In the sports world lately, if it’s not Lance Armstrong making an ass of himself on Oprah (and an even bigger ass out of all of us who ever believed him), it’s Manti Te’o displaying an equal amount of assness (or just unbelievable dumbassness) on Katie Couric, or Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens not being elected to the Hall-of-Fame, or Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez suddenly being outed as the new Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens of South Beach.
More or less how every sports fan outside Baltimore or the Bay Area feels right now.
I mean, come on. How much more can the average sports fan take? With every big blockbuster trade that excites or infuriates a fan, or hilarious showing of total unsportsmanlike behavior (like Marshall Henderson during the Ole Miss/Auburn game), or sincere moments like Charles Barkley trying to do the weather during his hometown’s news broadcast, there’s a leaked document or online article how this player lied, cheated, or lied about cheating.
Don’t get me wrong, I love stories and news about sports beyond their respective fields or courts (that’s why I do this), but when every story lately is just another story about liars and cheats, it wears on you. It makes it tough to want to willingly open up a new word document and decide which allegation or controversy to tackle today. And then, even if I wrote about every allegation or controversy, I’d realize I’d only be writing the same article over and over again, only with different names and dates and locations. Writing about sports now seems like only writing about non-sports (since every controversy completely overshadows the game), and no longer feels like it’s journalism but just an elaborate Mad-Lib worksheet.
Shoot!(exclamation), he said roid-ragingly(adverb), as he jumped into his Mercedes(object), and fled(verb) the media(noun) with his fake-model (adjective) girlfriend to self-relfect(activity) on his poor choices (adjective and verb).
At least the Super Bowl this year offers a dose of healthy and positive beyond-the-field drama, what with the Harbaugh brothers coaching against one another, and Ray Lewis’s impending retirement after the game. Oh wait, Lewis’s retirement is now tainted by allegations he used Deer Spray (yes, that’s what the banned substance is called) and a 49er was recently arrested for assaulting his boyfriend during an argument over underwear. Oh wait, it’s a former 49er, and he’s not even on the team anymore, but he’s still getting brought up on media day. When does it end?
Next you know we’ll hear about how Jackie Harbaugh, the mother of the Jim and John, used illegal fertility drugs and that’s why she was able to give birth to her two sons.
Right now I’m at a crossroads on how to feel about all of this. First and foremost, spectator sports is an entertainment. We go and watch these athletes because, as fans, they entertain us. At the same time though, these athletes are more than just entertainers. When they put on a jersey with their team’s name and location on it, they are the representatives of that fan base’s state or city. In some cases, a country. By that logic, when these athletes fail, they don’t just fail themselves, but they fail the communities they represent. Remember when you were a kid and you went on a field trip and your teacher told you that if you misbehaved you would get in even more trouble than if you had just misbehaved while at school? That’s because you were representing not just yourselves on those field trips, but your teacher who took you there, and the school you came from, and your parents who raised you. Yeah, that’s a bit heavy, but that was the logic behind it, and for the most part, it rings true.
So when Lance Armstrong cheats for seven years and lies about it, he didn’t just fail himself, or the people whose lives he tried to destroy when they spoke up with the truth, he failed the country he was given the responsibility of representing. When Alex Rodriguez comes up on a list of players who took PED’s in Miami, he fails every Yankees fan who spent the money to get a jersey with the number 13 on the back (although, if you’re a Yankees fan and buying a jersey of a player in the modern era, I have no idea why you would get one that didn’t have number 2 on it). When Manti Te’o’s inspirational story turns out to be a fraud, he didn’t just get tricked (if his claims that he wasn’t in on it are true), but we all did. We all got duped, and if Te’o was in on the fraud, it’s even worse, because then the guy we believed in was the one who willingly betrayed us.
And this isn’t just isolated to a single fan either. When an athlete lies and cheats, he also damages or destroys the sense of community his or her team fosters in its surrounding areas through the people who rally around the team on a nightly basis. It destroys that sense of pride that gets shared from friend and neighbor.
It’s obviously irresponsible journalism to not cover these current and disappointing issues, but is it also too much to expect our athletes to just follow the rules, or at least not lie about it when they don’t? If so, maybe I should just give up this altogether. If I can’t trust the people who are paid to represent us in a game, why even bother with that game altogether? Maybe I should no longer care about sports and their outcomes, because in the end, the people who represent our communities through those sports will always let us down on any given timeline, no matter its length. Maybe I shouldn’t try to be a part of that community which our teams create? Maybe there is no community, and I should just stop caring altogether? Maybe that is the only way to no longer become disappointed or dissatisfied with the people who are paid to represent us?
Maybe man really should be an island?
Sigh. Probably not. When do pitchers and catchers show up for HGH testing Spring Training again?
We haven’t seen this Rudy Gay at all in the first half of the season. Is he poised for a comeback in the second half?
To Memphis: Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Toronto’s 2nd-round pick
To Detroit: Jose Calderon
To Toronto: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi
One’s gut-reaction to news of this three-team deal might be shock and outrage – and on the surface that’s completely justified. After all, why would a championship contender like Memphis trade their quote-unquote best player (and current leading scorer) for a replacement small forward who is the exact opposite in every way (Prince), a benchwarmer (Daye), and a tough-nosed power forward of which they already have the King Himself (Randolph)? And why would Toronto trade two of its best players (by far) for a tier-two superstar who’s been backsliding the last 24 months? And why would Detroit, saddled already with three youngish point guards, trade for one of the best point guards in the league?
Well, as usual, there’s more than meets the eye. For starters, Rudy Gay still has the talent to compete with the LeBrons and the Kobes and the Chris Pauls of the league. He just doesn’t seem to really care about basketball in Memphis all that much. He takes nights off and throws up bad shots with increasing regularity. My guess is that he’s tired of the glacial, frostbitten tundra that the Grizzlies run out on offense every night. They score what feels like thirty points a game by throwing the ball into Randolph a billion times and hoping those arcing jump shots go in. Gay and his powerful, graceful athleticism are left to smolder on the perimeter. Maybe new digs will cheer him up and he’ll go crazy like he used to. And then again maybe he’ll continue shooting 40% from the field.
