Monday, December 10, 2012

The First Last Man


Standing at the back of the field, looking down Main St., I couldn't even see the start line. The gun sounded, officially kicking off the Dallas Marathon and Half Marathon, but my race didn't begin for another 17 minutes. That's how long it took for me to finally get to the start line and set off on my "Last Man Running" adventure.

I had the task of trying to pass as many runners as I could, with The Cotton Patch Cafe donating $4 to the Scottish Rite Hospital for every runner I caught. I had no idea how the race would go. Would it be easy? Would it be a beating? Would I pass 1,000, 3,000 or 5,000 runners? We play the hypothetical game a lot on our radio show, and this was like getting to act out a hypothetical.

My training had been sketchy, as I outlined in my previous blog post. The weather on race morning didn't help--almost 70 degrees, 90% humidity, and a decent south wind (runners like 50 degrees, low humidity, and no wind). But I was excited. And nervous. And ready.

My biggest fear was fighting my way through the logjam of runners on the road ahead of me. I thought I might be able to hold a 7:00 per mile pace, but my first mile was 8:15. It was impossible to go any faster because of the congestion. I started jumping up on the sidewalks, or curbs, or running in the gutter--anything I could do to make some headway. I always took the wide side of the road on turns because it was open--I took the longer route, running zero tangents the entire day, but it helped me gain ground. There were so many runners (about 10,000 running the half marathon alone, with thousands more running the full and relay) that the crowds never really thinned out until mile 10 or 11. I could never get into a rhythm or a flow--I would run hard for 50 feet, then have to stop, then run sideways across the street to an open spot in the road, then jump up on the sidewalk, then back to the road, then slow down, then speed up again. It was taxing. But I was also making progress.

At the finish, I checked my watch. I had run a 1:38--a little slower than I thought I could run, but considering the crowds and weather and my poor training, I was pleased. But I still had no idea how many people I had passed. It wasn't until Dallas Marathon officials checked the computer results (based on the timing chips each runner wore) to determine that I had passed 9,000 runners!

The Cotton Patch Cafe had pledged $4 per runner passed, up to $25,000, because in their estimation I would pass a maximum of 6,000 runners. But when I exceeded their estimates, they decided to honor the $4 per runner number anyway, and they ended up writing a check to the Scottish Rite Hospital for $37,500! I can't thank the Cotton Patch Cafe enough. They have been such a great sponsor of the Scottish Rite Hospital over the years, and they went above and beyond with their donation yesterday. Make sure you grab a bite this week at a Cotton Patch Cafe near you, and thank them for their generosity and for supporting "The Last Man Running."

In the end, it was an honor to be the first "Last Man," something the Dallas Marathon is planning on making an annual part of the race. It was a thrill to know that I was making a lot of money for a great cause, and it was a thrill to hear all of the support from the other runners and the spectators as I made my way through the throng. Sure, it was a stressful, and it was warm and humid, and it was at times frustrating. But I hate to ever complain about a run. One of the great things about this sport is that so many people race for a cause, running for those who can't. There is a great fundraising spirit in the endurance sports community.

Knowing you're helping a great cause makes it easier to toe the start line, especially if you're the last man to get there.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Last Man Running


Three weeks ago, Hawkeye Lewis from KSCS (sister station of The Ticket as part of the Cumulus empire) called me to ask a favor. He had broken his ankle in a training race, and wanted me to take his spot in the upcoming Dallas Half Marathon (note: HALF marathon, not FULL marathon). Hawkeye, and the Dallas Marathon (formerly the White Rock Marathon), had come up with an idea to raise money for the Scottish Rite Hospital, the long-time official charitable cause of the race. Hawkeye was to start in last place--let every single runner, probably about 13,000, cross the start line before he would. He would be the "Last Man Running." For every runner he would pass on the road during the 13.1 race, the Cotton Patch Cafe would donate $4 per head to the Scottish Rite Hospital. Great idea, great cause--but a bad break meant Hawkeye wouldn't be able to run. So he picked up the phone.

I didn't give Hawkeye and immediate "yes" answer, mainly because I hadn't been running much due to extreme burnout. After running my best-ever marathon last December at California International, I was on cloud nine. I should have stopped and taken some time off. Instead, I ran Boston in April--it was a 90 degree day, and it was miserable. Then, thinking I should run another marathon soon after Boston so that my Boston training wouldn't go to waste, I signed up for the Utah Valley Marathon in June. On the start line, I thought to myself "what the hell am I doing here?" It was my 5th marathon in 14 months, and I had no interest in pushing my body hard for 26.2 miles. Needless to say, I had a another miserable run. Since then, I've been running one day a week, about 6 miles each time--not the kind of mileage I should be doing to prepare for a half marathon.

I've been riding my bike quite a bit, and I actually started swimming two days a week this summer (with the idea of doing triathlons next year, which will be the topic of a future blog post as I detail my ridiculous triathlon attempts of the mid-80's), so I've been staying in shape--I just haven't been running. So, when Hawkeye asked me to take his place, my first thought was "but I hate running right now!" But, it's for a great cause, and I'm intrigued by the idea of seeing how many people I might be able to pass, so day later I called Hawkeye back and told him I'd do it.

For the past three weeks, I've been on a crash training program, trying to get ready for the race. Instead of one day of running per week, I'm up to three days per week. I've done a couple of slow 13 mile runs, a couple of track sessions, and I ran the Turkey Trot last week as a tune-up. My half marathon best is a 1:28, but I'm not in that kind of shape right now. I think I can run a 1:35 or so, but I have no idea how much I'll be slowed down by the congestion on the road ahead of me once I start running. I could end up running a lot more than 13.1 miles if I have to do a lot of weaving through and dodging around the runners ahead of me.

To add to the pressure, Channel 8 will be televising the race, and they've informed me that they're going to follow me for the first five miles with a helicopter to check my progress. Great.

If you would like to make a donation to the cause and support my run, and more importantly the Scottish Rite Hospital, go to: http://www.dallasmarathon.com/last-man-running/ (sorry, you'll have to cut-and-paste this because blogspot won't let me post a proper link--I plan on suing them for this inconvenience).

My best guess is that I can pass about 4,000-5,000 runners, but I really have no clue. I just hope I don't start last and finish last, and end up not raising a single dollar for the charity. If that happens, I will officially retire from running forever. I will also wear a dress to work for one year--actually, I may do that anyway.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Game Over


In the fall of 1993, I was working at KRLD radio in Dallas, hosting a weekend talk show. Lance Armstrong had just won the professional World Championship road race at the age of 22. He agreed to do my show--a Saturday evening at 6pm with probably only a handful of people listening--but he was from Dallas and remembered listening to Cowboys games on KRLD, so he was up for it. He was on the show for an hour, an unheard of amount of time for a guest to agree to these days.

This was a big deal to me. A Texan had won the world title! A guy who grew up in Plano, racing the same races that I raced, had made cycling history. If Lance could go from winning the Tuesday Night Crit in Richardson to winning the world title in Oslo, then anything was possible.

The Armstrong story is well documented. He beat cancer, then beat the best cyclists in the world seven straight times at the Tour de France. For the first time in our sport's history, we had a global icon. Lance was rock-star famous, and made cycling cool. He was Hollywood. He was friends with Bono. He dated Sheryl Crow. Everyone knew Lance, and because of that, everyone was forced to learn at least a little bit about the sport of cycling. It was incredible exposure in this country for a sport that was Euro-centric. Greg LeMond was a Sports Illustrated cover boy when he won the Tour, but Lance took it to a new level. Finally, cycling was mainstream. Not football or baseball mainstream, but still mainstream in a way it had never before been. And nobody else could have done this except Lance. He had a big personality and a catchy name and he embraced his celebrity.

That's why the events of the last few weeks are so stunning. The same guy that put cycling on the map in this country has now made cycling a laughing stock. In 1999, we all wanted to believe the incredible comeback story, and so we did. As the years went by, and as more and more of Lance's peers tested positive for or admitted to doping, we grew skeptical. As more and more ugly stories came out, we knew deep down that Lance had doped, too. We got to the point of hoping it would all go away. Then came the Federal investigation, which begat the USADA investigation, which led to the events of the last week: the findings released, sponsors bailing on Lance, and the UCI (cycling's international governing body) officially stripping Lance of every victory from 1998 through 2010--including his seven straight Tour wins.

There are dozens of conversations to have in the wake of these recent events, but I'm going to concentrate on what I believe to be the three most pressing questions of the Lance case:

1) Did He Dope?

When Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton accused Lance of doping, it was easy to dismiss their claims based on the fact that each of them had lied repeatedly about Lance and about their own very dirty doping histories. But when USADA released their findings, which included the sworn testimony of George Hincapie, everything changed. Hincapie, a highly respected figure in the world of American cycling and a trusted friend and teammate of Lance, admitted that both he and Lance had been a part of the systematic doping program of the US Postal Service team. Hincapie is someone that Lance can't discredit. Hincapie has no axe to grind with Lance--no reason to lie and throw Lance under the bus. This was the most damaging blow to the Armstrong camp--in other words, once Hincapie spilled the beans about the USPS doping program, it erased all doubt.

Now, we not only have sworn testimony from Hincapie and many, many other former teammates, but we also have a book. Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race, was released a few weeks ago. I've read it, and it's shocking. Is Hamilton telling the truth now? I think so. If he's not, then Lance will have to sue him, because the book describes in painful detail how Lance and the rest of the team doped their way through those Tours (and it also paints Lance to be a ruthless person). What makes the book more believable is the fact that all of the recently released sworn testimony from former Armstrong teammates corroborates everything that Hamilton talks about. It's incredibly damaging.

But he's never failed a drug test, right? True, but as Hamilton said in his book, "Beating the drug tests were so easy it wasn't even funny. The UCI would spend 3 years and millions of dollars to come up with a new test for EPO, and in five minutes our team doctor would find a way to beat it. It was like playing hide and seek in a giant forest with a million places to hide--the drug testers had no chance."

So here is the evidence, albeit circumstantial, that we have: testimony from dozens of riders, coaches, trainers, etc, that Lance doped, with all of the stories verifying each other; it's common knowledge that the pro peloton was rife with drugs from the early 90's through the 00's; 20 of the 21 riders who finished on the podium with Lance during his seven year win streak have all tested positive or admitted to doping (and the 21st is highly suspicious); and Lance's too-close relationship with the dirtiest doctor in the sport of cycling, Michele Ferrari. It's enough to lead any reasonable-thinking adult to conclude that, yes, it appears that Lance Armstrong was using various types of PED's and forms of blood doping for practically his entire career. Even a big cycling homer like me finds it impossible to see it any other way.

There is no smoking gun, but at this point, do we really need one?

2) Was He The Best, Regardless?

If just about everyone in the sport was doping during Lance's reign, then was the playing field level? Was he the strongest? Would he have won seven Tours if nobody had used PED's? I can't say with certainty that he would have, but I do believe that he would have won a few. The same thing that drove Lance to run the USPS team doping program in mob-boss fashion would have been the same thing that would have driven him to succeed in a drug-free sport: the fact that he's a crazy SOB. He's tyrannical and maniacal about everything, and if nobody had doped I could see him still out-working and out-training his competition. If dope didn't exist, he would look for other ways to be the best. That's his personality.

He had enough genetically to win the Tour. As a 15 year old, Lance was beating professional triathletes, and I can't imagine he was doping at age 15. Greg LeMond likes to say that Lance didn't have enough natural ability to do what he did, and LeMond is right, but only to a point. It's insane that Lance should be able to climb Alpe D'Huez 11 minutes faster than LeMond and Hinault--that's where the drugs come in and make guys like Lance and Pantani and Riis and their exploits hard to believe. But Lance still had a VO2max of 84, which is a plenty big natural number to be able to win the Tour de France, as long as you have drive, determination and a great work ethic--all of which Lance has. The sad part is that Lance channelled that drive and work ethic into doping as much as he did into every other aspect of the sport.

Was the playing field level in the 00's, since everyone was doping? At the top of the sport, yes. Ullrich and Pantani and Basso--all of Lance's rivals--had the best doctors and the best drugs. Lance may have had more resources and the best doping doctor, but for the most part they were all taking the same stuff and using the same methods. So, the playing field was level, and therefore Lance was the best--it just feels like a really dirty argument to make.

3) Will He Confess?

When Nike bailed on Lance, they cited "insurmountable evidence" that he doped as the reason. It would seem that, with insurmountable evidence, now would be a good time for Lance to hold a tearful press conference, saying something like "I doped, but it was the way of the sport at the time and I got caught up in it because it was always my dream to be a pro cyclist...I'm sorry, but that's in the past now and my crusade to fight cancer is what my life is about today." But I have a hard time picturing Lance ever doing that.

Athletes who have cheated are always viewed better by the public when they admit to it. A-Rod and Andy Pettitte have basically been forgiven, but Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still vilified. Lance could improve his perception tenfold by admitting to cheating, but he won't. He's too dogmatic. He's too stubborn. He's egomaniacal, and he's lied about it for so long that he probably truly believes that he's not guilty of anything. He's also worth about $120 million and has (still) an army of supporters who don't care that he cheated. So why confess?

Many of his supporters are those who spent months in the chemo wards and who have Lance to thank for being an inspiration. Many of those people don't care that he doped, they just know his story helped them through the toughest time of their life. Should the fact that he cheated diminish his work in the cancer community? As Jason Garrett might say, "I don't have a good answer for that."

Maybe he'll one day decided that his kids need to know the truth. Or that we all need to know the truth. Then again, maybe he's got a team of lawyers telling him that if he ever confesses he's going to open himself to a lot of lawsuits. Lance can always fall back on two things: he never officially failed a drug test (bogus, but true), and he was never convicted in a court of law for cheating. Those two facts alone are more than enough for a guy like Lance to deny until the day he dies. I'm not one of those who demands a confession from Lance. It's his life, he can do what he wants. I do, however, think it would be the best thing for him (legal concerns aside) and for the sport if he were to come clean.

The UCI had to uphold the USADA decisions. The UCI is under great scrutiny following rumors that Lance (or Nike, or someone else) paid the UCI to cover up a positive Lance drug test. The UCI was always seen as being in bed with Lance, so, in the shadow of the mountain of evidence, they couldn't side with him. The Tour will now list "no champion" in it's official record books from '99 through '05. Hypocritical, perhaps, since other known dopers like Riis, Pantani, Ullrich, and Contador are still listed, but their race's history is their concern.

In the end, the Lance Armstrong story, and the story of pro cycling for the past 20 years, makes me sad. It's sad the the sport forced those who participated in it to make a choice: either dope and succeed, or don't dope and get blown away. It's a beautiful sport, but it's also the hardest sport in the world--too hard, perhaps, given its long history of riders always looking for a way to make the pain a little more bearable.

Most of us in the cycling community who knew Lance here in his home state had the same opinion of him: he's a prick, but he's our prick. What's disturbing is just how big of a prick it appears that he was. It turns out that the guy who was nice enough to be my guest on a spare radio show for an hour was also the guy who was treating teammates, teammates wives, friends, business partners and others in ways that ranged from callous to vindictive to downright cruel. Stories of mob-boss Lance are what disturbed me the most--even more than the stories of his doping. In the few times that I spent with Lance over the years, or in the few emails we exchanged, he was always really nice to me. I always liked Lance, and it's tough to see someone I once liked, as well as my favorite sport, destroyed. But it's karma--you can't cheat for such a long time and treat so many people as poorly as he did without it eventually coming back to haunt you.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Lance Decision


Lance Armstrong has announced he will not fight the latest charges being brought against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). USADA is accusing Armstrong of using performance enhancing drugs during his Tour de France winning streak from 1999-2005. Is this an indication that Lance is guilty of these charges, since he's decided not to contest them? Is Lance really tired of the fight? Or, was this the smartest play that Lance could make? It's a very, very convoluted topic, and what follows is the official take of The Junes.

First, I don't believe for a second that Lance is tired of the fight--he never tires of any fight. He's just very smart about which battles he takes on, and which he walks away from. His decision to not contest the charges has more to do with the end result. Lance had two options: he could go to arbitration, which could last for weeks, which would mean that every day in the news there would be a report about another former teammate testifying that Lance used PED's, or another report about a possible failed drug test--it would be a daily badgering of his reputation. Or, he could choose to not fight, claim that USADA is on a witch hunt and that the charges are baseless, and not have to go through a nasty process. Either way, Lance knew that the end result would be the same: USADA was going to find him guilty. In a criminal case or Federal case, they need to prove that the accused cheated beyond a (reasonable) shadow of a doubt, but USADA only needs a semi-high level of suspicion to find someone guilty. Armstrong was willing to fight the Feds because he had a much better chance of winning, since there is no hard evidence that would help lead to a guilty ruling. But USADA doesn't need a smoking gun.

The USADA process is not a trial, so Lance can now claim that he never had his day in court. He can claim that they've unfairly targeted him since he's never officially failed a drug test. He knows he's got millions of supporters who will back him. He also knows that USADA doesn't have the power to strip him of his seven Tour de France victories. That decision would have to be made by either the UCI (the governing body of world cycling) or by the Tour de France itself. The UCI has always been in Lance's corner, so they won't push to strip him. The Tour has a tough call to make--if they decide to strip Lance of his wins, do they promote the second place finishers in each of those seven races? If so, they would would have to promote Alex Zulle, Jan Ullrich, Joseba Beloki, Andreas Kloden and Ivan Basso--all of whom have tested positive for doping or admitted to using PED's. What about elevating the third place finishers in those years? The problem is the same, as you have guys like Vinokourov and Rumsas who also have tested positive for PED's who were on the podium for those races. Or, the Tour could just leave those seven years empty. But for a race which has such a rich history and markets that rich history to its full advantage, that would leave an ugly, gaping hole to have to stare at each time you looked at the list of winners. Plus, the Tour still lists the likes of Ullrich, Bjarne Riis, Marco Pantani and Alberto Contador as past winners--all of whom have tested positive or admitted to doping. So if they wipe Lance off the books, don't they have to wipe almost 20 years of their race history off the books as well? I can't see the Tour ever deciding to do that. I think they just want to move forward and hope it all goes away. Yes, the Tour has always had a strained relationship with Lance, and they could decide to strip him, but I think that decision would open a can of worms that the Tour would rather not deal with.

USADA is now preventing Lance from competing, even though he's retired. They can prevent him from racing in the Ironman triathlon series, which he had been doing this year as a professional, but I think Lance can live without that. I hate it, because I couldn't wait to see how he would have fared against the best in the Ironman--he had already won two Half-Ironman races this spring. Lance can, however, continue to compete in other events such as the Xterra off-road triathlon series, other world-wide triathlon events, or races like the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, or marathons, etc.

In the end, Lance had two roads to take, and both ended with USADA finding him guilty of doping. He knew that USADA was 58-2 in arbitration cases. He knew his best course of action was to basically ignore USADA. Instead of going to arbitration and losing, he knew that he would be better off by ignoring USADA and maintaining his innocence. It would have been very damaging for Lance to fight, and then to have USADA trot out former teammates who are creditable (not Floyd Landis or Tyler Hamilton, but guys like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, who have never failed drug tests and who were set to testify) who would have testified that they saw Lance doping, or knew of him doping. The Lance camp would argue that these witnesses either have no credibility or were blackmailed. Either way, it's to Lance's benefit that whatever evidence or testimony USADA had on their side never come out. This way, it never will.

Do I think Lance doped? I think he's a true freak of nature, and stronger in the mind than most athletes I've ever covered--yet, it's hard to believe that he won cleanly when everyone else was doping. I believe he was better than everyone, but not that much better. However, the playing field was level--practically everyone in the 90's and 00's in the pro peloton was doping, therefore, Lance was the strongest. If the entire peloton, including Lance, had been clean, I believe Lance still wins. So, while I think it was highly probably that Lance doped, I don't think it gave him an unfair advantage since everyone else was doping, too. It doesn't make what any of them did right, it's just (as Dan McDowell might say) the way it was.

I feel bad for Lance in that this is clearly a witch hunt. He is correct in that he's never failed a drug test (it should be noted that in 1999 at the Tour de France he did test positive for cortisone use, but it was dismissed after his doctors presented the Tour with a note of explanation, and that there is heavy speculation that in 2001 at the Tour of Switzerland he tested positive for EPO and that the result of that test was covered up by the UCI). So why, then, would USADA go after Lance? And why would they go after him seven years after his last Tour win? It's pretty obvious that USADA has it out for Lance, and I believe that his recent dalliance with the Ironman was too much for them to take--that they couldn't stand to see him compete again. And, when the Feds dropped their case against Lance, USADA saw this as a chance to make a big name for their organization by going after the biggest fish in the pond.

I also feel bad for the sport of cycling. There is no doubt that the sport was filthy from about 1991 (when EPO hit the scene full-force) until about 2008, and of course there are still cheaters out there. But, it's getting better. The sport has always been way ahead of the curve in terms of how it deals with cheats, but that's also meant a lot of negative publicity. The sport should be lauded for it's crusade against doping, not chided for what it's uncovered. It's a beautiful sport, and always will be. And today, it's a cleaner sport that it's been in a long, long time. But there will always be cheaters, and in every sport.

Lance will survive. He has an army of supporters, and they will continue to support him. I don't believe that his decision to not fight the USADA charges will have any long-term impact on his legacy. Those millions who love Lance will still love him, and they'll agree with his reasons not to fight. Those millions that hate Lance will, of course, still hate him. I would be shocked if the Livestrong Foundation suffers at all--I'll predict that their donations may in fact increase now, much as Penn State saw donations increase following the Sandusky scandal.

Lance made the best call. It will be difficult for him, short term, to read the headlines that he's "guilty" or that he's "been stripped of his Tour wins." Ultimately, though, his life will go on. He'll keep his Tour wins (I think), and he won't go to jail. He's basically survived every accusation levelled against him over the last 15 years. His foundation will survive, as will his legacy, for the most part. It's the best possible outcome for Lance, considering he had to choose between two negative outcomes. He chose the lesser of two evils. Whether or not Lance Armstrong contested those races by virtue of evil means is up for everyone else to now decide on their own.

Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 Tour de France Wrap-Up



"I have started many stories about bicycle racing, but none of them are as good as the actual races."

Ernest Hemingway,
from A Moveable Feast

In this reporter's opinion, the Tour de France is the world's greatest annual sporting event. I say annual because you have to give the Olympics and the World Cup the nod in terms of importance and glamour, but those are held every four years. The Tour is watched on television by one billion people, worldwide, every year. Another 20 million will watch the event in person, every year. The spectacle is unlike anything else in sports--a three week caravan of controlled chaos. The stadium for it all is the French countryside, which undoubtably makes for the most beautiful arena in sports. In the mountains, human suffering is on display when they climb ridiculously steep roads, followed by thrilling, high speed descents with 1,000 foot drop-offs and no guard rails. On the flat stages, you see crazy, elbow to elbow sprints at 40 mph. The race's history is as colorful as any sports.

Having said all of that, this reporter must also say that the 2012 edition of the Tour de France was the most boring I've ever seen. I still enjoyed the race, but more for the helicopter shots of the beautiful countryside and the familiar voices of Phil and Paul than for the drama of the race.

The main problem with the race was that there was just one legitimate contender, and he won. Bradley Wiggins was a deserving winner, no doubt. He won both long time trials, a solid indication that he was the strongest man in the race. He did what he had to do in the mountains. He won in the exact manner of Miguel Indurain--stay with the best in the mountains, then beat them soundly in the time trials. But even Indurain had his rivals--Chiappucci, Rominger, and a young Pantani. Wiggins had only one serious rival going into this year's race, the defending champ Cadel Evans. But Evans had not looked like a potential Tour winner all season. By his own admission, his offseason was quite hectic and stressful, highlighted by the adoption of a son. I never thought that Cadel would win a second Tour. He had chased that carrot for so long that, upon finally winning the race at age 34, I'm sure he felt that his life's work was complete. When you win your first Tour in your 20's, you think about winning five or six, but not when you win your first in your mid-30's.

Vincenzo Nibali? Never a threat. The Italian climber couldn't even get rid of Wiggins in the mountains, and got hammered in the time trials. Same thing for Belgian hope Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Same thing for Tejay van Garderen, the new American hope, who finished fifth. Tejay, just 23, won the white jersey for Best Young Rider. Greg LeMond, won the white jersey in 1984 at age 24, then became the first American to win the yellow jersey two years later. Tejay seems to be on the right path. We've always known he can climb, and this year he showed that he can be among the best in the time trial, which of course is key.

And that brings us to Chris Froome, teammate of Wiggins, who finished second overall. The only drama in this race was the Wiggins vs Froome drama, because on a couple of mountain stages it looked as though Froome could drop Wiggins if he had wanted to. Bernard Hinault then says that Sky was riding for the wrong guy because Froome was stronger. But was he really?

I didn't like the way Froome rode in this race. There is no denying his strength, but he rode like a spaz. It was like watching someone who has great natural ability but who was in a bike race for the first time--his accelerations in front of Wiggins when he was supposed to be "pacing" him were ridiculous. His antics on Stage 17 were embarrassing--he kept accelerating way ahead of Wiggins, then turning around and waving to the yellow jersey to "come on and catch up." It's like he wanted to whole world to say "Wow! Look how strong Froome is! He's dropping the maillot jaune!" If I had been Wiggins, I would have punched him at the finish line. You don't disrespect the yellow jersey like that. I loved it that Wiggins put 1:16 into Froome in the final time trial--a nice exclamation point on his statement as to who really was the strongest in this race. Froome will probably switch teams for next year, and come back to try to beat Wiggins, which will make for a great race. I'll be rooting for Wiggins.


Wiggins won me over in general. I thought it was a class move when he patted Nibali on the back at the end of a mountain stage after Nibali had said some harsh things about Wiggins in the press--it was something a race leader does. I loved it when Wiggins would lead out Cavendish or EBH in the sprint finish--very cool to see the yellow jersey sacrificing himself for those who've worked so hard for him for three weeks. And, I liked how Wiggins told everyone to slow down and wait for Evans when some idiot had tossed tacks onto the road forcing Evans to deal with three different flat tires. Wiggins behaved like a solid Tour leader throughout.

Other quick thoughts: Cav is still the fastest sprinter I've ever seen, and with 23 stage wins to his credit, he may one day break Eddy Merckx's Tour record of 34. Peter Sagan is unbeatable in an uphill finish. He looks like the kind of rider that should dominate the classics like Flanders for years to come. And, I thought it was great that Thomas Voeckler won the mountains classification--he's good for the Tour. He's French, he's old-school, and he's alway up for a breakaway.

We were all spoiled by last year's race. The 2011 edition was the best since 1989. Evans, Schleck and Contador put on a great show, just like LeMond, Fignon and Delgado did in '89. When you have three legitimate contenders, you'll probably get a very good race. Even with just two legitimate contenders, you're likely in for a treat (think Armstrong-Ullrich, Anquetil-Poulidor, Coppi-Bartali). But when you have just one man who can win the race, you are likely in for a snoozer. Before this year, 2002 was the most boring race I had seen. That year, Armstrong had no Ullrich, and the race was a formality. You were, at the very least, watching Armstrong make history winning his fourth in a row. Likewise, we at least had history made this year as Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour, which was nice to see (especially for long-suffering British bike racing fans like Phil and Paul, who did a nice job throughout of hiding how giddy they must have actually been).

Next year we might get Wiggins vs Froome vs van Garderen vs Contador vs Schleck, which could be terrific. I'm willing to sit through a boring 2012 Tour with a race like that a distinct possibility next summer. Vive le Tour!



Saturday, June 2, 2012

The New Dallas Marathon


The White Rock Marathon, a 41-year Dallas tradition, has changed it's name and it's courses. It's now simply called the "Dallas Marathon," which is fine. The marathon execs want the race to grow in numbers and in prestige, and the new name sounds bigger and more important than the old name, which sounded small and quaint.

The biggest marathons in the world are all simply named after their host city. The five "World Marathon Majors" are the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the London Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, and the Berlin Marathon. Not that the Dallas Marathon will ever be one of the five or ten largest in the world, but changing the name is a step in that direction. Dallas is one of the biggest cities in America, so why not use that name to your advantage? Makes sense. I'm on board with it.

I am not on board, however, with the new courses. My first marathon was White Rock in 2007. Outside of the shock to my body, I loved it. I loved the course. One of the best things about the course is that after you left downtown, you ran through the lovely and quiet neighborhoods of Highland Park, The M-Streets, and Lakewood. You then ran around the lake, back into Lakewood, and back downtown to the finish. You never really saw a shopping strip-center. You never ran on a huge, six-lane road. You ran through East Dallas neighborhoods, where families would gather on the front lawn to cheer you on. The race had a great feel to it.

