Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


June 13, 2013

From McSorley's, to the Philippines, to Grantland

In his soon-to-be-released memoir, and at Bill Simmons's website, Rafe Bartholomew is telling stories about sports and life.

Justin Adler

In 2010, Rafe Bartholomew told Gelf that his dream sportswriting job was "writing long, narrative sports stories," preferably about his passions of boxing, hoops, and, specifically, basketball in the Phillipines.

Three years later, Bartholomew fulfilled his dream and found his sweet spot as Grantland's senior editor, a position that allows him to pen narratives on domestic ball, Filipino basketball culture, and his favorite archipelago nation's favorite fighter.

Rafe Bartholomew
"We're all very lucky to have Bill Simmons's audience paying attention to what we do at Grantland, and it has been exciting to try to grow that audience."

Rafe Bartholomew

On top of sharpening Bill Simmons's site, Bartholomew is working on his second book, a yet-to-be-titled memoir about growing up at New York's oldest bar, McSorley's, where his father has bartended for the past 41 years. The book, due out next year, will recount Bartholomew's youth along with a slew of bar stories he's collected over the years. It will be much different than his first book,Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin' in Flip-Flops and the Philippines' Unlikely Love Affair With Basketball, the result of his three-year stint in the Pacific Rim studying Philippine obsession with the roundball.

In the following interview—edited for length and clarity—Bartholomew told Gelf his thoughts on the future of the Knicks and the Nets, explained why he loves working for Grantland, and slugged his way through our onslaught of boxing questions.

Gelf Magazine: What's the best part about working for Grantland?

Rafe Bartholomew: I don't know if it's the best thing, because there are many good things, but the first thing that comes to mind is the platform. We're all very lucky to have Bill Simmons's audience paying attention to what we do at Grantland, and it has been exciting to try to grow that audience during my two years at the site.

Gelf Magazine: Do you feel any sort of Grantland/Deadspin rivalry? Are you close with any of their writers? Do you guys pay any attention when Deadspin publishes a post slamming a Grantland article or writer?

Rafe Bartholomew: No, yes, yes. I'll save the details for the SB Nation oral history of the Grantland-Deadspin rivalry.

Gelf Magazine: Did you ever hear back from your former teammate Smush Parker about your Grantland article that defended him from Kobe's out-of-nowhere attack? If so, what did he have to say?

Rafe Bartholomew: I never heard from Smush after that piece came out, but I did hear from many of our old coaches and teammates in Lower Manhattan. My favorite feedback came from a friend who grew up playing ball with Smush in Tribeca and who also played at the Carmine Recreation Center, who said something to the effect of, "That's definitely the only article that will ever include two sentences about Papo." Papo used to work as a maintenance man at the recreation center and he would drive our traveling team around in a green Parks Department van, taking abuse from Smush and every other player. I really like that weird, local-lore stuff—to a few hundred people who grew up around him, Papo is this unforgettable guy.

Gelf Magazine: Do you have faith in a Melo-based Knicks team?

Rafe Bartholomew: Not this Melo-based Knicks team. I've always been a Carmelo fan and I love watching him catch the ball on the wing, face the bucket, and then conjure up some extremely difficult way to score. There should be some way to build a playoff contender around a player as gifted as him, but based on the track record of this Knicks organization, it's hard to believe that they will figure out the right mix of players, coaches, and styles anytime soon.

Gelf Magazine: What's your expectation for post-contract-year J.R. Smith?

Rafe Bartholomew: It seemed like he kind of played himself out of some offers and money in this postseason. If the Knicks don't have too much competition to re-sign him, maybe they can put Smith back onto a fairly short contract that keeps him incentivized to perform his very best. I'm worried about the 2013-14 Knicks, though. If they don't start the season well, I can imagine some of the players' recent (and still not totally convincing) commitments to ball movement and defense disappearing, followed by a real mess.

Gelf Magazine: What will it take for the Nets to be exciting?

Rafe Bartholomew: I actually think if they can find a better shooter to start in Gerald Wallace's position, their spacing could improve and they'd be a nicer team to watch. I don't know if they'd become one of the most exciting teams in the league, but making it through four quarters of Nets basketball might be less of a chore.

Gelf Magazine: What's the over/under on how many coaches Deron Williams will burn through during the rest of his career? [Editor's note: This interview was conducted prior to the hiring of Jason Kidd.]

Rafe Bartholomew: Well, Deron Williams was one of my favorite college players when he was at Illinois, so my soft spot for him might deflate my number here. Let's say three. But assuming he remains with the Nets for a while, I think [Nets owner Mikhail] Prokhorov may be more responsible for rapid coaching turnover than Williams.

