Saturday, January 31, 2015

J-Speaks: Super Bowl XLIX Preview

Back in August, 32 NFL teams began the 2014 NFL season with a dream. A dream that ended with a huge amount of confetti dropping from the sky. Where the players and coaches would exchange embraces and be bonded together for a lifetime. The team’s signal caller would add his name to a long list of those who won the greatest prize in the history of the National Football League. It answers the question of who the best team was in the league that season. In less than 24 hours that dream for the American Football Conference (AFC) champion New England Patriots and the National Football Conference champion (NFC) Seattle Seahawks will battle it out in Super Bowl XLIX to see who can make the dream of being champions a reality while also trying to make some other history.
When this season began, the Patriots were a major favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
That dream in the beginning started off as a nightmare as they split their first four games, with their four game of the season ended in humiliating fashion as they lost at the Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) 41-14 in front of a national audience on Monday night, Sept. 29, 2014.
The Pats turned the ball over three times in the contest. They went just 2 for 9 on third down. Pats quarterback Tom Brady was just 14 for 23 for 159 yards a touchdown and two interceptions. The combination of running backs Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and James White had just 75 yards rushing.
The Chiefs rushed for 207 yards and signal caller Alex Smith went 20 for 26 passing for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Many were signaling the end for head coach Bill Belichick and Brady after the loss.
Like they have so many times before though, the Patriots focused on the next opponents.
That was the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1), who they took their frustrations from the week before out on as they gave their home audience at Gillette Stadium taking care of their AFC rivals 43-17.
Brady went 23 for 35 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ridley and Vereen had a combined 36 rushes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski had six receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The Pats held the Bengals to just 79 yards rushing. They went 0 for 7 on third down and Bengals Pro Bowl QB Andy Dalton was just 15 for 24 passing for 204 yards. He did throw two touchdowns, but it happened when the game was no longer in the balance.
The Patriots won 10 for their last 12 games to capture their sixth AFC East crown in a row and their 12th division title in the last 14 years. They also captured the No. 1 Seed in the AFC.
Brady had another great season as the future Hall of Famer completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Brady’s main pass target Gronkowski caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Pats as a team finished fourth in scoring per contest at 29.3; 11th in net yards per game at 365.5 and ninth in passing yards per game at 257.6.
On the defensive end, this was one of the best the Patriots have had in quite a while surrendering just 19.6 points per contest ranking eighth in the NFL. They finished ninth in rushing yards allowed and finished second to the Green Bay Packers with a +12 in the give- away/take-away stat.
In the playoffs, the Patriots overcame a 14-point deficit on two occasions to win versus the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 35-31 back on Jan. 10.
Brady was magnificent going 33 for 50 with 367 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
Gronkowski had seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Danny Amendola had five catches for 108 and two touchdowns. His 51-yard touchdown reception tied the contest at 28 late in the third quarter. Newcomer Brandon LaFell had five catches for 62 yards and 23-yard touchdown reception capped a 10-play 54 yard touchdown drive gave the Patriots the lead and eventually the win.
The met their arch rivals the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) for the second straight postseason, this time in the AFC Championship Game and the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Like last season’s Divisional Playoff game that ended in a blowout, so did this contest as New England won 45-7.
Brady was 23 for 35 passing for 226 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
Also like last season, running back LeGarrette Blount carried the offense with 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
Colts QB Andrew Luck managed just 126 passing yards against the Pats and threw two interceptions. The Colts went just 3 for 11 on third down and managed to gain just 209 total yards on the evening as the Pats earned their eighth AFC title and their fifth in the last 11 seasons.
The game though was overshadowed by the accusation that the deflated footballs were used during the game and that gave the advantage to the Pats.
It has been nearly a decade since the NFL has had a back-to-back champion. That was a goal that the NFC Champion Seahawks (12-4) were trying to accomplish this season.
After back-to-back wins versus the AFC West champion Denver Broncos (12-4) 26-20 in overtime on Sept. 21, 2014, who they defeated in the Super Bowl a season ago and at the Washington Redskins (4-12) 27-17 on Monday night, Oct. 6, 2014, the Seahawks were 3-1.
A rare home loss to the eventual NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys (12-4) 30-23 the next week and a loss to division rival St. Louis Rams (6-10) 28-26 brought the Seahawks back to .500 at 3-3 and in search for answers.
They found those answers very quickly as they won nine of their final ten games to capture their second consecutive NFC West title and their third in the last five seasons in capturing the No. 1 Seed in the NFC.
In those victories, two came over bitter division rivals the San Francisco 49ers (8-8) 19-3 on Thanksgiving night and 17-7 on Dec. 14, 2014; two against Arizona Cardinals (11-5) 19-3 on Nov. 23, 2014 and 35-6 on the night of Dec. 21. They also won at the Philadelphia Eagles (24-14) on Dec. 7, 2014.
A big reason the Seahawks were able to get their act together the way they did is the play of their incredible signal caller in third-year man Russell Wilson who passed for 3,475 yards 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing yards with 849 and six touchdowns.
The ground attack is led by Marshawn Lynch as he ran for 1,306 yards and scored a career-high 13 touchdowns. Lynch was a major reason the Seahawks finished No. 1 in rushing yards per contest at 172.6 per contest He also caught four touchdowns.
The heartbeat of the Seahawks is on the other side of the ball where they finished No. 1 in opponents passing yards per contest at 185.6; yards per game on the ground at 81.5 and in points allowed at 15.9. 
