Friday, May 22, 2009

Vancouver 2010 Lights Up

Look at the above picture. What does it look like to you? I'm willing to bet your first answer wasn't the official torch of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It certainly wasn't this lady from the Toronto Star's first guess. Via Deadspin:

All hail – or inhale – the 2010 Olympic Torch. Or, as it's jokingly known around Vancouver, the Olympic Toke. Composed of stainless steel, aluminum and sheet moulding, the torch was designed to evoke snow, ice, skiing and skating, but to many, the metre-long white torch looks suspiciously like a marijuana joint, especially when lit.

The observation has become so common in this city that it's hard to know who was the first to say, "Hey, doesn't that look like ..." But the torch's resemblance to British Columbia's biggest cash crop was evident right away to Jodie Emery, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine.

"A lot of people come to Vancouver because it's marijuana-friendly, so I think people who already enjoy a joint themselves will feel a little more kinship to the Olympics," said Emery. "I'm sure the organizers didn't intend for it to look like a joint, but that's what a lot of people are seeing."

Next thing you know, the big bag of pot from Harold and Kumar is gonna be the official mascot. Kinda like this:

Of course there would also have to be a superimposed graphic that read: "Vancouver 2010: Canada's Rocky Mountain High." And upon further research, since mascots are so important to the success of all major international sporting events, here are the actual Vancouver 2010 mascots. Think Hello Kitty meets Woodland Christmas critters from South Park with ridiculously non-sensical names just to spice things up a bit:

Monday, May 18, 2009

That Infield Audience? ... Yeah ... it's Gone

Preakness weekend came and went unceremoniously this year. As detailed previously on this blog, I had a formal ban against the thing with BYOB privileges taken away. Sounds like I wasn't alone:

They threw a hell of an infield party at Pimlico Race Course yesterday. Too bad nobody showed up. Normally, you have, what, 60,000 beered-up fans shoehorned into the infield for the Preakness? Saturday, there was a fraction of that. Saturday, you could have landed planes out there, it was so empty.

In one of the great Baltimore protests of all time, the sweltering masses rose up as one and thundered: You won't let us bring beer to your party? Fine, we won't show up at all. See how you like that.

The Maryland racing officials dug their own grave here The column later goes on to say how the powers that be for Pimlico estimated numbers as low as a few thousand people. Yes, they did have added perks like a concert and oxygen bars and other "sweet" entertainment options and even the an added bonus of a "Breakfast Special" so that from 8 am to 11 am it's dollar beers. Heck, TV ratings were even up 27 percent But it only disguises the real truth which is that the BYOB part of Preakness was the only real bargain of attending the race in the first place. Most drunks out there barely catch a glimpse of the horses, maybe bet on the big race. So essentially they've paid $50 to drink and a field and probably waste more money. Even if you're a hardcore gambler, you're still having to throw $50 just to have the right to give more of your money to the track.

And God forbid Pimlico officials appease their customer base a little bit here. They're track has been called a "sinking ship" as far back as this 2005 article. In recent months, the Maryland government took steps to ensure Preakness remains in the state, but there's no denying some serious financial and viability issues that aren't looking any rosier following a less than phenomenally attended Triple Crown race this past weekend.

(Pimlico's) owners had to file for bankruptcy earlier this year. Magna Entertainment Corporation now has to sell Pimlico racetrack and its other assets to stay alive. Even leaving aside the bankruptcy, Pimlico racetrack is hitting hard times. Attendance has been down at the Preakness Stakes, though more than 100,000 fans still attend every year. Controversy has erupted over plans to put in slots at Pimlico, as a way to raise money. And efforts by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to have the state control Pimlico, in order to keep the Preakness, have raised even more eyebrows.

But hey, on the bright side I guess it was kind of cool that a girl horse won the race for the first time in a long time. The headline in the Washington Post was "Girl Power: 'Rachel' Wins. I wonder how much this gender-breaking victory will actually resonate in the horse community. Will there be new leagues developed, almost like the WNBA of horse racing, Triple Crown races that emphasize the fundamentals and whose biggest fan is Rosie O'Donnell?

Just for old time's sake, one last "infield in all its glory" shot.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Shady Dealings in Grand Forks

One of the most fascinating things about North Dakota is the sheer distance between things there. Although I must admit before I start this, I have limited views into the psyche of the Flickertail State (no joke, that's straight from Wikipedia). My experience there consists of a wild two-day road trip from Ann Arbor to Grand Forks. Myself and several Daily folk — 4 other dudes, a Ford Taurus, and a cheap motel, not exactly roomy accommodations — were covering Michigan's 2006 NCAA Tournament game against North Dakota.

We had decided to drive through the night and arrive in Grand Forks late morning time so we could nap before the night's game. So we were cruising through Fargo around 9 a.m. when we made our final pit stop of the morning. I remember asking someone there how far it was to get to Grand Forks because at this point I was expecting some one-lane nothing road since I had never been in this state.

This person, sorry don't remember what he looked like, responded, "Oh, you're pretty close. Just up such and such highway a bit." For some reason after 80 miles of driving 90 mph, speeds that were understandable since we had just come 16-hours for a hockey game, I had this weird fixation on the fellow in the gas station who had told me we were "pretty close" even if it meant in the neighborhood of 55 more minutes of driving (let me know if my math is off here, I'm pretty sure that's how long 80 miles of 90 mph takes you). Call me obsessive, but Gettysburg is around 80 miles from Washington, D.C. I don't go around flinging ridiculous statements like, "Yeah, Gettysburg, just up the road," insinuating to random folk looking for answers that I'm a few exits away.

So how does this have anything to do with your life? Well, it seems this incident of peculiar North Dakotan behavior is not singular. See, I was reminded of this trip to North Dakota because Friday North Dakota's Board of Higher Education agreed to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname for the University of North Dakota after a decades-long squabble. And let me tell you, that weird, peculiar, and oddly fascinating misjudgement of distance that I think of from my only adventure into North Dakota was just the beginning. Maybe I'm just being a muckracking journalist, like one wise, yet wifed up amigo has suggested of late, but I think there might be something fishy going on in the state that produced ironcally zen-like characters such as Chuck Klosterman and Phil Jackson.

So why do I think this? Well, when we finally arrived in Grand Forks, we went to the home of North Dakota hockey, Ralph Engelstad Arena to pick up our credentials for the game that night. Now the week leading up to the tournament, the few journalist-types that follow Michigan hockey on a regular basis had been getting lectures from coach Red Berenson about how one summer on his annual road trip to his hometown of Saskatchewan, he stopped in Grand Forks and got a formal tour of this hockey palace. He opined about the "cherry wood chairs" and the "marble floors." So why is it a hockey palace? This official website describes it pretty succinctly.

All concourse floors are granite, each seat is constructed of leather and cherry wood, and there are 48 full luxury suites, two mini suites, and two enormous club rooms featuring the longest freestanding bars in the state. The training facility features a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room and underwater treadmill, fourteen locker rooms, the extra Olympic Sheet of Ice, and with the addition of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for the basketball and volleyball programs, what you have is more than a world-class facility; you have the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Or better yet, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can show you what Berenson told Daily superstar H. Jose Bosch in a story right before we left for Grand Forks that year:

Yesterday morning, while talking to reporters, Berenson raved about Ralph Engelstad Arena, the location of the Wolverines' regional. He mentioned the imported leather lining every seat and the grand marble floors of the arena.

That's the lobby.

Here's the inside.

Here's the thing, though, and this has been written about extensively, but this palace of hockey was built from a $100+ million donation courtesy of Ralph Engelstad, and well, he's not a fan of people who want to get rid of the Fighting Sioux logo. In the meantime, this mecca of hockey is in the process of being built with his money when this Fighting Sioux mascot controversy starts heating up again. Well guess what? Engelstad decides he wants his Fighting Sioux mascot so badly that he wrote a letter to ND President Charles Kuptchella elucidating that he was willing to call off this construction right in the middle of things, even if it means throwing $35 million down the drain:

If the logo and slogan are not approved by the above-mentioned date, I will then write a letter on December 30, 2000, to all contractors and to everybody associated with the arena, canceling their construction contracts for the completion of the arena. I am a man of my word, and I will see to it that a settlement is made with all subcontractors, with anyone who has purchased prepaid advertising. I will refund money to all ticket holders and abandon the project. It would then be left up to you if you want to complete it, with money from wherever you may be able to find it. I have spent, as of this time, in excess of $35 million, which I will consider a bad investment, but I will take my lumps and walk away.

Remember, this is the type of ridiculously classy structure that — and I say this not intending to just pile on our brothers and sisters in North Dakota — just doesn't ordinarily get built in a place like North Dakota. And to just show that he meant business with this letter, Engelstad ensured that every friggin seat and nearly every wall in that joint had a big ol' Fighting Sioux logo on it, making possible renovation in the future a tricky proposition with the recent decision to get rid of the mascot.

But wait, it all gets so much better when you know just what kind of character this Engelstad fellow is.

His other claim to fame ...On April 20 in 1986 and 1988, Engelstad hosted parties to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday at his casino in Las Vegas which featured bartenders in T-shirts reading "Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-45. The room he held the party in happened to be his casino's top secret Nazi memorabilia room.

Now you would think all this ugly business would be coming to an end now that the Board has finally just decided to get rid of the mascot and well, Ralph Engelstad died in 2002. So the threat of kickass Ralph Engelstad Arena going bye bye kind of ... ummm ... passed. Still, though, a state school's defining facility, and quite frankly the whole state's defining facility, is funded by a Nazi lover (for the record, he did apologize for his pro-Nazi ways). Even more cooky ... they've got a statue of the guy up in the lobby. I saw it myself.

Call me crazy, but all of this recent news about the mascot being retired and such suggests to me that things have calmed down in North Dakota. But no, nothing's that simple when you've got shadiness involved.

In a referendum last month, residents of the Spirit Lake reservation voted more than 2 to 1 to keep the nickname. However, the vote was not binding on the tribal council, and ... a similar referendum on the Standing Rock reservation could not force the tribal council to endorse the nickname.

American Indian backers of the nickname, who have been campaigning on the reservations to garner support for it, asked the Board of Higher Education before Thursday’s vote to back the nickname and logo. Many residents of both reservations take pride in “Fighting Sioux,” they said. Sam Dupris, a Cheyenne River Sioux Indian who was hired by the Ralph Engelstad Arena to lobby for the name, said most pressure to dump the logo came from “a handful of irresponsible and uninformed malcontents from the reservation.”

That's a little more weird. They got rid of the logo and the mascot even though nobody really wanted it gone? Or did they? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN NORTH DAKOTA? And so to bring this long winded post about the great state of North Dakota, I'll leave you with the explanation of the decision from the side that apparently wanted to do away with the Fighting Sioux mascot in the first place.

Terms gave the University of North Dakota permission to continue using the nickname and logo if the school could get approval from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes by November 2010.

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and a fervent opponent of the nickname and logo, cheered the board's decision. "It's not an easy step," His Horse Is Thunder said. "And it is full of controversy. But I think every great step in this country was filled with controversy ... The civil rights movements in the '60s didn't happen with a whimper."

Honestly, I can't imagine what my reaction would be if I ever wrote a story and had to use the phrase "Ron His Horse is Thunder said." How could I not LOL right out of my chair. I totally respect Native American traditions and the odd, nature names are part of that, but you'd think that in the process of voting for chairman of a tribe the whole "if we let this guy speak for our tribe to the mainstream media, are people gonna take him seriously since his name isn't actually a name, it's more like a sentence?" conversation would have come up at some point.

Now as a sidenote on the memorable road trip to this mecca of hockey — and if you've come this far reading about North Dakota stuff I gotta get a plug of the stuff I actually write for a living in here — later that night I would witness the greatest college hockey upset of all time when Holy Cross beat Minnesota in the first round. I used this to my benefit earlier this fall when I met a dude who happened to be one of the better players on that Holy Cross team while watching a girl's field hockey game I was mercifully covering. We connected through our general disdain for girls' sports (he was there because his Mom and Dad coach the high school team together, which is what I wrote about that night. From talking to this guy, James "Bubba" Sixsmith, I learned he was currently toiling away in the minor leagues and I ended up writing what I consider a fairly interesting story based off that.

Making this one random excursion to the great state of North Dakota even more absurd was when we left the Ralph after picking up those credentials and falling into a stupor over the grandiose of what I must admit is probably the nicest arena I've ever stepped foot in, the Ford Taurus wasn't in mint condition anymore. Someone had hit n' run our car. The real kicker in all this ... we had literally parked in a basically empty arena lot. It was 5 or 6 hours before faceoff. Some North Dakotan had nailed the bumper of this poor Ford Taurus that had just endured a 16-hour marathon drive with five random dudes and he/she had done it when they could have parked an 18-wheeler lengthwise over 15 spots and still not come close to even scraping a car. Long story short, we called the ND campus police since this was a University of Michigan vehicle and none of us wanted to pay for the damage. We had a giant dent in this car and it was really annoying.

