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The Power of Words

May 3, 2011 1 comment

By Phil Hecken

On April 12, 2011, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers received a technical foul from referee Bennie Adams, in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. A visibly upset Bryant strode to the bench, punched a chair, and snapped a towel. Then, almost inexplicably, he stared out toward Adams, and in full view of TNT cameras (and boom mics), screamed, “Bennie!” His next two words were almost inaudible, but even those who have difficulty reading lips were able to see what followed: “F*CKING FA*GOT”

The retribution by the NBA was swift and severe. On April 13, NBA Commissioner David Stern handed Bryant a $100,000 fine, for “offensive and inexcusable” comments he made the previous evening.

“Kobe Bryant’s comment during last night’s game was offensive and inexcusable,” said Stern. “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.” Message sent.

Bryant, for his part, was contrite. “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period,” he said. “The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.” Message received?

Both the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) were quick to issue statements backing up Stern’s fine.

Applauding Stern, HRC President Joe Solomonese said, “We hope such swift and decisive action will send a strong and universal message that this kind of hateful outburst is simply inexcusable no matter what the context.”

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios joined in the praise for Stern, saying, “The NBA has sent a clear message to sports fans everywhere that anti-gay slurs have no place in the game.”

~~~

Kobe Shh But was Bryant acting any different than many athletes act in the locker room, where no cameras or recorders are present? And was Bryant being singled out when other stars seemingly get a pass? Three years ago, Kevin Garnett apparently spoke the same words in a playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The only difference was that Garnett directed his comments to the crowd and not a referee.

I believe Bryant when he says his words aren’t reflective of any anti-gay sentiment he may harbor. I think, in the heat of the moment, he did express his emotions without any ill will or malice. But at the same time, I completely support the message the NBA sent with the hefty fine.

Growing up, on playgrounds across the United States, boys and men playing school yard and competitive games will frequently taunt an opponent by uttering similar slurs. It’s almost part of the “game.” But when the game is played on the national stage, no matter what the reason, professional athletes must rise above their macho posturing to achieve some sense of decorum. Allowing this degrading remark to go unpunished, however innocently it may have been uttered, would have been tacitly approving its utterance. The NBA not only needed to sanction Bryant, it had to.

NBA ballers, and all professional athletes, entertainers and those in the public eye must be held to a higher standard, realizing that their words have power. They need to be cognizant of the fact that many of them are role models (whether or not they wish to be), and their actions and words do carry a greater weight. Perhaps the NBA was *making an example* of Bryant, and this was a good thing if that was the intent. Message received? I hope so.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Kobe Bryant found out that a word (or two) is worth $100,000. That’s powerful stuff.

Knicks vs. Celtics Playoff Preview

April 17, 2011 9 comments

knicks-celtics

By Phil Hecken

The New York Knicks (42-40) secured the No. 6 seed in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs, and will matchup with their longtime rival, the Boston Celtics (56-26) Sunday evening. The Celtics are the No. 3 seed and have the home-court advantage.

On paper, this looks like a mis-match, and indeed it may be. But games aren’t played on paper, they’re settled on the court, and the series may indeed be epic. For the underdog Knicks, almost everything would have to go right for them to emerge victorious.

Season Series:

The Knicks lost all four games they played against the Celtics this season. While two of those games were played before the “mega trade” the Knicks completed with the Denver Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and their final matchup was a meaningless game played on the final day of the season, this does not bode well for the Knicks. Not only were the Knicks winless at TD Garden, Boston’s home arena, they haven’t won a game there since November 26, 2006.

Advantage: Celtics

Hot & Not:

Prior to dropping their final two games (which were basically meaningless as the Knicks had already locked themselves into the sixth seed at that point), the Knicks had gone on a seven game winning streak. The Celtics, on the other hand, finished the regular season going a pedestrian 10-11.

Advantage: Knicks

Old vs. Young:

The Celtics “Big Four” (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo) are stalwarts, but three of them may be “past their primes” — Pierce is 33, Garnett is 34 and Allen is 35. Not old by any means, but by NBA standards, they are a bit long in the tooth. In contrast, the Knicks “Big Three” (Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups) are comparatively younger — Stoudemire is 28 and Anthony is 26; Billups is the oldest of the troika at 34.

Advantage: Knicks

First Things First:

For the Knicks to win this series, they will need at least one win at TD Garden. Not a single player on the current Knicks team has emerged from the TD Garden victorious as a Knick. That’s no small feat to overcome. They must figure out how to win on their opponent’s court.

Advantage: Celtics

Experience Factor:

While the New York Knicks have not made the playoffs as a team in seven seasons, that does not mean no one on the team is without playoff experience. Au contraire, due to trades and free agent signings over the past few years, individually the players have a wealth of playoff experience. Stoudemire has been to the Western Conference finals twice, Anthony has been to the conference finals once, and Billups has played in 139 playoff games already — including 11 years in a row with six consecutive conference finals, and two NBA finals. Not only that, he owns a ring (winning the NBA finals in 2004 with the Pistons), a series in which he was named Finals MVP. Billups has also raised his game in the playoffs, averaging a full two points (17.8 vs. 15.5) higher than his regular season average.

The Celtics starters all have plenty of playoff experience, most of whom won the title in 2008 and returning to the title series last season.

Advantage: Celtics

Rivalry?:

Despite being two of the oldest teams in terms of NBA heritage, there really isn’t much of a “rivalry” between the two teams. The Celtics are the most decorated franchise in professional basketball (having won 17 championships, tied for most with the LA Lakers) while the Knicks have only two. While the Knicks have enjoyed several periods of success throughout their tenure, they have never been “good” at the same times the Celtics have. In fact, they have not met each other in the playoffs since 1990. The only time the two teams have been true powers was during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Knicks thrice defeated the Celtics in the Conference finals (1972-74) and once in the Eastern Division finals (1969).

Advantage: Celtics

Fighter’s Chance?:

For the Knicks to win this series, they not only need to win at least one game in Boston, they need to dictate the play in order to do so. The Knicks are a younger, more explosive team and will need to play a lot of run-and-gun and hope their shots fall. Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni runs a system based on a lot of individual offense, not set plays, and the Knicks will have to hope they can get the Celtics into foul trouble early and often. Boston, on the other hand, plays a slow and methodical offense and a stifling defense, and will hope to frustrate the Knicks in a lot of half-court sets. The Knicks best (and perhaps only) chance will be to sprint out to early leads, tiring out the older Celtics starters, and hoping they ride the pine either through fatigue or foul trouble.

Advantage: To Be Determined

Starters:

Shooting Guard:

Landry Fields vs. Ray Allen: This may not be a fair fight, as Fields is a rookie matching up against one of the best in the history of the NBA. Allen is not only the league’s best sharpshooter, he also now owns the NBA record for three-point field goals. Fields isn’t bad, and had a very good first half, but Allen shot 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from behind the arc this year. His experience will also be a huge factor.

Advantage: Celtics

Point Guard:

Chauncey Billups vs. Rajon Rondo: Rondo is younger and faster than Billups, who has also been injury prone with the Knicks. But Billups has more experience and has played well (when he has been healthy) for the Knicks. Still, Rondo played extremely well in last year’s playoffs (completely outplaying LeBron James, no small feat), so any experience Billups has is negated.

Advantage: Celtics

Small Forward:

Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce: Pierce loves beating the Knicks. Melo is new to the team. Pierce is still a mega-star who has learned how to win in the team-first ethic the Celtics have acquired over the past three seasons. Melo seems to be best when he freelances. However, Anthony is much younger and stronger, and possesses more talent than Pierce. Anthony has also been the team’s leading rebounder the past month (which isn’t necessarily a good thing). This may be the most even matchup of all, and the winner may just determine who wins the series. But even if Melo outplays Pierce, it may not be enough.

Advantage: Tossup

Power Forward:

Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Kevin Garnett: Amar’e proclaimed “The Knicks Are Back” when he signed as a mega-free agent in the offseason, and he has backed up those words by leading the Knicks into the playoffs. He’s the teams spiritual and emotional leader, and is bigger, faster, younger and stronger than Garnett. KG, on the other hand, is an outstanding defender and rebounder, and he too, is the leader of his team. As much as the Anthony vs. Pierce matchup may decide the series, this one may swing the “heart” battle. If Stoudemire can outplay Garnett, that’s one thing, if he can out-lead him, the Knicks have a chance.

Advantage: Knicks

Center:

Ronny Turiaf (or Shelden Williams/Jared Jeffries) vs. Jermaine O’Neal (or Nenad Kristic/Shaquille O’Neal): While the center position was at one time the most important position on a team, in this series, it’s almost an afterthought. Once one of the league’s best big men, Shaq, may not even play, due to injuries, and if he does see floor time, it will be limited. Neither team truly has an effective big man, and this will likely be the most substituted position on both sides. Jermaine O’Neal for the Celtics is probably the best of all the players on either team, but he too may be limited in his minutes. Should either or both of the O’Neals see significant time, that could tip this to the Celtics. It won’t be a big factor in the series, however.

Advantage: Push

Reserves, Coach & Other Intangibles:

Coach:

Mike D’Antoni vs. Doc Rivers: Doc took the Celtics to the finals last year and won them three years ago. He is a “team first” coach and a good motivator. D’Antoni believes in lots of offense and very little defense, but he seems to be bringing the team together into a more cohesive unit over the past few weeks of the season. D’Antoni has never won a championship, and many believe his style of coaching will never do so until he focuses more on defense.

Advantage: Celtics

Bench:

Assuming Turiaf starts at center, the Knicks will have Anthony Carter, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries, Shawane Williams, Shelden Williams and Bill Walker (hardly a murderers row) versus Carlos Arroyo, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy, Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West. While neither bench is particularly good or deep, the Celtics possess better players — their problem is many of them are hurt. Their best player off the bench is Big Baby, who may have become a “Sixth Man of the Year” candidate. Still, they will need their starters to give them deep minutes. The Knicks bench is not particularly good or deep, and D’Antoni has said he may try to “shorten” it to just three. If the Knicks starters can play many minutes this may work out well — if foul trouble or fatigue causes D’Antoni to need to use more reserves, it could spell big trouble for the Knicks.

Advantage: Celtics

Intangibles:

As a team, the Celtics have been here (the playoffs) before and have played together much longer than the Knicks. While the Knicks may have more talent and can win the series, too much has to go right for that to happen. They would need to play their run-and-gun style to perfection and have close to 50 percent from the floor, while simultaneously being able to play some defense to keep the Celtics at bay. The Knicks may be younger team on the rise, while the Celtics may be older and beginning a decline, but it might take a miracle for the Knicks to overtake them (particularly with the Celtics having the homecourt advantage) this time around.

PREDICTION:

Celtics in five.

Categories: NBA

Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups Light Up Nets at MSG

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Despite some significant improvements this season, the New Jersey Nets are still a year or two away from figuring it all out on the court.

Though they led by 16 points in the first half, the Nets dropped a 120-116 heartbreaker to the cross-town rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

In Carmelo Anthony’s first game against the team that coveted him, he did not disappoint. Melo led all scorers with 39 points and added 10 rebounds to record the double-double.

Chauncey Billups quietly scored 33 points, while Amar’e Stoudemire poured in 23. The Knicks’ “big three” did most of the damage, as their next highest scorer was Toney Douglas with seven points.

Deron Williams returned to the lineup after missing the previous six games with a wrist injury. He scored 22 points—his new Nets career-high—and added eight rebounds and eight assists. However, he missed what would have been the game-tying shot with seconds to go in the fourth quarter.

Anthony Morrow, who eclipsed his season-high point total through just three quarters, had a big game, scoring 30 points and shooting 4-of-5 from three-point range. Brook Lopez scored 26 points, while Kris Humphries recorded his 29th double-double of the season with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

New Jersey established a double-digit lead early in the second quarter. Humphries had 11 rebounds within the first 17 minutes, and the Nets were playing with a passion and desire not seen since Williams last played.

The Nets scored 68 points in the first half, which is the most they’ve scored in a half all season.

The Knicks closed out the first half trailing by 10. Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups combined to score 50 of New York’s 58 first half points.

The Knicks had all the momentum early in the second half, as Anthony began to take over. A 10-0 run brought the Knicks to within one.

The Nets, however, answered with three-straight three-pointers—two from Williams and one from Morrow—to push the lead back to 10.

Anthony’s 20-point third quarter allowed the Knicks to close out the third quarter down only one.

The fourth quarter saw back-and-forth lead changes, but the Knicks established a five-point lead with just over six minutes to play.

Williams began taking over, as his three-point played tied the game at 107. The Nets pushed their lead to three, but Billups answered with three clutch free-throws to once again tie the score.

After a full minute of no scoring, Anthony drilled a pull-up jumper with 1:08 to go, giving the Knicks a two-point lead.

Down by two, the Nets opted not to foul with less than 30 seconds remaining. Though known for his great closing ability, Melo missed a jumper that would have iced the game, which left the Nets down two with 8.3 seconds to go.

However, New Jersey could not capitalize, as Williams missed a 15-footer. Billups made both free throws on the other end to quell the Nets’ hopes of a miraculous comeback.

Though they had a breakout offensive performance collectively, the Nets let a win slip right out of their hands.

New Jersey returns to the court Friday evening when it travels to Philadelphia to take on Andre Iguodala and the 76ers.

Categories: NBA

Cassara plays social media like a Stradavarius

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Coach Mo Cassara (credit: Newsday)

By Phil Hecken

“There is no other head coach that would send a kid a Facebook message at six o’clock in the morning,” Mo Cassara proudly says. “Lets be honest.”

Cassara, Hofstra Basketball’s first-year head coach, credits his expertise with social media such as Twitter and Facebook for allowing him to land prize recruit Malik Nichols.

“He has a very serious speech impediment,” Cassara says of Nichols. “When we were recruiting him, it was very hard to talk to him on the phone. So I talked to that kid on Facebook. I left him a Facebook message every morning.”

Following the resignation of newly-hired Hofstra Head Coach Tim Welsh, Cassara was offered the job within days and immediately began to chart a new course for the young team, using a multi-faceted social media approach.

“When they asked me if I wanted to be the head coach,” Cassara recalls, “I said I’m going to do this a little differently than they’ve done it. I’m going to give this a little different flair.” His mastery of social media set him apart.

Proudly displaying two cell phones on a desk, Cassara notes he carries one of them solely for social media. “I like the iPhone better to do Twitter and Facebook, and I’m on it all the time.”

The coach used Facebook and Twitter to strike up a rapport with the team. It showed his players he was “very much like them.”

“I think the kids felt they could communicate with me,” he says. “They could interact with me. When I would respond back to them, I think that goes a long way.”

Cassara also credits social media with generating a campus-wide buzz about the basketball program.

“We started linking [my Facebook and Twitter accounts] to our webpage,” he says. “So at the top of Hofstra’s basketball page, it says ‘Follow Coach Cassara’.” He attributes his growing number of ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’ to an increase in attendance at basketball games this season.

Social media use not without some risks, however.

“You have to be very careful,” Cassara cautions. When a committed, but unsigned recruit proudly tweeted that fact, Cassara “re-tweeted, and it was a violation.”

“Everybody’s watching,” he says.

There may be other coaches who use social media, but few work it as well as Cassara. He often checks to see if other coaches have employed his techniques. More often than not, he is alone, and he uses it to his advantage.

“How can this staff not be friends with this kid?” he asks, following a potentially successful recruiting trip and noting he is the sole social media contact. “Well [now], we’ve got an in there, you know.”

Categories: College Sports

Rolls Reuss

March 15, 2011 2 comments

By Phil Hecken

You might think pitching a no-hitter in the major leagues would be the greatest thrill for a baseball player. And you’d probably be right, unless you were Jerry Reuss, who placed that “achievement of a lifetime” squarely at number three in his all-time greatest.

On June 27, 1980, the then-31 year old southpaw came within a single first-inning error of pitching a perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who bested the San Francisco Giants 8-0 that summer’s day in Candlestick Park.

It is an achievement so rare in baseball that few get to experience it. Reuss almost did it three times.

“It was tough for me because I lost a no-hitter in 1972,” he says, with a hint of regret. “In the ninth inning. Bowa got a double, on the second pitch.” That he remembers the count is just one of the amazing things we learn about Reuss’ amazing 22-year baseball career.

He would end that 1972 game giving up just one hit and pitch another one-hitter in 1982. He never forgets the little details in recollecting his career, one of his greatest attributes. Remembering that at bat probably enabled him to get his no-hitter in 1980, “because it took eight years to get back to that point.”

Reuss’ second greatest thrill in baseball was the night he got called up to the bigs in 1969, to play for his hometown team. In 1967 and 1968, the Cardinals had reached baseball’s apex, playing in the World Series, but in 1969 they were trailing the “Amazin” New York Mets heading into September, and Cardinals owner August Busch wanted to take a look at some of the kids down on the Tulsa Oiler farm.

“They called about six or eight of us up,” he says. “I was among them.” The trip from Tulsa back to his boyhood home of St. Louis allowed him a night in his old bed. “I stopped at my parents house, spent the night, then drove to the ball park early. I couldn’t wait to get down to the ball park,” he excitedly recalls.

For many guys, just making the bigs would be a dream come true, but Reuss persevered, playing for three clubs before being traded to the Dodgers on April 7, 1979. After hovering around a .500 career mark, and posting a 7-14 record in 1979, Jerry Reuss would string together back-to-back incredible seasons.

Besides throwing a no-hitter, in 1980 Reuss went 18-6, finished second in the Cy Young voting (behind Steve Carlton), led the league with six shutouts and was named “Comeback Player of the Year.” However, the one thing that had eluded him his entire career had been playing in the World Series. The Dodgers, behind Reuss’ stellar season, barely missed the playoffs, finishing one game behind West Division Champion Houston, one of his former teams.

1981 would produce a “split” season in baseball, as a players’ strike caused the season to be divided into two halves, and the two division winners would first face off against each other before playing their alternate division rivals for the pennant. Reuss beat the Astros (and ace Nolan Ryan) to get the Dodgers to the National League Championship, where the Dodgers faced the Expos, edging them three games to two to advance to the World Series. It would be Reuss one and only. But it would become his greatest thrill.

Having gone 10-4 with a 2.30 ERA in 1981, Reuss earned the honor of starting the 1981 World Series. In Yankee Stadium. Against Ron Guidry. And, he’d never been in Yankee Stadium before. “I was opening the first game,” Reuss says, so he really couldn’t take in the House That Ruth Built. But the excitement and nerves may have been on his mind, as the Yanks chased him in the third inning, and would take Game 1. The ever-resilient Reuss would put that out of his mind as the Dodgers dropped the opening two at Yankee Stadium and returned home to even the series at 2-2.

In the pivotal fifth game, Reuss got the start and held fast, outdueling Guidry 2-1, after falling behind early behind some shaky fielding. He scattered five hits and pitched a complete game. The Dodgers would return to New York up 3-2 and won Game 6 by a score of 9-2.

“Winning the World Series in ’81” recalls Reuss, is “without a doubt” the greatest thrill in his long career. “You know why the no-hitter isn’t number one? They don’t give you a ring for a no-hitter. But they give you a ring when you win the World Series.”

Categories: Uncategorized