Sports Media Then and Now

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I miss the days of pajamas and Sunday mornings, pulling the rubber band off the rolled up newspaper and spreading the sports section out all over our dining room floor. The initial scan and deliberation, deciding which article to read first.

I almost always began with the recap of the previous night’s Mets game (or Knicks, depending on the season), but it was a veritable overflow of critical information that any young sports fan had to know about.

The Newark Star-Ledger was the paper I grew up on, and to this day I would argue that from the early-’70’s to the late-’90’s (when newspapers all started falling by the wayside), the Star-Ledger (we never added “Newark” to the moniker back in the day, it was always just the Star-Ledger, or Ledger) Sports Section was consistently head and shoulders superior to all others. Best in class, period. And not just for the tri-state area — we are talking across the entire country! Heck, the whole, wide world!

The Sunday Ledger’s expanded Sports Section was the grandaddy of them all, of course, because you always had a Saturday game to digest, plus you had the columns from all the staff writers and senior editors on their respective sports (Dan Castellano on baseball and the Mets was my personal favorite), plus there was the grid.

You know what I’m referring to, dontcha? That weekly table listing every hitter and pitcher in both leagues, with all their important vitals (average, HR’s, RBI’s, ERA — none of this OPS or WAR stuff that annoys the hell out of me these days). I could spend hours on the grid.

Important questions often emerged from scouring the grid, such as “can Ron Blomberg really get enough official at bats to lead the league in hitting this year?” or “how can a hitter as good as Hal McRae really be dead last in the entire American League?”

For good measure, the Ledger would throw in individual stats for the Mets and Yanks separately with their own tables covering the entire active rosters (and update them after every game — are you listening New York Post?). But maybe the best tidbits were those you’d find buried among the classifieds and horse racing results in the final few pages of the sports section.

That’s where the true gems could be uncovered. Like wrestling results — “Ivan Putski won again — Polish Power!” — or small, waiver-wire transactions, like young Hank Webb being sent down to Triple-A after another awful start. Yup, you could spend hours poring over the abundance of information pulled together in that awesome, grainy collection of pressed pulp and ink that was sure to leave a stain on the carpet when you were done (sorry, mom).

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I got to thinking about how we used to consume sports news as I waited for my flight to Dallas to take off. On my phone I’d just reviewed in detail my New York Post app, getting caught up on all the New York action from the previous day (Mets lost again and their bullpen still sucks. Yanks won again and traded for the leading home run hitter in the AL, apparently just to rub Mets fans noses in it).

Intermittently I flipped over to the Facebook app, where amid all the pictures of graduations and household pets I caught a posting of the New York Times article from 50 years ago reviewing the Mets trade for Donn Clendenon from the Expos (we got that one right, at least, although it probably speaks more to the Expos nascent front office back then).

Then I jumped over to Twitter, where I saw a couple of cool, old photos, one of Walter Payton and Earl Campbell together back in the ’70’s — a couple of great backs wearing number 34 (note they were wearing, not exchanging, jerseys) — and one showing Terry Bradshaw and Jim McMahon yucking it up on the sidelines after a game in the mid-’80’s. We can only hazard a guess as to what those two Mensa members had been discussing.

Back on Facebook, another post popped up from a page I follow offering to sell a 1954 Ted Williams Topps baseball card to the highest bidder, and over on Instagram I see that apparently Genie Bouchard is in London this morning. And additionally, it appears the tennis star/IG Model has recently auctioned off her match-worn sneakers from her latest early-round knockout, this one at the French Open, to reward her fans and celebrate reaching that all-important milestone of two million followers.

Huh. Match-worn sneaks?

Not exactly Ivan Putski, but interesting nonetheless.

As an admitted traditionalist, but also a sports fan with huge appetite for anything nostalgic, I wonder — is this the Golden Age for those of us who wake up ready to eat, drink and sleep sports? Or are we all actually suffering from this embarrassment of riches, unknowingly getting sucked into information overload — sports fan version?

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Like on most important existential topics, I don’t have a clear answer here, but perhaps it is simply another example of today’s world not being better or worse than the “good old days,” but just different?

As a kid, I lived for the four minutes of sports coverage at the back end of the 6:00 evening news that my father insisted on tuning to daily. Warner Wolf was the king as far as I was concerned, poking fun at Mr. G. the weatherman, and making his predictably inaccurate selections of the weekend’s upcoming football games (yeah, sounds familiar).

Bill Mazur was a surly and unappealing talking head who had somehow garnered a short, erratic time slot to talk sports on one of the local channels (Channel 9, I think), and I couldn’t stand him. But I watched him. Every time I could. Because it was sports information, and I needed it. Yeah, in those days, you either worked your schedule around when sports news fleetingly flashed at you on the television, or hoped you’d luck into a segment like Mazer’s while surfing from Channel 2 to 13 and back, before heading to bed.

Then in the ’80’s George Michael’s Sports Machine came along on Sunday nights, and I felt as though I’d died and gone to heaven. All sports, highlight after highlight, with amusing, insightful and in depth commentary. Yeah, he was a homer for the Redskins, but I didn’t care too much, because this was appointment viewing aimed specifically at me, and it carried me through the college years. What a way to close out your weekend!

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But print media was my foundation. When the family moved west in the ’70’s I switched my allegiances to the L.A. Times sports section. I found it to be a solid runner up to the Ledger, with the added benefit of broad college football and basketball coverage, something that was more of an afterthought back in New Jersey (let’s face it, Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and the USC gridiron powers of the ’70’s demanded coverage, and the uninspiring sports programs of Seton Hall and Rutgers back east simply couldn’t compare).

In addition to the daily papers, at an early age I developed a long-term relationship with Sports Illustrated that continues to this day. I still subscribe, and if the wifi had precluded me from working on my blog on this morning’s flight (as so often is the case with United Airlines, a consistently bad horror show 30,000 feet in the air), I’d be diving into the latest issue, even though, much like my beloved Mets, Knicks and Jets, SI has fallen on hard times these days.

I mean, c’mon, it is perfectly understandable if the poor economics facing all newsstand publications these days force the publishers to adopt an every other week distribution format, but don’t lie to me and tell me it’s the same amount of sports content. It isn’t, and oh by the way, while we are on the subject, stop pandering to the politically correct by choosing to cover certain sports that few readers (or me, at least) care about.

I’m sorry, but a full issue — or damn near it, anyway — dedicated to women’s soccer and the World Cup is overkill, especially right on the heels of having featured several members of the same women’s soccer squad in last month’s swimsuit issue. If I were a skeptic, I’d hazard a guess that there could be some financial connection between the upcoming World Cup and SI, but we will save the conspiracy theories for another day.

(SportsAttic aside — is it just me, or do others also feel like a leacherous creep if they dare open up the SI Swimsuit Issue in a public setting? It’s bad enough being a member of the universally despised demographic of over-50 white males, without throwing gas on that fire by pulling out a magazine showing nothing but women less than half my age in various stages of undress. I can’t help looking over my shoulder, anticipating an angry mob of pant-suited feminists descending upon me, ready to snatch my magazine from my age-spotted hands to beat me to death with it, while being raucously cheered on by the other passengers on the plane. Sigh.)

However, I digress.

Anyway, here’s my quick and personal Top 5 of sports media sources, past and present, along with a note or two on why they were, or how they could be, useful to me and my fellow sports fans:

PAST

  1. Newark Star-Ledger Sports: Give me a Jerry Izenberg column on the first page, talking about Muhammad Ali or Y.A. Tittle, or some little known fact about a long-ago Super Bowl. Follow that with columns from Castellano and the Kleins — Dave on the NFL and the football Giants, Moss on the Yanks and the American League — and throw in all the local New York beat writers. The Ledger. Nothing better — retired champion, never to be challenged again.
  2. Warner Wolf on CBS Channel 2: Before we had “The Swami” and “SVP” on ESPN, there was Warner, guaranteeing if the viewer followed his picks (and went the opposite way) they were a lock for betting success. Then flashing to a fan passed out in the upper deck at Shea Stadium and leading into his next segment with his “and Mr. G was at the game!” call. Priceless stuff.
  3. Los Angeles Times Sports: The ’70’s were the time to be a young sports fan in Southern California. Wooden’s Bruins were in the midst of their incredible unbeaten streak. McKay’s Trojans were winning national championships with Student Body Right. The Dodgers’ vaunted core was beginning to form with Cey, Russel, Lopes and Garvey finding their way to their appropriate spots in the Chavez Ravine infield (before the Dodgers finally figured out this grouping and rode it to the 1974 World Series, that infield featured Garvey trying to play third, Russell as an outfielder because an aging Maury Wills was still at short, Lee Lacy as the second baseman of the future, with Billy Buckner the heir to Wes Parker at first — really, you could look it up). Plus you had some formidable L.A. pro football drama, and the weekly debate over James Harris or Pat Haden or Ron Jaworski for the always close-but-no-cigar Rams was intense.
  4. Sports Illustrated: It was the photos that got me hooked. Ali, Secretariat, O.J. The articles were too long for me as a kid, but when I figured out how inspiring the writing could be, too, I was all in, and still am to this day.
  5. New York Times Sports: Just kidding to make sure you’re all still paying attention. This list ends at four. The NY Times was, is, and always will be, the worst sports section on the planet.

PRESENT

  1. ESPN: I don’t care if it is overexposed. Nothing compares, and now that they’ve ditched that dreadful pairing of Michael Smith and Jamele Hill I can go back to watching without the need to keep my remote within reach. And east coast fans, I know Scott Van Pelt comes on late back there, but he’s the best in the business, bar none. Relatable, witty and having so much fun with his guests and sidekick, Stanford Steve. It’s like hanging with that guy you don’t see very often, but when you do you can’t wait to dive into the latest in the world of sports. Record it if you can’t stay up that late, or…
  2. Twitter: Used to be my least favorite social media medium, but I chalk that up to not recognizing how to make it work for me. In addition to following my favorite sports writers and commentators (hello SVP, Buster Olney and Joel Sherman), I’ve found a helluva lot of “retro” and “vintage” sports sites that bring back obscure and fun memories from my sports fan days of old. Plus, there’s the real time element of wondering why the heck Jason Vargas just left a game he seemed to be cruising in, only to learn via Twitter he has a cramp (a cramp?) in his calf. And Dickie V. Lots of Dickie V. The guy loves Twitter. He gives updates on everything, not just college hoops (MLB, his grandkids, a stranger he befriended at dinner the night before), and he may just be the nicest, most genuine guy in the entire world of sports.
  3. Facebook: I know it’s fashionable to blast Facebook. And sure, there’s a lot I don’t care for, mostly pertaining to the aggressive political views overshared by many, but if you join a few clubs, groups and sites that share a passion of yours (and block — but stay friends with — basically everyone else), the Facebook experience becomes a steady feed of information that matters to you. Right now I enjoy posts from MLB, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, ’69 Mets, and various sports card collectible pages (some photos, some where you can go in and purchase), along with all my favorite team sites (and the Sopranos page, Classic Movies, yeah, it’s a long list).
  4. Instagram: Similar to my Facebook strategy, I prefer to cherry-pick certain meaningful InstaGram pages (meaningful to me, anyway, and apparently two million other Genie Bouchard fans) to follow, and enjoy a wide range of interesting photos and commentary on the world of sports, plus the added bonus of old movie clips, satire (The Onion cracks me up) and humor. Now if I could only find a way to post SportsAttic blogs on IG, this site would vault all the way to #2 on my list.
  5. New York Post phone app: Maybe the ritual I miss the most from my days commuting from New Jersey to New York City every morning is forking over my fifty cents to buy the best hour of entertainment known to man. Starting from the back cover (of course), I could usually make my way completely through the sports section and entertainment pages before arriving at my lower-Manhattan destination. I’ve transitioned (begrudgingly) over to the electronic version, and despite still preferring the feel of newspaper in my hands, I’ve embraced the economy and convenience of having The Post’s irresistibly campy articles and features just a finger tap away. The Post is my current undisputed champion of New York sports coverage, filling the void left when the Ledger succumbed to the financial pressures of today and became it’s current shell of its old self.

So is today’s media better, worse or just different?

I’m going with just different. The memory of learning how to read a boxscore, or understand movement in the daily MLB divisional standings via my voracious consumption of the Star-Ledger sports section makes me smile to this day.

But laughing out loud and pausing Scott Van Pelt so I can rewind and share a “Bad Beat”  segment with the rest of my family on a Sunday night is pretty cool stuff, too.

Would watching Warner Wolf have felt so special if I could have dialed him up 24/7 on a tablet back in the ’70’s? I don’t know the answer to that one either, but I do know that appointment viewing with the family and sharing a laugh at Mr. G’s expense always felt good back in the grade school years.

Then again, what I wouldn’t have given back in my childhood to be able to touch a button and read about Willie Mays’ catch in the ’54 World Series, or see a clip “on demand” of Ali’s “phantom punch” against Liston.

Special times then and now. The common thread? Sports as a timeline for life well lived, with vivid memories, shared joy and anguish among friends and strangers, and always the knowledge that tomorrow will offer up more unique moments and experiences to be enjoyed.

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The NBA Offseason — It’s FAN-tastic!

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What a difference a week makes!

Last Saturday the discussion was all about whether KD could give the on-fumes-but-still-champion Warriors enough of a jolt to recover from the 3-1 hole they’d dug for themselves in the NBA Finals.

Today the whole complexion of the free agency market, and balance of power across the league, has been turned upside down.

As we are all still coming to terms with a 2019-20 NBA season that will likely go on without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson making a single bucket between the two of them, the Lakers swoop in and pick up Anthony Davis without having to give up their best player not named LeBron, Kyle Kuzma (but they did include pretty much everything else that wasn’t nailed down).

Instantly the Lakers take a place at the table of western conference powers, with the offseason only in its infancy. A rested King and a Brow with something to prove? Plus their most talented youngster in Kuzma? This was a serious power move by L.A.

Wow. Okayyyy…

So with the draft still a week away, what are we to make of this deck chair shuffling that’s kicked off the NBA’s always enjoyable offseason?

Stay with us here, because we are going to dig in and figure the whole thing out. Who are the winners and losers heading into the draft as a result of this seismic shift in NBA power, one that’s taken place in only the few short days since the Raptors brought the good people of The North their first NBA title? SportsAttic takes a look:

WINNERS

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No surprise that LeBron has found a way to insert himself into the June dialogue. You know watching this postseason had to positively kill him. He pathetically attempted to join the discussion around the fan that shoved Kyle Lowry (kinda like the grounded little kid, nose pressed to the window, while a game of kickball goes on in the street outside), but no one engaged him and he went quiet again.

Well LBJ is back. With no less than an NBA top-5 superstar as his latest wingman keeping him company. Anthony Davis is that big a deal, and keeping Kuzma may be the most important aspect of this deal. That’s a big three. Throw in another year of Rajon Rondo and any capable young point guard apprentice, and the Lakers are one three-point marksman away from becoming the prohibitive favorite for the 2020 title.

And speaking of winners, just when we thought things couldn’t get any better for Kawhi Leonard, the Davis deal happens today and now all of Los Angeles turns toward the Clippers, shouting a collective “your move.”

If the Clippers want to fight for a reasonable share of fan interest and L.A. hoop hype (and they really have no choice), Kawhi’s signing just became a must. He’s been rumored to be leaning in the direction of the Clips already, but talk about a sense of urgency for the “other” NBA team based in L.A.!

The Davis deal makes it necessary for the Clippers to double down. The question now becomes who will be the “second” star to join Kawhi in coming aboard the perennial “second” Los Angeles basketball franchise. The Clippers’ salary cap room is there, but the free agent pickings just got a lot slimmer in the last six days.

The SportsAttic guess? Kemba Walker. Anyone else see a little Kyle Lowry in Kemba? With Kemba riding shotgun for Kawhi, along with the Clips returning crew of no-name, but effective, role players, the Clips could still make things interesting next year in the battle for Los Angeles.

Plus, don’t forget about Jimmy Butler. The injuries to KD and Klay move Butler from afterthought to primary free agent target. He’s not enough of a pure shooter to help LeBron, and too similar in style to become Kawhi’s sidekick, but Butler’s value took a huge leap when Klay Thompson blew up his knee in Game 6, so look for the two-way star to cash in, big time.

LOSERS

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Talk about a tough week in Oakland.

Not only did the final hoops game in Oracle Arena history end in elimination for the hometown Dubs, the franchise now faces an existential crisis. Will Golden State stay the course with their carefully crafted image of the evolved, player-friendly place to be, thus succumbing to the pressure and offering max deals to both KD and Klay — their guys — despite the high likelihood both will miss the entire upcoming season?

Or do they go back on their word, pass on the wounded hometown heroes, and go full shift in another direction, choosing to establish a new identity to usher in their shiny, billion dollar, downtown arena? Based on their public commentary about remaining committed to KD and Klay despite their injuries, it would appear Steph Curry better gear up for a lot of triple teams come the fall.

We can certainly add Durant and Thompson to our list of losers, if not financially (although that remains to be seen), then absolutely for the year of painful rehab in their future. My sense is that no team (except perhaps the deep-pocketed Dubs) will pay full, max-contract value for any star who will sit out the first year of their salary cap draining deal. That is bad news for Durant and Thompson for sure, right?

Right… Uhhh, check that. I could see one franchise doing something that dumb.

Hello New York Knickerbockers. Would they really? Of course they would. Bidding against themselves while buying into every smokescreen being sent out from San Francisco to Brooklyn, can’t we all see the Knicks going full on with a max-deal for KD this summer? Somewhere the ghosts of Bob McAdoo, Spencer Haywood, Amare Stoudemire and Antonio McDyess are all doubled over, shrieking in hysterics. Simply because they are the Knicks, they must be added to the list of “losers.”

WILD CARDS

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It is hard to imagine calling a team on the rise, one who is about to add a recognized superstar to their playoff core, a “loser.” So we’ll stick the Brooklyn Nets in the “wild card” category.

This one will be fascinating to watch, as the Nets seem to be on a collision course with Kyrie Irving, casting an enormous shadow of doubt over the positive culture that GM Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson have been brewing in Brooklyn. And for those of you who remember such things, wasn’t it only a year ago that one of the most popular offseason rumors had Irving and Butler packaging themselves together this summer in hopes of teaming up and making a run at a ring? Butler doesn’t seem to be a fit for the Nets, especially should the Nets retain restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell as most expect, but still worth watching as the pieces begin to fall this July.

Lastly, where does all this leave the lone remaining “K?” Yup, Khris Middleton has completely flown under the radar when pundits discuss this summer’s free agent crop, but the guy is solid as they come, and with the two Golden State front-liners now in injury-induced limbo, Middleton, just like Walker and Butler, finds his stock rising at the right time.

Here’s guessing that the Bucks find a way to keep Middleton and reload for another run this fall. Milwaukee didn’t earn the league’s best regular season record by accident, and when they sat 2-0 against the Raptors in the conference semis, many expected them to be the eastern foe facing the Dubs in the finals. So we’ve got to pick one free agent to resign with his old team (besides the lamentable, injury-induced retention about to take place by The Bay), and Middleton is our choice.

Unless, that is, an additional wild card team deludes themselves into thinking they are one free agent away from contending in what appears to be a wide open “Association” in 2019-20 (watch the Heat and the Mavericks in this category — Middleton could be a poor man’s D-Wade down in South Beach, or bring a complementary style to Dallas’s European duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis). Barring such a surprise, look for Middleton and the Greek Freak to pick up where they left off in the east next season.

And now we wait for this Thursday’s draft.

Zion Williamson to the Pelicans is a fait accompli, and we will all learn a lot about just how good Lonzo Ball really is once those two youngsters take the floor together in November. Ja Morant will go at two to the Grizzlies, and make no impact this season (or ever? Bust, anyone?), before the Knicks grab R.J. Barrett with the third pick, a selection so obvious that even the overmatched Knicks front office can’t flub this one.

The fourth pick will be the Pelicans again, in a draft that most feel drops off steeply following the first three selections. Will New Orleans parlay the Lakers’ three first-rounders into success down the road, building around the other worldly talents of Williamson and those other L.A. castoffs received in return for The Brow? That’s why they play the games, of course, but it will be fun to watch.

Just because the Finals are behind us doesn’t mean the intrigue ceases. In fact, this summer could be the most fun we’ve had in an offseason since… well… since KD went off to the Hamptons for the 4th of July and returned a members of the Golden State Warriors.

Game on!

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The Year Magic Couldn’t Do It Alone

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Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

A 31-year-old point guard. A franchise synonymous with winning NBA titles. Series-altering injuries to two of the point guard’s key teammates. An opponent featuring a superstar on the rise, who in addition to his considerable talents in putting points on the board, knows how to play suffocating defense, and is capable of willing his team to win.

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You guessed it. We aren’t talking about the 2019 NBA Finals, but we may as well be. In this case, the finals in question took place in June of 1991. The 31-year-old point guard was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, only five months prior to him shocking the world by announcing he had contracted the HIV virus and would be retiring from the NBA.

The 27-year-old superstar? None other than SportsAttic’s NBA GOAT — the incomparable Michael Jordan.

I’ve been thinking of the parallels between this year’s NBA Finals, where the heavily favored Warriors find themselves on the brink of elimination prior to Game 5, and the 1991 finals that featured a tired Magic and injured Lakers running mates trying to squeeze out one last title triumph from their battle-fatigued bodies.

Since the beginning of this year’s finals, with Kevin Durant on the shelf due to a partially torn calf, and Klay Thompson gimpy due to a tender hammy, the similarities between that 1991 matchup and today’s have been striking to me. Then, the other day, an old friend posted on social media a suggestion that perhaps the Raptors of 2019 were a reincarnation of the 2004 Pistons. Hmmm…

I like my friend’s comparison, particularly since the Pistons of ’04 were an unheralded group that entered the finals heavy underdogs and parlayed unselfish teamwork into an unexpected title. Those ’04 Pistons were a team that played better together than any of their individual parts would have suggested, and one that came out of nowhere to upset a heavily favored Lakers team that had won three of the four previous NBA titles.

Yeah, it’s a solid comparison.

However, the difference between the comparisons of today’s Raptors and those ’04 Pistons, as opposed to the ’91 Bulls, lies in the fact that the Raptors, for as well as they are playing as a team right now, are riding the superhuman efforts (on both ends of the court) of Kawhi Leonard. The Pistons were a team with no single superstar, whereas those Bulls…

Well, yeah, they were all about MJ.

Let’s take a look back for a minute.

The 1990-91 Bulls went 61-21 during the regular season, but were a team that had been dispatched by the NBA-champion Pistons each of the prior two seasons. At the time, the ringless Jordan was recognized as the greatest individual basketball player in the game (key word “individual”), but had not yet earned the other-worldly distinction of “World Champion Superstar,” one who makes the teammates around him better.

The intense jealousy/dislike I would develop over time for MJ was only in it’s infancy back in ’91. His Bulls had sent home the favored, Rick Pitino-led Knicks in 1989’s conference semis, and I began to dislike Michael then, perhaps sensing the pain he was only beginning to inflict on me and my Knicks-fan brethren. Chicago swept the Knicks out in Round 1 of the 1991 playoffs, and had only dropped one game heading into the finals. I wanted the Bulls to lose mostly out of Knicks-fan bitterness, not realizing just how painful Michael and the Bulls would make NBA seasons to come for the New York Knickerbockers and their fans.

Along the way to the ’91 finals, MJ and the Bulls exorcised their Pistons demons, sweeping the defending two-time champs in the conference finals, where the Pistons (led by that all-time classless worm, Isiah Thomas) had walked off the court and into their locker room with time still remaining on the clock in Game 4, rather than shake hands with the new eastern champs.

Like Kawhi Leonard today, Michael was 27 years old and at the height of his athleticism. Jordan played in all 82 games during the 1990-91 season, averaging 37 minutes a night, while scoring 31.5 with 6 rebounds per and 5.5 assists to boot. Because of MJ’s ability to fill out a box score on a nightly basis, it was easy to ignore that he was also becoming the game’s preeminent defender, and with the addition of wingman Scottie Pippen a couple of years earlier, Chicago had begun to show the two-way dominance that would ultimately define the MJ title years.

But remember, at this point, there had been zero Bulls titles. And this Knicks fan was a little tired (already) of all the MJ hype for a guy that hadn’t won anything. So heading into the 1991 NBA Finals, my prediction (yeah I’ve been making impetuous and preposterous prognostications for a looooong time) was for a series where the great Magic Johnson (like Steph Curry today, a 31-year-old former MVP) would be able to neutralize Jordan, while Magic’s superior supporting class of Lakers (featuring James Worthy, Byron Scott, Sam Perkins and a young Vlade Divac) would turn the series in the direction of the Lakers, delivering them the title. Not so fast…

The Lakers actually went into Chicago and won Game 1 of the finals that year, thoroughly convincing me of my predictive genius. MJ and the Bulls came back and won Game 2 at home, but the Lakers were happy to head back to L.A. knowing the next three games would be on their home court (ahhh the days of the 2-3-2 playoff format). Game 3 foreshadowed what was to come, though, because with both teams at full strength, the Bulls emphatically pulled away in the second half to go up two games to one.

The Lakers were on fumes, showing the wear and tear of annual trips deep into the playoffs during the decade of the ’80’s (wars waged against the likes of Moses, Dr. J and the Sixers, Larry Legend and the Celts, etc., — the era of heavyweights during which Magic had garnered his five rings).

Kareem had retired after the ’89 finals, where Detroit had bullied their way to the first of  their two championships in a row, and the Lakers had fallen in the western finals in 1990, their first in memory with no Abdul-Jabbar in the middle. So this was not the Showtime Lakers of the mid-’80’s by a long stretch.

Despite his age, Magic had still suited up for 79 games in 1990-91, averaging a rugged 37.1 minutes a game, and his Lakers had gone 58-24. Scott had played in all 82 at the age of 29, averaging 32 minutes, and Worthy appeared in 78, logging 38.6 minutes a game, also at the age of 29. The wear and tear was adding up.

In the playoffs, their time on the court ratcheted up dramatically, with Magic averaging 43 minutes a game in the Bulls series (in fact, in the  ’91 finals — Magic’s last — he averaged 18.6 points, 12.4 assists and 8 boards — unreal stats nobody talked about because Michael went for 31, 8 and 6). And Magic wasn’t alone in leaving it all on the court one final time. The aging Lakers had a thin bench, and coach Mike Dunleavy had little choice but to ride his veterans, with Worthy averaging 40 minutes a night throughout the playoffs. Dunleavy also drained Perkins for his own 40 minutes a contest, and Scott for 38. In other words, Los Angeles was flat out gassed.

Would a healthy Lakers squad have been able to salvage one or two of the remaining games in L.A. and extend the series back to Chicago, where they’d benefit from a couple of days off for travel? We’ll never know, because in Game 4 Worthy came down the wrong way with a third-quarter rebound, and badly sprained his ankle, effectively ending any chance of a Lakers rally to even the series that night. To further compound the trouble, in the fourth quarter Scott collided with “Medical” Bill Cartwright, severely jamming his shoulder.

Both Worthy and Scott would be forced to sit out Game 5 as the Bulls closed out the series on the Lakers’ home court. Magic was brilliant in what would turn out to be his swan song, posting the second of his two finals triple-doubles that year, despite being shadowed every step from the inbounds pass on by Pippen and Jordan in the backcourt, then to be picked up at mid court by the long-armed Horace Grant. Effectively facing a three-on-one in Game 5, with Magic’s two primary scoring options in street clothes on the bench, the game was over before it started and the Bulls were champs, 108-101.

Now the point here is not to make the claim that Kawhi Leonard and his suddenly emboldened supporting cast, playing excellent team defense and executing their roles within the Raptors game plan flawlessly thus far in the series, will go on to form a MJ-like dynasty (heck, Kawhi won’t even be in Toronto next year). The point is that the NBA, for nearly 80 years now, has featured multiple torch-passing moments.

We saw one last year when the Dubs swept LBJ all the way to L.A. We could be seeing another one right now. There is no denying Steph Curry’s brilliance, but at 31 and showing the worn tire tread that accompanies five consecutive finals appearances, the Warriors team we will see tomorrow night may be closing the chapter on this phenomenal run.

The brilliance that is Kawhi (on the verge of his second career ring, but first as the go-to superstar), will likely take up residence in another locale for the 2019-20 season (SportsAttic’s call is that Leonard will assume the KD role alongside Steph in a Warriors-2.0 configuration, christening their new San Francisco home and kick-starting another run of titles for the lucky fans by The Bay). In addition to Kawhi’s brilliant offensive numbers this postseason, he’s instilled toughness and confidence in a franchise that’s shown little of either prior to his arrival.

Like MJ during the 1990’s, Leonard’s defense may be the most impressive, and least talked about, component of the arsenal he puts on display for the fans every night. And his teammates are following his lead and just played two of the best back-to-back road contests we’ve seen in NBA Finals history (since 1991, in fact).

No, this series isn’t over. The saying “a standing champion is still the champion” is particularly appropriate when applied to the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors. The talent is still there, and just maybe we’ll see KD take the floor Monday night. They still have 31-year-old Steph, who only needs to point to his Game 3 performance to remind us of the herculean capabilities he still possesses.

But it sure feels like that torch is again in flight. And the enormous hand of Kawhi Leonard appears poised to grab it. Based on what we’ve seen through these playoffs, he may hold onto it for awhile.

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Three Base Hit — The Saga of Tom Terrific, the Phighting Phils, and Pennant Races in June

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I had really hoped this whole Tom Terrific story would quietly go away.

My plan had been to spend most of June focusing on the NBA Finals (which, by the way, is shaping up as a well-played and fascinating series), with a subsequent return to MLB that I assumed would coincide with the Wilpons finally deciding to pull the plug on the short and miserable managerial reign of poor, overmatched Mickey Callaway over in Queens.

But the world of sports doesn’t operate that way, and neat segues from one concluding sport season into another rarely play out as diagrammed. So here we are with this Three Base Hit segment, because as Popeye used to so eloquently say, “I can’t stands it no more!”

Let me begin by politely and delicately imploring Tom Brady to “PLEASE, just shut the fuck up, you arrogant, lying dickhead.” There, I feel a little bit better now.

As if his ham-handed money grab at the eponymous nickname of all-time great New York Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (who’s family recently announced to the world is suffering from severe dementia) wasn’t bad enough, today’s excuse, released by Team Brady, attempting to somehow justify this deplorable thievery, made things even worse.

Hang on, though, because since Tommy B. persists in keeping this story alive with his positively laughable excuses, we should take one more look at the cause of this hullabaloo. The Patriots QB, an all-time gridiron great in his own right, last week filed a trademark request on the nickname “Tom Terrific.”

Yup, the nickname that’s been synonymous with Tom Seaver for north of 50 years now, and at least to the ears of this sports fan, has not once ever been associated with, or directed toward, Tom Brady. In my layman’s understanding of such things, filing a trademark request to protect (or claim ownership of) an invention, name, idea, etc., is typically done by an individual with a goal of cashing in on any related branding opportunities (or other financial success) associated with the idea/term/name, etc.

So Brady, who flaunts his staggering personal wealth by citing how it is only diminished by the even more incredible fortune amassed by his Supermodel wife, had quite obviously decided that the name Tom Terrific presented an opportunity for him to parasite his way to additional riches.

Is such douchebaggery legal? Sure it is. Do these sorts of things happen every day? Yeah, they do. Is it possible that it’s one of Brady’s myriad managers, agents, handlers and assorted sycophants who actually came up with the idea, rushing to present it to the coolest kid in their little inner circle with the hope of earning a much coveted pat on the head from the GOAT QB? Maybe.

But was it really necessary? Of course not. Couldn’t Brady have stepped up at any time and put an end to this? Withdraw the trademark request and praise Seaver at the same time, forgoing the marketing cash in exchange for some good will associated with recognizing the err in his ways? Sure he could have. So why didn’t Brady do something like that when the backlash began to bubble up?

For the life of me, I don’t know. Maybe this is just a lens into Brady’s ruthless and capitalistic soul — an Uber-competitive individual who’s ceaseless drive to win on the football field spills over into the “real world.” Perhaps the thrill of hoisting so many Lombardi trophies through the years only goes so far, and to keep those competitive fires stoked, Tommy now thirsts to compete and win in the rankings of the Fortune 500.

What I do know is that Brady issued an “explanation” this morning that was so phenomenally absurd that I’m left here opening my eyes as wide as I can, a technique I’ve previously only employed in the midst of horrific nightmares where I try to wake myself up and force the mental torture to cease.

According to the explanation released this morning, Brady took out the trademark request because he actually doesn’t like the nickname Tom Terrific, and wanted to ensure that it could never be applied to him.

Huh? WTF?

So, in other words, this had nothing to do with any potential financial windfall that might accompany such a legal maneuver. The attorneys deployed to draft the filing documents? The time spent planning and executing the move? This was time and money spent to help Brady avoid ever being called a name he didn’t like? Ahhh, gotcha (wink).

Really? Do they find us all to be such easily manipulated rubes? That’s the best Brady and his team of advisors could come up with to rationalize this despicable, overt attempt to add a few additional sheckles to his considerable net worth?

I’m rarely stunned in this day and age of billionaire part-owners shoving opposing point guards from their courtside seats during live game action of the NBA Finals. Or where a young girl can get struck by a line drive and be hospitalized, yet no extended nets show up at any MLB ballparks the next day.

But this one has me speechless. Okay, Tommy, we won’t call you that anymore. Pinky swear. Promise. Can Seaver have his nickname back now?

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And another prediction we were so excited about a few months back goes down the tubes.

I sure hope SportsAttic Nation isn’t keeping score, because this is an anti-Holzhauer run SportsBro finds himself caught up in (“Prognostication for 1000, Alex. The answer is — Something that will never come to pass. James? What is a SportsAttic prediction, Alex?”).

It would appear safe to assume that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler will not be the first MLB field leader fired this year. And our accompanying prediction that one of the high-profile managerial troika of Aaron Boone, Dave Roberts and Joe Maddon would find themselves on the ropes by now with the MLB season more than a third complete also looks like a preposterous misreading of the SportsAttic crystal ball.

Nope, the first to go will almost certainly come from the NL East (at least we got the division right), but at this point it appears a flatfoot tie between the Nats’ Dave Martinez and the Mets’ Mickey Calloway for the honor of first skipper canned during the 2019 season.

That’s okay, though, because never one to balk at throwing good money after bad, let’s return to the Kapler prediction for just a second. The unconventional and rock headed leader of the Phils currently has his team in first place, engaged in a battle against the 2018 division champs from Atlanta, and despite being blessed with loads of talent down in the land of cheesesteaks, Kapler finds himself beset by injuries and suspensions.

First he lost Odubel Herrera to a domestic abuse claim (wouldn’t it have been refreshing if Phils ownership had just stepped up and released Herrera when these charges first came out?), and now Andrew McCutcheon is lost for the season with a blown out knee.

Kapler’s managerial mettle will be put to the test in the coming months, as he gets to see firsthand why Mets fans weren’t dismayed to see lead-footed Jay Bruce donning the Phils candy-cane pink, pinstriped uni last week (yeah, I know Mets fans, Bruce will look like Roger Maris reincarnated every time he steps in the box against us, you can count on it). Regardless, here’s predicting that Kapler will find a way to manage the Phils out of contention by the time September rolls around, just like he did last year.

First manager fired in the upcoming postseason? Yup, we are doubling down on Big Gabe and the City of Brotherly Love.

Speaking of pennant races, I don’t recall ever seeing postseason berths locked up in the first week of June. Until this year’s American League, that is.

If you look at today’s A.L. standings, it is hard to imagine anything other than the Astros and Yankees continuing their season-long purge of their division competition on the way to clinching the top two seeds come October. Add in the high degree of likelihood that the Red Sox will find a way to join them in the postseason (just too much talent there, folks, even with their post-World Series hangover at full intensity), and the surprise rise of the Twins in the Central, and all that’s left to wonder about with nearly four months of regular season remaining, is who the second Wild Card will be facing the Sawx in the play-in game this fall.

Sure, we can anticipate at least a slight correction coming our way from Minnesota, but with such a lackluster division at their disposal, it’s highly unlikely the Twinkies will miss out on this golden opportunity. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Bombers are already licking their chops at the idea of their old, familiar playoff punching bag coming to the Bronx and rolling over yet again in this year’s ALDS.

The Rays are fun and quirky (quick, name me three players on the Rays roster), and right now appear to be the odds-on candidate to take on Boston in the Wild Card, but we’re going to cast our rooting vote in the direction of the Halos. Here’s hoping Mike Trout and the Angels can muster enough pitching to sneak into the playoffs and give us at least one postseason game for today’s top superstar under the national spotlight.

Yup, it’s June 6th, and that’s all there is left to wonder about in baseball’s Junior Circuit. At least we have the National League to keep us in suspense, where pretty much everyone still has a shot outside of Miami and San Francisco.

Pennant races in June? Not if you are a fan of the American League, folks. Sorry.

“What, me worry?” — said no Golden State Warriors team ever

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Was I the only fan watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night that thought the Warriors looked a tad surprised?

Now, before we get too crazy here, I’m still sticking to my “Warriors in 6” prediction, but I think the Raptors put everyone on notice last night that they aren’t simply satisfied to be the Eastern Conference champs.

Throughout the second half, the Warriors seemed to play with a collective look that said, “Hey wait, why are these guys playing like they think they have a chance?” A combination of the Dubs’ nearly two weeks off in this interminable post-season schedule, plus the step up in weight class from an out-of-their-league Portland team, seemed to leave the champs off balance and even a bit incredulous (“how dare these guys try hard to win!”)

Yes, Steph, Dray and co., the Raptors sure do think they have a chance. This is a much different Toronto squad than the one we got used to seeing used as LeBron’s personal mop and bucket the last few years. Kawhi Leonard has changed the mentality of the entire franchise. They play D, move the ball well, and seem to possess that elusive “chemistry” that’s a must for all championship teams.

Another disclaimer: “chemistry” is always easier to come by when you are winning, and the Raptors led most of the way last night, and were enjoying the raucous home crowd along with big games from role players like Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam (enormous game — where the hell did that come from?). Success out of the supporting cast is a must if Toronto is to remain competitive in this series, as Kawhi, as magnificent as he may be (put him in a Knicks uniform next season, PLEASE), can’t single-handedly beat the Dubs the way he did Milwaukee.

However, much more importantly, we are now one game into this series and it is still unclear to me who this neutral party should be rooting for.

The easy answer is to take the underdog. As I’ve stated previously in these posts, I’ve developed a process as to which bandwagon I choose to ride (a must if you are both a NBA fan and a New York Knicks fan, secure in the knowledge that your team will not be participating in any games played in the months of May and June), that centers around where I feel my inner fan energy, deep down, is taking me as a series unfolds.

One game in, I’m feeling Raptors. Like many other fans, I’m totally on board with watching Kawhi stake his claim to “best player in the league” status night after night, plus hey, they are from Canada. Gotta like that, eh?

Gasol is a really nimble and effective high-post big man, and shows all the refined fundamental skills that many of the best stars raised in the Euro leagues seem to have. Kyle Lowry is the couch potato’s point guard (and I say that with the utmost admiration). Can’t we all visualize him eating glazed donuts and smoking a Marlboro at his locker postgame? Plus they’ve got Jeremy Lin, of all people, skulking around the end of the Raptors bench hoping for a few garbage time minutes. Lin-sanity, anyone? Anyone?

Okay, so this is pretty easy. We go Raptors, right? Not so fast. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get past the douchebag in the front row doing his damndest to steal television screen time while making himself Toronto’s self-proclaimed, Spike Lee-esque, superfan.

Yup, I’m talking about Drake.

What an asshole.

You’d think Toronto security would have politely given him the Charles Oakley treatment by now, for fear that he’d completely kill off any goodwill or karmic mojo that all the other positives about the NBA’s lone Canadian franchise have brought to bear these last couple of months. But, of course, the Raptors are in a no win situation here. Drake raises their profile, not an insignificant piece of the puzzle for a franchise that consistently flies below the radar of many NBA fans. Plus the “singer” somehow has a strong following among the ever-important tween demographic (we’ll leave out the well-documented and creepy fact that he also seems to like to date many from that demographic, yuck…).

And then there’s the whole “no such thing as bad publicity” concept. Drake keeps Toronto in the news. I counted more articles in the New York Post online publication this morning about Drake — his “dust up” with Draymond and Steph; his concealing tattoos; his likelihood of traveling west with the team; etc., than there were stories about the actual game. In this day of media driving ancillary revenue opportunities, Drake is a plus to the Toronto Raptors’ balance sheet. So we will have this jackass to contend with, and muddy our bandwagon waters, for the duration of this series.

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Then to further complicate my rooting dilemma, Boogie’s Back!

DeMarcus Cousins dusted off the cobwebs and made his first appearance in an NBA Finals game last night. And despite looking a bit more like the Michelin Man than he did the last time we saw him way back in Round One, Boogie actually played well.

This is a different, and eminently more enjoyable, Warriors team with Cousins on the floor. Forget about KD, who if healthy turns this series into an unfair fight. Cousins adds a low-post dimension and diverse skillset desperately needed by this running-on-fumes Golden State squad, who may now face the remainder of the series without Andre Iguodala, who appeared to pull up lame (again) late in last night’s game. Boogie’s presence makes that potential loss of depth less painful. Plus the big guy is just so much damn fun to watch on the floor — he may be the best passer on the team, and this is a team that thrives on the pass!

Adding to the Warriors appeal for me, is this new, surly and frequently peeved version of Klay Thompson. Watching the wheels fall off Klay’s mental wagon last week, when he learned about being left off the All NBA squads this season (which ends up costing him tens of millions of dollars in the convoluted NBA salary slot structure), was great fun. The usually stoic shooting guard was forced to process and react to this dreadful news on camera, with a bunch of microphones in his face, and showed us a side of himself we’ve rarely seen. Based on what we’ve witnessed since, Klay hasn’t shaken it all off quite yet.

Late in last night’s game Thompson got T’d up for throwing a ball at the ref with his squad trailing late.

Klay Thompson getting a technical for throwing a ball at a ref?

The obvious storyline here was the fat cat Dubs, about to lose the first Game 1 of their incredible string of finals appearances, now shedding their (faux) good guy demeanors under duress, and acting out toward the officials. Really?

Well, not really, as replay reviews showed Thompson, while certainly upset over a marginal foul call, had only soft tossed a bounce pass in the direction of the official who’s back had turned. The ball did carom up and into the zebra’s back, earning Klay the “T”  from the other ref trailing the play, but still — can more petulance be far behind, especially with good ole Drake inciting Draymond and Steph following the final buzzer?

That’s why they play the games, of course, but from a fan perspective, this matchup isn’t easy. And this series is far from over. I’m still leaning Raptors here, strictly from a bandwagon to ride perspective, as change is good, even in the NBA. And it does seem that regardless of the outcome, we will be witnessing a new and different Warriors club next year at their new home in San Francisco. A team minus KD, and Klay, and Boogie, and…

So I’ll close with a tepid rooting endorsement of The North (Drake be damned), while absolutely leaving the door open just a crack should Boogie and the Dubs earn back my affections in Game 2.

Stay tuned, it looks like we’ve got a series here, folks.

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.