Ray Rice and the Enabling of Athletes

By now most people have seen the video of Ray Rice sucker punching his wife and then dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.  It is horrible, and terrible to think that someone could do something like that to someone they love.  The NFL had previously suspended Rice for 2 games, which led to a change in domestic abuse policies within the league, and in the wake of the new video suspended Rice indefinitely.  Seeing no other choice the Ravens cut Rice, a move which seemed to stagger coaches and teammates who spoke with nothing but high praise for a man we had just seen throw a haymaker at a defenseless woman. 

Where does this come from?  How have we come this far? 

Part of the blame has to fall with the College systems which continually enable athletes and has repeatedly covered up their transgressions behind the power of their institutions and armies of lawyers.  Take the case of Jeramy Stevens (whose wife, Hope Solo is in some hot water too) a man who committed such reprehensible acts while a Washington Husky and then Seattle Seahawk that is astounding he is not in prison (and all the more ironic his wife may be soon).  In fact his entire 2000/2001 team was the subject of an excellent book Scoreboard, Baby which is a frightening look at the power of universities to cover up horrible crimes.  Another excellent book is Jeff Benedict’s recent The System which takes an intricate look at all facets of the college game and contextualizes the corruption within brilliantly.  The bottom line: accusers come forward and the colleges do whatever it takes to get them to go away.  Money corrupts absolutely and the way these universities protect their players (who are often pro prospects) is deplorable. 

Another example: Jameis Winston – a Heisman winner whose alleged rape was covered up, made to disappear and has now reappeared due to increasing evidence.  Are all of these allegations true or anywhere close to true?  No chance, famous people always have to worry about future cash grabs, but when there is a big difference between the exception and the rule.  More often than not it seems these athletes and their behavior is covered up to keep the dollars flowing into University coffers – often at the expense of poor students who have no chance against armies of lawyers and huge offers of money to keep silent (The “Kobe Bryant” approach).  It should be noted the US Military has a similar problem of abuse and cover up. 

Where does it stop?  The NFL is the richest and most powerful of all sports leagues, and is facing a myriad of problems from concussion lawsuits through growing substance abuse problems.  There is no single straw which will break their back, the NFL is simply too powerful and popular, but a cumulative effort may force the resignation of commissioner Roger Goodell (whose leadership has been pretty bad). 

One of the greatest things about a democratic society is the right to a fair trial and the NCAA and major sports leagues have rarely given their members anything resembling “fair justice”.  Laughably even when fair trails are given, the punishments are often ludicrously light in order to keep athletes on the field even as the evidence against them is overwhelming (take Greg Hardy a classic case of he said / she said for which he missed virtually no time).  The worst case of all (aside from Kobe): Ray Lewis whom we seem content to pretend did not murder someone in cold blood.  He likely did (or knows who did) and now, more than 14 years later there has been no arrests in the crime and a case that should have become OJ for a new generation has quietly vanished.  Ray Lewis (allegedly) killed a guy, had his blood on him and was in the Superbowl a year later.  Horrible. 

Should we even be surprised by the Ray Rice situation, or should we just shrug and accept it as a “part of the game”.  The enabling needs to stop at the collegiate level in order to break the cycle that has filtered through to the pros, the athletes simply do not know better because they have always been “allowed” to get away with things normal people would be sentenced to life in prison for. 

Athletes must take responsibility for their actions and we must all speak out.  The time for change at all levels is now and we must demand reform, not simply continue to accept the status quo. 

Advertisements

What the NF-EL!

September and the NFL season have crept upon us very quickly – and a very interesting season is almost here. 

The most important question first:  Why is Colin Kapernick shirtless on the cover of SI when no other QB is?

Kidding – Who will be the NFL Champion?

The title winner will come from one of these teams: San Diego, San Fran, Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and New England.  Which one?  I believe the winner will either be San Fran or New England (Frisco’s time or Brady’s last hurrah). 

The best football book of the offseason is…League of Denial which details just how awful concussions are (worse than we could possibly imagine).  Read this book for a full understanding of just how horrible the legacy of the game may be. 

