Tag Archive | nba

And Like THAT…She’s Gone…(Not Really)

keyser_poofAh, “The Usual Suspects.” Still one of my all-time top 5. One of those movies that if you’re cleaning the house on a Saturday, channel surfing, and it pops up, you drop everything to watch it again. (I would also include “Godfather,” “Casino,” “Goodfellas”–all pretty much the same movie, now that I think about it–and “Jaws.”

Anyway, The Ladies Room is still alive and well, but she got accepted to the Yale Writers’ Conference, so between that and a rigorous Washington Nationals  baseball schedule, this blog has gotten a tad dusty. Nonetheless, I’m saying hello before I head to New Haven for the next two weeks to be all Ivy League and Highbrow and Academic and stuff.

While I’m ecstatic to be accepted, the timing is rotten. I will be missing the NBA Finals, the NHL Finals, the College Baseball World Series, the FIFA scandal and the French Open for…poetry readings.

flaAt least tonight I WILL get to see the finals of the Women’s College (Softball) World Series. Michigan forced a third and final game with current champion Florida, and I have really gotten into the whole shabang. Not because I want to support women’s sports (though you should) but because these ladies are just so amazing to watch, so powerful and, though I shouldn’t say this…gorgeous. Seriously. If you have a problem with women “jocks” or joke they aren’t attractive, these gals could own the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. They wear full makeup, elaborate braids, hair decor and ribbons.

And eyeblack. Oh and they can also knock a ball into Greenland. Good luck, ladies, well done.

So with that, I will bid you, and sports, adieu for a few days for studying and writing as my vacation. By choice.

Unless “The Usual Suspects” is on.

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I Can Waaaave My Head–My 7-2 Head… “Up Top” with AT&Ts Basketball Big Men

Clockwise from right: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and a no-name funnyman kids everywhere are happy to see get his comeuppance, "up top."

Clockwise from right: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and the no-name funnyman kids everywhere are happy to see get his comeuppance, “up top.”

No doubt during tonight’s NCAA men’s championship, you’ll see the popular AT&T ads featuring a focus group leader asking schoolkids “what’s better, fast or slow?”

Except the latest group of students is taller than your average kindergartner. And certainly more…mature. So if you’re not a basketball fan, or were born after 1990, let me re-introduce you to these leggy, living legends.

Magic Johnson, 6-9, L.A. Lakers 1979-1996
I would call Earvin “Magic” Johnson, 53, a “phoenix”—someone who rises from the ashes to find success again and again—except the man never fails at anything. Be it basketball, television, philanthropy, or business (he even co-owns the Dodgers baseball team), Johnson’s charm and acumen have taken him from Lakers MVP  point guard to positive influence.

When he retired in 1991 after announcing he had contracted HIV, the world thought Johnson’s career—and possibly his life—were over. But the 1992 Dream Team Member and Hall-of-Famer returned to play again in 1996. He is now known for his HIV/AIDS advocacy almost as much as his rivalry with…

Larry Bird, 6-9, Boston Celtics 1979-1992
You wouldn’t think the great “Hick from French Lick” would ever have been bullied, but famed Celtics forward Larry Bird, 56, abandoned Indiana University after a month, tormented by homesickness and national star Kent Benson’s constant teasing. But he found his way again at Indiana State, winning numerous player of the year awards and leading the Sycamores to the 1979 national championship—only to lose to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State.

Bird was selected for the Celtics, beating Johnson for Rookie of the Year. Their rivalry breathed life into pro hoops again. They met numerous times, including three NBA finals. Still they became offcourt friends. Bird retired in 1992 with back problems but coached the Indiana Pacers NBA team from 1997-2000.

Interestingly, the next player found some revenge for Larry against good ole Kent Benson…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 7-2, Milwaukee Bucks/L.A. Lakers 1969-1989
Abdul-Jabbar (born Lew Alcindor), 65, was the 1977 number-one draft pick, to the Bucks. Two minutes into his very first pro game, he punched Lakers center—yes, Kent Benson—for a flagrant elbow. Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand, but Bird was probably secretly cheering.

On the other hand, Abdul-Jabbar nearly cost us the slam dunk! As a player during UCLA’s astounding 88-2 record during 1966-69, the dunk was banned from 1967-1976 in large part to then-Alcindor’s prowess. But luckily, he developed his ambidextrous “sky hook,” a nearly indefensible shot that helped him become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points (check out the sky hook—and some short shorts—here).

Abdul-Jabbar was respected for his leadership and work ethic (he played at UCLA for John Wooden, one of my 7 Classic Coaches to Know), but his disdain for the press was widely-known and cost him high-level jobs. He now works in various scouting and coaching roles.

But he wasn’t the only one to struggle with trusting outsiders…

Bill Russell, 6-10, Boston Celtics 1956-1969
The eldest statesman of this fine group, Bill Russell, 79, accomplished so much in his career the NBA Finals MVP trophy is named for him. A victim of chronic racism in his native Louisiana, he used his anger, kind words from his white coach, and a growth spurt to excel in high school after his family relocated to Oakland. His untrained style of play and lack of offense garnered him only one scholarship, to the University of San Francisco. But Russell saw the offer as chance to escape his past and dedicated his life to his game.

Racism still followed—Russell would be turned away from team hotels and denied awards he clearly deserved. While bitter, he decided not to let it define him.

In the pros, he elevated respect for defensive play, specifically shot-blocking and man-to-man defense, while helping the Celtics to win 11 championships. He was the first true African-American superstar player, and the first black NBA coach as well. For his civil rights work, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Now if these four legends aren’t enough basketball greatness for you, I guess you can tape a cheetah to your back and hope for the best. But keep an eye out for them—both in ads and live—tonight with other college basketball royalty, 9:23 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Put Down the “Big-Un’s,” Al Bundy! (or, Why It’s an Awesome Chicago Sports Week)

Wins, and all that jazz. (Jeff Gunn)

Wins, and all that jazz. (Jeff Gunn)

OK ladies, I know stats may seem dull, but (as I explain here), keeping up with the major ones can go a long way in making sports more fun. And Chicago is having fun right now.

Unless you were like me last night, watching the Washington Capitals’ Eric Fehr score the winning overtime goal after a jaw-dropping, let’s just leave early to beat the crowds comeback (0-3 to 4-3) against the Boston Bruins, you might have noticed a few other astonishing accomplishments by the Chicago Blackhawks. In defeating Minnesota, they nailed a 10-game, franchise-record win streak and extended their streak of “points” to 23 this season, and 29 straight since the 2011-12 season. (Two points are awarded, for example, for a team win.)

(Ladies, an interesting little fact is the Blackhawks’ 23 points are the same numeral as Michael Jordan’s famous jersey. Bet your husband didn’t catch that. See? Kinda cool.)

Speaking of Jordan:

Things were looking pretty good for point guard Derrick Rose when he was drafted number-one by the Chicago Bulls after one season at the University of Memphis. He got to return to his hometown and earned Rookie of the Year followed by MVP the next season, the youngest ever. Then came the ACL tear that has kept him benched for 10 months now.

But tonight, maybe, just maybe, the team Michael Jordan built might just get to see its phenom–oft-compared to Sir Michael himself–return to the court against the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Tom Thibodeau is calling Rose “day-to-day,” but he has reportedly been going full-contact at practices.

Unfortunately the Bulls will meet the NBA’s top team (47-14) at San Antonio. But at least the weather will be a little better–and the Spurs are currently missing their own injured point guard Tony Parker (sound familiar? He’s the former spouse of “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria–now, ironically, the new host of NBC’s new show, “Ready for Love.”)

Maybe Al Bundy will get to strike his famous “Polk High” touchdown stance once again.

Week of Wonder, Woe

Wow. Normally this week would have been bananas for basketball alone with Rivalry Week and the NBA All-Star Break. But other storylines are even more unbelievable, uplifting, crushing, and creepy (like spiders?). Oh what a tangled, amazing web sports weave…

Finally a Pole You WANT for Your Daughter!
Danica Patrick’s qualifying for pole position (first place start) for next Sunday’s Daytona 500, the “Super Bowl” of racing, is today’s headline on many national front pages, not just the sports sections. Reaching 196 mph, Patrick edged out veteran Jeff Gordon to become the first woman ever to earn a NASCAR Sprint Cup pole—and in its biggest race, no less. But Patrick is not the first woman to challenge the chaps; others have cracked the speed ceiling, most famously Janet Guthrie, who started ninth in two 1977 races.

Patrick was also excited to steer headlines away from her romance with teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (he finished 12th) to Stewart-Haas Racing, her car, and, after a long day, “finally getting a sandwich.”

Ahmadinejad

Better put a tie on for this one, Ahmadinejad.

Top Women’s Teams Tip Off Tonight
There’s no shame in admitting you don’t follow women’s college basketball. It’s a game where finesse makes up for the physical prowess and agility of the men…oh wait, unless you’re watching #1 Baylor’s 6-8 “Most Outstanding Everything” Brittney Griner, who leads the NCAA in women’s dunks—yes dunks—and career blocked shots. And not just regular blocks, but hyperspace-windmill slapdowns that, well, let’s just say if Iran saw the footage, ain’t no space monkeys getting shot into Texas any time soon.

Iran can watch her take on loved and loathed Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and his #3 Huskies tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in the showdown of the season thus far.

B-T-Dubs, on tap for Wednesday: the best rivalry in the NBA, the Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce) at the struggling L.A. Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash), 10:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Olympic Hero’s Murder Charge Stuns World
Oscar Pistorius did not medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, but the beloved South African double-amputee kept pace with able-bodied sprinters and even anchored the 4×400 relay team, earning the nickname “Blade Runner.”

But after a bewildering Valentine’s Day shooting at his Pretoria mansion, the 26-year-old has been charged with the murder of his popular model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 30. Claiming he thought there was an intruder, it’s unclear what happened between the known gun owner (South Africa is noted for high crime rates) and Steenkamp, who was reportedly shot four times through a bathroom door. Pistorius is currently being held without bail.

The event is another PR hit for Nike, who sponsored Pistorius most recently in sadly ironic ads reading, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” Previous sponsorships with Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Michael Vick also soured or were severed altogether. But on the brighter side…

Michael Jordan Turns 50
Nike’s long-running partnership with MJ stands strong (at an estimated $1 billion in sales per year) as the greatest basketball player of all time reached one of life’s biggest milestones Sunday, the big 5-0. I used to work for AARP, so I’m not even going to make the old “time for his membership card” joke. In fact, the avid golfer and former minor league baseball player is nowhere near retirement, currently serving as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and endorsing Nike, Hanes, and others.

(Just remember, parents, when your son wants those Air Jordans, they start at around $200, with some styles selling for well over $5000. Maybe best to go with the underwear.)

“Rivalry Week” Does Not Disappoint (Except Kentucky. And Sort of Duke.)
With the gaping void left after the Super Bowl, sportscasters geek out for “Rivalry Week,” when longtime college basketball enmities play out, the biggest ones on ESPN:

• #3 Miami continued its surprise surge past Florida State, and later Clemson, to a 12-0 ACC record.
• #2 Duke regrouped in the second half to beat nemesis North Carolina on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 66th birthday, only to fall to Maryland 83-81 on Saturday.
• #17 Oklahoma State topped Oklahoma 84-79 in overtime.
• #25 Kentucky lost to Florida and lost their star player, freshman center Nerlens Noel, to a season-ending ACL tear.

Of course, many rivalries don’t make it to mainstream TV, but are just as important to, say, Memphis fans like me, whose blood Louisville has made boil since the 70s. And crowds for my Division-III alma mater Centre College’s  battle with Transylvania University give the fire marshal his biggest night of the year.

I asked some other local sports pals about their favorite hoops rivalries. Redskins Pro-Bowler Lorenzo Alexander  tweeted that he likes Duke/Maryland and “Cal vs. Stanford, of course,” (he’s a former Golden Bear). CBS Radio, 106.7 The Fan host and George Mason University play-by-play man Bill Rohland recommends Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion as a historic “mid-major” matchup.

You’ll hear “mid-major” a lot more come tourney time next month; it means teams not part of the six major conferences like the SEC or Pac-10. Gonzaga, for example, plays in the West Coast Conference, but is currently ranked #3.

Why is this important? Because believe it or not, people are already talking tourney brackets—here’s your chance to get a jump on Fred in Ad Sales. Hopefully these traditional rivalries will withstand recent whiplash-inducing college conference realignments (Like, Tulsa may be joining the Big East. Tulsa. Oklahoma. “East.” Huh?).

If you missed the games, no worries—many of the teams will meet again during their conference championships in two weeks.

Olympic Wrestling Grapples with Future
One of civilization’s oldest sports, wrestling, is on the chopping block for the 2020 Olympic Games. Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved to remove wrestling—a sport dating back to the ancient Olympics, Homer’s Iliad, and the Bible—from the lineup, opening the door for sport climbing, roller sports, and wakeboarding. Yes, wakeboarding.

To put it in clearer terms, this is akin to a school system saying, “Meh, why teach reading anymore? They’ll figure it out.”

The IOC board will meet again in May to firm up the 2020 roster. Wrestling will remain in the 2016 Games, but the bizarre combination of the U.S., Iran, and Russia will continue to lobby for it long beyond.

Fun with Fruit
To much excitement (especially for Washington National fans who camejustthisclose to a shot at the pennant last year), baseball spring training has officially begun in Florida and Arizona. The “Grapefruit” and “Cactus” Leagues are chances for players tune up playing each other, college teams, and other National and American League MLB teams. The games are inexpensive and played in small venues, giving fans great views and easy chances for autographs. If you’re still thinking over spring break, I recommend a trip.

The Itsy, Bitsy Spider…Ruins a Golf Round
Swedish golfer Daniela Holmqvist claimed she was bitten by a black widow spider on her ankle as she played an LPGA qualifying round in Canberra, Australia (just where does this woman store her socks?). She swatted the spider away after feeling a sharp pain, then used a tee to carve open her ankle to release the venom. She continued to play, although she did not advance.

The good news for Holmqvist is that she did not make her situation worse—medical authorities advise against slicing open venom wounds “Lone Ranger” style as this can cause blood loss, panic, and infection–and doesn’t help anyway. Also, black widows do not live in Australia; it was likely a “redback” a non-deadly cousin, but still one that packs a wallop. Either way, a tip of my visor to a determined athlete. (And for the record, any animal that eats its men and cleans its house every single day also has my respect.)

In Other Ankle News…
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, the NHLs 2012 defensive player of the year, is out for the season after his left Achilles was sliced by a skate Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh. Officials determined the tangle and resulting injury from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke was an accident.

NBA All-Star Week
Taking a hiatus from their regular schedules, NBA teams had a little fun this week in Houston with their annual “break” activities like the dunk contest (won by Toronto Raptors guard Terrance Ross) and the All-Star Game. L.A. Clippers’ guard Chris Paul led the West to a 143-138 victory over the East Sunday night. Although the game is really meant to showcase players’ abilities to fans without pressure, the outcome only fueled discussions about potential MVP candidates, including Paul, Miami’s Lebron James (whose recent stats are too staggering even to get into), and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

P.S. Durant starred as himself last year in “Thunderstuck,” a fun family film about an uncoordinated kid who magically exchanges basketball powers with the OKC star.

Goodbye to Buss
Tempering the All-Star celebrations was the death Monday of longtime Lakers’ Hall of Fame owner Jerry Buss, who succumbed to cancer at age 80. Buss was widely adored and presided over 10 of L.A.’s 16 titles. He revolutionized basketball, upping the element of entertainment behind the talents of greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal.