Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nice Touches

The IFK Mariehamn website carries the unhappy news that the club lost 182,000 euros last season (roughly equivalent to a $250,000 loss), an amount nearly six times the loss experienced by the team in 2009. The club attributed the significant decline in its financial performance to a precipitous drop in attendance and the loss of a subsidy from the Aland Islands government which would have covered over 15% of the shortfall.

I'm surprised that the club does not lose more money in insuring its stay in the Veikkausliiga, as it is remarkable that the team can punch so far above its weight while maintaining a close eye on the enterprise's purse strings. My meager contributions to the club fell in the 2011 financial year, so hopefully those few euros portend even more found revenue streams for Mariehamn.

Other Americans will play a far more important role in IFK's fortunes this season. The club's website now also features two short pieces profiling D.C. United alum Josh Wicks and Real Maryland alum Joe Funicello.

The main takeaway from these short postings would be, I think, that Joe Funicello can cook and that both seem to enjoy the family atmosphere of the Finnish club. Or that Real Maryland alum Mason Trafford wishes he was an American and not cursed with Canadian citizenship or that Josh Wicks donates his chest hair to cancer patients... which is an incredibly selfless thing to do ("Mason är att han hellre skulle vara amerikan än kanadensare. Sen kan jag också berätta att Josh Wicks donerar sitt brösthår till cancerpatienter").

I hope that IFK's supporters get as many opportunities as possible to get to know and love Funicello, Trafford, and Wicks. Earlier tonight, I was in the basement picking something out for a charity auction next month and stopped in front of a soccer ball on a shelf that features the autographs of both Joe and Josh... a reminder of how both made the time (and in Josh's case, went well out of his way) to entertain a baby girl amused by the act of handing a pen and her toy over to an adult in uniform. I'm also reminded of sitting in the stands at Richard Montgomery watching Mason play and noticing that Josh was there as well, taking in a sport he obviously loves with a few dozen others, or running into Josh at Ludwig when he'd come out to support DC United teammates being honored by their alma mater. Best of luck to all three.

As much as I enjoyed seeing the profiles of Wicks and Funicello up on IFK Mariehamn's website, I enjoyed this bit of news on D.C. United's site much more: D.C. United has partnered with the Northern Virginia Majestics to bring women's soccer back to the Maryland Soccerplex as part of the W-League.

The loss of the Washington Freedom was depressing, but remains (at least to me if to no one else) a much preferred alternative to losing the WPS altogether. The addition of a D.C. United backed club to the women's second division resident at the Soccerplex certainly softens the blow.

It will be interesting to see how the Freedom's ardent supporters react and if the environment that made Freedom games such a joy to attend will be replicated when the season kicks off in June. The club, currently dubbed "Washington FC" on the USL web-site, will play five home games in June and July, with three of the five coming on weeknights and four of the five starting at 7 pm.

What is even more interesting to me is D.C. United's willingness to back the venture. Women's soccer is usually fodder for easy shots taken at the struggles of the professional league and brash claims about the lack of quality in the game. Outside of specialty sites dedicated to the sport, there is not a lot of positive press that surrounds it.

I think that the better view is that developing women's soccer is incredibly important to the future of the sport in this country. The women's game creates more fans for the sport generally and enhances interest in soccer for girls. Although my daughter is only learning how to articulate herself and her ideas, she has fully internalized the fact that we watch both women and men play soccer. When she wanders off by herself to dribble the soccer ball in another room, I know that this is a product of seeing women do the same thing on the field. When she tells me she wants to go to a soccer game, it is without regard to whether women or men will be playing -- she just wants to see it played.

Going out to cheer for women playing in D.C. United shirts will, I believe, cement her support for the club. I would hazard a guess that our experience would not be unique in that regard.

For all of these reasons, I'm very grateful that United's management has decided to take this step and I look forward to supporting the new venture in any way possible.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Arriving home after D.C. United's first fixture of the season, I had intended to tap out a post about the joys of watching a team that was relevant again. But my daughter had to be put to bed after being wound up at the match and then work obligations intensified and the post did not get written.

And then United traveled to play New England for its second fixture and reality set in a little bit.

I'll say this: at no point during this season will I regret having renewed (and expanded) our season tickets with the club. The opening game against the Crew was fantastic and my daughter's enthusiasm for attending matches -- even if they are all scheduled as evening games this season (?) -- has grown. The club, in addition to bringing Charlie Davies into the squad, has made an honest and earnest attempt to demonstrate their appreciation for season ticket holders by giving us friendlies with the likes of Ajax and Everton and weaving the Barcelona-ManU friendly at FedEx into the package this year. I would have been over the moon had things been left with only Davies and the club from Amsterdam, but toss in Everton and the clash of the giants (or the giants' reserves) and I am now proselytizing on the team's behalf to anyone within ear shot.

I do not, however, expect the team to be very good or terribly competitive.

There are some uncanny similarities between the current state of D.C. United and Charlton Athletic. Both clubs live off of proud histories and have, of late, seen both their support and relevance in their respective communities wane. At points, the very existence of both has been in peril (ably demonstrated by the Revs supporters clever "Baltimore United" taunt last Saturday). And both have turned their fortunes over to inexperienced club legends to placate what remains of a dissatisfied fan base.

As with D.C. United under Ben Olsen, the early returns for Charlton under Chris Powell energized supporters. The decision to jettison Phil Parkinson (paralleled by the decision to not secure a more experienced coach to take the reins in DC) looked to have been made at the right time. Those who sagely counseled that triumphalism was misplaced, that nothing had fundamentally changed (and, if anything, had gotten worse) were shouted down by the pollyannas in the crowd (including myself) who fervently believed that salvation was at hand.

Following Charlton's pathetic loss to Rochdale today was further confirmation of the delusions attendant to fans that have to believe that their hero's can do anything -- even right a ship that is clearly sinking into the abyss.

I don't have any ties to Chris Powell. Never met him and only have been able to see him play sparsely. But that doesn't matter. I've loved what I have been able to see. Loved everything that I've ever read about him. Chris Powell is an athlete worth admiring.

For many D.C. United supporters, Ben Olsen fills a similar role. Ben Olsen is, fundamentally, D.C. United. The club and the player are interchangeable.

Yet, for both Powell and Olsen, the chances that their reputations will be harmed by tackling frontline management jobs with the clubs with which they are identified are extremely high.

On Saturday against New England, United was an awful team to watch. Although there were a few bright spots, the team, as a whole, seemed listless and incompetent. And in the places where coaching and practice would seem to make a significant difference -- dead ball situations -- United looked particularly bad.

If I'm honest, I expect a lot more games like that 2-1 loss than I do like the 3-1 opener. I expect that there will be more effort and commitment in subsequent games, but I'm not sure that it will have much of an impact on the outcome of matches.

The salient question now is how Powell and Olsen are going to be perceived at the end of their respective seasons. Continued poor results are likely. How much more additional slack are these gaffers cut because of what they achieved in the uniforms of these teams?

At least in Charlton, the answer seems to be "not much."

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Like everyone else, I have been greatly enjoying Virginia Commonwealth's run in the NCAA Men's Tournament. Beginning with VCU's beatdown of Georgetown, I've caught most of their games and have marveled at how the Rams' have maintained the same level of intensity throughout their upsets over the Hoyas, the Boilermakers, the Seminoles, and now the Jayhawks.

The Tournament is a terrific televised sporting event -- the large number of games in the early rounds allows viewers to find potential upsets or close games and, as the number of games begin to dwindle, the competitiveness of the matches ratchets up and you've got tension-filled contests where kids are playing at a level that defies explanation or understanding.

This was the second time in the last four years that early round games of both the men's and women's tournament were played in the DC metro area. Both in 2008 and again this year, I've had the good fortune to attend some of the games of both tournaments. Overall, as much fun as the men's tournament is to watch on television, it is not nearly as enjoyable to be sitting in the stands. On the other hand, the women's tournament is a fantastic live event and one that we have not missed at Comcast.

There is one huge exception to my general impression of live men's tournament games -- Duke vs. Belmont, still one of the single most exciting live sporting events I've ever attended. But the five other games were largely forgettable. I have no recollection of Xavier's twelve point win over Georgia, nor of Purdue's win over Baylor. The Wildcats' band's full rendition of Oingo Boingo's "Insanity" was more memorable than anything that happened in Arizona's loss to West Virginia, despite the fact that both Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill were on the floor for Arizona. And this year, although Cinci's win over Mizzou had its moments, I was uncomfortably bored for the bulk of UConn's dismantling of a totally overmatched Bucknell.

Part of it is the environment at the stadium. The single biggest fan base for the evening games this year came from Bucknell and they got thrashed. Despite the fact that UConn shows well for Big East matches against Georgetown at Verizon, Huskies' fans were not out in force for their first-round game, with alums sprinkled throughout the upper deck.

Even when supporters show up -- and West Virginia's fans turned out in droves in 2008 -- the ban on alcohol sales at tournament games means fans get smashed before entering the stadium. The net effect is brutal. While excessive binge drinking prior to a college football game may augment the emotion pouring out of the terraces, five hours in a basketball stadium can wear down even the most debilitating intoxication. Because Belmont came so close to knocking off Duke, the West Virginia fans had completely spent themselves by the time their game had started and endured most of it in a groggy stupor.

The significance of pre-game drinking was probably accentuated this year because of the games coincidence with St. Patrick's Day and nearly everyone I know who went to the evening sessions almost cut their night's short because of the number of "I Can't Believe How Drunk I Am!" cell-phone jibbering idiots in their section. I lucked out in sitting a section where the five kids who fit that profile were quickly quieted by threats of physical assault that they had no desire to test.

The combination of factors means that the prevailing mood is negative, the fans -- spoiled by the possibility of seeing something like Belmont-Duke for every game -- are, for the most part, disinterested until forcefully engaged, and the games themselves will, in most instances, fail to meet expectations.

The women's tournament games are fundamentally different. Although regular season games sometimes approach comic/tragic, with the Terps matched up against another side that doesn't take the sport terribly seriously, tournament games insure that both teams approach the game with the same level of importance.

In 2008, we caught Maryland and Nebraska's first round games against Coppin State and Xavier, respectively; skipped Duke and Arizona State's openers against Murray State and Temple, respectively; but returned for the second round games. This year, we watched Maryland beat St. Francis and then came back for the Georgetown-Maryland rematch.

Few fans, if any, get tanked before going to a women's tournament game and the absence of alcohol is unremarkable. Those that come out do not come for the event, they do not come out to brag to acquaintances about what they are doing, instead they buy tickets anticipating an entertaining game.

The resulting environment is of an entirely different feel than the men's tournament. And it has nothing to do with a team (Maryland) being able to play on their own home court. If Geno Auriemma is disappointed with his fanbase's apathy to the Huskies' tournament runs, Brenda Frese must be resigned to the fact that no matter what her program achieves, students cannot be bothered to show up to tourney games. At both of Maryland's tournament games this year, there were more students from St. Francis and Georgetown in the stands. The Red Flash's fans, in particular, put Maryland's student body to shame, with several dozen showing up and raucously supporting their team throughout the game.

The crowd is, nevertheless, heavily partisan as it is drawn from the surrounding community, but they are receptive to great performances regardless of the uniform she is wearing. This year, the crowds got behind Sugar Rodgers, who dropped 60 points in two games against Princeton and Maryland. Against Maryland, I think Rodgers had the single most impressive performance of any player I've watched live at Comcast. The three pointers she was draining (7 for 10 from beyond the arc) became increasingly ridiculous and despite good effort out of the Terps, Maryland didn't stand a chance.

And, yet, I have not bothered to watch a single one of the women's games on television this year. In years past, I've only managed to watch Maryland's later round games but have not tuned into anything else. I had intended, notionally, to remember to catch the Hoyas attempt to take down UConn today but remembered the game was on only after it was completed.

But I don't think that detracts from how much I have come to enjoy women's collegiate basketball. Maryland was a pleasure to watch this season and the student body's disinterest notwithstanding, I hope the school continues to bid on hosting the tournament in the years to come. Like Maryland's soccer program, the women's tournament is one of the most underrated, underappreciated gifts from the university to DC-area sports fans.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad Writing

As more facts regarding the negotiations come to light, the "NFL Players Association overreach" position should become significantly less tenable.

Part of the reason why this position was advocated by some has to reflect an awareness by the NFL at the laziness of many sportswriters. The NFL's summary to fans of the breakdown in negotiations was remarkably pejorative for something so light on substance:

Dear NFL Fan,

When I wrote to you last on behalf of the NFL, we promised you that we would work tirelessly to find a collectively bargained solution to our differences with the players' union. Subsequent to that letter to you, we agreed that the fastest way to a fair agreement was for everyone to work together through a mediation process. For the last three weeks I have personally attended every session of mediation, which is a process our clubs sincerely believe in.

Unfortunately, I have to tell you that earlier today the players' union walked away from mediation and collective bargaining and has initiated litigation against the clubs. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, our clubs offered a deal today that was, among other things, designed to have no adverse financial impact on veteran players in the early years, and would have met the players’ financial demands in the latter years of the agreement.

The proposal we made included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee a reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).

It was a deal that offered compromise, and would have ensured the well-being of our players and guaranteed the long-term future for the fans of the great game we all love so much. It was a deal where everyone would prosper.

We remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached, and call on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table.

While we are disappointed with the union's actions, we remain steadfastly committed to reaching an agreement that serves the best interest of NFL players, clubs and fans, and thank you for your continued support of our League. First and foremost it is your passion for the game that drives us all, and we will not lose sight of this as we continue to work for a deal that works for everyone.

Roger Goodell
The NFL's version was so rosy that the truly gullible had few places to go to explain why the NFLPA would walk away so noisily from something so good. The easiest, of course, is to make the narrative personality-based: DeMaurice Smith's (an accomplished successful DC attorney) ego is too big ... the players are simply vindictive and were punishing the NFL Owners for their approach.

All of this is horse manure. Arguments that negotiations of this magnitude came down to the personalities of those sitting on the players' side of the table are pathetically contrived. By definition, the players' representatives are accountable to hundreds of their fellow employees with everyone's livelihood on the line.

Any self-respecting journalist would have to be incredulous about the declaration that the league's owners had offered to split the difference in the compensation gap between the two sides. And, it seems that this characterization was intentionally misleading:

So the league didn’t really offer to “split the difference.” The league went to the midpoint of the $20 million gap, cutting the total difference from $640 million per year to $320 million. But with no offer to provide the players with any portion of the revenue that exceeds the projected growth, the offer was something closer to the league’s prior position than the players’ prior proposal.

Because the financial structure is complicated, the details that will come to light will escape a substantial portion of fans offering their opinions on the labor dispute. But there is no excuse for a reporter/sports writer not understanding what just went down. Moreover, the intentional deception inherent in the NFL's characterization should be underscored by reporters' writing on the subject.

Realistically, however, it would be foolish to anticipate any change in approach by those teeing off on the players. Sports writing is not a profession where accuracy or completeness is particularly prized or valued. Much better to have an opinion and a strident one at that.

Along the same lines, I was disappointed in Jason Reid's column for the Washington Post today commenting on ESPN's "Fab 5" documentary. Reid criticizes Rose for having once held the view that the only African-American players in Duke's basketball program were "Uncle Tom's" and implies that Rose appears to hold some vestige of that opinion. Reid relates a story of being derided with that term by Milton Bradley, a charge that obviously hurt the write.

I read the column before watching the documentary and was surprised by how much Reid's characterization seemed to distort Rose's discussion of Duke's program. Rose matter-of-factly concedes that his judgment was framed through jealousy of Grant Hill's good fortune compared to the disappointment he felt at his father's refusal to recognize him. Rather than being a judgment on the blackness or lack thereof of other African-Americans, Rose's description seems to be inherently personal and there is little evidence -- from the documentary -- that any of his teammates held similar views.

It seems totally unnecessary to attempt to ascribe a viewpoint to Jalen Rose -- particularly one that leads to a linkage to Milton Bradley -- given the historical setting of the Fab 5. That Michigan team was portrayed to America as the quintessence of African-American youth culture and Duke's basketball program was cast as its polar opposite. The Fab 5 were (so conventional wisdom went) brash, hip hopping ballers, who played a playground style of basketball. Duke, on the other hand, were cerebral, disciplined.

The division between racially true and "Uncle Tom" was successfully etched out by media coverage and popular perception. It poisoned the era and rendered irrelevant the question of whether Rose acquiesced to commonly-held views or not.

The more important thing would appear to be the fact that Rose has since come to grips with those views and why they were wrongly held. And that would make a far more interesting article.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The NFL Owners' New Haugh

The routine I have now developed for weekends involves, on Saturday, getting up early, sitting through multiple Dora episodes, trying to get the family out of the house to avoid watching more Dora episodes, following the Charlton league tie through Charlton Life on my wireless, overcoming the disappointment of a horrifically poor run of play under SCP to get on with the day, and then talking myself out of whatever I had planned for the evening to watch the Chicago Bulls.

Last night, I talked myself out of using the tickets I purchased for the Richmond Kickers - University of Maryland preseason game. The Terps got shellacked in the second half, but I would have gone just to see 600+ people turn out for a third division soccer team's preseason match (and to see that London Woodberry remains very much a part of University of Maryland soccer). I would imagine that the Kickers are very proud to have engendered such remarkable support at Ukrop Park yesterday and I am looking forward to driving down for a game at City Stadium at some point this upcoming season.

And then I talked myself out of watching the 4A state championship, missing a great game at Comcast that crowned Waldorf's North Point as the best high school basketball championship.

The Bulls game was a nice alternative.

68 - 41 at the half. Franchise record of 18 made threes (shooting 56% from beyond the arc). C.J. Watson with 16 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. Win led to a virtual tie for first with the Celtics in the East.

All beautiful, but all overshadowed by the twentieth anniversary tribute to Chicago's first NBA titleholders. The entirety of the event was well orchestrated by the franchise, but the visual of Michael Jordan pointing to the current team -- taking in the festivities seated on their bench -- and telling Bulls fans not to be surprised if they win six more left an indelible mark.

Sundays bring another early morn and more Dora. But there is a blessed opportunity to catch some live soccer (today it allowed viewing of Renato Augusto's nifty steal and Bayer Leverkusen's gamewinner over Mainz and Reading's valiant efforts against Man City in the FA Cup) and read the papers.

Today, the Chicago Tribune is highlighting David Haugh's criticism of the NFLPA. Haugh argues that the players' union has overreached and reports that DeMaurice Smith's ego eclipsed what Haugh decrees a good deal for the union.

Everyone has an opinion, but not every opinion has merit.

Haugh's editorial is heavy on apportioning blame but light on any substantive criticism of the NFL Players Association's position. Instead, Haugh focuses on atmospherics and what is, ultimately, his political opinion that employees ought to accept labor terms that are reasonable. His willingness to positively characterize a proposal based on the summary released to the public by the NFL does not reflect terribly well on his judgment, but the bigger issue is what Haugh makes no effort to argue: that the the NFLPA's proposal endangers the long-term health and success of the overall enterprise.

The inability to characterize the players' proposal as harmful to the game should ultimately lay bare the true nature of this dispute. Ad hominem attacks on the "greed" of NFL players or the purportedly oversized egos of those negotiating for the players can only distract for a limited time.

As can the even more idiotic arguments leveled against the players -- these tend to employ ridiculously inapt analogies to the salaries of the common NFL fan to those of NFL players and fundamental misunderstandings regarding the nature of labor markets and the structure of the NFL.

My favorite comparison is the poisonous observation that members of the American military make considerably less than the average NFL player. For those truly concerned about the disparity, one might suggest that their outrage is mildly misplaced. Our infantry men are horrifically under-compensated for the sacrifices they make for this country; but any comparison to professional football players is absurd for any number of reasons.

The salaries for U.S. military men and women are established by the Department of Defense -- any agency that is accountable to the Office of the President and the U.S. Congress. In other words, our military is underpaid because we, as voting citizens, tolerate that state of affairs.

The economic activity generated by football players -- and the taxes paid to the federal government by their work -- contribute to the possibility of raising what we pay our service men and women. At the same time federal funds will continue to flow to government contractors and their executives, who make salaries far in excess of grunts in the Army, but who do not cause NFLPA's detractors to bat an eye. And, in the truly private sector, investment bankers and corporate attorneys among many other white collar professionals will continue to rake in obscenely bloated salaries from behind their desks without a concomitant contribution to the generation of wealth in this country.

But, you know, football players make more than enlisted men and women. So screw the players. (You know who else makes more than enlisted men and women? The NFL owners. And sports columnists. Neither of whom will put their physical health at risk for their paychecks).

The NFL's financial health is not in jeopardy. The league continues to enjoy an exemption from antitrust laws that precludes the realistic possibility of competition, while owners have extracted the right to further restrain competition by capping salaries and limiting what players can make for the good of the game.

But the owners want more. They want more guarantees on the revenue they will generate each year. And they want to generate more income through the additional league fixtures added to each season. And they want these concessions -- the additional guaranteed income in particular -- without demonstrating that the financial performance of the franchises have deteriorated to any extent over the last ten years.

Fortunately, the Tribune is also carrying a piece by Bill Plaschke that acknowledges what Haugh appears unwilling to concede: this is not like basketball or baseball. The lasting images of NFL players is not music videos, not television commercials, not primadonna fits of pique. At the moment, the lasting image -- particularly those for Chicagoans -- is the anguished end to Dave Duerson's difficult life and the daily afflictions of former warriors only a quarter century past their physical prime (like Wilber Marshall, who was forced to sue to obtain a meaningful award for disability, eventually winning an appeal before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008).

The future of football as a dominant force in American sports culture depends upon the NFL doing right by its players. The marginalization of boxing (and the rise of mixed-martial arts, which does a better job appealing to the small portion of Americans lusting for bloodsport) over the last few decades should provide enough of a warning to the NFL that a significant number of fans will stop watching if they are convinced that they are tacitly contributing to the serious physical harm of players.

In these circumstances, it would be very difficult for the NFLPA to overplay its hand. The moral high ground is unquestionably on the side of labor on these facts and no amount of bombastic rhetoric will shift that reality. Owners want more money. End of story. Players, on the other hand, want more money and want to preserve the future of the game.

I have thought about this a lot over the last couple of months. If football came back with a labor agreement that extended the season to 18 games, failed to generously fund retirement benefits and health care for former players, and did not make the health and safety of current players the single biggest priority for the future of the NFL, I do not think I could justify watching Jay Cutler get knocked silly for another season or Chris Harris and Major Wright endanger their long term health to make plays that needed to be made on the field.

America is not Rome.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


"Sick." It is a phrase that I've found myself using a lot while watching basketball recently.

Tonight, the Bulls hosted the Atlanta Hawks, fresh off of an embarrassing collapse against the team last week in Atlanta. Atlanta puts up 50 in the first half. 3rd Quarter? 10 points. Though one minute left in the fourth quarter (down 20 points)? 10 points. Sick.

No Carlos Boozer. Kurt Thomas queued up from "DNP -- Coach's Decision." 3 of the 5 starters account for a grand total of four points. Bulls win by 18 over the fifth seed in the East. Sick. Sick.

We missed DeMatha's WCAC championship win for the Bulls visit and we missed their City Title victory because of work commitments. So I missed more chances to get wowed by James Robinson, Mikael Hopkins, Jerami Grant, Jairus Lyles, and Beejay Anya this season.

We are four miles north of DeMatha, but three miles west of Eleanor Roosevelt. So after missing the DeMatha games and having to give up tickets behind the basket for the Bucks visit last Tuesday, we carved out a night to watch E.R. tackle Baltimore's Patterson Senior High School at Comcast in the state 4A semifinals.

Go for Eleanor Roosevelt, stay for Aquille Carr. We took our time getting to the game and Carr spent much of the second quarter on the bench. Eleanor Roosevelt was dominating and seemed to have the game in hand. Carr took over in the third quarter. Jaw-dropping ball handling skills, incredible leaping ability, and impressive court intelligence (anticipates the movement of other players). Merits all the hype and heads and shoulders above everyone else on the floor. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Not that the kids from Greenbelt's finest were slouches. Chaun Miller (Junior) and Prince Okoroh (Senior) played well and the team's defense was strong enough to hold Patterson's potent offense to less than seventy points in the game.

I walked out curious about what options Okoroh has for D-I play next year. Not only is he a good ball player who has excelled as part of E.R.'s basketball team, he is also apparently a promising academic prospect. His play matches his description of his own game and that of Coach O'Connell's.

