By Joe Santoro
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Dwight Howard and Gerald Green accomplished for the NBA last weekend what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa accomplished for baseball in 1998. McGwire and Sosa helped energize baseball with their amazing chase of Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998. They brought back fun and excitement to the game. Howard and Green did the same for the slam dunk contest. There's a nasty rumor going around these days that McGwire and Sosa used performance enhancing drugs. Well, Howard and Green utilized performance enhancing props. Howard used a Superman cape and Green used a cupcake with a candle. It was the best slam dunk contest in the history of slam dunk contests. Sorry, Michael and Dominique.
The NBA is becoming relevant once again. How did this happen? The league is filled with more interesting story lines this year than it had in the previous 10 years combined. Shaquille O'Neal going to Phoenix. Jason Kidd to Dallas. The dunk contest is fun again. The Boston Celtics have meaning once again. The New Orleans Hornets are one of the best stories in all of sports. Charles Barkley is the most entertaining commentator in all of sports. A Celtics-Lakers matchup in the Finals would be the perfect ending to this renaissance season. Hey, it only took 10 years for the NBA to recover from Michael Jordan's retirement from the Bulls.
The only problem with the NBA's All-Star weekend is that it insisted on playing the actual All-Star game. Watching bored players go through the motions in a meaningless game is not the way to help sell the sport. The NBA needs to give the players some incentive to play hard in the All-Star game. Homecourt advantage in the Finals? Are you kidding? This isn't baseball. The vast majority of the players in the NBA All-Star team are selfish ballhogs and their teams won't be anywhere near the Finals. No, we're talking real incentive. How about each member of the winning team receiving an honorary degree from the university they left after one season?
Now that the slam dunk contest has made a rousing comeback, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association should consider adding the event to the state tournament weekend. Imagine 10 of the best high school dunkers from teams not involved in the state tournament performing at Lawlor Events Center on the opening night of the festivities. It would definitely energize the entire tournament.
Will the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics win 150 games combined this season? 140? 130? Will they combine to score 1,000 runs? 900? 800? When do the 49ers and Raiders report to training camp?
Is there any doubt that Andy Pettite will receive a standing ovation when he makes his first start for the New York Yankees this season? Isn't it interesting how an admitted cheater has become so loved by baseball fans while a guy (Roger Clemens) who maintains his innocence has been scorned? Sports fans will forgive anything. But they will never forgive a guy who they feel continues to lie to them.
Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson deserves a break. Yes, he cheated. Yes, he broke NCAA rules. Yes, he broke NCAA rules about a thousand times. And, yes, he should pay a price. But let's put things in perspective a little. He's not the devil. The guy simply made phone calls to recruits. OK, he made a lot of phone calls to recruits. In this day and age of cell phones and text messages, communicating with a recruit is not exactly a difficult thing to do. It takes about five seconds. You can do it in your car waiting for the light to turn green while on your way to the gym. The NCAA needs to revisit some of its rules. Why shouldn't coaches call recruits as much as they want? Kids are smart. They know how to turn off their phones. Parents know how to tell coaches to stop bothering their kids.
The NBA is actually thinking of stealing an idea from the NHL. I bet you never thought you'd read that sentence, huh? The NHL's outdoor game on New Year's Day was such a success, the NBA is thinking of doing the same in October in Southern California. We're guessing that an outdoor NBA game isn't going to have the same impact as an outdoor hockey game. What's the big deal about basketball outdoors? You can drive by any schoolyard and see it. Then again, if they make the NBA guys play on a blacktop surface with little pebbles all over the place and a chain link fence four feet behind the rim without a single referee in sight, well, that might be interesting.
We understand that the New England Patriots broke some sort of NFL rule by videotaping opposing teams' practices. But, like the Sampson violations, we just don't understand what all of the fuss is about. So the Patriots had film of other teams' practices? So what? It's one thing to have an idea what the other team is going to do. It's another thing to actually stop it. Also, this isn't 1942 anymore. There is enough video around of every team for coaches to watch.
The Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox are going to open up the major league season in Japan next month. We have two big problems with this. First of all, it's too early. No major league team is ready to open the season on March 25. And, second, why deprive fans of precious home games? It's not an accident that it's A's fans who will be cheated out of two home games this year. Yes, both games in Japan will be A's home games, leaving A's fans with just 79 home games. There's no way major league baseball would cheat their beloved Red Sox and their fans of two Fenway Park dates.
Here's hoping that Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox rewards Curry Lynch for five years of hard work next week. Lynch, who rarely has played during his four-year active career (he's currently up to 107 total career minutes), deserves to get his first and last college start when the Pack takes on Louisiana Tech next Saturday in the last home game of his career. The Virginia City High graduate, who has scored less points in his career (11) than Marcelus Kemp scores in a typical half, has been an inspiration to northern Nevada kids for the past five years. He's earned one start.