Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Our Survey Said

It’s time to play that famous game of Family Feud and feud is right. So let’s ask our friend Richard Dawson to lend us a hand here with the top answers on the board:

The Top 10 excuses for cheating in sports:
1. Everyone does it so why can’t we?
2. We didn’t know they were over-aged!
3. Goddamn alumni boosters!
4. We needed a championship to boost our image.
5. We need our alumni to give more money.
6. I wanted my younger brother’s team to advance to so I’ll throw a game.
7. Because our athletes are not too smart to go to class.
8. We bet a lot of money.
9. We thought we’d never get caught.
10. Winning is everything.

Why you shouldn’t rain on Kobe Bryant’s parade:
1. He’ll drop 60 points on your team.
2. He’ll buy his wife a diamond ring. Did you watch Blood Diamond?
3. You’ll be accused of instigating a witch hunt.
4. You’re probably in the minority. His #24 j is the number one selling jersey in the USA and China.
5. You’ll get a forearm shiver to your windpipe.

The top seven denials in sports:
1. It wasn’t rape. She consented to it.
2. I didn’t know it was drugs, man.
3. The media misquoted me. They took it out of context.
4. Damn referees.
5. It was the coach’s fault.
6. It was the player’s fault.
7. The better team lost.

Reasons why sports will never fully develop in the country:
1. Most sponsors would rather spend on the PBA, UAAP, or Manny Pacquiao.
2. The only inclination to sports by people who allocate money for sponsorship is running a treadmill or playing badminton.
3. We don’t have a strong grassroots program.
4. Like education, sports is not on our country’s radar.
5. Our sports officials are better equipped than the athletes.

Why Dennis Rodman will make the Hall of Fame before Ron Artest:
1. His teams – Detroit & Chicago – beat some pretty good teams: Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Utah. Ron Artest beat on fans at the Palace.
2. Dennis was the first to wear #91. Ron was second.
3. For all of Dennis’ distractions, the teams he played for got better (although the Admiral will dispute that). Ron’s teams spiraled out of control.
4. Dennis won five NBA titles, a bunch of rebounding titles, the Sixth Man of he Year Award with Detroit. Ron won a one-way ticket out of Indiana.

Most incredible Pinoy sports ironies:
1. Jojo Lastimosa who used to be so vocal about the proliferation of Fil-foreigners in the PBA was an assistant coach for Alaska at time when it was predominantly stacked with Fil-Ams (I think only two weren’t of foreign descent).
2. Sta. Lucia proclaiming themselves as wholly homegrown then drafting Alex Cabagnot and Kelly Williams in succession.
3. Our 1996 Olympic delegation featured six athletes including Onyok Velasco and Toni Leviste among others. The number of officials and tag-alongs was more than triple.
4. Every time we compete in an international sports event like the Asian Games there’s some issue about funding, lack of uniforms, lack of preparation, and then some politico calls for an investigation of which nothing ever comes out.

Why the old Ginebra San Miguel team of the Big J will kick the tail out of the current squad on any given day:
1. They were put together by spit, blood, and Jaworski pride (my ode to the late great Pinggoy Pengson).
2. They were never beaten badly by their foes. They had the Destroyer and the Big J to beat ‘em up, the Scholar to outwit ‘em, the original Dynamite and Mama, and the Magic Man.
3. They were the one true peoples’ team.
4. They had better imports: Billy Ray Bates, Michael Hackett, Jamie Waller, Jumpin’ Joe Ward, Wes Matthews, Carlos Briggs, and a guy named Jervin Cole.
5. They were the masters of the cardiac finish.

And on a non-sports note, my top reasons why I am not going to vote and why I am getting out of the country:
1. There’s no one to vote for.
2. What for when nothing has changed?
3. Balimbing is the National Fruit.
4. Where does my tax money go? To some politico who says that this road-widening project is a service of his office? To his re-election campaign?
5. No matter who wins, the other party will always say that they were cheated out of victory.

