Saturday, July 19, 2008

Can I Still Invest In Brandon Jennings?

Fascinating article in the New York Times today about Brazilian entrepreneurs who invest in young soccer talent, then earn returns based on future earnings (mainly transfer fees).

It makes me wish that I had advanced that theory on behalf of Brandon Jennings.

Jennings should have found a couple of high-net worth investors to fund his year between high school and the NBA, in exchange for an equity stake in his all-but-certain future earnings.

The finance jocks can help me with my math here, but let's just throw some numbers on this concept: Jennings signed a deal with that Italian team for a reported $600,000.

Here's another option: I would have offered him $250,000 for a 10 percent stake of all future earnings in his first 4 years of the NBA, not including shoe deals or other endorsements (which could be big, per Rovell). That gives Jennings a sort of "post-money valuation" of $2.5 million. Not bad for a player who has yet to play a single minute of college or pro basketball.

Assuming that in his year off -- funded by my $250,000 (plus any other equity stakes he might sell off) -- he trains exclusively for the NBA and rightfully ascends to a Top 5 pick (let's say No. 5).

Now, Jennings would earn $10.5M over his first 4 years (first 3 guaranteed, 4th as an option). My $250,000 investment for my 10 percent stake would yield me roughly $1M, a tidy 4X return on my original investment.

Meanwhile, Jennings gets to keep $9M of his salary, plus all of his endorsement money PLUS any contract he signs after his first 4-year deal, which -- if he turns out to be the star I think he will be -- would be huge.

Why would Jennings sell me a stake of his equity? Because for him during this year off, perhaps that $250,000 up front as financial security -- among other things, to finance his NBA training in the U.S. -- might be more appealing to him than spending it in European exile.

If he is as good as he presumably thinks he'll be -- and that I, as the investor, think he'll be -- then it's a great deal for both of us.

(By the way, I originally thought about offering the $250K using more onerous VC-style terms, particularly given that I was willing to give up endorsement income and any income beyond the first 4 years of his NBA career: I would invest $250K not for a 10 percent stake, but a 25 percent stake, which would have yielded a 10x return on my original investment. As an intellectual exercise, I'm modest in my ROI expectations.)

If Jennings really wanted to break the mold, he wouldn't have simply just made it about skipping college to train for the NBA Draft abroad, but he would have made it a very legitimate opportunity to sell equity in his NBA future. Hmm: Maybe one of the players next year...

-- D.S.

Saturday 07/19 (Very) Quickie

Choi vaults Norman for lead at British Open: Norman is THE story there; worth tracking today...

Favre Watch: Packers prez Mark Murphy backs McCarthy and Thompson. Like he was going to side with Favre? It would be nice if the Packers management would just say, "We won't trade him. Period." Then let Favre react. Meanwhile, Favre and Thompson are supposed to be at the same banquet tonight: Awk-waaaard!

MLB Studs: CC Sabathia (CG 4-hitter, 1 ER, 10 Ks -- um, that's his 2nd straight CG W)... Garrett Anderson (HR, 5 RBI in LAA W over BOS)... Bronson Arroyo (8 IP in Reds W over Mets, snapping NYM 10-G W streak)... Why are the Cardinals in the NL playoff chase? Partly because Ryan Ludwick has 22 HR (and Rick Ankiel does, too)... Rays finally end L streak...

NBA: Jazz lock up Deron Williams. (Of course they did -- he's only the 2nd-best PG in the NBA)

NBA Summer: I think Wilson Chandler (31 pts) is going to like it in Mike D'Antoni's offense... Joey Dorsey (22 and 13) outshines Donte Greene... Jason Thompson: 20 and 10...

More NFL: New Jags WR Jerry Porter will be out for the entire preseason with a hammy injury; let's take bets now how gimpy this makes him for the regular season.

-- D.S.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Greg Norman Leads The British Open?

This would qualify as the most unlikely event of the season in sports -- and that's just him leading through 2 rounds, let alone winning the thing.

Let's not get carried away here: Even if Norman wins the British Open, it wouldn't eclipse the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. (It would eclipse Tiger winning the US Open.)

Middle-aged sportswriters and pundits freaking out over this, please consider that when Norman last won the British Open, any sports fan under the age of 25 would have no recollection.

-- D.S.

Newest Obsession: Wordle

I spent last night playing around with Wordle. I'm late to the party, but check it out. Go to "Create" and drop this url into the program, then see how even the shallowest blog post can become art:

Friday 07/18 A.M. Quickie:
Mets, Skins, Love, MMA, More

Blitzed this morning trying to get out the door. Here is the link to today's SN column. More later. -- D.S.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday 07/17 A.M. Quickie:
Slow, Favre, MLB, Love, Tiger, More

Between yesterday morning's post-ASG/Favre/Clemens storylines and this morning, very little happened. The Wednesday after the MLB All-Star Game is, regularly, among the slowest sports days of the year -- if not THE slowest.

I have written a daily sports column for five and a half years; it was never particularly lacking for material. I always looked to this day -- rather than the obvious, "big" days -- as the true test of the "daily" gimmick: Is there enough to fill a column?

You can see today's results here
. (No, I couldn't bring myself to go back and find the URLs for every preceding year from the Quickie on the day after the MLB All-Star Game.) Are there items that might not necessarily make the cut on other days? Totally. Did it still generate a good 10-15 storylines on the radar this morning? Absolutely.

It's either a good thing or a horribly bad thing that the Favre story continues to be top of the headlines, the latest being this "Vikings tamper" charge. As I write in the column, at some point, Packers fans need to have the self-respect to turn on Favre: He was openly talking with the O.C. of your rival about bolting the Pack and joining the Vikings.

Meanwhile, it will be hard for MLB's 2nd half to be much better than its 1st half; I'd be happy with the status quo being sustained through October.

And here's the story from the NBA Summer League in Vegas: Kevin Love is the real deal -- by far the best rebounder in the Summer League, and -- quite possibly -- ready to become one of the best rebounders in the NBA, immediately.

Full column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obligatory 2008 ESPY Picks

Some habits die hard...

Male Athlete: Kobe Bryant (What, no Tebow?)
UPDATE: It was Tiger, obviously.
Female Athlete: Candace Parker
Team: New York Giants
Championship Performance: Tiger at 2008 US Open
Breakthrough Athlete: Stephen Curry
Record-Breaking Performance: Barry Bonds
Upset: Giants over Pats
Moment: Softball sportsmanship
Game: Super Bowl XLII
Play: Manning-to-Tyree
Sports Movie: Not voting (Protest)
Coach: Tom Coughlin
Finish: Western Kentucky

NFL Player: Tom Brady
NBA Player: Kobe Bryant
MLB Player: A-Rod
NHL Player: Alex Ovechkin
Male College Athlete: Tim Tebow
Female College Athlete: Candace Parker

Finding a nominee list is a p.i.t.a. Submit your picks in the Comments.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 07/16 A.M. Quickie:
ASG, Clemens, Favre, Bonds, Camby, More

It truly is a remarkably grim day in sports (even in my always-perky SN column) when the headlines are dominated by the Big Three of Can't-We-Stop-Talking-About-This:

Roger Clemens: Had HGH delivered to his house, and Kirk Radomski has the receipts to prove it. Not sure why this is coming out now, but it doesn't look good for Rocket. At all.

Brett Favre: Hates Packers management and seems to think threats of attending minicamp should scare them. As long as the Packers don't blink, Favre should be scared.

Barry Bonds: As a Yankee?!?! (Here's the thing: The Yankees should totally do it. In fact, they are complete idiots if they don't do it. Like they'll be fazed by a media circus?)

See: All three are designed for maximum annoying over-coverage. This is our problem today, friends. They're all in today's Sporting News column, but subordinated to MLB:

It would have been a lot easier if the All-Star Game had ended before freaking 1:30 a.m. ET. Did you stay up for the finish? Because I sure as hell didn't. At least it wasn't a tie.

Meanwhile, in the NBA, you can mock all sorts of fan bases for having teams that have basically decided to phone it in this season -- but you have to feel for Nuggets fans.

Denver gave away Marcus Camby for the Clippers' $10 million trade exception. If it wasn't for the thrill of watching AI, this team has just given its fans nothing to bother rooting for.

I appreciate the bold move by the Clippers to shore up their post play; I'm slightly confused how Camby and Kaman will play together, but it has to be better than the alternative.

Belated congrats to the Ballhype team of Jason and Erin Gurney, who sold their site to Future US, who will take Ballhype's traffic and turn it into advertising revenue.

Ballhype is arguably the greatest start-from-scratch entrepreneurial success story of the sports-blog world. Enjoy that reported $3M purchase price, Gurneys. You've earned it.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Michael Wilbon. Dan Shanoff. Billy Packer.

Michael Wilbon. Dan Shanoff. Billy Packer. Let's go.

Start with this: Everyone is entitled to like or dislike a sports-TV analyst. That’s an inalienable right of fandom. We all have the analyst who we don’t mind as much as others. That said, there are some analysts for whom there is a near-universal dislike.

Michael Wilbon likes listening to Billy Packer; the rest of us, not so much.

Caveat: I like Michael Wilbon’s work (although I think even he would admit that his columns have changed since he started doing full-time TV work). In fact, I grew up on his Washington Post columns; I would call Wilbon’s work influential on me as a wee would-be journalist. I even followed Wilbon to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, from which we are both extremely proud alums. During my erstwhile Around the Horn career a few years ago, I even sat in Wilbon’s chair – the exhilarating symbolism of the moment wasn’t lost on me.

In fact, it was a nice little thrill for me that in his Washington Post column today, Wilbon quoted from my Sporting News column yesterday about Billy Packer. Here is the part he quoted, that Packer:
“[W]asn't just a curmudgeon; he was joyless, which made listening to him excruciating. His ouster is a great day for college hoops fans."
Wilbon disagrees with me, emphatically. Again, on matters of sports-TV taste, we can all disagree.

That said, I believe most fans agree with me. A 70-year-old called me to congratulate me on the mention – and agree with me. It probably won’t surprise you that tons of 20- and 30-something bloggers posted and readers emailed, agreeing with me, too.

In fact, when I wrote it, it hardly seemed like a controversial position. So, faced with Wilbon’s alternative argument, I did want to give him the respect of an acknowledgement and engage in an interactive response to his argument.

Strangely (or perhaps appropriately), Wilbon opens up with the litany of reasons that Packer was entirely “excrutiating” to listen to:

*Packer made implicitly and explicitly racist comments (which Wilbon fairly points out that Packer appeared to have worked on later in his career);

*Packer was an open misogynist (which Packer didn’t appear to feel the need to change and Wilbon side-stepped with all but a superficial mention);

*Packer hated Cinderella (seriously: how can you live college hoops and hate small-conference teams and unlikely winners?);

*Packer hated the NBA (not unconscionable, but rarely backed up by anything but spite).

That’s not my analysis, mind you -- that’s Wilbon’s acknowledgement. And other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Wilbon then delivered a series of qualitatively derived (and entirely arguable) findings, a few of which I wanted to point out (with an obligatory nod to Fire Joe Morgan, which pioneered and perfected this style of commentary):

“Nobody has been as good at explaining and analyzing a college basketball game.”

On straight analysis, particularly in making it accessible, I would take Jay Bilas over Billy Packer. I would take Bill Raftery over Billy Packer. I would take Doris Burke over Billy Packer. It was often hard to understand his analysis through the loathing.

“His very presence at a game lifted its importance.”

I’m pretty sure that the Final Four or even the weekly NBC or CBS “Game of the Week” would be an “important” game without Packer being there. That’s called correlation without causation.

“You knew he loved college basketball but he didn't come to the microphone with pom-poms.”

Wilbon is obviously talking about Dick Vitale here, which is a totally separate issue. Although it is very possible that Packer came to view himself as a one-man campaign to correct – or over-correct, as it were – to the see-no-evil boosterism of Vitale, who eclipsed Packer as the presumptive authority of the sport.

Because of that, Packer was entirely about seeing evil: Every play was second-guessed, whether a coach or a player. Almost every issue -- happy or not -- earned an Edward G. Robinson/Chief Clancy Wiggum-style: “Nyah!”

But here’s the crux of my problem with Packer: No, in fact you DIDN’T know he loved college basketball. At all.

In fact, if you were new to the game, you might watch him and ask, “Why is that man so angry?” That’s why rather than go with the instantly marginalized descriptor: “Sucks,” I went with “Joyless.”

Because Packer’s joylessness was at the root of why so many fans didn’t like him. You can be imperious in your analysis yet still exude even the slightest sense that you actually love the game. Wilbon and I can disagree, but I just didn’t see that love of the game from Packer, and many more fans likely agree with my perspective.

It was probably most on display in 2006, when Packer went nutjob irate during the Selection Show over the number of mid-major teams included – including… wait for it... George Mason. He then spent the next two weeks using his platform to continue to rip the selections; even his eventual, forced compliments were back-handed, begrudging.

Cripes: How can you love college basketball but hate Cinderella? (Answer: You can’t.)

“When it came to X's and O's, timeouts, strategies, philosophies, what coaches should do next, Packer was a bit Hubie Brown, an insider who simplified every situation for the viewer with authority.”

If talking down to the viewer and projecting an unceasing “I-know-more-than-the-coaches-or-players” attitude counts as “authority.” (And, by the way, the flip side of Packer’s 33-year broadcasting career is that he was hardly an "insider" in the mold of Hubie. He was a career TV analyst – his college career was eons ago, his coaching career…um, hunh?)

“I'd gladly put up with all of Packer's agendas and his affiliations because when he sat to call a game he threw himself into it and made the experience better for anybody who cared about the game.”

Nice try: The implication here is that if you didn’t like Packer’s style, you didn’t really care about the game. Two can play at that game, Wilbon: I’d argue that if you didn’t recognize how insufferable he was – how little joy he brought to the experience – you didn’t really care about the game.

“That he wasn't a warm and fuzzy creature probably shouldn't count against Packer ultimately.”

Why not? Isn’t part of the role of the analyst to make the game accessible? And doesn’t accessibility, in part, derive from an emotional connection to the viewer?

So, now, let me try to make sense of this, because there does seem to be a schism between the Wilbons (and other industry and media insiders) and everyone else, particularly younger viewers, which turns out to be the key:

The disconnect feels generational.

Wilbon grew up on the legendary college hoops TV team of Billy Packer, Dick Enberg and Al McGuire. I have only seen a handful of clips and clip shows, but it feels like McGuire -- perhaps the greatest college hoops analyst of all time, the perfect combination of insight and pathos – was the perfect counterbalance to Packer’s joylessness.

McGuire masked -- or at least mitigated -- Packer's essential nature. (In fact, Packer was most human and humane when he talked about McGuire.)

I suspect that Wilbon remembers THAT Packer in a different light than the rest of us, who merely knew him as the stand-alone analyst, unchecked in his pronouncements and increasingly curmudgeonly as the landscape beneath him shifted from his supreme rule to a Vitalicized world to the universe of opinions we have now.

(It is worth noting that Packer would have never survived his “tough monkey” moment in the mid-90s if it had happened today. It remains as unforgivable now as it was then, and – whether you choose to remember Packer fondly, as Wilbon does, or not, like me, “tough monkey” will be Packer’s lasting legacy, along with "George Mason?!?!")

Again, Wilbon and I can agree to disagree. I suspect that more people agree with me, by a wide margin, and I am glad Wilbon gave my perspective a mention in his column, because I think more people read it and said, “Yes, he WAS totally joyless!” than they will be won over by Wilbon’s more sympathetic take.

At least Wilbon and I can agree that Northwestern football is due for a fun bowl season this year. I'll meet you at the bowl game, Mike, and the first toast is on me. Just don't expect me to toast Billy Packer's career -- unless we're talking about its conclusion.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 07/15 A.M. Quickie:
Hamilton, Morneau, Favre, Packer, More

The "eh-it-wasn't-THAT-great" backlash has already begun this morning, but I stand by last night's instant reaction that Hamilton's Round of 28 was totally thrilling -- not just for the 28 HRs themselves, but the context of the moment. Cripes, even Yankees fans were cheering for him. That is a true signal of a transcendent, unifying moment in sports that maintain their memorability.

Hamilton, of course, leads today's Sporting News column, but there's a lot more:

*Why Justin Morneau got the shaft.
*Why Van Susteren is the new Mortenson.
*Why Packer's ouster isn't ALL good news.
*Why Donte Greene is the new OJ Mayo.
*Why sports bloggers get depressed.

There's a lot more, including a Last Word about the new MLB campaign to promote their playoffs, featuring some actor pretending to be a...blogger.

It's nice recognition, obviously, but they got a bunch of details wrong, including the lack of obvious self-loathing, the lack of any reference to Erin Andrews and the lack of the blast email saying, "LINK TO ME!"

More later, because if you're going to get name-checked in a Michael Wilbon column on one of the slowest days of the sports year, a response is more than appropriate. Coming later.

-- D.S.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Josh Hamilton is ABSURD

28 home runs in the 1st round of the HR Derby (on 54 pitches by the ageless 71-year-old Clay Counsil) in one of the most thrilling live sports moments I have witnessed in a long time. Utterly amazing. -- D.S.

Monday 07/14 A.M. Quickie:
Favre, All-Stars, Derby, Packer, More

In theory, this Brett Favre story should be a fun one to follow. In reality -- like many of these "all-hands-on-deck, 24/7" stories -- it is dragging the fan experience down.

In the lead item of today's Sporting News column, I laid out what I think is my final answer:

*Favre has every right to come back.
*The Packers should welcome him back.
*The Packers shouldn't trade him for anything.
*Let Favre sit on the bench... or stay retired.
*To re-emphasize: The Pack should NOT trade him.

With that out of the way, I'm going to try to avoid the Favre story as much as is reasonable -- especially when there is such a juicy other story to revel in:

Billy Packer is out at CBS. This is huge: The guy was there forever -- too long, actually. My biggest problem with him, as I said in the column and have said for a while, is that he is utterly joyless. I'm not asking that he act like Dick Vitale; I'm only asking he not act like he hates the game and everyone participating in it.

Meanwhile, we've hit the MLB All-Star Break. Oh, how a few weeks changes things: The Rays have lost 7 straight and have fallen out of 1st in the AL East -- terrible timing, with the break to think about it; the Mets have won 9 straight and are .5 GB the NL East lead -- terrible timing, with the break to think about it.

Count me among those who enjoy the HR Derby -- although I watch it with the DVR, not live. And on mute, for obvious reasons. I'm rooting for Braun; I wouldn't mind seeing Hamilton win; I suspect that Chase Utley WILL win. How's that for hedging?

Full SN column here. More coming later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday 07/13 (Very) Quickie

Advantage: Packers. OK, Brett, you can un-retire. But we won't release you, and we won't start you. Enjoy the scout team, MF'er.

It's a good strategy -- their only strategy. Keep him on the team and make HIM look like the asshole for wanting to abandon the team to start somewhere.

In fact, I don't know why the Packers would ever decide to trade Favre, rather than keep him on the bench. (1) The fans will mutiny. (2) Even a 3rd-round pick in return isn't worth that kind of grief. (3) Isn't it fair to guess that Rodgers just might get hurt during the season?

So I keep hearing all this talk about them not releasing him, but considering trading him. And I say: Why in the world would they do that?

MLB: Harden's debut a gem -- 5 IP, 10 K, Cubs win (eventually)... A-Rod: More career HRs than Mantle... Shane Victorio: Where were those 2 HR when I needed them in fantasy earlier this season... Ervin Santana: 10K shutout... Who had Ryan Ludwick with 20+ HR at the All-Star Break?

Matt Jones: Not my coke! (Right.)

NBA Summer Rookies:
Stud: OJ Mayo: 26 pts (9/19 FG)
DJ Augustin: 14 pts, 2 ast
Eric Gordon: 15 pts (4/10 FG)
Sonny Weems: 17 pts
Marreese Speights: 14 pts, 5 reb
Dud: Joe Alexander: 7 pts (2/13 FG)

-- D.S.