Friday, November 18, 2011

Believe in Tim Tebow

I’m not religious, but I love Tim Tebow. I’m not a Denver Broncos fan, but I love Tim Tebow. I have no connections, afflictions, or geographical proximity to the Florida Gators, but I love Tim Tebow.

I was late to the Tebow smooch fest. I didn’t understand why he had the highest selling jersey in the NFL without having played a single down. I didn’t get the hype; the “he’s a winner” stuff. I thought all SEC quarterbacks were “winners”. I couldn’t comprehend the “he’s a great leader and has immeasurable intangibles” rhetoric. I thought all quarterbacks had those qualities.

I don’t know exactly why, if it was the news of the Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach and assistant coach who died in a tragic plane crash yesterday or the allegations that long time Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine could possibly be a child sex offender, but the magnitude of Tebow hit me with the force of a penny dropped from the Empire State Building.

Tim Tebow is what we need.

Everywhere we turn, with every click of the remote and mouse, life is dominated by horrors. Bombings, killings, unwarranted arrests, the falling Dow Jones, and greed that would make Gordon Gecko cringe plague our days and nights.

Let Tebow win by throwing two passes a game. Let him win running the college option. This kind of play won’t be sustainable, but his personality and grace will be. There will never be a scandal. He will never be an adulterer, degenerate gambler, alcoholic, abuser, or molester.

I’m in awe of his authenticity and kind spirit sprinkled in with these miraculous late-game victories. It’s like a church bell goes off in his head when the Broncos need a touchdown late in games.

He’s a jersey signer, a charity giver, a picture taker. If religion has made him a quality human being, I’m all for it.

We see so many “icons” fall faster than pant sizes on the Biggest Loser. Tebow doesn’t flaunt his faith or make himself bigger than his religion. He’s simply immersed in it like he always has been. 40,000 stadium fans and millions watching on television aren’t going to change how he acts.

Most people adapt and transform with whom they encounter. We act differently around our boss than we do our spouse, our best guy friend and our sister. We all wear metaphorical masks, but not Tebow. He reaches the mountaintop of morality without having to climb.
If he was a vampire, he’d be a vegetarian. If a lion, he would gallop with the deer.

We all start life with a compass of ethical aspirations.

Most of us never reach it.

Tebow gives us hope that it’s not impossible, that purity of the soul isn’t just something from the Brothers Grimm fairytales.

So, he wins last night after 54 minutes of lackluster football, quirky delivery, inaccuracy, and thumping that 6’4, 236 pound frame into 270 pound NFL linebackers. And he steam rolled them all. NFL scouts, analysts, coaches, and players said his college game couldn’t transfer to the NFL.

They were right.

He brought the college game to them. The two have melted together better than butter on Texas toast. These last five games have been pretty remarkable. Tebow took over a hapless and unmotivated 1-4 team. Now they are 5-5 and in the hunt for a playoff berth in the AFC West.

Tim Tebow is a culture changer, a leader of men at a position where so many fail because of that ineptitude. I wish he was magical, could heal the sick, fix the economy, devour and destroy greed. But what he’s doing is real.

He mentions his Philippines charity work in the pregame interview, the sideline interview, and the post-game interview. He’s working on building a hospital there. Tebow knows there's life outside of the stadium walls, that suffering exists for many in this world. He understands how blessed he is to get paid playing a game. Tim Tebow is an unconventional quarterback, but more importantly an unconventional man.

Thank God for that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood

Aaron Rodgers is having a 2007 Tom Brady-esk kind of season, a quarterback rating 30 points above the next in line. Rodgers is playing the hardest position in sports with the simplicity and ease of a man’s haircut. 

Greenbay might have lost their Gunslinger, but the Packers gained a Sheriff. 

The antithesis of Brett Favre is under center for the Cheeseheads now. Both men separated by a spectrum greater than political ideology. Favre was the wild Cowboy, running around the field like a chicken with his Wranglers cut off, a career concluded by tossing more interceptions than anyone else. 

A boyish charm all fans loved with a football immaturity that all fans loathed. 

Players would hold up their fingers that were permanently disfigured from Favre’s hot mustard zingers. Rodger’s teammates hold up nine fingers, not in pain, but for their 9-0 start. 

Rodgers at 27 years old, 3 ½  years as a starter already has as many superbowl rings as the Silver Fox whose playing days started when Seinfeld wasn’t reruns, Friends just were people who hung out together, and Will Smith was still the Prince. 

Rodgers is what Favre could never be. 

While patience, humility, and decision making are Rodgers biggest strengths, they were Favre’s Achilles heel. 

If it wasn’t for the millions of dollars, sexting on his wife, flip-flopping on retirement, attention whorishness, and arrogance, I would be feeling pretty bad for Favre right about now. The old barn in rural Wisconsin that once proudly displayed his famous #4 has undergone a face lift. It’s been upgraded. After Super Bowl XLV, it was changed to “#12 is 3x4 G”. Only if that math was accurate, because to this point, anyone who thinks Rodgers is only three times better than Favre needs to check the expiration date on their peanut butter. 

I’m sure the scene at Favre’s house is a lot like his famous Wrangler commercials; just subtract the fake high school athletes, camera crew, director, producer, photographer, makeup artist, and wardrobe specialist. It’s just Favre; sitting on that broken down old tractor, the rust a lot less kind than his NFL longevity. 

I can see him turning on the T.V. to Sportscenter. Brett’s watching the Aaron Rodgers highlights and then decides to put on his muddy cap that he’s worn to dozens of post-game pressers. He ventures into his backyard to count how many times he can throw the ol’ pigskin through that wobbly tire swing. He gives a double fist pump that would make Tiger Woods proud as he nails ten in a row. 

Then, he concludes the evening by sitting with his wife at their traditional oak dinner table for supper. Their meal’s only sounds consist of breathing, chewing, swallowing, and utensils clicking. 

His wife asks Favre to pass the salt. Without looking at the label, he tosses it across the table. 

His wife looks up, “Brett, you gave me pepper.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State: Keeping a Focused Hate

The Penn State scandal has rocked the core of this nation harder than a Rolling Stones concert. In the following days, none would be surprised if more gruesome information comes out from this disgusting ordeal. We pray for the molested children, we pray for their families, we pray for the Penn State community.

Having visited the campus on many occasions, I learned quickly that the campus is the city. Commerce traffic moves rapidly and without delay. The atmosphere has always been lively, full of campus spirit, tradition, and above all else, pride. Beaver stadium was a Mecca that even if not a Penn state fan, was something to put on your bucket list. But step outside the institutions walls and there’s nothing more than corn fields and cow piles that stretch on for hours. This disconnect is stark and somewhat mind-boggling.

In this small town, gossip travels like tumble weed on PED’s which begs the question, how many supposed responsible adults had an inkling of what went on? The rumor mill had almost 15 years to be churning when campus Police questioned Jerry Sandusky and told him it was not appropriate to shower with little boys.
Anyone who thinks that Penn State shouldn’t completely clean out their football closet or think it was wrong to fire Joe Paterno via phone call hasn’t read the 23 page grand jury testimony or is too ignorant to understand it.

Paterno’s moral obligation was clear and he failed the test in a crash and burn fashion.

The detailed accounts of horror make the movie Saw look like a Disney amusement park ride. And here is this small town, represented by that Nittany lion emblem, the proud “We are” chants felt in every student has lost its meaning. There is a loss of innocence for the program and all that live in the now ironically called Happy Valley.

I remember reading the novel “In Cold Blood” in college and I couldn’t help but see the connection between that rural Holcomb Kansas town and the town of Penn state. It was over fifty years ago that this farming community was shaken to its core with the brutal killing of the Clutter family on one seemingly ordinary November night. Even the local Holcomb police lost their inculpability when they found out what happened.

The scary difference that makes the Penn State tragedy worse is that those murdering monster’s were jailed immediately, while Sandusky was seen walking the campus, working out in the facility, and wearing PSU garb only last week.

I just hope for the sake of the innocent in this community and the current Penn state football player’s who had nothing to do with this horrific event, that they are able to come together and move forward, while never forgetting this disgrace.

Many have focused on the 1,000 students that rioted Joe Paterno’s exit, flipping over news vans, seemingly looking for an excuse to party when they should have been morbid as a funeral. But, let’s not condemn the 45,000 other undergrad and grad students for the stupidity of a few. These students need more from us right now, more than prejudiced blame for a crime they didn’t commit or knew existed.

Many of my friends and colleagues have moved their anger to the whole of this community, condemning all who breathe, live, and work there. It’s a slippery slope.

At a time when thousands of Penn Stater’s are still in shock, the rest of us on the outside need to be their support system, not hate brigade.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tim Tebow: Faith or Something Like It

The enamorance for Tim Tebow is nothing short of extraordinary. A preachers son on the football field, intangibles stretching to his missionaries in Africa. A first round pick with octopus arm mechanics. The side-arm-sling that resembles my middle school pitching motion.

The camps have become split, the fans who love Tebow and those who despise him, while he hates no one including his opposition. He wishes his adversaries well across the line of scrimmage. But, his tangibles don't match those of a first or second round pick.

The Broncos excommunicated coach Josh McDaniel's gambled on him and now they have no choice to see if he can play. Denver fans have always been passionate with a rich history of quarterbacks like team front man John Elway who exemplified grace with all the skill a franchise would want in their leader on the field.

Tebow had the highest selling NFL jersey before ever throwing a pass-more than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson. The allure to Tebow is undeniable, but his football mechanics are beyond questionable. He represents the hope for a franchise that has under performed for years.

However, when Brady Quinn (a star only in the EAS realm of protein shakes) is out playing him in camp, hope quickly smacks its face into reality. The Broncos still have veteran and proven winner Kyle Orten who wins as old fashionably as his bowl hair due. The Tebow affect has cut Bronco town into these two fan bases. The group that praises him as the second coming of Elway might be in for a rude awakening.

But, Tebow's a story and a great kid. So, will all be watching how this psalm unfolds.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jose Reyes: Why Signing The Shortstop Will Just Add To The Mets Problems

The New York Metropolitans stated this week that they have no intention of trading their All-Star short- stop Jose Reyes.

This is a bigger mistake than Heidi Montag deciding to go under the knife for the eighth time, a bigger misstep than Emilio Estevez keeping his Latino name.

The evidence is consequential, the data beyond verifiable. We are in the midst's of witnessing a gross miscalculation of an individual players worth right before our eyes. Signing Reyes for a six or seven year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of 140-160 million dollars will be the second Ponzi scheme the Mets will have suffered recently. No one player is worth that amount and no team should bankroll their future in an aging shortstop, unless your the Yankees.

The Mets are still stinging from scandal, trying to pick up the pieces like most of the country. The last thing they should be doing is sacrificing long-term team success and growth for short-term inconsistency and ultimate stagnation. This team has a track record of overpaying players to satisfy the emotional appetite of the rabid New York sports fan, a tendency to veer towards overreaction while fearing the shadow of the pinstripes.

Reyes is playing great this year (when healthy), but what about the previous six seasons which were marred by injuries and erratic play. In this 24-hour news cycle, we have become such prisoners of the moment.

We are the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society on steroids.

So what if the market value was raised because of nonsensical signings like Jason Werth to the Nationals and Carl Crawford's deal with the RedSox.

The Mets can look at their own history.

They gave outfielder Jason Bay an ocean, Carlos Beltran a lucrative deal off of one good playoff series, and David Wright a monster deal when all signs pointed wrong.

Reyes relies on his legs as much as his bat to be a game changer. At 28, he is the John Dillinger of stealing bases. But, when players hit 30 they become the Flash on a Guinness Diet.  Reyes isn't a power hitter. His value lies from his ability to stretch a ground ball for a single and advancing around the base paths like the roadrunner.

When signing a player to a long term deal, health is a major issue. As great as Ken Griffey, Jr. was, he became delicate as a baby fawn once he signed his gargantuan contract with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds still feel his aftershocks in their wallets. The difference is Griffey wasn't injury prone before coming to Cincinnati. Jose Reyes is and has been with the Mets his entire career.

The Mets have a little brother complex sharing the concrete jungle spotlight with the Bronx bombers. It has clouded their judgment to the point where management believes any free agent splash will make a reverberating wave.

Reyes is a spark in the lineup, but he's also a riskier bet than a Tiger Woods celibacy vow. Mets fans can afford to be emotional creatures and to think with their hearts.

The organization can not.

Spending U-Haul vans full of cash on one baseball player (pitchers excluded) can't catapult a team to the top of the food chain. It can and has left clubs in partial paralysis and future financial handcuffs.

A thriving baseball team is the sum of its parts. Jose Reyes is a nice, but overvalued piece of a much larger puzzle.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is the NBA Anti-Gay?

The definition of a role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.

Some of our role models like Steve Nash and Sean Avery have exemplified this definition in recent weeks, while others like Kobe Bryant (the face of the NBA for over a decade) and Joakim Noah have distorted and misrepresented it.

It was only a month ago Bryant uttered a homophobic slur at a referee in a playoff game. It was a mere 48 hours ago that Noah yelled the same slur in his playoff game in Miami to a Heat fan. There's the war on crime, the war on drugs, and the war on terror. What about the war on homophobic slurs? Commissioner Stern fined Kobe $100,000. Joakim was fined $50,000.

Even though Noah makes substantially less salary, shouldn't his monetary punishment be above Bryant's?

Noah had a blueprint four weeks ago of what not to do, what not to say, and made his insensitive remark anyway. But, there's a bigger issue than the amount player's should be getting fined.

Why are they saying these slurs in the first place?

I get that sports is an emotional game, things are said in the heat of the moment without thinking. Inhibitions to the wind and an athletes guard down is a lethal combination.

This is the scariest part.

At a player's most vulnerable and truthful moment, gay slurs are what comes out of their mouths. It makes me wonder what other thoughts are swimming around within the deep catacombs of their minds that often remained bottled up. Nothing is going to change until the sports society as a whole supports gay rights, but more importantly acknowledges its existence in the locker room and among team mates.

Studies show one out of every six men are gay.

It was a big step when Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts came out last week, but what the gay community needs is a leap. It's great that some athletes have come out to support gay rights, but what the gay community needs is many.

And, where's the current male star athlete who hasn't come out of the closet because of fear, stigma, and public perception?

It's 2011.

I thought we lived in a time of acceptance and understanding, of open-minds and open-hearts. Sports has been the pioneer on many issues, the catalyst of an ordinate amount of change. From Jackie Robinson to Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, sports has always been the Ferrari of change. But, as gay issues stand, it seems the sports community remains stagnant, turning a perpetual blind-eye.

There's a silent war between the homophobic and the unprejudiced. The unaccepting only need a handful to put fear into the collective. Charles Barkley said, "Athletes aren't role models." Okay, fine. But we do need them to be decent human beings. Whether we like it or not, our youth revere their sports icons as Gods. I did growing up.

Imagine the power a male star athlete coming out would have on a youth coming to terms with his or her own sexuality. Or, in a broader sense, the strength it would give to a child who is just "different". The child with ADHD. The one with Asperger's syndrome. The child with tourette's. The one with acne. The kid who is too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat. The one with glasses and braces, the Jew, the Muslim.

Can you imagine the strength they would gain from their icons embracing their differences instead of shielding them. Children would truly believe there is no mold they have to fit into, that cool isn't a generic model or a xerox copy of someone else. A realization that individuality is cool, uniqueness the most admirable trait.

Other than the sports sphere, sexual orientation holds as much weight as a feather duster. But, in the macho, testosterone driven world of athletics, homosexuality, especially in locker room land is taboo. Denial and narrow-minds seem to rule this realm with an ignorant hand. 

Our sports heroes need to stop pretending homosexuality doesn't exist. We need the sports figures who we would never expect to take a stand, to do just that. And, in this case, power is in numbers. Sexual preference need no longer be evaded.

After all, role models should know better.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose give the NBA a Humble Facelift

One's the scoring champ; the other is the league's MVP. Both have their young teams in respective conference finals. Both are also humble as mom's apple pie. Sure, the perennial power Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics were sent deep sea fishing for the remainder of the summer. And sure we won't see the Lebron v. Kobe finals we've been itching at like a mosquito bite for half a decade.

But, what we do have in the final four teams remaining are Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, whose play is nothing short of electrifying. It feels like these two have been in the league forever, like they've been to dozens of All-Star games and won a multitude of accolades. But, each are only 22 years old.

When it's become the popular scapegoat to blame younger generation's Laissez-faire attitude for older generation's vast number of mistakes, it's nice to see guys in their early 20's setting the example. Our elders who believe youth is synonymous with immaturity are being proved wrong with every bounce of the basketball. The boomers who preach the back-in-my day mentality as if they really walked five miles to school in a Southern California blizzard are being served a facial by two of the NBA's most gracious players.

Durant and Rose prove every time they step onto the court that age truly is just a number, that people should be judged by strength of character rather than the number of candles on their birthday cake. Having said that, at the end of the day they are just a couple of kids. (Because anyone born after U2 released Joshua Tree still is). All these "kids" do is exemplify hard work and humbleness. It's fitting that both could be heading straight for each other in the NBA finals. Durant and Rose have been through a lot in their young careers.

Kevin Durant was drafted by the once upon a time Seattle Supersonics to replace a legend and all-time three-point leader Ray Allen. There were questions about his pixie stick frame and single year at Texas.

Would his game translate to the NBA?

Would he be strong enough to battle with NBA's fiercest defenders, the guys that have boulders for shoulders and steel beams for necks?

Durant made his slender frame an advantage, sneaking through the baseline like he was wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Even recently, Durant's been criticized for passing too much, letting his point guard ultra talented in his own right Russell Westbrook take pivotal shots in the fourth quarter. Durant threw that criticism in his stylish book bag he wears at every press conference, taking the detractors to school with every Thunder victory.

The road for Derrick Rose started bumpier. Rose came from the rough neighborhoods of the Englewood area, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on Chicago's Southside. His entourage was his three brothers and mother, shielding him from con-men, drug-pushers, and all others looking to exploit Rose for his gifted talents on the hardwood. 

Rose enrolled in Simeon Career Academy. His junior year he won his school the Chicago public team championship and was voted the title of Illinois Mr. Basketball. Then there was the one season at Memphis, the SAT scandal and a shot away from winning the National Championship. Then came the pressure of being the first pick in the NBA draft. All he's done this year is lead the Bulls to the number one seed and the Eastern Conference finals.

Durant's and Rose's dominance in the spring of their careers is nothing short of astonishing. The desire to give their teammates credit and push personal accolades aside is remarkable. The scary thing for their opposition is- they are still getting better, at the base of a mountain's peak potential. Scarier still is their work ethic and unilateral focus. Durant could have left Oklahoma City for more money but he signed a five-year extension, a hometown discount; only he's from Washington, D.C.

Rose grew up in the shadow of Jordan. But, he puts number 23 in his rear view, while breathing and playing through life's windshield.

We have new stars that care more about giving than receiving, players who realize at a young age that every NBA player has talent, it's the work that transcends you. They know putting the hours in the empty gymnasium is how you perform at the highest level when the stadium is packed.

Rose's MVP speech was about thanking everyone else for an individual award, praising his teammates, being grateful for his mother. His smile one of appreciation, but also knowing his quest doesn't end with hoisting Maurice Podoloff over his shoulders. Rose and Durant see the big picture when the long term goal in a 48 minute game can be a difficult thing to focus in on. Just look at Lebron James, kneeling in prayer, and then celebrating with teammates like he won the first of seven NBA championships after knocking off his arch rivals, The Boston Celtics.

Was Rose even on the same Richter scale of jubilation after a second round win against the Hawks?

Derrick's actions were simple and clear: It's on to the next round, the next battle, the next fight. If Durant and Rose do meet in the NBA finals, it will be a series of high caliber talent, but higher caliber of character.

Resolve is their best teammate, humbleness their greatest strength. Durant and Rose wipe off crumbs of criticism with a dinner napkin. No stage is too big for these two young superstars.

Michael Jordan was everything, but anything other than humble. Kobe Bryant is the fiercest competitor, but rarely trusts a teammate. Lebron has embraced his role as the villain since taking his talents to South Beach. Rose and Durant appear to truly believe their personal success is measured only by team success. That their accomplishments are made possible by the work of their supporting cast, coaches, management, and family.

Commissioner David Stern need not worry. The NBA is in good hands.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rick Reilly Rebuttal

Dear Mr. Reilly,

I read the commentary on the speech you delivered at your alma mater, the University of Colorado. As all your columns, I enjoy the insight, humor, and above all, the truth to your words.

This piece resonated to my core.

I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 with a degree in English Writing. Since, I have freelanced on and created a sports blog featured on the Yardbarker network and Bleacher report.

I agree that writers shouldn't offer their services for free, it will only lead to others taking advantage of the craft we spent four years in college and post-university working on. Not to mention the thousands spent in tuition most of us are still paying back.

However, the world has changed. The media landscape has been run over by a rotary tiller. There was a time when newspaper and magazine internships were the next logical step to begin an editorial career. Unfortunately, for my class of 2008 and beyond, those days are gone.

Twenty years ago, recent graduates would begrudgingly get coffee and work the Sunday football scores section. Our generation would kill for that opportunity to get a foot in the door. Your generation would describe this work as being a "gopher". My generation calls it a grand opportunity. Even an unpaid internship at a newspaper is nearly impossible to land.

How do you get work noticed when your a SeaMonkey in a shark tank full of limitless content?

As much as we want to stick to our ethical standards we learned in Journalism school, what choice do we have?

Getting noticed today isn't about the quality of content, but the quantity of which it is pumped out onto the web.

Speed has surpassed caliber. Gossip now outweighs fact.

The nostalgia once felt from a newspaper in between someones finger tips have been replaced by the frustration of holding one. As much as twitter, facebook, and blogging have diluted journalistic integrity and editorial aptitude, it has become a necessary evil. Turning our cheeks to this technology would only stick young journalists in deeper stagnation and professional writing quick sand.

There are thousands of us out here. A countless number of 20-somethings who pine for the days when reading the paper was part of our social fabric.

No writer wants to write for free. But, what other option do we have?

Stick to our guns, wait it out, and hope society reverts backwards?

In a 24/7 mobile media culture, what evidence suggests that will happen?

The only option for most of us is to blog with ferocity, tweet and share with intensity, and hope blind luck trips us like an uneven sidewalk.

Trust me when I say we all have pride. But, in this current economical and sociological climate, pride is going to have to take a backseat to gainful employment.

Most of your columns are dead on. On this issue however, Go Fish.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The NBA Needs to Follow Tinseltown's Lead

The NBA is a lot like the royal wedding. We can watch the ceremony on TV in all of its glitz and glamour, but the reception behind closed doors is where Prince Charles probably strips down to his thermal long-john's attempting to do the worm, while William and Kate celebrate their nuptials with the electric slide.

The NBA playoffs have been exciting, drama-filled, and star-studded, but its collective bargaining agreement behind the scenes is getting increasingly uncomfortable. An NBA season next year is as certain as the timetable for when our troops will be getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing is for sure: The NBA hasn't been this popular since Air Jordan was winning championships with the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks became relevant again, the Heat self-proclaimed by Lebron James as the"Heatles" invaded the eastern conference. Derrick Rose, who was named the league's MVP is as exciting as he is humble. Kevin Durant is as unselfish a scoring champion as they come, and Memphis and Oklahoma City are relevant playoff teams. The league appears to be flourishing more than ever.

