By H. M. Edwards

Novels, Sports Articles, Film, Songs, Trade Manuals

My Articles for My Blog & International Business Times

 "Racial Disparity in American Sports Leadership -

          Tennis Will Make Historic Stride When Adams is Elected President" (09/01/14)

 

In light of Ferguson, Donald Sterling, Paula Deen, etc., have things really changed? For the baby boomers of our country many things have changed. If you are a minority boomer, things have changed drastically in our lifetime, although at a slow pace, and still some have not. Of all American major sports there has not been an African-American at the helm. Hopefully, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) will be the first by electing Katrina M. Adams, currently its First Vice President, their President, Chairman, and CEO of the Board at the organization's Semi-Annual Meeting this week to take office January 1st, 2015.

In the USTA's 133 year old history including its precursor the U. S. Lawn Tennis Association, there has never been a President of color. The same holds true for Major League Baseball since it's inception in 1876, National Football League since its start in 1920, National Basketball Association since 1946, National Hockey League since 1917. None have had a Commissioner or Chief Executive of color especially considering the number of minority players that have played in those leagues, except the NHL. As far as the individual sports go, the same holds true in golf, auto racing, and tennis.

After Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win our national tennis championships in 1957, I became inspired to play tennis. I became a member of the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club (CPTC) founded in 1912 and a life member of its national counterpart, the American Tennis Association (ATA) organized in 1916 because Blacks were not allowed to play in the USLTA. The first public inter-racial match was in 1940 when Don Budge beat the ATA champ, Jimmie McDaniel, 6-2, 6-1. Ten years later Althea Gibson became the USTA's first African-American member. As a lifetime USTA minority member I remember being called expletives on crossovers, having rocks and bottles thrown at me on court, police escorts, and only being able to enter through the restaurant for some USTA matches.

The USTA, the largest tennis association in the world with over 700,000 members has made many advances in diversity and inclusion. There are about 32 million tennis players in the U. S. according to a study done in 2008 by the USTA, and Black participation was up 19% and Hispanic population was up 32%. Currently in the U. S. there are about 43 million African-Americans, about 14% of the total American population. The USTA owns and operates the U. S. Open Tennis Championships which funds the growth, promotion, and development of tennis. David Dinkins, New York City mayor 1990-93, signed legislation approving the construction of Arthur Ashe Stadium after the first Black male to win the Open in 1968.

Adams first served on the USTA Board in 2005 as a member then an officer in 2011. She also wears many hats as a tennis analyst, writer, Executive Director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, and sits on other Boards. Adams started playing tennis in Chicago in the public parks and went on to play collegiately at Northwestern University winning the NCAA Doubles Championship. She then went on to play twelve years on the women's tennis tour, with rankings as high as #8 in doubles and #67 in singles, making Ms. Adams, the USTA's only professional player in her role.

Gone are the days when Blacks could not be members of the USTA or other sports associations. We have a few minority owners of professional teams, and one can sit in Ashe Stadium and see two American Blacks coached by Blacks play each other to a welcoming crowd. Adams who would be the fourth female President has worked or participated in many aspects of tennis, and would bring to the USTA's helm her knowledge and passion of the sport and for life along with her celebrity status. Change and inclusion for all on all levels is becoming a norm; for sports and the USTA it's about time on their highest level.

 

 

"There is A Bigger Problem than Donald Sterling" (04/11/14)

There is no clamor that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP's Los Angeles branch, gave in 2009 and was planning to give for this year the Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling a "Lifetime Achievement Award." How did they acquiesce to even consider such a man in light of his past behaviors? Where is the outcry for the systematic and institutionalized racism and sexism that have not been addressed?

Where was the outrage in Sterling's life behaviors, business practices, and legal predicaments? Why was there no prior alarm that he harbored prejudicial beliefs against woman and minorities from lawsuits and Government investigation? His wife Rochelle, friends, girlfriends or mistresses (V. Stiviano, Alexandra Castro), the Clipper organization, the other NBA owners, the NAACP, and those who knew Sterling should have had some inkling who Sterling was and the biased views he espoused. Was it that no one minded because it was private; it was not good business to speak of such; large amounts of money were involved; or guilt would be assumed by association?

Sterling was given a pass until he like other public figures, i. e. Paula Deen, Ted Nugent, Howard Cossell, crossed the line. What does that say about those who knew and did nothing in each of their breaches? Not until Sterling's mixed race girlfriend, Stiviano, and someone else with the help of TMZ aired Donald Sterling's taped words as a result of Shelly Sterling's lawsuit against Stiviano to recover costly Sterling property, did such be made public.

Sometimes those who would affect a change are powerless and end up being trapped, while others see such a relationship as workable or serving a purpose. Nonetheless, while accepted as a part of life, Sterling, his wife, and others are tolerated until they cross a line. They hold the power, money, and influence that our society and culture are based on.

One would think that there are others who profess some of Sterling's beliefs, or other non-acceptable thoughts whether implicit or tacit. As a matter of fact anyone of any race, gender, religion, and income so disposed would probably continue and not be hampered with wrong and distasteful views as long as they were private or they could get away with them.

That's the perfunctory and expedient society we have lived in and still live in. Remember Sterling has owned the team since 1981 and for a period of that time Ms. Stiviano has been associated with him, sitting floor level at basketball games in public, in front of all sorts of media, and even with his family there. If Sterling's wife wasn't suing Stiviano, would his taped words have come to light now or ever?

Sterling and others get on in life or away with such because it is considered part of our norm. Let's continue to purge our society of non-tolerant views by all. Hopefully, we all can be more vigilant to not give a pass or ignore unacceptable things, and be quicker to take appropriate action. Sterling is to blame for his words, but let's deal proactively with the bigger problem of taking better notice of wrongful views on racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., or "business as usual," especially from those in public life. Or will we just wait for someone else to be exposed for intolerant thoughts, actions, or beliefs and then react?

 

 

"Turn Your Volume Down" (09/07/12)

 Turn your volume down if you're watching women's tennis this week-end. Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka have played three times this year and each time, after a few games I felt the need to turn my volume down. Nothing was worse than today in Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York during the US Open Semi-final match which Azarenka won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. They out-dueled each other not only in strokes but shrieks, with the third set unbelievably loudest of all. Both could rival rush hour on Wall Street or a 757 landing at LaGuardia Airport. Can you imagine the resounding sound in Ashe Stadium?

 This brings up an on-going issue of grunting in women's tennis. It was so bad in the Australian Open by the two aforementioned players that it re-opened an issue that had died out since the days of Monica Seles in the 90's.

 In January the WTA stated that, “We are currently in the process of exploring how to reduce excessive grunting, especially for younger players just starting out, without adversely affecting players who have developed their game under the current training, rules and procedures...We do believe that we need to address the concerns expressed by some fans and take a careful look at our rules and education policies.”

 At Wimbledon, WTA spokesman Andrew Walker said that the association had a plan which, "Includes developing a device for umpires to measure grunting during matches, and a rule to set limits on how much noise is acceptable."

 The second semi-final has Serena Williams who can be loud, too. Serena, though, is quiet compared to her opponent Sara Errani and the other half of the draw. So, I pick the quieter of the foursome to win the US Open women's singles Saturday.

 During the US Open it seems that the plans have not been followed out by the WTA because if there was a device for measuring grunting or loud decibels during the match it might have broken. Whether it's because of the grunting or too frequent commentary, make sure you turn your volume down for the other semi and finals, or off for me after today's first semi.

 

"Nationals' Stephen Strasburg Shutdown" (09/06/12)

Well it's a week away from the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg's shutdown on Sept. 12 after his last game against the Mets. As a former Washingtonian, I am puzzled that the Washington Nationals with MLB's best record at 84-52 and a 7.5 game lead on Atlanta Braves with 26 games left in the regular season haven't pulled Strasburg to rest him and keep him under his "pitching/innings restrictions" to be able to participate in the Nationals only post season appearance and possibly pitch in a World Series.

Stephen Strasburg who debuted in June 2010, out for two years after Tommy John's surgery, now has 15 wins to 6 losses, 195 strikeouts, with an ERA of 2.94 out of 156.1 innings pitched and 27 games. Manager Davey Johnson, GM Mike Rizzo, and Pitching Coach Steve McCatty are going to bench Strasburg for prevention next week. What is a great play-off team without Strasburg, could have been an outstanding one with him.


In professional sports opportunities don't come often. 23 yr. old Strasburg hopefully will have other opportunities to pitch in the play-offs, just not this year. Understandably his health is a primary concern and the team wants to maximize its investment, but come on.  Couldn't a better plan have been devised?


The Nationals have never played in a post season until now if things go as they should in Oct. Other than the AL Seattle Mariners, the NL Nationals are one of two MLB franchises that have never played in a World Series. Having lived in both Chicago and Washington, DC, as their series plays out this week, reminds me that one error, judgment, injury, or even one hand stuck over the bleachers could cost a championship and create a 105 yr. drought. Thank goodness for the White Sox in 2005 after 88 yrs.


While living in DC in the 90's, I had no hope of seeing baseball unless I drove several miles to Baltimore, and with all of the traffic on I-495 and I-95 it never was worth it. When the Senators (who won the World Series in 1924) went to Texas in 1972, the District of Columbia would go 33 years without a baseball team.


When the move was announced that the Nationals, formerly Expos, would begin playing in Washington in 2005, Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, announced, "There are no baseball fans in Washington D.C." Just because not everyone wanted to get to Baltimore to see a game after work or duck out and try to get back to see another city's team, we were admonished as not being fans. We have always gone the extra mile, even "Taxation with out representation."


Here is one fan voicing an opinion, along with the others who now must stomach a plan to keep what could be the Nationals' best chance at a World Series. As the Nats got to first place in the summer, it was sheer delight to think of the possibility of Stasburg leading the charge of a great team with good offense from Bryce Harper, defense from Adam LaRoche, and a cadre of good pitchers, like Gio Gonzalez who now has 18 wins. Yet, one wondered why Stasburg wasn't being rested more or taken out during the regular season so he could participate in a post season.


Now we must wonder if the possible new four-man rotation: Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler, will be enough. We all hope it is, because it would be so nice for a pennant if not championship. For all we know, this could have been the one Nationals team that had the best odds at winning the World Series. However, by shutting down Strasburg, management prevented their best player from giving them their best shot at winning the title.

 Why there was not a better implementation of Strasburg's "innings pitched" shutdown? Now, a great play-off team without Strasburg, could have been an outstanding one with him.

 

 "The Past, Present, and Future U. S. Opens" (09/02/12)

Some things still seem the same as when I started playing in 1959 trying to emulate Maria Bueno, the national winner that year.  My first U. S. Open was in 1971, the 91st year of the event, as a 16 yr. old trying to play on the grass courts of Forest Hills in Queens, NY and be the next Evonne Goolagong. I ran into Althea Gibson figuratively and literally. She was nice as I rambled on giving me the moniker of "Little Girl." Until she died she never called me anything else. I went in with Althea that day as she talked more about golf than tennis reminding me that, "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you," as we sat outside the door of the club's kitchen.

 Alice Marble penned a poignant appeal in "American Tennis Magazine" to let Gibson play the 1950 U. S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) National Championships, the amateur precursor to the U. S. Open. Gibson was allowed to enter losing in the 2nd round. Seven years later she won back to back women's singles titles. Later in 1968, Arthur Ashe playing as an amateur won the first U. S. Open. Next year he turned pro and went on to win several other events but never another Open. Not until 1999 did another African-American, Serena Williams, win the US Open, then Venus won from 2000-01, and Serena won again in 2002 and 2007.

 Clubs like the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club (CPTC) were founded in 1912 and organizations like the American Tennis Association (ATA) were organized in 1916 because Blacks were not allowed to play in the USLTA. The first inter-racial match was in 1940 when Don Budge beat the ATA champ, Jimmie McDaniel 6-2, 6-1.  Later the U. S. Tennis Association (USTA) gave the ATA winners a wild card into the U. S. Open Qualifying Tournament. 

Presently, we are still looking for the next great American champion, and fortunately there is hope with some new talent emerging every year. Though pragmatically navigating through the system to develop a champion seems to have gotten more convoluted and laborious.

Here's hoping for a new day.  If we can have a Black President of the United States after 232 yrs., why not of the USTA after 133 yrs. Maybe then we would not to have to talk about diversity and inclusion, and there would be no need for the USTA department.

In the future we would see American men and women in the semis and finals of every Grand Slams singles. We would see the USTA's first minority president presiding over the U. S.  Open. She would be Katrina Adams, currently its Vice President.

Not only would Adams be the first African-American woman, but the first person of color, and the fourth woman behind Judy Levering, Jane Brown, and Lucy Garvin. Yes, it would mean things have come full circle from the time those of color could not play in the U. S. Open and had to play in the ATA Championships. Adams, a former ATA champ, if nominated and elected this Sept. will be the USTA's 1st Vice President putting her in the enviable seat of predecessors to become the next USTA Chairman of the Board and President two years later.

If this wasn't enough, Ms. Adams, although earning over a million in prize money, would be the first non-millionaire business person to be elected, and one of the USTA's highest ranked former professional players (#8 in doubles and #69 in singles) on the job. Maybe her rally cry and goal would be, "One American in every Grand Slam or Tier I Final."

The future might have show court #17, the Hon. David Dinkins Stadium, instead of his name just on a circle outside the tennis center. There would be a roof over Ashe Stadium in spite of marshland and its awkward size and structure.

Potentially there would be no echoes of the usual "luck of the draw;" questionable practices; unequal opportunities; too many national coaches let go because of "going in a different direction;" lawsuits by staff of color; executives resigning because of a "glass ceiling;" or far too little minority players playing tennis unrepresentative of the American population.

Well, this is my fantasy tennis tale for Labor Day that might turn into reality, where we all hope to be judged by our hearts and the fruit of our labors. The best results for the USTA and U. S. Open would come with a person at the helm who has worked in all facets of the sport and been through all of the ardors of training and playing professionally. She would remember being driven around in a lime green 280 ZX, free lessons at Garfield Park, donations from CPTC, a leg up from the ATA, and how much this would mean to the many who came before her. Mostly, she would know how it took and still takes a community to raise a champion and good leader.

 

 "What's Going On In US Open Qualies"  (08/24/12)

 When one looks at successful college coaches in any sport, one sees that the Head Coach or someone on his/her staff is a good recruiter and open to anyone who has talent.  In professional sports, this translates into who has the biggest checkbook and the team/management being able to sell their goods or team goals.  Players, though, must buy into the system, feel appreciated with a good rapport, and be able to hone their skills in an open system. After attending the US Open Qualifying, I did not see or hear much of this  especially in respect to multicultural players.

The USTA touted that Taylor Townsend the #1 junior in the world would be playing.  Come to find out that Townsend was not in the draw or even offered a wild card.  Strangely enough Townsend might not have been even included in the US Open Juniors because of some debatable issues, like her weight, style of play, or being with the team, the United States Tennis Association's (USTA) team or way of thinking.

 I had an opportunity to work with Townsend on a project before she was scooped up by the USTA, sent to the Boca Raton National Training Center, given money, and had tournament wild cards dangled in front of her.  She was a very easy going, happy person with a strong lefty serve and aggressive play from Chicago then on to Atlanta to train with family friends, the Donald Young family.  How does the Junior Australian Open singles and doubles champion and the Junior Wimbledon doubles champion whose WTA ranking is 415 now not fit into the system?  This must be déjà vu to her friend and training partner, Donald Young, Jr., and other rising players of color.

Sadly, when looking at the 2012 Qualifying draw which in the past was one of the vehicles for several top multicultural players to advance and be seen out of the 256 players vying for 32 spots. This year on the women's side there was only Madison Keys and Grace Kim.  Neither advanced to the main draw and only one American did, Samantha Crawford. On the men's side, I did not see anyone of color, however, four Americans qualified for the main draw: Tim Smyczek, Rhyne Williams, Bradley Klahn, and Bobby Reynolds.

In the US Open main draw opening rounds Victoria Duval plays Kim Cljisters, Sloane Stephens plays Francesca Schiavone, Vania King plays Yaroslava Shvedova, Serena Williams plays Coco Vandeweghe, and Venus Williams who is in Serena's half plays Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Donald Young plays Roger Federer and James Blake plays Lukas Lacko.

Where are the current and former junior, collegiate, or circuit players like Blake Strode, Evan King, Segoura Bankura, Jermaine Jenkins, Scoville Jenkins, Jamere Jenkins, Sachia Vickery, Brittany Augustine, Asia Muhammed,  Asha Rolle, Racquel Kop Jones, Megan Moulton-Levy, etc. There are at least two sides to a story, so let's not write off someone too quickly or stifle an open system of opportunity.  

One team or system is not the only way or the best fit for all.  John McEnroe and Wayne Bryant agree that there has to be a better way that the USTA spends its 200 million dollar proceeds from the US Open on selecting, training, and supporting future talent or established pros.  

If the recruited players or coaches keep leaving the team something is amiss. Not all players can't get with the program. Maybe one should look at other factors or management, and something should be done differently.


"If Nothing Crazy Happens, Serena Wins US Open"  (08/14/12)

Having played, coached, and watched thousands of competitive tennis matches, even officiating some,I have seen some bizarre endings or incidents ranging from horrible calls to personal moments of equipment failure, bad judgement, conditioning and injury to bad luck to acts of nature, or players who just lost it, but never have I seen so many things happen to one player or family, like Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

As I am on my way to another US Open at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing, NY 41 years after my first, I wonder what kind of miracle, error, or craziness might happen. There  was the ball that danced on a net  cord that helped  Lori McNeil win over her childhood friend Zina  Garrison  in  a 1987 third set tiebreaker.  Or my most remembered and most egregious of all incidents in US Open unbelievable moments, or moment of infamy, was in 2002, during the quarterfinals of the US Open where Serena lost to Jennifer Capriati 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. In the match at least four calls were made by different linesmen and not one was correctly called or changed by the chair umpire Marianna Alves.  This was the match that helped speed up the installation of electronic line calling, and cement my view that if it can happen it will happen at the US Open.


Serena Williams has won four times at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club this July: her fifth Wimbledon singles crown (tying her with her sister), her fifth Wimbledon doubles crown with her sister Venus, her first Olympic women's singles title, and her third doubles gold medal with Venus to become the only second player ever to win both titles in Olympics besides Helen Wills Moody in 1924.  Serena is definitely the favorite to win again on the blue courts of New York's US Open from Aug. 27th to Sept. 9th without a mishap.


Serena has played an outstanding level of tennis this summer, although her play wasn't stellar in the Western & Southern in Cincinnati losing to Angelique Kerber the #5 seed by 6-4, 6-4 this past Friday.  Serena is only ranked fourth in the WTA's rankings and on Thursday could be seeded higher in the Open draw because she has beaten those above her (#1-Victoria Azarenka, #2- Maria Sharapova, and #3- Agnieszka Radwanska) at least once this year.


The only ones that could keep Serena from winning the U. S. Open would be a healthy Venus Williams, if she recovers from losing to Li Na 7-5, 3-6, 6-1, her back, and fatigue at the Western & Southern where she beat the US Open defending champ, Sam Stosur 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4,  or Serena herself.  During Serena's loss at the W & S, she showed signs of exhaustion from jet travel and play bouncing her racket then cracking it prior to receiving a racket abuse penalty.


The only other thing that might keep Serena from winning if Venus doesn't recover is the horrible twist of fate that seems to happen only to the Williams family.  None more pronounced than at the US Open, which to a tired player who rues deja vu like Serena, tends to bring out not the best responses.


Take last year when after hitting an unbelievable forehand Serena shouted her standard of "Come on!" The problem, it turned out, was she screamed as Stosur was reaching for a backhand. The chair umpire who deemed the ball was playable, (this is debatable), awarded the point to Stosur, setting Williams off on a series of insults directed towards the official, ("If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way.") as Stosur went on to win 6-2,6-3.


In 2009, Serena lost to Kim Clijsters in the semifinals match that ended prematurely when a foot fault was called on Williams causing her to burst into a tirade that included expletives and a threat of shoving a racket down the throat of the lineswoman who made the call.  Later, there was also a penalty point that ended the match in Clijsters' favor.  Roger Federer had his own tirade and cursing at an umpire, yet there was barely notice or lambasting, as was the case for Andy Roddick in his rants.

Another inane event that instigated a reaction from Serena was in the 2003 French Open where Justine Henin during the third set of the semis raised her hand to indicate she wasn’t ready to receive a serve.  Serena served into the net and did not receive a let.  When the point was brought up to the chair umpire, he deferred to Henin who kept silent. The umpire could have called the let if it was seen. Henin went on to win the match, coming back from down 2-4 in the final set.  The same match also saw Serena left to call her own lines and continually stop points as the linesmen made several ensuing poor calls. Williams was then booed off Chatrier Centre Court in tears.

In 2001, Venus withdrew from the Indian Wells semifinal match with her sister long before their match. However, the WTA delayed in announcing it. The crowd then booed, and racial comments were made at the Williams in the final.  The Williams sisters have never played at the tournament again.


Venus has had her own incidents of bad calls or leg stuck out.  One such was during the 2004 Wimbledon second-round match Venus lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) to Croatian Karolina Sprem. The umpire of the match, Ted Watts, awarded Šprem an unearned point in the second-set tiebreak.  Even though neither player queried the score, the chair still could have rectified the matter.


So, as I ready myself to sit in the stands again for another US Open, I wonder what will happen out of the ordinary to every player to dash their dreams or historically in one of the Williams sisters' matches.  If not as tired and the usual incident is handled well,  Serena should win the U. S. Open women's singles title again.

 

"One Too Many Chances(08/15/12)

If you're getting a second chance, no last chance, at age 34 in a professional sport shouldn't you be grateful and act responsibly? Well, Chad Johnson, formerly "Ochocinco," didn't quite see it that way. And he paid for his mistake by being let go as a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins by Coach Joe Philbin on Tuesday.

Not only was he fired, but it was done on TV during HBO's reality show, "Hard Knocks" last night. This is just fitting for someone who wants to air all of his life to the public, no holds barred. Johnson has always lived for public attention, as if his being a professional athlete wasn't enough, he craved more attention with some of his colorful antics, like changing his name for Hispanic Heritage Month, pulling out a jacket hinting to the NFL Hall of Fame, several reality show short stints (T. Ocho Show, Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch, WWE, Dancing With the Stars), etc.

Johnson even married just six weeks ago a reality TV personality, Evelyn Lozada who aired all on "Basketball Wives." In that short time span they shot another television reality show, VH1's "Ev and Ocho" (now cancelled) then had an incident in their home driveway where Lozada has accused Johnson of domestic violence.  

Johnson thought that he was who he was and never mind everyone else, and he has made every opportunity to tell everyone. Coach Philbin just starting out in his first season with the Dolphins had to assert himself.  The arrest was not the only thing that weighed in, but his play, former antics, and tweets.

You know how bad it is when a team like the Dolphins who really need wide receiver help pick Johnson up as a free agent in June. With his penchant for self-proclamation, you knew exactly who he was. The Dolphins may have been desperate in the signing, but you never know if he could still play.  Now, the Dolphins are left with two undrafted WR's and a veteran who has had 2 foot surgeries in three years.  That's when you know it's bad and possibly more behind the scenes.

Everyone deserves a second chance.  "Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me," but how many times for Chad Johnson?  Let's hope that the other wide receivers, Randy Moss for San Francisco and Terrell Owens for the Seattle Seahawks who were all-stars and had some issues off the field will learn from Johnson's mistake(s).

 

"Randy Moss is 35: How Does He Stack Up to Othe

rs of Similar Age?" (07/25/12)

 

After 3 teams (Patriots, Vikings, Titans) for the 2010 NFL season, Randy Moss, 6'4", 210 lbs., and 35 out of Marshall College after 13years as a Wide Receiver, retired in Aug. 2011.  It seemed like it was time having done as much damage on the field as he did off.  Coming back for his 14th season after a year off a day early to the San Francisco 49-ers veteran's camp, July 26th, what will Randy Moss- #84's production and behavior be and how will he measure up to  other current or former 35-yr.-old wide receivers (WR) in the NFL.

There are general concerns for any older player but especially a WR, such as whether they might continue to get the ball even if they've lost a step or are paired with a younger player. What other options does the QB or team have?  Is the player motivated, hungry and healthy, because he must be disciplined, in decent shape, and ready to take multiple hits. Nonetheless, and most importantly, if a team wants you at 35, you probably are an elite player and future Hall of Famer, like Moss, WR Jerry Rice, or QB Peyton Manning.

Looking at NFL stats, one sees that most WR's best records are in their mid 20's. Their early career records seemed similar to their ending career records.  Once a player hit 30, there didn't seem to be such a drop, although every player ages differently depending on genetics, former injuries and current health, lifestyle, and how they where used on the team.

Actually, Moss and Terrell Owens had career years in 2007 and 2005 respectively over 30.  Keyshawn Johnson at the beginning of his career had 70 Receptions, 963 Yards, 5 Touchdowns.  At 34, Johnson had 70 Receptions, 815 Yards, 11.6 Y/R, 4 TD. For the 2011 regular season, the top two ranked wide receivers in the NFL were: New England's Wes Walker, 31, and Atlanta's Roddy White, 30, respectively. Other notables were Carolina's Steve Smith, 33, Washington's Santana Moss, 33, and Indiana's Reggie Wayne, 33.

In the past two years, Steelers' Hines Ward at 36, Packers' Donald Driver at 37, and Cowboys' Owens at 35 had good production from teams that really needed them.  This will be even more so the case for San Francisco whose main offense in 2011 seemed to be field goals.  Neither Coach Jim Harbaugh or QB Alex Smith seemed to have much confidence in their receivers last year.  Michael Crabtree, caught 72 for 874 YDS, 4 TD's (#16 NFL ranked WR), and the rest of the team's WR's: Braylon Edwards (who was released), Tedd Ginn, Jr., Brett Swain, Josh Morgan, Kyle Williams all ranked #150 as WR's only caught 71 passes, 877 Yds., 4 TD's combined. So free agents Mario Manningham and Moss, and draft pick A.J. Jenkins will be gladly welcomed if the 49er's want to make a dent in the play-offs.

Other top WR's like Marvin Harrison struggled at 35 as a 3rd option. Harrison only appeared in 5 games in 2007 and 2008 at 36.  Patriots' (Dolphins for 1 game) Chad Johnson at 33 had sporadic play but still managed 15 Rec., 276 Yds., 18.4 AVG., and 1 TD. Even some Hall of Famers, like the Steeler's Lynn Swann who played 9 years to age 30 and Cowboy's Michael Irvin who played 12 years to age 33 struggled later on because of various factors but mostly health.

Randy Moss is a future Hall of Fame wide receiver with some NFL records.  Other records, he is tied with former 49-er's Jerry Rice, or just behind him. Rice is an exceptional case for over 35 players. He played 20 years to age 42 finishing his last year with the Seahawks and Raiders. As a rookie in 1985 he had 49 Rec., 927 Yds., 18.9 Avg. with 3 TD's.  His last year in 2004, Rice had 30 Rec., 429 Yds., 13.95 Avg., 3 Td's.  Rice's production after 35 was 499 Rec., 6,518 Yds., 12.97 Yds., 43 Td's. He had fantastic years in 2001 and 2002 with each year over 1,000 yards with 13.45 Avg. for 16 total touchdowns.  Moss could have some more good or great years in him like Rice.

Randy Moss has no guarantees in or out of camp, but he should probably start with Crabtree for the opening regular season game at Green Bay. You never know what production you'll get out of an older player especially in a sport where showing up can be painful and recovery even more so.  At 35, conditioning, health, motivation, usage and type of plays will determine how well Moss or any player might do.  However, if Moss is motivated, feels appreciated, stays healthy, and acts more his age in personal behavior, San Francisco should see some good to great things out of him. Hopefully, wise decisions, physical conditioning, veteran leadership prevail, and Moss should have a chance to out do the ultimate 35 and older player, Jerry Rice. 

 

"Ernie Els Becomes 16th Winner in Last 16 Majors" (07/21/12)

There have been many players that have risen to the occasion for each major in golf evidenced by the 15 winners for the past 15 majors. The 16th major, The British Open at the Lytham and St. Annes Course in Lancashire, England was no different when it brought out the 16th winner in 16 events, 52-year-old, Ernie Els. The only real surprise was how badly the weather forecast was off for the tournament. 

Instead of rain and wind, there was sun and calm for the first three days.  Adam Scott was the early leader tying the course record at 64 on Thurs. Brian Snedeker charged forward after Friday's play. Going into Sunday, Scott had a 4-shot lead after more brilliant play taking him to -11. On Sunday Scott was paired with Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods was paired with Snedeker for the last two groups.

Woods has a career of great play coupled by great shotmaking, very good course management, and good decisions. However, Hole No. 6 crushed Woods' chances of winning his 15th major. Poor judgment coupled by a chance to win by a great shot and possibly ego after having his playing partner, Louis Oosthuizen, on Saturday hit out of the same bunker, were his un-doing. Woods triple bogeyed, dropping 7 shots behind the leader Scott, when he could have taken an un-playable lie and have gone in with a par. To make matters worse he knelt down to hit his second shot out of the bunker, which barely cleared, and came out noticeably limping.

The same sixth hole with a wind out of the SW at 15 MPH, gusting to 30 MPH, also brought trouble to the last group.  Both players, dropped a shot leaving Scott at -10 and McDowell at -6.  The leaderboard had Snedeker at -7, Els at -4, and Woods at -3. Finally the links course with its 205 bunkers was playing like a true British Open, were until this year the 70-par course average was almost 2 shots over.

Woods then birdied Hole No. 7 going back to -4. Scott got an unbelievable break when he took a few practice swings, walked a few steps away, and his ball moved. The official ruled that there was no penalty. Ernie Els, who will be 53 this Oct., made a charge with key birdies and a 345 yard drive at 14 to 6 under, to stay at second place.

Scott would have been the second Australian after Greg Norman in 1993, to win the British Open, could not make a putt for a play-off. This is Els fourth major, and his best finish since 2006.

The entire last ten players' scores rose drastically with only Els under par at -2, winning the event from six shots behind with a birdie on 18.  When Scott hit a bunker off his 18th drive, he lost his 1-shot lead, deja vu, Charl Schwartzel's birding the last four holes at the 2010 Masters. Els recovered from a two-year drought with his last win at the 2010 Bay Hill Invitational. The only good news is that the players survived, limping in, like Tiger finishing fourth at -3 and Snedeker third at -4.  Scott had such a large lead going into the final round on Sunday where all those in contention had troubles at some point.  Only Els stayed out of major trouble allowing him to come up the winner when the weather finally made it a true British Open.  

 

"Rain and Sporting Events in Britain"  (07/17/12)

With Britain, currently having one of its rainiest seasons ever, the groundskeepers everywhere have been extremely busy, but none so much as those at sports venues.  Three major sporting events this July: Wimbledon, The British Open, and the Olympics, have had to or will deal with the rainy and unpredictable weather in the British Isles. 

 Relentless rain has made two of the last three months the wettest on record.  July 8th, the roof went up at Centre Court at Wimbledon, a suburb of London, for the first time ever in a men's singles where Roger Federer beat Andy Murray, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Thank goodness the All England Club spent the $150 million on a roof besides forking out event insurance for rain outs.

The weather in Britain is mostly rainy with a variable climate.  If it's sunny one day, the next it will be raining.  Because of the island's northern location, the Atlantic sea tends to make the rain and temperate temperature standard.  London averages rain fourteen days a month with an average temperature of 51 degrees with July being its warmest month of the year.  So if you planned an event in England, you expect rain.

On July 19th, the 141st British Open at The Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England starts with total prize money of $7.75 million.  This course is a true links course, and will be the 11th time that The Open was held there with the last time in 2001.

 At The Open on Britain's western shore, record amounts of rain have fallen.  The groundskeepers have been pumping out bunkers, all 206 of them, and hollows and having to squeegee off greens.  Any players' break might be in what time of the day they play, where there could be drastic changes in temperature, wind, and rain. 

The Open Forecast is "Expect early showers but improving with just a smaller risk of shower later in the day and some pleasant sunny spells. Temperatures 17C with a light to moderate NW wind. On Friday there is a greater risk of showers and some could be heavy too. "

So, the bigger names teeing off later on Thursday will get the breaks at the start of the tournament, such as Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, and Sergio Garcia at 1142 AM.  Those behind that group who are contenders and who might stand a chance in bad weather are: Rickie Fowler, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Steve Stricker, and lastly Jim Furyk. 

Maybe some past champions might win like Woods, vying for his 4th Claret Jug who won his last British Open in 2006 in blustery, bad weather.  He is due for another major win and his swing changes and three wins on the tour this year should help him adapt to the weather and long course of 7,086 yards designed by George Lowe in 1897.  Or some native son, used to the weather conditions, such as Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke who won the Open last year at Royal St. George's, might win again.

The forecast is gloomy in London this week, too.  Although, the average temperature in the 60's with an average 40% chance of rainfall in London is better than the western coast. This will limit the amount of practice prior to the Olympics.  London has limited indoor venues for all sports when there aren't The Games.  With the Olympics using 10 indoor venues, all arenas and gymnasiums have been utilized to hold other activities and to accommodate the 300 events in 30 sports/disciplines in the Olympics in such a small country.

This forecast comes as heavy rains hit large areas of Britain where authorities issued more than 150 flood alerts and warnings. London had double the amount of rainfall last month, making it the wettest June since 1910. 

 England's Met Office responsible for weather in the country, "predicts slightly better conditions for the month ahead than in recent weeks when torrential rains triggered severe flooding in parts of the country with below average sunshine," and temperatures are expected to be the same during the London Games.  "In fact, the inclement weather that has characterized June and early July will probably still be in evidence, although overall conditions are unlikely to be as bad."

 Whoever made the final decision on the Olympic Committee to pick London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 27 to Aug. 12th, needs to provide umbrellas and boots for participants and spectators alike. British Organizers have natural disaster and terrorist insurance for $5 billion. Rain doesn't qualify and will only produce headaches and delays.   Instead organizers and visitors are keeping their fingers crossed for better weather during the Olympics.  Golfers at the British Open expect inclement weather, that's part of the Open's mystique.  Olympians, staff, and fans may not be as thrilled.  The only good news is everybody is in the same boat.

 

"Jimmie Lee Solomon's Departure from Major League Baseball"  (07/02/12)

With the 2012 Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 10th, and the 65th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball (MLB), this seems as good a time as any to take note of who won't be at the game.  One absence in particular will be that of Jimmie Lee Solomon. 

What happened in the case of Jimmie Lee Solomon?  There was no fanfare and hardly anyone took notice.  It was rumored in early June of 2012 that Jimmie Lee Solomon, whose last position with Major League Baseball (MLB) as Executive Vice President of Business Development, had been fired after a 21-year career.  It was just an ordinary day, and there was hardly anything about it except in trade papers several days later when MLB announced that Solomon resigned. 

Jimmie Lee Solomon, who once oversaw all of Major League Baseball's on-field operations, is now out at MLB.  He was one of the first minorities that did not play baseball that was in Executive Operations.  Solomon graduated from Harvard Law School, rose to the No. 3 position in Baseball, and became one of the most influential African-American executives in professional sports.

I doubt if Jimmie was exploring new opportunities, or knowing him, that he really just up and resigned without pressure after 21 years in MLB in a job he loved.  So what was it? 

Was the writing on the wall or did he and Commissioner Bud Selig have a disagreement or no longer could work together after all of these years?  Or was he like several other persons of color with leagues, teams, or governing bodies, including Frank White (Kansas City Royals); Zina Garrison, Rodney Harmon, Lori McNeil, (USTA); Billy Knight (Atlanta Hawks), etc., who were re-assigned; let go; or resigned because they weren't promoted, paid more, or on the same level of equality in status, treatment, and responsibility as a male or white counterpart.  Each case is different but if brought to light maybe some lesson could be learned.

Does this raise the question of color in the front office or key positions?  Obviously advances have been made in all sports, but let's not take one or two steps backwards for every one foreword. 

In April 2012, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, with Dr. Richard Lapchick as the primary author, reported that, "Despite the decrease in the grade for gender, both race and gender in the MLB central offices had a combined grade of A...The decrease in the grade for race was a result of a drop in people of color in the following categories: Players, League office, managers, coaches, general managers and team vice presidents. In particular, managers who were people of color fell 11 percentage points and general managers who were people of color fell 5 percentage points." (http://www.tidesport.org/RGRC/2012/2012%20MLB%20RGRC.pdf) 

Solomon was named Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations in June 2005 replacing Sandy Alderson.  His responsibilities included day to day operations as well as on-field discipline, security, and management of facilities.  One of Jimmie's pet projects was the construction of Urban Youth Academies in the States, in cities like Compton and Houston, liken to the ones in Latin American countries that have had such success discovering and training athletes.

Jimmie Lee was doing so well that three years into the job he was touted as being the next Commissioner of Baseball.  Why shouldn't Solomon become the first Black Commissioner of Baseball in a sport comprised of 40% of multicultural players?  On the other hand, when Bud Selig signed on for another three years in 2009, this did not seem plausible.

In June 2010, the official statement was that Solomon changed positions to become MLB's Executive Vice President for Baseball Development.  Basically this was a demotion, as he was re-assigned.  He was put in control of the academies that he started, minor league operations, and the annual "Civil Rights Game."

Although the official statement is that Solomon resigned; my notion is that Solomon was going to be fired by Major League Baseball in June 2012.  He was forced to resign after 21 years.  There is always a need for change; however, baseball isn't a sport much on it.  Bud Selig has been the Commissioner of Baseball for 14 years.  Tim Brosnan was named Executive Vice President of Business after being with MLB since 1991.

Why the change?  I searched to see if Solomon had done something reprehensible or made some faux pas, but I couldn't find anything other than the fact that several umpires made mistakes under his watch, one that stands out was James Joyce's errant call that cost Tigers' Armando Gallaraga a perfect game.  Was this really his fault?

Solomon's dismissal came nearly two years after he was re-assigned from his post as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, in which he oversaw all on-field activities of MLB, including security and umpiring.  Solomon helped to negotiate a six-year extension with Minor League Baseball through the 2020 season. 

Something happened that will remain a secret.   Maybe if more took notice, we could find out, yet nothing will be said at Tuesday's All-Star Game.  We'll have to just settle not knowing why, but simply stating, "Well done, Jimmie Lee."  When Jimmie Lee Solomon's resignation was announced, Commissioner Bud Selig merely thanked Solomon "For his 20-plus years of service... in a number of different areas throughout the game."(www.mlb.com)

 

"Not Bad for 30, Serena Wins 14th Slam Singles" (07/07/12)

It wasn't one of Serena Williams' most consistent matches but with rain delays, playing on Wimbledon Centre Court for the 2012 Women's Single's Championship, and a young opponent all make for a little drama.  Serena Williams wins her 14th Wimbledon singles crown 6-1,5-7, 6-2,  making her the second player at age 30 to win a Wimbledon women's singles title other than Martina Navratilova in 1990 at 33.  It was Navratilova's final Grand Slam Wimbledon singles title for a record-breaking ninth title over Zina Garrison.  This won't be Serena's last, as she now becomes the #2 player in the world.

After winning so easily in the first set at 5-0, Serena started to lose concentration and Agnieszka Radwanska started to play better ending the first set at 6-1 on a good note by finally holding serve.  Then came the rain and ground crews.  Twenty minutes later the women's singles final was back on court again.

Starting the second set at 4-2, Radwanska came back mixing up pace, spin, and direction.  Then the wind became a factor as well as nerves.  Serena's high percentage serving waned and Agnieszka's picked up.  With an opportunity to go to a second set tiebreaker on her serve, Serena was not able to deliver.  Radwanska took the second set 7-5.

In the third set Serena started to come in more, finally listening to her father's advice, and took some pace off of her first serve to go for a higher percentage.  Radwanska continued to find her game and the third set went back and forth.  A key game was the third one where Agnieszka fought back several break points.  Serena got her back to the wall and reeled off four aces, to get to 100 aces for the tournament.

Next Williams broke Radwanska to go up 3-2.  Serena found her serve, power, and composure.  She went up 4-2, and then broke again to serve for the match at 5-2.  She ran to the Family Box to hug those who got her through it all.

With all the titles Serena has, 61 in total with 28 (probably 29) grand slam titles, this one will be most special.  Especially after stating in her post match interview that she thought she "Would never play tennis again or even live."  Adding the women's doubles title with her sister will cap off one of her greatest wins after two unbelievable years.

Life has brought her as it has all of us hardships; each time Serena has fought and come back, as we all must do.  However, she has done all that she has done on center stage.  After her near death experience, this trophy will symbolize what faith, family, and hard work coupled with talent, athleticism, and drive make for a champion like Serena Williams.  For a 30 year old with over 36 million dollars in earnings who turned pro in 1995 and became the number one player for the first time in 2002 this shouldn't mean so much.  It does, and she's back!

 

"Serena Williams Wins 2012 Wimbledon"  (07/02/12)

Saturday, July 7, 2012, Serena Williams wins her 5th Wimbledon singles title, tying her with her sister Venus Williams.  The two sisters have met in eight Grand Slam finals, with Serena winning six times. This is my prediction, and the odds are definitely in Serena's favor to win her 14th Grand Slam title ranking her fourth all-time in the Open Era in women's singles behind Steffi Graf with 22 and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 titles each.

The odds maker at The Championship had Serena at the beginning of the tournament based on stages of elimination: to win at (11/10), to the Finals (4), and to get to the Semi Finals (11/8).  I put Serena as my favorite at the start of the tournament, and put her sister, Venus, second if she felt strong enough which she did not, and the rest of the field an even shot unless Serena just wanted it too much and imploded.  Maria Sharapova, if she had not won the French Open, would have been my next choice. 

Serena Williams' early round matches at Wimbledon were full of errors, fantastic serving (92% compared to Pete Sampras in his prime who had 90%), and her grinding out the wins.  The first week of the fortnight Serena played okay relying upon her tenacity, hunger, fight, and serving which got her through.  She is first among women in aces at 85 for the event.

Serena, the #6 seed, beat Petra Kvitova, the #4 seed and defending Wimbledon champ, in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 7-5.  In this match Serena began to find all of her weapons, such as her speed, tracking, alertness, and consistency off the ground.  She looked liked she could go all of the way and raise the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday.  

Now defeating Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, the #2 seed, at 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the semi-finals where she anticipated and tracked the ball well, it would be a sucker's bet to bet against Serena.  Even, though she "Got nervous,"  admitting in her post match interview, Serena gritted it out.  One such example and key turning point was at 15-40 in the second set with the set score 1-1, Serena cranked out a crosscourt forehand winner after holding serve in a game where Azarenka returned two first serves for winners.  Then there was the following rally at 3-3, 30-30 of 22 strokes. 

With the way Serena has been moving and serving with a career best 24 aces in her semi match it is fair to assume that she should beat Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the 3rd seed in her first Grand Slam final.  Radwanska defeated Angelique Kerber, of Germany the 8th seed, by 6-3, 6-4 in her semi-final match winning her the right to face Serena Williams in the final.  Serena is 2-0 lifetime against Radwanska, although their last match was in 2008 in the Wimbledon quarters.

Since winning the 2010 Wimbledon, Serena cut her foot in a restaurant after her celebration.  Later she had clots that spread causing her almost to lose her life.  Next there were various other injuries and setbacks.   All of these almost pushed one of the most tenacious competitor's that I have ever known out of tennis, a game that she loves.

