Friday, April 21, 2017

FMF – Go With What You Know

  It has been a tumultuous seven months since I last reported on the Found Money Fund (or FMF). The FMF was started in 2015 as the dropping off point in a Fidelity stock brokerage account for the extra money I get from giving chess lessons, supporting the shoe store software I stopped writing a decade ago, tax returns, side programming jobs, money I find on the ground walking my dogs, and any other unanticipated income. I started using my found money to buy four stocks: Phillip Morris (PM), AT&T (T), Coca-Cola (KO), and mortgage real estate trust company American Capital Agency Corp. (AGNC). All four stocks pay dividends which I reinvest back into the stocks commission free. In September the AGNC stock lowered its dividend from 20 cents a share to 18 cents a share and I was considering selling the stock because I expected the stock price to go from $19.50 a share to $18 a share since I remembered the stock price going from $22 to $20 a share when the dividend was cut from 22 cents a share to 20 cents a share.

  I had placed a sell order for 102 shares of AGNC stock with a stop limit of 50 cents, meaning that the sale would be executed when the price went down 50 cents from the peak price AFTER I placed the sell order. The stock drifted a little over $19.50, reached $19.81 and then took a severe downturn whereupon my sell order was executed for $19.31 on September 9th. The stock drifted between 18.50 and 19.50 over the next couple of months and hit a low of $17.53 on December 15th, leaving me feeling very smart indeed about my decision to sell this mortgage real estate investment trust (mREIT) that I really don’t understand. I am feeling a lot less smart about my decision in the last two months since a rise in interest rates with the prospect of more to come has given the stock a second wind to currently trade over $20.50 a share. I kept 11.443 shares of the stock as my profit and still receive $2 a month in dividends so it’s not a financial disaster but more of an opportunity cost due to not understanding this stock since by simply doing nothing I would have made an extra $300 in profits.

  Aside from the AGNC misfire, the other three pillars of the FMF have been performing nicely with Phillip-Morris my top performer, Coca-Cola bringing up the rear, and AT&T solidly in the middle with massive fluctuations depending on how the investment public views the prospects of their upcoming merger with Time-Warner. At the time of my last post, the FMF had shown an all-time profit of $1347, down from the high of $1615 on July 6th, 2016. The uncertainty surrounding the election and the surprise election of President Trump sent my stocks into a tailspin and the profits had dwindled to under $500 on November 14th. Then stocks took a dramatic turnaround. My profits went back over $1000 on December 9th, again reached the $1500 mark on February 3rd, and hit a new all-time profit of $1659 five days later. In the next two months I hit 18 new profit records with the latest high of $2377 set on April 18th. Meanwhile I had a decent time getting found money and was able to make 8 buys in my preferred purchase amount of $500.

DateTransactionDJIAStock +/-FMF +/-
September 9, 2016SELL 102 AGNC @19.3218,085216.631,037.16
December 5, 2016Buy 12 T @38.806219,216308.56629.82
January 17, 2017Buy 12 KO @41.13619,826-18.081,247.29
February 23, 2017Buy 5 PM @105.466120,810779.431,916.70
February 23, 2017Buy 12 T @41.676120,810629.271,916.70
March 6, 2017Buy 5 PM @110.041920,954912.272,011.67
March 6, 2017Buy 12 KO @42.24520,95482.872,011.67
March 6, 2017Buy 12 T @41.7920,954640.822,011.67
March 17, 2017Buy 12 KO @42.2620,91467.072,242.58

  You may have noticed that even though I sold 100 shares of AGNC on September 9th there were no buys until December and if you did you may have wondered what I did with the proceeds of the sale. I held onto the money and even held out the next three scheduled buys until I had enough cash saved to introduce the FMF to my favorite stock – Intel (INTC) and my favorite strategy of buying 100 shares of a stock and selling a covered call option to sell the stock at a future date for an agreed on price. This is a strategy I’ve been using for three years on my 401k plan and it is a plan that I understand even though it may not be the preferred method of the experts whose strategies I read about every so often.

  On November 30th I bought 100 shares on Intel at the market price of 35.16 and immediately collected $55 to sell someone the right to buy the shares for $35.5 on January 6th 2017. Intel dipped to 33.56 the very next day but rebounded in spectacular fashion, breaking $35 on December 7th, $36 on December 12th, and $37 on December 20th before settling between $36 and $36.5 until January 6th at which time my option was called and I sold the stock as agreed upon for $35.5. My profit for the 37-day investment was $72.42 or 2.05%. The next Monday I bought 101 (using some of my profit for the extra share) shares of Intel at $36.70 and made $132 by selling the option to buy the shares at $36 on February 10th. If the option was exercised I would sell the 100 shares and my profit would be $54 after commissions. In The ensuing 32 days Intel went over $37 again on January 20th and reached $38.45 on January 27th before settling back under $37 on January 31st. On February 2nd the stock closed at $36.68 and I was sure my option would be called early since owners of the stock as of February 3rd receive a dividend of 26 cents a share. I was surprised when my option wasn’t called but maybe the experts know more than me since on February 9th Intel went from $36.50 to $35.46 and stayed well below $36 on the expiration day of February 10th.

  On February 10th I could have let my option expire but I decided to spend $1.04 to buy back the option to sell another option at $36 that would expire on May 19th. I could have saved the $1.04 by letting the option expire but I wanted to get my next option play in the books before the weekend. I didn’t like going three months out on the new option but that seemed to be the best deal at the time. I could have waited for the option prices to go up on Intel’s next big move up but to me that seemed like gambling (there could also have been a big move down) and I don’t want to gamble – I want to ensure a solid return. I received $97 to sell the option which brought my proceeds on this 100 shares of Intel to $219 in options and $26 in dividends for a grand total of $245 or 6.9% of the purchase price and I still own the stock. If the option is called I will mark up a loss of $70 but I may get another dividend of $27.25 (Intel raised their quarterly dividend from 26 cents a share to 27.25 cents) if the option isn’t called before May 3rd. Here is the complete accounting:

  
DateTransactionsAmountShares
November 30, 2016Buy 100 INTC @35.166-3524.55+100
November 30, 2016Sell 1 INTC Option @35.55 (.63)
Expiring 1/6/2017
+55.00
January 6, 2017Sell 100 INTC @35.50
(Option was exercised)
+3541.97-100
January 9, 2017Buy 101 INTC @36.695-3714.15+101
January 9, 2017Sell 1 INTC Option @36.00 (1.40)
Expiring 2/10/2017
+132.00
February 3, 2017Dividend INTC (Payable 3/1/2017)+26.00
February 10, 2017Buy 1 INTC Option @36.00 (.01)
Expiring 2/10/2017
-1.04
February 10, 2017Sell 1 INTC Option @36.00 (1.05)
Expiring 5/19/2017
+97.00
March 1, 2017Reinvested Dividend -26.00+.722
May 19th, 2017Sell 100 INTC @36.00
(if option is exercised)
3594.97-100
Total (If option is exercised)+181.211.722

  So if the option is exercised and I sell 100 shares of Intel at $36 on or before May 19th I will show a profit of $181 which is 4.8% AND I would still own 1.722 shares. If the option is not exercised I will own the 101.722 shares of Intel at a net cost of $3,413 or $33.80 a share which is far less than I paid. Currently Intel is hovering between $35 and $36 a share. I have no idea if the option will be called or not. My best case scenario is that the stock stays right around $36 so if the option is exercised I can start the process all over again and if the option is not exercised I will just sell the option all over again and bank more profit. Practically speaking I would have had better results sticking with AGNC but I just don’t understand why the stock price is so high after the company has reduced its dividend from 22 cents to 20 cents to 18 cents a share. I much prefer to stick with Intel and playing the options carousel since it is something I understand even if I must take a much more active role than I like. For completeness sake I will include the status of the FMF as of April 18th.

