What I Learned From the Olympics

August 16, 2012

Jamaicans are fast, but Usain Bolt is cheating the fans and himself.  China rules fringe sports.  Great Britain really was great this time. I never thought about Gabby Douglas’ hair until she won gold.   USA is still the kind of basketball.  If we lose now and then so what!  The best players are American.  That won’t change anytime soon.    Image


Return to Glory for a Team, Redemption for a Coach

March 16, 2009

I’ll always have a special fondness for Morgan State University.   Morgan State was one of the few schools that considered giving me a football scholarship when I was in high school.   Later that same school year I watched Morgan State win the NCAA Division Two basketball championship on national TV.   Morgan State was then led by a skinny, 7-foot center named Marvin Webster.  That guy could really fill the middle and block some shots.  He was appropriately nick-named the Human Eraser.  It seemed inevitable that Morgan State would win.  The Eraser and his team were exciting to watch.

That was 1974.  And for all practical purposes the high point for Morgan State basketball.

These days Morgan State is a Division I school.   Part of the historically black MEAC.  Sadly there have been lots of losing seasons and no conference championships since then.  Until now.

Indeed this has been quite a season for the Morgan State Golden Bears.  The biggest highlight until winning the MEAC tournament was Morgan’s stunning upset of the University of Maryland on January 7.   Morgan State traveled 35 miles up the road to College Park and beat the Terrapins at home 66 – 65.   By traditional big versus little standards, it was an embarrassing loss for Maryland but an affirmation of progress for up and coming Morgan State. unknown1

But as big as that victory was, Morgan State had never gone to the NCAA’s Big Dance.  But that drought ended last week when Morgan State knocked off Norfolk State 83-69 in the finals of the MEAC tournament to gain an automatic berth into March Madness.   On Thursday Morgan State will take its 23 and 11 record to Kansas City where they will face one of the nation’s top teams in the University of Oklahoma.   Morgan State is a 15 seed.  Oklahoma in the top ten all year is a number 2 seed.  Morgan State will be huge underdogs.  But so what.   Morgan State is finally in and for now with so many losing campaigns this is a return to that glorious time 35 years ago when Morgan State basketball was on top.

This is also a redemption of sorts for Golden Bears coach Todd Bozeman.

Bozeman in his third season leading Morgan State has completely turned the program around.  When he arrived the team just finished a 4 and 26 season.    Bozeman came to Morgan State after serving what is often called the “death penalty” sentence for coaches in NCAA basketball for a recruiting violation while he was the head coach of the University of California.  Bozeman was charged with paying a recruit’s parents $30,000.  At the time of the violation Bozeman was considered a rising star in big time college basketball coaching ranks.   During his four seasons as coach at California, Bozeman even led them to the Sweet Sixteen.   But the recruiting disaster ended Bozeman’s time at Cal and very nearly his career.  But thanks to second chances and Morgan State, Bozeman’s coaching career has new life.  070205_bozeman_hmed_12phmedium

No one is giving Morgan State much of a chance against Oklahoma.  The Sooners have been in the top ten all year, and are led by the nation’s best player and probable national player of the year, Blake Griffin.  But not many gave Morgan State or its coach much of a chance to get this far.   So I say good luck to Morgan State and happy returns for Todd Bozeman.


No Love In Philly for Facebook Comments

March 10, 2009

Philadelphia is one heck of a tough place.  Few people ever get cut a break there.  Even Santa Claus in an infamous incident at an Eagles game years ago was once pelted with snowballs.  Not a lot of love sometimes in the City of Brotherly Love.   So how would you expect a Philadelphia Eagles employee to be treated for speaking out against an unpopular decision made by the team?   If you said fired you would be right.   It is Philadelphia.    GONZO09-a

The termination of 32 year old Dan Leone is now national news. An Internet sensation.  Why?  Because the story is related to another Internet sensation – Facebook, the social networking site that millions of people have come to depend on to share their lives and express their joys and frustrations. Leone who works one of the gates at the stadium during Eagles home games expressed on his Facebook page what most Eagles fans felt with the release of longtime popular player Brian Dawkins.  Leone posted on Facebook that  he was  “[expletive] .. devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver…..  Dam Eagles R retarted…”    Those words were apparently too much for the Eagles officials who thought that Leone had stepped over the line by talking.  It is being reported that Leone said he was told that he couldn’t be trusted and he made the team look bad.

Facebook was made for personal comments.  It is an ideal place to express oneself.   But when does personal expression lapse into bad taste or in Leone’s case bad judgement?   Did the Eagles go too far by firing an employee for simply saying what he thought?  What’s private and what’s public?  Those are questions made for a new generation.  A time when so much of what we do sits primed for long-term examination and review.

I could see discipline or termination if the statement had been made by one of the team’s executives.  But terminating a guy who works at the stadium I feel is going too far.   But that is where we are today.  Years ago Dan Leone could have made that comment to friends, family or even a few co-workers without any risk of losing his job or offending the powers that be.  He could have done it then because his words would not have carried the same weight or lived so long.   But not so with the Internet.   Say something on the Internet today and it can live there forever – offending or amusing anyone who reads it now or ten years from now.  What it also says is that for all of the convenience and technology advances that we now have, many aspects of our lives can be a virtual open book.  Anything we say or do in cyberspace is potentially subject to eternal examination and scrutiny.

I’m pretty sure Dan Leone gave little thought to what his words might mean to those who are easily offended in the Eagles front office.   If he didn’t, he certainly knows now.  And you can be sure he will think twice about being publicly critical of a future employer.   He’ll also likely think twice about saying anything of consequence again because the formerly anonymous stadium employee is now famous.  Thanks to the Internet – he is forever linked to his public frustration with the Eagles and the loss of one of his favorite players.   He’ll be quiet unless of course – thanks to the very same Internet – he can turn his newfound fame into money.  Because from now on Dan Leone is just a Google click away.


Cult of Babe Ruth Warps Steroids Debate

March 5, 2009

The steroids/performance enhancing drugs (PED) debate in baseball lost me a long time ago when I became convinced that it really is all about statistics, particularly home runs.  And more specifically I believe, the debate has been fueled by the Cult of Babe Ruth.  babe_ruthThe steroids/PED issue is often discussed by baseball purists, crusading sportswriters, and shortsighted fans with the use of the code phrase: the integrity of the game.   But the fact is concerns about the so-called integrity of the game do not appear to extend to any other facet of baseball other than home runs.  The concern over the integrity of the game never seems to address other hits or pitching, or wins and loses.  Many of those outraged over PEDs have suggested as a remedy: stripping the record book of home run totals – particularly those of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or now Alex Rodriguez.  It seems to me that this obsessive focus on home run hitters in and of itself seems to invalidate any real efforts to rid the game of steroids and PEDs or realistically deal with the problem.

Let’s start with records.  How I ask might we alter the record book without dealing with the far reaching impact of the overturned records?  How would this actually work?  Do you also take away the victories that came with the additional home runs hit?  Do you strip away World Series games or championships that may have been won based on the alleged artificial power added by steroid use? Do we name new champions for suspect years?   Do we refund ticket buyers who were “deceived” by steroid/PED fueled hitters?  Someone please answer those questions first before we go on any further discussing altering the record book.

On the other side of it, where is the equal outrage over the pitchers who now throw fastballs over 100 mph?  Pitchers whose throwing speed may have been artificially increased because of steroids or other PEDs.   Based on what we now know about the results of steroids/PED tests since official testing began five years ago, a disproportionate number of the players who have failed tests and have been suspended have been pitchers. But where is the equivalent public outcry over those pitchers and their violations of the integrity of the game?  Even the finger pointing at alleged steroids cheater Roger Clemens rarely suggests we should take away his strikeouts, or his wins.  Roger Clemens’ violation of the so-called integrity of the game doesn’t appear to carry the same weight as the home run hitters.   Why is that?   I believe the answer is simply that the steroids/PED debate is at its heart dishonest, laced with hypocrisy and is ultimately fueled by the Cult of Babe Ruth.

The sport of baseball remade itself from the deadball era (The deadball era which ended nearly 90 years ago was a time when baseballs weren’t nearly as hard as today’s baseball and couldn’t be hit as far) by literally changing the composition of the ball, which as a result made home runs easier to hit because the ball was much harder.   The first player to really take advantage of the end of the deadball era was the mighty Babe Ruth, who remains baseball’s all-time icon. The Babe’s prodigious feats not only built Yankee Stadium, but also built a cult of personality which still has millions of adherents to this day.

The theology of the Cult of Babe Ruth has warped and bastardized the debate over performance enhancing drugs and steroids.  There can be no rational discussion of the issue I believe until we deal with the real culprit – the Cult of Babe Ruth.   Ruthites like to hide behind their token affection for Hank Aaron.  But it seems to me that the Ruthites’ affection for Hank Aaron is really just a smokescreen.  Ironically it was Aaron who learned first hand just how powerful the Cult of Babe Ruth was when he was taunted with death threats and racial slurs 35 years ago as he began encroaching on the Babe’s hallowed home run total of 714.

Lastly, many steroid debaters talk about the impact ballplayers’ use of steroids has on “the kids”.   The kids, the kids, the kids.  The refrain is nearly deafening.  This is the most spurious claim of all.   If this witch hunt was really about the kids, or even the serious health risks posed by the use of steroids, then the hypocritical disgust of so-called fans and sports writers would be equally applied to all ballplayers and all sports.  Most of the disgust is saved for baseball players who allegedly cheated the game by using PEDs to hit home runs.  The same outrage is not directed at football players like Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers, who three years ago tested positive for a PED, was suspended, and returned to his sport with little harm done to his reputation, and relatively little outrage over his PED use.

Clearly, the evidence suggests to me that the PED/steroids debate is not about the kids, or health risks at all, and the sanctimonious claims that the integrity of the game of baseball has been harmed by PEDs is at best dishonest and hypocritical.


Wilbon Conditionally Accepts Pro Bowler Challenge

March 3, 2009

UPDATED POST

Michael Wilbon has accepted the challenge of top PBA bowler Wes Malott – sort of.  On his ESPN show Monday, Wilbon and  TV partner Tony Kornheiser joked about the dispute which started a couple of weeks ago when Wilbon questioned Malott’s manhood for failing to show for a special “plastic ball” tournament.  An “angry” Malott after winning another tournament on Sunday dared Wilbon to take him on.  Wilbon now says he will play Malott – but only if  he gets at least 57 pins as a handicap.

Who do think will win?  


A Big Moment for Bowling

March 1, 2009

Bowling used to be something I thought up for a first date, or something I would do with my kids to get out of the house.  But as my kids have grown up and I’ve gotten older, surprisingly, bowling has more meaning to me now than ever.  And today was one of the most special bowling moments I’ve ever had, if not the funniest.

Let me explain.  I’ve been bowling “seriously” for one year now.  “Seriously” means that after all these years I finally bought a ball and some bowling shoes and joined a couple of leagues.    And now that I’m a “serious” bowler, watching professional bowling on TV has become essential Sunday viewing for me.  But today will be memorable.  The star of the Lumber Liquidators  Pro Bowlers Tour, gargantuan bowler, Wes Malott, in whose hands the ball looks like a grapefruit, called out sports columnist and TV show host Michael Wilbon.  Malott called Wilbon out not just once but several times.2006pba06wesmalott

A couple of weeks ago on his daily ESPN show, Pardon the Interruption, Wilbon said he is a “serious” bowler, at least by my definition,  and was critical of Malott for not showing up at a tournament which mandated that bowlers could only use basic “plastic” balls.   The PBA tour for one week only outlawed the high tech, super surface balls that most serious bowlers use these days.  Some old school purists believe that the new high tech balls have artificially increased scoring, and have taken away some of the skill and consistency that good bowling requires.  And in pointing out Malott’s absence at the tournament, it could be inferred that Wilbon was basically calling Malott a coward, suggesting the big guy was too scared to show what he could do without using bowling’s dangerous weapons.

Malott, who is leading the PBA tour in wins and TV appearances this season won again on Sunday with his high tech ball.  But even in victory he couldn’t stop directing one of his huge fingers at Wilbon.  At one point during the title game, even in mid-roll,  Malott muttered Wilbon’s name under his breath.  And in an interview he even dared Wilbon to take him on.  Malott said he would use the plastic ball and Wilbon could use whatever he wanted.

I know, I know.  It’s bowling.  And today’s outburst could have been an orchestrated ploy by ESPN and Malott for attention or ratings.  But so what – everything is contrived anyway. I still think it was a big moment for the quintessential blue collar, beer drinking sport.   And I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling.  Because as funny as it was – a bowler talking tough – it occurred to me that if one of the stars of my new sport is calling out one of the biggest names in sports journalism, then bowling may have entered a new era.  And it was worth every dollar I spent on my ball and shoes to be part of this spectacle.


Marbury’s Second Chance

February 28, 2009

Just about all of us would like to get a second chance at something.  If life was fair do-overs would be a mandatory part of it.   But the reality is some of us get a another chance to fix a mistake, but most of us don’t, forcing us to live with the consequences.   Which brings me to a guy who is getting a second chance to redeem his reputation, re-connect with a long lost teammate and win a championship.  marburyjpg2

Stephon Marbury, last of the New York Knicks, was finally released the other day.  He quickly signed with the NBA champion Boston Celtics.  Marbury now gets another chance to play with the Big Ticket aka Kevin Garnett.   More than a decade ago, both players were young, almost certain to be superstars, in Minnesota.   But Marbury who seemingly never played for a team he didn’t try to tear down, apparently felt that two superstars in the Twin Cities was one two many.   Never mind that a guy as talented as he was then, paired up with a phenom like Garnett, could have played for an NBA title years ago, and may have won it.

Marbury got his wish and left the Timberwolves, taking with him lots of talent but a burdensome me-first attitude.  And his reputation for selfishness has stuck with him over the years.   Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett, who stayed in Minnesota for for what seemed like way too long, only once advanced past the first round of the playoffs.  Nonetheless Garnett became a hard luck NBA icon, who won an MVP award once, but nothing else.  Known for unselfish play, great defense, leadership and losing in the playoffs, Garnett was mercifully allowed to leave the Timberwolves, traded last season to the Boston Celtics.   He was a hit right away.  And the rest as they say – is a championship.  Kevin Garnett, the great lovable loser, at long last was finally rewarded.

Now, Garnett is paired again with Marbury, who was forced to sit out the entire season in New York in a nasty contract dispute.  Marbury refused to settle for a buyout of his $21 million contract, and the Knicks in turn refused to play him.  Three quarters of the way into the season the two sides finally reach a settlement and Marbury becomes a Celtic.  In his debut with the Celtics against the Pacers last night, literally hours after joining the team, Marbury scored 13 points in a Celtics victory.

Marbury’s reunion with Garnett for now is only symbolic.   Garnett is out for a few more games with an injury.  He’s expected back soon, which will formally reunite the once star-crossed tandem.   Second chances are precious and Boston players and fans can only hope that an older, wiser and perhaps more charitable, Marbury buys into the team-first chemistry which was inspired by Garnett.   But if Marbury continues to play like he did last night in his return, no worries, his second chance will be good for everyone.