Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Detroit Pistons - Then and Now

I was pondering the Pistons' recent string of very good teams, which includes one NBA title and six consecutive trips to the conference finals in the last six years. They are undoubtedly a steady and very good team, but they have taken advantage of a relatively weak Eastern Conference. The best team during their recent run has been maybe the Miami Heat in 2006 (?). The Bad Boys era, however, was an era of strength in the Eastern Conference. During the years the Pistons were good (late 80s/early 90s), the Bulls were on the rise with MJ, the Hawks were always good with Dominique and Doc Rivers, the Cavs had Price, Daugherty, and Nance, the Sixers had an old Dr. J and a young Barkley, and of course the Celtics still had Larry and the gang. The late 80s/early 90s were arguably the NBA's last era of supreme competitiveness. They had to be great just to get through the Eastern Conference. Recently - not so much. Let's look at a position by position comparison between the current Pistons and their Bad Boy Era counterparts:

Point Guard - Isiah Thomas vs. Chauncey Billups
Don't get me wrong. I think Chauncey is in maybe the top five point guards in the league right now. But Isiah was probably the best point guard ever: 25 points in the fourth quarter. Against the Lakers. In the NBA finals. On a broken ankle. This is a clear advantage to the Bad Boys. Sorry Chauncey - you are "Mr. Big Shot," but you've got "No Shot" in this contest.
Bad Boys-1, New Boys-0

Shooting Guard - Joe Dumars vs. Richard Hamilton
This is a close one. Joe D was a great defender and a very good shooter. Rip is a great scorer, a relentless off-the-ball motion guy, and an underrated defender. I love watching Rip come off screens and bury 15-footers, but I think Joe D gets the nod here. He is a Hall-of-Famer, after all. This one could swing the other way in a few years if Hamilton keeps up his current production.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-0

Small Forward - Mark Aguirre vs. Tayshaun Prince
This is another tight contest. Aguirre was a great player at one time (6 straight seasons averaging 22+ ppg), but his role with the Pistons was reduced. Tayshaun Prince is a great defensive player and a pretty good offensive player. He even plays somewhat of a "point forward" position at times. I think Tayshaun gets the nod for his defense. Aguirre, a pudgy, undersized slow small forward by the time he was a Piston, was often not on the floor late in games because of the tremendous defensive skills of Dennis Rodman.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-1

Power Forward - Rick Mahorn vs. Rasheed Wallace
With all due respect to Rick Mahorn, this is no contest. Mahorn was in the game for his defense and rebounding, but was not known for his offensive skills. Rasheed is a great all-around player who may end up in the Hall of Fame someday. Sheed can score from anywhere on the floor. Mahorn could score if he was within a small three foot radius of the basket. And even that was not a certainty.
Bad Boys-2, New Boys-2

Center - Bill Laimbeer vs. Antonio McDyess
This is a pretty easy one. Laimbeer was a fierce competitor - some might even say he was a dirty player. He would whine after every foul ever called on him. He couldn't jump onto a metro Detroit phonebook. But he was a great outside shooter and a great rebounder. McDyess is a good player, but in fairness to him, he's kinda playing out of position. Laimbeer takes this one.
Bad Boys-3, New Boys-2

Bench - Bad Boys vs. New Boys
This is the biggest landslide of all. The Bad Boys had Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench to spell either Isiah or Joe D and provide instant offense. They had James Edwards to provide the only semblance of a post game the Pistons had (also instant offense). And they had pre-crazy Dennis Rodman and John Salley to provide energy, rebounding, and defense. The current Pistons bench has rookie Rodney Stuckey, who's actually playing rather well, but is not exactly Vinnie Johnson. They have Jason Maxiell, who's an undersized power forward. And they have Theo Ratliff and Lindsey Hunter, who provide a little defense but not much else. Strong advantage fo the Bad Boys.
Bad Boys-4, New Boys-2

Closer than I thought it would be. But two of the positions in the Bad Boys' favor (PG and Bench) were complete landslides, so it's not as close as it looks. Anyway, the Pistons need to summon some of the old Bad Boy karma to get past the Celtics this weekend. If they can make it to the finals, they've got a good shot to take down whatever Western Conference foe they come up against.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CD Review: "Warpaint" - The Black Crowes

