Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reid Gives Alex Smith An Opportunity

If Alex Smith waited to see where his next destination would be for a starting QB job, he won’t have to wait much longer and was finally given a chance. After waiting patiently, he finally checked out of San Francisco, boarded a flight and landed in Kansas City. The pressure is right on Smith after the San Francisco 49ers agreed to send the quarterback to the Kansas City Chiefs, with newly hired coach Andy Reid surrounding himself with someone who has mobility and intelligence.

He did the right thing for the Chiefs by grabbing an unwanted quarterback from another franchise, realizing Smith has the intangibles and potential to turn around a dismal 2-14 season in a weak AFC West, as the Denver Broncos are legitimately the real test.

And as results of the trade, Kansas City traded its second-round pick in the 2013 draft and a conditional mid-round pick in 2014 to acquire Smith. The best option available for the Chiefs to rebuild, obviously, was Smith who had been an attractive name for hordes of teams to add, and sure enough, Reid took a risk he felt was worth taking. It’s fairly obvious, considering the fact that it’s a fragile free-agent market — for veterans especially — as to why Reid made the trade and finalized the deal fast. Not that he was desperate to get someone. The perception of this deal is that Reid believes in Smith enough to make him the Chiefs franchise quarterback.

What is Smith good for? Absolutely something — considering the way he played last season until suffering the concussion. Reid, who had success with Donovan McNabb in his long tenure in Philadelphia, was determined to mend, first and foremost, the QB woes and end controversy between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.

There has, quite honestly, never been a quarterback unappreciated as much as Cassel in Kansas City. Four years ago when the team turned to Scott Pioli to refurbish things, the Chiefs acquired Cassel for the 34th draft pick. Before he was traded to Kansas City, Cassel had played one season for the New England Patriots, replacing an injured Tom Brady. By the end of that season, he had a 63.4 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 7.16 yards per attempt.

He and the Patriots fell short, missing the playoffs that year. But with Smith, the idea is to build something that lasts. If he’s lucky, Cassel will wind up as a backup elsewhere, but considering that the Chiefs have Quinn, he won’t be back in KC and will be a free agent. At the beginning, Cassel finished 9-7 with 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his second year as starter.

Most of the population, it seems, wants Cassel out, who is unproven — the Chiefs are expected to release him soon. Suffice it to say, thousands of Chiefs fans cheered loudly when Cassel was drilled and left a 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a concussion. For purely insensitive reasons, some celebrated Cassel’s injury after the quarterback committed three turnovers against the Ravens. Before he rose to his feet, before he walked off the field under his own power, heartless fans roared with glee.

The stupidity reached a boiling point when Chiefs tackle Eric Winston, who was angry and disgusted with the hometown crowd for such ruthless, childish behavior, scolded and ripped fans by publicly sending a message through the media when a reporter interviewed him afterwards in the locker room.

“It’s 100 percent sickening,” Chiefs Winston said. “I’ve never, ever — and I’ve been in some rough times on some rough teams — I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than at that moment right there. I get emotional about it because these guys, they work their butts off. Matt Cassel hasn’t done anything to you people.

“Hey, if he’s not the best quarterback, he’s not the best quarterback, and that’s OK, but he’s a person,” Winston continued, the big offensive lineman’s voice slowly rising. “And he got knocked out in a game and we’ve got 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out.”

There have been a lot of unhappy fans in Kansas City with a long history of failures in recent memory. But maybe Smith, who, and it should be stated, led the NFL in completion percentage (70.0) and ranked fifth in passer rating (104.1), can change that. It would be the moment of a lifetime, a moment of gaiety if he can reproduce something identical to his 20-5-1 record as a starter, including the playoffs over the past two seasons in San Francisco.

He’s a good but not great quarterback who goes into another environment, giving the Chiefs a chance and could be the cure to a hapless football franchise. He’s a suave quarterback who is walking into unfamiliar territory, absolutely offering the Chiefs hopefulness, even though he’s good or bad, consistent or inconsistent.

The likelihood of having a good quarterback is not necessary, and from what was discovered in San Francisco, he completed just enough passes and managed to lead the 49ers to the NFC championship game two years ago, but lost to the New York Giants. He surely had no intentions of being the backup in San Francisco and finally has a chance to start elsewhere.

But, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed the keys to the driver’s seat, a concussed Smith was benched for the rest of the season, even when he was cleared to return to the game and, in essence, it was time for Smith and coach Jim Harbaugh to part ways. And someday, the Chiefs may just become good, under the presence of Smith and Reid. Having self-control, staying calm and sane, Smith stared from the sideline disappointed, but as mature as he is — mind you — he never complained or confronted Harbaugh when he was benched.

It is the oldest cliché in the sport, older than the Golden Gate Bridge or the Liberty Memorial. The NFL, like the rest, is a business, and a cruel one — to be exact. Nothing is guaranteed, except Bill Belichick’s coaching gig in New England and the cut-off hoodie he sports. But now, Smith got his starting job back, and he loves Reid by now. With a tinge of success, Reid knows what he has in Smith, who is a reliable quarterback, even on his worst days.

The 49ers, for the most part, also moved him clearing $8.5 million in salary, and Harbaugh and the team knew he wasn’t going to stay and remain No. 2 behind Kaepernick, who locked up the starting spot and led San Francisco to the Super Bowl. He was trade bait, and Reid went fishing for him. It will take a while for the Chiefs, who had the worst offense in the NFL, to rise to the top — but with Smith coming to town — it’s a start.

He was, in his own eyes, useless and unwanted, left on the sideline as another quarterback who was his backup earned the nod. And simply, whether it was the right choice or not, he won’t hold a clipboard and watch Kaepernick run for 40 yards. Nothing personal to Harbaugh and the Niners organization, but Smith couldn’t stay much longer. There’s no doubt that he’s a winner, maybe not a superhero, but he’s not a loser either.

The 29-year-old leader at one time just wasn’t good enough to convince Harbaugh that he was certainly a starter. The team that takes the field in September after upgrading and finding a quarterback to fill in the holes will be a different team, much different. For years, Reid has worked with an average quarterback and turned him into a top-tier passer, such as McNabb.

And most of all, he knew McNabb better than anyone else. Reid, who replaces coach Romeo Crennel, drafted McNabb in the first round in 1999, selected quarterback Kevin Kolb second in 2007, took a risk signing Vick when he was released from prison and developed sixth-round pick Matt Hasselbeck while an assistant in Green Bay.

When it comes to quarterbacks, Reid is a genius and teacher, which means Smith will be a student. And his philosophy could work.

The trade, which won’t become official to early March, has given Smith an opportunity and a shot at leading a team to a significant amount of wins. So he will be playing for a coach who can strengthen his quarterbacks’ capacity and reduce their weaknesses.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Miami vs. NCAA Fight Will Get Ugly

Even by Miami’s high-minded standards, amid a moment of tumult and hell from a war with the NCAA, it’s been quite a fight. If she could, Donna Shalala would declare combat on the battlefield, a woman who is anxious to finish what a corrupted organization started. Might I suggest, perhaps as the everlasting event mounts, that the tension between the University of Miami and the NCAA will only get ugly?

Because, in truth, the news that centers the Miami athletic department for its dealings with booster Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi crook, is not shrinking and won’t disappear for a long time. This is not, as we all know, the first time the school has been in the middle of a scandal ever so horrifying and shameful. Except this time, it happens to be traded punches, not to mention swinging, jabbing and counterpunching, a nasty brawl between a university and the NCAA.

Earlier in the week, Mark Emmert, as the NCAA president should to salvage his damaged credibility, admitted that his organization bungled in its investigation of Miami athletic program. And, yes, I think we all can agree that Emmert is an idiot, a steward who has taken a prestigious job to his head, fast to punish a university and evidently is more about protecting his name from shame.

It would be appropriate to place all the blame on a vaunted program if there weren’t two sides to a story. But since there is, Emmert, no matter if he apologizes and tries to protect his name and the NCAA brand, should be just as culpable for his mistakes. When you look at it, from a certain standpoint, no second thoughts whatsoever, Emmert’s believability suffers among all people.

The more we talk about him, the more we are talking bad about him, not having anything nice to say about the guy simply when he is seeking power, and isn’t bothered by the fact that the NCAA needs to be reformed. The great American folks want him out.

It seems he’s the enemy in Miami, unable to crack down on slimy agents and athletes who would receive improper benefits to violate NCAA rules. It is dumb, at best, and credulous to believe that the NCAA will find the resources to catch athletes and coaches breaking rules, especially when a number of these coaches and athletes have not been caught for infractions.

Just when the news was beginning to die down, especially with all the noise regarding the messy Penn State sex scandal, it’s become awful again, in an instant. Still, before it reaches that point, Shalala is not afraid to challenge the NCAA to a fight. It takes a powerful woman, like Shalala, to stand up to a stained organization, but she is probably more powerful than Emmert and can even qualify for his position.

So Emmert is in for a rude awakening and cannot drop the hammer on Miami. And how proper for it to be the Hurricanes, so long in the aftermath of prior scandals and misdeeds, now the victims of the NCAA. It really takes heart and guts for Shalala, who is the Miami president and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, to flex her political power and argue that you cannot believe what Shapiro tells the NCAA, even though he came clean.

Looking at it from this view, Emmert is weaker while Shalala is stronger, bringing out the NCAA unethical conduct. It turns out the NCAA is just as bad as the schools it has punished, if not worse. And Shalala knows it. Just like Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who is suing the NCAA because of its handling of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, is fighting back for the sake of her university and its athletic program.

Shapiro is not credible to most. He’s certainly not credible to Shalala, but she also knows Miami had a relationship with the sleazeball. It’s unfortunate that Miami penalized itself, and banned itself from bowl games for the last couple of years, a harsh penalty for a school when the allegations were uncertain and vague.

It won’t be long until Emmert will be done as NCAA president, quickly tearing down the organization’s brand, even after admitting to his blunders. It could happen soon, if he doesn’t stop botching investigations and doesn’t get things under control. He could provide a difference and reform an unbalanced system but Emmert is desperate, unskilled and unqualified, running a shaky organization that has picked its battles with a few prominent schools without accountability for its own actions, which seems far worse than the universities it has punished.

As bad as it seems that the program’s name keeps surfacing with the same old mess — Miami is guilty as charged for its outrageous involvement with Shapiro — it shed light on a grievous issue that has not been figured out. Shapiro, who is serving 20 years in prison for managing a $930 million Ponzi fraud scheme as a sleazy booster of the University of Miami’s athletics program, provided thousands of dollars in cash and illegal benefits to football players and the men’s basketball team.

Will Shalala win the battle peacefully?

This can’t be happening. Of course it can. This may yet be remembered as the craziest showdown in sports, crazier than the scandals in the past, more interesting than a game itself once Shalala is through with the NCAA. Standing up for her university, Shalala has swagger in a clash with the NCAA.

Months since the astonishing news where the NCAA bullied and shoved Miami around, Emmert and the people under him have not recognized that the Hurricanes can be a threat and a fatal storm to the organization. The NCAA, breaking its own rules, is no match for Shalala in the boxing ring or the Octagon. It looks as if we’re in for an endless struggle before these two parties reach an understanding.

But, in the meantime, Miami’s accuser is just as dirty as the NCAA, which is all the more reason Emmert and the organization sided with Shapiro, without knowing the actual facts. It won’t be surprising to see him dismissed for hypocrisy and the lack of institutional control.

So it should come as no surprise that he will be gone soon, considering that he cannot administer a system or enforce the rules. No one can trust Emmert when he admitted that his investigators, yes those working under him in the Miami case, gathered information erroneously to give its brand a bad name as critics are all over Emmert, calling for his job.

It’s bad anytime an organization has to pay almost $20,000 to Shapiro’s attorney to use her ability and power in Shapiro’s bankruptcy case. After those working under Emmert were breaking the rules, he was not holding himself accountable.

If it was up to me, I would fire him, but the NCAA executive committee has no intentions of dismissing Emmert.

The NCAA won’t ever go away, not until Emmert does.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lakers Win Big For Jerry Buss

What happened Wednesday night, two days removed from the death of the greatest owner in the history of professional sports, left me touched and in tears. What we saw from folks at a venue in Los Angeles, to pay their profound respects to the most successful and influential owner, was an emotional scene so affecting that fans were fighting back tears.

A short video clip was shown on the Staples Center big screen, and then Kobe Bryant sauntered slowly onto the court. He took the microphone, with his face erupting into sadness at the time, as he addressed the crowd followed by a moment of silence for Dr. Jerry Buss, who died on Monday after his long battle with cancer.

As tearful as it was, Bryant shared his thoughts on Buss from half -court and wiped away tears during his emotional speech. As a way to honor the late owner, during a somber moment when the team celebrated Buss’ life and legacy, Bryant pointed toward the spot in which he sat and enjoyed his Lakers win titles.

What can you say about this moment, other than that the Lakers left an empty chair in his suite, a singular, enduring pregame ceremony dedicated to Dr. Buss?

“We are honoring the greatest owner in sports,” Bryant said. “He was a brilliant and incredible owner. He was an even better person with a great heart. We are all, all spoiled by his vision and drive to win year after year after year.”

The lights dimmed, for which a spotlight shone on a double suite, a family suite inside the arena where he watched the games with gorgeous women and his entourage. His words from a tape-recording blared out of the speakers through Staples Center to refresh everyone with memories as to what were his plans when he purchased the team back in the late-70s.

The crowd stood and chanted to express its deepest gratitude, for a man who made it all possible for one of the most celebrated and emotional moments in Staples Center. Even sweeter than anything else, the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 113-99, doing it for JB, who was always raring to beat Boston on the road or at home.

It didn’t matter as long as the Lakers overwhelmed their foes, in what is one of the NBA’s biggest rivalries ever, dating back to the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era or back to the Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell era.

The night was a tribute for a man who created the most entertaining team, an undaunted mastermind who was behind Showtime and made splashes by signing some of the most flashy and marquee players, bringing the franchise to life and spoiling a fan base that hates failure.

It is a legacy, of course, that will forever live on and own a special place in the hearts of Jeanie and Jim Buss, who have both been molded by their father to run a basketball business.

There will be folks talking and reminiscing about the good times with Buss for years to come, from the time he bought the Lakers in 1979 to the time he passed away, leaving behind the biggest show in sports history, one that will hopefully remain the property of the Buss family.

The man smiling down and winking his eye from the heavens, the man with a smooth toupee and a perfectly trimmed mustache that was his trademark will fully be appreciated for the memories he forged, for renewing the Lakers’ mystique year after year and producing an aura of greatness in the entertainment capital of the world.

Jeanie shared sentiment with actress Dyan Cannon before tip-off, a few rows behind the court, smiling and holding back tears as she mourned.

