The Mid Life

by Kyle Whelliston

Sunday, January 5, 2020 · Season 16
TMM-3735 · 1,485 words · 7 min read


The true meaning of life is causing enormous levels of careless damage and casual destruction to the people and places around you. At a certain point, usually around halfway into your stint on earth, the trail of carnage is so long and deep and wide that there's no way it could ever be fully unraveled. There just isn't enough time left to fix it all. You have people nearby who insist that you're a good person, but you're not so sure. You're in the shower at 4:30 a.m., one hand on the wall, cold water running down your face. You feel doubtful, conflicted and helpless.

Every once in a while, an unexpected shaft of light cuts through the doomed darkness of your soul. You're suddenly reminded of a startlingly good decision you made years ago, when the top half of your hourglass was simply bursting with plentiful sand. You're taken aback… how could there be a Younger You that had all the answers, who put you on a better path going forward?

You bless and thank Younger You. You chuckle to yourself. How can it be that young people are so much smarter than old people? Time to post a whimsical meme about the wisdom of children, something that will make you forget all about the guilt-valanche that's buried you alive. For a precious minute, you feel better about the future of humanity, and you smile. Just please don't have any children of your own. The cycle ends with you.

The other day, after reading TrueHoop's epic eulogy of WNBA founder David Stern, we experienced a time-collapsing moment. Henry Abbott was hired at ESPN.com in the midst of the Blogger Credibility Campaign of 2005, the same year we were brought on. His SportsNation chat time slot was right before ours on Fridays, and that's the closest we ever got to meeting him.

Like us, Mr. Abbott was cut loose in a Sports Bubbly downsizing, but that's where the similarities end. He lasted at the Extremely Slow Paying seven years longer than we did, had a ton more success, and left on exceedingly good terms. They gave him back the TrueHoop name, the rarest of goodwill gestures in that industry. We can't even keep track of what The Basketball Jones is called anymore.

Right after the meetings in Bristol and the welcome-to-the-team handshakes and the agreement finalizations and the beer and cake afterwards, we were approached about it. We need a name for your column, and it's pretty obvious what it should be. Onboard mental memory recalls all of this as offhanded and superfluous, but the GMail archives indicate that there was much more to it. There was persistence that lasted throughout September and October, and there were assurances and promises and transfer details that we'd somehow had the foresight to sidestep and ignore.

And every time it was brought up directly, we said no. The Mid-Majority would not become property of ESPN.

In 2020 hindsight, what came next seems like retaliation. In reality it was a function of the types of personalities we were dealing with there. Our editor gave the column a different name: The Mid Life. It was a terrible name. Were we 45? Were our beloved Other 25 conferences experiencing some kind of delusional crisis? We wondered if we were going to spend our big media breakthrough crapped on by our own teammates.

We were. Pushed into taking on a daww-shucks Goofy writing persona that had nothing to do with anything we'd ever written here, we were told time and again that our presence was a great favor to us and that we weren't a "national writer." Our pieces were constantly B-sided in favor of his own, as he tried—and ultimately failed—to make a name for himself at the company. Frustrated writers shouldn't be allowed within 100 miles of an editing desk.

We've said it a few different ways before we stopped talking about it for an entire decade, but our three years at ESPN.com were the worst three years of our life. We regret just about everything. The endless "who's a mid-major" debate, which we were tapped to write about on multiple occasions. Thousands of oinking piggy trolls in the chats. Everywhere we went, we were a thirst trap in suit and sneakers for student journalists who wanted tips on how they could be the next Joe Lunardi. We stopped doing interviews, podcasts, radio and halftime spots completely, because they were all different flavors of hell. And we heard about it.

It wasn't all bad: our second editor squeezed out of us the best sportwriting we've ever done, stories that folks still bring up in The Form™ a decade later. She was a more profound influence on our approach to TMM than any mentor or teacher we ever had. But that... <extremely Tony Thaxton voice> is for another time.

Intellectual property is sacred. That—and whatever remains of your ability to generate more of it—is all you have as you try to navigate this hostile new world. Ten years ago, there was still something resembling a clear barrier to market entry. It wasn't yet millions of content providers clamoring for an unsliceable pie of likes and retweets and clout, convincing themselves that their opinions are good enough to be unionized, every new subscriber an unfollower-in-waiting.

Mr. Abbott has higher aspirations for TrueHoop than TMM has for itself, with a staff and overhead and a $100 per year subscription model, and we have endless respect for him anyway, in large part because he got to come back as TrueHoop. Not as a steep rebrand hurdle like Henry Abbott's Basketball Newsletter Inc., Hey Remember Me I'm That ESPN Guy, or No Dunks.

This is going to be about basketball other than Division I men's college basketball, but we came back as "The Mid-Majority" for a reason. This flag belongs to us, and nobody else, and nobody gets to say what that flag stands for and looks like except for us. We've been The Mid-Majority so long that most of our readers forgot or don't know what our real name is or where we even are. Our failure to compromise is why we've lost most of the people we picked up along the way, but that's just the cost of independence baby. The other option is to be beholden, the private property of people who simply don't care.

And right now, this is what The Mid-Majority is about, because we say so: fun online Pick'Em games.

It is with great excitement that we present to you the winner of the inaugural TMM UP!set contest. @KyleHeuton, who is wearing an orange tie in his Twitter avatar in the spookiest piece of foreshadowing ever, outsmarted 213 other players to claim the first Orange Brain Trophy with 2,474 points. He'd like you to know that he won that finely sculpted glowing plastic lamp from China cleanly, without any bonus plays.

Congratulations also to the players who pushed Mr. Heuton through the fire, to the limit, to the wall. @fjvitale finished just 127 points behind and we're looking forward to the rematch in March when we play UP!set II: This Time It's Postseason. Shouts out to @mjpettinato, @StlVUFan, @__nanite__, @mrericreyes and @BHartyNMSU, who have all emerged as true warriors in the ways of UP!set Pick'Em. It's been two months of amazing PomDiff action, and here's the best part: it ain't over.

Today, we've begun our wintertime game for conference season. It is called Pickball, and it is the best game ever invented. Pick women's and men's mid-major games straight up, and gain points based on ELO win probability. The closer the game is expected to be, the more points are on the line: if the favorite has at least an 80 percent chance to win, a correct pick is worth one point. A game in the 50 percent zone is worth five. You've figured it out already: the better you are at predicting tossups, the better you're going to be at this game.

Click on the point value to show a screen full of stats and trends to help you make informed decisions. You can play daily or weekly or monthly—we keep leaderboards for all of them. The scoreboard resets at midnight Eastern. You get five picks per day. If you join Bally Club 2020 GOLD™, you get an extra pick every day as your thanks for keeping the Robot fed. Hey, this is exciting! Why are you still reading this? Go!

MONDAY: Routines.