* * *
For a dear person:
God bless and rest the soul of the late PBA and NCAA Commissioner Jun Bernardino. He became a good friend over the last two years. Thanks for being a friend and a mentor of sorts. I’ll miss those long days of kwentuhan about sports. He was one of four people (including my editor Jun Lomibao, my boss Jude Turcuato, and my NCAA source) I sought for advice regarding the current PCU eligibility scandal before breaking it out in the open. Thanks so much for your advice, friendship, and support. See ya in the Big Stadium in the Sky.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Boo-tiful Game

Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s President likes to talk about the healing power of football. Joga bonito, as it is nicknamed. The beautiful game. But whether a reflection of the times, football -- the world game -- has become increasingly violent.

In the other day’s elimination match between Valencia and Inter Milan, a melee broke out after full time; one that went on for more than five minutes and spilled all the way to the locker room. In the knockout match between Olympique Lyonaisse and AS Roma, the French team’s Brazilian forward Fred threw a nasty elbow at the Italian team’s defender Cristian Chivu that opened up his nose like a spigot. The television analyst spent an annoying several minutes muttering what coward Fred was for his actions.

What makes football such a passionate game is how it is a reflection of life and the battle for turf. To score a goal is a difficult enough task that is why when the ball meets the back of the net, the celebration is rapturous and filled with emotion. By the same token, one of life’s basic tenets is life is unfair and difficult so even the tiniest of victories or good fortune is enough cause for celebration.

Pitched battles
The FIFA World Cup is one of the most intensely viewed and followed sporting spectacles; more so than the Olympics that tends to feature sports that are either slanted towards certain countries or are just plain unwatchable. On the pitch, no one is any one favorite. Even the best of the best, the Boys from Brasil can get upset on any given day. When it comes to national teams, it’s war. Literally.

The Soccer War, as the six-day battle between neighboring Honduras and El Salvador was known, had long term repercussions not just for the countries that butted heads but also for the whole region. Both Honduras and El Salvador already had strained relations owing to immigration and political unrest. After their national teams scored a win apiece against each other, they faced each other in a tiebreaker in Mexico to go to the 1970 World Cup. On June 27, 1969, El Salvador nipped Honduras 3-2 in extra time to advance. By the game’s end, there was rioting in the stands between followers of both teams. The melee degenerated into a full-scale shooting war when the Salvadoran Army invaded two weeks later. A ceasefire was put in effect but not until there were some 2,000 dead on each side. The war suspended the Central American Common Market, the equivalent of the European Economic Union and succeeding military junta rule in El Salvador drove the country to a civil war.

In May of 1990, Red Star Belgrade, already the winner of the Yugoslav football league by aggregate score, traveled to Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia to play a meaningless final match against host team Dinamo Zagreb.

Prior to the match, there were street skirmishes between supporters of the two clubs. And right before kick-off, Serbian fans of Red Star Belgrade provoked the Croatian crowd with nationalist slogans such as “Zagreb is Serbian” and “Death to Tudjman,” reference to the newly elected pro-independence President of Croatia. When the Serbs began to destroy the stadium and throw rocks at the Croats, a fight ensued. Unfortunately for the home side, the Serb-controlled Yugoslav police didn’t lift a finger to prevent the Red Star hooligans from instigating the violence. When the Red Star fans began attacking with knives, it became too much for the Croats to swallow so they began to fight back. Only then did the police intervene but to everyone’s horror, they went to break up the Croats.

The Croats assaulted the police and then took back the stands from the Serbs in a battle that lasted for over an hour. Dinamo’s Zvonimir Boban who would captain Croatia’s World Cup side in France in 1998, became a folk hero when he kicked a policeman who was beating a fallen Dinamo fan. Boban became an icon in the struggle for independence.

The game was never played but it would go down in history as the start of the Great Patriotic War that saw the disintegration of the Balkan country of Yugoslavia.

As former England captain Terry Butcher once said, “Off the pitch, I was always a mild-mannered ordinary bloke, but put me in a football shirt, it was tin hats and fixed bayonets. Death or glory.”

