Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday 06/13 (Very) Quickie

Getting ready for a day of discussion at the sports-blog conference in NYC. You should be able to follow it on Twitter at #blogswithballs.

Meanwhile, how about those Penguins? Go into Detroit and shock the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup title. Totally unexpected -- and the best possible outcome for the sport.

Falcons release Mike Vick: I said this yesterday -- I'll set the over/under on 12 NFL teams that either publicly or privately look into signing him. He won't lack for offers.

Trent Green retires: Will probably be best known for getting injured in 1999, thus giving Kurt Warner his shot.

MLB Friday Stud: Tim Lincecum.

And, yes, that Yankees win over the Mets was one of the most improbable endings to a baseball game anyone has probably seen in a long time. Walk-off easy pop-up? Come on.

More later.

-- D.S.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter and Sports Marketing

If Twitter can sell $3 million worth of Dell product, why wouldn't sports teams try to leverage the platform for something a lot less big-ticket, like ticket sales?

Simmons On His New Basketball Book

This is a very interesting Q&A in the New Yorker. Here's the money quote, about the new book:
I spent three years writing it and it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to turn out. It’s the best book I will ever write and it’s kind of sad to say that, because I’m not even forty yet, but I already came to grips with the fact that, yes, this is the best book I will ever write. I know more about this subject than anything else, I’m more passionate about this subject than anything else, and that’s that. So it’s all downhill from here.
You can understand -- and appreciate -- why the book clocked in at 700 words pages. And, given his passion and understanding of the subject, why shouldn't it have?

-- D.S.

Friday 06/12 A.M. Quickie:
Lakers, Red Sox, Alabama, NHL Game 7

So, yes, I have a spotty history with "calling" playoff series, Election Night-style. That doesn't stop me from doing it in the lead of today's SN column.

But I don't think there will be many disagreements that it is safe to say the Lakers wrapped up the NBA Finals in 4 games. Oh, sure, the Magic should win Game 5, but it seems impossible that they can win two games in L.A. -- and three straight overall.

And so the NBA Finals are, basically, over. Which is too bad, because if the Magic had won -- and maybe won Game 5 -- this series would have been amazing. Now, I wonder if folks will bother to pay attention, if they feel like it's a done-deal.

More you'll find in the column:
*Derek Fisher is so freaking money.
*Dwight Howard as Nick Anderson 2.0?
*NHL Stanley Cup Game 7: Nuff said.
*Alabama: That's no punishment.
*Donovan McNabb vs. Rex Grossman

There's a lot more. Full column here. For now, I'm preparing for tomorrow's first/only sports-blog conference, happening in NYC. I will put my MBA to good use (what's that? you say "finally?") by moderating a panel featuring some of the top leaders in content networks where bloggers and writers are making money and finding larger audiences: SB Nation, Yardbarker, Bleacher Report, Uproxx, Fansided. Should be a lot of fun. If you're going, looking forward to seeing you there. Otherwise, I'll try to provide updates via Twitter, found on the right or by following me @danshanoff, if you're on Twitter yourself.

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raul Ibanez, Jerod Morris And Cynicism

I liked Joe Posnanski's take on this Raul Ibanez story. As usual, Joe is thoughtful and measured and earnest (even owning up to a bit of a bias for Ibanez).

Jerod Morris has also been somewhat unfairly turned into something bigger than the situation; aside from the statistical issues that Joe points out Jerod missed, Morris did a fair job.

What's ironic is that it is obvious that Jerod wasn't just trying to get exposure for himself or his blog -- compare this to Rick Reilly showily demanding that Sammy Sosa pee in a cup.

The larger story isn't Ibanez's justifiably strong reaction. Or the tired mainstream-vs-blogger thing.

The larger story is skepticism -- or, more accurately, cynicism -- that pervades baseball these days, from media to fans.

There is good reason for the skepticism -- or even the cynicism, as unfortunate as that is. It feels like "Hmph: Must be juicing" is attached to any player having a decent season.

It isn't limited to bloggers opining -- it happens in traditional media all the time. I am actually surprised that it doesn't happen more regularly.

The fact that people feel like it's a necessary point is pretty sad. Although I see it as a defense mechanism: Who wants to take performances at face value now and feel like a rube later?

Being cynical is easier. Pre-emptively protecting yourself from being hurt, as a fan, is easier. It is hard to know when this era will end.

But cynicism from fans and media alike is, by far, the most damaging byproduct of baseball's Steroid Era.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Let's give AJ the final word.

No, wait: I liked Rob Neyer's take, too.

Cristiano Ronaldo: US$131 Million Transfer

Cristiano Ronaldo's record $131 million transfer fee from Man U to Real Madrid will not be covered enough in the U.S. (and I'm the last to talk about soccer, knowledgeably), but it's huge.

Thursday 06/11 A.M. Quickie:
Magic, Ibanez, Red Sox, Economy, More

I originally led today's SN column with a flip-flop:

For the last few years, I had been arguing that the NBA was no longer a "Big" (as in "Big Four") sport. That it had joined the NHL as being a "niche" sport -- albeit a large one. But still, very little mass/casual appeal -- it had avid followers, but few casual ones.

TV ratings were on my side. I also argued that rejecting my theory was a result of perception: When the country's most well-read sports columnist -- Bill Simmons -- is a die-hard fan of the NBA and makes it a huge part of his columns, it can feel like everyone loves the NBA, too. When the country's most influential sports-TV program -- PTI -- involves die-hard fans of the NBA (particularly Wilbon) and make it a huge part of their program rundown, it can make it feel like everyone loves the NBA, too. I felt like these things skewed perception a bit.

But I'm nothing if not willing to change my mind (often too quickly!) in the face of new evidence. And all evidence points to the NBA ascending back to its "Big" status, alongside the NFL, college football and MLB. People are watching; the games are compelling.

I am particularly optimistic about the idea that the Finals don't have to be Lakers-Celtics (or Kobe-LeBron) for fans to find them worth watching. As I said last year, Lakers-Celtics was a best-case scenario for the NBA; Lakers-Magic perhaps wasn't, and yet the ratings from game to game are virtually the same. In an era of increasing consumer fragmentation, this represents a huge positive step forward.

Between the way the league has dominated the last two months with its playoffs and this newly launched initiative to short up basketball player development -- which will hopefully mean increased professionalization of that development -- the NBA is in ascent, with a huge pivot point tonight's Game 4: If the Magic win, it's on. If the Lakers win -- ensuring the Finals are virtually over -- will that progress slow down?

That WAS what I led with, but I swapped in something new, hubbed off of something Kareem said about Dwight Howard, basically pointing out that Howard isn't very good...yet.

I asked if he's good enough to get his team to the Finals, how good will he be when he finally learns how to play the game. Someone made the point to me: How good would he have been if he actually went to college?

And that's where I had my usual allergic reaction. Going to college would not have helped Dwight Howard's development as much as these past 5 years of strictly professional development.

It couldn't be more clear: College coaches are not concerned with developing their players for the NBA; they are concerned with winning (ie, their job security). NBA coaches, on the other hand, are entirely concerned with developing their players into NBA-ready talents -- their jobs hinge on it.

Whether a player spends time with NBA coaches or in the D-League (or even Europe), they are getting better preparation for a pro career than if they play college basketball -- it works for both kinds of players, too: The one-and-done star clearly doesn't need college basketball; this forced year of unpaid internship is unnecessary... and probably stunts growth more than accelerates it. The four-year college player with NBA aspirations also would be better served to spend four years developing under pro tutelage than a college coach; of course, if a four-year player was any good, they would have left college for the NBA two or more years earlier.

Make no mistake: If Tyler Hansbrough would have been a Top 10 lock after his freshman or sophomore years at UNC, he would have left school early. It makes too much ecomonic sense, but strictly from a developmental perspective, it also is in his best interests to get coached to maximize his role in the NBA, not to maximize his role for UNC -- again: If his ultimate goal is to play in the NBA.

(This is related to my argument about the UFL letting in college players before the NFL would have them: How much better prepared would future NFL QBs be if, instead of playing an additional 30 games in a spread offense, they spent two years being trained to be an NFL QB, by coaches who are expert in developing NFL QBs.)

Anyway, my point is: Dwight Howard was/is way better off -- basketball skills-wise and financially -- for having skipped college and gone straight into his pro career.

More you'll find in today's column:
*Raul Ibanez: Why was it OK when Rick Reilly did the same thing?
*Jersey sponsorships: What would the Texans do for a buck?
*Knicks love Stephen Curry: Too bad the Wizards are going to yoink him.
*The Red Sox still own the Yankees.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday 06/10 A.M. Quickie:
Magic, Floyd, Strasburg, Red Sox, More

I am surely overrating (no!), but it seems like a pretty big moment in the short history of Twitter's impact on sports media that Shaq's tweet immediately after last night's game framed the story:

"By george I think we have a series."

This may seem self-serving from someone whose career hinged on the notion that you could fill a column with 30-word blurbs on lots of topics, rather than 750-word (or 2,500-word) columns on a specific topic, but columnists in Orlando and LA and online will churn out tens of thousands of words about last night's game -- but Shaq did more to make sense with his 8 words than all those other words combined. (And he did it faster.)

That said, Game 3 led today's SN column: Wow, the Magic shot the lights out. Wow, they locked down on Kobe after his 1st quarter promised a crazy epic performance from him. Wow, they seemed like a totally different -- entirely confident -- team playing at home (and the Lakers have lost 7 straight Finals games on the road). I don't think the Magic leaving Orlando up 3-2 is a crazy notion.

*Meanwhile, let's get real: Who didn't see Tim Floyd's resignation coming? Frankly, the guy probably should have been fired years ago. But beyond that, the whole "recruitment" of OJ Mayo was so sketchy -- right from its odd start! -- that you knew things were going to go badly for Floyd. That USC coaching job is toxic -- although I'm sure the NCAA won't do anything to the program...certainly now that Floyd is out.

*Don't be fooled: The Vikings "dropping" interest in Favre is complete b.s. He could show up in late July saying "I'm here," and they'd drop whatever plan they had in place to make it work.

*The Nationals finally have some cachet: Stephen Strasburg. Now, they just have to get him signed, up to the big leagues and pitching -- ideally at home, where they could use the attendance boost -- ASAP.

Lots more in today's column. See the whole thing here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

NBA, NCAA Join Forces to Launch

Here is the mission of the new NBA-NCAA partnership to save amateur basketball: (1) Put the fetid AAU industry out of business. (2) Ummm... call me when you've completed (1).

-- D.S.

Memo to New UFL GM Rick Mueller

Rick Mueller: You're in charge of scouting and acquisitions for the entire UFL. Here is a very simple strategy that ensures the best chance of success for the league:

Convince the league to undercut the NFL age minimum by 2 years, allowing entry for players -- not just prospects, but future NFL stars -- with a little as just a single season of college experience. You will be hailed as a visionary.

Wouldn't it be more fun to "scout" and "acquire" Julio Jones than troll the NFL rejection bin for washed-up "names" or, worse, NFL-unworthy players no one has even heard of?

-- D.S.

Tuesday 06/09 A.M. Quickie:
Strasburg, Magic, Cox, Curry, More

The MLB Draft lacks the heft of the NFL Draft -- which has become one of the top 5 sports events of the year -- and the cachet of the NBA Draft -- arguably the NBA's single-best day of the year.

This season, it does not lack for star wattage at the top: Stephen Strasburg, presumably headed to the Nationals with the No. pick -- and a record-breaking deal soon afterward.

Let's assume that he will be overpaid. That's a given. Let's even assume that he could end up being a bust, or merely even mediocre, or merely even great but not "best ever."

All that said, I think the Nationals -- a team of which I am a fan, if only nominally (but more than any other MLB team at this point) -- should spend whatever to get him.