At every level of the defense is someone to contend with from the defensive line who rush the quarterback in Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and Kevin Williams; the linebacker core of Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright who can stop the run, rush the quarterback and play in coverage and then there is the ball hawking hit you in the mouth secondary of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Tharold Simon, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell and Marcus Burley.  
In the Divisional Playoff contest versus the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers (7-8-1), the Seahawks won the contest 31-17 thanks to a huge fourth quarter on both sides.
Wilson, who went 15 for 22 for 268 yards and three touchdowns, hit tight end Luke Willson for a 25-yards touchdown catch that capped a 6-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead.
In the late stages of the fourth as the Panthers were driving to cut into the lead, quarterback Cam Newton threw a pass to tight end Ed Dickson, but Chancellor anticipated the pass, picked it off and ran it back 90-yards for his third career postseason interception for a touchdown and the game clincher.
In the NFC Championship Game versus the NFC North champion Packers (12-4), the Seahawks dream of making it back to the Super Bowl for three quarters looked like it was going by the wayside.
The Seahawks trailed 19-7 with just about four minutes remaining in the fourth when the team finally put a 7-play 69-yard drive that ended in a Wilson one-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 19-14.
The Seahawks in desperate need to get the ball back tried an onside kick and Chris Matthews recovered the ball at midfield. Lynch, who had 157 rushing yards on the day, ran one in 24-yards to give the Seahawks the lead and Willson capped with a two-point conversion pass from Wilson for a 22-19 lead.
The Packers put a 7-play 48-yard drive in the closing moments and place kicker Mason Crosby hit a 48-yard field goal, his fifth of the contest to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Wilson who had struggled the entire game with four interceptions, all targeting receiver Jermaine Kearse hit him for his only catch of the game, a 35-yard score in overtime that gave the Seahawks an unbelievable come from behind victory 28-22.
So it has come to this. When we reach the late hours of Sunday night into Monday morning, one team will achieve the ultimate goal of winning another Super Bowl while the other will see their dream moment taken from them.
For the Seahawks to capture their second straight title, they will need their ground game to be at the fore front and their receiving core must make plays when called upon.
The front seven must get consistent pressure on Brady and they must contain Blount, Ridley and Vereen on the ground and the secondary must make Gronkowski, Edelman, LaFell and others work for every catch.
For the Patriots if they can run the ball consistently, take Lynch and Wilson on the ground and make the Seahawks one dimensional, they should be victorious.
If the Patriots win, it will be their fourth Super Bowl victory, all under the guidance of Brady and Belichick.
If the Seahawks emerge victorious, they will be the first team since the Pats of 2003 and 2004 to win back-to-back Vince Lombardi trophies. Wilson, would become the first quarterback since Brady to lead his team to back-to-back Super Bowls and he would become the first African American QB to win consecutive titles.
One thing that is building is that this Super Bowl will be decided in the final seconds. In the Patriots five Super Bowl appearances with Brady and Belichick, they have all been decided by four points or less. Just seven of the prior 43 Super Bowls were decided by four points or less.
The odds right now favor the Seahawks because the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, 2009 New Orleans Saints are the last NFC teams to win their title games in overtime and went on to win the Super Bowl.
All the action and unforgettable moments can be seen on Sunday afternoon at 6:30 p.m. on NBC.
Information and statistics are courtesy of;;; Saturday’s ESPN Bottom Line newscrawl.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

J-Speaks: NBA Broken Records by Top Pick and Journeyman

There are a lot of talented players in professional sports. What separates player with talent from a talented player is their ability to play consistently night in and night out. Their willingness to put in the time when no one is looking in the offseason and during the season. Some are able to do it right out the gate, while others it may take a while. When that player does put it all together, amazing things can take place. This past Friday night, a former 2011 first round pick of the Golden State Warriors put on the greatest scoring output in NBA history and 24 hours later on national television a former 2010 second round pick in a short period of time had one of the best all-around games in NBA history and set a new Miami Heat record.
Last Friday night, the Western Conference leading Golden State Warriors (36-6) defeated the Sacramento Kings (16-27) 126-101 at home to garner their 18 win in a row at home, a new franchise record, bringing their record at Oracle Arena to 20-1 and their seventh straight overall win over the Kings.
Starting two guard Klay Thompson, lead the way with a career-high 52 points going 16 for 25 from the field, including going 11 for 15 from three-point range, which tied a Warrior record. Thompson fell one three-point make short of tying Los Angeles Lakers’ future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant who scored 45 points  making 12 of 18 three pointers in a 119-98 victory versus the then Seattle Supersonics on Jan. 7, 2003. On Mar. 13, 2005, the Toronto Raptors forward Donyell Marshall tied the NBA record going 12 for 19 from three-point range scoring 38 points to go along with 10 boards off the bench in a 128-110 win versus the Philadelphia 76ers.
He also went 9 for 10 from the free throw line with five assists four steals and two blocks.
He scored an NBA record 37 points in the third quarter going a perfect 13 for 13 from the field, which includes a perfect 9 for 9 from three-point territory and 2 for 2 from the charity stripe.
Thompson surpassed New York Knicks’ forward Carmelo Anthony, who scored 33 points in the third quarter back in a game back 2008 and San Antonio Spurs Hall of Fame forward George Gervin, who scored 33 points in a game in the second quarter back on the last day of the NBA season back on Apr. 9, 1978. On that same day, Hall of Famer David Thompson had 32 points in the last game of the season in the first quarter. The late great Wilt Chamberlin had 31 points in the first quarter in a game back in 1962.
