Friday, January 19, 2018

J-Speaks: NFL Championship Sunday: AFC, NFC Championship Game Previews


On Championship Sunday in the National Football League (NFL), we will see a familiar face, and a familiar team trying to build on its legendary resume. The other three participants will be led by quarterbacks who started this season as backups, but will be entering the American Football Conference (AFC), and National Football Conference (NFC) title games with a solid supporting cast around them. That supporting cast will play a big role in determining who will be on the precipice of the Vince Lombardi trophy, with one team hoping to be the first to compete for the NFL’s ultimate prize in their home stadium in two weeks. Here is my NFC, and AFC Championship Game preview. 
In the first game, the AFC Championship will feature Tom Brady, and the AFC East Champion New England (14-3) hosting the upstart AFC South Champion Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6), and their young signal caller Blake Bortles. 
In this matchup for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LII, we have a future Hall of Fame signal caller in Brady, who is looking to lead the Pats to their eighth Super Bowl trophy in two weeks, while the Jags led by Bortles are trying to earn their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. 
Both teams have had different roads in getting to this point, but both have major stakes in this meeting for the Lamar Hunt trophy. 
With their 35-14 victory versus the Tennessee Titans (10-8) last Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots earned their seventh straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game, improving on the longest streak in the Super Bowl era of the NFL. Sunday will also mark their 12th appearance in the AFC title game in franchise history, which is also an NFL record. On top of that, the Pats are trying to become the first team in league history to reach their 10th Super Bowl.  
Enter that contest, Brady was 17-3 at home as the Patriots starting quarterback, with a 62.9 completion percentage; 263.1 passing yard average in those contest with 40 touchdown passes, and just 18 interceptions. 
Against the Titans, he was magnificent going 35 for 53 passing, with 337 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, which gave him in his last seven matchups with the boys from the land of country music 19 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. 
With those three touchdown passes, Brady also set an NFL record with his 10th game in the postseason with three touchdown passes. This was also the third time in his postseason career that he has had 35 completions. 
One of those touchdown passes was to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had six receptions for 81 yards in all. That scoring catch from Brady to the guy who is referred to as “Gronk,” tied for second all-time with 10. That ranks behind the record 12 scoring connections of Hall of Famers Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice.
“It definitely sounds crazy, but you got to keep it ignoring the noise on the outside. Just keep working every time you walk in the building, and just keep grinding,” Gronkowski, who has scored a touchdown in six straight postseason games said to CBS’ Tracy Wolfson about an ESPN story that came out about that this might be the last season that Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft are together.   
Brady with the victory also became at 40 years, 163 days old the oldest starting signal caller to win a postseason game, surpassing Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who led the Minnesota Vikings to a victory in the 2009 Divisional Playoff contest versus the Dallas Cowboys, who were led by Tony Romo, who was in the both calling the game on Saturday night for CBS. 
For the Patriots, being within one game of the Super Bowl is nothing new for them. Throughout their run of excellence over the last decade-plus winning five Super Bowls under Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft and Brady has always been about a one game at a time approach. Never leaving a stone unturned, and always understanding that under no circumstances do you disrespect your opponent, and bring you’re A+ game when the lights come on. 
That was especially the case for the Pats defense, who after giving up a 15-yard touchdown pass by Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota to rookie wideout Corey Davis that capped an 11-play 95-yard scoring drive, held the Titans to 252 total yards the rest of the game. The Titans were also just 5 for 15 on third down. After having 202 rushing yards in their 22-21 comeback win at the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card contest the week prior, had just 65 yards on the ground at the Pats, while also committing 10 penalties for 62 yards. The Patriots also sacked Mariota eight times, setting a new franchise postseason record.  
“I know how hard it is to get to this game, and we’re very blessed to do it, Brady, who injured his right hand in a minor collision with a teammate in practice on Thursday said to reporters after the game. “It takes a lot of things. A lot of good fortune. A lot of hard work.” 
“The reality of the NFL is what we did this week, will have nothing to do with what happens next week, and we’re going to have to go, and repeat it. So, you got to get right back to work.”
Brady, according to the Boston Herald did not practice on Thursday because of that hand injury.
When asked about the level of concern about whether Brady will be limited in any way on Sunday because of that hand, Coach Belichick said, "we'll see." 
ESPN's Suzy Kolber said during Friday's edition of "NFL Live," on ESPN said that during a conversation with NFL Nation's Mike Reiss, who reports on the Patriots watched Brady during the early portion of practice on Friday, where he was warming up wearing gloves on both hands. 
The question was, did the future Hall of Famer, who is 8-1 in his last nine playoff appearances under center with 23 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions participate the rest of practice because Brady was out of camera view. 
In typical Belichick fashion, when asked about the player, who has not missed a playoff game in his career on Friday morning said, "We're going to continue to get ready for Jacksonville, all the way through until game time." 
"We're going to get ready for Jacksonville. Do the best that we can. Make the best decisions we can for the team to do that. So, that's what we're going to do."
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone did not take the cheese at all saying in his presser on Friday, "Tommy will play. We know that." 
Reiss did report that Brady's absence from practice on Thursday was of significance because it was an important in part because the entire team was in full pads, and teams have limited opportunities to work in full pads at this point in the season. On top of that, it is getting the entire team on offense, defense, and special teams to play at the same tempo. 
Hard work is the perfect to describe the Pats opponent the Jacksonville Jaguars, who earned their first playoff appearance in a decade this regular season, and will look to hand the Patriots their first loss at home in their last eight chances. Since their last home playoff loss in the 2012 AFC Championship Game 28-13 versus the Baltimore Ravens, who went on to win Super Bowl XLVII.  
They did it behind a defense that was second in the league in points allowed at 15.8; No. 1 in passing yards allowed at 169.9; second in sacks with 55, and interceptions with 21. 
That defense led by Pro Bowlers in defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Malik Jackson; linebackers Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and a secondary unit of corners A.J. Bouye, and Jalen Ramsey were remarkable in their Wild Card matchup versus the Buffalo Bills. 
That defense was on full display in the Jags 10-3 win two Sundays ago in their Wild Card home playoff game versus the Buffalo Bills (9-8). 
They forced two turnovers, via two interceptions of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and held the Bills to 7 for 18 on third down. 
The question was, could the Jaguars go into Pittsburgh, and take care of the Steelers the next week, like they did winning 30-9 back in Week 5 on Oct. 8, 2017? 
They not only went into the Heinz Field, and beat the AFC North Champion Steelers (13-4) in the Divisional Round last Sunday afternoon 45-42, they did behind an offense which was incredible compared to the anemic performance the week prior. 
Led by rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who had 25 carries for 109 yards, and three rushing touchdowns, becoming just the second rookie in postseason history with three-plus rushing scores in a game, the Jags compiled 22 first downs; 378 total yards; went 8 for 14 on third down; and scored touchdowns on all five of their trips in the red zone.
“We kept pushing each, and every play, in spite of [if] we lost yards, we knew we had to get it back, because they was going to score, and we have to score, and it was going to be back, and fourth likely,” Fournette, who overcame an ankle injury, thanks to a scripture he got from his mother at intermission said to FOX Sports’ Kristina Pink after the game in the locker room.  
“In spite of the ankle injury, I knew my team needed me. I wasn’t going to sit out the game. Just kept playing.”
As great as Fournette was for Coach Marrone squad, the much-maligned starting signal caller of the Jaguars Blake Bortles, was 14 for 26 passing, for 214 yards, a touchdown pass, and no interceptions. 
“I think the last couple of weeks, its been a lack of execution. We’re kind of just been having some mental errors,” Bortles said to CBS’ Evan Washburn after the game about his team’s offensive explosion. “Not being able to figure things out. It hasn’t been scheme or calls, or anything like that. So, I think we kind of put it all together today. Guys came out, and played their tails off.”
That offensive output neutralized the Steelers’ production of 545 yards of offense, which included a postseason franchise record 469 passing yards on 37 for 58 from two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger, who also threw five passing touchdowns. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell had 155 scrimmage yards, scoring twice, and wideout Antonio Brown had seven receptions, 132 yards, and two touchdown receptions. 
“The guys played with confidence all day long,” Bortles, whose team including the playoffs is 10-0 this season when he does not turn the ball over said to Washburn. “Obviously what they have on their side of the ball, it’s a good team. We know that they got a good offense. So, we knew we had to keep scoring. That we were going to have to be efficient. Hold onto the ball for a little bit. So, we did it. They kept making plays at the end, but we were able to find a way to pull it out. It was incredible.” 
While the defense was not up to par compared to a week ago, the Jaguars defense had some big moments, which included two key stops on fourth down, and forcing two turnovers, where one of them was a 50-yard fumble recovery for a score by Smith in the second quarter. 
Besides having the better quarterback, and all the experience of being in the AFC title game, the Patriots also come into this game with the second-best scoring defense, giving up just 16.8 points during the regular season. 
To illustrate the mismatch between Brady and Bortles entering Sunday’s contest, the Pats’ signal caller has 26 postseason wins in his career, and Bortles has 23 wins, and has a record of 23-42 in his career. 
The thing the Jags have in their favor in entering their tilt with the Patriots on Sunday is the disrespect card. No one outside of Florida believes that they have a chance of betting the Pats, especially in their house this weekend. That was the same feeling about them doing what they did in Western Pennsylvania, but they found a way to win, and they will have to play even bigger if they want to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in two weeks. 
For them to become the first team in NFL history to win games at Pittsburgh, and New England in the same postseason, and to be the first team to reach the Super Bowl following a three-win season, they will need a big game from Bortles, who had just 87 passing yards on 12 for 23, and a touchdown, but had 88 yards on the ground in win versus the Bills before his out of this world contest versus the Steelers to start this week. 
“I’m sure they’ll be tons of people that are going to disapprove, or talk negative, or hate, or do whatever they want, but we get to keep playing, and we get an opportunity to go play in Foxboro, [MA] next week for another week,” Bortles said to Washburn. 
“So, just honored to [do] this, especially with this group of guys. It’s been an awesome year, and want to keep it going.” 
Along with Bortles putting together another A++ performance, that Jaguars defense needs to show up. If they play below their potential like they did at the Steelers, the game will be decided before they new what hit them. 
In the NFC Championship Game, the winner between the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings (14-3) and the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) their respective signal callers, who began this season as backups will make history with their first appearance on Super Sunday, and will lead their squad one step closer to the Vince Lombardi Trophy in quite some time. 
The Eagles were rolling behind MVP candidate Carson Wentz, who was completing 60.2 percent of his passes with 33 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. They lost their signal caller to a season ending knee injury in their victory at the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams 43-35 in Week 14, on Dec. 10, 2017. 
In his stead was backup Nick Foles, who four years prior as the Eagles starter had 27 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. 
This time around though, the team struggled to close the season scoring just 34, 19, and six points in their final three games, despite winning two of those three final contests. 
In their 15-10 win in the Divisional Round versus the Atlanta Falcons (11-7), Foles played okay going 23 for 30 passing for 246 yards. While he had no passing touchdowns, he did not throw an interception. 
The Eagles, and head coach Doug Pedersen won the game thanks to their defense, which has been one of the best in the NFL all season long. 
The running back combination of Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman combined for just 86 yards rushing. Last season’s league MVP Matt Ryan was just 22 for 36 passing for 201 yards, a touchdown, and was sacked three times. They also held the Falcons to just 4 for 13 on third down. 
That defense, which has allowed 10 points or less in their last four games at home masked an Eagles offensive attack that despite totaling 334 of offense, committed two turnovers, and managed just two field goals off the leg of rookie place kicker Jake Elliott in the second half. 
For the Minnesota Vikings, their season started with Sam Bradford under center, but a knee injury after just two games shelved him, and the preverbal keys to the car went to journeyman Case Keenum, who for the past two years was with the Rams as a backup, as well as a starter. 
In his 15 starts in the regular season, Keenum was 12-3; threw for 22 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions in leading the Vikings to the mountain top of the NFC North, and earned a First-Round bye. 
In their Divisional matchup versus the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings dominated early leading 17-0 at intermission. 
A 14-yard touchdown pass from Saints All-Pro QB Drew Brees to Michael Thomas that capped a 12-play 80-yard scoring drive that cut the deficit to 17-7. 
In the final period, the Saints mounted two touchdown scoring drives early, and late in the fourth quarter that gave them a 21-20 lead. 
The Vikings on their two scoring drives in the fourth managed just field goals, with the last one off the foot of veteran place kicker Kai Forbath to give them a 23-21 advantage. 
A late field goal by Saints kicker Will Lutz put them up 24-23 with just 25 seconds separating them from a trip to the NFC Championship Game. 
Down to their last shot with :10 seconds remaining and 61 yards from the end zone, Keenum threw an impossible hail marry pass to the sideline, which wideout Stefon Diggs somehow caught as rookie safety Marcus Williams was coming right at him. Diggs not only caught the pass, he kept his feet inbounds raced to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, that ended the game 29-24, and guided the Vikings to the NFC title game for the 10th time in franchise history, and their first since 2009. 
“I can’t even explain it man,” Keenum, who was 25 for 40, for 318 passing yards, the game-winning TD, and an interception said to FOX Sports’ Chris Myers on the field after the win. “We we’re definitely in desperation mode. Just had to give my guy a chance, and Diggs made a heck of a play.”
“We made a lot of plays today. Got to give our guys credit. We fought to the very end, and that’s special. That’s one of the most special times of my life.”
That walk-off score by Diggs, who finished with six receptions for 137 yards was the first in NFL postseason history, and a special moment for a player who said after the game that this was the reason he has worked his tail off in practice was to capitalize on that one shining moment. 
“Since I first got here, I never stopped working. Today was when all that hard work paid off,” the three-year veteran said while fighting back tears after the game to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “God put me in a position, and I just tried to take advantage of the opportunity.” 
It is an opportunity that the Vikings defense is especially grateful for because this was one of the rare times all season that head coach Mike Zimmer’s team could not close out the game with their best unit, as Brees as mentioned three second half touchdowns. 
No one was happier for what Keenum did to keep the Vikings season alive than defensive end Everson Griffen, the team leader in sacks during the regular season with 13. 
“Oh my God!!!,” is how he described his quarterbacks’ game-winning touchdown throw to Anderson. “It’s unbelievable. I’m happy. I was sad, now I’m, … WOW!!!”
To put how great Keenum has been in terms of handling some situations this season, he is fourth in the NFL in terms of Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) on the road, as well as in his play outside of the pocket; No. 1 in one-score games, being pressured, and versus the blitz; and third versus five-plus defensive backs. Only Wentz of the Eagles had a higher Total QBR of the 69.5 of Keenum during the regular season. 
The NFC Championship Game essentially will come down to Keenum of the Vikings, and Foles of the Eagles, who were teammates with the Rams in 2015, their last season in St. Louis, MO where Keenum replaced Foles midway through that season as the starter. Who can make key throws on a particular scoring drive against the opposing defense, which each is one of the very best in the NFL. Whose running game will make the difference, and whose will be kept in check? Also, whose special teams will do their part to not make the glaring blunder that could swing the game in either direction?
If were talking about which QB has the most to work with, it is Foles. He was a plethora of options at wideout with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith, and tight ends Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, and Brent Celek. Not to mention two bruising running backs in LeGarrette Blount, and Jay Ajayi. 
The Vikings have solid skill position players of their own in the previously mentioned Diggs, Adam Thielen, who is questionable to play because of back issue, and Kyle Rudolph, along with running backs Latavius Murray, and Jerick McKinnon. 
The Vikings strength however is as mentioned at the defensive end, and if they have any plans on being the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium, their defense must show up at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. 
They need Griffen, and his defensive line teammates Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, and Linval Joseph; linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Eric Wilson; and the secondary of corners Terence Newman, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, and Andrew Sendejo, who is still in concussion protocol to show up, and show out. Coach Zimmer though expects Sendejo to be cleared come game time, according to tweet from Ben Goessling @GoesslingStrib on Friday.   

The Vikings can also take this into account that road teams are 7-2 in non-Super Bowl playoff matchups of 13-win teams. 

The other thing that the Vikings can take into account is the fact that making it to this point is not always promised, and they can look no further than their head coach to understand that feeling. 

In his first stint with the Dallas Cowboys as the defensive backs coach from 1994 to 1999, the Cowboys made it the NFC title game in back-to-back seasons in 1994, and 1995. They made it to the Super Bowl in both of those seasons, winning one, and then losing the other. Since then, Zimmer has not been back, and the Vikings win last Sunday ended a personal 10-game postseason losing streak. 

"I want them to understand this is an unbelievable moment. A great opportunity, and we need to take advantage of it now, because it may never happen again for 22 more years," Zimmer said to ESPN's Hannah Storm about winning in Philadelphia on Sunday, and reaching the Super Bowl. 

"For a lot of these players, they've never been to an NFC Championship Game. They've never been to a Super Bowl, and we need to cherish the moment, but we also need to take advantage of this opportunity." 

Zimmer also said that the fans of the Vikings deserve to win, and win big because of the many playoff failures they have endured in past seasons, which has saw them lose their last five Conference Championship games in succession and seeing their Division, and cross state rival the Green Bay Packers have had long playoff runs, and have a Super Bowl to their credit, one of many in their history. 

Zimmer, whose squad will be looking for their first Conference title game victory since 1976 was especially proud of the fans, and the energy they brought to U.S. Bank Stadium last Sunday. He referred to it as, "electric."

"They were so good, and they've been like that all year long. For them, to be able to say that they're World Champions, that would be the greatest feeling in the world for me."

For that to happen though, The Vikings will have to win at the Eagles this Sunday night, and they will need their entire team to play well.
For both quarterbacks entering the biggest game to date of their careers, both took a different approach to how they are dealing with it. 
“I know this is what all you guys predicted. A Foles versus Keenum NFC Championship. Good job to guys who predicted that,” Keenum said in a mocking kind of way earlier in the week. 
Foles, who contemplated retirement before his second chance with the Eagles took a more reflective approach saying in his presser, “I think the biggest message there is no matter what happens you just got to keep believing in yourself. Keep working hard. Just never give up.”
This Sunday’s Conference title game matchups gives us in the first game one team with a future Hall of Famer signal caller in Tom Brady, and one of the best teams of all-time in the New England Patriots trying to build on their historic resume hosting an opponent in the Jacksonville Jaguars trying to make their own mark, and their signal caller in Blake Bortles hoping to quiet all the doubters one more time, and lead the Jags to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. 
In the other, we have the Minnesota Vikings led their understudy Case Keenum trying to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since losing Super Bowl IV against the then AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 11, 1970, at the Philadelphia Eagles, who are hoping led by their backup quarterback Nick Foles to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since losing to Brady, and the Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX. 
Championship Sunday, gets underway with the AFC Championship Game at 3 p.m. on CBS, while the NFC Championship Game will begin at 6:30 p.m. on FOX. 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 1/13/18 4:30 p.m. NFC Divisional Playoff Game Atlanta Falcons versus Philadelphia Eagles on NBC with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michelle Tafoya; 1/13/18 8 p.m. AFC Divisional Playoff Game Tennessee Titans versus New England Patriots on CBS with Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, and Tracy Wolfson; 1/14/18 1 p.m. AFC Divisional Playoff Game Jacksonville Jaguars versus Pittsburgh Steelers on CBS with Ian Eagle Dan Fouts, and Evan Washburn; 1/14/18 State Farm Postgame Show on CBS with James Brown, Phil Simms, Nate Burleson, and Boomer Esiason; 1/14/18 NFC Divisional Playoff Game New Orleans Saints versus Minnesota Vikings on FOX with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, and Chris Myers-State Farm Halftime Report with Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, and Michael Strahan, with report from Kristina Pink; 1/18/18 6 a.m. edition of CNN’s Headline News Network’s “Morning Express with Robin Meade,” with the Bleacher Report, courtesy of the new 2018 Ford F-150 with Andy Scholes; 1/19/18 1:30 p.m. edition of ESPN's "NFL Live," with Suzy Kolber, Darren Woodson, and Tedy Bruschi; 1/19/18 ESPN Bottom Line news crawl; www.espn.com/nfl/standings; www.espn.com/nfl/statistics; www.espn.com/nfl/team/schedule/_/name/jax/jacksonville-jaguars; www.espn.com/nfl/team/schedule/_/name/phi/philadelphia-eagles; www.espn.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/15168/case-keenum; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Philadelphia_Eagles_seasons;
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012-13_NFL_playoffs;  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXXIX; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadlephia_Eagles; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Vikings; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Minnesota_Vikings_seasons; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_IV; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_Patriots.   


Sunday, January 14, 2018

J-Speaks: The Passing of The Voice of Sports


There was a time when many sports play-by-play commentators broadcasts every sport across the spectrum. One of those announcers was a proud man from Georgia, who would go on to become the voice of college football. He made history calling the first game of what has become a pro sports institution. He had many catch phrases, and nicknames for a football stadium, a football offensive unit, and a famed college bowl game that has become a part of the sports vocabulary today. On Friday, the sports, and broadcast world said goodbye to this iconic voice, and what many of those in this great field call him a true gentleman. 
Keith Jackson, who is regarded as the voice of college football passed away late Friday night. He was 89 years old, and is survived by his wife, the former Turi Ann Johnsen, their three children Melanie Ann, Lindsey, and Christopher, and three grandchildren. 
Jackson, a long-time California resident of California, who resided in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, CA spent nearly half a century calling sporting events in a folksy, down-to-earth tone that made him one of the most popular play-by-play commentators in the business. 
He used that unique tone particularly during his four-decade run with the American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC’s) “Wide World of Sports” to come up with some of the greatest sayings that are used by many commentators today. 
His phrases also described two iconic football stadiums for the Michigan Wolverines, which is called “The Big House,” and “The Granddaddy of Them All,” which Jackson called to describe The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, which inducted Jackson into their Hall of Fame in 1999.  
Among them was “Whoa, Nellie,” which trended over the weekend on Twitter, according to Sunday’s edition of Newsday was used to describe a big-time play made on the gridiron. Jackson attributes that phrase to his great-grandfather, who used it when he was in the fields. 
“Fummmbille,” was Jackson’s phrase when an offensive player lost the football. Jackson’s phrase “Big uglies,” describes offensive lineman. 
Along with being great at his job, he was a true gentleman that earned the respect of all those that he worked with. 
“I woke up this morning very blue, as so many others did as well,” Jim Nantz of CBS sports said during the network’s telecast of the American Football Conference’s (AFC) Divisional Playoff contest of the Tennessee Titans versus New England Patriots on Saturday night. “Very said times.” 
Those same sentiments were echoed in the other AFC’s other Divisional Playoff tilt between the Jacksonville Jaguars versus Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday when play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle, who also is the lead broadcasters of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA called Jackson a “legendary broadcaster.” 
“As a broadcaster, we’ll never experience a better one, ever again,” Fouts, who was alongside Jackson for the broadcast of the 41-38 victory by the Texas Longhorns over the Southern California Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl, also said during the broadcast on Sunday. “But more importantly to me, he became a mentor. An important part of my life as a friend.”
That thrilling national championship contest that saw former Longhorn, Titans’, and Philadelphia Eagles’ QB Vince Young defeat the Trojans, and their two Heisman Trophy winners, in former Arizona Cardinals signal caller Matt Leinart, now college football studio analyst for FOX Sports Matt Leinart, and former New Orleans Saints’ Miami Dolphins, and Buffalo Bills running back Reggie Bush was also the final broadcast for ABC Sports as separate network before being joined by ESPN.
Some of Jackson’s other great collegiate football broadcasts consists of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State versus University of Miami; 1994 contest of Colorado versus Michigan, dubbed Kordell Stewart’s Hail Marry in the 1994 “Miracle at Michigan;” Desmond Howard’s “Hello Heisman,” 1991 for the Wolverines; and “Wide Right I,” and “Wide Right II,” in the Florida State-Miami rivalry.  
“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” Bob Iger, chairman, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Walt Disney Company. “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman, and a memorable presence. Our thoughts, and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family.”
In an ironic way, the merger of ESPN and ABC was a fitting way to begin a new era, and the conclusion of a prior one, where it was headlined by Jackson, who was a jack of all sports broadcasts, which began with the calling of college football games for ABC in 1966 when the network acquired the broadcast rights by the NCAA. 
Jackson also commentated NFL, and NBA contests, while also working 11 World Series for MLB, 10 Winter, and Summer Olympics, and auto racing. He also traveled the globe to 31 countries for the “Wide World of Sports,” for ABC. 
Among his broadcasting accomplishments, Jackson was the first voice of “Monday Night Football,” which is now broadcast on ESPN, when it debuted on Sept. 21, 1970 with the New York Jets versus Cleveland Browns, working alongside Howard Cosell, and Don Meredith. The Browns won that contest 31-21. He was on the call for Bucky Dent’s run against the Boston Red Sox in 1978, as well as Reggie Jackson’s three-run blast in the 1977 World Series. 
Mark Spitz’s record seven Gold medals in the 1972 games, and speed skater Eric Heiden’s five golds eight years later were amongst Jackson’s famed calls in the summer. 
Jackson was born on Oct. 18, 1928 in Roopville, GA, and grew up on a farm outside of Carrollton, at the state line of Alabama. As a child, he grew up listening to sports on the radio. 
After an enlistment, and service in the United States Marine Corps as a mechanic, Jackson attended Washington State University in Pullman, WA under the G.I. Bill. He started as a political science major, but his interest turned to broadcasting. 
His sports broadcast journey began in 1952 calling games a game between the Stanford Cardinal and the Cougars. 
After graduated in 1954 with his B.A. in speech communications, Jackson worked for KOMO radio in Seattle, WA, and then worked for KOMO-TV for 10 years as co-anchor for the stations first news team. He covered Sefair hydroplane races, minor league Seattle Rainiers baseball games, and University of Washington Huskies football contests. 
In 1964, Jackson became a radio news correspondent for ABC News Radio, and sports director of ABC Radio West before joining ABC Sports 52 years ago. 
His broadcast career doing pro football came in the early 1960s covering the American Football League (AFL). 
When he was chosen to be the first play-by-play commentator for Monday Night Football in 1970, Jackson was the fallback choice because for New York Giants star the late Frank Gifford was unable to get out of his analyst deal with CBS Sports until the conclusion of the 1970 campaign. Gifford did land the job one year later when they removed Jackson, and that led to some contention between him and the ABC top brass. 
When Gifford, the husband of Kathie Lee Gifford, and father to Cody and Cassidy passed away in August 2015, Jackson became the only living member of the original broadcast team from the MNF team from the early 1970s. 
For a two-year period (1983-85), Jackson was the lead play-by-play man for the United States Football League (USFL) broadcast for ABC, pairing with Lynn Swann, and Tim Brant, calling all three title games in the league’s short history. 
He also at one time was the lead play-by-play announcer calling NBA games on ABC with the 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, and Hall of Famer Bill Russell as his co-pilot for four years. 
“I am saddened to hear the news of Keith Jackson’s death,” Swann, the Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver, and current USC Athletic Director said in a statement on Saturday. “Keith covered games I played in, and we worked together at ABC Sports for decades. Every step of the way, he shared his knowledge, and his friendship.” 
“Not just his voice, but the spirit of college football. My heart, and prayers go out to his wife, and children on this day, and I thank them for allowing so many of us to have shared in Keith’s life.”
As mentioned earlier, the sports world said goodbye to a legend. A jack of all sports. Jackson had the ability to broadcast any sport. He was not just a broadcaster, he was a story teller who can take what we say on the small screen, and could articulate the images we saw in a way that made us feel like we were right there as the action was unfolding. 
He was the last of an iconic baby booming generation of voices that were fading into the sunset, which included the recent passing of the legendary Dick Enberg, who we lost last month. 
While we have said to goodbye to two of the greatest voices that have called some of the best moments that college, and professional sports has to offer, the great work of Jackson, and Enberg paved the way to some of the best voices of sports broadcasting today like the previously mentioned Nantz, Al Michaels, who the lead play-by-play announcer for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Joe Buck of FOX Sports, and Mike Tirico of NBC, and previously with ESPN/ABC. 
Jackson however was one of a kind. When Saturday afternoon came around in the fall, you knew that Jackson was going to be lead voice at the headline game of that day, and you hoped to catch his call. That is what made as many have called him the soundtrack of college football, period. 
Two of the great coaches of college football in the late Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and former Wolverines lead man on the sidelines Lloyd Carr both concur to that. 
“I don’t think you could say that there is any one person who is not a coach, athletic director, or administrator who has done more for college football than Keith Jackson,” Paterno once said. 
“A symbol of all the good things in college football,” is what Carr said of his description of Jackson.
His great work on the air made him the first broadcaster to be awarded the National Football Foundation, and Hall of Fame Gold Medal in 1999. The National Sportswriters, and Sportscasters Association named him the National Sportscaster of the Year five straights times starting in 1995. He was the first sports announcer to receive the Stagg award. 
Keith Max Jackson was a legend in his profession. He was the voice of some of the best moments, games, and individual performances in sports for nearly five decades. He was kind, proud man who was a husband, father, and grandfather who had a special way of connecting with those that watched his telecast. He was a mentor, who made his co-pilot(s) as important to the broadcast as to those that commentated along with him, as well as those watching the action on the television. His impact has had a lasting impact on current, and future generations of studio, and game commentators great to be versatile in their knowledge, and commentary of all sports. 
“That big smiling face, and just the thrill, and love he had for doing college football,” ESPN/ABC color analyst Bob Griese said on “Sportscenter,” over the weekend when asked what he would remember about the man he worked with starting back in 1985. 
“He did it for a long, long time…. He never intruded on the game. It was always about the kids on the field. Never, never shining the light on himself. And that was one of the things that I most admired about him.” 
Information, and quotations courtesy of 1/13/18 www.espn.com article “Legendary Broadcaster Keith Jackson Dies at Age 89;” 1/14/18 Newsday article “Whoa, Nellie,” by Neil Best; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LCS; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Swann; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Jackson.  


Monday, January 8, 2018

J-Speaks: Mavericks Raise No. 12 to Rafters of AAC


In the 1983 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected with the No. 11 overall pick a ‘6’4” point guard out of the University of Illinois who would become an integral part of their team during a five-year run in the 1980s. This past Saturday was the 23-year anniversary where this star lead guard was traded to the “Big Apple” where he became a spark in their run to the 1994 NBA Finals. On Sunday, that lead guard was honored during intermission of the tilt between the two teams he played a majority of his NBA career with. 
At halftime of the Mavericks (13-28) 100-96 loss versus the New York Knicks at the American Airlines Center on Sunday night, the organization retired the No. 12 jersey of Derek Harper. 
“I’m very humbled by this honor,” Harper, who has been the television color analyst for the Mavs on FOX Sports Southwest for last 11 seasons alongside play-by-play man Mark Followill, the Master of Ceremonies said to the 19,200 in attendance. “Very grateful that Mark Cuban, along with the Mavericks organization made it official that No. 12 is going to hang in the rafters. I can truly say that I don’t stand here thinking that one day my jersey was going to hang in the rafters. That’s not why we play the game. We play for the love. For the competition. For the comradery, of teammates.”
He joined former teammates in All-Star Ronaldo Blackman (No. 22), and Brad Davis (No. 14), who were on hand for the ceremony to have their jersey raised in the rafters of the AAC. 
“The most important thing when you talk about a point guard. When you talk about somebody who’s leading a basketball team, you have to know, and understand the personalities that he had to put up with, including our coach, including me, including Mark [Aguirre], including everybody on the team,” Blackman said of his former partner in the backcourt back then during the ceremony.
“But he was always ready to lead. Always ready to put himself in line to be able put all the actions necessary to be able to have our team come out on top.” 
Blackman also said that he remembers Harper’s focused scowl that he had on his face during the game. He compared it to having a Dobermann Pinscher dog. He coupled that with a consistency to understand the game plan; to manage all the personalities on the team; and to be able to grow as a player individually, and as a leader, which made him as Blackman said to the audience one of the best point guards to play on offense, and on defense. 
Another one of Harper’s former teammates on hand was Davis, who played for the Mavericks from 1980-1992, with nine of those seasons as a teammate of Harper’s who Followill mentioned that he wore a suit in respect of his former teammate. 
Davis, who is second in Mavericks history in games played with 863, said that when the team drafted Harper, the team would get together before training camp for a scrimmage, and said after going against him for nearly a week, he knew that he was in for a long season practicing against Harper day in, and day out. 
“One thing I respect about Derek is how intense he was, and how competitive he was,” Davis said to those in attendance. “It didn’t matter if it was Game 7 against the Lakers, or five-on-five in practice. He always had that competitive fire, and I always liked it when he switched over to guard Ro [Blackman] for a little while, cause then I got a break, which was great.” 
One fond memory that Davis shared about Harper is midway through the 1985-86 season, Motta told then assistant coach Bob Weiss that he was going to make Harper the starting point guard. Coach Weiss came to Davis’ locker about the decision. His response, “What took you so long?” 
“I want to congratulate Harp. I’ve always admired the way he played. The way he conducted himself. One of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”
Also on the floor for the ceremony was Harper’s first NBA head coach in his first four seasons was Dick Motta, who coached the team from 1980-87. 
Harper said during the ceremony of the now 87-year-old Motta that he was always tough on him, but he was tough on him for a reason. That he carved his career out, and he got on him because Blackman, and Mark Aguirre could not take it, which got a laugh from his former teammate, as well as the audience. So, Harper took the brunt of it, and said it set him on the right path to be that hard nose, scrappy, defensive ace, where he made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1987, and 1990.  
“The reason why I can move on from basketball. Why I was able to move on from the game is because Dick Motta taught me how to leave it out on the floor every single night, and that’s important to me.” Harper said of his first head coach in “The Association.” “That’s important to me because I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s about giving 100 percent for the fans.”
He played 12 of his 16 seasons in “Big-D,” and only current Mavs’ perennial All-Star, and 2006 MVP Dirk Nowitzki (30,757, and counting); Blackman (16,643), and Mark Aguirre (13,390) have scored more points in their time with the Mavericks than the 12,597 points by Harper. He is their all-time leader in assists (5,111), and steals (1,551), and averaged 14.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.8 steals, on 47 percent shooting from 1983-94, and 1996-97. 
Harper said to Knicks’ sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow in a pregame interview that he is most proud of the fact that he remains the all-time steals leader in Mavericks history, because it points to how great of a defender he was, which is where he built his NBA career on. 
In three of those five seasons beginning in the 1984, the Mavericks, and Harper met the Los Angeles Lakers led by Hall of Famers Earvin “Magic” Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and head coach Pat Riley three times. They lost to them in the semifinals twice in 1984 in five games, and in 1986 in six games. Their best moment to take down the Goliath of the Western Conference came in 1988, but they fell in Game 7 at the Great Western Forum, as the Lakers went on to defeat the Detroit Pistons, led by Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas in seven games.   
After the 1987-88 season, the Dallas Mavericks only made the postseason just once over the next 12 seasons, which consisted of 11 wins in 1992-93, and 13 wins in 1993-94.  
During the 1993-94 NBA campaign, nearly 24 seasons ago to the day of Jan. 6, 1994, Harper was traded to the New York Knicks, where he was reunited with Blackman, and was coached by Riley, who saw his great work on both ends of the court up close. 
The Knicks, who finished as the East runner-up the season prior losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Finals in six games, needed a defensive lead guard to replace then starting lead guard Glenn “Doc” Rivers, the now head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers was shelved for the remainder of that season because of injury. 
The acquisition of Harper, who averaged 11.7 points, 4.8 assists in 216 regular season appearances with the Knicks from 1994-96 was a major reason the Knicks managed to compile a 57-25 record, winning their third straight Atlantic Division title, and they made their way through the East, beating the then New Jersey Nets in the opening round 3-1; defeating the hated Bulls 4-3 in the Semis; and taking care of the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals 4-3. 
In their first NBA Finals appearance since 1973, the Knicks behind their defensive identity, and grit held their own against the Western Conference representative the Houston Rockets, but feel to the Rockets in seven games. 
“Playing in New York brings back so of my greatest basketball memories, simply because I did have the opportunity to play for a championship in 94 under coach Riley.” Harper, who averaged 11.9 points, 4.8 assists on 44 percent from the floor in 42 career playoff games as a Knick said to Haarlow. “We missed it by one game obviously. Got to Game 7. Didn’t happen, but I have great fond memories of New York. Tremendous place to play.”
Harper also said that advancing to The Finals was his fondest memory, when they defeated the Pacers at Madison Square Garden in Game 7, 94-90 on June 5, 1994, and he remembers jumping into the arms of Hall of Fame Center Patrick Ewing. He called the moment of knowing that he, and his teammates were going to be competing for a title, “surreal.” 
“I’ve always like most NBA players wanted to that opportunity, and to know I was going there, that’s got to be my biggest memory period.” 
Had the Knicks won in the 1994 Finals, Harper, who averaged 16.4 points, six assists, and 2.4 steals on 47 percent from the floor, and 44 percent from three-point range in The Finals, had a good chance of being named Finals MVP, which went to Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets. 
Harper also said that had he won a title in New York, his jersey retirement on Sunday night might not had happened because he said that he might have stayed in the “Big Apple,” and worked in the organization in some capacity. 
“You win a championship in a city like that, you’re always going to be honored,” Harper said. 
As far as winning the MVP of The Finals, Harper said to Haarlow that’s not what it was about for him. It was only about being in The Finals, and having the chance to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy for New York City. 
He is also responsible for a very important rule change. In one of the games during that seven-game series with the Bulls in the Semis, Harper got into a fight with Stephen “Jo Jo” English, where both benches cleared right in front of then NBA Commissioner David Stern. 
After that game, Stern made the rule that anyone who steps off their team’s respective bench from the players, to the coaching staff, you are automatically suspended. 
The Knicks would learn that first hand three years later when near the end of Game 5 of their Semis tilt at the Miami Heat, a fight took place, where several players, including Ewing, and All-Star guard Allan Houston were suspended for Game 6 for leaving the bench area. All-Star forward Larry Johnson, and John Starks were suspended for the decisive Game 7 in South Florida, and Charlie Ward, who was involved in the Game 5 fight was suspended for both contest. The Knicks lost that series in seven games.
There are a lot of compliments you can give to a player of Harper’s caliber, who was all about the team, and did not care about his individual stats. MSG’s Al Trautwig called the Mavs television color analyst near the conclusion of the Knicks pregame their version of Knicks Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier. 
One of the things Frazier was more than a very talented player is that he was a great team guy, and that to a tee describes Harper. During his speech, he mentioned some of the teammates in his two stints with the Mavericks Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, Michael Finley, Erick Strickland, along with Blackman, and Davis mattered to him. 
To him, you are only as good as the people you are surrounded by, and Harper is thankful for the teammates he had as a young player, and as an older player. 
He is also thankful to his support system of his grown children in son Darius, daughters Danielle, Dana, and his four-year-old granddaughter Savannah. 
Before raising his jersey to the AAC rafters, Harper thanked Mark Cuban, the high energy, committed, and loud owner of the Mavs since 2000. It is because of him, current head coach Rick Carlisle, General Manager Donn Nelson, the son of former Mavericks head coach Don Nelson, and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki that he has a championship ring, from the Mavs six-game victory in the 2017 Finals over the Miami Heat. Harper also gave thanks to a former teammate of Nowitzki’s Shawn Marion, and current teammate J.J. Barea. 
“J.J., Shawn, Dirk. There the reasons why I do own a championship ring, along with the rest of the Mavericks staff in 2011,” Harper said. 
The Mavericks, and Cuban returned that love with a $25,000 check to Harper’s favorite charity, the American Diabetes Association. 
On Sunday night, the Dallas Mavericks rose to the rafters of the American Airlines Center the No. 12 jersey of man who they drafted No. 11 overall in 1983 that played a major role in them becoming a title contender in the 1980s. When he was traded to the New York Knicks nearly 23 years to the day, he played a major role in them getting to the 1994 Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Houston Rockets. Six years ago, thanks to the Mavs victory in six games of the then “Big 3” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh of the Heat, Derek Harper finally got that championship ring. 
Derek Harper was a solid player who took care of his business on both ends of the floor. He was a player that his teammates both in Dallas, and New York respected, and loved playing with. On top of that, he had a respect for competing against the best in practice, and on the hardwood. He took that same love, and commitment to being great on the basketball court, and has become a solid color analyst for the same organization he gave his blood, sweat, and tears for, and has left a lasting impact on all those who watched. 
“Derek Harper is a guy I grew up watching as a kid. Guys like Derek Harper gave me inspiration to go out, and work on my jump shot in the drive way,” Cold Spring Harbor, NY native, 10-year NBA player, and Knicks color analyst Wally Szczerbiak, who had his no. 32 retired by the University of Miami (OH) in 2001, and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009 said during the Knicks halftime report, presented by Heineken. 
“I’m a student of history of the basketball game, especially the NBA game. Thanks to guys like him that our generation was able to do what we did, and now future generations are able to do what they did. It’s great to see that he’s in a good place, and that was a pretty moving ceremony.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 1/7/18 6:30 p.m. edition of the ALFA Romeo Knicks Game Night on the Madison Square Garden Network with Al Trautwig, Alan Hahn, Wally Szczerbiak and Rebecca Haarlow; 1/7/18 7 p.m. New York Knicks versus Dallas Mavericks on Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), presented by Chase with Mike Breen, Brendan Brown, and Rebecca Haarlow; www.nba.com/ games/20180107/NYKDAL#/; www.espn.com/nba/game?gameid=400975333;  https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/harpede01.html; https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/DAL/leaders_career.html;
4/28/94 www.nytime.com article, “PRO BASKETBALL; Harper’s Maxim: Last Shall Be First,” by Clifton Brown; 1/7/18 article from https://sportsday.dallasnews.com, “ ‘This is my night’: Derek Harper’s Jersey Raised to Rafters In Front of Mavericks’ Faithful, Past, and Present,” by Staff Writer Brad Townsend; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Harper; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dallas_Mavericks_seasons.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

J-Speaks: Houston's Newest Sensation


Since garnering their 14th straight win versus the Utah Jazz (16-23) on Dec. 18, 2017, the Houston Rockets have lost six of their last eight game, which included five consecutive losses from Dec. 20, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2017. Their modest two-game winning streak was snapped at the hands of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (31-8) on Thursday night on TNT 124-114. On top of that, the Rockets are without their top gun James Harden for at least the next six weeks because of a Grade 2 left hamstring he sustained in the team’s 148-142 double overtime win on New Year’s Eve 2017 versus the struggling Los Angeles Lakers (11-27). They are also without their perimeter defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute, who has been out since mid-December because of a dislocated right shoulder. They since have turned to a native of “Clutch City” who has provided some serious scoring punch from the perimeter. 
Just one week ago, sharp shooting forward Gerald Green was an unemployed, playing hoops in the driveway of his Boston, MA home with his dog. Suddenly the Rockets who were in town for a game at the Celtics that night, acquired about him joining the team, and he did not hesitate to sign with the team he grew up rooting for. 
Since joining the Rockets, for his second stint, playing one game for them in the 2007-078 season, the 10-year veteran, who has played for eight teams in his NBA career, along with a couple of stints overseas has averaged 16.8 points, shooting 54.9 percent from the field, and 56.8 percent from three-point range. 
Green has been especially impressive in his last two games for the Rockets with 27 points, and six rebounds, going 7 for 10 from three-point range in his new team’s 116-98 victory at the Orlando Magic (12-27) on Wednesday night, and a 29-point outing, going 8 for 15 from three-point range one night later versus the Warriors. 
“All I’ve been doing is shooting in my driveway, and playing one-on-one with my Rottweiler,” Green said to ESPN after his performance off the bench on Thursday night in the Rockets prior mentioned loss versus the Warriors. 
Green’s great start with the Rockets convinced their front office and General Manager Darryl Morey to guarantee his $1.4 million contract for the remainder of the season, league sources have said to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Rockets waived the non-guaranteed contract of reserve guard Bobby Brown on Friday, according to a league source.
How much has this opportunity to play for his hometown team meant for the No. 18 overall pick in 2005 by the Celtics out of Gulf Shores Academy in Houston, TX? Well, Green has the Rockets logo braided into his hair, and when entering the Toyota Center before the team’s anticipated tilt versus the Warriors on Thursday, Green wore an No. 34 Earl Campbell Houston Oilers throwback jersey to the game.
For Green, who has played as mentioned for the Celtics for two stints, and one game for the Rockets 10 years ago, has also played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the then New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, and Miami Heat. 
Having the chance to play for his hometown team, and playing a big role for a good team is an opportunity that Green is taking full advantage of. 
“It means everything. Just being in the city of Houston, this is everything to me. It’s something that I dreamed about,” Green said. 
“It just gives you that much more energy, because this is the place I dreamed of being. Don’t get me wrong – any team in the league, I’m blessed to be on. But to be the team that you dreamed about as a little kid, it’s just that much more special.” 
Along with playing for multiple teams in his NBA career, Green has also had the humbling experience of playing as previously mentioned on the other side of the globe for two years in Russia from 2009-2011 when no NBA teams were calling for his services. 
There were times over the past few months Green, who played for the East runner-up Celtics a season ago if he would even get another opportunity to play basketball – not just in the National Basketball Association, but anywhere. 
“No team wanted me, man. No team wanted me. No team wanted me,” Green, who was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks prior to the start of the 2017-18 NBA campaign said. “No overseas team. Not even a D [G]-League team. So, this is the only team that took a chance on me. For me, I’m just so overwhelmed, and excited about the opportunity. 
Prior to his splashy start with the Rockets, Green has become best known for winning the NBA Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Weekend in 2007. The next season he expanded on that showmanship when he opened the 2008 Slam Dunk competition with a dunk he called “The Birthday Cake,” where he blew out a candle on a cupcake that was set on the back of the rim while dunking the basketball. Green finished as the runner up to now Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard.  
He hopes to beef up his career resume by continuing his strong play for the Rockets, and a major key to that is getting his conditioning back to peak NBA form. 
Back on Thursday night, he feels his fatigue was a big reason he could not complete an alley-oop pass from All-Star lead guard Chris Paul on a fast break attempt in the second quarter versus the Warriors. Green’s inability to complete that lob pass with a slam dunk caused the ball to bounce off the backboard, and into the hands of a Warriors’ player to count as a turnover. 
He readily said that he felt winded in his 34 minutes against the Warriors, and wants to get his conditioning to the point where he can play with all out energy when he is on the floor. 
“My legs fell out,” Green said after the game. “That’s never happened to me before in my life. I’ve just got to get better.” 
That play aside, Green has as previously mentioned has been incredible from three-point distance. Prior to the last two games, he had only game in his NBA career where made seven three-pointers or more just once. 
“I’ve always been able to shoot,” Green said, “You can only do so much when you [don’t] get opportunity. You can’t really hit shots on the bench.” 
Just two weeks ago Gerald Green was shooting shots against his Rottweiler Zeus in his driveway. Now, his entire hometown has their eyes on him living out his dream of playing for the team he rooted for as a young child. He has not only become an instant fan favorite at the Toyota Center, and hopes to continue his stellar play, particularly when Harden, and Mbah a Moute return from injury. 
“Thank goodness we got him,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said at the close of this week. “He’s been really good. He’s not just good. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ He’s been really good.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of www.espn.com/nba/standings; www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/hou/houston-rockets; 1/5/18 www.espn.com article, “Gerald Green’s Hot Streak is Extra Special for Houston Native,” by Tim MacMahon; 1/5/18 www.espn.com article, “Rockets Hanging on to Gerald Green For the Rest of Season, Sources say,” by Adrian Wojnarowski; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Green.