Monthly Archives: June 2010

Your Wacky Week In Sports Recap

The Isner-Mahut match was one of the many crazy things to happen this week

And you thought that once the NBA Finals ended that sports would go into a deep sleep with the long slumber of the baseball season, oh what little you knew.

The annual conception of sports is that once David Stern’s rig-a-thon of a finals ends yearly in June that we just sit around and twitter our thumbs until the baseball trade deadline then football season begins.

Tennis isn’t as big as it once was, golf lulls you to sleep (Tiger or not) and NASCAR—well NASCAR isn’t a sport. So there is baseball and when you talk to people they all have complaints about the length of games, season, the lacking continuous wow factor and just the slowness of the sport in general. So honestly the 6 weeks between the end of the NHL and NBA playoffs and the beginning of NFL training camps are usually repetitive, slow and boring… then this week happened.

It looked like just a normal week for sports fans; two drafts (NHL and NBA), interleague baseball, Wimbledon Tennis, the U.S. Open and World Cup soccer. Nothing big, the names all match the faces, you know what happens, who wins, loses, etc. There was a huge curveball thrown this way this week, weird things were happening everywhere to the point that if you turned away from your TV you probably missed seven different things in an hour.

SUNDAY

Tiger was in striking distance at the U.S. Open as was Phil Mickelson yet Dustin Johnson was the headliner heading into the final round. At 6 under, Johnson held a 3 shot lead over Grahame McDowell and a 5 shot advantage over a lurking Tiger. Then he threw it all away in three holes on Sunday and finished with a final round 82. Johnson buckled under the pressure with triple and double bogeys on no.2 and 3. He was so bad the NBC golf analyst caught fire this week for saying that Johnson wasn’t using his brain during his meltdown… OOPS!

McDowell wasn’t exactly stellar either; he finished at even for the tournament after a final round 74 to become the first European golfer to win the open since Tony Jacklin 40 years earlier. Yep Colin Montgomery never did it, nor Nick Faldo, or Paddy Harrington.

It was also the tournament that may have ended the notion that Tiger Woods is the most feared player on the planet. That tends to happen when you go from totally focused to whining about the holes to anyone that listens, and blasting your caddie in public. Apparently Tiger lost some since of class when he lost half of his money.

MONDAY

The Federer fiasco.

If Federer wanted people to pipe down about his fading skills, then this was not the way to do it. His near collapse is only topped by his opponents. Alejandro Palla had Federer beat, twice. He had the opportunity to break Federer for the match twice in the third set and he blew it. He eventually went on to lose in five sets including a 6-0 beat down in set five. Palla could’ve pulled off one of tennis’s biggest upsets; instead he is a great dinner date for Dustin Johnson this week.

Then there was the Phil Jackson conundrum in L.A. during their parade. Jackson skipped out on the festivities for a previous doctor’s appointment that he said he couldn’t reschedule. Keep in mind that he’s Phil Jackson; he could do whatever he wanted when he wanted. You couldn’t get a doctor’s appointment rescheduled? I’m broke and I get appointments redone all the time.

There couldn’t have been a more telling sign that Jackson is on way to retirement. This might be his way of riding off into the sunset like a lone cowboy. He could’ve done it in a less discreet way, maybe.

In a side note, the Yankees continued their plan to kill their young starters by skipping Phil Hughes because he’s pitching too many innings. Ask Joba Chamberlain how that worked out for him.

(Also Hughes is 10-1 with a 3.13 ERA! He’s the best pitcher on the staff right now. Yet he gets skipped for a start and A.J. Burnett continued his implosion by allowing 7 earned runs on Monday for his umpteenth unimpressive start lately. I’m starting to wonder if Jeffrey Luria knew what he was doing when he fired Joe Girardi…)

TUESDAY

… Until he fired Fredi Gonzalez Tuesday after their win against the Orioles. Luria says that he feels that the Marlins have every necessary tool to compete in the NL East. Yes Jeff except that you have no bullpen, no reliable cleanup hitter and no reliable starters that are not named Josh Johnson. Very true.

WEDNESDAY

Landon Donovan Saved the U.S. yet again

Wednesday was exhausting. I had to start a new job Wednesday and the was the least exciting thing in my life on that day.

First off U.S. soccer almost got jobbed again by a ref in their game versus Algeria. Clint Dempsey got the Maurice Edu treatment when a phantom offside call robbed him of a goal early in their match. Added to that was the pressure that England placed on the Americans. Jermaine Dafoe’s goal in the 23rd minute against Slovenia placed the U.S. squarely on the edge of elimination where it stayed until the extra time of the second half. Then after an amazing outlet pass from keeper Tim Howard Landon Donovan saved our hopes of a World Cup title with a rebound put back that put the U.S. up 1-0 and into the knockout round on Saturday against Ghana. Easily the greatest goal scored in U.S. Soccer history. The feeling was amazing for a nation that isn’t easily influenced by soccer but loves a champion. Even I was speechless as Donovan saved the U.S. in the second straight match when all hope seemed lost.

