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The Whiplash Red Sox

In MLB on April 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

One of the great things about baseball is the unpredictability of it. You can watch games your whole life and yet never know what you are going to see at the ballpark on any given night, and on any of those nights you may see something you have never seen before. In recent years, no team has embodied that unpredictability quite as vividly as the Boston Red Sox. All of two years ago, in the sunny spring and summer of 2011, all seemed well on Yawkey Way. In the offseason Theo Epstein had signed free agent speedster and all-around Red Sox killer Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, making the Red Sox a near-consensus pundit pick to face the Phillies in the World Series. Then, the infamous September of chicken and beer struck, and an inability to win on consecutive days led to an MLB record collapse as the Sox led the Wild Card race by 9 games on September 3rd and still failed to make the playoffs. Then, in the blink of a eye, Terry Franconca was scapegoated was fired quit in one final act of being a good company man, Theo Epstein fled to a more desperate fan base accepted a new challenge with the Cubs, Bobby Valentine was brought in as the new sheriff in town, and having all the talent in the world led to the worst Red Sox season since 1965 and an unprecedented waiver-wire trade that blew up the team and dumped a quarter of a billion dollars in salary on the Dodgers. Just like that, a team that was slated to compete for championships for years to come looked like it was ready to be dead and buried for just as long.

All of which brings us to the 2013 edition. After an offseason of overpaying for aging mediocrity, the Red Sox were picked to finish dead last by ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated and most staffers at The Boston Globe, and had the makings of a squad that couldn’t take candy from a baby. And yet as of the end of the day on April 26, the Red Sox have been in first place every day this season, setting a franchise record for longest stretch in first to start the season and own a 16-7 mark that constitutes the best record in baseball. Once the dizziness goes away from all these mad swings, the question left to ask is: how on Earth have they done it?

1) Pitching. Talk about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Last year this pitching staff absolutely killed the Red Sox, with the starting rotation posting a hideous ERA of 5.42. Josh Beckett pitched his way out of town over 127 and a third ulcer-inducing innings, Jon Lester looked washed up at the age of 28 and Clay Buchholz had us all wondering if he would ever live up to his potential. This season? Buchholz seems to have finally put it all together, starting the season 5-0 in five starts with a 1.19 ERA, which is akin to Bob Gibson’s 1968 season for the ages. Jon Lester has returned to ace form, with the Sox winning all his games. In Lester’s case the turnaround is made all the more impressive given that even in his best seasons he has been shaky at best in April with a near 4 ERA to compare to this year’s 2.27. The change since the return of pitcher whisperer John Farrell has been so remarkable that if I didn’t know better I’d think that last year was just an act to get Bobby V fired. But whatever it is that caused the turnaround, with the Sox two home grown studs throwing like aces, Ryan Demptser making a mockery of claims that he couldn’t hack it in the American League, and the bullpen answering the bell on a nightly basis (it is amazing how much better your bullpen is when your starters can actually make it to the 7th inning), last year’s Achilles heel is this year’s juggernaut.

2) Hitting. While pitching has been the driving force behind the resurrection of the Red Sox, the offense has certainly made the pitchers’ lives easier. When David Ortiz went on the DL to start the year, Sox fans were understandably worried about where the firepower was going to come from in the post-Gonzalez era. But as it turns out, such fears were unnecessary as Mike Napoli has been white hot, Jacoby Ellsbury is reminding us of what we can do when healthy and overall the Sox are scoring runs as though they were the ones who stole traded for almost every good player the Miami Marlins had.

3) Grit. I’m not going to try to argue that tenacity and wanting it more will always prevail over talent, but it is undisputable that baseball is so physically demanding that mental toughness is essential to long run success. We have yet to see how this team holds up after a long losing streak or after a rash of injuries, but we do know a couple of things. One is that this team was utterly unfazed by David Ortiz starting the season on the DL and averaged a healthy five runs a game in his absence. The other is that when bombs struck at the heart of Boston, these guys rallied to support the city and the people that has supported them for so long. The day after the attack they had a “617 Boston Strong” jersey in the visiting dugout in Cleveland and looked like they wanted to cry as they stood on the foul line for a moment of silence. They’ve channeled that emotion on the field, winning their first four and eight of eleven since the marathon bombings, all while telling Boston “this is our f-ing city…stay strong” in the words of Big Papi. I’m not saying that this will carry them into October, but if history has taught us anything it is to never underestimate a team that is playing with emotion, with purpose and with pride.

Can it last? I have no idea. In general terms it takes two months to get a feel for the true nature of a baseball team, and as the 2011 Red Sox showed, you can never truly know before crunch time. There is plenty that can derail this team, including injuries (I lose sleep over Papi’s Achilles), age (Victorino, Napoli and Dempester aren’t exactly in their prime) and regression to the mean (Napoli isn’t going to drive in 27 runs a month and Buchholz isn’t going to finish the season with a 1.19 ERA). That said, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans, especially those of us who hail from Boston, when I say that between the wild ups and downs of the past two seasons, and the moral support they’ve lent us and our city these past two weeks, come what may we will simply fasten our seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

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NFL Draft: I Have No Idea Who These Guys Are

In NFL on April 26, 2013 at 6:23 am

By Kevin Wolfman

I haven’t watched much ESPN lately. This is because Comcast decided to “modify” (read: reduce) my available channels without giving any prior notice. They also decided to keep charging me the same amount as before. Comcast is terrible.

"Don't blame me, I'm just unqualified to work here!"

“Don’t blame me, I’m just unqualified to work here!”

Anyway, the point is that I’m watching the NFL draft via NFL TV’ live Web feed, and I have no idea who these guys are. The first seven picks were really big guys, and the eighth pick was a small guy with a big smile who looks pretty fast on the highlight tapes they just showed. The Jets are about to make their selection at #9, and all I can wonder is, Will the first average-sized guy finally come off the board? And which average-sized guy might it be? Let’s raise our voices and argue about it for money!

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“LOUD NOISES!”

This is what the NFL draft has become: a months-long obsession over athletic strangers, where Mel Kiper Jr. argues 8 hours per day with Todd McShay, who I’m guessing was hired specifically so Kiper Jr. would have somebody to argue with besides his hair stylist. 95 percent of the viewers of tonight’s draft don’t have a clue who Luke Joeckel or Ezekiel Ansah or Tavon Austin is. All they know is they each make Mel or Todd drool (never both).

OK, the Jets just picked a guy named Dee. Why not a guy named Aaa, or Bee, or Cee? Sounds like they’re settling to me.

Clearly unexceptional in every way.

Clearly unexceptional in every way.

Everybody knows the NFL Draft is, in the end, an epic crapshoot–just a few years ago, the first overall pick was spent on an overweight Purple Drank distributor. We spend hours of time, and millions of dollars, doing our best to evaluate these “prospects” on tape. And we kind of still stink at it. What’s funny is that the 95 percent of tonight’s viewers don’t know anything about these guys besides the fact that six of the top 10 picks are, in the erudite and sensitive words of one of the talking heads on NFL TV, “fatties”–but their mock drafts were probably just as accurate as Kiper’s or McShay’s.

Yesterday I saw a full seven-round mock draft. It got the first 2 picks right, then missed the third. Clearly, the entire draft-prediction business is a sham. But hey, it’s worth it for the entertainment value, right?

...right?

…right?

I don’t know how Mel and Todd got their jobs, but for their sake, I hope the bosses at ESPN never stop sipping the hype sizzurp.

Never forget.

Never forget.

A Lottery Team Fan’s Guide to the NBA Playoffs

In NBA on April 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

The NBA playoffs are upon us, and for 15 franchises the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is “how far can we go?” (With all due respect to the Bucks, I have a better chance of sprouting wings and flying than they do of beating the Heat.) For the other 14 teams, it is that dread time of year when all you have to look forward to is seeing which former player they dust off and send to Secaucus New Jersey to try to woo the ping pong balls. (The lowest point of every Boston fan’s Celtic fandom was sending Tommy Heihnson and his lucky tie in the hopes of getting Kevin Durant.) This guide is for those fans who want a distraction between now and the lottery, a handy guide on who you can feel good about rooting for while hoping the ping pong balls reward your favorite team’s ineptitude. We’ll proceed by conference and seed.

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat. You can’t deny the talent; LeBron is one of the greatest there ever was. However, after that, let’s be honest, there is little reason to root for these guys unless you are a contrarian, a shameless front runner or were actually born and raised in South Beach. It is the ultimate mercenary team built around an amazingly talented player with the ego and prima donna nature to match. Not one, not two, not three…need I say more?

You must cheer for them if: you hate Cleveland or can’t get enough of Ray Allen in He Got Game.

You must root against them if: you are from Cleveland or suffered through “The Decision.”

2. New York Knickerbockers. The Knicks have been riding the top notch performance of the oft injured Melo and the steady hand of JR Smith to near the top of the Junior Varsity Eastern Conference. This is a Big Money team built for the Big Apple that has survived despite Big Injuries to its Big Names.

You must cheer for them if: you are an Orange fan and still love Melo for winning that national title.

You must root against them if: you hate all things New York.

3. Indiana Pacers. They’re young, their athletic and you probably don’t recognize a single name on their roster. In and of itself that means you can feel good about rooting for them. Of course, young teams go through growing pains, so don’t get too attached to them just yet. Also, remember that Larry Bird is no longer their team president, so your memories of the 1980s Celtics need not color your decision.

You must cheer for them if: you live in a flyover state.

You must root against them if: you know that their name comes from the Indy 500 pace car and hate yourself for knowing that.

4. Brooklyn Nets. In their first season in the House that Jay-Z built, the Nets have brought the swagger back to this sports starved borough. Behind the scoring touch of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams’ “I’m at my best when the games matter most” routine, they have sent a message to the boys in Manhattan that they can’t take Big Apple supremacy for granted.

You must cheer for them if: you still curse Walter O’Malley’s name

You must root against them if: you’re a Kardashian

5. Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have found a way to remain relevant despite playing the whole season without one of the most dynamic players in the game in Derrick Rose. Meanwhile, Noah has missed time on and off, yet Coach Thibodeau continues to earn his keep by milking wins out of this team. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Rose seems to have no intention of walking through that door any time soon, which is liable to make their stay in this postseason a short one.

You must cheer for them if: you still own Air Jordans or your favorite movie is Space Jam.

You must root against them if: Jordan ruined your hoops hopes and dreams (I’m looking at you Jazz fans)

6. Atlanta Hawks. The good news for this Hawks team is that will not be facing the Celtics in the first round given that if one thing is true of the KG Celtics, it is that they absolute own the Hawks. The bad news is that Josh Smith and Al Horford are both battling injuries, and that this team is from Atlanta. We all know that God hates Cleveland, but let’s face it, he doesn’t seem to be fond of Atlanta since the Braves were last seen being a perennial tease in the 1990s (one of the few teams ever to make one championship seem like an underachievement).

You must cheer for them if: you want the South to rise again.

You must root against them if: William Tecumseh Sherman is your homeboy.

7. Boston Celtics. What a strange season for the Celtics. When the news broke during a January game against the Heat that Rondo was done for the year, every Celtics fan kissed off this team’s chances. Then, they win that game against Miami in overtime. In the months since, the Celtics have lost rookie Jared Sullinger, who was leading the team in rebounds, for the season and yet have beaten such playoff bound teams as the Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, Warriors, Knicks, Pacers and Hawks (seriously, there seem to be three constants in life: death, taxes and that KG & Co. will always spank the Hawks). On the other hand, they have also lost to the Bobcats…twice (and one of those was with Rondo). If KG and Paul Pierce are healthy, this team can hang with anybody in the East, including Miami. But with the time they have each missed down the stretch that is a Shaq sized “if.”

You must cheer for them if: you are a Bobcats fan (really, do your wins over them look better if they are one and done or if they take Miami to the limit in the Conference Finals again? That’s what I thought).

You must root against them if: you are a fan of any of the teams who had bad blood with Bird’s Big Three…which is basically everybody in the Eastern Conference and Southern California.

8. Milwaukee Bucks. Definitely a team you can feel good about rooting for. They are a young team that hails from a smaller market, although I wouldn’t get too attached given that they finished the season six games below .500. Led by the consistent scoring of Brandon Jennings and smothering defense of the combustible Larry Sanders (he makes Kendrick Perkins look calm), they’ve scrapped their way to an “only in the Eastern Conference” playoff spot.

You must cheer for them if: you’re a Virginia Commonwealth fan (Sanders’ alma mater)

You must root against them if: you can’t stand the idea of a team with a losing record making a playoff run

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder. After a run to the finals last year, this likable team seemed poised to compete for years to come. Then they traded James Harden to Houston in a move that made us all wonder if this ownership group is committed to winning. Well, the joke’s on us as the Thunder are right at the top of the pack again, with Durant ready to lead the team deep into the playoffs yet again. Still, you can’t help but think that the loss of Harden will come back to haunt this team when it matters most.

You must cheer for them if: you’re a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan

You must root against them if: you live in Seattle or are a Kings fan (just think how much harder it would be for the Maloofs to move the team if the Sonics still existed).

2. San Antonio Spurs. This team may not make headlines, other than for resting their starters en masse against the Heat, but they are still the Popovich-Duncan Spurs. This may be the first team in NBA history to “quietly” win 58 games. Health has been a concern at times, but Duncan seems to be relatively healthy, and that makes this team one that I would advise not betting against.

You must cheer for them if: you love a no drama team that just gets it done

You must root against them if: you’re a Mavericks fan

3. Denver Nuggets. Their motto really should be “No Melo, No Problem.” Despite a triple overtime loss to a depleted Celtics team right before the All-Star Break, the Nuggets posted the most wins by a Denver team since their old ABA days. A prolific offense (106 points per game) has covered up for a porous defense (101 points per game), which is never a good sign given that the cliché is true in any major North American sport: defense wins championships. They may make a run, but if they do it will be by winning barn-burners.

You must cheer for them if: you miss the red, white and blue ball of the ABA, or just want to spite Melo

You must root against them if: you have convinced yourself that Denver International Airport is the headquarters of the Illuminati/New World Order

4. LA Clippers. Ah the Clips, LA’s “other” team. Well, it took a little help from David Stern sticking it to the Lakers, overseeing a bag job of a trade, guiding Chris Paul to the franchise, but with the duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way, this team is the real deal. CP3 has been much of the reason as he has been the leader of this team on and off the court. All and all, it just goes to show that in today’s NBA you are never more than two or three players away from going from laughing stock to legitimate contender.

You must cheer for them if: like Paul you got stuck planning your high school reunions

You must root against them if: you hate acronym nicknames.

5. Memphis Grizzles. The only major pro team in Memphis has given a city better known for its barbeque plenty of reason to be a basketball town this year, winning 56 games in a campaign that would have been good for the two seed if they only played in the East. Marc Gasol has quietly lead the way for this team, being a steady presence in the middle and having a midrange game that just isn’t fair in a seven footer. Add to his the shooting touch of Rudy Gay and the post play of Zach Randolph (11 boards a game) and you have a team that could make some noise this spring.

You must cheer for them if: you can’t enough Tennessee barbeque

You must root against them if: you’re a Jazz fan or are still bitter about the Pau Gasol “trade”

6. Golden State Warriors. Raise your hands if you this coming. Okay, now put your hands down you liars. Stephen Curry and David Lee have make basketball relevant again in the Bay Area just one year after fans mercilessly booed team owner Joe Lacob during the ceremony to retire Chris Mullins’ number. This turnaround provides hope of all small market teams, because if after decades of front office stupidity the Warriors can turn this around, anyone can. Also, that Jacob can finally get something right proves yet again that the Maloofs are about as bad as it gets.

You must cheer for them if: want to see Oakland win a title before its best hope crosses the bay to San Francisco

You must root against them if: you think it’s foolish to call your team the “Golden State” anythings when there are three other pro teams in your sport in the same state

7. LA Lakers. Well this is how the Busses drew it up in the offseason, right? Acquire two elite talents in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, battle old age and injuries all season and clinch the seven seed (with help from a tie break) on the last night of the season? Okay, probably not, but all of that sure made for some great schadenfreude for all the Laker haters. While the Lakers certainly turned it on down the stretch, Kobe’s Achilles injury means he won’t be back no matter how deep they make it into the playoffs, so this is going to be a seriously uphill fight for a franchise unaccustomed to being the second best team in LA.

You must cheer for them if: you are related to someone on the roster, and even then, if Bill Walton can tell Luke, “you’re my son, but the Celtics are my team,” there’s no reason why you can’t take sides against the family too.

You must root against them if: you’re a Kings fan and, like my colleague Kevin Wolfman, you will never forgive Dick Bavetta

8. Houston Rockets. This team is a stats junkie’s dream. GM Daryl Morey has a degree in computer programming, an MBA from MIT and started in the Sabermetrics side of the house for the Celtics before taking over in Houston. He also once humored all of us by claiming that playing fantasy sports isn’t all that different from being a real GM. He is however sensible enough to take advantage of GMs who are too afraid to ante up, snatching up James Harden when the aforementioned Thunder decided avoiding the luxury tax was more important than going all out for a championship. This team is leading the league in scoring, but gives up points at an even more rapid pace than the Nuggets, which raises red flags going into the playoffs.

You must cheer for them if: you want Linsanity to take center stage again

You must root against them if: you count their leaving town among the long list of San Diego sports miseries

And there it is. Now you are ready to sit down and watch the NBA playoffs. There will be plenty of time to worry about bad breaks from the ping pong balls later.

These are the Champions

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2013 at 8:19 am

By Mimmo Alfano

I’m warning you right now.  This is going to be a long and sprawling post, because I am fired up!

For many US Sports Fans the end of March is a sad time.  The Madness of the NCAA Tournament has ended, College Football spring practices are over and done, and the NFL draft will be behind us in the blink of an eye.  Yes, there are the NBA and NHL playoffs still to come, and Major League Baseball is always there this time of year for those who hearken back to a simpler time when Baseball truly was America’s game.  However, for the overwhelming majority of the world (and for a growing number of Americans), April and May signal one of the greatest annual occurrences.  The conclusion of the UEFA Champions League.

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If you’re not an avid follower of European Soccer, that’s understandable.  As an American it takes a certain commitment to catch a lot of games.  The Champions League games take place in the early afternoon on certain Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  For working people in this country, it’s impossible to watch these games live.  But for those that go out of their way to tape these games and then make time to watch these 2 hour games, they are greatly rewarded.

What the hell is the Champions League?!

You may have caught highlights of some games on SportsCenter, as one of the hosts half-heartedly explains a clip of a goal and then sarcastically says, “And they appear to be excited about this.”  They don’t explain what the significance of the goal is, or inform the viewer where the teams are from, or anything else beyond reporting the score of the game.  It’s a shame.  Imagine if every country had a version of the NFL, and after we crowned our Super Bowl Champion, rather than just declaring that they were “World Champs!” they, along with the other Conference championship teams, were then entered into a massive tournament with all the other top 1, 2, 3, or 4 teams from every other professional league in say, North and Central America.  This is what the Champions League is…except in Europe…and football instead of football.  It also has one of the most addicting theme songs in history.

Semi-Final 1 — Hipster-Cindarella vs. The White Behemoth

If there was a Cindarella in this year’s Champions League it would be the German team Borussia Dortmund.  If there was a sexy, cool pick at the beginning of the tournament, it would have been Borussia Dortmund.  Dortmund won the German League or Bundesliga last year, and as a result made their second foray in the last two years into the UCL.  A team that won the tournament in 1997, Dortmund found themselves in the “Group of Death” (in soccer tournaments, there is always a Group of Death…essentially just the most difficult group) with 2012 Spanish Champions Real Madrid, 2012 English Champions Manchester City, and 2012 Dutch Champions Ajax.  If ever there was a Group of Death, this was one.  Real Madrid and Man City were the favorites to come out on top of the group (in the UCL, each team plays the other teams in their group home and away, and then the top 2 teams advance to the knockout stage) and yet it was Dortmund that won it.

A team that plays aggressively and with a business-like attitude, Dortmund fears no team.  Boasting some of the top young German players, a stingy defense (which includes Neven Subotić, who could have been a U.S. International) and a silky-smooth attack, BvB is a dangerous team.  But their greatest asset has got to be their insane fans.  Every soccer team can say they have the best and loudest fans, but everything I’ve seen suggests that Dortmund can actually take that cake; see here (ignore the title on this one) and here for examples of their intensity (keep in mind this is at an away game).

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Dortmund fans were Dortmund fans before being a Dortmund fan was cool. Photo courtesy of bvb-fanabteilung.de

Dortmund beat well-organized and well-coached Spanish side Malaga in the quarter-finals.  In fact, up until the very last minutes of the game, Malaga were going to be the ones advancing to the Semis.  Down 2-1, Dortmund scored goals in the 91st and 92nd minutes of stoppage time to win the game and advance.  This was one of the most miraculous things I have ever seen.  I’d liken it to hitting two threes with less than 10 seconds to win a game.  It just…shouldn’t have happend, but it did.  It only served to illustrate Dortmund’s no-fear focused mental intensity that they no doubt share with and gain from their fans.

Perhaps the most famous team on planet Earth, Los Blancos of Real Madrid are trying to win their 10th European Championship.  Their semi-final ties against Dortmund will be the second time in this year’s competition that these two teams will square off for a home and away series.  As mentioned above, the teams met in the group stage with Dortmund winning at home 2-1 and drawing in Madrid 2-2.  Real Madrid will certainly have revenge on their mind.

Madrid are the most athletic team in the competition.  Their power and explosiveness is impressive to watch, and they usually are content to let teams come to them and blast forward with speed and technical skill to hit on the counter-attack.  Their team is certainly the cream of the crop, and is headlined by the most high-maintenance athlete in history, Christiano Ronaldo.  CR7’s ego is matched by only his athleticism and talent; in any other generation Ronaldo would be the best.  (If you have 45 minutes free, here is a Sports Science-esque special on Ronaldo and his abilities.)

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Rather than putting up a photo of young, chiseled Cristiano Ronaldo; I put up a photo of Old “Fat Ronaldo” to make us all feel better. Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Madrid is a team full of fire and drive, and are instilled with these qualities by their Coach Jose Mourinho, otherwise known as (the self-proclaimed) “Special One.”  Mourinho is the only manager to win the Champions League with two different teams (Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010), and was brought in to Madrid to 1.  Beat Barcelona (which he did several times last year en route to winning the Spanish League title) and 2. Win the Champions League.  He’s made many ovations this season that he will be moving on at its conclusion, so there’s all the more desire to win this year’s tournament.

Even though Dortmund got the better of Madrid in the first two matchups, this tie is really Madrid’s to lose.  They have the class to win this whole tournament and will be much better this time around.

Semifinal #2 — Culture vs. Redemption

If you asked a random person what they thought of when you said Barcelona, you’d probably get a lot of different answers — Gaudi; the beach; Spain; soccer; Picasso; culture; Catalonia — and they’d all beat right; both about the City and the Soccer team.  Never has a team so fully identified and reflected the culture in which they were based as Barcelona has over the past 10-15 years.  Many words have been written on this topic by those more-informed, and of better prose than mine, but suffice to say that the team is the city, and the city is the team.

Barcelona is perfection.  They dominate possession of the ball, usually having it close to 70% of the match; lulling their opponents to sleep with their intricate passing and intelligent beautiful movement.  Recently they won the UCL in 2006 and have missed the semi-finals only once since then; winning again in 2009 and 2011.  I’m sick of them.

This year, Barcelona has seemed less dominant than in years past, and if not for one reason, many would not be counting on them to advance.  That reason is the greatest player ever, Lionel Messi.  You run out of superlatives when describing Messi, but he has nearly single-handily  carried Barcelona to victory in a huge majority of their games this season.  In their second quarter-final match against nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona was trailing at home 1-0.  A loss meant they’d be knocked out and PSG would be into the Semis.  On came injured Messi and 7 minutes later Barcelona was all tied up 1-1 thanks to an attack largely orchestrated by El Pulga (“The Flea”).

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Barcelona defender Gerard Pique likely had to console former teammate and extra-special close European bro-friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the quarter-finals. Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jimmyskywalker

Up against Barcelona is the German Juggernaut of Bayern Munich.  I’ve never been a huge Bayern fan, but after seeing this video about last season’s UCL Final when Bayern lost in their home stadium…I began to feel a little sorry for them.  They have not been feeling sorry for themselves, however.  Bayern clinched the German title this season with 6 games left to go; a season in which they have only lost 1 game, drawn 3, scored 83 goals and only allowed 13 goals against them.  Ridiculous.

Bayern is full of players from the German National Team and is a very experienced side.  They are as you would imagine a top German team to be — austere, resiliant, disciplined, organized and focused.  This year’s team especially seems completely devoid of emotion, and has been transformed by heart-wrenching defeat into a relentless goal-scoring machine.

Whichever team advances out of this match-up has to be the favorite to win the whole tournament.  Both teams attack and defend well, and are filled with some of the biggest names in international soccer.

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Bayern has been making opponents taste their pain all year long. Photo courtesy of narharnet.com

I implore you, do whatever you can to watch these semi finals.  They promise to be wide-open, wildly-entertaining matches, and if nothing else, will keep you from having to focus on who is leading the AL East for a bit longer.

Every Brawl is a Dumb Brawl

In MLB, NHL on April 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm

By Kevin Wolfman

At the risk of saturating this blog with excess coverage on one specific, ultimately minor, sporting event, allow me to follow up on Jonathan Danielson and Chris Hallenbrook’s coverage of the Padres-Dodgers brawl. Hallenbrook writes that this was “the dumbest brawl in years.” I’d like to take this (correct) assertion one step further: Every brawl is a dumb brawl.

Okay, except this one.

Okay, except this one.

Defenders of baseball’s bench-clearing, fighting sub-culture claim that these shenanigans are just “part of the game,” as inextricably tied to the national pastime as peanuts, crackerjack, and old, wrinkly managers wearing player uniforms for some unfathomable reason. Hitters who get beaned with pitches must “stand up for themselves.” Catchers who get run over at home plate must “defend their territory.” Managers who spit in umpires’ faces are “standing up for their boys.”

Here’s what they’re all really doing: making idiots of themselves.

No, fighting and brawling are not “part of the game.” They are distractions from the game. They turn what is supposed to be an athletic competition based on tremendous skill, cohesion, and discipline into Friday night at the local nightclub. They lose teams lots of money, lose players lots of dignity, and reduce a great game to a pathetic testosterone-soaked spectacle of immaturity. If fighting and brawling were “part of the game,” they would be in the same part of the rulebook as hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, and baserunning. They’re not. Case closed.

But what about “tradition,” you say? How about just let go of your lame traditions already? “Tradition” has always been, and always will be, the last gasping defense of someone who’s wrong. Stupid, hateful things aren’t acceptable just because they’ve been around a long time.

To answer Jonathan’s question from Friday: Yes, the Dodgers should be allowed to sue Carlos Quentin for damages. He injured Zach Greinke, their $147 million investment, by charging him in a threatening manner (assault) and knocking him to the ground, breaking his collarbone (battery). If something like that had occurred on the diamond in a public park, Quentin might possibly be on the hook for criminal charges, let alone civil ones. But since he did it on television while wearing a professional uniform, that makes it okay? No, that makes it worse. Obviously.

Fighting/brawling doesn’t score runs. It doesn’t get players on base. It has no productive function at all when it comes to the objectives of baseball. All it does it make grown men look like petulant, overgrown, tobacco-chewing toddlers in tight pants. Come to think of it, if actual toddlers fought each other like this while playing tee-ball, we’d put them on timeout and confiscate their toys. So let’s start holding our professionals to the same standard we apply to tykes who quite literally don’t know any better. If Carlos Quentin and his MLB brethren want to act like children, we should treat them like the brats they are.

And yes, this applies to every other sport, too. Don’t even start on hockey.

Pictured: Not winning the Stanley Cup.

Pictured: Not winning the Stanley Cup.

The Dumbest Brawl in Years

In MLB on April 12, 2013 at 7:23 pm

By Chris Hallenbrook

Let me make one thing very clear right of the bat, I’m not against fighting in baseball per se. There are times when it is necessary to mix it up with the other team. Sometimes one pitcher has buzzed the tower one too many times and you have to stand up for yourself before he scrambles your brains. Other times somebody picks a fight with one of your teammates and you’ve got to defend him just as he would defend you. (Think Varitek vs. A-Rod 2004, when Varitek got between A-Rod and Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, and when asked about the looming suspension after the game told reporters “I was protecting my teammate, for that I’ll take what comes.”) But last night’s donnybrook between the Dodgers and the Padres is one brawl in which everyone involved was D-U-M-B dumb.

"You guys need a ride to the hospital?"

“You guys need a ride to the hospital?”

Carlos Quentin. I know this is the third time Greinke has hit you, which is uncharacteristic “wildness” on his part, so maybe the dude has it out of you, I don’t know. What I do know is it was a 3-2 pitch with the Dodgers holding a one run lead with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Greinke would be a fool to put the tying run on by plunking you (more on that later). Plus, you led the league in getting hit by the pitch each of the last two years, last year getting hit 17 times in only 86 games, and 116 times in your 710 game career. Those kind of numbers usually mean one thing: you’re crowding the plate. If you don’t like getting hit, stand further back in the box. Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly got it right after the game when he called you an “idiot.”

In other news, Quentin will take the place of Ray Lewis on the Baltimore Ravens next year.

In other news, Quentin will take the place of Ray Lewis on the Baltimore Ravens next year.

Zack Greinke. What were you thinking? If you did hit him on purpose, everything I just said about the in-game situation makes you dumb for putting a grudge ahead of winning the game. And whether you did or didn’t, getting mouthy, dropping the glove and rushing at him would be admirable in hockey, but this is baseball and you’re a pitcher. That means you should never endanger your arm, especially when you are giving up forty pounds to the guy at the plate. While I always hate to see a player injured, your broken collar bone reminds me of the scene in Top Gun when Goose foreshadows his own tragic demise by telling Maverick “the Department of Defense regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.” Reports are you’ll miss at least two months, and you’re the ace of that staff. Congratulations, whether you meant to hit him or not, you let down your teammates in order to satisfy your macho pride and that is the greatest sin in team sports.

Matt Kemp. Way to stay classy by mixing it up in street clothes after leaving the clubhouse. This is the Major Leagues, The Show, the Big Time, not some bush league outfit in the middle of nowhere. You said of Quentin: “I think Carlos Quentin went to Stanford, something like that? I heard there’s smart people at Stanford. That wasn’t too smart. Greinke didn’t do anything wrong. That stuff happens in the minor leagues. It doesn’t happen in the big leagues.” That’s pretty ironic given taking it outside to tangle in the parking lot is straight out of high school.

What do you expect from a guy who wears his own name like a brand?

What do you expect from a guy who wears his own name like a brand?

Let’s be honest, there is plenty of blame to go around in this fight. There are no white hats and black hats here; no clear cut case of fighting to protect oneself or one’s teammates. Luckily for our amateur pugilists MLB disciplinarian Joe Garagiola, Jr. will only be handing out suspensions for their actions on the field, not their stupidity.

Should The Dodgers Be Allowed To Sue For Damages?

In MLB on April 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

During the winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers backed up six garbage trucks filled with money to Zach Greinke’s door, then dumped  out $147 million for six years of the pitcher’s services.

Then, during last night’s game against the San Diego Padres (a team whose entire payroll is barely half of Greinke’s total salary), Carlos Quentin bum-rushed Greinke after Greinke kerplintked one off Quentin’s ball-absorbing body fragile sensibilities. The end result? Greinke broke his collarbone, and most developing countries cried that a guy earning more than its entire GDP is now earning it while sitting on the bench for the next few months.

"Only Dennis Rodman should be allowed to make that much!"

“Only Dennis Rodman should be allowed to make that much!”

It’s unfortunate that Greinke broke his collarbone, but mound rushing is part of the game, especially when players get beamed time after time after time, even if they do mostly turn into oncoming pitches. It’s even more unfortunate that Quentin didn’t realize that only an idiot would intentionally beam a guy (even if he did have something against him) with a full-count during a one run game. I mean, this is the NL West we’re talking about; except for the Padres, every game this year is going to count.

Let’s make something perfectly clear: There is no way Greinke intentionally beamed Quentin. The ball slipped, Quentin hovered over the plate, and the reason Greinke talked back afterward is because what the hell else was he supposed to do? Lose face and tuck his tail between his legs and say he was sorry? While Quentin probably would have appreciated it, this is baseball we’re talking about. There’s no crying in baseball. Shut up, take your base, and hope you can make Greinke feel the sting of his pitch by running in the tying run. That’s how Quentin should’ve played it, but instead he rushed the mound and broke a bone in one of the most expensive players in the sport.

Congratulations Mr. Quentin, for you will now forever be that guy. 

Like Quentin, this guy could cure cancer and still never be remembered for anything else but not that.

Like Quentin, this guy could cure cancer and still not be remembered for it.

Since the fight, there have been no shortage of recommendations for how Quentin should be punished. Some  suggest that the best punishment would be to suspend Quentin until Greinke is healed and back in the Dodger’s lineup. While my innate sense of right or wrong might support that type of justice, a move like that sets a horrible precedent and opens up new problems for future punishments. Think of this; If I was a club’s manager and I knew the only punishment my player would face is an automatic suspension every time they hurt another player, and that suspension would equal the time the injured player was out, I would call up my sixth starter from AA every time I played a divisional rival, then have him beam their best player just to start something that would hopefully injure said best player.

I mean, if that practice were allowed and I was say, I dunno, the Arizona Diamondbacks, I’d be looking long and hard at my calendar every time the Atlanta Braves came to town, just to call up Joe Who-Gives-A-Crap from Mobile, Alabama.

"Oh man, I never played like this in Arizona!" No Justin, no you sure didn't.

“Oh man, I never played like this in Arizona!” No Justin, you sure didn’t.

Another solution has the injured player’s team (Dodgers) being allowed to sue the injuring player’s team (Padres) for losses and damages. In this case, the Pads would be paying almost  double their entirely weekly salary until Greinke comes back and I don’t think bankrupting your opponent is the point of this sport.

Instead, I say it is what it is. Suspend Quentin, and while you’re at it suspend Matt Kemp for acting like an idiot on the field, then acting like a bigger moron when he tried to pick a fight with Quentin in the parking lot after the game.

If Ryan Braun isn't stealing Kemp's MVP, then Carlos Quentin is stealing his second best pitcher.

If Ryan Braun isn’t stealing his MVP’s, Carlos Quentin is stealing his second best pitcher, and piss-poor judgement is taking away his playing time.

But the real issue here isn’t Quentin’s rush, or Greinke’s pitch, or even Kemp’s fight picking. The real issue here is that Greinke just dropped his shoulder and took the tackle like he and Quentin were wrestling in the 7th grade. Sure, Quentin outweighs the little rascal by fifty pounds, but Quentin’s face was wide open for the easy hook, and instead Greinke just shrunk up like a pansy and suffered an injury  only someone playing junior varsity football should get.

If done right, Quentin would have been thanking Greinke for this brawl in years to come.

If Greinke did it right, Quentin would’ve been thanking Greinke for this brawl in years to come.

And this issue isn’t just limited to Greinke and Quentin. Lately, every pitcher who gets stormed seems to get owned, and that’s just bad for baseball. It makes every pitcher lose some part of their intimidation factor. Their scariness. You think anyone every rushed Randy Johnson? They probably did, and I can’t say for certain that they didn’t, but man, that guy was scary. Where have all the Randy Johnson’s and Nolan Ryan’s gone? Now we have potheads with long hair and stupid beards in San Francisco. We have guys wearing flat brim hats and tilting them to the side in Cincinnati. We got Dodger pitchers breaking their collarbones like little kids do when they fall out of trees.

My point is this: The MLB needs to toughen up their pitchers, and I propose that every team be forced to send their pitching staffs to MLB Headquarters in New York City. Once there, each pitcher will individually go into a room that only has an old ratty bench press and a punching bag. You know, the kind Dad would go out and use in the garage when he wasn’t drinking scotch and sending you to bed when the sun was still out so he could have some time with Mom. Maybe even the room will have some tools and a workbench, just to make it that much more authentic.

Either way, every pitcher goes in, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and there’s Dad himself, Nolan Ryan, and he spends some time teaching each pitcher how to stand up to all the bullies at the plate. Nothing fancy, just some good old-fashioned chokeholds and uppercuts. It’ll toughen up every pitcher in the league, which in turn will toughen up the league.

And that’s just good for baseball.

Brittney Griner – Coming To An NBA Game Near You!

In NBA on April 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

Since Mark Cuban succeeded in bringing attention to his lottery bound Mavericks by saying that he would give Brittney Griner a tryout, or perhaps even draft her in the second round, much ink has been split on whether she can succeed in the NBA, with some going so far as to suggest she shouldn’t even try (of course, with an attitude like that we’d have never seen Billie Jean King put Bobby Riggs in his place and we’d all have to consult Jules Verne novels to imagine what it would be like going to the moon).

It's completely scientifically accurate.

It’s completely scientifically accurate.

If you’re like me, after the initial “Cuban being Cuban” reaction wore off, your mind went to down to Dixie, specifically to Chattanooga. Why? Because on April 2, 1931, the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts played an exhibition game against baseball royalty, the New York Yankees. The Yankees started their stars that day, and when 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell came out of the bullpen for the Lookouts, baseball lore was about to be made. You see, she struck out the first two batters she faced, a pair of gentlemen named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Of course, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, having become the first commissioner of baseball in the wake of the Chicago Black Sox scandal, celebrated her achievement by voiding her contract and hanging a “no girls allowed” sign on baseball clubhouses across the land. But armed with her precedent, I can only ask one question about Griner playing in the NBA: “why not?”

If there is one thing everyone agrees on about Griner, it is that she is the most dominant force the women’s game has ever seen. It’s not just that she is 6’8” and 208 lbs, her fundamentals and basketball instincts are superb. As a result, she holds the NCAA women’s record for slam dunks with 18 and the NCAA blocked shots record with 736. (Note the adjective that just dropped out. The all-time men’s blocks leader Jarvis Varnado accumulated a paltry 564 blocks in his college career.) But after this point comes the “yeah, but…” when the topic turns to Griner playing in the NBA.

Doubters point to the size that made her dominant in college as a liability in the NBA. After all, NBA centers like Dwight Howard (6’ 11”, 265), Brook Lopez (7’ 0”, 265), Al Horford (6’ 10”, 250), Joakim Noah (6’11”, 232) and Kendrick Perkins (6’ 10”, 270) all have the bulk to box her out and push her around in the post with relative ease. Of course, anyone who actually watches basketball will tell you that it isn’t all about size, there is this new fangled invention they call skill. But for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point and stipulate that she’s not built to be an NBA center. But there are other positions on the court, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that a player of her talent couldn’t switch positions, especially with the Celtics using Kevin Garnett at center instead of power forward in the aftermath of Danny Ainge shooting his team in both feet with a grenade launcher trading Perkins to the Thunder. The next logical place to look is power forward. Here the size problem is no less acute, given the likes of Chris Bosh (6’ 11”, 235), KG (6’ 11”, 253), LeMarcus Aldridge (6’ 11”), Dirk Nowitzki (7’ 0”, 245), Amar’e Stoudemire (6’ 11”, 245).

But what about small forward? Here high quality players include Kevin Durant (6’ 9”, 235), Paul Pierce (6’ 7”, 235), the ironically renamed Metta World Peace (6’ 7”, 260), Loul Deng (6’ 9”, 220) and to dip into the 1990s, Scottie Pippen (6’ 8”, 228), all of whom have a weight advantage on Griner, but no considerable difference in height. Now I can already hear the complaints: “really? You want to take a 5 and make her a 3? Take a post player and have her play away from the basket?” Admittedly, this is a different position with different skill sets, and she is likely to be at a disadvantage against speedy slashers like Carmelo Anthony (who is the same height as Griner). So yes, there would be challenges and this would not be an easy transition, but no one would be asking her to be the next great SF. Come off the bench, put in solid minutes, and this would be a win for both Griner (who with a $500,000 NBA rookie minimum would be making five times the WNBA veteran maximum and getting more exposure for endorsements than she ever could with the Tulsa Shock or Connecticut Sun) and a rebuilding Mavs team.

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Britney Griner: Better than 2-out-of-3 Mavs starters

Are the odds stacked against Griner, sure. But so what? We won’t know if a female “big” can play in the men’s game until someone tries. Bob Cousy’s no-look, behind the back passes weren’t supposed to be able to work in the NBA, Dustin Pedrioa was supposedly too small to make it in The Show, let alone win AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP, and the NHL couldn’t possibly thrive in the Deep South (okay, the doubters were right about that one). My point is, this is sports; the crazy, the unbelievable, the impossible, the never-going-to-happen-I’ll-eat-my-hat-if-it-does is commonplace and is what makes the endeavor so grand. So if Cuban wants to do this, for basketball reasons or otherwise, and Griner wants to take up the challenge, I for one look forward to seeing whether she can channel her inner Jackie Mitchell.

2013 MLB Preview from Someone Who Doesn’t Care

In MLB on April 8, 2013 at 6:22 am

By Chris Carosi

I’m not a baseball fan. I enjoy the game, and I respect the game, but I do not follow it. Case it point: it took me about thirty seconds to start following the Giants since moving to San Francisco from Pittsburgh.

It is a bit easier when your hometown team is the Pirates. Here’s a bit of a strange myth that only baseball can keep going: the Pirates haven’t been to the playoffs since they traded Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants in 1992.

I’m doing this because this venue allows it. Let’s do this.

Bonds was thin and a League MVP more than once when he played for the Buccos. That’s the last thing that happened for them.

American League  East

The only division in baseball I can actually list the teams. Why? Yankees and Red Sox are burned into my medulla via ESPN. I’m going to go ahead and say that the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry will be key for this division. Also, the Rays get shafted with travel expenses by the League every goddamn year and that’s what they get for existing in Florida.

Because I pay attention to uniforms more than baseball, I realize the team name is just “Rays” and not “Devil Rays” anymore. That sucks. I mean, it’s just a ray of light? It’s intangible. Is it a particle or a wave? What does the color blue have to do with it? You can’t ride it like an underwater horse. The team is dead to me.

Who will win the division? Baltimore Orioles

What? Why them? Because no one has ever seen an oriole win anything

Dark horse: Toronto because Canadians are overrated as a people by rule

Was this a big deal? I don’t know who this is.

American League Central

Allow me to educate YOU about the American league Central from a casual baseball fan: “There’s a team in Kansas City?”

The Royals might be the most irrelevant sports franchise in the big 4. What was the last thing they did well? Be near some really good brisket? I think largely the Major Leagues are home to the most evil franchises in the U.S. The ones that keep their payroll purposefully low so the owners make a huge profit. Read also: Pirates, Pittsburgh.

But this division has the darker, cooler Chicago franchise. If I was a Chicagoan, I would never be caught dead rooting for a team that has a baby animal as their mascot like the Cubs. Just silly. Rooting for an article of clothing is much better.

Who will win the division? Detroit Tigers

What? Why them? Because they have descended back to earth

Dark horse: Minnesota Twins because Prince is from the Twin Cities.

Prince. Huge Twins fan.

American League West

Ah, the AL West, home to Jeff Gibby’s A’s and now the Astros, who moved over from the NL. See I knew that shit. They also have snazzy new unis that are very awesome. The Rangers won the pennant two years in a row recently but lost the World Series both times. I really enjoy that. Besides my surrogate relationship to the A’s via my current residence, this division sucks… I think.

Who will win the division? Oakland!

What? Why them? Elephant logo on their jerseys

Dark horse: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Located in Orange County South of Los Angeles

“Look at those angels… in the outfield…!”

National League East

Lots of heavy hitters in this division that is only slightly less annoying than the AL East. Philly sports I just loathe with abandon due to their strange entitlement and this. The Braves are a respectable but unlucky franchise and the Miami Marlins are just useless. That’s all.

Who will win the division? The Mets 

What? Why them? Because they are the Clippers of Major League Baseball

Dark horse: Seattle Mariners because seriously who would see that coming?

Okay, Mets, let’s talk about this. A baseball that somehow grew a body? That is some psychedelic shit right there.

National League Central

Home to my hometown Bucs, this division is dominated by the Cardinals year-in and year-out it seems. While the Cards remain the most successful franchise no one can remember, the rest of the division deals completely in raising expectations and disappointing leagues of unnecessarily loyal people. The Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and especially the Cubbies haven’t done a damn thing since Pete Rose had this haircut more often in public.

Who will win the division? Pittsburgh Pirates

What? Why Them? It has to happen at some point

Dark horse: The Pirates also. Just let it happen.

Look! The Pirates have a pierogies race. That is so Polish and awesome.

National League West

Home of my favorite team, the Giants. They are the defending champs and they are extremely strange when compared to other teams. From a media perspective, they are the best team to not have any kind of backing by the media. They’ve won the World Series twice in the last three years with no credit.

Buster Posey is a beast. That’s about it. Elsewhere the Dodgers succeed and fail by the phases of the moon and Jonathan’s Diamondbacks I have no clue at all. This division is always competitive. See that sounded pretty informed.

Who will win the division? Not the Giants so… Colorado?

What? Why Them? Working on it… Well, they do wear purple and that counts for something.

Dark horse: Arizona. There’s a lot of support from this blog for them I think.

world series trophy brian wilson

This guy exists.

So there you have it. There should be some time of fund built just in case I am actually right. I’ll see you at the games!

Let’s Be Done With One and Done

In College, NBA on April 4, 2013 at 6:23 am

By Kevin Wolfman

Hit to Left Field’s own Jonathan Danielson put it well last week: the quality of play in this year’s NCAA tournament has kind of stunk. Marquette just scored 39 points in the Elite Eight, a shot-clock era low. Florida, a 3rd-seeded major conference team, got blown out by Michigan, a 4th-seeded major-conference team that many predicted would get dropped by VCU (not a major-conference team by any means) on opening weekend. The Final Four includes two four seeds and a nine seed. UCLA, perhaps the most famous program in college basketball history, got bent over by Minnesota. Minnesota!

To be fair, with a face like that, how could those Bruins resist?

To be fair, with a face like that, how could those Bruins resist?

What’s going on here? The simple answer is “parity,” which by itself sounds fine—commendable, even. But the reason for parity is disturbing, and gets to the root of college basketball’s problem: Parity isn’t at an all-time high because the so-called mid- and low-major programs have gotten markedly better—it’s because many of the traditional powers have gotten visibly worse. The top-3 of the national rankings was a Roulette wheel this year because no team truly deserved to be there the whole time.

You can blame the NCAA and the NBA for the Mister Magoo routines performed by so many “name” programs throughout the season and in the tournament. More specifically, you can blame the “one-and-done” rule.

Basketball, perhaps more than any other major American sport, highlights the abilities of individual players. A single star playing out of his mind can drag an entire team to victory. You don’t see this in, say, football, where a single star playing out of his mind gets concussed in the first quarter because his O-line makes sloths look quick on their feet.

That said, basketball is still a team sport. While individuals can do great things in single games, over the course of a season it takes a skilled, cohesive team to truly achieve on-court greatness. And there is little cohesion to speak at major-conference programs right now. Rosters are not teams; they are groups of talented individuals who don’t know each other very well. The most glaring example is Kentucky, where Coach Calipari’s experiment in bringing AAU ball to college beat the odds last year and ran headfirst into the brick wall of reality this time around. UCLA is another one, with the age-faking Shabazz Muhammad and his nuttier-than-a-box-of-almonds dad lying and scheming their way onto NBA draft boards everywhere.

When the nation’s best incoming freshmen have little intention of becoming sophomores or juniors, the major programs that recruit them have no time to develop team chemistry. Starting fives becoming a rotating cast of one-and-dones “doing time” in their non-paying collegiate prison, while the benches stay filled with the patient, team-oriented players dedicated to the program who lack the raw talent to jump to the next level at the first opportunity. The result is a glaring collection of chemistry-related flaws in many major-conference teams, flaws which the smaller programs—who do stay four years, grow with their teammates, and learn to execute their on-court roles precisely and without ulterior motives—exploit happily in March.

Pictured: An honest-to-goodness team.

Pictured: An honest-to-goodness team.

There are at least two possible solutions to this mess. The first is what Jonathan Danielson proposed last week—make college players stay on campus for three years before entering the NBA, just like the NFL does. This would certainly solve the major programs’ crippling attrition problem. On the other hand, many observers (including myself) are uncomfortable with the idea of keeping future professionals in school for years when they have no desire to be there and aren’t making any concerted use of the valuable (and expensive) academic offerings available to them. They’re just taking up spaces on class rosters that could be used by “real” students who are honestly enrolled in school to get a degree.

The second option is more attractive—just let the high school studs jump straight to the pros if they want to (again). Will this result in a lot of guys entering the draft prematurely and festering on NBA benches for several years before dropping out of the league altogether? Sure. But that’s their decision. They are adults, so let them make adult decisions. Leave college for the ones who actually want to, you know, go to college.

If an eighteen-year-old graduates high school and goes to work on a construction crew, or joins the military, or starts a landscaping business, nobody has a problem with it. But if that same eighteen-year-old is great at tossing a rubber ball into a hoop instead of drilling metal screws into wood or shooting M-16 ammunition at terrorists, and wants to make a living doing that, suddenly lots of people cry foul. This makes zero logical sense. If the young man thinks he has the skill and maturity to “make it” in pro basketball, and a pro basketball team agrees enough to hire him, what’s the issue?

For the NCAA, it’s obviously money. If the best high school talent in the country doesn’t play NCAA basketball, the NCAA’s product loses some of its luster. For the NBA, it’s expedience. Why take the time to develop 18-year-old talent when the college ranks are there to serve as a willing de facto minor league system? The education of young minds, naturally, comes into play for neither party.

The next Jordan

The next Jordan

And for ordinary folks who oppose the prep-to-pros jump, much of it likely boils down to simple jealousy—lots of people don’t like seeing young (and yes, often immature) young men get millions of dollars and a career without earning it the “old-fashioned way.” This smacks of elitism and condescension, and strangely enough, it’s rarely heard when talking about the latest crop of teenagers skipping college to play professional baseball. Why is that? Might it possibly have something to do with the fact that the young basketball players are (generally) poorer, blacker, and “tattoo-y-er” than the baseball players?

It’s time to throw “one-and-done” and all its related forms out the window. The NBA had it right the first time–the time of Teenage Lebron James, Teenage Kevin Garnett, and Teenage Lenny Cooke. Let the players play, and let the chips fall where they may. If someone’s old enough to die for their country on a battlefield, they’re old enough to entertain it on ESPN–or fail trying.

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