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.
by Julian Spivey
20. Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud pretty much dominated the IndyCar Series in 2016 on the way to his first career championship. The Penske Racing driver from France won a series high five races, including three in a row.
19. Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg had a hard fought battle all season long in Formula 1 with his teammate and two-time reigning champion Lewis Hamilton before clinching the title in the series’ season finale in late November. Rosberg won eight poles and nine races in 2016. The 31-year old from Germany announced his retirement from the sport just five days after winning the title.
18. Andy Murray
No disrespect to Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all-time, but Andy Murray takes 2016’s honor as the greatest tennis player of the year. Murray won his career Wimbledon title this year, a huge honor for the Brit. He also defended his gold medal from 2012 in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil and is currently the No. 1 ranked men’s tennis player in the world.
17. Dustin Johnson
2016 was finally the year that Dustin Johnson, known unfortunately for a few years as a choker, lived up to his high expectations. Johnson finally got that golf major championship people had been expecting from him for years winning the U.S. Open. Johnson would also win two other tournaments and be a part of the USA’s Ryder Cup champion team on his way to being named 2016 PGA Player of the Year.
16. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has always been one of the NBA’s best and most exciting players, but it feels like he’s currently working on a MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double thus far this season and has many thinking he might do that for the entire season, which has only been done by Oscar Robertson in league history.
15. Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and helped lead his team to Stanley Cup glory in 2016, also winning the Conn Smythe Award for postseason MVP. The two-time NHL MVP was also the World Hockey Championship MVP this year for Team Canada.
14. Von Miller
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is arguably the best defensive player currently in the NFL. Miller hounded Carolina Panthers QB and MVP Cam Newton all Super Bowl 50 with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on his way to being named MVP of the game. This season Miller has 13.5 sacks, which is second in the league.
13. Conor McGregor
It would seem the world of mixed martial arts and the UFC currently belongs to Conor McGregor. The brash and abrasive Irishman became the first fighter in UFC history this year to hold titles in two different weight classes: Featherweight and Lightweight. McGregor is also the UFC’s highest pay-per-view draw.
12. Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott (and his fellow rookie teammate Dak Prescott) has been the talk of the NFL this season as a rookie, leading the Dallas Cowboys to a current NFL best record of 12-2. Elliott leads the league in rushing with around 1,500 yards and has a chance at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. He should be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year (unless his teammate steals votes) and has a shot at MVP too.
11. Mike Trout
Mike Trout is the greatest player in Major League Baseball and has been since the day he entered the league, it’s just a shame he plays for the consistently disappointing Los Angeles Angels. Trout won his second career American League MVP in 2016, but if you ask Sabermetricians he should have won the honor all five years he’s been in the big leagues.
10. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson totaled five wins and his NASCAR record-tying seventh championship in 2016 and the strange thing about it is that for the bulk of the season people were wondering what was wrong with Jimmie Johnson due to a 24-race winless streak. It’s highly likely Johnson will finish his career as the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time.
9. Matt Ryan
Recently ESPN asked the question “Who’s the NFL’s MVP?” and gave four options: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. The people who prepped that question might want to look at the numbers of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is having a better season all-around than any of the three QBs (of course Brady missed four games) and is seemingly getting no love. He’ll get some here as the highest ranked NFL player on this list.
8. Stephen Curry
It’s funny sometimes how things work out. If the Golden State Warriors had finished off their historic 73-9 season by winning the NBA Finals then Steph Curry would almost certainly be No. 1 on this list and LeBron James would be sitting here at No. 8. But, the Cavs won it all and the two-time reigning MVP and best shooter in the NBA – maybe ever – finds himself sitting right here.
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo could arguably be the most popular athlete in the entire world as the best athlete in the world’s most popular sport. Ronaldo won just about all there was to win in soccer in 2016: Ballon D’or (Best Player), Champions League title, Euro 2016 title and Club World Cup, in which he scored a hat trick.
6. Lamar Jackson
University of Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson kind of came out of nowhere during the 2016 college football season to dominate the sport and win the coveted Heisman Trophy. The sophomore was an incredible dual threat for the Cardinals totaling an amazing 51 touchdowns with 30 through the air and 21 on the ground in one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history.
5. Simone Biles
It was a fantastic 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil for the Americans as the next few selections on this list will prove and one of those making noise in Rio was gymnast Simone Biles. Biles, who was already being hailed as an all-time great gymnast before her first Olympics, proved her worth with four gold medals and a bronze. Look for her to return in peak form in 2020 too.
4. Katie Ledecky
At the young age of 19, Katie Ledecky proved herself to be the most talented woman in sports in 2016 with a star-making Summer Olympics in Brazil. Ledecky won five gold medals and a silver medal in a performance that was miles ahead of her competition and had many calling her the Michael Phelps of her gender. But, with numbers like hers Phelps might have to watch his back as the greatest swimmer in Olympics history. Speaking of which …
3. Michael Phelps
It’s definitely at the point where tests need to be done on Michael Phelps to determine whether or not the all-time medaling Olympian is actually human. Phelps, no doubt the greatest swimmer of all-time, silenced those who believed he’d passed his heyday during the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer with five gold medals and a silver medal upping his Olympic records to 23 gold medals and 28 total medals, two honors that’ll likely never be broken.
2. Kris Bryant
Major League Baseball clearly has a new star on its hands with Chicago Cubs third baseman and 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant, becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to follow up a Rookie of the Year award with a MVP. More importantly Bryant led the Cubs to the team’s first World Series title in more than 100 years.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James accomplished the last thing in his career he needed to accomplish in 2016, winning a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. He did it in dramatic fashion too in a historical NBA Finals performance leading his team back from the first ever 3-1 deficit to win the title.
by Julian Spivey
Best Team: Chicago Cubs
Sometimes you just get a no-brainer. When a team is able to break the longest championship drought in the history of sports for its franchise there’s no doubt it’s deserving of “team of the year.” The Chicago Cubs, led by manager Joe Maddon and National League Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant, were finally able to break the Curse of the Billy Goat in 2016 backing up their league best record with a miraculous comeback from being down 3-1 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. With the bulk of the team remaining intact for the future this could be the beginning of a dynasty.
Best Athlete: LeBron James
There was only one last thing LeBron James had to accomplish in his legendary career – win a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. After winning two titles with the star-studded Miami Heat he came back to Cleveland to do just that and in 2016 the dream was realized in a history making turn as the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to clinch the title … and to make things even sweeter James led his Cavs to this history over the record 73-9 Golden State Warriors, who had beaten the Cavs the year before in the Finals.
Best Coach: Joe Maddon
I cannot tell you how many times I cursed Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s name during the 2016 World Series and MLB Postseason. There’s little doubt in my mind that Maddon was actually out-managed by Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona during the series. But, despite Maddon’s managerial mistakes the Cubs still managed the historic World Series win. And, despite these mistakes I still couldn’t find a better option for Coach of the Year than Maddon, generally considered one of the best managers in baseball and likely the most popular among the players. He was tasked with bringing the Cubs to glory and he accomplished it.
Best Game: World Series Game 7
There were some great games and sporting events in the sports world this year from game 7 of the NBA finals to the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship, but the Game of the Year also kind of seems like a no-brainer with the way game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians played out. It’s the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen and some were calling it the greatest baseball game of all-time. The Cubs after winning two games in a row just to force a seventh game looked to have things in hand until a late and stunning comeback by the Indians. Then as the game was about to head to extra innings the sky opened up and rain caused a delay. The delay was exactly what the Cubs needed as their rejuvenated lineup came back out about 40 minutes later hacking and led to the end of the longest championship drought in sports history.
Best Moment: Chicago Cubs Championship Comeback
I understand that this end of the year best in sports recap is getting redundant with so many of the honors going to the Chicago Cubs, but honestly did anything else in sports this year come close to the story that was the Cubs breaking 100-plus years of futility? The Cubs being on the brink of snapping the streak, seeing it destroyed late with an unlikely homer by Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, having a rain delay before the beginning of extra innings, coming out red hot after the rain delay and winning the game in the tenth only to find out how a rain delay pep talk by veteran Jason Heyward got the team re-energized has to be the moment of the year. It’s a moment more than a century in the making – how often can you say that?
Breakthrough Athlete: Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys are having quite the surprising season, currently 12-2 and tied for the best record in the NFL, on the backs of two amazing rookies in running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. Honestly, both rookies could’ve taken this honor this year, but I’m going to give it to Elliott, who leads the league in rushing at over 1,500 yards and has a shot at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record for rushing yards with two games remaining. Sure, the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL and it helps Elliott’s numbers, but he might be looking at the first ever Rookie of the Year and MVP season in NFL history.
Best Play: Tony Stewart's Bump & Run Win
There were truly some great sports plays of the year: LeBron James’ block of Andre Igoudala in game 7 of the NBA Finals, Miguel Montero hitting a pinch hit grand slam in the NLCS for the Cubs, Kris Jenkins’ game-winning three to win Villanova the NCAA men’s basketball title. But, the play that stood out to me the most was NASCAR legend Tony Stewart’s winning move at Sonoma this summer for what would be his final career win. Stewart missed the first few months of the NASCAR season with a back injury, but looked like vintage Tony at the road course in Sonoma. Stewart actually screwed up at the beginning of the final lap of the race and was passed by Denny Hamlin. Stewart then ran one of the most fascinating laps of his career culminating in a textbook bump-and-run on Hamlin for the race win. It was the perfect way to win his final career race.
Best Upset: Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals Comeback
In the history of the NBA no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship. Not only did the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by terrific performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, manage to make NBA history this season by doing just that, but they managed to do it against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, the greatest team in NBA regular season history. That makes this selection a no-brainer.
Best Announcer: John Smoltz
The Chicago Cubs were no doubt the talk of the Major League Baseball postseason in 2016, but the playoffs also saw an unlikely superstar in the making – and it’s a guy used to superstardom. For years and years fans have complained about the color commentator doing high profile baseball games for Fox Sports whether it was Tim McCarver for many years or Harold Reynolds during the last couple of postseasons. This year Fox Sports made the terrific decision to pair hall of fame pitcher John Smoltz with play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and it completely changed the Fox broadcasts. Smoltz has quickly proven himself to be one of the most knowledgeable announcers in the game, especially when it comes to pitching scenarios and is way more affable and way less annoying than anybody else Fox has had in that seat over the last two decades.
by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
#1. LeBron James
Steph Curry may have won the last two MVP awards and the most recent of those two unanimously, but King LeBron James proved to the world during last season’s NBA Finals that he was still the best basketball player alive. The 2016-17 season could easily be James’ fifth MVP season with the Warriors studs taking votes from each other. He could also be scarier than ever with absolutely nothing to lose having now won three titles and doing so last year with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. JS
#2. Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is not only, without a doubt, the greatest shooter in the NBA, but he very well could be the greatest pure shooter to ever grace the hardcourt. His scoring is likely to go down a bit this season with the addition of Kevin Durant, another top five player in the league, and he’s almost assuredly not going to be able to threepeat as MVP with the talent that starting lineup will have, but nobody in their right mind could argue he’s not one of the two best players in the game right now – even with his struggles in big NBA Finals games over the last two seasons. JS
#3. Russell Westbrook
Over the last few years, while Kevin Durant was out with his injuries, Russell Westbrook made a habit of carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder when he needed to. He was iffy with his shot selection at times, but he was still consistent enough to give his team a shot at a deep playoff run. This year, though, expect Westbrook to go full Rambo – and not like “First Blood” Rambo who was kind of timid and didn’t want to kill anyone. He’s going to pull a “Rambo 4” and basically roll up in a truck and start blasting arms and legs off with a giant ass machine gun. PT
#4. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant’s going to have to learn to go from the number one guy on a team to a number two or three guy. It’ll be an adjustment, but the way the Golden State Warriors will be spacing defenses, expect him to just rain threes. PT
#5. Kawhi Leonard
Kahwi Leonard might be the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, which isn’t an easy feat for a small forward. He’s also turned himself into quite the offensive threat averaging more than 20 points a game on a team that doesn’t always need him to do that with LaMarcus Aldridge, who just narrowly missed this list, and Pau Gasol. JS
#6. Kyrie Irving
Sorry Chris Paul, but you’ve been surpassed as one of the three best point guards in the NBA (although you’re probably still the best natural one because you still know how to pass the ball). You’ve been replaced by Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers who rode an incredible NBA Finals performance last season to this high spot on this list. It didn’t seem like Irving could miss anything in the Finals and that has to have done a lot for his confidence. If he wasn’t a teammate of LeBron James I think we’d be looking at a potential MVP this season. JS
#7. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is quickly becoming the NBA’s saddest story. Sure, he’s young, but he’s already falling into that Allen Iverson/Karl Malone/John Stockton category of guys who never won who should’ve. The Los Angeles Clippers have always had a decent team, but have never been serious contenders. Expect Chris Paul to look to give the Clippers that push over the edge that they need this season. PT
#8. Klay Thompson
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Klay Thompson is the second best pure shooter in the NBA, but with Steph Curry as his teammate in Golden State he’s not even the best shooter on his own team. Thompson might have some struggles this season on the court, but it won’t be due to his abilities, but rather because Kevin Durant has joined the team and he’s going to lose the most shot attempts as result. Thompson might have to go from All Star to role player and it might not sit well for him. The Warriors likely win a title, but Thompson knows he’s the best player on more than half of the teams in the league and he might want that shot before too long. JS
#9. Draymond Green
Draymond Green is arguably the second-to-fourth best player on a team that includes Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. That’s nothing to scoff at, and neither is his stat line from last year: 14 points per game, 7.4 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals. PT
#10. James Harden
James Harden might be one of the top 10 players in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean I respect him. The Houston Rockets star shooting guard might lead the NBA in scoring this season, as he did the last averaging 29 points a game, but he’s not a complete player and it’s really not even close. It seems Harden is allergic to playing defense and he’s a piss poor leader, as well. He can enjoy his top 10 selection on this list, because it’s about the only accolade he’s going to be receiving this season as his team likely fails to make the playoffs. JS
#11. Paul George
Last year was Paul George’s comeback year after a grueling injury that left him sidelined for about a year. He came back from recovering from a broken leg to a depleted team that looked nothing like it had during the Indiana Pacers’ glory days just two years earlier, and he still managed to get his team into the playoffs. Sure, it was an early exit, but now with point guard Jeff Teague there to help, Paul George will be sure to get the Pacers back into the postseason. PT
#12. Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is one of the most exciting, young players in the NBA. His two most important statistical categories – scoring and assists – were both at career highs last year and it seems like his ceiling might continue to rise. His team isn’t a real threat to go deep into the postseason, but put some more talent on the roster and Lillard could be the next Steph Curry. JS
#13. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony for me is just an older version of James Harden. He’s a fantastic scorer, but don’t ever expect him to win a championship unless he goes searching for one through one of the free agency superteams that are so popular these days. He still scores enough and has a big enough name to make this list, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. JS
#14. DeMarcus Cousins
Say what you will about his attitude off the court, DeMarcus Cousins’ play on the hardwood earns him a spot on any top 20 list. Last year, he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, and with the Sacramento Kings looking desperate for some leadership on the court, it’s a safe bet he’ll start easing into that role soon, provided he can get past some of his maturity issues. Regardless, he’s easily one of the top three centers in the league. PT
#15. Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are going to come into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They went deep in the playoffs last year, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, Lowry, along with DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, will look to prove everything wrong about how far the North with LeBron’s juggernaut in front of them. PT
#16. Anthony Davis
Are you tired of seeing Anthony Davis make top five NBA player lists, too? Than you might be happy that we only have him at No. 16 on this one. He might have the talent to be much higher on these lists, as he has before, but he hasn’t done a thing yet and he can’t keep himself on the court. His offensive and defensive numbers might both look nice, but you can’t bank on him to play more than 60 games a season. His team has never even finished higher than dead last in its division since he joined the team. JS
#17. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been one of the most popular players in the NBA since he joined the league, primarily because he’s a human highlight reel. He’s also largely been a disappointment. The Los Angeles Clippers have had teams over the last few seasons that have looked like borderline All Star teams and have done absolutely nothing. A lot of this goes on the back of Griffin who’s caused chemistry issues with his attitude. He might be one of the most exciting players in the league, but I wouldn’t want him on my team. JS
#18. Al Horford
Not only does Al Horford have a new city, but he has decades of Bostonian legacy to live up to. Horford will join point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, who will likely be feeding the big man and helping him make waves on the scoreboard. With both Horford and Thomas leading the charge, the Celtics are looking at being a major player in the east this season. PT
#19. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol’s career is winding down. He spent a spell out with injury last year, and the Memphis Grizzlies are looking like they’re going to be in rebuilding mode within the next couple years. That means we’re about to see the last hoorah of Gasol, and don’t expect him to fade out quietly. PT
#20. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is the last of an old breed, but of the four players from the 1998 draft who are still active (along with Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Nazr Mohammed), he’s the only one who will start for his team this year. That’s because he’s the only one who’s consistently carried his team through the years, without seeing a significant decline in production. Last year, Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. With the Dallas Mavericks stretched thin and Dirk headed into what will possibly be his last season, you can count on more of the same. PT
by Julian Spivey
After 20 seasons and more than 1,600 baseball games Turner Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, is hosting its final baseball game today as the Braves play the Detroit Tigers at 2:10 p.m.
Twenty years isn’t exactly a long life for a professional baseball stadium, but the stadium originally built to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and then Braves baseball has never been an optimum home for the Braves ownership, who site traffic problems in downtown Atlanta and lack of public transportation around the area as factors to why the team often struggles in ticket sales. The Braves have always had kind of fair-weather local fans, anyway, even when they were in the middle of winning 14 straight division titles.
Turner Field is a special place to me, even though I’ve only been to three games at the location. Not only has it been the home of my favorite baseball franchise for the majority of my life, but it’s where I attended my first ever Major League Baseball game – a key moment in any baseball fan’s life. For that reason, I wish Turner Field, named after former Braves owner Ted Turner, could stand forever. But, they tore the House That Ruth Built down in New York, so nobody is exactly going to save a 20-year old ballpark that didn’t really have any special significance in the history of the game beyond the Braves franchise.
I’m sure Sun Trust Park, that just doesn’t sound right, the Braves new ballpark being built in the nicer suburbs of Cobb County will be a nice home for my favorite franchise and will surely pack in loads of fans at least in its first season of operation, which begins next April. But, I’m not sure it’ll ever mean as much to me as Turner Field, the somewhat boring cookie cutter park that was partially built to please a terrific rotation consisting of now hall of famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Sun Trust Park will never see a Bobby Cox ejection, it’ll never see a Chipper Jones home run, it’ll never see a Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz strikeout, or a dazzling Andruw Jones defensive play or a number of other things. One of the things I’ll miss most about Turner Field isn’t even at Turner Field, but outside in one of the parking lots where they have a monument commemorating the spot where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record at the old Fulton County Stadium in 1974. They will probably demolish that with the field, but I hope not. Most importantly it’ll never be the first place my parents took me and my brothers to see our first Major League game, all the way from Arkansas.
That’s us in the photo attached to this piece - I’m the one in blue. It was August 2, 1998 and the Braves were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, a team I was quite familiar with listening to on the radio in Arkansas. The Braves mascot, Homer, looks like a meth addict – luckily he’s cleaned up his act today. Seriously, my parents probably shouldn’t have allowed us around that dude.
I don’t think I’m a normal person. I don’t really remember a whole lot of things from my childhood. I remember plenty of sporting events and moments I’ve seen, but not a lot of lived in things – things I did or experienced. I remember that day well. I remember Kevin Millwood was the starting pitcher for the Braves. I’ve attended six Braves games in my lifetime and not once did I see Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz start a game. I hate that. I remember Mark McGwire went 0-for-4 for the Cardinals and this was just a month before he’d break Roger Maris’ single season home run record that we all know now was bogus. I remember the Braves won 4-3 and they did so on a RBI double by Greg Colbrunn, who started that day in place of the Braves usual first baseman Andres Galarraga. I think Colbrunn means more to me from this one at-bat than he does to most anybody who ever saw him play. This would be the only time I ever saw the Braves win at Turner Field. I’ve seen them win twice at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Maybe I should just stay close to home and watch them win?
The second time I went to Turner Field was during a family reunion in the summer of 2001. They would go on to lose to the New York Mets and we’d have to leave before the last out because my brother couldn’t keep down an overpriced ballpark hot dog, but the best part about this trip was we got to take a tour of the stadium. I stepped foot on the same field that my childhood heroes did. I even got to sit in the same dugout they did. I don’t believe my family has photos of this. I wish they did.
My third and final time at Turner Field was in the summer of 2005 when they got beat pretty badly by the Oakland A’s in an interleague game. This was more than a decade before now and I had no way of knowing this would be my final trip to The Ted, as many affectionately or sarcastically depending on the person call it. I so badly wanted to go to Atlanta this season and wish it farewell, but life is too busy and that never happened. Seeing a game here or there on television this season showed me that many, even those much closer than I am to the ballpark, must’ve had the same thing happen.
I’m going to watch the game this afternoon and I hope the Braves win one final time at Turner Field. As previously mentioned, there was really nothing too significant about the ballpark. At the same time, it holds an awful lot of significance to me.
by Preston Tolliver
I didn’t start really paying attention to basketball until 2009.
Sure, I have memories of sitting at my grandma’s house with everyone while we watched the Jordan Bulls keep Stockton and Malone from entering the Naismith Hall of Fame with rings on their fingers. But I didn’t really pay attention. I’m pretty sure I just played in the floor with my wrestling toys.
I would keep up with little tidbits here and there. I knew Allen Iverson was pretty good, that LeBron James was some sort of basketball prodigy and that there was something about Kobe that was impressively unlikeable. But I wasn’t paying attention.
Then, sometime in the 2008-2009 season, I started paying attention. I’m not sure what the exact sequence of events were, but the gist of it was that before moving off for college, I lived with my brother, he sometimes watched games and I sometimes watched them too. I knew I needed a team, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Boston Celtics, who were coming off a championship season. Everything between that is hazy, but a few months later in June 2009, I was forcing discussions about the NBA Finals with customers who were unfortunate enough to come through my checkout lane at Hastings (the Lakers would go on to beat the Celtics that year). The next year, my brother took me to see the Celtics play in Dallas, which was my first professional basketball game. I’ve been to seven games since.
There were probably several things that held my interest in basketball, but in the beginning, four players specifically gave me reason to tune in: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Allen effectively retired two years ago, Garnett announced his retirement last Friday, Pierce announced on Monday that this will be his final season, and Rondo, who will play this season for the Chicago Bulls, has what I’m pretty sure is the basketball equivalent of the Benjamin Button disease.
Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s basketball ability. I came in when they were still pretty good, but not at peak performance. Most of what they’d proven on the court had come to pass by 2009. I did know that Kevin Garnett was kind of a jerk to other players (I cannot stress enough how much I love that), that he was great in the post and that he was pretty funny when he ridiculed Craig Sager for his suits. I knew that Paul Pierce was clutch AF, could shoot threes, wore headbands pretty well and was good at being a person Nate Robinson did flips over.
Nevertheless, they’ll always be two of my all-time favorites (Allen doesn’t get this distinction after pulling a Judas and going to Miami in 2012).
I won’t say I was devastated when Garnett announced his retirement Friday. That would be dramatic. But something was amiss. Something that I had grown to love would no longer include one of the people responsible for me loving it. I had a similar feeling again Monday when Paul Pierce announced his farewell tour. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad a feeling as the day the two were traded to the Brooklyn Nets (a fate we can all agree is worse than death, let alone retirement), but both Friday and Monday were pretty bummer days because of it.
What I appreciate most about the two, though, will never be what they did on the court, but what they did for me, because mostly I’m selfish. Pierce and Garnett, along with Allen and Rondo, brought me an interest that’s done more for me in the last seven years than some of my best friends ever could. Because of that interest, I’ve logged hours playing basketball – both through video games and actually playing, like outside, like on a court – with family and friends. I’ve also won two fantasy league championships, which is still two more championships than Karl Malone or John Stockton ever won. More importantly, though, basketball also gave me an outlet following my mother’s death (I think I made four trips between Oklahoma City and Memphis to watch games that year). And for someone whose default when feeling overwhelmed by life is to get drunk, play video games and eat Doritos, that meant something.
I have a lot of people to thank for that interest. Pierce and Garnett aren’t the only reasons I watch basketball. But they were pretty influential in getting me there, and right now, I’m thanking them.
by Preston Tolliver
Gone are the boring days where you could buy a basketball game and focus on silly things like controlling a player whose primary focus is to play basketball, because “NBA 2K17” has realized that there are more important things than that. Finally, it’s come around to what I’ve believed for a long time – that the one thing basketball needs to make it entertaining is some daytime soap opera-level of drama.
In the game’s MyCareer mode, you’re a high school and college standout, nicknamed “Pres,” which is short for “President,” but could also be considered short for “Preston,” which, if you’ll look above here, you’ll see is my name and so that’s pretty dope. You declare for college – you can choose one of eight schools, and so I decided to take my talents to Michigan State, where I quickly cemented my place as the school’s best player to ever don a Spartan jersey (Suck it, Magic).
From there, you’re thrown into the draft, but don’t worry – you’ll still have plenty of time for things not revolving around basketball. For example, you have ample opportunity to set the controller down and watch the long, several minutes-long, one-after-another cutscenes of you and your college roommate playing video games (it’s almost surreal playing a video game in which you get to watch your player play a video game), or of you and your girlfriend sitting outside in the dark, talking about things that people in relationships usually talk about, or answering a million text messages after each practice, a task that feels almost like work, which is awesome because there’s nothing I like to do more while I’m at home than to field almost as many complaints from people as I do at the office. The game actually gives you the opportunity to ignore those messages, but half of them are from your mom telling you she loves you, so you really get to develop your player, right down to just how big of an asshole you are.
