Thursday, May 28, 2009

LeBron's Playoffs to be Overshadowed by Conspiracy Theorists

Everybody loves a conspiracy theory.

NBA has long had to quell ideas and rumors of the playoffs being fixed, and it became even more of a problem after the whole Tim Donaghy thing. People love to look at plays and results as something more than coincidence, as something "the league wanted to happen."

Does the league want certain teams or players to be playing on TV as much as possible? Of course. The NBA is a business, and it wants to see its most marketable players with as much face time as possible. However, Daniel Stern had more power over the result of a game in Celtic Pride than David Stern currently does.

What LeBron has done in these playoffs is nothing short of remarkable, and I don't think he's done. If his teammates break out of their shooting slumps, then the Cavs could quite possibly become the ninth team to come back from a 3-1 defecit.

The games have been too close to say the Magic have dominated and the series could very easily have been over by now. By that same token, with a couple of different plays, the Magic could very easily have been down 3-1 in the series.

But if the Cavs end up coming back and winning the series, this will all add more fuel to the fire of NBA Conspiracy Theorists. It can't just be that LeBron is the MVP and could will his team back from the brink of elimination. It has to be "what the league wanted."

If the NBA truly does "make things happen," it has done a horrible job at giving itself the best possible results:

The Cavs' first two rounds were done as quickly as possible this year. Wouldn't the league have an interest in prolonging those series? Wouldn't it be good for the league to make the games closer?

Game 7 of Atlanta-Miami would have been a perfect chance to give us LeBron vs. D-Wade. Wouldn't that have been a better matchup for the league than LeBron vs. Joe Johnson? (By the way, if you are an all-star and you're not known by your first name or a nickname, you need to talk to your agent ASAP.)

The San Antonio Spurs have almost no marketability (except for ABC being able to pimp "Desperate Housewives" with Eva Longoria in the crowd), yet they won over and over again. Why would the league - if it rigs the playoffs - allow the Spurs to win so many titles? In 2006, in suspending Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, the NBA basically chose the boring Spurs to advance over the much more exciting and marketable Suns. What would the league have to gain from that? Lower ratings?

The 2005 Finals put the Spurs against the defense-driven Detroit Pistons. The result was a seven-game borefest. If the league controls the results, why would it do this?

The answer to all of my questions is there is no answer, because the league may have a rooting business interest, but it doesn't change the outcome, and it doesn't choose the matchups. If it does, then the league is comprised of the worst businessmen on the face of the earth.

It's a shame, because it is possible we will see some great things in the next week from LeBron and the Cavs, but some people might be too suspicious to appreciate it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How many mistakes can one person make?

When Lane Kiffin got fired as coach of the Al-kland Raiders, I chalked it up to the Steinbrenner of football, the way-too-old-to-pull-off-that-look Al Davis (Just remember to breathe, baby) up to his ol' antics again. The alien-autopsy that is left of him continues to make mistakes that has put and kept the Raiders in their current state.

I assumed Kiffin would be given another chance elsewhere, probably in college. On November 30, 2008, Lane signed a six-year deal with SEC's University of Tennessee. A big-time program. Millions of dollars. Not a bad life. However, in the short span of less than six months later, any UT fan without some doubts about the hire is either the more optimistic than Tony Robbins or in a coma.

I don't have a rooting interest either way (although I like to see teams that did well when I was growing up get back on the right track - One day, Nebraska!), but a small part of me wouldn't be surprised UT were to take a $7.5 million mulligan within the next couple of years. Let's look at his gaffes thus far:

1. On February 5, 2009, Kiffin accused Urban Meyer the head coach of the Florida Gators of violating NCAA recruiting rules at Tennessee Booster breakfast at the Knoxville Convention Center.

"I'm going to turn Florida in right here in front of you," Kiffin told the crowd. "As Nu'Keese was here on campus, his phone keeps ringing. And so one of our coaches is sitting in the meeting with him and says, 'Who is that?' And he looks at the phone and says, 'Urban Meyer.'

"Just so you know, you can't call a recruit on another campus. But I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him."

While Kiffin was accusing Meyer of violating NCAA rules, he was actually violating Southeastern Conference rules himself and his accusations of Meyer's conduct being against NCAA rules was incorrect. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive issued a public reprimand to Kiffin over the comments. In addition to the public reprimand by Slive, Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley issued a statement demanding an public apology from Kiffin.

Kiffin issued a public apology a day after the remarks. In a statement released by the University of Tennessee, Kiffin said, "In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast. If I offended anyone at the University of Florida, including Mr. Foley and Urban Meyer, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intention." - Wikipedia

So he called Meyer a cheater, and Meyer wasn't, and Kiffin made himself a cheater by saying Meyer was a cheater, and then says "IF I offended...Urban Meyer, I sincerely apologize." It's not like Kiffin said he didn't like the way Meyer combs his hair or dresses. He called him a cheater. No need to wonder if offense was taken.

2. He "intimated that Nu'Keese Richardson's high school in Pahokee, Fla., couldn't be trusted to fax the national letter of intent to Tennessee." - Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN


3. According to ESPN’s Chris Low, “Kiffin told Jeffrey that if he chose the Gamecocks, he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina.” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Comments like that ought to hurt his future recruiting efforts in Florida and Georgia. It's a good thing Florida and Georgia don't have a rich pool of high school football talent. Wait a minute...

4. Tennessee plans to self-report a secondary violation, the third one involving Kiffin in the last month, after he mentioned unsigned prospect Bryce Brown by name during a radio show in Knoxville on Friday morning.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting about unsigned prospects, specifically their ability. The other two secondary violations involving Kiffin had to do with simulating game-day experiences while prospects were on campus.- ESPN


5. Tennessee plans to self-report another NCAA secondary violation after a high school recruit was mentioned by name Tuesday on Lane Kiffin's Twitter page.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said it wasn't actually Kiffin who penned the post in question but an employee in the football office who was updating Kiffin's Twitter page for him.

The post was up for about an hour during the afternoon before being removed by Tennessee officials. It read: "It's a beautiful day in Knoxville, Tennessee today. I was so exited to hear that J.C. Copeland committed to play for the Vols today!" - ESPN

Whether he or an employee posted it, they had already got in trouble once for mentioning a recruit by name. It just seems like if you are going to coach NCAA football, you really should be aware of what you can and can't do. It just makes career sense.

And several more things he's done:
  • guaranteed a victory at Florida next season
  • angered South Carolina's Steve Spurrier
  • angered Alabama's Nick Saban
  • threw out that maybe heralded recruit Marlon Brown was "a grandmama's boy"
I think it's great he has gone into Tennessee and re-energized the players and fan base, but at what cost? When I think of the name "Lane Kiffin," the first thing that comes to mind is a crazy man who's finally getting all of the attention he could ever want or need. It should also be mentioned 11 Vols have left the team since he arrived in Knoxville, so doesn't seem like his approach is completely winning over the players. And he doesn't appear to become apologetic to players, fans, or coaches anytime soon.

Still, UT has gained a lot in the process: national attention for a "ghost" program and what "experts" deem to be a top-10 recruiting class (however, I am still waiting for all of Notre Dame's "#1 recruiting classes" to dominate).

The bottom line is winning. If he wins - which means compete for the SEC and National Championship soon - he will be loved and his style will be praised. If he doesn't, he and his style will wear out their welcome faster than Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels - and maybe Al Davis wasn't so far off on this one.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

LeBron vs. Kobe: A Little Premature?

I was flipping through the channels the other day when I came across this documentary on ESPN: Nike Dream Season: 23 & 24 (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant).

Now I like a sports documentary probably a considerable amount more than the next guy (Sports movies, too - I'll even watch "Love & Basketball" when it periodically comes on cable). Especially when the documentary centers around athletes I know and have watched play. I probably wouldn't get as sucked into a Babe Didrikson documentary.

Anyway, as I was watching it, I couldn't help but hear the same question in my head over and over again: Isn't this a movie better suited to be aired during an NBA Finals in which LeBron and Kobe are both playing?

I know marketing is marketing, and if they both don't make it to the Finals, then this would have been the best time to air it. Still, at the time this aired, the consensus pick for the Finals was still Cavs-Lakers. So the ideal time to run this kind of program would have been during that matchup, not during the Conference Finals.

But I can't help but think that this, along with the Vitamin Water ads, is too much too soon. This will all look a bit silly if we get a Nuggets-Magic series. Carmelo Anthony was on the Olympic team. Dwight Howard, too. Where are the 'Melo-Superman documentaries? Where are the 'Melo-Superman ads?

I feel it would be better to wait until real life shows us LeBron vs. Kobe and then piggy-back onto it, instead of creating a rivalry out of two players with an age difference of seven years. I guess the Lebron James-Darko Milicic (the #2 pick in the 2003 draft; LeBron was #1) rivalry never had the requisite steam to stand the test of time.


P.S. - Yes, that is Justin Timberlake narrating the movie. Finally!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Does Michael Vick Deserve a Second Chance?

When Michael Vick was first convicted of bankrolling a dog-fighting business, I was working at an animal control center. Obviously, all of my coworkers were outraged by the acts committed by Vick and his cronies. I feel pretty secure in saying all rational (and some semi-rational) people would consider Vick's conduct to be disgusting. There is no argument here.

To me, the argument in respect to Vick lies within his removal from prison, which has fueled a lot of talk about his possible return to the NFL. One of my former coworkers had said (upon his conviction) his "career was over." No way would any team sign him after this. This is the point where emotions cloud thinking and rational (and some semi-rational) become irrational.

The problem, as I see it, is that crimes against animals are groundlessly viewed as worse than crimes against people - especially by fanatical animal lovers. A relative of mine, who worked in a newsroom, told me of the different reactions of reporters assigned stories that involved animal abuse and stories involving people abuse. When it's people, "Same ol', same ol'. Another day, another dollar." When it's animals, they have to muster up the strength to keep living in a world in which that could happen. They're about as sad as Milwaukee butchers after hearing Prince Fielder went vegan.

How many plumbers, roofers, accountants or journalists, having served time for something like domestic abuse (a crime I would consider to be much worse), would not be allowed to work in their trained vocational upon being released from prison? Sure, they might not be allowed to return to the position they once held (and I don't think there is a team willing to sign Vick to another $130 million contract anytime soon), but they would be able to work in their field again. Why shouldn't Vick be able to do the same?

But all of this talk avoids the biggest reason you will see Vick in an NFL uniform in the fall of 2009: If a player can play, an owner can pay.

Ray Lewis was given a one-year probation sentence for obstruction of justice in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta. Question: If he was innocent, what justice did he feel the need to obstruct?

Adam "Pacman" Jones has been arrested around 10 times since he was drafted in 2005.

Jamal Lewis tried to set up a drug deal in 2004 and spent four months in prison for it.

Michael Irvin was arrested for cocaine possession and assault.

Chris Henry, Lawrence Phillips, Leonard Little, etc. The list goes on. All of these guys had complete laspses in moral (and legal) judgment, but they deserved and were given a second chance.

Some people don't learn from their mistakes (Pacman). Others go on to be model citizens (Lewis).

Doesn't Michael Vick deserve the opportunity to show us which one he'll be?