Saturday, June 09, 2007

I'm Over at Deadspin Today

I'm guest-blogging over at Deadspin today. (What?! Each story gets its OWN post? How will I manage THAT?)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday 06/08 A.M. Quickie:
LeBron Gets Schooled, Schilling 1-Hits, More

Dan @ Deadspin this weekend: I'll be guest-blogging at Deadspin this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Tips welcome (via my email to the right), and if you're a Deadspin Commenter, be gentle.

NBA Finals: Spurs shut down LeBron. You know what? I'm being too kind to him. He got schooled. He got served. He got roasted.

Guess what? Even LeBron can't save these NBA Finals, which rested on his individual brilliance countering the Spurs' superior team.

But the Spurs stifled LeBron: If the 48-point game against the Pistons was LeBron's career apex (and the highlight of this NBA Playoffs season), then this 14-point brutality was his career's nadir (as well as that of the playoffs, given the outsized expectations for last night's matchup).

The ugliness: 4 of 16 FG shooting. 6 turnovers. And a 9-point loss to the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 1.

The Spurs put on a defensive clinic – and showed that LeBron (or, more accurately, the Cavs as a whole) ain't ready for the Finals.

Maybe it was first-game jitters. But, more likely, it was foreshadowing. LeBron won't have a game that bad again. He's too brilliant not to make adjustments.

But he looked overmatched last night.

UPDATE: Kissing Suzy Kolber has their new commenter draft up, picking graduation speakers you wish you had. It reminded me of my own high school graduation speaker... Anthony Dilweg. He was an alum of my high school and, at the time of my graduation, hanging on with the Packers, coming off the 1990 season when played 9 games, had 8 TDs and 1,200 passing yards. (h/t: Wikipedia) Worst. Graduation Speaker. Ever. (But nice topic, KSK.)

Vick Watch: I keep saying, "Oh, NOW Vick is in trouble," and the story keeps finding ways of getting worse and worse for him. This is the worst moment yet: The Feds are getting involved, including a search of Vick's property yesterday. Yikes (for him).

MLB Stud: Curt Schilling. Can't wait for the blog post about his coming within one out of a no-hitter (he finished with a one-hitter).

MLB Dud: Billy Wagner, Jose Valverde, Dan Wheeler. All three closers blew saves.

MLB Draft: I said it yesterday: David Price is the Devil Rays (or whatever their future name is) version of the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis. A future "Face of Baseball."

Price led the theme of the first round: Left-handed pitching. 7 of the first 30 players taken were leftys, and – unsurprisingly – 17 of the first-round picks were pitchers.

(Interesting trivia: The last college LHP to be the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft? Floyd Bannister, back in 1976.)

Clemens Watch: He pitches tomorrow. Expect over-hype.

MLB Steroids: George Mitchell and the MLBPA are negotiating terms that would allow players to interview (or "interview") with Mitchell's investigators. Mitchell has to be content with not getting unfettered access; the MLBPA has to be seen as not being obstructionist.

NBA: Magic officially hire Stan Van Gundy. Orlando had to give the Heat a second-round pick this year, plus the option to swap first-round picks next year (if Orlando isn't in the Lottery).

Donovan Watch: Billy D. finally got that new contract from Florida. Bet both sides wish it happened a week ago. He'll be the highest-paid coach in college basketball...

...and higher-paid than his football counterpart, Urban Meyer, who also got a new six-year deal, worth $3-plus mil a year and makes him the third-highest-paid coach in college football, behind Nick Saban and Charlie Weis.

This won't surprise you: Meyer and Donovan combine to become the highest-paid pair of football-basketball coaches in the country. But sitting on all those titles, is there any doubt they deserve to be?

NFL "Get-Tough": The complaint against the Bengals' Odell Thurman has been withdrawn. Roger Goodell gets to move on to other things.

NBA Rules: There has been no proposal to change the "bench rule," which means that – despite the outrage from the media – the people for whom the NBA matters most (owners/execs) don't want to see it changed.

Belmont: I'm backing the filly, Rags to Riches.

Video Gaming: So Gilbert Arenas' team (Final Boss) is the top-ranked squad at the massive gaming competition happening in the NYC area today. Should I go out to find him?

Hmm: Unusually slow day for a Friday. Given my special guest-blogging this weekend, I hope things pick up a bit for tomorrow and Sunday.

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

2007 NBA Finals Picks: My Cautionary Tale

Before I get to my NBA Finals prediction (and ask you for yours), I want to tell a not-unrelated story...

I associate the NBA Finals with what, quite possibly, was one of the worst predictions in the history of sports-TV punditry.

In 2004, I enjoyed a brief yet brilliant career on Around The Horn. Some of you might even remember when I was on the show. (Yes, I still plan to put my highlight reel -- um, "highlight" reel -- on YouTube at some point, which will be tons of amusement for everyone.)

On one of my appearances (06/02/04 episode) the topic on the table was "Who will win the NBA Finals?" Pretty standard sports-TV debate fodder: Lakers or Pistons, and in how many games?

Let me pull back the curtain a smidgen: In the pre-production meeting, we went "around" the panelist group to determine everyone's angle on that topic (and all of the others) for the show.

As the rookie, everyone declared their take before me. Like a nightmare fantasy draft, I watched all the "good" picks get taken:

Lakers in 7... Lakers in 6... Lakers in 5...

I knew I couldn't "repeat" a pick, because that would make for bad TV. I certainly couldn't ask one of the other panelists to give up their pick so that I could use it. And, like all of my esteemed "expert" colleagues, I wasn't about to stupidly say the Pistons would win. So, instead, I blurted:

"Lakers in 4."

It felt like I was outside my body, watching some idiot. Did I really believe that? Or did I just SAY I believed it? Was I making the bold claim simply to... make the bold claim? I'm sure you are shocked that sports-TV pundits might say wild things just for the sake of their wildness.

(Believe it or not, in the Quickie, I sincerely tried only to post opinions that I actually believed in -- or COULD believe in, given the half-baked nature of most of my arguments -- not just for the sake of saying something provocative. Being on TV turned me into my Mr. Hyde.)

And so through the rest of the morning, I worked out my argument, right up until the show taping. I got on the air and proclaimed it, not quite faking confidence -- but not quite exuding it. (Believe me: I was doing enough schvitzing as it was.)

In writing this post, I sincerely intended to go back to the tape and transcribe my argument, but I simply can't bring myself to watch it. I don't have THAT much self-loathing.

Anyway, I defended "Lakers sweep." I figured: If nothing else, it was bold. And isn't that what they're looking for to make "good" TV?

Again, in hindsight, I'm not quite sure why I didn't think it was provocative enough simply to pick the Pistons when everyone else was picking the Lakers.

Believe it or not, I maintained the sincere belief that there was a better chance of the Lakers sweeping than the Pistons winning at all. After all, none of the other panelists gave the Pistons a chance, either.

And so, even as I bankrupted my soul to say something I didn't believe (sweep) for the sake of my interpretation of "good" TV, I still maintained the kernel of integrity to want to get the overall pick right (Lakers).

I'd like to think that sports' governing karmic forces were tracking my muddled morality and decided to screw me as substantially as possible:

Not only did the Lakers not sweep, they didn't even win the series. Hell, they barely came away with a single win in a shocking 4-1 shellacking at the hands of your 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons.

In hindsight, the smart play would have been to pick the Pistons AT ALL. Given the other panelists' predictions for L.A., I could have claimed the Pistons in 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 -- with a perfectly legit argument to be made. Hell, I could have taken ALL those choices. Instead, I took the scraps I was offered.

I wanted to be good on TV. I wanted to be right.

It turns out those two things aren't necessarily compatible.

From "Lakers in 4" surreality to Pistons-in-5 reality, I can say without hyperbole that it ranks right up there in the history of sports punditry as one of the...

Worst. Predictions. Ever.

(Comment Question: Do any of you remember making an outrageously bad prediction? What was it and why do you still remember it?)

Meanwhile, have I learned anything? Well, with all 8 possible Finals outcomes to choose from and without the likes of Woody Paige or Jay Mariotti or Bill Plaschke boxing me in, here's where I come down on the 2007 NBA Finals:

Spurs in 5.

I waffle back and forth on how I feel about LeBron, I would like to see him lead the Cavs to a title in this Finals. But this Cavs team isn't constructed like that type of "shock the world" 2004 Pistons team. These Cavs are more like that 2001 Sixers team: One brilliant player surrounded by mediocrity, on a wonderful run together.

And, in the same way that Sixers team had no answer for Shaq, this Cavs team has no answer for Tim Duncan.

The NBA's "LeBron Era" must wait; the NBA's "Duncan Dynasty" continues: Spurs in 5.

Feel free to add in your own NBA Finals prediction in the Comments.

-- D.S.

Thursday 06/07 A.M. Quickie:
LeBron, Ducks, MLB Draft, Donovan, Van Gundy, More!

NBA Finals begin tonight: Spurs vs. Cavs. Steak vs. sizzle. Duncan vs. LeBron. Dynasty vs. Witness.

If nothing else, pitting the Team of the Decade against the Player of the Present adds much-needed drama to an otherwise flat NBA season.

That is, right up until the Spurs wipe the floor with the Cavs.

(Wait: Is THAT my prediction? You're going to have to wait. I have put together a stand-alone post/confessional dedicated to the NBA Finals, going up later this morning.)

Meanwhile, as always, I strongly recommend you check out the Basketball Jones' NBA Finals preview podcast. Tas and Skeets raised their game.

Stanley Cup: Quack! The Ducks didn't just win, but they won the best trophy in sports, a claim that – despite any other flaws in the NHL – the league can still point to with pride as an advantage they have over any other sport.

Anyway, I saw the stat that they are the first West Coast team to win a Stanley Cup since the mid-1920s. That's crazy, but I suppose it makes sense.

Hockey took a lot of lumps this season -- when it wasn't being mocked, it was being ignored (which is much worse).

But for Ducks fans, there can't be anything sweeter than that first Cup title. Enjoy it, and... Quack! (Wait: Do fans still do that?)

MLB Draft: I am excited about the MLB Draft for the first time ever, entirely because of the novel twist of the draft being held on ESPN for the first time ever. Who is MLB's Mel Kiper? How interesting can a draft be when you have no idea who the players are -- or when they might be improving their team at the MLB level?

THE player to watch: David Price, the Vanderbilt superstar starting pitcher, who will likely be the No. 1 overall pick, going to the Devil Rays, who are desperate for a face for the franchise (beyond Delmon Young and the fact they play some games at DisneyWorld). Price is that guy. I think he could be the next Dontrelle Willis – and I don't say that because they're both black starting pitchers; I say he's the next Dontrelle Willis because he has Willis-like potential to be a "Face of Baseball"-level talent, combining performance with likeability.

Given the novelty of the TV broadcast, I have high hopes for quality live-blogging. Here's one I've been told about from Rumors and Rants.

More likely, given the high volume of team-specific MLB blogs, the draft will be live-blogged best on a team-by-team basis. (For example: Travis Liles on the Red Sox draft.) Let me know if you'll be live-blogging your team's choices, and I'll try to update the link list. (Rockies.)

Billy Donovan back to Florida: FINALLY, he has been let out of contract, and he'll be returning to Florida today. What does Donovan return to? A slightly tarnished reputation, but ultimately a happier and more comfortable fit than in the NBA.

Now Billy D. can get down to the business of rebuilding his two-time champion team with the top-ranked incoming recruiting class (loaded with perimeter players) and one of the best young centers in college basketball (Marreese Speights). For Florida fans: All's well that ends well.

Magic hire Stan Van Gundy: The Magic moved (relatively) decisively to find Donovan's replacement, the hard-luck Stan Van Gundy, who was so unceremoniously dumped by mentor Pat Riley when Riley figured out he could feed his ego with an NBA Finals run last season. Van Gundy enjoys the same advantages that Billy Donovan would have: Namely, Dwight Howard, the best young post player in the East. Not a bad foundation to build a winner.

MLB Steroids and Jason Giambi: This has taken a wild turn. Giambi's choice (or Selig's threat): Cooperate with George Mitchell's "investigation" and get less of a punishment.

The other interpretation, of course, is: Talk with Mitchell or get MORE of a punishment.

The point is: Giambi's participation (or not) sounds directly tied to how MLB will punish him. (Coercive? Um... yes.)

So Giambi is put in the awkward position of either saving himself or ratting out his peers. It's not an easy choice: What would you do in Giambi's position?

(Here's a funny related link, about the ironic message on the back of an old Giambi baseball card.)

Wie Watch: Did Michelle have a meltdown earlier this week while playing in a pro-am? I refuse to criticize her for withdrawing from that tournament last week, even if she lied about injury, to avoid being banned from future LPGA events this year. But all signs point to her being the next Jennifer Capriati. That's too bad.

Daunte Culpepper says he's on the way out: I'd want to be traded, too. If he's healthy, he would be an amazing addition for half the teams in the NFL. Of course, that's the biggest "if" in the world.

More MLB Steroids: Ozzie Guillen says MLB is targeting Latino players in its steroid investigation. Is MLB just following the trail or intentionally picking on specific minority targets? I suspect a little of both, actually.

Vick Watch: Witnesses apparently say Vick attended the dog-fights. The mountain of evidence (admittedly circumstantial) continues to grow.

NBA Moves: As expected, the Sonics hired Spurs wunderkind Sam Presti to be their new GM. Presti was assistant GM of the Spurs – and is only 30. I said this earlier this week: Great development for the NBA to find younger execs (like MLB has). And I'm SO jealous of him.

Another thing about Presti: He's in an amazing position, because with the No. 2 pick in the draft, he takes whoever the Blazers DON'T take. It's a no-lose position.

Advertising: Have you seen the new LeBron TV ad? I like the simplicity, because that dunk against the Pistons during his 48-point outburst was the signature moment of LeBron's career.

Hot Blogger Bracket update: Thanks to those who have voted already. Have you? This thing has vaulted the Ladies... into rockstar status. (Update: My competition, the 22-seed Five Tool Tool, has gone negative. I appreciate that kind of effort.)

WCWS: Arizona wins! Wilcats hottie pitcher's sister reveals herself as not the best sport, when talking about Tennessee.

Media: The Big Picture continues his string of amazing interviews with sports bloggers with NBA-blogging standard-bearer Bethlehem Shoals.

United Football League: I'm a few days late to point this brilliant post out, but KSK put together a list of possible UFL franchise names – and it reads like John Hodgman's utterly amazing list of Hobo Names. (What: You haven't read "Areas of My Expertise?" For shame.)

Sports-blog navel-gazing: The most fascinating rankings of the year are Ballhype's constantly updating, quantitatively-driven, obsessively checked Blog Rankings, the Technorati of sports-blogging.

The fastest riser? The Ladies... who, in a half-day, jumped from No. 22 to No. 7 on the strength of their Hot Blogger Bracket initiative, perhaps the greatest marketing play in the short history of the sports blogosphere.

(Fanhouse impresario Jamie "Mr. Irrelevant" Mottram came out with his own Top 10, more qualitative than Ballhype's rankings. I didn't make it, but in a friendly inquiry to Mottram, he indulged me by telling me I just missed the cut. We previously produced a Top 20 list together.)

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wednesday 06/06 A.M. Quickie:
Hot Bloggers, Trent, Billy, Stan, LeBron, More

First things first: Hot Blogger Bracket revealed! The amazing women over at Ladies... have done the "Selection Show" for their "Hot Blogger Bracket" and I have pulled a No. 1 seed, in the Mid-Atlantic Conference. It's a very tough field, to say the least. Vote!

More on the Hot Blogger Bracket at the end of this post. Meanwhile, all the big drama of the day appears to be out of Florida...

Down in Miami, it looks like they're going to get their QB: The deal with the Chiefs for Trent Green is on, as expected for months. Green gives the Dolphins clarity at the position that Daunte Culpepper was supposed to own. Now, it looks like Culpepper will be out. (Where will he end up: Falcons? Patriots? Look for teams that want a fragile ex-All Pro who won't like being a backup.) Cleo Lemon will remain Miami's tantalizing "backup with promise as QB of the future."

(As for the Chiefs, does this signal the beginning of the Brodie Croyle Era?)

In Orlando, pity the Magic: They make the splashiest coaching hire of the year, then the coach wants to back out. They target a replacement, and not only is he part of the uninspiring NBA Coaches Recycling Program, but it may cost them even more than his salary.

All signs point to the Magic hiring Stan Van Gundy. The only problem? He's under contract as a consultant to the Heat, and for hiring away the guy Pat Riley so unceremoniously fired two seasons ago, Riley apparently wants compensation from Orlando.

Billy Donovan jerking them around on one end. Pat Riley jerking them around on the other. Geez: The Magic can't catch a break in this, can they?

In Gainesville, is the Billy Donovan Saga nearly over? I think this break-up happens today, finally. The final detail? The agreement that Billy won't work in the NBA for at least five years (the term of his Magic deal).

It was a totally reasonable request, and I'm not sure why he didn't agree to it immediately and get back to the business of being Florida's coach.

If he's committed to the Gators, why would he care about some embargo on his NBA coaching career? This whole mess was supposed to affirm his fealty to Florida and college hoops, right? (Right?!?!)

(Related: Billy D is in NYC tomorrow night for a banquet. Dan from ArmchairGM will be there. Want to suggest a question for him to ask Billy? Use this link.)

NBA Finals: Charlie Pierce swoops in at Slate with a piece comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan. (And if you're wondering whether he digs into the Darfur thing, he does.)

But I presume Pierce's column was filed too late to weigh in on the complex "Birth vs. Playing Time" debate, which is happening over at Varsity Dad (with an assist from Free Darko).

Meanwhile, David Aldridge goes the other way: He argues that LeBron ain't MJ and these Cavs DEFINITELY ain't the Bulls. I sort of think Aldridge is having an argument with no one: I don't hear anyone comparing these Cavs to those Bulls title teams.

I do hear people comparing LeBron to Jordan, but not for playing style or even getting to the Finals, but for his role as the league's No. 1 most marketable star. By that metric, the comparison is apt.

UPDATE: Newest LeBron TV ad released on YouTube. See it here. (h/t: Fanhouse, with the first link to it!)

MLB Stud: Randy Johnson. His 8 Ks puts him ahead of Roger Clemens into second place on the all-time strikeout list. The back-and-forth between the two 40-something Hall of Famers could be one of the most entertaining competitions of the season.

MLB Future Stud: Looks like Reds phenom Homer Bailey will get his first MLB start on Friday night.

MLB Future Future Stud: With Vandy's MLB-ready starting pitcher David Price sizing up as the top overall pick of the 2007 MLB Draft (tomorrow – on TV!) by the Devil Rays, the question is: Can you acquire him now for my fantasy roster? I think he'll be pitching at the MLB level soon. (If you're in a keeper league, when does he get eligible for pickup?)

MiLB: After the "raging manager" idiocy, it's nice to find some genuine minor-league quirkiness. The Red Sox Class A Lowell Spinners bought the first base from the infamous A-Rod "slap" during the 2004 ALCS. They just went to a memorabilia merchant and got it. And now it's a nice little attraction at their field.

(How to use it? Personally, I'd debut it by letting fans compete to see who can do the funniest recreation of the "slap" incident, putting all the videos on YouTube for the world to vote on.)

More minor league baseball genius: The Long Beach Armada of the indie Golden Baseball League officially changed its name to... (deep breath):

Long Beach Armada of Los Angeles of California of the United States of North America Including Barrow, Alaska.

Yes, that's the team's official name. (The abbreviation? LBALACUSNAIBA) It's the longest team name in the world. The cost of upgrading the letterhead alone should create a financial hit. On the team's Web site, I don't see a redesigned logo incorporating the new name. Look, guys: I'm all for innovative marketing, but if you're going all-in, go all-freaking-in.

NFL/Vick Watch: Clinton Portis reiterates that his pro-Vick comments were bone-headed. Can we all just give the guy a break now and continue to focus our mockery on Vick himself?

NFL Concussions: Even if Troy Aikman has had migraine headaches since childhood, his insistence that they had nothing to do with his many concussions suffered in the NFL undercuts the effort to make this a bigger issue. I don't know why he would go public with his denials.

NFL "Get-Tough" Policy: Watch for a harsh penalty against Odell Thurman of the, yes, Bengals. He was accused of assault over the weekend. He's already served a suspension for the first four games of the '06 season.

NBA Draft: I really really REALLY wish people would stop wondering why college big men can't do as many bench-press reps at 185 pounds as the small guys. It's basic physics: The big men have further to push. Combine that with a teen age and the immature weight-training regimen of most college programs and you get Kevin Durant's zero reps.

(Related: Please keep in mind that Monta Ellis, coming out of high school, was rated the least athletic player in his draft class. Now look at him. Things change, friends: Both with age and NBA experience.)

I will say this: When you get the case of a long player who puts up a lot of 185 reps, THAT is worth noting. Long (6-foot-7), lanky (185 lbs) Corey Brewer put up 11 reps at 185, and he's a rail. Wow. (I was surprised that Corey was "only" 6-7, with "only" a 6-8 wingspan. How is he so freakishly good on defense?)

Here's's very helpful measurements database. (Just toying around with it, I noticed that Mike Conley was only 5-11, but with a 40-inch vertical, second-best in the draft class. Oh, and Josh McRoberts has the second-highest body-fat, making him a top prospect to be the next Hot Plate Williams.)

TV Ratings: Even as ratings slip for the major sports, the Red Sox-Yankees game on Sunday night set a new record for the most-watched Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN.

Olympics Logo Mayhem: You all saw the London 2012 logo yesterday. We all agree: It sucks. I think they'll end up changing it, which would be an Olympic-sized embarrassment for London. But it's just that bad.

Belmont: I'm backing the lone filly in the bunch, Rags to Riches. (I'm doin' it for the laiiii-dieeees!)

Fandom: Readers of this blog know all about the intrinsic relationship I created between my wife and my rooting interest. Jon Pyle from Pyle of List has his own story to tell about the intersection of marriage and fandom.

Extreme Sports: Just in time for the premiere of "John From Cincinnati" next week (from the #$@#$-ing creator of "Deadwood"), which is going to put surfing on the pop-culture radar, be sure to check out the Ultimate Surfing Encyclopedia, if that's your thing.

Varsity Letters Reading Series: Tonight! If you're in NYC, I highly recommend you go. Cheer Rick Reilly. Or jeer him, if that's your thing. It's at 8 p.m. at Happy Ending (Broome/Forsythe). And it's FREE. There's an amazing dumpling house around the corner, too.

Speaking of food, this will apply to maybe a few of you, if any, but one of the great pizza places in NYC was closed down for health-code violations. Well, many of them. But the pizza was insanely good. DiFara's will be missed. If you never went, you missed out.

-- D.S.


This Hot Blogger Bracket concept is genius, and it's going to dominate the sports blogosphere. It's awesomeness cannot be overstated (and I'd say that no matter where I was seeded).

So here's the challenge: Vote. (Yes, for me! Shamelessness is the new hotness. That's my campaign slogan, apparently. Sure, I feel nominally bad about asking -- read: pandering -- for your vote, but it would be hilarious to go far in this tournament.) Here's the link to vote for my region. My matchup is right at the top, for your convenience.

Let me be clear: Enjoy this for the superficial fun that it is. It in no way implies anything about your own sexuality to vote for (mostly male) hot bloggers. (All together now, because it must be said: Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Here are the links for the other regions: the NL West region, the Campbell Conference region and the AFC North region. (Here's a main page for all the regions.) I'll come out with my picks later today or tomorrow. This is going to be hilariously fun.

(Update: Some contenders are already campaigning... and going negative, no less. It's in my region, no less, with 16-seed Extrapolator firing a shot at 7-seed Monday Morning Punder of Kissing Suzy Kolber. Yeah, there are 22 names in each region. It's THAT epic.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tuesday 06/05 A.M. Quickie:
Billy D, Bill France, Phil Wellman, More

There is so much to talk about today. It's loaded. If you don't want to hear more about Billy Donovan, I totally appreciate that. Just scroll down the page a little bit to get past it and move on to "A.B.B.D." ("Anything But Billy D.")

Billy Donovan Saga, Cont'd
: I say this about marriage all the time:

It's more publicly painful, but you're better off breaking up the day before the wedding than the day after the wedding.

In Donovan's case, he is better off quitting the day after the contract is signed than, say, a year later, which would screw over his new team AND his old team.

Billy D's rep HAS taken a hit. But it's temporary. How temporary? It will last until next year's recruiting results are announced. Or when he wins his next title, whichever comes first.

I always like to consider the following question of any name in the news: Will this incident be in the first paragraph of the person's obituary?

In Donovan's case, I think nothing but an "O.J. moment" can dislodge "won back-to-back national titles" as the top highlight of his career, particularly if he racks up a few more titles before his career ends (or his obit is written).

However, given the magnitude of this flip-flop, I could easily see this making the second or third paragraph, the less-than-positive "And yet..." details that accompany most major figures.

Career-defining? No. Permanent scar? Yes.

