Friday, August 20, 2010

Net Gains

I think we can all agree that this years NBA free agency period has been a complete circus. For the last few years July 1st, 2010 was built up to be the day when some of the NBA’s biggest names could be on the move. The hype was enormous and even lesser known free agents benefited greatly from it. Whether a solid player like Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson, or lowly draft busts i.e. Darko Milicic, they all made out like bandits. In any other year when the free agent crop was less top heavy these lower tier players would have never gotten anywhere near what they received in 2010. However when you only have three players worth “max money” the rest of the teams are left scrambling to lockup the “others.”

Being an avid Nets fan since the early 90’s, this offseason was one filled with hope and promise, two words that Nets fans rarely had the chance to utter. The new flashy Russian owner, a winning coach, finally leaving the Meadowlands, and Jay-Z were all reasons to be optimistic. The Nets cleared cap space, had draft picks and appeared ready to make a splash in the free agent market. Wide eyed optimism got the best of me, I must have forgotten what team I was thinking about…THE NETS! From Yinka Dare to Ed O’Bannon we usually do not have luck on our side.

I should have known things were going to go downhill after we got screwed with the third pick in the 2010 draft. In most professional sports, the team with the worst regular season record usually is awarded the first pick in draft, not in the NBA. David Stern and Co. decided that it made more sense to rely on ping pong balls to decide the fate of some organizations. In this years draft there were two “can’t miss prospects,” John Wall and Evan Turner. Of course, the Nets would get neither of these and have to make the tough call between Wesley Johnson, Demarcus Cousins, or Derrick Favors. When it came time for the Nets to make their selection I watched the clock wind down, with David Stern standing at the podium. I was totally prepared, and somewhat expecting the Nets to not hand in their selection on time and have to forfit the third pick. That would have been fitting.

After getting shafted at the draft lottery it was time to move on and turn my attention to the impending free agency bonanza. I heard new owner Proky on WFAN, guaranteeing fans a great product and to build a “dynasty.” I’ll admit I had visions of grandeur, Dwayne Wade throwing a full court pass to Brooke Lopez who then tossed the ball off the backboard allowing Lebron to slam it home……a guy can dream right? We had our pick of free agents from Lebron to Carlos Boozer, I was expecting at least one or two to come our way.

Fast forward a week or so, Wade, Lebron and Bosh go to Miami, Boozer heads to Chicago, Amare goes to NY, and David Lee (the player I thought was most likely going to sign with NJ), is shipped off to Golden State in a sign and trade. Terrific, the Nets get robbed in the draft and shutout in free agency, I guess there is a reason they are the worst team in the league. At this point Proky starts to backtrack on his earlier statements regarding winning a title in the next few years and building a “dynasty.” Instead of being on the fast track to a championship we are now hearing “winning takes time,” and talks of being back in the lottery again next season.

According to Nets brass they didn’t want to overspend on free agents. Unfortunately you have to pay players what the market dictates. The Nets should have known that when you have Wade and Lebron filing for free agency in the same year the rest of the free agents would be getting inflated contracts as well. So instead of paying one, really solid player such as David Lee or Carlos Boozer a large sum of money, they decide to dump $35 million on Travis Outlaw. That is complete lunacy so typical. Instead of getting a difference maker, the Nets go for the lower quality but still expensive option. No Nets fan wants to see management dipping into valuable cap space for a mediocre player. With that being said, I don’t mind the lesser signings of Jordan Farmar or Anthony Morrow (a prolific outside shooter, something we have needed for years).

I could bitch and moan for hours about the Nets, we’ve had a love/hate relationship since 1993 and I don’t expect it to change. I’ll try and put my team in perspective as with the following anecdote. As many of you know I love cars, and I compare the Nets to Hyundai’s flagship automobile, the Genesis. The car is luxurious, flashy, and has many innovative electronic upgrades; completely moving away from the negative perception many of us have about the Hyundai brand. The Genesis was received so well that it became Motor Trends “Car Of The Year.” The Nets are similar, they have made many positive changes within the organization, they are upgrading to a brand new and exciting arena in Brooklyn, they have new management, and a terrific core of young players. Unfortunately no matter what they do they are still seen as the same bottom of the barrel team, or to stick with the Hyundai theme, a 1991 Accent. These small moves will not do, they need to make a big signing or trade and get the Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony type of player. Hyundai took a big leap and introduced a $40,000+ car that helped get them out of the doldrums, the Nets need to do the same and grab the big name player who will take them from worst to first.

I'm Taking My Talents To This Blog

In the last post regarding my beloved Nets I did not address the Lebron fiasco. This idiot deserves a rant reserved just for him. Let me start by saying that I can’t fault Bron Bron for not wanting to come to the Nets. A superstar player, even a self proclaimed “king” would not enjoy playing in Newark for two seasons before going to Brooklyn. Fine, I understand that and I don’t hold anything against him. With that being said, I was hopeful that the new billionaire owner and good friend/partial Nets owner, Jay-Z, might persuade Lebron to come play here. Well, as we all know James “took his talents to South Beach,” (or as Josh pointed out, to Miami, not actually South Beach). It would have been comical to hear what he would say if he had chosen to come to NJ, “I am taking my talents to Manasquan.” I digress, there is some Lebron bashing that has to be attended to.

To be a self proclaimed anything is never good. To be the self proclaimed “king” is quite the title, and also totally unwarranted in Lebron’s case. Last time I checked he has never won a ring, and looked completely lost during critical games of last years conference finals. A true “king” would have led his team to victory and let nothing hold him back, (see Kobe Bryant or MJ). A “king” should be the undisputed team leader who has the “killer instinct,” (see Kobe Bryant or MJ). In the pivotal game six against the Celtics, Lebron went 8 for 21 and resorted to “chucking” three pointers from about 15 feet behind the three point line. He was in panic mode, tell me, when have you seen MJ or Kobe in panic mode? The answer is never. Nobody will be MJ and the closest we have seen is Kobe Bryant, these men are basketball “kings.” Proven winners of multiple championships, who have taken over the game when needed and done whatever it takes to win. I would have argued that Lebron is still young and will have many more opportunities to lead the Cavs to a championship, however that will not be the case. The “king” has abandoned his court.

As the name states, it is free agency, and players are free to sign wherever they would like. Lebron is no exception, however he chose the “ready made” option, it’s the perfect turnkey operation, and is viewed as a “cop out.” The pieces are in place for him to win, all they needed was for Lebron to sign on the dotted line and climb aboard. I can’t blame the guy for wanting to win, but I can blame him for not having the fortitude and gumption for wanting to build his own winning team. He should have wanted to be THE man and have a team built around him. It is very “un-kinglike” to agree to play the second fiddle to Dwayne Wade and have Bosh taking some of the spotlight as well.

Some people argue Lebron is taking a pay cut to play in Miami. If his new mega contract is taking a pay cut, sign me up. Let’s not forget he will be making an insane amount of money from endorsements in Miami, a little bit more of a hotspot than Cleveland. In all good conscience I can’t use the term pay cut when referring to any professional athlete, it’s just tasteless.

Lebron has a management team compiled of guys his own age, who are basically “hangers on” from high school. They are a bunch of “yes men” who would never dare to disagree with their very famous and very rich boss. This might be the reason he handled this entire process so poorly. As everyone knows, every action has a reaction. Lebron’s actions resulted in Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, writing a seething letter ripping his former star player.

I can completely understand where he is coming from, imagine your franchise player who basically quit on your team in the conference finals, and decides not to return your calls or texts. He is not communicating with anyone from the organization and keeping you in the dark. This culminates with him having a one hour dog and pony show where he announces he is leaving your team. You do receive a call though, five minutes before the “The Decision” aired on ESPN, Lebron had one of his friends call Cavs management to alert them he was going to Miami. This seems par for the course, abandons his team and then doesn’t have the balls to call and tell them he is leaving, a king? more like a jester.

Can we really be shocked that Dan Gilbert would write this kind of letter after his star player basically gives the Cavs and the people of Cleveland the middle finger on national TV? This could have been avoided if Lebron had done one of two things (or both); not done the insane and horribly produced “Decision” show on ESPN, and/or kept in contact with the Cavs and informed Dan Gilbert on where he planning on going. I guarantee that if he had taken these steps Gilbert would have never written that letter. The people in Cleveland would still have been crushed, but there would not have been such a public backlash.

By deciding to “take his talents to South Beach,” Lebron’s legacy will be tainted. He is now hated in his home state. Many people believe, (myself included), that he cannot and didn’t want to try to win, being the number one player on a team. He is still a great player, but is now seen on Scottie Pippen’s level , rather than Jordan, (let’s not forget that Scottie has six more rings than Lebron). It is still a compliment to be compared to Scottie, but we have to acknowledge that Lebron as a player and as a brand has been taken down a notch.

I want nothing but failure for the Heat. I’m sure within a week of the start of the season Pat Riley will be the coach and Erik Spoelstra is demoted to bellboy. In a perfect world the Heat will not win the championship and hopefully there will be a clashing of ego’s creating a huge mess. In a perfect world the Nets would have gotten the first pick in the draft, and in a perfect world I wouldn’t have taken Grady Sizemore two years in a row in fantasy baseball. Well, it’s not a perfect world and the Nets still signed Travis Outlaw to a $35 million contract.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sports talk radio

Ever since I was a kid I have found sports talk radio to be very relaxing and entertaining. Whenever I would go in the car with my dad he would have WFAN on the radio. Mike and The Mad Dog, Steve Somers, and Joe Benigno were the voices I have come to know extremely well over the past twenty five years. My friends and I have a tradition of going to White Castle once or twice a year. The journey is not complete until we have sports talk radio (usually WFAN), providing us with background chatter. There is nothing like a few White Castle sliders while being serenaded by a 2 a.m. Jerome from Manhattan rant about where Brett Gardner is going to bat in The Yankees order.
I purchased the Iphone 3G a few years ago and one of the first applications I downloaded was the AOL radio app. This provides me with access to many of the major radio markets all over the country. At work I sometimes like to put on my headphones and listen to some midday sports talk. My go-to station is still WFAN in New York however I have a few issues that I would like to talk about.
The major problem I have with WFAN is the insane amount of commercials they have. I understand that radio is a dying business and stations need to have commercials in order to make money, but this is crazy! During the first hour of the Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts midday show I would estimate there are about twenty minutes of sports talk with the rest being commercials and the horrible "20/20 flash" updates which are brutal, (I will get to them in a moment). WFAN needs to cut down on these commercials drastically as they totally disrupt the flow of the shows, (the "1-800 cars for kids" spot is the worst commercial of all time and it will make you want to rip out your fingernails).
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph I am not a major proponent of the "20/20 flash" updates. If you are not familiar with what this is I will explain. Basically the "flash" is an update that is provided every twenty minutes. The reporter repeats any relevant sports information and scores. I think this should be done once an hour, three times is far too often to be repeating the exact same information. Nobody needs to hear that the Mets have decided to retain Alex Cora for his clubhouse leadership more than once in an hour.
Having the AOL Radio Iphone app gives me access to stations from all over the country. I have added all of the major sports stations to my favorites list allowing me to toggle back and forth with ease. I especially love to listen to the sports talk in cities where their team has just lost to the Yankees, Jets, or Giants. This was extremely sweet when the Yanks beat the Phillies in the World Series last season, hearing those Philly fans bitch and moan was terrific, but I digress. After listening to sports talk in Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, and Tampa Bay I have found that New York, with its mighty WFAN, has some stiff competition from these other smaller markets.
Besides having far less commercials than WFAN other sports stations from around the country have much more interesting callers who actually add something to the particular show they are calling. I also enjoy how other non New York sports talk shows mix it up. Most of these shows touch on topical subjects that are relevant in the news, whether it be sports, politics, or even pop culture. This is refreshing to hear, there is only a certain amount of times I can listen to Ira from Brooklyn call WFAN and ask Mike Francesa "do you think the Giants can win Sunday?" I have never understood why someone would stay on hold for forty five minutes just to ask a radio host whether a team can beat another, how the hell does the host know!
WFAN has three main shows. Benigno and Evan Roberts, Steve Somers, and Francesa. I thoroughly enjoy Benigno/Roberts, along with Somers...Mike Francesa is pretty rough to listen to. Francesa's show is usually five hours of callers asking the same question while Mike plays god. People put way too much stock in what this guy thinks. People call the show and treat Mike as if he were Jesus Christ. I particularly find it comical when these people call and kiss his ass. This includes saying one or all of the following, referring to him as "Michael" or "Sir" and proceed to offer condolences for his mothers passing in 1997 or comment on his children as if they are close personal friends. To listen to grown men graveling like little peons while they are on the phone with this guy is sickening. Keep in mind this does not happen with Benigno or Steve Somers, just on Mike Francesa's program.
It feels good to get this off my chest. After many years of listening to WFAN I have a lot of issues with the station as I am sure you can tell. However as I have done for the last twenty five years I will keep listening to sports talk radio. Whether it be New York or Houston I love to hear fellow sports fans discuss the games that I love. All I ask is that Jerome from Manhattan gets his own show!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hurt Locker

As many of you know I am not a big fan of going to the movies. Spending $12 to pad the pockets of these Hollywood scumbags is not my idea of a good time. However once and awhile I will go against my better judgement and go catch a flick. This was the case a few weeks ago when Neil and I found ourselves wandering around NYC with some time to kill. Neil is a movie conesuire and after knowing him for around twenty years he knows what kinds of films I like. He suggested that we go see The Hurt Locker and I didn't object. I had never heard of this movie but Neil mentioned a few taglines that sold me on it; "non-stop action," and "war."
We walked into the Times Square theater and it was packed. We had the option of sitting extremely close to the screen or farther back with the only downside being that a small handrail was partially obscurring my view...we chose the latter. With the pesky handrail adding another
dimension to my movie watching experience the film started. The moment the lights dimmed and The Hurt Locker began the excitement and nail biting started didn't stop until about 45 minutes after the movie ended.
I had never heard of, or seen any of the actors before. The renegade company leader played by Jeremy Renner was a riveting character. His antics provided much of the excitement as well as contributing to my incesant nail biting. My favorite person in the movie was Sergeant JT
Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie. This guy was the real deal and did a tremendous job. He captured the feeling and emotion of a soldier faced with the never ending danger of trying to survive in a warzone while having to deal with a careless company leader, (Jeremy Renner's character.) To my surprise there was no political bias in this film, it simply gave an unfiltered view of the day to day actions of an Army bomb squad unit in Iraq. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone, whether you are interested in war films or not we all can relate to the human experience found in The Hurt Locker.
This might sound cliche and cheesy, but after leaving the theater I had a newfound respect for our military and the remarkable job they do. One aspect that I had always known about but never really thought about was how a solider must make split second decisions with so many mitigating factors. He/she has to deduce how their actions can positively or negatively affect their own lives as well the lives of their fellow soliders at the drop of a hat. The incredible stress that
this puts on a person is incomprehensible and ever the more reason why post traumatic stress syndrome is very real and affects many heroes returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I think it is very important that we all see the The Hurt Locker, and allow ourselves to be enveloped into the movie and try to feel and understand what these soldiers have to deal with. Unlike most films that are purely for entertainment, I truly believe that this one serves a more important
purpose and should be seen by all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Impostor Yankee Stadium

1992, this was a good year for a variety of reasons. I was eight and actually excelling in school, (a feat I would not see again for another ten or eleven years until I reached college). Boutros Boutros-Ghali (one of the coolest names ever), took over as UN Secretary-General, George Bush Sr. threw up on the Japanese Prime Minister, and most importantly this was the year I went to my first Yankees game.
I recall the anticipation before we embarked on the 1 hour+ trek to the game. The drive through the crime ridden Bronx was magical; the abandoned cars, the crackheads on the sidewalks, condemned buildings, etc. It was a bit scary for an eight year old kid from the suburbs, but it was also alluring. This was only the appetizer. The main dish was the stadium: the hallowed ground on 161st Street and River Ave. The ballpark stood out among the decrepit buildings like a jewel in a pile of trash. This was the very spot where players like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe D., Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, and one of my favorite Yankees', the immortal Cecil Fielder had played. I figured that this place must be special however, why else would rich yuppies from the burbs' risk life and limb to drive out to The Bronx just to watch a baseball game? Once you enter Yankee Stadium you are treated to a unique aroma of urine, sweat, and other unknown smells that I couldn't even begin to decipher. You look around and notice the low ceilings, you hear the most foul obscenities, see people stumbling around drunk...and this all takes place before the game has even started. However once I caught my first glimpse of the field, my heart skipped a beat. It looked amazing. I couldn't get over how the perfectly manicured grass looked like a gorgeous painting. To add to the ambiance, Eddie Layton was playing the organ, and the sound beautifully resonated throughout the stadium. We went to our seats which were cramped and didn't have much legroom but who cared? I just wanted to see my favorite team play.
Lets fast forward to 2009, I am now twenty-five and have attended 5 games at the "new" stadium. I hated the idea of building this place from the moment they first broached the concept building another stadium. I thought, "how could they abandon THE Yankee Stadium? This place can't be duplicated, and why should it be?" Granted the old stadium was outdated and could have used a face lift, they should have remodeled it and made small improvements, but overall kept it the way it was. Fenway and Wrigley are older than Yankee Stadium, so why tear the ladder down? It was all about greed and money: they wanted more luxury boxes, they wanted fancy restaurants (the old stadium had $7 hot dogs, how much fancier did they need)? So now we get Lobel's steaks-the dream of any true baseball fan to pay $20 for a steak sandwich at the ballpark. I love to eat as much as the next guy, but I have never came to a game for the food; I came to watch the Yankees smack around their opponent. Now it's the fans who are the ones getting bitch slapped by the Yanks and forced to come to this tame, watered down stadium to watch our team. The place has no soul; it has no feeling. It's just a huge industrial-looking pit with a scoreboard that you can see from outer space. The crowd is alien to me. Gone are the true fans who had passion for the bombers. Gone are the heated arguments amongst the patrons. Now we are left with guys in suits who couldn't tell you who the Yankees first baseman was before Jason Giambi.
As I walked out of this new ballpark for the first time, I remember saying to myself, "where the hell did I just go?" I looked over the old stadium and wished there was an undo button-I would click it in a heartbeat and erase this impostor field. Unfortunately this can't be done and I, along with all True Yankees fans are stuck with it. So when you go to a Yankees game, look around the stadium and see what greed has gotten, and then glance across the street and look at what greed has left behind. This place would be fine if it were the Twins new stadium, or the Marlins new field, but it's not fine for the Yankees, and it's not fine for the "true" fans.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A day of losses

