Bard Bluster

June 8th, 2010 sendarama Posted in Uncategorized 2 Comments »

NBA Redux….

Like the husband who divorces his high school sweetheart after forty years of marriage, I don’t know when it was that I fell out of love with the NBA. Well maybe I do; and it came, as well, after close to forty years of being a devout fan.

From the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons to the Oklahoma City Thunder………. from the set shot to the windmill dunk………from guys named Max to guys named Darius……… from Bullets-Knicks in the 70’s to Magic-Bird in the 80’s, through Michael against everyone in the 90’s, I ate and breathed the NBA. There was a point in time when I knew where every player in the NBA had gone to college.

But beginning in the early part of this decade, I underwent a subtle change. At first, it was imperceptible. Soon it was undeniable. There occurred in short order a) the decline of the Knicks; b) the emergence of tattoos as required gear; c) an epidemic of arrests and other deviant behavior by star players (Chris Webber, Shawn Kemp, Ron Artest, Stephon Marbury); and d) a slew of max contracts to overrated players leading to outrageous ticket prices for a watered down regular season product.

During the past regular season, I watched hundreds of college basketball games and not one NBA game. The NBA and I were living apart.

But I put a big premium on nostalgia. And if anything could bring me back, it’d be a Lakers-Celtics final… And I’m back.

These teams embody the NBA. Between them they will have won thirty three of the sixty four championships. With the exception of the 90’s, when Jordan dominated the landscape, either the Lakers or the Celtics has made the most finals appearances in any decade.

This is the twelfth time they have met in the finals. The Celts lead 9-2. From 1962 through 1969, the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor-led Lakers lost to the Celtics six times, capped by Russell’s underdog triumph as player-coach in 1969 when a disgraced Wilt rode the bench for the final six minutes. The Lakers have been playing catch-up ever since; but since Russell’s Run, they’ve won the most league championships (10). West, who drafted Kobe Bryant in 1996 when he was President of the Lakers, is the bridge between past and present.

Since moving to LA in 1962, the Lakers have personified the glitz and glamour of their town. Boston has countered with toughness and tenacity. This contrast in style was no better exemplified than in the 1980’s when Boston employed roughhouse tactics to slow down the Lakers’ Showtime offense. It worked in 1984, but failed in 1985 and 1987. In 2008, the Celts again bullied their way to success.

This year’s match up continues the theme. To win, Boston must slow down the Lakers and beat them in the trenches. And they must shoot their lights out, as Ray Allen did in game two. But with Kevin Garnett on the wane and their other bigs lacking athleticism, Boston has to work too hard for its points. Despite the Celts’ gallant stand Sunday, the feeling here is that the Lakers’ length and athleticism will prevail against Boston’s will….. in six games.

The Unlistenables

John Wooden led as near-impeccable a life as any figure in modern sports history. He stands for every good quality in a player, coach, and educator. But his death Friday provided an opportunity for local sports hacks to revive the allegations that Wooden had unsavory ties with UCLA booster Sam Gilbert. Gilbert was rumored to have bestowed favors on UCLA greats during the Wooden era; and he probably did.

But neither Gilbert nor Wooden was ever cited for an NCAA violation; and under the rules in effect at the time, Wooden was virtuous.

Al Galdi, who chairs a Saturday sports show on ESPN 980, had the gall (or “Galdi”) to suggest that Wooden would not have been successful without Gilbert’s participation. He wondered why the press mentioned only Wooden’s good qualities, while others, such as Dan Snyder, were showered with negativity.

Steve Czabin, another dope, took more cheap shots at Wooden on yesterday’s “Sports Reporters,” gratuitously serving up the notion that Wooden “couldn’t win today.”

As any reader of this column knows, I have the lowest regard for Sportstalk 980. With the exception of the new 106.7 which, incredibly, has hired several Sportstalk 980 castoffs (Scott Jackson, Frank Hanrahan, and (choke) Brian Mitchell), Sportstalk 980 is the biggest assemblage of stiffs on the airways. But Galdi, in conflating Wooden with Dan Snyder, has taken the station to new depths. Such uninformed sputterings have no place on radio.

Are there no standards for Sportstalk hosts? Can any goof with a resonant voice and a working knowledge of sports get his own show? Is there a retired ex-Redskin who is not qualified to appear on the radio? Have you listened lately to Lavar Arrington or Brian Mitchell speak? How about a grammar test for these guys? The next, succinct declarative sentence these two ex-footballers utter will be their first.

I know Sportstalk 980 is hard-up for programming because on weekday nights when the Orioles don’t play, they re-broadcast the morning Tony Kornheiser show from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you happen to have listened to Kornheiser earlier in the day, this is a somewhat stale offering.

Then again, when you compare it to the musings of Al Galdi and some of the other local hosts, the Tony reruns don’t look so bad.

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The Cabinet of Dr. Calipari

Also chiming in to discuss his relationship with Wooden was John Calipari, who related a conversation he had during the NCAA playoffs with the Wizard. Wooden, Cal said, reminded him to limit his rotation to eight players. Notwithstanding Cal’s claim to friendship with Wooden, it’s hard to imagine two coaches more dissimilar in their approach.

Wooden bred doctors, lawyers, and professionals. Calipari breeds “one and dones.” His 2009-2010 Kentucky squad lost four freshmen to the NBA, including Daniel Orton, who hardly played. Prior hereto, no team had lost more than one freshman in any year to the professionals.

Calipari has demonstrated an uncanny ability to recruit the nations’ best point guards and big men. But it seems only a matter of time until his unsavory approach to academics does him in. Last week, it was alleged in the New York Times that outgoing Freshman Eric Bledsoe received improper financial and grade assistance during his senior year in high school.

Word is that Calipari has opened his recruiting cabinet and produced another outstanding freshman class for 2010. It remains to be seen whether damaging information about this group eventually leaks out of his woodwork.

An Imperfect Affair

Overlooked in the uproar surrounding Jim Joyce’s blown call at first to cost Detroit’s Armando Gallaragga a perfect game was Austin Jackson’s incredible catch for the first out in the ninth inning. Jackson ran to the deepest part of left center to haul in Mark Grudzielanek’s blast with a basket catch and his back to the plate, a la Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.

Jackson, of course, came to the Tigers in a winter trade with the Yankees who received back Curtis Granderson. Once the top outfield prospect in the Yankee organization, Jackson is leading off for the Tigers and batting .325. “If he continues his work habits, he’ll be a great center fielder,” said Detroit skipper Jim Leyland. Jackson will earn 400K this season, Granderson 5.5 million.

With Granderson slumping and Brett Gardner demonstrating the ability to hold down center field, the Yankees might have been better off had they trusted their farm system and stood pat.

Even if Joyce had made the correct call, there’s a chance that Bud Selig would have invalidated the perfecto for another reason…….it was against the Indians.

Less than three years removed from leading Boston 3-1 in the ALCS, the Tribe has won fewer games than any team in the Majors other than the Orioles, who may have a better everyday lineup. Austin Kearns, who batted .217 and .195 for the Nationals in 2009 and 2009, respectively, bats third for the Tribe.

But all this losing should not come as a surprise. Their manager is Manny Acta, who in two plus years at the helm in Washington and Cleveland has a .385 winning percentage.

Speaking of Willie Mays, James Hirsch’s recently-published biography of the Say Hey kid “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend.” is one of the best sports biographies ever written, providing a lucid portrait of the complicated Mays and a vivid description of race relations during the 50’s and 60’s.

From the How Times Have Changed Department, Hirsch recounts how Mays broke up a 1963 16-inning duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal with a home run. Both Spahn and Marichal threw more than 250 pitches. Mays is the only major leaguer to have hit a home run in each of innings one through sixteen.

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Men Behaving Badly

January 7th, 2010 sendarama Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

Normally the big newsmakers in sports do their work on the field, on the court, in the ring, or on the course. Now they do it in automobiles, in the locker room, in the bedroom, or with their mouths.

These days the sports news is not about athletic achievement; it’s about underachievement. It’s not about won-loss records; it’s about prison records. It’s not about winning titles…It’s about entitlement.

Don’t tell me about the exploits of Chris Johnson on his way to a 2000-yard rushing season. I want to hear about the sexploits of Tiger Woods.

Don’t tell me about the exquisite play of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dewayne Wade and Kevin Durant. I want to hear about the gunplay of Wild Gil Arenas.

Don’t tell me about Nick Saban’s attempt to become the first coach to win an NCAA football title at two colleges. I want to hear about Mike Leach’s “imprisonment” of Craig James’ son or Urban Meyer’s meltdown.

And don’t tell me about the undefeated records of Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Purdue when I can read about the arrests of four University of Tennessee basketball players for gun and drug possession, or USC’s self-imposed probation for recruiting violations.

Certainly the Internet and the consuming presence of the media have contributed to this onslaught of negativity. Arenas accelerated his downfall, and made certain his suspension, by his senseless tweets following the disclosure by the New York Post that he kept guns in his locker room. And once the lid popped off Tiger Woods’ bottle, the smutsters couldn’t wait to disseminate word of his conquests throughout cyber space.

But you can’t explain the proliferation of negative news solely by the Internet. The problem runs much deeper than that. You cannot blame the indiscretions, misdeeds and arrogance of Woods, Arenas, Tim Donaghy, Plaxico Burress, Mike Vick, Stephon Marbury, Dan Snyder, Tim Floyd (USC), and every gun-toting and girl friend-beating player in the NBA and NFL strictly on the fact that bad news travels fast.

The root cause of these men behaving badly may be beyond the scope of this column but it certainly has something to do with athletes of limited education, and less common sense, being thrust prematurely into positions of great wealth and power. And it may have a lot to do with players associations (and player agents) which are more concerned with expanding their share of the revenue pie than educating their members and clients on what to do and say.

Arenas, for one, should have been advised to shut up, or to express remorse, when his gun possession was revealed. Instead, he shot himself in the foot, no less than Burress did in that nightclub incident in November, 2008, by making flippant comments about his gun possession and dismissing it as “no big deal.”

Then, on Tuesday night during a timeout in Philadelphia, he laughingly arranged his fingers in a gun-shooting pose which was caught by the cameras. This worked for Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,” but Gil’s finger pointing sealed his fate with NBA commish David Stern who promptly suspended him “indefinitely.”

If the estimate of some NBA players that more than fifty percent of the league owns guns is even close to accurate, the NBA players association is doing a horrible job of counseling its members. Arenas is one of the few players without an agent, but someone from the players association should have stepped in immediately.

I see a concurrent deterioration in civility and common sense in major league front offices and in the athletic administrations of some of our great universities, which pursue top-level programs without regard to the rules of the recruiting game.

Is there a more despicable owner than Dan Snyder, who treats his fan base with contempt and his employees with disdain? Snyder has implemented draconian rules for parking, has banned critical signage from the game premises, and filed lawsuits against ticket holders who canceled their subscriptions.

Snyder undermined Jim Zorn’s authority by allowing head case superstars Portis and Haynesworth to communicate directly with him rather than through Zorn. Then he hung Zorn out to dry for three months, first by stripping him of his play-calling duties mid-season and then by interviewing assistant Jerry Grey for the head coaching job while he was still working for Zorn. Snyder’s hiring of Bruce Allen as head of operations may change things; but the first ten years of the Little General’s reign have been a professional and public relations disaster.

I also take issue with Bill Pollian, the revered head of operations for the Indianapolis Colts, who summarily deprived his team and its fan base of the chance for an undefeated season by yanking Peyton Manning and other regulars during the second half of their game with the Jets December 27th.

When one weighs the likelihood of Manning being injured (perfect field conditions, no Jets pass rush, Manning never hurt in twelve years) against the possibility of a perfect season and the importance to the fans and the league of preserving the integrity of the NFL regular season, the folly of Pollian’s decision becomes clear.

What of the USC athletic department, which has been embroiled in a three-year NCAA investigation of payments to Reggie Bush and a one-year investigation of the recruitment of OJ Mayo? Ex-coach Tim Floyd admitted making a $1,000.00 payment to a Mayo enabler, but it is suspected that Mayo or his conduit received tens of thousands more to secure the star’s attendance at USC for one year.

To stop the bleeding, USC last week announced that it would prohibit its team from post-season play this year. This high and mighty ploy drew criticism from announcer Jay Bilas, who suggested that long-time Trojan athletic director Mike Garrett be fired. I do not disagree.

And no discussion of NCAA excesses would be complete without mention of the State of Kentucky’s basketball programs. In the past year, Kentucky’s Billy Gillespie was bounced for public drunkenness and cavorting with coeds (as well as a mediocre record); Louisville’s Rick Pitino revealed that he had bedded (or more appropriately,”tabled”) the girl friend of his assistant in the back room of a restaurant; and new Kentucky coach John Calipari left Memphis with a trail of recruiting violations and a depleted roster.

When the rule-bending and unsavory practices are rampant at the top, is it any wonder that the star athlete perceives that he can operate without limitations on his behavior and in defiance of gun laws?

The gun culture among professional athletes threatens the NBA more than the NFL. Already reeling from the Donaghy revelations about corruption among referees and the big brawl in Detroit four years ago, the NBA suffers from a reputation for thuggery and is experiencing sharp declines in attendance and television ratings. Football players are in full uniform, but the tattooed arms and legs of many NBA players are open to view, which contributes to their unsavory image.

With NBA individual game prices among the highest in sports, the fan has a right to expect committed play and tough defense all the time. As any fan of the Wizards knows, tough defense is not the norm with the ‘Zards. Flip Saunders struck a welcome tone last week when he declared that the Wizards “couldn’t guard him..” Mike D’Antoni of the Knicks has also lashed out at his tardy players, often sitting them down.

After the Arenas suspension, one 20-year Wizard partial season ticket holder lamented: “ I spend $550.00/game and go to eleven games a year. I’ve spent over $100,000.00 following this team. I won’t renew next year.”

If Abe Pollin were alive today to witness the suspension of his star player for gun possession, the news would kill him.

As things stand now, he’ll be joined in that mortal state by Gilbert Arenas’ career.

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Unequal Justice for Sports Jerks

December 13th, 2008 sendarama Posted in Uncategorized No Comments »

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for sports jerks.

At about the time that Plaxico Burress was being hauled off in cuffs to the 17th District Police Precinct in New York to be arraigned for criminal gun possession, Stephon Marbury was standing up his New York Knicks bosses for a meeting to discuss a buy-out of his contract. Later in the week, Burress was placed on the inactive list by the Giants, his season over. Marbury continues to insist on “not a penny less” than the 21M he is owed under his contract, and is prominently featured on most New York fans'”worst person of all time” lists

Because Marbury has committed no offense other than being a total dick, he has not been punished for his insolence and stupidity, other than to suffer a permanent exile from his team. But for other repeater wrongdoers, their pasts have caught up with them. They have been hit hard for their most recent transgressions, and nobody’s protesting.

On December 5, OJ Simpson was sentenced to thirty three years in prison for his role in a criminal caper which could have been conceived by the dimwitted Norberg character he played in the Police Academy movies. He’ll be eligible for parole in nine years. Four of his accomplices, including the two who brandished guns, received probationary sentences.

District Court Judge Jackie Glass, who must have clerked for Judge Judy, made a point of saying that she was influenced in no way by Simpson’s narrow escape from a murder conviction in 1995, when she threw the book at him with consecutive maximum sentences for armed robbery and kidnapping. Simpson’s plaintive plea for mercy at the sentencing hearing did not register.

That same day hockey rebel Sean Avery was suspended for six games by NHL president Gary Bettman for referring to two of his ex-girlfriends as “sloppy seconds.” In the words of one writer, Avery’s ouster was in the nature of a lifetime achievement award for his history of antisocial behavior, including race-baiting. It seemed like a harsh price to pay for locker-room language; but no one on Avery’s team spoke up for him, and Dallas Stars management has indicated it may challenge Avery’s contract rights. The NHL Players Association uttered a mild objection to the severity of the punishment, but evidently will not appeal it.

So when justice, whether of the league or legal variety, is being administered to sports celebrities with a history of being jerks, the standard appears not to be what you did, but what you’ve done. Burress is the most prominent to feel the backlash.

A recent article in the New York Times proclaimed that 90% of persons initially charged with criminal possession of a weapon – the charges Burress faces -were not convicted of that charge. But that didn’t stop Mayor Bloomberg from proclaiming that Burress would be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” and, incredibly, commenting on the conclusiveness of the evidence against Burress. The Giants followed suit by suspending Burress without pay for the rest of the season, which they are allowed to do for virtually any lapse in personal conduct under the NFL Player Contract, under which salaries are not guaranteed.

It can be argued that Burress, by all accounts a well-liked and amiable teammate, has brought this on himself by a series of insurbordinate acts going back to the start of his professional career. The Giants, in their statement, referred to Burress’ multiple and repeated violations of club rules. But there is no denying the harshness of their treatment of Burress compared, let’s say, to Dallas’ handling of Pac Man Jones, who was charged with more serious crimes, or even the Giants’ enablement of Christian Peters, who mauled women. Perhaps caught up in Bloomberg’s rhetoric, Jint brass had had enough.

If Sunday’s failure against Philadelphia was any indication, the Giants will miss Burress, who lest we forget, caught ten passes in the NFC title game against Green Bay, in addition to his Super Bowl -winning catch. Giants receivers are normally glue-handed; but they dropped a couple last week, and they lack the height or leaping ability which allowed the 6’5″ Burress to make spectacular catches at critical times. Tomorrow’s meeting with Dallas will be a good indicator of the state of the Giants’ passing game.

Because that game has been moved to Sunday night, we’ll miss Fox Sports’ nimble description of the action. Though I am loathe to praise anything “Fox,” the broadcasting team of Kenny Albert, Darrell Johnston, and on-field reporter Tony Siragusa is superb. Siragusa virtually shares a space in the booth as he interjects comments seamlessly from the sidelines, often with great insight. Last Sunday, during a cold day in New Jersey with 25-30 mph winds, he noted, “If you want to know how blustery it is, just listen to the PA announcer’s words get swallowed up by the wind.”

That Meadowlands wind often served as a backdrop to an over-the-shoulder, diving, or scooping grab by Plaxico Burress of an Eli Manning throw during crunch-time. Because the wheels of justice have ground, fairly or unfairly, that is a scenario we are not likely to see again.

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