Monday, June 30, 2014

To Believe or Not to Believe?

Over the past few weeks, Americans have become enamored with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Unlike ever before, the USA has embraced our national team, setting records on ESPN and Univision in viewers for the USA vs Portugal match last week.

The growing popularity of the sport has led to predictions about its future in America, and whether it has the potential to become one of the top professional sports in America, along with Football, Baseball, and Basketball.

As of now, even the National Hockey League is much more closely followed than Major League Soccer and the European soccer leagues in American households. Some believe that there is a changing of the guard, but I tend to think differently on the matter.

1. The World Cup has grown in popularity because of social media attention.

We see it all the time: events that are popular on social media with hashtags and facebook statuses have more viewers, because it becomes a fad. When it is cool for people to be watching and talking about your sport, the sport will thrive. Right now, the cool thing to do is watch the World Cup and either:

       A. Cheer vehemently against the USA for a team of your choosing (Germany, Brazil, etc.)
       B. Cheer for the US with all your heart and personally attack all dissenters.

2. Olympic Sports are riveting, but I have never considered watching most of those sports otherwise.

The World Cup is the type of polarizing event that is a statistical anomaly. Because it brings the whole world onto one stage, it has the ability as a successful event to garner lots of attention. Once the World Cup ends, the MLS will still be a below average league, and the European leagues will still come on TV during Saturday Morning cartoons.

3. None of the top players are Americans.

At the end of the day, the vast majority of Americans only care about America. We have relative stars: Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, but those guys do not move the needle like the superstars of the game: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, and may other players that countries can stand behind and be proud of year in and year out.

Howard is a great goalkeeper, but keepers are not goal scorers, and that is what draws fan attention. Dempsey had a great run with Fulham in the Premier League, but never played for a top team in the league, and his past his prime as a soccer player. Altidore not only suffered an injury that has kept him out of nearly all of the World Cup, but scored only 1 goal in 30 appearances this past seasonas a striker for Sunderland in the Premier League.

4. We went through a similar situation with the women 15 years ago.

Many believe that Americans would get behind soccer if our team was successful and we had a top player, but even that did not make a difference for Mia Hamm and the 1999 World Cup Champion USWNT. They won in outstanding fashion on penalty kicks with Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey and celebrating in the true spirit of patriotism. The idea that this would spur on an age of American dominance in soccer was wrong, and domestic interest in the sport has grown only marginally since then.

America will always have trouble bringing soccer into the forefront of American sports, if not for any other reason, because more than any other sport we play, it is not ours. We did not create it, we do not have the best league, we do not have the best players, and we do not have any real history or legacy within the sport to build upon. In fact, we have somewhat of a reputation as perennial losers, especially on the men's side.

Rest assured, we are still very alive in the World Cup, with a match-up against Belgium tomorrow in the round of 16. Additionally, there are young players on the horizon with the ability to change this stereotype, including current national team players like John Brooks, Deandre Yedlin, and Julian Green, as well as teen MLS sensation Diego Fagundez.

The fans are here. The potential is here. We believe that we will win. May the odds be ever in our favor.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

LeBron James is NO Michael Jordan

LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. Be a witness to his greatness. He is the Chosen One. He is King James. However, he is not, and will never be, Michael Jordan.

LeBron James is a 6'8" 250 lb. power guard. He made his name as a High School phenom attempting to leave school after his junior year at the age of 17. He was the number one pick of the '03 NBA Draft, and an instant success in the NBA, using his size and athletic ability in a unique team-first philosophy not employed by many top players. LeBron was instantly able to make plays that no other player in the NBA could make. He dominates games by drawing attention to himself before dishing the ball off to teammates. His extraordinary efficiency is praised by many, but draws criticism when he fails to be selfish at the end of games. Many believe that this comes from his lack of 'killer instinct' that, at times, is needed to closeout games. 

 LeBron James and his host of awards: Symbolic of his pride in himself.

Mid-way through his career, he decided to "take his talents to South Beach." His move to Miami was opposed from the start, many because they believe he was not doing things 'the right way', others because of this infamous pep-rally. That he did, adding two more MVP awards, bringing his regular season total to 4 overall. Despite having a reputation as a player that does not play well in the post-season, James as fared tremendously well in the playoffs, leading his teams to 5 NBA Finals and winning 2, as well as 2 NBA Finals MVP awards.

Michael Jordan is a 6'6" 216 lb. shooting guard. A product of hard work. He is Air Jordan. His Airness. Many basketball players today strive to be 'Like Mike'. Jordan was cut from the Varsity Basketball team his freshman year of High School, and he will never let any of us forget it. Played up as an underdog, Jordan was coached by the great Dean Smith and hit the game-winning shot in his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After winning the Naismith Award and playing three years of collegiate basketball, he made the jump to the NBA and was selected 3rd overall by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. While in the NBA, Jordan would battle all-time greats like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, an Isaiah Thomas before building a dynasty in Chicago. He built a reputation as a deadly scorer and a fierce competitor early in his career with epic playoff battles, including "The Shot" he made over Craig Ehlo in 1989.

 Michael Jordan and his first NBA Finals Trophy: Symbolic of his love of the game.

Over the next 10 years, Jordan went on to win three championships, three Finals MVPs, seven scoring titles, and four Most Valuable Player awards. After retiring for personal reasons to pursue a professional baseball career, he returned to the NBA in 1995 to win three more championships, three more finals MVPs, two more league MVPs, and three more scoring titles before again retiring in '98. During a brief management stint with the Washington Wizards, Jordan decided again to come out of retirement and played from '01 to '03 before retiring for good.

The resume's speak for themselves. LeBron James and Michael Jordan are both tremendous players, the best of their respective eras. However, the comparison stops there. LeBron is a straight out of high school player that has never had strong coaching and plays in an age of free agency, in an NBA that has less concentrated power, and has few teams with championship players. Michael, however, played under two of the greatest coaches of all time, battled against many other championship teams, and had an entirely different NBA experience.

LeBron James cannot be Michael Jordan. In fact, he cannot be any of the past great players that everyone wants him to be. Whether it is Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or, of course, MJ, they are all individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. It is natural for us to use past players as a point of reference, but the comparisons are not valid, because each athlete must be treated as an individual with his own physical and mental skill set. Let us allow LeBron to carve out his own legacy in basketball, be his own player, and compare him to the contemporaries that he competes against annually.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sports Dynasties: Dominance & Permanence

Red Auerbach, Celtics Coach & 9-time NBA Champion

As the Heat enter their 4th NBA Finals in as many years, we must first take a minute to bask in the ambiance, understand the greatness of what we are experiencing at the moment. The last team to reach the finals four consecutive years was the Boston Celtics (1984-'87). For a city that has never experienced such consistent success, it is hard for their constituents to comprehend the gravity of their team's accomplishments, and unfortunately situations like this still occur. This is a once (or twice) in a lifetime opportunity, just ask those old Chicago Bulls fans. Only 4 times in the history of the NBA has a team achieved this feat, and we should not expect it to happen again in this city anytime soon.

This Miami Heat are on the verge of transcending the teams of their era and challenging some of the best teams in history. Approaching what we like to call a dynasty. However, I believe we throw this word around too lightly, so I say: What is a dynasty, and are the Miami Heat worthy of such a title?


A sports dynasty, first and foremost, is a team that excels at all forms of the game, and dominates the competition. Moses Malone famously said, "Fo, fo, fo" when asked how his Philadelphia 76ers would fare in the 1983 NBA Playoffs. They went on to go fo, fi, fo and win the championship with a  12-1 playoff record. Dominance is just not just being better your opponents, but making them believe that there is nothing that they could do to defeat you. Demoralizing them. Creating a sense of helplessness. The '96 Chicago Bulls achieved a 72-10 record, one that stands today as the greatest regular season mark in NBA History. From '03-'04, Tom Brady's New England Patriots won 21 consecutive regular season and playoff games. Last year, the Miami Heat won 27 consecutive games, the 2nd longest streak in league history. In addition to the team's accolades, LeBron James himself has won 4 of the NBA's past 6 Most Valuable Player Awards, and a bit more obscure was his run of games shooting over 60 percent from the field while scoring 30+ points. Dominant: Check.


The second part of that statement, is that a dynasty must dominate their league for an extraordinary length of time, creating a feeling of permanence in the hearts of their opponents. Throughout the history of sports, there have been a number of famous dynasties: Joe DiMaggio's New York Yankees won 9 World Series Titles between 1936-'51, Bill Russell's Boston Celtics won 11 NBA Finals between 1957-'69, John Wooden's UCLA Bruins won 10 NCAA Tournament Championships between 1964-'75, and Joe Montana's San Francisco 49ers won 4 Super Bowls between 1981-'89 to name a few. The permanence those teams accrued over the course of their respective decades and the following years propelled them to a status far beyond that of the average champion: Legen -wait for it- dary. Legendary. The Miami Heat have had a good run so far, but 2 titles does not amount to anything out of the ordinary. They must continue to succeed at the same pace for the next 3-5 years in order to be considered a dynasty.


Although what the Miami Heat have done so far is impressive, we must realize that this is basketball, and they have not done anything that has not been done before in their sport, or frankly, anything that does not occur every 5-10 years. In order to be considered a dynasty, your product must be the stuff of legends, meaning your success must be extrapolated over long periods of time. First things first, the finals start this week and they will need to take care of business. However, when it is all said and done, it will be hard to consider the Heat a dynasty if their success does not stretch beyond the average 5 year run of success. Keep in mind, LeBron James came to the NBA straight out of high school, so even though he has been in the NBA for 11 years, he is still only 29 years of age. For a player with his size, skill, athleticism, and durability, there is no telling how many more years he can continue his producing at such a high level.


While reading this post, be sure to get mentally prepared for the 2014 NBA Finals, as it is sure to be epic. What better way to get ready for the first NBA finals rematch since '97-98 than to watch highlights from last season? Remember, the finals are unlike any other series: LeBron James is bound to lose his headband, Danny Green will be unconscious from behind the 3-point line, and at some point or another, you will surely ask yourself if Boris Diaw is the best player on the floor.