Playing Catch Up — Thoughts Around the World of Sports

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The gaps between SportsAttic posts are becoming too prolonged, and the world of sports has no mercy for those of us with day jobs, so blessed with a few hours on a plane, we’ll do a quick “around the world” to get caught up with the sports stories and issues that come to mind and make us stop, think or wonder.

NBA Musings

*Perhaps the best thing about today’s NBA is the broadcasting personalities we get to enjoy while watching the games. The TNT crew of Chuck, Kenny, Ernie and Shaq are more entertaining than 90% of the games they commentate on. I like it when the talking heads genuinely seem to be having a blast, and we viewers feel like we are right in the thick of it. Their masterful incorporation of Twitter and social media into the fun is both interactive and hilarious. The in-game back and forth between announcers Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy is priceless, and always right on the mark with relevant insights for both sophisticated hoop-heads and those just enjoying the action superficially.

I mention this only because I was momentarily sorry to see Doris Burke relegated last night to sideline reporter status for the Warriors-Blazers game. I find Burke to be one of the NBA’s best insiders on television, and my viewing experience is enhanced when she’s doing the play-by-play. My disappointment was temporary, though, when I realized that Doris was doing the sideline thing only because Mike Breen was leading the broadcast team. Breen happens to be best in class when it comes to facilitating hoops action, and what an embarrassment of riches for ESPN to choose from, when you’ve got the best in the business alongside Van Gundy and Jackson doing the game, with the second best in the industry roaming the sidelines covering the coaches’ halftime comments and finding other important tidbits to interject as the action progresses. It’s Warriors-esque, with the broadcast version of KD and Steph being played by Mike Breen and Doris Burke.

*Which is why I am still scratching my head at Burke’s interview with Dell and Sonya Curry prior to Game 2 last night. Actually, I should say Burke’s interview with Dell Curry only. Burke asked the appropriate questions of the proud parents, who have the first-ever experience of seeing their two sons compete in a conference finals series, wondering how it felt dealing with the roller coaster of emotions in knowing one son’s success on the court that night could very well come at the expense of the other’s disappointment. Dell delivered all the expected responses, showing the poise learned over a 16-year NBA career of media interactions, but he also answered every question directed to his wife, Sonya, who was seated right next to him, on camera, and easily within earshot of Burke’s questions. WTF you say?

Sonya Curry is definitely not mute, as multiple crowd shots throughout the game caught her shouting encouragement toward the players on the floor (like most of us watching the game on national television, she seemed to be cheering more loudly for underdog son Seth, as opposed to three-time champ Steph, but I digress). So again, WTF? Burke asked in multiple ways what all viewers wanted to know — how mom felt. And Dell repeatedly answered on behalf of Sonya, as his wife kept her eyes glued to the court as though there was no interview taking place only feet away. Burke, ever the pro, didn’t probe further, taking the not-so-subtle hint that mom wasn’t speaking today, but I for one came away wondering, you know…WTF?

Careful What You Wish For

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*Yes, I’m happy to see the under-achieving Celtics and the arrogant and over-entitled Sixers sent packing after the last round, but now look what’s left for us in the east. I’m sorry, but Milwaukee versus Toronto just doesn’t get the juices flowing. And can we really start building a case that either of these squads has a shot at dethroning the Dubs? I can’t stand both teams, but Boston-Philly was the one we wanted, folks. I must admit.

*Here’s hoping that Kawhi Leonard lands in a market where we can all better appreciate the greatness of his all-around game, because it’s being wasted north of the border. He’s single-handedly changed the perennially spineless Raptors into a dangerous force, and his buzzer-beater to break Philly’s heart earned him some well-deserved national acclaim. Now how about putting him in a Knicks uniform for the next seven or eight years. Please? Pretty please?

*And not to jump the gun on my rant about the latest sad state of affairs seemingly infecting every professional sports team I root for, but we all know what’s about to happen to the Knicks, right? First of all, no Zion. That’s okay, I was mentally prepared for that reality as I’ve never been a huge proponent of any strategy that hinged on the winning of a lottery. But that’s my Knicks. I’m actually pretty psyched for R.J. Barrett to become our number three pick, which means one of the following is likely to happen to us Knicks fans:

A. Barrett goes number two, leaving us with Ja Morant, who doesn’t fill a need in our crowded backcourt of overrated point guards, and has high bust potential.

B. We pick Barrett and immediately package him, along with everything else in The Garden that isn’t nailed down, in a swap for Anthony Davis that will somehow go bad (I’m not sure how, yet, but it will, oh yes it will).

C. We pair Barrett with the signing of ballyhooed free agent Kyrie Irving, giving the NY tabloids the cool little angle of former Duke “one and done” stars teaming up on the big stage. But that would mean we have Kyrie — does any Knicks fan feel good about that proposition right about now? Anyone? No, me neither.

The Sweet Science

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*If boxing lives and dies by the heavyweight division, it may be time to send the priest to boxing’s bedside.

I’m conflicted here, as I grew up a diehard boxing fan, and nothing stirs my sports fan enthusiasm more than an appropriately hyped heavyweight title fight. Up until the early-2000’s, I was a Ring Magazine subscriber, could recite the Pound-for-Pound Top 10 list by heart, and was good to attend one or two fights in person every year. But as the heavyweight division became less and less intriguing to me (I never could keep straight which Klitschko was which), I gradually stopped paying as much attention. My disinterest and disdain picked up speed when it seemed that the only “big” fights on Pay Per View featured Floyd Mayweather, who I can’t stand as a person, and dislike even more when forced to watch 12 rounds of him dancing around the ring, barely engaging in the exchange of punches (“I just paid $95 dollars for this pile of shit???” — I would cry out to no one in particular, on those occasions when Pretty Boy Floyd would slip into the ring and grace us with a title defense).

Recently I started to pay a little more attention as a new heavyweight name began to pile up victories and a couple of championship belts (that I also can no longer keep straight). Deontay Wilder appeared to have the potential to inject some excitement back into my old favorite sport, and I even made an effort to get to Staples Center last year when he squared off with Tyson Fury for one of the various heavyweight, “alphabet soup” titles (side note — I didn’t make it down to Los Angeles for the fight, which of course clinched the fact that it turned out to be a war and a contender for Fight of the Year). Then, two days ago, I see Wilder quoted in the press saying how one of the things he likes about his chosen profession is that he is legally allowed to kill someone in the ring. And since it was legal, he was going to do his best to pull off that unique “accomplishment.” Ugh.

Now will such macabre nonsense help the sport? Maybe in the short run, since a few more eyeballs will probably tune in tomorrow night in Brooklyn, when Wilder looks to make good on his barbaric prediction against an obscure opponent by the name of Dominic Breazeale. But in the long run, I must wonder if this is that final and fatal step that allows the sport of boxing to cross over into the world of the WWE once and for all?

I’m not watching the fight tomorrow night. I hope to read about Deontay Wilder getting knocked out by Mr. Breazeale (preferably after getting pummeled unmercifully for several rounds) on Sunday morning. Sadly, I will also have to accept the fact that, going forward, my boxing viewing will only consist of re-watching grainy, old fights on YouTube or DVD for the rest of my life (Hagler-Hearns, anyone?). Oh well.

Damn Yankees

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*The New York Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, and I’m feeling a measure of unpleasant anxiety associated with the likely outcomes that will follow tonight’s clash:

-When the Yankees win (yup, I’m going with “when”) tonight’s game, they will officially take over first place in the AL East. I have a sinking feeling that they may not relinquish that position in the standings for the rest of the year.

-The Yanks do have to get healthy at some point, right? They are about to take over the division lead with a Triple-A team on the field most nights. What happens when Stanton and Judge are back doing their Mantle-Maris routine come the month of June? Or when Gregorius shows up off the IL in July? And when Luis Severino returns rested for the stretch run as the ace they’ll need to hold off Houston in the ALCS? God I hate the pinstripes, I really do.

-And speaking of the Yankees and their injuries, with seemingly half of the projected opening day roster on the IL, why has the biggest prick in the Bronx, Luke Voit, managed to escape harm’s way? When it comes to the Yanks, there really is no justice (except when they signed a near-washed up David Justice all those years ago, and he found the fountain of youth and contributed to World Series victories — just like all us Mets fans knew he would). Dammit!

-And how about those Astros? Have they officially clinched the AL West yet? What’s their magic number? They are playing close to .700 ball and appear to have near-perfect balance around the diamond and incredible starting pitching. And worse yet, Jose Altuve hasn’t even gotten on a roll yet. We’ll reserve judgement on the ‘Stros relief pitching, always the potential Achilles heel down in Houston, but this team appears really solid. I learned my lesson multiple times a year ago not to write off the Red Sox too soon, but I’m having a hard time finding a crumb of meaning in the balance of the American League regular season, with a Yankees-Astros ALCS appearing pre-ordained. And it’s May…

New York State of Mind

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*The Knicks have cap space for two max deals and the third pick in a draft that offers three elite picks. Sure, we didn’t get the one “can’t miss” of the three, but still, I had envisioned us landing at number five, so we are happy, are we not?

Nope. We are not.

And why does every Knicks fan I know dread what’s to come? Yeah, you guessed it. It’s because we are the Knicks. The franchise where our owner ejected a franchise icon from Madison Square Garden last season. The same owner who welcomed back that miscreant pariah, Isiah Thomas, to run the Liberty. The same franchise where two guys named Steve Mills and Scott Perry, who have never presided over anything remotely successful in The Association, have the reigns firmly in their inept hands in this most critical of off seasons. We feel dread because we know the first shoe in our aspirational, offseason house of cards fell two nights ago, when we didn’t land the first pick despite the league’s worst record. A record earned as a result of the blatant tank job presided over by an “all hat, no cattle” spin doctor named Fiz, that rendered our 2018-19 season unwatchable.

We’ll keep paying attention and hoping, because that’s what we Knicks fans do. We’ll watch as Durant and Kawhi become Clippers and Klay goes to the “other” Los Angeles franchise. We’ll keep hoping (and maybe even breathe a sigh of relief) when Kyrie shuns The Garden for Brooklyn. We’ll try and make the most of it when we position the consolation prize signing of Kemba Walker as our preferred plan all along.

And then we’ll party like it’s 1999 when we trade away all of our accumulated future number one picks along with this year’s number three selection. Plus Mitchell Robinson (last year’s sole glimmer of hope for the future). Plus poor Frank Ntilikina (who will emerge as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate once he sheds the Knicks’ blue and orange). Plus Dennis Smith, our best scorer. Sending them all to join Zion Williamson in New Orleans, in return for the next savior in a decades-long string of Knicks saviors — Anthony Davis. We will no doubt win that press conference, too, when The Brow officially comes to town.

And then what? Torn achilles? Plantar fasciitis in both feet? Concussion after a spill in the bathtub? Not sure what the malady will be, but it’s coming. Oh yeah, it’s coming…

*If the Knicks weren’t such a dumpster fire right now I might be more distraught over the current state of the Mets. Yes, they are only two games under .500 and still quite alive (statistically) in the NL East race only a quarter of the way through the season, but something’s starting to stink pretty bad out in Queens. Let’s see — when the starting pitchers excel, the bullpen implodes. The defense, an annual problem, remains porous. The hitting is sporadic, but particularly non-existent in low-scoring, close games (aka when we need it most).

The best contact of the year made by new second baseman Robinson Cano, who was acquired with much fanfare over the winter, came yesterday when he decked our hottest hitter, Michael Conforto, with a shoulder to the noggin on a collision chasing down a pop fly in short right field. Yes, our old friend the injury bug is slinking back into town. At least Todd Frazier has put that “salt and pepper” thing from a year ago in mothballs.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway? The over/under on his tenure is the All Star break at this point, and I’m taking the under on that one, for sure. Bring up Tim Tebow, sign Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, and go for broke BVW, because this train is off the rails and we can’t keep counting on matchups with the Florida Marlins to bail us out.

*Until two days ago I could at least take solace in the fact that the New York J-E-T-S JETS, JETS, JETS were back on the right track. Not so fast…

Whaaaa? So it took us the free agency period and the draft to decide we had the wrong GM and Pro Personnel Director in place? Where were these decisions as we slogged through the previous two pitifully bad seasons of Gang Green football? I thought we might actually be able to contend for a playoff spot this year? Apparently our owner thought otherwise. Again, WTF?

Poor Sam Darnold. He’s got this demented megalomaniac, Adam “Crazy Eyes” Gase, going all Mad Queen on the Jets franchise, with the owner himself playing the role of pet dragon, and Gase is the guy who’s going to turn Sam the Man into the next Tom Brady? I think newly acquired Le’Veon Bell spoke for us all when he remarked after the Maccagnan ousting that he wasn’t concerned, because over the years he has become quite familiar with dysfunction. Amen to that, brother.

As the immortal Sam Kinison once said, “Oh, OH, OHHHHHHH!!!!!”

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SportsAttic Likability Rankings — NBA Playoffs Edition

I’ve been watching a lot of basketball lately.

My team’s been eliminated since the season’s opening night, which allows me to be (relatively) objective when assessing the rest of “The Association.” And nearing the end of the other night’s epic, quadruple-overtime thriller between the Nuggets and Blazers, I started thinking about who to root for over the balance of these NBA playoffs.

I like to watch the first couple of rounds and kind of take my own temperature as to what  I’m feeling, rooting-wise. The remaining eight teams are the ones I expected to be here as the season came to its conclusion a month or so ago, so there has been plenty of time to assess band wagon openings and see if lifetime-built animosities still drive my rooting interests (yes they do, and helloooo Boston Celtics).

So I decided to put together my personal list of teams to root for, in the order I hope they succeed (or fail), based on strictly personal biases. Yup, the likes and dislikes of AtticBro will construct this one, factoring in a series of preferences starting with non-basketball-related data points like how much I enjoy a particular city; how I’ve felt about prior editions of the franchise dating back a half century or so; and the general level of contempt I feel toward the team’s fans and their biggest stars. Finally, I must factor into the equation how generally sick I am of the team in question (nice to see you again, Houston Rockets).

With that as backdrop, here are the 2019 SportsAttic NBA Playoff Likability Rankings — get your crayons ready Sixers fans, I eagerly anticipate your rebuttals:

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  1. Portland Trailblazers — This one wasn’t even close. First of all, Portland is one of my favorite cities. I thoroughly enjoy the eclectic, borderline weird vibe the city is so proud of. They’ve got food, wine, art and music, all in a uniquely cool, Portland kind of way. Add to that Damian Lillard, maybe my favorite NBA baller in today’s NBA (Oakland kid, by the way, with all the requisite toughness and street-hardened humility that city turns out with regularity) — the guy’s simply a badass, featuring nerves of steel, while letting his play do (most of) his talking. Okay, enough said. Honorable mention to Enes Kanter, who is nearly as badass as Lillard, right now playing with virtually one arm, and still the toughest big man left in the tournament. And I like the Blazers lineage — the Walton championship team of 1977 was one of the league’s coolest ever (notice a pattern?), and even the early-’90’s edition featuring Clyde the Glide, Terry Porter and Duckworth was both fun and awesome (mix in a near-retirement Buck Williams? Anyone? Anyone?). The Blazers are my current bandwagon and I will ride them full throttle until they get knocked out.

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2. Denver Nuggets — Okay, this is a bit of a hedge, as I’m not convinced they don’t figure out a way to outlast the Blazers in this semifinal, and I’m not ready to reluctantly pick up a blue and gold pom pom and jump on the overcrowded Dubs bandwagon just yet. Besides, I do like young and talented squads that aren’t really sure how good they are yet, or how far they might advance. And the Nuggets are definitely at that stage in their development. Nikola Jokic is a do-everything, beast in the making, Paul Millsap has been around forever and is the ultimate lunchpail power forward, doing the thankless well on a nightly basis with little flash. And they have a gaggle of athletic and super-young guards (Jamal Murray was nails in Game 4 — yeesh!) and wings that just keep coming at you. The city and lineage are just so-so for me. I do like Denver, but it’s not a place I go out of my way to visit. And I was always a Michael Adams fan due to some fun, NBA conversations the fearless, undersized guard  and I shared some 20 years back, and those Denver teams of his with Alex English and Fat Lever could totally light it up (especially from behind the arc before it became fashionable). All in all a plus on their history, too. So by default, write in the Nuggets as my number two.

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3. Golden State Warriors — I’m conflicted here. Rooting for the Warriors right now is akin to rooting for shares of Microsoft to appreciate in value. They are just so damn good, and while I believe the end of the dynasty is near, they still remain the heavy favorite in 2019. It took a shockingly poor performance by Steph Curry last night to keep the Rockets from being placed on life support today, and there’s little doubt in my mind the Dubs survive this series in less than the full seven games. Yes, I miss Boogie Cousins, who’s presence may have been enough to nudge them past Denver in this most subjective of rankings, but c’mon, I still can’t help but like Steph and that mouthguard hanging from his teeth at the free throw line. And Andre Iguodala does everything you could ever ask if designing the ultimate team player that makes a good team great — passes, defends, runs the floor and hits the critical three. Plus Andrew Bogut? He’s an Aussie for god’s sake, and we all know how likable those guys are. Lastly, this is Golden State’s swan song in Oakland, and it would be great to see some happiness for the locals before watching the team they cheered on every night during the many dark years pack up and move to San Fran. So yeah, slide them into the three-hole and here’s one more prayer that KD is up to the challenge of turning the near-sunken battleship known as the New York Knickerbockers around beginning next year.

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4. Toronto Raptors — And now we enter the soft, uninspiring middle of the field. A couple of teams I neither like or dislike, neither of which I expect to advance to the conference finals. However, because I despise each of their opponents in these Eastern Conference semi-finals, they land at four and five on my likability meter. By a nose, we’ll go with the Raptors at number four. This is a nod to my preference for Toronto as a city to spend time in over Milwaukee. Kawhi? Meh. Yeah, he’s that good, and he is the single reason they may not underperform their potential the way the past few years of Toronto hoopsters have, but still, meh. But what about the city of Toronto? It’s yet another really enjoyable city. Cosmopolitan atmosphere and culture, the hockey hall of fame, a strong fan base, and lest we forget, they’re Canadian. Yeah, you could say I like Toronto (just avoid the months of December through February, please). Add in the fact that they’ve got a stocky point guard who looks like he spends his pregames grazing at Krispy Kreme, and in a pinch I can root for this team.

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5. Milwaukee Bucks — Don’t ask me why, but I can’t bring myself to root for Giannis Antetokounmpo (yup, had to google that spelling). I think it is because I’m seeing the next unstoppable force, and I’m already bracing for how unfair he will make future postseason appearances seem. Scoring the Bucks down because of their city is a bit unfair, since I’ve only been to Milwaukee once, and had a perfectly pleasant time at a Brewers game, while appreciating how nice the fans were there. But yeah, it is Milwaukee (although I’m sure Bucks fans are equally nice). And there is a solid lineage here, with the Oscar/Kareem championship team of 1971, and the Sidney Moncrief years (okay, is there a NBA fan out there worth his or her salt who doesn’t agree with me that Moncrief was BAD-ASS before everyone wanted to be badass?). So I’ll root hard for them to take down the Celts in this series, but unfortunately I just don’t see that happening. Wait til next year, Bucks fans, because I suspect the latest NBA monster is being birthed right now in Wisconsin.

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6. Philadelphia 76ers —  The cheese steaks get the six-seed only because Houston and Boston are still alive. This is an incredibly obnoxious squad. So easy to dislike, in fact, that they negate strong marks on city (Philly is plain a lot of fun — history beyond anything anywhere else in the country, checkered table cloth, old-school Italian food to die for, gritty vibe, Geno’s and Pat’s) and lineage (Moses and the Fo’, Fo’, Fo’ champs of ’83, Dr. J., World B. Free, AI — “Practice? Mannnn, we talking about practice?” , the 9-73 standard bearer for futility back in 1972-’73 — this list goes on and on…) — but this year’s Sixers squad is just a shitty collection of prima donnas and stars who think they are more than they really are. All I need do to hammer that point home is point out that Jimmy Butler is only my third most hated player on this squad, behind Joel “The Process” Embiid (who may be heading for the douchebag hall of fame), and Ben Simmons, who’s sourpuss facial expressions make me wonder how someone that young and talented can already be such a dour prick. Wish they weren’t so damn talented, though, because we may be stuck with these guys for another month.

