Thursday, June 13, 2013
LeBron James is steaming at the Heat.
Don't buy that cool, calm, determined act he's putting on for the media. Behind the scenes, according to two sources close to a Heat player, LeBron, since Miami was crushed by the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night, has been on the warpath. Report the sources, he's angry, surly and bursting at the seams, on the verge of ripping the locker room apart. What's happening is that he's boiling mad at his teammates for their lazy effort in the NBA Finals, which Miami trails 1-2. In the entire series, Miami has played only one exemplary quarter, that final one of the second game--their lone win.
A raging LeBron is apparently a frightening creature, one that's not easy to deal with. He's the team leader, the guiding force. But he has created an unpleasant atmosphere, a locker room dripping with tension. The players are on edge, not sure how to deal with him.Quite possibly, his fuming may be doing more harm than good.
Everybody, says the sources, is scared of LeBron. The person who really fears him most, they say, is coach Eric Spoelstra, who knows his job is based on the superstar's approval. If LeBron doesn't want Spoelstra in charge, the coach is history. LeBron is the lion and Spoelstra is the lamb. If the Heat lose this series, guess who may be collateral damage.
People close to the team know part of the problem is that LeBron is mad at himself. During the season, he got caught up in chasing the Lakers' record, 33-game winning streak The Heat's streak, which reached 27 games, took its toll on the team. The players are burned out. Pursuing the streak, they were giving the kind of effort normally reserved for playoff games. Now, in the playoffs, when it really counts, many of the older players are running on empty.
What LeBron wants his teammates to do now is funnel all their energy into winning three games. That title would mean that Miami reached the NBA Finals three times in a row and won twice. That's respectable.
If they lose this series, the person who'll take the heat is LeBron. What he's done so far, his status as the best player on the planet, won't matter. He'll be the star who could only lead his team to one win in three NBA Finals. That's a huge stain on his legacy.
Clearly, this is the swan song for the Heat's Big Three. Never a great interior presence in the first place, Chris Bosh has peaked. To stay competitive, Miami needs someone more ferocious on the inside. Also,.Dwyane Wade has faded dramatically, a victim of age and injury. He's the one who was most damaged by the ill-fated streak chase. Without those two in top form, Miami won't be a championship contender any longer.
Miami, now, may have just a fifty-fifty shot at winning the championship, but they should beat the Spurs tonight, evening the series. For one thing, Miami usually follows a crushing defeat with a win. Also, Miami hasn't lost two in a row since January. In addition, and maybe most important, Spurs' point guard Tony Parker has a sore hamstring, which should limit his mobility. If he's not in top shape--his speed is one of his assets--the Spurs' chances of winning dip drastically.
Miami is capable of playing lights-out defense. But with so many aged players, they can't do it that often. The reserve of skills is there. Miami just has to tap into it.
Miami has to find a way around the Spurs' game plan, which has worked well so far. Defensively, San Antonio is ganging up on LeBron, limiting him to outside shots, which he's only made sparingly, daring the other Heat players to step up, which they haven't. That's how the Spurs beat Memphis, neutralizing star Zach Randolph, which essentially crippled the Grizzlies.
The Heat entered this trio of San Antonio games knowing they needed just one victory, feeling they could win the last two in Miami. Well, tonight's the night. This is one of the most important games of LeBron's career. If the Heat lose, they're in a 1-3 hole, just about guaranteeing a Spurs' championship. If the Heat don't win this title, many of these players will be gone next season. Can angry LeBron cool off long enough to be a capable leader and spur his team to victory?
I think so. So do the odds-makers, who have made the Heat a one-point favorite. But if the Heat lose tonight. I feel sorry for LeBron's teammates. If you think he's mad and unpleasant now, imagine what he'll be like after such a crucial loss.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:34 PM
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs. What happens in the NBA Finals, which begin tonight in Miami? Handicapping this one means plowing through a maze of X factors. Too many things can go either way. After weighing them all, I pick the Heat, but with no great enthusiasm. A Spurs win wouldn't surprise me.
In gambling circles, Miami, which has home-court advantage, is a solid favorite in the series. In tonight's game, the Heat is a five-point favorite. During the season, Miami was perceived as a super team that would waltz through the playoffs. In the Finals, though, they have just a slight edge over the Spurs.
After being extended to seven games by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Finals,, Miami looks quite mortal. A defense-oriented team with a so-so offense, Indy should have been duck soup for the Heat. But Miami's soft interior, weighed down by sub-par Chris Bosh performances, nearly spelled its doom. The Spurs, anchored by ageless Tim Duncan and speedy point-guard Tony Parker, is a tougher, better-balanced team, presenting a much more formidable challenge to Miami.
The Heat has to be worn out after that grueling Pacers series. Meanwhile, the Spurs have been relaxing for nine days since they polished off the Memphis Grizzlies. The rest should benefit banged-up Manu Ginobili and ancient center Tim Duncan. But so many times in this situation, rest equals rust. So for the Spurs, the extended vacation may not be a plus.
One way to look at the Finals is as a brains vs, brawn contest--the smarts of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich against the muscle and skills of Miami small forward LeBron James, the consensus best player in the game. In the battle of smarts, the Heat's headman Erik Spoelstra is no match for Popovich. During a game Popovich can quickly manipulate players and set up schemes to the Spurs advantage. He's famous for exploiting a team's weaknesses and taking away their offensive strengths. But Popovich will have his hands full controlling James, who has the power and savvy to mount a team on his shoulders and rumble to victory.
How the Spurs fare will be partly a function of how well James is defended by small forward Kawhi Leonard. Though Leonard will have help, the lion's share of this critical assignment will fall on him. If he's ineffective or constantly limited by foul trouble, James will run wild.
Don't look to history for help in handicapping this series. They played each other twice this season, with the. Heat winning both times. Neither team, though, was at full strength during these games. The Spurs did face James once in the Finals, back in 2007, but that was when he was with Cleveland and his jump shot and his post game were a shadow of what they are now. The Spurs swept the Cavaliers then. Don't expect the Spurs to sweep the James team this time.
What about the benches?. The Heat can get a boost from Chris Anderson and Ray Allen, but the Spurs can bring in Ginobili, a starter-quality backup who scores well enough to change a game. Advantage, Spurs.
Who has the better defense? That's a tough call. In the Heat-Pacers series. Miami was dominated on the boards most of the time but, in that seventh game romp, ruled the offensive boards, rattled the Pacers into a flood of turnovers and cruised to victory. It was the kind of masterful defense the Heat played in 2011 and 2012. If they play that way consistently in this series, the Spurs won't have a chance.
On the other hand, look at what the Spurs did in their playoff series. They beat teams with radically different styles--the Warriors, known for their long-range bombing, and the Grizzlies, terrors of the interior. What Popovich did to the Grizzlies was particularly impressive. With double teams, he defused Memphis powerhouse Zach Randolph. Without Zach's scoring, the Grizzlies were wimps..
A major X factor in the NBA Finals is Dwyane Wade's bum knee, which limits his explosiveness and has dropped him, on the quality scale, a notch or two. You never know which Wade you're going to get. But you do know what you're going to get from the Spurs' Parker and Duncan--skilled, ferocious play.
Will high-class play by the Spurs stars be enough? Probably not. That's because LeBron will, no doubt, be in superman-mode. What happens if the Heat loses? That will mean that LeBron went to the Finals three times in a row and lost twice. That would kill him. In his head, he's measuring himself against Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordon. In this situation, those two giants would never lose two out of three. Lebron won't let that happen either.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:08 PM
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Spear-chucking jigaboo, lazy spook, chitlin'-eating coon, watermelon-lovin' shine, no-good nigger and on and on....
Now these are hard-core racial slurs--cruel, slashing, stake-in-the-heart verbal bullets meant to demean and scar. On the racial-slur meter, these are all 10s. But how do you rate comments by non-whites about an African-American eating fried chicken? Are they automatically and unequivocally racial slurs? Of course not. Many such comments wouldn't even move the needle on that slur meter. One that's mistakenly being branded a slur was recently made by Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia.
He's being crucified and demonized as a racist for making a "fried chicken" comment. The way he's being treated you'd think he'd said something that registered a 10 on that slur meter. No question, he's getting a raw deal. There's a stain on his image that will follow him for the rest of his career. Back in 1997 golfer Fuzzy Zoeller made a joking reference to Tiger Woods and fried chicken that has dogged him ever since. You say Zoeller and right away many think fried chicken and Woods and then, inevitably....racist...
Garcia has been under fire all week for making a so-called racial slur.aimed also at Woods. It's no secret that he and Tiger don't like each other..Their feud heated up recently at the Players Championship when Woods apparently did something to trigger crowd noise that, Garcia charged, was a distraction that caused him to blow a shot. Early this week, responding to a media question about his relationship with Tiger, Garcia replied: "We'll have him 'round every night. We'll serve fried chicken."
Then all hell broke loose. That reply was instantly deemed racist. Smelling a juicy scandal, the media played up the incident. Every time Garcia's reply is mentioned, there's a reference to the 1997 Zoeller furor. Garcia has become the new Zoeller--golf's reigning racist. Suddenly, in the eyes of many, Garcia traded in his golf cap for a KKK hood. Some sponsors apparently will drop him, costing him millions.
Aren't we getting too sensitive about such things? Fried chicken is a universal dish. Everyone loves it. Everybody eats it. Is a black eating fried chicken still a negative stereotype? Didn't we get past that way back in the last century? Just because Garcia mentioned sitting down with Woods to a fried chicken dinner, it's unfair to brand him a racist.
A comment involving blacks eating fried chicken can be racist--in certain situations. That depends on who's talking and the context. If a good ol' boy from Mississippi talks about eating fried chicken with a "nigra," now that clearly has racist overtones. But when someone like Garcia, who has no history of racism--or any kind of negativity for that matter--mentions dining on fried chicken with a black, why would that comment automatically be branded racist? If Garcia had talked about eating watermelon and chitlins with Woods, now that's clearly a racial slur. But eating chicken? It's a reach to label that racist. It's surprising so many people sprinted down that dark road.
Garcia has apologized but apparently he didn't grovel enough. That apology, considered insincere and half hearted, just made things worse. Another apology hasn't swayed anybody. He'll keep on apologizing, no doubt with the same results. They don't work because they seem like damage-control and not from the heart.
It's easy to see what's going on in Garcia's head. It's tough to give a convincing apology when you don't think you're guilty. Garcia obviously doesn't think he did anything wrong. He can't be believable apologizing for a remark he never meant to be racist.
I believe him. I don't think he's a racist or had any malicious intent when he answered that reporter's question. Unfortunately, most people don't agree. They think he was delivering a racial zinger at Tiger.
Sadly for Garcia, there's not much he can do to clean up this mess..Sergio Garcia, racist. What an ugly tag--one he'll never escape.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 9:00 PM
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Warning to the casual NBA fan. Steer clear of the Western Conference Finals, between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs, which start Sunday in San Antonio. This series isn't for you.
The casual fan zeros in on the NBA at playoff time, looking for glamor, flash, high-speed offense and dazzling dunks. Naturally, that casual fan favors the conference glamor boys, like Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry--the stars who bring in the TV ratings. But these guys got bounced in the first two rounds. The most entertaining team in the league, the speedy, high-flying Denver Nuggets, didn't even make it past the first round.
What's left in the west is two of the most boring teams in the league, all blue-collar-grit and old-fashioned sweat. Their slow, deliberate, grind-it-out style triumphed over razzle-dazzle. This series is for the die-hard NBA fans, those who appreciate intricacies like rugged, relentless defense, smart screen-setting and bruising, under-the-basket play.
The most exciting player on the floor will be Spurs' point guard Tony Parker. But he's not all that flashy, lacks star-quality and really isn't an A-list attraction.. Three of the top four Grizzlies--Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen--are defensive specialists, among the top ten defenders in the league. The Spurs are defense-oriented too, but not as good at it as Memphis. In this series, offense--and glamor--will take a back seat.
There's been no change in the NBA mantra. Defense does win championships. The best defense in this series and, actually, the best in the league, belongs to Memphis. So look for the Grizzlies to win the west. But it's not going to be easy. And it's definitely not going to be pretty..
It's going to be ugly ball, often closer to wrestling than basketball. These games will be played at a crawling pace, with not much scoring and a minimum of fast-break, transition baskets. The center of the action will be under the basket, where two Grizzlies, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who play like angry bears, will be on patrol, battering aging Spurs' center Tim Duncan, swatting away shots and clobbering hard-driving Spurs.
Nobody scores many points on the mean Memphis defense, which held teams to a league low 89.3 points per game. San Antonio won't be any different. The Spurs are especially adept at ball movement and finding the open man. They'll need these skills, which can pay off in minimally-contested jumpers. The Spurs will rely on accurate outside-shooting. With giant Grizzlies clogging the inside, the only way the Spurs have a chance is if Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard score consistently from the outside.
On offense, Memphis belongs in the lower half of the league. But they're so good at squashing offenses that they don't have to score a lot. All they really need is clutch shooting in the last few minutes. They count on Gasol and Conley for that and, nearly all the time, they come through.
Though these two teams split their regular-season series, 2-2, right now the Grizzlies are the better team. They blossomed late in the season, partly due to the developmental surge from point guard Mike Conley, who's turned into a terror..But the Spurs will put up a good fight. They do have home-court advantage and an edge in coaching, being guided by Gregg Popovich, the league's finest. But the Grizzlies' bruisers will beat up on Spurs' big man Tim Duncan, who'll be worn down later in the series, paving the way to a Memphis triumph.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:05 PM
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
When the NBA's Jason Collins came out of the closet last week, the first active player in a major American pro sport to admit being gay, he was congratulated by every one, from the President to NBA players like Kobe Bryant. No one, it seemed, had any objections.
While most NBA players have no problem with having gay teammates, some aren't crazy about the idea. These days, however, voicing such homophobic opinions publicly isn't politically correct. Three sources explained how this negative faction thinks. Tuned into the underbelly of the league, these sources are young male college grads who are members of the national NBA underground, handling some of the backdoor business for the players. These "associates" talked about the dark side of the NBA's attitude toward gays..
"You should hear how some of these guys talk privately about gays, both inside and outside of the locker room," says an Ivy Leaguer known as Dr. K. "You hear faggot, sissy, queer, etc.They make jokes about gays, real nasty jokes. They tell stories about beating up gays when they were young. They don't respect gays and think they're inferior. These guys don't want gay teammates."
Is this just a handful of players who have these attitudes?
Replied a source named Sugar, who went to the University of Arizona: "It's not just a few guys. This comes from dozens of players I've dealt with over the years. I'm around them when they're high and boozed up. That's when they really start talking trash about gays."
Added Dr. K: "You hear this kind of negative stuff from a lot of NBA guys all over the country, particularly back east. They make fun of gays and the gay life-style. It's part of being a macho jock. If you're a stud, with women hanging all over you, you're cool. The opposite of being a stud is being gay."
What do these anti-gay players object to most about gay players?
Replies Dr. K: "What I get is that the straight players just don't feel comfortable around gays, like they're aliens. It's like they're scared of gays. They don't trust them. For one thing if there were a lot of gay players out of the closet, these gay-haters think the locker room wouldn't be the same. The gay jokes would have to go. Everybody would have to watch what they say. A big thing would be that the players would not feel comfortable in the shower or walking around with no clothes on if there were gay guys around. That's a big deal. They think gay players would be making eyes at them and hitting on them."
Apparently much of the anti-gay sentiment comes from black players. A source known as Davy J, a Georgetown grad who operates mainly on the east coast, speculates that the roots of these attitudes are culturally based.
"I know for a fact that some black players don't like gays. A lot of these players grew up in the hood and still hang out with friends they grew up with. In a lot of hoods, gays are looked down upon, regarded as freaks and outsiders..From what my parents tell me, it's not as bad as it used to be twenty, thirty years ago, but that negative attitude, that fear of gays, is still there. Look, a lot of these players ain't too bright. They went to college but they have some backward views. They think like they're still in the hood. You'd be surprised how many of them don't like whites or Jews and, deep down, are cold-blooded racists. They grew up thinking this way. Some of them won't change."
Continues Davy J: "In the hood gays are the bottom of the barrel. They're looked at as weak and not manly. I have a buddy from Compton who's gay. He's in the closet and says he's never coming out. He thinks people in the hood, his friends and family, would look down on him if they found out, thinking he's less than a man. He says he couldn't deal with the backlash. He's scared of being found out. I feel sorry for the dude."
What the NBA's homophobes don't realize is that there have been closeted gay players in the league for years. Says Davy J: "There's been some gay players right under the noses of straight players who didn't have any idea what was going on. I know about some of them because I've helped them hook up with guys. I've seen some of the gay haters walking around in the locker room with no clothes on or with hardly any clothes on, in front of gay guys they didn't know were gay."
What happens in the NBA sometimes, according to Sugar, is that players with either wives or girlfriends are quietly having gay sex on the side. They're either bi-sexual or straights who dabble in gay sex on the down-low (street lingo for that life style)..
Says Dr.K: "I know for sure of one well-known player who's on the down-low. There are a few others I've heard about. If word got out on this one guy people would really be surprised. By the way, Jason Collins' coming out didn't really surprise me. I'd heard in the rumor mill that he might be on the down-low."
The gay players these sources know about--are they stars or, like Collins, fringe players?
Reports Sugar: "I know of at least three stars who're gay, two out of the league and one currently playing. But the gay players I know about have been mostly backup and end-of-the-bench players, guys who know they can be easily replaced. They think if people found out they were gay, they might not get jobs. So they're deep in the closet."
Davy J points out an interesting and little-known phenomenon about gays in the NBA: "Not all gay players are in the closet. Some are slightly out of the closet., on a very limited basis. Some friends and teammates and coaches know their secret, but that's all. Apparently it's been like that for many years."
Why do Davy J and backdoor operatives like him not expose these gay players to the media?
Replies Davy J: "I grew up in the hood, on the east coast. I learned you don't rat on people. We get well paid for our services, which includes keeping secrets, not mentioning names. This gay thing is low on the totem pole. There are secrets in my world much bigger than NBA players in the closet. Like there's an NBA player having an affair with the wife of a big-time politician. If that got out all hell would break loose. Naming names isn't right. It goes against the code."
What's going to happen in the wake of Collins' announcement?
Speculates Davy J: "It depends on the long-term reaction. If he gets signed by some team and he gets endorsements and becomes famous and the fans don't give him a hard time, I think other gay players will come out in the next year. But then there's the gay haters. They will be a problem. They're going to cause some tension in the locker room. Most of the players and most of the fans might be cool with gay players coming out of the closet, but those gay haters...I don't know. They could make life uncomfortable for gay players."
In the next year or two, look for gay players to come out of the closet, with some fanfare and media attention. But in ten years, after a few years of adjustment that may involve some unpleasantness and even some nastiness, gay players will be commonplace. The media attention will fade. But the anti-gay hostility in the locker room? I agree with Davy J. This negativity is fear-based and grounded in ignorance. It's going to take a lot longer than ten years for that to go away..
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:53 PM
Monday, April 29, 2013
The L.A. Lakers are a mess. But step #1 in straightening out the mess is pretty simple. Management has to make a decision--keep center Dwight Howard or coach Mike D'Antoni. They can't have both.
The problem is that Howard doesn't like DAntoni--at all--and doesn't want to play for him..According to two sources close to two Laker players, Howard's dislike is two-pronged. The center doesn't like the coach personally, dismissing him as a shallow, insensitive, hypocritical jerk. Also, Howard hates D'Antoni's high-speed, offense-oriented system which devalues what he is--a post-up, defense-minded center. Both men make nice in public, playing up to fans and media, but behind the scenes, report the sources, there's nothing but animosity.
Howard is a free agent after this season, which ended embarrassingly on Sunday with a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. The big question, of course, is will he sign a long-term contract with the Lakers? The answer, of course, is obvious to those close to the team. He won't sign as long as D'Antoni is coach.
When asked about re-signing, Howard dances and dodges, never giving a straight answer. What he really wants to say, but can't, is that he doesn't like the coach and he's not going to sign as long as D'Antoni is in charge.
But, no question, Howard is the future of the Lakers. They desperately need him. He's the player they want to build around. Coming back from Achilles tendon surgery, aging Kobe Bryant can't be the centerpiece. Neither can another veteran star, Pau Gasol, who's on the downside of his career and is the team's primary trade bait. And Metta World Peace and Steve Nash? Forget about those old codgers. Howard, a great defensive player when healthy and motivated, is the main building block.
Surprisingly, so far, it looks like D'Antoni has the edge. GM Mitch Kupchak has said that D'Antoni is coming back next season. Those close to the team, those who know how Howard feels about the coach, were flabbergasted by the announcement..
Management probably thinks they can change Howard's mind, maybe by offering him so much money he can't refuse. Or maybe by smoothing over the differences between the two.
Can D'Antoni modify his system to a point where it's palatable to Howard? He did this season, going with a more traditional, slow-down format, but mainly because injuries forced him down that road. However Howard feels, say the sources, that if D'Antoni sticks around he will eventually gravitate back to his old system, which really doesn't make the best use of the center's skills.
So look for the Lakers, after a lot of agonizing and negotiating, to sign Howard to a long-term contract and send his nemesis packing. It'll be costly. The team is already paying off one coach, Mike Brown, a defense-oriented leader, by the way, that Howard liked. So they'll be buying out yet another coach, in addition to paying a new one.
The Lakers have no choice but to side with Howard. The reality is that coaches are a dime a dozen. Giant, skilled, All-Star centers aren't.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:36 PM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
I remember the first time I saw Jackie Robinson play. It was on a boiling summer afternoon in 1953 in Philadelphia. Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Phillies in rickety old Shibe Park.
I'll never forget that day, for two reasons. First, it was the day I finally got to see, in person, the man who was a hero, a god in the black community, the first black to play in the major leagues in baseball-crazed America.
But something else happened to me that day. It was also the first time someone called me nigger..
Then I was a just a little kid, a stat-spouting fanatic who loved the game. That afternoon, I was accompanied by a teen neighbor, also black. I was a Dodger fan. But every black person was a Dodger fan. How could you be black and not root for the team that finally, in 1947, opened the doors of the major leagues to blacks? That glorious story, by the way, which many have forgotten, is being revived in the new movie, "42."
Many whites didn't like integrated baseball and worried that blacks would kill "the white man's sport.". One of them just happened to be sitting a few seats down from me in the bleachers that day.
This was no ordinary racist. He was not only loud and raucous, but he was big, really big, scary big. To a wide-eyed little kid like me, he was the equivalent of King Kong. This guy, a classic Aryan, could have been hanging out on top of the Empire State Building, swatting planes. I had never seen anyone that big. He must have been 6'7'' or 6'8,'' well over 300 pounds and was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that showed off his massive muscles. These days people that size aren't that surprising. But back then you never saw people that huge. No question, a freak of nature.
Swilling booze out of a flask, the guy didn't mind letting all the those around him know that he not only didn't like blacks but that he was sure they'd somehow ruin baseball. Back then the civil term for African-Americans was "Negro" or "colored." But this guy was yelling "nigger" this and "nigger" that.
One line still rings in my ears after all these years.
"Goddam niggers are ruining baseball!," shrieked the racist, over and over. Actually he was ruining the game that afternoon. He was so loud people a few rows away could hear him.There were plenty of blacks sitting nearby, but none dared tackle Kong. He looked like he could brush aside a crew of attackers like flies.
It didn't help that Robinson, the most graceful athlete this star-struck youngster had ever seen, was having a great day, smacking hits, stealing bases and making acrobatic defensive plays. Not what the giant racist wanted to see.
Somebody a few rows back, finally fed up with his vicious rants, took action, In the middle of "goddam niggers..." a bottle of booze, tossed from somewhere behind him, slammed into his back, which must have been like cement, because the bottle shattered, drenching him in alcohol.
The racist was enraged, much like the big gorilla atop the Empire State Building in the movie. People around him stampeded. My buddy bolted. But I didn't. It was like I was bolted to the bench, just a few yards from him. He screamed and yelled and swore he'd kill whoever threw the bottle. Naturally he assumed the attacker was a "nigger." He was probably right.
After a few minutes he walked down the row, headed for the aisle. He had to get by me to reach the aisle. I wanted to move, but I couldn't. He walked slowly up to me and glared at me with hatred that was like nothing I had ever experienced. He said two words to me that haunt me to this day.
But I was still frozen and couldn't move. Finally he brushed past me, continuing that venomous stare. He stormed up the stairs and, thankfully, never returned. The fans who ran away slowly wandered back and had a grand time cheering as the Dodgers, spurred by Robinson, routed the Phillies. Everyone in the area seemed to quickly erase the racist from their memories.
Not me. His words chilled me, rattling around in my head the rest of that afternoon. I had nightmares about him for months after that day. In many of them his glare was so potent it melted me.
Whenever I think of that afternoon, I remember Robinson, whom I saw play many times, having a banner day. But I can't wipe away the memory of that cruel racist. I do feel good about one thing, though. That racist was no prophet. Was he ever wrong.
Robinson and all the blacks that followed were the best thing that ever happened to baseball.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:37 AM
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Steve Alford, the new UCLA men's basketball coach? You gotta be kidding.
This is who they dumped Ben Howland for? UCLA fans had visions of great coaching hires, like Billy Donovan and Rick Patino, dancing in their heads. Then the school settles for Alford? What a come-down. These days, UCLA is no Kentucky or North Carolina or Kansas, but it deserves a higher-caliber coach than Alford.
And just last week Alford, who's been coaching at New Mexico the past six years, signed a letter of agreement for a 10-year extension. He was all smiles, saying he's looking forward to being a Lobo for the next ten years. But he didn't even last ten days. Real honorable.
This is no big-time coach. He hails from the lower-tier Mountain West. His last game was last weekend, where his 29-6 team, picked by many for the Final Four, totally bombed. They didn't even make it out of the first round, stymied by modestly-talented Harvard, which won a NCAA tournament game for the first time in school history.
Harvard is small and slow and, in athletic ability, was totally outclassed by the Lobos' gazelles. But Alford was totally outcoached by Harvard's Tommy Amaker. Watching the game, it was clear New Mexico
didn't have a clue how to stop these smart but inferior athletes. That performance certainly didn't make you think the Bruins' hired the second coming of Coach K.
A new coach is supposed to be an upgrade but can you seriously argue that Alford is a step up? He has nothing close to an all-world resume, with tenures at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico. He took SMS on a nice run in the 1999 NCAAs, won two Big Ten titles at Iowa and led New Mexico to the NCAAs in three out of the last four seasons. A laudable resume yes, but good enough to earn him a head-coaching job at a top-tier program like UCLA's? Don't think so.
UCLA was looking for a younger coach who could relate easier to players and media than crotchety Howland, and someone who could recruit the Los Angeles area more efficiently. Yes, Alford is more affable and personable than Howland and brings a more entertaining brand of ball than Howland's defense-oriented, grind-it-out style. But even factoring in Howland's downturn in recent years, you can't argue that Alford is a superior coach. At age 48, Alford isn't even significantly younger than Howland, who is 55. And what about the notion that the new coach should have ties with the NBA, a lure for recruits? Look at all those players Alford has funneled into the NBA. Yeah, right.
Many thought Howland got a raw deal. Though he has been slipping in many areas, this season he did win the Pac12 title and was barely nosed out in the conference championship finals. He finished with a noteworthy 25-10 record and might have gone farther in the NCAAs if he hadn't lost his second-best player, Jordan Adams, just before the tournament..
Howland's replacement was not even UCLA's first choice. They went after some more skilled, higher profile coaches but were rebuffed. VCU's Shaka Smart didn't want the job. Neither did Butler's Brad Stevens. The real big guns, like Patino and Donovan, were never really in the picture.
The problem is that the UCLA job comes with plenty of baggage. The ghost of super-coach John Wooden looms after all these years. Bruin fans, still thinking it's the late 1960s, have ridiculously high expectations, so anything short of league titles and Sweet Sixteens is unacceptable. With high academic standards, UCLA coaches are limited to recruiting only high-level students, putting many four-star and five-star athletes out of reach. Nor is the salary eye-popping. It's a relatively measly $2.6 million a year. With all these headaches, this is not really an attractive job to coaches who are happy where they are.
Here's an unsettling thought. Maybe the Bruins hired Alford because they couldn't attract anybody better.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 8:59 PM
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Filling out brackets for the NCAA men's basketball tournament is always tough. But this year it's even more of a crap-shoot.. Here are some bracketeering tips from a veteran bookie who goes by the name CarloAA:
First of all, why is this year so different?
"There's no great teams, none that you can count on to win most of the time. There's no really great players either. The best players of this year don't measure up to the best of recent years. So you can't use that as a measuring stick when you're making picks. It's really wide open. In any given year there are about five teams that could be number one. This year there's about twelve. If any of twelve teams finish on top I wouldn't be surprised. I can't recall a year like this one."
" Louisville or Indiana are the two teams that my clients are backing. Louisville looks good because they finished strong, they come from a good conference and they beat some good teams. Indiana has a good shot at winning it all for the same reasons. They're a top Big Ten team and the Big Ten is a killer conference. Any of those top Big Ten teams could win it--Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin. I watched that conference closely. Those are tough teams that beat up on each other. In the tournament it's the battle-tested teams that do well."
How important is a team's conference?
"It's crucial. It's crucial how a conference is ranked. If you pick winners based on the quality of the conference in a given year, chances are you'll do OK. This year it's the Big Ten--the best by a mile--and the ACC."
The best overall strategy?
"Try to pick the Final Four. Do that by focusing on the top two or three seeds in each region and research them. Chances are the Final Four and the top team will come from that pool. What makes this year so tough is that these top teams are pretty even. Don't worry about the rest of the teams in the early rounds, the eight seeds, the twelve seeds--Podunk U from some conference you've never heard of. They don't matter. They're just happy to be there. The minor teams may win a game or two but that's all. The big points in the pools come when you pick teams that make the Final Four. This year there's about ten or twelve teams with a shot at making the Final Four. If you pick two or three of the Final Four you're pretty good."
How about picking winners by who's the coach?
"You've got to pay attention to that to some degree when you're picking the Final Four and beyond. Like you give the big-name guys who've been there before an edge, guys like Coach K and Roy Williams. Chances are one of those guys will win it. But certain coaches you know will never win a title. Take that into consideration when you're picking in the upper rounds. Like Ben Howland, for instance. I picked UCLA to go to the Final Four twice about seven or eight years ago because he had some big-time players. But I knew he'd never win a title. He hasn't got the smarts to win it all. So I didn't pick UCLA to win it all, and I was right."
What's the silliest strategy?
"Trying to pick Cinderella teams.There will be upsets in the first round or two, before the teams that don't have a chance of winning it all get eliminated. But you pick an upset--so what? You get bragging rights for a minute. You win a battle but you don't win the war."
The most overrated team in the tournament?
"That's easy. Gonzaga. They"re no number one team. They shouldn't even be a Number One seed. They win all those games because they're in a weak conference. They play a few tough games but it's mostly cupcakes. Put them in the Big Ten or the ACC and they'll finish in about the middle. I don't even think they'd win the Pac12 and that's a lousy conference."
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:19 PM
Friday, March 15, 2013
Condolences, UCLA basketball fans. That's right, condolences.
You're off base if you think congratulations are in order because the Bruins beat Arizona State 80-75 to advance to the semis of the Pac12 tournament in Las Vegas, playing Arizona. Condolences are in order, Bruin fans, because Ben Howland is still your coach. The Bruins didn't win that game because of him, they won in spite of him. This is just another reason why AD Dan Guerrero should boot Ben out.
Legions of Bruin followers have been screaming for Howland's head for the last few years. There's no reason that the Bruins, who play most of their games in a generally crappy conference, should not only be the perennial conference leader but a fixture in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament. Yet, they've only made the NCAAs twice in the last four years. Unacceptable..The Bruins are now 24-8. Some of the wins were, unnecessarily, struggles. Some of the losses shouldn't have happened. The problem? Ineffective coaching.
In terms of talent, the Bruins are usually loaded. This season, the only Pac12 team, talent-wise, in the Bruins' ballpark is Arizona, the team they play today, a team they've beaten twice. UCLA, though, should have trampled the rest of the league. However they didn't. They won the league crown, but it was nip and tuck all the way.
Two beatdowns this season, by Washington State and Cal, were particularly shocking. Though both were UCLA road games, neither team is as talented as UCLA. In fact, Washington State is downright awful.The only reason for such fiascos is that UCLA didn't mentally show up. That's on Howland. Teams, especially big-time teams with high-profile coaches, should show up every game. When they don't it's a coaching blunder.
Speaking of not showing up for games, where were the Bruin players' heads in the first half of the Arizona State game yesterday? Not in the game, that's for sure. This should have been an easy win for the Bruins. They were resting Wednesday while Arizona State was working hard, eking out an 89-88 OT win over Stanford. And don't forget, Arizona State is a No.9 seed. Even if Arizona State was fresh, this lower-tier unit should have been roadkill for UCLA. They're simply not in the Bruins' class.
But once again, Howland didn't have his team ready to play. They stumbled through the first half, looking half asleep. They were a step slow and often out of position. For most of the game, they were outplayed, outsmarted and out-hustled. In the second half, against a fatigued team with inferior talent, the Bruins trailed, astonishingly, by 15 points and looked dead. Everyone's now saying the Bruins woke up in time. What really happened is that Arizona State, on the heels of that Wednesday OT game, finally wore down and the Bruins talent-edge took over. With Shabazz Muhammad, Travis Wear and point guard Larry Drew, who had a career game, leading the surge, the Bruins won by five. But it shouldn't have been that close..They were lucky to win..
Don't be surprised if the Bruins win the Pac12 tournament and even, with favorable match-ups, advance to the Sweet 16. It's certainly possible with their talent and with a senior point guard, Drew, playing at the top of his game. But that's hell for Howland haters. More wins means more Howland. Here's a reality that Howland haters hate. Winning the Pac12 regular season crown guarantees him another year.
That's not good for UCLA. With Howland, the team is in limbo--never quite bad enough to get him fired but never good enough to get back to the Final Four. His success in the middle of last decade, leading the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours, is actually a curse. Having been to the mountaintop with Howland, fans want to get back there again and again, or at least get close. Considering what their fans are accustomed to, reaching the Sweet 16 annually is a minimum requirement. In recent years, though, Howland has fallen short of those high standards. Since those glory years the program has been sliding downhill.. Howland has recruited high-quality players but hasn't developed any stars.
It hasn't helped that Howland has acquired a reputation for mishandling talent. So many top recruits either bail out or never reach their full potential under his guidance. On the plus side many of his players, like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holliday, have become major NBA stars. On the negative side, though, all blossomed after they left UCLA.
With his dogged emphasis on structure and excessive attention to defense, Howland tends to stifle players' offensive development. The word is out that he's is inflexible, dictatorial and out of touch with youth. Most big-time recruits are looking to play fast-paced, racehorse basketball in college. UCLA, then, isn't the place for them. Howland has loosened up a bit in the last year or two but not enough to seriously alter the perception of UCLA as a place that covets stodgy, old-school basketball..
So what's UCLA's future like? It's not exactly rosy, with Drew graduating and Muhammad, the best Bruin player, headed to the NBA. Final Four next season? Chances of UCLA getting there are pretty remote. With Howland in charge, the Bruins will, once again, be average-to-good. But great? No way. So isn't it well past time for a coaching change and definitely time for a new direction?
But unfortunately, UCLA fans, you're stuck with him..
Again, my condolences.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:33 PM