Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dump Pau Gasol, the Lakers' Locker Room Cancer

The LA Lakers, a dysfunctional mess as usual, are immersed in yet another soap opera. Once again, there's a cancer eating away at the team, dividing the locker room. This season it's center Pau Gasol. His relationship with his teammates grows uglier by the moment, with the team in free fall, even losing to the NBA's bottom-feeders.

Last season the Lakers' cancer was Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, who played hard only when he felt like it, partly because he hated both coach Mike D'Antoni and his fast-paced system. But Howard bailed out at the end of the season. Unfortunately his exit, applauded by knowledgeable Lakers fans, didn't leave the team cancer-free. Now Gasol has become the villain--the lazy prima donna who rarely plays all out and who's always nursing some injury. Lately he's been sitting out games because of an upper respiratory infection. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or LeBron James doing that?

In most games, Gasol is a shadow of the player who anchored the championship teams last decade. On defense his job is to patrol the paint and challenge anyone who drives to the basket. But, because of his half-hearted efforts, opponents look like they're having layup drills throughout the game.

According to two sources close to several players, Gasol's teammates are furious with him. It's a tension-filled locker room, mainly, say the sources, because of the animosity toward Gasol. They're angry at his minimal effort on the court and his sitting out games because of what appears to be a minor ailment.

According to one source, a Laker player told him, referring to Gasol: "The dude just has a bad cold. He should play through that. He's got no heart." Apparently, that's the consensus of his Laker teammates.

The problem is that the team, which is without Kobe Bryant for the next two months, consists of grade B and C role players, mostly young guys with no seniority who are relatively low on the NBA totem pole. Gasol, however, is a veteran former All-Star with one of the league's fattest salaries. According to the sources, none of these young Lakers feel they have enough clout to yell at Gasol, to tell him their true feelings and order him to shape up. So they bitch about him to each other, behind his back. Said one source, if Gasol paid any attention to his teammates he'd realize they resent him and have little respect for him.

Many stars in the league are, like Gasol, highly paid slackers. But they can get away with it because they're in small markets or maybe they're surrounded by first-rate players who pick up the slack. Gasol, however, is being flaky when he's under a national microscope. He's the lone quality player--and by far the highest-paid--on arguably the most popular team in the league. What happens to the Lakers, a premiere NBA franchise, is major national sports news. Gasol is not dogging it in Milwaukee or Charlotte, he's going through the motions on a high-profile team in the second largest media market in the country.

What's really ailing Gasol? One of his big problems is coach D'Antoni, who covets a fast-breaking system that's alien to lumbering, aging, post-up players like Gasol. It was D'Antoni, by the way, who drove Dwight Howard to Houston. Maybe Gasol is angry about something else. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is that he's behaving in a totally unprofessional manner.

The Lakers have tried to trade Gasol, but can't get equal value for him. Realizing the team is desperate to unload the center, interested teams are low-balling the Lakers, offering much less than he's worth.

No matter. What do you do when you have a cancer? You get rid of it. What should the Lakers do with Gasol? Dump him. He's killing the team. His behavior says he doesn't want to be a Laker. So get rid of him. Getting a player or two of lesser talent--players who hustle and work hard and want to be Lakers-- in return for Gasol is a plus.

Gasol's slacker act is tired. The players are sick of  him. Most fans are fed up too. Dump him. The Lakers will be much better off without him

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Seattle, Dammit, Will Stroll To The Super Bowl Title

It's over.

Sure, we'll go through the motions and play out the games, but the NFL season is over. There's no more mystery. The commissioner might as well hand the trophy to the Seattle Seahawks now instead of waiting until February. The rest of the season and the playoffs? A mere formality.

This past week of games said it all. Nobody can touch Seattle.

They're real good--scary good.What they did to the New York Giants Sunday, that 23-0 beat-down, bordered on criminal. The Giants, with a paltry 181 yards total offense and five interceptions, never had a chance. The Seattle offense, anchored by QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch,  is among the best, but it's that defense that tortures opposing offensive coordinators. The Seahawks defense is just a notch below the legendary, bone-crushing Chicago Bears' defense of 1985. The Seahawks secondary is not only the best in the league by far, it's also the best of the past decade.

No question that defense is Seattle's primary advantage. But there's something else that solidifies their position in the driver's seat on the road to the Super Bowl--home field advantage. Seattle, which has won 14 straight at CenturyLink Field, is simply unbeatable at home. For the normal team home-field advantage is worth three points. According to some bookies, though, for the Seahawks, it's worth seven. In Seattle, that deafening crowd noise, enhanced by acoustics and sound-system amplification, is incredibly disruptive to opponents and makes it nearly impossible for the opposing QB to call audibles, wiping out a key offensive strategy. For instance, take audibles away from Peyton Manning and he's not nearly as effective.

Seattle, most likely, is at home from now until the Super Bowl, including their final two games, against Arizona and St.Louis, and all their playoff games. All they have to do is win one or both those regular-season games, depending on what happens with their closest NFL competitors. This means that, for the rest of the season and the playoffs, they only play in Seattle, where they never lose, and then in New York--the Super Bowl site--where they just demolished the Giants.

In the NFC, Seattle's only real challengers are New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco. Scratch the Saints and the Panthers as serious competition, since the Saints suck on the road and Carolina has an exceptional defense but an inconsistent offense that would be smothered in Seattle. The Seahawks' only real competition is the 49ers, who proved they're the second best team in the NFL with a recent, bruising 19-17 victory over Seattle in San Francisco.

When Seattle and San Francisco meet in the playoffs, that's the real Super Bowl. But it's extremely doubtful that the Niners can win in Seattle. It would take a near perfect game--a real long shot. The Niners' defense, which is nearly as good as the Seahawks,' will stifle the Seattle offense, but the Niners' offense will falter in the fourth quarter, due to the unnerving stadium noise and QB Colin Kaepernick's inevitable mistakes. If the 49ers had won more convincingly in San Francisco, Niner fans could be more optimistic about winning the NFC title in Seattle. But that narrow home victory indicates the two teams are neck-in-neck and Seattle's home-field advantage, which is sizable, should boost the Seahawks to the conference championship.

When Seattle clears the San Francisco hurdle, it's clear sailing to a Super Bowl title. That's because the  AFC is a joke. Last week Denver couldn't even beat a so-so San Diego team at home. That Bronco defense was pitiful. So was the New England defense in the Patriots' 24-20 loss to unimpressive Miami. Denver and Miami are the best the AFC has to offer. Neither one, however, has anything close to a championship defense. Besides,  Denver QB Peyton Manning turns soft in the playoffs and the New England offense, without premiere pass receiver Rob Gronkowski, QB Tom Brady's right-hand man, sputters in the red zone.

It's possible, though, that injuries, to QB Wilson, RB Lynch or some key defensive players, could halt Seattle's march to a Super Bowl title. Or horrible weather conditions on Super Bowl Sunday could even the playing field, erasing Seattle's defensive advantage and opening the door to an AFC win.

But we're talking long shots. Sorry, Seattle haters. The Seahawks are the champs. All non-Seattle fans have to look forward to is Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll, an insufferable ass, laughing and celebrating and gloating and talking about how tough that journey to the Super Bowl title really was.

Makes you want to barf.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Behind-The-Scenes Mess in USC Locker Room

You're probably familiar with those reports about things being rosy and hunky-dory in the USC football locker room now that Steve Sarkisian has been hired away from Washington to be the new head coach. Well, don't believe them.

SC football is a mess. There are some really unhappy Trojan players.That's the word from sources close to several members of the team. A bunch of  them are really angry. Regardless of what you hear, some don't like Sarkisian, considering him mediocre and not as good as either Lane Kiffin, who was fired in September, or interim coach Ed Orgeron, who chose to leave when he didn't get the head coaching position..Some players, report the sources, think it's a flat-out bad hire and aren't looking forward to playing for Sark. AD Pat Haden doesn't really know how dissatisfied many players are with the new coach and some of the assistants he's bringing with him.

On the one hand,  the players would like to present a united front, one brimming with positives. Some of that is out there for the media. But, quietly, behind the scenes. they're really miffed at what's happened--that interim coach Ed Orgeron is gone and has been replaced with a coach many in college football circles consider to be difficult, hard to like and just plain second -rate.

Some still think USC rates a coach in the Urban Meyer-Nick Saban class. Sark, however, isn't in that ball park--or anywhere close to it.

Were any other teams knocking at Sark's door? Not really. He wasn't considered a hot, in-demand coach. In fact, inside word from Washington is that some of the boosters were disgruntled with him. The feeling was that he'd elevated the Huskies to a mid-level Pac12 team but wouldn't take them any farther. Up in Seattle there was the beginning of a movement to find a better coach, someone who would raise Washington to that next level, where Oregon and Stanford reside. Many UW followers are happy he's gone.
So, from the point of view of SC players, this coach, one that wasn't even on solid ground at UW, is what we wind up with? This is the guy that forced beloved Coach O out the door? You can see why Sark isn't the darling of the SC locker room.

