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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yankees on the Brink?

Even at the bottom of the standings, the New York Yankees are hogging the limelight. Alex Rodriguez’ torrid April gave way to a torrid May but not of the kind that translates into hits, home runs, batting average, and ultimately wins. Jason Giambi is on the hit parade by Major League Baseball, the media, and the fans for his admission of using steroids just when the team doesn’t need any more distractions. Carl Pavano went from pitching hope to hopeless case. The Yankees, who lost the Dice K sweepstakes to rival Boston Red Sox, went out to get another Hideki Irabu in Kei Igawa (if you don’t remember Irabu then you know what I mean). Joe Torre and Brian Cashman’s job security has once more been the talk of town ad infinitum since their 2004 meltdown against the Boston Red Sox.

Whew… and the sub-plots aren’t even done. When you think about it, A-Rod’s pre-season admission of the frostiness of his relationship with team captain Derek Jeter was an ominous portent of the season to come. Andy Pettitte must be wondering if coming back to New York was the right decision when he could have re-upped with the Houston Astros.

But this isn’t the Bronx Zoo as chronicled by its mid-1970’s fun loving and Cy Young-winning closer Sparky Lyle when he recounted the clubhouse turmoil that followed the signing of free agent signee Reggie Jackson. In case you weren’t born then, Jackson even before his first at-bat in pinstripes declared that he was the straw that was going to stir the Yankees’ drink and not (catcher and team captain) Thurman Munson who could “only stir it bad.” The late Billy Martin, who was the Yankees’ manager then got into the act as he openly feuded with Jackson. And it didn’t end there when the team’s principal owner George Steinbrenner brought in closer Goose Gossage despite the presence of Lyle. Were fireworks? Hell yeah and that was an understatement. Though eventually, they won two out of the four World Series they played from 1977 to 1981.

The Joe Torre era of the Yankees may only be comparable to Casey Stengel’s fabled run in the late 1950’s but just like the old perfesser’s tenure – for all his success, he’s only as good as his last win. So how long ago was that?

Torre may have near deity status in the Big Apple but the end is clearly near and maybe even cruelly in this writer’s honest opinion, the managerial change may be a season or two too late. Sure the Bronx Bombers may have made the post-season 12 consecutive times but this year unless they embark on another miraculous comeback shades of 1978, then this season will be one of big change and we’re not just talking about the extremely hot summer morphing into another brutal winter.

This $200 million line-up of All Stars can’t seem to live up to its expectations. It’s not that players have been selfish or even looking out for their own stats. They’ve been for the most part quiet and workman-like in their approach to the game. It’s the lack of fire and the unfortunate combination of bad luck that has hounded this team since it’s Hall-of-Fame bound closer Marian Rivera gave up a bloop single to Luis Gonzalez that cost the Yankees the 2001 World Series title. Maybe they should bring back the sainted Paul O’Neill, Jim Leyritz, or even Roger Clemens to bean someone to put some fight and sense of urgency into pinstipe apathy.

Oh, they’re bringing Clemens back? The Rocket may still be one of the better pitchers out there at age 44 but to even ask him to resuscitate a season that is slowly spiraling out of control. But if he does and leads them to the title then the $28 million they’re paying him will be peanuts. Yet just when he’s ready to take the mound against the Chicago White Sox, he’s sidelined with a groin injury forcing pitching coach Ron Guidry – who’s familiar with all these distractions having been a part of those 70’s title teams – to recall Igawa (2-1 with a 7.63 ERA) who’s been demoted in the minors for almost a month now trying to rework his delivery.

Clemens’ recurring groin injury has troubled him for the last five years but if he heals fast enough, he’ll be making his debut in front of an adoring home crowd in the Bronx. But Clemens’ addition could be the straw that will break the camel’s back. His rider stipulates that he can choose not to join the team during days when he isn’t pitching and already a few Yankees have muttered under their breath their dismay over this preferential treatment. And should the Rocket’s come back be anything less than a big bang then this season is over much like the team’s high-priced cheerleader Carl Pavano.

So what else can go wrong? Chien Ming-Wang who has been the team’s best pitcher over the last two years is struggling after an injury that cut his pre-season short and forced him to miss the first few weeks of the 2007 campaign. Lead off hitter Johnny Damon’s hobbled. The Red Sox’ Mike Lowell knocked out New York’s first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for a couple of weeks while running the base paths. How’s that for rubbing one’s face in the dirt? The starting pitching staff needs virtual relief as everyone save Andy Pettitte has gone down to various ailments. And as a sign of their current hitting woes, outfielder Bobby Abreu jokingly asked for the ball after sending a ball through the gap for a double in last week’s win against Boston. Although they won two of their last three games versus Boston, the Yankees are still behind by 12 ½ games. In the first game of the last series against Boston, the Yanks teed off on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for the third time this year.

