B.S. Free at ESPN

This morning, New York Times media reporter, Richard Sandomir, broke the news that Bill Simmons is out at ESPN. While the news is shocking, I am not sure its all together surprising. I am optimistic and hopeful he will find an outlet for his unique voice somewhere else in media. I believe this will be a true test of the new medium and marketplace. I will be sad to see him go from Grantland, which I believe has been groundbreaking in many ways. I do wonder if he set himself up for this when he started Grantland in 2011. He went from a voice to a purveyor and as such I think his responsibilities to himself and what would become his staff changed. Only time will tell, but I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Finding Light in the Darkness

I know it has been a while, but with my beloved University under fire and my own personal misgivings about the situation it just hasn’t felt right. However, a recently published interview with UNC AD Bubba Cunningham has provided me with at least the hope that the athletic department has someone in charge who is up to the challenge. While, I understand there is a cynical view to be take here, you will get no such read from me. I am going to focus on the hope.

Bubba’s comments when asked about the planned renovations to the Tar Heel basketball cathedral should provide all Tar Heel fans with faith in his leadership:

I think we need to upgrade a number of our facilities, but I don’t think the timing is right. So it’s still there, it’s still on the back burner. And as soon as we feel like, as a University, that we’ve healed ourselves and we feel comfortable, then I think we’ll move forward.

I am most appreciative of the inward focus he shows here. The university community and family needs to come to grips with what we allowed to happen whether willingly or unwillingly. We all had a part to play in the compromise of the principals we said were so dear, and only when we as a Tar Heel community come together can we proceed.

But that’s when you have confidence and that’s when you have courage. And right now, we don’t. We’ve lost our own confidence; we’ve lost trust by our alumni, within the community, outside of the community…We have to get comfortable with who we are again and prove to people you can do both.

We have lost trust as a family just as the national academic and athletic community has lost faith in us. The University is too busy pointing fingers and plugging holes rather than focusing on the progress it has made to insure this will not occur again. We must focus on what needs to be done to prepare all who walk onto campus for the future whether they ever play a sport.

Some of it is time. And as Larry (Fedora) indicated when we hired him, I can say all of the right things, but we’ve got to do it. So we need to show that we’re going to admit students that can be successful. We need to provide them a great education while they’re here. They need to graduate. They need to get good jobs and go on and do things.

The University will not recover until it resolves to provide an education and opportunity to every student who sets foot on campus. That may seem like a sacrifice to some, but that is the place I fell in love with 25 years ago and the one to which I thought I belonged. Thank you Bubba, for allowing me to see that place once again.

“…but at some point, we can’t sit in neutral. We’ve got to move forward.”

Photo Credit: Zach Frailey via Flickr

Hair of the Dog

As many of us try to recover from the World Cup hangover there is no greater cure than the Premier League (EPL), which kicks off Saturday, August 16th. With the TV rights migrating to NBC Sports last year there is no reason to miss any of the action as every match is now broadcast on the NBC family of networks. Gone are the days of only seeing United or Arsenal on an early fall morning. You can now look up Leicester City on a map and become a Fox, or become a fan of the club no one knows is in London, Crystal Palace. I am of course a fan of the bandwagon express, Manchester United, due in large part to the fact that when I began watching the Champions League in the late 90’s they were the only team on ESPN. Enough defending my fandom, its time to move on to the season at hand. As you may or may not know, I hate prediction columns, even if I am better than average. There will be plenty of predictions columns out there so I will simply give you the top 4 and the bottom 3 (I’d recommend against selecting a team from the bottom 3)

Top 4

1. Chelsea – They have made some smart buys (Fabergas, Costa, and Luis) and some head scratchers (Drogba on a free), but they have the best manager and weren’t far off last year. The re-signing of Matic should give them some grit in the midfield which is always the fulcrum for the Special One’s special teams.

2. Manchester City – The noisy neighbors lifted the trophy last year and have done nothing to hint at a dip in form. They also have Yaya and as long as he is making his marauding runs through the midfield I will be scared, very scared. I just think Chelsea have done a little more.

3. Arsenal – They have made the most noise in the offseason adding Chile star Alexis Sanchez and Debuchy to provide cover. If they can find a way to sign Sami Khedira, I believe they can challenge for the top 2. Wenger is still a great manager and he always finds a way to play beautiful football.

4. Manchester United – After the unmitigated disaster that was David Moyes 10 month tenure, the crazy Louis Van Gaal takes the helm. He is a nut and will give Mourinho’s ego a run for its money (this guy claimed he was responsible for Argentina’s Sergio Romero making the key penalty saves in the World Cup Semi’s since he coached him in the Netherlands 10 years earlier), but he is quality. Rooney is at the top of his game and they have added Luke Shaw and the one that got away last year in Ander Herrera. These signings along with a couple more that are surely to follow should give United enough to sneak back into the top 4.

Just Missing Out – Liverpool (No Suarez), Tottenham (they are Tottenham), Everton ($45m for Lukaku?)

Bottom 3

While no one wants to be a part of the relegation fight, it often produces some of the year’s best matches. Generally, two of the promoted teams get sucked back down and one will survive to fight in the top flight one more year.

18. Southampton – This is the trickiest of the predictions as I am tipping QPR to stay up at the southern club’s expense. We still don’t know what they will do with the bags of cash they have received from their fire sale, but we know they will have to pay a premium for whatever they buy. It will take time for the team to gel and while the former Dutch star turned manager Ronald Koemen may be a star in the making, it may all be too late.

19. Leicester – Leicester have spent some money and after winning the Championship have the chops to win, but I am not sure it will be enough.

20. Burnley – It is going to be a long year for the Clarets

In order to enhance the experience and keep up with the action, I highly recommend you check out the Men in Blazers and their weekly pod on the Grantland Network as well as all the Guardian’s football coverage including Football Weekly.

The Premier League is a grind, but well worth the follow so pick a team and get the beers in.

Photo Credit: “Stretford End” by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:PeeJay2K3http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Stretford_End.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Just When I Thought I Was Out

Yesterday I was drawn back in, if only for an hour or so. I got to see my favorite driver win at the most storied track in American Motorsport if not World Motorsport. He did it as he has done it most of his career – he took a great car and won, for the 90th time to be exact. He is now in sole possession of third place on the All-Time Wins list and only 15 back of David Pearson. He may or may not reach that number and his current pace would argue against him hitting that mark. However, for this one afternoon, he had the best car and was the best driver, overcoming a late caution and potentially troublesome restart to take the lead. What does this all mean for rest of the season? Who knows, but as Gordon said after the race, the best team with the best car and the best driver usually wins at Indy, and most years that is enough for a title as well. He will no doubt have to pass his protege to win this season and maybe this is nothing more than an indian summer, but I hope its a bit more than that. I think Gordon has one more title in him and the drive for five is still alive!

Photo Credit: Dave Parker (AP)

That Feeling

Any fan who has ridden the emotional wave to the Final Four and the very lucky ones who got to watch CBS’ One Shining Moment with a tear in their eye knows that feeling. You get that feeling pretty early on in the tournament and sometimes even during the season. However, you refuse to even acknowledge that feeling or let it grow, but you know it’s there. It can be a game you weren’t suppose to win, a realization that a team is coming together, or seeing a player become the best player alive (in college; no offense, LeBron) right before your eyes. Continue reading

UNC vs Duke: Part 1

It has been a while since we have updated this space, but its been a busy winter and the snow, well, that is my excuse anyway. Speaking of using snow as an excuse to bail on a commitment, I give you your 2013/2014 Duke Blue Devils! While canceling the game was the right a call at the time, I question how it got to that point, but that is black ice over 15/501 at this point…I kid, I kid. Anyway, no better way to kick off the first of two (potentially three) brutal nights for me than chronicle it here for thedustin to read (and JohnnyH if he knew about the site).

Before we begin, I thought it would be fun to give you my three most memorable UNC-Duke moments…

1. Jerry Stackhouse Under the Basket Tomahawk!
(Just for fun, remember when he fought now coach of the Suns, Jeff Hornacek?

2. Marvin Williams Put Back to Beat Duke in 2005 on the way to the National Championship!
(Underated was the 9 point comeback with less than three to play. People forget May was unstoppable the last month of that season.)

3. Matt Doherty gets up in Chris Collins’ grill!
(This is great for so many reason, A) I took my father to the game, B) the elbow by Dahntay Jones is a reminder of what a dirty player he was, C) Doherty unhinged because he probably knew he was done at UNC, D) a mediocre UNC team pulled out the win and represented one of only two wins over Duke while I was at UNC)

There are so many more moments to choose from and every UNC fan has their favorites, but it’s time to see if tonight’s game adds to the legend. Given that it’s UNC-Duke, the odds are likely it will.

9:02 – In the opening montage some guy just painted a picture of the rivalry while narrating…gotta love Raycom!

9:03 – Brando and Bonner, I am sure there is a joke in there. I am bummed we don’t get Billas since ESPN is blacked out. (Note – it was not blacked out as I would discover later)

9:05 – Had to put the dog upstairs because he freaks out when I watch UNC games and you can only imagine how it is when Duke is involved.

9:07 – Over/under on “8 miles” mentions? I set the number at 3.5

9:09 – Do yourself a favor and follow @DaggumRoy

9:10 – Seems like a good time to JUMP AROUND!

9:11 – McDonald with a big game sure would be nice.

9:12 – A Duke player on their back…huge surprise. Tokoto may be the worst FT shooter I have ever seen.

9:14 – Meeks really needs to work on that lift, he would be borderline unstoppable if he could get could jump higher than my father.

9:17 – Paige splitting the screen is a thing of beauty.

9:18 – PlumThree sighting!

9:22 – Ugh! 2 on Brice. This could get ugly.

9:25 – Not good if Hood and Cook are going to make their threes.

