The paradox of the NBA

NBA free agency started on Sunday night. It has been a melee with numerous deals announced after the 6pm mark. Bleacher Report claimed that the first day of the free agency saw $3bn in contracts signed.

That’s a lot of money. Players’ lives are changed over night. Career takes dramatic turns over night.

Yet, the irony in all this show of wealth is that while some players command attention, freedom and money, others may not be able to choose where to work. Grown men in the 20s or 30s don’t even get to choose where to work and live. If traded suddenly, they have to uproot their family and disrupt their spouses or kids’ lives.

That’s what I find very sad about the NBA. At least in soccer or what we call football, players have all the freedom in the world to choose where to work. If they don’t want to, their current clubs can’t force them out, unless contracts are broken and the players get all the contract value. Take Gareth Bale for instance. His manager doesn’t want him. His club doesn’t want him. His teammates don’t like him. The fans in Madrid don’t want to see him. Yet, unless he is willing to be transferred, there is nothing that Madrid can do.

Another disappointing aspect of the NBA is some hostile fans. By playing, players essentially trade their time and health for money. Injuries happen. Your body takes a toll. Continuous workouts are required. Media presence is mandated. Yet, players sometimes don’t get to choose where to play and live. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop hostile fans from throwing tantrums at players whenever they do what is in their best interest. Take Kevin Durant for instance. He did what he thought was best for him by signing with GSW. Yet, he is called soft, a snake and other vulgarities.

Money and fame do come at an expense. Costly expense.

Fan transgression and blemish on sports

Last night, an unfortunate event took place at Oracle Arena in the game between Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The co-owner of GSW sat court side and upon contact with Kyle Lowry, the point guard of Toronto Raptors, who was trying to save a ball, laid hands on Lowry and hurled vulgar language towards the player. The culprit was suspended by the team for the rest of the series and fined by the league as well

Sports are about emotions and it’s alright to stay at home or a friend’s place and scream at the TV. However, it’s not OK to assault athletes, either physically or verbally. There is racism around Europe in soccer stadiums. Players threaten to walk out in cases like that and I think that they are justified. In basketball, fans touch and throw insults at players. Why? Players are just humans who are trying to do a job for which they are paid. There is no reason to act outside the realm of courtesy or decency.

In some cases, it gets more serious than just shoving or obscene language. A few weeks ago, Mkhitaryan, an Armenian football player at Arsenal, had to stay home to watch his teammates play in the Europa League. It is because the game took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which has political conflict with Armenia. If the fans could separate the beautiful game of football from a political conflict and realize that Mkhitaryan didn’t choose where he was born, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I hope that one day, we will forever discard all the blemishes on the sports we love and just enjoy the beautiful moments that sports bring. We don’t need what the co-owner of Golden State Warriors did to be a distraction away from moments like this.

Steep decline and loss of identity at Manchester United

The season is officially over and it can’t be over soon enough for Manchester United and its fans like myself.

Terrible performance domestically and continentally

Since 2013, the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson, the team has been a complete mess. There have been 4 managers in charge: David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and the current manager – Ole Solskjaer. With regards to the Premier League, the team’s end-of-season position was 7th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2nd and 6th from 2013 to 2018, missing Champions League on 4 occasions. This season, the gap to Manchester City, the eventual champion, is a staggering 32 points. There hasn’t been such a large gap since Premier League was founded. Yes, MU won the Europa League with Jose Mourinho, but as a three-time Champions League winner and a formerly usual competitor in the tournament, winning a second-tier cup is more of a consolation than an achievement. This year’s presence in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League is the best we have had since 2011.

Alarmingly deteriorating player quality and abysmal transfer policy

Let’s talk about the transfer policy since Sir Alex’s departure. Below is the list of all big-ticket players coming to Manchester United in the past 5 years (Source: transfermarkt)

SeasonPlayerFees (£ mil)Selling Fees  (£ mil)DifferenceEvaluation (my own opinion)
13/14Juan Mata40  Average
13/14Marouane Fellaini2911-18Poor
14/15Di Maria67.558-9.5Poor
14/15Luke Shaw34  OK
14/15Ander Herrera320-32OK
14/15Marcos Rojo18  Poor
14/15Daley Blind1614-2Poor
14/15Falcao7  Poor
15/16Martial54  OK
15/16Schneiderlin31.521-10.5Poor
15/16Depay3114.4-16.6Poor
15/16Darmian16  Poor
15/16Schweinsteiger8  Poor
16/17Pogba95  Average
16/17Mkhitaryan3831-7Poor
16/17Baily34  Poor
16/17IbrahimovicFree yet very high salary  OK
17/18Lukaku76  Average
17/18Matic40  Poor
17/18Vindelof31.5  OK
17/18Alexis Sanchez31  Poor
18/19Fred53  Poor
18/19Dalot20  Average

Most signings haven’t met expectations so far in my book. Only a handful either have or possess so much promise that I give them the benefit of the doubt. More importantly, many players don’t particularly have a lot of resell value. They are at the peak of their market value and given the outrageous inflation of player value following Neymar’s transfer, Manchester United ended up overpaying for the players by a wide margin. Among the transfers, some are particularly terrible. Take Sanchez as an example. He is no longer the player he used to be. Yet, he commands the biggest wage at the club, causing unhealthy envy from his teammates who, admittedly, would deserve his salary more than he does.

Not only did the club fail to acquire quality players, but they were also unable to offload players who don’t meet the standard any more. Take Ashley Young. He is exceedingly disappointing and weak. Yet, he is the captain of the team and features in the starting line-up on a weekly basis. His disastrous performance against Barcelona in Champions League is just one among the many horrible performances over the past two or three years.

Loss of identity

United used to be known and feared for attacking football with flair and never-give-up mentality. United of the past few years has been nowhere near that former self. No creativity. No attacking football. No inspiration. Fewer goals. Only boring defensive football. Teams don’t fear United any more. We are relegated to battling with the likes of Wolves or Everton, which beat United 4-0 a few weeks ago.

United used to promote young players from the academy. Granted, some came through the hierarchy such as Rashford, McTominay, and a bit less from Greenwood or Tahith Chong. But it’s nowhere near enough given that we produced world class players in the past such as Class 1992, or good role players such as Brown, O’Shea, Welbeck, Evans, Rafael.

Manchester United is no longer what it used to be. Worse than the lack of performance on the pitch is the loss of culture, accompanied by the decline in reputation. No great players who want to do great things and achieve results want to play for us any more. City, Liverpool, Juve, Bayern, Barca and Real are all the raves these days. We are relegated to the second-tier club in Europe. Long were the days when United were in the semi-final of Champions League for 5 straight seasons or 3 finals in 4 years from 2008 to 2011. Long were the days when the name Manchester United commanded respect and fear. What is left now is just a well-oiled marketing machine living off of its glorious past with no direction back to redemption.

Two good things about professional sports systems in America

As a big NBA fan, I have always been perplexed by the hatred towards the Golden State Warriors. The chief reason for it is that GSW has too many All Stars and that it is unfair to compete against them. I just find it hard to comprehend. If you look at football (I prefer football, but you may know it as soccer), GSW’s dominance is nowhere near the dominance that household names such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid has enjoyed for DECADES, if not years. Real Madrid and Barcelona together have won 58 out of 87 La Liga titles. Bayern Munich won 27 out of 56 Bundesliga titles. Together, those three clubs have won 22 of 64 Champions League titles, with Real Madrid winning a record of 13 and the last 4 out of 5. The odds of these clubs not winning their domestic leagues are just slim. Betting against them is almost as good as throwing money away.

These clubs have infinite finance and resources. They have money, brand name, legacy, scouts and infrastructure to attract any footballer in the world. It’s every player’s dream to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Even players at some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Manchester United or Liverpool want to play for the top two clubs at one point in their career. Unfortunately, there is no cap limit in football. There are some financial restrictions that forbid clubs to be in too much debt, but given these clubs outrageous abilities to generate revenue, these rules mean little to them. At one point, Real Madrid consecutively made record transfers with Figo, Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

That’s why I really love the draft pick and salary cap enforced on American sports teams. The two policies level the playing field much more than what happens in football. Draft picks allow inferior teams a chance at future stars. Salary caps ensure that teams cannot buy their way to success. Even if teams want to stack superstars, they run a risk of a hefty tax bill unless somehow they convince some of their stars to take a pay cut. Then, it becomes a management issue, not the money issue any more. If somehow a team can convince the likes of Durant to take a pay cut to help the team succeed, how can you dislike them? If that were your team, would you think that the criticism was fair?

Around 6 or 7 years ago, GSW was nowhere near a mainstream or dominant team that they are today. They used the draft picks to get the players who form the cornerstone of their success today. Curry, Thompson and Green were drafted at 7th, 11th and 35th positions respectively. Teams passed on the chances to sign them and GSW had the foresight to swoop in and take advantage. Plus, Curry signed a ridiculously cheap deal for a star of his stature. Thompson has consistently signaled that he prioritized staying and winning over money. Durant took pay cuts to play and win championships. Cousins earned only $5 million at GSW, a deal far from what he can earn given his talent. GSW is just better at the management than other teams. So don’t hate them for it. Be glad that there are draft pick and salary cap enforcements in the league.

Jose Mourinho – A case of cultural mismatch and failed leadership

Jose Mourinho has been the manager at Manchester United for the last 3 years. The team is my childhood team and I have been a fan for more than 20 years. The last domestic Premier League win we had was in 2013 and the last Champions League we had was in 2008. Since then, it has been a rough 5 years to be an MU fan, but it has reached a breaking point for me under Jose Mourinho, a case of cultural mismatch and failed leadership. It goes to show that no matter how much the talent is in question, without a cultural fit and leadership, the hiring won’t just work.

