Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saturday 06/06 (Very) Quickie

Lakers-Magic Game 2 tonight: More about how Magic bounce back than how Lakers press advantage.

Greinke: Is the magic over? The mean finally caught up with him, and Zack gave up 2 HR, only struck out 3 and took his 2nd loss of the season. Is Halladay suddenly the AL's best pitcher?

Carl Pavano has the last laugh.

100 wins is the new 300 wins: Zambrano hits milestone.

Ichiro hit-streak snapped (27) -- reason to follow

French Open final: Federer vs. the Guy Who Beat Nadal.

Rasheed Wallace to the Cavs? (So says Slam.)

What's that about Brett Favre? Who cares?

-- D.S.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday 06/05 A.M. Quickie:
Kobe, Lakers, Big Unit, Belmont, More

So perhaps my "Magic in 5" was wrong. I take comfort in the 1991 NBA Finals, when MJ and the Bulls lost Game 1 -- in Chicago, no less -- but went on to take 4 straight from the Lakers.

Couple differences: (1) Those Lakers were at the end of their run; these Lakers are mid-stride, even uber-motivated after last year, and (2) Kobe is the MJ in this scenario.

I can't help but think that the Magic can't possibly shoot as badly as they did last night (sub-30 percent) again -- progression to the mean? And don't forget nerves.

(I'm just rationalizing in the lead of today's SN column. I know it.)

Still: That was a throttling. But -- and I didn't do this research myself via Lexis-Nexis or anything -- I wonder what the newspaper columnists were saying back in '91 after Game 1 about the Bulls? Yeah, Game 1 was abdsurdly tense and could have gone either way -- unlike last night. But I'm sure there were more than a fair share of columnists ready to say "Bulls not ready."


*Randy Johnson wins No. 300. Not only will there never be another 300-game winner, I'm going to say that there won't be another 250-game winner. I look at the top contenders in the column today -- maybe Roy Halladay; he's "only" 32 and has to "only" win 15 games a season for the next 6 seasons. No sweat!

The upshot, really, is that the mythic plateau of "300" will quickly be discounted back to 250 -- good news for Mike Mussina, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and -- most recently -- Jamie Moyer. The bigger question is whether I am not discounting ENOUGH -- will 200 eventually become the new 300?

Lots going on in the column today. Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Only Sort of Sports-ish: Meeting Lu Parker

Does a state-level Miss USA pageant count as sports? During my junior year of college, I I interned for a semester at the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C. As a make-up for the paper not sending me to cover some non-conference college basketball tournament in Charlotte, they let me cover the Miss South Carolina USA pageant (not to be confused with Miss South Carolina of the Miss America system), which was being held in Myrtle Beach that year.

I was given "exclusive" (meaning: no other outlets were either interested or available) access during the entire day leading up to the competition -- me, the lonely single nebbishy Jewish 20-year-old, and like 35 South Carolina pageant contestants between the ages of 18 and probably 25, all representing our nation's finest example of shiksa.

When I got to the pageant registration area in the morning, I ended up sitting next to this one woman who seemed incredibly decent and likeable. She was nice to me, in a sincere way (although me being from the newspaper probably didn't hurt). I marked her down in my program as someone with the looks, talent, charm and philanthropic angle (she came promoting an education charity she had founded) to win the whole thing. She became a big part of the piece that I filed to the paper.

She did one better. Lu Parker not only won Miss South Carolina USA, but she went on to win Miss USA outright. She is now a newscaster in LA, but better-known for shtupping the Mayor of LA on the side. But I knew her when...

-- D.S.

PS: At the time, I totally felt qualified to be a pageant judge -- apparently, it's a little enclave you can join and then they call you to all sorts of random states to judge local competitions -- and I await my chance one day to make good on that.

PPS: Banner day for filling in my mid-90s work history, no?

Blogs With Balls Update And An Apology

So the first-ever sports-blog conference is coming up a week from Saturday (June 13) in New York City. If you live in the city or just want to be at one of the biggest gatherings ever of sports bloggers, I highly recommend it.

There are a bunch of great panels, and I'm fortunate enough to be moderating one on the quote-unquote "conflict" between sports blogs and "mainstream" media, although as I plan out the panel, I think it's clear that the notion of a schism is no longer operable, and the proper description is probably "co-opetition."

What we would call "indie" blogs are increasingly professionalized (both for content and as businesses) and mainstream media has quickly adopted the blog platform and format for information delivery and consumer engagement. Bloggers offer innovation and a new talent-development stream; mainstream media offers wider distribution, some form of additional "credibility" and the opportunity to generate revenue.

But, really, what I keep coming back to is how stale the vocabulary is: How do you define "mainstream?" I would offer one working definition as "influence"; under that definition, Deadspin or The Big Lead ARE mainstream, in the way they impact the sports-media news cycle. Arguably, they are even more "mainstream" than newspapers or talk-radio, siloed by market (exception: national shows like Dan Patrick and Mike/Mike), or magazines, limited to weekly agenda-setting.

Anyway, hopefully, we will dig into all of these issues and more, and I'm fortunate to have a great panel to work with, including guys like Dan Steinberg, John Ness, Jeff Pearlman, Bethlehem Shoals, Mike Hall and Jeff Pyatt.

The media industry -- particularly sports media -- remains a passion of mine, and I love nothing more than getting into intelligent discussions about it, in almost any setting.

On that note, I was reading a commentary about Deadspin's latest commenter evolution and the writer -- who I might not agree with but very much respect -- brought up my criticism of Jason (Big Lead) McIntyre from just about a year ago.

What I regret about that post was that I didn't stay true to my interest in clear-eyed media analysis -- I may be shallow when it comes to last night's baseball news, but I like to think that when I finally talk about stuff that I actually understand deeply, like the sports-media industry, I present thoughtful and intelligent arguments. Instead, I devolved into personal attacks -- not my m.o. at all -- that ultimately undermined the more rational points I was trying to make.

It is long overdue, but I apologize to Jason for those personal attacks. I think it is totally valid -- even constructive -- to disagree on the topic (any topic) on the merits. My personal potshots were lame and unnecessary and -- I would like to think -- out of character for me.

I am not bringing this up to try to curry some sort of favor with Jason -- I would send him the same message via email, but given the public nature of my first post about this, a public message seemed more appropriate. But in thinking about that post, I sincerely regret the tone and apologize for the too-personal vitriol. Nearly a year later, it was time to revisit and set it straight.

-- D.S.

Finals Flashback: How I Almost Came To Work For The Orlando Magic

In the summer of 1995, I had just graduated from Northwestern with my journalism degree. I was living back at home in D.C., trying to figure out what my (first) career move would be.

I applied for a training program with the Orlando Magic. I even flew down to Orlando -- on my own dime (foreshadowing) -- to interview.

I was given an offer in their P.R. department... as an unpaid intern. Intern? OK. Unpaid? Saywhat? So I would not only have to relocate myself down there, but then work 40+ hours a week...for free.

My other standing option was to move back to Chicago and live with my best friends in Wrigleyville. I even had a competing unpaid internship offer in pro basketball, working for the PR guy of the Chicago Rockers of the CBA.

At the time, I agonized over the decision. Although equally unpaid, the Magic job seemed more respectable -- like I was on a career path. The Rockers "job" felt more like an excuse to get back to Chicago and basically have a 5th year of college with my friends.

I moved to Chicago -- best decision I ever could have made. Not only did I have a near-perfect year, living near Wrigley and following Northwestern football on its Rose Bowl run, but about 6 weeks after getting to Chicago (which felt endless at the time), I landed a job with a start-up company backed by AOL, to create original sports content for AOL.

I had no previous experience -- or basically any knowledge at all -- about the internet (after all, it was only 1995), but I quickly learned. Mostly, I loved the fact that we were getting to make up the rules of online content as we went along, and I had a big hand in that. And I was getting paid -- not much, but compared to the Magic, a LOT more) to write about sports I loved.

With the Magic back in the most intense spotlight the team has seen since the spring of 1995* made me think about my earliest career moment/decision, when I nearly worked for them.

-- D.S.

* - In '95, I actually rooted against them; I really liked those two Rockets teams, particularly the second one, which went through the toughest playoff road since...well, since this Magic team, actually.

Thursday 06/04 A.M. Quickie:
Finals, Braves, Westbrook, More

So you've probably seen all the different NBA Finals storylines floating around throughout the week. I have simply collected them all into a handy one-stop-shop guide to them as the lead of today's SN column.

My favorite? Probably reflects Shoals' take: If the Magic win -- perhaps even if they don't -- has Orlando created a new template for success in the NBA, geared around tall versatile players? Does everyone need to find their own Turkoglu?

Let's be honest: It helps the Magic's plan that they have the best big man in the sport, but while the team revolves around him, it doesn't depend on him for everything. There is a distributed-network element to the Magic -- Howard won't kill you by scoring 40 (um, except Game 6), but because you have to nudge toward him, Lewis and Turkoglu kill you from the outside.

So: The premium is on the 6-10 "power forward" whose main game is shooting 3s -- making Rashard Lewis basically a better Matt Bullard. Or a 6-10 "point forward" whose main game is bringing the ball up and shooting 3s -- making Hedo a Eurofied version of Scottie Pippen.

