Wednesday, May 30, 2007

So many of our old friends have been up to so much, it's hard to know where to begin. Daisuke Matsuzaka was trounced by the Indians and chased from the game in the 6th. Kobe Bryant has found himself sinking into a morass of his own creation in Los Angeles, but he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. And to top it all, there is a rumor of a new football league in the developmental stage and the Benefactor is involved.

After so many wins, I am cautiously optimistic that the Red Sox are due to fall back to earth. With any luck, they'll go straight from dizzying height to terrifying low, bypassing the creamy middle. But for a change, I'm going to do my level best not to jinx this one. After all, Carl Pavano's to do list probably reads like this now: 1). have Tommy John Surgery. 2). track down and apply savage ass whooping to pseudonymous anti-Red Sox blogger who predicted 18 win season in 2007. 3). rehab from Tommy John Surgery. So no more on the Sox for the moment.

I really hate jumping on bandwagons at late stages, but I really do not like Kobe Bryant. For those of you who have been reading this space from jump street, you know that. You also know that I am a big Elvis fan. So when I heard the series of interviews with Stephen A Smith and Dan Patrick today, it reminded me of a relatively obscure country song Elvis released in the early 70s. The song's title is "It's Your Baby, You Rock It" and it includes the following line: "You made that bed you're sleepin' in and I'm tired of hearing about it friend."

Kobe really, really, really wanted Shaq out of LA. Since Bryant was the younger of the two superstars, management obliged him and sent the Big Aristotle to Miami. Shaq has gone on to win a championship with the Heat. Kobe has yet to carry the Lakers to the second round of the playoffs. And now Kobe says team management promised to build a title contender around him in the immediate future. Bryant's hurt, he's betrayed and they lied to him. And yet I am not in tears.

It seems incredibly unlikely, but I guess there is a remote possibility that Kobe Bryant doesn't know basketball. You'd think that he might, since he's played it since childhood, his father was a pro ball player and he chose it for his career. But that might not necessarily mean he knows the game. After all, if management told him they were looking to compete at the highest level in the wake of the Shaq deal, and he believed them, Kobe is either ignorant or full of something unpleasant, particularly in the heat of summer.

The Lakers traded Shaq for Carom Butler and Lamar Odom. Shaq, at that point in his career, was a veteran of 5 NBA Finals and a three time champion. Carom Butler and Lamar Odom may have won any number of titles playing NBA Live on X Box, but neither has played so much as a minute of basketball in the NBA Finals. Moreover, they're both power forwards. They play the same damn position. How could any one not see that as a bad deal for LA?

It is true that the Lakers parlayed Carom Butler into Kwame Brown, who was supposed to be the center of the future. At the time, in literary parlance, that was rather like the Ancient Mariner from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner trading in the albatross around his neck that weighed him down for a large metal anchor. Since then, the trade has gone on to look much worse, as Butler made the Eastern Conference All Star team this season (yeah, the East kind of blows, but it is still an All Star team) and Kwame Brown is stuck in neutral. He might not be getting worse, but he surely isn't getting better either.

None of the Lakers other moves have panned out since they let Shaq go. Lately, the "brains" of their operation have been taking a lot of heat for failing to deal for Jason Kidd at the deadline. I don't see why. Can you honestly tell me that Kidd would have made the Lakers markedly better than any of the other seven teams that qualified for the playoffs in the West? I just don't think that would have been the case.

So I'm sick of Kobe whining. This was never about winning, this was about getting away from Shaq's shadow. Now Kobe has been jarred back into reality because everything that was his now belongs to LeBron and D Wade. Wade has a ring, and LeBron is fighting the Pistons to a standstill. They're younger and more dynamic than Kobe. Kobe needs to do something or he'll lose his league.

The trouble is, fans everywhere believe he forced management to sell Shaq for pennies on the dollar. Fans have been convinced after the scoring binges of the past two years that Kobe cares more about his numbers than his team. Kobe is in danger of becoming the answer to the trivia question: "Who scored the second most points in a single NBA game?" Would that he had chosen a more dignified route around his present course to oblivion.

Then there's the Benefactor. He's already on board with the proposed venture known as the UFL. Because the American landscape needed another professional football league. Because the USFL and the WFL and the XFL were all unqualified success stories. Because the NFL is much bigger, wealthier, more powerful and infinitely better prepared to adapt its product to the environment in which it exists than it was when the AFL challenged it in the 1960s. That's why the UFL is such a good idea.

What no one on the outside of the football business looking in on it's riches seems to understand is that the AFL succeeded for a reason. It wasn't because the upstart league was able to sign huge college stars like Namath or Mike Garrett, or develop guys like Len Dawson, Lance Alworth and so many others into household names. Those factors helped, but look at the USFL who went for broke luring Herschell Walker, Jim Kelley, Steve Young, Doug Flutie and others into their league and got pretty damn broke pretty damn quick.

The real reason no football league will ever compete against the NFL the way the AFL did is simple. Because there were no collective bargaining agreements, minimum salaries and pensions back in the 1950s and 1960s, there was room for a second league to come in and start a bidding war for the solid, dependable veterans that make up the guts of a professional football team. Now the NFL has all that infrastructure in place for all 32 of its teams.

Can you imagine how much capital would be necessary to start 8 new teams at once? Not to mention creating a league office to codify the rules, set up a draft, schedule all the games and make sure that each new team has a home city and a home stadium? And on top of those headaches deal with the fact that the 2,000 best football players in the world are currently under contract to NFL teams? Any one who thinks they can do that with 8 different billionaires who have no experience in football beyond watching a game or two here and there, no current common bonds and Mark Cuban involved is dreaming.

If this new league tries to get off the ground playing in the fall on Friday nights, they'll be destroyed. Maybe they'll get a few high profile college draft picks, some older stars looking for one last big score like an aging thief in a crime drama and some other assorted has-beens and never-will-bes. That might be enough to challenge for a Grey Cup or two, but not to take money out of Jerry Jones' pocket.

People don't often realize, since it takes a little more thought than the average tool is willing to put in to the sports he or she watches on the TV, but Namath made the guarantee and his teammates won the game. Randy Beverly and Johnny Sample were two former NFL defensive backs and they made huge plays in the Red Zone to stop big drives for the Colts. In the old days, guys like that were on the open market. It's just not the case any more.

And what is the Benefactor going to do? Spend like Dan Snyder? We've all seen where that has gotten the Redskins lately. I suppose I ought to shut my mouth. If he wants to waste his money on a colossal failure in the making, that's his business. And the sooner he gets back to his new favorite pastime of hiding and trembling lest David Stern smack him down again, the better for us all.

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