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Lockout Hell, Raider Nation, and the Triumphant Return of the D’Antoni ‘Stache

All that and more in this week's Bake Shop mailbag!

I teach high school English in Minnesota, and I think one of my freshmen may have accidentally hit upon the perfect description for the lockout in one of his poems:

“Hockey is the best sport
Better than having a lot of money
Like having a lover but not having
To worry about pleasing them … ”

— Anonymous Minnesotan English Teacher X.

Not only is this heartbreakingly beautiful, it is also quite possibly the purest insight into the male mind that I have ever seen. All high school English classes in Minnesota should task their students with writing lockout-related poetry; they can hang the results around the Mall of America, and it can become the basis for a longitudinal sociological study about dealing with loss.

Of course we know that the people getting unsatisfyingly screwed here are the fans. The first month or so of the lockout was painful, but there were ways to get around it: Watch the World Series; remind yourself that the opening weeks are always wacky and a little bit meaningless anyhow; take advantage of the last precious days before it gets dark before five.

But now we’re in what should be the start of the meat of the season, except the plate’s empty. Fans should be complaining about coaching decisions and making fun of underperforming players and over-optimistic opponents, not parsing clipped statements issued by lawyers. The players themselves should be on center ice dangling and jostling and even chirping (I never thought I’d miss hearing people be called “gutless”), but it’s just not the same trying to catch a glimpse of them in a foreign land on a pirated Internet feed. The league’s top reporters should be sitting in press boxes inside NHL arenas, not on window ledges outside “undisclosed locations” in midtown Manhattan waiting for guys in suits to emerge and tell them “no comment.”

Actually, for a few days those “no comment”s were the most beautiful sound bites hockey fans had received in some time. You can usually tell that real progress is being made when no one involved will say too much about it. It’s when the anonymous sources and the knives and the sarcasm and the pointed fingers come out that you know things aren’t going too well. And so, after a series of long and outwardly silent meetings gave everyone hope that a solution was around the corner, we now find ourselves with time wasting away. Whatever the hockey version of a biological clock is, this one is ticking. We’re staring at the wrong side of 40 — it’s just that in this case it’s measured in games, and not years.

For a while I’ve been in a Zen state about the lockout — these are negotiations, so of course there would be ups and downs; just look at how things went with the NFL and NBA labor issues last year. But I no longer feel quite so calm. I figured they’d still be apart on some things by this point, but I also never thought they’d cancel the Winter Classic. Yes, the 1995 season didn’t begin until January, and the 2005 season wasn’t canceled until February. But even though we’re still in November, these next few weeks still have the feel of being particularly crucial to determining which way this lockout will go.

And so in the next few days, I’ll be delving into the lockout in a more granular and hysterical way on The Triangle, examining the latest in leaked memos and league info and determining just how much of an overreaction is the right amount. Should you feel soothed by Jeff Z. Klein’s calm coos that this’ll all be over soon? Or should you be panicked by Gord Miller’s report that “an NHL exec … thinks that this dispute will wipe out this season, and continue into the start of next season”? I still say that my answer to both questions is “no,” but I’m starting to feel less patient and more scared.

Last time Staples Center hired a vet coach with no rings as an in-season replacement was Darryl Sutter. Turned out fine.

— Stephen S.

Let’s back up and just have a moment of silence for what has been a truly remarkable week. Just to recap:

It’s only been like three days and already “General Petraeus leaves the CIA over an affair” seems like a quaint mild euphemism. At this point we’ve now been hipped to the 30,000 pages of documents (most of them e-mails) from the two top-ranking generals, the shirtless-pic-posing FBI agent, and, it almost goes without saying, the involvement of the city of Tampa. (Florida clearly has gotten word that Ohio’s been challenging it lately for strange scandal supremacy.) There’s a 100 percent chance that this is going to end up somehow overlapping in a “can’t wait for the Vanity Fair treatment with all the helicopter-angle photos of people’s sprawling properties” Venn diagram with …

… the ongoing descent into madness by the antivirus magnate John McAfee, who is on the lam in Belize after being named as the prime suspect in a murder investigation and communicating solely through telephone calls with a Wired contributing editor, conversations that are probably only marginally weirder than the ones that must have transpired between …

… Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss. Can we discuss this? The Lakers basically moved in on Phil, started the process of negotiations, supposedly gave him a few days to think about it while simultaneously leaking to the media that he was being a diva about things — and then woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him never mind, Mike D’Antoni it was. This is like when your buddy steps on the gas as you reach for the door handle. It’s like when someone you weren’t even dating tries to initiate a breakup. For Homeland fans, I can’t help but imagine Phil Jackson as Saul and Jerry Buss’s henchmen as Aileen — Phil-as-Saul (the beard works!) getting the sickening realization of what was going down just moments too late. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? WHY?” “Maybe she was just bored …

… or as politically nutso as this woman, who ran over her husband after getting into an argument about his neglecting to vote, and who looks VERY CHILLINGLY like Jonathan Quick, which brings us back to …

… Darryl Sutter and Mike D’Antoni. What a week!

