Friday, February 15, 2008

A Fun Team to Watch

One of my mantras when it comes to sports is, "that's why they play the games." When I say this, I'm usually reacting to someone who's authoritatively telling me what's going to happen in an upcoming game. Hey, I can understand this mentality. I fall into such thinking more often than I care to admit. So perhaps I'm talking to myself as well. In any case, as I see it, the bottom line in sports is that much of the joy (and agony) comes from watching your team compete without any preconceived notion of how things are going to turn out. "That's why they play the games" figure out on the playing field, not on sports talk radio, who's going to win.

This college basketball season has been a pleasant exercise in the application of the "that's why they play the games" principle. (I need to come up with a better moniker, don't I?) Back in November, I had no clue as to just how good this year's Duke team might be. On the one hand, they seemed to have an interesting collection of players. On the other hand, many of these players were untested or injury prone and the team seemed to have significant positional gaps, such as the absence of a true threat in the post.

Well, here we are, three months later, and the Dukies are 22-1, with their lone loss coming by one point (in overtime) at the hands of a good Pittsburgh team that hit a tough three-pointer almost at the buzzer. And it is not only the winning (although beating the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill was fantastic!). It is the way the boys are playing that is making this season so compelling to watch. Guys are driving into the lane and creating all kinds of opportunities for themselves and their teammates. The other night, freshman Kyle Singler took advantage of these opportunities and of the fact that he was being guarded by bigger, less mobile players. By repeatedly drifting out to the three-point arc, Kyle found himself the beneficiary of numerous kick outs from driving teammates. With wide open looks at the basket, Kyle registered a career-high of 26 points before the night was over.

So just how far might Duke go the rest of the way? Is there an ACC championship to be had? Is there a run to the Final Four? Is there perhaps even a fourth national championship in the works? "That's why they play the games!" Enjoy the run, no matter where it leads...


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Makes a Politician Transformative?

The word "transformative" has been dropped a lot lately, in reference to presidential candidate Barack Obama. As Chris Wilhelm, the president of Students for Barack Obama at the University of Maryland, said yesterday: "He is a transformative figure in electoral politics." And it is not just Obama supporters who are acknowledging this. The main premise of Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she is an experienced hand who will be ready to run the government on Inauguration Day. Read: I am not the transformational candidate in the Democratic primary.

So what is it about Obama that allows him to claim the mantle of transformation?

Is it his issue positions?

I don't think so. Obama has received a 100% rating from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group that scores elected officials on their voting records. Clinton's score? 100% as well.

Is it his endorsements?

Perhaps Obama is now bringing together different factions of the country, despite his liberal voting past. Perhaps he is uniting the Democratic party and effectively reaching out to moderate Republicans. I don't think so here, either. Take a look at a list of elected officials who have endorsed Obama:

Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts senator
Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts
Federico Peña, Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton
Theodore Sorensen, advisor to John F. Kennedy
Bill Bradley, former senator from New Jersey
John Kerry, four-term junior senator from Massachusetts
Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Patrick Leahy, Senator from Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee

Looks pretty standard fare to me. Plus, there are Obama's Hollywood endorsements:

Kathleen Turner, actress
Robert DeNiro, actor
George Clooney, actor

But maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, places that are too tangible. Perhaps transformation is a state of mind, a handsome face, a feeling of euphoria in campaign audiences. If this is really what's going on, then I want to suggest that we are inevitably going to be disappointed. It is one thing to campaign this way; it another thing entirely to govern from a position of transformation. In such a scenario, the salient question becomes how far Obama will fall...and how fast.