Category: Sports

June 12th, 2015

Iowa doesn’t seem like a big state until you’re 150 miles into it, on day two of a week-long bike ride. But it is. It’s long and hilly and hot. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes they run out of pork chops along the side of the road.

Sometimes you have to stop. And that’s where I was.

This post originally appeared June 5th, 2015, as part of The Pastry Box Project.

RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Big Race Across Iowa – was a kind of legend in our house growing up. My father had made it all the way across when I was just a kid, and though he never did it again it was still a point of pride. It was a dream to me – to take a week off work and family and life and just ride, 75-some miles a day, alone and in my thoughts beside my wife and tens of thousands of other like-minded people.

More than that, though, it was a dream to find myself at the finish. To hold up my bike after dunking it in the Mississippi. To conquer Iowa.

And I had all the confidence I could do it. Until we approached Emmetsburg.

My knee tweaked. I fought the pain and kept going, riding harder, pushing up hills, against the wind, trying to stay in line. And, finally, as I rode into town, our resting spot for the night, the pain became too much.

Five blocks from our camp, I got off my bike.

I could barely walk. My eyes were stinging from sunscreen. I limped along.

And then I cried. Because I wasn’t going to be riding the next day – if at all. The dream was done, and I wasn’t prepared for how much that would hurt.

Convincing Myself

Sometimes, I speak at conferences. And while my talks are about methodology, and making things smaller and more usable for resource-strapped teams, and empathy for co-workers and editors, I ultimately fall on a common topic: the myth of perfection.

I talk about how the web is an imperfect ball of twine, tangled and knotted and unable to be smoothed out. There are inconsistencies that can no longer be unraveled. We are all learning this as we go. Rah Rah Do Your Best.

I stand up in front of rooms of 20 and crowds of 300 and I talk about how we can’t be perfect, and people tweet things and they come up to me after and say how great it is that I’m talking about how imperfect we all are and how brave. And that’s awesome. Except.

Except, really, it’s not about them, is it?

Over the past five years, through dozens of talks and articles, from conversations with clients and co-workers, among friends, at bars, as we’re walking, I stress the importance of finding value in the lack of perfection. This is my soapbox. This is what I think I believe.

But I’m not trying to convince an audience of attendees or peers. I’m trying to convince myself.

The Myth

I know there are people out there who understand that perfection is a myth. Hell, I understand perfection is a myth. But I’ll be damned if I ever remember that when I’m staring down a deadline, tweaking and primping some unnecessary details, my head filling with doubt, my gut twisting like it’s spent too much time in the Gravitron.

I understand, but I rarely believe. I’m there, every time. Trying to make things perfect.

That’s what we’re taught. That perfection is accessible, that giving 110% percent is a goal. The urge to “try our best” is, by definition, reaching out for perfection – doing our best to make something perfect. Something flawless.

That’s a great thing to be able to do. That’s why we try to maximize our productivity, and that’s why we learn new things, and improve our methods, and practice practice practice.

It’s not that we shouldn’t try to be perfect – to make things as good as they can get. It’s just that we have to redefine what perfect means. To understand that being perfect doesn’t mean overanalyzing everything. That being perfect is a point in the distance that we drive toward, a black tower that guides our path.

Perfect’s a good goal, as long as we understand we’ll never make it there. You can still win the pennant even without a perfect game.

I Used To…

And with that, I can look back at all of my failures and realize what really happened.

I used to be a photographer. I used to be a teacher. I used to read and I used to write a lot more.

I used to be patient. I used to understand.

I used to be a lot of things, and I had reasons for letting off. I saw people who had done it better, or I had recognized my own inconsistencies. I gave the fuck up. I just figured if I’m not going all out – if I’m not impressing people – then what’s the point in trying.

And that’s too bad. I sought perfection in places where I’d never find it – not with my limited attention, not with my personal quirks.

But I’m getting there. I’m getting confident enough to try again. I’m just doing. I’m not worrying whether things will work out. I’m just doing the work, understanding it doesn’t need to be perfect. I’m just doing things. And I’m just doing it for me.

Finishing Over Completion

The end is the end, no matter how many miles you rode in the middle. You get to the Mississippi, and you dip your tire in. RAGBRAI is over. You made it.

For a split second, I thought I had. And then I remembered day three. Who was I to claim this feeling? Who was I to say I rode RAGBRAI?

It wasn’t until the drive back – seven of us in the back of a camper, drinking Coors Light, our bikes wedged into the front and our sunburned legs wedged into the back – that I understood what RAGBRAI was. Not the start and finish. Not the miles, or the hills. It was the people. The community.

In the back, we had four people who had ridden every mile – sometimes more. We had two who had taken a day off to rest. We had one who had only ridden three of the seven days. But together in that camper, as things got dark and we retreated back west, erasing every mile, we were all riders.

Perfection be damned. There’s always future rides. At that moment, we were all together as finishers, even if we hadn’t completed it.

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February 8th, 2012

Recently, I’ve taken up running. I challenged myself to a 5k race in March, and to train I’m using the Couch to 5k training program.

I couldn’t believe how hard it was.

The program is simple – you run longer and longer each time, until your body is accustomed to running for 35 minutes at a time. The first week has you pairing one-minute runs with one-minute walks for 16 minutes. By the third week, you’re running 3-5 minutes at a time. By the end of the seventh week, you’re up to a single 25-minute run.

In the past – as many of us have – I’d have accepted this 5k challenge by jumping right into a 5k run. Just do it. No guts, no glory. No shins, either, as they’d have died the next day.

In running, there’s no concept of all or nothing. Instead, you must respect time. You must earn your place. And if you do, running is no longer hard. It just becomes part of what you do. It finds a niche in your routine and takes root.

There’s a life lesson in there, somewhere.

Category: Sports, Vilhauer

July 8th, 2011

Just 90 minutes ago, I conducted a user interview with a director-level staff member at the Toyota Center in Houston. We chatted about the project and about average internet usage and all the things I was supposed to talk about. But I couldn’t help but slide one extra question in at the end.

ME: “So, do you think Yao Ming will ever play again?”

HIM: “On the record? Yeah, absolutely. Off the record … ”

All records aside, we have our answer. Just 30 minutes later, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Yao Ming, who hasn’t played a full season since his sophomore season, is officially retiring. And, as always, Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie sums it up the most elegantly.

From his post:

A 77-game run in 2008-09 led to broken hearts amongst every basketball fan, as they watched him pull up lame on basic cable television on a Friday night, working as best he could to defeat the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. This is a game that was created for winter, to distract young men from cabin fever, and Yao’s run was as cold and cruel as those dreary New England months around the turn of the last century that created what we, in the heat of July of 2011, obsess over. Fairness had no say in the deal.

I hated how he’d be voted in as an All-Star starter every year on the strength of millions of Chinese votes, but I always respected his game.

Category: Basketball, Sports

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July 7th, 2011

When Upper Deck released the Michael Jordan baseball card in its 1991 set, it was a stroke of genius. In one card Upper Deck illustrated the juxtaposition of patience and brute force; the struggle of minor-league hope against established superstardom. And, in doing so, created one of the oddest natural moments in sports card history.

Jordan, playing baseball(Key note: NATURAL. This wasn’t Kurt Rambis freaking out over his glowing basketball. This was a real picture – a photo opportunity, sure, but a real picture of a real player playing a real sport for a real team.)

If you were a basketball fan, you wanted this card. It was the only way to get a Michael Jordan card that year. If you were a baseball fan, you wanted this card, much as you’d have wanted Eddie Gaedel’s card: as an oddity, a rare blip on the trading card landscape, a mashup before mashups were even a thing.

It was valuable. It was rare.

Twenty years later, we can see it for what it really was: arrogant.

Because, with the benefit of hindsight, this card freezes a privileged superstar at the peak of his ability, unable to understand failure, confident that he can do anything better than anyone, and completely willing to be paraded around as a novelty for the chance to prove everyone wrong.

Michael Jordan played baseball for a year. He was given a minor league spot by Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of both the White Sox and the Bulls. He was paid by the Chicago Bulls the entire time.

He batted .202 for the Birmingham Barons. He hit three home runs and drove in 51 runs.

He wasn’t perfect. And this card proves it, much to his chagrin.

The accepted story is that Jordan did this for his father. It was all done out of tragedy of his dad’s murder. He retired and went into baseball because his father’s dream was for Jordan to be a MLB star.

Maybe. But he also did it because that’s who he always was: unable to admit that he had flaws. The arrogance in that smirk, the ease with which he wandered onto the baseball field, the knowledge that he hadn’t worked a day to earn his spot on the team, and that, once he felt the heat from his critics, he was able to waltz back onto the Bulls with a simple phrase.

“I’m back.”

And we all embraced him. We had missed him on the floor. So we patted him on the head and let the experiment slide.

The card’s worth about five bucks, now. Funny what hindsight does.

June 30th, 2011

We’re only a few hours from lock-out, and something’s already bothering me about the owners’ position on the NBA collective bargaining agreement. Thankfully, the Salt Lake Tribune went ahead and said it out loud. From “Shutdown: NBA Owners Lock Out Players.”

“Parity and improved competition are also at the heart of the league’s desire for change. Superstars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony controlled the 2010-11 fates of their former clubs, dictating where they wanted to play – Miami, New York – and damaging the futures of franchises in Cleveland and Denver. In addition, most small-market teams lack a realistic chance to win the NBA championship before the season even starts, while several clubs have either been sold or put on the market during the past year.”

There’s a lot wrong with that paragraph. But let’s look at two reasons.

Reason One: If small markets are hurt by their team, they sure aren’t showing it.

I don’t have any sympathy for small market teams, especially not in a league where profit-sharing allows small market teams to ride piggyback on merchandise sales of its larger market brethren, and ESPECIALLY not in a league where a salary cap dictates how much you can spend on your team.

To say most small-market teams lack a realistic chance to win the NBA championship – and to assume that large markets are given some kind of free “get to the second round for free” pass – is pretty short-sighted.

Just a reminder: the smallest markets in basketball last year were:
1. Memphis – Bad for some years, fantastic last year, filled with young talent and ready to make a leap.
2. New Orleans – Injury riddled and still reeling from some hurricane.
3. San Antonio – Four championships in the past twenty years.
4. Salt Lake City – A power through the 90s, a upper-tier team until recently
5. Milwaukee – Pretty awful.

And the five biggest non-NBA markets:
1. Tampa/St. Petersburg
2. St. Louis
3. Pittsburgh
4. San Diego
5. Hartford

So, the “small market” argument says that, if the five smallest markets were replaced by the five biggest non-markets, those teams would suddenly gain some kind of advantage? Would the San Diego Spurs or St. Louis Bucks suddenly be better?

While we’re at it, let’s look at the five biggest market teams:
1. New York – One playoff team in the past decade
2. Los Angeles – One team with tons of titles: the other with tons of lawsuits
3. Chicago – The best team in the world in the 90s, woefully underperforming through the 00s and until recently.
4. Washington – Snicker.
5. Boston – They’re good now. But remember the Antoine Walker years?

Reason Two: The league didn’t force someone like Dan Gilbert to purchase or create a basketball team in a place like Cleveland.

Last I checked, there was no dictate that allowed the NBA to force an owner to buy a team in a small market for more than it is worth. On the contrary – owning a basketball gives some people SUCH a hard-on that they’re willing to overspend.

If I buy a Mini Cooper, and I live in the mountains, I don’t have the right to complain about how my small engine makes it too difficult to travel over a mountain pass. And I certainly don’t have the right to expect the state to tear down the mountain to make a more level road.

You can’t blame your 400 million dollar purchase of a sports team – and the subsequent inability to sell said 400 million dollar sports team – on the players.

