Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Heat Disbelief

As a loyal fan of Miami Heat basketball, I have seen nearly everything in the way of ineptitude. From the time they entered the league in 1988, the team has had a variety of ups-and-downs. It took nearly 20 games for Miami to secure its first win in its inaugural season. The image of head coach Ron Rothstein celebrating their maiden triumph stays with me today

I remember when it was an honor for the Heat to secure the 8th seed in the playoffs, with the knowledge that they would be swept in three by the mighty Bulls. After a modicum of success in the Pat Riley/Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway era, the Heat fell on hard times once again. Just before the arrival of Dwyane Wade in 2003, the Heat had finished 25-57. To illustrate how dismal times were, Travis Best, Malik Allen, and Anthony Carter all started a significant amount of games that season. Things looked so bleak that a few days prior to the season, Head Coach Pat Riley called an impromptu press conference and turned over the reigns to his protégée from hid days in New York – Stan Van Gundy.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Heat reached the pinnacle of the sport with their World Championship two years ago. Counted all but out, Dwyane Wade heroically led Miami from a 2-0 deficit to win four straight and win the title over the Dallas Mavericks.

Unfortunately, the highs didn’t last long. On opening night 2006, Miami was embarrassed on ring ceremony night and lost by 40 points to the Chicago Bulls. Ironically, the Bulls ended Miami’s repeat run by embarrassing them in four straight during the playoffs. I thought that was the absolute low point, and that Pat Riley would rebuild his aging team and make them a contender once again. Well, I could not have been more wrong.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the Heat are a NBA worst 9-44. To put that number in perspective, cellar-dwellers like Minnesota and Memphis have a better record. In the NBA’s Eastern Conference, showing up should be enough to beat the moribund squads that make up the “Leastern” Conference. It is entirely understandable that Miami would struggle against the Celtics and Pistons, but they are racking up embarrassing losses to the likes of the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. Miami should have two losses to Atlanta, but were granted a temporary reprieve because of a scoring malfunction in their last contest.

It’s easy to pile on a team when they are losing, and most in South Florida are. However, there are several legitimate reasons to place blame on the Heat for their plight:

  • Dwyane Wade’s Injury: His shoulder is still a concern. It caused him to miss the start of the season, and it appears to still be a problem. While his performance has still been incredible, he is forced to carry the team single-handedly. Wade would be wise to call it quits, take some time to recover, and come back for the Beijing Olympics this summer

  • Jason Kapono and James Posey’s absence: In today’s NBA, finances are always at the forefront of most personnel decisions. Riley obviously thought that Kapono and Posey weren’t worth the money that Toronto and Boston respectively were offering these two players. Kapono was a large part of the Heat’s success last year, once he was placed in the starting lineup at small forward. Posey was a key shut-down defender, and contributed to the team’s tough defensive mentality. From watching 50 + games this season, that defensive intensity has evaporated.

  • Alonzo Mourning’s Injury: The career of legendary Center Alonzo Mourning likely ended last year at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena, where he suffered a severe knee injury. As the old country music song goes, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I was good once as I ever was.” That applied perfectly to ‘Zo. While not the all-star he was in his days in Charlotte and Miami (Pre-Kidney transplant), he was the best backup center in the game for the past two seasons. He was truly the heart and soul of this team, and that freak knee injury took away much of this team’s spirit.

  • Shaquille got old: There’s no nice way to say it. O’Neal was a burden with his $20 million a year salary. Dwayne Wade carried him to the championship two years ago. O’Neal was still a top-ten center in the league, but he never seemed to adjust to the change in officiating towards him. O’Neal, who once benefited from officials’ confusion about judging him, began to call offensive fouls early and often. In many games last year, Shaquille was hampered by early foul trouble. The Heat appears to have gotten a steal by dumping O’Neal’s salary onto Phoenix and getting Shaun Marion in return.

