Sports page

Jimmy Buckets chats with Grant Williams of the Celtics.

Well, it's that time of year when it seems like all the professional sports (except American football) are going full tilt. There's no shortage of offerings on the tube to anesthetize us and facilitate work avoidance.

But you've got to be selective. For me, it's too early for baseball, and I've already spent my two hours a year watching hockey. And so that leaves basketball and tennis, both in transition periods that are proving pretty interesting.

In basketball, the NBA Finals are under way, with the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets tied up at one game apiece. Miami has taken the home court advantage away from Denver, and it's off to South Florida for another game Wednesday evening. I like both of these teams, and they're richly deserving to be in the ultimate showdown. To get here, they had to beat the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers, and I'm sure the league suits were drooling over the possibility of a Celtics-Lakers rematch. But Denver has played steady and strong for many months, and their usual, reliable game was too much to the Angelenos, who fell in four games straight. Miami likewise jumped out to the three-game lead over Boston, but they had to win Game 7 in Boston to make it to the league championship.

Denver has as its centerpiece a giant of a guy from Serbia, Nikola Jokić, who seems to be playing every position on the court at once. He can shoot, run, rebound, and pass like nobody's business. He's been the league's most valuable player twice, and honestly, he deserved that honor, which he didn't get, a third consecutive time this year. Miami is led by Jimmy Butler, a seasoned veteran who, when he is "on," which is often, is an absolute force of nature. Jimmy Buckets, they call him, or as one announcer gasped as he ran out of superlatives, "Jimmy Frickin' Butler."

Both of those players are genuine underdogs. The scouts all said Jokić was too slow to ever amount to anything much. Butler was homeless as a teenager; he faxed in his letter of inent for college from a McDonald's. Both teams also have a bunch of role players who don't get nearly enough respect. They are getting the last laugh.

I love the head coaches of the two teams as well. Mike Malone runs the show in Denver, and he's a real human being. He's cried at press conferences, about things bigger than basketball. He looks everyone in the eye and speaks from the heart. Erik Spoelstra, head coach of Miami, has a Portland pedigree. His father, Jon, used to work on the Blazers' telecasts. Erik started out as a video guy in Miami, and worked his way up to the top under legendary Hall of Famer Pat Riley. No matter which of those coaches takes the big trophy, I'll be happy.

Carlos Alcaraz.

In tennis, the long season is currently in Paris, at the French Open, also known as Roland Garros. They're down to the final eight players in each of the men's and women's brackets.

The old timers are all gone. Roger Federer's retired, Rafael Nadal just had hip surgery, the Williams sisters are done, even Ash Barty from Australia is retired and I believe starting a family. On the men's side, then, it's Novak Djoković of Serbia against all the younger guys. Nick Kyrgios is absent, and so it appears to be up to the Spanish just-past-teenager, Carlos Alacaraz, to try to take the crown. Or maybe somebody like a Casper Ruud or Sasha Zverev will prevail on the orange dirt. There's also a Danish kid named Holger Rune, who seems like a bit of a spoiled brat, but he can hit.

The women's game has no obvious favorite. It looks like the title could go to either Iga Swiatek of Poland or Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. In that matchup, I'd root for Swiatek. Besides the dubious politics of Belarus, the high-strung Sabalenka shrieks with every swing of her racket as if she's being stabbed. I have to turn the sound off when she appears, and usually I find myself switching channels. That said, her next match, against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, should be quite the emotional scene. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia is still in there swinging as well. To me she's the Mike Malone of tennis – a real person under all the talent. I wouldn't mind seeing her take the top prize. And Coco Gauff from the U.S. could still make a lot of noise. She's not such a little kid any more.

The yard needs tending and there are laps to be swum, but when it's time to kick back, June spectator sports are calling. I for one can't help but sit down and give in.


  1. Portland was once a great sports town. I fondly remember Terry Baker, Beaver Baseball, the preseason NFL games in Multnomah Stadium, the hockey games televised in the Paramount theater. Sports in Portland seems to have faded like a beautiful rose that’s past it’s prime.

    1. The decline in Portland as a sports town tracks exactly the displacement of "Old Portland". Disporportionately, it was "sports fans" who chose to leave, in order to escape the hopelessly utopian politics increasingly imposed on Portland as they were replaced by "Portlandia". It has fed upon itself, and this is what we have left as a result.

    2. I think the soccer franchises are doing okay. They fit in well with the whole bikey, fake Euro, overhopped-IPA vibe that the "creative class planners" have brought down on us. You can sing the approved songs in the stands and imagine you're at a parade in North Korea. Meanwhile your money goes to the Paulson family. Too funny.

  2. You should definitely check out the 30:30 ESPN series on Bill Walton. It really focuses on 70s Portland/Oregon and has been a blast.


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