I had a couple of reasons for picking the Magic to win the series -- but how can you not like the matchups? Who guards Howard? Who guards Lewis? Who guards Hedo? Who cares if Kobe scores 40 a game -- so did LeBron.

So in today's column, you get 9 other major storylines, plus a bunch about the Braves, Westbrook, Memphis hoops and more.

Complete column here. Two more posts (at least) coming at noon-ish and 3-ish.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Who Is The Worst Owner in Baseball?

SI ranks Jeffrey Loria at No. 4 on the Worst Owner in Baseball list. If having a "worst owner" meant my team won a freaking World Series -- like the Marlins did in Loria's second year -- I'd take it. (We have this debate all the time: Would you rather win 2 titles in 10 years but suck the other 8 -- like the Marlins -- or win zero titles in 10 years, but make the playoffs a bunch?)

As for the best owner, let's normalize the rankings so we can compare them dollar-for-dollar. How much of John Henry or George Steinbrenner's "best" come from merely spending $200 million a year? (Granted, I'll credit them for the willingness to spend it, even if they are starting from revenue platforms that allow them to spend that much without going broke.)

Give me Stuart Sternberg in Tampa, who does it on a fraction of the budget. I'd love to see what would happen to the Red Sox or Yankees if they could only spend $35 million a year.

Wednesday 06/03 A.M. Quickie:
Magic, Obama, Halladay, Big Unit, More

So last week I mentioned that it was the 5-year anniversary of my first appearance on Around the Horn. A few episodes later, the group was predicting the 2004 NBA Finals -- Lakers vs. Pistons.

No one gave the Pistons a chance. One guy said "Lakers in 7." One said "Lakers in 6." One said "Lakers in 5." That left me with a nice bold claim: "Lakers in 4." The Pistons didn't have a chance.

Until they did, clobbering the Lakers in 5 games.

That was what I was thinking about as I made my official prediction in today's SN column of the Magic winning in 5. No one is giving Orlando a chance. The entire ESPN panel -- except Abbott -- picked the Lakers. (This is the same group that uniformly picked the Cavs to beat the Magic, so there you go.)

The only thing that's throwing me off is the 2-3-2 format. But I think the Magic can win a game in L.A. -- maybe even tomorrow night's Game 1, then sweep all 3 games in Orlando.

The matchups favor the Magic, as they have all playoffs long -- even if the experts didn't recognize it. Who will guard Howard -- Andrew Bynum? And I keep hearing that Pau Gasol will guard Rashard Lewis -- where, by the 3-point line? Perhaps Ariza is the long athletic player to guard Hedo Turkoglu - then again, maybe he'll foul out trying to guard him.

Will Kobe get his? Of course. But we just saw LeBron dominate the Magic -- right up until his team was bounced out of the playoffs by them. The Lakers are a better team than the Cavs, but not that much better. And the Magic are playing out of their minds right now.

Obama picks the Lakers in 6, and he has been on a hot streak lately, in terms of sports predictions. But I remember the lessons of 2004, the last time "everyone" thought the Lakers would roll to a title past an overmatched team from the East. We know how that turned out.

Maybe my judgment is clouded by my enthusiasm over picking the Magic over the Cavs in 6 -- my best (perhaps only correct) prediction of the year. After all, I picked the Lakers to lose to the Nuggets in 6. But I think folks are sleeping on Orlando -- still, after the way they have dispatched both the defending champs and the team with the best record in the league. Still?

Magic in 5.

More you'll find in today's column:
*Jameer Nelson is Willis Reed 2.0
*Roy Halladay is the new Zack Greinke
*Big Unit goes for 300 -- last 300-winner ever?
*Memphis says: NO EVIDENCE, NCAA!

Plus a lot more. Complete column here. More later. Your Finals picks in the Comments.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Henry Abbott: Dominating The NBA Playoffs

If I wrote a weekly column, this is the one I'd want to write. Except I wouldn't do nearly as good of a job as Leitch does. Although we can disagree on LeBron. (But agree on Henry Abbott!) It's one of the few "appointment" columns I look forward to each week.

(In other notable Deadspin news this week, it appears I get to maintain my commenting privileges -- and I do it under the handle "danshanoff," mostly because I'm not clever enough for a handle based on a pun of an obscure pop-culture reference -- at least for now!)

-- D.S.

Gator Notes: Jenkins Tasered, Tebow Tops

(1) Jenkins vs. Taser: Some of you pointed out that I neglected to mention that Florida CB Janoris Jenkins was arrested the other day, including a Taser -- WHICH HE GOT UP FROM AND CONTINUED TO RUN AWAY.

