What you see below is a list of stories Section925 editors found interesting from around the Bay Area over the past week. Check back again next week!
Bay Area writer Adrian Spinelli (EverythingEcstatic.net) checks in with Connor from his San Francisco office. Spinelli fills us in on the Raiders fruitful offseason, Draymond Green’s future in Oakland, the Stephen Vogt campaign and the NBA Draft. Spinelli also sheds light on the upcoming Outside Lands Music Festival and even touches on trends in the local craft beer scene.
(photographs by Garrett Wheeler, Ray Chavez, Anda Chu, Thearon W. Henderson and @SkyHighOakland)
By Garrett Wheeler
We take our place at 12th and Broadway in a throng of blue and gold clad revelers, the sounds of Mac Dre and E-40 thumping from portable speakers. Small clouds of weed smoke drift through the morning air, champagne bottles are passed around. A dance circle forms and some girls drop and pop while others goad them on, waving and cheering in delight.
It's 8:30 AM, a full hour and a half before the parade is scheduled to begin, but the festivities are well underway. I’ve called in sick (err, professional development day), dragged my butt out of bed at 5 AM, and traveled two hours to celebrate this Warriors season with close to a million other like-minded folk. Because like Steph and Coach Kerr reminded us all season, winning championships don’t come easy.
As the minutes tick by, the party keeps growing. Bodies enclose around us. Standing room becomes sparse, and latecomers begin hanging off ledges, climbing atop bus stop awnings and into trees. Three CHP officers on motorcycles fly by and that is all the mob needs to understand that the moment has arrived: the men who delivered the first Warriors championship in 40 seasons will soon be among us, if only for a moment.
And then, there they are. First the D-League guys, (and D-League Champs!) McAdoo and Kuzmic, plus Justin Holiday. Then, Klay Thompson, hat backwards, nodding and clapping in affirmation from the bow of his double-decker bus. Yelling, screaming, chanting as the Champs slowly cruise by atop their buses. Wait, is that MC-Hammer up there next to Mayor Schaaf? A new chant: “Too legit, too legit to quit! Too legit, too legit to quit!” Hammer Time bopping his head to the rhythm, holding up two fingers in acknowledgment.
Buses with two players on each filter down Broadway. Draymond and Mo Speights, then the two bigs, Ezeli and Bogut. Harrison Barnes and Leandro. D. Lee and Shawn Livingston. Finally, the MVPs. Curry at the helm, clutching a gleaming Larry O’Brien trophy in one arm, waving and pointing with the other, pausing for the occasional selfie. The Baby Faced Assassin is surrounded by family, of course. Those faces that have become so familiar are all there: his wife Ayesha, little Riley, brother Seth and sister Sydel, and parents Dell and Sonya. The Curry’s, what adoration! A new “Riiii-Leeeyy” chant swells forth and Sonya is all beaming smiles, and Dell is a proud, proud man.
But wait, who’s that toward the rear of Steph’s bus? That would be Finals MVP, Sir Andre Iguodala. The chant quickly switches to “M-V-P, M-V-P!” and there’s Andre’s wide, toothy grin and a Bill Russell Award trophy hoisting into the air, glinting in the mid-morning sun. The man who contained Lebron on one end of the floor and hit daggers on the other is before us, and then he too is gone.
Coach Kerr rolls by in the back of a black Lincoln Continental convertible followed by a few buses packed with season ticket holders. And now the parade has traveled out of sight, but the memories, as they say, will last a lifetime.
We leave our spot and join the mass of people attempting to traverse down to Lake Merritt for the parade terminus and rally, but the streets are blocked and we’re routed all the way around Laney College. By the time we reach the Kaiser Center, it’s readily apparent that we won’t be getting within a mile of the stage so we post up near a giant screen erected on Lakeside Drive. We watch the interviews, the executive speeches, and the owners’ speeches as the sun grows warm overhead. There are no chairs and no shade but still we watch as Tim Roy and Bob Fitzgerald each have their turn with the mic.
Then one by one, Bob and Jim Barnett introduce the starters, plus Iguodala, and each gives a short speech at the podium. (Ok, Green’s speech wasn’t short, obviously.) The players talk about how magical the season has been, and how much they owe to Warriors fans. They talk about the City of Oakland deserving a championship, and about how they respect the Town and the people who call it home. “Stay in Oakland!” people yell, while others wonder aloud if there is anything that can keep San Francisco from stealing away a team that’s played its last 43 seasons in Oakland.
And while, as an East Bay native, I’d love to see the Warriors get a sweet new stadium in Oakland and the Coliseum City fantasy become reality, it’s necessary to separate the future from the present in order to savor this moment. After-all, this was a championship, a season really, that was so extraordinary, so perfect, that all those hyperbolic clichés actually apply.