So there you have it, too many instances of weirdness relating to North Dakota to overlook. You've got the guy who somehow thought Fargo and Grand Forks are "pretty close," the Nazi loving millionaire, a tribe that elects a run-on sentence as its leader, and the worst parkers since a friend of mine in high school made his New Year's resolution was to execute every park job in one turn for a whole year.

As chance would have it, this guy is also a wise, yet wifed up amigo of mine (I'm hoping that line gives this a full circle feel, but I don't know if it worked so I added the extra parentheses for some real closure).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Draft Lottery

From the commercials on TV, it would seem it's a somber time to be a Wizards fan. Those reading this from outside the DC area don't know what I'm talking about, but about two times a day the past few weeks a funeral-like commercial featuring either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison with a black background comes on screen and they begin lamenting about what a horrible season the Wiz kids had this year, but how things are gonna change, how they're on a mission to succeed next season. Then the real reason for the ad comes up and it reads "Determined to Deliver" with a "get your season tickets" thingy for good measure. See, in this economy you gotta do what you gotta do to put butts in the seats (apparently even if that means signing an injured point guard to a ridiculously expensive contract).

Well, I don't know if you're aware of this or not (and chances are if you have a team in the NBA playoffs, you aren't), but the NBA Draft lottery is a mere five days away. Why is this important? Well, if you ask me the very fabric of the Eastern Conference could be decided by it.

That's right, I'm referencing the Wizards in regard to Eastern Conference supremacy. Because if these NBA playoffs have taught me anything, it's that everyone in the Eastern Conference outside of the LeBrons are entirely beatable. Especially if someone like Blake Griffin is brought into the fold. And that's why five days from now is so important for my Wiz kids.

I hope this was his response when someone went: "Raise your hand if you'd like to become Agent Zero's new sidekick."

Right now they have the second-best chance to land the coveted Blake Griffin spot i.e. the top pick. But if that doesn't fall their way, the Wiz are gonna have to get creative. The Wiz can only land as low as the No. 5 spot, but to be honest, the top prospects after Griffin are not only a notch below in terms of talent, they don't really fit the Wiz's needs.

What are their needs? Well, to me it's obvious the Big Three of Gilbert, Caron, and Antawn need a fourth cog to help out. Will Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, or James Harden fill that role. Not immediately, at least. Rubio is a point guard who will take time to develop and considering the Wiz already have $100+ million invested in another point guard, he just doesn't make sense. Hasheem Thabeet is a developing defensive-minded center, but does he make much sense for a team that already has Brendan "even though I'm markedly improved, I still sit down to pee" Haywood, Etan Thomas, and youngster JaVale McGee patrolling the middle? And then Harden, I mean, he would be a nice role player off the bench and someone who could limit Caron's minutes a bit, but is that what you want to use a top-5 pick on?

So what do you do if you're the Wiz and you've got a draft pick you don't really wanna make? You trade down, NFL style. Throw in the fact that the Wiz have some nice expiring contracts like that of Etan Thomas and Mike James, something trade partners covet, and the potential for a mini-blockbuster deal along the lines of the Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse for Antawn Jamison deal of four or five years ago is there.

The Washington Post blog about the Wiz kids, Wizards Insider, has been running "What to do with the No. X pick" posts for the past few days and what I found most interesting were some of the trades being thrown around. For instance, if the Wiz get the No. 3 pick with Sacramento picking Griffin with the No. 1 pick and the Clippers taking Thabeet at No. 2 (because they, too, have lots of money rolled into an oft-injured point guard who happens to be my second-favorite player in the NBA — Baron Davis — so Rubio is kinda out of the question), here's a potential trade that excites me beyond belief:

If the Wizards pick 3rd, they should: Draft Ricky Rubio. Then trade him.

Here is the blockbuster trade of the summer:
Wizards get: Amare Stoudemire
Suns get: Ricky Rubio, Andray Blatche, Mike James, Etan Thomas, and Chris Bosh
Raptors get: Suns' first-round pick in 2009 draft, Steve Nash

Just looking at this picture makes me excited.

Now while I can't say yes to that trade fast enough, the chances of it happening seem slim to me. I just don't think Phoenix would implode its team that much just to get Chris Bosh on a one-year rental. At the same time, that's just one example of what the Wiz could pull off. Say they end up in the No. 4 slot, imagine the possibilities:

What specific trades would work? Obviously, I'd talk to the Toronto Raptors and see if they would be willing to trade Chris Bosh. I'd talk to Milwaukee about Michael Redd, Charlotte about Gerald Wallace, Detroit about Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, Phoenix about Jason Richardson, Atlanta about Joe Johnson, and others.

One hypothetical trade I particularly like is swapping the fourth pick, Mike James' expiring contract and Nick Young for Hamilton/Prince and the 15th pick. Detroit could then draft Harden to replace Rip, for example, and the Wizards could upgrade their wing by adding an ace catch-and-shoot player like Hamilton or a premier perimeter defender like Prince. Then, with the 15th pick, the Wizards could draft Blair, Henderson or someone else that could fill a role. The Wizards could offer a similar package for Wallace or Richardson or step up their offer for Johnson or Bosh (Young, Andray Blatche, Etan Thomas and the fourth pick for Johnson and the 19th pick, for example).

Will any of this actually happen? Maybe not, because as we all know pre-draft water cooler talk is just that: talk. Hundreds of deals are thrown out on the table and maybe one or two come to fruition. But the fact that the Wiz have a huge stake in this draft excites me, and it's got me waiting in anticipation for this draft lottery. Because before all the wheeling and dealing can get going, we gotta know what the pick is gonna be. And quite frankly, all of this is a welcome diversion from thinking about the Wiz's dreadful season.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Big is This Game?

I'm sitting up in the Verizon Center press box waiting for Game 7 between the Caps and Pens to get underway, and I couldn't help but post a funny link. See, getting a ticket to this game is pretty hard, so hard that in my story about the game tonight I wrote this little excerpt:

Alex Ovechkin has 20 friends and family, including some “Russian celebrities”, who all want to be at Game 7. The Great 8 has tried in vain to secure a luxury box at Verizon Center for them, but can’t get one. That’s right, the same guy who rejuvenated (or for some, created) the hockey craze around here can’t even find tickets.

“Box is closed … season ticket holders,” said Ovechkin with his trademark toothless grin. “D.C. is a hockey town now.”

So just how big is this game? Well, Barry Melrose and Steve Levy are doing live reports for ESPN, something I can't remember the "Worldwide Leader" doing outside of the Stanley Cup Finals since the lockout back in 2005. But to judge the real magnitude of this thing, check out this Craigslist post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't Go to Preakness

Preakness is this weekend or more accurately this Saturday and for the first time in three years I won't be attending the greatest day Baltimore has to offer. Check here, here, here, and here for more extensive looks into my love for this horse race/event.

Well, as I wrote in a post earlier this year, things are different this time around. The powers that be at Preakness decided to replace their awesomely infamous bring your own booze policy with a ZZ Top concert. See apparently organizers determined that the raucousness of endless port-o-potty races and Bud showers had gotten a little out of hand. Oh wait, those types of shenanigans have been going on for years. So what's the real reason the greatest event ever created has gone to shit? God damn Youtube.:

In the past, when 60,000 people could bring alcohol to this all-day party, impishness was inevitable. But stories of the Preakness infield figured to be sprinkled with hyperbole. Then came YouTube, which has brought the truth to computer screens everywhere. The infield-related online video library is extensive and unsettling.

In addition to the running of the urinals, there are clips of bloody fights and of men yelling for women to remove their shirts. There is video of full beers being smashed on foreheads, as well as people sliding headfirst into coolers.

While these incidents made up a small percentage of the infield experience — there were 6 arrests and 126 ejections last year — YouTube made it hard to look away.

“I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said those videos didn’t have some impact,” said Tom Chuckas, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico. “But we believed it was time for a change and to provide entertainment and activities for our guests. And as a sidebar issue about safety, some of the shenanigans had to stop.”

Honestly, our only hope for bringing back the booze is for people not to go. Although organizers admitted infield sales are down about 15 percent, they think they'll make that up in the money made from beer sales. I tend to agree. So the only solution is for people not to show up. Don't go, don't do it. Find yourself another field to get silly drunk in, but just make sure you pour one out for our fallen comrade: the Preakness infield.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

About This Lebron Character

Ever since he received this year's MVP trophy a couple nights ago, it has been hard for me not to think about the now inevitable ascension of one LeBron James as the biggest, baddest, and best basketball player in all the land. Yeah, maybe there's an argument for Kobe still — especially if the Lakers win the NBA title — but I think it's pretty clear one person in this argument is fast approaching the downside of his career (I'm talking about the Black Mamba, which by the way is a nickname I never understood), while the other may just be scratching the surface of the prime years of his reign (obviously King James, a mark of royalty that, according to Battey, is one of the best and simple nicknames to possess).

Now it's not like all this praise is entirely new for LeBron. Aside from some harsh (at least in my book) criticism concerning his ability to make the big shot for awhile, the most superlative of superlatives in the world have been thrown at LeBron throughout his rise to power in the NBA. I mean the guy has been a marvel for fans and media alike since the moment he stepped on an NBA floor. It only takes a look back at some of the stuff people wrote and said about him right after his first professional game to see he was always destined to become a kind of otherworldly superstar for the world to gawk at.

"The Kings were thrilled James started his career in their building. "This is the biggest regular season game we've ever had here," said Joe Maloof, whose family owns the Kings. "There was a buzz around the city. It doesn't get better than this. This is great for the league. We all need him. He's a breath of fresh air." ...

"According to Kings officials, 350 press credentials were issued for the game, twice the amount for a regular-season game. Troy Hanson, director of media relations for the Kings, likened the number of reporters to what the team would expect for the second round of the playoffs. But, he said, the number of international reporters present was unprecedented for the Kings, who welcomed representatives from Canada, Taiwan and Japan."

If that's not enough for you, there's also how he won Rookie of the Year that season, joining Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players to average 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Or how he has a ridiculous 10 NBA youngest player records i.e. he's the:

1) Youngest player to be named NBA Rookie of the Year (19 years of age).
2) Youngest player to record a triple-double (20 years, 20 days).
3) Youngest player to score 40 points in a game (19 years, 88 days).
4) Youngest player to score 50 points in a game (20 years, 80 days).
5)) Youngest player to score 2,000 points in a season (2004-05).
6) Youngest player to average 30 points per game in a season (2005-06).
7) Youngest player to be awarded All-NBA honors (2004-05).
8) Youngest player to be named to the All-NBA first team (21 years, 138 days).
9) Youngest player to win an All-Star Game MVP (21 years, 55 days).
10) Youngest player to reach: 1,000 points - through - 11,000 points

The last one on that list is my favorite because it's really 11 youngest player milestones, not just one. In other words, this LeBron guy is literally on pace to smash a good chunk of the current NBA record book all by himself.

The funny thing is, as much as we know about just how remarkable a player he is on the court, we know just as little about who LeBron James really is when he's doing anything besides basketball. Bill Simmons brings this up in a recent ESPN Magazine column about how the relationship between athletes, and more specifically superstar athletes has changed over the years.

LeBron ushered in the I'm-controlling-every- interaction-I-have-with-you era. We've been hearing from him since high school, and yet I can't remember reading a single memorable feature about the guy. We think we know him through his entertaining antics with teammates, only I don't remember one funny thing he's actually said. He talks of becoming a global icon, of becoming the Jay-Z of sports, which makes perfect sense because we don't know anything about Jay-Z, either.

It's a real valid point, although I don't know about the funny part. Some of those Nike commercials are pretty hilarious. But those are all just LeBron, the actor and entertaining public figure. The closest time we've come to understanding what the real LeBron thinks about things was back during the Cavs title run in 2007 when he wouldn't sign a mean letter to the Chinese government, condemning the genocide in Darfur.

But I'll take it one step further than Simmons. There have been a litany articles like this one lately, marveling at the fact that LeBron, despite being thrown countless amounts of money (and undoubtedly as many hoochie mama groupies as he wants), has stayed out of the limelight trouble-wise. About the worst you see are pictures like this:

Or accounts like this:

Star baller LeBron James' friends know how to booze it up! Last night, while at Las Vegas club Jet at the Mirage, his his hard-partying posse kept downing drinks -- and stuck the 23-year-old teetotaling baller with the outrageous $2,000 tab! That's a lot of hooch!

Club sources say that while LeBron stuck to Red Bull, his entourage let loose with a magnum of Grey Goose and a bottle of Patron. Later on, after LeBron had settled the bill, his high-flying friends insisted on ordering an additional bottle of vodka. Everybody in the club gettin' tipsy! The already annoyed James paid for the last bottle -- with exact change!

Here's what I'll say, history tells us that many of the great basketball stars of the past had their vices. Most recently, it was Kobe's Colorado fiasco. For MJ it was an insatiable gambling habit and the persistent rumors that he had a thing for doing the whole "I'm married, except when I'm not around my wife" routine. Magic Johnson was likely the same way with the ladies (how do you think he became HIV positive in the first place?). Hell, Wilt Chamberlain was famous for boasting about sleeping with 20,000 women . The big man even inspired this gem of a quote:

"Treat princesses like whores, and treat whores like princesses...and you will score like Wilt Chamberlain."

I guess what I'm trying to get at is I want to know what LeBron's vice is. There's gotta be something there. We've heard all about how he basically made his posse his representation a few years ago. He's got a longtime girlfriend that he has had two children with. He grew up in a poor section of Akron, Ohio with a single mother. He had shadiness in his life, like his mom's on-again, off-again boyfriend Eddie Jackson who has been charged with crimes like aggravated cocaine trafficking and mortgage and mail fraud as recently as 2002. His biological father has multiple offenses on his record and briefly re-appeared in LeBron's like around the time he got drafted, but the two never actually reconciled. Even his Mom got arrested a couple time. Yes, he had some very good influences like a couple youth coaches in his life, but LeBron was a kid with constant turmoil.

"I saw drugs, guns, killings, it was crazy," said LeBron in a fairly in depth article about his early life. "My mom would always say, 'Don't get comfortable, because we may not be here long.' When I was five, I moved seven times in a year, sometimes living with friends."

Essentially, he's been in the spotlight for a good six years and yet I'm guessing for many of you reading this, that is the first time you've heard some of the nitty gritty details about LeBron's life. Somehow nobody seems to have broken through the code of the best player in a generation. I'll give Jack McCallum of SI the last word on this because his thought process through this whole LeBron phenomenon most closely mirrors mine.

I expected LeBron James, who arrived in the pros as an 18-year-old drawing intense scrutiny and facing extraordinary expectations, to have screwed up by this time. Not a Jeff George-level screwup, i.e., clashing with coaches and consistently underperforming. Not a Michael Phelps-level screwup, i.e., getting photographed with a marijuana pipe. Not necessarily a Kobe Bryant-level screwup, i.e., committing a sexual indiscretion that cost him a reputation that he has only recently begun to salvage.

But some kind of screwup. Show up late or not at all for one game. Miss a practice because of a Nike commitment, then say it doesn't matter all that much. Shove an unruly fan who got in his face in a club. Get frustrated from double- and triple-teaming and lash out at an opponent. Complain about teammates not giving him enough help.

But here we are in the 24-year-old's sixth season, and it's as if he's following a script written by a couple of hip, yet image-conscious screenwriters. Let yourself groove a little, LeBron, but stay within the lines.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Only in Naples?

I've been to Naples, Florida ... but I never hooked up or received "sexual acts" with a special ed student while there. I have, however, been known to visit every once in awhile. Ah, but a gentlemen ... I take that back ... a special needs teacher in Naples combined the two in a way that, well, got him fired.

Thomas McCoy, an educational support employee with the district since 1998, was suspended with pay in January pending a hearing examining his actions on a day in December when district officials say he was cruising while two students went behind a bookshelf and one performed a sex act on the other. McCoy, of Lehigh Acres, was supervising four students in an exceptional student classroom at Royal Palm Exceptional Center while the usual teacher was off campus with other students from the classroom.

Another school employee walking past the room, Virginia Newsome, reported that she saw the students through the window as the girl was performing a sex act on the boy. Both students are identified only by their first and last initials in the report.

According to records on the incident, Newsome went into the room to inform McCoy, who was on a computer with his back to the students. The record states that the computer McCoy was using was later analyzed, and records of the computer’s internet activity showed he was visiting the sports news Web site and links associated with the site at the time of the incident.

It's things like this that made me become a sports writer. I don't think there's any plausible way I can be fired for "cruising" on By the way, what if there was a way to get "sexual acts" while surfing Oh wait, that's called Erin Andrews. Too personal? C'mon, I always gotta find a way to work her into a post.