Thursday, March 30, 2006

Joni Mitchell To Head MLB Steroid Investigation

Reports surfaced Wednesday that Major League Baseball will conduct an investigation into past steroid use by players. Initial word indicated that George Mitchell, former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, would oversee this effort. However, those reports turned out to be erroneous. In fact, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell will head the investigation.

Mitchell’s appointment surprised most observers, who had assumed that someone from the legal or political community would be chosen. However, commissioner Bud Selig made his selection in response to calls for someone truly independent of Major League Baseball. Joni Mitchell has never played or served in the front office for a major league team. Her ties to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – the starting infield for the 1973 Texas Rangers – do not appear to present a conflict of interest.

San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams set the process in motion with their new book “Game of Shadows.” The authors allege that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds used numerous performance-enhancing drugs during a five-year period beginning in 1998. The revelations further increased public skepticism about the legitimacy of home run records set by Mark McGwire in 1998 and Bonds in 2001. Bonds continued to deny the allegations against him, citing the outlandishness of the authors’ previous book, “The Bambino Code.” In that work, Fainuru-Wada and Williams claimed that Babe Ruth’s Hall of Fame plaque contains clues to secret societies and 2000 year-old conspiracies.

Bonds has never tested positive for performance-enhancing substances. However, the time period referenced in the book took place before Major League Baseball instituted a drug-testing policy. With public pressure mounting, Selig determined that an investigation into the years prior to 2003 was necessary. It will be difficult for the league to penalize anyone found to have used steroids prior to the institution of the policy. However, sources close to the commissioner indicated that any offenders would be rebuked with a stern “Dude, that’s uncool.”

Selig made a strong statement by selecting a prominent singer-songwriter from the 1960s and 70s to head the effort. Members of that group are known to be particularly harsh on illegal drug use. The commissioner apparently considered Bob Dylan, but due to the large media interaction involved, he opted for someone who can speak English. Mitchell is reportedly looking forward to the press conferences. After she answers questions from reporters, she will pull out her guitar and take song requests.

Ironically, sources claim that Bonds is a huge fan of Mitchell and privately cited her as a major influence on his steroid use. In “A Case of You,” Mitchell sings, “Oh but you are in my blood…You’re my holy wine…You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet.” According to a former Giants teammate, Bonds recited these lyrics in the locker room while gazing lovingly at pharmaceutical bottles. The player added that Mitchell’s song title “Both Sides Now” was Barry’s response when asked which buttock in which he preferred to be injected.

Mitchell is sure to be outspoken, having recently referred to today’s music industry as a “cesspool.” That word could also be applied to the current environment around Barry Bonds. Not the steroid allegations - the National League West.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Why George Mason Will Win the National Title

Yesterday George Mason stunned the sports world with an overtime victory over top-seeded Connecticut that gave the Patriots a berth in the Final Four.  Two weeks ago, no one could have imagined that a #11 seed from the Colonial Athletic Association would go on such an improbable run.  However, now that the team has gotten this far, the national championship is all but assured.  There are countless reasons why George Mason will win the title, detailed as follows.



New England lost in the AFC playoffs.  Recently, you could count on a team called the Patriots to win a title.  It didn’t happen in the Super Bowl this year, so it will have to occur at the Final Four.


They won’t see Hofstra at the Final Four.  The Pride provided the Patriots with their final two defeats of the season, including one in the conference tournament.  Florida and either LSU or UCLA will be a piece of cake by comparison.


George Mason is similar to Perry Mason.  Perry Mason consistently won IN court.  George Mason consistently wins ON the court.


George Mason can decide its own fate, unlike Marsha Mason and James Mason.  Between them, Marsha and James Mason were nominated for seven Academy Awards, but neither won an Oscar.  In contrast, George Mason does not have to rely on voters to decide whether it wins or loses.


Other DC-area teams have won before.  George Mason could join the 1984 Georgetown and 2002 Maryland teams as national champions.  Having Patrick Ewing on the roster would have been nice, but the Patriots will make do.


George Mason won NCAA titles in women’s soccer in 1985 and men’s indoor track in 1996.  Obviously the school is destined for one national championship each decade.


