World Cup 2014 – Is It Called Soccer or Sucker?

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Let me preface this by saying I know nothing about soccer except that it is proof that if you hype any competitive event enough you can get people to watch it. Spelling bees and the Winter Olympics have nothing on soccer. Four years ago I wrote about how soccer could be improved as a spectator sport. Unfortunately these proposals were dismissed by FIFA.

One thing I do know about are conspiracies. And this United States World Cup team reeks of them.

On Thursday the United States is playing a game against Germany that if they win or tie will make them eligible to participate in the next round. The mainstream media has hyped this match with all kinds of World War 2 references, but no one has brought up the loyalties of the coach for the American team with the suspicious name of Jürgen Klinsmann. Where could a guy with a name like that be from, Milwaukee? Topeka? Boise, Idaho? No, he was born in  Göppingen, Germany.

Even though the United States got suckered into paying Klinsmann 2.5 million dollars annually, you think he can turn his back on the fatherland? Already he kicked off the team the only American soccer player anyone had heard of in Landon Donovan. Next he announced to the American press that the US soccer team has zero chance of winning the World Cup. Then he proceeds to turn a victory into a tie against Portugal, a country who if it wasn’t for man o’wars and Vasco da Gama no one would ever have heard of. And you don’t think he’s trying to throw this cup in Germany’s favor?

Germany might forgive the US for defeating them in World War 2, but they’ll never forgive Sylvester Stallone for beating their country in soccer in the 1981 movie Victory.

Did the Bozos who run US soccer ever read the story about the Trojan horse?

Thankfully the rest of America’s infrastructure isn’t as easy to fool as the honchos in charge of American soccer. Otherwise we might have someone with a middle name like Hussein leading American forces into another war in Iraq.

Requiem for a Team – Miami Heat Lose the 2014 NBA Finals

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I would be lying if I said it was a good thing that the Miami Heat lost the championship this year. The San Antonio Spurs are evil for a variety of reasons. They act like they never committed a foul in their life, they turned off the air conditioning in their building to steal a game,  their fans copied the “refs you suck” chant and the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army singalong from Miami fans, and Tony Parker broke Eva Longoria’s heart.

Worst of all the Spurs are not even memorable enough to really hate. They are as boring and generic as the zombies in the tv show The Walking Dead. But just the same they ate my team alive.

With that being said it would have been a worse  travesty if the Heat won the championship this year as they did not take the regular season seriously at all. Dwyane Wade took a third of the season off and defense was only played in the last five minutes of games, if at all.

When the playoffs started I predicted the Spurs would beat the Heat in the Finals. I hate always being right, but after a year of picking up bad habits of lazy play it’s hard to all of a sudden execute with the precision the Heat needed to win a championship. But still after the smack downs Miami laid on Brooklyn and Indiana and the first two games against San Antonio, I opened my heart to glory only to be let down at the end.

But if the Heat had won I shudder to think of what next season would look like. Would the Heat even bother to tie their shoes during regular season games? Would Wade only play on Tuesdays and alternating Saturdays?

And so we enter the off-season exactly where the scriptwriters who plot out the storylines of the NBA and the referees who act out their stage directions would like us.

What will happen to the Miami Heat?

Will LeBron James leave us? (Nope)

Will Carmelo Anthony join the Heat? (Maybe)

Will Chris Birdman Andersen get tattoos on his face (Yes, a single tear for a wasted season)

The roster for the team has already begun shifting. Mike Miller was let go last season, Joel Anthony a great defender was shipped off for a bag of peanuts, Shane Battier will be retiring and the only meaningful parting shot Mario Chalmers had in the playoffs after six up and down seasons with the Heat were to Tony Parker’s ribs.

But more changes need to be made starting with Dwyane Wade. He needs to come off the bench next year. LeBron James plays his best when surrounded with three point shooters. Wade can still be a great offensive player, but he needs the ball in his hands. If he came off the bench he would have time to be the primary scorer at selected times and hopefully have the energy to play defense in concentrated doses, instead of resting on defense like he did this year.

While four trips to the Finals in the last four years is amazing, I’m confident that Pat Riley and LeBron James will do what it takes to return the Larry O”Brien trophy to the Florida tropics.

R.I.P. Jack Ramsay

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Jack Ramsey was a hall of fame basketball coach. He took the Portland Trailblazers to a championship in 1977 and also coached the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Buffalo Braves successfully enough that when he retired he was the NBA’s second most victorious coach in league history. He also won several times the award for coaching in a wardrobe that would most embarrass a teenage daughter.

I never knew that Jack Ramsay.

The Jack Ramsay I was exposed to was the narrator of the basketball games of my youth. He was the broadcasting analyst for Miami Heat games from 1992 to 2002. He was the superego to his partner Eric Reid’s id. With the Heat currently being a fantastic team Reid’s comments about LeBron James being the greatest player in the world and calling Ray Allen basketball history’s best three point shooter make sense, but when the Heat were a mediocre team it was Dr. Jack Ramsay who reigned in Reid’s overzealous love for all things Heat.

Here is a snippet of one of their typical broadcasts taken from the transcripts of my memory.

“Look at that shot from Bimbo Coles, Dr. Jack don’t you think he’s the best shooter since Jesse James?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far Eric, but that was a nice shot.”

“And another rebound by Rony Seikaly he might be the best rebounder in the galaxy, right Dr. Jack?”

“Actually Eric he’s not even in the top ten in the league for rebounds on this planet.”

“And there he is with a dunk.”

“SLAMMMAHHHH!!!!”

That right there was the highlight when Jack Ramsay would go from the voice of reason to an absolute maniac growling out exclamatories. When someone dunked it was a “SLAMMMAHHHH!!!!!” or maybe a “STUFFFFFAHHHH!!!!”

He was most enthusiastic with words containing the letter r. Besides the afore mentioned stuffer and slammer whenever longtime Heat guard Dan Majerle made a big bucket he would shout out his nickname like it was a weather advisory. “THUNDERRRRR!!!!!!!”

His favorite player was probably Voshon Lenard who when he made a three Ramsay would call out his name as though he took his suitcase at the baggage terminal “LENARRRRRRRRD!!!! LENARRRRRRRRRD!!!!! LENARRRRRRRD!!!!”

If there is a heaven  Jack Ramsay will certainly be calling all the basketball games.

 

Fast Forward – 2014 NBA Playoffs Preview

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I know the technology has been around for a decade, but only for the last year have I realized my cable came equipped with DVR. On the one hand for watching sporting events it’s fantastic. You no longer have to be a slave to the schedule. You can catch the game at your convenience and with the fast forwarding capabilities a two and a half hour commitment to a basketball game and three hours to a football game is whittled down to sixty minutes. But there are other hands involved with Digital Video Recording sporting events.

You seem like a total spaz when you are out in society and put your hands over your ears while shouting “Don’t tell me the score!” any time you hear someone utter the word basketball. You must avoid all social media. Worst of all when your team is struggling during a portion of the game, you find yourself fast forwarding until the score gets to be more to your liking.

The Miami Heat have had a similar philosophy toward basketball this past season. Disinterested, lazy and seeming to wish they could fast forward to the more interesting, important parts.

Now April is here and we can see if the regular season has any relevance whatsoever. The Miami Heat spent the season avoiding defense, jacking up three pointers instead of driving to the basket, and not paying attention to their teammates throwing them the ball. This led to twelve less victories than the nearly identical roster earned last year which means the Heat will not have home court advantage if they face the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, nor against their likely opponents in the Finals. This is a big deal.

Last year the Heat needed game 7s at home to beat the Pacers and the Spurs. While I do not think this will affect the outcome against the Pacers this year who were only in that series because of heinous officiating and are likely to be knocked out before facing the Heat, I do think the San Antonio Spurs will be able to take advantage of whatever mysterious hoodoo that causes teams to play better at home to beat the Heat in this June’s Finals. Last year’s Heat team which was focused and disciplined needed a minor miracle to survive that series. This year’s edition was fat and lazy, making it hard to have much hope for them. There was an 8 game win streak in February where it looked like the Heat might be about to turn it on, but in the last victory where LeBron James scored an amazing 61 points, the team seemed to give up on the season. Winning 11 games and losing a depressing 14 games. During that time Chris Bosh decided he would only shoot three pointers, Dwyane Wade would sit out any day where he ate too much gassy food, and LeBron James treated defense like an allergy.