StockAverage
Purchase
Price
Profit on
April 18th
Purchased
Shares
Reinvested
Shares
DividendQuarterly
Dividend
PM92.531156.71392.3021.0443.03
KO42.67206.00933.0140.3735.52
AGNC-.01250.38012.0990.186.54
T37.36540.201035.2850.4953.06
INTC33.80224.321010.7720.272527.71
Total
Quarterly
Dividends
165.87
Monthly
Dividends
55.29

  Profits do not include options that are in the money For example when I sell an option to trade Intel at $36 and Intel is trading at $36.25 I have to subtract $25 from the Intel profit since that will belong to the buyer if the option is exercised. My monthly dividend has only gone from $48.60 a month in September to $55.29 a month despite adding 8 buys and every stock except AGNC raising their dividend. This is a consequence of trading out $20 a month of AGNC dividends for $9 a month of Intel. The upside is that I am accumulating cash by playing the options game with Intel (reflecting in the reduced purchase price of the stock) that I am using to make buys of the other three pillars of the FMF. I hit a milestone when I accumulated 100 shares of AT&T. Options trade in lots of 100 shares and I jumped in by trading an option to sell 100 shares of T at a price of $46 on October 21st. Why so far out in the future? That will be the subject of my next post.

Friday, April 14, 2017

21st Century NBA Basketball Prediction Program - The Idea in Practice

  The 2016-2017 NBA regular season ended on Wednesday and the playoffs will start on Saturday. This was the season I put my 30+ year old basketball prediction program to the test of real betting. I spent last summer entering in four seasons worth of scores from basketball-reference.com and betting lines from freeplays.com. Then I used my program to retroactively measure over a thousand formulas against the data. I found a formula that produced a winning margin over the magic break even betting winning percentage of 52.4% (11 wins for every 10 losses) for each year and opened a $500 account on bovada.lv on October 5th. I signed up for a $250 welcome bonus that was paid out in increments between a dollar or two every time I hit one of the bovada milestones towards the $3750 I needed to wager to get the full $250. The season started on October 25th but the program didn’t have enough data for predictions until November 5th. When the betting started my program was a wonder to behold as I won my first five bets and was $50.53 up by November 12th. After that the program tread water and on November 17th was 9-3 and $56 to the plus side. And then things went south. The program went 2-8 over the next week to put me at 11-10 with $1.59 in losses on November 21st Another week of treading water left me at 16-16 on November 26th but a 4 game losing streak left me at 16-20 and $61 in losses at the end of November. December and January weren’t much better and on January 17th I hit my low point of $146.63 in losses and 9 games under .500 at 46-55.

  Then I got an unintended vacation. When I made my $500 deposit to Bovada in October my credit card statement had a charge of $539.95. When I signed up the customer service people at Bovada told me there was no service charge for the initial deposit. I wrote to Bovada asking what the $39.95 charge was for. Bovada said they only received $500 and I would have to ask my credit card company. I asked my credit card company and they immediately credited my account for $39.95. On January 18th I went to log into my Bovada account and was greeted with a screen telling me my account had been suspended for having a credit card chargeback. My email inbox had a note from Bovada telling me my account was suspended and that I should call the customer service number because “any and all uncollected negative balances are subject to a 3rd party collection agency, which we are trying to help you avoid.”

  I called the customer service department who insisted I deposit another $500 using a credit card immediately. No matter how many times I explained that the only chargeback on my credit card account was the $39.95 that Bovada insisted was not their charge the only solution the Bovada customer service department had was for me to give them another $500. This sounded like a scam to me so I stopped calling customer service and kept logging my basketball picks to see if I needed to change my program or if the disastrous record over the past two months were an anomaly. The program went on a winning streak which made me happy to think the program was working but enraged that I was not erasing my losses at Bovada.

  I was resigned to the loss of my balance at Bovada when I got another Bovada email on February 1st asking me to call the customer service line to avoid any collection agency issues. I called and got a different customer service rep who also wanted me to deposit $500 in the account that still had the initial $500 deposit (less my losses). The rep started talking about a collection agency and I mentioned that if I heard about a collection agency again I would call my credit card company and dispute the initial $500 deposit. This changed the tone of the conversation and the rep asked me to send him the credit card transactions from my last three statements. I sent them and my account was restored on February 3rd.

  During my 16-day hiatus my program was 11 games over .500 and the improvement proved to be real as I slowly and steadily chipped away at my losses to even my record at 70-70 on March 9th with a $73 loss.