Today we lost two great talents, Farrah Fawcett and The King of Pop, Michael Jackson. I must admit that I never saw Charlie's Angels so I don't know much about Farrah Fawcett. However her passing is very sad nonetheless, especially at the young age of only 62. She gave us a first hand look at her courageous battle with cancer in a recent special called "Farrah's Story." Ms. Fawcett showed tremendous bravery and a strong will to overcome her disease, unfortunately she lost the fight this morning, my condolences to her family and friends.
The death of Michael Jackson came as a huge shock, as i'm sure it did to most of you. It is hard to believe that such an epic figure is gone, and a talent that comes along once in a lifetime has been lost. Michael has been in the public eye since he was very young, performing first with the Jackson 5 before embarking on his tremendous solo career. I grew up listening to his music, especially the album "Bad," which I had on cassette tape. In my opinion this is one of the greatest albums ever and contains my favorite Michael Jackson song, "Liberian Girl." We all know he had major issues, i'm sure his abusive father contributed to a lot of them, but I like to only judge his quality of music, not how he lives his life. There are only a few performers who could captivate a generation, John Lennon and Elvis being at the top of the list. I would add Michael Jackson to this category, and the influence he had (and will continue to have,) over popular culture is unparalleled. It feels very strange that he is gone, and it will take awhile to sink in. I could ramble on about MJ forever, but in closing I want to say that Mike will be missed, and the moonwalk probably looks even better in heaven.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are the Nets crazy?

I am a huge Nets fan and I have always wanted to buy season tickets. When I came across a posting for exclusive ticket offers on my company's employee page I was excited and expecting to get a really good deal. The Nets never draw any fans, even when they are good they could barely bring in people to fill the seats. Now they are a joke and the newly named Izod Center is practically empty every night. I think after they basically dismantled the best team they ever had people pretty much gave up on them. Granted I loved the acquisition of Devin Harris but dumping Richard Jefferson was brutal. But I digress, I called the sales rep and spoke with him regarding different ticket plans, the cheapest being $2,500 for 2 seats for 41 home games (including the parking pass.) These particular seats are behind the basket in section 101, not horrible but certainly not a prime location. Ideally I would like to be sitting somewhere near center court, this would give me a great view of the whole floor. Sitting behind the basket gives me a great view of UCONN's finest, Josh Boone, airballing a foul shot, sounds thrilling.
The ticket rep I spoke with was a really nice guy and I felt bad he had to try and sell Nets tickets for a living, I think it would be easier to sell an iPhone to an Amish guy then to pawn off pricey Nets seats in this economy. He also explained that there is a no interest payment plan where I would pay $640 per month over the course of 4 months...that is exactly what I want to be doing with my money. Shelling out a good portion of my paycheck to eat $15 chicken fingers and watch the Nets lose to the Grizzlies by 35 points on a frigid night in mid January, thanks but no thanks. As you might have guessed I am passing on these tickets, even though I did contemplate buying them for a little while, my senses got the better of me. I should save my money for more important a train ticket to watch them play in Brooklyn in 2020.