Now if they only had Wakefield on the mound everyday then they’d continue to look like world-beaters. Unfortunately reality is the Yankees are fast becoming irrelevant in the standings while serving as fodder for the tabloid pages.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Teach the Children

What are we teaching our children today? Collegiate sports are supposed to be a test of character and determination. A venue for spirited and friendly competition. And the last bastion of purity in athletics where the game is played for the sheer love of it and the glory of the school. Next to representing one’s country, playing for the school is a badge of honor that not even a multi-million peso contract in the pros will duplicate.

But the state of the college game is in rapid decline. In many ways, it is more cutthroat than the pro game. Schools have engaged in a virtual arms race stockpiling blue chippers and potential wunderkinds. For what – a trophy, bragging rights, a league record, to cash in on the mega contracts their players will sign when they’re pro-bound? It’s gotten to the point where morals and playing by the book will leave your school at the bottom of the cellar where one upsmanship behind the sidelines is crucial in the hunt for a championship.

In National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (NAASCU), one league member, unhappy over the transfer of some its super senior players to a rival, asks the board to adopt a rule that renders anyone of the age of 25 ineligible to play. Effective immediately. Even more surprisingly, the other schools ratify the rule. “Malakas yung impluwensya ng iskwelahan nila,” says one school rep who asks to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. No matter if that school has been lording it over the league. But c’mon guys. Eligibility in your league is a joke.

And the grand old league itself, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has stood pat after its suspension of Philippine Christian University for violations of its high school basketball team when there are allegedly other infractions by the other varsity squads. So now what happens? Was anyone punished? It was clear that some people weren’t telling the truth. And it is certainly hard to believe that a coach or even the players themselves could only perpetuate the identity switching. How could these boys be providing spurious diplomas and transcripts when they were never even enrolled in St. Mary’s in Cebu? According to league sources, the investigation is still ongoing. Where it ends up no one knows because as a NCAA policy board member said, “We’re a family here. We don’t want to destroy the league.”

Over at the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), just as new line-ups and rookies are eagerly looked out for at the start of the season, basketball observers wonder what new controversy will rear its ugly head when the games get going. It seem that the board passes rules or statutes to suit the whims of some or to curtail the programs of others. Furthermore, they have shown no balls whatsoever when it comes to policing its ranks.

A few years ago, they suddenly decided that masteral students were no longer eligible to play. But they now allow masteral students to suit up, provided they continue their education at the same school. But again, why wasn’t this discussed during that meeting? I’m sure these distinguished board members would have dissected the whys and wherefores and implications of the rule. So why change it again? So was it a knee-jerk reaction because one school made use of these mercs to bolster their championship bid?

In 2004-05, it was suddenly decided to limit the basketball team’s line-up to 14 players from a previous high of 16. This year, it’s up again to 15. Hey, we’ve got an awesome recruit here and we should have this guy in the line-up right away. Let’s put in on the table to increase next year’s teams to 16 players once more!

This year in the wake of the controversial transfer of FEU-FERN’s high school players to UP, the league passes a rule that prevents graduating high school players from migrating to other members’ college teams without first seeking permission from their alma mater. If not they have to sit out a year of residency. A UAAP board member says that it has been something on the table over the years but is suddenly passed in the wake of the defection of Socrates Rivera and Mark Lopez to UP. “The Soc Rivera Rule” as it has come to be known, “is supposed to prevent the piracy of homegrown players. The rule is short sighted at best and leaves room for plenty of skewed interpretation. But then again, it also just tilted the talent pool towards the rival NCAA.

But that’s not all, so what the heck happened to the suspension of DLSU? Who were the culprits behind this? Were there any changes? What happened to the Ombudsman’s investigation? Why did it take so long for the investigation to conclude? And why wasn’t the team docked with a year of playing eligibility?

During last UAAP season, what really happened to University of the East’s Bon Bon Custodio? There are all these speculations about the player having compromised the team. If that is so, was there a proper investigation? If the speculations are true then it not only affects the UE team but the league’s image as a whole.

And there is the never-ending talk about game fixing that is said to have been around forever. So does not acknowledging it mean that it’s beneath them or that it doesn’t exist? C’mon, let’s all not be na├»ve schoolboys here. There’s a shroud of silence over the league leaving everyone to speculate. Everyone knows better but the powers that be would rather sweep it under the rug. To save the league? To protect some alumni because they brought a few titles to the school?

When Ron Jacobs first took over the San Miguel Beermen after Norman Black’s departure, the first thing he gave his players like Mike Mustre, Yves Dignadice, and Art De La Cruz was the Philippine Basketball Association’s book on officiating guidelines to study. They didn’t touch a basketball for a few days as they were constantly drilled and grilled repeatedly over the league rules. They learned how to use the rules to force opponents into offensive and defensive violations.

In the collegiate arena, it seems that people study the rulebook to see how they cheat or even manipulate rules to suit their purposes. The battle isn’t just won on the court, gentlemen. The boardroom victory is just as crucial.

And these are the people are supposed to be the molders of men and women into productive citizens. No wonder our country is like this.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Soc Rivera Rule

Soc Rivera hasn’t played one minute of college ball and he’s already made an impact on UAAP college hoops. Although not in the manner he wanted.

Rivera just graduated from FEU-FERN and played on the Baby Tams junior squad that lost to the Ateneo Blue Eaglets in last season’s cage wars. Like anyone who harbors hoop dreams, Soc Rivera wants to play basketball. But he’d like to be a student as well.

Like some of his other teammates, they were being groomed to move up to the FEU seniors team that was going through an overhaul after a failed seniors campaign in Season 69.

Unfortunately, Rivera along with teammates, Dexter Rosales, Jomar Paulino, and Mark Lopez are no longer interested in playing for FEU and instead are trying out and practicing for the UP Maroons.

It was Rosales and Paulino who first showed up for the seniors’ team tryouts in November 2006. UP Team Manager Bombit Silva got in touch with FEU Athletic Director Mark Molina that Rosales and Paulino were trying out for UP to which Molina said was all right since it was only Jonas Paguia, Mark Lopez, and Socrates Rivera they intended to elevate to FEU's senior squad. A “gentleman’s agreement” was reached between the two schools regarding any more transfers of its recently graduated high school players.

A few weeks later, Lopez walked into the UP tryouts accompanied by two of his high school professors. The UP coaching staff apprised FEU’s Anton Montinola and Molina of the situation and a compromise was reached: they would release Lopez provided that he finish his stint with FEU in the Fr. Martin Cup’s completion in March.

But in January of 2007, Rivera asked Lopez to accompany him to the UP coaching staff to signify his intent to play for the Maroons. The UP coaches informed him of the agreement with FEU and that if he really wanted to move to the Diliman school, he had to secure his release from FEU on his own. Silva then got in touch once more with Molina to inform him of the latest developments. Rivera promised to inform FEU team management of his intentions.


From that point on, Rivera did not practice nor keep in touch with UP although Rosales and Paulino said that their former high school teammate was still bent on transferring to the Maroons.

Last April 11, Maroons’ assistant coaches Ramil Cruz and Jojo Villa went to Rivera’s hometown of Pampanga to once and for all ascertain his intent to play. They found Rivera playing for a Pampanga All-Star basketball team that was campaigning for a Gubernatorial candidate. The coach of the Pampanga All-Star squad was an assistant to Villa when he was the mentor of the Nueva Ecija Patriots in the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball League. It was this coach who brought Arwind Santos and Rivera to FEU’s attention. Rivera apologized for his failure to keep the communication lines open owing to a lost mobile phone but he promised to settle matters within a week.

But last April 20, Rivera called UP from FEU to inform them that Molina agreed to release him to UP provided that he settle some financial obligations to the school. But when Rivera and his father went to the school registrar, he was surprised to find out that his scholarship was revoked and that he had to pay back the P116, 000.00 FEU paid for his scholarship. According to Rivera, he was never informed by Molina about his revoked scholarship.

But how can the scholarship be revoked after the school year when he had already fulfilled his academic and athletic obligations to the school? The registrar informed the Riveras that the directive had come from university management and that they should talk to Molina f they had any questions about the dues.

Curiously, last May 22, during the UAAP board meeting, a new eligibility rule was passed that stipulated incoming freshmen who were transferees from other UAAP member schools to sit out a year of eligibility before suiting up for their new school. The rule was passed 4-2 with Ateneo and UP voting against what is now being referred to as the Soc Rivera Rule.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Passing Heat

The NBA playoffs have produced highly memorable moments, game-winning shots, performances, and meltdowns. This year, well, you can add “the pass” to it.

There are currently two passes that have made huge headlines in the playoffs. There’s the League Pass that the NBA has bestowed upon the San Antonio Spurs at the expense of the Phoenix Suns, and there’s “the Pass” by LeBron James that has his Cavaliers down by a game to new nemesis, the Detroit Pistons.

Watching the final seconds of Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals between Detroit and Cleveland, the Cavs were down 76-78 with the ball in their hands for either a tie of the win. LeBron James beat Tayshaun Prince on a quick first step that forced Rip Hamilton to help out. Even as the play unfolded, it was obvious that the help that Hamilton put up wasn’t going to stop LeBron from getting off a shot or immortalizing him in some slam-up poster. But the Boy-King elected to pass to a wide-open Donyell Marshall from the right corner pocket. Marshall, who had torched the New Jersey Nets in game six of the Eastern Semis with six treys, missed the shot and the Pistons sank another free throw for an ugly 79-76 win.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown said after reviewing the ill fated “pass” that "Donyell could have had a cup of coffee -- and a sandwich" but acknowledged that James still could have taken the shot.

But that isn’t all that James is taking heat for. There’s the matter of scoring only 10 points and taking no free throws in 45 minutes of action. For all of James’ otherworldly hops, basketball observers had constantly chided him for passing up shots during crunch time preferring to pass off to teammates like Damon Jones, Flip Murray (the year before), Marshall ad infinitum.

Last season, the Cavs hovered around .500 long enough that the fractious Indiana Pacers were clearly in their rearview mirror. A strong post-season where the Cavs nearly upended the Pistons was interpreted that the long-suffering Cleveland franchise and James were ready to ascend to the NBA throne. But instead, the team slacked somewhat back into inconsistency and finished with the same 50-32 record as the previous year. And the gripes about James’ game returned.

Former NBA All-Star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley has scored James’ propensity to disappear in the clutch. “Four years he’s been in the league,” said the ever-loquacious Round Mound of Rebound. “That’s more than enough to learn how to step up and become prime time. LeBron has to be a little more selfish with the ball during crunch time if he wants to go to the next level. But most of all, he should learn how to finish.”

Last season, after missing a potential game winner against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boy-King passed up a pair of shots during crunch time against the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers.

Said Charlotte Bobcats guard and former Cav Brevin Knight: “’Bron ain’t just in Allen’s (Iverson) and Kobe’s (Bryant) league yet. Those guys make it happen. But he’ll get there. No way he won’t.”

“To be great,” said Boston Celtic great Tommy Heinsohn. “You have to have that willingness to fail. You can’t be afraid to take the last shot.”

“I don’t need to hit the nail on the coffin to put teams away,” James defended himself in the wake of criticisms levied his way. “Clutch playing means knowing what kind of play to make at the last minute. It could be a pass that leads to the basketball or even a stop.”

Nevertheless, basketball observers would still like to see a killer instinct in James. A kind of clutch game that borders on the mythic (see Reggie Miller’s end game heroics). “Just do it,” Barkley jabbed back.

Still, “the Pass” as it now infamously dubbed, will be tabloid, chat room, and water cooler fodder until LeBron James brings his Cavs back. But as it was with a certain former player who used to wear #23 and was constantly stymied by an earlier incarnation of Bad Boys -- every series, every failure is one step up the ladder to championship glory.


Memorable Passes in NBA Playoff History
- Michael Jordan’s pass to Steve Kerr for the game-winning shot over the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the 1997 NBA Finals
- Larry Bird steals Isiah Thomas’s inbounds pass then dishes of to a streaking Dennis Johnson to eke out a 108-107 Game 5 over the Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals
- John Stockton’s pass to Karl Malone in Game Four of the 1997 NBA Finals with less than a minute to go to give the Jazz a 74-73 lead they would not relinquish to the Chicago Bulls

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jobe’s Ladder

Mean Streets
He lives in Cervini Hall, the men’s dorm inside Ateneo, right now. But every now and then he goes home to Sampaloc, Manila which will always be home to him. In the moments between catching up with relatives, friends, and neighbors, Jobe Sherwin Nkemakolam, all 6’3” of him looks up at the sky and dreams.

The Galicia area of Sampaloc is clean now; the local Kagawads having cleaned up the drug and gang-infested neighborhood. But when he was a kid, Jobe ran with the neighborhood kids and pretty much got involved with all the rowdiness. There were two things that stuck with him during those formative years and shaped him as a person: one was the color of his skin, and the other, the love of family.

Born of a Nigerian father and a Filipina mother, Jobe literally stood out from the rest. His height and his dark-skin color made him impossible to miss. For a while there, he thought he’d become a boxer because that’s all he did – fight. “I did well enough in my elementary years,” recalls Jobe. “But I fell short of honors because I was always getting into fights.” As he got older, Jobe’s friends would leave him out of their gang fights because he was easy to recognize and it made getting even easier for rival gangs.

That was fine with his grandmother, Soledad Eleria, and his uncles Ben Carino and Joey Eleria, who helped raise him and constantly reminded that the only way out of their poverty was staying away from trouble and getting an education. Although he stayed away from the crazy stuff that his friends were smoking and getting into trouble for, Jobe finally woke up from the stupor of teenage angst when a friend was literally shot and killed right before his eyes.

And then he remembered his dream of wanting to go to America where people would also accept him for the color of his skin.

The Breaks of the Game
Basketball. Given his height, it was a sport he naturally gravitated towards easily. He performed reasonably well with the RP Youth Team and soon had for an audience coaches, scouts, and managers of the country’s top colleges.
After one game he found himself in front of one of Ateneo’s scouts and Fr. Carmelo Caluag who was then working out of the university’s alumni office. The story is nothing new. All the other schools dangled monthly salaries and other perks, but Ateneo’s offer intrigued him.

“They were interested in me as a person,” recalls Jobe of that moment that would change his life. “Basketball is what got me to the Ateneo. But Ateneo is going to help me meet the challenges of the outside world.”

When he decided that he was going to Ateneo, some coaches, including one who played for the school’s arch-rival yet mentored another university, made one last pitch to land the services of this emerging force in the paint. “Kilala ka namin,” said the coach. “Hindi ba bobo ka? Paano mo kakayanin yung Ateneo, eh, mahirap doon?”

The words stung and still burn to this very day.

At an early age, Jobe Nkemakolam was exposed to so much adversity. He had to bear with the taunts of “sino ang tatay mo” and “negro.” They were always hard up but his mother, Beverly, who works in the Forensic Department of the National Bureau of Investigation, his grandmother and uncles and some family friends like the Madrigals, Yapyucos, and Medialdeas, found ways to make ends meet.

His Uncle Joey worked as an extra hand on a ship for a measly P5,000 a month. But his attitude towards his meager work status and pay was this is only temporary, it’s just a stepping stone. And his uncle did move up the ranks and eventually earned and saved enough to move out of Galicia and put up his own house.

That made a huge impression on young Jobe and he looked forward to helping Ateneo win another basketball championship as a stepping stone to providing for his family and proving all his detractors wrong.

Jobe cracked the Blue Eagles’ 2004 line-up. Although the year is more remembered as Larry Fonacier’s aborted last flight and the subsequent crash in the Final Four, Jobe remembers it only for the eight minutes he played all season long. Eight minutes.

Epiphany in the Outfield
He understands it now, the benching, but back then, he felt disillusioned and betrayed. He gained weight and fell out of shape and tendonitis wore down his knees and told on his game. As a result, he was cut from the line-up the succeeding year. For a while Jobe considered transferring to another school, but instead opted to concentrate on his studies.

In that time away from the team, he was served grim reminders of the realities facing him. His mother is older and suffers from diabetes. He sought the advice of the coach that he hoped to play for at the time of his recruitment, Joel Banal.

“I told Jobe to reflect on what happened and why he was unhappy,” says Banal who helped steer Ateneo to its third UAAP basketball crown in 2002. “Things happen for a reason and when bad things happen, it’s all about how we respond to it and the choices we make.”

The elevation of Zion Laterre from Ateneo Team B inspired him to once more take up basketball. Armed with a newfound optimism, Nkemakolam slimmed down and got into playing shape. And when he took to the floor as a starter for Ateneo’s first game in the on-going Fil-Oil Pre-Season Tournament against De La Salle, he felt happy and excited all over again. In five games thus far, Jobe has been averaging a double-double in points and rebounds.

His mother has to fight back the tears when she watches her son play. She feels proud and clips the papers when her son’s name appears in the game accounts.

And Jobe, the eldest of five children is happy now. He’s back in the Blue Eagles line-up and he has his confidence back. Plus, his younger brother Romiko, will be suiting up for the National University Juniors team in the coming season. “This is going to be an eventful year,” smiles Jobe. “I can feel it in my bones. But after college, hopefully I can play in the PBL and if I’m really lucky, in the PBA so I can earn money to pay for my sibling’s education and for my mom’s health bills.”

Now he has another opportunity to make his dreams come true.

Monday, May 14, 2007

CSI Las Vegas

Crime Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada.
EMT: We have a pulse. Boxing’s still alive! Prepare the defibrillator.

EMTs scurry about.
Detective 1: It seems the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya bout broke existing pay-per-view records. So does that mean that boxing’s death is greatly exaggerated?

Detective 2: Hmm. For all we know the regurgitating noise that followed might be the sport’s death rattle. Like the body still hasn’t gotten the brain’s message.

Detective 1: You can’t say that. We deal in facts here not conjecture! We’ll have to examine the crime scene for evidence. Bring in the forensic guys.

(CSI personnel enter the room)
Forensic Detective: If we look at the boos that followed the announcement of the split decision and the feeling by many that Oscar De La Hoya was robbed, we can infer that it was another unsatisfying end to a much-hyped match. But that is by no means conclusive. We need something more substantive.

Detective 2: The sport has been sucker punched once too often it’s a wonder it survived this long.

Detective 1: Any possible suspects?

Forensic Detective: From the trauma evident -- it took a fist to the face and a knee to the abdomen. And a kick to the leg. And there’s the matter of the bloody ear…

Detective 2: Wasn’t that the second bout of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield – the infamous Bite Fight?

Forensic Detective: (coughs) Actually, I was going to say, it could have been Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC (Universal Fighting Championship) that perpetuated this attack.

EMT: Heart rate is spiking.

Forensic Detective: Spike is right. Put aside the Mayweather-De La Hoya temporarily, the most watched UFC fight so far in 2007 on Spike TV outdrew the most watched boxing match on television by 73%. That was UFC 70 that featured Mirko “Cro” Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga on April 21 that drew 2.8 million viewers as opposed to the Ricky Hatton-Juan Urango bout on January 20 that was seen by 1.5 million people.


And in 2006, the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock UFC fight outdrew boxing’s most viewed event --- that was Winky Wright vs. Jermain Taylor. Ah that’s 4.3 million viewers for UFC and 3.5 for HBO boxing – a difference of 800,000 viewers.

Detective 1: But isn’t boxing alive and well in the Philippines and in Europe?

Forensic Detective: Well, yes it’s popular in the Philippines but in the boxing universe it’s still a drop in the bucket. Vladimir Klitschko, will try to avenge his loss to Lamon Brewester this July in Germany. His last fight there drew some 13 million people.

Detective 2: Then how can you say that boxing’s dead?

Forensic Detective: Remember the time when the Heavyweight Champion used to be like Leonardo DiCaprio, he was the King of the World?

Detective 1: Yeah, those were the days. Ali, Frazier, Foreman…

Detective 2: And there were larger than life boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello…

Detective 1: Now whom do they have? Before Mayweather-De La Hoya, the last match that people really looked forward to was Lennox Lewis and an over-the-hill Mike Tyson. (chuckles)

Forensic Detective: Well, I don’t think we can just point to MMA as the culprit. Maybe it’s also boxing that set itself up.

Detective 2: You mean they wanted it too look this way? The real perp is from within?

Detective 1: Who is it… Don King? Bong Obero? The Russians? The other promoters? Controversial decisions? Is boxing on its way to being knocked out?

Forensic Detective: Maybe. Maybe not. It may be not be as popular as it once was, but let’s wait until we have more conclusive evidence. We’ll see what happens when UFC signs with ESPN. Yeah, the world awaits.


o O o

Mixed Martial Arts have become more and more popular. The UFC Fight Nights air live on Spike TV and feature many of the biggest names in the world of mixed martial arts. UFC Fight Nights have averaged 2.2 million viewers in the US -- more than the average regular season telecasts of the NBA, NHL, and NCAA basketball on cable television.

UFC 71 will be showing on Solar Sports this coming June. The main cards feature Chuck Lidell v. Quinton Jackson for the Light Heavyweight Championship, Terry Martin vs. Ivan Salaverry in a Middleweight bout, Karo Parisyan vs. Josh Burkman in a Welterweight match, a Light Heavyweight bout that pits Keith Jardine vs. Houston Alexander, and a Middleweight battle between Chris Leben vs. Kalib Starnes.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has only been with the UFC for less than four months and he’s already getting his shot at Lidell’s title. Lidell recently dominated Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture and is nigh unbeatable. Liddell, from San Luis Obispo, is coming off a decisive third-round technical knockout of Ortiz at UFC 66 in December 2006, but he acknowledged afterward that he fought with a torn medial collateral ligament in a knee. He declined to reveal which knee was injured, but he said he rejected proposed surgery.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Three-point Daggers & T's

The NBA playoffs make much for water-cooler and coffee shop talk nowadays what with the great action and upsets galore. We’re already halfway done and there’s already much that we can glean from the games:

Nightrider sighting
The reason why the Dallas Mavericks lost is because it was David Hasselhoff who showed up not Dirk Nowitski.

What A Fool Believes
Tracy McGrady has gone the way of Kevin Garnett, a perennial first-round flop (although Garnett did advance deep once). What was he saying about, “It’s all on me?” I thought that it takes five, baby, to win. Guess he forgot that, right? Oh yeah, I forgot too that there’s no truth to advertising.

Sowing the Seeds of Playoff Chaos
Thinking of reseeding because you think that the conference finals should be between Detroit and Chicago and San Antonio and Phoenix? Thank God, the NBA play-offs have showed that the NCAA’s don’t have a monopoly on unpredictability.

There have been some calls from basketball observers that the NBA should either go back to the old format of the seeds being ranked according to their win-loss record or to take a cue from the NHL to reseed every round. The former might be acceptable but that paves the way for the stronger teams t figure in the conference semis and the finals. The latter is intriguing because a true champion should take on all comers but that renders the regular season slate almost useless. Whatever it is, I’m fine with the format now. I like that feeling of unpredictability.

A Bloody Shame
Steve Nash was playing on a bloody nose. Hitting a dagger of a trey. What does that say? MVP for THREE!

Sorry, Dirk. An MVP doesn’t simply play in the last two minutes of Game Five.

Lost in Translation
In his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, the 6-7 Montenegro native Sasha Pavlovic was asked during a game to play defense if he wanted to stay on the floor. The wiry shooting guard smiled and said, “My defense is my offense.” The Cavs’ coaching staff wasn’t amused and Pavlovic cooled his heels on the bench. After finally showing up in the Game One eastern semi-finals win against the New Jersey Nets scoring 15 points while wearing down Vince Carter, Pavlovic, in a play reminiscent of Tayshaun Prince’s block of a Reggie Miller lay-up, swatted Jason Kidd’s fastbreak lay-up that would have cut the Cavs’ lead down to two.

“I remember saying that (to Cleveland Coach Mike Brown), but I wasn’t serious about it,” said the 23-year old Pavlovic after the game. “He probably took it serious. That’s my fault. He knows I’m going to play good on offense. Only if I play good defensively, he’ll let me stay on the floor. So that’s what I’m trying to do all season.”

Bigfoot sighting
Did you read that news item about this Canadian Member of Parliament who said that Bigfoot must be declared an endangered specie? Well, here’s more evidence to support this astounding piece of public service. That guy in the Basketball TV plug who says that he Ioves the NBA game because of the Seattle Supersonics Sasquatch? What kinda crap answer is that?!

Gut feelings
The NBA ordered Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson to stop bringing beer to the post-game press conference. Guess they’re worried about how this team has taken on the personality of former Warrior Latrell Sprewell with his fierce and irreverent demeanor aside from his jawing and dunking ways.

Bullied
The Chicago Bulls looked like world-class beaters after dusting off the Miami Heat in the first round. But against the Detroit Pistons… they looked like the Lost Boys in the first two games. In those two games, the Pistons stole the Bulls’ playbook: hustle plays, high-energy, and a team game that saw them record their best win-loss slate since 1998. They’ve been thoroughly outplayed almost everywhere in every facet. And so now they head back to the City of the Big Shoulders searching for answers and hoping that good ole home cooking will serve them well. There have been only seven teams in NBA Playoff history who have bucked a 0-2 hole to win in seven games. And one of those teams was the 1993 Bulls when they went two down to the New York Knicks in the Eastern semis.

But the glaring stat is that the Bulls are outrebounded and have committed more turnovers. Scott Skiles and his staff clearly have their homework done.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Warrior’s predilection for king-sized upsets

IT is perhaps the greatest upset in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. The manner in which the Golden State Warriors finished off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks was shocking and mesmerizing. There they were, save for Jason Richardson, cast-offs and journeymen players—Baron Davis via Charlotte/New Orleans, Stephen Jackson late of San Antonio and Indiana, and Matt Barnes by way of Sacramento, New York, and Philadelphia—dunking, three-point-shooting, and jawing their way with reckless abandon.

By all rights, it should have been over in five games were it not for four bad calls that sent the Warriors back to Oakland for a sixth match. Maybe it was for the best, to win it right before the 20,000 faithful who have not savored a playoff appearance since 1994 and a second season win since 1992 (against Seattle to whom they fell 3-1).

And now in 2007, they’ll be playing in the second round for the first time since 1991 when they got bounced in five by the edition of the LA Magic Show (with rookie Vlade Divac and vets James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott, and (ex-Warrior) Terry Teagle.

As incredible as it seems, Golden State thrives on its underdog image and has made a career out of beating higher seeds.

Warrior King returns

IN 1989, Chris Mullin (now the Warriors’ general manager), finally beat his demons in the bottle and checked out of rehab to be one of the league’s best players. With Mullin’s 26.5 ppg and steady support from Mitch Richmond, Winston Garland, Rod Higgins, Otis Smith, and Ralph Sampson (his last pro team), G-State finished fourth in the West with a 43-39 record. In the playoffs, they met Midwest Division champs Utah Jazz (51-31) behind John Stockon, Karl Malone, Thurl Bailey, and Darrell Griffith.

The Warriors displayed nerves of steel in the last three minutes as they outlasted the Jazz 123-119 in Game One. They repeated their feat with another masterful 99-91 win in Salt Lake City before sending the deflated Jazz home for the summer with a 120-106 demolition in front of a raucous home crowd. Mullin was incandescent in the post-season, upping his scoring to 29.4ppg while adding 5.9rpg and 4.5apg.

Crossover heroes

AFTER falling short of the playoffs the previous year, the Warriors unveiled one of the highest-scoring acts behind “Run-TMC” as the trio of Mr. U-tep two-step Tim Haradway, steady Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin collectively scored 72.5 ppg. They finished 44-38; their best record in nine years. Back again in the post-season, the Warriors took on Midwest Division champs San Antonio Spurs (55-27) who were led by the Admiral David Robinson (then in his second year in the league), Sean Elliot, Terry Cummings, Willie Anderson, and a young point guard named Avery Johnson.

The Spurs held serve in the first game 130-121 with a monster game by Robinson. But Golden State stole one in the Alamo Dome with a 111-98 win that shifted the momentum. When the series moved over to Oakland, the Warriors took the pivotal third game 109-106 that knocked the wind out of San Antonio’s sails. The speedy Warriors ended the Spurs’ misery in Game Four with a series-clinching 110-97 win.

Freefall

AS much as Golden State put their faithful on an emotional high, they would invariably get knocked out of the succeeding second round that would be followed by a disappointing freefall the following season.

After eliminating the Jazz in 1989, the Warriors scintillating run ended as they got bounced by the Phoenix Suns of Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Eddie Johnson, Armon Gilliam, Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, and Steve Kerr (who called the Warriors’ history-making Game Six win against Dallas with Marv Albert) in five games. The following season was a hugely disappointing one as they missed the playoffs tumbling to 37-45.

In 1991, Golden State once more fell in the second round this time to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. In the off-season, Warriors brass felt that they were mercilessly pounded inside by the Laker’s half-court game and a decision was made to break up Run-TMC. Mitch Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings for top draft choice Billy Owens. The defense did improve and the Warriors finished third in the 1992 Western standings. But they were upset in the first round by the young and exciting Seattle Supersonics with Ricky Pierce, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and young studs Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. In 1993, the team would lose a combined 312 player-games to injury and they missed the post-season bus.

Full Nelson

THERE aren’t many coaches who have created lasting imprints with several franchises. There’s Phil Jackson who made the NBA All-Rookie team with the New York Knicks and played on their two championship teams of the 1970s. He coached the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s and guided another with the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-’02.

Pat Riley won a title with the Lakers as a player and mentored them to four titles in the 80s. He masterminded the Knicks renaissance of the 90s as well as the Miami Heat’s ascent that culminated with a title in 2006.

But for Don Nelson… his championships may have all come with his time with the Boston Celtics, but he’s turned around the fortunes of many a franchise. He turned Milwaukee into a steady contender in the early 80s before employing his creativity with the Golden State Warriors during his first go-around with them. After an aborted stint with New York, he turned the Mavericks (with terrific support from Mark Cuban) into a power before he turned the reins over to his assistant and former point guard Avery Johnson. And now Nelson is reunited with Mullin in Golden State where both are once more weaving their mojo with the same type of game that they once ran.

No matter what happens in this second round, the Warriors will have put their imprint in this seemingly tepid season. The excitement is back in the Bay Area where they momentarily overshadowed the controversial chase by Barry Bonds of Hank Aaron’s home-run record. It’s been a great spring for them. Now they just have to build on the gains or let history repeat itself.