The full marathon course now takes you over the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which is fine, but it means more time downtown. It still goes through Uptown and Highland Park, but instead of winding it's way through the M-Streets and Lakewood to get to the lake, the new course goes straight down Mockingbird. Runners like asphalt, smaller roads, neighborhoods and trees. Mockingbird will be an almost five mile stretch of concrete on a six-lane road with no trees and lots of shopping centers and strip malls to look at. Me no likey. Also, you now only run around half of the lake, not the entire thing! You've eliminated one half of one of the most scenic spots in town!

They've also changed the half marathon course. Instead of leaving downtown and going up through Highland Park and then back down through Lakewood, the entire race will remain in the downtown area, doing various loops (including two trips over the Hunt Hill Bridge), which, to me, looks miserable. Again, unless you're running the NYC Marathon, runners would rather not spend their entire race traversing through a concrete jungle.

The only positive about the new half course is that they have separated the full and half finish completely, which is a very good thing. There is nothing fun about being in the hurt locker that is the last few miles of a marathon and having to weave your way through half marathon finishers (many walkers, at that point).

I guess I don't get the fascination with the new Hunt Hill Bridge. It's being forced down our throats as the new city landmark. Methinks they need to let the game come to it, not vice-versa.

I may run the Dallas Marathon again one day, but I hate to say that I'm now a little less likely to, given the new course. Organizing a marathon is a Herculean task, and it's a job I wouldn't want. I think they got it right with the new name, but wrong with the new courses. I hope the runners love them, and that I'm wrong--but like the vast majority of my other opinions, I'm afraid I'm going to be right about this one, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Positive Effects of FSS


The quick backstory: two years ago I watched the World Cup, and was fairly bored by what I saw. I was encouraged by soccer fans to pick a club from a big Euro-league (EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc) and watch for an entire season, then decide if the sport sucked or not. Sounded like a fun experiment, so I took the challenge. I picked Arsenal (for many reasons, all outlined in previous posts), and for the last two seasons I’ve had a blast following the Gunners, and the sport in general.

One of the things that drew me in was the atmosphere at the matches. It looked and sounded spectacular. Being a life-long pro cycling fan, which is a very Euro-centric sport, I was drawn to the international flavor of soccer. In this country, we watch so much football, basketball, baseball, etc, that our brains get used to seeing the same advertising, the same network coverage, the same terms and teams and uniforms over and over. When you introduce a sport from a foreign land to your brain, it is stimulated. I call this sensation Foreign Sports Stimulation (or FSS). The human brain needs FSS. It can lead to improved productivity in the workplace, a better sex life, and can be a deterrent to Alzheimer’s.*

*none of the above claims could be substantiated at the time this post went to press.

I put attending an Arsenal match on my bucket list, but I thought it would be something that I might get to in retirement. Then, around February, Bob Sturm (aka The Sturminator from BAD Radio, 12-3 on The Ticket) informed me that he and his buddies were taking a soccer trip in April, and were planning on seeing four matches, including Arsenal-Chelsea at Emirates Stadium. At first, I thought it would be difficult to make the trip, as I was running the Boston Marathon the Monday before. But the more I thought about it, the more the timing made sense. I was already going to be in Boston until Tuesday, so why not make the short flight from Boston to London mid-week, meet Bob and the boys on Friday, go to the matches, and fly home on Sunday. So I booked it. I ended up having Thursday to myself in London, so I went out to Wimbledon and took the tour of the grounds and walked though the museum, which was awesome!


The appetizer match on our menu was on Friday night--a League Two showdown between Southend United and Barnet. We had to take a 45 minute train ride from London to Southend-on-Sea, a very sleepy coastal “resort” town in Essex. It turned out to be a fantastic experience--much like going to a small Texas town on a Friday night to watch a high school football game. We walked around the town a bit, took a colorful cab ride to Roots Hall (capacity 12,392), bought some souvenirs, took our seats (on the second row) and watched the home-standing Shrimpers score three goals in the first half en-route to a 3-0 victory.


Saturday was the big day: two English Premier League matches, both London Derbies. We took The Tube to the Arsenal stop (the only Tube stop in London named for a soccer club), walked around the neighborhood (which included a look at the apartment complex that now occupies the spot where the old Arsenal home park, Highbury, used to sit), and headed to a pub across the street from the Emirates. There is something really great about sipping a pint of Guinness with a bunch of football fans across the street from a stadium right before the start of a big match. The atmosphere outside was very similar to the feeling outside a college football stadium before a big game.


The Arsenal-Chelsea match wasn’t much to look at. My first EPL match ended in a 0-0 tie, which was a bit of a bummer. But I still loved every minute of it. The Emirates is a beautiful stadium. In many ways, it’s the Cowboys Stadium of London (but nowhere near as over-the-top as the DeathStar). Even though I’ve only been an Arsenal fan for two seasons, it was still oddly comforting to be in the midst of 60,000 like-minded (and at times, like-frustrated) folks. It was one of my favorite sports experiences ever.

After the match, we took a cab back to the hotel, then jumped on The Tube again. The second match of our EPL doubleheader was Queen’s Park Rangers-Tottenham. QPR play at historic Loftus Road (capacity 18,360), and what a wonderful old place it is--it felt like the EPL’s version of Fenway. QPR was desperate to avoid relegation (which, in the end, they did), so the fans were insane. Spurs were trying to finish with a top four spot (which, in the end, they did), so each team had a lot to play for. The fans were the loudest and crudest of our trip. I’ve never hear the c-word so many time in my life (and I’m talking about the c-word for the most private of female areas). QPR won the match, 1-0, and it was as action-packed as a 1-0 match could have been.


I’ve still got a lot remaining on my sports bucket list. I’ve now been to Wimbledon, but I still want to see an actual tournament match in person. I want to see the French Open. I want to see The Masters. I want to see the single-day monuments in cycling (Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, etc.). Lots to do, but very, very happy that I’ve now experienced English football matches in person. FSS is a wonderful thing.

A note of special thanks to two gentlemen who helped us with tickets to these matches: the great Gordon Jago, who led the Sidekicks to the MISL title in '88 and who seems to know everyone in England, and an ex-pat by the name of Tom Fox who is now an Arsenal front office executive who has taken a peculiar interest in my new-found admiration for his club. Thanks to you both for helping make it a wonderful trip.




Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quick Hits

It's been a while since I've posted here. I had an incredible, 28 month streak of at least one new post per month, only to have that streak snapped in April by laziness. This has not been a good year for my impressive personal streaks (my 28 year non-vomit streak was ended by some bad chicken enchiladas in January). I've had plenty to write about, but I feel like I'm still trying to get my head around my big April events: running the second hottest Boston Marathon on record, and getting to London with the Sturminator to take in several English football matches. I may be running another marathon soon, so I'll wait until my spring campaign is over before I recap the entire experience. I've also been waiting until the end of the EPL year to recap my sophomore season with the sport--and after last week's incredible final Sunday, there will be plenty to write about.

But right now, just a couple of quick hits--some things you might have missed that others had the energy to write and that I had the energy to cut-and-paste and put on this blog.

The Radio Ratings Game

Here is the latest report, courtesy Barry Horn at SportsDayDFW.com:

The April ratings book has arrived. Here are some sports talk numbers to digest.

In the all-important “men 25-54” target demographic all week long, it was The Ticket (6.2), ESPN (3.5), The Fan (1.8).

Mondays thru Fridays 6 a.m.-7 p.m. in the demo, went the stations’ heavy hitters are yakking it up, it’s The Ticket (8.3), ESPN (3.5) and The Fan (2.0).

The Ticket’s Hardline scored the most dominant hour of the week. At 4 p.m. daily, the show averaged a 12.4 share, which means one out of every eight men 25-54 in the market with radios turned on was listening.

Ticket lineup: Dunham & Miller (7.4); Norm Hitzges (6.9); BaD Radio (7.3); Hardline (9.8).

ESPN lineup: Mike & Mike (4.3); Ben & Skin (2.3); The Herd (3.2); Coop & Nate (3.8); Galloway and Co. (3.4).

Fan lineup: Shan & R.J. (2.0); Elf (2.2); Richie & Greggo (2.0).

These numbers are pretty consistent month in, month out. First, congrats to all of the hard-working shows on The Ticket. These shows have been around, in some form or another, for a long, long time (Norm 30+ years, Musers and Hardline for 18+ years, BAD for 12+ years). The fact that each show is still number one in it's time slot (for all shows in the market, not just number one in the sports talk race) is phenomenal. Props in particular to the Hardliners, who are tearing it up this year. I'm proud to be a small part of the big success of this station, and proud to work with everyone on this staff.

As for the other stations--they love to take shots at us and make fun of the way we do radio. But I think they are finding out, or have found out, that doing a talk show that will attract and keep listeners is a lot harder than it looks and sounds. I can't imagine the other stations are happy with their ratings. If any of the shows on The Ticket had ratings in the 2.0's or 3.0's, we'd be fired so fast we wouldn't have time to blink (which will happen one day, I'm sure).

Thanks to the P1's for hanging in there with us. We have the weakest signal in the metroplex, and we've had more than our share of technical problems this year, but America's most loyal audience continues to amaze us.

The Mavericks Season to Forget

I won't beat a dead horse--we all know that the Mavs 2010-11 season was, at best, a limp defense of their magically-won title. I did find two Bill Simmons entries on Grantland.com quite entertaining, regarding the Mavs half-hearted effort to go back-to-back. The first is dialogue between Cuban and Dirk before the start of the season:

"OK, Dirk, here's the plan."

"I'm listening."

"We're throwing away our title defense. We're just going to put it in a Dumpster and smear it with dog feces. By the end of the regular season, Delonte West will be our third-best player, we'll be relying on an overweight Vince Carter, we'll have turned Tyson Chandler into a three-headed dose of mediocrity called Brendian Haywonimight, and unless Jason Terry is feeling it, you'll have to shoot every single time in the fourth quarter of every playoff game."

"Got it."

"We might win one game against Oklahoma City, that's it. Then you'll have the spring and summer off."

"Sounds good. One question: Why would we do this?"

"Because we want to sign Deron Williams this summer. This was the only way."

"Deron Williams … the guy who acted like such a dick in Utah that they flipped him into two top-three lottery picks and never looked back and since then he's been playing for a lottery team?"

"Yeah, that Deron Williams. Also, we have a 2.2 percent chance of getting Dwight Howard, too."

"Dwight Howard … the guy who's three months away from quitting on his team and needs season-ending back surgery?"

"Seriously? That's going to happen? How do you know this?"

"I just do."

"Crap."

"Any chance we can come up with another plan?"

(Dead silence.)

The second was this postseason award the Mavs received from Simmons:

The Another 48 Hrs. Award for "Worst Title Defense"

Two schools of thought: (a) the only thing that matters is winning a title, and (b) part of winning a title is defending that title. I believe the latter, which is why I remain lukewarm on the '83 Sixers as an All-Time Greatest Team (they got bounced the following year in a humiliating Round 1 loss to New Jersey), and why I love the '86 Celtics so much (they were banged up the following spring and could have rolled over, but they didn't). Dallas's willingness to toss away their title defense for cap space (and the "chance" at Dwight Howard and Deron Williams) always seemed a little too clever, as well as a massive underestimation of everything Chandler did on and off the court.1

What rarely gets mentioned here: Had they convinced Chandler to take a little less to stay, they could have pursued Deron Williams this summer (with Dirk and Chandler as the bait) and maybe even used Chandler as trade bait for a sign-and-trade for Howard (either in February or this summer, which wouldn't have been any more callous than how they treated Chandler, anyway). And they could have actually defended their title.

Here's where a Mavs fan might say, "I don't care, we won the title." Yeah, but you also won the "One of the Worst Title Defenses Ever" title. In the Shot Clock Era, only two defending champs missed the playoffs: the '99 Bulls (no MJ or Pippen) and '70 Celtics (no Russell or Sam Jones), but since both teams were rebuilding, you can't totally blame them. Four other defending champs were bounced in Round 1: the 1981 Lakers (lost a best-of-three miniseries to Moses Malone's Rockets), 1984 Sixers (lost a five-gamer to Micheal Ray's Nets), 2007 Heat (swept by Chicago) and 2012 Mavs (swept by Oklahoma City). That's a short list. The Mavs outsmarted themselves; heck, they couldn't even complain about Lamar Odom as he stole money from them for four straight months, because Odom's agent (Jeff Schwartz) represents Williams as well.

And by the way … why are we so convinced that NBA free agents are so desperate to play in Dallas again? Because they want to play with Nowitzki … who's about to turn 34 and cross the 45,000-minute career barrier? Because they want to play for Cuban … who didn't take care of Nash in 2004 or Chandler in 2011 when both guys wanted to stay? You don't think players around the league noticed how Cuban handled Chandler's situation? Even if we've learned not to count out Cubes (especially when things look bleak), I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't grab a do-over for the last 11 months.

Cuban's decision to play for free agency was a big gamble. It may pay off, it may not. In fact, the Cuban decision and the upcoming Rangers decision on what to do with Josh Hamilton are two of the biggest risk/reward decisions that any club in this town has ever had to face. Could be very fun to follow, or very disappointing, depending on the outcome of each.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lamar Odom's Alter-Ego


For fun, let's revise history. The Chicago Bulls decide they've had enough of Michael Jordan and they trade him to the Knicks. Jordan is bitter about it. Do you know what Jordan does the first time he faces his old team? Do you know what he does every subsequent time the Knicks play the Bulls? He, of course, drops 60 on them. He punishes them. He shows them that they shouldn't have dealt him.

Lamar Odom was bitter about being dealt from the Lakers to the Mavs. Wednesday night was yet another opportunity for Odom to show his old team that they made a mistake. How did he respond? Did he pull a Jordan on them?

Odom dropped one point on his old club. One.

The first time he faced them this season, he went 4 for 12. The next time the Lakers popped up on the schedule, Odom went AWOL. This latest game, he went for 1 point, 1 rebound, and 1 assist (in 24 minutes!). You can't make this stuff up. That was his line. 1-1-1.

Odom had a chance to pull a Jordan on his old team. Instead, he pulled a Cindy Brady--he ran up to his room and sulked, waiting for Marsha or Jan to comfort him. In this case, the roles of Marsha and Jan are being played by Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle.

Cuban and Carlisle have always struck me as no-nonsense guys. So why are they putting up with the epitome of nonsense in Lamar Odom? I don't have the answer. It's a mystery to me. There are, however, a few theories that may explain their odd actions:

1. Cuban doesn't want to upset Odom's agent, Jeff Schwartz, who also happens to be the agent for Deron Williams. In other words, they are doing what they've denied doing all season, which is sacrificing this year for next year. Keep giving Odom 20-25 minutes a night, even though he is sucking balls, and keep bending over backwards to please him in order to not piss off his agent. Part of me understands that, while part of me wonders how someone as proud as Cuban could stand to do that.

Part of me also wonders how Jimmy Johnson would have handled a situation like that. Imagine Jerry going to Jimmy and telling him to keep playing a bad player because they need to do business with the bad player's agent down the road. What would Jimmy do? He would look at Jerry and say "F*** that! We're trying to DEFEND A CHAMPIONSHIP here, and he's getting in the way!" Why won't Rick Carlisle take the same approach? When Odom rejoined the team on March 3rd, Carlisle said "we need a pants-on-fire effort from him every night." Instead, Odom has given Dallas a crap-in-his-pants effort each night, yet Carlisle seems OK with it. Bizarre.

2. Injuries. If it's not Haywood, it's Marion. If it's not Marion, it's Dirk. If it's not Dirk, it's Wright. The Dallas front line has had to deal with a bunch of aches and pains this season, and so Odom has to play because they need bodies. But, at some point, doesn't Brian Cardinal look like a better option? Wouldn't Cardinal, or anyone else, give you more effort than Odom? Wouldn't it send a better message to the team than continuing to give big minutes to a guy who obviously doesn't want to be here?

3. Hope. Cuban and Carlisle realize they are long-shots to repeat. Perhaps their best chance to go back-to-back is if Odom can somehow snap out of his funk. Good luck with that.

Last Monday against Denver, Odom grabbed 9 rebounds. It was the first time this season he finished a game with 9 rebounds, which is what he averaged last year, and what he has averaged for his career. Since returning from his "leave of absence" and since his re-dedication to the team, he is shooting 29% from the field (22 of 74), which is worse than before his "leave." Again, you can't make this stuff up.

Maybe it all goes back to reality television. Maybe Cuban and Carlisle like Season Two of "Khloe and Lamar" so much that they're star struck, and they think that Lamar can do no wrong. It's a crazy thought, but then again, this entire soap opera has been crazy. And sadly, it's become one of the main story lines for a the defending champs. The Mavs should be locked-in on validating their 2011 title. Instead, they're having to waste time and energy babysitting Cindy Brady.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The NBA of Not-Quites


As I was watching the NBA All-Star Game last month, something dawned on me. Are we witnessing a rare time in the history of the league? Have we ever had a period in the game when we were devoid of a player that we consider to be the best-ever at their position? Is this era of the NBA Not-Quites?

It was easier to be the best-ever at your position in the first 20-30 years of the league. During the 50's and 60's, George Mikan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were all, at one time during their careers, considered the best center to have ever played the game. Kareem carried that argument through the 70's. In the 80's, Magic Johnson succeeded Bob Cousy as the best point guard ever, and Larry Bird succeeded Dr. J, who succeeded Elgin Baylor, as the best small forward of all-time. In the 90's, Michael Jordan succeeded Jerry West as the best shooting guard ever. Recently, in the 00’s, Tim Duncan succeeded Karl Malone, who succeeded Bob Pettit, as the best power forward in league history. But what about today? What about players who are currently operating in their prime--are any of them the best we’ve ever seen at their position?

Here are the best in the game today, and I can’t make an argument for any of them succeeding any of the guys listed above:

Dwight Howard The game’s best center is nowhere close to being the best center of all-time. He would fall somewhere behind Wilt, Russell, Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem, Moses, and maybe a few others. Have we ever experienced an era so weak at the center position?

Kobe Bryant This is close, but again, a not-quite. Kobe is the best shooting guard of his generation, and he’s the closest thing to Jordan that we may ever see. But he’s not Jordan. He carries himself like Jordan, he’s about the exact same size as Jordan, he can do just about everything that Jordan could do, but he’s not quite Jordan.

LeBron James With a few titles, it’s possible that we will one day rank LeBron as the greatest small forward ever. But he needs those titles. If anyone defines the era of the “Not-Quites,” it’s LeBron. He’s a sensational player, but the bar has been raised so high for him that nothing short of multiple titles will satisfy those who want to keep him ranked historically behind Bird.

Dirk Nowitzki Dirk is, as we all know, a legendary player, but an odd case. He’s not really a small forward, and not really a power forward. He’s a 3 1/2. If we were to create a new position, the small/power forward, he would certainly be the best to ever play that spot. But I put him in the not-quite category because of the guy he’s always compared to: Larry Bird. We’ve always heard that Dirk is this generation’s Bird (I don’t think the two are that similar, as I’ve stated before--observers tend to compare them because they are each white, blonde, and deadly outside shooters, yet after that, there are precious few similarities between them). Like Kobe is not quite Mike, Dirk is not quite Larry. Likewise, Dirk would not rank as the top power forward of all-time ahead of Duncan, whose four rings, three Finals MVP’s and two regular season MVP’s trump Dirk’s one, one and one.

Dwayne Wade Another player who is truly great, but not anywhere close to being the greatest. He’ll probably rank among the three or four best shooting guards of all-time by the end of his career, but he’ll never be Jordan--and after the ’06 Finals, we thought he might come close. But that hasn’t happened.

Kevin Durant I love Durant. I really love him. But he’ll never be considered the best small forward (or, to some, big guard) ever. Right now, he’s most often compared to George Gervin (a small forward-turned big guard), but at this early stage of his career, he’s not quite the Iceman. Durant has won two scoring titles, with a career-best 30.1 average in ’09-’10. Gervin won four scoring titles, with a career-best 33.1 average in ’79-’80 (and a 32.3 average two seasons later). Neither are close to being Jordan, and, for now, Durant is not quite Gervin.

Today’s Point Guards We have a slew of fine point guards in the NBA right now: Paul, Rose, Westbrook, Williams, Wall, Parker, Nash, Irving and more. It’s currently the richest position in the league. But none of them are anywhere close to Magic. Rose has a chance to rank among the five best points ever, but he’s got a long way to go--and I never see him ranking ahead of Earvin.

I'm not trying to run down the league, or it's current group of stars. This is an exciting time to be an NBA fan. Attendance and TV ratings are up, despite the lockout. An infusion of exciting, young talent has energized the league. Things are good on many fronts--yet, for the first time in the 66 year history of The Association, we are not watching a player who is the greatest at their position.

Editor’s (in this case, the same as Author’s) note: We forgot about Jeremy Lin! He is not only the greatest point guard ever, he’s the greatest player ever. Please ignore the above blog post.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Defending the ABA


This week, it was reported that Kobe moved past Shaq into 5th place on the all-time NBA scoring list. Wrong. Kobe moved past Shaq into 7th place on the all-time scoring list, not 5th.

The NBA still does not officially recognize statistics from the ABA. I don’t understand why. When you look at a list of the top passers in NFL history, you see the pre-merger AFL numbers for Joe Namath and Len Dawson and George Blanda included in their career total. There is no AFL asterisk. There are not two separate lists, one saying “NFL Only Yardage” and one saying “NFL-AFL Combined Yardage.” That’s as it should be.

Granted, I’m an ABA apologist, but I think this is an easy argument for anyone to understand. The ABA was not a minor league. The ABA was, in many ways, miles ahead of the NBA. The style of play, the coaching, the promotions, the dunking--in the 60’s and 70’s the ABA was what the NBA became in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, it took the NBA-ABA merger (or absorption, as some say) to jump start a boring and somewhat dying NBA.

Superb, Hall of Fame players like Julius Erving, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Dan Issel, Rick Barry, and others are constantly having their great careers either downgraded or altogether ignored by the NBA and it’s followers. The ABA points scored by Dr. J came against a solid level of competition in a professional league that eventually was absorbed by the NBA--there is no reason his 11,662 points as a Virginia Squire and New York Net should not count in the eyes of the NBA. Dr. J’s numbers dipped when he came into the NBA, but it was not because of the better competition--instead it had to do with his aging knees and the dynamics of his new Sixers team.

When the two leagues merged, the ABA leftovers immediately made their presence felt. The Nuggets and Spurs were perennial playoff teams. The first post-merger All-NBA team (’76-’77) featured four ABA players (David Thompson, Gervin, Erving and George McGinnis) on the first and second teams. The next year, 3 of the 5 on the first team were from the ABA (Erving, Gervin, Thompson).

There is no doubt in my mind that the last dominant ABA team, the ’74-’76 New York Nets (who won two titles in three years), would have given the mid-70’s NBA Champion Warriors and Celtics a run for their money, or would have flat-out beaten them in a seven game series. The Nets featured Erving, John Williamson, the at-times brilliant Brian Taylor, Rich Jones, and the original Dunking Dutchman Swen Nater. They were more athletic than either the Celtics or Warriors, and, they were coached just as well (if not better) by Kevin Loughery than Boston or Golden State were by Tom Heinsohn and Al Attles.

Kobe Bryant is 7th, not 5th on the all-time scoring list. The NBA chooses to ignore the ABA point totals of Dr. J and Moses Malone, both of whom scored more points in their careers than Kobe has. Dirk is 26th on the all-time scoring list, not 21st. Dirk is behind Erving, Malone, Issel, Gervin and Artis Gilmore, not ahead of them. Gilmore’s 7,169 ABA rebounds should not be ignored (as he had to work for those against sometimes more athletic and all-out meaner front lines than he would have faced in the NBA). Gilmore should be recognized as the 5th leading rebounder of all-time--instead, the NBA ranks Gilmore 42nd. What a crime.

In November of 2010, Tim Duncan was celebrated as the Spurs all-time leading scorer, passing George Gervin with his 20,709th point. In fact, Duncan still hasn’t caught Gervin, whose own ABA-rooted organization doesn’t even acknowledge the ABA numbers put up by the Iceman. Ridiculous.

It’s time somebody stepped up and made the case for the ABA greats. I’m happy to carry the torch. Sorry Kobe, you’re 7th--you’ve still got about 1,500 more points to score before you pass Julius Erving into 5th place on the all-time scoring list.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is One Enough for Cuban?


I’ve never seen Mark Cuban happier or prouder than when he was standing behind Barack Obama at the White House earlier this month. Cuban’s title team was there, accepting accolades from the President. I was happy for Cuban. No professional sports owner has had to endure so much pain en route to a championship. He deserved to bask in that glorious moment.

Yet, as I was watching the President butcher Dirk’s name, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Mavs would ever get to go to D.C. again--outside of a scheduled game against the Wizards?

Something else I can’t answer: is Mark Cuban satisfied with just one title? Or, is he as hungry today to win another one as he was in quest of the first one? Human nature would say that he is not. However, there are those rare, ultra-competitive animals in the world of sports who are able to operate outside of normal human nature. Jordan and Kobe. Nicklaus and Woods. Brady and Montana. Merckx and Armstrong (had to work some cycling names in--sue me). They crave wins. They crave championships. They are never satisfied. They are always looking for a new edge. They don’t want to just break records, they want to put those records out of reach.

Does Mark Cuban feel that way? Does Dirk? Here’s cutting them some slack if they don’t. It was long, arduous climb for both to the top of the mountain. So what if they don’t want to summit Everest again? Isn’t once enough?

For most Mavs fans, I would say the answer is yes--once in enough. Dirk cemented his legacy with his championship. Cuban confirmed his methods. Mavs fans will die happy, especially getting a title in a year when most never thought it possible. There are few things more satisfying that that. But Jordan’s tummy wouldn’t be full--not even close. Is Cuban’s?

What makes me question Cuban’s desire at this point is the Tyson Chandler situation. I’m not saying bring back last year’s team. You can move on without Barea, Butler, Peja, Brewer and Stevenson. But short of getting Dwight Howard to move to Dallas, you can not move on with the same ambition without Chandler.

Chemistry matters in the NBA. The 2004 Lakers proved that by losing to a Pistons team that they should have blow out of the water. Even last year's Miami team showed that shear talent can't beat great chemistry. And nobody brought the chemistry of the Mavs together like Chandler. By all accounts, he was the most important chemistry add (on and off the court) in Dallas history.

This is not to say Chandler is Howard or Shaq or Kareem. But the Mavericks searched for 30 years to find a center that could play defense with a passion and an infectious spark. Chandler became the first Maverick center ever named to the NBA’s All-Defense team (and finished 3rd overall in the Defensive Player of the Year voting--something no Mavericks player at any position has ever sniffed). Dirk called Chandler the team’s MVP (obviously Dirk was the MVP, but point taken). Observers around the league agreed that without Chandler, Dallas would have had a hard time winning the title.

The annual NBA GM’s poll was released this week. Their pick to win the West? OKC got 69% of the vote, followed by the Lakers (17%), Portland (7%) and San Antonio (7%). Dallas got no votes? Does that perhaps indicate the value of Chandler? I’ve never seen a defending champion dismissed by the experts quite like this, outside of the Bulls post-Jordan.

Chandler almost single-handedly changed the defensive culture in Dallas. For years the Mavs had good teams, but could never win a title because they couldn’t play front-line defense. Every year we would hear about “the layup drill” it was for the opponents attacking the Dallas basket. Over those years, Cuban overpaid a host of underwhelming centers (Bradley, LaFrentz, Eschmeyer, Dampier, Diop, Haywood). So why not overpay the center that finally locks down the middle and helps you win a title? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Is Chandler still a health risk? Yes. Was it a lot of money for a so-called role player? Yes, but to call Chandler a "role player" is to greatly demean the role that he played in Dallas. Would it have made the Mavs a strong title contender this season? Yes. Are they as good without him? Clearly not.

Maybe Cuban believes that last year was a lightning-in-a-bottle season. Maybe he thinks they got lucky and he doesn’t want to press that luck. The West was down, the Heat hadn’t figured out how to win yet, and a magical chemistry overcame the Mavs for a few months. Serendipity, as Jerry would say. And, maybe he’d be right about all of that.

Maybe Cuban believes that he’ll land Howard and Williams--that those two are dead-set on coming to Dallas to play with an aging Dirk and a young...well, a young...Roddy B? Maybe he’ll pull it off. I would never say never when Cuban is involved.

If saying goodbye to Chandler means saying hello to Howard and Williams, then it was obviously worth parting with Chandler. Anything short of that, however, will leave us all wondering if the Mavs could have squeezed another title out of the Dirk era. Perhaps that doesn’t matter to a lot of folks around these parts. I wish I knew if, deep down, it mattered to Cuban--or if that one trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was enough.