The hardwood of a basketball floor appears flawless to the fan in the stands, but the maintenance worker knows there are small cracks within. This small crack is a $300 million dollar one. This is the number the NBA is in the red for this season. Not exactly the banner year commissioner David Stern was hoping for. This week NBA players balked at rollbacks in existing contracts, a hard salary cap and a larger share of basketball related income -- 57 percent of which is guaranteed to the players under terms of the existing labor agreement, which expires June 30. The legal jargon can get tediously complex. The best way for me to explain the NBA's biggest issue is by comparing it to my favorite TV Show, Entourage.

A casual fan of the series would assume that Vincent Chase, played by Adrian Grenier is the star of the show and therefore makes the most money. Or maybe Eric played by Kevin Connolly, Vince's best friend and manager whose name has first billing in the opening credits. But, the actor who makes the most is Super Agent Ari Gold played by Jeremy Piven. Adrian and Kevin make $200,000 an episode respectfully, but Jeremy is in a class all his own earning $350,000 a pop.


Because he's the catalyst, the cause for all of the effects that transpire in the show and the driver of the funny bus, while everyone else are really just passengers. If the show is a band, he's the front man. More eyes tune into Entourage because of Ari and most fans would leave it if he was gone. There in lies his value and appropriate pay grade in comparison to his cast mates. I think it's time the National Basketball Association took a page out of Hollywood's book. If not, we could be seeing two of our countries most popular sports locked out next season.

The bad news for the NBA is there's no guarantee fans will flock back in droves like people will to the NFL. The NFL could disappear into the depths of Mordor for a decade and it would come back without skipping a beat. We have too much invested in football from betting games, tailgating, and fantasy leagues for it to go away. The NBA is enjoying bountiful success at the moment, but if they want to sustain it, they will have to fix how they pay their players.

The solution to avoid the NFL's current predicament is simple: Pay players per performance.

Why should a bench player make more annually than a team's star player? 

A Doctor doesn't make less than a Physicians Assistant. A sheriff doesn't get paid less than his deputy. The NBA is a face league and the continuation of overpaying for underachievers will alienate fans and bankrupt the league. A prime example of the gross miscalculation of how player's are currently being paid is Brandon Haywood, backup center for the Dallas Mavericks.  He is making eleven million dollars this season, $8,487 for every minute he's on the floor. He averaged a whooping four points and five rebounds a game in 18 minutes.

What other industry pays top dollar for crowning mediocrity?

Newly minted MVP Derrick Rose is making six million this year, not too shabby. But, his teammate Ronnie Brewer who averages three points a game and two rebounds is making almost 5 million. Kobe Bryant made almost 25 million this year, absurd in the real world but understandable market value in the basketball realm.  He's still one of the faces of the league and the best player on the NBA's most popular franchise. His jersey is a top-seller as are his shoes. Bryant is an international marketing machine.  NBA fans go to see stars and he's the closest thing to MJ we've ever had. Conversely, bench player Luke Walton made over five million this year, averaging one point and one rebound a game.

Anderson Varejao, center for the economically downtrodden Cleveland Cavaliers averaged nine points and nine rebounds and raked in a cool seven million. By far the most telling salary problem comes from Oklahoma City Thunder's payroll. Kevin Durant led the league in scoring this season, while Russell Westbrook has emerged as one of the league's premier point guards. They are arguably two of the ten best players in the NBA. Their teammate Nick Collison averaged four points and four rebounds this season. He made over 13 million, 3 million more than Durant and Westbrook combined.

Player's salaries should be congruent with contributions to their teams. In the case of an All-Star caliber player who is injury prone like Grant Hill was in Orlando or Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were in Houston, they should have to pay back part of their salaries after missing a certain amount of games. This money would then be pumped back into the league. Player efficiency and plus/minus should also go into contract negotiations to help prove someones true value.

Finally, the NBA needs to educate current players on how to save and invest their money in safe and productive ways. Too many player's spend frivolously the day they sign their rookie contract and like any bad habit, it's not broken easily. A lot of players enter the NBA at 19-years-old, unable to balance a checkbook. They hire friends who turn out to be scam artists and it gets them into financial trouble. The story came out a few weeks ago that Lakers star, sixth-man of the year Lamar Odom pays the rent for 20-30 of his family members and friends. 20-30! Players aren't going to want to give up any portion of their salaries if they are supporting countless others.

The NFL and the NBA may be in short supply next season. Hey, at least Entourage is always on Demand.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chris Paul: A Distributor On and Off the Court

Chris Paul and company battled with every fiber of their being, but the length, experience, and overall talent of the Lakers proved to be too much for the feisty Hornets. Now, following a brilliant individual playoff series performance, Paul will have to ask himself some tough questions.

Does he want to stay in New Orleans?

Is this team committed to bringing in the necessary pieces to win?

Paul's knee injury he suffered in 2009 gave him a glimpse of how quickly an injury can change a course of a career or drive one off a cliff. Paul now possesses a sense or urgency, a knowledge that an NBA career is measured in dog years. New Orleans lost the series, but Paul's play elevated his stock faster than when Apple released the I Phone. On the court, Chris Paul is once again ice-cold calculation, fast yet patient, and visceral as much as intellectual.

As masterful a show as he put on during these playoffs, his assists off the court shined through even brighter. His humanitarian and warm hearted nature shows the real Christopher Emmanuel Paul. When the Hornets point guard heard about a high school basketball player from New Hampshire who lost his mother in February from a tragic snow mobile accident, Paul's memory was immediately triggered to a tragedy parallel to his own past.

It was nine years ago that Paul's grandfather, Nathanial Jones was beaten to death outside of his gas station in North Carolina by five fifteen-year-old teenagers; Jones hands duct-taped to a fence, left to die for the few bucks in his wallet. He was 61 years old. 48 hours later, Paul played in his high school basketball game scoring 61 points, a point for each year of the man's life that shaped him as a basketball player and most importantly, a human being. When Chris announced he would be playing college ball for Wake Forest, Jones was standing at his grandsons side.

