Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Law and Order: NHL

New York, NY

Pro hockey has undoubtedly the best post-season of any pro sport. The games are nearly all competitive, the level of play rises exponentially and the rules ratchet up the pressure to incredible heights.

Every bounce counts, every penalty is a chance to deliver a knock-out blow.

Which is why the Rangers are fucked. To borrow a phrase from Turkish in “Snatch,” “Proper fucked.”

Mr. Black is never “that guy,” the fan who thinks that referees, a league and fate is conspiring to keep his team from reaching their God-given levels of greatness. But in this case, the facts are all too telling.

It’s easy to make Brendan Shanahan the whipping boy of the NHL, especially after three weeks of seemingly random suspensions handed down. While Shea Weber and Matt Carkner get no penalties for moves only endorsed by the WWE, Carl Hagelin gets four games for an actual hockey play. (I will admit, it was a borderline illegal play did deserve a penalty during the game and at most a single game suspension.)

Let’s take a look at some of the more questionable decisions, your honor:

Exhibit A: Hagelin’s Suspension
Really no need to talk much about this one.

Outside of Rafi Torres’ 25 game suspension, this has been the harshest penalty levied by Brendan Shenanigan over the course of the playoffs. At first glance, Hagelin wouldn’t seem to be such an important piece, but his speed and aggressiveness has been the engine that drives the Blueshirts’ first line and you only have to see tape of last night’s game to realize how much they missed him.

Exhibit B: The Phantom Goal of Game Six
This is actually a case of the Rangers getting triple-screwed, and was my “JFK” moment. Not only was the goal off of an obvious kick by Chris Neil, but he also should have been called for goalie interference. In fact, “interference” isn’t the right word, it’s more goalie “spinterference” since Neil pushed Lundquist 180 degrees around when he skated into the crease.

Last but not least, the referee actually spoke to the NHL during the review of the play, which is not allowed per a change to league rules. According league rules, you can’t use video to review “interference” but you can use video the look for a puck kicked into the net. The officials called the goal good on the ice, but reviewed the tape to see if the puck was kicked in:

Looks like the puck changes direction to me, so Neil should be credited with the goal. But nope, Spezza still gets the goal on the score sheet.

How is that possible and why doesn’t the NHL release a statement to clarify what they saw on the video? It seems the ruling was that Neil didn’t touch the puck, the on-ice refs blew the call on interference, and the goal counts. Which adds up to awful refereeing.

Seriously, people, there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll. It was Brendan Shanahan. Makes me miss Colin Campbell. (Never thought I’d type that.)

Exhibit C: Milan Michalek Kicks Dan Girardi
Check out the video again to see Milan Michalek kick Dan Girardi with his skate. This is one of the worst offenses in hockey in my opinion, since if you connect the possibility of a major laceration is sky-high. I’ve seen it twice and neither player was able to play for at least three months.

The league reviewed the tape and “warned” both player and the GM. That, to me, is recognition of wrongdoing. I mean, why warn someone for something accidental. So the league says “do that again and you’ll get suspended.”

But in the mean time, an illegal play with intent to injure on a New York Rangers player merits just a warning. No double standard there, right?

Which brings us to:

Exhibit D: Matt Carkner Goes Postal On Brian Boyle
One game suspension for this:  WWE Highligts from MSG

The only two things Carkner doesn’t do is hit Boyle with a folding chair and jump off the top rope and deliver an elbow smash. During this melee, Brandon Dubinsky comes to his teammate’s aid and gets tossed out of the game.

In summary, we lose a second line forward and they lose an unskilled defenseman. Not exactly a fair trade. But hey, how do you define fair?

Exhibit E: Chris Neil Hits Brian Boyle
In a hit strikingly similar to Rafi Torres, and more vicious than Carl Hagelin, Chris Neil laid out Brian Boyle with a shot to the head.

Let’s see:
-       High hit. Check.
-       Leaves his feet. Check
-       Results in injury. Check.

All the makings of a four game suspension, minimum. It’s justice time, time for Sheriff Brendan to keep law and order on the ice.

And word from Toronto is….nothing.

The defense rests, your honor.

So some fairly one-sided decisions against the Rangers, and I’m feeling like there’s a bit of a conspiracy happening here. I’d fully expect the fine for Lundquist’s comments on the referees to come down from the league office very, very close to game time, just to get into his head pre-game.

But will it all work? I don’t think so.

I’m hoping that similar to “Snatch,” thinks work out well in the end. Our own little group of gypsies get pissed off (looking in your direction Richards, Gaborik, Staal and Callahan) and lay some serious smack down on the Senators. Hopefully they can come out hot and get an early three goal lead (after all, two goal leads aren’t safe with this team) and put the Senators away. Then ride the bunker mentality all the way to the finals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I Am Leaving The New York Knicks

by Mike D'Antoni

TODAY is my last day with the New York Knicks. After almost four years with the team — first as a desperate attempt to exorcise the demons of Isaiah Thomas, then coaching a team gutted by a trade engineered by an owner so inept that Donnie Walsh couldn’t work for him, I now believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as morbid and lethargic as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of winning games has been sidelined in the way the team operates and thinks about playing basketball. The New York Knickerbockers are of the world’s most iconic, important and loved basketball teams and it is too integral to the sport to continue to act this way. The team has veered so far from the way that Willis Reed, Bob Bradley, Red Holtzman, Clyde Frasier, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson played that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of the Knicks’ success. It revolved around teamwork; integrity, a certain swagger, and always doing what it took to win. The culture was the secret sauce that made the franchise great and allowed us to earn our fans love in spite of never having the right parts to win a championship since 1973. Even when the team was winning, it was always about making money, but with an owner who’s sole achievement is inheriting the DNA of a cable magnate, this desire to make money while winning as been gone for too long. There is really no pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that seduced me into working for this firm for four years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief or the actual attention of our biggest star.

But this was not always the case. For more than a week I coached a team through our grueling offensive system. I was the coach of a team which won more games than any other franchise for ten whole days, and our highlights were played on ESPN for every show, including NFL 32. Last month, I managed the summer intern program in offense and passing for the New York Knicks and kicked off the phenomena known as “Linsanity.”

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look my star player in the eye and implore him to run the offense. He was sitting at the end of the bench, head hidden under a towel.

When the history books are written about the NBA, they may reflect that the current New York Knicks owner, Charles Dolan, and the star, Carmelo Anthony, lost the love of basketball’s Mecca on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the team’s prestige represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival. Well, maybe only Charles Dolan. Carmelo will probably be traded when Phil Jackson gets here.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of coaching some of most underachieving teams on the planet. Teams whose lack of achievement is dwarfed only by Team USA in 2004, which oddly enough, Carmelo Anthony was also on. My teams have scored more than Van Halen in 1982, and I have always taken a lot of pride in offense, even if it means completely ignoring defense. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Madison Square Garden, especially among “natural scorers”. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The team changed the way it won games. In fact, we actually won consistently for the first time in decade’s only weeks ago. Knick basketball used to be about stars that actually won games, setting a pick here and there and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money with the Knicks (and are not currently an ax murderer or JR Smith) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Come to the team as a high-priced free agent. New Yorkers are so starved for a good team; they’ll ignore any past demons in your personality or on your medical report. b) Be born here. Even if you weren’t actually raised here New Yorkers love a native, even though none of them are natives. c) Find yourself sitting in the post, begging for the ball even though the offense is based on movement and passing.

Today, many of these leaders on the team exhibit a culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend film sessions where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can score more efficiently. It’s purely about how we can get the most “offensive touches” or “more shots because I’m a playmaker” even though the player is shooting under 40% this year. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that passing the ball was not part of basketball at all.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If players don’t win, they will eventually stop working at all. It doesn’t matter how much you pay them.

These days, the most common question I get from players is, “Do you follow me on twitter?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the player sitting quietly at the end of the bench isn’t just ignoring your coaching, he’s tweeting about where he’s planning to go later to meet some groupies so he can send out pictures of their butt on the Internet.

When I was a first-year scout I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a high pick and roll was, understanding the salary cap, getting to know players and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.

My proudest moments in life — being the second pick in the second round of the NBA Draft, winning a Coppa Italia with Bennetton Treviso, being friends with Steve Nash, also known as Coach of the Suns — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. The Knicks today have become too much about contracts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to James Dolan. Make basketball the focal point of the Knicks again. Without fans, you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the future bankrupt players that can’t play as a team, no matter how much money they make for the team. And get the culture right again so people want to get excited for championships, not free agents. People who care only about making money will not sustain this team — or the trust of its fans — for very much longer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Do The Right Thing

June 3rd, 2010
New York, NY

Sports presents an ongoing emotional battle for all traditionalists. Constant rule changes, technological advances and the maturation of any sport means that like a living, breathing organism, sports constantly change.

For some people, this means that a sport might lose it’s magic and they lose interest.

For some, it makes it impossible to compare greats from era to era, allowing for constant debate about who “the greatest” might be.

For some, it means you might have to redefine your personal rules about how you judge greatness, winners and losers.

Mr. Black is one of those people.

Last night, Armando Gallaraga was perfect for 29 outs. The problem was that Jim Joyce wasn’t. As a traditionalist, I hate the use of instant replay in baseball. Human nature is part of the game, and my response to anyone saying that one call can cost someone a game is, “score more runs.”

But as a traditionalist, I also love that the Commissioner has total control over the rules of baseball. Kenesaw Mountain Landis demanded that he have “absolute power” to govern baseball as any way he saw fit as Commissioner for the betterment of the game. To this day, that power still stands.

Our current baseball commissioner can change the rules DURING a game (see the 2002 All-Star Game), and in the case of Gallaraga’s perfect game, what Bud “The Slug” Selig should exercise his absolute power. The answer is to overturn the call, not as a correction of the umpire, but to recognize the historical achievement of Gallaraga in a case where there is no statistical significance to the decision. He can be clear that there is not rule change, and that human error will be always be part of the game, but on a case-by-case basis where a win or loss isn’t involved, the commissioner, and only the commissioner can change a call.

C’mon, Bud. Do the right thing. For the first time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

June 2, 2010
New York, NY

So after an 11-month hiatus, Mr. Black is looking to get back to writing about sports. To be 100% honest, the amount of work required to write regularly and not have every post be total drivel was a little surprising. But like an aging quarterback well past his prime (looking at you Brett Farve), I’m coming back for one more try.

Anyway, there’s too much good stuff going on in the sports world right now so let’s get this going.

The Biggest Losers
Quite a few big losers over the last few weeks, so here are a few highlights.

Eddy Curry
After making around $60 million dollars in nine years, he’s been considered a waste of money for years but after being ordered by the court to pay $1.2 million dollars for a bad loan it’s reached shocking levels. The only thing more shocking than a single person wasting $60 million is the 85% interest loan which is what led to the court order.

Eddy, a little free financial advice: First, save at least 10% of your income for retirement. Even without interest that would mean you have $6 million in the bank and could easily get out of a tight situation. Second, fire employees who aren’t pulling their weight and have your best interests in mind. You had a personal chef that was pulling down $6,000 per month, but you still weighed over 300 lbs. It’s in their best interests and yours that you stay healthy. Then you’ll both have jobs for more than one more year. Finally, don’t take on interest rates that are higher than your free throw percentage. Especially if you’re points per game is around the prime rate.

Roger Federer
Most boring professional sport just got even more boring.

Roger Federer’s streak of 23 straight quarterfinals in Grand Slam tournaments has been broken by some guy from Sweden with too many vowels in his name. We will call him Sven. The loss leaves Rafael Nadal and Sven as the two top seeds. Roger’s reaction in his press conference was, “I guess I’ll try and keep the quarterfinal streak going.”

There is absolutely no personality or passion in the men’s game. It’s just flat out boring, so very, very boring.

The Florida Marlins
But a least tennis isn’t embarrassing. The Florida Marlins however, are a different story. After having their star player dog it and have the cliché verbal feud with the manager, they are now selling the tickets from unsold seats from last weekend’s perfect game.

Wait, what’s wrong with a franchise selling what’s a nice keepsake for the hardcore baseball fan? Nothing, if you don’t mind your franchise profiting off it’s own failure. The perfect game was thrown against the Marlins, so essentially the team is taking advantage of it’s own ineptitude.