Memphis team salary, via Hoops Hype: With Mike Conley growing every day, Rudy Gay was getting pushed out of the standard Big Three core.
More importantly, however, Gay’s contract (only $16.5 million this year) jumps twice in the final two years, stopping mercifully at just over $19 million in the 2014-15 season. Coupled with the new tax rules kicking in over the next year or two, Memphis’ ability to do anything at all in terms of roster development is severely hampered at the moment. And by “severely hampered” I mean “nonexistent.” So they’re trading Gay’s salary for Tayshaun Prince’s, which lasts just as long but comes about $32 million cheaper. And Prince, for all his age and awkwardness, will probably fit right in with the Memphis culture of Grit n’ Grind (strangely enough, the Grizzlies are starting to resemble the Pistons during their championship days).
Finally, almost as a footnote, after trading Marreese Speights to the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies needed a replacement big man and Ed Davis fits that role even better than Speights did. In fact, Davis is having one of the best years of his career and I wouldn’t expect it to slow down in Memphis where his style of play will mesh well alongside Randolph and Gasol.
With Calderon out of the way, Lowry can play with a free and easy mind. If he can stay healthy, that is.
As for the Raptors, they’re betting big on Kyle Lowry (acquired in a trade during the offseason), making him and Rudy Gay their focal point the next several years in the hope that it leads to what’s never existed in Toronto: a decent, home-court-capable basketball team. If they add a wily veteran somewhere in the next 12 months (assuming Gay meshes well with the existing core), they might actually have the makings of a Conference Finalist. It remains to be seen as well whether Calderon’s influence in the locker room was as important as some (mainly me) expected it was. And in any case, the absence of Calderon and Davis will likely lead this team further into the pit of the Eastern Conference standings until they figure some things out.
Which leaves Detroit and whatever it is they think they’re accomplishing by trading for Jose Calderon. Since it seems more than probable that this is a salary dump (which doesn’t, by the way, make this any more comprehensible, because a salary dump for Detroit can only mean one thing: more free agent acquisitions, on which see more later), Calderon should probably not buy a house in the Detroit suburbs just yet. His contract expires this season (and the $10.5 million that came with it) and if the Pistons couple that with the departure of free agents-to-be Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Corey Maggette (who, yes, is still in the league), and some money owed to Rip Hamilton, they’re left with a little over $35 million in salary for the 2014 season (this also assumes Charlie Villanueva activates his player option – and he will because he’s terrible and no one will give him $8.5 million on the open market). Add it all up and Detroit is a player in the upcoming free agent market. But since their last several forays into that part of the forest have left this writer underwhelmed with their ability to understand the game of basketball (see: Villanueva, Charlie and Gordon, Ben, Summer 2009), nothing much will likely come of it. Unless they resign Calderon, in which case some woe-begone player like O.J. Mayo might decide that Detroit is where he wants to be (which means the Pistons handed him a briefcase full of unmarked greenbacks and everybody shook hands).
In the end, this trade on the whole is a positive for the league. It teams up two exciting young players in Toronto (Gay and Lowry, always good for business), lets Memphis continue to push the limits of painfully-slow, avant-garde basketball, and allows Detroit to continue doing what Detroit does best: confuse and bewilder the basketball-watching public.
The Arizona sports market is a notoriously fickled one. It’s a place built by transplants and Snowbirds, who, along with motorhomes and midwestern accents, bring hometown loyalties they don’t check at the border.
Despite what some games might feel like, these are the actual home teams of Arizona.
Unlike long-established cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, or the Bay Area (whose residents, ironically enough, often relocate to Phoenix), the Valley of the Sun is relatively new to the professional sports scene. Except for their first franchise (the Suns, who were established in 1968), their next oldest team (the Cardinals) relocated from St. Louis in 1988. The Coyotes came from Winnipeg in 1996 (and seemingly tried to leave ever since), and the Diamondbacks were established in 1998. There are other franchises of course, like the Mercury or Rattlers, but no one really thinks about them when discussing the region’s major professional sports.
With three championships, the Rattlers are the most successful franchise in the city’s history. They currently play in the “Who-Gives-A-Crap?” league.
With the youth of the Phoenix sports market, and the nature of its residents, Arizona teams don’t yet have the deep fan bases like those larger and previously mentioned upon markets. In Arizona, when times are good (like the Suns’ Dick Van Arsdale, Charles Barkley, and Steve Nash eras; the World Series Diamondbacks; the failed Super Bowl Cardinals; and the most recent Coyotes team), arenas and stadiums are often sold out and loud with hometown pride. When times go south though (the late 1980’s, early 2000’s, and current Suns teams; most years since the D-backs changed their colors; most of the Cardinals and Coyotes existence), the fan base divides itself in half (that’s a generous estimation), and while some continue rooting for the local teams, most put back on the jerseys and hats from their childhood.
Mill Avenue during the day.
It’s like a snake that eats its tail; the teams don’t win over fans by losing, less fans means less revenue to build potential winners, rinse and repeat.
Carrying on that fine tradition of ineptitude, close calls, woulda’s, shoulda’s, and ‘coulda’s, Valley sports have been in the news a lot lately, both locally and on the national stage. One team fired its coach, and after three weeks, managed to pull off the steal of the league when hiring its new one. Another team fired their coach and no one could figure out why, much less understand why they hired the guy they did to replace him. Another team traded the face of their franchise for a soon-to-be free agent, a high ERA pitcher and a bag of peanuts, while another team had their MVP give up more goals in two games (before getting hurt) than it seemed like he did all last year.
With all this said, it’s a frustrating, heartbreaking, infuriating, and above all else, interesting time for Arizona sports. Since next week is pretty much going to be all Super Bowl, all the time, I wanted to take a moment this Friday to take a brief look at my hometown teams, their current moves, and what this means for the foreseeable future of the franchises and the community.
So, with no further ado.
Dan Majerle is one of the most popular Suns of all time. He’s so popular in fact, he could probably kill someone right in the middle of United Airways Center, right during a nationally televised game, then be allowed to leave the arena completely unmolested, all while giving high fives to the police as he left.
“Don’t tempt me!”
So when coach Alvin Gentry got canned earlier this week for no logical reason (a great coach with a team of limited talent can only go so far), you would think Majerle would finally be given the chance the team over, especially after devoting five years as an assistant, right? Or at least Elston Turner (the assistant coach with 16 years of experience) would be named the new man in charge?
Instead, the Suns made Lindsey Hunter, a former player with no coaching experience outside his son’s high school team, as the new head coach. It probably also helped that Hunter is best friends with Lance Blanks, the Suns’s General Manager.
Insert “Snowball’s Chance in Hell Before Suns Win First NBA Title Joke” here.
This is just one tragic example of what the Phoenix Suns have become. They aren’t winning games, they aren’t selling seats, and the reason owner Robert Sarver doesn’t think fans are upset with the moves he’s making is because the city has grown so apathetic to the team’s current state that they don’t have the effort to care anymore. Fans are bunkering down and crossing their fingers that Shabazz Mohammed magically comes via the draft, and if not, hey Bruce Arians got hired by the Cardinals!
So what does this mean for the future of Phoenix’s first and most beloved Sun son?
Currently, former Suns legends and players are distancing themselves from the organization, as they seemingly do not want to be associated with their former team. Charles Barkley, who over the years has remained silent on his opinions of the Suns, has very recently and publicly expressed his disappointment in the franchise’s current direction. After losing Steve Nash last summer, the team has no face of the franchise, and more importantly, no go-to scorer, regardless if he has a face or not. Michael Beasley and a roster of scrappy, misfit role players have been sold to fans as the future. Local sports broadcasters are calling out the team’s mismanagement and dysfunction.
These Suns are no longer the Suns you grew up with. Remember the days when former players and legends once held roles in the front office, ceremonial or not, and made sure they kept strong connections with the fans? Even if times were tough, it was alright, because it was a family, and the whole Valley was in it together?
Now, Sarver and his current front office has cut ties with the past, and have seemingly run out everyone once associated with the team. Everyone from Dan Majerle as an assistant coach, to Cedric Ceballos as the In-Arena MC are now gone, and in their place are Blanks and Babby’s friends and former associates. It’s sort of like this: imagine you used to go over to a friend’s house everyday after school, and years later, after you’ve graduated and got married and had kids of your own, you drive by that house. Your friend’s parents have long ago sold it, and now a bunch of stoner college kids who don’t keep up with the yard and let the paint fade live there. It’s still the same house, on the outside, but what made it so great growing up is gone.
It seems like a long time since the 2011 NL West Championship season. Most of the faces from that team are long gone, traded away for prospects, middle relievers, and now a plethora of shortstops. Just yesterday, the team traded the once projected cornerstone of the franchise, Justin Upton, for a guy who will be a free agent next year, a pitcher with a high ERA, and a bunch of prospects who are projected to have limited potential.
What the D-backs have now is a team of scrappy, blue-collar role players. I would get excited about this, but this eerily sounds familiar. Like, down the street from Chase Field familiar (if you’re not getting this, see “Suns” above).
Current Diamondbacks roster.
Now baseball is an entirely different sport than basketball, I know that, and you can look to teams like the 2010 Giants as an example of a roster filled with scrappy role players who performed way above expectations. The difference though, is that Matt Cain and the 2010 version of Tim Lincecum was on that Giants team, and no matter how good Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, or Tyler Skaggs are, they aren’t Cain or 2010 Lincecum. And Wade Miley was just a rookie last year.
“Really? Bryce Harper?”
If Randall Delgado can get his ERA down, and Martin Prado signs a long-term extension, the Upton trade might not be the worst move in the world, even if it sort of feels like it right now. Prado is a great hitter, and all around great baseball player, and with the rise of Paul Goldshmidt, the team might very well easily forget Upton and all that “potential” they’ve been selling on him his entire career. In fact, the thing I’m most upset about with this trade is that I just got an Upton jersey this Christmas this year, and now what am I going to do with it? That’s supposed to be a joke, but seriously, what am I now going to do with this jersey?
Either way, this is a team of scrappers and hard workers, and it’s going to go one of two ways. They are either going to win big, or Kevin Towers will be gun slinging somewhere else.
After starting 4-and-0, the Arizona Cardinals tanked the rest of 2012, then fired their coach. What happened for the next three weeks was perceived by fans as a comedy (or tragedy) of errors. Ray Horton was going to be the coach unless Andy Reid was the coach, or Mike McCoy, and when they weren’t Horton was going to be the coach, and he was going to bring Norv Turner in as the offensive coordinator, that is unless it was Jay Gruden was going to be the coach, or Darrell Bevell, or Bruce Arians. Finally, when Arians was named to the position, Horton rightfully wanted out, and the team, in losing a defensive genius and replacing him with an offensive one, seemed to have cut of their nose to spite their face.
“How long until practice is over and I can tweet about the strip club?”
Then, Arians built his staff, fans started shutting up and believing, and now even Beanie Wells, who only a few short weeks earlier was saying how he was “auditioning for thirty-one other teams” when playing in the last game of the season, is excited. It seems the whole state of Arizona (minus the contingent who root for the 49ers. Or Bears. Or Packers. Or Steelers. Or…) is abuzz, and analysts are saying the Bidwills need to be promptly arrested on charges of robbery, what with how good a staff they built by taking them away from other teams.
Out is a player’s coach and easy locker room, and in is Arian’s authority and discipline.
Bruce Arians telling his offensive line his January expectations.
Unless the blue-collar D-backs over perform, or the Coyotes can again find the magic of last year, the future’s again bright for the Cardinals to be the preferred team of the Valley, despite not having a clearly defined quarterback, huge holes on the offensive line, a lack of a running game, a rebuilding defense, having to play in the NFC West, and yada yada yada.
All of that doesn’t really matter to fans right now though, who are too excited about the possibilities Arians brings. It’s goodbye “In Whiz We Trust,” and hello “Arians Nation!”
…yeah, that’s not going to work. We’ll figure it out by training camp.
Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes
This is the trickiest of all teams to assess. If last year can be a measuring stick for anything, the Coyotes are the closest thing to a future champion than any of the other teams combined. Unfortunately, unless potential owner Greg Jamison finally pushes through his purchase of the Yotes before the fast approaching deadline, the team might be celebrating that championship in another city, most likely somewhere in or near Canada.
This summarizes all of the “Are they moving, or aren’t they?” speculation.
The Coyotes are either here, or they aren’t, or they are, or they aren’t, and no matter how good they might be, a sport played on ice is already a tough sell in the desert, so uncertainty isn’t helping any. If Jamison can close this deal though, and ensure a future of the team in Glendale, and if the team continues to play like they did last year, Phoenix might well become a hockey town. In fact, they most likely will become a hockey town, and I don’t know about you, but I never thought I would ever write those words.
The Lakers’ bench is indicating their collective percentage from behind the arc this season.
The problems of the Los Angeles Lakers are at this point so numerous that it’s almost not worth discussing. If something exists such that it can go wrong, in their case it is. That being said, the most visible problems (defensive rotations, transition defense, general confusion on that end of the floor) are not necessarily the most revealing. At least not at first. But there is one problem which, once the root cause is uncovered, seems to indicate the larger problem which some have suggested but most have overlooked (up to this point, myself included). And this problem happens to be worth three points.
Throughout the lifespan of the National Basketball Association, the three-pointer has had an awkward history, spurned at first but, after many trials and tribulations, adopted and accepted by almost everybody. Early on, several innovative thinkers came up with the idea (but no one’s sure exactly who did what first) but the league was hideously slow in adopting this idea, waiting all the way until the rookie seasons of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (1979-80), at which point almost nobody attempted them and if they did it was considered miraculous if they went in even 30% of the time. It took until Danny Ainge in 1988 for someone to crack the century mark for single-season makes (and now it’s abnormal if the league-leader sinks less than 200).
Chris Ford, former NBA player and head coach, hit the first three-pointer in league history. He did it against Larry Bird, which makes him a legend, I think.
Since then, however, the three-point field goal has become one of the most important shots in the game, even if there’s currently still a delay in universal recognition (every year there’s a loud discussion on TNT’s Inside the NBA as to the various merits and demerits of the shot). One look at this page, of course, tells us all we need to know: thirteen of the top fifteen players all-time in terms of made three-pointers are currently active. But no matter. The players understand and some coaches understand. And one in particular is Mike D’Antoni.
When D’Antoni brought his up-tempo system to Phoenix in 2003, he didn’t say “Three-pointers are amazing, shoot them as much as possible.” Instead, it just so happened that in the context of Seven Seconds Or Less, wide-open three-pointers were available everywhere nearly every trip down the court. And D’Antoni, master magician that he is, is also a mathematician: three is more than two, so shoot those threes.
People generally recall fast breaks when they think of the Seven Seconds Or Less era in Phoenix but what D’Antoni’s style is really about is transition, that small window of opportunity when the defense is still backpedaling up the floor and the offense has every advantage. In D’Antoni’s system, once the team gets the ball, it’s the job of the four off-ball players to pick a spot where there’s not a defender and run to it. If you’re a big man, your job has another facet: set a drag screen early for the ball-handler and then start trailing to the rim. This forces the defense to react before they’re ready. If they collapse on the rolling big man, the shooters on the perimeter are wide-open. If they play man-to-man, that giant guy trailing to the hoop with outstretched arms is almost certainly going to score or draw a foul. And if he gets double-teamed after the pass, he can pass out to a shooter, often the ball-handler who is now in a prime position to step into a three-pointer at the top of the key.
D’Antoni’s Suns teams were not the first to break 2,000 three-point attempts in a season nor were they the first to shoot 40% as a team from behind the line. But the Phoenix teams under D’Antoni’s leadership did lead the league in three-point percentage four straight years and average 110 points a game, the latter of which hadn’t been done in ten years (Orlando Magic, 1995).
A common look for D’Antoni since he left Phoenix in 2008.
Which brings us to the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers. As a team, they’ve attempted the third-most three-pointers this season (1027), right behind the New York Knicks (1119), and the Houston Rockets (1208). Unfortunately, they’re only making 35.3% of those attempts, just below league-average (35.6%). If they were averaging 39.0% (as D’Antoni’s Suns teams did), it comes out to an extra 2.7 points per game, which is huge. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, three-point inefficiency in LA was a predictable outcome. But maybe not for the expected reasons.
Sure, lots of players on the roster are shooting decently from long-range. Sure, the players shooting the most efficiently (Steve Blake and Steve Nash) are being underutilized (either because of injuries or on-court miscommunication). And sure, several players are having below-average seasons from behind the arc (Jodie Meeks career 40.6%/season 36.2% and Antawn Jamison career 34.5%/season 31.2%). But the problem isn’t personnel capability from the perimeter. The problem is that this roster isn’t executing the patented Mike D’Antoni system.
And why? Well, they’re slow. Like, really slow. In terms of pace only the Rockets are faster, but that’s because the Lakers are launching the ball early (because of poor execution) and turning the ball over often (because of poor execution), leading to extra possessions. The truth is that more often than not Nash is beating his own teammates up the floor, which means that by the time he’s done his job (read, penetrate, and collapse the defense) and is ready to pass to a shooter, those shooters are still settling in and planting their feet. The inevitable results are delayed passes, contested jumpers, and turnovers.
If only it were still 2002. . .
The million dollar question, of course, is whether this is a personnel issue or a coaching issue. I suggest the former. And it’s not that they’re not the kind of players D’Antoni likes having in his system, it’s that they’re exactly the kind of players D’Antoni likes having in his system – if the year were 2006. Bryant, Nash, World Peace, Gasol, Duhon, Blake, and Jamison are on the wrong side of 30 and they play the lion’s share of the minutes on this team. The Knicks as a team are a hair older (30.6 years to 30.3 years) but New York, unlike Los Angeles, only gives heavy minutes to two or three players past the dreaded age of 30. The Lakers, meanwhile, have almost an entire rotation with one foot in the grave.
Which makes relatively poor three-point shooting an important reason they’re losing. Because the root cause is their inability to do anything quickly and efficiently at any moment of any game, which leads to questions about age, which then reflects back on all the other problems the team is having: age explains their poor transition defense, their inability to make sharp rotations, and their tendency to lose games in the fourth quarter. The question of age has come up a few times this season but usually at the end of a list of other problems, thrown in because it’s common to talk about. In this case, though, the Lakers’ problems might actually be defined entirely by when they were born. Regardless of the offensive system, the ups and downs of the season, the coaching changes, and the injuries (which are certainly age-related), this team is old. And because of that, they’re not very good. At three-pointers or anything else.
Junior Seau had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. It most often occurs in boxers and it wasn’t until about seven years ago (!) it began to be seriously considered to be suffered by NFL players. This report contradicts the original autopsy conducted last year, which saw no physical signs of damage.
As reported on this very site, the kind of depression and other disorders arising in men after retirement from CTE is quite frightening. Suicide and other strange symptoms like personality changes and paranoia (those associated with schizophrenia) have occurred in numerous cases. There are many tragic examples to choose from without too much Google skills.
Junior Seau passed away in May of last year.
The Seau family worked with the National Institutes of Health in Washington state to deliver a comprehensive examination on Junior’s brain. The study confirmed evidence of proteins (known as “tau”) which tangle neurological strands and “scarring” consistent with repeated head trauma. All of this, no doubt, a direct result of a long career in the NFL.
It’s clear that the NFL is in support of treating those with CTE. Obviously. But their recent decisions like throwing out lawsuits filed by hundreds of former players for proper neurological healthcare (players in retirement) is quite gruff. The NFL claims that the CBA reached as recently as last off-season has these healthcare issues covered, but other reports that seem to show that the NFL tries to cover up the link between head trauma and the development of Alzheimer’s, CTE, and other horrific life-destroying ailments is rather spooky.
Roger Goodell’s tenure will always be looked at as the beginning of this investigation into head trauma and the NFL.
This issue lies precisely at the core of being a supporter of these athletes. Is the NFL in support of helping players with these problems? Yes, as far as they can while supporting this violent tradition (not to mention keeping a brand). The question is why aren’t they working to prevent it?
As recent studies show, the definition of a concussion is not just the bruising of the brain if it bumps the skull. It can also occur over the course of slight head traumas (those that accrue over the course of an NFL career probably). This has me thinking that there is not a cure for this. There just isn’t. The only way to prevent it is to not play football at all.
This is the dilemma that keeps Roger Goodell awake at night. Football = money. Big money. Like enormous skyscrapers of money that can’t be counted. Money that is waiting on the stoop when you open the front door in the morning. And of course Mr. Goodell is under constant pressure from the board of White Balding Grey Hairs to keep the money rolling. That is his job: to be an ambassador of the game and keep the game as pure as possible without showing the cracks, all this while progressing the game.
The NFL’s revenue structure and TV deals ensure that every Super Bowl is worth more money than the one previous.
It’s true that even with all this education and warnings and obvious correlation between football and suicide or at least football and mental health trouble, some (or most) men will play regardless. And of course this is their right as adults and citizens and all that. It’s a crazy, crazy thing to think about.
Then, if you consider how the college game works, breeding specimen after specimen of athletes from low-income households going to the professional with literally nothing to fall back on, then we have a big problem here: you can’t stop it. There’s too much at play to pull the plug on this elaborate machine. The high-road solution would be to up the education programs for college athletes to ensure at least a day-job if/when an NFL career falls through–but we all know how much colleges care about that as opposed to their football programs being on TV a lot. Of course, Certainly not every college athlete is inept at life, but it’s worth thinking about.
So this is the part that gets even darker. The conclusion here is that I fear it will keep going. The NFL will remain, and this head trauma thing will continue unless there’ s a drastic change (i.e. removing helmets) or television becomes obsolete and the NFL’s infinite money chain just peters out. After a while, the sound of many people “banging their heads against the wall” is akin to applause after all.
You’ve probably never seen this image before. Especially not during a broadcast of a nationally-televised NBA game. And especially not during an overplayed Adidas commercial.
During the summer the general consensus was that Derrick Rose should sit out the entire 2013 season to make sure he was fully healthy and that consequently the Bulls should trade up for picks and youth and essentially tank the season in order to pair the return of the youngest MVP in history with a high lottery pick. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls organization, naturally, had other plans. They’re 22-15, fighting in a large crowd for the second seed in the East, and Derrick Rose is ahead of schedule and looking to return as early as mid-February.
Which, justifiably, has the Eastern Conference a bit worried, because without Rose and after the departure of the anchor of their bench defense (Omer Asik, who went to Houston as a sought-after free agent), the Bulls are faring just fine. They’ve managed to assimilate several new faces into the lineup without much of a struggle, the defense is still all-world (3rd in the league in defensive efficiency), and they’re winning games with a bench backcourt of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli (most unpredictable occurrence so far this year). Basically, they’re still coached by Tom Thibodeau, which means everything was probably going to be alright anyways and we all just got ahead of ourselves.
Interesting note: Thibodeau is often photographed in the middle of an operatic aria.
The question, then, is how will Rose fit back in? Assuming he returns at around 75% of where he was two years ago when he won an MVP (which isn’t far-fetched considering modern medicine: remember Adrian Peterson?), will that be enough for the Bulls to ease into a high playoff seed come April, ready to do some damage in the postseason?
Thankfully, our guesswork can be partially substantiated by historical precedent, which Derrick Rose kindly offered last season when he played through multiple injuries before going down in the first game of the playoffs: By most accounts (i.e. general per-game statistics which most people look at), he had a down year individually. He shot a career-low percentage from the field (a groan-inducing 43.5%), scored 3.2 less points per game, made a smaller percentage of his free-throws, rebounded worse, and all while playing roughly the same minutes. In sum, he missed 27 of Chicago’s 66 games and looked like the 2011 MVP in stretches here and there but never for very long.
Will he return to his MVP form?
That being said, if you look beyond the per-game statistics, he had a pretty great year. His true-shooting percentage was marginally lower than his MVP campaign, his free-throw rate was almost identical, and his field-goal percentage, if adjusted for other factors, is better than the adjusted-field-goal percentage of a similar player, Russell Westbrook. But the real beauty is what happened when Rose was on the court: even given the inconsistent season in terms of injuries, when Rose was on the floor, the Bulls averaged 1.12 points-per-possession (PPP) which is a very good number. By comparison, when LeBron James and Kevin Durant hit the hardwood, their respective teams averaged 1.11 PPP and according to just about everybody they had better seasons than Rose. Meanwhile, Rose held opposing point guards to an 11.0 PER per game whereas James and Durant held opposing small forwards to 10.6 and 12.7 respectively. When you take into account the quality of opposition Rose faced on a nightly basis compared to James and Durant (league-average PER last year for point guards was 14.58 and for small forwards it was 11.67), Rose’s “subpar” season begins to take shape as a great season indeed.
If this sort of analysis can tell us anything, then, it’s that a Derrick Rose who is playing below where we know he can play is still a force to be reckoned with. He’s also coming back to a system in which he doesn’t have to be great. He merely has to be good because a good Derrick Rose will probably give the Bulls a 2-seed for the playoffs. Now imagine where Chicago might wind up if Rose comes back without missing a beat, lighting up opposing defenses in crunch-time and willing his team to victories in much the same way as James and Durant. What was supposed to be a throw-away season might end up being special after all.
Three of the four teams in the NFL’s “final four” this Sunday also played in last year’s championship weekend. The storylines have altered, but the demarcation of winning and losing remains the same: limit mistakes on offense and play sound defense and special teams. How the games will go will depend a lot on that basic formula. There is rarely a boring game on this weekend historically.
You’ve never seen anybody like this during the playoffs.
Last year, it can be said that both Baltimore and San Francisco screwed themselves over royally with shoddy special teams play. Can they possibly do it again or just genuinely lose?
The good news for casual fans or fans with no team in the race is that the chances of someone new winning the Super Bowl is very good. With the exception of New England, the other three teams have had significant droughts or no championships at all. That is a good thing. Rest assured I will be rooting for any team not named “Patriots”. Let’s take a look at each team’s history in championship games and Super Bowls. This is your nerd warning.
All time W-L in AFC Championship games: 1-2
Last AFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Lost to New England)
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2001 (Defeated New York Giants)
The Ravens are running on adrenaline, which is historically a sure-fire way to upset team after team. That has been done before and recently, as teams with low seeds have actually won a lot of titles over the years (teams with higher seeds are just 12-10 in conference championships in the last 10 years). This is the Ravens second-straight AFC title game against the same team, which by sheer odds alone favors them (if you ignore the uh… game itself). They’ve dropped two AFC title games in a row going back to 2008, with roughly the same players. Their lone Super Bowl with Brian Billick’s defense-only squad in 2001 won one of the most irrelevant Super Bowls ever. Trent Dilfer was their quarterback. Trent Dilfer. I’ll say it again. Trent Dilfer.
This was a strange, mysterious way to start the 21st Century.
All time W-L in NFC Championship games: 1-1
Last NFC Championship appearance: 2005 (Lost to Philadelphia)
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1999 (Lost to Denver)
The Falcons are underdogs at home for a lot of good reasons:
They have trouble putting teams away
Their defense is poop
Historically bad at home in the playoffs
These playoffs are all about forgetting the past for Atlanta. They have struggled so hard in the playoffs under Mike Smith/Matt Ryan, and have already shit their pants once against Seattle. As above, I’ve seen teams bounce back from unimpressive wins in the playoffs before, but the weight of all that stuff plus the powerful 49ers offense coming to town is really daunting for this team. Also, their reaction to their Divisional win was way too emotional. The only thing that hasn’t happened for this team: they’ve never hosted an NFC championship game until this year. The last time they got this far, Michael Vick was their quarterback and they got smoked at Philadelphia. The time is now to set things right.
Super Bowl XXXIII (1999): “The One That Was Never There”
New England Patriots
All-Time W-L in AFC Championship games: 7-1
Last AFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Defeated Baltimore)
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2012 (Lost to New York Giants)
If we’re talking history, then New England pretty much sets the bar for success in these games. In the Belichick era, the Patriots began winning as underdogs in their “dynasty” years in the first half of the oughts and then as favorites for the last half, only losing one (to the Colts in 2007) in their entire history. They are heavy favorites at home in this game, and will no doubt do what they always do: crush you with their offense. So much pressure is on the Raven’s defense in this game. But as I said above, the odds are certainly in favor of Baltimore. You can’t lose the same game two years in a row right? Right?!
“Sup, Joe? Next year I might do you a favor and choose to bang your wife AND your mother instead of beating you again. Fair trade?”
San Francisco 49ers
All-Time W-L in NFC Championship games: 5-6
Last NFC Championship appearance: 2012 (Lost to New York Giants)
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1995 (Defeated San Diego)
I didn’t know until I did research for this article that the 49ers have a losing record in the NFC championship game: including two in the Steve Young era. That kind of dulls the gold of their helmets a bit. But just like last year, they are favorites again. We all know what happened last year.
The 49ers are poised to erase this image from their canon.
Eli Manning even said after that debacle that the Giants had defeated a “Super Bowl Defense”. Kind of a high-road burn, that is. San Francisco is poised to win and there is no doubt in that defense to play tough. That might be all they’ll need to do to win.
Quantum theory, in a nutshell, hypothesizes that at any possible moment where multiple outcomes can occur, the universe splits into parallel multiverses, where those other possiblities become reality. At least, that’s what three seasons of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman has taught me.
“Or something like that.”
So while I started the year with a Baltimore/San Francisco Super Bowl prediction, somewhere along the line the universe split, and the me in this version changed to a Denver/Seattle prediction, because (due to the match-ups leading to that eventual outcome) it seemed the most attractive option.
Let’s remember though, that in this armchair world of quantum theory, the universe doesn’t just separate into two possible outcomes, but all possible eventualities. In that case, let’s take a moment to credit the me out there who did pick Denver/Seattle correctly, just as there is a version (hopefully here) who picked San Francisco/Baltimore correctly, as well as incorrectly, as well as all other possible outcomes.
Is this making sense? If not, that’s because I have DirecTV and not an advanced (or any) degree in Quantum Physics, although, come to think of it, somewhere out there, there is a high probability there is a me with an advanced (or any) degree in Quantum Physics, and I’m sure that that me, wherever he (or even she) might exist, is explaining this much better. Or worse.
Either way, this universe’s me now has to reassess my playoff predictions to teams still in the hunt (although at this rate, if you’re a fan of a team still in the playoffs, you should probably hope I don’t predict they will win next Sunday, given what happened last week). With all this said, here’s a look at Sunday’s upcoming games:
San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons
The 49ers are heading into Atlanta to play the NFC’s best team of the regular-season for a chance to revisit the Super Bowl for the first time in eighteen years, and their sixth time altogether. The Falcons, on the other hand, have been to the big dance only once (1998), when they lost to a Denver quarterback who won a playoff game, John Elway and the Broncos.
“Hey Peyton, what do me, Elway, and Jake Plummer all have in common?”
On their way to being the best team of the regular season, the Falcons did well against mobile quarterbacks, beating the Redskins (Robert Griffin III), Eagles (Michael Vick), Seahawks (Russell Wilson), and while not typically viewed as a running QB, I’m going to include the Cardinals Kevin Kolb, because if anyone watched a Cardinals game this season (and I don’t know why you would), you knew Kolb spent the entire game running for his life. The Falcons also split the series with the Panthers (Cam Newton).
What does this have to do with the 49ers? Well, former backup QB Colin Kaepernick is a mobile quarterback, more in the size and speed of Newton, but with attributes Newton didn’t have, like an offensive line, running back, receiving core, defense, Coach, and at this point, capable hotdog sellers and ticket vendors.
Matty Ice might seem calm, cool, and collective as of late, but expect him to suddenly become a very mobile quarterback when he too is running for his life from Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, and Aldon Smith.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
This game is a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship, when the Ravens stole defeat from the jaws of victory and let Tom “Golden Boy” Brady into the Super Bowl for an unprecedented fifth time. What will happen this year? Well, everyone in the NFL’s marketing department hopes Brady makes a sixth appearance, so they can officially begin the “Tom Brady Is The Greatest Quarterback of All-Time” marketing campaign. If not, they just have to wait until Brady retires, whether he gets a fourth ring or not.
“Holy crap, I hate that guy.”
Unfortunately for every woman who is forcedto watch the Super Bowl with her husband or boyfriend this year, Ray Lewis’s farewell tour is going to have one more stop before it’s over, and it ain’t going to be over in New England, so Tom Brady ain’t going to be on the tube come February. Also, add in Ball-So-Hard University alumni Terrell Suggs playing like he was never hurt, and the big arm of Joe Flacco, the current best quarterback in the league if you ask Joe Flacco, and Baltimore is going to make sure they stamp their ticket to the All-Harbaugh “Suphar Baughl” in New Orleans.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
Anywho, that’s my reassessed new/old playoff outlook. I’m sure somewhere I’m not writing this article, because I was spot on last week, and for the me’s who did have to write this article somewhere else in their own little multiverse, I’m sure they did a better job. Or worse.
After the last few moves made by the Arizona Diamondbacks, I’m seriously wondering if the success of the 2011 NL West Championship team was due more to the decisions made in 2010 by then-interim General Manager Jerry Dipoto, rather than anything done a year later by notorious gunslinger, Kevin Towers.
Since Towers was made General Manager in 2011 (which paved the way for Dipoto to become the GM of the Anaheim Angels), he has traded away fan-favorites for utility minor leaguers, and top prospects for less than appraised value.
His moves have been intriguing at best (that’s a nice way to say “confusing“), and hair-pullingly frustrating, as well as 100% not fan friendly at worst. Towers has left such a sour taste in the mouths of some D-back fans, that one even took it upon him/herself to hijack Tower’s Wikipedia page, and change it to this:
While hilarious, to some D-back fans it also rings with absolute truth. In the opinion the fans in Arizona, Towers is doing everything he possibly can to destroy the team.
Now while I’m fully aware a professional sports organization should be less (not) concerned with fan opinion when deciding personnel decisions, and should focus more (solely) on what is necessary to procure a winning team, this is an infamously apathetic Phoenix fan-base we’re talking about here. This a city built by people from other places, with other loyalties, and when the local teams aren’t doing well, you can expect to see more Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Yankee hats on, than Sedona red or throwback purple.
Does anyone else miss this color combo as much as me?
Currently, Towers has been trying to trade away the face of the franchise, Justin Upton (for nickels and peanuts it seems), like he already (allegedly) did for pitching phenom Trevor Bauer. As recently as yesterday, Towers tried to ship Upton to the Seattle Mariners for, my sources tell me (I have sources!) right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Nick Franklin.