Jenkins stepped in as a true freshman last season and started at corner for the national champs -- he probably finished the season as one of the Top 10 CBs in college football (and, yet, still behind his fellow CB Joe Haden, a 2009 preseason 1st-team All-American and 2010 NFL Top 10 pick).

(2) Tebow vs. the Field: Meanwhile, Sporting News put out its list of the Top 25 players in college football heading into the '09 season. Yes, yes: Tim Tebow is No. 1 (hate all you want, but how could you pick anyone else?). The list is intriguing for a few other names, notably Tebow-lite Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli, who vaults in at No. 9.

Oh, and there was some closure to the mystery of how Tebow ended up in the arena for the Magic-Cavs Game 6: His mom bought him a ticket. Scandal! Occam's razor, folks. Undoubtedly, he was spotted by TV producers and escorted closer to the action so they could get him on camera. That's not an improper benefit -- that's TV.

I remain restrained about Florida and Tebow coverage this spring/summer, but will update as news merits. There are a TON of preview magazines coming out -- almost all picking Florida as the national champ, which is hardly unexpected -- and I will try not to qualify Tebow/Gator mentions in them as "news." OK, maybe sometimes.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 06/02 A.M. Quickie:
Lifelock, Finals, VY, Tebow, LeBron, More

When I first pitched the Quickie to ESPN, I made a point to emphasize that it was -- by its daypart (morning) and by its appointment-style scheduling (daily) -- promising for sponsor dollars.

I even went so far as to present the concept directly to the ad-sales team -- I may have been the first columnist (or any sports columnist) to do that. It's a point of pride for me, actually, because it actively acknowledged that you can have editorial integrity of creating a good, popular product AND try to make money from it.

There was regular sponsorship of the column -- the most notable was a McDonald's deal that promoted McD's breakfast offering, a pretty good fit.

I always thought that Starbucks would be ideal -- hell, that's what I was drinking in the morning as I wrote; I'd even throw in a mugshot of me holding up a Starbucks cup.

Then I read that MSNBC's "Morning Joe" just did a presenting sponsorship with Starbucks -- it's smart, for both the show and the sponsor.

And, yesterday, the NBA announced that the WNBA would be accepting sponsorships on jerseys, fully displacing "Phoenix" and "Mercury" for "Lifelock." Guess what: That's the future folks.

It's also the present, as I lead in today's SN column (which also subtly suggests that the sponsorship opportunities remain for me) -- look at international soccer. Those are the hardest-core fans in the world, and they have no problem with the jersey sponsorships.

More notably, don't kid yourself: College football and basketball have been showcasing sponsor branding for years -- and it has moved beyond jerseys and shorts/pants and shoes to armbands, bicep-bands, headbands, eyeblack and more.

Does it spoil baseball to have "GNC" on the front or back of the Yankees or Red Sox jerseys? Or the NFL? Or the NBA? Hardly. Your team is still your team -- they just make a little more money in a pretty crappy economy... and a sponsor gets to break through the clutter with a meaningful marketing connection with fans. (Just ask AIG and Manchester United!)

Anyway, the point is this: There is no meaningful difference between "Shanoff's Wake-Up Call" and "Starbucks Wake-Up Call," just as there is no meaningful difference between "The BS Report Presented by Subway," and swapping out the "Celtics" lettering on the Boston jersey replaced by ""

More you'll find in today's column:
*The best LeBron/Kobe puppet parody video you'll see.
*Tim Tebow: Best player in college football next season. Duh.
*Vince Young needs a new team that will use him selectively.
*Danica is as disingenuous in apologizing as LeBron.

Lot more where that came from. Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Little More on MeBron

The irony of LeBron's ending to the NBA playoffs is that he has worked so hard -- harder than he ever has on basketball -- on becoming a global brand.

In fact, you have to ask whether becoming a billion-dollar global brand is LeBron's No. 1 goal. Ahead of winning a championship (although that helps the goal). Certainly ahead of Ohio pride.

It makes it all the more fascinating that LeBron the Brand Manager would allow himself to mess up so royally by not shaking hands or facing the media after the Cavs' ouster.

Maybe it is a symbol of JUST HOW BAD LeBron wanted to win. But maybe it was more calculated manipulation. And maybe it was just a rare peek into the world of "MeBron."

For "MeBron," LeBron will always come first. Ahead of the Cavs. Ahead of Ohio, even Akron. Ahead of the NBA. Ahead of "the game of basketball" (ugh).

This is why I feel bad for Cavs fans who think that LeBron will stay in Cleveland -- or think he cares at all what the folks in Cleveland think. He will do what is best for LeBrand.