Mr. Black smells a small-market moneymaker here. Look for the Pirates to get even worse this year so they can have 162 different records set against them, and they can sell all the tickets to fans of the opposing team.

Mr. Black will try to motivate again tomorrow and talk about a few winners, and kick off some World Cup discussion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New News is No News

January 11th, 2010
New York, NY

So it’s been months since my five loyal readers have been able to read Mr. Black. Because I’ve been busy with that pesky day job. And unlike that sellout Sports Guy, I don’t get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the worldwide leader in brand extensions to write about how Kevin Connolly and Vince Young have had the same career trajectory.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about Mark McGuire.

Of all the great sports stories that should have gotten me in front of the computer screen (I’m looking at you Gilbert Arenas) leave it to Big Mac to get me to write. I admit the whole “I was using performance-enhancing drugs” stories in Major League Baseball are getting cliché, but this one takes the cake. It’s like Godzilla having a press conference to announce, “I’m a big lizard.”

I mean, no one else saw this coming?

When we last saw McGuire, he was on Capitol Hill refusing to “talk about the past” but about a week ago, Big Mac’s chronic enabler, Tony LaRussa, made him the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals under the cover of the NFL playoffs. Barely a blip on the sports radar, the baseball beat writers were sharpening their pencils for the first press conference where they could ask the big fella about PEDs because he was notably absent from the announcement.

Most of the time a potential hall of famer gets back into the game they have lots to say.

This time, there was no word from McGuire. Nothing. Nada. Not a peep about being happy to get back into baseball, work with LaRussa, or get free sunflower seeds. Total radio silence. Crickets.

Anyone who follows politics or baseball knows something was up.

Obviously, the press people from the Cards were locked in an undisclosed location helping craft the coming out speech. After a few days of press strategizing, Big Mac was ready for the biggest story of his life. The one where he could announce that he did indeed use steroids.

So after a week of thinking about how to finally talk about the past, McGuire said nothing that Pettitte, A-Rod or Ortiz didn’t say. He had the usual soundbytes: claiming he just dabbled, blaming injuries, the passive version of “everyone was doing it” and of course, an apology. Here’re some highlights:

"It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize.”

“Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."

"I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 offseason and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again"

Most telling is an admission of using steriods in 1998, when he set the major league record for home runs. Which, notably was a year that he never was injured (he played 155 games) and was a decade after he “tried” steroids “off and on”.

And by the way, he didn’t even have the balls to do this announcement in person, like everyone else has. It was via a press release to the AP.

I guess steroids really does shrink your nuts.

Anyway, his big news was no news, and by doing it by fax he seems content for us to draw our own conclusions.

I drew mine conclusion five years ago.

Mark, you’re a cheater. You cheated the fans who cheered you on, you cheated the manager who’s always stuck by you, you cheated Roger Maris and Babe Ruth and most of all, you cheated baseball.

The fact that most of the league was cheating doesn’t excuse it.

The fact that there were no rules specifically against steroids doesn’t excuse it.

Baseball used to be a game of giants, of personalities larger than life that people loved in spite of all their faults. Now it’s a game of thieves hiding in corners, averting their eyes when anyone looks their way. (Remember Ortiz and his sunglasses?)

So do us all a favor. Come clean about how you really feel, under the spotlight of the press. Give us the chance to ask you real hard questions, like “do you feel like you earned the home run title” or “in light of what you just admitted, do you deserve to be in the hall of fame” or “how do you expect young players to react when you ask them to put in extra work to be successful when you took the easy route.”

If not, just crawl back under the rock where you were hiding for the last five years. Because baseball doesn’t need another liar, it needs someone to tell the truth. It needs someone to stop apologizing and take responsibility. It needs someone to remove themselves from the record book because what they did was wrong.

Until then, it’s like The Greek just told me, “looks like the magic number is still 61.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Of Quarterbacks and Kings

> August 19th, 2009

New York, NY

So the first full week of preseason football is in the books, and it’s time to take a look around and assess the quarterback situation around the league. More than any season since I can remember, QBs were all over the news, so let’s start with the ones that garnered the most headlines.

Kyle Orton

Mr. Black was really pulling for Kyle Orton, but reviews out of Broncoland were lukewarm at best. In mini-camps and training camp rumors were that Chris Simms was pushing Orton hard and at times looked much better. Coach Babyface was quick to squelch those rumors and give Orton his full blessing leading up to the first preseason game against the Niners.

Three interceptions later, Josh McDaniels might want to reconsider his blessing. After Simms easily outplayed Orton in week one, McDaniels was quick to give more verbal support for Orton, but it will be really difficult to defend him if the turnovers keep piling up and Simms looks sharp again. You have to wonder if Coach Babyface wants to stick with Orton only because he demanded a QB in return. Obviously it will look like he misjudged talent if Simms, who was already on the roster, gets the nod to start.

Still, Mr. Black gives it another week before Simms gets a start, and is looking for him to be named starter before week one. Nothing will hurt McDaniels more than an 0-3 start, especially against marshmallows like the Browns, Bengals and Raiders.

Jay Cutler

Jay “Supercuts” Cutler also had a rough start. He had some trouble handling the blitz and threw a few turnovers of his own. Unlike most other professionals he was quick to deflect some blame onto his receivers:

"Devin is more of a go-get it guy, he is not really a back shoulder or jump up and get it [guy],'' Cutler said. "You learn from it. We made some mistakes. It's the first preseason game. Luckily enough, we have some time to correct them and keep going."

- Jay Cutler

The Windy City spin machine quickly went into damage control, explaining that Jay wasn’t throwing Devin Hester under the bus, but actually was explaining it was his fault for throwing the wrong pass. Ummm, riiiiiiiiiight.

This seems to be the Cutler M.O. in Chicago. He’ll attack a person or group with negative comments (ie, Denver’s fans, Devin Hester) and once he realizes he’s spoken out of turn, backpedals and the spin begins. Personally, I can’t wait to see how he spins his first three interception game when he’s forced to play without all the weapons he had in Denver, or his first 38 – 35 loss, when he pops off about how “the defense let this one slip away.” At the end of the day, he’s just an immature kid that can’t deal with being a leader. How will he deal with a season where he isn’t mentored by a head coach?

Either way, it will be fun to watch since right now it’s still a love affair between the Bears faithful and their strong-armed (but poorly shorn) quarterback. When this one blows up, it will be spectacular.

Peyton Manning

The hits keep coming, as Peyton Manning had roughly 5 yards passing in his first preseason game. Peyton is a notoriously slow starter, and has often voiced his disdain for preseason football, so I’d expect another great year. Especially with little bro making more money.

Brett Favre

And finally, Brett Favre has again decided to play football. Like a child who won’t let go of a toy, Brett clings to the glory days and still thinks he can be competitive. Unlike last year, though, fans are wise to his ploy and are calling him out as a has-been who just wanted to duck training camp.

More to come over the course of the NFL season, including the headline “Heartbreaking loss for Vikings as Favre throws four INTs.”

Be posting again soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jim Johnson, (May 26, 1941 – July 28, 2009)

July 29th, 2009
Miami Beach, FL

July of 2009 has probably been the worst month on record for famous people in sports and pop culture. A partial list of those who have left us this month include Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Chronkite, Ed McMahon, Arturo Gatti, Steve McNair and Vernon Forrest.

But the one loss that Mr. Black is compelled to write about is Jim Johnson. There isn’t a single Eagles fan (or Philly native) that I know who hasn’t commented on his passing, and a ton of football figures agree.

“There was no fine man than Jim Johnson,” said owner Jeffrey Lurie. Ex-players agree, even eliciting a very honest and emotional blog post by Brian Dawkins, who extolled Johnson’s toughness and ability to develop schemes to make players their best.

If you can judge the character of a man by what people say when he’s gone, we’ve obviously lost a legend of the gridiron. If you need other proof, just ask any fan who has the best defense in the league over the last few years, and almost all of them would put Philly in the top three to five.

We’ll all miss the NFL Tonight highlights of the Iggles returning fumbles off the blitz for TDs, the big hits over the middle and sacks of whoever the Redskins put under center year after year.

Wishing his family the best in what’s an obviously tough time.