“I can’t believe I have an NBA record. It’s surreal,” Thompson, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and the son of NBA champion Mychal Thompson said to NBATV’s Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Dennis Scott after the game last Friday.
“I was getting some great looks. It was a fun night to say the least.”
Less than 24 hours later in front of a national television audience, former second round pick center Hassan Whiteside had the first triple-double of his career with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high, an NBA high for a single game this season and a new Miami Heat (20-24) record 12 blocks in the team’s 96-84 win at the Chicago Bulls (29-17) this past Sunday afternoon.
Whiteside who averaged 12.1 points, eight boards and three blocks in the last eight games coming in recorded his triple-double in an NBA record 24:37 seconds.
The 12 blocks were 5 short of former Lakers Elmore Smith who recorded 17 blocks in a game back in 1973-74 NBA campaign.
Also on this same date back in 1986, the late center Manute Bol of the then Washington Bullets had 15 blocks versus the Atlanta Hawks.
The prior record for recording a triple-double in a short amount of minutes was done by former Raptors center Marcus Camby who did it in 30 minutes in a game back on Apr. 19, 1998. He did it again as a member of the Denver Nuggets back on Mar. 16, 2008 when he had 13, points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a then NBA tying record 27 minutes in a 168-116 win over the Supersonics.
“I’m just trying to win every game. I’ve got great teammates and just came out and just try to get a win every night,” Whiteside, who had his third game of this season recording five-plus blocks said to NBA on ESPN/ABC’s Heather Cox after the game.
Both of these performances were very special not just because of they came in victories, but they each told the story of their hard work and how both Thompson and Whiteside are reaping the rewards individually as well as for their teams.
This past summer, Thompson along with fell backcourt mate Stephen Curry, also known as “The Splash Brothers,” were two big reasons Team USA won Gold in the FIBA World Cup Games in Spain this past summer.
They have both carried that over into this season for the Warriors, especially Thompson, who signed a four-year $70 million contract extension earlier this season.
He has more than lived up to that extension with career-highs of 22.8 points per game on 48.1 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range.
He has especially stepped things up on the defensive end, where each night he matches up against the opposition’s best player on the perimeter.
That high level of play along with his incredible performance four days ago more than guaranteed him a spot as a Western Conference reserve for the 2015 All-Star taking place in New York, NY next month. The reserves for both the Eastern and Western Conference will be announced this Thursday at 7 p.m. during the pre-game show on TNT.
Four years ago, Whiteside was a second round pick (33rd overall) by the Kings out of Marshall University.
Things unfortunately did not work at with the Kings and he bounced around the NBA’s Developmental league as well as played overseas in China and Lebanon.
Just a few months ago he was working out at the YMCA in Charlotte, NC hoping to get a call from an NBA team.
That opportunity came on Nov. 24, 2014 when Whiteside signed with the Heat.
He recorded the first double-double of his career with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Heat’s 88-84 win versus the Brooklyn Nets (18-26) back on Jan. 4.
Seven days later, he had the best game scoring wise of his young NBA career with 23 points to go along with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks as Miami won at the Los Angeles Clippers (31-14) 104-90.
“It’s different because I got a coach [Erik Spoelstra] who will play me, so I get to play,” Whiteside said after the game.
“You can’t get on the court without a contract. I called the Clippers for a workout, they said no. I called every team for a workout, they said no, except the Heat. The Heat gave me a chance and, I mean, it’s only right for me to give 110 percent effort every time.”
That effort has given the Heat a presence in the middle who can score at the offensive end as well as rebound and block shots at the defensive end.
Just ask Bulls forward Taj Gibson who had five of his shots rejected by Whiteside last Sunday.
Whiteside’s play has also given the Heat another weapon at the offensive end to go alongside mainstays Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, who had tremendous performances on Sunday at the Bulls.
Wade scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. Bosh had 20 points and seven rebounds and Deng, who played for the Bulls for a decade had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
For a team to be successful, especially one that has its sights on winning a title, each player no matter how big or how small their role may be, each player’s role is important.
Thompson is a major part of the Warriors not only because of his ability to stretch the floor offensively and to play the top wing players in the league defensively, but he allows the likes of Curry, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston to be at their best. It has also made the transition a lot easier for first time head coach Steve Kerr, who will be coaching the Western Conference All-Stars in New York next month.
The ever improving play of Whiteside has allowed Bosh when their on the court together to play his natural position of power forward and has kept him fresher during games where he does not have to constantly battle in the paint against the opposition’s center, especially on the glass.
His play has also helped the defending Eastern Conference champs win more games as they have won their last two games and five of their last eight. They are currently in the seventh spot in the East and are two games behind the 6th place Milwaukee Bucks.
The NBA is filled with talented players. Some get their chance right away and some take it and never let it go and others let it slip by. Thompson got his chance and he has made the most of it for himself and the Golden State Warriors, who have emerged as a serious title contender. Then there are some players who scratch and claw just to get an opportunity. That was the position of Whiteside when this season began and the Miami Heat gave him a chance and he is delivering.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of;;;;;;;; 1/24/15 3 a.m. edition NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Dennis Scott; 1/26/15 1 a.m. edition NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla Jerry Stackhouse and Brent Barry; 1/26/15 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “The Starters” with Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

J-Speaks: The “Matrix” Not Reloading

Back in the 1999 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns with the No. 9 overall pick selected a little known forward out of University of Nevada Las Vegas. In his 16-year career, the now 36-year-old forward played in a way where he was good in all facets. He could score inside and outside with the best of forwards in the league. He had an ability to rebound at a high clip and defend forwards, guards and at times centers. His all-around play helped his prior team capture a title five seasons ago and he was very sought after by his current team this off-season. Two days ago though, the man nicknamed the “Matrix” said that he would not be reloading once this NBA season is over.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Shawn Marion said to the Arizona Republic this past Wednesday afternoon that he will retire at the end of this season.
