Rants From The Rocking Chair

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It’s my pleasure to introduce our first guest written piece for The Armchair Sports Society in which our resident old man Tom Szabo has really embraced the spirit of our articles and given us his thought an a wide range of issues from Boxing to the NBA. Sit back and enjoy the show:   So, let me get this straight: Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban caused an uproar for doing what he always has done—offering his honest opinion on a matter—to the point where the NBA may well fine him for forthright enough to admit that like anyone else, he too has certain prejudices. During the most controversial—using that word seems almost laughable—parts of the interview (seen here ), Cuban discusses his own feelings when encountering both a young black man in a hoodie, and a tattooed, shaven skulled white man. His responses are neither responses are neither surprising, nor atypical (I say this as one who fits the stereotype Cuban claims to wish to avoid most, with years of experience of people doing just that). Indeed, even people who tend to jump on the racism bandwagon at the first perceived slight, such as those associated with Rev. Al Sharpton, have weighed Cuban and not found him wanting. None of which, of course, would mean anything to the NBA should it deem Cuban guilty of damaging its brand. I’ve watched the video and read various articles about what Cuban said, and I’ve come away convinced that the only possible wrongs Cuban committed was that he made his comments in the recent shadow of the Donald Sterling stupidity, and, although no one wants to admit it as a “wrong,” committed the sin of being a white man talking about prejudice, and, worse of all, stating that rather than ostracizing someone with blatant prejudice in his employ or social circle, Cuban would instead seek to educate and work with them for the good of the individual, his company, and society as a whole. The level of hypocrisy regarding this is absurd. One of the reasons that all forms of prejudice remain unchecked in society is precisely because people become defensive when they are addressed. Rather than engaging in any kind of constructive, open dialogue that acknowledges our own issues no matter how ugly they are, Caucasians especially are greeted with suspicion when they address them. As sports fans, we may claim to loath pre-packaged, cliché ridden comments (see Belichick, Bill), but when those issues turn to potentially racially charged ones, we discourage anyone who may admit an honest struggle with them. At this point of course, it remains speculation as to how the league will act. You can, however, be almost completely assured that Cuban will get at least a phone call from new commissioner Adam Silver strongly encouraging Cuban to be more sensitive about bringing up hot button topics for the league. This of course, would be the real tragedy of the situation; the ideal time to discuss hot button topics is, well, when they’re hot. Postponing or worse, avoiding those topics, never brings dialogue at the correct time to have it. Wasn’t that the whole purpose of Cuban’s words?

More Hoop Dreams

Love to credit where it’s due, but as I was driving in an area with crappy reception, the sports talk radio host I heard it from who made the point that “more than any other league, the NBA gets it right” will unfortunately remain nameless. His broader point, in the little that I was able to hear, was this: if you follow the NBA, more than any other sport, the regular season means something come playoff time. With the exception of college football, where the regular season is simply used to determine who played for the championship during the BCS Championship, no other sport can make this claim.  Cinderella always makes the dance during March Madness, and finds her way to at least the Elite 8 on a seemingly annual basis. In the NHL, often the better teams are thrown aside by the better/hotter goalie. The “team that got hot at the right time” always seems to make some noise in the NFL. And in baseball, the team with the best pitching rotation often makes the loudest noise, whereas the one with the best record only has only won the World Series 17.5% of the time since the inception of the wild-card format. Indeed, the NBA does get it right. One is strained to remember a true underdog that emerged from the early rounds that had enough staying power to make the conference finals, much less take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. Much like the current season, the top four teams always seem to be there for the most part at the end; this is almost beyond debate. What is a little more debatable however, is if this is a good thing for any sport, especially when it occurs annually.

Meanwhile, on the Gridiron…

    Beyond respecting his considerable on-field abilities, I am absolutely no fan of Richard Sherman. Unlike Cuban, Sherman often spouts off his considerable mouth before his Stanford-educated mind has a chance to stop him, which, despite what his loyal teammates may say, has to be somewhat of a distraction or annoyance. That said, the “debate” as to who is the best cornerback in the NFL—reignited this past week by Arizona corner Patrick Peterson in his quest for a contract that eclipses Sherman’s recent one—is pretty much a joke. There is no real debate; there’s Sherman, and then there is everyone else. Sherman’s detractors find two quite valid arguments against him: first, he unlike other elite corners like Peterson, Cleveland’s Joe Haden, or new Patriots CB Derelle Revis, in Seattle’s defensive scheme, Sherman is only required to cover his side of the field, not the opposition’s best receiver. Secondly, Seattle’s ferocious defense, capped by the undisputed best tandem of safeties in the NFL in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, allow Sherman to thrive. Both arguments are porous at best. While it’s true that Sherman is only responsible for his side of the field, it’s equally true that offensive coordinators and quarterbacks alike avoid him when possible. And while Sherman may well be the beneficiary of the game’s best defence, both Peterson in Arizona and even Haden in Cleveland have formidable talents around them, especially in their respective front seven. (Profootballfocus.com has no shortage of stats that demonstrate Sherman’s clear superiority in virtually any situation). One need not be a fan of Sherman’s antics to respect his considerable ability. And though it may be a bitter pill to swallow, the reality is with the possible exception of a healthy Revis, Sherman is very much in his own class for his position group.

The Sweetest Science

  Saturday’s Adonis Stevenson-Andrezj Fonfara light-heavyweight title bout marked the second of four consecutive weeks of what promises to be perhaps the best four straight weeks on the boxing calendar. Kicked off last week with Juan Manuel Marquez clinical destruction of dictionary-definition tough guy Mike Alvarado, followed by next week’s rematch of the pathetic Carl Froch-George Groves premature stoppage, and finally, bookended by highly anticipated Sergio Martinez-Miguel Cotto middleweight bout, these four weeks promise to be as good as any on this year’s boxing calendar. Speaking of Stevenson, his decision to avoid Russian wrecking-ball Sergey Kovalev in favour of a much more lucrative bout vs. Bernard Hopkins looks considerably wiser after Stevenson had to rise from the canvass to defeat Fonrfara. While he’s to be commended both for rising from the floor, and catching his second wind late in the fight, he made the lightly-regarded Polish born Fonfara look like a potential Rocky Balboa figure, catching far too many punches while hammering out a deserved unanimous decision. Had Fonfara possessed more confidence in his own ability to finish a clearly hurt and winded Stevenson in the fateful 9th round, we may well be talking about Fonfara-Hopkins or Fonfara-Kovalev instead of Stevenson fighting the ageless B-Hop. Stevenson needs to quickly accept whatever financial bones Hopkins is willing to throw his way, because if he looks anything like he did against Fonfara, this will be his last payday and the Executioner will roll to an effortless decision against him. As to Fonfara, his bizarre behaviour (fouling, not punching, looking scared) on the big stage with a clearly wounded and vulnerable opponent conjured up images of another Polish-born, Chicago resident who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory several years ago as a heavyweight: Andrew Golota, at his best (worst?) vs. Riddick Bowe.

Dropping the Puck

Some quick takes from the NHL in closing

  • Given that Montreal’s hopes for a Stanley Cup ended with Carey Price’s injury—despite the courageous display by Dustin Tokarski—the coaching deficiencies of Michel Therrien will likely be glossed over, and Therrien given an extension by the Montreal brass. Indeed, his boss Marc Bergevin admitted he felt Therrien deserved as much prior to the Ranger series. When—not if—this happens, it will do the awe-inspiring feat of supplanting the mindboggling extension given by Toronto to Head Coach Randy Carlyle as the worst moves likely to happen during this coming offseason.
  • If he has demonstrated his own continued incompetence, Therrien’s counterpart in the Conference Final, Alain Vigneault has shown that if anything, he was underappreciated by many—myself especially—when he coached the talent-rich Vancouver Canucks, because as they showed this year with essentially the same roster Vigneault had, perhaps the coaching had more to do with the Canucks success than many of us thought. Vigneault has been masterful at creating mismatches that benefit his team, even in Montreal where he doesn’t have the advantage of having the final change as the visiting team.
  • It looks like former Nashville Coach Barry Trotz has quickly found his next job working behind the bench of the Washington Capitals. Trotz should have had his choice of any vacancy in the league; the irony is that the team that probably could have used him the most—the Pittsburgh Penguins (although a case could be made for the San Jose Sharks as well)—not only haven’t got a vacancy (yet), but if they had, likely would’ve found Trotz’s defence-first, puck-responsible brand of hockey as not a good fit with their collection of offensive-minded stars. Chalk that one up as a loss for the Penguins.
  • Speaking of the Penguins, at what point exactly does Sidney Crosby stop getting a free pass for disappearing in the playoffs? True, Crosby played well in a game or two when he didn’t register a point for the Pens. But, as former Bruin star Cam Neely found out from former GM Harry Sinden, Crosby gets paid for scoring. Period. And, the pointless but well-skating games aside, Crosby more often than not was a non-factor during too many games both in this and last year’s playoffs. Yet, somehow, Sid the Quit seemingly gets a pass for these no-shows. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that none of the games other superstars, much less the man who he was often compared with as little as 3 years ago, Alexander Ovechkin, or his own teammate, Evegeni Malkin, would be generally and correctly be vilified for similar performances.

Written By Tom Szabo Forward by Alex Simons

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