On dealing with the pain

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On dealing with the pain

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Short of winning a title, theres no good way to end a season.

It doesnt matter if youre living in a city like Boston, where success is only measurable by rolling rallies, or a place like Cleveland, where the only reason to rally is in protest of some arrogant jackass who left you in the cold.

As a fan, it doesnt matter where you live, how big you dream, or how long that dreams even a reality

When the season ends, a part of you dies.

Obviously, thats a slightly dramatic way of looking at it. Obviously, sports arent life or death. But at the same time, for most of us, they are life.

For instance, you spent roughly three hours a week for 17 weeks watching the 2010 Patriots. Thats more than two days of your life. When you werent watching them, you were reading about them, you were talking about them, you were watching other people talk about them. This is time you could spend doing any numbers of things far more important than football, but this is what you do.

If the Pats play on Sunday afternoon, you clear your schedule. If they play Sunday night, you clear your schedule. If theyre supposed to play Sunday afternoon and then get switched to Sunday night, you probably get into a fight with your wife or girlfriend because you had dinner plans and this is the fourth time footballs screwed things up this month. You invest a ridiculous amount of time, energy and money into these guys. Its not your entire life, but its a still a pretty big part.

And when the season ends, that part is gone. Or at least, it goes into hibernation. And when it wakes back up things are different. You can never replicate the feeling you had in any given season the drama, the storylines, the trust and the expectations. Just like the end of a relationship, or job, or even (although to a much lesser extent) a death in the family, you cant change what happened. But it does change you.

Obviously, this works on different scales throughout sports. The way New England feels right now isnt the same way that Cleveland did when the Browns season ended; its not even the same way Seattle feels today, after the Seahawks met the same fate as the Pats. And thats not to say those fans care about their teams any less than Patriots fans do. Among true fans, allegiance is pretty consistent across the board.

The difference is expectations.

Like anything in life, when you make the decision to devote so much into a particular season, you dont do it without perspective. You still dream, but its just as important to be realistic as it is to be optimistic. Otherwise, youre just setting yourself up for disaster, and that point why even bother. Its like if I posted this column and then went into deep depression when it didnt win a Pullitzer. Or if I proposed to Marissa Miller and became paralyzed with grief when she said No. (Or more likely, Who the hell are you and how did you get into my dressing room?). I just wouldnt do that (I don't think). And for so many other cities and fans across the country, expectations are an easy remedy for any end of season sadness.

What did we expect, theyre the Browns?

The Seahawks won a playoff game, what more could we ask for?

At the heart of it, everyones after the same thing. The only reason any fan is willing to devote a large part of his or her life to a team is for the possibility of one day celebrating a title. And when the season ends without that, that season left you unfulfilled. But at the same time, you know how elusive that title can be. You know its not something that happens all the time, and while in most cases, at one point or another, a fan can convince him or herself that, maybe, just maybe, a given season is their year, its usually only a matter of time before reality hits, perspective changes and your expectations are lowered.

That doesnt mean you care any less. It just means that for that one season, you let go of the dream and hope next year is better. Now, the prospect of the future is what keeps you watching every second, re-arranging your schedule, and arguing with your girlfriend over canceled dinner plans. You just keep finding reasons to believe.

Thats how it typically works. But obviously, theres nothing typical about the life we live as sports fans in Boston. For the past 10 years, weve ever needed an excuse to believe. Weve never needed perspective or guarded optimism, because since the moment Vinatieris kick went through in 2002, the supposedly elusive titles have always felt attainable. Every season, no matter what the sport, its like the Pulitzer committee is knocking on OUR door, or Marissa Miller is sending us flirty Facebook messages and asking US on dates. Weve grown into a city where only the largely unattainable is acceptable. With the teams weve had and the success weve experienced, weve had no choice but to release all perspective and fully expose ourselves to potential disaster.

And we keep getting hit.

In the last nine months alone, Bostons now seen a hockey team go up 3-0 in a playoff series with only one win, and a series with the eighth-seeded Canadiens standing between them and the Stanley Cup Finals.

Weve seen a basketball team up 13 points with 20 minutes to play in Game Seven of the NBA Finals, on the road against their biggest rivals.

Weve had a football team go two months without losing a game, and reach the point where they were one of five teams left vying for a title, and had beaten the other four remaining teams by a combined score 151-63 in the regular season.

In each case, despite all kinds history and logic suggesting otherwise, the team from Boston fell. And we were left to suffer. To question the players and the coaches. To question why we even care as much as we do, or if, in the end, we even should.

Why invest so much of ourselves into a team, when just like that, beyond our control, and without warning, they can turn and deliver four straight losses, or 20 minutes of bogus basketball, or one of the least inspired and strategic game plans in team playoff history?

For a while, it can really throw you for a loop. Its not life or death, but theres no question that it really does affect your life. And it makes you wonder if its all worth it. If maybe it would have been better if last years Bruins rolled over after the Matt Cooke debacle, or if the Celtics just never got it right, or if the Patriots had kept Randy Moss and finished at 10-6 and just snuck in the playoffs like last season.

