Archive for May, 2003

May 31st, 2003

Brown’s Domino Falls On Carlisle

In general, the NHL is known as the league that chews up and spits out (then recycles) head coaches faster than any other. But after today’s sacking of Detroit Pistons head coach Rick Carlisle in favor of future Hall of Fame coach, Larry Brown, that may be changing.

I’ll say one thing: Pistons GM Joe Dumars is one gutsy operator. On the surface, you’d think there would be no reason for Dumars to change a thing in Detroit: young and talented coach; young and inexpensive team; and a lottery pick that’s sure to produce an impact player that could be the difference in a seven-game series against the Nets next season.

But, despite the fact that Carlisle had done nothing, absolutely nothing, to lose his job, Dumars did what every business executive ought to do: when you see an opportunity to upgrade your talent, you do it.

Who knows, maybe the next sports book that will find itself on the shelf of every MBA student will be written by Dumars.

May 30th, 2003

Collins Out As Wizards Coach

Wizards owner Abe Pollin pulled the trigger, and now Doug Collins is looking for work. Pollin is reportedly looking to lure Larry Brown to Washington (something sure to make Tony Kornheiser happy), but I just can’t see Pollin pulling it off.

Stay tuned.

May 30th, 2003

Cone To Retire

As in New York Mets pitcher David Cone. Details to follow in a press conference later this afternoon. Cone had just come off the disabled list for an arthritic hip, and pitched two innings in an 11-3 loss to the Phillies this week, but was apparently displeased with his performance.

More later. I’m bummed.

May 30th, 2003

You Know You’re An Adult When. . .

One of your old college newspaper buddies throws down with a Pulitzer Prize winner:

The New York Times’ considerable credibility problem is now our problem, as well.

But unlike the Times, which has been engaged in a torturous exercise of naval gazing and self-flagellation, with its accustomed arrogance, since it was revealed that one of its younger reporters had committed all sorts of journalistic sins, we are doing something about it, and fast.

Until she explains to our satisfaction her own ethical transgression

May 30th, 2003

He’s No Giuliani

I’m no fan of the New York Yankees, or George Steinbrenner for that matter, but I think it’s way past time for New York City Mayor, and Mets fan, Michael Bloomberg, to just shut up:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that he parts with Yankee boss George Steinbrenner when it comes to management technique.

“I have my own style,” the mayor said when asked about the current turmoil in Yankeeland that has seen Steinbrenner sniping at manager Joe Torre and loyal coach Don Zimmer firing back at the Boss. “I would not talk about my employees publicly and I think I get better results.”

Last time I checked, when Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, they were coming off the lowest period in the history of the franchise. In three years he had them back in the World Series. Four years after his purchase, they won a title. Over the past 30 years, the team has won six World Series and 10 American League Pennants. Meanwhile, Bloomberg seems content with running New York into the ground, smothering business with a smoking ban, and attempting to close a budget shortfall by detailing the police force to waste their time fining citizens for petty violations of city codes.

If we’re lucky, in three years New Yorkers will have had enough, and a moderate presence like Peter Vallone might have a real shot at City Hall.

May 30th, 2003

I’m A Believer

Like a lot of baseball fans in Philadelphia and New York, I’d been wondering what had happened to Tug McGraw since the news broke in Spring Training about his battle with Cancer. Yesterday in Philadelphia, with the Mets in town to play the Phillies, McGraw held a press conference to give the world an update:

Cancer treatment may have robbed Tug
McGraw of his hair, but not his enthusiasm for life.

His blond hair sacrificed to chemotherapy, and wearing a cap bearing his trademark “Ya Gotta Believe,” Tug McGraw spoke about his battle with brain cancer yesterday for the first time since his March 18 surgery. And he did it in typical Tug style, cracking jokes while discussing a deadly serious disease.

Asked what was going through his head when told of the diagnosis, McGraw, 58, said, “Cancer.”

McGraw said the doctors who first saw him on March 12 told him “I was going to die in three weeks.” His son, Tim, had him moved to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., where he had the six-hour surgery to remove the malignant tumors.

McGraw coined the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe” for the ’73 Mets NL championship team. Now that slogan has taken on a different meaning, emphasized by the cap that was given to him by a nurse during his radiation treatments.