One More Thing

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony controlled the 2010-2011 fates of their former clubs by dictating where they wanted to play, eh?

Well. Kind of.

Carmelo Anthony improved the future of the Nuggets. By requesting a trade, Carmelo guaranteed that the Nuggets would receive SOMETHING for their superstar, as we now see he had no desire to stick around in Denver. And LeBron, sure. He’s a dick. That’s easy. But he also worked the free agent market the way he could. The way any of us are allowed to when we want a new job.

So did Kobe Bryant, back in 2006. Remember that? When he flirted with signing with the Clippers until Lakers management traded Shaquille O’Neal for next to nothing and – coincidentally – signed with the Lakers the next day? Now THAT was a jerk move. But, that being said, the question is still worth asking: why are we blaming players for the desire to switch jobs?

Parity is a fallacy. Parity is designed to allow bad general managers the chance to make bigger mistakes with smaller consequences. Parity hurts America, and it promotes communism and clubs seals and forces babies to become prostitutes. It gives Clippers fans hope that, despite a history of horribly managed basketball decisions (very very LARGE MARKET decisions, by the way) that they have a chance.

Argue about player salaries and cash and lockouts all you want. Just don’t position things like the players have some kind of upper hand. It takes two people to sign a contract, after all.

Category: Basketball, Sports

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February 10th, 2011

Let’s talk for a second about what’s expected of us when something great happens to someone we know.

For background, I present Mike Greenberg, co-host of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio.

Greenberg, who tends to take offense at everything, wondered aloud why, after Green Bay’s Super Bowl win, Brett Favre hadn’t bothered to call and offer congratulations, specifically to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

To which I wonder aloud, “Why should he?”

Why does a player need to call his former team to offer congratulations? He had nothing to do with this current incarnation. He has no connection other than a playing history. With that argument in mind, why didn’t Ron Jaworski call Aaron Rodgers? Or Mark Chmura? Sterling Sharpe?

When you win the Super Bowl, or the World Series, or the NBA Finals, or any individual sporting event, there are certain expectations when it comes to congratulations. You get a call from dignitaries, and from the commissioner, and from friends you haven’t talked to in years and will never talk to again.

The problem: when it becomes expected, it no longer means anything.

If I suddenly turn around and win the French Open, I expect a call from the President. If I don’t get it, I’ll be disappointed.

“Why didn’t he call me?”

Because he didn’t HAVE to. Support and joy don’t need to be VOICED to be TRUE. And relationships don’t need to be conjured in the name of success.

Brett Favre didn’t say “congrats” because he didn’t want to. He doesn’t have a relationship with Aaron Rodgers. He played for a division rival last season. He feels wronged. He is his own person. It doesn’t matter why.

Let’s stop pretending like adoration is a commodity.

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December 10th, 2010

46 lines.

13 rules.

Two words. “Basket Ball.”

And now, one price: 4.3 Million Dollars.

Dr. James Naismith’s original rules of basketball. Two pieces of paper that any basketball fan would love to see.
Two pieces of paper that, to quote the illustrious Indiana Jones, SHOULD BE IN A MUSEUM. Or, at the least, featured in the abomination that most call the Basketball Hall of Fame.

$4.3 Million.

To think, this aged typewritten document, pinned to the wall of a YMCA 119 years ago, scribbled on by Dr. Naismith himself and left unframed for its entire existence – unframed and equally unprotected! – gave birth to the game I love. A billion dollar industry. A sport played worldwide. A defining point in modern American culture.

$4.3 Million.

What a number.

And get this: it was purchased by a couple of U of K donors. Not by a former or current professional basketball player or coach – people who owe their entire fortunes to those two sheets of paper.

You can’t tell me someone like Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t interested. Because I know one thing. If I was a billionaire, I’d be right there. I’d have paid $4.3 Million.

For 46 lines? 13 rules? For the seed that created my favorite distraction?

Hell. I’d have paid a lot more.

Category: Basketball, Sports

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