Perhaps why he was disappointed was because it feeds the LeBron brand that he -- the Chosen One -- would be the one to deliver a championship to long-blighted Cleveland.

But that's not about Cleveland or Cleveland fans -- once again, it's about LeBron advancing LeBron's place in the world.

It's funny how one small moment -- a snubbed handshake, an inability to answer questions about your role in a fairly sizeable defeat -- can do so much to erode the best brand in basketball.

While I will continue to marvel at LeBron's skills, I can't help but have this Saturday night thing change the way I think he should be viewed.

Obviously, in a few years it will be long-forgotten -- presuming he eventually wins an NBA title or few. But for now, it is more career-defining than anything else he has done.

-- D.S.

My Pick of the Year: Magic Over Cavs in 6

I'll caveat all of this with the notion that I hate "Told you so" in sports prognosticating. There is nothing more worthless than your/my/anyone's correct predictions -- except perhaps the prediction itself in the first place. Cheapest currency in sports.

Anyway: What does it say that my really good predictions are rare enough that I feel compelled to make note of them when they happen?

That said: There weren't many folks before the Magic-Cavs series who were picking the Magic in 6 to beat the Cavs, like I did. In fact, none of the ESPN experts picked the Magic. Not one. (Then again, I also picked the Nuggets in 6, so there you go.)

Making my pick slightly more valid is that way back in October in my NBA season preview, I picked the Magic to win the East. (Then again, I picked the Rockets to win it all.)

No, "Magic over Cavs in 6" doesn't make up for my worst-ever NCAA Tournament picks. Doesn't even come close.

I will, however, be doubling down on Orlando: Unless I come to my senses between now and the middle of next week, I'll take the Magic in 5 over the Lakers. (And the fact that, of the ESPN experts, only one -- Henry Abbott -- has the Magic makes me feel even better about it.)

Playoff predictions should be like an elimination pool: If you get the winning team wrong (let's set aside how many games it takes), you shouldn't get to pick in the next round. Hell, I'm willing to abide by those rules.

-- D.S.

Monday 06/01 A.M. Quickie:
LeBron, Magic, Nadal, Greinke, Vick, Moyer

So I was hoping to come up with a Theory of Everything related to LeBron, the Cavs' loss, the Magic's win, etc.

Mainly, I found myself totally unimpressed with the way LeBron handled himself after the series ended: No handshake? Silent treatment for the media?

That's not how a self-described "winner" acts. That's not how a champion acts. I'm sure he was disappointed -- although his Cavs were thoroughly outplayed by the Magic all series long.

What a cop-out. The handshake thing was reminiscent of the Pistons in 1991 after their reign was ended by Jordan's Bulls -- but at least Detroit was two-time defending champs; LeBron has won nothing.

The media silence was complete b.s. He made his teammates shoulder the burden of explaining the series loss. Maybe his teammates failed him; maybe that's just LeBron mythology and -- in reality -- he didn't make them THAT much better; how else to explain how a team with the NBA's best record got flattened? Whatever: A real leader would have taken responsibility. Instead, LeBron looked like a selfish prima donna -- "MeBron."

Not just a bad loser, but an even bigger loser than the series had turned him into. The fact remains: This will be remembered as one of LeBron's best chances -- perhaps his best chance -- at a ring. Best record in the NBA. Home-court advantage. 8-0 start to the playoffs. A tired opponent. Yet the Cavs were soundly beaten, not just in Game 6 but throughout the series. How will things be different next year? Maybe the Magic will lose Hedo -- the glue to this Finals run -- but they will get Jameer Nelson back. And don't expect quick success in New York in 2010, presuming he goes there.

Maybe, instead of the max contract, he should think about taking the league minimum and teaming up with Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis in Orlando. It's not like LeBron can't make up the difference in endorsement deals. And it's not like the Magic aren't -- at least for now -- the better team than whatever team LeBron is on.

Meanwhile, as you'll see in today's SN column, the Magic win was a validation on a bunch of levels: For building around a top-tier post player -- inside-out, rather than outside-in. For paying the max for a complimentary player. For Hedo Turkoglu (not Dirk Nowitzki) as the real fulfillment of the NBA's European invasion. For Otis Smith as a terrific GM.

More on the Finals as we get closer to Thursday.

More you'll find in today's column:
*Nadal loses: Biggest upset ever?
*Greinke's no-decision: 3 earned runs? (7K/0BB, though)
*Vick to Rams: Why not?
*Harvin as Wildcat: Unstoppable.
*Ohio State baseball: Humiliated!
*Stephen Strasburg: Overrated!

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.