Is this a big deal? re: Dempsey’s Pub

Kind of a big deal.

Kind of a big deal.

I need a ruling from the chorus on this event that occurred at approximately 8:20 p.m. CST at Dempsey’s Irish Pub, 623 Vermont St., Lawrence, Kansas.

Seated at the bar, my buddy Bill, making his maiden voyage to Dempsey’s, and I were snarfing a couple of Dempsey’s delictable gourmet burgers while watching the Cleveland Cavaliers consistently mess up defensive rotations. Orlando’s Rashard Lewis was always open, and when he wasn’t, Dwight Howard was dunking.

Bill and I found this all to be mildly disappointing, but incredibly annoying. The Magic had not exactly revolutionized the game with this “pass it into the post, wait for a double team and hit the open shooter” offense, yet the Cavaliers behaved as if each sequence of this was an indefensible new offensive move at which the competition committee would need to take a hard look in the offseason.

We, like everybody else including David Stern, wanted a LeBron-Kobe NBA Finals. The NBA is the only sport I can think of in which the general viewing populace pulls for the overdog. We want the Finals to be great, so we root for the teams we know are best to meet in the Finals. To me, this is totally logical. But when you suggest the NCAA Tournament would be better without so many upsets, people look at you like you’ve just told them you don’t like pizza.

During the second quarter, a woman of about 60 years, seated at the bar with what appeared to be her husband, was also downing one of Lawrence’s best burgers. She summoned the bartender. He then grabs the remote and starts flipping channels. Bill and I start getting nervous. There are only two TVs in this place, and we could only see the other one by craning our necks back about 100 degrees.

He lands on HGTV, looks at the woman for confirmation, and changes it from Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to a home improvement show on HGTV.

“I hate Dempsey’s,” Bill said.

So I ask the chorus, Is this a big deal?

This Week in SportsIllustrated

Remember when SportsIllustrated used to be awesome?

Well, it isn’t awesome anymore. It is, still, pretty good and sometimes awesome, just not every time. So far as I can tell, it is suffering from ills similar to those many newspapers are suffering from:

  • A reduced news hole because of reduced ad revenue.
  • A staff of lower quality. SI has failed to retain many of its best and most popular reporters and columnists, and I’m not  just talking about Rick Reilly.
  • A misplaced agenda regarding the printed version — it is trying to be a quicker, punchier read while neglecting the thing that made it great in the first place: in-depth, well-reported, well-written stories and columns.

Anyway, this NEW! feature is not intended as a rip feature. Quite the opposite. I’m going to point out, on a weekly basis, what SportsIllustrated did well that week, as a public service to people like me, who have become increasingly discouraged by actually flipping through the magazine.

This week’s cover story

“Cleveland Rocks (No Joke!),” by Joe Posnanski.

Since it has a Posnanski byline, we can assume a couple of things:

1) It will be really good.

2) It will not be overly critical.

This piece is about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ pursuit of an NBA title, set against the backdrop of Cleveland’s disappointing sports history. Since Posnanski is from Cleveland, he wrote it in the first person, which I enjoyed.*

*We often play this little game in print reporting in which the reporter pretends he isn’t part of the story he’s telling by writing it entirely in the third person. Most of the time, this is the best way. There’s no reason to inject yourself into a 18-inch game story from a meaningless college basketball game.

But when you’ve spent a lot of time on something, talking to people one-on-one, and you’re carefully crafting the story not just to inform, but to entertain, move and provoke, in certain cases, it’s probably more true and more transparent to drop yourself in there. Not always, but occasionally, and only in the right hands.

My favorite line: “Municipal (Stadium) was uniquely designed so that no matter how many people attended, every person had a view blocked by a steel beam.”

This week’s back page column

A pretty good idea, executed well by Chris Ballard, who argues that what has happened with Allen Iverson over the last two seasons, especially set against what has happened with Chauncey Billups over the last two seasons, redefines his career.

The gyst is that teams have tended to be better after he left them, and worse after he arrived, which is true, except in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1996 (although it would have been almost impossible for them to get worse).

It’s not a totally original idea. Point guards have been evaluated that way for years. But I hadn’t seen or heard anyone make that point, exactly, about Iverson. I mean, this guy won an MVP award and took his team to the Finals.

Anyway, it’s a thought-provoking column, which is what any good column is.

This Week’s Space Where Steve Rushin Should Be

An uninteresting Q&A between Dan Patrick and LeBron James. I feel bad ripping this, because I’ve produced some really crappy content in my career, but I also don’t have a page all my own in SportsIllustrated with my face at the top. And I get ripped by readers often enough, I guess.

But if Dan spent more than three hours on this page, from the time he first germenated the idea of, uh … asking LeBron James 14 questions (including, “What’s the next pregame skit you guys are going to pull off?”), to the time he called his friend Bob Costas for a one-liner on Manny Ramirez, I’d be amazed.

Say what you will about Rick Reilly, who has a lot of critics, but I say ESPN easily got the better end of that deal.

I think the best single word to describe Patrick’s “Just My Type” is “uninsightful.”

This particular edition was even worse, because LeBron James is painfully uninteresting as a person, or at least as the person reporters have been able to uncover.

Other stuff

  • In “The Pop Culture Grid,” Carlos Beltran sounds like a doofus. Q: A cougar is … Beltran: “I don’t know what to say.” Q: Last movie I saw in theaters … Beltran: “Wow, I don’t remember.” Thanks, Carlos.
  • A wonderfully concise Wayman Tisale obituary. Got enough of it in there, without getting breathy, as obits sometimes do. No byline.
  • A first-person story by former Colts coach Tony Dungy about his visit to Michael Vick while Vick was in prison in Leavenworth. Dungy wonders if a better upbringing might have kept Vick out of prison. Interestingly, he contrasts it with the upbringing of former K-State quarterback Josh Freeman, whose father recently contacted Dungy about looking after his son. Interesting, but preachy, and 30 percent too long.
  • A story about Michael Phelps’ return to the water after all the weed and stripper controversy. Not a lot of new information there, but it did provide a peephole into Phelps’ psyche, and I liked that the writer did it without going directly to Phelps, who is chronically full of crap.
  • A story by Tom Verducci about Randy Johnson. I didn’t read it.

What if pizza didn’t exist?

I am here to change your life.

"I am here to change your life."

My girlfriend, Abby, known colloquially as “The Babe,” asked an important and interesting question over a triangular formation of bread, tomatoes, cheese and meat recently:

“If pizza didn’t exist, what would take it’s place?”

To be more specific, when you invited six of your grade-school friends over for a sleepover, what kind of party would it be? If you didn’t feel like making dinner and just wanted to watch a movie, what kind of delivery would you order? If you had been drinking a bunch of (root) beer with your buddies and got hungry, who would you call late at night?

Should have gone with the pizza instead of the Whopper.

Should have gone with the pizza instead of the Whopper.

I think the answers are somewhat plain: It would be no kind of party, you would not order any delivery and you would call no one.

Whoever invented pizza, I think, also invented (or at least popularized), the delivery meal. I don’t think Jimmy Johns would be delivering sandwiches today if pizza places hadn’t started delivering pizzas.

Instead, you probably would make some hot dogs, make yourself a sandwich or just go into the kitchen and start melting cheese on top of things. Sometimes, you would order chinese, but people have to be in a certain mood to each chinese food, and those moods typically strike only four or five times per year*.

* I have absolutely no scientific evidence to support this.

Life wouldn’t totally suck, because you wouldn’t know any better. But, like with cell phones and the Interwebs, once you’ve got it, you can’t imagine life without it.

And, because I have nothing else to say: a list.

Best non-national pizza places in Lawrence, Kansas:

1. Papa Keno’s

2. Wheat State

3. Johnny’s Tavern

4. Pyramid Pizza

5. Rudy’s

6. Pizza Shuttle

34. Gumby’s.

Dane Cook: You probably hate him, whether you do or not

The commedian nobody likes

The comedian "nobody" likes

LANCE’S OLD BEDROOM — People hate Dane Cook.

This is probably the main thing most people know about Dane Cook, actually. They know they are supposed to hate him. He is empty, he doesn’t tell jokes, he created an audience he doesn’t deserve. They know all that, even if they don’t.

*It is here that I will point you to a blog post by Joe Posnanski about bias. In it, Poz argues that no matter who or what, we all come at something from a point of view, and, as a writer, that point of view will usually be evident. In the case of the post I’m currently writing, I’d guess you could identify my point of view and the direction I’ll be taking this post before I even express it.

The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson wrote a piece about Cook recently in which Johnson writes the following paragraph:

In Cook’s career there have been allegations of joke thievery, typical in comedy, and there is, if not jealousy, then a close cousin of it lurking in some of the criticism. But the strongest part of the complaints against Cook is the sense of having an audience that he hasn’t yet deserved.

That last part, which is absolutely true, strikes me as absurd. It is impossible in a free country to have an audience you do not deserve. If the people don’t want to listen to you speak, they will not listen to you speak. They especially will not pay $70 to see you speak in a basketball arena.

Criticize the comedy. That’s fine. You don’t like it, say whatever you want about it. But don’t act like this guy, with the help of almost no critic ever, has somehow tricked people into thinking he’s funny, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if people only drink Budweiser because it’s been marketed so well. They do drink it, and they do like it, and Budweiser wins. That’s the whole deal.

From the same article, this is comedian Paul Provenza’s take:

“While comedians have been notoriously judgmental, it kind of has felt like a waste of talent and gifts. It left people cold that, ‘Wow, you have all of that in front of you and you have no artistry.’ I’ve always felt like, ‘Wow, he did all the work to get this audience and neglected the reason that one should have an audience.’ ”

Now, I don’t disagree that Cook’s act is artistic only if you consider the shape of your stool to be artistic.

But I do disagree that it matters. If comics want to think of themselves as artists, that’s up to them. I don’t really care. I just want them to amuse me, preferably to the point of typing “lol” into a text message to a friend who wasn’t there or, better yet, actually laughing audibly. Dane Cook makes me laugh audibly. That’s all I care about.

What’s really happening here, I think, is something that happens in any creative, subjective endeavor. I’ll use my field, sports writing, as an example.

There is a Web site called sportsjournalists.com with a message board where journalists gather to anonymously discuss their jobs and the industry. Occasionally, someone will post a story or a column by some nationally known writer — say, Rick Reilly, or Gregg Doyel or even Posnanski. Every time this happens, you can count on a stream of people deriding the work, typically suggesting it isn’t any better than they could have done and wondering why that guy deserves to be where he is while the poster has to cover a prep soccer game that night (or whatever).

The jealousy is totally transparent and the criticisms are usually lame.

I suppose this happens in every industry, but I think it’s easier to react this way in a subjective field. There is no way to measure how good a sports column or a standup routine or a pop song is, obviously, so you can criticize it any way you want to.

One of the most common ways to criticize Cook is not to criticize the comedian himself, but to blast his fans.

“I don’t hate Dane Cook,” comedian Doug Stanhope told the Chicago Tribune. “I hate the people that laugh at Dane Cook.”

Because people who laugh at this are really high-brow:

The only reason Doug Stanhope is criticizing Dane Cook is that Stanhope a) combined with Joe Rogan to somehow make The Man Show unwatchable and b) was last seen selling Girls Gone Wild videos while Cook is selling out arenas all over the country and starring in (crappy) movies.

That’s like me ripping Bill Simmons. Maybe there are some valid criticisms, but coming from someone who’d gladly switch him places, aren’t the words a little tainted?

I write this not as a defense of Dane Cook, exactly. I think he’s funny, but I don’t care if anyone else does. I’m not a Dane Cook evangelist. I’m just pointing out that the criticisms of him tend to be intellectually dishonest, and born of jealousy.