Monday, July 23, 2012

The Aurora Theatre Massacre: A Veteran's Take

I was up early last Friday morning when I first heard the news of a shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, CO via Twitter. Soon I saw the news on CNN and MSNBC with more detail. To my horror the updates kept getting worse. There was the cell phone video footage from the scene showing people covered in blood. There was the news that the apartment of the...person...who did this being booby trapped with explosives. Those details and others disturbed me as I fell asleep.
It got worse when I woke up.

That's when some of the those that died from this massacre were identified.

Among the most prominent was a young woman named Jessica Ghawi, who was an aspiring journalist that loved the sport of hockey. Most people knew Ghawi as Jessica Redfield since she went by that name in her bylines and Twitter handle. It was learned that Ghawi wend by the moniker Redfield as a tribute to her grandmother who wanted to become a journalist but never got the chance.

The worst parts of Ghawi's death was her brother Jordan live-blog finding out about his sister's death and seeing her boyfriend, Jay Meloff, tweet his heart about.

Another prominent death was Veronica Moser, who is the youngest victim. She was only six years old. Her mother Ashley was also wounded in the massacre and has faded in and out of consciousness at the hospital she's in asking about her daughter. She found out about her Veronica's death Saturday.

Counting Ghawi and Moser, there are currently 12 casualties in this massacre. Three of those casualties hit home to me. The reason can be seen in this article's title.

I am a U.S. Navy veteran, an experience that I've come to appreciate more as the years go by.

The deaths of U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class John Larimer, U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress, and U.S. Navy veteran Jon Blunk all hurt the Armed Forces community in many ways.

We have a volunteer army in this country, meaning one has to choose to serve. Veterans and active duty personnel consciously know that they are giving up some civil liberties in exchange for wearing the nation's uniform. Subconsciously though, these two groups acknowledge two things when they take the oath to serve for the second time. Those two things are that they are willing to kill and are willing to be killed in the line of duty.

Even as we acknowledge this, those in the Armed Forces expect those things to happen in the battlefield.  We don't expect them in our off time from duty known as 'liberty.' It's during liberty that we unwind a little and try to at least gain some normalcy of a civilian life. That's what these three men were doing that night. They, separately with their own groups, went to see the new Batman movie, one of the most anticipated pictures of the year. Instead they watched tear gas canisters being thrown in their theatre and this...person...begin to shoot innocent people. Luckily in this chaos these men proved to live up to the motto of the U.S. Navy, something that can be applied to all the branches of the Armed Forces.


These men didn't run away while they were shot at. They instinctively protected the ones they were with. In the cases of Latimer and Blunk, their girlfriends. In Childerss's case a work colleague. In doing so they sacrificed their lives.

Part of me is sad to hear this. Another part of me grew more angry as the details of how the arsenal (a 12-gauge shotgun, two .40 caliber handguns, and an AR-15 assault rifle loaded with a 100-round drum) to commit this massacre. That part of me is still angry.

I'm angry that the National Rifle Association, whose leaders don't seem to listen to their members, have co-opted one major political party and have scared the other party into not even daring to discuss sensible gun control laws. (By the way, I do believe in the Second Amendment so don't come at me with the 'you want to ban all guns' bullshit.)

I'm angry that hack politicians are using this massacre for their purposes or are mocking it. Take for example Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who said that if more people were armed in that theatre this tragedy would have been stopped (Yea, let's have more people with guns in an environment where the instigator has already gained the tactical advantage of having a gas mask on while throwing tear gas canisters at his victims. That won't make the situation mare horrifying...) There is former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said this massacre happened due to lack of religion in our schools. (Yea...) There is former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, who wrote a Facebook post with similar sentiments as Rep. Gohmert.

One part that many people I know are angry about is how the media has and the public at large have reacted to the...person...who committed this massacre. It's no secret that the Black and Latino communities have felt that when one of their own commits similar acts to this massacre, the suspects are viewed differently than a White suspect. I will agree that there are indeed racial elements that bring their ugly heads up when something like this happens. However, now is not the time to address them. That will come later.

For now families and communities have to grieve. No one has been buried yet.

For the Armed Forces community, right now we have to mourn for our lost brethren.

May fair winds and calm seas bring you safely home Mr. Blunk, Mr. Childress, and Mr Latimer.

Rest in Peace

Thursday, July 5, 2012

2012 NBA Free Agency aka. MADNESS!

Free agency, those two words can bring both pure joy and demoralizing agony to sports team front offices and their fans.

In the U.S. the free agency period of the four major team sports each have their own unique charms. However it is the free agency period of the National Basketball Association that is the best compared to the other sports. Here are the reasons why when comparing to the other sports:

In the National Football League free agent contracts are not guaranteed, meaning that teams can get out of a bad deal with only losing about half of the amount that the contract was worth (half being the usual amount teams guarantee.)

The National Hockey League is still recovering from losing a season due to a lockout. That leaves them in a position where signings of their biggest stars don't have a big ripple effect outside of die hard fans.

In Major League Baseball there really is no salary cap, meaning that the big spenders are usually the same teams (New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox) with a couple of surprises every few years. The Miami Marlins being that in 2011.

Now looking at these reason one can think the NFL has the best free agency since teams tend to have smaller risks of franchise-impacting mistakes. However, that doesn't take into account the very nature of both sports.

Unlike football, basketball is the one sport where one player can have the biggest impact on a team. This is particularly true in the NBA. When forward LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat, it turned the Cavs from having the best record in the NBA to a lottery team with the #1 draft pick.

It is also that very nature that causes NBA front offices to make grave mistakes when free agency comes up. Then there are the franchises that somehow turn nothing into gold during this time. Those are the reasons that make NBA free agency the best. This ongoing free agency period is a perfect example of this. Here are some of the more prominent free agency moves so far:

The Brooklyn Nets coming to terms with forward Gerald Wallace at $40 million over four years, pulling off a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that sent guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, and coming to terms with guard Deron Williams at $98+ million over five years.

The Houston Rockets reaching an agreement with restricted free agent center Omer Asik for $25.1 million over three years, and reaching an agreement with restricted free agent guard Jeremy Lin for $30 million over four years (the fourth year being a team option.)

The Portland Trail Blazers reaching an agreement with restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert for $58 million over four years.

The Phoenix Suns reaching an agreement with restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon for $58 million over four years, and coming to terms with guard Goran Dragic for $34 million over four years.

The Toronto Raptors reaching an agreement with restricted free agent guard Landry Fields for $20 million over three years, and acquiring guard Kyle Lowry from the Rockets via trade.

The Los Angeles Clippers coming to terms with guard Jamal Crawford for $25 million over four years, coming to terms with guard Chauncey Billups for $4.3 million over next season, and acquiring forward Lamar Odom from the Dallas Mavericks.

The Boston Celtics coming to terms with guard Jason Terry for $15 million over three years, and coming to terms with forward Brandon Bass for an undisclosed amount over three years.

The New York Knicks coming to terms with guard Jason Kidd for $9 million over three years.

The Los Angeles Lakers acquiring guard Steve Nash via sign-&-trade at $27 million for three years.

Free agency only started on July 1 & there are still major moves to be made mainly involving the deals mentioned above.

The main dominoes mainly deal with the restricted free agents. Due to their restricted status these guys can agree to deals with other teams, but their current teams can match the deal. That has put some deals in limbo. The New Orleans Hornets have vowed to match any offer made to Gordon. The Knicks have said similar statements regarding Lin. The Pacers have to think before matching Hibbert's offer knowing they can acquire a cheaper option in center Chris Kaman. The Chicago Bulls have a tough choice when it comes to Asik whom they want to keep, but not in the deal that the Rockets made with him. The only restricted guy that most likely will be on the move will be Fields. The Raptors offered Fields their deal as a strategic move to get the Knicks off the Nash chase. With Nash now being a Laker the move doesn't look so bright.

Of course the Raptors haven't had as horrible of a free agency as the Mavs.

After winning the 2010-2011 NBA title Mavs owner Mark Cuban watched his team be dismantled via free agency by his own design. His plan was simple, free up as much cap space to after Williams and Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard. This was virtually a copy of how the Miami Heat landed their Big 3. Unfortunately for Cuban this plan has fallen apart. After Williams decided to stay with the Nets, He focused on Nash, and when that failed he focused of retaining Kidd. It looked like Kidd was going to stay until today when he decided to become a Knick

There are still some dominoes left to fall. Guard Ray Allen is now deciding on either returning to the Celtics or joining the Heat. He is currently meeting a Heat contingent for dinner as of 10 pm tonight. Then there is the cruel and unusual punishment that the Magic are going through with Howard. With his eyes set on the Nets, Howard has put the Magic in the position of both trying to get equal value for him and trying to get rid of  forward Hedo Turkoglu's contract at the same time.

This free agency period has been a roller-coaster so far with it promising to get even wilder once the moratorium on signing contracts is lifted on July 11. Fans and journalists will love every minute of it.

Madness, pure madness.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Where Sports Meets Porn: #TeamBJNBA

Sports and entertainment have blended for some time. Slowly however that blend has taken a stop once in a while towards the adult entertainment industry in recent years. There was the very public relationship between MMA fighter Tito Ortiz and former porn star Jenna Jameson (they have two children, twin boys.) More recently there was the incident where New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spent his bye week last NFL season with porn star BiBi Jones (she also claims Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla among her sports conquests.) These events have been mainly found out through social media for the masses to enjoy and laugh about.

Then there are events like this.

On June 21 as Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder was less than an hour from starting Billy Corben, a well known Miami film director (his credits include ESPN's  'The U' and 'Cocaine Cowboys') tweeted a story from the website Busted Coverage. The story was about a promise made by two Miami porn stars (& noted Heat fans) Angelina Castro and Sara Jay.  The two porn stars promised that if the Heat won the NBA championship they would provide 'oral services' to their combined Twitter followers, whose count stands at 328,758 as of June 23. They made the promise into a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #TeamBJNBA along with making an announcement video on Sara Jay's YouTube page (the video along with Sara's page have now been terminated by YouTube.) It is safe to say that as soon as Game 5 was over with the Heat clinching the title, the Twitter mentions of the two ladies regarding #TeamBJNBA exploded. Sara at one did complain about the mentions.

Now, one can look at this story and assume that #TeamBJNBA was just a publicity stunt by the two ladies to boost their follower count on Twitter. Logic would dictate that with Twitter being a global social media network there would be no way that what the two ladies promised would be dared to be attempted.

Surprise, the two ladies will ACTUALLY attempt to do this!

Both Angelina and Sara tweeted that they will keep their word and will fulfill their promise to their followers. On Tuesday they will announce the time and location where their followers can cash in on #TeamBJNBA.

This event is most likely going to be 1.) a social media bonanza, and 2.) a possible logistical nightmare. Either way the fact that the two ladies are going to do this is astounding. Can't really knock their hustle.

Just hope that they call the Guinness Book of World Records first.

UPDATE: The ladies have set a date for #TeamBJNBA along with a website stating the initial ground rules for the event. The website is

UPDATE 2 (July 6): It looks like David Stern has caught up with #TeamBJNBA and is trying to stop it.

In a statement obtained by the website Black Sports Online the NBA has issued a cease-&-desist order claiming that  Sara and Angelina have used the intellectual property of the league and violated their rights. The league points to the website, the Twitter account @TeamBJNBA, and a photos shopped picture featuring the ladies donning Heat gear in front of the Heat Big 3 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) as some of their evidence. The NBA has demanded that the website and Twitter account for #TeamBJNBA be taken down from the Internet and for ownership of both entities to be transferred to the league.

As of 3 pm today both the website and the Twitter account are still up.

The NBA is within its rights in doing this. They, like other major sports leagues, will do whatever is necessary to protect their image. The NBA is especially sensitive to this due to events such as the infamous Malice in The Palace and the referee scandal set off by Tim Donaghy. This is also happening as Stern is polishing up his immediate and long term legacy. Stern has stated in various interviews that he won't be NBA commissioner when the time comes for a new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated. The current CBA is a ten year deal with the option that the players and owners can opt out of it in six years.

More likely than not the event will go on as planned. It will just require more legal gymnastics than expected.

The Miami Heat: 2011-12 NBA Champions

It was almost surreal to see as the final seconds counted down in American Airlines Arena.

As soon as the clock read 0.00 an explosion of euphoria  was unleashed in the city of Miami and throughout the country as the Miami Heat won the NBA championship in a blowout fashion against the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 to clinch the NBA Finals series 4-1. This is the second title for the Heat franchise, but the first of the Miami Big 3 era.

This championship is the vindication of the grand experiment that Heat president Pat Riley set out in 2007 when he prepared the team's salary cap for the vaunted free agent class of 2010. When the Summer of 2010 came Riley was able to pull off arguably the biggest coup in NBA history when he retained guard Dwyane Wade and lured forward Chris Bosh along with forward LeBron James. James was the crown jewel of the free agent class and had teams like the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks along with the Heat clamoring for him to sign with them. On July 8 in an ESPN special titled 'The Decision' James let the world know that he picked the Heat. The next night the Big 3 were unveiled to their fans in a party-type atmosphere that immediately made them and the Heat the most hated team in the NBA. The fact that the Big 3 signed for less than their allowed maximum allowed the Heat to retain forward Udonis Haslem, center Joel Anthony, and sign guard Mike Miller to five-year contracts. Filling the rest of the roster with minimum salary players, the Heat were a top-heavy team. Immediately the question of chemistry rose up and they got louder once the Heat lost on the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat retooled after the NBA lockout was lifted by signing forward Shane Battier. Still the chemistry questions were there, but with this title Riley's gamble has paid off.

For James, this championship is a critic silencer. Ever since he was a Junior in high school an NBA title was not only expected, but demanded of James. Those expectations rose as he became the #1 pick of the 2003 NBA draft for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. James led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007 where he was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Since then every playoff loss and exit without a title fed a narrative that James didn't have the killer instinct needed to become a champion. That narrative only grew when he decided to go to the Heat. The narrative was was that because he had no killer instinct, he had to join someone who did in Wade. The Finals loss to the Mavs sent the narrative to astronomical levels. James showed this postseason that this would not stand anymore. When the Heat were down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the semifinals James pulled a stat line not seen since 1961 in Game 4 to even the series and eventually win it in six games. Facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals against his long time tormentor in the Boston Celtics, James pushed the Heat to victory in Game 6 to force a Game 7 which the Heat won at home. In the Finals after losing Game 1 James led the Heat to four straight wins culminating in this championship. The monkey is now off his back.

For Wade, this championship finds him in role reversal. When the Heat won the NBA title in 2006 it was him taking the mantle of leadership from center Shaquille O'Neal. He was the Finals MVP after leading the Heat back from a 0-2 hole against the Mavs. Since then Wade has been the Man in Miami even as the Heat had a 15 win season in 2008. When the Summer of 2010 came and he resigned with the Heat along with James and Bosh it was viewed as them joining his team. This season though Wade saw that this was no longer his team. Instead of stubbornly fighting to be top dog, Wade gracefully turned the leadership mantle to James. That was especially important as the playoffs arrived and Wade was clearly playing injured. That was most evident in Game 3 of the Pacers series where he only scored five points, the lowest playoff total in his career. Wade seemed to be almost at peace knowing that he was the #2 option and playing more to win the title for James than for himself.

For Bosh, this championship is also a critic silencer. When he joined James and Wade on the Heat he was often viewed as the forgotten member of the Big 3. His demeanor was also the fodder of jokes and nicknames such as Bosh Spice. Quietly though, Bosh became the Heat's most important player because his presence set up both the offense and player rotations. This was not seen by many though thanks to the alley-oop theatrics of James and Wade. When the Heat struggled Bosh was seen as the obvious choice to move vie trade. His true value was finally seen when he went down to an abdominal strain in Game 1 of the Pacers series. With Bosh out the lineup the Pacers took advantage until James and Wade took over. In the Eastern Conference Finals Bosh's absence allowed forward Kevin Garnett along with guard Rajon Rondo to almost push the Heat to elimination. Once he came back, initially from the bench, the Heat got back on track. When he came back to the starting lineup in Game 2 of the Finals his presence cancelled out the benefits the Thunder enjoyed with forward Serge Ibaka. Bosh has now proven that he is worthy of the label superstar and the contract he signed with the Heat.

For the role players the Finals were a coming out party.

First it was Battier, who struggled offensively the whole season. In the Finals he suddenly found his shooting touch. In Games 1 and 2 he made nine out of 13 3-point shots. He also took some key charges that put Thunder forward Kevin Durant in foul trouble. Then came rookie guard Norris Cole who was ready for the moment even as he seldom played in the playoffs. Cole helped lead the Heat back from a 17 point Thunder lead in the first quarter of Game 4 with eight points, scoring twice from downtown. Then in the same game it was guard Mario Chalmers's turn. Known as the 'Little Brother' of the Heat Big 3, Chalmers was often the target of criticism from hi teammates when he would make a mistake. That didn't happen in Game 4 as Chalmers stepped up scoring 25 points, including the Heat's last five as James was on the bench battling cramps. Chalmesr's performance showed why he is a two-time high school state champion in Alaska and a national champion with the University of Kansas. The Heat needed every point considering Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had a historic game of his own. Then in Game 5 with the chance to clinch the title on home court it was Miller's turn. For the past two seasons Miller looked like he was being held together by bubble gum and duct tape, yet he gave it all he could on the court. In Game 5 Miller got into a shooting zone rarely seen as he scored 23 points including seven of eight from downtown, almost tying Celtics guard Ray Allen's record of made 3-pointers in a Finals game. It was the perceived common thinking that the Heat were not a deep team past the Big 3 coming into the Finals and the Thunder had the better bench. That was proven wrong.

Finally, for Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra, this championship was vindication for him as well. Spoelstra started out working in the video room for the Heat and gradually climbed up the ladder. He was an assistant coach when the Heat won their first title in 2006 and was tapped by Riley to take the reigns in 2008. Since then Spoelsta has not missed the playoffs. When the Big 3 were assembled Spoelstra's ability to coach three superstars who have been #1 options was immediately questioned. The rough 9-8 start of last season was blamed on Spoelstra and most thought it was a matter of time before Riley would come back down and take over. Spoelstra weathered the storm but questions rose again when the Heat lost in the 2011 Finals. In the playoffs those questions were slowly being put to rest. In the Indiana series Spoelstra made the adjustment of putting Battier on Pacer forward David West, allowing James to focus offensively. In the Boston series he made the adjustment of putting Chalmers on Allen so the more athletic Wade could focus on Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. In the Finals the adjustment was to put Bosh in the starting lineup and putting Haslem on the bench instead of Battier. This title as a head coach proves that Spoelstra, like his players, learned from last season and has become better for it.

The first championship the Heat won in 2006 was sweet as they were the underdogs. This championship is even sweeter in the sense that not only were the Heat the underdogs, but that very few outside of Miami (and Seattle) wanted them to win. They learned from the anguish of losing the Finals on their home court & now have won on that court.

As Mike Miller would say...LET IT FLY!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Heat-Thunder: NBA Finals Preview

This is the matchup the NBA universe wanted to see since the season was saved. Luckily, we got it.
Tonight the much anticipated NBA Finals series between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder will start at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in OKC at 9 PM Eastern. This has been the dream matchup for both NBA analysts and fans alike. The storylines in this series are very compelling. You have the battle between Heat forward and 2011-12 MVP LeBron James and the runner up in Thunder forward Kevin Durant. You have two differing philosophies on how to build an NBA champion going head to head. It's mainly though a matchup of the Heat's Big 3 of James, guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh against the Thunder's Big 3 of Durant, guard Russell Westbrook, and guard James Harden.

Both teams had interesting paths to the Finals. Let's look back at how each team got here.

Miami Heat

The Heat went into the playoffs with the most pressure to win. The lackluster effort of last season's Finals was still fresh in the minds of many. The pressure was especially large for James as his toughness during big moments was still doubted.

In the first round the Heat faced the New York Knicks in what many saw as the sexiest matchup of the first round. It was also the first time both teams faced each other in the playoffs since 2000 in one of the most bitter rivalries of the 1990s. The Knicks were coming into a playoffs riding a stellar April by forward and franchise player Carmelo Anthony. That run was quickly ended by the Heat in a Game 1 beating. The Heat were also the unfortunate beneficiaries of a season-ending knee injury suffered by Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert in Game 1. Shumpert's absence took away the best defender the Knicks had against Wade. The injury bug kept hitting the Knicks as they lost guard Baron Davis to a knee injury and forward Amar'e Stoudemire to him punching a fire extinguisher.  The Heat quickly took care of the Knicks in five games thanks to an outstanding performance by Anthony that prevented a sweep.

In the semifinals matchup the Heat faced the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers made some noise before the series by complaining of the Heat taking charges. In Game 1 the Heat won the game but lost Bosh in the first half to an abdominal strain injury. The Pacers front line of forward Davis West and center Roy Hibbert took advantage of Bosh's absence and had outstanding Games 2 and 3 to go up 2-1 in the series. With the prospect of going down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination James and Wade took matters into their own hands in Game 4 and began a tear not seen since the Kennedy administration. That tear continued into Games 5 and 6 as the Pacers simply didn't have an answer to James and Wade along with the supporting cast of forward Shane Battier and guard Mario Chalmers.

