Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How I Became a Soccer Fan for a Day

I’ve never been a fan of soccer. There is no better or straighter forward way to put says it other than that. Yeah, I played a little bit of soccer in grade school, but what person in the U.S. who is in their early to mid 20’s now did not play soccer as a kid. That was all there was to do for kids. Once I was done playing and found football, basketball, and anything else with a ball and I could use my hands I never turned back to soccer. Even growing up in a hot bed of soccer and watching the University of Virginia win 4 national titles, and then D.C. United threepeat still was not enough to make me a fan. Bottom line is you could not force me to watch a game. Well that’s exactly what happened to me this past weekend. I was forced to watch a game, and that game happened to be at the World Cup and it was Germany v. Sweden. Well my outlook about soccer may have changed now, well at least for a day.

This past weekend in Munich Germany was an eye opening experience, and if there is a way to watch soccer that the appropriate setting. Munich was alive with German pride from the moment we arrived on Friday. Oddly enough the most prideful people we first met were English, but it made no difference they were still ready for Germany to make a big statement against the Swedes. Sitting out in the town square drinking beers, and getting a crash course in soccer is how I spent my Friday night in Munich. Too bad I failed to remember a single bit of what my English friends told me.

Saturday was game day and Munich was out early, not as early as my 7 AM start time, but early. The town was buzzing with fans from around the world. The flag was flying everywhere the eye could see. Imagine Marti Gras, best way I can think of to imagine the athomesphere. We spent the day in front of Munich’s famous clock tower sipping adult beverages and taking pictures with anyone who was willing to stop.

Despite the importance of the game fans from both sides were very friendly to each other, and to us confused Americans. There were no signs of the stereotypical soccer hooligans, or extreme national pride that would cause a riot. There were just masses of people gathering in a spot to celebrate the accomplishments of both their respective teams, and gearing up for what would be the biggest game in the next four years for both teams.

The scene around Allianz Stadium was one that would make any American Football fan proud. Fans sprawled out across the parking lot, big screens around the stadium for fans viewing pleasure and tailgates minus the cars. Inside the stadium the buzz was electric. Moments before kickoff fans in the South end of the stadium held up signs creating the German flag, and showing headshots of the key players.

The small pocket of Swedish fans had no chance. Out of an announced crowd of 66,000 there may have been 3,000 Swedes. Despite that they were proud in their pocket of the stands where bright yellow and screaming as loud as they could despite the fact no one could here them.

Their cheers would soon fade away as the Germans scored their first goal at the 8 minute mark and again at the 12 minute mark. Lois Podolski would be the hero of Germany racking up both goals. After establishing a 2-0 lead the Germans put the game into cruise control as the Swedish team was shaken and completely unable to regroup from the onslaught brought on by Podolski.

One thing I will say is if you think slow down football or the old four corner offense ran by Dean Smith is boring, check out slow down soccer. With Germany stalling to burn out the clock to end the first half I found myself falling asleep in the stands. The soothing murmur of the crowd lulled me sleep.

Luckily the second half went by fast. Very little stoppage time, and the ball kept moving with both teams getting legit shots on goal. As time ran out the German team ran towards the stands and gave curtain calls for the fans. As they changed Berlin Berlin Frada an Berlin, Berlin Berlin we’re driving on to Berlin the site of the World Cup Championship.
The city would be electric all night as chants of German pride could be heard across the town and at every Beer Garden and pub and bar you could find.

It really was a great experience to watch a country come together and show so much pride for a national team. With the failures of the U.S. National team this Cup I felt robbed of the opportunity to celebrate like the Germans, British and so many others did as their teamed advanced. No other sport brings together a country as much as soccer does, and as a result we rarely get the opportunity to join together in celebration as Americans. Winning the World Basketball Championship just doesn’t hold the same level of prestige.

