Wednesday’s NBA draft was notable in two ways. First, high schoolers were excluded, leading to a steep decline in analysts’ use of the word “upside.” Secondly, every player chosen was required to be traded to or from the Portland Trailblazers. Below are some brief comments about each of the 14 lottery selections.
1. Toronto: Andrea Bargnani, F, Italy. His historic selection is overshadowed at home by the World Cup. If Italy wins the title, Bargnani will honor the accomplishment by not using his hands during his rookie season.
2. Portland (from Chicago via New York): LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Texas. The last #2 overall pick to wind up with the Blazers was Sam Bowie. Considering the luck that selection brought the Bulls, Chicago made sure this pick went to Portland.
3. Charlotte: Adam Morrison, F, Gonzaga. Morrison follows Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, and Sean May as the Bobcats’ lottery picks. Expect Charlotte to be fined by the league for drafting too many accomplished college players.
4. Chicago (from Portland): Tyrus Thomas, F, LSU. The athletic Thomas is definitely the right LSU player for coach Scott Skiles. The hard-nosed Skiles would never allow a Big Baby in his locker room.
5. Atlanta: Shelden Williams, F, Duke. Because he “owns the paint,” Williams is nicknamed “The Landlord.” Now he goes to a franchise that’s the rat-infested slum of the NBA.
6. Portland (from Minnesota): Brandon Roy, G, Washington. It’s been a big week for Roy, who gets to stay in the Pacific Northwest. He’s still thrilled over brother Patrick’s election to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
7. Minnesota (from Portland via Boston): Randy Foye, G, Villanova. Foye has been compared by some to Dwyane Wade. After his selection, three guys who patted him on the back were whistled for fouls.
8. Memphis (to be traded from Houston): Rudy Gay, F, Connecticut. The Rockets will regret this deal. The return of Houston guard Bob Sura from knee surgery could have inspired Rocket fans to sing, “Gay-Sura-Sura, whatever will be will be…”
9. Golden State: Patrick O’Bryant, C, Bradley. O’Bryant played in the Warriors’ home arena during the Sweet 16. That’s the last post-season action he’ll see in Oakland.
10. Seattle: Saer Sene, F, Senegal. Sonics officials achieved their goal of creating the draft’s best tongue-twister: “Seattle Supersonics’ Saer Sene of Senegal.”
11. Orlando: J.J. Redick, G, Duke. The Magic welcomes Redick’s perimeter shooting but plans to lock him out of the arena in late March. He’s proven to be useless at that time of year.
12. New Orleans/Oklahoma City: Hilton Armstrong, C, Connecticut. He’s competitive like (Lance) Armstrong, but he can’t score like (Paris) Hilton.
13. Chicago (from Philadelphia): Thabo Sefolosha, G, Switzerland. Hailing from the same country as Roger Federer, Sefolosha hopes to convince the Bulls to play on a grass court.
14. Utah: Ronnie Brewer, G, Arkansas. His father spent eight years in the NBA during the 70s and 80s, as did Joe Bryant. So Ronnie is already the next Kobe.
The draft presents a challenge for the front offices of each franchise. However, amid the constant flurry of deals, one individual had the toughest job of all on Wednesday: the person in charge of keeping the right hats on the draftees.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Wednesday’s NBA draft was notable in two ways. First, high schoolers were excluded, leading to a steep decline in analysts’ use of the word “upside.” Secondly, every player chosen was required to be traded to or from the Portland Trailblazers. Below are some brief comments about each of the 14 lottery selections.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Oregon State defeated North Carolina 3-2 Monday night in the deciding game of the College World Series. The Beavers captured the title thanks to determined pitching, some ill-timed errors by the Tar Heels, and most importantly, tremendous resiliency. The odds were against the Beavers throughout the CWS. Those obstacles are discussed below.
Constant threat of elimination: After dropping its CWS opener 11-1 to Miami, OSU had to survive six elimination games in Omaha. The Beavers’ refusal to perish impressed Bruce Willis, who has asked them to appear in the next Die Hard movie.
Rice Owls: Oregon State needed two night-time victories over Rice to reach the championship series. And Owls are nocturnal.
Baseball broadcasters: ESPN’s Peter Gammons, a UNC alumnus, is widely respected and has been enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fox’s Steve Lyons, an Oregon State product, is best remembered for dropping trou after sliding into first base.
A fan named Williams: OSU was supported in the stands by actor Barry Williams, while North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams was there to root on his school. One would think that Greg Brady would pale in comparison to a national championship coach. Then again, the theme from The Brady Bunch is far more popular than the UNC fight song.
Latitude: No northern school had won the CWS since Ohio State in 1966. Only by being an OSU did the Beavers have a shot.
Pac-10 runner-up trend in 2006: USC lost the national championship game in football, as UCLA did in basketball. Other notable 2006 runners-up include the Seattle Seahawks and Katharine McPhee – both hailing from Pac-10 cities. Fully aware of the trend, Pac-10 commissioner Thomas C. Hansen conceded to ACC counterpart John Swofford before the championship series.
