Sports Perspectives by Mark Elder

Friday, 6 February 2009

PETA’s banned advertisement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:56

By now you’ve all seen the ad where women who are allegedly vegetarians are getting it in with veggies on camera.  I really thought the whole thing was a hoax — presumably you did too — but it is not.  I am here to tell you PETA is serious, and believes that you will stop eating delicious chickens because a scantily clad Caucasian hottie rubbed broccoli on her torso.

These people can’t be serious.  I mean really, did that ad make ANYONE put down their turkey sandwich and say “you know what, they’re right, this is wrong?”  I pray that it did not.  I’m glad NBC wouldn’t air it.  Good for them.  Spare us.  Beef is still what’s for dinner.

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The “Mecca of Basketball”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:49

Yes, folks, Kobe Bryant was right.  The Garden is the last great building left standing, but we can’t really say it’s home to many great teams, can we?  Some unbelievable moments in basketball and boxing have transpired in midtown Manhattan, but the greatest in the history of the world have not played for teams that called the Garden home.

This week was no different.  MSG was treated to two unbelievable, fantastic, sublime performances by two of the greatest to ever grace a court – but neither sported home whites.

Marv Albert appeared on Pardon the Interruption with Wilbon and Kornheiser last night to discuss the two historic nights, and he spoke about the unusual phenomenon of chanting MVP for Kobe, and rising in uproar every time Lebron dunks or shoots.  Reggie Miller was upset by this gentle treatment from the Garden crowd.  His position is that Knicks fans should jeer opposing talent, not cheer for it.  I would agree, but as Marv explained, times have changed, and New York no longer has a choice.

You see, we Knicks fans hate the Lakers, the Celtics, the Heat, the Pacers, and the Bulls – but we can ill-afford to shun greatness today.  We gave Reggie Miller the business because we wanted to see that greatness from our own stars, but today there is no chance of that.  Is Wilson Chandler going to go for 61 tomorrow night against Paul Pierce?  Anything is possible, except for that.  Check the Bible, it’s in there.  Lesser known passage, though.  The point is we’re all fans of basketball first, and the Knicks second.  New York is a Yankees town, but not a baseball town.  New Yorkers grow up playing basketball before they can talk (I did and I know others who did as well).  Watching MJ come out of retirement to score 55 was painful because we had a good defensive team and we probably could have held him to fewer than 50, or at least won the game.  Watching Kobe go for 61 in 35 minutes and 49 seconds…well…I can’t be mad at that.  We had no chance of stopping him, we have no chance of winning the championship, you might as well appreciate greatness when you’re graced with it.  Same goes for Lebron.  Two trips to the Garden the last two years and he’s averaged 51 pts, 9.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists.  That’s beyond greatness.

It’s nice to see the words New York on the front of the uniform of the player who has an all-time great performance, but seriously, can you begrudge Knick fans for putting aside the petty differences and embracing the brilliance and beauty of what Lebron and Kobe did this week?  I can’t, or at least I won’t.  The fans in New York are STARVING for good basketball, and if only our archrivals dane to provide us with it, well, Pops always said not to bite the hand that feeds you.

NBA injury reflections

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:32

Wow.  What an incredible week in the NBA to start the month of February.  A lot to get to, but let’s start with the injury report:
Jameer Nelson, one of the three best PGs in the Eastern Conference – out for the season (most likely) with a torn labrum.
Elton Brand messes up his shoulder and will be out for the season AGAIN.
Andrew Bynum out for 2 or 3 months with a torn MCL.
Chris Paul pulls his groin (or a sports hernia, perhaps?), but isn’t expected to miss too many games.
Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams have both been out for the Jazz, though Williams looked fine with a bruised quadriceps muscle last night.
Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and a few others were ALL out against the Nets for the Wizards the other night, and of course, the Wizards were blown out.
Kevin Garnett and Caron Butler both missed about a week with the flu – which makes the NBA seem a lot like every other job in the world, doesn’t it?

