June 19, 2017: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James - my take
December 14, 2016: Thoughts on Bud Selig getting elected to the MLB Hall Of Fame
November 30, 2016: Thoughts on Ward vs. Kovalev
November 17, 2016: Why are NFL ratings down?
August 8, 2016: Hip Sports Lingo and Thought Processes
July 7, 2016: Random Thoughts About Recent NBA History
April 4, 2016: My thoughts on ESPN's list of the 50 greatest NBA Players Of All-Time
February 8, 2016: Should Terrell Owens have been a first ballot Hall Of Famer? Plus other HOF and Super Bowl thoughts...
January 6, 2016: My votes for the 2016 Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame
February 27, 2015: What’s up with the Yankees number retirement binge? Plus the bogus myth of the “Core Four"
January 7, 2015: Why are most football announcers so annoying?
October 9, 2013: Do wins matter for a starting pitcher?
December 9, 2008: The greatest NBA Players Of All Time
October 24, 2008: Thoughts on the baseball Hall Of Fame
September 24, 2008: Greatest female tennis players of the modern era
September 10, 2008: Greatest male tennis players of the modern era
September 1, 2008: Does defense win championships?
August 22, 2008: The 2008 Summer Olympics - simply spectacular
August 20, 2008: Rating the sports commissioners
August 14, 2008: Why is ESPN Classic so awful?
August 6, 2008: Horseracing
August 3, 2008: Welcome to the sports blog (also baseball and boxing)
June 19, 2017: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James - my take
Well, the Golden State Warriors recently finished off a game Cleveland Cavaliers team to cement themselves as an all-time great team (just how great will depend on how many more titles they win). As LeBron James's Cavs were storming their way through the JV league known as the NBA (L)East to make a 7th straight Finals appearance, more and more people seemed ready to anoint him as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). This seems to be a particular mission of ESPN who I swear must be on LeBron's payroll. Like most articles these days, the majority of these columns attempt to make their point by bludgeoning readers with statistics, as if simple stats tell the whole story, and as if stats from one era are automatically comparable to stats from another era.
To me, the answer is simple: if you were fortunate enough to see them both play in their primes, as I have been, you probably think that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron is a physical freak and is brutally effective in large part due to his physical advantages. He's also a very intelligent player, and as such he's fully deserving of being considered among the best ever. However, Jordan was simply magical; he played the game with a grace and a majesty that was simply beyond compare. I say this as a Knicks fan who had season tickets in the mid-90s, so I attended many of those hard fought Knicks-Bulls games. Believe me, I didn't want to like Jordan, but the guy was so entertaining, and so astoundingly great, that it was hard to hate him even as he broke my heart every year.
I'm not going to look up statistics, but will simply speak from the heart about how I feel about both players, and recall my memories of them. Let's compare.
Defense: Jordan was better. LeBron was great as well (less so right now than he used to be) and was more versatile due to his incomparable size/strength/speed combination, but Jordan (with Scottie Pippen) would simply SHUT YOU DOWN and make you turn the ball over. They were like rabid pit bulls and were something to watch when fully unleashed. Their defensive prowess is the main reason why the '96 Bulls have a legit claim as the best team ever.
Offense: LeBron is a better and more willing passer, in fact he's probably the best passing small forward after Larry Bird. He's also a better rebounder, though prime Jordan was good at passing and rebounding too. However, Jordan was a far better scorer. He led the league in scoring 10 years in a row, and averaged 30 ppg for his entire career at a time when it was much harder to do so than today, since the games were lower scoring and far more physical. True, LeBron is a better 3 point shooter, but you have to remember that the 3 point shot was not a priority back then like it is today. Jordan at his peak, certainly during their second three-peat, was a great shooter, with an unstoppable fadeaway jumpshot that made him just as effective in the post as LeBron, if not more so. And you simply could not stop the ultra-quick and athletic Jordan from getting to the basket (or the foul line, and unlike LeBron he was an excellent foul shooter). Overall, the edge goes to Jordan because you want your best player to be that end of game go-to guy, and Jordan was the ultimate end of game go-to guy.
Intangibles: This to me is where Jordan has the biggest edge. The guy was the ultimate cut throat competitor. Maybe his teammates didn't like him as much as LeBron's teammates do (let's face it Jordan could be a handful if you were in his line of fire), but they sure as hell respected him, and he demanded excellence from everybody at all times. The idea of him taking games off to rest like LeBron does nowadays? Simply not his style, but again that was a different (tougher) era. Jordan was also (with apologies to Jerry West) Mr. Clutch. LeBron is unbelievable as an overall talent, but even his biggest backers would have to admit that he's had his issues in the clutch at times, so this one is really a no-brainer. Again, Jordan wins, and fairly easily.
Team Accomplishments: Of course, basketball is a team game, so we need to look at their team accomplishments as well. I feel that Jordan's are more impressive overall but here is my detailed breakdown of both players.
LeBron did a heck of a lot with a bunch of role players his first go 'round in Cleveland. They were a very good defensive team and rode LeBron's greatness to the Finals in 2007; game 6 vs. a very good (if aging) Detroit Pistons team in the Eastern Conference Semifinals was one of his signature accomplishments. Simply brilliant. Unfortunately, this is somewhat negated by his poor Finals performance where his team was swept by San Antonio in a series that wasn't especially competitive. The loss to Orlando in 2009 was disappointing but it's hard to fault LeBron too much if you look at his numbers. His biggest failings were in 2010 and 2011. First there was the infamous series against Boston where he put up his usual strong numbers but played with an odd passiveness and detachment that had people accusing him of quitting (perhaps he was already in South Beach mentally). After the ridiculous "Decision" where he showed a shocking arrogance, narcissistic sense of self-entitlement, and complete lack of self-awareness, came the equally idiotic "not one, not two, etc." clown show with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the next night. Of course, LeBron won "only" 2 titles in South Beach, and in 2011 he was outplayed by Dirk Nowitzki in a way that simply never would've happened with Jordan. 2012 was when LeBron finally silenced his doubters by winning it all for the first time, as Dwyane Wade unselfishly ceded the mantle of "The Man" to LeBron, who proved very worthy of being "the Man," with the piece de resistance being his game 6 masterpiece vs. a still formidable (if aging) Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. 2013 featured the spectacular 27 game regular season winning streak and another title, much thanks to Chris Bosh's clutch rebound (thanks to a rare brain fart by San Antonio coach Greg Popovich who inexplicably had Tim Duncan on the bench) and Ray Allen's unbelievably clutch 3 pointer to save game 6. LeBron’s vocal critics often mention that Allen bailed him out, and he kinda did, but they too often don't mention LeBron's brilliant 37 points and 12 rebounds in game 7, which they absolutely should. Of course, it all came apart vs. the same San Antonio team the next year, as SA steamrolled/dissected the Heat with a masterful display of team basketball that LeBron and his suddenly aging supporting cast simply couldn't keep up with. So, it was back to Cleveland, only with a phony Pollyanna narrative about how he was coming back to win Cleveland a title (what a guy!), not because Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins (which became Kevin Love at LeBron's insistence) had a better supporting cast than an aging/injured Wade and company. I don't totally blame him for doing so, as it was an easier way to not only win it all again (clearly he thought the Heat's run was done) but to win back over the people who not that long ago were burning his jerseys (talk about killing two birds with one stone!); the problem I have is with the phony narrative. LeBron was looking out for LeBron and his "brand," as always, but it was made out to be this grand selfless homecoming to save Cleveland rather than the shameless ring grab that it really was. Regardless, his return home has been a smashing success, with three consecutive Finals appearances. The first one he carried an injury depleted team to a far more competitive loss to Golden State than anyone expected. Sure, he shot only 40%, but he played great overall. The next season he really didn't play that well in the first four games, which nobody remembers. Then, at the end of game 4, there was the LeBron-Draymond Green altercation which resulted in Green's 1-game suspension which changed the momentum of the series. I think it was a bogus suspension since LeBron was essentially rewarded for initiating the whole sequence (and his near assault of Stephen Curry soon afterwards also went unpunished). Regardless, he certainly took advantage of the NBA Office's intervention, with three straight masterpieces that will always be among his signature games. Then there's this season, where he again played great but simply lost to a better team, since Golden State added Kevin Durant and had a healthy Stephen Curry this time (of course, perhaps Cleveland would have a better roster if LeBron didn't use/abuse his power over the franchise to insist on them overpaying for his buddies Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, but I digress). Although you could nitpick his performance, in particular how Kevin Durant took over the pivotal game 3 in a way that he didn't, there was certainly no shame in losing to a historically great team, and he and Kyrie showed their individual brilliance throughout, even if it wasn't enough. Kevin Love played very well as well, though it's worth noting that like Chris Bosh before him, Love was considered a far superior player and put up much better numbers before teaming up with LeBron, which is interesting since LeBron supposedly makes his teammates so much better. At the end of the day, the Finals record is now 3-5, but any reasonable person would have a hard time faulting him too much for most of those losses (2011 being the obvious exception). Then again, it's also hard to give him too much credit for 7 straight Finals appearances, because who did he really beat to get there? Aside from the aforementioned aging Boston team in 2011/2012, none of the teams he beat to get to the Finals were that good.
Of course, Jordan only made 6 Finals to LeBron's 8, which LeBron backers like to point out, much like Jordan backers like to point out his superior 6-0 Finals record. But was it really Jordan's fault that early on he couldn't beat Bird's all-time great Celtics teams and the legendary Bad Boy Pistons with the likes of Dave Corzine and Brad Sellers? Players didn't form "superteams" back then, remember, so he was stuck with what he had. Heck, the guy scored 63 points against all time defender Dennis Johnson and the '86 Celtics, arguably the greatest single season team of all time. Even Bird, who wasn't one to hand out praise easily, said it was like "God disguised as Michael Jordan." Was that loss Jordan's fault? Of course not. Heck, the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty Cavaliers that Jordan routinely knocked out of the playoffs were arguably better than any Eastern Conference team during LeBron's 7 year run. And once he got a better Bulls supporting cast, and once he learned to trust them, he never lost except for '95 (we'll talk about that a bit later). Truth be told, the Bulls teams that 3-peated from 1991-1993 wasn't that talented. You had a Hall Of Fame talent in Pippen, a borderline all-star in Horace Grant, and a bunch of role players who wouldn't have been nearly as effective without Jordan. But Jordan was so unstoppable then that it hardly mattered. Essentially, when Jordan was in his prime, everybody was playing for second place, and everybody knew it, because with Jordan there was a fear/intimidation factor that was unprecedented, then and now. When he retired in '94 due to burnout (which some believe was actually an NBA suspension for gambling), the Bulls did shockingly well without him in '94, which many hold against him. But they lost in the second round of the playoffs to a better Knicks team, and Pippen's limitations as a leading man were exposed in the playoffs (pouting on the bench when Toni Kukoc was given the last shot instead of him in game 3 (truthfully, had Kukoc not hit that shot the Knicks likely would’ve swept), stupidly fouling Hubert Davis at the end of game 5 (and whether it was a “bad call” or not, clearly there was contact on the play, and Pippen never should’ve put himself in that position. It WAS NOT a phantom call as he and Phil Jackson have whined about for years), then disappearing in the second half of the decisive game 7). Speaking of, remember the prior game 7 vs. the Knicks in '92, when Jordan had to defend Pippen who was being bullied by Xavier McDaniel? The Bulls essentially won that series then and there - that's leadership, that's intimidation. That's Jordan. When he came back in '95 the Bulls had lost Horace Grant and weren't doing nearly as well, but it was amazing how as soon as Jordan came back they were instantly his team again, not Pippen's. He had his moments, including the legendary "Double Nickel" game at Madison Square Garden, but ultimately he was not NBA ready and did not perform to his standards in a second round loss to the upstart (and incredibly talented) Orlando Magic. So what did Jordan do? He went back to work, like always, and came back arguably better than ever during the Bulls dominant 3-peat from '96-'98. He may not have been quite as athletic as the younger Jordan, but he was stronger, wiser, a better shooter, and now had a superior post-up game via an unstoppable fadeaway jumpshot. His supporting cast was better too, thanks primarily to Dennis Rodman and Kukoc, and the '96 team in particular is in the mix of any greatest team ever conversation. Jordan drove that team relentlessly, was determined to set the NBA record for most single season wins, and when they destroyed/swept the same Magic team who had beaten them the year before, there was almost a sense of inevitability about the whole thing; thus, the Orlando "dynasty" was over before it began, as Shaq took his talents to Los Angeles the next season (p.s. Jordan shot 16-23, mostly on outside shots, and scored 45 points in the series clincher). What else is there to mention? Well, who had more big/defining games/moments than Jordan? I already mentioned the 63 points, but there was also The Shot vs. Cleveland, the Flu Game, the Shrug Game, the Steal/Championship Winning Shot vs. Utah, another 55 point game vs. Phoenix in the NBA Finals, and so on and so on. Youtube it if you don't know what I mean by any of the above. Even when he had a rare off game, like when he shot 3-18 in Game 3 vs. the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, he still ended up with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists. The next game? 54 points. He almost never had two bad games in a row, and let's face it, if he didn't retire the Bulls very likely would've won in '94 and '95 as well, giving him an even further grip on GOAT status. (P.S. We'll conveniently forget his ill-advised Wizards comeback because it never should've happened!)
Overall Verdict: LeBron is a marvelous player, one of the best ever, but he's not the greatest player of all time, that title belongs to Michael Jordan. I'm not sure I'd put LeBron #2, there's Kareem, Magic, Wilt, and even others to consider, but he's certainly cemented himself as being one of the very best ever, and he should be saluted for that. But the statue of Michael Jordan outside the United Center in Chicago says it perfectly: "The best there ever was. The best there ever will be." I will be very surprised if I ever feel differently, but time will tell.
December 14, 2016: Thoughts on Bud Selig getting elected to the Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame
Well it’s official, the title of “Sports Commissioner” no longer means what it used to mean (or at least what I feel it's supposed to mean). The commissioner is tasked with upholding the “integrity of the game.” He is supposed to look out for the fans and the little people while also working in the best interests of those in the game (the owners, yes, but not just the owners). Now, sadly, all that matters is making money. As a team owner, Bud Selig colluded with other team owners to keep players’ salary’s down in the 1980s. As MLB commissioner, he oversaw the unforgivable “Strike Of 1994” (along with the equally greed-driven MLB Players Union, who rightfully didn’t trust him), and deliberately put his head in the sand while presiding over “The Steroid Era” (let’s not forget that the fraudulent McGwire – Sosa HR chase allegedly “saved the game” after the strike). Bud Selig should be viewed as a dishonorable disgrace, the man who brought disrepute to what is no longer truly our “National Pastime” (football is), the man who caused baseball to lose its soul for profit and who also destroyed the Montreal Expos (who may have won the 1994 World Series; we’ll never know, just like we’ll never know if Matt Williams would’ve hit 62 (clean?) HRs or if Tony Gwynn would’ve hit .400). Apparently, none of this matters, because he made a bunch of billionaires even richer. OK, I’ll give him a little credit in that he grew the game financially (albeit during an era when it was much easier to do so due to the explosion of the Internet and cable TV), and he had some other noteworthy achievements, most notably revenue sharing, which leveled the playing field so that smaller market teams could compete (we’ll ignore the fact that it didn’t go nearly far enough since the have-nots can profit the handouts from the richer teams, because something is better than nothing). Many will tout wildcard playoff teams and inter-league play as further positive developments (as a stubborn traditionalist I have issues with both), and it’s hard to argue that they weren’t from a revenue standpoint, which further proves my point; all of the accolades around Selig’s achievements are about money. Shouldn’t our standards for a sports commissioner be higher than that? Shouldn’t the standards of the Hall Of Fame be much higher than that? Yes, Selig has some notable achievements on his resume (his All-Star Game tinkering is NOT one of them!), but to me these are completely overshadowed by his biggest failures (collusion, strike, steroids). I could name other negative Selig-approved things that are common now, like everyday people having to pay taxes to build fancy stadiums for billionaires (whose good seats they then can't afford - Yankee Stadium anyone?), and Sunday afternoon games being switched to night games at the last minute for ESPN money (that acting commissioner Rob Manfred allows these pathetic bait-and-switch promotions to persist makes me think that he may be no better than Selig). Bud Selig making the Baseball Hall Of Fame is somewhat like Don King making the Boxing Hall Of Fame – it cheapens the place.
And no, Selig making the Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame (along with managers like Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre who greatly benefitted from having ‘roiders on their rosters) doesn’t mean that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc. should too. It doesn’t change my thinking anyway, on the grounds that two wrongs don’t make a right.
P.S. Speaking of undeserving Hall Of Fame inductees, how in the world did judge Jerry Roth just get inducted into the Boxing Hall Of Fame? I know there have been dubious inductions before (see: Don King), but this guy has been involved with far too many awful decisions. But in this day and age, when Bud Selig of all people is a Hall Of Famer, I guess anything is possible.
Below are just some of the stinkfests that Roth had a hand in awarding the decision to the wrong guy.
Felix Trinidad vs. Oscar De La Hoya (Roth: Trinidad 115-113)
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley II (Roth: Mosley 115-113)
Floyd Mayweather vs. Jose Luis Castillo I (Roth: Mayweather 115-111)
Gabriel Campillo vs. Beibut Shumenov II (Roth: Shumenov 115-113)
Larry Holmes vs. Michael Spinks II (Roth: Spinks 114-112)
Brando Rios vs. Richar Abril (Roth: Rios 116-112)
Manny Pacquaio vs. Timothy Bradley I (Roth: Pacquaio 115-113 – He had the right guy this time but even in this case the score was way too close, thereby legitimizing the ridiculous scorecards that had actually Bradley winning)
November 30, 2016: Thoughts on Ward vs. Kovalev
Well, we finally had a big boxing fight a couple of weeks ago (11/19/2016), and for the most part it actually lived up to the hype. Then again, only hardcore boxing fans were even aware of the fight, as Andre Ward and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev are hardly household names like Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquaio. As with too many prior big boxing matches, this one wasn’t without controversy, as many seem to feel that Kovalev should’ve gotten the unanimous decision that went to Ward (all by 114-113 counts). Frankly, I don’t get all the outrage about the decision; one thing I think we should all be able to agree on is that it was a close, competitive fight. Kovalev obviously won the first two rounds, the second by a score of 10-8 due to his straight right hand knockdown. He probably (but not definitely) won the third round as well, but after that the momentum of the fight changed, with Ward slowing down Kovalev with vicious body shots and finding his range with his jab and left hooks. Kovalev appeared to tire, and though there was some good back and forth action (although there certainly could've been more action), Ward won the second half of the fight as clearly as Kovalev had the first (minus the knockdown). In fact, after the third round, I gave Kovalev only the 6th and 10th rounds, meaning that I ultimately also scored the fight 114-113 for Ward. Also, a lot of people complained about Ward holding, but after watching the replay of the fight I think that Kovalev was just as guilty (in order to keep Ward from coming inside where he was clearly superior), if not more so. As for the commentary, Jim Lampley and ringside scorer Harold Lederman (who I often disagree with, this time even more than usual) were clearly biased in Kovalev’s favor, while Max Kellerman provided a counterpoint more in Ward’s favor (Roy Jones was more likely to play it straight down the middle). I’m guessing that Lampley and Lederman had something to do with the post-decision outrage; I can definitely see thinking that Kovalev won, but to call it a “robbery” is flat-out ridiculous; it was a close, generally entertaining fight, and Kovalev certainly deserves an immediate rematch.
November 17, 2016: Why are NFL ratings down?
There have been many opinions about why NFL ratings are down this season. Here's my take.
1. Oversaturation - Remember when Monday Night Football was special? Now we have games on Thursday night, Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday night. Not so special.
2. Most of the games stink - Look at the schedule every week, and there are very few compelling games. Even sports fans, who are essentially the biggest suckers going (sorry but it's true), will eventually get sick of being fed an inferior product.
3. National anthem protests - Remember when people talked about Colin Kaepernick because he was a good player? People watch sports as escapism, not to be beat over the head with politics. ESPN seems to have had more articles about the national anthem than actual football talk this season. Most fans don't want to hear about it.
4. Roger Goodell - The NFL has a real credibility problem. Most fans feel the NFL has no integrity and cares only about money. Most players feel the NFL's chief executive has no integrity and cares only about money (certainly not their health). Goodell is an ongoing PR disaster who has botched virtually all of the big "gate" scandals he's overseen.
5. No Fun League - Recently the Seahawks' Richard Sherman complained that people are turned off by the NFL cracking down on celebrations, earning its derisive nickname the "No Fun League."
6. Hey mom aren't I great? - Conversely, many fans are fed up that after seemingly every play some knucklehead has to perform a selfish look at me idiot dance. Odell Beckham Jr. is just one example of a guy who runs away from his teammates to do a self-congratulatory celebration dance that more often than not just looks ridiculous and is a turn off. It's incredible how many games are decided by moronic displays of immodesty (or foolish thuggery that likewise leads to 15 yard penalties), and that such behavior is indulged by coaches at what's supposed to be football's highest level.
7. PSLs - What other business gets away with extorting money from their best paying customers? Many fans continue to be fed up with this outrage. Sorry, but no team that sells PSLs deserves to be called a "classy organization" (I'm talking to you New York Giants though much less people feel you are anymore anyway after the Josh Brown fiasco).
8. Gridiron gibberish - Why are so many football announcers so annoying? 90% of them talk non-stop nonsense and seem incapable of speaking plain English.
9. Thursday night football - The NFL talks about player safety on one hand but the continued existence of Thursday night games proves it's just lip service. To make matters worse, whoever schedules these games should be fired instantly because the matchups are consistently terrible. The annoying color scheme uniforms make unwatchable games even more unwatchable.
10. Throwback uniforms - Most of them are hideous. Do fans really go out and buy these eyesores? Is the NFL really that desperate for more money in jersey sales? To the sensible, they're just a further turnoff.
11. London - More bad games overseas, including a tie. This is supposed to make the people in the U.K. more interested in American football? Stop trying to make what's become America's pastime into an international game. We don't care about soccer as much as the rest of the world does, the rest of the world will never care about American football like we do.
12. Fan Duel and Draft Kings - Is there anybody left who doesn't hate both of these companies and their insufferable commercials? Given the success of both were built on the bogus lie that "fantasy sports is not gambling" (and of course Goodell played the good money whore puppet by agreeing with them), they can't fail enough to please me.
13. Bad hombres - To steal a line from President Elect Trump, too many NFL players are hard to root for. There are many good guys as well, but the bad guys doing bad things make most of the headlines.
14. Taxpayer funded stadiums and team movement - As Bill Simmons said in the ads for his train wreck of a TV show, "I think billionaires should pay for their own bleeping stadiums." And how is it that the Oakland Raiders, with some of the most loyal fans in the NFL, may now lose their team to L.A. for the second time?
15. Concussions - Football is a very dangerous game, and now that the very real dangers are better known, less people want to play it and support it.
August 8, 2016: Hip Sports Lingo and Thought Processes
How can you quickly catch up to the hip lingo and thought processes that seemingly dominate today’s overly analytical sports world? Here are some pointers.
Tall basketball players who block a lot of shots are no longer shot blockers. They’re rim protectors. Remember that lest you sound like an outdated fool.
Say things like “x team has 2 assets they can trade for 3 prospects and 2 draft picks. This will give them maximum cap flexibility to acquire more assets.” People will nod their head in agreement even though they have no idea what you’re talking about.
Quote WAR, BABIP, and other statistics that most people have no idea what they mean. Make believe that WAR is something that actually happened rather than that it’s a statistical projection created by math geeks who wouldn't know the difference between a baseball bat and a toothbrush. Go on a rant about how “Mike Trout was twice robbed of the MVP by Miggy! He had a higher WAR!!!” Say it like you really mean it this will scare people off from arguing with you.
If a pitcher has a high BABIP and was successful, it doesn’t count – he was just lucky! Say this as if it’s a certainty. As we know, all balls hit in play are the same. And homeruns don’t count! Again, say it with an all-knowing conviction, this will almost guarantee victory in any sports argument.
Defensive metrics are foolproof. Remember, all groundballs hit to the shortstop are exactly the same.
Derek Jeter was the most overrated player ever. There’s no such thing as being “clutch!” Remember that lest you sound like an old time fool.
For starting pitchers, wins don’t matter. The goal for the starting pitcher before each game should be to have a “quality start” or better yet a good WHIP.
When a player fails to run to first base, which in MLB today is more often than not (Robinson Cano, anyone?), excuse him by saying “he thought it was a homerun” or “he thought it was going to be caught.” Even though it essentially won the Royals the World Series last year, hustle is for suckers, styling is what gets you on SportsCenter! As for those who feel otherwise, tell them to stop yelling “get off my lawn!!!”
Make sure you manage by “The Book.” If my 7th inning guy gets 3 outs on 3 pitches, he’s coming out, dammit! Ditto my 8th inning guy! I’m gonna find a guy they can hit! If we lose, it’s the fault of “The Book,” not mine!
Make sure you learn and follow baseball’s “unwritten rules.” It was ok for guys to blatantly cheat and steal jobs from clean players for 10-15 years (and make a mockery of the record book) with no repercussions but don’t you dare steal a base with a big lead – time to put up your dukes!
Make sure you shift the infield for each batter, even if you have no idea where to put them. When you get lucky and the batter hits it right at someone, you’ll look like a genius!
Don’t ever bunt to beat a shift. Bunting is for suckers who can’t hit. Remember, chicks dig the long ball.
Always coach not to lose instead of to win. Then come up with a catchy phrase like “You Play to Win The Game!,” even though when you coached you totally played not to lose! (sorry Herm but it’s true.)
When you get busted doing something stupid or worse, have your lawyer write an apology that includes the words “I’m sorry to those who I may have offended” or something similarly generic and insincere (like how you “used poor judgement…”). Better yet, take Cris Carter’s advice and always have a fall guy just in case!
When talking about golf, say something like “I think his ball striking will keep him in it, he just needs to make a few putts.” This can apply to nearly any situation (since all PGA players are great ball strikers).
Customers are no longer customers and are not to be referred to as such. They’re guests! (I guess no guests were invited to sit in all those empty seats behind home plate in Yankee Stadium…)
When purchasing tickets to a sports event, be ready to be hit with a significant “processing fee" or “convenience fee.” Don't ask how this is convenient!
Don’t blatantly tank to lose games to try to get high draft picks. If you must do so, imperiously refer to it as “The Process” like you know something other’s don’t. Remember, act like you know what you’re doing even though you have no idea! This works 95% of the time in the fantasy world that is sports and also real life.
Whenever you do something selfish and stupid, like cutting up uniforms, never apologize! You did it because you want to win so bad (and THEY don't!). P.S. I secretly wish every player would cut up all the God awful throwback uniforms teams force down our throats so that the suckers (er, guests) will buy them up.
July 7, 2016: Random Thoughts About Recent NBA History
NBA Finals: Dear Adam Silver and Kiki Vandeweghe: How about we do a test? Let somebody throw you down, step over you (while rubbing his privates in your face), and see how you react? The suspension on Draymond Green was bogus, because it was totally initiated by LeBron (who essentially assaulted Stephen Curry a little while later with zero repercussions), and for all the LeBron worshipping that’s been going on since (never mind that it was Kyrie Irving who hit the game winning shot), that “miracle comeback” likely doesn’t happen without the unnecessary and quite unsavory intervention of the NBA, who unfortunately have a history of definitely (see Knicks vs. Heat ’96) and possibly (see Spurs vs. Suns ’07 - I personally think the Spurs would've won anyway) altering playoff series outcomes when common sense was overruled by the letter of the law.
Free agency: The money being thrown around is just off the charts ridiculous. $130 million for very good but not great Michael Conley? 90+ million for Harrison Barnes coming off a dreadful Finals? 60+ million for Timofey Mozgov who barely got off the bench in the playoffs? Remember these contracts the next time the owners cry poverty, or the next time you have to hold your nose while paying $30 to buy 2 hot dogs and a soda in an arena likely at least partially funded by your tax dollars. These owners are all LIARS when they say they’re not making money.
Kevin Durant to Golden State: Wow, what a disappointment. My son is a huge KD fan who hates Golden State and he’s furious. I can understand how he feels, because although you can justify it all you want, his joining GS is a total copout, the very definition of taking the easy way out. I can't help it, I just lost a lot of respect for the guy as a competitor. It’s even worse than what LeBron did when he bolted for Miami, although he handled it with much more class (then again it’s impossible to handle it with less class), because he’s leaving a championship caliber team for the team that he just lost to (and arguably would’ve beaten had he played better). To win a title in GS just won’t mean nearly as much as if he had led his original team to a title. Sorry, but it won’t. But that’s the era we live in, sadly enough (sigh). The “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” era. The NBA just got much less interesting to me, that’s for sure.
April 4, 2016: My thoughts on ESPN's list of the 50 greatest NBA Players Of All-Time
Here are my comments on the recent ESPN list of the 50 greatest NBA Players Of All-Time (they did a top 100 list but I’m only commenting on the top 50), which you can find here. I started watching the NBA roughly around 1980, at least that’s as far back as I can really remember, so I’ve seen many of the players listed and feel qualified to comment upon most of them. For the most part, I’m not going to get into statistics, certainly not advanced statistics like PER or win shares because frankly I find them boring and personal statistics don’t tell the full-story; basketball is a team game, after all, with 10 players on the court at once influencing the actions of others. I don’t need stats to tell me what my own eyes saw.
So, without further ado…
50) Ray Allen – This seems about right. One of the greatest shooters of all-time and a clutch player (right San Antonio?).
49) Russell Westbrook – This is too high for now, though ultimately I feel pretty confident he will be a top 50 player. He’s a hard guy to rate; he’s off the charts talented but obviously not a “pure point guard,” though that’s partially because he’s way too good a scorer to be one. It’s too early to know where to place him, but based on actual career accomplishments thus far he should be lower.
48) Willis Reed – I never saw him play, but he was “The Captain” and he was a former league MVP and two-time champion. I suspect this might be a bit high though.
47) George Gervin – I think the Iceman should be higher. He was one of the most effortlessly great scorers the league has ever seen, and he did it with flair.
46) Allen Iverson – This is a polarizing placement, if you read the comments on the ESPN website. Many younger people think he should be much higher, but I don’t have a problem with this placement. He was a great scorer who played with a lot of heart, but I don’t feel like he was a great team player, and his attitude (“practice?”) sometimes left a lot to be desired.
45) Paul Pierce – This seems about right for “The Truth,” maybe a little too low.
44) Dominique Wilkens – Another great scorer and questionable team guy (a good parallel in today's game would be Carmelo Anthony), though I never heard anyone say he had a bad attitude (like Iverson). This seems reasonable to me. After all, “The Human Highlight Film” was one of the most exciting, athletic players the NBA has ever seen, and his “mano y mano” game 7 duel with Larry Bird is rightfully legendary even though he came out on the losing end.
43) James Worthy – I was glad to see “Big Game James” place so high, he didn’t have the longest prime and he was the third best player on his own team, but he was a truly great and clutch team player (check out his commanding triple double game 7 in 1988 against the Bad Boy Pistons). He was a matchup nightmare who was too big for most small forwards and too quick for most power forwards. Him vs. Kevin McHale was always a great matchup and he usually held his own.
42) Bill Walton – This is way too high. Now, I’m someone who typically rewards greatness over longevity, and Walton was legitimately great for about 2 years in the late ‘70s, plus he played a key role on the great Celtics title team in 1986 as well. This guy was an MVP caliber player who could’ve been an all-time great if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he DID get hurt. Constantly. Heck, one of the best players I’ve ever seen was Penny Hardaway, but he only did it for like 3 years too, and he didn’t even make the top 100 (or if he did I missed him).
41) Gary Payton – I actually think Payton should be higher. He was probably the best PG in the league for a few years in the mid-‘90s, a great defensive player who became a great offensive player too.
40) Elvin Hayes – I never saw “The Big E” play but this seems reasonable based on what I’ve heard.
39) Bob Cousy – I can understand why he’s so low; he doesn’t impress on tape and he probably wouldn’t be much of a factor in today’s NBA. But it’s still pretty disrespectful to have him so low given his accomplishments from when he did play. After all, after Bill Russell and maybe Red Auerbach, nobody was more important to the Celtics’ dynasty from 1957-1963.
38) Walt Frazier – I think he should be higher, given his career numbers, championship pedigree (including one of the all-time great game 7 performances), and defensive greatness.
37) Rick Barry – Although one-dimensional and not the most likeable guy, this guy could score with the best of them. I think the way he carried the Warriors to the ’75 title should earn him a higher ranking (a la Dirk Nowitzki).
36) Clyde Drexler – Drexler was an all-time great who had the misfortune of being overshadowed by even greater players, most notably Michael Jordan. This ranking seems fair, maybe even a bit low. Clyde the Glide was a one-man fastbreak who played on many very good but not quite good enough Portland teams before finally helping Hakeem win his second title in Houston during their memorable “Never Underestimate The Heart Of A Champion” run in 1995.
35) Jason Kidd – This is definitely too high, in my opinion. He was a great, unique player in that like Magic (albeit to a lesser degree) he could dominate a game without scoring. A great passer, rebounder, and defensive player who could really control the tempo of a game, his weakness was his lack of an outside shot which often exposed him as a pseudo-superstar during the playoffs which were much more likely to have a grind it out half court format. In such a format his lack of offense often became a liability. There’s also the troubling domestic violence charges off the court, plus I thought it was disgraceful the way he flat-out quit on the Nets (as a player and then again as a coach!). Still, he did lead the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals, though the Eastern Conference was dreadful in those years, and he finally won a title as a role player in Dallas.
34) Bob Pettit – This is way too low. Again ESPN’s recency bias shows through. They really should’ve done their homework better. I never saw him play but everything I’ve heard and read about him suggests he’s a top 25 player (maybe even top 20).
33) George Mikan – Like Cousy it’s hard to know how to rate him. He dominated his era, but it’s readily acknowledged that it was an inferior era. So I’ll just plead ignorance on this one.
32) Patrick Ewing – This seems like a fair placement. He was a deeply flawed player but still an all-time great; he just wasn’t as great as Jordan, Hakeem, etc. What’s unique about him is he was this great defensive player in college, and he wasn’t nearly the defensive force he was supposed to be in the pros, but he was a much better offensive player. He was a great shooter for a big man, and he had a nice enough post game, albeit one devoted to too many fadeaway jumpers. He played with a lot of heart, but he also wasn’t really a guy who made his teammates better, nor was he a guy who was typically at his best in the clutch.
31) Kevin McHale – I think this is too high. Switch him with Patrick Ewing and the Knicks don’t have nearly the same level of success, IMO. McHale was a great second banana, but not a true alpha, and his prime where he was a first or second team All NBA really didn’t last that long (remember he was a 6th man on the ’81 and ’84 title teams). That said, he WAS a great player, with a dizzying array of confounding post moves; he may have looked gawky, but he was very effective on both ends of the floor.
30) Steve Nash – I think this is too high. For starters, he was a very good player, not a great player, before joining Phoenix the second time around in 2004 where he flourished in Mike D’Antoni’s “7 Seconds Or Less” system. Secondly, I think both of his MVP Awards were questionable, especially in 2005 (Kobe or LeBron were better choices), and he was a poor defensive player (one of the reasons they couldn’t beat the Spurs, besides Tim Duncan, was that he couldn’t guard Tony Parker). Don’t get me wrong, he was a great player, as he was deceptively quick and crafty, plus he was a great shooter and passer who clearly made his teammates better, I just don’t think he should be this high.
29) Chris Paul – I think this is too high for Paul as well; let’s revisit this again in five years when maybe he’s had some playoff success.
28) John Havlicek – This is probably about 10 spots too low. Do you know that Hondo averaged 27 PPG one year? There’s this perception that he was a “worker” and a “team guy”, both true, but I don’t think most people realize how truly great and talented he was. This ranking further proves it. The guy won 8 championships and was the lead guy on the last two along with Dave Cowens.
27) Dwyane Wade – This seems about right. I rate him as the fourth best shooting guard of all-time. His championship series performance in 2006 was almost Jordan-esque (stop whining about the refs Dallas fans; Wade dominated and your team choked), and he willingly took on second banana status so LeBron could lead Miami to two more titles. True, he didn’t have much of a jump shot and could be a little loose with the ball, but he may be the best shotblocking guard I’ve ever seen, and he was a great team leader and winner.
26) Isaiah Thomas – This is too low. I rate Isaiah as the third best point guard of all time. The guy was a winner, pure and simple. Unlike John Stockton, he could and often did take over playoff games. There’s no metric for that, or for how he subjugated his stats so that he could win championships. He may come across as a phony and a bit of a snake, and he was a terrible executive, but this guy is generally very underrated on lists such as these from what I’ve seen. The guy was a fierce competitor, a great team leader, incredibly clutch, and he also played with a tremendous flair and was one of the best ballhandlers and streak shooters ever.
25) Scottie Pippen – Here he is, the most overrated player in NBA history. I do think he was a great all-around player; in particular, he was a great defensive player who was very versatile. Pippen is a top 50 player for sure, as he was maybe the best second banana ever, but he was not an alpha, and I don’t think you can rate him higher than guys who were “the man” and who flourished and won titles as “the man”. This is partially because his limitations were exposed whenever Michael Jordan wasn’t around to take over when things got tight. Yes, even in his much-lauded year of 1994, when Jordan retired and Pippen shockingly led the Bulls to 57 wins without him. People always mention this year as proof of his greatness, but they overlook how he wilted in the playoffs, whining on the bench when Kukoc was given the last shot instead of him in game 3 (truthfully, had Kukoc not hit that shot the Knicks likely would’ve swept), stupidly fouling Hubert Davis at the end of game 5 (and whether it was a “bad call” or not, clearly there was contact on the play, and Pippen never should’ve put himself in that position. It WAS NOT a phantom call as he and Phil Jackson would have you believe), and then disappearing in the second half of the decisive game 7. As for other demerits, let's not forget how he "led" a loaded Portland team to an epic choke job vs. L.A. (in large part because they didn’t have a legit go-to guy and he couldn’t stop Kobe), his one-year stint in Houston with Barkley and Hakeem which was a complete failure, or the infamous “migraine” game when he was overwhelmed by the pressure of a game 7 in Detroit. So, long story short, Pippen was a great all-around player, but he was far too flawed to deserve such a high ranking.
24) Elgin Baylor - This is clearly too low, despite his never having won a championship. Elgin should be in the top 20 at the very least.
23) Stephen Curry - This placing seems to have pissed a lot of people off (read the comments section), and I can understand why. It's premature to place him this high (see my prior comment about Penny Hardaway), though five years from now this will seem way too low if he keeps up his present play (back-to-back MVPs, which seems a near-certainty, will put him in rare company).
22) Kevin Durant - See prior entry; though Durant has more of a track record than Curry, this is still too high as of right now. These placings show ESPN's recency bias and I think are attempts to "stir the pot" (i.e. they’re click bait) more than anything, though KD is indeed an all-time great.
21) Kevin Garnett - This seems about right, maybe a little too high. KD was a great all-around player and leader who was a tireless worker and a fierce competitor (in fact sometimes he goes a little overboard with the intensity, resulting in several high profile altercations). But he's more a Pippen than a Jordan, which is why Paul Pierce was the guy who was primarily responsible for Boston beating LA for the title in 2008. You can't convince me that Tim Duncan wouldn't have had those Timberwolves teams out of the first round more than once.
20) David Robinson - This seems a little high, but not by much. A freak athlete and a dominant center who willingly let Tim Duncan take over the lead role so he could win championships. Of course, he never led the Spurs to a title as the head guy himself, and he was completely undressed by Hakeem Olajuwon in the '95 playoffs, which was probably his best team pre-Duncan. So he was flawed; in particular, he never developed a signature go-to move. But he was still a great player who's among the top physical specimen's the game has ever seen. You don't score 70+ points by accident...
19) John Stockton - Let me say first of all that John Stockton was a wonderful player, a legit first ballot Hall Of Famer who got the most out of his talent. He was the definition of the "pure point guard" that people seem to love so much, and he was scrappy (many would say "dirty") as hell and a very good shooter. Him and Karl Malone were the absolute masters of the pick and roll, and he was obviously a team oriented player who made his teammates better. But he was not an alpha, not a go-to guy. And a top 20 player of all-time should be a guy who can take over playoff games, and unlike the more talented Isaiah Thomas who did this often, Stockton rarely did, and the Jazz never won that elusive title (yes Jordan stopped them in back-to-back years but what about all the other years they lost, sometimes very early on in the playoffs?). When it comes down to it, it's a players’ job to make his team better, not make his teammates better, and Isaiah did that better than Stockton. I realize Stockton has the all-time assists and steals record, and he's to be commended for his longevity, but I've never been about rewarding stats compilers. At their best, Isaiah was clearly better, which was pretty obvious if you ever watched them play head-to-head (Malone once almost literally killed Isaiah because he was undressing Stockton so badly). P.S. Sorry to make this a Stockton vs. Isaiah thing, but this matchup is sort of a pet peeve of mine. In short, Stockton is an all-time great, but like Jason Kidd his limitations as a scorer are too often overlooked.
18) Charles Barkley - This seems a little high, but not by much. At his best Barkley was an unstoppable force of nature, a runaway freight train. Remember, he was probably the second best player on the Dream Team. That said, he was a bit of a ball stopper, he wasn't much of a role model (by his own admission) or team leader, and he wasn't much of a defender. Still, the Round Mound could sure score and rebound. At his best I actually think he was better than Nowitzki and Malone (read on), but they had longer primes and ultimately had better careers so I don't disagree with them topping him on this list.
17) Dirk Nowitzki - It's amazing what a title can do for a guy's reputation. Before 2011, Dirk was known as a great scorer, but one who was a bit "soft" and whose team typically underachieved in the playoffs (i.e. blowing the 2006 title and losing in the first round to Golden State as a #1 seed). But after his magical "guys jump on my back and I'll lead you to the promised land" run, that (probably unfair) perception totally changed, and now he's appreciated as the all-time great that he is. All you could do on defense is hope the guy missed, he had such great length and range on his jumpshot, but he could also get to the basket and was a good rebounder as well. Mostly, he's one of the sweetest shooting big men ever, and the best foreign player ever to play in the NBA.
16) Karl Malone - The Mailman was one of the most consistent players ever. First team All NBA in 11 consecutive seasons - wow. He was quite the physical specimen and he had a soft touch. But let's face it he too often failed in the clutch, and I don't think he deserved either of his 2 MVP Awards (Jordan deserved it in '97 and Duncan should've won it in '99). Still, this is about right.
15) Moses Malone - Considering he's often kinda forgotten, I was happy to see the 3-time MVP place so high. This seems about right; this guy was a legit dominator when he was at his best.
14) Julius Erving - It's hard to be objective about my favorite player of all-time. I can see some people thinking this is a bit high, but if you include his ABA domination this seems about right. Plus he was one of the most exciting and theatrical players of all-time, and that should count for something. Before Jordan, who perfected his blueprint, Dr. J proved that man can indeed fly.
13) Jerry West - The Logo. Mr. Clutch. Not much more needs to be said. This seems a pretty reasonable placement. The third best shooting guard of all-time. As great a GM as he was a player.
12) Kobe Bryant - This is too low. PER, Efficiency, blah blah blah. He had his selfish, stubborn faults, and he wasn't always the most likeable guy, but he was also "ice in his veins" clutch (spare me the numbers; I know what I saw - repeatedly), and completely selfish players don't win 5 titles (his 17 rebounds in game 7 in 2010 attests to his heart). Simply put, he was one of the most gifted offensive players of all-time, the closest I've seen to Jordan (who admitted as much), and he was a complete player who won as a second banana (really more a 1B than a 2) and as an alpha.
11) Oscar Robertson - I never saw him play except on highlights, but everything I've heard and read about him suggests that the Big O (or "Mr. Triple Double") should be in the top 10.
10) Hakeem Olajuwon - I love The Dream, well really I "hate" him as he was responsible for depriving my Knicks of the '94 title. His '94-'95 peak was extraordinary, but I don't think he was a quite a top 10 all-time player for the majority of his career, so as much as I loved his game, and as great as he was the rest of his career as well (like when he led the Rockets to an upset of the mighty Lakers on the way to the NBA Finals in '86, or his 49 point/26 rebound/6 block game 6 vs. Seattle in 1987), I think this is just a little too high, albeit not by much. But let's get something straight, he's not better than Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, or Karl Malone because he has 2 titles and they don't (well Robinson does but not as the main guy), he has 2 titles because he's better than them. Cause and effect. He was the difference and by far the main reason why Houston won. Swap him with Patrick Ewing in '94 and the Knicks win that series easily, with all due respect to Patrick.
9) Shaquille O’Neal - At his most dominant during the Lakers three-peat Shaq was arguably a top 5 all-time player because he was just SO dominant. Man, he just annihilated whoever he faced in the NBA Finals those 3 years. Props to Phil Jackson for bringing out the best in him. That said, although he's inarguably an all-time great, he too often underachieved. How does a guy his size not lead the league in rebounding even once? He was not the defensive force he should've been most of his career, and he too often wasn't in great shape, which was one of the main issues Kobe had with him. Sorry, but he should not be ranked ahead of Kobe, who had a much longer peak and won more championships (true Shaq won in 2006 but that was far more Wade's doing than his).
8) Tim Duncan - This seems a spot or two low, as part of me feels that for all his "greatest power forward of all-time" accolades, he's still underrated. Duncan has been so steady for so long, is such a modest team player, and the Spurs have been such a model franchise for so long, that people forget how dominant he used to be. Remember, he won a title in dominant fashion in 1999, his second year in the league (should've won the regular season MVP too but I guess the voters figured he hadn't paid his dues yet) with a roster that was hardly stacked with Hall Of Famers aside from a still-effective but aging David Robinson. The next season when Duncan was injured they lost in the first round of the playoffs. And then (to fast forward a bit) in 2003 he ended the Lakers three-peat with a dominant 37 point/16 rebound performance in a game 6 rout. Then there's his game 6 masterpiece vs. the Nets to clinch the title when he had 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and 8 blocks (Nets all-star power forward Kenyon Martin shot 3-23 largely due to Duncan). That's dominance. People forget how dominant Timmy was on offense AND defense. The idea put forward by many that Jason Kidd was a more deserving MVP that year was absurd; Duncan was the best player in the league on the best team in the league, basically the very definition of an MVP. And let's not forget how he took over the fourth quarter of game 7 of the 2005 Finals which was very much in doubt against a very strong Detroit Pistons team who had won it in 2004. And here we are, over a decade and two more championships later and the guy is still really good, though not nearly the consistent force he once was. No disrespect to Kevin Garnett, but it's an insult to Tim Duncan to even compare the two, it's simply no contest. Greg Popovich, while a great coach, is an all-time legend due to Duncan. The Spurs are THE SPURS due to Duncan, the most unselfish superstar ever, and one of the very best.
7) Bill Russell - I expected him to be higher, but can understand the placement. Russell was the ultimate winner, that can't be denied, winner of 11 championships, plus 2 in college. But Robert Horry was an important part of 7 titles, and he didn't even make the list. Context is important. Russell was the most important player on some of the best teams ever, but he didn't play in the strongest era, and he had significant weaknesses as a player (he was an average offensive player, which would've been a major issue had he not played with so many other Hall Of Famers, as well as being coached by arguably the greatest coach ever). As a 6'9" center, you also have to wonder if his defensive dominance would've been quite so prominent against the bigger, stronger players who came later on (then again he played against Wilt so maybe that's a non-issue). As a defensive anchor, clutch performer, and team leader he belongs very high, that's for sure.
6) Larry Bird - You had to see him play to realize how good Larry Legend was. At his peak, I think he was probably better than Magic. Heck, he was maybe the best player I've ever seen aside from Michael Jordan. Although he wasn't fast, he was quick enough because you just had to play up on that deadly jumpshot of his. Clutch doesn't even begin to describe him. A coaches' dream, he was always the hardest worker, the most unselfish team player, a great passer and rebounder, and a natural leader (like when he called his teammates "sissies" to motivate them versus the Lakers in 1984; it may not have been pleasant or politically correct but it worked). True, he wasn't the greatest one-on-one defender, but he had great instincts on defense as well (as Isaiah Thomas I'm sure would agree). He played with three Hall Of Famers and when the Celtics needed a basket, everybody knew it was going to Bird. It was never a debate, and you could count on the result. Remember when he showed up to the All Star 3 point shootout and said aloud to the locker room, "which one of you guys is coming in second?" The man oozed confidence and was a world class trash talker. The only reason Bird doesn't belong higher is because of back issues that shortened his prime.
