Today's Names to Know: LeBron, Cam Newton, Jon Gruden, Kyrie Irving, the Lakers, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Jim Harbaugh, Derek Anderson, Hines Ward, Texans-Eagles, Arizona State, Wright Thompson and More.
LeBron returns to Cleveland tonight: It is the most intriguing regular-season NBA game that I can remember. (Way more intriguing than the first time Kobe met Shaq, which itself isn't close to an analogue.) Bonus post on this later this morning, summed up in a word: Boo.
Cam Newton is eligible: Uh, he wasn't eligible? Apparently, there was some sort of "Animal House"-style double-secret stuff going on with Auburn and the NCAA on Monday -- for all the leaks that got this story going, that was an impressive bit of tight-lippedness. Then, yesterday, he was "reinstated." OK... Anyway, he's still going to win the Heisman, right?
The immediate reaction was that this will somehow create a loophole where parents (or, more accurately, runners) can pimp their kids to schools, as long as the kids know nothing about it. And my response to that is: Wasn't this fairly common practice before?
So much for yesterday's Jon Gruden discussion: As expected, the whole thing was seemingly a lesson in wish-fulfillment by Miami folks. Why would Gruden ever want to take that job (or any other one in college football)?
Duke beats Michigan State: It wasn't a throttling -- it was close enough to make you wonder what would happen on a neutral court in, say, late March. But, more than anything, it was the Kyrie Irving national breakout game (31 pts), setting him on the path for 1st-team AA status and a Top 3 position in next June's NBA Draft. Is Irving the best guard in the country? It's hard to say he is playing better than UConn's Kemba Walker right now, but I'd take Irving.
More LeBron: The Cavs -- still a bit bitter, predictably -- have done some digging into potential tampering by the Heat from the summer. No: You think? It will be fun to watch the league bury what should be compelling evidence, which will be leaked any day now. Either that, or it will be even more fun to watch the league strip away 1st-round picks from the Heat as a punishment.
Lakers lose 4th straight: And yet you don't hear the same kind of panicky analysis that you get from South Beach under similar conditions. Because, when it comes to the elite teams (and certainly the most elite team), the NBA regular season doesn't matter.
Now, that said: The NBA regular season totally matters to the non-elite teams, particularly when the bottom-feeders claim huge wins over the elite, like the Clippers beating the Spurs for the first time in forever. It is those kind of wins -- and I'll include in that group any non-contender beating the Heat or Lakers or Celtics -- that make the NBA regular season interesting. Blake Griffin: 31 and 13 and if he's not an All-Star this season, it's a joke. (By the way, think Baron Davis helps this team? In his return from injury, he had 10 assists.)
Stud: Russell Westbrook (31 pts, 15 reb, 9 ast), who led the Thunder -- playing without Kevin Durant -- over the Nets in 3OT. I had this long-standing plan to zip over to the Nets arena in Newark to see the most interesting teams play, with my idealized version being the Thunder, so I could see Durant play in person. I skipped the game last night. When I heard KD wasn't playing, I felt like I made the right choice, but now I'm bummed I didn't get to see the Westbrook Show.
MLB Hot Stove: It's refreshing to talk about Cliff Lee, rather than Derek Jeter, even though we're still talking about the Yankees overspending on a player. Anyway, it's not overspending when you are adding a Cy-quality arm to your pitching staff. Looks like it is down to the Rangers and Yankees.
If you were Cliff Lee, what would you do? The Rangers feel like a better atmosphere (and certainly seem ready to spend to win), but the Yankees give you the best chance of getting to the playoffs, year in and year out. If Lee wants adulation, he should stay in Texas -- he will be the most beloved Rangers pitcher since Nolan Ryan. If he wants rings, he has to go to NYC.
CFB: The headline says "Harbaugh wants playoff if BCS ignores Stanford." And that kind of says it all: Everyone is fine with the system, as long as it benefits them. It was the same thing with the Mountain West, which didn't want to implode the BCS so much as be included in it. Now, as a matter of practice, there is no reasonable way Stanford should be left out.
(Harbaugh's threat feels idle, but the sentiment behind it is precisely why I think the fastest path to BCS implosion is if the SEC gets screwed in some way, then proceeds to withdraw from the BCS -- "SECedes," get it? -- to set up its own secular playoff. The BCS would quickly fall apart.)
NFL Brain Injury Scandal: Hines Ward did his best Kanye West post-Katrina impression yesterday, essentially saying, "The NFL doesn't care about player people."
I agree 100 percent with the sentiment (particularly as it relates to ex-players), but I really wonder where all the current season's hand-wringing was a year ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
It's not about new science showing how brutal the game really is; did anyone -- particularly the athletes and media closest to the game (and most implicated in glossing over or romanticizing the brutality) -- ever think it WASN'T brutal?
NFL: Derek Anderson doesn't really have anything to apologize for. I presume he is apologizing mainly because he feels sheepish that his postgame rantiness quickly became a YouTube sensation. So where's the apology from Gruden for his in-game rantiness about Anderson?
NFL Tonight: Texans at Eagles. Another NFL Network game I won't be able to see on my cable system. But it sure would be nice to be able to watch Mike Vick, who isn't quite the same as Titans QB Rusty Smith, who the normally porous Texans smothered last week. Pick: Eagles.
CFB Tonight: Arizona State at Arizona. For a rivalry game, a nice subplot: ASU needs to win in Tucson to get bowl-eligible. Arizona can end ASU's season tonight.
Must-Read: When I argue that sportswriting has never been better than it is right now, I am certainly talking about the work of ESPN.com's Wright Thompson -- for my money, the reigning best sportswriter in the country. If you haven't seen it, take the 20 minutes to read his story from yesterday, "Believeland," about the state of Cleveland today. It isn't as much about LeBron as it is about the city.
Much more on LeBron's return to Cleveland later this morning.