Category: Sports

Race Day

 

 

Camper cities

Traffic for miles

Checkered flags wave

In all directions

Coolers full of Bud

Dirt cheap sunglasses

Tank tops

Jake the snake

Around Brother Henry’s neck

Grilled brats and burgers

“Show us your tits!”

Naps on the infield

Day long engine drone

A rainbow of cotton candy

Tires over the fence

Some foreign guy wins

May is beautiful

 

 

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2004

 

 

 

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Hump Day Hoops- Regular Season Awards

 

 

This post is about regular season awards and status.* This year, there’s been extra attention paid to the media’s role in determining the salary options available to Paul George and Gordon Hayward if they make All-NBA teams. As peculiar as that clause in the collective bargaining agreement is, my guess is that number of games will be a more important factor in determining which players are labeled as top 15 in the league.

 

Lots of folks are suggesting that Kevin Durant and Chris Paul will fall short of All-NBA because they missed time this year. Except that they both played ~75% of the season, having 62 and 61 games under their respective belts. It’s gonna be interesting to see how their situations shake out. As for me, availability matters, but only as one element of the larger story of an individual season.

 

One last thing to mention is that I take the NBA’s positional rules seriously. Although ‘positionless basketball’ is the rage these days, there are still guidelines. Unfortunately, that means the third team center is taking a spot that would more realistically go to a different player. Uh oh.

 

 

MVP

Russell Westbrook

Yes, LeBron James is the best player in the world. Yes, Kawhi Leonard plays a more complete game. Yes, James Harden had an epic season, far better than the one that he registered when awarded the first Players’ Awards MVP in 2015. Still, Westbrook’s statistical accomplishments should prevent him from experiencing the odd situation Oscar Robertson faced when he averaged a triple double yet finished a perfectly reasonable third place MVP finish in 1962.

 

Sixth Man

Eric Gordon

Gordon has been the second best player on a very impressive Rockets team. Sixth Man is his permanent future role and he’s played it masterfully this year. In fact, he may well be redefining the job description for the future.

 

Coach of the Year

Terry Stotts

In October, I legitimately thought the Trail Blazers would start tanking a couple weeks before All-Star Break. Instead, Stotts freed Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum to be super aggressive, coaxed strong performances from a motley crew of barely rotation players and unleashed Jusuf Nurkic on the world. Making the playoffs in the West with this roster is a feat of wizardry yet somehow, Stotts is being totally overlooked for this award.  

 

Most Improved Player

Giannis Antentokounmpo

I have been high on Giannis for a few years now, still I’m astonished at the season he just completed. He finished the season in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots, leading the Bucks in all 5 categories. The other guys who have done that are Hall of Famers and Giannis is now on that trajectory. This year was his first in full flower as a de facto point guard and his capacity for growth is still overwhelming. Giannis will soon be stronger, a better ball handler and a more confident shooter. We may see a situation in which this year’s MIP is next year’s MVP.

 

Rookie of the Year

Dario Saric

Nearly by default, Dario Saric gets the nod because he’s the only rookie to a) play half the games and b) demonstrate star potential. Joel Embiid didn’t do the first and Malcolm Brogdon’s ceiling is not far from his roof, uh, current status.  

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond Green

The Swiss Army Knife of the Golden State Warriors, Draymond Green, finally gets the nod he’s been desperate to achieve. One of the few players in the league who can reasonably guard anyone on the floor, Green sacrificed his offense to spend even more energy harassing anyone and everyone. He plays bigger, faster, and stronger than he is.

 

 

All-NBA First Team

LeBron James

Kawhi Leonard

Karl-Anthony Towns

Russell Westbrook

James Harden

 

It’s hard to imagine much dispute with the forwards and guards on my first team. In some order, those players should be the top 4 MVP vote getters. It’s the troublesome center spot where we have a mess. KAT has gaudy, empty numbers because his Timberwolves were still so bad. Yet, those empty numbers place he and (the usually playing center) DeMarcus Cousins a tier above the other options. Slotting Anthony Davis here is a cheap attempt to avoid the rules as written. The Pelicans work very hard to keep AD from spending time as a center. Let’s not pull a reverse Duncan where we disregard the action on the court.

 

 

Second Team

Anthony Davis

Giannis Antentokounmpo

DeMarcus Cousins

Stephen Curry

John Wall

 

This is where AD belongs. He might be the first person chosen in an all-league reset draft but he didn’t do as much as James and Leonard, perhaps not even as much as Antentokounmpo (see Most Improved Player).  His frontcourt mate Cousins has somehow become underrated. I don’t know how his stat lines get ignored so regularly but they do. When you score like Jerry West, rebound the ball like Hakeem Olajuwon and get assists like Kobe Bryant, you’re a special dude. Boogie Cousins is a special dude. Stephen Curry got lots of heat this season for not being TRANSCENDENT. He was still the third best guard in basketball. In a down year for him and a banner year for Harden and Westbrook. Wall elevated his game and his team. His all-around game gives him the edge over the scoring dominant guards in the East.

 

Third Team

Jimmy Butler

Kevin Durant

Rudy Gobert

DeMar Derozan

Isaiah Thomas

 

Butler and Durant had stretches of real MVP contention but couldn’t manage that level for the whole season for team chemistry and injury reasons. Gobert became a dominant force on defense and a consistent offensive presence, squeaking past Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard on this list. DeRozan and Thomas were fantastic offensive players who led their teams to impressive seasons with unconventional approaches.

 

Honorable Mentions

I need to apologize for omitting a few folks. Damian Lillard never seems to get recognition but this spot would have been well earned. Yes, his Blazers made the find of the year by swiping Nurkic from the Nuggets but Nurkic is the only Blazer frontcourt player who would even be in the rotation of most other playoff teams.

 

Paul George had one month of being one of the 5 best players in the world and half a year of being one of the top 15. His all-court game is, at times, astonishing. Still, there’s a decent chance that he’ll only be the third best small forward in his division for the next three years.

 

Draymond Green had such a down year in shooting and scoring that I actually feel okay about leaving him off but he and Klay Thompson both have credible arguments that they should be on this team.

 

Finally, Chris Paul has often been the fourth best guard in the league this year and taking him over Derozan and Thomas would make sense to any GM in basketball. His absence from this team reflects his missed games more than his performance. As always, CP3 is a dominant player. 

 

 

FDO 

 

*This piece won’t get edited and published until Monday, April 17 but rest assured, the content was written BEFORE the first weekend of the playoffs began. Regular season recognition derives from only the regular season.

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

 

NBA Playoffs 2017- First Round Predictions

 

 

Sadly, I don't anticipate much late series drama in this first round. I DO expect the Atlantic division to be embarrassed. 

FDO 

 

Western Conference

 

Warriors in 4

It will be a tremendous boost to the Trail Blazers to win a game in this series. My guess is that the Warriors will win each by double figures. Don’t be surprised if Klay Thompson has a 50 point game.

 

Spurs in 5

The Spurs and Grizz play marvelous basketball against each other. However, getting a chance to watch Pau and Marc Gasol battle is likely to be the best memory Memphis fans will pull from this matchup. I anticipate that the Grizz will work very hard and look very old.

 

Rockets in 5

Houston might well sweep the Thunder despite Russell Westbrook having multiple 40 point triple doubles. The Rockets may have a game where they make 20 more 3 pointers than OKC.

 

Clippers in 7

This is the one Western Conference series I anticipate living up to our expectations of greatness. These teams are evenly matched despite being so different. By Game 5, Clippers fans will be dreaming of how fantastic they would be if Gordon Hayward were on their team. Home court and Chris Paul’s playoff cool will ultimately prove to be the difference in Game 7.          

 

 

Eastern Conference

 

Bulls in 6

The Bulls veteran toughness will come to the fore as the Celtics experience playoff pressure. The King of the Fourth will be revealed as a playoff pauper while Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade finally give the Bulls a series victory over Boston.

 

Cavs in 6

The Cavs have advantages everywhere except the Center spot where Myles Turner will have to prove he’s ready for stardom. He’s not. LeBron ALWAYS is and can simply will the Cavs to a comfortable series win.

 

Wizards in 5

Unless Dwight Howard time travels to 2009, the Hawks stand little chance against this Wiz team that has the most cohesive starting lineup in the East. I won’t be surprised if Washington sweeps the Hawks into the offseason.

 

Bucks in 6

The next two weeks will be the first time casual fans realize that Giannis Antentokounmpo is Scottie Pippen 2.0.  While the Bucks don’t have enough firepower to do damage moving forward, they’ll be able to take advantage of their tremendous size while Toronto’s playoff demons rise to torment them again. 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

Barry Bonds Making History

 

Fifteen years ago, Barry Bonds broke what used to be one of the most hallowed records in American sporting life. He hit 71 and 72 home runs in a single season. 

 

When, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched their epic chase to breach Roger Maris' 61 HR mark established in 1961, the nation rejoiced. America began falling back in love with baseball its ugly strike led to a 1994 season with no World Series. Even when most of us recognized something deeply suspicious about the Hulking physiques of these sluggers, we all smiled and kept watching

 

Three years later, the greatest (and surliest) player in recent memory hit bomb after bomb in a whole new world. Steroids were perceived as the worst destructive force the game had ever seen. The luster of the home run was gone. And outside his home park in San Francisco, fans mostly watched Bonds with begrudging eyes. 

 

I, instead, marveled. Sure, Bonds had enhanced his body dramatically. That seemed de rigueur in that era. I didn't hold him more responsible for steroid use than any other player. His excuses of using the BALCO derived "cream" and "clear" without knowing what they were seemed absurd and childish though perhaps they were a necessary fiction. The reality is that no one else was pursued for using steroids in quite the way Bonds was. Far more than his newfound power, Bonds' disdain for reporters and media etiquette was always his real crime. 

 

Let's remember, baseball is a game that requires exquisite timing and nearly instantaneous decision making, especially in the batter's box. Due to Bonds' unprecedented hitting acumen he was the recipient of astonishing numbers of walks, intentional walks and pseudo intentional walks. (This pattern only grew. In 2004, Bonds reached base 376 times on only 373 plate appearances. NOT a typo.) Despite seeing so few pitches because of the (understandable) desire of pitchers to avoid him, he maintained an unbelievably high rate of success. 

 

Now that the dust has settled and Bonds has been fired from his only post-retirement job in baseball, let's please take a moment to acknowledge the real life history we were able to watch a decade and a half ago. Let's remember when the greatest player since Willie Mays did what no one has ever done in the history of baseball. And enjoy it. 

 

 

FDO 

 

Dennis Green: An Appreciation

 

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. According to all, Green truly was what we thought he was: a damn good coach.

 

He was also an important public figure in the great White north of Minnesota. I remain convinced that Green helped ready the Twin Cities for a host of Black leaders. To the best of my knowledge, Green was the Black person t0 ever lead a major element of the Metro community’s public life. (Some might suggest Clem Haskins, but U basketball rises and falls with its winning percentage and has a much smaller social footprint.)

 

Since then, the Cities have had prominent Black civic leaders like Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Bobby McFerrin, Representative Keith Ellison & head coaches of both the Timberwolves & Vikes. They have all built on Green’s success.

 

My adopted homeland owes him a tremendous debt.

 

RIP, Mr. Green.

 

 

More Love for Venus

 

During last year’s US Open, I posted a simple request: Can we show some love for Venus Williams?

 

Now that she’s made her way to the Wimbledon semifinals and solidly into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, I want to ask again for a renewed appreciation of a legendary, perhaps iconic American athlete.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. She’s won seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals and revolutionized tennis with her unprecedented combination of power, speed and athleticism in much the same way Martina Navratilova once did.

 

The primary difference between those two is that Martina’s great rival was her foil, not her sister. The epic battles between Martina and Chris Evert elevated both players. The one sided finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus.

 

In my September post, I dug just a bit into the why of the Serena domination, but suffice it to say that Venus’ seven Grand Slam wins underrepresent her excellence. They also only scratch the surface of her historic importance.

 

Now that more eyes are on her again, let’s take a moment to recognize Venus Williams for her trailblazing brilliance.

 

Let’s go, Venus!

 

 

World B. Free

This poem helps explain why I'll always be in love with basketball.

 

 

Twenty-five years ago

I went with my dad

To an old stadium

Gone and dearly departed

If not regretfully

To see my Indiana Pacers who

I loved stridently

At home

In the new Curtis Mathes set that

How were we to know

Lasted far too long

 

 

But there in person

For the first time

Was a different kind of feeling

Since they were bad

And most of my focus

Started and stopped on a man named

World B. Free

Although I’m not sure how much of

This poem

Is true

I have no doubt

About World B. Free

 

 

It started with his hair

Though it was not exceptional

Except in its lack of exception

Stuck in a time

I may never understand

But all the rest fit too

How much he loved the game

Even when it was an awful game

And tried without ever looking

As if he were trying

 

 

Mostly though

The shooting

Like little orange only rainbows

Up and down

With no gold at the end

Only more orange

And then at its beginning

The look that might have been a smile

If he’d known no one was watching

 

 

At the end of the game

It seems that no one else noticed him

Because watching him play

Might have kept someone from skipping school

As it did me from stealing gum

Off the too short racks

Meant to taunt me

At the store

But lots of kids did that

And their parents drank too much

Cheated with a waitress

Then left home

(Not because of the children)

Even though they’d seen World B. Free

On the court downtown

 

When I asked later on

My dad said he used to be called Lloyd

That may well be

But he was always World B. to me

  

 

© Gayle Force Press 2002

 

 

Perception Matters- Durant Is Clutch

 

We’re a week removed from one of the best NBA games this season. In many respects it was an instant classic. Golden State’s 121-118 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder had everything you’d want in an NBA game. There was star power, including the last two MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) and 5 2016 All-Stars. There was tremendous execution (239 dynamic points). There were three point shooting records (Curry tied the single game record with 12 makes and broke his own season record). Above all, there was drama as Curry hit an absurd, contested 32 footer to win the game at the horn.

 

What we didn’t see though, was winning, crunch time basketball from one of the five best players in the world and apparently no one else noticed. The reality is that Durant failed massively in the last few seconds of regulation. While the Thunder were up two with a few seconds left, Durant caught the ball and instead of waiting to be fouled or trying to escape the trap, he instead threw an awful, long pass that was intercepted by the Warriors. (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both played the defensive possession extremely well.)

 

Then, after this turnover and with less than a second left, Durant fouled Andre Iguodala while he was shooting a desperate jumper. @Andre then hit the game tying free throws to send the game into overtime. Now, going to OT does not mean Durant lost the game in this sequence but had he made the right play either time, his Thunder would have won the game.

 

This is why perception matters: Everyone thinks of Durant as a clutch player. Since his rookie year, he’s been a consistent big shot taker and maker, including some spectacular game winners. The perception is that he’s a fantastic player when it matters most. So the talking heads on TV basically ignored those last few seconds. Virtually all the follow up stories about this game were only about how awesome Steph Curry is, not about why he had extra opportunities to win this game, thanks to Durant.

 

But just imagine if it had been LeBron James or Dwight Howard who’d failed as spectacularly as Durant did. The narrative afterward would have been entirely different. It’s about perception.

 

 

FDO

 

 

Love for Venus

 

Can we show some love for Venus Williams? Please? PLEASE!

 

No, really. Let’s stop to think about her career. Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. Seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals, a revolutionary combination of power, speed and athleticism and so much more. Yet she’s barely an afterthought these days. BECAUSE HER LITTLE SISTER IS THE GOAT!

 

Before Serena ruled the world, Venus was the one in the vanguard. It was Venus who started living out the experiments of the mad tennis scientist, Richard Williams. Venus was the trailblazer who first wore the beaded braids, first broke down the doors of the country club, first survived the slings and arrows of (thinly veiled) racism, first informed the world that Black girls from the ‘hood could be any damn thing they wanted. That was Venus.