It was a story-book of narratives: the rookie head coach humbly allows his players to be themselves and never overreaches; the team’s best player becomes a league MVP and an NBA mega-star; the “heartbeat” of the team pulses from a stretch forward with moxie like Ali; Klay drops 37 in one quarter; an undersized lineup runs and guns (and defends) its way past bigger and stronger opponents; King James himself is dethroned, in six, and the Warriors win it all.
Long after the confetti is all cleaned up and the players and coaches have gone their separate ways, the legend of the 2015 Golden State Warriors will live on. It was a season Warriors fans will never forget, a season that bonded all corners of the Bay Area together. Because as frivolous as sports can seem in comparison to the graver realities of life, it’s moments like these that seem to transcend the stats and the box scores and even the hardware that comes with a winning season.
To quote Riley Curry, quoting Big Sean: “I’m way up, I feel blessed."
By Jamie Coffis | @touchcoffis86
Last Tuesday, I watched my Golden State Warriors lose a game to the New Orleans Pelicans 103-100, and I won’t lie, it was a little bit of a bummer. It was a bummer until I saw Stephen Curry’s face as he walked off the floor and gave a shrug to Steve Kerr that seemed to say something along the lines of “Eh, I could complain about getting fouled on that 3-point attempt right there but we still clinched the 1-seed in the West like forever ago, so whatever, I’m already over it.”
And at that moment, it all came rushing back to me. OH YEA, WE’RE AMAZING! It’s easy to forget that fact, but at the same time it shouldn’t be. Especially after what Warriors fans are used to feeling around this time of the year. We are in uncharted territory. It’s seriously never been this good for me as a Warriors fan, and frankly, it’s terrifying.
I have this really weird and unsettling feeling in my stomach as we prepare to head into the playoffs. I went on Web MD and searched my symptoms and apparently it’s referred to as something called “confidence.” It’s a feeling that I and fellow Warriors fans are very unfamiliar with. We are used to agonizing defeats and unrealized potential. In the past, if we were to lose a playoff series, we would high five each other and congratulate ourselves on a good season. A series win and a free “We Believe” T-shirt used to be enough. Those days appear to be over. We have real expectations this year. And to be honest I don’t know how to handle it.
Thus, I decided to take a look back at the worst things I can remember happening as a Warriors fan for the last couple of decades in hopes of gaining some perspective as we head into what promises to be a frighteningly historic playoff run. So here it is, buckle in.
In no particular order, here are some terrible things that I can remember having to endure as a Golden State Warriors fan over the past 20 years or so.
Oh God! Sir, are you drunk?
Seemingly Drunk Biedrins really started to suck by the end of his tenure as a Warrior. To make matters worse, it seemed like he never would convert a basket after getting fouled. It was never And-1, always And-2, and an ugly two at that. This is clearly anecdotal so I’ll punctuate this thought with some cold hard stats. “The Goose,” as I seem to remember one of his nicknames being, failed to shoot over 32% from the line after 2008-09. Sweet Jesus!
What a preposterous sentence I just wrote. That seriously happened!? Let’s just say Latrell Sprewell had a very interesting career and strangling P.J. Carlesimo is probably what he will be most remembered for. And rightfully so, that’s quite bizarre. Now we have the least strangle-able coach in the league. That is not anecdotal. That’s just good old fashioned irony.
There were a few iterations of this style of uniform. None of them were particularly good. The lightning bolt stuff was altogether regrettable and those orange jerseys are some of the worst uniforms you will ever see. We played bad, and we looked bad. At least we were consistent.
4. Some of the guys that we thought were the next great thing...
Pre-pubescent me was pretty excited when we acquired him at the trade deadline during another lost season. He lasted a little over two seasons for Golden State and went on to a pretty unremarkable career. 14 PPG in a 14 year career is not terrible by any means but we expected a lot more from Larry. It is also notable that he participated in the 2000 Slam Dunk contest that was held at Oracle Arena (the Vince Carter one) and did not complete a dunk.
Admit it, we were all really pumped on this guy. Looking back I have no idea why. He looked like he was crying the whole time he was on the court. I think maybe he was?
Undersized low post scorer that didn’t really pan out. He was a lottery pick we had high hopes for. His career and playing ability made you wonder if someone could ever be as mediocre as him. He was ten pounds of mediocrity in a five pound bag.
He was a number 1 pick! He wasn’t worse than Anthony Bennett (and who is), but he was one of the more unremarkable number 1 overalls in the last few decades when you consider how dominant he was as a Maryland Terp.
And they won the game! This was just the darndest thing you will ever see, but it is totally believable if you are Warriors fan. In retrospect, this was actually a pretty delightful game if you can believe it. Stephen Curry closed out his rookie year with his first 40 point game of his career.