Scott Cherry is an assistant coach for George Mason.  Cherry was a member of North Carolina’s 1993 national championship team.  None of the other Final Four participants has a coach who played on a national champion.  So the Gators, Bruins, and Tigers are kidding themselves if they think they have a chance.


George Mason is undefeated all-time versus SEC teams in the postseason.  The Patriots defeated Tennessee in the first round of the 2004 postseason NIT.  So Florida is doomed, as is LSU if it advances to the final.


The program had no NCAA tournament victories before this season.  George Mason was clearly due and is making up for lost time.


George Mason features Jai Lewis, not Guy Lewis.  Guy Lewis reached five Final Fours as the coach at Houston, but he never won a title.  George Mason’s frontcourt starter is Jai Lewis.  So that’s totally different.


Dr. Alan Merten is the president of George Mason.  Merten was the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Florida from 1986 to 1989.  His inside information from Gainesville will pay huge dividends for the Patriots.


Page 2 of the George Mason media guide indicates the best time to reach coach Jim Larranaga.  This note displays politeness and shows that Larranaga is approachable.  Good things happen to good people.  By the way, the best time is between 10am and noon, Monday through Friday.


They own schools from the 2000 Final Four.  George Mason has already defeated Michigan State and North Carolina in this tournament, so Florida has no chance on Saturday.  Wisconsin tanked in the first round out of fear that they might have to eventually face the Patriots.


Florida coach Billy Donovan is loyal to his alma mater.  Both Donovan and Larranaga are Providence alumni.  Donovan has already coached in a national title game, so expect him to step aside and allow Larranaga to have that experience as well.


The colonial statesman George Mason has been called “the father of the Bill of Rights.”  Mason continually lobbied for the Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution.  The Patriots follow their namesake’s example by being tenacious on the court.  They also benefited from a provision in the Bill of Rights allowing mid-major conferences to receive multiple NCAA tournament bids.



George Mason will have to wait until next Monday to win the national championship.  However, the Patriots have already won the hearts of the nation’s sports fans.  In doing so, the program represents something truly unusual in the DC area these days: a George with a high approval rating.

Friday, March 24, 2006

LSU Caps Successful Season For UNC Fans

In October, North Carolina fans had no idea what to expect from this season.  Tar Heel supporters were still giddy from last April’s national championship victory, but the loss of the team’s top seven scorers greatly diminished expectations for 2005-06.  Today, UNC fans have a deep sense of satisfaction about this college basketball season.  LSU made sure of that last night, eliminating Duke in the Sweet 16.



Three things needed to take place for this to be considered a successful year for Carolina fans.  First, the Heels would have to make the NCAA tournament.  UNC accomplished that goal with ease, finishing second in the ACC.  David Noel and Reyshawn Terry flourished in expanded roles, and Tyler Hansbrough left no doubt that he was the top freshman in the nation.  Hansbrough was great at a young age – basically the Dakota Fanning of Tobacco Road.  Except that Dakota can’t post up as well.



Secondly, UNC would have to continue its home winning streak against Clemson.  On February 4, Carolina moved to 52-0 all-time in Chapel Hill versus the Tigers with a 76-61 triumph.  What’s most amazing about this streak is that it even survived the Matt Doherty era.  When Clemson’s next trip to Chapel Hill appears on the schedule, expect the Tigers to forfeit.  That way, the program can save on travel costs and spare the players from inevitable humiliation.



The final key to a successful season for UNC fans was that Duke could not win the national championship.  Last year, Carolina supporters rejoiced as Roy Williams and his team ruled college basketball – just three years after a disastrous 8-20 campaign.  With the mass exodus out of Chapel Hill in the off-season, Tar Heel fans acknowledged that the title would more than likely be passed on to someone else this April.  But it had to go far away – not just eight miles up the road.



The Blue Devils appeared to be a major threat to bring home the trophy this season.  They finished 14-2 in conference and won the ACC tournament.  As a result, they entered the NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed.  However, those credentials and the presence of Mike Krzyzewski on the bench could not offset a phrase that will cause nightmares for Dukies for years to come: “J.J. Redick in March.”