After suffering her worst loss in her career in the first round of the French Open, Serena felt an urgency that woke her to continue her greatness.  These same attributes continued into the following rounds at Wimbledon.  We always joked that making Serena mad would unleash a force that you would not want to see.  That is exactly what has happened and will help Serena Williams earn her fifth Wimbledon singles title and her 28th Grand Slam title on Saturday. 

 

"Number 74 for Tiger Woods" (07/01/12)

With a score of eight under par, Tiger Woods wins his 74th professional tournament, the 2012 AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD.  Now he has passed Jack Nicklaus' record and stands by himself behind Sam Snead at 83 career wins.  Woods' win today makes him #1 in FedEx Standings after 100 weeks going back to 2009, and he becomes the first three time winner of the 2012 season.

Bo van Pelt, the tournament runner-up, hung in there until the final holes when he wavered slightly as did Woods.  However, experience helped Woods as he shot a final round of two under par, or 69.  Bo's 71 on Sunday giving him second, and the third player of the final group, Brendon de Jonghe shot six over for 77 after going into Sunday as the leader with six under for 54 holes.  

The oppressive record setting heat of 104 for the Washington, D. C. area on Friday, and humidity all week-end have been a concern.  The worst came when violent storms swept through the Washington area on Friday evening, knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses without major injury.  Today's temperature was milder at only 97.  Tiger not only showed his fitness in such weather but his competitiveness and winning way.

After missing his driver badly on the 17th, it took a great amount of guts to pull out his driver on the 18th hole with the tournament at stake.  Everyone shuddered, and commentators remarked.  Why not the 3-wood that he has hit so well all tournament long and play it safe?  Not Tiger Woods.  

Nerves hardly weighed in, and Woods did not choke, or err when the ball hit perfectly in the fairway setting up his 74th win, and third ATT National at one of his favorite sites, the Congressional Club.  Tiger felt no chagrin as the ball rattled the 18th cup.  His smile and relief came out as he held up the winner's trophy.

 

"My Best Wimbledon Matches" (06/30/12)

Play on Saturday, June 30th, at the 2012 Wimbledon produced two good matches.  Serena Williams defeated Jie Zheng 6-7 (7-5), 6-2, 9-7 in a thirty-seven game match where she came from behind to win 9-7 in the third round with a record 23 aces.  Later Marin Cilic d. Sam Querrey 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(3), 17-15 in five hours and 31 minutes making it the second longest men's singles match in the history of the Championships.  This caused me to think of some of the best matches that I have seen at Wimbledon.  

Women
2005  Final Venus Williams d.  Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7
    Record Set: Longest women's final

1995 Second Rd. Chanda Rubin d. Patricia Hy-Boulais 7-6 (4), 6-7(5), 17-15
    Record set: Longest women's match of 58 games for 3 hours and 45     minutes

1994 - 1st Rd. - Lori McNeil d. Steffi Graf 7-5, 7-6 (7-5)
    Upset of Defending Champion

1990 - Quarters - Zina Garrison d. Monica Seles 3-6, 6-3, 9-7
    Notable: Zina beats Steffi Graf and loses to Martina Navratilova in the Finals

1970 -  Margaret Court d. Billie Jean King 14-12, 11-9
    Notable: Two women serve and volleyers competed

Men
2010 John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68
    Records set: Longest match in time and games of 11 hours and 5 minutes and 183 games over three days.

1998 Pete Sampras d. Goran Ivanišević 6–7(2-7), 7–6 (11-9), 6–4, 3–6, 6–2
    Notable: Sampras holds most Wimbledon singles titles at seven.

1980 Bjorn Borg d. John McEnroe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(18-16), 8-6  
    This set the longest tie break record of 34 points.

1967 Rod Laver d. Ken Rosewall 6-2, 6-2, 12-10

Some runner-ups are: the 2001 Pete Sampras match against Roger Federer; the 1994  match where Conchita Martinez defeated Martina Navratilova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; the 2008 match where Rafael Nadal downed Federer 4–6, 4–6, 7–6 (7-5), 7–6 (10-8), 7–9; and the 2009 match when Federer d. Andy Roddick, 5–7, 7–6 (8-6), 7–6 (7-5), 3–6, 16–14.

Who knows what is in store for the second week of The Championship?  Maybe we will see some more historic matches.   What are your best matches?

 "The Rumor that Dwight Howard is Going to the Chicago Bulls" (06/21/12)

There are lots of trade talks taking place in the National Basketball Association (NBA) among teams since free agency.  This year is not as bad as the 2010 period, but it has had its drama brewing for the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard lottery.  Some teams are even trying to dismantle a good core nucleus to meet the Orlando Magic's terms.  Coincidentally, there are a lot of rumors floating about spread by anonymous sources or hopeful fans on the subject.  One rumor spreading around caught my attention and my dismay, the one that Joakim Noah and Luol Deng might be traded by the Chicago Bulls to the Magic for Howard.

I find it hard to believe that the heart of the Bulls team, Joakim Noah, could be traded.  Since arriving off of his NCAA Championship from Florida five years ago, he has developed into a powerhouse where his rebounding, defensive play, and short jumper are steadily improving to eventually be all-star material.  However, his real asset to the team is his passion, enthusiasm, and love of the game.  Do you not love it when he swat's a shot at one end, hustles down the floor, then lay-ups at the other end,  and then the next play dives for a loose ball and shoves it forward to Derrick Rose for a sweet transition basket?  Man, that's Chicago basketball ala Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson.  And, we in the stands go crazy!

Individually, there is no way to say that Dwight Howard is not a better center than Joakim Noah.  Size, strength, and production, especially offense tells the tale.  Is this what the Bulls really need?

Notwithstanding, there is always something in the stats.  Deng and Noah contribute 26.48% of the Bull's points.  Yet, for the Bulls to trade Noah, 6'11" a 16 PPG, 14 RPG player for a Howard the same height with 30 some extra pounds, 20 PPG, 15.5 RPG player is debatable, especially when you factor in salaries, ($18 million for Howard and $12 million for Noah); the move would be inane.

Bulls 2011-12 Regular Season Statistics (www.nba.com)

Player Averages     Rebounds

Player G   GS MPG   FG%   3p%   FT%   OFF   DEF   TOT   APG   SPG    BPG    TO     PF PPG

Derrick Rose

39 39 35.3   0.435 0.312 0.812 0.70   2.70   3.40   7.9     0.90   0.72   3.05   1.33   21.8

Luol Deng

54 54 39.4   0.412 0.367 0.770 1.40   5.10   6.50   2.9     1.04   0.67   1.78   1.50   15.3

Carlos Boozer

66 66 29.5   0.532 0.000 0.693 1.70   6.80   8.50   1.9 0.95   0.36   1.74   2.55   15.0

Richard Hamilton

28 28 24.9   0.452 0.370 0.784 0.70   1.60   2.40   3.0     0.43   0.04   1.75   2.00   11.6

Joakim Noah

64 64 30.4   0.508 0.000 0.748 3.80   6.00   9.80   2.5     0.64   1.44   1.44   2.53   10.2

Behind talent, chemistry with a team is important.  The Bulls have a good rapport.   Not only the fact that if you break up the team, you would also break up a friendship that Noah has with Derrick Rose, but you would definitely unleash bad karma in a city that appreciates a good work ethic, knowing when to let your hair down, and a family concept.  Yes, Rose is Chicago just as much as Noah is.  Both have family and ties to Chi-Town, and the city and fans care for and will rally behind them both, as I hope this article will do.

Noah has community involvement as does Deng.   During Bulls games, the United Center's stands are electrified most nights.  I have been in the United Center when the place was humming.  Good teamwork from all its players but something special from its key players.  Even after the game in the players' lounge you could still feel the magic.

First of all as a Chicago native, fan, and someone who has been around basketball for a long time, the Chicago Bulls need a rabbit's foot.  Seriously, they need prayers and luck that everyone stays healthy.  There were very few days when all five of their starters played together in the last two years.  Some even played through their injuries like Deng and his wrist.  In the shortened 2011-2012 season, none of this would have helped except maybe a Greg Popovich philosophy that he used with the San Antonio Spurs holding out key players down the stretch after they secured a play-off spot.  It was nice though to celebrate the best record in the NBA.  It pales, though, in comparison to the NBA Championship.

Another coaching suggestion would have been to have taken out your franchise player, Derrick Rose, when you're up by twelve with a little over a minute to go against the Philadelphia 76-ers.  Of course, there are a lot of couch coaches, like me. 

Mostly, the team just needs experience.  Let's remember the trials and experience that a team has to go through before becoming a championship team.  Lest we forget all of the talk of Jordan not living up to his "Greatness" for six years, five of those years without Coach Phil Jackson, and the Bulls' struggles to get out of the Eastern Conference.   Even though talent is required, it's not all you need; take the Heat in 2010 & 2011 with three all-stars, or the Oklahoma City Thunder with their three this year.

Would Howard bring the Bulls a ring; maybe, maybe not.  Personnel is still a major concern.  Having been a men's and women's team coach for twenty some years, one of my first jobs at a top program, the Men's Head Coach told me that, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s---."

There are other issues for the 2012-13 season, such as coaching, styles of play, transitions; nonetheless, the most important one is that your franchise player will be out for most of it.  Maybe this is why the rumor has some merit and has spread.  This could be the Bulls' attempt to unload salaries and start all over again when the they play through probably a lottery ending season. Or possibly if everything thing goes well, which hasn't been the Bulls' case, that Derrick Rose comes back early and they get a 7th or 8th seed only to face the Heat in the first round.

Moreover, the talk of trading Deng and Noah brings up the thought that the Bulls might just be looking forward to a team without Rose.  Repairing, rehabbing, and returning from a torn ACL is a difficult and long process.  Gar Forman, the Bulls GM and possibly, Head Coach Tom Thibidoux if he re-signs, will have to decide the team's strategy while Rose is out until possibly December, and even that may be too soon.  Marquis Teague, the Bulls' draft pick out of Kentucky will have his hands full.  Or should the Bulls just sit Rose for the entire season like Jordan in 1995-1996, and go for the second all-star in a top lottery pick.

No matter the reason behind the possibility of trading Joakim Noah and Luol Deng for Dwight Howard, I hope it never comes to fruition.  Let's hope the rumor is just that, and we'll speculate where else Howard will go now that Brooklyn, Cleveland, and Los Angeles are out of the running, leaving only Houston.  Let's get some one to look into better training and injury prevention for the Bulls.  Experience and health should produce better results just ask the Heat.

 

"Tiger Woods News: What's All The Fuss From The 2012 U. S. Open?" (06/15/12)

What's all the fuss from the 2012 USGA U. S. Open? Tiger Woods, No. 3 on the FedEx Rankings with seventy-three career wins finished Friday tied for the lead with a score of -1 in the 2012 U. S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Well, multitude of articles would be talking about "How he isn't back," how badly he is playing, and it's just bad karma for him.  The talk from "when" would he ever win another golf major, would turn into "if" he ever would.  Camera footage would show his dropped club, or scowl, and even his last major win, the 2008 U. S. Open, showcasing the specialness, strength, and competitiveness of his one knee spectacular finish, would be canned.

Even if he made the cut and was not in contention, the aforementioned would result.  The only difference is that you would barely see any live footage of him; you might not even know he was still playing.  Is there too much ado on Tiger, and not enough for everyone else?

Four top twenty players: Bubba Watson, #5 on the FedEx Rankings with 4 career wins missed the cut yesterday by one shot, Rory McIlroy, #6 on the FedEx Rankings with three career wins missed by 23 shots, Luke Donald #13 on the FedEx Rankings with five career wins was 36 over, and Dustin Johnson, #18 on the FedEx Rankings with six career wins was one over the cut.  Their only mention was, "Notable Players Who Missed the U. S. Open Cut."  There were no long segments on how badly they were playing; no scrutiny or up close shots of every shot, action, or emotion; or "Let's write them off for the rest of their careers."

What is it about Woods that gets everyone into an uproar?  He puts his long pants on like everyone else and is competing on a professional level. Yet, we know very little about the other golfer's personal lives, we haven't seen footage of them eating an entire banana, spitting, cursing, or dropping a club.  Not all of them do such things but each probably has done something that was newsworthy other than their play.

Jack Nicklaus had a twenty major drought that covered six years before he got to 18 major wins compared to Woods' eleven majors drought over four years, if he won the U. S. Open this weekend.

Jason Dufner, #1 on the FedEx Rankings with two career wins is 3-over par and Hunter Mahan, #2 on the FedEx Rankings with five career wins is 3 over par for the U. S. Open.  Will we hear long debates on their futures or how poorly they played if they don't win?

Let's not hear so much fuss to fill air time or paper space unless we do it equally.  Or should we? Woods has seventy-three career wins tying him with Nicklaus with fourteen majors at 30.  If you add up all of the career wins of the people previously mentioned, except Nicklaus, who Woods has tied at 73 wins; they add up to only twenty-five wins.  So all the fuss means he's special but the media shouldn't overreact until he finally finishes the deal at a major for the first time in four years and wins his 15th major tournament at the Olympic Club and 74th win.

That now seems moot, however, after Woods shot a five-over par on Saturday and fell off the pace. However, the media will likely do the same on Sunday and overanalyze him on Monday. Here we go again.

 

"NBA Finals" (06/09/12)

The  2012 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been characterized by incredible runs and drives to the basket by each team especially by each of their three all-stars:

Heat                                           Thunder
LeBron James                       Kevin Durant
Dwayne Wade                        Russell Westbrook
Chris Bosh                             James Harden.

Each of the games have lent themselves to minimal back and forth play, and for us on the East Coast the opportunity to miss exciting live finishes after 11 PM.   Relying on DVR's  for the exciting final 1:47 seconds that leaves you with the true sense of a finals battle liken to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird or Michael Jordan and John Paxson.

The first two games of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, found the Oklahoma City Thunder off to slow starts without having the lead in the first half.   One would expect this from a younger team with four starters 23 years old or younger.  

In game two the Thunder almost erased a 17 point lead.  Two key calls or non-calls should have been made allowing the Thunder opportunities to tie or take the lead.  Westbrook was criticized for his judgment and LeBron silenced his critics on his fourth quarter play from the first game.

In game three we saw the Thunder use more of a zone defense, which the Heat utilized in the second half.  Defense set the tone allowing more transition plays.  This time LeBron did enough that last year's talk of non-performance for an all-star, MVP, his salary, and exit from Cleveland.

In order for the Thunder to have more success there should be more low post play,  less turnovers, and a better substitution of players.  In game three Scott Brooks, the Thunder head coach, let a seven point lead slip away while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook set on the bench.  "Effort and teamwork," by Brooks are not all that need to take place. If not it looks like the Miami Heat will win their second title.

 

"NBA Play-offs  and An Alternate Path to a Winner" (04/26/12)

It is time for the NBA Play-offs starting April 28, 2012,  in a shortened, locked out season.  The true miracle has been who has not been out injured, sick, or exhausted.  Maybe the players, although most key ones were rested these last few days, might welcome an easier alternative to decide the winner of the NBA with a tennis match or matches for winner take all.   As the standings go and the Bulls get the best record at 50-16, I like their chances even without my fantasy tennis tournament.    So, like my fellow former Chicago Hyde Parker President Obama roots, "Go, Bulls."

The  match -ups are:
                        Eastern
        1) Chicago Bulls vs. 8) Philadelphia 76-ers
        4) Boston Celtics vs. 5) Atlanta Hawks
        3) Indiana Pacers vs. 6) Orlando Magic
        7) New York Knicks vs. 2) Miami Heat

                        Western
        1) San Antonio Spurs vs. 8) Utah Jazz
        4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. 5) Los Angeles Clippers
        3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. 6) Denver Nuggets
        7) Dallas Mavericks vs. 2) Oklahoma City Thunder

As a basketball fan, I want those great series with games that keep you from going to get a snack or to the restroom because you might miss the shot or the play.  No one wants the lopsided match as an enthusiast, although every team needs the rest this season.   Will we see that exciting game?  I hope so, and plan to be in some arena.   Just as I have played, coached, or watched as a fan thousands of tennis matches over fifty some years, I still go out as a fan looking for that one great match.

Not until the last night, the very end of the regular season were standings set.  If we need to find a quick end to the settle the long, short season let's let the players play a tennis match.   Again I'll take the Bulls, and will offer my services as coach.

Having played with several professional athletes in tennis pro-ams/pro-celebrity events I must say the best crossover players were basketball players, or maybe that was just my experience.  Although I must say I am biased for personal reasons.

Some of the outstanding basketball players who played tennis were John Lucas (ex-Rocket), Clyde Drexler (ex-Rocket), Billy Knight (ex-Pacer), and Sam Jones (ex-Celtic), even competing and doing well in tournaments.  The next level had technique but more so they had such great hands, reflexes, and quickness, and acumen to sport itself like Michael Jordan and Joe  Dumars.  

Then there were those who were good but their presence and stature helped even more so to win matches, like George McGinnis (ex-Pacer), whose racket I held once required two hands by me even to hold it, Connie Hawkins (ex-Sun),  and Tom Gugliotta (ex-Hawk).  Forgive me for the players that I missed.  Then there are those who will give any sport a try, especially for charity, like Josh Harrellson (Knicks) during the lock-out.

Now that we are into the NBA basketball play-offs I still emotionally go for my home team, the Chicago Bulls, and long for another ring to go with the six rings that they have from the "MJ" era.  I even rooted for them secretly when the person I was dating was playing against them.  Now that I have personal connections with the team again, I am even more a fan and enthused by their play, and hopeful of another championship.

When we get down towards the end and the pros gather themselves past injury and/or fatigue, I propose we take those same seeds in a tennis match.   If we get to the semi's we'll let Joakim Noah or John Lucas III play a doubles match, and when we get to the finals, we'll call out their fathers, Yannick Noah (ATP world #3 in 1986 & 1983 French Open Champ) and John Lucas II (WTT player 1976-1979 & highly ranked tournament player) to play tennis for it all against all teams!  This will take the load off an arduous season, and it will be a guarantee for "Da Bulls" to win it all, and save me some tension and provide a fun alternate method for a champion.

 

"Tiger Back on Winning Track" (04/18/12)

I must admit in March that I was so ecstatic when I routinely turned the TV to golf just to see if anything magical was happening, and it was.  Tiger Eldridge Woods was hitting the controlled crap out of the ball at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Tournament.  He read every undulated green, managed every hole, and yes, even executed.   Was he back?  I hoped he was, but I couldn't let myself get beyond the moment.  Yet, it continued, into Sunday. It was even more special that he won, but the play was worth it even if he didn't.

There was my exhilaration in watching his smile, confidence, and fist pump.  As an amateur golfer I had a visceral thrill and hoped by some pure miracle of osmosis by watching or being near the TV set that there would be some transference.

I couldn't let go and think about a Masters win or breaking Jack Nichlaus' record.  I just had to savor this.  And after a few of his worse tournaments in his career, he was at the Memorial Tournament in Muirfield, Ohio Sunday playing even better than he was at Arnie's Tournament.

If this is how it was for me can you imagine what Eldridge felt.  As a former professional tennis player, I know how performance can get drowned by the moment, or the winner's circle, or even the everyday items of life like the allergies suffered by living or working in springtime Georgia, the underrated appreciation or dwindling amount of sleep, and the weight of everything that is the stuff of life.

But as I told myself and all of the players that I coached that we all could be pros if we played our best every day impervious of our task, situation, or cards dealt.  It is the pro who plays through the weakened knee, runny eyes, the ever scrutiny of the media, significant other, opponents, and media, the blister, the hunger, the lack of focus, what I need to do, what I want to eat, or please God let me just win this one.

Tiger has tied Jack's record for wins at 73, second only to Sam Snead's 82, but the ultimate goal is Jack's  Majors record of 18, of which Tiger is four short.    What if he doesn't, if not, so what?  Hasn't he accomplished so much?  However, he wouldn't be as great as he is or as fierce a competitor if he felt this way.

No one competes to be second or lower.  I know my age and skill will prohibit me from all the greatness that I still relish having been a pro athlete but I still want to win and dream of greatness in another sport.  Tiger's still got some gas in the tank, and I'll still be looking for his fantastic moments, or anyone else who steps up like Phil Michelson in the  2010 Masters or Bubba Watson in the 2012 Masters.

While pros are looking for the next great win, I'm looking for the next great shot, like the holed flop shot on the 16 th hole at Memorial,  a shot that puts a smile on my face, and makes me come back another day.  Winning at Arnie's place a few weeks ago and at Jack's on Sunday brings all the talk back about "Tiger being back!"  Will  he win at the U. S. Open in less than two weeks?  I hope so, but more importantly I want to enjoy the thrill of shot making and competition, red shirts and fist pumps, and the amazement and cheers of all, just one more time.

 

"The State of Tennis" (04/09/12)

Tennis, especially American tennis, had a good  week-end: the USA's Davis Cup team won 3-2 in Monte Carlo against France; Serena Williams won 6-0, 6-1 against Lucie Safarova at the Family circle Cup in Charleston, SC for her 40th Women's Tennis Association (WTA) win, and several tennis dignitaries were rolling Easter eggs on the White House Lawn.

What is the state of tennis?  Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka have had unbelievable streaks.  Maria Sharapova has made a come back and is back at being the world's #2 ranked player.  Serena Williams and Venus Willams after major injuries are competing again.  The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has waned, but attendance at major events such as Indian Wells and Miami have had good attendance.  The WTA has stabilized and its biggest, or loudest obstacle, is grunting, as evidence in the Sony Ericsson finals between Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and its player woes are no longer in the forefront even though Nadal resigned his Vice President position on the Players Council.  Everyone is looking forward to the next three grand slams and the Olympics to be held at Wimbledon.  So this is a feel good season for governing bodies and their players who want to represent their country in the Olympics.

This is all good but what about the state of American tennis?  The highest ranking Americans are at #9, Serena on the women's side and Mardy Fish on the men's side.

Current WTA Top Ten Rankings
1 Azarenka, Victoria
2 Sharapova, Maria
3 Kvitova, Petra
4 Radwanska, Agnieszka
5 Stosur, Samantha
6 Wozniacki, Caroline
7 Bartoli, Marion  
8 Li, Na
9 Williams, Serena
10 Zvonareva, Vera

Americans in Top 100 of WTA
35 McHale, Christina
52 King, Vania
71 Williams, Venus
74 Lepchenko, Varvara  
77 Stephens, Sloane
87 Hampton, Jamie
97 Mattek-Sands, Bethanie

Current ATP Top Ten Rankings
1 Djokovic, Novak
2 Nadal, Rafael
3 Federer, Roger
4 Murray, Andy
5 Tsonga, Jo-Wilfried
6 Ferrer, David
7 Berdych, Tomas
8 Tipsarevic, Janko
9 Fish, Mardy
10 Isner, John

Americans in Top 100 of ATP
29 Roddick, Andy
45 Young, Donald

65 Harrison, Ryan  
74 Blake, James

On the women's side, tournaments, except the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells which might not ever see the Williams sisters again even though it is an United States Tennis Association (USTA) event, are caught between wanting the ailing Venus and Serena who are a big draw and between a big name that is recognizable and a draw for promoters in the States.
The USTA is trying to develop the next great American player but has lost many in the shuffle especially minorities.  The pro circuit events and college tennis have many minorities playing but few have gotten off the minor or satellite tours.

Venus and Serena still have best shot at winning a major event. Teen sensations: Melanie Oudin, Taylor Townsend, Sloane Stephens, Madison Brengle have done exceptionally well in juniors and have made dents in women's draws.  The 20 year olds like Christina McHale, Vania King, Betthane Mattek- Sands are still threats.

On the men's side, the two marquee players Andy Roddick and James Blake have not won recently.  So the USTA is pushing its next hopefuls who are mostly in their twenties: John Isner, Mardy Fish, Ryan Harrison, Ryan Sweeting, Bobby Reynolds, and sometimes Donald Young.  Others that went to college like Evan King, Blake Strode, Sekou Bangoura, and the teens like Dennis Kudla have made strong showings.

Where will the next generation come from?  The USTA has gone all out in promoting the its "new game for 10 and unders," only to be lambasted on the internet by Wayne Bryan, the father of the ATP's #1 Doubles Team, Mike and Bob Bryan. Issues with minorities have been pushed behind the scenes even with the USTA' s first minority female vice president, Katrina Adams.  Not since Dwight Mosley has someone risen so high.  

As we go from clay to grass to hard courts and back on American soil, let us root for tennis which is a great sport and in a pretty good state.  Mostly, let's hope for the continued promise of American tennis; that all of the talent does not get bogged down by bureaucracy and the power struggles of a volunteer organization; or the notion that there is only one way to raise a champion; and where talented players get lost in and out of the system especially if they choose their own way.

 

"It's a good time to end the sexist history at Augusta National Golf Club" (03/20/12)

Wouldn't it be nice if this week-end or next week that Virginia Rometty, IBM's new CEO makes an appearance at Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC)in a green jacket during the 2012 Masters, April 2-8, 2012?  No woman has ever been a member of the private club that hosts golf's illustrious Masters Tournament.

Minority membership has also been wanton.  Warranted only by the PGA's and USGA's mandates not to discriminate against minority or women members by policy or practice as a requirement for private clubs to host tournaments, did ANGC open its membership to Ron Townsend in 1990 as its first Black member.

For women this has not been the case at the Augusta National Golf Club which contends race is different than gender.  Since the club founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts opened in 1933 and hosted its first Masters in 1934, there has been no female members.  It has probably never even come close.  It's only thought, or non-consideration, was made public in 2002 by Martha Burk's (Chairman of the National Council on Women's Organizations) foray on then Chairman "Hootie" Johnson.

Tennis had its own Augusta National, the Westside Tennis Club (WSTC) founded in 1892 in Forest Hills, NY.  The club hosted the United States Lawn Tennis Association National Championship, later renamed the U. S. Open, from 1915 to 1977.  WSTC let in female members in the early 1900's but limited their number, status, and voting rights.  It has also come a long way from when it denied Ralph Bunche and his son membership in 1959.  As was the case in one prestigious private club holding a Grand Slam doing the "right thing" so should its counterpart holding a golf Grand Slam, the Masters.

According to USA Today, the past four CEO's of IBM, which is a major sponsor of the Masters Tournament, have been given membership.  (March 29, 2012)  Why not now?  It is a good time to end the sexist history and start a new one.  Isn't it time?