6. Bad, and I mean BAD, contracts
Erick “Damp” Dampier - (7 years $48 million) Yea it sounds really bad until you realize that he opted out in the middle of this contract so that he could sign with Dallas for a mind boggling $73 million over 7 years. Yikes. Good riddance.
Andris Biedrins - (6 Years $63 million) He was productive initially and then afterwards not so much. Like not at all really.
Mike Dunleavy - (5 years $44 million) He’s had a solid career certainly (most of it not as a Warrior of course) but the best thing he ever did for the Bay Area was help us acquire Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington.
Corey Maggette - (5 years ~$50 Million) It was confusing then and its confusing now.
Adonal Foyle - (6 years 42 million) We were so happy with how well he played that we released him with 3 years and 29 million left on the deal. (But for the record, who doesn’t love Adonal).
None of this matters anymore though.
We have arrived. We are the team to beat not only in the West, but in the entire league. Our coach is Steve Kerr and he’s amazing. Stephen Curry is simply the best and most exciting basketball player on the planet right now. We have glue guys and role players coming out the woodwork. Draymond Green, Mo Speights, Shaun Livingston, Andre Igoudala, Harrison Barnes and even David Lee seem capable of becoming playoff heroes at some point or another over the course of the next several weeks. We have a healthy Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson is our second best scorer and arguably the best two-way player in the NBA.
So cheers to making it through the lean years and coming out stronger on the other side, Warriors fans. Sometimes it’s scary how good we are now. Literally.
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
The critical acclaim of the memorable and moving 1994 documentary, “Hoop Dreams” can speak for itself. When it premiered in Utah at the Sundance Film Festival, it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. Later it became an Academy Award nominee for Best Film Editing. Roger Ebert has gone on record calling it “The great American documentary.” High praise, especially for a film that was originally planned to be nothing more than a 30-minute PBS short.
We can all agree why the half-hour PBS project turned into must-see three hour marathon of heartache, triumph, and more heartache. It was raw, uncut and real. A happy ending was never guaranteed or even expected. It was completely up to the flawed characters on your screen to come through. Characters like Arthur Agee and William Gates. Teenagers trying to navigate the unforgiving streets of inner-city Chicago in the early 1990’s.
The amount of drama that unfolds in “Hoop Dreams” and the sheer improbability and jubilation with the Marshall Commandos 1991 playoff run “Downstate” sometimes makes the viewer forget how real the story actually was. As soon as Arthur and William turned in their respective high school jerseys and went off to college and the cameras stopped rolling, the struggle of real life in inner-city Chicago never slowed. And the stories related to the characters never stopped piling up. Arthur still lives in Chicago and attends Commandos games when he has the chance. William's coach, Gene Pingatore, is still leading St. Joseph’s, in his 45th season, at the age of 78. And that is just the beginning.
As perhaps you can imagine, hoop dreams still very much exist in Chicago. And for the lucky few, those dreams are realized. Just ask Derrick Rose, or Jabari Parker, or Jahlil Okafor, or even Marshall alum Patrick Beverley. All have made the NBA or are well on their way. And their path went through the Chicago Public School League. Last month, I paid a visit to Marshall Metro High School, 24 years after Arthur Agee took his team "Downstate."
The gym is still on the second floor of the school, discretely tucked in between classrooms and offices. There are still just five rows of bleachers on each side of the court. There are still un-retractable basketball hoops that hang over the stands that fans dance under to the rhythm of rap music during timeouts. The grand, church-like windows still overlook the court with the curtains open to let in the early evening light. There is still very little room for fans to walk along the sidelines. The passion for basketball remains just has high. The pace of the game still frenetic. Mom’s in the stands still cuss out the underpaid refs following every close call.
One of the only changes I can decipher inside the Commandos home gym is the court itself. It is clean and new-looking, with a glossy finish. “Luther Bedford Court” it reads. An ode to the Agee’s coach who died at the age of 69 following a long and distinguished career as the head coach at Marshall.
Beside that, it really did look no different that it appeared in 1991. Save for a collection of banners in the rafters that have been won in the last quarter century and a retired Patrick Beverley jersey; the former Marshall point guard who came years after Arthur and currently plays for the Houston Rockets.
The 2015 version of the Marshall Commandos are by no means a powerhouse, but they aren’t a pushover either. Just like the Agee era, they are right in the thick of things in their league. An unlikely participant in the state tournament, but athletic and aggressive enough to make an honest run come late February.
Tickets are $5 at the door to this particular Friday night Public League tilt between the Commandos and the Spartans of Orr High School. Orr was coming off a win over Whitney Young, a Chicago powerhouse where Michael Jordan’s son played, not to mention where Jahlil Okafor starred just last year before graduating to Duke.