Mike D'Antoni

Grantland hoops expert Zach Lowe unpacks the ramifications of the Il Baffo hiring here, but I’m mostly just excited because I’ve really missed that face. It’s a face rivaled only, as Stephen S. points out, by the Muppet mug of no-longer-ringless coach Darryl Sutter, who came to the L.A. Kings last winter and ended up winning a Stanley Cup.

In these two Staples Center coaches we’ve got a guy last seen crashing a nursing home and “limping around, unshaven and slurping Jell-O” and a guy who, when asked what he was doing when he got the call last season that he’d been hired, answered “I think I was in the barn … I wasn’t shoveling shit, I remember that, but I had that day. Was probably warming up. It was cold.” Just imagine these two so much as getting lunch. I’d pay upwards of 50 bucks just to ride a few floors with them in an elevator.

Inspired by this Rembert Browne tweet, what celebrity or public figure’s Spotify selections would you love to have fed to you all day, every day?

— Andy R.

After learning about the contents of his iPod, I would have gone for Eli Manning, but I’m a leeeettle bit mad at him these days. I keep wanting to answer this question “Joe Biden” but that’s because my friend Sean made a “Diamond Joe Biden” Spotify playlist and it’s so good that it’s hard to remember that the Veep himself didn’t curate it. (I bet his actual tunes are all Irish reels.)

But I digress. A good celebrity Spotify feed wouldn’t be too different from a good celebrity Twitter feed: You want weird juxtapositions; uncomfortable head-scratchers; a strong feeling that the feed is being run by the actual person and not his or her handlers; and a complete lack of propriety or shame. In other words, you’d want whatever the Spotify equivalent is of Chuck Grassley’s Twitter feed.

The “Fred and I hit a deer on hiway 136 south of Dyersville. After I pulled fender rubbing on tire we continued to farm. Assume deer dead” would yield us some Kid Rock. The ongoing snark about the History Channel would be the Eagles. And all the Saturday-night binges about the University of Northern Iowa’s volleyball team would be like getting the full Matchbox Twenty album on a loop all Saturday night.

Great, now I can’t stop thinking about Chuck Grassley’s Spotify playlist. I guess my runner-up celeb would be, like, Susan Sarandon. Slow jams all day long.


— Evan M.

I know it’s easy to get excited, but remember we’ve only seen the Knicks play five games, with their most recent one being their worst. So let’s temper our expectations. Personally, I think they’re headed somewhere closer to 79-3: They’re sure to drop one when Amar’e comes back; they’ll also annoyingly lose to the Nets at the Barclays Center at some point in a game that will spawn a thousand New York Magazine articles; and … OK, actually, I guess they’re pretty much good to go 80-2.

There’s something so thrilling about this mini feel-good spell for the Knicks. Perhaps it’s that everyone buying into it also fully knows it’s absurd. Which is, of course, part of the charm: It’s like happening upon an unlocked golf cart idling outside some college alumni weekend function that you thought would be brutal so you chain-drank white wine spritzers and now you just can’t not hop in there and floor that thing for as long as you can until Campus Safety finally chases you down. (I’m telling this story on behalf of a friend.)

Anyway. Rasheed Wallace. The people love Rasheed Wallace! Somehow Rasheed Wallace has become a latter-day Herb Williams with way more 3-point attempts. And J.R. Smith! All Mike Breen can gush about is how wondrous his relationship is with Mike Woodson! Also: the new uniforms. They may be no. 2 on Wesley Morris’s list, but they’re no. 1 in our hearts. Those great waistbands! Melo. A new chapter in life and/or leadership! (I like to think La La gave him a talking-to because he was threatening to drag down her brand.) Even the Knicks’ injured guys are contributing in their own way. I think we can all agree that “Shump walks away” was a tweet for the ages, and Amar’e’s absence has awkwardly been such a positive that it ought to get its own line in the box scores.1

Iman Shumpert

In hindsight, this was clearly the only way this season could begin. So much had been made of the New Nets (and of the long-wronged Knicks fans who had opted to take the well-trodden path of reinventing themselves in Brooklyn) that it seemed poised for a crash. Peak Prokhorov can only maintain for so long. Speculative frenzies often end in an exhausted sigh.

