In the Presence of Greatness

Before I start, let me hit you with a quick disclaimer: I was not at the UNC-Duke game on Saturday.

Okay. You still here? Good.

I may not have been there in person at the Dean Dome, but I feel I have asked enough people that were there to give this post some validity.

The game itself was wild – 18 lead changes in 40 minutes, and the Tar Heels trying to avenge a loss at Cameron Indoor from earlier in the season. Needless to say, the crowd was amped and fully charged.

But the game itself didn’t ignite the biggest crowd reaction of the night. It wasn’t a set of circumstances, a play, or a dancing child on the big board. It was one man, whose mere presence can give chills to an entire room… even if it’s a room of 21,000 people.

Michael Jordan.

At every UNC game, they play the “I’m a Tar Heel” video package, highlighting various rotations of past players. But it always ends the same way, with Michael Jordan on the screen, declaring in his stoic voice that he is, in fact, a Tar Heel.

It’s the easiest way to pander to a packed house of North Carolina fans and it gets the biggest crowd of the night every time.

Except on Saturday night. On that night, something beat it.

As the UNC football team took to center court at halftime to unveil it’s new partnership with the Jordan brand, faces in the crowd started to realize what was incoming. Within seconds, he appeared in the tunnel.

His Airness, #23.

jordan 2

Michael Jordan came out to what can only be described as a mixture of shock, awe, and hysteria from the 21,750 in attendance. The “Greatest of All Time” was there, back home, at the Dean Dome.

As he took the mic and said a few words, every eye was transfixed on him, and every ear dialed into his every word. It was special.

If you want to know how special of an appearance it was, just ask someone who went to the game. They’ll be hard pressed to tell you the score, or who the leading scorer was in the game, but they’ll gladly tell you that they were in the same building as Michael Jordan.

That is what it means to be in the presence of greatness.

jordan 3

My Favorite UNC-Duke Moment

Tonight, the greatest rivalry in college basketball (and sports in general) renews itself for the 244th time. UNC-Duke, the Battle of Tobacco Road, the fight between the two giants in college basketball… While there has been countless moments to build this rivalry over the past century, I thought I would look back at my favorite moment during my lifetime.

Spoiler: It’s not a surprise.

The Danny Green dunk. It’s the quintessential moment of this rivalry since my birth in 1996. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it originally, and I still can’t believe it when I watch replays of it. It’s perfect.

It’s a play that defines everything about the rivalry – two tops teams going at each other 100 percent, both with a drive to make whatever play is necessary to gain the advantage.

 The Dunk

Lets look at the play as a whole. It all starts with a Greg Paulus. The tenured Duke guard launched up a three pointer and it clanks off of the left side of the rim. Out of the fray to collect the rebound in his outstretched arms is Danny Green – UNC’s “Mr. Do Everything” player from this team. Notice how Green reaches even higher than the rim to get the board.

With the ball in hand, Green rushes up the floor, switching up his dribbling hand to force Gerald Henderson to crash into the hardwood right behind him.

As he crosses half court, a sweet no-look pass to Marcus Ginyard on the edge is returned right back to Green – a crisp give and go.

Then, the slam. Paulus does his best to get into a charge position, but it was to no avail. Green elevates to a level rarely seen in a live game, and busts right through Paulus. The play silenced Cameron Indoor.

green3

Once again, perfect.

In my mind, it’s an unforgettable play. It will always make the rivalry’s highlight reel, and justifiably so.

green2

So as far as tonight’s game goes, we can only hope for a great game and one more play that we can marvel at for the decades to come.

My Number One Fan Rule

After what seemed like 20 straight hours of watching the broadcast of the Oscars on Sunday, I was ready to call it a night. I watched as La La Land was announced for Best Picture, but decided to pick myself up off the couch and turn off the T.V. before the acceptance speech was made.

I was tired and had heard the same acceptance speech about 1,000 times over the years.

As I got to my bedroom, my phone started frantically buzzing.

