A hearty stew of offbeat sports and pop culture.

July 2010 Archives

Thumbnail image for michael-jordan-bryon-russell.jpgGamers who can't get enough Michael Jordan in their virtual lives have to be salivating all over themselves with the news that NBA2K11, which hits stores Oct. 5, will feature a special "Jordan Challenge," in which users can play as 10 different versions of the former Bulls great.

2K Sports, which manufactures the game, previously made headlines when the company announced that Jordan would grace the cover of the title.  This bucks a long trend of selecting one of the NBA's current stars for the honor.

According to a report from CNBC's Darren Rovell, the Jordan Challenge will allow the gamer to operate M.J. at different points of his career - from the 1986 version that scored 63 in the playoffs against Boston to the 1998 version that hit the title-clinching shot against Utah.

Yes, the "flu Jordan" is included. In this, the user will have to guide their virtual No. 23 through virtual sickness.

"We wanted fans to be able to relive those moments and have a chance to play with different Jordan moments," Jason Argent, vice president of marketing for 2K Sports, said. "So we recreated all the teams, the matchups, the uniforms, everything from the time period of his most remembered games."

Play on, players.

Tampa Bay Rays All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford learned the hard way last night what most of us learned when we were six.

That wearing a cup on the baseball field is always a good idea.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta's pick-off throw to first base was wide and sailed into a retreating Crawford right where Crawford wished it wouldn't.

Now, before you attack my sensationalism for posting this, stop. We all know I don't have any standards.

Plus, this empirical evidence to all the youngsters out there why it's better to be safe than sorry.

Crawford, however, disagrees. Still.

He said he doesn't wear a protective cup because it's too restrictive and doesn't plan to change. "You couldn't hit it in a better spot. It just took the wind out of me," Crawford said. "Right now it's real sore, but the doctor said there was no damage. I'm guessing I'll take (Wednesday, July 21,) off."
jimmy-johnson.jpgFormer Dallas Cowboys coach and current Extenze spokesman Jimmy Johnson will take his neatly-coiffed hair to Nicaragua this fall as he joins the cast of CBS' "Survivor," according to a report from ESPN Dallas.

The 67-year-old will try to outwit, out-scheme and out-survive the other contestants in order to add more hardware to his resume - one that already includes two Super Bowl wins.

The bug-eating and relay-racing is not expected to interfere with his role as a NFL studio analyst for Fox.

Texas Rangers pitcher Dustin Nippert was taken to a Detroit-area hospital last night after taking a line drive off the bat of the Tigers' Austin Jackson.

A CAT scan came back negative and the right-hander is listed as day-to-day.

Nippert deserves a medal of bravery for not only getting back up after the liner, but trying to convince the Rangers' medical staff that he could continue pitching.

It's not the first time a pitcher has taken a ball to the melon this year. In May, Cleveland Indians' David Huff was struck by an Alex Rodriguez missile.

Paul the Octopus, the clairvoyant mollusk who was catapulted into the cultural zeitgeist for his uncanny ability to correctly pick the winners in eight World Cup matches, may be in for a major payday.

CNN reports that even as Sea Life, the company who owns Paul, announced that he was hanging up his prognosticating tentacles, they are still looking at a way to cash in on his fame.

Marketing experts predict that his likeness could bring in millions.

All of those brave octopi that heroically gave their lives to celebrate Red Wings' playoff goals must be seething with jealousy.

But life is not all glee under the sea for Paul. He's six months shy of being three, which is the average lifespan of an octopus.

So, if they powers-that-be hope to make good on that life-long dream of using pre-calamari into big, big profits, they'd better get moving.   
john-daly-pants.jpgJohn Daly, who has been known to make some interesting choices over the years, has made another one.

The 44-year-old golfer stepped onto the Old Course at St. Andrews for the first round of the British Open this morning wearing pants that, and forgive me as I grasp for words here, were amazing.

Purple collided with green and yellow. Triangles blended into curves in a psychedelic jamboree of design.

As you might suspect, Daly's trousers have created quite a stir on the Internet -- and not just in the United States and Britain. Paul Beckett of the Wall Street Journal explores the connection between the Technicolored dream pants and India.

It includes this amazing excerpt:

Yatan Ahluwalia, New Delhi-based image consultant, columnist and fashion stylist, also gave them the thumbs-down.

"While prints work on some men and can be a welcome change on the greens - these trousers take things to the extreme! Here's why: The prints are too large to be on trousers; they are better suited to be used as upholstery; the colors are far from masculine; and the print makes him look both wider and fuller. Someone with his body type ought to wear solids and small prints - that too only if he must!!"

