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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Be Like Mike? LeBron Just Can’t Do It

As LeBron James embarks on his journey for a third championship ring, the similarities between he and Michael Jordan have never been fewer. James – the Jordan for this generation of millennials who are too young to remember “The Shrug” or the tongue and the 38 points in 44 minutes with the flu in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals – just accomplished something MJ never did in his illustrious career: LeBron is about to appear in the NBA Finals for the 6th consecutive season. Impressive? Without question. Historic? Definitely. Incredibly difficult and exhausting? No doubt.

Photo: WKYC-TV

LeBron deserves the praise he will receive for this accomplishment, and he deserves all other praise for his overall game and countless other record-setting, game-changing achievements over the course of his historically great career.

 

But as LeBron’s accolades grow and, even, surpass Jordan is some realms, I’m more confident than ever that James is not on Jordan’s level. A guy like LeBron James cannot be the face of the NBA and cannot hold the title of greatest player of all-time.

 

Take all of what I’m saying with the understanding that I’m a Detroit Pistons fan. I was a Pistons fan in the late 80s and early 90s and still a Pistons fan at the turn of the century. So of course, I have really never been in love with LeBron James – similarly I was never ever ever ever anything close to being a fan of Michael Jordan’s. But I think my allegiance to the Pistons allows me to compare these 2 all-time greats with the same cynical, envious eye.

 

I dislike LeBron for some of the same reasons I despised Jordan – Detroit rival, took over the league at a time when the Pistons were at the top, always getting the calls. A lot of jealousy and anger because the Pistons were about to take a back seat – as was most of the league. But that’s a fan for you.

 

Michael was mostly unlikeable to me because he couldn’t lose. He was as clutch as anyone who’s ever laced up a pair of, um well Jordans. And I hated every minute of it. Even when the Pistons “Bad Boy” Era faded away, I found myself actively rooting for anyone else to take down Jordan and the Bulls – Reggie Miller and the Pacers; the Knicks with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and John Starks; Stockton and Malone’s Jazz. I was tired of seeing Michael win.

 

The difference between the two – and depending on who you speak to, there are many – is one big thing and it’s the complete, number one, without-a-doubt reason that I can’t get with LeBron: maturity. I know what you’re saying – that’s the reason???!!! If it boils down to one word, then, yes – maturity is it.

 

I think back to how Michael behaved. He was no angel on the court. He did his share of tugging at the officials’ shirtsleeves and getting them to give him the benefit of the doubt. He pushed off – just ask Bryon Russell. He worked the refs. But that’s what stars do. The NBA is a players’ league – more specifically, it’s a superstars’ league. That’s just how it is.

 

So sure, LeBron does the same things MJ did and he does the same things his peers do – Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook. They all get the calls more often than not – they know it, we know it, and it’s ok. They should get the calls – fans pay to see those guys play and no one wants any of those guys anywhere but on the court. But what I’m talking about goes much deeper than just getting the superstar treatment on the floor. The immaturity I’m talking about is more in how LeBron behaves and how he responds when he gets caught being immature.

 

LeBron flops and then in postgame interviews says he has never flopped. He brings the circus to town when he travels from city to city when free agency comes calling. He takes a dive in a game when no one even touches him – then when asked afterwards if he was trying to embellish the call on the floor, he denies, denies, denies.

 

Time and time again, I get the feeling none of us know the real LeBron James. (Not that we really know who any of these athletes are deep down in their personal lives.) But more telling, I don’t think LeBron really knows who he is – and if he does, I don’t think he’s comfortable with it. That’s why he denies things that are silly to deny. That’s why he calls out his teammates in social media but then never really acknowledges doing it. That’s why he left Cleveland, then left Miami, and then, ultimately, returned to Cleveland. That’s why no coach really seems to be comfortable coaching James; in turn, that’s why James always is trying to run out his coaches only to, yep that’s right, deny it when pressed by reporters.

 

The LeBron-MJ comparisons have gone on since before James was drafted by the Cavs. But no matter how many titles James ends his phenomenal career with or how many MVPs he collects, he’s not like Michael. His game is close, but who James is differs greatly from Jordan. Maybe deep down James is more like Mike than we think – but we’ll never know because LeBron doesn’t know either.

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Hiring Annie Apple — The Latest Head-Scratching Move by ESPN

I’ve been watching ESPN for as long as I can remember. My middle school mornings were spent watching sports highlights and getting acquainted with soon-to-be broadcast stars like Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, Kenny Mayne, and Craig Kilborn. As an adult now, I still turn to ESPN to see highlights or get my sports fix for the day; but the more I discover about ESPN, the less there is to like.

 

Let me get one thing out of the way – I understand the television industry is a business. Sports, itself, is a business. People come, people go, and regardless of which side is at fault, sometimes it’s just business. (Maybe that’s a cop out, but I believe it to be true.) So when ESPN personalities split from the Mothership and these talented men and women go elsewhere, it can be chalked up to “it’s business”. Where I start to question things is when domino after domino after domino seems to fall and the result we, the viewer, are left with is a product that is not only lacking in substance, but seems to be intentionally gearing itself towards an audience that I don’t belong to.

 

Allow me to clarify a bit.

 

Like these people or not, enjoy their on-air personalities or not – Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Dan Patrick are very talented guys who left ESPN in one way, shape, or form. If these parting of ways stood alone by themselves – probably no big deal, I don’t bat much of an eyelash. Talented guys will find work and make money and have a following of fans somewhere else. I’m not going to shed any tears – plus ESPN stocked up on other very talented guys (some had already been with the company – Stu Scott, Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt, Doug Collins to name a few).

 

But over time, the Worldwide Leader in Sports starting making decisions to bring in talking heads that appeared more interested in shocking people and borderline offending others. Remember when Stephen A. Smith was simply a courtside reporter for NBA games and occasionally was brought on for a 3-minute mini-segment on Sportscenter that would feature an anchor conversing with Smith an hour or two before tip-off? No? Yeah, I barely do either. Now, he’s arguably the face of the network – First Take, segments on NFL Sunday Countdown, extended in-studio segments on Sportscenter about any and all sports topics. And that’s ok – let the man be famous and make money and do his job. The problem I have is that Stephen A. (see how he’s even known simply by his first name and middle initial?) not only speaks his mind and is controversial, but that he plays to that growing audience of people who are dying to hear the extreme rhetoric. In other words to put it bluntly, America seems more and more ignorant in 2015 – and Stephen A shouts and yells and rants and people love it.

 

The questionable hires go on and on. Ray Lewis (who has been let go) – one of the NFL’s greatest defenders of all-time. But type in “Ray Lewis best quotes ESPN” into Google and check out what pops up – not exactly the prose of Herman Melville. Lewis would wax poetic and preach from the altar every time he was on camera. Lewis added little to what the average sports fan and viewer wanted to hear and see. And then there’s Curt Schilling. The former MLB pitcher was more interested in political grandstanding than he was in calling baseball games.

 

All three of those guys have the same thing in common – they stir people up and can be offensive. And ESPN knows this and even uses it to their advantage for ratings. But in the same breath, the network suspends them for insensitive remarks about women or domestic abuse or racially-charged epithets. ESPN wants it both ways – have these loud, obnoxious personalities spouting off on ESPN Radio or regular TV programming but also trying to remain politically correct. It doesn’t work both ways.

 

While the network loses guys like Mike Tirico, who by all accounts is one of the best play-by-play men and overall stand-up, good people in the business, they continue down this path of hiring on-air personalities for all the wrong reasons. Take this most recent – Annie Apple, mother of her lesser-known son and 1st round pick in last month’s NFL Draft, Eli. The first I heard of Annie Apple was when she tweeted about the women who would now be drawn to her son and all the other newly-minted millionaire 20-year olds chosen in the draft.

 

 

She then followed up with a tweet to Roger Goodell about the underwhelming desserts at the NFL Draft – to which the Commissioner responded by sending Apple a plate of brownies.

 

And now Annie Apple is going to be a routine contributor to ESPN’s pre-game show on Sundays this Fall?

 

The woman maybe has the qualifications – God knows she’s tweeted those out too, since her hiring became public earlier this week.

 

 

And maybe she’s sharp and bright and able to entertain. But from the bits and pieces we are getting about Eli Apple’s mom, she seems to fit this mold that ESPN has been striving for over the past decade – shock, shout, offend, suspend.

 

This is not the ESPN I grew up enjoying.

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Reports of the Warriors’ Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

It’s always fun to paraphrase the great Mark Twain – and even more so when it’s truly on point.

 

After Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the world was ready to all but declare the Golden State Warriors dead and their historic season over. The loss was, yes, surprising – remember Golden State had lost only 1 home game at Oracle Arena all season. They let a double-digit halftime lead evaporate – something they hadn’t done since, well, maybe the days of aforementioned Mark Twain. So, yes, to see the defending champs go down in the series opener was a little bit of a shock. But, please. Let’s not forget who we’re talking about here.

 

73-9

 

The 2-time reigning Most Valuable Player of the league

 

The 2-time reigning NBA Coach of the Year

 

The defending NBA Champions

 

This is essentially the same exact team that fell behind 2 games to 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies last postseason. In the NBA Finals last June, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 against these Warriors before Steph Curry and his guys rallied to win 3 straight and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. My point — this team has a bit of a tendency to start off slowly in some of these playoff series. And dropping a game (at Oracle or in OKC or in my backyard for that matter) against a team like the Thunder, who held 4th quarter leads in each of the 3 regular season meetings between these two teams, should not signal the distress flags.

 

And just like they’ve done for more than a calendar year, the Warriors bounced back with authority last night and rolled to a 118-91 victory to knot the series up at one game apiece. The MVP was in typical MVP form, as Curry went for 28 points in just 30 minutes on the floor – 17 of which came in the deciding 3rd quarter. The Warriors opened up what was an 8-point lead at intermission to 20 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

 

Knowing the makeup of this team and their history together, how could anyone doubt this team or even think of writing them off after the Game 1 defeat? Head Coach Steve Kerr didn’t and his comments after Game 2 sum up, very succinctly, how he feels about his team. When asked if there was anything in particular that stood out from the victory or the 3rd quarter in particular, Kerr responded, “Nothing. Nothing stands out.” Typical Warriors. Typical Curry.

 

This reminds me of another Mark Twain quip: the secret to getting ahead is getting started.

 

Although it took them a second, the Warriors — it’s safe to say — have gotten started.

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For Brad Ausmus and the Tigers, It’s Just Time

Ausmus

You know how when you’re in a relationship and it’s just not going anywhere? There’s not hatred or anger, really; it’s just run it’s course. Nothing new or exciting is happening, neither of you really care to share regular, everyday stories with each other anymore. By no fault of either person, the relationship is just over. The Tigers and Manager Brad Ausmus, it appears, have reached that point.

 

(Weiss/ Detroit Free Press)

It’s been an up and down 2-plus years with Ausmus at the helm. A 90-win inaugural managerial year in 2013 was marred by a sweep in the ALDS at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. The postseason defeat was rather uneventful and even expected by many fans. The elimination brought to light bigger problems that critics, still today, hound Ausmus for – such as his in-game decision making and the use of his bullpen. That lackluster finish spilled over into the 2015 campaign as the team trudged through the year – an embarrassing year at times – to finish in the basement of the AL Central Division with just 74 wins.

 

This year has not started any better and the future doesn’t look all that bright – the defending champion Royals are in the division and the White Sox and playing well. Even the Cleveland Indians have been dominating the Tigers so far this season (6-0). My point is the team just might not be good enough to compete for this division and may not even be good enough to compete for a wildcard spot. If that’s the case, what’s the sense in continuing down this road? There are no signs of a turnaround within the clubhouse or on the field; and with every defeat, Ausmus’s seat only burns hotter. He’s admitted he’s “in the crosshairs”, and knows every press conference he holds after a game is the media’s chance to second-guess every decision he makes. And I’d argue that feeling has to impact his performance.

 

So the argument becomes is it worth it to fire the manager mid-season. Nine times managers have been fired within the first 81 games in the past 10 years and only once did that new manager lead that team to the playoffs during that season – Jim Tracy with the Colorado Rockies in 2009. And since 2000, a managerial change at any point during the season has an average impact of +0.021 as far as team winning percentage. The results beyond that season have varying degrees of success for the team and the new manager. For instance, when the Oakland A’s fired Bob Geren in June 2011, new manger Bob Melvin had similar results, as the A’s struggled all year. However, Melvin’s A’s made the postseason in each of the next 3 seasons.

 

So you fire the manager and what happens? In all likelihood, nothing – at least nothing immediately. So why all the talk? Why all the speculation? Why all the clamoring for Ausmus’s job? It’s these types of situations where it has nothing to do with statistics or possible outcomes or past history of what could or might work out. It boils down to the simple fact that a change is needed. I’m not big on making changes for the sake of making changes. And the thing is – Ausmus by all accounts is a very bright guy, has a sharp baseball mind, understands the game, is cordial with the media, and his players respect him. I’ve been a Brad Ausmus supporter since he was hired, and I continued to support him even when the team underachieved and struggled. I was in the minority last off-season when I opposed him being fired. But now it feels like it’s time. He hears the noise (it’s not whispers anymore) about his future. The media (aside from Fox Sports Detroit) is becoming more brazen in the questions they ask him during his postgame pressers. The players hear it all, too. And while they publicly supported their skipper all throughout the 2015 season, you wonder how long they will continue answering questions about his future this season. At some point, it has to become tiresome to them. It’s already become tiresome to fans.

 

We can debate all day and night over who should replace Ausmus – Omar Vizquel or Lloyd McClendon or Gene Lamont? But that’s not what this is about, even though it is a fair and reasonable question. This is about knowing when something is over, when it’s run it’s course and there is no more good that can come of the situation. That’s where the Tigers are at with Ausmus. It’s just time.

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