Category Archives: Sports

The Freshest Advices

Item: Back in 2008 I subscribed to the Easton Press list of the “100 Greatest Books Ever Written,” and every month for 8 years and 4 months a handsome, leather-bound volume turned up in my mailbox. I should note here that these are not in fact the greatest books ever written. They’re the 100 books that someone at Easton Press thinks are the greatest ever written; many of them wouldn’t pass muster for being “great,” and needless to say the list is very western- and male-centric.  You will not find on this list Ssu-Ma Ch’ien’s Records of the Grand Historian, The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, or Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji. For that matter, you won’t find Montaigne’s Essays or Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, nor Boswell’s Life of Johnson or The Education of Henry Adams. But you will receive Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, which may be one of the most important books ever written, but it is not, stylistically, a great book. Be that as it may, I dutifully read the first 90 or so on the list as they randomly arrived (they aren’t ranked) before getting distracted with the last 10. I’m finally making my way through those and am currently reading The Republic by Plato. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s certainly one of the foundational texts in western literature, and I would agree with Clifton Fadiman’s assertion that it is an ambitious and rather difficult book. He suggests that those following the Lifetime Reading Plan start with Plato’s other works, beginning with the Apology, the Crito, the Protagoras, the Symposium, then the Phaedo. I’ll continue on with the Republic and learn as much as I can, listening to the dialogue between the fascinating Socrates and his many interlocutors. Even if I absorb only half of what is going on in this book, that’s saying something. More later.

Item: I just finished A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Viking, 2016). It’s the fictional account of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced in 1921 by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, and he spends the next 30+ years there without (hardly) leaving. Doesn’t sound like much of an opportunity for a plot, does it? Just as in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1944 film Lifeboat, however, confining all the action to a small area places tremendous demands on the author and his characters, and the book succeeds and satisfies on many different levels. Highly recommended.

Item: The Atlanta Falcons are two games into the latest NFL season with new coach Arthur Smith and everything seems familiar—and not in a good way. It’s still hard to believe that this team was in the Super Bowl just 5 years ago. Even with a new coach and general manager, they still seem headed in the wrong direction. There are three equally bad teams coming up on the schedule—the New York Giants, the Washington Football Team, and the J-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets—with a combined record right now of 1-5. We’ll find out a lot about the home team over that span, though you may want to avert your eyes.

Item: The Georgia Bulldogs, on the other hand, look mighty good after three games, the first of which was a beat-down of perennial powerhouse Clemson. It’s still hard to know how good or bad Clemson is, however, coming off a slim and unconvincing win over Georgia Tech. That’s the problem with college football—there’s no pre-season, and when you win your first game over a good opponent, you don’t know whether your team is really great or if the good opponent ain’t all that good after all. Georgia will find out quickly, however, if its defense is as great as it seems, with games coming up on the road against Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee, and home matchups against surprisingly good Arkansas and Kentucky. Don’t avert your eyes on this one.

Item: Here in this space back on April 1 I was excited for the start of the Major League Baseball season. The Bravos haven’t disappointed, poised at this juncture to win another National League East title, with 11 games left and a 3-game lead in the loss column (the only place that matters) over the Phillies. After stalling in third place for most of the first half, it’s been a lot of fun to watch the Braves catch and pass the Phils and hated Mets over the past three months, even if they don’t go far in the playoffs. It’s also been great fun to watch the much-vaunted Mets crash and burn again too. Did I mention I hate the Mets? The postseason begins Tuesday, October 5.

Item: Sothebys’s will auction a rare copy of the final printed version of the US Constitution this November, and it’s expected to fetch upwards of  $20 million. It’s one of only 11 in existence, and the only one in private hands, the others being in institutions. The owner bought it in 1988 for $165,000—not a bad investment. You will recall that GHS owns a draft copy of the printed Constitution with Georgia delegate Abraham Baldwin’s hand-written edits. It’s one of only 12 in existence.  