In LSU’s 62-54 victory last night, Redick finished with 11 points on 3-18 shooting.  Over his career, in games during the Sweet 16 and beyond, he shot 24-87 (28%) from the field.  As a result, college basketball observers are speculating that “J.J.” stands for “Jittery Jumpers.”  However, Redick apparently has an admirer in Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  The Duke guard was able to accomplish what Manning has been unable to do so far: play his best ball in January.



So even though George Mason is in action tonight instead of the Tar Heels, UNC fans will be in a good mood.  The loss to the Patriots was disappointing, particularly since you would not expect an entire state (North Carolina) to lose to one guy (George Mason).  But after a better-than-expected season and with a tremendous recruiting class on the way, the outlook is very bright in Chapel Hill.  Or, as it’s known today with all the new LSU fans there: East Baton Rouge.



From this point on, Tar Heel supporters will only have to see Coach K when his Chevy commercials appear on the screen.  It’s the second straight year that Krzyzewski’s ads have run endlessly during the tournament.  It’s also the second straight tournament in which the top-seeded Blue Devils have failed to reach the Elite Eight.  With that in mind, expect UNC fans to lobby for more endorsement opportunities for Coach K.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tagliabue's Retirement Plan

On Monday, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that he will retire in July.  Tagliabue has had a highly regarded tenure since replacing Pete Rozelle in 1989.  No work stoppages have occurred on his watch, and the NFL’s popularity towers over other professional sports leagues.



The departing commissioner has an endless number of possibilities for what he can do next.  One can only imagine what suggestions that other public figures who have retired would have for him.  Here’s how a few individuals – past and present - might have advised Tagliabue on how to spend his retirement.



Keith Jackson:  Return in the fall, but only as the commissioner for west coast teams


Michael Jordan:  Try your luck at minor league baseball


Jim Brown:  Become a film action hero


Sugar Ray Leonard:  Un-retire a bunch of times before the retirement actually sticks


Richard Nixon:  Fly off in a helicopter and get pardoned by Gerald Ford


Johnny Carson:  Before you go, get Bette Midler to come by and sing to you


Roger Clemens:  Keep people in the dark about whether you’re really retiring or not


Bill Clinton:  Have your wife run for the Senate


John Wooden:  Watch as replacements regularly get hired, then fired for not measuring up to you


Grace Kelly:  Marry a European prince


Mark McGwire:  Refuse to talk about the past


Joe Namath:  Show up drunk on the sideline and hit on a reporter


Ted Koppel:  Have three people take your place


Secretariat:  Get put out to stud, siring potential future commissioners


Joe Paterno:  Retire?  What does that mean?



Tagliabue does not plan to immediately move into a retirement home.  However, when that day arrives, the facility will surely be equipped with luxury boxes.  And the bingo games will be played under a revenue-sharing agreement.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mid-Majors & Lee Majors: A Comparison

The mid-majors have had a huge impact on the NCAA tournament thus far. George Mason knocked off Michigan State and defending champion North Carolina to reach the Sweet Sixteen – very close to home in Washington, D.C. They will meet revenge-minded Wichita State on Friday in a rematch of last month’s Bracket Buster showdown. One night earlier, the Bradley Braves take on top-seeded Memphis after taking down Kansas and Pittsburgh.

As a result, the mid-majors will have a starring role in the CBS lineup on Thursday and Friday. They will thereby emulate Lee Majors, a prime-time mainstay throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The mid-majors and Lee Majors share numerous similarities, as shown below.

Lee Majors: Cast member on The Big Valley
Mid-Majors: Wichita State and Bradley are members of the Missouri Valley

Lee Majors: Played Heath Barkley on The Big Valley
Mid-Majors: Bradley alumnus Hersey Hawkins played with Charles Barkley in Philly

Lee Majors: Best known as Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man
Mid-Majors: George Mason neutralized Tyler Hansbrough, a future multi-million dollar man

Lee Majors: Steve Austin was put back together by surgeons
Mid-Majors: Wichita State was put together by coach Mark Turgeon

Lee Majors: Steve Austin: “Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
Mid-Majors: Better than they were before. Better, stronger, faster.

