Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday 05/23 (LeBron) Quickie

Wow. Oh, wow. The finest shot of LeBron's career. The finest MOMENT of LeBron's career. The biggest moment in the history of the Cavs. An exorcism of Michael Jordan's "Shot" over Ehlo.

(Question for the Magic: How do you let LeBron catch that ball?)

Instead of being down 0-2 heading into 2 games in Orlando -- virtually finished in the series -- they are 1-1, still without home-court advantage in the series, but with U-turn momentum.

A few more notes:
*Leave it to the defending champs to snap the Yankees' W streak.
*Cubs fans love Peavy for nixing White Sox, then hate him for 10 Ks vs. Cubs
*Dara Torres remains incredible (new U.S. record in 50 fly)
*If you have a child, why in god's name would you own a pit bull?
*Jay Wright will be a good NBA coach one day -- if Philly got him, it would be a coup -- but Villanova is on the cusp of being a perennial Top 10 team under Wright. Worth staying.

Friday, May 22, 2009

UFL Update: My Minor Obsession Continues

Catching up on a link to an column about the UFL and its prospects to serve as an alternative/minor league to the NFL.

I remain steadfast in my very simple, game-changing (and game-winning) strategy -- you have to play where the NFL won't -- or can't:

Open the UFL to players following their freshman year of college. The one year of college gives them a national spotlight that will help with fan interest (ex: Julio Jones, Terrelle Pryor); the two years of UFL service gives them paid professional training for their NFL careers.

After those 2 years in the UFL, they are NFL draft-eligible -- and arguably better prepared for their NFL careers for it.

THIS is the point of that Gladwell David/Goliath/full-court-press piece -- engaging in unconventional strategy to overcome a vastly superior opponent. Not that the NFL is the UFL's opponent -- but a legacy of failure of "alternative" professional football leagues sure is.

If the UFL wants to position itself as a viable minor-league to the NFL, the place to start isn't by struggling to develop NFL cast-offs and wannabes; it is by developing NFL-caliber players before the NFL will let them in.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Discussing having Michael Vick play in the UFL is NOT a strategy -- it is a gimmick. And if they're willing to entertain THAT limited idea, then it's hardly irrational to evaluate my change-the-game "underclassmen" option.

Friday 05/22 A.M. Quickie:
Nuggets, Peavy, Yankees, Marve, Maryland

So between my Nuggets in 6 and Magic in 6 picks, this week may represent the best it'll get for me. Then again, both picks may turn out to be right.

Leading today's SN column, the Nuggets have now out-played the Lakers in BOTH their games, with a split in LA to show for it -- which is pretty incredible, given LA's dominance over Denver in the playoffs in LA. Now the series goes to Denver, and -- guess what -- advantage Nuggets.

(And the Nuggets didn't even play all that well! That's what makes last night even more incredible -- they basically gritted their way to a win in LA. The Nuggets...gritty? Billups for MVP.)


*When Jake Peavy turned down a trade to the White Sox, the only thing I could think of was Barack Obama -- the uber-Sox fan -- making a call to the IRS asking them to give Peavy's 2008 tax returns a "no-trade, this" audit.

*The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball? Ugh. The Red Sox are proving that the Jays don't have what it takes to sustain over the long haul -- Toronto will be out of first by the end of May, and they won't see it again.

*I'll take the Robert Marve news (cram it, Kiffin) over Brett Favre non-news. Marve will do great at Purdue -- the offense is as wide-open as it gets for a QB.

*Lance Stephenson going to...Maryland? Let's just assume that the Under Armour shoe deal happens the minute he finishes his freshman season and declares for the NBA Draft. He won't go to Arizona -- it's too remote. Maryland is smack dab on the East Coast Biased, ACC-loving national radar, and they have a gaping hole at "superstar" that Lance will fulfill.

Longtime readers know that I am a Maryland hoops fan -- that was my childhood hoops team. For some reason -- probably my natural contrarianism -- I wasn't into Georgetown back in the nostalgic appreciation for the Hoyas only developed in my 20s...but growing up on the Maryland side of suburban DC, I was a huge Maryland hoops fan. Len Bias was my original sports-fan consciousness, although I found Keith Gatlin to be more accessible -- Bias was simply too larger-than-life athletic. For the record, college hoops is the only sport where I maintain the complete troika of allegiances: Childhood (Maryland), College (Northwestern), Whatever-We're-Going-To-Call-It (Florida).

Complete column here. More later, including an update on one of my weird fascinations, the UFL. Enjoy the long weekend, everyone.

-- D.S.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

5 Years Ago Today: Me On Around The Horn

Five years ago today -- May 21, 2004 -- I made my "Around the Horn" debut. I sat in Tony Kornheiser's chair on the PTI set in DC. It was cold. It was harrowing. And it was so satisfying.

That first show, in particular, remains one of the best memories of my life. Five years later, I am indebted to folks like Bill Wolff, Aaron Solomon, Tony Reali and the ATH production crew for having me on.

Apparently, when you're on-air "talent," you are by nature supposed to be kind of a douchebag. Or a prima donna. Or at least an ingrate, for losing sight of the fact that you get to do something (get PAID to do something) that 95 percent of sports fans would kill for the chance to try.

I don't mind revealing I was -- still am -- merely grateful for the opportunity. (I might also add that the show's ratings went up -- and the median age of the panelists went way down -- when I appeared. j/k...)

I ended up appearing on the show a few more times that summer and fall, and I would like to think that I brought a younger -- and a new media -- sensibility to the show.

Besides the whole "What am I/what is HE doing THERE?" vibe, I think the most notable thing about my presence was the on-air hazing. (Yes, yes, Woody: I *am* a "high-talker." Proudly.

Most of all, I sincerely enjoyed the experience, even if most of my best witty banter came mumbling to myself on the train rides from DC back to New York, long after they would have been useful for the show.

But, wow, was it fun.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Tony Reali tweeted his big memory of my first appearance was that Woody called me "Topo Gigio," a reference that was not only absurdly dated but lost on... well, everyone (my parents got it, actually). When you look up Topo Gigio on Wikipedia, however, you realize how brilliant Woody truly is. That was basically me!

PS: I really need to edit that show down and put it up on YouTube. That is: If I could stand watching myself.

Idol vs. BCS: Once Again, Fans Know Best

Yes, I'm an Idol fan. 100 million votes in the finals can't be wrong. But there's a sports point to be made here...

For the second straight year, fans rejected the conventional wisdom of the "experts" and picked the so-called "underdog" as their Idol champ.

Last year, it was David Cook over David Archuleta. This year, it was Kris Allen over Adam Lambert. And, like last year, it was no shocker.

Lambert was insanely talented, but -- when it finally came down to a 1-on-1 battle -- the fact that he had no natural massive voting constituency was going to beat him.

For me, it reaffirms my faith in fans and offers a valuable lesson: When you give America the chance to pick their own champ, they seem to get it right, far better than the so-called "experts."

How does that tie back to sports? The notion that the BCS formula wouldn't have a significant component that allows fans to vote on the two finalists is ludicrous.

The coaches vote is a farce. The media vote is almost equally driven by partisan politics. The computers lack a soul and will never have credibility with many folks.

I have been banging this drum since 19-freaking-97: If you insist on a system that picks two teams at the end of the season to play for the national title, let the fans decide.

Kris Allen knows: The fans will get it right.

-- D.S.

Thursday 05/21 A.M. Quickie:
Howard, Magic, Vick, Papi, Idol, More

My predictions are so rarely -- and fleetingly -- correct that this morning I will stand up and say:
"Magic in 6? OH YES."

I have two complementary theories:

(1) The Magic were battle-tested by the Celtics to the point that playing the Cavs in Cleveland simply wasn't all that daunting.

(2) The Cavs were so soft from their 8-0 run through the first two rounds of the playoffs that they were completely unready for a taut game.

That leads today's SN column.

Now, the Cavs have lost that home-court advantage they worked so hard to earn, on two levels: They lost HCA in the series and their regular-season home dominance suddenly seems stale.

