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Kobe is in the Hall of Fame, forever....
***Add-On…Wednesday early p.m., prior to Liverpool-Burnley (I’ll explain down below).
--We had the initial play-in games Tuesday night and Boston secured the No. 7 slot and a matchup with No. 2 Brooklyn in a 118-100 win over 8 Washington, Jayson Tatum with 32 of his 50 in the second half.
Washington now has to beat Indiana, Thursday, the winner of that one securing the 8-seed and the right to face No. 1 Philadelphia.
Indiana eliminated Charlotte, 144-117.
Tonight, we have the play-in games in the Western Conference.
7-Lakers vs. 8-Warriors for the 7-seed and a playoff series against 2-Phoenix.
9-Memphis vs. 10-San Antonio…the winner facing the loser of Lakers-Warriors in an attempt to gain the 8-seed and a battle with No.1 Utah.
Us Knicks fans are really looking forward to our opening series with Atlanta, which starts Sunday at the Garden. This is going to be a tough one.
Atlanta made the right move in firing coach Lloyd Pierce after a 14-20 start, replaced by Nate McMillan, and McMillan righted the ship, the Hawks going 27-11 the rest of the way to finish 41-31, same as the Knicks, New York owning the tiebreaker.
Back to the Nets, despite Kyrie Irving’s going off on topics unrelated to his profession, he had an outstanding season when he was in the lineup, joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club, shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 40.2 from three, and 92.2 percent on his free-throws.
Irving’s teammate Kevin Durant and coach Steve Nash are two of the nine members of this august group.
But after his comments over the weekend, Irving has really put himself under the microscope, unnecessarily. The Nets should blow out the Celtics in five.
--Phoenix coach Monty Williams was voted Coach of the Year, the league’s 30 head coaches voting on the award.
Two years ago, Williams inherited a team that had gone 19-63.
--The induction of the 2020 NBA Hall of Fame class was delayed by eight months due to the pandemic, so I couldn’t have been the only one surprised to see a 2021 Class announced days after Saturday’s dramatic induction ceremony involving tributes to Kobe Bryant.
The thing is, Kobe, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were as strong a trio as there has ever been.
The 2021 class?
Chris Bosh, Bob Dandridge, Toni Kukoc, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace and Chris Webber? Eh.
Dandridge was from the Veterans Committee. A very good player. But this reminds me of Harold Baines getting into the Baseball HOF.
Ben Wallace? Really? I did a triple-take when I saw his name.
I mean this class is WEAK.
Except for one man…Villanova coach Jay Wright. You understand something, don’t you? We’re all just living in Jay Wright’s world…which he has by the balls.
--Former Wake Forest men’s hoops coach, Dino Gaudio, who has been an assistant under coach Chris Mack at Louisville, after a stint at ESPN, will plead guilty to extortion.
Gaudio, 64, was accused of threatening to report to the media alleged recruiting violations at Louisville, where he was recently dismissed as an assistant coach.
“(Gaudio) is prepared to take responsibility for his actions,” said Michael Denbow, one of Gaudio’s attorneys.
During a March 17 meeting with a Louisville staffer, Gaudio threatened to tell the media that the basketball program had violated NCAA rules in its production of recruiting videos for prospective student-athletes and in the use of its graduate assistants in practices – unless the university paid his salary for an additional 17 months or provided an equivalent lump sum, according to a federal document.
Gaudio then sent a text message to Louisville personnel containing one of the recruiting videos, the document said.
Gaudio’s alleged actions were not a negotiating tactic, Denbow said.
“I think he was very upset and frustrated about being let go…,” Denbow said. “And he did something he regrets.”
Under federal law, conviction on a federal extortion charge carries a prison term of no more than two years and a $250,000 fine.
Under a plea arrangement, Gaudio hopes to avoid prison time, Denbow said.
At the end of the last season, head coach Chris Mack decided not to renew the contracts of Gaudio and Luke Murray, another assistant coach, after an extensive history with both coaches that goes back more than three decades and included three schools: Xavier, Wake Forest and Louisville.
Gaudio took over at Wake Forest when Skip Prosser died in 2007. In three seasons the Deacs went 61-31, but just 1-5 in ACC and NCAA tournaments. Wake then fired Gaudio in 2010.
A sad tale all around.
--I can’t help it…I have followed Angels box scores for years, daily, just to see what Mike Trout, and now Shohei Ohtani, are doing, and on Monday I saw Trout was out after one at-bat and I was like, uh-oh. Trout exited with a strained right calf.
And then the Angels, and Trout, learned the next day that the superstar is likely going to be out 6 to 8 weeks with a Grade 2 calf strain.
Just devastating for both, and worrisome for his career. You wonder if he’ll be beset with nagging injuries from here on, Trout turning 30 in August.
This is a guy who played 157+ games, 2013-2016, but last played 140 in 2018.
The Angels, 18-23, after a 6-5 loss Tuesday to Cleveland, now will rely even more heavily on Ohtani, who clubbed his MLB leading 14th home run in the defeat.
--Also in Los Angeles, the Dodgers are dealing with Corey Seager officially becoming the 13th Dodger on the injured list, which includes key pieces Cody Bellinger, Dustin May, AJ Pollock, Tony Gonsolin and David Price.
Seager will miss at least four weeks with a fracture at the base of his pinky finger, which he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Saturday.
--The Mets, and baseball, had an incredibly scary moment Monday night in Atlanta when outfielder Kevin Pillar was drilled in the head by Atlanta’s Jacob Webb, Pillar crumpling to the ground, blood gushing from his nose and facial area.
But he shockingly walked off on his own power and a CT scan, while revealing multiple fractures in his nose, showed nothing more.
So this incredible warrior, and that is not overstating it, showed up Tuesday for a press conference, looking like hell, two blackened eyes, nose a mess, can’t breathe well, and can’t have surgery until the swelling goes down, to proclaim:
“My face will heal, but my heart’s broken right now because this team is hurting… I think at the end of my career, I hit .240, .250, whatever it is, I think if people talk about me as a guy that was reliable, was available and was tough as hell, that’s more than enough for me to ride off into the sunset with.”
