Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't blink!

The Olympic games just mesmerize me. They have been going on for a little while, since 776 BC but since 1896 in the modern era. Each one involves thousands of athletes representing over 200 countries. The worldwide audience for them now exceeds over a billion people. I first watched the LA Summer Games of 1984 as a 10 year old and I watched Carl Lewis run and jump into history. I watched the Seoul Games of 1988 and saw Ben Johnson just demolish Carl Lewis in the 100 metres only to be stripped of the gold medal and the world record just 2 days later for using anabolic steroids. The Johnson story was a top 5 sporting story of all time. I've continued to watch every Olympics since.

The most hyped and anticipated event in every Olympics is the men's 100 metres. The upcoming London Olympics race promises to be one of the most exciting races of all time. The 1991 Tokyo World Championships had the best 100 metre race I ever saw - 6 out of the 8 men ran under 10 seconds and Carl Lewis won the race in world record time after being last after the 50 metre mark. Watch this race sometime to see the definition of incredible.

There is no other sporting event (with humans) in the world that is over within 10 seconds. Any athlete wants to be Citius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger than his/her opponent. The Olympic trials race for the 100 was run yesterday. The first 3 finishers are going to London - Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey. Gatlin won Olympic Gold in 2004 in Athens but then got suspended for 4 years in 2006 for a high testosterone level. Now 30 years old and a lot wiser for his mistake, he ran 9.80 seconds, a great tune up for London.

Tyson Gay was THE man in the 100 when he won the world championships in 2007 when he swept the sprint events. But then in 2008 a freak of nature came along and took over the world - Usain Bolt - who won gold in Beijing in an absurd time of 9.69 after he jogged for the last 20 metres. Bolt is an national hero, an icon, a 6-5 machine. No one with his height has ever done in his sport what he has done. Carl Lewis was 6-3. That was considered tall. But 6-5 with gangly legs? But once those legs start to turn over there is not a faster person on this planet. His 9.58 100 race at the 2009 world's was just a video game run. Not possible by a human. Right? Wrong!

There are 2 other Jamaican's that have a shot at upending Bolt. Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake. Powell is the veteran who brings big race savvy and experience to the biggest spotlight of them all. Blake is the up and comer who took advantage of Bolt's inexplicable false start in last year's Worlds to win the Gold medal. It really is USA v Jamaica. 3 against 3. All 6 of them may well finish in the top 6 in London, though a couple others will want to dispute this.

Who has the advantage? The lightning Bolt. Despite some back trouble last year he ran an effortless 9.79 100 a few weeks back in a Grand Prix event. He wasn't even close to being at peak form. He will peak in London and is the man to beat. He has the pedigree. He has the experience. He has the charisma. He has the motivation after the false start debacle last year. I don't think he will break the world record (even with peak conditions). I see him running about a 9.70 but that will be good enough for the Gold. I think Gatlin medals and Powell too. Tyson Gay won't be fit enough - he is coming back from hip surgery and I don't think he can be at his peak quickly enough. Blake and Bailey could threaten for medals if they run perfect races. Bolt's only real pressure comes from himself - he better not false start again - or he won't be allowed back into Jamaica.

The countdown for London began 2 years ago. The most anticpated event in the Olympics looms. Who wins? Don't blink!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The coronation of LeBron James

"It's about damn time".

The first quote from Lebron James immediately after winning his first NBA championship. He has taken a little bit of heat (pardon the pun) from the "haters" for this comment but when you consider he has been chasing this dream for a long 9 years (note a full 1/3 of his life), this becomes quite understandable. James is only 27 years of age (1 year younger than Michael Jordan was when he won his first NBA title in 1991, he went on to win 6) so it is pretty logical to assume he has the chance to win several more. However, under the "old" LeBron, this was definitely NOT the case. The "new" LeBron? For sure!

From watching several different shows today and listening to various radio programs, there has been a general consensus about the new maturity level of LeBron James. This premise I could not agree with more. Just in the last 12 months LeBron has reinvented himself. He confirmed this last night in one of his 500 or so interviews - "I had to change myself both on the court and off the court". This change has helped him realise his lifelong dream of winning a NBA title.

