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The Fourth Day of NBA Christmas

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The Totally Subjective Holiday Sports-Book Gift Guide

Plus the Minnesota Wild, the best ski locations in America, and all your other questions answered in this week's edition of the Bake Shop

How about more love for my Minnesota Wild? Minnesota sports has been miserable lately, unless you count the Minnesota Lynx historic run to their first WNBA Championship. But the WNBA is the WNBA. The Wild have the best 1-2 punch at goalie in Backstrom and Hardingm(1.9 GAA), maybe the most underrated center in Mikko Koivu, the best “hockey only” arena in the NHL, and, of course, the best mustache and hits king in Cal Clutterbuck. If that’s not enough, we have the best anthem of all time.

— Jeremy R.

I can’t resist running any e-mail with this healthy of a quality-hyperlinks-to-written-word ratio. Nicely done. (The best part was that Jeremy signed it from “St Paul, State of Hockey.”) But you’re right — the Minnesota Wild have remained incredibly under the radar this season despite leading the Western Conference. I don’t think anyone expected they’d get off to such a good start, nor do I think people know how much there is to love about them. Their goaltending has been excellent, Cal Clutterbuck is my favorite “hockey player who looks like he should be tying people to railroad tracks” (or squirting Jarome Iginla with a Gatorade bottle, whatever works), and coach Mike Yeo is definitely a Jack Adams (Coach of the Year) candidate thus far in his rookie campaign.

Last week they became the latest team to showcase one of the NHL’s most lovable quirks: the emergency backup goaltender, who was in this case a 51-year-old embroidery shop owner. (I wrote about another emergency backup-goalie call last year.) They made several offseason trades that have not only panned out well in the present — Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, formerly of the Sharks, are among the team’s leading scorers — but also set them up nicely for the future: Minnesota has one of the league’s strongest prospect rosters, including Charlie Coyle, who also came from SJ this summer. And it has had a knack for late-game comebacks this season, with this one in particular spearheaded by the dazzling Mikko Koivu.

If a person could only read 3 books about hockey/with a hockey theme, what would you recommend? (Have already read & given The Game by Ken Dryden.) Note: I realize Grantland has an occasional book feature, but with serious gift giving season approaching, would be interested in different people’s recommended books about baseball and football as well. (And for those who aren’t working their way through Simmons’ must-reads in The Book of Basketball, you should probably throw in basketball picks too :-)

— Marta T.

Ah, you’ve covered one of the best ones already by naming The Game. But I’d also recommend the following, though I’m going to stop well short of saying they’re the “only three” you should read! (Especially considering that I’m naming more than three.)

  • The Boys of Winter, by Wayne Coffey: This one is a no-brainer: not only is it about the Miracle on Ice team, a subject which is almost impossible to screw up, it’s written by Wayne Coffey, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit, in my opinion, for being one of the best feature writers in the business. (Probably because he’s not a self-promote-y Twitterer, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Like all his work, the book backs up incredibly readable storytelling with incredibly detailed research.
  • The Greatest Hockey Stories Ever Told: The Finest Writers on Ice, edited by Bryant Urstadt: A great anthology of shorter pieces related to hockey that includes work from writers including E.M. Swift (whose book Eleven Seconds made me cry a lot) and Dave Bidini (who has written several hockey books, such as Tropic of Hockey, that are also worth checking out.)
  • Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup by Ed Willes: Also involves Team Canada coach Mike Keenan. Need I say more?
  • Zamboni Rodeo, by Jason Cohen: A very funny and honest book revolving around Texas minor league hockey team the Austin Ice Bats. Captures the personalities that make the sport so unique.

I checked in with Jonah Keri, Grantland baseball writer extraordinaire and author of a pretty great baseball book himself, for his recs. As it turns out, he wrote a whole list on the very subject earlier this year that you can check out, and he added that Veeck — As In Wreck, Lords of the Realm, and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (all on that linked list) are “particular favorites” of his that are a little more under the radar.

As for football, Bill Barnwell recommended — “Matt Christopher aside,” he made sure to note — The Games That Changed the Game by Ron Jaworski. “It tries to pin down seven distinct games that caused the NFL to radically change, most recently Bill Belichick’s defensive scheme from the Super Bowl win over the Rams in 2002,” he wrote. “Football strategy books tend to be way too jargon-y, but Jaworski does a really good job of putting things in context and writing for an audience that includes the football fan, not just the football professional.”

And basketball, well: The recommended book list from The Book of Basketball contains just about everything, but a few basketball books that I personally love, off the top of my head (and some of these are probably on TBOB’s list): anything by David Halberstam, but especially Playing for Keeps, which is about Michael Jordan and fascinated me; Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann, a pretty shocking look inside the world of AAU basketball, and :07 Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum, because I’m a total sucker for season-long narratives, particularly ones in which the writer gets to practically sit on the bench (McCallum is working on a book about the 1992 Dream Team, and I could not be more excited.) The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac has illustrations as great as its writing. Oh, and I haven’t read it in more than a decade, but I ought to point out that In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle was incredibly formative for me in like, sixth or seventh grade; I remember reading it and thinking I wanted to write just like that.

If you’re looking for even more, check out Dan Shanoff’s list of the best sports books of the year.

A few final recs. First, to my fellow New York fans: I’m a sucker for Losing the Edge (Rangers), as well as Just Ballin’ and When The Garden Was Eden (Knicks). And to fans of fiction in general: If you haven’t yet picked up The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, please do so immediately — and get it for everyone you know while you’re at it, because it’s far from being a mere “sports book.” Secondly, I really loved Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. It’s not a sports book, even nominally, and it’s definitely not for everyone, and yet in the wake of the Penn State (and, it now seems, Syracuse) scandal, it’s incredibly and unfortunately relevant.

What are your top 3 places to ski, or best trips you’ve taken? I’m massively jealous that you’re in the Bay Area now, I lived in Squaw Valley for two years after college as a ski bum and am now back in Chicago. Secondly: best Ski Movie ever? Hot Dog the Movie, Aspen Extreme, Ski School, or Hot Tub Time Machine?

— Ted C.

One of my biggest regrets in life is not doing a ski-bum year after college. I honestly don’t see a downside. Any “holes in your résumé” are completely canceled out by the fact that if you’re in a ski town for a full season, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll meet someone wealthy who “puts in a good word for you” somewhere. As for favorite ski movie: Aspen Extreme is probably my favorite of those, but my no. 1 is nonfiction: The Blizzard of AAHHH’s, which I wrote about here. (Warning: Apparently that post got Grantland blocked at some places because of the phrase “ski porn” in the title, so click at your own risk. And if you work at one of the places where Grantland got blocked, quit.)

Here are my three favorite places:

3. Telluride, Colo.: To me the vibe of the ski town can be just as important as the actual slopes, and Telluride is a haute hippie delight. On the one hand, there’s an amazing sushi place right on the main drag, and my old boss at Goldman owned a house there; on the other hand, he described his neighbors as “Cheech and Chong.” Without incriminating myself, let’s just say that one of the most fun ski-town nights of my life began with instructions to “just go to Tracks and look for an Aussie named Shane; he’ll know what to do” and ended up with a gondola ride to see “some Grateful Dead cover band at the opera house.” There are also no lift lines, and my Twitter avatar photo was taken there, which is important. I’m going back in March and can’t wait.

2. Jackson Hole, Wy.: I don’t know why I like Jackson so much, considering how much time I’ve spent in tears on that mountain, hugging trees and/or dangling off cliffs. It’s also the only mountain where I’ve been genuinely afraid on a chair lift (Sublette). But yeah, Jackson is great!

1. Alta, Utah: Many people prefer neighboring Snowbird (which totally rocks and belongs on this list, too, just so we’re clear), but Alta is my favorite mountain always and forever. I get grumpy whenever I haven’t been there in too long. It’s a total free-for-all terrain-wise, the snow is fluffy and plentiful thanks to the mountain’s geography, and there are no frills and no nightlife: just a few pubs (with weird Utah liquor laws, fair warning) and some heated pools/hot tubs, which at this mountain is honestly all you need. Bonus: Like all of Utah’s mountains, it’s only like, 45 minutes from the airport.

(Honorable mention: Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Mont., for being the best value and having the hardest-core people. It’s also where I watched the first half of this game, so good memories and all.)

Everyone — well, maybe not opposing goalies — is happy to see Crosby back in the NHL. However, is Sid one more concussion away from being Eric Lindros (i.e. damaged goods)? At what point does his likelihood of injury and significant contract (in a capped NHL) make Crosby a potential albatross?

— Jeffrey P.

I think one of the reasons Sid waited so long to come back was so that he’d truly be at 100 percent and would have essentially a clean slate. His concussion experts did say that if he returned to full health, he’d be no more or less susceptible to a head injury going forward than anyone else, which is hard for me to fully believe. On the other hand, many people have held up the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron as an example of exactly that: After being out for almost a year with one awful concussion, Bergeron had subsequent ones that only sidelined him for a few weeks at a time. No two are the same.

Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Farber, who wrote about the connection between Crosby and Bergeron, also coauthored with David Epstein a fascinating piece about the controversial “chiropractic neurologist” that Crosby turned to this fall to help him restore some of his brain function. This is all just an excuse for me to post this glorious video of Jerry Rice pimping chiropractic care. “I am flattered by the testimonials to my durability.” Bonus points for the Dancing With the Stars poster in the backdrop.

My mom has been out of the country for six months and is coming back Christmas Day. What’s the ultimate “American Item” to give as a gift under these circumstances?

— Joel W.

A Powerball ticket! After she loses, which she will, point her to this story of the three Connecticut money managers from Greenwich, one of whom was a former member of the U.S. sailing team, who just won the $254.2 million jackpot. If she’s been gone for six months, it’ll be the perfect way to make her understand the latest American pastime: despising the 1 percent.

With the recent firings of Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice, my buddy and I were thinking that there should be a trade deadline-style day when teams are allowed to swap members of their coaching staffs. TSN (and any American network that cares) could blow it up and do all-day coverage, and we would have the pleasure of watching teams make huge mistakes in the heat of the moment. Coaches should be subject to the same threat of being traded as players, plus it would save them the indignity of just being fired. What fantasy coaching trades would you make? I’m thinking Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault to Long Island for Jake Capuano, since aside from Capuano’s hideous hair they’re twins, or maybe Guy Boucher to Philly so he can make them play the trap.

— JM F.

I’m actually really upset that you wrote in with this idea, because now I CANNOT stop thinking about it. The best part would be having some sort of convoluted matrix/web/flowchart-style graphic flash on the screen trying to outline which coaches and GMs had longstanding feuds, rivalries, or outright hostilities that would preclude them from transacting with one another. (Brian Burke’s head would be in the middle.) Every now and then, there’d be a live feed of Barry Trotz and David Poile playing video games and high-fiving with their phone off the hook. Lindy Ruff would be like Ray Bourque, getting traded to a contender to help him finally get his Cup. Teams would have to give up not only their current coach, but also a handful of assistants, as well as additional future considerations for a guy like Dan Bylsma. Can you imagine the trade-proposal threads that would show up on the HF Boards? The coaches sections would be a joy. I’d also love reading mini scouting-report capsules from past and current players: ” … you just want him to like you … never uses the same line combination twice … hard to know if he’s joking or just being a dick …” for John Tortorella and ” … preaches defense above all … speaks excellent French … has a tendency to sneak up behind you in the locker room and whisper “THE SYSTEM” in your ear …” for Jacques Martin. Let’s do this.

Is it bad that I’m a 30 year old red blooded American male who absolutely loves reading the NYT wedding section just to tote up the NUPTIALS score? All of these people make me feel both better and worse about myself. Better because I wouldn’t be caught dead in the NYT wedding section; worse because I can’t hold a candle to some of these absolutely ridiculous stories about meeting a spouse. I wish I had a PR firm that could turn ‘met drunk chick at bar, sloppily made out with her, put her number in my phone under the wrong name, called a week later in the middle of the day to get her name off voicemail’ into some romantic tale of loving bliss. Thoughts?

— Jon B.

The New York Times wedding section actually is that PR firm. They’d turn your story into this:

“Jon Bouvier knew he’d met someone special in Martha Macy when the two struck up a conversation in the back room of Dorrian’s Red Hand, the Upper East Side watering hole. But there was one thing he didn’t know: her name.

