Kevin Durant is the Basketball Version of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. And Bilbo

Russell Westbrook is the meanest fastest point guard in the NBA, and an All-Star and an Olympian. He plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and on Wednesday he took a cheap shot to his knee that tore the meniscus. The playoffs just started and he needs surgery, so he’s out. He pounded the scorer’s table and screamed after the hit. He knew he’d been injured. He kept playing and the Thunder won.

That means Kevin Durant has lost his wingman. It’s the playoffs, and they meant to win the Championship Trophy from LeBron James and the mighty Miami Heat. We’ve seen this before, in “Top Gun.” Maverick lost Goose, then fought through the grief to come back stronger on his own and save the world.

Sports Illustrated has a great cover this week, and it happens to be of Kevin Durant:

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So what’s he gonna do now, with his best teammate lost? Go home and cry? Or samurai sword fight on ice? It’s one or the other. Kevin Durant, as I type this, is scaling Mount Olympus in the dark because he means to beg the Gods for guidance in his quest to kill a greedy dragon. Batman’s dad said “Why do we fall…? So that we’ll learn… to pick ourselves up.”

Do it Durant.

There is no next season right now. If Kevin Durant wants to be No. 1 he must conquer fear and prevail against LeBron no matter what. Losing Westbrook sucks, but this is about him. Time to start scoring 50 a game.

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Snowboard Season Debrief

So, it’s definitely over now.

This is Bloc Party’s “Banquet,” and to me it’s a perfect snowboarding song:

Stevie Wonder’s “Part-time Lover” also applies here.

Sometimes – while walking the pooch on a sunny, warm day – these songs will pop up randomly on Shuffle, and I’ll be magically transported back in time to a particular sweet run on my snowboard. I imagine acid flashbacks are similar. Those songs are fast, and they bounce in this great way that fits so well with flying down a mountain on soft, smooth powder. There’s a balance between hard-core pump-up song and hang-out song that must be achieved in the ideal snowboard jam. Those two and many, many others* achieve that balance.

These jams blast in my ears as I blast past skiers I judge both silently and out loud (“You wish you could do this!” “Texas forever!”) for their methodical meandering.2506_1126013434593_291567_n

This winter I got a minimum-wage job at the Ski Santa Fe hill here. I was a lifty. We lifties run the mountain, scanning tickets and putting butts gently onto ski-lift chairs. It was an honor, and a lot of fun. The big perk of being a lifty is the free ski pass, obviously. And when it’s not busy, there are chances for “run breaks,” which probably does not need quotation marks.

Even though I live in Santa Fe, I’d only been to Ski Santa Fe a couple times, years ago. When I wanna ride I almost exclusively drive the three hours to Wolf Creek, in Pagosa Springs, Colo., because it gets amazing snow. I bomb the face at Wolf Creek to those two songs and others* over and over and over and over. I love Wolf Creek.

But I’m a Santa Fe man now. It wasn’t consistent, granted, but when there was good snow at Ski Santa Fe the runs were a revelation, a perfect combination of fast easy groomers and plush, untracked romps through trees. (Such fun was had in Sunset Glade.) I had maybe seven really fantastic powder days, with hours of riding, up at Ski Santa Fe. Good, Godly glory.

I’m not sure I’ll be back next season, but I’m grateful to that mountain for a terrific winter. I made lines to those songs I’ll flash back to for the rest of my life.

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* Golden Earring, “Radar Love.” Gnarls Barkley, “When Was the Last Time You Danced?” Pretty Lights “Chicago Bulls Theme Remix.” Pearl Jam, “Rearview Mirror.” The Bravery, “An Honest Mistake.” Death Cab for Cutie, “Soul Meets Body.” Rob Zombie “Never Gonna Stop.” (Not all snowboard songs need the balance.)

To Live a Lie and Die: Thinking too Hard about “Mad Men”

Advertising is not about products, right? It’s the idea they’re trying to sell you. The focus of the flat-screen TV commercial is not the TV, it’s the cool guy out at a bar with his biracial buddies, or the handsome family in a big house stocked with velvet furniture.

Advertising is lying. If you can lie about who you are and what you’ve done, you can be a great, great ad man. Or woman. But what does that mean?

“Mad Men” has really been f*cking with my mind lately.

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Is Cartoon Draper falling in the “Mad Men” opening credits because he’s destined to jump out his  office window?

***

Last year’s season had a lot of death – Lane’s suicide, and that murderous dream of Don Draper’s, and Pete Campbell’s bubbling rage, and Texas-tower-shooter Charles Whitman and the Chicago-nurse-rapist-killer Richard Speck….

An already-dark show is getting darker. In this season’s premier, Roger Sterling screamed “It’s MY funeral!” at well-wishers attending his mother’s funeral, while Don got so drunk he puked and then slurred at his doorman, recently resuscitated after a heart attack, “What’d you see when you died!” Don’s been doodling nooses during meetings, and his Hawaii vacation campaign idea freaked out the clients because the ad looked like someone wandered naked into the ocean to drown alone.

Draper was the coolest man in the world when this started. He’s still the same guy, still looks and acts the same, except now he’s reading Dante’s Inferno, about the horrifying descent into hell. He’s still the same guy but the world around him is changing, and his Madison-Avenue-ad-man brilliant insight into the human condition doesn’t work anymore. We just saw him get crushed pitching a ketchup campaign. That didn’t happen in 1960. Now it’s 1968, and his stuff is stale.

Because he’s an intense guy with no morals and a weird, terrible, tragic, guilt-ridden personal history, we are compelled to watch his journey through the 1960s, when our country turned dramatically from one thing into another. Writers smoke weed at the office all of a sudden, and slicked-down hairdos and tight suits are going out of style.

***

My pregnant wife and I (first kid) have been catching up on Draper’s past with Netflix. It’s evil. Recall Don Draper was once Dick Whitman, unloved loser son of a whore, who stole the identity of a man he accidentally killed moments after pissing himself in a ditch during the Korean War. The real Don Draper died screaming because Dick Whitman dropped his lighter while wiping his pants. In the explosion’s aftermath, Whitman peeled dog tags from the charred, sticky corpse and swapped them with his own.

In Season One of “Mad Men,” Draper’s secretary Peggy gets pregnant with a coworker’s love child. She (acts like she) doesn’t even know she’s carrying a child until it’s time to give birth. Then she refuses to hold her newborn baby. She doesn’t want it, but she doesn’t know what to do.

To a normal person, this is atrocious. But she wakes in the hospital to see Don at her bedside, and he dispenses some advice: “Get out of here, and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

For a while, maybe.

***

The very first “Mad Men” episode sees Draper engaging a crisis. Reader’s Digest has revealed smoking causes cancer, and everyone’s talking about it. Draper’s biggest client is the cigarette company Lucky Strike, whose brass comes in for a meeting. Pete Campbell (a borderline psychopath then and now) tells the Lucky Strike guys to embrace the report. He says psychologists believe people have a death wish, which means they can make the cancer news work for them.

This infuriates them. Lucky Strike will not to cop to killing their customers, even if that’s what they’re doing. They’re fixing to storm out when Don stops them. He asks how the cigarettes get made. Part of the process, they say, is toasting the tobacco. Okay, Draper says, and he writes “IT’S TOASTED” on the blackboard behind him. Trot out doctors or dispute the report and all people will think about is death, he said. What they need to do is ignore the threat of death.

“Advertising,” Don says, “is happiness.”

He had a hot artist girlfriend back then, who told him before that meeting she was sure he could get past the report and “lead the sheep to slaughter.” He could. Oh man could Don Draper sell an idea about what people really want in their souls. Especially with cigarettes, because doing so means ignoring death, and ignoring death is the biggest lie of all.

***

With another client, much later on, Don says “Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart, or he doesn’t.” They’re not selling lipstick, they’re selling religion. They’re counting on you to believe their assumptions about you, and it’s a kind of voodoo:

Again, more awesome lies.

***

Before she had her baby, Peggy grew (literally, because the Mad Men are mean to heavier women) into an outcast at the office. She winds up confessing tearfully to Don, “I don’t understand. I try to do my job. I follow the rules. And people hate me. Innocent people get hurt and other people, people who are not good, get to walk around doing whatever they want. It’s not fair.”

Fair….

Don gave her a drink, told her to finish it and get out of his office. Lying cheaters thrive. If your soul wasn’t worth anything you wouldn’t be able to sell it. And look at Peggy now – stealing Heinz Ketchup, “the Coca-Cola of condiments.” She’s young and tapped-in, and the forgotten baby is forgotten.

One day she’ll lose the fun that comes with being king, and she’ll have a horrible secret to reckon with.

I hate advertising. It was a corrosive demon in the real era of the Mad Men, manipulating Americans into buying things they didn’t need, enabling our transformation into zombie consumers. It’s worse now. We don’t even notice how frequently ads dominate our time, and Monsanto and Dow Chemical and the government are all very grateful for that.

I should hate Don Draper, too. He is the corrosive demon. For all the evil he’s done, all that lying, he deserves the damnation that awaits. But I can’t hate him. I feel so sorry for him. And I can’t figure out why that is….

“Trance”: An Awesome Artist’s Latest Trippy Mindbender

Just like people, movies are more interesting when they don’t fit a particular type. The director Danny Boyle won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” a love/gangster/game-show flick that left us smiling despite hints of pedophilia and torture. “28 Days Later” is a modern zombie classic whose key moments feature no zombies, and whose zombies aren’t even dead. “127 Hours” was thrilling even though it took place mostly in a crack in the ground.

Trance1“Trance” is Boyle’s latest brain buster, and it’s completely nuts. It looks like a heist flick in all the ads, and it starts with a heist. When Francisco Goya’s “Witches in the Air” comes up at posh auction house, the painting garners a fortune of a final bid just before gangsters storm the room with guns and gas grenades. A security man named Simon grabs the painting and stashes it, then gets cracked in the head so hard by one of the thieves that he wakes up without knowing where he put it.

Enter a sultry hypnotist, played by Rosario Dawson in what’s got to be her best performance ever. Exit any notion of predictability. “Trance” starts as one thing and ends as something else entirely. In between is a lot of stylized direction by Boyle.

Boyle’s movies are nonlinear athletes. “Slumdog Millionaire” had three different actors playing each major part, because the story kept jumping timelines. (“Amitabh?!”)

Boyle told Jon Stewart he kept a chart on the set of “Trance” for the actors, so they could keep the story straight as they worked. There are scenes where a character is hypnotized, watching himself watch himself on an iPad screen.

It’s scarier than horror to watch the violent culmination of all the film’s events. The characters in “Trance” are alpha-doggish uber-adults, and their story mixes murder, profound greed, mind-blowing sex (most of the actors get naked) and feelings so powerful they’re better left forcibly forgotten. Boyle manages these emotions like a maestro, with fast cuts and a pulsating score and recurring images we barely notice we’ve noticed until everything falls together in a goosebump-inducing finale that thrills like only the best art can.

It’s not for everyone. “Trance” is weird, and mean, and parts of it are hard to watch and even harder to understand. What a trip, though. It’s hard to say what it is, but I know for certain what it absolutely isn’t, not for a second: boring.

Rare is the Man Who Takes a Stand/For God and Sweetest Father Land: “Bioshock Infinite”

I won some raffle at a fair, and my prize was to chuck a baseball at an older biracial couple, tied up on-stage. There was a whole crowd of bigots in bonnets or suspenders cheering lustily all around me, pressuring me to really nail one of these two people.

F*ck that, right? I chucked the ball at the fat, tuxedoed M.C. on the stage. Then police grabbed me, so I took them all down.

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From the game.

A recent NPR story on “Bioshock Infinite” asked quite seriously whether this video game is art. It absolutely is, but duh.

“Infinite” takes place in 1912 Columbia, a city in the clouds which has seceded from the U.S. The people there worship, literally, the Founding Fathers. We see massive statues of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson and the others, where people kneel and pray. There’s a man running the city named Zachary Hale Comstock, who considers himself a prophet and is represented in huge statues whose plaques say things like “The Seed of the Prophet Shall Sit the Throne and Drown in Flame the Mountains of Man.”

(The statues in “Infinite” are awesome to look up at. Another huge one is of John Wilkes Booth, the staunch secessionist who, of course, assassinated Lincoln.)

There’s this whole backstory that reveals itself slowly, about the history of this cloud city Columbia. There were battles, where important figures distinguished themselves. Comstock’s wife was apparently very powerful, and there’s some major mystery surrounding her. These pieces fill in among the shootouts against heavily armed officers in patriot gear, and robot George Washingtons with bazooka arms.

And I’ve been having fun in Finkton, a steamy manufacturing community where labor’s so weak the workers compete for who’s willing to be paid least for a job. The rich leader Jeremiah Fink is heard over loudspeaker, telling them all to be more like the bee, which is the world’s greatest animal because it works its ass off without sick days or vacation.

This political subtext ties together who many of us were then (racists) and who many of us are now (anti-government Fox News viewers), but there’s also a plot here. The story in the game is about a war-veteran detective and a girl with a bounty on her head, fighting their way through this madness together. As that NPR clip notes, you don’t play “Bioshock Infinite” for any kind of score. You play it because you want to know what happens to these characters.

I’m not a big gamer. I usually only play NBA 2K. But there was too much chatter in the ether about this game for me to ignore it, and I’m glad I paid heed. Not only is it fun to see a society where religion and Founding-Father worship combine into creepy dystopia, it’s also fun to blast my way through it.

What’s So Great About “Mad Men”

Here at The Flip Side we’ve grown keen on discussing the difference between books and movies. (See Game of Thrones vs. Song of Ice and Fire, and Jurassic Park.) There’s one great difference that ties nicely into “Mad Men,” which is neither book nor movie.

In books, a writer can tell us just enough about what a character looks like to form a picture in our heads. That picture is unique for each of us, though we’re given the same few distinctions. In “Jurassic Park,” the novel, for instance, Dr. Grant has a beard and dresses for working outside. You now have the picture in your head the author wants there. In the film, Dr. Grant looks exactly like the actor Sam Neill.

293.hamm.madmen.060308Is one of those options better or worse? Whatever. The written version of a character is much more interesting, as a concept, because of the mind’s-eye factor, that uniqueness we each bring to how we interpret the same descriptions with lots of holes for us to mentally fill.

Except on “Mad Men.” This does not apply to “Mad Men,” finally back on AMC for it’s sixth season. Jon Hamm plays dark-sided New York City adman Don Draper. It’s the 1950s and 60s, and Draper’s job makes him a shark. He dresses in great suits, his black hair’s slicked and parted. His eyes are angry but smart, deep. He has broad shoulders, and his deep voice… blah blah blah….

Producers of “There Will Be Blood” said that movie would not have been made if Daniel Day Lewis turned the lead part down. It wouldn’t work with anyone else.

Here’s how this ties back to books. That’s the only other example I can think of where an actor has been so perfect for a role that he makes that character more interesting than if the character had been written in a book by some great novelist. Michael Chiklis on “The Shield” and Bryan Cranston on “Breaking Bad” are amazing and those shows wouldn’t be as good without them, but those shows could still exist with different actors.

(And the crazier characters almost work against actors in this discussion, because it’s more about What They Do than Who They Are. Cranston and Chiklis are always getting into murderous, insane situations with cops and gangsters. Draper’s just living the suave life of a big-drinking adman.)

The season six premier on Sunday had Draper getting so drunk he pukes at a funeral, into the golden umbrella can. As colleagues are carrying him to his apartment, Draper grills the doorman about needing CPR in an earlier scene, asking repeatedly and loudly “What’d you see when you died!?”

Draper ditched his pathetic old life years ago to create a new one, where he rules the advertising game by using his understanding of humanity to sell stuff. Wanna have your mind blown by a made-up sales pitch?:

Except that was years ago, in the 1950s, when Draper was at the peak of his powers. Now he’s in the 60s, and while he’s still the same intimidating brooder, he’s lost his brilliance because everything’s changed around him. His pretty young wife is becoming a success, and his staff is smoking “reefer” at their desks. He sees what’s happening around him and he doesn’t quite get it, and he doesn’t quite fit, and this is making him think about death.

Matthew Weiner is the writer and creator of “Mad Men,” but I like to believe it exists because of Jon Hamm. If not for him, no one would care. And this show is so good it’s worth caring about.