Several texts from friends summed up as “WHAT IS HAPPENING, OMG.”

I ran downstairs and turned on the T.V. only to see the mistake that everyone has been talking about for the past 48 hours: the wrong name was called, and Moonlight had won Best Picture.

Award shows and sports have several parallels, but I thought this whole debacle exposed a fad in sports that I am very strict about, but failed to apply to the Oscars.

Don’t leave early, ever.

This can also be translated as: Don’t stop watching until the game is over.

Silly me turning off the Oscars after the last award was announced, thinking that it would be the end of the night. Because of that, I missed one of the most memorable television moments of the decade.

In sports, same thing. Fans are NOTORIOUS for leaving sporting events early when their teams are losing, and while 99 percent of the time it is justified by an eventual loss, that one percent chance of a comeback makes it worth sticking it out.

Case in point: This year’s Super Bowl. The Patriots were down 28-3, and no team had ever come back from a deficit worse than 10 points in the past 50 Super Bowls. The game was over. Even I had accepted defeat and lost any glimmer of hope. I can only imagine how many fans at home turned the game off, or even worse, left the game like Boston megafan Mark Wahlberg. But then the impossible happened. The greatest comeback of all time took place and those fans that stuck it out saw their reward.

While comebacks to that extent are rare, it highlights my point: don’t leave the game. Don’t stop watching. If you do, you may miss the greatest comeback of all time, or heck, you may miss the best award show debacle ever. As painful as it is, stick it out. If the players on the field have to, a fan should as well.

 

 

 

The Trade Deadline Disappoints (Mostly)

Another year has come and gone, and once again we all got our hopes up over the NBA Trade deadline. Media and fans alike spent weeks discussing potential moves and deals that may take place, weighing player salaries and roster fits.

Heck, the only thing my brother and I have discussed in the past 72 hours are the potential moves that the Celtics could make at the deadline. Would they pick up Paul George, Jimmy Butler, or even Carmelo Anthony? The options and proposed trades seemed endless.

I sat in class today with my fingers unable to come to a complete stop. The deadline would hit at 3 p.m. and I was in class until 3:15. I hectically checked my phone every five minutes for any update. None. Not even just about the Celtics. No significant deals were taking place at all.

Then 3 o’clock finally hit. Nothing.

Sure, there were some deals with some high profile names switching towns. Doug McDermott, one of my favorite college players EVER, moved to OKC (one of my favorite teams to watch).

But as far as high-profile moves, we didn’t see them today. The best we got was the Demarcus Cousins trade on Sunday, which was like getting an appetizer but the restaurant closing before your main course comes.

The point is: the trade deadline often disappoints. Sure we get deals like the Isaiah Thomas one back in 2015, but even then we didn’t know how big of a deal that was. Fans get their hopes up and are often let down.

To be fair, though, most of the rumors we hear are the product of the fans and media, not the teams themselves. So I have a hard time being too disappointed with a GM who refuses to be coerced by outside forces to make a deal.

I guess it’s a lesson to temper expectations. To not get your hopes up until a dream materializes itself. But for those upset with moves that weren’t made, still find joy in the fact that we have half a season of basketball left to savor. I know that helps me get over the disappointment.

ESPN Does Personality with ‘The Six’

Starting this month, ESPN introduced a new twist to their 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter. The new SportsCenter in the time slot is called ‘The Six’, or referred to as SC6, and is hosted by Michael Smith and Jemele Hill.

After watching the show sporadically over the past two weeks on TV and Youtube, I think it’s a great move. SportsCenter has long been ESPN’s marquee show, but there was always the chance the show lacked personality. While it’s had a myriad of phenomenal hosts over the past decades, it failed to keep a consistent brand.

Now, the show has that, at least for one hour a day. Smith and Hill are using their hour to the best of their ability, fusing sports talk with music, movies, pop culture, etc. The show is unashamedly them, and they have no fear taking it by the reigns.

Clip from ‘The Six’

I’ve enjoyed this programming and I think it’s showing a good shift for ESPN. Last year they debuted Scott Van Pelt‘s midnight edition of SportsCenter, and while I have no idea the ratings it gets, it provides great content.

svp

Scott Van Pelt courtesy of LA Times

Personalities drive the sports media world now. Just turn on your TV and every sports show has become larger-than-life personalities throwing their opinions around. That’s why I think this move by ESPN is positive. At it’s core, SportsCenter is a highlight-driven show. It has a delicious taste, but it wears off quickly. The cure? Throw people like Smith, Hill, and Van Pelt in the mix daily to put a familiar face on the product.

And lastly, I like that these shows are obviously at the will of the hosts. Smith and Hill talk about what THEY want to talk about. As with Van Pelt. It provides parity in the 24-hour sports cycle, and as a viewer, it keeps me engaged.

 

The Best Weekend in Sports

I’m sitting here, on a Friday night in college, watching a 58-year old man playing basketball on my TV.

That man, for reference, is Mark Cuban and he’s playing in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

It’s quite possibly the worst basketball I’ve ever seen on TV, but it’s intoxicating. I can’t take my eyes off of it. It’s pure entertainment.

2017 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

That’s why I love All-Star Weekend; it’s the most entertaining weekend in sports.

I don’t mean from a competitive level, but rather from just a “fun factor” aspect. It’s silly, it’s casual, and it’s a joy to watch. Most of all, it’s a celebration of the sport.

Tonight we had the Celebrity Game and the Rising Starts game, only to be followed tomorrow by the All-Star Saturday Night festivities, and finally the actual All-Star Game on Sunday night. It’s the perfect weekend to plop on the couch, sit back and enjoy the grandeur of it all.

Dating back decades, the All-Star Weekend has provided memorable moment after memorable moment, especially when it comes to the dunk contest.

Some people like to complain that the dunk contest isn’t what it used to be, however I heartily disagree. I will never forget last year when I witnessed the greatest dunk I’ve ever seen. I felt like I had seen a man truly defy gravity.

Ladies and gentleman, the Aaron Gordon dunk:

If that dunk doesn’t sell you on the entertainment aspect of this weekend, then I don’t know what will.

And then there is the actual All-Star Game, which is heavily criticized for not being competitive, but in reality should be appreciated for the spectacle that it is. At no other time in basketball, maybe outside of the Olympics, will you see that much talent on the same court.

This year’s game also comes with a cherry on top – Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant being forced to play on the same team. While I don’t believe there will be the fireworks that all the media is predicting, you better believe that I will be glued to my TV for every single on of their reactions.

Sports are so competitive that as a fan, it gets extremely exhausting and daunting at times. There’s the heartbreak of lose and the excruciating agony of a close game coming down to the wire. That’s why I love All-Star Weekend so much. There’s no stakes, no real drama, it’s just a good time.

It’s the equivalent of a parade for the sport. The intention is not pure competition, but to make sure that everyone involved is able to have a good time.

Call me crazy, but to me, it’s the best weekend in sports.

When a Fan Base Turns on its Own

Last night, I covered the North Carolina-N.C. State basketball game for my work. It was a first for me in many ways – my first time covering UNC against their second biggest in-state rival, my first time watching a game in PNC Arena, and my first time watching a fan base turn against their own right in front of my eyes.

Now that last one may have been extreme, but it was a surreal experience to say the least.

During player introductions, the entirety of the Wolfpack faithful cheered ferociously while their team’s starting five was announced, but then took a 180-degree turn when their head coach’s name was called. As Mark Gottfried’s name went through the loud speakers, thunderous boos filled the arena.

While the boos from an aggravated fanbase made sense – State had lost five straight games and  have underperformed all year – I was still a little bit stunned. Your home arena is supposed to be just that, a home, but it had turned into enemy territory for Gottfried.

Now, I know this isn’t uncharted territory for sports fans to heckle their own, but this was still so strange to me. It just didn’t feel right.

Anyway, the game started, and from the jump you could tell the atmosphere in PNC Arena was a little off. UNC jumped out to a 27-10 lead early, and the fans didn’t even seem to mind. They were apathetic about it all, it seemed. Even when NCSU guard Dennis Smith brought his team back into the game with 11 straight points and the fans went wild, they didn’t seem to mind when UNC eventually gained back control. It was odd, as if they were to the point where they were trained to expect every misfortune that came their team’s way. They were lethargic.

The game wasn’t very pretty, as UNC were quickly on their way to a 24-point win, but near the five minute mark is when it really got bad. With five minutes left in what NCSU considers their biggest rivalry, the fans hit the exits. And I don’t just mean a couple, I mean most of the fans not in the student sections. I described it as an exodus.

It felt like they were not only leaving the game behind, but also turning their backs on their coach, whose fate seemed sealed.

For those that stuck it out until the final buzzer, there were noticeable “Archie Miller” chants – he’s the head coach at Dayton who has been pegged as the favorite to be offered the State head coaching job.

The Wolfpack fans had given up.

It’s been a season so poor, that even one fan shouted “We’re sorry Dennis!” – he’s talking about Dennis Smith, who will likely leave after this season to enter the NBA Draft.

Lo and behold, Gottfried was fired as the head coach of N.C. State today after his team’s sixth straight loss. It’s not surprising news, but sad nonetheless.

I will never forget being in the building last night for that game. As the days go by, the score will slowly slip from my memory, but I’ll never forget the feeling in that stadium. Looking back, it was almost like a funeral. Everyone in the arena seemed to know what was going to result from the game and reacted accordingly.

It was rather eerie if you ask me. But hey, that’s sports.

The Difference in the Coverage of the NBA and NFL

Last week on his radio show, Fox Sports personality Colin Cowherd brought up a topic I thought was interesting enough to talk about here.

Cowherd was discussing the difference in how the NFL and NBA are covered on a day-to-day basis. His main point was the NFL coverage is primarily based on game coverage and analysis, while NBA coverage is typically based on side stories about players, their relationships with teammates and owners, etc.

After hearing that, I started to pay more attention to the two way each leagues were covered, and I’ve come to find that Cowherd is right.

Over the past two weeks, all NFL coverage was solely based on the Super Bowl. Sure, there were shenanigans in the weeks leading up, but it all came down to everyone talking about the actual game. Now, an argument could be made that, “Of course they’re only talking about the Super Bowl, it’s the biggest game of the year.” I agree, but this isn’t just an occurrence over the last two weeks. Coverage of the NFL during the entire regular season and postseason is game based. The first thing you hear about in the morning on the TV or radio is about the physical games that took place the day beforehand.

That isn’t the case with the NBA. Here’s two examples: Last week, the biggest headline was the “feud” taking place between LeBron James and Charles Barkley. Barkley said some words about James on TNT and James responded by attacking Barkley’s character. While it turned out to be an interesting story, it really had no relevance in the heat of the NBA season. One of the men involved hasn’t even played in the league in over 15 years. Yet, it led every morning sports talk show that week.

Even this week, the story making headlines was former player Charles Oakley being forcefully removed from a Knicks game. It wasn’t anything to do with the game, but rather what was taking place in the stands.

Oakley was removed from the game for unverified reasons, but it’s been long reported that he’s had a feud with the Knicks owner.

Once again, an interesting story, but I don’t think anyone led that story with the actual score of the Knicks-Clippers game it took place at.

The real question is what is the difference in the two leagues to cause this? Seems simple, honestly. At this point, unless a real upset happens in the NBA playoffs, we all expect to see another Warriors-Cavaliers matchup in the Finals. While it’s likely to be a wonderful matchup for the third straight year, it strips away relevance to the regular season.

In the NFL, we don’t have that problem. The same two teams both don’t make it back to the Super Bowl. It just doesn’t happen. I’m not trying to be the, “The NFL has the best parity ever” guy, but it’s not necessarily untrue. It’s extremely unlikely for a team to reach back-to-back Super Bowls, let alone win them. That helps make every weeks product worth watching. It’s downright exciting. Every game matters because odds are every team that has playoffs hopes has some real chance of making it all the way.

The NBA doesn’t have that luxury, and I’m not sure it’s a fixable situation.

I don’t really have an answer to this, other than just agreeing with the observation. Cowherd is right and it seems like the NBA will just keep going down the road of the sideshow becoming the news. As a fan, it’s upsetting, but sometimes it may be what’s best to get eyes on the product.

How to Handle a Loss

On Sunday, we all witnessed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and arguably one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. The New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI to beat the Atlanta Falcons and win their fifth championship.

The must-talk-about story of the game is glaringly obvious: the comeback. But within that narrative is one much less exciting and almost downright somber. At some point, we have to realize that not only did a team come back from 25 points down, but a team also blew a 25 point lead.

History remembers the victors. This has always proven to be true. However, it also remembers the losers who can’t handle the loss. Those that become so overcome with the idea of losing that they become a spectacle of their own.

The morning after Sunday’s game, I couldn’t get over the poise of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. The 31-year old had just concluded his roller coaster weekend; on Saturday he won the league’s MVP award, and on Sunday he was the face of the worst collapse in league history.

I can’t even begin to process that type of tidal wave.

Possibly the most disappointing part for Ryan is that he did almost everything he needed to do to put his name up there with the elite quarterbacks in the league. He posted a passer rating of 144.1, and threw for a little under 300 yards with two touchdowns. It didn’t matter, though. A few poor decisions at the games conclusion will forever be the story of Atlanta’s collapse. No one will remember the game Ryan had.

They will remember, though, Ryan after the game. After everything he went through, he stood tall in the face of press afterwards. Here he is less than an hour after the game’s conclusion.

“How crushing is it to have your season end like that?”

Goodness. Ed Werder cut right to the chase. It’s the question we all wanted asked, but the one that we all felt terrible having the loser receive. It’s a leading question used to try and incite as much emotion as you can get. Ryan, though, shrugged off the obvious disappointment and gave a clear, concise, and respectful answer.

There is not a person in sports today who could probably understand the pain of blowing that type of lead on the biggest stage in American sports.

Lets compare Ryan’s reaction to that of last year’s Super Bowl losing quarterback: Cam Newton. Now this is the easiest jab to throw, and I’m not attempting to rile anybody up, but there is an obvious contrast here that can’t go without comparison.

https://youtu.be/Ys4nJQAL9Zk

Two MVPs. Two quarterbacks that lost on the biggest stage. Two stark differences in how they handled themselves.

A lot has happened since Super Bowl 50, and Newton seems to have learned from that experience, but the comparison is still telling.

Matt Ryan is the definition of a professional. He’s a player who lets his actions on the field speak for him and seems to always be team first. He understand that the jersey he wears represents his teammates, his coaches, and the whole city of Atlanta and it’s fans.

If Ryan did anything on Sunday, he gave the golden example of how to hold yourself after a loss. Not just in sports, but in almost anything. You take your licks, pick yourself back up, and don’t feel sorry for yourself.

 

 

The End of Super Bowl XLIX: My Perspective

On the eve of Super Bowl 51, I thought I would recount one of the most memorable ten minutes of my time in college.

It’s February 1st, 2015, and the New England Patriots are playing the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. I’m sitting in my room in Craige North dormitory on UNC’s campus, all alone. I refuse to watch the Patriots with anyone else – not because of superstition, but mostly because I’m just a weird guy.

I sat right in front of my TV, donning my grey t-shirt with “New England” across the chest and a logo under it that I had admired my entire life.

There was 1:30 left in the game, and I was close to empty. For three hours I yelled, laughed, cheered, and even squealed a few times (I was alone, give me a break) at the screen right in front of my eyes.

But all of that led to these last 90 seconds. The Patriots were leading, 28-24, and the Seahawks were driving down the field after the two-minute warning.

“Thank goodness the lead is at least at four points instead of three,” I thought to myself.

Then, it happened. The moment that brought me on the urge of tears.

With the clock ticking to about 1:15 and Seattle on NE’s 40-yard line, Russell Wilson threw pass down the right sideline to Jermaine Kearse. Kearse is five yards away from the endzone, but luckily Malcolm Butler (who at this time is just another cornerback in my eyes) tips the ball away to break it up.

Phew. That was dangerous.

Exhale.

I leaned back in my chair and took a quick look at my phone.

Then, my heart dropped. I look back up at the screen and Kearse has the ball in his hands and the referee is signaling catch.

He caught it.

The Catch

“Oh my God, oh my God,” I said. “Not again.”

 

The most painful moment of my sports fandom creeped back into my head. I felt just like I did as a 12-year old boy watching Eli Manning escape from the grasps of Richard Seymour only to then throw a miracle pass to a player’s name that I can’t work up the power to type.

I sat in my chair defeated. Another miracle catch. I can’t take this. We’re cursed.

(By now most of you are thinking that it’s ridiculous for a Patriots fan to feel cursed. You’re not wrong. But these were my thoughts in that moment. We were about to lose the Super Bowl for a second time on a miracle catch.)

After Kearse’s catch, the camera panned to Tom Brady on the sideline, shaking his head like someone had broken his heart. I have never related more with someone in my entire life.

Then, the TV network thought it would a great idea to show clips of the 2007 Giants catch again. If you think I’m not on the verge of tears at this point then I don’t know what to tell you.

The first play after the catch was a run play off the tackle. Donta Hightower stopped Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line with just about a minute of game time left. (This play will become immensely important in Patriots history.)

I knew what was coming. One more Lynch run up the middle and it was over. The Patriots were about to lose their third straight Super Bowl. I couldn’t take it.

The next play, Wilson lined up in the shot gun. The snap came, but the call was a slant pass, not a draw up the middle. Next thing I know, there’s a collision between receiver and cornerback at the goal line.

Then it hit me. Oh my God. Butler has the ball.

“The ball is INTERCEPTED at the goal line by Malcolm Butler,” says Al Michaels. “Unreal.”

He did it. The Butler did it. 

I don’t know what came over me in that moment. I leaped up and down, screaming for joy. The camera then shows Brady jumping for joy as well. Once again, me and Tommy Boy are on the same wavelength.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SzButpaDUg

I ran out of my room, screaming across the hall for the one other Patriots fan I knew in our dorm.

“D-Ray, we did it! We’re champions!”

David Ray Allen (shout out to you, friend) ran out of his dorm (donning a Brady t-shirt) and we jump hugged in the middle of the hall, screaming close to midnight.

I rushed back into my room to see the conclusion. After a little commotion, the Patriots ran the clock out to double zeros.

Champs, again.

I had no idea what to do with my body, so I grabbed my phone to try and settle down. I called the one person that I NEEDED to talk to in that moment: my dad.

I called the one man who is responsible for my Patriots’ fandom, and the one who’s voice I wanted to hear the most.

That moment will always be special to me, and one I will never let go of.

Those last couple minutes of Super Bowl XLIX will forever be etched into my memory.

I have thought about this night often as the days have counted down to tomorrow night’s game. I know the roller coaster that is watching your team play in the Super Bowl. It’s amazing, excruciating, satisfying, and painful. You never truly know what the outcome will be, and one point can change the course of the sport’s history.

And that’s why I love it. These feelings I felt back on Feb.1, 2015 are some that no other medium can provide. Fandom does that to you. I can’t pinpoint why, but all I know is that it’s addicting.

So if you need to reach me tomorrow from around 5 pm to midnight, just give me a call.

I won’t answer.