When Paul reached the 61-point mark, he intentionally missed a free throw, and then took himself out of the game even though the state high school scoring record of 66 points was within reach.

The 14-year-old high school student named Brad Rhoades followed with his own tribute, scoring 46 points in his high school game for every year of his mother's life. Chris Paul's honoring of his grandfather whose murder was disgraceful, indefensible and an unspeakable tragedy brought strength to a teenage boy now without his mother.

After hearing of this story, Paul invited Rhoades and his father for the third game of the series to New Orleans. The playoffs for most athletes are a time when they close their emotional doors from all "distractions", but Paul went out of his way to open his heart. Rhoades and his father received one of the best seats in the arena, signed jerseys, sneakers, posters, and he even got to warm up with Paul before the game.

The greatest gift received that night wasn't one-sided however. Paul and Rhoades both were given the gift of a mutual bond they will share for the rest of their lives.

A die-hard Celtics fan, but on this night, no one in the stands was cheering CP3 louder than Brad Rhoades.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tom Brady: Success in 2011 NFL Draft Means Looking At The Past

April 28th, mark it down on your calender. With the NFL Lockout negotiations spinning out of control faster than Charlie Sheen on Tiger Blood, its nice to know that a sacred tradition won't be removed because of a little bickering between NFL siblings. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr, draft staples just as the Bunny is to Easter, have been making their picks on mock draft boards for weeks now.

My seventh and eighth grade History teach Mr. Razor (he looped with us for 2 years, God knows why) always used to say the reason why we learn about history is so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. The 32 NFL teams, hundreds of scouts, and organizations General Managers need to take Mr. Razors advice.

There have been the Ryan Leaf's of a mistake, to the recent Jamarcus "purple drank" Russell's banishment from the league. Now, not only can coaches not handle him, but his life coach recently quit and is seeking therapy.

History spoke to us eleven years ago almost to the day when Tom Brady, 3-time Superbowl wining quarterback and two-time NFL MVP was picked 199th in the 2000 draft, a compensatory pick in the sixth round, and the seventh quarterback taken.

I know what your thinking: What! How! Why! Confused? Yes!

The piece ESPN recently aired called "The Brady 6" (be careful when you-tubing unless you want a Brady Bunch montage to play for an hour), chronicled Brady's fall to the 199th pick in the draft.  I'm not sure if Y2K was freaking everyone out or if scouts were too busy cooking crystal meth in their basements than studying game film, but Brady falling to the sixth round had just as much oversight as recent air-traffic controllers.

He's too slow. He lacks arm strength. Questionable leadership qualities. These were some of criticisms scouts and draft board analysts made about Tom Brady leading up to the draft. These denunciations would have been plausible if the following didn't happen when he played college football at the University of Michigan (not the Rich-Rod era, but in an era of dominance paralleled to the Ohio State University):

During his first full year as starter, he set Michigan records for most pass attempts and completions in a season. Brady was All-Big Ten (honorable mention) both seasons and team captain his senior year. The Wolverines won 20 of 25 games when he started and shared the Big Ten Conference title in 1998. Brady capped that season with a win over Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. In the 1999 season, Brady led Michigan to an overtime win in the Orange Bowl over Alabama, throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns.

Having all of those accomplishments under his belt, what was the hesitation and fear of selecting him in an earlier round? All I could find was his combine numbers. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.23 seconds, "slow" by NFL quarterback standards. What scouts should have been evaluating was the immeasurable -- his heart, soul, and character. 

Jerry Rice, regarded as the greatest wide-receiver of all time, ran a 4.71 40 time, much slower than most players at that position. He attended a small college in Mississippi and went on to a hall-of-fame career with the San Francisco 49er's. Jerry was never the fastest, strongest, or tallest out there on the field, but he worked the hardest to be a perfectionist at his craft. He played with a similar chip Brady does, always trying to prove the naysayers wrong year after year and he did. 

NFL teams have four days to get away from their blueprint, cookie-cutter mold of the quarterback with only the physical tools and to dig deeper to find the mental and emotional makeup of the player within.

It's the players who know that their lucky and blessed to play a game that pays them millions who are the safest picks. For this year's draft, pick the players who have the talent, but also the humility of a grocery store bagger.

Find a person who never had it easy, who had to fight adversity because every Sunday that's exactly what they will be going up against. Draft a player who will practice the most and the one who studies tape relentlessly. Everyone in the NFL is athletic, it's the ones who work hardest that truly have a chance to become legends. A player who wears a chip plays better when they are stacked up against him.

The Brady 6 might have changed the perception of what qualities are the most important when evaluating a potential athlete to draft, especially at the quarterback position. But, most likely there will be another story of a player who fell down the draft board because of his lack of size and speed or red hair. And in 2021, we might look back on this year and wonder why teams didn't learn from the past.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The NBA Playoffs: Super Predictions

Watching the cross-promotions between the NBA playoffs and the movie Thor which comes out next month, I couldn't help but notice similarities between the sixteen teams in the playoffs and the some of our favorite Superheroes.

 Philadelphia Sixers vs. Miami Heat

Sixers strengths: Scrappy. Youth. They had the least amount of turnovers per game during the regular season in the NBA.
Sixer's weakness: No one to take the last shoot. Inability to get to the free throw line. Inexperience.
Superhero: Spiderman
Strength: Agile. Endurance. Andre Iguodala can scale the highest backboard.
Weakness: Lebron James and Dwayne Wade's venom.

Miami's strengths: Fast-break. Getting to free-throw line. Two 4th quarter players. 3 All-Stars who can score 20 a piece. They  have become a great defensive team.
Miami's weakness: Lack of depth. Lack of height. Lack of chemistry. Wade's migraines and self-reflection.
Superhero: Flash
Strength: Speed.
Weakness: Trying to run on ice. Battling the line between confident and cocky.

Result: Flash outruns Spiderman. Miami in 5.

Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers

Bulls strengths: MVP derrick rose. Defense. Unselfish play.
Bulls weakness: If Rose has an off shooting night. Not a lot of other scorers. Inexperience
Superhero: Captain America
Strength: Strength, endurance, agility, speed, reflexes, durability, healing, and the shield.
Weakness: Red Skull and letting the media get in their heads.

Indiana strengths: Underrated talent. Underrated Danny Granger. Never-die attitude.
Indiana weakness: Lack of star power
Superhero: Green Hornet
Strength: Gadgets and Black Beauty
Weakness: Sub-par fighting ability against the elite villains.

Result: Captain America squashes the Hornet. Chicago in 4.

Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks

Magic strengths: Defensive player of the year. Three-point shooting. When Gilbert is good.
Magic weakness: Lack of scorers. (P3) players past prime. Bad Gilbert. Dwight Howard's technical fouls. Allergies to the paint.
Superhero: Superman
Strength: Almost everything
Weakness: Kryponite and trying to be a jump-shooting team.

Hawks strengths: Individual talent. Hops
Hawk's weakness: Complacency. Discipline. Heart
Superhero: Hawkman
Strengths: Flight. Weaponry battlefield
Weakness: A passing Boeing 747

Result: Superman puts Hawkman in the Phantom Zone. Orlando in 6

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

Celtics strengths: Veterans and future Hall of Famers. Using trickery and experience.
Celtics weakness: Legs. Fatigue. Trading away Kendrick Perkins.
Superhero: Batman
Strength: Utility belt. Science and smarts.
Weakness: No real super powers

Knicks strengths: Offense. Star talent.
Knicks weakness: No defense and lack of chemistry.
Superhero: Hulk
Strength: Strength and jumping.
Weakness: Happiness

Result: Batman out-smarts Hulk. Boston in 6.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Spurs strengths: Coach Popovich. Defensive and veterans. Follows orders like a well-oiled machine.
Spurs weakness: Injury prone Ginobili. Tim Duncan running on fumes.
Superhero: Cyborg
Strengths: Superhuman strength, speed, and can interface with computers.
Weakness: Can be controlled by a computer chip and Eva Longoria.

Grizzlies strength: Toughness. Skilled and powerful big-men. Nothing-to-lose attitude.
Grizzlies weakness: Lack of focus and sustained energy.
Superhero: Hawkeye
Strengths: Very peak of human conditioning; he is an exceptional fencer, acrobat and a grandmaster marksman.
Weakness: Bullets and poker games from 30,000 feet.

Result: The machine is tested, but not broken. San Antonio in 7.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets

Lakers strength: NBA's fiercest and most clutch player. Length and playoff experience. NBA's premier skilled big man and the sixth man of the year. The Zen Master.
Lakers weakness: Complacency. Boredom. Age
Superhero: Green Lantern
Strength: Flight. Force-field and mental powers.
Weakness: The color Yellow and a Kardashian.
Common Denominator: Rings

Hornets strength: CP3. Resolve. Unselfishness
Hornets weakness: Injured David West and overall talent level
Superhero: Wolverine
Strengths: Healing, speed, senses. Adamantium claws.
Weakness: Himself and carbonadium

Result: Green Lantern gets help from his bench. Los Angeles in 6.

Dallas Mavericks vs Portland Trailblazers

Mav's strengths: Scoring. Depth. Regular season dominance
Mav's weakness: Consistent Playoff Under-Achievers. Finesse.
Superhero: Aquaman
Strength: Telepathic ability to communicate with marine life. Super speed and strength.
Weakness: Land

Blazer's strengths: Emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge. Rose Garden arena.
Blazer's weakness: Brandon Roy's knees
Superhero: Human Torch
Strength: Flight. Fire from hands. Supernova
Weakness: Water, wind, and the spirit of Bill Walton.

Result: Aquaman keeps his head above water. Dallas in 7.

Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Nugget's strength: Depth. Passing. Nene and Kenyon.
Nugget's weakness: Lack of leadership and experience at the point guard position. No end of game shooting threat.
Superhero: Iron Man
Strengths: Suit. Weapons. Flight.
Weakness: Heart condition and shortness of breath from Melo-Drama.

Thunder's Strength: Scoring champion Kevin Durant. Underrated point guard Russel Westbrook. The addition of Perkins for size and toughness. Speed.
Thunder's Weakness: Turnovers. Lack of playoff experience.
Superhero: Thor
Strengths: Extended lifespan. Strength and speed. Keen senses and hammer.
Weakness: Warriors madness

Result: Thor lays the hammer down. Oklahoma City in 7.

The 2011 NBA Playoffs: Let the stars collide. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Barry Bonds: Bonds Trial Is a Dark Cloud over Jackie Robinson Day

It's a contradictious day in the world of sports. Friday is the eighth annual Jackie Robinson Day throughout the Majors, marking the 64th anniversary of the day baseball's color barrier was broken. It's also the day after Barry Bonds went from home-run king to convicted felon.

This moment has become one of disconnect rather than one of synergy. How would Jackie Robinson, who fought for every hit in baseball and life, feel about the all-time leader of homeruns only being there because of Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Robinson played in a time when baseball was as magical as a David Copperfield illusion. A time when players had their vices off the field, but played like role models on it. The baseball diamond used to be a religious place where cheating and lying was left outside the stadium walls. A day that should be honored for how far baseball has come has been grabbed by the undertow of its own arrested maturation in its decadent time.

It wasn't just Bonds who betrayed the sanctity of the game, but many of this generations "greats" have been reduced from statuesque figures to diminutive at best. From Clemens, Sosa, Tejada, McGuire, Giambi, A-Rod, and recently Manny, the games most dominate players reached their pinnacle not from out-working others, but from out-juicing. We've witnessed "The Homerun Era", now known as the steroid one, as the games greatest sluggers have been reduced to nothing more than the greatest cheaters.

The trickle down affect is the scariest of all. The youth that look up to these iconic figures might not take steroids as a result, but might deem it okay to cheat in other aspects of life. Maybe it will be their driving tests, their SAT's, their taxes, or their spouses. Even if as Charles Barkley said almost two decades ago," I'm not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids." It would be nice if our sports stars could be models of mortality or an exemplary of ethicalness in their chosen profession.

