The second half of the NBA season should be interesting

It’s been a crazy NBA season, but we really shouldn’t be surprised. With little preparation after the chaotic NBA lockout, few people expected solid play around the league. But coming off of last night’s All-Star Game, there are plenty of storylines for the second half of the season.

The Miami Heat are certainly getting plenty of attention. Despite his errant pass last night that ultimately decided the game, LeBron James is having another monster season. Naturally, the pundits who are only capable of living in the moment have made their proclamations of how LeBron James is again proving he’s the best player in the NBA, yet the rest of us know that regular season stats mean nothing. In the end, James needs to prove that he can perform when an NBA title is on the line. Plain and simple, he choked last year, and nothing will help him overcome that until he actually contributes to an NBA championship.

The biggest story, of course, has been Jeremy Lin. The NBA betting lines regarding the New York Knicks have been all over the place, as this team started by underachieving, and the Lin came along and sparked a remarkable winning streak. That said, Lin was exposed a little against Miami as he really needs to work on his defense, but he’s still an amazing story and has real talent.

Lin might not be the best new talent in the league, however, as Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving has been dazzling onlookers all year long and then put on a show during All-Star weekend.

Then we have all the possible trades, as the make-up of many teams will hinge on what happens with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

In the end, this all might come down to a battle of superstars again in the Finals, as Kevin Durant seems poised to stake his claim as one of the NBA great.

It should be fun to watch.


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Fancy: The startup that’s sticking it to Pinterest

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about Pinterest, but once I heard it was “invite only” I knew I wasn’t interested. Honestly, the only “invite only” service I’ve been excited about in recent memory was Google+, and then only because I thought it might actually give Facebook a run for its money. It obviously failed to do so and, as a result, I’ve pretty much made it a rule that I won’t be bothering with any other “invite only” services (and yes, I’m using quotation marks to imply sarcasm because in the case of nearly every startup that has tried it, the limit is just a hype tool and a gimmicky one at that) unless the service promises to detonate 2,000 pounds of C4 in Facebook’s server facility or post daily videos of Rick Santorum getting slapped with a variety of aquatic wildlife.

“If you aren’t interested then why write this article.” Shut up, self. No one asked you. Besides, I’m only writing the article in order to talk about another service that feels like Pinterest but has a very different and very interesting goal. That service is Fancy, which unfortunately does not own and so has been relegated to Regardless, the service is interesting, particularly to investors. Fancy allows users to “fancy” items (the site’s version of “like”) that, oddly enough, are actually for sale.

The basic idea is to highlight the social aspect of digital commerce. I’ve already been conditioned not to buy–or in most cases even look–at anything with less than a three-star rating on the average ecommerce site. Even three stars is a stretch for certain products and media. Computer components? Forget it, three-stars. I’m a four-star+ kind of guy. Books? I’ll dabble in three star so long as there’s a witty and prosaic review in the top ten reviews. I might jump down to two stars if some large contingent of fellow consumers found the review helpful. You can bet your sweet ass I’m not touching a one-star anything. Sorry, Michelin travel guide; you are now defunct.

Fancy makes those recommendations much more social by connecting profiles as with any other social network. The difference lies in the built-in commerce system, which allows for both integrated purchasing and selling. The selling is what really interests me. Merchants can basically log in to Fancy and bid to sell products to the consumers that fancy those products. This is social buying so totally different from even models like Groupon that it’s sure to be something to watch.

Granted, Fancy isn’t all good. For now the site is organized around high-end products, otherwise known as shit-I-can’t-afford. There are some things that slip through the iron curtain, like this flashy pair of bamboo sunglasses, but the site owners have said they want to market to the high-end crowd, which essentially means the site isn’t for me. Take this small sampling of products as an example. Burberry snowsuit for a baby? $350. Swiss watch with faux blackboard and chalk face? $1,750. A teak bath? Nearly $10k, and that’s if you live in London.

The site is also designed to function around products that can be bought and sold, not simply ideas, which I see as another serious limitation if the owners won’t broaden the scope. For now, a lot of Etsy products are in the mix, which I think is great. But the site has to be more than just an Etsy reskin.

If Fancy really can do what founder Joseph Einhorn says, he will have dreamt up the next frontier of shameless consumerism.

“Rather than go to Amazon or Google and searching for stuff I intend to buy, in the future in the commerce game, I think getting hotel destinations, finding cool products, or discovering fashion items will be done through the people I admire and trust. From a consumer perspective, I’m able to go to this website, where I’m finding out about the coolest stuff in the world, and instead of clicking, signing up, and giving my address and contact info to a million different websites, I am able to shop right inside, whether it’s on the website or the iPad, iPhone, or Android app, and go all the way through to checkout in an integrated experience.”

That’s one compelling pitch.


Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to March

Springtime is finally here, and as the weather starts to get a little better, so does your choice of movies. Though March wasn’t always known as a month where you could score big at the box office, Zack Snyder’s “300” changed all that, and since then, the studios have been more open to releasing some of their higher profile films in an attempt to cash in on the pre-summer excitement. If it’s big-budget epics you’re after, or just a great comedy anchored by some big names, then you’ll want to continue reading.


Who: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby and Julianne Moore
What: While working in a Boston homeless shelter, Nick Flynn re-encounters his estranged father, a con man and self-proclaimed poet.
When: March 2nd
Why: This is the kind of film that you’d normally expect to see during awards season, which is what makes Focus Features’ decision to release it in March so refreshing. Of course, it could just mean that the movie simply isn’t good enough to be Oscar bait, but with actors like Robert De Niro and Paul Dano involved, it seems pretty unlikely. Based on playwright Nick Flynn’s memoir, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” (a great book title, but hardly one that rolls off the tongue when buying a ticket at the movie theater), “Being Flynn” might just be the film that finally gets De Niro’s acting career back on track. If nothing else, it’s great to see Paul Weitz directing some much headier material following the dreadful “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” and “Little Fockers.”


Who: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West and Mark Strong
What: After a Civil War veteran is inexplicably transported to Mars, he becomes mixed up in a conflict amongst the habitants of the planet.
When: March 9th
Why: I had never even heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of pulp fantasy novels when a “John Carter” movie was first rumored a few years ago as a possible directing project for Jon Favreau, but after seeing the initial trailer, I was sold. It’s been awhile since a sci-fi epic has come along that actually looks the part, and a lot of that credit goes to Andrew Stanton, who, although he’s best known for directing Pixar hits like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” is following in the footsteps of colleague Brad Bird with his live-action debut. While it will be interesting to see what Stanton can do outside the realm of animation, however, the film’s success will ultimately depend on whether Taylor Kitsch can prove to be the action star that Hollywood is betting on him to become.

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Tokyo Marathon Live Blog: A fitting end to a memorable weekend

I’ve only run three marathons, but one of those was Chicago, one of the five World Marathon Majors, and Tokyo sits atop my admittedly short list. Granted, the race today was a wholly unique experience for a foreigner like me, but the 2012 Tokyo Marathon was energetic, welcoming, challenging and tons of fun, a sentiment that everyone from our press tour (pictured above) shared as well.

I’ll be posting a more detailed recap next week, along with a boatload of pictures (I snapped more than 300 alone during the race today), but that opinion won’t change. The more than 2 million spectators were thrilled to be cheering on 36,000 runners this morning, no matter their nationality, and there were all sorts of costumes and signs alongside the course to help the runners briefly take their mind off the demanding task at hand.

The course itself was spectacular, and though we took a guided bus tour of the course yesterday afternoon, there were still so many things that caught my eye (hence the 300 photos). From all the colorful signs in the various parts of the city to the Tokyo Tower (below), the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Sky Tree and Thunder Gate, there was no shortage of landmarks and other memorable sights to grab the attention of even the most focused marathoner.

Unfortunately, I didn’t run as well as I had hoped, finishing at 3:59:25 (unofficial), but as I’ve said all along, this race was about much more than my watch time. This is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life, as I was wowed by the hospitality of the people of Tokyo and the surrounding areas. The race was fantastic, and the city is even greater. As the Tokyo Marathon positions itself to join the list of the world’s elite races, any marathoner has to put Tokyo on their to-do list.


Tokyo Marathon Live Blog: Let’s get this party started

Tokyo Marathon sign

In just about 11 hours (7:10pm EST Saturday night), the 2012 Tokyo Marathon will begin, and I’ll be one of the 35,000 runners in the field. It’s still hard to believe that I’m here, sitting in my hotel room at the Keio Plaza Hotel, waiting to a marathon in Japan. The experience so far has been everything I imagined it would be, and we haven’t even hit race day yet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the members of the press tour began our day with the International Friendship Run, a 2K fun run set up to allow international runners (and their family and friends) a chance to meet one another the day before the marathon. I won’t lie — the weather was downright crummy, with temperatures in the low-30s combined with steady rain making for a dreary morning — but the organizers, as they have all weekend, still put on a great event. Hopefully the weather cooperates for future International Friendship Runs, but if it was going to rain at all this weekend, we’re all glad it happened Saturday and not Sunday.

After we all toweled off and changed, we were taken on a bus tour of the marathon course, led by our tour guide Maya san, who did a marvelous job showing us all the sights Tokyo has to offer along the course. We stopped for a traditional Japanese lunch and took some photos outside the amazing Thunder gate in Asakusa, which I’ll post with my recap next week.

The tour wrapped up at the finish line for the race, and we all piled out of the bus and into the race expo at Tokyo Big Sight. I’ve been to my fair share of race expos, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like this. The building was buzzing as runners from all over the world made their way through the various booths, with highlights including the newest offerings from Asics as well as an impressive display at the BMW booth. We picked up our race bibs (I’m #36054, if you’re curious) and made our way through the sea of people at the Tokyo Big Sight, picking up some mementos along the way.

Tokyo Marathon sign

Then it was back to the hotel for a little R&R before race day. I managed to find a small Italian place around the corner from the hotel for my usual carbo-loading dinner before heading back to the hotel to get all of my gear ready for the race and, well, to write this blog post.

I’ve met a ton of great people from all over the world this weekend, with representatives from places like Italy, Spain, the UK and Australia also taking part in the press tour. Now comes the hard part: the race itself. The weather should be cold but clear, which is welcome news after this morning’s sogginess. I have a time in mind that I’d love to beat but I’m more focused on enjoying the moment and taking in as much of the experience as I can. If I can do all three? Well, that would be the perfect end to an amazing weekend.