Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday (Very) Quickie

So much for Celtics' "panic." It is like those Games 4 and 5 never happened -- or that the Celtics decided to shake them off while the Magic assumed momentum alone would be enough.

And so the meme goes from Celtics-as-chokers back to the post-Game-3 version: Celtics as the next coming of the Rockets '95, the ex-champ that knows how to get it done in the spring.

It is no joke to beat the conference's top seed then its No. 2 seed, decisively, back-to-back. This Celtics team is a very worthy Eastern Conference champ.

And based on what is happening in the West, most of us would still take the Lakers over them. But we all would continue to underestimate this Celtics team at our own risk.

-- D.S.

Friday, May 28, 2010

05/28 Quickie: Artest, Celtics, Mets

Well, that was the best game of the NBA playoff season.

And it was the greatest moment of Ron Artest's career, with full Ron-Ron crazy on display, from that ridiculous missed 3 that led to the Suns tying the game on their own ridiculous miss-miss-YES to Ron's improbable buzzer-beater.

For the Lakers, some breathing room. For the Suns, the confidence to know that should they take care of business at home, they can absolutely beat the Lakers in LA.

As I put it in today's SN column lead, I'm not sure Artest's shot eclipses the Palace brawl, but it sure diverts our attention. Now, when we look back on his career, we'll say "Brawl, yes... but remember that shot in Game 5 of the Western finals in 2010?"

More you'll find in today's column:

*If there's any justice, the Celtics will lose tonight.

*The Mets should kind of call it a season after this, right?

*LeBron and Wade will NOT play together.

*Texas pulling a Notre Dame? Unlikely.

*Stanley Cup: Who ya got? I'll root for the Blackhawks, both because of my Chicago roots and my disdain for Philly. (Even if I had a great time there a few weeks ago.)

*Let's rank the current scandals, in order of seriousness: UConn, Kansas, Dwayne Bowe -- who should reply to every question with "And?"

*Obama. Koufax. Enough said.

This isn't in the column, but I had an epiphany last night that if I was the Sixers, I would absolutely take Derrick Favors over Evan Turner. It totally reminds me of the Dwight Howard vs. Emeka Okafor debate from earlier in the decade. Okafor was so "NBA-ready" -- yeah, but it discounted that Howard would develop under pro coaching and conditioning. I'll hammer Favors-over-Turner into submission between now and the draft next month.

Complete SN column here, with posts sporadically over the long weekend. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day, and don't forget to take a second to think of the people who died while serving the country in the military.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

05/27 Quickie: Celtics, Magic and Panic

Is it time for Celtics fans to panic that their team is going to become the first NBA team in history to lose a 3-0 playoff series lead?


That is ironic, because back in 2004 during the ALCS, even after the Red Sox had won 2 straight, it was utterly inconceivable that Boston would actually take the series from the Yankees.

Even now, the safe bet is that the Celtics will find their mojo at home and end all this talk that they are too tired (read: old) to avoid being humiliated.

And yet the dominant storyline is exactly the opposite: That the Magic feel in control. That the pressure is all on the Celtics. That the C's D is faltering and their depth in the post is iffy.

For those of you who believe in conspiracy theories, it's pretty simple: If the NBA would rather see a Game 7 -- and a Boston choke -- than a Lakers-Celtics Finals, Perkins' 2 Ts will stand and he will miss Game 6. The Magic will win, forcing a Game 7 back in Orlando.

If they want a Celtics-Lakers Finals and couldn't care less about the East finals going 7 (and, god forbid, a Magic series win that undercuts the ratings goldmine of Celtics-Lakers), Perkins will play.

The irony is that it still might not be enough.

As I put it in the kicker of today's SN column lead: If you're a Celtics fan and you're NOT panicking right now, you have probably given up on your team already.

More you'll find in today's column:

*Like some sort of deal with the devil, just when the Celtics started to fold, the Red Sox have been unstoppable. Karmic trade-off?