National animal of Canada: This honor belongs to the Beaver. No team from Canada has ever won the College World Series.
Tigers draft picks: North Carolina pitcher Andrew Miller was Detroit’s first-round selection, while the Tigers snagged Oregon State hurler Jonah Nickerson six rounds later. Miller clearly has more value to Detroit. However, now Nickerson can heckle him, “Hey Andrew, does that fat contract come with a Most Outstanding Player award? Didn’t think so.”
ACC drought: No ACC school had won the College World Series since Wake Forest in 1955. So the conference was definitely due.
Mavericks’ 2-0 series lead: Yes, this is an NBA Finals issue, but the team with the Oregon State guy (Gary Payton) had to rally against the team with the UNC guy (Jerry Stackhouse).
Hurricanes vs. Beavers: This was the matchup when Miami and OSU met in an elimination game on June 20. The Hurricane, portrayed onscreen by Denzel Washington, was a fierce middleweight boxer who was wrongfully imprisoned. The Beaver was a kid from a 1950s sitcom. Gee whiz Wally, won’t the Beav get clobbered?
State capitals: North Carolina’s Raleigh is a thriving city hosting the Stanley Cup champions. Oregon’s Salem is one of those state capitals you always missed on a test.
The Bard of baseball: In the decisive game 3, UNC’s starting pitcher was Daniel Bard, a first-round selection of the Boston Red Sox. When you hear “Bard,” you think of Shakespeare, a standard of excellence for the past 400 years. However, that greatness backfired on Monday. Bard lost focus by insisting on reciting sonnets to impress ESPN’s Erin Andrews.
The mighty Casey: Pat Casey is the coach of Oregon State. You can’t expect a ballclub to win when its leader has a name synonymous with striking out. Fortunately, the CWS was not played in Mudville.
1961 cross-country team: This was the only previous Oregon State team to win a national championship. They had fiercely protected that honor, threatening any subsequent Beavers with the audacity to try to join them. The baseball club must now face the consequences, brazenly crossing these 60-something distance runners.
By overcoming these obstacles, Oregon State has provided great inspiration to its followers. They believe that anything can happen in baseball. Well, except for the Cubs winning the World Series.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The St. Louis Cardinals remain in first place in the National League Central with a 42-32 record. However, they cannot thank the American League Central for their lofty position, as the Cards have dropped six consecutive games to the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The AL Central has had a field day with its NL counterpart, going 41-19 in head-to-head matchups this season.
Each of the top three teams in the AL Central is 10-2 against the NL Central in 2006. The Detroit Tigers lead the division with a 51-25 record – best in the major leagues. The Tigers have been as abusive to their inter-league opponents as ace Kenny Rogers is to cameramen. They are off to their best start since 1984, when the franchise captured its last World Series title. Seeking to recapture the magic of that time, team personnel have plastered “Re-elect Reagan” stickers all over the clubhouse.
Just behind Detroit are the defending champion Chicago White Sox. Before dropping a 13-inning marathon Sunday night, the Sox had tormented the Houston Astros. In addition to last fall’s World Series sweep, Chicago took the first two games this weekend. Those victories were on the heels of three-game sweeps of the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. The White Sox had 20-run and 13-run outputs in the first two contests versus the Cardinals, preparing St. Louis fans for the scoring outbursts they’ll see from Rams opponents this fall. Chicago’s treatment of the NL Central has inspired critics to denounce manager Ozzie Guillen for his blatant insensitivity toward the division.
The Minnesota Twins have used inter-league play to improve to 39-35 overall. Catcher Joe Mauer has been exceptional, leading the major leagues with a .368 batting average. Mauer was the #1 overall selection in the 2001 major league draft – one spot ahead of the Cubs’ Mark Prior. The two high draft picks crossed paths Saturday, with the Twins defeating Prior 3-0. After the game, Mauer shook hands with Prior, sending him back to the disabled list.
Even the Kansas City Royals have been successful against the NL Central, going 7-5 against their inter-league foes. Included in that record was a three-game sweep of the Pirates. However, the sweep was not overly impressive, as it was accomplished against actual pirates. Their wooden legs took away their speed on the basepaths, and their eyepatches severely limited their vision at the plate.
Only the Cleveland Indians have failed to uphold the honor of the AL Central, with a 4-8 record against their NL counterparts. Despite DH Travis Hafner’s big numbers, Cleveland is a huge disappointment with a 33-41 mark – 17 games out of first. Their three-game sweep by Milwaukee could be excused, since the Brewers used to be a division rival and may not have been viewed as an inter-league opponent. However, they get no such pass for dropping a series to the Cubs.
The AL Central has one more week to enjoy inter-league play. After next Sunday, the division members must come to the same difficult realization that schoolchildren do each September. Vacation time will be over.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ghana eliminated the United States from the World Cup today with a 2-1 victory. The defeat was a huge disappointment for an American team eager to make an impact on the international soccer landscape. John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is particularly frustrated by today’s result. Bolton has had to endure merciless taunting from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a native of Ghana.
Touted as the best American squad in history, the U.S. turned out to be highly overrated. Despite a difficult draw, the team expected much better than a draw and two defeats in its matches. Italy scored as many goals for the U.S. as the American players did. This lack of offense came from a squad ranked fifth in the world by FIFA. However, those rankings are largely considered unreliable, particularly since the #8 position went to the team from Bend It Like Beckham led by Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley.
This ineptitude has led Annan to drop by Bolton’s office for a regular dose of heckling. It began immediately after today’s final whistle with Annan asking, “Hey Bolton, do you know what ‘USA’ stands for? ‘Ugly Soccer Always!’” He continued, “I know it’s hard to find enough players in a nation of 300 million – that’s really tough odds against our 22 million.” In a subsequent e-mail, the Secretary-General wrote, “Bolton, sorry about the hard time I gave you. I know the U.S. isn’t a soccer country. But at least you still dominate in baseball. Whoops, forgot about the World Baseball Classic. Well, not everything is as automatic as a gold medal in men’s basketball. Wait, never mind…”
Annan also incorporated significant UN issues into his abuse. He informed Bolton, “When Americans say, ‘Bring our troops home,’ ‘troops’ does not mean ‘soccer team.’” The Secretary-General then appeared to take a serious tone, noting, “I really do care about the U.S. World Cup team. The UN is committed to assisting anyone who is downtrodden.” After some chuckles, he added, “But things will get better – maybe Angelina Jolie will adopt them.” After Annan walked away, Bolton complained to his assistant, “I feel like I’m in Guantanamo Bay.”
Annan acted in a similar manner after Ghana’s 2-0 defeat of the Czech Republic last Saturday. He gave plenty of ribbing to Hynek Kmoníček, Czech Ambassador to the UN. Annan proclaimed, “Sorry Hynek, your Czechs got bounced!” He then took a Post-it note on Kmoníček’s desk, writing “Prague-nosis: Defeat” before sticking the note onto the ambassador’s computer screen.
However, the Secretary-General surely takes particular joy in getting under Bolton’s skin. The ambassador has alienated many at the UN’s New York headquarters with his blunt manner. He has often been sharply critical of the UN and has called for widespread reform. Of course, the war in Iraq makes Bolton, as well as the nation he represents, even more unpopular at the UN. However, Annan noted that U.S. coach Bruce Arena clearly desires peace, because “his guys never go on the offensive.”
Annan is unlikely to be so giddy on Tuesday, when Ghana takes on powerhouse Brazil in the knockout round. However, do not expect Brazilian UN ambassador Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg to gloat if his country triumphs. By authority of the UN Charter, Annan could banish him from the premises with a red card.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Tuesday night the Miami Heat held off the Dallas Mavericks 95-92 in Game 6 to capture the NBA championship. After squandering a 2-0 series lead, the Mavericks are left to ponder what might have been. Meanwhile, Finals MVP Dwyane Wade has entered a rarefied air, while Shaquille O’Neal and Pat Riley have earned another ring. The following reasons explain why South Florida is celebrating today.
Carolina Hurricanes. With one destructive weather pattern winning a title this week, the Heat was bound to follow suit.
Florida Marlins. The baseball club is on a surprising nine-game winning streak. The Heat had to keep winning to have any hope of maintaining local sports fans’ interest.
L.A. sports talk radio. Sure, the Dodgers are in contention, but Angelenos would prefer yet another opportunity to analyze the breakup of Shaq and Kobe.
Uphill fight for Howards. Ryan Howard drove in seven runs Tuesday night, yet the Phillies still lost to the Yankees. So why would 14 points and 12 rebounds be enough for Josh Howard?
German sports fans. With all their energy focused on the World Cup, they had no positive energy to send across the Atlantic to Dirk Nowitzki. You can’t get all your inspiration from David Hasselhoff.
Master of Champions. If the series had gone seven games, you’d have to wait beyond Thursday to see the blind-folded foot archery display on ABC. America needs its bizarre reality shows NOW!
Alonzo Mourning’s legacy. It’s just inconceivable that a longtime center from Georgetown could end his NBA career without a championship.
1992 NBA draft. Shaq and Mourning were the top two selections that year. So next season, the team that unites Chris Webber and Shawn Bradley – 1 & 2 in 1993 – will win the title.
Terrell Owens. T.O. had nothing to do with the Mavericks’ loss, but Dallas sports fans might as well get used to focusing their wrath on him.
CBS Lineup. Dallas is long gone, but CSI: Miami is on fire. As Riley does with Gary Payton, the CSI techs put Gloves to good use.
Florida hoops glory. On the heels of the Gators’ NCAA championship, the Heat made it a college/pro sweep for the Sunshine State. With basketball such a force, you have to wonder if football will ever catch on in Florida.
Stan Van Gundy. The former Heat coach misplaced his Pat Riley voodoo doll over the last four games.
3-Pointers are for suckers. The Heat was 2-18 from long range in game 6. Reggie Miller retired before this season because he knew that 3-pointers were no longer important.
Ownership. Heat owner Micky Arison is #94 on Forbes magazine’s list of the “World’s Richest People.” Mark Cuban, at #428, simply did not have the resources to compete.
2003 NBA draft. With a championship ring of his own, Wade can finally stop being jealous of Darko Milicic.
The NBA’s attention now turns to next week’s draft. That event brings a phrase you won’t soon hear again: “The Toronto Raptors are in the spotlight.”
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Monday night the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 to capture the Stanley Cup. With the Oilers’ defeat, Canadian teams still have not won the Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did so in 1993. Like millions of his fellow countrymen, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is tired of seeing victory celebrations south of the border. Seeing what a difference the home ice advantage can make, Harper has vowed to reverse the drought by bringing future game sevens to Canada.
This year marked the third time since 1993 that a Canadian team dropped game 7 in the finals. On each occasion, the decisive contest took place in the United States. The New York Rangers topped the Vancouver Canucks in 1994, and the Tampa Bay Lightning bested the Calgary Flames in 2004. In each case, the home team was the one with the better record during the season. However, Harper feels that for a city to host a game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals, at least five percent of its citizens should have some idea of what icing is.
Harper took office in February after his Conservative Party came to power in the House of Commons. The Conservatives’ campaign strategy was primarily based on blaming the ruling Liberal Party for failing to keep the Stanley Cup in Canada. Conservatives pointed out that when the Liberals and new Prime Minister Jean Chretien gained control in November 1993, Montreal was the reigning champion. Canadian teams had won eight of the previous ten Stanley Cup titles. However, Chretien was ineffectual in countering President Clinton’s aggressive strategy to return the Cup to the United States. Reportedly, the president was furious that consecutive World Series had been won by Toronto and vowed vengeance on his northern neighbors. Later asked if he were responsible for the Quebec Nordiques’ move to Colorado, Clinton responded, “That depends on what your definition of ‘move’ is.”
Prime Minister Harper, a Calgary Flames fan, vows to take stronger action on the issue. He is particularly rankled that in each of the past two finals, a team from the southeastern United States has triumphed over one from Alberta. “Look at the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster,” he bristled. “Canadians all over the place, and not one guy from the Carolinas! So why should Raleigh get game 7?” He further complained that not only do North Carolinians mispronounce “Roy,” but they believe it is the first name of a college basketball coach, rather than the last name of a legendary goaltender.
Harper has appealed to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to change the home ice rules in favor of Canadian franchises. Under the prime minister’s proposal, no U.S. team could host game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against a Canadian opponent. Bettman is not very popular in Canada, but the prime minister knows that he must work with the commissioner to achieve his objectives. Harper promises not to call Bettman “Keyser Soze,” despite his resemblance to Kevin Spacey. The prime minister may even offer the commissioner a cabinet position, although Bettman is not a Canadian citizen. Insiders believe that Bettman would be an excellent choice as the Minister of Penalty Boxes.
The Canadian leader may have some surprising support from his U.S. counterpart. Reports have surfaced that President Bush wanted Edmonton to defeat Carolina. White House officials denied these claims, noting the president’s unwavering patriotism. However, the reports are widely believed to be true, since Bush has proven to be far more responsive to Oilers than to Hurricanes.
It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Harper will be able to bring game sevens to Canada. If he is successful, he will be a national hero. Canadian hockey fans love a guy who converts on a power play.
Monday, June 19, 2006
On the verge of winning his third consecutive major championship on Sunday, Phil Mickelson endured a historic collapse at the U.S. Open. Leading by one stroke at the 18th hole, Mickelson finished with a double-bogey to gift-wrap the title for Geoff Ogilvy. Afterwards Lefty announced that he will join forces with a group that is used to blowing leads. Mickelson has agreed to terms with the Atlanta Braves to join their bullpen.
Before his 2004 Masters victory, Lefty had been derided for coming up short in every major. However, with three major championships now under his belt and a fourth in sight, Mickelson was in territory only Tiger Woods could understand. Soon Tiger was replaced by Jean Van de Velde as Phil’s measuring stick. Sunday’s finish was the worst U.S. Open collapse since Tin Cup hit ball after ball into the water. Like Tin Cup, Mickelson’s playing partner on Sunday was Don Johnson.
Perhaps Mickelson could not finish effectively at Winged Foot because the sports gods had decided that there were already too many closers in New York. Mariano Rivera has stamped his ticket to Cooperstown during a sterling career with the Yankees. Likewise, Billy Wagner is a ninth-inning horse for the Mets, one of many acquisitions helping them to a dominant position in the National League East. However, unlike those two, Lefty was not allowed to have Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring before stepping up to the 18th tee. With no head-banging inspiration available, he badly missed the fairway and later became a man entering the sand.
The Braves endured a collapse of their own on Sunday, with the bullpen allowing six eighth-inning runs in a 10-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox. The defeat was Atlanta’s seventh in a row. John Smoltz was in line for the win, but for the fifth time this season the bullpen cost him a victory. As a result, Smoltz has reportedly requested that his Home Depot commercial get pulled from the air. In the ad, a substitute takes over for him when he cannot complete his duties at the grill. Smoltz feels that the public will not believe that he can receive quality relief, remarking that a realistic portrayal would have the substitute griller setting the yard on fire.
The numbers for the bullpen are brutal. Braves relievers have an ERA over 5, and they have blown 14 of 29 save opportunities. Perhaps longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone had good reason to bolt for Baltimore in the off-season. Even during the frequent good times for Atlanta since 1991, Mazzone was famous for his habit of rocking back and forth in the dugout. This season in the late innings, Mazzone might have chosen instead to repeatedly bang his head against the wall.
Things are so bad, the rotten luck has spread to other bullpens in Atlanta. Georgia Tech exited the College World Series after blowing late leads in each of its two games. At this point, the only quality closer from Atlanta is Brenda Johnson, the character played by Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer. In her case, TNT is a network. Otherwise, TNT is a substance less explosive than the Braves bullpen. They know drama.
Joining the Braves staff makes sense for Mickelson, since he has enjoyed his time in Georgia this year. Phil won his second Masters and third BellSouth Classic in 2006. In his first appearance at Turner Field, Lefty plans to wear a green jacket over his Braves uniform. Jim Nantz will take a turn on the P.A. system, telling Atlanta fans that they are witnessing a tradition unlike any other. The main difference from the Masters is that women have a better chance of playing at Turner Field than at Augusta National.
Smoltz, an avid golfer, is looking forward to having Mickelson as a teammate. He will have plenty of opportunities to use Phil’s insight on the course. Compared to past years, Smoltz will have far more time for golf this October.
Friday, June 16, 2006
The College World Series begins today at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. Four of the eight teams – Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Miami – have an obvious connection to each other as fellow members of the ACC. The bonds between these four and Cal State Fullerton, Georgia, Oregon State, and Rice may not be as obvious. However, each ACC participant does share links to its non-conference counterparts, as illustrated by notable individuals who have spent time at the schools.
Cal State Fullerton: Marc Cherry created Desperate Housewives
Clemson: Kris Benson has a wife who’s desperate for attention
Clemson: Dwight Clark teamed up with Jerry Rice
Georgia: Wayne Knight, as Newman, tormented Jerry Seinfeld
Clemson: Brian Dawkins motivates his Philadelphia Eagles teammates
Oregon State: Sara Jean Underwood, Playboy’s Miss July, motivates sperm donors
Rice: Norm Charlton was one of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Nasty Boys”
Clemson: Strom Thurmond kept doing the nasty in old age, fathering four children after turning 68
Georgia Tech: John Salley co-hosts The Best Damn Sports Show Period
Cal State Fullerton: Kevin Costner’s The Postman was called “the worst damn movie period”
Georgia: The Heat’s Shandon Anderson seeks the Larry O’Brien Trophy
Georgia Tech: Jeff Foxworthy seeks yuks with Larry the Cable Guy
Oregon State: Linus Pauling won Nobel Prizes in chemistry and peace
Georgia Tech: Stephon Marbury disrupts his team’s chemistry and peace
Georgia Tech: Football coach Chan Gailey once coached the Cowboys
Rice: Larry McMurtry wrote a screenplay about gay cowboys
Cal State Fullerton: Gwen Stefani, with No Doubt, sang “Don’t Speak”
North Carolina: Stuart Scott inspires many viewers to wish he didn’t speak
North Carolina: Louise Fletcher, as Nurse Ratched, worked in a nuthouse
Georgia: Zell Miller, as a U.S. senator, works in a nuthouse
Oregon State: High jumper Dick Fosbury invented the Fosbury Flop
North Carolina: The Matt Doherty coaching era was a flop
North Carolina: Julius Peppers leaves quarterbacks “All Shook Up”
Rice: Lance Berkman is called “Fat Elvis”
Miami: The Rock starred in Walking Tall
Cal State Fullerton: Bruce Bowen is tall and sometimes walks
Georgia: Champ Bailey puts hits on opponents
Miami: Suzy Kolber got hit on by Joe Namath
Miami: Gloria Estefan promised, “The rhythm is gonna get you”
Oregon State: Chad Johnson proved her correct with his touchdown dances
Rice: Alberto Gonzales is the United States attorney general
Miami: The U’s football players generally need attorneys
The involvement of eight teams, as well as the double-elimination format, makes the College World Series different from its major league counterpart. However, one thing remains the same: no one from the National League will win this World Series, either.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
On Monday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered numerous injuries in a motorcycle crash in downtown Pittsburgh. The incident came a year after Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. endured a motorcycle crash that caused him to miss the 2005 season. Reports have surfaced that these seemingly unrelated events are connected. An anonymous source claims that the incidents were part of the Cincinnati Bengals’ conspiracy to convince division rivals to ride motorcycles.
Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet at the time of his accident. Such risky behavior had drawn concern from the Steelers organization. Big Ben had even wanted to forgo helmets on the football field before being overruled by head coach Bill Cowher. Last summer, former Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw expressed his dismay over Roethlisberger’s motorcycle riding, feeling that the activity put him in needless jeopardy of serious injury. The Cincinnati front office allegedly arranged for Bradshaw’s appearance, feeling that Big Ben would do the opposite of what the Fox broadcaster advised. This strategy was based on the belief that the phrase “Terry Bradshaw, voice of reason” was too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
Fortunately for Roethlisberger, his injuries do not appear to be as severe as Winslow’s. Big Ben broke his jaw and nose while suffering minor knee injuries, but he is expected to be available when the Steelers begin defense of their Super Bowl title. Winslow, on the other hand, tore knee ligaments and did not see any action last fall. Surveillance video caught Winslow performing stunts in his ride around a parking lot. According to the anonymous source, video also showed a man in a Bengals jersey urging Winslow to try more dangerous maneuvers. That footage has not been shown to the public.
The other members of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens, have not endured any motorcycle mishaps. However, safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis appear to have been targeted. One recent morning, a new Harley-Davidson mysteriously appeared outside Reed’s front door, with a note saying, “This is not from anyone in the Bengals organization. Really, I swear.” Lewis reportedly received a phone call in which the caller disguised his voice and went into great detail about the benefits of motorcycle riding. The fake voice trick apparently did not work, as Lewis knew from caller ID that he was talking to Chad Johnson.
According to the allegations, the conspiracy appears to target division rivals who played college football at Miami. Hurricanes have long been known for their swagger. They are considered more likely than other college players to have a sense of invincibility. Therefore, the theory is that they can be convinced to try dangerous pursuits such as motorcycle riding without fear of injury. The focus on Roethlisberger seems to be an oversight, as he played for Miami of Ohio.
Bengals officials could not be reached for comment. However, they have been stringent in forbidding any of their team members from riding motorcycles. Reportedly, they have been particularly emphatic on this issue with new wide receiver Arthur Fonzarelli, whose love for motorcycles is well-known. The front office clashed with the Fonz over his desire to perform a dangerous stunt with his bike, leaping over golfer Greg Norman. Team officials eventually won out, convincing him that jumping The Shark could lead to disaster.
Sources close to commissioner Paul Tagliabue noted that the league will investigate the allegations. In the meantime, Roethlisberger’s former teammate Jerome Bettis has already taken action in an emergency meeting of Miller Lite’s Men of the Square Table. With no exceptions, motorcycle riders must wear helmets, in accordance with Man Law.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Already casting a huge shadow over major league baseball, performance-enhancing drugs have generated more controversy this week. Human growth hormone has joined steroids in the glaring media spotlight. Reeling from the scandal, the commissioner’s office has decided to create something positive out of the mess. Bud Selig announced that major league baseball will create a spelling bee, in which all the words used are on the league’s banned substances list.
The announcement comes in the aftermath of a raid by federal officials that found human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs in the home of Arizona pitcher Jason Grimsley. The now-former Diamondback admitted that he had used human growth hormone, amphetamines, and steroids in order to bolster and prolong his career. Prior to this week, Grimsley was best known for crawling through a Comiskey Park air conditioning duct in 1994 to retrieve Albert Belle’s allegedly corked bat, which had been confiscated by umpires. So while Grimsley has been unremarkable as a pitcher, he has long been an All-Star cheater.
The federal investigation will certainly find its way to many other major leaguers, causing a public relations nightmare for the MLB office. The commissioner feels that the spelling bee could help to make the best of a bad situation. Selig remarked, “When federal investigators give you lemons, make lemonade. L-E-M-O-N-A-D-E. Lemonade.”
Each major league team will have one boy or girl represent it in the competition. The official rules of the Scripps National Spelling Bee will be in effect. Contestants will be asked to spell words such as androstenedione, stanozolol, and dehydrochloromethyltestosterone. Players suspended under the MLB drug policy could also provide material. For example:
Moderator: “Your word is ‘Palmeiro.’”
Contestant: “Could you use it in a sentence, please?”
Moderator: “Rafael Palmeiro told Congress, ‘I have never used steroids. Period.’”
Contestant: “Palmeiro. F-A-K-E-R. Palmeiro.”
Like major leaguers, the spellers will be subjected to a drug test before they compete. No positive tests are expected from the children, but officials do have one major concern. An excessively nervous contestant could do all his peeing in his pants, before he manages to do so in a cup. Any contestants who do test positive will be removed from the competition and revoked of video game privileges for a month.
The league office feels that the competition will be very popular with the public. Recent spelling bee-themed films Akeelah and the Bee and Spellbound have centered much attention on the contests. ABC even televised the finals of the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee in prime time. However, the network was apparently confused when it agreed to broadcast the competition. Having experienced success with series such as Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, and Dynasty, ABC thought it would be televising a show by Aaron Spelling.
The commissioner’s office hopes that the spelling bee aids the league in a sometimes elusive goal: connecting with kids. The contest will be held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to coincide with the Little League World Series. Having the two events in the same venue will allow for one of the hallmarks of youth to take place: athletes making fun of smart kids.
Numbers have always been special for baseball, with 56, 755, and .406 instantly recognizable to fans. However, the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs has cast doubt about many seemingly impressive figures. To major league baseball, there’s one way to respond to what many consider the cheapening of its numbers. With letters.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Germany is the sports capital of the world this month as it hosts the World Cup. Competition begins Friday, with the Germans taking on Costa Rica. The fervor of soccer fans in most of the participating nations is generally not matched in the USA. However, this quick primer should make you a little more informed about the World Cup and soccer in general.
Contrary to popular belief, the World Cup was not named for former NBA guard World B. Free. His high scoring was contradictory to the principles of soccer.
The World Cup is the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world. Surprisingly, second place belongs to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
In most countries, soccer is known as football. Unlike American football announcers, soccer broadcasters do not feel the need to constantly remind fans of what sport they are watching (“These football players are playing great football in this football game.”)
Brazil, attempting to repeat as champion, is the only country to previously accomplish the feat. Their 1962 triumph delivered on a guarantee made during the 1958 victory celebration by Pat Riley.
The sport’s most well-known rule is that players, excluding the goalkeeper, are forbidden to use their hands. One major exception is that soccer-playing pirates may utilize their hooks.
In 1994, Cameroon’s Roger Milla became the oldest player to score a goal in the World Cup, at 42 years and 39 days. Last week, he signed a contract to pitch for the Houston Astros.
A player expelled from a game receives a red card. His team plays the rest of the game a man short. On the bright side, a red card entitles the recipient to a free sub at Quizno’s.
This year brings the first World Cup appearance for Trinidad & Tobago, Ivory Coast, Angola, Ghana, Togo, and Ukraine. These teams will be hazed by the others, forced to sing their fight songs at meals.
Soccer’s international governing body is FIFA, which stands for Football Is Frickin’ Awesome!
The United States team is rooting heavily for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. They feel that if Dirk Nowitzki wins a championship in the USA, the Germans should allow them to do the same in their country.
The modern game of soccer was developed in England in the 1800s, in response to Queen Victoria’s request for an activity to bring hooligans together.
The 1978 championship match was the only one since 1950 that did not include either Brazil or Germany. On that occasion, the Netherlands lost to Taylor Hicks.
A “Golden Goal” is a game-winner scored in sudden-death overtime. The Golden Goal earns the scorer a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
The official FIFA World Cup Trophy goes on loan for four years to the victorious nation. Many fakes have turned up on EBay, with some versions listing Krypton as the 1982 champion.
England still fumes over a 1986 loss to Argentina, cursing Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God.” Similarly, Gary Coleman still fumes over his noogies on the Diff’rent Strokes set, cursing Todd Bridges’ infamous “Hand of Todd.”
The legendary Pele’s signature move was the bicycle kick, which allowed him to win the World Cup and Tour de France in the same summer.
Iran defeated the United States in a 1998 match, but it is otherwise winless at the World Cup. Sports talk radio callers in Tehran complain, “Sure, we get up for the Great Satan, but where’s that intensity against the run-of-the-mill Satans?”
Andres Cantor is a Telemundo broadcaster celebrated for shouting “GOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLL!!!” He routinely keeps the call going for longer than David Blaine was under water.
In 1994, Brazil needed penalty kicks to defeat Italy for the championship. Italy’s final penalty kick was booted miserably wide by Mike Vanderjagt.
The referee adds stoppage time at the conclusion of each half due to delays from injuries and substitutions. Dick Clark has the same authority at the end of each year.
The competition culminates on July 9, when a champion is crowned. Just as Florida had “One Shining Moment” in Indianapolis, one elated nation will enjoy “Ein Glänzender Moment” in Berlin.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Saturday night, the Dallas Mavericks triumphed 102-93 in Phoenix to eliminate the Suns. They will join the Miami Heat in a very intriguing championship series beginning on Thursday. The following analysis dissects the series’ major storylines and reveals which team has the edge in each area.
First-Timers: For the first time since 1971, the NBA Finals match two franchises who have never previously been finalists. To hype the series, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki will pose like Steve Carell for a poster labeled “The Finals Virgins.” The series MVP will go on to have sex with Catherine Keener. Neither franchise is 40, but Dallas has been waiting longer for this special moment. Advantage: Dallas
The Supreme Court: Dallas assistant Rolando Blackman was a four-time All-Star as a Maverick player. However, he was not the force that Dwyane Wade is for the Heat. So there’s no question who wins “Ro vs. Wade.” Advantage: Miami
American Airlines: The Heat plays in American Airlines Arena, while Dallas calls the American Airlines Center home. The Mavericks’ best player is from Germany, so they get the edge in frequent flyer miles. Advantage: Dallas
Cubans: Miami has a huge Cuban population. But none are worth billions, like Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Advantage: Dallas
Anti-France Movement: Dallas has incurred the wrath of France by eliminating Tony Parker, then Boris Diaw. Miami has wisely kept Frenchmen off of its roster. Advantage: Miami
Nicknames: By definition, Heat is a stifling force. Maverick scores points for nailing Kelly McGillis, but his preferred wing man is Goose, not Jason Terry. Advantage: Miami
Wanna Hear Some Impressions?: Shaquille O’Neal and Dallas coach Avery Johnson will inspire countless half-assed celebrity impersonations from the media. Johnson hasn’t been mimicked quite as much as Shaq, so “the Avery” might be more entertaining. Advantage: Dallas
80s TV Shows: Miami Vice was more trendy, but Dallas delivered huge numbers with “Who Shot J.R.?” Southfork wins over South Beach. Advantage: Dallas
College Bowl Games: For a long time, the Cotton Bowl was on par with the Orange Bowl. But the annual game in Dallas has slipped since the demise of the Southwest Conference, named for the airline. Advantage: Miami
Florida vs. Texas: The states have met in the Finals once before. In 1995, Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic got swept by the Houston Rockets. Do not be surprised if Dallas activates Hakeem Olajuwon. Advantage: Dallas
Second-Best: This spring has been brutal for #1 seeds. None made the Final Four, the Red Wings and Senators fell before the conference finals, and the Pistons and Spurs are sitting at home. Thus, Miami and Dallas were wise in having the second-best record in their respective conferences. Give the Heat an edge for having the second-best record of the two. Advantage: Miami
Super Bowl VI Revenge: The Cowboys thumped the Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. Roger Staubach, the Heat is coming for you! Advantage: Miami
Glory Road: In the film, coming out on DVD this week, Pat Riley loses in the finals to a team from Texas. Unfortunately for the Miami coach, this series is also being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Advantage: Dallas
Walkers: Filmed in Dallas, Walker, Texas Ranger has been off the air since 2001. But Antoine Walker is still draining threes for the Heat. Advantage: Miami
T-Mobile Ads: The Heat have eliminated Vince Carter and Ben Wallace, who both appear in T-Mobile commercials. To avoid such bad luck, Dallas has chosen not to activate me - the happy dad eating a Cobb salad in a new T-Mobile spot. That’s really the only reason I’m not suiting up for the Dallas Mavericks. Advantage: Dallas
Tallying up the results, it’s Dallas 8, Miami 7. So the Mavericks will win a tight series, which goes the full 15 games.
Friday, June 02, 2006
The Kansas City Royals have endured a miserable season thus far, with a 13-38 record. This horrendous start comes on the heels of awful 2004 and 2005 seasons. Having seen enough of this ineptitude, Major League Baseball has taken a bold step. The league office has stripped the Royal status from the club, which is now known as the Kansas City Commoners.
The decision represents the lowest point yet for a once-proud franchise. The Royals won six division titles between 1976 and 1985, capped by the 1985 World Series championship. During that time, this Royal family was respected just as much as its counterpart in England. However, none of the six British kings named George were ever as powerful as George Brett. Kansas City’s George, like England’s George III, did lose some important battles to the Yankees. However, George III did not win three batting titles.
The Royals came into existence in 1969, due to the widespread assumption that the Kansas/Missouri border would be home to the world’s next great monarchy. The NBA felt the same way, so in 1972 the Cincinnati Royals made their way to Kansas City, renaming themselves the Kings. Similar to the Three Wise Men, NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy proclaimed, “A Tiny King will lead us.” Indeed, that season Kings star Nate Archibald led the league in scoring and assists. Ultimately, however, only one kingdom could truly rule in Kansas City. Therefore, the Kings began a new reign in Sacramento in 1985, blaming the Royals’ superiority on umpire Don Denkinger.
Unfortunately, the Royals have never been as regal after that 1985 World Series championship. Kansas City has not reached the postseason since then, and the club has finished with a losing record in 10 of the past 11 seasons. A successful monarchy is one that continues to develop respected world leaders. This organization has only been successful in grooming future New York centerfielders (Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran).
After a surprising 83-79 season in 2003, the Royals fell back into misery with 58-104 and 56-106 records in 2004 and 2005, respectively. While not having the resources of Boston or the New York teams, the front office did make an effort to improve during the off-season. The signings of Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Tony Graffanino added valuable experience and ensured that Kansas City’s infield would be widely respected at the National Spelling Bee. The Royals also acquired outfielder Reggie Sanders, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement’s clause that Sanders must play for every major league team during his career.
However, those efforts have not led to success on the field. The renamed Commoners are already 21 ½ games out of first place and 7 ½ worse than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the second-worst club in the American League. Sadly, they truly deserved to lose their Royal status. Other monarchies have been abolished through legislative actions, coups, or wars. Kansas City’s is the first to be removed by Bud Selig.
Despite the bleak outlook of most observers, new general manager Dayton Moore is optimistic that the Commoners can regain their Royal status. He notes that Spain’s monarchy was restored in 1975 upon the death of Francisco Franco. Moore feels that the same scenario could unfold for Kansas City after the retirement of Julio Franco. Unfortunately for Moore, that retirement may never happen.