5) Wilt Chamberlin - Sorry but this is too low. He may have been a stat whore who should've won more than he did, but the man AVERAGED 50 points per game one season. Wilt was simply the most dominant individual force the game has ever seen, so much so that they had to change the rules of the game in order to give his opponents more of a fighting chance. 100 says it all.
4) Magic - This seems about right. Previously I said that I thought that Bird was better in their prime, but though Bird was more unstoppable (IMO) Magic had the better career, with a longer prime and more championships. Of course, you could argue that Magic wasn't even the main man on his own team until 1987, when Kareem Abdul Jabaar willingly passed the torch over to Magic (because he was like 700 years old!). But when you talk about a guy who was a "winner", who "made his teammates better," who was "clutch" (some glaring failures in '81 and '84 in particular notwithstanding), who was versatile (who that saw it can forget his 42 point masterpiece in game 6 of the 1980 finals when he replaced an injured Kareem at center and led the Lakers to the championship?), and who played with flair and was just so darn likeable (his magnetic smile was ever-present it seemed) - Magic had all the major boxes checked.
3) LeBron James - This is probably the most controversial placement on the whole list along with Curry, and it's one I also disagree with (he belongs in the top 10 but not this high). Again spare me the advance analytics, this guy was nowhere near the leader or clutch performer that some of the other guys on this list were. That said, he belongs in the top 10 because he is the complete package; a physical freak with a great all-around game. His best years were the two championship years in Miami, when he wasn't so reliant on his inconsistent jumpshot and found a post up game, which helped him play with peak efficiency, plus he came through in the clutch (LeBron’s vocal critics mention that Ray Allen bailed him out vs. the Spurs, and he kinda did, but they don't mention LeBron's 37 points and 12 rebounds in game 7, which they should). But great though he is, he has too many negatives on his ledger to be this high all-time. There's the 2-4 Finals record, for starters, with the 2011 meltdown vs. the Mavericks especially standing out. There was the ridiculousness of "The Decision" and how he had to team up with two other all-stars in order to get his championships (before bailing on them as well when they lost). Recently, there was the firing of Dave Blatt, one of several coaches LeBron has blatantly disrespected over the years, so for all his unselfish team play, he's definitely a narcissistic, high maintenance guy who hasn't always been the best team leader. Still, for all his flaws he is a fabulous all-around player and an all-time great, I just wouldn't have him quite this high.
6/20/2016 Update: OK, now that LeBron has led the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit against the prematurely anointed “Greatest Team Of All-Time” Golden State Warriors, I have to admit that, as much as I dislike the guy, #3 seems much more reasonable now. Amazing what 3 games can do for a guy’s legacy. I still think it was BS that Green got suspended given how LeBron initiated everything (and essentially assaulted Stephen Curry minutes later without even getting a foul), and I feel that GS probably would’ve won in 5 had that not happened, but props to him and the rest of the Cavs (especially Kyrie Irving) for taking advantage and stepping up. After largely disappointing in three out of the first four games, James was at his absolute best the last three games, in part because he found his long lost jumpshot. Also, GS should’ve learned from Russell Westbrook not to “poke the bear,” but that’s exactly what they did, and LeBron pretty much answered all his critics and re-confirmed his status as the best player in the world in the process. I gotta give the man his due.
2) Kareem Abdul Jabaar - This seems fair. 6-time MVP, 6-time champion, all-time scoring leader, tremendous longevity (Finals MVP 14 years apart!), and he had the single most unstoppable shot (The Sky Hook) in NBA history. People who only saw the latter part of his career don't realize how athletic the younger Kareem was, so in that respect he's still kinda underrated.
1) Michael Jordan - An easy call; if anyone else had been placed here it would've invalidated the whole list. I try to tell my two boys just how great he was - yeah Kobe's great, LeBron's great, etc., but it's not even close boys...my own personal anecdote is this. I'm at game 6 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, the infamous "Charles Smith Game," and from my recollection the Knicks were down by 3 after 3 quarters. But that's not why I was nervous. Jordan only had maybe 10 points, and I knew he'd end up with close to 30. So their lead was really much bigger than 3 points. Sure enough, Jordan scored like 17 of their last 19 points, and though the Knicks admirably came back (and if you're a Knicks fan from back then I don't have to tell you how it ended), the Bulls won. And it was BJ Armstrong who scored the go ahead basket from what I remember, on a pass from Jordan who had 14 assists as well as 10 rebounds. Michael Jordan never disappointed, he was the most talented, most exciting, most competitive player ever who became a consummate team player and leader once he learned that even the best player ever can't win by himself. Another anecdote is I remember Jordan had an off game in game 3 vs. Orlando in 1996, when Pippen was actually the teams’ best player, a rarity. I remember Shaq was almost resigned to getting swept, saying Jordan rarely has two off games in a row. Sure enough, the next game Chicago finishes the sweep of an extremely talented (but sadly short-lived) Magic team as Jordan shoots 16-23 (mostly on outside shots) and scores 45 points. And nobody even remembers this game! That's how good this guy was, that a ridiculous game like that is basically forgotten because he had so many more memorable games (the "God Disguised as Michael Jordan" 63 point game vs. Boston, The Shot vs. Cleveland, the Flu Game, the Shrug Game, the Steal/Championship Winning Shot vs. Utah, the "Double Nickel" comeback game against the Knicks, another 55 point game vs. Phoenix in the NBA Finals, and so on and so on). People even overlook his regrettable Wizards comeback, because this guy was simply incomparable.
February 8, 2016: Should Terrell Owens have been a first ballot Hall Of Famer? Plus other HOF and Super Bowl thoughts...
A lot of people seem to be up in arms that Terrell Owens (i.e. TO) wasn’t inducted into the Hall Of Fame this past week, calling it a “joke” due to the monster numbers he put up. And while it’s true his numbers say “first ballot Hall Of Famer,” and in this day of advanced metrics many people seem to rely exclusively on numbers irrespective of context, I think there’s a statistic that these people are too easily overlooking. Well, make that two statistics, the first being 1-0, i.e. the number of Super Bowls won by WRs Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce compared to TO. The other is 3-1; 3 being the number of teams who couldn’t wait to get rid of TO in his prime (compared to the other guys who spent all of their prime years with the same team)! If this guy was so great, and I do think he was a great player between the lines, then how come so many teams couldn’t stand the guy? Look at his last year in SF, Philly, and Dallas – all disasters largely brought about by his cancerous me-first personality which poisoned their respective locker rooms (Hall Of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously would only refer to him as “the player” such was his disdain for the guy). And remember, there has been a logjam at WR in the Hall Of Fame for years; personally I think that there are many deserving WRs who should get in before TO, because unlike him they’re long overdue. I’m thinking of Cliff Branch, Drew Pearson, Otis Taylor, Harold Carmichael, Sterling Sharpe, Henry Ellard, and Gary Clark (if Art Monk is in the HOF then so should Gary Clark; no offense to Monk but I used to be a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and I was always far more scared of Clark than Monk, though Monk had a longer career and ended up with better numbers as a result). Anyway, I’m not saying that TO isn’t a Hall Of Famer, despite my obvious distaste for the type of player he was – his numbers are that overwhelming. But just like Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Marvin Harrison, and others not named Jerry Rice have had to wait in recent years, I have no problem with TO having to wait a few years while other deserving and far more team-oriented players are given their rightful spots in Canton as well (Joe Jacoby, Terrell Davis, and Kurt Warner for example, not to mention the aforementioned Bruce and Holt).
While we’re at it, no disrespect to Tony Dungy, a very good coach and by all accounts a fine man as well, but I never saw him as a Hall Of Famer. Aside from the one Super Bowl, his teams, while successful, typically underachieved come playoff time; let’s remember it was Jon Gruden not Dungy who got the Bucs over the hump. Tom Flores and Jimmy Johnson won multiple Super Bowls and I feel are more deserving of enshrinement. (And how is Marv Levy a Hall Of Famer and not Jimmy Johnson who blew him out in back-to-back Super Bowls?)
Congratulations to the Denver Broncos for winning the Super Bowl! A while back I wrote a blog entry about how defense does not in fact win championships, as is frequently touted, and maybe after watching them (and Seattle two years ago) I need to rethink that! Then again, Tom Brady and company had a lot to do with New England winning last year (as did Malcom Butler, obviously), and Alabama beat Clemson in the NCAA Championship Game this year 45-40, hardly a stellar defensive effort on their part, so I think these are still more outliers than the recent norm. Typically, great (well coached) teams, those that are very good on offense, defense, and special teams (Alabama also had a kick return for a TD, and Denver’s kicker Brandon McManus, unlike his counterparts, was flawless throughout the playoffs) win championships.
Lastly, some things we see weekly in NFL games are still mindboggling to me, like guys (Aqib Talib anyone?) getting 15-yard taunting penalties in the Super Bowl! Like speedster Tedd Ginn Jr. having room to run and electing to run out of bounds rather than trying to score! (And such absurdities are so commonplace in today’s NFL that the announcers didn’t even mention it!) Like Cam Newton backing off trying to recover his own fumble with the Super Bowl on the line! Guess Superman met his kryptonite yesterday! Happy for Peyton and DeMarcus Ware in particular.
January 6, 2016: My votes for the 2016 Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame
If I had a vote for the Baseball Hall Of Fame, this is what my 2016 ballot would look like. I’ll also provide explanations for some people I’m omitting.
Ken Griffey Jr. – This is a no-brainer, and really he should be elected unanimously. One of the greatest players of all-time who did it the right way (drug-free).
Mike Piazza – Many of us have our PED suspicions about the guy, but the fact is there’s no hard evidence against him, and lacking any such evidence, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. When I watched him play, I always thought I was watching a Hall Of Famer.
Jeff Bagwell – What I said about Piazza also applies to Bagwell, though I think Piazza had the better career overall. As with Piazza, aside from having big muscles and big stats, the guy was never found guilty of anything, so I’ll somewhat grudgingly give him my vote. If Craig Biggio is a Hall Of Famer then so is Bagwell, since he was the better player of the two even if he didn’t play as long and therefore didn’t hit the “magical” 3,000 hits number that was Biggio’s ticket to induction.
Trevor Hoffman – Relief pitchers are a hard lot to judge. I’m not going to get into how worthless the save stat is, or how Hoffman saved his worst for the few big games he actually pitched in. The guy had a remarkably consistent and productive career, and was the second best at his position (after Mariano Rivera) for about 15 seasons. That’s good enough for me.
Edgar Martinez – Similar to relief pitchers, we could debate about the worthiness of a guy who was primarily a designated hitter. He was a position player for a time but he had to give that up for health reasons; his bat was simply too valuable to put at risk. For about 8 seasons this guy was simply a monster hitter, among the best of his era, so for that reason he gets my vote.
Curt Schilling – He may not have the fancy overall numbers (only 216 career wins and no Cy Young Awards), and the fact that a lot of people don’t like his outspoken personality will likely work against him, but at his best he was a legitimately great, truly dominant ace who anchored multiple championship teams (and he was always at his best in the biggest games). I think you can make a case either way with him, but I’ll always reward greatness over very good numbers compilers.
Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds – Why is that everyone who is against known cheaters being immortalized as all-time greats are condescendingly referred to as “moralists” by the steroid apologists? I don’t get it. First of all, steroids WERE against the rules (not to mention against the law), everybody knew it, it’s just that the commissioner, owners, and player’s union were (deliberately) asleep at the wheel and so didn’t test for it (shame on them). Remember sprinter Ben Johnson, what a disgrace he was considered when he was outed as a cheater? It was a BIG DEAL, so believe me these guys knew what they were doing was unethical and against the spirit of fair play (to those of you who don’t care about cheating and “just want to be entertained,” I suggest you go watch the WWE instead! To me sports is all about the essence of fair competition, which the cheaters made a mockery of, not to mention the record books). To you “but everybody was doing it” excuse makers, I’ll grant you that a lot of people were doing it, but certainly not everybody. These guys got their money, they got their fame and adulation, the only thing left is to exclude them from the Hall Of Fame. To you “but Mays, Aaron, Mantle” etc. used greenies” people, I’d argue that you’re comparing a misdemeanor vs. a felony with regards to the spirit of fair play, and besides, as a voter it wouldn’t be my job to correct alleged wrongs from the past, but to simply pass judgment on the here and now. As for the “but they were already Hall Of Famers before they started cheating“ argument, let’s say you’re at college and have a 4.0 GPA, but get caught cheating during your last semester. Would you be expelled (hell yes!) or would you still graduate with honors? I don’t see how this is any different. The sad fact is, these guys should’ve been Hall Of Famers, they should be basking in post-career adulation, but their own greed and narcissistic personalities proved to be their undoing. They only have themselves to blame (along with Selig, Fehr, etc.). It’s not my fault they deliberately cheated the system (even if both were “vindicated” in a court of law based on technicalities; that’s not the same thing as being innocent, only a fool could ignore the mountain of circumstantial evidence against both of these guys). Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, etc. – I could reiterate similar arguments against their induction but they weren’t nearly as great as players and are therefore even easier to exclude.
Tim Raines – You could make a case that he was the second greatest leadoff hitter of all time (after Rickey Henderson), and from 1981-1987 he was one of the best players in baseball. Although he hung around for a long time as a solid role player after that, his prime was pretty brief, making him a tough call. For example, Don Mattingly had a similar prime in terms of duration, and at his best he was better than Raines (in fact he was probably the best player in baseball for a few years). So why is Raines getting so much more consideration than Mattingly? Because he hung around for many more years and was able to compile stats as a result? That seems silly, so my vote is No.
Mike Mussina – Mussina was a very good pitcher for a very long time. He had an admirable career and went out on his own terms, which in itself is admirable because it hurts his Hall candidacy since had he stuck around for 300 wins he would almost be a shoo-in. Which is silly, of course. Ultimately, I have very high standards for the Hall Of Fame, probably higher than most. I think that only truly great players should be inducted, and I don’t think that Mussina was great, it’s really as simple as that. I’d make the same argument against Alan Trammell, Jeff Kent, Lee Smith, Jim Edmonds, Fred McGriff, and Billy Wagner – all very good, but not quite Hall Of Fame worthy, in my estimation. Larry Walker I’d be more likely to vote for if other players like Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, and Andres Galarraga didn’t put up similarly ridiculous career-high numbers at Coors Field (and Todd Helton will have a similar perception problem when he comes on the ballot, fair or not).
Marvin Miller – Given his massive impact on the game he is deserving even if his creation, the MLB Player’s Union, morphed into Frankenstein’s monster over time.
George Steinbrenner – The man certainly had his faults; let’s not forget that he was twice suspended from the game, his history of hiring/firing managers (and mistreating people in general) was embarrassing, and the Yankees ‘90s dynasty was architected by Gene Michael/Bob Watson while he was suspended from the game and therefore unable to interfere. Still, he had a very charitable side and he was a 7-time champion who made the Yankees the most successful “brand” in sports. Ultimately, I think he has enough positives, and was such a huge and influential character within the game, that he should be inducted.
Anyway, that’s how I’d vote this year if given the chance.
February 27, 2015: What’s up with the Yankees number retirement binge? Plus the bogus myth of the “Core Four"
Are the Yankees really so desperate to sell tickets that they’re retiring the numbers of Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams this season? I mean, really? If they’re so hard up for money, how about actually selling some of those empty seats behind home plate by, you know, making them at least semi-affordable? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Yankees fan and I'm a fan of all three players, as well as the equally undeserving Tino Martinez who got a plaque in Monument Park last season. But these types of honors are supposed to be for legendary Hall Of Fame type players, and though they all played on some legendary TEAMS, they are not in that class individually. Not to mention that Pettitte is an acknowledged PED user (no I don’t buy his explanation either), which makes them seem like hypocrites given what a pariah ARod is to the organization these days (deservedly so, it should be added). And let’s not forget that while the Yankees were melting down during their all time choke job vs. Boston in 2004, Pettitte was in Houston in order to “spend more time with his family.” Pettitte was a very good pitcher who far more often than not did his best work in the postseason, but he wasn’t quite great and he isn’t quite deserving of such an honor, especially given his PED indescretions. As for Posada, for crying out loud, he was a platoon player on some of those championship teams (mainly because Joe Girardi was a far superior defensive backstop)! Posada was a very good (not great) hitter, an average defensive catcher, and one of the most comically inept baserunners I’ve ever seen. That some people actually mentioned him as a potential Hall Of Famer upon his retirement is laugable, as is the whole notion of a Core Four. Again, I like Posada, he was a tough gamer who was a key player on some great teams, but why is he given the Core Four treatment and not Bernie Williams, easily the superior player of the two and also homegrown? Because he hung around longer and was part of the 2009 championship team? And why is Pettitte part of the Core Four given that he bolted to Houston for three seasons whereas Bernie spent his whole career in Pinstripes? (we’ll conveniently ignore his flirtation with Boston…). And while we’re at it, Paul O’Neill and Tino were also far more important players than Posada to the pre-2000 title teams, so why are they excluded from this so called “core” of players who helped win multiple chamionships? The whole thing is kinda silly and inaccurate, IMO. Back to monuments and number retirements, I feel that these should be reserved for the legendary likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and no offense to these other fine players, but by being overly generous with these type of accolades, it cheapens the achievement for the truly deserving.
January 7, 2015: Why are most football announcers so annoying?
This blog post is meant to be amusing and make a point about how annoying most football announcers (like Kirk Herbstreet, for example; it could be any number of others) are these days in their eagerness to sound cool and impress. This is an imaginary conversation between myself and my imaginary 7 year old son Jimmy (based on imaginary commentary not too far removed from what I typically hear on TV).
Kirk Herbstreet – Alabama needs to start running downhill.
Jimmy: Dad, what does he mean? Isn’t a football field flat? How can they run downhill?
After a turnover when the defender rips the ball from the running back.
Herbstreet: And once again Alabama puts the ball on the ground.
Jimmy: Dad, that ball never hit the ground. Didn’t that used to be called a fumble?
Stat shown on screen that Ohio State has let 14 out of their last 15 opponents in the red zone score. (p.s. they actually did show this stat during the Alabama - Ohio State game.)
Jimmy: Dad, didn’t Ohio State just beat Wisconsin 59-0?
Scott: I guess Wisconsin didn’t get in the red zone. Either way, to include field goals and touchdowns as part of the same stat doesn’t make sense. Holding a red zone opponent to a field goal is actually good.
Jimmy: Good point dad!
Scott: Thanks Jimmy.
Herbstreet: And a great play is made by the true freshman.
Jimmy: Dad, what’s a true freshman?
Scott: I think it’s a freshman who hasn’t redshirted. They used to just call them freshman.
Jimmy: What’s a redshirt?
Scott: Well it has nothing to do with shirts! Basically it’s someone who has to sit out a year in order to play, usually because they transferred to that school from another school. So he may be a sophomore but in terms of football eligibility he’s still a freshman, so he’s called a redshirt freshman. Sorry if this sounds confusing. It would’ve been a lot less confusing had he simply called him a freshman.
Herbstreet: Somebody needs to make a play here.
Jimmy: Dad, isn’t that the goal on every play?
Scott: Nods yes.
Herbstreet: They need to get the ball to athletes in space. Gotta get to the second level so they can run downhill.
Jimmy: There he goes with the downhill stuff again. Dad, aren’t all football players athletes?
Scott: Shrugs. You’re going to ask me what the second level is, aren’t you?
Jimmy: Nods head yes.
Scott: Well, the defensive line is the first level. The linebackers are the second level. And the secondary is the third level. Most announcers seem to group the second and third levels together though, as the second level.
Jimmy: Looks confused.
Scott: I know it’s confusing. I don’t know why these sportscasters use these silly terms either.
Herbstreet – The quarterback needs to high point the ball so the athlete can get vertical.
Scott (as Jimmy looks at him with yet another quizzical expression): He means throw the ball high so the wide receiver can jump for it.
Herbstreet – That was a great back shoulder throw.
Brent Shillburger – It sure was, pardner. Don’t forget to watch our next game, a real doozy between (insert 2 mediocre teams here). Hey Herbie, look at the QB's girlfriend, she’s gorgeous (slobbers all over Herbstreet…)
Herbstreet – Um, yeah Brent, she sure is. Unfortunately, the QB just threw an interception. Totally the receivers fault, it hit him right in the hands. And the QB rating drops to 69.8, pretty ugly right now.
Scott (exasperated) – Why tout the bad QB rating when you just said the interception was the receivers fault! Don’t any of these announcers understand context???
Jimmy – Calm down dad!
Scott – Sorry Jimmy. Do you want something to eat? Looks like the umpteenth commercial break is upon us. Wow, these Matthew McConaughey car commercials are dreadful. I liked the Jim Carey version on Saturday Night Live better.
Jimmy – That was funny dad. No I’m not hungry, thanks. I ate during the last commercial break 5 minutes ago, remember?
Herbstreet – I sense a bubble screen coming.
Scott (beating Jimmy to the punch): That’s just a regular screen pass. I don’t know when or why a screen pass became a bubble screen pass.
Herbstreet: That was a great football play from a great football player. He’ll be playing football on Sundays next season.
Scott: He means he’ll be playing in the NFL next season. I don’t know when announcers became mandated to say the word “football” in every other sentence, or when people stopped saying NFL to refer to the (voice changes mockingly) National Football League.
Jimmy: Dad, you’re annoyed again, huh?
Scott: Shrugs. Sorry Jimmy. I don’t know why gridiron gibberish annoys me so. I should use the mute button more often. I still do love football, even though the majority of games in the NFL kinda stink.
Herbstreet – Alabama needs to get their defense off the field.
After a long Ohio State TD pass, Alabama’s defense is off the field.
Jimmy: Well at least Alabama’s defense is off the field!
Scott (smiles while feeling proud that little Jimmy realized the absurdity of “Herbie’s” prior statement).
Herbstreet – Brent, Alabama really needs to do a better job with their eye discipline. They have to do a better job of keeping Ohio State at the first level, as of now their completion radius is extremely wide.
Brent: You betcha, pardner! Hey folks, don’t forget to watch the Tostitos Nestle Crunch Taco Bell McDonalds Jiffy Lube Bowl next weekend! Herbie, that oughta be a good one!
Scott: Finally presses mute button, finds the rest of the game much more enjoyable.
October 9, 2013: Do wins matter for a starting pitcher?
Here it is, after a five year absence, the return of the sports blog! (Deafening silence commences!). This may be a one time deal, maybe not, but in any event, I've been thinking about the following topic a bit and figured I'd write up a brief entry. In looking over some of my lists below I'm tempted to update some of them, too (like calling Serena and Venus Williams a tie; not!), but heck they were snapshots of my opinion at that particular time so I guess they are all valid as such.
There seems to be a growing opinion among baseball stat nerds that wins somehow "don't matter." I agree that wins have been overvalued in the past, because there are other variables (run support, quality of bullpen and defense, etc.) and sometimes a certain amount of luck that can help shape a starting pitcher's W-L record. But to say they "don't matter" is patently absurd IMO and I believe the stat-heads who say this know stats but they don't know baseball. When a pitcher takes the mound, his goal should be to win the game, period. If a pitcher takes the mound hoping to just have a "quality start" (the minimum requirement of which is basically mediocrity) or to have a good WHIP (who cares how many walks or hits a guy gives up if the runs don't score? Andy Pettitte made a career of getting in and out of trouble) instead of to win, I believe he has the wrong mindset. A true ace should feel like if he gave up 2 runs and lost 2-1, he pitched well but not well enough, and he should not feel satisfied. That's what separates the good from the great, the willingness to say "it's on me" and go out there and do whatever it takes to get the "W". Granted, there are many variables/stats that go into determining the effectiveness of a starting pitcher, such as ERA (which can also be misleadingly skewed by a couple of bad starts), WHIP (even if I'm not a fan of it), strikeouts (again it denotes dominance but I don't think it really matters how a pitcher gets outs), other advance metrics that I'm probably not smart enough (or willing enough) to understand, and lastly, wins and losses. No, they're not the be-all, end-all determination of a pitcher's value, as many used to think, but to say that wins "don't matter" is idiotic :)
December 9, 2008: The greatest NBA Players Of All Time
Ranked by position since comparing point guards and centers is like comparing apples and oranges. Special thanks to my father and my Uncle David with whom I had many a discussion about this list, and who provided much needed information about some of the old timers on this list. It was fun putting this list together.
1. Magic Johnson – The ultimate winner, he made everybody better. An assassin with a killer smile, he could play and dominate at any position, and he could dominate a game without scoring.
2. Oscar Robertson – The man once averaged a triple double. Averaged. ‘Nuff said.
3. Isaiah Thomas – The best small guard ever to play, a team-first player who could and often did take over when the game was on the line. Too bad he was one of the worst GMs ever.
4. Bob Cousy – It’s hard for me to judge him; when I watch him on film I honestly think I could guard him (did he ever go left?), but the oldtimers swear by him, and he was the best PG of his era, so out of respect for that I’m putting him here.
5. Walt Frazier – Look at his stat line in game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. And the man played serious D. ‘Nuff said.
Jason Kidd- Like Magic he could also dominate without scoring, which is a good thing ‘cause he couldn’t shoot worth a damn, not consistently, anyway. He was a tremendous full-speed-ahead player and a visionary passer whose limitations were usually exposed within the slowed down playoff format. P.S. The way he quit on New Jersey last year was a disgracefully undignified exit.
John Stockton – A legit first ballot Hall Of Famer but grossly overrated nevertheless; not a go-to guy, take over kind of player. That people actually mention him in the same sentence as Magic, Oscar, and even Isaiah is mind boggling to me.
Steve Nash – Picture John Stockton with a much better offensive game, and a much worse defensive game (though Stockton often got lit up in the playoffs as well). He’d be in the top 5 if he wasn’t merely a very good All Star player with Dallas rather than the two-time MVP he later became with Phoenix (though I don’t think he deserved his second MVP over LeBron or Kobe).
Gary Payton – The Glove was a fantastic defensive player who also became a great offensive player, I just don’t think that he was much of a leader (he’s from the Charles Barkely/Stephon Marbury “I’m going to scowl at and blame my inferior teammates rather than lift their game and make them better players” school of "leadership")
Tiny Archibald – Went from being a scoring champion to simply a champion with the Celtics.
Kevin Johnson – KJ could get to the hole on anyone, at any time. Too bad he was always hurt.
Lenny Wilkens - Before my time but a great leader and defensive guard who later became a record breaking coach.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams – They're the two best point guards in the league right now, and both (especially Paul) have the potential to reach all-time status, but it’s too soon to tell where they'll end up belonging.
1. Michael Jordan - The greatest player ever. Had no weakness. The ultimate athlete and competitor who became the ultimate winner.
2. Kobe Bryant - Not quite MJ, but the closest thing I've ever seen. An assassin.
3. Jerry West - Mr. Clutch. The Logo. ‘Nuff said.
4. George Gervin - The smooth as silk Iceman was simply an unstoppable scorer and a joy to watch.
5. Clyde Drexler - A one-man fastbreak, and a supremely gifted player.
Dwyane Wade - He's already led his team to a championship and he seems healthy again after dominating the Olympics. If he stays healthy he should eventually crack the top 5.
Earl "The Pearl" Monroe - Possessor of a dazzling array of moves and a winning personality; he subjugated his stats to co-exist with former rival Walt Frazier and win a championship for the Knicks to prove it.
Reggie Miller - One of the best shooters ever and an incredibly clutch player who was a scorer, not just a shooter.
Allen Iverson - The most prolific scoring little man in NBA history, even if he was too often a one-man show with a questionable attitude.
"Pistol" Pete Maravich - Another one-man show, but quite a show it often was.
Dave Bing - A smooth operating Hall Of Famer.
David Thompson - According to my father, who knows his hoops: "He was the second best player in the ABA, and if drugs did not get him, I think he would have been right up there at two guard. He was probably the greatest leaper I've ever seen, and if you compare him to anyone, it might be D-Wade, and in my mind he was that good."
Hal Greer - Hall Of Fame shooting guard who played with Wilt on one of the greatest teams ever, the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers.
Sam Jones - "Mr. Clutch" on the great Celtics dynasty of the '50s and '60s.
Bill Sharman - When Cousy was doing his thing in the early years on the championship Celtics teams, his running mate at the two spot was Sharman. A tremendous shooter, Sharman was probably the best foul shooter of his time.
Tracy McGrady - Hard to overlook his lack of playoff success, but he was/is an all-world talent.
Vince Carter - His style has exceed his substance at times, and his toughness has often been questioned, but there's no denying that he's a tremendous talent. His performance in the Slam Dunk Contest was electrifying.
Joe Dumars - Overshadowed by Isaiah, Dumars was a complete player and a legit Hall Of Famer in his own right. He played Jordan better than anyone.
Ray Allen - One of the greatest shooters ever, and a very good athlete as well.
Calvin Murphy - Although not more than 5' 9", this lightning fast scorer was an excellent shooter and the best foul shooter of his time. ("AI without the crappy attitude" chimes in my uncle.)
Dennis Johnson - A winner, pure and simple. A great defensive player and a clutch scorer, it's criminal that he didn't get elected to the Hall Of Fame before he died.
1. Larry Bird - Larry Legend. ‘Nuff said.
2. Julius Erving - The man who proved that man can indeed fly. A class act too. Too bad his best years were in the ABA.
3. Elgin Baylor – What I said about Erving perhaps I should say about Baylor instead. The first high flyer and a true NBA legend despite never winning an NBA championship and being a poor GM.
4. LeBron James - If he stays healthy, he will be #2 at worst when all is said and done. But it’s too early to list him higher right now.
5. John Havlicek - A tireless worker and an underrated scorer. A relentless winner.
Rick Barry - An unstoppable shooter/scorer, even if he played no D and had a prickly personality that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way.
Bernard King - His prime was cut short due to injury, but in the mid-'80s with the Knicks he was completely unstoppable.
James Worthy - "Big Game James" was too quick for power forwards and too big for small forwards. He usually played McHale to a standstill though McHale is often accorded greater respect.
Billy Cunningham - The Kangaroo Kid!
Paul Arizin - One of the true studs in the early years of the NBA.
George Yardley - Before my time, but he was a prolific scorer and the first player to score 2,000 points.
Connie Hawkins - He was like 6` 8" and was the first guy that had huge hands a la Dr.J/Jordan, and he was a major dunker. He was a star in the ABA before Dr. J, and he was easily the best player in that league. Alas, due to gambling issues, he lost many of his prime years, and though he was also a star in the NBA, he was never the supersar he would have been since he only got to NBA late in his career. Still, this all-world, before-his-time talent is deserving of an honorable mention.
Scottie Pippen - A fantastic defensive player who was also extremely verstatile, Pippen was the ideal second banana. Alas, his limitations as the top dog were exposed whenever Jordan was not around (yes, even in his best year of 1994, when Pippen wilted in the playoffs, whining on the bench when Kukoc was given the last shot instead of him in game 3, stupidily fouling Hubert Davis at the end of game 5 (and whether it was a bad call or not, clearly there was contact on the play), and then disappearing in the second half of the decisive game 7. Let's not forget how he "led" Portland to an epic choke vs. L.A. or his failed one-year stint in Houston either.)
Adrian Dantley - A unique player. There wasn't anything outwardly special about him, he wasn't spectacular, he just had a knack for scoring and in particular for getting to the foul line. Before you knew it, he had 30 points and you didn't quite know how. Too bad Isaiah screwed him out of winning a championship with Detroit; he deserved better.
Dominique Wilkins - The "Human Highlight Film" was a gunner but also a dynamic, explosive scorer whose mano-y-mano battle with Bird in Game 7 in the 1987 playoffs was a battle for the ages.
Paul Pierce - A great scorer throughout his career who last year became simply a great all around, championship caliber player. He, not KG, is the Celtics go-to guy on offense.
Chris Mullin - I'm biased because I'm a St. Johns fan and he was my favorite player back in the day, but for about a five year period there in Golden State he really was a wonderful pro as well, sort of like a smaller, lefty Larry Bird. He wasn't nearly that good, of course, but he was a terrific shooter with a great feel for the game.
Alex English - A silky smooth scoring machine.
1. Tim Duncan – A dominant player on offense and defense who doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body. Another guy who makes everyone around him better while filling up the box score in multiple categories. Has led the Spurs to 4 championships.
2. Karl Malone – His numbers speak for themselves, even if he rarely came through at championship time and didn’t deserve either one of his two (regular season) MVP awards (Jordan and Duncan did).
3. Bob Pettit – He was before my time, but everyone (special shout out to my Uncle David) vouches that this guy was the real deal as an all-time great.
4. Charles Barkley – Although perhaps a more dominant player at his best, his prime wasn’t as long as Malones, and his defense was far inferior. Plus, he was a selfish finger pointer who too often dominated the ball too much. But as a 6’4” runaway freight train of a power forward, Barkley was one of the most uniquely gifted players of all-time.
5. Kevin Garnett – Tough call between him and McHale, I’ll give it to Garnett because in reality McHale’s prime as a truly dominant first tier All NBA player was rather brief. Both are better suited for the second banana role rather than being “the man”, but both are uniquely talented players and no-brainer Hall Of Famers.
Kevin McHale – Possessor of the most confounding array of low post moves ever, and an excellent defender as well who played big in big games. It was tough leaving him out of the top 5.
Maurice Stokes - A tragic story, this guy would possibly be in the top 5 if not for the brain injury that left him permanently paralyzed and ended his short but spectacular career after a mere 3 years.
Elvin Hayes - The Big E was an unreal talent.
Bob McAdoo - Another dominant offensive player who like Adrian Dantley and George Gervin led the league in scoring multiple times.
Dolph Schayes - Before my time but a deserving Hall Of Fame forward.
Dirk Nowitzski – One of the greatest shooting big men ever.
Dave DeBusschere – This rugged power forward was a great defender who was the glue to the Knicks championship teams.
Jerry Lucas - Great shooting range and a great rebounder. One of the all-time great college players, he was also a great pro in his early years playing with the Big O, and he later became a major 6th man with the Knicks.
Dan Issel - This guy could flat out score, though like some of the other players on this list some of his best years were in the ABA.
Amare Stoudamire - Very explosive but he needs to become a more complete player (i.e. at least try to play defense) before even being considered for the top 5.
Dennis Rodman - He had no offense and was a total headcase who needed a different set of rules than his teammates, yet "the Worm" was one of the best defensive players and rebounders in NBA history. A uniquely athletic freak, his offensive limitations would've been a bigger detriment had he not had the good fortune to always play on loaded offensive teams (Detroit, San Antonio, Chicago), and he was too big of a selfish headcase to warrant consideration for the top 5.
1. Wilt Chamberlain – Russell won a lot more, but more often than not that was due to having better teammates and a genius coach, as Wilt usually dominated even in losing efforts. His numbers were beyond ridiculous, to the point where they had to actually change the rules to try to limit his effectiveness. That said, he should've won more championships than the two that he did.
2. Bill Russell – Many would argue that the ultimate winner (11 titles in 13 years!) should be #1 here, but had he been on a lesser team his offensive weaknesses would’ve been a big issue. Still, it's hard to dispute that he was the greatest defensive player in NBA history, and the single biggest reason behind the biggest pro basketball dynasty of all-time.
3. Kareem Abdul Jabaar – The “Sky Hook” was the single most unstoppable weapon in NBA history, and people forget how athletic he was in the early days as well.
4. Shaquille O'Neal - It’s hard to evaluate Shaq’s career. In his 3 title seasons with LA, when he was hungry and motivated, he was one of the most dominant players ever. But too often in his career Shaq was not the defensive force or rebounder that he should’ve been, and far too often he has been in less than tip top shape (especially later in his career). The result: A first tier Hall Of Famer but also an underachiever.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon – As a Knicks fan I appreciate his greatness more than most. In Houston’s two title seasons he was all-world, and throughout the rest of his career he was merely great.
Moses Malone - Fo fo fo, and indeed Moses did lead the good Doctor to the Promised Land. A relentless warrior.
Bill Walton - Unfortunately injuries made his prime extremely brief, but at his best he was the total package.
David Robinson - Incredible athleticism for a man his size. Perhaps he was a bit "too nice" (i.e. soft), but that also enabled him to seamlessly transition to second banana status once Tim Duncan arrived; two titles ensued.
George Mikan - Way before my time, but obviously he belongs on this list somewhere.
Patrick Ewing - He was never the second coming of Bill Russell that he was billed as, and he was a very flawed player who didn't seem to make his teammates better. But he was a great shooting big man and a legit Hall Of Famer, even if he took far too many fadeaway jumpshots for such a supposed "warrior."
Nate Thurmond - A great center who had the misfortune of playing in the shadow of Wilt and Russell. I believe Wilt said Thurmond was the toughest on him.
Bob Lanier - He had a big game to go with his giant sized feet!
Willis Reed - The heart and soul of the great Knicks championship teams, his courageous entrance for game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is one of the NBA's most enduring images.
Dave Cowens - This guy would battle you all night long, and along with Hondo he was the key player on the Celtics' '70s teams.
Wes Unseld - Nobody threw a better outlet pass, and this undersized bull of a center did all the little things right in his relentless pursuit of excellence.
Robert Parish - Justifiably overshadowed by Bird and McHale, Parish's long arms and unique skills made him a force even against the game's best centers, even if he was clearly second tier when judged against Jabaar, Malone, Olajuwon, etc.
Yao Ming, Dwight Howard - Both keep getting better and better, but both need to do a lot more before even being considered for the top 5.
Finally, if I had to pick the best of the best, here would be my all-time NBA team (cheating slightly and using a 15 rather than a 12 player roster):
Jabaar, West, Baylor, Shaq, Olajuwon
October 24, 2008: Thoughts on the baseball Hall Of Fame
As of today, these are my thoughts about current players and whether they should be inducted into the baseball Hall Of Fame. Players are listed randomly.
David Ortiz – Needs a few more big years and I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Curt Schilling – Maybe his numbers aren’t spectacular to the often misguided stat geeks who seem to be taking over baseball, and he has a big mouth, but at his best he was a legit, dominating ace who was at his best in the post-season, where he was 3 times crowned World Series champ. He gets my vote because to me the HOF should be reserved for truly great players, not very good players who accumulate stats over a period of time. Like another deserving player, Jack Morris, I think he'll ultimately come up short though.
Manny Ramirez – A no brainer because he’s arguably the best righthanded hitter of this era, which enables me to overlook his "Manny being Manny" behavior, which took a disgraceful turn for the worse this year, no doubt spurred in part by the loathsome presence of agent Scott Boras. Because of his complete disgregard for his teammates and utter lack of professionalism, however, I would not vote him in on the first ballot.
Jim Thome – His numbers can’t be denied as one of the pre-eminent HR hitters of his era. That sure was some batting order the Indians had in the mid to late '90s.
Gary Sheffield – He will hit the magic 500 HR number (which I think should be raised to 600 in the post steroid era), and he was a great hitter. But he was also a one-dimensional player who was a perennial malcontent and poor teammate. As someone who admitted to dogging it in Milwaukee and who got busted for ‘roids (despite the typical pleas of innocence), he would never get the hallowed check mark if I was given a HOF ballot.
Vladmir Guerrero – He’s right up there with Manny in the great right handed hitters of his era department. Unfortunately for Angels fans, he’s also right up there with ARod in the perennial playoff choker department, but he’s still HOF-worthy, or at least he will be with a few more good years.
ARod – A no-brainer, despite being a me-first diva (like many of Scott Boras’ clients) and perennial playoff choker. His numbers are off the charts so I gotta vote him in without so much as a second thought.
Derek Jeter – Overrated my ass. Jeter is the type of player who the stat geeks would underrate; you have to see this guy every day to realize how good he is (or at least was), how he does all the little things that add up to winning, and how for many years he was money in the bank in the clutch. 3,000 hits seems a given which will be his ticket in along with his 4 World Series titles.
Mariano Rivera – He has 3 huge negatives on his ledger; if you’re a Yankees fan I don’t need to tell you what they are (walking Kevin Millar and giving a dead team life in 2004 was his biggest gaffe). But he’s still the greatest closer of all-time, and for several years was simply unhittable, especially in the playoffs where he was the single most important player of the last great Yankees dynasty.
Roger Clemens – If I was a voter, I wouldn't even consider inducting him until he admits that he’s a cheater whose late career resurgence was the fraudulent result of better chemistry. And I don’t totally buy the “but he was a Hall Of Famer before he started cheating” argument because we don’t really know when he started using. And please, don’t ever call him the greatest pitcher ever – more often than not, despite many chances, he was a post-season flop.
Jason Giambi – Yeah, tell me another good one. Without the juice he's just a one-dimensional slugger. I think we can discount his MVP caliber years, no? The stat geeks love his on base percentage but what good is getting on base if you can't run and you're just clogging up the basepaths? His fielding is beyond a joke. One of the all-time free agent busts, the Yanks are crazy if they resign him. Still awaiting a legitimate apology.
Johnny Damon – My 7 year old son throws better than him. Very good, not great. No chance.
Ichiro Suzuki - He has a .331 lifetime average, has great speed, plays outstanding D, has a Rookie of the Year/MVP season, and the single season hits record; he's looking really good if he does it for a few more years.
Randy Johnson - A no-brainer, the best lefthanded pitcher of his era.
Pedro Martinez - A no-brainer, the best righthanded pitcher of his era. Mets overpaid big time though, despite the ridiculous assertion that he was worth the money because he brought them "credibility" (as if Carlos Beltran and the others came because Pedro was there, not becaue the Mets offered them the most money).
Ken Griffey Jr. - An obvious shoo-in, his ridiculous stats would be totally through the roof if he hadn't gotten hurt so often. One of the most naturally gifted players ever.
Frank Thomas - He had some up and downs and was a terrible fielder with a rep as a selfish teammate, but he was simply one of the best hitters of his era. Plus, he gets extra points as one of the few players with the guts to speak out against the 'roiders without whom his stats would be even more impressive than they are.
Sammy Sosa - No speak English? No entrée Hall Of Fame, Senor Fraud.
Ivan Rodriguez - Wonder why "Pudge" isn't so muscular anymore...Another fraud, even his defense was overrated.
Andy Pettite - Hard to overlook the drug thing but he falls short anyway. A very nice career though and a big game pitcher more often than not.
Mike Mussina - More in the "very good" rather than "great" category, I think he falls short though he certainly bolstered his case this year with his first 20-win season.
John Smoltz - Include only his career as a starter or his career as a reliever and he falls short, but add them together and throw in his outstanding post-season numbers and you have a first ballot lock. If Bobby Cox had left him in Game 7 in 1991 him and Jack Morris might still be throwing zeros.
Greg Maddux - What I said about Pedro could also be said about him (minus the part about the Mets), though I would give Pedro the nod.
Tom Glavine - Part of me puts him in the "very good" rather than "great" category, but hey he did win 300+ games and two Cy Young Awards so he was REALLY GOOD if not quite dominant. So yes, he belongs, even though I personally dislike the guy for all his whining as the player's union rep in 1994.
KRod - He is certainly on his way, but he's only had 4 HOF caliber years thus far.
Trevor Hoffman - The all-time saves leader is a deserved lock despite that fact that saves is a pretty useless stat and he's blown the biggest games he's ever been involved with ('98 Series and last year's playoff with Colorado).
Jeff Kent - I personally think he's borderline, but his 8 100 RBI seasons and the fact that he was an offensive stud at a non-offensive position certainly bolsters his case. No doubt he benefitted greatly from the presence of Barry Bonds during his best years, and he himself isn't exactly Mr. Warm and Fuzzy, but he's certainly had an impressive career when one considers that he was once considered a Mets bust who they rued trading David Cone for.
Lance Berkman - He may be on his way if he can keep this level up for several more years, though his power numbers should be discounted somewhat since the ballpark he plays in is a joke. I think he'll ultimately come up short.
Albert Pujols - Probably already a lock, he has been baseball's best hitter this decade.
Jim Edmonds - A very good player and a nice (albeit injury prone) career, but not a Hall Of Famer.
Nomar Garciaparra - Damn, he looked like he was going to be a lock, but his performance really dropped, and his attitude wasn't so hot either (Boston winning only after sending his pout elsewhere in 2004). Nope.
Miguel Tejada- Another guy who looked to be on his way, and another guy (like Garciaparra) who I have strong suspicions about, Tejada is just an average player these days. No chance.
Chipper Jones - Sometimes you don't need to look at stats. If you watched Chipper Jones play, when he was healthy, he was a Hall Of Famer, period. Besides, his stats are HOF-worthy anyway.
Todd Helton - Another guy who has had a mysterious power dropoff in recent years, his stats are hard to take seriously anyway, as are anybodys who plays for Colorado (see the career stats of Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, and Andres Gallaraga as to why). He was a premiere hitter, just not a Hall Of Famer.
Carlos Beltran - Contrary to Chipper, sometimes you don't need to look at stats to know when a guy is not a Hall Of Famer. Carlos is yet another guy who wants superstar money without the actual responsibility of being "the man;" he's a very good player but no superstar (except for that one October free agent push with the Astros), who until proven otherwise will be best known for inexcusably striking out looking with the World Series on the line.
Garret Anderson - I think people tend to overlook what a good player this guy was, which is why I'm mentioning him, but he falls far short of being a Hall Of Famer.
Andruw Jones - He looked to be on his way, despite a low batting average, due to his power totals and wonderful fielding. But his lack of dedication and conditioning has caught up to him and he's no longer even a major league caliber player, let alone a Hall Of Famer.
Johan Santana - Needs a few more years at peak efficiency and he'll be in the discussion, but not yet. I like his chances though.
CC Sabbathia - Needs several more years at peak efficiency and he'll be in the discussion, but not yet.
Roy Halladay - Needs several more years at peak efficiency and he'll be in the discussion, but not yet.
Roy Oswalt - Needs several more years at peak efficiency and he'll be in the discussion, but not yet.
Brandon Webb - Needs several more years at peak efficiency and he'll be in the discussion, but not yet.
Magglio Ordonez - My guess is he will fall short due to time lost due to injuries.
Miguel Cabrera - Can he stay healthy and stay in shape long enough to put up the necessary numbers? Time will tell, but like Ordonez he's a great hitter.
Omar Vizquel - Ozzie Smith got elected so I don't see why he shouldn't as well, though he lacks Ozzie's talent for self-promotion.
Michael Young - 5 seasons of 200+ hits, a batting title, .303 lifetime average. He's putting up some nice numbers but it's way too soon to tell.
Luis Gonzalez - A very good player who accumulated over 2,500 hits, 350+ HRs, almost 1,500 RBIs, and a .285 avg. Quite frankly I find his 2001 season to be more than a little suspicous, and he falls short anyway.
Ryan Howard - He's likely to win his second MVP award this year, so he's well on his way, but it's simply too soon to tell.
Carlos Delgado - He seemed finished this year before magically learning how to hit again once Willie Randolph was fired (yes that's sarcasm you detect). You can`t dismiss his numbers, but if you let him in you really need to open the floodgates for superior players such as Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, and Andre Dawson, as well as comparable players such as Fred McGriff.
And here are my thoughts on some recent retirees:
Mike Piazza - As the best hitting catcher of his generation, maybe ever, he's a first ballot lock.
Barry Bonds- If you let in one roider you have to let 'em all in, so I say keep 'em all out instead.
Craig Biggio - 3000 hits or not, I vote "very good" rather than "great," so I'd say no, though most of the voters will certainly say yes.
Jeff Bagwell - This is where people's preoccupation with numbers gets me a bit annoyed. Everyone thinks Biggo is a lock HOFer because he got 3000 hits, but during both of their primes Bagwell was clearly the better player of the two. So why does Bagwell only have an outside chance while Biggio is considered a mortal lock? Because he hung around longer? That doesn't make much sense to me.