For one day I was a fan of the footy. I cannot say Ill be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next shot on goal… but maybe I will if its Podolski take the shot. While soccer will never replace my American sports or even my rugby, it has earned a bit of respect. If nothing else the fans have earned my respect as the best tailgate and the best all around fans you can meet. The World Cup generates an amazing athomesphere that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. For that reason alone it is an event that is worth watching even if you can’t stand the sport.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What to do with A.I.

The rumor mill is in full motion yet again, and this time the man at the center of the storm is Allen Iverson. It’s hard to imagine a Philly team without the little warrior running the show for them, but according to all indications from within 76’ers camp that is exactly what they want to do. According to sources the 76’ers front office has mentioned they want are ready to move the All-Star.

Now moving Iverson seems like a strange idea, just the thought of seeing him in a different jersey. A.I. is one of those players who are synonymous with his team. When people think of Philadelphia athletics Allen Iverson often times is the first image that comes to peoples mind. There is not questioning how good of an athlete, and what a tenacious player A.I. is. However, the NBA is business and as with any experiment those in charge must take inventory at the end of the day and see where they stand.

Currently the A.I. experiment in Philly is looking bleak. Iverson has been in the league for 10 seasons now, and he has yielded mixed results. On an individual level he has been one of the best players in the NBA over the past decade. A career average of 28.1 ppg, 2.34 steals, and 6.1 assist are all numbers to be proud of. With those numbers alone any team would be happy to have A.I. play as a member of their squad but there is more to A.I. than just numbers.

Iverson is a shoot first pass second point guard, if not for a lack of size (6’1 with shoes, and 165 pnds soaking wet with his old high school shoulder pads on) he could move to the 2 guard position. This is actually where Iverson was most effect when he moved to the 2 and Eric Snow ran the point, the 76’ers made it to the 2001 NBA Finals before bowing out to the Lakers in 5. However, Iverson has routinely shunned the idea of playing off the ball, preferring to keep the ball in hand where he has the ability to make a play at will.

This trigger happy mentality shown by A.I. has turned him into a very difficult teammate. The 76’ers have been rebuilt three times since the arrival of A.I. with the same results and the same constant. There was a time when Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse roamed the backcourt together. The potential of a 50 plus pt a game back court yet there were not enough balls to go around and so Stackhouse had to leave town. Then there were the Larry Brown years. Mutombo in the middle, Snow at the point and a plethora of role players working to make Iverson. This group of men made it to the NBA Finals, but it was too much for Brown to keep Iverson in check and they had to part ways and when Brown left so did the supporting cast. Finally we found the current Philadelphia squad under the leadership of Maurice Cheeks. This was Chris Webber resurrecting his career and joining A.I. That duo couldn’t even make the playoffs this past season.

So here we stand now and its time to reconstruct the 76’ers and this time management realizes that The Answer isn’t the right solution to every problem. So dealing a superstar point guard should be easy right? Wrong. Shipping A.I. will prove to be a more difficult task for Philadelphia than holding on to him till his contract is up.

Due to the way A.I. plays the game he becomes a difficult trade. A.I. is not the answer for a team who is just 1 player away from a championship team. A mater of fact any team that has an established based of scoring players or a superstar cannot possibly bring in A.I. he would become an instant cancer on that squad.

Plus there is the price that Iverson garners on a trade market. Any team that wants to take him on has to be willing to ship out there top player. This means we are talking about deals such as Iverson to Minnesota for K.G. A.I. to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal, or something of that nature nonetheless we are talking a massive deal. Plus for a team to take on those trades it means a complete change in their offensive philosophy as they shift from a big man team to small ball.

Any team who is bad enough that they are willing to shift the team philosophy to pick up Iverson, does not have enough in their coffers to offer to Philly to make it a viable deal.

Perhaps the best move for Philly to make if they are so set on shipping Iverson, is call up New York. I am sure Thomas is willing to make a deal to put A.I. Starbury and Franchise in the same court.

Chew on that for a while.

