by Julian Spivey
The 2017 NBA Finals begin tonight on ABC at 8 p.m. and for the first time in NBA history we have a trilogy – the same two teams (Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers) matching up for a third consecutive year. Both teams have taken a title over the last two years, so to borrow terminology from baseball, this year’s Finals is essentially the rubber match.
I’ll fully admit that I hope the Warriors win the championship. The team has won me over the last few seasons with their stellar team play and exciting long ball style and I’ve become quite the fan of many of its players – most notably Stephen Curry, who might be the most likable athlete in any sport right now. I also feel bad that the greatest season in NBA history was destroyed last year when they fell to the Cavaliers in seven games and that the team is somewhat owed one.
But, this isn’t about which team I want to win the NBA Finals, but rather the team that I believe will win. And, despite being statistically considered heavy underdogs when you look at things like ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) which only gives them a seven percent chance at beating the Warriors I truly believe the Cavaliers are going to go back-to-back.
The Warriors are probably a better team this year than they were last year, despite the regular season record not being as good. That’s owed to one thing – signing Kevin Durant as a free agent last offseason. This is part of the reason they’re so heavily favored to win the title. The Warriors are also playing the best basketball right now that they’ve played all season winning 24 of their last 25 games and sweeping through the entirety of the Western Conference playoffs, though they did get a huge boost in the Western Conference Finals with Kawhi Leonard’s devastating injury for the San Antonio Spurs. But, all the pressure is on the Warriors. Not only are they given a 93 percent chance at victory, but they’re trying to avenge losing in such dramatic fashion last year, Durant has a mountain of pressure on him (although he’s going to get blasted by fans and even some media win or lose) and team leader Curry has pressure on him because he didn’t play well during last year’s Finals.
The Cavaliers virtually have no pressure on them. They are supposed to lose. It seems like a great advantage for them as a veteran team to be considered such underdogs. They have their sights set on disproving everybody – or really just the statistic nerds and their computers – because actual fans and analysts believe this will be a much closer series than the BPI suggests.
The biggest reason why I’m predicting the Cavaliers to win back-to-back NBA titles is LeBron James. He’s still the greatest basketball player on Earth and he’s playing like a man determined right now. There’s no athlete in any sport I’d want on my team when he’s in full determination mode. It’s almost like he can will himself and his teammates to do whatever it takes to win the big game and we saw that last year when the Cavaliers were down 3-1 in the Finals before becoming the first team in league history to win three in a row to clinch the title. The Cavaliers winning streak last year came right after Warriors power forward Draymond Green referred to James as a “bitch” to his face. I knew that exact moment the Cavs weren’t going to lose that series. I don’t think James has forgotten about that at all.
The Warriors may have the most best players on the court at any one time, but I can’t bring myself to pick against LeBron James.
by Julian Spivey
We’ve all seen the horrifying image of “The Falling Man.” The World Press Photo Award winner taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew of an unidentified man leaping to his death from one of the World Trade Center towers on the morning of 9/11. It’s one of the most controversial photos in journalism history as it shows a man plummeting to his death. But, it’s also one of the most important photos in journalism history because it gave the tragedy of 9/11 a more human feel. Sure, we knew people were dying in the World Trade Center buildings, but the image of someone who’d rather die from leaping from one of the building’s upper floors than die in an inferno showed the event as horrific as it truly was. Recording that type of history is important for us to get the full extent of it.
This is an image I remember seeing a couple of times in textbooks during my college days minoring in print journalism in my News Editing and Media Ethics courses. The topic was about journalism ethics and what should and shouldn’t be shown in print. Basically, it’s a photographer’s job to capture an event – even if it’s a horrible or graphic one – and then it’s up for the editor of the publication to decide whether to run the image. That decision is one I respect and whenever an image is published that people believe shouldn’t be I’m almost always going to side with the media, because I have the schooling and knowledge based on my minor degree to know and understand why these images have been chosen for the public to see.
This controversy arose during the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, May 13, when a terrifying three-car accident involving Joey Logano, Danica Patrick and Aric Almirola resulted in Almirola having to be cut from his car and removed via a backboard and stretcher. He was conscious and alert, but photos captured by the media, which could be seen on the live Fox Sports 1 television broadcast standing on the wall outside of the track’s catchfence taking photos, showed the driver to be in obvious pain while being removed from his car. Almirola would be airlifted to a local hospital where as of last report was in stable condition, but was to be held overnight for further observation. These images immediately drew the ire of many on social media sites like Twitter with people stating they believe the act of taking photos of this situation to be disrespectful and inappropriate.
Why is it important for images of Almirola to be taken and published?
It’s a simple answer really – because it’s something that happened. Almirola’s stature as an athlete involved in a sporting event makes his accident, his unusual (for these days in NASCAR) removal from his vehicle and his injury status news worthy. It’s the same reason that the accident led the late night ESPN “SportsCenter” broadcast. If Almirola had been killed in the accident you wouldn’t have seen images from the incident. I’m confident of that. Though, it would’ve been at an editor’s discretion and photos like this from the horrific 1955 Le Mans tragedy have been published before. The response from fans irritated by the media doing its job in showing the incident was dumbfounding to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if these fans dislike it when images of football players being removed from games, in obvious pain, after tearing up their knees or receiving helmet-to-helmet hits. That may be the case, but if so it’s not something I’ve ever seen or heard about. Nor did I see much outcry when NBA star Paul George was removed from the court via stretcher after a gruesome broken leg playing for Team USA. I wonder why it’s seemingly different for the sport of NASCAR?
I’m not, by any means, telling people that they can’t take issue with a photograph being published. I just ask that these people realize why these images are published and that in the profession of journalism it would actually more likely be considered more unethical to not publish something news worthy than to skip it for fears of disrespecting the injured. We all have jobs to do and had these photographers at the NASCAR race not opted to photograph Almirola being extricated from his torn-up racecar on Saturday night they likely would’ve received an earful from their editors and might have even been replaced.
by Julian Spivey
Nearly two weeks into the 2017 World Baseball Classic the tournament has been thrilling as hell with numerous close games and great play from some of the greatest players in the world. However, despite the terrific play on the field the continued feeling of “the World Baseball Classic just doesn’t interest American baseball fans” has been bandied about quite a bit online, especially social media.
Simply put, it’s hard for me to believe one could be a great baseball fan and not have thoroughly enjoyed the on-field product of the pool play during the tournament’s first two weeks. After all, it’s baseball that’s played at a high level and means something at a time where the only other baseball is Spring Training to prepare for the Major League Baseball season.
But, even though the actual games have been great I know the reason why many American fans don’t care so much for the tournament – it’s because the United States doesn’t have a chance at winning and they never have won the tournament. Americans don’t tend to enjoy things dominated by non-Americans. Hence many act like the World Baseball Classic is a waste of time or a joke, when in all actuality, it’s a great tournament.
Who should we blame for the American fan’s lack of interest in the WBC? Should it be the fans themselves? I think that’s a bit too easy and wrongheaded. I think the actual blame comes down to the American players. I salute players like Adam Jones, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy, Andrew McCutchen and others who suit up to represent their country, but the fact is many of the best American players aren’t in the tournament.
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts are all considered among the top 10 players in the game per MLB Network’s recent rankings. Yet, none of these players are on Team USA. More importantly for the roster is it doesn’t feature Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer or really any starting pitcher that puts the fear of God into the opposing hitters. So, the United States ends up with Marcus Stroman giving up six consecutive hits and four runs before a single out is even recorded against a Puerto Rican team filled with All Stars.
Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado are also listed in the MLB’s 10 best players by the MLB Network, all three of those players suited up for their respective countries. As did Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and more. The lineups from other teams in the event, particularly from South American or Caribbean countries are a who’s who from those nations. And, because of this the WBC isn’t the Olympic basketball tournament where the Americans could show up 12 of their B-level stars and still take gold. They need their best to compete and win.
This is proof that players from other countries simply care more about representing their homelands more than players from America, who are either too worried about injury, their money or other reasons to suit it up for the red, white and blue. This lack of enthusiasm for performing for their country leaves American baseball fans less than excited. Many realize pitchers like Stroman, Tanner Roark and Drew Smyly, who likely isn’t even one of the 30 best American starting pitchers in the MLB, aren’t going to win multiple games against lineups like the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico so they don’t tune into these games, many of which aren’t ending until 1 or 2 a.m. in their time zones despite being played mostly in America (another key issue the WBC needs to fix).
When the American superstars like Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout start giving a damn about representing their country then their country will be competitive enough to compete and then the American fans the tournament really needs to thrive will show up.
by Julian Spivey
16. Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon pointed his way into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup playoffs last season with a little more consistency than he’d shown over the first two seasons of his career, but entering his fourth full-time season he’s failed to enter Victory Lane even once. I’ll give him the advantage this year, but this final playoff spot could just as easily go to AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray or Ryan Newman.
15. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney entering his sophomore season feels like a driver on the cusp of his first career Monster Energy Cup win. His rookie season was somewhat disappointing with three top fives, nine top 10s, finishing 20th in points and only leading 11 laps all season, but his Wood Brothers Racing alliance with Penske Racing has me thinking he’ll crack the top 16 this season.
14. Erik Jones
20-year old Erik Jones is expected to be the next big thing in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and enters his rookie season in a new second car team for Furniture Row Racing with a Joe Gibbs Racing alliance. Jones has won nine races over the last two seasons in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to pull a victory out of his rookie year.
13. Daniel Suarez
About one month ago, Daniel Suarez wasn’t even going to compete in the Monster Energy Cup Series, but when Carl Edwards abruptly retired in January, Joe Gibbs Racing turned to the 2016 Xfinity Series champion to take his place. The No. 19 team made the championship race last season and Suarez has enough talent to become the first Mexican born driver to make the NASCAR playoffs.
12. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson finally entered Victory Lane last season in his third full year and has been getting better year after year. You should probably expect the wins to come easier for Larson now, even though he drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the second-tier teams in the sport.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a big question mark for the 2017 season having missed the second half of 2016 with issues stemming from a bad concussion. Hendrick Motorsports is one of the top two teams in the sport and prior to his injury Earnhardt and his No. 88 Chevrolet team were very consistent. He should be a lock to win at least one race and qualify for the playoffs.
10. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch is consistent enough to average at least one win a season, which locks you into the NASCAR playoffs these days. However, he doesn’t win enough to be considered a major championship threat. The 2004 series champion hasn’t won more than two races in a season in more than a decade.
9. Chase Elliott
It surprised many that Chase Elliott didn’t win a race in his rookie season last year, but he still pointed his way into the playoffs on his way to taking home Rookie of the Year honors. He had some close calls with victory last year and driving for Hendrick Motorsports makes him a threat on a weekly basis. There’s no way he goes winless in 2017.
8. Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. was the biggest surprise of the 2016 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season going from a disappointing veteran to championship contender in the span of one year. Truex won four races in 2016, which was more than he’d won in the first 10 years of his career combined. You should expect him back in Victory Lane in 2017, but probably not as many times as he appeared their last season.
7. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin is no doubt one of the best active drivers in NASCAR to not yet win a championship, but it’s kind of hard to do that when you’re probably only the third best driver on your own team. Hamlin was the very first driver to clinch a playoff spot last season by winning the Daytona 500 and is good for two to three wins a season.
6. Matt Kenseth
At 44 years old Matt Kenseth is now the elder statesman of the Monster Energy Cup Series, but he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. Competing for the series’ top team of late, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has won seven races over the last two seasons and finished fifth in the point standings last year.
5. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski had four wins last season and looked like one of the favorites for the 2016 championship before faltering in the playoffs. The 2012 Cup Series champion is just about a lock year-in-and-year-out to make the playoffs. Keselowski and Joey Logano teamed together at Penske Racing is probably the most fearsome duo in the sport.
4. Joey Logano
With 14 wins over the last three seasons I don’t believe there’s any doubt that Joey Logano is the best active driver in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series who has yet to win a championship. You should probably expect Logano to win anywhere between three and six races this season and he should be a title contender if he can just find a little more consistency come playoff time.
3. Kevin Harvick
2014 champion Kevin Harvick is a top 10 machine who has averaged 27.5 top 10s over the last two seasons (36 race seasons). He’s a threat in every single race he competes in and averages three-to-five wins per season. Stewart-Haas Racing has made the switch from Chevrolet to Ford this season, but that likely won’t hinder Harvick any.
2. Kyle Busch
It’s weird that a four win season where you finished third in the championship standings could feel underwhelming, but that was sort of how the 2016 season felt for Kyle Busch after winning the championship in 2015. Busch failed to win a race over the last 16 races of the 2016 season, including the entirety of the playoffs. He’s quite possibly the most talented driver in the sport and must be considered a threat to win every season.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh NASCAR premier series championship last season and for much of the season the media was talking about how it was one of his worst seasons ever. That’s how good the guy is. Johnson and his No. 48 team turned it on during the playoffs and won the title. I believe Johnson has to be considered the title favorite year-in-and-year-out.
by Julian Spivey
When I was 15 years old one of my sports heroes Tom Glavine decided to leave the Atlanta Braves via free agency for the rival New York Mets. The Mets offered Glavine extra years on his contract, so he signed with them for four years and $42.5 million. I was disappointed one of my favorite players wouldn’t be on my favorite team anymore, but I never for one second hated Glavine … and I was just a kid.
So, when I saw grown adults booing Kevin Durant relentlessly and calling him disparaging names like “cupcake” and “KowarD” (intentionally misspelled to emphasize the KD) on Saturday night (Feb. 11) on his first visit to Oklahoma City (where he spent nine of his first 10 seasons after the franchise relocated from Seattle) since signing via free agency with the Golden State Warriors during the offseason I was disappointed. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed in a fan-base that had experienced so much greatness and kindness, both on and off the court, from Durant for a decade.
After all, Durant made the Oklahoma City Thunder what it was for the last decade. With him the franchise was consistently one of the three best teams in the Western Conference. Without him they would essentially have been nothing. And, you can claim they still would’ve had Russell Westbrook, who’s averaging a triple-double this season and working on his first MVP award, and you would’ve been right – but they’re still nothing. They are a seventh-place team, after all, in a conference that pretty much only has seven good teams. And, it’s not just this season. A few seasons ago when Durant was injured and missed most of the season the Thunder failed to make the playoffs. Essentially the same team last year with Durant healthy finished third in the Western Conference, made the Western Conference Finals and nearly made the NBA Finals, but collapsed and fell to the Warriors. Now, without Durant again, the team has fallen back to the bottom four of the conference playoff standings. It’s not a coincidence.
I understand that it looks bad to fans of the Thunder for Durant to leave the team after coming so close to a title on a few different occasions for a team that already included three All-Stars and are almost a lock for the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season, especially when Westbrook signed a contract extension to stay in OKC one season before being set to become a free agent.
But, Durant did what was best for him and that’s all anyone should expect from someone in their profession, and that’s what basketball is for Durant. Fans like to think sports are more than jobs for athletes. They like to think it’s a family that they as fans are included in. That athletes should remain loyal to their teams and fan-bases. But, that’s an unrealistic belief. All of us have opportunities in our lives to either move up in our fields or search out for better jobs and paydays elsewhere. When these better or higher paying jobs are open to us we jump at them. But, fans don’t believe the same for their favorite athletes. They throw around the word “loyalty,” but when it comes down to it we all – athletes included – must do what’s best for ourselves and our actual families.
After a decade off coming up just short of a championship Durant wanted a little something more and the Warriors and their stacked roster gave him that opportunity. You could actually argue passing that up would have been the wrong decision for him.
What was even more disappointing and frankly embarrassing to see from Thunder fans booing Durant on Saturday night was that he gave so much to the Oklahoma City community. He has donated basketball courts to schools in the area and areas throughout the country and even world so kids growing up in bad neighborhoods can have an outlet, like he did growing up, to keep them out of trouble. Durant also donated $1 million to the American Red Cross after the devastating tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area in 2013 and this generous donation inspired both the Thunder franchise and his sponsor Nike to match the donation.
Durant gave so much to the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, fan-base and community by essentially building a franchise in a city that had never had a professional sport before he came to town. He deserved cheers and praise upon his return – even if it was while wearing another uniform. It’s truly unfortunate the Thunder fan-base wasn’t adult enough to understand all Durant has given them. Hopefully one day they will.
by Julian Spivey
Congratulations sports fans, you just witnessed the greatest year in the history of sports … and it may not even be close.
It all started in April of last year. North Carolina and Villanova met in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship and the game was one for the ages and featured possibly the greatest last 10 seconds in the history of the game. Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige hit an unbelievable three-pointer to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock. It seemed the game was certain for overtime. But, Villanova didn’t panic. They called timeout, coach Jay Wright drew up a play, the Wildcats inbounded the ball from the far end of the court, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball up the court to the three-point arc, sort of flipped the ball back to an unbelievably wide open Kris Jenkins who nailed a long three as time expired for the championship. It wasn’t the first time a college basketball championship ended on a buzzer beater, but considering Paige’s shot to tie it up seconds before it led to a “can you believe what you just saw?” finish that likely made it the greatest college basketball championship finish ever.
The Golden State Warriors were the greatest team in NBA history with a record-breaking 73-9 regular season. All the team needed was a championship, their second in a row, to wrap up the “greatest team ever” tagline. They were almost stunned by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals going down 3-1 before coming back to win three games in a row to make the NBA Finals. That seemed like their biggest threat. In the Finals, the Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers who they had beaten the year before, though that Cavs team was severely injured. Golden State would take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, one that no team had ever overcome to win the championship before. It was a virtual lock for the Warriors. Then they collapsed. The Cavaliers dominated the next two games to tie the series up at three games apiece setting up a final game 7 at Golden State. The game was close and went down to the final seconds, but ultimately LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who’s three game stretches are among the greatest championship performances ever, were too much for the Warriors. Irving hit a clutch game-winner with under a minute remaining in the game and MVP Steph Curry right in his face. James finally had the championship in Cleveland he longed for and the greatest season in NBA history was instantly destroyed.
The Chicago Cubs knew futility like no team in the history of sports. The franchise’s 100-plus year championship drought was the longest in sports, by far. But, 2016 had a feeling that it all was going to change. The Cubs were the best team in Major League Baseball throughout the entire season, but we know the playoffs can be a different beast. The Cubs looked downright horrible against the pitching of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and were written off by many, before coming back to win the series. It seemed the team was destined to finally snap the Curse of the Billy Goat. The World Series featured the two teams with the longest championship droughts in sports – the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Just knowing one streak was going to be snapped already made this the most interesting World Series matchup potentially ever. But, it’s unlikely anybody knew just how epic the series was going to be. The Cubs, once again, looked lost and the Indians took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Teams had come back from that deficit before, but the chances were slim. However, the Cubs went to work and forced a seventh game in dramatic fashion. In game 7 it looked like the Cubs were going to complete the unthinkable and run away with the series. Then in the eighth inning it looked like the Curse had reared its ugly head in a major way. The Indians made a stunning comeback off the Cubs bullpen, including fireball throwing closer Aroldis Chapman that culminated in light hitting outfielder Rajai Davis hitting a game-tying home run. Game 7, of the most interesting World Series ever, entered extra innings with the home-team Indians having the advantage. Then the sky opened up and the game had about a 40-minute rain delay. During that delay, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward called a team meeting to get the young team together and let them know the game wasn’t over yet and to forget about the late inning collapse. When the delay was lifted, the Cubs came out of the clubhouse swinging and Ben Zobrist put them in the lead with a double. Relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery, though shaky, were able to hold onto the lead and the Curse was finally broken in a game many baseball writers were instantly calling the greatest game in baseball history.
The NASCAR championship is one that is unfortunately manufactured to be as exciting as possible, which kind of has the opposite effect on the title race. The sport takes the top four drivers after a nine-week playoff and puts them on equal footing for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the highest finisher winning the championship. In the short history of this playoff format the champion of the sport has always won the title race. That didn’t change this past season, but the way it came down to the very end made for an exciting and historic finish. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was trying to tie NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in NASCAR history. He took the championship lead on a late race caution when leader and likely champion Carl Edwards crashed out of the race trying to block for the lead. Johnson would have to drive a perfect final two laps on a restart to win the record-tying championship and he did just that.
The college football championship kind of had a less than exciting feel to it than fans had hoped for. The matchup between Alabama and Clemson was a repeat of the year before and many expected that the Crimson Tide could not be beaten. Early in the game it sure felt that way as Alabama had a solid 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter. Tigers star quarterback Deshaun Watson then got his offense going and a shootout between the two teams commenced over the final quarter and a half of the game. Alabama took a three-point lead with about two minutes remaining on the clock. The Tigers offense got to work and with six seconds remaining Watson essentially threw a walk-off touchdown pass to receiver Hunter Renfrow sealing the greatest college football championship game in the minds of many.
What happened last night in Super Bowl LI was perhaps the most unbelievable moment of them all. The New England Patriots trailed by 25 points at one point in the third quarter. There was a moment in the game, per ESPN, when the Falcons had a 99.6 percent chance at winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. No team had ever come back to win a Super Bowl by more than 10 points. It didn’t just seem insurmountable that the Patriots could win the game it literally felt impossible. Then in the fourth quarter the greatest QB in NFL history Tom Brady and the greatest coach in NFL history Bill Belichick worked some magic. Oh yeah, and the Atlanta Falcons choked the biggest choke in the history of sports – not just the Super Bowl, not just the NFL, but sports. Brady just ate up the Falcons defense, which had sacked him five times in the game, in the fourth quarter on his way to a Super Bowl record 466 passing yards, which included an incredible and unbelievable reception by receiver Julian Edelman off the hands and then feet of a Falcons defender, which may go down as the greatest catch in NFL history. The Patriots tied the game about a minute before regulation ended, won the coin toss to begin overtime (the first overtime in Super Bowl history) and Brady led his team down the field emphatically culminating in a sudden death game-winning touchdown run by running back James White, who had three touchdowns during the Pats record-setting comeback. It was a comeback that seemingly set up Brady, Belichick and the Patriots to be deemed the greatest of all-time in their categories. It also gave many the moment they were looking forward to when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to congratulate a team he, in the minds of many, unfairly tried to keep from winning.
Essentially since April of last year every single major championship game or event came down to the very last play or moments of the game before deciding a victor. It doesn’t get any better than that for sports fans. We’ll likely never see it again.
by Julian Spivey
When the NBA All-Star starters were announced on Thursday, Jan. 19 there was immediate controversy over the fact that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and likely MVP front-runner Russell Westbrook wasn’t voted in as a starting guard for the Western Conference.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry were voted in as starters, with many believing Westbrook should’ve been in Curry’s place.
There’s really no doubt that Westbrook should be in the West’s starting lineup for next month’s All-Star Game as he’s averaging a triple-double for the season thus far. However, his snub doesn’t mean the All-Star voting system is broken, as many critics have said in the last few days it is.
In fact, the All-Star voting system has never been better.
People are complaining about the voting system this year, which is a weighted system where the fans, media and players all have a say in the All-Star Game starters. The fans account for 50 percent of the vote, the media 25 percent and the players 25 percent. But, never in the history of the game would Westbrook have been voted in. In previous years, the starters were selected solely by the fan vote. The fans had Curry and Harden as the top two guards. In fact, this weighted system that debuted this year kept the Western Conference starting lineup from including Warriors center Zaza Pachulia from being selected as a starter. Surely, we can all agree that alone makes this a better and fairer system?
Westbrook’s omission from the Western Conference starting lineup came down to a tiebreaker in the new voting system. Westbrook was ranked No. 1 in the media and players ranks, but No. 3 in the fan rank. Curry was voted No. 1 in the fan rank, but No. 3 in both the media and player ranks. Harden was voted No. 2 in all three ranks. The weighted score for all three players was 2.0. The method for deciding a tie goes to the fan voting, which had Curry and Harden with more votes than Westbrook. This tiebreaker system also resulted in Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan making the Eastern Conference lineup over Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.
Essentially Westbrook being less likable than Curry and Harden has kept him from a starting All-Star berth he deserves, which has bugged many fans (though obviously if it bugged them enough he’d be starting in the first place) and those in the media. But, here’s why the tiebreaker is fine by me. All-Star Games are great honors for athletes, but they essentially were created in every sport for the fans. This is why fan voting for All-Star lineups exists in every professional team sport. If the fans would rather see Curry start than Westbrook that’s what they should get.
The NBA’s new All-Star voting system is easily the best system I’ve ever seen for selecting lineups, because it gives the fans a large say, but also allows for things like the entire country of Georgia voting non-stop for Pachulia to be eliminated by the media and players using more objectivity. It is unfortunate that the league’s best player this season didn’t receive an honor he deserved, but he’ll still be an All-Star and really that’s what matters in the long run.
by Julian Spivey
Meryl Streep made quite a few waves on Sunday night at the Golden Globe Awards during her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, for lifetime achievement. The eight-time Golden Globe winner made the decision to go political in her six-minute speech calling out President-elect Donald Trump, without ever once mentioning his name.
Streep called out Trump’s hateful and bullying rhetoric during her speech. She said: “There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good, there was nothing good about it, but it was effective and it did its job. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter.” She later added, “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
President-elect Trump responded on Monday with a tweet calling Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood,” even though he called her one of his favorite actresses in an interview in 2015.
I’ve always been in support of celebrities speaking their minds on important topics. After all, if us regular Joes believe we have the right to do so, why shouldn’t famous people? I also agree with a lot of what Streep said last night and believe she mostly did so eloquently.
But, she made one big mistake and it honestly has nothing to do with politics.
Streep, who definitely had her speech either memorized or on the teleprompter, in trying to prove the point about how Hollywood wouldn’t exist without many of the people President-elect Trump seems to take issue with said, “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick ‘em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”
So, in this great, eloquent speech about understanding others and how one shouldn’t bully others she in fact makes the mistake of both not understanding those different than her and her ilk and stoops to bullying rhetoric by running down the skills of athletes.
This almost throw away statement on her part may have played well to the room at the Globes, but it instantly stood out to me as something that took away greatly from her overall point and it has riled up fans of both football and MMA and rightfully so.
First, Streep’s statement is incredibly inaccurate – almost as if it were something coming straight from the mouth of President-elect Trump. There are many foreign fighters in mixed martial arts, in fact five of the 10 current champions in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) were born outside of the United States. Maybe Streep should’ve done some research before making this idiotic claim?
Second, saying that football and mixed martial arts “are not the arts” is just as rude and hateful as someone bashing acting, and is obviously just a matter of opinion, but she says it as if it’s fact.
Streep’s little jab at athletics comes off as a bitchy statement from someone who after 40 years of winning numerous awards, basically everything an actor could possibly win, still seemingly takes issue with that fact that football players and other “jocks” get more attention in high schools and colleges than theater kids.
Many on Monday were bashing Streep’s speech for being either holier than thou or out of touch with much of America – and many of those bashing Streep are doing so for the wrong reasons, in my opinion – but if they want to pinpoint this particular sentence that struck a nerve so much with me than they might have a point. After all Mrs. Streep, when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
by Julian Spivey
12. Oakland Raiders
For most of the season the Oakland Raiders were one of the two best teams in the AFC and looked to be a solid contender to reach the Super Bowl, as such. Then late in the season quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr went down with injury and with it the Raiders hopes up in smoke. Who I really feel bad for is the Raiders fan-base, who’ve waited years for the team’s return to glory only to see it end this way.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins surprised many this year on their way to a 10-6 record on the back of surprise rookie running back Jay Ajayi, but their chances – what little ones they had – also went up in smoke late in the season when quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down. It also doesn’t help that the Dolphins have the fourth worst defense in the NFL and are playing in the first round against the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
10. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans were, by far, the worst division winner in the NFL this season out of the woeful AFC South. They’ll probably still win a playoff game anyway, as they got lucky and drew the Oakland Raiders for the first game at home. It’s to be seen who starts at QB for the Texans as intended starter Tom Savage is in concussion protocol. Don’t expect Houston to go further than the wild card round.
9. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions saw a floundering finish to their season and a red-hot finish by the Green Bay Packers drop them out of the NFC North title. The Lions have lost three games in a row and will probably be one-and-done in the playoffs facing the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The Seahawks offense hasn’t been stellar, but the Lions defense has given up 73 points in its last two games.
8. New York Giants
It always seems like a risk to sleep on the New York Giants in the postseason. After all, the two times in the last decade the Giants won the Super Bowl it seemed to be during a season that looked just like this one. The offense always seems mediocre led by quarterback Eli Manning and it’s one true highlight in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The offense hasn’t scored more than 20 in a game in five straight weeks. The Giants defense has been good, but they’ll have to be really good against the Green Bay Packers offense this weekend to escape a one-and-done playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Despite how great the Seattle Seahawks have been over the last few years they just don’t look to be quite the same team this year. Their record was benefited this season by playing in the horrible NFC West. The always terrific defense has been battered a bit with the season-ending injury to safety Earl Thomas. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the entire offense has been shaky at times this season too. They should beat the Detroit Lions in the opening weekend, but there are three better looking NFC teams than them at this point.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the most underappreciated teams in the NFL and I can’t help but feel that ranking them as the sixth most likely team to win the Super Bowl here is playing into that, but even at 12-4 they just don’t seem like a champion. Most of the reason I feel this way is it seems like it will take a better quarterback than Alex Smith to win the championship. Sure, we’ve seen great game managers lead teams to victories before in the big game, but I’d rather have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger on my side.
5. Dallas Cowboys
I feel the need to admit that I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan and I’ve loved every bit of this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys were the best team in the NFL from start-to-finish. But, the fan in me is telling me that the season has been too good to be true. The skeptic in me is saying that I don’t trust a team that’s ridden two stud rookies at quarterback and running back in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to be the same team when the playoff pressure is high.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have had one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL this season, ranked first in scoring, second in total offense, third in passing and fifth in rushing. This is a good thing, because the team’s defense was only the 25th best in the league, despite having league sack leader Vic Beasley. I believe Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be the NFL MVP this season, even though I don’t think it’ll happen. If the offense stays like it did all season the defense might only have to be average for the team to win it all.
3. Green Bay Packers
For at least half of the season it didn’t even seem like the Green Bay Packers would make the playoffs, let alone being my favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. But, there’s something to be said about a team riding a hot streak throughout the end of the season and into the playoffs. The Packers, led by a seemingly rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers, have won six games in a row and might not lose again until next season.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Much like the Green Bay Packers, there was a time about midway through the NFL season it looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers might not even make the playoffs. Then they got red hot and have entered the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak. I think they could continue to ride that hot streak until at least the AFC Championship game. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, La’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is without a doubt in my mind the scariest threesome in the NFL. The Steelers defense isn’t great, but at 12th in the league it also wasn’t bad.
1. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots finished with the NFL’s best record at 14-2, which is kind of remarkable when you remember that star QB Tom Brady didn’t even play a quarter of the season due to suspension. Then when the league’s best tight end Rob Gronkowski went down with injury many said they’d be finished – that wasn’t the case either. The Patriots have a better defense than they’ve had during previous trips to the playoffs, as well. Basically, I would never count against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs.
by Julian Spivey
The National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions always seem to be the subject of controversy, even though out of all the sports hall of fames, the baseball one is actually the best in terms of getting thing right. But, controversy surrounds the process, because baseball’s fans and media alike take the sport more seriously than those of other sports seem to do. It also doesn’t help that the constant controversy of performance enhancing drugs and players who either used or supposedly used PEDs remain on the ballot with some believing no PEDs user should ever be inducted, others thinking they should and even some writers who believe some PED users should be inducted, while others should not. Let me be clear, I do not believe PED users belong in the hall of fame so you won’t see Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on my fictional ballot (because I obviously don’t have a real vote) below.