Most SC players think Orgeron got a raw deal, that losing to major rivals Notre Dame and UCLA should not have cost him his job. They respected him, played hard for him and looked up to him as a friendly father-figure. They knew he'd leave if he didn't get the permanent head coaching job. Staying on under those circumstances would have been humiliating, so they don't blame him for leaving. They're just bummed out that he's gone.

So the Trojans, who finished 9-4, will be led by offensive coordinator Clay Helton, in whatever bowl game they wind up in--the third head coach of this season. You expect the players to be focused and motivated? Forget it. You can bet gamblers will be be putting their money on whoever is playing against the Trojans in that bowl game.

And, next season, with the Trojans still short-handed because of those long-term penalties from the Bush scandal and many players not that crazy about the new leader, don't expect much from this team. The other eleven teams in the conference are already rejoicing.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Cal Football Program--Dead

You know what's missing in the refurbished Cal football stadium in Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon? There should be, over the speaker system, a soundtrack continuously playing the solemn "Taps." And how about a bench in the end zone draped in black cloth and flags flying at half mast. These are things you do to honor the death of something fine and memorable.

Who or what died? The Cal football program, of course. It's DOA, six feet under. It's Cal football, R.I.P.

Who should be hung in effigy under the goal posts? The pair of lunkheads who killed the program--coach Sonny Dykes and the incompetent who hired him, AD Sandy Barbour.

Looking back on this season is painful for Bear loyalists. The 1-11 record, the Big Game slaughter, the horrific defense, the worst in the history of a program dating back to 1886. The lone, narrow victory over a bad lower-division team, Portland State, is all that stood in the way of the embarrassment of a win-less season

Cal was the laughing stock of the Pac12. Conference teams, naturally, loved playing the Bears, since it was really like a glorified scrimmage. It was not only a guaranteed win, but a chance to fatten their stats, play the scrubs, polish play execution and experiment with new schemes.. Meanwhile, Dykes was on the sidelines looking forlorn and helpless, while fans, the few who hadn't bailed, were looking thoroughly disgusted.

When will the aura of death be removed from Memorial Stadium? Not while Dykes is head coach, that's for sure. He and his staff belong in some obscure school in some Godforsaken place like Montana or Wyoming, not at a major university. Giving Dykes the Cal job is like giving a third-grader the keys to a sports car.

Dykes is one of those coaches who focuses on warp-speed, pass-filled offense and pays little attention to defense.The problem was that the defense, under coordinator Andy Buh, was so bad--among the nation's worst--that Cal was out of most games by halftime. Clearly the players weren't properly taught basic fundamentals by this woefully inferior coaching staff.. .

The Cal program needs a whole new crop of quality players, which it's not going to get during the Dykes regime. Sources say the word has been out among high-school recruits--don't go to Cal while Dykes and his staff are in charge. Also, opposing recruiters are, appropriately, bad-mouthing the Bears. If  you were a high-school hotshot with options, why would you sign up with losers like Sad Sonny Dykes and his crew? They'll get players but not the top-notch class needed to come back from the dead.

It's not like his players love Dykes. According to sources close to several Bear players, the team tuned him out long ago Their effort in games was mostly halfhearted. Clearly, in the second-half of the Big Game, players were going through the motions. You don't do that when you respect your coaches.

Dykes, predictably, is blaming injuries for Cal's woes. Don't believe it. You can be under-manned and still be a tough, gritty team that honors its coaches and plays hard. That wasn't the Bears this season.

No question, money and contracts are a problem in dumping Dykes. Cal had to pay Jeff Tedford millions last year when they kicked him out. To get rid of  Dykes would be costly. Cal would wind up paying three coaches--two old ones and a new one. Boosters would have to come up with big bucks to make this happen.

It would be great if the administration fired Barbour, who's been an all-around lousy AD. The new AD probably wouldn't tolerate a bungler like Dykes. But Barbour probably isn't going anywhere. And neither is Dykes while she's in charge.

If you're in Berkeley and you happen to be in the vicinity of Memorial Stadium, listen for "Taps." You just might hear that somber melody, off in the distance, honoring the dead Cal football program.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why USC Won't Hire Ed Orgeron As Head Coach

Will USC hire interim football coach Ed Orgeron as permanent head coach?

That probably will ever happen. Athletic director Pat Haden is too smart to yield to fan pressure and make such a short-sighted move.

You've got to give Orgeron credit. In a short time, he has done an impressive job, winning five out of six games, including two shockers--one at Oregon State and the other over elite Stanford, pushing SC to 8-3.. He has revitalized SC football, which had become lackluster. Crowds were down. Players were going through the motions under coach Lane Kiffin. Boldly,  after the Arizona State blow-out loss on Sept. 29,  Haden blew out Kiffin and installed Orgeron as temporary leader. Five wins later, SC football is hot again. Part of Pete Carroll's staff early last decade before leaving in 2005, Orgeron has brought back the hearty vibe of the Carroll era.  Now fans want Coach O as permanent leader..

Not so fast. There's a downside to Coach O--and it's pretty steep. Orgeron,  who returned to SC as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator in 2010, can't escape the mess he made of his 2005-2007 run as Ole Miss head coach. Sources report that he's infamous in Oxford, Miss. Some call him the worse coach in SEC history.. In conference games, he was a miserable 3-21..Apparently Orgeron made enemies and burned bridges when he was kicked out of Oxford. Detractors who recall the Ole Miss mess are warning SC that hiring him would be a big mistake.

Sources tuned into Oxford are saying Orgeron has horrible organizational skills. A football coach is like a business-world CEO. According to these sources, Orgeron made one bad decision after another--hiring the wrong coaches and constantly appearing overwhelmed and in way over his head. He recruited first-rate talent but, charge the sources, mismanaged it badly. Also, he ignored the advice of those who were trying to help him out of that  hole. A good football coach has to have some bad-guy and dictator in his make-up.. According to sources, that's not Orgeron, who's like a nice-guy cheerleader with no stomach for tough decisions.

Orgeron is obviously a good short-term fix. But skeptics contend that he hasn't done anything any decent coach would have done in the same situation. Following someone like Kiffin really isn't that difficult.. Kiffin was oppressive and out of touch with his players--more of a warden than a coach.. Coach O is just the opposite, emphasizing fun and freedom, getting out of the way and allowing these exceptionally talented athletes room to reach their potential. How hard is that?

Coach O , 52, was an assistant for the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee after the Ole Miss debacle. He's  basically a solid No. 2 man--a good position coach (defensive line) and an exemplary recruiting coordinator. But as a head coach, in normal circumstances, he's questionable. Will he be effective over a three-to-five-year span? Has he learned from his Ole Miss mistakes? These are the questions Haden is pondering..

So far, Haden has interviewed USC alum Jack Del Rio, a former All-America LB and currently Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator, who's running that team while head coach John Fox in healing from heart surgery. Let's face it. An experienced head coach who might be in the upcoming Super Bowl is a great choice. If you can get a polished gem like Del Rio, why bother with a diamond-in-the rough like Orgeron?

Whoever is hired will have to deal with Orgeron, who would remain as a top assistant and recruiting coordinator. But that could be an obstacle. The new coach might not want Orgeron around. Who wants to step into a job where the No. 2 man is an insanely popular fan-favorite that many think should be head coach? Possibly this might cause some worthy candidate to think twice about taking the job.

Haden is still quietly nosing around, looking for candidates, particularly in the SEC, which is loaded with quality coaches. The big SEC names, Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles, though, are out of reach. Apparently Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is a serious target, no matter what Haden says. But USC isn't Sumlin's only suitor. Apparently if Gary Kubiak gets the boot from the Houston Texans, Sumlin is the top candidate. That job is probably more appealing to him than the USC position. Sources say there's a coach from the ACC and one from the Big Ten on Haden's list too. But so far, no names have been leaked.

Sources close to SC management say Orgeron, with that Ole Miss experience clouding his resume, is a long shot, even if USC beats UCLA and gets a major bowl victory. They say Haden isn't likely to gamble that Orgeron has what it takes to be a high-quality, long-term head coach.
If I had to put money on whether or not Orgeron gets the job, I'd bet he doesn't get it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can a White Person Use The N-Word and Not be Racist? Yes

When can a white person use the n-word and not be considered a racist?
Some would say never. But that's wrong. There are exceptions.

The use of the n-word by whites in team-sports locker-rooms is a hot-button issue right now with that Miami Dolphins' scandal raging in the media. Miami lineman Richie Incognito has been demonized for bullying teammate Jonathan Martin. One of the charges is that Incognito, who is white, called Martin, who is black, the n-word. Incognito, though, vehemently denies he's a racist, claiming he has a pass from black players to use that word..

According to sources close to some Dolphins' black players, Incognito is right..In his dealings with Martin he may be treading in bully territory, but him using the n-word in dialogues with Martin shouldn't, insist the sources, brand him racist. Sources report that Incognito is like an "honorary brother" who can say things other white players can't.

In the outside world, Incognito, for using the n-word in that context, is bound to be dubbed racist. But in the specialized pro-football locker room, which has its own rules, he does rate a pass, considering his relationship with black players, allowing him to escape the racist tag..

I've witnessed this kind of special situation. I remember a time, back in the day, in the Cal football locker room after a practice when a white player towel-snapped a black player, saying "Hey, nigger." The black replied, "Go to hell, white boy." Both were laughing at the time. It was locker-room horseplay, sprinkled with racial terms, that wasn't racist. Those guys had a special relationship. But there were other whites in that locker room who couldn't have had that same exchange with that black player without ugly consequences. On the other hand that white player couldn't have fooled around like that with other blacks. There's a tightrope in those situations.Walking on it isn't easy..

But how about outside the locker room? When can whites use the n-word and not be branded racist? If you have a relationship with a black that allows casual use of the n-word, you're OK. Of course, it's fair game to use the n-word in conversations about racial slurs. After all, it's hard to talk about saying "nigger" without saying it. But some whites are so uncomfortable with the word they wouldn't even use it in serious discussions.

But there's another side to whites using the n-word. It's generational. Whites in their teens and twenties use the n-word in a special way.. They've been influenced by years of listening to hip-hop music where rappers use the n-word in non-racist ways. To them, the n-word is merely part of pop-culture slang, like dawg and dude. I've heard white kids great each other with; "What's up, nigga."  That's a white-washed version of the n-word, innocent and totally without venom.

Explains a white, 17-year-old from Beverly Hills: "I use nigga all the time. I call my white buddies my niggas. It means you're my special friend. Only certain guys can be niggas. Only cool guys, only guys who have a lot going for them. To be a nigga, you've got to be cool. But I can't use the word around my parents or other older people. They don't get it. It's racist to them, but not to me. It's just a word. There's nothing mean about it."

Some white kids start young using the n-word. Last year, in a gym locker room in Marina del Rey, two boys, about nine years old and white, were romping around and playing, waiting for their Dad, who was in the shower. At one point one little kid said to the other: "Let's go, nigger." Then both ran off to another room. Other guys who heard it, all at least middle-aged by the way, looked at each other, startled. Clearly, these kids were close buddies  To them the n-word had no negativity or racial charge.

With older people, though, those who lived through the black revolution, the n-word will probably always carry racism with it.

When whites use the n-word, they're tiptoeing through a mine-field, opening themselves up to accusations of racism. In many cases, probably most of the time, the accusation is on the money. At times, though, it isn't..

Things are changing. The world isn't what it used to be. It's in a rapid state of flux. It wouldn't surprise me if, in ten years, the racially-charged n-word, caught up in all the change, was mostly neutralized.

That would be a good thing.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NFL Bully Incognito the Bad Guy? Maybe Not

In  the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, guard Richie Incognito is the villain and tackle Jonathan Martin is the innocent victim. Right? Case closed.

Not so fast. It depends on who you talk to.

Incognito, a white, 30-year-old guard who's played for several teams over the past decade, has been suspended by the Dolphins for bullying black, second-year, 24-year-old tackle Jonathan Martin so viciously that Martin left the team. However, three sources close to the Dolphins report that teammates and coaches knew about the situation but did nothing about it.
Sources talked to two Dolphins who, for obvious reasons, prefer to remain anonymous. The sources say that Incognito always has been a bully, antagonizing certain vulnerable players. The Dolphin players, though the sources, say Incognito was abusive and used racial slurs on Martin and other players but coaches and  teammates laughed it off, saying "That's just Richie being Richie."

But the Dolphins, surprisingly, say good things about Incognito, saying that he has been a team leader and a dedicated "enforcer," on and off the field. According to the sources the players said, while you couldn't call what Incognito did good, you can't label him a bad guy either, that he was operating for the good of the team. Management, they insisted, was throwing him under the bus. Could he, the sources say, have lasted all these years in the league if the management of teams he played for, like the Bills and the Rams, didn't have some idea what he was up to?

According to the sources, what Incognito did was out in the open, and to some extent, was considered, in the words of one player, "no big deal." Coaches, say the sources, knew about it but looked the other way. Apparently, since Incognito picked on rookies and low-tier players, coaches thought Incognito's abuse was a way of toughening up these inexperienced, "soft" players.

Martin, say the sources, is a bright, sensitive man who's very talented (a second-round draft choice in 2012 out of Stanford) but needed to be rougher and more hard-nosed. The coaches, the players speculated, figured the pounding he got from Incognito would make him "man up" and become a better player.

Apparently Incognito got away with bullying on various teams all these years because he knew, like all bullies, who to target.. He's not going after a big star, like the starting QB or some All Pro linebacker, or respected veterans, who wouldn't stand for such behavior. Nor would he try to abuse some black player who grew up battling his way through the hood.

According to the sources, the Dolphin players say what Incognito did was considered an extension of the traditional hazing veterans inflict on rookies and younger players. Incognito crossed the line often but no one thought it was noteworthy.

There's a code, the sources say, the players aren't supposed to violate--take what's dished out in these situations like a man and don't go running to management. Martin ignored the code.

Consequently, while Incognito is getting trashed in the media, Martin, quietly, in NFL player circles, is taking a worse beating. Report the players, Martin is being called a "pussy" and a "rat" for blowing the whistle on Incognito. One of the Dolphins said, according to the source, that nothing is worse that ratting out a teammate. Martin, claims the Dolphin, is a "cry baby."..

According to the sources, one Dolphin insists bullying is part of the way of life in the NFL and that there are many like Incognito in the league. There's one guy, reports the Dolphin, on an AFC team, who puts Incognito to shame.

Will bullying in the NFL ever stop?
According to the sources, the Dolphin players predict that after the media attention the Incognito story is getting dies down, things will get back to normal.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Gay Haters Effective Campaign in NBA

Something ugly, sinister and vicious is afoot in the NBA, which opens its season this week.
It's about gays in the league. You think the NBA is gay-friendly, with all the players having a live-and-let-live policy?

Guess again.

There's a toxic layer of fear, hatred and homophobia that's slithering through the underbelly of the league. Yes most of the players have a positive attitude toward gays but, unfortunately, there's more gay haters in the league than you'd think. And they have been quite busy since April, the end of the last regular season, when Jason Collins came out of the closet, a first for an active player in a major American pro sport..The haters been waging a quiet, sneaky and effective campaign to keep other gay NBA players either out of the league or in the closet.

This is the word from Dr. K, a Brown university alum who operates mostly on the East coast. He's in touch with many NBA players and very active in the underground that handles some of the players' dirty business.. Says Dr. K: "Since Collins came out there's a bunch of players who don't want more NBA guys to come out of the closet. They're sneaky and very effective. They don't want this to become a league that's overrun with gays. They've leaked their feelings to NBA management, which is aware that openly gay players may cause some problems."
So far, Collins hasn't been hired.by any team. A 34-year-old, seven-foot veteran, his stats aren't impressive and he's no more than an aging, marginal, end-of-the-bench player.. But, with his experience and savvy, he could help some playoff-bound team. Explaining why Collins is still unemployed, the GMs are saying they not only can sign a younger, equally talented player for much less money but they don't want the media distraction Collins would create.. .

Notes Dr. K: "That's only part of the story. The GMs don't want to make waves. They know there's part of the NBA that doesn't want gays in the league. Why antagonize these players to sign a guy who's not an impact player?"

This means the NBA's gay haters have power.
"Oh yes they do," Dr. K says emphatically.
Why are the gay haters hating?
Replies Dr. K: "It's religion in some cases. It's culture in some cases, where guys grew up in anti-gay hoods.. Or it's just that some guys just want to be able to walk around undressed in the locker room and not think they're being sized up by some gay guy..Sure there are gay guys in the league now but they're very quiet and nearly all in the closet."

Which teams are most likely to sign gay players?
Says Dr. K: "The ones in big cities, like L.A. or New York, or maybe Golden State,, which is near San Francisco. I wouldn't expect to find openly gay players going to a small, mid-western city--or to Utah. Even blacks and Latin players aren't crazy about going to Utah. If you're not white and straight and religious, you don't want to be in Utah."

What's going to change this situation?
Says Dr.K: "If somebody would hire Collins that would get the ball rolling. If teams could see that having an openly gay player isn't so bad or so disruptive, that would help. But what would really make a difference is if some openly gay player was really good, among the league's best, a player who's a major factor on a playoff team. If some guy like that was openly gay, many teams would want him. If some gay player could put their team in the championship hunt , the GMs wouldn't give a damn what the gay haters thought."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cal Football--Derailed by Awful Coach Dykes

A moment of silence for die-hard Cal fans.

They're deep in mourning for their football team. After the latest beat-down, by UCLA 37-10 last Saturday, the Bears are dead, six-feet under. They have just one win, over a mediocre small-college team, and no prospects for any more.

A one-win season for Cal? Looks like it. How pitiful. Shades of Tom Holmoe, the bungler who coached Cal to a one-win season in 2001---and then was replaced by Jeff Tedford.

It's a shame no one can indict coach Sonny Dykes for murder. He's killed the program, in just a half season, with his idiotic, all-offense format. He had an accomplice who should be strung up with him. That's AD Sandy Barbour, who hired this boob in the first place. What the hell was she thinking? It was smart to finally fire Tedford, who'd lost it and was making blunder after blunder and had the program pointed in the wrong direction for years.. But to hire somebody worse, some offensive whiz from minor-league Louisiana Tech who clearly has a disdain for defense..His approach may have worked in the WAC, where defense is a dirty word, but it's wrong for the big leagues.

What's really eating away at the mourning Bears' fans is that there's no real hope for things to get better. According to sources close to several Cal players, the team is totally demoralized and down on Dykes. All that buddy-buddy stuff that you see occasionally between Dykes and the players? A public-relations sham, reports one of the sources. A bewildered defensive player told a source that the team has no confidence in the defensive schemes and has little respect for the skills of coordinator Andy Buh, who's clearly in way over his head. Let's not even talk about defensive fundamentals..The way these players tackle is laughable.

One clear signal about the quality of a new coach is the progress of stars.Well, Cal's most promising star, RB Brendan Bigelow, has rapidly regressed under Dykes. Predicted to be one of the prime players in the Pac12 this season, Bigelow has turned into a fumbler who runs cautiously and has been demoted to the third team. That explosive power runner with the gaudy yards-per-carry stats? A thing of the past, a victim of the new coaching staff and the dumb Dykes system.

Cal has two big-time players, QB Jared Goff and WR Chris Harper--and not much else. While Tedford did leave the cupboard somewhat bare,. there is some leftover talent. With the right coaching and a system suited to that talent, the team should win at least three or four games and be somewhat respectable-and not, as it is, the laughing stock of the Pac12..

Dykes' excuse for this miserable season, that so many players are injured, doesn't cut it. When the team was healthy, it was terrible.

Cal fans, don't look for help in the next recruiting class. Word travels among high-school players headed to big-time colleges. In California circles, sources report, they're saying don't bother with Cal as long as Dykes is in charge..If you want to be a winner, these players are telling each other, stay out of Berkeley. With this negative feeling out there among recruits, how is Cal going to attract high-quality players?

Right now, Cal has to be among the top 10 worst teams in the major conferences. Who's to blame?
Why is this program-killer still in charge?.

Cal AD Barbour, do Berkeley and the Pac12 a favor, correct your horrible mistake and rid Cal of this incompetent.

Who says you can't can a coach mid-season? USC did it, dumping Lane Kiffin, and is much better for it. And Kiffin, by the way, is twice the coach Dykes is.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Who Got USC's Kiffin Fired? Angry Boosters and Players

The angry texts among big USC boosters, report Trojan inner-circle sources, started during the nightmarish third quarter of the team's` 62-41 collapse in Tempe Saturday night, when coach Lane Kiffin suddenly turned into Curly of the Three Stooges,.

Watching that slapstick-comedy-style loss to Arizona State, SC boosters had a fit: Their texts said it all. Predicted one: "Lane won't last the week." Said another: "Lane won't last the weekend." Moaned another: "I'm ashamed to be a Trojan. I'm not giving another cent til that clown is fired."  Screamed another: "Get rid of that bum. No more checks."

AD Pat Haden was cringing on the sidelines in Tempe with SC president Max Nikias, You know they got wind of the boosters' outrage, via a flurry of texts, tweets and emails. During the game, Kiffin made some shockingly stupid play calls, making you seriously wonder; "Has he lost his mind?" The capper was the laugher late in the third quarter, on a fourth-and-one on SC's 41 yard line. Kiffin resorted to trickery, calling for a pass, from RB Tre Madden, of all people, who tossed it right to an Arizona State CB. You just know that when Haden was firing Kiffin in the middle of the night at  LAX, he mentioned that ridiculous play. Would Nick Sabin or Urban Meyer have called that play? How about Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, rumored to be a candidate for the SC job? No way.

It wasn't just the boosters' rebellion that pushed Haden over the edge. There were flagrant signs that Kiffin had lost the team. The players weren't just whipped in the second half. They clearly quit. Sources on the sidelines said their disdain and disrespect for Kiffin was obvious. Clearly Haden and Nikias saw it too.

And what about the recruits? Word has been spreading for a while in those elite high-school circles that SC is a place to avoid. Why? Because Kiffin is a micro-managing, cold-fish of a coach who doesn't connect with players. In those circles, the SC atmosphere is perceived as drab and low-energy. One local recruit, a lineman, when asked by a source to describe SC, he replied: "Dead." So, for sure, no more Top 25 recruiting classes with Kiffin in charge.

Haden knew this was a bye week, so a new coach, SC assistant Ed Orgeron as it turned out, would have extra time to get acclimated. SC's next game is Thursday night, next week, on national TV, against conference foe Arizona. Already loud at home games, the ugly "Fire Kiffin" chants would have been deafening by then. After the Arizona State fiasco, the Coliseum would probably be half empty. Disaster loomed.

Haden no doubt considered Pac12 factors. SC has already lost two games--to two so-so conference teams, Washington State and Arizona State. What's going to happen when they face Stanford? Another UCLA rout is a given. The boosters, in particular, dread that. Also, how does SC measure up to Pac12 powers Oregon and Washington, which they fortunately don't have to play this season? On the plane back from Tempe, Haden probably imagined what Oregon would do to SC and chills ran up and down his spine.

With Kiffin in the driver's seat, SC was headed down hill--in high gear. Haden knew the boosters were furious and would withdraw support from the program. The players clearly had soured on Kifffin. With the program in shambles how could SC recruit? No time to waste. So when the team plane landed, after the game, in the middle of the night in LA, Haden summoned Kiffin to an airport room and canned him.

Word got out right away. A giddy booster recalled that he got a 5 am text from an insider that simply said: "Mission accomplished."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

49ers' Mess--How They Can Clean It Up

Let's ask again. Are the 49ers in trouble?

Last week I said maybe. This week, the answer is yes. There is, Niner fans, cause for concern.

First of all, the offense is mired in mud. It showed flashes of greatness in the opening week Green Bay win, with QB Colin Kaepernick passing for over 400 yards. But it's been downhill ever since, with maulings by Seattle and Indianapolis by an embarrassing total of  56-10. The Niners have scored just one TD in two weeks. Kaepernick's passing totals during this skid--277 yards, one TD, three picks and a 23rd place team-passing ranking.

This is not the same team that rampaged through the last post season, nearly winning the Super Bowl--seemingly ready to dominate the NFC for the next few years. Those steam-rolling offensive and defensive lines were second to none. Nobody pushed them around. But this season, they're not playing with the same focus and fire. The D-line got manhandled Sunday by a patch-work, no-name Colts O-line. The Niners' run defense, shockingly, is one of the worst in the league--ranked 29th.

The main problem, though, is the offense, specifically the woeful wide-receiving corps. Against the Colts, this hapless trio had a grand total of two catches for 12 yards. When Kaepernick,  a battering-ram runner, is at his best, defenses have to worry about him connecting with wide receivers. Lately, though, the deep threat has been MIA, allowing defenses to play close to the line, clogging the lanes, hampering.both the run and the short passing game. Too often recently, Kaepernick has had time to throw but had no open receivers. With no deep threats to worry about, secondaries can target mid-range-receiving expert Anquan Boldin.

One real problem. In the last two weeks, the offense has badly lost the time-of-possession battle, with an endless parade of three-and-outs. Both games were lost by fourth-quarter offensive collapses, which made the defense look worse than it is. When the offense is dragging, this puts pressure on the defense, which has been breaking down late in games.

Last Sunday the Niners sorely missed pass-rusher Aldon Smith. He was there but he really wasn't. His head, clouded by that recent DUI scandal and its looming consequences, was clearly elsewhere..Normally, facing that inferior Colt bunch, he would have been in King-Kong mode and had QB Andrew Luck running for his life. But Luck, all cozy and comfy in the pocket, generally did as he pleased.

The Niners play a division rival, the St. Louis Rams, on Thursday. You can bet the Ram coaches are pouring over films of the last two games, getting tips on how to foil the Niners.

But all is not lost. SF coach Jim Harbaugh is no dummy. He can see what the Niners need. The obvious answer is to return to smash-mouth football, the non-nonsense style he imported from Stanford a few years ago  He installed the flashy, tricky zone-read offensive schemes, suited to Kaepernick's assorted skills, but defenses don't seem to be fooled by them any more.

But this is no time for such trickery. What makes sense is a return to fundamentals. Without deep threats, the Niners have to play for short gains, hope to pile up first downs, maintain ball-control and not put the defense in jeopardy. One bright spot: the running-game did show signs of life against the Colts. The Niners have to go back to being a low-scoring, run-first, murderous-defense unit.

On Thursday, the Niners have to play like their season is on the line--and it really is. The Rams aren't very good but they always play the 49ers tough. This game won't be easy for the Niners because they'll be without at least one key player--pass-rusher Smith--and likely three more--LB Patrick Willis, CB Nnamdi Asomugha  and TE/deep threat Vernon Davis.

A loss Thursday to a so-so team, a three-game losing streak and a 1-3 record trailing red-hot Seattle--this cluster of negatives adds up to a detour down that dreaded lane labeled OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

49ers in Trouble? Maybe

What the hell happened?

That's what San Francisco 49er fans are still muttering in the wake of Sunday night's battering, on national TV, by the Seattle Seahawks, 29-3. After all, the Niners are the favorites to be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl. They looked like a shoo-in after whipping another NFC power, the Green Bay Packers, the previous week. But after Sunday night? Losing a close game when you play well is one thing, but.losing by nearly four touchdowns, while scorning none yourself, is something else entirely.

Should Niner fans be in panic mode? Maybe, but wait a week or two before pushing that button.

Consider this. The odds were against the Niners winning that game anyway. They were 3-4-point underdogs for good reason. First of all, opponents just don't win in Seattle, which has the loudest fan base in the league, aided by a stadium structured to amplify sound. It's the grandaddy of all hostile environments. No matter how teams prepare for it, they get rattled by the noise, which really has an effect, after the constant assault, later in games. That's partly why the Seahawks didn't lose a home game last year and why the Niners were in a hole before they even started. If the Seahawks ever got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they'd stroll to the Super Bowl.

Despite the score, Sunday night's game was close for nearly three quarters. Then the Seahawks pulled away, thanks to the Niners turning into knuckleheads and gift-wrapping TDs. Stupid, untimely penalties and silly turnovers undid the 49ers. Make no mistake, Seattle is a very good team, but that score is misleading. The Seahawks piled up points on short-field TDs following turnovers. Whenever the 49er offense looked like it was set to shift into third gear, it would grind to a halt due to a dumb penalty.

The stats tell the story. Seattle gained only 290 yards of total offense. That hardly spells rout. QB Russell Wilson was an unimpressive 8 for19 for 118 yards. Seattle smartly fed off Niner errors and cruised to victory.

The Niners, however, do have a potential problem--the running game. It's slowed to a crawl, at just 95 yards a game, this season.The foremost ball-carrier, Frank Gore, has gained a measly 60 yards in 30 attempts in two games--a pitiful two yards per carry. In Seattle he was buried, netting just 16 yards in 9 tries. Embarrassing results for a team boasting an offensive line that's among the top five in the NFL.

What gives?

Normally the Niners, No.4 last season, are among the league's best rushing teams. The ground game is really the heart of the offense. Opponents' fear of the run propels the Niner passing game. Green Bay focused on stopping the 49er' running and did slow it down. But Niner QB Colin Kaepernick had a career day, helped by 13 catches by Anquan Boldin.

But it was different in Seattle. The Seahawks but a safety on the line to help bottle up the running game. But they have such excellent cornerbacks, they're OK with a short-handed secondary. Boldin, with one catch for seven yards, was a non-factor. So was Kaepernick, with a 20.1 passer rating for the game, the worst of his career.

If the 49er run game returns to normal, the Seattle loss is no cause for alarm. But it's up to the O-line and, most of all, Gore. Is he just off to a slow start because he didn't get much work in the pre-season or is he on a sudden downhill slide due to wear-and-tear?

Sunday's home game against the Indianapolis Colts is important. A playoff team, featuring QB Andrew Luck and brand-new addition, tough RB Trent Richardson, the Colts are no pushovers. But they do have one of the worst run defenses in the league. If the Niners, 101/2-point favorites, win, most likely the run game finally awakened, and 49er fans can relax.

But if they lose, against a bad rushing defense, and the run game is still stuck in the mud?

Then, Niner fans, feel free to panic.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saban vs. Manziel--Edge to Saban

Saturday's must-see match between No.1 Alabama and No.6  Texas A&M, on the Aggies home field in College Station, can be narrowed down to this: Bama coach Nick Saban vs. A&M's Heisman-Trophy winning QB Johnny Manziel, alias Johnny Football.

Here's the key question: Can Manziel beat Saban two years in a row? The answer is no, but a very shaky no. Most bettors don't think so either. That's why the Tide is favored by 7 1/2.

Insiders close to Saban say losing last November to Texas A&M, 29-24, a win engineered by Manziel, has gnawed at Saban like no other loss. Not only did the Aggies whip Bama in Tuscaloosa, but it was the lone blemish on the 13-1 season. Being beaten by a swaggering, rowdy rebel like Manziel, who tramples on the traditions Saban savors, makes that loss sting even worse.

To stop Manziel, you need a lightening quick, high-powered defense, one with speed on the ends, plenty of athleticism at the linebacker positions and skilled cover-men in the secondary. Bama certainly has that. As usual, its defense is one of  the best in college football. Of course Bama had a superb defense last year too but it was putty in the hands of master Manziel.

What's likely to happen Saturday is that Bama will control the game via running. The key stat is that A&M is ranked near the bottom nationally in rushing defense, giving up 273 yards per game. What really makes Bama salivate is that all these yards were run up by patsies--Rice and Sam Houston State. A nobody SH State back named Timothy Flanders rushed for 170 yards in 19 carries. If lower-tier runners can trash the A&M defense, Bama's T.J. Weldon,  the best RB in the SEC, should run wild. Bama's offensive line, which lost three All-Americans, isn't the steamroller it was last year but, featuring NFL-ready Cyrus Kouandjio, it's still an elite outfit. This O line figure to flatten the A&M defense, which has looked shoddy so far against two weak teams..

In its 35-10 win over Va Tech,  Alabama hardly looked like a No.1 team. Gaining only 206 yards, the Tide offense stumbled and Yeldon, with just 75 yards in 17 carries, was largely contained. Bama's defense, however, was in top form. That unit will have to be in full butt-kicking mode to mow down Manziel.

An Aggie upset wouldn't be a surprise. The Aggies have a killer offense--high-scoring, quick, versatile, with remarkable talent at the skill positions and an unstoppable force in Manziel, who's actually improved a notch or two in key areas like footwork,  reading defenses, accuracy and decision-making. And just as important, as a team leader, he has no peer in college ball..

But in college football coaching, Saban has no peer. This game is a battle between these two giants.
The biggest advantage Alabama has is that it's powered by the iron will of Saban. Losing twice in a row to Manziel would be, to Saban, the low point of his career.. It would haunt him forever, eating away at his ego.. His players, who are dedicated to him, know that too. They'll funnel everything they have into beating A&M. On the other side, though, Manziel's effort will be just as ferocious.

But it probably won't be enough.


Friday, September 6, 2013

A Case For Johnny Manziel

Hurrah for Johnny Manziel!

Turns out that the Texas A&M QB, who looked like he was going to be another angelic, goody-goody when he defied the odds and won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last year, is really an lovable outlaw. Good for him.

In that coveted Heisman-winner position, did we really need another respectable, God-fearing gentleman, the kind that avoids night clubs and bars, the kind that's buried in books and football and never has any fun? We've had too many of them already.

What we have in Manziel is a bar-hopping, skirt-chasing rogue with crazy-frat-boy instincts, a high-spirited kid who's getting in touch with his inner wild-child while adjusting to sudden fame. He's a real rebel, a guy who plays by his own rules, who's full of swagger, who treats his opponents with disdain. He's better than other players and he knows it, and acts like it.

The key ingredient is swagger. All the greats have it, lots of it. Manziel oozes swagger. He has enough to full a dozen star players. It's what separates him from the pack, what makes him Johnny Football.

Since he won the Heisman, Manziel has been working overtime to tarnish his image.Here's the list of charges against him. It ain't pretty. Yes, at times he's acted like an out-of-control frat boy. Yes, he's been boozing too hard and running around with too many women and doing way too much bar-hopping. Yes, he got kicked out of a football camp for misbehaving Yes, in last Saturday's Rice rout, he was penalized for taunting, for engaging in a trash-talking war with a couple of surly Owls. Yes, he got kicked out of the game and didn't take kindly to be chewed out by his coach, Kevin Sumlin..

Oh yes, there's that accusation of signing autographs for money. Man guilty. According to underground sources, he's been paid under the table for signing autographs, earning, some speculate, six figures. So what.  Big-time college players break this rule all the time, making cash under the table, trying to get a piece of the pie they helped bake. There's a thriving autograph business going on right under the NCAA's nose and they're too stupid to see it. Word in the underground is that Manziel was caught because he got into a beef with an autograph-peddler, who leaked details the OB's signing-for-pay to the media.

This is hardly a major crime. Even the NCAA, generally a bone-headed organization, knows it. They thought so little of this violation that they just slapped Manziel on the wrist--suspending him for the first half of the season opener against crappy Rice. The NCAA wanted to bury that mess as quickly as possible and let Manziel get ready for next week's A&M-Alabama match, one of the year's top games.

What counts is what Manziel does on the field. He's a gifted player, a skilled passer, a daredevil scrambler and a superb leader. Sources inside the Aggies camp report that the players love Manziel, that he's a fine teammate.That's what really matters. Remember, this is the guy who, as a freshman, stormed into Tuscaloosa last November and took down No.1 Alabama. You know what that took.

Manziel is a collegiate version of Broadway Joe Namath, the masterful, ground-breaking, 1960s New York Jets QB who played hard and partied harder. Manziel is Namath Jr. In the reckless style of Broadway Joe, Manziel will be in the headlines--some good some bad--for years to come..

Manziel is like a kid with a sweet-tooth who's been turned loose in a candy store. Let him have his fun..So he's not role-model material. Who cares? As long his playing skills aren't effected, there's really no harm done. One thing you can be sure of--Manziel loves football too much to let his off-field antics.keep him from bringing his A-game to every game.

 He may be a rebel and, at times, too wild, but he's no dummy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

USC Coach Lane Kiffin Is A Liar

USC football coach Lane Kiffin is a liar.

Does he think we're stupid? How does he expect us to swallow his bull about not naming a starting QB because he can't chose between third-year sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. The Hawaii game is tonight and, as of this morning, he's still playing musical chairs with his QBs..

Look at Kiffin's credentials. He learned offense under Pete Carroll during SC's spectacular run last decade. Kiffin was such a boy wonder that he was, for a time,  head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Then he fell into another prestige gig, head coach of Tennessee in the rugged SEC, before taking over at SC, where he tutored QB Matt Barkley, who's now with the Eagles. So Kiffiin, revered as this wizard of offense, is trying to make us believe that he can't see which of these two young QBs should be starting.

Lies, lies, lies....

Apparently it's not the close race Kiffin keeps talking about. Much of what goes on in pre-season at SC is done in secret. The media is shut out of practices but gets to see some scrimmaging. But players talk to assorted sources. Word gets out. Based on the entire pre-season, Kessler deserves the job. According to sources close to two players, Kessler has been the Man all along. He has superior accuracy and athleticism,  a greater grasp of the offense and is more skilled at reading defenses. In the huddle, he's a more commanding figure. The players know who's best. Most of them, say the sources, side with Kessler. Insiders say it's a no-brainer, that Kessler should be the starter.. If it's obvious to the players and those close to the team, then Kiffin, with all his knowledge, has to see it too. Yet he won't commit to Kessler.


It's simple. Kiffin doesn't want to alienate Wittek  If he knew he was going to sit on the bench all season, Wittek might transfer to a school that guarantees him playing time, If Kiffin had decided weeks ago, and  handed the starting job to Kessler, Wittek would probably be gone now. That would leave SC with no backup QB and force Kiffin to use heralded but raw freshman Max Browne instead of letting him redshirt..Mainly, though, without a decent backup QB, the season is one solid hit from going down the drain. Kiffin doesn't want SC to be in that position.

So, to keep from losing Wittek, Kiffin has to create this too-close-to-call sham, with lets him give the pair equal playing time in the early games, until one emerges as the starter. Fortunately for Kiffin, the first four games are relatively easy, so he can carry out this "experimental" plan without hurting the team's chances for a 4-0 start. Meanwhile Wittek sticks around and gets enough playing time, removing transferring as an option.

Most likely Kessler will start the Hawaii game tonight. Actually it's not starting, just being first in line to play. But the "contest" will go on, with.Wittek taking plenty of snaps against Hawaii. Unless Kessler really louses up and Wittek suddenly blossoms, this QB-by-committee could keep up through the first part of the season..

But all this is unfair to Kessler. He's earned the right to be the starting QB and should be getting the developmental benefits, like extra tutoring and the majority of snaps, that come with being the No.1.guy. Instead he has to play his role in Kiffin's game, which has to slow his progress. .

It can't be a picnic for Wittek either. The stink of his last performance, the Sun Bowl disaster, still hovers around him. He's looking to get past that but, stuck in a QB battle, that's going to be tougher. He might be better off starting over at another Division 1 school. But, at this point, transferring isn't likely.

Who's Kiffin, with his lies, looking out for? The school, for sure. Himself, for sure. Without a solid backup QB, SC might have a losing season and Kiffin would certainly wind up jobless.What about Kessler and Wittek? Kiffin isn't looking out for them. Either one could wind up as collateral damage.

And what about the players? They see Wittek as a pawn in Kiffin's game. They know their coach is not being truthful. The respect level for Kiffin, report the sources, is way down. That's not good.

Nice going, Lane

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Behind the Scenes in Yankees' Locker Room--Ugly

You think the fans hate A-Rod? You ain't seen nothing until you see what's going on behind the scenes in the Yankees' locker room. His teammates don't like him either.

Yankee players wish that third baseman Alex Rodriguez, suspended for 211 games for doping, would just go away. But A-Rod is appealing the decision and, having recovered from January hip surgery, was back on the field Aug. 5. While nowhere near the A-Rod of his glory days, he's playing respectably, hitting in the .315 vicinity. But with A-Rod comes a media circus, which is detrimental to the team. There's another problem. Opposing pitchers are using him for target practice..That drags the Yankees into bean-ball wars, forcing Yankee pitchers to retaliate, forcing pitchers to throw at other Yankees, turning them into collateral damage..

When Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster was blatantly throwing at A-Rod last Sunday, that triggered a bean-ball war that will go on through the rest of the season. Dempster was fined for his vicious attack but everybody knows that's not going to do any good. A-Rod and other Yankees will get plunked. Do you think Yankee players like getting involved in this mess because of a washed-up egomaniac that nobody liked in the first place?

According to sources close to several Yankee players, A-Rod is, more than ever, an island in the locker room. It's no secret that the No.1 Yankee, team-first die-hard Derek Jeter, never wanted A-Rod around, with his Hollywood antics and me-me-me attitude. The breach between the two is even worse. Several players, say the sources, refer to A-Rod as the selfish a-hole. His teammates, report the sources, shy away from him and talk to him as little as possible. Some of the verbal confrontations between A-Rod and other Yankees, say the sources, have been nasty. Whatever civility you see between A-Rod and his teammates during games is apparently bogus. It's not good for a team's image to have players fighting among themselves, so they appear friendly in public. But back in the locker room, away from fans and media, it's apparently ugly, with anger, tension and resentment reigning. Intensity and focus, staples of winning teams, get snuffed out in this kind of atmosphere.

Like most baseball players, most Yankees hate steroid users. The doping scandal stains the entire sport, making any player who's having a good season suspect. So A-Rod is as popular with Yankee players as the other major doper, Ryan Braun, is with his Milwaukee teammates. The anti-steroid faction among players looks upon steroid users as despicable cheaters who are ruining the game. A Rod has nosed out Braun and become the face of steroid use in baseball, so the collective venom against doping is being showered on him.

Struggling all season, dragged down by aging and injured players, the Yankees are battling to dig themselves out of a deep hole and land in the playoffs. Burdened with all the A-Rod baggage, climbing out of that hole is even tougher.

A-Rod just announced that he's going to call off his legal attack dogs for now and concentrate on helping the Yankees make the playoffs. In other words, he's suddenly going to morph into a caring teammate. Is that possible? Can A-Rod and his blood-thirsty reps back off and bow out of the headlines? My guess is no.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is The Eagles' Riley Cooper a Racist? Not Really

When watching the viral video, shot in June at a Kenny Chesney concert, of white Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper dropping an n-bomb during a verbal confrontation with a black security guard, one thing jumps out at you. He says the word easily--too easily. He's said it before. No doubt about it.

Cooper, though, swears he's never said it before. Don't believe it. Barry K, 34, a source close to several Eagles players, claims Cooper is no novice at using the n-word: "Guys I know, football players, tell me he's used the word before. He'll  never admit it..Why should be? Who can prove anything anyway? It's a word white guys, particularly white guys from the South, use sometimes. They grew up using it. Cooper is from the South (Oklahoma City). It's natural to them, probably natural to him in some ways. It's part of their vocabulary."

Does Cooper using the n-word mean he's a racist? "Of course not," Barry K replies. "I use the n-word sometimes and I'm not a racist. Just last week I was driving in Chicago and this car cut in front of me and I almost had an accident. It was a black guy driving. I gave him the finger and called him the n-word. I was angry in the moment. Am I a racist because of that? No way. My best friend is black. I've used the n-word in front of him. Most white people who say they've never used the n-word are lying..And white people who have used the n-word aren't all racist."

Cooper, Barry K insists, isn't the only NFL player to use a racial slur;. "I've been around pro football players and pro football locker rooms for years. These are down 'n' dirty guys. These are tough, violent people who swear all the time.You expect them to talk like angels, like school girls? They talk street talk. Racial slurs are part of street talk. Racial slurs fly around all the time in locker rooms and on the field. There's no hatred behind this talk. It's just words..I've heard black players talk about kikes. I'm a New York Jew and it doesn't bother me. Black guys use racial slurs talking about white guys. White guys and black guys talk about beaners, referring to Latin guys. I remember once a famous white quarterback was sitting in the locker room and one of his black buddies dumped a pail of water on him. It was all in fun.The quarterback said:: 'Nigger, get your black ass out of here!' Everybody was laughing. It was just locker-room foolishness. But if somebody had a video of that, the quarterback would have been ruined forever.".

Cooper, though, dropped the n-bomb outside the locker room context and is being crucified for it. "He had a few drinks and he wasn't careful about what he was saying, "Barry K explains. "He didn't know he was being recorded. He got ambushed and he's paying the price."

Barry K explains that Cooper, though being trampled as a racist, is one of the good guys: "According to people I've talked to around the league, he's well-liked. He's decent. Everybody--blacks and whites--likes him. If he was an ass, a racist, it would be different. He'd be getting what he deserves. He doesn't deserve what he's getting."

Cooper, Barry K laments, is doomed to wear that scarlet R--for racist--forever: "He'll be haunted by this for the rest of his life. Using the n-word that one time means he'll always be the guy who hates blacks. He could join the NAACP and donate money to black causes for years and years and it still wouldn't make a difference to most people. Black fans will target him, boo him, curse him. He's permanently branded. I feel sorry for the poor guy. You couldn't pay me to be in his shoes.".

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kansas Coach Charlie Weis--An Insensitive Jerk

No doubt about it. Kansas football coach Charlie Weis is an insensitive jerk, a crude big-mouth who's too much of an ass to see that he's crossed way over the line.

At Big 12 Media Day last week, he was the center of attention with his rants about his 1-11 team last year, which he cruelly dissed as "a pile of crap." Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Many members of that team are back this season. How does that "pile of crap" dagger make them feel? Clearly that didn't occur to Mr. Sensitivity.

Weis boasted that he used that angle to recruit players, saying the team is such a "pile of crap" that, if you come to Kansas, you have a good chance to play right away. That's a ridiculous recruiting tactic on many levels. First of all, if I was a parent and this blowhard was in my living room trying to convince my son to come play for him by viciously demeaning his current team, I'd kick his fat butt out the door. Why would parents turn their sons over to someone who demeans his players so viciously in public? Wouldn't parents  fear that, one day, he'd trash their son the same way?. That kind of talk indicates that Weis has the sensitivity of a warthog.

Secondly, doesn't the team being that bad say something about the coach? How good can a coach with a 1-11 record be?. Yes, when Weis started last season, he inherited a bad team, but he did nothing to make it better. By calling the team a pile of crap he puts the blame on the players, suggesting that he'd have a better record with a more talented roster. But, if he's any kind of a coach, couldn't he have eked out more victories, even with so few quality players?

Talking so nastily about your players in public says something about a coach's character. Only a heartless boob would do that. Would you hear such trash talk from Urban Meyer or Nick Saban or David Shaw or any of the best college coaches? Hell no.

For years, Weis has been on a roll--downhill. After getting run out of Notre Dame, following a so-so 35-27 record in 2005-2009, he didn't do much as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010. Then he spent a year, at the same position, at the University of Florida. Their offense, reeling when he arrived, actually regressed. Gator fans cheered when he abandoned Gainesville for Lawrence, Kansas, to clean up with mess left when Turner Gill was fired at the end of 2011. In Gill's last season, Kansas was 2-10. The bar was set low but Weis couldn't top it, debuting last season at 1-11. The team opened with a 31-17 win over lowly South Dakota State and then embarrassingly stumbled to eleven straight losses.

Kansas has only itself to blame. The coach-hiring committee didn't do its homework. They could have done much better than Weis. The word has been out for years about him in high-school and college-football player circles. Players aren't crazy about Weis. They didn't like him at Notre Dame and really were turned off by him at Florida. He's an egomaniac and a bully, an arrogant loudmouth who doesn't know how to relate to players. A self-absorbed, pompous cold fish, he talks down to players. Eventually they tune him out and don't play hard for him.

The future isn't really bright for Kansas. With Weis' bone-headed recruiting ploy, how is he going to attract any high-quality players? Why would any 4-or 5-star stud sign up to be abused by him? What he's mostly going to get is lesser players who can't do any better than sputtering Kansas. So far, he hasn't proved to be a good enough coach to make a winner out of a modestly talented team.

Kansas' prospects for this season? More of the same say the Big 12 forecasters--another bottom-of-the-barrel finish. But what else could you expect from a team headed by a "pile of crap" coach?

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Native American Defends The Racist Redskins Logo

You'd think, for obvious reasons, that all Native Americans would scorn the Washington Redskins. But, surprisingly, some are dedicated fans. .

A member of this unlikely minority is Jonathan Harris, whose mother has deep Cherokee roots. Don't dismiss him as some self-loathing kook or dimwitted right-winger or misguided loser. Actually he's a young (23 years old), smart, ultra-liberal leftist who went to Penn State. Harris, who grew up in the Washington area, is essentially saying that being a Skins fan is more important to him than the fact that their logo offends most Native Americans--his people. His mother, he says, hates the team. But his late father, a Boston native of German-Irish descent, was a life-long Skins fan. Harris sided with his father.

"I've lived through this controversy at home all my life," Harris recalls. "My father turned me into a Skins fan, in spite of my mother. She says supporting the team is dishonoring Native Americans and catering to racists. But my dad always said that being a Skins fan was in my blood, because it was in his blood, and told me not to fight it..We even went to a lot of games--and getting those tickets has never been easy."

Harris explains why his dedication to the Redskins is dominant, why any problems with the logo are secondary: "When you're a true fan, you really love your team. They're under your skin, in your head, in your heart. You don't think about logos and what they mean. I don't think of Redskins as having anything to do with a racial slur against Native Americans. It's just a word, a name, like Hawks or Cougars or Panthers or whatever. I realize that to most Native Americans, the name Redskins has all sorts of ugly stuff attached to it. It's a nasty, horrible word to them. But when I think of Redskins I think of football. I don't think of political correctness."

Apparently he's not the only Native American who's a rabid Skins supporter."There are hundreds of us out there. I've met quite a few. We're like a secret society. We can't be vocal. We keep quiet about it. I don't even feel comfortable talking to you about it. My stance on this issue hurts my mother and I hate hurting her. Our parents and relatives can't deal with us supporting the Skins. We all got sucked in somehow. My father got me into loving the team but with those guys,  I can guess what happened.You see the team on TV all the time and hear them on the radio and all your buddies love them and slowly you get hooked. The team's name may be offensive but to a fan, that's not that important."

Native Americans' distaste for the word redskin, Harris speculates, is partly generational:
"Older Native Americans feel more strongly about it. They experienced racism much more than the younger generation. They grew up on the outside looking in. That wasn't my experience or the experience of a lot of Native Americans in my generation.We don't feel that strongly about the word redskin. People say it's as bad as the n-word but it's not.When it comes to racial slurs, the n-word is the worst. The r-word, by comparison, really is mild. It doesn't even bother me that much."

Incidentally, Harris knows all about the racist history of the Washington Redskins, recounting it in detail. The word redskin, he explains, stands for the scalps of Native Americans. Bounty hunters used to murder them and bring their scalps--redskins--to government offices for money. The team's founder, George Preston Marshall, a hard-core racist, purchased the team in 1932, when it was the Boston Braves. He changed the name to Redskins, supposedly to honor the first coach, who was reportedly part Souix. But actually he changed the name so the football team wouldn't be confused with the Boston Braves baseball team. Marshall, who moved the team to Washington in 1937, always vigorously championed racism in the league, boosting the policy that banned blacks, which finally ended in 1946. Not surprisingly, Washington was the last NFL team to sign a black player, clinging to that racist ban until the government forced integration in 1962. Marshall, who died in 1969, hated nonwhites so much that, in his will, he specified that no money from his foundation could be used to promote racial integration.

Isn't this racist history enough to keep a Native American from supporting the team? And what about current owner Dan Snyder (who's Jewish, by the way), who refuses to change the logo?. "Marshall was racist scum and Snyder is an idiot," Harris replies. "But I put all that in the corner. It's a black mark. I don't like the logo. It's another black mark. The football team and how they play and wins and losses and how RGIII (quarterback Robert Griffin) plays and if he's healthy, and getting to the Super Bowl, that's what important. The rest? I put it out of my mind. I'm a fan first."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Assessing The Damage--The Lakers' Bleak Future

 The Lakers are a complete, unadulterated mess, a franchise skidding toward the cliff--with no brakes.

They were desperate to get free-agent center Dwight Howard to sign a long-term contract. He was the savior of the franchise, the player they needed if they had any chance to be competitive for the next few years. But Howard saw the future. Peering into that crystal ball all he could see was dark clouds and the sour puss of coach Mike D'Antoni.That was enough to make him pack his bags and go house-hunting in Houston.

Without Howard, the Lakers are the west-coast version of the Charlotte Bobcats. Where are they going with a second-rate coach like D'Antoni? With his idiotic, race-horse system and indifference to defense, D'Antoni is the main reason Howard left. D'Antoni has never won a championship and he never will. Even with a team loaded with talent he'd find a way to screw it up. Howard, who doesn't like DAntoni, personally or professionally, knows that. To him, any ship captained by D'Antoni is the Titanic.

The Lakers are no dummies. They had to know Howard hates D'Antoni, that he wouldn't sign as long as D'Antoni was coach. So what do they do? They ignore the negative coaching situation and even include D'Antoni as part of the team trying to convince Howard to stay. That made absolutely no sense. It was like they were sabotaging their own efforts. Owners Jim and Jeanie Buss can't be that stupid--can they?

If D'Antoni can't get anywhere with a talented team, what is he going to do with a group made up of flotsam and jetsam? The team's best player is a broken-down Kobe Bryant, due back a few months into the season after rehabbing an Achilles-tendon break, the kind that ends careers. Between age and injury, it will be a miracle if Bryant is 75% of his old self. The Lakers' big man is Pau Gasol, who is not only battling age and bad knees, but he's a horrible fit for D'Antoni's uptempo system. Point guard Steve Nash is running on empty, creeping up on 40. Metta World Peace, once a defensive monster, is a shadow of his former self.

And the rest of the bunch--Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and journeyman center Chris Kaman, who was just signed? Nothing special, none of them. The Lakers are talking about signing 33-year-old Lamar Odom who, with the Clippers, spent half of last season out of shape. When he was finally in shape, he was mostly ineffective. If he was any good, do you think new Clippers coach Doc Rivers would let him go?

Here's a sobering question. On this Lakers team, who's the defensive stopper? In fact, which of these players is any good at playing defense? The scary answer? Not one of them.

In the tough Western conference, this ragtag crew, led by a lousy coach, has just an outside chance of making the playoffs. Next season will be a lost season. The Lakers be piling up cap money to make a run at some of the big time free agents who will be available the following season. The big prize is LeBron James.

Then the Lakers will be coming off a bad season, in total rebuild-mode. Will LeBron look at the Charlotte-Bobcats West and be enticed to abandon Miami and sign up? Maybe, or possibly some other superstar will  be lured to LA, seeing something rosy in the franchise's future, something Dwight Howard didn't see..

Meanwhile the Lakers will stumble along, in tatters, a horrible mess.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Dwight Howard, Ex-Laker

Nothing has changed.

In January I reported that center Dwight Howard would never sign a long term contract with the L.A. Lakers as long as Mike D'Antoni is coach. With the signing deadline a few days away, the situation is still the same. If the Lakers dump D'Antoni, Dwight will sign. The Lakers haven't budged so Dwight is almost certainly  leaving. It's that simple.

The main problem is that Howard hates D'Antoni's system, which is not friendly to post-up centers like him. It's a run-run format suitable to gazelles, with defense an afterthought. Howard, however, thrives in a slow-down system which emphasizes defense. With D'Antoni in charge, Howard doesn't fit in. He's a fish out of water. But that's not all.  There's also a personal element, which is crucial--which few have mentioned.

According to sources close to several Lakers players, Howard doesn't like D'Antoni and vice versa. Their personalities clashed instantly. D'Antoni is grumpy, bossy and insensitive. Behind his back, many of the players consider him a jerk, someone you can't talk to. You do things his way, and that's it. But Howard, a gentle soul, needs sensitive, kid-gloves handling, particularly from a coach trying to stuff an alien system down his throat. Howard is never going to sign with the Lakers as long as D'Antoni is in charge.

Remember, Howard signed with the Lakers when Mike Brown was coach. Defense-oriented Brown coveted Howard, but alienated the rest of the team and was fired early last season. Enter DAntoni. Enter Dwight's nightmare.

Look at it from Howard's point of view. Why should he stay? The Lakers are going to be a bad team for a while. Coming off Achilles-tendon surgery, iconic star Kobe Bryant is an unknown. For sure, though, he won't be the old Kobe. In addition, age has wrecked Steve Nash. For Pau Gasol, a combination of age, bad knees and D'Antoni's system is lethal. Another negative: the Laker bench just plain stinks. Yet another minus: the top teams in the Western Conference are getting better. Meanwhile the Lakers, with few bargaining chips, can't improve. Why would Howard sign on, long-term, to a sinking ship? Add to that nasty mix, his disdain for D'Antoni plus the aggravation of playing second fiddle to Bryant--a constant thorn in Howard's ego--and you have a Howard exit.

Money isn't a factor. Dallas and Houston, the teams knocking at Howard's door, can offer nearly as much. But there are so many millions involved, Howard seems to be willing to sacrifice five-to-ten million to be in a comfortable situation.

The only thing that could keep Howard from bailing is for the Lakers to fire D'Antoni. That, however, is unlikely. First of all, it would be costly, with the Lakers paying two fired coaches (Brown and D'Antoni) plus the new guy. It would also be a dagger to the Lakers' pride. If D'Antoni is let go, it would be clear Howard called the shot. That would make the Laker management appear weak, and they couldn't handle that.

But if Howard defies the odds and signs with the Lakers, you can be sure D'Antoni is history. The firing wouldn't happen right away, but certainly before the season starts. That's a long shot, though..

 Next week, look for Howard to have a new home.



Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Coach Doc Rivers Is Really Leaving Boston

Boston Celtics' coach Doc Rivers just jumped to the L.A. Clippers, signing three-year, $21 million deal. But why would the Celts, who received a 2015 No.1 draft choice in return, dump a coach who's considered one of the top five in the NBA?

Simple. There's bad blood between Boston point guard Rajon Rondo and Rivers---real bad blood. One of them had to go, and it wasn't going to be Rondo, who's one of the top ten players in the NBA. Sources close to two Boston players report that Rondo, who sustained a season-ending ACL injury on Jan. 25,  went to GM Danny Ainge with a him-or-me ultimatum, basically forcing Rivers out the door.

Around the league, insiders have been buzzing all season about the raging conflict between Rivers and Rondo. More than once, sources say, the two almost came to blows. Apparently Ainge really wanted to keep Rivers and spent a lot of time playing peacemaker. But the relationship between Rivers and Rondo was too damaged to repair.

Rivers and Rondo have been at each other's throats for a while. The problem is that Rondo is a selfish jerk who prefers to do things his own way. A coach's nightmare, he's immature and thoroughly unpredictable. He doesn't always play hard. Against the better teams he'll go all out but will often not show up against lesser competition. To him a coach is an obstacle, not a source of guidance. Rivers was talking but headstrong Rondo wasn't listening. During games, Rivers would diagram plays that Rondo often ignored. The two tried to keep a lid on the turmoil but sometimes it boiled over in public. Court-side fans at the Boston Gardens occasionally witnessed expletive-laced arguments between them. In spite of his rogue point guard, Rivers, a truly skilled leader, has able to guide the Celts to successful seasons.

Stlll, the coach's exit was no surprise to insiders.The Celtics had been quietly shopping Rivers this past season. Many teams would have loved to have him but there was a  problem--his salary, the highest in the league. Hardly anybody wanted to pay it. The Clippers weren't considered a candidate because their owner Donald Sterling is notoriously cheap and would balk at paying Rivers $7 million a year. But the No.1 Clipper, indispensable point guard Chris Paul, becomes a free agent at the end of the month. To keep him, to get him to sign an extended contract, Sterling would have to sign a coach he liked. Sterling just fired a coach, Vinny Del Negro, Paul didn't like. Paul wanted Rivers. Case closed.

So now, sporting a coach with championship pedigree, the Clippers, who were first-round casualties in the recent playoffs, are on the rise. With some roster tweaks they just might make the Western conference finals next season. The Celtics? They're headed in the opposite direction.

They're in rebuilding mode but they've got to do it with a featherweight foundation. Their first-rate coach is gone. Two of their three stars, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are ancient and likely to be traded for building blocks. Rondo is toxic. Boston needs some big-time players but many don't want to play with him. The Celts have to find a new coach who's not only high-quality but who's approved by Rondo and won't be putty in his hands.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

LeBron Raging At Underperforming Heat

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.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NBA Finals--Reluctant Edge To The Heat

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. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sergio Garcia Branded a Racist--What A Raw Deal

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.