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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.

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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.

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.

Kings Of Karma

In NBA on March 26, 2013 at 6:35 am

By Kevin Wolfman 

There are many words and phrases to describe the feeling of being unfairly treated by somebody in a position of power.

Used. Manipulated. Strung along. Jerked around. Messed with. Put upon. Screwed.

The ongoing saga of the Sacramento Kings, and their possible definite possible definite possible relocation to Seattle has given birth to a new one: Maloofed.

Maloofed: 1. (verb) Completely and unashamedly lied to and deceived by the most worthless owners in sports over a period of months and/or years. 2. (verb) Screwed by the shenanigans of the Maloofs.

For years, the Maloof brothers have presided over the Kings organization about as well as anyone with an ounce of common sense could have expected a family of business-illiterate trust fund party boys to—which is to say, terribly. After a brief period of competence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period which gave rise to what Sports Illustrated called the “Greatest Show on Court” and a throwback brand of frenetic hard-court showmanship that almost single-handedly pulled the NBA out of its post-Jordan doldrums, the Maloofs suddenly remembered they were Maloofs, and got right back to the more familiar business of losing or ruining everything they put their soft, caviar-smeared hands on—first a beer distributorship, then a Las Vegas casino, and finally Sacramento’s beloved Kings.

There’s no need to reproduce here an exhaustive list of all the idiotic, short-sighted, and/or callous decisions that have defined the majority of the last decade at ARCO Arena Power Balance Pavilion Sleep Train Arena (although the decision to name the arena after a company that makes bogus magic bracelets is certainly one of them). It will suffice to say, for our purposes, that Forbes gave them this unholy distinction for a reason. And it’s not like the Maloofs are the first terrible owners to come along. Clippers fans have been putting up with their slumlord owner for decades. Raider Nation endured a generation of Al Davis mistaking fast 40 times for actual football talent.

So the Maloofs have no monopoly on incompetence.

"I'm still telling you, Jamarcus Russell's going to be a star!"

“I’m still telling you, Jamarcus Russell’s going to be a star!”

But what sets the Maloofs apart from your garden-variety billionaire doofus or dick is their long-standing and unrepentant embrace of dishonesty and deceit. They haven’t just run the Kings worse than 99% of pimply teenagers with an Xbox and a copy of NBA 2k13 could–they’ve done it while literally lying through their teeth about their intentions every step of the way.

For years, the Maloofs insisted—at times outrageously, flaming with righteous indignation—that the Sacramento Kings were absolutely staying in Sacramento.

Then they tried to move the team to Anaheim—Anaheim!—in 2011. That gambit failed at the last second, thanks to the efforts of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the first-grade-level knowledge, shared by every powerful NBA affiliate with a functioning brain stem, that Anaheim is a terrible NBA market.

Following that embarrassing episode, the Maloofs still brazenly insisted, despite all obvious evidence to the contrary, that keeping the Kings in Sacramento was still their most heartfelt desire. They kept up the charade for a little bit longer, actually “agreeing” to terms with the city of Sacramento on a new arena construction deal in early 2012, an “agreement” made possible by an ungodly amount of cajoling and persuading from commissioner David Stern himself. The deal was approved by the city council in March, and the Maloofs soaked in the resulting thunderous applause and appreciation of a fan base ecstatic for the arrival, finally, of some basic stability.

And then the Maloofs reneged on the “agreement” only a month later, claiming that they were forced into it, and it was a bad deal for them, and mayor Johnson and the folks of Sacramento were big meanie-heads who hurt their feelings and didn’t share enough toys.

Speed kills common sense.

Speed kills common sense.

This was a lie, of course. The 2012 deal was ridiculously generous to the Maloofs, who had long been unmasked as an entitled gaggle of of deluded wannabes who had no business owning a Subway, much less an NBA franchise.

But even this quintessential “dick move” paled in comparison to the lie the Maloofs spouted repeatedly for years–before, during, and after the Anaheim debacle of 2011 and the arena sabotage of 2012. Through all of the bungling and stumbling that defined the 21st century in Maloof-Ville, there was always one fundamental constant: The Kings were NOT for sale.

