Random Sports Thoughts…

A few random sports thoughts in the wheelhouse…

1) Thanks Miami Thrice

Big Thank you to the Miami Heat for completely justifying my championship pick from yesterday against the Cleveland Cavaliers:

The team came out flat and stayed flat for the entire game.  They were like that uncapped Coke Zero in the fridge that you try and drink a month later – horrible.  My dad sent me a message – “Lebron must be pissed” and yet last night he seemed to not really care about the loss.  It is possible he feels he made his point when he destroyed Cleveland in his original return but it pains me to see the team so disinterested when they are in a battle for seeding in the East.  The team needs to finish first to avoid a Boston or Chicago 2nd round matchup.  So again, thanks guys for backing up my title prediction…

2) What does it say that last night’s game was one of the five biggest wins of Baron Davis’s career?

A lot, actually – and it speaks volumes about the type of player he could have been and the type of player he is.  He came into the league with so much potential and peaked when he played for the Warriors and led them to a huge first round playoff victory.  After that, he got his big contract and a return to his LA hometown (albeit with the Clips) – where he promptly set about eating himself into oblivion for three years.  I guess he was Clipperized and that should have sounded the death knell on his career.  Yet, here was a guy who could carry a team and did, just plain giving up.  As Bill Simmon’s has said, nobody relies more on a crowd than Baron Davis and recently, with LA Clips becoming relevant again so did Baron.  He was energized and active and quickly traded to the Cavs.  The Clips management should be charged with murder in the first degree for the salary dumping move.  There he was though, last night, ensuring that nine months from now a whole generation of kids is born named “Baron”.  This was the Cavs championship and they will make the most of it. 

3) The incredible Steve Nash

Adub summed up Nash taking over the NBA assist lead(!!!) with the word “Legend”, and the tag is definitely deserved.  This year the Suns have cobbled together a team of castoffs, has-beens and never was…then dynamited that team and stuck Nash with Comatose Vince Carter (who by the way, could not care less about basketball right now.  He is like the guy nearing retirement who is just showing up to collect a paycheck) and he has still passed Rajon Rondo to lead the NBA in assists at 11.4 a game!  Let’s put this in perspective: his best teammates are Grant Hill, a guy nicknamed “The Polish Hammer” and comatose Vince Carter and he still leads the league in dimes!  Keep padding those Hall of Fame credentials Steve, maybe one day you will get a shot with a contender. 

4) March Madness – That’s for sure!  The Craziest NCAA Tourney of All-Time

Most NCAA pools have wrapped up now…before the Final Four because no one could possibly have predicted a series that included no #1’s, no #2’s, one #3, Butler and an 11th seeded VCU.  Despite having no one in the Final Four, I won 2nd place in my pool.  Ridiculous.  A couple of thoughts:

A) I will never again pick against a semi-decent Butler team again, ever.

B) Ditto George Mason for the first round.

C) Listening to experts upset predictions ruined my bracket and led to a couple of bad choices.  Better to pick my own upsets – like I did with Gonzaga in the first round this year.

D) Current stage of grief = Acceptance.  Now I can sit back and enjoy a Final Four that will see either VCU or Butler having a shot at the National title.  Ridiculous.

5) Congrats to the Canucks!

My local boys sewed up number one in the West last night with a great win over the Nashville Predators.  This may be the best Canucks team ever and it is an exciting team in the city.  Of course, everyone refuses to talk about the team because we are completely terrified of jinxing anything come playoff time.  An odd mix of elation and complete terror on the 40th anniversary of our great team.  Great work boys, keep it going. 

6) Setting up to make some baseball picks

Not an easy year to try and predict what is going to happen.  The Red Sox could rise again, the Yanks could completely fall apart and Albert Pujos is looking more and more like he will be a Yankee in 2012.  Yet somehow I am supposed to make predictions? 

7) The Best Time of the Year for Sports has been epic

March Madness, the race to the playoffs, Spring Training – this truly is the best time of the year for Sports fans and I have never been more ready for the real season to begin.  NBA buzz is at an all-time high and despite my misgivings over the atrocious Cavs loss, I am sticking by my team – Miami Thrice will hoist their first title.  In Hockey – I am forbidden to make a pick due to my geographic location.  NCAA – Screw it, VCU or Butler will take the trophy in the most unlikely tournament ever…and why not given all that has happened?

The 5 Stages of March Madness

March, ladies and gentlemen, is about to get mad.  The time of year is upon us once again when we begin to think about our “brackets”  and about how much they will eventually be completely devestated by the sweet sixteen leaving us mentally and emotionally destroyed

At times I have actually done decently – a couple of years ago I not only correctly predicted 3 of the 4 teams in the Final Four, but also picked the champion and their exact score.  On the heels of my incredibly accurate Super Bowl pick, I figure that my NCAA bracket may be pefect in 2011. (Editors Note: It will be busted by the end of the first Friday) 

However, the more I have thought about the NCAA tourney, the more I have realized how much my feelings around my bracket end up resembling the five stages of grief.  Year after year it is always the same and shockingly, that is a major part of what makes the Dance such an incredible and unique sporting experience:

Stage One: Denial  (Quotes I probably said)

“There is no way George Mason is going to get past three of the top four in their bracket to make the Final Four, I don’t care how hot they get.”

“There is no way Duke could lose to Witchita State!  No chance at all…”

Stage Two: Anger

“Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke!  Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuke!” 

“That’s ridiculous!  North Carolina does not lose in the Sweet Sixteen (slamming fist down on coffee table) it does not happen!”

Stage 3: Bargaining

“Okay, okay, maybe three of my four choices for the Final Four are out, but Kentucky can still make it.  They have John Wall, and he is supposed to be the greatest point guard of all time.  C’mon, NCAA gods, let Kentucky get through so I have one of my four.  I just need one to take it to the final – that way, I have a 50% chance of picking the winner…”

“What if I just picked teams that wear blue jerseys next year in my bracket…or, or, if I like the coach or not…”

Stage Four: Depression

“I never pick well, my whole bracket is destroyed just like every year.  I picked one team that made the sweet sixteen.  Why does my bracket always get busted by the end of the third round?”

“My bracket will never be good even if I use some ridiculous system like picking teams based on the colour of their uniforms.”

“My girlfriend’s bracket destroyed mine…again.”

“…And she picked every team ranked number 10 (her favorite number) which just happened to be the upset picks that no one else could possibly have seen coming and every cooler sounding team name (Badgers over Buckeyes) that improbably happened to pan out.”

“I’m never picking another NCAA tournament game again – ever.”

Stage Five: Acceptance

“So what if my bracket got busted, this has been an epic tournament!  I might as well just start cheering for George Mason – despite the fact that they single handedly destroyed my entire tourney…(sorry, still in the anger stage about that one)

“There’s always 2012 barring some kind of catasrophic doomsday scenario!”

“My bracket will definitely be better this year!”

Until then, we just have to marvel at moments past and those to come:

Go West Young Man!

Carmelo Anthony should stay in the Western Conference.  Period.  End of discussion. 

By now it is clear he wants out of Denver and the chance to create his own superteam to rival that of “good friend” Lebron James.  Carmelo with a superteam…to rival that of Lebron? 

Awesome.  I am all for it.  As I have previously written, I think what Lebron, Wade and Bosh did was start a new era of NBA togetherness.  An era that has to be full of superteams in order to keep competition high within the league. 

There is just one little problem: Carmelo wants to go to New York. 

In New York he would have a “sort of” ready made superteam featuring the newly signed Amare Stoudemire.  With the two of them playing together it would be no stretch to envision their ability to draw in another young superstar to join them (Chris Paul has already expressed interest).  I have no problem with Paul teaming up with Anthony, I just do not want it to happen in New York. 

Would New York be good for Anthony?  Marketing / money-wise?  Absolutely.  Career wise?  Not so much.  Everything depends on what Anthony wants to get out of playing basketball.  Does he want to win championships?  Does he want to make money (lots and lots of money) and rule New York for five years?  Does he simply want to up his profile and get out of Denver to a much larger market? 

No one really knows.  Denver was a team built to win championships, and they had a solid young core that rocketed to the top of a very deep Western Conference a couple of years ago.  Injuries, suspensions and other inexplicable cirumstances stopped them from attaining the heights that were well within reach.  Could you see a team with Allen Iverson, Carmelo, Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Anderson not winning a title?  (Okay, maybe not the best example…)  The point is, they had a good core of role players built around a young superstar.  They were more than capable of the pinnacle.  So how come Denver missed out on the parade? 

Anthony did not want it enough.

Flashback to March Madness 2003: the entire basketball world was focused on the usual contenders, Duke, Kansas and a deep Texas team.  In NBA draft circles only one name was resonating with the general public: Lebron James.  What Carmelo Anthony effectively did was put on one of the greatest performances in the history of College Basketball.  From the opening tip-off of the tournament, he dominated like few others ever have.  In the Final Four he carried Syracuse past Texas with a 33 point explosion.  In the final he was all over the court against Kansas, and Syracuse, behind their fabulous freshman won their first ever NCAA basketball title.  Anthony had one of the best seasons by a freshman in the history of College basketball – the draft had found its number two player. 

I remember watching the tournament and game after game it was remarkable to watch Carmelo Anthony dominate.  It was like the first time I saw Allen Iverson at Georgetown or Greg Oden at O-State.  These were players  who did not belong.  They were too good for the college ranks.  Anthony belonged with the big boys and, despite originally planning to stay at Syracuse for 3 years,  he rightfully declared for the NBA draft.  It made sense.  He was on top of the world and had unselfishly led his team to their first ever title. 

Additionally, he was a natural rival for Lebron.  It helped that he could throw down dunks like this with some serious ferocity:

Lebron needed a rival it seemed, and before it really made any sense some insiders were asking: “Lebron or Melo?”  Who would you take first?  The answer was a forgone conclusion, Lebron is simply a better player, but at the time Melo was coming off a season that showed his promise:  He was a proven winner!

The only other college sports equivelant of the 2000’s?  Vince Young on the heels of his Rose Bowl performance against USC declaring for the NFL draft and going third overall.  In the 1980’s it harkened back to Magic Johnson coming out after knocking out Larry Bird and Indiana State. 

So what the hell happened in the NBA?

Melo has had his share of ups and downs, especially pre-Olympic Redeem Team.  There was the fight and large suspension, where Anthony came off thuggish and unrepentent.  His growing selfishness and tough exterior prevented his teams from reaching their potential.  He was given the label dreaded by all NBA superstars: Headcase.  If you watched their rookie years (LBJ and Melo) which one would you have picked to make the NBA Finals first?  99% would have said Melo.  He didn’t.  He is still waiting for that chance to play on the biggest stage.  Now, like Lebron, he wants a superteam.  Unlike Lebron it is less clear if it will work out for him. 

Melo is a more typical NBA superstar than Lebron has been.  He is a scorer who needs the ball, and needs shots in order to score.  His a brilliant swingman who can rebound well.  On a superteam he would need to sacrifice some of those shots and stats to help the team win.  So far he has seemed unwilling to do so.  At Syracuse his motives and goals were clear; in the NBA they have been less so.  Does he want to go to a big market and become a huge star?  Will he end up as the Barkley to Lebron’s Jordan ( realizes too late he wants a title but never quite wins one despite late efforts) or a Drexler to someone’s Olajuwan?  Is he a great teammate?  Sure, his record of backing his mates in brawls speaks for itself.  Can he play with other stars? 

However, I have been avoiding the biggest question of all: where should Melo go and who should he play with?

New York Knicks – Carmelo’s preferred destination where a superteam is on its way to coming together with Amare Stoudemire already in place.  The city would also give Carmelo the higher profile he seeks (as well as giving his wife a chance at more of a career) and is the largest market in American sports.  New York has the cap room to bring in Melo and another star and the new regime appears committed to winning even if they have insane methods (such as an impossible to explain allegience to Isiah Thomas).  Who else could join the high profile team?  Chris Paul wants to join  very, very badly.  New Orleans is very, very hell-bent on this scenario not happening.  Melo, though, should not do this deal for one simple reason: Staying in the Western Conference will be much better long-term. 

New Jersey Nets – Another Melo destination (and if the news is to be believed the closest to happening thus far) where he would have been miserable.  Why?  New Jersey has a couple of good players (Brook Lopez) but this is a rebuilding team that Carmelo cannot win a title with at present.  They have little cap space for players other then him.  While the new owner is probably building a winner, it would be after Melo has finished his 3 year deal.  Additional reason not to go there: Not in the Western Conference! (My reasoning will be explained soon, but let’s face it, if you have made it through 1300 words you will probably stick it out to the end at this point)

Chicago Bulls – The most attractive destination for any superstar looking to build a superteam.  In fact, this may already be on the way to being a superteam.  The Bulls boast Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer (eventually, fingers crossed), Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.  Adding Melo to that mix (subtracting Deng at the least) would make a potent team ready for greatness.  If I was a player, I would want to play in Chicago.  Tough to pass up, but they do not have the trade bait Denver requires (since Noah is off limits) so it is unlikely Anthony will end up there.  Also…yup, Eastern Conference (why does this guy want out of the West so badly???)