For the most part, people can compartmentalize Brett Favre the Sexter from Brett Favre the quarterback, but it's when they blur the lines with infidelity to the game, when they cheat on the fans, that the line crosses.
In Bonds case (no pun-intended), what makes this sting the most is his place as the single-season homerun leader and all-time one. The exhilaration we felt as career homerun 756 blasted into the right-center field bleachers at A T&T Park has been replaced with anger and embarrassment at his recent disgrace.

Our faith was betrayed again when Manny Ramirez failed his second drug test, inheriting a 100-game suspension. This prompted Manny to be Manny, to not man up, and to abruptly and cowardly retire. Say what you want about Manny, from mental lapses in both the outfield and running the bases to missing the White House reception for the Red Sox 2007 World Series championship.
The one thing as fans we always thought we knew was his dedication and ego had no room for PED's. Like finding out the tooth fairy is really mom putting that five under the pillow, we were played like fools, again.

Today, players from Milwaukee to Anaheim will be wearing the #42 patch on their jerseys. With the current state of Major League Baseball, would Jackie Robinson even consider that an honor?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Allen Iverson: A Tragically Talented Figure

From the practice rant in 2005 to the police tirade in 2011, Allen Iverson has been a top the head lines in recent years for all the wrong reasons. It was reported last week that Iverson was a passenger in his Lamborghini when it was pulled over for a lane violation in Atlanta. The car had a fake dealer license and was not registered. Iverson became irate, lashing out at the officers with "Do you know who I am?" and "Police don't have anything else (expletive) to do except (expletive) with me," according to the report.  

He later apologized to the police for his words and actions.

This is a long cry from the Allen Iverson I grew up idolizing, the basketball giant who stood barely 6 feet tall. The one who played with the heart of a lion and the fearlessness of a Green Beret. From 1996-2008, Iverson was David battling Goliaths every time he stepped onto the court. But, he could never shake his rocky past. Off the court drama followed him since he was a teenager. It was a 17-year-old Iverson who was involved in the highly publicized racial-bowling alley brawl that landed him in a correctional facility for four months. Trouble followed throughout his career from recording a controversial rap album and fights with then sixers coach Larry Brown to practice refusal and marijuana charges.

Before the King, there was the Answer

Despite all the off the court decisions, there's no denying he's one of the greatest guards of all time. It wasn't just his play, but his integral role in transporting basketball from the 1990's into the 21st century. Before it was Lebron and Kobe sporting the trendy shooting sleeve, it was Allen wearing it for protect an elbow injury he suffered in 2001, turning it from rehab device to fashion statement. Before the Derrick Rose crossover, it was 1996 and then rookie Allen Iverson crossing up Michael Jordan. He brought the rhyme of the game and the beat of hip-hop to a head on collision. He was a pioneer with a basketball. His one goal, playing until his heart stopped was the one constant fans could count on. The numerous injuries, but playing through them. The fractured bones, but sweating it off like a head cold on his way to dropping 50 points.

For a decade, Iverson had the most popular jersey in the world. From Rucker Park to Sherman Oaks, kids would be running around in his signature shoes, the I3's. Iverson's popularity catapulted with his exhilarating performance in game one of the 2001 NBA finals against the Lakers. Most don't remember the final score or that it went into overtime. When you think of that game there's only one image that stands out. The "answer" stepping over the supposed Iverson stopper Tyron Lue nailing a twenty foot jumper, scoring his 48th point in route to ending the Lakers undefeated run through the playoffs. When I think back, these are the memories of Iverson I choose to hold onto.

Conversation in recent years have been about where he belongs in the basketball cosmos of the greatest players, with most analysts barely having him breach the ozone layer. Perhaps it was the neck tattoos and the cornrows before it was common place or his desire to wear jerseys when he was injured rather than three-piece suits. A criticism that will never dissipate is the amount of shots he took per game. We forget his supporting cast had the talent comparable to the Temple men's team a few miles down the road on Broad Street.

Even with the lack of skill around him, he averaged six assists per game for his career, 37th on the all-time assists list, 322 more than Chancey Billups, and 407 more than Norm Van Lier and nine shy of Michael Jordan. A 26.7 career average, sixth on the all-time list only behind Jordan, Wilt, Lebron, Elgin Baylor, and the "logo" Jerry West.

Carmelo Anthony has been described as a 6'8 version of Iverson, but Carmelo's biggest weakness was one of Iverson's biggest strengths: defensive prowess. He led the league in steals three times, a feat only duplicated by Jordan, Alvin Richardson, and Michael Ray Robinson.

If there's anything I'm mad at Iverson for is the years that he left on the table, his inability to take care of his aging body.

When Iverson left the sixers in 2007, no fan thought they would see him donning a sixer's uniform again. In 2009, there he was, sitting at the same table that 1460 days prior he gave the world the moniker "practice" 24 times. This Iverson seemed different, changed, matured, and grateful for a second chance with the team that made him a household name. He played in 25 games, starting in 24. He averaged 14 points, but was not the same player that led the league in scoring four times and was MVP in 2001. He had lost his step, his explosiveness, his dynamic crossover. The knees that once allowed him to do superhuman things were constantly on the bench getting drained. Every point he scored once with ease was now a struggle.

Iverson lasted with the team only until February 22, 2010. He left the 76ers indefinitely, citing the need to attend to his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah's health issues. After no NBA wanted him, he moved east, signing a two-year, $4 million contract with Besiktas, a Turkish Basketball League team competing in the second-tier level of European professional basketball.

It's unknown if Iverson will ever get a chance again in the NBA or if his fate is sealed as an overseas side show attraction. But, when I watch the greats of today play and put on their shooting sleeves, I will always remember the man who did it first. The man who danced through the forest of big trees, who drove through the lane without fear, sacrificing his body and ultimately career longevity for his team's success.