bill.”
2020 presidential election
2020 presidential election
Biden and Sanders Have a Lot of Fans in Common
By Ed Kilgore
The two men may represent different poles of the Democratic Party, but in part thanks to name ID, a lot of voters like both of them.
You Can Now Pick Up Your Amazon Order at Coachella
By Madison Malone Kircher
The online giant is getting into the music festival business.
Another sign that we may be headed for an economic downturn
A record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported Tuesday, even more than during the wake of the financial crisis era.
Economists warn that this is a red flag. Despite the strong economy and low unemployment rate, many Americans are struggling to pay their bills.
“The substantial and growing number of distressed borrowers suggests that not all Americans have benefited from the strong labor market,” economists at the New York Fed wrote in a blog post.
A car loan is typically the first payment people make because a vehicle is critical to getting to work, and someone can live in a car if all else fails. When car loan delinquencies rise, it is a sign of significant duress among low-income and working-class Americans.