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A Long Ways Away From “Eyes On The Prize”

In NBA on November 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

A few years ago the Phoenix Suns were one of the league’s best, and in contention for their first NBA championship. After a few disappointing playoff appearances where the team came close, but not close enough, the team’s marketing department even came up with the slogan “Eyes on the Prize.” 

As if to tell the fan base “Yeah, the last few years didn’t work out the way we wanted, but don’t worry, we’ve got it this time.”

Sometimes they could only keep one eye on the prize.

Sometimes they could only keep one eye on the prize.

Flash forward a few seasons, and all the principal players from that era are gone, and the current model is a sad, starless shell of its former self. Instead of names like Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion on the marquee, Suns fans now have to invest their hope in Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat and PJ Tucker. Instead of contention, they are the bad joke of the league.

It’s gotten so sad, that the once hopeful fan base who has waited 44 years for their team’s first title has completely lost interest in the Valley’s first and most beloved franchise (losing to the Detroit Pistons by 40 points a few nights ago didn’t help either).

In response to the lower attendance and general lack of interest, the Suns marketing department has come up with a new ploy to try to get butts back in the seats.  Earlier today the team beginning promoting their new “Good Times Guaranteed, Or Your Money Back” campaign.

Long gone is “Eyes on the Prize,” and is instead replaced with “Win or Lose, You Won’t Hate Your Evening!”

The picture of these fans was taken sometime between 2004 and 2010.

This picture was taken sometime between 2004 and 2010.

While I can commend the Suns for doing something to try to get fans back in the arena, I greatly fear that this is the start of something much worse than just trying to reignite interest. By offering this “deal,” I believe owner Robert Sarver is fully admitting his post-Steve Nash rebuilding efforts are a complete bust, and he A) doesn’t have the financial wealth to support a write-off season, and B) has no clue what to do moving forward.

Like all companies offering a rebate, Sarver is counting on the fact that people will either not have the guts to actually request a refund, or will totally forget about it. Therefore, instead of fielding a competitive team, he is trying to bank on the family aspect of going to a game, and is using this “promotion” to get people in the door. I find nothing wrong with appealing to fans about bringing your children, or a date, or whomever to a game simply for the experience, but when the experience completely overshadows the competitive aspect of the team, this attempt becomes a long-term problem.

"I am so screwed..."

“I am so screwed.”

In their final days, the Seattle Supersonics tried the same ploys before inevitably relocating. The Sacramento Kings are currently attempting similar stunts to distract fans from the poor product on the court. While I think the Suns are obviously in a better place than either of those other franchises, doing things like guaranteeing “good times,” whatever that means, does not bode well for the future of the franchise.

If fans aren’t showing up now, and there is no long-term goal to change the competitiveness of the team (now that James Harden is off the table, is Tyreke Evans supposed to be the new hope?), how many more write-off seasons can Sarver suffer in a market with a notoriously fair weather population, before looking at the quick financial gains of something like relocation? And if not that, is this just the start of what the Valley can now expect from their team? “Hey, we might suck, but you’ll have fun anyways!”

If so, then if fans thought 44 years was a long time to wait, they are really going to hate what the future holds.

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NFL Power Rankings: Part III

In NFL on November 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

19777-nfl-nfl-logo

Okay, so technically I was supposed to do the third installment of Power Rankings on Wednesday, but then Marvin Miller died and I got distracted.

While Atlanta and New Orleans played yesterday, that really doesn’t do much to change the overall order, so while I’m a little late, here are the Power Rankings, heading into week thirteen.

(Oh, and I totally disregarded the game last night, and just pretended it didn’t happen)

32. New York Jets (4-7) Previously Ranked (P): #25

There are teams with worse records than the Jets, but none of them had the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow quarterback controversy, the Ice Bath-gate, Rex Ryan as their coach, or the lofty and unhealthy expectations of being a New York team.

31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) P: #32

After Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe, this is the least talented team in the NFL. Brady Quinn is literally a black hole for offense.

300px-BH_LMC

Scouting report for Brady Quinn.

 You know that saying, “there’s nowhere to go but up?” Even the Chiefs can’t say that.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) P: #31

It sure is tough being the Jaguars. You’re in a city that can’t support you, Blaine Gabbert is your quarterback, and when he’s out, Chad Henne is your supposed savior. If I was Maurice Jones Drew, I would still be holding out.

29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) P: #19

They haven’t won in two months, and are pretty much wasting time until everyone in Philadelphia is so distracted by the Phillies, they can cut Michael Vick and fire Andy Reid. You have to really have to wonder if Nnamdi Asomugha regrets leaving Oakland for this mess…

28. Oakland Raiders (3-8) P: #23

…probably not. The Raiders are actually worse than the Eagles, but that last joke wouldn’t have worked if I would have flipped their order. When you’re this low on the chart though, does it really matter?

A soon-to-be member of the fired Raiders Coach Club.

A soon-to-be member of the Raiders’ Fired Coach Club.

At this point it’s time to focus on rebuilding for the future, and start looking at who the Raiders are going to draft in the offseason. Good thing they have all those picks they gave up for Carson Palmer, right? Or Terrell Pryor.

27. Cleveland Browns (3-8) P: #30

In the first rankings, the Browns hadn’t won a game yet. During the next four weeks, they won two, and they’ve only won one since.

Insert another Brandon Weeden Is Old Joke here.

26. Carolina Panthers (3-8) P: #22

My prediction that Cam Newton would be even better than his rookie year was flat-out wrong.

On the upside though, he’s young, he’s only in his universally predictable (so I’ve been told) Sophomore Slump, and he’s extremely talented. This season will just have to be considered part of the learning curve for a future elite NFL quarterback.