Last point: Last night was a huge F-U to all the so-called "experts" who had the Cavs rolling past the Magic into the NBA Finals. The Magic are legit, which is why I picked them to win the East title in the preseason. (That's enough self-congratulation for one morning, thanks.)

More in today's column, as usual, not said nearly as pithily as presented here:

*What's more pathetic: Papi going HR-less or the pity embrace he's getting for hitting one?

*After one day out of prison, you can already tell that popular sentiment -- filtered through the mainstream media -- is for the "Vick as rehabilitated" second-act storyline.

(The UFL is asking fans whether they should get Vick? (1) They'll never get the chance; a half-dozen NFL teams will take him as soon as the smoke clears; (2) for a league founded on "conventional" football, it sure seems strange that they would make a gimmick story like considering Vick the way they earn buzz. There is a much simpler and far more self-sustaining way to do that. Post on that coming later.)

*How many violations does Lane Kiffin get before the NCAA actually cracks down?

*Condolences to Scott Schoenweis on the death of his wife; thoughts for Amy Mickelson as she begins a battle with breast cancer.

Complete SN column here. More later, including the celebration of a big anniversary.

11 a.m.: Idol -- with a sports twist.
1 p.m.: Very very special anniversary.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nice Tribute To Dr. Z

Great post in praise of Dr. Z. (Regular readers know that about 5 jobs ago, I edited Dr. Z's columns for and once had the pleasure/pain of being yelled at by him. Apparently that's a badge of honor. Needless to say, he intuitively understood how to write for the Web and why that was so different from writing for magazines or newspapers.)

-- D.S.

Tebow Update: About That Throwing Motion...

Have you ever heard of a top team -- the leading contender for the national title -- adapting their star quarterback's style to get him ready for the NFL? That's what Florida is doing.

I'm not averse to it, by any means. In fact, I'm all for it:

(1) I certainly root for Tebow to have a long and productive NFL career as a QB (if only to shut up the haters). And he needs to work on his delivery to do it. QB coach Scott Loeffler is the guy to teach him.

(2) Despite his phenomenal efficiency (Top 5 in D-1 for 2 years in a row), Tebow has never thrown a "good-looking" ball -- it wobbles. If Loeffler can work out the kinks in Tebow's mechanics and make him that much more of an accurate passer, that makes Tebow that much better... THIS YEAR (and not just in his NFL career).

Take note of one underrated quote from Urban Meyer from Schlabach's piece: "At the end of the day, Tim is going to be a very good NFL player. If he goes to the right team and a well-coached team, he's going to be a very productive player for a very long time."

That kind of statement just confirms my strong feeling of Tebow's draft prospects: Tebow will be drafted by Bill Belichick and the Pats. (That Meyer will take over for Belichick in a few seasons when Belichick retires, to coach his protege Tebow, is just an added conspiracy-theory bonus.)

-- D.S.

Wednesday 05/20 A.M. Quickie:
Griffin, Clippers, Kobe, Cavs, D-Train, More

So there was a big loser in last night's NBA Lottery -- and, no, it wasn't the Wizards or Kings (although both totally lost out). It was Blake Griffin.

That leads today's SN column: Griffin may be the No. 1 overall pick, but he's got to go to the Purgatory of the Clippers. To a terrible coach. To a market where his team is 2nd rate and Griffin's brand of blue-collar is totally unappreciated. And he his new rival is Zach Randolph.

That, my friends, is a terrible ending. Stay in school? Why bother, if this is your fate? (Remember when a draft-day destiny with the Clippers meant that you threaten to go play in Europe? Now you play in Europe BEFORE the NBA.)

Griffin would have been better off entering the NBA a year ago, getting NBA coaching, playing for a playoff team and being one year closer to free agency -- who cares if he would have been picked in bottom half of the Lottery (and there's no guarantee he would have dropped that far, btw -- he may have gone ahead of Kevin Love into the Top 5).

With the Lottery scramble, there are a couple of weird scenarios:

*The Clippers are forced to take a player who plays the same position as their highly-paid, impossible-to-trade big man Z-Bo...