The night was about saying farewell to the inventor of Showtime, an owner who built an empire in Los Angeles and presided over 10 Lakers championships as a shrewd businessman because of his business acumen and basketball genius that defined a true winner.

Flags were flown at half-mast at the LA Live plaza across from Staples Center, and a wall was erected as fans adorn it by leaving thoughts and memories. The team also wore a JB patch, bearing Buss’ initials in every game.

It was fitting that the Lakers hosted the Celtics, a meeting Buss often looked forward to taking joy in and witnessing, especially when the Lakers beat their archrivals.

It was more than just a game but a moment to remember a dedicated and fervid showman, the pioneer of one of the most decorated NBA franchises ever, spending millions to form a team full of talented studs and bond with the smartest minds in the game that turned the Lakers into a million-dollar business brand.

It was perfect to listen to Bryant’s eloquent words when Buss met with the Black Mamba, divulged to him that he wanted to give the keys to him and traded Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant center in the game’s history.

What a man he has become, stepping into his role as not only a clutch performer, but a team leader, as he was able to earn Buss’ trust and be named team captain after helping the Lakers win five NBA championships in 17 years.

This was a rare moment for sure, a time in Bryant’s life when he delivered his thoughts about a man who handed him the reins, and to this day, he credits his longtime friend for talking him into staying with the Lakers. Bryant, who had 16 points on 5-for-15 shooting, was honored to speak on Dr. Buss, but was emotionally shaken while breaking into a smile slightly by the time it was all over.

If my assertion is true, which I hope, the Lakers can ride a winning-streak in the upcoming weeks, following LA’s most dominant effort this season: an incredibly remarkable, statement-made, limited-turnover performance. Playing with heavy hearts, the Lakers, for the first time all season, were strong-willed and aggressive, jumping out to a fast start that propelled to a heartwarming victory.

For all the uncertainty and trade rumors that surrounded Dwight Howard, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds to earn back his self-proclaimed “Superman” nickname, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters that he will not trade the center before Thursday’s trade deadline, and they stuck to that word.

This commitment to Howard might not be such a bad suggestion, after all, not when he finally played like the most dominant center, after failures for much of the season raised doubts.

He’s making a stride toward silencing the critics and naysayers throughout Los Angeles and has suddenly come alive to give the Lakers what they’ve expected from the beginning of the season.

It was likely to see this performance coming from a team playing with heavy hearts and motivated by Buss’ loss, but it was also payback for the 116-95 blowout to the Celtics two weeks ago in Boston, realizing the magnitude of winning these games down the stretch, as Los Angeles is only 3½ games behind Houston for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

He was very impressive, but he needs to give his best effort every night, in the aftermath of his best game as a Laker. The best part about Howard, as he brought his game, was that he set screens for Lakers point guard Steve Nash.

That allowed Nash to make six-of-seven shots and score 14 points, while he also had seven assists to surpass Magic Johnson for sole possession of fourth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list (10,144).

Win or lose, Buss was close to his players and pampered them as if they were his own children. But he wasn’t too fond of losing, which is all the more reason he spent the money and brought in the necessities to win championships and form a dynasty that was unmatched to most NBA franchises.

Bryant and Pau Gasol had a bond that was just as special as Johnson’s with his friend and owner, a man who was a visionary and mentor.

Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers head coach, wasn’t around long enough to build a strong relationship with Buss, and when the Showtime Lakers were the dominant ones in the 80s, he was playing in Italy. But when no one else gave D’Antoni an opportunity, the Buss family was willing to welcome him to LA with open arms, after parting ways with a disappointing Mike Brown.

And mostly, winning was imperative to Buss. He didn’t care how it worked, as long as it did.

The Lakers won it for Jerry Buss.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jerry Buss: Remembering the Greatest Owner In Sports

Having achieved everything the average man couldn’t, Dr. Jerry Buss had the Midas touch and turned the Los Angeles Lakers into gold for much of his life.

Never has there been a greater person in LA and a more likable businessman who not only mixed business with pleasure, but amazingly built an empire that turned stars into legends in a diverse community. It was where the “Showtime Era” was born and where he cultivated the tenor of American sports.

And, of course, he won 10 championships, just from his intellectual maneuvers and business acumen that never were called into question. Not once.

We’ve seen him come to life, smile and celebrate with bliss in the 80s when Magic Johnson led the Lakers. We’ve seen him raise a number of Larry O’Brien trophies and we have seen images of him getting drenched in champagne while rubbing his burning eyes during a wild party inside the locker room with those he pampered and rewarded.

So suddenly, as Buss has been ailing for quite some time, he met his expiration date and will leave a priceless organization behind for his children to take over and hopefully keep the winning tradition alive. Buss, who died of cancer Monday at age 80, was the heart and soul of the purple-and-gold.

When he bought the Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings, the Forum and the spacious ranch from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 — with ambitions in rising to a fruitful businessman — he became one of the most influential and successful owners in pro sports, if not the best to ever purchase a franchise.

He was defined more than anything by his character and cleverness, embracing and living a remarkable life for which his fame and fortune was indescribable.

Before he created a legacy in Los Angeles, where he came to as a young boy, Buss lived a life of misfortunes and hardships in Wyoming. Before he made his home in LA, Buss shined shoes at the old Kemmerer Hotel and worked on the Union Pacific railroad to make ends meet.

When he died, Buss reminded us that dreams can come true and that anything is possible, if one continues to thrive and give it their all. But once he resided in Los Angeles for good, as Buss was an endearing mentor to Johnson and most of the players he employed, he kissed a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and smiled with the trophy in his hands.

The death of Buss leaves behind an incredible legacy for the Lakers and a city that deeply respected what he did for Los Angeles when he was alive and well. He used his power and brains to build a flashy image in the realm of Hollywood.

The brand of basketball he produced for a long time manufactured an era of glamour and success. It must have been inspiring to Johnson, because he’s now the son of the city after establishing himself into a successful entrepreneur, opening up a Starbucks, T.G.I Friday’s restaurants and movie theaters in urban neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Buss, who was entering the final stage of his life after battling with cancer, spent time with his friend Johnson in his room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center not long ago. He lied in the bed fighting his battle and appeared to be low-spirited, but when Johnson entered the room and emotionally sat down by his good friend, Buss smiled and they both cried and shared memories for the last time.

While most of the fans in the second-largest city in the United States embraced the man for many years, Johnson and Buss had a bond that was unbreakable, the best relationship between a player and owner in pro sports.

At the end of his life, while friends and his kids remember him for building dynasties and teams into a form of excellence and professionalism, the Lakers will forever be known for winning 10 of their 16 NBA titles under Buss. Every time, we assumed it was business as usual when Buss, given his moral fiber and desire to win, invested and spent $67.5 million to buy the Lakers.

The team was his when he parlayed a $1,000 real estate investment to earn rights for the Lakers, for what is now a family-operated business. The game would be a cool experience for celebrities, but not for those who were unprivileged. Those courtside seats were too expensive, catering merely to folks who could afford to sit on the floor.

In looking to be original and unique, he hired an in-house band to perform during games, along with gorgeous women who dance during timeouts to entertain the audience. He called these cheerleaders the “Laker Girls”, and as we know, he was a shrewd merchant, almost like Hugh Hefner from the sports aspect of things.

