Late June to early August has always been a tough time. There are years when we have the Summer Olympics to get us by. There's a brief respite for the Tour de France, although it's lost some of its luster recently. And yes, I am excited about both the upcoming Women's World Cup as well as the 15th WNBA Season. But there's no denying these are dark times.
The NBA, NFL and NHL are all done with their seasons. MLB, for those who care, hasn't really picked up any steam yet by this point in the season. But most importantly, for now, the two behemoths of American sports, basketball and football, seem to be on a collision course with no righting in sight.
The NFL is already locked out and the NBA appears to be heading in that direction. As though sports fans weren't already mired in what is traditionally the worst time of the year, that slog is now compounded by the fact that it might stretch on even longer.
There's already been extensive coverage of why this is happening in both of these leagues, so for now, let's focus on the positive: There are reports that the NFL sides might be close to reconciliation. The NBA can learn from this NFL experience and perhaps avoid actually locking out.
But even more importantly, we can shift our focus from those leagues to the alternatives. The aforementioned Women's World Cup features not just a strong U.S. team, but a hungry one. The Tour de France, free from those Americans that some claim the French love to hate, might have a chance to stand on its own, as opposed to being hounded by the WADA for violations; focusing on the actual sport and its real winner could prove to be a successful formula. And the WNBA is becoming a refined product on its own, not merely the little-sister-league of the NBA.
The WNBA is trying to make summer–the ironic winter of sports–its time to shine: By celebrating 15 years of existence, the league gets to simultaneously advertise its product as well as remind viewers that this league is no longer an experiment. Love it or hate it, the WNBA appears to be here to stay. The human aspect of sports is really what captivates people, and the inclusion of fan voting on the top 30 WNBA players of all time seems a great place to start.
Bicycling Magazine says that of the 200-plus riders who will take place in this year's Tour de France, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, two Americans, are some of the most worthy riders to watch. Perhaps America will once again have riders come from seemingly out of nowhere to challenge for the yellow jersey, enabling us to focus on the sport and the will of those who participate.
The Women's World Cup, taking place in Germany, presents a similar opportunity for the American women to take on the shadow that's been hanging over their program–in this case, for the last twelve years. In 1999, Brandi Chastain sealed a victory for America with her iconic penalty kick and celebration, but Team USA has been mired in mediocrity since then. The U.S. is ranked first in the world currently but needs to perform in order to maintain the enthusiasm that is beginning to dwindle.
So while the millionaires of the NBA and NFL fight with their billionaire owners, take some time in this traditionally dark period to try to get back to the great storylines that make us truly care about sports.
There are a lot of times where something only looks clear in hindsight. And when we look back, people, mainly historians and those who want to appear smart, remark, "Oh, we should have seen this coming. Look at all these signs ...". And they'll point out exhibits A, B, C, etc., as though, had they been living through the times, they would have seen with crystal-clear precision what exactly was happening and where it was leading.
This is one of those times.
The NBA Finals haven't even started yet, but the guard has already been changed. The NBA landscape seems as though it will be forever altered after this season, but especially after this post-season. All year long, the Miami Heat have been carefully watched and dissected, their every move either a cause for rejoicing or anguish. This was inevitable, of course, after LeBron James decided to hold "The Decision"—depending on your viewpoint, either a success of the modern athlete asserting their own destiny, or a callous young man stabbing his hometown in the back on national television—and join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. They held an infamous preseason celebration for the titles they swore they would win and battle lines were drawn. There were people who couldn't wait for the spectacle of two of the best basketball players in the world (plus Chris Bosh) on one team and there were those who were so turned off by the megalomania they rooted against the Heat in a passionate manner. There weren't many people halfway in between.
When the Heat stumbled, all of the team's Big Three seemed to get punished—but none moreso than James. He was seen as the face of the unit (rightly so) and he would take the most criticism. However, when the post-season arrived, he was also the one who turned it on. The man some accuse of quitting last year against the Boston Celtics suddenly had every answer. He made shots he'd missed previously and, when it was over, he celebrated—perhaps accordingly, perhaps in an over-the-top manner.
