Is There a Good, Cheap Stationary Bike?

Dear Sports Fan,

Is there a good, cheap stationary bike? Do I have to spend a ton for quality?  I just want to ride it 30 minutes a day in my basement.  I’m not trying to beat Lance or anything.

Michelle P


 

Dear Michelle,

Thanks for your question! Since no one on our staff is an expert on exercise equipment we’ve decided to answer you in the form of a dialogue. After all 0 + 0 = at least a little bit more than zero, right?

 

Ezra: A quick Google search reveals a ton of those weird recumbent bicycles which are said to be better for you. Then again, it’s also said that the western style toilet is terrible for you over the long-run, but I don’t see to many people running out to buy holes in the floor to squat over.

Dean Russell Bell: I have great rowing machine recommendations. Now, I don’t know if you have a significant other or not and, if so, how that significant other feels about you having huge lats. But if that would be something they might be interested in, allow me to recommend the Stamina Body Trac Glider. Best thing about it: once you reach the inevitable phase when you stop exercising, it folds up so tight you can disappear it into a corner, where it won’t guilt you ever again.

Ezra: I’m not entirely sure what a lat is… but it doesn’t sound like something you’d want to have huge of. As far as exercise bikes go, the Stamina 5325 is the pick of consumersearch.com for best budget upright. It looks like… an exercise bike to me. In what might be a meaningful omission the more well respected consumerreports.org doesn’t review exercise bikes, instead focusing on elliptical machines and treadmills. There is something comforting and old-school about the exercise bike though — it feels like something you legitimately could just sit on and pedal as you watch some serious television.

Dean Russell Bell: Talking about old-school, if you really want to beat Lance Armstrong you might be better served allocating your money towards some serious EPO and blood doping equipment…

Ezra: Hold it right there Dean! We’ve already had a question about the Tour de France and we’ll be covering it in separate entries starting when the race begins on July 2. Michelle, we apologize for our total lack of useful information on this subject, but we hope we have, at least, been entertaining.

Thanks for the question, Dean Russell Bell and Ezra Fischer

How Does the NBA Draft Work and Why Should I Care?

Dear Sports Fan,

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and What’s-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?

Thanks,
49 Round Pick


 

Dear 49 Round Pick,

Drafts in all sports are an opportunity to level the playing field – the worst teams generally get the higher picks and first dibs on the best young players. In the case of the NBA, the 14 worst teams are in the “lottery,” meaning they get the top 14 picks in the draft – only the order those 14 teams pick in is decided based on an old-school, ping-pong ball lottery.  So while the worst team has the best odds of getting the first pick(they get more ping-pong balls in the bingo cage-thing), it isn’t guaranteed.

Not a big deal, you think – after all, what’s the difference between picking number one or number two or three?  Well, if you’re a team from a smaller market who has a hard time attracting the best players, the draft is a very rare opportunity to get a franchise-altering talent at a price you can afford.  In particularly mediocre draft years, the difference between the best player and the second best player in the draft is barely noticeable – other times, the difference is between a game changer like Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (think Chris Rock) and a wildly overrated underperformer like the forgettable Keith Van Horn (think Dane Cook).

Talking about comedians, if you decide to try to pull the Sports Fan in your life away from watching the NBA draft tonight, you could do worse than start with this clip of Dave Chappelle’s Racial Draft sketch.

Chappelles Show
The Racial Draft
www.comedycentral.com
Buy Chappelle’s Show DVDs Black Comedy True Hollywood Story

How great is the Tiger Woods bit in hind-sight? Back to the NBA draft… High school players used to be allowed in the draft – now, in a nod to the fact that you learn everything you need to know in college your freshman year, you have to be 19 years old, at least one year out of high school and own one suit with at least 4 buttons to be eligible.

There’s also an unofficial rule that there has to be at least one successful white college player in each draft who gets picked in the first round even though pretty much everyone agrees he will not be successful in the NBA due to his lack of “athleticism.”

Back to the draft itself: it’s divided up into rounds, and generally each team has a pick in each round, unless they don’t have picks – for example, if they’ve traded their draft pick (essentially the right to a future player) to another team in return for a tangible, current player. Teams have a limited amount of time to make each pick, which is why team staff do ridiculous amounts of research and know more about the players than they do about their own children. There is real drama in some drafts – last second trades, surprise picks,[1] great rags to riches stories – but for the most part, you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to watch. So don’t feel bad if you can’t get into it.

