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Sorting the World Cup Best from the Rest

November 20th, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, France, Russia 2018, World Cup

The 32 teams are set.

Last nation into the tournament was Peru, with a 2-0 aggregate victory over New Zealand in the inter-confederation playoffs.

Here are the nations that will participate in Russia 2018 — 31 of them, with the host Russia making it 32.

Let’s break these down into contenders, long shots, also-rans and no-hopers.

These evaluations might change a bit, after the draw is made, on December 1, for next summer’s tournament. But this is what we have at the moment.

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Rams Get a Reality Check

November 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Golf, NFL, Rams

Whoa, there, Rams fans. Your team is not going to sprint to the Super Bowl any time soon.

That 7-2 start? Nice. But when the Rams stopped playing cupcakes and ran into another quality team, the Minnesota Vikings … well, it did not go well.

To the tune of 24-7, with the “highest-scoring-team-in-the-league” Rams on the “7” end of that.

What bits were scary for the Rams?

Several.

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Lonzo Ball Walks Away from Trouble

November 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers

A shoving match broke out during the Los Angeles Lakers’ game in Phoenix last night.

It was an entirely forgettable, silly display, as most NBA fracases are. A little post-whistle bump here (by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), a modest shove there (by Tyler Ulis of the Suns) … and teammates rushing in to separate the “combatants”.

Noticeable by his absence was rookie Lonzo Ball. He was near the childish scuffle, when it broke out, but kept walking toward the Lakers bench. About halfway there he looked back — but kept walking.

Which led to a social media storm of (mostly) condemnation of Ball for not “coming to the aid” of a teammate … and a snarky putdown here and there.

Some suggested he is, essentially, a coward. The snarky putdown crew, riffed on the notion in some quarters that Ball is “passive” — to the point of not getting in sandbox style snits.

Actually Lonzo Ball ought to be congratulated for his actions — which seem to suggest he believes a serious person does not get involved with the antics of momentarily annoyed basketball players.

He summed up his position in a few words:

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Today’s List: Tips for Post-Game Questions

November 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Journalism, Lists, Sports Journalism

This is an important journalism skill outsiders rarely think about.

Posing post-game questions.

This is not the same as asking a question in an interview situation. At best, a one-on-one with flexible time limits. More likely something in a controlled environment, like a press conference.

Asking post-game questions in a clubhouse littered with laundry and tape and cluttered by too many reporters … is a special talent, and not all of us have it.

I thought of this, anew, after seeing a fairly disastrous and seriously short Q&A between Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and reporters tonight. The video is all of 32 seconds and most of that is reporters clumsily framing questions — ahead of the predictably unhelpful Westbrook.

Let’s craft a list of tips for the clubhouse interview distilled from 35 years in the business.

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Dubai Police Indulge Need for Speed

November 16th, 2017 · No Comments · Dubai

This is a thing, in Dubai. The police there love to add exotic and fast cars to its fleet of cruisers. The faster and more exotic, the better.

The latest?

Five new “patrol” cars that get from Point A to Point B in a big hurry.

To wit:

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Let’s Enjoy Joel Embiid While We Can

November 15th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, NBA

It is fun when we discover a new sports star/superstar.

Just when we get conditioned to the usual roster of the elite, boom, there he is: Another potentially great player.

Which is where Joel Embiid comes in.

Embiid is a 7-footer with quickness, dexterity and a fine shooting touch who plays center for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Like many NBA big men, he has endured a series of injuries, the most serious of which have been to his feet.

A native of Cameroon discovered by countryman Luc Mbah a Moute, the former UCLA Bruin, Embiid was drafted by the 76ers in June of 2014, after playing in 28 games in his single season at the University of Kansas.

Embiid did not actually appear in an NBA game for the following two seasons.

He lost 2014-15 to surgery on the navicular bone in his right foot; he lost 2015-16 to a second surgery on the navicular bone in his right foot.

He got through 31 games, his first since college, in 2016-17 before knee surgery stopped him cold at the all-star-game break.

But now he is back … and showing what he can do.

When healthy.

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LiAngelo’s Shoplifting? A Handy Twist for ‘Ball in the Family’

November 14th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, NBA, UCLA

Reality TV shows based on news-making families cannot be all goodness and light.

Some weird stuff going on? Some family tension? That helps feed interest in shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, which has been runnnig since 2007. And, also, about the Balls and their much more recent reality debut.

LiAngelo Ball’s run-in with police in China? (Which ended Tuesday when he and two UCLA teammates got on a plane headed for Los Angeles.) That may not be good for the 2017-18 stats of LiAngelo, the middle of LaVar Bell’s three sons, but it could be reality-TV gold for LaVar & Co.

If Lonzo, a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers, is (maybe) the star in the making, and little brother LaMelo is the brash gunner and “cute one” who could have a significant career …

LiAngelo can be cast as the edgy rebel.

His and his teammates’ sticky fingers created an international incident in China that deeply embarrassed UCLA, the Pac-12 and the U.S. government (and just about everyone who isn’t LaVar)– and that sets LiAngelo and his weirdly cropped eyebrows on the way to “bad boy” billing.

(And everyone loves a bad boy. A staple of theater/drama since the Greeks.)

LaVar Ball, pater familias of the Ball reality show (seen on Facebook) and founder of the Big Baller Brand line of shoes and apparel, certainly must see the creative possibilities here.

Consider:

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Italy Out? Now ‘This’ Is a National Disaster

November 13th, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Italy, Rugby, soccer, Spain, World Cup

Italy went bonkers tonight. The national team, the azzurri, was held to a scoreless draw with good-but-not-special Sweden, and the home-and-away runners-up playoffs for the final four European berths at Russia 2010 went to Switzerland, Denmark, Croatia — and Sweden.

Italy stays home.

This is the biggest shock from this edition of World Cup qualifying — Italy being the four-time world champions.

Our interest today is looking at Italy failing to qualify for Russia 2018, and comparing it, for earthshaking significance, to the U.S. not making it.

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Goff and Keenum: Showdown of 2016 Rams QBs

November 12th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Los Angeles Rams, NFL

Funny thing, NFL schedules. Fans and journalists yammer, before the season, about how easy or tough this or that team’s schedule is. And then they play the games …

Which this year has led to an unexpected, semi-elite showdown of division-leading 7-2 teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings teams. Teams who, two months ago, were expected to be also-rans. At best.

What’s more, remember the two quarterbacks who suffered through the 4-12 Rams season in 2016? They will meet on the field in Minneapolis on Sunday. Jared Goff of the Rams and Case Keenum, late of the Rams, now the starting quarterback for the Vikings.

One of the leading takeaways of that?

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Playing Catch in France

November 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball, France

While packing to move to France, I came across an ancient and tiny baseball glove.

An American going abroad … can he really leave behind a baseball glove? (Even one that is not his own?)

No. He cannot. There’s going away, and then there is leaving behind an essential part of your cultural patrimony.

But what use is one baseball glove without another? Two gloves needed to play catch, the most basic of all baseball activities.

So, we went to an “everything must go!” closeout sale of a sporting goods retailer, while in SoCal, and bought a second glove … and then we packed the “official” California League baseball, too — and baseball goes to the Old World.

Not that we took the baseball gear directly from the shipping container and away to the nearest playground. Actually, it was a year. But now we have “had a catch” as the old usage goes, perhaps to the puzzlement of the local kids kicking around a soccer ball or the parents with their daughter on “for-little-kids-only” monkey bars with slide.

And I decided something:

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