Field Theory by Hadyn Green

12

Ruth Aitken is the new Graham Henry

On Tuesday night I attended my first ever basketball game. This was one night after the Silver Ferns poor game against the World 7 (and as it turns out one night before the Silver Ferns second poor game against the World 7).

My first impression was that this was much flashier than the netball. There was a live band playing funk, there were cheerleaders throwing each other in the air, there were local drunken rich people in the "courtside" boxes.

But what really got me was the aggression. Basketball might be the most aggressive (non-combative) sport I've ever seen. Within three minutes of the tip-off players were yelling at each other and arguing with the refs (who naturally didn't make a single correct call according to the players and coaches).

Why so serious?

The most vocal of the Aussies was captain Joseph Ingles, who was fairly candid in his assessment of the referees' decisions ("bullshit"). At one point (as seen below) he declared: "C'mon we're playing basketball not netball!" Not only slightly offensive but not even a good line.

This is why I was so proud of Kirk Penney who disagreed with the referee in a very New Zealand fashion: "Awww, rubbish!"

In a way I was glad of the anger. It helped push the Tall Blacks to an early lead and then they never really faltered. By the time we got to the awful drawn out final two minutes of the game (easily the worst thing about basketball) the game was already decided and the Australian's fouls were only adding to the points differential.

Something I was quite aware of was the intense noise. I can't think of any other game where music can be played while the teams are playing. There were island drums set up along the baseline and they played almost constantly. Side note: I know New Zealand is in Polynesia, but why are Polynesian drums the default for New Zealand teams?

And exciting? Shit yes! There were flashy NBA-style dunks (as opposed to workman-like layups), an awesome alley-oop and a buzzer-beater three point shot, and all by the Kiwis.

A good proportion of the crowd stayed for the medal ceremony where for some reason we were told that the "Women of New Zealand basketball would be honoured". No such thing happened. We were then told to stand for the NZ anthem, which never played (thankfully, talk about a mood-killer).

Finally as I was packing my gear away the team walked past the media bench so I got to congratulate the team with a series of high fives, throwing all swine flu precautions to the wind.

As always, pics by Mike Roseingrave

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Yeah so, the netball. If Ruth Aitken was coaching the All Blacks what would be happening? Instead we get this:

After last night's 44-53 loss to slick World 7 outfit in Rotorua, Aitken has a wide range of Silver Ferns shortcomings to pick and choose from…

Perhaps Aitken's most pressing concern is how to instil some sort of self-belief in a Silver Ferns team that seems inexplicably at rock bottom when it comes to confidence.

I came home from watching District 9 (my word that's a good film!) turned on the television and saw the halftime score. The second best team in the world was losing by a large margin to a bunch of players scrambled together from ANZ Championship teams and with the coach from the second worst team in the competition.

Yeah, we're in trouble.

As much as I think Aitken should go, I am still against firing coaches in mid-season (no matter how well Bay of Plenty are doing in the rugby). So let's leave her there for the rest of the home-season and get someone new in for the overseas tour.

But who would be in line? Waimarama Taumaunu? Yvette McCausland-Durie? Noeline Taurua?

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I bet you thought no one could improve on Jandals. Well, Speedo just did.

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The other day I came across this interesting analysis of professional athletes in America and their political donating habits. Yes the sample size is small, but it does make for some interesting reading.

1) Of America's Big 3 sports, baseball and football are more Republican leaning while basketball is more Democratic leaning. The first obvious explanatory variable here is race, and in fact a quick search of WikiAnswers suggests that the percentage of black athletes is 83% in basketball, 65% in football, and 8% in baseball on the whole (although obviously the most relevant figures are for the actual celebrities in the database). The difference in racial composition between football and baseball is much greater than between football and basketball, and yet the campaign contributions of football players and coaches are much more similar to baseball athletes. This hints at some differences in sports culture independent of race.

2) Also consider the difference between the two elite country club sports, tennis and golf, which are both fairly homogeneous. (No Tiger, Venus, Serena or James in the list.) No surprise that golfers lean to the right, but I'm not sure I would have predicted the left-leaning of tennis. Granted tennis is only represented by 9 players....

4) Based on this sample, football players appear to be more politically engaged than other athletes. This is based on 3 measures of political engagement. (1) Their median contribution is higher than for any sport other than tennis (values on the right side of the figure). (2) They have the highest proportion of "non-partisan" contributors, that is contributors that made contributions to both parties. This suggests to me either some political strategy (buttering up both sides of the fence), or some issue- and candidate-based rather than party-based contributions. 40% of contributors were non-partisan for football compared to 34% for baseball, 28% for basketball, and 13% for golf. (3) Football players also had the highest percentage of contributions going to "Special Interests" which I'm assuming generally represent third party candidates or non-partisan ballot measures. This figure was 9.3% for football compared to 8.0% for baseball, 7.0% for basketball, and 3.7% for golf.

5) Sports media figures are fairly evenly represented by both sides of the political spectrum. Not sure what this suggests.

At the last US election ESPN and other sports media were interviewing players about who they would be voting for. I was surprised that many of the players, including those who came from poor neighbourhoods, were voting Republican so they could get tax breaks.

In fact it wouldn't surprise me to find that players were voting with their finances in mind. Especially with the factoid that players like the Yankees Alex Rodriguez only have to face six pitches to earn USD$100,000 (caution: that article may make you feel a little sick).

The eagled-eyed amongst you might have noticed that I removed #3 from the list above. It was this: 3) What? NASCAR drivers support Republicans?! I have to assume that this is sarcasm, after we had to suffer through Soccer Moms vs NASCAR Dads.

Naturally enough NASCAR Dads like guns, bibles, and cars; they hate gays, hippies, and proper use of English. So it stands that NASCAR drivers would quite similar.

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Of all of Mike's photos from the basketball, I really like this one: "Jawai! Quit dancing and get back in the game!"

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