Most Knicks fans didn’t begrudge anyone their decision to bail. (I mean, it says a lot about an organization when its fans get all giddy that the last time NY began 6-0 was in one of its most cherished seasons — you know, the one when the Knicks managed to once again NOT win a title, this time in extra-excruciating fashion.) But we did idly wonder how on earth these people would cope if the Knicks weren’t completely terrible — or, more realistically, if the Nets were just kinda meh. So far, the answer seems to be: “Make a lot of nervous jokes at the BrooklyKnight’s expense,” which I completely understand.

I play on a rec league co-ed volleyball team with players who are much worse than I am. I didn’t mind the low level of competition for a change and it is nice to play with my girlfriend. Last night it stopped being fun.

A woman on my team yelled at me to “give him a chance to get it!” when I got to a ball a few steps in front of her boyfriend, who was making no effort. The two of them have terrible attitudes and I have tried all season to compliment the efforts of my entire team. I resisted the urge to talk back to her because I thought arguing with a teammate in rec league volleyball would be pathetic.

My girlfriend has told our team captain that she doesn’t want to play with them anymore. The captain is now thinking of kicking that couple out instead of letting us quit. Now I feel bad because I may be losing them what I assume if their only form of exercise. Should my girlfriend and I quit, try to get them kicked out or what?

— Alex H.

A reliable life rule is that you will never come out ahead in an argument with someone in a rec sports league. It doesn’t matter if it’s about an out-of-bounds call or an attendance policy, and it definitely doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. It’s like fighting with someone over a parking spot at Trader Joe’s. You just won’t win. You can’t.

You’ll never match their sheer determination or keen inability to let things slide. You’ll never reason with a woman who is helicopter-parenting her own boyfriend. This is a tale as old as time. I’m not very up on my antiquity, but I’ll bet if I combed through some Great Works there’d be countless examples of young squires complaining about getting constantly hounded for a few shillings by the guy in charge of collecting afternoon archery league registration fees. “I did only set foot on that field but once,” the ancient texts probably argue. “Twas but a favor for a friend. I have never been enamored of arrows. Please I beg, leave me be!”

I checked back in with Alex to see what he decided to do. He chose correctly. “We decided to not play with them anymore. They have yet to win a game since. We went to a Halloween party they were at and I did the only acceptable thing which was wave hello and then ignore them while I was the life of the party. My girlfriend and I were dressed up in homemade costumes as a lion and a jellyfish while they were Fred and Wilma. Another moral victory.”

Approve. Perhaps you should find a kickball league instead. They seem much more laid-back.

I’m a Saints fan from Toronto going to the game in Oakland on Sunday. This is the first NFL game I’ve ever attended. Any advice?

— Guy D.

Based on everything I’d ever heard about Raider Nation, I was expecting an apocalyptic scene the first time I went to the Coliseum. But I left with all sorts of warm fuzzies toward Oakland fans.2

THAT SAID: I was definitely camouflaged in all black (although I really didn’t see all that much animosity toward people wearing Steelers black and yellow — I feel like if you’re not walking around like you own the place, you’ll probably be mostly left alone) and Oakland pulled off a really fun win, so everyone might have been more chipper than usual. I can’t speak to how restless the natives must get when they find themselves watching a stinker — particularly now that the team is 3-6. So your mileage may wildly vary.

My advice to you, then, is to make like you’re traveling in uncertain or hostile territory abroad and wear a conspicuous Canadian flag somewhere on your person. (It will at least buy you a few seconds of time as someone menacingly pokes at it and squints.) Let’s just hope things end up slightly less eventful for you than they did for this other Canadian who traveled to the Bay Area for a sporting event.

As you continue to amass a tremendous amount of life experiences, which of the following would help you work toward “jumping the shark”?

1. A dinner/interview with Joe Biden at House of Nanking in SF Chinatown?
2. Being in the locker room an hour after the Rangers win their next Cup being drowned in Champagne by Hank and Torts?
3. Skiing with Matt Lauer during a “where in the world is Matt Lauer” segment from the Swiss Alps?
4. Being in studio for the first show of the inevitable Mike and the Mad Dog reunion within the next year?
5. Being named Editor of the NYTimes Wedding section.

— Tony Z.

I feel like I’m back in middle school, with no idea whether I’m being savagely mocked or in on the joke. This is either the cruelest e-mail I’ve ever gotten, or the nicest. No. 1 would be the ultimate (so excited for this, though also irrationally jealous); (2) would be most likely to permanently compromise my professional integrity; (3) I’d rather sub in Phil Mushnick or Larry David, but yes; (4) sounds great in theory but in practice I’d be happiest listening to that mythical reunion while stuck in traffic on 95; and (5) seems to me more like a punishment. Imagine all the torturous phone calls from wronged society mothers you’d have to endure.

I’d add (6): sitting between Hillary Clinton and Martha Stewart in Knicks celebrity row during Game 7 of a Knicks-D’Antoni NBA Finals. No matter how the score ended up, the big winner would be me.

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes