It ain’t over till it’s over…But it looks over

The great Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

For the Cleveland Cavaliers, it ain’t over till it’s over…but with Kyrie Irving out with a fractured kneecap, it looks like it’s over.

It’s nobody’s fault Irving’s injury happened. A lot of people want to point the finger at Cavs head coach David Blatt for having Irving play 43 minutes on one leg. Some people want to point the finger at LeBron James for missing a shot he made once against the Golden State Warriors at the end of a game. And some are even pointing to rapper Lil B for allegedly cursing the Cavaliers after a video on J.R. Smith’s Instagram showed Smith, James and Iman Shumpert allegedly doing the rapper’s dance, or as Lil B would say, stealing his swag. But injuries are a part of the game and you never want to see an injury happen, especially during a championship series.

What makes it worse is that Thursday night’s overtime thriller between the Warriors and the Cavaliers may have been the zenith. Without Irving to run the point, the Cavaliers must call on Matthew Dellavedova, who might still be looking for the team bus after missing it following the Game 1 loss. Hopefully for the Cavaliers, Dellavedova won’t be lost on the court on Sunday when he’s asked to fill in for Irving.

Game 1 displayed what kind of a series the Cavaliers and Warriors were engaging in – a war of attrition. Whichever team took a misstep first would lose. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, that misstep was in the form of Irving’s stumble on the wing that has the fat lady warming up her vocal chords.

James has been in this situation before, and the situation I’m referring to is being down 1-0 in the NBA Finals. Before, James had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, and, of course, Ray Allen.

Photo credit - USA Today
Photo credit – USA Today

Now, he doesn’t have Irving and before Irving, he didn’t have Kevin Love. The projected lineup for Game 2 is Dellavedova, James, Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, and Timofey Mozgov. This lineup scored 68 points in Game 1, with 44 earned by James from shooting 18-38. Game 2 will be no different. Expect King James to wage an all-out attack on the Warriors a la King Leonidas, one king versus an army of warriors.

I want to be clear that I am not one of the 99.9% of people who are saying that this series is over. I am saying this series looks like it’s over. What makes sports, especially basketball, so great is the ‘hey, it could happen!’ sense of hope in every contest. Dellavedova may, in fact, build upon his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks. Shumpert and Smith might shake off the cobwebs and score some key points. Mozgov could take a page out of WWE’s Russian character, Rusev, and crush every Warrior in his path. And last but not least, James may distribute the ball more to his teammates to spread the floor instead of shooting like George Custer.

Hey, it could happen. But it might not happen. Irving’s impact can’t be duplicated by anyone else on the Cavaliers. His injury, while unfortunate, is a golden opportunity for the Warriors. This is their chance to smite the Cavaliers and claim the NBA Finals in convincing fashion.

And any sliver of hope from Yoda Berra’s paradox is trumped by the following. When Berra uttered that famous paradox, it was in July of 1973 as a manager of the New York Mets. The Mets were 9 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs for the divisional lead and two more months of baseball in front of them. Two months laters, the Mets won the National League East.

The Cavaliers don’t have two months. They have a best of seven series and are already trailing, Matter of fact, virtually everyone has crowned the Warriors champions. We’ll see if the wise man Berra’s words provide some source of energy. It ain’t over till it’s over, but right now, it does looks like it’s over for the Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving’s block casts clouds over Game 1 of NBA Finals

Fate can be so cruel.

It looked to be the moment of the game. Stephen Curry had an open lane in front of him to the basket. It was a routine layup, but at the last second, Kyrie Irving came from behind Curry and lunged for the ball. His fingers tipped the ball just enough to shift the ball’s trajectory and instead of kissing off the backboard into the net, the ball landed back on the court.

Irving’s block kept the game tied at 98-98, with 24.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But Irving’s block would prove to be fateful. LeBron James’ last second shot followed by a toss in the air by Iman Shumpert that almost went through the net couldn’t seal a Cleveland Cavaliers victory. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was going into overtime.

A minute and 43 seconds later, the Golden State Warriors scored the first two points of overtime. 44 seconds later, the Warriors added two more points to increased the lead to 102-98. That’s all it would take. The Cavaliers missed eight shots before James made a driving layup with nine seconds left in overtime, handing the victory to the Warriors by a score of 108-100.

But the game’s biggest moment wasn’t Curry’s four free throws that increased the lead to 102, nor was it James’ miss and Shumpert’s miss at the end of regulation. The game’s biggest moment was Irving blocking Curry’s layup. Had Irving just let Curry go, there is a 99.9% chance Curry makes the layup and the Warriors go up 100-98, leaving the Cavaliers one opportunity to either tie or win the game

Instead, Irving blocked the shot; the game went into overtime, where tragedy struck. Irving lost balance and landed awkwardly on his left knee, the same knee that has been causing him problems in the playoffs. He got up and began limping up the court when Harrison Barnes nailed a three-pointer to increase the Warriors lead to 105-98. The last image of Irving viewers saw was a man writhing in pain as he limped his way to locker room.

What if he had just not blocked the shot?

It would’ve been an injustice if he hadn’t. Irving’s block is indicative of how intense Game 1 of the NBA Finals was. It was a back and forth contest that at first didn’t seem it would be. The Warriors weren’t shooting well in the first quarter, going 6 of 20 from the field and trailing the Cavaliers by 10 entering the second quarter. That’s when the game kicked into high gear as both teams traded the lead throughout regulation.

James was having his best NBA Finals performance, scoring 42 points in regulation and Curry and Thompson were making key shots, keeping the Warriors close by the Cavaliers. Golden State’s bench was outperforming Cleveland’s bench, scoring 34 points to 9 points. Andre Iguodala even made a three-pointer with only one shoe on.

And then the block happened. Irving’s block kept this instant classic going, but opened the door to five extra minutes on the court on a bad knee. After going 23 points with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks, the knee couldn’t go anymore and neither could the Cavaliers.

Game 1 was a taste of what this year’s NBA Finals is going to be. It is going to be a war of attrition. Which team can outlast the other? Which team can score a couple more baskets than the other? Which team can block a game-winning score for a chance at victory? Both teams displayed answers to these questions, but one of the answers paid a hefty price. By the looks of Irving’s face as he limped to the locker room, the pain was worse than the agony of defeat.

As fate would have it, the Cavaliers weren’t going to win this game even if Irving didn’t block Curry’s layup with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Super Bowl 49: Why did the Seattle Seahawks refuse to run the ball?

It’s like a dream turned nightmare.

The Seattle Seahawks were one yard away from seemingly defeating the New England Patriots and winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles and cementing themselves as the new NFL dynasty.

Russell Wilson was one yard away from shining two Super Bowl rings in the face of the franchises that passed him up in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch was one yard away from his first Super Bowl MVP, and to the joy of reporters probably give a real interview to them or say “You know why I’m here,” flashing his trophy.

The Legion of Boom were one yard away from their second straight Super Bowl, and potentially going down in history as the best defensive tandem ever without even reaching their prime.

And Pete Carroll, fired by the Patriots and replaced by Bill Belichick, was about to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in front of Robert Kraft’s face.

But it didn’t happen.

Instead, Belichick cried, Brady cemented himself as the best quarterback in the history of the NFL and rookie Malcolm Butler went from zero to hero and etched in the pantheon of New England sports galore.

The Patriots won Super Bowl 49. The Seahawks lost Super Bowl 49.

Or should I say, Pete Carroll lost Super Bowl 49? Let’s answer this question together by going back to “The Catch” before “”The Play Call.”