The MVP will be – Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (either the young gun or the old men will take it).  My pick: Rodgers comes in strong.

The most overrated storyline will be: Johnny Football not being on the field.

The most underrated story will be: Josh Gordon suspended for a year for marijuana while Ray Rice skates with two games for beating his wife unconscious.  Goodell has changed the policy but way, way too late.

Surprise Team – The Bengals will surprisingly win their division and a playoff game!  The Chargers will be good!

Not a Surprise Team – The Giants will suck (sorry Just Ross) and look to draft a QB and possibly hire (gulp) a new coach.

Boldest Predictions – Philip Rivers will earn his new contract / RGIII will not last the season as the Skins QB / Tony Romo will lead Dallas to the Playoffs / Atlanta will again fall short / Joe Flacco is not that good / Tom Brady is

 

 

Heat Check – Wiggins or Love?

Wiggins or Love?
The future or the present?
As trade rumors heat up and the Cavs go about putting together a younger Big Three around LeBron, every question and debate seems centered around the simple idea of Wiggins or Love. Do you go for the future and unknown potential with Wiggins (who could be a star but is pretty raw) or Love (a proven star who has struggled as a primary guy but who rebounds, shoots and scores with reckless abandon).

For me it comes down to a relatively simple idea: if you knew Love would become the player he is today and he was in the 2014 draft would he be taken first? Unquestionably he would be. Teams do not pass on a double double machine who averages 25-13 and can shoot 50-40-90 without blinking. Love has always played on teams plagued by bad luck, injuries and completely incompetent management (Khaaaaaaaaan!). Should he have taken a team to the playoffs? Yes, but in the East he would have, and Kevin Love is definitely good enough to win his team a playoff series. He was playing crunch time minutes for the 2012 Olympic Team and hit nearly every open shot he took. Love is an elite player and it is rare that one passes on an elite player, especially one who is only 25.

The argument for Wiggins hinges completely on his unknown potential. Trades for the number one overall pick are exceptionally rare (Penny for Webber) and are usually made on draft day. Wiggins gives the Cavs more defensively than Love does, and will give LeBron an opportunity to take the first three quarters off on the other team’s best player. Offensively though he will give much less – probably just the occasional thunderous alley-oop. Irving and LeBron both thrive with the ball though, and having someone like Wiggins may be better overall for the team and team chemistry. Additionally, in this increasingly tight salary cap era, Wiggins will make significantly less for three years (probably the next four as well) than Love would. Signing and keeping Wiggins would help keep the Cavs under the cap and eligible to sign other pieces as needed to contend (how much longer is Sideshow Andy going to be great?).

Love though, is a star – not to say that Wiggins may not be. If you have a chance to get Kevin Love, you have to take it. Period. He takes a very good team and makes it a title contender, which is why the Bulls are desperately trying to steal him away at the 11th hour. The Cavs will probably make the move and they will probably get Love which will make them the Eastern Conference favorite. LeBron deserves nothing less than a great team, he is not on the Cavs to waste his prime years.

He is there to win a championship for the city of Cleveland.

The Miami Thrice Title Quest Ends

For the past four years I have passionately followed the Miami Heat, committing to the team when LeBron and Bosh went there to sacrifice in order to win titles.  Now, obviously, that has concluded.  Where does a former Heat fan go now? 

Not to the Cavs – while I will actively root for LeBron to get at least one or two more titles in Cleveland – but I cannot really cheer for a team from Cleveland.  So where does one go from here? 

There are a few possibilities: Portland (closest NBA team) / LA Clippers (who I have seen live twice) / Suns (same thing) / Golden State (geographically close) / other?

There are probably three or so teams that are definitely not in contention: Toronto (legally cannot cheer for any team from Toronto) / LA Lakers (no chance) / Celtics (same) / Indiana (detest them). 

So what criteria should be used to pick a new team?  Back during my choosing an EPL team days I broke it down based on good jerseys, geographic location and a solid place to go.  Over the next little while I think that is where I will go.  Times, they are a-changing, evolve or die. 

Time to pick a new team.

 

Heat Check – The End

As it began – on a national platform (albeit a smaller one this time…) – it ends as LeBron James went on SI.com and announced he was going to be returning to Cleveland. 

He says, in the article, that there was nowhere other than Cleveland or Miami where he would play and after a lot of time to think about his family and what is best for them.  The decision this time is obviously about coming home – and winning a championship that means so much more than almost any other. 

However…and it is a big however, he is leaving a team that made the finals 4 straight years to go to one that certainly is not ready at all.  He is sacrificing his chance to win now for a chance to win in the future (if Wiggins / Bennett etc can come along) and playing with a team where the players can actually get better and not simply decline.  Not many players (exception alert: Kobe!) give up sure things.  LeBron wants to win but he is missing an opportunity now.  Who else is going to move with Bron?  Does Bosh go and join him?  Or possibly Kevin Love?  If LeBron wants to win now would Cleveland be willing to sacrifice Wiggins?  Simply incredible. 

So what happens now? 

Bosh likely goes to Cleveland or Houston, Kevin Love may be on the table now, Melo probably goes to Chicago for a chance to win a title next year and Cleveland becomes the place to go for free agents.  Simply astounding. 

Miami and DWade now have the worst possible scenario: this is the end for them.  They are shackled to Wade – who literally did everything he could to try and get LeBron to sign there (even going to Vegas and then his flight to Miami) – and have to give him a deal because he knows where the bodies are buried.  This is probably the end for Wade and there is no way he can possibly carry a team any more at this stage of his career.  Get ready for iso Wade Miami fans as well as a horrific max deal that will give them no flexibility (and keeping Haslem around).  Yikes the future is not bright.

Suddenly Bron opting out was not a sign that the Heat were committed to keeping it all together, but rather the beginning of the end.  Amazing – Bosh does not sign there for any amount of money.  A new day for the NBA and a new favorite may emerge.  How many titles will Durant win or Rose in the interim?  Could the Clippers steal one? 

Once again LeBron has dramatically changed the NBA with his free agency – something Jordan and Kobe can not claim.

 

Heat Check – Free Agency Gambling

Welcome once again to free agency gambling!  So many questions have come up: where will Melo sign?; is Melo going to leave crazy money on the table?; is Bosh willing to leave money on the table when there is no way he should?; what in the world is going to happen with D Wade?; and, of course, WWLD Part II?

The insanity has begun and there are huge prizes out there to win – Melo, Bosh and of course LeBron – and there are some players who are going to hold a salary cap hostage much like Kobe has done to the Lakers (cough, Wade, cough). 

Here is what we know so far, LeBron opted out, forcing the rest of the Big Three’s hands and then, when they were all set to make some big sacrifices, LeBron seems to have decided that the other guys were going to sacrifice while he takes the max.  Here is how he sold it to them, “okay, I will take the max, you guys sign for ten mill a year and we will sign Kyle Lowry or Melo for ten mill a year.  Deal?  Sound good?” 

Except there was no chance Lowry was taking that kind of deal, there is no way Bosh deserves to take that kind of deal and there is no way Wade is leaving that much money on the table (and is not signing with Miami as he literally knows where the bodies are buried).  Meanwhile, the Bulls are quietly building a team to win titles (how much more incredible would they be with LeBron?) with Melo, while Houston is suddenly the best place for Chris Bosh to go and have a legitimate chance to win more titles.  Not to mention the fact that Chris Bosh is one of the best players in the league who rightfully deserves to get max money and be properly appreciated. 

The pieces remain in play because until LeBron signs no one else will.  The reason, obviously, because as long as there is a chance to get him, no one will sign anyone else.  Could we potentially see a LeBron / Melo partnership?  Would Cleveland be the place that happens?  Somehow it seems highly improbable that Ms. Melo would want to move there after loving New York, and given how much of a mess the Cavs are, they may not even give LeBron a chance to win titles. 

What happens to the Heat if Bron returns to Cleveland?  They sign Wade to a max deal, shackling themselves to mediocrity for some time going forward, Bosh goes to Houston and probably has a shot at winning more titles than LeBron or Wade. 

Or…

Wade, Bosh and LeBron sign in Miami and in the magically best case scenario manage to convince 2008 Pau Gasol to sign with them for no money.  In that scenario Melo goes to Chicago and suddenly we have a real rivalry in the East (to the devastation of Pacer fans) while the West continues to batter each other. 

The final thing to think about it: LeBron’s legacy depends solely on winning championships at this point, does it really matter where he does that?  What does a third title in say, Cleveland or Phoenix mean versus a third in Miami?  Who will sign where and is this the end of the big three era in Miami and the rise of it in Chicago? 

The World Cup is Bonkers – And Then Luis Suarez Bit Someone

As the World Cup charges towards the elimination rounds, it is getting more and more outrageous as the stakes grow higher and higher.  The shocks just continue and continue: Italy out, England out, Spain out!?!   Here are some awesome things about the 2014 World Cup:

The supposed Championship teams have looked borderline beatable (Argentina, Brazil, Germany) and upstarts who are shocking people (Chile, Colombia, USA) could potentially win this thing…and then Luis Suarez bit someone.

The World Cup was already going down as one of the best ever, not only did you have ridiculous weather conditions and wire to wire games like the one between the USA and Portugal, or the way that the biggest players in the world are stepping up when it matters most like Neymar or Messi.  You could argue that even Suarez had been stepping up as well, but then, well, you know what happened next.  Suarez always, always downplays the fact that he bites people and there is no denying what he did.  FIFA moved quickly to suspend him for 9 games, but Suarez deserves more, much, much more.  He is one of the most despicable examples of a human being: he is one of the best footballers in the world. 

A quick comparison: during the NFL playoffs, Richard Sherman gave one of the most astoundingly honest interviews ever.  It was an honest and terrifying look at the frame of mind professional athlete who has to transform themselves into a monster in order to play an exceedingly violent game.  Suarez has said his own wife does not recognize him on the pitch, do soccer players have to transform themselves as well?  Some of the best players in the world have done incomprehensible and seemingly reprehensible things when it seems bizarre for them to do so.  Most people struggle to separate French star Zinedene Zidane from his infamous headbutt in the World Cup Final (even though the team won both the World Cup Championship and World Cup with him) even though he was one of the best players of his generation.  Suarez (who has not won anything) is crafting a similar legacy as the good and bad are definitely not balancing any more.  At the outset of the World Cup this was an opportunity for Suarez to banish the bad press.  He was coming off the best season a Premier League striker had ever had, and he was the reason Liverpool was competitive and fighting for the top spot in the league.  Finally he was growing up it seemed and yet, he could not help himself.  This is the third bite in his career and a strong message has to be sent.  One player cannot be bigger than the tournament itself and he deserves to be banned for a very, very long time.  Two incidents is way too much: three is a pattern that is not going to change.  Send a message, across the board.

Another great thing about the World Cup has been the Men in Blazers and their breakout performance as media stars at ESPN.  They are off kilter, hilarious and incredibly insightful.  The Blazers make soccer easy to understand for Americans and are almost singlehandedly increasing the popularity of the sport in the country.  This has been their breakout opportunity and their popularity will likely skyrocket as a result of all the burn they are getting at the World Cup. 

What will happen in the upcoming round of 16 is likely to be totally nuts.  CONCACAAF teams could make a big splash and Brazil could easily lose to Chile!  Unless of course there is some serious match fixing going on, which, given how much Brazil has invested in winning this thing would not be surprising (there first game already looked a little match fixy).  Will the teams who have looked great – think France and Holland – be able to keep it together and actually win some real games? 

This World Cup is awesome: and is only likely to get better with a new team rising to the top and the ongoing question is who will be able to survive the pressure.  A couple of players, Messi and Neymar, are feeling intense pressure to deliver the title.  This may be the last chance for Messi and will be the only time Neymar will play on his home soil.

World Cup = bonkers.  And it will only get better.    

The NBA Mount Rushmore

Earlier this season LeBron James was asked about his NBA Mount Rushmore and if he felt he belonged atop the NBA’s ultimate pinnacle – he was hopeful that one day he would be viewed by many in this context and then he threw out his personal Rushmore and it was very, very flawed. 

Why was it flawed – because it did not accurately reflect the idea of a Mount Rushmore.  What exactly is this?  Mount Rushmore did not just have the four greatest Presidents on it; rather it had the four most impactful on the country. 

Who then, are the four most impactful players in the history of the NBA (remember, not just as players but also on the league as a whole)? 

Michael Jordan

Bill Russell

Larry Bird / Magic Johnson

And…

LeBron James

What?  How can (insert old timer name here) not be on the Mount Rushmore? 

The league has gone through multiple eras and transitions, and each of these should be reflected on Mount Rushmore.  Just because someone is still active does not diminish their impact on the development and expansion of the NBA.  LeBron may not seem like a great choice but hear out the argument for each before passing judgement.

Michael Jordan – the argument for the NBA’s greatest player is pretty straightforward, he is the NBA’s greatest player and without question expanded the league to new heights never before thought possible.  Jordan became known as more than simply a basketball player and he moved the game into the worldwide phenomenon it is.  There is little doubt of the impact he has had, and now as an owner / ridiculous brand billionaire he is poised to continue playing a part in the future of the league.

Bill Russell – was literally responsible, along with Wilt / West / Baylor, for bringing the NBA out of the dark ages and making the game modern.  As an 11 time champion, he also helped break down the racial barriers across the country and successfully integrate the game.  He has continued to serve as the NBA’s ideal champion and one of the classiest men in professional sports. 

Magic / Bird – we are going with a half Magic face and a half Bird face because these two men saved the league when it was in its darkest time.  The rivalry between the two men allowed the league to move on from cocaine troubles, tape delay and a distinct lack of exposure.  They saved the game and began the turn towards becoming one of the biggest sports in the world.  The 80’s is remembered as Bird and Magic’s time and rightly so for all they did to expand the league.

LeBron James – when you think of the post Jordan league who is the first player you think of?  Kobe?  Shaq?  Duncan?  None of those players (great all) have had the same impact of LeBron James.  He has brought the league into modern, twitter-ful times.  The Decision – what other player would have had that kind of spotlight or ability to make a choice that fully altered the landscape of the league?  Everything he does is scrutinized over and above what anyone else in the history of the league has had to withstand.  Time and again he has stepped up (his averages in elimination games / game 7’s are the highest in NBA history) and he has revolutionized the NBA.  From style to worldwide branding, LeBron has changed the game forever.  He deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA…and his career is maybe half over.  What new heights – dizzying heights some may speculate – can he lift the league to?  Already teams are being sold for $2 billion dollars on the strength of TV contracts and players potential.  LeBron is the face of the revolution, like it or not.

Toughest omissions – Kareem (just not as impactful as Bird / Magic), Kobe (nowhere near as impactful as LeBron), Wilt (LeBron before LeBron), Shaq (very popular and well know culturally), Duncan (never cared to be known outside San Antonio), West (literally the logo and built the Lakers of the 2000’s)

There you have the real NBA Mount Rushmore – of guys who shaped the past, present and future of the game as it moved forward into a new era of prosperity.

The Legacy of Tim Duncan

Where does Tim Duncan sit historically and why is this question so difficult to answer?

Tim Duncan is probably one of the five or six best NBA players of all time, and yet, most people struggle to slot him into their top ten.  How can this possibly be?  Can anyone honestly say that a prime Duncan did not give a team one of the best chances to win a title?  This is a man who threw up an ungodly 24 points-15 boards-5 assists-3 blocks in one NBA Playoffs, has two MVP’s, three Finals MVPs and five titles to his name.  Bird (widely considered the best or second best forward ever) has three MVP’s, three Finals MVPs and three rings but he only played nine years.  Magic lost out on the end of his career due to contracting HIV but won five titles and changed the game forever. 

The question is simple: does Tim Duncan in his prime give you a better chance to win a title than Bird or Magic? 

What makes it virtually impossible to accurately measure Duncan’s career (and understand exactly how good he is in a historical context) is the fact that he never cared about anything but winning.  Tim Duncan is the best teammate of all time – and that is not even close to up for debate.  When he was at his best (2 MVP’s and literally unstoppable) he was never considered “better than Kobe or LeBron” simply because the entirety of his impact is unmeasurable.  Here is what we know: his teams never missed the playoffs, he got significantly better when it mattered most (upped his ppg / rpg / minutes) and he pushed his team to their absolute best.  Should he be punished because his coach (Pop one of the two or three best ever) smartly limited his regular season minutes to keep him fresh?  Should he be punished for playing in one of the best systems the league has ever seen?  Or for being quiet when others were loud but not as good? 

Tim Duncan’s peak was never as transcendent as LeBron’s, Kareem, Jordan or even Magic and Bird, but he has been one of the best players in the NBA for more than 19 years – and his five titles attest to his impact on the league.  However, as Bill Simmons points out in his column today; would you take 19 years of Duncan, or 9 of Bird?  It is a diabolical choice for a reason. 

Here is what we know – Tim Duncan does not care how he is viewed historically and he will be the last guy in the world to tell you how great he is.  His game stands for itself.  His record stands for itself.  He allows his five titles to speak for him. 

They speak rather loudly. 

Heat Check – LeBron and the Cavaliers

During game 3 of the NBA finals, the Heat trotted out a lineup of Norris Cole, Birdman, Rashard Lewis, a somewhat dead Ray Allen and LeBron James.  At that point my brother asked the entirely serious question: is this LeBron and the Cavs again?  Watching the game last night one had to agree that the Heat are, in fact, not a very good team.  

I will repeat that the Heat are not a very good team.  Player for player the Spurs are dramatically better and I can prove it: quick name the sixth best player on the Spurs and the Heat!  For the Spurs a lengthy discussion begins, maybe Splitter or Diaw or even Patty Mills.   For the Heat it is probably Juwan Howard and he is now coaching the team.  Seriously, who is it?  Cole or Chalmers or maybe, gasp, Wade?  The point is that one through twelve is not a kind comparison for Miami and the only reason they are anywhere remotely close to into this series is because of LeBron.  He has single handedly revived the career of Rashard “left for dead” Lewis, gives his teammates more open shots than Jon Stewart on the Tea Party and frequently defends multiple players in the same possession.  Could he possibly do any more?  Should Spolestra possibly be tried for attempted murder?  When he cramped up in game 1 the Heat were not worse, they were downright ghastly.  Again and again they brick open looks or pass up shots to swing the ball back to Bron with less than 6 on the shot clock.  The most valuable player debate is over, so too may be that of number 3 player ever, as the fact that James dragged this awful team to the finals itself is an astounding feat.  

Yet, because he is LeBron, we continue to ask him to do more.  Threepeat LeBron! We cry while giving other players a pass.  Imagine this for a second: my dad suggested the idea of switching LeBron with Durant.  Take a moment to ponder this one carefully.  Now you have James, Ibaka and Westbrook as a core, with Adams, Collison and Reggie Jackson.  Does that sound like a Championship team?  Not really, it sounds more like a dynasty.  Meanwhile the Heat are now probably a second round team or Eastern Conference Finalist…at best.  In the NBA it is not even close, there is LeBron and everyone else.  No other player can elevate a Cavaliers like lineup to the heights he has, they simply cannot.  The reason – truly the only reason – the Heat will Threepeat is because of LeBron James dragging them over the line when it matters most.  Bosh will continue to play well, and Wade will hopefully improve, but there is no question how they get there: riding the broad shoulders of the best player in the world, LeBron James.