But in case you think I’m all negative, here are some reasons for optimism:

  • The NBA Draft Lottery: While the ping-pong balls have not always been kind to the teamwith the worst record Mami is likely to earn a top-four pick in June’s draft. The best-case scenario is that Miami could draft Kansas State juggernaut Michael Beasley, a mammoth power forward who is expected to declare for the draft following his freshman season. If that does not happen, Miami could fall back on USC’s O.J. Mayo. The thought of a Mayo/Wade backcourt should already have Heat fans drooling.

  • Shaun Marion: He’s been one of the underrated players in the league for years. He was disgruntled lately in Phoenix, upset at having to settle for third-tier status behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. But if he decides to stick around, he could be Dwayne Wade’s number two man. Marion is versatile, and can play both power forward and small forward. He could easily move to the #4 spot if the Heat decides to dangle Udonis Haslem as trade bait. In the worst case scenario, Marion opts out of his contract and clears up $15 million in salary cap space. Simply the dumping of O’Neal’s burdensome contract would be a net gain for the franchise.

  • Micky Arison and Pat Riley: While they do possess the worst record currently in the league, they have ownership which is committed to winning. Unlike Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers, Miami will do what it takes to rebuild this franchise. Riley appears to have a successor set up in young assistant coach Erik Spoelstra. There shouldn’t be a power-struggle when Riley finally decides to hang it up, which will likely be sooner rather than later.

    So for now, us loyal Heat fans will have to settle for watching second-stringers like Ricky Davis, Dorell Wright and Mark Blount masquerading as starting-level NBA players. Fortunately for us, I cannot see this continuing much longer. And in an Eastern Conference that consists of Boston, Detroit, and LeBron James, Miami could be back in contention in no time.

Heavyweight Insignificance

Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko (left), lands a jab against Sultan Ibragimov Saturday night in New York City.

Last Saturday night at the most famous arena in sports, an event took place that once would have captivated a nation. Nearly 37 years ago, Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier to compete for the most cherished prize in sports – The Heavyweight Championship of the World.

The scene was much different last weekend. At Madison Square Garden, two European heavyweights fought a contest that had fans booing from the outset. Wladimir Klitschko, considered by most the top heavyweight in the world, dispatched Sultan Ibragimov via a pedestrian twelve-round decision victory. Ibragimov, who resembled Barney Rubble more than Gene Tunney, never was able to get past the dominating jab of Klitschko. Hardly throwing a straight right hand, and never placing himself in any sort of danger, Klitschko cruised to a unanimous victory by scores of 119-110, 118-110, and 117-111. My scorecard was similar, generously awarding Ibragimov the 1st and 10th Round.

While I could endlessly discuss the tactical happenings of this weekend’s fight, that would not be necessary. I can sum it up rather simply; two Heavyweights that most Americans could not recognize fought twelve rounds of boxing that brought little excitement or clarity to the sport. Klitschko is now the IBF and WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World, if that means anything to you. And lest I forget, Klitschko also holds the fringe IBO Heavyweight belt.

Boxing has died a slow death for over a decade now. In part because of pay-per-view, the number of young and casual fans has dropped precipitously. Imagine wanting to watch the Super Bowl, but finding out that you’d have to pay $50? I guess if it were real important, you could gather five friends and split it $10 apiece. But that takes a lot of work. The system of pay-per-view and premium stations like HBO and Showtime have enriched big time promoters Don King and Bob Arum, but their greed will contribute to the moribund state of boxing. Boxing will eventually fall into the category of horse racing, and out of the top-tier of professional sports. The sport will always be around, in part because of interest from hard-core Mexican fans. But it’s hard to find a purist boxing fan in this country outside of the early-bird buffet at Holiday House. Who will replace these fans in 25 years?

The rise of mixed-martial arts, or MMA, is another nail in the coffin of boxing. I recently watched a MMA bout between local Miami street fighter Kimbo Slice and Tank Abbott from the Bank United Center in Coral Gables. Slice, a novice who got his start in backyard brawls, filled the arena and enthralled fans with his one-minute KO of the legendary Abbott. While I was not there, I could hear the excitement from watching the Showtime telecast. I can’t remember watching a boxing fight with that type of intensity. I’ll still argue that boxing is a more technical, and quite frankly civilized sport. But it’s hard to deny that MMA is the future and boxing is the past. MMA would be John F. Kennedy in 1960, opposed to the rancorous, haggard looking Richard Nixon. Hopefully boxing can make a comeback the way Nixon did, but not suffer a corrupt fall from grace.

In closing, I am personally saddened by the fall of boxing in this country. I have been a fan for nearly a decade, and am one of those people who will pay the $50 to watch a PPV attraction. However, most people in my generation will not. It’s sad, because there is so much to be excited about in the sport today. Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino fighter in the lower weight classes, is a joy to watch. He’ll be battling Juan Manuel Marquez on Mar.8, in a rematch of what was one of the most scintillating contests of 2004. Just within the past six months, fans have been treated to the ascent of a rising star – Kelly Pavlik of Youngstown, Ohio. Last year, there was the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight, which was fought at the highest skill level that I’ve seen in years.

I maintain hope that a new regime will take over the sport, one that has the forethought to plan for tomorrow and not today. But as long as the elites in the sport are raking in profits, they will not care about the sport’s future. The likes of King and Arum are charlatans and hucksters. Unlike most professional sports that have a commissioner, nobody truly runs boxing. It is controlled by rogue promoters, boxing commissions, and sanctioning organizations. I’ll finish by asking a simple question – Who is the Heavyweight Champion of the World? Stumped? Well, you would have good reason to be. Even boxing experts cannot agree on this fact. If you asked who the Super Bowl champion was, 99 percent of people would say the Giants. But in boxing, no such clarity exists.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Note: Not an official blog entry

In light of the big Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5, I thought I'd flashback to one of my first blog entries ever, posted back in 2004. At the time I was doing a daily post of sorts on Democratic candidates in the 2004 Election cycle. Most of the candidates I talked about were beaten soundly, such as Jeff Seamann and Al Weed. But there was one candidate who was special, and it's sort of neat to look back at my initial impressions.

It wasn't my most thougtful blog entry. Basically, I was just providing a brief overview of a number of Democratic prospects. I'll have to admit, that I never imagined Obama would be sitting here on Feb. 4, one day before Super Tuesday, with a legitimate chance to defeat the most powerful brand name in the Democratic Party.

Of all the candidates running for office in 2004, Obama might have the brightest future in Democratic politics. Two weeks ago, GOP nominee Jack Ryan was forced to withdraw from the race due to a sex scandal. The Illinois GOP, already in shambles due to former Governor George Ryan (no relation), is scrambling to name a last minute replacement. One state senator is so desperate that he suggested former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka as a possible replacement. As of press time, Ditka expressed no interest in running for public office. Jim Edgar, the former Governor who declined to enter the race last year, would have been the GOP’s last chance at holding this Senate seat. He has once again decided not to seek the seat. After one non-eventful six-year term, Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald decided not to seek re-election. All of this means that Obama, barring a minor miracle, will join Sen. Dick Durbin from Illinois in the United States Senate. I won’t say this often, but I would refrain from sending money to Mr. Obama. Simply remember the name. He will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. Of all the 33 Senate races in 2004, this is the most likely Democratic pickup. Obama was a slight favorite before the Ryan scandal. It has gone from leaning Democratic to very likely Democratic.

Obama has tons of potential on the national scene. Obama, an African American, will reach out across all racial lines. For all their strengths, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are very polarizing figures. They have difficulty connecting to more mainstream audience. Obama, along with Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, are the two most promising minority voices in our party. He is a very charismatic and articulate. He also has the experience of serving in the Illinois State Senate. You can bet that national Democrats will ensure Obama lots of high-profile visibility. Obama will be only the 3rd African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

Here is a link to State Sen. Obama’s website: