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Kawhi Leonard and the Players Seize Control of the NBA

July 6th, 2019 · No Comments · NBA

When I was working as sports editor for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, our No. 1 topic was soccer. Football. I expected that; soccer clearly is the preferred sport of the citizens of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the preferred sport of many expatriates who live and work in the UAE.

That, I could understand.

What it took quite some time to figure out was how the relationship between stars and clubs was different in international club soccer than it was in American team sports.

Eventually, I grasped that players had much more say over their situations, regardless of contract status, than I was conditioned to seeing.

A player with a suitor could simply inform his current club that he wanted to leave, and in nearly all occasions that player was allowed to join a new team. That puzzled me. Why didn’t clubs tell players they had to play out the contract they had agreed to?

Why? Because they feared the player would not give his full attention to the team he wanted to leave, to the on-field detriment of that club. So, yes, the players held the upper hand.

What we saw in the past few days was stars seizing control of another sport, this one the National Basketball Association.

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At the Moment, the World’s Preferred World Cup

July 5th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

And which World Cup is that?

Why, the Cricket World Cup, of course.

The Fifa Women’s World Cup, a global soccer event, surely is attracting viewers from more countries, but when it comes to “eyeballs on TV screens”, I am pretty confident the Cricket World Cup is ahead. By millions.

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Yanks Renew Rivalry 1.0 with England

July 2nd, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

For a century, it’s been “the special relationship” pretty much nonstop. Great Britain and the United States, the Two Great English-Speaking Allies on opposite shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

We helped the Brits avoid German domination in the 20th century. Twice. In return, they threw in with the Yanks on the succession of small wars that darkened the past 30 years. Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, the Islamic State …

BFFs!

It got so that most Americans forgot the early years. The years from about 1774 till 1815. A couple of generations, actually. Back when Britain (which currently includes England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) spent a lot of time and treasure trying keep their American colonies from breaking away to form a new nation. And made a point of burning down Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, when the Brits became the first and (still only) foreign power to invade the continental U.S.

(The lyrics to the U.S. national anthem recall an incident when a British fleet shelled Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore, leading Francis Scott Key to was eloquent over “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air”.)

But, hey, that was a long time ago, and rare have been the times when these two countries find themselves on opposite sides of a competition. Or a war.

Which brings us to a semifinal match of the Fifa Women’s World Cup tonight in France.

The US versus the UK for world domination of … women’s soccer.

Someone will be gloating and someone else will be glowering when this one is over, at about 11 p.m. here in France, about 2 p.m. in California.

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Hottest Day in France, Ever

June 28th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

And we are living it. Not in the epicenter of “scary hot” but uncomfortably close to it.

“Friday will be the worst” was what we had heard for the whole of this preposterously hot week, and leave it to the weather guys to be right about bad news.

Heat records have been tumbling this afternoon and who is to say we won’t have one or two more checking in from a remote village here, an hour’s drive north of the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France?

The country’s latest unprecedented recording came via TV news station BFM, about an hour ago. That would be the 45.1 Celsius (113.2 Fahrenheit) at a little place named Villevieille about 70 miles from where we are hunkered down, with the windows shut and the fans running.

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Back to the World Cup

June 25th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

So this is what it looks like to arrive 90 minutes before kickoff.

I like the Fifa Women’s World Cup. It’s global. It can be exotic. The women attract a more PG-rated crowd than do the men. It provides three weeks or more of running narrative and it fills a bit of a void during the potentially slow soccer summer season.

I covered four men’s World Cups, and one women’s. The last time I saw the men play, in the World Cup, was the Japan/Korea World Cup of 2002. I covered the U.S. national team and its stunning 3-2 victory over highly regarded Portugal, its crucial 2-2 draw with South Korea and then the “what was that about?” 3-1 defeat to Poland, which finished last in the group.

Which leads to a silly anecdote I will get back to before I finish.

More pertinently, I now have seen a Fifa Women’s World Cup match live and in-person, tonight, for the first time since the 1999 championship match. Yes, the Brandi Chastain Sports Bra game at the Rose Bowl.

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The PED Era Is Not Over

June 22nd, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

One of my least favorite acronyms, one that was a principal actor in professional sports at the turn of the century.

Particularly in baseball.

I was reminded of this today when it was announced that Major League Baseball has suspended Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas 80 games for failing a PED (performance-enhancing drugs) test.

Let’s consider it a reminder that not everything in the game is on the up and up. Barry Bonds may be out of the spotlight, (and may he remain there, wherever he is, forever) … but baseball fairly reliably suspends a guy or two every season. And, as always, figure on other athletes not getting caught.

To look at the game’s experience with PED suspensions is to wonder if MLB’s attention on the PED front waxes and wanes.

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Lakers, LeBron Re-Boot, Take 2

June 19th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

So, that didn’t work out so well. The 2018-19 Lakers, fortified by free-agent signing LeBron James, would aim for a place in the playoffs — and maybe more. But, for sure, the Lakers were back and their games would be destination viewing again.

Not so fast.

The Lakers started fairly well and were 20-14 on December 25, after crushing the Golden State Warriors, in Oakland, beating the defending champions 127-101.

But that was the game when the theoretically unbreakable James suffered a significant groin injury, and when he left the lineup (for 27 games) the Lakers imploded.

By the end of the year they had to accept missing the playoffs for the sixth successive season, which is not supposed to happen to the league’s most glamorous franchise. Magic Johnson quit as president, revealing the internal divisions at the club, and suddenly the notion of a re-make in time for the coming season … was a Must Do. A failure to add a second star might even prompt James to push for a way out of town only halfway through his four-year, $153 million contract.

Well, they got the second star, giving up a hefty package of players and draft picks to obtain big man Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans — giving the Lakers, arguably, two of the best five players in the game.

And so, they head into a new season with at least a notion they can end the years of losing, including 37-45 last season. Las Vegas expects quite a bit more than 42-40 — they have installed the Lakers as the favorites to win the 2019-20 championship. Yeah. Crazy.

All because they did pretty much what they had to do — grab for Anthony Davis, perhaps the only superstar in the NBA apparently eager to play with LeBron and the Lakers.

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Sports: Injury Time

June 15th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I suppose this began when I began regularly watching the National Football League, again, for the first time in two decades.

Injuries. Injuries everywhere.

But now, the ugly injuries are by no means concentrated in the realm of football.

They are everywhere. As NBA fans could tell you after Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and Golden State teammate Klay Thompson blew out his knee in Game 6.

I have not done the math … I’m not sure anyone has … but I feel like we are seeing more major injuries in the field of sports than ever before.

I believe one crucial, perhaps overriding consideration is the pace of play.

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Iceland: Go or No Go?

June 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Iceland, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized

Two full days in Iceland, as well as one very long evening and one very early morning.

Enough to have an opinion on the little island in the upper reaches of the north Atlantic?

Of course it is.

We all make snap judgments, some snappier than others, given on how long we are around a new vacation spot.

Thinking of going to Iceland? Then here are some concepts to take into account.

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The Church on the Hill

June 9th, 2019 · No Comments · Iceland, Lutherans, tourism, Travel

Seven of us are sharing a comfortable home near the port and downtown of Reykjavik, capital and biggest city of Iceland.

On our first night there, I noticed an interesting, modern church that seemed to be made of large blocks of stone. The whole of it was painted white. And it was about 100 yards from where we are staying, up on a hill with a great view of the bay.

So, next morning was Sunday morning, and I wasn’t quite sure when services were, or if I might be interested in them … so I climbed up the hill at 10:30 or so, and opened the door, and walked to the entrance of the nave where a four-person choir was practicing.

I also saw a tall, dignified-looking man who is the minister of the congregation, who spotted me and came over. I said I was a Lutheran from America, and he seemed pleased, given that he is a Lutheran minister for a Lutheran church … and he invited me to their regular 11 a.m. service.

I said I would see him then.

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