Category Archives: NBA

Watching our athletes’ behavior…

No cliché in sports lore is older than the refrain of players wanting to represent themselves, their team and the league well…on and off the floor or field. Recently, our beloved athletes’ behavior fits a different sports cliché: “they’re making a lot of unforced errors.”

Looking through the pages of ESPN in the past two months has been an adventure in comedy as several stories seem like they should have come directly from spoof movies like Major League or Slapshot.

Washington Wizards’ guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton certainly shot (sorry, had to) themselves to the top of the bad behavior list after both were suspended for the rest of the 2009-10 season. Arenas was charged with a felony and Crittenden a misdemeanor last month. The two pulled guns on each other in the locker room after arguing over a card game that took place on the team plane.

Thankfully, the Wizards reportedly banned card games on the team plane.

The last straw for Arenas before his suspension was the stunt he pulled in pre-game introductions where he pulled out pistols using his fingers and “play shot” teammates. He was suspended the next day. Stellar behavior from one of the league’s stars, right?

Perhaps the saddest part of this particular story was that the late Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington franchise since 1964, was an anti-violence advocate that changed the team’s name from Bullets to Wizards because of the connotation associated with it.

But Arenas and Crittenton don’t even make my top spot in the list of boneheaded moves in the way of poorly behaving athletes in the last month. Here’s my top five:

5. University of Florida DE Carlos Dunlap’s DUI Arrest

On the Tuesday before the SEC Championship game, which very should have been called a national semifinal, between the Gators and Alabama, Dunlap was arrested at 3:25 a.m. and charged with driving under the influence (SEE HERE). This came in the beginning of the Gators’ week of preparation to play the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship and served as a distraction as practice began. Dunlap was so drunk that he was stopped at a traffic light on a green when officers approached the car and observed that he was snoozing, slumped over the wheel.

One would think that every player leading up to this big of a game would be on his best behavior and focused only on the task at hand. Dunlap’s absence may have been part of the reason that Florida lost to the Tide. His lack of commitment to a program above himself would be the main reason I would not want my team drafting him this April when the NFL convenes at Radio City Music Hall. Scouts, Inc. currently has Dunlap rated at #21. Here’s hoping Miami doesn’t select him.

4. University of Southern California WR Joe McKnight’s SUV

The 2006 Land Rover registered in Joe McKnight’s girlfriend’s name looked really nice at the USC practice facility in late 2009. The car was purchased for $27,000 by Adam Schenter, according to the California DMV. Schenter is a businessman and marketing specialist with no known ties to the USC program. However, his known ties to McKnight include a company Schenter owned that registered the website http://www.4joemcknight.com. Check the LA Times’ story on the controversy HERE.

McKnight ended up sitting out the Trojans’ bowl game and the investigation is not over yet, but when you play for a program like USC, a team that is the envy of most national programs and already under investigation because good old O.J. Mayo and others, you should probably watch it a little bit. Did he have to be driving the Land Rover to practice? Maybe he could have just saved it for times he took out his girlfriend and mother of his child to a nice meal paid for by Schenter or a booster. Driving it to practice each day where reporters and cameras are on a daily basis was more boneheaded than accepting the SUV in the first place. It’d be a little more obvious if he showed up in a 2003 Elantra or came using public transportation. McKnight should get a nice Schwinn and drive that to practice next year. . .if he stays in school.

3. Buffalo Bills’ RB Marshawn Lynch’s $20 Tip

I like TGI Friday’s as much as anyone, but apparently Marshawn Lynch uses it as something more than a place to grab a burger and maybe a molten chocolate brownie. On December 7, Lynch went to a Friday’s in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg and had an incident where he snatched $20 out of a woman’s hand, a $20 bill that was to be used to pay her check and leave a tip (SEE HERE). Unfortunately for Lynch, the woman’s husband was a cop and filed a police report days later.

Maybe Lynch forgot his wallet in the car and didn’t have his credit card to pay for the French onion soup and Jack Daniel’s flat-iron steak he was about to order. Or maybe he had forgotten that he was a star athlete in his own town and the TGI Friday’s would probably comp him and his picture would end up somewhere on the wall. You know, he would be posing with the general manager and lead cook and the photo would be signed and put somewhere in the lobby. Perhaps he needed the 20 to pay for a babysitter. Or maybe he forgot that he signed a 10.275 million dollar contract in 2007. But, Lynch has never been the stand-up type. After all, this is the guy who was accused of a hit-and-run with a pedestrian. What would have been nice, would have been if Lynch walked into the Friday’s and announced he would buy everyone a round of drinks as opposed to taking money from TGI’s patrons. They used to make a dang good French dip, but took it off their menu. Maybe Lynch was mad about that. I know I am . . .

2. Arenas and Crittenton

I can’t pass this one up as part of my top two. The fact that it happened in a pro sports locker room, was over a card game and that it caused card games on the team plane to be banned still makes me giggle. But, the top spot was not even close. . .

1. East Carolina University Dessert Fight at the Liberty Bowl

Leonard Paulk and Jonathan Williams really like dessert. So much so that they fought over one at the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl’s awards luncheon that preceded the game played on January 2 (SEE HERE). According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the two players nearly flipped over a table and one had the other in a headlock and was hitting him. ECU’s entire roster and coaching staff were at the luncheon, as was that of their opponents, the University of Arkansas, who won the game in overtime, 20-17. ECU Head Coach Skip Holtz suspended the two players for the game. The seldom-used running back Williams tallied 38 yards on 14 carries this season before his season ended due to a knee injury. Williams has been suspended by ECU twice before, so he is no stranger to trouble. Paulk, a defensive back, played in all 13 regular season games as a nickel/dime back and on special teams.

The burning question in everyone’s mind is: what was for dessert? Was it a nice piece of New York cheesecake? A brownie? Did they have tiramisu? Or maybe it was a cake that said “Congratulations to ECU and Arkansas!”, and Williams and Paulk really wanted the piece that said “ECU” like five-year-olds want the piece of birthday cake with the flower on it. What kind of teammates get in a fight at an awards banquet with media in attendance? They should have split the piece and then chalked it up as the event that brought the team together, the defining moment of their season.

The best part about this whole ordeal was that Holtz jumped ship at the end of the bowl season to take over the University of South Florida program, and that’s where this gets a little complicated. You see, USF fired their coach, Jim Leavitt, after he allegedly grabbed a player by his throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it all. Did USF officials think that Holtz would bring a new discipline to the program after hearing of the dessert altercation? Maybe they got ahold of the tape from that luncheon and saw really good form in the headlock and figured the USF defense would benefit from that type of instruction.

After Holtz left, who did ECU turn to as a replacement? None other than Ruffin McNeill. Yes, that name does sound familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because McNeill was the interim coach who replaced Mike Leach at Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. Leach, of course, was accused of improperly dealing with the concussion of Adam Jones and was fired. McNeill better make sure the dessert table is fully stocked at all ECU functions, and as he begins to assemble his staff a pastry chef may be at the top of the list. I hear the Pirates like chocolate. . .

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Watching superstars go head-to-head…

Tonight, television sets will be going back-and-forth between the two major showdowns in the NBA and NHL, featuring the two biggest stars in each sport.  

Scratch that, only televisions in Pittsburgh and Washington will have that opportunity.

Tonight, the NBA pits two of the marquee names in the sport against each other as LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers host Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.  Kobe and LeBron renewed their acquaintances earlier in the season when they met at the Staples Center in LA on Christmas Day.  In that game, LeBron and Shaquille O’Neal took home a win in Shaq’s old stomping grounds.

The Cavs didn’t just beat LA in their place, they won by 15 and never relinquished control throughout.  James led a balanced attack with 26 points and 9 assists and Shaq scored in double digits.  

This sets up tonight’s match-up in Cleveland.  Can Kobe take one in LeBron’s crib?  Will a win by the Cavs give them a sizable advantage in the eye’s critics if the two happen to meet in say the NBA Finals?  Will Kobe and LeBron agree to take part in Shaq’s idea for a dunk contest to support Haiti?  (See yesterday’s column for more on that HERE.)

Lucky for us, tonight’s game is nationally televised on TNT.  We will get to see the rematch between of the world’s best in full high-definition.  Additionally, the NBA has only one other scheduled game tonight, the Clippers at the Nuggets, allowing us to focus solely on this can’t miss match-up between Bryant and James.  Tomorrow morning, SportsCenter will show highlight after highlight and of LeBron-Kobe II and have plenty of analysis because once you show the 25 seconds of footage from Clips vs. Nugs, what else is ESPN going to do with the time they normally slot for NBA coverage?

Now on to the NHL, whose main attraction tonight is the Washington Capitals at the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Alexander Ovechkin brings the Caps north to face Sidney Crosby and the Pens.  Clearly, the two most exciting players in hockey facing off against one another.  Sid the Kid is fresh off his Stanley Cup win and Ovechkin, the most prolific goal scorer in the league, has an improved overall game and a fiery mean streak that has come out more than once this year.  Great drama for a league that needs all the attention it can get.

This will be the first of four meetings this year.  All four meetings will occur in the second half of the season and two will happen in the span of just over two weeks (the teams play again on February 7th in DC).  What a great way to showcase the two hottest players right before the Olympic break where hockey takes the world’s stage.  Man, the NHL is really doing this right.  Or so it would seem.

The NHL has 26 teams in action tonight, that’s 13 games.  The only teams not playing tonight are Montreal, New Jersey, Colorado and Edmonton.  Talk about a loaded schedule.  Wouldn’t it have made sense that when Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL’s brass were reviewing the schedule that they would want that game showcased on a stage it didn’t have to share?  Maybe they could have done something like the NBA did.  You know, like having Kobe and LeBron square off on a night with no other major games so all basketball fans’ attention is affixed square on that duel.

Beyond that, very little time is dedicated to hockey coverage on sports news shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter these days because of the popularity of the league being driven down in the post-strike reality of the NHL.  The fact that ESPN no longer has the contract to broadcast NHL games doesn’t help either.  Money always talks and “The Mothership” doesn’t seem to have any problems finding time in their shows to spotlight leagues and sports they do have contracts for like the NBA, NFL, MLB and even World Cup soccer.  Look, I’m sorry to all the soccer fans out there, but I’m pretty sure the NHL is more popular in the states than “football” and I know it deserves more than two segments a week with Barry Melrose and his fantastic hair.  But, I digress…

The NHL’s blunders do not end with the number of games scheduled.  There is no legitimate  national television available for tonight’s featuring Sid the Kid and Ovi.  The NHL Network (NHLN) will carry the feed from Fox Sports Pittsburgh.  NHLN is not readily available on cable plans.  Where I live in Las Vegas, the network is a part of the sports package for our local cable company’s digital cable option, meaning you would have to pay the monthly fees for the digital service and then add-on that package for another monthly fee.

Make no mistake about it, I’m sure that David Stern and his legion of executives ensures that they have marquee games on television and the schedule supports that.  I’m positive that they sit down with TNT, ESPN and ABC to make sure that LeBron-Kobe is on TV and has top billing.  Can the NHL not do the same with Versus and NBC?  Is Bettman that far removed from working for the NBA (which he did from 1981 until 1993 when he took the job as the NHL’s first commissioner)? 

Why couldn’t the NHL get that game on Versus (and all three Ovechkin-Crosby rematches) and on a night when action was limited?  I mentioned that 12 other NHL games are on the schedule for tonight.  Last night there were three games played and the same number is on tap for tomorrow night.  Would it have been that hard to cater the schedule to get Caps-Pens on one of those two nights, even if it meant back-to-backs for either Washington or Pittsburgh?  It’s almost shocking that a league with such a declining fan base would not look at things like this especially after their seven-game playoff battle last May.

Interestingly enough, the Caps-Pens game starts at 7:30 EST, 30-45 minutes before the Cavs and Lakers tip.  What if the game were on national television and Ovechkin and Crosby lit it up the first period of the game?  LeBron and Kobe may not get all the viewers they were probably expecting as fans settled their way in to a comfort zone, watching the artistry of two of the NHL’s best offensive players.

What it all comes down to is Bettman.  For a commissioner who was essentially brought in to expand the game, end labor unrest and modernize the United States’ view of hockey, he has consistently fallen below expectations.  After a period of over-expansion that resulted in a diluted talent pool and franchises in several smaller markets with a lack of support for a pro hockey team, the NHL suffered through two labor disputes.

The first lockout during the 1994-95 season resulted in a 48-game season.  One of the main issues in that lockout was a plan to aid smaller market teams.  Yes, the small market teams that Bettman had just finished expanding to.

The subsequent lockout, ten years later in 2004-05, led to the cancellation of the entire NHL season, a decision whose reverberations are still being felt and that the league has never recovered from.  It should be noted, though, that Bettman was lauded for bringing the lockout to end with a hard salary cap based on league revenues and a rollback on player salaries.  But was the loss of a season worth that bounty?

Since the lockout of 04-05, television dollars have dwindled to nearly nothing.  ESPN and ABC declined to renew their option to broadcast the league’s game in 2005-06, stating that the cost was overvalued.  My guess is that it takes a lot to get ESPN to turn your sport down since they collect broadcast rights like Alex Rodriguez collects girls’ phone numbers.  

NBC would only sign a limited deal with no money up front.  Bettman was able to cajole the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) to sign a deal with the NHL.  Outdoor life?  It’s a good thing they play NHL games is cozy arenas.  The network changed its name to Versus down the road.  Bettman has been heavily criticized by this move and it’s evident that the league has lost numerous fans for this decision, though can you blame ESPN for dropping a league that gave them zero games a season prior?

Pro hockey’s follies only accentuate the fact that the NBA seems to do everything right.  Stern has run the league since 1984 and was originally hired by the NBA as its General Counsel in 1978 (the year I was born).  The league knows how to market its stars and has conducted its business without many sidesteps, while recovering quickly from the ones they have made (like 1999’s lockout). 

The NHL, meanwhile, can’t seem to get out of its own way.

So…tonight, while we should be flipping back and forth between Ovi vs. Sid the Kid and LeBron vs. Kobe, viewers will be fixated on the drama in Cleveland. 

At least the can look forward to Melrose’s two minutes of coverage and perfect hair on SportsCenter later that night.

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Watching Haiti and the dunk contest…

Last night, Shaquille O’Neal commented in his post game interview that LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and others should all participate in a slam dunk competition to benefit the earthquake-ravaged country of Haiti (see HERE). 

Maybe the “Big Philanthropist” is onto something here.

Imagine the financial windfall a contest between LeBron, Kobe, Vinsanity, D-Wade, Dwight Howard and others could create.  Then factor in television contracts, corporate sponsor dollars and donations that could be solicited during the competition.  Heck, they should just go ahead and put it on pay-per-view and then bring in what you normally would for an MMA or boxing card.

In watching coverage of the disaster in the island nation of Haiti, one can’t help but have his or her heart broken over and over again when news of orphans, looting, riots, shootings and deaths that really shouldn’t be happening flash along the CNN ticker.

So many Americans have donated money and time, but we know that with devastation of this magnitude, there really is never too much that we can give.  Americans should be commended for what they have done and how much sacrifice has already been given.  We surely have led the charge of the world coming to the aid of the truly less fortunate.  The aftermath is not over, (I got a tweet that a 6.1-magnitude aftershock rattled the area this morning) and the dominos have not stopped falling.

Several celebrities like Brangelina and Sandra Bullock have donated millions to aid the recovery effort and I’m sure athletes have done their share of donating, as well.  No offense to telethons and other efforts to procure funds, but a slam dunk contest with that kind of star power would be something I would watch over a reunion of “We are the World”.

Holding a contest with the marquee stars from the marquee sport around the world could garner so much attention and raise a ridiculous amount of funds.  No offense to soccer and baseball, but the global impact of the NBA and basketball in general is amazing.  Besides, do you think people would really get excited about a soccer shootout with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and David Beckham?  I know I wouldn’t. 

The homerun derby would be a little different because it would be an attraction and could be global, but most of the biggest stars in baseball already participate in that competition, so what we would be seeing wouldn’t be completely novel.  Which brings me to this…

What has happened to our beloved slam dunk contest?

The first slam dunk competition was held in Denver in 1976 at the ABA All-Star Game.  That thriller saw Julius Erving soar from the free throw line to defeat the likes of David Thompson, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.  All four are hall of famers with the exception of Gilmore and his lack of induction into the hall is quite controversial.

Gilmore had an ABA career where averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds, an NBA career where he averaged 17 and 10, is in the top ten all-time in rebounds, blocks, games and minutes played and in the top 25 in points.  He is also first in league history in field goal percentage.  His lack of induction is a travesty.  I haven’t done a ton of research on this, but I don’t think that a single player with his statistical profile has been denied induction in the history of the game.  It is clear that he is being slighted because his best years were played in the ABA, but isn’t it the hall of fame for all of basketball?  But, I digress…

The point is that this dunk contest set a precedent that the highest fliers came, competed and gave one heck of a show.  The NBA brought the contest to their all-star weekend for the first time in 1984, also in Denver.  Who had boarding passes in that competition?  Just three hall of famers: Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler.  Larry Nance took the top honor that first year.

Dr. J came back to compete for the last time in ’85, a competition that added a fourth hall of famer to the lineup, some dude named Michael Jordan.  That year Jordan lost to ‘Nique in a phenomenal final.  Spud Webb topped Wilkins in ’86 (Jordan was injured), MJ won back-to-back titles in ’87 and ’88 and the rest is history.  The dunk contest was part of basketball culture and that culture dictated that the best came to play each all-star weekend. 

Jordan would compete in three contests (he sat out ’86 due to injury), Drexler and ‘Nique each threw down in five.  Down the road the competition would feature NBA stars like Scottie Pippen, Ralph Sampson, Shawn Kemp and other marquee attractions who soared above the rim.  They would enter themselves in multiple dunk showdowns unlike competitors like Carter (’00 champion), Bryant (’97 champion), Andre Iguodala (’06) and Tracy McGrady (’00) who have only entered one contest each.

These days we get scrubs like Hakim Warrick, Stromile Swift, Jonathan Bender, Ricky Davis and Gerald Green.  Nate Robinson is an interesting novelty like Spud was, but will he go to the hall of fame?  Will he ever be the best player on his team?  It is nice that Dwight Howard has made multiple appearances (’07-’09) and he may very well be on his way to the hall, but where are his backboard-rattling contemporaries?

So, let’s bring it back and let’s do it for the right reasons.  Let Shaq be the promoter, he did implore us to spread the word:

“I’m saying it now, so tweet it. Facebook it. E-mail it and hopefully it gets out. Vince, we’re calling you out. Kobe, we’re calling you out. We’re calling everybody out. If those guys step up in the dunk contest, then I will allow my client [LeBron] to step up.”

What would the impact be on our Haitian neighbors if this happened?  How many millions will it raise? 

Furthermore, what will the impact have on our dunk contest?  Maybe the precedent will be reestablished that it features legit, high-flying all-stars headed to the hall of fame. 

More recent contestants have seen the need to feature a stupid gimmick like a blindfold (thank you Cedric Ceballos and Dee Brown) or a Superman cape (props to you Dwight Howard), but when did we ever stop liking the visual of 6’6″ monster throwing down a dunk from the free throw line or a sick alley-oop delivered spot-on for a rim-rattling jam? 

Bring the stars back and the dunk contest is what it was meant to be again.  Let Shaq do it for Haiti and the world will see how powerful 180s, 360s and tomahawks really are.

Are you there Kobe, LeBron, Vince and D-Wade?  We’re waiting…

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