Mets fans had already seen how tough Pillar was in the fearless way he played the outfield, and now this guy will be elevated to true legend status. Hopefully, in a month or so, he’s contributing again.
In the short term, on a team suddenly decimated with injuries, and half the players on the field merely AAA-caliber, the Mets seem to have drawn inspiration from Pillar’s example and beat the Braves in Atlanta, 3-1 and 4-3, in the first two games of their series, after a weekend to forget in Tampa Bay. New York is 20-16, despite a hideous first month-and-a-half at the plate. The Mets have the fewest runs in the game, and second-fewest home runs.
--Detroit pitcher Spencer Turnbull threw the fifth no-hitter of the season Tuesday night, blanking Seattle 5-0.
Turnbull’s no-no was the first for the Tigers since May 7, 2011, when Justin Verlander blanked the Blue Jays.
Turnbull threw 117 pitches, striking out nine and walking two.
So we’ve had three no-hitters in the last two weeks, including Baltimore’s John Means, who also no-hit the Mariners, who became the second team this season to get no-hit twice, joining Cleveland.
Turnbull improved to a sickly 10-25, 4.33, for his career. Back in 2019, he went 3-17 for Detroit, hitting a major league-leading 16 batters.
--Atlanta right-hander Huascar Ynoa, off to a solid 4-2, 3.02 ERA start, was frustrated after a poor outing at Milwaukee on Sunday and punched the dugout bench. The result? A broken right hand. He’s expected to miss “a couple of months,” according to manager Brian Snitker.
Ynoa can expect some “Idiot of the Year” hardware from the good folks at Bar Chat at yearend.
--Gerrit Cole has a problem with the home-run ball. For all his success, he now has yielded 19 home runs as a Yankee in 130 innings, 2020-21, after giving up five runs on five hits, including tow homers, in the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to the Rangers, Cole falling to 5-2, 2.03 on the season.
But he also broke the four-day-old MLB record for most consecutive strikeouts without a walk at 61.
The Brewers’ Corbin Burnes had set the mark at 58 last Thursday.
--We note the passing of former Pirates infielder Rennie Stennett, who died Tuesday at the age of 72.
Stennett was a solid second baseman/shortstop for Pittsburgh and later San Francisco, 1971-81, batting .274 for his career with 1,239 hits. While he was never an All-Star, he was close, especially in his prime, 1974-77. In ’77, he was batting a career-best .336 before missing the final six weeks of the season due to an injury.
But to many of us old-timers, the Panamanian-born Stennett is best remembered for a magical moment, Sept. 16, 1975, when he became the only player in the modern era to go 7 for 7 in a nine-inning game when he had four singles, two doubles and a triple in a 22-0 win over the Cubs.
Stennett appeared in the 1979 World Series, earning a ring, with a pinch hit in his only at-bat.
--I stayed up for the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship (the College Cup) final Monday and Marshall pulled off a terrific 1-0 upset of 3-seed Indiana in overtime for its first NCAA title. The Thundering Herd didn’t allow a goal in their final three wins against Georgetown, North Carolina and the Hoosiers.
This is a Marshall program that was on the verge of extinction in 2003, the school administration wanting to save money. They were just 8-9-3 (3-3-2 in Conference USA) as recently as 2018.
Indiana was making its 16th trip to the championship game, with eight titles.
--In the women’s final, Santa Clara captured its second title in program history with a penalty kick upset of No. 1 Florida State, the Broncos 4-of-4 on PKs.
--Tottenham / England star striker Harry Kane wants out and this has shaken the league, and country, to the core. This is hardly a surprise, the Spurs, despite Kane’s excellence, not wining any trophies, nor has Team England.
But he has three years left on his contract paying him 200,000 pounds a week. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy obviously doesn’t want to lose him, but Kane could end up somewhere else, and most likely only in the Premier League, which is a further nightmare for the Spurs. Chelsea, Man United and Man City are interested, though the transfer fee would be ginormous.
Kane has the third-most goals in all of Europe’s top five leagues this season, trailing only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi (Barcelona).
Kane wants the situation resolved before the start of Euro 2020 on June 11, which is presenting way too short a window to negotiate a deal of this size for Levy.
--Meanwhile, with the PL season in its final week, Tuesday, Chelsea defeated Leicester City 2-1 in a huge contest, which opened the door for Liverpool to grab the fourth Champions League slot.
Entering Wednesday’s game against Burnley, Liverpool was just three points behind, but ahead of Leicester in goal differential, 21-20.
Standings…36/37 of 38…Played – Points
1. Man City…37 – 83
2. Man U…37 – 71
3. Chelsea…37 – 67
4. Leicester…37 – 66 …CL line
5. Liverpool…36 – 63
[Sorry, had to post prior to the Liverpool game later today.]
The season wraps up Sunday in what should be high drama.
--Sam Houston State defeated South Dakota State Sunday night for the FCS championship in Frisco, Texas, finally completing the 2020 season. It is the Bearkats’ first FCS championship. Their coach, K.C. Keeler, became the first coach ever to lead two different schools to the FCS title, having done so at Delaware in 2003.
SHSU needed a game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left.
--The NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship is underway this week with regional play, May 17-19.
The six, 54-hole regional tournaments are comprised of 13 or 14 teams each. The low five teams and the low individual not on those teams from each regional moves on to the NCAA championship. Wake Forest led its regional out in Cle Eum, Washington, after Monday’s first round, tied with San Francisco.
--Trainer Bob Baffert was suspended Monday from entering horses at all New York racetracks, pending an investigation into Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed postrace drug test.
Baffert temporarily will not be able to stable horses at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course or run any of his horses at the New York Racing Association’s tracks. With the ban including Belmont Park, that means no horses at the Belmont Stakes, June 5.