That reminds me; doesn’t this team reek of destiny? Let’s be real, the U.S. should easily be eliminated with one point as they are the winners of their group. Their slow starts against England and Slovenia could’ve easily been losses if not for Robert Green’s butter fingers or Michael Bradley’s right place right time goal. For all of the talk of the U.S. being screwed out of goals, we have just as easily lucked into two or three of them. Makes you wonder what will happen next on Saturday.

That brings us to after the match and the wonders of the American language. My buddy Will Whatley introduced me to a word called fooleywang a while ago. He uses it to describe certain instances of ridiculousness that you view on a daily basis. It’s a play on foolishness, and adjective, here it is used in a sentence; the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut on Wednesday was pure fooleywang. How does that happen? When Wimbledon instituted that they would have no tiebreakers in the fifth set of their men’s matches they couldn’t have possibly expected this.

I began paying attention to the match at around 30-29 Isner. Which turned into 34-33, 38-38, 40-39 and then I began to wonder, is this ever going to end?

It was pure will and endurance by both Isner and Mahut. They just couldn’t break each other to take control of the match. When Isner pulled back for an ace, Mahut followed. Winner after winner, ace after ace neither man was budging. Isner had three chances at match point but each time Mahut fought back with a great first serve and winner to keep his hopes alive. The crowd at the 18th court went from 100 people to 1000 with spectators stopping to watch the epic fifth set for hours, not budging for anything. They watched Isner and Mahut battle like prize fighters praying to make it to the next round.

The most telling point of the match came when Mahut dove for a ball well out of reach and watching his racket fly across the court in agony. He just wanted it so badly. He didn’t want to lose. Who would? When you’re on a court for ten hours and still at a draw you can’t lose. Both men took it to the extreme and both finally gave in as darkness set in and it was clear that they would need another day to settle this epic. 59-59 after two days, 150 aces and ten hours of tennis, still no winner. In other words I started a new job, wrote a blog, cleaned my room, Germany won soccer match, the Reds reclaimed first place and one tennis match didn’t end. Wow.

Then after that hockey just had to make no sense at all. The Blackhawks traded 3 of their most important role players due to financial restrictions Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien… DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN!?!?!?! You mean the guy that made Kane and Toews fly, the guy that scored eleven goals and five winners in the playoffs you traded him! Really?

I understand that the market isn’t great now and you have to save money, but to trade your third best forward and most important force on offense? Really Rocky? Byfuglien is going to command lots of money next offseason based on his clutch performing in these playoffs which meant the Hawks couldn’t afford him anymore. Byfuglien’s big body and presence will be missed but in these economic times you’ve got to do what you got to do to save money. I just don’t get trading one of your most beloved players. Makes no sense, sort of like Henrik Sedin winning MVP over Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, but I digress.

Thursday

The sad afterlife of Lawrence Taylor continued.

Lawrence Taylor was officially indicted on felony sexual assault charges for having sex with a 16 year-old prostitute; if this wasn’t rock bottom for LT then I couldn’t tell you what it will be. Funny thing is that two months ago at the NFL Draft Taylor was all smiles speaking about what the Giants needed to get back to on defense, and his legacy. Now Taylor’s latest misstep just punctuates what has been a mess of a post career.

I’ll never understand why Taylor continues with this type of behavior when it has caused so many problems including his Hall of Fame selection. He never learned when it was a good time to slow down. Even when it seemed like he was getting it, he didn’t. You’ve got to wonder if the judge will put an official end to this behavior with a lengthy sentence that will all but end with LT being a shell of the person that we once knew as the most feared man in football.

Then there was a bore of a NBA Draft, well except Wesley Johnson’s pants those were the most exciting things of the evening. Except for Utah reaching for Gordon Haywood at 9 (insert racial joke here) and the Grizzlies reaching even higher for Greivis Vazquez at 28 the draft was highly irrelevant because it was just a set-up for free agency.

Think about it, Miami traded out of the first round to save money as did Chicago. The Knicks did their prep work by packaging deals out of the next two drafts for this year’s free agency period. Really all the draft was, was just an appetizer for July 1st. teams close to contention clearing room for Bron and Wade or Bosh or Amar’e or Dirk. Teams don’t just want one star they want two because they believe that will put them over the top.

David Stern for all of his lauding about how he wants Bron to stay in Cleveland because it would be better for the league is facing a huge problem, and that is the competitive balance of the league. Really the league is just 6 good teams with everyone else there for fun factor. You don’t expect Golden State or Indiana to contend for anything anytime soon, it makes the league less relevant and makes the draft a sham.

Think about this for a second; Dwyane Wade and LeBron James set a precedent by signing shorter deals 3 years ago to get to free agency with no strings attached quicker, pretty much they now dictate who they want to play for. Who’s to say 6 years from now John Wall DeMarcus Cousins and Wesley Johnson won’t do the same and put Minnesota, Sacramento and Washington in similar situations like the one they are in now? Stern has to find a way to make the league more competitive so teams like New Orleans and Memphis won’t feel like they can’t compete with larger scale teams because of their attraction.

(But will Stern do it? Of course not. He’s more concerned with that $400 million dollar debt his league is in. not knowing that spreading the balance will help alleviate some of that debt.)

Oh and Isner-Mahut just ended 70-68 Isner. Eleven hours, 220 aces, 1000 points won, 183 games, an 8 hour 30 minute fifth set and finally a winner.

FRIDAY

  • Quickies from weeks end: Clijsters-Henin match setup for Monday
  • Rasheed Wallace retires. Referees rejoice.
  • Carlos Zambrano threw a fit in the dugout after getting hammered in the first inning against the Chisox. He got suspended and rightfully so. I love Zambrano but his temper is ridiculous. The guy has to find a way to slow himself down and regain his form before he finds himself out of baseball.
  • Taylor Hall was the number overall pick for the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL Draft. Tyler Seguin was second for the Bruins.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays host the Philadelphia Phillies… in Philadelphia. So you couldn’t play in another stadium in Canada, really? C’mon Son! You know that’s three extra home games for the Phils Bud. Don’t lie.

    Edwin Jackson threw another no-hitter, but who hasn't this year?

Oh yeah and Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays— WITH 8 WALKS! Ok what should be the story here; a. the no-hitter itself, b. the fact that this is the fifth no-no of the season (yeah I’m still counting Armando Galarraga’s) or c. the fact that Tampa has been no hit three times in the last year?

I understand that no-hitters are a big deal, but come on 8 walks? That’s eight base runners plus a hit batter, that takes away from the luster of the no hitter big time. It’s still an accomplishment to not allow a hit over an entire outing but Jackson’s wildness makes it less of a big deal. The same goes for Ubaldo Jimenez’s 6 walk no-no in April. They weren’t great performances like the Halladay, Braden or Galarraga games because those guys were in complete control from start to finish. I think we make a big deal out of no-hitters because we never used to see them a lot, but now that were entering a pitcher’s era in the sport maybe we should hold up a higher standard of how to celebrate no-no’s because Jackson’s to me isn’t that big of a deal.

What is a big deal is the fact that there are all of these no-hitters flying around like hotcakes. With the steroid era being cleared away you have to wonder that the use of PED’s really did amp up the last 15 years of baseball’s run production, who knows how many more of these things we’ll have this year, 2? 4? It is highly possible.

And please Tampa, learn some plate discipline. 3 times in 140 games? You get a big Ed Lover C’mon Son!

Oh and today, Saturday there’s another A.J. Burnett start, U.S. versus Ghana, Rafa trying to avoid another five set meltdown and whatever else could possibly happen as a crazy happenstance in this crazy week of sports. Just stay tuned because you might miss something special.


The Last Days Of Roger Federer

Roger Federer's legacy hangs in the balance.

Here’s what Roger Federer is facing in the next two weeks at the Wimbledon Lawn and Tennis club:

Immortality

He is a sixteen-time grand slam champion and one of only five men to complete the career slam of winning all four tournaments. I would list all of his accomplishments over the last seven years of his reign but I’m not prepared to write a novel yet. Federer without question was last decade’s grand champion. He was the most dominant athlete in the world, more than Lance Armstrong (its cycling… don’t get me started) and more than Tiger Woods.

The reason I have him ranked higher than Tiger is that Golf is such a fluky sport. Anyone can win any given week if one of the world’s best players has a bad round of golf.

Tennis is the ultimate singular sport. There’s no caddie to tell you what racket to use and you can’t call timeout to stop momentum—it is you and your opponent and nothing else, and for the last seven years no one has made his opponents look as novice as Roger Federer.

Federer’s greatness came at a time when tennis was in transition from the Sampras-Agassi era when it was at unparraled heights. For a good three year stretch everyone from Marat Safin, Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt attempted to gain control of the circuit but to no avail. Then when Federer won the first of his six Wimbledon titles in 2003 the sport had finally gained its new great one. It gained a player that toyed with his opponents and took advantage of their brute strength with his perfect precision and elegant play, his drop shots were like poetry, and his backhands were like ballet. He was Sampras 2.0 without any competition.

You know the number from his era: 23 straight semi final appearances, 22 grand slam finals matches, 62 tournament wins, 55 million in earnings, one gold medal. In the last seven years the only player that comes close to Federer is the man that has become the biggest thorn in his side, Rafael Nadal. Even in that regard Nadal has won 5 French Opens and hasn’t found the same success in other slams like Federer though he has won the Australian Open last year and Wimbledon in 2008.

Yet the only number that matters now to Federer is 7. 7 is the number that belongs to Pete Sampras. 7 being the number of Wimbledon titles that Sampras has won, the most all time in the sport’s version of the World Series. Though Sampras never won the career slam (failing to win the French Open) , with those seven Wimbledon Crowns he is still considered by some to be the best ever even though Federer has two more overall slam titles.

If Federer wins this tournament there will be no more debate, he will be the greatest to ever play the game. To match the immortal Sampras in titles in London and leave him in the rearview in overall Slam titles would give little doubt as to judge who the greatest ever is. It’s all that Federer has left to accomplish in his career, well that and gain one more week at number one to pass Sampras as the leader in that category (both men have been number one for 285 weeks).

So as yesterday’s match began you understand what Federer was up against, history and that’s it. He’s beaten everyone from this era time and time again and had nothing to gain; this is all that’s left. Afterwards he can ride into the sunset and hear those stories that we love to hear about who win in a winner take all match between him, Bjorn Borg and Sampras.

Then as the match with Columbian Alejandro Palla began to unfold I began to realize something else about Federer. He isn’t just facing the Legend of Pistol Pete; Roger Federer is now in a battle with something greater than immortality and something that he has been dodging at a great rate for longer than the average tennis player…

The end of his run

His struggles against Alejando Falla might be a sign of things to come.

Roger Federer will be 29 when the U.S. Open starts in two months. For you and I that’s still the beginning stages of adulthood where we are either having kids or deciding when to have them. It’s a time where it’s still ok to go out and get wasted and pass out on your couch at 3am (if you’re single of course). However in tennis years 29 is like a mid-thirties shooting guard in the NBA (a-hem Ray Allen). You’re either breaking down, on your way out or have cashed out with no return.

Granted guys like Jimmy Connors and Sampras have won titles at older ages, Sampras won his last Wimbledon title at 29 coincidentally, but by the time they hit those ages they weren’t the dominant forces on the court that they once were.

Many have tried to predict the end of Federer’s run as early as 2008 when it seemed the Rafa had caught and passed him by defeating Federer at the French and Wimbledon. Many said that it would be a matter of time before Federer finally succumbs to father time and lose his form, yet since those predictions Federer has won each Grand Slam event and regained number one in the world including this year’s Aussie Open.

Yet the signs are there, his play this year has been less than stellar. The Aussie Open is his only title this year. He’s lost in the fourth round or earlier in three tournaments including a second round ousting in Italy this year. He ranks 26th on the tour in first serve points won and 46th in converted break points. Plus the simple fact that he doesn’t dominate opponents like he used to; he’s 27-8 this year already passing his total for losses in 2007 when he won 3 slams and 7 titles total. He’s four losses away from match his total from last year as well.

Then there is his on court performance. Look at the Palla match. Federer had his serve broken twice in the first two sets by the inferior Palla. He looked shaky for the first four sets as Palla had several opportunities to serve for the match but faltered. Eventually Federer did pull it together for a fifth set spanking, but the first four sets were more than enough proof that Federer’s dominant reign may finally be at an end.

That makes this quest for Wimbledon immortality even more important—this very well could be Federer’s last chance to gain Wimbledon gold ever. At the rate that he’s at Federer would slip in the rankings and by next year be in the mid to late top ten, possibly drawing a tougher opponent at an earlier time. With a returning Juan Martin Del Potro and a plethora of emerging talent we may be seeing Federer make early exits from Wimbledon and other events sooner and more often.

Also with the way that Rafa has been playing since his knee injury, Federer would stand no shot against him in a final matchup if it were too take place. Right now it’s not farfetched to say that Rafa is the best player in the game and that the game could very well be in his hands. (Also Nadal does have 7 slams, 9 behind Federer. If he wins Wimbledon then he’s only half way to Federer’s 16 at age 24. Just some food for thought).

So over the next two weeks keep these things in mind as you watch Federer. Understand his quest to best Sampras once and for all in all categories. Watch him still perform beautiful passes and drop shots on unsuspecting opponents as he marches to immortality. Yet don’t be surprised if he gets bounced earlier than expected.  It happens to every great player, eventually the wear and tear catches up to you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Federer has dazzled us with his brilliance for years, but like all good things, it has to end. As a fan I just hope he can hold it off for thirteen days and gain one last piece of hardware before it’s all over.


Team U.S.A. Posts Another Cardiac Comeback

When Aerosmith wrote “Livin On The Edge” I don’t think they had the U.S. Soccer team in mind 20 years in the future. Yet here we are in 2010 watching the United Stated toe the line between heartbreaking defeat and thrilling victory this time in a 2-2 draw against Slovenia.

Another day, another U.S. heart attack.

(quick note here I bet if I gave you twenty minutes none of you could locate Slovenia on a map… hell 40 minutes. I dare you to find it)

The United States continues to play with the same flaws that doomed its 2006 World Cup chances by falling behind early in matches. It happened against England on Saturday just 4 minutes in when Steven Gerrard found a hole in the U.S. defense and put one past Tim Howard and it happened again this afternoon as Valter Birsa scored in the thirteenth minute. Only today’s game featured a new twist for the Americans, after Zlatan Ljubijankic scored just before halftime to put Slovenia up 2-0 it put the U.S. in a position that it has never been in. no U.S. had ever come back from a 2-0 lead at the half… EVER! Not the World Cup, Friendlys, Canada Cups nothing. What at first seemed like an easy run to the round of sixteen was beginning to look bleak.

