August 9, 2016
On Sunday, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez announced he would retire from the game of baseball after playing his final game Friday in Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. Afterwords, he will be in the team’s organization as a special adviser. This marks the end of a 22-year career, of a man who has seen the good and bad during his playing days. Having said that, we now have the question of how to remember Rodriguez. Do we remember A-Rod for his hall-of-fame worthy numbers? He has (assuming no changes between now and Friday) 3,114 hits, 696 home runs and had 2084 runs batted in (RBIs). He was also a three-time American League MVP and 14-time All-Star. With those stats compiled as a member of the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Yankees, there is no reason why anyone would argue against Rodriguez being a first-ballot hall-of-famer, right? Or do we remember him for the bad? Rodriguez was repeatedly linked to performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly failing a drug test in 2003. A-Rod would later say he used steroids during a period (where they were not banned by MLB) after signing a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Rangers before the 2001 season. These results were unveiled in 2009, two years after Rodriguez denied using PEDs during an interview with 60 Minutes. In 2013, A-Rod found himself being linked the Biogenesis scandal, which saw players such as the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun and the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz catch suspensions. Rodriguez himself was suspended for the 2014 season after a nasty legal battle with MLB and the players’ union. Regardless of where you stand of how to remember the man, there is one thing we can all agree on. This career path is one of the closest thing to a soap opera we can remember, filled with drama, glory and intrigue. Through it all, we may have seen a player, and more importantly, a person, who has matured and gained an appreciation for why he played baseball in the first place, the love of the game. I believe in my heart anyone who wants to be involved in something has a love for it to some degree, and I don’t think it’s any different with A-Rod and baseball. What begins to show during a person’s path is how things can change a person from the roots, and that varies depending on who it is. In A-Rod’s case, I think the love of the game was still a big factor during his days with the Mariners, but money celebrity became the big factor as soon as he signed the huge deal with the Rangers and made even more money with the Yankees. The lifestyle and bright lights of the big city was something Rodriguez loved and would do anything to keep it that way. So when anything that could derail his career bubbled up, the impulse was to deny, deny deny. At the end, things end up worse when caught in a lie, and the career gets knocked off track anyway. Sometimes, people need to have things taken away from them to see what ultimately matters, which is family, values and why a person does what they do in the first place. In A-Rod’s press conference, I saw a man who has learned from those experiences, and maybe, rediscovered his love for the game. This also could be because he realizes he can’t play at the level he once did, but if he does see it this way, it’s better late than never. How we remember Rodriguez may differ from person to person, but if anyone learns from mistakes, that’s priceless. I would like to believe A-Rod has learned, and if so, maybe that’s more valuable than any amount of money.
July 22, 2016
As a huge fan of sports, I have never been able to understand why people who have the opportunity to play sports at the highest level would put themselves in a position to throw it all away. The latest player in question makes his living in the NFL, namely Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell, according to multiple reports, is in danger of missing the first four games of the upcoming season due to missing a drug test session. This case is weird because usually, a player fails a drug test, not miss one. At any rate, the chances are good for Bell to miss the first quarter of a season in which he is playing to show he is worth a max deal. If everything goes through, this would be the second time Bell has been suspended by the league. He was suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season (reduced to two games) due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Mix the questionable decision-making off the field with the injury history on the field, and it leaves the Steelers wondering if giving a max-deal to Bell would be worth it. These are things we do know. Bell’s production when he is healthy has been second to none. He leads all players since he entered the league (2013) in total yards from scrimmage (119 per game). We also know durability has been an issue, as he missed Pittsburgh’s final 10 games (including playoffs) last season with a knee injury. Injuries are part of the game, and nobody knows if and when they could happen. The thing a player, especially one of Bell’s stature, has control over is how he conducts himself away from football. Getting in trouble is one thing that will derail a promising career quick, fast and in a hurry. As it stands right now, Bell has two strikes against him. They always say “Three strikes, you’re out.” He better take advantage of the chance to straighten up when it comes, or he could be the latest on a line of players where we wonder what could have been. Without a doubt, members of the Steelers’ roster, coaching staff and front office will reach out to Bell and try to get him some help, if it’s even needed. We don’t know what is going on in Bell’s life, but missing a drug test sounds bad. The hope, as there is an appeal that was filed, is this was just a case where Bell either forgot about the test or just couldn’t make it for some reason. Let’s hope he didn’t miss the test because he know he would fail it. At any rate, we know Bell is one of the great talents in the NFL. If things don’t change, all of that talent, just like too many before Bell, will go to waste.
