The NBA. Where amazing happens, huh? David Stern has globalized the game of basketball to a level no one ever thought possible.  I mean look back at last season.  Houston Rockets Center Yao Ming and New Jersey Nets Power Forward Yi Jianlian provided the world with the most televised regular season game of all-time! I mean…the channel CCTV-5 in China is available in 210 million households!

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One of the biggest names in the NBA Draft came from a country where people run away from bulls for fun, and that’s Ricky Rubio. Dirk Nowitzki, all the way from Germany, is one of the biggest household names in the NBA. Tony Parker, one of the best point guards in the league, comes from France. Not many people know this, but 4 time NBA Champion and arguably the greatest basketball player in the world today, KB24 Kobe Bryant, spent most of his life growing up in Italy.

Now, this season it looks very likely that the NBA will have its first ever non-North American owner in Mikhail Prokhorov.  Provhorov is a 44 year old Russian billionaire who is a former amateur basketball player. Provhorov was ruled as the richest man in Russia by Forbes and has an estimated net worth of $9.5 billion.  With Provhorov’s ‘dough’, the New Jersey Nets will be able to move forward with their plans to move the team to Brooklyn. 

Prokhorov

The franchise started in the ABA in 1967 as the Americans.  They later became what we know them today as the Nets, where they bounced around to different arenas in New Jersey and New York before settling in the swamps of East Rutherford in 1981-82.

So a team that was once called the Americans may have a Russian man hangin out courtside with Jay-Z and Beyonce calling the shots and watching Yi Jianlian and the Nets. There is only one Russian player in the NBA, Andrei Kirilenko and David Stern is thrilled to possibly have another Russian presence in the league. “Interest in basketball and the NBA is growing rapidly on a global basis, and we are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov’s commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of basketball in Russia,” Stern said in a statement.

Oh yeah, then there’s 2010. There’s that guy Lebron James who will become a free agent. The Nets have spent the last three seasons dumping cap space in order to sign Mr. James.  Bron Bron said in an interview in New York City last summer that Brooklyn was his favorite borough. Ok…. Oh yeah, and Jay-Z’s got his new album out, “The Blueprint 3” and in his latest video, Lebron James can be found shooting around with HOV rapping.

Reporters have asked LBJ basically every question there is regarding his decision coming up in one season, but they haven’t asked one and if you see him, make sure to ask: ‘Lebron, how do you feel about caviar?’

-Tommy T

  Now that the season is over and free agency has begun, it seems that the biggest story of the NBA off-season so far is Elton Brand and his betrayal.  I know you are all waiting for my opinion on the NBA draft and free-agency so far, but I’m going to wait to discuss that.  However, a story, that in my opinion that has not gotten enough coverage is not just a sports story, but the story of how a city, an ownership group, and the NBA has ripped off the fans of Seattle.  To better tell this story, I asked a friend of mine from Seattle to write down some feelings:

“July 2, 2008 brought closure and heartbreak. The NBA franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics and the City of Seattle reached a buyout settlement of $45 million on the final two years of the team’s lease contract at Key Arena. This stunning move ended a two year long saga and struggle between the two parties. This period of uncertainty, initiated by the sale of the team by Starbucks owner Howard Schultz to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006, finally ended with the Sonics seeing a sad end to their professional basketball history as the team officially completed its relocation to Oklahoma City.

Bennett’s intentions were clear when he purchased the team just two short years ago, and the way the situation was handled leaves a Seattle sports enthusiast like myself genuinely sickened. Now I have a been a hard-core Sonics fan ever since I moved to Seattle in 1994 and I’ve never had any other professional basketball team to cheer for.  To me, the Sonics were the one. It pains me to read articles about the move and all the good that has come from it. How can anyone in the city of Seattle, outside of those in the politics, who are in it for the money and seemed to have devalued loyalty, benefit from such a move? The team that I have dedicated so much of my time going to games and cheering loudly for was swept away by a big shot owner whose blatant apathy towards the fans and established basketball tradition of Seattle represents the sad reality of the business end of pro sports: People are in it for the money. Bennett felt that the Sonics would lose an estimated 60 million over the next 2 seasons if they stayed in Key Arena, and tried to convince the public that this was an absolute last resort move. A man from Oklahoma City buys the team and says he will keep it in Seattle, only if he can net large sums of money. Anyone who buys that has lost the ability to process information logically.  It was a win-win situation for the apparently shrewd businessman Clay Bennett, and it looks as though he has certainly won.

The promise of a new team and subsequent financial penalty to Bennett if a team, either from expansion or relocation, is not brought to Seattle by 2013 does little to suppress the pain from a loss like this. The city may take some of the money back, but Bennett has already stripped the city and loyal sports fans of, among other things, its basketball pride and its lone men’s sports world championship. (Yes, the Supes won the NBA Finals in 1979 and no; the Seahawks and Mariners have never won a championship in their respective sports). I may not have been there to watch you capture this title, but I was intently watching in 1996, at the tender age of 7, when the Sonics almost blew a 3-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz in the conference finals, then squeezed out a four point win in game 7 to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1979. I loved that group of players; they were my heroes. “The Glove” Gary Payton, “The Reign Man” Shawn Kemp and “Mr. Sonic” Nate McMillan. To me and all other Sonics fans, that magical ride to the Finals showed just how much the Sonics meant to us. Unfortunately, the Sonics were simply outmatched that year by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, who were working on their fourth championship in six years, finishing off a season where they set the NBA wins record and had the best player of his era and perhaps of all time, Michael Jordan. I cried when I saw the final seconds tick away of your magical march to the top.