In news that actually matters, Daly is the leader in the clubhouse after shooting a blistering 66. He should, obviously, wear his lucky pants again tomorrow.
Luchie-Kemp-04-JZ0T29231.jpgWe were sitting in Mr. Vredevelt's class when they came out his bag. Who knows why they did.

Looking back, it didn't take a lot to get Kemp Luchie to bring out those letters of interest.

At the time, it didn't take a lot of effort to see just how proud and excited he was to pull them out, one by one, each with bold, easily-recognized logos plastered about the return address.

One had the big, red "W" for Wisconsin.

Another the rugged, block lettering spelling out P-I-T-T.

He had his whole life ahead of him, one that included a bright career on the football field and a seemingly ever-present smile off of it. We were all like that, I guess, in high school - especially at Forest Hills Northern, where we were lucky enough to be insulated from so many of the world's problems.

But his future seemed destined for perhaps a bigger stage than the rest of us. As our premier running back, Kemp was a mix of speed and power that you don't always see working with such synergy in such a young athlete.

We watched as he ran, cheered as one as he scored touchdown after touchdown in our black-and-blue uniforms under the lights on crisp autumn Fridays. In retrospect, it was all so simple, so pure - a slice of Americana that everyone should get to experience.

After today, we'd give anything to go back.

Kemp's hopes of playing in the top-tier of the collegiate ranks were cut short by an injury, but those who knew him saw the same smiling, upbeat Kemp through it all.

Eventually, I lost touch with him. We were friendly, but not friends. But I know I speak for so many people who are better qualified to speak when I say his story deserved a better ending.

With one senseless, violent decision, all of that potential, all of that future was erased. Out with co-workers in Mount Pleasant, Mich., Kemp was murdered Tuesday night.

Police say it may have been a case of mistaken identity. The shooter, armed with a gun and misguided rage, wordlessly took the life of that kid we all knew, all cheered.

So many questions are unanswered and, sadly, many will remain that way. At times like these, none of them make that much difference anyway.

What does matter is the impact he made, the lives he changed.

Here in Chicago, not a day goes by without news of another murder. Campaigns to stop the killing rise and fall, and yet the numbers still climb.

The feeling I can't shake is how this news becomes just background noise until it affects our immediate world. How selfish we are to turn a blind eye until it's in our own backyard.

The startling truth that we somehow forget that all the names we see in these awful stories have families, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and neighbors who are impacted in some way by those lost.

These names have people that love them, people that care.

And we do care. Deeply.

All day, I've seen stories and tributes of Kemp on social-networking sites. There's no doubt that he was a breath of fresh air, always quick with a joke and more than capable of bringing a smile to those he came in contact with.

Even those of us who've lost contact won't ever forget the moments he shared with us.

He deserved so much better.

Everyone does.


Welcome to the sports vacuum. 

This is the day of the year when baseball is on a brief hiatus, basketball free-agency buzz has died down (somewhat) and football training camps are still a couple weeks away from kicking off. There are no noteworthy games today. No team to root for. No athlete to let us down (on the field, anyway). 

This year is a little different because one of the titans of the industry -- George Steinbrenner -- passed away. But generally speaking, it's the time of year we sports editors absolutely hate.

If you'll recall, this is the time of year ESPN was busy plugging its "Who's Now" competition, which determined 2007's ultimate sports star (the winner slips my mind). And it's around the time of year Valdosta, Ga. was making its push to become the network's "Titletown USA" a while back. Again, it's the time of year that those of us in the sports industry kind of dread.

Call it what you will. Black Wednesday. The doggiest dog day of summer. The Sportsless Sportsday. I call it a sports vacuum, and it's a perfect time for a little self reflection. 

Sure, you could take this day to become a bit more worldly. Go ahead ... flip over to the Drudge Report and read about the oil spill or the comings and goings of our 44th president and the cast of characters in his daytime soap. But let's face it. You're a sports fan and those things just depress you. 

Let us take this rare opportunity to assess ourselves as sports fans, consumers of sports media and lovers of all things competitive. And let's ask ourselves, are we better off this year in the world of sport than we were this time last year?

At the moment, two of our favorite one-name sports stars -- LeBron and Tiger -- have left us feeling a bit better about ourselves and worse about them. I hope it's not a trend, but I half expect my mother to sit me down and tell me quite solemnly that Michael Jordan -- like Santa, the Easter bunny and a movie where Dan Aykroyd was funny -- never existed after all.

It was fun this time last year to speculate where LeBron might land. It was fun last year to speculate when -- not whether -- Tiger Woods would surpass Jack Nicklaus' major-win record. Now, like the microbrew beer you thought would be a great idea to order, you're left with a gross aftertaste and a bit of sporty heartburn.

Considering all that's right and wrong with sports and the athletes who play them today and all the changes in the ways we cover them and the ways they decide they'll cover themselves, it's hard to determine whether we're in the midst of a golden era or dark age. 

Enjoy this time, sports fans. Savor it. By next week we'll have a new British Open champ to yap about, a slew of position battles and NFL holdout dramas and another sports star in handcuffs that will grab our attention.

Maybe you're still in shock about the LeBron-to-Miami announcement and the ensuing controversy in Cleveland (I just realized those are two words that I've never read in the same sentence ... Cleveland and controversy ... nice!). And maybe you feel like you need yet another shower in the wake of the LeBron-a-thon TV special that you wish you hadn't felt so compelled to watch that almost ruined your Sunday meatloaf.

But take comfort in the fact that we've come a long way in sports since this time last year. Following the 2009 All-Star Game, it seemed the only thing people wanted to talk about was whether those were, in fact, mom jeans that Barack Obama was wearing when he tossed the first pitch. Now we can praise the false hope we have that there's a bit of parity in the Midsummer Classic following the NL's 3-1 win. 

Tim Tebow was a senior-to-be last year who was busy telling the world he was a virgin, and we all chuckled at the notion that he could one day be a first-round draft choice.

We weren't entirely sure Brett Favre would return to quarterback the Vikings in July 2009. We're a bit more confident this year.

New Orleans, then best known for its abundance of bare breasts in February, is now a championship city.

Then again, we've been forced to read police reports that reveal Steelers QB to be, at best, a person who thinks bar-bathroom romance enthusiast and, at worst, an alleged rapist. Sounds familiar, considering it was this time last year he was issuing a statement calling a sexual-assault lawsuit filed against him "outrageous." 

Michael Vick, clueless and teamless at this time last year, is still apparently clueless and narrowly escaped becoming once again teamless. 

Between Twitter, the blogs and the mainstream media, it seems no proverbial stone goes uncovered in the sports world. But on the other side of those stones, we don't always like the moss we see. We'll always wonder whether the likes of Cobb, Mantle, Jordan and countless others would have been received as well by the public in a new media atmosphere. Luckily they'll never have to be.

So which is it? A golden era or dark age?

Perhaps it's just a vacuum. And a good day to take a break from it all.
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been hospitalized in Tampa after a massive heart attack, according to multiple reports.

Tampa Fire Rescue responded to a call at Steinbrenner's house and transported a patient to a hospital, according to Bay News 9.

The 80-year-old, who is arguably the most recognized owner in the history of professional sports, took the reigns of the Yankee organization in 1973.

danGilbert.jpgCleveland, as you may have heard, lost a basketball player Thursday night. But the city has something to fill the hole in its collective hear created by LeBron James departure to the Miami Heat via free agency - a burning hatred.

And outside of the fans turning out to burn James No. 23 jersey in the streets, perhaps no other Clevelander sums up passionate dislike more that Dan Gilbert, the majority owner of James' now former hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, Gilbert wants to leave nothing to chance in letting his former star and the city that worshiped him know where he stands on the issue, going so far as to issue an open letter to the universe declaring his distaste for King James. Some highlights:

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.


The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.

There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.

You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.


In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


You can take it to the bank.

If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow-up to become.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called "curse" on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch. ...

OK, so, bitter much, Dan? Admittedly, though, understandably. But now you have a big promise to deliver on. Yes, you have some money to spread. Quite a bit, actually. But the aisles are starting to get a little bare in the free agent store.

But you do have spirit. And a city filled with the desire the see your promise come true, as much for spite as team and civic pride, but that counts, too.

Good luck, Cleveland. Now you just have to back up the talk.

Before the calendar flipped from June to July and the free-agency period entered the action phase, San Antonio Spurs forward Richard Jefferson opted out of his final year in San Antonio, leaving $15.2 million on the table.

To say this was a surprise is an understatement.

Jefferson's playing time and production has diminished in San Antonio last year. Yahoo! basketball wordsmith Adrain Wojnarowski points out that coach Gregg Popovich rode him particularly hard.

The San Antonio Express-News has more:

Jefferson's agent, Todd Eley, characterized the decision as a means to take advantage of a sellers' free agent market this summer, and hedge against the uncertainty of an NBA collective bargaining agreement that expires after next season.

It doesn't necessarily mean Jefferson's first season in San Antonio will be his last. There remains a possibility - maybe even a probability -- that Jefferson will re-sign with the Spurs in a long-term deal more palatable to their bottom line.

Oh, and just an update: No news from LeBron James yet.