July 22, 2016
Whenever something big happens in the 24/7 news cycle, we can bet it will get analyzed each and every way possible. The same applies to small forward Kevin Durant, and his decision to join the Golden State Warriors via free agency. Durant’s old team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is now left to pick up the pieces after losing one of the best players in the NBA. Theories from analysts and experts alike have been all over the airwaves as to why Durant would leave a seemingly good situation to join a team he and the Thunder could not beat in the last season’s Western Conference Finals. Some of those theories pointed to OKC point guard Russell Westbrook, the man who helped form one of the league’s most-feared duos with Durant. Over the years, criticism of Westbrook’s style of play has been more than just a blip on the radar, and some of it rightfully so. It is true his shot selection and decision making can be pretty bad at times. It may even be fair to say Westbrook has caused the Thunder to lose some games due to some unnecessary gambles on the defensive end. The part where I draw the line is when people want to say he was holding Durant back from becoming the player that can be mentioned with the all-time greats that have played this game. First of all, Durant has been nothing but supportive of Westbrook, at least up to the point where he decided to leave Oklahoma City for the Bay Area. Beyond all of that, to say Westbrook had a hand in holding Durant back during his time with the Thunder is, quite frankly, an opinion that’s misinformed. Last time I checked, KD was the 2013-’14 NBA’s Most Valuable Player, with Westbrook in the lineup. Durant also led the league in scoring four different seasons, again, with Westbrook playing by his side. I haven’t even brought up the seven times Durant has been an all-star, or the five times he has been a member of the All-NBA First Team. If anything, the argument can be made more about Westbrook helping Durant become a better player because of what the point guard brings to the table with his own dynamic style. How many times did we hear the Thunder could compete with any team in the league last season because they have two of the five best players in basketball (keyword is two)? I don’t want to sound like I’m piling on Durant, but if he is not quite as good as he may feel he should be, it’s his own fault. I felt OKC, from the front office to the community, gave Durant every opportunity to excel and grow. Injuries, suffered by both this once-in-a-lifetime talent and others (including Westbrook), may have slowed things down a little in terms of competing for titles, but the chance to grow was more than just there. Only Durant knows for sure why he decided to go to the Warriors, but I would surprised if one of those reasons was he felt Westbrook was holding him back. I would love to meet the person who could explain how a man who can do anything on the court and be a league-MVP was being held back. Criticize Wesbrook for many things, but holding Durant back is not one of them.
June 24, 2016
When LeBron James entered the NBA before the 2003-’04 season, he came in with expectations most people wouldn’t dare try to meet. James’ career has been one of the most pressure-filled and analyzed perhaps in the history of sports, but the pressure he faces probably isn’t more intense then it is from his home region of northeast Ohio. James carries the hopes and dreams of his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and the city of Cleveland, whose fans have been starving for a professional sports title since football’s Browns won in 1964. Let’s be honest about this. Some of the pressure placed upon James was self-induced. When anyone calls himself a king and gets a tattoo saying the “chosen one,” people may want to see if a person can live up to the hype. With a 93-89 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif, James was able to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the team’s first title in franchise history, and the city’s first in over half-a-century. All of those hopes and dreams pinned on LeBron’s back have turned into a welcomed reality. The fact James was able to led the Cavs to a title and break this long drought may be surprising in and of itself, but the way it happened is probably what is most shocking. “The Land” came back from a 3-1 series deficit against a team that won a record-breaking 73 games during the regular season, and won two of the final games in Oracle Arena, where Golden State had lost only three games in the regular season and playoffs combined before this final stretch. For James, it was about fulfilling a promise he made to northeast Ohio to deliver a title. While that is probably the biggest part of his motivation, it’s probably fair to say that wasn’t the only source. For every person who loves LeBron, there’s a person who hates him also. Those haters said there is no way he could lead the Cavaliers to a championship. They also said (myself included) he lacked the leadership qualities necessary to lead his team. When he took his talents to South Beach and won two titles with the Miami Heat, the haters said it was because he had a great support system. In other words, he didn’t have to lead because the Heat organization was already full of people who have won championships in the past. When James returned to Cleveland, things appeared rocky, to say the least. The team was in transition from a team growing for the future to a team built around LeBron to win right now. A head coach got fired in the ordeal, and James’ relationship with fellow all-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love appeared icy. Somewhere between Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals, something must have kicked in to where James told the teams to get on his back and ride him to the title. At the moment of truth, with all of the above weighing on him, he showed up to the point he was the unanimous MVP of the Finals when everything was done. Now James is known as a three-time world champion, and his place in history is cemented. In Cleveland, statues of LeBron will be built and streets will be renamed in his honor. These days, whether you’re a lover or a hater, all we can say is we are all witnesses to a once-in-a-generation player who has exceeded every expectation of him. That is what a king does, and after bringing northeast Ohio a title, respect is all I have for LeBron James.
June 24, 2016
We all know the Cleveland Cavaliers did the impossible and overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals a few nights ago. The Cavaliers deserve all of the credit for completing this, and I’m one of those people who likes to give credit to the winners instead of laying blame on the losers. Having said that, it is understood most people want to figure out why a team lost, and these are the questions the Warriors face after seeing their dreams of back-to-back titles fall just short. If we’re going to play the blame game, then we may not have to go any further than Golden State’s dynamic backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Head coach Steve Kerr can also get some criticism as well. This is rough for me to say, because the “Splash Brothers” have been nothing but awesome for two years running, but at the moment of truth, Curry and Thompson simply couldn’t hit shots. When forward Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 of the series for lack of groin-punching control, most people say that’s where everything started to go bad for the Warriors. That might be true, but the team still had three chances to get one win. In Game 7 Curry and Thompson combined to score 31 points, while Green had 32 by himself. The backcourt duo were also a combined 6-24 from three-point land. The six three-pointers were the same number Green hit by himself. The bottom line is the same shots Curry and Thompson have hit over and over again just weren’t falling (Harrison Barnes also disappeared as the series went on). Even with the struggles of the “Splash Brothers,” Golden State was still sitting in a good position, up 87-83 with about four minutes to go in the deciding game. This is where Kerr’s decision making comes into question, because this was the point where he inserted Festus Ezeli back into the lineup. Ezeli was struggling when he was in the game, looking like a player who was overwhelmed by the bright lights. The Warriors were winning the small ball battle, poised to cap off an historic season. That moment Ezeli was in game was when Cavaliers forward LeBron James went on a personal 6-0 run, capitalizing on match-ups against the slower Ezeli on two consecutive possessions. It is easy to second guess coaching decisions after the fact. If Ezeli plays well, we’re all calling Kerr a genius. That’s the nature of the coaching business. At the end of the day, the players still have to execute on the court. Curry and Thompson just didn’t step their games up when it was needed the most. It’s a shocking end to a season that saw the Warriors set the record for most regular season wins, along with the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This backcourt, who have proven to be arguably the best shooting duo of all-time, now has to hear all of those haters who have said jump shooting isn’t the way to sustain success in the NBA talk about how they were proven right. It’s probably not fair to pin blame on Curry and Thompson, who have been so great for so long, but for Game 7 on the league’s biggest stage, there really isn’t any other place to go.
June 7, 2016
Before we dive into how bleak things look for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors, I want to say I understand this series is a long way from being over, at least technically. After all, the Cavs are coming back home after getting blasted in Games 1 and 2 in the Bay Area, so things can turn around with a change in scenery. Having said all of that, it’s hard to see where this series isn’t over by Friday night after seeing a Cleveland team that was supposed to be better equipped to play the Warriors look like the same as last season: out-manned, out-gunned and just overall out-classed. All we kept hearing is how things would be different in the rematch. Small forward (and perceived general manager) LeBron James had a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love by his side to lessen the load he would have to carry, new head coach Tyronn Lue was supposed to be better than David Blatt in this position and they had an overall roster that could match Golden State in playing “small ball.” There was an article I wrote a few months ago about the Warriors’ effect on the league, and how teams trying to meet that standard aren’t having the same success. In the Cavs’ case, they were seeing success, but it was only because they play in the Eastern Conference, where they are significantly better than any other team just with their talent alone. Trying to play at the Warriors’ pace has been proven to be a one-way ticket to failure for just about every team going against them, and Cleveland is learning the hard way. If a team is going to have a chance to beat Golden State, they have to be able to play good defense and run efficient offense. Since Lue became the coach, he’s wanted the Cavs to push tempo and spread the court with shooters. Yes, Cleveland was the team that hit an NBA playoff record 77 three-pointers in a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semi-finals, including a game record 25 in Game 2 of that series. Those are daunting results, but the reality is that was fool’s gold because all of the players for the Cavs are streaky, meaning they can go cold just as fast as they can get hot. Big men such as Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov have seen their minutes decline (go away completely in Mozgov’s case), which is even crazier when it’s considered they could beat the Warriors up in the rebounding department. Cleveland thought they had everything figured out, but they forgot to account for the fact the Golden State has a better team than the one that beat them 4-2 in the Finals last year. When guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are held to 20 points combined, and they still beat the Cavs 104-89 in Game 1, there could not have been a more troubling sign. Now, Cleveland is in a position where the master plan is going up in flames. James, who was supposed to have more help, finds himself needing to be who he says he is, the best player in the world. His leadership qualities are under intense examination on and off the court, and performances short of spectacular will not work against a team poised to cap off an historic season with a title. Believe-land is in danger of seeing their championship dreams dashed for another year, and the Warriors effect is the main culprit.
We have all seen the kick that was the talk of the sports world on Monday. Just in case anyone went on a strike against any outlet of news, I’m talking about Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green kicking Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in the private parts in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals Sunday night in Oklahoma City. It was left up to the referees, and then the NBA league office, to decide the punishment. What came out was essentially no penalty at all. The flagrant 1 foul Green was administered during the game was upgraded to a flagrant 2 and a $25,000 fine, and more importantly, Green will be able to play in Tuesday night’s Game 4, seen by many as a must-win for a Warriors team down 2-1 in the series. Before I dive into the inconsistencies of how discipline is handled by the league, let me start by saying I’m not surprised Green wasn’t suspended because, well, he’s one of the NBA’s brighter stars. That’s not to say it makes the decision okay, and here’s why. One, if the NBA is going to upgrade this foul to a flagrant 2, then they’re saying Green should have been thrown out of Game 3. Instead, he finished the game and is able to play going forward, which means there’s no playing time missed. Personally, I would have been cool with Green getting thrown out of the game, seeing how he kicked the same man in the same body part in Game 2 of the series. If he’s tossed Sunday night, the whole media mess on Monday is probably avoided. Two, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Green went out of their way to say they were surprised they even saw a flagrant 1 called, even saying (in Kerr’s case) it should be rescinded. Both Kerr and Green said players flail their body parts to draw a foul all the time. That’s probably true, but how many times do we know about where the same player is hit in the family jewels two games in a row? It’s hard to say that’s a coincidence. Three, it comes down to the bottom line why I felt Green wouldn’t miss any games, which is star treatment. The crazy thing is a lot of the media personalities out there are good with the decision because they didn’t want to see Golden State play without one of their best players. They would have been ready to pounce on the league office if they somehow decided to suspend Green, but the NBA didn’t tell that man to kick people in the man region. We did see Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dahntay Jones get suspended a game for punching Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo in the groin in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night in Toronto. The league says the situations are different. They’re right, but only because of who is involved. Jones is a player who has been riding the bench for a while, and suspending him isn’t effecting anything the Cavs do because he doesn’t see the floor on most nights. Green is far from a bench-warmer. Therefore, it’s much more of a detriment to lose him. So Green doesn’t get suspended, but is it a different decision if he kicked Thunder forward Kevin Durant like that? Or how about Cavaliers forward LeBron James. All I’m saying is if there is a violation, it should not matter who’s involved. Players, coaches and officials should be held accountable if they’re doing bad things. I’m not necessarily mad Green gets to play, but this does point to the inconsistencies on how the NBA and offices in other leagues handle disciplinary actions. Until that gets fixed, nothing else will.
