Monday, August 30, 2004

Are you ready for some.... hockey??

Hockey's back. Deal with it.

I know all you football fans are licking your chops for the start of the season. And the baseball pennant races are approaching. You want to sneak a peak at the U.S. Open. Even the RNC is a distraction.

So who's got time for hockey? Well, I do. So should you. Not just because hockey won't be around much longer (if you listen to the doomsday hypnotists who would like us to believe the NHL won't survive another lockout), but because this is a great tournament. The NHL's best players will gather to represent their countries after a full two months off, meaning they are fresh and ready to play at their dominant best.

It may be tough to top the thrilling 1996 World Cup, which was the best hockey anyone had seen since the 80s-era Canada Cups. But when you envision a Canadian line of Mario Lemieux, Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, or an American defense pairing of Brian Leetch and Brian Rafalski, or a goalie rotation of Brodeur, Theodore, and Luongo, you know you're in for some exciting stuff.

Here's a look at the top teams and their chances to win:

USA: The U.S. won the World Cup in '96, the last time the tournament was held. But it's been eight long years since then. Absent are MVP goalie Mike Richter and defensive standouts Phil Housley and Derian Hatcher. The forwards group looks different, too. John Leclair has been replaced by Bill Guerin. Pat LaFontaine is out; Scott Gomez is in. Joel Otto is long gone; Jeff Halpern and Jason Blake will try to fill roles as fourth-liners.

The U.S. still has plenty of superstars, but its question marks in net are troubling. Will Robert Esche emerge as the next great American goaltender? Will Rick DiPietro, the former No. 1 pick get a shot? If the last World Cup is any indication, one of those two men will have to be spectacular for the U.S. to have a shot.

Canada: Eight years ago, it was a talented, young USA squad that beat the fearsome, grizzled Canadians. This time around, the roles are reversed. Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis inject a youthful enthusiasm to this year's Team Canada, which already has Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, and Joe Thornton up front. With a fortress named Brodeur in goal and the best defensive depth in the tournament, the Canucks have to be considered the odds-on favorites to win. Call it a huge upset if they aren't in the final.

Sweden: Still trying to recover after a shocking quarterfinal loss to Belarus in the 2002 Olympics. Goaltending is the biggest albatross here: Tommy Salo was in goal when Vladimir Kopat's 70-foot slapper gave Belarus the stunning Olympic win, and his backups are unproven. Salo will have to be the man for Sweden to make a run.

On the plus side, the Swedes play a speedy, puck-moving style that should make it easy for them to assimilate and at least achieve a semifinal appearance. Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund, and Peter Forsberg are the stars up front. Nicklas Lidstrom and Mattias Norstrom will anchor the defense. With the right mix of goaltending and scoring, this team would not be a long shot for a title.

Russia: The traditional favorites have struggled on an international level, mainly due to a lack of top goaltenders. This time around will be no different. Superstar Stanley Cup winner Nikolai Khabibulin quit over the team's "lack of prepartion," leaving minor leaguer Ilya Bryzgalov as the leading man in net. The forwards are a dangerous combination of skill and slickness; the defense nicely stocked with NHL-caliber stars and role players. But the Russians will have to catch fire and score in buckets or they may be in for a short tournament.

Czech Republic: They proved in the '98 Olympics that you can win with lots of goaltending and no offense. That may not necessarily be the motto this time around. The Czechs have Roman Cechmanek and Thomas Vokoun manning the pipes, both of whom could carry the team if they get hot. Up front, Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Milan Hejduk, and Martin Havlat lead a dangerous group of forwards. The defense is solid as usual, with Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Kaberle, and emerging power play quarterback Marek Zidlicky leading a diverse and talented blueline corps. Don't be surprised if they end up playing for a championship.

The rest: Finland's top star, Teemu Selanne, may be on the down side of his career. They'll need a strong effort from rising star Olli Jokinen and a herculean effort from Flames star goalie Miikaa Kiprusoff.

Slovakia has a scary group of forwards but no reliable goaltending option and a suspect defense.

Germany has NHL star Olie Kolzig in net, but lack the firepower up front to create havoc against the world's best.

Predictions:
1. Canada
2. Czech Republic
3. USA
4. Sweden
5. Finland
6. Russia
7. Slovakia
8. Germany

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Random Olympic thoughts III

* There's no way the makeup artist for the U.S. women's gymnastics team isn't from New Jersey. I don't care what evidence you show to prove otherwise, I'm claiming a false positive. Did you see the glitter and the eye makeup. I thought I was at Illusions in Mahwah or Trade Winds in Belmar, or any other Jersey Shore club from Al Q, your club and concert calendar.

* Playing the part of Tommy "The Machine" Gunn in the remake of Rocky V is . . . Paul Hamm. Marketing tagline: He's got the gold, but no one thinks he's the champ. Plot summary: Bela Karolyi goes turncoat and defends the South Korean bronze medalist. At Hamm's local gym, Karolyi and the South Korean bronze medalist start berating Hamm. In subtitles, the South Korean bronze medalists says, "The judged knocked me down to third place, why don't you try knocking me down now."

* Rulon Gardner leaving his shoes in the middle of the ring to signal his retirement is insanely cool, even if it is the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling. He ranks second on the "How to retire cool" list, behind John Kruk who singled in his last at-bat then walked off the field and retired on the spot.

* I yearn for the day when someone from Lane 8 wins a medal, or even a qualifying heat.

* Where and when do gymnastics color commentators get the broadcast experience?

* I didn't know how exciting Olympic canoeing could be until Wednesday. I went to the gym, turned my FM dial to 89.7 to pick up the audio from one of the televisions near the treadmill. Then, i went to the ab machines, which present an obstructed point of view, i.e. they face the complete opposite direction. Luckily, I could stay in tune with the races.

* Starbury is the third best Olympic nickname behind Thorpedo and Tomba La Bamba, even if Starbury was created in Coney Island 10 years ago. He's an Olympian, so he fits the criteria for this list.

* Abby Wambach seems like she'd be a fun drinking partner at the Boardie Barn.

* If I hear one more television "journalist" ask a gold medalist how she or he feels about winning a gold medal, I may be forced to watch Da Ali G show and I really don't want to have to do that. First day of J-school: "Don't ever ask people how they feel about winning or losing something!" Guess NBC "journalists" were sick that day. I wonder how they felt.

* One question about rhythmic gymnastics: why?

E-mail me | Olympic photos

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Go home, Mario

A little advice for Spanish men's basketball coach Mario Pesquera: Go home -- nobody likes a sore loser.

Pesquera embarrassed himself, his team, and his country by demonstrably confronting first the referees, and then U.S. coach Larry Brown, after his team played valiantly in a 102-94 loss to the Americans Thursday.

He only made things worse by later accusing Brown, one of the classiest coaches in the NBA, of showboating by calling a late timeout with the game out of reach. If Brown wanted to embarrass the Spaniards, he could have called over Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, and the rest of the team, and told them to play like they did in their first five games. The embarrassment would have been Pesquera standing on the podium, praising his team's upset over the Mighty Americans, who only yesterday showed the All-Star form we've come to expect from them.

Pesquera also moaned that "the game was played under NBA rules, not FIBA rules." Clearly Mario was not watching today's game, nor has he paid attention to any of Team USA's previous matches, which were officiated in such a bizarre manner, it's been impossible to predict whether even the most flagrant fouls will be called.

Mario cried, "The Americans have played to 40 percent of their capacity in two of their games. I think it’s very strange to take part in a competition that rewards teams that lose." I guess we're supposed to believe that, because his Spanish squad won all five of their preliminary games, they were the better team. But if the roles were reversed, would Pesquera be decrying the tournament set-up, or hailing his win as an upset of the great Dream Team?

The only thing Pesquera's team proved is that they could not stop a more talented, better-motivated U.S. basketball team. But it's OKAY, Mario! It's happened since NBA players were first admitted to the Olympics! It's nothing to be embarrassed about! Lose gracefully and move on.

Perhaps Pesquera's real frustration was that he didn't have his players mentally prepared to face a stronger American team. Perhaps he was concerned about his own job, which he will hopefully lose after today's loss and his subsequent temper tantrum.

Either way, the Olympics are better off without him. The last thing Athens needs is another whimpering bridesmaid.

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com

Return of a king

Starbury is back!

Finally, Stephon Marbury lived up to his hype in a crucial spot. Not since those 26 points in the 1995 PSAL championship had Marbury been huge in a huge situation for his team.

Sure, he's one of a small handful of NBAers to average 20 points and 8 assists for his career, but what has he won other the Mr. New York Basketball, National High School Player of the Year and a city and state title from 1995?

Until this morning,, nothing but a few games in the NBA. Now, Marbury has won the admiration of every American who has bashed this Olympic team. The haters have no choice but to step up and embrace the man whose left arm says it all: "Coney Island's finest."

In an Olympic elimination game against Spain that could have sent shockwaves through the international scene, though more likely just the American newspapers, had the score gone the other way, Marbury shook off his disgusting 20 percent shooting and lit up Athens unlike anything Greece has seen since Zeus' thunderbolts.

When America couldn't shoot from beyond six feet, Marbury blew up downtown. When America committed more fouls in one half of international basketball than any other international area (political or otherwise), Marbury was the steady hand. When America couldn't afford to lose, a 6-foot-2 Marbury carried 280 million citizens on his tattooed shoulders. Is it too late to get him on the Presidential ballot? Maybe as an independent? If the election was today, he'd get more votes than Nader.

Here are the numbers:
* 6-for-9 on three-pointers (including a half-court shot at the shot clock expired that nearly banked in
* 31 points

Here are the records:
* Most three-pointers hit by a U.S. player in Olympic history
* Most points scored by a U.S. man in Olympic history

Yesterday, Marbury was lamenting his poor performance in the Olympics so far. And, yes, it was poor. In fact, it sparked the greatest Associated Press Olympic: ""Stephon Marbury did not take a shot, keeping his shooting percentage at 20 percent (6-for-30)."

It was simple and powerful, but then again so was Marbury against Spain. And when it mattered most. Hmmm, I wonder if Lawyer friend Steve is still ashamed to be an American.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Better of the play?

In two weeks, I've watched enough Olympic soccer to last me until, well, the 2008 Games in Beijing.

The sport is an interesting one, one of intelligence if you study a game in an architectural sort of way. The angles used and how a simple touch in one direction completely changes the play are pretty cool things to watch unfold during game action.

Plus, there's the art of the backward pass used in a positive format, a concept foreign to just about every other sport.

Then the broadcasters talk, and there goes the intelligence sailing over the crossbar like Roberto Baggio's penalty kick in the 1994 World Cup final. But it's not just their fault. Many of the soccer folk like to talk how the score of a game doesn't reflect how it was played. Though many sports people invite this concept into their conversation, soccer people are clearly the biggest offenders.

Example: Iraq was getting smoked by Paraguay, 3-0, when a broadcaster brilliantly deduced that the score doesn't reflect what happened on the field. "Iraq was the better side for most of the game." (The fact that teams are called sides in this sport is a topic for another day, though I could write enough volumes to clog cyberspace like a virus.)

People seemed OK with this statement. Not me. I watched that game and saw Paraguay create scoring chances that Iraq could not stop. A few lapses certainly detract from a team's overall play.

Clearly, there were three parts of the game where Iraq was not the better team. In fact, if they were the better team for most of the game, how come they didn't score until the final five minutes when Paraguay already had the win in hand?

People need to stop rationalizing losses. It doesn't make a team any better. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. If your team is 4-12, i.e. 2003 Giants, then your team stinks. Deal with it. As the bumper stickers say, Stuff happens.

In one of my favorite mythical sports concepts, we shall take this "better of the play" idea and apply it to other sports and see what happens:

Baseball: Boston makes 25 of its 27 outs on fly balls to the warning track and loses to the Yankees, 2-0. Who had the better of the play?

Football: Eli Manning leads the Giants on 5 90-yard drives but throws interceptions in the end zone each time. Who had the better of the play?

Basketball: Knicks shoot 80 percent from the field, but all the misses come in the fourth quarter and lose to the Heat. Who had the better of the play?
Which side of these scenarios would you prefer to be on?

"Better of the play" is a concept that exists for low scoring games because long ago, people ran out of ways to explain another 1-0 game.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

Random Olympic Thoughts II

* Nice to see the media, and by default the general public, catching on to what I learned a few late night/early mornings ago: U.S. softball is a compelling story. No runs allowed yet. That's not all Jennie Finch being explosively hot. There is some true talent in that dugout.

* Kudos to the sport of tennis for replacing synchronized diving as the least Olympic sport in the history of Olympic sports. It's an even better feat when you stop to consider that synchronized diving has had an extensive two-day life as an Olympic sport.

* The surprise of these Games is not the rise of Iraqi soccer or the collapse of U.S. hoops, but rather Italy men's soccer gaining a 1-nil advantage with three minutes left in overtime and NOT switching to its world-famous 10-0-0 formation.

* Donn Nelson's implied task as assistant coach for Lithuania's basketball team must be teaching Lithuanians how to whine about EVERY call by the referee. More and more, the international game gets infiltrated with American customs. Pretty soon, no team will be able to hit from beyond 14 feet.

* Even in the post-Cold War era, it warms me to see a 31 1/2-point spread comfortably covered by the favorite. U.S. 100, China 62 in women's basketball. Gotta love Diana!

* The 100-meter dash would be the most exciting 10 seconds in all of sports if not for the fact that it takes only 10 seconds to run, thereby giving up such precious tailgate time. We are a culture of seven-hour Super Bowl pre-game coverage. Surely, we could get a few minutes of warning time before the actual races for the world's fastest man and woman begin.

* Hearing Consultant friend Jason and lovely wife Penny rave about how Carly Patterson did backf lips in their living room, I'm beginning to rethink my stance on High Definition television. I, however, still contend that female gymnasts should be required by law to eat more than one meal a month.

* When did NBA players forget how to fight through a screen?

* David Stern is a genius the likes of which the world has yet to encounter. Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and the guy from "Princess Bride" who drank the iocane powder are intellectually inferior to the mighty David. Let's see Einstein devise a formula for getting sports fans to care about the NBA before the playoffs.

* Da Ali G show needs to be tested for steroids, then banned regardless of the outcome. Sorry for the digression, but there was a commercial after a cycling event on Bravo after midnight and I changed the channel to see what was on HBO 37. He simply isn't funny.

* What did I watch on television between midnight and 1 a.m. before the Olympics began?

* I always hate to see Olympians get hurt, but the pictures of Gail Devers running into a hurdle made me laugh. I know, I'm headed straight to Hades, but I'm sure I'll know some people down there.

* At some point this week, I will have to rent Athens 2004 for PlayStation 2 just to see if I can beat Michael Phelps.

Olympic photos | More Olympic coverage | E-mail me

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sometimes you don't catch the fever...

I don't have Olympic fever, particuarly.

I have some sunburn from last week's vacation, but I wouldn't consider myself Olympically savvy at the moment.

Sure, I've watched a few U.S. basketball games, caught a few swim meets, watched a few minutes of the ladies' and men's gymnastics. But I haven't exactly caught the sickness yet.

It's sort of a bizarre thing. Every year, the Olympics begin, and among average sports fans, it's barely even on the radar. You might watch a few minutes of the opening ceremonies -- but c'mon, what else are you really doing besides seeing if there are any cute Aussie athletes this year?

Ahem... Anyway, a strange thing happens. You are sitting there, with nothing else on except for Law & Order re-runs, and you flip on the Olympics. You watch. And you watch some more. Pretty soon, you start to care. Suddenly, gymnastics, beach volleyball, wrestling, judo -- they all start to mean something to you, against your will, almost. You identify with the athletes and want them to bring home the gold. You see the looks on their faces, watch their lips sing the anthem, and it stirs something inside you that makes you glad you watched. It almost never fails.

Of course, the only time it does fail is when you read the papers, skip the TV watching. You find out what happened the next day; you don't get wrapped up. There is no drama. There is no hope of watching Michael Phelps do the impossible. You don't see Paul Hamm rejoice as he discovers his miraculous victory. You don't stay glued to the set, watching a flawed group of U.S. basketball players try to live up to the standards set by Jordan, Magic, Bird and the Admiral.

The fever never catches you.

But you see. You know what you are missing. People around you chat energetically about Hamm, the Dream Team, Phelps. And you somehow feel less American because you don't watch. You think to yourself, I need to watch. I need to be involved. I need to help my country. It's patriotism run amuck, but it's ok. It's fun. It's sports. It's the Olympics. That's why we love 'em. They make us care.

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges

All we heard during the lead up to the Olympics was how safe they were going to be. In this time of war and terrorism blah blah blah.

Then I’m watching the Iraqi soccer team play Costa Rica. The Iraqis score and their fans run from the stands, onto the field and kiss the players. What kind of security is that? Is Morganna there too? Can you imagine her running onto the floor exercise to give the Hamm bothers a peck on the cheek?

It gets worse.

Yesterday, during the diving competition, a Canadian man, dressed in a diving hood, tutu and leggings, makes it all the way to the top of the diving board and proceeds to do a belly flop into the pool. Are you kidding me! He had a tutu on and nobody stopped him. Yesterday in Florida police used a tazer to stop a guy from going into his own neighborhood, which was half destroyed by a hurricane. Now that’s security.

I'm beginning to think that Athens may not be the safest place in the world. Maybe Kobe and Shaq were right when they stayed home due to ‘safety concerns.’ The good news is that terrorists seem to like a challenge, so if tutu-guy can skip into the Olympics maybe they won’t bother.

Olympic life imitates art

Hearing the Greeks stuff Helliniko Arena with good-natured excitement over their basketball players, I could not help but flash back to another great moment of Americans overcoming in the face of international hatred and danger.

Crazy arena loaded with foreigners rooting against America; Americans facing extreme adversity internally as well as externally; One flawed character rising above his own shortcomings and obvious physical inferiority to the protagonist. Hmmm, where have I seen this before?

Ah, yes, that's it: Rocky IV.

Allen Iverson played the role of Rocky Balboa to Oscar (no, not the Stallone movie) Award perfection. A character flawed in just about every societal way -- the abundance of tattoos, his care-free attitude, criminal record -- Iverson overcame a broken thumb on his shooting hand -- HIS SHOOTING HAND -- to lead the team in scoring with 17 points. I turned the sound way up on my television and heard a Greek player tell his coach, "He's not a man, he's a piece of steel!"

Larry Brown does a stirring rendition of Duke, Apollo Creed's trainer turned Rocky's guiding light in the absence of Mickey and Creed. Duke tried to train Rocky, but Rocky basically did whatever he wanted to do. Larry Brown can relate it. In this game, he was more Duke than Carlos Boozer, who oddly enough, attended Duke University. Perhaps Brown should put the entire team in a wooden wagon and then make Emeka Okafor lift it into the air a few times. Then, he can pass out pictures of his players' defensive assignments and make his players tape them to the mirror in their rooms.

Roy Williams, the UNC head coach masquerading as an Olympic assistant, clearly makes him Paulie. Especially with those tinted sunglasses indoors. He made the coaching roster because the head coach went to the same college as him. Quick refresher: Paulie was Rocky's cornerman because Rocky was dating, then married Paulie's sister Adrian. Williams told his guards to "hit the one in the middle." I can only assume he meant Tim Duncan.

But when Duncan fouled out, I saw him standing alone in a ring slowly falling to the canvas face first. He also happened to let go of a bloody towel that hit the floor in Helliniko Arena the same time the referee blew the whistle on his fifth foul. I was suprised of the impressive timing in this scene's first and only take.

But before the ref made his 10-count, Duncan sprang to his feet in the form of Lamar Odom.

Odom, who by the way showed his left-handed Kevin Garnett flashes (see: 4 reasons for a 4th gold), went to work and Barry Tompkins signed on with NBC Sports for the third quarter to yell "The Russian is cut."

The Americans learned an important lesson about basketball outside of the states. It's a team game in the Olympics, and if these ballers can change, then everybody can change.

Game photos | POLL: Gold medal chances | E-mail me

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Random Olympic thoughts

* I'm wondering how, with all the satellite cable systems and sports packages offered, I can only watch Croatia play four corners in team handball once every four years. That's very upsetting, though not nearly as upsetting as the fact that I watched Croatia play four corners in team handball yesterday.

* Jennie Finch really isn't that hot.

* What is stopping one synchronized diver from going rogue and doing a cannonball for his part of the two-man dive?

* OK, Jennie Finch really IS that hot, but I try to convince myself of the opposite to avoid sticking my head in the glove compartment of my car and slamming it shut six times in a row each day.

* If i walked into my office and sat down at my desk wearing mirrored swim goggles and a swim cap with the U.S. flag and my last name on it, what would happen?

* Restaurant friend Rob will disagree with this statement, but since I have to pay for my food in his restaurant, I don't really care about his opinion: Logan Tom should abandon the short hair and grow it out. This way, I could actually watch the entire women's volleyball match and root for the U.S. instead of figuring out how I can fly to Athens to ask for her hand in marriage and still be back in time for work.

* "Thorpedo" may be the greatest Olympic nickname in the history of Olympic nicknames. Sorry, Journalist friend Mike (Note: In all future writings, he will be referred to as Five-Dollar Mike for his keen ability to never win a simple $5 bet against me), but Alberto Tomba "La Bamba" is a close second and can never move higher due to his visual similarity to Vinny Testaverde. Quick, somebody help, I'm having five-interception flashbacks.

* I never knew I enjoyed watching sailing and judo this much. I'm hoping that's just the Olympics talking.

* Bob Costas should be given gold-medal consideration in any event he so chooses just for not being nearly as annoying as expected.

* Hmmm, does Inge de Bruijn like Americans who learned how to swim at Jones Beach? Will Logan Tom be upset with me for that sentence?

* Emeka Okafor, where are you?

* I struggle with the more amusing scene: a) weightlifter falling down after an unsuccessful lift, b) gymnast falling off the rings, balance beam or other apparatus; c) synchronized diving; d) Iraqi soccer fans; e) Bela Karoyli

More musings to come as the Games continue.

E-mail me | Olympic photos

Monday, August 16, 2004

Settle down, America

Tom caught Jerry. Wile E. Coyote beat the crap out of the Road Runner. Larry and Curly smacked Moe around and never got hit back.

That's the gravity of the situation stateside as the American men's basketball team lost an Olympic preliminary round game to Puerto Rico.

And now America turns its back on them? Well, not me! And help is on the way (insert John Kerry voiceover here.)

I'll be that lone voice of support for our boys overseas (and I didn't win three purple hearts). I anoint myself the U.S. basketball zealot until another country has its anthem played during the medal ceremony. I'm with you, Team USA, the same way Vinny Antonelli (Todd Wilkinson) was with Barney Coopersmith.

This group of ballers is flawed, but so were Rocky and the Bad News Bears. And the sequels to the sequels are still on loop over there at the TNT and TBS.

Seems to me there's another bunch of fellas stationed over there in the Mediterranean area that we support, even after it's been proven that President Bush is somewhat less than truthful.

Every caller on the sports talk radio blasted the U.S. for losing. Lawyer friend Steve even called me during the third quarter to say he was "ashamed to be an American." While it wasn't exactly quality basketball played by these Americans, the world nor the Olympic tournament will end after one game.

Some suggested USA Basketball should revert to the earlier days when college players were the only ones receiving Olympic invites. I'm a sports romantic, but that's just a silly notion, especially when you realize pros were allowed into Olympics in response to the U.S. collegians losing to the Soviet Union in the 1988 semifinals.

Besides, if the college game was so much better, why were 24 of the last 58 first-round NBA draft picks from high schools or other countries?

Editor friend Tim suggests the NBA champion in an Olympic year represent the United States. So let's take a look at those Detroit Pistons. We took their coach, how about the players?

Well, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace turned down the invite after they were the last boys picked for kickball in the schoolyard. Mehmet Okur? He's from Turkey, and he doesn't even play for Detroit anymore. Darko Milicic? Serbia & Montenegro! Rasheed Wallace got two technicals at the airport, so he's out. Chauncey Billups would have been a nice point guard, but only if Gary Payton came up with some sort of dual citizenship. Tayshaun Prince would have been nice, too. But that's it. I'll take Carmelo, LeBron, The Answer and Duncan over Lindsay Hunter, Elden Campbell, Derrick "Whoopty-damn-do" Coleman and Antonio McDyess.

All the U.S. needs is some defense and some shots to fall. There are six teams in the preliminary group. The top four advance to the medal round. Do we think that won't happen? C'mon, people.

Prediction for Tuesday's game: U.S. 101, Greece 6.

Sorry, I got caught up in the moment.

Revised prediction for Tuesday's game: U.S. 94, Greece 71. (Iverson goes for 31)

e-POLL: Analyze the loss | E-mail me

Thursday, August 12, 2004

If golf ruled the world

In the days leading up to a major tournament, golf provides plenty of humor beyond the funny pants and free-bowl-of-soup hats.

The golfers themselves are hilarious with the way they talk about a particular course and how the greens are like this and the fairways are like that and how a bogie can be considered a good hole.

But how do these golfers ascertain such tidbits about a course before the event takes place? Oh, that's right, they play the course several times before the actual tournament starts. The acceptability of this concept is a topic of great debate for scholars, right up there with whether or not Julia Roberts is hot. (Note: She is.)

Rather than dive into that discussion, let's apply this "play before you play" concept to other sports and see what happens:

1) Football -- Herm Edwards calls Bill Belichick the Monday before their game. Fedex trucks deliver the Jets' playbook to Foxboro and the Patriots' playbook to Hempstead. On Friday, the two teams scrimmage against each other for two hours. On Sunday, it counts.
Plausibility level: None

2) Baseball -- Mike Piazza tells hitters what pitch is coming out of the pitcher's hand next and provides the location of this pitch. Hitter crushes pitch, pitcher leaves early, team loses.
Plausibilty level: Low*
*see "Bull Durham" or Roger Clemens' 2004 All-Star game performance.

3) Basketball -- Larry Brown calls a full timeout with 6 seconds left, his team trailing by two. Rather than trying to outmaneuver the opposing coach, Brown asks Phil Jackson to send over one of his assistants to stand in the huddle with Brown. The two teams then exchange what plays they'll run and who is the second, third and fourth options.
Plausibility level: None.

4) Soccer -- In a shootout to decide the World Cup, Paolo Maldini points to the exact spot he will kick toward, giving the goalie advance warning to make the save.
Plausibility level: Medium (soccer players are just cocky enough to do that)

5) Hockey -- Bettman informs the league that there will be a season.
Plausibility level: Low.

6) Tennis -- "Hey, Roddick, here comes a backhand slice to the far corner. Go get it, then hit me back a dinker just over the net," said Andre Agassi
Plausibility level: None (tennis isn't that much of a gentleman's sport)

7) Auto Racing -- Tony Stewart tells Dale Earnhardt Jr. what lap he will run him into the wall, allowing Earnhardt to pit one lap earlier to avoid Stewart.
Plausibility level: High (that guy is crazy)

Hmmm, what an interesting world it would have been if the Scots colonized the Americas first.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Madden 2005

Football began last night. Monday night. Madden!

I watched the game with the sound off. That’s correct. I opted for no more of John Madden.

Too bad ABC won’t do the same. Yes, I realize I just cursed in front of the Pope during mass at the Vatican and gave Gandhi a stomach punch while eating a sandwich. But something needs to be done about Madden. He jumped the shark about four years ago and no one told him.

Madden was once the greatest football analyst ever and will be regarded as the voice of a generation and one who changed the way a network brought viewers the game. Nothing said Sunday afternoon more than Madden (and Summerall) during a Giants-Cowboys game in November as the sky darkened and Mom waited for the end of the game to serve dinner.

Listening to Monday Night Football last season was like watching Evander Holyfield post-2000. This season will be much of the same. Is Dennis Miller still available? How 'bout Boomer Esiason? I'll settle for Boomer from Meatballs II.

Aside from the “BOOM!” call, I can only imagine some of Madden’s other gems from last night’s Hall of Fame Game.

I imagine Madden offered something like this last night, and if not, take out a home equity loan and bet the money you’ll hear it soon:

“And, and, and, and, and that’s the thing,” usually followed up by some master-of-the-obvious line like, “When you score a touchdown, you get six points,” or “When the quarterback gives him the ball, he’s going to run.”

These gems make Dan Dierdorf sound like the Vin Scully of football. I wonder if audio TiVo exists, so I can listen only to the play-by-play calling of Al Michaels. Otherwise, the only Madden I will listen to is the commentary when I play his video games.

Hey, where’d that truck come from?

E-mail me

Monday, August 09, 2004

4 reasons for a 4th gold

Saying the United States men's basketball team won't win Olympic gold this August is akin to a guido saying he uses only one type of hair gel. It's a straight-up lie. Complete fabrication. More ludicrous than chicken and beer.

Sure, the rest of the world has made tremendous leaps in basketball. Just look at the NBA draft. In the 12 years since Dream Team I in Barcelona, 37 first-round picks were from other countries, with 28 of those picks coming in the past five years.

So, don't expect any more 68-point blowouts of Angola (and sadly, no more "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble," gems from Charles Barkley).

But do we really believe this silly notion that the United States will not win a fourth straight gold medal? Or the kooky paradigm that has Team USA standing off to the side of the medal podium?

Here's four obvious reasons (and four not so obvious), why the U.S. of A. again will earn gold and be crowned champions of the world:

1) Allen Iverson
He's the toughest basketball player on the planet. He's 165 pounds of skin, bones and tattoos and no one can stop him from taking it to the hole any and every time he feels like it. And with Screaming A. Smith on his side, who can argue with his skills?

1a) No other country has Allen Iverson on their team.
This is an important note to remember.

2) No Jason Kidd
He might have forced Larry Brown to trade Tim Duncan to his native Virgin Islands. America needs size, not a point guard who runs people out of town better than he runs the fast break.

2a) No Joumana Kidd
She's a beautiful woman and could serve as a courtside distraction for opposing teams. SHAWN KEMP ALERT! SHAWN KEMP ALERT! Fidelity is to the NBA as Cedric Ceballos was to rap music: a bad matchup. She'd be more of a distraction to the U.S. players.

3) Lamar Odom
He shows flashes of becoming the left-handed Kevin Garnett. He also shows flashes of being the left-handed Gerald Wilkins. This tournament will be his baptism into elite status. Lakers fans will also breathe a deep, deep, deep sigh of relief that the ghosts of the Sedale Threatt era of Showtime are just mirages in the hot summer air of Los Angeles.

3a) New York, New York
Odom played high school ball at Christ the King in Queens. City kids are averse to getting punked on an international sporting stage. Plus, Writer friend Dirty Cash needs another reason to proudly sport his No. 7 Clippers jersey.

4) The Long Beach factor
Larry Brown is a Long Island guy, which means he really shouldn't enjoy the level of success he's had in his basketball career. Despite this geographic hindrance, Brown gets results. Heck, he brought an NBA championship to the Eastern Conference for the first time since no one can remember when. Olympic gold is next, followed by a parade on West Beech Street and a memorial golf tournament at Lido Beach Golf Course.

4a) Alfonse D'Amato
Long Beach needs a better favorite son than Big Al, the former senator, so Brown has no choice but to strut his gold medal on the boardwalk Labor Day weekend.

E-mail me

Friday, August 06, 2004

Dear Mr. Fantasy

It's that time of year. Fantasy football leagues are starting up again, which means that people all across the nation are gearing up for another season of trash talking and commitment-shirking.

New players can rest assured that they are in for a long season of cursing themselves over bad draft picks and wondering why their Jerry Rice selection in the fifth round didn't pan out.

It can be difficult for these fresh fish to make a splash in a league of established pros, but since I'm a charitable guy who likes to see the underdog slap around the cocky favorite every now and then, I have put together these rules of fantasy football:

1) Pay attention. If you don't log on to check your team at least two or three times a week, you're done. Trades and waiver moves happen every day, and you have got to be alert enough to take advantage when Dope McGuirk drops Marvin Harrison two weeks into the season.

2) Draft smart. If your league only has one slot for quarterbacks, it doesn't make any sense to have both Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning, does it? Grab a top running back early, a couple of solid receivers, and try to get a premiere tight end (Shockey, Gonzalez, Heap). Quarterback is probably the deepest position. You can still get a very reliable QB even if you wait five or six rounds.

3) Find "your guys." As the season goes on, take note of which players are consistent performers, not just on your team but other teams as well. Look for guys who put up big numbers every week and don't fumble often or throw lots of interceptions. If you can find players like this who aren't superstars, even better. In future drafts, you should be able to grab them in late rounds. Plug them into your lineup and watch other managers fade into the distance.

4) Identify the weak link. Every league has one or two. These are generally teams run by 3rd graders who will trade you Michael Vick as long as you offer them a couple guys from their favorite team. If you're lucky, the deal you agree on will look just good enough to be approved by the league. Identifying and exploiting the bad teams in your league can turn a good squad into a great one.

5) Remember... Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. Use your free time to periodically check whether any starting QBs or RBs got seriously injured. If so, pounce on their replacements. Some of the best fantasy players in recent years have been backups who emerged after teammates went down (Kurt Warner and Tom Brady are prime examples).

Now that you've learned everything I have to tell you, I have only one request: Stay out of my league.

E-mail me at presspass@newsday.com

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Empathizing with Isiah

Reconstructing the Knicks is not Isiah Thomas’ toughest task of the summer — and the three years afterward.

Nor is the salary cap a big issue for Isiah.

His major problem is dealing with the ineptitude of Cablevision.
After trying to return a cable modem the other day, I will never mock Isiah again. There was enough incompetency in those 12 minutes to outduel the people in the production and marketing meetings for “Gigli.”

We begin with finding the store. The back of my cable bill says the store is in Nassau County and Huntington at the same time. This explains the hiring of Scott Layden.

A call placed to the phone company produced no known listing for this store in Huntington. The ghost of Frederick Weis strikes again.

Finally, the store appears on the horizon. Perhaps the suffering is over, just like the return of Stephon Marbury to his hometown.

But Marbury has never won anything aside from a PSAL title with Lincoln High School, so my confidence is running on empty (River Phoenix imagery not included).

Walking through the automatic door which had to be pushed open, I feel like Isiah Thomas — trying to come up with a plan to deal with Cablevision intelligence and still prove beneficial to the rest of society. It’s a difficult task.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asks.

Here we go. Another sub-.500 season and a sweep in the playoffs!

“Yeah, I’d like to return this cable modem,” I reply.

“How come?”

“When I switched to Optimum Voice, which by the way should be called Optional Voice because you never know when it’s going to work, you people took the cable modem I bought on my own. And when I canceled my account, you people decided to charge me $100 for this modem.”

“Well, you swapped it out with this one.”

This explains the hiring of the losingest coach in NBA history.

“I guess I’ll repeat myself.”

I repeat the story. The logic of Cablevision taking my modem, then charging me for this one seems lost on this clerk, much like the trade for knee-impaired Antonio McDyess.

Incompetency is clearly a core value for this company. How does Isiah handle this? Can I sign-and-trade this clerk to the store in Lynbrook? Maybe include a draft pick to get someone in here from the Freeport office? I’ll take the salary cap hit if I have to.

Eventually, the situation is resolved, but not until the manager comes over. She was nice and seemed to understand the nuances of a computer. This was equivalent to Whoopi Goldberg becoming the coach of the Knicks in the movie “Eddie.”

On my way out of this debacle, I begin a newfound respect for Isiah Thomas. He has two hands tied behind his back and his shoelaces are tied together, too. Good luck. You’re gonna need it.

E-mail me

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A gold-medal decision

Olympic basketball is characterized by who isn't on the U.S. team rather than who is making the trip to Athens and that is a shameful situation. It will get even worse now that Italy, surprisingly not coached by Bora Milutinovic, embarrassed the U.S. team, 95-78, in an Olympic tuneup.

Anyone read a story lately that says Athens is fully prepared for this monstrous event? Or maybe just a few sentences somewhere that tells us security will not be a problem and every athlete, regardless of home country, is guaranteed to return home in the same manner with which they left?

Kevin Garnett didn't want to go. Neither did Jason Kidd or Shaq or Tracy McGrady or Kobe, though the latter has other life-altering issues to concern himself with. They are all perfectly within their right to make such decisions and I salute them for it.

Their reasons may differ, but the threat of intentional fouls off the court is more real than at any other point in the 104 years of Olympic glory. It is a very legitimate worry for a player who stands to gain $14.8 million for six months of work compared with a minimum amount of financial reward for 16 days in Athens. These guys already have enough jerseys with their name on it. They don't need another one. And the only gold they worry about is the NBA championship trophy and whether or not their iced-out bling-blinging necklaces match their Timberlands.

The "representing your country" notion is a farce for basketball players. A joke, a mockery of the English language, right up there with "the public's right to know," "low carb diets are really healthy" and Paris Hilton. It's a phrase the haters use hoping to evoke patriotic appeal and immediately turn a multimillionaire into an Olympic zealot. The United States did not line Garnett's pockets with $126 million. Minnesota's owner did.

For some reason, these ballers who turn down an Olympic invitation get ridiculed. But why should they be compelled to play in an unsafe environment and risk damaging their lives, not just their careers. If they really want to see Greece, they can afford to fly first class and stay in the best of hotels on the Mediterranean.

I realize that every other athlete in Athens next month will breathe the same air of uncertainty and compete under that same fear of terror, but when was the last time you bought a Michael Phelps swim suit or a pair of Marion Jones sneakers? For 99 percent of Olympians, this is their one and only chance at athletic glory and recognition. Kerri Strug never would have made the Wheaties box if she were just a U.S. champion gymnast in 1995 instead of a 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

All those national and world championship events in non-Olympic years are on television because NBC doesn't have football rights anymore and ESPN owns all the other non-traditional events such as the Xtreme Games and Great Outdoor Games.

The sprinters and the hurdlers, the synchronized swimmers and the tumblers, the archers and the boxers, they all need the Olympics. Basketball players do not. They have their own league and every game they play is on television. They are exposed like Shannon Tweed on Showtime after 11 p.m.

Not so with the other Olympians. DirecTV has yet to set up the "Final Heat" package for a season of track and field events.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Our happy recap

I've been a Mets fan for as long as I can remember, which means that Bob Murphy was the only Mets voice I ever knew. That's not especially meaningful, until you consider there are people 25 years my senior could easily say the same thing.

When I flipped on the radio today and heard of Murphy's death, I felt a collective sigh from the baseball fans of New York. Mets or Yankees, you had to love him.

As much as I'd like be the one to eulogize Murph, I think that's best left to my colleagues at Newsday, who can speak more eloquently and comprehensively about what he meant to baseball, the Mets, and New York. Instead, I'd like to share with you, as a fan, some of my all-time favorite "Murphisms." I hope you'll enjoy them along with me.

5. The mishaps. One of the most lovable things about a pretty lovable guy was his on-air blunders. Anyone else remember the time he introduced broadcast partner Ted Robinson as Ted Kennedy? And there was the classic "d-bomb" uttered at the end of a gut-wrenching Mets win in 1990: "And the Mets win the ball game, they win the damn thing on by a score of 10-9!"

Whether it was a cough, a pause, or an occasional name mix-up, Murph's goofs reminded us that he, like the rest of us, was only human.

4. "Hiiiiigh fly ball hit deeeeeep to left field." Murph's voice crescendoed as the ball sailed towards the bleachers. You could hear the fans buzzing in the background. Finally: "Gone! A home run!" It may have been the most understated home run call in baseball. It was also one of the most evocative, and one of the best.

3. "Fasten your seatbelts." Translation: "Uh-oh. It's the top of the ninth, the Mets are up by one, and here comes John Franco against the heart of the order."

With three simple words, Murphy fashioned a tension that could only be replicated by the clenched teeth, sweaty foreheads, and praying hands of TV close-ups. No one called a tight game quite like Murph.

2. "Heeeeeeeee struck hiiiiim out!" No one's really sure why Bob's elongated phrases were so popular, but this was by far the most immitated. Whether it was Tom Terrific, Tug, Doc, Leiter or Franco on the hill, nothing was more satisfying than Murph's exaggerated strikeout call. Of course, those words will always have an exalted place in Mets history, since they described the final pitches in both the 1986 NLCS and World Series.

1. "The happy recap." Was there any doubt? It wasn't a Mets win without Bob's "happy recap." Murph took plenty of knocks for being too much of a homer, but in this respect he was only conveying the joy and excitement each fan felt after another big win.

More from Newsday.com:
  • 'Murph' dead at 79. Read more
  • Share your memories of Bob Murphy. Click here.
  • Hear audio clips of some of Murph's calls. Click here.
  • See photos of Murph through the years. Click here.
  • Monday, August 02, 2004

    We built this city on... ummm..... I forget

    Does anyone else not feel particularly sorry for the Mets right now?

    The latest in a series of boneheaded deals that have plagued the franchise since its inception brought in underachieving starters Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, ostensibly to help the Mets' pennant race. Unfortunately, what nearly every Mets fan knew (but Jim Duquette apparently did not) was that the race was already over.

    Seven games back and fading fast, the Mets' intrepid GM pulled the trigger anyway, selling off the team's best prospects for a pair of baggage-toting hurlers.

    We can only speculate as to Duquette's motivations -- pressure from players, fans, and the media were likely all factors -- but maybe his misguided belief that his team was only a quick fix away from a playoff berth is the most disturbing one. Duquette fired the only bullets left in his holster and in doing so shot the Mets' rebuilding efforts in the foot.

    Remember Duquette's promise to build the Mets around youth, pitching, and defense? Let's examine that, shall we?

    Youth: David Wright has shown a bit of promise. He has two home runs in 11 games despite a .220 batting average. But the most alarming concern has to be his play in the field, where he's looked a bit overmatched.

    Jose Reyes has impressed with his speed; but his fragility remains a major concern until he proves he can last five games without tweaking a leg or an ankle.

    The only other youngsters remaining on the Mets' ledger are in the bullpen, and we all know how well they've pitched this year. Grade: C

    Pitching: We'll give them a pass here. Duquette has built a talented, if eclectic, staff of arms that should be able to take the Mets deeper into games and squeeze out a few more wins. Of course, that's assuming that Tom Glavine and Al Leiter stay healthy, Zambrano stays in the strike zone, and Benson stays, period.

    On the bullpen side, it's a disaster. Mike Stanton has been a bust. John Franco is one or two more bad performances away from retirement (or at least he should be). Braden Looper has been adequate, but his blown save against Florida last month could be pointed to as turning point in the season. The rest of the staff is unreliable and unproven in key situations. Grade: B-

    Defense: The gravest miscalculation in the Jim Duquette era has been the signing of Kaz Matsui, a capable hitter who has yet been utterly hopeless as a shortstop. Worse still, Matsui's addition forced the Mets to move slick-fielding Jose Reyes to second, where his range and strong arm are wasted on shorter throws and fewer opportunities.

    Mike Cameron has made some spectacular plays in center field this year, but the talk of him challenging Andruw Jones for the Gold Glove awards was clearly overstated. The Mike Piazza experiment has been wobbly at best. Speaking of wobbly, Wright has already made three errors. And Cliff Floyd's aching achilles renders him practically immobile in left field.Grade: D-