*Even before the Nats battered Tim Lincecum, I would not have traded Stephen Strasburg for Lincecum, straight up, if I was the Nats.

*Yeesh: Kansas.

*SN has Alabama as preseason No. 1 in college football. Phil Steele has Oklahoma. I still think that Boise State will win the national title.

*I'm baffled why this Dwayne Bowe "importing" story is a big deal. Athletes use social networking sites to find women to hook up with! And?

*What has to happen for the US men's soccer jersey to just say "Herculez" on the back, rather than "Gomez." Let's think more like Brazil, people!

See the entire column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Debut of

Today launches a new entry in the sports media landscape: SportsGrid, the sports extension of the Mediaite empire.

There are good original posts off of the big memes in sports at any given moment -- not unlike Mediaite in the media world -- but the glitzy product of SportsGrid is its... well, "grid."

It includes rankings of athletes, teams, executives -- even sports media -- based on factors like online buzz, search-engine relevancy and audience metrics.

It is exactly the kind of thing that navel-gazey sports media folks will obsessively look through, checking to see where they are, who's ahead of them and who's behind them.

It's a very clever and well-produced feature, updated constantly. It is a good stake to put in the ground to differentiate from other sites.

Traction will come with a combination of people checking out the rankings -- and the rankings getting referenced -- and people digging the original posts.

(SB Nation's national site front has been doing a terrific job of creating posts about the hottest topics that go beyond a static entry and get expanded as developments happen. SportsGrid may want to keep an eye on that.)

Sports media doesn't have quite the same competitive dynamic as news media -- and sports fans don't have the same habits as fans in other categories like politics or entertainment. It will be interesting to track the traction SportsGrid gets, both among fans and within sports media.

But the site is worth wrapping into your bookmarks or RSS. And, at the very least, I'll be keeping an eye on my ranking. Low 200s? WTF?!

-- D.S.

05/26 Quickie: NYC SB, Suns, P-Jax

I couldn't not lead with the Super Bowl coming to New York. There are two camps, and the crux of the debate is, basically, "What if it's cold out?"

My response, in two words: "Ice Bowl." That the 1967 NFL Championship was played in frigid conditions was a pre-condition for its place at the top of NFL mythology. Imagine if it was the "Balmy Bowl" because it was played in San Diego. Not the same.

As I argue in today's SN column: Fans who are at the game will wear their frostbite like a badge of honor; fans at home will love the spectacle of swirling snow and blasting winds.

I'm a big fan of novelty in sports -- it is a huge reason the NHL's Winter Classic has been a massive success. This will be a huge hit.

Now, let's not talk about it again until, say, 2013.

More you'll find in today's column:

*The Suns won with basically the same strategy you win your Sunday morning pick-up game at the Y: Junky zone D plus scrappy dudes playing unexpectedly well.

*If the Magic win tonight to make it 3-2, will Celtics fans start to freak? They shouldn't -- not until it's 3-3 with the series heading back to Orlando for Game 7.

*What was I saying about Phil Jackson and the Bulls being a good fit? Great example of a one-day story.

*The Rays have a right to gripe.

*Looks like the Nats are set on drafting Bryce Harper. Obviously.

*Don't be surprised when Gordon Hayward ends up in the Top 10 of the NBA Draft. Remember Stephen Curry from last year -- a month out, he was a Lottery pick; by draft night, Top 10 lock.

*I will never get tired of President Obama talking about sports -- especially basketball. (Stop your griping, Cavs fans.)

See the whole thing here. And, from the folks who brought you Mediaite, please welcome SportsGrid to the online sports universe. About my 200+ ranking....

-- D.S.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

05/25 Quickie: Bulls, Magic, Red Sox

I wasn't on the LeBron-to-the-Bulls bandwagon... until this latest scuttlebutt that Phil Jackson might be interested in coming back to the Bulls -- presumably only if LeBron joins him.

As I argue in today's SN column lead, it's a good match: Jackson turns elite players into champions (or vice versa); LeBron wants to win a championship, and Phil is a coach he would respect.

The ideal is that each sign a 3-year "mini-max" deal in Chicago -- if they can't win a title in 3 years, find another situation.

My only concern with Phil in Chicago, actually, is that Derrick Rose is entirely the wrong point guard to run the triangle, which doesn't even use a traditional point guard.

There is a very simple solution to this: Trade Derrick Rose to Miami for Dwyane Wade. That gives the Heat a franchise player to pair with, say, Amare for the next 5-6 years.

More you'll find in today's column:

*A plan for the Magic to win their series.

*Have the Red Sox turned a corner?

*Strasburg for Oswalt? HAHAHA.

*Your next DWTS champ: Erin Andrews.

*Regardless of who wins the Stanley Cup, it will be a compelling champ.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, May 24, 2010

AOL at 25: My Story of Real Fandom

When I graduated from Northwestern in 1995, I wanted to be a national sportswriter. Like, right then. I resisted the notion that I had to go off to some podunk town and cover JV volleyball and if I was lucky, in 20 years I would be a columnist at a newspaper.

And so I was living in Wrigleyville with my gainefully employed roommates, slowly sinking into a bit of a despair over my joblessness. At one point, I had an unpaid internship in the PR department of the Chicago Rockers of the Continental Basketball Association. I think I stuck around for two weeks before figuring that it wasn't really worth the effort.

In late October, I got a call from a friend in my journalism school's career center. She wanted to connect me with two Kellogg drop-outs creating a sports media company online (What's "on-line?")

I met with them in one of the partners' apartments. They explained that after a summer spent interning at AOL, they got some investment money from AOL, which was then growing for its proprietary service a network of original content sites, under the management of Ted Leonsis.

Their goal was to create the sports destination for this network. And while they were savvy b-school students and had a few ideas about content, they wanted fresh (perhaps code for "cheap") eyes from a person who understood content.

For me, despite having zero experience online (not many did), the appeal was obvious: Tons of creative control, reaching a national audience, writing about sports -- for starters, about college basketball, at the time my favorite sport.

Best and most important of all, the founders recognized that the way to go was to approach sports coverage from the perspective of fans -- this wasn't just a competitive imperative when competing with the ESPNs, SIs, Sporting News and newspapers of the world; this was a fundamental understanding of the dynamic between producer and consumer in the new medium. Remember: This was a couple years before Bill Simmons launched his Boston Sports Guy column on AOL. I give the founders -- and Leonsis -- an immense amount of credit for envisioning a fan-friendly approach to sports content.

And so I was being paid to write whatever I wanted about a sport I loved, however I wanted to -- in fact, with a mandate to write like a fan, not a stodgy journalist. It totally fulfilled the part of me that wanted to make an impact on journalism, to do something entirely new, whether that was the tone and voice of my writing, the engagement with users or the "always-on" news cycle.

It was a dream job.

The company was called, at first, "Extreme Fans." It was later changed to "Real Fans Sports Network." If you were on AOL back in the mid-90s, you hopefully remember it. (I think Leonsis would. One day, when I knew Ted was meeting with our co-founders, I led our home screen with tons of content about Georgetown hoops, because I knew he was a huge Hoyas fan.)

It was a crash-course in everything that mattered -- and still matters now, if you keep up with the current environment for start-ups: Being focused, running lean, constant iterations and feedback loops, engaging the consumers.

Remember that at the time, AOL was a subscription service: Its sites got paid based on minutes spent on each destination by users. And so the premium was getting people to come back a lot -- and once they were there, getting them to stay.

And so in addition to writing daily original individual game recaps for every major-conference college basketball team (I did half; Rob Peterson wrote the other half), we came up with ways to let the users contribute to the site's editorial coverage, which users did brilliantly. It was a very early but critical lesson in online programming: Trust the users.

I would like to think that my natural intuition was a big part of my successful contributions to the company, but I remain convinced that it was the constant at-bats, every day, in the company, that helped develop for me an intuitive understanding of successful online content.

Despite the fact that I spent less than a year there, it set the table for everything that would follow in my career. As defining as it was for me to get recruited away to the company running, my biggest regret was missing out on my first company's acquisition.

That was the AOL postscript: To follow up its initial investment, AOL acquired my company to make it the hub of its sports strategy. As part of the team, it is one of the most satisfying points in my career to take a smidgen of credit for it - offset by the fact that I left before my options were issued, let alone vested.

(To put it in the larger context of AOL's quarter-century history, AOL later made my company the hub of its revenue-generating "anchor tenant" strategy and, under that, AOL's first big money-making deal: In exchange for paying AOL millions of dollars to be its leading sports presence, SportsLine made AOL shutter my company. Absurdly, SportsLine didn't even try to get AOL to hand over my company as a content engine. It was, simply, kaput.)

And so on AOL's 25th anniversary, I look back with tremendous fondness on the pivotal role AOL played in my career. And as I plot out what's next, I find myself thinking a lot about that first start-up and how simultaneously thrilling, frustrating and satisfying the experience was.

-- D.S.

PS: I could have written a Posnanski-style 7,000 words on this. To spare you, I limited myself to 700. Maybe I will revisit some of the bigger lessons in more detail at some point.

05/24 Quickie: Lima, C's, Amare, Cavs

As someone the same age as Jose Lima, the seemingly spontaneous, middle-of-the-night fatal heart attack is a little unsettling.

But there is something life-affirming in the reaction among fans and writers celebrating the player who popularized "Lima Time," which I broadly define in today's SN column as a joyous approach to living your life, with plenty of applications beyond a reliever's schtick.

Actually, the kicker of the column lead is one of my favorites of the year so far: That we could all use a little "Lima Time" in our lives, and that today, you should do something positive -- at work, on your commute, hanging out at lunch -- then exuberantly exclaim "[Fill-In-Your-Last-Name] Time!"

There's a ton more in the column:

*Cavs fire Mike Brown. Did you see that list of replacements someone is floating? Coach K? Tom Izzo? Phil Jackson? What planet are people on? Those coaches wouldn't come to Cleveland even WITH LeBron, let alone without him. Without LeBron, the only good thing about the Cavs job is that missing the playoffs is the expectation, rather than -- oh -- winning a championship. (For his part, Mike Brown should have multiple job offers within the week.)

*I love the fact that the Nats are expressing interest in Roy Oswalt, who has said he only wants to go to a "contender." BTW: If the Nats get Oswalt, along with bringing up Strasburg, that goes a long way toward bolstering their .500 season and actually making them... contenders.

*The Celtics are closing it out tonight. The Suns at least showed they have some pride. We'll see if the Magic have any or are just ready to pack it in.

*Bryce Harper.

*Jordan Spieth.

*No spoilers about the Lost finale, but a simple assessment that it either satisfied you or didn't. I'm in the former category, but not particularly effusively. Just a solid clearing of the hurdle of my expectations, but not some all-time-great moment in my TV-watching career.

-- D.S.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend (Very) Quickie

I don't need to prove or belabor my well-documented anti-Boston sports bonafides.

That makes it all the more awkward for me to note that this Celtics team is growing on me. They were considered past-their-prime, over-the-hill, on the down slope.

Now they are blowing the Magic -- the presumptive favorites (certainly mine) -- out of the playoffs and look good enough to keep up with the Lakers in the Finals. (God, that Rondo play where he chased down the ball in the backcourt, swiped it from Jason Williams, then zipped around for a nifty basket -- that was Rondo and the Celtics, encapsulated.)

They resemble -- if only fuzzily -- my favorite NBA title team of all time: The 1995 Rockets. Rudy T's "Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion" team that won a title in '94 only to finish 6th in the West -- then went on to dispatch the 3-seed, 2-seed and 1-seed en route to obliterating Shaq's Magic in the Finals.

I'm not sure I can stomach the standard Boston fan triumphalism if the Celtics win the NBA title this year, but I find myself respecting their route to getting there more and more.

-- D.S.