Now, because the game takes realism to a new level, prompting you to endure through practice after practice with Michael B. Jordan, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to check out on the game just yet. After all, the life of a basketball star is a pretty busy one, especially when 80 percent of that life is spent dealing with all the other crap. But I have a few notes:
The game obviously has its flaws. All games do. But there’s one thing 2K has proven with their latest installment, and it’s that damn, do they know their demographic.
by Eric Fulton
The National Football League’s regular season kicked off on Thursday (Sept. 8) right where it left off last season with the Denver Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. There are many storylines to follow as a new season enters: How will the Broncos fair now that Peyton Manning has retired? How many games will the New England Patriots win without Tom Brady? Will Robert Griffin III rediscover himself in Cleveland? What about the return of Andrew Luck? Can Luck lead the Indianapolis Colts back to the top of the AFC?
I would say there are over half of the teams I believe that have a strong case to make the playoffs. However, only 12 teams can make it. And only one will raise the Lombardi Trophy as champions of Super Bowl LI.
Here are the 12 teams I believe will make the playoffs in 2016.
East- New England Patriots
The Patriots will not have the services of Tom Brady for four games, but if they can win two or three of those games without Brady, they will be favorite all the way until the Super Bowl.
North- Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though they won’t have Le’Veon Bell for three games, the Steelers seem to be the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. If everyone, including Ben Rothelisberger can stay healthy throughout the season, Pittsburgh has a very good shot at making the Super Bowl.
South- Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South is the toughest of all divisions to pick who will win. Last year, the Texans won with only a 9-7 record. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are both young and should improve this season. However, this division will be decided on the health of Andrew Luck and his offensive line. If both things are a positive for Indy, they will return to winning the division.
West- Kansas City Chiefs
Now that Peyton Manning is gone, the AFC West seem to be open a little bit. The Oakland Raiders will be the team everyone will watch. The San Diego Chargers always seem to make things interesting. Right now, this is Andy Reid’s division to win. Kansas City should not have any problems winning the division. By the way, the only chance the Broncos have a shot at winning this division is if the defense can shut out everyone every week (Not likely to happen).
Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets
The Bengals should compete for a playoff spot once again. Can they finally win a playoff game under Marvin Lewis? The return of Andy Dalton should help tremendously.
The Jets got a huge confidence boost when Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signed with New York. Now with the addition of Matt Forte at running back, the Jets are poised to have double digit victories and this time get in the playoffs.
East- New York Giants
It seems as though the NFC East is a crap shoot every year. You never know who will win that division. This year, I will say the Giants should win the NFC East, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t win. You just never know about that division and the teams.
North- Green Bay Packers
With the terrible injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Packers are now the favorite to win the NFC North. Once again, Green Bay is led by Aaron Rodgers who gets his main target back in Jordy Nelson. But the Vikings defense under head coach Mike Zimmer will give it all they have when defending their division championship.
South- Carolina Panthers
The defending NFC Champions will return wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, which will help Cam Newton. The Panthers also have a great defense with a healthy Luke Kuechley leading the way. They will have a major target on their back, but Ron Rivera’s team seems to be built for the long haul of the NFL season.
West- Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer had the best year ever as a quarterback in his NFL career as the Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship game last year. Having safety Tyron Mathieu return from an ACL injury will be huge as he along with fellow LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson form the best defensive back duo in the NFL. Bruce Arians will have his team ready to go and poised to go back for the Super Bowl.
Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints
Seahawks – Seattle will once again try to return to the top of the NFL Mountain. However, it will have to do so without the services of running back Marshawn Lynch as he decided to retire. Quarterback Russell Wilson will once again try to lead the offense into another deep postseason run. Meanwhile the defense will try to prove themselves as still the best in the NFL.
Saints- There should be a handful of teams fighting for at one more playoff spot in the NFC. But I think the Saints will be the main team to take on the Panthers for the NFC South crown, but will ultimately be a wild card team. While the defense is not that great, they still have Drew Brees. With Brees now at the final stages of his career, the Saints are poised to make at least one more playoff run with their future hall of fame quarterback.