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NBA: ‘Los Suns’ Statement Changes Focus

May 5, 2010 Comments off

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On an off day in Portland, Robert Sarver went to work with his basketball team. He put on a Suns’ T-shirt and black silk shorts. And as players mingled with the media on the main floor of the Rose Garden, Sarver began sprinting up the steps of the arena, one section at a time.

Some reporters were stunned. Was he that desperate for a workout? Or was he that desperate for attention?

Like it or not, the Suns owner has caused a huge stir this time around. His team will wear orange “Los Suns” jerseys Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Spurs, a maneuver designed to celebrate the NBA’s diversity and illustrate his displeasure with Arizona’s new immigration law.

“It’s two-fold,” Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said. “One, it is Cinco de Mayo. And, two, it is a political statement. We felt the law, however well intended, was not right.”

Sarver is a banker by trade, and his stance is as much about money as it is about civil rights. As a businessman, he does not want to see economic boycotts, cancelled conventions and big events removed from our region. That lowers the tide for everyone in Arizona, at a time when his basketball team is struggling to sell tickets for playoff games.

It’s also brilliant public relations. The move comes during peak visibility of the NBA season. The Suns and Spurs have all the ingredients – a history, a rivalry and a stunning contrast of styles – to guarantee great television ratings. This decision will help soften the national image of Arizona, countering all the body shots we’ve received from pundits, politicians and late-night comics.

It also will mute the scene expected outside US Airways Center before Game 2.

“We hear there will be some protesters outside the building,” Kerr said. “From what I gather, there will be a march from a local church to the arena. So there was going to be some hoopla anyway.”

Kerr said the idea occurred to Sarver during a recent road trip to Portland. The Suns quickly received an endorsement from the league, which doesn’t like anything interfering with potential customers and revenue streams.

Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, LeBron James and other NBA players said they were going to speak out against the atrocities in Darfur, and bring attention to China’s history in human rights. The league effectively stifled that banter, reminding the players that they all had huge economic stakes in China, a market the NBA and Nike both consider an untapped gold mine.

Yet even with the NBA’s blessing, say this for Sarver: He had the good sense to ask his team for permission, and not jam it down its throat.

“They were all for it,” Kerr said. “We said, ‘Look, if this is going to be a distraction, you guys tell us and we won’t do it.’ For them, it means they answer some questions (Tuesday) and they wear orange jerseys (Wednesday night).”

To the contrary, the Suns seemed stoked to make such a bold statement. Amar’e Stoudemire said it was great to “let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100 percent.”

Then again, though most professional athletes prefer the politics of richness, the Suns are a bit different this way. Especially their point guard, who tends to care deeply about things such as global warming, human rights and gun control.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Steve Nash said. “I think the law is very misguided, and unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. And I think it’s really important for us to stand up for things we believe in . . .

“It doesn’t feel good to have people around the world and around the country look at our state as less than equal, less than fair. So as a proud (resident) of this state, I want us to be held in the highest esteem. I think we have a lot of great attributes and a lot of great people, and I think we need to be very cautious in how we respect our civil liberties, and the tone we’re setting, and the precedent we’re setting going forward.”

The statement doesn’t come without risk. In his statement, Sarver called the immigration law “flawed,” and that won’t endear him to people who support the measure. And if the Suns stink up the place in Game 2, losing home-court advantage in the process, the entire organization will be criticized for distracting the great focus the team displayed in Game 1.

“Look, it’s a major issue here in Arizona,” Kerr said. “It’s much bigger than a basketball game. It doesn’t mean we’re crafting a new immigration bill. We’re not claiming to be politicians and we don’t have the answer. But there were Latino people who feel offended. A lot of people feel offended. I felt offended. I don’t think we should live in a country where you have to show papers wherever you are.”

Say this for the Suns owner: It’s a bold move. And much trickier than any of those steps he scaled in Portland.

NFL: Jackson has ‘wanted change’ but not now

May 5, 2010 Comments off

Tavaris Jackson admits there have been times he thought a change might be best for him, but the Vikings one-time (and perhaps future) starting quarterback told Sirius NFL Radio on Tuesday that he never requested a trade after Brett Favre joined the Vikings last August.

“Being a competitor and knowing the business side of it you have to think about different situations like that or what they’re thinking,” Jackson said while appearing on a show with Adam Schein and former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon. “If they’re thinking, ‘OK, we’ve had enough … we’ve got our guy,’ or whatever.

“You have to think everything through and think of different scenarios and just try to be ready for anything because you never really know what [coaches and front office people] are thinking. Honestly, it crossed my mind and I’ve wanted change, but change is not always good. The grass is not always greener on the other side. The Vikings are all I know right now and I’m just trying to do my best around here.”

Jackson and Sage Rosenfels find themselves in an extremely difficult situation this offseason. Many assume that Favre will return in 2010, despite last week’s report that he needs ankle surgery. However, if he doesn’t Jackson and Rosenfels likely will battle for the starting job and Vikings coach Brad Childress indicated at the NFL Owners meetings in March that Jackson would have the upper-hand entering that competition.

That means Jackson must prepare as if he’s going to be the starter, knowing full well he probably won’t be in that role on Sept. 9 when the Vikings open the regular season at New Orleans. Jackson’s approach this offseason has been to worry about himself and let everyone else concern themselves with the other things.

“One thing I learned from Brett is just be yourself regardless of the situation and the circumstances,” he said. “Just go out and be yourself today, every day and they [can] take it or leave it. That’s what I’m going to do and that’s how I’m approaching it. Just trying to get better every day like I always did, working hard. That’s all I can do and that’s how I’m going to take it.”

Jackson was candid in admitting that possibly being the starter isn’t the same as knowing you are the team’s choice: “It’s different when you know you’re the guy or when you kind of think you’ll be a backup. You can say you’re going to work as hard, but it’s a lot different when you know you’re going to be the guy and you’ve got those guys depending on you.”

Jackson, who is 10-10 as a starter since being selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Vikings, has traded messages with Favre this offseason but he hasn’t asked the veteran about his plans.


Asked if he feels the way the Favre situation is being handled by the Vikings is a “little bit wrong,” Jackson said: “That’s not for me to say. I’m not a head coach or GM or owner or anything. I look at it as everything happens for a reason and that’s the approach I always took and I will continue to take that approach. Whatever happens is going to happen and I can’t control it. Sage can’t control it. We just have to go out and do our part and pretty much just fight. Just do our thing. That’s all we can do.”

MLB: Is Greinke the Unluckiest Pitcher Ever?‎

May 5, 2010 Comments off

After winning the Cy Young Award last year, Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke appears primed to make history of a different sort this season: unluckiest pitcher ever.

Mr. Greinke’s ERA of 2.27 is 79% better than the league average when adjusted for ballpark effects. Yet his record stands at 0-3. In baseball history, only 17 pitchers have won 15 games or fewer with an ERA at least 50% lower than average (minimum 32 starts and 200 innings pitched). None has won fewer than 12 games, and only two had losing records—Ben Sheets (12-14, 2004 Brewers) and Dave Roberts (14-17, 1971 Padres).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, fellow Cy Young winner Steve Carlton won 27 games for a 1972 Phillies team that finished 59-97. Mr. Carlton’s ERA that year was 80% better than average—almost identical to Mr. Greinke’s current pace. A big difference was Mr. Carlton’s completing 73% of his starts while Mr. Greinke has already seen his league-worst bullpen blow three would-be wins.

While Kansas City presently doesn’t rank last in a single key offensive category, the team has scored just 12 runs for Mr. Greinke in six starts. Perhaps former Yankee Mickey Rivers had it right when he famously said, “Pitching is 80% of the game. The other half is hitting and fielding.”

Uh, a Little Help Here Guys?

Here’s how Zack Greinke stacks up against the five unluckiest pitchers in baseball history based on their number of wins and how their ERA compared with the league average.*

PLAYER/TEAM/YEAR ERA COMPARED WITH LEAGUE * RECORD
Zack Greinke, Royals , 2010 2.27 79% better than average 0-3 (so far)
Ben Sheets, Brewers, 2004 2.70 60% better than average 12-14
Tom Candiotti, Blue Jays/Indians, 1991 2.65 57% better than average 13-13
Lefty Grove, Athletics, 1926 2.51 67% better than average 13-13
Kevin Brown, Dodgers, 2000 2.58 67% better than average 13-6
Roger Clemens, Astros, 2005 1.87 124% better than average 13-8

*min. 32 starts, 200 innings pitched; league ERA is adjusted for park effects Source: Baseball-Reference

NBA: Can Hill Stop Nash?