Lee Majors: In carrying out government missions, Steve Austin was a patriot
Mid-Majors: George Mason’s team is known as the Patriots

Lee Majors: Steve Austin teamed up with Jaime Sommers, a/k/a The Bionic Woman
Mid-Majors: Bradley’s leading scorer is Marcellus Sommerville

Lee Majors: Appeared on millions of lunchboxes during the heyday of The Six Million Dollar Man
Mid-Majors: Wichita State alums Dan and Frank Carney provided lunches to millions by founding Pizza Hut

Lee Majors: Starred as The Fall Guy
Mid-Majors: George Mason guard Tony Skinn caused a guy to fall, after punching him in the family jewels

Lee Majors: Played a character named Colt on The Fall Guy
Mid-Majors: After playing basketball at Bradley, tight end Marcus Pollard spent ten years with the Colts

Lee Majors: Co-starred on The Fall Guy with Heather Thomas
Mid-Majors: George Mason’s starting lineup includes Will Thomas

Lee Majors: Is currently on marriage number four
Mid-Majors: George Mason eliminated two of last season’s Final Four

Lee Majors: Ex-wife Farrah Fawcett was featured on a famous swimsuit poster
Mid-Majors: Wichita State alumnus Xavier McDaniel was often posterized by Michael Jordan

It remains to be seen whether the mid-majors can continue their heroics later this week. If they do, chances are they’ll be running in slow motion and making bionic sound effects.

Friday, March 17, 2006

March Madness Limericks

Today provides two huge reasons to celebrate – St. Patrick’s Day, and another full day of NCAA tournament action. To honor the Big Dance and all things Irish, I will share these March Madness limericks with you. Feel free to raise a glass before enjoying them.

When it’s time for your office pool

Be careful when picking your school

If they lose right away

Co-workers will say

“Have fun in last place, you fool”

It’s a big time for all the mid-majors

Who could bring huge returns on your wagers

When they beat a top seed

Lots of fans will have need

For a couple of shots of Jager

When a shocking bid went to Air Force

Cincinnati fans screamed themselves hoarse

As the Illini

Bid the Falcons goodbye

The Bearcats remarked “Of course!”

Last week A&M was in trouble

As they struggled with life on the bubble

Now they’re into round two

To take on LSU

After leaving the Orange in rubble

There is a 9 seed named Bucknell

Thanks to them last year Kansas fell

Now the Bison are back

So beware Razorbacks

Or you’ll have 40 minutes of hell

When IU hit from long range late

They survived San Diego State

Davis is still around

For at least one more round

So the pleas for Steve Alford can wait

When Pacific matched up with BC

They battled through double OT

The Eagles were winners

Relieving Al Skinner

Who thought “these nail-biters kill me”

When it seemed that Gonzaga would crack

Morrison put them on his back

He scored 35

So the Zags would survive

Unlike the Nevada Wolf Pack

Last season the title was Roy’s

But this year he had to coach boys

All the critics threw up

As the freshmen grew up

And the Heels plan to make some more noise

It was hard for fans to believe

When a two seed the Vols received

Many thought they would drop

Right away to Winthrop

Until Lofton’s last-second heave

Now UCLA’s on a roll

With a Final Four berth as a goal

But if things fall apart

The fans can take heart

That USC lost the Rose Bowl

The Longhorns feel they have a chance

To celebrate next to Jim Nantz

Then Austin would rock

And claim the best jocks

As the hoopsters join Vince Young and Lance

Villanova has claimed a top seed

Thanks to guards with impressive speed

Though their team may be short

They feel a frontcourt

Is something they don’t really need

There is a proud coach named Calhoun

Who has Williams, Gay, Brown, and Boone

If his team comes to play

They could go all the way

But they might just as easily swoon

A top seed again goes to Duke

Whose success is surely no fluke

But when Dickie V screams

His love for this team

It makes other fans want to puke

When the tourney wraps up for the year

Then “One Shining Moment” you’ll hear

You may think it’s wrong

But this sappy song

Brings basketball fans to tears

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

MLB Teams To Wear Throwback Togas On Ides of March

Major league baseball has always been keenly aware of history.  Long after their deaths, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson remain household names in America.  This Wednesday, a legend from even farther in the past will be remembered.  On the anniversary of his death on the Ides of March, teams will honor Julius Caesar by wearing throwback togas during exhibition games.