Item: Look out for a short book review essay in the Fall 2021 issue of the Georgia Historical Quarterly by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), and, most recently, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017).

Item: Not surprisingly, the Rolling Stones did not take my advice and call it quits after the death of Charlie Watts, thank goodness. They launch their long-delayed No Filter tour of the US this Sunday, September 26, in St. Louis, and if history is any guide, they’ll sound amazing. They always do. Let’s hope they can dodge both the Delta variant and the Grim Reaper for just a while longer.

Item: In the July 23, 2021 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, in a review of Reid Byers’ book, The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom (Oak Knoll, 2021), A.N. Wilson quotes Leigh Hunt, the English essayist, critic, and poet on the difference between a library and a study: “I entrench myself in my books equally against sorrow and the weather. I like a great library next to my study; but for the study itself, give me a small snug place, almost entirely walled with books. I dislike a grand library to study in. Capital places to go to, but not to sit in. We like a small study, where we are almost in contact with our books.” A small snug place almost entirely walled with books would describe the room in which I’m sitting, and from where I often recorded Dispatches from Off the Deaton path, including this one on libraries. It made me wonder exactly how many books I have crammed into this space, so yesterday I counted: 1,672, plus or minus a few. But there’s always room for more.

Till next time.

Vince Dooley and the University of Georgia

September 4th marks the birthday of Coach Vince Dooley and the return of the college football season. In this week’s Dispatch, Stan reports from the site where the University of Georgia was chartered in 1785 and explores the history of UGA and its hall of fame coach.  

Ice Trae 2, the Shimmy, and the Frozen Pond

I reported two weeks ago that Atlanta’s NBA Hawks were still playing in June, having made it to the second round of the playoffs. Now, for only the second time in the franchise’s 53-year history, the Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference finals, 1 of only 4 teams still standing.

I promise that this is not going to turn into a permanent sports blog, but what the Hawks have accomplished thus far is worth a longer look. On March 1, the Hawks were 14-20, 6 games under .500. The underachieving team fired head coach Lloyd Pierce and replaced him with then-assistant coach Nate McMillan. The team caught fire. Since then they’ve won 35 out of 50, tied for the best record in the league over that stretch.

In the first round the #5 seed Hawks beat the #4 seeded Knicks in 6 games, twice on the road in Madison Square Garden before a decidedly hostile Gotham crowd. In Round 2, the Hawks beat the top-seed Philadelphia 76ers three times in Philly to win the series in 7 games. Long-suffering Hawks fans remember the 1988 NBA playoffs, when Atlanta led Larry Bird and the top-seeded Boston Celtics 3 games to 2 in the second round, only to lose Games 6 and 7 to fall just short. Not this year, and not this team.

Next up: the #3 seed Milwaukee Bucks and their All-World center, the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. True to form, the Hawks won Game 1 on the Bucks home floor—only the 4th team in NBA history to win three Game 1s on the road in the playoffs, matching the ’99 Knicks, the ’89 Bulls, and the ’81 Rockets. Also true to form, Ice Trae scored 48 points, tying Lebron King James for most points in the conference finals by a player 22 or younger. And he’s not called Ice Trae for nothing: He even did a little shimmy before making a 3-pointer.

Pundits are picking the Hawks in 6 games. No predictions here, just enjoying this ride for as long as it lasts. And when we’re not watching the Hawks, let’s flip over to….

The frozen pond? Yes, the National Hockey League.

To the uninitiated, it’s not unusual for the NBA and the NHL to be playing in June. Though both basketball and hockey are considered winter sports, both leagues usually crown their champions in June. The pandemic delayed the start of both seasons last fall, so the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup will be decided this year in July. And if you’re paying attention to the playoffs in both sports, it’s a feast.

The conference championships are already underway in hockey, and traditionalists are celebrating the return of both the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders to prominence. When I was growing up as an Atlanta Flames fan in the 1970s, Montreal won 6 Stanley Cup championships in that decade, while the Islanders won 4 in a row between 1980 and 1983. That’s dominance and consistency on a rare scale. To see them both back in the championship semi-finals is a treat. Watching them play each other in the Stanley Cup Finals would be unbelievable. Talk about flashbacks: cue “My Sharona.”

In those halcyon days in the late 1970s when the Braves and Falcons were dismal, my great friend Randy “The Big Man” Guillebeau and I were Atlanta Flames fanatics. We tuned in to hear Jiggs McDonald and fellow announcer Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion call the games on the Superstation. We bought street hockey sticks and played in the driveway with tennis balls, with The Big Man playing the part of Flames goalie great Dan Bouchard. We even hopped the Marta train down to the Omni to watch games in person.

The Flames came to Atlanta in 1972 and made the playoffs 6 times in 8 years, but apparently The Big Man and I didn’t buy enough tickets to keep the financially struggling franchise in town. I’ve been a Calgary Flames fan ever since. The team finally won a Stanley Cup in 1989 though not, alas, for Atlanta.

Being a NHL fan in the Deep South has always been a lonely avocation, but less so now with many teams in the region. Charlotte, Nashville, Tampa, and Miami all currently have NHL teams.

But not, alas, Atlanta. As we pointed out in the episode on the Atlanta Thrashers for Today in Georgia History, if Atlanta loses one more hockey franchise we’ll score a hat trick.

It’s doubtful that the NHL ever returns to Georgia, but hope springs eternal.

Speaking of: I’ll take the Hawks in 7. If I’m right, see you back here for more in two weeks.

Ice-Trae in June

It’s the second week of June, and let’s pause our perusal of history for a moment to praise Atlanta’s National Basketball Association team. Wait, we’re paying attention to the Hawks in June? In the immortal words of Bud Robertson, Oh my yes.

Long-suffering readers of this blog recall that a little over 6 years ago I wrote about the historic season the Atlanta Hawks were having in the 2014-15 season. Those Hawks had a remarkable 19-game mid-season winning streak and finished with a mark of 60-22, a franchise record for wins. As the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hawks made it to the conference finals before being swept by the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the NBA Finals in 6 games to the Golden State Warriors.

As good as that team was, Hawks brass broke it up completely within a couple of years. Coach Mike Budenholzer is now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks (who are getting destroyed in this year’s playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets), and not one player remains from that amazing team.

To repeat, I’m telling you all this because it’s now the season in which Atlanta sports fans are traditionally focused squarely on the Braves and anticipating the start of college football in a mere 3 months. But this year the faithful are again watching the Hawks do something special.

Last year’s squad lost 47 games and didn’t make the playoff bubble. This year’s team improved by 21 games over last year and finished as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs—much higher than anyone expected during what was supposed to be another rebuilding year.

Far from rebuilding, these Hawks are actually just built. They have literally grown up before our eyes. Led by rising superstar “Ice” Trae Young (just 22 years old) and a great supporting cast, the underdog Hawks knocked off the hated New York Knicks in the first round, driving Spike Lee and Knicks fans crazy in the process. They’re currently in the conference semi-finals, one of 8 teams total still standing, having beaten top-seeded Philadelphia in the first game of the series. How bad was it for Philly? 76’ers fans were reduced to chanting, “Trae is bald-ing” during the Game 1 beatdown. This series is far from over, but already the Hawks have vastly over-achieved.

What next? Even if the Hawks should knock off the Sixers to make it to the conference finals, they would in all likelihood face the stacked-from-top-to-bottom Brooklyn Nets, whom they’re not likely to beat four times—are they?

NBA basketball in Atlanta in July? 

To quote Goethe: Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Podcast S4E7: Item! Stan Lee and the Golden Age of Comics

Stan talks about This Week in History (including King George III, AIDS, RFK, Mount Everest, & Charles Dickens), remembers a record-breaking baseball player, highlights new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf, and spotlights an incredible and historic collection of golden-age comic books about to hit the auction block–and the influence of comics in his own life.