Baseball, Sports

Carlos Gomez saves the Brewers with HR-saving catch

Just a few days removed from writing about the silver lining in the Brewers woefully mediocre season comes this game saving gem from Carlos Gomez. Fresh from his All-Star call up, Gomez robs Joey Votto a game-winning HR, preserving the Brewers 4-3 lead and closing out the game. Gold Glove stuff, and anytime you can stick it to the Reds, I’m all for it.

The Brewers still aren’t very good but plays like this make this crappy season just a little more tolerable.

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Basketball, Sports

Dwight Howard and His Merry Band of Clowns

At 1 minute past the trade deadline this past day, the Los Angeles Lakers officially became characters in Dwight Howard’s ongoing comedy saga. With the failure to trade Howard this half season, the Lakers are now in the same preposterous position the Orlando Magic were last season; in the big ugly palms of Dwight Howard.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has spent the better part of the last few weeks steadfastly denying the Lakers would even consider trading Howard. They were but thinly veiled proclamations of stubbornness that disguised the fact that these orders most probably came down from Lakers Executive VP Jim Buss; the son of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss. Jim was the architect of the Lakers traumatic early season changes that included coaching changes, the non-hiring of Phil Jackson and the trade of Howard to a ‘see how it goes but we really want you to sign long term’ deal.

The season of course, has been a disaster for the Lakers and while much can be said about its sputtering futility, this trade deadline debacle is just another boneheaded non-move by Jim Buss more concerned about covering his own ass than giving Lakers fan all they care about: winning now.

So how does Dwight Howard fare? Well, once again he is the King in his court of jesters, ruling the roost of buffoons too blind to see that it is just plain bad, bad business to let him run the organization. And let’s face it, from now until the end of the season, he runs the Lakers.

Many trade analysts and pundits postulated the merits of a Dwight to Brooklyn trade and it all made perfect sense. In return, the Lakers would receive Brook Lopez who is a far better fit alongside Kobe than Dwight is. At the moment, Dwight’s point production is actually lower than Brook’s (16ppg to Lopez’s 18.8ppg) and while Howard at his best is a defensive beast, Lopez’s game is far better suited to Kobe’s “me-first, win-at-all-cost” attitude. So why didn’t it happen? Because it makes too much sense and because Jim Buss is too stubborn to give up his grand plan of having Howard as the Lakers’ future centerpiece.  The only problem? It is a future that clearly won’t start until Kobe hangs up his sneakers, which is, two, three years away at the very least? And if he’s got the same kind of fire Michael Jordan had, he’ll never want to walk away from the game. Did we somehow forget that Kobe is still one of the best players in the league today?

The Lakers will spend the rest of the season trying to please Howard, hoping he’ll resign a long term contract at season’s end. But he dislikes Kobe and hates Mike D’Antoni’s system, and if nothing changes, Howard will walk and will likely sign big money deals with teams that can afford him, like Dallas or Houston. Will they have to fire D’Antoni? Trade Pau? Make Steve Nash play soccer? I’m sure if Howard could fire Kobe, he would. Once again, a player has a franchise (the Lakers of all teams) in the palm of his hands. No surprise the player is the same one who sank the Magic last year.

This is not good for the NBA. A franchise should always be bigger than its players, and yet over the last few years, we have learned that in the case of David Stern’s modern NBA, this is not to be.

Jerry Buss was a visionary; he brought the Lakers and all of Showtime to the world and turned a ramshackle team (Buss bought the team, along with the LA Kings and the old Forum for a measly $67.5 million back in 1979)  into one of sports’ most valuable, loved and respected franchises. His son, Jim, is a nitwit; just another jester in Dwight Howard’s Merry Band of Clowns.

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Basketball, Featured, Sports

Never Be Like Mike

Perspective is the end argument when it comes to unresolvable sports questions. We live in an age where talk and discussion is paramount regardless of whether we will ever find the answers or not. It is the very nature of sports talk radio. This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, and coincidentally, LeBron James has been playing historically unmatched basketball over the last few weeks (30 points a game, 60% shooting in 6 or more games in a row). It has been a golden opportunity for talk radio to once again highlight the oft-discussed topic of whether or not LeBron is as good, or better, than Michael Jordan.

The answer is simply: no. LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.

But the reasons behind the answer are more to do with perspective then it does with statistics. Numbers do play a big part, let’s not forget, 6 rings to 1, no final losses to 2. However, it’s a little more intangible than that.

I’m in my early 30s and during the height of Jordan’s powers I was a teen growing up in Indonesia. With feet firmly planted in Air Jordans and head soaring to the basket, there was a mystical element to Jordan. It was an aura of invincibility that made a scrawny Asian kid believe that while I would never make the NBA, the times I flew through the air in my backyard were just as great.

People talk a lot about intangibles and killer instinct. We know Jordan had it, and we know Kobe has it. The last few years have been about whether or not LeBron has it. We balked at this idea when he bailed on Cleveland, laughed when he no-showed in fourth quarters, and definitely believed he didn’t when the Heat came up short against Dallas. But last year, on their run to the championship, he showed something. And now, in their defence of the ring, he’s been playing like no other. Unstoppable, gazelle-like, men amongst the boys- LeBron is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the league.

Yet, LeBron is a victim of our time. Media oversaturation, promise, “The Chosen One”, everything rolled out on a red carpet since high school. Back in 2003, I wrote that the hype that followed LeBron would “devour everything in its path” and in a way, it devoured LeBron too. Every ounce of greatness he has achieved and will achieve will never match this generation’s ridiculous expectations.

IN A SEA OF TREES

Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins.

This is a list of Hall Of Famers who never won a ring because of Michael Jordan. This doesn’t include all of Reggie Miller’s teammates on those Pacer teams, Barkley’s, Ewing’s Knicks, Wilkins’ Hawks. And it doesn’t include Shawn Kemp. None of them won a ring because each year Michael Jordan and his Bulls stood in the way. The two years he went to play baseball were the only chance Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had to win theirs; otherwise they’d be on this list too.

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan posterizes Ewing

Jordan had to play amongst the trees in his prime. He had to literally dunk over Patrick Ewing to get his rings, the best centre LeBron has to play against? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Only Dwight Howard could hold the paint against Olajuwon, Ewing and Robinson (although the way Howard is playing this year, we should think about scratching him off that list too). The calibre of talent Jordan had to overcome for his rings were named Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, Malone, Miller, Wilkins, Barkley and Magic. LeBron didn’t even show up for the fourth quarter against Tyson Chandler.

Then there are those indelible Jordan moments. Over Ehlo, around Sam Perkins, over Ewing, all over Bird, one on one with Wilkins, from the free throw line, standing in the shadow of himself in Barcelona, the shoulder shrug, under the weather, off of Russell. It’s hard to quantify them because you couldn’t YouTube them 5 minutes after they happened- they were at times, mythical occurrences passed on by whispers and VHS videos, but they happened.

For LeBron, I will always remember the shot he hit against Orlando in the conference final as a watershed moment. And right now, I’ll remember how well he’s playing but for someone my age, LeBron’s memories will be The Decision, the Welcome Party and the time he dunked on poor old John Lucas.

This is because I didn’t grow up with LeBron. He’s not a basketball hero to me, just a commodity; a great ball of talent, energy and marketing. I figure this is how the older generation feel about Jordan and people like me when they talk about Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem and Oscar. And I figure this is how LeBron’s fans will feel when in 20 years, whoever is top of the chain then, is compared to LeBron.

Maybe I just dislike LeBron and the NBA today. Or maybe we just know too much of LeBron, like we know too much of everyone these days.

We have tried in vain to find the next Jordan for more than a decade now. We’ve had a line of candidates who all fell short- Grant Hill, Kobe, Vince Carter- and most embarrassingly, Harold Miner- and now LeBron, who for all the talent in the world (which on a pure talent stand point, would probably surpass Jordan), falls short because he is the product of his generation.

But Jordan was Jordan; and for someone of my generation, a larger than life figure who at a given time was as famous as Muhammad Ali was in his prime, known to the citizens of America as he was known to a housewife somewhere in Southeast Asia. They invented The Jordan Rules to stop Michael, until this year, all you had to do was show up in the fourth quarter to stop LeBron.

Like LeBron, I am a product of my generation; pulled into the draw of the NBA when the Bad Boy Pistons had dethroned Magic’s Lakers. They were the villains of a sport in need of a hero. And through all the moments that transcended an entire generation, Number 23, who soared and graced the court like no one before or after, became that hero, the first and last Jordan. 

Bonus video:

This is an old VHS tape called ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ that I watched countless times marveling at the Jordan mystique. Most telling is Jordan describing the importance of determination and will in order to succeed and become the best.

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American Football, Sports

One Last Ride: Super Bowl XLVII Picks

Spare a thought for Alex Smith, whose last game for his team will be greatly overshadowed by the other guy’s last game for his team. The ‘other guy’ is of course, Ray Lewis, who will cap off his stellar 16-year career with his second trip to the Super Bowl. We’re all partial to fairy tales, and while Lewis is no stranger to controversy, it will in sporting terms, be a fairy tale if he does wrap things up with another ring.

So he preens, prances, dances, preaches, cries and genuinely thinks God is a Ravens fan, but his ability and dominance over his near two-decade career is undeniable. If he wins, sure, his post-game interview will be insufferable, but the winning sentiment will be real.

For Smith however, it all ends the same way it began for his 49er career; disappointingly. The former 1st pick in the draft had seemingly put things together under Coach Jim Haurbaugh last year only to have the rug pulled under him a few months ago. Not for playing poorly, but for having Colin Kaepernick as his back up. The rest is all bicep-kissing, tattoo-havin’, touchdown throwin’ bad luck (for Smith) that Kaepernick is actually that good.

So while Ray Lewis will ride off into the sunset with either a second ring (or near storybook ending), Smith will spend the off season convincing potential suitors that his last good game for the 49ers (his 18-19, 232 yards, 3 touchdown performance against the Cardinals) will happen more often that his other games. And let’s face it, in the NFL, when you can show flashes of brilliance, there’s always a team willing to give you (another) shot. Smith will probably cash in a nice free agent pay and end up leading the Cardinals/Bills/Chiefs to an 8-8 record.

(To my beloved Eagles: Please don’t give him a shot)

The Betting Line

This Super Bowl has plenty of interweaving story lines both big a small- Lewis, the Harbowl, Kaepernick’s rise, Smith’s fall- but for the game itself, it is the most dynamic game that features two uniquely dynamic teams both high flying on offense and hard hitting on defense. Unless these two teams play each other.  The last game between them, on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, ended with a Ravens’ 16-6 win; buoyed by a bunch of field goals and little else.

What’s the safe bet here? Well, the over/under for the game currently sits at 47.5, and so if you’d like to cash in on a more than likely, bet the UNDER on this line and you should be fine.

However, if you’re like me and want to go on a gut feeling instead of sporting and statistical intelligence, you’ll take the Ravens on a straight up win (or both). They are currently +3.5 underdogs and it feels like there may just be that one final hurrah for not only Lewis, but the rest of the Ravens old guard like Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs.

The 49ers time will come; it’s just not going to be this year.

Prediction: Ravens 21, 49ers 17.

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Baseball, Film, Sports

The Greatest Baseball Documentary Ever Made

It took weeks of real time to consume, but getting through Ken Burns’ historic PBS documentary series Baseball, all 20+ hours of it, was worth it. It immediately got me thinking about the endless list of baseball related documentaries that have made their rounds and just which one could possibly be picked out as the finest. It is perhaps an answerless question, “which baseball documentary is the best of all time?” but one whose labor is very much the reward itself.

Some of the few I’ve consumed lately spark much debate, thought and introspection into America’s game. Through its vast history and interconnectivity with much of the country’s history, baseball has, and always will be part of its fabric.

The best place to start is of course, the Burns documentary. Originally airing in 1994, it powers through 9 original volumes (with a 10th added in 2010) dating back to baseball’s earliest roots in the 1800s. It is a meticulously planned, beautifully done trek through history that progresses through the many eras of baseball’s past. From the birth of the sport on the Elysian Fields to Babe Ruth’s discovery by a priest, from Jackie Robinson to the steroid era, it is perhaps the quintessential modern documentation of a sport. But is it the greatest? For one thing, it does take a herculean effort to get through, and anyone not so engrained in the historical resonance of Ty Cobb may find the first few hours nothing more than thumbing through a history book.

Conversely, on the opposite scale, the few others I’ve consumed narrow its scope and focus. Part of the original ESPN 30 for 30 run, The House Of Steinbrenner is a brief but complex look at one of baseball’s most definitely characters of the past 50 years. Part ode to the Yankees, part ode to the man himself, yet both forever intrinsically linked. Fascinating because it is not all adulation, but confronts the egomaniacal autocracy he ruled with, it is another strong entrant into the debate. For Red Sox fans, it all begins and ends with Four Days In October, marking the most memorable turn of events for any Boston baseball fan. Remarkable because in itself, documents what can be argued as the closing chapter to one of baseball’s most storied legends- “The Curse of the Bambino”.

The Ghosts of Flatbush hits home for any elderly Brooklynite, counting down the last days of the Brooklyn Dodgers before they went Hollywood, while The Lost Son Of Havana follows the heart breaking story of Cuban exile and ex-major leaguer Luis Tiant returning to his country after 46 years. Then there’s The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg, the tale of baseball’s first Jewish superstar, while lovers of the Brewers will undoubtedly find home in Harvey’s Wallbangers, about the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers who made it all the way to the World Series only to come up short.

For those who do their sports betting, you can place your hard earned cash on the Pete Rose film 4192; but don’t be surprised if you come up short when you find out it’s about his chase for Ty Cobb’s hit record and not his quest for the Hall Of Fame. For whatever your baseball inclination, there is something to satiate your tastes.

It’s endless. And as I power through documentary after documentary, it becomes clear to me that while baseball goes through the ebbs and flows of scandals, strikes and competition, there is a timeless art to the sport that will never fade. Major League Baseball will have its stories told in film and television about its characters big and small; all the strike outs, balls, walks and homeruns, but the greatest baseball documentary will always be baseball itself.

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Links to documentaries/official websites:

Ken Burns’ Baseball
The House Of Steinbrenner
Four Days In October
The Ghosts Of Flatbush
The Lost Son Of Havana
The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg
Harvey’s Wallbangers
4192

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Baseball, Culture, Featured, Sports

From Broad Street to the Bronx: Embracing The Evil Empire

There has been a plague slowly overcoming me. Not the kind that destroys the body, but the kind that eats away at the soul. I was recently in New York and went to the new Yankee Stadium for the first time and marveled at the statuesque nature of not just the structure itself, but the grounds surrounding it. There was an unrivaled mysticism to it all; being somewhere you only ever see on television. It felt in a way, like stepping on sacred soil. And this wasn’t even the old Yankee Stadium. Its pristine exterior only rivaled by the billions of dollars poured into the lavish interior; highlighted by a baseball diamond so near perfect that one would believe during its construction the echoing mantra was surely “if you build it, they will come.”

The problem here you see, is that I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan. At least I think I am. I’ve lived through the toils of supporting a franchise with more losses than any other professional team in America. Born a year after their first World Series, I was 27 years old before they won anything of significance. The second baseball game I ever saw was one between the Orioles and the Phillies; so boring and lifeless that a bunt down the left foul line was met with the kind of exuberance reserved for parades down Broad Street.

So these words are hard to write, but ever since I went to see the Yankees play the Mets on June 10th of this year, there has been a slow but growing black tide washing over me. Like the spirit of evil filling my veins; resistance futile. There’s the history, the unmatched global branding in its sport, the legends that have donned the pinstripes and of course, the 27. Winning championships are the pillars of sporting success and with 27, few franchises are held up stronger than the one that calls Yankee Stadium home.

At the game, there was a good spattering of Mets fans. Not sure why or why they exist. But they were there. Hopeful as always, buoyed annually by the promise of hope, but left disappointed by an ineptness that is but the yearly tradition of ‘the Yankees win, the Mets lose’. The Mets lost of course, but it wasn’t just this one game, they’ve been losing forever; a paltry 2 World Series titles to the Yankees 27. If you were living in New York and identified as a New Yorker, why on God’s green Earth would possess you to choose the Mets over the Yankees? I’m sure there’s plenty of that “the team chooses you” nonsense but really? Suppress it, ignore it, will it away. I’ve never understood the choice to be a loser over a winner. Life is about choices. Why pick the Cubs over the White Sox? Why pick Melbourne Heart over Melbourne Victory? Why pick Manchester City over Manchester United (until recently)? Why pick the Mets over the Yankees?

Since I’ve come back to Melbourne, I’ve been in this perpetual rut. At the gym, I’ve started giving the “what’s up?” head nod to the guy always wearing the Yankees shirt (maybe I need to stay away and get a home exercise program, like the Rushfit). Feeling slowly torn from what I thought was right, slowly overcome by an injection of navy blue, white and grey. These colors are bleeding into the red; turning the crimson into night.

Yet, the most obvious and painful realization is that I just like Evil Empires. I am a Manchester United fan, a Melbourne Victory fan and if I lived in Chicago, there is no chance in hell I would suffer a lifetime of being a Cubs fan. I like global corporations, I like law and order, I like money, I like first class and I like nice things. And so maybe the darkness overcoming me is an inevitable turn; an evil just waiting for an Anakin Skywalker or an Eddie Brock to sink its teeth into. I’ve been bitten and the infection is spreading.

The Philadelphia red in me is still fighting; a spirit of brotherhood bred on the tough Philly streets swinging away at Wall Street, but in the end the spirit is always broken. The high rises of success and power are far too great for man to overcome and winning is far too much of an intoxicating brew to pass up. I’ll toss and turn and feel my soul staving off the inevitable, and I will try with every bit of cheese steak left in me to fight away the allure of glory, money and power. Yet I know deep down inside, evil will rise. And I have a feeling it won’t be long before I enjoy wearing my #7 Mantle shirt more than I do any other.

Photos by: Billy Ho
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Podcast, Sports

The Blitz: Episode 2 Podcast Preview

The NBA’s conference finals heats up before their respective game 2s as the Miami Heat pulled away with a strong second half in today’s Miami-Boston opener. The Celtics sputtered to 11 anemic first quarter points before bouncing back strong in the second. After being tied 46 a piece at the end of the half, the Heat would dominate the second behind LeBron James’ game-high 32 and Dwayne Wade’s 22. The biggest talking points however, poor officiating and ghost technical fouls- one of which Celtics coach Doc Rivers has called, “the worst he’s ever had”.

The Blitz podcast will talk about all things Heat and Celtics as they progress through game 2 Wednesday night. Do the Celtics have enough in their aging legs after a bruising 7-game series against the Sixers? Can the Heat finally get over the hump of last year?

We’ll also talk Western Conference where fundamental basketball takes center stage as both the Spurs and Thunder showcase good ol’ fashion basketball the way Dr. Naismith drew it up. Are the feisty Thunder too inexperienced to topple the Spurs? Can the Spurs continue their impressive winning streak?

We’ll talk NBA and more when the second episode of The Blitz Podcast comes streaming through very soon!

In the meantime, want to get your bets in before game 3? Can the Celts turn the tide? Can the Spurs go 2 up? We’ll see you soon on The Blitz!

You can also check out the first episode of The Blitz right here.

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