May 20, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NBA’s Conference Finals underway: With the NBA Playoffs nearing an end, the conference finals are now set. The Spurs and Grizzlies advanced to the NBA’s Western Conference finals last week. San Antonio has the upper hand with a 105-83 win in Game 1 on Sunday behind 20 points from Tony Parker. But despite the slow start, don’t sleep on Memphis just yet. The Grizzlies have lost the first game in their two previous series and still managed to advance each time. And with the NBA’s best defense this season, Memphis can definitely give the Spurs a run. Meanwhile, in the east, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers reached the finals with series wins over the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, respectively. The two teams will play their Game 1 on Wednesday.

Phil Jackson compares Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in his new book.

Phil Jackson says MJ > Kobe: Phil Jackson’s got a new book due out soon and in it, he says what most people already believe – that Michael Jordan was a better player than Kobe Bryant. Among the reasons given by Phil included MJ’s superior defense and leadership skills. That won’t come as a surprise to many who share the same sentiments, but what is a bit interesting is that Jackson has been willing to make the statements right now. Even though he’s out of coaching, a return to the game and even to the Lakers isn’t all that far-fetched. That’s not to say that Kobe wouldn’t be willing to suit up for Phil again – after all, Jackson’s previous book “The Last Season” was even more critical of Bryant. But it’s easy to see how the guard could be a bit offended by the comments … particularly those downplaying his leadership abilities.

Maurice Clarett trying to play rugby: It’s been a long while since former Ohio State Buckeyes star Maurice Clarett has been in the news. But the former running back caused a minor stir last week when it was reported he was attempting to play rugby. Clarett’s not only making a run at the sport, but wants to compete at a high level. He’ll be playing for the Columbus affiliate of Tiger Rugby – the developmental program for the team representing Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. He clearly has had a rocky past and never even reached the NFL, but he’s also still young enough that finding a new career may not be all that far-fetched.

ACC targeting Madison Square Garden or Barclays for conference tournament: ACC Commissioner John Swofford hinted at last week’s conference meetings that the ACC basketball tournament could be played at Madison Square Garden or the Barclays in the future. It’s far from a done deal, but the ACC at least has shown some interest. With Syracuse and Pitt headed to the conference this season along with Louisville next season, the ACC will clearly be the nation’s premier basketball league. And what better place for the conference tournament than basketball’s biggest stage of MSG?

Dick Trickle commits suicide: Former racing great Dick Trickle died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week. His brother says he was in immense physical pain and was having a tough time dealing with it. Just an incredibly sad story made even worse in that he leaves a wife and three children behind. Trickle was known for winning short track races and finished in the top ten in 78 NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races. He was named as the NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year at the age of 48 back in 1989.

Skydiving for … bathrooms? In one of the weirder news stories from last week, Eastern Michigan head football coach Ron English is willing to help improve his football team’s facilities by skydiving. The coach has agreed to the stunt if the school can raise at least $60,000 in an upcoming golf outing. The money will go towards fixing up, of all things, the bathrooms in the locker room. If the school raises at least $30,000, several assistant coaches have agreed to make the plunge. That’s an honorable move and will surely give the program some much-needed publicity. But with a 2-10 record last season, I’m thinking fans will care a lot more about on-field success.

May 13, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tiger Woods wins The Players Championship – Tiger Woods won his fourth tournament of the year on Sunday when he captured The Players Championship. The event went down to the wire as Woods held off Sergio Garcia and David Lingmerth. Lingmerth missed a long birdie putt that would have sent it to a playoff, but it was Garcia and Woods who were the hot topic of discussion over the weekend. Garcia claimed Woods removed a club from his bag, which drew a roar from the crowd during his backswing, causing him to hit an errant shot. He and Tiger had a verbal back-and-forth spat through the media about the incident and the intensity increased as both were in contention on Sunday. But Garcia, tied for the lead at the time, hit an incredible three shots into the water on the 17th and 18th hole, and completely fell apart. His two gaffes on No. 17, gave him a quadruple-bogey, ending his chances of winning the title. The two have a long history of disagreements and this will only make any future pairings that much more uncomfortable.

Off to a 1-5 start, Strasburg is off to a slower start than many expected.

Phil Jackson reportedly says ‘No’ to New Jersey – Even though no one has been successful to date, that hasn’t stopped a steady stream of NBA teams in pursuit of the services of coaching legend, Phil Jackson. Jackson has been chased by a number of suitors but hasn’t been intrigued enough to take on his next challenge yet. Word is that he is seeking either a coaching job with some control over personnel decisions or a front office job in more of an administrative role. Jackson will only take the right job at this stage in his career. He’s obviously not hurting for money and his legacy is firmly intact. But my guess is we’ll see him back in some capacity down the line. The coach is already involved to a degree, reportedly helping the Detroit Pistons with their head coaching search after they dismissed Lawrence Frank.

Stephen Strasburg drops to 1-5 after another loss – The Washington Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg got off to a quality start this year with an Opening Day victory, but he hasn’t gotten into the win column since then. The starter is 1-5 on the season and lost another game this weekend against the Chicago Cubs. But if you’re ready to write Strasburg off, you’ll want to think again. He gave up four runs in that game, but none were earned due to an error. Strasburg’s ERA is still a more-than-respectable 3.10 and his 51 strikeouts placed him in a tie for seventh in the National League after the game. His biggest problem has been getting offense out of the rest of the team. In six of his eight starts, Washington has scored two runs or less. The Nats have given him only 2.25 runs per game and that’s not much to work with. As long as Strasburg keeps pitching well, though, the wins will come.

Kobe Bryant could battle mom in court – You read that correctly: the Mamba and his mother could head to court over some of the star’s memorabilia from his high school days and early years in the NBA. The “Cliffs Notes” version of the bizarre story is that the items (including jerseys, awards, autographed memorabilia, and more) have been at his mother’s house and that she moved them to storage to convert Bryant’s old bedroom into a playroom for her grandchildren. Somewhere along the way, she made a deal with an auction house to sell Bryant’s old belongings and received a $450,000 advance on the items, which were appraised at $1.5 million. She claimed that Bryant gave her permission to do what she wanted with the items, but the player says that’s not true. I don’t even know where to go with this – going to court with your parents isn’t an option most of us can fathom. The auction has been delayed recently by a court, so hopefully some degree of common sense can be restored.

Rumors of an ACC Network heating up – The Atlantic Coast Conference hopes to make a splash with a television deal, similar to the Big Ten Network, according to recent reports. The conference already has a deal with ESPN to broadcast games that will pay each ACC school $13 million to $17 million. But now the conference has its sights set on a separate ACC Network. That network could air football games not picked up by ESPN, games from low-revenue sports, and other conference content. The deal isn’t done, but it’s believed it would add millions more to member schools. To be honest, I’m surprised other conferences haven’t already gone that route. Getting cable companies to make the package readily available may not be the easiest thing to do, since it would represent an increased amount they need to charge customers. But in the end, all of the major conferences will likely have their own network at some point since there’s too much money to be made.

New Rutgers’ basketball coach Eddie Jordan reportedly without degree – Eddie Jordan was hired to take over the head coaching duties for the men’s basketball program after embattled Mike Rice was dismissed. But last week, a new twist emerged when it was learned that Jordan may not actually have graduated. The university says a degree is not required for the position, but the problem is that the school’s official bio for Jordan says that he possesses one. Jordan, for his part, reportedly took classes at Rutgers from 1973 to 1985 and claims that he didn’t get a diploma because he wasn’t registered properly. But that’s a pretty vague statement and it’s not yet known if Jordan deceived administrators when he pursued the job. One thing’s for certain – regarding all of the hiring flaps over the years with resume errors, it’s a bit odd that schools aren’t yet at the point where they’re fact-checking background information a bit more thoroughly.

January 2, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Adrian Peterson barely misses Eric Dickerson’s record: I’ll admit that I was among the doubters not believing that Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson could break Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. But Peterson shocked me (and probably a lot of other people) in rushing for 199 yards, coming much closer than expected. In the end, he fell only nine yards short of the goal and despite the happy face he may put on this week, it’s hard to imagine he’s not at least a bit disappointed. Peterson still should have a few more productive seasons ahead of him, but reaching the rarefied air that he did this year may never happen again. Even if it doesn’t, though, congratulations are in order for an MVP-type season and one of the best ever for a running back. Plus, the win over the Packers gave the Vikings a playoff berth and ultimately, that’s a pretty nice consolation prize for Peterson.

Drafted in April, Andrew Luck is now taking the Colts to the NFL Playoffs.

Avery Johnson fired as coach of Nets: The Brooklyn Nets made a fairly surprising move by firing head coach Avery Johnson. Assistant P.J. Carlesimo is leading the way for now, but the franchise also has an eye on Phil Jackson. For Johnson, it was a tale of two months. The former NBA guard had the Nets out to an 11-4 start in November and looking like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. But then came a 3-10 stretch in December and that ultimately cost him his job. Part of the reason for that downfall can be attributed to the loss of star center Brook Lopez, who missed six games due to injury. But with so much talent, more was expected of the team at this point in the season. Johnson should get another opportunity with a different team down the line, though. Before serving as the Nets’ coach, he led the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in each of his four years with the franchise and also took them to the NBA Finals in 2006.

Hideki Matsui retires: Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui ended his long career by officially announcing his retirement last week. Matsui spent a total of 20 seasons playing Japanese and American baseball and in ten major league seasons, he hit 175 home runs and batted .282 with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics. Even factoring in his 332 home runs in Japan, Matsui still isn’t a likely Hall of Famer. But he was certainly an above-average major leaguer. Matsui finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, was a two-time All-Star, and won a World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Three Rookie quarterbacks make playoffs: When a rookie quarterback leads a team to the NFL playoffs, it’s a big accomplishment. When three do it in the same year, it’s probably time to call the Mayans for another apocalyptic prediction. That’s what happened this year as the ColtsAndrew Luck, the RedskinsRobert Griffin III, and the SeahawksRussell Wilson led their franchises to the postseason. The amazing thing is that none were just along for the ride, either. Luck broke the rookie passing record, throwing for more than 4,100 yards this season, while Griffin had the NFL’s second-best passer rating and Wilson tallied 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

Kevin Ollie named permanent UConn head coach: Ollie, a former player, was named as UConn’s permanent head men’s basketball coach with a reported five-year deal. Following the retirement of Jim Calhoun, Ollie was given the job on a sort of trial run with only a one-year deal. But so far this season, he’s steered the Huskies to a 9-2 record and convinced the administration that he was capable of leading the program. Replacing Calhoun is a tough task and Ollie will have his work cut out for him if he wants to achieve as much as the former coach did. The key here is that the new deal will make things much easier for him on recruiting. Instead of telling prospective players that he hopes to still be on the job next year, he can now virtually assure them that he will.

Brandon Roy hopes to continue comeback bid: Just a few years ago, Brandon Roy was one of the top young guards in the NBA. In his first four seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Roy averaged nearly 20 points a game and made three All-Star teams. But knee issues forced him to suddenly retire after a disappointing 2010-11 season. Roy made a comeback this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but is still suffering with the condition and has only appeared in a few games so far this year. Roy has weighed another retirement, but is hoping to get back on the court after dealing with the chronic knee pain. The decision has to be difficult for him. He’s still young enough that he could have several seasons in front of him if the pain can be treated. But at some point, the conditioning day in and day out to be able to play has to be a burden.

June 4, 2012

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Will Phil Jackson Return To Coaching?

By: Anson Whaley

It would have been the perfect ending. Phil Jackson was supposed to guide the Los Angeles Lakers to another three-peat and with that, would have ridden off into the sunset with a tidy 12 World Championships – all of the back-to-back-to-back variety. Things didn’t exactly work out as the Dallas Mavericks went on to win the title last season and Jackson was forced to settle for ‘only’ 11 rings.

Could we see Kobe Bryant reunited with Phil Jackson in the future?

That was supposed to be it for the Zen Master, but apparently, Jackson may be getting the itch to get back into the NBA again. The most recent example of this was his recent flirtation with the Orlando Magic for a front-office job. He eventually pulled his name out of the running, but the fact that he was even mentioned as a strong candidate means he may not be done with the league … or coaching. His girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, added fuel to the fire last week saying that Phil’s not doing all that well coping with retirement.

So with that said, would he consider a return to the NBA?

For starters, while Jackson’s primary motivator may not be money, it’s always a big priority. Any team that wants his services will have to make sure he’s well paid. Another factor for Jackson is that the chances are slim of him coaching a rebuilding team. If he’s going to go through the trouble of traveling with some aches and pains (in addition to hip issues, he also just underwent knee surgery), it’s not going to be with a team stacked with rookies trying to find its way. Once you’ve coached MJ and the Mamba, it’s pretty hard to settle for a young or struggling roster.

There aren’t many contending teams looking for new coaches, but one jumps to mind – the Los Angeles Lakers. If Jackson is evaluating his options, would he indeed consider a return to the Lakers?

Los Angeles hired Mike Brown and suffered a second-round exit this season despite having a talented team. What’s more, the Lakers barely got out of the first round, going seven games with the Denver Nuggets. One thing to remember is that the franchise hired Brown without consulting their star – Kobe Bryant. Kobe appeared to get along with Brown this season, but he’s made it clear that playing for Jackson has always been his preference in the past.

Most intriguing is the fact that the Lakers underwent a similar scenario in 2004. When Jackson retired at the end of 2003-04, Los Angeles struggled under head coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen. The result? Jackson returned the following season. The Lakers floundered a bit upon his return, but later went on to win two more titles under the head coach.

Personally, I don’t expect the Lakers to bring Jackson back next season. First, I’m not thoroughly convinced he’s sure he wants to return. Missing the league and camaraderie is one thing, but the NBA season is a long and taxing one. At Phil’s age, he may decide he’s had enough. The Lakers also would need to not only pay Phil handsomely (something the two sides have butted heads about a bit in the past), but also need to fork over several millions of dollars to Mike Brown for a few more seasons. For an organization that’s been trying to save money, it’s hard to envision such a scenario.

In the end, Jackson coming back to the Lakers seems like a great story. Given the long-term relationship between the franchise and the coach, I’d even say it’s possible. Still, don’t expect it to happen this season. Jackson returning to another team is an entirely different story, though. If another contender (say the Miami Heat if they’re unable to win it all this season) steps up with some money and Jackson feels his health will hold up, a return to the NBA could be just around the corner.

May 31, 2011

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Phil Jackson Tops Red Auerbach On NBA Coaching List … By A Lot

By: Anson Whaley

The recently retired Phil Jackson is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history. But the simple fact is that he should be clearly viewed at the top of that list. His most fierce competition for that top spot comes from former NBA team Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach, so for the sake of argument, I’ll compare the two.

For starters, Phil simply won more. His eleven titles beat Auerbach’s nine and while that’s not the only thing that matters, it’s a great place to begin.

Now the talent – ah, yes. We hear it all the time from misguided fans – ‘Phil had MJ and Kobe – who wouldn’t win with those two?’ Well, Doug Collins, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Del Harris, actually. Seriously though, Phil’s detractors love to point out that he won his titles with four of the best NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen. While that’s true, it’s also important to point out that none of those players won titles under other coaches.

Shaq and Kobe

The amusing thing is that it’s not only arguable that Red Auerbach had more talent, it’s likely. In 1996, the NBA named its famous ’50 at 50’ – the top fifty NBA players in history. While this was a subjective list, it’s difficult to find many problems with the selections. Red won his 11 titles with six of those players on his rosters, while Phil had the aforementioned four.

A deeper look shows that Auerbach had an even greater advantage, though.

His championships were won with many of those NBA players on any given team. Auerbach never won a single championship with fewer than three top 50 players at one time – and many years, his teams boasted four such stars. Jackson, on the other hand, never had more than two on the same squad.

Further, Auerbach also had plenty of other talent outside of those top 50 players. During his championship seasons, Red coached many other Hall of Famers not on that list including Tommy Heinsohn (who should be, by the way), Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, K.C. Jones, and Clyde Lovellette. His 1962-63 NBA team featured eight Hall of Famers, for crying out loud. In 1960-61, seven of the Celtics eleven players were Hall of Famers. With that type of talent, it’s probably amazing they managed to lose as many games as they did.

Phil Jackson’s other Hall of Famers on championship teams other than his duos of Jordan/Pippen and Kobe/Shaq? Maybe Dennis Rodman, who helped the Bulls win three – that’s it. Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, and Horace Grant were all fine supplementary players, but not Hall of Fame worthy.

In other words, Phil managed to win his titles with talent that was significantly more diluted.

Sure, the obvious thing to point out is that the league, as a whole, had stronger teams in the 1950s and 1960s because there were fewer of them. Thus, more stars ended up on each team as a result. Still (and with all due respect to the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles Lakers), no franchise has boasted such talent over such a prolonged period of time. Auerbach was playing with a stacked deck and while winning nine championships with anybody is flat out unbelievable, it’s clear he had more aces than Phil.

So Phil won more titles with less overall talent than Red. But there’s more.

Jackson won his titles with two different franchises, proving that he could take completely different collections of players to the pinnacle. Not only did he help Jordan get over the top, he took an immature Bryant and turned him into the best thing since, well, Jordan.

Then there’s the ‘what if’ factor. What if MJ had the hindsight to realize hitting minor-league curveballs wasn’t as easy as he thought and played full seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96? What if Kobe and Shaq did their best Oscar and Felix impersonations and coexisted as an odd couple for several more years? What if the Bulls’ management didn’t take winning for granted and brought Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson back for more runs? It’s conceivable that Phil walks away with 15 titles … or more.

Lastly, consider the fact that today’s players make much more money and are far more difficult to control. Auerbach had it a lot easier with less media attention, fewer egos to deal with, less agents causing a stir, and generally, less headaches. In all, the pressure to win was not as great with far less money to be made.

When you add it all up, not only was Phil a better coach, it’s not all that close.