Archive for April, 2011

We can all, or at least most of us, recount the late 90’s-early 2000’s, and no not for the Tomagatchi and Furbee fads, not for the reality television trend, and certaintly not Cisqo’s infamous “Thong Song”. I’m talking about some of Major League Baseball’s finest moments.

The Subway Series square off between the New York Yankees and New York Mets in 2000. Cal Ripkin Jr and Tony Gwyn’s last stands. And of course, the mass quantity of  home runs.

The excitement orbiting around Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa’s chase for Roger Maris’ 61 home run mark. Raphael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez slamming them out of the ballpark one out of every four or so at bats. And Barry Bonds’ ultimate reign of superiority of “king” by breaking the single season and career home record with 73 and 772, respectively.

It seemed as if baseball solidified itself as “America’s sport” with the hype and fandom surmounted around these sluggers and what they offered to the game. You didn’t even have to be a Cubs or Cardinals fan to appreciate what was known as “The Great Chase”. You were a fan of the game. It was second nature to watch such a historic record be broken in that fashion.

This heightened sense of euphoria around baseball’s passionate fans died down dramatically in 2007 when Senator turned “vigilante” George Mitchell released his 20 months of research on the correlation between baseball players and performance enhancing drugs called the “Mitchell Report”. It had seemed the devil had a long lost twin from Maine.

The list not only had the likes of Bonds, McGuire, Palmeiro, and Sosa, but some highly touted pitchers such as Roger Clemens, who arguably dominated the 1990’s with his fastball that has 7 Cy Youngs to back it up, and some suprise names as well, such as fellow Yankee, at the time, Andy Pettite, who resembles more of a small town farmer than a big time juicer.

I wasnt lying, was I?

For baseball fans across the world, it was like receiving a lump of coal under the Christmas tree. A favorite band selling out. A role model not living up to certain expectations. A feeling of disapointment and disheartenment. Blinded by the facade of artificial talent.

This, of course, led to federal investigations and court trials in the blink of an eye. Seeing Jason Giambi in a three piece suit rather than in pinstripes was as out of place as seeing the cast of the Jersey Shore at the Grammys this year. Accusations of perjury and lying in front of grand jury were charges I had never heard of my entire life but how quickly did they become a part of my daily vocabulary discussing with friends about what was to happen to next to our fallen heroes.

The shift in emotions of audacity to resentment from the baseball community was just the norm- why praise someone who cheated on their path to national glory? Where is there a spot in the Hall of Fame for these perpetraitors against the glorified and respectful careers of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays?

In comes the concept of the asterisk- letting the public know on the record books that the feat was not acheived naturally. It parallels the process of a sex offender alerting their neighbors of who they are and shameful thing they did to deserve the title. The comparison may be brash but the point is evident.

In any argument there are two sides, and in this case, it was the fans who believed those players lost their right of recognition because of steroid use and that even an asterisk next to their name would be more of a privledge than punishment. On the flip side, there are fans who stand by not only the players, but in the grounds of baseball in which even while taking PEDs, it takes athleticism to hit X amount of homeruns or strike out Y number of players.

A few years have passed, as we are in the year 2011 and ESPN headlines still read with these players and the lawsuit baggage they carry. In the most reason MLB news, prosecutors are deciding on whether or not to try Bonds AGAIN after he was found guilty of the one charge left against him: obstruction of justice. And the kicker is, it has absolutely nothing related to his steroid use.

Has the Steroid Era officially run it’s course or is it coming back with vengeance? A Mitchell Report part deux? Any good-natured fan would be crossing fingers and knocking on wood for this storm that has tornadoed itself into the national spotlight for the past four years to end.

But the question at hand is what do we do now with these so-called “culprits”? Do we let them bask in their own guilt by banning them from any sort of record book or hall or will the asterisk serve it’s purpose in alarming our younger generation fans of what happens to those who don’t play the game fairly. This whole ordeal runs full circle: just like the Steroid Era itself, time will be the ultimate keeper.

Will the shameful circus ever end?

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In the words of college basketball color commentator Clark Kellogg, “Watching these two teams shoot is like watching paint dry”.

I believe we can all agree, especially Greg Anthony, that this was one of the worst NCAA championships of all time. 53 to 41 points. 34% versus 18% field goal percentage. UConn’s winning mark was the lowest scoring win since World War II era with Wisconsin’s 39-34 win over Wazzu in’41.

Rather than bash the atrocious scoring efforts of both teams, watching this game helped make a comparison, aside from the title game, that the 2010-11 Huskies resemble the roster make up of the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers.

2011 NCAA Champions

Of course, the most notable, yet most controversial comparison lies between junior guard Kemba Walker and shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Naturally there are physical differences (Walker stands at a mere 6’1” while Bryant towers over him at 6’6”), playing level, experience, and team composition.

However, both have one common, “umbrella” characteristic that branch out into other minor feats: they both know how to control the game. Walker’s 23.7 ppg in the regular season, with an incredible 26.3 ppg within the Big East/NCAA tournament resonates to Bryant’s 27.0 ppg last season accompanied by a 29.2 ppg average in the post season, both roughly a 7% increase.

Next up, Walker’s stellar performance through out the entire March Madness earned him the “Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four” while Bryant’s magician-like showing during the 2010 post season earned an “NBA Finals MVP” accolade. Not enough? Let’s move on.

Incorporating teammates is another critical component to the two play makers’ style of play. Dishing out around five assists a game and an above 1.5 assist to turnover ratio reflects that the two sharp shooters aren’t all about the stats.

Speaking of teammates, there are some uncanny comparison in some UConn to LA players. Freshman forward Jeremy Lamb’s clutch 2nd half against Butler and hard-nose defense resembled Lakers’ forward Ron Artest and some of his 4th quarter heroics. Sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi’s near double-double season average and capability of shutting down Butler’s paint play echoed center Pau Gasol’s wall-like presence down low against the Celtic’s Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

2010 NBA Champions

Not only do their rosters show commonalities, but their coaches seem to share some redeeming qualities as well. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach to win a NCAA basketball collegiate title at age 68, making it his 3rd title overall. On the flip side, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson isn’t drinking from the fountain of youth either- at age 65 was able to win his 11th NBA title. Yes, the numbers are a bit skewed, but the only NCAA coach to come close to that number is UCLA legend John Wooden with 10.

Digging further in the two teams’ alikeness, both have had a roughly the same roller coaster of a history the past 10 years. UConn’s 2004 winning year with Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon parallels the Lakers 1999-04 Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal era. The two teams both have had down falls and with a few rebuilding seasons, returned to national glory.

Who knows if Walker will replicate Bryant’s NBA career of any sort or will share even remotely the same impact #24 has had on the Lakers, or if UConn will be a collegiate powerhouse as the Lakers are to the NBA. However, if one thing is for certain, Walker’s leadership and performance of the Huskies tournament run shows at least a glimpse of what the guard has in store for the basketball world to see.

guard Kemba Walker