*While everyone assumes that Ricky Rubio would be the No. 2 pick, the Grizzlies don't need him as much as a shot-blocking center like Hasheem Thabeet (although think Memphis is regretting that wasted pick on PG Mike Conley now?)

*The Thunder -- everyone's favorite bandwagon "aren't-they-cool" team that won't contend for the playoffs for a half-decade more or longer -- get the No. 3 pick and, perhaps, Rubio. How much more star-player cachet can one team have?

*The Kings get stuck with the No. 4 pick -- where do you go there, when the guy you take there might be worse than the player taken 10 picks later?

*The Wizards get stuck with the No. 5 pick -- classic Wiz "luck" -- and even though Chad Ford has them taking the sensible, NBA-ready (so they say) James Harden, I can't believe they won't try to trade the pick.

Perhaps the Knicks -- desperate for Stephen Curry (LeBron's buddy, of course) -- would take on a bad Wiz contract or two for a year to vault ahead of teams that would take Curry at 6 or 7, before the Knicks draft 8th.

Let me make this clear: Stephen Curry will NOT be available to the Knicks at No. 8. By the time the pre-draft workout season is over, Curry will be a lock for the Top 5.

Anyway, it's NBA Mock Draft season (Chad Ford is my gold standard), and I couldn't be happier about it.

Oh, and Kobe stole one from the Nuggets -- if Denver won last night, they would have had a very very very good shot at winning the series; but by losing -- and outplaying the Lakers while doing it -- they might melt down to "typical playoff Nuggets" after their brilliant run thus far.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday 05/19 A.M. Quickie:
Wall, Lottery, NBA Picks, WWE, More

So if you dropped by earlier, you saw my pronouncement about John Wall and Kentucky: There's your 2010 NCAA Tournament champs -- preseason No. 1 feels like a formality.

That leads today's SN column -- I couldn't resist, even though there are at least two big stories I could have led with:

(1) The NBA Draft Lottery tonight. Or, as I like to call it, "The Wizards' annual playoffs." If the Wiz get the No. 1 pick, they will take Blake Griffin, and -- if everyone is healthy -- they will be a Top 3 team in the East next season. If they get the No. 2 pick, I would love to see them take Ricky Rubio, but I suspect they will trade the pick. If they get the No. 3 pick or worse, they will be totally trading that thing, probably for cap space. (Rah.)

(2) My picks for the NBA Conference Finals. Because I went with a contrarian view (I'm sure you're shocked).

I pick the Nuggets in 6 over the Lakers -- almost entirely on the strength of Chauncey Billups as a proven Laker-killer. Stop thinking these Nuggets are the same lame choke-masters that they have been in previous seasons.

And I pick the Magic over the Cavs in 6 -- I think the Cavs are overrated right now and the Magic are almost certainly underrated. I think beating the Celtics in Boston in Game 7 by 20 was a psychological breakthrough for a team that is otherwise fairly collectively mushy in the head. Also, I think between Orlando's 3-point shooting and Dwight Howard, they play a style that can keep up with the Cavs. In my pre-playoff prediction, I had the Cavs over the Magic in 7 -- so it's not like I thought the Cavs would waltz to the Finals. (And in my preseason picks, I had the Magic winning the East altogether. Guess I'm back on that bandwagon.)

More you'll find in today's column:
*Salute to Lackey!
*Jeers to Harrison!
*Make Favre stop!
*In the battle between Vince McMahon and David Stern, McMahon is going to win, actually.

Complete column here on a loaded day. More later.

-- D.S.

John Wall to Kentucky: Calipari's Cats No. 1

I'm going to pre-empt my SN column lead today: Kentucky is going to win the NCAA hoops title next March. They should be the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Why? Because UK reportedly just got super-prospect John Wall, who instantly becomes the best player in college basketball. Wall isn't just a lock as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft -- he could have been in the mix for the No. 1 pick THIS year.

But it's not just Wall. It's the return of Patrick Patterson, the best post player in the country. It's the collection of a recruiting class that was arguably No. 1 in the country BEFORE Wall joined. It is the possibility that super-guard Jodie Meeks may come back to UK for a one-year title run.

And, of course, it is because of Coach Calipari, whose presence instantly brough cachet to UK -- not to mention this recruiting class, the decision of Patterson to stay, a hot new offense, etc.

Normally, I'm of the opinion that Calipari is a great in-season coach, but I would NEVER pick him to win the national title. But Wall and the rest have changed my mind.

Kentucky will be young (but not that young, given Patterson and, perhaps, Meeks), but they will be very very good. Good enough to be preseason No. 1. Good enough to be THE marquee team to watch on TV. Good enough to win the national title.

Kentucky is SO back. (I'm not happy about it, but I am fascinated by it.)

-- D.S.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Great Sports Writing In a Non-Sports Book:
Netherland by Joseph O'Neil (Now in Paper)

After a lengthy hiatus, I just finishedreading "Netherland" (by Joseph O'Neil), which was not only one of the most acclaimed novels of the past year (on Barack Obama's nightstand, too, apparently) but also contains some of the best writing about sports you will ever read -- in this case, much of the story is about cricket. But you don't have to be a cricket fan -- I'm certainly not -- to appreciate such brilliant writing about a sport. The book just came out in paperback, too.

-- D.S.

Monday 05/18 A.M. Quickie:
The Celtics' "Era" Is Over, One-and-Done

The tyranny of Boston sports upon the rest of us is over. Glorious day!

The Celtics were smashed by 20 in a Game 7 in Boston by a team with laughable psychological fortitude. Don't use the "But there was no KG!" excuse -- this team is the epitome of one-and-done.

They won't return to the Finals next year, even if KG is totally healthy. The Cavs will only get better. The Magic apparently now own them -- and are only getting better.

And then, in 2010, Rajon Rondo will bolt as a free agent to one of the many teams with massive amounts of cap room that won't land LeBron or Wade or Bosh.

Oh, sure the Celtics should TRY to win it all next year -- they bet the farm before 08-09 on a title run; to their credit, they got it. And, to their credit, a title in '08 is worth more than contending without one for the next 20 years.

But the run is effectively over -- we all knew it was coming this postseason anyway.

(Meanwhile, the rest of Boston sports is a shambles: The Pats lost in the biggest upset in NFL history two years ago, then lost their QB, then missed the playoffs despite being the best team in the league heading into the playoffs. And the Red Sox, while fine, are about to have to do something drastic about David Ortiz, the heart and soul of the team's success this decade.)

Meanwhile, I don't think the Cavs will sweep the Magic. I don't even think they will win in 5, or even 6. I think the Magic broke through with these past two games against the Celtics -- they surely won't face more pressure against the Cavs than they did against Boston.

And while the Cavs might be an infinitely better team than the Celtics, the Magic are an infinitely better team than the Cavs have played so far in the playoffs -- the Pistons and the Hawks. How can you have a puncher's chance against the Cavs? 3s and a very very very good big man -- the Magic have both.

Meanwhile, I thought the Lakers would cruise to the West title -- they still might, but the Nuggets are the best team in the West they could face. Not only can the Nuggets score with the Lakers, but Kobe and Co. might still remember how Chauncey Billups tore 'em up in 2004.

There is tons in the SN column today -- including about 9 items on baseball from the weekend, along with what I think is the most accurate prediction of Urban Meyer's future at Notre Dame. Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday 05/17 (Very) Quickie

While waiting for NBA double-header Game 7s -- wow, the Lakers must be freaking out... I cannot imagine that Celtics fans are particularly worried.

Lakers-Rockets: It is this simple -- the Lakers losing at home today (and I'd give Houston a puncher's chance) would represent one of the biggest shockers in NBA history.

Magic-Celtics: Why don't the Magic give Rashard Lewis the ball EVERY SINGLE PLAY -- it's been proven there is no one on the Celtics who can guard him.

I think it's worth noting that the NBA has an obvious rooting interest in L.A. and Boston -- remains to be seen if the refs match that perception.

Rachel Alexandra: Female Athlete of the Year?

A-Rod: Ahh, there you go. Nothing changes perceptions like walk-off game-winning HRs.

Weirdest result yesterday: John Lackey being ejected after 2 pitches.

-- D.S.