May 5, 2010 Comments off

George Hill is going to have to pick up his defense against Steve Nash.

Or course, first he’ll have to pick up his pride, his ego and probably a considerable number of lost uniform parts that left him so very exposed out on the floor against Nash.


If the Spurs were visitors to Planet Orange for the opening game of the Western Conference semifinals, then Hill made a side trip to the village of Black-and-Blue considering the way Nash whipped and beat him in Game 1.

“I don’t know if I struggled,” Hill said.

Everyone else does.

You could tell from the shock and awe that Hill was wearing along with a bit of windburn on his face.

It was not just the 33 points and 10 assists that Nash hung up in the Suns’ 111-102 series-opening victory. It was the way that so many of them came with so easily, like a man floating down a stream while sipping an umbrella drink from a straw.

“You’ve got to make Nash work,” said Tony Parker, which is one reason that Parker and not Hill opened the second half as a part of the starting unit.

It’s early and the history of this blood feud between Phoenix and San Antonio tells us that there are at least a handful of flammable and bizarre occurrences lurking around the corner. But the first one told you that the Spurs will not be able to ultimately prevail against the Suns if Hill is not able to compete better against Nash.

Hill has been a revelation with his overall improvement and his poise from his rookie year. He’s one of the main reasons the Spurs were able to survive this season with Parker spending so much time on the shelf due to injuries. But he has got to do better than nine points on 2-for-9 shooting in 33 minutes.

“I couldn’t make a shot today,” Hill said. “That’s why it’s a seven-game series. We’ll watch film and get ready for the next one.

“Why did I struggle? I don’t know if it was a part of just struggling. I didn’t make shots. I had some open looks and that’s how it goes. I don’t think I really struggled. It just didn’t go my way.”

Things began similarly disappointing for Hill in the Spurs in the previous round in Dallas as he was victimized by Jason Kidd for 13 points and 11 assists. In the opening minutes of the second half, Hill went on a drive to the hoop and Kidd simply reached in and swiped the ball away. Mere seconds later, Hill was removed from the game and never returned. But Spurs and Hill did return in the series, which is how they wound up here in the desert seeking to advance their cause.

“He’s a great player and I felt like I let him be the aggressor instead of me being the aggressor on defense,” Hill said. “That’s something I’m going to get better at and do a better job on Wednesday. I feel like tonight he did a great job of picking us apart and being aggressive.

“He’s the head of the snake. He was phenomenal and we have to tip our hat to him.”

The Spurs will likely make more of a team-wide effort to get the ball out of Nash’s hands on offense.

“You never can do anything by yourself,” Hill said. “It’s always gonna be a team thing.”

But it will also be up to Hill to make Nash defend more by being more assertive with his own offense.

“I have to attach him a little bit more so he just don’t conserve his energy on the defensive end,” he said. We got to make him work on both ends.”

That was the message that the second-year point guard had delivered to him by the veteran Parker.

“I told George at halftime that you have to try to get Steve tired,” Parker said. “You have to attack him, go at him and that will tire him out. You can’t be letting him come down the court with all of his energy and going full speed. Steve Nash at full speed is tough and over the course of a game he’s going to get good results. George will play better. I have confidence in him.”

A question is whether Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might make a switch and put Parker back into the starting lineup.

“I’m not worried about that. I’m not thinking about that,” Hill said. “Whatever Pop decides will be the right thing and that will be fine with me.

“We’ll come back in here for Game 2 and things will be different, a lot of things ready to be better.”

Hill will be standing at the head of that line.

NCAAF: Alabama vs. Miami in a 2012 opener at the Georgia Dome?

May 5, 2010 Comments off

Alabama played in the 2008 and 2009 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Games at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Now there’s talk of the Crimson Tide returning in 2012.

Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, told the Miami Herald that he would like to match Miami against Alabama in the 2012 kickoff game. If not Alabama, he said, Auburn, Georgia or South Carolina would be opponents to consider.

Alabama defeated Clemson in the 2008 opener at the Georgia Dome and came back last season to defeat Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.

Last week, it was reported that Alabama and Georgia Tech will postponed a home-and-home series. The two schools were scheduled to play in 2013 and 2014. Makeup dates have not been announced.

Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt told the Herald that he wants to schedule a 2012 game at a neutral site. A game in Chicago against a Big East or Big Ten team also is being considered.

The 2012 Chick-Fil-A game would pay each participant $2.25 million, the Herald said.

“It’s something we would be interested in,” Hocutt told the Herald.

Tennessee and North Carolina State already are scheduled to play in one kickoff game at the Georgia Dome in the opening weekend of the 2012 season, according to the Herald. The proposed Miami game against Alabama or another Southeastern Conference team would be a second kickoff game that weekend.

Alabama defeated Miami 34-13 in the 1993 Sugar Bowl to win the 1992 national championship.

MLB: America’s Pastimes: Baseball, Apple Pie and Political Flame Wars

May 5, 2010 Comments off

Remember back during the Congressional hearings for baseball, when elected official spent their time, and therefore hard-earned taxpayer money, talking aboutbaseball, of all things? Baseball and politics…whodathunkit?

Now, we can’t seem to get away from it. The New York Daily Newshad a story – albeit under their News section and not Sports – focusing on a group called the Working Families Party, which has drafted a letter to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Mets owner Fred Wilpon asking the two New York teams to boycott the 2011 MLB All-Star game in Arizona if the state doesn’t repeal its new immigration law.

“Will Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera have to show ID to take the mound next year?” asked Working Families Party director Dan Cantor in a letter to the labor-backed party’s 130,000 supporters.Arizona’s new law will require cops to ask for immigration documents from anyone suspected of entering the country illegally. Critics say it could lead to racial profiling, and opponents across the country have urged MLB to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix.

“If New York’s baseball teams say they won’t go, they could become leaders in a national push to move the All-Star Game out of Arizona,” Cantor wrote.

Hugging Harold Reynolds profiled the article this morning and made the point most of us are probably thinking: “please, leave your politics out of my baseball.” But at this point, that’s nearly impossible. The comment from HHR even came a paragraph after pointing out that moving the All-Star game could cost the region “approximately $60 million” in revenue, much of which, the post asserts, would be going to the same undocumented workers the law was put in place to eradicate.

“Please leave your politics out of my baseball.” Maybe that should end with a question mark. In reading the NYDN story on the push for a boycott, the right side bar had a link to an opinion piece by S.E. Cupp with the headline, “Starting in left field, Keith Olbermann: He’s embraced by MLB and the NFL while Limbaugh was shunned.”

If you click through to Cupp’s byline you’ll see an error message as this is, presumably, the first article the bespectacled pundit has written for the paper. At the end of the slam piece, Cupp’s personal web address appears, and when clicking through, you are linked to a book she wrote called Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity. So, is Cupp upset with Olbermann because he’s “liberal media” or is she upset because he’s a Yankees fan?

Look, I’m no fan of Olbermann’s heavy-handed style of broadcasting – no matter how much I agree or disagree with his politics – but holy cow talk about taking yourself too seriously. This is too fantastic not to quote:

Nothing says “America” like our national pastime. For a few yawning hours, chronological time becomes primordial time, and within those walls of sacred stadiums, space becomes holy. And the Boys of Summer do what they’ve been doing for nearly two centuries. They play ball.But over the years, nefarious characters have threatened to sully baseball’s good name. Chick Gandil persuaded the Chicago White Sox to throw a few games back in 1919. Peter Edward Rose had a bit of a gambling problem. And, of course, there’s everyone’s favorite recovering opportunist – Jose Canseco, the Danny Bonaduce of baseball – and the long line of performance-enhancing abusers from Mark McGwire to you-know-who.

Now there’s another menace lurking in the shadows of the dugout, someone so ugly, so vindictive, so polarizing that with every word he utters he is bastardizing whatever sanctity remains of the game.

His name is Keith Olbermann.

And that’s just the start. The NYDN unleashed this woman on Olbermann with the angle that Olbermann is such a hate monger at his day job at MSNBC that MLB, and the NFL if you consider his work on NBC for Football Night in America, should be ashamed to associate with him. And, to the point of the article, how dare they let Olbermann have a sports voice when Rush Limbaugh “can’t even buy his way into the NFL.”

Olbermann, thus far on his Twitter feed, has taken the high road. Here’s another gem from Cupp:

So let’s get this straight. Limbaugh is too conservative for football, evangelical minister the Rev. Franklin Graham is too Christian for the National Day of Prayer, and Islam is too touchy for “South Park.”Meantime, Olbermann’s misogyny, race-baiting and fear-mongering makes him a perfect voice for America’s national pastime?

Take me out to the ballgame…take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks…but you better make sure the person selling them to me doesn’t look like he’s from Mexico or I’m calling the cops.

So we’ll root, root, root for the home team…if they don’t win it’s a shame…but not as much of a shame as a former sportscaster having a blog on MLBlogs that anyone who wants to can create and write about baseball…

For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old…ball…game!

NCAAF: Mitch Mustain shines, Matt Barkley hurt during final spring scrimmage

May 3, 2010 Comments off

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Starting quarterback Barkley injures throwing hand when it strikes a defensive lineman’s helmet. Mustain, his backup, throws for five touchdowns, mostly against the second-team defense. Coach Lane Kiffin is unhappy with the offense in general.

There is no quarterback controversy at USC.


Sophomore Matt Barkley was the starter last season, maintained his status this spring and, barring injury, will no doubt be under center for the Trojans when they open the season Sept. 2 at Hawaii.

But on an afternoon when Barkley suffered a hand injury, senior Mitch Mustain stirred the fan base Saturday by passing for nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans’ final spring scrimmage at the Coliseum.

Mustain has sat behind Mark Sanchez and Barkley since transferring from Arkansas in 2007. He also, at times, was behind Aaron Corp, who transferred to Richmond after last season.

Not one to get overly excited about anything — most of his touchdown passes, after all, came against the second-unit defense — Mustain acknowledged after the scrimmage that he was encouraged by his prospects.

Why?

“One less guy in front of me,” he said, “and [I’m] playing pretty well.”

Mustain, freshman tailback Dillon Baxter, senior fullbackStanley Havili and senior receiver Travon Pattersonwere the other standout playmakers during a 98-play scrimmage.

Asked to assess his team heading into the off-season, first-year Coach Lane Kiffin, as usual, did not mince words.

“Our defense has a chance to be really good,” Kiffin said. “I think our offense has a long, long, long ways to go, especially in the run game.”

USC’s first-team offense irked Kiffin, who doubles as offensive coordinator, by going scoreless in the first half.

“We told the players at halftime, they were going to take their scholarship checks and give them back to the fans that came out today because it was an embarrassing performance,” Kiffin said.

Barkley responded by connecting with Patterson for a 41-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. But defensive tackle Jurrell Casey hit Barkley on the play, the quarterback’s right hand slamming into the defender’s helmet.

“Like throwing your hand full force into a wall,” said Barkley, who completed seven of 16 passes for 87 yards.


Barkley, who had surgery on his right wrist after last season, lay sprawled on the ground for several moments after the play and was examined by doctors on the sideline. He spent the rest of the afternoon with an icepack on the back of his right hand. A school spokesman said Barkley would be reexamined on Monday. Kiffin removed Casey from the scrimmage for knocking down the quarterback.

Baxter rushed for 129 yards in 13 carries and provided the highlight play when he took a handoff, spun twice behind the line of scrimmage and broke free for a 58-yard gain.

Asked whether he had seen that move before, Kiffin said, “Yeah, PlayStation 2. R-2 button.”

Said Baxter: “The second spin came out of nowhere. . . . I was able to make plays after that.”

Havili scored on touchdown pass plays of 28, 33 and 50 yards, all from Mustain, who finished 19 for 29 for 299 yards. Mustain also caught a pass from Baxter.

Kiffin praised Mustain for his work during the spring, but Barkley, who did not have a pass intercepted in four scrimmages, is the starter heading into training camp.

“We think we have two quarterbacks that can really help us win,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin is not as enamored of other parts of the offense. He said the Trojans have “zero depth” at receiver and wants more from the offensive line and running backs.

USC players now begin three months of off-season workouts. Training camp begins in August.

Quick hits

Linebacker Michael Morgan had seven tackles, linebacker Malcolm Smith six. . . . Cornerback Shareece Wright had five tackles and three pass deflections. . . . Patterson had five catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. . . . Tailback Allen Bradford rushed for 48 yards in seven carries,Curtis McNeal 44 in eight and Marc Tyler 31 in seven. . . . Freshman receiver Kyle Pratercaught an eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Boyd.