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7. Houston Rockets — Only the shamrocks of Boston could keep this franchise out of my cellar. I don’t like the current team, especially that phony Chris Paul, who plays the affable insurance pitchman in his commercials, yet comes across as a miserable SOB once the whistle blows. I take solace in the obvious two steps he’s lost as his career winds down with no rings, and the fact that he’s barely a factor any longer as The Beard Show leaves little room for co-stars. I’d like to root for James Harden, but the guys never stops whining. His leg kick while shooting three-pointers, followed by the immediate head snap in the direction of the ref, pained expression for all to see as though “and one” is his divine right, has turned me completely against him. It’s akin to the flop in hockey and soccer, and the guy’s so damn good that it’s totally unnecessary. Besides, history tells us that a team completely built around one player who dominates the ball just can’t advance to a title (if you doubt that, see Chamberlain, Wilt — the early days; or Jordan, Michael — the early days). The Rockets legacy doesn’t help them in our rankings either, as I’ll never get over how they stole the title we were supposed to take home in the 1994 Jordan Hiatus season (pox on you, Sam Cassell, Kenny the Jet, and most of all John Starks — “take him out, Riley, for god’s sake, take him out!!!”). And I never warmed up to them during the lovable loser years of Rudy T. and Calvin Murphy either. What about the city of Houston? Next…

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8. Boston Celtics — Just like you root for the uniform, not the current roster (yup, I’ll die a Knicks fan), you also despise certain uniforms. Especially the green ones. Thank goodness for Kyrie Irving (here’s betting this is the last time I ever type that sentence). As I thought about this year’s edition of the Celts, I actually had a tough time coming up with more than Kyrie to root against. Not to worry, though, as this special Celtics brand of hatred goes back to day one of my rooting infancy. John Havlicek sadly passed away this week, and it was a somber and nostalgic passing for the NBA, but all I could think about was how much I couldn’t stand his Celtics teams of my youth, with Dave Cowens illegally hand-checking Willis, and Jo Jo White matching the almighty Clyde jumper for jumper. And that damn Havlicek seemingly everywhere doing the superstar thing while Tommy Heinsohn screamed himself hoarse from the bench. Oh how I hated the Havlicek-Celtics. And the Bird, McHale, Parish vintage? Even worse (except for Walton, I root for Bill Walton, uniform be damned). I don’t dislike Boston as a city, but it still ranks no better than sixth on my list of favorite east coast destinations (NYC, D.C., Richmond, Baltimore and Philly are all better visits if I’m doing the choosing). Yup, there will be no escaping the basement for the Boston Celtics in this exceedingly personal stack ranking, and that’s what makes sports rivalries so much fun for us aging diehards.

 

Three Point Play — Round 1 Upsets, Farewell Boogie and the Mind of the Tortured Knicks Fan

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I saw a social media posting today that got me thinking.

It included four hoops photos and a simple question: “Of these four NBA first-round playoff series currently knotted one game apiece (Nuggets-Spurs, Warriors-Clippers, 76ers-Nets, Raptors-Magic), which has the greatest chance of ending in upset?”

It was a good question to ponder sitting out a flight cancellation in rainy Dallas, and my immediate first reaction was to go with the Spurs. They have the pedigree that comes with all those championship banners, two legit stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, and they have Pop — Greg Popovich, the best coach left in the field (apologies to Steve Kerr and Boston’s “bloom off the rose,” ex-genius, Brad Stevens).

Not to mention, the Nuggets lurched into the playoffs playing so-so ball, and looked scared down the stretch in each of their round one games. Not entirely surprising for a Denver squad that probably outplayed their own expectations during this year’s outstanding regular season.

So go with the Spurs? Well I sure as hell am not going with the Clippers, despite their historic Game 2 comeback up in Oakland. I know, I know, the Dubs lost Boogie (more on him in a second), but the Clippers can’t hang here with their roster full of nobodies, and will probably drop the next three to the champs.

The Nets are the Eastern Conference’s version of the Clippers, and while my heart would love to see them take down the obnoxious Sixers (like the Michael Ray Richardson-led Nets model that upset Moses and his heavily favored 76ers back in 1984), they won’t win this series behind D’Angelo Russell and a bunch of role players. Sorry but not happening, even if Kenny Atkinson has worked miracles in Brooklyn this year, just like Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley won’t be able to figure out three more ways to beat the Dubs out west.

But yes, there is one more series to consider here. Helloooooo, Toronto.

Can anyone else hear the gears grinding up north of the border? I didn’t even think about this series heading into the playoffs, but the social media post earlier today forced me to step back. This is no ordinary 2-7 matchup.

First, the Raptors, in some sort of a bizarro-Spurs thing, boast their very own bizarro-pedigree — they seem to fold every year in the playoffs following a huge regular season.

Second, they weren’t really tested all year in putting together yet another 50-plus win ledger, comfortably settling into the conference two-hole early on behind the mighty Milwaukee Bucks (did I really just type that?), and hitting cruise control from there.

And their opponents? The mysterious Magic of Orlando? Hmmm…

Quick — name two players on the Magic? Gotcha, didn’t I? They’ve got a big center named Vucevic, if I’m not mistaken. And is Gary Payton’s son in the backcourt? He was traded? Really? For who? And he’s not even The Glove’s son? Huh…

Okay, quick again — who’s the Orlando head coach? That one took me a trip to google (Steve Clifford, of course).

But I do know that Orlando played shockingly well down the stretch, emerging out of the gaggle of uninteresting eighth-seed contenders to rise up and snatch the seven-seed out from under the Pistons, nearly sneaking by the Nets into the sixth.

So I’m taking the anonymous Magic as my upset candidate, mostly because I like to root for stereotypes of futility to live on, and this Raptors one is shaping up as a goodie (the recent titles by the Astros and Cubs in MLB are examples of my fun being spoiled). Yes, these are the things we Knicks fans come up with to cope with our own long runs of painful irrelevance.

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And what do we make of Boogie Cousins’ quad tear and subsequent exit from the first playoff appearance of his career?

Well, there’s a quantitative and a qualitative aspect to this one.

From the qualitative side of things, losing Boogie takes away the lone likable figure on the Warriors roster. Think about it. Steph Curry is 31 now, and no longer the undersized kid taking down LeBron in a David versus Goliath kind of way. Yes, by all accounts Steph is a great teammate and unquestioned future Hall of Famer, but the likability meter is way down for Curry outside the Bay Area. And Klay Thompson, for all his class and excellence, really isn’t likable either, is he? It’s not that Klay isn’t likable, he’s just…neither.

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green? Hahahaha… Nope, Boogie was the only guy to relate to if you aren’t a Bay Area Dubs fan. I was legitimately bummed when the big guy went down, but perhaps more tellingly, even AtticBride was saddened to see him limping off the floor.

(SportsAttic Note: for those of you who missed AtticBride’s appearance as Guest Prognosticator on NFL Six Picks back in December, she is a solid sports fan, knows most of the Warriors roster by osmosis living  out in the Bay Area, and her opinions are usually on target when it comes to likability. And AtticBride loves Boogie Cousins.)

The exuberance of Boogie finally getting to be part of a real team, where he could showcase his broad array of skills on a nightly basis, has made a positive impression on all hoops fans, Bay Area and elsewhere. Besides, who can resist the backstory of his painstaking rehab from an achilles tear that could have ended his career, then gambling on himself by taking a one-year deal when shunned by the rest of the league, only to be vilified for his decision to join the two-time champs by fans and the press. Yup, we’ll miss you Boogie.

And in other words, it just got much easier for the rest of the world to root against the Warriors as they go for their three-peat.

Quantitatively speaking, in the playoffs having a low post presence takes on added significance, and as delightful as it is to see Andrew Bogut back in the starting lineup for the Dubs (over/under on how many games until he starts his first fight with a borderline dirty pick? Two), Cousins going down is a huge blow. You don’t just replace 15 points and 10 boards a night from your starting center. And with Green showing signs of slippage, Steph’s 31-year-old feet having to endure another playoff grind, and Steve Kerr seeming just a tad annoyed at this year’s borderline whiny culture? Another Dubs title is far from a lock.

Are the Warriors still the favorite to earn their three-peat? Absolutely. Are fans in Houston and throughout the east quietly celebrating this injury? Uh huh.

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Speaking of long runs of futility and KD’s pending departure from the Warriors universe, I’d like to give SportsAttic Nation a glimpse into the tortured mind of a fan of the New York Knickerbockers.

If you pay attention to the NBA, by now you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the fact that the Knicks cleared all kind of salary cap space this season in order to sign up to two superstar free agents over the summer. Add to that the fourteen percent chance the Knicks have to see the bouncing ping pong ball lottery known as the NBA Draft go their way, clearing the decks for them to select Zion Williamson with the first pick in this June’s draft, and it is an exciting time of optimism for the franchise that hasn’t won a title since the 1972-73 season.

However, there is one small problem festering within all this celebratory drum banging — they remain the Knicks. Possessors of dreadful karma (some might say the curse of the Patrick Ewing lottery score of 1985), a worst in class owner in James Dolan, and an inept front office currently acting as though all the above-referenced fortuitous circumstances are stone-cold locks to change the New York basketball club’s fortunes.

In fact, in what to most rationally superstitious observers was an absurd attempt to jinx all of these possible positive outcomes, club President Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry decided to pen a letter to season ticket holders. In their letter, the duo who just gave us one of the worst basketball products of all-time, boasted of their cap space and intent to spend and sign their way to major success this summer.

They even had the audacity to declare that their high draft standing will bring another (yes, they said “another” — makes one wonder if they’ve ever really watched Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina stink up the MSG floor) future superstar into the fold (again, this high pick was “earned” by their worst-in-franchise-history 17-65 mark posted during the 2018-19 campaign).

So here’s what one Knicks fan anticipates heading our way amidst all this optimism and elation over how “the times they are a changing”:

*The Draft — only the Knicks could finally lose their way to the worst record in the entire league in a year where that doesn’t guarantee them the greatest percentage chance of winning the draft lottery. In fact, if things don’t go their way when the hot air machine starts blowing the ping pong balls around in a few weeks, the Knicks could actually drop as low as fifth in a draft considered thin after the first three selections. Yup, pencil us in at number five, and maybe we can pick another “project” only Mills and Perry can see the potential in.

*Free Agency — just because you have lots of cap space doesn’t mean players actually want to play for you. Let’s think about KD for a second. Most folks believe he will choose between New York and the Los Angeles Clippers this summer (assuming he leaves Golden State). Both teams have the cap space to give him a max deal, so there is no monetary edge either way. Both New York and California are high income tax states, so there’s no geographic edge along the lines of a Florida or Texas.

