On Sunday afternoon, at Soldier Field in Chicago, on a cool day of merely 68 degrees but with plenty of wind, the United States Men's National Team won the Gold Cup championship, playing against an unexpected but totally justified team from Panama.
The match began under the cloud of controversy, as coach Jurgen Klinsmann—ejected in the 87th minute on Wednesday's semifinal match against xxx—and on Friday, the CONCACAF ruling board decided the head coach could not be on the sideline during the final match. Assistant coaches Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog were declared co-coaches for the match, with Herzog being listed as the official manager on the score card.
Panama got the first corner kick of the match in the 10th minute. The United States got their first in the 17th minute. When Panama attacked on the counter, Stuart Holden took a hit on the knee and went out of the game, leaving the US with only 10 for a brief time. The disadvantage was enough that the replacement coaches felt the need to make an unusually early substitution, bringing in Mikkel Diskerud in the 23rd minute. Holden's history of injury—he broke his leg in 2010, tore his ACL in 2011 and suffered from knee cartilage damage just 6 months after that ACL tear—made his quick disappearance from the game particularly disappointing. Grant Wahl reported that Holden had sprained his right knee and would be evaluated further at a later date. The biggest bit of action in the first half was the 9 fouls on the side of the US, to Panama's 5. The red, white and blue did control 75% possession in the first half, but neither team had any shots on goal.
In the second half, Landon Donovan continued his impressive performance during the Gold Cup, completing his comeback tour for the men's national team with something of an aberration. When Brek Shea came in for Joe Corona in the 68th minute, he scored almost immediately—in the 69th—off a Landon Donovan whiff that was fortunately a miss. Had Donovan touched the ball, it certainly appeared as though Shea would have had to be called off side. It was an unusual way for Donovan to put his imprint on the game, but it was undeniable fun.
57,000 out of the 61,000 seats were filled and after this game, the national team will return to World Cup qualifying matches, playing in Costa Rica on September 6 and Mexico in Columbus on September 10.
When David “The Caveman” Rickels got the call to face Michael Chandler for the lightweight—155 lb—title at Bellator 97 in Rio Rancho, he weighed 205 lbs. That was in early June. Faced with a 50 pound weight cut, Rickels had to dig deep into his caveman roots. His training regime is based on the paleo approach. Not just the paleo diet, but he actually has a set of metal clubs that he swings around like the savage he claims to be.
“It’s a great workout swinging those clubs. Hitting tires. You can swing them around, above the head, between the legs, like a kettle bell swing. The way you hold them, because of the way the weight is distributed, if you hold it at the end it makes everything way harder. It’s just a different workout. It totally satisfy’s a man’s need to bash on things.”
I asked Rickels if the paleo diet had anything to do with him blowing up to 205 between fights.
“During training, my diet is 95% paleo. Whatever a caveman could walk out and pick up. I don’t do grains, obviously. It’s mostly fruit, vegetables and meat. I do a lot of juicing, too. The cavemen didn’t really have juicers, but that’s where we’ve one-upped them.”
So you train in the paleo era, but when you’re blowing up to 205 you’re more of a Neolithic man?
“I’m basically a paleo eater during training, and then I’m a scavenger, like a great white shark would be, eating anything that I can find, preferably chocolate stuff and fried cream cheese. I really do enjoy my naughty food as much as my healthy kicks.”
When you’re in scavenger mode, eating whatever you can between fights, are there any paleo foods you can’t give up, even when you’re allowed to eat at the Chinese Buffet?
“I love beef jerky, I find it to be a great snack food. Beef jerky and nuts. I really like almonds. That kind of stuff for me is awesome snackage. Nuts bring in a lot of calories so I can’t eat too many of those when I’m training, but that’s something I enjoy. Peanut butter, holy crap, that is the bees’ knees.”
How did you decide that paleo diet would be good for a caveman fighter?
“A couple of my buddies had fights going up, and they were dropping down to lower weight classes. And the paleo diet really worked for them. I was fighting at 170 lbs at the time [welterweight], and I wasn’t really cutting that much weight, so I didn’t pay much mind to it. But when I started dropping down to 155 lbs, I had to cut a lot more weight. That made things different. I was like ‘hey, let me try out this paleo diet, blah blah blah.’ Those first couple cuts I had were really good. I just stick with what works, and it works really well for me.”
Just after he signed on to fight the Bellator champion, Michael Chandler, Rickels found out his girlfriend was pregnant. I asked him what it was like evolving into a family man.
“I used my money from the Bellator tournament to buy a house. We just closed the deal on a house yesterday. I’m really excited about it. It will be where I raise a family. Man, Caveman the family guy. That’s something strange to think about.”
This unexpected development caused Rickels to cancel plans to move his training camp to American Kickboxing Academy in California, in favor of keeping his new family, and his training, closer to home.
“I train at Combative Sports Center in Manhattan Kansas. We have a lot of tough guys in that room. A lot of good wrestlers from Kansas. It’s a good room.”
How is the fight going to play out, July 31st in Rio Rancho?
“I’m gonna do a backflip and kick him him in the face and knock him out in the first ten seconds.”
“Honestly, I think it’s going to be a back and forth war. He’s a really tenatious guy. He doesn’t hold back. Neither to I. One of the things that I do better than a lot of people is I think I’m really good at rising to the occasion. If someone’s pushing me I’ll push back. This is a really interesting fight and I think it’s going to be great one.”
And how does he thank that Michael Chandler will prepare for the Caveman?
“Man I don’t know. He’s been pitching the first pitch at the Padres game, going to Comic Con, doing the VMA thing, the BET video awards, I don’t know what he’s been doing.”
Are you suggesting Chandler might be looking past you?
“I mean maybe. I don’t know. He doesn’t want to lose. He’s got a lot on the line, being the face of Bellator. I mean, I hope he’s looking past me, because when that first punch lands he’ll know he’s in a fist fight.”
Do yourself a favor: Do not do a Twitter search for the name Ronnie Daniels. And now that I've said not to do it, I'm sure some of you have or will. And for those who did, I hope there's some small percentage of you who are feeling unsteady. Perhaps some combination of shame and voyeurism, maybe some disgust with our fellow humans? I'm sure there are some who will simply pile on. I'm sure there are some who already had done so. Just another story of a gifted athlete who people say wasted their talents. Nothing new here, just another chapter to add to the stereotype storybook.
New Mexico Preps has largely taken a hands-off approach, presenting what they simply call a Ronnie Daniels timeline. They did diligent work documenting his greatness while he was breaking records at La Cueva High School, but there's only one hyperlink in their timeline that's directed toward those positive memories. There are plenty of naked facts, such as his seven touchdowns against Manzano. But when it comes to the negative news, starting with his dismissal from Texas Tech in 2012, it's time for the linkbait. I'm unaware of any other news organizations' practices or standards, but I know that I've backlinked to stories from the Alibi. Keep the traffic on our site.
NMPreps, though, is just doing its job: reporting some topical news. There's no doubt that this is a big story, especially in Albuquerque. KOAT reported it first and the gossip devolved from there. There's been little follow-up, other than more bad news.
The Ronnie Daniels story has already been written, concluded, and filed, according to some. But there's a lot more that goes into any person's story, at any time in their life, other than what's happening right now. Past chapters of Daniels' story include the idea that he had given up on football after initially committing to San Diego State following his dismissal from Texas Tech. What caused the whiplash? We'll probably never know, but the possibilities are certainly worth considering given this most recent and most astonishing turn of events.
I knew Ronnie Daniels from the time he was in 8th grade to the time he left Albuquerque for Lubbock. My experience with him was multi-faceted: I was his teacher, I worked with him during the basketball season, and I was fortunate enough to be close with many of his friends. While he was in my class, Ronnie was an exceptional student. When he was on the basketball court, he loved to compete. He wanted to beat the other team, no matter who they were, badly. But he was also a willing passer, giving up shots to get his teammates involved. When he left middle school, most of us knew that he was destined for bigger and better things. He proved us right almost immediately. Despite being a fairly large sports star at a fairly successful high school, any time I ran into him in the stands during a girls basketball game, or before one of his own, he was polite, respectful and showed more than a modicum of humility. He was neither the best nor the brightest student I've ever had. He was neither the most dedicated nor selfless athlete I've had the privilege of working with. But he was a good, talented kid. And he remained a solid, well-rounded individual any time I ran into him and we had a chance to converse.
Ronnie could also be a cocky jock, perpetually ready with a quick, smug remark about his athletic prowess. But his arrogance was almost entirely justified with truly gifted play, whether on the basketball court or on the football field. My friends and I jokingly referred to him as Boobie Miles on occasion, but I personally never saw him skip a basketball workout. He was no slouch in the classroom either, winning the spelling bee in my class. This isn't to say I never heard tales from his peers, that he was too sure of himself or, later, that he'd begun to (if he hadn't already been in the habit of) skip those steps. But Daniels was an incredible talent at a school renowned for their decorated athletes amongst other things, and some level of that has to be expected.
The case study of the talented kid who lets it all go to waste has already been written. Instead of dredging up old school rivalries or condemning a young man for the admittedly huge errors he's made, maybe we should take a turn trying to remember that this young man, as so many others are, is clearly in need of help.
Daniels did not succeed or fail because he went to La Cueva, not any more than he succeeded or failed because he is from the city of Albuquerque or the state of New Mexico. As a fan of New Mexico youth and sports in general, I'll be thinking of Ronnie often over the next few weeks. I'll be hoping that he turns out as well as many of my other former students, who might not have been as talented but put in just as much, if not more, work. They didn't have the expectations foisted upon them that Ronnie did and for that, during their time in school, they might have been envious. Now it appears the tables have turned. His undeniable success on the football field, though, probably contributed to his problems now, and it's worth remembering the ways in which he dazzled people in our city and state during his time in high school athletics. If we were wowed by him then, perhaps we can spare the extra moments that it takes now to think of him as a human, a young man, not even at the age yet when those who are fortunate enough to go to college have graduated, as opposed to yet another cliché.
Last Thursday night, the Miami Heat completed one of the more difficult tasks in the National Basketball Association—they repeated as champions, winning the Larry O'Brien trophy in back to back years. The Heat have now appeared in three consecutive championship finals, and won two of the last three. For all the hate that LeBron James endured for The Decision and the trio’s pre-celebration, predicting multiple championships, the—or at least James himself—seem to have either fulfilled that promise or to be on the brink of doing so. 23 teams in NBA history have appeared in the Finals, and 17 of those teams have won at least one championship. But only the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, and Rockets had repeated. On Thursday night, the Miami Heat became the sixth team in NBA history to manage to do so.
Of course, Pat Riley, inventor of the term threepeat, and the team president of the Heat, will want to see a continuation of this championship run next year. And so will the members of the Miami Heat. Of course, it's fantastic for the fans of the Heat and for those fans of the NBA who appreciate the fact that LeBron James is, in all likelihood, the best player to ever play the game. Of course, this championship is also what the Vegas odds showed would happen.
And this is in no way meant to disparage the Heat or their fans or their amazing title run, but … Wouldn't it be more fun if we'd woke up this morning to a world where the Spurs won? A world where we continued to over-analyze James and question his place amongst the all-time greats? Where we puzzled over Dwyane Wade, formerly nicknamed the Flash, and whether we still had any gas in the tank? Where we wondered whether the Big Three experiment was already over, and whether Chris Bosh would be traded during the off-season, another victim of the continual under-valuation of big men who can pass well? Where the Spurs, the old team that had one more run left in them—for something like six seasons in a row now - finally got over the hump, against a team that was undeniably better than them?
Sometimes, in sports, the narrative becomes more important than the actual events. And sometimes, we only wish it did. The Miami Heat trounced their competition in the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference Playoffs and struggled mightily with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs had one of the best teams in the West, but were undoubtedly aided by a bit of luck in their match-ups, as well as Russell Westbrook's unfortunate injury. The Spurs pushed the best team in the league to seven games and everyone on the Heat, from head coach Erik Spoelstra to James, acknowledged that this was the toughest series they've ever played. Next year, it all goes out the window. Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Danny Granger and Rajon Rondo, amongst so many others, will be back from injury. Who knows what trades will occur during this off-season, from Dwight Howard to Chris Paul? For now, the long grind of the NBA season—and the more-than two-month post-season—is finally over. The champs have been crowned. Congratulations to the Miami Heat.
The instant classic game one was incredible and set the tone for two teams that have both shown a willingness to fight for every scrap. Chicago needed three extra periods to get it done, but winning at home was expected. Chicago did, after all, finish the regular season with the best record, thus earning home ice advantage in the Finals. But game 2 went to overtime as well and, despite the home ice, Boston stole the game, negating Chicago's raucous crowd.
Boston pressed their momentum by capturing game 3 in what was a disappointing letdown compared to the thrills of games one and two. With a two-nil victory, it seemed as though Boston had solved the problem of Chicago's defense, while cementing Tuukka Rask's reputation as a goalie destined for greatness.
The claim almost immediately became moot, as Rask allowed five goals in the three regulation periods and the Blackhawks crashed into their latest victory with a goal by Brent Seabrook just under 10 minutes into the extra time. Rask will remain one of the top names in the game and one loss won't tarnish his record too much, but his teammate Jarmoir Jagr will surely attest to the need for not only winning but continued winning.
The series now heads back to Chicago for game 5 on Saturday night, which can be seen on NBC at 6 p.m. MST.
The National Hockey League's battle for Lord Stanley's Cup is about to begin.
The Chicago Blackhawks will represent the Western Conference after defeating the reigning champion LA Kings in five games. The clincher was a thrilling double overtime victory, but the entire series really showed why and how the Blackhawks managed the best regular season record in the entire NHL. They appear to be primed for their run to the top.
In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, destroying the chances of the up-and-down all-season Pens in thorough fashion. Sidney Crosby, of the Penguins, might still be the best player in the NHL world, but the real story here was the defense of the B's, which was particularly strong in this series, but has stood out for the entirety of the playoffs. After their back and forth series with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a remarkable Game 7 comeback, the Bruins have set themselves apart from their opponents with stifling defense and a stingy goalkeeper in the form of Tuukka Rask.
The finals, set to begin tonight on NBC at 6 MST, represent the first meeting between two of the Original Six NHL teams since 1979. While both clubs, then, obviously have long histories, Boston's is a bit more decorated, with 6 championships, stretching back to 1929. Chicago has a mere 4, with its first coming in 1934. However, both teams have had recent success with the Blackhawks winning in 2010 and the Bruins following them up in 2011. With the defending champs out the way, a new king will be crowned and either way they'll have a familiar taste.
The NBA Finals begin Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs play in Miami against the Heat. The Spurs, idle for nine days after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies will fight against the idea that they've had too much time to rest. The Heat, who rested only for a third of that time,after grinding out a game seven victory over the Indiana Pacers, look to repeat after winning the Larry O'Brien championship last year.
There are tons of potential plot lines going into these finals, but there's little concrete evidence to aid in a prediction. The teams played only two games during the regular season and they both have enormous asterisks next to their results. Coach Gregg Popovich—himself one of the most interesting subplots insofar as his brusque interview style during games—sent most of his starters home, without notifying the NBA in due time, before the Spurs' visit to Miami on November 29. Then, the JV lineup for the Spurs nearly beat the Heat. And Pop, officially for not giving notice in time, but ostensibly for throwing a nationally broadcast game with the reigning champs, was fined $250,000. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said the Spurs organization did a, "disservice to the league and our fans." Fans of the Spurs, on the other hand, saw their second-stringers nearly beat the best team in the league, on their court.
Given the hubbub surrounding their previous match up, when the Heat visited San Antonio four months later, the national media's interest was piqued. This time, the Spurs were near full strength, missing only Manu Ginobili, who sat out with a strained hamstring. The Heat, however, were not. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both out, the Heat still managed to eke out a two-point win in the AT&T Center. It's worth noting that James and Wade were definitely hurt as they had played in the previous game but did not play in the Heat's next, at New York. Coach Pop, feigning surprise and hostility at the news of James and Wade missing the game, was gracious enough to not comment on the fact that the Heat were not fined when their players missed the game.
So, the regular season games are tossed out the window, if not taken with an enormous chunk of salt. What does that leave prognosticators with? James has faced the Spurs in the Finals before. In 2007, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team was swept by the Spurs. He has acknowledged that he'd love revenge for the loss that came so early in his career. But James was a completely different player and these Heat are not only geographically different from those Cavs - the presence of All-Stars, in Wade and Chris Bosh, a former Finals MVP, again Wade, and the small ball revolution that the Heat fully embraced during last year's championship run - the past history seems just as invalid.
Looking at the paths both teams took results in just as much confusion. The Western Conference was seen as vastly more competitive. But the Spurs swept both their first round opponents, the Lakers, and their Western Conference Finals opponents, the Grizzlies. The Heat were far and away the best team in the East, almost universally assumed to come out on top. After sweeping the first round against the Bucks, though, they gave away a game to Chicago and fought for a five-game victory in that series. Then came the Pacers, who took the Heat to seven games, and had some pundits believing in Indiana's ability to take the series.
So what does it actually come down to? The Heat have the best player in LeBron James. There can be no denying that. But Tim Duncan, the rock of the Spurs for the last sixteen years, is just as good now as he was in the early championship days. The Heat have home court advantage, but the format shifts in the Finals to a 2-3-2, wherein the lower seed gets three games in a row at home. It's a matter of debate who this actually benefits. The Heat will look to run more than they got to against the Pacers, but Tony Parker, point guard for the Spurs, has looked incredible at all speeds. The Heat have the Vegas odds on their side, as well as the majority of the expert picks. They won last year and are a mere four games away from repeating. The Finals start tonight at 7 MST and all games are broadcast on ABC.
When Jason Collins came out, there were signs that his announcement might have been the drop that precipitated the flood. And on Sunday evening, the rumors regarding Robbie Rogers, who had in fact already came out of the closet, but wasn't actively playing in the MLS, became reality.
This is a big deal and it's a cause for celebration for those who have fought for equal rights for all. However, there are two rather important caveats that should be noted. Firstly, after the heap of press that Collins received for his announcement, there were many stories about Glenn Burke—a man whom I knew nothing about but seemed to break open the gendered-orientation barrier much earlier than it was ready to fall. As a result of his bold, out stance, Burke was rewarded with … silence. The piece in the Atlantic details how people on his team and in the media went out of their way to collectively ignore a perspective that it seems the world was not ready for.
Secondly, the LGBT community may be united in fighting for equal rights regardless of gender or sexual identity, but it's crystal clear that the American public is nowhere near that level. This is illuminated by looking at the list of openly out female athletes who have already competed. The WNBA is replete with shining examples such as Seimone Augustus, Sue Wicks, Michelle Van Gorp, Sheryl Swoopes, Amber Harris, Jessica Adair, Chamique Holdsclaw and, most recently, number one draft pick, Brittney Griner. The women's national team, successful on the pitch, has also notched more than its fair share of barrier-breakers: Lori Lindsey, Megan Rapinoe and Natasha Kai, amongst others.
The current crop of women who are openly out and playing in major league sports also ignores such ground-breakers as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. All of which serves to set up the question: If we as a society are so far ahead, so well-enlightened, as Collins and Rogers' bold moves make it seem, why are we ignoring at least half of the equation?
Part of that answer has to do less with sexuality and more with our gender biases in general. It's hard to imagine that more people know Hillary Clinton served a vital role in President Obama's previous Cabinet as Secretary of State than are aware of her based on the Texts From Hillary meme.
The line of thinking here, of course, is not to diminish Rogers or Collins' bravery, nor their important place in advancing the cause of equality in sports. It is, however, worthwhile to acknowledge that others have been fighting the same fight for much, much longer. Undoubtedly, everyone engaged with this struggle welcomes all the support they receive.
In the National Basketball Association, the country may not get quite as mad as the NCAA Tournament, but we are down to the final four, and there is plenty to pay attention to. The NBA Playoffs have delivered their fair share of surprises (The Bulls taking game one against the Heat) as well as caveats and disappointments (Russell Westbrook's injury in the series against the Houston Rockets), but they've wound down by this point to the Conference Finals.
On Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies got smacked around in their first game at San Antonio against the Spurs. The Grizz had a tough path in making their very first Conference Finals, taking down the Los Angeles Clippers in round 1 and the Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder in round 2. Their defense, touted all season, has looked strong and will give the Spurs a serious test. The Spurs, meanwhile, defeated the disappointing Los Angeles Lakers in a round 1 romp and the upset-minded, young star-studded Golden State Warriors in round 2.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have rolled through the Playoffs as most suspected they would. After blanking the Milwaukee Bucks in round 1, they were surprised by the Chicago Bulls for a game, but ended up sweeping the remainder of the series. They'll start the conference finals on Wednesday against a team that is the Eastern Conference mirror of the Grizz, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers haven't made the Conference Finals since 2004, and many did not figure them to be back here this year, with the absent Danny Granger and his uncertain status during various points of the season. However, the Pacers have clearly found their way forward without their star player, recommitting to defense and grinding games out that may not be beautiful, but give them the win. They defeated the Atlanta Hawks in round 1 in 6 games and then did the same to the New York Knicks. In each series for the Pacers, home-court advantage has seemed to matter. They will not have it against the Heat, and the vast majority of sports pundits are picking LeBron James and company to beat the Pacers.
So the probable match-up is the Spurs vs the Heat. This would be a callback for James, as the first Finals he made, while he still played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, was in 2007, against the Spurs. Those Spurs destroyed that Cavs team, sweeping them out of the Finals in an unceremonious manner. James certainly remembers that and may use it as motivation if the two teams do meet. However, a player of his caliber is certainly not over-looking his current series and it's worth thinking about the possibility of the Grizzlies and the Pacers meeting. Memphis and Indiana are first and second in defense respectively and they'll both give their opponents more than a cursory spat in their Conference Finals games. San Antonio, known for its defense for seemingly decades, sits at a mortal 11th place in that category this year, but is balanced by the fourth-ranked offense. Again, the Spurs are the favorite in their Conference Final. But sitting above all other teams, in both esteem and odds, reign the Miami Heat. With both the fifth-best defense and offense they look, at times, unstoppable.
We'll find out about the Heat and the Pacers tomorrow. The Grizzlies and the Spurs, meanwhile, are off to a terrific start. All of the remaining Western Conference games can be seen on ESPN, while the Eastern Conference games will be broadcast on TNT.
On Monday morning Jason Collins penned a first-person essay that was released in Sports Illustrated coming out as the first active player and openly gay man in one of the four major sports leagues of North America.
While the chatter about breaking the barrier for sexual orientation has focused on the possibility of four NFL players, Collins said, "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport ... if I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand." By taking this mantle up for himself, Collins has both inspired people and courted controversy, even if some people see that as not totally justified.
The NBA family, at least those who have spoken out publicly, have done an admirable job welcoming this news into their lives. There are certainly going to be more opinions, though, whether they get expressed or not, that fall into the category of fear or disdain. In fact, just earlier this month, Phil Jackson, seen by many in the NBA as one of the most open-minded individuals, spoke out in a manner that was very difficult to understand. Was Jackson dismissing the possibility of the disdain that individual would face?
With so much regarding the gay population of America in turmoil these days and a Supreme Court case to be decided this summer, there's a lot to be said about stepping out into a leadership position on this issue. There will be no lessening when it comes to these kinds of issues, only an intensification. The quicker that individuals can set themselves up as leaders, the easier it will be for the next domino to fall.