by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
First Quarter: Should the NBA Even Be Resuming the Season?
I’m looking forward to basketball returning on July 30. I’ve marked my internal calendar and am prepping my stomach and liver for the celebratory beer and nachos that I’ll gorge myself on when I watch the Pelicans and the Jazz and the Lakers and the Clippers take the court on Thursday on TNT.
Our country, and our country’s leadership, has bungled its response to the pandemic worse than J.R. Smith bungled Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. We are far from normal, nor are we close to coming out of the woods on this virus - and while a sense of normalcy would be great, the fact is that it will be used as an excuse for more normal operations, which will undoubtedly put more people at harm. There’s a lot more to say on this topic - about our failed leadership, how politics and profits have somehow superseded health and medicine - but for now, we’ll leave it at this: no, the season should not resume. PT
Having had many text conversations with Preston since the NBA shutdown in March due to COVID-19 I’ve always been more optimistic about the NBA returning and completing its season than he has. I just hate the idea of something that was almost finished not going incomplete – especially when these athletes have worked so hard toward a championship.
If I felt it was truly unsafe to continue the NBA season, I’d be right there with Preston in saying the NBA season should not be resuming tonight. I didn’t believe Major League Baseball should’ve attempted a season and here after just three games we have an entire franchise with half its time testing positive for the virus. I also don’t believe the NFL, which is also not doing a bubble scenario, should risk it. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s been the leading voice on the pandemic in this country even though our presidential administration has tried to shut him up or make him look bad, has said he believes a bubble scenario could work for sports. I’ll take Fauci’s word on it, he is the expert after all.
And the bubble does seem to be working. The league announced on July 20 that in the first week of testing that 346 players had been tested and not a single one tested positive for the virus. That’s amazing. I haven’t seen numbers published in the week and a half since then, but that would seem to suggest things are going well with the bubble. JS
Second Quarter: Who's Going to Win the Championship? Will There Be a Asterisk?
I’ll address the asterisk part first.
In most cases I don’t think the 2019-2020 NBA season champion should have a metaphorical asterisk despite the lengthy delay to the season due to COVID-19 and the bubble aspect of its resumption. In some ways winning the championship in this upcoming postseason may produce one of the hardest fought champions ever due to the layoff. I still believe you’re going to see a team win the title that likely would’ve won it anyway like the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, etc.
The only way I’d really consider putting an asterisk on the champion this season is if the league ends up with a really surprising champion like any team currently outside of the top eight in each conference who might wind up in the postseason during the eight-game season resumption and get on a hot streak and do the unthinkable.
My NBA Finals prediction is honestly the same right now as it would’ve been in March on the day the NBA halted play – Lakers vs. Bucks. These two teams have been the class of their respective conferences all season and I don’t think the hiatus and bubble are going to change that. The Bucks being a younger team may have a bit of an advantage with the layoff and getting warmed up quicker, but my champion pick for the 2020 NBA Finals is the Lakers and LeBron James being crowned champion with his third different franchise. JS
It’s impossible right now to predict if this season can even survive again to the point of the playoffs, much less what players will be healthy enough to play, or who will and won’t have to leave and re-quarantine due to family emergencies. Gun to my head, I would say the Bucks, but we’re in uncharted territory, and this is literally anyone’s ball game.
If the question is whether or not the championship is cheapened due to the virus, no, not at all. The Raptors’ championship doesn’t have an asterisk because they faced the Golden State Warriors’ version of the Monty Python Black Knight.
But this season should be noted in history, because 2020 is a historic year. The league and its players are having to do what no one has had to do before them, in a world that is entirely different from the world six months ago. There are different - and perhaps more challenging - circumstances this year. If anything, this year’s champion should get a few extra bragging rights. PT
Third Quarter: What Do You Think of Players Opting Out of NBA's Resumption?
2020 has presented the world - and America - with a multitude of challenges and opportunities, and everyone has the right to choose how to tread those waters.
The obvious and infectious elephant in the room being the coronavirus: if a player doesn’t feel safe playing, if they have family who is immunocompromised, or if they simply don’t want to have to live alone in a hotel for three months, those are all valid reasons to not enter the bubble.
The first half of 2020 has also opened the door for much-needed conversations around race, police brutality, and equity in the United States. We saw earlier this month what can happen when a star athlete uses their platform for change, when Jonathan Irons was released from prison, almost halfway through a 50-year sentence, thanks in large part to Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore’s decision to sit out last season to focus on getting his conviction overturned. We’ve also seen a number of athletes announce projects to address voter suppression among minority populations - an issue that, in an election year in which protesters have filled streets in major cities across the country to combat police brutality, is just as important as ever.
If an athlete feels this is their time to stand up for social justice, then more power to them: I’ll cheer them on just as I would if they were on the basketball court. PT
It is up to each individual to decide what’s best for them and their health. If players are concerned about their health and safety and the health and safety of their family due to COVID-19 I can’t blame them for not wanting to resume the season. Even with the bubble and the lack of positive COVID-19 tests I’m not sure I’d want to head to Orlando to play basketball in August through October unless I felt my team had a really good chance at winning the title – meaning I’d be much more likely to want to go if I were on the Lakers than the Wizards, Nets or Spurs. Also, some of the players – like Trevor Ariza (pictured) of the Portland Trail Blazers – opted out because the typical NBA offseason months are their only time they can spend with their children and that’s admirable.
When it comes to social justice issues it’s admirable for players to want to do all they can to help out, but I do take the stance that athletes can likely do more for the issues by playing and making sure their opinions on the situation are heard. That’s going to be easier to do when the media is covering you than if it’s not.
Through all of the players opting out the only one that really bugged me was Davis Bertans of the Washington Wizards because he didn’t do it because of COVID-19 or because of social justice issues. He simply opted out because he’s going to be a free agent and doesn’t want to risk injury, which admittedly he does have a past of, and cost himself money. The Wizards supported Bertans decision, and the team is unlikely to qualify for the postseason anyway, but that reason seems a bit more selfish than any of the other reasonings players have given for opting out of the NBA’s return. JS
Fourth Quarter: Who Should Win NBA's MVP?
To be honest, the first six months of the 2019-2020 season feel like they were six years ago, and my memory of anything pre-COVID is mush. Can we just do what Time Magazine did with its Person of the Year Award in 2006 and give it to everyone? Maybe make the MVP trophy a mirror or something? After this year, I think everyone deserves it. PT
Well, Preston that was a cop out answer if I’ve ever seen one.
No offense meant toward James Harden, who led the league in scoring again this season and did so by almost four points, but most experts seem to feel it’s a two-man fight for MVP between Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, last year’s winner, and four-time winner LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. Each player has led their respective team to a sizeable lead in their respective conference. Antetokounmpo is third in the league in scoring, where as James is 11th. James is the league leader in assists per game with 10.6 (more than a full assist ahead of the next guy), which I find very impressive as he’s truly become a great facilitator. Then you have Antetokounmpo also at third in the league in rebounding with 13.7 per game. In baseball there’s a statistic called WAR (wins above replacement) that is essentially dedicated to deciding the best player in the game. Basketball’s version of this is PER (Player Efficiency Rating), which is something I hadn’t paid too much attention to until recently, but Antetokounmpo is the best in the game according to PER, with James coming in at ninth overall. If I had an MVP vote I’d be writing in Antetokounmpo for the second straight year.
And that Preston is how you discuss an MVP award. JS
by Philip Price
I'm not a psychologist, but it's difficult to imagine THE Dennis Rodman as a 59-year old man at all nonetheless one who remains as lost as he's ever been. I was a huge NBA fan in the mid-‘90s and only recall Rodman as being the most confident human being I'd ever seen walk the planet. Granted, I lived in Smalltown, USA growing up and we didn't see much beyond the gas station grocery stores and local catfish restaurants, but with “Rodman: For Better or Worse” it quickly becomes apparent that even at the height of his fame, Rodman didn't know who he was, he just knew what he liked and did whatever he could to preserve that feeling of being the center of attention; he did whatever he could to preserve affection even if there were no real feelings of care behind it. In seeing the full, complex story of Rodman through the eyes of this older, more seasoned, but still incredibly damaged man what is most startling about the contradiction between Rodman's public persona and who he genuinely seems to be as a human is that at 59 he still hasn't found a way to reconcile the two.
"But when Dennis had graduated high school he was 5'9 and hadn't played a full season of organized basketball in his life. So, what am I missing? In a year and a half span after graduating high school, Dennis Rodman would grow nearly a foot."
No disrespect to Michael Oher, but if we're being honest, I would have much rather seen “The Blind Side” based on Rodman's life and been delivered said narrative via 1980s Bokchito, Okla. as opposed to early-2000s Memphis, Tenn. I'm just sayin' - if you thought Leigh Anne Tuohy was questionable - wait until you meet Pat Rich. The fact one can write the sentence, "At the most tender and pure stage of his life, the 22-year old college basketball star found comfort and solace in a white family and their 13-year old son," then it would only seem inevitable that once Rodman decided to truly let his arrested development tendencies shine that we would get sentences such as, "A summit between the U.S. President and the leader of North Korea might not have happened without Dennis Rodman." That's a true statement. It doesn't make sense, but it does speak to how Rodman became a victim of his own facade.
"When only the destination remains, what's left? Whatever was desperately pursued along the way ... was it found?"
There is undoubtedly a tragedy to the life of Rodman and it's hard not to come out the other side of ‘For Better or Worse’ not feeling bad for the guy despite the fact he's left his children with the same abandonment issues his mother left him with. It's difficult not to wonder how much timing had to do with who Rodman became and, if in today's society, would he have felt the need to act out as much as he did in the mid-‘90s or would there be more of an understanding around his mental health? More people around him who cared more about his well-being and how he managed himself than they were with how they could enhance their own well-being. The documentary portrays Rodman as a gentle soul not ready for this cruel world; a naive young man who mistook the family he felt he'd made in Detroit for the first real support system he'd had in his life only to eventually have to come to terms with the fact this was a business and that family would seemingly always be nothing but another thing that consistently turned its back on him. Rodman has never really, completely grown up and for a number of justifiable reasons, but as one watches this man who is nearing 60 recount his life in a condensed fashion it becomes more and more clear that all Rodman desired was acceptance, but that he's always been so frightened at the idea of actually receiving it that he would push every button in an attempt to make it as difficult as possible to accept him completely.
"The most valuable thing in the world is a voice and he had one."
by Julian Spivey
Over the last month or so in NASCAR there seems to have been more interest on what’s wrapped around the racecars than who’s driving them or their performance on the track.
More controversy over what’s on a racecar struck the sport this week when it was announced the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Mustang driven by Corey LaJoie would be sponsored by the Patriots of America PAC, a political action committee advocating for the reelection of President Donald Trump and the car would prominently feature ‘Trump 2020’ on its hood and rear quarter panel.
The Patriots of America PAC sponsorship for the No. 32 team will be a nine-race deal with the paint scheme debuting in this Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the sport’s biggest races of the season.
According to Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports, the PAC paid Go Fas Racing $350,000 on June 29, but it’s unclear if that payment is for the full nine-race deal or if there will be future payments.
The PAC previously sponsored a car driven in the Xfinity Series by Joe Nemechek for Mike Harmon Racing earlier this year. It’ll be the first time President Trump’s name had appeared on a Cup Series car since Reed Sorensen had a ‘Trump/Pence’ paint scheme for Premium Motorsports on his car just days before the 2016 presidential election.
Of course, Go Fas Racing being sponsored by a Trump for reelection committee has caused backlash toward the team, the driver and the sport. It’s the second time in the span of a month that something wrapped around a racecar has caused a lot of backlash for the sport after Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. raced a car with Black Lives Matter on it at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on June 10. That car was not actually sponsored by the Black Lives Matter group but was a statement by Wallace and his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team with racial injustice being a major topic at this time in the country.
Go Fas Racing team owner Archie St. Hilaire said: “I’m honored to be part of the President’s re-election campaign through the Patriots of America PAC. As a Trump 2020 supporter, this team will do everything possible to secure victory on and off the track electing President Donald Trump to a second term. Let s bring this country back and Keep America Great!”
LaJoie, who currently sits 27th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings with one top-10 finish in 15 races, said: “With an estimated 75 million NASCAR fans out there, I was surprised that about 15 million of those fans are not registered voters. I will give my best effort to get NASCAR fans registered to vote, through our team efforts on and off the track. When they see the car, hopefully it makes them race to the polls in November.”
After receiving backlash to his car’s newest sponsor LaJoie has turned his Twitter profile to private and according to popculture.com turned off the comments to his latest Instagram post and cropped out the ‘Trump 2020’ decal in a photo that featured his car.
NASCAR teams rely so heavily on sponsorships that it can be hard for a small team like Go Fas Racing to turn down opportunities, though it’s clear the owner of the team fully supports President Trump. But many are claiming fans should take it easy on LaJoie for the sponsor of his car.
While drivers aren’t always in control of the sponsors on their rides they are, of course, in control over whether or not to drive for those teams. This is a hard situation for LaJoie to be in, there’s no doubt about that. If he were to refuse to drive under this sponsor, he would simply be replaced with another driver who would. However, that is an option he could take. And after the courage we’ve seen from at least one other driver in the Cup Series within the last month it’s valid to question his decision to drive the car with that sponsorship.
My belief is that NASCAR should make it policy within the sport that cars cannot feature sponsorship of politicians. That would keep fans from getting angered by seeing names of politicians on cars, it would make the sport stop seeming like it’s siding with one political party or another and most importantly it would keep drivers like LaJoie from either receiving backlash or having to make potentially career altering decisions.
NASCAR does have control over team sponsorships. In 2017 driver Carl Long was forced to remove a sponsor logo for Veedverks, a Colorado-based marijuana vaping company, from the car he owned and competed in.
There’s always going to be the chance that some sponsors are going to be controversial or offend people. Many didn’t like Wallace’s Black Lives Matter scheme (though, again, it wasn’t a sponsor) and I’ve always despised the National Rifle Association sponsoring cars driven by Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and others in the past, as well as sponsoring races at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s going to be nearly impossible to please everyone. But it makes sense for the sport to want to eliminate political candidates from using cars as political ads, especially in today’s climate. Hopefully, the sport will look into that for the 2021 season.