Cultural Mismatch

Manchester United had been known for attacking football and flair. We were never that good on the defensive side. Otherwise, we would have won more championships, even though the collection over the past two decades was truly remarkable. Our style was always to dominate the ball and attack to win. Mourinho’s style is completely opposite. His mantra is to not lose first and foremost. Hence, the games are dull and boring. You can see the fear in players’ eyes and behavior on the pitch. They don’t want to attack. They just want to defend and avoid mistakes. There is no creativity in Manchester United any more. Defenders don’t dare to move forward. Midfielders’ priority is to hold position and not lose the ball, instead of creating innovative passes or plays. Strikers are asked to pull back when not having the ball. As a result, when MU wins back possession, there is no one up front to threaten the opposition. 

Additionally, Manchester United was known for promoting young players. Mourinho is not a believer in that, as far as I am concerned. His preference is always established players who are usually around 30 years old and very expensive.

We were always a team of class. However, his media handling has been increasingly ridiculous; which becomes a bit shameful for the team. Even though he was harassed by some fans, as the team manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world, he shouldn’t have some of the irritating and distasteful he has. 

The hiring of Mourinho is against every thing that Manchester United stands for. I’d rather have the team stick to our traditions and lose more than win a few games by not being ourselves.

Failed leadership

I am a big believer of the idea that leadership is about taking the bullets for the team. Mourinho isn’t like that. He chastises the players publicly and throws them under the bus. Sure, some players have an attitude issue, but managing them internally and discreetly is his job. Instead, he regularly complains about the players and singles them out in the press. He lost the locker room at Real Madrid and Chelsea badly. It seems that he is losing the one at MU as well. It is, first and foremost, his fault that the team doesn’t perform well. As the team manager, it is hard to deny his accountability. 

A manager in sports should be similar to a manager in business. When the team succeeds, you bask in the glory with everyone, but the credit should go to those around you. When the team hits trouble, you are the first in line to take the bullets. That’s what I believe leadership is, no matter what other definitions of the term say. Also, the manager has to fit the culture of the team. In some cases, an outliner may bring unexpected changes, but it’s not what usually works. In that sense, Mourinho is clearly a failure stemming from cultural mismatch and poor display of leadership. He has to go and the sooner that happens, the better it is for everyone, including himself. 

Fernando Alonso

The final race of the 2018 Formula 1 season will be this Sunday at Abu Dhabi. It’s also the final race, possibly ever, of one of the greatest drivers who ever drove a Formula 1 car: Fernando Alonso. Tributes of the man by news outlets have already begun. Though there are still a few days away, I already have goosebumps and feel a bit sad. 

Alonso is a two-time world champion from Spain. Even though his race wins or pole laps never fully reflect the talent of the man, he is well-regarded on the paddock and more than 10 years of watching the sport, I have never heard or read even once that his talent is ever doubted. All I have read is one of the greatest drivers in the history whose career is littered with driving the wheels off his cars, taking a car’s capacity beyond its limits, ill-informed decisions and utterly bad luck. 

I was super elated when he decided to drive for Ferrari, my favorite team. He won in the first ever race with the team! The first 3 years, especially 2010 and 2012, were remarkable and bittersweet. He and the team lost two championships on the final race twice and through bad luck despite having an uncompetitive car. Per BBC in their 5-part story on the man

In the fourth-fastest car, Alonso led the championship for much of the season, taking three outstanding victories along the way in Malaysia, Valencia and Germany. He was overtaken by Vettel in a burst of four consecutive wins by the German in a run of races in Asia in the closing stages of the season. But Alonso lost the title only because of two instances of bad luck.


He was taken out at the start of both the Belgian and Japanese Grands Prix: in Spa by Romain Grosjean’s flying Lotus after the Frenchman tangled with Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren; at Suzuka when the front wing of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus punctured his left rear tyre.


Had only one of those incidents not happened, Alonso would have been champion.

The two championships lost in 2010 and 2012 sadden me to this day. I cannot re-watch the final races of those two years again ever. It’s just too difficult to take. 

Though in the middle of two Capstones, I cannot wait to watch, for one last time, one of the greats. Hopefully his McClaren will give him and all the fans, myself included, two hours of Fernando Alonso. 

This is his favorite race win and mine. A spectacular win from 11th position

Vietnam GP in 2020

Well, it’s finally and officially here! Formula 1 Vietnam Grand Prix is officially the latest addition to the calendar in 2020. As a long-time F1 fanatic, I am thrilled by this news. Our country will have an international sport event that will attract tourists and increase our country’s brand awareness. It’s not surprising to me any more that many people don’t know much about Vietnam. Hopefully, this event and all the publicity that comes with it will help make Vietnam more known on the world stage.

Formula 1 put together a cool video that shows the streets in Hanoi, where the race will take place. Check it out:

This is the track circuit. I am not a fan of street circuits, except Baku with its magical long straight and turn 1. I hope this track will be just as exciting