Archive for February, 2012

Michael Jordan Slam Dunk Competition

Watching Saturday night’s Slam Dunk competition was like watching a train wreck.  But it wasn’t one of those quick ferocious crashes that are over in a matter of seconds.  No, it was one of those slow-motion Michael Bay-esque train wrecks, that takes about 50 times longer than it should until everyone watching looks at their watch wondering when it’s going to be over so they can move on with their lives.

It’s bad.  I mean really bad.  It’s on par with a really bad Adam Sandler movie, or a really good Rob Schneider movie.  So how did we get here?  When did the NBA’s Slam Dunk competition become as entertaining as a mediocre D-list celebrity?  This thing used to be huge. We’re talking Cindy Crawford in her prime huge.  Even non-NBA fans would tune in to watch the dunk competition.   It wasn’t just a footnote of All-Star weekend; it was the whole damn book.  So let’s take a look at what happened to the once great Slam Dunk competition.

The Players

The Slam Dunk competition used to be THE contest to see some of the best and most athletic players in the NBA showoff their ridiculous skills.  Just look at this list of competitors from past competitions:

Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, David Thompson, George Gervin, Spud Webb, Clyde Drexler, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Jason Richardson, Brent Barry

The list goes on and on.  Point being, you wanted to see these guys throw it down as hard as they could.  Dunks were memorable not just because they were spectacular, but because of the players who did them.  Dr. J’s Free Throw Dunk, Jordan’s BETTER Free Throw Dunk, 5’7” Spud Webb’s ridiculous performance, Kobe’s between the legs, Carter’s elbow dunk.   This was pure athleticism at its best, the crowd was raucous, and more importantly it was just plain FUN to watch.   You wanted to see what these guys could do, and how far they could push the limits of a human being dunking a basketball.

Now, the allure is gone; but more importantly the players are gone.  If you didn’t watch this year’s Slam Dunk competition, I’ll give you $1,000 if you can guess all 4 participants.  Lebron James, you say…no.  How bout Dwayne Wade…no.  Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Derek Rose, Carmelo Anthony. Ha, not even close.  Try, Derek Williams, Paul George, Chase Budinger, and Jeremy Evans.  That’s a rookie, two second year players, and Chase Budinger, who probably dunked more times in this competition that he has in his 3-year NBA career.  Yeah, I’ll be hanging on to that $1,000.  How do you even sell tickets around that line-up?  The marketing guy who can promote that should win some kind of award.  Jeremy Evans ended up winning it with some “OK” dunks I guess, but there lies the next problem with the dunk contest.

The Dunks

The dunks just aren’t that impressive anymore.  And it’s not because these guys aren’t athletic or creative, it’s that NOTHING surprises us anymore.  Everything has already been done.  Seriously, think about it.  One of the reasons Wilkins and Jordan and Kobe’s dunks were so memorable was because we hadn’t seen anything like it before.  They had the element of surprise, and being able to do things with a basketball that we had never seen before.  Now, jumping from the free throw line barely draws a response from the crowd.  A Windmill 360 is met with drones; Between the legs…Ho hum, what else you got?  And that’s the problem, there isn’t anything else left.  There are limits to what the human body can do, and unless they bring out the trampolines and let the players do front flips, ala, NBA JAM style, there’s nothing that will draw the kind of awe and amazement from the crowd that the earlier Slam Dunk competitions did.  Unless of course they use some kind of props or rely on over-the-top gimmicks in order to equal the same level of dunkness (I’m christening that word right now) of years past.  Speaking of which…

The Gimmicks

I know what you’re thinking, but the props are so creative.  Aren’t they so entertaining?  Remember last year when Blake Griffin jumped over a car?  Remember when Dwight Howard dunked on two basketball courts? Remember when…just stop, right now.  They’re gimmicks people.  They’re props used to try and create the illusion of something more impressive than it actually is.  Seriously, watch Blake Griffin jump over the car again…watch it.  Now take away the car and what do you have?  A pretty mediocre dunk at best.  Hell, watch Griffin’s top 10 in-game dunks…every single one of those is way more impressive than his jumping over the car dunk.  It’s just a gimmick, and unfortunately that’s what now defines the Slam Dunk competition.  Don’t believe me.  These are some of the things that have been used in the past few years in dunk competitions.  A car, A cupcake, A plastic basketball court, other players to jump over.  This sounds more like a circus act than a dunk contest.  What’s next?  A player gets hit in the face with a pie by a clown before he slams it home.  Is that really better than watching Jordan dunk from the free throw line, or watching Vince Carter do a 360 windmill dunk?  We’re one step away from the Slam Dunk competition turning into NBA’s version of David Letterman’s crazy pet tricks.  Let’s watch as Chase Budinger tries to dunk while throwing his pet Chihuahua throwing a flaming ring of fire.  Participants feel obligated to think of some crazy gimmick in order to entertain the fans and have a chance at winning the dunk contest.  Come out and just attempt a regular old-fashioned amazing dunk…you get booed off the court. Watching Jeremy Evans crotch plowing into the back of Roy Hibbert’s head is the reality of the Slam Dunk competition today.

So David Stern, for the love of all that is holy and great about the NBA, get rid of the Slam Dunk competition before Adam Sandler comes out in drag while Gordon Hayward tries to dunk Rob Schneider into a giant basket of chocolate pudding…actually, check that, cancel the competition after this.

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You may or may not know that the NFL combine is currently taking place in Indy right now.  So as an avid football fan, why should you even care about the combine?  With basketball season in full force, and baseball spring training right around the corner, why should a bunch of college football players participating in drills even register on your sports entertainment radar?  Here’s why:

What happens at the combine DRASTICALLY changes the draft strategies of every single NFL team and player. A mere tenth of a second can mean the difference between a bona-fide top 5 pick to a late 3rd rounder. We’re talking millions of dollars lost and won based on a weekend of workouts; this is the drama, and importance of the NFL Combine.  With that said, let’s check out some key players to look for:

Quinton Coples

Height: 6-6, Weight: 285 lbs. North Carolina defensive end Coples may be one of the best defensive end prospects for the 2012 draft. He has the most at stake, but also a lot to gain. After coming off of an outstanding junior season, he dropped off a bit in his senior season. He is one of the top pass rushers in the draft, but if his performance does not stay consistent, people will continue asking why he didn’t have the great senior season he was expected to have. This will be a huge week for Coples and he needs to perform exceptionally well on the combine stage.

Robert Griffin III (RG3)

Height: 6-2, Weight: 220 lbs. The QB spotlight this year will be on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Griffin will likely wait to throw and save his pro day for March 21. In the meantime he’ll be focusing on team interviews, the 40-yard dash, and other drills this week in Indy. He has the speed and agility, like Michael Vick, to move around in the pocket but will need to maintain his strength in order to keep it up. He should be easy to spot working out, wearing those festive socks he loves so dearly.

Janoris Jenkins

Height: 5-10, Weight: 191 lbs. After shining in Florida, then getting dismissed from the Gators for drug-related incidents, Jenkins played his senior season at North Alabama. He was great, and really showed people he has first-round talent. He played well in the Senior Bowl, but must interview well and explain himself at the combine. As long as he shows people his baggage is behind him and he is really trying to mature and focus solely on football, the Detroit Lions may come knocking. They have drafted well over the years and are in need of a cornerback this draft.

Michael Brockers

Height: 6-6, Weight: 306 lbs. We couldn’t forget any LSU players now, could we? Keep an eye out for defensive tackle, Brockers. He is at the top of a talented group of defensive linemen who will be entering the draft. Brockers is a 300-pound monster with cat-like agility, in addition to his strength and mass. He holds a skill-set that virtually no other defensive tackle can match, and if he dominates at the combine, he could find himself in the top 10 draft pick.

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Is Jeremy Lin the Tim Tebow of the NBA? Right now, he is. How does a virtual nobody (an undrafted free agent from Harvard with no athletic scholarship and no athletic awards) suddenly take the league by storm? Lin was sleeping on his teammate Landry Fields’ couch just a week ago; he is now living in David Lee’s (former Knick) apartment, which is the same plush apartment once occupied by Amar’e Stoudemire before he moved to Manhattan. When Lin finally got the chance to perform due to teammate injuries, superstar egos, and a poor team record, he showed he was a true superstar. More importantly, he has rallied the Knicks to a seven game winning streak!

The excitement surrounding Lin’s clutch game-winning shots and record-breaking points has captured the world’s attention. In Asia, he is the most searched item on various Chinese search engines. Lin’s Twitter followers erupted from just 25,000 to 300,000 in less than two weeks. Quite the popular guy, considering just two weeks ago Lin was about to get cut by his third NBA team.

Tim Tebow also took the nation by storm during the NFL season. Tebow was EVERYWHERE, and his hard work and determination in the face of critics only seemed to make him more successful. It is easy to point out the similarities between Tebow and Lin. For one, they both started on the bench at the beginning of their seasons. Each have been the force leading their losing teams on unexpected winning streaks. Both Tebow and Lin have used their sport as a platform for their belief in God; they are both Christians, and appear to live wholesome lifestyles.

Tebow had high expectations placed on him (recruited out of high school, Heisman trophy winner as a junior, and first round draft pick), while Lin had no expectations placed on him. Both are underdogs, but I see Lin as more of an underdog and Tebow as unorthodox in the way he plays football. Together, they have both given people a reason to believe. They both speak about their teams first, and appear to be very humble. Aside from also saving two coaches whose jobs were in jeopardy, these two athletes have captivated the world and will continue to do so.

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In many ways Urban Meyer’s fingerprints have been everywhere in the news. He became head coach of the Ohio State University football team last November after leaving his job as head coach of the University of Florida following the 2010 season. His most notable NFL product of late is former Gators’ quarterback Tim Tebow has been blowing up in the media and creating buzz in social network conversation while taking the Denver Broncos as far as the AFC Divisional Playoff Round. However, it’s another former signal caller of Urban Meyer’s that has pretty much been flying under the radar until just recently. Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, former QB for Urban Meyer at the University of Utah, has quietly had himself a very nice season as he and the 49ers under coach Jim Harbaugh went 13-3 in the regular season. The 49ers survived a last minute showdown and beat the New Orleans Saints to advance to the NFC Championship game. Last Sunday they lost in dramatic fashion at home to the New York Giants for a spot in the Super Bowl at Indianapolis and now look forward to next season.

This was a surprising turnaround season for a team that went just 6-10 last season and fell one win away from a shot at its first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years. Most of the credit for such a huge turnaround is given to rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, former Stanford head coach, and his decision to keep 7th year quarterback, and Number 1 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, Alex Smith after having six disappointing seasons for the 49ers. No doubt that much of the 49ers success is credited to their top-flight defense led by defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis as well as their running game spearheaded by Frank Gore, but not much credit is given to Alex Smith for the fact that he is not putting up anything close to Drew Brees-like numbers. Before the Jim Harbaugh takeover, Smith didn’t have much consistency in his coaching as he had six different offensive coordinators in all six seasons as well as having both former head coaches with defensive backgrounds.

It can be argued that he was a “born-again” rookie this season for many reasons. The first reason is that he has a new coach in Jim Harbaugh who is a more offensive minded coach being that he, too, was once a quarterback in the NFL for 14 seasons. The second reason is that with a new coach, as well as offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Smith is learning a new system that is similar to the West Coast Offense that legendary 49ers’ coach Bill Walsh ran during the Golden Era in San Francisco that won them five Super Bowl Championships. The third reason is the new mentality that Smith has taken on in that he isn’t the same timid guy that he used to be; Smith has admitted that he really doesn’t care what others think of him, his stats, and his play on the field. All he, and the rest of the 49ers, believe in is “the team, the team, the team” and it is shown by the fact that every player seems to be focused on winning rather then personal accolades. This all has given Alex Smith a new swagger that he never really had in the NFL and he seems to be having fun winning as he has been cool and relaxed much like former 49ers Super Bowl legend QB “Joe Cool” Montana was under Bill Walsh. Smith tied for first this season for the most fourth quarter comebacks with five, including the 49ers comeback against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.

The change in Alex Smith’s performance can be seen in his stats from the 2011 season as well as his performance in the 49ers playoff win over the Saints when he led a comeback in the 4th quarter. Smith had a career year this season by throwing an average of 195 yards per game, 17 touchdowns, rushing for 2 touchdowns, 60% completion rate, 90.7 passer rating, and a low 5 interceptions all in 16 starts. His stats are obviously nowhere near that of the NFL elite quarterbacks but playing on a balanced offensive attack that enforces the run first mentality does not require Smith to attempt very many passes. However, Smith has been efficient and a 17 to 5 ratio of TDs to Interceptions show that he has been very smart about his passing attempts which explains the solid 90.7 passer rating. He seemed to have taken a step back recently as his performance in the NFC Championship game didn’t go as well as 49ers fans would have liked, but he really only had one target to throw to in Vernon Davis as the 49ers’ receivers were held in check.

Over a year ago, fans would boo at the sight of Smith on the field and this season it was as if a new guy was in there leading the team through the playoffs. He gave fans a glimpse of hopes for future offensive production in the NFC Divisional Playoff game as he stepped up and led the 49ers to a fourth quarter comeback twice going 80+ yards on his final two drives. The first drive was fueled by a big run by Frank Gore that put the 49ers in field goal range. On 3rd and 7 with the ball 28 yards from the end zone, Smith ran “QB 9”, a play designed for Smith to run behind a block from Joe Staley for the go ahead score. With over two minutes to go Drew Brees led a drive capped off by a huge touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the Saints ahead 32-29. Smith stayed cool as he led the 49ers to another go-ahead drive as he completed five passes. He threw a perfect strike to tight end Vernon Davis with 14 seconds left in the game that put San Francisco into a euphoric state as they witnessed what is referred to as “The Catch III”. Smith finished the game with 3 TD throws, a rushing TD, no interceptions, and a ton of fan support as this 7th year rookie had a whole fan base excited about the future of the 49ers. His contract is up after this season and it is safe to say that he will most likely be back in San Francisco next year looking to build off of his 2011 successes.

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The NBA lockout officially ended on December 8th of 2011. It has barely been a week since the end of the lockout and teams seem to be falling all over each other fighting for the top available talent like twin babies over a bottle.  The Los Angeles Lakers, at one point this offseason, to be the big dealmakers as it was rumored that they were going after both All-Star players Chris Paul, point guard of the New Orleans Hornets, and Dwight Howard, center of the Orlando Magic.

The Lakers made a trade offer to the NBA-owned Hornets for Chris Paul that had fans and journalists buzzing over what this trade could do for the Lakers. All that had to happen to bring Paul to Los Angeles was approval by the other owners of the NBA for the NBA currently owns the Hornets. However, Commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade because it would give the Lakers too much power as an NBA elite. Next, the Lakers were rumored to be going after Dwight Howard and a surprising move of forward Lamar Odom perhaps hinted that the Lakers were freeing up cap space to bring Howard to Los Angeles. The move shocked Odom and the Lakers as players were upset that he was moved to Dallas for almost nothing in return. Also, yesterday the Orlando Magic made it public that they were no longer looking to move Howard out of town. While it seems all hopes for Los Angeles bringing in another superstar to town, there is still hope.

The Clippers also play in Los Angeles and look to be improving their roster and taking the next step toward making a playoff appearance. The Clippers signed former Washington Wizard, Caron Butler to a three-year deal. Young center DeAndre Jordan looked as if he was headed upstate to the Golden State Warriors when they attempted to lure him away with a four year/$43 million contract, but his status as a Restricted Free Agent gave the Clippers three days to match that amount in order to keep him. The Clippers brought Jordan back and meant they had two talented players at center in Jordan and Chris Kaman. Resigning Jordan hinted that Kaman was expendable as a player to use as trade bait. After claiming veteran guard Chauncey Billups off waivers, the Clippers sent Kaman, point guard Eric Gordon, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and a first-round draft pick to the Hornets to get… Chris Paul!

With forward Blake Griffin, veteran guard Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, and Chris Paul the Clippers look to give the Lakers and the rest of the West a run for their money. Look out Los Angeles, for the Clippers might just catch fire. Happy Holidays to Los Angeles.

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