Thinking and linking sports


Who the F&$# is Targuy Ngombo?

“With the 57th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select Targuy Ngombo, forward, from the Republic of the Congo, he most recently…[does not exist]”

Everyone’s favorite Deputy Commissioner then stepped away from the podium and calmly strolled into that magical and mysterious wonderland, backstage.  Like a child happily pushing buttons in a nuclear missile silo, he hadn’t the slightest idea what he had just done.

Cut to Stuart Scott, our host for the evening.  Although a consummate professional, after a couple hours of running a live telecast, coming up with factoids for 56 draft picks, and attempting at least 3-4 jokes met with stone-faces from Jeff Van Gundy that only lacked Mutombo finger wags, Stu just didn’t have anything left to summon for Targuy Ngombo.

Maybe if the NBA champions had selected Ben Hansbrough, we might have been regaled with tales of his production in the vaunted Big East and treated to the knowledge that his uncle, Sean Fister, is a three-time winner of the world long drive championship.  Or if Adam Silver had read the name of Xavi Rabaseda, Stu might have delighted us with the fact that Rabaseda’s hometown of Girona claims one of the most prestigious roller hockey teams in all of Spain, GEiEG.

But Targuy Ngombo?  Who the fuck is Targuy Ngombo?  Bring in Fran Fraschilla.  Now what warrants mentioning here is that Stu didn’t know that he shouldn’t know about Targuy Ngombo.  Fraschilla, on the other hand, did know that he shouldn’t know.  At least he thought he knew that he shouldn’t know, but now it almost seemed that he knew that he wished he didn’t know.  Poor Fran wore the look of a child who had at that moment found out that Santa Claus wasn’t just his dad, but some sort of imaginary entity that even if real, still wouldn’t possess nearly the gift giving abilities and affinity for training magic reindeer that the child had spent the last 12 months charting and analyzing among assorted North Pole residents.

He did his best to gather himself and deliver an appropriate explanation but all he could muster in his state of shock was to repeat the words, “hoax” and “Sidd Finch,” a reference to the famous April Fool’s joke from Sports Illustrated.  So not only would the 57th pick in the NBA draft likely not pan out as a professional basketball player but the head international scout for the Worldwide Leader in Sports appeared to hold genuine doubts that Targuy Ngombo even existed in the physical world.

June 21st, 2011 – Jonathan Givony calls out to his Twitter followers to see if anyone knew anything or had ever heard of Targuy Ngombo.  And until that moment, no one had ever heard of Targuy Ngombo.  Well, that may not be entirely true.  I would love to believe that in the same Qatari laboratories working to create the fake clouds to keep World Cup stadiums cool, the scientists also created Targuy Ngombo with the Freddy Krueger like ability to move in and out of the dreams of NBA scouts to threaten their lives in order to spread draft buzz, but I realize that just isn’t practical.  Someone must have heard of Targuy Ngombo in order to tip Givony.  But that’s really only partially true.

The genesis of Targuy Ngombo combines elements of both creationism and evolution, and maybe even a dash of Flying Spaghetti Monster, which really does sound more like a television advertised brand of faux Italian spices with an animated caricature pitchman than an ironic religion created by hipster nerds, but I digress.  The creation story begins fittingly in Guangzhou, China, center of the manufacturing rich Pearl River Delta. According to the box score of a quarterfinal match up in the 2010 Asian Games, Qatari forward Targuy Ngombo recorded 24 points and 9 rebounds in a losing effort against the host country.  Normally, the story such a game would have ended there, inside the Huangpu Gymnasium, with only the select few in attendance to carry on the memory.  But one member of that few, an assistant coach for Team China, just happened to be Pete Philo, who just happened to have a second job as a scout for the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Sometime after the game, Philo likely returns to his hotel to Skype David Kahn as he does every night, but on this night presents his case to draft Targuy Ngombo.

Now a mystery here, or one of the mysteries I should say, is what caused Philo to make that call.  What could have happened among those 24 points and 9 ballboards to charge him up and call his GM halfway across the world to demand that he draft a guy that even then, no one else had ever even heard of, let alone scouted?  Couldn’t they have just invited him to camp?  Wang Zhi Zhi had 18 and 9 in this game.  There must have been something truly remarkable about this particular 24 and 9.  Did Targuy Ngombo dunk from the three-point line while eating an entire plate of homemade lutefisk Jell-O, while ice fishing, while translating the latest happenings in Lake Wobegon for his teammates?  Personally, I suspect Pete Philo just had been exposed to Sun Yue too long (sorry, that was just Yue too easy).  But no matter his ailment, Targuy Ngombo had become a genuine NBA prospect.  So naturally, Targuy Ngombo then goes the seven months completely unknown, even managing to avoid the ever-watchful eye of the Internet.

Jonathan Givony’s tweet sent the NBA Draft international scouting e-underworld into relative chaos.  They scoured their internet land for anything at all, just some sort of nugget to create the first scouting report on Targuy Ngombo and attain twitter glory and maybe, just maybe, score that elusive link on Truehoop.  But throughout the electronic realm, nowhere could they find the object of their longing.  Targuy Ngombo simply had no place on this newfangled “internet” and so began the rumor of a hoax.  Really though, if something isn’t on the Internet, does it really exist?

June 21st, 2011, the video evidence appears on YouTube.  Unsurprisingly, it came from an anonymous expert of Asian basketball on his own web log.  He claims to have watched 5 complete games of Targuy Ngombo and compiled a very official scouting report with his findings, as well as posted the infamous video. I would call it a highlight video but those normally contain highlights.  They aim to convince the viewer that the subject of the video excels at his depicted occupation.  I don’t believe that this video had that same aim.  It included the requisite three pointers and dunks, but interspersed with careless turnovers, missed free throws, and air balls.  Someday, the pixelated image of Targuy Ngombo sticking a three after leaving a 5 footer 3 feet short will not stand next to Noel Devine rampaging through Floridian prep football, but will join the clip of Bigfoot looking over his shoulder while tromping through the Northern California woods because like Bigfoot, the five-minutes of footage aimed only to prove Targuy Ngombo’s existence.

At this point, the evidence for his existence includes a video, score lines, and the fact that an NBA team now held his draft rights.  The average person would be completely understood in thinking that Targuy Ngombo seemed like a fairly normal, existing, 2nd round pick.  But when the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Kingdom of Qatar are involved, things aren’t always as they seem.

The day after the draft, rumors started to float that the player thought to be Targuy Ngombo wasn’t really 21 years old.  Soon after that came rumors that the player thought to be Targuy Ngombo wasn’t really named Targuy Ngombo, but Tanguy Ngombo, listed as a 27 year old small forward on the FIBA website.  Targuy Ngombo didn’t exist and his alias in reality, Tanguy Ngombo, was ineligible to be drafted.  David Kahn had just outdone himself.  He went into the metaphorical Nebraska town and traded the sheepdog van to a kid for a 70-mpg mo-ped, straight up.  The incompetence of the T’Wolves front office should never be underestimated but equally as persistent is the complete corruption of the Kingdom of Qatar.

Qatar first gained exposure when they bought the 2022 World Cup.  Zinedine Zidane on allegations of bribery, “Well yeah, of course we got paid.  But it wasn’t nearly much as they said.”  Next, the “nonprofit” Qatar Foundation finds 150 million euro lying around in “nonprofits” that it uses to soil the shirt of FC Barcelona with the first kit sponsorship in the club’s 111-year history.  Now, Qatar has been trying to take over Asian basketball with, let’s say, less than legal tactics.

A quick comparison of the national team roster to the general demographics of the country creates these suspicions.  Ethnic groups in the country include, in order of percentage: Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, and other (14%).  The national team has 9 Africans on a roster of 12.  Maybe basketball is just that much more popular with the minority 14%.  However, while I only have a rudimentary understanding of Asian basketball politics, there are rumors that Qatar allows any player who arrives in the country younger than 16 to play as a local in the domestic league, as well as become a naturalized citizen to play on the national team.  I would also question the circumstances that would lead a poor kid in Africa who shows early basketball talent to travel alone to Qatar, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions (HUMAN TRAFFICKING).  For players who arrive after 16, such as Tanguy Ngombo, they need only to shave a few years off of their claimed age and all is well.  At least, all is well until a scout for the most bumbling front office in the NBA happens across one of your players and drafts the imagined alias.

And wouldn’t that be a fitting legacy for David Kahn’s GM career, that he unwittingly blew the lid off of the rampant corruption in Qatari sports?  Or maybe it goes the other way.  Maybe David Kahn was in on it the whole time.  Keep in mind that the Minnesota Timberwolves have no money, a lockout looms, and that Qatar owns the soul of Ricky Rubio’s FC Barcelona by salvaging the club from bankruptcy.  What if Qatar bought David Kahn with bags of cash and Ricky Rubio in exchange for Qatari draft picks and unknown things to come?  I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see where the story goes.


Remembering Randy Poffo (via Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

The Macho Man

The Macho Man circa 1987

Pro wrestling icon “Macho Man” Randy Savage (real name Randy Poffo) died in a car wreck this weekend. The Sarasota, Fla., native and sevent-time world champion was 58 years old. Here’s the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s great obit piece from Halle Stockton, with some facts you probably didn’t know about the Macho Man, like …

Savage played minor league baseball in the Cincinnati Reds farm system in Sarasota before ever entering the wrestling world.

He played one season as a 21-year-old outfielder for Class-A Tampa in 1974. He hit .232 in 461 at-bats, with 19 doubles, nine home runs and 66 RBI.

He also played minor league ball for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox.

That isn’t the first time the Herald-Tribune has spilled some ink on the Macho Man, though. Visit this piece from writer Tim Leone in the Jan. 28, 1987 edition of the paper via Google’s News Archives. Here’s a taste of the well-crafted narrative that awaits at the link above …

The long-haired, bearded guy is clearly in love with himself. He enters the squared circle with a shimmering, sequined swagger, a glitzy rainbow of infamy bursting into the spotlights on a wild-eyed pro wrestling prowl. Every night it’s a different color scheme — blacks, golds, oranges, reds — from the head band, to the sunglasses, to the star-emblazoned boots. And The Lovely Elizabeth, his fetching valet and manger, always is at close hand.


He’s viscious. He’s hauthy. He’s macho, just like it says on the bottom of his trunks. Hate him? He doesn’t care. Love him? You’ve got good taste.

Read the rest …

Baseball in Boston (from the Boston Public Library)

The Boston Public Library digitized the entire collection of baseball photography from longtime Boston Herald-Traveler photographer, Leslie Jones.


The Inverted Pyramid Song

Philosophical thoughts on the inverted pyramid in musical form from The Columbia Missourian sports department. Enjoy.

Now that you’ve seen it, I’m sorry.

We The (Running) People

We are a running people. I am. You are. The fat guy sliding off the couch watching SportsCenter is (Me, again). Believe it or not we’re all running people. And I’ll tell you how I know that. It all started with Born to Run. I can’t recommend the book enough. If you are a fan of sport, it is must-read. If you’re a fan of culture, it’s must-read. If you’re curious about the human condition, it’s must-read.

The narrative is good, and is what initially drew me in. Ancient tribe? Super-athletes? Underground race? Come on. (Note: to save you the same disappointment I suffered, the race is not literally below the surface of the earth in a cave). But by the end of the book, the narrative was just a series of much-needed breathers. It was the chunks of science writing in between that blew my mind. At the risk of giving away what was, for me, the peak of the book, I’m going to explain a few things. (Note: This isn’t that much of a risk because 1. the book’s from 2009 so I’m behind the times  2. The studies it references are even older and 3. The scientific theories have gotten a lot of coverage elsewhere.

The gist of what blew my mind is this: human beings evolved to run. The fact that we went upright, have no hair, sweat all over the place and compared to every other animal have pathetic weight-to-strength ratios is all to make us better runners. (Note: Our pathetic body size-to-strength ratio was not actually noted in any scientific explanation I’ve seen of what makes us good runners. It does, however, have to factor in to evolutionary karma, right?)

I’m going to bastardize the science. Because this isn’t a science blog (though sometimes I wish it were). So what people more brilliant than I could ever hope to be — more brilliant than I could ever hope my children would be even if I feed them raw egg yoke every morning and read them the encyclopedia at bed time — discovered over painstaking decades and what Christopher McDougall crafted into a succinct but complete narrative … I’m going to cram into about a paragraph:

There are all kinds of things about the human body that only really make sense if we’re runners. For example, our feet are arched and we have an Achilles tendon. Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives that we still share a strikingly high percentage (96) of DNA with, don’t have either. They have flat feet and no Achilles tendon. Much better for walking, not so great for running. We also have a nuchal ligament, which holds our head into place while we run. Running species like dogs have this. Non-running species like pigs don’t. We’re also better at gathering oxygen than any other animal.

Hold, on you say. We’re slow, you say. Most (Americans) are fat and hate running, you say. All of this is true. It doesn’t matter. Yes, we are slow and have a tendency to get fat. That’s because we don’t run for survival anymore. We used to.

No other species on the planet can run as far as we can. We are distance-running machines. But why would we evolve into that? Distance running sucks. So what if you can run an ultra marathon. You’ll get pounced on and eaten by a bear in the first 25 steps. Well, there’s an awesome reason. And if you don’t already know, you’re about to find out. Ready? Are you sitting down? If so, for the sake of your chair, stand up.

To hunt. Human beings evolved into distance running machines to run antelope and other ungulates to death. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Check out this video of the Kalahari bushmen in action (the only group of people still known to practice persistence hunting).

Or, if you’ve got loads of time (which you probably do if you stumbled across this blog), check out The Great Dance: A Hunter’s Story. It’s a documentary about the Kalahari Desert Bushmen and their relationship with the harsh terrain they live on.

It makes perfect sense that we’d evolve to hunt this way. It’s fool proof food. There’s no chance involved. If you can see the animal, it’s yours. Just keep running until it’s gassed. On a hot African savannah day, that doesn’t take very long. It’s obviously more complicated than that, but still a much more reliable way to hunt than others (without weaponry, of course).

Now, keep in mind this theory isn’t accepted across the board. It’s still relatively new and has it’s critics. Recently, as featured in Outside magazine, a group of marathoners and ultra-runners tried to chase down a Pronghorn to help solidify the theory. Pronghorns are pretty awesome, in case you didn’t know. They run at 60mph because they evolved to outrun the now-extinct North American Cheetah (Told you it was awesome). If you want to read the article, I won’t say whether they caught it or not. I will say, though, that I don’t think it matters in relation to the running man theory of evolution: The Pronghorn is faster than anything man would have chased in Africa and only one of the runners in the article had any training in persistence hunting.

Anyway, for the purposes of this blog, we’re accepting the running man theory of evolution for two reasons. 1. It makes absolute sense and the science seems to be sound (says the non-science degree holder) and 2. It’s to awesome to say no to.

So 620 words of rehashing unoriginal material later, what does this mean for a sports blog? Well, it means that human beings evolved for sport. We evolved for the hunt, for the chase. Those are the roots of sport. When you hear the word sportsman, what comes to mind?

We can trace cave paintings back millions of years. Music is older than anyone knows. So is religion. There are infinite things that set humans apart from other animals. All of those things make us human. But what made us human is the run. We evolved to be athletes. And that’s why sports are at once a greater expression of humanity than any other art. Sports are more essentially human than any other institution in society. It’s why we line up side by side in hundreds to just run together. It’s why we tailgate. It’s why we cry when Robin Williams narrates Visa commercials for the Olympics and it’s why we burn couches and throw TV’s from windows when Gonzaga loses to UCLA in the Sweet 16. (Yes, I watched the Visa commercial as I posted the link. And yes, it did. So did the Morgan Freeman version.)

Sports, nowadays, have evolved into big business and are rife with sins against the purity of what sports should be. But that doesn’t matter. They’re still an expression of humanity. Because we’ve changed; when humans arrived our sport was more simple, stripped down to the chase. But so were our lives. We had no economics, no art, no music, no media connecting us in a global village. Our sports have grown out of control, sure. But they’re no less a reflection of the larger humanity than they were when the first barefoot steps a group of hominids ever took toward chasing a gazelle into exhaustion.

We don’t just have sports, now. We have sporting events. They’re full of food, music, emotion, love, hate and displays of physical prowess that celebrate each and every tendon and muscle that made us — make us — human.

There are cultures that rely heavily on running. The Tarahumara in Mexico’s Copper Canyons (The subject of Born to Run … again, read this book) have been called the running people. The Kalahari too. And they run much more than any other cultures. Many Americans couldn’t run a mile. I write from an apartment in mid-Missouri, a state with a 30-percent rate of obesity. Next, week, I’m scheduled to run a 10 mile race in Chicago, and it’s terrifying. 10 measly miles. But the truth is, we’re all made to run, born with the potential to run farther than we can see.

There isn’t just one running people. Some cultures have preserved the roots of the human sport better than others. Some have turned it into a combination football-basketball monstrosity on trampolines (Thanks, Spike TV).

But there isn’t just one running culture. A small sect we should deem “the running people”. Because sports are universal. From the 1000 B.C. Mesoamerican ballgame that potentially included human sacrifice to the North American ballgame that, sadly, still isn’t without human sacrifice, humans are compelled to express and celebrate their athleticism. And it’s because it’s what made us human.

We evolved as the running people. That’s where it all started. But we’ve evolved into much more than just the running people. Now, we’re the human race. (<—-see what I did there?)

The Lost Son of Havana

Filmmaker Jonathan Hock follows Luis Tiant on his first return to Cuba since 1961.