The future of the league doesn’t appear to be so bright.
We only have a couple days left before the calendar turns to 2018 and the 2017 NFL regular season mercifully comes to an end. Nobody is happier to put 2017 behind them than commissioner Roger Goodell and the folks at the NFL. The league was in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2017.
Blackballing by the owners of Colin Kaepernick, domestic violence issues, not allowing players to protest or speak out about injustices within their community. What made matters worse, is the play on the field wasn’t good enough to tamp down some of the noise around the aforementioned issues.
BLACKBALLING COLIN KAEPERNICK
Call it what you want, but the way the league’s owners handled Colin Kaepernick was atrocious. Injuries to starting quarterbacks occurred at very high rates this season and the terrible play and players at that position warranted Kap at least get a call, right? You don’t think Kap was a better option in Green Bay than Brett Hundley? Or Tom Savage in Houston, Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, or Jay Cutler in Miami? How could the owners, who value winning so highly, say this wasn’t collusion?
The common refrain you’ll hear is that Kap’s on field play isn’t worth the level of distraction he brings with him. You know, the fact that he wants social and economic equality for all. That’s the distraction they are referring to. Meanwhile you have owners of team’s in public feuds with the commissioner, another owner forced to sell his team because of sexual harassment and using racial slurs. Hello Jerry Richardson. Many players’ accused of domestic violence. Those sure sound a lot like distractions…
MISHANDLING OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Speaking of domestic violence. The league and its franchises have botched this issue every single time. The Ezekiel Elliott hung over the league and its marquee franchises collective heads all season. The suspension was handed down, put on hold, reinstated and put on hold again. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, because he was displeased with the suspension, then engaged in a public feud with Roger Goodell and held up his compensation agreement. A grown man essentially throwing a hissy fit in the sandbox.
SO-CALLED NATIONAL ANTHEM PROTESTS
The league’s franchises also engaged in a protracted battle with its players over protesting racial and criminal injustice. It would seem reasonable that a member of society would want things like racial equality and equality within the criminal justice system. But apparently not. The owners of the franchises have decided that the racist portion of their fan bases and their anger about protests during the national anthem was far more important than issues that matter most to their employees.
The owners actually threw lighter fluid on a few sparks in the forest. Yes, there were a segment of fans that were angry about the protests. But, did it cause them to drop the NFL in record numbers resulting in huge declines in ratings? No. The small decline in numbers is likely due to the on field play that hasn’t been good. By and large the numbers remain high because of the high stakes nature of the game and gambling interests. So glad the owners spent all their time focusing on the “national anthem protests.” Now all those complaining fans can focus on what actually matters. They can escape to sports.
POOR PLAY ON THE FIELD
Too bad the play on the field has been horrendous. Injuries to marquee players at a very high rate forcing backups and less than qualified backups on the field. The sport is inherently dangerous and injuries are part and parcel. But this is continuing down a road that has a poor ending. In a 16-week season there were only a handful of well played games, and when we get a good game it’s often marred by inconsistent officiating, bogged down by replay and the inability to decipher one of the most fundamental plays of the game.
NOBODY UNDERSTANDS THE CATCH RULE
What exactly is a catch in the NFL? We’ve seen the New England Patriots benefit from a no catch call in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Buffalo Bills had a touchdown catch overturned in a pivotal game.
“In order to have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground,” referee Tony Corrente said. “In this case, he had control of the football but he was going to the ground. As he hit the ground, the ball began to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that’s the end of it at that point. … He lost complete control of the football. That was the ruling out of replay.”
But the ball broke the plane. It should have been a touchdown end of play right there. What does survive the ground even mean? The player extended so the ball could break the plane. Nobody knows what a catch is and it may end up gifting the Patriots another Super Bowl.
Athletics mixed with social justice heavily this year.
CRISTIANO RONALDO & REAL MADRID WIN BACK TO BACK UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
Back in June at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales Real Madrid defeated Juventes 4-1. It was Real’s 12th Champions League title and the first ever team to go back to back in the Champions League era.
Real’s do it all striker and the world’s best player, yes, I said it, was the Man of the Match. Ronaldo scored twice and narrowly missed a third. All season he stepped up in the big moments for the best club in the world.