Those moments are fleeting, but for a time, it really does feel like the better option. The life of a Browns or Seahawks fan doesnt seem like an awful alternative.

But then, eventually, and thankfully, a different reality sets in.

The reality that at some point, we probably will be the ones sitting back after another so-so season and saying What did we expect, theyre the Patriots? Or, The Patriots won a playoff game, what more could we ask for? Who knows when that will happen, but it will. So in the end, we know that all the pain and suffering that comes with investing completely in a team that so dramatically lets you down, is offset by the privilege of having something to invest in, in the first place. Its the knowledge that we wont always have a chance to do that. That we didnt always have the chance to do that. And that if youre not going to roll the dice during this current pocket of time in Boston sports history, and risk feeling the way you do after Sundays loss to the Jets, than you might as well as find something better to do with your life. The time is now. This is why you suffer through years of low expectations and apathetic endings. For this season, for the last 10 seasons, and for the next three or four seasons, at least, it has to be worth it.

Of course, that does absolutely nothing to ease all the anger and frustration that exists today and will exist every day until the Super Bowl is over and football goes away for a few months.

But in the meantime, maybe the idea can serve as a temporary diversion from the misery. And maybe a reason to be thankful.

OK, break's over. How the hell did they let that happen?

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

OFFSEASON

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.

White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

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White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

CHICAGO - The Chicago White Sox were set to wear throwback uniforms. Chris Sale had other ideas.

The White Sox suspended their ace five days without pay for destroying collared throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear.

The team announced the punishment on Sunday after Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home the previous night.

The suspension comes to $250,000 of his $9.15 million salary. He was also fined about $12,700 - the cost of the destroyed jerseys - according to a person familiar with the penalty. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Obviously we're all extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this issue at this time both from the standpoint of the club as well as Chris' perspective," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's unfortunate that it has become this level of an issue and potential distraction taking away from what we're trying to accomplish on the field."

Sale was not expected at the ballpark on Sunday. He is eligible to return Thursday against the crosstown Cubs at Wrigley Field, though Hahn would not say if the left-hander would start that game.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment, spokesman Greg Bouris said. Sale could ask the union to file a grievance.

FanRag Sports first reported Sale was protesting the 1976-style jerseys, which were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night.

Sale then cut up an unknown number of jerseys before the game and was told to leave the stadium. With not enough usable 1976 jerseys available, the White Sox wore white throwback uniforms from the 1983 season.

The incident comes with the White Sox in a tailspin after a 23-10 start and Sale's name circulating in trade rumors.

"The actions or behaviors of the last 24 hours does not change in any aspect, any respect, our belief that Chris Sale can help this club win a championship and win multiple championships," Hahn said. "It does not move the needle one iota in terms of his value to this club, his value to any other club that may be interested in his services or the likelihood of him being moved or kept whatsoever. None of that stuff is impacted at all by these events."

The incident does raise some questions in general about throwback uniforms, how players feel about them and whether they should be forced to wear jerseys that aren't comfortable - particularly starting pitchers.

"If I'm playing with Chris Sale I want him to pitch," Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt. I just want him to pitch."

New York Yankees pitcher Chasen Shreve said: "Pitchers like their stuff. Me, it doesn't bother me, but for him, obviously it does. It's crazy. I don't think I'm that bad."

White Sox pitcher James Shields wouldn't comment on whether players should be made to wear throwback jerseys. But he did say: "I don't really mind the throwbacks. I haven't had any issues with that."

Manager Robin Ventura said players occasionally wearing uniforms they don't like comes with the job.

"But you wear it," he said. "If you want to rip it after, you can rip it up after. I've seen guys rip it up after."

Hahn said throwback uniforms the White Sox wore last season were a bit baggy so the team took measurements in spring training so they would fit the players better. He also mentioned the money the uniforms generate.

"Part of the element of being in position to win a championship is the revenue side of the operation and respect for their reasonable requests to increase revenue," Hahn said.

This wasn't the first flare-up involving the 27-year-old Sale, who is known for his competitive streak and strict training regimen.

He was openly critical of team executive Ken Williams during spring training when he said Drake LaRoche, the son of teammate Adam LaRoche, would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung the LaRoches' jerseys in his locker.

He was also suspended five games by Major League Baseball last season for his role in a brawl at Kansas City that started with a flare-up between teammate Adam Eaton and the Royals' Yordano Ventura. Sale went to the Royals clubhouse after he got tossed and was seen pounding on the door.

Hahn said the punishment was unrelated to previous incidents. He also said the two had a "very candid" meeting in his office with Sale after the pitcher had some exchanges with staff members in the clubhouse and that both "expressed remorse." They spoke again on Sunday.

"At that point last night Chris stood by his actions," Hahn said. "Part of what makes Chris great, part of what makes him elite, is his passion and commitment. We've seen that sometimes spill out from between the white lines. Yesterday was one of those instances and it unfortunately led to events that required discipline."