This was some team, hotter than the females Buss dated. He was, to put it bluntly, a lady’s man, as he enjoyed partying with models and actresses. That, of course, was when he would be seen with women on his arms. Buss, as it was known, played high-stakes poker while he was the creator of the most entertaining pro basketball team.

It’s something everyone will remember about Buss. The folks of Prime Ticket tried to set up the network for cable premium packages, but Buss, since he co-founded the network, refused to allow that to happen and ordered that the network will be broadcasted from a basic package.

Buss and the Lakers were mentioned in the same breath as the late George Steinbrenner and the Yankees for what they accomplished as a beloved owner and team in a city where the Lakers embodied Los Angeles.

He was evidently intelligent from a young age, and applied it in the classroom. Buss earned his degree in just two-and-a-half years at the University of Wyoming, meeting his first wife there when he asked to borrow her textbook.

For Buss, it was never too late for education, so he received a Ph.D. in chemistry from USC and obtained an honorary doctrine in law at Wyoming in 2005. The best way to win is by spending and bringing in marquee players, especially in Hollywood. He knew what it took to win.

He assembled a winning product, following his own most valuable and workable traits, a palpable sense of anticipation every time he spent top-dollar to win championships.

It wasn’t strange to see such experiments. It was as if he was preparing for a science fair, exploring and trying to find the proper supplements to fit his talented roster. He seemed too powerful and too anxious. He was more likely to fire a coach if it didn’t work.

They’ve talked about the moment when Buss gave Magic Johnson a 25-year, $25 million deal in 1981, higher than what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was earning, all from the same man who chose Kobe Bryant over Shaquille O’Neal and traded the big man to Miami in 2004.

The Lakers’ formula has worked for years, no matter what Buss tried or weighed with his brilliance and diplomacy, gambling on players and coaches and pulling off unthinkable deals that not too many franchises in the league could make possible. Either way, he’s figured out ways to win, and in any sport, winning titles is all that really matters. And he did that over and over again.

The Lakers, as always, are in contention, particularly when Buss made changes at the right time. Such is the time he fired Paul Westhand and gave the coaching job to a young assistant in Pat Riley, who led the Lakers to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning all four times.

The worst thing he’s ever done was hire the sorriest coach in Lakers history in Randy Pfund, and again, it was only an experiment which barely lasted before he tried something that worked.

Like Johnson, Bryant became very close to Buss, despite his trade demands before the 2007-08 season. This has ought to be evidence that Bryant is a Laker for life, because not only is he a centerpiece of the Lakers, but he was Buss’ friend for life.

It’s officially the Jim Buss era now, though. Fans are probably wondering whether or not he can keep a winning franchise running strong, without advice and moves from his father.

The Lakers are in the hands of the Buss children, and after they were taught and experienced over the years on how to manage a business, we should only hope that they learned from their father to run the organization.

While his daughter, Jeanie, will run the Lakers’ business operations, Jim, who has been in charge of the team’s basketball operations, will continue to make personnel decisions.

Their father, Jerry, was a winner and will continue to be in heaven. The gates opened Monday morning for Mr. Buss, with layers of purple-and-gold carpet.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why LeBron James Will Never Be Better Than Michael Jordan

The legacy of Michael Jordan, who turned 50 on Sunday, is beyond extraordinary and indefinable. For the rest of the weekend, he will be showered with birthday-wishes from former NBA players and legends, and he will be glorified and greatly remembered for revolutionizing the game of basketball.

The fans of the 90s were fortunate to embrace the life of Air Jordan: the greatest NBA player of all-time, the most unstoppable assassin of all-time, the smartest marketer of all-time, the savviest shoe salesman of all-time.

But now, we’re obligated to compare LeBron James to Jordan, the only player to ever consolidate an indescribable legacy that no one else will ever match. When he dominated, won six championships, five MVPs and 10 scoring titles, Jordan lit up on the court.

For now — at least — he stands alone and remains the greatest to ever step foot onto a hardwood floor, captivating spectators with his infamous tongue that stuck out while he slashed to the basket, floated through the air and levitated at the rim.

He stepped onto the court and dazzled our hearts in critical moments, taking over a game single-handedly to form a dynasty in Chicago, a city that has lauded the former Bulls megastar as a messiah.

It would be premature, not to mention a shame, to describe James as the next Jordan — legend and hero evermore — certainly when some believe James lost his claim to all-time greatness after bailing on Cleveland to form the Superteam in Miami.

Jordan was unmatched, never to be reproduced, a prolific scorer and a superstar whose spectacles were compelling. If James continues to thrive, amass championship wins and make his home in Miami, he can reach a crescendo and rise to grandeur.

But even if he does win seven titles, James won’t ever surpass MJ, not in the modern era of basketball, not in an era when the league is built around an influx of new talent and superstars, such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

For one, James fled Cleveland, settled in South Beach and grew into his role, becoming the team’s No. 1 scorer after joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. For another, he’s the most hated pro athlete since “The Decision” telecast when he announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

James abruptly left his native home to play for the Miami Heat, and was bashed and despised by Cleveland fans and critics all over. When Jordan was an instrumental part of the Bulls success, LeBron was essentially culpable for the Cavaliers languishing, for Cleveland’s economy deflating as businesses took a drastic hit after he left, especially in the first season without their King.

While some don’t care for James, some will actually get over his narcissistic infomercial. It’s unfortunate James won’t ever earn adulation like Jordan after his distasteful and immoral decision to walk out on a city that welcomed, admired, empowered and immortalized him.

It’s unfathomable fans won’t ever succumb to reality and put aside all bitterness after James led the Heat to an NBA title a year ago and vindicated humility, grace and class, regretting his selfish act that turned into a public relations disaster.

So now he’s loved or loathed, praised or criticized while everybody adores MJ, even when he has a reputation of being cocky and egocentric. More telling was what he accomplished on the court, not off the court — where he had gambling problems and wasn’t always too compassionate about sharing or donating his wealth to unprivileged children.

But more telling than his psyche was his reversed layups, windmill or vicious dunks in an era when he reigned supreme. We used to gather by the TV regularly during NBA season, delighted to watch Jordan play but not everyone braces him or herself for James whenever Heat games are nationally televised.

Unlike Jordan, some viewers are filled with anger and hate, not over the fact that he brought more hype on himself by manipulating ESPN into airing a one-hour TV special. Of course, he’s a good player but not the most likable person, and if anything, he’s not the next Jordan.

When he played ball, Jordan was the face of the NBA, a symbol of the sport, compelling enough to keep us all begging for more and persuaded us to watch, as fans became addicted to the world-famous star. The legacy Jordan left is unparalleled, never to be breakable but to forever remain intact for which no other player, including LeBron will ever reach a plateau as superlative as Jordan.

There’s little question, though he’s delivered jaw-dropping performances, that he must continue to win championships to rank among the best in NBA history. Right now, as it stands, he does not fit alongside Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Larry Bird.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on James in this age, to see if he can transform the landscape of pro basketball just as Jordan did during his tenure as a tremendous superstar.

The reality of this game is that a player is usually defined by the number of championships they win, but over the years we’ve still paid our profound respect to Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins, Pete Maravich and George Gervin.

It has been a frenzied week, and the noise revolves around the endless debates as to whether Bryant is better than James or whether James is better than Bryant. Jordan is the talk of the weekend as well, and as the legend should be, he’s celebrated like royalty — and rightfully so — he deserves all the plaudits in the world.

He’s worked and earned it, and damn right, Jordan warrants it. The most noticeable star of the 1992 Dream Team would be Jordan, and as we all know, he’s made shots and slammed down signature dunks that made highlight reels to separate him from other players.

The tough-driven, unstoppable Bulls were fortunate to have a player as unthinkably great as Jordan, and turned out to be a popular and eventful team with Michael’s presence, with just about every game nationally televised.

Jordan, unlike most players, was a national event, just as his legacy is a national conversation. It’s probably OK to note that James has remarkably a crafty all-around game, and less than a year ago as a member of the Heat, he claimed his first NBA championship ring and flaunts it proudly after putting in the hours and hard work.

The number of championships keeps him off the list of NBA legends, but no matter what he does during a relentless career, he won’t ever match Jordan, who is the most decorated player in the history of the NBA.

That’s because Jordan is his own player and sustained greatness in a different era and won titles with a less talented supporting cast. As for James, he won his with Wade and Bosh, two NBA stars who all agreed to team up for championships.

For those who don’t remember or was an 80s baby, Jordan averaged 37 points per game in the 1986-87 season. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, that James will be in the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, he will be honored for individual accolades.

He’s a three-time MVP and became the first player in NBA history to score more than 30 points while shooting 60 percent for six straight games. This season alone, he’s averaging 27. 3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, while shooting a staggering 56.5-percent.

But it couldn’t be more obvious that Jordan worn down bodies, beat his opponents, broke ankles, drove to the lane and finished at the rim with his competitive nature and basketball brilliance. There was no stopping Jordan, not even when he was suffering from flu-like symptoms, scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 97 NBA Finals.

That night, he was exhausted, sick and weak, but somehow he led the Bulls to a pivotal win against the Utah Jazz. Jordan is known for “The Shot,” a game-winning shot he hit over Craig Ehlo in 89 when he was in his prime. The truth about James is that he’s marveled in a generation of glamorous stars and truly is growing into a South Beach icon, becoming gradually a global superstar.

It is to his credit that he’s accepted the leadership role in Miami and has become more than just a playmaker after not scoring and taking over late in the game during pressure situations. But he’s never earned 10 triple-doubles in 11 games, and in the game today, it just seems rare — could be done, but very rare in the modern era.

That happened when Jordan played. He had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games, something no one else has ever done, not even Bryant. No player can score 40 points, dish out 11 assists and grab 7 rebounds in the second of back-to-back games against the Detroit Pistons. Jordan, to be quite honest, retired as the greatest in NBA history.

It’s an understatement if one thinks differently about Jordan, who was a more efficient scorer than James and Bryant. If he stays healthy, with a skill set as identical to Jordan’s, James can monopolize his era and win multiple championships. But for now, and maybe not ever, you can’t compare James to Jordan. It’s inconceivable but it seems logical when James could be as solid as Jordan.

The ultimate birthday present for Jordan, if anything, is what he’s attained to become the greatest NBA legend to ever live.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lakers Must Get Rid of Dwight Howard To Avoid Any More Drama

There’s an entire city that knows just what to expect, used to the futility and long suffering, used to the phoniness and broken promises. It’s because Dwight Howard is unhappy with the team and his teammates and couldn’t care less about the Los Angeles Lakers, pouting about the number of touches and finding convenient excuses to sit out a game as he supposedly nurses an injury.

Not much makes me frown, but Howard makes me cringe and it’s nauseating to watch him nightly as people describe him as the most dominant center of our generation when clearly he has not lived up to the expectations and has not challenged himself to emerge into an NBA superstar and hero forevermore.

By now, it’s clear, assuming from his lethargy and torpidity, that he’s unfit to wear a Lakers uniform, not the man for the team, not the Lakers’ future and certainly not the unquestioned leader once Kobe Bryant walks from the game.

Bryant is unparalleled, never to be replicated in LA, a scorching scorer and marksman whose accomplishments will forever leave behind an enduring legacy in an era when he scored 81 points in a single game and in an age when he’s been a clutch performer.

In addition, Bryant has drilled an array of buzzer-beaters and led the Lakers to two NBA titles without the services of his longtime sidekick, Shaquille O’Neal.

The fact of the matter is, ladies and gentleman — to put it simply — that we won’t ever witness another Kobe Bryant. Much as the Buss family hopes to see Howard evolve into the next star on the red carpet, he’s realistically not too pleased when he’s on the floor, he’s not satisfied and seemingly wants to play elsewhere — maybe in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Dallas or even Oklahoma City but surely not here in LA.

So why even try to hold on to the self-proclaimed Superman who is not even a man of steel? It’s time the Lakers listen to trade offers and move the disappointing center, especially for someone who has not done much for the team since his arrival and spent ample time on the sideline with an injury.

At age 27, he has no clue where he wants to play, he’s confused and wishy-washy, unable to make up his damn mind. One minute he’s happy to be a Laker, the next he’s miserable and depressed.

He very easily could be a bust who has compelled us to buy into the unnecessary hype here in Los Angeles with everybody still mesmerized by his sensational dunk in the NBA slam dunk contest, which technically wasn’t a dunk, all while donning a Superman T-Shirt and cape.

It’s been a disappointing season, dare I say it, for Howard and the Lakers as a unit, searching for answers as to why the team is struggling and unexpectedly might miss the playoffs as the regular season is months away from drawing to a close.

But for some reason, probably because he reigns dominant and was supposed to be the Lakers next big man to follow the footsteps of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal, he’s not putting in effort — healthy or unhealthy — and stands underneath the basket without grabbing a rebound or without slamming it down over smaller opponents.

In other words, he’s not the player as advertised and fans no longer care if he walks or not at the end of the season. Seems Lakers supporters are encouraging the Buss family to trade the three-time defensive player of the year.

What a complete lazy slob, huh? He’s not a supplementary player. He’s a cancer to the team, an absolute toxic waste, polluting the Pacific waters and rashly upsetting a large population in Lakerland, a place he’s doubted and suddenly disliked by the vast majority. In retrospect, Howard’s enigma and flakiness may have ended his run with the Lakers.

But some believe he will remain with the team at least until the end of the season, probably because Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he will not trade Howard. Forgive me if I’m too harsh on Howard — but I feel he won’t ever be a dominant center in the league.

When he came to LA, everybody thought he was finally glad and grateful for a change of scenery. Turns out, he’s still the whiny brat we once knew in Orlando, the same crybaby who annoyed basketball lovers — including the Orlando Magic front office.

But all it shows is that nobody can ever run from their problems and can only take their issues wherever they go — different state or city — none of that matters. It also shows that he’s not matured, not a strong leader and still has dire need for improvement in his free throws and with his mental toughness under the basket. Until then, he won’t ever be a star in the NBA.


Jim Buss, co-owner of the Lakers, gambled and might regret bringing him on board to gel with Bryant and the gang, but he was misleading and wanted to contend for a title and accepted a trade from Orlando to Los Angeles, a place he initially had no intentions playing for the first day he arrived.

Not once has he sworn to wear purple and gold next season — and never said he’d like to be a Laker for life. Now, he’s becoming NBA’s annoying diva, roughly a nuisance who is an absolute turnoff if nothing else at this very moment, drawing so much attention for his injuries and endless feuds with Bryant allegedly.

Word on the street is that he and Bryant almost came to blows in the locker room with tensions boiling over to add to the messy circumstances that have had an affect on the team’s porous performance all season. He’s not totally committed to LA, and without a doubt, there’s not a mutual marriage between Howard and the Lakers, just not.

It’s not an ideal Hollywood makeover, and just from his body language and bad decorum, he won’t be in LA much longer. There’s a feeling that both the Lakers and Howard will cut ties and go their separate ways. That’s what every Lakers’ fan should hope for real soon, and every fan across the Southland should be imploring for the team to orchestrate a Howard trade.

In LA, he’s unwanted, he’s unwelcome and seems to not care whether the Lakers win or lose, looking for every excuse to leave after this season before he can even say goodbye next summer, which is quickly nearing. The Lakers, as they’ve done precisely in the past, traded players but unwisely dealt those who were valuable and contributed in some way.

So now would be the time, as NBA’s trade deadline is coming to a close, to phone Nets general manager Billy King for sole possession of the big man. The resident of Los Angeles wishes he was a resident of Brooklyn — to be quite honest.

Truth be told, after sharing the ball with Bryant and having to be the team’s second-option, he’s erratic and moody. When you think about it, Bryant attempts way too many shots sometimes, unwilling to trust in his teammates and believes he has no choice but to ball hog in order for the Lakers to win a ballgame.

It’s too often that his selfishness has thwarted the Lakers. It’s too often that Howard is petulant and overwrought because of Bryant’s ego and lack of generosity at times.

But, either way, that is, it’s now time to trade Howard. Make that quick and fast. Make that right now. Even after Kupchak said he has no intentions in trading his overrated superstar, once it became apparent that Howard has not given it his all, the Lakers can trade him to the Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and multiple pieces.

They could also send him to Atlanta, his native home, for Josh Smith and additional players. In many ways — mind you — it would appease both players when Smith desperately wants out of Atlanta and when it seems Howard wants out of LA.

Sure he’s telling us he’s happy with Bryant. Sure he’s brainwashing us with the notion that he’s committed to a storied franchise. Sure he says he will sign long-term when questions are still lingering about his future as a Laker.

But, as we’ve seen in the past, NBA players or any professional athlete for that matter lies and then when free agency suddenly comes around they leave for another team that was willing to give them what they asked for. He’s got a lot to learn about the game, about getting along with his teammates and peers.

With this team, as there is just so much star power and talent, it seems like he and Pau Gasol cannot play together. It could precisely be because of Mike D’Antoni, whose peculiar, up-tempo offense is detriment to his players.

It’s definitely hard to tell whether or not Bryant and Howard’s relationship is getting better, although they seem to be working out their problems and getting over a recent fallout. But he’s still a shadow of his teammate Bryant, as Howard recovers from his surgically repaired back and says he’s only 75 percent.

On top of that, he’s plagued by a shoulder injury as well, and missed a few games with pain in the shoulder but finally returned and managed to play through it. Some are fine with Howard averaging 16.2 points and 11.7 rebounds, while others aren’t pleased with his lack of intensity that has overshadowed his decent numbers.

Meanwhile, Howard has the leverage and dictates what he does, as far as on the court and off the court. The Lakers do not have the upper hand and won’t have it until they decide enough is enough and trade the big man to end the fuss and unnecessary drama that has killed the Lakers reassuring season.

He knows the ball is in his court and has been unhappy with the number of touches, begging for the ball in his spot under the basket where he can be dominant when he wants. For now, he’s demanding what he wants and controls his own terms.

He’s more powerful than the Lakers.

It’s a Dwightmare in Hollywood and the way to end it is by getting rid of the drama queen.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lights Out! Ravens, Flacco Sends Ray Lewis Out On Top

It’s no better way, as a champ, to go out on top and ride off into the sunset. It’s a refreshing story for the greatest middle linebacker of all time, Ray Lewis, who will leave the game in style. He finally gets to the Super Bowl after winning a championship ring 13 years ago as a Raven. He finally rejoices in a gratifying moment, only to be part of a team that has a gifted quarterback.

The folks in Baltimore won’t ever forget Joe Flacco’s fantastic postseason run. From zero to hero, he’s on the rise and stole the show on Super Bowl Sunday, completing a postseason of perfection and competence. He won the game, as well as the MVP award, which was well deserving considering that he was flawless and at ease on a night that much was on the line, on a night that meant so much to Lewis.

“It’s simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?” Lewis said, grappling the Lombardi Trophy. “It’s no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates. And you looked around this stadium and … Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!”

The story of Ray Lewis and a clash between John and Jim Harbaugh have been remarkable tales all week at Super Bowl XLVII, a couple of feel-good narratives of a vocal leader and the first ever brother vs. brother coaching duel in Super Bowl history. There is a lot more to John Harbaugh, the strategist who coaches the Baltimore Ravens, and to Lewis, the authentic, enthusiastic, intense demigod who pumps up his teammates. That much came to light when he energized and encouraged his team during his pregame speech before the game. And the fact John built a perennial winner in Baltimore and beat his little brother to capture his first Super Bowl title is a great feeling to him, and even though Jim couldn’t beat his big brother, he’s a winner, too, as he can celebrate and enjoy the night with his family.

For the last time, Lewis gathered his teammates around in a huddle and gave his usual inspirational speech. For the last time, before he walked off the field permanently, he stood on an elevated stage at midfield and lifted the Lombardi Trophy with grace and satisfaction, as the confetti poured onto the artificial turf from the roof of the Superdome in the Big Easy. The last we’ve seen an overjoyed Lewis, a 25-year-old at the peak of his game, was when he led Baltimore to Super Bowl triumph, bringing home the stainless steel to a population of Baltimore faithful.

It was fitting — amid the dominant storylines told all week — witnessing O.J. Brigance being escorted onto the field and celebrating from the confines of his wheelchair. The former Ravens linebacker, who is now the Ravens’ senior advisor on player development, is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and has been a source of inspiration throughout the team’s improbable run to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens clobbering and beating down the 49ers early had reached insanity with Flacco’s Ravens vehemently controlling the momentum, a look at Baltimore’s offensive juggernauts, a look at the far more superior team. The score was 28-6, all Ravens, followed by a blackout and the 49ers’ 17-point rally to show resilience, and they nearly pulled off the sweetest comeback in Super Bowl history. For a surging run that appeared to be impossible to stop, the Ravens ended the 49ers’ night at their own goal line. In the end, although the power outage might have disrupted and shifted the game’s momentum, the Ravens, as a whole collectively, survived a rally and preserved a lead to hold on and secure a flourishing win. Over on the sideline, John, the older brother, yelled at an official during his outburst and was irate over the fact a long delay could have killed momentum. Across the way, Jim, the younger brother, screamed at the officials and argued a pass interference no-call. Maybe receiver Michael Crabtree was bumped in the end zone on the 49ers’ last offensive play.

Where there’s agony, there’s also happiness. The Ravens, with a number of players who’ve been yearning for Super Bowl titles over the years, are still smiling about the ride to a tremendous sense of greatness. So it seems natural that, in perspective of this game, Lewis would break down into tears emotionally and shout, “We did it!” in response to his teammates, and that veteran safety Ed Reed would watch the confetti fall from the ceiling with his arms extended.

“How could it be any other way? It’s never pretty. It’s never perfect. But it’s us,” John Harbaugh said after winning the brother vs. brother clash with younger brother Jim. “It was us today.”

When it was over, Jim walked to the middle of the field to meet his brother, briefly shook hands and kindly exchanged words. The inaugural Harbowl — in a delayed game — was suspended more than half an hour because of a power outage following Beyoncé’s halftime show that consumed more and more electricity, using thousands of blue lights that some think turned off the lights and left thousands in the dark. The Ravens, the unified, cohesive darlings when it comes to America embracing a team since Lewis announced he will be calling it quits at the end of the season, simply are treating this victory like it was the last football game ever played.