Every person is unique. No 2 people are the same. Some people take longer than others to "get it", to mature, to understand, to learn about life. I see this with LeBron. It has taken him longer to "get it" and to mature. This has been mostly his fault and somewhat life's fault and others' fault. He did enter the NBA world at just 18 to probably the biggest fanfare and anticipation of any player in NBA history. As John Salley said on ESPN's "First Take" program today - "because of the rise of social media no other athlete has been criticised or scrutinised more in his career". Isn't that the truth?! Listening to the Scott Van Pelt show on ESPN radio today, they (Scott and Ryen Russilo) correctly pointed out that we endlessly talk/debate/analyse LeBron James on a daily basis, week in and week out. What other athletes get this amount of scutiny? That's right, none of them. They get some, particularly during his/her sport's season, but LeBron gets it 24/7, 365 days a year.

Only LeBron knows how this scutinty affects him. In a lot of polls of "most hated athlete" he is usually one of the highest ranked. However he has over 5 million Twitter followers. From his history and behavior, James has struggled with the negative energy. The self-labeling of himself as the "King", the disastrous "The Decision" ESPN TV 1 hour special, to the Miami Heat introduction event where he promised not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7 NBA titles he has made poor decisions and just fed the "haters" with more ammunition. His play has also suffered - he would shrink in the biggest moments, disappear with the game on the line, defer the last shot to his teammates. This happened right up to the loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals last year. But then as he said himself - he took a look in the mirror, and he re-invented himself.

On the court he became a much more complete player, and most importantly a leader of the team. He gave up just taking mindless jump shot after jump shot, trying to hit the 3 pointers, being afraid to go to the rim. He reduced the jump shots, attacked the rim religiously, started making his free throws, he improved his defense (which wasn't that bad anyway) and started guarding the opponent's best player, and he would defend all 5 positions on the court. This is where Dwyane Wade deserves the credit - he changed HIS game to allow for the development of LeBron James. He didn't have to be "Batman" (Skip Bayless term). He embraced the new role and leadership of James. You know the saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" - James was a tough player, but only when he wanted to, when he chose it. Now he is the player who gets the tough going, regardless of the time or situation. I commend him for that.

I am neither a LeBron James apologist nor a hater. I do admire him, and I do follow him on Twitter. James as a man is rarely questioned. He seems to be a good father, he hasn't got into trouble off the court, he doesn't say a lot of dumb things. I take that back a little bit - he has said dumb things (see above), but this year he has really cut that out and he has become a much better man because of it. His interviews last night after the win were to me pretty good. Saying winning the NBA title was the "best day of his life" raised some eyebrows - what about your kids? - but I see where he was coming from. With all the criticism, the analysis and the focus he has had for the last 9 years (9 years!) and to achieve this lifelong goal he had been working on - I see his point, and I understand it. He loves his kids (indeed he won custody of them) but this moment was a career moment, a humbling moment.

I am guilty - earlier this NBA playoffs I said on Twitter that Kevin Durant was the best player in the NBA. I am WRONG - LeBron James is the best overall player in the NBA. This is not based on stat's. He set career best numbers in this series for rebounds and assists. Indeed he had his one and only triple-double for the season in the closeout game! He is now mature - last night he told Mario Chalmers to calm down late in the 3rd quarter when he started to showboat and celebrate. Would have he done this last year? Hell no! He changed his game for the betterment of the team. He became a better teammate. He apologised for his mistakes. He became a better man.

It's about damn time!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What's wrong with the Rockies?

I moved to Denver CO in 2001 from Melbourne, Australia where I grew up. I had watched a lot of baseball on TV and I had followed and attended games from the now defunct Australian Baseball League. I followed the Waverley Reds, who were then associated with the Cincinnati Reds. It was single A level baseball, maybe AA on it's best days, but it gave me the taste for baseball I have carried to this day.

Once I moved to Denver I immediately started following all the local teams. I was lucky - the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup soon after I arrived. I lived through that euphoria. I watched Nuggets and Broncos games. I adopted Coors Field and went to Rockies games, just seduced by such a grand stadium. I learned about the "Blake Street Bombers" and how balls just went into orbit. Each game was a slug fest. Let the best offense win. It was the following year that the Rockies introduced the humidor. There was so much excitement in the air that the Rockies had signed 2 high profile pitchers at the end of 2000 - Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Finally the Rockies were ready to WIN!

The Rockies made the wild card in 1995. They hadn't made it since. They were known as an offense-only ball club. Pitching would put them over the top. We all know well what happened and the disaster Hampton and Neagle were. Hampton's contract alone handcuffed the payroll long after he was booted out of town. Attendance dropped in 2002 through 2004. They changed their philosophy and went to a youth movement - they had drafted Jason Jennings who went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award and promoted young pitchers Shawn Chacon and Aaron Cook. At the end of 2004 veterans were allowed to leave and players like Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes and Jeff Francis came up - the beginning of Generation R.

In 2005 with the influx of young players the Rockies tied a franchise worst with 95 losses. In 2006 they lost 86 games. But the starters posted a franchise record 4.66 ERA. 2007 came and the Rockies won 90 games (tied a franchise record) and set a MLB record fielding percentage that year of .98925 We witnessed Rocktober and the World Series run. 2008 was a disappointment. Players and management could not handle the expectations. 2009 brought the playoffs again but a first round exit to the Phillies. 2010 finished with a winning record but no playoffs. 2011 was nothing short of a disaster. The club cracked from within. Players bickered. Rockies management decided there needed to be accountability - got rid of the "troublemakers" and signed players who would bring a hard-nosed toughness and incorporate this culture - Jeremy Guthrie, Ramon Hernandez and Michael Cuddyer. 2012 was supposed to be a fresh start with a new improved team and higher expectations.

So what is wrong with the Rockies? The management team! The Rockies are a case study in the complete failure of organisational management. It starts with the owner Dick Monfort. He publicly lauded GM Dan O'Dowd and said in his mind there "wasn't a better GM in baseball". Huh? What are you looking at Mr. Monfort? There are currently 29 better GM's in baseball. They are not Mr. Mistake Dan O'Dowd. If you actually cared about the real reason to own a team - to win and succeed - you would see what an absurd comment this is. However you are in it for the money. Fair enough, that's your right. But you can make money in real estate, in technology, in oil, in mining and whatever other industry you choose. Don't own a major league sports team. The fans in Denver are very passionate and care about their teams, they want to see them win. You don't and you don't care. You are a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

Dan O'Dowd - has been the GM since 1999. You know how bread gets stale after a while? Well O'Dowd has got stale. He has been there for 13 years. He is an intelligent and honorable man. However it's time for him to leave. His poor decisions far outweigh his good decisions. He promised us before the season that this would be a new team, a new direction. He spent money on free agents again. But I agree with Dave Martin (@RockiesReview) who said yesterday on 1510AM radio that this has simply not happened and there is NO accountability. We are watching before our own eyes the complete regression of a ball club and the clueless management team who are not willing to stop it in the name of friendship. Indeed as Steve Lundgrin (@Stars5Steve) astutely points out, the Rockies have not performed since mid-September 2010.

The pitching has been a complete failure this year. The rotation own a 6.27 ERA through today which is not only the worst ERA in MLB but is also on pace to be the worst ERA of all time in a single year (1930 Phillies - 6.15). The "innings-eater" Jeremy Guthrie has woefully under performed and last night did a complete punk move by tipping his cap to the crowd who were booing him for giving up another sizable lead in the blink of an eye. Injuries have crippled the rest of the rotation - Nicasio and Chacin on the DL - and the Rockies are blooding young pup's - White and Friedrich. Against any informed judgment they re-signed Jeff Francis who predictably gave up 8 ER in less than 4 innings in his first game back. Another genius move by O'Dowd - replace one soft-tossing lefty with a younger version. Same results. The Rockies pitching staff as a group have done:

5.35 ERA (worst in the NL)
17 quality starts (worst in the NL)
314 runs given up (worst in the NL)
.296 batting average against (worst in the NL)

Throw in the second-ranked offense in the NL (.264 BA, .778 OPS) but who perform way too inconsistently and thus you see a 24-36 record and second last in the division.

I keep hoping that the mediocrity will end but it just gets worse. I keep hoping the pitching will improve but it doesn't. As Troy Renck of the Denver Post (@TroyRenck) reported today the humidor is OK and the Rockies have complied with MLB in providing weekly updates and reports on it. But it's not the humidor's fault - it's management's fault - there is zero accountability on them. The buddy system works it's way all the way to the top. Monfort will not fire his buddy Dan O'Dowd. O'Dowd will not fire his buddy Jim Tracy. Jim Tracy will not fire his buddy Bob Apodaca. There in not one single coach or manager on the "hot seat" despite the buck ultimately stopping with them. Every single manager and coach is failing and are sending this club to the depths of hell but they don't care - they have their friendships, they have each other's backs. Loyalty is admirable, but this kind of loyalty ensures the Rockies will be irrelevant for the next 10 years. A complete failure of management.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My NBA Finals preview

Just got back from the ATL and have welcomed by thunderstorms (no pun intended). I'm sure we'll see David Stern on TV at this series with a fake smile on his face. This series is not your "dream" series. This isn't the Lakers v the Celtics, a sure ratings and money bonanza. This is instead one very small-market team v a mid-level market team.

I will admit I haven't seen every game in this 2012 NBA playoffs but enough to draw this conclusion: the Thunder are the better TEAM and will win their first NBA title in 6 games. The Thunder have the best player in my humble opinion - Kevin Durant. Then the Heat have the next 3 best players - James, Wade and Bosh. Then the Thunder come again with Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden, Perkins and Sefolosha. The Heat have Chalmers, Battier, Miller and Haslem. Overall, head to head, the Thunder have the better roster. They have more players (mainly the bench) that I trust a whole lot more than the Heat bench. After you take out the Miami Big 3 there's quite a fall off. I don't see that with the Thunder - Collison, Cook, Fisher and Maynor bring a "certainess" that I like.

Not everyone will agree with me that Kevin Durant is the best player in this series. But look at the facts - he is the 3-time reigning NBA scoring champion. He is averaging over 27 points per game and over 50% FG in these playoffs and 87% FT. His defense has been pretty serviceable. Most importantly, he has hit shot after shot in the clutch. He killed the Lakers. He then killed the Spurs in 4 straight games after they went down 0-2. Where's Lebron? For the sake of this story I will exclude the 45/15 game.

I was watching "First Take" this morning and both Stephen A. Smith and Bruce Bowen were asked what "trust level" did they have with Lebron with the game on the line. On a 10 scale, both gave the reigning MVP a 5. A 5! Picture that - with the final shot, the best player in the NBA (in theory) you give only a 50% chance of making that shot? That's crazy! That doesn't equate to the best player! They didn't evaluate Durant, but I would give him a 9/10. He's proven repeatedly that he can make that shot over the last 2 years. If these games go to the crunch (regardless of whose court) I want the ball in Kevin Durant's hands. On the other hand, James seems more likely (or willing) to pass that ball in that situation. He was OK in a Cavaliers uniform but has downgraded significantly in a Heat uniform. But this is not a LeBron v Durant discussion.

The Thunder in these playoffs have 4 players averaging over 10 points a game. So do the Heat. The Thunder are averaging 102 points per game v the Heat's 96. The real big stat to me is the team free throw percentage. 83% for the Thunder v 72% for the Heat. In what shapes up to be a highly contested series, with lots of fouls, and throw in what has been very below par refereeing (to be polite) I think this series is detemined at the line. And here the Thunder take the points. They also have a clear home-court advantage. I lived in Tulsa OK for nearly 3 years and the Oklahoma fans are rabid and very, very passionate about their teams. The whole state will rally around the Thunder - I agree with the Governor here. Chesapeake Energy Arena will be LOUD - and the Thunder will feed off this passion and rise to the occasion. The Heat will get flustered by the crowd and the referees. I don't see them losing a home game. They only need to win 1 game in Miami. I predict they will win Games 1, 2, 4 (in Miami) and 6.

I don't know about the general population but I am excited by this series. It promises to be exciting with a lot of good players on the same court. The youth of the Thunder versus the experience of the Heat. The coaching will be even. Both Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra are under-valued coaches in my mind. Both teams will be desperate. But, Miami better pay attention to the weather forecast - severe Thunderstorm warning!

Monday, June 4, 2012

I'm back! And Rockies stuff...

Jeff Francis (former Rockies ace) today exercised a clause in his contract and opted out of his minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Tracy Ringolsby of Root Sports Rocky Mountain suggested on Twitter that the Rockies bring him back as a free agent. I couldn't disagree with him more on this assessment.

OK, let's be realistic here. The last full season Francis pitched for the Rockies he went 6-16 in 2008. Albeit he had a bum pitching shoulder which forced a shoulder reconstruction and for him to miss the entire 2009 season. He then went to the Royals where he won like, 4 games? The thing to remember with Francis is that he throws a fastball now somewhere in the 84-86 mph range. With the Reds AAA affiliate he went 3-6 but did average 9.2k/9 innings and only 1.8bb/9 innings. These last two stats are compelling but not the win/loss record. But there are still two major problems:

1) 3-6 record in AAA, not MLB. I shudder to think what his MLB record would be.

2) Remember Jamie Moyer? The other soft-tossing lefty that the club just designated for assignment?

As was pointed out by Eric Brown on Twitter (@EB68 - follow him please)the Rockies have zero need for another soft-tossing lefty. I have no problem with Jeff Francis getting another shot with a big league club. But if the Rockies have any sense - and this year so far has proven - there is no common sense with management. It would be another step back for this pitching staff to bring back Jeff Francis. He would add some much needed experience but no value. His stuff is not good enough for Coors Field anymore. Once they make the adjustment major league hitters just feast on 86mph fastballs.

I'm hoping the Rockies stick with the status quo. Alex White was terrific yesterday. Juan Nicasio is due for some much needed luck when he comes back from the DL. Time and experience will benefit Christian Friedrich, Carlos Torres and Guillermo Moscoso. Take note Dan O'Dowd - do not make yet another mistake and sign Jeff Francis.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Tennis Marathon

Have you seen any of the John Isner v Nicolas Mahut 1st round match at Wimbledon? You may have, since it has gone for 9 hours 58 minutes over 2 days and it is not over! I watched the PTI show today and co-host Mike Wilbon claimed this match was "boring" and 4 hours of it were "worthless". I couldn't disagree with his assessment more!

This is one extraordinary match, and it continues tomorrow. I never thought in my lifetime I would see a score as we see tonight: 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-7 59-59. It broke all the open-era major championship records and all the pre-Open era records. It was 2 players with a remarkable will to compete, succeed and win. I never had heard of Nicolas Mahut before this match (indeed he is ranked 145th in the world) and I have always thought John Isner was soft. In a couple of previous 5 set matches I watched him play he just wilted and he was softer than melted butter. However today he made it all up and then some.

There are just amazing statistics from this match that are just mind-boggling. 2 minutes short of 10 hours playing, 168 games, 98 aces to 94, a 7 hour fifth set! A fifth set that is longer than any previous MATCH in tennis history! I watched it all (except for the hour I was at the dentist). I left convinced that it would be over before I returned home only to come back stunned it was still going tied at 41 games apiece. There are critics out there (like Mike Wilbon) who say these battles are boring. What rubbish! This was simply epic, tennis theater, drama at its best.

Think about it, these 2 players have played a 118 game final set without dropping their serve once. In fact Isner has had 4 match points so far which of course he has not converted. Mahut has had 0 break point chances. 2 gladiators who served their way out of trouble. Just remarkable. I played tennis when I was younger and I was exhausted after 3 hours on court, but 10? This is a tennis marathon equivalent which has etched it part in sports history and folklore.

John Isner summed it up best: "We will not see a match like this ever again". John, you are probably right. There are simply numbers in sports that few have tried to match and haven't come close. You know them: 56, .406, 27, 17, etc. Depending on when this match ends tomorrow no one for the next 50 years will touch 59-59 in a set.

2 great sportsmen, 2 tennis warriors. Today we watched sports history. And that doesn't come around very often. You must savior it when it comes. You must appreciate history when it is presented to you. You can never forget, nor you will forget. What will happen tomorrow? Only history knows.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup

I've watched several games so far. This included the demolition of my beloved Aussies! However what I have noticed most of all has been the amount of "flopping" by players of all teams.

This has been a huge problem for soccer (or football, depending on where you live) for a long time. It's a personal pet hate of mine. It is a major reason why soccer is not taken seriously in the US, or Australia for that matter. We want to see contact, gladiator v gladiator, may the best man win. We don't want to see a man just flop to the ground in fake agony rolling around like he was struck in the groin (when clearly he was not). Man up! I admire soccer (it is nowhere near my favorite) but the World Cup is definitely one of my favorite tournaments to watch. You can't get any better than country versus country with over a billion people watching. It is also wonderful that they are hosting this tournament in South Africa, a beautiful country that I have had the privilege of going to.

But, despite all the hoopla and marketing and superstars, soccer continues to have this "flopping" problem. To me the answer is obvious, you dive and you are not really hurt and you don't get up, you get a red card. You leave. Don't waste my time or others by pretending to be injured and rolling around like a beached whale. Man up and get on with it. I want to watch a gladiator, not an actor.

I welcome your viewpoints or feedback. Please feel free to comment! I look forward to hearing from you!