Thursday, July 31

A look at some of the worst MLB trades of all time thanks to Ed Hardiman and

Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 29

College Football: The Relationship

In the coming weeks we will have college football galore on ASD. We will preview each conference and the season, leading up to the beginning (mercifully) of actual football competition roughly a month from today. Before we jaunt off into the wonderful land of FBS football, I take a step back and examine the mind-boggling state of the FBS post-season and how the game’s popularity thrives in spite of, not because of the system. 2007’s topsy-turvy season would be a great example.

I often liken the fans relationship to that of a woman. You love it, you want to be around it, it makes you happy, but it does not hold to the rule of rational thought and will randomly anger you to the point where you question why you are investing your time with it in the first place. Yet you cannot help it, your life is more complete with college football than without it. There are primarily two arguments that exist for proponents of the BCS system. One is that the bowls are sacred and have to be honored for all schools to have a chance to compete on the national (ESPN 2 on Dec. 22nd) stage. However the latest changes promoted by those in favor of a playoff would retain all the prestige of the Poinsettia, Meineke Car Care, and bowls. The most oft used contention by BCS pundits is that the system produces the most exciting regular season in sports. Every week is a playoff they say. Well, if it is it is one seriously messed up one.

We begin out tale of the “playoffs” of last year’s college football season with the pre-season polls. What a great way to fairly determine which schools get in the final two slots for the national championship! These schools have not even played a down, yet they can sit near the top and even if they stumble they won’t fall as far as others further back. USC had the top spot, followed by LSU, Florida, Texas, and Michigan in the coaches’ poll. Well unless you have been living in Manchuria you know that Appalachian State beat Michigan in week 1 in most likely the greatest upset in college football history. Despite that earth-shattering event, the next few weeks provided what could be called a series of elimination games for the big conference schools.

LSU hammered Virginia Tech 48-7, Florida crushed Tennessee and Cal edged Oregon. LSU beat Florida 28-24 in Baton Rogue thanks to some, daring (lack of a better word) calls by Les Miles. This eliminated the Gators it seemed. That same week, as Oklahoma beat Texas for the edge in the Big 12, the unthinkable happened…again. Stanford, led by coach Jim Harbaugh beat USC in the Coliseum. The Stanford game really triggered the madness. The following week Kentucky beat LSU in three overtimes. This seemed to put LSU on the back burner unless every top team out there compiled a loss which certainly was not out of the question. Oklahoma beat Mizzou that week to stake their claim as the Big 12 representative for national title contention. The number two spot in the polls seemed to be the worst place to be as South Florida lost to Rutgers after having beaten West Virginia. But Rutgers would fall to the Mountaineers nine days later. Boston College emerged after beating Virginia Tech in a game that was dominated by the Hokies for 56 minutes. That allayed fears that Virginia Tech would have to be considered if they won out even with the bad loss to LSU early. BC entered the discussion. All the while Ohio State stood alone at number one, and they seemed to be unchallenged until they met with Michigan at the end of the season.

(Everybody following this playoff system so far?)

Georgia emerged as the “hot” team despite losses to South Carolina and Tennessee in a blowout. They defeated Florida, knocking the Gators officially from title contention. A split race had opened up for the SEC East. In the west, Arizona State beat Cal and enter into the discussion as an unbeaten and Oregon beat USC to attain the number two spot in the polls the next week when they thumped Arizona State. BC lost at home to FSU and quickly were left on the back burner for the title game. Meanwhile, West Virginia escaped from Louisville and appeared ready to hop into the second BCS slot should someone in front of them fall. But then, the wheels fell off the playoff bus. Illinois defeated Ohio State on Nov. 10th, leaving no undefeated team remaining (except Hawai’i). Oregon lost Dennis Dixon and all hope the next Thursday but LSU who escaped a battle with Alabama with two fourth quarter touchdowns assumed the top spot.

(Oh I get it, it’s like double elimination and there is a loser’s bracket)

With Ohio State falling, they took their seat behind all the others in the “loser’s bracket” of this sensible playoff. LSU seemed to look to the SEC title game for their “semi-final” into the national championhip. But lo! Arkansas rises up and beats LSU in overtime in an extremely entertaining game and seems to knock LSU out of the bracket. Texas Tech beats Oklahoma to eliminate them. There was gold at the end of the rainbow for Hawai’i as they beat Boise State to remain undefeated and assure them a shot at one of the big boys in January. West Virginia beat UConn to set up one more hurdle for them to reach the title game. Here is where this playoff diverges even more from sanity. Some schools must play a conference championship game, others simply hold the title. Ohio State beats Michigan on Nov. 17th then packs it in, says good season, and plops on the coach to watch what team can stumble enough to let them in. LSU plays Tennessee in the SEC title game in which LSU still contends they have a shot. Silly Tigers, you have two losses. They need a second half inexplicable pick by Eric Ainge to defeat the Volunteers. Missouri falls to Oklahoma again in the Big 12 title game which eliminates them. It seems we are heading for West Virginia and Ohio State for the title all the Mountaineers have to do is beat Pittsburg, who at the time was 4-7. But maybe it was the magic of the rivalry, or be it the stache of Dave Wannstedt, they beat WVU in Morgantown.

(Hrmm. We have a problem)

Wow, that was an exciting playoff. The games were very entertaining, and the rivalries and drama associated with college football was at an all-time high. So what now? There is one team at the top with one loss. Six teams sit behind them with two. What a conundrum. Kansas has only one loss! And it was to Missouri, a highly ranked team. But no, they came out of no where and didn’t beat enough big time schools, so they will get simply a BCS bowl game, they should be happy with that at a basketball school. Hawai’i has not lost a game, they won their playoff bracket one could say. Negative? Ah yes, not enough tough competition. I see, so the rules of this playoff are you can lose, even in “elimination games” as long as you play a tough schedule. This really is coming together. Well what does everyone say is the toughest league? SEC. What is the best team in there? Georgia is playing as well as anyone, they should make it! No? They didn’t play in the SEC title game, which is so vital right? Because every conference has one and it has to be played in to even be considered for the national title. Oh, no title game in the Big East, Pac-10, or Big Ten. Well Georgia probably had a worse record than the teams that got in the championship game right? No huh? Ok well by that “logic” they can’t play for the title. LSU then! What? USC? Yeah they have two losses and they are one of the hottest teams in the country, but Stanford and Oregon, two bad losses. LSU and Ohio State then, it should be a closely competitive game.

Wow, that was dizzying and I was just speaking with myself. This “playoff” format clearly does not follow any rules I have heard outside of Baseketball. Every year the BCS hopes that teams will sort themselves out over the season, but with talent spreading further and power conferences stronger top to bottom, that simply will not happen every year. Some people say it is good that this system is in place because it creates so much discourse about college football. To me that argument is idiotic to put it conservatively. We are discussing how busted the system is, that is not a good thing. If we were to argue which teams deserve to make an eight or ten team playoff, then that would be good discussion. Much better to argue over which teams deserve an at-large bid, than what two teams out of ten deserve the right to play one game. The BCS will be in place for the immediate future and up until then and after it will be everyone’s responsibility to get it right. But then again, when was the last time you met a woman you would call sensible?

Continue reading...

TWWL: Titletown? More like Retardville

Let me preface this post by saying I have nothing at all against Valdosta, Georgia. The title of the post refers to TWWL rather than the town. I have been to Valdosta. I stayed at a lovely Motel 6 on a drive back from rafting when the ex and I were too tired to keep driving into Florida on our way home. When I was coaching college rowing, I had the team stop at an Applebee’s on the way home from a regional race and one of the charming high school waitresses even asked one of my rowers to the prom. That being said, the latest ESPN summer hype that is called “Titletown” (it pains me even to type it) is nothing short of asinine.

In recent years ESPN has thought it necessary to fill the long summer months with some kind of pop culture celebration of sports. They had the 50 state tour in which they anchored Sportscenter from 50 different states; the point of that still escapes me. Then last summer they came out “Who’s Now?” which resulted in a roll of the eyes from every sports fan that doesn’t regularly watch the E! channel and a spewing forth of hatred on blogs everywhere. This year the brains in Bristol came up with “Titletown”. Again ESPN would hit the road and tour around the country visiting “nominees” for the label of Titletown and then would decide the winner by online voting. After wasting time and precious gallons of gas, Valdosta, Georgia assumes to the label of the city of champions. LOL wut?

