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Kraft and Zion
[Posted Sunday p.m., prior to the Oscars]
NCAA Basketball Quiz: Johnny Mac asked me to identify the all-time leading scorers (points) in the following and I couldn’t. Big East (player’s school no longer in the conference), Big Ten, Pac-12. You name ‘em. Answer below.
--Going back to Wednesday, 8 North Carolina blew out No. 1 Duke 88-72 as 33 seconds into the game, Zion Williamson blew out his Nike sneaker and exited the game, the Blue Devils’ hopes over in a flash. Luke Maye had 30 points, 15 rebounds for the Tar Heels, teammate Cam Johnson chipping in 26. RJ Barrett had 33 points, 13 rebounds, in attempting to make up for Zion’s absence...much more on him below.
And also Wednesday, your Bar Chat “Pick to Click” No. 6 Nevada Wolfpack lost on the road to a former Bar Chat fave, San Diego State (17-9, 9-4), 65-57.
The same night, Syracuse picked up a key conference win at the Carrier Dome, 69-49 over 18 Louisville, the ‘Cuse advancing to 18-8, 9-4.
But about two hours after this one, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, driving home in bad weather, struck and killed a man who was a passenger in a car that hit a patch of ice and skidded out of control, the victim exiting the car and trying to get to safety when Boeheim’s SUV swerved to avoid the disabled car, which was resting perpendicular across two lanes, and hit 51-year-old Jorge Jimenez in the process.
Boeheim was not charged, having passed a sobriety test on the spot, ditto the driver of the disabled car, and it appears to have been just an awful, tragic accident.
--Saturday, we had a slew of important contests.
Boeheim returned to coach Syracuse in its home game against Duke, the Blue Devils playing without Zion, the school not issuing any statements on his status, though the big guy was in attendance, diagnosed with a sprained knee.
So RJ Barrett, who I firmly believe will have better stats in the NBA than Zion, came up big with 30 points on 14 of 20 shooting, plus 7 assists, while Alex O’Connell had a career-high 20, the Blue Devils with a huge 75-65 bounce back win over the ‘Cuse (18-9, 9-5).
Boeheim, who received a standing ovation from the Syracuse faithful, was clearly emotional the entire contest and afterwards told the press, “This is forever for me. I’ve always felt like in life there are a lot of things you have to overcome. There is nothing like this. I can’t describe it to you.
“The is never going away. Tuesday it’s not going to be better. It’s not going to be better next month. It’s not going to be better next year.”
At the top of the ACC it’s now Duke, UVA, and UNC, all tied at 12-2, four games left prior to the ACC tourney, and all three a cinch to be no worse than a 2-seed in the Big Dance.
2 Gonzaga blasted BYU (18-12, 10-5) 102-68, the Zags staking their claim to the No. 1 ranking, now 26-2, 14-0.
3 Virginia is 24-2, 12-2, after a 64-52 road win at 18 Louisville, which will exit the top 25 after its two losses this week, the Cardinals now 18-10, 9-6.
4 Kentucky moved to 23-4, 12-2, with an 80-53 win at home over Auburn (18-9, 7-7).
5 Tennessee lost its second in the SEC, 82-80 at 13 LSU (22-5, 12-2) in overtime, the Vols now 24-3, 12-2...Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU all tied atop the conference.
It was a huge win for the Tigers, Ja’vonte Smart picking up the slack for LSU’s top player, Tremont Waters, out with an illness, Smart with 29.
6 Nevada rebounded from the San Diego State loss to beat Fresno State (19-8, 10-5) 74-68, the Wolfpack 25-2, 12-2.
8 North Carolina is 22-5, 12-2, and will move up at least to No. 6 in the next AP poll after a 77-59 win over 16 Florida State (21-6, 9-5), freshman Nassir Little with 18 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.
9 Houston is 26-1, 13-1, after beating South Florida (18-9, 7-7) 71-59. The Cougars’ only loss is to Temple on the road, 73-69. I have to admit I still haven’t seen more than literally a few minutes of them.
Locally, St. John’s took a big step toward an NCAA bid with a 78-70 win over Seton Hall, a game the Pirates needed to win to stay in the conversation as they fall to 16-11, 7-8.
But the Johnnies, behind Shamorie Ponds’ 27, are now 20-8, 8-7.
Today, 10 Michigan State defeated 7 Michigan on the road, 77-70, the Spartans now 23-5, 14-3, a game ahead of the Wolverines, 24-4, 13-4, in the Big Ten race, with Purdue at 13-3 as well.
And one more...South Dakota State’s Mike Daum became the tenth player in Div. I history to hit the 3,000 point mark (3,006) after scoring 25 in a 94-89 win over South Dakota.
--So back to Zion Williamson and the sneaker.
Marc Tracy and Kevin Draper / New York Times
“When the left sneaker of college basketball’s biggest star split open on national television Wednesday night 30 seconds into the biggest game of the season, what spilled out was not only his foot but also questions about the future of a marquee player and about the huge influence shoe companies hold over big-time college basketball.
“The episode occurred in a game between the archrivals Duke and North Carolina. Zion Williamson, a Duke freshman, pivoted with the ball above the foul line, and the sheer force of his 285-pound frame and acrobatic versatility appeared to cut the shoe almost in two, as though severed by a sharp knife.
“Former President Barack Obama, sitting on the sidelines at the Duke arena, was seen on video pointing at Williamson and appearing to say, ‘His shoe broke.’
“As the scene was replayed on countless highlight shows on Thursday, the damaged shoe threatened to become a nightmare for Nike, which pays tens of millions to elite college sports programs to be the exclusive sponsor for teams and supplier of their footwear.
“With his shoe split and his knee sprained, Williamson, an unpaid, budding superstar, sat helpless on the arena floor, staring at the shoe he was wearing in part because of a rich deal between Nike and Duke, one of the world’s wealthiest universities.
“Here were all the issues of big-time college sports laid bare: Should amateurism be curbed in college sports, allowing athletes a cut of the money they help produce? Should a prodigious talent like Williamson, who is good enough to play professionally right now, have to risk his future competing for free because of an NBA rule prohibiting him from leaping to the league from high school? Do the sneaker companies, which were at the heart of a federal fraud trial near the start of the season, do more harm than good in college sports?”
A lot of people were asking afterward if Williamson should suit up for another college game?
Sally Jenkins / Washington Post
“When Zion Williamson’s foot burst through that sneaker...he blew the seams off the whole deal. He exploded all the sophistry by the pocket-liners, the NCAA committeemen who make fortunes from their cut of TV and Nike apparel contracts, who skim the sweat straight off Williamson’s back. All you could think, when he hit the floor and grabbed at his sprained right knee, was: That’s what they all get for turning him into an unpaid billboard.
“Exposure and mortification are what they deserve for cheapening a freshman year at Duke into nothing but predatory lending. This is what happens when everyone gets paid but the guy who is really earning the money. If Zion Williamson were allowed to be paid like he damn well should be by Nike, a faulty sneaker would not be quite so future-threatening, because, see, he was getting paid to wear it. It’s all very straightforward and simple. Pay him. But the men with no fingerprints won’t permit it, those athletic directors and presidents who have subverted college athletics into a rake-off while pretending to govern them.
“When the sole separated from the shoe, it all became clear. The NCAA has managed to turn a Duke education into a risk that a talented kid just can’t afford to take.
“What does that tell you? What does it say about the degradation of the NCAA, that it has made college so profitless for great athletes that it’s just not worth pursuing?
“Scottie Pippen was right: Williams needs to walk away now. He is the biggest prospect since LeBron James, and the NCAA has nothing to offer him. All it can do is take from him, steal his likeness and jeopardize millions of his future income....
“The irony here is that their pure greed may have finally become self-defeating. Williamson’s gasp-inducing close call on the court probably will cause the NBA to lower its age limit, something it reportedly proposed to the union long before Wednesday night. That means future players with Williamson’s ability won’t have any incentive at all to enroll in a Duke and adorn the NCAA landscape.
“If the NCAA would give up its decades-long clench-fistedness, its mean-spirited court battles to control the earning ability of athletes, the Zion Williamsons would have major incentive to enter the collegiate system not just for one year but for multiple years. By all accounts, Williamson, a good student who came out of a Spartanburg, S.C., high school that sends all of its grads to college, is not just a guy who is walking through his university experience.
“Instead the NCAA has made it too unworth it. If you’re a 17-year-old or his parents and you saw that injury, why would you willingly enter the NCAA maw? Why on earth would a great young player commit to playing collegiately under the current circumstances if he could go straight to the NBA? Because he wants to do his part to make sure (Duke Athletic Director) Kevin White and (ACC Commissioner) John Swofford can order from the top shelf?”
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“Look, here is a hard truth about Zion Williamson: Given our cynical culture, when he insists – as he has on no fewer than 15 occasions this year – that he would’ve gone to college for a year even if the NBA didn’t bar him, the response is a wink and a nod. Sure, kid. Sure.
“But Williamson was a global sensation before he ever signed a letter of intent. If all he truly cared about was maximizing his income, he could have played a year in the G League – or in that junior league run by LaVar Ball – and still collected millions from a shoe company as he bided his time. Or he could have gone to Europe. Or, as the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson did last year, he simply could’ve spent the year training for the 2019 draft.
“Ah, but there’s a catch: Playing for Duke is a better experience – a far better experience – than any of those things, even at his present salary. See, this isn’t a zero-sum game. It is possible to believe the NCAA exploits its army of free talent...and it is ALSO possible to acknowledge that playing at Duke – first-class hotels on the road, chartered jets, full arenas everywhere you play and, yes, a pretty fair education for as long as you decide to stay – beats a string of bus trips, Red Roof Inns, Taco Bell drive-throughs and crazy coaches yelling at you in foreign languages.
“The very best players DO have options. That most of them opt for a detour, however brief, at Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or LSU just reminds you that while it may make you feel good to liken them to indentured servants, that isn’t entirely accurate either.”
--The season restarted Thursday after the All-Star break and LeBron and the Lakers reached .500, 29-29, with a 111-106 win over the Rockets, James Harden managing to hit 30 on the number, the streak now 32, Harden all alone in second place behind Wilt’s 65.
--Friday, Russell Westbrook’s record triple-double streak ended at 11 straight, though his Oklahoma City Thunder defeated Utah 148-147 in double overtime.
Westbrook finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists in 43 minutes. The guy is amazing, despite his poor shooting percentage. I mean, seriously, who puts out more effort night in and night out than him?
Westbrook now has five career 40-point, 15-rebound games, second most among guards in league history. Yes, of course Oscar Robertson is tops at nine.
Teammate Paul George had a 45-9-7 game.
Westbrook, by the way, is easily on track to average a triple-double for a third consecutive season (22.1, 11.3, 11.1 heading into this weekend’s play). Oscar did it once. And Westbrook is just 6’ 3”.
--Saturday, I watched the entire Rockets win over the Warriors, in Oakland, 118-112, as Houston played inspired ball without James Harden, sitting out with various ailments. Chris Paul was superb, dishing out 17 assists to go along with 23 points.
I have to admit, I found the game thoroughly entertaining, though I’ll still take a good college game over the NBA any day of the week.
Separately, the Lakers, who are supposed to be making their playoff push, had a pathetic loss at New Orleans, 128-115, the Pelicans even sitting Anthony Davis. So L.A. is back below .500, 29-30.
--Boy, Bryce Harper’s agent Scott Boras really screwed up in not allowing his client to accept a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals last fall. Harper was obviously comfortable in D.C., the team has been good, making the playoffs in four of his seven seasons (though losing each time in the LDS), over .500 all seven...and a management team that has not been afraid to spend money to better itself (see the contracts of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg).
Anyway, the other day the Nationals’ principal owner Mark Lerner said he hasn’t heard from Scott Boras in months and couldn’t wait any longer for a decision.
“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We’ve moved on. As I said back then and we had to....Bryce, I’m sure will make his decision hopefully in the next few days, but we’ve filled out our roster and we wish him nothing but the best.”
So where will Harper end up? This afternoon, it was reported he was nearing a deal with the Phillies. Shu, your dream of becoming a Padres fan, with both Machado and Harper, appears to be a fantasy. You have to continue to support the Bucs.
Bob Nightengale / USA TODAY
“It’s premature to talk about a strike until 2021, certainly no one is walking out of camp right now, and even though Manny Machado just signed the richest free agent contract in history with his $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres, it hardly diminishes the frustration and anger coming from the players.
“Bryce Harper will certainly get his money and starter Patrick Corbin got $140 million from the Washington Nationals, but baseball’s middle class is getting squeezed out of the game.
“Only five free agents have received contracts of four or more years this winter, with just 12 players guaranteed at least three years and a stunning number who have received nothing more than one-year or minor-league deals.
“The latest contract to send players screaming to the heavens was Josh Harrison’s $2 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. Harrison, 31, a two-time All-Star who has been one of the most versatile players in baseball in his seven-year career, was frozen out all winter until finally landing a guaranteed deal.”
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark:
“When you see things happening in the industry that we haven’t seen before, every level of our membership is being affected as a result.
“So the idea that Josh Harrison, as talented as he is, and the level of success he has had, who means what he means in the clubhouse, is case in point. These guys can help teams win, and if there’s a commitment to it, there will be value derived from them. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing suggests that commitment isn’t what it had been in the past.
“We still have an extraordinary number of guys that are out there. We definitely have guys that are out there who can help clubs win now, and for years to come, that still haven’t found a home as we sit here.”
The current collective bargaining agreement doesn’t expire until 2021, but don’t put it past the players to stage a work stoppage beforehand. The fact is that since the first CBA with owners in 1968, as USA TODAY’s Gabe Lacques put it, “the game’s greatest stars enjoyed more than four decades of salary gains and an immeasurable boost to their quality of life.
“But that streak has ended. And so, too, might more than a quarter-century without a work stoppage.”
The thing is, the players made some mistakes over the years too, and before they engage the owners, as Gabe Lacques notes, they must internally determine several factors:
“What do they want? How best to get it? What poison pills in the current CBA must they eradicate to regain what’s lost?
“How willing are they to walk out – and stay out – if change proves elusive?”
One huge issue is “service-time suppression – the act of shipping worthy players like Kris Bryant, Ronald Acuna Jr. and, coming this March, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the minor leagues to secure their rights an additional year – which has further moved the goalposts. For those elite talents, it essentially takes seven years to reach free agency – only to get greeted by a marketplace that scoffs at older players.
“How, then, do the players wrangle out of this triple jeopardy?
“The overwhelming responses (from USA TODAY Sports’ survey of training camps), all of which ownership could vigorously resist:
“Grant players free agency after five years.
“Grant them arbitration after two years.
“Raise the minimum salary.
“ ‘Make that young, cheap labor not as cheap so that teams aren’t disincentivized from signing a veteran free agent in favor of a guy making the league minimum,’ says Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle. ‘That could raise the floor, so to speak, but also protect jobs on the back end.’”
But what will the players give up for something like the above?
This is just one issue. One thing is for sure. The owners and players need to be negotiating now and not waiting until 2021.
--So with all the bitching about the situation with free agents, the Twins signed versatile Marwin Gonzalez to a two-year, $21 million contract.
This is totally fair, and appropriate, the soon-to-be 30-year-old having made $5.125 million for the Astros last season, when he was pretty mediocre, 16 home runs, 68 RBIs, .247 BA, .733 OPS, after a seemingly breakout 2017 (23-90, .303., .907).
Having said this, baseball ‘experts’ expected Gonzalez to receive at least a three-year deal, and so the disgust over the winter ‘freeze-out’ continues.
--Last chat I had a bit about Frank Robinson and those who say he was underrated, despite his greatness, USA TODAY with a headline, “Is there a more underrated player in baseball history?”
So Saturday I received my Feb. 25 issue of Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci writes:
“Relentlessly dutiful more than flamboyant, Robinson may be the most underrated great player in the game’s history....
“We cloak the fringe player in glory when he displays such work ethic characteristics, knighting him with adjectives such as ‘gritty’ and ‘gamer.’ Now take all those qualities and roll them into a superbly talented, all-time great hitter, and you understand the uniqueness of Robinson. With strong wrists and lightning-fast hands, Robinson hit 30 homers or more 11 times. Only his role as a manager kept him from even bigger career numbers.
“During his first season as manager, Robinson threatened to bench catcher John Ellis for the season because of what Robinson determined was a selfish attitude. DH Rico Carty summed up both the players’ discomfort and Robinson’s intensity in one perfect complaint: ‘He wants us to play exactly like he used to.’
“Lesser men might have viewed the Robinson standards as impossible ones. But we know that they are possible because he showed us. Frank Robinson forever is in nobody’s shadow.”
--Stu W., aka Stu Baby, wrote in after my bit on Don Newcombe. Now understand that Stu is the father of Phil W., my Wake classmate, so Stu is, err, older than we are.
Alas, Stu wrote of the 1949 All-Star Game, where in the second inning, Newcombe came to the plate with the bases loaded and sliced one to left field, where Ted Williams made a spectacular catch to rob Newk, though he did get an RBI.
So Stu spent eight years in California and would play golf every Saturday at the Rose Bowl, where there were two public courses.
“One Saturday I got out of my car and Newk was parked right next to me. I said, ‘Holy s---, Don Newcombe, I gotta shake your hand.’ He was not very cordial until I told him that I saw Williams rob him of a two-bagger and that I came from Brooklyn. Then I told him that I saw him steal home once. He brightened up a bit and that was it.
“But, our foursomes were always approximately the same time and I would greet him with ‘Hey Newk’ and we became Saturday ‘Hiya!’ buddies. One time, he came up to me and said that he had been looking for me. He had a golfing buddy with him and he asked me to tell the guy what I had seen him do.”
Well, Newk helped Stu meet Roy Campanella at Dodger Stadium one time, which Stu said was kind of emotional for him, seeing one of his heroes in the wheelchair, unable to speak due to injuries he suffered in that awful auto accident, but Campy gave him a baseball card with a printed autograph.
Stu also told me that Jackie Robinson and Campanella didn’t speak during their last two years on the Dodgers, Jackie ticked off Campy made more than him.
Great stuff, Stu! On to our yearlong celebration of the ’69 Mets!
--Some good news for the sport of baseball. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the number of people who played baseball in the U.S. surged 21% last year from 2014, to nearly 15.9 million. That includes everyone from a 6-year-old swinging a bat in the backyard to a starter in the College World Series.
Most of the gain came from casual players, but any growth is a win. Tackle football participation, for example, dropped 3.4% in the past five years, while hockey and soccer saw one-year drops of 3.8% and 4.3%, respectively, in 2018. [Rachel Bachman / Wall Street Journal]
--Lastly, we note the passing of longtime Boston Globe baseball writer Nick Cafardo, who collapsed and died at spring training of an apparent embolism at the age of 62. He had covered the Red Sox for most of the past 30 years.
NFL...and Robert Kraft...
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution by police in Jupiter, Florida, on Friday, and he now faces stiffer sanctions/penalties from the NFL than he’s likely to get from local authorities.
As an NFL team owner, Kraft, 77, has to abide by the league’s personal conduct policy, which states in part, “ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
For example, in 2014, Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 following his arrest on drug charges.
Earlier, 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was suspended for the 1999 season and fined $1 million following his guilty plea in a gambling scandal in Louisiana.
In 2009, Bud Adams, who owned the Titans, was fined $250,000 for making an obscene gesture at Bills fans.
Jerry Richardson was forced to sell the Panthers in 2017 after it was revealed that former team employees had received settlements because of inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by him, though he pocketed over $2 billion in selling the team to hedge fund titan David Tepper.
Kraft has denied any wrongdoing and as of Saturday, Jupiter police had not arrested him. A warrant, though, will be issued.
Initially, a spokesperson for Kraft said they “categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
The NFL released a statement Friday saying it “is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
Oh, I’ve received a ton of notes similar to this one from Bethany Beach, Delaware.
“Patriots can’t win a Super Bowl without some sort of scandal: Spygate, Deflategate, Aaron Hernandez and now [Blank]gate.”
Bruce Golding / New York Post
“First there were Tom Brady’s deflated balls – and now this!
“The billionaire owner of the New England Patriots was caught on camera engaging in sex acts in a seedy South Florida massage parlor – shortly before his team won its sixth Super Bowl, cops said Friday.
“Robert Kraft, 77, allegedly paid for the services of a prostitute during ‘two different visits’ last month to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
“Kraft was among 25 suspected johns whose names were released as part of a sprawling, six-month investigation* into human trafficking and prostitution at area massage parlors.
“ ‘He is being charged with the same offenses as the others, and that is soliciting another to commit prostitution,’ Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr told reporters at a news conference.
“He added: ‘We’re as equally stunned as everybody else.’”
*The overall probe has resulted in roughly 300 arrest warrants across 10 spas in Florida.
Under Florida law, a first offense carries up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Kraft was allegedly driven to and from the massage parlor by a chauffeur who will not be charged, Kerr said.
Kraft has a place in a luxury waterfront development in Palm Beach, next to The Breakers, and about a 35-minute drive from the Orchids of Asia.
The spa charged johns $59 for a half hour and $79 for a full hour.
Cops gathered evidence through both body-worn cameras and cameras installed in the massage parlor, officials said.
Video shows the acts that took place, authorities said.
There are other high-profile figures on the list, including a former Citigroup president and COO.
Kraft, a Democrat, is nonetheless a friend of President Trump and a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago.
In 2015, the Patriots were fined a record $1 million and stripped of two draft picks over allegations that Tom Brady deflated game footballs for a better grip on the pigskin. Brady was suspended four games.
“Deflategate” was preceded by “Spygate,” in which the Pats were accused of videotaping the signals of opposing teams between 2000 and 2007.
Tara Sullivan / Boston Globe
“The immediate reaction is born of pure emotion, prompting phrases such as ‘Oh my God!’ and ‘He did what?’ to escape your lips without thinking, to cause the breath to catch in your throat and the eyes to pop in your head.
“News of Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing criminal charges in Florida for solicitation of prostitution is one of those headlines that stops you in your tracks, immediately flooding your mind with more questions than you know can be answered, sending your thoughts into a spiral of tangled emotions.
“Anger, disgust, disappointment, shock, denial, disdain...all of them with the right to course through your veins, even as you await the avalanche of detail that is sure to follow the initial revelations. Sadness, too, as we are again reminded that so much of what we see in professional sports can be just a façade, that as much as we’ve already learned the hard way, we never really know the people behind he uniforms, and we can’t really know the people who sign the paychecks either.
“If Kraft has put himself at risk in such an irresponsible manner, it would go against the profile of responsible team ownership he has long crafted, against the caring, paternalistic vibe he has cultivated to the highest levels of his roster. How many times have we heard Tom Brady speak of his love for Kraft, of his respect for a man he says he’s spent more time with in the past two decades than his own father? What do his players make of him now?
“If what we heard Friday is true, it would be enough to shake the foundation of trust in a man who only weeks ago stood atop the NFL world, celebrating a sixth Super Bowl title for the team he has owned since 1994. It is enough to make us wonder whether the NFL will have no choice but to step in with discipline.
“Aside from whatever titillating jokes inevitably will come, and whatever dismissals some are sure to make at what they see as prudish reactions, the ramifications of this story may be far more serious than fodder for a stand-up comic’s monologue. The massage parlor in question...is part of a larger investigation into sex trafficking, which means the women could have been used for sex acts against their will....
“Kraft has never been perceived as a Jerry Jones type, never been some sort of renegade lone wolf always ready to challenge the establishment in the way the Dallas Cowboys owner has, never seen driving his own party bus through the streets of Indianapolis during the NFL Scouting Combine the way Jones has been known to do.
“Which brings us back to where we started, to the shock and ‘Oh my God’ of it all. What a mess this is.”
Ken Belson / New York Times
“If Kraft is found to have committed a crime, even a misdemeanor, Goodell will be under pressure to penalize him to compensate for the embarrassment the league has suffered. How he treats the matter will provide an illustration of the dynamics of power at the highest ranks of the league and show the lengths he will go to appear to treat players and owners equally before the expiration of the current labor deal two years from now.
“Kraft may be the league’s most successful owner... As a key figure in negotiating labor deals and broadcast contracts, he may also be the league’s most powerful one. He is also a confidant of the commissioner, close with the leaders of the league’s media partners and the league’s go-between with President Trump.
“That said, the NFL includes its shares of misfits and wayward sons, and from time to time, the patriarch, or, in this case, the commissioner, has to dole out justice. How much justice often depends on the stature of the owner, the offense he or she committed and any past transgressions....
“At the very least, the commissioner will have to appear not to have one set of rules for players and another for owners.”
--On a different topic, Colin Kaepernick, the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick observed:
“(Commissioner Roger) Goodell, as is his habit, avoided telling plain, practical, common-sense, good-for-all truths. Instead, he led with his feckless, patronizing, pandering make-it-go-away sense that only extended and exacerbated the issue....
“Goodell’s NFL, which this week reached a financial settlement with Kaepernick, who sued for collusion to prevent his further NFL employment for exploiting NFL games, TV and the national anthem to protest police brutality.
“He couldn’t have called for a rally? Or would that have drawn flies?
“What prevented Goodell, from the start, from explaining why Kaepernick’s chosen venue for protest was in everyone’s, including Kaepernick’s fellow players’, worst interests? If Kaepernick and others didn’t know it’s a business, one worth protecting, where did their multimillion-dollar deals come from?
“And why didn’t Goodell tell the truth about Kaepernick’s conspicuous game-day, national anthem activism?
“Kaepernick is not your standard protester of world conditions such as global warming or bear hunting. He doesn’t aspire to altruistic social change. At last word he’s not even registered to vote He’s a fringe lunatic, radicalized in thought and deeds.
“His police brutality protests are appalling in that he apparently supports the brutalization – and worse – of police. He is a fundraising booster of Joanne Chesimard, now Assata Shakur, a Black Liberation Army member in exile in Cuba after her conviction for participating in the traffic-stop execution of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, who, at 34, left a wife and 3-year-old son.
“Foerster was shot with his own gun, then left to die. His partner was wounded.
“It therefore can be reasonably surmised that Kaepernick, while anti-police brutality – who isn’t – is supportive of those who murder cops. Goodell miss that? How? Why? Irrelevant? How about Nike, Kaepernick’s capitalist business partner and universal influence peddler?....
“Why doesn’t Nike support the courage of Kaepernick’s convictions by selling those socks depicting police as pigs, worn by Kaepernick for the cameras while also wearing shorts during practice?
“You see, if I, and perhaps you, were Goodell, I’d have told Kaepernick, from the start, that the NFL doesn’t owe him a living, so get lost and stay there. Better yet, go to hell. I would not have allowed him to game the game. But Goodell’s NFL paid him off – maybe with your ‘good investment’ PSL money.”
--I have to admit, the WGC-Mexico Championship in Mexico City is growing on me in this its third year. It has a lot of features of your favorite municipal that so many of us grew up on. Like really bumpy greens.
No problem for Dustin Johnson this week, the 34-year-old superstar winning his 20th PGA Tour title by five over Rory McIlroy, McIlroy playing great thus far this year, which bodes well for the game.
But for DJ, that’s a career...a Hall of Fame one. Johnson has now won at least once every year since 2008, 11 times since 2016 (3, 4, 3, 1).
--Steve Stricker was formally named the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, though this was known basically since December. The matches are to be played in his home of Wisconsin at Whistling Straits.
--The Kentucky High School Athletic Association voted this week to make significant changes to the boys and girls state golf tournament aimed at cutting down on time and improving the quality of the competition.
That’s how the state’s board of control views the modifications. Parents and PGA Tour players, not so much.
Under the old format, the Kentucky teams were allowed to start five players, with the top four rounds counting towards the score. Now there will just be four starting.
“The fifth player in a lot of situations was the cause of the pace-of-play problems,” said state commissioner Julian Tackett to the Louisville Courier Journal. “They’re just not as good.”
Parents sounded off on the move, claiming it’s taking a cherished opportunity away from kids. Also among the detractors was Justin Thomas, who played his high school golf in Louisville.
“Do the right thing here @KHSAA. This is a really bad decision,” JT wrote on Twitter. “A lot of great storylines come from a 5 man on your team, like we had ours at Saint X. Change it back and make this right!”
Former pro Steve Flesch, a Kentucky native, summed it up perfectly.
“@KHSAA I’m wondering who in your ranks makes a decision like this. This is not growing the game or encouraging youth. It’s a tone deaf change for absolutely NO valid reason.”
But Tackett and the Sports Association are sticking with their decision.
It’s a heavy stretch of action, three games in eight days for most clubs, and with Tottenham facing Chelsea and Arsenal this coming week, it was imperative they beat Burnley on the road Saturday, and they fell short, dealing their title hopes a huge blow.
Harry Kane returned after being out since Jan. 13, and he scored an equalizer, but Tottenham fell 2-1, their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, furious over some of the decisions made by the referee.
Today...resurgent Manchester United hosted Liverpool at Old Trafford and it was an exciting first half, albeit 0-0, United having to use all three of its substitutions for injuries, and a not so great second, the game ending in a 0-0 draw.
But with Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Southampton, the Gunners have leapfrogged Man U into the fourth and final Champions League spot.
Lastly, Leicester City sacked manager Claude Puel after 16 months, City having been beaten 4-1 at home by Crystal Palace, Leicester now just 12th in the PL, having lost five of their last six league games.
Standings after 27 of 38...
1. Liverpool 27 – 66
2. Man City 27 – 65
3. Tottenham 27 – 60
4. Arsenal 27 – 53
5. Man U 27 – 52
6. Chelsea 26 – 50
15. Newcastle 27 – 28...important 2-0 win Sat. over Huddersfield
16. Brighton 26 – 27
17. Cardiff 27 – 25
18. Southampton 27 – 24
19. Fulham 27 – 17
20. Huddersfield 27 - 11
--Brad Keselowski, who had the flu all week and after today’s race still looked like crap, nonetheless won the second NASCAR race of the year in Atlanta, his 28th career victory. The significance of that is that Keselowski is now the winningest Team Penske driver, surpassing none other than Summit, New Jersey’s own Mark Donohue. I have an autographed photo from Donohue in my home, he being the 1972 Indy 500 winner and a master at Trans-Am and Can-Am racing. Donohue died at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975 and longtime readers know I pay my respects at his grave from time to time, less than a mile from where I live.
--It’s a topic I’ve brought up in years past, but bears repeating, as Sports Illustrated’s Mark Bechtel put it on NASCAR’s myriad issues and plummeting popularity.
“Gone are interesting little backwoods tracks such as North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, replaced on the schedule with 1.5-mile ovals in large markets, part of NASCAR’s desire to modernize since the turn of the millennium. But in doing so they have alienated a base that had fallen in love with a less corporate product. The sport has been fighting battles to please fans on two fronts and losing them both.”
Rockingham and North Wilkesboro are the two tracks I used to go to, back in the day, and Bechtel’s comment is so true.
--In Alpine World Cup competition, Mikaela Shiffrin took off this week’s action at Crans-Montana, Switz., and is not going to Sochi, Russia, next weekend, following her two golds at the world championships.
--Just have to note for the archives that 52-year-old R&B star R. Kelly was taken into custody by Chicago police after authorities announced multiple charges of aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17.
Best known for hits such as “Ignition” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was charged a week after high-profile lawyer Michael Avenatti said he gave prosecutors new video evidence of the singer with an underage girl.
Kelly’s attorney said the girls are lying. His bond was set $1 million, $250,000 for each of the four victims.
--RIP, Peter Tork
Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times
“Early on in his life as one-fourth of the Monkees, Peter Tork learned a cruel truth about the gargantuan gulf between image and reality in Hollywood. He dutifully arrived at a recording studio one day, guitar in hard, after being told some new Monkees songs would be coming together that day.
“Upon arrival, he was greeted by the show’s songwriters and producers, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who quickly asked why he was there. Confused, Tork told them what seemed obvious to him: He was there to play his parts, he told me a few years ago, while preparing for a 2012 Monkees reunion tour. ‘They told me, ‘No, Peter, you don’t understand. You can put the guitar down.’’
“They had already finished the session, without so much as a note played by an actual Monkee.
“Anyone who’s ever spent hours trying to improve their skills as a musician had to empathize with the seismic shock Tork surely felt.
“At that point in the Monkees’ embryonic development, the music used each week on the show was being handled by behind-the-scenes professionals – the ace L.A. studio musicians later to be called the Wrecking Crew. It hadn’t fully set in yet that Tork, even though he was a seasoned folk musician when he was cast in 1965 to be part of ‘The Monkees’ television show, hadn’t been hired for his musicianship, but simply as an actor who would pretend to be a musician for a national TV audience.
“It was the same dilemma that faced lead guitarist and, sometimes, lead singer Michael Nesmith, an accomplished folk-rock musician and songwriter from Texas who also passed the auditions, along with former child actor Micky Dolenz and English musical theater veteran Davy Jones.
“Dolenz and Jones took little issue with the show’s central deceit because of their histories handling various roles in the theater and for film or television. But Tork and Nesmith struggled to assert their musicial impulses during their tenure as Monkees, at times running headlong into the distinctly different ideas that the show’s creators, and especially music supervisor Don Kirschner, had in mind for them.
“But the reality outside Hollywood quickly intruded as those songs became bona fide hit records, and, suddenly, real kids in real cities wanted to see and hear the Monkees live. Dolenz took lessons on the drums he sat behind in so many TV episodes, and Jones essentially relegated himself to mastering the art of singing while shaking a tambourine or two or three maracas in each hand.
“Soon, they became the kind of aspiring garage band they played on the show – competent enough to headline concerts before thousands of screaming fans who couldn’t hear much of what they played, or didn’t play, anyway.
“By the time it came to record a third album, ‘Headquarters,’ the group members demonstrated they could indeed handle their instruments, and it became their first, and only, album to feature only Tork, Nesmith, Dolenz and Jones.”
It took a while, but after quitting the Monkees at the end of 1968, Tork pursuing a solo career, both he and Nesmith came to accept and even appreciate what the Monkees had been.
“I did say it was unfair,” Tork said of the way the four men were often pilloried, not only by some of the show’s executives, but also by critics (the quartet was quickly dismissed as ‘the Prefab Four’) and even other musicians. “I wasn’t at all happy about not being the musicians on our records, and I was absolutely triumphant when we did get to be.”
Tork expressed sadness the Monkees weren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite some of the top singles on AM radio in the second half of the 1960s.
Davy Jones died in 2012, and the remaining three came together for a reunion tour to honor him.
On learning of Tork’s death Micky Dolenz said on Facebook: “There are no words right now...heartbroken over the loss of my Monkee brother.”
Nesmith wrote on Facebook: “Peter Tork died this AM. I am told he slipped away peacefully. Yet, as I write this, my tears are awash, and my heart is broken. Even though I am clinging to the idea that we all continue, the pain that attends these passings has no cure....
“A band no more – and yet the music plays on – an anthem to all who made the Monkees and the TV show our private – dare I say ‘secret’ – playground.... I will miss him – Take flight my Brother.”
Probyn Gregory / Washington Post
“My own fascination with the band dates to 1966, when, at age 9, I was hit amidships by the TV show. Like many kids my age, ‘Meet the Monkees’ was my first album. To me, the Monkees were the zenith – the vibe, the songs, the zany humor, everything about them made me and everyone I knew the target demographic of the era. I ended up following a musical path and have, for the past 20 years, been a part of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s band.
“How to explain the Monkees’ unlikely staying power, their stalwart presence on oldies radio? I think many baby boomers, obviously, found them accessible and relatable, certainly unthreatening. But more importantly, Tork once said the band had real chemistry – not just any four young men could have done what they did. I think there was a sense of vindication they shared among themselves that critics had turned up their noses at the supposed ineptitude of the Prefab Four and were proved wrong – in which case, all among us who are judged and found to have come up short still have a chance.
“Most of all, there are the sounds of those hits, pristine in their peculiar moment, which when matched to those particular voices, still succeed. They form a part of the soundtrack of many baby boomers’ lives, a validation of their memories, making believers of us all.”
Between the fall of 1966 and spring of ’68, the Monkees had six top three Billboard hits.
#1 “Last Train To Clarksville”
#1 “I’m A Believer”
#2 “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”
#3 “Pleasant Valley Sunday”
#1 “Daydream Believer”
Top 3 songs for the week 2/23/63: #1 “Hey Paula” (Paul and Paula) #2 “Ruby Baby” (Dion) #3 “Walk Like A Man” (The 4 Seasons)...and...#4 “Walk Right In” (The Rooftop Singers) #5 “Rhythm Of The Rain” (The Cascades) #6 “From A Jack To A King” (Ned Miller) #7 “You’re The Reason I’m Living” (Bobby Darin) #8 “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” (Eydie Gorme) #9 “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” (The Miracles) #10 “Wild Weekend” (The Rebels...yes, a poor week...but next time it’s the British Invasion...)
NCAA Basketball Quiz Answer: All-time leading scorers in the following....
Big East: Troy Bell (Boston College) 2,632
Big Ten: Calbert Cheaney (Indiana) 2,613
Pac-12: Don MacLean (UCLA) 2,608
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.