May 11, 2016
Here we are, watching the reality show we like to call the NBA Playoffs. Since we are talking about postseason play, the attention should be on the teams who are left competing for the championship, but of course, it’s the officiating that seems to get all of the headlines. Before I get into why all of the crying about the referees has to stop, let me point out I’m not just talking about the players. This message is also directed at the fans of the teams who are affected by the blown calls. It should already be understood the officials are going to be, well, garbage. Truthfully, the refs do an okay job in just about every sport, but they are going to miss some calls because they are human beings. We all make mistakes, and officiating is no different. For the people who do complain about calls, one thing should be noticeable in almost every single case, which is the whiners are the players on the losing end or the fans of the losing team. The winning team and their fans, they can get as many of the calls against them as they can handle. All is forgiven and forgotten as long as they come out on top. As for the losers, it’s funny how they want to focus on what happened, instead of diving into why it happened. One example of this is Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George. George was talking about a few missed calls after his Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors. While he may have a partly legitimate grip, George wouldn’t have complained about those calls if it was his team moving on to play the Miami Heat in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference. Another example were the fans of the San Antonio Spurs after the Spurs lost Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Oklahoma City Thunder (you can throw Tuesday night’s Game 5 in there also). In the last 13.2 seconds of the game, there were five missed calls, going both ways. Things just happened to work out in the Thunder’s direction, so it was San Antonio’s fans doing the complaining. If the Spurs won the game, then it would have been the Thunder’s fans saying the refs took the game from them. Too many times, it’s the result, and sometimes who’s involved in the result, that causes these ridiculous reactions. Calling things down the middle is a lost art in today’s society. Another problem is a lack of accountability. If the NBA is going to come out and say the officials didn’t do their jobs, then hold them accountable. Hit the refs with some fines and suspensions also. Just saying they messed up doesn’t do anything, especially when these same refs can come back and work the next night. If players are subjected to fines and suspensions, the officials should be also. We all know that’s not going to happen, so we are left with BS statements. That’s one thing I can say about the officials, but other than that, the players have to make sure the don’t let it come to the point where a missed call comes at a critical time. When the teams lose, missed calls are used as an excuse, and excuses is just another way of saying you didn’t get the job done. All I’m saying is everyone needs to be and be held accountable. If that happens, then maybe things will start to change. Until then, I guess the refs will be the fall guys.
