Cam Newton has proven to be the Superman many thought he was – but his detractors are still looking for Kryptonite.

It’s been a while since the last time I’ve written an original post for the blog. If you’ve added this page on Facebook, then you know I tend to post articles and ask for feedback daily, so I am indeed active in terms of how I utilize Shoot, Pass, Quibble! However, there are SO MANY different sources of information and analysis on things in the world of sports, oft times when I come up with a concept for something I’d like to write – I find it’s already been done and approached from a variety of angles. And to be quite honest – I don’t want to feel like I’m parroting anyone, or even appear that way.

But as luck would have it, a friend on Facebook provided me with the perfect topic for this post. Since we went back and forth for the better part of 2 hours on Facebook over this subject, I realized – it’s one that hasn’t really been broken down the way I tried to break it down to my friend. Eureka – my next post.

Now, before I go forward, I want to say – this particular blog isn’t meant to dis my friend, nor is it to be taken as an excuse to take potshots at him in the least. However, I WILL refer to things from our online conversation, and to things I’ve heard and read in reference to the subject matter. Some perceptions out there need to be refuted and cleared up. So, to paraphrase the great poet Jay-Z: “Sorry (friend), I’m just trying to advance my quotes – I ain’t making you the butt of my jokes…”

Now, with all that said…Alex Smith is a b***h.

If you’ve watched Alex Smith’s NFL “career” – this picture is something you’re extremely accustomed to seeing.

I’m sure most, if not all of you, have by now heard San Francisco QB Alex Smith’s verbal shot at NFL Rookie Of The Year Cam Newton. When asked about his statistics from a season ago, Smith, a long-time NFL under-performer (he was the #1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft) who had his most successful NFL season just last year, unnecessarily threw Cam and the Carolina Panthers under the bus for pretty much no reason. In order to be perfectly clear and transparent, so no one accuses me of “ESPN-ing” this up (read: saying something as though it’s fact, without actual evidence to support it – knowing my audience will buy it due to my reputation) – check out the actual clip of Smith’s words (the quote that has generated the press comes about 4:46 in).

Now, when watching the entire interview, Smith doesn’t seem to be too much of a jerk, right? Seems like he’s just answering questions about his team and the upcoming season. But the media jumped on the Cam comments, and rightfully so – Newton and his team had nothing to do with that conversation. Smith could have easily made his point without naming Newton or any team at all; the question is – WHY did he do that? Why did he choose Cam Newton of all other QBs he could’ve named? What was the impetus?

I’ll get to that a little later.

For now, let’s deal with the fallout from that interview. Newton’s teammate, linebacker Jon Beason, fired back in support of his quarterback on Twitter: “Alex smith, don’t hate on Cam (because) your stats would’ve gotten u cut if Peyton decided to come 2 San Fran. Truth b told. That’s after a 13-3 yr.” Yikes.

Jon Beason stuck up for his teammate in a manner I can relate to – by simply telling the truth.

Talk about going for the jugular. Thing is – Beason is 100% right. The absolute truth of the matter, and absolute fact – Smith was a free agent this year. The 49ers put out a take it or leave it offer, and Smith, somehow feeling he was due more as the QB of a successful 13-3 team, balked. He felt undervalued, and went out to test the market. Only thing is – there was no market for Smith. He didn’t receive a single offer from any team in the entire league. In fairness, the 49ers offer was a very good one, and one I believe was beyond fair and generous for a QB of his level (and one that he eventually signed). But the fact that they didn’t franchise him, and fully allowed him to test the market speaks volumes. The Miami Dolphins, desperate for a QB, didn’t even offer him a contract (even though they met with him). Lest you forget, the Dolphins pretty much suck. I can’t even name you any other teams, because Miami was pretty much the only team that gave this guy a call. Now, by my count, there were about 10 teams (including San Francisco) that had needs at the starting QB position before both free agency and the draft.

Here are some more Smith facts – a year ago, the 49ers had so much faith in this guy, they drafted QB Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round. Kaepernick wasn’t drafted as a “sit and wait” QB – he was expected to compete for and win the job. So what saved Smith’s bacon? The lockout. New coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t have the time to really work with the kid like he would’ve liked, so he went with the experienced guy on the roster. That’s it. Nothing more. When Smith performed decently during the season, the team felt a breath of relief. And lest one tries the argument of how it wouldn’t matter since it was a new coach – Harbaugh kept much of he 49ers’ system that was previously in place the year before since he didn’t have a full offseason to make major changes. Smith, of course, was familiar with that system.

What’s that? I’m missing something? Oh, believe me, I know. I know how San Francisco went balls to the wall to get Peyton Manning. I know full well the coach who rejuvenated Smith’s career and who supposedly had so much faith in his ability had no contact with him during this time period, and was the first person to go see Manning throw at Duke, secretly flying in under cover of night. I know that the 49ers put on the press harder than any other team until Manning told them he wasn’t interested. Big show of confidence, right?

But let’s get to the meat of the argument, and the perception that some people (my friend included) bought into – that Smith’s comments hold merit. Because, make no mistake about this in any capacity…THEY DON’T. See, outside of throwing a guy under the bus, Smith’s comments actually aren’t true in relation to Cam Newton. This line stands out in particular: “…if you’re losing games in the second half, guess what? You’re like the Carolina Panthers and you’re going no-huddle the entire second half and, yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games, that’s great. You’re not winning, though.” The only part of that statement that’s true is Cam and the Panthers didn’t win. But the STRONG implication, the one that most people in the NFL (by their own words, not mine), the media and the public took to heart, was that Cam got his stats because his team was always losing, and thus, they were constantly trying to throw the ball to attempt to stay in games, padding Cam’s stats and making him look like a better QB than he actually was. There’s an implication that HIS (Cam’s) stats were overblown, and that he isn’t as good as advertised.

Rubbish.

Look up what Smith did in HIS rookie season. It WON’T be pretty.

What Smith says assumes (A) Newton was always putting up stats in garbage time and (B) it’s easy to get the stats Newton got. If it’s so easy, how come no other rookie ever did it? Stands to reason most rookie QBs are on teams that aren’t top-caliber (the first-year starters, at least). No, it’s dismissive of a record-breaking achievement. Drew Brees puts up gaudy numbers whether his teams are good or bad (feel free to check his career stats and the win-loss records of the teams he’s played on – whether the teams’ are good or not, he pretty much always gets his numbers). So one could dismiss his numbers if they chose to, but it would be foolish to. Smith’s first season as a starter wasn’t in the same galaxy as Newton’s, by the way. Hell, no one’s was – because Cam broke every major rookie QB record of note. Smith isn’t even in the top 20 of rookie seasons by a QB. Hell – not even top 50 (look it up). Remember – Smith was a #1 draft pick, just like Newton. Please don’t forget that.

Smith didn’t go 13-3 because he was so great – he wasn’t even a Pro Bowl selection. He went 13-3 because he had a top 5 defense and a fantastic running game. Teams didn’t game plan to shut him down AT ALL. People who just take stats without context might buy the crap he said. But he’s as responsible for his team’s gaudy record as Joe Flacco is. Meaning – they both rode great defenses and strong running games to success. The difference is – Flacco at least HAS been above-average his entire career. Smith has been sub-par until last year. And both QBs had somewhat similar seasons stat-wise last year, both of which were good seasons for both.

But make no mistake – Ray Rice, Frank Gore and their defenses were the main components of the Baltimore Ravens’ and 49ers’ success last season. Anyone arguing differently is a fool.

Now, here’s the point I made to my buddy on this – I WATCHED these games. While my friend appeared to have taken Smith’s words as valid, and simplified it down to the wins & losses argument – I knew that argument held no water because I actually saw the games. Hell, it’s essentially why I know so much about sports – I watch the actual games. In today’s society, we have so many people who form their opinions off of watching ESPN highlights and reading stories or listening to/watching talking heads segments…they try to form accurate opinions on things without actually having seen things for themselves. When I was growing up, I got popped if I joined an adult’s conversation without knowing what I was talking about. And I remember watching the adult men clowning any guy who spoke up who didn’t know what he was talking about. Now – it’s commonplace. Everyone has an opinion, but few can back it with substance.

I not only watched the games that came on Sundays and Mondays (including games seen on NFL League Pass and Canadian TV once in a while), I watched THE REPLAYS on NFL Network during the week. That’s right – even after seeing the highlights and knowing the results, I still watched replays of most of the games throughout the week if I was home. I don’t watch TV shows as much as others – I watch sports. And read. I have my shows, but I think there’s probably less than 10 TV shows I watch regularly in the course of a year. So I saw almost every Carolina game, and I saw most of the 49ers games as well.

Why did I bring this up? Because Cam’s numbers actually came over the course of entire games; he did not pad his stats in blow out losses as implied by Smith. All of the scrutiny by the entire sports media, yet no one has brought up this supposed reality until Smith? Bullcrap. I watched the games. I KNOW better. Stats without context make for people speaking without actual knowledge of the subject matter.

However – stats WITH context are used by knowledgeable folks all the time. After I made this point to my friend – about watching the games and seeing Cam do it throughout, not just at the end – I decided to look up what my own eyes saw. Bingo – the eyes don’t lie. This is what I found (again, anyone can feel free to look these things up and prove me wrong):

Out of ten losses, the Carolina Panthers were only blown out in 3. So, they were

Cam Newton sure looked good for a guy with supposedly padded his stats.

in the game in 7 out of 10 losses. Not exactly padding stats in the 2nd half. Overall for the year, the Panthers led in 14 of 16 games, including 10 in the fourth quarter, but of those 10 they won only six. Carolina finished 6-10 and behind Newton’s offensive production upped its scoring average from 12.2 points per game in 2010 to 25.4 points per game in 2011. Newton completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, and he rushed 126 times for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns, the most for a quarterback in NFL history.

So, just look at that for a second. Soak those statistical facts, that I saw with my own eyes, in. And also realize – Newton is one of the rare QBs who had more TDs than interceptions in his rookie year, and of those interceptions, some of them were FORCED in an effort to win. One could argue had he had an even average NFL defense, you could lower the INTs by about 5-7 in number.

Do you now realize that Smith’s words and implications aren’t just off – they’re literally ABSURD?!? Like…literally. ABSURD. To quote Skip Bayless, Smith’s assertion is “asiNINE, asiTEN, asiELEVEN…”

From a man’s standpoint, what Smith did was what some of us call “b***ha$$ness”. This isn’t a case of a defensive player throwing a jab at a rival, like James Harrison saying something about Joe Flacco, or Ray Lewis talking about Eddie George. Rivals talk crap about each other, tweak each other, etc. – it’s par for the course. But one thing you don’t see – you don’t see QBs randomly throwing each other under the bus. Think about it – with Tebow-mania last year, how many active QBs did you hear say anything negative about him? For the 5 years Brett Favre fought LeBron James as the biggest attention-whore in all of sports, how many active QBs talked bad about him? Anyone ever hear a current QB chime in on Tony Romo when everyone else is grilling him?

No. Because you don’t do that. You’re all QBs – you understand. You know the deal. You’re part of the same fraternity. Leave that to the media, analysts, ex-players, etc. But QBs don’t trash other QBs. Even ESPN anchor Trey Wingo said in reference to this “Keep my name out your mouth” (editorializing what he thought Cam’s thoughts should be on this).

So yes – like I said above…Alex Smith is a b***h. The question I posed before – why did he do this? Well – I can’t prove this, and I may never be able to – but it’s what I think…

Because of good ol’ jealousy and bias.

Let me be clear so there’s no misunderstanding – I’m 100% saying Cam Newton’s race had to do with this. Absolutely. I can’t prove this, and I’m pretty positive if this was brought up in the larger media conversation, Smith would eventually deny it as completely untrue. We’d get the obligatory stories of how many Black teammates he’s had, the great relationships he’s had with Black players and people he knows, what he’s done in charity that involved Black folks…etc. You’d have Black teammates stepping up to speak up for the guy, no doubt. Just like if your co-worker said something negative about a Black employee that you suspected was rooted subconsciously (or consciously) in racial bias or prejudice, there are probably many who wouldn’t see it as that – and probably a small number who would.

But I simply don’t believe he would’ve mentioned Andy Dalton’s name if HE had the same season and stats as Cam. You know who ACTUALLY had the type of season Smith described? One with good stats that were padded late in games? Philip Rivers. Know how I know? I had him on a fantasy team. Every single week, I’d look at how he was performing during his games, pissed that it was the 3rd quarter and his stats were anemic. I tried to trade him all year – couldn’t get a good deal back. Everyone low-balled me. But you know what? Come the 4th quarter, Rivers’ stats would improve considerably. This didn’t occur in every game, but A LOT of them. By the end of the game, I had somehow squeezed out at least 250-300 yards and a couple of TDs out of a guy who went into the 3rd quarter barely over the century mark. Note – Rivers threw for over 4,000 last year as well; he actually had 4,624 to Cam’s 4,051.

Why didn’t Smith mention Rivers? Who is a veteran QB who was literally criticized for under-performing in the first half of most of his games during the course of the year NUMEROUS times?? Why didn’t he name Tony Romo – who had the same criticisms? Cam didn’t get that criticism all year, and his games and stats were broke down meticulously every week.

Competitive nature, you speculate? Hmm – Cam Newton has never played a single down against the 49ers. Not in last year’s preseason. Not in last year’s regular season. Nor are they scheduled to meet this season, either. It’s completely possible Smith has never even been within 25 miles of Newton. Ever.

They have never been in the same division. They’ve never had any historical rivalry. Smith’s college, Utah, has never had any beef with Newton’s schools (Florida and Auburn). This is like me talking about the director of marketing at my job – I’ve never met the guy (or woman).

Newton popped into a QB’s head who doesn’t have any relationship with due to the fact that he’s a Black QB who bucked what he was “supposed” to do (which was have a crappy season, NOT torch the league and it’s records). I don’t expect many to agree, because in my experience many people need blatantly racist or prejudiced words or actions to believe that as a possibility – but as someone who has watched this game my entire life and who is sensitive to these subtle digs at certain players – that’s what I see. In fact, in writing this article, I tried to think of the many players who have had racial digs or underlying slick comments directed at them…and it was easier for me to think of the Black pro QBs I can think of who I’ve never heard anything like that for. You know who they are?

Vince Evans (only when he played for the Raiders) and Charlie Batch. That’s it. Literally. And I’m not even saying it never happened with them – I just never heard or read it in regards to both.Those are the only 2 Black pro QBs out of 30+ years of watching football that I can think of like that.

Cam’s used to this crap by now. In fact, if I was him, I’d end each press conference by saying “Your daughters love me” – just to see how many people’s heads explode at the thought.

It’s completely speculative that Smith’s comments are born out of a bit of jealousy and racial animus, and unless he decides to become a much more vocal presence in media, we may never know either way. I just know the facts and circumstances I’ve laid out here. Newton, who by this point is beyond used to shade being thrown his way, I’m sure ain’t sweatin’ this much. But I felt like someone needed to actually refute the implications and insinuations put out by Smith (I’ve encountered no articles doing so to the degree I have), and to put some speculation as to why Smith would even purse his lips to say Cam’s name.