While those are great prospects for an organization to obtain, the Diamondbacks roster is currently filled with prospects and young guns, and Upton himself is almost the same age (only with years of veteran play) as those same guys. Unlike those other guys though, Upton is just a year removed from MVP-like season. His ceiling for potential is sky-high, and in a market lacking superstars besides Larry Fitzgerald and Shane Doan, Upton has the potential to bring national recognition to the team. This isn’t just a fan issue either. Everyone with a say in baseball (from ESPN’s Buster Olney, to Fox Sports and MLB Network correspondent Ken Rosenthal, to the Arizona Republic’s beat writer Nick Piercoro, to unnamed GM’s and managers), are as confused as the team’s fans about why Towers would ever consider trading a guy with so much upswing and potential. It doesn’t make any sense, everyone has concluded.
So why then is Towers trying to trade away a player approaching his prime, who has been compared to a second coming of Ken Griffey Jr.? No one knows, it seems. As of yesterday though, due to the trade Upton blocked via his No-Trade clause, we do know it’s soon bound to happen. Was it a coincidence that the “Uptown” sign at Chase Field, which was agreed by both the Diamondbacks and Upton to be removed, came down yesterday before news of the trade even broke?
Although, centerfield will now be referred to as “Parra-dise Valley.”
Probably not. It’s like Towers is going to every other team in the league, and willing to take the best offer given, even if it’s not a good one.
A while ago, I wrote how the D-backs had to trade Upton, due to the General Manager’s insistence of shopping of the guy, because the damage to the team’s relationship with the budding superstar was irreconcilable. You can only be cheated on so many times, before you finally give up. I still feel that way, but I also feel like it should have never come to this. Upton should have never been shopped around in the first place. Once he’s gone, like Towers’ Padres of a few years backs, the Diamondbacks will be a team without any names (until Paul Goldschmidt comes around, which is what Towers is probably banking on), and like Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Upton will one day be a superstar. Unfortunately for the fans though, like it was with the Gonzalez and Padres, because of Towers, Upton will be a superstar somewhere else.
Regardless of what some pundits try to spin, Sacramento cares about their Kings.
It’s probably unwise to pontificate about the return of an NBA franchise to Seattle (one that would retain the Sonics moniker) even if the alleged deal between the Maloof family and a group of Seattle investors was confirmed by none other than the unerring Adrian Wojnarowski (who is seemingly always first and never wrong). Because in spite of The Great Woj’s credentials and history, this is the same Maloof family that wept with joy after completing a deal last year to build a new arena in Sacramento, tears that were quickly smeared away just before they rejected the deal a month later for reasons that are either mysterious or incomprehensible or both.
Still, the current situation makes clear something that, for most NBA fans, is more or less incredibly disgusting: When (not if) the Maloof family sells the Sacramento Kings, they’re going to make a lot of money. Considering what they’ve done to the city and the fans of Sacramento (not to mention all of us innocent bystanders), if the Maloofs absconded with $500 million (the supposed sum of the current deal) it would be a lot like the various and sundry Wall Street CEOs who defenestrated themselves from the recent and lingering financial disaster using those fancy golden parachutes we’ve heard so much about.
We Three Jerks.
The Maloof history in Sacramento, accordingly, is replete with all the traditional tropes of any great piece of narrative art: rich v. poor, powerful v. powerless, disinterested v. ardently passionate, mob v. oligarchy, and, what’s become a standard feature of owner-fan relationships, liars v. lied to. In addition, one may discover backstabbing, regrettable fashion choices, last-minute decision-reversing, huge gobs of money, celebrities, and grown men wearing track suits well beyond the point at which it stops being cool.
All of this raises an interesting question, though, which is, to what extent is our emotional outpouring against and because of the Maloof family legitimate and/or justified and/or normal? After all, this is basketball we’re talking about. It’s basically a very long movie that we choose to watch, day in and day out, a movie to which we freely give our time and energy. When I walk out of a Michael Bay flick, it’s my fault if I’m incredibly embarrassed to have paid money to watch it. I’m allowed to get upset and express frustration at Mr. Bay’s poor decision-making but beyond that it’s just whining. Is it the same with what appears to be the universal anger directed towards the Maloof family?
Eerily similar to the signs Sonics fans once held.
I raise the question only because the ire aimed Maloof-ward is at this point beyond typical fan outrage. The wrath of Sacramento has evolved into a full-fledged grassroots effort to save the team and destroy the Maloofs, which, to my knowledge, has to yet to occur with respect to Michael Bay. But similar to movies, we invest our time and energy into them and so if they turn out differently than we’d like, is it reasonable to start throwing rocks and organizing political organizations with the intent to enact change? I mean, it’s a sports franchise, which seems pretty close to the same thing as a big budget film that’s made and remade every year for our special benefit.
Of course, our emotional investment in a sports franchise is a bit different than our emotional investment in a film by a leading Hollywood director. One involves real human beings impersonating made-up human beings and the other involves real human beings being their human selves in a public sphere night after night for all to see and love and hate. Which allows a more solid connection, the kind that lasts years, the kind that inspires all sorts of irrational (yet understandable) behavior.
In addition, as fans, we become actors in the narrative of a sports franchise, in a way that’s not possible with a film. The people buying jerseys and holding signs and balancing four cups of beer become participants in what’s at times a drama, frequently a comedy, and too often a tragedy. So sports are, at their core, entertainment, diversion, escapism, much like cinema or television or video games. But it’s also much more: it’s a lifeblood, a connection between one person and another, a mass of individuals coming together for a common goal, about which there is something ineffably human that I can’t quite shake, even though disinterested reason tells me it’s all just a game.
That is, until they’re Seattle’s Kings. And by that, I mean Sonics.
I’m not a died-in-the-wool Kings fan. Hell, I don’t even watch much Kings basketball. My allegiances lie elsewhere. Nevertheless I grieve for Kings fans, who must feel like they’re on the precipice of losing that longtime neighbor whom they’ve greeted with a “good morning” every year they’ve been alive. And I grieve, too, for Sonics fans, who lost that neighbor already. So in the great drama of sports, in which little is ever resolved, I think three things are firmly established: losing a sports franchise is a hard pill to swallow; the Maloof family is a terrible little cell of unendingly and horrifyingly mean and selfish individuals; and no one will be happy when they walk away from the Sacramento Kings organization $500 million richer.
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