The first discrepancy I have is the name of the feature. Besides the Favre mess, do the citizens of Green Bay and greater Wisconsin need anymore slaps in the face? Long ago Green Bay named itself Titletown. Arrogant maybe, but Vince Lombardi will do that to you. Nine league titles and three Super Bowl titles are the claim and certainly other cities and teams can claim more, but at the time of Lombardi that is the name they claimed and were called by themselves and those in the sports community. Would it have killed the suits at the network to come up with a different if not slightly modified name? Championville? Winsburg? Trophy City? Titleland? So, those are poor examples but there has to be some name out there that could be used.

Then time was taken out of each Sportscenter to review to finalists on the list. When I wake up in the morning or go to bed at night and turn on a highlight show, it sure as hell isn’t to see why Tim Tebow thinks Gainsville rocks. Then it is left up to internet voting, the true measuring stick of accurate public opinion. The results were obviously going to lead to a small town who wanted to get the recognition and claim the name on every city limit sign they posses winning the poll. Again, nothing wrong with Valdosta, and congrats to them, but such a waste of resources and time I have rarely seen.

I wrote a long section on what I think is wrong with ESPN, but I thought either the opinions have been stated by others in the internet forum (and with more choice words) and despite all its problems, TWWL is still watched because it has no immediate rival. I believe the internet alleviates a lot of the problem because now information is instant and you don’t have to sit through the horrible jokes on the telecast to find out what happened to your team. Instead I focused on this one feature, mostly because I found it hard to stomach and because it seems so unnecessary. Say what you will (and most people have) about Bryant Gumble or Bob Costas but when I see their sports shows on the television, I tune in. Costas is reviled in many blogging circles, but he addresses the tough issues in sports and brings them to an intelligent format. Real Sports gives you that angle of the other side of sports, be it joyous or heart-wrenching. ESPN tried to counter with E:60, but it was very convoluted and its crowning moment was the hot lamp interrogation of Miguel Tejada. ESPN has recently said to be interested in developing a show similar to the Daily Show but for sports. I sincerely hope not. They seem to want to place their focus on everything that surrounds sports but nothing on the actual sports themselves. And here I am getting sucked into an anti-ESPN rant. Anyway, the next time you are on I-75 through Georgia, be sure to acknowledge the Titletown signs as you ride through Valdosta, they earned it.

Continue reading...

Saturday, July 26

Trendys: San Diego Chargers Success

Many are tooting the Super-Chargers horn this off-season. Many are saying that the Chargers will be the team to beat in the AFC, if not right at the top next to the Colts and the Patriots. Most of these high expectations stem from the playoff performance that the Chargers produced last season. After out-slugging Tennessee in the wild card round, they stunned the defending champion Indianapolis on the road 28-24. They also put up a tough fight against New England, though they failed to score a touchdown, losing 21-12. It was the first loss the team had since November 18 when they fell to Jacksonville. Phillip Rivers played on a torn knee ligament, Antonio Gates was out with a toe injury suffered versus Tennessee, and LT went out with a hurt knee as well. The team showed tremendous grit and the eight game winning streak late in the year is impressive, but discussing them in the AFC favorites category may be a bit hasty.

The first point that jumps out at me is the fact that this time has not climbed the mountain. The win against Indy was something to be proud of, a big upset in a game in which they were given no chance. The defense was the star of their win against Tennessee, holding Vince Young and company to six points. In the RCA Dome, a Gates-less San Diego fought tooth and nail, losing LT and Rivers along the way, and bested the Colts. It was a great story, but it ended a week later in New England. The win by the Patriots was by no means a work of art, and the tweak of Brady’s ankle and the defensive pressure the Chargers put on the Patriot offense was a preview of the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. But just like the Colts, it is hard to put the Chargers on the top of the mountain until they reach it. Before the Colts reached the pinnacle in 2006, they had to come back from a 21-3 deficit to WIN the AFC and advance to the Super Bowl and forgive me if Peyton inspires more confidence from the quarterback position than Rivers.

Let’s take a look at this eight game winning streak before the final loss of the season. Anytime you can win that many games consecutively in the NFL it should be praised and the victory over Indy in the RCA Dome was more than impressive, but if you look at their last regular season loss it was to Jacksonville, a playoff team. The wins that followed were all against inferior opponents: Baltimore, Kansas City, Tennessee, Detroit, Denver and Oakland. Not really running the gauntlet of the best.

The injury situation is also a factor. Rivers claims his knee is completely healed and so does LT. Their greatest receiver over last year and for the last four years, Antonio Gates says he is only 60-75% on his toe. They need Gates healthy to be in the discussion for a championship run. Yes they beat Indy and came close against the Patriots with a gimpy Gates, but to overcome the barrier they need his presence. Many say that the post-season last year was a breakout opportunity for Vincent Jackson. They will need him to step up if Gates is hobbled in the beginning of the season. In the regular season of last year Jackson had 41 receptions for 623 yards, and 3 scores but his playoff stats were 18 receptions, 300 yards, and 2 touchdowns. If asked which Jackson will show up this year, it is usually wise to favor the longer stretch.
With all these questions, one finds it hard to place San Diego at the pinnacle of AFC elite. The one thing they have going for them is the fact that their division should be relatively weak. The Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos are clearly not top-level teams and should allow for another Division title. Their schedule is also favorable as they do have New England and Indianapolis on the schedule but face them both at home, and also get Miami, the Jets, and Atlanta on the schedule. A top 2 seed is so valuable in the AFC because of the toughness of the teams that if a wild card round game against a worthy adversary and an extra week off are almost vital to post-season success.

In the end, the Chargers could very well be in the AFC title hunt come January, but with all these questions and Norv Turner being the man to lead them, it is perhaps more prudent to say prove it before labeling them as a team to beat.

Continue reading...

Thursday, July 24

This Man is Worth More Than $445,000

Well there was a brief hiatus from the ASD, both Catfish and I are working on other projects and by other projects we mean life. Hopefully we can return to jotting down our brain droppings on a regular basis in time for football season. That’s right, as July lumbers into the month of Caesar Augustus, football finally becomes a soon to be reality for the American sports community. There are so many stories already, but attempting to detach myself from the incessant Favre coverage, I focus on a story that jumped out at me today.

Devin Hester is the most electrifying player in the NFL today. There is no argument for that statement. There are better players, more productive, more skilled players out there, but none have the home run potential of Hester. Not to say others are not close, but clearly number 23 is at the top of the list. He is two returns behind Brian Mitchell who holds the record at 13, and he’s only 25. So why would the Chicago Bears, a team whose prospects for 2008 look shaky at best, not give him a new contract?

Hester was taken in the second round of the 2006 draft. He signed a contract that gave him $445,000 a year and at that time, it seemed fair because no one would know how he would fair in the league. He had the blazing speed but even at Miami he seemed to be somebody without a defined position. He could run back kicks, but where would he fit into the offense/defense? The pick has obviously paid off many times over for the Bears. A team that struggles to score on offense was given a special teams weapon that could put points on the board and provide excellent field position. He had 5 returns his rookie season and also returned the opening kick-off of Super Bowl 41 for a TD. Last year he had six more returns and also two as a receiver, including an 81 yard reception against the Vikings. Hester had now shown he could possibly develop into a deep threat receiver and set to work in the off-season to hone his route running and ball catching. Yet here we sit at the start of training camp and Hester’s salary has not risen one cent.

To put Hester’s importance to the Bears “offense” in perspective, his two catches represent roughly 11 percent of their receiving touchdowns. Besides that, anyone who can catch multiple touchdowns from a bears quarterback should be praised. His return touchdowns represent a little less than one-fourth of the all the Bears passages into the end-zone last year. Not calculated was the field position he often gave to the Bears as well, considering his 15.5 yard return average. You would think on a team that has been known for offensive struggles that your premier offensive weapon would be taken care of. But the Bears have instead seen to it that Lance Briggs walked away with a new deal, Urlacher, Tommie Harris and Alex Brown all received new contracts. Even Desmond Clark got an extension, with Greg Olson waiting in the wings at tight-end.

