Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Questions on this month in sports: NBA, horse racing, UCONN, tennis and the Mets

Most days when I write I present answers—which readers are free to agree or disagree with. Today, I present questions, which readers are free to answer or not answer.

Question 1: Do you care about The NBA playoffs? The ratings would seem to indicate that a lot of you do. Certainly having The Miami Heat playing the role of villains is helping a good deal along with the emergence of genuine young superstars like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. The saga of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and The Mavericks is also worthy of attention. And, when I have watched on occasion, the quality of the games has been better than in recent memory.

That said, I still have trouble really caring. I certainly don’t care about The Heat—although like a lot of people LeBron James can’t lose enough to make me happy. I recognize his brilliance, he’s an absolute physical freak, but I simply can’t put The Decision behind me even though I don’t live in Cleveland. I think he took the easy way out and I have trouble respecting that.

There’s also the issue of when the games are played. Afternoon games have basically ceased to exist and the way these series are being dragged out makes me crazy. The way the first three games of Bulls-Heat was scheduled I was beginning to wonder if David Stern had a secret plan to replace the NFL by playing once a week. Three games in eight days? Someone said that James might be a free agent again before this spring’s playoffs are over.

The late night thing, I realize, is just my problem. On school mornings I have to be up at 6 to get my son out of bed and on the road. There’s just no way I can stay up until the end of a 9 o’clock game. Plus, they’re often not 9 o’clock games. The other night I checked in on Bulls-Heat before I went to bed and the first QUARTER was just ending at 10 o’clock. Who is in charge here, Bud Selig?

Question 2: Are you like me in that you don’t care that much about horse racing but you’d love to see a Triple Crown winner?

My knowledge of horse-racing is slightly better than my knowledge of fashion. I can name most Kentucky Derby winners of the last 40 years and a lot of Preakness and Belmont winners too. I almost always watch The Triple Crown races although I skip the two hours of pre-race features. Put ‘em in the gate and run.

I know there have been star horses in recent years and that a lot of people take The Breeders Stakes very seriously. But like the golf fan who only watches Tiger Woods—and thus isn’t really a golf fan—I am more a Triple Crown fan and I’d like to see a horse accomplish it again sometime soon. I DO remember The Affirmed-Alydar classics of 33 years ago. Who thought then that no one would win another Triple Crown for 33 years? Heck, weren’t there three in six years (Secretariat ’73; Seattle Slew ’77) at that point? Yes. But if you go back and check—which I did—it had been 25 years since Citation accomplished the feat when Secretariat did it in 1973.

Think how iconic those horses all became. Horse-racing needs an icon.

Question 3: Did anyone notice that Connecticut was just stripped of two basketball scholarships for failing to meet NCAA minimum academic standards?

Who would have thought that U-Conn would end up as the symbol of all that is wrong with the NCAA? As I’ve said before I like Jim Calhoun a lot personally. I think he’s a great coach and the rebuilding job he did when he took over U-Conn in the 1980s is one of the greatest of all time. But where is the line drawn? U-Conn admitted to major recruiting violations and the NCAA slapped their wrist so damn hard that they were still wincing collectively while collecting the national championship trophy. Now the school has failed to meet academic minimums set so low by the NCAA it is almost impossible not to meet them. Any Connecticut fans out there wondering what is going on? Of course not—they just had a parade.

That’s the rule in college athletics: win a national title and you can do anything you want to. Go 5-22 the way Brad Greenberg did at Radford this past season and get nailed by the NCAA for about as minor a violation as you can imagine (taking an ineligible player on the road to WATCH games during Thanksgiving and Christmas rather than leave him home alone on campus) and you get fired.

Question 4: If The French Open is being played in Paris and no one outside the Bois de Bologne really cares, is it really being played?

Seriously folks, I know tennis junkies are agog about Novak Djokovic’s winning streak and certainly if he ends up playing Rafael Nadal there will be interest but beyond that does anyone care? There’s not a single woman in the draw anyone outside of family, agent and friends really wants to watch play and no American man has been a contender in Paris since Andre Agassi and Jim Courier moved on to the hit-and-giggle world. Does anyone remember the days of Evert-Navratilova; Graf-Seles; McEnroe-Lendl or Agassi-Courier? For that matter where have you gone Michael Chang, our nation turns its lonely clay-filled eyes to you.

The only reason to watch The French Open this week and next is if you have Tennis Channel and you can watch Mary Carillo—who told ESPN to take a hike last fall—explain the game as only she can.

Question 5: Why oh why do I torture myself, even for 10 minutes, listening to the morning pitchmen? One reason is that The Sports Junkies seem to always be in commercial when I’m in the car, and I mean for the entire 10 minutes.

This morning my friend Jayson Stark was on. His is usually one of the few listenable bits on the show if the two pitchmen will SHUT UP with their fake bickering long enough to let him talk. This morning though, Jayson was talking about Mets owner Fred Wilpon’s comments about some of his players in this week’s New Yorker.

Wilpon was—at most—mildly critical of some of his stars. He said he made a mistake signing Carlos Beltran (for the record, Beltran, when healthy has been one of the Mets BETTER signings: Can you say Oliver Perez? Jason Bay? Pedro—one good year on a five-year deal—Martinez?) and that he wasn’t going to give Jose Reyes a “Carl Crawford contract.” David Wright—according to WIlpon—is a very good player but not a franchise player.

First of all, everything Wilpon said is true. The mistakes he’s made go well beyond those three players and are too numerous to list here. (Yes, I’m a frustrated Mets fan). But Jayson, who is one of the few real reporters ESPN has, felt the need to imply that Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote The New Yorker piece, got these comments from Wilpon because WIlpon didn’t realize he was being quoted when he said what he said. One of the pitchmen chimed in to say Wilpon just thought he was, ‘schmoozing,’ when he made the comments.

Oh come on fellas. This reminds me of the time when I was sent to John Riggins’ house in Lawrence, Kansas in 1980 to ask him why he wasn’t at Redskins training camp. He had refused to talk to anyone so my boss sent me out there to try to talk to him. After saying repeatedly he had nothing to say, Riggins finally started talking and answered several questions. Later, when several regular Redskins reporters asked him why he had talked to me—a complete stranger—he said he thought we were talking off the record.

Really? Did he think I flew to Lawrence, Kansas because I was personally curious about his holdout? Did Wilpon think that Toobin came out and spent hours and hours with him because he really wanted to know what he thought about Carlos Beltran. It is worth noting that WILPON has not used this excuse.

So, I ask one more time: Why or why do I do this to myself?


PeteWill said...

Not in the least. I can watch the last 5 minutes of a close game. The rest is insufferable with almost everything dictated by the ways the refs call the game. The time-outs and changes in court position after time-outs are also ridiculous.

John from Indiana said...

With you on the NBA "Play-ons".... and on..... and on..... and on.... How terrible is it that nobody cares who wins, as long as Lebron loses, and we get them over before football starts

How strange that two of the best sports movies (and book) of the past few years (Seabiscuit and Secretariat) were absolutely spellbinding, yet nobody that is not a member of Gamblers Anonymous cares one iota about horse racing.

Back to the old rag about the NCAA.... they were so pissed at UConn that hammered Radford. How do you lose two scholarships and not get bounced from the tourney for at least a year?

Lastly, JF you have been at this too long. In the mornings in my car, I bounce back and forth between the Shameless Shillers and NPR. Strange that you have managed to piss both of them off. Maybe that is why I check your site each morning!

Lastly, WHEN DOES THE NEW BOOK COME OUT?? Inquiring minds and mindless inqirers are dying to know.

WB said...


Could not agree more about the NBA, why is it I loved it back in the Bird Majic days and have zero interest now.

Interesting bit on CH 7 Sat about the friendship between Evert/Martina, 18 slams each, killed me to see Evert loose when they played.

Also, at the end of Tony's show he ran the bit where you burp in mid sentence, what's with that, thought they fired you (How can Tony keep Bob Ryan and dump you)

Also, Czab is on 570 in the morning.

PeteWill said...

The worst morning pitchmen are on ESPN, starting with Mike and Mike. Green loves to hear himself talk and finds him self very amusing. His teases at commercial break are criminal in that they are rarely worthy of staying tuned for. Golic is mostly a macho goof with little/no credible knowledge of sports other than football. Equally bad, so they actually are tied for worst is Colin Cowheard. Jerk might be a good word for him. Unlistenable. By contrast, Dan Patrick and his "Danettes" are the best. Funny, witty show that gets great guests.

bevo said...

I hope you have a column about Navy's new men's basketball coach. It must have been one hell of a interview.

Except for tennis, I do not care. Tennis needs to do better than be on the Tennis Channel, or the Tennis Channel needs to find a slot on the 300s or 400s. I would rather watch two unseeded players in the French Open than the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, horse racing, and whatever else the networks through up on the schedule.

Daniel said...