9:27 – That foul was not on Hood – Parker should have 2

9:29 – HUBERT!

9:31 – Oh, I got it now, the hand checking is illegal if you are wearing white tonight. Much clearer now.

9:39 – Honestly, can we just get rid of the charge/block call.

9:41 – I like how they just showed Hood’s 3 pt % as 5th all time at Duke, he has had such a prestigious career.

9:46 – Free Throws…ugh

10:01 – Well, down 7 isn’t terrible considering Carolina has played like crap. Hopefully we have a patented 2nd Half Paige run in store.

10:08 – I may switch to the ESPN broadcast to shake up the mojo

10:10 – Ahhh! Huge mistake, I switch over and they have Boehiem on.

10:31 – And I’m Back! My son had a night terror, I assume he was dreaming about Tokoto free throws. In other news, not much has changed.

10:33 – Really feel like UNC just needs to play hard and keep it close. The officiating is terrible.

10:38 – What a terrible pass by McDonald.

10:43 – Tokoto has improved so much (we will ignore the pass to Hubert in transition). If he cuts his TO down and works on his FTs he could be an All-ACC caliber player.

10:49 – And Roy’s watch comes off….

10:51 – Really terrible officiating on both ends tonight. Hopefully the last 5 minutes won’t be decided by a zebra…

10:53 – Thank you again ESPN for reminding us this is just the aperitif for the new rivalry.

10:56 – Marcus Paige is good at basketball..very good.

11:02 – I am glad it worked in UNC’s favor, but that was a terrible call on Parker, just terrible.

11:08 – Free Throws and Marcus Paige is a man!

11:10 – thlhfdsjhfjkdksljfdsjkldsja;kjfadkl;jfklsjd

11:13 – Carolina Ball!!!!!!

11:14 – Such a great job by Roy tonight, the little things. Putting Meeks in at the end to be able to throw the inbounds deep. Solid job.

11:16 – You just can’t say enough about this team.

That’s all folks. What a masterclass by Roy. This team fights and fights. It’s always a good day to be a Tar Heel, some days are just a touch more special.

His Way, His Game

One of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game retired, at least officially, yesterday. Allen Iverson, dubbed the Answer, was the second greatest small guard, to play the game behind the wrecker of franchises and MJ combatant, Isiah Thomas. Iverson was classified as a point guard, but that was in name only. He was a scorer and volume shooter, averaging 26.7 points per game on 21.8 shots. He did manage to average 6.2 assists per game, which is not great for a point guard and has partially contributed to his reputation as a me-first guard. However, when comparing him to the equally great, Kobe Bryant who averaged 25.5 points per game on 19.6 attempts per game (Kobe also averaged 4.8 assists per game), his numbers don’t look as egregious. While basketball is arguably the most individual of the team sports, its hard not to take into account teammates. Kobe has played with two of the greatest centers to EVER play (Shaq and Pau), the greatest clutch shooter of all time (Robert Horry), and was coached by THE GREATEST coach of all time (Phil Jackson). Iverson on the other hand, played with an ornery Jerry Stackhouse, Aaron McKie, George Lynch, a washed-up Chris Webber, Dikembe Mutombo, Eric Snow, Matt Geiger, and was coached by another ornery character, Larry Brown1. I am in no way comparing the two, but simply attempting to provide some perspective when reflecting on his career.

His peak and best season occurred in 2000-2001, when he led a dog of a team (again, Matt Geiger was involved) to the NBA Finals. He played 52 minutes in the opening game scoring 48 points and defeating the juggernaut that was the LA Lakers. Team talent, kicked in and the Lakers rolled the 76ers in the next 4 games, but Iverson was a warrior averaging 47.4 minutes a game, 35.6 points on 40 percent shooting, and 3.8 assists (again, Matt Geiger).

However, with all of that, it was Iverson’s approach to the game that resonates the most to me when looking back on his career. Iverson is clearly from Generation X (born in 1975), but reflected a changing landscape that would later be attributed to the millennials (though I am not sure any of it matters when you grow up in the roughest parts of the Tidewater). Iverson approached every game as if it was his last, but he also did things his way. He practiced as hard as he thought he needed to, or often not at all. It was difficult for sports journalist used to watching MJ and Magic deal with a young buck not willing to put in the “off the court” work that was required to be a star. However, when he performed on the court, they made excuses like not getting his teammates involved (I feel like a broken record here, but Matt Geiger) or pointed to his shooting percentage. Iverson was not afraid of hard work as is clear by the way he would throw his body at the basket, but he did not buy into the boomers mold of hard work for hard work’s sake. He symbolized the shift in the US from boomers and Gen-X’ers who worked 60-80 hour weeks in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s to millennials who have no fear of hard work, but are not going to sit in the office because its expected. Iverson paved the way for a generation of players who could turn their focus away from basketball and not be constantly chided for it. Iverson owned his persona and his way, and for that I believe his nickname was truly fitting.

  1. Editor’s Note: It’s worth noting there are three UNC “guys” in that list.