Hester, to his disservice, has played the Latrell Sprewell card saying there is no way he can “go out and play making $445,000. Come on man.” Words are not Hester’s forte, but running with the football is and if the Bears did not have him the last couple seasons, they would have found it hard to make the Super Bowl or even manage a 7-9 records last year. People point to the greedy athlete and that argument is a basic one from ignorant message board fans who think it is silly that someone making six figures complains about his plight. Well, in case they didn’t notice athletes make millions of dollars and are watched and discussed by millions of people all the time. It’s a fact of life. Do teachers, policemen and firemen deserve more money? Of course, but it is the way things are. According to the market value in the NFL, Hester is worth more than $445,000. The Bear’s GM Jerry Angelo says there is no more money to give. This after signing their first-round draft pick, tackle Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, to a five year $16 million deal. It is expected that Hester will eventually suit up and play, especially if the Bears can’t shell out more money. They have Devin locked up through this season and next, so there is little Devin can do in the near future but hold out and ask for a new deal. If it doesn’t come, don’t expect him to stay in Chicago in 2010. The Bears have plenty of problems to deal with this season, they even had a coin flip to decide which quarterback was going to practice with the first team. Without Hester on the field, their prospects become even bleaker.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 15

A Proper Sendoff for Billy Packer

Billy Packer’s broadcasting career has come to an end, unless he gets the itch and sends a text message to various networks. The internet has exploded with celebration as if sport’s longest tenured tyrant has finally been toppled. Packer has never been one of my favorites. His declaration that the Kansas-North Carolina Final Four game was over in the first half, had me contemplating the logistics of a cross-country pilgrimage to punch him myself.

Packer’s not perfect, and he’s never claimed to be. He can be abrasive, harsh and has been known to beat a dead horse. After 34 consecutive Final Four broadcasts, one title Packer deserves is Hall of Famer. Anyone that has watched games Packer has broadcast has learned from the man. His knowledge of the game and its history are beyond reproach. His delivery was not flashy, not always eloquent, but it was always fair.

One more than one occasion Packer has inserted his foot in his mouth. More than once Packer’s been accused of being insensitive. Both his comment to Charlie Rose and to the Duke co-eds got him in hot water, but perhaps most egregious, was his remark about Allen Iverson. People would be remised, however, to forget that one of the people that jumped to his defense was Iverson’s coach, John Thompson. Packer’s 2006 “crusade” against mid-majors has also been a point of contention, but his logic did not seem so flawed, until two mid-majors made it to the sweet sixteen and George Mason made it to the Final Four. In each case, Packer admitted his mistakes, a rarity in today’s day and age.

This year Dick Vitale will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Vitale, another polarizing figure in the broadcast booth, is the flash to Packer’s substance. He’s a one man hype machine, but as for broadcasting, Packer’s résumé stands taller. Vitale may be a great ambassador for the sport, but he did it promoting himself along the way. Packer was a man of many opinions, but he let the game be the star. In all fairness, Packer’s induction should have preceded Vitale’s.

College basketball is losing its voice. The curmudgeon we all grew to hate has been a larger part of the Final Four than any of the active coaches which are already enshrined. As Jim Nantz said in the Miami Herald, “Fans don't realize they owe Billy a thank-you.” Thank you, your old surly bastard, and in the words of my father,”Billy, will you please just shut the F up?”

Continue reading...

Friday, July 11

Dunn vs. Howard: Hitters or Hackers?

As Baseball races towards the break, something caught my attention in the recent baseball coverage. Ryan Howard is getting a lot of praise, and lately it is deserved so, for his hot hitting and more importantly his home runs. Yesterday he clobbered two in en route to a Phillies 4-1 victory over St. Louis. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if Howard was somehow receiving a more favorable view from media and fans a like that another hitter who went deep yesterday as well. I decided to take a look by the numbers at how Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn stack up.

First, we will look at strictly statistical data. Howard is in his 5th season, currently leads the NL with 27 homers, and is batting .234. Dunn is in his 8th season and has amassed 24 home runs, only 53 RBIs to Howard’s 83, and is batting .226. So far this season, there is no question Howard is having the better year statistically, but then again, he plays on a better team. Still, this year it is true that Howard has the edge.

In Dunn’s career, he has amassed 262 home runs, with an average of one every 13.88 at bats. Howard has 156 and one every 11.62 at bats. Howard’s strikeouts per at bats equal roughly 2.93, where Dunn sits at 3.06. So Howard statistically has a greater propensity for walking back to the dugout with bat in hand than Dunn, but Ryan is more often to blast one over the wall. The ballpark situation is a wash in my eyes, The Great American Ballpark is just as much of a launching pad than Citizen’s Bank Park and they both play in the national league in the same parks.

Despite the slightly better K per at bat, and better walk numbers, Ryan Howard holds the advantage is virtually every category, seemingly dispelling my theory. Howard also won the NL Rookie of the year in 2005, and holds a NL home run and RBI title. The big sticking point is the MVP Award he won in 2006, when he not only hit the 58 home runs, but he drove in 148 while hitting .313. Howard has also been featured on television commercials for Dick’s sporting goods and in a boys and girls club promotion for MLB. The biggest press Dunn got this year was when Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi said “We’ve done our homework on guys like Adam Dunn and there’s a reason we don’t want Adam Dunn.” [sidenote: The Jays have no players in double figures in home runs, Vernon Wells leads with 9.]

The reason it caught my eye this season, I think, is the .234 average. Howard hit .268 last year, and that was after a torrid finish to the season. The main strength of both players is obviously the long ball, but it seems Howard gets the praise as the far superior player, while Dunn is looked at as strictly a hacker. The main motivation behind this is obviously the 2006 MVP campaign by Howard. He definitely deserves the praise, but if his average continues to slip and strikeouts (which he leads all major leaguers over the last 162 games) increase, he will fall into that category. Howard was at a paltry .215 entering July, and was even hearing boos from (clutches heart) Philly fans during the season. Dunn has seemed to reach Dave Kingman status in the majors and in my mind there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is just a reminder of how slim that line is between a hacking home run hitter and offensive titan is. Dunn is listed at 6-7, 275 and is not exactly a physical specimen and some have questioned his commitment at times, but only once in his past six seasons did he not play in at least 150 games. Howard is listed at 6-4, 256. If Howard continues to struggle at the plate yet lead the home run count will play into the debate over whether he is an offensive force, or another long ball technician.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 9

Brandon Jennings, the Curt Flood of College Basketball?

Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings has made the choice to play in Europe until he becomes draft eligible. He is being lampooned with pictures just as this one above. His ‘Young Money’ tattoo across his shoulders shows his greed is greater than his love of the game. Few people are able to see that perhaps Brand Jennings is displaying a trait we long for our stars to have: honesty. Jennings committed to Arizona, but had zero intention of getting a degree, so why endure the charade? Will Brandon Jennings one day be mentioned in the same breath with Curt Flood? It may not be as crazy as it sounds.

Starting with the most recent draft class, the upper crust stars have considered playing in Europe rather than a one year stint slaving for the man playing in college. Derrick Rose seriously considered going overseas or working out with a trainer for the year. Ultimately, he chose to lead Memphis to the NCAA championship game. OJ Mayo considered challenging the age requirement, but also a temporary stint in Europe. Would he have been better served without the fiasco that hurt his marketability? A fiasco that were it not for the NCAA rules, never would have existed.

On the topic of possible alternate routes, Derrick Rose’s brother, Reggie Rose, was quoted in this New York Times article as stating, “Once one or two players nationally go that route, a big chain will follow.” This could make Brandon Jennings into a trailblazer (no Portland pun intended). If Jennings can pull off the Eurotrip without harming his draft status, he may well set a path that future prep stars may follow.

Sonny Vacaro, a man that sends shivers down the spines of fans and athletic directors alike, considered a European barnstorming tour with the young studs waiting for their draft eligibility. This could have represented the first step towards what could be a tremendous calamity for basketball. NBA commissioner David Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand have made it known they want to increase the age limit by another year, and ultimately, I believe, a third year to be on par with the NFL. Football, however, requires a great many more players, and no country in the world can provide a young football player with an experience on par with college. The same cannot be said for basketball. Basketball is played around the world and as the need for the inclusion of pro players in the Olympics shows, the talent pool in other countries is at least formidable.

Assuming that Stern and Brand get their wish to raise the age limit once again, these elite prospects will find themselves having to wait even longer for a pay day. What if, however, Nike or Adidas (or both) started a basketball academy in Europe? They could potentially buy a team expressly designed to bring over these young talents. What owners would turn down that financial coup? Having a two year wait until the draft, players could work on their skills against other elite players, and would be getting paid to do so. Would you rather watch a random game of Big 10 basketball or a team featuring the likes of Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love? Now, imagine a second year of talented prep stars added to the roster. Suddenly, random European league games could be popping up on the worldwide leader. The NCAA landscape would be changed, once again devoid of the elite talents. Myles Brand, quoted in the Washington Post (link below), said "Before the rule took effect and we had some young men jump from high school to the pros, we had a successful game and March Madness pulled in millions of dollars." True, but the NCAA has never had competition, and if elite players start heading overseas, that's exactly what they'll have. The NCAA championship may have a bit of tarnish if there’s a group of 18/19 year-old Americans playing for a professional championship (even if it is overseas).