What Mark Cuban Said

According to a Miami Harold columnist Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban not hurled profanity in the direction of NBA officials and Commissioner David Stern. It is also reported that Cuban went on to yell, “Your league is fixed,” in the direction of the commissioner. Cuban has made no comments regarding rather or not the event has happened. As reported on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning it appears the Miami reporter only received news of the tirade via a third party source. All of this puts the validity of the statement into question.

More importantly the comment true or false may be the best ally the Dallas Mavericks have going into tonight’s game six back home in Dallas. What was meant to be a small article in a local paper has exploded onto the national scene, and I’m sure that Dallas fans have gotten word of the article via an ESPN affiliate. This means the Dallas crowd will go into the game with a chip on their shoulder aimed at the refs.

The NBA Finals have become a very physical series, with plenty of questionable calls that could have gone either way. When the series began in Dallas, the calls went in Dallas’s favor. Dirk and company were able to get to the foul line at will. Once the series shifted to Miami so did the foul calls. Miami has taken over 25 more attempts from the line in the last three games than the Mavs. That’s why they call it home cooking.

In tonight’s Game 6 the refs are going to be under fire from the moment they take the court. If the game starts to get out of hand in Miami’s favor and there are any questionable calls, you can bet the Dallas fans will be ready to explode. That influence of a hostile crowd will shift the calls back into the hometown team’s favor.

The conspiracy theories have to be flying. If not I’m willing to start them. The NBA needs Dallas to win tonight in order for the league to save face. The only way it is acceptable for Miami to win is if they flat out, out play the Mavs and win by a large margin. If it’s a close game and there are any close calls that could be disastrous for the NBA.

NBA refs are human and they hear and see what is in the media. I’m whatever crew takes the floor tonight will be aware of the Miami Harold article. There’s a good chance they will call the game closer in Dallas’s favor and never realize it, just to avoid looking Miami bias.

Rather Mark Cuban made the remarks or not, the fact they were picked up by the national media will have enough of an impact on Tuesday’s game. That one article may have more of an impact on the outcome of the game and the series than any coaching adjustment or play called.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Bust

On the biggest stage in American soccer history the United States soccer team laid an egg against the Czech Rep. The U.S. team made their 2006 World Cup appearance in Germany on Monday, and for those of you who took a long break from work to watch the game, I apologize, because what you saw was an absolute disgraceful performance. This was supposed to be the U.S.’s coming out party to the world. The best team the country has put together for international play in history, yet on the field they looked like the same squad that finished dead last in the 1998 World Cup.

Czech Rep. Striker Jan Koller got the ball moving for the Czechs with a goal in the fifth minute of the game off a header. The Czechs never looked back from that point, piling on two more goals in route to a 3-0 victory over the U.S. team. Many of us on this side of the pond in America forgot that the Czechs were ranked second in the world, and the we all got a reminder of that, through their dominate play.

The U.S. is coming off the biggest soccer build up in the country’s history. After the debacle in 1998, everyone was up in arms, and the U.S. changed the way they looked at soccer. Money was being dumped into programs at all levels to help create a program that could hoist the American flag with pride. In the 2002 World Cup, we saw the begging of the fruits from the buildups effort. The Americans stunned Portugal in their opening game and advanced to the Quarter Finals.

2006 was to be the next big for American soccer, and while they still have a chance to make history, the U.S. soccer team dug themselves into a massive hole. Going into the Cup Group E that the U.S. is playing in was labeled “the group of death” with USA Czech Rep, Italy and Ghana playing in it. The top 2 teams advance into the next round. Italy is a squad under a lot of adversity due to scandals in the lower leagues, but they will be a formidable opponent for anyone to face. The U.S. needed to split their games between Czech and Italy and win against Ghana in order to advance. Now they much win out and get a little bit help from some other teams.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was not the fact the U.S. lost, but in the manor they did. Anyone who saw the match saw an U.S. team that was hesitant and lackadaisical on the pitch. There was no sense of urgency from the American players. Once the Czech team jumped out to a 1-0 lead the Americans never got back on track.

The only legitimate attempt at a shot on goal for the U.S. came in the 29th minute courtesy of National team veteran Reyna. Reyna’s shot curved by an outstretched goalie and bounced off the post. That goal would have tied the game at 1-1. A typical occurrence it seems for the American Soccer program. Rather than tieing the game at 1 a piece, the U.S. let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. The result was you could feel the energy escape from the stadium and the U.S. team seemed to give up from that point on never mounting a serious attack from then on.

The lost on Monday will be a tremendous blow to American soccer on the whole. Soccer is a growing sport that has struggled to gain attention on the national level. The World Cup gave American soccer players a chance to showcase themselves for international fans, but more important the common American sports fan the opportunity to watch and follow the sport. Soccer needed the exposure of a successful appearance. Instead the worse circumstance took place.

The U.S. needed a respectable showing. Of course ideally a win would have been great, but a tie, or a close lost would have been fine. The sporting public loves heartbreak stories of near fortune, close games, and bouncing back from adversity. What the typical American fan does not like is a team that lacks heart, or fails to play hard. There is no quicker way to gain the ire of the American fan than to quite while on the playing field. The Americans quite on Monday, there was no effort, and short of a small handful of players it appeared there was a complete lack of caring. Americans love the Rocky story, but Rocky never gave up.

With a sport that already has an image of being soft, and if often considered weak because of the flops and lapse of physical contact, it could not afford the questions of lack of heart. American soccer has dug itself into a deep hole due to the abysmal showing on Monday. Now it reaches a critical point in the sports history. A monumental effort will be needed on Saturday to beat Italy. An early exit from the World Cup could mean an early and permanent record from the American fans consciousness.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Poise Counts

“If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, poise counts…..” Such a true statement in life and it stands true in the realm of sports, especially in regards to the NBA Finals.

The 2006 NBA Finals got started last night, with the Dallas Mavericks coming out strong and defending home court in game 1 to take 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat. On a night where Dirk Nowitzki shot just 4-14 from the field, the Mavs were led to victory by an unusual suspect on Thursday night. Jason Terry stepped up yet again in this years playoffs to provide the boast for the Dallas squad.

We first got a good look at Jason Terry when he exploded onto our television sets during the San Antonio series. He used his speed and athleticism to outplay Tony Parker at his own game. During the Western Conference Finals he was out shined and out dueled by league MVP Steve Nash. Now against sub-par talent at the point guard position Jason Terry is ready to shine against the Miami Heat.

While spending the early part of his career lost in the obscurity of Atlanta Hawks basketball, Jason Terry never made the playoffs or came close for that matter. During those seasons, Terry would buy tickets to sit court side at NBA playoff games and NBA Finals. Not because he wanted to be seen by the television cameras. He wanted to see what the environment was like around a playoff game. Feel the intensity, and the pressure that surrounds the Finals. Well it seems that all those dollars spent have paid off. Terry showed no signs of being scared of the pressure of NBA Finals Basketball.

Terry seemed unstoppable last night on the court. He went 13-18 from the floor shooting 72% racking up 32 points and leading all scorers. 20 of those points came in the first half while Dallas was struggling just to remain in the game. During the third quarter Terry did not take a shot, stating that he wanted to work the ball around and try to get Dirk involved in the game since he was having an off night. Whenever the Mavs needed a lift it was Terry who stepped up to make the big plays, never allowing the magnitude of the moment to fluster him. Poise counts.

Oddly enough one of Terry’s few missed shots came off an open lay up during the fourth quarter of the game. At a time when Dallas was up 10 and had a chance to stretch the lead to 12 with 5 minutes to go in the game, Terry came up short. On an open break he got caught somewhere between a dunk and a lay up and ended up getting neither. Before he realized what happened, Shaq had two dunks and we are in a timeout with the Heat down six and pushing. The crowd at American Airlines Arena was antsy and ready to turn their backs on the home team. That’s when Terry came fourth yet again with a big play. He forced an offense foul on O’Neal, and converting on the ensuing possession. Then he got a steal from Wade, to put the Mavs back up by six allowing them to hold on for the eventual 10 point win. Poise counts.

While the Mavericks were putting on a clinic on what to do on the court, and how to perform in the biggest game of your career, the Miami Heat showed exactly what happens when teams fail to execute at the basic aspects of the game.

The Heat were only able to muster 12 fourth quarter points, in what was a close game that they had several opportunities to take control of and win. What hurt the Heat most was their ability to shoot. Miami was ice cold from the floor during the fourth, with all their points coming from the paint or the line during the fourth quarter. Yes, Shaq can still be a dominate force, but late in a game in the fourth quarter is not Shaq’s time to shine anymore. He needs help from Flash, Walker and the rest of the assembled talent. They have to be able to step up and hit open jump shots. Then O’Neal gets space in the paint to roam. Instead of that, last night we saw Terry sneaking down into the paint to play help side defense on O’Neal and forcing the big man into ticky tack fouls. The role players have to step up and make their shots. Poise Counts.

Foul shots are often times referred to as freebees, and for the Miami Heat on Thursday night they were anything but that. As a team the Heat went 7-19 from the line, good enough for a 36% average. While most of this can be attributed to Shaq who went 1-9 from the line, the rest is Dwayne Wades fault who shot 6-10. If the Heat can get just a little help from the charity stripe, this is a different game. Once again poise counts.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

McNair is Dealt

Finally, the end is near. After months of speculation, and one of the strangest off seasons in recent memory the Tennessee Titians have figured out what to do with franchise QB Steve McNair. On Wednesday the Titians worked out a deal that will ship the face of their team off to Baltimore, for a fourth round draft pick. While a physical is still pending, the deal puts to rest what has undoubtedly been the oddest chain of events in McNair’s playing career.

At the beginning of the off season Steve McNair was banned from entering the Titians practice facilities in fear he may injure himself. McNair was due 23 million dollars that was left on his contract and due to his injury prone history the Titians did not want to risk a mishap during off season workouts that would burden the team with having to pay all his salary without receiving his services.

Back in April during the NFL Draft the Titians gave Steve McNair’s agent Bus Cook permission to pursue a deal for McNair. It is rumored that Cook worked out a deal with the Ravens at that time that would have given the QB 11 million dollars plus a 1 million dollar signing bonus. This deal was worth more than the 9 million dollars McNair was slated to make in 2006 with the Titians.

The impact of this deal will be felt immediately next season. The Titians dealing McNair clears a space for top draft pick Vince Young. However, Young looks to McNair as a mentor and now he will miss out on spending time as an apprentice to his favorite QB. On the upside for Young, he now has the opportunity to compete for a starting job in Tennessee from the start.

For the Baltimore Ravens the deal may be the kick in the pants the franchise has been seeking since their 2001 Super Bowl victory. Current Ravens starting QB Kyle Boller has had an inconsistent career to say the least. He was brought in to be the pet project of Coach Brian Billick. Now he may be the pet that cost Billick to get evicted. Yet, there have been moments including the tail end of last season that Boller seems to grasp the offense and has potential to be a solid starter. The signing of Steve McNair is a double edged sword for Boller. With the arrival of McNair Boller is automatically dropped to a second string position. Yet the arrival of a Pro-Bowl QB could provide the kick in the ass Boller needs to jump start his career and work to achieve the potential Billick saw in him a few years ago.

That being said, Steve McNair is a Pro-Bowl caliber QB. Even when injured he has the talent and the heart to lift a team onto his shoulders. His ability to understand offenses will allow him to quickly adapt to the complex schemes Coach Billick prefers to run. Also with the guidance of Jim Fossil as his offensive coordinator McNair inherits a brain trust of coaching talent around him. McNair’s ability to stretch the field with his arm will open up space downfield for receivers like Derrick Mason. Also in doing that he will create holes over the middle and in the flats for Pro-Bowl TE Todd Heap to roam, and make big plays. Finally with a QB who is able to pass for over 100 yrds a game the Ravens will not have to rely on RB Jamal Lewis. This means teams will not be able to stack 8 men in the box to stop the run. This should allow Lewis the opportunity to find more holes to attack from the line of scrimmage. Despite being slowed by injury McNair still has a powerful arm that is very accurate. While he may not return to his MVP form of a few seasons ago, he has the potential to return Pro-Bowl talent and be an upgrade for a stagnant offense.

For the Baltimore Ravens signing Steve McNair is an instant upgrade in what is becoming one of the most competitive divisions in football. Currently the AFC North is home to the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals are widely considered one of the best teams in the league (if Palmer is healthy), and the Browns are improving each day under Coach Cornnel. The Ravens needed an upgrade just to keep pace with their division rivals. Not to mention signing McNair may be enough of a bold move to help keep outspoken and insanely talented linebacker Ray Lewis quiet going into camp. At least now the Ravens have a fighting chance.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Driving a Story into the Ground

On Tuesday June 6, Roger Clemens made his return to Single A baseball. Yeah that’s right the future first ballot Hall of Famer was playing Single A ball down in Lexington Kentucky with the Lexington Legends. The starting assignment would be the first of what should be three warm ups Clemens will go through before making his return to the big leagues at the end of June.

Now baseball players going down to play minor league ball while working on rehab assignments, or in Clemens case getting in their spring pitching is completely normal. What is not normal is LIVE coverage of the game courtesy of ESPN. This is slightly excessive coverage to put it mildly.

From about 7 pm to 8 pm ESPN stopped all other sports coverage and placed four members of their Baseball Tonight Crew. Granted the programming scheduled for that time slot was Poker, so we did not miss out on too much, but there are still more important stories than a typical pitching appearance by Roger Clemens that needs to be discussed. More often than not, it is becoming evident that ESPN is wielding their power as the World Wide Leader of Sports to dictate to the viewer and the rest of the media what are the important stories that need to be covered.

The Lexington Legends are a Single A team that probably averages between 5-7,000 fans a night. I’d venture out and guess there may be one video camera there from the local news station to get a few shots for the evening news. Last night ESPN brought in their crew to bring live coverage to the rest of the known world. I am pretty sure that was the first time in Legends team history that a production truck was sitting out in the parking lot.

Perhaps the worse part of the live coverage was the quality of it. I know that the Lexington park is not equipped for live coverage, but watching the video coverage of Tuesday night’s game was enough to make me motion sick. The video looked like someone was filming it with a hand held camera while they were kneeling on the third baseline. The poor quality of the production alone was yet another sign that the game should not have been covered.

Yes we are talking about Roger Clemens, and he will be a Hall of Famer, but what did he really do yesterday? Has he been out of baseball for an extremely long time? No. He missed the first two months of the season. Remember he did pitch 2 games in the World Baseball Championships. So, it’s not like he has been gone from the sport that long. Clemens is not returning from an injury. His legs wore out on him last year in the World Series, but that was a fatigue factor, it is not as though he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. So why all the focus on his first game back?

Granted, the Baseball Tonight crew brought their expertise opinion in analyzing Clemens pitching performance. Yet, we have to remember a Big Leaguer who goes down to pitch a minor league game is almost always a lose-lose for the Big Leaguer. Yesterday for Clemens he was working on his location and his control. The guys he was facing were working on getting a hit off Clemens. Meaning, these kids don’t have the discipline of the average big leaguer. They are willing to chase, and hack away at pitches even if it is not a good one. This means they will strike out more often, but on the converse side it means there is a good chance they can get lucky and slap a shot into the outfield.

So Roger Clemens survived his stint in Single A and only gave up 1 homer. Now it’s on to Double A. My only hope is that the World Wide Leader keeps his second appearance in the realm of reality. Meaning, talk about it for a segment or two on SportsCenter but not for the full show.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Michelle Falls Short Again

Monday Michelle Wie was within one stroke of qualifying for the PGA U.S. Open. It was an incredible feat, and refreshing to see Wie go about perusing her goals in the proper manor. A few months back I wrote an article where I complained about Michelle Wie playing on the PGA Tour via sponsor’s exemptions. I caught a lot of flack for that article (but I still stand by my assertion). That being said, I am appreciative and proud for what Michelle Wie accomplished on Monday.

The difference between what happened Monday, and what happened in January is the way that Wie went about entering the PGA. In her previous attempts Michelle Wie has entered PGA events based on a sponsor’s exemption. Now, I never had a problem with her being there because she was female. I am not one of those Stone Age old school golf enthusiasts. The problem I had was making a minor into a side show on the tour. (In some ways that happened at qualifying on Monday)

Wie just turned 16 years old, and she has been in the public’s eye since she was 13. She is a very talented prospect. Probably the most talented young star we have seen since Tiger was in the amateur ranks. After watching her on Monday I have no doubt in my mind that once allowed to play full time on the LPGA she will take it by storm, and maybe have a chance to be a contender in some of the smaller PGA tour events some day.

That being said, when she entered PGA events in the past she was severely overmatched. The pressure was on her from every angle. Any event she entered was guaranteed headline coverage on ESPN. Even on Monday the AP covered and told us when she took off her sweater, opting for a short sleeved look. Wie’s presence created a circus of attention that was not positive for her or the sport of golf as a whole, men’s or women’s.

On Monday Michelle Wie went about it the right way. She wanted to play in the U.S. Open so she went to qualifying, and made it to the semifinals. I do not care who you are male or female, I am more than okay with that. She played hard and put herself into a position to make the cut. She showed she has the potential to make the PGA. I am glad to see her going through the steps, and doing it the right way, earning her keep based on her merit, and not her money earning ability as a novelty act.

After Wie’s performance on Monday one major factor about it became apparent, she has a terrible problem closing out. Wie was within one stroke of making the cut going into her final 9 on Monday before collapsing coming down the stretch. This is becoming a trend in her young career. Despite her age, and all the popularity she has, Wie has not won an event since the amateur open in 2003. Since then she has collapsed three times on the final day of that tournament including an 82 on the final day in 2004 when going into the day with the lead.

Michelle Wie is a proven competitor, but the question to be asked is, Is Michelle Wie a winner?

At this point of her career Wie has not proven to have the eye of the tiger (pardon the pun). Michelle Wie had plenty of opportunities to make the cut on Monday. What killed her was her putting. Wie was incapable of converting her Birdie putts when they mattered. Eventually she gave in to fatigue as her long and mid range game left her coming down the stretch.

This is the problem with Michelle Wie continually entering or attempting to enter PGA events. It is not that she does not belong, or that she is incapable of performing at that level. She has the talent, potential, and physical attributes to make it. What she lacks is the mental fortitude to perform at that level. She is able to come out of the gates smoking and play well, but as the tournaments wear on she cannot hold up under the spotlight.

This is where playing with players on your level, and age group becomes important. Much like the basketball players who dominated high school then made the jump to the NBA and failed, because they were not mentally ready for the wear and tear. They needed to be in college experience that lifestyle on and off the court before moving to the next level. Just because a person is physically ready to play at the next level does not mean the complete package their.

Michelle Wie needs to gain that winners edge. Playing in more amateur tournaments would give Wie the chance to play against competition that she is more talented than, but she would need to strengthen her mental toughness to be successful at that level.

However right now it seems that Wie is more interested in making a name being the first, than she is making a name for herself being a winner. That being said, at what point do we get tired of seeing her fall just short time and time again, when she could easily fix the problem by practicing her mental toughness.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Storylines for the NBA Finals

The 2006 NBA Finals are set, with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks squaring off in a seven game series for the NBA Championship. There is plenty to talk about in regards to the on the court activities. The match ups, game planning and the X’s and O’s are all important, and we’ll get to that in another article. Right now though we are going to focus on the off the court happenings, the storylines that are formulating going into this series.

The most obvious and the biggest of these storylines in every sense is Shaquille O’Neal making his return to the NBA Finals in the post Kobe Bryant era. Since his exodus from L.A. a season ago Shaq has made no excuses about his goals of reaching the NBA Finals and winning a championship without Kobe. As he put it in an interview a earlier in the season, he is ready to make the book of his career a great book, and winning a fourth NBA Title would do exactly that.

There have been criticisms surrounding Shaq since he and the rest of the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. We have all heard the stories about how he is too fat, and too old. When he first arrived in South Beach for the press conference to announce his signing, Shaq looked lean and ready, then the season came, and we soon saw the same old Shaq. His performance was slowed by injuries and old age.

This season has been an up and down story for the Diesel. A coaching change and Shaq got the coach he wanted in Pat Riley. As the regular season toiled on, Shaq was up and down, and then came the spring. The last month of the regular season and into the playoffs, and we all saw a new Shaquille O’Neal. He seemed to have dropped weight almost magically. Once the playoffs started we saw a Shaq that we have not seen in years. He seems to be down to a trim 325 pnds, and he has found quick feet. In each of the closeout games the Heat have faced Shaq has stepped up with big performances.

Now the Diesel is back in the NBA Finals. He is a bit older, and wiser than the last time we saw him there wearing Laker yellow and purple. Shaq wants this ring, and in many ways a championship this season in needed to vindicate Shaq’s career. No one questions that he was and is the most dominate player in the game. However, he needs a ring to put that final bit of distance between himself and Kobe. He needs a ring to vindicate the hijacking of Stan Van Gundy. If he falls short of winning a ring, Shaq will have lost his last two trips to the finals. That narrow window that is the end of Shaq’s career closes just a little bit more.

Another storyline emerging from these finals as mentioned above is the Pat Riley factor. Pat Riley took the Heat to an Eastern Conference game 7 lost to a dominate Chicago Bulls squad, but that was the 90’s. The Heat made the transition and became Stan Van Gundy’s team. All Stan did was take the Heat to the second round before the arrival of Shaq, and a game 7 lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals with an injured Dwayne Wade.

He was promptly thanked for his success by being booted by his boss, Pat Riley. Pat Riley’s ego could not be kept in check. After watching his team come so close to making the finals last season, Riley blew up the squad shipping out the role players to bring in vets Gary Peyton, Jason Williams, and Antoine Walker. Riley created his own super team, and before Van Gundy had a chance to succeed or fail with the squad Riley took it over.

Now Riley’s reputation is on the line. If he wins a title with the Heat, he stakes his claim as one of the all time greats. Leading teams to the NBA Finals in three different eras of basketball and winning in two of them. If Riley loses, then he looks like an ego maniac. We would be forced to really examine his legacy and what he has really accomplished. A lost in this years finals would mean Riley is 20 years removed from his last NBA title. Ten years removed from his last trip to the finals, where his Kicks went down in seven to the Rockets. Now looking at that, how many second chances do we give a coach? Or do we continue to let this particular coach slide because of his reputation of running the Showtime Lakers of the 80’s.

This years Miami Heat team was custom designed by Riley and in the image that he desired. He must come through with a championship, or he will look like the fool of the NBA.

Yet another factor for the 2006 NBA Finals is Mark Cuban…. But we will get into him at a later time…