Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bizarre Thoughts on a Bizarre Night

I just walked in the door of WAD Palace after attending one of the truly strangest college football games I’ve ever witnessed. I, of course, am referring to UGA’s 30-24 triumph at Grant Field tonight. There is a lot I could say about what went down on the Flats tonight, but every stream of thought brings me back to two things. Actually, two men. Paul Johnson and Mark Richt. And no, I’m not here to talk about the mistakes they made or to tell you why one is better than the other (for the record, they both made a few mistakes (i.e. not sure why Richt didn’t go for the jugular with 3 minutes left instead of seemingly settling for a 50+ yard field goal to ice the game, and I’m not sure why Paul Johnson called three consecutive bombs from around mid-field with less than two minutes left.)). Instead, I’m here to tell you why fans of the two major college football programs in this state should be very happy to have these two men running their respective programs.

As for Richt, the fact that he brought his highly criticized 6-5 squad into Atlanta against the #7 ranked Jackets and walked out with a victory is, on its face, impressive. The real beauty of the win, however, is how he went about doing it. I don’t know exactly what Mark Richt said to his team this week, but I imagine it was something like, “fellas, we are bigger and stronger than these guys up front, and we aren’t going to win any style points, but we are going to run it down their throats all night.” And that, of course, is exactly what they did. I know this sounds pretty simple, and you are probably asking why I think this was so impressive. Well, I’m glad you asked.

Anybody that lives in this city and reads the paper, listens to sports talk radio, or has a friend or co-worker that is a UGA fan knows that Mark Richt has been much maligned for last week’s loss to Kentucky and for a disappointing 6-5 season. Setting aside the fact that this criticism has been overblown , if not irrational, it’s been there, and it’s been something Richt has had to deal with. Given that, it would have been easy for Richt to over-think things and try to come out with a “brilliant” game plan to re-prove his genius to his constituency. In other words, it would have been easy for Richt to fall in the style over substance trap. But, unfortunately for the Jackets, Richt didn’t do that. Instead, he grasped the importance of this moment, and he went in his bunker and took his team back to basics. And, you know what? In doing so, he came out with a game plan that was brilliant in its simplicity. So, at the end of the day, he ignored his detractors, set aside his own ego, and put his program above himself. In other words, he did exactly what a great coach is supposed to do. It truly kills me to say this, but great job by you, Mark. (TM: Mike “Mad Dog” Russo).

As for Johnson, this game, while a loss, was bizarrely a glaring example of why the Tech program is in the right hands. Imagine if you will that a Chan Gailey coached Yellow Jacket team was down 17-3 to UGA at the half and was getting blown off the ball on every Bulldog snap. Does that game end 41-3? 48-10? 55-10? It, of course, is impossible to say, but I can guaranty you this: Tech would have never had the ball with a chance to win the game in the final two minutes, and I would have been at home long before the final second ticked off the clock. Under Johnson, the Jackets managed to incredibly play themselves into an opportunity to win the game while not forcing a single UGA punt. If you watched this game, you know that it was absolutely incredible that Tech had a chance to win it. I honestly still can't believe it unfolded the way it did. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in moral victories, and, as a Tech fan, this loss hurts terribly. But, as I stood in the Southwest corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium watching the final four Tech plays from scrimmage, I was completely dumbfounded that we were somehow in position to win the game. Upon reflection, however, I really shouldn’t have been that stunned because this game was a microcosm of our entire season. How so? Well, let me explain.

I have been attending Tech games since I was a child. Over twenty years now. And, in that time, I’ve only missed a few games, and I’ve seen a good number of away games. In other words, I may have attended 100 Georgia Tech football games through the years (maybe less, but 100 looks more impressive in writing than 90), and I have never felt more helpless with our defense on the field as I have this year. Never. Not even when Charlie Ward was ripping our hearts out in ’92, when Peter Warrick was toying with us in ’98, or when Woody Dantzler was breaking records against us in 2001. NEVER!!! I don’t know whether this year’s defense suffered from a lack of talent (hard to believe with Derek Morgan and Morgan Burnett on the field), poor coaching (hard to say since I know about as much about good diet habits as I do defensive schemes), or some combination of the two (probably the most likely scenario), but I do know that I am literally terrified every time our defense steps on the field. The defense is the Jackets’ fatal flaw. And, even with this fatal flaw, Coach Johnson managed to lead this team to 10 wins, a division championship, and a potential conference title and Orange Bowl appearance.

Do me a favor. Re-read the previous paragraph and then try to explain to me how any of this is possible. Unbelievable. The problem with a fatal flaw, however, is that you can hide it and you can fight it, but ultimately, by definition, it is going to kill you. Well, twice this year, it killed the Jackets. It’s no coincidence, however, that these two times were against two of the four opponents we confronted (Miami and UGA) that were physically superior in the trenches and had the conviction to consistently exploit that superiority. The other two times we confronted such an opponent (Clemson and Va. Tech), Coach Johnson found a way to fight off that fatal flaw and steal a victory. And, next week, Coach Johnson has to find a way to fight if off one more time against Clemson. Will he be able to do this? Right now, there is no way to know, but he’s batting .500 so far, so it’s certainly possible.

To bring things full circle, setting aside my disappointment about tonight’s outcome, my ultimate takeaway from tonight is that I had the pleasure of watching the second matchup between two great coaches that are going to engage in many more riveting battles in the years to come. UGA is going to win some, and Tech is going to win some. I think the years of extended winning streaks on either side are over. The reason? Both these coaches are too good to let that happen.

Finally, for the record, I am keenly aware that it is completely out of character for me to find the positive in a situation like tonight’s loss. Trust me, I’m just as surprised as anybody. But, as I’ve said before, the greatest thing about sports is when it delivers the completely unexpected.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Night to Remember

Two weeks ago, I wrote that a Georgia Tech win over Florida State would make last night's battle with Virginia Tech the biggest game at historic Bobby Dodd Stadium since the Jackets took down Clemson at the Flats on our way to the 1990 National Championship. Well, over 13 hours have elapsed since Josh Nesbitt took that final knee to cement our first victory over a Top 5 opponent on our home soil since 1962, and having taken those 12 hours to allow the emotion of last night and the danger of knee jerk hyperboble to wash away, I can now confidently say that last night was everything I hoped it would be. Take a second and think about how special that is. How often in life do we build up our expectations for an event or a moment only to be disappointed when it falls short of what we hope for? The answer, of course, is too often. Last night, however, was thankfully not one of those instances.

It would be very easy to look at last night and say that it was special simply because Tech took down a top 5 team and vaulted into serious contention for an ACC Title and a BCS bowl bid. That, however, would be too simplistic a view. After all, just a few years ago, Tech actually played in the ACC Championship Game and came within a field goal of a BCS bowl game, but no game or no moment in that season, even the dramatic Coastal Division clinching win over Miami, came close to evoking the emotions exuded in that grand old building last night. I've been attending games at Tech since my Mother and my Aunt began taking me as a kid, and I have NEVER seen a crowd like last night's. Not only was it the loudest I've ever heard at BDS, but I've never seen grown men and women singing and dancing in the stands before. That's right, there was quite a bit of dancing. It was, in a word, nuts. And, that was just in the stands.

On the field, you simply cannot say enough about the performances of the team itself, especially Josh Nesbitt and Derrick Morgan. A look at the stats doesn't even begin to tell the story of what these two guys accomplished last night. Simply put, they both put in performances that will forever be remembered by every Tech fan. And finally, what can you say about Coach Paul Johnson? The man has no fear and he accepts nothing less than supreme effort. What a credit he is to the Institute! At the end of the day, Virginia Tech ran into a perfect storm of fans, players, and coaches that decided their time had finally arrived and they weren't going to walk out of that stadium without making a little history.

For me, it was the first three hours in a long time that I didn't worry about anything other than what was in front of me. I was able to forget about all the outside stresses and anxieties of life and just loose myself in the moment. And yes, I was one of those dancing! Consequently, last night was the best night I've had in quite some time. And, at its core, isn't that what sports is supposed to be...an escape from reality? At the end of the day, that's what I think made last night so special. 50,000+ people came together and set the rest of the world aside and lost themselves in the moment. Reason #7,789 why I love sports.

And, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, here are a few I snapped last night that I may take a look at from time to time this week if I need a brief reprieve from reality:


Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Rules of Fandom

Nothing brings out school pride like college football season, and, nobody has more school pride than me. And, nobody appreciates others’ pride as much as me. That being said, very few things get under my skin worse than misplaced school pride. Specifically, nothing can cause me to embark on a full on Olberman/O’Reilly rant quite like a person that plays outside the acceptable rules of fandom. Therefore, in an effort to end the epidemic of fandom abuse, for the first time ever, I have committed the following Rules of Fandom to writing:

I. IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO BE A FAN OF A COLLEGE TEAM WHEN:

1) You attended the school. This is the most straight-forward of all the rules. There, however, are some necessary clarifications:

a) You don’t have to graduate from the school; but

b) If you leave/flunk out/get expelled from one school and attend another school, you can only be a fan of one of the schools. Either school is acceptable, but you must make a choice.

2) You pay for your child to attend a school and your child graduates from that school. In this case, attendance is not enough. Graduation by the child is required. Again, a clarification is required:

a) If you attended School X, and you pay for your child to attend School Y, you may be a fan of School Y, but you must forever renounce your fandom for School X. I know it seems harsh, but, under only four circumstances (covered below), can you be a fan of more than one school.

THE TWO SCENARIOS ABOVE ARE THE ONLY SCENARIOS UNDER WHICH IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO REFER TO A COLLEGE AS “WE”. NO EXCEPTIONS.

3) You grow up as a fan of a school, for whatever reason (geography, family connection, a favorite player, you like the uniforms, etc…), and one of the following applies:

a) You do not attend college;

b) You attend a college that does not play sports on the same level as your childhood team (i.e. you grow up as a UGA fan, but you go to college at Furman);

c) You attend a college other than your favorite college for financial/geographical reasons (i.e. You live in Georgia and grow up as a huge Alabama fan because your parents went to school there, but you attend UGA or Tech because of the HOPE Grant). In this case, it is perfectly acceptable to remain an Alabama fan, but you CANNOT also be a Tech/UGA fan. Again, this may seem harsh, but it is the way it has to be.

II. IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO BE A FAN OF TWO COLLEGE TEAMS WHEN:

1) You and your spouse went to different colleges. In this case, in order to keep the peace in your home, you can be a fan of each other’s schools on one condition: The two schools cannot be rivals (i.e. if you go to Tech and marry a UGA grad, you have to find some alternative way to keep the peace between September and March).

2) You have a family member, close friend, or mentor that plays for or coaches for a school other than your school. And yes, this explains the random JMU, College of Charleston, S.C. State, and S.C. Upstate gear I have accumulated through the years. Actually, I’m still waiting on the Upstate gear! You know who you are!

3) This one is tricky, and I have only come to accept it in recent years: If you grow up as a fan of one of a school’s sports programs because your family has strong ties to that school, but your allegiance is only to ONE of their programs, you can remain a fan of that program even if you go to school somewhere else. You, however, cannot also be a fan of the same program at your school. Confusing? Yes. Here’s an example: If you grow up as a huge Indiana basketball fan because of strong family ties to Indiana, but you go to school at a major university other than Indiana, you can remain an Indiana basketball fan, but you cannot be a fan of your school’s basketball program. I’m glad we cleared that one up.

4) If you serve in the military, you can be a fan of whoever you want. If you defend this country, who am I to tell you who to root for?

III. THE GRAD SCHOOL PROHIBITION

You can only be a fan of your grad school if you attended undergrad at a school that plays at a different level. For example, undergrad at Furman + grad school at UGA = acceptable to be a UGA fan (still no "we", however). On the flip side, undergrad at Tech + grad school at Duke = unacceptable to be a Duke fan. Understood?


Okay, that’s it. Those are the rules. Now, can we all just agree to live by them? If we don’t, chaos will surely result.

Now, the weekend picks. Remember, these are only for informational purposes, and it is illegal for you to place a wager on any sporting event outside of a licensed sportsbook.

COLLEGE

1) G.Tech v. Clemson OVER 44 - This could be a replay of a the Woody Dantzler game back in ’01. You know, the one with zero defense, points falling from the sky, and me crying myself to sleep. I’m nervous.

2) Colorado -4 @ Toledo – After losing a heart breaker to CSU last weekend, the ‘Buffs have to bounce back this weekend, right?

3) UNC -4 @ UConn - This has “sucker bet” written all over it. I’ve been called worse than a sucker.

4) Syracuse +28 @ PSU – Going against the ‘Cuse worked out poorly in week 1, so let’s go the other way and see how that works out.

5) Army -1 v. Duke – Wow! Duke is horrible. Go against them every week, and it will work out for you, I promise.

6) UF -36.5 v. Troy - See the Duke analysis and do the opposite with UF. You're welcome.

7) Va. Tech -19 v. Marshall - Va. Tech covers this if they score 20 points.

8) Notre Dame -3 @ Michigan - Statement game for the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

9) UVA +10.5 v. TCU – I believe in you, Al Groh! No, I didn’t write that with a straight face.

10) UCLA +10 @ Tennessee – 8 Clap. Let's just say I'm not sold on the new regime in Knoxville. Not yet, anyway.

11) Mississippi St. +14 @ Auburn - Yeah, not sold on the new regime at Auburn either.

12) South Carolina +7 @ UGA – does anybody ever win this game by more than a touchdown?

13) Ohio St. +7 v. USC – I’ve got a funny feeling.


NFL

1) Pittsburgh -6 v. Tennessee

2) Miami +4 @ Atlanta

3) Baltimore -13 v. K.C.

4) Philly -2 @ Carolina

5) Denver +4 @ Cincy

6) Minnesota -3 @ Cleveland

7) Houston -4 v. NYJ

8) JAX +7 @ Indy

9) Detroit +14 @ N.O.

10) Dallas -6 @ Tampa

11) S.F. +6.5 @ Arizona

12) NYG -6.5 v. Washington

13) Seattle -9 v. St. Louis

14) Chicago +3.5 @ Green Bay

15) New England -11 v. Buffalo

16) San Diego -40 @ Oakland (okay, it’s only 10, but you get the point)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tipping Point

Weeks without a column and suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m back. You might be asking, “what could possibly be the inspiration for a column after such a prolonged absence”? And, I bet more than a few of you are thinking, “I bet it has something to do with Pitino.” If so, you are partially correct. The more specific explanation is that I’m tired. That’s right, I’m tired of every sports related headline relating to some sort of scandal.

After weeks of hearing and reading about Mike Vick fighting dogs and struggling to find his way back in the NFL; Donte Stallworth running over pedestrians and serving barely enough time in jail to miss Wimbledon; J.R. Smith of the Nuggets spending even less time in jail after killing his best friend and THEN allegedly sending out gang related tweets; Manny and Big Papi possibly breaking the Curse with the help of a syringe or two; some hockey player allegedly kicking an old man’s ass over a few dimes; Plaxico Burress facing years in jail for wearing sweatpants to the club (or carrying a concealed weapon and shooting himself – not sure which is a dumber move); or this incredibly salacious scandal involving Pitino; I’ve finally reached a point I never thought possible. Believe it or not, I just deleted today’s “PTI” without watching a second.
Before going any further, I have to be candid about a few things: 1) with football season just around the corner, “PTI” will be back in the mix sooner rather than later; 2) the steroid stuff really doesn’t bother me that much because I grew numb to the entire situation long ago; and 3) I’ve spent just as much time, if not more, as anybody discussing the above scandals with friends and co-workers. That being said, I’ve reached my limit. It’s just too much. For example, as I was driving home this evening, the local sports talk show was covering two topics: 1) what will Mike Vick say in his “60 Minutes” interview; and 2) should Rick Pitino be fired? My reaction? I switched over to the cd player and cranked a little “Hootie and the Blowfish”. This, of course, reveals two things about me: 1) I haven’t bought a new cd since ’96; and 2) I really need satellite radio.

Do I blame the media for covering these stories? Of course not. During the dog days of summer, when baseball is really the only constant story, these guys have a lot of copy and air time to fill. And, of course, fans, myself included, typically eat these stories up. As the great Malcolm Gladwell has made clear, however, you always reach a tipping point. In this case that point comes when the media has to keep covering these stories, but we, the fans, stop reading and listening. For me, that point is the Pitino story. It’s sordid, it’s salacious, it’s likely to have a huge impact on college basketball, and surprisingly (especially to me), I don’t care. As a sports fan and a pop culture addict, maybe I should, but for some reason, I just don’t. That’s the thing about the tipping point – it’s not always easy to predict or understand, but you know it when it happens.

So, does this mean that I’m completely out of the sports mix until football season? Not so much. Instead, I’m turning my focus, at least for the next four days, to the one sport that has not been tainted by scandal and consistently reminds us what is great about sports: golf. As we head into the final major of the year, we not only have tremendous storylines to look forward to (Tiger chasing #15, Sergio chasing #1, Phil trying to escape from the harsh realities of real life, Paddy trying to overcome last week’s heartache, Cink, Glover, and Cabrera attempting to vault into the elite, Rich Beem returning to the site of his greatest moment, etc…), but we are also coming off a week that reminded us of some of the things that make golf the purest of all games. For example, after he completed his third round last Saturday, Tim Clark unilaterally launched an investigation into whether he had properly replaced his ball on the 16th green only to find he had not. This, of course, led to Clark assessing a penalty against himself and eliminating any chance he had to compete for the win.

Next, on Sunday, after Paddy Harrington completely imploded in the wake of one of Tiger’s all time shots (an 8 iron over water from 181 yards to within 6 inches…good God, that’s ridiculous), Tiger was the first person to jump to his defense and attribute Paddy’s implosion to the inexplicable decision to put the twosome on the clock on the 16th tee. In other words, the world’s greatest player, instead of thumping his chest and exalting his own accomplishment, went out of his way to stand up for one of his only legitimate challengers.

If you don’t think this is a big deal, take a second and try to imagine Kobe Bryant or Lebron James stepping to the microphone and defending the other if he missed a clutch free throw late in Finals game? This would NEVER happen. Not in a million years. As for the Clark situation, try to imagine Bryant driving to the hole, drawing a foul and tossing the ball to the ref while saying, “that wasn’t a foul.” Actually, that’s not a fair comparison. If he did that, Kobe would only average 15 points a game.

So, in this time of seemingly endless scandal in sports, at least we have one sport that continues to deliver quality competition and quality stories. And, for the next four days, I plan on completely immersing myself in the action at Hazeltine. If all goes well, come Monday, we should have something to talk about that doesn’t include the words “dogs”, “sweatpants”, “D.U.I.”, or “$3,000”. And, come Tuesday, only 19 days until kickoff. If we all stick together, we can make it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mid-Week Musings

You know the best thing about having 600 channels? No, it's not re-runs of "Roseanne", although that's pretty sweet. It's the fact that, on pretty much every night, you can find "Top Gun". And yes, I just saw Goose give the bird for the 838th time. And no, it never gets old. With that said, let's get our butts above the hard deck and do some musing:

  • Remember how I compared the USA v. Brazil soccer match to a #15 seed hanging on against a #2 seed only to fall predictably and painfully short in the end? Well, Tom Watson at the British Open was exactly the same except 200 times worse. At least when the #15 seed or the USA soccer team blows it, only the guys on the team and their families really care. With Watson, pretty much the entire golf world, except Stewart Cink and Curtis Strange (now, officially more insufferable than Johnny Miller), was not only rooting for Watson, but was truly devastated when he hit the worst putt of his career on 18. I wish I could eloquently describe the emotions I felt watching Watson, and I wish I could pontificate on some greater meaning to be taken from Sunday. Unfortunately, I just can't. What could have been a truly special sports moment turned into one of the most sad, depressing, and gross sports moments I can remember. How's that for eloquent? On the bright side, since every third commercial Sunday was for Cialis, I'm pretty sure Watson is about to become the most uncomfortable spokesman since Bob Dole.

  • Do you think they considered recasting Goose before finally settling on having Anthony Edwards just keep his shirt on in the volleyball scene?

  • If I gave you a choice between reading one more story about Mike Vick or hugging Tony Siragusa after he just finished running wind sprints, which would you choose? Think about it. I know, it's tougher than you would think.

  • How about reading one more story about Brett Favre or playing in a foursome with Johnny Miller, Curtis Strange, and Chris Berman? Take your time....

  • How did I ever think Meg Ryan was attractive? I'm so ashamed of myself.

  • So, we are two episodes into the latest season of "Entourage". What do I think so far? Well, instead of attempting to artfully craft a meaningful synopsis of my impressions, I'm going to just copy and paste an email I fired off in a fit of rage after Hans expressed displeasure with episodes 1 and 2. Yes, it's rambling, obnoxious, terribly written, and I take a completely un-solicited shot at Stats, who wasn't even on the email (sorry, buddy - I love all your other Twitter posts), but it gets the point across:

Yes, it is frustrating to see E juggling chicks, but I couldn't be happier with the first two episodes. We are back to the roots. The boys living large, girls flocking, drinks flowing, etc... This is the recipe that made the show so fantastic in the beginning. Plus, the Ari/Lloyd stuff is off the charts funny. I keep hearing people complain about the first two episodes, especially Stats, and it infuriates me. This is what people have been begging for. I just think that people naturally believe that a show is supposed to "jump the shark" at some point, so they wait until they hear some grumbling and jump on the bandwagon. A buddy was complaining the other day that it's just not the same any more. I said, "give me one reason it's not the same." And, he couldn't. This isn't "House" or some other "smart" drama. This is 22 - 25 minutes a week of 4 dudes living the life we all wish we could live. And now, after two seasons of screwing with that life, the writers are back to the basics, and everybody is bagging on it. I'm so frustrated by this!!!! If you want drama, watch TNT...they know drama.

In other words, I'm pretty happy with what we have seen so far.

  • I've got to run. Mav just left his wing man to go after Viper. I've got a good feeling about this. I'm certain it's going to work out for him this time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Take Me Out To The Ballgame


This is the view I had from my sweet seats at tonight's Braves/Mets game. It was great times. There really is nothing like a major league baseball game to make you feel like a kid again. Of course, it didn't hurt sitting five feet from the Mets' on deck circle. Some of the highlights of the night included Luis Castillo shooting DB a wry smile after DB pointed out that the fan in row 5 had better hands than Castillo and David Wright responding to a fan's request for him to come play first base for the Braves by asking, "Who is going to play third?" This, of course, prompted us all to ask if he was calling out Chipper Jones and Wright quickly responding, with a huge smile, that Chipper was his favorite player. Trust me, it was a fantastic moment. In fact, every time Wright came to the on deck circle, he interacted with the fans. I hate to admit it, but he seems like a really solid guy.
I also had a great time taunting Sheffield, my least favorite Brave of all time, and Frenchy, the most...well, I don't even know what he was. Whatever it was, I'm just glad it's over. At the end of the day, I threw out about 25 taunts and made contact on about 5. In other words, while not an impressive batting average, I'm still out performing Frenchy.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coming to You Live

In my last post, I commented that MJ's Motown 25 performance of "Billy Jean" was my favorite non-Pearl Jam live performance of all time. Much to my delight, that comment has sparked much discussion. So, in true WAD fashion, I decided it was time for a Top 7. We, however, have a wrinkle. After watching dozens and dozens of clips on Youtube for more hours than I care to admit, I could only narrow the list to 8. So, ladies and gentlemen, you are receiving a bonus clip! Don't ever say I didn't do anything for you. With that said, here's my top 8 live musical performances of all time:

8) George Straight - A couple of remarkable things about this performance at the 1996 CMA Awards: (1) Vince Gill's mullet; (2) The band interrupting Vince's introduction; and (3) George actually plays the guitar in this performance, sort of. Honestly, there is actually nothing remarkable about this performance, but George is my favorite country artist and this is one of my favorite country songs. Done and done. Let's move on.

7) Marvin Gaye - Can we all just agree to play this version of the Anthem on the Jumbo Tron before every sporting event? I mean, it has never and will never get any better than this. Apologies to Carl Lewis.

6) Guns N' Roses - Can you believe this was 20 years ago? I mean, other than the grainy image and awful curtains behind the stage, its hard to believe two decades have past since GNR was in their prime, right? If you watch nothing else, you need to go to the 3:30 mark and marvel at Slash's chops, and then move ahead to the 5:24 mark when Axl goes all Axl. I think people forget that these guys were possibly the biggest band in the world back in '89. "Appetite for Destruction" has sold around 30 million copies, which places it in the Top 30 albums of all time. Shockingly, they fell victim to drugs, booze, and egos, and they weren't able to sustain their success, but it was fun while it lasted. Just think, if they had kept it together, Axl could be making country albums today, and Slash could be hooking up with Denise Richards. That's right, Bon Jovi stole GNR's career arch. They were the Matt Damon to GNR's Chris O'Donnell.

5) U2 - This is the rarest of rare performances: a Super Bowl halftime performance that actually delivered. Listen to the crowd going nuts in the background. That's not just the high school marching bands the NFL armed with matching t-shirts and glow sticks going nuts. That's the entire stadium going ape sh*t for Bono and the boys, including all the corporate stiffs. I remember watching this live in a friend's apartment in NYC and realizing at the time that I was watching a transcendent performance by one of the most important bands of my lifetime. I enjoyed it so much I almost forgot that Kurt Warner and the Rams were half way to making my first year of law school much more expensive than anticipated...almost.

4) Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz - Not even their disastrous reunion at MJ's funeral can tarnish the greatness of this performance. Mariah was at her absolute apex in all respects. And, this is just an amazing song. How Trey Lorenz didn't parlay this into some level of stardom is beyond me. If this performance happened today, Lorenz would be on the cover of US Weekly with one of the stars of "Twilight" in less than a week, right?

3) Nirvana - I honestly don't know anybody currently between the ages of 30 and 36 that doesn't own the "Unplugged" album. You could choose any song from the show and put it in this spot, and I would be fine with it. I ultimately settled on "Man Who Sold the World" because I feel like it's the most connected Cobain is with the audience through the course of the show. He, of course, killed himself only a few months after putting in this performance. It still bums me out.

2) MJ - Simply incredible. It's the musical equivalent of Jordan's first half of Game 1 of the '92 Finals against the Blazers. It's greatness that defies explanation.

1) Pearl Jam - My favorite band of all time performing my favorite song of all time. If that's not enough, at about the 4:50 mark, Eddie completely loses his mind, tries to eat the microphone, and clearly enters an alternate universe. Any time you can pull off all three of these things at one time, you are going to find yourself at the top of a WAD Top 7 (or 8) list.













Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Musings

It's been a while since I gave you some musings, so here you go:

  • Last Thursday was a day for the ages. First, the Cavs acquired The Big Washed Up in the worst panic move since Ryan Reynold's said yes to "The Proposal" (yes, I saw it. Didn't love it. No need to dwell on this). Then, the Nets dealt Vince Carter to the Magic in what can only be described as the largest hand of blackjack ever played. Next, the King of Pop died. And, finally, in just 10 minutes, the Timberwolves managed to cement themselves as the most inept franchise in the NBA. That's right, I said it. Not even the Clippers are as big a disaster as the 'Wolves right now. Let's take a look at each of these events:

1) Shaq to Cleveland - The great Bill Simmons so eloquently compared this move to the guy that buys renter's insurance a week after he lost all his belongings in a robbery (or something like that). I think this is a perfect analogy. I mean, during the Eastern Conference Finals, DB and I must have asked no less than a dozen times, "How did Danny Ferry not trade Wally's expiring deal at the deadline????" And, if DB and I picked up on this, you know it was a glaringly obvious mistake, right? Here's the bottom line: The Cavs had the most valuable asset in the NBA not named Raef LaFrentz's expiring deal, and they did nothing with it. Instead, they sat on their hands and watched Hedu, Rashard, Dwight, and even J.J. Reddick (at times) pick and roll them right out of the NBA playoffs. In other words, they Eff'd up. No two ways about it. Listen, it sucks, but we've all been there. We've all made mistakes, but we've all learned that the worst thing you can do is make matters worse by hastily trying to make up for the mistake with a desperate act. I mean, this is how 97% of all relationships end, right? Every man learns this lesson by the time he leaves middle school. So, there was no chance Danny Ferry was going to make everything worse by making a panic deal. Ummmmm, yeah, not so much.

So, Ferry, completely ignoring what every dude above the age of 14 knows, goes out and picks up $20 million of a 37 year old Shaq. Now, let me be clear. I love Shaq and think there was a time he would have made the Cavs immeasurably better. That time was about 2002. Needless to say, in 2009, I'm not buying it. Just to reiterate, the Cavs' met their demise because they couldn't guard a younger, more athletic, and superior shooting team that feasted on high pick and rolls. And, their reaction is to spend $20 million on a guy that couldn't guard the high pick and roll in his prime!!!!! Yes, I just used five exclamation points. Let's think of this a little differently. If I told you that Justin Timberlake decided he was missing something in his life and he decided the solution was to start dating Sharon Stone, you would be pretty certain that wouldn't end well. Well, Lebron James playing along side Shaq is the NBA equivalent of JT/Stone. That makes sense, right? Ah, screw it. You get the point.

2) Vince to Orlando - Honestly, if you are the Magic (yes, I'm ripping off the Hubie Brown impersonation from BS), you HAVE to make this deal. On paper, this deal is a no-brainer. Unfortunately for the Magic, however, VC's abilities can't be measured on paper. Usually, you use the "can't be measured on paper" in a positive manner. For example, you just can't measure on paper what Shane Battier gives you. Let's just say that isn't how it works with VC. Bottom line: If VC shows up, plays hard, plays even a little defense, and can quietly live with deferring shots to Hedu (the Magic are undoubtedly re-signing him, right?), Lewis, Nelson, and Howard, the Magic are probably going to win it all next year. We've seen this formula work before with guys like Tiny Archibald and Bill Walton in Boston and Gary Payton in Miami. The difference with those guys, however, is that they were in the twilight of their career and understood they could no longer harbor dreams of being the best guy on a championship team. Is VC in that place? Only time will tell. For now, the Magic are sitting with two eights against the dealer's 10. They've got no choice but to split 'em. Unfortunately for the Magic, however, they have $33.6 million on the table.

3) Michael Jackson dies - Not a shocking moment, but still surreal. Yes, "Thriller" was my first tape, and I still remember when it showed up in my Easter Basket. MJ's "Billy Jean" performance at "Motown at 25" is my favorite live performance of all time not involving Pearl Jam. And, "Man in the Mirror" is one of ten favorite songs of all time. That's really all I have to say about his passing. If you want more detailed analysis, I'm sure can go to the front page of every newspaper and every news organization's website. And, if you are interested in what's going on in Iran, or if you want to learn about the "climate legislation" being pushed through Congress, or anything else that is likely to actually impact your life, you can probably find those on page 2.

4) The Timberwolves - Okay, so you trade your second best young player (Randy Foye) and a knock down shooter and his expiring contract (Mike Miller) to Washington for the #5 pick in the draft. Then, you turn around and take the player with the most upside in the draft with the #5 pick (Rubio). Only problem is that Rubio is the one player in the draft with options (i.e. if I don't want to play for you, I'll just go make boat loads of money in Europe and come back to the NBA in two years when I'm 21!), and you have no guaranty from him that he won't exercise those options and actually play for you. Wait a minute, did I say that was the only problem? I almost forgot that, with the VERY NEXT PICK in the draft, you take a guy that plays the exact same position as Rubio!!! In other words, if Rubio was on the fence about coming to Minnesota, you just pushed him right over to the other side. So, now, you are faced with the inevitable result that Rubio is going to head back to Europe, you just gave away Foye and Miller for nothing, and it is below zero for half the year in Minnesota. It's great to be a T'Wolve's fan!

My God, I knew this was bad, but until I just saw it on paper, I don't think I even had a grasp for how catastrophic this is. I mean, the only move that comes close is Chris Wallace giving away Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and a bag of flaming poop. I, of course, am only guessing that the Lakers sent the bag of flaming poop. If you walked up to 100 random people on the street and described the above scenario to them (the Rubio situation, not the flaming poop situation), every last one of them would agree that it was a disaster, right? In fact, I just called my Mother, who has probably watched exactly 0 NBA games in her life, and described the situation to her, and she responded, "Yeah, that's not a good thing." Thanks, Mom. I'm not sure I need to say anything else.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed watching the USA v. Brazil soccer game on Sunday. Well, I enjoyed everything except those intolerable horns the crowd was constantly blowing. And, that whole blowing a two goal lead wasn't very fun either. Actually, let me amend my position. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first half. I was discussing the game with a friend tonight, and I told him that I felt just like I do when I'm watching a 15 seed take a 2 seed down to the wire in the NCAA Tournament. In other words, unless it was Hampton v. Iowa State in '01 (still bitter), you are watching, you are cheering, and you are hoping the underdog can hold on, but you know you are inevitably going to be disappointed when the favorite catches some breaks, makes some plays, and ultimately overcomes the underdog in the final two minutes. And, of course, when it's over, you hate yourself for ever believing it was going to turn out differently. I have a name for this scenario, but since this is a family friendly environment, I will leave it to you to give it your own name. At any rate, that's how I felt Sunday afternoon. I hate it when I feel that way!

  • So, as I mentioned above I saw "The Proposal" this weekend. I was planning on breaking it down for you, but I thought about it and decided to spare you the time and spare me the heckling. Somehow, though, I don't think I'm going to avoid the heckling.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Redemption Revisited?

By now, more than enough words have been written by more than enough writers about today's back nine at Bethpage. Honestly, I don't feel as if I have much to add. Instead, I invite you all to re-read this column I posted nearly three years ago:

http://atlantawad.blogspot.com/2006/07/redemption-song.html

Granted, it looks like I was three years premature with this article, but after reading it, I think you will understand why this U.S. Open, even with all its flaws, will be one that I will never forget. For me, it was both exhilarating and, ultimately, bitterly disappointing. As I said back in July '06, however, a story of redemption is always one worth watching. Now, I'm just hoping this weekend only marked the beginning of one of the greatest redemption stories we may ever see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tarnished Greatness?

As is so often the case, the idea for this column came from one of my buddies. Specifically, DB sent me an email last week informing me that "88 Minutes" starring Al Pacino is, at best, dreadful. After exchanging a few emails, in which DB shared with me the details of this disaster, he posed this question: "At this point, is Pacino ruining his legacy?" Two things happened when I read this question: 1) I screamed "No" at the top of my lungs, causing my secretary to run into my office to ask what was wrong; and 2) I immediately began banging out a 500 word response to DB telling him why this was not the case. Now, 7 days later, at DB's request, I have watched "88 Minutes". The result? Well, I really wish I hadn't watched it, but my response to DB's question hasn't changed. Why? I'm glad you asked.

To begin the analysis, you must consider this: from the time he burst on the scene as Michael Corleone in 1972 until he implored us all to fight for that inch as Coach D'Amato in 1999, here is how Pacino filled those 27 years:

"The Godfather";

"The Godfather: Part II";

"Dog Day Afternoon";

"And Justice for All";

"Scarface";

"Dick Tracy";

"Frankie and Johnny";

"Glengarry Glen Ross";

"Scent of a Woman";

"Carlito's Way";

"Heat";

"City Hall";

"Donnie Brasco";

"The Devil's Advocate";

"The Insider"; and

"Any Given Sunday".

Good God, read that list again! Sure, I left some less than memorable films off the list ("The Godfather: Part III" NEVER happened!!!!), but has any single actor ever had such an extended run of undeniable greatness? I defy you to pick any one of those movies and tell me that Pacino didn't lift it to otherwise unobtainable levels. I mean, has any other entertainer or athlete ever had even an equally impressive run in their chosen profession? Well, again, I'm glad you asked.

From 1991 -1998, MJ put together the only run in sports or entertainment history comparable to Pacino's nearly three decade reign. From '91 - '98, MJ played 6 full seasons, won six titles, averaged 30.6 pts/game, shot exactly 50% from the field, played in 486 of a possible 492 regular season games, never missed a playoff game, played every possible game from '96-'98, won 4 MVP's, and personally destroyed every player that even dared challenge him. And yes, his two years in minor league baseball were his "The Godfather: Part III".

Please re-read the previous paragraph and take a minute to soak in those numbers. I watched nearly every game MJ played from '91-'98, and I own every one of his playoff games during that time on VHS, and I still can't believe those numbers when I see them in print. Similarly, I've seen every movie Pacino has ever made (thanks to DB making me watch "88 Minutes"), and every time I watch them, I am continually amazed at how he carries each and every one, up until "Any Given Sunday".

Now, the question I'm sure you are asking yourself is how in the hell did DB asking if Pacino is ruining his legacy lead me to performing an in depth breakdown of MJ's career? It's a fair question, and here's the answer: We can all agree that MJ was one of the greatest, if not the greatest (which he was), basketball players of all time, and when you think of MJ today, you think of the MJ I described above. You never think of the MJ that took his last fade away for the Washington Wizards in 2003. In the same vein, we should all be able to agree that Pacino is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, actors of all time, and when it is all said and done for him, you are going to remember Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Lt. Col. Frank Slade, Lt. Vincent Hanna, and Lowell Bergman. You will never remember him as Dr. Jack Gramm in "88 Minutes" or Rooster Fisk in "Righteous Kill". In other words, when entertainers or athletes reach the apex of their profession and ingrain themselves into the national consciousness for doing what they do, we, as their fans, are more than willing to forgive the sins of the twilight of their careers, no matter how egregious.

This phenomenon, of course, is not limited to Pacino and Jordan. In fact, we are living it right now with Brett Favre. While there are more than a few people, myself included, that really wish Favre would just hang up the cleats and move on, the truth is that we want this only for our selfish reasons. For one reason, we are afraid that watching Favre tank down the stretch for the Jets or do God knows what with the Vikings will somehow cause us to forget all the moments that caused us to love Favre in the first place. It's kind of silly when you think about it, though. I mean, all the empirical evidence proves that, when we are telling our children about Favre, all we will remember is him threading balls into impossible places in crucial moments at Lambeau, willing his teammates to impossible victories, and running around like a mad man after winning it all against the Pats.

Don't believe me? Well, do you remember Dale Murphy winning two MVP's for the Braves, or do you remember him walking away two homers short of 400 with the Rockies? Do you remember Magic running the Showtime fast break like it was what he was born to do, or do you remember his 32 game comeback with the Lakers in '95? Do you remember Joe Montana limping off after a 1st round playoff loss for the Chiefs in '94, or do you remember his decade of near perfection for the 49er's? Do you remember Mike Tyson not answering the bell for the 7th round against Kevin McBride, or do you remember him devastating Michael Spinks in 91 seconds? Do our fathers and grand fathers remember Willie Mays making backward basket catches in the Polo Grounds, or do they remember him limping around the outfield at Shea? Finally, do our fathers remember Muhammad Ali badly losing his last two fights to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, or do they remember him vanquishing Foreman in Zaire and Frazier in Manila?

Now, if I were a betting man, I would wager that most of you don't have any memories of Murphy as a Rockie, Magic even coming back in '95, or Tyson losing to McBride; and I would bet you didn't know that Ali closed his career with two devastating losses. And, I would be willing to bet that if I asked you who starred in "Don Juan DeMarco", "The Island of Dr. Moreau", "The Brave", and "Free Money", you wouldn't guess Marlon Brando. In fact, I'm guessing your response would be, "I've never heard of any of those movies".

The obvious, and final, question that arises is why do we manage to forget about the sins of our sports and entertainment heroes' later careers? Frankly, if I knew the answer, I could probably right a pretty entertaining book. In fact, I'm hoping Malcolm Gladwell takes on the subject some day. For now, however, I can only offer my best guess, which is based on my own experience. The fact of the matter is that we watch sports, movies, television, etc... as a means to escape the "real world". We watch in the hopes of seeing something that will allow us to talk to our co-workers at the water cooler, our friends at the bar, and our families over the dinner table. And, when we watch with our family and friends, we hope for a moment that we can forever share with those around it. Face it, there are very few things more exciting than sharing a great sports moment (i.e. Jordan over Russell in the '98 Finals) with your buddies. I mean, it's been 11 years since that shot, and seldom does more than two weeks go by that I don't have the "did MJ push off" conversation with someone. Similarly, watching a great movie with your friends and/or family can provide a lifetime of quotes and anecdotes. For God's sake, not a day went by in college that Stats, CC, and I didn't either watch or quote "Heat", "Tommy Boy", "Hoosiers", or any one of a few dozen movies.

Bottom line, our sports and entertainment heroes provide us with a unique type of excitement and joy that we need. Now, in the grand scheme of things, that might seem a little screwed up, but that's just the way it is. And, given that, the answer to the question that started this column is that short of starring with Miley Cyrus in a "Hannah Montana" movie, there is nothing Al Pacino can do to tarnish his legacy. Ah, who am I kidding. I'd watch that movie. I watched "88 Minutes" for God's sake!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Checking in...

There is so much I want to say about the Finals through two games, but I'll be honest with you, I just don't have it in me tonight. It's not that I'm too tired, or that I don't have the time. Nope. The reason is that I am watching Game 3 on a 21" non HD television in my hotel room. Honestly, it's 2009, is there any reason I should be subjected to watching an NBA Finals game in non-HD? I can't think of a single reason! While I'm thinking about it, here's a few more things in these NBA Finals I don't think I should ever have to be subjected to again:

1) Kobe's contrived under bite;

2) Any reference by Breen, Jackson, or JVG to Kobe "really wanting this", or being "a coach on the floor", or being anything other than a selfish and universally loathed teammate with exceptional scoring ability;

3) GM commercials that try to convince me a bankruptcy filing is a good thing for a company! Listen, GM, I appreciate the effort, but maybe you should have "gotten down to business" a while ago and you wouldn't have to convince me you aren't "going out of business". Listen, folks, if my employer fires me, I'm going to tell you that I didn't get "fired". Instead, I'm going to tell you I'm "getting fired up". You'll believe me, right?;

4) Luke Walton;

5) JJ Reddick;

6) The NBA publicly defending its refs and trying to convince us that they are not collectively worse at their jobs than GM management team (For God's sake, even Phil Jackson admitted Pau goal tended (is that a word?) at the end of Game 2);

7) The muppet commercials. This had the potential to be great, but the kid puppet should be beat;

8) Dorris Burke's useless questions to Phil Jackson and SVG;

9) Dorris Burke's unabashed longing for Kobe Bryant in every post game interview; and

10) Well, let's face it: all things Kobe. Between him, Dorris Burke, and the officiating, I'm tempted to watch "Leverage".

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hollywood vs. The Magic Kingdom

Folks, welcome to the first annual celebration that will be now known as "The WAD picked the C's in 6 and Paul Pierce to win the MVP in '08 Day." That's right, in case you forgot, and as often as I've reminded you I'm not sure how you could, I nailed last year's Finals. Unfortunately, no matter what Shane Falco says, glory does not last forever. You are only as good as your last prediction. And, considering that I loudly proclaimed the Magic had no chance of beating the Cavs, I'm not very good right now. In my defense, I made that prediction before two things happened: 1) Stan Van Gundy morphed from the "Master of Panic" into a steady and solid leader of men, much like Doc Rivers before him; and 2) we learned that Big Z, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith died at some point this season, and Moe Williams is a graduate of the Karl Malone School of Clutch. At any rate, its time for the '09 Finals, and as the great Roger Dorn said, "let's cut through the crap". (Yes, I just managed to make a "The Replacements" and "Major League" reference in less than 200 words. I'm beyond excited about this). Here's a 7 prong preview of the Finals:

7) The much anticipated Pau Gasol v. Dwight Howard match up is secretly a terrible mis-match. Before I go any further, let me just say that I am a HUGE Dwight Howard fan, and I am very excited about watching him play for the next 10-12 years.....you know it's coming....are you ready?....BUT, this is a terrible match up for him. Here's the deal: We are going to see a lot of Andrew Bynum in this series, and he, not Pau, will be matched up on Dwight. The reason? Well, it's two fold: 1) I think we learned in the Cavs series that you simply cannot afford to double Dwight and leave the perimeter shooters; and 2) If you are going to single the guy and concede 30 -40 points a game, you might as well just put Bynum on him and let him accumulate the fouls. Not to mention, you might even see Odom and Ariza take limited shots at Dwight just to mix things up. Again, the goal is not to stop Dwight from scoring, it's to cover the perimeter and keep Lewis, Alston, Pietrus, the Turkish Jordan, etc... from killing you the way they killed the Cavs. Oh, one more thing: Pau is a dreadful defender, so you gain nothing from having him guard Dwight.

Now, on the flip side, if you are the Magic, Dwight has to guard Pau, you have no other options. Well, we know that, as bad a defender as Pau is, he far more than makes up for it on the offensive end. He's active, aggressive, and creative on the block. He can even step out, give you the head fake, and go to the rim. In other words, he is a nightmare to defend. And, we also know that Dwight is more than a little foul prone. Bottom line is that Dwight might put up big numbers, but he is going to be constantly battling foul trouble, and he is going to be spending key fourth quarter minutes on the bench while Pau is going to be spending those minutes battling the likes of Marcin Gortat. If you are one of the 18 Magic fans out there, you just threw up a little.

6) What do we make of this Jameer Nelson situation? Honestly, I have no idea, and I can't imagine the Magic do either. As a matter of full disclosure, Jameer has been one of my favorite players since his days at St. Joe's. He's one of the top 5 college point guards I've ever seen in person. I'm not going to debate that here, but I'm more than happy to do so any time you want to buy me beers. That being said, this is a terrible injury he is trying to rush back from, and I would be shocked if was able to contribute offensively. He, however, could possibly be able to bring short stints of defensive pressure on the Lakers line of atrocious point guards, if nothing else. That, however, might even be wishful thinking. At the end of the day, we just have to wait and see. In all likelihood, however, as much as I wish it wasn't so, this story is probably much adieu about nothing. I just don't see Jameer making much of an impact on this series.

5) Pop quiz: of all the players in the NBA Finals, which player has the best +/- rating? If you guessed Kobe, Dwight, Hedu, Pau, or Rashard Lewis, you would be wrong. If, however, you chose Lamar Odom, you would be right. That's right, arguably the most maligned and criticized player in these finals, at least statistically, has the biggest positive impact for his team when he's on the floor. I'm not sure this has anything to do with who will win or lose the Finals, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I've got your back, L.O.!

4) As for the coaching match-up, the easy analysis tells you that the Lakers have the clear edge. This is, in part, because Phil Jackson has 9 rings and is the most decorated and celebrated coach of our lifetime. And, of course, part of it is that it has become cool and hip to degrade Van Gundy, whether it be for allegedly panicking or because he looks like a porn star. But, frankly, that is way too simplistic, and it is unfair to Van Gundy.

In these playoffs, Van Gundy made some phenomenal adjustments in the Celtics series and led his team back from down 3-2 to win a game 7 on the road in the Garden. Then, against the Cavs, he kept his team together when they fell behind by 20+ in both games 1 and 2, and then kept them together after Lebron's legendary game winner in game 2. In other words, regardless of his appearance, and regardless of the fact that he's made some dubious decisions along the way, he has done an amazing job coaching this team into the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, we have Phil Jackson, who, frankly, looks like he is about as interested in these playoffs as I am in watching "Leverage" on TNT (just a dreadful show, trust me on this one). Seriously, I'm not sure if it's boredom or anger, but he has not once looked like a man that is excited about being where he is. Personally, I think his second book about Kobe is going to be phenomenal. And, I think there is at least a 20% chance he punches Kobe or LO in this series. In other words, this is clearly a man that doesn't like his players, isn't happy doing what he is doing, and is arrogant enough to think that he is going to win because he's Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy is, well, the Hedgehog. All this could ultimately add up to the unthinkable: SVG could very easily out coach Phil Jackson in this series. I'm not even kidding.

3) Prediction #1: Jeff Van Gundy's head is going to explode as he tries to announce this series with objectivity. Pay close attention as Mark Jackson takes little jabs at him and SVG. These guys are the best basketball announcing crew in the world (only because CBS stupidly won't put Gus and Raf together for the NCAA Tournament), and it is going to be tremendous listening to them throughout this series. While we are here, Mike Breen and Ernie Johnson, Jr. both deserve induction into the basketball hall of fame. No point guard in the history of the game has ever held a team together with the precision these guys show night in and night out. If we ever have another Middle East Peace Conference, we should definitely put these guys in the middle to moderate. I know, I'm not making much sense right now. Moving on....

2) Prediction #2: The officials will make a call that will absolutely swing this series in one direction. It's been brewing all post season, and there is no way to avoid it. Given the refs treatment of the Mamba, I have a bad feeling for the Magic fans.

1) Ultimate Prediction: My hands are literally shaking as I'm writing this, but the Mamba is going to get his fourth ring. Despite the fact that he was atrocious in the '04 and '08 Finals, and despite the fact that he quit on his team in the '06 Playoffs, this is a different Mamba (Yes, I felt obligated to remind you of his greatest failures, deal with it!). He is playing like a man possessed, and frankly, he is playing with the desperation of a man that knows this is his last best chance at solidifying his legacy. He's not quite at the Billy Chapel level, but he's not far off. Plus, let's not forget that he has a lot of help. Pau Gasol is the best offensive center in the league, and Ariza and Odom are much better than people like to admit. I believe that every game will be close, but I think Kobe will too tough in the clutch. When it's all said and done, the Lakers win in 5 (after a horrible call in Game 4 prevents the Magic from tying the series), and the Mamba wins the Finals MVP, and finally, after 13 controversial and turbulent seasons, vaults into the top 10 greatest players of all time. Even I can't deny him that, even if the guy did give himself a nickname.


Before I go, I have two quick random thoughts:

- What is Nike going to do about the puppets now that Lebron is out? I'm sure they have something in store for us, but I'm just not certain what it will be. Is it possible, and I'm just talking out loud, that there is an MJ puppet in our future? Actually, I can't believe I just wrote that. If MJ allows himself, even in puppet form, to be associated with Kobe in any way, it will be proof of two things: 1) Divorce really kills you financially, and you can't afford to say no to money, no matter how degrading the circumstances; and 2) Life as I've known it is over.

- I've already received two dozen emails tonight asking for my thoughts on the Braves releasing Tom Glavine. All I will say about this is that this is a very difficult time, and I would ask that you respect my privacy as I cope with the end of the Braves franchise as I've known and loved it. Seriously, from a current personnel perspective, the move really isn't a huge deal, but it's just symbolic of the continued demise of the franchise as it drifts further and further from what used to be. I'm certain I will address this, as well as many other Braves issues in the near future, but for now, suffice it to say that I'm not thrilled with anything going on down at Turner Field. In fact, I'm very close to losing all hope. And, despite what Andy told Red, I'm afraid that hope can die, especially when it's buried under a boring and mediocre baseball team.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hawk Talk

First of all, Happy Memorial Day to everyone. And, more importantly, thank you to all of you that have served our country both at home and abroad. We are all forever indebted to each and every one of you. I'm sure many of you have spent this day with friends and family, enjoying some burgers and hot dogs, and maybe even taking that first dip of the year in the neighborhood pool. Me? In typical exciting WAD fashion, I've spent the better part of today plowing through the NBA CBA, as well as the salary figures for the Hawks and each of the 29 other NBA franchises. After the past few weeks of listening to countless sports talk radio callers proposing impossible scenario after impossible scenario for the Hawks to pursue this off-season, and after ending too many of my own conversations about the Hawks with the words, "if that is even possible", I decided it was time to figure out what I would do this summer if I was Hawks' GM Rick Sund.

Before delving too deep, I have to concede that the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement is a very complex and confusing agreement, and the rules for trades and free agent signings are not easy to understand. In fact, it would be beyond disingenuous for me to hold myself out as an expert on these issues, and it is almost an absolute certainty that I've overlooked some obvious possibilities in my analysis. That, of course, isn't going to stop me from chiming in.

Let me start with a question. Have you ever traveled to Vegas with your boys, gotten off the plane, waited in the cab line for an hour, spent another hour checking into your room, and then raced down to the casino floor with a wad of cash in hand and visions of wealth in your head? Sure you have. We've all been there before, and we all know that unique excitement we feel when we walk into the blackjack pit for the first time. Unfortunately, however, we all also know how it feels when we hit the pit only to realize that there are no open spots at the table we want to play. You were seconds away from completing the cross country journey, sitting down, ordering your first Jack and Diet, and placing your first $25 bet. Now, however, since there are no seats at the $25 tables, you have three choices: 1) You can go kill some time at the craps table and patiently wait for a spot to open up; 2) You can try to convince one of your buddies to walk to another casino with you in search of a $25 table (this is only an option if you aren't staying at the Palms or Hard Rock); or 3) You can decide not to delay your gratification and somehow justify to yourself sitting down at the $100 table. If you've ever been in this situation and you've chosen option #3, you will understand when I say that you NEVER sit down at the $100 table just for the sake of placing a bet.

Now, you are probably asking yourself, "what the hell does any of this have to do with the Hawks?" Fair question. The answer is that, for the Hawks, this off-season looks and feels an awful lot like a full blackjack pit. In other words, we would all undoubtedly love nothing more than to run out this off-season with our wad of cash (counting our first round pick, the Hawks have only about $43 million in committed salary for next year with the cap likely to come in around $57 million and the luxury tax trigger likely to come in around $71 million) and make a big free agent signing or orchestrate a blockbuster trade that will vault us from a nice 4-seed to a legitimate contender along with Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando. This urge is completely understandable. The past two years, we have tasted a measure of playoff success, and now we want more. Unfortunately, however, we've walked right into probably the worst free agent class of the decade, which is full of potentially disastrous decisions. So, it's my belief that, much like the guy walking into the full blackjack pit, Rick Sund would be very wise to exercise some patience, go play a little craps, and wait it out until a spot opens up. Fortunately for Sund, his spot would open up in the 2010 free agent class, which, in complete contrast to this year's class, may be the best free agent class we've ever seen. Since most of you are aware of all the big names in the class of 2010, I won't bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say, however, that the class of '10 doesn't begin and end with Lebron and D. Wade. For a full listing, click here.

All that being said, just like there is opportunity to make a few dollars at the craps table while waiting for your blackjack seat, there is opportunity for the Hawks to better themselves this summer. I, however, don't think it's realistic to think that there are any free agent moves out there that will immediately vault us to the next level, and, with one wild and far fetched exception, I don't see any trades that will do the trick. In fact, I can only craft a single trade that made any sense for the Hawks that also remotely made sense for the other trading party that would make the Hawks markedly better. And, even this trade, doesn't really make sense for the other party and requires you to make some big concessions and assumptions. Let me explain.

If you are willing to concede that Al Horford is never going to give us more than we've already seen, and if you are willing to concede that we've seen the best of Joe Johnson (two concessions I'm not sure I'm willing to make), then you might consider offering Al, Joe, and Acie Law to New Orleans for Chris Paul, David West, and Julian Wright. Now, you are probably asking yourself, "why would New Orleans even let you finish making this offer before they hung up the phone?" Well, if you believe what you hear and read, the Hornets are in dire financial straights and will have no choice but to dump salary wherever they can this off-season. And, you have to imagine that a salary dump will inevitably lead to Chris Paul consulting with Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury on the best way to escape a sinking ship of a franchise. So, if New Orleans is completely honest with itself and recognizes that its window with Paul has already closed before it even opened, they should jump at the chance to unload the $24.9 million they've committed to West through the '11-'12 season and the $63.7 million they've committed to Paul through the '12-'13 season for $21.5 million of Joe, Al, and Acie that all come off the books after next year. Right? Even better for New Orleans is that if Al takes the leap, they can exercise a team option in '10 and keep him for only $5 million. Honestly, when I started typing this, I actually thought this would be a horrendous deal for the Hornets, but the more I type, the more I am talking myself into this. Again, if New Orleans was honest with themselves, this deal makes a lot of sense. But, it's never going to happen. Why? Well, no matter how dire it's financial situation is, the one thing New Orleans can sell its fan base on is Paul. When you have a special player like CP3, you are going to put butts in the seat on that alone, not to mention that you can still convince your fans that you are trying to win, even if you aren't. If the Hornets trade Paul, they will have 2,000 fans/game next year, and they might as well pull the moving truck up to the front door. And, there isn't a deal the Hawks could put together that would allow the Hornets to unload Tyson Chandler's deal, and the Hornets aren't going to make a deal unless they can rid themselves of that contract. Oh, and for the record, if I was Rick Sund, and if this deal were actually possible, not only would I do it in a heart beat, I would help Joe and Al pack. And yes, I love Joe and Al, but it's just business, baby.

Okay, so with the unlikely blockbuster trade discussion out of the way, in a nutshell, if I were Rick Sund, here's what I would do while I was waiting for the blackjack table to open up:

1) I'm a big Mike Bibby fan, but he made $15 million this past season. He will undoubtedly sign for less, but how much less? $10 million? $8 million? Frankly, it doesn't matter to me. The first thing I'm doing is signing Jarret Jack to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $2.9 million. With T.J. Ford on the books at $8.5 million through '11, are the Pacers going to match? I just don't see it. Then, I take some cash, and I take a real gamble. Specifically, I give Stephon Marbury a chance to redeem his career. Sure, he was a disaster in New York and Boston, but he's a 32 year old former all star that has averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists/game in less than 900 total games. The real question here is not whether Steph is worth taking a risk on, it's how much will it cost us? Well, the league minimum for a guy with 10+ years is $1.352 million/year. I simply can't imagine anybody paying Steph more than twice that amount. Plus, he has strong ties here in Atlanta, so it's a natural fit for him. So, at the end of the day, you can have two Georgia Tech point guards for around $6 million. And, at least in theory, you have two guys that can attack the rim, draw defenders away from and create open looks for Joe, while also creating easier offensive opportunities for Al.

2) We have to re-sign ZaZa. We need his size and intangibles, and he is cheap. This is a no brainer. If you look at the big men on the free agent market, you will understand. Then again, you can grab Rad Nesterovic or Adonal Foyle if you want! No? Yeah, I didn't think so.

3) Also, you have to re-sign Flip Murray. If you let Bibby go, you can't afford to lose Flip's shooting ability. Plus, in this economy, Flip isn't going to command an unfair wage.

4) Finally, Marvin is a restricted free agent, and somebody will sign him to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $7.355 million. You absolutely have to match this. I'm not even going to argue about this. Marvin has improved every season, and while he will never be Chris Paul (deal with it, Hawks fans!), $7.355 is a fair price for what he brings to the table.

As I conceded up front, there may be deals or signings out there that I'm overlooking, and if so, I would love for you to bring them to my attention. However, given what I see on the free agent market, and given our current roster situation, I think the above plan is a prudent way to attack this off season. If you bring in JJ and Steph, you have a real chance of upgrading the PG position, and you stand pat everywhere else. You win 50 games next year, and most importantly, you position yourself beautifully for the summer of 2010 when you can make a run at a big time free agent and when you have to make a decision on whether to try to keep Joe around for the remainder of his career.

I'm the first one to concede that this isn't an exciting plan, but we will be a lot happier after showing a little patience when we sit down at the $25 table and play all night instead of blowing all our cash in the blink of an eye at the $100 table. Trust me, I've been there.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The NBA...Where The WAD Happens

First of all, I am sorry to disappoint those who took my prolonged absence from the blogosphere as a sign that I had either given up the pen or died. I know you were very excited about both of these possibilities, and if you stick around long enough I'm sure you will get your wish. For now, however, I'm still here, and we might as well make the most of it. Hold on to your seats, here are seven observations arising from and relating to the NBA Conference Finals:

7) At the moment I'm writing this, the Lakers are up 8 points at the end of the first quarter in Game 2. When they play with the intensity they came out with tonight, they are tough to beat. When the officials come out and officiate the way they have tonight, the Lakers are impossible to beat. At this point, I know me complaining about NBA officiating is about as original as a young actress leaking a snuff flick so I won't make you endure another rant. Suffice it to say, the Nuggets wouldn't be any worse off if Spike Lee was wearing a whistle.

6) Speaking of Spike, SHAME ON YOU, SPIKE LEE!!!! You are one of the most accomplished, respected, and socially relevant filmmakers of all time. You are the man that brought us "She's Gotta Have It"; "Do the Right Thing"; "Jungle Fever"; "Malcolm X"; "He Got Game"; and "The Original Kings of Comedy", among many other amazing films. In other words, you are one of the all time greats, and you didn't need to make a nauseating 2 hour infomercial for one of the the most unlikeable athletes of all time as part of his relentless campaign to convince the world he is not a bad guy. Nope, you didn't have to do it. But, you did. Then, you showed up court side for Game 1 of the Conference finals, decked out in Laker gear and cheering for the Show like a life long fan. If I were a Knick fan, I would rather see Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis in the back-court next year than see Spike Lee sitting courtside. Everything about this Spike/Kobe relationship infuriates me. I have to move on.

5) I've labored over this decision, but I think K-Mart's lips tattoo edges out Steph's head tattoo for NBA Playoff Tattoo of the Year. On the bright side, I've consulted Paula Abdul and she thinks Steph's tattoo has a real chance to be a star because of its presence, originality, and ability to make every head its own.

4) We just reached the half in the Lakers/Nuggets game. Three observations for the price of one here: 1) Considering the Nuggets could not, let me repeat that in all caps...COULD NOT have played with less effort, and someone on the Lakers actually has to brandish a weapon to draw a foul call, it's not a good sign for the Show that they are only up a point at the break; 2) I really hope we see the replay of Chauncey throwing the ball off Kobe's back on the inbounds pass in Spike's next documentary, "Kobe Getting Worked"; and 3) Kobe's MJ impersonation in the halftime interview was dead on. Great job by him. He always rises to the occasion.

3) Does anyone else love the fact that John Barry calls Mike Wilbon "Wilby"? Not sure why, but that slays me. While we are here, I just have to say how much I love the announcing and studio crews during the conference finals. One night you get Marv, Doug Collins, and the TNT studio crew. Then, the next night you get the Breen, Jackson, Van Gundy triumvirate coupled with JB, Magic, and Wilby in the studio! I mean, does it get any better than that? This is just another reason why the NBA Playoffs are so much fun to watch. The NBA, where amazing announcing happens.

2) Dwight Howard went for 30 and 13 in Game 1 and was sensational. He is now giving a nationally televised interview in a wife beater. It's good to be Dwight Howard.

1) Finally, the Magic deserve all the credit in the world for coming back from a huge halftime deficit, withstanding a relentless onslaught by Lebron, and stealing Game 1. So, here you go Orlando, here's your credit. Now, enjoy the next four games and enjoy your off-season. If any of you think Game 1 is an indication that Lebron is not winning a ring, and based off many emails I received today, you do, you are wrong. Cleveland has only 10 more games to wait until they can finally have the parade they have longed for on the banks of the Cuyahoga. Unless, of course, the EPA forbids that many people from getting anywhere near the Cuyahoga.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quick Sunday Musings on the Week Gone By

First of all, I hope all the mothers out there enjoyed a wonderful Mother's Day. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a wonderful morning and brunch with my parents and some close friends. I, of course, had to cut it short to race home and watch the Rockets dismantle the Lakers, but it was a great time. Seriously, the WAD Mom is the best mom in the world, which, by definition means she is better than your mom. It's a fact. Okay, fine. Your mom is great too. At any rate, as the Celtics and Magic bring a memorable sports week to a close, let's tackle 7 highlights of the week gone by:

7) I'm not ready to declare baseball dead to me, mainly because I reserve the right to get totally wrapped up in an improbable Braves playoff run, but I'm very close. While Ken Griffey, Jr. was always my favorite non-brave through my childhood and teenage years, Manny Ramirez was undoubtedly my favorite non-Brave of the past 8 years. When I moved to NYC in 2001, I knew two things for certain: 1) I was taking out enough student loans to feed an entire third world country for a significant time; and 2) I hated the Yankees (I can never explain the hatred that arose from the Yanks stealing the Braves' dynasty in the '96 Series). There wasn't much I could do about the first thing, but as for #2, I quickly learned to embrace the Boston Red Sox, as they were my best hope for avoiding the constant and intolerable Yankee bravado that surrounded me. I quickly learned that embracing the Sox, of course, meant embracing Manny.

Since 2001, I have followed Manny as closely as I've followed any baseball player, including any Brave. I've followed his highs and lows. I relished every one of his clutch hits in '04, '07, and his ridiculous closing stretch with the Dodgers last year. I relished every one of his hilarious goofs in left field. I relished his slow jog around the bases after a homerun and his dangerously slow jog after each single. Most of all, I relished the fact that this was a guy that carried himself like a big kid that truly enjoyed playing a kid's game for a living. I mean, put all the off field drama to the side, have you ever seen anybody enjoy hitting a baseball more than Manny? I haven't.

Through it all, I convinced myself that the greatest thing about Manny was that he appeared to love playing so much that he didn't really care about stats, fame, money, or any of the things that would naturally drive guys to use steroids. So, of course, I convinced myself Manny was clean. Well, suffice it to say, for the 1,789,967th time in my life, I was wrong. You know the crazy thing? I really didn't care when Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod were exposed. I just shrugged it off as something I already knew but just didn't have the proof. With Manny, though, I was crushed. Why? I guess it's because, despite my ever waning interest in baseball, Manny gave me a reason to care about the game of my childhood. Now? I've never been so happy the NBA playoffs stretch deep into the summer and football cranks up shortly thereafter.

6) Has a player ever improved more in a shorter period of time than Glen "Big Baby" Davis has improved over the past two months? I can't think of a single guy. I mean, this guy couldn't get a shot off two months ago, and now he's hitting game winners on the road in the playoffs!!! Good job by Big Baby, and even better job by Doc in building this guy's confidence by sticking with him. These are the things that happen in great organizations.

5) The NBA must get its officiating under control. I could go on for pages pointing out the dubious and inexcusable calls we've seen in less than two rounds of this post season, but all you need to do to get the point is watch the non-call at the end of Saturday's Nuggets/Mavs game. The refs called 61 fouls during the course of the game, but they don't call the most obvious foul of the game? Were these guys running AIG?

4) Once again, can we end the Kobe or Lebron debate once and for all? Lebron is completely un-guardable, he makes his teammates better, and his teammates love him. Kobe, if not properly motivated, can be guarded (see today's 15 point performance), he rarely makes his teammates better these days, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions on whether his teammates like him. And, for all those of you that love to argue how clutch Kobe is, let me remind you that he was dreadful in the '04 Finals against the Pistons, he quit on his team in Game 5 against the Suns in '06, he was dreadful in last year's Finals, and he just threw up 15 points against a team that was playing without their best player, who happens to be a 7'6" monster that stands under the rim. In other words, Spike can make as many joints as he wants about Kobe, but his time to carry the torch as the best player in the League has come and gone, and he never fully grasped it. Lebron, on the other hand, is in the process of putting a death grip on it.

3) What is wrong with Tiger? I mean, he has played in five stroke play events since returning from major knee surgery and only has 1 win and five top 10's. This guy is done! (I really hope the sarcasm is dripping off the page).

2) Is it possible for the Rockets to advance to the Western Conference finals with Chris Rock playing point guard and Anthony Mason cutting Ron Artest's hair?

1) Most importantly of all, is Jack really going to kill Tony this week on "24"? Will he look him in the eye when he does it? If so, this will be the most cold blooded and emotional killing in cinematic history, with the possible exception of Tony suffocating Chris on "The Sopranos". For God's sake, Michael didn't even pull the trigger that killed Fredo. This could be epic television. Don't miss it.

Before signing off, here's a quick update on the WAD's attempt to make use of modern technology:

1) You can join our group on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?sid=3432e724a4f4aa1dad130413dfe84ed5&gid=61570972245&ref=search

2) Yes, I've finally given in, and you can follow the WAD on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AtlantaWAD Don't worry, you won't read anything like "going to the fridge to grab a beer" or "driving to work". I will just be using this to share random thoughts about games as they happen, as well as to let you know when new posts are up in this space. This shoudl be fun, right?