In the Eastern Conference Finals the Heat faced their modern nemesis in the Boston Celtics. The series looked like it was going to end quick due to the Celtics coming off a seven game series with the Philadelphia 76ers in which they lost rookie guard Avery Bradley to a shoulder injury. In Game 1 it looked like the Heat were just too much for the Celtics. In Game 2 the Celtics showed grit led by a historic performance from guard Rajon Rondo. It was not enough though as the Heat pulled out the victory in overtime. In Games 3 and 4 the Celtics showed veteran poise in their house thanks is part to the pick-&-roll between Rondo and center Kevin Garnett. These games were also where the absence of Bosh from the lineup showed most for the Heat. The Celtics won both games. In Game 5 the Heat had a chance to shift momentum their way but fell short as Celtics forward Paul Pierce made a late 3-point shot putting the game out of reach. Down in the series 3-2 with the possibility of being eliminated on the Celtics home court and the national media waiting for the Heat to fail, James responded with a historic performance in Game 6 to tie the series. In Game 7 at American Airlines Arena the Heat seized the moment after being down by as much as nine points to close out the Celtics. In the fourth quarter the Heat pulled away by scoring 28 points, all by their Big 3.

With that the Heat will make their second straight NBA Finals appearance.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder were coming into the playoffs with something to prove. They wanted to show that their appearance in last season's Western Conference Finals was no fluke and that were ready to take the next step towards being elite team.

In the first round the Thunder faced the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of last season's Western Conference Finals. This wasn't the same Mavericks team that beat the Thunder though as key pieces like center Tyson Chandler, guard DeShawn Stevenson, and guard JJ Berea all left via free agency. The Mavericks also were missing what they hoped to be key pickup in forward Lamar Odom. Those changes were all the Thunder needed to overtake the Mavericks. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden proved to be too young, too quick, and too hungry for the Mavericks as they swept the series.

In the semifinals the Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers. The Thunder had the fresher legs as the Lakers were coming off a tough series against the Denver Nuggets. It was evident also that the Lakers, because of the age of franchise player Kobe Bryant and forward Pau Gasol, were ill-suited to face this Thunder team. It also didn't help that Lakers center Andrew Bynum wasn't completely in the series mentally. The Thunder took quick care of the Lakers in five games and almost swept save for a great performance by Bryant.

In the Western Conference Finals the Thunder faced the San Antonio Spurs, the team that surpassed them in the last month of the regular season for the top seed in the West. In Games 1 and 2 the Spurs looked like the faster team. the Spurs Big 3 of forward Tim Duncan, guard Tony Parker, and guard Manu Ginobili showed their championship mettle and looked to have the Thunder overmatched. That quickly changed once the series shifted to Oklahoma City. In Games 3 and 4 the Thunder showed that they could take a punch and give one right back. The adjustment of putting guard Thabo Sefalosia on Parker freed up Westbrook and that allowed the Thunder offense to get going. While the Spurs showed their mettle again in Games 5 and 6, the Thunder proved that their athleticism was just too much to overcome.

With that the Thunder make their first NBA Finals appearance since 1997 when they were the Seattle Supersonics.

There are many storylines in this Finals series and interesting matchups, but one will be the key to victory.

Chris Bosh vs Serge Ibaka:

Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has emerged this season as an elite shot blocker and was second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year. That being said he is also known to get in foul trouble for being over aggressive. Bosh will have the task of pulling Ibaka away from the rim to free up the paint for James and Wade. Bosh has the offensive arsenal to do just that, especially if the 3-point shot becomes a steady part of that.

Prediction: Heat win series 4-3

The Thunder has the younger team along with almost the entire country pulling for them. However, championships are won by those who not only want it, but need it. The Heat, particularly James, meet those two criteria. The Heat have won playoff games this time around that they wouldn't have last year. That shows they have learned the lessons needed to claim the first title of the Heat Big 3 era.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pacquiao-Bradley: How The Sport of Boxing is Being Killed by The Business of Boxing

The spectre of controversy seems to be always be around in Sin City on fight night. Last night that spectre made its' presence known loud and clear.

Last night at the MGM Grand Manny Pacquiao, one of the two best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing, lost his WBO Welterweight title to Timothy Bradley in a very controversial split decision. The words 'very controversial' are the kindest that can be used to describe the decision.

Judge Jerry Roth had the fight 115-113 for Pacquiao. Judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford had the fight 115-113 for Bradley. Personally I had the fight 117-111 for Pacquiao.

It was evident from the beginning of the bout that Pacquiao was the superior fighter. He was faster, landed more punches, and timed his punches beautifully. It was also evident that Pacquiao's punches had more power to them compared to Bradley. Give credit to Bradley though, he was hurt both by Pacquiao's punches and by injuries to both his feet during the fight, but he was never knocked down and fought to win the whole time. Bradley didn't try to boast either after the fight. He even told HBO analyst Max Kellerman that he was going to watch the fight on film to see if he actually won it.

The questions that have arisen from this mess are what's disturbing. First there are the betting odds shifting as the fight date got closer. Then there was the revelation that ESPN's Teddy Atlas stated about Pacquiao's business relationship with his promoter Bob Arum. Atlas stated that Pacquiao's contract with Arum's Top Rank Promotions is almost up and that there are rumblings of Pacquiao not resigning with Arum. In Atlas's own words when situations like this arise in boxing "funny things happen."

Funny things seem to be happening a lot lately when it comes to Bob Arum.

This decision is the second major robbery that I can think of at the top of my head this year involving an Arum promoted fighter.

The first one involved 'undefeated' lightweight fighter Brandon Rios April 14. Rios fought Richard Abril that night for the vacated WBA Lightweight title. Rios held the belt until he was stripped of it due to not making weight before his fight with John Murray. Rios again failed to make weight for this fight so the title could only be won by Abril. Throughout the fight it was evident that Abril was dominating Rios with his defense and his reach advantage. By the end of the fight nearly every boxing analyst including the broadcasters had the fight easily for Abril.

Rios was instead awarded the split decision.

Almost immediately after the initial disgust left everyone it was suspected that decision was part of a plan to keep a potential fight between Rios and Juan Manuel Marquez alive. That fight would bring Top Rank and by extension Arum a lot of money.

Now that spectre has risen again with this fight. This fight made Top Rank a lot of money and Arum wins either way since he promotes both Pacquiao and Bradley. Despite the LOUD outcry about a possible boycott of a rematch, that fight will make a lot of money too.

The most disturbing part of the aftermath is that there is a rematch clause with a locked in date of November 10 in the contract. Judging from what both fighters said, they would take that rematch.Even as Arum has feigned outrage at the decision and 'demanded' an investigation into the scoring of the fight from the Nevada Attorney General, the rematch will happen. That would mean that the dream fight boxing fans want between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather would not happen this year.

The dream Mayweather-Pacquiao fight has been in negotiations for years with little progress. Many view Arum as the main roadblock to that fight. It is believed that Arum's bitterness towards Mayweather after he left Top Rank (along with Mayweather's insistence that he have the lion's share of the potential purse) are the only issues stopping one of the biggest paydays in boxing history from happening.

Arum has been viewed for a long time by boxing fans the same way they view promoter Don King. King has long been accused of killing the heavyweight division along with ripping off boxers like the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez. To boxing fans, Arum is only concerned with making money from fights and last night's fight did nothing to change that perception.

This is what is truly killing boxing. It isn't the quality of the fights, but the money interests and the politics of the sports that is pushing fair weather fans away and is causing die hard fans to grow even more cynical.

There is time to fix this. Many are now looking at Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions to become the saviors of the sport.

I hope they can be.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paul Williams Tragedy Adds to A Controversial Year in Boxing

No one likes to hear a worst-case scenario in an accident, whether it's a close loved one or simply someone that is known by their trade. Today is no different.

On Monday boxing manager George Peterson confirmed reports that one of his fighters, Paul 'Punisher' Williams, was involved in a motorcycle accident on Sunday in an Atlanta suburb. He also told that doctors have said that Williams in now paralyzed from the waist down and will never walk again.

Williams was scheduled to challenge rising Mexican star and WBC Junior Middleweight Champion Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 15.

The apparent end of Williams' career just adds a sad chapter to what has been a controversial year in boxing so far both inside and outside the ring.

Inside the ring two fights stand out so far this year for controversy.