Until, of course, they were. Until it turned out they actually were for sale the whole damn time—just not to anyone interested in keeping them in Sacramento.

Well, shoot.

Well, shoot.

Kings fandom erupted in January 2013, when reports came from practically out of thin air that the Maloofs had reached an agreement to sell the Kings to an ownership group from Seattle. After years of denials, years of righteous indignation, the truth finally came out. The Maloofs showed their true colors once and for all, which turned out to be “Anything but purple and black.” They negotiated with the Seattle group incognito, never telling anyone connected to Sacramento that the team was up for grabs. Never giving anyone with Sacramento ties a fair chance to purchase the team. This was by design. The Maloofs may or may not hate the Kings’ fans, but they certainly do disdain mayor Johnson and the city of Sacramento itself. So they decided to sell the team out of the blue, to an outside group, and screw Sacramento in the process out of pure spite.

Really? Seriously?

Really? Seriously?

And this is where karma comes in.

The NBA Board of Governors meets in mid-April, at which time it votes to approve or deny any sales of teams. By reaching an agreement with the Seattle group in January, the Maloofs gave mayor Johnson and the rest of Sacramento’s vaunted “Here We Stay” movement a full three months to line up its own roster of billionaires and put a counter-offer on the table for the Board of Governors to consider. Yes, the Maloofs, who spent years mastering the fine art of screwing Sacramento and its loyal fan base six ways to Sunday, couldn’t even do that right this time, the one time it would hurt the most. The Maloofs had Maloofed themselves.

In response, mayor Johnson worked some magic and lined up a blue-chip ownership group, headlined by 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and grocery billionaire Ron Burkle, in a matter of weeks. He announced the completion and filing of Sacramento’s counter-offer before the end of February, at his State of the City address. In the meantime, Kings fans rallied like no NBA fans had ever rallied before to keep their team. Millions of dollars were pledged from prospective season-ticket holders. Millions more were pledged from local corporate sponsors. A minority ownership group surfaced, headlined by none other than Kings legend Mitch Richmond. Sacramento’s city council voted 7-2 to basically get out of mayor Johnson’s way and do whatever it would take to keep the Kings in town. And oh-so-slowly, the whole “Kings-to-Seattle” narrative began shifting. “Definitely moving” became “well, maybe.” And while it happened, the whole country started learning the full extent of the Maloofs’ chronic and unforgivable Maloofery. (Yes, that is now a word, too.)

David Stern learned, too—in fact, he’d probably known all along. So when word first surfaced that the Sacramento group’s initial counter-offer was too low, he personally met with Mark Mastrov to break the news. Days later, Sacramento just happened to add Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive to its blue-chip lineup. While Stern was one of the few people with detailed knowledge of the Seattle group’s offer, he was also under zero obligation to let Sacramento know how its own initial offer measured up But he did—and that speaks volumes. By doing so, he basically saved the Kings’ chances of staying in Sacramento. (He also took the opportunity to throw the Maloofs under the proverbial bus.)

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The Maloofs don’t just want to sell the Kings—they want to rip the city of Sacramento’s heart out. Their final inglorious act as NBA owners will be to take the Kings away from California’s humble capital city, in one of the most lucrative, and disgusting, temper tantrums in sports history.

If they get their way. And lately, it’s been looking more and more like they very well might not.  The NBA can’t force the Maloofs to sell to the Mastrov/Burkle/Ranadive Sacramento group, but it can prevent them from selling to the Seattle group–or any other group–if it believes keeping the Kings in Sacramento is in the best interests of the league and its owners. At the mid-April Board of Governors meeting, there is now a very good chance that that’s exactly what will happen. The Maloofs may well be told, in so many words, that only a sale to the Sacramento group is acceptable. Not Seattle. Not Anaheim. Not Virginia freaking Beach. Not one of the other hundreds of other cities across the United States the Maloofs don’t have some inexplicable, visceral loathing for. Only Sacramento. Beautiful.

Here’s to karma coming through on this one.

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