1) I have really enjoyed the Western finals, although I fear that the series will end tomorrow. Nice to see teams scoring around 100 points. The Eastern finals has been a yawner. I like defense as much as the next guy, but even the offense seems to be throwing your body into the key and drawing a foul. And the gaps between games (and start times) have been a joke. We should be at game 5 of the finals right now.

2) I can't get into horse racing at all. I don't even think a Triple Crown winner will move the needle enough. Unless it has a VERY compelling back story.

3) Re: UConn, what was the line Tark said about the NCAA being so angry about Kentucky that it punished Cleveland State?

4) My biggest problem with tennis right now is that the men's draw is so top heavy. Very little will happen in the first 3-4 rounds, unless Federer trips up. If Sharapova makes a run on the women's side, that could drive ratings in the US. But for me, I'm just waiting for Flushing Meadows in August.

5) You need to start downloading podcasts, and listening to those in the morning. How you can listen to the jabbering Mike's and Cowherd (among others) confuses the heck out of me. Or suck it up and get satellite radio.

Overtime) No love for hockey? I think it would be great for the sport if Vancouver can win the cup. And very bad if Tampa wins. The balance of power needs to be in the North, not southern teams with fairweather fans.

Gunnar said...

1. The NBA play has been good in the playoffs, lots of good games, young stars, etc. That being said, the remaining teams are not easy to root for. Miami, the decision, enough said. Former Sonics, impossible to like a franchise that moved from a great 41 year NBA city (13th media market to 47th media market?). The Bulls and Noah's comment, unfortunate. It has to be Dallas as the fan favorite.

2. Horse racing needs a triple-crown star, but this was not a good group of 3 year olds. There have been some good horses over the past 10 years, Curlin, Smarty Jones, Barbaro and Big Brown. Some near misses with them, but the crop this year was weak.

I agree, the Dan Patrick show is excellent in the morning.

case said...

1-the nba is now watchable
2-same kind of fan as you
3-calhoun, calipari and their ilk are disgraces
4-i'm a big tennis fan , so i care
why be so provincial that there are currently no great americans ?
djokovic-nadal could turn out as good or better than the old rivalries you mention--and they're far more likeable than lendl, mcenroe , the early agassi or connors
and people like me still cheer for fed to break sampras' record
5-as a fellow met fan, i try only to follow the players on the field--
any topic starting with wilpon or madoff--just turn to good music or npr

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched the NBA since the 80s (Jordan ruined basketball!). I will watch a Nadal - Djokovic final. I would never watch a horse race. Go Cardinals!

Anonymous said...

Care about the NBA playoffs? Not at all for me. Wilbon has said that if you like the NCAA tourney you should love the NBA playoffs because it is a step above in the quality of play. That may be true, but I love the NCAA's but just can't get interested in the NBA. I don't even care if Miami wins - that's how much I don't care.

Horse Racing - I live in Virginia, work in Maryland, grew up near Unionville, PA (location of New Bolton Center where Barbaro died) and often travel to Louisville. I knew a lot of horse people growing up, both the racing and fox hunting kind, and I'm sorry to see what has happened to it. It's becoming less of a day to day betting sport and more of a Triple Crown/Breeders Cup spectacle. But what a great spectacle it still is. I was in Louisville last fall on business on the days leading up to the Breeders Cup. The private jets were parked wingtip to wingtip on the taxiways. There is still LOTS of money supporting that sport.

UCONN stripped: When I first went to Villanova in the mid-70's I had lots of classmates from Connecticut and they talked about their friends that had gone to UConn. I thought it was Yukon in northwest Canada. I was a fan of the Big Five, and I knew about LaSalle and St. Joe, but I had never heard of UConn. They have certainly made a name for themselves, but have also paid a price.

French Open - I care perhaps less about this than the NBA. The women's grunting has become insufferable and the men's draw is boring as hell. When I land on the Tennis channel, I can't hit the up or down button fast enough.

The Morning Pitchmen - I used to listen live, but I can't stand the commercials. Then I started downloading the podcasts - M&M, SVP, Cowherd, etc. Now I download TKorn and listen to it the next day. Not as good without JFein, but lots better than all those clowns.

pulmcrit1 said...

I haven't really cared about the NBA playoffs since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired. The only way there will be a Triple Crown winner again is if the Preakness and Belmont are spread out. Tthe Preakness should be in early June and the Belmont in early July. Re: UConn, the NCAA is the most hypocritical institution known to man. As for tennis, I have a hard time being interested when the Williams sisters aren't playing.

Anonymous said...

Anyone but Lebron, Kobe or Noah.

Reed said...

If you live in the Eastern time zone, watching the NBA playoffs is work. I really don't understand how Stern doesn't see that his product is RUINED by these late starting times. Those of us who actually have to get up for work in the morning simply cannot watch these games. I realize that the West Coast is only just getting home from work around 9 EST, but doesn't it make more sense to allow the East to see a whole game and the West to see the end, rather than let the West see the whole and the East just the first quarter? Add to that the insufferable muzak they play during the games, the insistence on stretching series out for 2+ weeks, and the inevitability of the Heat winning it all and I just have no interest whatsoever. They should only have 8 teams make the playoffs, seed it without regard for conferences, start the day after the Masters and keep it under a month. That might get me interested again.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the column and agree with most of it. The NBA playoffs are too long, but the games for some reason have been very watchable. That is from a very casual NBA fan. (I bleed Blue and Gold and miss David Robinson.) Horse racing actually has some compelling stories, but markets itself terribly. I live in Kentucky and last year people would be surprised on Monday to learn Zenyatta had run the day before. How can that happen? Finally I really want to hear your take on the Navy basketball hiring and the firing of Lax coach Richie Meade.

Anonymous said...

No one really cares about the NBA anymore unless it is your home team of course. LaQueen will no longer be the lady in waiting now that she found a man in Wade, to escort her down the aisle. I only wonder if ESPENIS will have an exclusive on the honeymoon pics in another prime time event.

Im not a horse racing fan but like with any athlete if you get a good one, fans will come out to watch.

No, I didnt notice, I think the NCAA (hoops) is the most over rated event of all time. If the NBA isnt good then the NCAA is worse so why would I want to watch something worse? Oh yeah.. cuz these players "care"... A lot of people "care" but that doesnt mean its worth wasting 2.5 hours on.

2 very nice players, do I care? yes actually and hope to catch it but if I dont I still care more about that then the NCAA.

I agree Jason Stark is listenable but why you are listening at all? Hmmm, could be early warning signs of Alzheimers or perhaps dimentia? I would get that checked out or perhaps with the Unabomber safely tucked away you are gethering notes for your own manifesto against these psuedo-sport shills. In that case, let me know if you need help.

As far as Wilpon. Told the Truth = Good for people. Told the Truth = Bad for business. Don Draper would have fired him for that!

Tim said...

Horse racing, tennis and the Mets are niche sports. That said, I see nothing wrong with it...I watch horse races 3 times a year and enjoy it, I'm an avid watcher of tennis, and the Mets are in my newspaper box score every day (John, as a newspaper columnist you must be thrilled this mid-30s guy still buys the paper!).

When talking tennis, horse racing or any other sport considered 'niche', I truly don't understand one thing -- why people who both enjoy the sport those that don't care what the sport is labeled as? I am highly aware that I'm one of about 10 people that watch the Tennis Channel regularly, but that knowledge makes me enjoy the sports exactly ZERO percentage points less. Why people are exacerbated (my friends, for example) that I follow tennis always astounds me. And while other people probably do this, I don't call my friends idiots for watching it. I'm not in the business of making money off of tennis, so in the end I could care less if I'm the ONLY person who watches it. I'm just glad its on tv.

I could do an entire rant on how the twitter, blog (true bloggers, not columnists who also have a blog) authors, and sports talk radio have made every opinion and viewing habit into one large competition, much like a country club pro shop flexing of what toys you have that the most people want.

JOATMON said...

1 - I have enjoyed this season's playoffs, although I loathe the number of off days in the playoffs. 15 to 17 days for 7 games? No back-to-back's? The Knicks and Bulls played a 7 game series in the early 90's in 12 days. That series' intensity was enhanced because there were so few off days. TNT's 40 games in 40 nights promo was missing this year - think it would have been 40 games in about 60 nights. For the start time, I think that needs to be driven by the time zone of the home team until the league finals. 7 pm local time is what I would like to see (would have been 8pm ET start times for DAL, OKC, CHI). It's not as important to me since I watch all sporting events but the Super Bowl on the DVR (NCAA FB - there usually are enough games on at the same time to flip channels) due to the amount of advertising and non-game content included in the telecast. (Living in the Pacific Time Zone helps a lot).

2 - Don't care.

3 - Doesn't Calhoun have a suspension for 3 games next season for lack of institutional control or something similar? If so, how is his team eligible to play in the 2010 tournament?

4 - Directv has a good tennis package for all of the golf and tennis majors.

5 - Podcasts are a good solution.

Michael said...

I enjoy the blog. I would like to get your opinion of the new ESPN book, "Those Guys Have all the Fun." Will you read it? Have your ever thought of writing a book about ESPN?