I do, however, believe there are 10 worthy players (actually there are more than 10, but I’ll follow the rules the BBWA writers must for my ballot) who should be in the hall – some of them will almost certainly get the call on Jan. 18, while others unfortunately won’t even get close.
Here is my ballot:
Vladimir Guerrero was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the entirety of his 16-season career with the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. Guerrero was the 2004 American League MVP with the Angels and a nine-time All-Star who finished his career with a .318 average, 449 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs on 10 different occasions. Guerrero should be a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer and interestingly could be the last ever Expo to enter Cooperstown.
Ivan Rodriguez caught more games than any other catcher in baseball history and is one of the five greatest to ever play that position. That should make him a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer, but there are unfortunately some unfounded PED rumors surrounding him that could impact his chances. They shouldn’t. There’s absolutely no evidence he cheated. He did, however, make 14 All-Star teams, win the 1999 American League MVP and win a catcher record 13 Gold Gloves. I-Rod finished his career hitting .296 (terrific for a catcher), with 311 homers, 1332 RBI and almost 3,000 hits.
Tim Raines just missed hall of fame induction in 2016 by about six percent on the ballot. With 2017 being his final year of eligibility there’s a great chance he’ll bump up to the 75 percent number he needs. Raines played 23 seasons, but what’s hurt his chances of the years has been the fact that only about the first 10 to 11 of those years were really hall of fame caliber and he hung around for the second half of his career collecting stats. But, what he did in the first half of his career, especially on the basepaths stealing the bulk of his 808 career bases (fifth all-time) has him deserving the honor.
When you finish your career as the all-time leader in the most important statistical category in your field you deserve enshrinement into the hall of fame. Lee Smith did that with 478 saves, which is now third all-time. The three-time reliever of the year, who also finished as a reliever in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four different times isn’t going to make the hall of fame in his final year on the ballot this year, I know, but he gets a spot on my ballot.
Trevor Hoffman is one of two all-time great baseball closers on the ballot this year, in his second year of eligibility, who finished his career as the all-time MLB leader in saves with 601. This alone should make him worthy of enshrinement. Hoffman was a seven-time All Star, who finished four times in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. Hoffman, along with future no-brainer hall of famer Mariano Rivera, is likely one of the two greatest closers in baseball history.
Jeff Bagwell was the closest player to induction in 2016 not to get elected, missing out by just 3.5 percent. This should make him a virtual lock to be induction this year. Bagwell, who spent his entire major league career with the Houston Astros, was one of the most feared first basemen of his era. The four-time All Star was the unanimous choice for National League MVP in 1994 and won the NL Rookie the Year award in 1991. Bagwell finished his career with an Astros franchise record 449 homers, which barring late career injuries would’ve probably been over 500, and a .297 career average.
Edgar Martinez is likely one of the two greatest designated hitters in the history of the American League, alongside the recently retired David Ortiz. The fact that he mostly spent his career as a DH has hurt him among hall of fame voters. Paul Molitor is the only current hall of famer who played most his games as a DH. With only three years remaining on the ballot Martinez has never come within 30 percent of induction and that number will only rise by a small margin this year, if it does at all. Martinez was a seven-time All-Star with five Silver Slugger Awards and finished his career with a terrific .312 average.
Fred McGriff is maybe the most screwed player in the history of baseball, in my opinion, outside of arguably Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. He will not ever get anywhere close to receiving the 75 percent needed to be a hall of famer, with about 21 percent being the closest he’s been. He should be in the hall of fame, but gets screwed by the era of PEDs he played in. Because he wasn’t a PED user his numbers aren’t as impressive as some of the first basemen of his era, but he finished just seven homers shy of the 500-club, which might have given him the boost he needed to make the hall. By the way, those 493 career homers were the same amount Lou Gehrig finished his career with.
I truly don’t get why Jeff Kent isn’t getting more love from the BBWA. For the sheer fact that Kent finished his career with the most home runs of anybody to ever play his position (second base) he should be getting more than just the 14 percent he’s been hovering around on ballots. Kent was the 2000 National League MVP for the San Francisco Giants who made five All-Star teams and won the Silver Slugger Award four times. The issue with Kent is likely that a lot of voters don’t trust him. From 1992-1996 he was average at best, but starting in 1997 when he teamed with PED user Barry Bonds with the Giants his power numbers went up.
The final spot on my ballot comes down to between two worthy pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. The career numbers between the two are similar, with the exception that Mussina won 54 more games and Schilling had about a 20-point lower career ERA. You could argue that Schilling is more worthy because he led two different teams – the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2004 Boston Red Sox to World Series titles, but I’m going to go with Mussina for two reasons. I like Mussina’s 54 more wins and better winning percentage a little more and Mussina is just more likable. Neither will make the hall this year, if ever.