25. San Diego Chargers (4-7) P: #24

Last rankings I recommended the Chargers trade Phillip Rivers to obtain as many high draft picks as possible. This time, I’m still suggesting adding Ryan Matthews, Melvin Ingram and Malcom Floyd as well.

Why? Because whomever the new coach is next year will need as many reconstruction pieces as possible.

24. Buffalo Bills (4-7) P: #28

It must be tough being a Bills fan. Your fondest memories include OJ Simpson, and losing Super Bowls. Just when you think your team is finally on the rise (like early last year), they go back to playing like the Bills you know. You go to home games and watch them play reasonably well, only to have them go out on the road and get slaughtered time and time again.

Question: What's the only thing to do in upstate New York? Answer: Be depressed.

Question: What’s there to do in upstate New York? Answer: Be depressed.

Hey, at least there’s not rumors the team will relocate to Los Angeles, right? Oh wait.

23. Tennessee Titans (4-7) P: #29

Keep on not expecting much. I’m sure there is a country music concert or something going on instead.

22. Arizona Cardinals (4-7) P: #16

After starting 4-and-0, the Cardinals haven’t won a game since. While there has been times when they have played like the worst team in the league (maybe not as bad as the Chiefs or Jags, but close), it’s their stellar defense that keeps them out of the bottom of the cellar.

21. Dallas Cowboys (5-6) P: #17

Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin sure were a long time ago, weren’t they?

20. Detroit Lions (4-7) P: #20

The NFL really needs to do something about the tradition of the Cowboys and Lions always hosting the Thanksgiving games. Just because something is a tradition, doesn’t make it a good thing. Like, if I were to kick my friend Alex in the nuts every February 3rd, it doesn’t mean I should always be allowed to do  so. Things sometimes need to change, like the Early Thrown Challenge Flag Rule (or whatever it’s called).

"...but it's Thanksgiving..."

“…but it’s Thanksgiving…”

While the Lions/Texans game was the most entertaining of the day, it’s time for the people of Detroit to not start off their holiday season each year with more depression than the simple fact of living in Detroit already offers them.

19. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1) P: #21

Sam Bradford hasn’t lived up to the “Next Peyton Manning” billing that followed him into the draft, but he’s looking pretty capable lately, and with the return of Danny Amendola following a shoulder injury, he’ll become even more of an offensive threat.

Oh, and having Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan on defense doesn’t hurt either.

18. Miami Dolphins (5-6) P: #12

So maybe word of the Dolphins arrival might have been premature, but the current roster is better than almost any other in the post-Marino era. This team is a work-in-process, and in the future, will be much, much better.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) P: #13

Losing Ben Rothlisberger to a shoulder injury is tough, especially because we can’t make more jokes about how appropriate he looks in those’ prison stripe throwback uniforms.

"Where da women at?"

“Where da women at?”

It also doesn’t help that 37-year-old Charlie Batch is going to be the quarterback until Rothlisberger returns.

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-5) P: #9

Like the Dolphins, maybe news of the Vikings arrival was also premature. And without Percy Harvin, the team’s not going to do any better, no matter how freakishly good Adrian Peterson plays, even after returning from his knee injury. Like other teams, the Vikings are just chalking up 2012 as a learning process.

15. New Orleans Saints (5-6) P: #27

While their play has greatly improved since the last rankings, they are still a center-of-the-pack team, and are still just counting down the days until Sean Payton can come back.

14. Washington Redskins (5-6) P: #15

They don’t have a winning record, and when they do win it’s not always pretty, but this team is one game out of the playoff hunt, and their quarterback is Robert Griffin III. I wouldn’t bet against that.

13. Seattle Seahawks (6-5) P: #14

If it wasn’t for the refs and that whole Monday Night Football affair, this team would be a deserved 5-and-5. Leave it to Pete Carroll to add wins through sketchy practices.

"Just like at USC!"

“Just like at USC!”

Watching the Seahawks is like kissing your sister, or something like that.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) P: #22

The Bengals were ranked seventh in the first rankings, then twenty-second in the last rankings, now find themselves twelfth. How do I explain all of this this drastic shifting from one ranking to the next? By Andy Dalton and AJ Green only being in their second year. Like the Dolphins, Vikings, and maybe even the Seahawks, this team will continue to improve, and continue to become more consistent.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) P: #18

I keep saying it, and I still stand by it. The Bucs are the future of the NFC South.

10. Indianapolis Colts (7-4) P: #11

Andrew Luck is doing something even Peyton Manning couldn’t do; potentially taking the Colts to the playoffs in his first year. If this keeps up, the next highly recruited quarterback might be referred to as “The Next Andrew Luck.”

"I know, right?"

“I know, right?”

Also, don expect their new franchise quarterback to wait around a decade to bring Indy another Super Bowl championship either.

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4) P: #8

Not to beat a dead horse, but the Packers are in a fight for their playoff life, which, if that Monday Night fiasco would have been called right, they wouldn’t be. The Pack have no one but the replacement refs to blame for their circumstance. No one but the replacement refs and the Packers consistently inconsistent play.

8. Chicago Bears (8-3) P: #5

Da Bears got stomped by the 49ers in the Backup Bowl, but with Jay Cutler back in the lineup, you wonder how that game might have went. Da Bears are a good team, but it’s uncertain just how good they are. Is their record because of talent, or circumstance?

7. New York Giants (7-4) P: #4

Chicago and Green Bay may be better on paper, but the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs, and have proven they can slide through the season somewhat, and then win big games when it matters most.

"Hey Peyton, how many of these do you have again?"

“Hey Peyton, how many of these do you have?”

They are a good team, but consider their slightly inflated ranking due to a little Super Bowl bump.

6. New England Patriots (8-3) P: #10

Even with losing my highest fantasy scorer Gronk, the Pats are on a five game winning streak and blowing out the competition. Without Gronk though, I don’t see this team going far into the postseason, but I do expect them to play lights out until they get eliminated in the first round.

By the way, get better soon Gronk. Preferably before my league’s playoffs.

5. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) P: #3

I really have no idea about the 49ers. Before the season started, I thought they would play at a lower caliber than they did last year, but with some of the losses they’ve had, and the laughable tie with the Rams, they are performing even lower than I expected.

Now add in an unnecessary quarterback controversy (I did call for Colin Kaepernick to start, only because it was an issue. Jim Harbaugh should have never let it become so), and I really have no idea about this team. They may very well ground-and-pound their way to another Super Bowl, or they could get shut out in the first round. Who knows?

4. Houston Texans (10-1) P: #2

This was a tough call, because nothing has changed with Texans. They still have a great defense, and they still have one of the best run/pass combos with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. The only thing that has changed is the competition, and it did so by getting better.

If I were breaking up with the Texans, this would be a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

3. Denver Broncos (8-3) P: #6

There is no doubt that the Texans are better than the Broncos.

"I am so going to make you forget about John Elway."

“I am so going to make you forget about John Elway.”

But as of right now, Peyton’s finally finding his groove, the team is on a convincible winning streak, and if I was an opposing NFL team, I would pick facing the Texans over the Broncos for the rest of the year.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1) P: #1

How can I justify ranking the Falcons second best in the league? With Matt Ryan and that amazing offense? Because the Falcons have won games against bad teams by close margins. While they do have that X-Factor of  finding ways to win when they shouldn’t, those types of victories are unsustainable in the long run. The Falcons are only a bad play or two against a good team from finding themselves in a loss.

The poster boy for amazing skill, and insanely stupid dumb luck.

The poster boy for composure under pressure. And insanely stupid dumb luck.

And if they keep playing like this in the regular season, when the playoffs come around, that’s when they’re going to mess up. Just ask Green Bay from last year.

1. Baltimore Ravens (9-2) P: #7

How do you shoot up to the top of the list, after your two best defensive players went down for the season with injuries? Well, a 4th-and-29 first down in overtime can help. A good quarterback, receiving core and running back helps. Oh, and having Ray Lewis coming back December 16th helps, too.

The scariest man in the NFL, since January 31, 2000.

The scariest man in the NFL, since January 31, 2000.

Sometimes it isn’t always about the record, but the best personnel who gives the team the best chance to win. Right now, this team is quickly living up to my preseason expectations.

Game-Winners, Buzzer-Beaters, and Where We All Were When

In NBA on November 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm

By Jeff Weyant

The moment when a last-second heave is flying to the basket is pretty much excruciating: you have no idea what’s going to happen or if the shot will go in or out and without realizing it you’re holding your breath and clenching the remote harder than you should be and for that brief second everything is unimportant except that little orange ball. And when it’s over everything inside falls out like skeeballs after you put a coin in the machine, rolling and thundering down the covered shoot until crashing into the slot at the bottom. The accompanying outpouring of emotion is, strangely enough, usually the same whether the basketball went in or not. The only difference is that we remember the ones that went in.

1. And to think we almost missed it

It was November 5th, 2010. I was at my brother’s apartment with some friends watching the Phoenix Suns cough up a game to the Memphis Grizzlies. After a tight fourth quarter, the Grizzlies were up 98-94 with three seconds left. Phoenix had the ball. We all sighed, as was common for Suns observers that season, and went outside to vent our frustrations to the wind and the sky. About ten minutes later we go back inside and reflexively turn on the TV, because that’s what you do when you’re feeling glum about a basketball game, and at that exact moment Grant Hill threw the ball from out of bounds to the rim and Jason Richardson tapped it home. Confused and bewildered, we nevertheless yelled and raised our arms and shouted and generally made a lot of noise. This routine November game, hurtling towards the abyss moments before, was suddenly heading to overtime. And why? Because Richardson made a long three-pointer, the Suns fouled quickly, and Rudy Gay missed a free-throw, all of which set up the out of bounds alley-oop with 0.4 remaining. It also set up a crazy half-hour of incredulous wonder as we watched the Suns claw their way to a double-overtime victory.

This is the power of a game-winners and buzzer-beaters. They take us out of our seats and out of ourselves. They elicit sounds from regions deep within our bodies that we rarely let see the light of day because we’re usually embarrassed. Uncontrollable excitement, after all, often leads to actions that we normally find laughable in others. And the physical nature of the moment is important because these shots commemorate a time and place, a memory of when and where we were, and with whom, and memories create physical impressions on our brains. Visions of the past, then, are like tattoos or scars. They last a while and we can look at them over and over again.

2. The memories go marching one by one. . .

Sometimes, of course, these moments come and go and we remember them no longer than we’ll remember last night’s lottery numbers (like this clip that my brain apparently erased even though I watched it live). And then there are those game-winners that invoke other memories, sending a chain-reaction down the line as we associatively recall other events. When I saw Jamal Crawford in January of 2010 crush the Suns with a long three-pointer at the buzzer to cap an Atlanta comeback, I was transported back to January 2009 when Danny Granger did the same thing. I relived the same moment of soul-crushing defeat when Crawford’s shot dropped that I’d felt watching the Pacers All-Star pull up unbelievably fast from the top of the arc and fire, clinching Indiana’s own comeback. My mind was reeling, reasonably so. And this chain of memories acquired a new link a year later in April 2011 when Crawford was dribbling out most of the clock with a lead over the Orlando Magic in the playoffs. He then pulled up and hit nearly the same shot he’d heaved against the Suns. Naturally it went in and the Atlanta crowd exploded, just like I and they did a year earlier except they were celebrating and I was sobbing. But that’s how it works: feelings of extreme happiness and extreme dejection are almost the same thing, as if our emotions are on a circular track and not a straight line, so that when we go far enough in one direction we come back around to the other side.

3. Powerless before The King

This emotional response happens a lot when we see a buzzer-beater, even when we’re not particularly disposed to cheering for the person shooting, and even when we’re actively rooting against him and his team. Enter LeBron James in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals where he sank a last-second three-pointer to beat the Magic to even things at 1-1: In retrospect it’s forgettable because it’s the only win the Cavaliers got in a series that’s representative of why he left Cleveland. But at the time, watching it in my living room, alone, on the couch, predicting a series win for Orlando but already kind of bored (as it seemed to everybody, even Cleveland fans, that Orlando would have a 2-0 lead going home), LeBron James shocked me out of my reverie. His three-pointer was so clean and accurate that you knew it was going in when it left his fingertips, and the way he celebrated with his teammates, like they’d just saved a family from a burning house, was easy  to get caught up in. So I jumped around and sputtered “Oh!” before dribbling out several more wordless grunts before realizing that the Cavaliers had actually won the game, which is not what I’d wanted at all. But then that’s the power of these moments. They jolt us out of ourselves. We’re no longer individuals with hopes and dreams and aspirations. For that one instant we’re every other person watching the game who then reacts in the exact same way: leaping and emitting guttural tones before cooling down and going to the bathroom or turning off the TV or whatever.

4. The What-If factor

Naturally, destinies rise and fall on game-winners and buzzer-beaters. What if Pau Gasol and Ron Artest whiff on their last-second putbacks in the 2010 playoffs? The Lakers go home for Game 7 against the upstart Thunder and to Phoenix down 3-2. Do the Lakers make the Finals? Do the Suns make the Finals? Do the Suns win the Finals? What if Jordan misses in ’98 against the Jazz? His entire legacy changes if the Bulls don’t win the series, right? What if Larry Bird doesn’t hit all those thousands of times in and out of the playoffs? What if Magic Johnson’s “baby baby sky-hook” rims out? The possibilities are endless which is the strange thing about these shots: for the most part it’s virtually random as to whether they go in or not and that makes them completely insignificant statistically but immensely significant otherwise, because games, seasons, and careers rise and fall based on whether or not this one orange ball hits the bottom of the net. No one cares about the missed free-throw two minutes ago. The final shot is all that matters. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

5. The view from the other side

http://www.nba.com/suns/news/recap_121125

And on the other side of the coin, what about the shots that rolled in and out? There’s no video for this final section and that’s kind of the point: we forget the ones that didn’t get the job done, the ones that fell short. Video evidence is hard to come by. The most recent example of a shoulder-slumping, in-and-out game-winner is Michael Beasley’s layup attempt near the buzzer against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Here’s a young player in the midst of the most important season of his career. He has to show that he can play up to his talent or he’s going to be in China or Europe before the next presidential election. He knows this. We know this. So he’s playing hard every night, harder than he’s ever played, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Tuesday looked to be his night, where everything went right and he got his mojo working, his confidence was high, and he had a first step to the basket to tie the game for his team. And then the ball went in and out. And then he fell to the ground, absolutely devastated. That shot might have cemented his psychological development this season, helping him establishment a presence as a consistent big-time scorer and occasional big-time rebounder. Instead he fought back tears and went to the locker room. Destiny held Michael Beasley in her arms for that one shining moment – and dropped him like a sack of potatoes. A cruel mistress.

Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. Game-winners and -losers are bits and pieces of life as it swirls around in the eddies of time and we’re forever trapped, caught between sandbar and shore, seemingly unable to determine our own fate. I don’t recall deciding to scream and shout and jump when Kobe Bryant banked in a three over Dwyane Wade. All of a sudden I was up, being loud, to the chagrin of my anti-Laker friends. I was as in control of my reaction as Beasley was in control of that ball, teetering on the edge of inevitability, deciding whether to go down or out, deciding between life or death.

And since nobody can fight that there’s only one thing to do: keep swimming.

The Most Important Man In Baseball, Besides Babe Ruth

In MLB on November 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

Imagine working a job you love, but the pay sucks, and the hours are even worse.

And before we continue, no, I’m not talking about public school teachers.

“I do it for the money.”

I’m talking about professional baseball, but baseball before 1976. I’m talking baseball before the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), when players weren’t just players, but the physical property of the league’s owners.

It was an era when, if your pay sucked, or you played a position that was already filled on your team’s roster, and as a consequence of that you never saw any playing time for the bulk (or sometimes entirety) of your career, well tough luck, you didn’t have any recourse about it. There was no way to get out of your contract and find a team that could and would use your services. There was no way to negotiate about maybe getting a raise.

It was an era when you either sucked it up and played for peanuts, or you didn’t play at all.

And then Marvin Miller came into town.

Marvin Miller is technically the third most important person in the history of baseball. He is behind only Babe Ruth, and Jesus Christ.

Miller started out his career as a labor economist for the Machinist Union, United Auto Workers, and United Steelworkers, before being elected in the mid 1960’s as the head of the MLBPA. As head of the union, Miller ushered in a new period in baseball, and all sports, by more or less inventing free agency and allowing players to choose their own teams, contracts, and destiny.

(For a more in depth view of how Miller changed baseball, read here)

Now, in an age of over-enflated contracts like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, or big market teams who can spend whatever they want for such high prized players, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, you’re probably wondering why the ability for players to hit the open market is, in the long run, a good thing for sports?