“In order to maintain a successful thoroughbred racing industry in New York, NYRA must protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants,” NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “That responsibility demands the action taken today in the best interests of thoroughbred racing.”
Baffert had not yet committed any horses for the Belmont Stakes.
The NYRA said it took into account Baffert’s previous penalties in Kentucky, California and Arkansas, five violations involving impermissible levels of medication in his horses over the past 13 months.
--In a big development, Stanford reversed course from a decision it made last summer and will not eliminate 11 varsity sports, the school announced Tuesday.
The decision came after months of pressure from high-profile alumni, students and coaches, as well as a fundraising effort – aimed at helping the sports become financially self-sustaining.
“We have new optimism based on new circumstances, including vigorous and broad-based philanthropic interest in Stanford Athletics on the part of our alumni, which have convinced us that raising the increased funds necessary to support all 36 of our varsity teams is an approach that can succeed,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.
A group called 36 Sports Strong debunked the theory Stanford couldn’t sustain the programs, the budget for the teams coming to $4.5 million a year, or about 3% of the athletic department’s entire budget. The 11 sports already had a combined $23 million endowment and, as of early April, had received about $50 million in pledges to support the sports in the future.
--Tyson Fury’s projected world heavyweight title clash against Anthony Joshua was plunged into doubt by an American legal ruling.
Fury and Joshua were to clash in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14, but Fury was told in the court case that he must face Deontay Wilder first.
An arbitrator reportedly upheld Wilder’s claim that he is contractually due another meeting, which must take place before September 15th this year.
Wilder could step aside, but that would require a big pay-off from the Fury camp.
Fury and Wilder fought a split decision in December 2018 in Los Angeles, before Fury won their second meeting by seventh-round stoppage in February last year.
Attempts to secure a third fight were complicated by an injury to Wilder and an absence of available television dates, prompting Fury to move on based on the assumption that any agreement had expired.
So Fury was to pit his WBC title against Joshua’s WBA, WHO and IBF belts and put them on the line in Riyadh.
Fury could conceivably meet Wilder in August or September and then face Joshua in December.
--A surfer in Australia was killed in a shark attack on Tuesday, authorities said.
The man, in his 50s, was attacked while surfing at Tuncurry Beach in New South Wales, a police statement said.
He suffered injuries to his upper right thigh. Other beachgoers pulled him from the water.
Ugh. Must have been gruesome.
A drone search over the water spotted two sharks in the area. Locals couldn’t recall a shark attack before in these waters. But Australia has seen a number of fatal attacks overall in the 2020-21 period…nine, by my back of the Foster’s beer coaster count.
--It’s been 50 years since one of the better musicals of all time, “Godspell,” debuted off-Broadway in 1971. It was made into a 1973 movie and jumped to Broadway in 1976, nominated for best score at the Tony Awards and a Grammy winner.
One of the songs, “Day By Day,” reached No. 13 on the Billboard pop chart.
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m. Enjoy The PGA Championship!
[Posted early Sunday p.m., prior to late NBA games and NCAA Men’s Soccer final]
**Correction...NCAA soccer final is tonight, Monday!
For the next few weeks, due to an ongoing family situation and time constraints as a result, I will have a little “Add-On” to this column sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday p.m., rather than a formal midweek Bar Chat.
Baseball Attendance Quiz: I have an item below on the lifting of Covid restrictions and the questions on future attendance. J. Mac and I discuss this topic all the time in terms of old-time baseball. The days of packed stands were rare in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. So, 1) Name the first team to hit 2,000,000 in attendance for a season. 2) Name the first team to hit the 2.5 million mark. 3) Who was first at 3 million? 4) Who was first at 4 million for a season? 5) And who holds the season record at 4,483,350 fans? [Hint: Five different franchises.] Answers below.
--The Dodgers have shaken things up in announcing they had agreed to a contract for the remainder of the season with Albert Pujols.
Pujols, 41, was abruptly designated for assignment by the Angels last week and officially released Thursday after clearing waivers. He was batting .198 with a .622 OPS and five home runs in 92 plate appearances this season. Seven for his last 43 before his release.
The Angels remain responsible for his $30-million salary in the final year of his 10-year, $240 million contract. The Dodgers will pay him a prorated share of the $570,500 league minimum. That will be offset from what the Angels owe him.
Pujols started 571 games in his nine-plus seasons with the Angels as the designated hitter, but that won’t be an option most days with the Dodgers. Still, the Dodgers had sought an additional right-handed batter to balance their position player pool since the offseason.
And he provides depth, which has weakened since the end of last season because of free agent departures and injuries. This week, Edwin Rios, a slugger the Dodgers hoped would supply power off the bench, was lost for the season because of a partially torn labrum in his shoulder after going four for 51 at the plate. [Yes, that’s right…4-for-51…]
So Saturday night, the Dodgers beat the Marlins at Dodger Stadium for their fourth straight win, but they suffered a huge blow when Corey Seager, the reigning World Series MVP, exited in the fifth inning after getting hit by a pitch on the right hand and after the game, the Dodgers announced X-rays revealed a fracture and he went on the injured list today. No telling how long he’ll be out.
--Jarred Kelenic was a first-round pick of the Mets in the June 2018 draft, sixth pick overall, a five-tool player with a super future, and then in December of that year, the Mets traded him and another top prospect, pitcher Justin Dunn, along with Jay Bruce and other pieces, in exchange for closer Edwin Diaz and PED king Robinson Cano.
Dunn has pitched ably as a back of the rotation starter, and Kelenic was just called up from AAA and in his second game for the Mariners slammed a home run and two doubles.
The 21-year-old is going to prove to be a huge nightmare for us Mets fans for 15 years to come. It might become unbearable.
--So speaking of the New York Metropolitans, they had a weekend to forget in Tampa Bay/St. Pete, getting swept by the Rays…3-2, 12-5, 7-1…to fall to 18-16 after coming in with a seven-game win streak. And they lost Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto to hamstring injuries today, severity unknow as I go to post.
--The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hit home run No. 12 today at Fenway and it was an important 2-run shot in the top of the ninth, Los Angeles winning 6-5.
--Boy, that was one scary collision between White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Kansas City batter Hunter Dozier Friday in the opener of a doubleheader.
After popping up in the second inning, Dozier jogged out of the batter’s box with his head down and grazed past catcher Yasmani Grandal. Dozier took another couple of steps and then slammed hard into Abreu as he was tracking the ball, knocking both players to the ground about 20 feet from the plate.
Grandal caught the ball as trainers and medical staffs came onto the field. After a few minutes, Abreu got up and left the field walking on his own, but the AL MVP looked daze. He suffered a facial contusion and cut, along with a bruised left knee and was day-to-day, after an initial concussion test was negative.
Dozier, though, was placed on the concussion IL, also suffering from a bruised quadricep and neck discomfort.
Well, Abreu was back Saturday and homered for the White Sox’ lone run in a 5-1 loss to the Royals.
--St. Louis Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty became the major leagues’ first seven-game winner on Thursday with a 2-0 victory over Milwaukee, as the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes extended his streak to 58 consecutive strikeouts before his first walk.
Flaherty allowed six runs on opening day in a no-decision and has won every start since.
Burnes (2-3), in his first start since April 26, struck out nine among his first 14 outs before walking Tommy Edman with two outs in the fifth.
Burnes’ 58 strikeouts without a walk were the most by a major league pitcher within the same season since at least 1893, when the mound moved to its current distance from the plate of 60 feet, 6 inches.
The Brewers have gone just 2-4 in his six starts despite the fact he has a 1.57 ERA in a Jacob deGrom-like performance (i.e., zero run support).
Wednesday, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, 5-1, 1.37, fanned 12 with no walks in eight innings in a 1-0 win at Tampa Bay. He now has 56 strikeouts without a walk, having walked three this season early before going on a run.
--Fellow Wake Forest alum Phil W. brought me the news that former Demon Deac Will Craig, a 2016 first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates who has been a major bust, was called up hours before Thursday’s game against the Giants in Pittsburgh and smacked his first Major League home run, first hit.
Craig had four at-bats last season and now through Saturday, he’s 2-for-15 overall, having gone 1-for-4 Saturday.
He was called up because he had homered three times in his last two games for Triple-A Indianapolis.
--Staying with the college theme, I saw where Nevada’s Tyler Bosetti homered in nine consecutive games, breaking an NCAA Division I record that stood for 30 years. Bosetti homered in his first at-bat Tuesday against Arizona State, the 11th homer in 10 games for the senior third baseman, who was at a loss to explain the feat.
“To be honest, I looked at it as a joke. I’m not going to lie,” Bosetti said. “Because I’m 5-10, 170 pounds. I would never expect myself to hit this many home runs, especially nine in a row.”
The thing is, he had five in 3 seasons prior to this campaign.
So this had me looking up Nevada Wolfpack baseball and he didn’t play again until Saturday and a doubleheader at Fresno State. Bosetti’s streak ended in the first game, though he went 2-for-5 with a 2-run single in a 9-6 win. And he went 2-for-5 with two more RBIs in a 14-2 win in the nightcap last night, but no homers.
And that is the only time in my life, I imagine, I will make it a point to independently look up Nevada Wolfpack box scores. Overall, Nevada is 20-17, 17-9 in the Mountain West, and not sure if they have a shot at making the NCAA championship field.
Georgia Tech’s Andy Bruce homered in eight straight games in 1991 and Duke’s Ryan Jackson matched the feat three years later.
--As baseball opens up, with Covid restrictions lifting all over, it will indeed be interesting to see what kinds of crowds MLB gets. My guess is they’ll be better than expected by mid-summer.
Minnesota will be a good test case. The Twins will be able to accept full capacity, 39,500 at Target Field, by July; the team currently at 60% for rest of May, then 80% for June. The Phillies announced a move to 100% on June 12.
The Mets and Yankees will not exactly be great test cases, yet. May 19 they are cleared for 100% capacity among vaccinated fans and 33% for non-vaccinated, but this is confusing.
The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are going to full capacity beginning May 25, joining the Rangers and Braves.
So, how often will the teams at full capacity actually pack the house? For example, the Oakland A’s, capped at 26% (12,188), are averaging just 5,520 fans through 23 dates, or 45% of capacity.
NBA’s Final Weekend and Kobe
--For us New York area hoops fans, there’s excitement in Gotham as both the Knicks and Nets are in the playoffs. The Knicks clinched their first berth since 2013 when Boston lost Wednesday to fall 3 ½ games behind New York with three games left.
The Knicks then beat the Spurs, 102-98, on Thursday, and Charlotte, 118-109 in OT, Saturday, to move to 40-31, with the opportunity to clinch the No. 4 position in the East today against the Celtics at the Garden. They entered play tied with Atlanta but own the tiebreaker.
And the Knicks blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead but barely held on, 96-92, to secure home-court advantage against the Hawks. Phew. That would have been a brutal loss (Atlanta playing Houston tonight in their finale).
What a job by coach Tom Thibodeau, a leading candidate for Coach of the Year. The Knicks had seven straight losing seasons before owner James Dolan revamped the front office and then new team president Leon Rose brought in Thibodeau, who has gotten buy-in from a roster of promising young players and veteran role players.
--Meanwhile the Nets’ Kyrie Irving says he’s currently focused on issues other than basketball. As my very first boss in the business world, Sharon C., would have said, dripping sarcasm, “Terr-riffic!”
Irving declined to answer game-related questions Saturday after Brooklyn’s victory over the Chicago Bulls and made multiple references to the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m not going to lie to you guys, a lot of stuff is going on in this world and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now,” Irving said. “There’s a lot of things going on overseas. All our people are still in bondage across the world, and there’s a lot of dehumanization going on….
“It’s just too much going on in the world for me to just be talking about basketball.”
Note to Kyrie: You’re paid $10s of millions a year to focus on a job…basketball. Do so.
Irving scored 22 points in Saturday’s 105-91 victory and was reunited on the floor with the other two members of the Big Three – Kevin Durant and James Harden – for just the eighth time this season, and the first time since Feb. 13.
Brooklyn needs to win its regular-season finale tonight over the Cavaliers to clinch the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
--The Lakers start play tonight in the 7-slot, Portland owning the tiebreaker at No. 6, both teams 41-30.
The Lakers thus need to beat New Orleans, and have Portland lose to Denver (the Nuggets with an incentive to win to secure the 3rd slot in the West), for the Lakers to avoid the play-in round.
At least LeBron returned for L.A. on Saturday in a 122-115 win over Indiana and he looked good. But the issue was how much he’d have to play on back-to-back nights with his bum ankle.
--A note from the college game…five-star basketball recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr. has committed to Milwaukee of the Horizon League, he told ESPN on Wednesday, spurning offers from the likes of Duke, Georgetown and Virginia to join his father Patrick Baldwin Sr., the Panthers’ head coach since 2017.
“I will be playing for my dad at Milwaukee,” the younger Baldwin said. “I had some great options, which made me not rush through the process. The thought of playing for my dad was too good to pass up. In today’s day and age, you see mid-majors having great success, most recently Loyola and Oral Roberts.”
Absolutely love this! He’s the No. 4-rated recruit in the Class of 2021 and the No. 8-ranked player in ESPN’s 2022 NBA mock draft, making him the most highly touted prospect to commit to a Horizon League team in conference history. He will attempt to become the Horizon’s first lottery pick since Butler’s Gordon Hayward in 2010.
At 6-foot-10, Baldwin has a high skill level as a passer, ball handler and perimeter shooter.
Baldwin Sr. took over the Milwaukee program in 2017, going 47-70 and his son’s decision is huge for his job status. You can imagine some late transfers could be also entering Baldwin’s program now. One year for a shot at glory.
--Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Kobe Bryant should have been there.
“He should have been sitting in the front row with Vanessa.
“He should have been standing on the dais next to Michael Jordan.
“He should have spoken at the lectern, joking about being a ball hog, ribbing Shaquille O’Neal, thanking Jerry West, preaching the ‘Mamba mentality.’
“Lord, it would have been some speech.
“It should have been wonderful watching Kobe Bryant being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“Instead, his absence was agonizing.
“What was supposed to be a reminder of his greatness was, instead, a reminder of the greatness of his loss.
“In ceremonies at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Kobe’s presence should have joyfully dominated a class that included greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Instead, his void was sadly apparent in various speeches by folks who clearly just didn’t know what to say.
“At one point, Garnett referred to him as ‘Kob’ as if he was sitting right there. The camera stayed on Garnett, because there was nowhere to pan.
“Tamika Catchings paid homage to all of her fellow inductees except for Bryant, at which point she recognized Vanessa, who looked like she was going to cry.
“Tim Duncan thanked, ‘the late, great Kobe Bryant’ and it is still strange to hear those words in that sequence.
“It was all so hard. What was trumpeted all week as a moment of glory instead became an exercise in pain.
“ ‘I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some s---?’ Vanessa said in her acceptance speech.
“It was compelling when Jordan accompanied Vanessa to the stage for the ceremony’s final address. But, unlike at Bryant’s memorial service, Jordan didn’t speak, he simply stood in the background, eyes filled with tears.
“This should have been Kobe’s moment, and Jordan appeared uncomfortable being on the stage without him.
“Vanessa, speaking publicly for only the second time since Kobe’s death, was as courageously elegant as when she delivered a eulogy at his memorial service. But his glory could not be trumpeted without first accounting for his loss.
“ ‘I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,’ she said. ‘He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was really looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for [youngest daughter] Capri. He was so happy.’….
“So Kobe’s absence also meant the absence of public recognition for the Buss family, Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Shaq, Pau Gasol, and others who were so instrumental in his success. While Garnett and Duncan both poignantly thanked their basketball muses, Kobe never got the chance, and that was tough to watch.
“In lieu of individual public gratitude, Vanessa opted for a twist that Kobe would have loved. Ending her 10-minute speech in an open letter, she simply thanked him.
“ ‘Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be,’ she said. ‘Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes. Thank you for always trying to be better.’
“She thanked him for being the great girl dad and family man.
“ ‘Thank you for waking up at 3 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning, and for dropping our girls off at school, only to go to practice, come home and pick up the girls from school whenever you could,’ she said. ‘Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school show-and-tell, or any games our daughters played.’
“She concluded with the best embrace she could offer.
“ ‘Congratulations baby, all of your hard work and sacrifices paid off …you did it, you’re in the Hall of Fame now,’ she said. ‘You’re a true champ. You’re not just an MVP, you’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.’
“Her voice finally broke when reciting his name. As she stepped from the lectern, the crowd stood and cheered while chants of ‘Ko-be, Ko-be’ could be heard from the rafters.
“He should have been there to hear them. He should have been there to hug her. One of the most justified inductions into the Hall of Fame was muted by the unfairness of it all.”
The weekend also belonged to Tim Duncan, a five-time champion with the San Antonio Spurs who was typically understated. He opened his speech by admitting that “this is the most nervous I’ve been in my life.”
Duncan thanked his parents – despite their “combined zero basketball knowledge” – and Wake Forest and coach Dave Odom, and then saluted the entire Spurs organization, including his former teammate, David Robinson, who presented him.
“Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me not to be up there,” Duncan said of his two longtime Spurs teammates. “It was an honor to share the court with you guys. …[Coach Gregg Popovich], you are an exceptional person for teaching me about basketball and, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s happening in the world.”
Ain’t that the truth.
--Lastly, legendary broadcaster Marv Albert is retiring at the conclusion of the NBA playoffs, as he’ll formally announce Monday.
Albert, who turns 80 in June, plans to end his career once TNT has finished broadcasting games for the 2021 playoffs, as first reported by the New York Post.
A sad day for New York area sports fans. Those of us of a certain age grew up as Knick and Rangers fans with Albert, the play-by-play voice of the Knicks on television and radio beginning in 1967, as well as for the Rangers for a long spell, before transitioning to a network role. Imagine, he was just 26, 27 at the time but someone had the foresight to recognize his amazing talent.
The Preakness Stakes
First, the lead up to the race….
Chuck Culpepper and Gus Garcia-Roberts / Washington Post
“He turned up in 1984 from the wilds of his native Arizona to the quarter-horse hub of Los Alamitos near Los Angeles, and he turned up in 1992 from the obscurity of quarter horses to the Breeders’ Cup near Miami, and he turned up in 1996 from his embryonic thoroughbred days in California in a country with an Eastern sports bias to the Kentucky Derby. Wherever he turned up, he brought aspects uncommon to the setting, especially his reservoir of puckish wit.
“From there – and there, and there – Bob Baffert took his irreverence to the reverent places of horse racing, sprinkling spice upon the staid. By the time he turned 68 in January, he had 16 Triple Crown wins, 17 Breeders’ Cup wins and quite some globetrotting: When he needed emergency heart surgery in March 2012, it happened in Dubai, where he has won the world’s richest race thrice. The tentacles he has sent coursing through the sport mean that for the Kentucky Derby alone, he has entered 35 horses (with two scratched) for 43 owners and 18 jockeys, eight of those (and counting) in the Hall of Fame, as is, of course, Baffert.
“ ‘I stand here today,’ he said at his induction in 2009, ‘and I look around here, and you’re all wondering the same thing: What is Bob Baffert doing in the Hall of Fame? I grew up in a little town, Nogales, Arizona, quarter horses, and it’s amazing to stand up here.’
“After the fourth of seven children became the white-haired, sunglasses-prone face of a sport, even a sport amid a lengthy ebb, it added more news heft to the positive drug test for his trainee Medina Spirit, that gutsy Florida native who seemed to win the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
“It has brought new legions of eyes upon the wait for a split-sample result, upon the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, upon Medina Spirit’s entry in that second Triple Crown leg, upon the possible effects of a possible Derby disqualification and upon Baffert’s high-profile drug violations of the past two seasons. It has led to one farm, Spendthrift of Kentucky, telling the Daily Racing Form it would pause working with Baffert….
“According to the records of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), a conclusive positive for Medina Spirit after the split-sample would bring the 30th violation from a Baffert barn, stretched across 44 years. The list includes one from 1977, eight from the 1980s, six from the 1990s, six from the 2000s, four from the 2010s and four from the 2020s. Many, and all in 2020-21, entail drugs that are kosher but must clear from a horse’s system before a certain window ahead of race days and their thundering exertions. Most resulted in small fines and brief suspension, though that one from 1977, for morphine, landed Baffert a one-year ban….
“With the filly Gamine, whose third-place finish in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks wound up overturned, Baffert acknowledged she received betamethasone, the same drug found in Medina Spirit in the initial laboratory analysis, but said the error had come with regard to the 14-day, pre-race window. With Medina Spirit, Baffert eventually said Tuesday that he had received betamethasone in a dermatology ointment.
“Mary Scollay, formerly of the Kentucky Racing Commission and now the executive director of the Lexington-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, finds subterfuge improbable in cases such as this. ‘What I’m saying is it’s hard to believe there would be nefarious intent in using a medication that every lab tests for, every sample, every day,’ she said. ‘That’s just illogical.’ She added: ‘I’m not saying there should be no accountability when there’s no intent. By the same token, I don’t know that an error should be equated with malicious intent to affect a race.’
“Baffert’s repeated positive tests have frustrated some in the industry, though, including ARCI President Ed Martin. In an interview Thursday, Martin said he didn’t know how the many drug infractions impacted Baffert’s legacy as one of the sport’s top all-time trainers. ‘Is that a deliberate attempt to play close to the wire, or is it indicative of a sloppily run operation?’ Martin said of the drug history. ‘Or is it indicative of anything else? I don’t think anybody can answer that.’
“But, he added, ‘Every trainer has got a responsibility to adhere to the rules.’”
Well, in the Preakness, Medina Spirit went out in front and battled into the final stretch with Midnight Bourbon, all the way, but then Rombauer, a 13-1 underdog, ran down both horses to win. Midnight Bourbon was second, Medina Spirit third.
Medina Spirit had cleared three drug tests before Preakness officials allowed it to run. For now, the controversy is over, though a potential Derby disqualification continues to hang over the sport.
Rombauer trainer Michael McCarthy was emotional after as he won a Triple Crown race for the first time. He had been working as an assistant for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher before opening his own barn. Pletcher, who has yet to win a Preakness himself, gave McCarthy a bear hug after.
Rombauer’s jockey, Flavien Prat, won the Preakness two years after being elevated to the Derby winner aboard Country House when Maximum Security was disqualified.
I’m guessing Medina Spirit will run in Monmouth Park’s (N.J.) Haskell Invitational later this summer, a race Baffert has had success in, and then maybe the Travers Stakes.
Then again, what do I know?
--Heading into the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson in McKinney, Texas, we had the following leaderboard….
Sam Burns -20
K.H. Lee -19
Charl Schwartzel -17
Matt Kuchar -17
Jordan Spieth -17
Alex Noren -17
We also had a lousy weather forecast for Sunday’s final round, everyone going off early in split tees.
But major kudos to the PGA Tour…they timed the worst weather perfectly, factored in a 2 ½ hour delay, and finished on time, network wise.
And Korean K.H. Lee captured his first win by three shots over Burns after a super final round 66, finishing -25.
Jordan Spieth, who finished T9, revealed he had a rough 3-week battle with Covid. Ugh.
--Among those missing the cut were Rickie Fowler (again), Jason Day and Brooks Koepka.
--This coming week it’s the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. Having played this myself about ten times, I can’t wait.
--Phil Mickelson received a special exemption from the United States Golf Association to play in the 121st U.S. Open next month. Seeing as it’s at Torrey Pines, in the very area where Lefty grew up, it’s only fitting.
It will be the 30th U.S. Open of his career, a tournament he has never won but where he finished runner-up six times.
“Winning the U.S. Open has been a lifelong and elusive dream, and I’ve come close so many times,” Mickelson said in a statement. “You can’t win if you don’t play. I’m honored and appreciative of the USGA for the opportunity and look forward to playing in my hometown on a golf course I grew up on.”
Players not otherwise exempt can earn a spot in the field by being among the top 60 in the world on May 24 or June 7. The U.S. Open will be played June 17 to 20.
But Mickelson is 116th in the world, and in 10 events in 2021, his best finish is a tie for 21st at the Masters.
--Matthew Wolff is a bit messed up these days. He withdrew from the PGA Championship (replaced by Tom Hoge) and no reason was given for the WD.
In his last four starts he’s had a WD after a first-round 83 at the WGC-Workday; an elimination after group play in the WGC-Match Play; a disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard in the Masters, and a missed cut with partner Collin Morikawa in the Zurich Classic. He looked not injured, as he claims, but extremely disheartened during the struggles in New Orleans.
The 22-year-old, seen as a budding superstar after entering the final round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a two-shot lead, only to shoot 75 and lose to Bryson DeChambeau, then bounced back for a T2 in Las Vegas three weeks later. But since then it’s been an alarming tailspin. His driving has been atrocious, 205th on tour in driving accuracy.
It’s going to be interesting to see what he does, or rather how much he plays, the rest of 2021. As Tod Leonard of Golf Digest noted, Wolff has acknowledged that the expectations he puts on himself are as taxing as any others lay on him.
Premier League and FA Cup
--The PL and the FA Cup have become intertwined.
In the former, after West Ham managed only a 1-1 draw with Brighton, and Liverpool beat West Brom 2-1 today in dramatic fashion (more in a bit), the standings for the final two Champions League slots tightened in a big way with just two matches left in the season.
After 36 of 38, Played – Points
1. Man City…36 – 83 (clinched title)
2. Man U…36 – 70
3. Leicester…36 – 66
4. Chelsea…36 – 64 …CL line
5. Liverpool…36 – 63
6. Tottenham…36 – 59 …headed to Europa League
7. West Ham…36 – 59
Next week, Chelsea plays Leicester on Tuesday after the two met on Saturday in the FA Cup, and then plays Aston Villa on Sunday.
Liverpool has Burnley and then finishes with Crystal Palace. Leicester plays Tottenham in its finale and the Spurs may have an incentive on the Europa League front to play hard.
So if Chelsea and Leicester played to a draw, or the Foxes beat the Blues, the door is wide open for Liverpool to grab the fourth and final Champions League berth, for starters.
In Liverpool’s win today, because they needed the full 3 points, they pulled goalkeeper Alisson in the final moments and moved him up for a last corner kick. Think hockey and pulling the goalie for an extra skater.
So what does Alisson do? He heads it in for the winner! It was the first time a goalkeeper has scored a competitive goal for Liverpool in their entire history, dating back to 1892…1892!
--Saturday, Youri Tielemans produced one of the great FA Cup final goals to give Leicester City the trophy for the first time in their history with a 1-0 victory over the same Chelsea at Wembley.
The Belgian settled a closely contested encounter with a spectacular right-foot drive that flew beyond Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into the top corner from 25 yards in the 63rd minute.
Leicester’s fans, 21,000 strong in Wembley, forming the biggest attendance since lockdown, had to survive a nerve-jangling closing phase before they could celebrate the win in their first final since 1969.
And it was keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the great one from Denmark you’ve admired in World Cup play, who saved the day for the Foxes.
--The Champions League final, Chelsea vs. Man City, is still slated for May 29 but it has been moved to Portugal, owing to the UK government’s decision to place Turkey on its “red list” due to the Covid-19 situation in the country, which would have prohibited fans from attending the showpiece finale, which led UEFA to look for an alternative option.
There was thought of holding it in the UK, for obvious reasons, both teams being there, but the UK government would not grant quarantine exemption to approximately 2,000 UEFA staff, broadcasters, and sponsorship partners.
For its part, Portugal has done a terrific job in crushing the Covid curve after a horrific spike in January and February.
NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship
--We had the semifinals on Friday and 3 Indiana defeated 2 Pitt 1-0, while unseeded Marshall beat another unseeded squad, North Carolina, by the same 1-0.
So Sunday night it’s Marshall vs. Indiana. Very cool. I’ll be watching.
Alex Bowman won his second of the season, fourth career, at Dover’s Monster Mile today. I continue to struggle with my DraftKings lineups.
--In catching up to items from last week I didn’t cover in my “Add-on,” I have to note the passing of former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, a 2007 Heisman Trophy finalist, who died Tuesday in Newport, California. He was 37.
Terry Brennan, Colt Brennan’s father, told ESPN that his son ingested a substance laced with fentanyl and never regained consciousness. Paramedics were called Monday to a hotel room where Colt Brennan had been with other people.
Hours before he was found, Colt Brennan had tried to enter a detox program at a hospital but was turned away because there were no beds available, according to his father.
Terry Brennan said, “He was doing quite well with it for four months. Then something happened and he went to the dark side, and it was just not good.”
Brennan was a two-time Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year winner (2006, 2007), and led the Rainbow Warriors to an undefeated regular season in 2007 before falling to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Paul Myerberg / USA TODAY
“(To) watch Brennan was to witness a player well ahead of his time: The three-year starter and Heisman Trophy contender put up video-game numbers in a pass-happy system long before gaudy passing totals became the standard, earning him a place in college football history even as later quarterbacks bumped Brennan’s name down the charts in the NCAA record books.
“The number of players able to entrance a national audience has grown exponentially in the age of Twitter and breathless year-round coverage of the sport. In the years just before the social media explosion, Brennan was an organic national star – without the help of trends and hashtags, his production and success in coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense made Brennan must-see TV.
“During his final two seasons, Brennan helped broaden the map of college football to a point never before and never again reached, extending the quest for major bowls, the national championship and the Heisman beyond the West Coast and into the Pacific Ocean.
“While other non-major programs have made a run at end-of-year hardware, from Boise State to Central Florida and Cincinnati, none have done so with as much charm and charisma as Hawaii and its star quarterback in 2006 and 2007….
“He threw for 5,549 yards and a then-record 58 touchdowns as a junior in 2006, finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. He then tossed 38 touchdowns in 2007, when he finished third for the Heisman, to lead Hawaii to an unbeaten regular season and a matchup with Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Brennan’s 70.4 percent career completion percentage remains first in FBS history among passers with a minimum of 875 attempts.”
Multiple quarterbacks in 2020 matched Brennan’s output. But….
“That doesn’t diminish Brennan’s accomplishments as much as highlight how his success helped move pass-first offenses into the FBS mainstream after decades of being minimized as gimmicky compared to the clouds-of-dust style that had defined the sport.
“Within five years, nearly every successful Group of Five program was embracing an offensive style that was viewed as unorthodox next to the Power Five standard. Within a decade, the number of programs still clinging to antiquated schemes were far outnumbered by those who had embraced the offensive revolution….
“(Brennan’s) legacy rests in nostalgia. It’s now almost impossible to imagine a quarterback coming out of nowhere to captivate a national audience of fans from scattered fan bases, all coalescing around Brennan and Hawaii with no direct investment in the team’s success. In that sense, Brennan was the first of his kind and also the last.”
--Jen Murphy had a story in the Wall Street Journal this weekend on the “remarkable comeback” of the bald eagle population.
“But the majestic symbol of American pride is turning out to be a nuisance, especially in Canada.
“Flocks have been spotted along highways in the Pacific Northwest, feasting in a landfill in Vancouver. Earlier this year, a ravenous raptor stalked and killed a seagull in front of shocked onlookers at a busy Vancouver golf course….
“ ‘You’re in awe every time you see one,’ says Jeanine Pesce, who recently moved from New Jersey to British Columbian and now sees the raptors almost daily. ‘Their physicality and presence is so profound you feel a need to pay homage to them.’
“But Ms. Pesce, who owns a consulting agency, has had to explain some National Geographic-worthy encounters to her 5-year-old daughter. ‘One day I watched an eagle drag a Canadian goose back and forth across rocks for hours,’ she says. ‘I was told that’s how they tenderize their meat.’
The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. A recent report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department found that numbers have quadrupled to more than 316,000 in 2019, from 72,000 in 2009. Those numbers reflect populations only in the lower 48. An expert in British Columbia told the Journal’s Murphy, “If you factor in the populations in Alaska and Canada you add at least another 150,000 or more birds.”
And an eagle capable of carrying a 12-pound salmon has no problem with a little 4-pound pet.
--In a tragic animal tale, a herd of 18 Indian elephants died when lightning struck the Kandoli protected forest reserve in the northeast Indian state of Assam.
There are more than 27,000 Asian elephants in India, about 21% of which are in Assam.
This is the first time in 20 years in Assam that so many elephants have been found dead at the same time. Officials described a “massive thunderstorm” in the region. [BBC News]
--Nice to see the Bengal tiger that has been missing for a week in Houston has been found safe.
“The tiger appears to be in very good health,” Houston Police Department Commander Ron Borza said at a news conference late Saturday.
The 9-month-old, 175-pound tiger, named “India,” was wearing a bejeweled collar and being bottle fed in a video posted by the HPD, in which Borza and a woman identified as the wife of the tiger owner were seen petting and cuddling with the animal.
It seems concerned citizens have been in contact with the wife, “Gia,” and the whereabouts became known.
India will be transported shortly to a wildlife sanctuary in Texas to live out the rest of its days.
Top 3 songs for the week of 5/19/62: #1 Soldier Boy (The Shirelles) #2 “Stranger On The Shore” (Mr. Acker Bilk…melancholy tune…) #3 “Mashed Potato Time” (Dee Dee Sharp)…and…#4 “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares) #5 “She Cried” (Jay & The Americans) #6 “Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)” (Ernie Maresca…fun song…) #7 “Old Rivers” (Walter Brennan…yes, that Walter Brennan…interesting time in music…) #8 “Everybody Loves Me But You” (Brenda Lee) #9 “P.T. 109” (Jimmy Dean…guess who this one is about…) #10 “Funny Way Of Laughin’” (Burl Ives….week is a ‘C’ in terms of number of tunes that have stood the test of time, like almost 60 years!...)
Baseball Attendance Quiz Answers: 1) First at 2 million: The 1946 Yankees…2,265,512. 2) First at 2.5 million: The 1948 Cleveland Indians…2,620,627 in cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium. 3) First at 3 million: The 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers…3,347,845. 4) First at 4 million: The 1991 Toronto Blue Jays in the Sky Dome…4,001,500. 5) The all-time record of 4,483,350 fans for an entire season…the 1993 Colorado Rockies in Mile High Stadium.
The Dodgers have led MLB in attendance the last seven full seasons, 2013-2019.
Back in 1979, the Oakland A’s had a whopping 306,763 fans for an entire campaign. The team went 54-108 and had a ton of crowds under 3,000.
***I will have an “Add-On” sometime between Tuesday p.m. and Wednesday p.m.
Otherwise, next regular Bar Chat, Sunday.