Those are not minor absences, by the way.  We’re talking about key cogs in playoff teams being unable to play.  Most importantly Bynum and Boozer, because I have the Jazz winning their division, which they won’t do without Boozer, and I have the Lakers winning the championship, which they may not do without Bynum.

My initial reaction to the Bynum injury report, though, is one of awe.  He’s 3 meters tall and he weighs like150 kg and he tore his MCL but he’ll be playing professional basketball again in 2 months?   Are these people serious?  Is he Wolverine?  There’s no way that’s happening, unless I just don’t understand science and/or medicine at all.  I leave the door open for that, at least.  But come on.  My friend has bad tendinitis in his knees and the doctor told him not to hoop for 6 to 8 months!  Meanwhile Bynum will be playing professionally again in 8 weeks?  No.  I straight up refuse to believe that.

Regarding some other injuries:

Gilbert Arenas wondered aloud whether he should play at all to try to salvage his team’s awful, dreadful, very bad season.  He should have wondered a little bit more quietly, but in response to his quasi-inquiry that would never be posed to me:  no, don’t play.  What would be the point?  For the fans?  Wiz fans are a joke.  For himself?  He can practice on the low, then play summer league and preseason and he’ll be ready for opening night come October.  The truth is that it was a bad contract and the Wizards are better off getting all the ping-pong balls than they are finishing the season with a respectable record — and I almost NEVER say that.  WW management has made a lot of poor choices (including firing Eddie Jordan, paying Arenas 111 million dollars, and singing Jamison to play power forward for the next four seasons), and I think it’s time to start over and make some good ones, starting with good draft picks this summer.  And just a quick aside for those of you who are on the Nick Young/JaVale McGee bandwagon:  get off now, or get out of my ear.  I don’t want to hear it.  They’re both inconsistent complimentary bench players on a bad team.

The Bynum injury is the biggest, but the Nelson injury is a close second.  Jameer Nelson has really come on this year and he had the Magic playing like a title contender.  Without him, they’re not.  Simple as that.  Some combination of JJ Redick and Tyronne Lue will take his place.  Ouch.  These injuries are killing my predictions.  How can the Jazz and Magic make noise in the playoffs if they are without key cogs?  I love Stan Van and Dwight Howard, but with no point guard, they’re not going to topple the Celtics or the Cavs.  Get healthy, Jameer, and get them next year.  We all saw what happened when Wade tried to play through the pain.  Learn the lesson from his mistake, don’t make the same one yourself, please.  For basketball.

As for Elton Brand:  it was a bad signing, and the Sixers will be fine without him.  Did anyone else notice that it wasn’t really working WITH him?  I don’t think this one matters much.  You can’t trade his contract anyway, so he’s not hurting you there.  The Sixers will just have to eat this contract over the next 4.5 years and deal with the fact that they won’t be winning any championships during that span.  Sorry, Philadelphia, but you still have McNabb and Ryan Howard, at least.

Jake Plummer disses Mike Shannahan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:08

The Colorodo ESPN Radio affiliate (whatever it is, sorry, I have no idea and don’t care because it’s west of here) contacted Jake Plummer regarding the firing of Coach Mike Shannahan, and he called it “overdue,” adding that Shannahan hadn’t been a great coach in years, and that he was getting a pass largely because of his relationship with the owner, because fans had begun to see him as an offense-only mind who was, as a head coach, a creation of John Elway.  Normally I’d rip a guy like Plummer in this situation, but this time, I can’t, and here’s why:

1.  He’s correct.  Shannahan’s firing was overdue and fans were asking “how long can he ride Elway’s coattails?”  As a matter of fact, even people from West Africa had asked me “Mark, how long can he milk those two Super Bowl wins that were really just John Elway finally getting his?”  Damn.

2.  Plummer seems like a stand-up guy who is honest and backs his words with action.  He didn’t call for Shannahan’s head while he was still employed.  Both of them were out of work at the time, as a matter of fact.  This wasn’t a comment made out of spite after he was traded to Tampa to compete for the job of 2nd-string QB for a maniacal coach in a podunk town.

3.  He didn’t seek out the nearest reporter to trash the man, he simply answered direct questions when interviewed, and he answered them in a straightforward, forthright manner.  What more would one expect?

I guess that’s why this has been a non-story nationally, but it’s still worth a minute to comment on because DAMN!  Shannahan went out and got Plummer and showed faith in him when others would not, and then Plummer comes right out and says he should have been fired years ago.  No matter how you slice it, that’s at least a little messed up.  Still, though, like I said, he was right.  Can we please get Mr. Plummer an analyst job somewhere.  How is it that he’s unemployed but Matt Millen and Emmitt Smith and Shaun King are all working making good money on TV?

DJ to CF for NYY in 2009?

Derek Jeter is one of my (sports) heroes.  No, he’s not as historically significant as Malcolm X or Marcus Garvey.  He’s not a revolutionary and he probably never will be, but he makes and has made my life better and he brings a good many of us pride.  The New York Yankees have made my summers enjoyable for the past 19 or 20 years, since I really understood what the hell you’re supposed to do with a baseball, and Derek has been a big a part of that as any, so I’m going to address an old story that’s simultaneously a non-story and a potential future story:

Is Derek Jeter better suited to play center fielder than shortstop?

ESPN Insider online has a nice piece about the possibility of a move from SS to CF for DJ.  The answer is yes.  But the real answer is no.  The analysis is a familiar one:  as Jeter’s defensive range continues to erode, his remaining defensive attributes are more relevant to those of an outfielder than a shortstop, and the Yankees have no center fielder of whom to speak, so why not employ the slick fielding underpaid youngster at short, where there are more chances than center, and move the captain back a few meters?  He can continue to produce offensively and the Yankees will have a chance at being a great defensive team instead of a mediocre one.  With Molina calling games, Posada at DH and Derek in center field, the Yankees could be the top defensive team in the league behind Chien-Ming Wang, one of the top three ground-ball inducing starting pitchers in the world.  Sounds brilliant, right?  Well it is.  But it’s too brilliant.  Jeter tracks pop-ups and bloopers better than any shortstop I’ve ever seen, including Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and any Johnny-Come-Lateleys you can name.  His range is average to his right (maybe a little below average this season, as he is turning 35) and it’s straight up not good enough going to his left.  I’ve seen balls that were clearly on the shortstop side of the bag go to Cano because Cano has excellent range and, when he’s mentally focused and prepared to play, he gets an incredible jump on the ball off the bat.  He still accounts for more runs than he costs the team because he gets on base well and is sure-handed when he needs to be, but not 21 millions dollars worth of runs, to be sure.

 

Jeter snares a foul pop-up, twisting his body as the ball heads for the crowd

 

Let’s analyze this rationally, and then realistically:

-Jeter tracks balls in the air better than balls on the ground; and everyone knows this.
-Jeter has a strong arm and excellent body control.  He is a good athlete in addition to being a good baseball player.
-Anecdote is not data, but I have never seen Derek Jeter misplay a ball in the air into an error, and I have seen hundreds, if not thousands of Yankees’ games.
-Jeter can still make a nice play in the hole and give you an amazing jump-throw from the outfield grass all the way to first – no hops, but that’s about it.  More and more often as the years go on, his dives in the hole come up empty, and the numbers support that.  10 years ago, he’d snare it.  Just 2 years ago, he’d knock it down.  Now, the ball trickles through to Damon, who is the MLB version of your neighbor’s kid who your kid doesn’t want to play with because he throws like a girl.
-Going to his left, Jeter is slower than other good shortstops.  If he’s going to get there, his is the glove you want the ball in, but if there is a good chance for another SS to glove the grounder, and a poor/slim chance for DJ to glove the grounder, you’re giving the other team extra outs.
Rationally speaking, given these points, and the fact that center fielder for the New York Yankees is STILL one of the most important, high-profile positions in all of sport, the Yankees should move Derek Jeter to the outfield immediately.