The Catch

1:14 left in the 4th quarter. Wilson calls hike and drops back to the Patriots 45 yard line and throws a deep ball. Outside the Patriots 10 yard line jump both Jermaine Kearse and Butler. Butler gets a hand on the ball, leaving it in the air as he and Kearse fall to the floor. The ball bounces off of Kearse’s legs, staying in the air. Like a hot potato, Kearse bobbles the ball twice with his right hand before gaining control to complete the most unbelievable catch in Super Bowl history. 1:06 left on the clock and Carroll uses his second time out…

Carroll taking a time out here is neither good nor bad because of what happens later, but in order to fully grasp what happens, we need to look at this call. Kearse just completed this incredible catch and you have about a minute left. Because Kearse went out of bounds, the clock stopped so the Seahawks had time to call a play with 1:06 left and first and goal. So you have three options at this point.

Option 1) Let Wilson pass or run.

Option 2) Feed it Lynch to run it.

Option 3) Call a Timeout.

The Patriots defense is reeling from that catch so calling a timeout gives them an opportunity to get a talking to from their coaches, regroup and settle in with first and goal. So Option 3, the option Carroll went with doesn’t seem like the right move, but what about the other two options?

If you set up a pass play for Wilson, there’s more room for a short pass instead of the tight coverage at the one-yard line and if there is no pass, Wilson can scramble to eat some clock and advance the ball. There’s the risk of getting sacked, but still, the Seahawks run the clock below one minute and can now call a timeout and set up their next plays. Same can apply to a Lynch run. The clock will run if Lynch doesn’t score and then you can call a timeout. So if you want to look at it where the wheels starting coming off the wagon on the road to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, Carroll’s timeout loosened the lug nuts.

The Play Before The Play Call

After the timeout, Lynch ran the ball down to the one-yard line for a four-yard rush. One yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl titles. But here’s where it gets interesting. FiveThirtyEight.com wrote a compelling piece about a head coach botching the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t talking about Carroll. Instead, Benjamin Morris says Belichick was the soon-to-be walrus, but given what transpired with 26 seconds left in regulation, it was forgotten. After Lynch was stopped at the one-yard line, Belichick didn’t call a timeout. He let the clock run, like he knew exactly what was going to happen. And then, “The Play” happened.

The Play

In the entire 2014-2015 season, when the Seahawks were 5 yards or less away from a touchdown in the 4th quarter, 5 out of 5 times they scored with a rushing touchdown. If they were 10 yards or less away from a touchdown in the 4th quarter, 6 out of 9 times they scored with a rushing touchdown. If the Seahawks were 5 yards or less away from a touchdown in any quarter, 11 out of 15 times they scored a rushing touchdown. You get the picture. The numbers side with running the ball with one-yard to go on offense.

Screenshot from Pro-Football-Reference.com
Screenshot from Pro-Football-Reference.com

But for some reason, a pass was the play. A shotgun, telegraphed pick play (that’s poetic). And for some reason, the Patriots knew it. They knew Wilson was going to pass and they knew they were either going to force an incomplete pass or even better, intercept the ball. And who better to prove it than a rookie back who’s studied schemes over and over to get his chance to shine? It was storybook for the Patriots. It was champion-like.

Now the critics say why not let Lynch, Beast Mode, arguably the best power running back in the game punch it in? If he doesn’t score, you still have one timeout and two plays to go. Better to end the game in defeat with the ball than turn it over, no? If Lynch doesn’t punch it in, you can try and pass it on third down, the typical down to throw or even do a play action fake and give Wilson the option to pass or tuck it and go. Numbers do show that Lynch only scored once out of the five times the Seahawks gave him the ball at the one-yard line and that time he scored was in the first quarter of a blowout win against the New York Giants. So the question isn’t why did the Seahawks not give the ball to Lynch?

The question is: Why did the Seahawks not run the ball?

In Super Bowl 46, the Giants handed it off to Ahmad Bradshaw to virtually walk into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown and the Giants defense was able to hold Brady to clinch the Super Bowl victory.

The Seahawks have the Legion of Boom with about 20 seconds left if you run the ball on “The Play” for a touchdown. Why so worried?  Out of the four scoring plays the Seahawks got in the fourth quarter during the entire season, three of the scores were rushing touchdowns. As mentioned, one was Lynch, But two of them were by Wilson. Those two touchdowns by Wilson happened in the fourth quarter and in poetic fashion, the most recent came two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers in the most improbable comeback in NFL postseason history. But unlike in the Patriots game, the Seahawks were showing run. The question was who was running the ball and the Packers thought Lynch, allowing Wilson to scoot into the end zone.

On “The Play,” Wilson was committed to the pass and given Carroll’s reasoning after the game, we know why. “It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football, so on second down we throw the ball really to kind of waste that play,” said Carroll on Sunday following the game. “If we score we do, if we don’t, then we’ll run it in on third and fourth down. Really, with no second thoughts or no hesitation in that at all.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.45.00 AM

 

Studying the play, the minute Wilson is about to throw to Ricardo Lockett, it looks good, which is exactly what Wilson thought. Butler doesn’t seem to be a factor. It looks like six points. But as Wilson releases, not only is Butler almost there, but Lockett isn’t even in the end zone the minute Butler gets to him.

He is still at the one-yard line, right where the Seahawks began the play. It’s unknown what could’ve happened, but since we’re asking why did the Seahawks not run the ball, if this catch was complete, Butler is on top of Lockett and could’ve brought down Lockett at the one-yard line, which means the clock keeps running, exactly where the Seahawks would be if they ran the ball with 26 seconds to go. But if Butler doesn’t make a great play, it’s instead 24 seconds left with 3rd and goal, exactly what Carroll envisioned. A wasted play and the clock stopped.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.44.45 AM

The biggest problem studying the play is how blatant the offense lined up for a pass. It seems obvious that the play is going to Lockett with the way the receivers lined up. Even Butler, the rookie, knew a pass was coming. The only time the Seahawks scored on a one-yard pass was not in shotgun formation, but a play action fake. It created two options. Yes, Lynch was fading and if thrown the ball, he might have made a play and if Wilson had held on a little longer, there was an opening to punch it in for the touchdown. But Wilson was committed because his coaches were committed on the pass and it sealed the Seahawks the fate.

There’s a conspiracy that Carroll wanted Wilson to be the MVP, not Lynch and so he called a pass play instead of a designed run to Lynch. If this were the case, why wouldn’t Carroll just design a quarterback run into the end zone if that’s what he wanted to accomplish? A Wilson touchdown would’ve made him MVP in my view, but a Lynch touchdown would’ve definitely given the MVP honors to Beast Mode.

But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who wins MVP. What matters in this instance is the Seahawks were one yard away from etching their names in history. What matters is when they needed to rely on what got them to the Super Bowl, they tried to be cute.

I’ve done my best to be as objective as possible, but in my opinion, the Seahawks should have called a run or option play over a pick play. Their Super Bowl title was picked off as a result.

I’m Here Because of Stuart Scott

(Photo Credit/ SportsCenter Facebook Page)
(Photo Credit/ SportsCenter Facebook Page)

I was eating breakfast at Waffle House when I got word of the passing of Stuart Scott. I took out my iPhone after eating an All-Star Special and the first post on my news feed was from SportsCenter.

“We are heartbroken to report that Stuart Scott has died after a long fight with cancer. He was only 49 but had a distinguished career and life. He will be sorely missed by the SportsCenter family.”

It was my first time at Waffle House and the first time I almost cried in front of people for the death of someone who was not a member of my family.

I wasn’t the only one. Many of those in the sports world took whatever medium at their disposal: Twitter, Facebook, NFL Network, ESPN, to pay tribute to Scott. Steve Wulf, ESPN the Magazine senior writer, wrote a beautiful piece on Scott’s legacy including quotes from Scott’s partners at ESPN. Scott’s “TV Wife”, Rich Eisen, Scott’s longtime partner at ESPN, gave an emotional report on Scott’s death and how much Scott impacted his life.

There was so much said and so much to say about a man who’s done so much for so many. But for me, Stuart Scott is the reason I became interested in sports. And he is the reason why I want to become a journalist.

I was just a little boy growing up in the Bronx and flipping through the channels on my analog cable box when I stumbled upon an episode of SportsCenter. On the screen was this black guy with a booming voice doing play-by-play and talking like a regular on my block.

It was the best thing I ever saw on television.

Scott was saying things never said before. He was doing things never done before. He was someone no one had ever seen before and I loved it.

While friends talked to me about cartoon shows and Disney sitcoms I never cared to invest in, SportsCenter was my show. But it was my favorite show when Scott was on camera. “Boo-yah!” was my favorite catchphrase and I’d do my best and obviously fail at trying to be imitate his delivery. He was one of a kind, the cool guy at the worldwide leader of sports, and someone I wanted to model myself after.

One guilty pleasure of mine was watching Mr. 3000 over and over again as a kid. My favorite scene was Stuart Scott’s cameo appearance, ripping Bernie Mac’s character, Stan Ross. “Stan Ross’ first week at bat was kinda like his first week out of the womb,” Scott said in the film. “Whole lot of just flailing around.”

But as a kid, being picked on was something I experienced and I know Scott was picked on to. I wore glasses that made me look funny to some kids and to some viewers, Stuart’s eye injury was funny. I was different from a lot of the other kids because I wasn’t so exposed to pop culture. Scott was different because he spoke in a manner only a specific culture spoke and it angered people. And the biggest obstacle he face was being a person of color on live television.

To have the courage to put your face on camera is one thing, but for Scott to do it was a whole other ball game. It was different. It wasn’t comfortable. But it was like watching Superman. It didn’t matter how different he was and how uncomfortable it was because once he put on his flashy suit and gleaming glasses, he wasn’t Clarke Kent. He was Superman, saving the world of sports from traditional reporting and showing kids like me that I can do what he was doing.

When I found out he had cancer, my reaction was: ‘How could the cool guy, Stuart Scott, have cancer?’ Cancer isn’t something Superman gets. Cancer can’t be his kryptonite. But while he battled against cancer, he’d never let you see it. He didn’t miss a beat, his charisma at 110% with flawless delivery. And he was always smiling.

That’s why I smile so much.

During his acceptance speech for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2014 ESPYS, my throat tightened and my eyes watered as I saw what Scott underwent at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.Eyes dreary, but a smile on his face and a body figure of someone in his late 20s to early 30s. It didn’t look like someone with cancer.

As he stepped onto the podium and began his speech, I sat there in amazement. How could a man, who just had four surgeries in the span of seven days, still have the same tone of voice and exuding the same amount of passion the day I first stumbled upon SportsCenter? The award was the answer. He persevered. He fought. He never gave up. He never, ever gave up.

He spoke about his fight and the people who were there to help him in the fight. “The doctors and nurses could, “ he said about his seven day stay. “People that I love, my friends and family, they could fight.” But his heartbeat as he said was his daughters. “I am standing on this stage, here tonight, because of you.”

I never had the fortune of meeting Stuart Scott. I thought I would re-create his scene with Chris Berman where I would shake his hand and tell him I’d enjoy working with him one day at ESPN. My aspirations, my dreams are because of Stuart Scott. He inspired me to chase this dream. I am becoming a journalist because of Stuart Scott.

I don’t know what else to say because so many of his companions have eloquently and emotionally stated how much Scott meant to them and I don’t want to repeat anything any one said. But Scott’s death, while tragic and sudden, displays while cancer took him away from us, it didn’t beat him. His spirit lives on in his two daughters, the people he worked with, the people he made feel better who were in a fight, and the people he inspired.

“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” By your words Scott, you beat it. Now you can rest eternally on the cool side of the pillow. We’ll keep fighting. I’ll keep fighting.

Top 14 Stories from 2014

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Well, this is it.

2014 is over and with 2015 on the horizon, there’s going to be a lot of changes.

New Year’s Resolutions will be made…and broken. And with a new year comes a new time for Breaking Ball.

Lately I haven’t been writing much because of the hustle and bustle of senior year and serving as Senior Editor for The Gavel at BC. But in 2015, I’ll be creating more content for the site.

For now, check out 14 articles I wrote in 2014. Give them a read and let me know what you thought of the articles were your favorite.

In no particular order:

1. No Love for Women’s Beanpot

Sparse attendance at the Women’s Beanpot pissed me off to be frank.

2. Could BC go 9-3?

They went 7-6. But it could’ve been.

3. Defending LeBron James and his Cramps

I’m getting a cramp from having to write this.

4. Andre Williams Explodes Onto the NFL Scene

My man Andre. Had a great rookie season. Can’t wait to see what he does his sophomore season.

5. Who the Heck is Jim Christian?

He’s a heck of a coach. A great guy to talk to as well.

6. When Choosing a Major, Don’t Let Money Pick for You

Seriously, don’t. You’ll be miserable.

7. Taking Back the Marathon

This was my baby for half of 2014. Read the stories about people running a year after the Boston Marathon bombing.

8. Players Trade Jerseys, Fans Burn Jerseys

Title speaks for itself.

9. 5 Annoying Things about the NYC Subway

There’s more than 5, but since I worked for Fox 5 in the summer, it fits the bill.

10. New York Giants: Unrestricted Free Agents to Re-Sign or Decline

Could’ve helped, but hey, at least we got Odell Beckham Jr.

11. A Symbolic, Storybook Win for BC

BC beat USC.

12. The Teacher in the Red Bandana

My favorite feature story of the year. Eric Mendoza runs to his fourth consecutive Red Bandanna 5K victory.

13. A Fairness Issue

There’s a fairness issue in athletic departments across the country.

14. Are You Sure We Are One?

The experiences of myself and fellow BC students during protests for Eric Garner and Michael Brown prompted me to ask this question: Are You Sure We Are One?

There you have it! To check out more articles I’ve written for The Gavel and isportsweb.com in 2014, check out the links below:

The Gavel

isportsweb.com

There is more to come in 2015. Until then, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Andre Williams explodes onto the NFL scene

On the Buffalo Bills 3-yard line with the end zone in sight, New York Giants running back Andre Williams bent down into the up stance, waiting for the snap. On the previous play, Williams sprinted down the sidelines for a 21-yard gain, with a burst of speed unlike his Boston College days, including his historic senior season.

Eli Manning called for the ball. Williams broke his stance, going from low to high with an explosive burst into the handoff. He stays low after the handoff, gains momentum and cuts to the left through the line and lands in the end zone. It was his first (unofficial) NFL touchdown, but it won’t be his last.

Running back Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants celebrates after running in a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. (Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)
Running back Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants celebrates after running in a touchdown during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2014 in Canton, Ohio.
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Williams’ debut comes as no surprise. It’s the amount of attention on him that comes as a surprise. The Monday Morning Quarterback documented Williams’ journey to draft day, including the moment the Giants called him to say they selected him in the fourth round.

Yes, a Heisman finalist and the nation’s top running back in the 2013 season was a fourth round selection. You read that correctly.

But even though he was a fourth round pick, Williams played like a first round pick in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on Sunday night, leading the Giants ground game, a big Achilles’s Heel for the G-Men last season. A strong run game is imperative now with the news of David Wilson being shut down for the 2014 season. And with his 37 yards on 5 carries and a touchdown, Williams got the attention of those who weren’t paying attention before.

It’s been like that Williams’ entire football career. Coming into his senior year, no one paid him any mind, unless you were one of the many Superfans plastered in maroon and gold at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. If you were one of the lucky few to witness Williams perform on the gridiron, you were mesmerized by his ability to break tackles in explosive manners and blaze by defenders.

Williams’s breakout performance came when BC played against Army. He rushed for 263 yards and scored 5 touchdowns. Following that performance, Williams name was in Heisman talks. His candidacy was solidified with a 339 rushing yards performance against NC State at BC’s final home game.

Andre Williams #44 of the Boston College Eagles runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Alumni Stadium. November 2, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Eagles won the game 34-27. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images North America)
Andre Williams #44 of the Boston College Eagles runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Alumni Stadium. November 2, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Eagles won the game 34-27.
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images North America)

And yet, with Heisman candidacy, an ability to break tackles and be the center of an offense, a la Adrian Peterson, Williams wasn’t touted as any of this. In a pass-happy NFL, his inability to catch a ball and make a quarterback better was criticized. So he worked on it. But he kept working on what got him to the big dance and that displayed well on Sunday night.

Williams looked faster, stronger and more explosive than ever. If he is better now than last season at BC, great things are destined for Williams this season. The Giants would be wise and allow him to share the load with front man Rashad Jennings, who the Giants signed in free agency. The tandem of Jennings and Williams could be a reincarnation of the Bradshaw and Jacob days, where Manning saw huge success.

But for now, it’s not about Manning or Jennings. The attention is on Williams and it is well deserved. Boston College lives on the motto “Ever to Excel” and demands from its students to “go forth and set the world aflame.” Williams is already excelling early in the NFL and is setting the gridiron aflame with his running improvements. It’s only a matter of time before Williams brings back relevancy to the importance of the running back position and show running backs of his caliber shouldn’t be relegated to the fourth round.

Go; set the NFL aflame, Andre.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

Players trade jerseys. Fans burn jerseys.

After a classic battle (as all games seem to have been in the 2014 World Cup), Colombia’s golden boy, James Rodriguez, was in tears. Colombia’s storybook journey in the World Cup ended abruptly courtesy of a 2-1 victory by Brazil. In a physical match that saw Neymar get carted off with a fractured vertebrae and no-calls by officials, you couldn’t blame Rodriguez.

Klose, but no cigar.

As Rodriguez wept, David Luiz and Dani Alves of Brazil went to console Rodriguez, after the  striker electrified the World Cup with his six goals, two assists, and virtually carried Colombia to the quarterfinals. Luiz applauded Rodriguez and asked the crowd to join in.

As Luiz hugged and consoled Rodriguez, something along the lines of “trade jerseys?” was mentioned and both men took of their respective team jerseys and swapped them. They embrace and Luiz and Rodriguez walked away, arm-in-arm, Rodriguez wiping tears from his eyes with the jersey of another country draped over his shoulder.

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(Photo credit: Pool/Getty Images South America)

It was the most touching moment of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and it was the most class seen in this year’s World Cup. The tradition of swapping jerseys dates back to 1931 when France beat England for the first time. The French, jubilated from their victory, asked the Englishmen if they would swap jerseys as keepsakes for their victory. The English obliged and the tradition of trading jerseys was born.

But Luiz and Rodriguez weren’t the only ones to complete a trade. Croatia pummeled Cameroon 4-0 in their group play match and Cameroon’s Stephane Mbla and Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic not only traded their jerseys. The players traded their shorts, pioneering a new way to display respect and remembrance in the sport of soccer.

Soccer isn’t alone though. Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions took it upon himself to bring the soccer tradition to the NFL. During the 2013 season, Johnson traded jerseys with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

“I can’t tell when I first started doing it,” said Johnson in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’ve got eight to ten hanging up and eventually I’m going to get them signed and put up in my basement.”

It’s cool to see the players engage in this trade after hard fought contests. The trade displays respect and reveres players who take part in the act. Rodriguez was unheard of before the World Cup began. Now, after six goals and two assists in four games, he not only caught the attention and respect of the worldwide audience captivated by his play, he caught the attention and respect of fellow soccer players, as predicated by Luiz.

The same applies to Johnson’s respect for the youth of Green and Brown. The jerseys become a part of a collection for the players to remember great matches they took part in throughout their professional careers. They are a keepsake, a talisman of sorts to commemorate respect and admiration for sports.

The same, however, can’t be said for fans.

Fans have had a history of defacing jerseys and disrespecting them. Do a quick search of ‘fans burn jersey’ on Google Images and you’ll see images of fans setting flames to jerseys they once wore proudly or purchased just for the sake of burning them to go viral on the internet. The most recent occurrence of the pyromania epidemic sweeping the sports world was on Friday when LeBron James announced he was going home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

(Photo credit: BroBible.com)
(Photo credit: BroBible.com)

It was like the phrase “I’m coming home,” was a welcoming for Miami Heat fans to take James’ Heat jersey and set it ablaze (no pun intended). These fans, who once revered James for bringing 2 NBA championships to Miami, now turned on him in a blaze of infamy. Cleveland isn’t wearing the white hat though. Images of Cleveland fans wearing tattered James’ Cavalier jerseys surfaced on the internet, reminding us that in 2010, Cleveland did the same thing Miami did. Out of spite for James’ infamous “Decision,” they burned James’ jersey to show their disdain for James turning his back on his hometown.

During the 2013 NFL season, fans participated in burning jerseys as well, the most notable being Houston Texans fans burning then-starting quarterback Matt Schaub’s jersey after Schaub threw a pick-six for a third straight week, resulting in another loss for Houston. How bad was this act of arson? The fan paid 200 dollars to buy a Schaub jersey just to burn it moments later…I’m not making this up, look at the YouTube video.

And in the 2014 World Cup, where soccer fans are known to be brash, following Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil, Argentina fans saw fit to burn the Brazilian flag. The rivalry between the two South American countries is well documented, but burning another country’s flag is a sign of pure hatred for the country and a crime in many countries, including Argentina and Brazil! Before Brazil’s game with Germany, Argentinian fans mocked Neymar’s injury by hoisting a fake spinal cord and chanting “Aca tenemos la columna de Neymar!” which translates to “Here we have the spine of Neymar.”

Really?

Burning jerseys, sewing jerseys to represent the number of quarterbacks a franchise has had, defacing murals devoted to players, the list is endless. Fans have a storied history of displaying disrespect to their teams, their rivals, and current/former players of their teams.

But why? Fans aren’t the ones engaging in 90 minutes of intense competition and running over six miles on a soccer field for the love of their country. Fans aren’t the ones throwing the football on the field. Fans aren’t the ones deciding what team an athlete should play for. We boo. We cheer. That’s it. We can yell and scream for 90 minutes just like the teams playing on the field act like sworn enemies for 90 minutes. But when the final whistle sounds, fans should engage in the respect players engage.

(Photo credit: Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo credit: Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports)

Keep those jerseys, not as painful reminders, but as a remembrance to the joy you shared when your favorite player was on your team. Don’t yell and scream at a fan of a rival team after the game. Share a beer or a hot dog and laugh about “painful” memories of your teams rivalry. And for goodness sake, don’t burn another country’s flag or poke fun at a player’s injury. It’s just not cool. Cry if you must and allow yourself to be angry, but don’t allow the anger to consume you to the point of no return.

My words may be foolish, but from showering an innocent fan with beer in Chicago to sending death threats to young African-American basketball players in Michigan, fan participation has been a thorn to the game that needs to be cut down. It doesn’t make sports great. It gives sports a black eye. You want to know what makes sports great?

Soccer players, after contesting in an intense game, trade jerseys at the end of a game make sports greater. Coach K walking into Mercer’s locker room and congratulating them after his Duke Blue Devils lost make sports greater. Mark Herzlich, beating cancer and becoming a Super Bowl champion, make sports greater.

Burning a jersey, defacing a player’s monument, hate mail/tweets, and disrespecting another team doesn’t make sports great. If so, then we shouldn’t teach sportsmanship to pee-wee leagues should we? Fans, like myself, shouldn’t take it so seriously. Yes, it’s more than a game for many of us, but if the players, coaches and teams, who make their living off of sports, aren’t blowing up and trading blows after a game on the field, no reason we should do the same.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

Soccer is changing American life

Warning: a lot of regret and remorseful sentences as well as TIM FREAKING HOWARD lines are going to be in this post so bear with me because the good stuff will follow the bad.

I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. I’m glad the U.S. lost. Now don’t burn me at the stake just yet, remember, I warned you. But first.

TIM FREAKING HOWARD! Okay, moving on.

The first time I ever watched the United States men’s national team or #USMNT as they go by on Twitter, was back in 2010 in their match against Ghana. I was working at a summer camp and the staff was watching the game on a projector screen. Disappointment wretched us all when the U.S. was defeated, but not much was talked about afterwards.

The next day was normal. No lingering emotions from the events of yesterday’s game. It was…normal. 2010 was the first display of the United States’ connection with soccer. It’s a bandwagon effect. Every four years, anyone not an American Outlaw joins the wagon to soak in our country being represented in a world event for the hope of coming out the best in the world. And with every four years comes the betrayal of these “loyal” fans as they exit the wagon and hop on the next bus to the NFL. I was one of them.

Before the World Cup even started, the bandwagon/outlaws joined forces to align against coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to cut American darling Landon Donovan. I didn’t know much about the decision so I stayed away from criticism and studied the decision. It made sense. He did create a lot of scoring opportunities when he played, which may or may not have benefited the team in Brazil. We’ll never know, but Klinsmann’s decision did two things: made us focus on the US as a team and made the country expect something great to happen from omitting Donovan.I didn’t buy into the bandwagon effect nor did I plan on doing so in the Donavon debacle.

This effect is the reason I wrote how I wasn’t rooting for any country in the World Cup, including the United States. I stated how the country of my roots, Dominican Republic, would be the only country I’d root for, but not the U.S. The reasoning behind that decision was because I did not want to get sucked into the bandwagon effect again. The U.S. was in this year’s “Group of Death” to many experts so off the bat, any hope the U.S. would even make a legitimate run was folly (We’ll get back to hope in a second).

So I watched the World Cup, cheering on nobody, and boy was I glad I did. During the U.S. vs. Ghana game, I missed Dempsey’s quick score, but kept thinking to myself Ghana would eventually score. Eventually, they did, with minutes left to play. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought, until John “The Dreamer” Brooks  headed the ball into the net to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead and an eventual win.

The U.S. won. The U.S. won? Yeah, they won, and I felt excited and I didn’t know why until the Portugal game happened. As I sat in Naples 45 in New York watching the game, the restaurant erupted in applause when the U.S. scored against Portugal to take the lead. The restaurant also groaned and became silent when Portugal tied the game with seconds left. And then the Germany game happened where we lose, but yet everyone is still celebrating we moved on to the Round of 16.

Let that sink in. The United States lost and the United States celebrated…

And all of this led me to running out of the 2 train and almost tripping on the stairs and potentially getting run over by cars as I rushed to my house to not miss a minute of the U.S. vs. Belgium match.

On the edge of my couch, my eyes bulged during every Belgian and U.S. attack. I jumped on every one of TIM FREAKING HOWARD’s 16 saves. I fell to the ground when Chris Wondolowski missed what would’ve been the game-winning goal as my parents threatened to turn the TV off because of how loud I was. I went to my room after Kevin De Bruyne scored for Belgium and told my brother to turn the TV off when Romelu Lukaku scored the second goal for Belgium.

Until the U.S. did what they have done the entire tournament. They gave hope.

19-year-old Julian Green got a beautiful shot passed Thibaut Courtois, who played a decent game, but not as great as TIM FREAKING HOWARD. It was 2-1 and the U.S. got several chances to tie it up and send it to penalty kicks. The whistle blew and the Belgian team jumped for joy. I sat there, looking at my screen, with my hand on my chin and a scowl on my face that rivaled a seven-year-old’s when mommy says no.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t cry. I went on a walk.

On my walk, Twitter went crazy with #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave and the multitude of gratitude given to the U.S. team for their run, but I was more focused on what I saw and what I was thinking. Kids and adults were engaging in soccer by the green space near my house after the match. People were talking about the game and what could’ve happened. And in my thoughts, I said.

‘We could’ve won.’

The keyword in the aforementioned sentence is ‘we.’ Before the World Cup began, I identified with no team. With the end of the U.S. run, I have identified with the team, but not just because of their play, because I didn’t see the bandwagon effect in play anymore. Co-workers wore patriotic jerseys and ties. Twitter was filled with recaps and reactions to each U.S. game. Everywhere I walked, people were talking about U.S. soccer. Sure, many of these were not loyalists to the team before the World Cup, but the bandwagon effect means people get off the bandwagon after. After this World Cup, many stayed on that weren’t on the wagon to begin with, which means the soccer population and interest is heightening. And today, a day after the U.S. lost, it still feels like we won.

We won because the 2014 U.S. men’s national team will forever be remembered as the team that completed the improbable task of making soccer relevant to those who weren’t just American Outlaws or interested in international play. The ‘I Believe’ chant that started as a chant only a few knew became the anthem of a country that believed this team could win. And like stated, even though we lost, we won. We believed this team could win and they did win.

They won us (pun intended).

We won because soccer is changing the American life and it has reached the plateau to make the change visible. Sure, this was just one month, only time will tell, but the fact I and an entire country is still recovering from the loss, it doesn’t seem like a phase. It has been a slow process, but it’s finally here.

And that’s what I regret. I regret it took me so long. I regret I didn’t go to the viewing parties in Bryant Park or paid the American Outlaws chapter in New York a visit at Jack Demsey’s. I regret I wasn’t pulling for the U.S. for fear of disappointment. But damn am I proud I realize it now.

Soccer is no longer something Americans will hop on a bandwagon every four years to check out and see what happens. It is now a part of American culture. Not only can’t I wait for the 2018 World Cup, I can’t wait for the U.S.’ next matchup. Why? Because…

I.

I.

I believe.

I believe.

I believe that.

I believe that.

I believe that we.

I believe that we.

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

Now you see why I’m glad we lost?

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

If Miami didn’t work for LeBron James, how would it work somewhere else?

LeBron James announced last Tuesday that he was opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat and becoming a free agent.

Before I break this down, let me take you through my reaction to James’ decision. The notification appeared on my iPhone screen, courtesy of Bleacher Report’s Team Stream App. It read as follows

Breaking: LeBron James to Exercise Early Termination Option and Become a Free Agent, According to ESPN’s Chris Brou…

Not kidding, that’s how it actually read.

After reading the notification, another B/R Team Stream notification followed below James’ announcement. This one read as follows

Mets Will Recall C Travis d’Arnaud Today for Series Opener vs. A’s; Hit .436 with 6 HRs and 16 RBIs in Triple-A Stint.

After reading this notification, I went to Twitter and posted this tweet.

It was the right response to be frank. James’ decision to opt of his contract with the Miami Heat was not a surprise nor was it earth-shattering. There were reports James, Bosh, and Wade were going to restructure their contracts so the Heat’s front office could have more finances to buy complementary talent for the “Big Three.”

It was the right response because nothing leads me to believe James is leaving Miami and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, he’s won in Miami.

Since James took his talents to South Beach, he has made the NBA Finals every year from 2011 to 2014. Taking a team to one finals is hard enough, but doing it four times in a row is nothing short of remarkable. James has established himself as the star of a team that will live on the history books as one of the most polarizing NBA teams. Not only did James help the Heat get to the Finals, James helped the Heat get not one, but two NBA Finals championships.

Say what you want to say about James’ uncalled-for proclamation where he went off saying “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” but NBA all-time greats like Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Elgin Baylor and Charles Barkley never won an NBA title. James got to experience not one, but two NBA titles in consecutive seasons and was named the MVP of each Finals. James established a winning culture in Miami and the success he garnered in Miami can not be duplicated on another team.

Two, James can’t join a team he can’t fit well in nor play as the only part of a team. Remember Cleveland? That’s what James can look towards if he leaves Miami, because if he stays in Miami, there will be transactions to compliment him. The only teams able to afford James at the moment without making any other transactions are the Heat, the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. If James does leave Miami, the Phoenix Suns serve as the best fit because of how remarkable they played last season with such a young team. But it’s the Heat who have the best chance.

It’s unfortunate, but it seems Wade isn’t the player he used to be. The injuries are catching up and his Finals performance left much to be desired. If you appointed me as Pat Riley for, no pun intended, “Decision Day”, I would push Wade to not take as much money and if he pushes back, I’d push him out the door. There is respect for all Wade has done for Miami, but other franchise darlings like Chris Paul, Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce all left and everyone moved on. Riley might have to move on. As it goes for Bosh, I’d keep Bosh for height and for his shooting abilities, but again, he can’t be asking for so much money.

The problem that lies with James staying in Miami is his (no pun intended) decision is dependent on what Wade and Bosh do and receive. If Wade and Bosh get the asking prices they desire, James won’t get the team that can take him to another title. So for his sake, I hope that little powwow the three had last week was like a settlement in a courtroom. Lot of money, but no sentencing.

Miami is not only the best fit for James, it’s the only one. He can’t fit anywhere else because no other team can offer the caliber of talent James requires to thrive and win. The Spurs displayed James’ true weakness. It’s not cramps, but rather playing for a team that plays like a team. Sure, he won two titles with this team, but the first was against a young, maturing Oklahoma City Thunder team and Ray Allen’s three pointer save the Finals for James last season. If James can’t play on a complete team, he loses, so the Heat need to give James a team, not two all-stars and a shooter.

Build around James and the Heat will have more success, but more importantly to James, it won’t be two, it won’t be three, it won’t be four.

Probably five I would say, but if the Heat execute these plans and build a complete team around James, more gold will grace the castle of King James.

Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie

Is “Moneyball” Ruining Baseball?

I was sitting in Naples 45, an Italian restaurant near Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan, awaiting with eagerness for my dinner. I am a part of a foundation called the Emma Bowen Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to providing internships to minority college students in the media industry, and our annual conference had begun with our trip to Naples 45.

As I sat with other Emma Bowen scholars, anticipating our soon-to-be delicious Italian dinner, a group of us weren’t concerned with eating. We picked the table nearest to a television screen to watch the second half of the United States vs. Portugal World Cup game.

Our anticipation for food turned into anticipation of hunger for a victory from the US. Win and they’re in. Draw, and they’re almost in. Lose, and have to face Germany in a must-win situation to move on from group play.

We sat and waited, for our food and for a goal. And it came, and the restaurant erupted in applause. Clint Dempsey, with an apparent crotch shot, netted the ball and gave the US a 2-1 lead in the 81st minute of the game. The waiting game for a goal now turned into waiting for the game to finish.

The 90th minute came and bad news along with it. 5 minutes of stoppage time added to the game. Portugal still had life. With mere seconds remaining, Cristiano Ronaldo, as only Ronaldo could, kicked a flawless ball to the center where Silvestre Valera’s head made contact with the ball. US goalie Tim Howard flew behind him as the ball went through the goal posts.

A collective AGH! filled the restaurant. The US and Portugal game ended in a draw. Not bad, but not great, but to some in the restaurant, they were utterly speechless.

As the aggravation left the room and people turned back to the pizza, pasta, and chicken cutlets, my eyes remained on the TV. Baseball was on. It was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (breath) vs. the Texas Rangers for Sunday night baseball. But that didn’t seem to appeal to the restaurant’s customers.

Nobody watched and a question popped into my head that I posed to the group I was with that joined my pondering: Is Moneyball ruining baseball?

Before the introduction of sabermetrics courtesy of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, baseball captivated the country. It was America’s past-time, what you got your kids involved in with pee-wee and little league, and a game you did not complain was three to four hours. My favorite game to this day was the 10-run eighth inning by the New York Mets to come back down 8-1 against the Atlanta Braves in 2000. The game lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes, combining two things that would cause fans today to turn off the television or shift over to reality television: Down by many runs and going over three hours.

Sabermetrics could not explain why this ten run inning occurred. Before Robin Ventura’s RBI ground out that began the 10 run inning, the Mets had a 1% chance of winning the game. It was the best game because the game just occurred by chance.

While it isn’t a smart move for the front office to just make moves by chance, it was the reality until Beane and the A’s. Scouts subjectively looked at players, paid attention to the sexy stats of home runs, RBIs, batting average in hitters and wins, strikeouts, and ERA for pitchers. It wasn’t intelligent nor geeky enough. It was simple, inexperienced, but it created a game that captivated our country and others along the way.

Now, as I watched the Angels and Rangers go at each other, there was no excitement, no game of chance. It was a real-life game of Stratego, strategizing based on data collected by front office to create the team that can create the most runs and therefore create the most wins. The romantics of chance, gone, and complaints of a long season, long games, no fun, but lost in these complaints is this.

Could the mathematicians that changed the game forever, ruin the game forever? This article is not a persecution towards these pioneers in sports as I am interested in the practice, but the fan in me, the little boy who watched his lowly Mets, down 8-1, come back and score 10 runs with 2 outs in one inning, can’t help but wonder if, sadly, the geeks like me have toppled the mean jocks and ruin the game of baseball. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real, you don’t want to believe it, but evidence points to it being true.

On Thursday, the entire country will sit and watch with bated breath, at work, at home, or at a viewing party in their respective locations as the US goes against Germany in their last group match for a chance to move on in the World Cup. Baseball, once upon a time, did this exact thing across the country, with fans tuning on TV or packing a ballpark to watch their team. But while the World Cup possesses the element of chance and suspense, baseball has outgrown that stage, thanks to the evolution of statistics in sports.

We have to thank these people who have changed the sport, but at the same time question if they changed it, not for better, but for worse, for good.

My Country Isn’t in the World Cup.

I’m in a pickle.

My country is not in the World Cup.

I’m American so I should root for the USA, right? But just because I am American doesn’t mean I identify with USA’s men national soccer team.

I speak Spanish. But just because I speak Spanish doesn’t mean I will root for the originators of the language, Spain, or any other Latin American country for that matter.

But just because my country isn’t in the World Cup doesn’t mean I won’t watch the World Cup.

My parents were born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the states in late 70s. It has been well documented that baseball rules Dominican Republic, both figuratively and literally. Young boys of the slums use a stick and a bottle cap to master the basics of the game while the teenagers picked out of the crop fields by baseball academies forgo an education to pursue a large payoff in professional baseball. But soccer isn’t as popular.

It’s like the United States. Soccer exists, but it isn’t given the attention it deserves. Soccer is the world’s sport. It connects international with locals, native speakers with foreign speakers. In soccer, there are no borders.

But with the World Cup taking place this year and with me more interested than ever in the event, I found myself asking myself two questions. One, who should I cheer for? And two, if soccer really is the world’s sport, then why isn’t my country represented?

Yes, I understand I was born in the United States, am an American citizen, go to an American university, Boston College, and will most likely live in this country until my dying breath. But just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you are required to identify with your location. I am proud to live in this country, but in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, I wasn’t draped in a star-spangled banner. I was draped in cross-bearing banner with the words Dios, Patria, Libertad etched in the center as I watched the Dominican Republic national team win the World Baseball Classic.

