The Welcome to the Coronavirus Games Edition

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S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.

S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levin, Slate’s national editor, and this is Hang Up and listen for the week of July nineteen twenty twenty one on this week’s show, The New York Times is Tokyo bureau chief Motoko Rich will join us to assess Japan’s readiness and willingness to host the Summer Olympics, which are going to start this week no matter what anyone wants. We’re also going to talk about how this NBA finals went from

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S3: to

S2: kind of a classic. And we’ll discuss. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek philosopher finally will review Space Jam, a new legacy starting LeBron James, Bugs Bunny and naturally, Don Cheadle as a computer algorithm named Algorithm. I’m in Washington, D.C. and I am the author of The Queen and the host of the new podcast One Year, about the various and sundry things that happened in the year 1977. And this week is going to be an episode about sports, about the first woman to get a real shot at being a baseball announcer. So look out for that and subscribe so you can hear it. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis, author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan. Hello, Josh. I was like too much kind of obsessed with myself to even remember to introduce you. So there’s a slight hesitation there. But now you are here. Always an honor and a pleasure to have you here, Stefan Fatsis.

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S3: So nineteen seventy seven is terrific. Josh one year is terrific.

S2: Back to me. Thank you. Yes.

S3: In honor of the series I decided to do a nineteen seventy seven related after ball this week on the show and as I was looking for topics I was like oh yeah, that was good. That was interesting. Oh this looks great. That would be perfect after ball and I didn’t know what the sports episode was about that you had done and lo and behold that was it. So I’m not doing that for my after ball. Rest assured, Josh I found something else.

S2: Our minds have melded, but I look forward to your after while. And with us from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer, host of Slow Burn Season three and upcoming LeBron Season six and up at six. His time this morning to record with Motoko Wretch who is on Tokyo time. It’s Joel Anderson. Hello, Josh. Hey, good morning. The whole time zone thing is becoming an issue. Have we talked to to the world about that, about maybe putting us on the same time zone?

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S1: Well, I mean, the thing is, I get up at six o’clock every morning. Humble brag Most people don’t see my face or hear me talk, though, this early in the morning.

S2: Do you get up at 6:00 a.m. just because it makes you feel better about yourself to know that you’re attacking the day?

S1: I do feel superior to most people. I’d like one of those people that that thinks, you know what? I’ve done more by eight a.m. than most people have done already. So.

S3: So you’re not just getting up because of you.

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S1: So I want to lord it over people as well.

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S2: Mission accomplished today.

S3: A year after they were postponed because of the pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on Friday. And barring the boycotts of nineteen eighty in nineteen eighty four, I can’t remember an Olympics starting amid so much uncertainty and gloom. Dozens of people arriving for the Games have tested positive for the coronavirus, including athletes in the Olympic village, where thousands will be staying. On Monday, we learned that an alternate on the US women’s gymnastics team tested positive, and other athletes also have tested positive upon arrival in Japan. Motoko, which is the Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times, she is with us now. Motoko, thank you so much for coming on the show.

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S4: Thanks for having me.

S3: These are going to be weird Olympics no matter what. No fans in the stands. Self-service medal ceremonies in the name of social distancing the Japanese public for months has been firmly opposed to staging the games. Tokyo is under a state of emergency. Positive tests have been climbing in the city. I hate to ask what’s the mood question, but we’ve never had this sort of tension between an Olympics and its host city. What is it like there now as the opening ceremonies approach?

S4: Well, it is a high level of anxiety at this point. I mean, there’s so much media, just local media and also international media covering every little test positive test that comes out. So it’s really hard not for people to feel anxious, not to mention, as you say, cases are climbing and the city itself. So every time we hear there’s a gymnast who’s tested positive there, a beach volleyball player who’s tested positive here, two players on the South African football team who’ve tested positive, it’s hard not for the public to say, oh, my gosh, this thing is spreading rapidly as people are coming into the country. So over the weekend, there was a poll that showed something like 87 percent of people are really worried about hosting the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. The borders have been closed in Japan. So I think the fact that tens of thousands of people are suddenly coming in all at once is creating a lot of anxiety. The Japanese media is kind of crawling all over the Olympic village. You know, they’re taking footage of people who look like foreigners are walking around on the streets, are going to bars and sort of, you know, the media is attacking them. Who are you? Are you associated with the Olympics? Way out and about. So there’s definitely a lot of kind of weird stuff that’s going on and anxiety associated with the games even before they’ve started.

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S2: And here’s how the IOC is handling this from a public relations standpoint, Thomas Bach. The president says there’s zero risk from the games to Japanese citizens. The associate director of the Olympic Games says this is probably the most controlled population at this point in time anywhere in the world. These are the messages that people in Japan are hearing from organizers. I can’t imagine that that’s playing very well.

S4: Well, especially since the organising committee from Tokyo threw them a welcoming party. So everyone knows that Thomas Bach came into the country. He took a trip down to Hiroshima. You know, he only spent three days in quarantine and then suddenly he’s appearing at press conferences and then he’s going to this party. And when asked about it, he says, well, you know, I’m just a guest. I’m sure they’re following the rules. So I think he’s coming across as a bit imperious at this point. And there is a lot of anger. Also, at his first appearance at a press conference since entering the country, you know, he made a little slip up and thanked the Chinese people for the

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S5: athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly, also for the Chinese Japanese people.

S4: Everyone noticed and there was this hashtag trending on Twitter, it Japanese. What will Bok do next? So I think there’s a lot of cynicism and I don’t think a lot of people feel like they’re being told the straight story.

S1: You know, Motoko, I’m really interested because you mentioned a poll earlier that, you know, showing a sizable majority of people there don’t want the games there. And this is also a piece of a time where it feels like the Olympics every year and increasingly unpopular in host cities. So I’m just kind of wondering, was there ever a point in which there was a majority of people that wanted to have the games, that there was an approval rating that was not negative at this point?

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S4: That’s a really good question. I don’t totally know the answer to that. I mean, I will say that before covid, it did seem like people were pretty excited about the Olympics. And the evidence for that is that applications to be a volunteer were way oversubscribed and also applications for ticket sales domestically were also way oversubscribed. So I tried to get some tickets for my family and we had to enter like multiple lotteries and we weren’t getting tickets. You know, we’d see friends and ask, did you get a ticket? Did you get a ticket? Like, we couldn’t find anyone who’d actually gotten tickets. So it seemed like it was super popular before covid hit. And then everything changed.

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S3: And the one thing that I. And getting back to Josh point about the imperious nature of the International Olympic Committee is that the Japanese government is in a terrible position here. The IOC and the local organizing committee control effectively the the ability to say whether the games would go on or would not go on. What is that sort of level of tension and how is the Japanese government dealing with the the fact that there are going to be, you know, 15 to 20 thousand people arriving this week for an Olympics that nobody in the country seems super excited about and could put the legitimacy of the government itself under scrutiny?

S4: Well, it’s been really weird watching this for the last few months, because on the one hand, the Tokyo governor has definitely there’s been some tension between the Tokyo governor and the central government over the management of the current situation, which, of course, bleeds over. I can’t help but be inevitably tied to the Olympics because the public kind of felt that they were getting the wool pulled over their eyes and they were being told to do things in order that Japan could hold the Olympics no matter what. It was kind of this do or die situation. We’re going to hold the Olympics and the whole country has to sacrifice in order for that to happen. So I think there’s a lot of tension over that. The Tokyo governor seemed much more aggressive about really wanting to manage covid, whereas the central government really wanted to make sure that the economy kept running and so they would push for more opening at a time when the Tokyo governor was sort of saying, I’m not sure we’re ready yet. So there was a lot of that tension, which was tangentially but obviously inevitably related to the Olympics as it’s gotten closer to the Olympics. I mean, I think everybody’s decided that they have to be on message and Jrue in the same direction. But the central government has been super supportive. And I mean, I’ve even talked to people who are like bureaucrats who are working within the cabinet office who’ve almost been moved to tears, talking about how important it is for Japan to hold the Olympics. I mean, there’s a lot of kind of pride and memory of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which was Japan’s kind of reentry onto the international stage after the war. So I think a lot of those memories and that rhetoric is still there. When the country bid for the Olympics, it was the, you know, made this narrative that it was going to be recovery from the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. So I think the government feels kind of like in for a penny, in for a pound. We have to stick to that narrative. But as for the potential risks to the government, you’re so right about that. There was a poll in those polls that showed everybody’s really concerned the approval ratings for the current prime minister are lower at the lowest they’ve been since he’s taken over as prime minister. So there’s a lot of risk for him and he’s got an election coming up in September.