The first fight was on April 14 in Las Vegas, NV as Brandon Rios fought Richard Abril in a match between two top 10 fighters in the lightweight division. Abril was a replacement fighter for Rios as he was originally scheduled to go against Yuriorkis Gamboa, who pulled out of the fight due to unhappiness about his $1.1 million purse. Rios failed to make the 135 lb. weight requirement for the second fight in a row and went into the fight at 139 lbs. Abril came into the fight as a 5/1 underdog. After a good first round by both fighters Abril began to set the tone of the fight. Rios looked sluggish as the fight progressed and didn't seem to have an answer to Abril's defense. Nearly every boxing analyst had Abril winning the fight, but the judges gave Rios a split decision victory. To say that people were not amused would be an understatement. ESPN boxing reporter Dan Rafael called the decision "absolutely disgusting." Freelance reporter Mike Rosenthal said that "No way Rios won that fight." Promoter Lou DiBella said that the decision is why 'We (boxing) suck as a legit sport."

The second fight happened three weeks earlier on March 24 in Houston, TX as James Kirkland fought Carlos Molina in a junior middleweight bout. Kirkland was making his second comeback in the division after suffering setbacks in the ring (a shocking loss to Nobuhiro Ishida) and out (two prison stints for armed robbery and weapons possession by a felon.) The fight was going Molina's way through the first nine rounds as he was hitting Kirkland more accurately throughout. Kirkland looked out of his element as he was trying to out-box Molina even though he's a natural brawler. That started to change in the tenth round as Kirkland started letting his hands go and hurt Molina. Almost exactly at the bell rang to end the round Kirkland scored a knockdown. The rules of the fight stated that a referee has to administer a ten count to a fighter even if he was knocked down at the end of a round. The ringing of the bell caused some confusion in Molina's corner as one member came into the ring thinking that the round was over as the referee was administering the ten count. That caused the referee to disqualify Molina after a short pause. While the referee's decision was technically the correct one, it was panned by analysts. The blame was mainly aimed at the Texas Boxing Commission for their corner inspectors not stopping the man in Molina's corner from stepping in the ring during the ten count. It was later revealed that Kirkland suffered a shoulder injury during the fight.

Outside the ring controversy has stopped two rematches from happening.

The first instance happened on May 9 when a title fight rematch scheduled for May 19 between junior welterweights Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson was cancelled as Peterson tested positive for a banned substance in both his 'A' and 'B' samples. That substance turned out to be synthetic testosterone. Peterson admitted that he did take the substance, but said that he is taking it for medical reasons. It was also revealed that Peterson started taking testosterone in October 2011, which was before his first bout with Khan where he won the IBF and WBA Junior Welterweight belts in a split decision. Khan's main promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, has now asked for the result of the first fight to be changed to a 'no contest' thus giving the titles Khan lost back to him.

Khan and Golden Boy Promotions have now scheduled a fight with Danny Garcia on July 14 in Las Vegas for Garcia's WBC Junior Welterweight title.

The second instance happened only nine days removed from the first. On May 18 it was revealed that Andre Berto tested positive for norandrosterone, a version of the anabolic steroid Nandrolone. That caused his June 23 welterweight fight against Victor Ortiz, a rematch of Ring Magazine's 2011 Fight of the Year, to be cancelled. That fight produced Berto's only loss in his career. While Berto has denied taking the substance, his claims are on shallow water as Victor Conte of BALCO infamy is in his training camp. Unlike the Peterson situation where it was weeks between the 'A' and 'B' sample being tested, Berto's camp informed Golden Boy Promotions (Ortiz's promoter) of the positive 'A' immediately. That allowed Golden Boy time to quickly test the 'B' sample and to find a replacement for Berto to face Ortiz without moving the date of the fight.

Ortiz is now scheduled to face Josesito Lopez on the same scheduled date as the Berto fight in Los Angeles.

Three potentially great fights set for this year lost, two by controversy and one by tragedy.

Luckily it looks like all three fighters that lost opponents to these events won't be stalled by them.
Khan has a chance to retake his spot at the top of the junior welterweight division. Ortiz will get to regain steam after losing his last fight against the world's best pound-for-pound fighter in Floyd Mayweather Jr. Alvarez is now finalizing talks to make a mandatory WBC Junior Middleweight title defense against Kirkland.

It's only been half a year and boxing has been hit hard. There is still time to turn it around though. Khan-Garcia, Ortiz-Lopez, and (potentially) Alvarez-Kirkland all can be good fights. There is also still talks that the dream fight between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can still happen this year.

The sweet science can still get up to fight again.