In the World Cup, my country, Dominican Republic, isn’t one of the 32 nations represented. It may not seem like a big thing because the World Cup is a joyous occasion, but my co-worker is Colombian and rooting for Colombia. One of my good friends is Mexican and rooting for Mexico. Restaurants across New York are hosting viewing parties for respective countries.

The representation I have in the World Cup is the United States and I have nothing wrong with cheering for them, but it just doesn’t feel the same. My roots are planted in Dominican Republic and you can’t pull those roots and re-plant them somewhere else to identify yourself as the new plantation. I can’t root for more than one country and just because the one I do root for is not represented in the World Cup, that doesn’t mean I can throw a dart to a picture of the 32 nations and pick or pretend to cheer for a team I’m not passionate about.

It’s a tricky situation to be in and one that I’m not alone in. Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, Ireland, southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, the list goes on of other nations not represented in the World Cup and certainly many others that feel similar to me.

But we, the bystanders, who may not identify nor cheer passionately for the 32 nations of the World Cup have the best gift of all. We get to enjoy every single game, with no guarantees of heartbreak, agony, despair–the negative emotions of sports–and we get to watch all the way until the final whistle of the championship game feeling that way. As a fan of teams known for making me question my loyalty to them, it is a feeling I am not willing to trade for the sake of having my country in the World Cup.

I’d love for one day to wave my flag, draped in red, white, and blue (of Dominican Republic that is), and scream at a TV screen with DR playing in the World Cup like I did for the World Baseball Classic. But for now, I’ll take the road less traveled. I will sit back, relax, and watch at the edge of my seat, enjoying every second of the 2014 World Cup, with no fear of letdown and no bandwagon hopping.

Just watching, for the love of the game.

Defending LeBron James and his Cramps

Apparently every athlete is no longer human.

On Thursday, LeBron James and the Miami Heat had to test how much heat they could stand. No, not the heat of Miami or the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, the Heat literally had to deal with the sweltering heat of an arena with a broken air conditioning system.

#FirstWorldProblems

In the heat of battle (no pun intended), James started to falter. He kept motioning to the sidelines about something wrong. He didn’t seem right, but he kept playing. He played and played and played, until he could no longer. With his entire body cramping, Eric Spoelstra made a tactical decision. Like the general of an army, Spoelstra called off the reinforcements, as if to say to the Spurs, ‘you may have won the battle, but we will win the war.’ He pulled James out of the game so he could be attended to by the medical staff.

James left the game because of cramps; something many seem to think is laughable. Michael Jordan played a game with the flu. Kobe Bryant made a free throw with a torn Achilles tendon. Willis Reed played in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a torn muscle in his thigh and made two shots. Greg Jennings scored a touchdown with a broken freakin’ leg!

Okay, the last one is fictional because it was a video game, but you get the point. If you compare what happened to James on Thursday night to Jordan, Bryant, and Reed, you think it’s laughable. You get cramps and you leave the game? What a wuss.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Cramps occur because of how much you exert and how much hydration you lack. Cramps aren’t like injuries that happen because of a bad fall or because of improper technique. Cramps happen because the body, not the mind, can’t function. It is even worse if the body is dehydrating extremely.

James didn’t prepare to play in the sweat box of the AT&T Center. The heat was the king’s downfall, but like a great king, he fought valiantly and when it came to surrender, he surrendered when he could continue no longer.

And you know what that shows? Toughness.

If James, arguably the greatest basketball player in the world, is cramping on his entire left side to the point where he can’t support the pain no longer, it means he played hard. I am very critical of the Miami Heat, but I am not critical of James’ work ethic.

You don’t get drafted as the number one pick straight out of high school without hard work. You don’t get out of the streets of a low socioeconomic neighborhood without hard work. You don’t get 4 MVP titles, 2 NBA titles, and the title of the best in the world without hard work.

But apparently, you can get called a wuss, soft, and become the laughingstock of the internet because of hard work. James left everything and more on the court on Thursday night in his quest for a third NBA title for him and the Miami Heat. He started showing signs of slowing down in the third quarter, but pushed forward until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. You can’t compare what James endured to missing a shot with the game on the line. You also can’t compare James’ situation with that of other players.

Everyone is different. Everyone’s body is different.

But this isn’t just about James. This is about how we view athletes. These men and women who play sports aren’t some fictional characters you can laugh at in the comfort of your own home and judge without haste on social media. They are people just like you. It’s easy to laugh and make fun of someone when you don’t do it yourself. Place yourself in the situation James was in and let’s see how you can handle it.

Jordan once left a game with cramps back in 1997. It was in an NBA Finals game. It was also the game before the “Flu Game.”

I hope James drops 100 points in Game 2 to shut up all this nonsense. Not 20, not 30, not 40, not 50, not 60.

If not 100 points, at least make a strong enough statement to quiet all those who question his toughness and the toughness of other athletes.

You Have $15 To Make An NBA All-Time Starting Lineup. GO!

Some things you’ll want to know in this article:

  • Triple-Double – a player makes 20 or more points, 10 or more rebounds, and 10 or more assists in a game.
  • Win Shares – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player
  • Defensive/Offensive Win Shares – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense/offense.
  • Win Shares per 48 minutes – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes
  • Player Efficiency Rating – a measure of per minute production. League average is 15.
  • True Shooting Percentage – a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
  • Effective Field Goal Percentage – this statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.
  • Defensive Rating –  An estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions

 

Challenge accepted.

BallisLife.com sent a tweet with the following photo.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 9.23.09 AM

So I have $15 to spend wisely on the best NBA team $15 can buy. This should be interesting.

So I obviously can’t get each player worth five dollars, nor would I even want to and I’ll explain why. Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are all fantastic players, but these wouldn’t be my all-time starting five. So I need to put on my general manager cap on and get to work on who I want on my team.

Point Guard – Oscar Robertson $4

I wanted to go with either Magic, Oscar, or John Stockton. I eliminated Magic because of his price so it was down to Stockton or Robertson. The reason Stockton was in this discussion is because of his price of $2 and because of his ability to pass the ball. Stockton holds the record for most career assists with 15,806. Stockton had a better field goal percentage with 51.5% compared to Robertson with 48.5% and made the playoffs in all of his 19 seasons.

But while Stockton statistics are compelling, I can’t pass on the opportunity to not only have someone who can pass AND score, but someone who defined his career off passing and scoring, and even rebounding. Robertson is Mr. Triple Double, averaging a triple-double from 1961-1965.  Not only can Robertson give me 10 assists like Stockton, but Robertson can give me 20 points and 10 rebounds, an area where Stockton didn’t prosper in because of his passing abilities. It makes it a no brainer to go with Robertson over Stockton. Two other things: Robertson created more wins in his 14 seasons in the league more than Stockton  and Robertson was LeBron before LeBron was LeBron. Thanks for that, Michael Smith of Numbers Never Lie.

So with 11 dollars left, I need to be careful with the next four players.

Shooting Guard – Michael Jordan $5

To be honest, I battled a bit with this choice. Shocking. But nevertheless my brain overcame my heart on this one and went with arguably the greatest of all-time, Michael Jordan.

I debated between Jordan and Kobe Bryant, worth $4, because of the price so I could spend $5 elsewhere, but I thought better because Jordan is well, Jordan, the standard for basketball supremacy. I thought Bryant may have better numbers than Jordan, but when i went to look for them, I was shocked. Jordan was that good. He averaged 30.1 PPG (points per game) compared to Bryant’s 25.5. He also had more assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks than Bryant recorded in his career. The big factor was Player Efficiency and Win Shares per 48 minutes, where Jordan wipes away the competition. Jordan had a Player Efficiency of 27.9 and Win Shares of .250, good for best of all-time in the NBA.