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S2: So in Olympics past, I think it has always been the case that when there’s these kind of conversations and concerns about, you know, as John mentioned, all of the reasons why the Olympics are unpopular, that those are reserved for before the games and after the games, that the stadiums sit empty and unused after before there’s all the talk about the costs and the people displaced and and everything. But for those two weeks, it’s all a kind of an appropriately like a celebration of athletic greatness and the spectacle of it and these amazing performances. And I think this Olympics is going to be different because there aren’t going to be any fans, because there’s going to be the steady drip of announcements of covid positives. Probably you’re going to even have the socially distanced podiums. I mean, we’ll have to see. But I actually find it hard to imagine that we’re going to get this like two week break where we forget. And I’m not even just talking about the people in Japan. I’m talking about people everywhere, that all of the problems here, it’s just going to be present every day when we’re watching these events.

S4: I think you’re right about that. I mean, there’s probably an extent to which if you’re sitting on your sofa in Idaho watching Simon Byles, you’re going to be amazed by what she can do. Right. But there are going to be these announcements that are going to be coming out every day. I mean, if they’ve already started now, it’s hard to imagine that they’re going to stop once the games begin and there will be that energy that feel of the cheers and everybody going crazy. If they said they’re going to pipe in audience noise from the previous Olympics so that the athletes can still have that sense of it. But I mean, it’s kind of like having a laugh track, right? It’s not the same as being in live theater. So we’ll sort of see how it plays and how NBC and the other broadcasters try to limit the kind of downside of their not being spectators. But I think it’s inevitable that everyone’s going to palpably feel that this is a different games.

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S3: Well, they did say they were going to pipe in appropriate sound noise from previous Olympics. So if you’re like at a. Team handball match, it will be team handball, fan noise, hugely important,

S4: right, right. And I don’t know if they’re going to sort of have the swelling sound of excitement when, you know, the race is really close. I don’t know how they’re going to manage that depending and, you know, adapt it to the current events. But they say they’re going to try and they’re going to do all kinds of, you know, engagement with social media and having messages related to the athletes, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s nothing like I mean, we’ve talked to athletes and as I’m sure you all have from previous games, that having that sense of the audience in the stadium or in the aquatic center is a huge part of what the Olympics is all about. And I also think for the athletes, I feel sorry for them because there’s you know, it’s supposed to be a big party, frankly, right after their competition. And they get to know each other and meet people from around the world. And that’s going to be severely limited.

S1: And I think we’re talking about, oh, well, obviously, people were restricted in how they can move and where the athletes can go. And we’re hearing a lot of that. But I saw that Tokyo is like in its fourth state of emergency. So, like, what does a state of emergency mean if you’re having a huge international event in town? Like what is the what are the restrictions on movement? And things are there, you know, even before these Olympic athletes get there?

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S4: Well, it’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. A state of emergency in Japan has never meant what I saw with my friends in New York or in London or Paris. I mean, we were never under like a super strict lockdown. First of all, they don’t have a legal mechanism to mandate that it was all based on requests which in Japan, the power of a government request is quite powerful. A lot of people do follow it, but it’s mostly that we’re all messed up, that we use a lot of hand sanitizer, that we get our temperature taken even going into, you know, Unical or a restaurant. But by and large, people are kind of going about their normal lives. I mean, restaurants were asked closed or not allowed to serve alcohol. You, you know, more likely can only get takeout until eight o’clock in certain places. But the trains are crowded. You look at, you know, the famous crosswalks that you see on all the movies that represent Tokyo. They’re packed. People are out and about. And I think that’s partly a function of fatigue that we’ve been in and out and in and out of these so-called state of emergencies. And people are tired of it. And the real problem now is that Japan, you know, a super rich country is way behind the other super rich countries and vaccinating its public Motoko.

S2: Do we know if these positive tests that we’re hearing about, if these are asymptomatic or symptomatic people, how much kind of detail are we getting about this?

S4: We’re not getting enough detail or we’re not getting the detail we want. We don’t know. One hundred percent for sure if they’re all vaccinated. What we’ve been told is that the International Olympic Committee did a deal with Pfizer to offer the vaccine to anyone who needed it or who was able to get it in their country. So anyone associated with the Olympics who wanted to be vaccinated could be vaccinated. And Thomas Bach has repeatedly said that about 80 to 85 percent of the people in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated. But that means there are some who are not. But we don’t know in the individual cases. You know, they keep talking about respecting medical privacy, which is what they should be doing. They can’t say in individual cases who’s been vaccinated or not. We don’t know if they’re asymptomatic or if they’re symptomatic. I’m guessing that they’re not just because of the way they talk about them going into quarantine and facilities rather than hospitals. But we don’t know for sure.

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S3: One of the other overhanging factors with these Olympics and this, I think speaks to also the cynicism of the IOC and the desire for the games to be really a TV product is that they’re being held in July and early August in Tokyo of the 1964 Olympics were in October because it’s hot in Tokyo in the summer hot. What is it like there? And how much of a risk factor is the weather? And is that something that is also being discussed in the media and among arriving athletes and others?

S4: For sure. I mean, today there was a training event for beach volleyball and they had to hose down the sand to keep it cool enough for them to even, you know, put their feet on it. It’s hot here. I mean, the literal temperature, you might think, well, that’s probably bearable is in the low 90s. But then when you add Tokyo’s humidity to it, it’s really hot. You just break out in a sweat, just walking down the street and the sun is very, very strong and powerful. Even before covid, this was one of the biggest worries about games like why are they holding him in July and August? And that’s partly about NBC. They didn’t want to have a conflict with the football schedule in the United States. So they insisted on the games being held in the summer because as you rightly point out, the last time Tokyo hosted them in recognition of the hot weather, you know, almost 60 years ago before we really started to feel the effects of climate change, it’s really, really hot in Tokyo every. Summer, and so nobody wants to be out there and exercising, much less trying to do their elite performance in this kind of heat

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S3: or that, will they move the marathon right, like 500 miles to the

S4: north? That’s correct. Yeah. That’s the marathon is going to be in support of UN recognition of the fact that that would be pretty grueling to have them running in Tokyo during the summer. And, you know, they keep talking about all these heat, as they put it, countermeasures. They’re going to be spraying down the streets. They have these mist fans whose air conditioning and all the buildings as well as the tents. The referees are giving these like ice filled vests to wear because they’re going to have to stand out in the heat all the time. So they’re trying their best. But, you know, just today, we got a news flash that 30, 32 people or something were hospitalized in a suburb of Tokyo for heat stroke. And I’ve been here a couple of summers where I’ve had to sadly cover, you know, a large number of deaths from heat stroke, usually among the elderly population. So I think part of the hope is that the spectators that we were really worried about, because that would be a wide age range of people sitting in the stands, they won’t be there. But nevertheless, it’s a worry for anybody who’s going to have to be out in this heat.

S1: So one of the questions that I was thinking about here is I’m reading about what’s going on in Japan. You know, there’s, you know, people the spectators are banned from coming there. You know, already this is a very expensive games. I mean, it’s an expensive endeavor in every host city. That is the major complaint around it. So without fans coming in, in the middle of a pandemic, which has been economically catastrophic for every place across the globe, like what is the sense of the money being spent? In Japan and like how bad this is going to look at the end of it, like the ledger once these games are completed?

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S4: Well, like on the one hand, this is the most expensive Olympics ever, which I think they say every time. Right. But the fact of the matter is that the budget is 15 billion dollars that they’ve spent. You know, the sunk costs, right. They built the new stadium, new venues. They did a lot of operational planning before covid hit, then covid hit. They had to postpone for a year. So they had to spend another three billion dollars on things they have to do to try to prevent infection spread and the cost of postponement added salaries, what have you. It’s a pretty small proportion. You know, Japan is a super rich country. So if you look at that number, it’s not like it’s going to, you know, collapse the economy. And a lot of it is a lost upside, right, that they had anticipated they’d budgeted for or had hoped for something like 40 million tourists to come in to Japan in 2020 in Philly, not just for the Olympics, but you’re going to get a kind of bump when you host the Olympics because it’s in the news all the time. And people are looking. And and I think Tokyo has already been trying to market itself as like the super fun playground where you can come and the trains run on time and it’s clean and there’s anime and there robot restaurants. And but there’s also tradition and culture with the shrines and, you know, super cool super power. Everything runs. Well, this is a fun place to visit. The Olympics was going to enhance that. We always know that during the Olympics, it’s a little bit of a propaganda marketing exercise for the host country right there. You know, they’re beautiful scenes of there, gorgeous scenery. And, you know, they’ll jump on the train and the media will go around. So they’re losing all of that upside, but they’ve already lost that during covid. So it’s a little bit of a combination of what’s already happened because of the pandemic. And then on top of that, to lose it for the Olympics.

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S3: Motoko Eric is the Tokyo bureau chief of The New York Times. Motoko, thank you so much for bringing us up to date on the Olympics.

S4: Thanks for having me.

S3: Coming up next, Giannis and the NBA Finals.

S2: A week and a half ago, the Phoenix Suns were up two games to none in the NBA finals and yes, those two games were in Phoenix. And yes, the cliche goes that a series doesn’t really start until the team wins on the road. But the Milwaukee Bucks lost game two despite Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring forty two points. And it seemed at that point like the Suns were just a better and deeper and more balanced squad. But in game three, Giannis scored forty one. Devin Booker had just 10. The bucks cruised to victory in game four. Booker scored forty two, but Khris Middleton had forty for Milwaukee and Giannis had one of the all time great plays in finals history, blocking an alley oop to DeAndre Ayton and then game five back in Phoenix despite another forty from Devin Booker, the Bucks had a truly balanced attack twenty nine for Middleton twenty seven and thirteen assists from Jrue Holiday and thirty two from Giannis who combined with holiday an alley oop to seal the Bucks four point win. So Joel I guess the series has started now the bucks are up three two with the chance to win the title on Tuesday night in Milwaukee. How did this go from a series that was kind of underwhelming to one that’s really been thrilling and that the bucks have totally turned around?

S1: Well, I think there’s two primary reasons. I think Mike Budenholzer strategic decision to put Jrue Holiday on Chris Paul, which seems obvious in retrospect. Right. Like we have this really good dominant defensive player. Maybe we should put him on the guy that initiates the other team’s entire offense. And the Suns is steady loss of depth for Dario Saric towards ACL in game one Torrey Craig plays about eleven minutes a game now but he’s still recovering from a knee contusion in game two. You know we had a whole segment a couple of weeks ago talking about all the injuries in the NBA and a lot of it is star focused, right? Like, Oh, Anthony Davis got hurt, Kawhi Leonard got hurt, Kyrie Irving got hurt. But we just because we don’t know who the players are when they get hurt, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. And so the Suns are basically down to playing. Six players like DeAndre Ayton played forty five minutes in game five. That’s a lot for sitter. You don’t you hardly see Cintas play that many minutes anymore. Devin Booker played forty two. So I mean

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S2: are you saying it’s Frank Kaminsky time. Are you telling my Kominski time Frank.

S1: The tank is getting out of it. Look man he did even play in game. I don’t think if he did it was a very few minutes in game five and eventually that’s going to take a toll on you. And then keep in mind, campaign another guy, he had twenty nine points in game two. They talked we talked all about the Suns depth, like, oh, maybe the Suns have a guy that can take over for Chris Paul even if he gets hurt or whatever. And since that game, he’s averaged six point two points a game and only cracked double digits once. So all of the depth at the Suns have been relying on all years to sort of not showing up right now and a younger, stronger, more physical team like the Bugs, they’re taking advantage and is sort of taking over. I don’t that doesn’t mean that they’re going to win game six doesn’t mean they’re going to win the series. But you have to look at with the Suns are doing down, you like being it looks like they’re running on fumes.

S3: That’s a really great observation, Joel that I had not noticed. And I just called up the box score from game five and wow. I mean, yeah, I mean, you know, Booker Ayton Jae Crowder all played more than forty minutes. Chris Paul at age thirty six is playing thirty five minutes and Chris Paul did not have. Yeah he had a fine game I guess, but it was not a dominant game. A few more turnovers than he had in game four. But this was a home game. This was the game for the Suns to win. And you know, I think that that fatigue factor potentially was evident just the way the game played out. The Suns went out to a big lead early. The bucks caught up, the bucks went out to a large lead near the end of the game. And the Suns sort of, you know, recover very, very late in the game, went on a twelve three run late to pull within a point. And then came the amazing ending. And I think that when we talk about this series Josh, obviously we’re going to focus on moments because that’s what we will remember. And, you know, you mentioned the alley oop block by Giannis in game four and in game five, it was the sequence where Jrue Holiday steals the ball from Devin Booker basically rips it out of his hands. And then you know what? The most lovely and in you know, in in interesting ten seconds of basketball that you will see the slow motion replay that the NBA showed and that has gotten a lot of attention on on Twitter.• is really cool to watch. Jrue Holiday makes the steal is dribbling up court and you watch his eyes surveying what’s going on and trying to make the decision of what to do. I found that to be the most insightful sort of sequence for understanding how athletes process things in real time, you see him look up court, you see him look behind him, you see him look to the side, and then you notice that that that he sees Giannis barreling up court and he has to figure out what to do, dribble, you know, just keep dribbling to try to dribble the clock out and and take a foul and go to the line or make the audacious play of trying to connect with Giannis at the rim.

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S2: Yeah, that’s great. And it’s always just really fun to see in a really clutch situation a player kind of taking the riskier option and having it pay off as opposed to just like pulling it out and allowing himself to be fouled or whatever. And just in general, in the NBA, there’s too often in these end game moments things that happen after timeouts, things that happen after fouls, things decided by the refs. Yeah, things decided by the refs are decided by coaches or decided by like, you know, plays out of bounds. And that can be fun, too, like the alley oop to DeAndre Ayton, which we remember from earlier in the playoffs. But for a game to be decided by a play that was defense to offense in live action is ultimately going to be more satisfying than any thing else. And I just find Jrue Holiday to be so interesting Joel because, you know, he’s just clearly like a great dad, just like based on everything we know and hear about him with somebody that I really rooted for on the Pelicans, I have some affection for him and it has like kind of all the markers of a guy who would be extremely consistent. He’s like plays with great effort. He’s a great defensive player. He’s a really great passer, just as a really good all around game. He’s just like really strong and can, like, bully guys in the post. And yet he’s extremely inconsistent from game to game bases in these especially in these playoffs, where he’ll shoot four for twenty one night and then the next he’ll go for twenty seven and thirteen. And so I’m always really happy when he does well and yet he’s just this, he is this just like interesting kind of archetype of player who you’d think would just be a guy you can count on every night. But for the bucks hasn’t necessarily been that in the playoffs.

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S1: Well I think that there’s offensively right. That you can’t count on him every night to be a huge contributor. But the one thing we do know about basketball is that defense travels. Right. And if you can play defense and you can play at the level that he does, then like you always at least have that. And that’s sort of the difference between him and Eric Bledsoe for the bucks, because, you know, that was one of the shortcomings of the Bugs last year that Eric Bledsoe fairly solid offensive player, but like he was nowhere near the defensive, you know, foundational piece, the Jrue Holiday is.

S2: And so I will say I will say one thing, though, that I feel like and this gets back to your point about Jrue Holiday covering Chris Paul and what a smart move that is, that Jrue Holiday has been so good defensively over his career that it’s actually like the pelicans would have him like guard Kevin Durant. Yeah. And that was a lot because they just didn’t have good wing players. But I feel like the fact that he’s been so good has put him in disadvantageous positions, whereas the Bucs, since they have PJ Tucker, since they have Giannis, since they have Khris Middleton, they have good defensive guys, they can actually have Jrue Holiday defend a guy that’s more appropriate for him to defend as opposed to like having him guard a guy who is like six, ten or something. Right?

S1: Yeah, they absolutely just sick. They said the second one, Chris Paul and wear him down. He’s a bigger guy, more physical guy. And at this point, Chris Paul’s not going to overwhelm him with quickness or anything. So basically you’ve got a bigger, stronger, younger guy beating up Chris Paul up and down the floor. And of course, that’s going to affect the Suns and it’s taking a toll on Chris. Chris hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was in the previous series, let alone earlier in this series. And I think, you know, it’s sort of you guys walk with me of this like so when the Bucs traded for Jrue Holiday and they gave up like five first round picks, you know, this huge contract extension, a dude who never made an all NBA team, people are like, man, you know, he didn’t make all NBA team. He doesn’t you know, he’s not like a consistent twenty point per game scorer. What are you guys doing? But the two things that people are overlooking is that, A, it locked in Giannis. Right. Like, it showed that the Bucs were willing to go all in and be. That defense is extremely underrated. Like people forget that that is the other half of the game. And if you have a guy that can be dominant there, people just sort of forget that, oh, well, that guy’s actually taking away one of their offensive threats either. So it’s like he can play himself to it, to a draw with. Chris Paul, just by virtue of the fact that he’s such a good defensive player

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S3: and Jrue Holiday, as you mentioned, Josh is a good guy and Giannis is a good guy. And I wonder how much the sort of the the personality factor of who you’re trading for and who you’re making this kind of commitment to matters. Jrue Holiday obviously is a great player, but Joel when you’re sad, like he’s the piece that’s going to get Giannis to stay. It wasn’t like they were signing of a max superstar or luring someone to come to Milwaukee. He’s really good.

S2: It’s also easy to say that’s now coming out of game five, which has been his best game in the postseason. There have been games in these playoffs that where he’s been brutal, just absolutely brutal from an offensive standpoint and like almost cost them, you know, some of the earlier series in these playoffs,

S1: if they lost to the Nets. We’re not saying this right. Like I mean, we’d be like, oh, man, Jrue Holiday was a terrible Saturday.

S2: I mean, we might have even said, like, they had the opportunity to trade for Chris Paul. And I mean, I have a vague memory of us saying that’s in their previous show that, you know, they got Jrue Holiday instead. And like that was done.

S1: Well, he got to play he got to play long enough to redeem that trade. And for us to say, oh, it all worked out, but. Right. Yeah. I mean, if they had if he if this if if Kevin Durant moves his foot back half an inch, we’re not ever saying any of this about Jrue Holiday. And we’re like grand Bugs wasted another year of Giannis and they got this guy that committed to and he’s not even like dependable is an offensive threat. So, yeah, no, you’re right.

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S3: It’s still possible we may be seeing some of those things because there is a Game six to be played in Milwaukee.

S2: That’s fair point. We’ve already mentioned Giannis is block and alley oop and we’ve talked about Giannis a lot appropriately. But one thing that’s gotten a huge amount of attention is this quote from a press conference where he kind of talked about his philosophy of life and approach to sports. Let’s listen to that.

S6: When you focus on the past, that’s your ego. I did this. We were able to beat this team for all the I did this in the past. I want that in the past. And the folks in the future is my pride. Like, yeah, next game, game five. I do this and this and this. And I’m going, that’s your Prita. Like, it doesn’t happen. Like you’re right here. And I kind of like try to focus in the moment. And that’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectation. That is going out there, enjoying the game, completing the high level Joel

S3: Anderson Giannis is just lovely. And I will point out that there’s something about these new Greek star athletes, Giannis and Stefan. I suppose they just exude Ernestas earnestness and innocence. And they come from a culture that I will say is super cynical. And I think what you have to understand how Giannis grew up to understand why he might think the things that he just said and believe the things he just said. This is a black African kid growing up in an all white society that is largely racist. This is a kid that sold watches on the street corner in the market in downtown Athens. This is not a kid who had the opportunity to sort of bask in his travel team exploits as a, you know, as a ten year old or a 12 year old or a 15 year old. This is not someone that was recruited by colleges, the best schools in America. This is someone who was looked down upon growing up in the in the society that he grew up in. So it it doesn’t surprise me. And it makes me really proud as someone who comes from this background to know that he succeeded and overcame and is now a hero in Greek culture, an icon in Greece. And I think his background is really important to understanding how he has become a great player and why he says the things that he says and can seem sort of youthful and and happy and modest. And those those, you know, all of those characteristics embody who he is as a person. And when you layer on top of how great he has become and how much greater he can be is really, you know, it’s wonderful.

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S1: The Stefan, I could almost feel the emotion of you talking about him like that.

S3: Like, I don’t because I know what it’s like there.

S1: Yeah, no. And I mean it he does seem like a really nice guy. And I also think you say whatever you got to say, you know, almost doesn’t matter. You know what I mean. Like, he’s great, right? And like that may not there may not be the effective approach of the game. Like, that’s not what Kobe did. Right. Or that’s not what MJ did. And so whatever he says, that helps him get up every day and do the things that he does, like, I’m like, OK. Makes a lot of sense. I don’t know if, like anybody else can take a lesson from that. I don’t actually know if it’s an expression of humility. But I do know that, like he believes, it certainly seems that he believes it and it fuels him in a way, watching him talk, you know, it makes him so like sort of charismatic and likable. You can see him thinking as he’s talking. Right. Like, you can just see like he’s actually considering the question and turn it over his head because he there was there’s another clip that’s going around where he responds to a reporter’s question with exactly right. Like I was just doing it was what they were asking him about going for the Alyssa instead of them pulling it back out. And he’s just like, oh, yeah, exactly. Like I was just thinking and I was in the moment. And so, yeah, I think that that’s also sort of like endearing at a time when, you know, people are not quite as excited about, like doing the interview process. Right. It’s it’s an ongoing theme in sports for the past year or so that he is willing to allow himself to be that sort of like fun and thoughtful in that moment. It is really, you know, sort of endearing.

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S3: Yeah. I mean, Josh, it’s almost like he still can’t believe he’s here, you know,

S2: I think that’s right. And I think that just looking at this quote in isolation, I think the reason that it’s traveled around so widely into such acclaim, it’s not just about Giannis and the affection that people feel about Giannis, it’s the sense that this is actually a thing that’s true and that’s pithy and it’s succinct and that it’s being said by a basketball player, not like not a writer, not a philosopher. There is just this notion that coming from this package of this guy who’s like not a native English speaker, who’s like young, who’s just kind of coming on to, you know, he’s he’s been the MVP. But this is his first time in the finals. He’s getting more attention now than he’s ever been that he not only is able to do these things on the court that we haven’t seen, but the way he’s able to express himself and articulate a larger philosophy of like sports and life and existence is just pretty, pretty remarkable. And I’m not saying that because feel like it’s surprising that, like, somebody who’s a foreigner can express to us, it’s like any that any athlete would be conscious at this like sort of thirty thousand foot level or like any one of us at all would be thinking in these terms, I think is really interesting. And I think that explains why people are so fascinated with this line.

S3: And because I do think that when he says something like I focus on when I focus on the future, it’s my pride that is coming from his upbringing, that is coming from what he endured to get to where he is. And, you know, like I said, that it still must be shocking to him and his brothers and his parents that this all happened because, you know, coming to Athens, Greece, as this family did, I wasn’t expected to have. And this is not something this is not a it’s a script that you would have imagined writing.

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S1: Yeah. And I mean, I know he says that he doesn’t live in the past or whatever, but I mean, I bet he’ll be thinking about that dunk. I bet. I bet he probably rewinds it every now and again and go for it. Right.

S2: Up next, space jam. A new legacy and a bad movie.

S1: Oh. Until this summer, LeBron James had played in the NBA finals in nine of the previous 10 seasons, but in a fortunate bit of timing for Warner Brothers, LeBron absence from this year’s finals gives him plenty of time to promote his remake of Michael Jordan’s 1996 box office hit Space Jam

S2: Basketball Camp is next weekend. You got amazing potential on the court

S1: and I can help you get there.

S7: It’s not what I want, but you never let me do what I wanted to do. You never let me just do me.

S1: The movie was released Friday and already appears poised to be a big moneymaker in its own right space jam. A new legacy had the best three day opening for a family film during the pandemic, earning nearly thirty two million dollars. LeBron felt so good about the news that he retweeted an article about the movie Surprisingly lucrative opening with this quote, Hi haters and yet the laughing emoji. I’m not a hater, Brian. You know, I mean, maybe you will think I’m a hater after this segment, but that’s got nothing to do with how good the movie was or wasn’t. So let’s call this segment, hang up and review the movies, Stefan. We’re obviously not part of the target audience here, but did you find the movie good or at least entertaining?

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S3: No, I hate LeBron hater. Before we get into the movie’s visual and aural carpet bombing its endless contrivances, the ABC after school special script that, how should I say, highlights LeBron shortcomings as an actor and all of the acting kind of sucks. I’m going to disagree with you Joel that were not part of the target audience. I think we are the target audience, late baby boomer and Gen X sports and pop culture fans who would recognize the animated versions of Diana Torossian, Anthony Davis, but also get the duck season, rabbit season, Looney Tunes jokes and pick out the guys from A Clockwork Orange, who for some reason are among the cavalcade of TV and movie characters who are numbingly smooshed into every pixel of this film. The problem is that our photoreceptors only work so fast and we’re not dumb. The thing this thing is so utterly cynical and pandering. It’s not a movie so much as a mash up of available copyrights and trademarks. Space jam to as a LeBron James vanity project. Obviously, just like Space Jam one was a Michael Jordan vanity project. But while LeBron ego is in service of a perfectly anodyne message here, be yourself, love your kid for who they are, etc.. And I confess that I never saw space jam on this thing makes the last dance look like Mother Teresa an authorized biography. We’re supposed to believe that Bugs Bunny is willing to die for LeBron James and some dignity.

S1: Now, as a spoiler, by the way, this will be

S2: full of spoilers. That’s the segment if you want to preserve the sanctity of space jam and new legacy LeBron acting is like the on the list of things that are wrong with this movie, not in the Thomas million. I think he is fine. I mean, definitely better than Michael Jordan is as an actor. Where for going on the the goat rankings there in Joel? No, but not even Jordan’s biggest defenders think that he’s a good actor. You think the Jordan Space Jam one is what? I was going to

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S1: let you do your thing, because I actually watch Space Jam the day before we recorded this segment and I was surprised it was much better than I thought it was. And Michael Jordan wasn’t nearly as bad actor as I’d been led to believe.

S7: Oh, look out for that. Step back. It’s a really Bugs Bunny. And you were expecting maybe the Easter Bunny, your cartoon. You’re not real? Not really. If I weren’t real, could I do this?

S1: I think some of that is that they’re not really asking them to act. They’re asking them to sort of be themselves with like with a few moments of emotional resonance or whatever. Like, yeah,

S3: part of the problem Joel is the script. I mean, LeBron the lines LeBron is given to deliver, particularly at the beginning of this film. And if someone wants to rehash the plot, go for it. Do not help very Wayne.

S1: I mean, there’s a scene during that terrible game which just goes on forever where he’s like pretending to cry or he’s getting emotional, talking to his son. And I was like, man, they didn’t do you any favors putting that scene in there. But I think the thing about the original space jam is that they did not ask Michael Jordan to do that much. And Michael Jordan, it reminded me that he was arguably the coolest person in the world or considered the coolest person in the world when Space Jam came out right like nineteen ninety six. It’s impossible for LeBron to create that sort of persona today, like just by virtue of the fact that we’re in a different like media, you know, media environment and the social media and like, you know, sports fan bases is sort of balkanize like their Stefan fans in this, Katie. Fans and there’s all this jockeying for legacy, so it’s kind of impossible for LeBron to be as universally cool as Michael Jordan was. And so if you watch the original Space Jam Josh, I think you will be surprised that Michael Jordan was not that bad in the movie, was actually not that bad. I wouldn’t say I won’t go so far as to say it was good, but I will. I do think that it was a much more enjoyable watch because like you said, I mean, like Spaceship Two is just I’m calling a space Dessem to shorthand. It was just a jumble of shit. Like I just I could not keep up with all the different images, come and get me and the storyline. And I just got confused and then eventually bored.

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S2: I think you’re just too old. Joel the kids of these younger generations would probably be like, wow, there wasn’t really enough stuff flying at my face that maybe it was just too, too slow paced. I also have not seen the first space jam. I watched the first five minutes and I like fell asleep. So I did not complete the space jam double bill, but I did watch Space Jam a new legacy. And I just feel like this. This serves the serves. Warner Brothers is interested way more than in terms of bronze, and I can certainly understand why he would have signed on to this project when it was originally conceived or when it was being worked on a couple of years ago. Terence Nance was signed on to direct is like actually a really interesting maker was replaced by Malcolm Delaney, who made Girls Trap, which is a fine a fine movie. But this is not in any way an ambitious project or in any there’s not really any attempt made to make this into something kind of interesting, much less subversive, which I think Attarian stance version would be. But it is just a collection of intellectual property being kind of lumped in together in various scenes for the benefit of I don’t know exactly who

S3: like who benefits from like inserting who. I don’t even remember if it was Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck inserted into Casablanca. Well, except that I mean, what purpose does that serve?

S2: I mean, honestly, it just feels like Warner Brothers just like bragging about what’s in its catalog.

S1: What did it feel like, an internal communications video or something like that? Like something you.

S2: Yeah, it’s like a demo reel for investors or something like that. But there are some individual scenes and I guess this is kind of gone around on social media that like I feel like talking about how it’s bad. It doesn’t really come across like this, like kind of a male parody where Porky Pig is rapping like that actually happened. Like, if you haven’t seen the movie, there’s this, like, extended sequence where Porky Pig is wrapping up. It’s positive.

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S3: And he said to me, he don’t want no trouble.

S2: And then there’s also the scene and this did actually go around on social media because they like, for whatever reason, released this in advance of the movie, thinking that I would, you know, entice people. There’s the scene where, like, the granny character is like playing. I don’t remember the name of the character, but like whoever Kerri-Ann Moss played in The Matrix, it is just like unbelievably embarrassing to everyone involved to, like, think that this was like cool or funny or interesting to have this, like, Matrix parody.

S7: How do you ahead, Chuck?

S2: There’s not any effort made beyond just like putting Casablanca on the screen or putting the Matrix on the screen. It’s like they think that it’s interesting or clever or smart just to, like, put in a reference to something else from pop culture. It’s like thinking that your work is done. It’s like, all right, here’s the Matrix. Enjoy is like you actually need to do something or like try to make it clever in some way. And there’s just none of that at all.

S3: Matthew Dessem has a piece up on Slate about some of the weirder inclusions, including the Clockwork Orange guys and, you know, some characters from The Devils and the Nun. It’s like a fuck. You know, this is just an excuse for this. And let me try that again. Three to one. Matthew Dessem has a piece up on Slate about the inclusion of some of the weirder characters that are that get cameos here or in the background, like the Clockwork Orange guys or the Betty Davis character from whatever happened to Baby Jane. I still think it’s nonsensical.

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S2: And I just have to emphasize to people listening to this that this is real.

S3: We’re not making this up.

S2: This stuff is actually in the room.

S3: And I read that, as with many Hollywood films and, you know, you talked about directors dropping out of this or not taking the project. But there were you know, they’re like seven people credited with writing this. And I’m using air quotes because this is like I put more mom and dad jokes. Dad jokes, particularly about LeBron being a dad, bad dad at the beginning of the movie, and then just get into a stream of references and then try to come out the other side with some sort of a redemptive conclusion. And it is the thinnest gruel imaginable in terms of screenwriting. You can just sort of see Joel like the the Warner Brothers executives like saying put more in and put more in, put more and more references, more pop culture, more clips, more characters.

S1: I guess the thing is, is I’m wondering what the limitations were on the writing staff and everybody else, because like it in addition to you have an amateur and LeBron. Right. So you’ve kind of got to right around him. And then I’m like I was even as I was watching the original space jam, I was like, man, how do you create a storyline out of all this shit? You know what I mean? I just like I was thinking, like, if I had to write a space jam movie or script, I’m trying to figure out like what I would do. And I was like, the bones of it are sort of, you know, it makes sense. You got a kid and you’re integrating him with these cartoon characters that are like sort of a miracle, like, I mean, in retrospect, like the Looney Tunes family, like I mean, that’s that was a piece of landscape of our childhood in a way that it isn’t today. But like that world is really interesting and really cool. And you like it trying to merge them all together. I’m just like, you’re sort of limited. And what you’re going to be able to do to make it coherent are like whatever. But I guess the thing that sort of disappointed me was that it didn’t seem all that fun, you know, to me, like it was going through the going through the motions. And and that’s why I came up after I was I watch the original space jam. I was like, oh, this is just a monument to LeBron career. That’s why he wanted to do it. It’s like it’s not that the movie had to be good is that you were able to marshal the resources and people to pull this off. And it’s like a monument to your career. And that was sort of the impressive part. Like once you like, the movie is almost sort of besides the point, it’s that you were able to do it and make all this money for a bunch of people and take the attention from people like this is happening during the finals, like in LeBron is still managed to get this sort of buzz. And so these many tickets. And I think that’s like ultimately all they cared about. You know, it’s just like, hey, man, figure all that shit out and then let’s count our money at the end of it.

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S2: Did you guys see the piece that I think came out last week in the Times about Mattel trying to become like the new Marvel? And there’s like Mattel studios now and they’re making like a Barbie movie? I think Greta Gerwig is like is directing it. And, you know, and they’re doing like a Rock’em Sock’Em Robots movie. I mean, we’re in this period of like Western civilization where we are. These are the kinds of projects that are getting green lighted and just the. You know, this kind of intellectual property is being mined for all that it’s worth, and you have like really interesting creative people who are like throwing themselves into these projects, I assume, because there’s a terrifying amount of money involved. But when you think about do you think about Toy Story, you think about the Lego Movie, things that feel like in the wrong hands could have just been totally crass and horrible and felt giving you the feeling that you have when you watch the Space Jam movie like you’re being sold these products in this incredibly cynical way. But weren’t that at all like there is? I, I it seems shocking to say this. After watching the movie, there’s a universe in which this could have been a really interesting movie. I mean, it’s like we kind of take for granted this just like ridiculous premise of, like the best basketball player in the world playing with the Looney Tunes. I mean, it is absolutely bizarre that either of these movies ever existed, but there’s a lot of, like, really interesting fodder there for like a smart screen, like if like Lord and Miller who made that Lego Movie had made that, I’m sure it would have been good, actually. And like LeBron James is like he was a good and train wreck. He’s like a compelling person and screen presence. And, you know, we we kind of joke about, like showing off the Warner Brothers back catalog in a way that that was not purposeful. Like, OK, if you do have all those characters at your disposal and you have like a smart person, thing like that could have been potentially interesting. And so it just feels dumb to think about things like what a lost opportunity for a film like this movie was. But like, ultimately, it’s easy to sit here and be like, yeah, like LeBron, you know, is not an actor. And I actually don’t think it’s a given that the movie had to be this bad. And I think it actually could have been good and sure.

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S3: But when it goes through the meat grinder, the way that so many Hollywood scripts do, but like

S2: The Lego Movie, like there’s no reason the Lego. No, I understand that.

S3: But, you know, the confluence of a big studio trying to capitalize on LeBron James and, you know, maybe LeBron didn’t get the right kind of advice about doing this. Maybe you’re right, Josh that this this feels like something that LeBron thought he had to do because Michael Jordan did it. And it would be another line item in his wiki entry wasn’t enough. And that LeBron and whoever was advising LeBron about this movie didn’t say, well, is the movie going to be good? Like, is there a better way to do this that will make me look better and avoid some of the ridicule that we’re going to face if we allow this studio to just turn it into, you know, this this highlight reel of their their back catalog?

S2: Well, the other thing I thought was really interesting from a LeBron standpoint, Joel was like, so there’s this opening credit sequence. And I did make it that far in the first place. Dessem, I did watch the opening credits. Where is it similar? It’s similar, yes. It’s similar in that they show Michael Jordan’s like whole like life story in these credits from childhood up through, you know, winning titles with the Bulls. And they do the same thing with LeBron. And I thought it was interesting in that sequence, but also throughout the movie that they showed the like, take my talents to South Beach Club. They talked about him going, you know, from Cleveland to Miami, back to Cleveland into L.A., not in like disparaging terms and not admitting that that like LeBron. And I think this was a smart point you made Joel about LeBron is way more divisive as like a cultural figure than Michael Jordan ever was. But like that that’s kind of being embraced as part of his story by him and by this movie.

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S1: Yeah. And I think that, like, we just go back to what I mentioned earlier about or Stefan mentioned earlier, I don’t know if you are Stefan Josh about how they changed directors midstream. It is extremely unusual. I’m not going to say it’s unprecedented, but it’s extremely unusual for a project this big with this many people for them to change directors midstream. And that suggests there was some huge creative differences in the making of this. And so it’s not a surprise that it ended up as a jumble because you had two competing visions and they’re sort of trying to merge them together while leaving out. So the original screenwriter. So, I mean, that’s like you got it’s not a surprise that it ended up like this, but it’s just sort of sad because it feels like an opportunity lost. And I don’t think like I mean, LeBron the important thing for LeBron in his production companies, that they made a shitload of money. But like in terms of quality, like it wasn’t there. But then again, you know, Stefan, Josh, maybe that doesn’t matter. Like I you know, we’re focusing so much on the quality or whatever, but like we know that, like at the. End of the day, that like the money that you bring and the value that you can bring to advertisers is ultimately like what gets things greenlit or whatever. So like it could be that the quality of the movie, the storyline, all that shit, that’s like that’s sort of besides the point.

S2: Now it is time for after balls, and we did not mention Pepé la Pew during our previous segment

S3: and or ten thousand other characters

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S2: will Pepé Luppi wasn’t actually in space and legacy. And again, I feel like I have to say this. This is actually true. What I am about to tell you is true. This is reported in the trade publication deadline. I’m going to read you a paragraph from a story that was published on the Internet. It’s true, everything on the Internet is true, but this is Fatsis Jrue. Pepé was set to appear in a black and white Casablanca. Like Rick’s cafe sequence. Pepé playing a bartender starts hitting on a woman at a bar. He begins kissing her arm, which she pulls back, then slamming Pepé into the chair next year. She then pours her drink on Pepé and slams him hard, sending him spinning in a stool, which is then stopped by LeBron James his hand. James and Bugs Bunny are looking for Lola Bunny and Pepé knows her whereabouts. Pepé Pepé then tells the guys that Penelope Cat has filed a restraining order against him. James may make the remark in the script that Pepé can’t grab other teens without their consent.

S1: I mean, it’s I guess it’s good the kids learn consent early.

S2: Didn’t LeBron Pepé Pew.

S1: Yeah. Hey man, I mean, did any of us think, you know how to spit game, you know, a partner via Pepé la Pew like maybe that, you know, this is a good pushback. I don’t know, maybe we missed out here

S2: so Pepé la Pew it was decided was not appropriate character as opposed to as opposed to the, you know, characters from A Clockwork Orange, for example, the Pepé la Pew is not appropriate to be featured in this film. The scene has not seen the light of day.

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S1: Hey, I mean by the way, I mean they had Speedy Gonzalez in there. And to be honest, I was kind of surprised to see Speedy Gonzales. So back in the main,

S3: Speedy Gonzales and Porky Pig rapping were the two things that I wondered about, two of many.

S2: So while acknowledging the Pepé la Pew the character is problematic, I will still ask you Stefan what is your Pepé limpia?

S3: We mentioned your one year podcast Josh two episodes have dropped so far about Anita Bryant and the gay rights movement and Jimmy Carter and the marijuana legalization movement. The sports episode that comes out this Thursday, right Thursday is about Mary Shane, the first woman to get a real chance to announce Major League Baseball games. And next week on the show, we will discuss that episode and Josh will play some bonus material from interviews that he did. In the meantime, as I said, I want to honor and pump up the pod. So I thought I would take a look at a different nineteen seventy seven sports story. It was a pretty interesting year. Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown. The Trailblazers, led by Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and the University of Pennsylvania’s own Corky Calhoun, won the NBA championship. Pelé delivered his adorable farewell speech at Giants Stadium, say with me three times, love, love and love. But it turns out I did an after ball about that in twenty thirteen, which I didn’t remember. Reggie Jackson hit three homers in Game six of the World Series. But I’ve talked down here before about how I was at the game and the guy who took me wanted to beat the traffic. So I heard the roar of the third homer from the parking garage at Yankee Stadium. Nineteen seventy seven was big in baseball. For another reason, though, the first class of free agents took the field in December of nineteen seventy five and arbitrator’s decision effectively abolished the reserve clause that bound players to teams in perpetuity in July nineteen seventy six, the players union, led by Marvin Miller and Management, signed a labor agreement granting certain players free agency. And in November of that year, two dozen players hit the open market. It went well for the players. Baseball’s average salary in nineteen seventy six was fifty two thousand three hundred dollars. The average salary for the first class of free agents was more than two hundred thousand dollars. The total value of their deals was around twenty five million. The biggest deal went to Reggie Jackson two point nine million over five years. The second biggest, a pitcher named Wayne Garland Garland, was a twenty six year old right hander with the Orioles, who had pitched sparingly in his first three seasons in the big leagues. In nineteen seventy six, the team cut his salary to nineteen thousand from twenty three thousand. Garland refused to sign the contract and played out his option after winning just seven games in his first three years. Garland went twenty and seven for the Orioles because Agent Jerry Kapstream represented ten of the top free agents. Bobby Grynch, Joel, Rudy, Rollie Fingers, Don Baylor after teams sold. Elected free agents that they could negotiate with Capstan set up shop in an office building in Providence, Rhode Island, and invited teams to come visit. He knew that Garland would get offers, but his twenty one season was just his first as a full time starter. A million over five years seemed possible when a deal with Cleveland was eminent. Capucine summoned Garland to Providence. It’s a 10 year deal for two point three million, Capstan said, according to a story in the New York Times by Tony Kornheiser. You got to be kidding, Garland replied. Nobody gets a 10 year deal and nobody’s worth two point three million, Kapstream told him. I didn’t use a gun. It’s important to remember that for years, but especially at the outset of free agency fans and even reporters resented players who cashed in. The day after the signing, a headline in the Cleveland press asked, Will Garland’s salary create problems? Fans got on Garland after he gave up hits in spring training after Garland lost his first start of the season, an Akron Beacon Journal columnist wrote Wayne Garland. The two point three million dollar pitcher offered little more than a nickel and dime showing before being dispatched to the showers or the counting room by manager Frank Robinson. Unlike Jackson and the other free agents who were veterans and had won World Series, Garland wasn’t a superstar. He wasn’t ready for the jeers or the pressure of the contract. Kornheiser wrote that story in July nineteen seventy seven. Garland had a five and nine record and a four point six two era. It’s a painful read. The fans are really getting on me, Garland says in the piece. I can hear them screaming at me. Garland, you two million dollar bomb. When are you going to start earning your money? They don’t treat me like a human being. It’s like they think I go out there and pitch with all the money in my back pocket, like I’ve pulled the wool over their eyes. Look, I go out and pitch the best I can. I didn’t ask for the money. Garland told Kornheiser that he was less outgoing and prone to taking his frustrations home to his wife and kids. Now, he said that his wife told him a few times to call in sick instead of going to the stadium. Once, Kornheiser wrote, Wayne Garland called his mother and asked her Why did I even start playing baseball? Brutal. Garlan finished nineteen seventy seven with a thirteen and nineteen record. It turned out that he had been pitching all year with shoulder pain. A month into the seventy eight season, Wayne Garland had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He made it back in seventy nine and had a career moment in eighty when he shut out the Yankees in front of seventy three thousand fans in Cleveland who had come for a fireworks show not to watch him pitch. But Garland never fully recovered and he was out of the majors at age thirty. I wasn’t worth the money, Garland said a year after his release. No one is. But if they’re willing to pay it, I’m willing to take it. It’s really striking to me, guys, to read these quotations from players like Garland feeling guilty about getting paid and from team owners swearing they have learned their lesson from the first free agent class that these guys were all overpaid and the free agents didn’t do as well as they should have. And spending will come down.

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S1: I mean, no matter what, in any professional sport, if you’re a free agent and you sign a contract like that, you’re getting paid for what you’ve done and not necessarily what you would do. And that’s always just sort of difficult for fans to reconcile. Right. And yeah, I mean, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I mean,

S3: yeah, but put yourself back then Joel. And it’s like these guys were making like he was making nineteen thousand dollars and suddenly someone’s offering two point three million. We’ve really come to accept as a society that athletes are worth the money if someone’s willing to pay them the money. And at the dawn, a free agency that just didn’t exist. And it’s really jarring to to read those quotes now.

S1: Yeah. And it just sounds like, you know, he had a hell of a time. And did you read that the end of his career, he had to quit coaching because of injuries? I didn’t even know that. Like, that was a thing that could happen. It just I just feel like I don’t know what kind of duty is. Maybe I don’t want to need to know anymore, but I just my heart kind of goes out to him because I like to be in that first class of people and to get that sort of response. I know that had to be scarring.

S3: Right.

S2: And it’s two point three million dollars, but it was over ten years. It’s two hundred thirty thousand dollars a year. And I think we talk more now about annual salary than we do overall salary. But that two hundred thirty thousand dollars, it is a million dollars basically in twenty twenty one money. And so you can understand how people and and this was also, you know, we’re talking about a time in American life where the economy was not the. Really well, and I think there was a lot of resentment around people, you know, doing better than other people, and so I think people were maybe primed to be angry about this. But it is just remarkable that even if we talk about it in terms of a million dollars a year, that’s just something that as a society, we’re just totally kind of used to and on board with at this point.

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S1: Thinking on that a little bit, too. This is sort of the first generation of athletes that like this is like professional sports are like a real moneymaker. Like people are coming to grips with the fact that, oh, there’s actually some money in this, as opposed to like the environment where dudes work jobs in the off season and stuff like that, so that probably they’re like, wait, sports is that important? You can make money in sports, you know, like we’re not we had not had a generation of that yet at that point. So I can only imagine that, you know, people were resentful, not rightfully so.

S2: And also just imagine how bad it was for the black players. Like this is a white guy who’s getting this kind of who’s getting attacked in this way, like in in baseball. And so just the level of like vitriol and rancor here is like pretty off the charts.

S1: The one positive thing I’ll say is if you look at Wayne Garland like Google Images, he does looks like every 1970s and 80s baseball player that I remember growing up, you know, sort of that was that part of it is delightful. So if you if you want to feel good and like to remember the past, like looking at Wayne Garland, I’m like, oh yeah, that’s 1970s baseball right there.

S3: All right. So we’ll link on the show page to Tony Kornheiser story and to an excellent biography of Wayne Garland by Joseph Lanco on the website of the Society for American Baseball Research.

S2: That is our show for today. Our producer this week was Alyssa EEDs Cullison of HaShas and subscribe or just reach out, go to sleep, dot com slash hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate dot com. Please subscribe to the show and rate and review us wherever you get your podcast. That would be quite helpful for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levin members. I’ll Moubayed. And thanks for listening. Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members and coming off of our conversation with Motoko Rich of The New York Times was a good way to kind of prime ourselves and steel ourselves for the Olympics, which are starting. Opening ceremony is on Friday. The soccer tournament is actually starting before that Wednesday at four thirty a.m. Eastern. The US women are playing their first game, I guess, Joel. What are you thinking and feeling going into this first week of the Olympics?

