The Fantasy 3: Edition 1

8-le-veon-bell-pittsburgh-steelers-2013-171-90-points_pg_600I’m adding a new format to my blog – The Fantasy 3, where I make 3 statements or observations or questions and then put my own spin on addressing them. I will post new editions from now until fantasy football season wraps up in December. (Of course, I will continue posting other articles as I’ve been doing on all other sports-related topics aside from just fantasy football.) Hope everyone enjoys! Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Let’s play a little game of “True of False”. I’ll lay out 3 statements and tell you my thoughts. You may agree or disagree – feel free to jump in the conversation and make these games fun!

Statement 1: A Running Back should be the first position off the board on Draft Day.

False. Two reasons why I feel this way: (1) the RB position has become so injury-prone that it’s become a major risk to use a high draft pick on a running back only to see them tear an MCL and miss the remainder of the year; and (2) so many teams nowadays are using the running back by committee that RB stats suffer thus decreasing their fantasy value.

Look at the top picks who came off the board last season – Jamaal Charles, Leveon Bell, CJ Anderson, LeSean McCoy – all got hurt at some point (some more severe than others). People last year could have made the case that Bell and Charles were the top 2 players in the entire draft. Even the guys at the position who you know will get the rock all the time need to be looked at with skepticism. Is it worth taking Bell or Peterson or David Johnson this year at number 1?

There is a slew of solid backs that are probably worthy of a high selection – Charles, Devonta Freeman, Demarco Murray – but these guys also face competition within their own backfield. There’s no saying how many touches these players will get week-to-week or if they should fall out of favor with the coach or the system. You can’t take a guy like Charles number 1 overall this year because Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West proved to be viable options in Kansas City last season.

Now the argument that comes up is a valid one: RB is a required position (2 in fact are needed in most leagues) so it puts more value on the RBs at the top of the list. In other words, if you don’t grab a top 6 or 8 RB, forget it – the drop off is like falling off a cliff. I would counter by explaining that those points you lose by settling for a tier 2 RB later in rounds 3 -6 as opposed to a Todd Gurley-type in Round 1, are more than offset by taking multiple top tier WRs in the opening rounds. (This is a fascinating topic and will be focused on a lot more in upcoming posts.)

Statement 2: Cam Newton was great last year. I need to grab him early – Round 1 or 2.

False. No one needs to grab Cam Newton (or any other QB for that matter) this early in the draft. Streaming quarterbacks is a very interesting theory and I tried it last year with varying degrees of success. But the theory itself definitely holds water. (My shortcomings last year with it were more user-error than problems with the actual strategy.) Check out Andrew Luck last year. He was a top ranked QB prior to many drafts. He gets hurt, under-produces, goes on IR, and forces the fantasy owner to scramble for another available signal-caller. Compare that to the owner who stockpiled RBs and WRs and decided in the 16th round to snag his QB. Who did he draft, you ask? Oh. Cam Newton.

I know that’s a perfect storm sort of example for me to give. But it’s those types of situations that have given birth to the idea of streaming your quarterback, like you do your defense or kicker. For example, I rode Kirk Cousins for the final month or so of the season after playing around with QBs like Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Carson Palmer, and Jameis Winston for the better part of the year. That paid off for me and worked – at least in the end it did.

I don’t recommend ever taking a QB before the 6th or 7th round (and that’s being generous). I won’t even look at QB names until round 10 and, likely ,won’t draft one until the 12th round at the earliest.

Statement 3: Building depth is the only thing you should worry about in the middle rounds (5 thru 10).

True. After talking starters at WR and RB in rounds 1 through 4, your next 5, 6, 7, picks ought to follow suit as well. I already talked about how RBs get injured faster and more often than Mike Carey gets a call on the field wrong for CBS. So it would behoove you to draft many backups at the position. With WRs, you typically start 2 or 3 so you better have 2 on your bench at the very minimum. There is no rush drafting any other position until you have built some ample depth at those 2 positions. Quarterbacks can wait until the 12th round and beyond, a defense should go in the 15th round with kickers all going in the final round. Squeeze your tight end selection in somewhere around the 11th to 13th rounds and you should have set yourself up pretty nicely – a good balance of depth at the most critical positions mixed with value talent at the other positions.

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Take 5: Detroit Tigers Midseason Report

960x0Take 1. Starting pitching is too inconsistent.

Remember the days not so long ago when no Tigers fan had to give a second thought to the starting pitching? Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Fister, Sanchez? Throw David Price in the mix for a half season and you’ve got a pretty outstanding rotation no matter how you look at it. But, oh, how those days have passed. JV is not the JV of old (although he’s been very good this year), Sanchez and his big contract are now coming out of the bullpen, and Jordan Zimmerman, who was brought in to be a top arm, looks like he, too, has chinks in the armor. The bullpen has actually been, surprisingly, pretty solid – despite all the fears many had going into the season. But the starting staff has not been consistent enough (a running theme for this ball club) – 4.60 ERA and 1.37 WHIP (both of which rank 13 of 15 in the American League).

Take 2. The big names are not making a big impact.

Leaders on this team, like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton are not impacting enough games in meaningful ways to help put this team over the top. Star players need to play like star players – and they need to do so all the time. The Tigers are not getting the contributions necessary from their top players to be a club that opponents fear on a nightly basis.

Take 3. The Tigers are just not as good as the teams they are chasing in their division.

A combined record of 2-14 against division rivals the Indians and the Royals as we near the midway point of the season. I’m willing to admit the 0-9 record against Cleveland is an anomaly, but the eye test is a powerful assessment. And based on that, I just don’t see how anyone looks at the Tigers and thinks they’re as good as either of these franchises that they’re chasing currently.

Take 4. The buy-sell debate from last season is back!

Those who clamored for the Tigers to sell off pieces like David Price and Yoenis Cespedes (which they did) expected the team to use that freed up payroll to make more high-priced moves in the winter offseason. Again, they did – Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmerman were the big-name hauls that first year General Manager Al Avila pulled. But now the debate is rekindled – and will only gain steam as the trade deadline approaches next month – so long as Tigers don’t reel off 20 wins in 25 games to skyrocket back into the division race. This year’s buy-sell debate may get more spirited than last year’s – names like Kinsler, Upton, Zimmerman, Sanchez are sure to come up. Owner Mike Illitch is known for not throwing in the towel if there is even a shred of hope for the team. But not committing to a rebuild may only make winning in the very near future all that more difficult.

Take 5. Don’t get caught believing in the Tigers.

Hey, a great part of summer is enjoying the weather and a ballgame. This team appears destined to be a .500 ball club. They win 5 straight, drop 5 of their next 6. Sweep a series, get swept the next. It’s this back and forth, up and down inconsistency that has plagued this team the entire first half of the year. Don’t get caught up in the expectations after the team sweeps the Mariners; at the same time, don’t get too down when they drop 7 of 8 against the Red Sox and Rangers. Turn on a game, head down to the park – enjoy the sunshine and the summer air. And don’t take the team too seriously.

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Top 10 Greatest Players in NBA History

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9. – 10. I’ve got 3 or 4 (maybe more) players that I need to squeeze into these 2 spots. I don’t even really view these spots as actual numbered rankings; I view them more as simply spots reserved for some of the NBA’s greatest players whom I feel I cannot specifically rank. Hall of Famers like Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson were unbelievable in their day. I see their stats and they’re mind-blowing. It is certainly not with a lack of respect that I recuse myself from ranking these all-time greats. It’s the opposite, really. It’s because I respect guys like Wilt and Oscar – add John Havlicek and Jerry West to the list as well – so much for how they dominated their era and impacted the game, long term. I don’t feel I can compare players from that generation to players of the last 25 to 30 years. But they deserve to be on the list and I will not disclude them from the conversation of all-time legends.

 

8. Larry Bird – The 3-time NBA Champion was the king of the NBA in the 80s until Magic Johnson took155315a570f8eb332bdce42452f82210 the league by storm. All told, however, Larry Legend was more than up to the task of playing Magic’s major rival as their two great franchises battled for NBA supremacy throughout the mid- to later part of the decade. Bird won 3 consecutive MVP awards and was a 12-time NBA All-Star. The Celtic great was a sharpshooter who wanted the ball in his hands when the game was on the line. With one of the quickest releases of anyone to play in the NBA, Bird was an assassin from deep and was always a threat to take and make the big shot when called upon.

 

5608b3a444dc82bd329f2fa89466-e14539988629857. Shaquille O’Neal – I argue that while ranked 7, as far as greatness goes, there was never a more dominate, un-guardable force in the NBA than Shaquille O’Neal. The problem was his dominance was shorter than fans would have liked and, stop me if I’m crazy, he was always expected to be better than the numbers he put up. From a 10-year stretch spanning from 1993 to 2002, Shaq never averaged fewer than 26 points per game and 10.7 rebounds. Great numbers. But it seemed Shaq was always held to a higher standard – 26 and 10 seem, well, ordinary for a man of his size, who could get to the basket at will on every offensive possession. In a way, Shaq’s greatest tools were his biggest detractors – he should have been putting up 40 and 20 on any given night. Is that fair? Probably not. But when we’d get glimpses of how he could take over a game singlehandedly (the 2001 and 2002 playoffs were 2 of the best of all-time), it’s no wonder we expected to see it more often.

6. Tim Duncan – Quietly and unassumingly, Duncan made his way up this list into the conversation asimages one of the NBA’s all-time great players. He’s recognized by many as the best power forward in history. Since being drafted out of Wake Forest in 1997, Duncan has spent most of his career being the cornerstone of one of the league’s most preeminent and most successful franchises over the last 20 years. He was never flashy, never self-aggrandizing, and never without class. He won 2 MVP awards, 5 NBA titles, and 3 Finals MVPs while also being selected to 15 All Star Games – and did so without ever making it about himself.

 

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 30:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court against the San Antonio Spurs on January 30, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images)

5. LeBron James – At 31 years old, The King has arguably transformed how the NBA works. Here is a guy who is better than all his peers (and it’s really not even close), has won 3 NBA titles, 4 MVPs, and 3 Finals MVPs. James has marketed himself in such a way that he is always in the best financial place he can be in. He’s made signing 1 and 2 year contracts a thing now! Opting out, testing free agency – even if it is just a formality – is now something many superstars in the league are doing. Not only is James one of the greatest players of all-time – just look at his elimination game stats for proof (33-11-7), his stardom has exceeded the league in a way that no other player’s ever has before.

4. Kobe Bryant – Stone. Cold. Killer. The Black Mamba didn’t get that nickname by happenstance. No kobe_bryant_postone in the history of the game (aside form the man who sits atop this list) has ever been more competitive or cutthroat than Kobe Bean Bryant – and I’m just talking about in practice! The 5-time NBA Champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 2008 League MVP, and 18-time All-Star was as clutch as he was surly. Teammates weren’t excused from his intolerance – sometimes even teammates who made this list. Kobe didn’t mince words and didn’t pretend to be something he wasn’t – he was a gamer, a scorer, a ruthless competitor. And if he didn’t like something in a player’s game, he said it. LeBron gets knocked (by me included) for not always looking like he wants the ball at the end, for not being aggressive enough. Not Kobe. Kobe wanted the ball. Demanded the ball. And usually got the ball.

images-23. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – The league’s all-time leading scorer was a terror in the paint for opposing teams, but also had a silky, smooth way about his game — his patented “skyhook” has never been replicated quite like the original. Abdul-Jabbar was a record 6-time NBA champion, record 6-time League MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, record 19-time All-Star, and 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection. Abdul-Jabbar’s ability along with his sustained good health allowed him to be one of game’s best for so long.

 

 

2. Magic Johnson – There’s never been a more versatile player in the NBA than Earvin “Magic” Johnson. His career stats (20-7-11) don’t tell half the story. He was the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers the moment he stepped on the floor in his first season in 1979. And he was their best player by the end of that championship season when the point guard started at center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. His stat line in the clinching win? 42-15-7. Yeah, pretty good for a point guard at the 5 spot. His 5 NBA titles were wrestled from the hands of guys like Julius Erving, Larry Bird, and Isaiah Thomas in the 80s. There were no free passes on the championship road. Magic is recognized as the greatest passer and court general in the history of the game.

1. Michael Jordan – The fiercest competitor the game has ever seen. No one wanted to mess up when MJ was around – not even in practices, let alone games. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to two separate “three-peats” in the 90s on his way to collecting all 6 Finals MVPs. The 6-time champion was not only a prolific scorer (10-time scoring champion with 30.1 ppg career average), but also one of the greatest defenders in league history. Jordan was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 and secured a spot on the All-Defensive Team nine times from 1988 to 1998. No one could highjack a basketball game like Michael Jordan. He could get to the rim any time he wanted; he could pull up and hit a 16-footer with ease; and he could stroke the 3-ball when called upon. There wasn’t a shot Jordan wouldn’t take. And there wasn’t a shot Jordan couldn’t make.

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The Summer of Kevin Durant

kevin-durant picReady. Set. Go!!!!! The Kevin Durant Sweepstakes are underway. Unofficially, the race for the superstar’s services has been going on for months, as teams’ front offices positioned themselves to be able to make a play for the former league MVP. It promises to be an exciting ride for Durant, as he prepares to be wined and dined by as many as a dozen organizations this Summer. But when the sun rises on the 16-17 season, where will Durant be calling home? His options are anything but limited.

The Coasts

Los Angeles or New York

If winning an NBA Championship is the ultimate goal, a few teams likely need to be axed right off the bat: Los Angeles and New York. While people will argue that by playing in those “cash cow” markets, Durant opens himself up to tremendous financial gain that he could not get elsewhere. I would argue that’s not true – not in today’s world where the globe has shrunk and Durant and his people can market him just as lucratively from the Great Plains or the Midwest as they could from either coast. So if money is not tipping the scales in favor of LA or NY, I’m not really sure what the draw would be for KD. None of the three teams is winning any time soon and only the Clippers are in a position to really contend in their respective division – and even that assumption comes isn’t free from skepticism. The only caveat I toss out there is that current teammate, Russell Westbrook, played at UCLA and has long been rumored to want to to play back in SoCal with the hometown Lakers. IF – and that’s as big an IF as there can be — the two Thunder stars decide they want to continue their run together in Hollywood, then maybe Durant goes there. But that means KD goes there a year before Westbrook on the notion that Westbrook will join him in 2017 – a lot can happen in a year. That’s a ton of faith to put in a person. Or more likely would be that Durant re-signs with OKC and opts out after a year – then he and Russ venture out west together.

The East

Miami

Would KD dare take his talents to South Beach? Could you imagine? Aside from the fact that LeBron already patented that move, it is an awfully enticing possibility for a young man, who is interested in winning (Pat Riley’s there), interested in teaming with another superstar (D-Wade’s there), and interested in all the things that a place like Miami brings you (beaches, nightlife). I feel like this possible landing spot for KD will gain more traction over the Summer. Miami was a win away from reaching the Conference Finals and has some young talented pieces in place. And with Wade’s veteran leadership and Riley putting the personnel together, one would have to think a Durant addition would put this team in the championship conversation. But for all the reasons I think it could and should happen, there is one reason why I’m certain it won’t: it’s be done already. While Durant is shopping his skills like LeBron did (and all free agents for that matter), I don’t think he wants to mimic James in quite the same way.

Washington

We all know Durant is from the DC area. Going home always carries with it a certain amount of weight that can’t be countered by other places. Add playing alongside one of the best young point guards in the NBA, John Wall, to that equation and you have a pretty strong case for the Wizards landing Durant. A KD-Wall duo matching up with the other twosomes in the Eastern Conference would seem to slant favorably on the Wizards’ side in most cases. But a mega-contract for Durant in D.C. likely means the team is unable to really sure up other areas of need. While the big 2 would be a force, the team would not be on par with the more complete teams in the conference, such as Cleveland, Miami, Toronto, and maybe even Boston. Speaking of the Celtics….

Boston

The key to Boston’s future success is what superstar players can they attract. And the key to attracting superstars to Beantown? Head Coach Brad Stevens. Players see what he has done in Boston and respect the turnaround he has coached. Is it enough for players to want to go there? Boston has a nasty reputation for not signing and attracting the big-name black free agents. All their black stars for over a decade have either been traded for or drafted. If what ever has kept these players from signing there in past still exists, Celtics’ fans should feel a little uneasy about the biggest free agent name on the market this summer throwing caution to the wind and choosing to come to Boston. But Danny Ainge can pull it off, Brad Stevens is likely to make the most of the opportunity to coach one of the game’s best.

The West

Golden State

Could the rich get richer? Yes, but it wouldn’t come without a cost. While Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green aren’t going anywhere, the team would have to restructure or part ways with some of their key role players during this franchise’s 2-year championship run. As for how Durant would fit in, I don’t think anyone would question his ability to be selfless and play with other teammates who will demand their share of the shots. In addition, at 27 years old, Durant has been quoted as saying money is not the most important factor – putting himself in a position to win a title is. If he’s going to stay in the Western Conference, Durant must be very selective – and the Warriors are the class of the West.

San Antonio

This season ended in quite abrupt fashion for Gregg Popovich’s squad in the Conference Semis against Oklahoma City. With age finally having caught up with the Big 3, San Antonio had already started transitioning for the future – they began last off-season when they inked free agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge and gave Kawhi Leonard a max contract. The question is how does San Antonio afford a third max deal? It would be more affordable if Tim Duncan decides to retire (but not entirely impossible if he returns to pick up his $5.6 million player option). Bringing in Durant would all but certainly mean role players like Danny Green and Boris Diaw would have to be traded or bought out of their contracts. But if losing those guys means one of the league’s top 5 players joins your roster to team with an already championship-caliber core and a Hall of Fame head coach, then it’s a no-brainer.

Oklahoma City

Before blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, some may have figured OKC was a longshot to keep their star forward. However, the Thunder can offer KD more money than any other team can offer. If Durant signs a max deal this summer to stay in OKC, he will make $150 million in the 5-year deal. Pretty decent, huh? Well, kind of….

This is where things get a little tricky. With the NBA salary cap skyrocketing after this offseason, the same deal Durant may ink this summer would be worth in excess of $200 million in the summer of 2017. And Oklahoma City would be able to offer that kind of deal while any other suitor could only reach upwards of $150 million.

The smartest, most financially-savvy move would be for the All-Star forward to re-up with the Thunder this year for a one-year max deal of $26 million, then re-sign again with the Thunder next summer (5 years/$200 million). That takes KD to what amounts to 6 years, $226 million all with OKC. The most lucrative alternative still includes a one-year deal with the Thunder for the same $26 million, followed by a 4-year, $150 million deal with another team.

You never know what these guys will do and we never quite know what they value most. But it’s certain that if KD wants to make an impact in this league with a top five contract of all-time, then there’s no reason to leave OKC. However, if Durant prefers to make an impact by winning championships, he will have many options at his disposal. Starting now.

 

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The Last Thing Rio Should Be Doing is Playing Host to the Olympics

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If it’s not one thing, it’s another. That’s an expression I’ve heard my whole life. It’s not an indication that I’m a pessimistic person; instead, it’s a simple statement that points out that some situations cannot get out of their own way. In other words, as soon as one mess gets cleaned up, another is hitting the floor.

And with that — Welcome to the modern Olympic Games!

In August, the greatest athletes the world has to offer will descend upon Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The competition will be intense; the storylines shoved down our throats will be scintillating, dramatic, and emotional; the primetime TV coverage will be “can’t miss TV”; and the behinds-the-scenes antics will remain behind-the-scenes because who wants the Olympics to be spoiled? In fact, if you don’t watch or don’t speak glowingly and passionately about the Games, you’ll be deemed un-Patriotic (that’s why I’m getting this in beforehand!).

But here’s the story of the Olympic Games that no one will want to talk about when we’re all sick with “Olympic-itis”. The city of Rio, the host of this Summer’s Games, is marred in internal strife, from the global pandemic of Zika to the bacteria-ridden water that flows through the city. Just seven weeks until the Opening Ceremonies, Rio’s Governor declared “a state of calamity”. Oh, and then there’s the little issue of the IAAF (international sport’s governing body) and the International Olympic Committee banning Russia’s participation in the Games due to the illegal drug doping of Russian athletes.

It’s never a good thing when words like “banning” or “suspended” come up when speaking about an athletic event. But it’s really bad news when The Center for Disease Control (CDC) starts issuing statements regarding the sanitation and health risks associated with the venue. The threat of the Zika virus is so serious that more than 200 medical experts and doctors wrote a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) contending that the potential spread of the virus was severe enough to postpone or relocate the Games.

Hang on, though, the CDC isn’t finished. As if the potential spreading of a globally threatening virus wasn’t enough, scientists have discovered a dangerous, drug-resistant “super bacteria” in waters where swimming, canoeing, and rowing events will be taking place. It’s already been established and widely reported that Rio’s waterways are filled with sewage – clearly making them unsafe and unsanitary. And, frankly, dangerous. Now, a “super bacteria”? How are Olympians, honestly, expected to get anywhere near the water there?

The thing of it all is that officials in Rio knew of the dangers present in the city back in 2009 when they made the case to the IOC for Rio to be an Olympic host site. Moreover, members who voted to award the Games to Rio knew of the problems the city faced. Yet, here we are 7 years later – and Rio is the host of one of the world’s largest gatherings of people.

Now come reports from Rio that the government is bankrupt, Brazil’s president is facing impeachment hearings, and the country’s economy is in shambles. While it’s expected that the federal government has just enough money to support Rio through the Olympic Games, the question of what will happen afterwards remains unanswered.

However, if history has any way of predicting the future, I’ve got an idea of what Rio’s future – post-Olympics – will look like. Just close your eyes and point to a scenario. You want Montreal after the ’76 Games? Great, you get $2.7 billion in debt that doesn’t get paid off for nearly 30 years. Take Barcelona, instead, after the ’92 Games? While the Olympic organizing committee in the city broke even, the national debt of Spain skyrocketed to $6.1 billion. Atlanta, too, broke even after the 1996 Games; and while the public did not incur debt, it’s not as if a windfall of wealth was bestowed upon the city. There were insignificant changes with regard to revenue in the areas where you’d expect major growth during the Olympic Games – retail, hotels, airports. In 1997 when Athens was chosen to host the 2004 Games, the budget was $1.6 billion. The public cost for the Games ended up being ten times the original budget, and today the venues and facilities are underused with maintenance costs helping to sink the Greek government, financially.

Could Rio end up looking more like Vancouver (who’s experienced economic growth since they played host in 2010)? Perhaps. However, Rio seems to already be behind the eight ball. On top of the health issues and water scare, the state security in Rio has been cut by 33% due to the financial struggles. Crime is raging – murders are up 15% from last year and robberies up 30%. Not exactly the stage you want set as the eyes of the world prepare to focus in on your city, state, and country.

Commentators will wax poetic about the beauty of the city, the gorgeous Brazillian coastline, the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city, the wonderful weather, blah blah blah. I get it, of course NBC isn’t going to bash the Games or bring light to the blemishes. That’s fine. There just seems to be something disingenuous about holding one of the the most watched spectacles, worldwide, in a place where so much is going wrong — but it shouldn’t come as any surprise because it’s nothing new. This is modus operandi for the Olympics. The citizens of Rio who live with the threat of Zika, who can’t drink their own water, who live in conditions that are falling apart at the seams – we tell them, “Hang out for a few weeks after everyone leaves town, then we’ll see what we can do to help you”. It’s like cleaning your house and throwing everything in your closet. The only difference is Rio’s putting its people in a closet for the betterment of the Olympics – the very Olympics that are likely to drive Rio further into recession.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

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To Golf and To Dads

Golf and fatherhood. The two go together like peas and carrots.article-2005686-0CA3E22600000578-746_306x423

It’s always struck me as fitting that, more often than not, the final round of the most prestigious golf tournament played, yearly, in the United States concludes on the third Sunday in June, typically Father’s Day. It’s fitting because what dad doesn’t want to spend Father’s Day in front of the TV in the evening watching the back-9 at Pinehurst or Pebble Beach. And what golfer doesn’t want to win that tournament more than any other tournament due to the pure emotion of the day, knowing the person most likely responsible for getting them involved in golf is watching on so proudly. Not to mention, most tour golfers, themselves, are dads.

I can remember watching the late Payne Stewart win his first U.S. Open championship in 1991 at Hazeltine on Father’s Day. At Torrey Pines in 2008, I recall Tiger Woods embracing his daughter on the green as he captured his country’s national championship. Corey Pavin’s family celebration on the 18th green in 1995 and Rory McIlroy’s simple hug with his father in 2011 are two more championship Sundays that stand out in my memory.

I, as many boys growing up did who had even the faintest interest in the game, learned to play golf with my dad. Before I was old enough to really know what golf was or how the game can teach a person valuable life lessons, dad bought me a set of used clubs and we set off to play a nearby Par 3. It was early, the grass still wet for the overnight dew. I wiped my slightly tarnished clubs off while I waited on the porch, as dad finished his coffee in the kitchen. As I “warmed up” in the driveway and acted like I knew what the heck I was doing, I had no idea what would happen when I got to the first tee. I knew I’d try to imitate the popular golfers of that time – Payne Stewart, John Daly, Lee Janzen, Greg Norman. Probably unsuccessful imitations. But I was excited, and I had every right to be. I was going golfing for the first time. With dad.

Life teaches us lessons every day. And if we’re walking around with our eyes open enough of the time, then we learn these lessons. When we golf, we’re forced to take heed of these lessons – or else your 4-and-a-half-hour round will be torturous. You have to adjust on the fly; you have to be strong mentally; you have to be friendly and polite and courteous; you have to be honest; you have to police yourself; and you have to make the best of bad situations (sometimes many, many bad situations).

I’ve played countless rounds of golf – but I can probably count on two hands the amount of times I played alongside my dad. I learned how golf can be an avenue for self-reflection and self-discipline – and I have my dad to thank for that, for introducing me to a game that has the ability to make you a better person. Golf teaches us how to bond with one another; how to help a person that you’re in fact in competition against; and how to have a short-term memory and move on to what’s next.

I’ll enjoy watching the final round at Oakmont, as will fathers around the world. But what I’ll enjoy more is the thought that I can one day teach my son the game and all the values that go along with it. That we can sit together on Father’s Day and watch the drama unfold at the U.S Open. I’d love that. I hope he’d love it too – as much as he loves, well, peas and carrots.

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The Baylor Football Scandal: A Sickening Case Study in Human Indecency

usa-today-8943624.0When will people decide to behave like human beings?

When will the human element outweigh money and greed and selfishness?

If you look at the sickening, disgusting situation at Baylor University, the answer is, sadly, not any time soon.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the scandal that has rocked NCAA football, here’s the CliffsNotes:

Baylor President Kenneth Starr (yes, Ken Starr from back in the Bill Clinton years) was relieved of his duties as president of the Baptist university after an independent law firm reviewed Baylor’s handling of multiple sexual assault cases involving football players. More than half a dozen football players have been charged with some form of sexual assault since head coach Art Briles’s arrival in Waco in 2007. The Philadelphia-based firm cited “a lack of institutional management and control [by Baylor] at a number of levels” in it’s review. Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigned (not fired); and Briles was placed on “indefinite suspension with intent to terminate”. (Intent is a funny word, isn’t it? I intended to clean the storage closet in the dark basement last Saturday morning instead of playing golf. See? Intentions are funny like that.)

That pretty much sums up the situation without getting into the details of how the university and the football big-wigs worked behind the scenes to coerce victims and witnesses into “changing their minds” and recanting their accusations; how coaches, including Briles himself, went forward recruiting players with sexual assaults on their records; how the university accepted transfer students who were dismissed from other football programs amidst accusations of sexual misconduct. Yeah, who wants to get into all that, right? Never let details ruin a good story – or a good football program.

Once brought to light, it appeared, maybe – for a split second – that humanity would prevail. That once found out, the Baylor board of regents would clean house and fire everyone and anyone associated with this despicable cover-up. For a split-second it did. A split-second.

Art-briles-2Now come reports that powerful and, oh yeah, ultra-rich Baylor alumni and donors are clamoring for the reinstatement of the head football coach. Briles, since being at the helm, has posted more consecutive winning seasons than the program ever had before. Three straight seasons of 10-plus wins will make people do funny things – and by funny I mean stupid, selfish, inhumane things. Briles, and the football program’s national success in the past half a decade, has launched Baylor’s revenue into the top 25 in the country. To compare, Baylor ranked nearly last in their 12-team conference in revenue just 6 short years ago. Now, they sit on mountains of money – brought in largely by the football program – atop the conference as one of 28 schools in the nation to haul in over $100 million dollars this past year.

Winning and making money go a long way in the south when it comes to football. Winning and making money go a really long way at a southern Baptist university in Texas when it comes to football. And there’s probably nothing more important than winning and making money when it comes to the NCAA. That’s exactly why none of us should be surprised at all by the fact that a bunch of millionaires and billionaires don’t want the successes to end – and will do anything to ensure it doesn’t. Look – the Athletic Director wasn’t even dismissed. He resigned!!! Ken Starr was fired from his post as President of Baylor but somehow is still employed as a law professor. Really?

At some point, human beings who act on conscience and common sense must step forward and arise from this mess. Ken Starr is not likely to be teaching ethics or moral principles in his law classes. If he was, there are a few people who ought to be registering.

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Generational Transcendent Athletes

1950s-sports1With the sad news of legendary hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe’ passing, the sports world now will mourn the loss of a second iconic figure in a matter of a week. Muhammad Ali’s death touched generations of not just sports fans, but ordinary people who couldn’t help but hear Ali’s words and be influenced one way or another. Howe’s death is different – the beloved hockey star never was known for making political statements or having the cultural influence Ali had. But the 2 once-in-a-generation figures do share at least one similarity – they transcended their sport and influenced multiple generations of people and fans. And now both go to their final, respective, resting places having been the ultimate faces of their sports. You think boxing – you think Muhammad Ali. You think hockey – you think Mister Hockey, Gordie Howe.

Who are the legendary, iconic, larger than life sports superstars from the other major sports?

Of course, this is going to depend on a person’s age and familiarity with particular sports. But the way Ali and Howe were so influential was that their greatness was recognizable, tangible, and personal for not just millions of people but it stretched across many generations of people. That’s hard to do. And it’s hard for us to differentiate between levels of greatness. Take baseball for instance – Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax (to name only a few). Selecting the greatest among that handful of all-time great Hall of Famers is like asking an 8-year old “what’s better: cookies or soda?”. So who was the most iconic and transcendent face of baseball (maybe the player’s not even on that list)? And what about football, basketball, and golf? I never said it was an easy question to answer.

Let me start with what is the easiest one for me. Babe Ruth’s legend is beyond enormous. While players mentioned above are enshrined in baseball lore (and many others are as well), no one owns the sport quite like Babe Ruth’s legend. His stutter-step home run trot is mimicked by anyone who has ever picked up and swung a baseball bat. We’ve all “called our shot” in little league or out in the sandlot playing whiffle ball. Heck, Yankee Stadium (new and old) is known as “The House Ruth Built”. It’s impossible to think of baseball without thinking of “The Sultan of Swat”. He may not have had the deep cultural influence of a Jackie Robinson, but his numbers – both at the plate and on the mound – loom largest in a sport that’s predicated on numbers.

On the hard court, a few names come to mind – Michael, Magic, Bird, Wilt. There are other greats, like Jerry West, Kobe, Oscar Robertson, Kareem, Bill Russell, Dr. J. But none of those six players had to save the league or carry it on their backs. The Bird-Magic rivalry in the 80s is one of the greatest in all of sports. What Wilt did in his time was “Ruthian” like – he was unguardable and no team, no player had an answer for him. And Michael Jordan is widely recognized as one of the greatest icons sports has ever seen – not to mention the greatest basketball player of all time. What those 4 guys did for the league during their eras is beyond compare. If I’m pressed to pick one, it’s MJ. He single-handedly ruled the NBA for a decade – dominated it with his skill and competitiveness and his brand soared above the league that he carried.

When you talk about iconic football players, the criteria seems to shift – what football player has a lengthy career like Gordie Howe and influences multiple generations? What football player brands himself as successfully as Jordan or makes culturally-driven statements like Ali? It’s tough to find an NFLer who fits any of those molds. So more emphasis has to be placed on their dominance and the impact they had on their team. While a quarterback would seem to be a logical choice because they often are the face of their franchise and many times of the league as a whole – which leaves Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning. If you don’t like those choices, maybe you prefer Jerry Rice and his out-of-this-world skill set at the wide receiver position. Or how about going a little older – Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, or even Vince Lombardi. For me, I looked to statistics and dominance at his position and the ability to make his team championship-caliber. Then mix that with off-the-field contributions that led to the NFL naming their Man of the Year Award after him. Walter Payton played a glamorous position of running back, had a personality that people were drawn to and the media liked, and had the stats and the ring to back it all up.

This discussion when it comes to golf would have been much tougher 5 years ago when it appeared a formality that Tiger Woods would surpass Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major championships. Tiger’s victory total plus the impact on the game that he had would have been a great counter to Jack’s resume. The Golden Bear’s majors, overall victory total on tour, and his worldwide outreach as a course designer and ambassador for the game of golf makes him one of the great golf icons ever. And I would consider Jack the greatest figure the sport has ever seen. Tiger was on pace to hold that crown, I believe, until his career was derailed 6 years ago by marital problems and a life that seemed even more off-track than his career was about to become. Jack’s records remain and his face is forever etched atop the Mount Rushmore of greatest golf legends.

These are fun discussions to have. Please feel free to jump in and continue the conversation.

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The Magnificent Seven to Watch at Oakmont

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The Big 3

Jason Day

Why He’ll Win:

His game is as strong as ever – who can argue against this guy? I’m not going to throw a ton of numbers out there because, well, really who cares? Only one number matters — #1 World Ranking. With Day, it’s more about look than numbers. He walks courses with confidence — like Tiger used to; he’s comfortable with his routines; and he’s comfortable with how good he has become. He expects to win. And so do I.

Why He Won’t:

Ummmm…uhhhh. Misses a flight. Dog eats his clubs. But seriously, ummmm….uhhhh.

 

Jordan Speith

Why He’ll Win:

Impressive win (and critical to his mindset) at Colonial last month. Doubters, including Johnny Miller, will have a harder time saying that Speith’s psyche is still damaged after April’s collapse on the back-9 at Augusta. Two pieces to Speith’s game that always put him in the discussion when it comes to winning and competing for the big prizes – putting and short game. Putter is great and his wedge game will come in handy on these ice rink-slippery greens.

Why He Won’t:

It’s hard to repeat – in any form of competition. Especially when you’re talking about the greatest golfers in the world converging on, arguably, the toughest course in the country.

 

Rory McIlroy

Why He’ll Win:

Rory won the Irish Open last month, breaking a winless streak that dragged on for over a year. He’s a previous US Open champion (at Congressional in 2011) so the course will not scare him. Despite a quiet start to the season, McIlroy has put together 3 top 4s in his last 6 PGA Tour starts.

Why He Won’t:

The biggest knock on Rory this year has been his inability to string together a full 72 holes – always seems to be a 9-hole stretch that derails his tournament hopes. Oakmont’s not forgiving – if things start going south, it’s unlikely even Rory could recover.

 

 

The Quiet Contenders

Paul Casey

Why He’ll Win:

Casey shot the lowest round of the 4 days at Oakmont in 2007 – a 66. He has the consistency in his game to stay steady and not compound mistakes with more mistakes. His name always seems to pop up near the top of the leaderboard early on in majors. Now, he just needs it to be there at the end.

Why He Won’t:

That 66 was impressive – no doubt. However, the Englishman bookended the tourney with a 77 and 76. Needs to put together the best 4 consecutive rounds of golf of his life. No pressure, though.

 

Lee Westwood

Why He’ll Win:

Westwood emerged at Augusta on Sunday with a final round 69 to finish 3 back of Danny Willett. The soft-spoken European has, twice, placed third at the US Open. The old adage “slow and steady wins the race” doesn’t apply to anyone quite like it does to Westwood – tournament moves along and all of a sudden there’s Lee near the top and in contention. Now he just needs to finish it. Perhaps, the front row seat he had at the Masters watching fellow countryman, Danny Willett, win the green jacket will serve as some inspiration.

Why He Won’t:

Westwood isn’t getting younger and a track like Oakmont can take its toll on a player. Aside from the T2 at Augusta, Westwood hasn’t finished better than T38 on American soil this season.

 

 

Major Champs Looking for 1st US Open

Bubba Watson

Why He’ll Win:

Bubba does not have a great history with this tournament. But in 2007, he did enjoy his best US Open finish — T5. The long-hitting lefty sat at +1 after 36 holes and T2 going into the weekend. The key to Bubba’s game will be keeping his driver straight. Huge advantage if he can.

Why He Won’t:

Oakmont is the type of course that favors straight hitters and those who won’t be tempted to, well, do something stupid. A few drives in the rough and you’re talking about adding 4 to 6 shots to the scorecard. Got to keep it straight here – not sure Bubba can do that with the consistency that a win will require.

 

Phil Mickelson

Why He’ll Win:

A six-time runner-up at this Major Championship. Like Day, this is less about stats and more about feel with Phil – he’s got to win one of these before its all said and done, right? Alright, one stat – Phil has 4 top 5 finishes this year. Quietly playing really well.

Why He Won’t:

Oakmont has been the venue that has been least kind to Mickelson – T47 in 1994 and MC in 2007. A risk-taker through and through – it’s been Phil’s undoing before. Could be the same story in 2016.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Justin Rose – past champion; has the resolve to battle Oakmont (won at Merion in 2013); 5 top 10s; putting has been awful; lingering back injury kept him out of the BMW and the Memorial

Jim Furyk – T2 in 2007; calm, cool, collected; trying to become the oldest US Open winner

Dustin Johnson – not sure who holds the title of “Best Golfer without a Major” but DJ is in the discussion; looking to put Chambers Bay far behind him – a win might be the only result capable of that

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Golden State’s Team Effort Thwarts Cursed Cavs in Game 1

Is there a sports curse inflicted upon Cleveland? I know they have been tortured for decades and decades and decades without any sort of championship. I know “The Drive” that John Elway orchestrated in the 1987 AFC Championship Game tore the hearts out of Cleveland fans. I remember watching the 1997 World Series – and the collapse in the late innings by the Tribe in Game 7 that handed the title to the Florida Marlins.

I know bad things have happened to Cleveland. But are they actually cursed? After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they might just be.

Before the series rematch began, most experts believed this was a coin flip. But for Cleveland to win, (1) Kevin Love needed to show up and be consistent – 20 and 12; (2) they needed to find a way to stop the hot 3-point shooting of Golden State; and (3) they had to aggressively attack the paint on both ends of the floor.

Well, let’s see how the Cavs did:

  • Love went for 17 and 13 – not show-stopping but not bad. Definitely good enough for the Cavs to win. Check.
  • Warriors’ sharpshooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 20 points on 8 of 27 shooting. From 3-point land, both teams shot 33% — for Golden State that is a far cry from the 40-plus percent they shot during the regular season and playoffs combined.
  • Cleveland out-rebounded their counterparts 47-41 – as expected.

So you look at the stats and what the Cavs, seemingly, needed to do to win, and you probably think they at least gave themselves a great shot. But then I expand on it and tell you that Golden State’s leading scorer was Shaun Livingston, 20 points; that LeBron James was an assist shy of another playoff triple-double; and Kyrie Irving led all scores with 26 points. KInda crazy if Cleveland lost now, right?

Ummm …. see what had happened was.

What happened was the Warriors’ bench had themselves a game – to the tune of outscoring the Cavs’ bench 45 to 10. Guys like Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa carried the load when superstar guards Curry and Thompson had off shooting nights.

Furthermore, while the Cavs won the rebounding battle inside, the points in the paint shockingly favored the smaller-sized Warriors, 54 to 42. With the outside shooting off target most of the game, the Western Conference Champs relied heavily on backdoor cuts for easy buckets in the lane and 12 to 15 foot floaters by players who fill their roles perfectly in head coach Steve Kerr’s system.

What it all amounted to was a 20-point Warriors’ lead in the 4th quarter. When such great shooters like Steph and Klay are off and your team has one of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform, you need to take advantage and steal that game on the road. Instead, Cleveland got beat by role players, Golden State’s bench, and smaller lineups who somehow won the scoring battle inside.

And then just when the Cavs looked to be making a run – cutting the deficit to 11 from 20 with 3 minutes to play, Steph and Klay go all Steph and Klay. Back to back 3s from the Splash Brothers just when the Warriors needed them, and that was the icing.

If Cleveland really isn’t cursed, I’m at a loss explaining this one.

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