The Clips offer a hip, tech-savvy billionaire as owner, who has put together an organization that has somehow remained competitive and entertaining during a roster tear down. And the Clippers will compete for dominance of Los Angeles against a wheezing LBJ and a Lakers franchise wrought in dysfunction nearly to the gold-standard level of the Knicks.

The Knicks? They offer a billionaire owner, too, but the comparisons end there. The NBA is like a club among its superstars, and do you really think word isn’t out about what a nightmare it would be to touch anything remotely related to James Dolan? Yeah, but KD’s dad is a Knicks fan, you say? C’mon, really? Do you truly believe Papa Durant’s rooting interests will swing this one? And we haven’t even touched on weather yet. See you in L.A., KD.

Okay, but we can still go get Kyrie Irving, right?

First of all, do we even want him? Yes, he’s a supremely talented player, but also one shaping up as a locker room nightmare with an injury history. Most people cast their blame toward Irving when attempting to explain the Celtics struggles in living up to their talent potential this season. Yeah, he’s from New Jersey and has indicated he would like to play in New York. Doesn’t mean he will, though, and there’s still that Dolan thing. The guess here is he remains a Celtic and tortures us with brilliance for the next five to seven years of his max deal.

Klay Thompson? Next. Klay’s not signing up to be the savior of a sunken ship. And oh yeah, have we mentioned that the Knicks owner is a pariah who will scare quality individuals away? I see Klay resigning with the Dubs, and if he does depart the Bay, look for him to use that silky jumper of his to clear space on the floor for King James down in L.A.

So who do the Knicks sign? As a tortured Knicks fan accustomed to consolation prizes that will be spun as the best thing to ever happen in the great metropolis, I see New York native Kemba Walker coming home on an insanely overpriced, long-term deal. This is nothing against Kemba, who has carved out a much better career than I expected, in the relative anonymity of Charlotte of all places, but it is absolutely consistent with how things go when you are a Knicks fan.

And that’s not all. If history is our guide, we won’t be getting the Charlotte-version Kemba Walker, who puts up twenty-plus points a night in highlight reel fashion. No, we’ll be getting some sort of beaten down Kemba, who struggles to get his shots while surrounded by a cadre of young knuckleheads like Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith on this tragically constructed New York roster. By year two of his time in the city, Walker will begin to resemble the Rolando Blackman we acquired from Dallas back in the ’90’s. A backcourt star who was able to score at will — until he laced them up for the New York Basketball Knickerbockers.

Mark it down — number five pick in the draft, crickets from the free agent headliners, panic as KD and Klay move down to SoCal and Kyrie remains a Celtic, followed by a desperate lunge at the next best name available.

But Mills, Perry and the always optimistic Coach Fiz will still crow about being on the right track when the Knicks improve all the way to a 23-59 record in 2019-20.

That, my friends, is how the mind of a Knicks fan works (and I don’t even need to insert “long-suffering” anymore).

 

Sometimes It’s Just Easier To Root Against

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I had a tough time watching last night’s March Madness Finals matchup between Virginia and Texas Tech. And I shouldn’t have.

As a graduate of a Virginia state university that doesn’t go by the name of THE University of Virginia, I’ve harbored dislike, resentment and jealousy toward the Cavaliers for going on 35 years.

The many camera shots of UVA alum Ralph Sampson in the crowd during the road to the Final Four only brought back bitter memories of how the 7-footer, who had high schooled in our little Shenandoah Valley college town, had shunned us for Wahoo glory way back when (and yes, we celebrated when Ralph’s Cavs never made it past the national semifinals).

So where was the conflict? Just root against UVA and call it a night, right? I didn’t have a dog left in the brackets fight, having long ago been mathematically eliminated from all NCAA pools I had submitted. And for good measure, I have a niece and a nephew who are Texas Tech kids — one a recent graduate and one soon to follow. And I even like them.

In fact, a year ago I had used those two Red Raiders as my excuse to ride the Texas Tech bandwagon during their surprising run to the semis. The problem is, this year’s run attracted other members of the family (who I am a tad less enamored with than my niece and nephew), who jumped on that same Tech bandwagon with such gusto that I couldn’t help but begin to root for Tech’s demise a little bit more with each win. Not a hard “root against” mind you, but it was there. I felt it.

While this is not exactly a proud moment of self reflection, it did get me thinking about the root cause of my dislike for so many teams and franchises in this vast world of sports. Because I’m an admitted “hater” when it comes to sports rivalries, and a passionate “root against” opportunity makes my overall sports fan experience more rich and enjoyable as a result. I’m not apologizing, even a little, for this, I’m just curious as to where it all came from.

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As has been thoroughly chronicled through many previous SportsAttic posts, the New York Yankees are the standard bearer for franchises I possess a passionate dislike for. And while it is impossible to say for sure, I do believe my internal pleasure meter jumps several notches higher when the Yanks experience a first-round playoff defeat than if my beloved Mets were to win a first-round playoff series (and yes, Yankees fans, I am well aware that last sentence set you up for a multitude of jokes about the likelihood of the Mets ever appearing in another playoff series — haha, funny, how Yankee fans are such cut ups).

Tracing back the roots of my extreme dislike of the Pinstripes, I come across a specific tipping point right around the 1985 baseball season. Up until that point I harbored no particular ill will toward the Bombers, even rooting them on in their late-’70’s World Series matchups against the Dodgers, and taking a degree of pleasure when Bucky (effin) Dent went deep in that one-game, 1978 playoff that sent the Red Sox home empty handed yet again.

However in 1985 I began working in an office environment for the first time, and met Tom. Tom was (and probably is, although it’s been years since I’ve heard from him) a diehard Yankees fan. Growing up in New Jersey, I’d met plenty of Yankees fans prior to 1985, but Tom was unique in his arrogance related to all things Bronx Bombers, and also in his utter and intense disdain for the suddenly competitive again New York Mets.

Game on, as they say. Heated debates ensued over whether Mattingly or Hernandez was the better first baseman (c’mon, really? Mex had no peer). Shouting matches over who had the classiest fan base (lots of cutting remarks about how Mets fans had an affinity for Chevy Camaros — “How do you empty Shea Stadium? Just yell ‘hey Vinny, your Camaro is on fire!'” — yeah hysterical stuff like that).

On a daily basis I found myself under siege and outmanned. Somehow my association with the Mets had created a Civil War, where I was one of the select few fans of the blue and orange, amidst a sea of Pinstriped sycophants.

Amusement over this passionate baseball line in the sand grew to dislike of any and all things even remotely related to the New York Yankees, which festered from there and ultimately evolved into hatred. Simple, pure, unadulterated baseball fan hatred. Which hopefully helps explain why, to this day, I celebrate little tidbits that dance across the newswire, such as Troy Tulowitzki (who’s barely even a Yankee at this point) hurting himself (like we all knew he would — or hoped anyway) and landing on the Injured List.

Okay, so no real surprise there, when examining the root cause for why I rejoice in the act of “rooting against.” Unpleasant interactions with an obnoxious fan, whether a dim witted co-worker or self-important in-law, can send a sports hater like me into a clearly defined world of good versus evil, with the end result being an enhancement of my own personal rooting enjoyment.

It’s not just rivalry among fans, though, is it? There’s also the incident-driven hatred that occasionally catches fire and becomes a full-on obsession of biblical proportion.

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Yup, we are talking about the St. Louis Cardinals here, and their former skipper, Whitey Herzog — aka the White Rat.

Similar to my early childhood blasé feelings toward the Yanks, growing up I felt no ill will regarding the Cardinals either, even though at the time they occupied a spot in the same division as my Mets. In fact, I always thought Bob Gibson and Lou Brock were two of the cooler baseball stars of the ’70’s. Then it all changed for me, forever, during the summer following my 12th birthday.

My buddy’s parents invited me to a Mets-Cardinals tilt at Shea on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July. They had great seats, and we got there early to take it all in and enjoy the good fortune of our amazingly close proximity to the field. We’d talked about autograph potential on the way to Shea, but didn’t realize until we arrived that our seats were a few rows back of the visitors dugout, making autograph seeking a bit trickier.

Undeterred and in possession of a new ball and a Bic pen (the sharpie hadn’t come along yet), I worked up the courage during BP to approach the Cardinals manager, who was leaning against the rail next to the St. Louis dugout taking in the pre-game proceedings. I took a deep breath, mustering all the courage I had, and politely uttered the following:

“Excuse me, Mr. Herzog, but could I have your autograph?”

I cautiously gestured my pen and ball in his direction as he slowly looked over his right shoulder and gave me the quick up/down glance. He met my nervous eyes directly, held the stare for just a second, then turned his head, spit into the dirt, and looked away. Asked and answered, you might say.

I slumped my shoulders and limped back to our row, where my buddy’s mom did her best to buck me up, and we proceeded to watch the Redbirds shellack the Mets and their erratic starter, Pete Falcone, in another one-sided affair that fans of the Mets during the late-’70’s remember all too well.

And over the course of that one sunny Sunday, the Cardinals went from being simply one of 25 other Major League Baseball teams who were not the New York Mets, to perhaps the most villainous band of hooligans ever assembled on a baseball diamond.

This special Cardinals-style hatred took on even more astronomical levels a few years later, when the Mets and Cards found themselves battling one another for NL supremacy from 1985-1988. Every Cardinals win felt like the White Rate was personally twisting a knife between my shoulder blades. And the fact that Herzog publicly denigrated the Mets at every opportunity during that time only served to cement him as my least favorite MLB figure of all time.

A final postscript to this story came in the mid-’90’s, when I shared my White Rat story (for only the millionth time or so) with a Cards fan I worked with in Roanoke, Virginia. A few weeks later, through a series of unexpected circumstances, my colleague found himself in the company of the White Rat himself during a game in St. Louis. On my next visit to Roanoke, he presented me with a ball signed by none other than Whitey Herzog. It was personalized:

“Chris, Mets my ass. Whitey Herzog.”

To this day that ball remains one of my most cherished possessions, even with the ink nearly faded away now, twenty-plus years later. If you are a diehard fan out there, you have your “White Rat,” and I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean when I say “cherished.”

Okay, now this whole “root cause” thing is slowly starting to come into focus. We’ve got arrogant, asshole co-workers, obnoxious, bandwagon jumping family members, and scarred-for-life childhood incidents identified as core contributors to the inner workings of the fan who lives to “root against.” But wait, there’s more! And for this next category, it’s time to step off the baseball diamond and onto the hardwood.

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There was nothing quite like growing up a Knicks fan in the early-’70’s. Three NBA Finals in four years, two titles, a contender every year with iconic players like Clyde Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBuschere.

Even the Knicks subs were cool (though I never cared for Phil Jackson — more on him in a second) — Dean Meminger and Jerry Lucas first off the bench, and especially Harthorne Wingo, who would draw one of the biggest ovations from the Madison Square Garden faithful when he would take off the sweats for the final few minutes of another Knicks blowout win (our version of Red Auerbach’s victory cigar).

An important part of my early Knicks fandom was the annual threats to their supremacy posed by various enemy franchises around the league. It always started with the Boston Celtics. Part of why they scared me so was because they were damn good, and I knew they were a serious threat to end the Knicks season prematurely every year.

John Havlicek was always in the right place on the court and seemingly never missed a critical bucket. Dave Cowens was younger and faster than Willis, and that just didn’t seem fair to seven-year-old me. And Jo Jo White? How dare he play Clyde to a draw, when we all knew Clyde was the best basketball player on the planet and should never be challenged (not to mention Clyde was ours)? A new kind of hatred developed out of my childhood years — hatred born of respect and fear.

The Baltimore Bullets (a far catchier name than today’s Washington Wizards, by the way) I hated, too, but with less passion than Boston, because they were always just a step slower than the Knicks (despite being the team that dethroned us in 1971). Wes Unseld was a poor man’s Willis, and Phil Chenier did everything Clyde did, just slightly worse. Kind of like comparing the two cities themselves. It wasn’t a fair fight, which made it harder to conjure up a Celtics-level kind of hate for the Bullets back in the day.

It was the same way with the Lakers. We faced them in the finals three times in four years, but I never hated the Lakers (Wilt was simply too badass for that, if truth be told), choosing instead to single out Jerry West as the object of my scorn, once again based on the fact that he would play Clyde to a draw on most nights, driving me absolutely crazy. Respect.

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I’ve never lost that enmity for the Celtics of my youth, and that hatred of respect ignited once again during the Bird/McHale/Parrish years, where I learned a new way to hate — this new strain emphasized hatred of the bit player who represents all that is wrong with an enemy franchise. You see, it was one thing for Larry Legend to kick dirt in our collective faces, but when the end of the bench guys got in the act things had gone too far.

End of the bench targets are a long and easy category to populate, but to best illustrate this level of hatred, I reference Danny Ainge of those dastardly Celtics squads of the mid-’80’s. It seemed Ainge always played with a permanent whine smeared across his face that reminded me of a four-year-old who just had a toy taken away. Bitching and moaning constantly while putting up numbers better than he had any right to, simply because he was fortunate enough to play alongside Larry Bird on those great Celtics teams.

Another bullseye example of easy to hate role players on those mid-’80’s Boston teams was M.L. Carr. Carr was the closest thing the NBA had to a WWE villain in those days (east of Bill Laimbeer, anyway). By the time Carr got to Boston he was good for little more than waving a towel from the sidelines following another Bird miracle, yet oh how I couldn’t stand him.

Yup, the bit player on a despised dynasty was a new and delightful way to justify my sports hatred. When that crop of Celts aged out, I was able to redirect this venom in much the same way toward the Chicago Bulls. I never liked Michael Jordan, simply because we could never beat him — ever — but MJ was the ultimate “hate due to respect and fear” guy. However, respect/hate for Michael didn’t preclude me from reserving an extra special kind of hate for ex-Knick traitor Phil Jackson (Jeff Van Gundy labeling Jax Big Chief Triangle brought me extreme delight), and also for MJ’s toady, Scottie Pippen, who belongs as captain of the all-overrated team of NBA-ers.

And the root cause list grows longer, as obnoxious personalities at the end of the bench take their seat alongside Tom the Worst Yankees Fan of All-Time, front-running in-laws, dickhead baseball managers, and teams that competed against the heroes of my youth.

As I delve deeper and deeper into my psyche, I can apply all of these root causes to other moments in time where I developed a solid hatred for a team, player or fan base (usually a combination of all three). You might say it is all starting to make sense.

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For example, there were some fleeting hockey rivalries that registered on my sports hatred meter before I turned away from the sport following the strike that cancelled the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

My personal homerism fueled that first bout of hockey hatred. When the New Jersey Devils started to establish themselves (finally) as a team to be taken seriously in the early-’90’s, it delightfully coincided with the New York Rangers at long last shedding their “1940” chant of ridicule, while winning the 1994 Stanley Cup.

As a young kid I had actually rooted for the Rangers (the Devils didn’t exist at the time), but I lost focus when my family moved across country. When we returned to New Jersey years later, the combination of insecurities felt by many of us residents of the Garden State bonded with the rise of the Devils (“have another donut, you fat pig!” — ahhh how we need more Jim Schoenfeld’s in sports today) lured me into an avid level of fandom that came to include a partial share of Devils season tickets and a passionate rivalry with the across-the-river Rangers.

Some of the most enjoyable sporting events I attended back in the day were at the old Byrne Arena, when the sold out crowd would be evenly split between Devils and Rangers fans, with a meaningful late-season matchup on the line and multiple fist fights breaking out in the stands. Mark Messier was the MJ of this rivalry, coming up big at every turn during the 1994 playoffs and ultimately sending the Devils home on the way to the Blueshirts’ first Cup in 54 years. Mark Messier — another example of hatred borne of respect.

Down the New Jersey Turnpike arose another object of New Jersey Devils hatred a few years later, when Eric Lindros skated into Scott Stevens’ crosshairs (literally) and the Flyers were briefly seen as a viable threat to the Devils budding dynasty that had been providing bragging rights to downtrodden New Jersey fans everywhere. And oh how we celebrated when Stevens shoulder found Lindros’ breast plate, effectively ending the big forward’s time as a superstar in the NHL. Hey, we were hockey fans from New Jersey, so what did you expect, and it wasn’t like he died, or anything. Ya know?

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And lest we forget, us Mets fans received another jolt of fandom hatred on a silver platter when we finally started playing good ball again under Bobby Valentine in the late-1990’s. This time it was the Atlanta Braves who were the object of our lack of affection. Bobby V’s revitalized Mets found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to upend the Braves Dynasty (a dynasty that gets far too little credit in MLB history due to the fact that they only won one World Series during what amounted to a New England Patriots-like era of dominance).

But for a few years there the Mets went after Atlanta hard, led by Mike Piazza and a bunch of role players, invigorating the fans who love nothing more than to play indignant upstart to the heavy favorite. Enter Chipper “Larry” Jones and John “7 Train” Rocker.

Jones falls into the category of hatred out of respect. The guy flat wore the Mets out. And even worse, like the White Rat years earlier, Jones thoroughly enjoyed the punishment he doled out. Sure, we had our moments with the “Larrrr-rrrry” chant, making fun of Chipper’s given name, but in the end, we had to tip our hat, because Jones was just really good, and came up big in important spots night after night.

However the homophobic and mercurial Braves reliever, John Rocker, was another story. Rocker was more of a Danny Ainge-ish kind of target for the Mets faithful. Unafraid to hit back at the relentless Mets fan base who truly despised him even before he was quoted in Sports Illustrated insulting Mets fans everywhere, Rocker elicited stadium-shaking rounds of booing (in fact “booing” is a kind characterization here) every time he entered a game. And there was nothing more satisfying than those nights when we’d hang an “L” on the big-mouth whose fastball was losing 1-2 MPH a year. Yup, fun years.

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And what list of sports fan hating would be complete without a quick trip to the gridiron?

If I’m honest, one of my least proud moments in the long history of my sports fandom took place due to my passionate disdain for a single sports franchise. Once again, the root cause can be found in an entire geographic region’s unseemly fan base.

As previously noted, I went to college in Virginia. I entered my freshman year as a Jets fan, one who passively liked the Giants, but with little emotion involved. Four years later I graduated a diehard Giants fan, one who liked the Jets okay, but with little emotional attachment. Some explanation is required here, as I will desperately attempt to defend my embarrassing “flop” of allegiances during the college years.

I walked onto campus in the fall of 1983. The Giants were about to embark on Bill Parcells’ first year as head coach, where they’d finish a miserable 3-12-1, with cries from the fans (and yours truly) to shit-can the clearly in over his head Parcells. The Jets had fielded competitive teams through the early-’80’s, and had Wesley Walker hauling in bombs and the Sack Exchange setting records to keep things fun and exciting for the fans. They were my team.

Unbeknownst to me, though, Virginia was Redskins territory, and the state institution I had chosen to attend was inhabited by a collection of rabid Redskins fans from various parts of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. To make matters worse, the Skins were really good at the time. They’d won their first Super Bowl a couple years prior behind the running of ex-Jet John Riggins and an O-line made up of “Hogs,” and I was in no way prepared for the degree of homerism, shamelessly biased pride, and laser-focused flag waving I was about to encounter during my four years “down south.”

First of all, Skins fans turned down the sound on their televisions for Redskins games so they could listen to two of the biggest clownish homers of all time — Sam Huff (a former Giant, no less!) and Sonny Jurgensen — call the game in their down home drawls over the radio, railing against the officials whenever a call went against Washington, and celebrating right along with the fans whenever things were going well.

Their QB, Joe Theismann, was one of the least appealing players in league history, but he’d somehow caught lightning in a bottle with the Skins late in his career, and was suddenly unconscious, racking up ridiculous passing stats throwing all over the field to The Smurfs, a trio of diminutive receivers who would manage to get Howard Cosell fired by ABC following an unfortunate choice of descriptive words during a Monday Night Football contest during that ’83 season.

So in other words, I had no choice but to become a hardcore Giants fan in an effort to single-handedly right all the obvious wrongs of these uninformed, flag-waving homers (they even sang a song after every Washington score, for crying out loud). Of course it didn’t hurt that following the 1983 season (which ended with the Redskins getting destroyed by the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII, to the delight of me and the handful of other Skins Haters I had banded together with), the Giants drafted a pass rushing outside linebacker named Lawrence Taylor  (thanks to Parcells and that 3-12-1 record that had earned NY the second pick in the draft), thus changing the dynamics of the NFC East for the next decade or so.

And for that 10-year stretch, I don’t know that I’ve ever hated an organization more. From Washington’s loud-mouthed defensive end, Dexter Manley, who totally abused Giants left tackle Brad Benson whenever the two teams would meet, to Theismann (and yes, I cheered when LT broke the QB’s leg on Monday Night Football — certainly not my finest hour as a fan), to that group of D.C. clowns in the front row at RFK who dressed up in dresses and hog noses and rejoiced with every playing of that banal Hail To The Redskins jingle I would hear in my sleep for years to come.

Like most good things, though, this one had to come to an end. LT retired, and Washington head man Joe Gibbs went off to Nascar. Parcells won his two Super Bowls and handed off to Ray Handley (yikes). Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins and began a James Dolan-esque journey to destroy the once-proud franchise, and by 2003 I was easing back onto the Jets bandwagon, having grown tired of Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan and Tiki Barber, and confident that the new Giants coach, Tom Coughlin, would never deliver any meaningful wins (cough) for Big Blue.

Besides, the Jets needed me more. Plus I could get season tickets for Jets games, while the Giants waiting list for such things spanned 100 years into the future.

SportsAttic note: Yes, these are all justifications for a dishonorable act of treason that I vilify other sports fans for, but there were reasons, good reasons — if you’ve ever relocated to Redskins country you’ll understand and allow it.

And now I’m officially back. Cheering on Gang Green (and have you seen those new 2019 unis they are rolling out? “Spotlight White” and “Stealth Black?” — oy vey…).

Our new/old/current enemy is the Belicheats up in New England. Brady is the Havlicek, West, MJ we hate out of respect. The Pats fans, saturated by too many titles, have assumed the mantle of most arrogant in the NFL, and I’ve even got a doubles partner who, while nowhere near the level of obnoxious I endured while working with Tom the Yankees Fan back in the ’80’s, allows me to make my dislike for New England a little more real, and a lot more fun.

Too bad there was no early-childhood incident to throw a little gas on the internal fire of my Jets-Pats rivalry, but I’m not sure I have bandwidth remaining at this stage of my life for anyone or anything to displace the White Rat in the inner folds of my sports fan brain.

And that’s just fine.

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Is The End Finally At Hand For The Dubs?

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It is an outstanding time of year for the sports fan! So much to choose from on a sunny, lazy Saturday.

The Mets won 11-8 today, extending manager Mickey Callaway’s March dominance to two consecutive years. He owns April, too, ya know…

Gonzaga is up two at the half against Texas Tech, with the winner advancing to the Final Four. And last night Duke somehow escaped with a super shaky victory for the second game in a row, dashing the last, faint hope I had in the only NCAA pool I was still technically alive in.

Mets announcer and former star Ron Darling posted excerpts of his new book in today’s New York Post, and in the process shat all over former Mets teammate Lenny Dykstra (who clearly deserved it based on his subhuman behavior displayed quite publicly over the entirety of his post-baseball life, but still…). So there are plenty of topics to gravitate toward in today’s SportsAttic.

But I’m feeling NBA playoffs as the 82-game regular season winds down to it’s final few days.

And as someone who likes nothing more than reminding people that I said something months ago that appears increasingly likely to play out in the manner I had predicted, I’m watching the Golden State Warriors closely. The two-time champs are absolutely wobbling to the finish line as we all wonder if they can close out their three-peat the way everyone had assumed they would back when the 2018-19 season began?

You remember the Dubs, don’t you? The three-times-in-four-years champs who filled their only roster hole this past offseason with All Star Boogie Cousins on a bargain-basement, one-year deal as he worked back from injury?

Yup, them. Well if you took a look at the standings today, you saw the Dubs in a dogfight with Denver (Denver?) for the top seed in the Western Conference following last night’s excruciating loss to the Timberwolves.

Will they or won’t they? My call at the beginning of the year was that the Dubs would repeat (hard to argue with five all-stars in the starting lineup, even if Draymond isn’t playing like one this year), but that their crown would not come as easily as everyone believed back in October.

Yep, I’m gloating on that call, and with the Dubs’ collective whining about the refs stealing one from them last night still audible in the distance, I’m now taking my prediction one step further and saying they will not emerge as champs this year. And yeah, I’m glad.

I, for one, am a little tired of the whole soap opera around Kevin Durant and what he may or may not do this offseason. KD leaving won’t be the beginning of the collapse of the Golden State Empire, Rome will already have burned by the time he heads down to L.A. this summer. Drop the mic. Full stop.

The current consensus storyline seems to be that come the offseason, KD will depart Oakland with his third ring in as many years tucked neatly in his suitcase, and that will signal the demise of the Three-Peat Dubs. The final dynasty numbers would boast four championships in five seasons (and it would be a FIVE-PEAT if the NBA hadn’t stolen one from Golden State to give Cleveland and the King a ring a few years back).

Nope, sorry, not happening Dubs fans. I think they’ll still capture the top seed in the west with north of 55 wins, a successful season by most standards, but they’ve been a tad off all year long, both in terms of results and also chemistry.

The Bay Area logic has it that the champs are just bored with the regular season slog, and that once the playoffs come around they will simply turn the switch and the super team will emerge. Not so fast.

The playoffs are a rough and tumble battle of attrition, and the west offers no breaks right from the get-go. Unlike in the east, where the top tier teams will feast on weak first round opponents, there are no patsies out west. So let’s take a look at the road in front of the Dubs, and where the potholes sit that could wear down the title machine before the preordained parade heads down Market Street sometime in late-June.

NBA Western Conference

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We’re going to begin with the assumption that the Warriors do sneak off with the top seed in the conference. The Nuggets (who scare no one) will take the number two slot, and then it gets interesting.

Currently the Rockets and Blazers are in a dogfight for the three seed. This is an important one, because the three seed would avoid Golden State until the conference championship round, should things progress according to form. This means that the aging Dubs will have two rounds of punishment wearing the tread on their tires before coming face to face with the Houston team most see as their toughest potential matchup.

A week ago the Blazers were an interesting wild card, playing phenomenal team ball, with a star in Damian Lillard who is among the most exciting players to watch in the league. Then in one awkward and gruesome bad landing, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic was done for the season, taking with him any chance the Blazers had of finally shedding the label of “best team with no chance to win a playoff series.”

Despite the injury, the Blazers remain red hot, having won nine of their last 10, and will almost certainly reach 50 wins. But the Rockets will sneak past them to earn the three, thus setting up the potential for a rematch of last year’s epic conference final, where if not for a Chris Paul injury, Houston might have put a premature end to the Warriors run. An added boost to the Rockets title aspirations is the fact that the two biggest threats to give the Dubs a brutal, physical fight in the first round, the Thunder and the Spurs, sit in the seventh and eighth slots in the west.

Neither of those teams can take out the champs, but either will win at least one game and beat on the weary Warriors the entire 48 minutes every game. If the Rockets really luck out, the Dubs will draw the Thunder, because Russ Westbrook loves taking it to Steph Curry with a national audience looking on (not to mention his old pal KD), and Steven Adams will enjoy putting a hurting on the Golden State big men.

Once the Dubs rid themselves of their pesky first round opponent, they’ll limp into the conference semis, where they’ll host the winner of the 4-5 series (I’m calling that one Blazers-Jazz, with the Jazz taking out the team from Voodoo Donuts-land — get it, hole in the middle, get it? — earning themselves a trip to the Bay Area).

Again, the Jazz will offer the haters little hope of seeing the Dubs exit the tournament at this early stage, but Rudy Gobert will administer even more pain and punishment on the Warriors front court, and the young and deep Jazz will create additional wear and tear for the conference’s top seed.

Meanwhile the Rockets will outlast the Nuggets in six to set up the rematch with Golden State. Unfortunately once again for the haters, though, there isn’t enough depth down in Houston to derail the three-peat train. Yes, James Harden is better than ever (hard to explain how this guy keeps improving from already-elite levels), but part of The Beard’s statistical breakout of MJ proportion is due to the fact that this Houston team is just plain not as good as they were a year ago. Paul is back and healthy (for now), but also a year older, and nowhere near a legit wingman for the Beard. Look for 40+ from Harden every night, with a couple triple-doubles along the way, but the Warriors will advance once again.

So, given that we all pretty much agree for the umpteenth year in a row now that the NBA’s west is far superior to its east, does this mean that the Dubs have it made? Emerging victorious from the conference assures them their predestined immortality, right? Again, not so fast.

NBA Eastern Conference

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The east, from top to bottom, remains by far the inferior conference this season, but they are top heavy. The conference is sure to boast the two best records in the league come playoff time, with both Milwaukee and Toronto posting big-time impressive years.

Add to the two top seeds everyone’s preseason consensus team in the “most likely to give the Warriors a run for their money” category — Boston, along with the team that improved the most in-season — Philadelphia, and there is much intrigue as we try to connect the dots on who will face-off with the Dubs in the NBA Finals.

We’ll begin by assuming the one, two and three-seeds (Bucks, Raptors and Sixers) easily advance against the JV qualifiers who fill out the bottom half of the east’s playoff field. We’ll take the next step (albeit a shaky one) and call the Celtics winners over the surprisingly still-competitive Pacers, who just won’t be able to hang for an entire series with their best player in street clothes.

That will set up two conference semi-finals matchups that will be a helluva lot of fun to watch.  And to the delight of literally everyone who follows the NBA (sans fans in Milwaukee and Toronto), the road squads will emerge triumphant in both series.

Once again such a result favors the charmed Warriors, because with Milwaukee and Toronto sent packing (by Boston and Philly respectively), the defending champs will now enter the finals with home court advantage, regardless of whether it’s the Sixers or the Celts who emerge from the east under this scenario.

A moment is required here to explain my rationale on the predicted early demise of the east’s two top seeds. Simply put, the team with the most stars wins the playoff series. The Greek Freak may be the future best player on the planet (at least until Zion Williamson turns 21 or so), but his supporting cast isn’t strong enough to win a championship.

And like Toronto a year ago, a well coached, balanced and deep team can accumulate a ton of regular season wins, before spectacularly crashing in the postseason. Say hello to the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks.

Then I’m seeing the perplexing Celts finally putting it all together for the first time this season (and in a fitting and unexpected twist, look for Gordon Hayward to get his sea legs under him and be the difference-maker in this series), stealing a Game 7 in Milwaukee. This will set up the conference final any hoops fans worth his or her salt has been rooting for — Celtics versus 76ers.

Memories of Dr. J versus Larry, and Moses banging with McHale and The Chief! Yeah, you get the idea. The Sixers will have easily advanced out of the semis thanks to the time-honored equation that three stars trumps one, thus ending the short and relatively happy run of “Kawhi Leonard Goes To Canada.”

As for the conference final between these two storied franchises? Another classic comes our way, and this time the combination of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, supported by Jimmy Butler’s shutdown defense on whichever Celtic starts to get the hot hand, proves too much as the Sixers take Game 7 at home. Philly advances, setting up the Big Dipper Finals, featuring two franchises that both felt the need to trade away Wilt Chamberlain once upon a time.

And despite the Warriors having the home court advantage due to this fortuitous sequence of events back east, the dynasty ends here. The Dubs home court edge (questionable all year) goes away after splitting the first two games in Oakland, and they don’t make it back to the Bay for a Game 7.

Embiid thrives on the big stage, dominating an exhausted Boogie Cousins inside, while Simmons proves a matchup nightmare for the aging champs, with Andre Iguodala finally showing signs of age, and Draymond appearing two steps slow. J.R. Redick matches Steph bomb for bomb from behind the arc, while Butler costs Klay Thompson millions in free agency dollars by dominating throughout the six-game series win by the Sixers.

The finger pointing on the Dubs sideline begins as they drop Game 2 at home, and grows progressively louder and more animated, culminating in Draymond Green getting benched by an exasperated Steve Kerr for long stretches of Games 4, 5 and 6.

Such a result will do nothing to diminish the greatness we’ve witnessed from these Warriors over the past five years, but will signal a welcome sea change in the NBA dynamic moving forward. The Warriors won’t go away, of course, as they are too solid an organization not to retool in the offseason, and in doing so will continue to energize the San Francisco fan base. The Sixers will become the hunted and find defending a title is far harder than winning one. And in a league with ten teams capable of winning it all, the 2019-20 season will be a wide open one, which will be a breath of fresh air for all of us who’ve had our fill of Steph and the crew’s dominance.

Yes folks, the NBA remains fan-tastic.

So get your emails ready — the playoffs will start for real in about a week, and it should be a lot of fun seeing how far off base SportsAttic’s predictions are by the time the draft lottery rolls around!

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SportsAttic 100th Anniversary Part Deux (#51-100)

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Yep, our 100th anniversary celebration now continues with the second half of the two-parter of unrelated thoughts, opinions and topics around the world of sports.

No need to delay, let’s jump right in:

51. I got to thinking about Friday Night Lights the other day. I could watch that first pilot episode 100 more times and would get choked up every sitting. Next rainy day dial it up, it may be the best dramatic sports series of all time (skip Season 2, though).

52. Okay, hold off on your responses to #51, I know I can’t lead with such a bold statement without adding in The White Shadow. C’mon, couldn’t we all relate to Salami growing up?

53. You know the Raiders and their facial contortionist head coach, aka Chucky, will win at least one Super Bowl in Vegas. It sucks, but you just know it.

54. When you check your brackets this morning, if you went worse than 12-4 in any of the regions, you no longer have a chance to win your office pool. You know that, right? No chance.

55. Yet I’m still pumping my fist in the air over my upset call with UC Irvine. And yes, as of this morning, I’m officially out of the running in every pool I entered.

56. Would any of us have blamed Iona last night if they just refused to come out for the second half against Carolina? “Nah, we’re good. We just played the best half of our lives, and we have no interest in continuing. Wish the Tarheels luck in the second round.”

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57. When considering the magnificence of Muhammad Ali, we tend to forget just how big a guy he was. We think of George Foreman (Big George) as this mountainous monster, but watch When We Were Kings some time (top 5 Sports Documentary of all time, by the way), and notice how Ali is looking George right in the eye while spinning off the ropes with his rope-a-dope routine during the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

58. I just flew to Houston and was surprised to see all the “2017 World Champions” hats and hoodies on the passengers. I’ve never thought of Houston as much of a baseball city, but they are all in on the ‘Stros in 2019, and I believe with good reason. And I love the Michael Brantley addition in left.

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59. I relish watching Rex Ryan talk on ESPN. Not for the content, but to see those enormous teeth implants of his in action. What a set of choppers! He reminds me of the old Mr. Ed TV series. I wonder if the producers at ESPN have to put peanut butter on the tip of Rex’s nose (the way they did to get Mr. Ed to “talk” in the old days, “Geeee, Willlburrrr…”) to get him started on one of his rants?

60. Extension for Chris Sale? Hmmmm… I had Sale down as the first pitcher in baseball history to throw a slider only to see his entire left arm detach from his body and hurtle through the air toward the plate sometime around August 1 of this year. I guess that’s why they say big contract extensions are a reward for results already posted. Yet the Sawx won’t sign Kimbrel and are going with “hope as a method” with respect to their pen. Yeesh.

61. I’m sorry, but I despise the “jersey exchange” in the NBA and the NFL.

62. And since when did Dwayne Wade get to declare himself a league icon, commanding a celebration retirement tour? He’s an all-time great for sure, and won a few rings (even one without The King at his side), but c’mon already! We didn’t do this for Elvin Hayes when he retired back in the day, and the Big E was at a similar “all-time great” level to D-Wade. I blame social media.

63. However, I do enjoy seeing LeBron lose pretty much every night. It’s the small pleasures…

64. Could you imagine Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski doing a jersey exchange after Game 7 of the 1967 World Series? Two words — hell no.

65. Kobe Bryant won an Oscar? Really?

66. If you could go out for one night on the town and got to pick three wingmen from the history of the world of sports for that one epic bender, who would they be? For me? Babe Ruth, Charles Barkley and Joe Namath. But there’s a long list of alternates.

67. What ever happened to Ahmad Rashad?

68. Is it the jockey or the horse? Was there a professional jockey out there that wouldn’t have won the Triple Crown aboard Secretariat?

69. Is it the running back or the offensive line? For my answer, take a look at O.J. Simpson’s stats with the Bills in the years before they drafted guards Reggie McKenzie and Joe DeLamielleure, and after.

70. I always found it fascinating that the Raiders had two 1000-yard rushers in the ’70’s who were both drafted out of Colgate — Marv Hubbard and Mark van Eeghen. Go figure.

71. Was there a cooler pitcher growing up than Luis Tiant?

72. I never liked George Steinbrenner much, but coming up with “Mr. May” as a nickname for Dave Winfield was priceless.

73. Do I remember correctly that Ted Williams’ family had his body frozen after his death in hopes of bringing him back one day? Is someone working on that? Any updates?

74. As a former little league umpire, I can’t stand the idea of electronic ball and strike calls. The umps are part of the fabric of the game. (And oh by the way, parents can be unmercifully mean when it comes to their little 9-year-old taking a close 3-2 pitch for strike 3. Just sayin’…).

75. Will the people of 100 years from now look back on the NFL as an example of what a barbaric society we are?

76. MLB needs more knuckleballers.

77. My first baseman’s glove in the mid-’70’s was a George Scott autograph model. Always loved Boomer after that. Who did you have?

78. We talk about all the mobile QB’s in today’s NFL, but back in the ’70’s there were some legendary ones extending the play and throwing on the run — Fran Tarkenton comes to mind first, but Roger Staubach was underrated in that regard, and so was Kenny Stabler.

79. Growing up watching NHL games, I always thought the Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer had the funniest name in the league. Never to be challenged until Jeff Beukeboom began lacing up his skates years later.

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80. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team captured my imagination. In addition to introducing the world to Sugar Ray Leonard, we got Gold from the Spinks Brothers, Howard Davis Jr. and Leo Randolph, Silver from Charles Mooney, and Bronze from heavyweight John Tate. Incredible collection of boxing talent.

81. I’d like to see a computer simulation of Serena Williams playing Martina Navritolova in her heyday. Billie Jean from the late-1960’s gets winner.

82. Ah the simpler days, when my biggest worry was how Willis Reed’s knees were feeling.

83. I’m trying to remember who I hated more back in the ’80’s, Danny Ainge or Bill Laimbeer. Oh, that’s right, it was M.L. Carr.

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84. I’m glad the relief pitcher golf cart is coming back. That should speed up the pace of play…

85. Was there anything better than when you had a birthday as a kid and one of your buddies gave you a batting donut?

86. Speaking of unmistakeable childhood birthday party moments, the elation of finding out that your friend’s mom was taking you all out to a miniature golf course for the celebration was second to none!

87. The Los Angeles T-Birds were my favorite roller derby team as a kid.

88. I miss the old Superstars competition. When it morphed into Battle of the Network Stars, it was all downhill from there. However, a computer simulation pitting the old cast of Dallas versus the original cast of Baywatch might warrant a pay per view purchase.

89. Did Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pitch against Bill “Spaceman” Lee in the late-’70’s? They must have faced off at least a couple of times, right? That would have been cool to see.

90. How about changing the Home Run Derby at this year’s All Star Game to a “pitchers only” competition? Bumgarner-Syndergaard final? I’d be up for that.

91. Have the Warriors reached status as a team that the entire country (outside the Bay Area) will root against yet?

92. Kenny Atkinson should earn strong consideration for NBA Coach of the Year. What he’s done with the Nets is nothing short of incredible.

93. There were some iconic catchers back in the ’70’s, with Munson, Fisk and Bench among the league’s best players. Kid Carter came along in the second half of the decade. Where are those catchers today (Buster Posey may have been the last one)? Such a demanding position. Does a parent let their talented kid strap on the tools of ignorance anymore? I don’t think so.

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94. I love that Bob Costas’ pinkeye at the Sochi Olympics has become a recurring punchline on Brockmire. For the last time, you’ve gotta watch it!

95. Something about Mills Lane as the third man in the ring made any championship fight all the more enjoyable.

96. Sudden death overtime at an NHL playoff game may be the most exciting experience for any fan to witness in person (assist to Copper Springs Roddy on this one).

97. Remember when the teacher wheeled that dusty, oversized, clunky and outdated  TV into your 5th grade classroom because rain had forced recess indoors? And then she played Brian’s Song? Think back to those kids that didn’t have tears in their eyes when the lights came back on. Those are the ones the government should be keeping an eye on today.

98. The biggest influence on my desire to one day write about sports came from none other than Oscar Madison. The only bright side to a Mets rain delay on Channel 9 back in the day was the Odd Couple rerun they’d play while the tarp was being rolled onto the field.

99. The best one-punch knockout I ever witnessed live was delivered by Laila Ali at Madison Square Garden on an undercard back in 2006. You could hear the snapping sound of a broken nose all the way up in MSG’s Blue Heaven.

100. I’ve never seen a television show quite like After Life. It’s got nothing to do with sports, but is so unique I need to give it a shout out here. Ricky Gervais is a genius methinks.

If you’ve made it to the end, I can’t thank you enough for celebrating 100 SportsAttic posts with all of us out here in Cyberland By The Bay.

I’m looking forward to the next 100!

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SportsAttic Turns 100 With 100 Thoughts on the World of Sports (Part 1: #1-50)

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No, not 100 years.

But we are at our 100th post here at SportsAttic, and that’s cause for celebration. And with the perfect storm of today’s sports calendar upon us (NBA season’s home stretch, March Madness, NFL Free Agency and Draft Prep, MLB Spring Training wrap up), what better time than now for 100 unconnected and random thoughts on the world of sports?

And we’re off:

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  1. Brockmire. If you are a baseball fan and haven’t yet tuned in, you are badly missing out. Best show on television right now (warning on language, content, and general poor taste), I laugh out loud more than once every episode. It’s on IFC (not even sure what that is), but Hulu (also not sure) has Season 1, and I pieced through Season 2 on United’s in flight entertainment programming. Season 3 begins April 3rd. Binge it.
  2. Scott Van Pelt. Best thing about Sports Center and ESPN these days. You east coasters have to wait until midnight for SVP, Stanford Steve, Bad Beats, etc., and it is well worth the wait. Stay up for it. It’s like talking sports over drinks with a lifelong friend. And another that’s likely to invoke laughter of the “out loud” variety.
  3. Noah Syndergaard. Love watching him pitch, but the guy’s a real character, too. Between his role as an extra on Game of Thrones, to riding that horse to Spring Training a couple of years ago, to serving up chin music as a rookie on the first pitch of his first World Series appearance, this guy is the real deal. And again, he’s funny! If you are on Instagram, follow his page. Great stuff coming out with regularity (“I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum”).
  4. Antonio Brown. Because it’s always good to have someone to root against in the NFL.
  5. James Dolan. In case we ever need a reminder of the definition of “douchebag” or “bully”, or should we forget what POS stands for.
  6. You want to revisit your childhood, go open an old shoe box full of baseball cards. That aroma of stale cardboard is like a magic carpet ride back in time.
  7. There is no shade of green greener than the first glimpse of infield grass when you come out of the tunnel to look for your seat at a baseball game.
  8. Is there anything more full of promise than that moment when you complete your brackets for March Madness and imagine your upcoming perfect run through the finals?
  9. Clyde Frazier calling out LeBron James’s indifference this past weekend was one of his greatest moments as a broadcaster.
  10. I miss Carmelo Anthony.
  11. The only thing that would have made Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young season of 2018 even more outstanding would have been if he hadn’t gotten that darn haircut.
  12. Is there a bigger example of a post-career train wreck than Lenny Dykstra?
  13. I’d like to see a computer simulation of Jesse Owens racing Usain Bolt in the 100 yard dash. Throw in Bob Hayes just for fun, too.
  14. Does anyone else wonder if Daniel Snyder has a poster of James Dolan on his bedroom wall?
  15. Dick Vitale is still my favorite March Madness ambassador. His enthusiasm is genuine and good for the soul.
  16. Anyone picking Duke to win the Big Dance this year should have to pay a luxury tax  on their pool admission fee.
  17. I propose a new reality series where NFL owners square off in an Ultimate Fighting round robin format. I’d gladly throw $50 bucks away on Jerry Jones versus John Mara. Double elimination. Let the proceeds go to a fund for retired players dealing with CTE.
  18. How do Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic keep doing it? Is it me or are there more old superstars (hello, Tom Brady) that have been dominating for decades today than ever before in our history? But to have three of them all in men’s tennis, with no heir apparent? Wow.
  19. I wonder about Aaron Judge. It’s hard to be anointed an all-time great after your rookie year. Pitchers adjust, injuries hit. Important year three coming up for him.
  20. Now that it looks like Mike Trout’s an Angel for life, will they ever bring in some pitching? And no, Shohei Ohtani doesn’t count.
  21. How many Home Runs would Barry Bonds have hit without the juice? I’m guessing around 475, but that would only be part of a monstrous stat line that would have included 700+ doubles, 400+ stolen bases, a .320 lifetime average, 3300+ career hits and recognition as one of the greatest defensive left fielders of the day. Yeah, and probably still a first class horse’s ass, but hey, he’d be in the Hall of Fame right now.
  22. Joe Buck’s cameos on Brockmire are priceless and have made me a fan of his (okay, well, almost).
  23. Steph Curry is 31? Doesn’t seem possible.
  24. I don’t follow the NHL much anymore, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any defensemen who patrol the blue line striking terror into opponents the way Scott Stevens used to at the height of the New Jersey Devils dynasty (had to throw the hockey fans a bone).
  25. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only golfer to ever play Augusta, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Winged Foot, and Shinnecock, and not break 100 on any of them (there’s the bone for you golfers)?
  26. Will Serena set the record for most majors won? I’d like to see it, because she’s an awe-inspiring athlete and her extended dominance has been nothing short of stunning, but I could do without her shouting at umpires about how she’s a mother. Not for nothing, but there have been mothers playing successfully on the WTA tour for a long time, and not using it as an excuse to throw a tantrum when things didn’t go their way (and for clarity, I like tantrums in tennis, let’s just leave the motherhood part out of it, okay?).
  27. Why hasn’t someone signed Craig Kimbrel? Is he on the downward trajectory part of his career? Yes, it looked like it at the end of last year, but still…seems like an ideal candidate for the Nationals to zoom in on and ensure he’s completely spent.
  28. Manny Machado could go for 45 dings and 150 ribbies this year and no one will notice because he’s in San Diego and the Pads won’t reach 75 wins (maybe ever?). I think that may have been his plan all along.
  29. Bill Walton makes watching Pac 12 hoops so much fun. Another guy who’s just having a blast and taking the viewer with him.
  30. Poor Luke Walton, though. He never had a chance when The King came to town, and now he can look forward to being summarily dismissed at season’s end. Here’s guessing he goes on to a long and successful career when he takes over his next team. Scapegoat, anyone? Anyone?
  31. I wonder when the moment was that Michael Jordan said to himself “screw it, I’m just going to stop pretending and let everyone know what a dick I am.”
  32. Chuck, Kenny, Ernie and Shaq own the months of April, May and June. I, for one, can’t wait.
  33. This whole Charles Oakley-James Dolan feud is tiring (and yes, Dolan is at fault, per usual), but I still don’t retire Oak’s Knicks jersey. Great player, but falls just short of the Garden rafters.
  34. Another show with some terrific NYC sports references is Jordan Peele’s Big Mouth, on Netflix. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and incredibly cringe-worthy at times, but another that will make you laugh out loud in spite of yourself multiple times an episode.
  35. I wonder how many followers Pele would have if he played today and had an Instagram page (actually, maybe he already has a page, or a Twitter handle — have to check).
  36. Is Manny Pacquiao really going to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. again? Can I just send Showtime the $100 dollars along with a request begging them not to air the fight?
  37. There was a time in the ’90’s when Michael Buffer was my favorite sports personality, bar none. “Let’s get ready to rummmm-blllle!!” But I’m already sick of that car commercial of his.
  38. Is Colin Kaepernick a courageous revolutionary or a brilliant opportunist? I’m not sure, but my experience tells me that these answers usually lie somewhere in the middle.
  39. Yes, I’m rooting to see Tim Tebow in the outfield at Citi Field at some point this season. And when it happens, I hope it’s because he’s earned his opportunity.
  40. Do we have an over/under on the first time Gabe Kapler and Bryce Harper come to blows this season? How about June 1?
  41. Based on what the Dolphins are doing this offseason, it seems to me they may have done Adam Gase a favor when they threw him down the stairs at the end of last season.
  42. Is Ben Roethlisberger really the problem in Pittsburgh? I don’t think so. Asshole? Yes, for sure. But not the problem.
  43. I really hope Seton Hall makes some noise in the tourney this year.
  44. Can you imagine how much hype would surround Damian Lillard if he played outside of Portland? The guy is a stud, and maybe the best point in the league, but the Blazers can’t be taken seriously in a playoff series.
  45. The ’70’s were boxing’s golden age for heavyweights. We had the Ali-Frazier Trilogy; “DOWN GOES FRAZIER” when “Big” George Foreman (another in the list of added first names along with “Millionaire” Bruce Wayne and “Poor” Eli Manning) literally lifted Joe off the canvas with a colossal right hand; Kenny Norton breaking Ali’s jaw; and Ali shocking the world, pole-axing Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle (“Ali bomaye”). Ali fought each of the other three. So did George. Joe fought Ali and George, as did Norton. Did Joe Frazier and Ken Norton ever square off? Answer at the end.*
  46. I don’t care about the World Baseball Classic. I hope they don’t bring it back, and if MLB quietly just never brought it up again, would anyone notice?
  47. Quick, who’s your Mount Rushmore of sports broadcasters? Mine is Howard Cosell, Marv Albert, John Madden and Vin Scully. (All New York version — Mel Allen — although I only remember him from This Week in Baseball, Bob Murphy, Marv and Pat Summerall — had to work Summerall in somehow, and hey, he played for the Giants).
  48. There will never be a better backcourt than Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Ever. Plus they had Hall of Fame nicknames.
  49. Was anyone else surprised as a kid when they picked up a newspaper and saw that the great Rangers winger, Roger Bear, actually spelled his name Rod Gilbert?
  50. Brockmire. I feel so strongly about Hank Azaria’s show that I’m bookending this post for all of you who may not have taken it seriously yet. And if you aren’t on Instagram, go set up a page simply to follow Brockmire promos. His “around spring training” posts are hysterical — especially the ones about Chicago, Anaheim and Philly.

Whenever I do a post like this, I always think of a dozen or so that should have been included after I’ve already published. That’s why I’m doing this one as a two-parter, so that I’ll have a forum for the ones that should have made it in when I think of them in the days to come.

Stay tuned, #51-100 limbering up on deck!

*And for those paying attention and still reading: “He wasn’t sure if he could kick my ass, and I wasn’t sure if I could kick his ass, so we just remained buddies and never fought each other.” — Joe Frazier, on why he and Ken Norton never faced each other in the ring.

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