“It’s no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates,” Lewis said emotionally. “And you looked around this stadium and Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!”

Every so often, in America’s most popular sport, we are coerced into worshipping Peyton and Eli Manning, the sons of Saints legend Archie — applauding two iconic quarterbacks who won Super Bowls and became the ultimate megastars as advertised. All week, though, the Manning family wasn’t a bittersweet tale of Super Bowl XLVII. The central theme of this particular game was the Harbaughs, and after the Ravens beat San Francisco in a 34-31 thriller, Flacco was an unsung hero throwing a record-tying 11 touchdowns in the playoffs, with no interceptions. That’s what wins championships. That’s what solidifies legacies and allows a player to earn a raise or a megabuck deal with a team, desperately undaunted enough to spend millions as a way to lure pro athletes.

On greater imports, Flacco stepped into his role on offense and carried a team that had a veteran, aging defense. For perspective’s sake, he’s won Baltimore a Super Bowl — and because of his accuracy, arm strength, guts and self-assurance — the Ravens can touch the glittery trophy and Lewis seizes the moment. With Lewis’ NFL career proudly drawing to a close, Flacco, who quarterbacked the Ravens to sheer greatness and delivered when it mattered the most, is gradually becoming a dictator of a well-executed passing game and is becoming a franchise quarterback. It ended, at last, in New Orleans, with a fledged, poised individual, the 28-year-old who was — including this season — viewed as a polarizing figure as many believed Flacco was unfit for greatness. The run is not over, and as it turns out, he’s quickly emerging into a superstar in pro football.

“I’m a Joe Flacco fan. I’ve been a Joe Flacco fan,” Lewis said. “For him to come in and do what he did today, and made some of the throws he made, that is what we’ve always seen. We’ve always said that when you win a championship, one man won’t win the ring. It will be a complete team. We won as a complete team.”

The debates and doubts ended when he connected with Anquan Boldin 13 yards for a touchdown and when he flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. Nobody has had a more humiliating week than 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, from his anti-gay comments to getting beat twice, particularly on an electrifying 56-yard touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones in the first half. He also missed a tackle on Jones’ record-setting 108-yard kickoff return that gave the Ravens a 28-6 lead. Having a breakout performance in the most meaningful game, Flacco has certainly wedged himself in elite company and contract talks are now heavy, and he’s likely about to get paid.

How good was he? He was super.

And having said that, Flacco was 22 for 33 for 287 yards and finished with three touchdowns. It was one shinning moment, and it was a moment that he went from low-level to top-notch by standards, impressively dominating and outdoing 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It was an eyebrow-raising moment, a game where he was unruffled and didn’t throw a pick, moving the ball and delivering scoring passes. It’s about Lewis, but this particular night was more about Flacco.

In Flacco, we trust.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Step Aside Mannings, Harbaugh Family Tree Far More Fascinating

There will be no Mannings, not at Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s brother vs. brother, certainly, a historic Super Bowl tale of opposing coaches. You could say it’s brotherly love, a moment when John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, will stand across the field from Jim Harbaugh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday to fight for possession of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a 22-inch glittering trophy made of stainless steel. It’s the inaugural Harbowl, the first brother vs. brother coaching duel in Super Bowl history, and having watched NFL for years, I believe we are witnesses of the most heartwarming story.

The brothers are drawing most of the attention this week, and amazingly the Harbaughs are a more compelling story to tell here in America, than the Mannings. No disrespect, but folks are delighted and amazed that two brothers will be coaching against each other Sunday. So John and Jim have inspired fans, embarking on a journey to try to win their first ever Super Bowl as two perennial head coaches in a cruel business of headaches and heavy burdens. It’s a business where if coaches are inept and can’t produce a certain amount of wins to qualify for the postseason or even make a deep run during the playoffs they get canned.

But they have not done a disservice to the franchises that employed them, giving both men a shot to expose their competitive nature and coaching acumen, which they’ve done so well by changing the culture and leading Baltimore and San Francisco to the Super Bowl. Winner takes all, and either way — that is — both will walk off the artificial turf winners come late Sunday night early Monday morning. Win or lose, the Harbaughs are victorious. If Jim’s 49ers don’t win — and trust me — he won’t jump up and down like a silly kid, he won’t charge across the field, he won’t pull his shirt up and chest-bump his brother. Hello, his brother is not Jim Schwartz.

This is family and brotherhood grows stronger every day. So whoever wins, the Harbaugh family, either way, will be celebrating on Bourbon Street as one of the brothers will be boarding the flight with the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all finished. Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, parents of the opposing Super Bowl coaches, raised their boys the right way and both men are defying every law of game planning and intensity, all the reason they’ve made it to the peak of their careers.

The Harbaughs, raised in a house by their parents to be respectful and hard-working kids, grew up around the game of football, played it and traveled around America with their father, Jack, who knew his sons had a knack for coaching and saw both of his boys nurture their talent as coaches. It’s a remarkable family reunion, a gathering among a proud family the NFL has rarely experienced. The only other family who comes to mind is the Manning family.

As unique stories, the first-time Bro Bowl is astounding enough, making America smile and rave endlessly about a sibling rivalry of two brothers who fans have grown to admire deeply, similar to the way everybody became infatuated with the Mannings. With the Harbaughs, who will likely be around the league for a long time, the Mannings are becoming have-beens and fans are speaking highly of John and Jim. The one thing all of this reveals, of course, is that football runs strongly in the family. The Harbaughs, from the father to the mother to the brothers all have fond memories of football, but the Super Bowl is more than just a family affair. It’s another football game, just like all the rest, and come Sunday the Harbaughs will be partying like Lombardi Gras.

It’s the Harbaughs’ turns to catch our attention, preach the importance of teamwork and competitiveness, the framework for winning multiple Super Bowl titles and launching a celebration of gratification and glimpsing at the beginning of an era of great promise. In the last couple of years, we’ve been glorifying Peyton and Eli, two brothers who are star quarterbacks in the National Football League. The Mannings, particularly this decade, are the sons of football while the Harbaughs are a fraternity of NFL coaches.

And as much of a cliché’ as it sounds when it comes to two brothers who fans are madly talking about, the Harbaughs have become coaching royalty in the NFL. It’s gracious and humbling, fascinating and touching, each on the brink of validating sheer greatness and on the cusp of writing the sweetest NFL family story. They are not, just because they are brothers, a mirror image. In many ways, John, 50, Jim, 48, are different, very different. As the NFL’s first coaching family, a sibling rivalry news conference Friday revealed the Harbaughs’ personality and what makes these two brothers different. They were born 15 months apart and both have proven to be elite coaches.

And to an extent, that’s about the only thing these brothers have in common. Beyond that, the other thing they obviously share is a last name, but as for their coaching styles, it is as if the Harbaughs are not related. It’s one that nobody can argue and it became clear after watching them coach their teams. This is not only as far as coaching but personality-wise and by appearance even.

In their time spent with the media on Friday, when they stood on the glittery stage and captivated our awareness with their disparity in perception and personality traits, John wore a smile while Jim stared angrily. The older brother, John, is outgoing and is gracious. The younger brother, Jim, is brusque, haughty, and snobbish and seems aloof from a large crowd. He is, however, a great guy, just like his brother, John. It’s just the way Jim carries himself, and apparently it’s good enough to make it to the Super Bowl.

