Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hypocrisy and Bitchassness

Becky Hammon will play basketball in this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. She just won’t do it for her native United States, instead suiting up for Russia. And Team USA coach Anne Donovan has an issue with that.

“If you play in this country, live in this country and you grow up in the heartland,” Donovan said, “and you put on a Russian uniform – you are not a patriotic person.”

Two memos for Donovan:

-The Cold War is over. Might want to get with the times.

-Last I checked, Team USA didn’t want Hammon on the roster. Hammon was not among the 20 finalists selected for the team, and she told it became clear to her she had no place on Team USA.

Why Team USA didn’t want Hammon is beyond me; Hammon was the 2007 WNBA MVP, averaging 18.8 points and 5.0 assists per game. While at Colorado State, Hammon led her team to a 33-3 record in 1998-99 and earned a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament.

So given Hammon’s accolades, why didn’t Team USA want her? I realize names like Candace Parker and Diana Turasi took precedence, but was there really no room on the squad for a league MVP?

Ignoring the coaching staff’s roster oversight, let’s examine another important factor: Hammon has long dreamed of playing in the Olympics, and Team USA denied her that opportunity. So, realizing she also played professional ball in Russia (for much more money than she did in the WNBA) and held dual citizenship, Hammon decided to suit up for Russia.

Team USA didn’t want Hammon, so she decided to live out her Olympic dream somewhere else. Who wouldn’t have done the same thing, given the opportunity?

I realize the Olympics, ideally, are about representing your country, but Hammon’s native land made it clear it didn’t want her representation in China. So to get all hissy about her playing for another country now screams of sour grapes at best. At worst, it’s straight stupidity.

Which is stunning from someone as highly respected in women’s basketball as Donovan. If she was really that upset over Hammon playing for Russia, why did she not give Hammon a roster spot in the first place? Donovan has no business calling Hammon unpatriotic after refusing to give her a roster spot.

What was Hammon supposed to do? Shrug her shoulders and sit at home because the big, bad U.S. of A. didn't want her?

Hammon’s decision to play for Russia in the Olympics was not made out of national pride; it was made because an opportunity to live out her dream presented itself. Hammon is no more or less patriotic because of her decision; she was merely taking the opportunity presented to her, and I wish her the best.

Besides, it’s not like she’s the first Olympic athlete to play for a country other than that of their birth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kobe Can't Do Without Me

Some Never Learn

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio -- Don Imus has struck again.

The morning radio host who last year lost his job with CBS after referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as a bunch of "nappy-headed hos" apparently hasn't learned his lesson, as on Monday he made racially insensitive remarks with regards to Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

Sports announcer Warner Wolf was talking on Imus' show about Jones' desire to drop his Pacman nickname and be called Adam in an attempt to rehabilitate his image. Imus asked Wolf what color Pacman was, to which Wolf replied, "African-American."

"Well, there you go," Imus said. "Now we know."

On Tuesday's program, Imus expressed shock at the fallout, saying his comments were "a sarcastic point" about race. "What people should be outraged about," he said on-air, "is that they arrest blacks for no reason. I mean, there's no reason to arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once, but everyone does something once."

Imus also called the criticism of his comments "ridiculous" and pointed to the diversity of his show's staff -- specifically, a black producer and two black co-hosts.

He basically used the "some of my best friends are black" defense.

Far be it for me to give Jones the benefit of the doubt, given his past, but in this instance I'm on his side. Pacman told The Dallas Morning News that Imus' comment upset him and that "obviously, Mr. Imus has a problem with African-Americans ... I will pray for him."

WABC-AM in New York, Imus' current employer, said punishment would be unlikely, which shouldn't be surprising. It took several weeks of lost revenue before CBS fired Imus over the Rutgers comments, so why should now be any different? We've seen that as long as Imus can keep advertisers and ratings, he can pretty much say whatever he wants and get away with nothing more than a tongue-lashing from the public.

But it's painfully obvious this is a man who has not learned his lesson. Whether that's out of stupidity or a lack of concern, I'll let you be the judge.

To criticize Pacman for his troubled past is one thing; to insinuate he did the things he allegedly did simply because he's black is another thing entirely -- and completely unfair to African-American athletes who don't find themselves in trouble with the law.


Am I the only one who thinks Shaquille O'Neal's freestyle rap about Kobe Bryant in a New York club Monday night is being blown way out of proportion?

Granted, the lyrics, which included the line "Kobe can't do without me" appeared to be a low blow in light of the Lakers' six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, where Bryant had a chance to win his first ring without O'Neal. But seriously, is the sports media this hard-up for a story that it's going to dissect Shaq's rapping skills?

Shaq told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that it was all in good fun, that it was just what MC's do. While I buy that, I don't buy Shaq's assertion that things are completely good with Kobe. The two have sort of feuded since Shaq got run out of Los Angeles in 2004, and even though the two appeared to play nice in recent years, it's not entirely surprising to see Shaq take a shot at Kobe now that the Finals are over.

What gets me is: Shaq always seems to be the one taking a run at Bryant, not the other way around. O'Neal shows tremendous immaturity in his inability to let things go, yet the media gives him a pass -- but I guarantee if Bryant was the one rapping "Shaq can't do without me," we'd be blasting him up and down Rodeo Drive.

How is it Shaq's the one who can't let things go, when he was the one who won a title after leaving L.A.? I would've thought winning the title with the Heat in 2005 would've healed whatever wounds Shaq still felt, but apparently, he still sees fit to throw Kobe under the
proverbial bus.

And apparently we're just bored enough to give this sort of thing the time of day.

Return of the Mullet

All indications are that ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose will be named the new coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Lightning, which won the last Stanley Cup before the lockout, had the worst record in the NHL last season at 31-42 -- not to mention one of the worst minor-league affiliates in the Norfolk Admirals.

While this is great news for Melrose, who coached in Los Angeles during the Wayne Gretzky days, I can't help but wonder who ESPN would get to replace him. While I would never consider myself a hockey fan, I enjoyed listening to Melrose break down the game because of his knowledge, energy and obvious enthusiasm for the game.

While I could do without the greasy, grey mullet, the fact that he loved the game he talked about made it easy for me as a sports fan to follow along and care about what he was saying. I'm not sure ESPN has anyone who can match that energy and passion.

Will Melrose be a success in Tampa Bay? Hard to tell; I know next to nothing about the team, and all I know about him as a coach, I heard from Gretzky this morning on SportsCenter -- where he extolled Melrose's virtues as a guy who can coach the star while showing the same respect to the role players.

I wish Melrose the best of luck in his return to coaching, though I wish he would've stayed on TV. With ESPN in dire need of quality on-air personalities, losing Melrose is a tough one for me to take.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Under the Knife

The 2008 PGA Tour season is officially over.

Well, it might as well be, now that Tiger Woods is going to have season-ending surgery on his left knee. The Golf Channel reported on Wednesday that Woods suffered a stress fracture in his knee two weeks ago, when he was rehabing in preparation for this past weekend's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a sudden-death playoff on Monday to collect his 14th career major, in a performance Woods himself called his best ever. To battle knee pain the way he did -- pain that seemed to get worse as the tournament went along and only seemed to flare up when he hit a good shot ... absolutely unfathomable.

Now we know why the doctors recommended Tiger not play this past weekend, what with that stress fracture and all.

Woods is scheduled to have the surgery -- which will focus on his ACL -- in the near future, and will miss both the British Open and the PGA Championship. So a year where many -- including Tiger -- felt the Grand Slam was possible, the world's greatest player will only take home one big-time trophy.

I still think Woods will overtake Jack Nicklaus' record eventually, and holding off on competitive golf until 2009 to let his knee recover is the smart move. But interest in the sport will definitely wane, particularly in the last two majors of the season and the forthcoming FedEx Cup (a contrived "playoff" similar to NASCAR's Chase For the Sprint Cup).

Will golf survive? Naturally, and other players have to feel good about their chances in the British and PGA -- a major without Tiger in it is a rare breed, and ripe for the taking. And if Tiger gets himself right, he very well could dominate in 2009.

But I would imagine for the PGA Tour, that's a long wait.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Even The Donald Thinks This is Messed Up

No Doubt

Was there really ever any doubt Tiger Woods would win the U.S. Open this year at his personal playground, Torrey Pines?

Yes, he finished second at the Masters. Yes, he had knee surgery. Yes, he hadn't played a competitive round of golf in two months. For most golfers, those would be legitimate reasons to argue they wouldn't win the 108th U.S. Open.

But since when is Tiger like most golfers?

Tiger was in obvious pain, pain that got worse with each round. Doctors apparently suggested Woods not play, lest he risk further injury, and now there's a chance Woods might miss next month's British Open at Royal Birkdale. But to sink birdie putts on No. 18 on Sunday and Monday to force playoffs?

The very definition of clutch. And as great as Rocco Mediate was -- and who wouldn't love to have seen this fun-loving everyman win against the world's greatest player? -- he gave Tiger one chance too many. On thr 91st hole, Tiger did what Tigers does: he won a major.

Now sitting at 14, many feel it's inevitable he'll reach Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. Worst-case scenario, the knee won't let him do that, but I hope this past weekend served as a lesson to everyone who picked the field:

Never bet against Tiger Woods. He'll just make you look foolish.

You're Fired

The fact that the New York Mets fired manager Willie Randolph with the team underachieving isn't surprising. That they did it via a press release at 3:15 in the morning is the thing that raises the proverbial eyebrow.

The real one, too.

Why do it that way? If you're going to fire a guy, why not have the decency to tell him, to his face, in broad daylight and then hold a formal press conference over it? That's the right way to do things; to fire Randolph with a middle-of-the-night press release makes no sense, unless the Mets were out to dump their manager in the worst way possible.

Considering Randolph got the Mets to within a game of the World Series in 2006, I would think he would've commanded more respect than that.

I'm not a fan of firing a guy mid-season, either; aside from Jack McKown with the Marlins in 2003, the move never works, and often, the team finds out after the fact that the manager wasn't the problem after all.

But if the Mets were that set on firing Randolph, why not do it after last season's tank job? Then it would've been justified, and the Mets wouldn't face a potential PR hit. When the Mets gagged away a seven-game lead to lose the National League East to the Phillies, the Mets would've been well within their rights to dump Randolph.

But to dump him now? In the middle of the night and after a win? That smacks as much of desperation as the Yankees' moving Joba Chamberlain to the rotation.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Almost History

Have you ever watched a sporting event you weren’t particularly interested in, just because of the chance to witness history?

That was me on Saturday, when I tuned into the Belmont Stakes, hoping to see Big Brown become the first horse in 30 years to win the Triple Crown. It seemed a foregone conclusion; despite a crack in his left front hoof, Big Brown seemed destined to wax a weak field made weaker by the scratching of Casino Drive Saturday morning.

Only once the race started and the workers pulled the gate back … it didn’t happen. Big Brown never went, not even when jockey Kent Desourmaux asked him to. Da’Tara led the race wire-to-wire, screwing up a lot of bets and ensuring a small few just became rich.

All indications are that Big Brown is fine physically, a relief given the tragedy that followed the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing didn’t need another black eye so soon, and if Big Brown had to be euthanized, it was quite possible the sport would’ve never recovered.

But the horse is fine, and I credit Desourmaux for that. He could’ve pushed Big Brown down the stretch for a good finish, but fearing something might’ve been wrong – possibly with the hoof, possibly something else, Desourmaux pulled the reigns and slowed Big Brown. The horse trotted home dead-last, but Desourmaux’s concerns at that point mirrored my own – the horse’s health.

Big Brown might race again this year, or he might spend the rest of his life as a stud – either way, Big Brown has a bright future and he has Desourmaux to thank for some of that.

I’m disappointed Big Brown didn’t win the Triple Crown; I still believe in the history and the magic of sport, and the Triple Crown is so difficult that to witness it is to witness history. Eleven horses have tried since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, and all 11 failed.

Big Brown included.

I’m not a horse racing fan; never have been, never will be. I’m not a fan of a sport that ends so soon after hours and weeks of build-up. Pundits and writers go on and on for two weeks about the Kentucky Derby, and it’s literally over in two minutes. It feels like a buzz-kill; just as I get excited for something, it’s over.

I’m also not a fan of the gambling aspect of it; I realize gambling is inherent in virtually every sport, but boxing aside, gambling is rampant in horse racing more so than any other. Sometimes I think horse racing exists only for betting, and I can’t get behind a sport supported by such degenerates.

This has nothing to do with animal rights – PETA was way out of line after Eight Belles died – because I realize there is risk and danger in virtually every sport. And how can I whine about the horse’s safety when I watch a sport in NASCAR, where 43 men are literally around the corner from death at every lap?

But for a brief moment on Saturday, horse racing almost had me. I was ready to witness history, to be a part of something so rare and so big, I’d be telling my children about it 10, 15 years from now. Instead, horse racing endures another near-miss in what has been a tough year for the sport.

In a way, the near-misses can be good for the sport. Drama, suspense and the fact that every time a horse captures both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, we’ll discuss the possibility for three solid weeks. I’m just disappointed Big Brown didn’t accomplish the historic feat.

Will the Triple Crown ever be captured? Possibly; I just hope I’m around to see it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Off on the Right Foot

If I'm David Stern, Thursday night's Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers was exactly what I was looking for out of the 2008 NBA Finals.

The game, which Boston took 98-88, was full of drama and action, but more importantly, it was the sort of game capable of drawing in the casual fan. Those not accustomed to watching the NBA on a regular basis are the key demographic for the league, particularly in light of declining TV ratings for the NBA Finals in recent years.

The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is a story unto itself, and though I grew up in the 1980s, I don't recall many of the battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I don't remember Worthy and McHale and Pat Riley and Red Auerbach, so if nothing else, this series is providing me with an intense and entertaining history lesson.

Even better, the teams playing this year are already adding their own chapter. Game 1 was one of the postseason's most competitive games -- behind Game 1 of the Spurs-Suns series. Competitive games always help TV ratings and interest; last year's San Antonio sweep over the Cleveland LeBrons did nothing for the league.

The other storylines are obvious: can Kobe Bryant win his first title without Shaquille O'Neal? And if he does, how does he fit in the conversation with Michael Jordan? What of Boston's Big Three? Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were brought together specifically for the purprose of bringing the NBA title back to Beantown. And this is just the second time Garnett has advanced past the first round of the playoffs -- what would a ring mean to his legacy?

I won't even begin to try answering these questions, nor will I debate the validity or severity of Pierce's knee injury Thursday night. All that matters is the first game in the most important rivalry in the NBA was exciting and dramatic.

If the rest of this series unfolds in much the same manner -- preferably taking seven games in the process -- I might just become an NBA fan. For all the talk of how the Stanley Cup Finals could potentially help the NHL get back some of its fan base, I think the NBA realizes the possible benefits an exciting series would have on the casual fan.

Guys like me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lord Stanley Misses da Hockey

The Detroit Red Wings beat the Penguins 3-2 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The win gives the Red Wings their 11th Stanley Cup, and their fourth in the last 11 seasons.

But rather than determining Detroit’s place in hockey history – which is pretty solid – a more important question begs asking: how did the match-up of tradition-rich Detroit and young, star-studded Pittsburgh help the NHL?

The answers may not be necessarily immediate, but chances are the league can only benefit from this year’s final. Detroit attracts the hardcore hockey fan, representing the tradition and history of the NHL. In the Penguins, the league has a young team on the rise, led by The Next One in Sidney Crosby.

Crosby didn’t have the best of Finals – just four points in six games – but he’s only 20 and hockey pundits feel Pittsburgh has the makings of a potential dynasty, centered around Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Some have compared this Penguins team to the Oilers teams of the 1980s – you know, the dynasty that featured a little hockey star named Wayne Gretzky.
The Oilers lost their first Finals appearance in 1983 to the New York Islanders before raking in titles in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990. As ESPN’s Barry Melrose said prior to the series, sometimes a team has to lose before it can learn how to win.

For the NHL, sustained success for the Penguins is as close to a necessity as the Knicks winning is for the NBA. Commissioner Gary Bettman has been on thin ice – so to speak – since the end of the lockout, and he needs his rising stars – Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin – to carry the league the way Gretzky and Mark Messier did.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been much of a hockey fan. I love watching the game in-person, where the speed and brutality are readily evident. I don’t feel hockey translates well on television – particularly Fox’s failed glowing puck experiment – so it’s hard for me to sit back and watch a game on the rare chance I happen to find Versus.

But beyond that, I can’t support a league that is so poorly-run. The lockout is squarely on Bettman’s shoulders, and the TV deal following the lockout did the league no favors. Rather than take less money and sign on with ESPN, the NHL decided to go with a revenue-based package with Versus and NBC.

Only Versus isn’t readily available to everyone – you’re out of luck if you don’t have cable, and those who do have trouble finding the channel. NBC does its best, but without the exposure and clout that comes with ESPN, the league isn’t in the best of situations.

The NHL is fighting an uphill battle, with the NFL, MLB and NBA all sustaining success and the continued rise of NASCAR. Bettman has done the league no favors, and I can’t help but wonder if the NHL won’t flourish again unless and until Bettman leaves his post.

The ineptitude he has shown in running the NHL is still being felt today, even after a thrilling Stanley Cup Final Game 5 that would’ve converted any non-hockey fan who’d bothered to watch.

Crosby might be the league’s savior, but Bettman’s departure would make Sid the Kid’s job so much easier.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fully Committed

Joba the Hut

Far be it for me to criticize the Yankees – if I were running things, I’d make every wrong move possible to ensure a last-place finish. But I can’t help but wonder if the transition for Joba Chamberlain from the setup role to the starting rotation will blow up in everyone’s face.

Hank Steinbrenner – someone trying way too hard to be like his father – made it known he wanted Chamberlain in the rotation, stating anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot. And given the inadequacies within the rotation – and the injury to Ian Kennedy – Chamberlain will make his first start Tuesday against Toronto.

Does Chamberlain have the stuff worthy of a starting pitcher? Possibly, but I don’t think the Yankees prepared him properly. Taking him out of the setup role, manager Joe Girardi instead starting throwing Chamberlain two innings at a time, eventually raising his pitch count.

Most teams put a guy in AAA to get him used to being a starter, but not the Yankees. Apparently, long relief is all the preparation a guy needs.

But more importantly, what about the bullpen? New York’s middle relief is suspect at best, and Chamberlain was doing a masterful job setting up Mariano Rivera. With Chamberlain now in the rotation, who will set up Rivera? The Yankees could’ve used him Monday night in a loss to the Minnesota Twins, and unless someone reliable steps up, Girardi and company might regret this move.

The Yankees are in fourth place in the American League East at 28-29 as of Tuesday, seven games back of the first-place Rays (yes, you read that right). If this move doesn’t succeed the way Mini-Steinbrenner wants, New York might miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Think Joe Torre’s glad he left? Sure, the Dodgers are also 28-29, and dealing with the free-agent disaster that is Andruw Jones, but they’re second in the National League West, 3.5 behind the Diamondbacks.

You’re Fired

On the surface, the Detroit Pistons’ firing of Flip Saunders seems like a questionable move. Saunders was 176-70 in his tenure with the Pistons, taking them to the Eastern Conference Finals all three years.

But after a 4-2 series loss to the Boston Celtics, Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said it was time for a new voice on the sidelines. Rumblings throughout the league are that the players weren’t buying into what Saunders was selling, that he had already lost his veteran squad.

If that’s true – and considering how little I follow the NBA, I can’t say if it is – then the move was a no-brainer. Otherwise, I can’t help but wonder if this will set the franchise back a few years.

Detroit has reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the last six seasons, and in 2004 won the NBA Finals with Larry Brown. The roster is so experienced and talented this move might not matter much, but if Dumars makes the wrong hire – rumors are already circulating former Mavericks head man Avery Johnson is a frontrunner – he could set this whole thing back.