“After sharing a late-night snack of pizza and then their first kiss on Second Avenue as Ms. Macy waited to hail a cab, Mr. Bouvier — a descendant of Janet Bouvier, Jacqueline’s sister — thought it would be rude to ask Ms. Macy to repeat her name, which he hadn’t heard clearly inside the crowded bar, a favorite destination for alumni of Trinity College, from which he graduated in 2003. So when she gave him her number through the taxi window, Bouvier entered it into his phone as ‘Mata Hari,’ a reference to the Dutch exotic dancer and spy.

“‘I had done the crossword puzzle earlier that week, and that was one of the words,’ he explained. ‘I just thought, at the very least, I would laugh the next day at the absurd mystery of it all.’

“Ms. Macy, whose paternal great-great-grandfather founded the department store chain, woke up the next morning excited to hear from Mr. Bouvier. But as days went by, her roommates advised her to forget about him, or at least not to worry too much.

“‘We go to Dorrian’s every Thursday night,’ she said, ‘So they were like, maybe he does, too, and you’ll see him again.’

“But Mr. Bouvier had a plan. At 11:13 the following Wednesday, he dialed ‘Mata Hari’s’ number, crossing his fingers that the call would be directed to voicemail, where he could learn her real name. ‘I figured Wednesday’s a big meeting day, and eleven o’clock seemed like a busy time at the office,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what I would have done if she had actually picked up, or if she had one of those voicemails with only the number.’

“Luckily, the ploy worked — halfway. ‘You’ve reached Martha,’ her voicemail said. ‘I can’t get to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I’ll call you back. Thanks and have a great day!’

“Mr. Bouvier turned to Facebook, scrolling through pages of Marthas until he saw one that looked vaguely familiar. Then he sent her a text. ‘Dorrians tmrw?’ it said. ‘def!!!’ she texted back.
“Three years later, as they stood facing each other at an altar constructed in the backyard of the bride’s parents’ vacation home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, their vows took on a particular humor. ‘I, Martha Macy …’ the bride began, and Mr. Bouvier couldn’t help himself. ‘So THAT’S her name,’ he deadpanned to the knowing crowd of 250, drawing raucous laughter — and causing the couple’s dog, a Labradoodle named Mata Hari, to bark.”

So I’m a Kansas fan/grad, and even though Turner Gill was, by many indicators, a horrendous coach (1-17 in the Big 12, and the one win took a 28 pt 4th quarter to happen. And Colorado’s coach was immediately fired after losing to KU), I can’t but help feel a little sad that a really great person (Turner, by all accounts, is a class act and a great role model for young people) might have no business coaching a program in a BCS Conference (I’m calling it Turner Guilt! Cute!). Do you think that being a great, accomodating, kind-hearted person and being a great D1 football coach/big $$$$ sports coach is mutually exclusive? Our previous coach, Mark Mangino, was a humongous asshole, and our next coach, maybe Mike Leach, has invited his own share of controversies. In order to really be successful at something that intense and pressure-driven — I feel like this applies to business as well as sports — do you just have to be a crazy person who devalues humane concerns? For every “normal” seeming coach in pro sports or college (say like, Mike Tomlin), I’ll give you 10 insane people (Saban, Calipari, Phil Jackson, etc). Please advise.

— Corban G.

I apologize, Corban, but I know basically nothing about college football, so I turned to Grantland’s Robert Mays, who, as it turns out, is a Missouri fan. My apologies. Here’s what he had to say:

Well, Corban, as a Mizzou grad, I’d first like to express my delight at the train wreck that Kansas football has become. Replacing the innate comedy of Mangino with the incompetence of Turner Gill has really been wonderful.

In all seriousness, I think there is something to this theory, but I’d give it a small tweak. I’ve always hesitated to posit about the moral standing of athletic figures, and the reason is that a month ago the answer to this question would have been a grandfatherly 84-year-old with a couple of national championships. With that in mind, I wouldn’t draw the line here as it relates to the “quality of person” these coaches might be. To me, success at the highest level of coaching has far more to do with the concession that a normal life isn’t realistic.

By all accounts, the greatest football coach of all time, Vince Lombardi, was an absentee father who maintained a relationship with his family that teetered between unhealthy and nonexistent. Bill Belichick is divorced. Urban Meyer left coaching due to lingering health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family. I can’t comment on how well Nick Saban treats his wife, but I can assume that he didn’t spend much time at PTA meetings.

Meyer has said the health problems that pushed him from coaching are no longer an issue, but what reason is there to believe that he can slow himself this time around? There is an addictive quality to the competition that exists at the highest level of coaching, and those who succeed, for good or for ill, seem to be those who embrace the lifestyle. That type of personality doesn’t just lead to increased preparation. It perpetuates a sense of program expectations. No one ever responded to that teacher who asked to be called by his first name, and the Meyers and Belichicks don’t succeed on sympathy or empathy. Those who have demanded that much of themselves, to the point that it can prevent them from maintaining a normal set of relationships, tend to demand that type of dedication from those around them.

Why isn’t Party Down discussed as one of the best comedic shows of the last 5 years? I recite lines off that show and started to warn my lady that if Rick Fox is around, there will be no communication between them.

— Aaron H.

I think it’s because everyone is too depressed that it isn’t still on. I’m almost always a few years behind the times when it comes to TV shows, and I didn’t fully believe that it could possibly be as good as everyone was always talking about. But after finally watching it, I realized it was even better. I just think the premise is so relatable — so many of us have worked in the service industry and known the weird camaraderie that develops between even the most unlikely of colleagues, as well as the absurdity of working a party that you feel like you ought to be attending. Anyway, if you were a Party Down fan, you’ll love this long and involved oral history of the show, which has the added benefit of being rich with plenty of clips. There are also the ongoing rumors that there will be a movie at some point, so who knows: Maybe life isn’t handing us all lemons. I see sun eggs.

I know the Winter Classic Alumni Game is going to have the physical intensity of a NASCAR pit row shouting match, but as a Flyers fan I have hope for the following scenarios:

— mirroring his career, Lindros plays the first two periods for the Flyers, gets his bell rung at the end of the second by a Kasparaitis cheap shot, and then plays the third period for the Rangers

— during the second intermission the Flyers take the C off Lindros’ jersey and sew it onto Desjardins’ (the sewing of the C onto Desjardins’ sweater was actually shown on a Flyers broadcast in March 2000)

— Clarke beats Vanbiesbrouck short side, then says in the postgame presser “I’ve seen that before….”

— Duguay plays without a helmet and gets heckled with homophobic taunts even though he is still married to Kim Alexis

— Roenick gets put through the boards repeatedly What might your wishes for the Winter Classic Alumni Game be?

— Phil K.

You’ll be excited to learn that Ron Duguay is indeed going helmetless in the game, according to ESPN New York’s Katie Strang. While we’re on the subject, I’m not sure which graf about Duguay I love the most: this one, from a 2009 New York Times piece:

The disco-era Rangers reached their peak in 1978-79, when Duguay scored 27 goals. He fondly recalled his favorite day of every week that season: “Mondays would look like this: Get a Korean massage, where they’d walk on your back. Then go to Il Vagabondo, the restaurant in the East 60s, and maybe play some bocce. Then at 11:30, I’d go over to Studio 54. My favorite people to go with were Donnie Murdoch or Johnny McEnroe.”

Or this, from a 1984 People article (People’s online archives, by the way, are a great way to waste hundreds of hours of your life) about his marriage to model Robin Bobo:

Ron didn’t go for the power play until they had dated all summer. First he shot wide: He asked her to move in with him. She refused, citing her growing modeling career in L.A. and her desire for a firmer commitment. Then he zeroed in on goal, proposing after a Paul Anka concert outside Detroit. “We were having a spat,” Robin recalls. “Then he pulled the car over to the side and said, ‘I want to spend my life with you, will you marry me?’ I told him, maybe. He thought anybody would jump at that and I think he felt kinda hurt, so I said yes.”

Also, there’s this.

Katie Baker is a staff writer for Grantland.

Previously from Katie Baker:
Broadway Blueshirts Are Becoming Must-See Theatre
Manning-ology, Lady Byng, and the Pitfalls of Great Free Tickets
The Best Team in the NHL
Wedded Blitz! The October Marriage Season
The Rise of the Female Distance Runner
Benching Ovechkin
The Horrible Habs
Coming to Grips With the Winter Classic

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Filed Under: Bake Shop, Books, Katie Baker, People, Series, Sports

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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