Igor Larionov reflects on playing for Red Army, and what is wrong with North American hockey: "If you look at the coaches in Juniors and minor league hockey, many of them were not skill players. It’s a lot of former enforcers and grinders who take these coaching jobs. Naturally, they tell their players to be just like them. Their players are 17, 18 years old — younger than I was when I joined the Red Army team. Say what you want about the Whiplash mentality (or the Soviet mentality), but if coaches are going to push kids at that age, why are they pushing them to play a simple game? Why aren’t coaches pushing them to create a masterpiece? We lose a lot of Pavel Datsyuks to the closed-minded nature of the AHL and NHL."
Annotated list: the 25 best photos of Muhammad Ali, inside and outside the ring.
Over the Hill: The late career decline of Steve Nash, a review essay covering The Finish Line and 7 Seconds or Less. “If you ever see a child move,” [Nash] says in the first episode of the series, “they’re totally uninhibited. They just move freely, they don’t think about it, they’re not straining or protecting, they just are. You know, at my best, I am childlike out there.” It may be the most tragic line in the whole series; in capturing precisely what he once had, we also understand what he’s lost.
Four strikes and you're out: A study of more than one million pitches reveals "Umpires want to make the right call, but they also don't want to make the wrong call at the wrong time. Ironically, this prompts them to make bad calls more often." Illustrated with some nice heat maps.
Of all the Canadian coaches, he's the most Russian: Grantland profiles Mike Keenan as he coaches Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.
Why is the world's gayest sport stuck in the closet?: A perceptive long essay from buzzfeed examines sexuality and men's figure skating.
Cristiano Ronaldo wins the Ballon D'Or: Rob Smyth with an eloquent, measured assessment of Ronaldo's career. Sports writing at its finest.
Dennis Rodman is the third best player in NBA history: The multi-year, multi-part series has reached a finale. Includes a cool visualizer.
New Year's Eve, 1975: Montreal Canadiens vs. Soviet Central Red Army. Complete video of possibly the greatest ice hockey game ever played. Introduction by Dick Irvin, Jr. Via the NHL History Channel, which has some other excellent nostalgia.
Contrary to popular opinion, African-American NBA players are less likely to come from impoverished backgrounds: "Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men. ..... Putting all the information together, my best guess is that black N.B.A. players are about 30 percent less likely than the average black male to be born to an unmarried mother and a teenage mother." Infographic. NYTimes link
The Boston Bruins are the toughest team in the NHL: So what is it good for, this heady melange of swagger and glower and grit and facepunching? What is it, if it's not a way to win? Consider this possibility: toughness in hockey isn't a strategy. It's an aesthetic.
Four new, not-racist names for Washington D.C.'s football team: The slideshow at the bottom of the article is sort of interesting too, as insight into how branding companies think.
Charles Pierce on Donald Fehr and the NHL lockout: So, when the NHL players turned to [Fehr], everyone on both sides knew they were hiring a wartime consigliere. The players came out of the last lockout with such impeccably clean clocks that it's a wonder they didn't hire someone with an RPG launcher this time around. Fehr's hiring should have come as a surprise to approximately nobody, since a lockout is always a deliberate tactic by management aimed at achieving a precise goal — in this case, clawing back what little was left after the last time Bettman fastened on this strategy.
Slave Genes Myth Must Die: Olympic Champion sprinter Michael Johnson says, All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations. . . . Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me –- I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.
Profile of John Carlos: who, together with Tommie Smith, performed the black power salute on the podium of the Mexico City Olympic games. "In life, there's the beginning and the end," he says. "The beginning don't matter. The end don't matter. All that matters is what you do in between whether you're prepared to do what it takes to make change. There has to be physical and material sacrifice. When all the dust settles and we're getting ready to play down for the ninth inning, the greatest reward is to know that you did your job when you were here on the planet."
Butt Ended: Mike Keenan, on coaching the Blackhawks in 1988: So I'm coaching my first exhibition game and I go into the dressing room after the first period to talk, and there's no one in there. I'm wondering what in hell is going on, and take a walk out to the other side of the hallway and the whole team is out there, smoking cigarettes." This is an interesting article on what seems almost unimaginable today - Hockey stars of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Guy Lafleur and Denis Savard, being pack a day smokers, or more.
Jürgen Klinsmann Tries to Teach Football to America: Klinsmann knows that his new freedom has a lot to do with the relative unimportance of soccer in America. There are Americans who say that soccer isn't a sport for men, but for girls and pansies who don't have what it takes to play American football. In this sense, America isn't too weak for soccer; rather, soccer is too weak for America. These attitudes have helped American soccer, especially the national team, carve out a comfortable niche for itself. The team has never been under the unconditional pressure to win. "In this sense, the environment is different in the United States," says Klinsmann. "If you lose a match here, nobody cares. Then people say: 'Oh, you lost yesterday. No problem.'" (gallery).
Olympic Blade Runner: Oscar Pistorius has qualified for both the Track and Field World Championships and Olympics in the 400 metre sprints, with a time of 45.07 seconds. Pistorius, who had his legs amputated below the knees at 11 months of age, races on prosthetic carbon fibre "blades". A 2008 court decision ruled his prosthetics did not give him a competitive advantage and made him eligible for the Beijing Olympics, but he was unable to make the qualifying time for those games. It now appears he will be automatically selected for the South African team sent to the 2012 London Olympics.
Hockey Then and Now: In a recent New Yorker, Adam Gopnik dwells on the Habs. Two things caught the more disinterested eye of the post-Habs playoff-watcher. First, how much hockey really has changed in the past fifteen or so years—and though the changes aren’t entirely to my liking, their cause is: they’re all a function of ever-increasing skill and broad-based excellence. To watch highlights of Cups past, from the sixties and seventies, is to see awkwardly upright goalies waving their sticks apologetically at passing pucks; the perfection of the butterfly style now means that getting a goal is hard, and damn near impossible from a distance. This produces both the decreased scoring of this hockey epoch, and the ugly habit of playing “North-South” hockey, banging the net and basically trying to ram the puck home under or over a helpless goalie after a bad rebound from six inches away.
Requiem for boxing: the decline of the Sweet Science: And the MMA fights themselves feel like fast food – sometimes extraordinarily good fast good – compared with what boxing at its best can produce, a three-hour, three-star meal. They feel like a tweet (though sometimes, a great, clever, provocative tweet), not a sonnet, and certainly not an epic, a really catchy jingle, not a fully realized popular song. There's no arguing with the marketplace. Fifty-five thousand people can't be wrong. There's no turning back the clock. And there's no point in trying to explain what's missing, because what's missing has already been, and is already gone.
Great set of photos showcasing the culture of cricket in South Asia: : young and old, amateur and professional, prisoners and priests.
Why can't basketball stats nerds separate the superstars from the ball hogs?: "To number-crunching nerds raised on baseball, in which pitcher and batter compete in statistically delicious one-on-one duels, such messy "interaction effects" are a lumpy blemish in the box score. In January, seasoned baseball sabermetrician (and occasional Slate contributor) Phil Birnbaum argued in his blog that basketball's so-called "advanced" box-score stats are so gnarled with this problem that they can't be trusted. (He went so far as to call them "the RBIs of basketball"—a brutal insult to lovers of well-validated statistics.) Is Birnbaum right? Is this why people can't agree on the value of Carmelo?"
Drill and Kill: How Americans Link War and Sports. Sports and war have been closely linked in the minds of Americans for generations, which many Europeans find unusual.
Ben Johnson, about to launch his autobiography, is interviewed:: Usain Bolt, however, is spared any insinuations. "I've not got any bad thing to say about Bolt. I'm happy for him. If I was born 22 years later it would've been great to race him. And I don't think he would have beaten me." Johnson laughs, suggesting he could have run faster than Bolt's 9.58 if he had raced on modern tracks – and free of steroid abuse.