“Without Miller, I would’ve never been able to afford being such a douche.”

Because without free agency, the league was one way and one way only; teams had their rosters, and if you were number two, three, or even lower on the depth chart, you were never given a chance to play. Sometimes players spent their whole lives dwelling in the minor leagues, and were never given the chance that there talent deserved. Because of Miller, those players, when their contracts expired, were able to go to teams who needed that position filled, and as a consequence, the game got better because of it.

Instead of rotting in minor league purgatory, players could come out of no where and surprise you.

And if not for Marvin Miller, some of those players would still be on the bench. If not for Miller, some of our  favorite players would have never made it out from under  the shadow on their owners, and gone on with a new team and shined.

Miller died yesterday at the age of 95, yet his legacy in baseball, and all sports, will never be forgotten.

Yet, with all his accomplishments, Miller has not been inducted into baseball’s legendary Hall-of-Fame. It’s not because the Hall is reserved for only players, but because the people who vote for inductees are all former executives or owners, people who were pushed around and bested by the former labor rep. It’s petty and trite, but old rivalries are keeping one of the most important people in baseball from receiving the honors he earned and deserves.

This year, voters will have the opportunity to determine the Hall-of-Fame fates of alleged cheaters and steroid users. While most probably won’t make the Hall on their first ballot, one day the past will become past, angers will subside, and then the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa will become enshrined in Cooperstown. They will be held as the best to ever play in the era of the asterisk.

“Without Miller, I’d never have been able to afford growing my head so big!”

But, if players who allegedly took PED’s can (and, in the future, probably will) make the Hall-of-Fame, why can’t an honest man who changed the rules and helped make the game a little bit better?

And if Bonds, Clemens and Sosa can make the Hall-of-Fame, then why can’t Pete Rose?

“What the hell?!?”

In fact, don’t even get me started on that one.

The Curious Case of Joe Johnson

In NBA on November 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm

By Jeff Weyant

The biggest mystery in the world, other than how Ted Mosby met the mother of his children, is what’s going on inside Joe Johnson’s head. On NBATV Rick Kamla likes to call him Joe Cool because his on court demeanor is glacial and that’s generally true: he does everything the same way whether it’s the opening tip or the final shot clock. But the glacier metaphor suggests there’s a lot more below the surface that we don’t see. This naturally begs the question: is there anything under the ocean swells for the Brooklyn Nets shooting guard or is it just a blank slate?

The Joe Johnson Storyboard was banal and predictable in the beginning: he was a young, talented player who eventually found a home and a role in the Suns organization where Mike D’Antoni turned him into a three-point bomber (last year in Phoenix: 47.8% in the regular season and 55.6% in the postseason). After nearly making the Finals (and sustaining an injury along the way – warning: not a fun video to watch) Joe Cool balked at what he considered low-ball offers from Phoenix in the nascent days of his restricted free agency. This led to Johnson respectfully requesting that his current team not match the offer sheet from what he hoped would be his new team, the Atlanta Hawks. The Suns obliged and Joe packed his bags.

In doing so, he followed the footsteps of another cool dude, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who as a young man disobeyed his father’s commands and ventured beyond the castle walls to glimpse the wider world. Legend tells us that upon finding only destruction and despair the young man wept. We don’t know if Joe Johnson shed any tears during that first season in Georgia but one imagines there was a pang or two of regret.

Of course, can we begrudge him for leaving a talented and improving organization primed for continued success? For most people, the answer is yes. But what if something bigger’s going on? After all, the most American thing anyone can do is head for the frontier and found a new civilization. From an early age we’re instilled with an empire state of mind, right? Inside the classroom and out, we’re raised on Huck Finn and Jay-Z, so it’s not shocking that a young, talented, American player wanted to chase unknown pastures in the next valley. For how was Joe supposed to create his own kingdom if he was caught up in the machinations of someone else’s?

“Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that ball in your hand?”

So he leaves and grows and improves and makes the All-Star team a bunch of times, leading to widespread speculation that he might be a superstar. But then the Hawks disappear in the playoffs every year. And Joe Cool is too cool. Have you ever seen him celebrate a basket? Searching YouTube for anecdotal evidence one finds a wild buzzer-beater from his youthful Atlanta days that culminates in the usual whooping and hollering but that was five years ago and since then it’s hard to recall or find a moment on an NBA court where Joe Johnson raised his hands and let it all out. Of course this isn’t a prerequisite for NBA stardom or even NBA benchwarming-dom, but it’s a pet theory of mine that just as the Great Buddha went from a content, rich man’s son to a legendarily stoic seer, no longer naïve about the ways of the world, so, too, did the fiery Joe Johnson of this clip gradually evolve into the Joe Cool of this clip. He saw that wider world, all the destruction and despair, and wept.

Or maybe not. Maybe this is just who Joe Johnson is. Maybe normal narratives and Hollywood character roles don’t apply, like he’s from a different universe where principles, desires, and logic manifest themselves in strange and incomprehensible ways.

Or maybe he’s just a human being and normal narratives and Hollywood character roles don’t apply to his life the same way they don’t apply to anyone’s life.

“Hope I don’t miss the season finale of Bones!”

Take the famous FreeDarko print: Joe Cool is waiting patiently, with gym bag and jersey, at a crowded bus stop. He could be thinking about last night’s episode of Two Broke Girls or he could be thinking about nothing at all. Once a flashy up-and-comer, he’s now a blue-collar sphinx. He puts his pants on one leg at a time. His gamer tag on Xbox Live is probably JoeJohnsonBrooklynNets. Irony has never occurred to him.

And like the sphinx of the crossroads who confounded and was confounded by Oedipus the King, Joe Johnson speaks in riddles, even when he’s not speaking at all. Take for instance his selection of a jersey number: upon leaving Phoenix he was plenty vocal that he wanted to be the man, the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of the game, and yet he wore #2 every year in Atlanta. Considering the massive emphasis in the NBA on numerology (nearly every Wiki page for NBA superstars has an awkward line – never in the same place from page to page – explicating that player’s jersey numbers through the years), the fact that Joe Cool settled on #2 for his call sign now that he was #1 is a bit perplexing. Of course it’s perhaps relevant that Google searching failed to uncover the significance of Johnson’s own number selections. But then numerology, much like irony, may not exist for him (and this is totally fine).

The Great Sphinx of Egypt is slowly being eroded by the dry desert wind of Time and what’s being revealed, gradually but surely, is more of the same: below the surface of the Sphinx is just more Sphinx. No hidden symbols. No secret doorways. Just Sphinx-ness. Consequently the Sphinx is not a riddle but what it offers are, because to qualify as a riddle there must be an answer, some key that unlocks the arrangement of words producing a glorious, clouds-parting moment of effervescent wisdom where all mysteries are revealed and the walls of Jericho come atumblin’ down. Joe Johnson, similarly, offers little in the way of answers: after several years of being eroded by the sports equivalent of a dry desert wind – Twitter and its attendant miseries, insights, and gratifications – we seem to know as much about what makes Joe Cool cool as we do about the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

“Hey Napoleon, don’t shoot my nose off. Kthanks.”

Which brings us to the present day where Johnson is awkwardly co-piloting a newly-christened Nets team alongside fellow on-again-off-again superstar Deron Williams. Everything old is new, as Avery Johnson has adopted aspects of the Mike Woodson playbook, meaning he’s trying to convince everybody – maybe even Joe himself – that his $119 million man is worth every penny and he’s doing so by isolating him repeatedly at the end of every half. It kind of worked out during a home game two weeks ago against the Boston Celtics on TNT: Joe Cool down the stretch, isolated on six or seven consecutive possessions, hit a few dagger jumpers, missed a few dagger jumpers, traveled, snagged a pivotal rebound, made a dumb foul, split a pair of free throws, and then watched as Deron Williams mercifully took the rock and iced the game with four free throws of his own. Brooklyn was victorious and everybody dispersed: Johnson to the showers and Williams to Craig Sager’s outstretched microphone.

I don’t know if Joe Johnson is a superstar. I don’t really care how well he performs this season. It doesn’t matter to me if he makes the Hall of Fame. What I love is that Joe Cool is an enigma, hard to guard, harder to understand. In a time when reporters are almost too good at their jobs – we know everything about everybody and understand sports events before they happen – it’s nice to know that there’s still a sphinx or two left in the world, the kind of people you see at a bus stop twice a day every day and years later still don’t know what they do for a living.

And so the best description, finally, that I can muster for Joe Johnson is that he is exactly the opposite of Metta World Peace, about whom all things are known whether we were curious or not. In contrast, I don’t know if Joe Johnson is married, what he does when he’s not playing basketball is obscure at best, and I have no idea who he is deep down where nobody can see him but himself. And for that I’m thankful.

Stay cool, Joe.

How To Fix This Train Wreck

In NFL on November 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

Like the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons, the Arizona Cardinals started off the season winning their first four games. Unlike the Texans and Falcons, the Cardinals haven’t won one since. For how good the team looked the first month of play, they have looked equally bad since, and for a franchise that only two months ago was considering a playoff spot, they are now seriously wondering if they will even win another game in 2012.

No caption needed.

As it should, this colossal meltdown has led everyone in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area to scream ideas and suggestions as to what the Cards should do moving forward. Unfortunately, a lot of these cries are nothing more than reactionary, and don’t offer substantial methods for how the team can rebound (or rebuild) in the foreseeable future.

So, after taking a big step back, here’s some objective do’s and don’ts that owner Michael Bidwill and General Manager Rod Graves should consider when attempting to fix the train wreck that their team has become.

Don’ts:

These options might seem tempting, but shouldn’t be considered.

1. Unless It Means Losing Ray Horton, Don’t Fire Ken Whisenhunt

Ken Whisenhunt is the most winningest coach in the history of the team. In just his tenure alone, there have been more winning and .500 teams than during the entire history of the franchise.

Granted, his soft spot for used-up former Steelers, and his distrust of offensive puppets coordinators has led to some really horrific play calling, but during his time in Arizona he did something that was completely unthinkable. He changed an imbedded losing culture so much that today fans are actually getting riled up about something (losing), that before would have been considered the status quo.

“Plus, if you fire me, I’m probably just take Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson and anybody else with any talent to my new team, once their Arizona contract is up.”

Yes, the team stinks, but they are only a few healthy players and an offensive line away from seriously competing. Don’t give up on the guy now. Unless of course, it means losing Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton.

Originally the defensive back’s coach in Pittsburgh, Horton signed with Arizona two years ago and has made the Cardinals’ defense one of the best in the league. Horton is the reason for that, and his name is already being floated around as a possible contender for any head coaching job he wants. At this point, it would be tough letting Horton walk for Whisenhunt who, although has done a lot for the franchise, hasn’t had a winning season in three years.

If Horton stays, Whiz should stay. If Horton’s going to bolt, but there’s a chance to keep him if he’s made head coach, so be it.

2. Avoid Using An Early Draft Pick On A Quarterback

There is a lot of grumbling going on that the Cardinals should use their (probably top five) draft pick in 2013 on a quarterback, like Matt Barkley or someone similar.

How’d that last USC quarterback work out for you?

No matter what, DON’T DO IT. 

Kevin Kolb isn’t flashy, and might very well be nothing more than a game manager, but he more than proved his worth for six games (which were wins), before getting hurt. And that was including the bajillion sacks the poor guy took before his ribs finally gave way.

With an offensive line giving up that many hits on their QB, it wouldn’t have mattered if Peyton Manning came last year, no one was going to succeed in that position. Same goes for Barkley and whomever else Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are whoring out on ESPN. Instead, keep Kolb and build a line that can protect him.

3. Don’t Trade Larry Fitzgerald

Already, people like the Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley are suggesting that the Cardinals should trade their best player to acquire more draft picks. If Oakland was willing to part with a first and second rounder for Carson Palmer, Bickley argues, then imagine what the Cardinals could get for Fitzgerald.

I won’t lie, this is a tempting idea, and especially with the way things are going it’s practically impossible to conceive Fitz ever signing another contract that would require him to put on another red uniform. In fact, Phoenix just went through this whole debate not to long ago with a little Canadian named Steve Nash, and look how well that worked out for them. If they hold on to Fitz too long, they might see him in a Niners’ uniform, right?

Wrong.

Fitzgerald is signed through 2018, and that is more than enough time to turn this thing around. Also, he’s the best player on a team with a great defense, decent running backs (if healthy), and a quarterback who, when also not injured, has proven himself capable. No matter how shiny and new future draft picks might seem, the team must keep of the greatest wide receiver ever to put on a Cardinals’ uniform.

And maybe the greatest receiver of his generation.

Do:

Instead of all that noise above, Bidwell and Graves need to remain levelheaded, and think about this route.

1. Fire Russ Grimm

Russ Grim is a Hall-of-Famer, but he certainly didn’t earn that honor via his coaching skills.

“Maybe if you receivers ran faster, my guys wouldn’t have to block as much, you ever think of that?”

To be fair, the Cardinals have not give Grimm the proper tools in order to build an effective (or competent) offensive line, but even the scraps he has been given have proven to be completely incapable of blocking a Powder Puff team, let alone NFL players. Yes, his players aren’t great, but even they have completely disappointed and underperformed during Grimm’s time as their coach.

In the NFL, it’s put up or shut up, and it’s time to find someone who can win.

2. Draft Linemen. I Mean, A Lot Of Linemen

This is the key to the Cardinals’ troubles. Their offensive line is the worst in the NFL, and because of that, their quarterback (whether  Kolb, Skelton or Lindley) are always rushed, pushed down, or sacked. Their running backs and halfbacks don’t have the holes needed to make plays. Their receivers can’t catch anything when their quarterback is always running for his life.

The Cardinals’ current offensive line.

This is the key to the Cardinals’ troubles, but also their future.

The Cardinals of 2012 are a lot like the San Francisco 49ers of the Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary eras. They are highly talented, but missing the essential piece of the puzzle to make it all come together. For the Niners, it was finding a head coach and offensive scheme that worked for the players they had. For the Cardinals, it’s just protecting their players long enough to give them an opportunity. Once that issue is solved, the rest will just follow. Just ask San Francisco.

The Cardinals shouldn’t waste an early pick on a quarterback, but instead use it (and a second, third, and maybe fourth rounder) on building the wall to protect their already accumulated assets. While the other options might seem attractive, sometimes it’s simplest solution that works out best.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Keep Updated on November 22, 2012 at 10:17 am

Gobble gobble gobble!

Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving! Now go out there and over eat, and watch some football.

CONTROVERSY!

In NFL on November 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

By Jonathan Danielson

It’s been eighteen years since the San Francisco 49ers last won a Super Bowl, and thirteen since their last legitimate franchise quarterback, Steve Young, retired. Since then, the Niners have been on a never-ending pursuit of chasing the glory years, and searching for a man under center who could bring them another banner.

“How bad do you miss us?”

When the Niners hit rock bottom in 2004, they thought they found their man by drafting Utah quarterback, Alex Smith. Due to injuries, ineptitude and simply poor play, Smith never developed into the man San Franciscans hoped he would, that is, at least until Jim Harbaugh and a little consistency at the offensive coordinator position finally arrived in the Bay Area in 2011.

By then though, the 49ers had already spent their second round draft pick on Nevada quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Smith hadn’t produced during his time in red and gold, so why not spend a high pick on a guy you feel confident about? I mean, since drafting Smith in 2005, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, J.T. O’Sullivan, and Troy Smith had all also started at the position. It wasn’t like Smith had a lock on the job.

Yet, in 2011 Smith finally played like everyone expected he would on draft day, some 2,912 days (or so) before. In fact, if it wasn’t for a Kyle Williams fumble at the last second, Smith would have most likely joined the likes of Montana and Young, by leading the team to another Super Bowl appearance (and in all probability, considering their defense, a title) like everyone thought he would the day he joined the team.

If Smith loses his job to Kaepernick and doesn’t get a chance to take the team to a Super Bowl, this memory will sting even more than it already does.

In 2012, Smith again was playing at a high level, yet after suffering a concussion was replaced by Kaepernick for the Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. Kaepernick instantly impressed, and because Smith only has one good year under his belt (and as a consequence, the perception that maybe he is just a one-hit wonder), people in northern California are beginning to wonder just who should be the starter when the game matters the most.

At this point in Smith’s career, it would be really unfair (and quite frankly sad) to pull the rug out from underneath him, especially considering the golden opportunity this team has to make a deep run into the playoffs. Yet, due to the extremely high expectations placed on the team coming into the season, it is Super Bowl or Bust for the Niners, and anything else besides another Lombardi Trophy is an epic disaster. With that understood, in his first NFL start Kaepernick looked more athletic, poised, and confident than Smith ever has throughout the entirety of his seven-year career.

And if he looks this good now, what would he look like after a few practices taking snaps with the offense’s first string?

While I think Smith has had a lot of hard luck in the league, and that his story, should he rise and lift the team to a Super Bowl, would be one of the better stories in the NFL, football is about winning, first and foremost. And right now, while others might disagree, I don’t think anyone gives the 49ers a better chance at that than their second year backup.

Plymouth Rock

In Media, NFL on November 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

By Chris Carosi

Week 11 of the NFL is in the books and Week 12 rapidly approaches, just as your in-laws and uncouth uncles/cousins/family friends make their way to your cozy household carrying thick casserole trays and lazily prepared desserts. It’s Thanksgiving, which the NFL has adopted as its own holiday to both positive and negative effect.

The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys own Thanksgiving football, which reveals a lingering echo of the old NFL before the merger. The way it’s supposed to work is–and it’s altogether easy to see–either Dallas or Detroit hosts an AFC team and the other hosts an NFC team, guaranteeing coverage for both networks. This is a result of the NFL TV deals with each conference: if a game is inter-conference,  the visiting team’s conference gets the network coverage. So, if the visiting team is an AFC team, the game is broadcast on the AFC affiliate (in today’s case, CBS). If the visiting team is an NFC team, the game is broadcast on the NFC affiliate (Fox). This is totally fine, provided the games are actually good, and it makes total sense seeing that both Dallas and Detroit are in the Central time zone, making it perfect for prime coverage on either coast (cha-ching!)

“Tails.” “Burlap is the call. Burlap it is!”

But two is not enough for the NFL. Belying all of that amazing ratings and money, the NFL has it’s own network: the money-snake that eats itself. Starting a few years back, the NFL Network broadcasts a third game in the evening, snatching up the rest of the East Coast prime-time ratings and a bit of the West… because they can. That is actually a good motto for this league: “Because We Can”. Let’s preview the games.

Houston (9-1) at Detroit (4-6) 12:30PM ET

Houston had to scramble a week after their HUGE win against Chicago and defeat Jacksonville in overtime. They will no doubt come out firing against Detroit, who simply doesn’t have the discipline nor the experience to hang tough in their own division, and their pride is hurt. This is a strange game for both teams, with the Lions having a great potential to win based on their spirit and nothing else. Matthew Stafford will raise his arms in disbelief at a no-call of pass interference on Calvin Johnson a lot, who he will throw to every play in double coverage. Houston has been given 3 points, and they will win by more than a touchdown.

Houston by 9

He can manage.

Washington (4-6) at Dallas (5-5) 4:15PM ET

Dallas is in the driver’s seat in the NFC East and that is so poor considering how horrible they are. This game is all about RG3 on the national stage, where he will dazzle and amaze us until he is leveled by a safety because he has no desire to protect his body or keep his team afloat. In a bizarre turn, the Cowboys have been given 3.5 points in this game. I would take that bet.

Dallas by 2

“Sorry, guys.”

New England (7-3) at New York Jets (4-6) 8:20PM ET

The Patriots’ deconstruction of the Indianapolis Colts last week was both an indication of their overrated dominance of the mediocre teams in their conference and the Colts’ lack of experience in important games in their conference. The Jets come into this game with absolutely zero upside and the blood completely sucked out of them by their leeching, tiring, heavily over-dramatic media coverage and the near-constant parade of pointless Tebow and/or Sanchez articles. I will not watch one second of this game.

New England by 34

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

I’d Pay To See That!

In NBA on November 16, 2012 at 12:03 am

By Jonathan Danielson

In case you missed it, Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies and Kendrick Perkins of the Oklahoma City Thunder got into a little altercation during Wednesday night’s game. While we don’t know for sure what the lover’s tiff was about, we do know, due to some highly sensitive microphones, that Perkins proposed the two could settle their argument by meeting at the bus after the game.

“I’m telling your, Bieber had no right to break up with Selena!”

Just in case my retelling isn’t doing it for you, you can watch the whole thing right here.

Oops, I meant right here.

Either way, the two were promptly ejected, but apparently that didn’t end the whole mess right then-and-there. Instead, Randolph and Perkins allegedly met inside the tunnel, and had to quickly be separated by security and Oklahoma City police.

While the OKC Police Department is saying that the alleged incident never took place, that still isn’t stopping David Stern and Co. from conducting their own investigation. Potential fines and suspensions are being threatened. This behavior won’t be tolerated in the least!

I say David Stern is approaching this whole matter completely wrong. The NBA shouldn’t be discouraging this type of behavior, but instead should be promoting it. Why? Because right now the Thunder are desperately missing James Harden and aren’t that fun to watch, the Heat are either blowing teams out or getting blown out, and considering all the hype they got coming into the season, the Lakers are completely unwatchable.

This is so far the most boring start to any NBA season in recent memory. I mean, you know the league’s in trouble when an Amar’e-less Knicks squad and the Retirement-Home-Spurs are the most entertaining teams at the moment.

“We’re unbearable!”

The league has to do something to rally our attention. As it is, Kendrick Perkins stands 6′ 10″ and weighs 269 pounds, and Zach Randolph is 6′ 9″  and 260 pounds. These guys are huge, and watching them whoop the hell out of each other would be (so far) more entertaining than the train wreck Lakers, the Clippers reverting back to the mean, or Mavericks realizing just how long it’s been since 2011.

Something’s got to give. And as long as it doesn’t spill over into the crowd (looking you “Metta World Peace”), I say, let ’em work it out.

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