This activity continues commissioner Bud Selig’s efforts to reach out internationally in the midst of the World Baseball Classic.  By honoring a former leader from a different part of the world, Selig hopes to add more fans from that region.  Teams were willing to go along with the plan, as long as the tribute occurred in the pre-season.  Last season, the commissioner faced widespread resistance in his attempt to do something similar on May 5, the anniversary of Napoleon’s death.  Because those games would have counted in the standings, Selig’s plan to play only short guys with French accents on that date was emphatically rejected.



Most importantly, as the Latin influence on the major leagues continues to grow, baseball will honor someone who spoke Latin.  White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is particularly excited to pay tribute to the legendary Roman.  Caesar’s phrase Veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) was particularly meaningful to Guillen after his team swept the Astros to win the World Series.  Ozzie plans to research more of Caesar’s favorite phrases, hoping to learn how to use profanity in a dead language.



Caesar’s assassination did have many parallels to present-day baseball.  Like a hitting coach, Brutus reportedly told his fellow Roman senators to “go out there and take some cuts.”  Unfortunately for Caesar, the Roman senators made far better contact than the Washington Senators.  He was stabbed 23 times, with his attackers pausing during the 17th stabbing stretch to sing “Take Me Out To the Senate.”  The most aggressive attackers were twin brothers Jose and Ozzie Augustus, who gave birth to the phrase “twin killing.”



Surprisingly, one of Selig’s biggest supporters in this effort is Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.  This spring, The Boss has been vocal in his criticism of the commissioner and his ardor for the World Baseball Classic.  However, Steinbrenner is eager to have his team display its pinstriped togas versus Houston on Wednesday.  As a result, a powerful dictator with a goal of world domination will be honored.  And so will Caesar.



The tribute could bring some awkward situations during play, with base running to be particularly affected.  Sliding while wearing togas could easily lead to cuts, and running around in sandals will hamper speed on the basepaths.  Also, laurel wreaths will not be as effective as baseball caps in keeping the sun out of players’ eyes.  On the plus side, the numbers on the back of the togas will be in Roman numerals.



Beginning on Thursday, the togas used in Wednesday’s games will be available for bidding on Ebay.  Look for the toga of Barry Bonds to be the most coveted item.  In the clubhouse, the Giants slugger has often emulated Caesar in the Roman senate.  He’s had lots of things stuck into his body.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bracket Man

This Thursday, sports fans across America will immerse themselves in March Madness.  Although he’s a Brit, surely Elton John understands the excitement generated by the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Putting himself in the shoes of a college hoops die-hard, here’s how Sir Elton might view the world on Thursday.



I made my tourney picks last night

Zero hour 12 p.m.

And I’m gonna have cheese fries and Bud Light by then

I’ll miss a day of work to my delight

I’m watching all the games

Live via satellite


And I think it’s gonna be a long long day

‘Til upsets turn me into disarray

Don’t let my Final Four picks get sent home

Oh no no no I’m a bracket man

Bracket man screaming in the ESPN Zone


March ain’t the time to pick a 16 seed

But watch out for the 12’s

And I hate when my team blows a lead

And my bad luck I don’t understand

I never win my office pool

A bracket man, a bracket man


And I think it’s gonna be a long long day

‘Til upsets turn me into disarray

Don’t let my Final Four picks get sent home

Oh no no no I’m a bracket man

Bracket man screaming in the ESPN Zone

Friday, March 10, 2006

Big East Denies Syracuse Request To Skip First 39 Minutes of Title Game

Syracuse has had a tremendous run so far in the Big East tournament.  Despite being the #9 seed, the Orange has won three consecutive nail-biters to advance to Saturday’s championship game.  However, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has dealt the team its first defeat over the past few days.  Tranghese denied Syracuse’s request to skip the first 39 minutes of the title game and proceed directly to the final minute of play.