 Bennett’s futile “attempt” (if we can even call it that) to keep the team was unrealistic and destined to fail from the start. Several requests by Bennett and co-owner Aubrey McClendon for local and state governments to fund a $500 million arena complex in Renton, Washington, a city hardly capable of housing such a metropolitan and people-attracting establishment. After their requests expectedly failed, Bennett began his determined mission to relocate to Oklahoma City. Approval from the NBA and its owners was needed, and David Stern and the rest of the NBA owners, minus Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who voted against it, agreed that this was the right move for the NBA. The final move necessary to move the team came on July 2, 2008, and Bennett’s famous quote “We made it” angers me the more I hear it.

This series of negative events leading up to the relocation leaves a black mark on all of the memories of the Sonics that I have. Clay Bennett should hold all the guilt in the world to the sports fans of Seattle, like he owes us all something in return. The NBA team of Oklahoma City does not yet have a name, but if you were to ask me, I would suggest the Oklahoma City Criminals.”

 

…It truly is pathetic.

 

BEARD

With Summer upon us and the never ending Basketball Playoffs almost over (what…you thought this would be a basketball column after last nights amazing comeback by the Celtics?  Don’t waste your time here and read a much funnier account of anything that I could do), America’s Pastime takes front and center in the sports world. Just recently, I have started watching a couple of games a week, mainly New York Mets games unfortunately. And I must say, this season just seems weird. Everything seems upside down. The Florida teams are over five-hundred and contending for division leads and the two Chicago teams are now at the center of the baseball universe by having the two best teams in baseball. Big name stars such as David Ortiz, Jake Peavy, Travis Hafner, Rafael Furcal, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, and Albert Puljos have or are currently on the disabled list. Big market teams like the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the Dodgers are all struggling and underwhelming fans.

But disappointment should be expected, because if everything played out the way it was expected, why would people watch?

But I have been struggling more and more to find a reason to watch baseball this season. The game just seems slow and boring. Now that the Yankees are finally playing down to their pitching, there is nobody to hate anymore (even though Hank is doing his best George Steinbrenner impersonation).  The injuries are piling up and every pitcher seems to be unable to grasp the concept of holding a lead (or at least every Mets reliever…all three of them who came in after Johan Santana pitched seven shutout innings yesterday afternoon, let in a run, with Billy Wagner blowing his third straight save by giving up two runs in the ninth.  I thought he was supposed to be good.  What gives?)

And yet it goes deeper than that…

I know this article is probably 3-6 months too late (I don’t even remember when the Mitchell Report came out, it just seems so long ago, but still so present), but after the steroid scandal rocked the baseball world, the sport just hasn’t been the same for me.  Baseball lost so much credibility after the steroids scandal, I just don’t know anymore if my boyhood heroes were clean, and that bothers me. 

I remember watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battle it out for the home run record in the summer of 1998 and believing that these two players were not just ordinary human beings but super-humans capable of extradorinary feats of stregnth (sort of like Frank Costanza’s perfect world model for the Festivus celebration). 

This story always stuck in my mind.  My parents went away on a vacation when I was in Middle School to Paris and when he came back, the first thing he told me was that when he was in the airport, multiple people came up to him and asked him for his autograph thinking he was Mark McGwire.  Now, my father is not nearly as big as McGwire but his face looks similar and he was wearing a Cooperstown shirt (for all those who don’t know what Cooperstown is, its the Baseball Hall of Fame).  I always thought that was so cool and my father and I joked about it constantly. 

Now though, after it was revealed that McGwire possibly used steroids (and its not like his testimony in Congress was reassuring), that story embarrasses me because it connects my father to a disgraced baseball player and a dark time in the sport. 

The titans of baseball just don’t seem legitimate.  I mean, look at these guys.  They’re almost as big as football players, and in some cases, much bigger (I’m talking to you C.C. Sabbathia).  Maybe its the evolution of the athlete, but I don’t buy it.  Thats the thing I used to like about Baseball, these average looking guys would go out and destroy people with their intensity and sheer talent.  Now, the talent level is down, the testerone level is up, and the average fan can no longer connect to the star player on their team.  These guys are no longer average joe’s just playing some ball but highly pampered athletes with designer drugs. 

Mr. Selig, please do something!

But I guess baseball will come back strong.  There have always been scandals.  Pete Rose gambling on games, the White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, and the Cocaine scandal of the 1980’s are just a few. 

Still I don’t know if baseball can recover from this and remain credible. 

BEARD

PS- And in a theater near you this summer: the NBA where “Scumbag ex-refs have more credibility than the Commish Happens”… I mean WOW, who would’ve thought that David Stern would’ve screwed this up?  Really?  You can’t do better than this?  Scumbag ex-ref is embarrasing you!  You gotta focus and keep your eyes on the prize!