November 28, 2011

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NBA’s Top Ten Storylines for 2011-12

By: Anson Whaley

What, the NBA lockout’s over? Seriously?

Well, sort of. There are still some ‘I’s to be dotted and ‘T’s to be crossed, but for all intents and purposes, there should be NBA basketball this year. And not only that, but the plan is to play 66 games, meaning it’s practically a full season.

With college football winding down, that’s good news indeed. So what can we look for this year in the NBA?

10. Will any guys stay overseas? A good number of NBA players dabbled in the international game, playing in various leagues overseas. It’s not likely we’ll see major stars remain over there, and ones with contracts will have to come back, but what about free agents? Could some of them stay and make a bit more money than they could here? I think it’s possible, but don’t expect it to become a trend … especially this year. With the possibility of a shortened training camp, we could see plenty of guys come in out of shape and even a few more injuries than normal. There should be lots of opportunities for free agents to come in and play right away, and NBA teams will be looking to persuade them to play in the States.

9. Can the Mavs repeat? This question gets asked of the NBA champion every year. Can they? Sure. Will they? Eh, who knows? One thing we do know, though, is that repeating in any professional sport is difficult. Add playing in the difficult Western Conference, and the chances are good that Dallas might not even get back to the NBA Finals.

One of the big questions this year is whether or not the Mavs can repeat as NBA Champions.

8. How much noise will the Knicks make? New York has the sport’s newest trio of superstars with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Amare Stoudamire. Having acquired Anthony in the middle of last season, this will be the first full year with all three players. Playing in the Eastern Conference will help, and it’s hard not to see this team right up there with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics. The Knicks should at least contend for the conference title.

7. Which rookies will create a stir? The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams will almost assuredly have decent seasons. But the most intriguing prospect to me is the Washington Wizards’ Jan Vesely, who was taken sixth in this year’s NBA Draft. At 21, he’s got the equivalent of three seasons worth of college experience playing overseas, so he should be a bit more polished than one-and-done players. He also was arguably the top international player in the Draft and one of the most athletic players as well. He’s known as a good defender and should be able to step in and contribute right away.

6. Are the Bulls for real? Last season, no one outside of Chicago expected the Bulls to come away with the NBA’s top record. But that’s exactly what happened as Derrick Rose led them to 62 wins. We know the Bulls should be good this season, but how far can their defense-first approach carry them in the playoffs? Time will tell.

5. Is Kevin Durant the NBA’s best player? Having won the last two scoring titles, it’s easy to make an argument that Durant is the most prolific offensive talent in the NBA. But best overall player is an entirely different category, and, until he at least gets to a Finals as Lebron and Kobe have, I’ll lean towards saying no.

4. What effect will the lockout have on the season? As I said earlier, I think we could see some out of shape and rusty players early on this NBA season. But more importantly, the lockout probably favors the veteran teams a bit. Cutting 16 games off of the NBA schedule is a big deal and veterans such as Tim Duncan and Steve Nash will probably be grateful for the extra rest they’ve had. Those teams could have more gas in the tank than usual come playoff time.

3. Can Kobe win another ring? The Lakers were ousted unceremoniously by the Dallas Mavericks last year. With Kobe and Los Angeles a year older, do they still have another title run in them? I think so. Pau Gasol is still pretty young, and with Kobe, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest Metta World Peace, there’s plenty of firepower on that team.

2. Is the nation ready to embrace LeBron? The Heat played one of the biggest heel roles since some guy named Darth ran around in a cape using the Force to choke the living daylights out of people. But a year later, will the hatred be gone? I’m guessing not. Folks were critical about how Bron Bron left Cleveland, and Miami’s triumvirate of stars are likely to still hear about it when the Heat are playing on the road (especially those games in Cleveland). I imagine things would have been even worse if the Heat had won the title this Spring, but I believe many NBA fans are just not ready to forgive yet. Which leads us to…

1. Can the Heat win the title? In a word, yes. They were close last year, reaching the NBA Finals after struggling early in the season. The Heat do have an advantage in the East where the competition top to bottom isn’t as strong as out West. The talent’s there, and having reached the NBA Finals last year, so is the experience. All they’ve got to do is put it all together.

If only it were that easy.

August 31, 2011

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Most Inspiring Sports Comeback Stories in Recent Years

By: Rick Jarrell

This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.

Michael Vick

If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?

The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.

Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.

Chris Andersen

Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.

After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.

August 24, 2011

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Best of Goodman vs. Drew League

By: Rick Jarrell

This previous Saturday, arguably the greatest street ball game ever occurred in Washington, D.C. As I discussed two weeks ago, the game between Washington, DC’s Goodman League and Los Angeles’s Drew League was going to be the final touch on Kevin Durant’s month long dominance of various pick games across the nation – and it did not disappoint.

To be honest, the event itself was not very well organized. The gates opened at 3:30, with an AAU game at 4:30 and the main event at 6:30. My crew decided to get there around 4:30, which we did, expecting somewhat of a line. But as we walked on to the Trinity College campus, we saw an estimated 1000 people waiting to get in. After two hours, we were finally able to get in, but others behind us weren’t as lucky. The line was still four football fields long when they decided to stop letting people in – even if they had tickets. Disorganization is probably an understatement.

For those who got in, even those sitting in the aisle of the bleachers (me), it was a thrill ride from the start. Fast paced dunks, alley-oops, deep threes, no defense – exactly what you’d expect. Check out some of the top play videos online, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. But they don’t depict the amazing essence the vent offered.

My top reasons why the Goodman vs. Drew game was better than an NBA game.

Durant vs. Harden

The biggest star and kingpin of the NBA players was undoubtedly Kevin Durant. The young forward had a breakout season last year, and was instrumental in setting up the East vs. West match up. Representing LA was Durant’s teammate and close friend, James Harden.

The majority of the game, Durant covered Harden and vice versa, as consistent high jinks ensued. Every time Durant ran up the court, Harden would jump directly on him so his face was an inch from Durant’s. KD’s response? To jokingly shove Harden 5 feet away. This didn’t happen just once – but nearly every single time KD ran up the floor. At one point, Durant drove to the basket, drawing a foul from Harden (yes, there were fouls). Harden countered by pegging a chess pass directly at Durant. All in good fun, all hilarious.

Lack of Defense, Traveling, Harder Fouls

The NBA of today is often criticized by dissenters because of the lack of defense allowed, traveling doesn’t get called as often, and the petty fouls called on players. I agree there’s an argument to be made that the league isn’t as tough as it used to be, but it’s not necessarily bad.

The extreme lack of defense, excluding the last minute of the game, made for constant highlights. The first quarter alone had at least three alley oops, including one on the first play of the game, deep threes, and quick drives to the basket. Players were simply aloud to do things they wouldn’t be in a normally officiated game.

In the first half, Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins was able to completely dominate Javalle “Pierre” McGee. Cousins, 6’10” and 250+ pounds, pushed the lanky, taller McGee around like a grown man would do an 8 year old. My favorite play of the game was when Boogie got the ball on the baseline, quickly spun on Pierre, took at least 5 steps and slammed down a thunderous one-hand dunk.

Boogie also had 7-8 fouls, but played until the end of the game. Can’t get away with all that in the NBA.

The Venue

Part of the disorganization of the event was because the normal court the Goodman League plays on, “Inside the Gates,” was unable to handle the number of people who wanted to attend. The vibe gained from a street court would have been very cool, but I think this was just as good.

The game was played at Trinity College, a small DIII women’s only college in Northeast DC. Not the nicest part of the city, but certainly nicer than where the games usually occur, which was a plus. The gym the game was played in was smaller than my high school’s with 1400 students enrolled. It was a flashback for me – watching the varsity team from as little as a few feet away, except with world class athletes who can reach five feet above the rim.

Sure, it was crowded, but that’s a small price to pay for the show that was put on.

August 15, 2011

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Are the Eagles the NFL’s Version of the Miami Heat?

By: Anson Whaley

When the final buzzer sounded on the 2010-11 NBA season, basketball fans across the globe celebrated wildly as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in six games. Sure there was a contingent out there (particularly in Miami) that felt differently, but the majority of NBA fans were happy to see the underdog Mavericks win the title.

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t quite as hated, though – mostly because football is not nearly the individualized sport that basketball is. In basketball, much of the game is broken down to one-on-one matchups and football is more of a team sport. That fact makes it far easier for a single player to dominate a game. However, there are some parallels that can be drawn between the Heat and the Eagles.

Chief amongst them is the fact that both franchises have a polarizing figure leading the way. Miami has Lebron James and Philadelphia now leans on quarterback Michael Vick. Vick became a controversial figure after being jailed for his involvement in a dogfighting ring and while he’s slowly making his way back into the good graces of fans, there is still a large segment of the population that simply won’t root for him. James, of course, did not end up in jail, but his television special in which he announced he was going to the Miami Heat made him unpopular over the past season.

The main reason the Eagles may be hated on a Heat-esqe level is because of the large amount of stars they’ve added since last season. Things officially kicked off when they traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie is a player that can help the Eagles’ secondary right away and in trading Kolb, they let go of a player who likely wouldn’t have seen much time on the field (barring an injury to Michael Vick, of course). Another splash was made when they signed free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha – perhaps the top defensive player on the market. The Eagles then followed that up with several more signings, highlighted by the pickups of 1,000-yard rusher Ronnie Brown and 1,000-yard receiver Steve Smith. Brown will backup Lesean McCoy and Smith will be the No. 2 receiver behind Desean Jackson, but both could play integral roles on this year’s team.

Another wildcard in the offseason was the acquisition of quarterback Vince Young. Young, once considered one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL, certainly isn’t expected to start. But should the scrambling Vick become injured, he gives Philadelphia an experienced backup who will have plenty of weapons at his disposal should he need to step in and play. Young has struggled over the past few seasons playing for the Tennessee Titans, but he didn’t have the talent around him that he does now. Even if Vick doesn’t get hurt over the course of the season, Young could also play a part in some trick plays that would utilize a bit of his extreme athleticism.

There’s also the fact that Philly fans are, well, Philly fans. They have a strong reputation for being a bit too hard-nosed and are often the derision of other sports fans. This is, after all, the fanbase that once booed Santa Claus. Santa Claus!

Really, when you think about it, the Eagles aren’t so much Miami Heat as they are New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. They didn’t round up three of the best players in the league, but they did manage to secure about a half dozen key pickups this offseason that will greatly strengthen the team at various positions. Either way, though, the Eagles will face lots of opposition from fans outside of Philadelphia.

August 12, 2011

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Top Ten Fathead Sellers Of The Week

By: Lionel

One thing I love about our weekly list of top ten Fathead sellers is that it genuinely reflects what’s happening in America.  And this week is no different.  Just by looking at the list, I know what the American people have been doing (hint, hint, the NFL must be past the lockout)!

1)      NFL Dry-Erase Fantasy Draft Board – No-brainer:  people are prepping for their Fantasy Football Drafts.

2)      Kobe Bryant – This obviously indicates that people are rushing to get his Lakers Fathead before we discontinue it and start making him in his Turkish uniform.

3)      Boston Red Sox Logo – This is because Sox fans are gloating about taking the Yankees series.

4)      Dwyane Wade Drives – Fans are obviously excited about the potential of a Big Three playing for Turk Telekom.

5)      Derek Jeter – A group of people trapped in a mine for the last 40 days just escaped and found out that Jeter crossed the 3,000 hit mark.

6)      Pittsburgh Steelers Logo – Mike Tomlin just won the National Omar Epps Look-alike Contest, and fans are celebrating by buying Steelers Fatheads.

7)      Inside Fenway Park Mural – Have you ever been inside Fenway Park?  Who wouldn’t want one of these murals?

8)      Boston Celtics Logo – No idea.  People do know that there might not be a season, don’t they?

9)      Philadelphia Eagles Logo – Every high-profile player signed by the Eagles received an Eagles Logo Fathead.  Thus, we sold a crap load of them this week.

10)   Kevin Durant Dunk Mural – Not sure, but there’s a rumor that some dude told Durant before his Rucker Park game, “I’ll buy one Durant Dunk Mural for every point you make today.”