The 16-year veteran who has played for the aforementioned Suns (1999-08), Miami Heat (2008-09), Toronto Raptors (2009), Dallas Mavericks (2009-2014) and now with the Cleveland Cavaliers has made the All-Star team four times (2003, 2005-07) and a two-time All-NBA Third Team selection (2005-2006). He was a major part in the Dallas Mavericks winning their first ever NBA title in 2011 when they defeated current teammate LeBron James and the Miami Heat in six games. He was also a part of the 2004 USA Men’s Basketball team that took the Bronze Medal in the Olympics.
“I wanted to go out on my terms,” Marion, who has averaged 15.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals in his career told to the Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
He also said that being away from his first child Shawn, who is eight-months old was a big part of his decision.
“He’s a 16-year veteran,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said on Wednesday.
“When Shawn decides to retire, that will not be a negative in any way. He’s a great professional. He’s played at a high level for 16 years. He’s a great guy. Whenever that day comes, he’ll have to be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame.”
That is the question. When Marion hangs them up, will he be enshrined someday in Springfield, MS?
If we go by the numbers in terms of all-time NBA ranks of 17,642 points (72nd), 10,051 rebounds (36th), 1,756 steals (17th), 1,230 blocks (50th) and 39, 878 minutes (29th), they are very solid if not incredible for a small forward, who also has career percentages of 48.4 percent from the field and 81.1 percent from the free throw line.
On top of that, he has been very consistent in his 16-year career. This season is the only one where he has not scored in double-figures, averaging just 5.6 points per contest and represents his lowest scoring average since his rookie season.
In his nine seasons with the Suns he averaged 18.4 points on 48.1 percent from the field and 10.0 rebounds. In three of those seasons, he averaged a double-double with 17.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in 2000-01, his second season; 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds in 2004-05 and 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds the next season, the best of his career.
Marion was just as good in the playoffs with the Suns where in his final four seasons with the team, he averaged a double-double with 18.5 points and 11.7 boards; 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds; 20.4 points and 11.7 rebounds and 16.9 points and 10.4 rebounds respectably.
Marion’s 2004-05 and 2005-06 playoff numbers were a major reason along with back-to-back MVP Steve Nash why the Suns used their seven seconds or less offensive philosophy to make it to the Western Conference Finals in back-to-back years, though they would fall to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and the Western Conference representative in The Finals in 2006 the Mavericks.
After a couple of short stints with the Heat and Raptors, Marion signed with the Mavericks, where he would play for the next five seasons. While he numbers were not the same as his time with the Suns, he was a big time contributors on four of their five playoff teams in that span.
His best season in “Big D” came five years ago when they won it all over the aforementioned Heat in six games in 2011.
Marion averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 80 games played. In the playoffs, he averaged 11.8 points and eight boards.
By the numbers, Marion when he retires should someday get a call to be enshrined in Springfield. While he may not be a first ballot, he should not only be considered, but should get in.
There are very few players in this league that can have an impact in multiple areas. There are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who could put the ball in the whole with the best of them. There are a lot of players in the Hall of Fame who can rebound and defend.
There are no players in the Hall who scored 15,000 points, grabbed 10,000 rebounds, blocked 1,000 shots and made 500 three-point field goals in their career. When the day comes that Marion gets that call, he would become the first one.
Along with the numbers, he did the one thing not a lot of players current and former, who are in the Hall right now do not have, a championship ring.
Even late into his career and while the numbers have not been spectacular for Marion this season, 5.6 points, four rebounds on a career-worst 42.3 percent from the field, he was someone that the Cavs felt they had to sign for their team this season.
“As far as a locker room guy goes and always being kind of a free spirit and having a great person around, he’s been one of the best teammates that I’ve ever had,” Cavs forward Kevin Love said earlier in the week.
“I love being around ‘Trix. I think each and every person would agree he’s had a great career and hopefully we can end it in the right way, not only for him but for everybody on this team. Obviously I mean this year, because it’s his last one.”  
If there is any player that Marion compares to, it is former Phoenix Suns’ and Los Angeles Lakers forward Cedric Ceballos. He like Ceballos had an ability to score without having a play called for him. He would get it on the offensive glass or by running the court or making sharp cuts in the half court. Marion had a more consistent perimeter game and impacted the game on the defensive end.
When this season ends, we will be saying goodbye to one of the most unique players that has ever stepped on the NBA hardwood. A player who got his numbers by just being as active as he could. A player who let his game do the talking and it spoke volumes. More than anything he was a great player that was well respected by his teammates and coaches and claimed the ultimate prize an NBA title. It hopefully will bring him to Springfield, Mass. for the true honor that any player could receive, enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  
Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of Jan. 21, 2015 article “Marion to Retire at End of Season,” by Dave McMenamin;;;;; 1/22/15 6 p.m. edition of “The Starters” on NBATV with Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets; Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis.

J-Speaks: The Passing of Sports Personality “Cooler Than the Other Side of the Pillow”

A little over two decades ago, an unknown sports reporter was hired by ESPN and he would change the landscape of broadcast sports journalism forever. His unique way of blending hip-hop and urban culture and sports was unlike anything that was ever put on the small screen. His catch phrases, demeanor and presentation captivated all that watch from the athletes on the field, ice and hardwood to those that watch him from the barbershop to their own televisions. More than anything else, this sports journalist was a proud man who gave his heart, soul, energy and focus to his job and earned the respect from those that worked with him, those that saw him on the small screen or met him. Above all else, this man took as much pride at being a father to his two daughters as he did talking with athletes and giving us the highlights on the happenings in the world of sports. Three weeks, that great sports anchor said goodbye way too soon.
On the morning of Jan. 4, Stuart Scott, one of the signature anchors of ESPN flagship highlight show “Sportscenter,” passed away after a long battle with cancer that captivated this nation. He was just 49 years old.
He leaves behind his two teenage daughters Taelor, 19 and Sydni, 15 from his ex-wife Kimberly Scott, who he was married to from 1993-2007.
His passing was one that rocked not just his colleagues at ESPN, but many fans, teams from the college ranks to the pros.
On “Postseason Sunday NFL Countdown” back on Jan. 5, which Scott worked from 1999-2001 as well as Monday Night Countdown from 2002-2005, each of the host shared their feelings and memories of their colleague.
Lead host Chris Berman said that his former colleague that he was “Full of Life.”
“Full of Life means someone who battled cancer head on three times. Never lost his great attitude about beating it and never lost his drive and energy in fighting it.”
Berman’s longtime sidekick and former Denver Broncos great linebacker Tom Jackson said he would remember Scott for the true professional, kind person and devoted dad that he was.
“I think he took more pride in that than anything else. There is a certain sense in this building of tremendous loss. Were all gonna feel it for a while,” Jackson said.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter, called Scott his role model not to mention hundreds of pro athletes who want to be legitimate sports journalist.
“The number one thing for as a person who wanted to be a broadcaster, he was a role model. He talked on ‘Sportscenter’ liked me and my friends talked,” Carter said. “He did it his way and he was great at it.”
Former New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who first met Scott while he and new Lakers guard Kobe Bryant were doing a commercial for “Sportcenter,” back in 1996 one of the things that Scott told him when he first took the job as a studio host on Sunday NFL Countdown is to not change who he was. To be exactly who he was.
“[Scott] gave me the hope that I didn’t have to be some corporate guy. To feel like I needed to wear the white shirt with the red tie and sit there and talk a certain way,” the former No. 1 overall pick in 1996 out of University of Southern California, who has two daughters of his own said. 
Perhaps the biggest point was shared by former Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, when he said, “This is all going to happen to all of us someday. It’s just an unfortunate that it happened to someone at age 50. That’s the thing that bothers me.”
Along with many of his colleagues at ESPN, many pro athletes that were interviewed by Scott or remember watching him on television paid their respects to him.
Via twitter, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said on that Sunday, “What you did for our culture, bringing that swag to reporting can only be copied (which I hear today on TV watching sports). I would say not because they stealing your swag, it’s all out of RESPECT! It was always a breath of fresh fun air when you would show up and we’d chat up. Thank you so much for being you and giving us inner city kids someone we could relate to that wasn’t a player but was close enough to them.”
Hall of Famer and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan in a statement said, “I’m so sad to hear the news that Stuart has passed away. He was truly a trailblazer in his field, and by refusing to change his style, made himself into a star.”
“We lost one of the NBA’s most beloved commentators and reporters as well as a friend to so many of us at the NBA. Our deepest condolences to Stuart Scott’s family and colleagues at ESPN.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement last week.
President Barack Obama, who was interviewed by Scott during his candidacy for United States President back in 2008, in a statement said he will miss him very much.
“Twenty years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those twenty years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family—but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on ‘Sportscenter were there. Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us—with courage and love. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends and colleagues.”
Upon his graduation from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in speech communication, Scott began his journey of sports broadcasting in 1987 as the news reporter and weekend sports anchor at WPDE-TV in Florence, SC, where he came up with one of his most notable phrase, “cooler than the other side of the pillow,” which later became, “As cool as the other side of the pillow.” 
Scott then worked as a news reporter at WRAL_TV in Raleigh, NC from 1988-1990. A former colleague of Scott’s Jeff Gravely, the WRAL Sports anchor said that Scott had a natural bond with the sports department. That he had a style that was creative and gregarious and that he brought a tremendous energy to the newsroom.
Even after he rose to greatness at ESPN, Scott never forgot where he laid the ground work for his greatness as he would always make the time to visit his former co-workers at WRAL and he treated them like family.
After his two-year stint at WRAL, Scott spent the next three years (1990-93) as a sports reporter and sports anchor at WESH, the NBC affiliate in Orlando, FL. While there, he met Gus Ramsey, a new producer at ESPN.
Ramsey grew a great respect for Scott after a piece he did on a rodeo, which earned him first place honors from the Central Florida Press Club.
“You knew the second he walked in the door that it was a pit stop, and that he was gonna be this big star somewhere someday. He went out and nailed it just like he would nail the NBA Finals for ESPN,” Ramsey said at that time.
Scott career on ESPN began when he was brought in by vice president Al Jaffe when the network was looking for sportscaster that their younger audience would appeal to.
Scott first assignment at ESPN was for “SportsSmash,” a short sportscast that aired twice an hour on ESPN 2’s SportsNight program.
He would eventually replace Keith Olbermann as the anchor of “SportsNight” when he left for “Sportscenter.”
Eventually, Scott moved on to ESPN’s flagship show and the rest is history.
A history where Pardon the Interruption’s Michael Wilbon said that Scott permitted his personality to infuse the coverage that he saw and his emotion to pour out the words to the audience watching.
That history would also include many great catch phrases like “Boo-Yah,” “Hallah,” “As cool as the other side of the pillow,” “He must be the bus driver cuz he was takin’ him to school,” “Holla at a playa when you see him in the street,” “Just call him butter’ cause he’s on a roll,” to name a few.
“He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves,” fellow ESPN colleague Stan Verrett said of Scott.
Scott’s career and life all changed in Nov. 2007 when covering a Monday night tilt between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, he sustained a stomach ache. When the pain in his stomach grew worse, Scott was rushed to the hospital, where he had his appendix removed. After testing his appendix, doctors learned that Scott had cancer. He had surgery in New York 48 hours later where a part of his colon and some lymph nodes were removed.
By December of that year, Scott returned to work hosting Friday night NBA coverage on ESPN and led the coverage of ABC’s NBA Christmas Day studio show-while still undergoing chemotherapy.
The cancer unfortunately returned four years later. After chemo, Scott turned to mixed martial arts as well as a P90X workout regimen.
By 2014, Scott had undergone 58 infusions of chemo and then switched to chemotherapy pills. He also underwent a number of surgeries as part of his treatment. Through that time, he never wanted to what stage of the cancer he was in.
Through it all, he kept on working whether it was for Monday Night Football, NBA coverage or his duties at ESPN.
When he did go back to work and people knew of his diagnosis, the well wishes were overbearing to him because he just wanted to talk about sports.
“One of the coolest things about having cancer, and I know that sounds like an oxymoron, is meeting other people who’ve had to fight it. You have a bond. It’s like a fraternity or sorority.”
Two people Scott knows that have got cancer, but fought like the devil to beat it are his ESPN colleague NFL Analyst Merril Hoge and former “Sportscenter” anchor and now “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts.
On July 16, 2014 at ESPN’s annual awards show the ESPYS, Scott received the Jimmy V Award, for his ongoing fight with cancer and gave an acceptance speech that might be considered one of the greatest of all-time.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
He concluded his speech by talking about his greatest purpose for continuing to fight, his two daughters.
“I can’t ever give up because I can’t leave my daughters,” Scott said.
As he concluded his speech by saying, “Have a great rest of your night, have a great rest of your life,” he asked for a hug from his daughter Sydni, which she came to the stage and hugged her father.
It is very rare in one’s life that you get a chance to meet someone that you respect as a person as well as the work they do in their profession. Nearly a decade ago, I attended the National Association of Black Journalism (NABJ) Conference in Atlanta, GA and I got a chance to meet Stuart Scott. I even got a chance to take a picture with him. On top of that, I got a chance to chat with him and pick his brain a little on what I needed to do to break in to being a sports journalist. For someone he just met, he could not have been more kind, honest and cool.
I had a chance to meet up with him two more times in 2007 and 2008 at two more NABJ conferences. I never thought in my life I would be standing to what many called a trailblazer who looked the same as me, talked like me and even wore glasses like me.  
More than anything that I have learned from seeing him on the small screen and in person is that he was not just physically there, but emotionally he was there. He owned where ever he was. He had a presence that people gravitated toward him. He had a way of speaking to you when the conversation was finished, it left an impression on you. Above all though, he was great at his job and he had fun doing it and he respected it.
Back on the aforementioned date of Jan. 4, ESPN and the sports world at large said goodbye all too soon to a sportscaster that was just as comfortable quoting from Shakespeare as he was lyrics from hip hop or R&B. He had a way of connecting to sports fans from the suburbs of Connecticut to the tough neighborhoods of Detroit, New York and California. More than anything else, Stuart Scott whenever he sat in the anchor chair of “Sportscenter, on the field of play during the pre-game or postgame of ESPN’s NFL coverage of Monday Night Football or the pre-game show for NBA on ESPN and looked into that camera and opened his mouth he was no phony and he delivered every time, even while battling cancer, three separate times.
“One thing that I know about this camera I’m looking in is it is a truth teller and it will expose phonies who perform in front of it. Stuart was no phony. He was joyful and happy with what he did and he brought that joy to every broadcast and interview he conducted,” NBATV/NBA on TNT Insider and former colleague at ESPN for eight years David Aldridge said on NBATV’s “The Beat,” on Jan. 5.
The 2015 NBA All-Star Game will take place in New York, NY next month. One of the events that I look forward to the most is the Celebrity All-Star Game, which is commentated by Mark Jones and Jon Barry and handling the sideline interviews with all the celebrity participants in the game the past few years has been Stuart Scott. While the game will still go on and will be entertaining as it has been since its inception a few years ago, it will not be the same without Scott as a part of it. Monday Night Countdown, not to mention the coverage of Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will not be the same and neither will the NBA broadcast on ESPN.
Information and quotations are courtesy of 1/4/15 9 p.m. Halftime report of the Go Daddy Bowl between Toledo and Arkansas State; 1/4/15 edition of Postseason Sunday NFL Countdown with Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, Chris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson; 1/5/15 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Rick Fox and Brent Barry; 1/5/15 6 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “The Beat” with Vince Cellini, David Aldridge, Sekou Smith and Howard Beck;

Thursday, January 8, 2015

J-Speaks: Knicks, Cavaliers and Thunder Execute Trade

When the 2014-15 NBA campaign began, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks had different, but lofty expectations. The Knicks hoped to get back into the playoffs after a disappointing season that had them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The Cleveland Cavaliers with the return of LeBron James and the addition of Kevin Love alongside Kyrie Irving hoped that they would competing for supremacy in the Eastern Conference and capturing the city of Cleveland’s first professional sports title in nearly five decades. The Thunder who were runner’s up to the eventual world champion San Antonio Spurs hoped to get back to The Finals and this time win it. A combination of injuries, inconsistent play and the fact that each conference has gotten better has put all three teams behind the eight ball. The Knicks are at the bottom of the East. The Cavs are in the bottom half of the East playoffs and the Thunder right now are on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. They each needed a change and so they made one with the help of one another.
On Monday, the Cavs, Thunder and Knicks executed a three-team five player deal.
The Cavs received from the Knicks guard J.R. Smith and swingman Iman Shumpert as well as a protected 2015 first round pick from the Thunder.
The Thunder received from the Cavaliers, guard Dion Waiters and the Knicks received forward Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk from the Cavs and forward Lance Thomas from the Thunder. The Knicks also received a 2019 second round pick from the Cavs. The Knicks also on Monday waived center Samuel Dalembert, which will save them $2 million of his $3.8 million salary for this season. With the luxury tax included, the Knicks will save even more.
Whenever a trade is made like this, especially when it involves high profile teams of this nature, the question is always asked, who made out as the big winner?
At initial glance in this case, there is no real big winner, but this deal accomplish a great deal for each team.
For the Cavs (19-17), they added two wings guys that are expected to make a major impact at both ends, which they really need right now.
Of the two though, Shumpert maybe the most important because his ability to defend on the perimeter is an asset that is much needed right now.
Since the start of the season, the Cavs have inconsistent as far as guarding people on the perimeter, let alone putting the clamps on the opposition’s offense.
On Monday night, the team could not hold onto a 17-point lead against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that had yet to win a game at home this season. The Sixers (5-29) defeated the Cavs 95-92 to earn their first win at home in 20 chances and sent the Cavs to their fourth loss in their last 10 games.
“The guys played under some pretty adverse conditions and mentally they responded well,” Cavs’ head coach, who informed his team of the trade prior to tip-off said after the game.
“It’s never easy to have that kind of thing happen at any point during the season and certainly not right before a game, but on the other hand this is part of basketball and part of the profession and guys handled it very well.”
The hope is that Shumpert (9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who is expected to be out for a while with and injury and Smith can come in and pick things up quickly, especially in the case of Smith.
It was just two seasons ago that he won the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year Award with career-high numbers of 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest, while earing 3.9 trips to the free throw line. In 24 games with the Knicks prior to the trade, he only averaged 10.9 points, 2.4 boards and getting to the line just 1.6 times per game.
In his first game with the Cavs, he did not show well missing all five of his field goal attempts, four of which were from three-point range in 18 minutes off the bench as the Cavs fell 105-93 versus the Houston Rockets (24-11).
Both Smith and Shumpert will need to quickly fit in with the Cavs because right now, they are sinking in the East and in a season that was supposed to be one where the dream of winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy has become an inconsistent, head scratching nightmare where they may not have home-court advantage in any round of the playoffs.
It has gotten worse without superstar LeBron James on the court, who is expected to be out for another week because of knee and back soreness. The team has lost six out of seven games this season without the four-time MVP, who is expected to return when the Cavs embark on a five-game West coast trip that begins this Friday at the Golden State Warriors (28-5).
The team was not finished tinkering with their roster as on Wednesday they acquired center Timofey Mosgov from the Denver Nuggets along with a 2015 second round pick. The Cavs sent two protected 2015 first round picks to the Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Mosgov (8.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) immediately fills a need for the struggling Cavs who lost starting center Anderson Varejao for the remainder of the season to a torn left Achilles tendon. He is also very familiar with coach Blatt having played for him overseas before with the Russian national team. That familiarity will hopefully give the Cavs the paint presence on both ends of the court that has been sorely lacking in recent games, especially at the defensive end and on the glass, where they were outrebounded 50-37 and outscored 46-36 in the paint on Wednesday night versus the Rockets.
“In all honesty, Timofey Mosgov was on our board this summer. He was a guy we wanted here in Cleveland,” Blatt said after the game on Wednesday night, their third in a row and seventh setback in 10 chances.
“Took a little bit longer, but kudos to David Griffin and the management for finding a way to bring him.” 
The Thunder began this season with hopes of getting back to The Finals, where they have not been since falling to the four-time 2014 Eastern Conference champion and the back-to-back champion Miami Heat, who defeated the Thunder 4-1 in the 2012 NBA Finals, led by James.
Things did not start well for the Thunder (17-19), who were without the dynamic duo of last season’s league MVP Kevin Durant and starting lead guard Russell Westbrook because of a broken foot and broken hand respectably.
They both returned in the late stages of Nov. 2014 and early Dec. 2014 and they went from 4-12 to 13 wins in their last 19 games.
Despite all of that though, they still trail the Phoenix Suns (21-16), by three games for the eighth and last playoff spot in the West.
The addition of Waiters gives the Thunder another offensive weapon off the bench and maybe the missing third consistent scorer that they have been lacking since current Rockets guard James Harden.
The key is for Waiters to play with force and confidence on a consistent basis, which he has yet to do in his young NBA career.
Ever since the No. 4 overall pick out of Syracuse entered the NBA in 2012, he has shown flashes of brilliance and scoring ability.
The hope is playing with Durant and Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder that Waiters can become consistent as an offensive player as well as one who is committed to competing at the defensive end.
“I’ve followed him like I follow all players in the league. He brings an offensive game. Defensively, he’s going to bring some toughness there and I like his ability to make plays to,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of Waiters after the team’s 117-91 loss at the Golden State Warriors (27-5) on Monday night.
“He’s not just coming here to shoot the ball. He’s gonna have to defend and pass the ball, but I like what he’s done. He’s gonna have a great opportunity to be with a good group of guys and were going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”
One major reason that Waiters, who is averaging a career-lows 10.5 points on 40.4 percent shooting, play for the rest of this season will be big for his new team is the uncertainty of back-up guard Reggie Jackson.
The restricted free agent at season’s end, who is posting career-high numbers of 15.3 points and 5.1 assists has made it known that he wants to be the lead on a team and not the understudy like he has been in his career with the Thunder.
Back on Sept. 3, 2014, Jackson said to The Oklahoman on being a starter, which he was to start the season with Westbrook injured, “I don’t think about coming off the bench for any team. If that’s the role I’m put in, that’s what I’m put in. But since the day I thought about playing in the NBA, I’ve always been a starter.
In a statement via Basketball Insiders, Jackson said on Oct. 1, 2014, “I want to be a starter. I’ve always wanted to be a starter. I’ve always wanted to be great. All the greats I’ve seen started, so that’s kind of the mold.”
On Nov. 4, 2014 Jackson said to The Oklahoman, “When I said command a team, I didn’t mean be a temporary starter or anything like that. Just trying to play my role while I’m here.”
By bringing in Waiters and giving up a first round pick, which is something the under and their GM Sam Presti never do, they are banking on Waiters coming in and making the Thunder better.
His addition along with the likes Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb, and the aforementioned Westbrook and Jackson, the Thunder have a solid guard rotation of guys who can score, pass and defend.
The question is can they put it all together and soon. The West this season is brutal and the Suns recently have been on a tear. Their 102-96 victory at the Milwaukee Bucks (18-18) on Monday night was their eighth victory in their last 10 contests.
Waiters had a rough beginning with the Thunder on Wednesday night as he had just four points on 1 for 9 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench as the Thunder fell at the Sacramento Kings (15-20) 104-83, their first defeat against the Kings since Feb. 12, 2012 and their second setback in succession.  
For the Knicks (5-33), who lost a new franchise record 13th straight contest at the Washington Wizards (254-11) 101-91 on Wednesday night, they were able to get even more under the salary cap looking to better days next season and hopefully beyond.
After a disappointing 37-45 season, which had them outside the playoff picture in the East, they saw this season as one of redemption, especially with superstar forward Carmelo Anthony back after signing a five-year $24 million contract this off-season.
Unfortunately, this proud franchise has put itself and its fans through a very difficult season which has seen them fall to the worst record in the NBA.
With the team in a deep hole this season with no way out, what now?
Even with money to spend this summer, who would want to come to clean up this mess, even with the great Phil Jackson, owner of 13 championship rings, 11 of which as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers in the front office?
“As our journey moves through this season, we will search for the type of players that fit the style we hope to exhibit for our fans. Our desire is to improve our ability to compete. … In addition, these transactions improve our flexibility to the current roster and the salary cap for future seasons,” Jackson said via Twitter on Monday night.
That is an even bigger reason why the prospect of shutting down Anthony (23.9 ppg-4th NBA, 6.6 rpg), who has been dealing with a troublesome knee the past few weeks is not the best thing to do.
Not only is Anthony the best player on the team, he is the main attraction; their best sounding board and if you really think about it, the last true hope for this team to get back to the top.
It is one thing to be great in the best of times. The true measure of someone is to bring it and get better when things are not so great.
Most players when they reach a certain point in their career, they want to be a part of a team that has a chance to win it all year in and year out.
Anthony could have done that this summer, but he chose to stay where the money was and with a person in Jackson who solid him on the fact he and the front office could build the Knicks into a consistent playoff contender and into a championship contender.
Getting Smith off the books; a high draft pick this summer and a solid war chest of #28 million right now is a solid place to start off. It all comes down to results in the world of pro sports. If the Knicks want to get to that point, they first need Anthony to come back and show that he has all the fight in the world in him to finish this season and that New York is the destination for any big time free agent this off-season and in the years to come.
When you have high aspirations at the start of a season and those aspirations are derailed, temporarily or for an extended period, doing something is a lot better than just staying stilled and hoping for something to happen. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Thunder made a move that will pan out and changed their narrative. The Cavs and Thunder hope their moves in this three-team deal land them in a better position to make some noise in the playoffs, while the Knicks hope this starts their rise back to playoff contention and eventually championship contention.
Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of 1/6/15 6:30 p.m. addition of “The Starters” on NBATV with J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas, Leigh Ellis and Trey Kerby; 1/8/15 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Vince Cellini, Dennis Scott and Shaquille O’Neal;; Jan. 6 article “How the Thunder landed Dion Waiters,” by Royce Young.