“Jurassic Park 3D”: Let’s Never Clone Dinosaurs

No one gets gutted in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” This is probably a good thing, for obvious reasons, but it makes it easy to miss the harsh existential lesson of this blockbuster man-versus-nature story.

“Jurassic Park” is out now in 3D movie theaters, 20 years after it was first released to the sleepless delight of 11-year-old me. Spielberg’s film holds up nicely, even in the modern age of $200-million blockbuster comic-book monster movies. The giant T-Rex still looks real, attacking humans in a nighttime downpour or gallimimus on a clear blue afternoon. The velociraptors are still terrifying as they stalk Tim and Lex through the long metallic kitchen.

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The sense of wonder and respect for these animals is captured perfectly by Spielberg, but what about respect for science? The real theme of Michael Crichton’s classic novel gets muddled in translation. “Jurassic Park” is a movie for kids more than adults, so the story’s violence, and thus its impact, had to be ramped down.

There are still hints of theological conflict, though, as we watch rock-star mathematician Ian Malcolm, dressed all in black, debate responsibility with wide-eyed optimist John Hammond, the creator of the park, dressed in all white.

“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here,” Malcolm (played in a fine performance by Jeff Golblum) tells Hammond (played by Richard Attenborough), “it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. … Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think about whether they should.”

He’s talking about whether or not they should clone dinosaurs. Malcolm is an expert in the field of Chaos Theory, which posits that systems like nature are inherently unpredictable. Hammond can create a theme park filled with cloned dinosaurs, but any notion of control on his part is an illusion, because math tells us forces like animal nature are too wild. Make all the dinosaurs female and they will still find a way to breed. Put electric fences up around powerful, once-extinct creatures and those fences will fail.

Malcolm and Hammond both survive the events of the film, but, again, this is a movie mostly for kids. Their fates in the book are packed with meaning. Malcolm dies slowly with a smile on his face, muttering that “everything looks different… on the other side.” Hammond perishes horribly, alone and helpless on a broken ankle, poisoned by the bites of small precompsognathus (compy) dinosaurs who eat his neck while he watches.

The violence in the book is actually pretty amazing. Remember Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight, best known as “Newman” from Seinfeld) getting spit on and then mauled off-screen? In the book he gets blinded by the dino’s spit “And then there was a new, searing pain, like a knife in his belly, and Nedry stumbled, reaching blindly down to touch the ragged edge of his shirt, and then a thick, slippery mass that was surprisingly warm, and with horror he suddenly knew he was holding his own intestines in his hands. The dinosaur had torn him open. His guts had fallen out.”

Newman!

This is just one of multiple main-character disembowelings that occur in the novel. Dr. Wu, the island’s geneticist, “was lying on his back, his body torn open by the big claw, and the raptor was jerking its head, tugging at Wu’s intestines even though Wu was still alive, still feebly reaching up with his hands to push the big head away, he was being eaten while he was still alive….”

The survivors survive because they’re lucky, and because they fight back against dozens of raptors with grenades and bazookas.

There are only three raptors in the movie, because the action had to be necessarily scaled down – as an author, Crichton was limited only by his imagination; as a director, Spielberg is limited by the physical facts of what’s possible with animatronics and early-90s computer effects.

Spielberg also wasn’t about to make a rated-R gore-fest. It’s almost too bad, because the book is better for its brutality. Think back on Steve Irwin, the famed “Crocodile Hunter” who cuddled up to wild animals on television until a sting ray stabbed him fatally through the chest with its tail. The amazing Werner Herzog documentary “Grizzly Man” presents Timothy Treadwell, who tried to befriend grizzly bears in Alaska and wound up screaming as he was torn apart.

Brutal, but that’s what we get without humility before nature – killed horribly.

Steve Alford’s Soulless Black Eyeballs

It’s lousy to wish ill upon another person. We’re all people, so let’s hope for the best for each other. Steve Alford committed to staying with the University of New Mexico Lobos for 10 years and then, within days, he changed his mind and took the head coaching job at UCLA. He’s a man and he has a right to do what he wants.

But Lobos fans in New Mexico, this infinitesimal percentage of the people on the planet, are going to loathe him. And that loathing will be justified.

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***

Alford’s press conference after the loss to Harvard was amazing. He was such a dick.

“There’s no way,” he said, “if you’ve got any kind of basketball intellect at all, where you could say we had a bad season.”

That’s true. The Lobos had an amazing season, one of their best ever. But the sports cliche goes that it hurts more to lose than it feels good to win. And you just lost to Harvard in the second-biggest upset in this entire March Madness tournament. (Thank god for Florida Gulf Coast.)

“We wanted to advance,” he said. “It’s not so much the Sweet 16 thing, though. I will say that. I haven’t lived here 40-50 years.”

So f*ck your tio! The Lobos never make the Sweet 16, meaning never advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This year, people on television were picking UNM to make the Final Four.

Harvard! You think Zuckerberg and Romney watched this game together in some cigar bar above the clouds, drinking brandy and singing songs of the noble Crimson? Because I do. I can’t believe it was Harvard.

Here’s the best line, though: “I gave a lot to stay here. I took away incentives that I’ve made for five consecutive years. Six consecutive years. I took those out of my contract. I think it was a pretty big commitment, not only on the school’s part, but it was a pretty big commitment on my part, especially what’s out there and the opportunities that are out there to show my loyalty to UNM and how much I appreciate UNM and how much I want to continue to build this thing.”

Yes, a pretty big commitment. Liar!

The day the Lobos were to play Harvard – their opening-round tournament game after the best season of Alford’s tenure – the announcement was made that Alford had “agreed in principle” to a 10-year contract extension that could, with incentives, pay him $2 million per year. So, the conversation in the media and among fans turned not toward the great players who’d just strung together this awesome season and were primed for a killer tourney run, but the coach and his contract and his money. There was bad juju hanging over UNM in that game, and they played like it. They played like it wasn’t any fun.

(UNM athletics director Paul Krebs said on the radio that Lobos fans could expect an increase in ticket prices to cover the contract. This is what they were talking about right before tournament games started.)

Alford’s gonna get $2.5 million per season to coach UCLA, so good on him. But wouldn’t it have been great if he’d thought to himself “You know, not only have I made a commitment to stay here, out loud to all the fans and in writing to my bosses, but I also just lost to Harvard in an ugly upset. I’m not going out that way. Sorry UCLA, I just gotta stay here and make this right.”

***

Bob Knight has soulless black eyeballs. Check them out:

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Knight was Alford’s college coach at Indiana. They won a championship together there. Knight is also notorious for being perhaps the meanest man in modern sports history. Young Alford was told by Bob Knight that he couldn’t lead a whore into bed.

“How can anybody play four years in this system and not learn one thing about playing defense?” Knight asked Alford during a practice. “I’ve wasted, totally wasted, three years trying to teach you, and the minute you go into a defensive crouch I hear people laughing in the stands.”

There’s lots more. Google their names and enjoy.

Knight must have had a major effect on Alford, and I don’t say that just because of their eyes. Knight hated most members of the press and was a complete jerk to reporters. (“All of us learn to write in second grade, and most of us go on to better things.”)

Alford hates reporters too, I think. I’ve interviewed him before and I can tell he doesn’t like being interviewed. (Maybe it was me.) But while Alford has adopted much of Bob Knight’s traits, what he lacks are Knight’s massive, throbbing gonads. Knight could, and would, be crazy and nasty. Alford doesn’t seem capable of that. So what we get instead is someone thin-skinned and mopey. Dickish. Knight was aggressive-aggressive; Alford is passive-aggressive. One of those is better than the other.

• • •

What if all of UCLA’s best guys go pro, and he loses out on some big recruit he’s targeting, or some big injury hits a key guy, and Alford’s first season at UCLA winds up mediocre, and he misses the NCAA Tournament altogether? He’ll have to answer for that, and there are so many more sports writers in Los Angeles than there are in Albuquerque, and they like writing snarky stuff that fires up the sorts of fans who call in to radio shows with hand-written, two-minute rants about why their team’s coach sucks. If he doesn’t do well, Alford’s gonna get grilled. He’s gonna hate it. He probably won’t react well.

So congratulations, UCLA. You gave up a coach who went to multiple Final Fours to poach a liar who couldn’t beat Harvard with the 10th best team in the entire country. The state of New Mexico hopes you suck. You’ll understand soon.

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