I know like Justin Bieber (though less wealthy and taller) I am a spoiled Heat fan to have watched two championship teams in a row, three Finals appearances in a row, and still want more, but this team has so much talent it is a shame not to utilize it. Or maybe I am one of the last true Pat Riley disciples who lives by his quote about basketball, “There is winning… and there is misery.”

 

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 3 – 9-1

Click here to read part 1 – 26-19.

Click here to read part 2 – 18-10.

9) Chris Bosh

chrisbosh_mediumBosh was the afterthought when the Heat signed LeBron James and resigned Dwyane Wade in 2010. He was a nice bonus that almost seemed like overkill. But when the Heat struggle the Boshtrich is usually the one to get the blame. He doesn’t rebound the way a big man should and his offense can disappear, but when you need a big basket in a close game more often than not Boshasaurus Rex comes through with a soft jumper. And once a year like clockwork when LeBron sits out Boshapalooza comes and he will hit a game winning three pointer.

8 ) Udonis Haslem

Heats-Haslem-suspended-for-Game-6-9A1HO1RA-x-largeTime is the great punisher. It pains me to watch Udonis Haslem imitate a professional basketball player these days. Old age catches up to us all. So often the local announcer will watch Haslem take a shot and in anticipation of him hitting the jumper say “Udonis…”, but he can’t finish the catch phrase of “you did it.” because the ball clanged against the rim. There was a time when that shot was money and another time when his defense on Dirk Nowtitzki won the Heat a championship. Haslem’s greatest contribution came a couple years ago when the Indiana Pacers were inflicting cheap shot after cheap shot on the Heat. That’s when Sheriff Haslem stepped in and reminded Indiana nobody outthugs Miami and the Heat won three straight games.

7)  Tim Hardaway

th_385971In 1997 only Michael Jordan was better than Tim Hardaway. Hardaway was once as quick as they came, but after knee surgery he had to change his game and he perfected the dumbest shot in the game, the fadeaway three pointer. He hit more game winners than games the Heat had won in previous seasons. The greatest point guard in Heat history is living out a most bitter irony as his son is now playing for the team he hated most, the New York Knicks.

6) Alonzo Mourning

mourningFor a long time Alonzo Mourning seemed a tragic figure. The center never seemed to enjoy himself and suffered brutal injuries. A broken bone in his face that required the above mask, a fight where he never landed a punch that earned him a suspension in a pivotal playoff game against the New York Knicks which the Heat lost without him, and then finally when the Heat had all the proper pieces kidney failure that forced him to miss multiple seasons and eventually required an organ transplant. But finally in his sporting life some good luck fell. After leaving the Heat for the New Jersey Nets, Zo came back to the Heat when the team was stacked. His energy and defense backing up Shaq helped the Heat win that first championship where in the clinching game 6 he had 5 insane blocks in only 14 minutes of play. My favorite  story is where before an important playoff game he and Shaq went to Wade’s house at 3 in the morning dragged him out of bed and drove him around town emphasizing how much they needed him to play his best game. Also noteworthy is in retirement Zo attends all the important Heat road playoff games in a suit and tie sitting next to Pat Riley looking like his bodyguard.

5) Glen Rice

59283501A sentimental choice. When I was a kid (and even as an adult) Glen Rice had the prettiest shot I ever saw. I aspired to have his smooth shooting touch even if mine was more reminiscent of Bill Cartwright’s. I read he learned to shoot so purely, by going out to the courts at night and practicing. Under his logic if you could sink them without seeing, it would be easy in a lit gym. It made sense to me. Bonus points for Glen Rice being the only man on this list who slept with a vice-presidential candidate and no it wasn’t Dick Cheney.

4) Steve Smith

12527296520bigHe only played on the Heat for three years until he along with Grant Long were shipped to Atlanta in the worst trade in Heat history that netted us Kevin Willis (a shoo-in if I ever make a list for my ten least favorite Heat players). The radio announcer liked to say Smitty makes pretty and he had an esthetically pleasing game with his no look passes, hesitation dribbles, and accurate shooting, but he makes the list just for being a cool guy. When I was 14 on a summer Saturday night with some friends in Coconut Grove we saw Steve Smith walk into a Hooters for dinner. My buddies and I followed him in and even though we didn’t have breasts, push up bras, or orange hot pants he took the time to talk to us, shake our hands, and thank us for being fans.

3) Dwyane Wade

PISTONS_HEAT_bw_t440Dwyane Wade confuses me. His first three seasons it seemed he never took a bad shot, now more often than not I find myself cursing at his shot selection. But looking at the stats his field goal percentage is now markedly better. Perhaps it is all in perception. When Wade entered the league he was as humble as they came. He played hard every second and while making a shot upside down that shut the door on the hated Detroit Pistons made me utter the words, “I have never been this happy in my life.” Wade has grown more surly and lazy in his old age. Often not running back on defense to instead bitch to the refs about a foul call they missed. But like I do for Elvis I’ll choose to remember Wade for his glory years.

2) Pat Riley

patrileyKind of a cheat. Pat Riley was not technically a player for the Heat. Unless you spell the word, playa. Before Pat Riley the franchise was a joke that had only one winning season in its seven year history. Since Riley took over as coach and president the team has had 16 winning seasons out of a possible 19. As a coach he brought fire, brimstone, and passion. As president he turned Kevin Willis into Tim Hardaway, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant into Shaquille O’Neal, and gave up nothing to get LeBron James. It is debatable whether or not he is the greatest professional basketball coach of all time (in my biased head he surely is), but without a doubt he is the greatest recruiter in professional basketball history.

1) LeBron James

LeBron-James-2It was once said no one has been as good at anything as Michael Jordan is at basketball. You can not say that any longer because LeBron James is better. Every game he does something I have never seen before. Whether it is a behind the back pass from out of bounds to an impossible to catch alley oop which he somehow slams home to the come from behind shot block. Every game he plays is an event and 80 years from now Heat historians will be calling these the golden years.

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 2 – 18-10

Click here to read part 1.

18) Sherman Douglas

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Yes, The General’s shorts were very short, but his fashion sense is not what got him on the list. Back when the Heat were awful and a 24 win season seemed a successful campaign, point guard Sherman Douglas was the first Heat player who hinted at competence. His high scoring and his alley-oop passes to college buddy Rony Seikaly hinted that we might not always be God awful.

17) Keith Askins

askins_1Before he was the Heat’s bowtied assistant coach who looked like a member of the Nation of Islam, Askins had a ten year career with the Heat going from benchwarmer to protoypical defensive stopper/ three point shooter later emulated by Bruce Bowen, James Posey, and Shane Battier. His defense on Michael Jordan in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals was as good as anyone ever played on him.

16) PJ Brown

600_pjbrown_130312Normally, I am not a fan of violence, but when PJ Brown flipped over New York Knick Charlie Ward in the 1997 playoffs I was cheering. The Knicks were a bunch of dirty, undisciplined thugs who ran on to the court to battle PJ Brown. Unfortunately for the Knicks they broke an NBA rule that says you are not allowed to leave the bench unless you are in the game. So all the Knick’s star players from Patrick Ewing to Allen Houston were suspended for the next game allowing the Heat to use a technicality to climb out of a 3-1 deficit, and make it to their first conference finals. And we owed it all to PJ Brown’s temper.

15) Norris Cole

670_norriscolehair_130412The retro flat top is the first clue that the Heat’s back-up point guard is old school. So is his aggressive game where he takes the ball strong to the basket and never whines to the refs about a call they missed. From his first game, a Christmas day match up against the Dallas Mavericks who had just beaten the Heat in the Finals, the young fellow has been speedy and effective. He’s also been a good luck charm as the Heat have won every championship since he joined their roster. His nickname Cole Train is old school rad too.