Why? Relevance. Buzz. Cachet. Strasburg's early career will be in a spotlight that the otherwise irrelevant Nats simply don't have otherwise.

They may have a "Plan." They may be contenders in 5 or 10 years. In the meantime, they can at least have an attraction every 5 days that fans will pay attention to. That makes him worth it.

More you'll find in today's SN column:

*The Magic are just immature enough not to be too fazed by justmissingout on stunning the Lakers in LA in Game 2. Three games from now, they could be up 3-2. No, seriously...

*Stephen Curry is the most intriguing name in the NBA Draft. He has the most NBA-ready skill-set of any draftee: Even if it's a single dimension. Teams seem to covet him.

He will go no further than No. 5, to the Wizards. As a Wiz fan, I love this: Pair him with Arenas, and you have two combo guards who can handle/distribute the ball if necessary but also shoot the lights out. But the Wiz could also deal him to any number of teams that are going to be very keen on having him: The Knicks? The Bobcats? Just take a couple bad contracts from the Wiz.

The Knicks are taking a look at Curry today, even though they have the No. 8 pick -- he won't last until then -- and there are rumors that they are trying to shop David Lee and that they are trying to acquire Sergio Rodriguez from the Blazers (which may or may not be tied together). Maybe the Knicks are trying to trade up with the Wiz -- NY can eat DC's cap issues.

*Let's be clear: Brett Favre is coming back. To the Vikings. Maybe 6 weeks from now, but eventually. A deadline of this week seems ludicrous on its face. Throw in the circumstantial evidence that Favre's family bought a block of hotel rooms in Green Bay for the week the Packers play the Vikings. But can we please stop talking about the "if" stuff? It's "when."

*Surprise MLB player of the year and/or fantasy MVP of the year? How about Toronto's Adam Lind? 2 HR yesterday, continuing a torrid start to the season that should have him on the All-Star team as a reserve. (Speaking of All-Star voting, you know I'm a huge fan of the fan vote. But, come on, people: Jimmy Rollins over Hanley Ramirez?)

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday 06/08 A.M. Quickie:
Lakers, Federer, Tiger, Halladay, More

Roger Federer may have been the best tennis player ever before he won the French Open yesterday. But in completing the Career Grand Slam AND tying Sampras with 14 major titles, it feels more official now.

But what I was struck by in thinking about Federer -- enough to lead today's SN column with it -- was that we are living through what could be an unprecedented era of Best Players Ever.

Federer: Best tennis player ever.
Tiger: Best golfer ever.

These are (mostly) confirmed.

Then there is Peyton Manning, who is already among the Top 10 NFL QBs ever; shows no sign of slowing down; and, when it's all done, will probably own every single NFL QB record that matters -- that may qualify him as "greatest NFL player ever."

Say what you want about Tim Tebow, but if he wins another national title, it would be hard not to call him the greatest college QB -- perhaps the greatest college football player -- ever.

LeBron is not the greatest NBA player ever -- yet. But he is already the most talented, and has been the best player in the league for a few years now...arguably since he turned 20. So while he might not be the best ever at the exact moment Federer is, they will overlap.

I'm even willing to broach baseball -- which is brutal on instant historians (as it should be). But no player has ever started (and sustained) a career quite like Albert Pujols, who is doing it in an era of scrutiny so much more intense than any "legend" ever did. I think we will look back and recognize that Pujols is not just the greatest hitter of this generation, but will wind up as one of the Top 10 players of all time. For baseball, that's pretty insane.

UPDATE: Then there is Michael Phelps -- the greatest Olympic athlete ever, for whom 2012 is for pure pleasure, after doing what no one else has ever done in 2008.

Is it a clean argument? Hardly. LeBron is -- absurdly -- still on the way up. Peyton is still mid-career. We have no idea yet just how far Tiger and Roger will go. Pujols could get injured and drop off next season.

But I do think that in 20 years we'll look back and this moment will register as a confluence of superlative athletes setting standards that players in the future will have a hard time topping.

Complete SN column here. Lots more to be found there. More later.

-- D.S.