By updating RealClearSports I read hundreds of articles every week but sometimes there are particular passages that need highlighting. And to make these passages more palatable I'm doing them in award form! The awards are completely random and will change weekly.
The most entertaining city for sports in the United States right now is Miami. It's all so ridiculous and I'm kind of loving it.
Most obviously you have the Heat and the Big 3. And yet, it's basically just the Big 1 - LeBron James. Sure, Dwyane Wade made a little bit of noise after breaking the nose of Kobe Bryant in the All-Star game but other than that, the focus is on The King. It doesn't matter how poorly Wade plays because he's not the one everyone wants to hate (more on that later). All that matters is the talk of LeBron passing up the last shot in the All-Star game and then passing up the last shot against the Jazz on Friday. Is it not enough that neither the East nor the Heat would've been in those games if it weren't for him? Against the Jazz he passed out of a double team to a wide open Udonis Haslem. That is Haslem's shot. I've seen him make that much more often than he misses. And now the Heat have lost two in a row (gasp!). Cue the talk about LeBron not being clutch. Cue the talk about the regular season doesn't mean anything to his legacy. Nevermind the fact that this was two losses on the road without Chris Bosh.
How come no one even notices Bosh? Is it because he's polite and doesn't make headlines? He has done everything the Heat have asked of him and has done it quite well. This team is not the same without him and it's about time he deserved a little more credit. Instead though, the focus will stay on LeBron because that's the easier storyline for people to follow.
Before the Heat had Dwyane Wade, the Dolphins owned Miami. But they have been searching for the heir apparent to Dan Marino since he retired in 1999. Since then, the franchise has been a complete mess. There are worse franchises (Browns, Bills and Bucs to name a few) but the Dolphins are right up there with the Redskins in terms of franchises willing to spend that still can't get things together.
Now they think they are just a quarterback away from a return to glory - ignoring the fact that they have thought this since 1999. Now though, they have options. They will either go after Peyton Manning, leverage their future to draft Robert Griffin III, or pay Matt Flynn a ridiculous sum of money based on two career starts. As if any of these guys is a no-brainer sure bet to get them to the Super Bowl. As if Brandon Marshall will stop dropping balls if they are thrown by someone other than Matt Moore.
And then there is the team that might overshadow all this drama - the Marlins. This is a team that was 28th in attendance last season but now has a new stadium and a payroll of $125 million up from $57 million last year. The big payroll additions of Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes are unlikely to cause too much drama but it's the addition of Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano where things could get interesting. Ozzie's not afraid to say what he's thinking and Zambrano's not afraid to act like a petulant child and destroy anything in his path. Luckily for us, this will all be documented on Showtime's series "The Franchise."
The fireworks have already started. Actually, they haven't yet because where the fireworks are supposed to go off might be its own problem. To reflect the Miami culture, the Marlins have built a colorful, garish, opulent sculpture that will erupt with all sorts of bells and whistles (including fireworks) when a Marlins player hits a home run. The sculpture has been bashed the minute sketches were released and the criticism hasn't waned in the process. Now that criticism isn't just coming from the press but from players themselves. Catcher John Buck voiced concerns to the Miami Herald that the sculpture could cause problems for some hitters. "It's kind of my job to scope those things out,'' Buck said. "It might be close. It might be all right. I don't know. We'll see. I think for left-handed batters it might be trouble."
Personally, I love it. The absurdity of it so captures Miami and South Beach. I'm hoping it's one of those things at first you find awful but slowly it wears you down until you accept it. Kind of like "Big Bang Theory" and Costanza (sung to the Menin jingle). I'm embracing the statue as I'm embracing the soap opera that is Miami sports. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the show. On to the awards!
Slam of the Week
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports rips into Terry Francona for calling Bobby Valentine's decision to ban beer in the Red Sox clubhouse a "PR move": How about Francona owning up to the fact he took a paycheck to do practically nothing last year?
Francona was there, but he wasn't there. He needed to speak to several of his players last year, and he blew it off. Instead, he called a team meeting, when at least 20 of the guys in the meeting probably wondered why Francona wasn't calling in Lester, Beckett and John Lackey individually. He mishandled the situation, and he managed to lose a job he appeared to own.
Now he's spouting off for cash. ... Francona will continue to get paid for saying stuff. But it is a more valid opinion when he targets someone other than the one guy in baseball who took his job.
Normally I'd think this was a writer just trying to spark up controversy but Heyman is a well-respected journalist. I guess beer in the clubhouse really was a big deal.
Sarcasm or an Even Bigger Rip at Francona?
Here's one I can't quite figure out. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe is impressed with Bobby Valentine's new regime. But I can't quite tell if his comments about Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are meant to be taken seriously: How did the Red Sox win two World Series, average 93 wins per season, and make the playoffs five times when they were clearly such a chaotic, disorganized mess in spring training for the last eight years?
It's amazing when you really think about it. All these years they could have been great and they settled for just plain pretty good. ... How could we all have been fooled? It's pretty clear now that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona were doofuses. They didn't know what they were doing. They just threw the bats, balls, and gloves on the field and told the fellows to "go get 'em.''
I'd assume it was meant to be a bit of a joke but there's nothing in the article to lead me in that direction. Is he really slamming the duo that broke the curse? The ones perhaps most responsible for bringing two World Series titles to Boston? I can understand being excited about Valentine because he's a columnists dream but to bash the previous regime this badly seems unnecessary and unfounded.
He-Man Woman Hater's Club
Linda Flanagan and Susan H. Greenberg wrote in The Atlantic about how Title IX is bad for female athletes: Title IX has inflicted significant collateral damage, including increased health risks for the players, a drop in the number of women coaches, and increased exposure to sexual abuse.
More women are playing sports and thus more women are getting injured playing sports. Damn that Title IX! By eliminating men's teams more men are coaching women's sports. A real shocker! More teams for women and thus more exposure to sexual abuse. Who could've seen that coming? Basically, the arguments they make are about sports in general. It's like they should be arguing to get rid of sports because then no women OR men would get injured playing them and neither would get sexually abused by a coach. Instead they'd be sexually abused by a teacher. Problem solved.
Quote of the Week
Ian O'Connor of ESPN discussed the possibility of the Celtics trading Rajon Rondo with Celtic legend Bob Cousy: "I'm out of the loop, but boy, unless he's a serial killer on the side I wouldn't let this kid go," Cousy said by phone. "I don't know where you'd find a better point guard."
And that's how Dexter was finally caught. I always thought it would be by his sister. How dense is she to not realize anything when like every other cop in the department has had their suspicions.
Overreaching on Bounty Scandal
David Steele of the Sporting News takes the bounty scandal a little too far: It appears today that this was all a hot, steaming pile of bull.
These players were insisting that the rules were being changed to their detriment, and that they weren't being applied fairly, and that those applying them didn't understand them themselves.
And all the while, many of those players (most of them, by their own boastful claims) were openly, unashamedly and lucratively breaking every rule they'd ever supposedly been taught.
What he's talking about is the players complaining about the crackdown on illegal hits that have resulted in fines and suspensions. The thing is, they would still argue that the rules aren't being applied fairly. This bounty scandal doesn't change the fact that the NFL hasn't exactly been consistent with its punishments. And it doesn't seem fair to say that "many" of those players were breaking the rules. Also, I'd imagine the majority of money that exchanged hands was on legal hits. Players can hurt their opponents pretty bad without resorting to illegal hits that would result in fines well above the bounty they would be receiving.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times appears to be shocked, SHOCKED! At the discovery of the bounty system: The integrity of this country's most popular sports league has been battered, and its commitment to safety bloodied, with the NFL's report Friday that the New Orleans Saints have spent the last three years operating a management-approved bounty pool that paid big money for inflicting injury.
The integrity has been battered? The most common response I've heard to this news has been to yawn and move on. No one is surprised by this so how can it really hurt the integrity of the sport? I think it can hurt it from a legal standpoint but I don't think the league is losing many fans over this scandal. And "big money"? A couple thousand dollars in most cases? It's not exactly big money. It's basically just a pat on the back and earning the respect of your team and teammates. The money is symbolic more than anything else. And, if Bill Plaschke is reading this he better sit down - I bet the majority of it winds up exchanging hands in poker games. It's true. Athletes gamble!
The Voice of Reason
Not many would consider Greg Doyel of CBS Sports a voice of reason (although, all of his articles are laid out fairly rationally) but he's spot-on with his analysis of Oregon's recruiting violations. If you're not aware, Oregon paid $25K to a recruiter in Texas and in return got a bunch of outdated information on recruits. It was pretty clear they were using him for his influence on the players: And if you ask me, the USC sanctions should be the starting point for Oregon. The minimum. While it's true that an actual player (Reggie Bush and family members) received benefits in the USC case -- and received them at a value well beyond $25,000 -- there's a distinction here. It's a distinction Oregon fans will ignore because it's convenient, but it's a distinction that should appall the NCAA:
At USC, the checks were written by outsiders: agents, runners, marketing reps.
At Oregon, the check was written by the Oregon football team.
See that distinction? It's grotesque. This wasn't some mysterious off-campus figure exerting influence. This was Chip Kelly making sure $25,000 went to the guy in Houston who says he helped steer recruits to Oregon. And Lyles had a hands-on role, too: He says he advised eventual Oregon All-American tailback LaMichael James to transfer to Arkansas for his final semester of high school to avoid Texas' standardized test required for graduation. Then he showed Seastrunk how to use his grandmother to sign his scholarship papers, because Seastrunk's mother wasn't sold on Oregon.
It's just the latest example of the NCAA loosely implementing rules no matter how much evidence there is. I don't know how many posts I've read on SportsByBrooks with a ton of hard facts on players receiving improper benefits or players sitting court side at basketball games without explanation. It really makes you wonder if the NCAA cares at all or only so much as it makes the organization look bad when an independent entity exposes them.
The Answer to the Lakers' Problems
David Steele appears to have the cure to fix the Lakers: The Lakers, as they currently stand, are in no position to hold up their end of the matchup. They're a mess. They could get messier, even if deals are made to make them better. Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum (or both) could go out; Dwight Howard and some major upgrade at point guard could come in. Rasheed Wallace, of all people, is reportedly on his way. They talked to Gilbert Arenas, for goodness's sake.
This won't be the all-time reality-show lineup of 2003-04, with the Kobe courtroom/locker room doubleheaders, but it will certainly be watchable.
Yet the one aspect that could take this Lakers season to the next level on every front is Bryant himself.
Kobe is what can take them to the next level? The same Kobe Bryant averaging a league-best 28.9 points? The same Kobe leading the league in field goal attempts averaging 4 more field goal attempts than the second highest guy? He NOW can make the difference? What more can he possibly do? You want him to pull a Wilt and average 50 per game? He's not the reason for the Lakers slight decline and he's subsequently not the answer either. The Lakers need a point guard that's not 37 years old and for Bryant to be able to rest up not do more than he's currently doing.
Reminder Not to Forget to Hate the Heat
Mike Lopresti of USA Today wants to make sure people aren't forgetting about the Heat: Whatever happened to hating the Miami Heat? Remember them, Public Enemy No. 1?
Somehow, this evil empire -- lots of people used to call them that, anyway -- operated under the radar in the first half of this season, the basketball-watching populace distracted by other matters. ... And the Heat still operate pretty much under a zero tolerance policy, where nothing less than a championship will do. The postseason will never look as easy as February just did.
But Heat Haters, the signs are ominous. You've been warned.
Does anyone not thing the Heat are the favorites to win the title? The hate has died down because it's stupid. The Heat aren't committing crimes on the court. They're playing great defense and solid offense. And I don't think they've exactly been under the radar. Just look at how much vitriol has poured out of the past week with LeBron's decisions on the court. The hatred will come back in time for the playoffs though. Don't you worry Mr. Lopresti.
Media Loves Its Made-Up Storylines
Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald schools us in how the media drums up the same old storylines. Here's what he wrote after LeBron scored 17 points in the fourth quarter against the Jazz but passed to Udonis Haslem on the final possession: While James was doing all this, Dwyane Wade was doing the following in the last three minutes: Missed jumper in tie game. Dumb foul in tie game to give Devin Harris three free throws. Missed runner down two points. Missed free throw with 14 seconds left that would have put the Heat up three, his first and only missed free throws in 11 attempts. Allowed tying basket in his face with four seconds left and fouled the shooter to give Utah the lead.
The story afterward?
James neglecting to take the final shot.
None of the 17 points he scored in the fourth quarter mattered like the two he didn't score on a shot he didn't even take. Wheeeeeeee!
So for those that didn't watch the game they came away with the simple story of LeBron passing up the final shot. It reminds me of when Kobe Bryant or Jeremy Lin have an awful shooting night but SportsCenter shows the 3 shots they did make. When the media attaches to stories like these it's simply laziness. It's so easy to grab onto that story because it's one we've heard before and it's sensationalistic. I just wish more people in the media would dig a little deeper and not rely on tired cliches.