Now let’s be realistic.  Derek Jeter is not just one of my sports heroes, he is that for about 30 million people across the nation.  He is SOLELY responsible for making shortstop of the New York Yankees the glamour position it is today.  Prior to Derek Jeter, it was center fielder of the New York Yankees that commanded your respect, admiration and awe.  Mickey Mantle, Bernie Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth – all Yankees, all outfielders.  Shortstop?  Who was the Yankees shortstop in 1995 before Jeter was called up.  I know this, but only because I have a problem.  If you’re only moderately obsessed with the Yanks — you know, you’re obsessed, but you have it under control — then you might not know that it was Tony Fernandez playing the 6 position for 103 games in 1995.

Derek is an icon, a legend, a champion, a hero.  He’s the embodiment of the Yankees.  He’s a Yankee for life.  Is there a diner in the Bronx that would be so bold as to hand this man a tab after he eats?  I don’t think so.  (Whether Mr. Jeter has been to a diner in the BX borough in the last decade is an unrelated question)  The man has given us four championships, six pennants, 11 division titles and two wild cards.  How dare I even address the topic of asking him to play a different position?  I should never have even broached the subject.  I apologize.

Until Derek Jeter ASKS to switch positions, until we have a stud shortstop waiting in the wings, until it becomes clear than no amount of spending on other positions can compensate for Derek’s poor range as a 6, we have no right to move him to 8.  Why?  Because as long as you can win with this guy at his position of choice, you find a way to do it.  The Yankees may have found that way.  They have home run hitters at the corner infield positions, both of whom have strong arms and good defensive instincts, both of whom have won Gold Glove awards.  They have a second baseman with incredible range and a great arm.  They have TWO plus defenders who can play center field (neither of whom can get on base for shit) and a few others who are solid in the outfield tracking fly balls.  Molina behind the plate has had his right arm surgically replaced with an AR-15 and the Yankees have three ace pitchers who miss bats like nobody’s business.  Cap it all off with the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and you have the talent around Jeter to compensate for his degrading defensive abilities, without depriving us of the occasional flashes of brilliance.  Don’t you want to see Jason Varitek’s BA drop below .200 when DJ snares his slow grounder in the hole and jump-throws him out from left field somewhere, as newly-acquired Mark Teixeira streeeeetches toward short?  I know I still do.  Don’t rob us of that, Yankees.  Don’t tell us that our hero is ALREADY so mortal that he must vacate the position he made relevant before his $189,000,000 toll has even been paid.  Let Jeter be larger than life for a few more years, and then let him receive gobs and gobs of praise for coming out “of his own volition/accord” and telling Girardi that he will play outfield if it means more World Series championships for his beloved franchise.  That day will come and we irrationally heap the love all over him again, but until that day, just pay guys like Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett so that Derek doesn’t have to carry the burden of winning alone, and is weaknesses will not be glaringly obvious to the casual observer.  If we can win with Jeter at short, we’ll be reliving the glory days, and honestly, what Yankees fan doesn’t want to do that?  In the first year of the new Stadium, let the icon play the position he made iconic until it becomes painfully clear – to HIM – that he is costing the team a chance at victory.  At the moment, he is still good enough, still wiley enough and experienced enough and sure-handed enough to play shortstop for the best team in baseball.