In the first round, the Orange used a last-second three-pointer from Gerry McNamara to defeat Cincinnati 74-73.  Against top-ranked Connecticut the following day, McNamara hit another critical three, tying the game with 5.5 seconds remaining.  Syracuse went on to win 86-84 in overtime.  Tonight, Eric Devendorf’s layup with nine seconds remaining gave the Orange a 58-57 triumph over Georgetown.  The exciting final minute of these games made Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim conclude that the first 39 were irrelevant.



Knowing that such a scenario is unavoidable versus Pittsburgh in the finals, Boeheim decided to appeal to the league to do away with the first 39 minutes on Saturday.  The Hall of Fame coach argued that such a move would benefit both teams and the conference in general.  He noted that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be playing for the fourth consecutive day, so competing for another 40 minutes could cause fatigue that might hurt both teams in the NCAA tournament.



In his appeal to league officials, Boeheim pointed out that his Orange trailed by 15 at halftime against Georgetown and led by 11 at the break versus Connecticut.  “But,” he asked Tranghese, “Do you remember any of that?  Of course not!  All you remember is Gerry making those big plays at the end – admit it!  It’s all about the drama at the finish – why waste any time on the rest?”



The coach cannot be blamed for wanting matters to go down to the last minute again.  McNamara has been transcendent at the end of all three victories, so Boeheim is eager to continue riding the senior’s wave of heroics.  After the victory over Cincinnati, Boeheim took the opportunity to lambaste a column in The Daily Orange that had labeled McNamara as overrated.  The column was actually written a month ago – mysteriously, Boeheim made no mention of it after his team’s 39-point defeat at DePaul.  He further blasted the campus newspaper for criticizing Derrick Coleman’s defense in 1988.  The coach remarked, “They’re entitled to their opinions – as long as they always say great things about us.”



As expected, Big East officials denied Boeheim’s request.  Tranghese cited the league’s broadcast agreement with ESPN, among other factors, to uphold the traditional 40-minute contest.  Boeheim responded that ESPN could easily fill time from 8:00 to 9:30, possibly with another viewing of last Saturday’s UNC-Duke game from the view of a camera inserted inside J.J. Redick’s sock.  However, his pleas were in vain, so the full 40 minutes will be played as scheduled.  Boeheim has not decided whether he will be on the sideline for the entire contest.  His preference is to watch a DVD of Hoosiers in the locker room, then go courtside for the last few minutes to see McNamara do his Jimmy Chitwood impression. 



Win or lose, Syracuse is much better off than a few days ago, when it was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.  It seems appropriate that the Orange waited so long to lock up a spot in the Big Dance.  After all, Syracuse is at its best when it waits until the last minute.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Baseball Triumph Continues Canada's Domination of Phoenix Sports Landscape

Today’s 8-6 victory by Canada over the United States in the World Baseball Classic left many observers stunned.  With powerhouses such as the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Cuba in other brackets, this round was supposed to be a formality for the Americans.  However, placing the game in the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks made the upset inevitable.  Canada simply continued its quest to take over the Phoenix sports world.



The movement began in 1996 as the Winnipeg Jets relocated to the Valley of the Sun and became the Phoenix Coyotes.  Immediately, the Arizona capital contained far more Canadian athletes than it had ever seen.  However, ownership disguised its intentions, knowing that a successful Canadian takeover of Phoenix sports would have to be gradual.  The city’s residents did not suspect a thing at the time, with the team’s leading scorer (Keith Tkachuk) hailing from Massachusetts and the star goalie (Nikolai Khabibulin) coming from Russia.  Just to be safe, ownership added another American star, center Jeremy Roenick, in a trade with the Chicago Black Hawks.



The real sign of a Canadian conspiracy came in 2001, as the Coyotes were sold to a new ownership group.  The new managing partner happened to be the most famous athlete in Canada’s history – all-time great Wayne Gretzky.  It was a natural progression, as the previous managing partner was a man known as “The Pretty Good One.”  In 2005, The Great One added “head coach” to his job description.  He had not planned to coach, but he changed his mind after his wife bet him that he couldn’t do it.