Sure, Kobe’s playoff success and the ability to always come up with a big shot in a big game situation is remarkable and it can convince some to go with him over Jordan. But let’s be logical and critical here. Do people compare LeBron James to be Kobe or Jordan when they argue he’s going to be the greatest of all-time? I’ll leave it at that and go ahead and spend my big $6 dollars on the remainder of my team.

A team without LeBron James. Gasp.

Small Forward – Kevin Durant $2

Since I couldn’t get LeBron James and just dismantle every team ever created with the trio of Robertson, Jordan and James, I had to get the second best option. While I don’t think James should be $5 (I actually think Bird should be worth $5), I went with his “arch-rival” and the NEW most valuable player, Kevin Durant.

I battled between snatching Larry Bird priced at $4 or Scottie Pippen priced at $1 along with Durant. Putting Pippen on the team would re-create the magic of the famed Chicago Bulls team alongside Jordan on my all-time team, but I needed a guy who can shoot a three, drive, and play some stellar defense. Bird can do all of this, but priced at $4, I didn’t want to go all out on Bird with two positions left to fill so Durant was the smarter option.

Durant has a career Player Efficiency Rating of 24.53, good for 5th among active players and second among the small forwards on this list (LeBron is first) and a True Shooting Percentage of .5999 (better than LeBron!). So not only can I count on Durant’s efficiency, but in case Robertson drives and dishes it to Durant on the corner for three, Durant has a better chance of making it than LeBron, which means, getting Durant at $2 could probably be a steal!

Mama, there goes that man!

Power Forward – Tim Duncan $3

In my opinion, Duncan is the most underrated player of all-time. Never mind the fact he is a 14-time All Star, 4-time NBA champion, an MVP, and a 10-time All-NBA first team, Duncan’s accolades don’t even summarize how great he truly is.

No disrespect to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, both great players  as well and deserve to be on the list of all-time NBA greats, but Duncan should be worth more than both of them. Duncan isn’t the steal of my team at $3, but he is the second steal.

With a team with three prime shooters and good defenders, Duncan down low makes my team’s defense exponentially better. He is second all-time in Defensive Win Shares to the great Bill Russell, making him the best among active players and he also is the best among active players in overall Win Shares. He is the fifth most efficient active player in the league with a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.56 and first among active power forwards. Duncan can grab 11 rebounds per game and give me 2 blocks per game, which is more icing on the cake for me defensively.

Offensively, the story isn’t any different. Duncan averages 19.86 points per game and an effective field goal percentage of 50.67%, making him just as efficient on offense as he is on defense. So not only do I have a power forward that can rebound efficiently on offense and defense, shutdown inside shots, and give me about 19-20 points a game, I have in my opinion the best power forward in the game.

For only $3.

If you were counting the dollars, I have one dollar left so you can guess who I have at center.

Center – Hakeem Olajuwon $1

Remember how I said Duncan was my second steal? THIS IS MY STEAL!

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who is 4th in Basketball-Reference.com’s Elo Player Ratings, a community-based project ranking the best players in NBA history, one of the best defensive and efficient players, is worth one dollar?

Give me an orange jumpsuit and a chain gang because I just committed a robbery.

I’m not going to say Olajuwon should be worth $5 (I’m not that crazy), but I would say he should be $2 and O’Neal should be $1. Olajuwon is one of the greatest centers of all-time and one of the greatest NBA players of all-time. In his career, Olajuwon scored 26,949 points, ranking him 11th on the all-time leaderboard for points. Olajuwon also had a defensive rating of 97.89, thanks to his 11.1 rebounds per game, 3.1 blocks per game, and 1.7 steals per game. And last but not least, he had a career Player Efficiency Rating of 23.6, ranking him 16th all-time. O’Neal had a higher efficiency rating, but aside from that, Olajuwon trumps him in the other categories.

Olajuwon is the force down low both offensively and defensively, not to mention he was also a 2-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star. And come on, the Rockets took Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 draft, the same draft one Michael Jordan was in. They knew something so I’m not going to pass on having “The Dream” on my dream team.

So let’s recap.

Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon. These five all-stars for $15. That’s one amazing team.

Obviously, without the salary cap, this team would be completely different. My five would be Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But that’s another article for another day.

 

 

The Men in the Wheelchair

This article was an assignment for my Feature Writing course the first semester of my junior year at Boston College. The assignment was to go to a location off-campus and sit and observe for an hour and detail what you see. I chose to visit the finish line of the Boston Marathon and this is what I saw. 

It’s 2:19 pm on a cool Wednesday autumn afternoon and in the midpoint of Boylston Street between Exeter Street and Dartmouth Street lies a stretch of yellow paint with the word “FINISH” in navy blue letters. The ambiance is serene as if you were walking by the Charles River walking by or taking a stroll with your dog. At the epicenter of this street sits a man, motionless in his wheelchair, with a shopping cart full of soiled clothing.

With a 7 Eleven cup in his hand facing west of Boylston street, it’s as if he is replaying events that occurred on this street. Five months ago, this man would have had a front row seat to the Boston Marathon bombings and the chaos that followed the explosions. Citizens, law enforcement, medical staff, all spring into action on April 15th, 2013, but today, September 18th, 2013, the man sits their on his wheelchair, with no one offering any help.

A man dressed in a white shirt and a black tie sits on a bench across from the man in the wheelchair. Sipping on his Red Bull and smoking a cigarette, the man pauses and takes in the calm autumn day, relishing the serene nature of the street. A street once filled with thousands of cheers and then thousands of screams of panic now lies dormant, with only footsteps to be heard. All the while, pedestrians pass by the man in the wheelchair as he sits there in the same position, 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes in the direction of where the bombs went off.

Cars, taxis, and buses drive by the finish line. The 55 bus stops in front of the north side of Boston Public Library and by the door lies a sticker in the shape of ribbon with blue and yellow colors and a “T” in the center of the ribbon. Off in the distance, a siren blares. As the ambulance approaches the finish line, the sirens cease for a moment as if to observe a moment of silence. The ambulance crosses the finish line and at the intersection of Boylston and Dartmouth Street, blares its sirens as it begins to accelerate. It’s 2:40 p.m. and the man still sits there in the wheelchair with a 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes still fixated west on Boylston Street.

A young man dressed in tattered clothing approaches the man in the wheelchair and begins a conversation with him. While it is quiet, the conversation is inaudible due to the myriad of footsteps and speeding cars passing by. The young man departs leaving some wires on top of the shopping cart of clothes and approaches a man smoking a cigarette to ask for one. A couple walks by with the man wearing no shirt and tattered jeans and the woman wearing an unclean sweater and flip-flops. There is a man lying down in front of the subway entrance on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth. For an entire minute, 33 people pass by the man in the wheelchair without putting anything into his 7 Eleven cup.

Suddenly, the man struggles to get up and walks towards the young man he was conversing with earlier. He tells the young man he needs to use the bathroom so the young man takes the 7 Eleven cup and replaces the man in his wheelchair. Nothing else happens. The young man sits there in the wheelchair facing the same direction as the old man with a 7 Eleven cup in his right hand.

Five months ago, these men may have been helped. Five months ago, every one in the vicinity of the bombings was evacuated and brought to safety. Five months ago, the city of Boston was united against terrorism and everyone sought to help out those unable to help themselves. Five months later, two men took turns sitting in wheelchairs hoping they too would be assisted just like the victims. Three middle-aged individuals approached the man with the black tie to ask about the bombings, but strolled by the men in the wheelchair asking for assistance. Five months ago still reigned over a moment happening in the present.

Across the street stood the Charlesmark Hotel with a banner in the middle of the building reading, “Charlesmark Strong. What Big Papi Said.” Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz cried out to Bostonians in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, “This is our (expletive) city!” Five months later, two men in a wheelchair wait for helping hands of their own along with many other displaced individuals at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

BM Finish Line