However, when I step back and take off my pintriped glasses, if I must, though only for a moment, I can see that the Yankees organization sees the day coming when he, and perhaps Alex Rodriguez, move back to center field and right field, respectively.  They have not signed a long-term center fielder or right fielder in years, and I don’t think they will.  Admittedly the day is coming, but there is glory between now and then, I’m certain of that.  Think about how much easier it will be for either or both to make that move AFTER winning a title.  How much easier is it to step back and say “this is for the team, for the future” than to imply “this is for the team, but it’s long overdue, I’ve been playing the wrong position for years and you may therefore infer that I’ve cost you, the fan, multiple championships in doing so, if only for my own ego.”  After the 2010 season, Jeter will move, and do so gladly as the reigning MVP of the World Series.  ESPN talking heads:  get your praise ready now, you’ll be showering him with it then.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Basketball Prediction Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:43

As mentioned in the early days of this weblog, I have a rational bias toward professional sports when compared to college sports.  College sports are a joke, so I will devote only one paragraph to college round ball in this post:

UNC will win the NCAA Tournament, some disrespected mid-major school will win the NIT and no one will care at all.  Duke will lose in an upset in the third round of the tournament, in part because Coach K, who I love, recruits too many white players.  Georgetown will make the Final Four as will Pitt, but neither team will be able to come within 10 points of UNC in the championship game.  Every half-way decent college player will turn pro after the tourney and very few will be impact players as rookies in the NBA.  Blake Griffin I like, though, because he rebounds.  Incidentally, how is it that people don’t yet understand that rebounding wins championships?  It’s written on the wall in the Hall of Fame.  It can’t be any clearer. 

Moving forward into basketball players who are talented…

I predicted the division winners at the beginning of the season, then revised them after the Iverson/Billups trade (great trade for both teams).  Here is what I’ve had since the trade:

EAST:  Celtics, Cavs, Magic

WEST:  Lakers, Jazz, Hornets

The division winners in the NBA are easy to call, traditionally, because basketball teams with better players and coaches usually win more games.  It’s more difficult to pick the other 10 mediocre teams that will make the playoffs.  My playoff lists are as follows:

EAST:  Cavs, Celtics, Magic, Pistons, Hawks, Heat, Nets, Sixers

WEST:  Lakers, Hornets, Jazz, Spurs, Nuggets, Rockets, Suns, TrailBlazers

In the playoffs I like David Stern’s dream and Kobe Bryant’s nightmare – Lakers v. Cavs in the championship series.  Evaluating the series objectively, the Cavs have an excellent chance against L.A.  New York is screwed if Lebron wins championships these next two seasons, however, so I’m going to say that he won’t.  Lakers in 6 this season over Cleveland.  The road to the Finals will be as follows:

First round winners:  Lakers over TrailBlazers (sweep), Suns over Hornets, Jazz over Rockets, Spurs over Nuggets, Cavs over Sixers (sweep), Celtics over Nets (sweep), Magic over Heat, Pistons over Hawks (in 7)

Second round winners:  Lakers over Spurs, Jazz over Suns (in 7 – this one could go either way), Cavs over Pistons, Magic over Celtics (in 7 – might be wishful thinking)

Conference Finals winners:  Lakers over Jazz (in 6), Cavs over Magic (in 6)

NBA Finals winner:  Lakers over Cavs (in 6)

That said, I would like to also go on record as saying that, objectively, Kobe and D.Wade are now tied for SECOND best player in the world.  Lebron James has eclipsed them as the most talented, versatile and valuable player in the world.  Dwight Howard is now 4th, and Chris Paul rounds out my top 5.

Let me be clear about something.  This is objective analysis, not my usual NY bias.  I hate all teams other than the NY Knicks, and none of these players has ever played in NY, so I have no allegiances.  Last year, I felt Kobe’s conrtibutions were the most significant of any player in the league, but you simply cannot say that he is better than Lebron in 2009.  Lebron has become so dominant, it’s scary.  His near triple-double against the Cs on Friday night demonstrated as much.  He’s going to win 5-8 of the next ten championships.  He’s that good.  I know some people have been on the Lebron bandwagon for years, and I have not, so I may seem late to the party, but that is not the case.  I’m not saying he’s always been better and I’m just now realizing it, I’m saying he has eclipsed Bryant, and it may be that Wade has as well, though that is at least debatable.

More on this to come during the course of the  season.

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