Then once again luck swung in the direction of the United States. Early in the second half Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar misplayed a Steve Cherundolo pass and it landed right in Landon Donovan’s lap for an easy score. Then a Jozy Altidore header off of a free kick fell in front of Michael Bradley who was in the right place at the right time to tie the score. It’s like the futbol gods are smiling down on the U.S., first Robert Green’s gaff led to a Clint Dempsey goal against England, then the two goals off a bad play by a defender and the ball plopping down in front of a charging forward. Good luck is a beautiful thing.

However there is a thing called bad luck as well which also found the U.S. today. Maurice Edu seemed to put the U.S. up for good when he scored off of a free kick in the 86th minute. However African referee Koman Coulibaly called Edu for what seemed to be a phantom foul, even more curious is that the replays showed the American forwards being mugged near the net. It was a call that cost the U.S. 3 points and first place in their group, but still leaves them in control of their own destiny.

The main point isn’t the blown call and the ramifications of it, it’s the fact that if the U.S. wants to be a player in the next round and challenge for a shot at the cup they need to wake up early in these matches. It’s twice  in two games thankfully against a sleepwalking English squad and a mistake prone Slovenia. You can only play the cardiac cats game for so long before it finally catches up with you, and in a tournament that has so far produced 2 monumental upsets of Spain, Germany and France on the verge of elimination the U.S has just as good a shot as anyone to walk into the final four.

The defense has to come out more focused in their final tune up game against Algeria. The Algerians themselves are still in the hunt to move on after tying England 0-0. A win against the U.S. puts them on firm ground in moving into round two, so for both teams next Wednesday’s match is as important as it gets.

The U.S. is still alive and kicking and kicking, but living on the edge and relying on luck can only last for so long.


Call Him King Kobe

Kobe is officially one of the greats

Kobe did it. As unimpressive as it was, as ugly as it looked Kobe Bryant has finally and firmly planted himself as best player of his generation and worthy of all accolades that come his way. His 6-24, 23 point festival of ugly gave him a fifth championship to put him in company that belongs to Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. It also gave Kobe the undisputed championship of being the best of an era that has featured him taking a back seat to the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan.

He has had the flash of LeBron or D-Wade without the hype of Vince Carter, the limitless usage of his physical attributes like Kevin Durant without the ballyhooed respect of Time Duncan plus he’s getting a little long in the tooth at 32 with 13 years of experience, but make no mistake, this has been Kobe’s era.

 

It’s been rough to say the least; fights with Phil Jackson that led to scathing remarks in Jackson’s book. A feud with Shaquille O’ Neal that was better suited for a rap record, beef with the Lakers front office that almost resulted in a trade, plus there was that whole Denver innocent that we needn’t mention. Yet here we are staring at one of the greatest to ever play the game at his Zenith.

Kobe’s popularity has soared when it looked like at one point he would never recover from rape allegations. He’s gone from a closed mercurial personality to jumping over luxury cars for viral video fun, having his likeness used in hilarious puppet commercials and attempting to cross over into modeling (scratch that last part, that shoot was horrendous). There is a commercial running right now that features Kobe’s growth from high school phenom to NBA champion while being mixed in with the greats from Wilt to Russell to the man that he draws the most comparison and ire to Michael Jordan.

We’ve all hated Kobe before we loved him. we hated his yearning for the big moment when he was just a misguided pup in the late 90’s against Utah, we scowled at his smugness for interviews and his selfishness for bad shots. We spewed venom his was for purposely disappearing in games versus Phoenix and Sacramento earlier in the decade almost like he wanted to prove a point to point without proving anything at all. The worst offense has been the Jordan comparisons, the jacking of his fade-away jumper and fist pump. We hated the way he carried himself on the court with that swagger, we wanted him to fail.

That’s not Kobe’s M.O. however, Kobe and failure don’t mix well because doesn’t allow it to. This series has been a prime example of Kobe’s growth, criticisms and current status as the best of his era.

In game one he was vintage Kobe, abusing defenders controlling the action, getting to the paint whenever he wanted. He showed glimpses of the new unselfish Kobe by dishing to teammates for open looks an encouraging them to take shots. Game 3 the Kobe we all know, chucker, selfish too many bad shots, greedy with the rock, if not for Derek Fisher the Lakers would’ve been down 2-1. Game 5 was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Kobe. When the offense struggled he kicked it into high gear making everything from fade-away threes to layups to circus shots. He scored 23 straight at one point but his offensive out was all the Lakers had as the rest of the team was in lala-land. After the game the other side of Kobe came out. He screamed at his fellow mates pleading them to step it up in a profanity laced tirade that could’ve been heard all the way in China.

Game 7 Kobe however was a Kobe I had never seen before. He was ineffective, couldn’t buy a basket, his J was off, but Kobe did everything else. He made Ray Allen’s life a nightmare and held the hall of fame shooter to a dismal 3-14 shooting, he deferred to a hot Ron Artest to take big shots and pounded the ball down low to Pau Gasol. Kobe was fighting for his life it seemed like he thought to himself that maybe this is it. This might be the last shot I have to get a title. He doesn’t know if Phil Jackson will be back to run the show, or how the team will look down the road or more importantly how much is left in his tank. Bryant has played the most minutes in the NBA over the last 11 seasons, those knees can only last but so long. So here was Kobe scrapping for everything, deferring to his mates, giving Sasha Vujacic encouragement after making two huge free throws late in the game. I think this was the night that maybe Kobe Bryant finally understood himself and what his worth was to his team as a leader. There was that greed to want to finish it himself but he waved it off by scrapping for a career high 15 rebounds going through heavy traffic to get them most of the time. If he couldn’t score he was making an impact everywhere else, no complaints no questions asked.

As he stood at the podium with the rest of the Lakers and his wife and kids in tow, Kobe finally was his own man. Yeah he won last year without Shaq, but he did it this year without the hype of the 800 pound gorilla on his back. He was happier this time around than last year, he almost seemed relaxed. He had passed Jerry West as the Greatest Laker ever and passed Magic Johnson as its best Champion. You could also say that Kobe rightfully belongs in the conversation of being one of the top five players of all time with Jordan, Russell and others.

One thing that needs no debating is this, love him or hate him Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league right now and is the best player of his generation. If anyone should be referred to as King it should be Kobe Bryant and he’s got the rings to prove it. His puppet would tell you so.


Fear And Loathing In Beantown

Paul Pierce watched Boston's title run fall short.

Boston’s postseason year of heartbreak continues. A month after the Bruins epic collapse against the Flyers in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Semis, the Celtics followed that up by flying out to L.A. and leaving their game in Boston after an epic game 5 victory.

Boston’s loss shouldn’t be a shock at all; the Lakers by all accounts were the best team in basketball this year from start to finish. What is surprising is how the Celtics lost this game. Granted there was very shoddy officiating by senior referee Joey Crawford, but the Celtics let opportunities pass them by and let their offense fall by the waist side.

It goes something like this, the bench play was finally exposed as thin and un-explosive as “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson lost the luster of their amazing game 4 experiences and only produced 6 points (all Davis’). The offensive rebounding of the Lakers killed the Celtics as they couldn’t let Rajon Rondo get into open space and run the transition offense that he does so well.

The biggest offenders of the Celtics demise last night was that defensive glass. The Celtics rebounding was terrible as they got allowed Pau Gasol and company to dominate the offensive boards all night. The Lakers nabbed 23 offensive rebounds on the night and even though they shot an abysmal 32% from the field the second chance opportunities led to 37 trips to the foul line as compared to only 17 for the Celtics.

Speaking of shooting the Lakers couldn’t hit anything last night. Kobe Bryant was 6-24 from the field while Gasol finished 6-16. They got only nine points from the bench mostly from an ineffective Lamar Odom and took really horrible shots throughout the night. It makes you wonder how the hell exactly did the Celtics hold the Lakers to under 30% shooting for most of the night, limit the ball movement of the triangle offense, hold a thirteen point lead midway through the third quarter and hold the best one-two punch in the league to 12-38 shooting… AND LOSE?!

The real reason is once again the so-called Big Three was a sideshow. All series, heck postseason, the Celtics three headlining players just couldn’t put together a whole game where they were at their best. Paul Pierce was a fourth quarter no-show which was unusual given his flair for late game heroics. Kevin Garnett played his best game of the series as he harassed Gasol all night and had offensive spurts that reminded you of his Minnesota days. However, the player that cost the C’s mostly was Ray Allen. Allen virtually played his way out of Boston after a stellar game two where he drained a Finals record eight 3’s. the sweetest stoke in the game shot 3-14 from the field and just couldn’t get anything going for him all night. He ran Kobe all around the Staples Center yet it translated into little to nothing for Allen. If this was indeed his last game in Boston then Allen surely doesn’t want to be remembered for much during his tenure.

Which brings up another troubling question, what now for the Boston Celtics? The core of this team is old, and that’s putting it lightly. It looks like Ray Allen won’t return next year and KG is entering the last year of a contract as is Paul Pierce. Plus you have a bench that lacks any punch at all as was apparent in all but one of the finals games. We might’ve seen the last of the Boston Celtics in championship games for a long time because this team has a lot of work to do to keep up with whatever these other teams do in free agency such as Miami or Cleveland.

Maybe this game would’ve been different if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t injure his knee in game 6, maybe he would’ve limited Gasol’s effectiveness on the glass all night. Or maybe the Boston Celtics Big Three or Four or whatever just didn’t do enough to handle L.A.’s toughness. Whatever the case maybe just know this; at the 8:23 mark in the third quarter, the Celtics had the defending champs right where they wanted them. They were better defensively and were executing much better on offense. Then for some inexplicable reason it all fell apart and now they go back to Boston title-less, searching for answers and unsure of what will happen next with the team.

It’s a sad day in the city where Champaign flowed with ease in the 2000’s the Bruins have some company in the Heartbreak hotel as Ray Allen can spill about his poor performance to Milan Lucic and Doc Rivers and Claude Julien try to figure out what went wrong. Memo to Terry Francona and Bill Belichick, the way that this year is going in Beantown your playoff chances are looking pretty bleak.


Texas Stops The Realignment Process, For Now

Thanks to Texas, college footballs armaggeddon is on hold.

Texas saved college football as we know it… for now anyway.

Late Monday night the Longhorns decided that it would be in their best interest to stay in a possible ten team big 12 than join a possible mega Pac 16 conference. The deal came to fruition after the AD’s from Texas, Oklahoma and the remaining Big 12 schools conversed over the weekend if it was better for the conference to stay together with fewer teams or to eliminate the conference entirely. Their decision to keep the remaining Big 12 intact shows that at least in this case less is more.

They have one fan who agrees with the decision to keep it together. As the Big Ten was set on purging a few teams from the conference (ending up with Nebraska) and the rumors came out of a mega Pac 10, I was beginning to wonder just where college football was headed.

The creation of all of these mega conferences would dilute the regular season and render it worthless; it would create money based rivalries with no real emotion behind while destroying the old-school rivalries that we love watching every Saturday.  It would’ve killed the intrigue that makes college football so much fun. Everyone thinks the Big East is garbage as a conference yet last year we were enthralled with Cincinnati’s undefeated run and wondered if they could hang with a team like Florida. Granted they couldn’t but it was fun to think about and let play out.

The same goes for the ACC. If Miami and Florida State joined the conference I think Florida-Florida State wouldn’t be relevant anymore because the stakes of state supremacy and in the recruiting battle would take a backseat to a inter divisional game that wouldn’t decide much. The rivalry would just turn into another game in the grand landscape.

Both the Mountain West and Boise State benefit from their move.

Now I’m not opposed to all conference realignment. I love Boise State going to the Mountain West because Boise has proven that they are a national player in College Football by winning two Fiesta Bowls and winning the most games in the last decade. It strengthens the Mountain West’s claim for a BCS automatic berth because now they a have a conference that’s won more BCS games in the last ten years than automatic bid conferences like the ACC and the Big East (even more impressive is they have Utah who beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a year before their National Championship which says a lot about the level of talent in the conference to be able to compete with an SEC powerhouse).

With that said realignment should take a little more time to come to fruition especially when it comes to the main power conferences. There is something out of place about 4 huge 16 team conferences taking up all of the space in the national landscape. It works in college basketball with the Big East because of the girth that is college basketball and its 328 teams. However, in football there are only 119 teams. So just imagine a scenario with the bowl system still in place with 35 games (70 teams), 64 teams reside in 4 conferences, there would only be about 8-10 spots open for small conferences because of bowl tie-ins, which means that up to 60 spots would be open for those conferences with those teams and Notre Dame of course. Which reminds me… WHY THE HELL IS NOTRE DAME NOT IN A CONFERENCE?!

Of all of the realignment going on why does Notre Dame still refuse to join a conference? The big guns at the top of the Golden Dome insist that they don’t feel the need to join a conference because of their TV contract so the Irish still get all of the perks that the big conferences get, where’s the fairness in that?

Notre Dame hasn’t been a real player in the college game since the early 90’s. The Irish have averaged 7-8 wins in the last decade and their last 3 ten win seasons have ended in BCS bowl beat downs by Ohio State, Oregon State and LSU. Notre Dame is nothing more than a glorified mid-major at this point that couldn’t beat 6 of the ten teams in the Mountain West conference yet are still allowed to live off of an aura that died after Lou Holtz left the school for South Carolina.

The point of this realignment is money and not the quality of the sport. The Pac 10 wants a TV deal like that of the Big Ten, the Big Ten wants a big money conference title game like that of the SEC, ACC and Big 12, the Big 12 teams will get a new TV deal now that they are smaller in numbers and the money is easier to dole out. None of this has anything to do with the game on the field. All of it still masks the fact that the sport still has problems deciding a national champ unless two teams are undefeated. Last year the season ended with Boise State and Alabama undefeated after each team beat 12-0 teams themselves. The realignment would do nothing but cause more problems as there would be a ton of one-loss and two-loss teams that think that they should play for the national title but not even the BCS would be able to sort it out with whatever formulas they would tweak out.

Which is why I can’t thank Texas and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M for deciding to stay in a smaller Big 12 and work on a TV deal for their conference. It saves us another few months of watching Joe Schad speculate if Iowa State would end up in the MAC conference or just how Louisville, Cincinnati and Virginia make sense in Conference USA. The decision to stay put for now saves everyone involved a fair amount of headaches from conference play, to scheduling to the postseason play and national championship. We were looking at the apocalypse of college football dead in the face and Texas helped avoid it. Unfortunately, it’s going to happen at some point, ready or not.


Strasburg Exceeds The Hype

Trust when I say that the hype was real.

I remember Lebron James’s debut 25 points 9 rebounds 6 assists, Yao Ming’s uninspiring 13 points, Mario Lemieux’s goal on his first NHL shift, Michael Vick running for his life in week 16 of the 2001 season and so on and so forth… I HAVE NEVER EVER IN MY LIFE SEEN A DEBUT LIKE STEPHEN STRASBURG’S TWO NIGHTS AGO!!!

You heard the hype about Strasburg; baseball’s been here before from the Mets trio of Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen, Hideo Nomo and Dice-K, Josh Hamilton and others. It seems like every week there’s a new “OMG he can’t be this good this soon, my god wait til he gets to the league” player. Hell the Yankees did it twice with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. So when Strasburg’s debut was so hyped up to the point that it was getting more attention than game 3 of the NBA finals and game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals I immediately became suspicious.

Strasburg’s minor league starts were treated like playoff matchups on ESPN. They marveled at his control and dominance of minor league hitters more so than David Price’s amazing start for Tampa. There was marvel at his quick rise through the minor leagues and as the weeks crept closer, the announcement of his first start became more important than any BP announcement on how they plan on stopping this oil spill.

Dare I say that Strasburg mania was approaching Tebow mania levels of annoyance.

Then the announcement came that June 8, 2010 would be the day that the pitching Jesus would take the mound and begin to lead Washington to baseball salvation. With that decision came Strasburg first two starts that made me doubt if he was ready or not and if the pressure was getting to him. He allowed five earned runs in his last two starts in triple A ball and his velocity was down. Nerves getting to you Strasburg.

If Strasburg can keep it up then The Nationals will have a lot to celebrate over the next few years.

But it was an afterthought. The jerseys were on order, the stadium was sold out, and ESPN was on site for the biggest and most anticipated debut since Dice-K 4 years ago.

From a baseball perspective the hype was great for the game especially in a bottom dwelling baseball town like Washington. The Nationals have been terrible for every year except their inaugural season where they finished 82-80. This was just the life it needed pumped into it baseball scene.

The scene was euphoric. 40,000 plus fans standing and cheering Strasburg’s every motion from warm-up tosses to walking to the dugout. Then it was game time, and the talk ceased. Strasburg did more than deliver, he made it hard for every phenom in any sport to follow what he did.

He struck out seven of the first 13 batters he faced. His slurve was puzzling. His curveball? A perfect twelve-six. His fastball? Unhittable, 95 plus on the gun 34 times of his 94 pitches. His best pitch was his changeup, I thought Hughes has one of the best changes of any young pitcher in baseball but not after watching Strasburg. His changeup started over the plate and ended past Delwyn Young’s knees, at Garrett Jones’s feet and near Lastings Milledge’s shins. He had perfect command of every pitch. It was amazing to see a 21 year-old in such control and not allowing all that engulfed him to antagonize him.

Then came the fourth inning. He allowed two sharp singles to right field and his pitches began to lose velocity from the stretch. He settled down to get a double play ball but eventually one of those hanging breaking balls got pounded out of the yard  by Young and we finally saw Superman weakened.

After the home run the best two qualities of Strasburg showed in his final seven batters. The first was his ability to shake off adversity. Most pitchers who get off to hot starts then run into trouble become skittish and begin to lose focus (ask Josh Beckett) Strasburg didn’t let Young’s home run get him down. He didn’t over throw pitches to compensate for that one mistake, he instead refocused and went back to work by getting Andy Laroche to ground out. He didn’t allow one more hit and struck out his last seven batters faced, blowing people away with that huge fastball clocked as high as 100 miles per hour, which brings up the next great thing about Strasburg…

As his pitch count increased, his velocity stayed the same. His powerful fastball started at 97 in the first inning and ended at 97 in the seventh as he fanned Laroche to end his stellar start. If it wasn’t his fastball his breaking pitches stayed consistent. He never fell behind another batter after the fifth inning and was precise with every toss. He didn’t pitch a perfect game by any means, but Strasburg was as good as Halladay, Jimenez, Braden or Galarraga in any of their amazing starts this year (and yes Galarraga pitched a perfect game no matter what Bud Selig rules that was a perfect game. Period).

As Strasburg walked off of the mound to a standing ovation, then received his shaving cream pie at the end of the game. You couldn’t help but wonder just what the hell that was that we just witnessed. Never in my sports life have I seen a young player with so much hype exceed it in just one outing. Terrelle Pryor, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Gordon,  Lebron and others have been just as hyped if not more than Strasburg, but none of them blew you to smithereens like Strasburg. I’m not saying that we should start make a plaque for the kid in the Hall of Fame right now, what I am saying is that everyone was right about the guy. Scott Boras was right to demand 15 million  up front for him, the Nats were right to make such a big deal about him. Tim Kurkjian, Jayson Stark and Buster Olney were right to hype him up like he is the next Nolan Ryan. Strasburg is the real deal no question about it.

The funny think about the Strasburg start was that it happened on the same day as the MLB draft where the Nats took Bryce Harper number one overall. Harper has been pegged as the baseball equivalent of Lebron James with his remarkable combination of power and speed. He’s now baseball and the Nats next big thing. After what we just saw from Strasburg all I can say to Harper is good luck kid. This Strasburg guy just made your debut extremely hard to live up to.