Lost in all of the shuffle of all of the critical injuries we have seen in this year’s NBA Playoffs is the run the Cleveland Cavaliers have been on in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers, who are the No. 1 seed in the East, swept the Detroit Pistons in the first round, and dismissed the Atlanta Hawks out of the conference semifinals in the same fashion. Now Cleveland get to rest and watch while the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat beat up on each other in the other semi. We know that series will go at least six games, and regardless of who comes out of that series, the Cavs will be a decided favorite to go to the NBA Finals. While Cleveland has been seen as a team that was going through some internal turmoil during the season, most people didn’t think it would be enough to keep them from what was already known, which is the status the Cavs are still universally known as the Beast of the East. Yes, I know the team is shooting the three-pointer at an historic clip, hitting 77 of them in the series against the Hawks. That is an insane amount of threes, but we did know they were capable of doing something like this, right? They’ve build the roster full of people who can hit the three, and if they get hot, they can go on a roll. I want to stress just because a player can hit the three does not make him a three-point shooter. Cleveland has a lot of players who can hit the three, but their streaky as well. That means if they go cold, then it could get ugly. Shooting guard J.R. Smith is a perfect example of this. Smith can hit eight three-pointers in one game, but then go 1-10 the next game. In other words, I don’t see this hot shooting keeping this pace up. The crazy thing is even if the shooting wasn’t as hot as it is right now, the Cavs were (and probably are) going to come out of the East because there is no other team in the conference anyone could trust to take advantage of Cleveland’s perceived in-fighting. Not many people felt people the Pistons or Hawks could push them deep in a series. There were some people (including myself) that felt the Heat had the best chance of beating the Cavs, but with injuries to power forward Chris Bosh and center Hassan Whiteside, that doesn’t look like that will happen. The Raptors had a great regular season, but most experts didn’t even know if they could make it out of the first round. Simply put, nothing should be a surprise about what Cleveland is doing except for how they are making threes. We knew if the team chemistry could catch up with the talent, they were going to be difficult for any team to deal with. The question now becomes whether or not this hot shooting can continue. If so, Cleveland has a shot to get that elusive championship in the city. With that said, it’s hard to see guys who are streaky at best continuing that pace.
April 28, 2016
As we watch the NBA Playoffs work their way through the first round, we have seen storylines start to play themselves out in a way a lot of us wouldn’t have even imagined at the beginning. The defending champion Golden State Warriors watched their point guard and reigning league most valuable player Stephen Curry injure his right ankle, then sprain the MCL in his right knee. The latter has Curry out of action for at least the next two weeks. The Los Angeles Clippers saw their two best players, point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin, each go out for the rest of the postseason to hand and quadriceps injuries, respectively. Lost in the shuffle of all of the injury news is the demolition of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. I’m sure everyone reading this would like to know why I would bring up a team who was destroyed by a perennial power in the league. Well, it’s because I wanted to take the time to commend the Grizzlies for showing more fight in getting swept than some teams show even when they actually won a game in the playoffs (i.e. the Houston Rockets). Memphis has developed a mentality known as “grit and grind.” Even in their lowest moments, that saying was never more prominent than it was in battling a team small forward Matt Barnes explained as going into a gunfight with spoons. Let’s be honest with ourselves. With all of the injuries suffered to key players, along with overhauling a part of the roster, it was a miracle the Grizzlies made it to the playoffs anyway. For their resilience, Memphis earned a date with the Spurs (not much of a reward of course). Everyone knew how much of a mismatch this series was, but that didn’t stop the Grizzlies going out there and competing. Normally, getting swept out of the playoffs would be looked at as a huge disappointment, but not in this case. Memphis showed a lot of fight in playing mighty San Antonio, but the biggest takeaway I have from the display of heart is watching Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger shed tears in a press conference after Memphis lost Game 4 116-95 Sunday afternoon. Joerger talked about how proud he was of his team, seeing how they could have easily folded the tent up and gave up on the season after everything they went through. Teams who had no chance of doing anything, such as the Sacramento Kings, sat their players for rest, as if they don’t have the whole off-season to get rested. Seeing Joerger show that type of emotion, along with the players’ no excuse mentality, should make the city of Memphis proud. Just imagine if some of these other teams who have all of their players showed half the heart the Grizzlies showed. We might actually have more good teams in the league, and that could never be looked at as a bad thing.