But while the Heat were winning, the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls were serving notice that, despite the Celtics' sudden over-the-hill appearance, the Eastern Conference would be a dogfight for the next few years.
Meanwhile, when the season began with all the attention on the Heat, it apparently escaped the notice of the mainstream media that Jason Terry, one of the Dallas Mavericks had gotten a tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy! The fact that this story is only now coming to light shows the extent to which the media wore horse-blinders in regard to the Heat. The only other team that garnered near as much attention as the Super Friends in South Beach were the two-time defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. When the Mavs dispatched of the Lakers in an unceremonious sweep, it was suddenly time for a new narrative for the season.
So here, today, it's upon us. The Dallas vs. Miami rematch. The teams met last in the 2006 Finals, and that's all that anyone can talk about now. The narrative has been building all season, but it hasn't been media-friendly until just recently. Either Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry will have their revenge on the team that psychologically damaged them, or James, Wade and Bosh will be proved right—they did the right thing, made the right decisions, and the trophies are theirs for the foreseeable future.
There may be people, in the future, who will tell you they saw this coming, that it was inevitable, that it was destiny. Those people are liars. But, that doesn't mean that this isn't going to be a great series and that we'll have plenty to talk about, not just during the matchup, but in the weeks and months (and yes, maybe even years) to follow.
Every time there's a seismic shift, things feel more important. And this year in the NBA, things feel important—like something is happening. Like a changing of the guard.
When the San Antonio Spurs were taken out by the upstart Memphis Grizzlies, it was clear that the times they are a'changing. The Boston Celtics are still clinging to life—thanks to a one-armed Rajon Rondo—but their title window has been limited to "only this year" regardless of what year it is, and despite the fact that the pundits said the same thing last year. Finally, with the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers by the Dallas Mavericks, the icing's on the cake and the writing's on the wall.
The coronation of Derrick Rose as MVP was a nice nod to the coming youth movement. But Rose has already been acknowledged as a high school prospect and as an elite college player who took his team to the promised land—even if they fell short, and that run has since been negated. When he said that he wanted MVP his rookie year, people looked at him like he was crazy. No one is now. But Rose has never been the ringleader of this movement—that honor falls to Kevin Durant. As the youngest scoring champion in the history of the league—and the fresh, smiling face of the Thunder—he was supposed to be the one. And he still might be.
But he'll have to get past Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and—most of all—Zach Randolph if he wants to continue his assault on the league. With the Grizz taking the fight right to the jaws of the Thunder and the Hawks battling the Bulls like no one expected, it's clear that the league is shifting right from under the feet of those who were privileged to come before, and even more quickly from those who just assumed they got next.
"Who got next?" is a persistent question in basketball. If you keep winning, you get to keep playing. You see the faces across from you shift, and you don't really care—you don't take time to honestly evaluate the opposition because it doesn't matter. All that matters is the fact that you're winning. Your time is now. But sooner, rather than later—because time bows to no man, woman or team—you will slip. The Spurs, Lakers and maybe the Celtics are learning that lesson now. And when you do slip, as they have (or will), it can be disorienting to look at the face of the team that beat you. You might find yourself wondering, "Who is this? How did they get here? How did they get me?"
If I told Lobo fans UNM would beat the No. 9 BYU Cougars by nine points Saturday afternoon, they wouldn't believe me. But 15,000 fans and tough defense helped the Lobos to an dramatic comeback win. From the opening tip-off, the main objective was to stop BYU's Jimmer Fredette from getting into rhythm. Fredette managed 32 points, but New Mexico's Dairese Gary forced Fredette into crazy shots the entire game. Fredette's frazzled shooting hindered his teammates' ability contribute to the scoreboard allowing the Lobos room to erase a 13 point BYU lead. Lobo freshmen Kendall Williams and Tony Snell both scored 16 points to clinch the 86-77 victory. The game-end court storming symbolizes new life for the Lobos in the Mountain West Conference. New Mexico could move up in conference play with a win over Air Force on Tuesday.
The Boston Celtics are old school and dangerous. Paul Pierce's 32 points helped the Celtics dominate the Los Angeles Lakers in the Staples Center. Boston had 34 assists and utilized their entire team while the Lakers were satisfied standing around and watching Kobe Bryant do a majority of the work. Boston's 109-96 victory cements them as a title contender but shouldn't be a reason for Lakers fans to worry. Los Angeles has until May to work out the troubles and return to the NBA finals to defend the title.
Let's start with the basics: the Los Angeles Lakers are the reigning champions and, accordingly, the road to the top should go through them. However, you might have heard: There's a new bully on the block. The Miami Heat pulled off the free agency coup of the last 10 years, certainly, maybe even of all time. LeBron James joined forces with Chris Bosh and they traveled down to South Beach to team up with Dwayne Wade.
Of course, many of the pundits were quick to remind those looking to instantly anoint the Heat that the road in the Eastern Conference has long been blocked by the Boston Celtics. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett re-invented the Big Three concept and might have something to say about the South Beach trio of James, Bosh, and Wade taking their spot.
And, to wrap things up where we began, let's not just assume that the road to the championship is paved with ease for the Lakers. The Oklahoma City Thunder, with their standout star, and possibily-being-stalked up-and-coming Kevin Durant look to seriously challenge. The San Antonio Spurs are always a threat, with their own version of a Big Three, headlined by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
The NBA is going to be full of action this year, as most arenas will sell out when the Heat visit and most of those people will be heartily cheering against James, who had a lot of people on his side prior to his move. The Celtics and the Magic look to battle it out in the Eastern Conference, with the Bulls joining those ranks. The Lakers, Thunder and Spurs look pretty mighty in the Western Conference, and there's plenty of teams just waiting for one of the big guns to take a single misstep. Do yourself a favor and tune in to ESPN on Wednesdays and Fridays and TNT on Thursdays. You'll see some of the best basketball in a long time.
Reggie Bush just became the first Heisman Trophy winner in history to give the trophy back. This will not put an end to the cloud of scandal surrounding the University of Southern California. Nor is that cloud limited to the football program and now-departed (but not fired, he just got a job in the NFL) head football coach, Pete Carroll. The USC basketball program, meanwhile, is dogged by accusations that its star around the same time, O.J. Mayo, who now plays in the NBA, engaged in essentially the exact same behavior.
But is this really new? Are these things that didn't happen before? Are we living in some kind of deadly dark era, where athletes are misbehaving at a never-before-seen level? Is there something wrong with our generation?
Or, is it simply a reflection of the sped-up era in which we live? There have been numerous suggestions that the 24-hour cable news cycle makes it appear as though we live in a more violent world than is actually the case. With athletes hopping onto social networks like Twitterwe get an unfiltered look at them and their lives. Few people will dispute that this is an interesting and probably positive wrinkle to the fan-entertainer relationship.
However, there is always a price to pay for closeness. (Remember the phrase about meeting your heroes?) With the media going full-tilt around the clock and the specialization of news organizations, we get revelations that we might not have in the past. Shaq's Twitter account is funny, but it's kind of sad to read about him stealing ideas for TV shows from teammates.
All this is merely to say: It's a shame about Reggie Bush. It's a shame that he essentially had to give back one of the most prestigious awards in the sport. It's a shame that there were suspicions about his time at USC since he was there. But the biggest shame of all is that the defending Super Bowl champs—the New Orleans Saints—are tainted, even if it's ever so slightly, by yet another negative news story about a sports star.
What's the solution? We refuse to live in blissful ignorance, and that's a good thing. But it feels like it keeps getting a little harder to watch sports, root for the same old kind of star, and read the same kind of story when they inevitably slip up.
Who would have thought when this thing began, America would care even after the United States was eliminated. Apparently, soccer took hold here, and the World Cup concluded on Sunday with Spain versus the Netherlands.
Most of match was a parade of yellow cards and physical play, and Spain had most of the clean score chances. But 90 minutes was not enough; the fate of both squads was determined in extra time. In the 116th minute, Andres Iniesta kicked in the deciding goal giving Spain its first World Cup Final victory.
The Cup slowly converted this causal styptic to a soccer believer. Don't get me wrong. Touchdowns, dunks, and knockouts will always be first on my list, but there's always room for something new. Only time will tell if Major League Soccer can use the popularity of the World Cup down the road in the U.S.
Finally, the Chosen One made a decision during a live television special on ESPN. Picking Miami over Cleveland turned LeBron James from King to villain in a matter of seconds.
Through this entire process, James put his ego on full display. He’s ignored the Cavaliers and promised multiple titles for the Heat. Its unknown whether the self-proclaimed greatest trio in NBA history will produce a dynasty or even a profit for the organization.
One thing is for certain: The Heat took all the pressure off the defending champion L.A Lakers and painted a big bullseye on their own back instead.
There are no greater words in all of sports: Game Seven. There is no greater rivalry in all of basketball: Lakers versus Celtics. And on Thursday night, we'll get to see the champion of the NBA crowned, one way or another.
The 2010 NBA Finals are a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals, but almost no one saw this coming. The Celtics limped through the regular season, going just 27-27 after Christmas. They were roundly seen as the team that other Eastern Conference teams wanted to play in the playoffs. The Lakers, on the other hand, seemed destined for the match-up that Nike's been craving for more than two years—a showdown with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. However, now that we're deep in June and one game away from settling it all, the time has come to be honest: None of the predictions matter, because this is as good as it gets.
The Lakers tattooed the Celtics on Tuesday night, setting up the last game of the season to be played in Los Angeles. LA has home court advantage thanks to a superior regular-season record. The Lakers seemed to have lost all momentum in this series after Game 5 but now have to be credited with regaining at least some of it with a dominant performance in Game 6. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher will be gunning for their fifth championship rings, and the Celtics will be aiming to continue their historic superiority over the Lakers. After Andrew Bynum's trouble performing not just in this series but in the entire post-season, Kendrick Perkins fell during Game 6 and looks doubtful for Game 7. The story lines are converging. The season is almost done, but there's one game left: Thursday night, 7 p.m. Don't miss it.
A few years ago, the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who joined Paul Pierce to become the new Big Three. Then, the Memphis Grizzlies gave the Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol for a washed up No. 1 draft pick, a never-used point guard and Gasol's little brother, who hadn't seen a minute of the NBA. Basketball fans all the world over shrugged their shoulders and resigned themselves to a continued domination from two of the most storied franchises in the history of not only this game but all games.
Basketball is unique because, as of today, 60 champions have been anointed and 32 came from either the Celtics or the Lakers. That total will rise by one no matter who wins this series. While football, hockey and maybe even soccer like to pretend that there's some parity in their sports, basketball revels in this tradition of the giants facing off. Baseball is perhaps the only other sporting industry that indulges in such a ferocious manner, especially in the analogous Yankees-Red Sox match-up.
The Celtics have a lifetime record of 9-2 against the Lakers in the Finals, but that stat doesn't tell the whole story. It’s so much more involved, so much deeper. They've made the playoffs, become champions of the NBA, but haven't had to play each other a combined 21 times. They've controlled decades at a time—the Celtics the ’60s and the Lakers the ’80s. They've amassed superstar after superstar. And, now, again, the two most storied franchises of the NBA will play for all the marbles. The NBA Finals start on Thursday night on ABC.
UFC 114 finally saw the long-awaited showdown between Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans. Many fans hoped this fight would live up to the hype after it was delayed because Jackson was filming the new A-Team movie. To causal fans the bout might have been boring, but for the hardcore MMA loyalists, it was three rounds of compelling action. Evans won the decision despite almost being finished in the third round. Now he gets a title shot against UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Shogun Rua.
Despite fans caring only for the main event, the undercard delivered upsets and surprises. Last-minute replacement Jason Brilz almost submitted contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueria, and Mike Russow knocked out Tood Duffee in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the UFC. Also Albuquerque native Diego Sanchez was defeated by the promising John Hathaway by decision victory. UFC President Dana White delivered many newsworthy items and discussed the success of the UFC Fan Expo that took place over the weekend.
The NBA Finals rematch the world has been waiting for will happen. The L.A Lakers and the Boston Celtics took a little longer than expected to send their conference foes on a long fishing trip. The Boston Celtics were supposed to sweep the Orlando Magic after leading 3-0 ,but the Dwight Howard finally woke up and led the Magic to two straight wins. Sadly for Orlando the wins were an optical illusion, as the Celtics sealed the deal in game six.
Meanwhile the Lakers were in big trouble during game five after the Phoenix Suns’ comeback in the fourth quarter. But bad luck continued to haunt the Suns, and Ron Artest hit the game-winning shot. From that moment, the Suns were doomed and the Lakers were able to finish them off 111-103. Hopefully the Lakers and Celtics provide more drama than their encounter in the 2008 NBA Finals.
The Big Three: Kevin Garnett (5), Paul Pierce (34) and Ray Allen (20)
The Boston Celtics, a team merely two years removed from winning a title, were counted out this postseason. The Celts were seen as aging: Their coach was maybe making his move to retirement; their star players were either considered too old to make any more serious contributions (Kevin Garnett), or a bad fit for this team (Ray Allen), or just the echo of something that used to be great but now would have to fill the veteran role for a new squad (Paul Pierce).
Their second-round opponent was the Cleveland Cavaliers—they of the best record in the NBA this season, they of the MVP LeBron James. Cleveland was the most serious contender for the crown.
The Cavs-Celtics series was many things, but a coronation of King James it was not. The Celtics, miraculously peaking at exactly the right time, took out LeBron and the Cavs and turned their sights to the previously-undefeated-in-these-playoffs Orlando Magic. The Magic went to the NBA Finals last year without their star point guard Jameer Nelson playing at a high level, as he'd just come back from injury. They're equipped with the Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. The Magic have homecourt advantage in the series, thanks to a superior record in the regular season.
Yet, somehow, again, the Celtics found a way to win.
Garnett, Allen and Pierce were joined in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals by Rajon Rondo, who is in the midst of completing a serious bid for “Player most able to transform from a pellet gun to a fully automatic weapon of death in the playoffs.”
They smashed the Magic in Game 1, building a 20-point lead and looking like the Incredible Hulk showing up to battle the local middle-school bully. The finished up by four, and won 92-88. Game 2 was closer but ultimately got the same result: a Celtics win. The Magic are now heading to Boston to play on Team Green's home floor, down in a best of seven series 2-0.
Not only have the Celtics found a way to win, but they've been doing so (other than the pretty close, but never truly in doubt Game 2 of the ECF) in dominating fashion. It's much akin to the last player off the bench somehow coming into the game and turning in a virtuoso performance—and then doing the same thing for the next five games in a row.
This Celtics team, which no one gave much credit at all to, looks primed to ride its hot hand into the NBA Finals, where they will either meet the upstart Phoenix Suns and their point guard extraordinaire, Steve Nash, or set up a rematch of the public's most beloved series in basketball: the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics. This in no way counts out the Orlando Magic, who have some serious heft on their side. But it should serve at least as a mea culpa from at least one writer who didn't take the Celtics seriously enough.
