The Sports gods delivered the World Cup, a US Open, a new keeper of the Stanley Cup, and an old, familiar champion in the NBA this weekend.
Popovich Rules the World
The San Antonio Spurs lack a representative in the NBA’s top-25 leading scorers. The fans didn’t vote a single Spurs starter into the All-Star game’s starting lineup. No player from the team pocketed a salary high enough to merit a listing in league’s top 35 highest-paid players. The top-ten selling basketball jerseys include those worn by Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, and other guys who lack a ring. They don’t include Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili–guys who wear multiple rings.
The San Antonio Spurs won not in spite but because of all this. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and company unselfishly play for the standings and not the stat line. Gregg Popovich’s players understand basketball as a team sport. The object isn’t to make the highlight reel or inspire a cult of shirt-wearing fanatics. It’s to win championships.
Does the Spurs’ finals successes have something to do with where the Spurs started?
Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands), Boris Diaw (France), Tony Parker (France), Marco Belinelli (Italy), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), and Corey Joseph (Canada) all grew up outside of the fifty states. Gregg Popovich, the best NBA coach of this generation (that includes Phil Jackson), called foreign players “fundamentally harder working than most American kids” in an interview with ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. He says that American players “have been coddled since eighth, ninth, tenth grade by various factions or groups of people. But the foreign kids don’t live with that. So they don’t feel entitled.”
Popovich contends that foreign players take instruction and put team before self. This may be tough for American basketball fans to take. But can you argue with success?
Gregg Popovich coaches a team. His peers coach players. That’s a big reason why he wins and they don’t.
Can Americans Make a Dent in the World Cup?
If a motley crew from Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and beyond can teach Americans how to play basketball, maybe the prospect of Americans at least competing beyond the first round in the World Cup isn’t beyond comprehension. The American World Cup team takes on Ghana shortly after Sports Hangover post time. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s contention that the US team doesn’t stand a chance may be right. But it wasn’t the right thing to say. It’s tough to believe in yourself when your coach doesn’t quite believe in you. The Dutch team blowing out defending champions Spain over the weekend shows that past performance truly doesn’t guarantee future results.
RIP, Mr. Padre
Rod Carew, George Brett, and so many others have made serious runs at .400 since Ted Williams last eclipsed the mark in 1941. Tony Gwynn came closest by hitting .394 in a strike-shortened 1994 season. Mr. Padre surely eclipsed the Splendid Splinter in his relationship with fans. Could you imagine Gwynn angrily hurling a bat into the stands after striking out as his older friend did in 1958? It’s hard enough to imagine him striking out, which he did a few dozen times every season. If Williams was the Splendid Splinter, Gwynn was the Buoyant Bowling Ball. Even more so than the fact that he hit over .300 in his last nineteen seasons in the major leagues, Tony Gwynn amazed just by being Tony Gwynn–the happy hitter who served as one of the greatest ambassadors for baseball that the game has ever known. Rest in peace, Mr. Padre.
Kings of the Cup
The Los Angeles Kings took the road less traveled in winning their second Stanley Cup in three seasons this weekend. They not only won an unprecedented three Game 7s on the road, the Kings captured the cup in a grueling double-overtime win as well. Sun Belt teams have proved that they can win (see Tampa Bay, 2004, Carolina 2006, Anaheim, 2007). The Kings showed that they can put fans in the seats too. Along with eight other NHL franchises, Los Angeles played to an average above-capacity house this season. Significantly, snow falls regularly during winter on the other eight NHL cities.
Pete Rose in Vegas, Not Cooperstown
Pete Rose says he hasn’t given up on getting into the Hall of Fame. He also hasn’t given up on gambling. Charlie Hustle told ESPN’s Darren Rovell that he hasn’t wagered on a Major League Baseball game in “very long time.” He didn’t define a “very long time.” The man who wants to go to Cooperstown now resides in Las Vegas, where he signs autographs for a living. “I only bet on events that I am watching,” Rose insists. “I watch the horses. I was a big fan of California Chrome.”
Vince Young calls his retirement “definitely official.” Given that he hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2011, the announcement comes long after the fact. Young’s career didn’t play out the way his promise at Texas suggested to him, and late Titans owner Bud Adams, that it would. Adams saw Young through Rose Bowl colored glasses. But it’s hard to call a guy who made two Pro Bowls and won the Rookie of the Year Award a bust. The Wikipedia entry may say that Young’s career ended this weekend. But it really ended in 2010 when he chucked his shoulder pads into the crowd and engaged in a locker room argument with Titans coach Jeff Fischer. Young might be seen as the anti-Tim Tebow, a quarterback boasting decent numbers but lacking the intangible leadership qualities. He wasn’t the next Michael Vick. But he wasn’t exactly the next Heath Shuler, either.
I didn’t watch UFC 174. Many fans who bought tickets apparently didn’t watch, either. Numerous outlets report that seats emptied during Demetrious Johnson’s decision victory over Ali Bagautinov. Recalling the UFC’s Super Bowl-eve snoozefest at the Prudential Center, UFC 174’s main card featured four decisions. Judges unanimously found three of them shutouts. The competitive contest that went to the scorecards–Andrei Arlovski’s split-decision victory over Brandon Schaub–sparked so much displeasure in Vancouver that the Russian heavyweight asked afterward, “Please don’t ‘boo’ me.” Fighter injuries (Anderson Silva, GSP, Lesnar) have hurt the promotion. But the UFC has injured itself by watering down cards. It’s difficult to predict what fights will excite. It’s not difficult to know what fighters excite. UFC 174 lacked star power. Perhaps that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t want too many people watching the action, or lack thereof, in Vancouver.