Gelf Magazine: How often do you regularly watch PBA [Philippine Basketball Association] games?

Rafe Bartholomew: About once a week during the regular season and a little more frequently during playoffs. I still really care about the Philippines and Pinoy hoops, so I make an effort to stay connected.

Gelf Magazine: Has the PBA game or Filipino hoops culture had any dramatic changes since you spent three years in the country?

Rafe Bartholomew: The PBA is healthy. It has set and re-set attendance records in the past year. On the elite end, the construction of the "state-of-the-art" Mall of Asia Arena in southern Metro Manila is making 2013 a landmark year in Philippine basketball, as the country was chosen to host the FIBA Asia championships in August (the tournament that sends qualifiers to next summer's world championships) and the NBA will stage a preseason game there in October, which it hasn't done before. On a more grassroots level, basketball is still played on nearly every street corner in all the major cities throughout the country, and on small homemade hoops dotting the countryside.

Gelf Magazine: As of this writing, the Spurs lead by two games to one in the NBA Finals. Who do you predict will be the champ?

Rafe Bartholomew: I'm a big fan of this Spurs team and I think they can actually win this series (of course, now they have a big historical advantage after taking Game 3). If they're going to win, I hope they do it in Game 6 on Miami's floor and not Game 7.

Gelf Magazine: OK, time for a blast of boxing-related questions.
Who do you have in Malignaggi v. Broner, and do you like that winner against Maidana?

Rafe Bartholomew: Broner. I think he wouldn't have too much trouble with Maidana.

Gelf Magazine: Why can't we just have Maidana v. Matthysse right now?

Rafe Bartholomew: Those guys are friends; they fought a bunch as amateurs. I don't think they're in a rush to go down that road. I also think Matthysse is clearly a notch above Maidana, so as much as I like insane action fights, I think I'm fine watching them move through the sport like a pair of wrecking balls for now.

Gelf Magazine: Are you in favor of having Matthysse just fight everyone in and around his division weekly for the rest of 2013?

Rafe Bartholomew: Matthysse is great fun, but my KO-punching man crush is the middleweight title holder Gennadiy Golovkin.

Gelf Magazine: Do you give a shit about Victor Ortiz and Shane Mosley?

Rafe Bartholomew: I like Vic Ortiz! He's an entertaining and pretty talented fighter, and his meltdowns are fascinating. Lump me in with the chorus of boxing writers who would like to see Mosley stay retired.

Gelf Magazine: What do you think about the future of HBO Boxing?

Rafe Bartholomew: I support fellow Hunter College High School alum Max Kellerman in all his endeavors. Seriously, I think they're fine.

Gelf Magazine: Is Adonis Stevenson your favorite convicted-pimp boxer?

Rafe Bartholomew: I can't think of anyone else. It's hard to write pimp jokes about real pimps, though.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think Floyd will play out all six fights with Showtime?

Rafe Bartholomew: Possibly. He's on pace for two in year one, which is more than most people expected.

Gelf Magazine: Where can/does Pacquiao go after Rios?

Rafe Bartholomew: Like where in the match? If Pacquiao comes out in November and isn't aggressive, then we'll all start to assume that the Marquez knockout took something away from him that he's not getting back. He's faster and more dynamic than Rios. If he's close to the fighter who was winning the fourth Marquez fight before the lights went out, then he should be able to make it a long (or maybe short) night for Rios.

Gelf Magazine: Are you rooting for Canelo Alvarez to beat Floyd Mayweather? Can he?

Rafe Bartholomew: No. I'm in the camp of boxing fans who consider Canelo a talented but mostly network-engineered star who has only one really strong win on his résumé—April's victory over Austin Trout. I think his power is real, so he can conceivably land a shot that hurts Mayweather and then finish him, but I think he is not active enough and doesn't cut the ring off well enough to apply the necessary pressure to bother Mayweather and give himself a better chance of landing that shot.

Gelf Magazine: You're named emperor of boxing, effectively immediately. What steps do you take on Day One to keep the sport from inflicting damage upon itself?

Rafe Bartholomew: Boxing is healthier than we give it credit for. It may not be on SportsCenter all the time, but it has a big audience of fans who show up for, and buy, big fights.

Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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- Sports
- posted on Jun 13, 13
Eric Angevine

I hope the team beat writers don't go extinct - they really are the only source for the really fine-grained information the rest of us will never find on our own. I'm sure they'll still exist, they'll just become part of some kind of concept or something.

Oh, and way to keep your pants on, there, Rafe.

Article by Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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