Top Ten Athletes I’d Like to Hear Sing the National Anthem

by Paul Knepper

Everybody has heard by now that Christina Aguilera flubbed the words of the national anthem in front of 160 million viewers prior to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. Any time I hear a botched rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at a sporting event I think of Carl Lewis’s infamous hack job before a Nets-Bulls game in 1993. However, there have been athletes who have nailed the anthem at sporting events, Jerry Stackhouse, Walter McCarty and Jose Lima, to name a few. Upon reflecting on these athletes turned crooners, I put together a list of the ten current or former athletes I’d most like to hear sing the anthem at a sporting event.

10) Dave Stewart/ Bill Cartwright

It would be embarrassing to throw the ultra-competitive, high-pitched hurler out there by himself, so I partnered him with one of the deepest voices ever to man the paint. The only thing more unorthodox than Big Bill’s baritone voice was his eccentric shooting style.

9) Arnold Schwarzenegger

Who can forget Julius belting out “Yakety Yak” in the shower? I want to hear more from the Governator, though it’s unlikely he’ll be caroling at events in California any time soon, where his approval rating has dipped lower than his voice.

8)  Avery Johnson

The Nets coach’s bizarre squeaky southern twang looks as unnatural as it sounds. It’s as if he’s having an internal battle with his mouth while trying to enunciate the words. I used to find it irritating, but the Louisiana native’s peculiar pitch has grown on me and I’d love to hear its full range.

7) Shaquille O’Neal

We got a taste of the Diesel’s skills on the mic from his fabled days with the Fu-Schnikens and free-style Kobe dissing. At times “The Big Mumbler” makes Ozzy Osbourne sound like an elocutionist, but the Shaqtus has a flare for the dramatic and would be entertaining even if we couldn’t understand a word.

6) Mike Ditka

If you saw Ditka sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field a few years ago then no explanation necessary. Coach looked like his head was about to explode as he sputtered out high-pitched barking noises, while neglecting to break for air.

5) Ozzie Guillen

There’s a decent chance the White Sox skipper would get booed, either for messing up a line (English is his second language) or pissing off the crowd one way or another. If he were, you can be sure he’d start swearing like a sailor. It would make for great television.

4) Bill Parcells

Technically, he’s not a pro athlete (though he was drafted by the Lions) and there’s nothing unusual about his voice, but the Tuna is one of the biggest curmudgeons in sports. Can you imagine how uncomfortable he’d be singing a tune in front of a packed house? It would be fantastic.

3) Randy “The Macho Man” Savage

The Macho Man would make a grand entrance to “Pomp and Circumstance,” decked out in sunglasses, a bandanna and colorful robe. Then he’d serenade the crowd with his signature gravely voice, broken up by several emphatic pauses. I can hear it now… “And the home… of the… brave… Ooooh Yeah!”

2) Dikembe Mutombo

Call me crazy, but I’d pay money to hear a lovable 7’2 giant who sounds like Cookie Monster sing any song. Dikembe would perform with a big grin on his face and be the first to tell us what an excellent job he did. Maybe he could even sprinkle in a few diva-like finger wags throughout the song.

1) Mike Tyson

It never grows old that the once baddest man in the world sounds like Mickey Mouse on roofies. Speaking of roofies, I found the champs rendition of “In the Air Tonight” in The Hangover simply breathtaking. Plus, there’s always a chance Iron Mike will go Artest and attack a few fans.

Honorable Mentions: Charles Barkley, Herm Edwards, Manny Ramirez

Andy Pettitte – The Tipping Point

By Paul Knepper

Andy Pettitte was a tremendous competitor. He was a winner. And he was a cheater.

Before he even made an official announcement that he’d hung up his pinstripes for the last time, sports journalists began penning their Andy Pettitte tribute pieces. Interestingly, most relegated his use of performance-enhancing drugs to a mere anecdote, a blip on a potential Hall of Fame resume. Not me. Andy Pettitte means too much to me.

Soon after the Yankees called up the young Texan in 1995 I could see there was something special about him, the way he battled on the mound when he didn’t have his best stuff.  Even more than Jimmy Leyritz’s game-tying home run in Game Four of the ’96 World Series it was Pettitte’s brilliant performance against the Braves in Game Five which kicked off a new Yankee dynasty. The 24-year-old out-dueled John Smoltz, one of the greatest clutch pitchers of his generation, 1-0 to give the Yankees a 3-2 series lead. Jimmy Key finished off the Braves in Game Six.

Thirteen years later, during his second stint in Pinstripes the crafty lefty won the clinching game in all three of the Yankees playoff series, securing their first championship in nine years. He closed out the Phillies in Game Six of the World Series, pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career, at age 37.

In between those magical moments were countless other memorable performances by #46. There was also the Mitchell Report. Released in December 2007, it accused Pettitte of using the performance-enhancing drug human growth hormone (HGH) in 2002. The Yankees’ hurler verified the claim two days later, stating that he used it not to gain a competitive advantage, but to allow himself to heal more quickly so he could help his teammates. One year later, in an affidavit to Congress he confessed to also using the drug in 2004.

Pettitte’s admission was a tipping point in the steroid scandal. Up until then performance-enhancing drugs were believed to be confined to jacked up sluggers, fringe players trying to make it in the league and a few other random offenders. It was several bad apples, not the whole bunch.

Pettitte was different. He was a member of the “Core Four”.  Along with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, he formed the backbone of the Yankee teams of the 1990s and 2000s. The true-blooded Bombers were a source of pride for Yankee fans. Having come up through the system they provided validation for championship teams replete with free agent mercenaries.

However, the importance of the Core Four expanded beyond the Bronx. For better or worse, through greed and glory, the Yankees are America’s team. Their 27 championships far exceed that of any other team. The pinstripes are iconic, as are the names, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Berra. The Yankees’ history is the history of baseball. That’s held true over the past fifteen years, during which the Yanks have appeared in seven Fall Classics, winning five of them.

The Core Four also reminded fans of a bygone era. In an age of constant player movement, they were teammates for sixteen seasons (minus Pettitte’s three year stint in Houston). They played the game the way it’s supposed to be played, with quiet dignity, leaving everything on the field and never stirring up controversy off of it. Every baseball fan admired the way they raised their level of play in the postseason.

Pettitte’s southern drawl and aww shucks demeanor was particularly endearing. He cried when asked if he’d miss the New York fans after signing with the Astros following the 2003 season. He seemed like one of us.

As much as Jeter or Rivera, he was synonymous with the postseason, winning 19 postseason games, more than any pitcher in history. The image of him staring into the catcher’s mitt, brim pulled down low, glove spread out beneath his eyes, could easily be the World Series logo.

So when Pettitte admitted to using HGH it caused baseball fans to reevaluate their position on performance-enhancing drugs. Some concluded that it’s not a big deal because everybody was using them. There was an even playing field. Others took a hypocritical stance, refusing to endorse Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire for the Hall of Fame, while giving Pettitte a pass, for any number of reasons. Then there were those for whom Pettitte’s admission was a crushing blow to their concept of morality and fair play in the game they loved.

I fall into the last category. I wish I didn’t. Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic, self-righteous or simply naïve, but baseball hasn’t been the same for me since.

I still love Andy Pettitte. I always will. He provided me with too many great memories not to. And I still admire the way he competed on the mound and carried himself off of it. It’s because I hold him in such high regard that I lost respect for the game.

If Andy Pettitte is a cheater, then Major League Baseball is rotten to the core.

Curtis Martin is More Than a Hall of Famer

By Paul Knepper


Curtis Martin is one of 15 finalists on the ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and should be among those selected this Saturday for induction. As his long time coach Bill Parcells said on Monday, “Running back is a production position, and his production is indisputable.”

Martin’s 14,101 career rushing yards rank fourth all-time behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. He scored 100 touchdowns and joined Sanders as the only players to rush for 1,000 yards in each of their first ten seasons. However, it would be insufficient to reduce Curtis Martin to statistics.

Martin mastered every aspect of the running back position. He wasn’t the fastest or strongest ball carrier, though he had great vision and patience, always knowing when and where to hit the hole. He ran hard, was shifty in traffic and elusive enough to avoid the big hits.

The former University of Pittsburgh star’s great hands aren’t reflected in his receiving numbers because he typically stayed in to block on passing downs. Number 28 picked up the blitz as well as any running back I’ve ever seen. It didn’t matter if it was Ty Law coming around the corner or Greg Lloyd bursting through the middle, Curtis stood him up.

Any coach will tell you that the number one priority for a running back is to protect the football and Martin did that better than anybody. He has the unofficial record for least fumbles per carry in NFL history and once went 408 touches without coughing it up, followed by another streak of 865 possessions without fumbling. He even retired with a perfect passer rating, connecting for touchdowns to Wayne Chrebet on both passing attempts of his career.

Years ago Parcells told a story about the running back’s rookie season in New England (1995). In the Patriots first pre-season game “The Tuna” wanted to see what his third round draft pick was made of so he called seven consecutive running plays for the kid. After the seventh Parcells called the rookie to the sidelines. Martin had blood and snot smeared across his face and was gasping for air, but when Parcells asked him if he was tired he shook his head no. The coach knew then he was a gamer.

Martin was named Offensive Rookie of the Year that season and after two more years with the Pats reunited with Parcells when he signed with the Jets as a free agent. This past Monday his former coach shared another great story. During a Jets victory over the Dolphins at the Meadowlands:

“[Martin] hits his head on the back of the turf really hard,” Parcells said. “He’s just laying there 4-5 feet from my feet. And this stream of blood just starts running out of his nose, both nostrils. It runs down onto his lips as he is laying there. He just gets up, he just stares at me as he is walking back to the huddle, blood running down his face. Mentally very strong.”

Martin earned the respect of teammates and opponents by providing  that type of effort during every practice and game of his eleven year career. He missed just four games during his first ten seasons, playing in 119 straight at one point, a remarkable feat at a position which receives so much punishment. He suited up with torn muscles, badly sprained ankles and for several games during his final season a serious knee injury which ended his career.

It was his ability to sustain his effort and production over a long period of time which made him great. Running backs are lucky to have six or seven prime seasons before the constant pounding slows them down. Martin won the rushing title in his tenth season, the oldest player ever to do so, at the age of 31.

In a football era of narcissistic personalities and off-the-field turmoil, Martin simply handed the ball to the referee after scoring touchdowns and made a point of  picking up all the dirty towels in the locker room once a week in order to remain humble. Can you imagine another star athlete doing that?

Number 28 never crooned for the cameras either. He was the fourth leading rusher of all-time, playing in the biggest market in the country, and received relatively little national acclaim. His New York counterpart Tiki Barber was a much bigger star even though he fumbled more times in a game than Martin did all season.

 

The Jets running back was worthy of admiration away from the field as well. He said on several occasions that he views football as a platform which enables him to help others. That wasn’t just talk. He put aside 12% of every football paycheck for charity and founded the Curtis Martin Job Foundation.

Now he works with single mothers, an organization that sends doctors to third-world countries to perform operations, and helps fight homelessness in New York City. There’s a well known story about the time he sat in Times Square in freezing weather for three hours until he convinced a homeless man to accept a temporary residence.

Last summer, Martin was inducted into the Jets Ring of Honor. More telling than the accolade was the site of the typically cantankerous Parcells tearing up as he  introduced his former running back. Martin took the mic and at the end of his speech said, “New York, you’ve been good to me and I hope I’ve been as good to you as you’ve been to me. I hope I’ve been a good role model for your children.” You certainly have Curtis.

A bust in Canton would be nice, but Curtis Martin is much more than a Hall of Famer.

 

Top Ten Basketball Books

By Paul Knepper

Last week a friend of mine asked  if I could recommend a good basketball book. That’s not a simple question for a hoops junkie like me. It gave me the idea to come up with a list of my favorite basketball books. Let me know what you think and if you have any recommendations for books I may have missed.

10) Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Ten championships in twelve years. Enough said. Coach Wooden was an American treasure and his insights into the game he loved are simple, yet incredibly profound.

9) The City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Playgrounds by Pete Axthelm

Axthelm waxes poetic about two different basketball scenes in New York City during the 69-70 season; the majestic atmosphere and personalities at the Garden during the Knicks championship run and the superb talent and pitfalls of playground legends on the streets of Harlem like Earl “The Goat” Manigault.

8)  Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream by Mitch Album

An inside look at the iconic team that changed the game by introducing Hip-Hop culture into the sport and winning their way. The book provides describes their individual personalities and addresses their polarizing affect on the media and fans.

7) Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

This book’s quirky, disjointed style embodies the league it portrays. Some of the stories about characters like Marvin Barnes will have you laughing out loud. However, Pluto makes it clear that the ABA had plenty of talent and developed many of the innovations which are now staples of the NBA.

6) The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy by Bill Simmons

This book suffers from an identity crisis, caught between a serious chronicle of the history of the NBA and the Sports Guy’s typical schtick. That being said, it’s the most comprehensive history of the league out there. Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid is particularly creative and entertaining.

5) A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein

What could be more dramatic than a season-long behind-the-scenes look at Robert Montgomery Knight? Feinstein captures the General’s soft side, in addition to his often calculated outbursts. All in all it’s not a very flattering portrayal of Knight, and supposedly, he hasn’t spoken to Feinstein since.

4) Life on the Run by Bill Bradley

Dollar Bill took his journal entries from a three week period towards the end of the 1973-74 season and spun them into this masterpiece. His brilliance is evident as he breaks down the game of basketball and it’s role in his life and society in a way that nobody else could.

3) The Last Shot: City Street, Basketball Dreams by Darcey Frey

Frey chronicles the lives of four high school kids from Coney Island, Brooklyn (including a young Stephon Marbury) who view a basketball scholarship as their “last shot” to escape the projects. He pulls you into these kids’ dreams and brings you along for the ride as the system fails them.

2) The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam

Halberstam uses the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers as a lens through which to view the growth of the NBA and the various factors which motivate and distract players, affecting the quality of play in the process. This is a must read for anybody interested in the history of the league.

1) Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander

Telander hung out at Foster Court in Brooklyn for two summers and chronicled the personalities of the talented, comical and sometimes sad characters who passed through. The result is a fascinating account of the role basketball plays in ghetto life and the effect the ghetto has on basketball.

Honorable Mentions:

Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game by John Feinstein and Red Auerbach

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel

Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson

Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin’ and Gunnin” Phoenix Suns by Jack McCallum

The Jordan Rules by Stan Smith

The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High Stakes Business of High School Ball by Ian O’Connor

The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball by John Taylor

When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson Jr. and Jackie MacMullan

 

Will the Real Joe Dumars Please Stand Up?

By Paul Knepper

Joe Dumars was one of the most beloved sports figures in Detroit when the Pistons named him their President of Basketball Operations and General Manager in 2000. During his first several years on the job, the architect of the “Bad Boys” reincarnated became a Motown legend. Now, three years after their last trip to the conference finals the franchise is in disarray and Joe D is a big reason why.

Weeks after Dumars joined the Pistons front office their franchise player Grant Hill bolted for Orlando. Dumars used the loss of Hill to acquire the first piece of a championship puzzle, Ben Wallace, via a sign and trade with the Magic. Wallace, who was perceived as an offensively challenged role player went on to win Defensive Player of the Year four times with the Pistons.

Two years later, Dumars made three more crucial acquisitions. He selected Tayshaun Prince, a 6’10 forward who most scouts agreed was too frail to play in the NBA, with the 23rd pick in the draft.  Then he signed free agent point guard Chauncey Billups who had played for five teams in his first five years in the league and traded high-flier Jerry Stackhouse to Washington for Richard “Rip” Hamilton, a lanky shooting guard who the Wizards President of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan was anxious to get rid of.

Prince developed into one of the most versatile players in the league, Hamilton was named to three all-star teams and Billups earned the  nickname Mr. Big Shot, while leading the Pistons to a championship in 2004.

Joe D wasn’t done yet. Despite the Pistons reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003, he fired coach Rick Carlisle and replaced him with Larry Brown. Midway through the ’03-04 season he added the final piece to the puzzle, trading for Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trailblazers. Sheed joined with Ben Wallace and Prince to form the best defensive front line in basketball.

During his first eight years in the Pistons front office, Dumars seemed to make all the right moves, with the notable exception of passing on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in favor of Darko Milicic with the second pick in the 2003 draft. His Pistons advanced to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-2008 and won the NBA Championship in 2004. Dumars was named NBA Executive of the Year for the ’02-’03 season and developed a reputation as one of the best general managers in the league.

In 2008 the tide began to turn for Joe and the Pistons. After losing in the conference finals to a seemingly inferior Cavaliers team the Pistons’ President decided it was time to make some changes.

Dumars terminated coach Flip Saunders (who replaced Larry Brown after the ’04-’05 season) and promoted assistant coach Michael Curry to the head job. The Pistons GM also believed the team had gone as far as they could with their nucleus and in November ’08 traded Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.

Dumars hoped Iverson, still one of the best scorers in the league, could get the Pistons over the hump and back to the NBA Finals. More importantly, Iverson’s $20.8 million a year contract expired at the end of the season clearing up cap space for Dumars to sign a couple of big-time free agents.

Neither scenario worked according to plan. The team went into free fall, finishing 39-43 and was ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Iverson was a disaster in Detroit. His shoot first mentality didn’t mesh with the Pistons unselfish style of play and the diminutive guard was relegated to the bench before missing the playoffs due to injury. To make matters worse, Billups led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals that season.

Dumars dismissed Curry after one season, replacing him with John Kuester. Then he failed to sign a star player and instead of saving up for the free agent bonanza in the “summer of LeBron,” used the cap space to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to a combined $19 million per year. Gordon, an undersized shooting guard has averaged a whopping 13 points per game over a season and a half in Detroit and Villanueva has contributed a mediocre 12.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest.

Detroit finished a dismal 27-55 last season and their big off-season acquisition was an over-the-hill Tracy McGrady. Kuester immediately clashed with Prince  and inexplicably benched Rip for the past ten games, which has ruffled the feathers of veterans on the club. The Pistons are a measly 17-31 and looked apathetic on the court during a 124-106 loss to the Knicks Sunday night.

Their current roster doesn’t provide much reason for optimism either. Dumars has failed to infuse the team with the type of young talent they can build around and his hands are tied by the money he locked up in Prince, Hamilton, Villanueva and Gordon.

Karen Davidson, daughter of long time owner William Davidson, who passed away in 2009, is currently attempting to sell the team. When new ownership takes over they’ll have to decide which they believe is the real Joe Dumars, the GM that built a perennial contender out of other teams castaways or the President who has overseen the rapid descent of a proud franchise.

DAWSON’S DOH!

Remembering one of my all-time favorite athlete gaffes…

Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was known as an excellent right fielder during his days with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. The biggest error of his career came off the field when he told a reporter:

“I want all the kids to do what I do, to look up to me. I want all the kids to copulate me.”

Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man

by Paul Knepper


When the University of Michigan fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez a few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about him not being a good fit for Ann Arbor. Boosters and alumni complained he wasn’t a “Michigan Man.”

So what exactly is a “Michigan Man?”

The term dates back to legendary football coach Fielding Yost in the early part of the 20th century, though long-time coach Bo Schembechler brought it to prominence in 1989. When U of M basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted the same job at Arizona State University prior to the NCAA tournament (a tournament Michigan won under interim coach Steve Fisher), Schembechler, in his role as athletic director, dismissed Frieder immediately, stating that “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan…”

Since then, the term “Michigan Man” has generally been used to refer to somebody who played or coached at Michigan under Schembechler (who incidentally was born, raised and began his coaching career as an “Ohio Man”). The school’s fight song, Hail to the Victors, is somewhat vague on the subject, referring to Michigan men as simply “the leaders and best”.

As a graduate of the University of Michigan, I have my own idea of what it means to be a “Michigan Man.” I believe a Michigan Man or Woman is somebody who excels in their professional and personal life, is a leader in the community and represents the university with class and dignity.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.

I was the same year as Woodson at Michigan and watched him lead the Wolverines to the 1997 National Championship, while becoming the first predominantly defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Thirteen years later I can say unequivocally he’s the greatest football player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching on a regular basis.

But don’t take my word for it. Last season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Woodson: “I don’t mean to offend anybody by saying this but he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve never seen anybody dominate a position the way he has.”

Woodson was drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth pick in the 1998 draft and immediately established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2003.

Then his career hit a snag. He suffered through several injuries over the next few seasons, and the losses in Oakland mounted. After the 2005 campaign, he signed with the Green Bay Packers, where his career was rejuvenated.

Woodson led the NFC in interceptions in 2006 and the NFL in 2009, a season in which he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has returned 11 interceptions and fumbles for touchdowns over his career, just two shy of Rod Woodson’s record, and is headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Charles’ versatility is what sets him apart from other defensive backs. He is one of the few shut-down corners in the league, and unlike many DBs, is an excellent tackler who does not shy away from contact. In addition to cornerback, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers lines #21 up at strong safety, free safety and on occasion, outside linebacker.

More impressive than his performance on the field is his leadership in the locker room and the community. Charles is a spokesman for the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, scheduled to open in 2012, and in November, 2009, donated $2 million to the hospital.

In June 2009, Woodson delivered a speech introducing then governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle at the state Democratic convention. In early 2011, he offered public support for Wisconsin workers who were protesting a proposal by Governor Scott Walker that would force employees to pay more for health insurance and pensions. His political leanings aside, Woodson’s willingness to take a stand in an era in which athletes are terrified of damaging their “brand” is admirable.

At age 34, Woodson is still at the top of his game and has become a vocal leader on a Packers team that is set to face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Many sports fans have seen video of Woodson calling out President Obama following the Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Prior to the matchup, the President, an unabashed Bears fan, said he would attend the Super Bowl if the Bears made it.

In a postgame speech to his teammates Woodson said “The President don’t want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We’ll go see him.” He closed it out with “White House on three. One, two, three. White House!”

However, most publications omitted the first part of that speech, in which Woodson told his teammates: “Think about one thing. One. For two weeks, two weeks, think about one. One mind. Let’s be one heartbeat. One purpose. One goal. One more game. One.” Those are the words of a leader, a trusted voice in a locker room full of professionals. On a team with several Pro-Bowlers, Woodson was the one who stepped up to the mic.

Woodson’s star status and propensity for witty quotes will be on full display during the massive media hype build up to the Super Bowl. U of M students, alumni and fans should be proud.

Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.

Top Ten Point Guards in the NBA

by Paul Knepper

The point guard is a general on the floor, responsible for setting the tempo of the game, running the offense and creating shots for himself and his teammates. NBA rules prohibiting handchecking by defenders has placed a premium on point guards who can break down the defense by driving into the paint. This has led to a influx of blazing ballhandlers who comprise the most impressive crop of playmakers at the position since the early 90’s, when Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Mark Price, John Stockton and Terry Porter were running the show.

Here’s my list of the top ten point guards in the NBA. Let me know what you think.

10) Stephen Curry

Ultimately, the Warriors will trade either Curry or Monta Ellis, but for now Steph’s running the point. He’s a shooter first, though his decision making is sharp for somebody who’s still learning the position. After Nash, he’s the best shooting point guard in the league, connecting on 43% of attempts from behind the arc and over 90% from the line. His achilles heel is defense, where teams feast on him with the pick and roll.

9) Raymond Felton

Felton has taken his game to a new level during his first season in the Big Apple, averaging career highs of 17.5 points and 8.9 assists per game. He’s developed strong chemistry with Amar’e on the pick and roll and has hit several big shots down the stretch of tight games. However, his biggest contribution to the Knicks is his fierce competitiveness, which has breathed life into the once moribund franchise.

8)  Chauncey Billups

At 35 Billups is on the downside of his career, posting his lowest point and assist numbers since the 2001-2002 season. Still, there’s no point guard I’d rather have with the ball in the closing seconds of a tie game than Mr. Big Shot.  The former Piston runs the Nuggets offense with controlled efficiency, rarely turning the ball over. He has a great feel for who to feed it to and when to look for his own shot.

7) Tony Parker

There’s no greater indication of the depth at the point guard position than Parker’s ranking on this list. The 2007 NBA Finals MVP has guided a resurgent Spurs team to the best record in the league. His quickness makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams and he’s significantly improved his outside shot over the years in order to keep defenders honest.

6) Steve Nash

Nash, who turns 37 in a couple of weeks has lost a step or two and is a liability on defense. But if you think he’s no longer an elite point guard just take a look at the Suns roster and you’ll realize it’s remarkable that he has them hovering around .500. He’s beating guys 15 years his junior off the dribble and is second in the league in assists. I’ll never understand why he’s not mentioned as one of the all-time great shooters.

5) Rajon Rondo

Let’s get one thing straight, it’s the “Big Four” in Boston. On a team with three future Hall of Famers, Rondo is arguably the most valuable player. He’s become the maestro of the Celtics offense, serving up a league-leading 12.9 assists per game and is a disruptive force on the defensive end, wreaking havoc with his long arms and quick hands. If only he had a jump shot.

4) Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant has found his Robin. Westbrook has emerged as a bona fide star in his third season, averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals a game. He’s not a traditional point guard, but he uses his spectacular athleticism to make plays. Well worth the price of admission, he’ll blow your mind at least once every game. In order to take his game to the next level he needs to work on his three point range and shot selection. 

3) Derrick Rose

Rose may be number one on this list in a couple years. Nobody is quicker with the ball and he throws down like a mini Blake Griffin. He’s also improved his three point shooting from 27% last season to 38% this year. D-Rose has the Bulls in contention for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to Boozer and Noah and is a leading MVP candidate at the midway point.

2) Deron Williams

D-Will is the most underrated player in the game. He’s one of the top ten ballers in the world and has no weaknesses on the court. He’s the perfect fit for Jerry Sloan’s motion offense, with the speed to turn the corner on the pick and roll and size (6’3) and upper body strength to finish around the rim. If his man slides under the screen he consistently knocks down the outside jump shot.

1) Chris Paul

CP3 is masterful at controlling the tempo. He keeps defenses on their heels by abruptly shifting gears and never turns the ball over. The Hornets star became the first player to lead the league in both assists and steals in back-to-back seasons in ’07-’08, ’08-’09 and is first in steals again this season. After missing much of last season with a knee injury he’s back in top form and has New Orleans riding a 10 game winning streak.

Honorable Mentions:

Baron Davis – Could be top five on this list, if only he gave a damn.

Brandon Jennings – Injury has prevented him from taking the next step after a stellar rookie season.

Devin Harris – Exceptionally quick on both ends of the floor, he just needs some quality players around him.

Jason Kidd – Still racking up the assists on one of the best teams in the league, but is too slow to guard anybody.

Jameer Nelson – He seems to have taken a step backwards after 2007-2008 all-star campaign and now he’s losing minutes to Arenas.

John Wall – He needs a little experience to make the list and a jump shot to climb it.

Media Deprivation Mode

by Paul Knepper

It hurts. Oh man does it hurt. I try to block it out by delving into a book or one of life’s many mundane daily activities, but every few minutes it pops up again.

I’m talking about the Jets loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.  Sometimes it’s the image of a certain play which creeps into my head, like Sanchez’s fumble and the ensuing touchdown late in the first half or L.T. getting stuffed at the one yard line on fourth down. Other times I’m overwhelmed by an existential thought, like there are only so many times in my life that the Jets will get that close to the Super Bowl again.

It’s not the thought itself that hurts. It’s what follows. Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange when exposed to violent images, a sick feeling comes over me. It’s difficult to describe, but every die hard fan knows what I mean. My stomach feels queasy and my knees get weak. My heart aches and the features on my face involuntarily scrunch together, like an addict jonesing for his next hit. I desperately want that feeling to disappear. I desperately want to forget.

But the reminders are everywhere. People talk about it around the water cooler at work. Some of my “friends” fan the flames with sarcastic comments. Other friends and family members attempt to be supportive by offering up a cliche like “It was a great season” or “They’ll be back next year” when all they’re really doing is feeding the sickness.

However, the greatest irritation is caused by the ubiquitous sports media. The Jets loss to the Steelers is the lead story in every local newspaper, national sports television and radio show and sports website. In order to truly avoid the sickness I must go into complete media deprivation mode. For a sports junkie like myself that’s easier said than done.

I typically start my day by watching Sportscenter and checking ESPN.com for any developments in the sports world since I went to sleep the night before. During the subway ride to work and several other times throughout the day I check Twitter to see what my favorite sports reporters and athletes are writing about. While walking from the subway to the office I pass several bodegas with the headlines of the New York Post, Daily News and New York Times prominently displayed in the window. Then I check ESPN.com and SI.com at least every half hour to see if there’s any breaking news. The first thing I do when I get home is watch PTI, usually followed by Sportscenter or another sports news program later in the evening.

By Wednesday it will appear as if the threats have died down, but I know better. A second wave of media attacks will be launched. Sports Illustrated hits the newsstands, its cover almost certain to include a shot from the Jets game. Inside the NFL and other weekly sports shows will bombard the airwaves. If I’m not careful I can fall victim to a near vomit inducing segment of Plays of the Week on Sportscenter a full week after the tragic loss.

Media deprivation mode requires significant changes to my daily routine. I stare at the ground as I walk down the street, overdose on CNN  and crappy reality shows and start tweaking from a lack of tweeting. Before long I’m completely out of sorts, leaving me vulnerable to unwanted intrusions by virulent thoughts about Schottenheimer’s play calling and why the refs called a personal foul on Eric Smith, but not on James Harrison when he dove into Sanchez after Sanchez slid to the ground.

And like that the sickness is back. My eyes peeled wide open, vivid images of missed tackles and dropped passes thrust before them. And it hurts. Oh man does it hurt.

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