As is tradition, the sophomore game comes first. The pace of the game blurring, the shooting leaving much to be desired. All ten kids on the floor can handle the ball and break down their defender to get to the rim. Rarely an offensive set is run. For each acrobatic layup made, a crucial free throw is missed. Among the footwear, Nike is still the king of the court. The Jordan emblem still omnipresent.
Standing with a current Marshall science teacher, she fills me in on the colorful backstories of the skinny freshman and sophomores sprinting up and down in front of me, hucking 3’s, loudly finishing And-1’s, diving for loose balls and trying to make the varsity and eventually the NBA. The brief stories are what you would expect. “The trouble maker,” “the lovable benchwarmer,” “the super-star in the making (if he gets his grades right).” It’s a list of characteristics that every high school team has but the stories become darker when she points out a man on the sidelines. He is at the end of the Marshall bench. The same area that Arthur’s dad Bo used to occupy during big Commandos games in 1991. The man’s name is Shawn Harrington. He was Agee’s teammate on the “Hoop Dreams” team. Today, he is paralyzed in a wheelchair.
In the middle of last year’s basketball season, on Thursday, January 30th to be exact, Shawn Harrington woke up to drive his 14-year old daughter to school. Harrington was the assistant basketball coach at Marshall, but he was driving his daughter to a more selective school. His car was in the shop getting repaired, so he was driving a rented white sedan instead. It was just him and his daughter in the car when the two were sitting at a Chicago stoplight at 7:45 in the morning. That’s when two men ran up to the car and opened fire. Allegedly, it was a case of mistaken identity. The worst kind of bad luck. Harrington leaned over to shield his daughter and was hit by a series of bullets. One of which paralyzed him. Less than a year later, he was back on the Marshall sidelines in his wheelchair, supporting the team he both played and coached for.
Sadly, Coach Harrington’s story of gruesome gun violence in Chicago is closer to the norm than the exception, especially when it pertains to the characters of “Hoop Dreams” and their families.
The year “Hoop Dreams” was released in ‘94, Arthur’s half-brother DeAntonio was shot and killed. In 2001, William Gates’ older brother Curtis was murdered. In 2003, Shawn Harrington’s mother was killed during a botched break-in. In 2004, Arthur’s father Bo was slain behind his house. In sum, it is a chilling laundry list of unnecessary violence.
There is a memorable quote toward the end of “Hoop Dreams” from Bo Agee when he asks the camera out of frustration, “Do you understand what is going on out here in these streets?” Fast forward twenty four years from that quote, and the question still deserves the same amount of contemplation. Shawn Harrington’s wheelchair on the Marshall sideline is the latest reminder.
Even despite “what is going on in the Chicago streets” today, if we learned anything from “Hoop Dreams,” it’s that there is always room for a redemption song of sorts.
Gun violence didn’t have much of a presence on screen in “Hoop Dreams” but plenty of other adversity did. Starting off with when Arthur was forced to leave St. Joseph’s after his freshman year because his parents, (his mother a nurse with a bad back and his father troubled by drugs), couldn’t afford to pay their son’s tuition. Or when William, a can’t miss NBA prospect suffered a career-altering knee injury. Or when Arthur works on his newfound dunking skills while he watches his strung-out dad sell drugs on the very same blacktop, right in front of him. Or when Arthur turns 18, and the family’s monthly government income drops from $368 a month to $268. Or William trying to raise a newborn baby stuffed inside a since demolished Cabrini-Green project building. Or the Agees having the lights shut off because they simply couldn’t pay the bill.
Of course, much to director Steve James’ delight, things miraculously come together at the end of “Hoop Dreams” in a very special way. Wearing his idol Isiah Thomas’ number 11, Arthur leads a team labeled as the “Giant Killers” to a Chicago City Title and a deep run into the state championship tournament, all the way down to Champaign and the University of Illinois. Complete with the bright lights of a BIG 10 arena, television coverage and spreads in the Chicago Tribune. There was no telling it would ever work out that well, but somehow it did.
The original premise of “Hoop Dreams” was to follow two Chicago teenagers as they navigated their quest to make the NBA. That happy ending never did materialize. Real life got in the way. William ended up quitting basketball at Marquette and Arthur’s dream simply ran out of steam, as it does for almost everyone. But on this night in January 2015, hoop dreams are still very much in tact.
The Marshall science teacher tells me the player to watch on the varsity is a kid by the name of Tyresse Williford, a junior point guard. Just like Agee, he has dreams of taking the team "Downstate." To Peoria, Illinois at Bradley University to be exact, the current site of the state playoffs.
Just like in the sophomore game, the pace of the varsity version of Orr and Marshall is just as fast, if not faster. And the shooting is better, but still not spectacular. Every opportunity to the drive the ball to the basket is taken and every long rebound results in an exciting fast break.
The crowd is smaller than it was in 1991. Unlike during the Agee years, the only people occupying the seats up above the west-end basket are the Orr cheerleaders and the science teacher filming the game.
The music played during timeouts is as explicit as a group of inner-city Chicago teenagers can manage. Including the catchy, yet gruesome top-40 rap hit, “Try Me” by DeJ Loaf. By halftime, I was half expecting Arthur to show up, or at least his mom Sheila, but I could spot neither.
As so often happens in City League games, when things got going in the second half, the teams started trading baskets and emotions ran hot. Security at Marshall games these days is always tight, but tonight was especially so, considering the two schools brawled in their earlier meeting at Orr this season. It was a fight that even spilled over to involve spectators. Marshall’s athletic director, Dorothy Gaters (owner of 1,000 wins as the current Marshall women’s coach) wasn’t about to let it happen again.
Following some fourth quarter drama, Marshall won this particular league game over Orr 61-59. Despite the upset win, the celebration was relatively subdued. It seemed the main focus was just getting all the people inside the gym down two flights of stairs and out the door without any dust up. Moreover, Marshall had a game versus Whitney Young the following week they were already appearing to focus on.
Surprisingly, save for a banner in the rafters for Arthur and Shawn Harrington’s 1991 “Downstate” team, there is no trace of any “Hoop Dreams” hype material. To be honest, it was tough to even find a photo of Arthur Agee anywhere in the building. In the end, it appears 1991 was just one success story in a long list of triumphs and tribulations Marshall Metro High School has gone through over the years. The time for reflection is minimal when there is always a new group of freshman walking through Marshall’s doors every year.
There is no telling what will happen with the 2015 versions of the St. Joseph’s Chargers and the Marshall Commandos. St. Joseph’s is ranked and “Ping” is still at the helm even in his late 70’s. Most people believe they have as good a shot as any of making it "Downstate."
Marshall is once again going into the playoffs as a team not expected to make it very far, but someone nobody wants to play. They are a team with only a flicker of hope of actually going downstate, but they have a gritty point guard with NBA aspirations.
Surely, it all sounds quite familiar. In the case of Chicago high school basketball some things do change, but mostly, they stay the same. And in the end, that’s just fine.
Last week, Josh Donaldson became the latest casualty on the long list of star ballplayers that the Oakland A's organization has decided to cut ties with. And this one, like so many others before, hurts. The hurt goes far beyond just that fact the Lew Wolff and Billy Beane are doing away with an exceptionally productive player (An All-Star last year, as well as top-8 finishes in the MVP voting the last two seasons.)
It has more to do with Donaldson's gritty/dirtbag persona spurred on by a faux-hawk under his flat billed A's lid and multiple head-long dives into the third base tarp. The soon to be 29-year-old from Pensacola, Florida by way of Auburn has now been shipped north of the border to play for the Blue Jays. Left in his wake is an increasingly beleaguered group of die-hard A's fans, forced to put yet another star A's player jersey at the bottom of their dresser drawer. Read their thoughts below:
@Section925:"Donaldson gone. That hurts."
J House:"Yeah, thought he'd be around for the long haul. Expect a couple more big trades through the weekend. Billy rapid fires when he's in one of those moods."
Craig Branstad: "Don't like it."
G. Wheeler:"RIP Josh Donaldson."
Raider Hoang: "Do you know any of the people we got?"
Wheeler: "No dude, no. It's just the same old song and dance. How can we be respectable without spending any money? Trade literally any player with value for minor league pitchers with upside."
The Rogue:"F@#* OFF LEW WOLFF. STOP R@*&%G MY TEAM"
Reno Wright:"Josh Reddick says it's clear to him and other Athletics players that the team is now in rebuilding mode."
Chiang of Fools:"[Andrew Blair Shredding]"
Chris Cosden:"Yeah it stings."
Ali S.:"F@#$ the A's."
Bobby Glasser:"Beane just reasserting that he cannot handle any player with an ego...."
The Big Three
The list goes on...
Smith:"(putting on tinfoil hat) - it's hard not to think the JD's rant against the front office last year didn't have something to do with this…"
Tripper Ortman III:"I have given this some thought over the past couple days, and while I think there may be some merit, especially because the one person Beane has ever truly loved was Eric Chavez, who was as milktoast as they come (I also note that Rickey was before Beane’s time and he has now been brought back into the fold -- and remember, always take Rickey in small doses -- and Balfour, we don’t pay free agent closers generally). That said, I think that Beane looks strictly at value, not just (or even primarily) at value to the A’s, but value on the trade market. What can he get for this guy? That is what he is looking at. Like a good chess player, I think Beane is looking several moves ahead when he makes one move. As disappointed as I am that the Cespedes deal didn’t bring a ring and that JD is gone, I remain hopeful that Beane will keep making moves to keep the A’s competitive in a tough division that got tougher with Nelson Cruz going to Seattle today…"
Glasser:"Tripper, the Kool-Aid is kicking in.... Beane's moves are supposed to make sense, and that is the problem.
Granted, we are not GM's, we are not Billy Beane's... we are A's fans. With that badge we so proudly wear comes the love of the extraordinary, the unique, the low attendance, the blah blah blah antiquated stadium we call comfortable, the personalities, the white shoes, damnit, yes white shoes.
No other team has white shoes. We need to field a team befitting of those things we adore. Numbers, dollars, WAR ratings, OBA, whatever; those things are not what drives Oakland A's fans.... What Beane/Wolff forget is the human factor... This is tough to admit, but I'd much more prefer a World Series-less team with the likes of JD, Cespy, Coco, Reddick, Sogard (yes), than a team built on stats, trade-value, scouting report, etc.
Speaking of Chavez.... Check out his stats compared to games played/salary. Over the course of numerous, injury-plagued seasons, Chavez got paid over $40 million, while playing roughly ONE season's worth of games. Beane should be on the records for the biggest salary bust in all of pro sports.
History is made up by the players that played the game.... Something is wrong when a GM becomes bigger than the game. And for that, he must fall."
@Section925: "As Jim Rome would say, 'Rack him.'
...Thank God we're not Giants fans."
Tripper:"Amen to that. And I didn't say I liked it, just that I think that is the way he looks at it. And I don't blame him, I blame Lew and his ownership group. They don't want us and we don't want them. Sell the team."
Fresh off his Saturday visit to Jacksonville to soak in the US Men's National Team's 2-1 victory over Nigeria, Robbie Repass (@TrashmanReeps) calls into the podcenter to discuss the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. A rare Texas-born English Premier League guru, Reeps tells you everything you need to know before the Cup kicks off on Thursday down in South America.
By Connor Buestad (email@example.com)
When deciding upon my mode of transportation to my inaugural visit to the West Coast Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas, I felt it was only appropriate to take a bus. I figured you fly to a major conference basketball tournament like the ACC or the SEC, but you drive to a mid-major conference tournament. That’s just customary. So I ended up riding a Tufesa bus out to Sin City (via Salt Lake City), one that proudly markets their ability to transport you from Mexico to the Southern United States comfortably in the middle of the night. This particular Monday morning trip only produced a total of four passengers.
If you take the Tufesa to Vegas, the closest they’ll get you to the WCC Tournament is out front of the Excalibur Hotel on the strip. From there, it is up to you to hail a cab, or use the empty pedestrian overpass to simply walk over the crowded freeway in order to get to the Orleans Hotel & Casino. The Orleans is located off the strip in a relatively seedy area. One of the more prominent landmarks surrounding the Orleans is a Deja Vu “All-Nude” gentlemen's club. Across the street lies various cheap eats and convenience stores ready and willing to soften the blow of some bad-beats on a the blackjack tables.
Walking through the parking lot approaching the main entrance of the Orleans, there really is hardly any sign that a Division 1, ESPN televised basketball tournament is going on inside. It wasn’t until I reached the glass front doors of the casino and saw some “WCC Tournament” stickers that I was able to confirm I was in the right place.
As is true with all Las Vegas hotels, the Orleans casino floor is an intentional maze, free of clocks or useful maps, designed in way that makes you completely give up on where you were originally going in favor of just sitting down at a table with half drunk strangers and gambling.
By this time it was just 10 minutes until the Saint Mary’s Gaels and Gonzaga Bulldogs were set to tip-off in a semi-final tilt, and I was literally lost in the middle of the casino floor with a standing room only ticket in my hand.
“Can you tell me where the basketball game is going on in this place?” I ask a tired-looking poker dealer. “Yeah,” he responds. “Walk down past those slot machines, make a right at the T.G.I. Friday’s, and you’re there.” Easy enough, I thought to myself, and proceeded to make my way past the slots in search of the T.G.I. Friday’s landmark.
As dedicated as I was to WCC semifinal basketball, the lure of T.G.I. Friday’s happy hour potato skins and discount Bud Light proved too much for me to ignore. Minutes later, I found myself placing my order with a muscle-bound server in a Friday’s uniform chock-full of flair.
The game was on a flat screen TV, my thinking went, and how incredibly good are potato skins after a 6 hour bus ride?
“Hey man, you going to the game?” asks a heavy-set man from Washington state. “As a matter of fact I am,” I respond.
Steve was his name. And he was “In Vegas for a little while for various reasons,” some of which were to soak in both the WCC tournament and the PAC-12 tourney the following week. He, like so many other Gonzaga fans I encountered over the weekend wasn’t an actual alumnus of the school, but a fan nonetheless who “has been watching the Zags play for a long, long time.” (i.e. since the 1999 Santangelo, Calvary, Frahm team.)
By halftime of the Gonzaga v. Saint Mary’s semi-final, I had managed to settle up at T.G.I.’s, ride along the flat-moving-escalator to the Orleans Arena down the hall, and find my standing-room-only seat among the other degenerate basketball junkies in attendance.
The atmosphere inside the Orleans is a bit weird. The home to minor league hockey’s Las Vegas Wranglers, the arena is a far cry from the homely feel of McKeon Pavillion in Moraga or War Memorial in SF, or the Kennel in Spokane. Aside from the die-hard fans who flew in from their respective WCC campuses, most of the spectators inside the arena almost just seemed to be there by accident. Maybe they were gambling on the game, maybe they were just looking for some more Las Vegas entertainment, maybe they were staying on the 12th floor of the Orleans and wanted a break from their wife and teenage kids, maybe they liked basketball just a little too much.
Concessions sold garbage food like nachos and dippin’ dots (“the ice cream of the future”), but no beer was allowed to change hands. You also couldn’t place a bet on the game inside the Orleans Casino. To do that, you’d have to seek out one of the countless sportsbooks outside the Orlean’s property line. Somehow, this rule helped protect the integrity of the game.
On the court, Gonzaga was a flat out better team than St. Mary’s. David Stockton (John’s son) controlled the game throughout and Kevin Pangos played like his efficient self. In the post, Sam Dower dominated Brad Waldo. With Matthew Dellavedova gone to the NBA and Gonzaga laden with senior experience, the Gaels proved to be no match. The Gonzaga faithful, outnumbering St. Mary’s supporters by about 5 to 1, reveled in the victory over their arch-rival from the Bay Area. As St. Mary’s players walked into the locker room after their convincing loss, all they could hope for was a bid to the NIT. Their dreams for another trip to the Big Dance had been dashed.
Game two of this night of semi-final matchups pitted another Jesuit school visiting Sin City (University of San Francisco) versus the mormons of BYU. As it turned out, this game ended up being a Las Vegas late-night instant classic.
The upstart Dons of San Francisco, coached by the fiery ex-NBA sharpshooter Rex Walters, played above their heads against the Cougars of BYU. Walters, who earlier this year watched his starting point guard Cody Doolin quit the team after a inter-team fight in practice, was a joy to watch coach. Screaming one second, laughing the next, Walters provided a welcome sideshow on the USF sideline. He was gunning for a huge upset win and his freewheeling coaching style was on full display. The Dons took the Cougars into overtime, but eventually fell two points shy of the upset, 79-77. Walters, gracious in defeat, will hopefully be back in Vegas next year for another crack at the big boys of the WCC.
Not long after the Dons loss, I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Palms Casino food court, eating the only food that was readily available, which happened to be a McDonald’s Extra Value Meal. ESPN announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham apparently weren’t hungry, as they slowly walked by with loosened ties, only to disappear into a sea of slot machines. However, it wasn’t long before a couple members of the USF team arrived at Mickey D’s, jonesing for a postgame meal of any sort.
Tim Derksen, USF’s sophomore guard who played valiantly in the OT loss, sat quietly with a couple college buddies wearing “USF Sixth Man” T-shirts. Far across the casino floor, the Palms Sports Book’s giant big screen TV is airing SportsCenter on loop. Derksen’s friend nudges him on the shoulder, encouraging him to look up and watch his highlights play out on the big screen. Derksen raises his head for a moment, only to look back down and resume eating his french fries before the ESPN anchor can tell us who won. He, like the rest of the patrons at this late-night Vegas McDonalds already knew the outcome.
The Dons would ship out of town the next morning, while I would stay one more night to watch Gonzaga win the 2014 West Coast Conference crown. Only one team from the WCC would get to head back home a winner. The rest of the league would have to concede that Sin City had gotten the best of them. As history shows, it’s never easy to leave Las Vegas on top.
By Josh Hunsucker (@JPhunsucker)
Today is more likely than not the last 49ers game at Candlestick Park (although Seattle and New Orleans losses next week and a backdoor number one seed would be nice). For the past week, it seems as though everyone is providing their memories of the reinforced concrete, wind vortex, traffic deathtrap, bog of a stadium the 49ers (and Giants) played inside of before concussions “existed.” The 49ers did a nice job of listing the Top 10 Candlestick moments and countless other pundits have recapped The Catch, T.O.’s TD catch against Green Bay (I refuse to call it Catch II), and the Vernon Post.