Why not the Eastern Conference?  Simple: they already have their superteam.  Where should Melo go?  Pick one:

Los Angeles Clippers

Utah Jazz

Golden State Warriors

New Orleans Hornets – (waiting patiently for the laughter to subside)  While it would take a couple of years, any one of these teams could become the Superteam Melo craves so desperately.  Take LA – the biggest market, something Anthony wants – they have a solid young core.  Yes, their ownership is atrocious but given all the lottery picks this team has stockpiled in the past decade at some point it  statistically has to pay off.  That time is fast approaching.  Blake Griffen and Eric Gordon are for real…add Melo to the mix and you have a playoff team that could make a deep run.  In a couple of years?  Hell they could be in contention: build up the Clips while the Lakers erode from age and when the torch needs to be passed, Carmelo becomes the new Kobe.  Just like in the Godfather.  Also, once that Baron Davis contract comes off the books – hello new star!  Paging Chris PaulGolden State is a tougher sell, but it is still in California and how would the North Cal v. South Cal battles play out?  Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are both good and they could dump some other players to bring in another forward or shooting guard.  Maybe even a power forward.  Utah?  Deron Williams is better than Chris Paul (so they say), teaming with him would give Utah their best chance at a title since the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton.  Melo and Williams could bring a killer pick and roll, I am salivating already and this is only theoretical!  New Orleans already has Paul but little cap room.  Melo and Paul however could help rejuvinate the city like the Saints have.  If Melo goes there and plays his heart out, he will be a hero to an entire state. 

Bottom lineStay out of the East.  Please.  There are already more stacked teams in that deck than needed.  If you add to it, someone loses.  The Heat should (fingers crossed) rule the conference for a few years to come and battling with them in the playoffs every year will be absolutely exhausting.  You might as well hand the title to the Lakers or Thunder.  Keep some superteams for the West!  Instead of giving us an awesome Eastern Conference Title Series every year give us an awesome title game!   That is what we have been waiting for since Lebron and Carmelo came into the league together.  We want to see them in a seven game series, facing off.  Maybe then they would finally ignite a true rivalry like that of Bird and Magic.  Sure those two were friends off the court, but once the ball was tipped they might as well have been USSR – USA.  The NBA needs a Melo vs. Lebron superteam final because if there is a lockout, that is what the league will need to bring back fans. 

So stay West Melo, and give us that Finals we have wanted.  It may take a couple of years to dethrone the Lakers but it will be worth it.  The Heat will be waiting.

Denard Robinson Joins a Select List

When Michigan’s sensational sophomore quarterback, Denard Robinson, put up 502 total yards in a huge win against Notre Dame he joined a select list – the greatest single game performances I have ever seen

The others on this list may not have made the same statistical impact Robinson did against Notre Dame, but they affected the outcome of the game in one way or another.  Robinson’s performance was so jaw-dropping, simply because you could not believe what you were watching.  It became the norm to believe he was going to do something incredible, and he came through again and again.  Check out his 87 yard touchdown run:

How will the rest of the season play out for the young Heisman hopeful? 

Given that in his performance against UMASS last week he cut back significantly on his rushing attempts (17) in return for a “season low” 104 yards on the ground (while throwing for 241 and 2tds) it appears he will begin to rely less on his legs and more on his arm.  Let’s imagine his final stats this season looking something like this:

65% completion pct; 2500 yards passing; 1425 yards rushing; 6.8 yards per carry; 22 tds passing / 20 tds rushing.

Are those numbers enough to win the Heisman even if his team loses several games?  The short answer: maybe.  During his Heisman year Tim Tebow posted similar (but less gaudy) stats and it worked out for him despite a few losses.  Robinson will have to keep posting big numbers the rest of the way (and beat Ohio State?) to have a real shot.  It may be difficult given Michigan’s suspect defense and given that Robinson is undersized for a mobile quarterback (6’0 188) who carries the ball more than 20 times per game.  Time will tell if he hoists the Heisman this year, but until then he can be satisfied with his inclusion on this list of the Best Individual Performances in a Game.  Welcome Denard, for what may not be your only trip. 

1) Ron Artest vs. Duke

No one knew who Artest was when this game happened.  In fact, this game was set during Duke’s string of incredible, title winning teams so not many people remember an in-season game.  That said, everyone knew who Artest was after this game (which catapulted him into the Draft Lottery).  Quite simply, Ron Artest took the consesus number one team in the country to double overtime…by himself.  Every time Duke took the lead, Artest would improbably hit a three at the buzzer or score in some other ridiculous way.  He finished with more than 40 points and so dominated the game that I still remember it to this day.  This is the moment for Ron Artest that I choose to rememeber: a bull of a small forward refusing to let his team die – as opposed to the crazy person whom NBA fame destroyed.  Ironically enough he recaptured some of his big game mojo by dominating game seven against the Celtics. 

