September 10, 2012
First, it was Roger Clemens who came out of retirement to pitch in a couple of games with the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters. Now, it appears to be former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal tossing his hat into the ring for a brief post-retirement stint. According to ESPN, Shaq is reportedly in discussions with the Fuerza Regia team in Mexico to play a few games this October. His availability may depend largely on his ‘other’ job as a studio analyst for TNT.
Truth is, this type of stuff has been happening for a long time. But with more money to be made now from smaller leagues owned by rich owners, could it be the beginning of a trend? My guess is yes.
Athletes are always looking for ways to earn more money – autograph shows, personal appearances, speaking engagements, and licensing rights are all ways to do that. Some go into coaching or front offices as those jobs can pay well and allow them to stay close to the game. But that doesn’t always work, as we’ve seen. Greats like Magic Johnson had a difficult time coaching mediocre players for the Lakers in the 1990s. Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest player of all-time, hasn’t exactly produced a winning team as an owner.
You know what most of these guys would die for, though? Another chance to suit up.
With a few exceptions, we all understand the quality of their play isn’t going to be extremely high after retirement. Roger Clemens pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in independent baseball, but at 50, was unable to even reach 90 miles per hour on the radar gun with his trademark fastball. Throwing in the high 80s as he did is an unbelievable accomplishment at the age of 50, but unfortunately for him, 99% of pitchers in the major leagues can throw as hard as he is right now.
And the last time we saw O’Neal, he was averaging a modest nine points and five rebounds for the Boston Celtics two years ago. Now, out of game shape, Shaq would be fortunate to even come anywhere close to that production in an NBA game.
But guess, what – not much of that matters.
Unlike front office or coaching jobs, performance in these games isn’t a big deal. Fans eat this stuff up and so does the media. There are few things more intriguing than seeing a player well past his prime compete to see what he still has left in the tank. The simple fact is that it doesn’t really matter how well they do – people will pay to watch it. Whether it’s Clemens pitching a third of a game or the Diesel lumbering up and down the court against mediocre players, we’ll watch.
Back to the financial aspect a bit, we all know that Clemens and O’Neal don’t need the money. Those guys made enough in their lifetime to take care of their families handsomely as well as a few others if they wanted to. But what about players who had their careers cut short due to injury? Or star players that squandered their money? There’s room for them to compete in these types of leagues and the good thing is that they don’t even need to do it on a full-time basis.
There was a report last year that an Italian team offered Kobe Bryant $800,000 to suit up for them. Per game. Most of the players that would need the money aren’t on the level of Bryant, of course. But if he could get that much, why couldn’t a former All-Star secure a deal in the high five figures per contest?
As more and more independent and international teams open up their checkbooks, it’s easy to see that former athletes will be flocking to them to play a game or two.
June 20, 2011
It wasn’t always this way. If you could somehow wind back that old, creaky grandfather clock in the hallway about a decade, you could see that. Ten years ago, the Internet was a fairly new invention (just whose invention is up for debate), your Star Wars movies were likely on VHS instead of DVD, and America was going through one of the roughest times in recent memory with 9/11. On the sports front, Kobe and Shaq were still together, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were busy breaking up the latest Yankees dynasty as members of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tiger Woods had just won something called a ‘Tiger Slam.’ Oh yeah, and Hulk Hogan was king of WCW’s rivalry against the WWE – can’t leave that out.
Boston? Well, the Red Sox still were under the curse of the Bambino and with the Yankees’ success, there appeared to be no end in sight. When you mentioned the Celtics’ Big Three, it wasn’t Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but instead, only distant memories of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The Patriots were in the Drew Bledsoe era while some guy named Tom Brady was a sixth-round Draft Pick and on the bench, and the Bruins hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in 30 years.
Let’s just say things weren’t exactly looking up in Beantown.
Now, in 2011, the tide has changed and Boston sits atop the sports world. In recent memory, the city has not only fielded competitive sports teams, but championship ones. With the recent Stanley Cup win by the Bruins, all four of Boston’s major sports teams have won a championship in the past six years. Along with those titles, those franchises boast plenty of individual star power. Leading the way for the Red Sox are Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jacoby Ellsbury. The Pats’ Brady is a future Hall of Famer and playing at a high level. The Celtics triumvirate of stars – Garnett, Pierce, and Allen – is still a collection of big names and good players. And, by the way, the Bruins’ Tim Thomas may be the best goalie in all of hockey.
And while none of the city’s professional sports franchises are guaranteed or maybe even expected to continue winning titles, all have legitimate shots to do so.
The Celtics, while an aging group, have a chance to get out of the Eastern Conference for at least a few more seasons. The Red Sox put together an All-Star lineup this year in hopes of winning another World Series and while they got off to a slow start, they’ve moved into first place in the AL East and have the horses to make another championship run. The Patriots have taken a step back from their dominance of the mid 2000s, but with Brady at the helm, are not going away anytime soon. And the Bruins, fresh off a Stanley Cup win, will be able to compete as long as Thomas continues to post unbelievable performances in net.
Another reason Boston could be on their way to winning additional championships is that there are no current dynasties in sports. The Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers may have been the closest to that, but both fell short in title bids in 2011. The sports landscape is wide open and Boston could continue to capitalize for many years to come.
June 9, 2011
Shaq was arguably one of the most animated NBA players of all time. Throughout his 19 year career, the dominating center was rarely shy with media, offering up various analogies and nicknames for himself and others. He named himself “Shaq Diesel”, the “Big Aristotle,” and the “Big Deporter,” and named Dwayne Wade “Flash.”
Now that the “Big Shamrock” has decided to call it quits, one may suspect the large exit to include an evacuation of hilariously awesome nicknames. Not true. They may not be contained within one large man anymore, instead scattered around the league, but they’re still there. You just have to look.
A rising star in his sophomore season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden has a nickname that fits. “The Beard,” given due to Harden’s monstrously profuse beard, has an old school flavor that matches his old school game. Harden never seems to be moving as quick as the other NBA players, but still finds a way to make plays and get to the rim. Much like his nickname, “The Beard” wreaks of simple confidence, conjuring up images of Earl “The Pearl” Washington. He provided a spark plug off the bench for the Thunder in the second half of the season and during their playoff run. Was it because of the beard? I can confidently say, yes.
Baron Davis earned his much more modern nickname during his early career, with menacing open court vision and thunderous dunks – his UCLA highlight reel is especially tantalizing. Boom Dizzle has had an up down career, reaching All-Star teams but suffering lows at every stop – clashing with Byron Scott in New Orleans, leaving Golden State after a rift with the front office, not performing up to par with the Clippers (although that’s not his fault), and landing with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. As a fan, I’ve been impressed with the Boom Dizzle that arrived at the trading deadline, and as a longtime fan, I’m excited for his expectedly short tenure with the team. If Dan Gilbert is willing to pay him the next few years to give me the ability to scream “BOOM DIZZLE” a few times a game, I’m a happy man.
The Human Victory Cigar
The few players before this one may have had somewhat obvious nicknames. But this one is rarity. Awesome on many levels. First, because it’s long. Second, because it is well thought out and creative. Third, it exemplifies winning. And fourth, because it almost seems like it belongs to the wrong player. You’d think it would be one of the greats, like Robert Horry—but no, he’s Big Shot Bob. Or Michael Jordan even, due to his affinity for dominating and cigars, but no. Who owns it you say? The infamous former number two overall pick, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Darko Milicic.
Of course, Milicic was branded this way because in his first few NBA seasons he was only inserted into the game when his team, the Pistons, had already locked up the win. His 40 seconds of playing time meant that Detroit was up by 20 points and there was absolutely no chance of its opponent coming back. Since those first years in the league, “The Human Victory Cigar” has garnered his fair share of negative media attention, and somehow managed to simultaneously become a sort of counter culture hero. And that counter culture is the likely source of one of the best nicknames in the NBA. Cheers to you, underground back up power forward fan club.