The latest is that the Magic want Billy to break the contract; they won't do him any favors. Actually, they are still trying to convince him to keep the job. He won't, but this might drag out a few more days than expected. (via Orlando Sentinel)

Also: I have no problem with a settlement deal-point that Billy not be allowed to accept any NBA coaching offers for five years. After all: Isn't he returning to Florida because he wants to be a college-coaching lifer? If this was his "dream" NBA job and even this wasn't enough to land him, what NBA job would?


R.I.P.: Bill France, the impresario behind NASCAR. You can have Lamar Hunt (NFL), Red Auerbach (NBA), Branch Rickey (MLB) or anyone else. For my money, the single most influential sports executive of all time – relative to his power over a single dedicated sport – is France. Consider where NASCAR was even 10 years ago (let alone 20-plus), then now. Wow.

(In honor of Bill France, a little rare mid-week NASCAR note: Congrats to Martin Truex, who earned his first-ever NASCAR victory, winning the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover. The second-year driver races for DEI, which is desperate for new stars now that "DE" Junior is leaving the team.)

MLB Stud: Mark Ellis, who hit for the cycle (in extra innings!) in a win against the Red Sox, apparently the first time a player has hit for the cycle against Boston since 1978.

MLB Dud: Lou Piniella, who was suspended for four games for his weekend tirade. "I will serve it and I will learn from the experience," he said. If "learn from the experience" means: "I now have even MORE effective techniques to kick dirt with my feet."

College World Series (Men's): Vandy shocked and ousted! The No. 1-seeded Commodores lost to Michigan in a CWS regional final, ending the hopes that this dream season would end with a national title. Forget the national title: How about just a trip to Omaha? (Don't cry too much for Vandy ace David Price; he'll be one of the first picks of the MLB Draft on Thursday. More on the draft -- making its national-TV debut on ESPN -- later this week.)

NFL: Tank Johnson suspended 8 games. Give Roger Goodell credit for consistency. (And even leniency: Johnson can have his suspension reduced by 2 games – to 6 total – for "good behavior." Carrot AND stick...)

NFL: Brady Quinn holding out? Interesting item on Pro Football Talk from the inimitable and indefatigable Michael David Smith about the prospects of Brady Quinn being a Browns holdout, which would be an even WORSE decision than his decision to be part of the NFL Draft green room. He has mountains of goodwill from Cleveland fans right now. Why ruin it over a few bucks?

NFL Good News: Given that all we seem to hear about is bad news from the NFL, it's nice to have something good to talk about for a change. The Texans gave RB Samkon Gado some time off from practice to finish up an MCAT prep course. A player with "do-good" aspirations and a team willing to look beyond their own short-term priorities? How refreshing.

NBA Draft: Kevin Durant couldn't bench-press 185 pounds once at the pre-draft physical? That doesn't surprise me. His wingspan is, like, 7-foot-5? Even a quick glance at him shows he's probably never lifted weights in his life.

(I am surprised, however, that he wouldn't have been in some kind of aggressive strength program between the end of the college season and the pre-draft physical. Attention, Durant-Slurpers: If he's a weakling, it won't matter how good he is.)

Wow, OK: Read this blog post from the Oregonian's Jason Quick, then save yourself the trouble of worrying AT ALL which player should be taken No. 1 overall in the draft. It's Oden. Oden is a bigger freak than you ever thought he was. (h/t: MDS at Fanhouse. I told you: He's indefatigable!)

NBA Finals Update (Varsity Dad mash-up!): LeBron would skip the birth of his second child if it conflicted with playing in an NBA Finals game. We're talking about it over at Varsity Dad. Feel free to drop by and weigh in.

NBA Execs: Are the Grizzlies really going to hire Boston's Chris Wallace? He's utterly uninspiring. What a lame move after making the boldest coaching move of the offseason, hiring Marc Iavaroni from the Suns to revitalize the franchise. What: Memphis can't find some wunderkind from the Suns organization to steal? (That seems to be the Sonics' plan, stealing from the Spurs. See "Bandwagon" item below.)

Kobe Watch (also filed under "Sneaker Watch"): According to Darren Rovell (who is a daily must-read), Kobe has re-signed an endorsement deal with Nike. I guess the question is: Will his new shoes include Lakers purple or another team's colors?

Vick Scandal Update: Can things get stranger? How about the fact that Vick's alleged dog-fighting house was burglarized a few weeks ago?

NHL Stanley Cup: Ducks up 3-1 after Game 4 win in Ottawa last night. I smell a movie sequel.

MiLB: Phil Wellman suspended three games. Perhaps I'm late to the party, but have you seen the YouTube video of Braves minor league manager/nutcase Phil Wellman from Friday? Everyone else has, but I was late to it until yesterday. Here's the link.

The embarrassment isn't Wellman. The embarrassment is that the umps didn't have security haul his ass of the field earlier.

I appreciate that managerial freak-outs are part of the "charm" of baseball, but one of these days, someone's going to get hurt.

The funny thing is that Bobby Cox chalks it up to a quirky buddy. And John Schuerholtz doesn't seem to mind much either. How classy.

(Seriously: How does Wellman get a three-game suspension, but Lou Piniella get a four-game suspension?)

Olympics: Have you seen the newly unveiled London 2012 logo? It's awful. And it's designed to appeal to "the young people." Well, I'm kind of a young person, and it sucks.

Politics: Today's Must-Read is Deadspin's interview with Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson. When the presidential candidates are talking with sports-bloggers, things are looking very good for us. Next up: Barack Obama taking up my challenge for a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Today's "Danwagon" Bandwagon: Sam Presti, current assistant GM for the Spurs, likely new GM for the Sonics.

Why? Because youth rules, and Presti is 30 years old, which would make him the NBA's youngest GM by 5 years. Who WOULDN'T be jealous?

(Watch for the NBA to take an MLB-like turn toward the younger execs with the fresher perspectives. That's a great thing for the league.)

Sports Memorabilia: Normally, I'm not much of a memorabilia fan, but earlier this spring, I bought something because I figured I'd never get a chance to buy something like it again. Yesterday, it finally arrived: A piece of the floor from the GeorgiaDome that Florida won the national title on. (Hey: Can I list that as a work-related expense on my taxes?)

Comment Question of the Day: Do you own any sports memorabilia? If so, what is your most prized possession?

Varsity Letters Reading Series: Tomorrow night! If you live in the New York area, I highly recommend the latest monthly installment of the Varsity Letters Reading Series, coming tomorrow night. The featured participant is Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated. The other participants are Rus Bradburd and Donald Evans. Here's a link with all the details.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday 06/04 A.M. Quickie:
Billy Donovan Returning to Florida

Billy Donovan spurns Magic and returns to Florida: I am surprised, but not shocked.

I am only surprised because you rarely see a coaching move of this magnitude (national champ college coach jumps to the NBA) get reversed the day AFTER the deal is signed. If Billy was going to turn down the job, I figured it would have happened before the contract was signed, press conferences held, etc.

But that's not how it happened.

To the Magic's credit, it sounds like they're going to let Billy go. What would be the point in making someone stay who didn't want to be there? Because his deal was signed, they have every right to financial penalties. Steep ones, frankly. They have been jilted like Granny Weatherall. (Shout out: Katherine Anne Porter and my 10th grade English teacher, brutally demanding to the point where I remember the "Jilting" story enough to cite it in a sports blog post nearly 20 years later. Who's with me? Anyone? No one?)

And to the Gators' credit, they're going to get their two-time-reigning national-champ coach back. Players will be happy. Boosters will be happy. Fans will be happy. Recruits will be happy. (Future recruits will have to decide whether they think this means Billy is REALLY committed to staying or whether rival coaches' claims that the Magic gig showcased Billy's wandering eye.)

Here's the thing about that: Billy has now turned down (a) Kentucky and (b) the closest thing to his NBA "dream job." What other jobs can possibly come up in the future that would sway him?

Especially when those jobs would have to compete with "legacy." Perhaps he read the many arguments last Friday (including mine) that reminded him that he has the rare chance to join the Mount Rushmore of college basketball: John Wooden, Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, Coach K. Talk about a "challenge": That's something you just can't walk away from easily. And, apparently, Billy couldn't.

Besides the Magic being humiliated, the news has two downsides worth noting:

(1) Billy comes across like a huge flake, even if it can be spun as "his heart was in college hoops," which is wonderful, but still. When you change your mind AFTER you sign the $27.5 million contract and hold all the press conferences, that's not just a simple mulligan to forget about. Unless he stays at Florida for the rest of his coaching career, we'll look back on this as the "his heart wasn't REALLY in it from 2008 on" moment.

(2) Presumptive successor Anthony Grant would have been an amazing coach at Florida. I'm actually a little bummed to not get a chance to see what he could have done with the program. I think that eventually he could have been equally successful as Donovan. (Yes, I'm talking multiple national titles.) I'm sure Grant will get a high-profile major-conference gig in the next two seasons, but none would be the same as coaching at Florida, where he has such a great history.

Finally: Biggest coaching flip-flop ever? Since you know I love a good superlative, I would say that this is the biggest coaching-move flip-flop in basketball history (college or NBA).

I can't quite say it's the biggest coaching flip-flop of ANY sport, because nearly a decade later, Bill Belichick's decision to go from the Jets to the Patriots (after just one day) turned out to be staggeringly monumental for NFL history. THAT is the biggest coaching flip-flop ever, though at the time, no one would have guessed it. (Note: Billy D. created his dynasty BEFORE his flip-flop; Bill B. had has AFTER his flip-flop.)


What next for the Magic? Stan Van Gundy, apparently. Doesn't have quite the same cachet as Billy D, but at this point, the Magic are probably right to stick with a coach who is sure he wants to be in the NBA. And nothing says "wants to be in the NBA" like picking from the NBA Coaching Recycling Bin.

Piniella suspended indefinitely: MLB takes a "get-tough" lesson from the NFL and NBA – and does the right thing. We all find Piniella entertaining. Some find him insufferable. But his "I'm going to go freaking nutjob insane on you" routine is so tired, he needed the same kind of time-out you'd give an infant. (Update: The Chicago Trib says he'll get 5 games.)

Yankees-Red Sox, Cont'd: New York wins the series rubber match at Fenway with an A-Rod home run off Jon Papelbon in the 9th to break a 5-5 tie. Thus ends for A-Rod one of the wildest weeks any MLB player has ever had.

MLB Stud: AL Central Awesomeness: The Tigers got a split with the division-leading Indians behind the still-unbeaten Jeremy Bonderman (5-0). Remember when the AL East was supposed to be dominant? This is why MLB is smart to not listen to knee-jerk instant-historians who call for division realignment after any single given year (cough).

MLB Dud: Ron Zook. Adding insult to injury these days at Wrigley, the Illinois football coach completely butchered "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on Saturday. (via Sports by Brooks)

Clemens Watch: Season debut expected on Saturday vs. Pirates. Strikes me as a much more favorable matchup than the White Sox tonight.

NBA Weekend: Cavs rule! As you'll see below, I see the Cavs' Eastern title as an exception to the "Ring or Bust" philosophy I normally apply to playoff success. For the same reason the Mavs' season was a complete waste with anything but a title (let alone a first-round exit), the Cavs' season is a success for exceeding expectations and breaking through to the Finals for the first time in the LeBron Era. Or any era.

NBA Stats: If you care about "plus-minus" (and you should), you should read Fanhouse's Tom Ziller on the New York Times' disastrous attempt to explain it provocatively. What a brick.

NHL: Chris Pronger out for Game 4 after Game 3 forearm. In any other sport, would a player previously suspended for an illegal and vicious hit IN THE PREVIOUS SERIES be punished as if this was a first-time offense? Where's the sense of punishment scaled for a "repeat offender?" I don't care that it's the Stanley Cup. What's the incentive for goons to lay off the (particularly) dangerous hits if they know they'll be treated, each and every time, like one-time things? (You NHL experts can school me on this.)

NASCAR: I don't know any sport that is as obliterated by bad weather as NASCAR. (Even golf.) What an Achilles' heel of the sport.

Women's College World Series (Softball): Sad to see the end of a great season by Northwestern. Tennessee vs. Arizona in the finals.

Mixed Martial Arts: Johnnie Morton made his MMA debut and got absolutely obliterated, KO'ed in 38 seconds and taken off the mat in a neck brace, then refusing to submit to drug tests afterward. When insult and injury are so intermingled that you can't even hope to untangle them, that's a bad night.

Pop Culture Watch: Sopranos. Did you catch the normally straighter-than-straight-laced Eric Mangini make a cameo appearance on The Sopranos? Nice to see him get in just under the wire. Funny: I would have figured Tony Soprano to be a Giants guy.

As the Sopranos heads into its final week of existence (new episodes, at least), it's worth asking if it's the greatest dramatic series in TV history (it's unfair to compare it to the greatest TV sit-coms ever, like Seinfeld or The Simpsons... apples and oranges).

I know a lot of people think it's the greatest TV drama of all time. I'm not going to try to disagree with you. There's only one show I'd rank ahead of it: "The Wire." (Trying to rank-order "The Sopranos" vs. "The Wire" could be one freaking hell of an awesome PhD dissertation.)

-- D.S.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday 06/03 A.M. (Very) Quickie: Cavs!

Congrats to LeBron and the Cavs, who did the improbable and surged back from an 0-2 series deficit to win four straight games to vanquish the Pistons for the NBA Eastern Conference title.

Usually, I'm a big fan of the "title or bust" mentality: That if a team doesn't win the league championship, the secondary prizes of conference or division titles is hardly notable. Except in the cases where expectations are smashed in such a distinctive way, as they have been here.

The Cavs have achieved their title. I heard one analyst questioning whether Cleveland was celebrating too soon, with a Finals meeting against the dynastic Spurs still to come. Too soon? Hardly.

LeBron is 22, and he has just carried his team to the NBA Finals, the greatest milestone yet in his brief yet brilliant career. (Watch for an avalanche of comparisons between how quickly -- and relatively easily -- LeBron dispatched Detroit out of his way as compared to Michael Jordan's Bulls.)

Obviously, an NBA title would eclipse what the Cavs have just done. But even if they don't beat the Spurs, the Cavs have advanced another step forward in the LeBron Era, the hugest step yet. The fans can -- and should -- be satisfied with where they are now. Please: Enjoy it.

Meanwhile, for the Pistons, a second straight season without a conference championship could be the final signal of the end of the team's reign. The rest of the conference has obviously caught up. Chauncey Billups is a free agent. Can a team built around Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince be a conference heavyweight?

Meanwhile, add Daniel Gibson to the short list (Deron Williams) of players in these NBA Playoffs who have vaulted their status and stock. Who had "31 points" in the office pool for the series-clinching Game 6? Considering Gibson was a second-round pick deemed fit as neither a point guard or a shooting guard, he has to make GMs reconsider their appraisals.

The biggest winner in the NBA Finals? ABC and ESPN, which gets to pit the otherwise unlikeable dynasty team of the decade against the league's most marketable individual star. That sure beats the Spurs-Pistons dud it looked like it was going to be a week ago.

-- D.S.