by Julian Spivey
I woke up on Tuesday, July 27 to a text from my wife that read: “Something crazy happened in [the] Olympics.” I hadn’t seen anything as I was waking up a bit earlier than I normally would before going to work to watch the gold medal softball game between Japan and the United States and I didn’t want that game to be spoiled by getting online or on social media.
I later found out that the “crazy,” a word my wife later apologized for in text as a “poor choice of word” when she found out the true reasoning for the surprise was that Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast – I’m comfortable saying male or female – of all-time decided to withdraw from the women’s team final event at the 2020 Tokyo games for what she cited as “mental health” after the event.
Biles is the second high profile athlete to withdraw from a major sporting event in 2021 citing their mental health. Tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was representing her home country of Japan in these Olympics and was eliminated in the third round of the tournament, withdrew from the French Open earlier this year to focus on her mental health. She then opted not to compete in another tennis major tournament Wimbledon for the same reason.
Anytime the topic of mental health is approached it’s a sensitive topic. If you don’t side with the person (athlete in this case) you’re going to seem like a jerk. That was the situation I immediately found myself in on Tuesday when I felt like Biles let her teammates down. I don’t like feeling like a jerk, but all these hours later I haven’t really changed my opinion on it and it’s something that’s been on my mind all day.
We all have mental health issues from time to time. If anyone claims they have never had a moment of poor mental health in their life they’re lying to you. I don’t have a problem admitting to you that I take medication daily to help keep my mental health in check. So, I can feel for Biles situation, but I also feel badly for her teammates. I really do feel like she quit on them. If she had stated before the Olympic games that she couldn’t go through with the competition for mental health reasoning it would’ve been different for me because the team would’ve had time to prepare, and this wouldn’t have been thrown upon them in the middle of an event. If she had pushed through the team event – I’d have to think Biles even at her absolute worse is still a better gymnast than most – and then backed out of the individual events I wouldn’t have felt like she let anybody down. I never felt like Osaka was letting anybody down because she didn’t owe anything to anyone. Tennis is an individual sport though.
Biles doesn’t owe the Olympics anything. She doesn’t owe the fans watching from home anything. She doesn’t even owe the United States anything. She’s given so much of herself to her sport and in turn the sport hasn’t truly treated her kindly (that’s for another discussion though, but if you don’t know what I mean read up on both the sport changing scoring based on her greatness and then the disgusting abuse from team doctor Larry Nasser). Let’s just say you can understand why her mental health could use a break.
But I do feel like she owed her teammates Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum a finish to the event. There’s a great chance her teammates back Biles 100 percent and even if they don’t, they’re unlikely to announce any displeasure anytime soon.
It’s the team aspect that bugs me about it. You just don’t quit on your teammates in sports. Admittedly this is an old school sports view. It’s one today that I’ve been told I’m wrong about. It’s one I might change my opinion on in the future – I’ve done that from time to time when it comes to both sports and life.
Was Biles brave to back out of the team event? Hell yes, she was brave to do it! Because by backing out you have people like me taking issue with it. It’s never easy to do anything that could be considered controversial.
There’s conversation tonight about whether Biles might still compete in the individual competition on Thursday. That would truly only make backing out of the team event look worse. If her mental health needs work, it’s likely going to take more than 48 hours to get it right. Osaka took nearly two months off before returning to tennis. Now I’m fully aware nobody’s mental health is the same, but if Biles needs time take the time.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)
This was the toughest to choose from out of all the categories. That is why I saved it for last. I am picking Alabama Football because of the dominant run they had in 2020 winning their 18th national championship. Most of Alabama’s games were blowouts except the Florida in the SEC Championship game. Led by DeVonta Smith’s fantastic season, the Tide could not be stopped in 2020. EF
My choice would honestly be the Los Angeles Lakers and I am dumbfounded that team wasn’t even nominated, one because it’s the most recent NBA champ (and the NBA is a Big Three pro sport) and two because I honestly believe the team to be the most worthy – they won the NBA championship in a season unlike any other due to COVID-19 in a fanless, single location atmosphere unlike any other. How did this happen? My vote goes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in absence of the Lakers. JS
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady continues to prove himself right and the doubters wrong again. When he hit free agency, we should have known wherever he landed, that team would be an instant contender. That team was the Buccaneers, who under Brady, became the first home team to play and win the Super Bowl. By the way, Mr. Brady has seven rings now. Like or not, he is the GOAT of quarterbacks. EF
Simone Biles, Women’s Gymnastics
Simone Biles continues to redefine gymnastics every time she takes the floor. While there was no Summer Olympic games in 2020, we all can’t wait to see what she has in store in Tokyo in a few weeks. EF
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Justin Hebert had a great season for a Los Angeles Chargers team that is on the rise in the AFC. Hebert threw for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2020, which led him to winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Herbert has the potential to be a great quarterback in the NFL for a long time. EF
NCAA Men’s Final Four: Gonzaga defeats UCLA 93-90 in Overtime
Gonzaga defeats UCLA. This was an incredible game to watch as a sports fan. UCLA, an 11th seed battling toe to toe with a Gonzaga team that was not only going for their first national championship, but a historic undefeated season. UCLA tied the game in overtime at 90 with 3.3 seconds left. Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs banked in a three-point shot from near center court to give the Bulldogs the win. Although Gonzaga’s championship bid fell short, they still gave fans something to remember. EF
Record Breaking Performance
Tara Vandeveer passing Pat Summit for most wins in NCAA women’s college basketball history
Phil Mickelson proved that age is just a number as he became the oldest winner ever at a Major tournament by winning the PGA Championship in May. Much like Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2019 Masters, this win seemed to unite sports fans at a time we all thought Phil may never would win another major again. EF
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here you have the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, you have the reigning Super Bowl MVP in Tom Brady, who’s still breaking records and doing unthinkable things at an unthinkable age for a pro athlete, you have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner in Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (who has won three of the last four in that category) and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season, which has only been done eight times in NFL history and in today’s pass-heavy game is almost unbelievable. I think Brady is going to win this honor and honestly, he’s worthy, but I was so irritated that Rodgers won the MVP over Henry last year. When you run for 2,000 yards in today’s NFL that deserves more respect. Henry has my vote. JS
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
I’m conflicted when it comes to this one. A lot of me believes it should be Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic because he was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player of its most recent season and generally the MVP is where I’m going to go for an honor like “Best NBA Player.” However, what Chris Paul has done to help transform the Phoenix Suns from one of the worst teams in the league just two years ago (and a non-playoff team last year) to likely winning the NBA title has been amazing to see. I voted on the ESPYs a few weeks ago and voted for Jokic, but now I honestly think I’m switching my vote to Paul. JS
Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Can you imagine how bad it’ll look if Trevor Bauer wins this award in the middle of being on MLB administrative leave while being investigated for sexual assault? Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen. This is a weird batch of nominees. You have the 2020 National League Cy Young winner in Bauer (but not the American League Cy Young winner in Shane Bieber), you have the 2020 American League MVP in Jose Abreu (but not the National League MVP in Freddie Freeman) and you have Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager here solely based on his 2020 postseason performance for the champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Then there’s Shohei Ohtani who has set the MLB world on fire this season both at the plate and on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels. I usually wouldn’t want to give this honor based on just a half season of play, but the half season Ohtani has put in so far in 2021 is historic. He’s my choice. JS
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Connor McDavid has shown flashes of brilliance in his short NHL career. Many have called him Gretzky 2.0. McDavid joined Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to be named Hart Trophy (MVP) winner unanimously after McDavid scored an incredible 105 points in just 56 regular season games. (Note: the NHL regular season was reduced to 56 games due to the pandemic). EF
Scott Dixon, IndyCar
If you’re going by the most dominant than the winner should definitely be Lewis Hamilton, who has thoroughly dominated Formula 1 over the last half decade or more winning four straight championships and six of the last seven. But I feel like F1 is more car than driver and there’s less competition in the series than say NASCAR or IndyCar. My choice would be Scott Dixon, who won his sixth IndyCar championship in 2020 with four wins. I feel like NASCAR’s championship is too gimmicky with the playoff system to pick Chase Elliott over Dixon, but NASCAR is the most popular motorsports series in American, where the majority of ESPY voters will be, and Elliott is the most popular driver in NASCAR, so I bet he wins this honor – even with Hamilton being an overall Male Athlete of the Year candidate. JS
There’s been so much parity over the last year in golf that it’s hard to pick this award. The fact that Phil Mickelson is nominated is kind of laughable, he did become the oldest major winner in golf history when he stunned the sport at the PGA Championship a couple of months ago and that’s the sole reason he’s here, but other than that moment he hasn’t been good. He’s going to win this award though because of his mass popularity. Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters this year, it was also historical as he became the first Asian golfer to do so, but this one comes down to Bryson DeChambeau (who’s biggest win was the 2020 U.S. Open) and Dustin Johnson (who won the 2020 Masters). Johnson was also the 2020 FedEx Cup Champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year, so I definitely believe that gives him the advantage and he should win this honor. JS
International Men's Soccer
Lionel Messi had yet another incredible year for Barcelona Club scoring 38 goals for a total for 683 goals, most for one player with one club. Messi has also scored another five goals for the Argentina national team, giving him 72 goals for his native country. Now a free agent in club play, wherever he goes, the world will follow. EF
Novak Djokovic continues to dominate men’s tennis to the level of all-time great. His 328 weeks as the number one ranked men’s tennis player in the world is the most ever by a male tennis player. In 2020 and 2021, Djokovic won his eighth and ninth Australian Open title, which is an all-time record. He also became the third male tennis player to win all four Grand Slam single tournament titles twice joining Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. EF
Naomi Osaka is the reigning champion of the Australian Open and the US Open. In a short span of a couple of years, she has four single major championship titles to her credit and has become the number one female tennis player in the world. EF
Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith had an incredible year in leading the Crimson Tide to their 18th National Championship. In 2020, he had 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 total touchdowns becoming just the 3rd Alabama football player to win the Heisman Trophy, joining Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. EF
Odicci Alexander led the Cinderella run of James Madison Softball to the Women’s College World Series. She was the star of the Dukes in which they upset the number one (and eventual National Champion) Oklahoma Sooners. Then she led the Dukes to another win over Oklahoma State. The Dukes would be eliminated by the Sooners in the semifinal round, but thanks to the pitching efforts of Alexander, the historic run by James Madison was one college softball fans will always remember. EF
To see who takes home the awards, watch the 2021 ESPYs on Saturday, July 10th on ABC.
by Julian Spivey
This year’s NBA Finals will be a lot of fun in that both franchises will have a long-awaited title no matter which team win. The Eastern Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks last won an NBA title 50 years ago in 1971. The Phoenix Suns are one of 11 teams in the NBA to never win a title but have been around the longest of any of the title-less teams at 51 seasons.
I’m going to break down the NBA Finals position-by-position to try to determine whether the Suns of the Bucks have the edge.
Point Guard: Chris Paul (Suns) and Jrue Holiday (Bucks)
The point guard battle in this NBA Finals matchup is going to be epic. You have two veterans in Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday going head-to-head, both All-Star caliber players and both play with a fierce tenacity and drive to win. Holiday is a defensive monster, who recently made the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team, along with his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not only will he pester Paul on defense but will probably get a lot of time on the Suns biggest scorer Devin Booker. Paul is one of the smartest players in the league and can carve up a defense with both his passing and scoring. Paul averaged 16.4 points per game this season with 8.9 assists per game and shoots a ridiculous 50 percent from the field (his best mark since his fourth season). Paul is arguably the best player in the league without a title, this is his first Finals appearance. This matchup is close, but I must give the edge to …
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker (Suns) vs. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
Wow. This matchup is just as good as the one at point guard, if not even better. Once again you have two All-Star caliber players going at it in Devin Booker versus Khris Middleton. Booker is the Suns leading scorer at 25.6 points per game (which was good enough for 13th overall in the league). Middleton averaged 20.4 points per game this season, so he gives up five a game to Booker, but unlike Booker, Middleton is not his team’s top scorer (at least when Antetokounmpo is healthy). Middleton averages more assists and rebounds per game, but not by a large margin. Both players haven’t been quite at their regular season level in these playoffs either. Middleton gets the edge on the defensive side of things, which the Bucks having one of the best (if not the best) defensive starting-five in the game. This one is as close as it gets and I’m not going to be able to give an edge on this one, as a result.
Center: Deandre Ayton (Suns) vs. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
At center we have a young gun in Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton and a vet in Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. Ayton has looked like a beast at times during the postseason and seems to be playing his best all-around basketball at the most important time. Most of his points come right at the baskets, many of them being on dunks. Ayton averaged 14.4 points per game during the season and has seen that go up to 16.2 in the playoffs, with a high of 17.8 against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. He’s been averaging 11.8 boards in the playoffs too, which is more than one per game higher than in the regular season. Unlike Ayton, Lopez can come out and shoot the ball – even from beyond the arc. Lopez averaged 12.3 points per game this season and has also seen his numbers rise a bit during the postseason to 13.8 per game. Also, unlike Ayton, Lopez isn’t much of a rebounder, at least at this state in his career. He only tallied five per game during the season, but that has gone up by one this postseason. This one is close, but I’m going to ride with the young, athletic gun here.
Small Forward: Mikal Bridges (Suns) vs. P.J. Tucker (Bucks)
This is probably the least interesting matchup of the series, just because you don’t really have any current or former All-Star players in this matchup. According to Bleacher Report, Bridges mostly exists to compliment the starting Suns players around him. Bridges is one of the more underrated defensive players in the league, who some felt was an All-Defense snub. On the other hand, Tucker is a strong defender, as well. Bridges has been a better shooter than Tucker, especially when Tucker’s corner threes haven’t been falling. Bridges averaged 13.5 points per game this season, compared to Tucker’s 3.7. It might be the most boring matchup we’ve discussed thus far, but it’s also the least close.
Power Forward: Jae Crowder (Suns) vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
This one is obvious. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player before this season. So, even if he’s not 100 percent healthy he’s going to have the edge of Jae Crowder, who’s more of a complimentary type of player. Antetokounmpo injured his knee in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks and did not play in the final two games of that series. His team stepped up and won without him, but the Bucks certainly aren’t likely to have that happen against the Suns. Antetokounmpo is currently listed as doubtful for tonight’s game one of the NBA Finals, but Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer did say that he’s making “good progress.” He’s a must play for the Bucks to have a chance.
I’m not even going to pretend I know a whole lot about the benches on these two teams, but frankly seem to be weaker than most teams you see compete in the NBA Finals. Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson and Torrey Craig (who began the season on the Bucks and gets a championship ring either way) have done well for Phoenix in this postseason and the Bucks don’t have much other than Bobby Portis (who has been starting for the injured Antetokounmpo).
When it comes to coaching both Monty Williams of the Suns and Budenholzer of the Bucks are making their first finals appearances as head coaches. Budenholzer has a much better winning percentage throughout his career than Williams, which might should give him a coaching edge, but Williams truly has never had the chance to coach a team this good until this season.
Prediction: Suns in 5