Seizing control in hockey is not unexpected for Canadians, but the same cannot be said of basketball.  However, the reigning NBA MVP is Suns point guard Steve Nash, who hails from Victoria, British Columbia.  Despite the absence of star big man Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix is firmly entrenched in first place.  Therefore, Nash is the MVP favorite once again.  With a Canadian star having taken control of the team, some local residents are fearful that Americans no longer have a place on the Suns.  Speculation is rampant that owner Jerry Colangelo plans to acquire more players from north of the border in the off-season.  Also, rumors are circulating that instead of the traditional tank-top uniforms, Suns players will soon be dressed as Mounties.



Currently the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cardinals do not feature any Canadians on their rosters.  Not coincidentally, those franchises are floundering.  The Diamondbacks did win the 2001 World Series, with Randy Johnson picking up the wins in games six and seven.  The Big Unit was only capable of such heroics because he began his major league career in Montreal.  As for the Cardinals, they will host the Super Bowl in two years.  To have any hope of competing in that event, they may have to succumb to the Maple Leaf Siren Song.  If Arizona represents the NFC in Super Bowl XLII, it may be led by quarterback Avril Lavigne.



The next step in Canada’s inevitable takeover of Phoenix was Team Canada’s victory this afternoon.  In any other city, Team USA would be sitting pretty with 22-game winner Dontrelle Willis starting opposite Orioles farmhand Adam Loewen.  In Phoenix, however, the Canadians teed off as if the Willis they were facing was Todd Bridges on Diff’rent Strokes.  Canada’s centerfielder Adam Stern was the offensive star with a single, triple, and inside-the-park home run.  As a result, in this contest alone he exceeded his major league career hit total by one.  Ken Griffey, Jr. could have done the same if he had gotten 2,305 hits in today’s game.



Despite a furious rally by Team USA, the eighth inning provided proof that any efforts to resist the Canadians in Phoenix would be futile.  Trailing by two runs with two men on, Phillies star Chase Utley crushed a ball that seemed sure to reach the seats of Chase Field.  However, Stern caught the ball at the wall to end the inning.  Thus, the Canadian mystique was even more powerful than one of baseball’s oldest truisms: that a player with the same first name as a ballpark will dominate in that park.  This rule was best embodied by former Houston legend Astrodome Johnson.  But in Chase Field, Chase Utley could only scream, “D’oh Canada!”



Clearly nothing can stop the momentum of Canadian athletes in Phoenix for the foreseeable future.  As a result, local residents can expect to hear this utterance for years to come: “It’s a dry heat, eh?”

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Curse of the Hemrino Haunts Duke

This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated features Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison and Duke’s J.J. Redick on the cover.  Blue Devil fans may have feared the worst when seeing that photo of their All-American.  However, Duke’s two losses this week resulted from a far more powerful force than the SI cover jinx.  The Devils were victimized by the vaunted Curse of the Hemrino.



Dickie Hemric excelled on the basketball court for Wake Forest from 1952 through 1955.  He finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 2,587 points.  That mark stood for 51 years until last weekend, when Redick passed Hemric in a victory over Temple.  In response to his record being broken, the former Demon Deacon reportedly placed a curse on Redick’s Blue Devils.  Hemric vowed that Duke would not win another game during Redick’s career.



Hemric’s promise appears to be coming to fruition.  In their first contest since the record was broken, the top-ranked Blue Devils were upset 79-74 by Florida State.  However, unlike what you’d see in a run-of-the-mill surprise, strange things were happening in Tallahassee.  The Seminole fans did not bother to wait until the end of the game to storm the court.  Florida State shot 23 more free throws than Duke.  And proving that something completely unexplainable was in the air, an FSU football player was spotted that night in the library.



In its next game, Duke returned home for a showdown with bitter rival North Carolina.  Hemric’s spell worked again, as the Tar Heels captured an 83-76 victory.  Once again, bizarre forces were at work.  The four UNC freshmen who saw action, led by Tyler Hansbrough’s 27 points, outscored the four Duke seniors 55-51.  Redick missed 15 of his final 16 shots, possibly distracted by a group of Florida State fans who stormed the court during the first half.  And the Blue Devils didn’t just taste defeat on ESPN – they lost on three different ESPN channels.  Today the network is labeling Hemric “the worldwide leader in curses.”



Hemric’s efforts caused Duke to accomplish a dubious feat: losing two consecutive games as the #1 team in the nation.  Noticing a promising trend, rival ACC coaches will probably vote to keep Duke in the top spot.  However, only one of them will be fortunate enough to draw the Blue Devils in Friday’s quarterfinals.  Thanks to Hemric, that lucky team’s place in the semifinals is assured.



Even Redick seemed to know that setting the record could lead to disaster.  His performance tailed off the closer he got to the mark.  He scored a season-low 11 points in the record-setting game against Temple.  Selfishly, he decided to pass Hemric, rather than inventing a season-ending injury a few points short.  Now his teammates will suffer the consequences.  Shelden Williams surely wishes that Redick had heeded Hemric’s warning: “Beware the bricks of March.”



Coach Mike Krzyzewski appears to see the writing on the wall.  In an attempt to combat the curse, Coach K attempted to enroll Curt Schilling as a Duke student.  Although K is Schilling’s favorite letter, Krzyzewski’s efforts were unsuccessful.  As a result, the coach will skip future practices in order to make more commercials.  Coach K is always eager to display his sense of humor – best shown when he started Steve Wojciechowski at point guard.



Redick is still certain to be named ACC player of the year.  On the other hand, North Carolina will be sure of one thing if it wins the conference tournament.  Hansbrough may be the Tar Heels’ best player, but Dickie Hemric will be the MVP.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hornets Give Up Second Half Scoring For Lent

Six months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras parties lifted many spirits in New Orleans this week.  The celebrations then gave way to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  One group of displaced Big Easy residents is making sure to observe the 40-day period so important to Christianity.  The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets have decided to give up second half scoring for Lent.



The team made good on its vow Wednesday night in an 89-67 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.  After taking a 51-47 lead into the locker room, the Hornets scored just eight points in each of the third and fourth quarters.   Their 16 second half points represented a record low since the shot clock was introduced in 1954.  In contrast, Kobe Bryant alone scored 55 second half points on the same floor on January 22.  That night, the Toronto Raptors got an early start on Lent by giving up defense.



Amazingly, the Hornets went scoreless for a 12:41 stretch in the third and fourth quarters, while the Clippers scored 25 points during that stretch.  Dick Cheney shot more accurately than the Hornets, who missed 21 consecutive field goal attempts at one point.  For the second half as a whole, they were 5 for 34.  However, their misfiring endeared them greatly to the Messiah.  In the words of the Book of Matthew, “blessed are the brick shooters.”



Lent originated as a way to emulate Jesus, who retreated into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days to prepare for his ministry.  The Hornets are in a wilderness of their own, having been displaced from New Orleans.  The team is based in Oklahoma City for now, although it will play three games in New Orleans in the coming weeks.  New Orleans/Oklahoma City needs to count on a strong sense of faith for another reason.  It plays in the NBA’s toughest division.  Just as temptation has brought down so many weak men, so have the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.



One of the central figures in spreading the teachings of Jesus was the Apostle Paul.  His role in spreading Christianity has made him venerated as a saint.  The Hornets are also reverential toward Paul.  In this case, it’s point guard Chris Paul, the odds-on choice for NBA Rookie of the Year.  However, Chris Paul cannot be considered a saint, as the rules for canonization strictly forbid punching Julius Hodge in the family jewels.



Lent comes to its conclusion on the sacred day of Easter.  The Hornets have clearly learned from the example of Jesus, who rose from the dead after inspiring a hit movie from Mel Gibson.  Having posted a franchise-worst 18-64 mark last season, New Orleans/Oklahoma City is currently 31-26.  It’s a resurrection that many would consider miraculous.



Giving up their second half offense for 40 days will certainly turn that record for the worse, although the Hornets do get a few days off before Tuesday’s inevitable loss to Phoenix.  The team would need a divine first half to even win one game over that span.  However, the franchise has clearly learned an important lesson.  Succeeding in the NBA is all about sacrifice.