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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

For Kobe Bryant, he should learn from NBA history.

This appears on the NBA Philippines website

For Kobe Bryant, he should learn from NBA history.
by rick olivares

Just opening night for the new NBA season and there are fireworks, game-winning buzzer-beaters, affirmations of contenders status and reminders of who are works in progress.

The one that takes the cake is that argument between the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard. With 7:07 left in the match and the Rockets ahead by 25 points, Howard pulled down a defensive rebound while Bryant tried to poke the ball away. The two stood for a few seconds with Kobe poking with Dwight trying to clear space until he nailed the Laker guard with an elbow immediately earning a technical foul. As officials and teammates separated the two, Kobe jawed at Howard and called him “soft” and urged him to “try me.”

While Howard “started” it, it is but the latest in a PDD (Public Display of Dislike) by the two and that had me thinking of an article where Henry Abbott cited anonymous sources about players refusing to play alongside Bryant for his reputation of fighting and putting down teammates. That came barely a day or two after he was ranked at the NBA’s 40th best player by ESPN that prompted Bryant to call the media network as a bunch of “idiots.”

While I may not agree with the ranking, if Howard was said to have an opportunity to take the high road in that scrum with Bryant, Kobe also had the opportunity to do the same. Instead, as Lakers beat reporter Ramona Shelburne Tweeted, “(Recently retired New York Yankees star Derek) Jeter never made a “second story.” Never added logs to the fire. Kobe tries the same but can’t help say something interesting.”

And, “Reading through @kobebryant quotes tonight shows diff between him and Jeter (to whom he’s oft compared – aging legend, iconic franchise).”

As everything unfolded with Kobe backtracking somewhat and saying it was merely “trash talking,” I thought of Michael Jordan and how his career went from being bookended with the shot at North Carolina and the shot at Chicago to being cut at Laney and being cut at Washington which is actually his last act as a NBA player.

In his final season with the Washington Wizards, he alienated every single player that no one gave him a send-off. Michael Leahy chronicled that final year with the Wizards in the unflattering book, “When Nothing Else Matters.” I’d say that goes hand-in-hand with Sam Smith’s “The Jordan Rules” the first book to demystify Jordan.

Kobe, who makes no bones about His Airness as his basketball idol should learn from that. Despite what is a Hall of Fame career and one that will see him named as one of the ten best NBA players of all time, Bryant is headed down Jordan’s road. In fact, he is one of the most polarizing players ever to lace up a pair of sneakers.

The 1998 NBA All-Star game foreshadowed Bryant’s career. In what was then believed to be Jordan’s last in the mid-season classic, Kobe waved off screens and teammates to take on Jordan and took the most shots from the Western Conference squad. Not a few basketball analysts point to this episode as a portent of what was to come – taking a volume of shots and putting himself above the team.

Kobe’s response to criticism has shocking and infuriating. In a game against the Sacramento Kings in 2004, he took one shot in the entire first half after LA coach Phil Jackson pointed out that he shoots too much at the expense of the team. That prompted then teammate Gary Payton to ask before the next game, “Are you going to play or not?”

Incredibly, he did it again. During Game 7 of the First Round match up with the phoenix Suns during the 2006 playoffs, Bryant took only three shots in the second half. It is seen as not only quitting on his team that lost a 3-1 series lead but also his petulance when criticized for taking too many shots.  

Earlier this 2014, he was in the center of a social media storm when he ruffled feathers about the Trayvon Martin case. That also didn’t endear him to LeBron James who could have joined the Lakers but opted to return to Cleveland after his contract with the Miami Heat ended.

For the record, I am a fan of both Jordan and Bryant. But it is tough being a fan of both. I still cringe when I think of or even see video of the Black Cat’s Hall of Fame speech. Hopefully, Bryant doesn’t do the same.

Bryant’s days on the hardcourt are numbered. I’d rather he just let his game do the talking. And if anything, he should be grateful that he is back and unlike teammate Steve Nash, whose body has betrayed him to the point where his acquisition by the Lakers is seen as one of the worst in league history (only because he didn’t play too much due to injury), he has the opportunity to go out on his terms.

Now if he only doesn’t add more logs to the fire.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What’s wrong with FIFA’s Ballon D’Or Awards selections?

This appears on

What’s wrong with FIFA’s Ballon D’Or Awards selections?
by rick olivares pic from Agencee France Presse

FIFA released the contenders for the Ballon D’Or Award and named to the list are some of year-in; year-out contenders, some surprises, and some glaring omissions.

The one thing that FIFA fails again to do is to properly define the award. The basic criterion is to award the best male player to have had the best in the previous year.

But how do you define the best player? Is it through the most tangible result that is through scoring goals? If that is the case, that eliminates goalkeepers, defenders, and probably 90% of all midfielders.

The previous season encompasses club and country tour of duties. I would like to recommend that FIFA do the following:
1.    Separate the Ball D’Or Award – one for goal scorers, one for playmakers, one for defenders, one for goalkeepers, and one for managers.
2.    Place all pertinent statistics. For scorers and playmakers, its goals and assists. For defenders, it could also be goals, tackles, and perhaps, stops, a statistic that should be introduced in defining a defender’s worth. For goalkeepers, it’s saves, clean sheets, and goals conceded. For managers, it’s wins and the turnaround from the previous season.

FIFA has introduced a whole slew of statistics from ball possession to pass completion rate to tackles and right down to distance traveled! Until these stats are made better use in determining a player’s worth then it’s all bunk. It’s probably the one sport that doesn’t make use of to much statistics that is why clubs generally don’t want to have to do anything with sabermetrics.

I tried finding pertinent stats to all the 23 players named on the list and obviously it is still lacking.

Gareth Bale: Wales – 3 goals; Real Madrid – 22 goals
Karim Benzema: France – 7 goals, Real Madrid – 24 goals
Diego Costa: Spain – 1 goal, Atletico Madrid – 36 goals
Thibault Courtois: Belgium – 10 clean sheets, Atletico Madrid – 24 conceded goals
Angel Di Maria: Argentina – 2 goals, Real Madrid – 11 goals
Mario Gotze: Germany – 6 goals, Bayern Munich – 15 goals
Eden Hazard: Belgium – 1 goal, Chelsea – 17 goals
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Sweden – 2 goals, Paris Saint-Germain – 41 goals
Andres Iniesta: Spain – 1 goal, Barcelona – 3 goals
Toni Kroos: Germany – 3 goals, Bayern Munich – 4 goals
Philipp Lahm: Germany – zero goals, Bayern Munich – 1 goal
Javier Mascherano: Argentina – 1 goal, Barcelona – zero goals
Lionel Messi: Argentina – 7 goals, Barcelona – 41 goals
Thomas Muller: Germany – 8 goals, Bayern Munich – 26 goals
Manuel Neuer: Germany – 86.2 save completion rate, 4 conceded goals; Bayern Munich – 25 clean sheets
Neymar: Brazil – 13 goals, Barcelona – 15 goals
Paul Pogba: France – 5 goals, Juventus – 9 goals
Sergio Ramos: Spain – zero goals, Real Madrid – 7 goals
Arjen Robben: Netherlands – 4 goals, Bayern Munich – 21 goals
James Rodriguez: Colombia – 8 goals; Monaco – 10 goals
Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal – 11 goals, Real Madrid – 53 goals
Bastian Schweinsteiger: Germany – zero goals, Bayern Munich – 8 goals
Yaya Toure: Ivory Coast -1 goal; Manchester City – 24 goals

Conspicuously missing from that list is Luis Suarez who scored five goals for Uruguay and 31 for Liverpool. Sergio Aguero who scored three goals for country and 28 for his club. And where is Robin Van Persie who scored 14 goals for the Netherlands and 18 for Manchester United?

It seems that those who came up with the list have selective memory.

Why is James Rodriguez on the list? Because he has a terrific World Cup? He wasn’t great with Monaco. If that is the case then probably that justifies Paul Pogba’s inclusion. But there’s the rub because Andres Iniesta is on the list. Didn’t Spain bomb out in the first round of play?

The list isn’t that justifiable and panders to expected while paying lip service to certain football associations so that they have a representative never mind if they have a chance in hell of winning the award.

What chance does that fantastic Thibault Courtois of winning it? I think he is certainly much better than Manuel Neuer who has literally the German National Team playing ahead of him in Bayern Munich.

Taking a look at that list, if goals are the sexy stat that voters look out for then Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Leo Messi, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Yaya Toure should be on that short list.

Again, in my opinion, the selection process is un-democratic and unfair even to the players on the list. Criteria should be set and defined and presented in a very clear and concise manner – and it should be divided. Perhaps you they can simply call them the Ballon D’Or Awards with the Pele Award going to the top goal scorer. And perhaps the Johan Cruyff Award going to the Best Midfielder (you can also name it the Alfredo Di Stefano Award). The Beckenbauer Award goes to the Best Defender. The Lev Yashin or the Dino Zoff Award goes to the Best Goalkeeper.

The Best Manager Award is again… tricky. There are 10 men named to this list. Carlo Ancelotti (Italy/Real Madrid CF), Antonio Conte (Italy/Juventus FC/Italy national team), Pep Guardiola (Spain/FC Bayern Munich), Juergen Klinsmann (Germany/ USA national team), Joachim Loew (Germany/Germany national team), Jose Mourinho (Portugal/Chelsea FC), Manuel Pellegrini (Chile/Manchester City FC), Alejandro Sabella (Argentina/Argentina national team), Diego Simeone (Argentina/Atletico Madrid), Louis van Gaal (Netherlands/Netherlands national team/Manchester United FC).

You have separate managers for club and for country. Again FIFA fails in this regard.

Of the 10 on that list, four were head coaches for a country – Klinsmann for the United States of America, Joachim Loew for Germany, Alejandro Sabella for Argentina, and Van Gaal for the Netherlands. The rest managed only one club.

Now why is Van Gall listed under Manchester United when he wasn’t coaching them the previous season? These awards are given with regards to what was done in the last year. If it’s MUFC, then he’s definitely out of this list.

Again, FIFA fails in providing consistency.

However, the die is cast.

And as usual, it will come down to Lionel Messi (who really didn’t deserve to win the World Cup MVP Award) or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Monday, October 27, 2014

40 Memorable moments in Philippine Basketball Association history

Here is something I wrote for FHM Philippines to help commemorate the Philippine Basketball Association's 40th anniversary. It's a long one -- whew -- that spans several parts and it's about those memorable moments in league history. Kindly click on the links to read them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The silver lining for Steve Nash

This appears in the Monday, October 27, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

The silver lining for Steve Nash
by rick olivares

The news that Steve Nash was injured once more – this time carrying his gym bag – and will be out for the entire year was met with disbelief and ominous-sounding career obituaries.

After playing in only 15 matches the previous year, the latest setback for the perennially injured 40-year old Nash, one of the NBA’s greatest players and all-around good guys and is certifiably Hall of Fame bound, means his career could possibly be all over.

While talking about working his way back from injury last season, in his opening lines in “The Finish Line,” a multi-part documentary about Nash’s season on the shelf, he wonders: “One of the hardest things about this whole this is the feeling like I am stuck in this no man’s land. Like it’s a black hole. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. I’ve gone through so many days over the last eight months  where I am not sure. It’s painful to go through the same thing over and over and hope that the rehabilitation will come through and you will get better.”

“Is it the truth that I am done?”

One of the hardest goodbyes is not going out the way you want. When Father Time and injury take those options away from you.

I thought of the late Lou Gehrig’s speech at Yankee Stadium “about a bad break.” Maybe. But who knew?

When his NBA career started, it didn’t look like Nash would even play. The Suns had the incumbent Kevin Johnson. Phoenix gave up on the Charles Barkley experiment and traded him to Houston. One of the players the Suns received was point guard Sam Cassell who they unloaded a little over a month into the new season to Dallas for Jason Kidd. They also acquired Rumeal Robinson from the Los Angeles Lakers giving the Suns a four-point guard rotation. Robinson was eventually waved. With KJ down with injury, Nash got playing time as Kidd’s backup where he gave a good account of himself. But he logged only 10 minutes of playing time.

The Dallas Mavericks acquired him in 1998 and that gave him the opportunity to really show the league what he could do playing alongside Dirk Nowitski. Nash’s stock went higher and in his return to Phoenix for the 2004-05 season, he became the first Canadian and only third point guard to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. And he won them back-to-back. Except his Suns came up short as well.

Pundits might say that Nash played big but his teams always came up short. Especially in his injury-shortened Los Angeles Lakers stint. Nevertheless, that should not detract one iota from his individual accomplishments and from his eventual enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Basketball is a team game after all. Furthermore, the Hall doesn’t only feature players who won a championship because many players didn’t.

Theoretically, Steve’s career isn’t over at all. If he gets healthy, he could be good for one more year as a solid backup for a team looking for some veteran leadership while providing quality but limited minutes.

If Nash is indeed done, I feel bad for him. Having said that, I believe that Nash’s second career will be just as good if not better. He has always been described as a talented and gifted athlete. That is true in a basketball and non-basketball sense. Steve’s passions, charities, and ventures from soccer to his production house Meathawk have provided glimpses of independent films with a heavy dose of humor and heart. When he produced the 81-second “Training Day” video for Nike, Nash used New York City as his playground and as a means to stay in shape by playing soccer and tennis and skateboarding (while dribbling a basketball).

Steve brings a nice perspective to sports with his sense of humor and creativity. He is a product of multi-cultures. He is Canadian yet has British citizenship owing to his parents. He lives and works in America. His desire to reconnect with his British roots through Tottenham Football Club could inject a badly needed dose of cash, outside the box thinking and good PR as the club is mired in mediocrity (they sit at 10th spot in the current English Premier League standings). Now how cool would that be? He already co-owns the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer. He’d be the second NBA player to be a part of an English club after LeBron James who is a minority partner of Liverpool Football Club.

After seeing recently retired New York Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter launch “The Players Tribune” a potential game-changing site for athletes and interaction, Nash, who has had a head start, can do a lot as well. After all, he’s been named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in sports. Now with his talents, there is so much he can do.

Yeah, maybe Steve Nash did catch a bad break because I enjoy watching him play as not many play with his intelligence and passion. But you know, I am excited to see what he will do now. And for what it’s worth, I think I don’t want to see him in a broadcaster’s booth. That would be a waste.

Talented and gifted, anyone?

The world is yours, Steve.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Positively giddy that the New York Islanders defeated the Boston Bruins

Massive 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins to snap that two-match losing streak. What makes it even cooler is that it's at Boston. And the win vaults the New York Islanders to the top of the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference of the NHL. Yes, the season is young but you take your kicks where you can.

Thinking of going to the US next year to catch the last Islanders-Rangers match at the old Nassau Coliseum. Last time I was there, the Isles squeaked past the Edmonton Oilers, 3-2. 10 years ago!

The ageless Asi Taulava

This appears on the PBA's website.

The ageless Asi Taulava
by rick olivares

A little over a month ago, the season for the New York Yankees ended and with it, the career of baseball’s face for over a decade. Yankees captain and short stop Derek Jeter hung up his cleats at 40 years of age. In his final season, he played 145 out of a possible 162 games where he hit four home runs and 50 RBIs. He stole 10 bases and struck out 87 times and finished the season with a .256 batting average.

About eight thousand miles away, another team captain and ageless wonder himself showed that he is far from done.

The 41-year old center of the NLEX Road Warriors, Asi Taulava, overcame a slow start to lead NLEX to its first ever win in the PBA by chalking up 21 points (including 12 in the final quarter), eight rebounds, and five assists in a 101-96 win. He scored key baskets in the game’s dying moments in addition to finding key teammates for a couple of key baskets as well.

It’s hard to believe that Taulava is still going strong even at that age when most pro basketball players have hung up their high tops. It isn’t any fluke as in Season 39, Asi was ranked seventh in performance among local players as he suited up for 40 matches for Air21 while averaging 14.75 points per game.

The Big Fella was also fourth in total free throws made with an average of 3.9 per match for a total of 156 FTs scored. Incredibly, he was second only to JuneMar Fajardo’s 14.1 rebounds per game with 12.3 of his own! He pulled down more boards than Barangay Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter, San Miguel Beer’s Arwind Santos, and Alaska’s Sonny Thoss even if they played more games than he did.

And to show that he was rock solid for last year – he played the most minutes of any local by logging 37.7 minutes per game.

I asked the 6’9” center who is now on his 16th year in the league how he manages to stay in remarkable shape and to be able to contribute mightily to his team’s cause despite his age.

Taulava took no offense at the question and merely said that he wants to stay in the league as long as possible. “I’d credit that first to Rajko Toroman when I he asked me to be a part of Smart Gilas,” said Taulava. “If you want to play for him you have to be in shape. And that taught me a lot about staying in the game and lengthening my career. And second, it’s for the love of the game, man. And I want to go out with at least another championship.”

Asi admitted it’s also about eating the right foods and staying fit and sharp. “You hear it so many times about taking care of one’s body. Man, I’ve got so many bumps, bruises, and pain all over but I’ve been blessed to be healthy at this stage. So I really have to take care of myself if I want to continue playing.”

The Fil-Tongan is part of a small community of PBA players who plied their trade at the age of 40 and above. The list includes Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Elpidio Villamin, Terry Saldaña, Abet Guidaben, Olsen Racela, Nic Belasco, and John Ferriols. If Eric Menk suits up this season, he’ll be on that list too.

When told about Jeter playing at 40, Taulava glowed. “See? I really am in good company.”

“Now if I can win a championship that’s even better.”