Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins Comes Out - And Now What?

I woke up today to see Jason Collins publicly came out of the closet. As I love to put it these days, he's decided to tell us what he's known for a while so it's more freeing for him to not have to live a secret.

I've seen Collins as a hooper since 1997 when I was in 8th grade and I was fascinated by him and his brother Jarron at Harvard-Westlake High School. Two twins were McDonald's All-Americans and heading to Stanford, where they helped torment UCLA during my high school years.

Jason got off to a better start in the NBA but both he and his brother had solid careers over the past decade. Nothing spectacular but anytime you have put a decade's worth of time in the NBA, you've accomplished your dream.

His announcement today simply means one thing. Our climate is better suited for a gay male athlete to come out. There are many straight allies in the press and more in the locker rooms who have openly said they'll support a gay athlete. Some may still be uncomfortable with it and that's okay. The only way you become comfortable is realizing it's around you and opening your mind regardless if you agree or not.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Johnathan Franklin: Definition of a Dorsey Man

Most people know Johnathan Franklin as The Mayor, the nickname he earned at UCLA when he showed he had political aspirations and a desire to improve the city he loved. For me and others, I know Franklin as Jet Ski and a kid wise beyond his years.

Franklin's going to be drafted in the second or third round today as one of the first running backs off the board. His journey to the NFL was different than Robert Woods because while Woods was an HS All-American, Franklin had to work a bit harder to get there.

Back in 2007, I saw Dorsey play to get a glimpse of their safety Rahim Moore, one of the top recruits at his position. But Franklin got my attention as well as he ran for over 200 yards and helped Dorsey win. I hit him up right away and arranged for an interview over the weekend. It's still one of my favorites just because I was amazed at how mature he was.

(Photo by Evan Barnes)
He talked about inspiring kids to not seek the gangbanging lifestyle as well as thinking about how he would give back to his area. Growing up in the notorious Jungles (for my non-LA folks, that area in Training Day where Denzel Washington did most of his work), he was inspired to not just make it out but encourage others to do the same. Guided by his faith, he spoke like a 22-year-old at 17.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Robert Woods: Prep Dreams to Pro Realities

I remember the first time I saw Robert Woods play.

Halloween 2008. I was feeling sick and since I didn't want to cover a late game, I drove to St. Bernard's in Playa Del Rey since Serra and St. Bernard played at 5 p.m. I had already seen the LA Times hype Woods up as perhaps the most versatile player in the area and he was only a junior.

It only took a few minutes to see why Woods deserved it.

He caught a tipped pass for a touchdown and nobody was even close. Then he did one of those special plays only he can do. He was back to return a punt and let the ball drop since St. Bernard was close to him. Normally a player lets the other team down it so the offense can take the field but Woods, with his instincts and speed, picked the ball up and raced up-field nearly untouched for another score.

All this was in the first half. After the game, I did my interviews and wrote my feature (above). The best thing I heard was that Woods was as driven as a practice player as much as he was on the field. He was a hard worker and he loved to be exciting.

Flash forward to now. Woods has a great chance to be drafted Thursday in the first round thanks to an All-American career at USC where he leaves the all-time leader in receptions. Over the last five seasons, he has been one of the best players on the field (whether HS and college) and he's made an impact on and off the field.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kobe's Tweets and My Game 2 Thoughts

Apologies for the brief hiatus. I left my computer cord at a school this weekend and I'm waiting to get it back. Til then, I've been borrowing charges from friends when I can. On to the thoughts.

I guess I'm in a minority of thought that seeing Kobe Bryant tweet his thoughts during Game 1 of the Lakers-Spurs series wasn't a problem. NFL players do it often during the playoffs and I've seen Jordan Hill tweet during Lakers games in the season. But since it's the playoffs, every little thing gets magnified.

Since my comp was down, I barely noticed the tweets except for ABC mentioning them. Did I care what Kobe was tweeting? Not really because I know he'd be saying it on the sidelines. This is a guy who lives and breathes hoops. His IQ is sharp and his insight should be valued. Especially since Kobe has been so guarded with his thoughts/methods.

Alas, it became a bigger story than it should have. Mike D'Antoni was stupidly asked that question by the media (like he has time to check Twitter during a game) and he bristled at it. For once, I side with the coach I love to needle. He has every right to feel that way and I think it's a stupid, gossipy type of question.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Podcast: NBA Playoff Preview

I joined my friend Paris Lay on his podcast Thursday night to discuss the first round of the NBA playoffs. I'm probably going to eat my words on picking Chicago in 5 over Brooklyn but as much as I respect Brooklyn, I think Chicago might surprise them.

We also discussed some of the big stories of the season. It's a long listen so feel free to enjoy in the background. Clearly all of us are still distracted by what's going in Boston so this will be here when you have some time.

Check out Paris' site "A View From Paris"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Video: Lakers are Playoff Bound (And Everybody's Celebrating?)

The Lakers didn't just make the playoffs, they got in as the No. 7 seed. This cursed season will continue at least for one more week and I like their chances to at least make this series with the Spurs interesting. Both teams are veteran based and have young guys who can contribute and change the tempo.

I should add that one factor I forgot to consider in my video. Gregg Popovich vs. Mike D'Antoni. This might be an underrated match-up considering that Pop has owned Antoni for the last decade and remember, when the Suns beat the Spurs in the 2010 playoffs, Alvin Gentry was coaching that team.

Maybe my boys are doomed worse than I thought? Hard to play chess with a chessmaster when you barely know how to use what you have against other coaches.

Either way, enjoy the video. Enjoy Gary Clark Jr., who I'm bummed came out here Tuesday night and I missed his show. I'll be on a podcast later tonight talking about the playoffs and I'll post that link when it goes up.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jackie Robinson: Honoring vs. Remembering His Legacy

I saw "42" this past weekend and I went in worried they would sanitize his story and Hollywood-ize to make it some feel good piece. I was wrong because it was quite solid.

While the movie didn't introduce anything new to me, it did show the strength Jackie had as well as how much he needed the support of his wife, Rachel, to be his rock. It showed that Jackie often had to go it alone and despite having Rachel, a few teammates and legendary newspaper scribe Wendell Smith by his side, he had to face the abuse and loneliness in 1947.

I loved how it showed that Jackie only didn't fight back because he was told to, not because it was his nature. We have a way of thinking that our civil rights icons were passive aggressive and it demeans their struggle by making them appear weak compared to folks like Malcolm X, Stokley Carmichael and the Black Panthers.

(Let's clear up that logic now. 1) He grew up in California and attended UCLA so he wasn't uncomfortable speaking up to White people.  2) He was court-martialed in the Army for refusing to moving to the back of the bus and later acquitted. 3) Branch Rickey told him that in 1949, he was free to be himself. Not fighting back is a tactic, not a sign of weakness or lack of passion)

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Moment of Truth: Kobe is Mortal

This is not a eulogy for Kobe Bryant or his career.

This is, however, a moment of truth where we finally realize that one of the greatest athletes of our generation is mortal. Mortal after rupturing his Achilles tendon in one of the worst Los Angeles sports moments in a decade.

I saw the injury and figured it was serious but nothing he couldn't come back from. I've seen Kobe play with injured fingers, bad knees and any assortment of small injuries you can think of. When he misses a game, it surprises you. I figured he'd be back on Sunday.

I was wrong. So wrong that when I left the movie theater 3 hours after seeing the Lakers win and heard the news, I called my girlfriend feeling numb. One of my church members did pass away Friday so to compare reacting to an injury to death seems foolishness. But the numbness I felt on that drive home was about as bad as a non-death or personal moment can be.

Seeing Kobe fall was like seeing Derek Jeter fall in the ALDS last year. A bad injury this late in an iconic career is still beatable but harder. It's Father Time's greatest ally - old injuries means longer recovery and a reminder that he's undefeated.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering Ralph Wiley

As his son posted above on Twitter, today is the birthday of Ralph Wiley, one of the greatest sportswriters we've seen. For Black sportswriters, he is perhaps the best of the post-civil rights era and influenced so many of us to write with style and cool.

Even though I didn't realize it at the time, I feel blessed that I got to read Wiley at ESPN during my college years before he passed in 2004 at the young age of 52. Re-reading those pieces the last couple years, I see a writer who wasn't afraid to speak his mind and did it while humanizing his subjects. He was intelligent but never lost his edge or his ability to relate to the audience he wrote.

I realized today that I saw in him what I see in James Baldwin. Both were insightful, clever, perceptive, sympathetic and had the balls to say what must be said, not what you think you should say. Baldwin was a witness to his era and so was Ralph Wiley. That's why they still speak to me today - they didn't just record or respond to history, they enlightened it so we could learn from it later.

Wiley's influence can be seen in writers like Jason Whitlock, Scoop Jackson, JA Adande and Bomani Jones. It's seen in The Shadow League, one of my favorite sports websites of the past year. It's seen in former ESPN colleagues like Bill Simmons, who never fails to praise him, and more.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

LA Lakers: No Sleep Til Playoffs

Your weekly video update not only features an underrated Jurassic 5 jam but an understanding of why I'm so cool, calm and collected after Kobe's gem last night and Pau Gasol had one of his best all-around games.

1 game above Utah. 3 games left. The Lakers have to at least go 2-1 to put themselves in the playoffs, assuming Utah doesn't go 3-0.

Also, I end by speculating on where Kobe should finish in the MVP voting and on the All-NBA teams. Here's a hint, it's nowhere near first, second or third as King James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony locked those spots.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thank you Michigan and Louisville: A Fitting Finale

There's only two words I can say after Monday night's national championship. Thank you.

Thank you Michigan and Louisville for giving us the best national title game in five years and one of the most thrilling games of this lackluster college season. It's what the game should be - letting guys play, heart and hustle all over, and guys stepping up in great ways.

Thank you Spike Albrecht for a great 1st half performance. 17 points and doing what players train to do: Be ready when your number's called.

Thank you to Florida Gulf Coast being a shot of adrenaline in this tournament with one of the best Cinderella runs ever.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Prep Report: Arcadia Invitational Notes

When I used to write at my newspaper, I had an old column called the Prep Report. It was my commentary on things high school related and I loved being able to use it for features and observations.

One of my favorite things to cover was track and field. I didn't know much about the sport beforehand behind loving it at the Olympics but it quickly became one of my faves the more I was around it and learned how deep the community was around it.

It's a shame that I never made it out to the Arcadia Invitational due to one reason or another but there are few meets better than that one in the country. That's why I followed the results on Saturday when I saw them on Twitter. Two things stuck out to me right away.

1. State 100/200 meter champ Khalfani Muhammad is in ridiculous shape already. The Cal-bound senior won the 100 Arcadia in 10.46 seconds and even though they have a fast track, that's remarkable considering he won state in 10.44 last year. He may not approach that time again til the CIF Finals or the Masters Meet but that's a scary thought to imagine him that much faster.

The last two juniors who won the 100 meters ended up repeating so unless an injury happens, everyone else might be playing for second in two months at state.

2. Defending state long jump champion Adoree Jackson has already had a heck of a school year. A state championship in football where he had two ridiculous plays in the state game. A CIF sectional championship as a role player for the basketball team. How does he get ready for his encore?

By running the 3rd leg on Gardena Serra's 4 x 100 relay team that ran the fastest prep time in the nation (41.45) and jumping 24 feet, 6.5 inches into a slight wind for the longest distance in the nation. If there's a better athlete in the country, good luck finding him. Jackson's the latest marvel from a school that gave us Robert Woods and Marqise Lee and trust me, you'll want to know him.

Serra's come close to winning a boys state title twice (2010 and 2012) and I hope this is the year they do it. They've got 2 outstanding relay teams, Jackson in the long jump and defending state 110 hurdles champ Lloyd Siscard, who won the 300 hurdles at Arcadia (37.62).

I'm sure it'll be another fun season and I'll be watching as much as I can. The next big meet out here is at Mt. SAC on April 19/20.

Louisville vs. Michigan Preview

And then there were two. Louisville survived a tougher than expected Wichita State. Michigan overwhelmed Syracuse with excellent shooting/passing/youth. I'm ready for an exciting title game tonight.

I've been a fan of watching the Cardinals set up their full court press and execute it masterfully. I've a fan of Russ Smith and Michigan's Trey Burke. I love Gorgui Dieng protects the hoop and alters shots. I love Mitch McGary blossoming and showing his energy/post presence.

Michigan was a team I really liked at the beginning of the season and Louisville's replaced them at this point in the season. In a year where parity has reigned and no team really distinguished themselves, it's great to see two teams that play exciting both ways instead of teams who show why college basketball was way down this year.

Not to pat myself on the back either, but I predicted Louisville getting to the finals and Michigan in the Final Four. It's why I'm in shape to win 2 of my brackets. Not that you readers care or anything but it's cool to me.

Here are my keys.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thoughts on Brittney Griner and Mark Cuban's Offer

I posted this yesterday but I'll leave it here for folks to consider. Mark Cuban was a gracious businessman/promoter in offering Brittney Griner a chance to play in the NBA Summer League. But instead of that, perhaps he should look for other ways to directly impact women's basketball than try to compare them to men, which could be a flawed endeavor.

I also made an analogy to the Negro Leagues and what founder Rube Foster wanted. He wanted his teams to be on equal footing with the major leagues, not just be a farm system for poachers. I'm not saying Cuban is a shark by any means, but that energy could be spent on promoting the women's game on its own merit, not a publicity stunt for a player who doesn't deserve it.

In 2013, women don't need to compete against men to prove how great they are if they already do it in their own leagues.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Word on the Auburn Scandal: We're Focusing on the Wrong Things

Mike McNeil, 26, and Gene Chizki at an Auburn practice in 2009.
After reading Selena Roberts' piece on what may or may not have transpired at Auburn in 2010 and 2011, I think the reaction from most people have been misguided. Most of the focus I've seen has been on violations on whether or not players' grades were changed or if guys were paid.

When I read and re-read this story, my concern was for Mike McNeil and if his civil rights had been violated during his arrest for an alleged robbery and if Auburn had left him and his family out to dry considering the questionable evidence against him.

According to Roberts' piece, McNeil - whose trial starts on April 8 - was not read his Miranda rights and has pleaded innocent to all charges of armed robbery. The five witnesses who testified to being robbed have given conflicting stories on how many were involved. Yet for 14 hours, McNeil and four others were held in a holding cell or spoke to authorities while they were told their coaches would arrive for them.

It appears also that McNeil's car was used in the robbery. Three of the men - Dakota Mosley, Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin - confessed to their role and Goodwin was sentenced to 15 years. McNeil might have been a victim of poor judgment and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Those are facts. Now here are my concerns.

The Cost of Leadership (Louisville Inspires, Rutgers Deflates)

Louisville guard Kevin Ware's leg injury remains one of the most horrifying thing I've never seen. I enjoyed hearing his interview on ESPN Wednesday as he described his emotions as well as how he felt the love from all over the country.

Former Rutgers head coach Mike Rice was shown on camera showing some of the worst abuse I've seen on camera. The language didn't bother me as much because I find it part of a bigger problem with coaches in general, but the kicking, grabbing and throwing balls? That should've cost him his job right away.

One case is a freak incident. The other case is a freakout of ridiculous and terrible nature. Both symbolize where leadership can elevate a situation or make it worse.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Celebrating Shaq's Night (and Shaming Those Who Didn't)

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Tuesday was a great night to be a Lakers fan. Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34 was raised to the rafters and it felt like being at another Lakers parade where the Diesel wielded the mic to the loud applause of the faithful fans.

While most media/Lakers fans rightly celebrated the moment, some chose to still stir up dead embers of his feud with Kobe Bryant. Exhibit A: Bill Plaschke's commentary from last night. Instead of praise and fond memories of an era he covered, he nitpicks what didn't happen between the duo.

Now imagine me yesterday. All day I was thinking about how great it would be to see No. 34 go up to the rafters. Even when I called my girlfriend last night after leaving my youth group, she didn't answer because she was watching the ceremony. That's the kind of love L.A. had for the successful eight years of Shaq.

Plaschke missed the chance to focus on it. Nevermind that Kobe made a video praising Shaq and Shaq mentioned Kobe in his own video tribute. Since 2006, Shaq and Kobe have made peace. They may not be "buddy buddy buddy all up in your face" but they're far more respectful and comfortable than they were before.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Welcome to L.A. - Steve Alford/Andy Enfield Have Work to Do

I have a message for new UCLA coach Steve Alford and USC coach Andy Enfield. If you want to last here in Southern California, you need to work hard to keep the best players here. Be a presence and make your program attractive to the players first - then the fans will come. But I'm torn on them both.

Alford's a good hire because he wins in the regular season. Alford's a bad hire because he's flopped in the tournament with his best teams (3 No. 3 seeds bounced early). Enfield's a good hire because his style of play is fun to watch and lets guys plays. Enfield's a bad hire because he's inexperienced as a head coach despite his experience as an assistant in the NBA.

So time will tell. Let's see what happens in 2-3 years when their recruiting pays off. In the meantime, my friend and colleague Rahshaun Haylock reports on Steve Alford's opening presser over at Fox Sports West.

Oh and Reggie Theus might be the most sleeper hire a team can make this year. Cal State Northridge did a fantastic job taking a chance on a coach who knows the LA prep scene and can definitely recruit solid kids to a solid program. 

Here's a fine feature on Theus from Jason Lewis, my successor as Los Angeles Sentinel Sports Editor.

Kershaw's Court: Hail the Young Prince

I've slowly been getting into a baseball groove since my March was consumed by the Lakers and March Madness. I used to get hyped for Opening Day and it didn't hit me until Saturday when one of my NABJ colleagues came down for the weekend since he was hoping to see his Giants beat my Dodgers to kick off 2013.

Well Opening Day came and went while I was at work and during a break, I saw that Clayton Kershaw not only threw a 4-hit masterpiece with 94 pitches, but even helped his own cause with a 414-foot bomb to centerfield to break a 0-0 tie. My friend told me he couldn't believe that ball was going over the fence until it finally landed.

The last Dodgers pitcher to throw an Opening Day shutout? Fernando Valenzuela in that magical 1981 season. The last pitcher to throw a shutout and hitting a home run? Bob Lemon in 1953. The fact that it was against the hated Giants made it even better.