Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

By: Matthew Kohl
Email: virtualsportsman@gmail.com
Twitter: @virtuallymatt

The baseball off-season can be fraught with peril for some. Especially if you don’t care for many,
or any, of the winter sports. Baseball fans who aren’t content to follow the free agent game or the trade rumors have a few options to scratch the baseball itch. For example, I like to take a trip through my childhood baseball card collection. My card binder is one of very few things I have left from my youth and it’s the oldest thing I own that I purchased with my own money. It’s interesting to see who I thought was worth putting in the book versus who got clipped into the bike spokes since I only collected cards from players and teams I liked. I didn’t care if they were stars, though many were, and I didn’t care if they played for a rival team. Sometimes a card would get promoted from the box to the binder and sometimes they would get demoted, a practice which accounts for entire pages with only a single card on them in some instances. I don’t change it these days even though the order of cards and grouping of players is ramshackle at best and absolutely maddening when I’m looking for something specific.

Whenever I go through the book, I’m reminded of cards I had that would be worth having today or in the future had I kept them. I didn’t care enough about the players at the time to do so. Allusions of monetary gain be damned as I firmly stand by those edicts that decided what or whom was worth keeping, mysterious as they were. Mariano Rivera’s 1992 Bowman rookie card may disagree with me tossing it aside, but what kid keeps a baseball card featuring some twit standing in khakis and a polo shirt in his collection? Besides, he played for the evil empire. Sometimes though, I get confused as to why I kept something in the book.

WHO THE HELL?

“Who in the hell is Mariano Duncan?” That’s usually the first question I ask myself whenever I peruse the book. He’s on the first page. He was a 2B/SS and career .267 hitter who is currently the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate Tennessee Smokies by the way. I learned that from Wikipedia just today! Even though his career may have been a bit underwhelming, I don’t dare take the card out. For one reason or another an eight year old me thought it belonged in the book and I don’t doubt that reason was a good one. Its placement on the bottom right corner leads me to believe it’s one of the first nine cards I ever put in there. It’s possible it could even be from my very first pack of cards.

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I probably kept him because he had good fundamentals.

Another player who I have several cards from that also has a Cubs connection is Pat Listach, though I know why I kept his cards. He was second place to only Kenny Lofton in stolen bases and won Rookie of the Year honors in 1992. All but one of the cards I have from him are from that season. Coincidentally, he didn’t do much else the rest of his playing career. He’s currently the Cubs third base coach and was voted Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2008 for leading the Iowa Cubs to the postseason. So he has that.

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These are great looking cards though.

THE WEIRDNESS

There are also some strange phenomena that permeate my card binder. One of which I call the “Doc Strawberry Page.” It’s weird that two players who got famous in two different decades that both practically ruined their respective careers through drug use ended up grouped together. I knew about the drug problems they had even as a kid. Maybe I thought if I kept them together, but segregated from the other cards, the other players couldn’t do drugs with them. I really loved Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I was disappointed to see their careers go downhill for such stupid reasons when they both had such great natural talent. I never really gave up on either of them though. That’s probably why I’m so unforgiving of players today.

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Another bit of weirdness is what I like to call the Eric Karros Quartet. I’ve grown to dislike him even more as an adult due to his lackluster commentary but I absolutely hated Karros as a kid. Why I kept any of his crap let alone four of the same card is completely unexplainable. In hindsight though, he looks a lot like my cousin Gary. Maybe I thought he was just moonlighting as a police officer.

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Fuck you Eric!

I don’t have a name for this one but probably the strangest thing that appears in my collection is the random presence of a Damon Berryhill card every other page or so. It begins on the tenth page mysteriously adjacent to Mike Scioscia. Then he appears again on the very next sheet next to Gary Gaeti, another player whose inclusion I have no explanation for. This continues on for another 15 pages until the second to last one where a wall dedicated to Ryne Sandberg ends the curse. I don’t really think I liked him as a player and I can’t imagine I would have liked anything about him other than the fact that he was a catcher, but even that’s a sketchy theory. I didn’t even really care for the Cubs too much until later in 1998 or 1999 so it’s weird that I would have so many of his cards let alone put them in my binder. I can’t figure out why they’re so scattered either. Unless somebody else can come up with a reason, I’ll just have to leave this mystery to future generations.

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A selection of Berryhills. Maybe I liked his name?

THE HEROES

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One of the heroes of my youth.

Still, there are some cards that really do deserve to be in my collection. In fact, one of my favorite pages in the book is the Bo Jackson page. I loved everything about Bo Jackson when I was young. I loved him so much I even picked up a Raiders hat when I had no connection whatsoever with football. In fact, Bo Jackson was the reason I began watching football. If it wasn’t for Bo, I would have entirely missed the final years of Joe Montana’s amazing career (another player I idolized as a child) and the best days of Steve Young’s. I was excited as all hell when he came to the White Sox, and now that I really think about it, he was the reason I started paying any attention at all to my local sports teams. Well, he and Mark Grace, who I was never lucky enough to get a card of…

…but whatever.

One of the stranger memories of Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

Of the stranger memories regarding Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

He probably didn’t even say it. He wouldn’t dare. Would he?

This is not even a conversation. The fact that all this time is being wasted on a fruitless endeavor is sort o pissing me off. Basketball fans: it should piss you off, too. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Kobe fan in the world. Your only excuse to be on board with any of this is if you are under the age of…no, there is no excuse.

The beautiful thing about Kobe Bryant opening up his big mouth to say that 2012’s USA Basketball team could beat the original Dream Team is that there is actually no way to prove him right or wrong. It’s all speculation and competitive banter, but the part I don’t like is the disregard for the sanctity of the Dream Team. Up until this point, everyone has had the common courtesy and decency to concede to the Dream Team as the undisputed greatest basketball, no greatest period, team ever assembled.

As the anointed leader of the current Dream Teamers, this is another case of Kobe being Kobe.  I like that he’s reverting back to his former, 18 year old self-talking shit, allowing his ego to get the best of him, claiming supremacy in an area that no one can actually discredit him. He’s really just stirring up shit. What are his motives though?

Ed. Note – Oh you bet your ass Kobe is kicking it old school:
[youtube http://youtu.be/4uG8ubgvSSQ]

Uniquely American in every regard, only here in the States would you have a younger generation team showing up such a national treasure. Around the world, respect for one’s elders is considered a given, but not here. This is our sport. Basketball is ours, but show some respect. In the timeless and elegant words of  Westside Connection: bow down.

My initial reaction to Kobe’s proclamation was that of disgust mixed with a bit of shock. He said what? And LeBron backed him up, saying what about athleticism? Ate these jokesters for real? Maybe they thought the question was, “Can you beat the original Dream Team now, as in not them in their prime back in ’92 but now as middle aged men?” I think the ’92 squad would still give them a run…

Then I dug a little deeper, and I wanted to know more about not what Kobe said, but rather, why he would say it. Many of today’s top NBA talent doesn’t even make up their roster. The Dream Team consisted of the greatest players to ever play the game. Ever. Forever. For-ever-ever. For-ever-ever! Kobe needs to play the role of motivator, and that’s cool. But come on. Ignite the competitive fire at practice the way MJ would. Don’t make ridiculous claims like this. Lead by example on the court.

Th problem with this debate is that the rest of the world has caught up to us on the basketball stage, proven by our Athenian Bronze medal in 2004. When the 2012 squad blows teams out by an average of 40+ points, then a real debate can begin. Granted, they whooped the Dominican Republic last night by 50+, but their star is a 16 year old who’ll be a sophomore next year…in high school. So, they’re on pace after one game. We’ll see. Records are made to be broken, but legacies last a lifetime.

WWMJS? What would Michael Jordan say? He’s the most competitive person ever to walk the earth and soar its skies, so I’m sure he’s got something to say. The only competition the Dream Team faced was that of its own scrimmages, so it’s sort of fitting that its only competition twenty years later remains kept in the American family. By the way, Jordan just laughed off Kobe’s comments. Sounds about right. It is a laughable argument.

Bottom line: the Dream Team is and always will be superior. They’re the only team in the Hall of Fame for a reason.

If you somehow insanely disagree, chew on this:

Tyson Chandler looks to be the starting center. The Dream Team had Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, for crying out loud. Jordan is better than Kobe. Magic is better than LeBron. Scottie is better than LeBron. Stockton is better than Chris Paul. Barkley is better than any power forward on 2012’s team. Same goes for Karl Malone. And Bird is better than Durant and Carmelo Anthony, although Bird wasn’t Bird when sandman entered and The Dream Team dominated. I’d also like to point out the number of championships won, collectively, by both teams. OG Dream Team: Jordan’s 6, Scottie’s 6, Magic’s 5, Bird’s 3, The Admiral’s 2. That’s 22.

2012: Kobe’s 5, Chandler’s 1 from last year, and LeBron’s current 1. That’s a paltry total of 7, just 1 more than Jordan alone. NCAA Championships? Anthony’s got the only one for 2012. Jordan, Magic, Ewing, and Laettner (twice) all won it at the college level. But these accomplishments mean nothing to Kobe. He just thinks that if they played for 48 minutes, that his squad could win. Forget about the accomplishments, but they’re impossible to ignore.

Future Hall of Famers? Dream Team has 11 enshrined in The Hall. ’12 has future inductees in Kobe, LeBron, probably Durant and Paul when it’s all said and done. ‘Melo? No. Chandler? LOLz. 4 future HOFers by my count. Sorry Kobe, but you sound like Skip Bayless on this one. You’re just spouting bullshit to start a conversation. Well, there’s no conversation to be had here. This is a closed case, Mamba. But I’ll be more than happy when they get the technology ready for all 24 of you knuckleheads to hit the hardwood as holograms to settle the (non)debate once and for all. Then all sports conversations cease to exist, something I don’t totally welcome. Having opinions, disagreeing, proving yourself with memorized statistics and facts; these are a few of my favorite sports things. So let’s hear what you’ve got to say about USA Basketball, because we’ve regained supremacy. And that makes me happy as a fan of basketball and the Olympics. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Something I’ve wondered since I was like 10 years old though: why wasn’t Shaq on the squad instead of Christian Laettner? I mean, I’m sure his historic college career as arguably the best college baller ever (and Coach K) had something to do with it, but can you retrospectively imagine that now? A team filled to the brim with 12 Hall of Famers instead of only 11…

[audio http://awmr01.podbean.com/mf/web/tm8rv/Episode_016.mp3]

iTunes Linkage

  • 00:35 – Andy fucks up
  • 02:30 – First place White Sox
  • 09:00 – Giving Seattle fans some Chicago love
  • 10:30 – Young Guns
  • 15:40 – Lucky Dog
  • 16:50 – Concussion talk
  • 23:20 – Bears Talk
  • 27:37 – Raul’s summer beer advice
  • 31:48 – NBA Jam and BJ Armstrong, Where are They Now
  • 37:26 – The Cubs are indeed, awful
  • 39:00 – Because I’m Mexican
  • 43:50 – “I fucking hate softball”
  • 46:40 – Top Ten Individual Seasons
  • 01:04:07 – Origins of Mudbone

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Growing up is hard. There are expectations that must be met as you grow older, society expects X from you, and you must provide X. Everyone goes through growing pains, some go through them more harshly than others. There are a select few, however, that go through the maturation process in front of millions of people. We call them athletes.

Watching a player struggle through his early years is all part of the game. We saw Griffey and A-Rod grow up before our eyes on the national stage, ditto with Michael, LeBron, and currently Toews, Kane, and Rose. They all went through/are going through growing pains. What I’ve noticed around Chicago is that while we don’t expect much from other cities young kids, we place impossible expectations on the rookies that come up through Chicago. This is specifically true in baseball.

Beckham and Castro

Gordon Beckham had an .808 OPS as a 22 year old rookie. He was brought up as a reactionary move to an offensive black hole that occurred when Josh Fields failed to produce. White Sox fans were anxious to see the Georgia kid at the major league level as they expected the Sox to repeat the surprising year they had in 2008. Ozzie famously said that if the White Sox had to call up Beckham it showed that they were in trouble. Well, they got into some trouble during the season and Kenny made the call to the farm.

Beckham’s start was good enough to earn him the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year award.

‘‘I wish that kid was a two- or three-year veteran in the big leagues because he has that attitude,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘He has that right frame of mind. He was a leader his whole life from when he was in high school, college. I think he wants to be the face of the franchise, and we need something like that. When a player thinks like that, doesn’t hide in the weeds, you don’t see many players come up from the minor leagues and think that way. It’s a big challenge. But I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he has the right tools to be one. Obviously, it has to come from help from myself, Ken Williams and the staff to make him a great leader.’’

-Ozzie Guillen

Expectations were pretty high from there on out. When his offense cratered over the next two years, fans were puzzled. His rookie year was so outstanding, how could he not build on that and improve?

Starlin Castro has been a hit machine since he debuted with 6 RBI’s. With the bat in his hand he has been stellar. The major knock on him is his defense. He goes through lapses of concentration that are as baffling as they are infuriating. There isn’t a player in the majors that makes me go “that’s a great play,” to “that was a dipshit play,” in the same game quite like Starlin. As of writing time, he has twice as many errors (8), as walks (4). This makes a lot of Cubs fans irate.

And gives some ammo to Sox trolls

I’m pretty sure this guy is a White Sox troll

This invariably leads to a lot of talk of moving Castro to 3B, 2B, a corner OF spot, or 1B. The “Castro isn’t a SS” movement is gaining a lot of traction locally, and while it has quieted down some over the past month (He hasn’t committed an error in 16 games), you can bet that discussion will start cooking again when he commits another error.

I think it’s obvious that both Beckham and Castro are going through growing pains, albeit in opposite aspects of their respective games. Beckham plays sublime defense at 2B, he’s smooth, has range, and can make all the throws. He has an ugly hitch in his swing right now though, and he just can’t hit consistently. His minor hot streak has his average up to .204 with a paltry .627 OPS. Castro is still prone to lapses in the field, he’s flashing better leather lately, but he’s going to have to continue to play solid defense to shed the “butcher” tag. His defense is still a violent game, with flashes of smoothness. Both players are trying to make adjustments in the glare of the public eye. Both had the savior tag applied to them when they were brought up. Both need to be given time to properly show you what they are before you pass judgement. Beckham’s time is shorter than Castro’s because he’s older, but Cubs fans need to relax on the “Move Starlin off SS,” movement too.

Which, you know, brings me to Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

Superkids

Anthony Rizzo is still destroying AAA.

Geez, settle down

Brett Jackson…not so much

Cubs fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of both players at the Major League level. Rizzo has a cute little twitter dedicated to him, @FreeRizzo. There are a few things that Cubs fans need to keep in mind when it comes to both players, and the Cubs in general.

  • Neither Rizzo nor Jackson are going to save the Cubs in the short-term. This is a full on dedicated rebuilding that will look a lot like the Royals rebuild had a baby with the Nats rebuild. It’s going to take time. I hope the Cubs will be much better in 3 years, but much better is 80-85 wins. That could potentially be 20-25 wins better than the hypothetical 2012 record.
  • The Cubs are ridiculously devoid of talent at the Major and high Minor League level. This past draft was the first one the Cubs have had in a while that impressed people around the league. There is zero pitching help at AAA.
  • Trading Soriano is going to be really hard. He’s gimpy and people already know what kind of hitter he is. Why do I bring this up? Well, how else are you going to make room for Rizzo? LaHair to left, Rizzo at first is the aim.
  • Speaking of Rizzo, I haven’t heard any respected talent scouts call him the second coming of Albert Pujols. I think that his ceiling is Paul Konerko level production, and he’s likely to simply be an above average 1B. That’s awesome, trust me, but it’s not a franchise changer. He shortened his swing, and I do think he’s ready for MLB, but he’s not likely to turn into a perennial MVP candidate.
  • Jackson will be lucky to be Curtis Granderson pre-Yankees. Again, that’s awesome and I’ll take it, but we Cub fans need to stop pretending that he’s more than what he is. He’ll be solid, but I doubt he is ever considered an “impact” player.

Cub fans need to check our collective reality meter. We need to understand what this team is now, and what it will be in the future. This is a deep and real rebuild.

Speaking of reality checks

If the White Sox make the playoffs, and that’s a huge if, it’ll be because the other teams in the Central failed. Don’t start pretending like this team is good because they won 5 of 6 against the two worst teams in MLB. I would get pissed as a White Sox fan if Kenny Williams sees this squad and starts trading prospects for vets because he sees fools gold. Let’s look at a few things.

  • The White Sox pitching staff is the best component of this team, but it’s schizophrenic at best and average on the whole at worst. The White Sox have a slightly above average staff ERA that is buoyed by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.The other three starters all have ERA’s over 4. The enigmatic John Danks keeps alternating between good start and bad start. Phil Humber is similarly quizzical, as it looked like he had figured some things out with the perfect game, only to regress to “inconsistent” status over his next 5 starts. His walk rate is close to double what it was last year, and I think that’s a symptom of nibbling that could lead to future trouble. Gavin still lives in Gavin world, where sublime stuff is permanently married to a low pitching IQ.
  • That offense is putrid, and Orlando Hudson will only help it so much. You can’t survive in the Cell with 3-4 offensive black holes. Eventually other teams will come into town and hit the HR’s that you aren’t. This is reflected in their 8-13 record at home.
  • Jake Peavy is a ticking time bomb and you need to trade him for value. Seriously, he’s not going to sustain a .249 opponents BABIP. He’s stranding 79% of baserunners, which is similarly unsustainable, and his GB rate is at 31.1%.That flyball rate is asking for trouble in the Cell. The xFIP number is also pointing at a big ole regression to the mean. You can’t pitch on the margins like that and survive in a homer haven. It’s damn near impossible.
  • Addison Reed is likely the only reliable reliever the Sox have in the pen. I have no idea what happened to Matt Thornton, but he’s been inconsistent the past two years. Will Ohman is still Will Ohman, and Hector Santiago is still trying to figure it out.

What the White Sox look like to me is a mediocre team in a mediocre division, it would be foolish to sell off parts of an already thin farm system when they declared this year to be a transitional year. White Sox fans have already spoken with their wallets what they think about this team so far, the empty seats are telling me that you don’t think they’re for real, so don’t be mad if they sell at the deadline.

At the end of the day

Both fanbases need to settle down. The Cubs shouldn’t rush Rizzo, the White Sox aren’t poised for greatness as currently constructed. The Cubs have awhile before they are true title contenders. The White Sox might seem closer, but be wary. Depending on the moves they make this year, their championship clock could be moved back by years.

ALL THE KIDS WITH THEIR PUMPED UP KICKS

While watching the championship game between Kentucky and Kansas the other night, I had several revelations. Kentucky was sporting 4 or 5 future Lottery Picks. Kansas probably 1. Kentucky won the game before halftime started. Bill Self is annoying. Coach Cal knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Another revelation: with all four teams in the Final Four being from our neck of the woods, the Midwest truly is the place to be for basketball. All four teams in this year’s Final Four were from the Midwest. I know I probably won’t get much push back from most folks reading this, considering our location and our love for our hometown, not to mention the Midwest as a whole. Seriously though, Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, and the net-cutting, champion Kentucky Wildcats and South Side Perspectives product Anthony Davis represented the Mighty Midwest to the fullest. Coach Cal finally got his title, and he’s catapulted dozens of one and dones to NBA stardom. Good for him. Good for his kids.  
 
When it comes to the Midwest basketball-wise, Indiana alone is sort of a roundball Mecca for Youth hoopers. New York’s Rucker Park for street ball yes, but the state of Indiana for true hoop dreams. The Hick From French Lick says enough for the Hoosier State. Larry Bird may have become Larry Legend in Boston, but his roots are firmly planted in the Midwest. Michigan is not short on talent either starring Magic Johnson, George Gervin, Chet Walker, The Fab Five, Michigan State, The Bad Boys, and Dave Debusschere. Chicago has also produced some of the best basketball talent the world has ever known. Starting with reigning MVP Derrick Rose (HE’S FROM CHICAGO, in best Stacey King voice), the list grows and grows with the likes of George Mikan, Isiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Maurice Cheeks, Michael Finley, Jerry Sloan, Doc Rivers, and Mark Aguirre all hailing from Chicago(land area). The Bulls’ ridiculous run in the ’90s solidified Chicago as one of the greatest basketball cities, and we’ve become synonymous with the game’s greatest player ever, one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

So what does mean more in the great debate over what is the best sports town? Is it how many legends hail from the area or does it depend on professional success? Seriously, I’m asking you. We take a certain sense of pride in our pros in every sport who hail from here, but we certainly don’t root for them when they face off against our teams. If our seasons are over and we have nothing left but local products to cheer on, we’ll take it. But seriously, Midwest is Best.

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan. What other region of the country can boast that type of pedigree? 
KIDS IN THE HALL
As Chicagoans, we’ll always have our rivalry with New York. If they had the opportunity to burn down the city and start over the way we did, maybe they’d have installed alleys in every borough to store their fucking garbage instead of piling it up on the streets for all to enjoy. We suffer from the Second City Syndrome, but why? We think our food is better than theirs. We have two baseball teams just like them, albeit 25 championships less. Our neighborhoods are cool. Our art scene is emerging. We love our Bulls. We hate the Knicks. This is one of the few things we shared with Reggie Miller over the course of his career. Now he’s a Hall of Famer representing the Midwest on the professional level. Love him or hate him, he’s arguably one of the best three point shooters to ever hit the hardwood. That 30 for 30 on him is classic as hell. I’m surprised Spike Lee hasn’t hit the Twitterverse to express his opinion on Reggie’s upcoming induction. He obviously thinks it’s fine and dandy to do so to advertise what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address. Twitter, Facebook, all the social networking sites are for just that, networking and being social. Not to call a fucking lynch mob to some 70something couple’s house by mistake. A Chicagoan would never to that (through Twitter, that is). We’re gangsters here in The Chi. We handle our biz the old fashioned way. Seriously though, how did that old couple not go completely ape shit over the ordeal Mr. Lee caused them? Who does he think he is?! Besides being a sub-par film director, what has he really done other than provoke visiting superstars while patrolling courtside of Madison Square Garden? 
And who do we Midwesterners think we are? Well, politely of course, I think we’re the best pool of basketball talent in the country. Alright, New York. We’re ready to hear your argument…

As I write this, the 2 AM breeze hits me with ease (yes, the windows are open in March. Yes, it is glorious), and I continue my mini Woody Allen binge with another half-hearted attempt to take in Manhattan. It’s a good enough movie, but Woody himself even said it was his least favorite of those he’s made. In other news, the Bulls set a franchise regular season record earlier tonight for points allowed by holding D’s Nuts (my new, failed(?) nickname for Dwight Howard) and the Orlando Magic to an embarrassing 59 points. That’s what happens when you have every member of your team ready to play every night. Thanks Thibs.

You're welcome.

All Bulls euphoria, Woody Allen rambling, and summer in March hysteria aside, the sands of the NFL hourglass have shifted. Time has caught up with the city of Denver. It has bitten the asses of San Francisco and Tennessee. Yes, Peyton Manning will take snaps for the Denver Broncos next year, and the time-challenged task of replacing legendary #7 has ended. No matter how nice the Bay Area weather may be at times, real deal free agents don’t base their decisions on such things. The players who matter go where they think they have the BEST CHANCE TO WIN. Look at Mario Williams. He could’ve signed with Da Bears, won a few ball games, maybe contended for a title or two. Nope, he took an extra ten million or so to sign with the Buffalo fucking Bills. Not a player who matters. Good riddance. As you may sense from this somewhat bitter sages tone, we good sports fans of Chicago have been burned by high profile free agents in seemingly every major professional sport since free agency became a thing. I won’t bore you with the list of free agents who chose to sign elsewhere over the years, but it’s long and odd that none of them would have liked to live here in Chicago. I like to think we have a great culture here, not only sports culture, but culture in general. Why wouldn’t someone want to sign here? Is it really the shitty, unpredictable weather? If you’re not used to it, maybe it’s a little overbearing. But if you’re from here, the weather shifts are a thing of beauty to be appreciated and celebrated. The extreme cold builds character and toughness, and the hot summers (and springs now, apparently) are our reward for bundling up the rest of the year. No reward in the sports free agent signing world though.

Are the expectations different here the way they’ve been for Denver quarterbacks since the turn of the century?
The timing for the departures of legends like Jordan and Elway lend themselves to a comparison of sorts. Denver hasn’t had a legitimite quarterback since then, and we’ve had so many unGodly horrible shooting guards grace us with their absence since the premature dismantling of our beloved dynasty. The difference seems to be that we have the good sense not to expect anone to ever even come close to accomplishing what Jordan accomplished…ever. It’s an exercise in futility. But for whatever reason, Denver quarterbacks and their fans have been repeating the third grade for the better part of fifteen years. Now they have one of the greatest to ever throw the ball leading their team. His reads are unbelievable. His command of the offense is unparalleled. His football IQ is a mile high. His name is Peyton Manning, and he is a Denver Bronco. Appreciate it, football fans of Denver.
Here in Chicago, we know a thing or two about filling the shoes of a legend. Chicago shooting guard will never ever…ever (ever) be as it once was when #23 graced the hardwood, not even close. We know this. The quarterback position holds a similar standard in Denver since Sir Elway left town (only to return in full decision making mode in their front office). Jay Cutler came to Chicago partly because he couldn’t fulfill the snap-taking expectations in the Mile High City. Tim Tebow (yes, he does have a first name) never had the backing of the Broncos brass. Jake Plummer had a couple above-average seasons, but since Elway won back to back titles and saluted his way out of the NFL, Denver had yearned for an MVP under center. They got him. 

Peyton Manning is an MVP in every imaginable sense: on the field, off the field, in the film room, on TV, whatever the challenge may be, #18 will beat it. He made Marvin Harrison Marvin Harrison. Same goes for Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and every Peyton-made Pro Bowler who played for the Colts. He’ll more than likely do the same for the young core of receivers in Denver. Just go ahead and pencil them in for an AFC West title and a trip to New England for the AFC Championship where the Brady vs. Manning rivalry will resume.
Tebowmania will rightfully relocate to the Arena League next year. 

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about baseball games these last couple of months. It’s only natural. Baseball is my favorite sport after all. I don’t feel like I’m doing anyone a disservice by writing solely about baseball, but a little variety now and then can’t hurt.

Basketball is not my game. I tried playing it when I was a kid and found that my two main skills, free throw shooting and fouling other players, weren’t a recipe for a star hoopster. Subsequently, I only enjoyed it when winning or losing didn’t matter to anyone involved. I loved playing 21 and horse during PE in both elementary and high school and to this day still love the idea of just shooting a ball around, not that I ever do. At the end of the day basketball is just a fun game that I can’t take seriously. At least I can’t take it seriously enough to watch others play.

That’s why I love NBA Jam.

It’s a basketball game that doesn’t take the sport seriously. While winning and losing may be a personal matter within the game, there’s no season riding on it. There are no teammates to ridicule or be ridiculed in the locker room after a blowout loss. There isn’t a shred of remorse or hurt feelings when a game is over. Just another couple of coins dumped into the slot. There have been several games released with the NBA Jam name, and many more similar games of varying quality under different titles. All hipster douchebaggary aside, the original arcade cabinet is still the best version available if you can find a place that has one. It had balanced teams and it just sounds and feels right. Plus it had Shaq and Barkley so there.

When you play NBA Jam on the original arcade cabinet, you are playing a caricature of one of the most exciting and storied times in basketball history. It was a time when old greats faced off against young new stars, new dynasties were being formed as old standbys crumbled, the NBA was taking chances by drafting new talent from Europe and for the first time sent its top stars up against the increasingly tough talent in the Olympic games. That’s not even mentioning that Micheal Jordan had just forced his name into the world’s collective consciousness, whether they liked it or not, by winning his third consecutive championship ring and five MVP awards in the process. (Two regular season, three finals.)

So why is NBA Jam still such a popular game? How has it endeared itself to so many fans? What’s the magic? What’s the trick? The gimmick? What’s the secret?

For one, it’s fast. The 3 minute quarters blink past without a care. It’s really a testament to how great a game is when people don’t even realize they are being duped into dumping extra coins in a game due to a fast counting clock. Then there’s the gameplay. Through all the shoving, turbo passes, flaming dunks, and shattered glass you don’t even realize how much time really goes by or how many games you’ve played. You put in your first quarter, you play, you look up and your pockets no longer jingle and its been three hours. What the hell?

Another reason people like NBA Jam is the flamboyantly comical art style and presentation. Between the static player photographs put on what seems to be a single body that is repeatedly pallet swapped and re-sized, and commentary provided by Tim Kitzrow it’s hard not to smile while you watch and listen to the game. Everything is so over the top that there’s no room for rational basketball rules. I mean, how do you call a foul in a game where you can set the net on fire with a dunk? How could you allow the game to stop just because the ball goes out of bounds when any given player jumps higher than the rim? You just can’t. It’s an arcade sports game at its core and NBA Jam does it so right, there’s no way to really improve it. Even the newest version on the Wii, PSN, and Xbox Live is just the same game with updated rosters and visuals.

There is, however, an underlying theory as to why people love NBA Jam. One that is buried within the confines of sports history and the evaluation of what was happening in basketball between 1991 and 1993. The 1980’s were a period of rising popularity for professional basketball. Starting in 1979 when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the league, star player after star player emerged culminating in a virtual renaissance in the NBA. The 80’s saw the retirement of some of the game’s most storied players including Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Julius Irving, and Walt Frazier. But while these greats were taking a seat players like James Worthy, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullen, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Micheal Jordan were easily making names for themselves in a sport that was fast becoming a contender for the worlds most popular sport. Basketball was clearly evolving and it would take a loss on the world’s stage for America to understand just how far the sport had come.

In 1988 the US men’s basketball team finished third in the Olympics. Third. They lost to Russia and Yugoslavia. What was happening? All the time the US was sending college kids to play in the Olympics in basketball the rest of the world was sending its best players to compete and they were getting better every year. The best players from the United States were in the NBA and weren’t allowed to play in the games due to their professional status. In effect, that gave the US a huge disadvantage. Sure nine of the players on the Russian and Yugoslavian teams that beat the American team ended up playing for the NBA at some point and with varying success, you may remember Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, and Drazen Petrovic, but that was no excuse. So in 1989 when the worlds governing body over international basketball, the FIBA, decided it was cool to allow professional players to compete the stage was set for something crazy to happen.

The 1992 US men’s basketball team featured eleven NBA players and one guy from Duke (pfft they couldn’t get one more?). Not only did they tear up the world qualifying tournaments, beating the six teams they played by an average of 52 points, but they flew through the Olympics with ease. They averaged 117 points per game and beat the opposition by an average of 44 points per game to win the gold medal that year. It was a great moment in sports history and The Dream Team is one of only eight complete teams to be elected to the basketball hall of fame. Combine that with basketball’s general rising popularity and you have a country ready to eat up anything basketball related. NBA Jam couldn’t possibly fail in at atmosphere like that.

NBA Jam represents a time in sports history where everything was on an upswing and a time in video game history when new avenues of game development were being explored. These two elements combined to bring about a classic game that painted a bombastic and flashy picture of American culture. One that I dearly miss and has yet to be matched.

Stay tuned for part two, The ghosts of Reggie Lewis and Drazen Petrovic.

Boomshakalaka.

MLB 12 The Show is once again the best sports game available. Period. It’s better than every other game for every other sport again. Period. I don’t know how they keep doing this. It’s almost supernatural how great this series is. The play mechanics are flawless. Ball physics are as realistic as they come and you won’t see a 30 foot leap to rob a home-run anywhere. You can learn from this, MLB 2kwhatever. Though you probably won’t. Most likely, when your cross platform contract with the MLB runs out after this year, EA will get it next and we won’t have to see you sitting there being mediocre anymore, wishing you could play in the big leagues.

I can’t say enough about how well the game plays. It’s just as good, if not better than it ever was. If I were to give a review score on gameplay alone, it would be a super high 9. Like a 9.9999999999. I don’t think there are enough extra credit points available to give it an accurate letter grade and the northern hemisphere would be pretty devoid of stars if I gave MLB 12 The Show as many as it deserves. A tad bit over-dramatic I know, but it’s just that good. I couldn’t come up with anything related to thumbs up, but you get the picture.

So what do you do when your review score is a forgone conclusion? When it’s almost impossible to quantify the level of smile inducement? When all you can say is, “Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude, you have to fucking play this game!” there is only one course of action. You tell people how you personally feel about the game instead. You relate your emotions and impressions. Your experiences and thoughts. You don’t review it. You merely express it.

It was a little nerve wracking. Throwing for my first time in a professional team’s uniform, even if it was just a AA club. I couldn’t hit my spots in practice, but my arm felt as good as it ever has. I couldn’t quite locate my fastball, though it was quick and lively. My sinker was dropping like a bomb, but mostly in the dirt in front of the plate. I don’t even want to get into what my slider was trying to do. My first start as a professional ball player was looking to be a terrible day.

You always see yourself succeeding if you just get the chance to prove yourself. Even though you may be thinking about the possibility of failure, you see a win in your head. You know what never even crosses your mind? You never once think about just doing OK and walking away without a loss or a win. I pitched well enough, but I allowed 3 runs over 4 and a third and got yanked. Luckily the guys gave us some runs after I left and we pulled out the win, but the “W” isn’t attached to my name. It’s not what I wanted as my first professional start, but I’ll take what I can get.

My second game? My God that was a different story. I started out slow. I couldn’t hit my locations again. I got a little wild, but made it through the first two innings without letting a run by, something I couldn’t even do through the first inning of my last start. When I came into the third, something clicked. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I couldn’t lose all of a sudden. I struck out the side and just kept going from there. It started getting hectic around the sixth, I really just had no steam left, but I was throwing a gem and I was getting no sign that they were gonna pull me out. So I just kept throwing. I kept the ball low and outside, throwing at their hands every once in a while to keep the batters honest. I kept throwing different pitches and, miraculously, when a hitter made contact with one of my meatballs it stayed on the ground. I finally thought I would be sitting down when our closer started warming up in the eighth, but no dice there. I got sent back in to finish. Complete game shutout is the most beautiful phrase to a new pitcher, probably to any pitcher. To have it spoken about my last start is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Honestly though, I’m not sure what possessed me to take on a contract right out of high school. Though what’s done is done and I’m here now. With two starts under my belt and a third coming on only three days rest after a full nine, barring some form of lineup change, I’m worried about how I’ll perform. I just had two drastically different games. I still don’t know what I’m capable of, or incapable of for that matter, but I’m going to throw at everyone. That’s always been my style. Throw strikes and pray.

Exactly what baseball’s supposed to be.

My first two games as a starting pitcher in Road To The Show mode in MLB 12 The Show are pretty indicative of the series as a whole. The game, while being the best sports simulation available for any sport, is often erratic, random, unpredictable…

I picked up a no decision in my first start, allowing 3 runs and 5 hits over 4 and a third innings with 2 strikeouts. Then 4 days later I threw a complete game shutout, allowing 7 hits with no walks and 7 strikeouts in my second start. That is the essence of baseball. It’s erratic. It’s random. It’s unpredictable.

Sure it’s a video game, and there are ways to win or do decent pretty much all the time. Though The Show has always done well to minimize this by throwing in that bit of chance. Even if you have perfect timing on the meter, or the new “Pulse Pitching,” there’s a chance that curve ball will, well, not curve. Even whether a batter capitalizes on that bad curve is totally up in the air. That’s what baseball is all about. It’s tension and release. Every pitch. Every at bat. Every game. All season long.

It feels good to scrape away two seasons worth of pine tar.

I had a rocky seven year relationship with Allstar Baseball 2003. It was the only reason I kept my Xbox connected to my television for a long time. As soon as I played a game in MLB 10 The Show, I felt comfortable throwing the Xbox in the closet. I knew it was my new sports series for good. I tend to skip seasons on sports games, picking the new version up every other year (Madden’s, and EA’s, lack of true updates every year caused this habit to form.) so I’ve never played The Show 11. So much has changed in these two years that it feels like a totally new game to me. It still has the same overall feel and flow, still has the same sounds and visuals (though it’s the prettiest it’s ever been) but still feels new and fresh. The modes, features, and UI all have a fresh coat of paint but there’s enough new included to justify a new game.

This season marks the debut of two new mechanics. For pitching you have the option to use Pulse Pitching. It’s an innovative approach to pitching that I do like, though I feel the meter during the windup from 2010 is still more immersive, since the meter moves during the windup and delivery, synced with the animation. Pulse pitching allows you to select your pitch, then location, and then your release point by using a pulsing circle. The circle gets smaller and larger, rather quickly, and you have to press the pitch button when the circle is smallest to hit your location. The ball can end up anywhere within the circle and anywhere along its outline so timing is far more important than using the old pitching meter, and obviously takes some adjustment. Don’t expect to just start painting the plate corners your first time.

The second new mechanic is complete analog batting. The idea is that you use the left analog stick to locate your swing, and the right stick to time it. Since you have to pull the right stick down to set your front foot and then push forward to swing at the right moment, as well as locate the ball at the same time with the left stick, there is a HUGE learning curve. Even though I admittedly haven’t used it much yet, I’m going to come right out and say that I don’t really like it. It feels cumbersome and slow. The target that shows where your bat will make contact is obtrusive, often obscuring the ball as it comes in at you. It also has a spring return. Meaning that if you let go of the stick, it bounces back to center so you have to hold the left stick steady as you move the right to swing. It’s all just too much too soon.

That’s not to say it won’t feel much better with more practice, but as a new feature it has the feel of something meant for only very skilled players. Some people just want to play baseball.

For those people not interested in being the best at moving analog sticks, you have the option of using the older batting methods from previous versions of the game so you aren’t forced to even look at the new stuff if you just want to play the way you are used to.

Forced into retirement.

I’m a little disappointed that I can’t carry over my RTTS player from 2010. I know it’s a bit much to ask, and maybe you can do it if you have the 2011 game, but there’s still a feeling of loss there. I’m five seasons into my career on that game and in the middle of my first season at the MLB level and I just have to start over. It’s a shame, but I’ll get over it.

Want to hear something else that could fit the above tagline? Muting Eric Karros is almost a requirement. That guy has all the personality of a lobotomized brick in a coma, not to mention he says things that the guy he replaced last season used to say in the 2010 version of the game. What the fuck? Luckily, as I stated, you can mute any of the three commentators if you so choose. Crisis averted.

What do you mean I don’t have to work the bullpen?

I’m pretty sure (maybe 80%) this was included in the 2011 game, but I’m not enamored with the idea that you pitch your first game in AA as a starter. I liked how you had to earn a start in RTTS 2010. Being a starter right out of the gate has the advantage of speeding up your time in the minors, but it also has the disadvantage of taking away the feeling of accomplishment when you’re awarded with a spot in the starting rotation, even if it is just to keep it warm for an injured player. I’ll miss that feeling to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things it makes little difference to the game.

What it allows you to do is build up stats faster since you are seeing more batters and earning more points per game than you would otherwise. Some people don’t attach themselves to their virtual counterparts like I do. I’m sure other people with even less time than I have are big fans of not being stuck in a relief role for half a season before they are given a start.

Still, this is the only area of real contention I have with the game and it’s only because there’s no option to change it.

What it all comes down to is this.

Our resident stat nerd and baseball superfan, Mauricio Rubio, took a shot at the game while a plumber was fixing my kitchen sink. (NOT a euphemism for sex) It’s important to note that ol’ Rube is a fucking savant, I think he may actually be autistic. The man knows every player in baseball, past or present, and perhaps even future. Within moments of picking a team and starting a game, he was able to compete simply based on his knowledge of baseball. He knew where the pitch was going. Every time. Without ever playing any game in The Show series.

Who cares right?

Fucking wrong. That just goes to show you the amount of detail thrown into this game. Mauricio knows how a pitcher is going to throw at Alfonso Soriano, at what count, what number of outs, with runners at whatever bases and so does the game’s AI. That amount of detail wasn’t put together by no slouch. That takes constant and painstaking research from a team that absolutely loves the game of baseball. That’s why The Show is the best sports simulation in existence. You don’t create a game like this with code and QA testing. You give birth to it. It’s the love child of baseball fans and video game fans coming together in an explosion of statistics and gameplay polish. It wasn’t made for me. It was made for the game of baseball itself.

This has been making the rounds a little, but it’s still great. It really fits the feeling of the game as a whole.

The Miami Heat are the best team in basketball right now. They’ve managed to augment their talent with a modicum of depth. Shane Battier, a healthy Udonis Haslem, ditto with Mike Miller, Norris Cole came out of nowhere to provide meaningful minutes, the Heat have a bench now and that makes them deadly. It’s a forgone conclusion that the Heat will meet the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.

That’s part of the reason the Heat are so criticized. When you add to a core that boasts 3 of the 10 best players in the NBA, you’re supposed to be unstoppable. The roadblocks that remain for the Heat are the same ones as last year. They have difficulty figuring out who will be the man in the closing minutes, you can frustrate them with a zone defense, and they have some difficulty with rebounding.

And there’s that really weird LeBron issue too.

Which of course brings me to Derrick Rose. I have no idea where the excuse of “That’s the proper basketball play,” came from, but it’s complete utter bullshit. The Heat were in trouble last Friday against a tough Utah Jazz team. Yeah, LeBron spearheaded an inspired comeback that came up just short, he was hitting ridiculous three pointers and taking odd shots from odd angles because, damnit, he’s the best damn player on the planet and he should be forcing up shots like that because he can hit them.

On the final play however? “I gotta pass to Udonis. Crunch time.”

Don’t even give me Kerr or Paxson. Those assholes were jump shooters, deadly threats from the outside. It made sense to pass it out to the top of the key when the defense was collapsing on you. LeBron is an absolute force of nature. No one is going to bother him much when he drives the paint. You can’t slow that down.

Look at Rose. In the waning moments of a close game against a tough Philly team, when the Bulls needed a bucket, who was throwing his small frame into the teeth of a pitbull defense that was looking to make sure that it wouldn’t be Rose who scores? Onesanity, that’s who. A stupid, ill-advised shot that makes you go, “NONONNONONONONNO!!!! WAIT WHAT!!!!!! YES! SHIT YES, YOU LITTLE SHIT YOU KEEP DOING THAT AND IT MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER GODDAMNIT!”

Well, maybe that’s just me, but Rose is the same guy that dominated a state playoff game and only scored 2 points. He can distribute and he loves getting his teammates involved. Remember early in his career when we were all begging him to quit deferring?

And then he did the damndest thing and quit deferring and became the MVP because of clownshoes ridiculous shot after shot that won the Bulls games? Yeah, it’s crazy but I think someone (Thibs) sat Derrick down and said, “Now, I know that you don’t want to step on any toes, but seriously, asshole, you’re passing to Bogans and Jo for jumpshots. Cut that shit out and just take it to the rack.”

LeBron needs that speech. Yeah, passing to Haslem is the proper basketball play, but everyone needs to shit on that stupid theory. Legends don’t follow the rules. They reinvent the book in their own image by throttling the game by it’s throat and making it bend to their will. “Oh what’s that? I’m too selfish? I’m only a scorer? Here, have some of this 35-8-8 up your asshole. And then I’ll win 6 titles.” “Oh, I can’t win without Shaq? Taste my asshole, I’ll win two more and solidify my legend. And I’ll do it by being a maniacal asshole who makes funny faces and takes a lot of ‘bad’ shots.”

The rules that dictate what is and isn’t a good basketball play are completely open for LeBron to reinterpret and rewrite. Bad basketball plays are good ones for him because he is such a physical freak. The man can do whatever he wants on the court, and if he’s going to shake off the demons, get the monkey off his back, he’s going to have to forget about that “good basketball play” bullshit.

Impose your will asshole, if you don’t, good luck getting by the Bulls.

[youtube http://youtu.be/-i51QLznR2g]
Goddamn that’s an awful shot…awesome.

The 61st Annual NBA ALL-Star game came and went over the weekend. Amidst all the Oscar buzz and red carpet glitz and glamor, did anyone even notice?

Seriously, who is scheduling these events nowadays? The NBA is fighting to regain its fan base and attract new ones simultaneously, and The Commish can’t even get his timing right? Good luck with that whole rebuilding process, Señor Stern. The schedule making powers that be failed to notice that Hollywood’s biggest night took place the same night? Really?

 

So many issues I have with today’s NBA. Lucky for me, the pros always outweigh the cons, and I continue to con myself into believing in basketball.


I heard they’re using this year’s game as a tutorial for young ballers to show them exactly what not to do when they step on the hardwood. Even Luol Deng, a premiere defender in my book, practically sprinted out of the way for Blake Griffin to obtain a perfectly clear dunking lane. C’mon, Lu! It’s your first ASG. Swat that shit to the first row! Seriously, the defense is absolutely atrocious. But you knew that before tuning in to watch. What I don’t know is how they got Thibs to patrol the East sideline with the game’s reputation being what it is. I was taking over/under bets on not if, but how many times Coach T would stroke out due to lack of defense. The West scored 88 points…by halftime (yes, that is a record). The Bulls have held opponents to less than that (in entire games) 18 times this  year! 


The West won the “game” 152-149 if anyone gives a shit. And Kevin Durant was the game’s MVP. He’s so slick.


There was a moment in the 3rd quarter when Kobe took it to the rim, and DWade fouled him. Hard. It was a shot to the nose- a playoff foul. I smiled a little. Actual defense. It was in apparent retaliation to a good defensive stop by Kobe against Wade on the other end of the floor. And then a little bit later, Kobe broke Mike’s all-time All Star scoring record. Damn. I guess I have to come to terms with Kobe being this generation’s version of the one we call His Airness. I suppose it’s better him than LeBron, he of the ringless, opportune turnover variety. A part of my basketball self dies with every MJ record that gets broken. 


Yes, the game actually came down to the final possession(s) and a little bit of my favorite elements of the game: defense and coaching. This reminded everyone watching why Tom Thibodeau is a master of both-reigning Coach of the Year-by ironically exposing LeBron, yet again, for what he truly is: an oligophrenic, overhyped failure when it matters. Why don’t him and overhyped, one dimensional forward  Blake Griffin just duke it out in the sky where they belong, making for a Dunk Contest someone would actually want to watch? That’d be one for the ages. Have Vince Carter, Mike, Dominique and Dr. J judge that shit. I’d watch. 

 

I’ve seen LeBron do things no other player is capable of, and I’ve seen him not do things a superstar of his caliber should be able to accomplish. Maybe he’s just not a professional winner.


And maybe The Flash is turning out to be more of a flash in the pan, after all. I like DWade because he’s a hometown guy, but for us to overthrow the Eastern Conference champions here in The Chi, we need his and LeBron’s weaknesses revealed in May. Too bad Thibs can’t be there to sabotage them again. Or can he? (Insert evil genius laugh here) 

 

When travelling, I often state that no matter how much I love a place that I happen to visit, I always, ALWAYS love returning home to my city of Chicago. I’ve been many places, many cool ass places, but Chicago is where I’ll stay, probably forever. I’ve got the flag tattooed on my arm and the lakeshore wind tattooed on my soul. I felt a similar sensation after watching the ASG on Sunday. I love watching the entertainment value of the game’s biggest stars. Despite all the hate toward it, the dunk contest is still cool to watch. The three point contest is timeless (still bitter about Hot Sauce’s snub). But no matter what (excluding Shaq and Penny in the mid ’90s), I’m never swayed to another team or out of town players. I’ll always bleed Chicago red and black. That’s why Luol’s limited run in his first appearance didn’t bother me. That’s why Derrick’s ridiculously massive shoe deal getting no talk from mainstream media all weekend didn’t affect me (you know if LeBron or Kobe signed that same deal, it would’ve been top news; difference being Derrick deserves every zero in that contract). Humility sort of comes with the territory ’round here, so when Chris Paul, Deron Williams, even Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook get mentioned as the L’s top point guards ahead of Chi Town’s Finest, we remember that it’s all about one thing: winning. That’s what we’re about in The WINdy City.

 

That’s why this is my kind of town.