11.01.2006

Notes From Night 1 of the Free Trial of NBA Season Pass

For the last few years, one of the best parts of November is that in conjunction with the start of the NBA season, DISH Network has a week-long free trial of the NBA Season Pass. After flipping through close to a dozen games, $180 for the season doesn't seem so bad. I'm holding out for now but I'm not sure I'll be able to last the entire trial without hitting the "buy" button.

Anyway, on to what I saw with my channel flipping in not particular order . . .
  1. Amare Stoudemire looks pretty damn good for a guy playing on one leg. ESPN showed a graphic of other notable players who had microfracture surgery and about half of them never really returned to the level they were at before surgery. Talented players like Terrell Brandon, Kerry Kittles, Anfernee Hardaway all had their promising careers derailed by the same surgery Stoudemire had. However, that Stoudemire is so young has to work in his favor and in some perverse way, I can almost see this making him a better basketball player. In the first half of the game against the Clips tonight, he dominated and he only tried to dunk once (which he missed). While he works to get his knee back to pre-surgery, I suspect he will learn lots of the veteran tricks of the trade and he will have to rely on skills over athleticism. It's a transition most players go through - you saw it with people like Dr. J and Jordan, and you can already see a hint of it with LeBron. Anyway, Amare looks strong so far and I hope he keeps it up and stays healthy.
  2. Is the new ball messing with free throws? Lebron already started his free throw line slide last season but he started the 2006-2007 campaign an unimpressive 2-6 from the stripe. Solid free throw shooter Rip Hamilton was 4-6 before finishing 9-12. Career 79% shooter Paul Pierce was 7-15. U-G-L-Y.
  3. Meanwhile, all stop and bow to free throw guru Don Nelson. By announcing that playing time would be given out based on who could hit free throws, 67% career shooter Baron Davis shot nearly 90% in the preseason and is 6-8 from the line through three quarters tonight.
  4. If my jumpshot looked as ugly and bricked as hard as Shawn Marion's, I would hide it from the public. Marion is an outstanding player and his three point shooting percentage is respectable but he is 10 times the threat inside 18 feet than he is outside it - not to mention the fact that in Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, James Jones - not to mention the Polish Rifle, Eric Piatkowski - the Suns have a couple guys who can shoot it from deep.
  5. Despite stealing the font from the previous generation of Houston Rockets uniforms, the Milwaukee Bucks new unis look pretty sweet . . . even on human chihuahua Charlie Villenueva.
  6. Apparently there is no one that can stop Lakers Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum . . . except Kobe. I can't wait to see how that blows up when the Black Mamba returns (although I'm sure Kobe scoring 40 over and over again will be part of the plot).
  7. Shockingly, the Bulls run at 82-0 was ended. During game two. Against Orlando. I still think the Bulls are a high-energy, deep team but perhaps all the breathlessness after their squashing of the defending champs on opening night was a little premature. I still think they are a very good team but they have no go-to guy which will hurt them down the road. This is probably the time when they should go get The Big Ticket - when they can trade three young talents and not even miss them.
  8. Rookies are making a strong showing. Tyrus Thomas sat out tonight's game after breaking his nose in a solid debut last night and teammate Thabo Sefolosha is averaging 12 ppg in his first two games. Adam Morrison scored 14 in 32 minutes off the bench - and didn't cry (at least not while I was watching). Laptop thief Marcus Williams had 7 points, 8 boards and 8 dimes for the Nets. Rudy Gay scored 21 and grabbed 8 rebounds off the bench - not that there's anything wrong with that - and the infamous Renaldo Balkman had 4 boards in 8 minutes. Brandon Roy scored 20 as a starter for the Blazers.
This just in . . . neither Stephen Jackson or Sebastian Telfair shot anyone (or had anyone shot) last night. As far as I know.

Why I Love Football

I love football. But not the football you're probably thinking of. I love the football that millions of people around the world love. My "world champions" aren't from a 32-team field watched by 130 million people, but from a 32-team field of athletes representing their country. How many viewers? Close to 30 BILLION.

Why am I willing to wake up as early as 7 am on a Saturday morning to watch a match halfway around the world? Sure, soccer players are just as nuts as NFL players. Wayne Rooney is a perfect example. Roo-naldo is about half an ear less crazy than Mike Tyson.

But, psychoses aside, soccer is 90 minutes of adrenaline-filled action. It's not 1st down.. pause... 2nd down... pause... 3rd down... etc. It's constant go-go-go. It's not AFC vs. NFC. It's the Premiership, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and on and on.

Developmental leagues are way beyond minor league affiliates. In the European leagues, the teams in last place get demoted. The teams who finish first in the next level down move up to the big time. Players have to play as a team, otherwise the whole team is penalized. It's not every man for himself.

And the goals... oh... the goals. There's nothing more spectacular than a Rooney half-volley from outside the keeper's box. (ignore the music, someone got a little excited about you-tubin' it) Even the most mundane game has moments of brilliance that keep you on the edge of your seat.

But what truly makes soccer great? The fans! Sure, Oakland has their crazy silver and black bunch who get dressed up and yell and scream. But, do they chant little ditties like:
You are my Solskjaer, (read sol-scar)
My Ole Solskjaer,
You make me happy,
When skies are grey,
And Alan Shearer, Was f*cking dearer,
So Please don't take, My Solskjaer, Away.....

Sing that one to the tune of You Are My Sunshine. Classic. Here's one when Manchester United plays their crosstown rivals, Man City:

If I had the wings of a sparrow,
If I had the arse of a crow,
I'd fly over Maine Road tomorrow,
And shit on the bastards below, below,
Shit on, shit on,
Shit on the bastards below, below,
Shit on, shit on,
Shit on the bastards below.

You're the shit of Manchester,

You're the shit of Manchester.

Quality.

Admittedly, I am a Manchester United fan - for the unschooled, it's like being a Yankees fan. But, as with just about every true soccer fan around the world, I appreciate the joga bonita from every team in every country. It's a uniting factor in so many cultures, something for people to relate to - what could possibly be wrong with that?

For a little extra enjoyment, watch this. Make sure you wait for the music.

Ever Wonder Why Teams/Leagues Struggle?

I think it's because, for the most part, the people who own them are freakin' morons. I've jumped on Steinbrenner before - perhaps even unfairly singling him out. The latest entry in the growing list of moronic owners is the Minnesota Timberwolves' Glen Taylor. He gave an interview to Britt Robson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, brilliantly summarized by TrueHoop (so you can skip right to the extra dumb parts).

As I read Taylor's comments I'm struck by one thought . . . Oh. My. God. Shut the hell up! One often overlooked epidemic of modern day sports is that people seem to get into ownership because they are fans and they are attracted to the status and/or the idea of playing fantasy basketball/football/baseball on the highest level. It is increasingly rare to see ownership that is focused on the things a business person should be focused on - building an organization with value, finding better ways to serves your customers, and ultimately, increasing the bottom line (or at least the value of your operation). Some owners win. Some owners increase the bottom line. But the number who do it without mucking around in the personnel side of the business is staggering.

The examples are many and the results are frequently bad: The Atlanta Hawks ownership's civil war, Taylor's under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith, and of course, Steinbrenner (post your favorite George meddling job in the comments . . . Irabu? Contreras?). Daniel Snyder. Mark Cuban. Along with Steinbrenner, both have increased the value of their respective franchises exponentially but you could still argue that inserting themselves in personnel matters has cost their teams on their fields/courts of play.

If I were Kevin McHale, especially because I apparently didn't want this job in the first place and would prefer to drag my knuckles on the forest floor while hunting, I would quit over this. Who likes it when their boss questions - or maybe exposes - their work ethic? Or makes vague comments that could lead someone to believe that you molested male model and part time basketball player Wally Szczerbiak? Or read about how he sold a former employee (Flip Saunders in this case) down the river? Run Kevin! Run!

I'm rambling. All I'm trying to say is this . . . like any other business, if the owner/CEO can find the right people and let them do their jobs, they will be successful. Trying to do everyone else's job, as proven time and time again - in sports and in the rest of the business world - does not work. Period.

10.30.2006

Kentucky Kid wins World Championship

Nicky Hayden won the 2006 MotoGP World Championship yesterday. For those of you that follow ball sports instead of motor sports, allow me to fill you in. MotoGP is the top class of motorcycle racing in the world. In most civilized countries motorcycle racing is as popular as say, nacho cheese is here in the U.S.; so winning the championship is a big deal.

The championship came down to the final race yesterday in Valencia; Nicky led the championship points most of the season. His opposition, 7 time world champion Valentino Rossi had a number of mechanical problems and general bad luck that conspired to put him 50 points behind in the championship mid-season. Rossi fought back in the second half - two weeks ago in Portugal he was a mere 12 points behind Nicky.

What happened next absolutely stunned the motorcycle community. Nicky's own teammate - Spanish rider and former 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa T-Boned Nicky just a few laps into the race at Portugal, taking them both out of the race and erasing the 12 point lead for his teammate. Rossi pushed on to take second at Portugal, beat by literally inches by normally mid-pack Toni Elias. Which left Rossi 8 points ahead going into the final race at Valencia.

The stage was set for an epic battle, Nick had to finish several places ahead of Valentino to make up the 8 point deficit and win the championship. The record crowd at Valencia watched as Rossi and Hayden rubbed elbows at the start. Nick got an excellent start and worked his way to 2nd by lap 4, when Valentino uncharacteristically crashed out of 7th place. Rossi rejoined the race in 20th (last) place and fought his way back up to 13th. Meanwhile Nick stuck himself in 3rd place; fans held their breath for the remaining laps. Cameras showed both of Nicks parents with their fingers crossed for the last few laps. In the end, Nick finished 3rd and won the championship by a slim 5 points.

So mighty congratulations to the Kentucky Kid from Owensboro. Great job Nick!

For more information see Superbike Planet or Motorcycle Daily, and hey, why not watch the MotoGP championship next year?