14) Gary Payton

LS_130909_345.jpg.cmsWhen Gary Payton joined the Heat he wasn’t just old school, he was old.  The feisty Hall of Famer had a lot of fight left in him. You could hear his trash talking and his hard hacks from the upper rows of the stadium, but what gets the Glove so high on the list was the greatest shot in Heat history (until that of another former Seattle Supersonic). In Game 3 of the 2006 Finals with the shot clock running down  Payton had the ball passed to him. Instead of taking a difficult three pointer, he pump faked, took a dribble and made a beautiful shot that allowed the Heat to clinch the first of four straight games to win their first championship.

13) Dan Majerle

9vKWo.Em.56A buddy of mine wanted to make a painting of Thunder Dan fist raised with the crowd cheering after a made three pointer. The guy was a rock star on the court always giving it his all and never taking a play off. His back at times was so bad that when the coach took him out he had to ride a stationary bike to keep himself loose, but that didn’t prevent him from playing recklessly hearty ball every single minute he was out there.

12) Rony Seikaly

saturday_ronyseikaly_4.25c_Before becoming one of Miami’s lamest DJs, Rony Seikaly was the Miami Heat’s starting center. His defense was as soft as you would expect from the son of a Greek tycoon and the husband of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but the guy could rebound and had some nifty low post moves that certain kids without much athleticism might try to imitate.

11) Shaquille O’Neal

xinsrc_4720103312256546242812If Big Daddy would have kept the fun loving vibe he had when a forced a trade from the Lakers to join the Heat he would be in the top 5 of this list. His first season with the Heat, his passing, his dunking, his rebounding, hell, even his defense were a joy to watch. In his second season all those skills atrophied, but he did enough to help the Heat win a championship. A season and a half later he faked injuries to force a trade from Miami then talked trash on the way out about the team including insulting  Dwyane Wade and threatening to fight Coach Pat Riley.  I can forgive, but I can’t forget.

10) Ray Allen

chi-heatspurs-tv-ratings-soar-for-game-6-20130-001He only played a season and a half with the Heat, and if Ray Allen did nothing else but hit that one remarkable shot that forced overtime in Game 6 of 2013’s NBA Finals he would deserve this spot. Allen, the greatest 3 point shooter in league history has done more. In his third game with the Heat he hit a game winner and all throughout his time with the Heat his three point shooting inspired more confidence than most player’s lay-ups. Best of all he spurned the Heat’s arch-rival, the Boston Celtics, to join the good guys.

Click here to read 9-1.

My 26 Favorite Miami Heat Players – Part 1 – 26-19

The Miami Heat is now 26 years old. Since I’ve been obsessing over this NBA team since the ancient year of 1988 I figured it was my obligation to record for posterity the 26 players on the organization I have the fondest memories of.

Just a reminder before you tell me how wrong I am, this list does not go in the order of the Heat’s best players (though it eventually does skew in that direction), merely my 26 favorite.

With apologies to Willie Burton, Ledell Eackles, Dexter Pittman, and Bimbo Coles here we go…

26) Marty Conlon

MC(1)Who? I couldn’t even find a picture of Marty Conlon in a Miami Heat jersey. He only played for the Miami Heat from 1997-1999 with a grand total of 25 game appearances, but his absurd shooting form made him a popular favorite. As a game was growing out of reach either in the Heat’s favor or against it, the crowd would cheer for the man at the end of the bench. “Mart-y! Mart-y! Mart-y!”

25) Manute Bol

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Shane Battier and Mike Miller’s agents are going to be pissed I placed a guy who only scored two points in 8 Miami game appearances ahead of them. This seven foot seven bean pole thin center’s brief tenure with the Heat was a dream come true for a young, tall, skinny ball player who in spite of his differing complexion had the playground nickname of Manute. Here is a link to my obituary for Mr. Bol when he passed away a few years ago. 

24) Antoine Walker

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For most of his time with the Heat the forward earned my ire. His lowest point coming when Pat Riley suspended him from the team for being too fat. But for six glorious weeks in the 2006 playoffs on the way to the championship Antoine Walker played perfect basketball. He nailed clutch threes, took the ball hard to the basket, and shimmied at the most opportune times.

23) Mario Chalmers

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I wanted to keep Super Mario off the list with his propensity for stupid fouls, but he’s made too many important shots as the championship starting point guard over the years not to include him. Any time you’re ready to write him off he hits a crucial basket and has provided years of amusement with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade yelling at him any time something goes wrong. But my favorite feature is when he scores a basket at American Airlines Arena they play the mushroom eating sound effect from the video game Super Mario Brothers.

22) Harold Miner

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I still don’t understand how the man nicknamed “Baby Jordan” didn’t have a longer career. In three seasons with the Heat he won two slam dunk championships and provided instant electrifying offense off the bench. Miner was the closest thing Miami saw to Wade until we drafted Wade. I never got why Coach Kevin Loughery didn’t play him more, but apparently the rest of the league got it as after being banished from the Heat in 1995 Miner’s career only lasted 19 more insignificant games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

21) Chris “Birdman” Andersen

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I was not a fan of the Heat acquiring Chris Andersen last season. We already had a championship winning roster and did not need a man accused of having child sex porn on his computer joining the team. Since that time the allegations were proven to be false and as soon as Andersen started playing for the Heat last year rhey went on their 27 game win streak. Then in the playoffs Birdman made 18 consecutive shots. Every minute he plays is with absolute frenetic energy and every game he’s guaranteed to provide a spectacular dunk and/or block.

20) Eddie Jones

act_eddie_jonesJones was never fully embraced by Heat fans even though he was a homegrown product, because even though he was paid like a star his true role was one of an excellent supporting actor, albeit one with awful luck. He was going to be the missing piece for the Heat in 2000, but then Alonzo Mourning suffered a debilitating kidney disease. In 2005 the Heat would have won the championship thanks to Jones solid defense but then Wade got hurt. EJ was then traded for James Posey, Jason Williams, and Antoine Walker so the Heat finally could win a championship in 2006 and came back a year later when the ship had already sunk. Though the team was always a day late and a dollar short with Jones on it I always appreciated the smoothness to his game.

19) Alan Ogg

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This is what I wrote  in 2009 when I heard Alan Ogg died:

There are twelve men on an NBA roster and Alan Ogg was what was called the twelfth man. He sat at the end of a bench for a mediocre team and had to wait for such immortals as Grant Long and Rony Seikaly to get hurt or in foul trouble to see any game action.  I don’t know if it was his name  or the fact that he played garbage time like it was the last minute of a tied elimination game, but the people loved him. Fans would wait until the end of blow outs and chant “We want Ogg! We want Ogg!”

One time at the end of a game Ogg scored eight points in one minute of play. The Miami Herald calculated that if he played the full 48 minutes he would have obliterated Wilt Chamberlain’s record 100 point game with 384 points.

But his most meaningful professional moment was probably in game 3 of the first round of the 1992 playoffs. The expansion Miami Heat were in the playoffs for the first time in their four year existence. They were playing one of the great teams of all time in Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Bulls flirted the whole season with winning a then record seventy games.

The first two games were routs. But somehow in game 3 in the friendly confines of the Miami Arena the Heat had taken a lead. The Bulls wanted momentum to go into the locker room. They drew up a play for an open jump shot. Some player in red stood in the corner and hoisted what looked like an easy two, but no sir. There was Alan Ogg blocking that shot into the second row. The crowd erupted as did I in my living room. Ogg the Log.

The Heat ended up losing that game. Jordan had 56 points. Pippen had 31. Ogg had zero.

It was the last game he ever played for the Miami Heat. I assume he had many more meaningful moments in the seventeen years between that game and his death. His obituary mentioned a wife and a stepdaughter, but they could have also mentioned a city full of fans.

Click here to read part 2.