The Greatest Athletes Of All Time? Not So Fast

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In modern sports it has become an obsession to talk about who is the “GOAT”, A.K.A., greatest of all time. Unfortunately, over the years, the conversation has escalated in frequency and devolved in to who has the most “chips”, as in championships. And that supposedly ends the discussion.

Growing up, I don’t recall Bill Russell being anointed as the GOAT even though he was the best player on those great Boston Celtic teams.  Same with Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I was a tennis fan for years before I heard the name Roy Emerson. FYI, that’s the guy who had the record of grand slam men’s title’s before Pete Sampras and then Roger Federer broke his record.

What a gross over simplification chip count is. Science suggests that in order to accurately compare two samples you would have to put them under the same conditions.

For example, in order to fairly compare San Francisco 49er QB legend, Joe Montana, to rising all-star QB of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson, you’d have to clone every person they’d ever played with and against, was coached by and against, and play the games in the same weather conditions and under the same league rules.  This would give you the fairest and most accurate comparison between the two. Don’t get mad at me, that’s science. But this is sports so let’s not let a little thing like science spoil all the fun.

Before the chip obsession we relied on statistics, clutch performance, the optics of what our eyes told us.  Players with chips stood out but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all that it seems to be today.  Other factors were and should also be considered.  Such as teammates, coaches, level of competition, rules changes, and so on.

Further, the difference between winning and losing can be so small and contingent on these other factors that have nothing to do with a player and warrant that they be considered.  With that in mind I am going to try to marry a little science with the optics and take a look at some of the so-called GOATs in a few different sports.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday November 18, 2012 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. New England won 59-24. (AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

(AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)

TOM BRADY – He just led his team to the greatest comeback in the  NFL’s Superbowl history. Congrats to Brady and the Patriots.  It was a great/historic comeback that in the eyes of many clearly cements Brady as the greatest ever.  After all it gives him one more chip than Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

As great as the comeback was…

  1. Atlanta’s defensive back drops a potential interception that would’ve sealed the game. *
  2. Atlanta did mismanage the game clock.  Their offensive coordinator called plays that moved them out of field goal range which would have sealed the game before New England’s game tying drive.
  3. The refs missed a face mask call that should have offset a holding penalty, giving the Falcons another down and 10 yards of field position.
  4. Julian Edelman makes a great/miraculous catch.  Coach Bill Belichik makes great second half adjustments.
  5. N.E. defense plays great in the 2nd half.
  6. Specials teams plays great.
  7. Offensive line gives Brady much more time in second half.

*(In fairness to Brady, had Asante Samuel not dropped a potential interception of Eli Manning, against the N.Y. Giants, in 2008, Brady/ Pats win another SB.)

Brady still had to do his thing, and he did, but if ALL of those things don’t happen we’re talking about his pic six, and open receivers he missed during the game, because Atlanta likely wins.

Not every QB plays with the assets Brady has had throughout his career.  True, he’s not playing with hall of fame wide receivers (except for when he had Randy Moss), but the guys he’s throwing to are often open.  Brady deserves his share of the credit but that does also speak to the system and to the coaching.

Two more words for you with implications on how Brady is viewed in the pantheon of great quarterbacks: Tuck rule.

Yes, of course Brady is great, all-time great, but like other greats, you give him time, he will pick you apart, you pressure him, like the Giants did in two Superbowls or Atlanta in the first half of this one, and he becomes mortal.  Give a handful of other great QB’s his defenses, his field goal kickers/ special teams, and his coaches, and their chip count is right where Brady’s is.  Maybe they have one or two less, or maybe one or two more.

I do put Brady in the discussion of all time greats, but it is and always will be just that… a discussion.

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ROGER FEDERER – The Fed just did something no one thought he could do.  At 35 years of age, (geriatric for tennis) coming off a six month layoff due to knee surgery and having not won a tennis major since 2012 Wimbledon, he won his 18th grand slam title, The Australian Open. He increased his record and lead to 4 slams over Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras. To win the tournament he had to go the distance, 5 sets, in his last three matches, beating Nadal in an epic final. To many, this win, especially against Nadal, who has dominated their head to head competition, cements Roger as the GOAT.

You would think that declaring a GOAT would be much easier in an individual sport versus team but in tennis it certainly is not.  Tennis is played on different surfaces, clay, grass, hard, carpet, and indoor/ outdoor, that greatly affects the way the game is played.  Further, when trying to compare different generations, you have vast changes in racket and string technology, changes in surface, and advancement in training and recovery from injury.

I’m a HUGE Federer fan.  I was elated for him for his latest slam win. I draw personal inspiration from it as well, but objectivity requires that I point out the obvious.  Nadal is without question the better clay court player.  If not for a series of injuries, Nadal may have more slam titles than Fed, and he does have the head to head edge.  Pete Sampras, who was not the all-around player Fed is may be his equal or better on grass.  Novak Djokovic at his best at the Aussie? I’m not betting the ranch on either player.  At the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi in his prime, Sampras and others could have given Fed a run.  In fact in a hypothetical tournament of champions, Federer might not be the number one seed in any of the four slams.

Fed’s slam total, masterful play and the fact that he would likely be the first, second, third, or fourth seed in all hypothetical slams of champions of course puts him in the discussion, but cemented shut? Nope.  Most accomplished doesn’t automatically mean GOAT.

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SERENA WILLIAMS – Sticking with tennis.  In the women’s game, Serena just won her 23rd grand slam, passing Steffi Graf for the modern-day women’s lead. Also at the age of 35, Miss Williams is still dominant, ranked number 1 and may add to her already spectacular resume.

However.  I’m going to name some other players for you: Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsey Davenport, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles. What do all of these players have in common?

  1. They all of have won multiple grand slams.
  2. They were all ranked number one at one time.
  3. Their careers all overlapped with Serena’s.
  4. They all prematurely retired, or took time off due to injury, desired to get pregnant and start a family, in the case of Venus Williams, illness slowed her down, and in the case of Monica Seles, she was stabbed on the tennis court.

Those are eight battle tested champions.  That’s a lot.  Setting aside Seles for a moment, let’s say that Serena is better than every player mentioned above.  I submit that if  half of these players didn’t leave the sport prematurely of suffer injury, they would have dented Serena’s slam total, which seems to be the nail that shuts the door on the GOAT conversation.  My Mt. Rushmore of women’s tennis is Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and of course Serena Williams.

My personal favorite female player is Seles.  Seles, the sports world, including other players like Graf and Williams, were robbed when Seles’ career was irreversibly effected by the stabbing. Seles ended up with 9 slams.  No doubt she would have had many more if not for the lost years and psychological effect of such an event.

Her meteoric rise at such a young age came before that of Tiger Woods’ ascension in golf. Seles, by age 19, had begun to dominate then GOAT candidate Graf.  God forbid Woods had been stabbed after his 8th slam in golf and had he come back to only win one more, we’d be hearing for decades how he would have won 15 to 20 more slams easy.  History has not afforded Seles the same status they should have and would have if she were born in America or perhaps if she was a he.

But I digress.  Serena is an all-time great and given the length of her greatness and dominance and the fact her career is still going, the female tennis GOAT conversation does begin with her, but it does not end.  And like the men, in a tournament of champions her seeding may vary by surface.

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MICHAEL JORDAN – Toughest for last.  I love me some Michael Jordan.  When I think of MJ, I think of that scene in Rocky II when Apollo Creed’s trainer, Duke, is trying to talk Apollo out of a rematch with Rocky. Apollo asks Duke what is he afraid of. Duke’s answer is, “I saw you beat that man like I saw you beat no man before… and the man, kept, coming, after you … We don’t need that kind of man in our life…” Jordan, had Rocky’s heart and determination, and Apollo’s talent. A true terminator.  But the end of discussion GOAT?  I can’t go there.  Even for Michael.

When talking about all-time greats in basketball, big men seemed to get short-changed.  Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain. These are greats that can’t just be dismissed because their games don’t possess flash and style, or because they played more than 15 years ago.

Weirdly enough, the “chip” discussion in basketball only seems to apply to modern players and the flashy two guard or small forward. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James can’t be better than MJ because they have less rings?  (They’re not for other reasons but like I said, I love me some MJ) However, less rings doesn’t seem to disqualify MJ in the comparison to Bill Russell. Kareem has as many rings, scored more points and won more MVP’s, was an eleven time all defensive player, and had the most indefensible shot in the game.

MJ was a transcendent player who took the NBA to new levels.  With all due respect to the logo, (Jerry West), for all of his contributions to the game, and his game, the NBA should consider redoing the logo to Jordan’s image, and or do for him what hockey did for Wayne Gretzky and retire MJ’s jersey in all arena’s… But that still doesn’t make him the end of discussion GOAT.

These are just several examples of “GOAT” athletes.  I could have picked others.  In the case of Brady, Federer, Williams and Jordan, I am not saying that any of the them are not the GOAT in their respective sports, just that you can’t close the book, especially based on most championships.   There are lots of considerations, and this blog just begins to scratch the surface.

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I’ll Still Take Larry Bird Over LeBron James

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It is a good time to be a LeBron James fan. Having won his third NBA Finals MVP, and leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a historic Championship, the LeBron “lovers” (seems only fair to call them that since they call anyone who challenges the LeBron is a demi-god narrative a hater or a troll) are understandably pounding their chests, and elevating LeBron’s historical place in the game.

According to some of the loving talking heads at ESPN, LeBron is clearly a top three to five player, maybe one, and with this latest championship, definitely the best small forward ever, over Larry Bird.

Here are two ways to talk about the best ever and demonstrate why the lovers are wrong:

  • One, if you were to start a team with one player, who would it be?
  • Two, if you could put together the best starting five, who would it be?

The difference is the best five ever can have two people playing the position, best starting five asks for the best at each.

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So, who is my best starting five?  At the point guard I am going with Magic Johnson.  At power forward, Tim Duncan. At shooting guard, do I really have to say it? Okay, Michael Jordan.  With respect to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin who I didn’t see play, I’ll take the underappreciated Kareem Abdul Jabbar at center.

Now before I say why I will take Bird over James at small forward (the title of the blog was kind of a spoiler), let me ask you, as great as my starting four is, what is one glaring weakness in this lineup?  Ding ding ding, three point shooting!  Give all the readers who got it a prize.  Given the other starting four, Bird is simply a better fit in this all-time lineup.

Just to show the lovers that I am not a hater, if Steph Curry continues on his trajectory and manages to somehow supplant Magic as the starting point guard, then there becomes a better argument to put James in the starting five over Bird.  I’ll get back to you after Curry retires on that one.

Okay one part down.  As far as who I would want to start a team with, first let me say as far as talent goes, and from what I have seen, LeBron is top three of all time. However, to use the often used Batman/ Robin metaphor, he has Batman talent but Robin mentality.  If I was guaranteed to have a team with two alpha dog stars there is a good chance I would want LeBron to be one of them. For example, I think a young LeBron would have done better with an in his prime Shaquille O’Neal than Kobe Bryant.  Conversely, if I was guaranteed to have one star, there are others I would take before him.  Larry Bird being one, and Kobe Bryant another.

I can hear the lovers screaming about LeBron’s back to back 41 points in the finals and other pretty statistics.  I’m not saying LeBron can’t be clutch or can’t ever close, I’m saying those are skills just like passing and rebounding, and when compared to the best of the best, others do it better.  His former teammate Dwyane Wade being among them.

Between Bird and LeBron, both are all-time great passers, but I’ll give an edge to LeBron. Both can rebound the ball, but edge Bird. Both can score, but three point shooting, foul shooting, and late game foul shooting, big edge Bird.  LeBron is a much better defender, ball handler and driver to the basket.  As far as being clutch, leadership (can’t imagine Bird writing “sub-tweets” about teammates) and intangibles (such as more likely to make a steal versus turn it over) solid edge Bird.

So, it is not a landslide or anything but after reviewing the tale of the tape, as of now,  I’m sticking with Larry Legend.

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Between Allen Iverson And Steve Nash, The Answer is Nash

And It Is Not Even Close

nashIversonWith the latest injury and announcement that 40-year-old future hall of famer Steve Nash will miss the entire upcoming NBA season, many in the media have begun to understandably eulogize Nash’s career.  Indeed, we have likely see the last of him as far as playing in the NBA. One comparison I hear making the rounds is who was better between he and another great guard destined for the hall of fame, Allen Iverson.

Most I have listened to on ESPN, led by an admittedly biased Stephen A. Smith, (Smith credits A.I. for helping him in his career in sports print/TV journalism) either slightly or heavily point to Iverson as being the better or the two, and or the one they pick for their team. I believe Stephen A. stated that A.I. was on another level compared to Nash.

Hogwash. Iverson was great but players like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook must get sick hearing talk about Iverson sometimes, because when they shoot a lot, they’re selfish ball stoppers. When A.I. shoots a lot, despite how many times he misses, he is demonstrating heart. Because A.I. was very tough, fearless, and lets face it, short by NBA standards, he sometimes got a pass on being a volume shooter, and dare I say selfish player, that others would not.

With Nash and Iverson you can make the debatable argument that if either is the best player on your team you will not win a championship. Assuming that is the case, I am far more confident that Nash could have an easier time adjusting his game, and being the second best player on a team than Iverson.

We know Nash was an all-time great passer.  Currently he is number three on the all time assist list.  Yes, he did more to make his teammates better, but he was also a great two, three, and foul shooter, as demonstrated by being part of the exclusive 50-40-90 club  (pointed out by Smith’s sparring partner on ESPN’s First Take, Skip Bayless, who does give a slight edge to Nash.)

Here is a question to ask yourself in the comparison. Hoopsmanifesto
lists the top ten NBA players of all-time as being:

10 – Kobe Bryant

9 – Shaquille O’Neal

8 – LeBron James

7 – Tim Duncan

6 – Wilt Chamberlain

5 – Larry Bird

4 – Magic Johnson

3 – Kareem Abdul- Jabbar

2 – Bill Russell

1 – Michael Jordan

If we could ask them, who on this list do you think would prefer to play with A.I. and who would want to play with Nash? With the possible exception of Magic, my bet is that everyone would rather play with Nash.  Let’s add some more names, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Kevin Love, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Julius Erving, Reggie Miller, etc, etc… who would most to all of these guys rather play with between A.I. and Nash?  That is the player I want on my team.

And yes, I have to talk about practice… Who is the better practice player? The more coachable player? More likely to make teammates better? To lead by example and be a better mentor? The answer to all of these is Nash. Better raw skills? I will give that slight edge to A.I. but that does not make him the better nor more desirable player.

A.I. did play with tremendous heart, but because of height, I think he gets talked about and elevated over others I would take before him in a team game…To name some:  Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, and Gary Payton come to mind as others I would take over A.I..  (Isaiah Thomas is already acknowledged by most as being better than Iverson)

LeBron Hits A Home Run With Return To Cleveland

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I’ve been hard on LeBron James in the past. I wasn’t a fan of how he left the Cleveland Cavaliers with “the decision”, and I thought it took him out of the conversation of all time greatest.

Mind you, prior to his leaving Cleveland I was a big fan of LeBron’s. And as big of a Michael Jordan fan as I am, for the first time, I thought one of the so-called heir apparents, LBJ, actually had a chance to eclipse MJ. So, while I wasn’t in the burning jerseys crowd, and I did think Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert went too far in his letter in response to the decision, I was feeling some sports hate (not to be confused with actual hate), for LeBron.

But his return to the  Cleveland Cavaliers and his letter on Sports Illustraded.Com has me feeling the sports love (not to be confused with actual love) for LeBron. He opened himself up, shared honestly, took the high road in looking past Gilbert’s letter, and took ownership for his owns actions.

One of LeBron’s biggest cheerleaders, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, says it is now as if “the decision” never happened. I can’t go that far. From the point of view of how he handled the decision, yes, that part I can mostly agree with. It is officially time to move on from that aspect of it. (I have always tried to go by the saying, forgive don’t forget, learn don’t regret)

However, I still think his leaving Cleveland and needing Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat, champions prior to his arrival, to get over the hump, takes him out of the Jordan conversation. Colin will point out that Jordan never won until Scottie Pippen arrived. But the point Colin leaves out is that Pippen never won without Jordan as D. Wade did without James.

The leadership, the dual press conferences, Wade being a closer, these are things Jordan didn’t need from Pippen that helped LeBron grow as a player on and off the court.

I still think had LeBron never left Cleveland he was physically talented enough to lead them to a championship, but perhaps needed to grow mentally. And the truth is, by his own admission, he has. And that is a good thing. Besides, there are more important things in life than being the best of all time in basketball. And there is nothing wrong with being just one of the best. Even his most ardent haters can’t take that away from him.

Haters and cynics may cling to arguments like, well if the Heat were better positioned, if Wade wasn’t on his downside, if Cleveland didn’t have Kyrie Irving and a good foundation, or if there was a better option with another team, blah, blah, blah he wouldn’t have come back. All that is irrelevant. Bottom line is LeBron, as the most powerful man in the game, had all the choices in the world. He could have:

  • Went on a ring hunt, and joined teams like the Chicago Bulls.
  • He could have taken a two-year deal with a one year opt out to see how Miami retooled.
  • Or taken a similar deal to play with the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony (someone he has allegedly always wanted to play with).   And made max money in a year.

He could have done any of the above and more and still returned to Cleveland in the future. But he chose to go home now. He chose to take the high road with his former owner and see things from his and the fans perspective. He chose to do what was best for his family (something many say but do not follow through on). He chose a young team with promising talent but far from a guarantee of a championship.

I hope it doesn’t come easy, and that he and Cleveland have to work their way through it. Like Jordan’s Bulls had to do it with the Detroit Pistons, but it would be a nice story to see James lead Cleveland to a championship.

 

Why LeBron James Should Take Less Than A Max Deal

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LeBron James has stated that in free agency this time around  he wants a maximum salary deal. On the one hand, LeBron is clearly worth max money. He is currently the best player in the NBA and he brings value to a franchise as far as chances of winning a championship and marketing. However, given the restrictions of the NBA salary cap and LBJ’s desire to accumulate rings and build on his legacy, LeBron should be among the first to take a cut in pay and not the last.

As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team. Good luck winning an NBA championship alone. Do elite players deserve to earn more? Of course they do. But three, four, five, ten, twenty times as much? No, they don’t. Not when it hurts the team’s chances of building a successful team because one or two players eat up so much money towards the cap.

The LeBron James’ of the world, the Kevin Durants, and Carmelo Anthonys, they stand to gain the most from winning a championship. Both from a legacy point of view, and from a financial, marketing and endorsement point of view. They should be the ones making the financial “sacrifice” to bring in the pieces necessary to win.  Not the other way around.

Recently it was reported that Michael Jordan’s net worth eclipsed one billion dollars. I don’t think former Bulls teammates, Horace Grant’s, Dennis Rodman’s or Toni Kukoc’s portfolio is anywhere close to that.

It’s not just his game, but the six rings Jordan’s teams won that have him spoken about (deservedly) as the greatest of all time and being on the Mount Rushmore of basketball. A place LeBron fancies himself being a part of.  The winning (along with his MJ’s charisma) provided the platform for his success outside of playing.

It was only his last few seasons with the Bulls that Jordan finally became the highest paid player.  Something he never made a fuss over or seemed to care much about.  True, he was under contract, however, he could have easily held out.  It is likely he saw the bigger picture.

Well, what is that worth to you LeBron? Sacrificing a few million a season off your playing salary now could mean:

  1. More money in endorsements
  2. Matching or surpassing Jordan in rings
  3. And a place on basketball’s Mount Rushmore later.

And by “sacrificing” a few million a season, you will still be making far more than most (if not all). And by winning more championships you’ll likely recoup that money in endorsements.

Star players shouldn’t think of taking less than a max deal as a sacrifice, rather as an investment that can pay monetary and personal dividends. LBJ took a little less to play with Miami these last four years; it is safe to say that investment paid off for him.

Today, Miami Heat President Pat Riley met and pitched Luol Deng. Deng is capable of being a key piece on a championship team. How much money is he going to make in endorsements if the Heat win again? Is he going to make the hall of fame? Be on Mt Rushmore some day? Cumulatively make money anywhere in the same zip code of LBJ? No, no, and no. So I don’t blame him if the report is true that he is not interested in taking a pay cut.

The other free agent players the Miami Heat were thinking about or have targeted, Kyle Lowry, Anthony Morrow, Trevor Ariza, etc. Who do you think the extra money is more important to?

Bill Wennington, B.J. Armstrong, Luc Longley, Craig Hodges, and Scott Williams. Any of these names ring bell? They are all also former players on Jordan’s Bulls team that won championships.

Ten years from now how many people are going to remember that Mario Chalmers was the point guard for the Heat? We know LeBron’s family is going to be fine in ten years, players like Chalmers need to get what they can now.

If a sub marquis players wants to take a pay cut to live in a certain city or because they like their current team and want to give them a home team discount, that is always up to them. And if they wants to do it to win a championship? Great. But there should never be pressure on these players to do it. Let the legacy chasers take the cut.

 

NFL Contracts Are The Best

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NBA star and Los Angeles Laker, Steve Nash, admits that despite his current injury he will stick around for the final year of his contract because he wants the money.  A cool 9.7 million.  I appreciate his honesty.

After a cousin of his passed away from heart disease, MLB pitching star and New York Yankee, CC Sabathia, decided to lose weight.

Some speculate and are concerned that CC’s weight loss may be responsible for his loss in velocity and have an adverse affect on his performance.  For the sake of this blog, let’s assume that is true.

Both of the above are examples of why the National Football League salary system, though not perfect, is the best we have.

Football players have to continually earn their pay.  Baseball and basketball players have to earn their contracts.  Once a player and an owner sign on the dotted line, maybe they will live up to the contract, maybe they won’t.  Either way, owners and entire fan bases have to cross their fingers.  Robinson Cano just signed a ten-year, two hundred and forty million dollar contract with the Seattle Mariners.   Speculation is that on the back-end of the deal (if even the front end) Cano won’t be playing well enough to earn that money.

Back to Steve Nash and CC.  Perhaps with few exceptions, I agree with Nash when he says anyone would do what he is doing as far as collecting the money on the final year of a contract even if he can’t play or play well.  But just because most people would do it, that doesn’t mean it is not a flaw in the system.  Both team and fan base will suffer if Nash cannot give value in return for the compensation he is receiving.

With Sabathia, I fully understand the effect the death in the family can have. (I recently lost my mother.) Health should come first.  I respect Sabathia’s reasoning for wanting to lose weight.  However, assuming it is affecting his ability to perform, he is making this choice on someone else’s dime.  I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but if CC were an NFL lineman, would he make the same choice?

I’m guessing NFL linemen make all sorts of unhealthy dietary choices to keep their weight and strength up.  If they didn’t, and they lost weight and their performance suffered, they could get cut and lose their job.  If an athlete like CC made the choice to quit baseball recognizing he couldn’t do his job at the lower weight and chose health over the game I would have huge respect for that.

If football were like baseball, a lineman could gain weight, get the big contract, lose weight for health reasons and not be of use to his team.  Now, the NFL could encourage health by putting weight or body fat limits on players, but that is a blog for a different day.

A question I have often heard asked when a free agent in the NBA or MLB is being considered for a big money long-term contract is, “will so and so remain incentivized once he has the contract?”  While there is some guaranteed upfront money in the NFL, you don’t have to have this concern near to the same degree.

I think changing contract structure to something similar to the NFL is an issue worth exploring and fighting for when collective bargaining comes up again in the NBA and MLB.  If the owners paint it to the fans as wanting to put the best product on the field and as a fairness issue, public support would be on their side.  After all, most of us have to earn our salaries or we get canned.  And if we get injured on the job there is workman’s compensation.

Maybe the give back is shorter rookie contracts so players can hit free agency quicker.  And or contract escalators for performance included in rookie contracts.  But locking in dead weight to a franchise and not allowing them to make personal moves that would improve the franchise is not game or fan friendly.

The system in football does punish team with “cap hits”, so there is  “punishment” for mistakes or personal decisions that don’t work out.  Peter King of Si.com gives a good explanation here.   But it also offers some relief in terms of being able to restructure contracts or cut players not performing to market, that enables franchises to attempt to put a better team on the field.

Like I said.  Not perfect, but I’ll take.

The NFL Gets Tomlin Situation Wrong

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Taking six days to arrive at a decision over Mike Tomlin’s stepping on the field of play/interference in the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Baltimore Ravens game seemed a little long to me, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over a few extra days.  The fining of $100,000?  That is not out of line, but more on that in a moment.  The conditional losing of draft picks based on what happens and how playoff seedings are effected is where the league loses me.

Yesterday I wrote a blog disagreeing with ESPN’s Steven A. Smith on his position about the N.Y. Yankees and whether or not they should overpay Robinson Cano.  Today I am going to whole heartedly agree with him that whatever the league is going to do punishment wise, needs to be done now.

tomlinTomlin, a deserving well-respected coach, made a mistake.  One he deserves to be punished for.  But neither he, nor the Steelers deserve to have this dangle over their heads and be a story for months.  But this goes farther than that, as the league’s position is wrong on other levels as well.

Firstly, I think the taking of a draft pick is not warranted here.  Mike Tomlin acted on his own in the heat of the moment.  There is no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, of organizational misconduct.  This interference is not an example of something that the organization knew about or should have known about.  The latter being just cause to punish the team by taking a draft pick.

And the principle of making the pick or picks forfeited contingent on the ultimate effect it has on Pittsburgh’s playoff positioning is unprecedented.  If we’re going to do that why don’t we suspend players for illegal hits based on how long the opposing player they injure misses games?  And if the injured player’s team misses the playoffs why don’t we take draft picks from them?

Mike Piazza laid out after getting hit in the head by Roger Clemons

Mike Piazza laid out after getting hit in the head by Roger Clemons

Baseball can do the same.  If a pitcher beans an opposing player and he is out for the season, that pitcher is gone for the season.  Intentionally beaning someone with a deadly weapon is a far worse offense that does more to challenge the integrity of the game then stepping on the field.  (And does warrant a stiffer penalty then a free pass to first base, but I digress.)

Do you see what opening this door can do?

But if this is the direction the NFL wanted to go, taking a pick or picks depending on whether or not the four fewer points Baltimore scored affects them getting into the playoffs or their playoff position, the league should have:

A-    As Stephen A. suggests, just awarded Pittsburgh the four points and came down with a definitive punishment.

B-    Establish that if Ravens miss the playoffs because of the missing points, Pittsburgh will lose “X”, or if they get a worse seeding, they will lose “Y”.

C-    If Pittsburgh’s playoff positioning is unaffected by the incident they  lose “Z”.

At least this way, we avoid speculation and everyone knows what is what.

The intention of this fine and punishment is to reprimand Tomlin for a violation and to discourage the act from being done by anyone else again.  I get that.  So let’s look at the fine first:

A hundred K is a decent amount of cheese.  It’s real and more than the run of the mill ten to fifty thousand dollar slap on the wrist.  Okay.  But would it deter a coach from engaging in an act that he felt could help win an important game?  I don’t think so.  So the fine sounds nice, I would have been okay with a 50K fine, but it is appropriate,  however on it’s own, it doesn’t do much for me.

I do think a loss of a high draft pick will serve as deterrence, but as previously stated, I do think this punishment fits this “crime”.

The “just” punishment in this instance would have been a one game suspension.  No need to waste time on trying to figure out intent, (even though Steven A., Skip Bayless and many others think it was intentional), if a coach or any player not on the field of play interferes with a play on the field it should be a 15 yard penalty against that team and an automatic ejection from that game and one game suspension.  Period.  Done. No need for additional fines and histrionics.

Robert Horry gives Steve Nash a cheap shot, drawing Amare Stoudemire off the bench.  Stoudemire doesn't throw a punch but is suspended for a key playoff game.

Robert Horry gives Steve Nash a cheap shot, drawing Amare Stoudemire off the bench. Stoudemire doesn’t throw a punch but is suspended for a key playoff game.

This would be similar to the NBA rule having to do with players leaving the bench during an altercation.  Doesn’t matter if it is just their toe crossing the in-bounds line, if they do it, bam automatic one game suspension.

A fine is one thing, but coaches do not want to miss games.  This would be about a close as a deterrent as losing a draft pick, and a stiff loss of wage from the suspension all rolled up into one.  I doubt we would see this again.  And if it does occur again, it would take six days to come out with an incomplete disciplinary action.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaquille O’Neal Is Wrong About Dwight Howard

shaqhoward1

Shaquille O’Neal has an affinity for nicknames, “The Big Aristotle”, “The Big Shamrock”, etc… Here is another one:  “The Big Can’t Get Over It”.  Okay it is not as eloquent as the ones he gives himself, but it is long past time he got past his issues with Dwight Howard. 

shaqhowardApparently, Howard’s big offenses to Shaq were:  taking the nickname “Superman”.   (Like Shaq was the first to ever use that one.)  And the media comparing Howard to Shaq, or calling him the next great center. 

For these two offenses Shaq rarely misses an opportunity to put Howard down.  My words to Shaq are:  You are an all-time great stop being so insecure.  If Michael Jordan reacted every time a player was called the next MJ, he’d be hating all the time.  Michael is apparently a lot more secure in himself and his place in history than you are.

Shaq’s most recent salvo is that Howard signed with the Houston Rockets because he couldn’t handle the lights of Los Angeles.  Ridiculous.  Here are valid reasons for leaving that have nothing to do with location:

  • L.A. has a coach in Mike D’Antoni, that Howard believes, doesn’t maximize his game.
  • He signed with a team, Houston, that has a coach, Kevin McHale, and hall of fame mentor, Hakeen Olajuwon, he feels better suits him.
  • Chemistry issues with the Lakers star player, and professed, “man”, Kobe Bryant.  (Shaq can you relate to issues with Kobe?)
  • Houston is also a much younger team and bettered suited to make a run at championships for years to come.
  • The Lakers are an aging, cash strapped, over the salary cap, team.

 

These are factors that would have a lot stars seeking greener pastures.

Shaq, you say everybody wants to be in L.A., but Howard never really professed that.  When he was in Orlando, he preferred a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.  Not exactly dim lights in New York.  On being traded, Howard always stated he would play out his year and see what happens in free agency, regardless of the team he was traded to.

Ironically, if the Lakers did what most thought they should, and hired the same coach that carried you to three championships, Phil Jackson, Howard likely would have stayed.

Bottom line Shaq, logic doesn’t support your conclusions.  I’m a fan of yours.  And as a fan, as big as you are, I can tell you, your attacks on Howard make you look small.  And  they’re getting old and tired.   Give it rest.  It should be beneath you.

 

Jason Kidd: Right Coach, Wrong Time

jasonkidd

Arguably a top ten point guard of all-time, Jason Kidd has the pedigree to potentially, someday, make a great coach.  I say potentially for history is littered with former great players who were not good, let alone great coaches.

But, is Kidd qualified, let alone the most qualified, to take over as coach of the Brooklyn Nets today?

In a word: No.  In three words:  Not even close.

In sports, there is this idea that an ex-player might not be qualified to coach but if he played and starred for a specific team, that somehow overrides any other lack of qualification and warrants consideration.

My favorite baseball player growing up was Don Mattingly.  When Joe Torre decided he wanted to decline the New York Yankees offer and step away, Mattingly was under consideration to be the next Yankee manager.  Unlike Kidd, Mattingly did serve as batting and bench coach but was still considered inexperienced for he lacked managerial experience at any level.  As much as a part of me wanted Mattingly to be the guy, Joe Girardi was the better choice.

Did any other team express interest in Mattingly at the time?  No.  This lack of opportunity suggests that it was premature for the Yankees to be considering Mattingly in the first place.  As I suspect it is for the Nets to have interviewed and consider Kidd.

Mark Jackson, another great point guard without any coaching experience has found success as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.  But this came after years away from the game and serving as a TV analyst alongside an established former head coach, Jeff Van Gundy.

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Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw and Phil Jackson.

Personally, I prefer and respect those who pay their dues and serve as an assistant, such as a hot coaching candidate like Brian Shaw.

However, while not coaching experience, at least as an analyst, Jackson was able to study the game on a regular basis.  Distant from his playing days and player mindset, he got to know all of the players and managerial personal.  Further, he could discuss them, and analyze game situation after situation with Van Gundy.

The advantage here is as a point guard you may do this through the lens of your own teams strengths and weaknesses but as an analyst you’re putting yourself in the mindset of everyone you cover without bias.  You are looking at the game from every angle seeing what works and what doesn’t.  And while Kidd’s experience and greatness as a player is a strong step in that direction, an analyst like Jackson or an assistant like Shaw are simply further down the road.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “Kidd — with no coaching experience at age 40 — only would be considered if he could assemble “an All-Star cast” of veteran assistants to support him, the source said.”

The thing that I find irritating about this is, um, why not just hire one of the all-star assistants to be the head coach and Kidd to be the assistant?

If the dark side of the force decided to field a basketball team, who be the coach and who be the assistant between Darth Vader and the Evil Emperor?  Between Mr. Miyagi and Danielson?

The idea of Kidd being a coach to an all-star assistant gets the whole mentor/ apprentice thing backwards.

You can say it worked for the Boston Celtics with Doc Rivers and Thom Thibodeau.  Setting aside that Doc was also an analyst first:  Let’s be honest, as much as we like Doc, (and we do like him), his team was loaded with talent.  And while they’re both top coaches, time is proving Thibodeau to be the better one…

A better example would be Larry Bird when he coached the Indiana Pacers with no coaching or analyst experience.  Bird was good.  But his all-star assistant, Rick Carlisle proved to be the better.

There is no reason why the next Thibodeau or Carlisle (arguably Brian Shaw or someone like him) should have to groom Kidd because they weren’t as good of players as Kidd or Bird.

Jasonkidd2No disrespect meant to Kidd (or Bird) who I think has potential to make a great coach.  If he really wants it, let him work as hard at earning that opportunity as he did improving his outside shot.  And not just have it handed to him because he played for the Nets and led them to two NBA finals.

Why It’s A Bigger Deal When LeBron James Flops or Dwyane Wade Is “Dirty”

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers

Fair or not we expect more from superstars.  Love’em or hate’em, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are stars of the highest order.  (Albeit Wade is past his prime).  We tend to exaggerate their successes and failures.

Another way we judge players of all sports is in how they play the game.  Playing the game, “the right way”, or “the way it is supposed to be played” are two common expressions of coaches and players meant to validate:

  • Hard-nosed play.
  • Physical play.
  • All out effort.
  • Honest way of playing.

True there is also a sports expression that states, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  But that best represents a sentiment from a pre-social media era.  With drug testing, digital technology, and the traditional media no longer in the back pocket of the games, players simply cannot get away with the things they did years ago.

Technically, since flopping is now a fine-able offense, you can say it qualifies as cheating.  And as much as we don’t like cheating, we like it even less when stars do it.  See the reaction when a player like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens gets suspected of using steroids versus someone like Melky Cabrera actually testing positive for something.

Hypothetically, if a 45-year-old knuckleball pitcher named Phil Niekro got busted for doctoring up a baseball that would be viewed one way.  If Clemens did it?  It would be stop the presses and call into question everything he ever accomplished.  Again, we expect more from superstars.  This is not entirely new.

We admire greatness but feel betrayed by it when it looks to cheat, or for lack of a better word, a weasely advantage.  It was one thing for Vlade Divac or Derek Fisher to be floppers for the Los Angeles Lakers.  It would be another if Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant were habitual floppers.  Just wouldn’t feel right.

LeBron refers to it as a legit strategy.  Forgetting for a moment that it is now a fine-able offense, so is bunting a runner to third base in a critical late game situation in baseball.  If a pitcher or even a leadoff hitter like Brett Gardener does so, we’re excited, but if Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols did that in their prime, it would not be greeted with the same enthusiasm.  Plaques aren’t built for bunt sacrifices and floppers.

jordanutahIt was much more satisfying watching the Chicago Bulls win games on Michael Jordan clutch shooting as opposed to if he flopped to draw an offense foul.  MJ, Magic, Bird, Russell, they weren’t known as floppers.  Lebron, do you want that attached to your resume?

Now let’s look at hard fouls/ cheap and or dirty play.  Unless you’re talking about the 80’s bad boy Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas, at best that is a role player function.  Kurt Rambis of the Magic Johnson Lakers, Dennis Rodman with Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and Bruce Bowen for earlier versions of Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs are examples.

dwadeelbowIf Duncan fouled people or executed the cheap shots that Bowen did it would be a bigger deal.  As it is now with seemingly nice guy Dwyane Wade who is slowly building a resume of questionable plays.  Because of his nice guy persona he has enjoyed the benefit of the doubt, but elbows, like the one he threw in game three against Indiana’s Lance Stephenson are starting to add up.

For reasons already well documented, fans already root for the Miami Heat and their not five, not six, not seven proclamation to fail.  Flopping and dirty play only gives them two more reasons to root for them to lose, and minimize them if they win.

As players, James and Wade do so many things the right way and are so talented, they shouldn’t need to flop and or cheap shot to win.

It’s fine for people to trot out the old cliché about only remembering the winner… But with Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, that is not as true as it used to be.

Memo to Commissioner Stern:  Kudos for instituting a fine for flopping, but increase it.