 

It was also Venus who sheltered, shepherded and protected the true Golden Child, Serena, from the media, jealous players and even the mad scientist. She was the caretaking nurturer who made the more delicate Serena secure. It was Venus who suffered loss after loss so graciously. Remember the first Serena Slam from more than a decade ago? Guess who the finalist was, all four times. Venus kept losing to Serena, watching her place in history usurped by her baby sister. While smiling and taking pictures.

 

When women in tennis won their fight for equal prize money, it was Venus who was at the forefront of that movement.  When both Venus and Serena took time away from their sport to pursue other passions, it was Venus who made the public statements, responded to the carping legends and diffused the tension. 

 

While everyone, including me, applauds Roger Federer for his slow, graceful descent from Mount Olympus, please recognize that he’s still the second best player in the world! His tumble has been relatively easy. Venus has fallen from the heights to a far less appealing plane. Now she’s consistently ranked in the 20s, struggling to make even quarterfinals at big events, and has downshifted from ‘Favorite’ to ‘Contender’ to ‘Darkhorse’ to ‘Legend’. Despite her battle with the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, Venus still competes against players she inspired as toddlers. All with inordinate class.

 

So, regardless of how Venus finishes this US Open tournament and her career, I want to take a moment to acknowledge one of the unappreciated greats of the modern athletic and cultural universe.

 

Thank you, Venus. Keep on keepin’ on!

 

 

The King’s Crowning Achievement

 

My NBA watching has taken a sad nose dive in 2015 but I'm excited that I'll be able to watch more consistently as the Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight. Part of it is sheer love for the game but I'm also very intrigued by some of the historical dynamics at play.

 

The next 3 or 4 weeks may prove to be the stretch in which LeBron James cements his place as the greatest forward to ever play basketball. I’d argue that he’s already there and that whenever he retires, there is likely to be a gulf separating James from Barkley, Bird, Baylor, Erving, Garnett, Havlicek, Malone and the rest of the all-time great forwards. The next few weeks might convince some of the last remaining skeptics.

 

Consider that with victories over the top seeded Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Rockets-Warriors* victor in the NBA Finals, James would lead his teams to 5 straight Finals appearances and titles in 3 of those seasons.# That specific level of sustained brilliance has been rarely achieved in the NBA.  Russell’s Celtics are the only team to do it and James (along with teammate James Jones) would be the first individual to do it since.

 

As impressive as that feat would be historically, considering the context of this Cleveland Cavalier team, another championship might well be King James’ crowning achievement. At the beginning of the season there were high hopes for this team because of their formidable trio of All-Stars. Their Big 3 enters the conference finals as a Big 1 ½.

 

The Cavs mortgaged their future to acquire Kevin Love from the Timberwolves, hoping he could replicate Chris Bosh’s success with James in Miami. Love is out for the season after suffering a Minnesota Wrecking Crew style shoulder separation. Kyrie Irving, the Cavs incumbent star, was presumed to fill the Dwyane Wade role this year but Irving is suffering from multiple injuries and limped awkwardly through the end of the Bulls series.

 

The current third member of the Cavs Big 3 is Timofey Mozgov. It’s true. Folks, we are not talking about Robert Parish and Kevin McHale here. Apologies for referencing Moses Malone and Andrew Toney in this context. Yes, the mere comparison is embarrassing.  

 

And it gets worse! The rest of the Cavs team is a “clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk”, to quote the Wizard of Oz. Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are their fourth, fifth and sixth best players. Please read that sentence again.

 

If James can lead this team to a title he’ll have demonstrated that his two year MVP drought has no bearing on his continuing status as the best player in the game. He will also be able to make the case that none of the other contenders for BEST FORWARD EVER ever won a title with such a motley crew.

 

The amazing thing is, LeBron James is good enough to pull it off. Would you bet against him?

 

 

 FDO

 

 

*- Especially the Warriors. With a championship, they would cement themselves as one of the greatest seasons ever.  They 67 wins, MVP, and runners-up for Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Beating this team will be an historical feather in the cap.

 

#- It would actually be 3 rings in 4 years.