August 26, 2014

The team that Cavs fans deserve, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how I often seem to catch part of Two Broke Girls whenever I start to write my weekly edition of WWW. But not this week. Thanks to the Every Simpsons Ever marathon, my TV has been firmly fixated on FXX.

I often watch syndicated episodes of The Simpsons, so I’ve seen many of the older episodes multiple times, but there’s just been something really enjoyable about going back and watching these classic episodes again, only this time in chronological order. Whether it be the Pinchy the lobster episode, Blinky the three-eyed fish episode, the putt putt golf tournament episode, the Hullabalooza episode, or Maggie’s first word episode, it’s been a never ending string of classics.

I don’t watch new episodes of The Simpsons anymore. I’m not sure why not, I just sort of fell out of it. For a very long time my DVR would still record the episodes every week, but I would just never feel like watching them, and I would inevitable have to delete them all at some point to free up space. But it’s funny, despite not watching the new shows, I’m never the less quite glad that the show is still on the air. There’s something comforting and reassuring that one last piece of my childhood is still hanging in there.

And I think that’s a big part of why the Simpsons has endured. The show is frozen in time at a point in a family’s life that we all love. While everything else around us has changed so much over the last 25 years, the Simpsons family has mostly stayed the same. And at the core of the show, family is what it is all about. Sure, everyone in the family has their own selfish moments and quirks, but when all is said and done, The Simpsons are one of the most tight-knit families on television.

And speaking of families…

*****

Kevin Love is a big deal for Cavaliers fans

Yes, of course I’m going to talk about Kevin Love here today. The trade is finally final and we can officially refer to Love as a Cleveland Cavalier. A lot has already been said and written about Love’s impact on the court, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about this event from the fans’ perspective.

When LeBron James left, we all know what that moment represented. I’ve often said that people outside of Ohio and the Cavs family couldn’t possibly totally comprehend the gravity and weight of that moment. It was much more than just a basketball thing. It was more than a regional thing. It was more than an economic thing. It was an unraveling of the fabric that tied all of us together as fans.

I remember something I wrote after LeBron left.

So please, please, please don’t take the easy way out and just give up on this franchise. Take heart in what Dan Gilbert said last night. He is going to fight for us in a way that LeBron never did. We held our tongue on a lot of things with LeBron over the years because we wanted to show him the same support and loyalty we thought he was going to give us, and so did Dan Gilbert. So no, I’m not going to sit here and blame him for firing off that letter last night. I’m a little worried about the impact it could have on signing free agents in the future because LeBron is a very popular player with a ton of friends in the league and none of them probably thought it was too cool. But this was personal for Gilbert. It had to be. It may have “just been business” to LeBron, but it wasn’t business for us in Ohio. This was about as personal as it gets.

Setting aside anyone’s feelings today about Dan Gilbert, positive or negative, I was terrified that LeBron’s departure was going to put an end to the community of Cavs fans that I had grown so fond of. I knew things would never be the same, but I so desperately wanted fans to not give up, to continue to fight to show support for this franchise that we all loved so dearly.

It wasn’t always easy, and there were so many trying moments over the last four years of darkness. All of us were tested to varying degrees, and while not everyone maintained the same level of passion throughout, for the most part, the Cavs family survived. And that’s something we should take a second to reflect on and be really proud of. Because everything is about to change.

Yes, this Kevin Love thing is a big deal. After suffering through long, dark, bitter cold winter nights watching this franchise falter in different ways over and over again, we are about to have one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA. I don’t know how long it will take for everything to gel. I don’t know how many games this team will win this year. I don’t know if a Big Three who has two of the three without any prior playoff experience can make a Championship run in year one. The only thing I know about this team is that they have the pieces in place to be an incredibly fun team to watch with one of the most potent offenses the NBA has ever seen.

I’ve been reflecting a lot about how I feel about all of this. About LeBron returning after so publicly turning his back on all of us. About this franchise that has been a nightmare for four years suddenly being considered one of the favorites to win the Championship just one year after the Season of Huh. About reconciling my feelings about “Super Teams” in the NBA with my desire to see the Cleveland Cavaliers be relevant again. There has been so much to take in and it has been overwhelming at times. Yet the one thing I keep coming back to is that this is the team that the Cavs family deserves.

I get a little tired of people always pitting the Cleveland franchises against one another, as if we have to rank our loyalties. I’m a fan of all three franchises. Yes, basketball is my favorite sport and I feel the strongest about the Cavaliers, but I want to see success for all three of the city’s teams. Obviously the Browns push the needle in Cleveland, but after what I’ve seen the last eleven years has shown me that Cleveland is an awesome basketball city as well.

Actually, forget just the last eleven years. With the exception of the dead period post-Mike Fratello and pre-LeBron, the Cavaliers have generally been a playoff team or at least a playoff contender. The franchise has been in the playoffs fifteen times in my life. It’s easy to be a fan when things are going well. And I know many will write off those Fratello teams because they weren’t Championship contenders. They were just a team that made the playoffs as a low seed who lost in the first round every year. But I loved watching Mike Fratello get the most out of those low talent teams, finding a way to win games against all odds.

But it’s much harder to be a fan when the team is losing. And breaking records for losing. It’s ugly. It feels pointless at times. It’s trying in every way. Yet over the last four years, I could pop on Twitter for every game and partake in quality discussions and debates with a multitude of like-minded Cavs fans. The wins may have left, but the passion of the fans didn’t.

So sure, LeBron returning is the biggest Cleveland sports story of my life. That along would have made this an amazing offseason. But adding Kevin Love is the biggest cherry on top. And I’m just so happy for the fans. Forget about how this team was constructed or how much luck was required to get here. For once, we can just live in the moment and enjoy this ride we’re about to embark on, wherever it takes us.

*****

Is LeBron’s weight actually a problem?

This article is a couple weeks old, but I just stumbled on it. It comes from the Toronto Star and it questions whether LeBron’s weight loss is a good thing or not.

“It’s unhealthy for athletes,” said Guest, a Toronto-based sport dietitian and PhD candidate studying genetics and high-performance athletes at the University of Toronto.

“There are some proponents out there that feel that if you stay on a high-fat diet long enough, that you can adapt to using fat as a primary fuel. It’s extremely risky, and more often than not, we see fatigue, we see a decrease in performance, immunity issues. Carbohydrates are an athlete’s best friend,” said Guest.

I don’t know how LeBron lost all his weight or whether or not he is consuming any carbs or not. I think it’s risky whenever any medical professional tries to diagnose someone without actually talking to them or examining them. But never the less, I did find this article at least interesting.

Is LeBron’s weight going to be a problem? Can he still play in the post with this frame? Will he fatigue as the season goes along? Who knows. I’m sure LeBron is working with professionals who are considering all of this and more. His diet now may not be the same as his diet once the season starts. Maybe he’s losing weight now, but will be consuming carbs once the season starts.

*****

Sure, lets talk about the Browns a little bit

I’ll admit, four years of Cavalier ineptitude wasn’t enough to dampen my spirit. However, fifteen years of it from the Browns is starting to get the job done. As I watched the Browns take the field Saturday night and then proceed to look exactly like the Cleveland Browns on the field, I found myself questioning myself, asking why I was even watching.

It feels like nothing matters. The Browns have tried EVERYTHING. They’ve changed every aspect of the franchise, even the owner. Nothing matters. This franchise fails over and over again on every level in every aspect. It’s frustrating and I’m getting tired of caring about them and wasting my Sundays watching the same team do the same things and make the same mistakes over and over again.

But hey, who knows. Maybe this is all just a preseason mirage and the real Browns will be a good football team. Maybe for once things will just kind of work out.

But as frustrating as all the losing and ineptitude has been, the thing that is frustrating me the most today is the Josh Gordon situation. As Mike Pettine has said, he’s “fairly certain” Gordon is going to miss time. But how much time? Yeah, wouldn’t we all like to know.

This suspension and appeal has been dragging out since night two of the draft. That was May 9, almost four months ago. And we still have no answers, no idea of what is going to happen with Josh. This whole situation seems entirely unfair to The Browns, to Gordon, to the fans, to everyone. And the longer this drags out, the longer Gordon will have to wait to apply for reinstatement if his one year suspension is upheld. What a mess.

I don’t know what kind of politics are going into a decision like this. I don’t know if a compromise is being negotiated or if one or both sides are playing some kind of hardball with the other. I just want this to be over so we can have some kind of closure on this and can move forward appropriately.

*****

New music of the week

What a week for new music! So much good stuff to consider. My pick for album of the week came down to J Mascis and Ty Segall. It was really hard to pick between the two, but I’m going with Ty Segall by a narrow margin.

I’ve talked before about Jersey bands wearing Jersey on their sleeve. Well, Ty Segall is not from Jersey. He is from San Francisco and boy does he ever wear that city’s style in his music. He encapsulates all of that weirdness, all of that psychedelic weirdness, and channels it into his own unique brand of garage rock.

Ty Segall has been around for a while, and he is one of the most prolific song writers in the indie music world. In 2013 he released three albums. One was a solo album, one with Ty Segall Band, and one with his other band Fuzz. Now in 2014, he’s back with a solo album and, in my opinion, it’s his best one yet.

Sometimes his brand of garage rock can be a bit trying. His albums aren’t always consistent. But this one is by far his most consistent and most accessible album yet. His songwriting is more focused and he allows the hooks to surface easier. But he does all this without giving up the extraordinary guitar playing. He still absolutely shreds on this album. So give it a shot, and see what you think:

Other albums to consider this week include:

  • J Mascis – “Tied to a Star”
  • Merchandise – “After the End”
  • The Rentals – “Lost in Alphaville”
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Lose”

*****

That’s it for me this week. I hope everyone has a great and safe Labor Day Weekend, and I’ll see you guys back here next Tuesday when we will have a major change at WFNY for you guys. I look forward to it!

Woe are quarterbacks for Ohio teams: While We’re Waiting…

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!

Why did the Browns even have a QB competition? I found myself thinking about that question this morning. Perhaps a good deal of it is hindsight, in having seen a couple of preseason games now, but Johnny Manziel doesn’t look like a QB who is ready for the NFL right now.

Which of course doesn’t mean he won’t eventually be ready. Or that he won’t eventually be a star for his on-field performance and not just his off-field antics. But when the Cleveland Browns selected Manziel in the draft, why did that entitle him to compete for the starting job day one?

It’s not even that Brian Hoyer is an established starting NFL quarterback. He is anything but that, with only three career starts to his name. But Hoyer has been around the NFL for a few years. He’s at least used to the speed of the game, the routine of weekly preparation, and understanding what needs to go into pre-snap reads at this level.

I think above anything else this morning, I find myself mostly disappointed in how poorly Hoyer has looked this preseason. I’m disheartened in general with the offense. But last season, in his limited sample size, Hoyer at least made good, decisive reads and got the ball out of the pocket in a timely manner and showed pretty decent accuracy. So far this preseason, he has looked so much more unsure of himself. It seems, from the outside looking in, like the competition with Manziel has really affected Hoyer. I know a lot of people wanted Manziel to be the starter, but I wanted Hoyer to grab ahold of the starting job and hang onto it for most, if not all, of this season. Unfortunately for both Hoyer and the Browns, that hasn’t happened at all.

The problem the Browns face is that neither guy looks like they’re ready for Week One. I’ve felt all along that a tie between the two QBs would go to Hoyer. Some of the things I’ve seen and heard over the last few weeks had me questioning that. I’ve felt recently like the Browns were giving Manziel every chance to just take the job. But he’s fallen short, too. So now, who’s the starter? Now I’m leaning toward Hoyer getting the nod. Hopefully that would clear his head and allow him to get back to playing at least at an average level like he was last season. If he doesn’t break out of this funk, though, I think his tenure as starting QB will be a short one and we’ll be seeing Johnny Football before we know it. For better or worse.

*****

A bad night for Ohio QBs

As though sitting through a penalty-riddled preseason game in which your team’s two best hopes at QB completely falter isn’t bad enough, during the game we also got word that Ohio State QB Braxton Miller hurt his already ailing shoulder in practice last evening. Braxton initially hurt his shoulder in the Orange Bowl against Clemson last year, requiring him to have off season surgery. Unfortunately, the repaired shoulder was still bothering Braxton all summer and after throwing a downfield pass in a 7-on-7 drill, the shoulder finally gave out.

This is the ultimate gut punch for the Buckeyes who, with an incredibly weak schedule, were eyeing a run at the new NCAA playoff. Barring a Friday Night Lights-esque miracle run, those hopes are now shattered. JT Barrett will now have to do his best to channel his inner Matt Saracen and lead a team shaken to their core over the loss of the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (an award only Braxton and Purdue’s Drew Brees have won multiple times).

Speaking purely as a fan, this is one of toughest things to happen to Ohio State in my lifetime. It really feels like the season is over before it even started. If something like this had to happen, you wish it could have happened last season when Kenny Guiton was still around to take over. This is nothing against JT Barrett (or Cardale Jones, should he wind up the starter at some point this season), but Guiton was incredibly experienced and had a phenomenal grasp on the offense. I don’t know what happens now, but with Carlos Hyde in the NFL and Braxton sidelined, the Buckeyes have to replace like 99% of their offense from last season (that percentage is not the real one, just an exaggeration). There will be growing pains with a Freshman QB. We saw it with Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller, and I fully expect we’ll see it with JT Barrett.

The good thing for OSU fans is that thanks to parity-less Big Ten conference, the Buckeyes will still be favored in most of their games and they should have enough talent from top to bottom to win a bunch of games and to go to a bowl game. It’s just a bitter pill when this season had higher hopes. Unless Barrett is better than anyone could imagine, the dream of an undefeated season sure feels like it’s now over.

*****

The most overrated Cavalier?

As always, I feel the need to preface this by saying that I’m glad the Cavaliers signed Shawn Marion. I think he can possibly help this season. However, after reading a few reaction pieces, some of which were particularly inaccurate (Marion a career 49% shooter from three? I think not. Try 33%), I feel like we need to slow down a little bit with Marion.

We saw a similar thing happen last year with Jarrett Jack. Now, Marion is a much better player than Jack, so it’s not apples to apples, but last year the Jack signing was so overhyped by Cavs fans, including yours truly (although I did at least recognize before the season that we were over-hyping him). I hope fans can keep expectations with Marion somewhat tempered.

Marion fits an obvious need for the Cavaliers with his ability to defend wings and to fit in small lineups for the Cavs. He’s been a fairly durable, steady, reliable player for a long time. But that last part is the kicker. For a long time. He’s been around the block a few times and has logged a lot of career minutes.

Marion wasn’t brought here to be a shooter, although he has actually improved his three-point shooting in each of the last three seasons. Instead, he’s always been a guy capable of scoring without being the focal point of an offense, which is ideal in Cleveland. He brings playoff experience and veteran leadership. It’s a good signing for the Cavaliers. But at 35 years old, I just want Cavs fans to be aware that this is not the same Shawn Marion you remember from his days with the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns.

*****

New music Tuesday

Finally, we end this WWW as we do every Tuesday with my selection for best new album of the week.

My choice this week is a no-brainer and one of my more anticipated albums of the month: Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut album. Booker is a New Orleans-based blues/soul/rock musician.

Modern blues music is a funny thing. For a while, it felt like blues music was a dying art form. When I was in high school, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Johnny Lang were a couple younger musicians playing some decent blues music, but it’s just been hard for me to find blue artists that I can connect with.

Enter Benjamin Booker. His intensity and fire on stage, in his vocal delivery, and in his frantic guitar playing is everything I’ve been looking for in this kind of music. He brings almost a punk rock edge to his New Orleans-style blues.

The whole album is really, really good for people who enjoy an eclectic brand of music that brings in a multitude of styles and genres and blends them seamlessly.

*****

That’s all I have this week. Hope everyone enjoys the rest of their week!

 

Cleveland Indians Closer Doug Jones – Reliving Yesteryear

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Mariano Rivera: “Super Mariano.” Aroldis Chapman: “The Cuban Missile.” Mitch Williams: (sing it) “Wild Thing!” (“You-stole-a-Cleve-land thing!”).

Doug Jones: “Sultan of Slow”?

Yeah.. that’s not really his nickname. Although I don’t suspect he would mind terribly. The unassuming, unlikely star closer for the late 1980s Cleveland Indians never was your stereotypical brash and showy big league pitcher.

Major league baseball closers are ‘supposed’ to be powerful and intimidating. They bring the heat. But Doug Jones earned every ounce of respect he has received.

Doug Jones grew up watching his father race sprint cars locally in central Indiana (yes, think Tony Stewart). When he was old enough, he raced his father’s car in a qualifying race. Talk about fast and powerful: he ran into the wall on the last lap. Jones made the decision to pursue a safe baseball career instead. [Read more...]

Cavaliers to host Knicks in season opener, play in Miami on Christmas Day

Cavaliers vs KnicksThe 2014-15 NBA schedule hasn’t been officially released yet, but reports have slowly been leaking out with information about some of the league’s marquee matchups. After initial reports that the Cavaliers were going to have to open the season in San Antonio to face the Spurs, Yahoo’s Marc Spears is now reporting that the Cavaliers will actually host the Carmelo Anthony and the Phil Jackson-led Knicks on opening night.

We also have word that the Cavaliers will be playing on Christmas Day for the first time in five years when they travel to Miami where LeBron will square off with former teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The full schedule is expected to be released Wednesday at 6:00 pm.

[Related: LeBron makes first comments at his Welcome Home Party in Akron]

Report: Former Bucks Coach Larry Drew to Join David Blatt’s Staff

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With all the excitement over LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, along with all the talk of the impending Kevin Love trade, one of the overlooked stories surrounding the Cavaliers is the makeup of new coach David Blatt’s staff. Tyronn Lue was hired to be Blatt’s Associate Head Coach, but other than rumors of mutual interest in Larry Drew, no word has come down on the rest of the staff.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe tweeted that the Cavaliers have indeed hired Larry Drew to be on David Blatt’s staff:

Drew was rather infamously and shamefully replaced as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks as part of the fallout of Jason Kidd’s failed power play in New Jersey, which landed Kidd in Milwaukee and left Drew unemployed. Drew is regarded as a coach who designs playstyle to the talent of his roster, as opposed to forcing his roster to play his preferred style. This mentality should be a good fit with David Blatt who also coaches with this adaptive style.

As for the rest of the staff, Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Boylan, Igor Kokoskov, and Bret Brielmaier are all still listed on the Cavs’ official website. No further information regarding their future has been reported as of this time.

[Related: Charlotte joins Cleveland in running to host 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game]

Your 2014 ArenaBowl Primer, featuring the Cleveland Gladiators

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[Editor's Note: Jay Butcher is a long time reader and friend of WFNY. Jay grew up in Brunswick watching the Indians & Browns and is a big Cleveland sports fan in general. He currently lives in Olmsted Falls and is a Browns and Gladiators season ticket holder. You can find him on Twitter @butcher98]

Hey Cleveland, you have a team playing for a championship! No it’s not the Browns, Indians or Cavaliers (yet). It’s our very own Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.

Here’s a little background on the AFL. Known as the ’50-yard indoor war’, it is fast-paced and high-scoring eight-on-eight indoor football. A typical offensive set has the QB, three WRs (one may be running toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped), and four offensive linemen with one declaring himself a tight end1. There are not very many running plays called in a game, maybe three or four, with the bulk of them called at the goal line. On defense, there are three linemen, two LBs (only one of which allowed to blitz) and three DBs. The Gladiators averaged 55.1 ppg this season on their way to a league-best 17-1 record.

The games are non-stop excitement. The goal posts are only 9 feet wide in the AFL, with the nets extending 30-feet wide on each side and 32-feet high. Any time the ball bounces off the net, it is in play. It’s not uncommon to see a pass tipped into the net and be intercepted. On kickoffs, they kick the ball off the nets the majority of the time, hoping for an awkward bounce or a bobble by the return man. If tackled in the end zone, the team starts on the 5 yard line.

The Gladiators are in a division with 3 other teams. Those teams are the Philadelphia Soul, the Iowa Barnstormers, and the main rival is (shockingly, I know!) the Pittsburgh Power.

On May 23 the Gladiators were trailing the Soul by 17  points with under a minute left and ended up winning the game 54-52. The Glads beat the Soul three times this season (including the 1st round of the playoffs) on the last play of the game. Overall the Gladiators won 6 games on the last play of the game this season. The team reminds me of the 90′s Indians. Even when they are down at home you always think there is a chance they can win, and this season they have.  The only loss was on the road to Pittsburgh.

The Gladiators are led by quarterback “Stone Cold” Shane Austin from the University of Hawaii, who threw 99 TDs in the regular season. A hard-hitting defensive secondary of Dominic Jones, LaRoche Jackson, and Alvin Jackson. anchors the defense. Marrio Norman was also part of the secondary until he recently signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. The kicker, Aaron Pettrey (a familiar name to any Buckeye fan),  has three game-winning field goals, the biggest of which being the mentioned playoff game.

The Gladiators play at The Q. They averaged 10,600+ fans this season before the playoffs. With tickets starting at $10 and all Friday games including $1 hotdogs and pop while Saturday games include $2 16-ounce draft beers, it’s an affordable night out with the family. There is always music playing in between plays or an on-field game going on during a time out. From the touchdown dance the crowd does to the “YES YES YES” chant that happens after every made extra point, there is always something going on to keep you entertained. Another cool thing is just like a baseball game, if a ball goes into the crowd you get to keep it. At the end of each game they have an on-field party that include autographs and your chance to try to kick a field goal, which is great for the little ones.

I had been to a few games here and there over the past few seasons, but this year I decided to take the plunge and buy season tickets. For my family of three it was a no-brainer. Everyone has fun and the price was right, $270 for ten games next season (we got six games for free this year for committing). The seats aren’t horrible, either, 20 rows off the field. In comparison, my two seats for the Browns cost me $1000 .

arenabowlI started going to the Gladiators games as a fun night out with the family but quickly became a HUGE fan. They have almost a cult-like following with fans, some who wear gladiator-like face masks while others wear a helmet with red broom bristles attached like a mohawk.

I know the AFL is a niche sport and a championship isn’t going to mean as much to the city of Cleveland as one from the other big three teams would, but on August 23 at 8 pm the Q will be rocking with chants of “YES YES YES”, and hopefully a championship will be won in the city of Cleveland as the Gladiators take on the Arizona Rattlers for the AFL title.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. it’s pretty cool to see a dump off to a big guy and see how far he can rumble []

Charlotte joins Cleveland in running to host 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game

quicken loans arenaEarlier this week, the Charlotte Hornets threw their hat in the ring for the right to host an upcoming NBA All-Star Game. A joint statement was released by the team and the recently founded non-profit Charlotte Sports Foundation.

Charlotte, which did not have a franchise from 2002-04, last hosted the All-Star Game back in 1991. Of course, if you may have forgotten, the other contender for the 2017 or 2018 game appears to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Not many other legitimate competitors are on the horizon. Portland had been a contender, but infrastructure issues derailed their 2017 bid. Orlando, which hosted the 2012 game, hopes to remain a future contender as well. There haven’t been too many other reports of interested host cities.

The upcoming schedule includes New York City in 2015 and Toronto in 2016. This season’s game will be played at Madison Square Garden, with Saturday festivities to be played at the Barclays Center. The Toronto announcement was made with much fanfare and lots and lots of Drake.

Previously, the Cavs had announced their intention to host a future game in spring 2012 and then submitted an official bid in spring 2013. The announcement about Toronto was made last September, but early reports are that the 2017 decision won’t come until later this winter or next spring.

Of course, the 2016 Republican National Convention will take place in Cleveland sometime that summer. Thus, necessary and centrally located infrastructure will likely already be in place for the city by the time of possibly hosting the NBA’s mid-season extravaganza.

Cleveland last hosted the NBA All-Star Game back in 1997, the year of the league’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Indians also hosted the MLB All-Star Game that summer and advanced to the World Series.

[Related from WFNY’s Scott Sargent at the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans:
On Crescent City, Community and Creation]

RIP Robin Williams: While We’re Waiting…

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Sigh.

I normally start this off with a “Happy Tuesday” greeting, but this Tuesday is anything but. I opened my laptop to start writing this post last night, and I was immediately hit in the face with the news of Robin Williams’ death.

I’ll be honest with you guys: I don’t normally feel all that affected by celebrity deaths. I mean, I feel bad for their families and friends, and yes it is sad, but I’ve never been good about connecting their deaths to my life. There have been a few exceptions, though…Certain artists and celebrities who meant something to me in some personal way: Kurt Cobain, Dale Earnhardt, Layne Staley, Chris Farley, Greg Giraldo. And now Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was a titan of my youth. He already had a long, prosperous career before I first remember noticing him, but in reality his career was just getting started. I still vividly remember seeing “Hook” in the theater as a young 12-year-old kid and just loving Robin Williams’ performance as Peter Pan. I remember seeing Mrs Doubtfire in the theater a couple years later and thinking it was just about the funniest thing I had ever seen. I’ve been a fan ever since, always trying to make an effort to see just about anything he does.

I can’t even totally grasp this news. Anyone who followed his career was familiar with his battles with addiction and depression, but Robin Williams was so full of life that it seems unfathomable that it could extinguished. Robin and Chris Farley both had a similar quality to them in that even when doing something that wasn’t funny, they could still make you smile and laugh. Robin always had that incredible, mischievous smile and twinkle in his eye, like he always knew more than he was letting on to and had something up his sleeve. His very essence and aura just oozed charisma and laughter.

The most beautiful part about living life at the same time as Robin Williams is that the capacity for happiness always existed. And that was both his gift and his burden. I remember once, while watching one of Robin’s many late night appearances, thinking to myself how exhausting it must be to walk in his shoes. Every time he was in public, there was pressure for him to be “on”. And the remarkable thing is, he never failed to deliver. If he was ever tired of entertaining us and making us laugh, he certainly never let us see even a hint of it. He simply lived his life to make the rest of us laugh and experience happiness.

It would be easy to think only about all the great things Robin Williams gave to society, but obviously this news also serves to remind us that there was another side to the man, hidden from most of us. It’s been said that humor is a kind of defense mechanism, and I think that might be why some of the funniest people to ever grace this planet have also had some of the biggest demons. Often times the humor is used to disguise the very real hurt underneath the surface. And the lifestyle of comedians can naturally lend itself to addiction, excess, and depression. Yet it’s hardly unique to comedians. People in all walks of life suffer with the same afflictions and struggles. We all deal with things differently, and clearly we all have varying capacities for coping with these issues. But no matter how common this connection might be among us all, it always seems to be a shadow lurking beneath the surface. It’s an unspoken side effect of conscious thought and self-awareness. It’s something we’re still evolving inside of and trying to better understand how to make sense of it all, especially in the wake of this kind of tragedy.

For all the uncertainty in a time like this, though, the one thing we know for sure is that while Robin Williams may be gone and will be forever missed by his family, friends, and fans, the man leaves behind an incredible legacy of work that we will be able to enjoy forever. The breadth and versatility of work across all genres is truly astounding. The highlights are too many to list in totality, but just think about some of the memorable roles he has played, including Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Insomnia, One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Moscow on the Hudson, Hook, Jack, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Toys, Death to Smoochy, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, and on and on and on.

Yet I think the two most memorable performances that I’ll always remember him for came off the big screen. The first was his unforgettable cameo in an episode of Louie. It showed us a slightly different side of Robin that we didn’t often get to see. It was a more subdued and introspective side of the man who always seemed to have the largest personality.

The other comes from the Nerdist youtube channel, in a series called “Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net”. In this series, comedians come to a tiny stage in the back of a comic book store, and they are given a series of prompts in which the comedians must form their set around on the fly. It tests some of the best stand ups to think on their toes and to showcase their improvisational abilities. Some of the comedians absolutely bomb. Some of them struggle right before our eyes to formulate their jokes in real time.

But when Robin Williams was on, he just nailed it out of the park. And he did it without breaking a sweat. I remember him more as an actor than as a stand-up, but this episode gave me an amazing glimpse at his true comedic genius at his core.

RIP Robin Williams, and thank you for all the laughs and all the memorable performances.

*****

Browns’ QB competition heats up

I’ve read some fairly compelling arguments for both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel starting Week One for the Browns. But the one thing I keep coming back to is just how quickly this race seems to have shifted. Hoyer came into camp the overwhelming #1 guy, with the front office saying Hoyer was ahead of Manziel “by a substantial margin”.

Yet over the last couple days we’ve been hearing reports from within Browns camp that Manziel has now pulled ahead of Hoyer, reports which Browns coach Mike Pettine has denied. Yesterday in his MMQB column, SI’s Peter King quoted Browns safety Donte Whitner as saying the locker room is split 50-50 between Manziel and Hoyer.

Look, it doesn’t really matter who is “leading” right now. This isn’t a literal race. The only thing that matters is who will ultimately be the starting QB for the Browns week one in Pittsburgh. But what I find interesting is that this is even a race at all. I’ll be honest, I believed the Browns were going to go with Hoyer unless Manziel played so well as to leave them with no choice but to give Johnny the nod. So far, that hasn’t been the case. The two QBs seem more or less even. I thought that would be enough for Hoyer, but the more we see and hear, the more I think a tie just might go in Manziel’s favor.

Regardless of who the QB is, though, the Browns simply must find a way to score TDs. The offense’s red zone struggles have been a recurring theme of training camp, it was an issue in the intra-squad scrimmage, and in preseason game one, it once again manifested itself on the field. We’ve seen this story over and over again in the Browns’ post-’99 return. I remember two years ago making the dreary walk into Cleveland Browns Stadium (as it was known at the time) for yet another home loss, and someone behind me yelled out “It doesn’t get any better than this guys….getting drunk in the morning and then going to watch Phil Dawson kick field goals all afternoon!”.

This has been an issue for too long, and while I know better than to put too much stock into one preseason game, I am certainly alarmed that red zone offense has been such an issue all training camp long. There’s a lot of optimism around this Browns team, but if we’re going to be watching them kick a bunch of field goals all season long, we’re all in for another very long season.

*****

Are advanced stats negatively impacting my love of sports?

I was listening to a recent Bill Simmons podcast with author Chuck Klosterman, and they got to talking about the World Cup. Klosterman mentioned that he felt that one of the nice things about the World Cup is that it was one of the few times it was just about watching the sport. We weren’t talking about free agency, trades, collective bargaining, players likeness rights, power struggles, etc. Instead, we just enjoy the games themselves.

Then they also briefly mentioned that watching soccer is one of the few team sports where advanced stats aren’t a main talking point. They didn’t really expand on that thought, but it did get me to thinking.

First of all, I am not an anti-analytics guy. I bought Bill James and Jim Henzler’s book “Win Shares” in 2002 and it opened my eyes to seeing sports and statistics in a completely different light. I’ve been using analytics as a tool to help me better analyze basketball for years. So I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying analytics are in any way bad.

However, I do think they are affecting my enjoyment of talking about sports in a negative way. As metrics have become ever more prevalent in basketball, there has been a shift in the way people discuss the sport. Part of the fun in sports is debating the merits of players and teams, and to project how players and teams might match up. But now, if I make a qualitative assessment of a player on Twitter, I will inevitably get a couple responses from people citing a certain stat that they deem to be the end of the discussion. I have been proven wrong, and that’s that. There’s no room for discussion or debate, and it’s just not as much fun as it used to be.

Maybe that’s part of why I enjoy soccer so much these days. As FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine recently pointed out, analytics do indeed exist for soccer. But in general they are in their infancy and not fully realized yet. Soccer still exists as the one last adjective-based team sport. Announcers in soccer frequently refer to a player’s “quality” and use terms like “bravery”, “intention”, and “mindset” to describe what we see on the field. Even terms that are rooted in analytics such as “pace”, “touch”, and “possession” have a more qualitative than quantitative meaning in the lexicon of the sport.

I’m sure many statistical-minded people scoff at embracing a qualitative adjective-based approach to something that can be quantifiably measured, and they should be. Just like when someone can statistically demonstrate why my basketball opinion is flawed, they should tweet at me to tell me. They are not in the wrong. Enhancing and furthering our understanding of anything and everything in life is tantamount to the human experience.

My only point is that one side effect of all of this is that following sports from an analytical perspective is losing some of its fun. And some might suggest that I simply don’t follow the stats if I don’t like them and just watch the sports and enjoy them the way I want. But it’s not that easy. Willful ignorance isn’t something I’m particularly good at. If there’s a better way to understand something, you better believe I want to know it. When I make a basketball judgment, I want to feel confident that what my eyes are seeing can be backed up with the proper stats.

So I’m not saying advanced stats are bad or that I want them to go away. I just sometimes think sports were more fun to talk about and debate before we became overcome with all these stats.

*****

New Music of the Week

Finally, we end this Tuesday’s WWW with some music. They say laughter is the best medicine, and it’s pretty darn good. But for me, music has always been my best medicine. So while this WWW started on a somber note, I’m happy to end it with a new album that I have been enjoying quite a bit – The Gaslight Anthem’s new album “Get Hurt”.

This album is something of a departure for the band. I have a feeling a lot of people will dislike it. It’s not flashy, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not doing anything special. It’s just simple, solid, dependable rock and roll music. And something about that just resonates with me. Similar to how chasing advanced stats can be exhausting and watching a sport for the age itself can be refreshing, I also feel that always chasing innovation and uniqueness in music can sometimes get exhausting and sometimes it’s nice to recharge the batteries with something simple and reliable. That’s what the Gaslight Anthem is for me, particularly on this album.

*****

That’s all for me this week. I hope everyone has a great week filled with laughter and joy!

 

Forbes’ most miserable sports city is…Atlanta?

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Apparently Cleveland’s “letdown factor” has led to a bit of numbness as Atlanta, Georgia tops this year’s edition of Most Miserable Sports Cities as constructed by Forbes. So, just how did Atlanta—with it’s stretch of post-season play and general transient population—get the nod?

We grade the misery of major sports cities (only those with 75 cumulative years in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL are considered) based not so much on sheer futility as the “letdown factor.” That is, which teams have been good enough to build up fans’ hopes only to fall short of the brass ring in the end. Those that probably pop into your mind right away: the Braves (19 postseasons; one championship), the Phoenix Suns (eight trips to at least the Western Conference Finals, no championships), and the Buffalo Bills (one AFL championship in the pre-merger days, then 0-for-4 in Super Bowls). All three of those cities make our top five.

Phoenix, as mentioned above, comes in at No. 2 while our beautiful Cleveland, Ohio comes in at No. 3 with the last title coming in 1964. San Diego and Buffalo (Cleveland’s typical rival in these sort of battles) come in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Hope are, that come this June, we no longer have to bank on this kind of notoriety.

Indians plan to renovate Progressive Field over next two years

indians stadiumThe Cleveland Indians are planning an “extensive renovation” of Progressive Field over the next two years, reported Tom Withers of the Associated Press on Wednesday evening. The plans are set to be unveiled during a press conference today.

Among the highlights: “interior and exterior modifications to the area stretching from center to right field” and a “modest reduction in seats.” In return, the team would then create more social areas for fans to congregate and mingle.

The first phase of changes, expected to be completed by the start of the 2015 season, will be privately financed. Future improvements could use a portion of the team’s proceeds from the May-approved Sin Tax.

The 43,000-seat Progressive Field is celebrating its 20th birthday this season. Eighteen new MLB stadiums have debuted since the opening of the parks in Cleveland and Arlington, Texas, in 1994.

One of the older stadiums, Kansas City’s 1962 Kaufman Stadium that hosted the 2012 All-Star Game, actually underwent major renovations from 2007-10. And one of those newer stadiums, Atlanta’s 1996 Turner Field, is actually set to be replaced by the 2017 season.

Last week, Crain’s Cleveland’s Kevin Kleps wrote about the team’s efforts to use analytics to study its attendance. The team is averaging an announced crowd of only 18,327 this season, second-worst in baseball only ahead of Tampa Bay.

The team’s top two attended games this season were Opening Day on April 4 (41,274) and the Omar Vizquel Hall of Fame induction on June 21 (40,712). In only two of the other 55 home games has the team surpassed even 30,000 paying fans. So certainly, reducing seats does not appear to be much of a concern.

None of the attendance issues should be news at all, either. The franchise’s average attendance dropped quickly from over 39,000 in 2001 to under 22,000 in 2003. According to past research from Crain’s Cleveland, season-ticket sales dropped from 15,000 in 2008 to only 8,000 in 2010.

[Related from August 2013: Why we shouldn’t be surprised by the Indians attendance]

Photo: WFNY, Jacob Rosen

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and nostalgic statues, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

I wake up at 5:00 am every weekday morning, and I watch the local CBS affiliate news until 5:30 when I start getting ready for work. Why am I telling you this? Well, as a result, my TV is generally on CBS when I turn it on. On Monday nights, I usually start working on WWW around 8:00 pm. I turn my TV on to have in the background as I write, and so before I inevitably switch to the Indians game, “2 Broke Girls” is on.

I have to say, this might be the single worst show on TV. It’s nothing but rapid-fire snarky one-liners. And not particularly funny ones, either. I can’t imagine hanging out with people who talk to each other like the all the characters in this show. It is cartoon-y in all the worst ways. Every week I marvel at how this show is on.

I mean no offense to anyone who watches the show and likes it. We just have different tastes. But I will give it this, I often leave it on for about five minutes, unable to look away like a fascinating train wreck. Even though I thoroughly loathe the show, I keep watching, just trying to observe the never ending quips, each one worse than the last. It’s just funny to me the things that make it on TV and the things that are cancelled. It’s really all such a crapshoot.

Anyway, lets talk some sports…

*****

The break heard ‘round the (NBA) world

I wasn’t watching the USA Basketball scrimmage Friday night, but suddenly my phone started blowing up with the news of Paul George’s injury. I knew he was hurt pretty badly and I knew they cancelled the remainder of the scrimmage, but I didn’t see video of the injury until Saturday morning.

I wish I hadn’t seen it. It’s definitely one of the most gruesome injuries I’ve ever seen. Even though it was a completely different injury, it still reminded me a lot of Shaun Livingston’s injury which, to this day, remains the worst basketball injury I’ve ever seen. The good news for George is that while the injury was horrible to the eyes (and I’m sure it didn’t feel too great, either), there was no ligament damage. He didn’t do any damage to his knee or his ankle/achilles. By most accounts, George should be able to fully recover and return the same player as he was before the injury.

Of course, the injury has turned into an issue of whether or not NBA players should be participating in USA Basketball. Some have suggested that we go back to college players. Others have suggested they make it an under-23 team. I find it a little funny that people are fine with college kids hurting themselves. Because that’s the thing…injuries just happen. They are a part of sports. It doesn’t matter who is participating, there’s always a chance something can happen.

Thankfully, the Team USA players have all committed to sticking with the team and fighting to make the 12 man roster for the FIBA World Cup tournament this summer. That includes Kyrie Irving. As a Cavs fan, yes, it’s scary to think about Kyrie possibly injuring himself at some point this summer playing with Team USA. But it’s not like there aren’t benefits to him making the team. I’m fully rooting for Kyrie to make the team, and not just because I’m a fan of him and want to see him play with Team USA. No, beyond that, I want him to make the team because I feel that playing with some of the best players in the world in a competitive environment will make Kyrie a better player.

Playing on the All-Star team is one thing, but the level of competition there is often pretty low. But USA Basketball is a little different. There’s something about the legacy of Team USA that brings out the best in players. The rumors of Michael Jordan’s scrimmages in practice with the original Dream Team are legendary, and the tradition of intense on-court battles continues to this day with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Paul George playing “King of the Hill”. Being a part of Team USA pushes everyone to be their absolute best, and it’s an environment that I feel would be incredibly beneficial to Kyrie as preparation for playing on a team with LeBron James and Kevin Love. Oh, speaking of Love…

*****

So it appears Kevin Love is going to be a Cavalier

Yes, something weird could still happen. Maybe Chicago or Golden State will still up their offers. Maybe the rumors are just one last desperate play by the Wolves to get teams to drive up Cleveland’s offer. But if the rumors are true, the Cavs and Wolves have a handshake deal in place to trade Love to the Cavaliers. It sounds like Andrew Wiggins will indeed be heading to Minnesota as the central piece of the deal.

People will probably never stop debating whether the Cavs should be trading Wiggins or not, and until the Cavaliers win a Championship, many will never stop pointing to this trade as being a bad idea. But the reality is, the Cavaliers are about to field a team that features LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. It’s really hard to look at that core and not project it as an immediate top two team in the Eastern Conference.

But there are still some questions with this team. The Cavaliers’ front court is problematic. And now that the Cavaliers are about to give up some youth and flexibility to get Love, it’s hard to really see how they are going to ever address the center position in any kind of meaningful way. David Griffin is going to have to be extremely successful at finding players who can play later in the draft.

Another question is the injuries. Two of the Cavs’ “Big Three” have a history of injuries, and those are the two youngest of the three. Any injuries to Kyrie and/or Kevin in the near future could potentially make this trade a disastrous one. The Cavaliers seem to be building decent depth, and that depth could get a little better if the Cavaliers are able to sign Ray Allen and/or Shawn Marion. But for this thing to be a success, the core three need to stay intact. There’s no way for the Cavaliers to replace any of them if there is an injury. And that’s a little scary to me.

Now, having said all that, I am still 100% behind this trade. I just wanted to point out that it’s not the no-brainer that so many are making it out to be. There are some serious risks if the core three don’t develop together and gel the way we all hope they do. But this is a move the Cavaliers had to make.

The last time LeBron was in Cleveland, the team was never able to find another consistent All-Star to play with him. Sure, Z played in one All-Star game with LeBron and Mo Williams was an All-Star replacement, but it was LeBron and a bunch of really solid role players all designed to fit perfectly with LeBron’s skill set. This time is going to be dramatically different. Now LeBron will be playing with two other All-Stars. And depending on how well Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving play and how much fans still want to vote for Chris Bosh, the Cavaliers could potentially have three All-Star starters playing on the same team. In the perennially weak East, that should be good enough to win the Conference most years.

After four years of abysmal basketball in Cleveland, things are about to get incredibly fun again. Yes, it stinks to have to lose Andrew Wiggins. I wasn’t the biggest Wiggins fan pre-draft, but seeing him in Summer League, I began to see what everyone else sees in him. And he seems like such a good kid and the kind of person it would be awesome to watch grow and develop. But to get a player like Kevin Love, you’re going to have to give up something that hurts to part with. That’s just the nature of the business.

The bottom line is this, you can’t fret too much over losing a player that has never played a single NBA game in exchange for Kevin Love, a 25 year old All-Star in the prime of his career. If this deal happens as everyone says it’s going to, I won’t project the Cavs to make it to the Finals in year one. Neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love have ever played in the playoffs. You typically have to lose once or twice in the playoffs to learn what it takes to win. But projecting forward over the next four or five seasons, the future looks incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.

*****

A legacy frozen in time

Yes, I was whole-heartedly opposed to the Jim Thome statue. I thought the idea was preposterous and I felt it made the franchise look even more pathetic. I felt that it was a situation where a franchise and a fan base cared a lot more about a player than that player ever really felt about the franchise in return. Sure, Thome typically said the right things, but actions speak louder than words. Remember, Thome was drafted by the Indians, so he didn’t have a say in that. But after that, all of his actions and choices moved him away from the Indians franchise. Even when the Indians brought him back in the trade, he once again chose to walk away. When he retired, he didn’t choose to come back to the Indians in any way. Instead, he chose to take an executive job with division rivals Chicago White Sox. And sure, he signed a one day contract to retire as an Indian. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s purely symbolic. Today he is back in his role with the White Sox.

Yet I have to admit, after seeing the statue, I was somehow more ok with it. We can choose to remember all the times Thome has turned his back on the franchise, or we can choose to remember that pose. When I saw the statue, I was flooded with memories of what those 90s Indians teams meant to me. I have spent the last thirteen years or so chasing that nostalgia as a fan. The fact is, Thome is the Indians’ all time HR king, and I don’t think anyone is going to catch him any time soon. And that’s what the statue represents to me. A connection to an era lost forever.

As an Indians fan, I love what Bob Feller means to the franchise. And I really hope Larry Doby does indeed get his statue next. But I didn’t see those guys play. Other than my late grandfather mentioning them to me a couple times, I have no real connection to them. But I do to Jim Thome and that pose. It means something very real to me. I don’t have to forget that Thome handed over that jersey he once said would have to be torn off his back1. I don’t have to like that he is now working for the White Sox organization, even if it is close to his hometown. But with this statue, there is now an eternal link to one of the most important players on the most important team of my childhood. I just find something comforting in that.

*****

 

Manziel momentum

Craig sort of touched on this briefly yesterday, so I’ll be brief here. But I just wanted to talk a quick second about the perception that Johnny Manziel is gaining momentum in the Browns QB competition. Obviously the Browns are not stupid. They knew damn well that giving Manziel some first team reps would create a circus of innuendo and projection. But even before Manziel got the reps, I just sort of got the feeling that Manziel was indeed gaining some momentum. I began hearing some whispers that perhaps the gap between Hoyer and Manziel wasn’t as wide as we believed.

I’m starting to wonder if the Browns aren’t hoping Manziel does enough to win the job Week One. I never thought it was even remotely possible, but with Josh Gordon’s likely suspension still lingering overhead and with not a whole lot of WR depth beyond Gordon, I just can’t help buy think that maybe Kyle Shanahan would prefer to use Manziel’s athletic ability and creativity to make some plays happen. If Gordon is available Week One, I think Hoyer would be the smart bet. But without Gordon, there are two ways of looking at it. You could trust Hoyer to not make many mistakes and be a safe, conservative offense and try to win games with defense and running the football. Plenty of teams have had massive success with that formula in NFL history. Or, you could give the ball to Manziel and see if he can spark some plays into the offense that Hoyer can’t.