One side note: immediately following the draft you’ll see the infuriating “Draft report cards” issued by sportswriters, most of whom feel compelled to note how ridiculous it is to judge a team’s draft class before they’ve even played a single game in the league – right before they judge every team’s draft class before they’ve played a single game in the league.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and Whats-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. These usually fall into two categories: GMs who are stupid and pick a mediocre player way too high, or enormously talented players who teams refuse to draft for one reason or another. The latter usually involves marijuana. It’s unclear what drug some of the GMs are on.

How Does Wimbledon Work?

Dear Sports Fan,

How does the Wimbledon tournament work?

Thanks,
Cookie


 

Hi Mom,

If your household is like mine, then your early morning television has been dominated by people wearing white hitting balls at each other on striped green grass since Monday morning when “The Championships, Wimbledon” started. We will probably do a post later on in the tournament about the pretensions of the tournament (the white clothing, the fans, the ball-boys and ball-girls, the phrasing of its name, so for this post, let’s concentrate just on how each match is scored and how it fits into the structure of the tournament.

Wimbledon is a single-elimination tournament, just like the college basketball tournament (March Madness,) except that instead of starting with 64 teams, it begins with 128 players. This is the same for men and women.[1] Basically everyone plays and the person who can win seven times in a row[2] wins the tournament. The organizers of the tournament do stack the deck a little. They give an advantage to the top 32 players in the tournament based on their past performances by assigning a seed to them. The top 32 players are seeded or ranked from 1 to 32. Then the match-ups are created so that no seeded player will play another seeded player in the first two rounds and that if everyone who is ranked higher always wins, when there are four players left, the top seeded player will play the fourth ranked player and the second will play the third. The goal is to give the top two players the best possible chance to play in the final match. For a sport dominated by Europeans, tennis is pretty darn capitalist.

Now you understand the tournament it’s time to understand a match. Sports competitions are generally divided into those that are decided by single games between two competitors or teams (football, boxing, sometimes soccer,) those that are decided by a single competition between lots of people (golf, any kind of racing,) and those that are decided by a series of games (hockey, baseball, basketball, and most games of rock-paper-scissors.) Tennis is weird. I said Wimbledon was a single elimination tournament which it is — but each competition between two players is also sort of a series of games. Actually it’s a series of series’.

I’ll explain — Tennis has four units of scoring — from largest to smallest it’s the match, the set, the game, and the point. To win a match you have to be the first to win 3 sets if you’re a man and 2 sets if you’re a woman. To win a set you have to be the first person to win 6 games, although you have to win by a margin of two games. At Wimbledon a tie-breaking game to 7 points (although this too must be won by a margin of two) is played in every set but the final one (the third for women and the fifth for men.) These deciding sets can basically go on until infinity. To win a a game you have to be the first person to 5 points although in this too, you must win by two. Just to be confusing instead of counting 0-1-2-3-4-5, games are scored love-15-30-40-game. Once the players have 40 in a game and they are tied, this is called deuce. After this, when one player is a point ahead (and because they must win by two, they only need one to win the game,) it is Advantage [Players Name.]

Got it? I bet you do! What’s interesting to me about this is how it combines the features of a single match (it’s a single day event, it can hinge on small factors like weather, sickness, even just someone having a bad day with the one of the most important features of a series, accuracy (because winning requires winning the majority of times even after the score resets to zero you are more likely to get the “correct” winner.)

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Not viewers, competitors… although now that I think of it, it is true regardless of whether YOU are a man or a woman too.
  2. 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2!

Why is Golf Etiquette so Funny?

Dear Sports Fan,
Why do golfers take of their hats to shake hands? Why do they wear pants in the insane heat? In other words, why are there so many rules about golf etiquette, and what are they?
Puzzled,
Kat

Dear Kat,
The short story, which is what I am going with here, is that golf is old and steeped in tradition. Many of these traditions started long ago in a much different social atmosphere. Taking your hat off or wearing pants no matter the weather today is not outside the bounds of the social mores across all of society tens of decades ago. For example, women wearing bathing suits that were more akin to a scuba wetsuit than the suits of today was not only accepted in the early 1900’s, but was the standard. It didn’t make sense to be draped in such a heavy garment at the beach in sweltering weather, but the pressure of societal influence was heavier than the physical burden of the outfit.
Another aspect to the discussion is the role that tradition plays in sports. History has always been and continues to be a highly important platform for fans. Considering the past success of your team and the great players that came before are compelling ways to honor your allegiance. Knowing the history is a demonstration of commitment. And whether it is right or not, level of commitment is often the measure of one’s seriousness about their team. To put it simply, tradition is important.
So let’s bring this back to golf and the question at hand. What’s with all the etiquette? Etiquette since the beginning has given golf its character. Things that aren’t absolutely necessary to the game, but add to the overall experience. Knowing the etiquette is a part of learning to play, it demonstrates that you know more than to keep your leading elbow straight and to keep your head down. Most rules are useful, like replacing a divot so the course quality is good for everyone or slower playing groups allowing faster playing groups to play through. And some rules are more about tradition, meant to maintain the strong character of the game and respect its history.
For a list of several standard rules of golf etiquette you can check out Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golf_etiquette.
Thanks for the question,
John DeFilippis

Now that I'm a Dad Should I Try to Like Sports for my Son?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve never been a big sports fan, but this is my first Father’s Day and I’ve been feeling like I will be depriving my son if I don’t raise him with sports in his life. What can I do to introduce a little sports to his life?

Thanks,
Kurt


 

Dear Kurt,

Happy Father’s Day and congratulations on being a new father!!

I don’t think you should feel like you have to feign sports fandom for your son. He’s going to have lots of influences during his life and it’s far more important that they be honest than contain sports. That said, there are a few things that you might want to think about doing.

You might want to encourage your child to play sports. Oddly you don’t really have to be a sports fan to enjoy playing sports. So buy some balls and frisbees and sticks and even if your kid is too small to really use them, you can kind of swing him at them. If he seems to take to any of it, encourage him! Participating in team sports from a young age is a wonderful way to build confidence, make friends, and get stronger. It’s also a big lesson on how to deal with success and failure. Your son will definitely learn how to win and how to lose from his parents even if the winning and losing for them is not sports related. Be a good winner and a better loser.

The other piece of sports that a child often picks up from his or her parents is who to root for. If you don’t have any sports allegiances, hopefully you live in a one team region. My parents weren’t fans of any sports teams (except the ones my brother and I were on) when I was growing up and partially as a result[1] of that, I root for a hockey team a thousand miles from where I live, a basketball team from my home state, and don’t have a favorite baseball or football team. If there is a local team in your area, why don’t you buy your kid a hat. If he ends up liking sports than he will have the credibility of a true fan — baby pictures in his team’s uniform!

Hope you have a great day,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. But mostly because I grew up in Central New Jersey where the allegiances are as twisted as a clover-leaf highway entrance.

What is Being Offside?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is being offside and why does it cause so much screaming in the bar next-door?

Thanks,
Max


 

Dear Max

Offside rules are about time and space. They are about a line, an event and an order. Although they are probably the most misunderstood, most shouted about, most infuriating rules in sports, they are deceptively simple. Offside rules exist in most of the most-watched sports in the world. Offside is the rule in soccer; it has caused more bloodshed than many major border conflicts or minor religions. It is an important part of hockey, can mean the difference between winning and losing in football, and although it is disguised in basketball, it still has major implications. If you understand the role being offside plays in all of these sports, you will understand a lot about the nature of each game.

In every sport, being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. I’ll repeat it: being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You’ve got it! Now all we need to do is fill in the where and the when.

Hockey
Where: If the player is in the offensive zone; the area between the blue line closest to the goal his team is trying to score on and the boards…
When: The puck is moved from outside this area into this area…
HE IS OFFSIDE!

Soccer
Where: If the player is closer to the goal she is trying to score on than fewer than two players of the opposing team…
When: The ball leaves the foot of a player on her team who intends to pass her the ball…
SHE IS OFFSIDE!

Football
Where: If a player on defense[1] moves across the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line across the field of play where the ball is placed before a play starts…)
When: Before the ball is snapped to start the play…
HE IS OFFSIDE (If the player touches another player on the other team, this is called “encroachment” which is much more fun to say than offside.)

Basketball
Where: If a player is on the side of the court that she is trying to defend…
When: When she has the ball for more than eight seconds after her team initially gains possession of it…
SHE IS OFFSIDE (This is called the “eight-second rule.”)

Where: If a player dribbles the ball on the side of the court that he is trying to defend…
When: After his team has had the ball on the side of the court that they are trying to score on…
HE IS OFFSIDE (This is called a “back-court violation.”)

Notice how the way the offside rule is written seems to suggest something about the game? The soccer rule favors the defense in a big way — if a player can’t pass to one of his teammates unless he has at least two defenders between his teammate and the goal, why are we surprised that there isn’t more scoring? The hockey rule also favors the defense, just a little less. Note how the rule makes it so that if a defender can clear the puck from his third of the ice into the middle third, the other team’s offense needs to totally reset by leaving the offensive zone. Basketball, on the other hand, seems to require offense. If a player cannot stay on her side for more than eight seconds, she’s going to be forced to get her team in a position to score, isn’t she?

See how simple the offside rules can be? What other questions do you have?

Thanks,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Before a play starts, only one offensive player is allowed to move at once. If any of the big guys in a row even flinch, they are called for a “false start” which is more or less an offside rule.

Why are sports fans obsessed with injuries?

Dear Sports Fan,

The sports fan in my life disregards my injuries and illnesses as mere complaints until I am either completely incapacitated or bleeding prodigiously. Yet the mere mention of a potential injury to any appendage of one of his teams’ players sends him into Colonel Kurtz mode – The horror, the horror – before he spends an hour on WebMd trying to identify a miracle cure. Any chance any of that sympathy can be directed my way?

Hurt in Houston

— — —

Dear Hurt in Houston,

Let me put it bluntly: no. When you get sick or injured, (knock wood) you get better and your life goes on. Your fan’s favorite athlete, or a key player on his team? Well…

Injuries are one of the most frustrating things in sports. Think about sitting at your computer doing work – not one of those mind-numbing, I’m half-working and half-googling to see if I can buy the dress Kate Middleton wore to her engagement announcement, but really jamming on a project, getting excited about it, rocking back and forth in your chair and laughing to yourself from time to time cause your brilliance surprises even you. Now, imagine the power goes out.  Your first thought is pure horror: all is lost.

There’s uncertainty – when’s the last time I saved? Does it even matter? Will it even remember that? There’s the period of irrational hope as you reboot when the power comes back on – I’m sure Bill Gates saw this power outage coming, there’s NO WAY Word wouldn’t save automatically. Then you login and pull up Word and, really, all you can do is hope.

That’s the best comparison I can come up with to an injury: no matter how well everything is going for your fan’s team, they are always one injury away from catastrophe, and there is NOTHING anyone can do about it. Absolutely nothing. That injury can happen in any number of ways – horrifically (Joe Theisman, a Redskins quarterback having his leg broken in two), hysterically (Bill Gramatica, an NFL placekicker, tearing an ACL celebrating a field goal) , frequently (Vince Carter[1]) and downright bizarrely (Shaq, the 7 foot, 300 pound beastly freak of an athlete who, for a chunk of his career, was felled by an injury to his big toe) –  but there’s no recourse for the team or your fan. All you can do is watch the athlete get carried off the field and try to convince yourself that it’s not nearly as bad as it looks and that yes, elbow joints are definitely meant to rotate 360 degrees.

One other note: an injury to your fan’s favorite athlete is a particularly crushing blow. One thing all sports fans are acutely aware of is that we have a limited amount of time with our athletes, and even less time to watch them while they’re in their prime (whereas, theoretically, they have their entire life to spend with you. But I digress). Age will slow them down even if injuries don’t. So when we see an injury to our favorite player we think two things. 1. I just lost some of my quality time with this guy; and, 2. Thanks to this injury, this guy may never be as incredible an athlete again. Think about that: in what other job can a single, freak occurrence ensure that someone will never perform at a high level again?

Hope this helps,
Dean Russell Bell

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Note on Vince Carter: Vince Carter was an enormously talented basketball player who never fulfilled his potential because of his complete lack of heart and desire. He’s like the guy in your office who takes so many sick days for so many absurd reasons that you can start to predict when it’ll happen – you even have an office pool to bet on which ailment he’ll claim on a given day. It’s 80 and sunny – I’ve got $20 says Bob’s calling out with a stomach flu! That was Vince Carter – the man made tens of millions of dollars, but the mere suggestion of physical contact was enough to send him sprawling with a look on his face making clear that what just happened was some kind of historical injustice.

Are Basketball Fouls Really Arbitrary?

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you explain basketball fouls? They seem totally arbitrary to me.

Thanks,
Otto


Dear Otto,

If we were more cynical on this website, we would say that NBA foul calls aren’t arbitrary, they only seem arbitrary because we don’t know which team the refs have gambled on!

In all sincerity and seriousness though, you are not alone. Basketball fouls are extremely difficult to read. They happen very quickly and there is often very little difference between a foul on one player or the other. Here are probably the three most common fouls to look for.

What is a Reach-in Foul?

A reach-in foul is somewhat self-explanatory. When a player tries to steal the ball from another player, he’s got to be pretty careful. If he touches almost anything other than the ball — an arm, a chest, a face, etc. — it’s a reach-in foul. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be your hand that’s reaching in — it could be any part of your arm (or all of it like in the photo to the left.

The one exception to this rule is that when someone has the ball and their hand is actually on it. When this is the case, like when dribbling or shooting the ball, the player’s hand is considered part of the ball and can be struck or slapped without penalty.

What are Charging and Blocking Fouls?