In some ways what I am writing is no different, even though as you will see it is clearly not the same. I was barely alive for The Catch, I still lived in Texas/Oklahoma during Steve Young’s scramble against the Vikes, and I never witnessed anything at Candlestick Park live (football-wise) until after Y2K didn't happen. So if you were expecting some “classic” moments you probably won't get them here unless you love Kurt Manwaring and Jeff Garcia.
The first time I remember being at Candlestick was to watch the Giants final home game in 1993 with my buddy JB and the TJB Cat. For those who don’t remember they had a murders row that year: Bonds (his first year in the Bay), Matt Williams, Willie McGeee, and Will “The Thrill” Clark. The final home game at Candlestick that year came before a crucial four game series in L.A. that would determine the Giants' playoff lives. During the September pennant race the Giants were in a dead heat with the Atlanta Braves. The Giants PA announcer kept giving in-game updates on the Braves game and we were constantly watching the scoreboard to see if the Art Howe led Astros could upset 20-game winner Tommy Glavine. That day, Salomon Torres lasted 2 and 2/3s, gave up two bombs, and left the Giants fans biting their nails in vain as the Braves got the win. The Giants went on to lose 12-1 to the Dodgers on the last game of the season, sealing their fate as the best team of all-time to miss the playoffs (103 wins).
In 2000, I went to my first Niners game at Candlestick. Miramonte High School booster, Orinda legend, and namesake of the Stockholm Store, Jim Stockhom, took me and another player from the football team to the game. That day marked the first and only time I would ever be put in a position that would have violated NCAA regulations, which was awesome in its own right. The Niners, sitting at 2-8 and slogging through a dismal season, met the Chiefs and the most under-utilized Golden Bear in history, Tony Gonzales. It was a 1:05 kickoff, sunny skies, no wind. As we got to our seats at the end of warm-ups and the stadium was buzzing. My eyes immediately locked into Flash-80 and fixed on him as he seemingly floated across the field catching easy- ups. The game itself was ugly. I remember T.O. only having one catch for maybe five or six yards. Jerry didn’t do much either. But El Jefe found a way and Chalie Garner chipped in 100-yards for a Niners 21-7 win.
When you are dating someone, very rarely do you get put into the position where the signs are so clear that you couldn’t miss them. In the infancy of my wife and I’s dating circa 2003, she called me up over the winter break and asked if I wanted to go to the final Niners home game that season against Seattle. The only catch was that I had to double- back from Orinda to Stockton to pick her up. Maybe this is different from some people but in my experience I don’t usually get offered Niners tickets out of the blue from girls that I was kind of dating. Bold move on her part. Although the game wasn’t great, we lost 24-17 and failed to salvage an 8-8 season, I had checked off the "likes and knows football box" for my future game day viewing partner.
I’m going to combo my last two “bonus” moments. Full disclosure, I wasn’t at either of these two events. The 2011-12 season was my favorite season since the 1994-5 Super Bowl year. I loved that team. I had just moved back to California after being gone for almost seven years and the Niners had this upstart coach and low expectations. Somehow, they kept winning these close games that they had always managed to lose during the previous 10-years.
The fourth quarter of the Saints game was one of the most emotionally draining sporting events of my life. Two heavyweights landing haymaker after haymaker with the other refusing to go down. The Alex Smith bootleg run may have been the happiest I have ever been for a Niner only to be spoiled by Darren Sproles crazy catch and run. Any Faithful watching that game is lying if they said that the Niners should have gone for the win on their next drive. I kept yelling at the TV “all we need is a field goal.” Frank chips away a few yards, then Vernon gets loose for almost fifty. The next two plays Frank for six yards and a Smith spike reeked of the classic NFL conservative play calling. Then it happened. Alex Smith dropped back and fired a laser to VD. Great catch, great throw. The Stick is going absolutely nuts at this point, I’m throwing my 1 1/2 year-old son in the air probably doing some irreparable harm to his body. Pandemonium, bedlam, joy, tears, and the feeling like football is finally back.
The next week, after Kyle Williams fumbled the punt(s) and the Giants kicked the game winning field goal (the second punt in OT never bothered me, great play by the Giants, but the first punt hitting his leg was inexcusable) I wasn’t distraught like I usually would be after a huge loss like that. We were back, a new era of Niner football.
And that is where we are now. While Candlestick will always have fond memories it’s time to move on. Tonight at the Stick will be a great send off for the team and the Faithful. Besides, wouldn't it be better to raise banner number six on opening day at Levi’s Stadium? Here's to "The Stick", and all that it's given us over the years.