Curt Flood forever changed the landscape of sports. Brandon Jennings may be the first man taking the steps to do the same in basketball. A Nike-owned superteam of prep stars playing in Europe may never become a reality, but David Stern and Myles Brand will have to re-evaluate the way these players are being treated. Jennings impact may be minimal, most likely if he fails, but if he shows the way for future prospects; his impact stands to be enormous.

Additional Reading:
Jason Whitlock's take on Brandon Jennings
Washington Post article

Continue reading...

Cubs Can't Counter CC

Excited Cubs fans believe they have their man in Rich Harden. They’re congratulating themselves for “countering” the Brewers signing of CC Sabathia. Similarly, the Clippers may try to “counter” the loss of Elton Brand with the signing of Josh Smith. Just as this Tyler Hansbrough right hook might counter a Muhammad Ali jab. CC is not Ali, but he could be Brand. Both are veterans with solid stats and Harden, while no Psycho T, can electrify like Josh Smith, but without the battle testing of a veteran.

CC has been a workhorse, averaging 202 innings pitched for the last five years. He’s had just two stints on the 15-day disabled list during that time, and both were arm soreness to start the season. He’s got 19 career complete games (17 in the last five years), and routinely pitches at least 7 innings. Compare these numbers to Harden and we see he’s just not in the same class. Harden has averaged just less than 93 innings pitched for his career. Part of that low number is attributable to injuries. Harden has spent time on the DL every year since 2005, including shutting it down last season due to a strained right shoulder (coincidentally at just this point in the season). Harden’s also gone past the seven inning mark just once this season, and amassed just 2 complete games and none since 2005.

Harden is a very good pitcher, a better strikeout pitcher than Sabathia, but with bullpen rest such an integral part of any successful pennant chase, CC stands head and shoulders above Rich. Forgive me Cubs fans, but I’ll take two work horses like CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets at the top of my rotation over two injury-prone guys like Wood and Prior, oops, I mean Zambrano and Harden. Yes Cubs fans, we’ve been here before. The Harden pickup was a nice one, but by no means an effective counter. The NL central remains up for grabs, but Milwaukee won this exchange, make no mistake about it.

Continue reading...

Daring Dara to Prove the Truth Seems as Unlikely as Her Accomplishment in the Pool

After watching several stories on 41 year-old Dara Torres including the clip below from PTI yesterday, and reading several good articles including Jason Whitlock’s column on the matter, I still don’t know where I stand on whether or not the swimmer is using an illegal advantage on her way to making the Olympic team for the fifth time.

As Whitlock points out, there has been as much scrutiny of Torres’s accomplishments as there has been praise. It is the reality now. No athlete, no matter the color, the reputation, or the testing will be cleared fully from now on. It is something that will mark every athlete who accomplishes the seemingly impossible from now on. To the casual observer, it would appear a definite that Torres was on PEDs. She is 41, has had a baby, underwent surgery, and spends less time in the pool than ever.

Her training regiment has been well documented. She spends hours a day stretching with two different trainers,two different masseuses and employs a chiropractor daily. Also using Meridian Resistance training and keying in on flexibility, Torres is swimming faster than ever before. The resistance stretching is named as the key source for the boost in Torres’s time.

This is not to say that there are not materials that Torres puts in her body outside of natural foods. She has a bountiful set of supplements that she takes daily. All of these supplements are of course approved by the IOC and include amino acid building supplements. The biggest contention of detractors is the asthma medicine she inhales thirty minutes before competition. The medicine increases the amount of air her lungs can take in. This appears to give a string advantage to Torres even though she argues she would not be able to breath at all without it. The medication is, when all is said and done, doctor approved and cleared for competition.

Torres has stood firm on the fact she is clean. She has begged for testing, she has referenced the East Germans she used to compete against and stated she would never do that. The largest show of relative purity is her volunteering in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency program. Michael Phelps is also participating in the program which tests athletes well beyond the standards of normal tests. The USADA will test the urine and blood and Torres has even told them to keep the samples for as long as they want in case something is discovered down the road. She went to the USADA by herself with no legal counsel and offered her to be tested every which way.

This is in my memory the first time anyone under strong suspicion of using PEDs has sought out being tested. Think of those attempted to beguile us. Floyd Landis went on Good Morning America and plead his case, but his sample told the truth. Marion Jones denied time after time, on print and on camera, that she had never taken drugs. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds arrogantly told us they had no part in the steroid crisis in baseball. Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at congress months before a test proved him a liar. Torres is attempting to confront this before, during, and after the fact. I at least admire her for that simple fact: she wants the world to know what she has in her system. As these Olympics progress not a day will go by without talk of who may or may not be taking what, and each of us must choose what to believe. I still cannot say one way or the other on Torres and that sadly will continue to be the conclusion of athletes who achieve above the norm.

Is Dara Torres Clean? I'm a Believer []
There's Something Fishy About Old Swimmer []

Continue reading...

Et Tu, Brand?

In what some would call a shocking development, it appears Elton Brand has agreed verbally to a five year, $82 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. This also accompanies the news that fellow former Clipper Corey Maggette will ink a five year, $50 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. This turn of events is the culmination of a dizzying episode of the NBA free-agent moratorium period where teams and players can talk, but deals cannot be announced until today.

It all started with the Beard Baron announcing he would opt out of his deal in Golden State for a five year, $65 million deal with the Clips. This seemed to entice Brand to stay, who had apparently opted into free agency to free cap space for L.A. to sign a proven point guard. No one knows the extent of what was verbally agreed upon between Davis and Brand or Brand and the Clippers, but before long it was rumored that Davis’s former team in Golden State was prepared to offer Brand $90 million over the next five years.

Maggette never figured into the Clippers plan. He stated he received no offer from them to re-sign him. He flirted with the Celtics for awhile; in what would have been a monster signing if no other team was willing to pony up beyond the mid-level exception. But it was Golden State who jumped in after losing Davis. It is not known if the Brand deal was ever a viable option or a ploy to put pressure on the Clippers. Either way Golden State loses a veteran point guard, fails to sign a dominant big man, and ends up with a player whose talent seems to reside in scoring alone.

Philly was honing in on Brand all along it seems now. They traded Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth to Minnesota to free cap space, and brought Brand to dine with 76ers personnel. With the deal announced yesterday, the Clippers and their fans had to be sunk. The Clips showed some promise under Brand, reaching the playoffs in 2006 and pushing the Suns to seven games in the Western Conference Semis. With Davis and Brand running the show and post support from Chris Kayman and the addition of Eric Gordon, L.A. seemed to have a legitimate shot to at least reach the playoffs in the tough West of the NBA.

Now, despite having a large amount of cap room to sign a power forward, they will not land someone as complete as Brand (20.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG career). The two options being discussed are Josh Smith(17.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG last season) from the Hawks and Emeka Okafor(13.8PPG, 10.7 PPG last season) from the Bobcats. Smith is meeting with the team today, and while he can fill it up on the offensive end, he is not the rebounder Brand is and at twenty pounds lighter is not the better defender either. Okafor can match if not exceed Brand on the defensive end, and like Brand is able to produce double-double points and rebounds. His scoring cannot match up with Brand though. The Bobcats more than have the ability to match any offer from the Clippers, which means Okafor’s bank account, may soon have a large deposit.

This is the second time a former Duke power forward has allegedly backed out on a verbal agreement with his former team. In 2004, Carlos Boozer was allowed to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers with the apparent notion from the Cavs that he would re-sign a six year deal. Boozer ended up signing with the Jazz for six years and $70 million. As much as the media claims to know what agreements are made off the record between team management and players, there is no way to know what is said or agreed upon. It becomes a two-sided argument and one must decide to believe one side or the other or simply resign to the fact that it will never be known. The certainty is that a lot of talk around Brand was that he loved the L.A. community, was active in local charity, and wanted to bring the team out of its losing reputation. That ship, it appears, has now sailed.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 8

Rays, Poked With Sticks Before and During Season, Respond

The success of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays can be attributed to many factors. There is the bevy of young talent with including Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir and more. The dazzling Rays pitching led by Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, and Jamie Shields has them in the upper tier in virtually every pitching category.

Whatever reason you point to the Rays are atop the American League East, 4 games ahead of Boston and 6 ahead in the loss column. Although we have yet to pass the All-Star break, it appears that this team is for real. With the best record in the majors, it will be a far fall if they fail to clinch a playoff spot in October. A far fall but far from unthinkable. The Red Sox and Yankees are pursuing them and will not go quietly. The Rays were looked at in spring as a feel-good story to come in 2008. The analysts thought they would be much improved, but not up to par with New York and Boston. It appears that the teams agreed with the analysts. In separate incidents, both the Yankees and the Sox thought they could bully the Rays around, and it led to the galvanizing of a team, a shared purpose, and a hardened psyche.