Charging and blocking are two fouls that can be called in situations that look almost identical. When you see two players collide and a whistle blows, it’s usually either of these two fouls. A charging call is always against the offensive player and a blocking foul always against the defensive player.

Charging and blocking are like the cheese plate at a party or an intersection with a four-way stop sign — it’s all about who gets there first. When two players collide the player who has the foul called on him and the one that gets the call in his favor depends basically on who got there first. If the defender got to the place where the collision was and established himself there (this part is a bit hazy; usually it means that the defenders feet aren’t moving anymore but it could also be that his torso is static even if his feet are still moving a little) before the attacking player arrived then it is a charge and the foul goes against the offensive player. If the defensive player is still moving when the collision happens then it is a block, and the foul goes against the defender.

Trying to guess where an attacking player is going and establishing yourself there so that they run into you is a pretty common defensive strategy. A player doing this is said to be “trying to take a charge.” Sometimes this strategy backfires if the defender guesses wrong or is not quick enough. Sometimes you will see what looks like a defender sliding sideways into a collision. This is a sure sign that the foul will be called a block and go against the defender… except, of course, if the ref has some money riding on the defensive team… Just kidding!

Sincerely,
Ezra Fischer

My friend's favorite team is out, why is he still watching so much sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

My friend’s favorite team was eliminated from the playoffs a few weeks ago but he seems to be watching as much sports as he was when they were still in it. What’s up with that?

Thought it was over for the year!

Jane

 


Dear Jane,

There’s a few reasons why your friend might still be watching as much of the playoffs now as he was before his favorite team was eliminated. Some people are fans of a team and some people are sports fans; some people are both. Your friend sounds like he is both. So, while he’s likely to be upset by no longer having his team to root for, rooting for “your team” is just one way of rooting.

Once your favorite team is gone you are free to root for other things. People root for close games, for exciting players, for games to get to overtime, for a seven game playoff series to make it to the most exciting seventh game. Everyone who watches sports wants to be able to say they were watching when something great happened.

Fans also tend to create miniature morality plays out of games and playoff series’. For example — the Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat series has been cast as a battle between a group of selfish mercenary stars (the Heat) and a young team built around an unselfish star (Derrick Rose) who are respectful of basketball history and play ‘the right way.’ In the last round of the NHL playoffs, the San Jose Sharks barely beat the Detroit Red Wings in what was an incredibly compelling series in part because it took on the plot of a great Western film; the old, veteran gunslingers (the Red Wings) are outgunned by the younger challenger (the Sharks) but through sheer force of will, guts, and the treachery of old-age try to stave off the inevitable advance of time.

It’s not always clear how much truth there is in these little plots but you can find out a lot about the character of a sports fan by noticing what side he or she takes when watching a game that doesn’t involve a favorite team.

Hope this helps answer your question.

Sincerely,
Ezra Fischer

 

I'm so confused about NASCAR. Help!

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you explain the popularity of NASCAR? How can people watch a four hour race?

Sincerely,
Confused in Washington D.C.

— — —

Dear Confused in Washington D.C.,

There is no satisfactory explanation for NASCAR’s popularity which, thankfully, seems to be fading. Driving is not a sport. Driving barely qualifies as an activity. There are only two possible scenarios that should lead a normal human being to consider throwing four hours of his or her life away on a NASCAR race.

1. Drinking and driving: Adding alcohol tolerance to the other talents required to be a successful NASCAR driver – ability to turn left, having a large bladder and being slightly insane – would add an element of uncertainty that might make the race worth watching. This could work a couple different ways. One idea is to require every driver to take a shot of whiskey every time they make a pit stop.  A twist: require every member of the pit crew to take a shot every time their driver completes a pit stop.  Bonus feature for this approach: all kinds of new sponsorship opportunities. Jack, Jim Beam, Red Stag – and, if they’re smart, MADD.

2. Throw in a right hand turn every once in a while: One thing you’ll learn as you venture into the world of sports is that most sports require you to go both left and right in some way.  It keeps things interesting and demonstrates an additional level of skill that separates the pros from the rest of us. NASCAR? Not so much.

Barring any of these changes, you should not trouble yourself with NASCAR. You may have a hard enough time figuring out why people like sports that actually matter – and from our perspective, it’s worth investing the time to do that for some sports, cause enjoying them with other people can be a very rewarding and satisfying experience.

But you should not waste a moment of your life trying to relate to anyone who follows NASCAR. If someone in your life – a brother, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a boss – is a die-hard fan and continuously tries to get you into it, we suggest you practice your blank stare and your vacant smiling and nodding. Or disown/break-up with them.

Thanks for your question,
Dean Russell Bell