I still think Hoyer is probably the smart bet to be the opening day starter, but the more I hear about camp, the more I’m softening on that stance. There is a real, tangible feeling to the momentum Manziel is generating. But training camp is long. Performance in preseason games will still be hugely important in deciding who starts for the Browns. I’m not really rooting for one guy over the other, I like things about both of them. I just want the Browns to pick the right guy for the right reasons.

*****

The Leftovers

I mentioned the HBO show The Leftovers a couple weeks ago after the first episode, and I wrote about my reservations about the show. Now that we are six episodes in, I am happy that my fears about the show were not met. I absolutely love this show.

Sure, it’s still bleak and can be quite depressing, but once again Damon Lindelof is doing a masterful job of blending storytelling technique with rich character development. Much like Lost’s first season, The Leftovers has an overarching mystery that hangs over everything happening in the show, but you find yourself often forgetting about the mystery and instead watching character interaction closely, trying to figure out their motivations, their secrets, what makes them all tic, and how they are all connected in the story.

My favorite episode by far was the third episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, which focused solely on the preacher Matt Jamison. The wave of emotions and motivations for the character were fascinating. And the writers made us care so much about the character that, by the end of the episode when the (***SPOILER ALERT***) church is lost to the Guilty Remnant, we can feel Matt’s pain in such a real and visceral way.

In this week’s episode, I thought the writers again demonstrated extraordinary ability in showing us Nora Durst’s character path. One of the most famous lessons of storytelling in movies and television is “Show them, don’t tell them”. The writers showed us the depths of Nora’s painful existence and how she is coping with losing her entire family and trying to understand how to deal with her emotions. And then just when you start to wonder where the episode is going, the writers bring it back into the scope of the story’s canon by bringing Nora’s path into the arms of Wayne, one of the more enigmatic characters of the show thus far2.

I’m just a sucker for good storytelling and character development, and so far, The Leftovers is doing a great job of both. For some reason I was prepared not to like this show, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. While Game of Thrones is still probably my favorite show on TV, The Leftovers is quickly becoming the next show I am most excited about watching every week.

*****

 

New music of the week

Finally, now that July is over, we can get back to good music coming out more consistently. This week, there a few albums I’m excited about, but my pick for new album of the week is Spoon’s “They Want My Soul”. Spoon is band that I have always liked, but not really loved. On all of their albums there are a handful of songs I really like and a handful that I don’t feel anything about whatsoever.

On “They Want My Soul”, I don’t feel Spoon are really doing anything dramatically different. It is still immediately recognizable as a Spoon album. What separates this album from their previous work, in my opinion, is the songwriting consistency. This is the first Spoon album where I absolutely love almost every song on the album. It is an incredibly focused and razor sharp album. It’s an album that feels like it has a purpose, and that’s what I love about it.

Other albums I’m looking forward to this week include:

  • Tuatara – “Underworld”
  • Spider Bags – “Frozen Letter”
  • Naomi Punk – “Television Man”

*****

Alright folks, that’s all I have this week. As always, thanks for reading and I hope everyone has an awesome week!

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. does anyone know if Thome actually said this and what the exact quote is? I tried searching briefly for it, but all I found was about a thousand articles referencing the quote with slightly different paraphrasing []
  2. I really, really hope there is an episode that shows us Wayne’s path, particularly his past. I would love to see his journey and how he discovered his unique gift and how he got to where he is now []

Anonymous sources, jersey numbers, and peeing on people? While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!

I often like to start my WWWs with a cold open. Perhaps it’s because I like a lot of TV shows that have used them really well over the years, or else I just enjoy a good anecdote. Whatever the case, I enjoy them, but I was struggling to think of one for this week.

So I figured I’d start this week with a question for you readers, as I am by nature curious about the things that other people are curious about. So the question is this: If you could travel back in time to one specific year/period, when would you travel to?

There are so many amazing stories throughout Europe’s rich history that would be fascinating to visit. Or maybe it would really be amazing to journey back to Judea in the ancient Roman Empire and find out first hand what that Jesus of Nazareth guy was all about. I think an obvious time to travel back to would be the birth of the American Revolution and watch the uprising unfold first hand.

But my answer would be something different. I think I would like to be there when the Pilgrims first came to America. Granted, I know how especially brutal that first winter was for the new settlers, so maybe I don’t need to be there when they first land. But I would love to see what this land looked like when it was untouched by European explorers. While, yes, there were some areas of swamps and rough wilderness, the pilgrims actually experienced a rather peaceful looking countryside with many parts not all that unlike what they knew back home in England. I just think it would be awesome to see what America was really all about before it was America.

*****

Are anonymous sources bad for sports?

Over the weekend, Sam Amico delivered a pretty fascinating piece on his disgust for rumor-mongering in the NBA, and he placed much of the blame on a combination of anonymous sources and NBA players and personnel not talking to the press.

You can count me as one of those who have grown exhausted with all the rumors that have persisted in this offseason. I’ve always been someone who has loved following NBA rumors and trying to decipher which ones are grounded in truth and which ones are complete nonsense. But with the pervasiveness of media today, the rumors are inescapable and suffocating.

So how much are unnamed sources to blame? And if they’re a problem, how do we go about fixing them? Well, there isn’t an easy answer. As Amico wrote:

Back to those ever-present unnamed sources. It’s a problem with today’s NBA coverage — and yes, guilty as charged. But the NBA can work on changing that. I don’t know how. I’m not running the league. I’m just some dude who writes and occasionally goes on TV.

I think a big reason why I enjoyed Sam’s piece so much is that he was upfront and honest that he himself has relied on and used unnamed sources in his reporting. One of the things I like the most about Sam is that he’s unafraid to admit what he doesn’t know. Just because someone doesn’t have the answers, it doesn’t mean a problem doesn’t exist.

Twitter is littered with some of the worst offenders of spreading false rumors. It often exists to serve the role of the proverbial wall upon which rumors are thrust to see what sticks. Fake Twitter accounts pop up all the time proclaiming themselves insiders. If they rumor they spread comes true, they stake their claim in the glory. If the rumor turns out to be false? No problem, they can just create a new Twitter account and start all over and try to guess right the next time.

I don’t know how to feel about it all. On one hand, these are real people’s lives that are being discussed and thrown into chaos because someone decided to start spreading a rumor. On the other hand, as Amico points out, a little more transparency would go a long way toward squashing some of the more baseless rumors.

From rumors of Kyrie Irving’s discontent in Cleveland, to rumors of Dion Waiters punching Kyrie in a players’ only meeting, to talk of LeBron’s return, and all the various rumors of multiple Cavaliers being sent to Minnesota for Kevin Love in a trade, this past calendar year has been a cesspool of rumors in Cleveland. This is yet another reason why, at this point, I am more eager than ever for this offseason to be over and for the season to start. I just want to talk about basketball again and get away from the soap opera side of sports.

*****

23 it is

At least one mystery has been settled. Over the weekend LeBron James took to Instagram to announce that he will indeed go back to wearing number 23 on his jersey again in Cleveland. On the list of things I care about, the number that adorns LeBron’s jersey ranks awfully darn low. As long as it says “Cleveland”, “Cavaliers”, and/or “Cavs” on it, I really couldn’t care less what number he wears.

But I still surprised to see some light backlash to this decision. Some of it was national, but a fair amount of it came from Cavs fans. Yes, when LeBron initially announced he was changing numbers from 23 to 6, he cited his belief that nobody should be allowed to ever wear the number 23 in the NBA again. So sure, he went back on what he said at that time. Who cares?

I once proclaimed that I would never own an Apple computer. And yet here I sit writing this on my Macbook Pro, which I consider my favorite computer I have ever owned. When I first heard Radiohead’s album “Kid A” back in 2000, I initially hated it with a passion. I found it offensive and an affront to what that band was capable of. Today, it will make any list of my Top 5 Favorite Albums of All Time. I once said that I was done with TV forever, with the exception of sports and news. I vowed I would never watch another sitcom or drama, and even called them poison of the mind. Today, I am complete TV drama junkie. I went back on my word and dove head first back into watching TV.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one to say I thought one thing or was going to do one thing, only to later go back on that proclamation. It seems like such a bizarre thing to criticize LeBron for, even if the criticism was pretty mild. Players who wore the number 23 last season include Allen Crabbe, Anthony Davis, Austin Daye, Draymond Green, Kevin Martin, Toure’ Murry, and Marcus Thornton. So it’s not like LeBron’s initiative was working anyway.

Or maybe there’s a more sinister explanation. Perhaps LeBron’s real reason for switching was due to Miami having retired the number 23 and LeBron already knew he was going to Miami when he announced the number change. I mean, that’s probably not the case, but who knows. I just know that any angst over what number he wears is awfully ridiculous.

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A quick word about baseball’s big Hall of Fame weekend

I admittedly don’t discuss baseball much on my Tuesdays, but this was a pretty incredible weekend for baseball’s Hall of Fame. They inducted one of the best classes I can remember with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa all going in. It was an all around excellent weekend for MLB and the Hall of Fame.

But there were some undertones that perhaps bothered me a bit. The Hall of Fame announced a change in the ballot. Now, players can only be on the ballot for ten years, as opposed to the current fifteen year limit. This was a move obviously designed to make it harder for any of the steroid era players to get in. As some of the more hard line voters get older, there was some thought that the younger generation of voters might start voting some guys in. The Hall was having none of it.

I’ve always felt that players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire deserve to be in. I know what they did, but these were still two of the best players I have ever seen in my life. Barry Bonds doesn’t deserve to be the Home Run King. There’s no question steroids helped him reach that level. But I do not think steroids made him a Hall of Fame player. I think he got there on his own. I personally would rather just see these guys get in. It’s not like we’re ever going to forget the steroid era and what all went on. As long as Bonds holds the records, which he probably will for a very, very, very long time, nobody will ever forget.

But we also don’t know who all was using. How many pitchers were also using? We just don’t know.

Another thing that wasn’t lost on me was Tony La Russa owing a decent amount of his success to guys like McGwire and Jose Canseco. I find it hard to believe that La Russa was completely in the dark about what was all going on. This isn’t meant as a criticism or to say he doesn’t deserve to go in. Just that it feels a bit “off” to me that he was able to reap a lot of the benefits of players using steroids without the accountability.

Finally, a word about Maddux. I remember the tail end of Nolan Ryan’s career. I vividly remember the freaks of nature that Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens were. But for my money, the best pitcher I have ever seen was Greg Maddux. He didn’t rely on other-worldly velocity to get guys out. Instead, he was an artist on the mound, painting the corners and pinpointing the ball exactly where he wanted it. The guy was completely untouchable on most nights.

Having said all that, I am a little surprised more isn’t made of the fact he supposedly used to pee on rookies in the showers. That sounds made up, I know. But it’s a story that’s been around for a while. Then a couple weeks ago, David Fleming wrote a brilliant piece talking about the culture of showers in sports, particularly in relation to Michael Sam being the NFL’s first openly gay player. In Fleming’s piece, he mentions Maddux’s ritual of casually walking up to rookies in the shower and peeing down their leg. I guess that’s supposed to be a form of team bonding, or something. Or maybe it was just another way for Maddux to exert his dominance, I really don’t know.

The only reason I bring this up is because Fleming’s piece reminded me of it, and it’s put into a different context when you consider the Jonathan Martin situation last year. He walked away from his team over incessant verbal harassment and financial burden, yet Maddux peeing on teammates is told as a light hearted and “funny” anecdote.

The point is, sports are weird. It’s not always easy to distinguish where the lines exist. What makes some athletes the good guys and others the troublemakers? In society, peeing on people is frowned on while using illegal substances is often bragged about. In sports, the opposite is sometimes true. I’m no moral authority and I’m not here to tell anyone what is right or wrong. I can only speak for myself and say that while this was an amazing weekend for the Hall of Fame, it also somewhat illustrated to me how strange the culture of sports can be at times.

*****

LeBron of Oz OH

Dawn Griffin, a long time friend to WFNY, is a top notch graphic designer, artist, and illustrator. She has done all kinds of work, including some work for WFNY, but I’ve always enjoyed her Zorphbert & Fred comic series. Dawn recently came up with this great LeBron comic centered around the idea that “there’s no place like home”.

LebronWizardofOz

If you would like to see more of Dawn’s work, check out her website at http://dawngriffinstudios.com/.

*****

An attempt to find an album of the week

Finally, July is almost over. I know I’ve mentioned this in previous WWWs this month, but July is historically an awful month for new music releases. The music industry seems to take their vacations in July and only a small handful of good releases trickle through. But this July has been especially brutal. There are a couple albums I’m looking forward to in August, but for now, we still have one final new music Tuesday in July to get through.

This week is no exception to previous weeks. Not a whole lot out there to pick from. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have a new album out today, and former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis releases her first solo album since 2008’s “Acid Tongue” today. Her new album, “The Voyager” is a nice indie pop album and I do highly recommend it. In fact, I had planned on this being my pick for new album of the week. But I’m going to go in a slightly different direction.

I’m sticking with the indie pop theme, but for my new album of the week, I’m going with Hooray for Earth’s new album, “Racy”. Hooray for Earth are, of course, a Brooklyn based band which utilizes large quantities of synth pop and tries to reformulate them into indie rock context. You’ll hear comparisons to the likes of MGMT and Yeasayer tossed around, but I don’t find either comparison to be all that appropriate. At their core, Hooray for Earth write more tightly constructed songs and everything is wrapped around the hook of the song. And yeah, this band is super catchy when they want to be.

 

*****

That’s it from me this week. We are just ten days away from the Browns’ first preseason game of the year. It’s so close I can feel it. Football season is right around the corner! Have a great week everyone!

 

Watch: Frank Caliendo reads LeBron’s letter as Morgan Freeman on ESPN

By now, in popular culture and society at large, it can sometimes seem as if nothing in life carries any weight to it unless it is narrated by Morgan Freeman. Be honest, when reading LeBron’s letter on SI.com a couple weeks ago, how many of us heard it in Morgan Freeman’s voice inside our heads?

Well now we can actually hear what that would sound like. Voice impressionist extraordinaire Frank Caliendo stopped by the Mike & Mike set on ESPN this morning, and read LeBron’s letter in Freeman’s voice. And no matter how tired anyone might be of Caliendo’s ubiquitous impressions, this is a pretty funny listen. Enjoy!

Is there a difference between lucky and good? While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!

I have to be honest, for sports fans like myself, the period from MLB post-All Star break to the start of the NFL season can be a bit of a drag. It’s not that I dislike watching the Indians. In fact, I have them on right now as I am writing this (yes, I write these on Monday nights, not Tuesday mornings). But in terms of really exciting events in sports, there just isn’t much.

NBA free agency has mostly wound down. Sometimes there are still some big trades, but August is typically the time most team executives take their vacations. NFL training camp is starting, and that’s fun, but it’s not always the most exciting thing in the world. English Premier League soccer doesn’t start until August 16th. These next couple weeks can be somewhat slow on the hard hitting headlines outside the annual Browns QB Competition.

I say all of this not to be a downer, but more to serve as a pre-emptive explanation/apology for today’s WWW being a little shorter than what I normally do and a little more outside the Cleveland Sports box. I just don’t have a ton of Cleveland Sports related things to talk about at the moment.

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What does it mean to be a “well run” NBA team?

I’ve been thinking about this a little bit lately. I’ve seen some talk about how lucky the Cavs are to have LeBron back and how it’s unfair that the Cavs are rewarded for their incompetence. I can’t sit here and say those people are wrong. I said last week that nobody in the Cavs organization deserves credit for LeBron’s return. Heck, we all know that if LeBron was from Omaha, there’s no way he’d be on the Cavaliers right now.

Scheiner and MoreyBut there can be a fine line between perception and reality within the confines of being a well run team. The Spurs are often credited as being the best run franchise in sports. Very few people would disagree with that. But the Spurs haven’t had to deal with losing Tim Duncan yet. The Detroit Red Wings were considered the best run NHL franchise just a few years ago. But after Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, the Red Wings have struggled to regain their status as an elite franchise. Now some are question both GM Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock. Being a well run franchise is so much easier when you have that superstar anchor.

But perhaps the most fascinating case study falls with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently after reading Matt Moore’s take on the Cavs’ “petulance” being rewarded with LeBron. In particular, Moore writes:

The big winners of the 2014 NBA offseason are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the big losers are the Houston Rockets. Except Houston has been run well, and Cleveland has been a disaster. Go figure.[…]

Meanwhile, on the other side, here’s Daryl Morey. He turned Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks into James Harden. He cleared space for Dwight Howard and successfully pitched him after years of building a competitive team while also accumulating assets. He found takers for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, contracts he signed because at the time, they were major talent upgrades. He offered Chris Bosh the chance to compete for a title now, in a role preventing him from having to bang down low and would maximize his talents in a tech-savvy organization with no state income tax.

Instead, he got Trevor Ariza.

The NBA’s not fair. And you can ask Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Greg Oden … or former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who tried to build a winner the right way during his tenure. But the events of the past four days reveal more than just that simple imbalance. It reveals a legitimate flaw in the NBA’s design.

These are points that most people across the NBA would probably agree with. But not everyone is buying into this line of thinking, especially when it comes to Morey. Last week in a post on Medium.com, T.D. Williams wrote a scathing rebuke of Morey’s reputation among those in the media.

Whereas Moore listed the great moves Morey has made, Williams looks at it a little differently:

A close examination of Morey’s signings and trades raises as much skepticism as reason for praise: when the Rockets were forward-heavy and in need of a point guard, he traded Kyle Lowry and let Goran Dragic leave, only to replace them with an overpaid Jeremy Lin — a player the Rockets had on their roster the season before, at league minimum salary, before they waived him. He traded Nicolas Batum — a do-it-all small forward who might be an even better piece on a title contender than Parsons — for Joey Dorsey and a draft pick that became Sam Young. He overpaid the offensively limited Omer Asik, then gave max money to Dwight Howard, whose presence made Asik redundant. He wasted a mid-first-round draft pick on Royce White, a red-flagged prospect who provided Houston more headaches off the court than minutes on it. He has boasted about advanced strategy while employing a coach who is known more as a player favorite than a tactician. Houston’s supposedly revolutionary offense of driving and shooting 3s has often looked disorganized and short-sighted down the stretch in playoff games.

So which one is right? They probably both are. To paraphrase Pat Riley, “this stuff is hard”. Building a team requires a lot of things, some of which is scouting talent, but a lot of which is luck. Daryl Morey is hardly faultless as a GM. And yes, I would argue he is pretty severely overrated as a front office executive. He makes a lot of moves that look great on paper, but his big picture plan is never really in focus. He cycles through player acquisitions at an insane rate, endlessly searching for that magical fit that will work. However, most teams would absolutely be thrilled to have Morey working for them.

As for the Cavaliers and their plan, well, up to this point the post-Decision plan hasn’t been working at all, and there are plenty of fingers to be pointed and plenty of deserving recipients of said pointing. However, if I have a point of contention with the likes of Matt Moore and Bill Simmons who have questioned a system that they feel rewards teams who are run poorly, it’s that I think the system is actually kind of doing what it is supposed to.

Basketball is a funny sport where teams like the 76ers and Celtics who try to lose and succeed at it are perceived as doing things right while teams like the Cavaliers and Bucks who have tried to win and failed are perceived as the ones benefitting from a flawed system. The NBA Draft Lottery was designed to be a safety net for teams that fail. The whole purpose of using a lottery instead of a pure record-based draft order is to prevent teams from tanking. The fact that the Cavaliers won the lottery from the ninth position this time or from the eighth spot with the Clippers pick in 2011 should be a sign that the system is working. Now, it’s bizarre that the same team keeps winning, but there’s nothing strange about teams jumping up to win the lottery. That’s how it is supposed to work.

Again, none of this is to say the Cavaliers have done things right. Their plan was not to finish outside the playoffs and then jump up to the number one slot. They got insanely lucky. And they are lucky that LeBron James is from Akron, Ohio. And they are lucky that LeBron is willing to stop chasing rings to instead try to bring that elusive title back to Cleveland. This isn’t a defense of the Cavaliers last few seasons, but rather, a defense of the system and a closer look at what makes a team a well run team. Morey’s reputation has been largely untouchable, but what separates him from RC Buford in San Antonio? Is it all structural and organizational, or is some of it luck that the Spurs have had Tim Duncan, a once in a lifetime kind of player and person? What happens to the Spurs when he eventually retires? Will the Spurs continue to be the class of the NBA, or, like the Red Wings in the NHL, will they become a franchise that flounders through continuous seasons of mediocrity and early playoff exits? Only time will tell.

*****

Kyrie Irving’s adjustment

I said on Twitter last week that in some ways, I kind of feel sorry for Kyrie Irving. Sure, he just signed a massive long term contract extension and now he gets to play with LeBron James and thus, for the first time in his NBA career, not be the sole point of focus for opposing defenses. So maybe feeling sorry for him is a bit strong.

kyrie editHowever, after everything he went through last season, all the insane levels of criticism, the doubting of his desire to be in Cleveland, the constant string of article after article questioning his commitment to the franchise and his commitment to winning, the fact is that Kyrie took all of about five seconds to agree to an extension with the Cavaliers. And he did so well before the LeBron rumors had really heated up. He answered at least that aspect of his critics’ questions about his commitment to Cleveland.

Sure, some will say “of course he signed right away….nobody else was going to offer him that kind of money”. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t criticize a guy all season and say there’s no way he’s going to stay in Cleveland, but then turn around when he does sign and say “well of course he did”. For many, maybe even most, Kyrie staying in Cleveland was not a certainty. So on a certain level, Kyrie deserves some credit for doing what so many thought he wouldn’t do.

And for a day or two, he did get the credit and recognition he deserved for it. But then the LeBron avalanche started and suddenly Kyrie’s commitment was an afterthought. No longer is Kyrie answering questions about himself, but instead it seems like every question he is asked is about LeBron. So where I feel sorry for Kyrie a bit is in my fear that fans are overlooking how important it was for Kyrie to buy in.

But now come the questions about Kyrie adjusting, and those are certainly fair. For the last couple years, despite being just 20-21 years old, Kyrie has been asked to be a leader on this team. Everything has been about building around Kyrie. The Cavaliers were his team, and when he signed his extension, we assumed it would be his team for the future. All of that changed when LeBron decided to return.

Now, this will immediately become LeBron’s team again and Kyrie will have to adjust to not being “the guy”. In late game situations with the game on the line, the ball will start in LeBron’s hands, not Kyrie’s. If Kyrie embraces this adjustment, though, it can be a huge thing for him. LeBron’s presence can finally give Kyrie a veteran mentor who can show him how to lead, and how to win, and how to deal with being the focal point of a team. LeBron’s presence could be and should be positively liberating for Kyrie.

And eventually, as LeBron gets older and starts to slow down, the team can transition into Kyrie’s hands when he’s more ready for it. Similar to how the Spurs slowly morphed from purely being Tim Duncan’s team into Tony Parker’s team. The same kind of mentorship program can exist in Cleveland. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how Kyrie accepts his changing role on the team.

*****

Dare we talk about prison on a sports site?

Ok, I’m going to go way off topic here. When we initiated the change in format to WWW with Scott, Rick, Craig, Jacob, and myself each taking a designated day of the week, I wrote that one of my goals for this change was to allow all of our personalities and interests to carry through. Some of that will extend beyond sports. Obviously sports will always be the main topic of WWW, but sometimes we like to show some of the other sides of our personalities and the things that interest us. So, with that being said, why not try talking about something quite different here?

By now you guys who read WWW every day know that I am an enormous fan of John Oliver’s work on HBO’s phenomenal “Last Week Tonight”. This week, his main segment touched on America’s broken prison system:

This was a pretty coincidental topic, because another one of my favorite forms of entertainment is listening to NPR podcasts and, in particular, one of my favorite shows “This American Life”. In Act Two of this week’s show, “Mind Your Business”, they talked about the recent scandal involving Los Angeles County’s abuse of inmates. So, with two of my favorite shows talking about incarceration this week, I thought I would share these links and encourage everyone to watch/listen.

I’m far from qualified to offer up any kind of solution, but it’s clear to see we have an issue in America. Our prisons are becoming increasingly overpopulated, creating an increasing burden on tax payers. And while some feel the solution is the privatization of jail services, these cost cutting businesses open the door for severe human rights issues. The treatment of prisoners is pretty alarming in some situations, particularly with what happened in Los Angeles County. And while I know some people feel that we shouldn’t care what happens to people in prison, that they deserve whatever happens to them there, I struggle with that line of thinking when these kind of studies exist.

At the end of the day, like I said previously, I recognize that I don’t have the answers. Yet I feel like turning our backs on issues because they don’t personally affect us isn’t the best way to find answers. There are so many bleak stories on the news and we are trending toward apathy. I’d love to exist in a world where issues like this, and the environment, and energy, and equality would transcend politics. I get disheartened when conversations boil down to liberals and conservatives rehashing tired party lines. I’d just like us to at least be able to agree on what the problems in America are. It’s hard to figure out answers when we can’t even agree what the issues are.

*****

Anyway, that’s it from me this week. Hope you all enjoy the rest of your week, and I’ll be back next Tuesday where we might have some actual Browns stuff to talk about! Cheers!

Busted Coverage discusses their site, and sports media culture – WFNY Podcast – 2014-07-16

WFNY Podcast LogoI’ve been a follower of Busted Coverage for a while. Even though they do things far differently than we do at WFNY, that doesn’t mean I don’t read and enjoy a site like Busted Coverage.

Joe Kinsey was kind enough to come on and tell us about the site. He told us about what it was like to start it back in 2007 and what it was like to be acquired in 2011. He told us what it was like to get sued by the Big Ten.

The athlete wedding registry bit is one of my favorites. I talked to Joe about what it’s been like to run that hysterical gimmick over the years. He recounted buying a wedding gift for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Check out this episode!

LeBron, Wiggins, Love, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY!!!

I hope everyone had a great weekend. If you’re anything like me, it would have been awfully hard not to. I had some things not go as planned over the weekend, and had it been any other weekend, it might have been a fairly miserable one. But just the knowledge that LeBron James was coming back to Cleveland carried me through. I can’t recall the last time I watched as much ESPN as I did over the weekend. I just couldn’t seem to get enough of watching people talk about the Cavaliers and the return of Mr LeBron.

In so many ways, it still doesn’t feel real. I remember feeling the same way when he left. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my favorite basketball player ever wouldn’t be playing for my team anymore. Like an idiot, I watched the Heat celebration live when they introduced LeBron and Chris Bosh. It wasn’t so much like watching a car wreck, but it was more of just trying to affirm that I wasn’t dreaming and that this was real. But when I saw him turn around on the stage in the Heat uniform, it became real. It was over.

Over the last four years, I probably only watched LeBron play in the regular season less than five times, outside of when he was playing against the Cavaliers. It never got any easier. I wasn’t angry these last couple years anymore, but I still just didn’t enjoy watching him play for another team. But I watched almost all of his playoff games, and while I rooted against his teams from afar, I was constantly reminded of what it was the Cavs had lost and just how far they had to go to get back to that kind of level of play.

Now, he’s back. And this time the thought of seeing him play in a Cavs uniform again doesn’t seem real. In many ways, because I avoided watching the Heat play so much, it feels a bit like a long lost best friend moving back into the neighborhood. Sure, you saw each other a couple times over the years, and you saw the Facebook photos through the years, but you had mostly lost touch. Now you’re back to seeing each other all the time again. In so many ways you’re excited to resume your friendship, but things are a little different. Your friend has changed a bit, and you’ve changed a bit as well through the years. You’ll always share a common nostalgia and you’ll both want things to be like they once were, but the truth is time moves on and nothing stays the same. It’s going to be different this time. It has to be. I just hope things can be even better than they were the first time.

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So how did this happen?

I’m fascinated by the Butterfly Effect. Not the movie, but the theory. Well, actually, I kind of thought the movie was sort of interesting, too, I’m ashamed to admit. But I love contemplating how the smallest things can set a course of events into motion. I love reading about American History, in particular, the American Revolution. There are so many things that happened just right to allow the colonies to outlast the mighty British military and secure freedom from the crown.

For example, in 1777 the British were advancing to Philadelphia. They sent a group of sharp shooters to hide in the woods outside Philadelphia in an attempt to take down George Washington’s unit. Eventually a couple American officers came riding through the woods. The British sharpshooters were led by Captain Patrick Ferguson, one of the best marksmen in the British army. Ferguson had one of the officers in his sights, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot an unsuspecting officer in the back without warning. He called out to the officer, who just looked back quickly and then rode away. That officer was none other than George Washington. Had Ferguson just taken the shot, who knows how history would have been changed. But he let Washington ride away, and it was George Washington who did his best to keep the American army together and who kept forcing the British to chase them throughout the rough terrain of the American wilderness.

So what’s the point? I keep going back to that 1.7% chance the Cavaliers had to win the lottery. By all reason and logic, the Cavaliers shouldn’t have won the lottery. 1.7%! Are you kidding me? How does that happen? For a rough approximation, imagine putting the numbers one through fifty into a hat. How many times do you think it would take for you to pull, say, the number 21 (Wiggins’ number) out of the hat? Probably a lot. But what if you could only pull numbers once. Just think about how crazy it would be to pull the number 21. That’s what the Cavaliers did.

What if a different number was pulled out of the hat. Any of the other 49 numbers. Would LeBron still be a Cavalier? Would David Blatt still be the Cavaliers’ coach? I just keep going back to an alternate timeline, the darkest timeline, where the Cavaliers had the ninth pick in the draft, Alvin Gentry was the coach, Kyrie Irving was refusing to sign a full extension, and LeBron just didn’t feel the Cavs roster and situation was compelling enough to return to.

Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Maybe this solely was an emotional decision to come home. But I can’t fully believe that. I think this was a long term basketball decision as well. But again, going back to Butterfly Effects, what if Ray Allen misses that three pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals and the Spurs win the Championship? What if that fuels the Heat to come back and beat the Spurs instead of the other way around? Would LeBron still be leaving the Heat.

I just can’t shake the feeling that literally every single thing that had to happen for LeBron to come home did happen. Call it luck, fate, karma, serendipity, coincidence, whatever you want. When the Cavaliers’ ridiculous Season of Huh came to an end back in April, there was no chance LeBron was returning. None. But so many things fell into place, and now LeBron is back.

Make no mistake, nobody on the Cavaliers’ side deserves any credit for this. Not Dan Gilbert, not Chris Grant, not David Griffin, not Kyrie Irving. The only person who gets credit is LeBron. He’s the one who made the unprecedented decision to return to his roots. I said in last Friday’s podcast that in so many ways his decision was a validation of home. If him leaving was a reflection of Cleveland’s deepest insecurities, his return is a tip of the hat to the fact that there really is power in the idea of the hometown hero and prodigal son coming back to reclaim his birthright. This is truly one of the most remarkable sports stories to happen in my lifetime, and I can’t wait to get the next phase of this journey started.

*****

A quick thought on that two-year deal

I realized immediately when LeBron’s two-year contract was announced that all he was doing was making sure he maximized his earning potential. I read LeBron’s letter, of course. I believe him when he wrote “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there.” After crafting such a beautiful letter with SI’s Lee Jenkins, it’s hard to imagine LeBron leaving Cleveland again.

But this is Cleveland. Strange things happen in Cleveland sports. Unimaginable things. The future is bright now, but what if Kyrie doesn’t mesh with LeBron and regresses? What if the Cavaliers decide not to trade for Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins turns into a bust? What if LeBron and David Blatt don’t get along? What if Dan Gilbert and LeBron find it too hard to coexist? What if all of those things happen and a situation presents itself where LeBron and Kevin Durant can go play for the Lakers together?

We hope LeBron never leaves again, and I’d say the smart money is on LeBron retiring as a Cavalier. But I’m not willing to say there is zero chance he ever leaves again. There’s a bit of an unknown to all of this because we are in some seriously uncharted waters here. I thought ESPN’s Bomani Jones made some great points on this subject on Twitter over the weekend:

I think it’s easy to say “Hey, LeBron and Dan talked it out and they’re all good now and everything is going to be ‘happily ever after’ in the end!” But we don’t know that. The odds of LeBron leaving in a year or two are slim, but it is a possibility. This isn’t anything we should be freaking out over, we just have to hope the Cavaliers’ front office can make the right moves to keep the team competitive moving forward and that Dan Gilbert can mostly stay out of LeBron’s way.

*****

What is Love worth?

Because it’s so important for the Cavaliers not to squander this second-chance opportunity with LeBron, it makes the Kevin Love trade situation so fascinating. The Cavaliers must do the right thing here. But what is the right thing? Some would say the Kevin Love is a known quantity and the Cavaliers should just trade Andrew Wiggins for him right away rather than risk Wiggins being a bust. Others point to the salary difference between Love and Wiggins and the potential for a long term title run with a young potential superstar like Wiggins.

The truth is, there is no obvious right or wrong answer here at this point. The only certainty is that at this point in time, right now, the Cavaliers absolutely should not trade Wiggins for Love. There’s no reason to even entertain the idea. The Wolves don’t have a quality offer on the table from another team that the Cavaliers need to be worried about. The Cavaliers can be patient, wait until the trade deadline, see what other players that we’re not even thinking about right now become available, and then decide based on seeing Wiggins play a couple months whether or not they want to trade him.

Make no mistake, though. Kevin Love is an incredible basketball player. Very few bigs are as skilled as Love. He can shoot, pass, rebound, handle the basketball, etc. He’s been an All-Star in three of his six seasons. He has won a three-point shootout. The Cavaliers are always said to have failed to deliver a Pippen to LeBron’s Jordan, well, on Basketball-Reference’s ’Similarity Scores’, the second comparison to Love is Pippen. You put Love on a team with Kyrie and LeBron and you would like to think the Cavaliers are absolutely the favorites to win the East and compete for an NBA Championship. And that’s what this is all about.

But you had better be sure about that. You have to be absolutely certain that Love’s defense won’t be too much to overcome, especially when you also have Kyrie on the floor at the same time. You have to be certain Love won’t fracture either of his hands again (he has fractured his left hand once and his right hand twice already in his brief career). You have to be certain that Kyrie, LeBron, and Love are good enough to win a Championship.

Why? Because the moment the Cavaliers trade Wiggins for Love, that’s it for the team building exercise. With the contracts of Kyrie, LeBron, and Love the team will basically be in the same situation the Heat were in, being able to only sign players using Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions and veteran minimums. There’s something scary about just jumping into the deep end like that.

If it were up to me, I would do exactly what the Cavaliers are doing right now. I would be patient and wait. I would tell the media every day that Wiggins is going nowhere. I would keep the pressure on the Wolves. Because the Cavaliers are in the better position here. If no trade happens, the Wolves lose Love and get absolutely nothing back in return. But for the Cavaliers? Life goes on with Kyrie, LeBron, and a bunch of really young, developing players. And like I said earlier, the Cavaliers can still make another trade. It’s not Love or bust. Other really good players will become available at some point in the trade market.

If the Cavaliers traded Wiggins for Love today, yes, they would be a better team this season. But they would lose all flexibility. Keeping Wiggins for now not only keeps the team’s salary more flexible, but it gives the Cavaliers four (FOUR!) young, developing players who should benefit from playing with LeBron and Kyrie and can eventually be used in trade offers. Wiggins, Waiters, Bennett, and Thompson can all grow into nice looking trade pieces if needed. Or maybe they develop into a young core of supporting players on a dynastic run of NBA Finals appearances.

The point is, there’s a fine line between going for a title now and maintaining flexibility. You can’t have flexibility forever. At some point you have to strike and maximize assets to go after the title. There’s plenty of time for the Cavaliers to figure this stuff out. There’s no reason to do anything right now. The longer the Cavs wait, the more pressure there will be on Minnesota to get a deal done. If the Cavaliers can eventually make a deal where they get Love and also keep Wiggins, well, the future will look brighter than it ever has for any Cleveland sports team in my life. If they trade Wiggins for Love, this upcoming season has potential to be special and the future will still be pretty exciting. If they make no trade at all, the future looks good to me, as the team still has young players, flexibility, and the tools to make other trades. It’s a pretty nice position to be in.

*****

That’s it for me this week. No new music to really talk about as we’re still stuck in the annual July rut for new releases. I’m enjoying The Leftovers still, but I don’t have much to say about it right now. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly is all going on. In truth, the LeBron news pretty much put me into a pop culture hiatus for a few days.

I hope everyone has a great week, and maybe next week I’ll have a more diverse set of topics to discuss.

 

 

Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Terrance West

Terrance West

Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon.  Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey

Following a season that featured Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Edwin Baker taking the bulk of snaps at running back, the Cleveland Browns eyed the upcoming NFL Draft and free agency as opportunities to upgrade their backfield. Within the span of two months, the Browns completely re-hauled the position, signing former Houston Texans running back Ben Tate to a two-year contract and drafting former Towson University workhorse Terrance West.

The additions of Tate and West to the Browns backfield give new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan multiple productive backs who fit well with his new zone-blocking scheme. This type of run game greatly differs from the Rob Chudzinski and Pat Shurmur power run offenses in which premier athletes and big-bodied runners succeed. The power run game necessitates a back who can make a fast read, is able to run through a pre-determined hole in the line, and can make defenders miss by virtue of their elite size power or elusiveness. Rather than read the defense as the play happens, backs are taught to hit the hole quickly and reach the second level of the defense where they will be able to use their athleticism or size to pick up large gains. [Read more...]

Frank Robinson Arrives in 1974, Clashes with Gaylord Perry – Reliving Yesteryear

gaylord_perry6

They hated each other. It was hardly a secret, from their days in the National League in the early 1960s. Gaylord Perry had been the talented pitcher of the San Francisco Giants; Frank Robinson, the five-tool outfielder of the Cincinnati Reds.

The narrative came easily: the fiery, outspoken black child of the U.S. civil-rights era vs. the white farm boy from the deep South. But was that fair?

By 1975, each player had been at the top of his profession. Frank Robinson was a 14-time All Star who had been MVP in both leagues. He won the American League Triple Crown in 1966. It’s hard to believe that such a player is underrated, today. Once Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth on the career home run list, a full generation of fans could recite the top four. Aaron, Ruth, Mays, and Frank Robinson. His career was one for the ages. [Read more...]

LOL we really are waiting hardcore now, While We’re Waiting

The nest.Hello. Scott asked me yesterday at 3:44 pm to write his morning post for him so that he could spend another day on vacation with his family (see image). It seemed reasonable to do so because I am not on vacation and Scott is a good friend.

As of the scheduling of this post (10:50 pm EST), something may or may not have happened regarding the Cleveland Basketball Cavaliers and LeBron James. There will be no breaking or recently broken news contained in this post, just meandering and navel-gazing thoughts about sports and LeBron and life and etcetera. Don’t worry: I’m not “writing mean” this time.

Craig wrote a piece this weekend that got me thinking about LeBron and a potential return. Craig’s writing has, in general, seemed to me to shift focus over the past year and a half or so and taken a wider view of sports and their impact on the community writ large, and I have enjoyed the result. But what hit me in his piece on Saturday was this paragraph, a much more introspective bit:

But that was a long time ago. My four-year-old was just three months old at that time. I remember because I recall not caring if I woke him up when I cursed at the top of my lungs. But I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ve re-learned a ton about not only apologizing but to accept apologies. There’s something about being a dad and teaching your kids about grace and humility that you can’t help but remember to try and be a decent example for them, at least to some approximation of your own capabilities.

The notion of ‘I’ve changed a lot since then’ struck a chord with me. (I suspect the parts about apologizing/children will resonate more when my daughter is older than six months. Also I think the chord was Fadd9.) I don’t follow sports like I used to. There are reasons behind that, and those reasons are essentially a Gordian knot; it seems better to commit to non-fandom than to dip my toe into non-fandom and seeing how it feels. So now I’m at a point where I’m trying to figure out how exactly I feel about all of this LeBron business. This makes me no different from most people, except that I also am trying to figure out ‘sports’ as a thing in my life.

Before I read Craig’s post, I knew there was potential for LeBron to return, but I hadn’t really thought about what that may or may not mean to me. Craig’s piece was written Saturday, before Cleveland sports things generally devolved into chaos. Since then, I have only tangentially payed attention – too much is “happening” too quickly for me to have the energy to keep up. (Plus, my daughter just started eating solid food, and one of my dogs has some sort of stomach bug, the weather and holiday last weekend were marvelous, and I’m spending a lot of time reading about dual fuel ranges.) I’ve been thinking about what LeBron James playing basketball in Cleveland might mean to me and how it may effect the way I view sports. That last point is a really hard thing to pin down.

In 2010, LeBron James left Cleveland. On the same night (and on a much, much smaller scale) I left writing about Cleveland sports after publishing a half-drunk piece that I am somehow still mostly satisfied with four years later. Looking at what I wrote, it’s clear that some previously-important thing broke in me that night. I’m pretty sure it was the part of me that was invested in individual professional athletes (also broken was some of my remaining naivety–but not my optimism).

It’s also clear, looking at the tail end of that piece, that I’ve failed in some ways of living up to what I had hoped to accomplish. To wit:

[I]t’s never a good thing to be that old, frumpy, joyless person who thinks that it’s their job to poop on everyone’s parade. Bitterness and cynicism rarely accomplish anything of note. I sincerely hope that I won’t become such a person. If that happens to me, I imagine that I will view this as a failure to live a happy life. I hope that none of us become severely embittered because of this – living in a downtrodden, angry place is not any sort of way to live our lives.

My tendency to piss in other people’s Cheerios over sports has not subsided, even though I live a generally happy life. The amateur etymologists in the room will tell me that “fan” is derived from “fanatic”, as though that in some way justifies taking pictures of an athlete’s young children at an airport because it might mean something about sports ball. There are many, many facets of fandom that I feel deserve to be mocked. Reading over how I felt immediately after LeBron left in 2010, I can’t say that I’ve lived up to what I wrote. I’m trying, but maybe I need to try harder.

What’s remarkable about this whole free agency thing, at least on an existential level, is that this LeBron free agency extravaganza is an instance that so very closely mirrors the first time around. The only thing different is that we all are a little older. You, me, LeBron, Chris Broussard, Chris Broussard’s Multiple Sources. All of us. Amin Vafa alluded to that point at HP yesterday:

Again, I can’t speak for him, but I can speak for myself as a 29-year old who’s more self-aware than he was at 25. It’s likely that James wants to do what’s right by him, what’s right by his career, what’s right by his family, what’s right by his friends, and he wants to hurt as few people as possible in the wake. There’s no “right” answer to his choice here.

And so taking that self-awareness into account, we get to this point where we can look at the outcomes from the first time around (and our personal reactions to the outcomes) and really reflect on them. How did we react, and how can we look at that reaction and use it to better-prepare ourselves this time around? How will our own personal reactions in 2010–and our subsequent feelings—inform our reaction in 2014?

In 2010 I lost a lot of my love for the NBA. That was the first of many steps that’s gotten me to where I am now: circumspect of fandom in general and not really even watching the World Cup, which is my favorite sporting event of them all. Some of missing the World Cup has to do with work scheduling, some with having a six month-old, some of it has to do with not having cable, some of it has to do with planning home renovations. But underlying all of that is the fact that I don’t care as much as I used to, probably because I don’t want to allow myself to be hurt by sports like I was when LeBron left.

It’s been difficult caring about all of the trickle of  ‘information’ surrounding the tightly-held decision-making process that LeBron is going through. The absurdity of Twitter dot com has grown exponentially by the day, to the point where trying to follow anything related to NBA free agency is more tiring than anything else. If I wanted to chase short little serotonin bursts derived from steady input and ever-increasing desperation, I’d start mainlining heroin.

LeBron is a grown-ass man, and it’s his decision alone to make. He’s not leading anyone on at this point. Nobody is entitled to his services, nor is anyone entitled to force him into making his decision before he’s ready to.

I can’t guarantee how I’ll react to whatever LeBron chooses. Maybe I’ll give the NBA another shot. Maybe I’ll shrug and keep on going as I have been. I just hope it doesn’t drive me further away from sports, because I want to enjoy them. Especially if LeBron is part of those sports again. He’s really damned good at shootyhoops, and it’d be a shame for me to miss out on that.

Random thought-like substances:

  • As mentioned, I am currently in the late planning stages of a kitchen remodel. The stages or planning, as I see them, are as follows: 1) Early: you think ‘oh, a new kitchen would really be nice’, as the whole thing is an abstraction; 2) Middle: events happen and that kitchen work becomes far less abstract and almost tangible. This is the exciting stage; 3) Late: You’ve spent way too much of your life trying to figure out just what needs to line up and how things are going to work, and really you’re mostly there and just wish it were over with. To the point where I’m waiting on other people to get to where I want things to be, and they’re just standing in the way and my GOD why can’t they just get it over with already?
  • Designing a row home kitchen is a really fun challenge, except for the part where you realize you’re going to hate aspects of it and only have yourself to blame.
  • Trying to figure out what parts of the kitchen work you’re willing/able to do yourself is even more challenging.
  • As part of kitchen renovation we are considering buying a new cookware set, likely all stainless. This is exciting but also leads to a lot of probably unnecessary research into pots and pans.
  • It seems like I’m always about three weeks from really having the time to start running again. Just need the baby to sleep through the night better, is all. Not running is all the baby’s fault, not my own.
  • I really liked Brendan’s piece last week on The Colony. If you missed it over the holiday weekend, be sure to check it out.
  • Okay. Go Sports.

WFNY Roundtable – What is Miami’s next move?

WFNY_roundtable

 

Hey, did you guys hear the news? LeBron is coming back!!!!!!

Well, ok, that might not be true. It’s probably not true. But somehow we find ourselves in a world where there seems to at least be a realistic possibility of The Return happening. So naturally, we decided to discuss the issue in one of our Roundtables. Specifically, Craig wanted to find out everyone’s thoughts on what the Heat can realistically do to improve their roster.  [Read more...]