“I’m still alive, so the three weeks they said didn’t work,” McGraw said. “And I will be for a long time. Details to follow.”

Looks like the news is good, which warms my heart.

POSTSCRIPT: Jeff Cooper’s latest attempt to scold the Mets into a winning streak seems to be working, as the team won again last night, 5-0.

May 30th, 2003

Hiding In Plain Sight. . . Not!

A costly moment of PDA.

From the Associated Press:

A man wanted on a parole violation was returned to jail after his parole officer spotted him kissing his girlfriend in a live crowd shot on the scoreboard at a Cincinnati Reds game.

David Horton and his parole officer attended the same May 7 game when the smooching couple were caught by the “Kiss Cam” at Great American Ball Park.

The parole officer and a police officer arrested Horton, 24, at his front-row seat, and he was taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center.

Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not look back to see Ken Griffey, Jr. re-injure his hamstring.

May 30th, 2003

The Wizard Of Saratoga

Jason Scavone at StickandMove got awfully prolific last night. That, or he just had a case of insomnia after sucking down too much Mountain Dew.

Either way, be sure to check out his read on the Belmont Stakes.

May 29th, 2003

Stanley Cup Finals Notebook

Devils 3 Ducks 0: It’s duck season in Northern New Jersey.

To listen to my audio wrap-up, click here.

Devils lead series, 2-0.

May 29th, 2003

Big East Senators Make Plea

Nine Senators from states where Big East colleges and universities are located have sent letters to the presidents of Miami, Syracuse and Boston College urging them to stick with the conference:

“The Big East has instilled core values of integrity, responsibility, loyalty and leadership in each and every student-athlete,” the lawmakers said in the letter sent to University of Miami President Donna Shalala, Boston College President Rev. William P. Leahy and Syracuse University Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw.

“The result — Big East students continue to excel,” they wrote.

The letter noted the conference’s success in producing Rhodes Scholars and in NCAA competition — especially in women’s sports, including Connecticut’s women’s basketball title, Notre Dame’s women’s soccer title and Villanova’s women’s cross country championship.

“It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this progress would be seriously jeopardized should you decide to leave the Big East,” the letter said. “Instead of working toward the goal of greater equity between men’s and women’s athletics, the departure of your institutions will have the effect of stifling years of progress.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn.; Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, D-N.J.; Sens. Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W. Va.; Sens. George Allen and John Warner, R-Va.; and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Conspicuously absent from the list of signatures were the two U.S. Senators Miami President and former secretary of Health and Human Services, Shalala might actually listen to: New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.

So what can we surmise from this letter? First of all, the roster of Senators who did sign could probably be attributed to the efforts of schools who have the most to lose from a Big East meltdown — Rutgers, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, UConn and Pittsburgh. Without the Big East all of those schools will have to scramble to find a new conference affiliation for their football programs.

Next, the issue of harm to Women’s sports is simply a canard. Had their been any real concern from the Women’s sports lobby, you can bet that Clinton would have signed the letter and made a big deal about it.

Finally, this may also indicate that the remaining Catholic schools in the Big East are resigned to the death of the conference. Why?

Had the President of St. John’s University, the largest Catholic university in the U.S. and a major presence in the New York metropolitan area, called either Clinton or Schumer, the letter would have gotten signed. Something tells me that plans for an all-Catholic athletic conference with basketball as its focus are well under way.

May 29th, 2003

Woe Be The Wizards

From time to time, I feel a little sorry for the crew over at the Sports section of the Washington Times. In part, that’s because the paper hired me as a stringer in the early 90s when no other newspaper in the country (outside of Pro Football Weekly) that would give me the time of day as a freelancer. But the larger problem they have is that despite the fact that they’re a talented bunch, they’ll never have the influence over the local sports scene that the Washington Post by dint of their also-ran status in terms of circulation and the paper’s connection to the Rev. Sun Myung-Moon.

That’s a shame, as Dave Fay, Thom Loverro, Eric Fisher and David Elfin are as talented as any other sports reporters in town. Patrick Hurby is a fantastic new talent who brings a fresh perspective and some humor to the job. And now it’s time to add Bob Cohn to that list of talented, and underappreciated scribes.

In yesterday’s Times, Cohn uncorks a detailed autopsy of the local disaster that is the Washington Wizards front office. While the piece relies a lot on unattributed quotes, the story that Cohn got out of ex-Wizard Tim Legler really crystallizes for his readers the problems the Wizards have as an organization:

After the 1999 season, Legler and his family went on a team-sponsored cruise during which fans mingled with the players. Toward the end, with the ship anchored in Bermuda, Legler turned on the TV in his cabin and learned that he, Ben Wallace, Terry Davis and Jeff McInnis had been traded to Orlando for Ike Austin.

Legler was so angry at being informed that way, and so uncomfortable on the ship now that he no longer was part of the team, he gathered his wife and two small children and immediately returned to Washington. Before that, he called Unseld and asked why no one on the team had told him first.

“He said he didn’t know how to locate me,” Legler said. “I said, ‘I’m on the team cruise ship, and your secretary is on the ship.’ That didn’t fly too well with me. So I had a little experience with the way they handled things from a communications standpoint.”

Such are the hazards of employment when working for a Mom and Pop shop like the Wiz.

May 29th, 2003

The Many Faces Of Roger Clemens

Whether you worship New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or condemn his as an incarnation of the anti-Christ, you’ll like this piece by Charles Pierce over at Slate that credits Clemens as being one of the game’s great characters.

In this passage, Pierce remembers the a television interview when it all started to go bad for Clemens in Boston:

What I remember about that interview was that behind Clemens on the pitcher’s lawn, there was this tall electrified replica of one of the infantrymen out of The Nutcracker, and it stayed there, blinking away furiously behind him, while Clemens dug himself into an ever-deeper hole. I have never watched him since

May 29th, 2003

Does The WNBA Have A ‘Kournikova’ Problem

With the Stanley Cup, NBA Playoffs, start of the baseball season, and an actual reason to pay attention to the Triple Crown, it’s no wonder I missed the start of the WNBA season. Be sure to catch up with Sara and Ted at Women’s Hoops. Right now, Ted is fretting over the way the league is marketing it’s more attractive stars, in particular ex-UConn star Sue Bird:

Sue Bird glams it up.
But is it good for the game?

I love Sue — she’s a good player, seems like a good person, and yes, she’s sexy. But I don’t really love seeing her glam shots in mags or on national TV ads. Something about it just doesn’t feel right. With her poor play lately, she might be developing a little bit of a Kournikova problem. And in addition to the sex-gender thing, there also seems to be a race issue here — why is Sue Bird the WNBA’s It girl instead of Sheryl Swoopes?

Actually, if you take a look at the WNBA’s Web site, you’ll see that Bird is just one of a number of players being promoted front and center by the league — including Swoopes.

As to Ted’s concern, it isn’t as if the league hasn’t done this before. As I recall, the WNBA put a lot into promoting another attractive former UConn star, Rebecca Lobo, in its early years, only to see Lobo become merely an average pro plagued by injuries. Further, while Ted is worried about a Kournikova problem, something tells me Val Ackerman and the rest of the folks at the WNBA wished they had problems like that one.

But there’s one thing Ted’s post just touches on where he’s dead on. No matter how gorgeous the stars of the WNBA might be, that alone will never fill the league’s arenas on hot Summer nights. And while Anna Kournikova undoubtedly has helped sell a few tickets, it’s clear to me that Venus and Serena Williams have sold a few million more — to the point where Women’s tennis is far more compelling than the Men’s Tour.

Can the WNBA develop that sort of level of competition, the kind that will make it an enduring success as a business, rather than just an exercise in female empowerment? Time will tell.

May 29th, 2003

Odds And Ends

The formalities surrounding Miami’s defection from the Big East to the ACC, continue.

The most picturesque of auto racing events, the Grand Prix of Monaco, is set for this Saturday, with many drivers expecting a more open race due to several changes in the road course. As always, be sure to check out Steve MacLaughlin’s F1 coverage at Saltire. And when you have a chance, be sure to read Steve’s take on the latest spate of overblown sports marketing deals.

Meanwhile, back in North America, the folks running the CART racing circuit have decided that the best way to get attention for their fading series is by running a race in the dark.

In Washington, Jaromir Jagr has had a “come to Jesus” experience with the IRS. Now if only Washington Caps GM George McPhee could trade him and his anchor of a contract out of town.

From the second chance file, comes word from the Bay Area that the 49ers have signed former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Rashaan Salaam. Salaam, last seen in a Cleveland Browns uniform, hasn’t played in the NFL in four seasons. This isn’t the first time Team President Bill Walsh has tried to pluck somebody off the scrap pile. A few years ago, he signed ex-convict Lawrence Phillips to a contract that didn’t exactly work out.

May 29th, 2003

Strange Bedfellows

In his recap of Wednesday’s Champions League Final (won on penalty kicks by AC Milan over Turin’s Juventus at Old Trafford in Manchester), one-time Off Wing contributor Steve Smith notes that Milan’s owner, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is an “authentic, honest-to-goodness facist.” And indeed, despite his support for the U.S. – led coalition in the Gulf, this PM certainly has his share of problems.

So, despite conceding Steve’s point, I must add that if you’re looking for hard core Facists in Italy’s Serie A, look no further than the folks at AS Roma — where the Italian Facist symbol is still carved into the facade of their home field. To learn more about their Fascist glee club, pick up a copy of Simon Kuper’s excellent, Football Against The Enemy.

For those looking for a full dose of “pure concentrated evil” with their soccer, look no further than Milan’s foe today, Juventus. A few months ago, I dubbed that squad the official soccer team of the Axis of Evil due to the presence of Alsaddi Qaddafi, son of long-time Libyan strongman, Muammar Qaddafi, on the team’s board of directors.

May 28th, 2003

Due To Technical Difficulties. . .

Off Wing was offline for most of the day, beginning at about 10:30 a.m. U.S. EDT. It was at that time that a small fire broke out in the Network Operations Center at Hosting Matters — the company that I use to host Off Wing. When the fire supression systems activated, the power in the building was shut off, and so were all the servers in the building.

Near as I can tell, service was restored to my server sometime in the last 90 minutes — though the server that hosts uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit apparently hasn’t come back online as of yet. If I’m the Instapundit sales rep, I’ve spent the better part of the day profusely apologizing to Reynolds for this unfortunate mishap.

My apologies to those of you who tried to get to Off Wing today, and failed.

UPDATE: Here’s the lowdown on what happened.

May 28th, 2003

Johnson Pulls Out Of Expos Sweepstakes

Saying that the process of moving the Expos was moving too slowly, Black Entertainment Television founder has officially ended his efforts to purchase the team. Then again, it was Off Wing that said last December that Johnson’s purchase of Charlotte’s NBA expansion team would probably put him out of the running anyway.

With Johnson dropping out, we’re down to three ownership groups: one headed by former Republican political operative Fred Malek that wants a team in the District; another headed by former telecom executive William Collins that wants a team in Northern Virginia; and a third group headed by Long Island real estate developer Mark Broxmeyer who will put the team wherever it can get the best deal.

Johnson’s announcement essentially confirms reports from last week, that Major League Baseball (MLB) was considering delaying a decision on sale of the Expos until next season. And who could blame them? Only a few weeks ago, the Anaheim Angels, were sold by the Walt Disney Company to an Arizona-based investor for only $180 million. If a World Series champion enjoying record crowds is only worth $180 million, how much could a team that faces nothing but massive up-front costs — including a possible indemnification payment to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos — really be worth?

If anything, it looks to me like the owners of MLB are waiting either for the price of the Expos to rebound, or for a more well-heeled ownership group to emerge. Sorry Washington baseball fans, I think MLB is using us again.

May 28th, 2003

Overnight Roundup

It’s an all-Italian affair as AC Milan plays Juventus in the Champion’s League final at Old Trafford in Manchester today. Get live match commentary here at 12:45 U.S. EDT.

The Rockies snapped the Dodgers 10-game winning streak with a 7-3 win in Denver. Meanwhile in New York, the Yankees ended their worst home losing streak since 1986 with an 11-3 win over the Red Sox. In Baltimore, the Orioles beat a midnight deadline to sign their 2002 first round draft pick, 19-year old Adam Loewen. Of course, if you’ve read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, you’d know that eventually either Loewen won’t pan out as a pitcher, or that if he does, the Orioles will most likely have to overpay for his services.

The Devil Rays have waived John Rocker, giving them 10 days to decide whether to send him to the minors, trade him, or release him outright.

No Nowitzki, no problem.

May 27th, 2003

Stanley Cup Finals Notebook

Devils 3 Ducks 0: Great all-around performance from New Jersey gives them a 1-0 lead in the series. Listen to my audio recap of the game by clicking here (MP3 Player Required).

Devils lead series, 1-0.

May 27th, 2003

Roy To Retire

Multiple reports out of Colorado say that Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, arguably the greatest goalie of his generation, if not of all-time, has decided to retire.

Roy leaves the game with four Stanley Cup rings (1986, 1993, 1996, 2001), three Conn Smythe trophies, and a bevy of records, including most career victories, and most career playoff victories.

Sure, he was a little bit unhinged at times (something which led directly to his trade from Montreal to Colorado), but isn’t every goalie?

When you’re thinking of the best ever, I think there are several categories you need to consider. If I had to win just one game, especially a playoff game, I’d pick Billy Smith. If I had to win a playoff series, I’d want Ken Dryden. If I had to decide for just one season, I’d probably pick Dominik Hasek.

But if I had to decide on a goalie for the long haul, someone who would be there year after year, Roy is your guy. Here’s hoping he enjoys his retirement.

May 27th, 2003

Why America Loves Annika

I’ve been tough on Andrew Sullivan in the past when he tried to draw larger political conclusions from sporting events, but I think he has it exactly right on why Annika Sorenstam’s 36 holes at the Colonial last week generated so much positive attention:

She’s not indistinguishable from the men; but she is competitive with them. She’s different but equal. Americans are far more comfortable with this kind of social message – and for a good reason. It’s about integration, not separatism. It’s about personal achievement, not group grievance. It’s about merit, not complaint. It’s about golf, not politics. Sorenstam cannot be accused of claiming any “special rights.” She’s embracing the old American virtue of doing your best against the best, and not letting anything – gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation – get in the way.

Sullivan is right on all counts, and in a way that many of the feminists in Sorenstam’s corner probably can’t, and won’t ever, understand.

May 27th, 2003

Playing Moneyball

Dr. Manhattan has just posted a solid review of Michael Lewis’s, Moneyball — an insider’s look at how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane has managed to overcome his team’s revenue disadvantage and field one of the most competitive teams in all of baseball. I just completed the book myself, and will have some comments later. In the meantime, just sit back and enjoy the good doctor’s review.

UPDATE: Just a few thoughts here before bed. First of all, if there’s any team in the majors that’s going to be affected most directly by the baseball management techniques that Lewis describes in Moneyball, it’s the New York Yankees. Why? Because two other teams in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, have already beun to remake themselves along the lines that Beane has with the A’s. In fact, in Toronto, the rebuilding is being done by J.P. Ricciardi, one of Beane’s former assistants in Oakland.

Second, over the longer term, I think the use of objective analysis in baseball may create a real gap between the American and National League. Again, why is this? Because after the introduction of the DH in 1973, and the removal of the pitcher from the day-to-day lineup, the traditional method of “manufacturing runs” began to disappear from the AL in favor of Earl Weaver’s plan to wait for the three-run homer.

Without a pitcher in the lineup to disrupt a rally, the sacrifice bunt, the stolen base, and having a bench full of solid fielders began to fade in significance in the AL. If anything, the AL is tailor-made for Beane’s sort of baseball, and it’s all because of the DH. Conversely, I’d expect the old thinking to hold sway for that much longer in the NL for just the opposite reason.

May 27th, 2003

Stanley Cup Finals Notebook

Game One of this unlikely final is tonight, with a rested Ducks squad salivating at the chance of stealing the opener from the Devils on their home ice. You’d have to like the odds on the Ducks being able to pull it off, as they’ve taken Game One in every one of their playoff series so far this year. Meanwhile, the Devils are licking their wounds coming off an emotionally and physically exhausting seven game series with the Ottawa Senators.

Here at Off Wing, we’re going to try to pull out all the stops for the Finals. I’ve already programmed the TiVo to record every game of the series, and plan to do more video breakdowns like the one I did for the game winning goal from Game Six in the Devils-Senators series.

Finally, I’ve decided that it’s time to start audioblogging. To download my Stanley Cup Finals preview, click here (MP3 player required).

In the meantime, be sure to stop by the following sports blog for the best in alternative NHL coverage. My only regret is that all of us won’t be able to get together for beers over a game before the start of the Summer.

Other Hockey Blogs Worth Watching:
Puck Update
Rink Blog
On The Wings
The Hockey Pundits
Dry Cold
Stick And Move

UPDATE: Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk’s status for Game One is still up in the air. Here’s another group of links to local coverage of the Finals:

LA Times
Orange County Register
Bergen Record (NJ.COM)
NY Newsday
NY Post
NY Times

May 27th, 2003

Weekend Roundup

Gil de Ferran won the Indy 500, preventing Helio Castroneves from winning what would have been an historic third straight victory at the “Brickyard.” The top five finishers this year were drivers who were born outide the U.S. — something that I pointed to as a reason for the slipping appeal of the 500 in relation to NASCAR, a circuit that features nothing but American drivers.

Ed Hinton of the Orlando Sentinel says Americans need to get over it:

That should be in keeping with the best traditions of a race whose very mystique was built on international appeal, won in its third and fourth runnings, in 1913-14, by Frenchmen Jules Goux and Rene Thomas. . . . in 1915-16 by Italian-born Ralph de Palma and Dario Resta. . . . .in 1920 by a name that would become synonymous with heartland America, French-born Gaston Chevrolet. . . . and no driver has ever been more beloved than Mario Andretti, born, Montona, Italy, 1940, winner here, 1969.

Seventeen times, the Indy 500 has been won by foreign-born drivers. Only in recent years has that caused consternation. Now it’s all so sensitive that Sunday’s finishing order must, at home, be considered “a problem” for Indy’s slipping appeal.

And that is a wretched, tragic statement of American sporting attitudes today.

Sorry, Ed, but you’re the one that’s wrong here. Much of the appeal of raing comes from the fact that fans can identify with individual drivers. And whether we like it or not, it’s easier for American fans to identify with American drivers. Fans root for drivers from the states, counties and hometowns where they grew up. Does this mean that Americans are uncultured xenophobes — not at all. It might be unfair, but it’s still the way of the world.

Over in Scotland, the closest race for the league title in the history of the Scottish game came to a close, with Glasgow Rangers taking the championship over Glasgow Celtic by one goal. In Scotland’s Herald, Graham Spiers wonders whether it’s time for Scottish football to say goodbye to the “Old Firm” for the sake of the rest of the league. Meanwhile, Juventus and AC Milan will vie for the Champions League title this coming Wednesday at Old Trafford in Manchester — essentially marking the end to the European soccer season.

In New York, Roger Clemens failed to win the 300th game of his career in front of a home crowd, as the Boston Red Sox chased him from the mound in an 8-4 victory. It was hard not to notice on the ESPN broadcast that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner spent much of the late innings of the game openly berating General Manager Brian Cashman. The loss marked the fourth straight for the Yankees after they were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.

With travel to China essentially untenable in the wake of the SARS epidemic, international soccer officials have turned to the U.S. as the emergency host for the 2003 Women’s World Cup. With the tournament scheduled for September and October, organizers have a real challenge this time, as they will come up against the start of college and pro football and baseball’s postseason in competition for America’s attention.

May 24th, 2003

NHL Playoff Roundup

Devils 3 Senators 2: Over in New Jersey, the Devils have just qualified for their third appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in four years. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Nets, their co-tenants at the Continental Airlines Arena, have a 3-0 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, and are on the brink to returning to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.

What do they have in common? Why Lou Lamoriello of course, the no-nonsense, bottom line major league sports executive that’s led the Devils, and now the Nets, out of the professional sports wilderness. Plenty of people doubted that Lamoriello had what it took to jump-start an NBA franchise, but he’s done just that — even to the point of convincing the Nets principal owner that he had to trade Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd.

Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals will be played Tuesday in New Jersey. Look for a Finals preview come sometime on Monday.

May 23rd, 2003

Odds And Ends

It’s another busy day at Off Wing HQ, so let’s do a quick roundup of what’s happening around the world before closing down for the Holiday weekend.

Of course, it’s all Annika, all the time down at the Colonial in Texas. Right now, it looks as if par, or a combined 140 in the first two rounds will be needed in order to make the cut, so Sorenstam will need to shoot a one under, 69, in order to make it. The UPI has kindly provided a shot-by-shot summary of her round from yesterday. After reviewing it, something tells me she may be holding back a little from the tee.

She hits the first tee at 2:53 p.m. U.S. EDT. Again, keep track of her scorecard by clicking here. For a full accounting of everything Annika from around the world, check out Google News.

The Williams sisters, who I’m sure are not used to being outshined by other female athletes, have been placed in opposite sides of the draw in the French Open — setting up the possibility of an all-Williams final.

North of the U.S. border in Kanata, Ontario, the Senators are looking to complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the New Jersey Devils and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their history to face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The Off Wing crystal ball declined to yield a prediction.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery, and the right to select 18-year old phenom, LeBron James with the first pick. In the meantime, James has inked a seven-year, $91 million endorsement contract with Nike, making many of us wonder just where James’s loyalties will really lie. Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin used the draft to tell the world that he never said anything negative about Michael Jordan during the latter’s 3.5 year tenure with the club, as if firing him wasn’t saying enough.

UConn is telling the world that it wants the Big East to remain intact, especially after it has blown millions upgrading its football program to Division I. Even worse for UConn, a breakup of the Big East could leave it on the outside looking in when it comes to basketball, as the conference’s remaining basketball schools (Georgetown, St. John’s Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence) may attempt to create an all-Catholic athletic conference.

The Off Wing crystal ball says the Big East is dead.

Don’t forget, the Indy 500 is Sunday — and I only feel the need to remind you because it seems as if the world’s greatest auto race has faded so much in national significance. Why? Blame the ascension of foreign drivers; blame the short-sightedness of Indy Motor Speedway Chairman Tony George and his counterparts at CART for failing to defuse a useless fued in American open-wheeled racing; finally, blame NASCAR, which has only made sure that it consistently delivered a product the fans wanted. Who’s up for the Coca-Cola 600?

UPDATE: The projected cut for the Colonial is now one over par, so Sorenstam will have to shoot a 70 to make it.

May 22nd, 2003

MLB May Delay Decision On Expos Till 2004

Eric Fisher, the crack sports business writer over at the Washington Times just delivered some more bad news for locals who are hankering for Major League Baseball to move a team to the D.C. area:

As recently as last week, MLB president Bob DuPuy said naming a new home for the MLB-owned Expos by the July 15 All-Star Game, just 54 days from now, remains baseball’s goal.

But at the same time, concerns over stadium financing in each of the relocation candidate areas, an ongoing lawsuit involving former owners of the Expos and continued overtures from Puerto Rico, the Expos’ home-away-from-home, have led MLB officials to consider contingency plans should owners not be ready to make a decision.

And that has many among the local pursuit for the Expos more nervous than ever.

“There is no reason to believe that they can’t get this done [by July 15],” said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. “But ‘can’ versus ‘will’? I just don’t know.”

Which really isn’t anything new if you’ve lived in the D.C. area for any amount of time. I can still remember the “Baseball in ’87″ banner that used to hang from the field level seats at RFK during Redskins games back in the mid-80s.

May 22nd, 2003

Annika Watch

Sorenstam tees off on tenth hole.

Here’s the link to the leaderboard at the Colonial. Through four holes, Annika Sorenstam is already -1.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: With a little workaround, I found a direct link to Sorenstam’s scorecard, here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Sorenstam is still -1 after completing her first nine holes — in this case, the course’s back nine. She’s currently tied for 18th, roughly in the middle of the pack among the golfers who teed off in the morning flights. Among the notables trailing Sorenstam are Corey Pavin, Justin Leonard, Peter Jacobsen, and Stuart Appleby. For you stat heads, Sorenstam is also tied for first in driving accuracy.

FRAIDY-CAT UPDATE: Looks like a few players on the tour are pushing to have the PGA bylaws changed to ban females from playing.

WRAP-UP: Sorenstam finished with a 71, +1 on the day. As to where she’ll finish, it will probably be somewhere in the lower-half of the leaderboard, just one stroke below the cut. See you again tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s the audio of Annika being introduced (Real Player required) before she teed off on her first hole today.

May 22nd, 2003

FC Porto 3 Celtic 2, OT

All over Europe, all of the domestic and continental championships are being decided in rapid fashion. In England, Arsenal won the FA Cup just days after being eliminated from the Premier League title race by Manchester United.

But yesterday, for one day in the U.K., the nation’s football fans forgot about David Beckham, Michael Owen and David Seaman as they ceded the stage to a team from Scotland, Glasgow Celtic.

It was in Seville yesterday that Celtic played for its first European Championship in 33 years, the UEFA Cup, as they took on Portugal’s powerful FC Porto. Though Seville was just a lazy day’s drive from Porto, Seville was submerged in a sea of green and white, as anywhere between 60,000-75,000 Celtic fans, many without game tickets or hotel accomodations, filled the streets of the city.

Unlike their English cousins, supporters of Scottish teams — whether Celtic, rival Rangers, or the National Team — generally have a better reputation on the continent. More than a few press reports relayed stories of Celtic fans embracing Porto supporters and exchanging team scarves with them eagerly

Larsson scored twice in Seville, but it wasn’t enough.

For all the celebrating, a victory wasn’t meant to be. Celtic played from behind all day long against the technically brilliant continental side, trailing 1-0, and then 2-1 before tying the game and sending the match into overtime. Henrik Larsson, Europe’s most prolific goal scorer, tallied twice off headers for Celtic, but he couldn’t prevent Celtic’s Bobo Balde from being red carded in the overtime, giving Porto a one man advantage for the remainder of the game. With only a few minutes left before being able to force penalty kicks, Porto put away the game winner.

Despite the disappoinment, Celtic now have to return to Scotland with hopes of winning their own domestic title. Back home, Celtic is tied in a virtual dead heat with Rangers in both points and the first tie-breaker, goal differential. Rangers only hold the top spot by virtue of total goals — and there they only lead by one.

Think of the Yankees and the Red Sox tied for the Eastern Division lead on the last day of the season, and you’ll understand what this is like. All day on Saturday, the two teams will be listening for reports of the other’s progress, knowing that every last play could cost them, or bring them, the championship.

And you thought Soccer was boring.

May 22nd, 2003

NHL Playoff Roundup

Senators 2 Devils 1, OT: The Senators deserved to win this one, and here’s how it happened:

With a little more than four minutes remaining in OT, the Senators’ Marian Hossa scoops up a rebound from a Scott Stevens slap shot in the defensive zone, and begins to stumble up the right wing side of the ice.

The aforementioned Stevens picks up Hossa at the blue line one on one. Hossa knows that he can’t just blow by Stevens, a great positional defenseman who allows Hossa just enough room to skate, but not enough room to get by.

And here’s where he makes a simple move and springs himself free. Hossa chips the puck past Stevens and up the right wing boards. But instead of simply chasing the puck and trying to outskate Stevens, Hossa takes a quick step back toward center ice.

Stevens, forgetting to play the puck, and not the man, takes a step back to the inside to block Hossa — which is when Hossa, realizing Stevens has fallen for the deke, cuts back to the outside and up the right wing boards to pick up the puck.

Stevens is soon in hot pursuit, desperately straining to catch up with Hossa and strip him of the puck, but it’s no use — Hossa is a half stride ahead of Stevens all the way down the ice.

With a burst of speed, Hossa finally turns the corner on Stevens deep inside the faceoff circle to the left of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Hossa cuts the corner sharply, and drives to the net roughly parallel to the goal line.

And here’s where the Devils make a second mistake.

While Hossa and Stevens were racing down the right wing side of the ice, the Devils other defenseman, Colin White, has been doing his job shadowing Ottawa forward Vaclav Varada. But once he sees Hossa turn the corner on Stevens, he leaves Varada to join Stevens in a vain attempt to strip Hossa of the puck before he reaches Brodeur.

Varada is all alone, driving to the net.

And that’s where Hossa finds him with a one-handed centering pass. Shot, save Brodeur, rebound, shot, score.

See you in Ottawa Friday night.

Series tied, 3-3.

CORRECTION: It was Devils defenseman Colin White who was on the ice for the OT goal, not Brian Rafalski:

“I shouldn’t have gone over into Scotty’s side of the ice,” White said. “The guy (Hossa) was driving wide. Scotty had him and I went into his lane to hit Hossa. It’s my fault and I blame myself.”