Roberto Alomar - Man he really lost it in a hurry with the Mets, but he was the best second baseman of his era, and truly a great player, so I would vote him in.
Rickey Henderson - A shoo-in, but like Manny I would make him wait a year for his perpetual selfishness. When Rickey wasn't happy, he could be a real dog. When motivated, however, he was one of the best players ever.
Larry Walker - My comments for Todd Helton apply to Walker as well.
Mark McGwire - When he's ready to talk about the past and tell the truth, I'll listen. Otherwise, I'm firm in my belief that his career numbers are not legitimate.
Rafael Palmeiro - So close to getting away with it. Glad he didn't. Nope.
September 24, 2008: Greatest female tennis players of the modern era
OK, I promised I'd do a top 10 female tennis players of the modern era (from the late '70s, when I started watching tennis, to the present), so here it is:
1. Martina Navratilova - Easily my #1 pick, at her best she was simply the most dominant player I've ever seen, and she's won an astounding 59 Grand Slam titles, many in doubles and mixed doubles (she won 18 singles titles, 31 doubles titles, and 10 mixed doubles titles); like John McEnroe, another superior lefty, Martina is almost unquestionably the greatest doubles player ever. It took her a few years to really find her killer instinct, but once she became obsessive about fitness her superior athleticism and shot making ability simply overwhelmed her opponents, even the great Chris Evert. A ridiculously good net player, Martina was the one female player who you legitimately thought could compete on the men's tour, and amazingly enough she is still playing doubles competitively in her 50s!
2. Steffi Graf - Graf is the only serious competitor for the #1 slot. She actually won more singles majors than Martina (22 to 18), but in her case I always have to qualify it with a "what if," as in "what if Monica Seles hadn't gotten stabbed?" Given that Seles was clearly the #1 player at the time, and given that she was never even close to the same player upon her comeback, you have to assume that several (let's say 5) of Graf's major titles likely would've went to Seles instead. Regardless, before and after Monica's dominance Steffi was certainly a dominant figure herself, winning the Grand Slam plus the Olympic Gold Medal in 1988, and always conducting herself with an elegant grace. In fact, there was a certain cold bloodedness to her relentless attack, which was highlighted by the most devastating forehand in women's tennis history, and helped by an underrated backhanded slice shot that was also hard to handle.
3. Chris Evert - Superior groundstrokes and a steely determination were Evert's calling cards. Similar to former boyfriend Jimmy Connors, Evert lacked the power and athleticism of her superiors, but she got the most out of her ability (18 Grand Slam singles titles) and for many years before Martina's rise to eminence she was always the one to beat.
4. Monica Seles - As I already mentioned in my Graf comments, it's really hard to judge her career. Her rise was meteoric, her prime brief and cut short for reasons beyond her control (some psycho Graf fan literally stabbed her in the back during a match). In her prime her main weapons were devastating two-handed groundstrokes (often accompanied by annoying squeals) from both sides, and a clutch determination that usually enabled her to come out on top, even against Graf. Unfortunately, when she came back she seemed to have lost the mental edge that was her calling card, and she also never quite got back into tip top playing shape.
5. (tie) Venus and Serena Williams - It's hard to say who was better; Serena at her best was probably more dominant, and both of them have had their ups and downs, as tennis has not always been their #1 priority, but both have had similarly magnificent careers that are far from over (perhaps in a few years one or both will rank higher). Serena has more power from the baseline and a better serve, Venus has better court coverage and a better net game (which I've always felt she should've used more than she does). Both are aggressive players whose go for broke style sometimes leads to sloppy play, and neither lack for confidence, always feeling like they are the one to beat. (This isn't always a positive attribute as Serena in particular never seems to give any opponents credit upon being defeated.)
7. Justine Hennin - Like they say, good things come in small packages, and for the past few years the best player on the women's tour has been Ms. Hennin. Like many of the players on this list, mental toughness is seen as one of her greatest attributes, and she is also arguably the owner of the greatest backhand in women's tennis history. Had she not retired suddenly this past year while seemingly still in her prime she might've ended up higher on this list.
8. Evonne Goolagong Cawley - I barely remember her, but she did win 7 Slams and I remember her being a great player, albeit a clear notch below Martina and Chrissie.
9. Martina Hingis - Briefly a dominant player (she won 3 out of 4 Grand Slams in 1997) before the rise of the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport, and the power game in general, this finesse player had a superior tennis mind and tremendous shot making ability from the baseline. She was also a tremendous doubles player, winning 9 Grand Slam women's doubles titles, but her career was also littered with controversy (mostly caused by immature comments and behavior on her part), and she lost 7 Grand Slam finals to go along with her 5 finals wins. Perhaps had she won more she would be higher on this list, and injuries and burnout also curtailed her career, which perhaps was not what it should've been after such a torrid start.
10. Lindsay Davenport - Really this spot could go to a few players, such as Tracy Austin, Hana Mandlikova, or Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and possibly Maria Sharapova or others in a few years, but I'll go with Lindsay, who got the most out of her ability and who made up for a lack of mobility by being a tremendously heavy hitter. I don't think I've ever seen any other woman consistently hit such deep shots with such pace; it's too bad she lost the 2005 Wimbledon Final against Venus when she had match point; had she nailed down that fourth major title I'd be more convinced that this is the right choice for the last spot on this list.
September 10, 2008: Greatest male tennis players of the modern era
As usual, I've enjoyed watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament the past two weeks (even though some of the matches end way too late). Wimbledon may be the most prestigious tournament, but I think that the U.S. Open is the most fun, what with the raucous New York crowds and the more neutral surface that allows for longer rallies. Anyway, here is my list of the 10 greatest male tennis players of the modern era (from the late '70s, when I started watching tennis, to the present).
1. Roger Federer – The Swiss maestro makes it all seem easy. He has all the shots, from anywhere on the court (especially his forehand which is probably the best in tennis history), and he rarely fails in the clutch. If he has any weakness at all it is a backhand that every once in a blue moon (like in the Wimbledon Finals this year) is a bit erratic. He has slipped slightly this year and no longer seems like a complete lock to break Pete Sampras' grand slam record, but I think he will eclipse it and even if he doesn't his unmatched dominance the past few years ensures that any argument about the #1 player of all-time must include Roger Federer.
2. Pete Sampras - Federer is so great that I think people tend to forget just how great Pete Sampras was. We're talking about a guy who had the greatest serve ever (a fantastic 2nd serve as well as a ridiculous first serve), had one of the best forehands ever, was a great net player, and was a guy who NEVER missed an overhead. His lone weakness, like Federer, was a backhand that was at times inconsistent, plus his conditioning, or lack thereof, was sometimes a problem, especially later in his career. But when his serve was on, he was almost impossible to break (even Andre Agassi, the greatest serve returner of all time, was helpless against him). At his best on grass or hard courts I think that even Federer would have a very hard time beating him, and he played in an era when there were more truly great players than today and he completely dominated it.
3. Bjorn Borg - The always-calm Swede was a phenomenal player with great groundstrokes (with a heavy use of topspin), a very good serve, a solid net game when necessary, and incredible court coverage. He won 6 consecutive French Opens and 5 consecutive Wimbledon's at the same time, a feat that may never be duplicated given how different those court surfaces are (in fact it wasn't until Rafael Nadal this year that it was even accomplished once since then). Mystifyingly, he never won the U.S. Open despite making 4 Finals, and only that major blight on his resume prevents me from putting him #1 (yes Federer and Sampras never won the French, but the U.S. Open is the second most important major). Plus he retired prematurely, citing burnout.
4. John McEnroe - Simply a genius with a tennis racquet, McEnroe was easily the greatest net player, with the surest touch, that I've ever seen. He had an excellent lefty serve too, often spinning the ball out ridiculously wide to set up easy volleys. Perhaps his groundstrokes weren't as great as some other players, but they were more than solid, and at his best few players have ever been more impressive than McEnroe. Of course, he never won the French (once blowing a 2-set lead to Ivan Lendl in the final) or Australian (the fourth most important major), and he was a total jerk on the court, both negatives on his ledger. He also took a 6 month break and when he came back he was never really the same player, in part because the power game had become more prominent and McEnroe was more of a finesse player. P.S. He was also the greatest doubles player of all-time and a terrific Davis Cup player.
5. Jimmy Connors - He had his weaknesses, namely an unimpressive serve and forehand, but he was an incredible serve returner, had a wonderful backhand, and nobody played with more guts or determination. It was always a dogfight against Connors, who won more tournaments (not majors) than anybody, was #1 for a long period of time (even if Borg was better during much of that period), and had some amazing runs at the U.S. Open (where he was always a crowd favorite and which he won 5 times) at an advanced age, in part because he became a more active and better net player as he got older. His run to the U.S. Open semifinals at 39 years of age was magical.
6. Ivan Lendl - He wasn't charismatic, and he was somewhat mechanical, but a strong serve (I always remember his super high tosses), deadly forehand, and superb conditioning made this incredibly consistent player an all-time great. Totally dominating the mid-to-late '80s when he was #1 for several years running, his negatives are simply that he lost too many finals, which is why I rank him a notch below the all-time, all-time greats. He also did not have the game to win Wimbledon, though he did admirably make 2 finals. He also made an incredible 8 consecutive U.S. Open Finals in a row, but he lost 5 of them, and frankly I think that he got intimidated by Connors in two of them. Still, he had a winning record against most of the players on this list, including McEnroe and Connors, and he got the most out of his ability.
7. Andre Agassi - Agassi had a strange career of highs and lows. At his best he was still a notch below the very best (out of his 8 Grand Slams, 4 were Australian Opens and the 2nd time he won the U.S. Open it was partially because Sampras and Patrick Rafter were injured), and not once but twice his lack of dedication made him slip badly in the rankings. Still, he always came back, and later in his career he was a model of dedication and conditioning. He had some of the most wicked groundstrokes ever and in my opinion the greatest serve return of all time (even better than Connors). Agassi became one of a very select few players to win all 4 Grand Slam tournaments, ultimately proving that substance, not image, is everything.
8. Stefan Edberg - The second best net player I've ever seen after McEnroe (Rafter would be third), this calm Swede proved his greatness by winning several Grand Slam titles, including back to back U.S. Open championships. He had a good serve and decent groundstrokes, but everything about his game was geared, like McEnroe, towards setting up his net play. At times (like McEnroe) he could be overpowered, but he was a terrific, athletic player and a second tier all-time great.
9. Boris Becker - Edberg vs. Becker was one of the hardest matchups to decide upon. Becker really ushered in the power game when he stormed Wimbledon as a 17 year old, and he went on to win the biggest tournament three times (pity about those four losses in the finals, two to Edberg), as well as an Australian and U.S. Open. His groundstrokes could be a bit erratic at times, but he was a big server and a strong net player whose go for broke style always made him a fan favorite.
10. Mats Wilander - People forget about Mats Wilander, whose 1988 season, when he won 3 out of 4 majors, was one of the best in tennis history. Seemingly satisfied with finally gaining the number one ranking after many years of trying, Wilander seemed to fade from view overnight, another victim of burnout I suppose. Aside from 1988 he was never a dominant player, but he sure was consistent, and he amassed 7 Grand Slams (never winning Wimbledon and only one U.S. Open) while compiling an impressive career that's worthy of a top 10 placing in the modern era.
Near misses: Jim Courier, Guillermo Vilas, Patrick Rafter. Also Rafael Nadal; it's only a matter of time before he surpasses several players on this list.
Next blog entry: Greatest female tennis players of the modern era.
September 1, 2008: Does defense win championships?
You hear it all the time, especially in the NFL: "defense wins championships." But is this true? Let's take a look at the past 20 Super Bowl winners (this is strictly by memory, with no stat checking, and the year is based on the regular season, not the month during which the Super Bowl was played):
1989 Super Bowl champion: San Francisco 49ers (great defense, even better offense)
1990 Super Bowl champion: New York Giants (great defense, solid ball control offense that wasn't explosive but did manage to physically dominate the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl)
1991 Super Bowl champion: Washington Redskins (great defense, even better offense)
1992 Super Bowl champion: Dallas Cowboys (great defense and offense)
1993 Super Bowl champion: Dallas Cowboys (great defense and offense)
1994 Super Bowl champion: San Francisco 49ers (great defense, even better offense)
1995 Super Bowl champion: Dallas Cowboys (great defense and merely a very good offense this time due to the loss of guys like Alvin Harper)
1996 Super Bowl champion: Green Bay Packers (great defense and a very good offense)
1997 Super Bowl champion: Denver Broncos (very good defense and a great offense)
1998 Super Bowl champion: Denver Broncos (very good defense and a great offense)
1999 Super Bowl champion: St. Louis Rams (good defense and a great, truly prolific offense)
2000 Super Bowl champion: Baltimore Ravens (record breaking defense, barely average offense that could at least run the ball and had a great playmaker in TE Shannon Sharpe. Plus they made quite a few big plays on special teams in the playoffs that year. Nevertheless, this team stands out as the LONE case in the past 20 years where a defense truly carried its offense to a championship)
2001 Super Bowl champion: New England Patriots (great defense and an opportunistic offense. Still, I think Tom Brady and Adam Vinateri had something to do with that SB win, don't you?)
2002 Super Bowl champion: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (great defense but also a much improved, very good offense that year, which was the biggest difference between them and years past, though their D also went to another level unlike in previous years where they underperformed in big spots)
2003 Super Bowl champion: New England Patriots (great defense and a very good offense. They outscored the Panthers in the Super Bowl, simple as that, as Jake Delhomme lit up the Pats D).
2004 Super Bowl champion: New England Patriots (great defense and offense. The addition of Corey Dillon makes this probably the best Pats SB winner, though again their D was more bend but not break than dominant against the Eagles).
2005 Super Bowl champion: Pittsburgh Steelers (great defense and a very solid, opportunistic offense)
2006 Super Bowl champion: Indianapolis Colts (very good defense and a great offense)
2007 Super Bowl champion: New York Giants (great defense and a very solid, opportunistic offense. Again, without Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, and David Tyree, does NY pull off the giant upset? Was NE heavily favored because of their great defense or their record breaking offense? Hmmm)
So, in looking at the past 20 Super Bowl winners, it seems to me that the vast majority of these teams had very good or great defenses and offenses, with neither really carrying more weight than the other. But say something enough times, like "defense wins championships," and it's eventually taken as the truth and repeated as gospel. So, the next time you hear some announcer say "defense wins championships," be sure to add "yeah, if you have a good offense..."
August 22, 2008: The 2008 Summer Olympics - simply spectacular
I gotta admit, the Olympics snuck up on me this year. I wasn't especially looking forward to it, only mildly so, but for the past two weeks I've been glued to my TV set for several hours nearly every night. Obviously the main selling point early on was Michael Phelps' incredible achievements, with that amazing relay finish by Jason Lezak and Phelps own "how did he win that?" 7th gold in the 100 meter butterfly being especially notable. The final relay race, completely owned by Phelps, was a coronation for a new Olympic king, and throughout the two weeks Phelps wore his crown well, and Mark Spitz was equally gracious in congratulating Phelps for breaking his old standard of 7 gold medals.
But the Olympics has offered far more than Michael Phelps, and I've been surprised at how even sports I never previously cared about, like beach volleyball and diving, have kept me interested. There was impossibly elegant Nastia Lukin and adorable little Shawn Johnson battling the Chinese for gold medals in gymnastics, but also Alicia Sacramone falling apart in the team competition and then gathering herself for what should've been a bronze medal winning performance on the vault. In track and field, there was plenty of drama and spectacular performances, particularly from Usain Bolt, who not only achieved the rare 100m/200m sprint double, but broke world records both times, including Michael Johnson's seemingly unattainable record set in the 200 meters twelve years ago in Atlanta.