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S1: I still can’t get my mind around the fact that the Olympics are going to happen. I keep thinking, oh, somebody is going to step in and stop this because clearly it seems like a bad idea. Like I mean, the numbers of of of covid infections up almost, you know, all over our country. And certainly they’re there in a state of emergency in Tokyo. And you just keep thinking that, oh, surely that means something and that people are going to come to their senses and not do this. But it doesn’t seem like common sense is going to prevail here. But that’s sort of been the story of the entire pandemic. Like if we could go back to March 12th, twenty twenty, when all of this started, like the world came to a stop, we thought, oh, surely we’re going to exert some common sense along the lines here. And like we’re a year and a half into it and that’s not been what’s happening.

S3: So I guess I’m getting some deja vu. Joel just listening to you say this because it does feel like we’re back last summer when the American sports leagues are planning to gear up again. And there are these mix of plans for bubbles and limited travel or teams, you know, moving to different cities so that the Olympics are going forward doesn’t surprise me at all because this is the international sports bureaucracy at work. I mean, the people that run the Olympics can just whistle past the covid awards, and that’s what they are going to do. You know, we must get the games on. The games are above politics. The games are above everything. So it doesn’t surprise me in the least that this is where they were heading. And there’s going to be some delusion here that empty stadiums and a secured Olympic village are somehow going to be effective. But what I don’t get the same sense of security and confidence and is that unlike the NBA and what they did in Orlando and the WNBA and what they did is that. This doesn’t sort of you know, it’s a it’s a lot more people be there’s a lot more travel involved to get to venues. See, there’s a lot more variables. And you’ve got, you know, people from two hundred countries that are trying to negotiate this maze of rules and protocols and schedules and buses and meals. It’s a way more complicated apparatus than than the NBA or WNBA experienced last fall.

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S2: And it also feels like it’s both more complicated and there’s kind of less centralized control in some ways. I mean, you have all of these different governing bodies and organizing committees and everybody is kind of coming together. You know, it’s not there are there are athletes that aren’t vaccinated. And so just there’s always this, like, attempt to have the illusion of some kind of control or centralized authority at these events that, you know, they’re being run smoothly and effortlessly and like, look at all of the majesty that we have on display for you. And there’s going to be no illusions about that this time.

S3: Yeah, that’s how the Olympics, the Olympics are really good at that. And like the World Cup is really good at that.

S2: It’s like a Disney World sort of thing where, you know, they there are no mosquitoes and you don’t see all of the, like, hands working behind the scenes to clean everything. And there are all these kind of rules and protocols around, like you don’t want to see that costumed characters without their heads on. I mean, like all the costumed characters are wandering around without their heads on. But I was I was wondering Joel kind of as we started talking in the segment, it’s like what? Are all of the layers that you can remove and have it still seem to us sitting at home that it’s still the Olympics? OK, no fans, we can probably still watch and it’s still the Olympics. Coco Gauff isn’t there because she tested positive. And that’s fine. It’s like who watches that tennis at the Olympics? But like if the US Olympic gymnastics team. It somehow compromised if, like someone else can end up competing, like we’ve already talked about Shikari Richardson not being there, it’s like pretty much all of the athletes are expendable and replaceable from a marketing standpoint because we don’t even know who any of these people are outside of the Olympics. But like Samoan Byles and the gymnastics team, like there would be no hiding that there would be no escaping, that there would be no pretending like it wasn’t happening from like NBC’s standpoint or like anyone else’s standpoint.

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S1: Yeah. I mean, I like I don’t I don’t know what happens if, you know, the team is compromised in some sort of way or if there’s continuing infections. But I mean, the thing is, is that nothing is going to stop the show. Right? Like I mean, people are still going to I guess like that. I’m just thinking about it like that is the power of TV, right? Like we’re going to get programming no matter what. And it doesn’t really matter. It’s all kind of like space jam, right? It does. The substance of it barely matters. It’s just the fact that it’s available and that people are going to watch.

S2: Well, during the pandemic, you know, we canceled all of sports for a while and that’s the thing that we didn’t think would happen. But I do feel like the train’s already left the station on this one. They’re going to show some Olympics like product.

S1: Yeah, but I mean, like I don’t know about you guys, like, but my memories of the Olympics and because I’m a track person, like, I always think vividly about track and like my memories are Michael Johnson running into the stadium and, you know, the flash of the cameras and everybody standing up is a world record is happening in like that’s totally not going to happen. And if, like, it’s just like these are sports that people ordinarily don’t watch outside of the Olympics. And so you’re going to be watching a huge track meet with nobody in the stands with shit that’s on TV all all the time. Like I mean, you can watch a track meet with nobody watching literally all the time. Gymnastics meets with nobody in the stands all the damn time. So, like, the only thing that matters here is the Olympic branding. And I just wonder if people are going to be fooled in that way. I think that

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S3: going

S1: to get good ratings. But will it get Olympic ratings? Olympic sized ratings, I guess, is the interest.

S2: I mean, there were some stories about how NBC was saying it might be the most profitable Olympics ever from like an advertising revenue standpoint.

S3: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s what happens here. I mean, people are going to turn it off if Simone Biles doesn’t compete, but they’ll turn it on to see what else might happen. I mean, the Olympics, you know, the Olympics have have a trick to the public for decades with the power

S2: of, you say, tricked. But it is a good product.

S3: The product is good, but it’s also deeply, deeply, deeply flawed and becoming less and less relevant to the world. John Branch of The New York Times, I thought had a good sort of roundup piece that ran on page one of the The Times on Sunday about the state of the games and how the sort of bloat and corruption and moral and ethical lapses and holes in the Olympics are making it less and less relevant in the world. Nobody wants to host the Olympics, you know, and I do wonder whether, like these Olympics, because of covid will and whatever else happens, whether it’s athlete protests or, you know, you know, anything else that could affect the games, whether that’s just going to sort of expose the reality of the Olympics even more,

S2: I honestly don’t see any connection between all of the enormous problems with the Olympics as an institution, the resistance to hosting them and their viability as a television show. I it would shock me if people watching at home, I mean, this time might be an exception for all the reasons we talked about and this being really visible. But like what is an example that you can say of people not watching like a good television show for moral reasons? Is that like ever

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S3: in the history? Tune it out because I mean, we’re going to tune it out. I’m just suggesting that, you know, covid is going to be the latest problem through which the Olympics are refracted.

S1: Yeah. I don’t want to be Skip Bayless or Shannon Sharpe or whatever, but I wouldn’t mind putting a couple of cases, a diet, Mountain Dew on those bets about like the ratings of this, because I think that people think just because the Olympics have always been a ratings bonanza, that it always will be won. And I mean, this is a really weird environment like the NBA, like, for instance, like last year, the NBA finals, the NBA playoffs were great. Like, they were hugely entertaining and the ratings weren’t great. They’re much better this year. And I you know, there’s a lot of reasons for that. But I do think that, like, at some point you have to. I think that the environment under which these games are being held is going to take a toll on like the enthusiasm in the viewership for it. And I mean, I don’t know, I don’t feel the same buildup for this that I have in other years. And maybe it’s because it’s an off year. Maybe it’s just because the world is so much worse. It’s seemingly worse than it has been in the past. But I’m I’m not quite sure that it’s going to make the money and do the ratings that people think that it’s going to do. Because I just I don’t know, man. Maybe, you know, maybe I’m just a skeptic here. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I chat.

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S2: We’ll check on your Diamanda supply.

S1: That’s right. We’ve got a bet on who’s going to bet me who wants to who wants to put up another case of Diet Mountain Dew.

S2: I mean, you haven’t really set the terms of your of your meal. It’s a very kind of fuzzy idea.

S1: They all work out the time me a week and then we can circle back on it.

S2: All right. Sounds good. And we’ll be back with more coverage of the Olympics next week. And we’ll be doing Olympic stuff exclusively for Slate.

S1: Plus, we’re going to be doing the Olympics. Stefan Stefan going to I know you made the softball All-Star Game, but we’re going to put him through here physically to do Olympic stuff for our listeners

S3: to be doing a decathlon in the

S1: next two

S2: days. We’ll be back with more next week.