He has flair and spunk, a mental approach that has turned the 49ers into an elite NFC team. These 49ers have come along way on defense under Jim and suddenly are en route to a potential Super Bowl victory, and they might be the most compelling team. When he arrived, when the York family took a risk by hiring Jim to be a savior in San Francisco, the 49ers adapted to his system and became used to his fiery, winning attitude. Long before this Super Bowl clash between these brothers, he was a famous quarterback at Michigan and greatly idolized legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Long before he began his NFL coaching career, Jim spent 15-years in the NFL as a quarterback, and then became a head coach at the University of San Diego and Stanford. And John, the older one, played defensive back collegiately at Miami of Ohio and later began his coaching pursuit, serving as an assistant at five schools before his first NFL job came as the Eagles’ special-teams coach for nine seasons and spending one season coaching the secondary.

Standing across from him on Sunday, will be his brother, John. That’s a good thing about the Harbaughs; they both are winners and were taught the importance of hard work, determination and coaching. Thanks to their father, the Harbaughs are devoted to their players and have been mentally and physically attached to the game. It’s simple to recognize that their achievements rank them among the greatest coaches of the modern era, and having experience from watching their dad as kids, helped the Harbaughs hone their craft, leading two teams that consistently play smart and tough. It’s not easy turning unpopular quarterbacks into skilled passers or taking two uninspired teams to Super Bowl XLVII, with singular stories to tell and legends being born.

And, ultimately, we’ve never seen anything like it. The Manning name, for a long time, floated around the NFL, and America celebrated the megastar quarterbacks. Both brothers, Peyton and Eli, the sons of Saints legend Archie, won Super Bowls. But at this time, I’d like to direct your attention to the Harbaughs.

When the news conference finished Friday, after holding a joint press conference at the New Orleans convention center to address the media, the Harbaughs’ parents and grandparent stood together for a family portrait, one the family will remember forever. There’s never a shortage of storylines when the Harbaughs are in the conversation, and the time would be now that everybody talks about John and Jim, who have stolen the limelight for much of the week.

Step aside, Mannings. Welcome, Harbaughs.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Speech Won’t Erase Grudges Against Roger Goodell In New Orleans

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, arrived in a hostile territory, took the stage and stood his ground. He’s not a likable person, at least not in New Orleans. He’s not welcomed in a town, where fans have a grudge against the commish. He likes the city and its fans as well — and they don’t like him.

The people of these festive, active streets aren’t over the infamous Bountygate scandal and could paint a mural of him with devil horns above his head to bring laughter to a community filled with anger, after leaving a population in a predicament. But the words, spoken by a humiliated man during Goodell’s State of the League Address, won’t rid grudges against him in New Orleans.

Eleven months ago, in this forgiving country, a despairing town turned its back on Goodell. They still won’t let it go, dwelling on the past and pointing the finger at nobody else but the commish who wrongly killed the Saints executional style, when he dropped the proverbial hammer on New Orleans for the bounty system. Sean Payton, the Saints head coach who led the team to a Super Bowl victory three years ago, was suspended for the entire 2012 season without pay. Rather than levying a light punishment, enough to put fear on players who dare to supervise a bounty program, he suspended Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games.

Wait, there’s more.

Goodell, the NFL Sheriff who, to some, took a position to his head, fined the Saints $500,000 and suspended the ringmaster Gregg Williams indefinitely. In unprecedented cases, as with Roger Goodell, it ruined the Saints season and finally he realized that he crossed the line by abusing his authority to lose credibility and trust. Today, was a moment he tried to win back the vast majority of those folks in New Orleans giving him the evil eye and heckling him throughout the city. Today, was a moment he failed to gain stature among resentful New Orleans fans, as the most hated commissioner in the history of the NFL.

By now, you know that citizens are hoping he steps down as the head honcho and becomes so fatigued in a role of responsibilities and headaches. It’s a long time coming if he decides to escape the burdens and allow bitter fans to exhaust him with obscenities and personal attacks. Goodell’s speech is only the most recent assumption on how bad he’s trying to reduce the anger and make those people like him again, underscoring the reality that player’s safety is a top priority.

If and when the day comes that he’d seriously take the initiative to protect not only the brand but also the players, he would likely earn back respect and reconcile with the past. For once, he’s shown sensitivity to safety, coming up with a solution to minimize the significant amount of head injuries happening frequently in the league. He’s not, as of this moment, ignoring player’s safety, reiterating the importance of discipline — to eliminate some tackling and suggest that discipline will come down hard on players who violate rules.

“This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game,” said Goodell. “I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer. I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders.”

It won’t matter to folks in New Orleans what measures he takes to enhance safety at this point. The damage has already been done, and a community is not very forgiving. By now, he knows that, he knows he’s not liked by most of the people who reside in the city.

“We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline,” said Goodell.

The population of New Orleans won’t take the word discipline too kindly.

When he stepped on the glittery stage to address the media, it was an appearance of a manipulator looking for a change. As much as anything, Goodell wants his professional disgrace to dematerialize. For much of the week, while in New Orleans, he’s been busy and dealing with a flurry of lawsuits and a public backlash. Goodell, a very smart man, knows it all. A lot of people want him to disappear into the darkness forever, without ever showing his face publicly, now the perfect scapegoat for incompetence.

Not surprisingly, he’s responsible for the Saints plights in the 2012 season, and fans are not obligated to what his next step is as far as focusing on safety. Outside the convention center, infuriated fans, raging over the bounty scandal, heckled and harassed Goodell. He’s not welcomed to restaurants and bars. Inside the windows, signs are plastered that suggest service to Goodell would be refused. With a portrait of Goodell covering the bull’s eye on a dartboard at one lounge, he also has a float dedicated to him in the Mardi Gras parade and he’s even a voodoo doll.

The bitterness is still raw. The feeling of hate is still stronger than ever, perhaps because he’s in town for the Super Bowl festivities. Even amid his latest promises, fans are mad over Bountygate. A man that once helped rebuild the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is seen on a banner that hangs from the Superdome ridiculing him. It’s clear that he’s not a saint in New Orleans, but a villain who needed extra security and a secret dungeon to lay his head at nights, without having to worry about death threats in a city where segments of the community despises him. While players have derided him, he’s had his suspensions overturned. He was joking around about New Orleans’ reaction to his arrival. The reality is that he was far more concerned about safety, which was his excuse for harshly penalizing the Saints last March.

“That is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward,” he said. “. . . As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game, to make the game safer.”

There’s not a season that goes by without players suffering a concussion, which can trigger brain damage and can lead to dementia that often affects memory, thinking and behavior. All week, the NFL’s commissioner has stayed away from the crowd, barely showing his face in public, feeling a bit uneasy and nervous to step out of his hotel room. The hotel has a scattered, spacious lobby, which is perfect to surreptitiously escape and hide from the bitter crowd. When he does leave his secret suite, he’s quickly jumping into a flashy car with tinted windows and riding behind a line of police motorcycles. He’s publicly keeping his distance and he’s trying to avoid busy streets — Bourbon Street.

The important thing is that the NFL needs to protect its name and brand. The Saints paid greatly for their bounty program when it was uncovered. The growing number of lawsuits could prove costly for the league. But Goodell, as the person in charge, thinks he found a solution and suggested harsher penalties for hard hits.

When asked if he felt like he was behind enemy lines during the state of the league address, he smiled and had no comment.

It’s up to Goodell, not the fans.