The first incident occurred in Spring Training. On March 8 this year, Elliot Johnson, who is currently 7-19 with 7 strikeouts, ran headlong into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli on his way to scoring in a 4-1 Rays win. Cervelli broke his right wrist and Girardi, a former catcher himself, stated his irritation that another team would play hard in spring.

"I think it's uncalled for," Girardi said. "Spring training, you're going to get people hurt, and that's what we got, we got Cervelli hurt. It's one thing to get hit by a pitch, it gets away, but, I don't understand it."

Johnson said he was merely trying to do his job and even offered his concern on Cervelli’s well being. But this was not good enough for Girardi and company. Four days later, Shelly Duncan who is currently batting .175, slid into second base with spikes up into the leg of Akinori Iwamuri. It did not take Jonny Gomes long to respond; Gomes came rushing at full speed into the infield and both benches were cleared afterwards.

Joe Maddon, who had refused comment after the Johnson play at home, angrily stated his contempt for what happened, "In Tampa, that play you saw at home plate was a good, hard baseball play. What you saw today was the definition of a dirty play, there's no room for that in our game. It's contemptible. It's wrong. It's borderline criminal, and I could not believe they did that."

He added later, "When we go out and play the Yankees the next time, we're going to play it hard and play it right. Period. That's how we come to the ballpark every day."

The brawl ignited the fire for the young Rays and set the tone for the season. They took on the attitude of questioning why they should simply lay down and let the Red Sox and Yankees run away with the division. If they played the right way, and gave the effort they could shut them up.

The Red Sox would stir the pot next. On June 5th, Coco Crisp charged the mound after he was plunked by Jamie Shields. A wild melee ensued and again Jonny Gomes was at the forefront, rushing to aid his pitcher. It would be Shields, however with the most pointed words of the day, saying “"I protected my own players and that's what we need to do around here. We've been getting stomped around the last 10 years and it isn't going to happen anymore. I had to let them know early and let them know right away."

Even though the Red Sox swept the series, the tone was set, the Rays were mad as hell, and they were not going to take it anymore. The Rays kept winning after the series, going 14-7 until the Sox came back to town on June 30th. This time the Rays did the sweeping in front of a full crowd at the Trop. It was the middle of their 7 game win streak in which they overtook first in the AL East that was snapped last night versus the Royals.

The biggest moment to be taken from the Rays win streak was the final game at the Trop against Boston. After Dan Wheeler recorded the save he and catcher Dioner Navarro celebrated the come-from-behind win over the division rivals, there was a different enthusiasm in the teams hand slaps. What had before been youthful exuberance was now forming into belief.

The Rays open a quick two game stint with the Yankees tonight followed by four games at the Jake in Cleveland that lead into the All-Star break. With a 24-15 record against the division, the Yanks and Sox have taken notice, or at least they better because the Rays have the confidence, the purpose, and more importantly the talent to win the division.

Continue reading...

That's Right Lil' Ricky, You're Just as Bad as Everyone Else

An article was brought to my attention via Deadspin. It states that Beachwood, Ohio is canceling their Little League All-Star games on the heels of a letter written by Fred Engh. In his letter, Engh states that choosing certain youngsters for All-Star teams hurts other kid’s self-esteem. He goes on to plead for people to take an initiative and ban the teams in youth sports nationwide. It seems Beachwood got the message.

I played baseball into my teens and never once made an All-Star team. This was mainly due to my lack of hitting prowess, and general average caliber of my play. I was not a poor player, I could field well, and get on base easily enough. There were a few seasons where, in my mind at least I felt I deserved a spot on the All-Star roster. In both of those situations I was passed over and a son of the head coach made it on. Engh addresses this in his letter:

“The entire process is twisted. I’d love to know the percentage of kids who are chosen for these All-Star teams who have a parent involved in coaching. Mom or Dad justify choosing their own child--even if he’s clearly not one of the better players--because they’ve surrendered a lot of their free time to volunteer to coach.”

Here I have to agree with him and anyone who has played a youth sport knows this to be true. The coach’s son gets to play the most, in the best position and is selected to the All-Star team if one exists for that sport. This unfortunate fact of life is disappointing but not nearly enough of a justification for eradicating the All-Star selection altogether. If a reform in the selection of the team is called for with regard to nepotism, I whole-heartedly agree.

However, it is the intention of Engh to eliminate the process entirely. He points to the fragile egos of our nations youth:

“There’s nothing like sticking a dagger into a youngster’s self-esteem the first season he plays the sport by letting him know that he’s not good enough or considered worthy to be part of this elite group of teammates.”

Well in case the nation’s youth is not aware I will alert them: there are people in this world that are…get ready for it…BETTER than YOU in certain areas. I know, it’s a tough reality to face, but welcome to reality kids. When our nation’s youth are learning to walk, recite their ABCs, write our language, nothing is more important than confidence and encouragement. But this is sports, and these kids are maturing and preparing for adulthood.

When a young man enters the world after high school or college, if he hasn’t already learned that life is unfair and that others will have advantages he doesn’t he will quickly do so. I think Mr. Engh believes by sheltering these youth from the “embarrassment” of not making an All-Star team will somehow preserve their faith in themselves. If it takes that to hold a kids confidence, how will he fair on job interviews, or yet, how will that prepare him for his future in sports? As early as high school, kids get cut from the team, a plain and simple fact of life.

Engh writes: “Youth sports aren’t meant to single out only a handful of kids; they’re about making every child feel special, including those who won’t make the All-Star team.”

Well Mr. Engh that is why every kid gets the cheap, glossy trophy. I’m sure if you played youth sports you have a nice little collection of them. That is a chance for each child to be recognized, and feel special.

The problem with the youth in this country is that they are not being prepared for life. It is important for kids to feel appreciated, loved, and special in their own way. But at the same time, they have to become tough mentally and prepared for what they will face in the world. A common phrase is “if I only knew then what I know now”, well its our duty to give our children as much knowledge when they are young so they have an advantage when they grow up.

Attempting to stick mainly to sports here, my point is that the success of sports in our culture is the competition. We cheer the great teams we see and acknowledge the ability of certain stars to rise above the competition. We have standards, and those who achieve the best in those standards are recognized. So if you have a kid that is not good enough for the All-Star team it is your job to explain why and tell him that it does not mean he is no good, but that you are still proud of him. If the kid can’t handle it, then there are larger problems than sports looming.

Fred Engh is the CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. Is this the person we want having a national say in our youth sports? These kids in Beachwood, Ohio, in a region more ravaged by the leaving of industry in our country than any other, when they reach adulthood will they be benefited by being told that they are all special snowflakes and it doesn’t matter how good you are, you don’t have to be better than anyone else, or should they get a reality check now?

Sports are the best opportunity for kids to learn how life works. Attempting to fix it by eliminating the competition does nothing but dull the kids to the competition they will face.

Beachwood, Ohio Cancels Little League All-Star Game to Boost Self-Esteem of Players, Retroactively Surrenders to Germans [Deadspin]

Continue reading...

Avez-vous vu ma course?

If anyone would have told me I'd be writing a sports blog and the first post would be about tennis, I would've scoffed. Tennis returned to my personal sports radar with a thunder 1000x louder than the Red October, but now we're in the midst of another major fringe sports event, and it has returned to an obscurity the sport hasn't experienced in the last twenty years. Do you even know what event?

The event is the Tour de France. Following Lance Armstrong's retirement and Floyd Landis's shaming, le Tour is nary a blip. From Lemond to Indurain, Armstrong to Landis cycling was always in the periphery, but no longer. Doping and lack of an American face or a dominant name have rendered cycling lifeless. I didn't even realize they were on Stage four. A quick search of Google News shows one two American articles even referenced on the first page (both of those about Google Maps involvement on the official site). ESPN and Foxsports have one line on their main pages, and while CBSSports has it listed as what's hot in sports, there's been only one comment on the story (compared to 86 about the Beasley/Rose matchup in a summer league game).

As an aside, Stefan Schumacher won stage four and is the current leader. If tennis is back, cycling has ridden into the sunset (at least for the time being).

Continue reading...

Honey, Forget the Beach

A week and a day away from the first training camp opening up. Turn the RV around babe, we're going to Spartanburg! Full List

Camps are around the corner, and yet still only three first-round picks have been signed. Status

And finally, the law of unintended consequences strikes again. Commissioner Goddell's remarks calling rookie salaries "ridiculous" may result in a surge of underclassmen trying to get into the league before a new structure is in place. Story

Continue reading...

Seattle Sucks at Negotiation

Seattle has lost their only pro championship and despite taking the Sonics to court, the city leadership bailed on their fellow Seattleites (yeah, I looked it up) at the eleventh hour.

Some highlights from this Seattle Times article:

"[T]he city agreed to accept $45 million. That's substantially more than the $26.5 million Bennett offered in February, and will cover the city's estimated $30 million debt remaining on KeyArena's 1995 renovation."

"Bennett will owe $30 million more in five years if the NBA does not approve a new team for Seattle. But Bennett will not have to pay that money if the Legislature fails to authorize at least $75 million for a renovated KeyArena by the end of 2009."

With $30 million to the debt, that leaves $15 million in the coffers, but in the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast."

Per this Seattle Times article (where Mayor Greg Nickels was described as forcing the Sonics to honor their lease):

"In all, the city estimates in recent years it has received between $8 million and $11 million annually from Sonics and Storm games."

The Storm were sold for $10m earlier this year, so forgive me for not assuming they are a large portion of that pie. If we assume that the Sonics were responsible for $7 million (a conservative estimate, like Pat Buchanan conservative) of that annual revenue, the city will lose $14 million over what could have been the last two years of the team's lease. This money is probably spent, so let's deduct it too.

A grand total of a whopping $1 million dollars for the sale of their 41-year basketball history.

All is not lost, however, Seattle has already acquired a new franchise that will begin playing in 2009. Allow me to introduce the Seattle Sounders of MLS! I thought soccer was played with eleven players? These guys must be really good.


Continue reading...

Monday, July 7

Hank's D(H)umb Idea

Hank Steinbrenner is a man of the moment. His comments are off the cuff, and many times not well thought out. During a game against the Houston Astros, the Yankees ace pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, was hurt running the bases. Following the injury, Steinbrenner lashed out, "It's OK for the Yankees to fill up the seats in the National League parks, they make a ton of money off us. Then we should support each other when one of our guys gets hurt. The National League should join the club and not have pitchers hit. It's time to go to the DH. It's the right thing to do." Wang tore a ligament and will likely miss the rest of this season. No one wants to see their best pitcher injured, but Steinbrenner’s comments show a disregard for baseball history.

The implementation of the DH into the National League will effectively kill the ‘double switch.’ The double switch is an instrumental tool, particularly used in the postseason, which allows teams to get an offensive advantage. By not having their pitcher hit in their next at-bat, teams can avoid having to send up an almost sure out to the plate. As recently as the last World Series, the Boston Red Sox used the double switch to their advantage. In game 3, manager Terry Francona used a double switch that allowed centerfielder Coco Crisp to hit third in the inning instead of the pitcher. Crisp hit a single and helped key a three-run rally that extended the Red Sox lead. The strategy of the double switch will be forever removed, and the dumbing down of baseball will continue if Steinbrenner has his way.

Baseball at its core is a strategic game. It is a game of shifts, matchups, pitch selection and managerial choices. The designated hitter removes more managerial choices than any other change in the history of baseball. Another choice, the pinch hitter, will become a relic of the past. Already rare in the American League, pinch hitting will be used in fewer and fewer situations. Instead of Kirk Gibson’s epic homerun or Fransisco Cabrera’s NLCS-winning single, most managers would stand pat with their lineup. One measure of great managers is how they handle game situations, and to remove these choices is a great disservice to the sport. Many baseball purists prefer the National League to the American League for just this reason, and to give in to the urging of Steinbrenner, would forever diminish the strategy of America’s pastime.

Steinbrenner was upset over the National League’s lack of a DH, but it was the designated hitter that ruined the Yankees last shot at a World Series. In the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees were up 3 games to zero on the Boston Red Sox. In the 12th inning of game four, DH David Ortiz hit a game-winning home run. Later that night, Ortiz again delivered, singling in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 14th. In game 7, Ortiz hit a 2-run homerun in the first inning, and was named series MVP, becoming the first DH to ever receive the honor. Since that historic collapse, the Yankees have not won a playoff series.

Hank’s errant comments were in frustration over losing his best pitcher, but the inability of one of his players to run 90 feet without injuring himself, is not a reason for the National League to succumb to the designated hitter. The game as designed by Abner Doubleday is to be nine versus nine. The American League adopted the tenth man, in an effort to increase offense. In doing so, they changed the game from chess to checkers, from bridge to crazy 8’s. For baseball to abandon its national pastime roots, it should require an act of congress, not a hissy fit from a pompous, daddy’s boy who doesn’t appreciate the game.

Continue reading...

Counter-Point: The NBA Finals

Still working on the kinks, but this point: counter-point feature will be a regular one on the site.

In response to Catfish's point:

The 91 finals did mark an important start to the "Jordan Rules Era" of the NBA. By beating the Lakers 4-0 in a sweep it was a clear indicator that the hard nosed (and most enjoyable) era of the 80s was over. Magic, Bird, and the Bad boys had created a golden era of the NBA possibly never to be duplicated with the salaries and league expansion of today.

In this day and age, strong role payers such as Dennis Rodman, Robert Parrish, and Michael Cooper would not be inclined to stay with a franchise for so long. We see too often where good nuclei of teams are broken up over a free agent leaving, salary cap issues, or in-fighting. Joe Johnson to the Hawks would be the best example one could think of recently. But I digress.
With the Bird/Magic Era ending and Jordan finally overtaking the two-time defending champion Bad Boys of Detroit, it began a new phase of NBA prominence and globalization. Jordan took advantage, not only beating the Lakers, but making them an after thought. Any sports fan who has watched any basketball holds the image of Jordan gliding past Magic and switching hands mid air in a display of graceful acrobatics as Marv Albert exclaimed "A spectacular move by Michael Jordan!" Jordan had already become a household name due to his sneakers, and his Spike Lee Commercials, but now he held a championship with more to come.

Phil Jackson is, and will ever be, one of the most debated subjects in NBA history. Those on one side say he is nothing but the mere beneficiary of supreme talent. "Anyone can win with Jordan, Shaq and Kobe" they say. On the other side remain his staunch supporters, those who contend other coaches have held greatness in their hands, yet have never tasted the locker room champagne. After this years job of reaching the finals with "just Kobe" and the cast around him, many were willing to meet somewhere in the middle. The plain and simple fact was Doug Collins is a good coach. He was never given the opportunity to be a great one. He was the one who took the beatings year after year in the playoffs at the hands of the Bird-led Celtics and the Detroit steamroller. He was making progress, but for whatever the reason, he was ousted. Phil picked up where Doug left off and made the most of his opportunity. Wielding Jordan like a flaming sword he smote any opponents in his path. Phil became the dragon slayer with that first championship. In the ensuing ones he would become the dragon himself.

After the '91 season, the Bulls took control. Dispatching a talented Blazers team in the 92 finals and hacking down a very worthy '93 Suns team led by league MVP Charles Barkely. The three-peat (copyright Pat Riley) was complete. The only thing that could stop Jordan and Jackson were themselves. Unfortunately tragedy in the life of MJ pushed him away from basketball for two years. The murder of his father changed Jordan forever, as it would anyone. No blame can ever be placed on Jordan for what he did, it is just one of those facts of life that everyone must accept. He left for two years, which will forever create a gap in his collection of rings.

Jackson had few options for replacing Jordan. That is a bit of an understatement: how do you replace the greatest player in the league, perhaps ever? Jackson plodded along with what he had but Pete Myers was not the answer. Phil made the playoffs, but the lack of a game breaker, and Pippen's discontent (to Kukoch's delight) kept the team from the pinnacle. Jordan returned as 45 in the 95 playoffs but the rust was apparent as the Knicks with Riley (whom Jackson had taken down in the previous years) at the helm.

This two year gap of Jordan-less NBA basketball created one of the most distinct and landmark events in the league and perhaps all sports. It was as if someone slipped some Kool-Aid into the flux capacitor and the time-space continuum was thrown off its axis for two years. There was light, hope for those who have never tasted the ultimate prize. The NBA became a free-for-all and teams knew Jordan would not be gone forever so the time was now.

Many, including my esteemed colleague would contend that the Houston Rockets' championships of '94 and '95 require asterisks. The plain and simple fact was the NBA was no different those two years, the rules were the same, the style of play similar, and they still used two hoops and 98 (1/2) Ft. of court. Jordan was missing, but again that is plain and simple fact.

The Rockets had a good team, nay a great team. Rudy T stepped out of the shadow of Kermit Washington's fist and into the spotlight as a great leader and inspirer of men. Hakeem, taken before Jordan in the infamous draft of 84, stamped his place in history. Not only did Hakeem secure the middle with his long-armed defense, he dazzled the masses and befuddled opponents with his ballet-whirling dirvish-octopussy style post offense. The 94 season marked a rise of the Rockets, winning the west and taking down the New York Knicks in a very entertaining NBA finals that was overshadowed by the beginning (sigh) of the OJ chronicles. Hakeem outshined Patrick Ewing in a rematch of the battle of the 84 NCAA championship. In the '95 playoff run, Hakeem made the recently crowned MVP David Robinson look like a mere merchant seaman taking on a commodore of a fleet. Robinson had taken the MVP and the scoring title based on his incredible 73 point performance against the Clippers at the end of the season to secure the scoring title over Shaq. The spurs he led were a team of seasoned, smart players: Robinson, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro, Sean Elliot. Hakeem stole the show. In the finals against the upstart Orlando Magic, the Rockets made it laughable. Shaq, considered the future of the league at that time, would retain that title as Hakeem became the present and took the title. That year Hakeem became the unstoppable force down low as the Rockets staved off elimination multiple times in the Western Conference playoffs.

It wasn't just Hakeem and Rudy T at the helm that made Houston great, it was the entire squad. Kenny Smith ran the show with tactical precision. Sam Cassell provided youthful exuberance from the perimeter. Robert Horry hit shots and was a force down low, laying the genesis for the "Big Shot Rob" title he carries today. Mario Ellie (pre-gray goatee) played incredible during the playoffs. Clyde Drexler put them over the top.

The Rockets were a great team, fun to watch, and repeat champions. However, it is not their consecutive titles that makes them the biggest impact of the NBA finals in the 80-present era of the league, it is the impact it had on those whom it denied. The argument may seem outlandish: not winning is a bigger impact than winning, but think about it. With this up for grabs two years of the league, so many players who had gone ringless had a chance to attain the goal.

First we look to the east. The finals runner up in '94 were the Knicks. The Knicks of the 90s were the red-headed step-child to the Jordan Bulls. Whether it was early in the decade with Benard King lamenting to the press "the Jordan Rules" after he vowed to shut MJ down or later on as Starks, Mason, Oakley, and Ewing pushed the Bulls to the brink, yet fell to them every time. The Knicks had the correct sense of urgency in 93-94. Riley impressed on them either directly or subconsciously that the wolf was out of the den, and the meat was there for the taking. In, fact the wolf had gone off to play minor league baseball in Birmingham, Alabama and there was no better time that now. They thundered to the finals, but were denied. The John Starks' hobbled and poor 2 for 18 performance still wears on me, and I'm not even a Knick fan. So there is was, Ewing was denied the NBA ring, and he would never get a better shot (No the 99 finals were not a better shot).

The Knicks dispatched another future HOFer, Reggie Miller, who would also taste the Jordan hand slap in the 90s. Despite making Spike Lee look foolish, Reggie failed to push the Pacers into the finals that year and the fell the following year in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Magic.
The Magic were considered an upstart team when they made the finals in '95. Shaq and Penny were the Beta version of Shaq and Kobe, and 3D Dennis Scott (pre- kida basketball camp flip out) was the outside gunner. Nick Anderson wasn't duckwalking, he was playing strong for the Magic. Horace Grant had been aquired from the Bulls and provided even the slimmest scent of Jordan's rarefied air. The Rockets clubbed the Magic though and it wouldn't be long until O'Neal left for greener pastures, high payrolls, and the bright lights of L.A. Greener for basketball maybe, the Hollywood side left us with Khazam and Steel. The Magic never recovered: Penny faded away, Coaching changes were made, but never did the Magic sniff the Conference finals again. But O-town purists will say Dwight Howard will change that.

The Eastern fallout from the Rockets run was big, but nothing compared to the wasteland laid in the west. The Rockets denied many who would have their only chance to collect the dream season. The Seattle Supersonics were the top seed in '94 , but their golden opportunity was not destroyed by Hakeem, but it was fellow African Dikembe Mutombo laying on the Key Arena floor, holding the ball in front of his smiling face, that doomed the Soncis. They would get another shot, but it would be against a primed MJ and a Bulls team that had set the record with 72 regular season wins. Kemp, the glove, and George Karl have to wince when they think about the 94 playoffs.

The Utah Jazz were had not yet reached the NBA finals in the 94 and 95 seasons, but they were perennial playoff contenders. This was Stockton, and Malone in their prime. They fell as a 5 seed in 94 and to the Spurs but really lost a good opportunity in 95 when they were the 3 seed in the west and lost in the opening round to the 6th seeded and eventual champion Rockets. The Jerry Sloan train kept rolling on in the late 90s but his dynamic tandem of Stockton/Malone could not overcome the Jordan machine and fell to them two years in a row, including in heartbreaking fashion in '98. I won't elaborate on what happened, I'll just leave my hand up. Sloan continues to plod on without his best duo, and has success, and offends John Ameachi's sensibilities, but a golden opportunity was missed while Jordan was away.

The Suns hopes were dashed in '94 and '95 by the Rockets in the Western Conference playoffs. Both of the series went to seven games, with the Rockets taking it both times. In 95, the 6th seeded Rockets came back from a 3-1 deficit. Barkley, and his Phoenix teammate Kevin Johnson were eliminated from ring contention in the two years following their fall to the Bulls. If Barkley were a gambling man, you might have told him those two years were the best chance for him to claim a ring. Barkely would eventually leave for a defunct Houston team with Scotty Pippen in a mix of Jordan defeat and former Jordan glory mixed with aging superstars that could not compete and then hang it up with no ring.

The Spurs were taken out by the Rockets in the two years of Jordan-less play, but the team held together long enough for another rip in the universe to occur: the acquisition of the number one draft pick. If the Spurs had not grabbed Duncan away from the Celtics, oh how history would be different. As it was, Duncan teamed with David Robinson for a title in 99, the first post Jordan (Wizards Jordan does not count) finals victory in the NBA. Although it was good to see players like Avery Johnson and David Robinson get a ring, without Duncan, it would not be possible.

The ripple effect of the Rockets back to back titles ran through the whole league in the 90s. It was that small window in time were hall of fame legacies were altered. People always say what if the Rockets had to play the Bulls, but what if the Rockets had not won? What if Barkely, Stockton/Malone, Kemp/Payton, Ewing, Reggie had claimed one? Hakeem would not be held in such esteem as he is now, and no one would belabor the point that the aforementioned greats had no ring.

In terms of this year's finals, KG, Peirce, and Ray Allen fell somewhat into that category. But up until this year's western conference, the NBA had been a mish-mash of changing styles, zone defenses and diluted talent. The odd thing is that the Lakers made such ease of the run through the west only to get smashed in the Finals. Phil Jackson's debate will surely heat up again due to this outcome, and Kobe is now in danger of becoming what he was before this season: a superior talent, who whines when he's not winning, and can't win the ring on his own. The NBA could be headed for another run like that in late 80s and early 90s where teams come together and play up-tempo style. The Western teams have some great talent with CP3, the big three in San Antonio, Williams/Boozer in Utah, Yao (when healthy) and Tmac, and of course Kobe and Phil in L.A. But there is no Jordan juggernaut. LeBron could reach that status but that is indeterminate as of yet. Also in the east is Howard in O-town, Detroit may be on the down slope but still potent, and Boston. But will the Celtics stay together? If they do can they duplicate this year? This years finals were a major impact, but as far as this era of the NBA, it was the Rockets claiming reign over the NBA in Jordan's absence that shaped certain players legacies and future events in the league after Jordan left.

Continue reading...

Point: The Legacies of the 2008 NBA Finals

The 2008 NBA Finals had the most significant positive impact on individual legacies since Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson won their first title in 1991. That championship was instrumental in propelling Jordan from a great player to the greatest of all-time. Similarly, Phil went from “a” coach to beginning his ascent to Zen Master and being mentioned in the same breath with Red Auerbach. None of the legacies from this year’s championship are as significant, but collectively they’re close.

For Paul Pierce, a star largely neglected, even by his own league for the past several years, grew from potential tradebait (who easily could have played the role of KG on a new team), to a certified superstar. Instead of shopping for a new home in a new city, Pierce is now assured of a place in the rafters of the Banknorth Garden. His determination and defense were exactly what Laker fans were hoping for (and did not get) from Kobe. From likely-traded to MVP and probably the Hall of Fame, Pierce’s performance has cemented his place in Boston lore and NBA history.

Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston as the largest piece of a team designed to return Boston to prominence. A former MVP, KG was regarded as one of the most versatile players in the history of the league, but without being battle-tested in an NBA Finals. Skeptics pointed to KG’s failures in crunch time, but his 26 points and 14 rebounds in the deciding game serve to overshadow this criticism. He may not be the guy fans want shooting the ball in the final seconds, but the win forever takes him out of the Karl Malone, Elvin Hayes class and grants him at least cursory mention in the discussion amongst the great power forwards of all time.

Ray Allen has had the purest shot in the NBA for years, but with his Finals performance he’s elevated himself from being a barber shop mention to potentially a HOFer. Reggie Miller is likely a HOFer primarily on the strength of his 3-point shot, and his clutch performances, and his performance in the Finals pales in comparison to Allen’s, in both regards. Allen’s case would be greatly enhanced with another great Celtics run, but his name belongs on the ballot, even after only one championship.

Doc Rivers personified maligned, considered clueless and overmatched by the Celtic faithful. After winning, he’s not only out-coached the Zen Master, but rallied the troops and delivered them to the promised land. Rivers long held the ire of the fans, but was a revered leader to the people who mattered most, his players. Now he’s coached a team to a championship, and accomplished something that great coaches, such as Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan and Rick Adelman never have. One championship does not guarantee him a lifetime contract, but does command the respect of those who doubted him.

In addition to the positive impact on legacies, two were wounded. Kobe Bryant, who only weeks earlier was being compared to Jordan’s greatness, has proven he doesn’t belong in the same breath. His quest for a championship without Shaq, continues to elude him. Phil Jackson, who is still chasing Red Auerbach as the greatest of all time, has now lost his last two trips to the Finals. His team was dominated in the ’04 Finals by Detroit, and game 6 of this year was perhaps the worst performance by a team in Finals history.

With the vindication of a coach, the validation of one consensus Hall of Famer, the propelling of two stars into another echelon, as well the tarnishing of two legacies, this Finals stands as the most important in nearly twenty years. The Celtics may go on to win another, but it will pale in significance to their victory in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Continue reading...

Recent Wrtings

I'm posting several items I've recently written. Don't expect me to be this prolific, just hoping to develop the baseline.

Continue reading...

Wait, what?

I thought Cleet was sending me a link to prove he'd beaten my high score on Peggle. If it wasn't for his catchy title, I easily could've passed. Unfortunately, I remember that.

As for the name, my ex-girlfriend identified the catfish as my power animal, because I'm a slime-sucking bottom dweller. She's a lawyer, I guess she'd know.

In the spirit of the American Film Institute's number 5 sports movie of all time, I'm going to start with some clichés.

I believe in sports.
I believe nothing can unite or divide people better.
I believe 9 out of 10 great sports stories fall by the wayside in favor of easier ones.
I believe in statistics.
I believe players should create theater on the playing surface.
I believe in JMac... and TMac.
I believe John Wooden and Flutie's Hail Mary are overrated.

I believe true fans favorite player's numbers are rarely in the rafters.
I believe its hard not to love Shaq.
I believe its hard not to hate Shaq.
I believe the student-athlete has been ruined by the people assigned to protect them.
I believe the fan has a right to be wrong.
I believe in home-field advantage.
I believe in rooting for your flag.
I believe to be the man, you gotta beat the man.
I believe in one moment changing a legacy.

To go along with this some things I don't believe in: Bud Selig, Joe Buck, beating the system to beat the game, David Stern, Coach K, the entourage, recruiting sites, and flopping.

I'm a guy who'd rather debate who can name the most Tigers than Bret Favre's retirement plans. I'm a guy who loves the numbers, loves the people, and hates TMZ. I hope to make people think, I hope to arm people with ammunition for arguments, and I hope you enjoy.

Continue reading...

The Marathon Match

It seems fitting that my first post would come the day after one of the best championship matches I have ever seen. Many are quick to call this the greatest match they have ever seen. I had just entered the world when Bjorg and McEnroe had their epic match in 1981. Over the years I have witnessed Sampras and Agassi duel in five setters but in recent memory, no match comes close to this one. I sat watching and simultaneously hoping the conclusion would come before the last light and that the match would continue past the 16th game of the 5th set.

Rafael Nadal, the 22 year old Spaniard had been dueling with Roger Federer for years now. The two had been waged in an interesting battle where Nadal's lone achievement was the red clay of Roland-Garros. Nadal has never lost a match there in his four years and the past three denied Federer his chance at a career grand slam. The French Open was the one blemish on the record of Pete Sampras, who won 14 grand slam titles, more than any other male in tennis history. Federer, who once seemed destined and may very well eclipse that mark, does not want to share that distinction with Sampras. His friendship and commercial appearances with Tiger Woods put Federer into the category of transcendent worldwide athlete. If Roger wants to be recognized as in the same neighborhood as Tiger, he will have to claim the French Open at least once. Yet for the past three years Nadal had been the obstacle Federer could not overcome. This year, a month before their clash at Wimbledon, Nadal dispatched Federer in straight sets.
While Nadal was being hailed as the greatest clay court player of his generation, and perhaps ever, he wanted more. Failures to capture the other Grand Slam events would continue to label Nadal as strictly a clay court success. The lawn of Wimbledon was Federer's domain. Five straight titles, not to mention 65 consecutive wins on grass, were held by Federer who had a sub-par year (by his standards) coming into this year. Roger rolled through his opponents on his way to the final, not even yielding a set. Nadal, who fell to Federer last year, also failed to drop a set in his run.
It was a great scene from the beginning and Nadal won the first two sets before I could barely rub the sleep out of my eyes from the 9 a.m. start. Nadal looked supremely confident, and it was Federer, the master of grass (not insinuating anything there) that was the flustered one. He was slamming balls back across the court after points, glaring at the referee, and yelling to himself. His body language was like I had never seen from him, even at the French. He seemed to be thinking the same as many people were, "How can this happen to me on grass?" Whether it be called divine intervention, a twist of fate, or typical London weather the skies darkened and opened up with Federer leading 5-4 in the third. There was no possible way to turn it into a positive for Nadal. Coming out from the rain delay, the two held serve into a tiebreaker. Federer's record in tiebreakers far exceeded Nadal's and it showed. Federer served his way through the tiebreaker to claim it 7-5. The fourth set was the most entertaining. It led again to another tiebreaker but this time Nadal seized the advantage. Rafael held a 5-2 lead only to see Federer dig deep and tie it up which also could have been nerves by Nadal. At 6-6 Nadal rifled a forehand winner past Federer to gain Championship point. Incredibly Federer shot an backhand return winner past Nadal on the next point. Roger fended off another championship point and eventually took the set on a service winner at 10-8.
At this point Nadal had to be struggling mentally. Being ahead is one thing, but having a chance to close it out twice is another. The weather would simply not cooperate and another rain delay would occur at 2-2 in the final set. When the players returned they both seemed energized. This led to incredible shots by both men game after game. There would be no tie break for Federer in this set, one man would have to break the other, which was a fitting phrase was a fitting one as both men were refusing to yield ground. The match timer passed four and half hours, and the real time eclipsed 9 in the evening. With daylight fading and again clouds looming, the possibility of an extension to Monday seemed likely. But it would be Nadal who broke through, taking Federer's serve at 8-7 and then serving for the match. The resilient Federer fought off another match point to bring it to deuce, but slung a forehand approach shot into the net to give Nadal the victory. Nadal hit the ground and screamed in ecstacy, a complete role reversal from the previous years as it was the favorite pose of Federer laying on the lawn at the All-England Club in his five victories.
The trophy ceremony was held as the darkness fell over the court, but the light of the cameras and the clubhouse, kept enough light for both players to take a lap. The interviews were great from both men, who, not speaking English as a first language, did their best to find words to describe what had just occurred. Added to that was the emotion of the moment, which almost overtook Federer in his clubhouse interview with McEnroe. Nadal was class all the way but the real moment he showed his humility was when he called Federer the "greatest of all time".
This win, momentous on its own accord, could be the beginning of a new era of tennis rivalry. Many feel Nadal turned the corner and will now be a constant threat to Federer. However many contend that Federer will return only stronger in the coming months. The bottom line is that tennis needs both to be true. Tennis is an individual sport, it requires either strong personalities, or opposing greatness to be successful. Nadal and Federer can become this set of titans, as long as they play as they did Sunday, on all surfaces, for years to come.

Continue reading...