What Smith needs to do, really, is man up and SHUT THE F*** UP. Had he said the same about Philip Rivers, my opinion would be the same as far as him throwing another QB under the bus – you don’t do that. Accept that you’re being questioned about your statistics because you’ve been a mediocre QB almost your entire career, and you’re a #1 draft pick who has had the likes of Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan, Chris Weinke and Troy Smith start OVER you in your career thus far. A guy who was going to be CUT after the 2009 season until you agreed to re-structure your contract to remain on the team. A guy whose team has tried to bring a QB to replace you 2 years in a row. A guy who completed only 46% of your passes in the NFC Championship loss to the NY Giants.

A guy who will NEVER be as good of a QB as Cam Newton is already. Because if Newton had your team – they might have won the Super Bowl. And Newton wouldn’t have been classless enough to throw anyone under the bus when asked about improving his game – since he’s been asked about it already, and thus far, has simply said he’s working to get better.

Sad to say – but Alex Smith could learn a lot by watching a former rookie/2nd year player if he could get over himself. As it stands, he just added himself to the “athletes I don’t like” team. And even on that squad – he’s not good enough to be a starter. Something I’m sure he’s used to.

THIS is the Alex Smith I’ve known for the better part of 6 seasons.

Robert Griffin III would be a sure-fire stud QB - if he had a different coach...

Now that the draft is over, I know most people are already deluding themselves into thinking their team had a good draft. Seriously – I have met very few people in my life who honestly thought their team had a horrible draft right after it’s over. The reasons for this are simple: (1) it takes about 2-3 years to see if a draft class was truly good or bad, and (2) most fans, whether they realize it or not, convince themselves of their teams doing better things in the off-season than they’ve actually done because they want that to be true, not because it is.

I’m not about to sit here and “grade” each team did, because there are numerous articles out there for you to read from far more knowledgeable draft experts on the subject. Besides, those “experts” are rarely right on entire draft classes per team, and it’s their job to examine that all year. It’s not my job to do so – so why would I think I’m going to be correct if they can’t??

No – I figure I’ll just give a few thoughts on the draft now that it’s over with.

  • Washington has done nothing to dissuade my belief they’re going to ruin Robert Griffin III’s pro career. It’s true – I felt that way way before the draft, and I feel that way even moreso now. Why? Who the eff drafts a guy to be a franchise QB – and then drafts another highly touted guy to play QB in the same draft (Kirk Cousins)?? That makes me think wild-eye Shanahan is already scheming for a possible Plan B if Griffin III struggles. Which is dumb. You draft a QB in the top ten – you give him 3 years to succeed or fail. Period. Mark my words –Robert Griffin III is the best QB prospect in this year’s draft, in my opinion. But teaming with the Shanahans…if he can overcome all their crap and tomfoolery, I may have to buy his jersey.
  • I’m already sick of Andrew Luck. No, really – and I don’t even dislike the kid. But I’m beyond sick of hearing comparisons to John Elway, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, etc. Like – seriously. This kid hasn’t thrown one pro pass. Indianapolis is NOT a good team on paper. They have a new coach. New scheme, new offense, new players. You want me to believe he’s as good already as the all-time great players who built their rep up over at least a decade? With all these variables?? GTFOH!!

    And yes, I remember these same media heads trashing Cam Newton last year, when every person who watched him thought he was a sure-fire stud – well, until they allowed themselves to be convinced otherwise by the “experts”. Let me tell you something, and this I GUARANTEE – Luck will NOT have as good of a season as Newton had in his rookie year. Newton shattered rookie records, and threatened some non-rookie ones. Has anyone heard him compared to Marino, Elway or Brett Favre after that?? I sure haven’t. Hell – Peyton Manning, who was unbelievable in college, didn’t get THIS much props before he had actually played (he did get a lot, though). So yes – I’m completely sick of him due to the way the media has talked about him – already. Doesn’t mean I wish him ill will or failure. But ugh – the crowning of him as a savior is completely off-putting to me.

  • The Buffalo Bills had a pretty decent draft. Oh, believe me – if they didn’t, I’d be the first to clown. But outside of drafting WR TJ Graham in the 3rd when stud WR Nick Toon was still available – they did pretty good for themselves. While I think it was a mistake to draft CB Stephen Gilmore over WR Malcolm Floyd in the 1st round, the Gilmore pick isn’t a bad one – at all. I think he’s a good player. One has to keep in mind – the Bills’ drafts over the past few years have been the biggest jokes in the AFC. And when they did find good players, they lost them within 5 years time. Again, time will tell on their picks – but it was a stable draft for them. Hell, it seems better than my team’s draft. Speaking of which…
  • I don’t know what my Raiders did. Like…I don’t. They DID address needs, and the offensive lineman they selected – Utah’s Tony Bergstrom – is capable of stepping in as a starter at guard for them. The rest of the draft picks seem to be either to provide depth or are projects to work on. But it’s really hard to judge what they did. I think new GM Reggie Mckenzie is making prudent decisions since taking over, but man – I’m REALLY going to have to wait to see how this turns out. I still say the biggest mistake the team did was getting rid of coach Hue Jackson.
  • The Patriots reloaded. So let’s see – New England made the Super Bowl with a sub-par defense (by their standards). So what do they do? LOAD UP on defense in the draft. Yikes. SU’s Chandler Jones and Alabama’s Donta Hightower lead a group of good defensive draftees that will undoubtedly make them a Superbowl favorite again. Geez – why can’t my team be as smart and sound as them? I think most rational people wonder the same thing.
  • People are cruel. Whomever called up Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu during the 1st round and pranked him by telling him he was about to be selected by the Cincinnati Bengals is a evil bastard. The kid sat there heartbroken watching them actually choose G Kevin Zeitler with the 27th pick instead. Luckily, Cincy would choose him in the 3rd round. But the kid who did that to Sanu – cold-blooded, man. Cold-blooded.
  • The NFL is a cruel business. I know most of us know that, but Colt McCoy REALLY knows that right now. After only a brief trial to grow as a QB, the Cleveland Browns are already scrapping the plan to build around him and drafted OSU’s Brandon Weeden to take his job. Yikes. This is the team that put McCoy back in the game after he was knocked silly with a concussion, and put his health at risk (nothing ever happened to them for that, either – highlighting the NFL’s hypocrisy on player safety). Considering how quickly they gave up on Brady Quinn – I’m thinking the most uncomfortable QB job in the league may be QB for the Browns.
  • The St. Louis Rams BETTER be improved. With all those draft picks and players they added – if they’re just as bad as last year, that’s going to be inexcusable. I don’t expect them to be a Super Bowl contender – but I’m thinking a 7-9 finish with promise for the future is a fair expectation.
  • The rich get richer. The Green Bay Packers and NY Giants were already good teams. They both had pretty good drafts for teams that are already elite. Perhaps that’s why they’re already elite.

    That’s my quick reactions to the 2012 NFL draft. Everyone has hope at this point of the year – everyone’s got a shot right now. But we won’t know how it play out until we see some mini-camps and preseason games. Until then…you know I’ll stay on it!!

Go ahead, Ibaka. Step to him. I DARE you.

It was announced Tuesday that Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace would be suspended for 7 games for the elbow he threw that knocked Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden out of Sunday’s game. The incident has been all over the world of sports news since it happened, and has managed to overshadow an otherwise captivating game that saw the Lakers come from 18 down to win in double overtime. World Peace will miss Thursday’s season finale with the Sacramento Kings, and the next 6 games the Lakers play – presuming the Lakers advance past the 1st round of the playoffs, that could mean into the 2nd round.

People have been talking about this non-stop. Before we go further, let’s first take a look at said play:

Pretty bad, right? Yeah – I don’t think anyone can defend that play. I think you’re delusional if you think he didn’t deserve a suspension for that. That’s not even up for debate to me. But you know what is?

The reactions and words of certain talking heads and fans.

I had a number of people overreacting saying “He should be banned for life!” Or “He should be done for the year!” One friend swore he was done for good – I told him there was no chance in hell. First off, the NBAPA wouldn’t allow it. Secondly, NBA history – if you know it (which most fans seemingly don’t) – dictated exactly what type of punishment he should’ve gotten. Most elbows in games get between 1-3 games for an offender; being someone who has had controversial incidents in the past, I predicted 5 games was likely, with a max of 10. But the other stuff?

Please.

Look – I don’t care that so many of you reading this may be caught up in the spin that ESPN and other entities peddle out nightly. I watch ESPN too – and I know when they’re reporting a story, and when they’re FRAMING one. And they’ve done that all too often. Yes, he knocked Harden out, and thankfully, Harden seems to be okay. But stop acting like what happened was more than what it was – a cheap, in-game play that was excessive and deserved punishment. He got punished. I think 7 games is a lot, but given the history – I think commissioner David Stern was fair and didn’t bow to the public and media hyperbole. No one’s going to argue the punishment is too much. But spare me the “he got off light” sentiment.

World Peace’s rep is well-known, and I get it – people view him in a certain light. But since he’s come to the Lakers, he’s actually been thrown out of as many games as Kobe Bryant. In fact – the guys on the team with the most ejections in recent years would be Matt Barnes and Andrew Bynum. The so-called “Malice In The Palace” happened 8 years ago – and he’s been on his best behavior since then. Of course, ESPN couldn’t wait to play clips of it and say that this incident “immediately conjures up thoughts of the Indiana-Detroit brawl”. No it didn’t. But awesome job planting that in your viewers’ heads to further the storyline you hope to create to make this worse than it already was.

And let’s really take a look at that incident. No, seriously – watch that event again:

How many actual punches does (then) Ron Artest throw at anyone? I count 1 definite punch – after he had gone in the stands, a fan ran up on him back on the court, and he swung on him. I said it back then, I’ll say it now – if you’re stupid enough to swing at that man, no matter WHO you are – good luck. This is the same guy that Shaq had trouble backing down. I don’t excuse that incident, but the revisionist history on it is laughable – Artest/World Peace took the fall as a scapegoat when the actions of Ben Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson were actually worse. Wallace started that whole fiasco. No one will ever convince me otherwise. But Artest did fan the flames, and he served his punishment.

My point is – get over it. The man did his best to reform, has pretty much kept himself out of trouble (with a few techs here and there over the years) on the court, and even got professional help. In all the slanted talk, has everyone forgotten that he won the NBA’s J.Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award – LAST YEAR?!?

Yup – LAST YEAR.

I’m not buying any of the “do away with him” garbage. I’m not buying into the “thug” crap. There’s racial undertones many times when bringing up him and other NBA “troublemakers” that seems to forget/excuse the history of players like Kevin McHale, Bill Laimbeer and Brad Miller. Not saying this case is a racial thing at all – just saying, there’s often an undertone when certain players are talked about.

And please – don’t come at me like someone did calling that the worst play of the season. Really? How about the wrap-up around clothesline Phoenix’s Robin Lopez gave to Blake Griffin just a week ago??

How about New Orleans’ Jason Smith hitting the “truck” button on Griffin a few weeks ago?

Don’t even GET me started on worse plays last year or in previous years that got lesser reactions and punishments. I find it hilarious watching Charles Barkely, Shaq and Bruce Bowen pursing their lips to say ANYTHING about World Peace.

World Peace got the appropriate punishment – 7 games, no pay. Miss me with the crying about him being some Legion Of Doom-esque super villain who must be stopped at all costs. My thought on all the overreaction? Get a grip. At least the man has legitimately tried to change his life and actions around.

In the heat of a game, he lost it. Hell, some would argue (myself included) that Harden was trying to set World Peace off by running up on him right as he was celebrating (oh, I know – we’re supposed to ignore that Harden doesn’t guard World Peace, and that World Peace didn’t have the ball- he was running to get back on defense – so there was no legitimate reason for him to run right up on him like that). Well, you (Harden) set him off. This is supposition, but Harden (if you watch as him regularly) likes to try to get under the skin of opponents. He wanted to, in my opinion, get under World Peaces’ skin by running up on him and make him do something stupid. Guess what? He did something stupid. Except Harden got hurt.

Doesn’t excuse it. Doesn’t remotely make it alright.

I’m just saying let’s keep this entire thing in perspective. The NBA, in my opinion, handled this correctly.

It’s been 8 years. Give World Peace a chance.

Well – NFL free agency began Tuesday, and while it’s not a free-for-all, things have certainly gotten off to a rapid, exciting start. While “Manning-Watch 2012” is in full swing, other notable players have already settled in with new teams and contracts. Most notably, DE Mario Williams has literally shook up the league by signing the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history – and taking his services to the Buffalo Bills, of all places.

This has to be the surprise of free agency, and I doubt anyone will top it. In Buffalo, the fanbase is going CRAZY – a little too crazy, if you ask me. I understand the excitement, and I think anyone should be excited to land possibly the #1 free agent out there – but you’d think Jesus was signed to play (and I’m not talking about your Latino neighbor with the hot wife). This is no shock if you look at the history of free agent signings in the post-Jim Kelly era – the fans had similar over-reactions to Drew Bledsoe and Terrell Owens coming to town. They’re desperate to be competitive, and the small town desire to be as relevant as the big city teams permeates throughout the area.

Mario Williams (with his fiance) may truly be the biggest free agent signing of the NFL off-season - and NOT just due to what he brings on the field.

Just don’t tell me this means Super Bowl – the Houston Texans had a much better team than the Bills the past 5 years with Williams, and yet never made the playoffs (they made it last year, but he was hurt after the first 5 games). It takes a complete team – and last I checked, while this is promising for the Bills – they still have the same crappy head coach.

In the short term, it means nothing if the team doesn’t continue in building the team up – it’s just a way to sell season tickets and make money. But the DRAW that comes along with the biggest free agent coming to your town??

Well – put it this way. No one gave a fudge about Green Bay before Reggie White gave ’em a shot. And while Williams is no Reggie White – he can be used as a piece to entice free agents to a city they would NEVER consider otherwise.

In my opinion, regardless of how it plays out for the rest of the off-season – the Williams signing is THE BIGGEST signing of this year’s free agency, no matter what. Not because of his name, but because of what it would mean for drawing in money, national TV coverage, and – if the organization actually is trying to be a contender – what it means for bringing in other players over the years.

The Bills also had their sights on grabbing a top free agent WR – but were spurned by WR Robert Meachem, who instead signed with the San Diego Chargers. Replacing the now-departed Vincent Jackson (more on that in a second), I think the Chargers make out here. While Meachem is 3 inches shorter, he’s still 6 ft. 2, has great hands and speed, and is considerably cheaper than Jackson would have been if SD had kept him. He has a catch rate of over 60%, and while some would try to argue he benefited from having Drew Brees as his QB – I find that argument flawed, because wouldn’t he stand to benefit from Philip Rivers too, by that train of thought?

He’s also incredibly durable and much less injury-prone than Jackson. Combining him with Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd and the newly signed Eddie Royal – he could have a breakout year. Hell, he got at least 600 yards the past 2 years as the 4th receiver in New Orleans – you think he can’t get that with MORE targets as a #1 WR??

Both New Orleans and Sand Diego lost pieces to the team that’s really cleaning up in free agency so far – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a really bad season last year, they’re re-tooling and spending the money to be a force in the NFC South. They grabbed Jackson from San Diego, top free agent guard Carl Nicks from the Saints, and a good cornerback in Eric Wright from the Detroit Lions. This is a team that already had tons of great pieces all over the board. Granted, they’ve got a 1st-time NFL coach in Greg Schiano, but if he can remotely get this team to build a good chemistry…Tampa Bay could wind up a playoff team again.

Thus far, the biggest loser in free agency is unquestionably the Miami Dolphins. Let’s see – they gave up troubled but talented WR Brandon

Peyton Manning came to Miami - and then he left Miami. For good.

Marshall to the Chicago Bears for a bag of peanuts and a Snicker bar (not really – but two 3rd-round draft picks ain’t too much better); got passed over by Reggie Wayne when he re-signed with Indianapolis instead of giving the Dolphins a shot like he had hinted, and were officially eliminated from the Peyton Manning sweepstakes Friday. Yikes. And this is a team that didn’t have a winning record last year, and now have a new coach to deal with.

What are they doing? I have friends who are Dolphins fans, but I’m sorry – they look like they’re on a one-way ticket to doormat-ville. Even if they sign free agent QB Matt Flynn – does anyone really see anything out of this team to say their future looks promising? Granted – there’s a lot of time left, and the draft hasn’t happened. But things are looking a bit crazy right now…

A few other moves I think are good: San Francisco signing Randy Moss to a low-risk, incentive-laden contract; the Tennessee Titans throwing themselves into the Manning sweepstakes and signing free agent guard Steve Hutchinson (a good friend of Manning’s); the St. Louis Rams juicing Washington by trading their #2 pick for the #6 pick, a 2nd-rounder this year, and 1st round picks in 2013 and 2014…along with getting Jeff Fisher (yet another person Miami missed out on!) as head coach and grabbing top free agent corner Cortland Finnegan, and finally – Washington, for fighting for their annual title as the off-season champions of free agency (they’ve made quite a bit of signings thus far), as well as securing the right to draft superstar NCAA QB Robert Griffin III (even if they DID get killed in what they had to give to do so).

Still A LOT of time to go, and this will be playing out literally for months…but wanted to just give a quick look at this past week in free agency comings and goings. We’ll see how it plays out – until then…Shoot, Pass, Quibble!!

Mike D'Antoni failed the New York Knicks - which actually shouldn't surprise anyone.

So here we are – in the aftermath of the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, the now former coach of the New York Knicks. I’ve pretty much railed against the man and his “coaching” for years, especially after the Knicks hired him. I have a great many Knicks fans that I know, so it’s been interesting to watch most of them go from excited when he was first hired to fed up leading up to him quitting this week (while I shouldn’t say I told you so, every thing I said would happen when this guy took over DID happen…so to some of my friends reading this, I TOLD YOU SO).

But the D’Antoni fiasco highlights exactly how important having a good coach is in the NBA. Because, as much as some people may think teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets stink – it really comes down to coaching moreso than personnel. Because – and I think people in all sports forget this – these people are pros. They are, for the most part, the best of the best at what they do. Which is why a guy like Shannon Brown can go from not ever playing in Charlotte to being a major contributor to a championship team in L.A. – system and coaching.

Oh, don’t get it twisted. There ARE players who are crappier than others in this league. And it’s true, a coach will have a hard time showing how good he is with crappier players to work with (look at Avery Johnson in New Jersey). But the D’Antoni situation in particular just goes to show how many people really don’t understand the NBA game at all, in my opinion. Because this season, I’ve read everything from the Knicks have too much talent (there’s no such thing, people), to it’s all Carmelo Anthony’s fault (hardly), to Jeremy Lin can’t handle the pressure any more (Oh? But he inexplicably could for a full month and then got scared when Deron Williams came back to town??) to it’s all J.R. Smith/Amar’e Stoudemire’s fault for not playing better defense (um – when did either one of those guys present themselves as lockdown defenders? EVER??).

I’m sorry – all those excuses are just lazy thinking. Especially in terms of blaming the players – that’s the laziest thing I see fans do. Team loses or isn’t doing good, it’s the players’ fault. Especially the star. Look – there are indeed times when it’s a star’s fault (LeChoke’s performance in the 4th quarters of the last 3 games of the NBA Finals last year comes to mind). But I’m sorry – it’s simply NOT on Lamar Odom for why the Dallas Mavericks aren’t playing that well. It’s not on Rajon Rondo or Kevin Garnett for the reasons the Boston Celtics are struggling (it’s not Doc Rivers’ fault either – I’m looking at you, Danny Ainge).

Even the usually affable Derek Fisher had tuned coach Mike Brown out at times this season in L.A.

Coaching plays a major part. For example – I’ve been crying all season about Mike Brown’s “coaching” of the Los Angeles Lakers. The situation in L.A. is just as bad as NY, but one thing masks everything – the Lakers are winning. This is in large part due to a half-mutiny Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had orchestrated there. Which, if people had been paying attention (which most haven’t), has the support of all the players.

Granted, I probably watch sports and follow the ins and outs better than most people who don’t actually work at ESPN or something similar – but the info is readily available. The players holding meetings to figure out how to deal with the coaching staff. The veterans running the triangle (at different points) for most of the first part of the season, even though the current coach and his staff have no triangle plays in their book. The frequent disinterest of certain players in huddles on nationally televised games. Players going to Kobe Bryant to know what to do on offense. And the kicker – the worst thing I’ve seen in years – the star player (Bryant) brazenly admitting  in an on-court interview after beating the Celtics recently that he literally vetoed the called play by the coach and called his own play for center Andrew Bynum.

And Bynum excitedly talking about it for 2 days after the fact, all in the sports media.

Now, you can blame Kobe and the players for this lack of respect. But just know – in the entire history of the Lakers since I’ve been watching, I’ve never heard of these things. Not from Kobe. Not from Shaq. Not from Kareem. Not from anyone, no matter what shenanigans were going on. No matter WHO the coach was. And, taking a look at Mike Brown’s coaching history…this is actually par for the course. The same type of things went on in Cleveland. It’s just happened quicker than I thought in L.A.

In both cases, Brown won tons of games. Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni are prime examples of bad coaches who have players that mask their inability to be good head coaches. Both are good at what they do – Brown at instilling defensive principles, D’Antoni on the offensive end – but they’re both no better than assistant coaches. Head coaches? Nope.

The opposite of guys like Brown and D’Antoni? Monty Williams and Rick Adelman. Both guys have lesser rosters, and have to squeeze out the absolute best of their players. In Williams’ case, the NBA (in particular David Stern) has completely hamstrung the team in terms of talent and being competitive. Yet, even though they’re the third-worst team in the league, missing their biggest scoring option in Eric Gordon – they play hard, and boast victories over a number of good teams. There is no surprise in watching them beat a team with a winning record.

Adelman has taken a supposedly awful Minnesota Timberwolves team and put them in contention for a playoff spot, with 2 rookies (Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams) being incorporated into the mix. I actually wish my Lakers had hired Adelman. The man can win with almost any roster. He won’t be at the top of the standings, because roster limitations DO have an effect – but he won’t ever be at the very bottom, either.

In fact – let me give you a list of who I think are good coaches: Adelman, Williams, Jerry Sloan (currently not coaching), Rick Carlisle, George Karl, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, Greg Popovich, Doug Collins, Lionel Hollins, Frank Vogel, Kevin McHale, Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry and Erik Spoelstra. Yes, THAT Erik Spoelstra. The one people like to throw under the bus any time the Miami Heat lose. I definitely contend he’s a good coach. Not the best – but good? Yes.

That’s a lot of coaches. And not everyone I named are on the same level (no one on that list matches Popovich to me). But what of the coaches I didn’t

Stan Van Gundy is yet another coach with a good record and reputation - but is completely overrated (in my opinion).

name? That means, in my opinion – they’re either average or less than average. That includes a guy like Stan Van Gundy, who always has teams that win, but in terms of coaching? Put it this way – when he has talent, the guy will always get you a good regular season record. In the playoffs? I can almost always predict how he will lose and how he will be out-coached. Seriously. Any time he goes up against a good coach with a healthy team, he’s gonna get knocked out in the playoffs.

Now a coach like that is good if your team simply wants to sell tickets and put out the facade of being a top-notch team. But as Shaquille O’Neal once stated, Van Gundy is “the master of panic”. Put him in a rough spot – the Magic are going down. His adjustments – or lack thereof – are pathetic. I’ll take his brother Jeff Van Gundy any day of the week over him (Jeff is a bit of an imbecile on TV, but he’s a hell of a coach).

What it comes down to – a good coach is not always in control of a winning record. And a bad coach can win with the right talent. Don’t forget – Mike D’Antoni was once Coach of The Year. Yet he was run out of Phoenix, and quit on NY. And even good coaches can be run out of town – look at Phil Jackson in Chicago. I guess what I’m trying to say, one needs to really play attention to a team, it’s issues, it’s players – and how it’s growing or faltering. Because many times in this league, it truly does come down to the coaching.

That’s not to say it’s always the coach’s fault. I don’t put the blame for Cleveland’s struggles on Byron Scott at all. On the other side, I don’t think Vinnie Del Negro is an upper echelon coach simply because the NBA gave him Chris Paul. To be honest, I think both of those men are average coaches of the same level. Management is a big part of the overall picture, and they need to be in sync with any coach. In this regard, you really can’t completely fault D’Antoni in New York – he was never in sync with Knicks management (who essentially forced Carmelo Anthony on the man).

Still – with a roster of Lin, ‘Melo, Amar’e, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and tons of great role players – there’s no excuse for failing this badly. The silly excuse some have used of “too many stars” or the “hard to mesh” excuse fails when you look at the Lakers winning a championship after adding Pau Gasol midseason; the Boston Celtics having FOUR all-star players and winning, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs – all teams with tons of stars that made it work pretty easily. And what do all of those teams have in common?

You guessed it – good coaching.

I actually think the Knicks will make the playoffs with Mike Woodson taking over as interim coach. Is he good coach? Not in my opinion. But he’s average, and I believe the players will respect and respond to him better than they did D’Antoni. And no, I don’t believe the players had anything to do with getting him out of there – please remember, he resigned. The man quit. So that’s on him and his failures, and I’m hearing it was more of an issue with him and management for the decision to come at this point.

All one has to do is look at Portland game the day of the resignation. NY beat the brakes off that team under Woodson. They looked great. The beating was so bad, the next day Portland fired their coach, Nate McMillan. And what’s the first thing Woodson did behind closed doors? Tell the team he was changing the offense to accentuate Stoudemire and ‘Melo. Not implementing an offense they need to adjust to and fit into – but implementing one that plays to their strengths.

Coaching.

As always, most will really notice the difference in coaching when the playoffs come around. With the trade of Derek Fisher to Houston, I suspect we’ll see many of Mike Brown’s flaws blatantly come out in the playoffs when he has to match up with a top coach and their adjustments. He won’t have the on-floor leadership he’s had most of the year to get through adversity, and to be honest – as good of a leader as Kobe is, he loses patience with sub-par play and isn’t one to suffer fools. Brown starts doing his normal lack of adjusting and countering, Kobe’s liable to go rogue and tear the team in half – or take them with him (more likely). And before anyone puts that on Kobe, let me point out you’re missing the point – I wouldn’t even be talking about that if Kobe had a good coach who wouldn’t tolerate that.

D’Antoni is said to have quit because he was unwilling to reign in the half of the team who had turned against him. Brown is unwilling to reign in Kobe. And, as is the case yearly, the teams that will succeed when it matters will do so not just because of their stars and talent – they’ll win (or lose) based on coaching to a large degree.

Not every game is won or lost due to coaching, this is true. But I can’t remember a single NBA title that was won by a bad coach – or even an average one. That accentuates the point I’m trying to make.

The best thing to do with most haters - smile and wave.

 

It’s that time of the year – March. To the person who doesn’t watch sports, it’s just a month that usually brings us the first taste of Spring. But to a sports fan, it means one thing – March Madness, the most exciting time period and playoffs in all of sports. Yes, I said ALL of sports. Because between the college basketball conference tournaments and the NCAA championship tournament, there isn’t a single month all year with more unpredictable, exciting, scintillating games and matchups than March. That doesn’t make NCAA basketball the overall best sport to most – but you can’t match it for the excitement it generates during it’s playoffs. And, unlike any other major American sport – you truly can have a Cinderella team come out of nowhere to shock the world. And no matter who you pick to win it – more often than not, those teams actually don’t win it all. The upsets are part of the great joy associated with March Madness.

March Madness is The Player Haters' Ball for a number of sports fans.

But moreso than any other time of year – this is the primetime showcase for the sports hater. It’s like The Player Haters’ Ball for sports hating. Oh, the sports hater is there year-round – trashing certain teams and athletes nonsensically, simply due to the success of those teams and players. More often than not, these haters have become haters because their own teams suck or aren’t as good as the top teams – so, since they cannot attain happiness by watching their team, they find it in hoping another team that is good fails. That’s the absolute mark of a sports hater – they pay attention and care as much about a team that’s not their own as the do the one they do cheer. OR, the player they like isn’t as good as another, or they feel the need to down another player simply because that player may be considered by some better or in the same league as the player that they support/like.
Living in Buffalo, NY – I’m naturally surrounded by tons of them (see: most Buffalo Bills & Buffalo Sabres fans).

This has reared it’s head this week, as college b-ball heats up. I’ve heard people laughing at others’ teams who lost – when they have nothing to do with their own teams. People posting trash talk on their friends Facebook pages – when their team is straight wack juice. And, as a Syracuse Orange fan (and proud alumnus), I’m used to having jealous scrubs hate on my team because – well, truth be told, since I’ve been on this Earth, the team has never had a losing season. Like – literally never. Since I’ve been alive. And they ALWAYS get at least 20 wins. That type of success breeds hate.

So, with that said, let me prepare my fellow Orangemen and Orangewomen (yes, I’m old school, so I still call us that) for what will come. But please – anyone who isn’t an Orange fan, apply this advice and analysis to your own teams – by all means. Here are 10 things to keep in mind during the month in regards to imbeciles hating on Syracuse – but also in a general sense year-round in response to sports haters.

 

1. The only people who can talk any real trash before the NCAA tournament are Kentucky fans. However, you will find very few true Kentucky fans most likely if you live in NY State, Maryland, Virginia, etc. – basically, in the North East part of the U.S. What you WILL find is quite a few bandwagoners who like to ride with the #1 team. Feel free to call them out, since we all know next year they’ll mysteriously be Ohio State/Syracuse/Duke/UNC/insert team here fans.

The rest of the haters who open their mouths to you? Not much to really say, seeing as Syracuse is the #2 school in the nation, and was #1 for 6 weeks prior to that. But they’ll still yap. Make sure you remind them that all that yapping doesn’t change the fact their team isn’t close to our level.

2. Prepare for absurdity in predictions. Haters have no rational thought or logic in what they say or the “analysis” they offer. They’re hoping your team loses. So keep that in mind when they say West Kentucky has a real shot at beating SU. These type of idiots really think because they hope something and want to see it, it will happen. It’s quite possibly mommy and daddy never taught them the difference between the fairytales they read and reality – Simon was a cartoon, dude. He’s not going to draw a loss for a team simply cuz you don’t like them.

3. Get ready for the extraneous. I already had some dude pop off this week about Syracuse players being druggies, in addition to the obligatory Bernie Fine jokes. None of that stuff has changed reality of what’s been accomplished or effected the team, right? Don’t let the hater distract you with that. Stick to the topic at hand – his/her team sucks, and probably is on the bubble to even make the NCAA tournament. All that crap has nothing to do with SU being a favorite to be the 2012 NCAA champions.

They’ll also try to bring up the past…“I remember back in ’05 when my team beat yours…” – huh?!? I remember last night when West Wichita Junior College beat your wack-arse squad by 34 on ESPN 2, homie. Fudge outta here with that. Understand – most haters don’t want to deal with the present reality. It makes them feel better to say anything to slight your team. Don’t let them alter the conversation – stick to what’s eating them up to begin with. And that’s your team being good.

4. When your team takes a loss, prepare for them to ride the jock of the team that beat them. You know how many Notre Dame basketball fans I know? None. You know how many I knew when they handed Syracuse their first loss of the season? Tons. Take it in stride – the hater is actually revealing themselves to be completely pathetic by hitching on to a team they know nothing about. Remember – it’s about finding joy at the expense of a team or player that’s good. The pathetic scrubs are actually sitting at home watching every game your team plays, just like you are – except they’re cheering for them to lose, so they can feel good about it and talk spit. Call them out for jock-riding, and feel free to ask them how well their team has been doing as of late.

5. Don’t even respond to phone calls or texts. I have a simple rule – if you never talk to me about my team when they’re doing well, we certainly aren’t talking when they aren’t. In fact – calling or texting me right after a loss when I know you’re attempting to do so to either be happy at the loss or to ask stupid questions like “What happened?” is a sure way to not hear from me for weeks – possibly months. It’s not that I’m upset – I didn’t pick up the phone, and I most likely deleted any voicemail or text without being exposed to the content – it’s just knowing you were on some hater ish to begin with. And I know those people just by seeing their names pop up.

6. Feel free to clown their rationalization for being a hater. Let it ’em have it, and call ’em out at every opportunity. After all, hating is undeniably an intrinsic form of b!+<ha$$ness. There IS no good excuse for it. I once had someone try to justify it by saying “Well, you’re always wearing your Syracuse gear and talking about your school when they’re on TV.” AND?!? Muddatrucka – it’s not my fault your team sucks, and you didn’t even go there – you went to Devry. Own that – don’t fault me for being prideful. Or try this one: “I don’t like Syracuse because Jim Boeheim looks like a weasel. How’d he get that fine wife anyways??” Umm…you sound real suspect saying ish like that, homie. Real suspect.

7. Don’t fall into the trap of hating in retaliation. Many people do this, in an attempt to get the hater back. All it does is feed the pathetic dummy’s hate. Prime example – some of the biggest haters I know are Georgetown Hoya fans. In fact, I think to BE a fan of those mutts, you must first be a hater. For real. Yet, when they lost to Cincinnati Thursday – I didn’t email any of them. No phone calls. No posts on their Facebook walls. Why? Because I don’t care about those mutts. I only care about them when they’re in my team’s path. Likewise – I’m not watching them hoping they lose to talk ish. I didn’t enjoy them losing. I didn’t care. I can watch them play and not care – I care about MY TEAM. Even teams I don’t like, (GTown, Duke, Notre Dame, BYU, etc.) – I’ll watch them if the game is a good one, and not feel the need to talk ish to any fans of those teams. Only if it comes up at a later date do I even reference it to a hater.

Remember – their team isn’t as good as yours. You should expect them to lose or suck. I know I do.

8. Haters will invent the future to make themselves feel good. Oh, this is a staple of the hater. They love to tell you what will happen to your team in the future based on – well, based on hate. Nothing factual, logical or rational. “Next year your team will suck when such-and-such happens. Such and such player will decline. Your team’s coach won’t even be there in 2 years.” Or my favorite: “Karma will get them.” Karma?? What karma? Based on your dislike? Well – if you’re that powerful, mighty djinn – why don’t you cross your arms, nod your head and conjure up a championship for your team, huh? And while you’re telling the future and conjuring up titles – can you do a kick-arse rendition of “Never Had A Friend Like Me?”

Love that song.

Maaannn…ignore that tomfoolery. These same putzes predicted “This is the year!” for their crappy squad at the beginning of the year, right? Okay then. You already know the live a land called Delusion. No sense in even entertaining their asinine “predictions” rooted in hate.

9. Don’t be a sore loser. We all experience disappointment when our team loses, but you can’t win ’em all. Odds are, your team isn’t going to be the last team standing every year. But don’t give the haters the opening they desire. If you’re completely crushed, don’t exhibit that in front of a hater. Because all they’ll do is make it much worse, and most likely make you want to bust them right in chops. I personally don’t get THAT upset…but some people do. All I’m saying – don’t reveal devastation in front of the biggest haters you know. They’re ALREADY annoying jerk-offs, right?

10. Even when your team wins, don’t expect any credit. Seriously. Expect them to list every reason your team won that didn’t have to do with them simply being the best overall team. They’ll tell you how lucky your team was to avoid another squad. The refs will have been on your team’s side, or even flat-out handed them the game. Or it was due to teams just having bad games – never due to your team, oh, I don’t know – winning on their own merits. Even if your team won by 50 points each game – they’ll go as far as saying the games were rigged. Never put the conspiracy theory above the hater. The hater is relentless in their commitment to hate.

 

And there you have it. 10 guidelines you should follow in dealing with haters. I can easily deal with these morons, but I know they annoy the crap out of many of my friends, especially my Orange family. Just remember, always – they’re miserable little putzes who take joy in watching a good team lose or decline. Do what I do – have fun with them. A hater’s worst enemy is the truth and reality. Hit ’em with it – reality bites. Just like their teams, most likely.

And, for those Syracuse haters reading this (because I know they are – haters never miss an opportunity to check out things related to the teams they’re hating on) – here’s a little something for you to gnash your teeth at…

Dion Waiters dunked all over UConn - similar to what he's done all season long to every team the Orange have played.

 

We see you – Hi, Haters!!!

As of this posting, the questions surrounding if Kobe Bryant would play or not after suffering a broken nose and concussion at this year’s NBA All-Star game have been answered. Bryant returned against the Minnesota Timberwolves and dropped 31 points, along with almost getting a triple-double – all while wearing a Richard Hamilton-esque protective mask. He continues to play at a high level this season, currently tied with 2 other players for the most 30-point games in the league this year (14).

Kobe Bryant is really a cybernetic killer sent from the future to kill the dreams of rising NBA stars...

Kobe’s not human in the traditional sense of what we’re used to in the NBA. The injuries and afflictions he’s played through are the stuff of legend, so few (if any) thought there was a chance he’d miss this game. Personally, I knew of another reason why he wouldn’t miss the game – it was reported that during the All-Star festivities in Orlando, young rookie sensation Ricky Rubio had the intestinal fortitude (read: guts) to talk trash to Kobe about his team’s upcoming game with L.A. (the majority of media outlets missed a golden opportunity to add to the storyline by not including that nugget of info that was mentioned on TNT). Knowing that, I knew Kobe was going to be on that court no matter what. And I knew he was going to have a high performance. Kobe doesn’t take well to unproven young bucks talking trash to him – especially when he’s spanked that young pup before (Rubio was on the Spanish national team that Kobe obliterated to win gold in the last Olympics).

But there’s something currently happening that I really don’t think people have taken stock of (which made it the perfect topic for me to write about). And that is…

People are no longer scared of Kobe Bryant.

Let me be clear – no one was ever scared of him the way they were a Charles Oakley, younger Ron Artest, Detroit Bad Boys, etc. But Kobe has the reputation of an assassin and a cold-blooded killer on the court, and rightfully so. He’s made a career of taking down players, teams, organizations, etc. – with a ruthless drive only matched by his idol, Michael Jordan. His reel of game-winning shots is crazy. The amount of players – current and former – who have been schooled by the man is extensive. And, regardless of what any detractors say – even right now, the only guy who can shut Kobe down is Kobe himself.

But the years have caught up with The Mamba.

This isn’t saying I agree with the foolish narrative that he’s “lost it” or that he’s old and on the way out – because common sense and a working pair of eyes will clearly tell you different. But Bryant himself will tell you he’s not as fast as he once was (the man was an absolute blur on a fastbreak during the Lakers’ three-peat). His game has been modified the same way Jordan modified his during his 2nd three-peat – he now works to get himself enough space to get off a good shot, not to drive to the basket for a dunk or acrobatic layup. Oh, he can still drive – and dunk – but 16 years of wear and tear behooves him to not do so for 82 games AND playoffs.

And if he makes 1st team All-NBA Defense this year, it would be criminal.

Last year, he played on knees with very little cartilage left in them, and on a bad ankle. He was still able to be one of the Top 5 players in the league, but his limitations were really exposed against the New Orleans Hornets in the playoffs. With the Lakers point guards getting killed by Chris Paul, Kobe took it upon himself to stop the diminutive megastar. Only a funny thing happened – Kobe couldn’t stop him. At all. True, his injuries were a big factor in this – but for 7 games, Kobe was as hapless as his teammates to stop CP3. Which had never happened.

It was all over once Rocky saw that Drago was cut. Kobe - take notes.

It’s not like this was some awakening for the rest of the players in the league. But what it actually was, moreso, was an indication of what has transpired in the mindset of the league’s other star guards and small forwards – he can be touched. He’s not invincible. It’s the equivalent of when Rocky cut Ivan Drago in Rocky IV…his corner famously told him as they looked across the ring at the bleeding Russian “You see?? You see?!? He’s not a machine, he’s a man! He’s A MAN!!!” The same with Kobe. His peers respect him, and even still marvel at him. Make no mistake about it – every player younger than Bryant looks at him the way he himself looked at Jordan. But, just as Kobe wanted to BEAT Jordan, and went all out to do so at every opportunity – the younger stars in the league want to do the same to him.

Because Bryant is the standard of excellence in the league. And everyone wants to measure themselves by beating that standard. And there’s the sense that it’s possible now. Not that it’s able to be done by anyone – it’s still easier said than done – but just that’s it’s possible. Before last year, I get the sense that the only player in the league who truly thought he was just as good if not better than Kobe was Dwayne Wade. He’s always carried himself the same way Kobe does – “Ain’t nobody f’n with me on this court”. Which is why Kobe has always respected him – D.Wade’s coming out party as a star was against Kobe. The first Lakers-Heat matchup after the Shaq trade, on Christmas day…the game was billed as Shaq vs. Kobe, but what actually happened was Kobe vs. D.Wade. Mano y mano, blow for blow, unstoppable force vs. unstoppable force – both men jawing in each other’s faces, neither backing down, but Wade inexplicably being able to actually DO it – go toe to toe with Bryant. Miami got the win, and the world’s eyes locked on Wade and have been on him as a star ever since. Before then…he was what Kyrie Irving is now – a great star that NBA heads know about, but not a mainstream, megastar. Irving is Wade before the Kobe Christmas game.

Wade, of course, is the reason Bryant was doing his best Phantom Of The Opera impersonation against the T-Wolves. While I buy that he wasn’t trying to hurt Bryant, the attention given to the foul isn’t unwarranted. As many Lakers players have said, it was an all-star game – Wade’s excuse that Kobe had fouled him twice prior doesn’t fly. B-ball heads will recognize Wade’s foul as the same hard foul that’s given to send a message. And that message is “you won’t be just getting any easy dunks or layups”. With the softer rules and fact that players are much more buddy-buddy now, you don’t see it from as many players or even as frequently. But you DO see it. Especially from bigger men and those with an old school mentality. Kevin Garnett, Kurt Thomas, Juwan Howard, Kendrick Perkins, Raja Bell, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes – these are all players who will give that foul in a regular season game to a guy. And in the playoffs, many players will do it – Bryant himself famously threw Dwight Howard to the floor in the NBA Finals.

But not in an all-star game. But again – this stems from the desire to beat Bryant and not be subject to his dominance. Kobe had been eating Wade up to that point, and talking junk to boot. The play itself – Kobe juiced Wade, and was certainly going to go up for a 2-hand dunk. Look again:

Wade, though not trying to hurt Kobe, doesn’t do that to any other star. Guaranteed. No, it’s my opinion the competitive spirit within was just about sick of Kobe scoring and then letting him hear about it. Add some intense defense on Wade – you get, as Reggie Miller said, “the first flagrant foul in all-star history”.

Now just look over the course of this season. Jeremy Lin had his career high against who? Kobe’s Lakers. James Harden was seen talking smack to Kobe for a good chunk of the 4th quarter in the Lakers’ recent loss to the OKC Thunder (until Metta World Peace entered the picture and literally pushed him away – no non-big man is stupid enough to mess with Metta). Though not a single expert, analyst or even NBA insider is picking the Lakers to win the championship this year – every team seems to get up and get excited at the prospect of playing them. They don’t get anywhere near as excited for playing the champs, the Dallas Mavericks. Or for playing the Celtics, or the Thunder, or the Chicago Bulls. The only teams that match the excitement drawn by the Lakers – the NY Knicks and Miami Heat. Why? Their stars.

And best believe, no one gets up to play L.A. if Kobe isn’t playing. No one is geeked to beat Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Sorry.

Kobe has made the transition from invincible star and idol to marked man. The same way people went at Jordan late in his career – including Kobe. Remember that all-star game where Kobe tried to go at Jordan, and Jordan SCHOOLED the young pup?

Yeah. It was BAD. But you know what happened when Kobe got the chance to pay MJ when he was a Wizard? He made sure to have big games. In fact – in Michael Jordan’s last trip to L.A., Kobe stole the show by scoring 55 points. I’ll never forget it, because my boy Dre knew Kobe did that on purpose. And so did everyone watching. He wanted to make his mark against the best. He wanted to show Jordan was the best – and that at that point, he was NOW the best.

This is what’s currently happening to Kobe in the league – he’s a marked man. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams – virtually any star you can name wants a piece of both Kobe and his Lakers. No one goes at Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan like that – even though they’re from the same generation and are all-time greats themselves. Which makes Kobe’s performance this year all that more impressive – even though the hunter has become the hunted, the old hunter is still leading the league as THE apex predator of the NBA.

There are a lot of potential contenders for the throne. But make no mistake – while the “best of” debate for the younger players shifts from Durant to Rose to Wade to LeBron on any given week, those players themselves are gunning for the top dog – Kobe. And all of Kobe’s talking, preparation, modifications, etc. is to fight off both Father Time and the young pups nipping at his heels for the undisputed title of best on the planet.

Because as long as he’s still playing at a high level, leading the league, dominating all-star votes, garnering not only America’s attention but the entire global basketball community’s – none of them can claim King of The Hill. It was like when Muhammad Ali was fighting – no one could truly claim to be “The Man” until he was permanently out of the picture.

The problem is – Kobe’s not ready to give it up. Not yet. And while he’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been – that doesn’t mean he’s ripe to be knocked off his perch. He’s lost a step, and beats people more on b-ball IQ than athleticism – but Jordan did the same thing his entire 2nd three-peat. As long as he stays healthy, I think Kobe could play at a top ten level for another 2-3 years.

Whether Kobe will get his desired 6th championship ring before retiring is anybody’s guess. But one thing’s for sure – Kobe knows that all these players who have idolized him now want to beat him – and some want to be him. And similar to his idol, Jordan – Kobe intends to keep them from taking his spot as long as possible.

How long can he do this? Your guess is as good as mine. But it will be enjoyable watching to see them attempt to topple the current Lord Of The Rings.

Yes - even your favorite Marvel superheroes want a piece of The Black Mamba.