Today is Kobe Bryant’s 35th birthday. The black mamba has been electrifying patrons in Staples Center for exactly half of his life, and even after suffering an achilles tear on April 12th, Kobe is determined to be back in purple and gold this coming season. Kobe has always been a winner, and that derives from his unmatched work ethic and drive. That has been tested this summer as Kobe has been in the toughest battle of his life, against his ailing body. Kobe’s rehab has gone very well to this point, and barring any setback, he expects to be ready when the Lakers open the season. Below is a birthday homage to one of the all time greats.
PED’s, performing enhancing drugs. Pretty simple, straightforward, right? Or, you know, roids, juice. Whatever your preference may be when referring to them, if you even know what they are, then you’ve likely seen the influx in media coverage surrounding PED’s in recent days, weeks…years. This is a subject I’ve wanted to stay away from and simultaneously write about for about that long. What prompted me to finally jot these thoughts down, and share them with you all? My niece.
I walk into the living room and see my niece, engulfed in peanuts. In her hair, smashed into the couch, between her frigging toes. My first thought? Baseball. In general, and also the fact that those peanuts came from McCoy Stadium just one night prior. The same McCoy Stadium that I get chills walking into and hearing “put me in coach, I’m ready to play”, chills that I didn’t even get when having the honor of suiting up and playing on that field. Baseball occupies a special place in my heart. Can I watch a complete ballgame any earlier than September? God no, but you’d have a have time telling me there’s a more beautiful sight then a well manicured baseball diamond, or a sweeter sound than the crack of a bat, or that Olivia Munn is anymore beautiful than a 5-4-3 double play (well, that one may be a push). And while most Americans would rather choose to past their time with the NFL or even the NBA, Baseball will forever be America’s pastime.
And now for the juicy part. PED’s aren’t anything new in sports, certainly not in baseball. You guys remember little ol’ Brady Anderson, no? Or the 98′ home run race? Barry Lamar Bonds? Who is my guy by the way, like Barry really was THE man, but come on, clearly something was up. You all remember the Mitchell Report, and Rafeal Palmeiro’s heartfelt vow. Those guys went and spoke to congress and some lied, well, they all lied, some just admitted to it after the fact. They took the beatings (slaps on the wrist) and life went on. Clemens and Bonds were destined for jail, yeah, that never happened, never will. Some of those guys still play, some of them were done playing when they went under oath. Nobody won, and the MLB certainly lost.
There are two fundamental reasons why PED use has reached the heights it’s currently at. 1) The people who genuinely care, me, us, the fans, the purists, have no say, and those who do have say, the owners, the GM’s, the commish, really and truly, don’t care. As we all know, it’s about the money, as it’s always been and as it always will be. Who wants their star player sitting down for 50 games? Their goes any chance at a pennant race, which equals $. There goes the ticket sales, there goes the merchandise, there goes the endorsements. This A-Rod situation fits the bill to a tee! Cashman doesn’t want him to be suspended because he’s a liar or a cheat, disgrace to the game even. He wants him out so that he can attempt to void his monstrous contract. A-Rod’s done, he’s finished and this is the Yankee’s loophole to not only wash their hands of him, but save a cool 100 mill. It’s that simple, this whole mess, is THAT simple.
2) While this is a major issue, it’s not a major league issue. It’s a single A, cape cod league, college, high school problem. And don’t get me wrong, PED’s is a predominant issue in every major sport. Let’s not forget, baseball is our one major sport where kids can, and typically do go straight from high school to the league. 17, 18 year olds attempting to be on the same level as grown men. Now, I coached high school baseball this past season and while none of my kids were juicing (I know, because we only won 1 game) I’m sure there are plenty of high school kids using HGH and other performance enhancers because well, they can. Last I checked, they don’t drug test you coming off the school bus. College may be a bit tougher, but the kid’s are still doing it, same with the minors, and so on. The argument is typically made that the NFL and NBA need to work closer with the NCAA to stop money from changing hands, whether it be from a runner, or a booster, or an agent. A lot of the same can be said with Major League Baseball. This issue is bigger than them, bigger than each individual league. Unity and a huge dose of intolerance may be the only remedy here.
As I stated above, this is somewhat of a touchy issue as there is some many variables, and loopholes, and conspiracies, and so on, and so on. PED’s is a big issue, probably an even bigger one then we think, and that’s saying a lot. The MLB seems poised to suspend a handful of guys in the coming days, but here’s the kicker. Much like they did with Ryan Braun, they’re negotiating with these guys on how long and when they’ll be suspended. Really? Seriously? These guys are cheating, blatantly at that, and you’re letting them dictate the terms of their suspension, for cheating? That a way to make a statement guys. I’m not gonna blame Anthony Bosch, I’m blaming Bud Selig. Unfortunately, the guys wit all the power aren’t willing to shake things up, and that’s likely not to change anytime soon, as money is in the epicenter and things typically don’t go smoothly or rather, morally correct when big money is involved. Truth is, no one really cares. Ok, so I care, the fans care. So I’ll rephrase that statement, no one who can actually fix it, cares.
Although this week has been filled with ninety degree heat, I am not referring to the popular clothing top. Nor am I writing an article on TTO about a vehicle of war. And I am certainly not Jesse James, with an opinion on the construction of a gas tank. I am however referring to every commissioner’s worst nightmare. Tanking games.
I am a firm believer in the Circle of Life. If you are a bad NBA team you should be looking to use draft picks, to become a younger team with equally young players who will (we hope) develop into stars, helping their teams become legitimate contenders. Signing big name free agents is also a quick route to help your team win. If a bad team is lucky enough to find a superstar willing to play for them, I encourage it! The Circle must, of course, include the good teams as well. Those at the top are working towards a championship now, before their cast becomes old or is split up for other, financial reasons.
The problem in this Circle occurs when teams refuse to be bad, unable to determine which way their season is going to go. These teams are stuck in mediocrity. They need to make a decision whether or not to make a move and become better and possibly contend, or pull the plug and rebuild. Where people get confused is when the term ‘tanking’ is thrown around. Simply stated, tanking is losing games on purpose. The benefit of this comes with falling to a lower ranking, increasing their chances for a higher pick for the best available player. Despite the seemingly valid rationale, this is highly frowned upon for a number of reasons. The most obvious of which is the fact that it’s just not good business sense, leading to a decrease in both ticket and merchandise sales. This can taint a franchise.
When people hear the term ‘tanking’ they think of things like trading away star players for a future pick and keeping injured players out for unnecessarily extended periods of time. I would argue that there is a more subtle approach to this, still allowing the opportunity for a high draft pick while managing to keep the fans happy. The key: avoid mediocrity.
I don’t have problems with young teams with a bright future. My issue comes with teams who would rather be mediocre than bad. As I write this, many players have joined new teams (J. Smith, Pistons. D. Howard, Rockets. A. Iguodala, Warriors. Etc…) and there are still big name players available (M. Ellis, A. Bynum, B. Jennings) who have been linked to teams such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Milwaukee.
With next year’s draft class being so promising, teams should not be afraid to be bottom feeders for a year. The Hawks were in a perfect ‘tank’ situation. They had only a few players under contract going into the summer, with Teague and Smith being free agents, leaving them with a ‘bad’ team. This gave them cap space to pursue Atlanta-native Dwight Howard. Pursuing Dwight is a solid play. However, with Dwight choosing Houston, plan B should have been to just play out the season. The team would be bad, but not as a result of tanking. They would just not be a particularly talented bunch. Tanking assumes they are trying to lose, whereas losing would come naturally. By signing Paul Millsap and overpaying for Kyle Korver they are refusing to be a bottom dweller and in turn are going to be mediocre for another year as opposed to ‘bad’. Even with a potential signing of another talented guard, this team will not find itself near the top of the East next season.
With the recent signing of Josh Smith and the assumption that the Bucks attempt to re-sign Brandon Jennings or someone to play with Larry Sanders, I can assume both teams will join the Hawks in having a mediocre season as opposed to using their free pass to ‘tank’, playing with the team they have.
Certain teams feel their name is not synonymous with losing. I feel this year that the Celtics, Lakers, and Mavericks fall into that category. All three teams are looking to rebuild, yet fear the losses that come with it. L.A. and Dallas were looking to use free agency to establish a future for their team. With both teams failing to do so as of yet and with no valuable trade assets available to them, a complete rebuild should be in order. Neither Mitch Kupchak nor Mark Cuban are willing to sacrifice games for the future of their team. The Mavericks followed up Dwight Howard’s decision by signing Jose Calderon to a four-year, twenty-eight million dollar deal. Although Calderon is a solid point guard, he will by no means turn the Mavericks into a contender. Therefore I expect both teams to join the list of mediocrity.
The Celtics, similar to the previously mentioned teams, are too proud of an organization to lose games. Yet unlike them, the Celtics have young assets and a bounty of picks. By trading Garnett and Pierce, you trade away any chance of winning now. It should be assumed a rebuilding process would come next. Danny Ainge has publicly stated, “We are not tanking. That’s ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics.” That leaves us with a team of young talent, large salaries, and an all-star Rajon Rondo coming off injury. With tanking out of the question for Ainge and the Celtics, this team finds itself in the category of mediocrity, albeit with a more promising future than L.A. and Dallas.
With where teams currently stand – in solely my opinion – I would say a potential bottom three teams next season include the 76ers, Jazz, and Magic. That is not to say that I do not like what these teams have been doing. All three used the draft wisely, and will be good in the near future because of it. By avoiding mediocrity these teams have acquired young talent such as Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Trey Burke, and Victor Oladipo, while accepting the role of a team who does not have to tank. They are naturally ‘bad’. Even though teams like Detroit and Dallas may be better than a team like Utah this year, they will suffer for that mediocrity in the years to come.
Shawn Carter is not only the greatest rapper alive (not debatable) but in recent years, the Brooklyn born rapper has immensely raised the bar for musicians and artists who look to venture outside of music in order to gain recognition and ultimately, increase the cash flow. We’ve seen The Jigga Man, make numerous power moves within the rap game, CEO of Def Jam Recordings, co founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, founder of Roc Nation, and so on. He’s ventured outside of music and struck gold with his Rocawear clothing line (that sold for $204 million dollars, in 2007), he’s opened multiple 40/40 Club’s, his lavish chain of sports bar’s, and he was also a pivotal part of the Nets move to Brooklyn this past season, as a minority owner.
“Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free, except I made millions off of you fucking dweebs. I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seats…” This line appeared in a recent track released by Jay entitled, “Open Letter” and stirred up some discussion amongst rap fans, and basketball fans alike. Had Jay sold his shares of the Nets? The organization he almost single-handedly re-branded, and brought to his hometown of Brooklyn. If so, why would he do such a thing? The Nets seemed to be his first born (sorry Blue Ivy). Days later it would go public that Jay-Z had indeed sold his 1/15 of a single percent share of the Nets, for $350,000 and shifted his focus to another aspect of sports, representation.
On April 2, Jay-z launched Roc Nation Sports, and in true Hov fashion, he has teamed with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the industries most prominent sports and entertainment agencies. His first client? None other than Major League Baseball’s best second baseman, and New York Yankees slugger, Robinson Cano. Cano, not only signed with the agency headed by a rapper, but also left the top agent in the game of baseball, Scott Boras. Since the launch, Roc Nation Sports has also signed the WNBA’s 2013 #1 pick, and new face (a beautiful one) of the league Skylar Diggins, and according to multiple media outlets he has also signed NY Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, although the official Roc Nation site does not confirm a Cruz signing, as it does Cano and Diggins, (CAA does claim Cruz, and credits Jay-Z for bringing him aboard). This is a testament to the legend Jay-Z has created, not only in the music industry but far beyond that. It has been said, many, many times that sports and music are synonymous. Athletes often get hype for games listening to music. Music, that often features lyrics driven by comparisons or homages to those same athletes. This move though, this is on a whole different level.
The launch of this agency was greeted and digested by many as another business move in which Jay-Z would use his fame and wide reach to line his pockets and the pockets of his associates. Many felt Jay-Z would simply be the face of Roc Nation Sports and use his friendship with numerous superstars to convince them to sign with Roc Nation. An easy conclusion to come too, and one that seemed likely. That is until the NFL and MLB stepped in, and promptly put an end to that notion. As I stated above, Jay-Z has already signed Cano, and has also seemingly signed Cruz, much to the chagrin of their respective leagues. Both of whom suspected tampering on Mr Carter’s behalf while he was courting these two stars. There is no issue with the friendship between these men, but when that friendship is deemed responsible for the defection of an athlete from one agency to another, that’s when the lawyers get involved.
Rivals agencies and league officials alike raised concerns with Jay-Z’s new role in sports management, and they were not going to take this lying down. CAA was somewhat able to come to the rescue of their new partner, and tie up any loose ends regarding their clients, but Jay-Z wasn’t in the clear. He would be able to represent MLB and NFL athletes, but if he wanted to handle NBA stars he needed to relinquish his shares of the Brooklyn Nets. Being that basketball is his first love, and he’s often seen court side in numerous NBA arenas, the ability to handle NBA athletes must’ve been a priority when starting his agency. Almost immediately, Hov began selling of his shares of the Nets, proceeded to complete, and then filed the necessary paperwork to become a certified sports agent. Jay-Z or rather, Shawn Carter’s applications with the MLB and NFL have already been approved, and he is expected to be approved by the NBA just in time for June’s NBA Draft. Making him the most recognizable, and influential sports agent across the countries three most predominant sports.
So what, or rather who is next for Hov and CAA? The rumors has already started with Kentucky freshman PF and projected #1 overall pick Nerlens Noel. As we all know, Jay-Z has a solid relationship with Kentucky and Coach Cal, not to mention his relationship with high school and college “handler” World Wide Wes. I expect Jay to make a run at a few more MLB stars, predominantly African Americans. There has been an infusion of young, talented African Americans in the big leagues recently, and I would expect Jay-Z to capitalize on that. Roc Nation Sports will surely venture more into the NFL, and I am certain that Cruz will not be their only client come opening day in September. Jay-Z seems extremely serious about this venture, and in due time I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a certified agent in other, more worldly sports, helping to grow his brand on a global scale.
Could the NBA’s best player team up with his good friend, who doubles as one of his biggest fans? Lebron James and Jay can often be seen together, whether it’s courtside after a game, or out on the town, because of this and CAA’s reputation as one of the best agencies in the game. A jump to Roc Nation Sports wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Shoot, maybe Jigga will even sign former KC Chief running back Larry Johnson. I know you all remember him being down with the ROC during his playing days. Ok, so maybe he won’t, but whether or not you like Jay-Z the rapper, you have to respect Mr. Carter the mogul, as he hasn’t taken many losses in the board room. This agency is a big time power move for Jay and his brand, and only solidifies that fact that he is indeed not a businessman, but rather a business…man.