Like Bruce Banner, this team is playing very, very angry ball right now. And they seem to be getting better.
Despite critics saying the Boston Celtics were too old and injured to win the championship, three wins separate Boston and the NBA finals. Game one saw the Orlando Magic get embarrassed for the majority of the game, but unlike the Cavaliers, Orlando made decent run in the forth quarter. Still, Boston's defense put an end to any miracle comeback. Now the Magic must win game two to save themselves the home-court advantage.
Since the Boston Celtics pulled off the upset by eliminating King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, now we wait and wonder which team LeBron will chose. So far teams like the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets are still in the running for James' services. But the Chicago Bulls are quickly becoming a likely destination for the two-time MVP. The Bulls have a lot of advantages such as a strong supporting cast and a reliable franchise player, Derek Rose. No matter what team he goes to, we'll be sick of hearing his name on SportsCenter by the time this is all over.
Strikeforce Heavy Artillery took place on Saturday night, creating a new contender for the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko. Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem destroyed Brett Rogers in the first round, putting himself as the most threating opponent for Fedor. Strikeforce CEO Steve Coker remains optimistic the Fedor/Overeem fight will happen, but both fighters have problematic management, so I'll believe it when I see it. On the same card Jackson’s MMA fighter Joey Villaseor lost a decision to Jacare Souza. Villaseor's long layoff before the fight could have been a factor in the loss. Meanwhile Souza will hopefully get a title shot at the Strikeforce middleweight title.
UFC 113 had everyting it needed—controversy and knockouts—on Saturday night. Over 17,000 Montreal fans witnessed "Shogun Rua capture the title with a first-round KO over Lyoto Machida. But Rua has little time to enjoy the victory as he waits for the winner of the Rampage Jackson/Rashad Evans fight later this month.
Josh Koscheck's trash talk about George St. Pierre should have been what fans remembered after his victory over Paul Daley. Instead Daley's suckerpunch stole the headlines, prompting Dana White to hand Daley his walking papers. Koscheck also accused Daley of “oiling up” before the fight. Maybe he should focus on coaching on the next season of reality show “The Ultimate Fighter”—and his title shot.
As usual White had plenty on his mind including the fate of Kimbo Slice.
Tiger Woods' comeback isn't exactly going as planned. He pulled out of The Players Championship. Finishing only one tournament since his break, Woods suffered a neck injury during the seventh hole of the final round. Reports surfaced that he’s been having neck problems for quite a while, which begs the question: Did Tiger Woods return too early?
Much talk has centered on the phantom elbow injury of LeBron James and the fall of Kobe Bryant. But many fans have forgotten about the Phoenix Suns, who completed the sweep of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs dominated the Suns in playoff action, so Phoenix was motivated to prevent a miracle comeback.
Before Sunday, Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden was infamous for calling out New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez. Now Braden will forever be remembered for throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Draft report cards are in. ESPN experts breakdown who made the grade and who gambled on players that may not pan out.
Congrats go out to Lobo Erik Cook, who joins his brother in the NFL after being selected 22nd in the seventh round by the Washington Redskins.
Before Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber takes place, the UFC holds a 60-minute Q&A session with fighters Chael Sonnen and Jamie Varner. Sonnen entertains the crowd and sells himself as the man to defeat Anderson Silva.
During the post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White entertains the media and talks about Strikeforce champ Jake Shields’ cameo. Aldo and Ben Henderson discuss their dominating performances, and Greg Jackson's fighter Leonard Garcia talks about stealing the show.
Insightful comments from White about avoiding the wrong network television deal.
LeBron James has another king-like performance, dominating the Chicago Bulls to take a 3-1 series lead. This clip pretty much sums up James' beatdown.
But Dwyane Wade had the game of the weekend, putting on a one-man show with 46 points against the Boston Celtics.
Miss any playoff games? Check these highlights from Saturday and Sunday.