I have never bought a Black Crowes album. Actually, I have always respected their southern jam-band aesthetic (plus the fact that singer Chris Robinson scored himself some sweet Kate Hudson action for seven years before their recent divorce), but it always seemed like they were trying too hard to be rootsy. Their latest release, "Warpaint," however, is a great "comeback" album from a band that had not released new material in seven years. The vocals and guitar are still handled quite adeptly by perpetually feuding brothers Chris and Rich Robinson. With the exception of drummer Steve Gorman, the rest of the band has totally turned over. But in my opinion it's the addition of slide guitar player Luther Dickinson of The North Mississippi All-Stars that takes this album from the realm of the "good" to the realm of the "excellent." The sound evokes The Allman Brothers as well as the more country Rolling Stones stuff, and other "southern-fried" rock bands. On this album, nothing seems forced, and the music is unmistakably genuine and solid. The career arc of The Black Crowes is once again on an upward trend, thanks to this very good collection of songs (can I still call it an album?). If you are so inclined, pick it up - you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Favorite Wolverines

Okay, it's almost June, so I would like to try to have a Michigan Football post at least once a week up until the season starts. The first installment: my favorite Michigan football players - in no particular order.

Rick Leach (QB - 1975-1978)

"The guts and glue of the Maize and Blue," as Bob Ufer used to call him. He was great during my formative years (75-78), and that's why he's one of my favorite Wolverines of all-time. He shattered all the previous Michigan passing records (which have all since been broken). Great athlete.

Mike Hart (RB - 2004-2007)

Sure, the Michigan records he holds are nice: most career carries; most career yards; most rushing yards by a freshman; most 100 yard rushing games; most 200 yard rushing games. But he was my favorite because he was a relentless runner who never fumbled. He rarely went down on first contact, and he even more rarely coughed up the football (lost one fumble his freshman year, and then not again until the bowl game senior year). He gave me the impression that he was a good kid, and a hard worker.

Charles Woodson (CB - 1995-1997)

I think this is mainly due to the fact that he was such a stud during the '97 national championship season: his one-handed interception against the Spartans, his clutch catch, INT, and punt return TD against OSU. It was a very exciting year, and he was the main reason.

David Harris (LB - 2003-2006)

While he was only a full-time starter for one year, he was a tremendous middle linebacker. He was all over the field and was just as good chasing down an outside sweep as he was in pass coverage against TEs. I loved watching him play. Currently the starting MLB for the Jets.

Mark Messner (DT - 1985-1988)

He was a stud in the middle of the D-Line while I was in Ann Arbor, and even led the team in sacks as a tackle, a pretty impressive feat. He was a two-time All-American. And he rocked a sweet pornstache back in the day.

John Kolesar (WR - 1985-1988)

I swear, he caught more long passes than any Michigan receiver until Braylon came along (in fact, for his career, he averaged 23.4 yards per catch). He was deceptively fast (i.e., he was a white wide receiver) and also was a good kickoff returner and a decent punt returner. This is another one who's on the list primarily because I was in school at the same time as him.

As usual, your mileage may vary. Please add your favorite Wolverines in the comments. I wanted to leave a few for you guys, so I left off some of the more obvious greats from my lifetime.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lance Berkman - Caliente

Lance Berkman, switch-hitting first baseman for the Houston Astros, has been one of my favorite baseball players since his early days with the team when I lived in Houston back in the 90s. He's slightly chubby, not very fast, and has a great sense of humor - kinda like John Kruk, except with more power, without the mullett, and with both testicles intact. And he's on a hot streak. And not just any normal hot streak. He has a 14-game hitting streak, and he's produced numbers you might see in a slow-pitch softball league. During this streak (started April 30), he has:

- a .537 batting average (29-for-54), OBP .613
- 7 HR, 21 RBI, 7 doubles, 9 walks
- struck out only 5 times
- increased his batting average from .297 to .391
- increased is OBP from .387 to .472
- had hits in 8 consecutive at-bats

And the most important stat of all - the Astros are 11-3 during the streak, vaulting themselves into early contention in the NL Central, despite having mediocre pitching. I had originally written this yesterday, and I had to revise it because his performance yesterday afternoon added some luster to his already great streak. How hot is Berkman? He went 2-for-4 yesterday, and his average during the streak actually went down. He drove in three runs, and he hit a solo home run in the ninth to break a 7-7 tie and the Astros came back from a 7-3 deficit to win 8-7.

Here are a couple nice quotes that give an idea of Lance's personality:

"In Baltimore last year I forgot how many outs there were and ran off the field. I got to the line, and I was like, Oh, my gosh, nobody's running off (the field). I immediately went to the fake knee injury. The trainer came running out and was like, 'Are you O.K.?' And I said, 'Yeah, I just forgot how many outs there were.' That was right after I came back from my knee surgery so I had a built in excuse."
- Sports Illustrated, April 4, 2006

"I'm as low-maintenance a hitter as there probably is," Berkman said. "I never watch video anyway. I just go out there, take my round of batting practice and play the game. Especially when things are going well, you don't want to tinker too much."

Lance Berkman es muy caliente!

* If the Tigers ever get hot, I'd love to write something about them. Until then, all aboard the Berkman express...

ADDED: I just looked up the record for most hits in a month. The record is 67. That is completely insane. He's got a couple weeks left, but he'll have to pick up the pace to match it. He's got 28 in 13 games in May.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Politics and Sports

Strange Stuff In The News

John McCain says that the war in Iraq will be over by 2013. Wow, that's a relief. I was worried it might go on a long time. Just five years to go, people. If the war does indeed end in 2013, that will make it a ten year war - longer than the US involvement in WWI and WWII combined. Thanks for the reassurance, Johnny Mac. I'm definitely voting for you now.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector says he wants a Senate inquiry into the New England Patriots notorious "spygate" controversy, mainly because both NFL teams in his state lost to the Pats during their playoff run on the way to their victory in Super Bowl 39. I think it's a wonderful idea, since there is nothing else worthwhile that our legislators need to spend time on. Other sports-related "controversies" that Spector should insist on investigating:

- The brown smudge on Kenny Rogers' hand during the 2006 playoffs
- Tom Brady's "Tuck Rule" fumble
- Danica Patrick running over a member of a rival's pit crew
- The BCS
- The Colorado vs. Missouri "5th down" game from 1990
- Michael Jordan pushing Bryon Russell out of the way before hitting game winning shot in 1998 NBA finals
- Matt Leinart's hot tub party
- Matt Millen's draft record

I demand hearings! Go get 'em, boy!

Any other shananigans Senator Spector needs to be made aware of?

Let Carlos Sing!

I was listening to a little Santana recently, and I was struck by the fact that despite Carlos Santana's awesome guitar playing, he does not bother to sing, for whatever reason. Perhaps his voice is horrible. Perhaps he can't sing and play at the same time. Perhaps he's shy. Whatever the reason, the lead singer for Santana has always been someone other than Carlos (wikipedia shows twelve different vocalists thru the years). This got me to thinking - what other prominent rock stars had their name as part of the band's name, but did not do any of the singing? I could not think of too many:

Carlos of course played the distinctive guitar licks, but the singing was done by others. Even in his more recent solo efforts (Supernatural and Shaman), he enlisted others to do the singing for him on songs that required vocals. This makes me interested to hear him sing, just to know how awful it might be.

Jeff Beck Group
Vocals were handled by Rod Stewart. He is well known as a great guitarist, but none of the bands he was a part of (Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group) featured him as a vocalist.

Phil Lesh and Friends
Actually I'm only half kidding about this one. Phil actually does some of the singing, but as a favor to everyone listening, he usually has guest vocalists on his tours. Ryan Adams, Susan Tedeschi, Joan Osborne, Chris Robinson, Trey Anastasio, and Warren Haynes have all been featured as guest vocalists during the last few years. Phil's strength is playing the bass, not singing. Chants of "Let Phil Sing" by fans at Grateful Dead shows probably reflected the spirit of community and the fans' affection for Phil and his rare compositions (Unbroken Chain, anyone?), rather than his vocal prowess. The man knows his limitations.

Can anyone think of any others?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The End of The World

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine... "
- R.E.M.

With the recent natural disasters in Asia (the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Myanmar), it got me to thinking about the end of the world, and the various predictions of when it's going to happen. Since the beginning of time, people have prophesized that the end is near. It seems that every time there is a disaster or cluster of disasters, natural or otherwise, crackpots come out of the woodwork to claim either that the end of the world is near, or that prior prophesies foresaw the disaster somehow. Now that Myanmar and part of China are in ruins, I expect that there will be a glut of prophets claiming that they knew it was coming - and some reinterpreting Nostradamus like they did after the 9/11 attacks. Here are some "end of the world" prophecies to keep your eyes out for in the relatively near future:

  1. Mayan and Aztec calendars are claiming that the end of the world is coming on the very specific date of December 21, 2012 (12-21-12). Seems more like a numerical anomaly than a good date for global apocalypse. Nevertheless, it's very specific about the date, so that's nice. It will be easy to tell if they were right. For people looking for guiltless apocalyptic sex, December 20, 2012 promises to be even better than the millennium for using the "the world is ending" line in a bar. Put that date in your Willard for future reference. It's even better than conjugal visit sex or fugitive sex*.
  2. Jerry Falwell has given himself a little wiggle room on the wording of his doomsday prediction. In a 1999 speech about the concern people have over the new millennium, Falwell said the Antichrist is probably alive today and is a male Jew. Falwell also told about 1,500 people at a conference in Kingsport, TN, that he believes the second coming of Christ probably will be within 10 years. "Probably" within ten years. Nice to be specific Jerry. At least the Mayans had a specific date. He died last year, so will be unable to witness the apocalypse himself. And the Antichrist is a male Jew? Nicely done, Nazi asshole.
  3. Pyotr Kuznetsov is the leader of a Russian doomsday sect called the True Orthodox Church. They reject processed food and regard bar codes as Satanic symbols, which should give you some idea of his mental state. He predicted that the world would end in May of 2008 (oh my gawd! it's here!). During November of 2007, thirty-five of his followers barricaded themselves in a cave near the village of Kikolskoye, 435 miles (725 km) southeast of Moscow. They threatened to blow up gas cylinders if officials tried to force them to leave. Twenty-four left when spring floods caused part of the cave to collapse; only a few adults remain. Meanwhile, Kuznetsov is believed to have become depressed at the failure of his prophecies and has tried to commit suicide by hitting himself on the head with a log. I'm no suicide expert, but I would not put "hitting yourself in the head with a log" on the top of the list of "most effective suicide methods." Perhaps he's not the brightest of fellows - which doesn't say a lot about his followers. They were not even committed enough to the cult to stay through a little cave collapse. Come on, cult members - you're supposed to follow your leader to the death, if necessary. The Heaven's Gate cult mocks you from their spaceship in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet.
  4. Someone called "The Final Peace" predicts that the Rapture will occur on February 13, 2009. She believes that she is communicating directly with both God and Satan. Her predictions are based on a number of calculations:

    - The 3½ year countdown began on 2005-AUG, right before Katrina hit.
    - Zeus' birthday is FEB-13.
    - FEB-13 is a Friday the 13th.
    - The time stamp in the Unix operating system is 1234567890 at 23:31:30 UTC on this day.
    - References in the Gospel of Thomas.

    So this one's totally based on numerology and computers. It seems a bit lazy for a prophecy. And who the hell knows when Zeus was born? Are mythological gods "born?" And how can she have a direct line to both God and Satan? So many questions...
  5. Someone called "Second Messenger" predicts that the Rapture will happen on October 31, 2009 (Halloween!) and that the end of the world will occur on April 2, 2010. He has a blog (which I was unable to find, but the way) explaining how this date was computed from biblical references. It is based on the belief that creation happened during 11990 BCE and the flood of Noah was during 4990 BCE, an interval of exactly 7,000 years. Working forward from the flood, another 7,000 year interval takes us to 2010. The rapture on Halloween? Awesome. You could be out trick-or-treating when you start to see people fly up toward the sky. Definitely a memorable Halloween, much like some Halloween parties we had in college. In fact, I may have seen one or two people flying at one of our Halloween parties...
  6. Patrik Geryl predicts a pole reversal in 2012. This is not the reversal of the Earth's magnetic poles where the North Magnetic Pole relocates to the South Magnetic Pole. This has happened many times in the past. Geryl is predicting that the North Pole and South Pole will reverse and cause the Earth to start rotating in the opposite direction. He does not explain from where the required energy will come - the energy required to rotate the poles would be immense. So if the world were to reverse rotation, there will have to be a point where the earth stops turning before it reverses. Unfortunately, this prediction lacks a specific date, so parties cannot be planned, and you can't use this one for apocalyptic sex.

These are just a few of the more interesting ones. There are lots more. And there have been many that have predicted the end of the world would have already happened. But obviously they have been wrong. Or have they? Are we already dead? I think I just blew my own mind...

*or so I've heard.

ADDED: Another possible sign that the world is about to end? This is our 100th post on this blog. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This Day In History - Catfish

On May 8, 1968, Jim "Catfish" Hunter had perhaps the best all-around game in major league history. Pitching for the Oakland A's, Catfish became the first American League pitcher to pitch a perfect game since 1922. Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down. That alone would be enough to qualify as one of the best games ever. At that point in time, only nine pitchers had ever done it before. But Catfish was not content to just get batters out. At the plate, he went 3-for-4, and drove in three of the four Oakland runs. The team he shut out was no slouch. The Minnesota Twins had Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Oliva in their lineup. He struck out Killebrew three times. Another oddity I found while looking at the boxscore for the game: the attendance in Oakland that night was only 6,298. It was the A's first season in Oakland, after moving from Kansas City.

Catfish died in 1999, after falling down the stairs in his home. He was suffering from ALS at the time.

Maybe I sound like an old man, but one thing lacking in today's Major League is great nicknames. Catfish was one of the alltime great nicknames. And on May 8, 1968 he had one of the alltime great games. Raise your glass to Catfish this weekend. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I'm Not There

"I'm Not There," the 2007 movie about Bob Dylan, came out on DVD yesterday, and I had to watch it as soon as I could. I had heard so many good things about it. While I can't really say I love it after one viewing, I can definitely say that I was intrigued. It was a very interesting way to tell a story, but in trying to be "avante garde" or whatever, it seemed a little jumpy. It was intriguing in that it made me want to watch it again, just to see what I had missed - because it seemed like there was a lot going on and it jumped back and forth from one time period to another. It kinda all tied together at the end, but I think it deserves another viewing, in part because it's a little hard to keep up with the non-linear storyline when you are interrupted by a 5-year-old who wants some popcorn upstairs or wants to discuss her Barbie movie halfway through it.

Anyway, it piqued my interest to find out more about Dylan. I am intimately familiar with a lot of his music (I have most of his CDs, I have his entire "Theme Time Radio Hour" series, and many hours of live bootlegs), but I don't know all that much about his life. What I would like to solicit via this blog is recommendations for Bob Dylan biographies. I know there must be several out there, but I don't want to buy three. I want one good one. Anyone? Please leave suggestions in the comments.

ADDED: by the way, the soundtrack to this movie is outstanding - lots of very good covers of Dylan songs. Curiously, not all of these versions appear in the movie, but they're still worthwhile covers. "Going to Acapulco" by Jim James, and "Simple Twist of Fate" by Jeff Tweedy are my favorites.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tebow the Mohel

Tebow: So, what did you guys do for spring break?

Teammate: We went to Cancun. Did some body shots off some hot chicks from Georgia. Drank until daylight a couple times. Laid in the sun all hungover. Slept with eight other dudes in a small hotel room. Puked off the balcony. Typical spring break stuff. How about you?

Tebow: I circumcised some Filipino babies.

Awkward silence...

Michigan Football - early preview

I'm bored (and anxious for football to get started), so I thought I'd take an early look at the Michigan football schedule for the upcoming season and see what's in store, and what I think might happen in these games. Of course, it's early, and lots of the players that could be playing major roles this fall have not even arrived on campus, so take these predictions with a huge pile of salt:

Aug. 30 UTAH
This could be a tough one. Utah was very good last year. They finished 9-4, including a bowl victory over Navy. They won 8 of their last 9 games. They run a version of the spread that Urban Meyer installed when he was there. This could go either way, but I'll give a slight edge to the Wolverines based on home field. The Rodriguez era gets off to a good start by beating a rugged Yoot squad. This result greatly disappoints famous Utah alums Karl Rove and Ted Bundy. Record: 1-0.

Sept. 6 MIAMI (OH)
MAC schools don't win in the Big House. Michigan should be able to work on perfecting their spread offense in this game. Famous Miami Alum Tina Louise is not pleased, but I don't care - I'm on the record as being a Mary Anne guy anyway. Record: 2-0.

Sept. 13 @ Notre Dame
Notre Dame should be improved, but it still won't be enough to beat Michigan. ND's vanilla offense will be swallowed whole by Michigan's aggressive defense. Mmmmm - vanilla. Rudy cries into his cornflakes. Record: 3-0.

Sept. 27 WISCO
I don't have a good feeling about this. Wisco may be breaking in a new QB, but they still have fat running back PJ Hill returning, tackling him is like tackling a golf cart. Or so I'm told. I'll mark this down for a loss. Famous Wisconsin alum Boz Skaggs rejoices in his living room. Record: 3-1.

Illinois is due for a letdown after last year's Rose Bowl appearance. They lost Mendenhall, and Juice Williams still is not good enough to carry the offense. Michigan will win this one handily. Famous Illini alum Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube, uploads a video of himself weeping onto YouTube. Record: 4-1.

Oct. 11 TOLEDO
MAC schools don't win in the Big House. Michigan should be able to work on further perfecting their spread offense in this game. Famous Rocket alum John Snow, former Treasury Secretary, does not care about this result. Record: 5-1.

Oct. 18 @ Penn State
Road game at Happy Valley - and it could be a night game. Pretty tough spot for first year starting QB, whomever it turns out to be. Penn State has a chance to break the losing streak to Michigan. Not this year. JoePa can't make it to the locker room this time, and he craps his pants on the field. Team follows suit. Famous PSU alum John Amaechi is dejected, but still thinks it's FABULOUS! Record: 6-1.

I think the Sparties are due for an upset, and if they're gonna do it, they better get it done before Coach Rod gets the team fully acclimated to the spread. Sparties pull off an ugly upset in the rain. Famous MSU alum Chris Hansen of NBC News is pleased, but has a few questions and would like you to have a seat right over there. Record: 6-2.

Nov. 1 @ Purdue
Purdue? Come on. Joe Tiller, busy picking food out of his mustache, forgets to come out after halftime. Michigan finishes strong. Famous Purdue alum Gary Danielson wonders why the Big Ten isn't as good as the SEC. Record: 7-2.

Nov. 8 @ Minnesota
By November 8, Minnesota fans are going to be wondering why they had such a problem with Glen Mason. Michigan romps, rushing for 300+ yards in the dome. Former Gopher Robert Zimmerman just sits and watches the river flow. Record: 8-2.

Michigan returns home to face a Northwestern squad on the ass-end of a horrible season. Michigan wins handily. Former Wildcat Julia Louis-Dreyfus wants to know why you painted your face - to which you reply, of course, "Gotta support the team." Record: 9-2.

Nov. 22 @ Ohio State
Once again, the Big Ten title comes down to the last game of the year. Michigan-Ohio State. As much as I would love to predict a Michigan win, I just can't see it happening this early in the year. Talk to me in early November. The Buckeyes hang on for another victory over the Wolverines. They better enjoy it, because Coach Rod is about to start a winning streak of his own. Famous OSU alum Bruce Vilanch knows nothing about football, but incorporates the game into a sassy joke anyway. Record: 9-3.

I'd be happy with 9-3 with a first year coach and an entirely new philosophy and offensive system. I'm hoping for more, but realistically, I think this is achievable. In fact, 9-3 might be a best-case scenario. Just call me Billy Mumphrey - I'm a cockeyed optimist. Please add your predictions in the comments.

ADDED: And this is one reason why I have confidence. Barwis!

Friday, May 2, 2008

College Football News

This is a perfect example of the inexact science of recruiting:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who had legal and disciplinary problems throughout his college career, was kicked off the defending national championship team Friday after he failed a drug test.

When he was being recruited, mainly by Texas and LSU, he was the 2004 version of Terrelle Pryor. He was one of Les Miles' first big-time blue chippers. But he obvious had some difficulty adjusting to the college game and college lifestyle. I can't say that I hope this happens to Pryor, but if it does, we shouldn't really be too surprised. When you are the supposed "savior" of a program, there is a lot of pressure to perform to a certain level. He was in position to have a big year, quarterbacking the defending national champs. But maybe the pressure got to him. Maybe he felt like he was bigger than the program. Maybe he's just a dick and didn't get it. But the bottom line is, he's not LSU's problem anymore. I, for one, hope he gets his shit together and finds a place to play where he can relax and enjoy the college experience and not be burdened with the expectations of greatness.

ADDED: Apparently, he is kind of a dick. On signing day, he apparently claimed he would win multiple heismans before he was done at LSU. And he was in trouble with the law a lot. Perhaps LSU fans are happy to see him go.

The Pistons' Legacy at Stake

This current Pistons team has had quite a successful run over the past 7 years. Yet they are still one of the hardest teams to figure out and their ultimate place in NBA lore is still to be determined. One thing for sure - they have been one of the most consistent teams in NBA history. Some of their achievements:

Seven straight 50 win seasons. Remarkable in this era of sports. For comparison purposes, here are the longest streaks in NBA history:
o Magic’s Lakers had 12 straight from 1980-91 – Wow.
o Russell’s Celts had 10 straight from 1959-68
o Bird’s Celts had 9 straight from 1980-88
o Duncan’s Spurs are also currently riding a 9 season streak.
That’s it – nobody else has had more than the 7 straight that this Pistons squad has had.

Five Straight Conference Finals (JINX ALERT) If they beat Orlando in their next series, they would advance to their sixth straight conference finals. I am willing to gamble on the jinx as i am that confident that the Magic cannot hang with the Stones over a 7 game series - so who’s done better since 1980? Magic’s Lakers went to 8 straight from 82-89. That’s it. Birds’ Celts only made 5 straight - streak ended by the Bad Boys. MJ’s Bulls never made more than 5 straight - partially due to MJ's forced retirement due to gambling problems. The Bad Boys also capped out at 5 straight East Finals. So if they beat the Magic, that's the 2nd best run in the modern era of the NBA.

OK – so their consistency during this run is undeniable. But their ultimate success in the playoffs has been mixed and lately, pretty disappointing. And it seems to relate to whether they are perceived as the favorite or not

· In ’03, they were the top seed but lost to a better Nets team in the East Finals.
· In ’04, the pulled off the mid-season Rasheed trade and finished with the #3 seed. They beat the #2 seed Nets and beat the favored #1 seed Pacers. They then dominated the heavily favored Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers in a 4-1 route and won the title. Truly one of the great team efforts in NBA history. Why? They had no true superstar. NBA titles are won with superstars. In fact, in the past 17 seasons, 16 titles were won with one of four guys on the roster: MJ (6), Shaq (4), Duncan (4), Hakeem (2). The other title was won by my beloved Stones. Go back farther…add Magic (5), Bird (3), Isiah (2) and Dr. J/Moses (take your pick) (1). That’s 27 of the past 28 titles won by teams with at least one of the best 20 guys in NBA history. That’s why the love for the ’04 Pistons is so huge – they are the only superstar-less team to pull it off in the modern era of the NBA. They won it with good players, incredible defense and a work ethic that would make Tom Izzo proud.
· In ’05, they beat Shaq & Wade in the east finals and lose a classic 7 game series to Duncan’s Spurs; Hard-fought series. Tough one to lose but you can live with it – they lost a brutal game 5 on a Horry miracle 3 to go down 3-2 in the series, came back to win game 6 on the road and were tied going into the 4th quarter of game 7 – I wish they won it but helluva season overall.

In ’06, something terrible happened. They finally started to gain respect. They started the season an incredible 41-9. 4 starters made the All-Star team. Suddenly, they lost the proverbial chip on their shoulder. They finished with the best record in the league in ’06 but lost in the conference finals – they also lost in the conference finals last year as the #1 seed . Both years, they have let inferior teams stretch out early round series as the Stones lost interest at times and seemed to think they can turn it on when they had to. That attitude cost them dearly as they tired by the conference finals while their opponents were resting and a couple of legit title shots slipped away.

So to recap – in ’03, ’06 & ’07 - #1 seed but don’t make it to the Finals. In ’04 & ’05, they are not the favorite but they do make it to the Finals. So here’s the good news - they entered these playoffs a bit under the radar as the #2 seed. Although the Stones had the 2nd best record in the league, Boston was the story thisyear and with Garnett going for his first title, most like them as the team to beat. That’s good because that's where the Pistons feel comfortable. They will be underdogs after they dispose of the Magic. Perhaps that’s what they need to sneak in another title and join the fairly exclusive club of teams that have won multiple titles. That's what's on the line for the Stones this spring. I think it’s enough to get them past Boston this year but the Spurs and Duncan are just too good.

For the record (and these were my picks before the start of the playoffs - I swear)

Spurs over Hornets in 6, Lakers over Jazz in 5, Celts over Cavs in 7, Pistons over Magic in 5
Spurs over Lakers in 6, Pistons over Celts in 6
Spurs over Pistons in 6

Go Stones!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This Day In History

Sorry I've been doing a lot of "this day in history" posts this week, but this week has really had some interesting anniversaries. This one's a doozy. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush appeared aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared, with a gigantic "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Yeah, right. Perhaps just a bit premature. Five years later, we're still there, gettin' shot at...

In other news, Bush has reported that the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to a permanent cease-fire, the housing crisis is over, the US dollar is stronger than ever, and cancer has been cured.

EDITED TO ADD: Douchebag in flight suit.