The coverage has been good too, unlike in previous years where I found NBC's coverage to be severely lacking, what with all the sappily implausible features instead of live action, taped events being dishonestly passed as live action (there is still room for improvement but in most cases NBC was much more honest in their reporting this year), and strict focus on American jingoism at the expense of everything and everybody else. This year the coverage was far more inclusive, and many of the visuals, such as the underwater views of the swimming, were simply spectacular. The announcing, from Tom Hammond and Ato Boldin in track, Chris Marlowe and Karch Kiraly in beach volleyball, and Ted Robinson and Cynthia Potter in swimming, was very solid for the most part. Again, the coverage wasn't perfect; I could've certainly lived without Bela Karolyi's incomprehensible "commentary," and somebody needs to calm Rowdy Gaines down a bit. I also have my suspicions that some of the top sprinters were probably too good to be true, if you know what I mean (I hope I'm wrong here, and since they are drug tested I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now), and some of the gymnastics judging was downright incompetent if not outright criminal. But on the whole the Olympics have been a terrific watch and provided great theater. It helped my own enjoyment that for the first time I was able to watch the Summer Olympics with my two sons, ages 7 and 5, who were really into it (especially my older one), as was my wife, so it was a family affair, one that we'll fondly remember for a long time.
August 20, 2008: Rating the sports commissioners
This blog entry is devoted to rating the commissioners of the four so-called "major" American team sports (sorry, that does not include soccer). So, without further adieu...
Bud Selig (MLB): It's always hard for me to forget that this man made his fortune selling used cars, and that this so-called commissioner who is entrusted in protecting the "integrity of the game" was long a walking conflict of interest due to his ties with the Milwaukee Brewers. On the plus side, most people would agree that introducing the wild card has made the regular season more interesting (though I would argue that it has also deprived fans of true winner take all pennant races), especially for small market teams who can stay in the hunt longer than they otherwise would. Interleague play has also been a popular marketing tool, even if it seems somewhat played out a mere 10 years after it was introduced, and at least Bud has tried to make the all-star game relevant again by giving the winning side the homefield advantage in the World Series (a more sensible thing would be to give it to the team with the best overall record, no?). Baseball is flourishing, that can't be denied, and I guess Selig deserves some credit for that, though the cynic in me is far more apt to credit the greatness of the game itself and the suckers, 'er, fans who continue to fork over ridiculous sums of money only to be treated like crap time and time again (rather than list repeated examples of this, I suggest you start reading the brilliantly incisive columns of Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, my favorite sportwriter who lambastes Selig on a regular basis - here is a great example). Ultimately, I feel that Selig is a terrible commissioner who was simply in the right place at the right time, and whose negatives will define his term above all else. The first strike against him is the unforgivable strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series, even if equal blame, perhaps more, belongs with Donald Fehr's detestable greed-driven player's union. Of course, Selig's biggest stain, the one that he will never be able to outlast, is that he presided over "The Steroid Era." Yes, baseball is prospering, it makes a lot of money, but because all Selig cares about is making money, baseball under his watch also completely lost its soul. Under his watch, yours truly who loves baseball and used to follow it religiously, has lost interest to a large degree, and for his significant role in that I can only give him a richly deserved F rating.
David Stern (NBA): Another right place, right time guy, I find David Stern, the so-called "Marketing Genius," to be competent but hideously overrated. That he is incredibly arrogant and condescending is perhaps why I don't hold him in higher regard, but he's just another guy who chases the big T.V. bucks at the expense of having a long term vision (yeah let's put all our games on cable so that we have a much smaller audience! And then let's put them on at, say 9 PM, really 9:30, so that children can't possibly stay up and watch even the second half let alone the entire game, so that 15-20 years from now they'll care less about the NBA! Let's stretch out very the first round of the playoffs so long that even hardcore fans get bored silly! Marketing Genius! Let's also expand the teams so that the talent level is so diluted that half the games each night are damn near unwatchable, and while we're at it let's make the games so expensive that your Average Joe can't possibly afford them…) I could go on, and there are certain things, such as the insane loudness and overall cheesiness of most arena soundsystems, and the increasing thuggery of the NBA, that aren't his fault and which he's tried to address. Getting an age limit was also a victory on his part, as is having a salary cap. His efforts towards globalizing the game have been very successful, and I like that he supports the WNBA; though I've never actually watched a WNBA game, I do like that a pro women's league exists. Still, the recent Tim Donahy scandal and his allowing the new Seattle Supersonics owners to heist the team over to Oklahoma City are other major negatives on his ledger. Ultimately, there's no question in my mind that in the NBA's '80s/'90s heyday he rode the coattails of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and especially Michael Jordan (whose on-court genius made Stern a "genius"), and that his league hasn't been nearly as popular since they left. Grade: B-
Roger Goddell (NFL) - Goddell is new to the job so this rating could easily change. And I will say that right from the start I really liked his no nonsense stance in cracking down on the ridiculously high amount of criminal activity present in his league; if you ended up on the wrong side of the law, Goddell was going to be on your case and a suspension was likely to ensue, and that's a good thing. However, there have since been some serious negatives on his ledger, the most obvious one being how he completely botched "Spygate;" it's hard to imagine that he could've handled that whole sorry episode any worse. Also, the NFL Network is a money grubbing disgrace that Bud Selig would be proud of, and that's nothing compared to the new PSL ticketing scams (basically legalized extortion where season ticket holders now have to pay teams in order to be able to buy season tickets! I swear, you couldn't even make this stuff up other than in the fantasy world that is major league sports) which obviously have his full blessing (his silence on the matter is deafening). And he's another guy who whores his league for TV money (again, read Mushnick for details), but they all do I guess, it's just that he had gotten off to such a promising start that I actually expected better from the guy. Rating: C
Gary Bettman (NHL) - As someone who is only a casual hockey fan I'm really not qualified to comment on him as much as the others. He's a former NBA guy who worked under Stern, his mentor, so we're talking about a guy with similar philosophies. Like Selig, the work stoppage a few years back was inexcusable (and this time an entire season was lost), and his league has expanded beyond what was reasonable. They all have, but it's worse in his case because he sent teams to warm weather places that didn't even want hockey, which made absolutely no sense. Throw in the lost contract with ABC/ESPN, and the fact that he has been a total failure in his attempts to lift the sport beyond being a niche sport beloved by a select few but ignored by most, and Bettman joins Selig in the incompetent F club...
August 14, 2008: Why is ESPN Classic so awful?
I can't tell you how many times I have put on ESPN Classic hoping for some, you know, classic sports event to watch, only to be disappointed. I should know better by now, but you would think that the self-proclaimed "World Wide Leader In Sports," with all their pull and (you would think) an incredible library of amazing sports games and events at their disposal, wouldn't be so awful. On the plus side, they've come up with some interesting original shows, such as "Who's Number 1" and "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame" (they seriously need to produce new episodes of each, though) and they occasionally have other good features such as "Game Of The Week" during college football season where they replay that week's best game. Still, far often than not ESPN Classic is not only unfulfilling, it's downright maddening. For example, I'm a huge boxing fan, and they do show some old fights, but often it is the same Mike Tyson or Muhammed Ali fights over and over again, or fights that originally appeared on ESPN, many of which weren't so hot in the first place (do I really need to see a 40+ year old Hector "Macho" Camacho fight some bum in a 10-year old fight?). Where are all the great fights? Where's Arguello-Pryor, Hearns-Leonard, Hearns-Hagler, Barrera-Morales, Gatti-Ward, Coralles-Castillo; I could go on and on...Where are the classic baseball, basketball, and football games that all too infrequently appear? How about some old classic tennis matches (Borg-McEnroe, Connors-Krickstein, Sampras-Corretja, etc)? Why is the channel devoted to American Gladiators, rodeo, World's Strongest Men, and poker (which is NOT a sport) competitions instead? Who the heck is the target audience for this channel??? It's certainly not fans of classic sports events, otherwise they would air more such events, but as it currently stands ESPN Classic is about as accurately named as MTV these days...
August 6, 2008: Horseracing
The other day was the return of Big Brown, and I'm glad that he won the Haskell Invitational, despite my distaste for his gasbag trainer Rick Dutrow. It wasn't an overpowering performance by any means, certainly not like his already legendary Kentucky Derby or Preakness performances, but it was a very gutty performance and an exciting race. Here a link to it: Big Brown wins the 2008 Haskell Invitational. Here's hoping that him and Curlin get it on at the Breeders Cup Classic.
Anyway, I've become quite the horseracing fan in recent years, and here's my quite unofficial, subject to change at any moment, top 10 U.S. racehorses of all time:
2. Man O' War
5. Count Fleet
6. Seattle Slew
7. Dr. Fager
8. Native Dancer
10. Spectacular Bid
Secretariat is my personal favorite. I read William Nack's excellent biography of him and I often view his races on youtube, especially his three phenomenal Triple Crown performances (see below). I believe that his performance in the Belmont Stakes is the greatest single performance by any athlete ever. I'm also partial to horses I remember racing such as Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and the Bid, and I'm only going by old clips of some of the others (many can be found on youtube) and what I've read about the legendary Man O' War. Among the other horses I considered was Forego, Ruffian, and Swaps. You can read about these horses and others on the wikipedia site devoted to the Blood-Horse magazine List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.
It's a good list on the whole despite being tainted by the idiot who voted Secretariat 14th on his ballot so that Man O' War would win. I have other quibbles about it as well, such as Swaps and Ruffian being way too low and the exclusion of near Triple Crown winner Real Quiet (beaten in a photo finish at the Belmont) and Sham, Secretariat's great rival and a likely Triple Crown winner had he been born another year. I have to admit I'm not that familiar with about half the horses on the list, but I aim to read up on them as well. As for horses that might be worthy of inclusion since this list was published in 1999, I'd say that Point Given, Ghostzapper, and Curlin would probably stand the best chance, followed by Barbaro (a great horse who I feel would have won the Triple Crown had he not tragically broken down), Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Invasor, Rags To Riches, Bernardini, and possibly Big Brown depending on how he finishes this year up. Unfortunately, most of the horses today simply don't last; they're generally retired to stud very young, either for the money or due to injury, and we don't get to see how great they really can be because they are retired prematurely. Not that I blame these owners given the outlandish stud fees, but it certainly has hurt the Sport Of Kings, as has the high-profile breakdowns of Barbaro, Eight Belles, and others; banning drugs and revisiting the topic of track surfaces is a start in the right direction on that front. Still, it's hard not to think about the races that could've been: Cigar vs. Holy Bull (which actually was developing into quite a race until Holy Bull got hurt), Ghostzapper vs. Afleet Alex, Barbaro vs. Bernardini, Invasor vs. Curlin, and so on; what great races those would've been had injuries not prevented them!
Here are some of my favorite races:
Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby - Secretariat sets a record that still stands, incredibly coming from last place and running each split faster than the one before it.
Secretariat in the 1973 Preakness Stakes - Showing his versatility, Big Red again starts out last before surging to the front with an incredible, almost unheard of burst around the very first turn. This would've been another record but for a clock malfunction that has foolishly never been corrected.
Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes - I get chills every time I watch this. Perfection is so rare and special, and it is achieved here. Big Red's damn near supernatural 31-length victory was clocked in a record 2:24 that still stands 'till this day, has never been approached, and quite frankly probably never will be.
Personal Ensign vs. Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders Cup Distaff - Personal Ensign, in her last race, aims to retire undefeated, but she's matched up against Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors who is determined to give her all she can handle. An incredibly exciting race.
Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes - They raced four times but this was the best one, a nose-to-nose down the stretch humdinger that's easily the most exciting Preakness ever. I always felt that Easy Goer would've won had he not been squeezed on the rail and had jockey Pat Day not turned his head as they neared the finish line, but Sunday Silence won 3 out of 4 so you have to give him his due and say that maybe he was just a little bit better, though Easy Goer was a brilliant colt himself.
Forego in the 1976 Marlboro Cup - Carrying a lot of weight, as was often the case, the great Forego makes a memorable stretch run.
Exceller vs. Seattle Slew in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup - Those were the days, when giants of the sport raced each other regularly. Affirmed was also in this race but had problems with his saddle (he was in trouble anyway), and it came down to the above two horses, with both giving arguably their best efforts ever, as Slew fought back when it looked like he was toast after blazing through super-fast early fractions (courtesy of a rabbit who was entered in the race for just that purpose). Read the reader comments below, which shed some light on this fascinating, controversial race, and on the sad, disgusting fate that later befell Exceller.
Rags To Riches vs. Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes - This victory is even more impressive given how great Curlin has turned out to be. I love the call too, "these two, in a battle of the sexes in the Belmont Stakes!" This race will be legendary for many years to come.
Affirmed vs. Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes - Saving the best for last, this is simply the greatest, most fiercely contested extended stretch duel in the history of the sport, especially given how high the stakes were. Alydar, like Sham before him, was simply born in the wrong year, but I'm sure glad he was as he and his great rival (they raced 10 times!) Affirmed gave us many unforgettable moments, none more so than here.
August 3, 2008: Welcome to the sports blog (also baseball and boxing)
We're trying a new feature here at Scott's Rock and Soul Album Reviews: The Sports Blog. I'm not sure how often I'll update it, or if I'll even continue it, but what the heck, I think it might be fun. I fancy myself to be pretty knowledgeable about many different kinds of sports, so I'm just going to spout off on any range of topics as I see fit. Unlike with my music reviews, which on occasion have been criticized for being too positive, I seriously doubt that will be the case regardinging this blog. For, although I love sports, I have largely come to despise what big time sports have become. As for why, I suppose you'll just have to read on...
OK, the first topics we'll address are the recent trades in Major League Baseball (MLB). Props to the Red Sox for finally unloading Manny Ramirez. Although a fantastic hitter when he wants to be, Manny's behavior throughout the years, but especially this year, is simply deplorable and I consider both him and his amoral agent Scott Boras to be complete disgraces as human beings who represent everything that is wrong about sports today. Then again, let's not give too much credit to the Sox who induldged his "Manny being Manny" BS too many times to mention; for his assault on a 64-year-old traveling secretary to not warrant any suspension was beyond cowardly both by the Sox organization and MLB, the latter of whom I suppose didn't do anything to avoid a confrontation with the useless player's union. One last word on Manny: If I was a Hall Of Fame voter I would vote him in but I would wait a year before doing so; he does not deserve to go on in the first ballot, period. The same goes for Rickey Henderson, who was another all-world talent who far too often was also a completely selfish, me-first mutt.
As for the Yankees, I suppose getting "Not So Pudgy Anymore" Rodriguez was a no-brainer, but as a Yankees fan I find it troubling that several months after the Mitchell Report exposed several former and current Yankees as 'roiders, they obtained another OBVIOUS former 'roider in Pudge. Just look at his body transformation over the past few years! Why nobody seems to mention this is beyond me, and maybe I'm an old fuddyduddy, but I'd rather have a lesser team with guys who I can legitimately root for without such baggage than morally questionable characters such as Pudge, who I would not vote for the Hall Of Fame because I don't trust his numbers as being legitimate. Ditto Bonds, Sosa, McGwire - the list goes on. And if any player wants to blame me for being so cynical and distrustful of their accomplishments, I'll simply tell them to blame their union, not me, since it was they who repeatedly abandoned the innocent in order to protect the guilty.
The Angels made a great pickup in Mark Teixeira, and I would make them the favorites to win it all. Just a first-class organization who have been successful for some time now. Speaking of another great organization, or at least a formerly great one, the Braves sure didn't get much back for Teixeira one year after renting him, did they? As for the Dodgers, well, I suppose they got a great hitter in Ramirez, who I would assume will be on his best behavior now that he is presumably "happy" (really, how much money does one man need?), but eventually he will pull his "Manny being Manny" stunts and he will wear out his welcome there as well.
Great boxing match last week; Antonio Margarito vs. Miguel Cotto. I'm a huge boxing fan and along with my father-in law I watch all the big fights, and many of the lesser ones as well. Sure, boxing is corrupt and is often frustrating as a result, but nothing beats the tension of a high energy boxing match, IMO, because in a split second a seemingly beaten foe can turn the tide with one punch. MMA simply does not have the sustained action that boxing does, and at its highest level I believe that boxers are more skilled in the sweet science than MMA practitioners. That said, I do like MMA as well and feel that there's room for both forms of brutal entertainment to prosper. But back to the fight, you really should try to see this somewhere if you can, it was the superior technician (Cotto) fighting a very good fight but ultimately wilting under the relentless assault of the taller Margararito, who I think could take a punch from King Kong and come back smiling. Margarito's relentless assault finally took the will of a mentally and physically drained Cotto, but Cotto fought very well himself and it was a terrific, exciting fight throughout.
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