May 11, 2011
Monday night was a treat for NBA basketball fans. In the first match up, the Miami Heat escaped the Boston Garden with an overtime win over the Celtics. The game was exciting, just as you would expect with arguably seven superstars involved, but after regulation ended all knotted up, the Heat took over with ease. The late game was the real treat.
By now, you’ve either seen the game I’m referring to or heard about it endlessly at various media outlets. The triple overtime extravaganza between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. The game was by far the most entertaining of the 2011 playoffs, and the best second round game that I can remember seeing.
I won’t go into deep analysis of the game, as I’d be repeating thousands of other people. But I can say although the game was more thriller than Michael Jackson himself, was actually considerably sloppy. The Griz jumped out to an early 18 point lead, then relaxed on defense, allowing the Thunder to come back on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook. Not to be outdone, the Thunder built up a considerable lead only to allow the Griz to come back.
OKC should have taken this game. They would have won this game in regulation, if not for a Mike Conley game tying three. They would have won it in the first over time, if not for a game tying, off balance three by Greivis Vazquez (that’s right – Greivis Vazquez). They should have won it in the second overtime after Conley and OJ Mayo fouled out in the first OT. But it took three extra quarters to take the game. Memphis was exhausted. The youthful legs of the Thunder didn’t give in whatsoever, and it won them the game. The series is now tied at two games apiece.
But the game itself, and the whole series for that matter, has a league wide impact fans should be aware of. OKC and Memphis are both regarded as small market teams, home to places it is typically difficult to build a franchise for both geographical and economic reasons (I realize the Thunder have not been in Oklahoma very long, but if you had a choice between there and New York, where would you go?). But they’re building long term competitors through high value drafts and savvy trades and free agent signings, ready to compete with the large market teams in Dallas, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles on a regular basis.
The media prefers the big market teams make deep playoff runs, and as a fan, I agree it can be exciting to see old school rivalries play out. And I’ll admit, I will love the NBA no matter what, I’m hooked. But there’s something refreshing about an actual old school mentality being put into action right in front of your eyes.
The Thunder, for example, have drafted two core superstars in Kevin Durantand Westbrook. Three key role players – James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison – were also drafted by the team, as well. Former start Jeff Green, also drafted by OKC, was shipped to Boston in exchange for Kendrick Perkins to fill a glaring weakness for a true big man. They’re building a team that plays well together, and honestly enjoys being around each other. Hang out with each other on off days. Constantly tweet at each other. It’s like a close group of friends that complement one another, except they happen to be very good at basketball.
The Thunder aren’t attracting the most talented players possible with any glitz and glamour, and hoping they mesh. There are no overzealous endorsement deals, no appearances at South Beach clubs between playoff games. There’s no ego, just basketball.
Everyone has their opinion on what happened in NBA free agency last summer. As a lifetime Cleveland fan, I feel the right to have strongly negative feelings toward LeBron’s decision to leave. But I don’t. His reasons for leaving may not have been amicable, and there are a lot of mitigating factors involved, but if it was a purely basketball decision, he would have left anyways. The team around him was way below his caliber, as we’ve witnessed this season, and for him to fully blossom, he needed more talent around him. To be honest, I have more of a problem with Chris Bosh, simply because he’s not any good.
The larger issue at hand is the ability, and willingness, of players to leave the team they drafted, even if it’s their hometown, to go to a larger market. Following the money, rather than basketball greatness. These “big threes” that are spawning are entertaining, yes, but they also create a gap in competition. For every “big three,” there’s the teams and fan bases they left behind (I realize the two teams I’m championing were formerly located in Seattle and Vancouver, but a fan base unable to keep their entire team there is an entirely different situation).
The Thunder are different, though, and it brings a smile to my face to see them blossoming. Monday night’s game was nearly five hours long – and I stayed up until 2:00 AM to see the ending, then another couple hours laying in bed wide awake because my mind couldn’t process how awesome the game was. And I’m not even an OKC fan, nor have I ever been to the state of Oklahoma. There’s just something about the team, the city, the fans, that just seems right. It’s a wholesome underdog story, a rarity in the NBA, that may need to succeed for the future competitive balance of the league.
April 11, 2011
The NHL 2010-11 regular season is winding down, and it’s time to take a look at some of the leading candidates to take home the league’s Most Valuable Player award – the Hart Trophy.
Last year’s honoree, Henrik Sedin, is a candidate to become a repeat winner. With a second consecutive trophy, Sedin would join an exclusive club consisting of only 11 players including greats such as Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe. Sure, he doesn’t score much (Sedin has a modest 19 goals this year and has never scored 30 during any season in his career), but he sets up other scoring plays as few others can and has more than 150 assists over the past two years.
Sedin’s stiffest challenge for the award could ironically come from twin brother and Vancouver Canucks teammate, Daniel Sedin. Despite a spectacular 2009-10 season in which he tallied 85 points in only 63 games, Daniel didn’t figure into the Hart Trophy voting. A foot injury that cost him several weeks of playing time last season wiped out any chance he had of gathering any votes for the award in 2010. But fully healthy this year, Daniel has put up the best numbers of his career. He led the league in scoring and set career highs in goals and assists. The Sedin brothers may be competing with each other, though, since they’re on the same team and could end up splitting some votes as voters try to decide just who is Vancouver’s MVP.
Another pair of teammates are also right there for a chance at the Hart. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightningare another duo putting up a lot of points this season. St. Louis has been the model of consistency over his career, scoring at least 25 goals over the past eight seasons. As one of the top three scorers in the league, he’s sure to get at least some consideration for the trophy. Unfortunately for him, teammate Steven Stamkos is having quite a year himself, scoring 40 goals and also putting up nearly 100 points. St. Louis and Stamkos may have a similar problem as the Sedins in that they may cost each other some votes.
While the Canucks and Lightning made the playoffs comfortably, another candidate comes from a team that had to fight its way in, clinching a spot late in the season. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks should garner quite a bit of consideration for leading his team to the playoffs. The Ducks finished near the bottom of the conference, but an argument could be made that they’re not a postseason team without the 50-goal scorer. He’s always been a reliable goal scorer, but this season went from good to great, finishing with close to 100 points. That could be the difference in him winning the award for the first time in his career.
One player a bit under the radar for the first time in a while is the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin may be the league’s most talented player, and, even though his point totals are the lowest of his career, he still led Washington to the top of the Eastern Conference. That alone should be enough to keep him in contention for some votes.
And even though the award typically goes to an offensive talent, goalies and defensemen do occasionally win the trophy. A few goalies to keep an eye on are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Thomas is the better goalie statistically, leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. The Bruins also won the Division title and he was obviously a big reason for that. Luongo, however, plays for the NHL’s top team, the only team to win 50 games. His nearly 40 wins led the league this season. And a dark horse candidate to steal a few votes may be the Penguins’ Marc Andre Fleury. The Pens have played much of the season without their two best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Fleury’s goaltending is the sole reason they are still standing. Pittsburgh has not only finished as a playoff team, but they were near the top of the entire conference. Take away a team’s two best players, and many teams would not win as much as the Penguins have this season.
February 15, 2011
The year was 1999. The world was preparing for Y2K. The NBA All-Star Weekend was canceled because of a lockout-shortened season and Keanu Reeves starred in the Matrix.
Since 1999, Reeves has been making movies like Thumbsucker and The Lake House while the NBA All-Star Weekend has lost some of its excitement as well. Reeves’ career and the All-Star Weekend are both in need of a makeover. I’ve got some suggestions for the NBA (sorry Keanu, you are on your own).
Maybe the NBA should follow the NHL example. The NHL just held an All-Star Game with two team captains picking teams in a live draft. This is a great idea. The NBA should take it a step further.
Instead of having current players as the team captains, I say David Stern should bring in two NBA legends to coach/captain the teams. Nothing against Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, but I would much rather see the teams led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. We see Rivers, Popovich and Phil Jackson on TV all season. Why not change things up?
This weekend’s all-star game will be in Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals last season. Both teams are among the favorites to reach the Finals this season. Why not keep the rivalry going? Imagine Larry Bird taking Kobe Bryant with the first pick, putting Kobe on the visiting team in his own building and playing against Magic Johnson’s team. Magic could counter with LeBron James as his first pick and then draft a couple of the four Boston Celtics who are in the game.
The NBA could create some great matchups with this system. I would love to see John Stockton lead a team against fellow Utah Jazz Hall of Famer, Karl Malone. How about a Reggie Miller and Spike Lee matchup? Anyone for Charles Barkley against Michael Jordan? The matchups are endless.
I also believe the NBA should take the all-star game back to the cities that no longer have an NBA franchise. When places like Vancouver and Seattle lose their team to another city, the NBA ought to keep in touch with those fans. They deserve an all-star game.
My next suggestion would be to have a HORSE competition with some of the NBA greats. I’d like to see Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play for a Big Mac like they did in a Super Bowl commercial in 1993. There are some great possible matchups for this too. I suggest a Dennis Rodman (58.4% free throw shooter) and Shaq (52.8% free throw shooter) in a free throw showdown. Of course, for the sake of time, they may have to shorten a game of HORSE to a game of H.
The last thing I would like to see change for the NBA All-Star game is the voting process. Currently, the fans vote in the starters for the game and that’s how it should be. But when a guy (Yao Ming) is voted as an all-star starter despite only playing in five games all season, something needs to change. Nothing against Yao, but he should not be on the ballot if he can’t play. That spot should go to someone who has earned it with a great first half of the season.
I would love to see these things happen but I’m sure there is someone smarter than me at the NBA headquarters who has a whole list of reasons why these ideas won’t work. I’d just love to see it happen.
February 18, 2010
If the shoes make the man, do the pants make the athlete? What is going on this year with Olympic team fashion?
Here at Fathead, we think the Norweigian Curling Team must have seen pro-golfer John Daly’s Fathead Wall Graphic and been inspired by his alternative attire. They’re causing quite a stir at the Winter Olympics by wearing these “clown” pants, instead of the traditional black pants favored by curling athletes. Apparently they shopped at the same store as Daly for their brightly colored diamond-patterned pants.
Perhaps the Czech Republic Team took a fashion tip from Daly’s other Fathead in selecting the loud pants they donned this year.
Then there were the Bermudans, who chose fashion before comfort in the opening ceremony, braving the chilly Vancouver air to sport their trademark Bermuda shorts.
So I ask, is this just a bold style choice, or is there some athletic benefit to wearing these non-traditional uniforms? Do they help to intimidate opponents with the confidence they convey? Do they cause a game-changing distraction? Do the loud patterns blind them?
I don’t have the answer, but I do have my own fashion tip for athletes. Please don’t take any style cues from Lady Gaga for the summer Olympics!
February 15, 2010
Every four years we get an education in this country about sports other than football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. (I specifically say ice hockey because much of the world thinks of hockey as a field sport.) While NBA isn’t likely to be confused with the National Bobsledding League any time soon or NCAA with the Nordic Combined Association of America, it does us good to break out of our four sided box.
I’m pretty sure that Nordic Combined won’t be bumping one of the big four US sports from the TV schedule, but it’s refreshing to watch and learn about a sport that Norwegian soldiers were competing in three centuries ago. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to the Nordic Combined Team competition this year. In part it’s because the US might actually have a chance to medal, but it’s also because I don’t often get to watch a sport that so uniquely combines such technical mastery and style (ski jumping), with incredible endurance and sprinting ability (cross-country skiing). I’m not saying that other sports don’t have these qualities, but you don’t exactly see a guy lay down a perfect bunt and then run up and down the court for 48 minutes in the same event.
If you’re interested in Nordic Combined or any of the other Winter Olympic competitions, Fathead.com has added a complete Vancouver 2010 module to our site so you can get the latest news, check out the medal count, and see the current schedule of events. Take a minute to learn something about a sport you might otherwise never give a second thought.