And, yet, despite being thought of as one of the top ten basketball prospects in the region and one of the nine nominees from PG County for McDonald's All-American Game, Okoroh does not appear to have generated a great deal of interest from mid or high major programs.

Left off most subscription service listings for basketball recruits, Okoroh is reported to have scholarship offers from two Ivy League schools (Brown and Columbia), three local schools (UMBC, Howard, and Mt. St. Mary's), and Fordham (although a UMBC basketball supporter blog indicates that no offer has been made).

I'm a bit surprised, from just a limited viewing of his game, that Okoroh does not have options to play at higher levels. But, perhaps, it is simply a reminder of the truly exceptional talent required to play D-I basketball on scholarship in this country. Sick.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I have had some low moments at Verizon watching the Bulls -- although none lower than shuffling out of the stadium on May 6, 2005 as the Bulls wasted a 2-0 first round lead over the Wizards. After being harassed and heckled by Wizards fans throughout the game, my wife swore that she would never go to another game decked out in Bulls gear and that she would never, ever root for the Wizards.

I carry a bit of resentment as well, although the Wizard's incompetence has softened those feelings a bit. Tonight, I even felt embarrassed for Wizards fans that had to endure an obnoxious (sizable) minority of Bulls fans who rejoiced in the trouncing of the home team. With two minutes left, the game descended into a parody of Georgetown routs, with Bulls fans calling for Brian Scalabrine and going wild when he converted an open jumpshot. I am sad to admit I was one of those fans, but given the giddiness of nearly everyone that came out to support Chicago tonight, it was hard to resist.

The Bulls won their 41st game of the season tonight and have guaranteed at least a .500 record this year. Since the turn of this century, the Bulls have managed 42 or more wins a grand total of two times (2004-2005 with 47 and 2006-2007 with 49) and made the playoffs three other times by finishing with as many wins as losses. This team will blow recent history out of the water.

The juxtaposition between Bulls fans (ebullient) and Wizards fans (dis-spirited) almost detracted from the enjoyment of the game. Almost.

The Bulls are very good and that certainly is a big part of why they are drawing large groups of fans at away games -- as an aside, the annoyance of the Fox Sports Wisconsin announcers on Saturday night was great ("Tonight would have been a great night for the Packers to have brought the Lombardi trophy to the arena") -- and another major contributing factor is Derrick Rose's ridiculous play (the between the legs feed to a trailing Joakim Noah was jaw-dropping from the stands). But I would hope that another part of the draw is how likable this iteration of the Bulls are.

Michael Wilbon has captured a bit of this in his recent articles for ESPN, admitting that he (like thousands of other Bulls fan) is "drinking the Kool-Aid." No trade, no big name addition, because Gar and Pax think that they can win a title with this group? Sign me up.

Let others outside Chicago kill the franchise for wasting an opportunity to make a run at a championship. Let internet posters and commentators decry the lack of a shooting guard that can light up the opposition. I'll take this team.

On the way home, my sister noted that this is the first time she can remember the Bulls having a rotation that was missing anyone that made fans shake their heads and go "there goes the game." The eleven-deep rotation features, uniformly, solid players who exert maximum effort during their time on the floor.

I will admit to having some initial reservations about C.J. Watson, but those have been totally wiped away. I like the second team, when led by Watson, almost as much as I like the starting lineup. Everyone plays hard and everyone plays together.

Tonight, I thought it was particularly telling that after Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer missed a series of open jump shots, Bulls fans were nonplussed. The Wizards fans around us tried to rib the more vocal Bulls fans about the clanking shots, but the visiting crowd waved them off -- we're all right, they'll start falling, and even if they don't, someone else will score. They've got this.

It may be sour grapes, but I'm not sure I would like this team as much if it depended on O.J. Mayo to provide a significant amount of its offense. There is something that makes Chicago even more dangerous because opponents don't know if the complement to Rose/Deng/Boozer on the offensive end is going to come from Bogans or Korver or Brewer or Watson (or, failing those four, Noah or Gibson through tip ins from missed perimeter shots).

Whether the Bulls added anyone or not, it would not have changed the fact that the key to the Bulls' season this year is the health of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Building a team around these two -- rather than moving the focus away from them -- is the right move regardless of the consequences for this year.