A red card for racism
Football is said to be a sport without borders, but in Europe that is supposedly more tolerant of racial mingling, there has been a rise in a number of incidents that have people wondering about the state of the game.

In match between Barcelona and Real Zaragoza at La Romareda in Zaragoza, the home side’s fans started money grunts to spite Barca’s Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto’o. As Eto’o threatened to walk off the pitch Zaragoza goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez angrily gestured to the crowd that his side also had black players.

In 2004, Luis Aragones, the coach of the Spanish National Team was filmed by a television crew trying to motivate striker Jose Antonio Reyes by making racist remarks about Reyes’ Arsenal teammate, Thierry Henry. Aragones said, “Show that black little shit that you are better than him.” The English media strongly protested Aragones’ words and actions, but instead Spanish officials were notoriously slow in denouncing the remarks. In a friendly match between Spain and England at the Santiago Bernabeau Stadium, Spanish fans taunted England’s black players particularly Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Philips every time they touched the ball. UEFA heavily fined the Spanish Football Federation and warned them that any further incidents will result in the suspension of international play on Spanish soil.

Lord Herman Ouseley is the chairman for Kick It Out, a campaign against racism in football. He has been working hard to get more Asians and blacks on European teams and to speak out against racism along with white football players. “It’s a long-term project in tackling racism in football. The way of tackling racism in football is about long-term educational work - with fan groups at the local level, with the organizations that represent the game and then getting all the groups to work together. We have worked hardest with the fan groups, I suppose. But we recognize the need for educational work at all levels of the game - working say with security staff, having plans in place to ban racists from grounds, making sure that those found guilty are fined. It means working with everyone from fans and officials to the players themselves. Some players, for example Ryan Giggs, go into schools on a regular basis to discuss issues of racism.”

Game, set, and match… for football
Prior to the start of the 2006 World Cup, Italians woke up to find out that their much-beloved Serie A was embroiled in one of the worst game fixing scandals in sports history. Top teams like Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, and Fiorentina were found to have conspired to have favorable referees officiating their matches and rigging results. Juventus was not only stripped of its league titles from 2005 &06, but it was relegated to second division play and kicked out of UEFA play.

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first time Italy’s premier league was rocked by a game fixing scandal. The most recent was in 1980 when AC Milan and Lazio conspired to fix a game.
The scandal left widespread feelings of guilt and anger towards the owners, managers, players, referees, and league officials. Said one Italian football fan, “I don’t think I can ever watch another Serie A game again knowing that if something fishy is taking place.”

The relegation of Juventus, AC Milan inability to recover from its points reduction, the flight of many of the league’s top players to Spain, the stigma of the game fixing scandal, and most recently the suspension of games following the death of an Italian policeman during the rioting that took place during a derby between Palermo and Catania, have given a black eye to Italian football and placed their bid to host the Euro Championships in 2012 in jeopardy.

Attendance, particularly among family ticket holders, has dipped significantly that for the first time, the Bundesliga is actually drawing more fans.

In late September 2005, 11 Brasilian National Championship matches and as well as four second division derbies were ordered to be replayed in their entirety after two referees were caught fixing matches due to outside betting. Of the eleven replayed games, only two finished with their original outcome.

The price of losing
Prior to the liberation of Iraq from the yoke of Saddam Hussein, the country’s national sporting scene and football’s in particular was the personal playground of the dictator’s cruel and sadistic son, Uday. When the national team would lose, he would force players under gunpoint to kick concrete walls while barefoot until their feet were bloodied stumps. At times, he would throw them in solitary confinement and have them beaten with paddles. Sharar Haydar, a defender on the national team, was gaoled for a week after Iraq lost 2-nil to Jordan. Along with three other teammates, Haydar’s feet were beaten 20 times a day and was only fed with one glass of water and a slice of bread. Haydar fled the country in 1998.

In 2000, General Robert Guei, the leader of Ivory Coast’s ruling military junta, threw the entire football team into the brig for two full days after crashing out of the first round of the African Nations Cup. Guei took their mobile phones, wallets, passports, and publicly castigated them: “You should have spared us the shame!”
A great equalizer and a great hope
But it’s not all hate and the strife. There’s a reason why football is the global game and it is said to bring people together.

Football perhaps more than any other sport is life’s great equalizer. A goal can transcend generations and live on forever such as Diego Maradona’s weave through six England players en route to his second tally of the game during the
1986 World Cup in Mexico.

And any talk of the sport or even its greatest players will always have Edson Arantes do Nascimento or Pele to the world at large thrown into the picture.

Not bad for a pair of boys who born to extreme poverty. Their exploits have helped forge national identity and have given hope to many others to find their fame and fortune in a ball with a circumference of 28 inches and is filled with a network of pentagons and hexagons.

In war-ravaged Afghanistan, women long repressed by the deposed Taliban regime, have found a voice by now playing football.

In the Ivory Coast, the exploits of the Elephants – as the team is known -- on the pitch has done something the politicians cannot do: force people to lay down their arms and seek an end to the civil war that has wracked the country no end. The team, as led by Chelsea’s star striker Didier Drogba, has been a symbol of unity for this African country’s fractured peoples.

This former French colony’s military government has repressed its migrant population (that comes from neighboring Liberia, Ghana, and Guinea) and Muslim community that have caused much of the discontent in the country. But many of the team’s better players are from these oppressed minorities. So watching this team make quite a splash in the last World Cup united this West African country of 18 million people.

And for all the bad, there’s quite a silver lining in the horizon. The 2002 World Cup held jointly in Korea and Japan is a milestone in itself. The fact that Korea finally allowed a Japanese team onto its shores is a good sign for better relations between the two countries. Obviously, many haven’t forgiven Japan for its World War II atrocities. But still it does give one plenty of hope.

And who knows, maybe a few years from now, we just might see the World cup jointly hosted by Israel and Palestine. It could happen, you know.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Kobe Rules

The worm has turned for Kobe Bryant. Far removed from his boy wonder days, he has become a perplexing basketball enigma. Now that’s an oxymoron if there was ever one.

Kobe Rule #1 Stats the Thing
Consider this: as a rookie, then-Lakers’ coach Del Harris in a game against the San Antonio Spurs, asked his precocious rookie to take a possible game winner. The rookie from Lower Merion High who was taken by the Lakers from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Vlade Divac threw up an airball as time expired leaving him beside himself. But Chick Hearn, the voice of the Lakers, gently encouraged Bryant and warned that he’d be taking many more of those shots – and making them – for years to come. Hearn never realized what an understatement that was. During the Purple Reign over the NBA in the early 2000s, Bryant was literally tugging on Superman’s --- Michael Jordan’s cape. The fact that he was the only player outside Jordan’s teammates in the Bulls to be mentioned prominently in his photo-autobiography For the Love of the Game shows what the King thought of Bryant’s and his potential. Under the tutelage of Jordan’s former coach in Chicago, Phil Jackson, Bryant soon developed into a nasty big time game scorer and closer not seen since His Airness abdicated from the throne.

Together with the Big Aristotle, they won three straight titles in LA. Showtime was back and so was Jack in his customary courtside seat. Not that he left, but he would made treks outside Forum in Inglewood and to the United Center to watch one of the greatest NBA dynasties unfold in those formative internationalist years of the NBA.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant’s mad skills and assassin’s heart gave way to more disparaging portraits of the man: petulant, self-centered, and maybe even worse, a second-rate Michael Jordan. The Washington Times called him the League’s #1 villain supplanting RashWEED Wallace. All of a sudden, it’s only Nike that has him for an endorser.

He feuded with his dad, Jellybean Bryant, made enemies of a very unforgiving Philadelphia crowd after he said he’d cut out the hearts of Philadelphians everywhere when they met during the 2001 NBA Finals, and authored the break-up of the Lakers’ new millennium dynasty. There’s Eagle County, Colorado where Kobe will probably never get an All-star vote and there’s the last All-Star Game in Las Vegas where he engaged LeBron James in a shoot-out with an eye for the MVP Award much to his detractors’ chagrin.

After the Manu Ginobili, Mike Miller, and Kyle Korver incidents where he fouled them rather hard, word is the League is watching Bryant even more closely and any further allegedly flagrant fouls of this kind will mean multiple game suspensions.

Kobe Rule #2 Be the Best You Can Be
And after a recent loss to the Washington Wizards on the road, Bryant angrily confronted teammate Lamar Odom over a questionable decision in the game’s dying seconds. Guess that’s what losing does. After a game against the Seattle Supersonics, Bryant blocked Sonics counterpart Ray Allen’s lay-up attempt. Instead of picking up the loose ball, Bryant stared down Allen – a personal showdown between the two 1996 draftees. Looking the gift horse in the mouth, Sonics’ guard Luke Ridenour feed the rock to Rashard Lewis for a big time slam. "He thinks -- in his mind -- that he's going to shoot and try to show me up at any point in time on the floor," Allen said. "But his mentality and mine are different. I've got to do what it takes to help the team win."

Michael Jordan casts a very long shadow on the NBA. Clearly the League has moved on, but just as people used to compare hoops feats as Chamberlain-like, they’re now Jordanesque. Didn’t he get the loudest ovation during the All-Star Weekend?

Of course it’s rather unfair to make Bryant and aphorism given that his in the middle of his NBA career and for all his prodigious scoring skills, he has become basketball’s version of Mike Tyson – he plays with a chip on his shoulder and with angst worthy of Kurt Cobain.

Kobe Bryant for all his self-proclamations that he isn’t the latest of a long line of Jordanairres doesn’t help with his actions.

From the pumped fist, to the number changes… yes, the number changes.
- MJ wore #9 with the Dream Team. Kobe’s number in the US National Team is … #10.
- MJ wore #23 forever linking his name with the number (sorry Jim Carrey but your new movie sucks). Kobe now wears #24.
I wonder does this mean that he’s always going to be one step behind MJ?

It seems that Kobe Bryant is battling for more than a win on the court, he’s battling for respect. He is clearly yearning for those halcyon days when he ran with Nick the Quick, Speedy Eddie, and the Big Diesel. Before he began to embrace the Dark Side of the Force.

I’m a fan of Bryant the basketball player not the man. I wish he’d take the time off to reflect on his place in the hoops firmament and do what’s best for him, the team, and the League. Because if not, the Kobe Rules might be interpreted this way:
- You may have three titles, but you’ll never win six like MJ
- You may score 81 points (and 65 against the Trailblazers two days ago), but you’ll never win 10 scoring titles
- You may have Phil Jackson as your coach but you’ll never have him bat for you for all his “witch hunt” musings
- You may have been an All-Defensive Player but those flailing arms will bring you more suspensions.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Andropolous and the Sneaker Pimps

Who influenced my choice of kicks?


Michael Jordan is not responsible for my wearing Nikes. At least initially. Neither was it Chris Mullin who I was a huge fan of dating back to his St. John days when the team was known as the Redmen not the Red Storm and nor was it Charles Barkley with his “if I can’t go through you there are a couple of ways I can go around you” commercial.


My sneaker pimp was none other than Michael Douglas. Yes, the actor and he of the War of the Roses, Black Rain, and Basic Instinct fame. Now Kirk Douglas’ son didn’t set any athletic records or break any backboards but for me in the days of FEN and sports movies like Pisces and Slap Shot (dude, Paul Newman and the Hanson Brothers!), I sometimes turned to Hollywood to slake my thirst for sports in a pop-culture deprived market.


In the great pantheon of sports movies, the 1979 movie Running starring Michael Douglas as Michael Andropolous, a failed American Olympic Marathon runner, will not be remembered like Rocky, Remember the Titans, A League of Their Own, or We Are Marshall. But Running will go down as one my all-time favorites. My dad took me to watch that and I sat mesmerized about this story of redemption and crossing the finish line. I asked my friends to watch it and felt embarrassed when they laughed at Douglas’ finishing the race all bloodied and broken. But I loved it so that I bought the novelization of the film (and I still have the browned-out and well-thumbed book). The other thing that enthralled me was Douglas/Andropolous’ choice of footwear. It was a simple pair of running shoes with a check sign on it (who knew that it was called the Swoosh back then).

I was hooked and badgered my dad no end to get me a pair albeit unsuccessfully. I never got to buy the kicks I wanted for myself until I was working. And I recall my first pair: the black and blue Huarache Air Trainer. Man, I loved those shoes. It was like riding on a Benz with its great shocks and cushioning; it was stylish, and it was an excellent sports shoe – one that paved the way for cross-trainers. Seeing how Nike brought them back and turned them into Kobe Bryant’s signature shoe wear was a treat; like the cherry on top of that banana split supreme.

As much as I was a Michael Jordan fan, it was kind of hard to wear his Air Jordans. For one thing, they were the priciest shoes on the market and as much as it was also a fashion statement to have Jordans, I guess you were expected to be really good at basketball to have one. I was pretty okay but not great at hoops. But just having that Jumpman logo – which will go down in history as one of the most famous next to the Golden Arches and the Swoosh – on my gear meant it was cutting edge, classy, and top flight.

I did collect my pair of Air Jordans with the III, X, and XI being my faves. And Scottie Pippen’s Air Uptempos were stuff that I coveted. I simply loved those black shoes with the funky huge “AIR” stitched to its side.

Cut years later, I discovered other footwear. I bought K-Swiss because I loved the simplicity of the shoes although back then it wasn’t something you could wear to play hoops. The classic version is still a staple of my footwear to this day. More so when the off-white color got dirtied-- it looked even cooler. I remember watching Julia Roberts’ movie Sleeping With the Enemy and there was a scene where Kevin Anderson was seated in the porch of this house with his leg atop a couch and he was wearing a pair of dirty white K-Swiss just like mine and I remember saying to myself, “Man, it does look cool!”


So how about them black shoes?

It seemed back then that it was like throwing a brick through a window. To my recollection, the purveyors of black soles were Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions and Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics. But the black tops craze went into overdrive when the Chicago Bulls formally adopted that as their shoe color (but that choice can actually be attributed to former Bull Brad Sellers who thought it would be a great sign of team unity).


Well now, kicks come in the colors of the rainbow (just like ipods and other digital mp3 players). They’ve become forms of expressions with a street and fashionista feel to them. Who would have thought that sneakers would have that technological edge to them? Remember those futuristic Nikes on Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future and those space-faring Reeboks on Sigourney Weaver in Aliens? Say no more, effendi; they’re close to becoming a reality.

I purchase three to four pairs of rubber shoes a year. I use a couple for casual wear and the others for tennis and hoops. Does a celebrity endorser have an effect on my choices? Contrary to what people think, yes, star power helps. But I guess it’s the bigger shoe companies like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Converse who use the big guns to push their products. Others like K-Swiss get by using ordinary folk to push their products. But nowadays I look to the athletes I admire -- Michael Jordan, James Blake, Kobe Bryant, or even Manu Ginobili among others to choose what shoes to buy and contribute to the coffers of a billion-dollar industry.


Funny because it wasn’t an athlete who first got me into this.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Eddie

“Dynasty, man. Dynasty.”

I remember those words like it was yesterday. It was during an NBA Action feature on the then-young guns of the Los Angeles Lakers Eddie Jones and Kobe Bryant. They were being interviewed outside scenic La Jolla and both were looking towards the sea when Jones answered host Summer Sanders’s question on where they saw the Lakers over the next few years.

“Dynasty, man. Dynasty.”

That was in 1998; the last year of the Bulls’ dynasty. And a new one was about to reign.

In March of 1999, Jones was traded to the Charlotte Hornets in the middle of the strike-shortened season to give more room and playing time to an emerging Kobe Bryant. When the team began to lose, the Forum crowd would chant, “Eddie! Eddie!” as a sign of their displeasure over Jones’ trade for Glen Rice. The Lakers’ first full year without their familiar #6 was a little chaotic but by June of 2000, the Lakers won the first of three straight titles.

Dynasty. Only Jones wasn’t a part of it.

After a year of purgatory in Charlotte, Eddie was picked up by the Miami Heat where he would join a team that was poised to snatch the eastern crown vacated by Chicago – I really thought he’d join the Bulls after his stay with the Hornets. In South Beach, he joined Anthony Mason, PJ Brown, Dan Majerle, Brian Grant, Tim Hardaway, Bruce Bowen, Alonzo Mourning, AC Green, and Cedric Ceballos to form a talented team that ultimately fell short. But that was some team, huh?

In 2003, the Heat drafted Dwyane Wade out of Marquette and a year later, picked up Shaquille O’Neal. They lost to Detroit in the Eastern Finals of 2005 but figured to be a contender what with new additions and the maturation of Wade. Only the following season, they traded Jones who had become a favorite at the American Airlines Arena in his five years with Miami. And then the Heat won the NBA title.

After another brief stint this time with the God-forsaken Memphis Grizzlies, Jones was taken back by the Heat after being loaned for one year in exchange for Jason Williams and James Posey who both contributed to Miami’s title drive. Guess Pat Riley fleeced old mentor Jerry West over that one. As much as I don’t root for any team coached by Riley, it sure was nice to see Jones back in a Heat uniform. The other day, he scored 13 points in a win over the Wizards and nine points in another victory against the Pistons last Saturday.

While Jones missed the championship run, he’s here for the defense of the crown. “All I can do is try to fit in and contribute,” he says at the prospect of finally bagging a ring that has eluded him. “Maybe this time, I’ll get lucky.”

Eddie Jones has always been a crowd favorite wherever he’s been, but being a good team player and teammate doesn’t necessarily guarantee success on the hardcourt. Maybe this time and if D-Wade gets back for the play-offs, Jones will finally be able to have “champion” in his career resume (he never won a national championship during his college days at Temple).

I always loved Eddie’s slashing game, those power dunks, and Gervin-esque finger rolls. Yeah, the finger roll is a dying art (locally, it’s only JC Intal who does that). Aside from EJ, the last NBA player who used this as a part of his arsenal was Scottie Pippen.

I was too young to watch ABA ball, but I kinda loved watching old game films of the Stilt, Dr. J, and Iceman flip that ball over the pterodactyl-wingspans of NBA centers like Kareem, Russ, Willis, and Moses; the likes of whom we will never see again. Of course, its nothing quite like the airborne game it is now, but still...

I use to work on the finger roll in the backyard of my home. And from time to time, I still try it out during games. EJ was just fun to watch when he’d elevate over his guard and roll the ball over the outstretched hands of his defender for a deuce.

There have been a lot of great players who have never won a title: Charles Barkley, Adrian Dantley, Chris Mullin, Larry Nance, and Darryl Dawkins are but a few. And there are those like Eddie who’ve had the misfortune of missing out on titles with their former teams.

Another such is the Philadelphia 76ers’ current television analyst Steve Mix who used to play center alongside Chocolate Thunder for the Sixers. He was there for their Finals’ losses to Portland and the Lakers. In 1983, Mix was traded to the Lakers; the year Moses Malone led Philly to the Promised Land with his “fo, fo, fo” play-off prediction (turns out that Malone was wrong by one game as they suffered a solitary loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Finals). The Lakers and Mix were subsequently swept out of the Finals by the title hungry Sixers. Mix would move to the Bucks the following year after which he called it a career. Mix, like Jones, was a solid player with a level-headed demeanor in pro sports. It’s too bad that good guys like them don’t get to win the Big One all the time.

But at least Jones still has one more chance to win an NBA title before he calls it quits. And if the chants of “Eddie! Eddie!” cascade down American Airlines Arena, maybe #6 will have the chance to raise his arms in triumph for the title that always eluded him.