June 6, 2011
It goes without saying that Shaquille O’Neal was one of those rare athletes that transcended the game he played. He wasn’t the most dominant as some have called him lately – that title clearly belongs to Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged more than 50 points and 25 rebounds per game in the 1961-62 season and more than 30 points and 20 rebounds per game for his career. But Shaq (like Wilt) was larger than life, which is why no single article will do him justice.
So with that, I give you the top ten things I’ll remember about the Diesel.
10. Shaq Signs Exclusive Deal with Classic Trading Cards
Shaq was a trendsetter and had one of the first exclusive trading card deals in history. Classic, an upstart company back in the early 1990s, made one of the biggest splashes in history by signing O’Neal to an exclusive card deal, owning the right to print his first rookie cards. Sure, go ahead and scoff if you want. But his deal was enormous for the industry as it led to other companies signing exclusive deals with athletes.
9. Literally a Showstopper
O’Neal didn’t only break a few backboards when he dunked early in his career, but he literally tore down the entire support systems. This, of course, delayed play while the systems were fixed or replaced. Shaq was one of the few players that forced the NBA to look into reinforcing their backboards.
8. Shaq Raps
No, the Diesel’s abilities weren’t limited to only the basketball court. He was also a great rapper. Okay, well, maybe not. But his debut Album ‘Shaq Diesel’ still went platinum, which gives him exactly one more platinum record than almost everyone on the planet.
7. Leading Magic to Finals
O’Neal was only in his third season when he led the Magic to the Finals. He didn’t just help them get there, he was the clear star of the team. With all due respect to Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Horace Grant, and Nick Anderson, the Magic probably don’t get out of the first round without the Diesel. Orlando was swept by the Houston Rockets, but it wasn’t because of Shaq, who averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists per game.
6. Passed over for Christian Laettner
The decision to take Christian Laettner over O’Neal for the final spot on the 1992 USA Olympic Dream Team had about as much impact on the outcome as it would if I were selected. Lots of factors played into the decision – Laettner was a senior with two NCAA titles for starters. Still, it was a big-time snub nonetheless and Shaq wasn’t all that happy about it.
5. Taking Heat to the Title
Make no mistake – the 2005-06 Miami Heat were Dwyane Wade’s team. But it’s fair to say that without O’Neal’s nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, Miami would still be looking for their first title. Shaq also proved to the world he could win a championship without Kobe and his fourth title placed him in select company.
4. Kobe Feud
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. If Kobe and Shaq stay together, it’s likely that they would have gone on to win several more titles. The feud will always be one of the first things fans think of when reminiscing about Shaq. O’Neal wouldn’t have been able to run down Bill Russell’s 11 championships, but Kobe is young enough that it’s conceivable that he could have gotten close.
3. Signs with Lakers
The rumors swelled in the Summer of 1996 about what Shaq would do. He eventually chose to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers and effectively began a mini dynasty, helping the franchise to three titles. His signing filled the gap left by Vlade Divac, who was traded to the then Charlotte Hornets for … Kobe Bryant. That effectively concluded the most lopsided deal in NBA history.
2. Leading Lakers to Three-Peat
O’Neal began the Lakers’ Dynasty by helping the franchise to three straight championships. Whatever side you fall on of the great Shaq vs. Kobe debate, none of those titles are won without O’Neal, who won the Finals Most Valuable Player award each year.
1. Pythagorean Theorem
There have been countless memorable quotes over Shaq’s career, but none will ever top the time he tried to describe just how unguardable he was. An exacerbated O’Neal said his game was like the Pythagorean Theorem, claiming there was no answer. The only problem with that is there actually is an answer to the Theorem: A2 + B2 = C2.
It’s okay, Shaq – we get the point.
May 31, 2011
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.
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.