  After another dip in late March, the program caught fire and went 18-5 from March 24th to April 2nd to trim my losses to $24 with a 98-91 record. The program has always been a proponent of picking road underdogs and I noticed that many of the losses were from very bad teams getting points against very good teams. I decided to reduce the bets on games involving losing teams at winning teams to half the normal $11 wager. I also doubled the wager when the program picked a top level team like the Warriors and Spurs at home. The strategy was reasonable but ultimately pointless as my half bets went 19-17 for a profit of $1.58 and my doubled bets went 2-1 for a profit of $9. I do know I would have been over $50 in the black if I hadn’t had my account suspended by Bovada during one of my program’s hot streaks and possibly over $150 in the black if the suspension had come 2 weeks earlier. In the end the computer and I finished 113-106 with a loss of $27.73 on the bets I did make.

  Going through the season betting real money was very different than picking a game with a mythical bet. I followed the games a lot closer and woke up in the middle of the night a few times when I had a bet on a west coast game that finished well after midnight. I would follow games I had a wager on using the CBS or ESPN apps on my iPod over the last few minutes to see if I had won or lost. I had some terrifically lucky results like the Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic game on March 29th. I had the Thunder giving 6 points to the Magic. The Thunder were trailing by double digits for most of the game until the amazing Russell Westbrook took over and scored 13 points in the last three minutes including a 3 point shot with eight seconds left to tie the game. The only way I could win the bet was to have the game go to overtime AND have the Thunder cover. I had to sweat out last second missed shots by both teams and the Magic getting the first 3 points of overtime before the Thunder took an eight point lead with 30 seconds left. The game was decided but my bet wasn’t won until the Magic missed a 3 point shot that would have covered the spread and the Thunder ran out the clock, leaving me a winner on a $10 bet.

  Of course, it seemed for every lucky result there were two bad beats like on April 7th. I had 4 computer selected bets. The Hawks beat the defending champion Cavaliers in Cleveland as a double digit underdog for the first game to finish. Then the Knicks were trailing the Grizzlies by 10 points with time running out. I had the Knicks and 13 points and had mentally put the game in the win column when the CBS app flashed the final score as 101-88 Grizzlies. It seems Wade Baldwin IV made his third three-point basket of the season (out of 21 attempts) as time expired to make the game a 13 point spread and a push (no money won or lost). My third game was a winner as the Timberwolves held on for a 7 point loss in Utah against the Jazz (I was getting 11 points). The fourth game of the night was the Kings getting 2.5 points in Los Angeles against the woeful Lakers. The game ended well after midnight and was close throughout. With one second left the and the Kings trailing by four Buddy Hield made a basket to bring the Kings to 2 points and make me a winner except Hield then fouled Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, who made 2 free throws with less than a second left to turn my victory into a loss! There was not much sleep that night as a 4-0 night ended up as 2 wins and a loss and felt more like 0-4!

  Lucky wins and bad beats are all part of the game and I’m looking forward to the playoffs where I’ll be on my own with no computer program to assist me. I learned a lot about my risk tolerance and the difference between betting in theory and betting in practice this year. My biggest problem with Bovada (aside from having my account suspended) was the many times the betting lines came out late in the afternoon., which left me little time to get my bets in when I had an evening appointment or activity. A big difference between betting for real and betting in theory is the point spreads are ever changing on Bovada as opposed to getting point spreads years later from freeplays.com. A late scratch can move a spread by 5 points or more which is something I’ll never know happened in previous years without more research than I’m prepared to do. Something I loved about Bovada was that they gave me $130.39 as a welcome bonus (a prorated portion of the amount I wagered over the first six months I used the site) and a $5 bonus to celebrate their 5th anniversary. In addition, I received $70 in PayPal donations to provide my picks in advance at the rate of $10 a month. This gave my regular season a profit of $172.66 and anyone who made the exact same bets on Bovada that I did would have realized a profit of $102.66 if they took the welcome bonus. When the playoffs are over I will attempt to withdraw my money from the Bovada account and if I can do so successfully I will use them for another year. In either case I will report the result of my attempts as well as my playoff results after the season is over in June.

Friday, April 7, 2017

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 7 Part 2 (Episodes 11-16)

   WARNING : THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 7 EPISODES 11 through 16 SPOILERS BELOW!!!

The zombie carnival was a highlight of the back half of season 7!

  AMC’s The Walking Dead concluded it’s much anticipated seventh season on Sunday. didn’t care much for the first half of the season but the two month-long mid-season break brought two action-packed episodes that made me as enthusiastic about the show as I have been in a long time.

  I thought a lot about what it is that I like so much about the Walking Dead when I do like it and finally found my answer after watching 13 hours of the mostly angst-filled Iron Fist two weeks ago – I like action and a show set in the zombie apocalypse can provide action in droves by having a horde of zombies or a well-placed instantly appearing zombie or two at the most inconvenient time. I like to see the protagonists in the direst of circumstances and I don’t mind the most improbable of escapes since it is a television show after all and I can see it all over again the next week.

  The action is enhanced if characters I care about are participating and the Walking Dead has always done a good job of getting me acquainted enough with the intrepid cast of zombie apocalypse survivors to make me root for them in their never ending fight against zombies and other apocalypse survivors but around the time the group arrived in Alexandria the show went from mostly action with some character development to almost non-stop character development interrupted by a little action here and there.

  I had high hopes that the show would become more action-oriented after the arrival of the villainous Negan and the Saviors at the end of season six but the first half of season seven was filled with our survivors collective angst at Negan murdering Abraham and Glenn in the season opener as well as their new subservient status to the Saviors. The action was limited to Negan’s random acts of violence which would be inevitably surrounded by Negan’s lengthy monologues.

The Negan-centric episode 11 substituted tension for action...

  The first two episodes of the second half of the season were full of action but the pace slowed to a crawl in the third episode which was mostly concerned with cowardly Eugene’s adjustment to being moved to the Saviors compound. Luckily the action picked back up in episode four with Rick and Michonne battling a zombie carnival full of armed soldier zombies which allowed our heroes to get some of the guns they promised the weirdo trash people in return for their help in fighting Negan.

  Sadly this was the high point in the back half of the season until the finale as the next three episodes featured Sir Richard of the Kingdom conducting some palace intrigue to try to get the Kingdom to fight Negan and a half-baked plot conducted by Rosita and Sasha to kill Negan. Sahsa (who was on kill watch once she was named to be as a star on the new CBS Star Trek show) was promptly captured and spent episode seven being recruited by Negan to join his crew while Rick and company had an encounter with the heavily armed group at Oceanside which could have been filled with action but instead consisted of a few minutes of fighting with an awesome assemblage of barnacle encrusted zombie and an awful lot of discussion about why Rick’s group wants to fight the Saviors and why the leader of Oceanside wants to stay out of the conflict and keep her group hidden.

  And then we get to the finale which was 90 minutes long with the extra 30 minutes used as a Sasha-fest in which we are shown numerous flashbacks to her very brief romance with the departed Abraham and her brief time as Maggie’s BFF at the Hilltop. The first half of the episode was full of tense music as our group in Alexandria made preparations for Negan’s coming visit with their new trash people allies. Negan arrives and it becomes clear that the trash people were in Negan’s camp and turn on our heroes using the very guns that the Alexandrians provided as payment for their help.

  For some bizarre reason, Negan kept Sasha alive in a coffin to threaten Rick and when he opens the coffin out pops zombie Sasha, who has poisoned herself so she could come out as a zombie. Zombie Sasha attacks Negan and in the ensuing chaos the Alexandrians fight back along with some exceptionally timely help from Hilltop and Kingdom forces. The highlight of this fight was the appearance of Shiva the CGI Tiger from the Kingdom who mauled several Saviors. The rest of the CGI this season was lame but these tiger attack scenes more than made up for it. The fight scene was the best one since the prison battle with the Governor in the middle of Season 4. We got to see our heroes in all their glory shooting and stabbing and driving the Saviors and Trash People to a hasty retreat and then it was back to speeches and plans for the all-out war that will hopefully ensue in season 8.

An epic zombie apocalypse fight scene compete with Shiva the CGI tiger!!

