Bedeviling Decisions

If Cablevision brass is considering Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello as a replacement for Rangers boss Neil Smith, as some dailies have reported, then Lou’s firing of Robbie Ftorek and the Devils’ fortunes this spring may hold more than passing interest to Rangers fans. Ftorek’s dismissal was very unlike Lamoriello, an old-time hockey type known for keeping salaries down and supporting his coaches against mutinous players—including Lyle Odelein (traded to Phoenix March 7), who certainly could have stabilized Jersey’s depleted defense. Other recent Lamoriello deals seem equally uncharacteristic, such as trading for occasional malcontents Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny, two inconsistent, pricey talents. The Devils’ recent slump and their annual playoff failures (only one series victory since 1995) may have brought on the New Lou, but amid rumors of his departure once John McMullen sells the Devs at season’s end to YankeeNets, do these moves perhaps constitute an audition for a job elsewhere?

Meanwhile Ftorek’s replacement, Larry Robinson, inherits a wobbly first-place team that tuned out his predecessor long ago. Robinson encountered a similar problem as the head man in Los Angeles, but his tactics diverged greatly from Ftorek’s, whose hollering and petty indignities marked his tenure. A man of great integrity, Robinson told writers last year, “For the life of me, I can’t understand why I should have to yell and scream, rant and rave at a grown man earning millions of dollars because he isn’t working hard enough. I mean, there are people in this world making $4 to $5 an hour, scraping and clawing to make ends meet, to feed their families, and I have to go into the room and chew people out ’cause they’re not putting in enough effort? Call me old-fashioned, but that boggles my mind.” When he was fired last April, some Kings players lamented Robinson just wasn’t tough enough.

Shooting the Rock

Basketball has been called a ballet, a theatrical drama, a hip-hop beat. Now it’s an avant-garde video installation.

In fact, it’s two of them. At P.S.1’s Greater New York Show, a postcard-sized monitor juts out from the gallery wall on a metal post—just like a backboard. On the screen, there’s a continous loop of a moving basketball. Always dead center, it fills the frame—a blur brought into focus. Have you ever really seen the ball? It’s an orange sphere hurtling through space—whirling, mesmerizing, beautiful. It spins like a planet. It could almost have a life of its own.

The piece, by Paul Pfeiffer, is called John 3:16, a reference not to Starks, or the time remaining, but to that verse from the Bible that’s so frequently invoked by those camera-hungry, sign-waving fanatics at televised sporting events: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Pfeiffer culled his images from old Knicks-Bulls highlight footage. He pored through tapes, zooming in on the ball’s most photogenic moments, and assembled 1500 frames, one by one. “It’s looking at the figure in sports or in the game and relating it back to the history of painting,” Pfeiffer says of his work. “In painting you usually find the figure at the center and oftentimes that figure might be Jesus. That’s one way to look at the John 3:16 reference. There is this replacement that happens—the players are moved to the side and the ball becomes the thing in the center.”

Well, whatever. Let’s just say the meanings are many—just as they are in Pfeiffer’s other basketball video, now at the Whitney Biennial. It’s even more provocative, fixating as it does on a well-muscled black basketball player, edited into isolation and anonymity and trapped in an unending digital loop. Distant flashbulbs pop like stars as he steps again and again through a tight circle, fists clenched at his side, mouth frozen open in an enormous, soundless scream. It’s called Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon). The figure at the center is a man with his own critique of race and the game—that “restless slave,” Larry Johnson, back in his days with the Charlotte Hornets.

NCAA Haiku

Jersey in koi pond

Nike check on white pillow

Moon ebbs, Coach K sleeps

Silence in lockers

Sake and beer, a sad spilled


Contributors: Stu Hackel, Karen Cook, Brian Parks

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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