2) Curt Schilling 2004 ALCS Game Six against the Yankees

As a Yankee fan, this one hurts.  However, you simply cannot ignore the fact that this is one of the greatest pitching performances in playoff history.  This was more epic than Schilling’s earlier playoff performances in the World Series against the Yankees when he played for Arizona (A very underrated tag team effort by Schilling and Randy Johnson in which they carried the team to the title).  As ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons wrote about the performance:

“What can you say?  What can you say about Curt Schilling?  How many words are enough?  This wasn’t just an ankle sprain.  His right sock was covered in blood, thanks to three sutures (?!?!?!?!?!) holding together his dislocated ankle tendon…This time it was leaking blood.  He didn’t care.  The team needed him.  So Schilling kept pitching.” 

 Could not have said it better myself.  An epic playoff performance that numbers cannot fully justify.  He put the team on his back and inspired them to finish their comeback from being down 3-0 to their hated rivals. 

3) Michael Jordan’s final game as a Chicago Bull vs. The Utah Jazz

What else can be written about this performance?  It was one of the greatest singular moments in sports history.  Jordan did not have the best game of his career…but there was no way in hell he was losing this game.  He did whatever he had to do.  He got the foul line 20 times; he made a ridiculous steal to set up his game winning jumper; he made the game winning jumper and sealed the fate of Karl Malone’s titleless career.  Indomitable and unforgettable.

4) Mike Vick vs. Florida State

No, not “the State of Florida” but Florida State for the  NCAA Championship.  Vick, as a freshman, had carried his team to the title game and then improbably gave them the lead against the undisputed number 1 team in the nation.  Alas, they could not hold on for the win (Peter Warrick decided he was not going to lose to anyone and that he was way better than the VT corners, reeling off something like 12 tds in five minutes) but there has never been a more electrifying performance in a title game than this one.  Vick cemented his tag as the qb of the future here, until his…well you know…although he has seemingly returned to form this year. 

5) George Mason vs Everyone

The one true shocker in NCAA Tournament History, and probably the most unlikely Final Four Team ever.  They played like a team with nothing to lose and knocked off programs whose fans were going into cardiac arrest with every shot.  George Mason fought through several nail biters during their improbable run and remain a true March Madness classic in every sense. 

6) Denard Robinson vs Notre Dame

What else can be said about this one? 

What did I miss (because there are dozens of other performances surely)? 

Let me know in the comments.

Welcome to The Cover Corner – Why I Love Sports

Welcome Sports Fans (or Fans in general) to The Cover Corner where we cover all sports while examing them through multiple facets in order to entertain and enlighten readers on the elements that make sports great.  

Why do I think sports are great?  Let me count the ways:

1) Sports have the unique ability to unite unlike any other medium in the world – What else has this ability?  The G20 Summit?  Not quite, thanks again Anarchists.  Nothing.  The collective love of a team can literally stop war.  Exhibit A: the World Cup

2) You never know what you are going to get year to year – Your team can start 0-5 and make the playoffs.  They can go 5-0 and miss the show.  They can run the table at the end of the year or lose out and blow the box.  Nothing else is as consistently solid and entertaining as sports.  Yes, we have to watch young, (at times) spoiled multi-millionaires act out our fantasies of playing a game for a living but…it is entertaining. 

3) Any given night, any given team can win – And they can celebrate…  Take Boise State vs. Oklahoma from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. 

No one gave the Boise Broncos a chance against the all mighty Oklahoma Sooners  – and they ended up with one of the greatest and most shocking performances in the history of sport.  Unbeliveable, their were more trick plays than a pee-wee game.  We want these “I cannot believe that” moment and sports is the only thing that gives it to us constantly.  If you are craving a mind-blowing experience, sports is the perfect place to get your fix. 

4) The Options – Pick a league, any league and you will find something to watch.  (Except the WNBA – seriously how has this league possibly survived?)  Trust me on this one…there is always a game on somewhere.  Additionally, there are always people ready to sit down at the bar and share a pitcher (and their opinions) while the game is on. 

5) The Playoffs – What else causes more unshaved men at any one time? 

Sports is a unique experience and we are all the better for it.