  The ratings for seasons seven stabilized at the 10 million mark which while down from the 14 million viewers in season five is still the most watched cable television drama. Judging from the episodes in the back half of season seven I think the showrunners have found out that Negan is better in small doses than featured episodes and that the viewers want more action and zombies and less character development and intrigue. It doesn’t matter how contrived the scenarios our heroes find themselves in if there are plenty of zombies to slaughter and survivors to battle. I would also point out that there is probably nothing to develop or reveal character for our survivors and the lucky ‘red shirts’ that will become cast semi-regulars than to have to fight their way around, over, or through a zombie horde that suddenly appeared just before a commercial break. One part of character development I did like this season was how while Negan’s henchman are goons and Negan is a violent jerk, he is increasingly being portrayed as truly believing he is bringing order to the chaos of the zombie apocalypse. He has succeeded in bringing together the largest group of survivors to date and seems to give the communities that pay his Saviors tribute a large amount of autonomy as long as they follow the rules. Don’t get me wrong – I still think Negan is an unwatchable clown that talks way too much but showing his motivations makes him a little less unwatchable.

  Season eight is set up for a non-stop action packed 16 episodes. There will surely be some slow parts but our group of survivors will have plenty of adversaries to battle and the need for arms and supplies will provide many opportunities to head to new locations and fight loads of zombies. I’m looking forward to the next season more than I have in the past few years. Hopefully the show will be able to deliver on its promise of more action.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Give It A Rest

  

  In 2014, the NBA (National Basketball Association) signed a 9 year television deal with Turner Sports and ABC/ESPN worth 24 BILLION DOLLARS, which represented nearly a tripling of the previous television deal. The ‘raise’ was well-deserved since the NBA is globally popular, televised sports is one of the few ways television networks can separate themselves from new internet competitors like Netflix and Amazon, and the NBA’s 82 game schedule plus playoffs provide plenty of content.

  Last season ABC introduced a Saturday night prime-time game of the week that featured the top teams in the league over the last two months of the season. The broadcast was well received and the games were generally top notch with the highlight being a Warriors-Thunder classic won on MVP Steph Curry’s buzzer beating shot in overtime. The game was the highest rated regular season NBA game not held on Christmas Day.

  This year the Saturday night prime telecasts kicked off in January with the games serving up a heavy dose of the top teams in the league (the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs who have won the last three championships). On February 11th, a highly publicized matchup between the Warriors and Spurs was on the prime time schedule. The Spurs top two players were ruled out when all-star Kawhi Leonard suffered a concussion during the week and former all-star Lamarcus Aldridge was ruled out with a heart arrhythmia. The Warriors were in the middle of a long road trip and had played an overtime game against the Minnesota Timberwolves the night before the game all in the middle of their worst stretch of basketball in three years after losing all-star Kevin Durant to a strained knee. The Warriors decided to rest their other three all-stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson for the Spurs game. The game was a prime time nightmare with both teams playing backups while the ABC cameras seemed to feature forlorn San Antonio children wearing Stephen Curry jerseys to a game that their hero was skipping.

  The Warriors were heavily criticized for the decision and rebutted the criticism by stating that if the NBA wanted to have their stars available for a big prime time game they should have arranged for it to not be in the middle of a long road trip and part of back to back games. That seemed to deflect much of the criticism from the team to the league.

  The very next Saturday the prime time game had the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers were scheduled to play in Los Angeles on Sunday night against the Lakers and decided to rest their top three players LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love for the prime time game and play them on Sunday against the hapless Lakers. The Cavalier backups were blown out by the Clippers and squeaked by the Lakers the next night. The two spoiled prime time games were a source of embarrassment for the league and ABC.

  Five years ago, the San Antonio Spurs were fined a quarter of a million dollars for resting four of their top players for a game against then champion Miami Heat in a nationally televised Thursday night game (the Spurs came within a few shots of winning the game anyway). Five years later Spurs coach Greg Popovich is viewed as a visionary by being willing to sacrifice a game or two to rest his players and develop his reserves. Today many NBA basketball teams monitor their players for signs of stress and will give a player a night off in the belief that it will prevent injuries. But the money is much greater now – I doubt ESPN/ABC was thrilled with having two marquee Saturday Night games relegated to ‘Must NOT See TV’. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver didn’t fine the teams but instead wrote a letter to the team owners to ask that they have more of a hand in the decisions to rest star players for nationally televised games.

  The Warriors and the Cavaliers had much the same reasons for resting their players: the players were on back to back games and being injury free and rested for the playoffs in April trumps any regular season game. The Warriors know this especially well as they set a league record of 73 wins last year but had that effort expended to set the record questioned when they failed to win the championship. The NBA allows teams to put patches of their uniforms to represent their teams championships and discussions of great players seem to always turn to how many championships a player won to somehow validate their greatness. The culture the NBA has built or allowed to be built clearly values championships over regular season wins and it seems hypocritical to try to override a team’s desire to rest some players anytime they see fit, nationally televised game or not.

  There were quite a few suggestions offered on how to prevent this situation of resting players for prime-time games or on a superstar’s single visit to a city. One suggestion was to ruin resting player’s statistical averages by counting a ‘rest’ game as a game played with no points, rebounds, or assists. Other suggestions ranged from fining the team the amount of the player’s salary to suspending the resting player for a number of games. None of these solutions will ever work because if they are enacted every team will stop using the term rest and simply sit their star players for a ‘tweaked knee’ or a ’24 hour flu’.

  I was disappointed at the ruination of the two prime time games because I wanted to see the games and I wanted to bet on the games. Once the possibility of resting players was raised the games came off the board at the Bovada betting site. The problem of resting players can be eased by making sure teams playing nationally televised games have no games the day before and after the games but teams will still rest players or hold them out of big games. Kevin Durant had one of the better takes on the subject when he told ESPN "The truth about it is, it's only for a couple of players in the league...They don't care if the 13th man on the bench rest. It's only for like LeBron [James], Steph [Curry], [James] Harden, Russell [Westbrook]. It's only for like five players, so you want a rule just for those five players?" Thar's very true - the top players are being targeted because that's who the fans want to see when they tune into a nationally televised game or pay for a ticket to a game. And there are already rules made just for these players to allow them to get higher salaries and longer contracts than the 13th man on the bench. There are benefits of being a star player and one of the drawbacks is that the fans and television executives expect them to be playing.

  Based on Durant's comments I do have sort of a solution to the problem. The NBA collective bargaining agreement with the players slots certain players as ‘max contract’ players meaning these players receive the maximum allowable salary under the current rules. Almost every team has 1 max contract player and most have more than 1. The next collective bargaining agreement should stipulate that ‘max contract’ players cannot play more home games than road games in a season. The ‘max contract’ players are the ones that the fans pay to see and if such a player misses a road game they should be held out of a home game also. This wouldn’t eliminate the problem but I believe it would make teams have to plan their rest for their star players more carefully and possible rest their stars for home games knowing that a road game missed for ‘rest’ will sit the player out for an additional game in front of the home town fans as well.

Friday, March 24, 2017

TV Binge Review - Iron Fist

   WARNING : IRON FIST SPOILERS BELOW!!!

I found Netflix's new Marvel super hero series 'Iron Fist' to have lots of talk with little action...

  Iron Fist is the latest Netflix adaptation of a Marvel Comics super hero. All 13 episodes were made available last weekend. I watched the first episode Friday night, four on Saturday, five on Sunday, and finished early this week with the last three episodes. I have had mixed reviews of the previous four Netflix adaptations, loving the first season of Daredevil, liking Luke Cage and being lukewarm towards Jessica Jones and Daredevil season 2.

  The Iron Fist is Danny Rand, only child of billionaire Wendell Rand. While taking a plane trip to China, the Rand Corporation jet hits turbulence, breaks apart, and crashes over the Himalayan mountains, killing all aboard. All that is except Danny who survived the crash which conveniently occurred at the once every 15 year opening of the interdimensional portal between Earth and the mystical land of K'un-L'un. In the land of K'un-L'un, Danny is trained in the martial arts, taught his mission in life is to destroy the Hand (the source of the never ending supply of ninjas in Daredevil 2), and reaches the height of his training by being chosen as the Living Weapon who can summon his life energy (chi) into his hand (the Iron Fist).

  After 15 years the inter-dimensional portal opens once again and Danny heads to New York to take his life back. The first three episodes are very slow moving, with Danny having no proof of his identity but since his company is under the control of his childhood friends (and children of his father’s late business partner Harold Meachum) he continually tries to convince them of his identity until he is locked away in an insane asylum. At the end of the second episode we finally get to see Iron Fist in action but the first three episodes are full of flashbacks to the plane crash, training in K'un-L'un, and a smattering of action as Ward Meachum sends goons to kill Rand along with a sampling of what must pass for eastern mystic wisdom (“If you want to see the truth then hold no opinions.”)

  In the next three episodes we see Danny convince Joy Meachum of his identity. Joy helps Danny get his company back although no mention is made of how he wasn’t declared legally dead and had his assets distributed many years ago. Danny proves to be a neophyte in business but popular with the masses as he sells a miracle-cure drug at cost and shuts down a factory that is suspected of causing cancer but has met all governmental regulations. He also buys the Hell’s Kitchen building where his girlfriend and fellow martial artist Colleen Wing runs a martial arts school. We also learn the Harold Meachum is alive, having been restored to live by the Hand (personified by the mysterious Madam Gao from past Netflix/Marvel shows) in exchange for them using Rand’s corporation to distribute a new pure form of synthetic heroin. Danny gets wind of the heroin operation and sets about using his powers to destroy the hand.

  I was hoping that the action would heat up in the second half of the 13 episodes but it did not. Finn Jones portrays Danny Rand as the 10 year old who is traumatized by his parent’s plane crash instead of the living weapon that he is. Each episode is full of Danny’s pent up adolescent and teenage angst saved from years of living in the K'un-L'un monastery being trained to be the Iron Fist and when Danny is not on screen we are treated to Ward Meachum’s anxiety attacks leading to a heroin addiction, Harold Meachum’s angst over being owned by the Hand, the ‘drama’ of a hostile takeover of the Rand corporation, Joy Meachum’s angst over her brother and Danny and the takeover of the corporation, and Colleen’s own teenage angst mixed in with pontifications from Claire Temple, the omnipresent nurse who tends to all the Marvel heroes in the Netflix sub universe. Each episode has a few minutes of action and between 40 and 45 minutes of angst. While I understand that angst is part of the territory of all Marvel super heroes Iron Fist was way over the top and closer to a 13 hour long version of Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles than a superhero series. Maybe all this angst is what people find so attractive about the vampire sagas that are so popular - I prefer lots of action.

  Things started picking up slightly in the last two episodes of the series with more action as friends were revealed to be villains and villains revealed to be uneasy allies. At this point I was mostly watching to see how it turned out since I already invested 11 hours in the series. The action scenes were well done and used standard martial arts fighting techniques of statuesque poses with fingers, toes, and limbs frozenly contorted in odd angles just before exploding into action, super-fast punches and kicks transforming into super slow motion as someone narrowly escapes a knockout blow, and a copious amount of swordplay. I would have liked to see the fighting in more dangerous locales than alleys, courtyards, apartments, and office buildings. Martial arts fighting can get pretty repetitive pretty fast and having the fights on the edge of a rooftop or the Brooklyn Bridge or even some subway tracks would have livened things up. There was one fight on a rooftop but no one got very close to the edge. My take on the Iron Fist series was that it was exceptionally slow moving with minimal action. The acting was fine but there was far too much angst on everyone's part. I like my heroes to be heroic and this series seemed to want me to feel sorry for everyone involved instead of giving me someone to root for.

  The ending of the show led to barely any closure with more questions than answers very much like the end of Luke Cage. This was likely done as a set up to the next chapter in the Marvel/Netflix saga which is to team up Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil in a new series called the Defenders. I was wondering how Netflix was going to be able to effectively develop the characters in a 13 hour series but after seeing the lameness of Iron Fist I think that the answer is that there will be little character development and we will spend hours of watching our heroes upset over one circumstance or another with a few minutes of action to liven up the boredom.