UCONN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM WINS 111 GAMES IN A ROW
I know what you’re thinking. No. I don’t mean UCONN’s streak getting snapped at 111, I mean them winning 111. Think about that for a minute. The program hadn’t lost a game since November 17, 2014. Do you understand what kind of pressure that is? You don’t want to be the team that blows it. Yes, last season’s team ultimately did blow it. But they kept a run going.
This is the winningest program in women’s college hoops. When you arrive at the campus in Storrs as a freshman, you are expected at a minimum to win at least one title (and that’s a down career). Maintaining that level of excellence is impressive. The 111th win was against Oregon in the 2017 Elite Eight.
JOEL EMBIID’S CAREER HIGH AGAINST THE LAKERS
The Philadelphia 76ers big man started the season healthy for the first time in his young career. He is playing well this season, and teamed with rookie Ben Simmons they form one of the more promising young duos. 76ers fans for the first time in a long time have hope.
In a mid November game against the Los Angeles Lakers Embiid’s full game was on display. 46 pts, 17 rbs, 7 ast, 7 blk. It was a tremendous performance. If he can stay healthy, this is the future of the league.
UNC MEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM RETURNS TO FINAL FOUR AND WINS CHAMPIONSHIP
Teams that suffer defeats like the Tar Heels did back in the 2016 NCAA championship game don’t often come back the following year. That buzzer beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins left the Heels devastated but also fortified their resolve.
Roy Williams and his team of mostly upperclassman came back rejuvenated and were clinical in dismantling the competition on their way to winning the title.
MAYWEATHER VS MCGREGOR
The fight itself was entertaining, mainly because Mayweather allowed it to be. He toyed with McGregor and let the fight go 10 rounds before winning by TKO.
But the buildup is what was so interesting. This brought out more of the ugliness this country was built on and both fighters played into it. Fans and some members of the media played into it. In the end it was profitable for the principal players.
KEVIN DURANT’S 2017 NBA FINALS PERFORMANCE
Really, the entire 2017 NBA Finals was KD’s show. He was the best player on the floor from start to finish. The numbers: 35.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.6 bpg. 55.6% FG, 47.4% 3P, 92.7% FT. His true shooting percentage in the Finals was 69.8% and his effective field goal percentage was 63.9%. He was devastating on the way to earning 2017 NBA Finals MVP.
But everyone will remember the go ahead shot in game 3 over LeBron James and it was incredible. He grabbed the defensive rebound and in under four seconds he dribbled into the Cavs backcourt, saw Bron back on his heel and rose up from the left side of the arc and buried the go ahead three pointer. That was a symbolic torch passing of sorts. Bron may still lay claim to being the best player in the world but so too can KD.
THE ATLANTA FALCONS ALMOST WON THE SUPER BOWL
We’ve all seen the 28-3 memes that have flooded the interwebs. The Falcons were oh so close to toppling a dynasty. For three quarters they battered golden boy Tom Brady and piled up 28 points on a Belichick defense.
Then the 4th quarter happened…But hey Falcons fans at least you had the first three quarters.
DESHAUN WATSON BEATS ALABAMA AND IS UNLEASHED ON THE NFL
2017 didn’t end the way the Houston Texans rookie quarterback wanted, but it sure started well. He quarterbacked Clemson to a national title in a win over the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide. He threw for 420 yards and accounted for 4 TDs.
He was then picked #12 in the first round of the NFL Draft and was unleashed on the NFL. Games against the Chiefs and Seahawks come to mind. 9 TD’s and 663 passing yards combined in those two games. Watson was well on his way to earning rookie of the year before tearing is ACL in practice back in November.
SERENA WILLIAMS WINS 2017 AUSTRALIAN OPEN WHILE PREGNANT
Arguably the greatest athlete of all-time. Yes, I said it. Not female athlete. Athlete period. Williams is incredible, a 23 time Grand Slam singles champion, 4 time Olympic gold medalist. Her list of accomplishments and awards go on for days.
This past January she won her seventh Australian Open at the age of 35 while eight weeks pregnant. WTF?! 35 and with child! She didn’t drop a single set to her competition on route to the title.
There was no on field moment for Kap as the NFL and its owners are blackballing him. However he has remained in the public consciousness by bringing issues of racial injustice, police brutality, and the systemic and systematic treatment of poor black and brown peoples to the doorstep of the NFL.
His protest of these issues and choosing to do it during the national anthem was brilliant and lighted a fire. The reactions from fans, ownership, and the league showed exactly where majorities of people in this country stand on these issues.
He may never play another down in the NFL again but the most important part if his life is just beginning.
Ratings will still say football but a closer look tells a different story.
Celebrity and star power drive popular culture in America, and the NBA understands that in a way the NFL never has. Who are the top 5 guys in the NFL? Tom Brady, Von Miller, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and Khalil Mack. At least that’s what the players predicted heading into this season. Besides Tom Brady, would you recognize any of those guys walking down the street? Contrast that to the top 5 guys in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard. The only player you may not recognize is Leonard and that’s more a function of his laid-back demeanor. Yes, NFL players wear helmets and NBA guys don’t so there is a level of facial recognition that is impossible to compare. But there is more to it than that.
The NFL is always about the shield and the league above all else. You know the adage, it’s about the name on the front not the one on the back. Commissioner Roger Goodell often uses the phrase “protect the shield.” But what is a league or any entity without the people that comprise it? It’s nothing. Football faces an uncertain future and declining ratings. It could use a shot in the arm. You know what might help? Marketing some of its “non traditional” stars. Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Cam Newton, to name a few. The future of any league is being appealing you young fans. Young fans like celebrities and star power and the NBA gets it.
Do you know what else young fans like? The internet and digital content. Is there a more internet friendly sport and league than basketball and the NBA? The league has produced some of the best memes of all time: crying Jordan, Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead, KD Players Tribune Cover, KD’s You The Real MVP, Draymond yelling at KD. The list goes on and on.
The NBA’s players are some of the best social media follows as well. Young guys like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and CJ McCollum. Veterans like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. That goes for KD’s verified accounts and his burner accounts, because who doesn’t get amused by trolling?!
The NFL has the blowing a 28-3 meme from the Atlanta Falcons epic collapse against the Patriots in the last Super Bowl. There is the Eli Manning struggle face and the Roger Goodell lying face. But, do any of those readily come to your mind? Are you laughing? Plus I mentioned a commissioner as a meme. Granted he is terrible at his job and a punch line, but still. How does that appeal to the young demographic? The players in the NBA are also the Kings of Shade and Subtweets, there is so much pettiness and competitiveness that goes on deep within the NBA social media world. The NFL just doesn’t have anything close to compare. Part of it has to do with the structure of the league’s seasons. NBA players, because of the length of their season, have the ability to watch their peers perform on a nightly basis and comment and talk about it. NFL players, by and large, all play on the same day and don’t have the time to watch their peers. Not to mention, NFL guys don’t love to watch football the way NBA guys love watching basketball.
That brings us to quality of play. How many good, well-played NFL games has there been this season? Not important games, but well played. In a 16 week season every game is high stakes because of the inability to overcome a poor start. There just aren’t enough games to catch up. Play league wide has been poor and injuries are a major factor. In order to get better at playing football, you have to practice and play football. How do you practice a sport so dangerous that there are multiple major collisions on every play? You don’t. The league has long since reduced the number of contact practices during camp and after playing a physical game, how much physical work do you think happens during the following week? Football is an inherently dangerous game and in no sport is the drop-off from starter to backup more pronounced. So when teams inevitably get to their third, fourth, and fifth string players, because of injury is it any wonder the play has suffered?
Contrast that with the NBA, where the quality of play is extremely high. There are very good to star caliber players all over the league. Have you watched the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans or Detroit Pistons? We haven’t even mentioned the perennial playoff teams and the elite championship contenders. To steal an old tagline from a network that used to broadcast the NBA, the action is fantastic! A word of caution to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, don’t be too in love with your product that you make decisions that negatively impact the league in the long run and impact quality of play. The season started earlier this year to eliminate the amount of back-to-back games and four games in five night stretches. That’s all well and good but that meant training camp was cut short and there was less conditioning and practice time. Ideally, the league would cut the 82 game season to 75 or 72 games. Naturally that’s going to impact revenue but the owners and league can figure it out. These are smart guys.
Speaking of smart leadership…the NBA has the edge there as well. Roger Goodell is not very good at his job and has botched several key issues including: domestic violence, concussions/player safety, and drug use to name a few. He is the highest paid commissioner of the four major sports and his league is consistently in the news for all the wrong reasons. His relationship with the owners and players is tenuous at best and while the league continues to be very profitable his mishandling of those issues will continue to have a negative and possibly detrimental impact going forward.
Adam Silver is a forward thinking commissioner and the NBA is thriving under his leadership. He has made changes to the all-star game, the draft lottery process, and has embraced the demand for e-sports. He continues to build the game abroad and the league will have its first ever Junior NBA World Championship for youth teams around the world. Whether true or not, Silver and the NBA’s owners at least give the appearance that they are in partnership with the players. Because of the ability of one player to have such a positive impact on a franchise there is a modicum of partnership between labor and management.
The ratings will now, and for the foreseeable future continue to support the argument that football is number one. But everything else suggests that basketball and in particular the NBA is the more enjoyable, fan engaging, sports experience. More stars we know, better content for a digital, social world. More appealing to the young fan, and a forward thinking commissioner with his eyes on the long-term success of the league and its players.
This evening, the Los Angeles Lakers raise No. 8 and No. 24 to the hallowed rafters of the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement is a day we all knew was coming even back in his early, fresh out of high school, playoff air-balling days. There was just something about Kobe. He possessed a level of fearlessness and wanted to remind us of another 6-foot-6 shooting guard that refused to lose.
While today should, and largely will, be a celebration of the Black Mamba and his litany of accomplishments, has there been a superstar in recent memory that leaves us so conflicted?
On one side, you have the “Kobe Stans.” Those made up of primarily 24- to 32-year-olds who grew up on Kobe. Those that’ll tell you five rings is more than three, that’s why he’s better than LeBron. Those who value individual one-on-one domination within a team game. Those who love the idea of the “alpha” male, the unquestioned leader who says “f**k it I got this!” There is something to be said for that.
Then you have the “Kobe Haters” made up of supreme Jordan fans, LeBron fans and anyone who is anti-Lakers. Then there are those in the middle who appreciate what Kobe has accomplished but detest hero ball and don’t even think he’s the best player of his generation. That group might argue Tim Duncan.
This is what makes discussing Kobe so fascinating. His game was so awe-inspiring and at the same time confounding. When it was going well, like the 2004 Conference semis versus the Spurs, the 2001 Conference semis against the Kings or the 2008 Conference Finals against the Spurs; it is the stuff of legend and left your mouth agape, talking about it for days.
But there is the other side of “Kobe Ball.” The 2006 and 2007 playoffs. And of course there are the raw numbers. Kobe never shot higher than 46 percent from the field for a season or 34 percent from three in his entire 20-year career. That shoot first, assassin, gunner, chucker mentality shot his Lakers out of many games in his career. Not to mention playing with Kobe wasn’t always fun.
But he gave us moments and they were all delivered for one franchise. The NBA’s gold standard (apologies Celtics fans). The 81-point game against the Raptors, Game 4 of the 2000 Finals against the Pacers. Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Celtics, Game 7 of the 2000 Conference Finals against the Blazers. He was the 2008 league MVP. The 2009 and 2010 Finals MVP, and a member of countless all NBA teams. A first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the three or four greatest Lakers of all time. Can’t rank him ahead of Kareem or Magic. Does he rank ahead of Shaq?
A man with those types of accolades and accomplishments can’t be overrated, can he? His “stans” will tell you he’s underrated. A more rational objective person might tell you he’s properly rated.
I will say, he’s a talented player with supreme confidence, all world skill, and the temerity to take any shot at anytime. One of the four greatest Lakers of all time and one of the 15 greatest players to ever play the game.
The Indiana Pacers defeated the Nets in Brooklyn Sunday night 109-97. Pacers guard Victor Oladipo finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists; continuing his stellar play this season. His teammate Domantas Sabonis came off the bench to add 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 21 minutes of action. Oladipo and Sabonis were the two players traded to Indiana from OKC in the Paul George deal. At the time, OKC GM Sam Presti was lauded for acquiring a top 20 player in George, in exchange for two young unproven players. Fast forward and so far, Indiana seems like they got the better end of that deal.
Indiana is 17-13, currently sit 5th in the eastern conference. Oladipo is on track to make his first all-star appearance in this his 4th season. He’s shown improvements across the board in his game and all of his numbers are up. Pacers coach Nate McMillan is allowing him to play off the ball as well as on, and he’s often tasked with guarding the opponents best backcourt player. Sabonis meanwhile is leading the team in rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game and is allowed to operate out of the post on the left block with the team’s second unit.
What’s so different for Oladipo and Sabonis this year? Oladipo credits his on court work in the offseason, change in diet, and improving his body. Sabonis says he’s comfortable and happy in Indiana, that’s why he’s playing well. All of those things are true, but it goes even deeper. Playing on OKC last year was not the ideal situation for two young talented guys that need development. OKC went all in on the Russell Westbrook MVP campaign after they lost Kevin Durant in free agency. The team was essentially a one man band. Not a lot of opportunities for Oladipo to show what he could do in an isolation heavy offense, when all he was expected to do was catch and shoot threes when the ball was passed his way. As for Sabonis, his natural skill set wasn’t being utilized and as a rookie he was still learning the league.
Following the game we spoke with both players about their improvement and their answers and statements are quite revealing. Frankly, playing with Westbrook and in the OKC offense last season wasn’t good for either player. Without a lead player like Westbrook in Indiana and on a team that many had no expectations for has freed both Oladipo and Sabonis to show what they can do on the court. While it’s still early, it looks like Indiana has the building blocks to put something special together.
Domantas Sabonis on his comfort level in Indiana, low post play and being used effectively.
I asked Victor what he thought his ceiling was, loved this answer. Sounds like a very confident man.
The New York Giants cleaned house on Monday, firing GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo. The team is 2-10 this season, rattled with injury and the roster as a whole is devoid of depth. Yes, there has been recent success with Super Bowl titles in 2007 and 2011 but other than those great runs, zero playoff wins in the past decade. For an organization that considers itself one of the league’s stalwarts, this is unacceptable. Co-owner John Mara let Reese and McAdoo know they were done Monday morning and immediately began to set his eyes towards the future, saying during Monday’s press conference:
We agreed wholesale that changes needed to be made to this organization to get us back to the team we expect to be. We also agreed that it was pointless to wait any longer to make these changes.
The we, of course referring to himself and fellow co-owner Steve Tisch. Make no mistake about it, this is a pivotal moment for the Giants as a franchise and Mara knows this is on him.
With the recommendation of then GM Ernie Acorsi, Mara believed it was time to promote assistant GM Jerry Reese to the big chair. He also approved of the McAdoo hiring. These were his hires. With Reese and McAdoo gone the Giants are turning the page, and Mara has the opportunity to help the team forge a new identity moving forward.
Stability, promoting from within, and having connections to the Giants organization are all very important to Mara; as evidenced by the fact that Acorsi has been hired as a consultant to lead the next GM search. Acorsi is a good football man and has been a consultant for other teams looking for a GM and coach, including the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. But he’s also 76 and part of the Giants past. It’s time the Giants look to the future with their next regime. Why not use this as an opportunity to look at diverse and innovative minds to lead the charge? No retreads or the same four or five names that come up every time there is a head coach or general manager opening. Look outside the organization, maybe even outside the NFL.
For most fans the “sexy” hire is going to be the head coach as most don’t think about the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day operation. But, the team will not hire a head coach without having a GM in place who will then select a coach. Doesn’t make sense to hire a coach that doesn’t share the same philosophy or viewpoint with the GM. Where should the Giants look for a new GM? What qualities should this person possess? Obviously an understanding of the game and league are paramount. How the salary cap works, how to exploit draft and trade loopholes, a clear vision, and the ability to identify the right people and empower them to make decisions.
A few names come to mind, and sorry Giants fans they don’t include: Bill Parcels or Phil Simms.
The Giants could certainly begin the process of forging a new direction for the franchise with any of the afore-mentioned names. Once they select a GM, a coach is the next task and the GM would have to find his/her guy.
The characteristics needed for a head coach are similar to that of a GM. Must know the game, must have a clear coaching philosophy, and have the ability to identify talent in others and motivate them to succeed.