Tag Archives: Jack Nicklaus

Riffing on Rafa Nadal, the disgusting paparazzi, and my woeful Jets’ debut

It’s very rare that as a sports fan, you love your favorite player/team and you love their big rival.
How many Lakers fans love the Celtics? Did fans of Jack Nicklaus also adore Arnold Palmer? Did anyone root for both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier?

But even though I’m as big a Roger Federer fan as you’ll find, I can’t help but love Rafael Nadal.

The Spanish lefty won another Grand Slam title Monday, beating Novak Djokovic in a rain-delayed final in four sets. It was a terrific match, and I found myself cheering for Rafa the whole way.

Why? Because he’s such a good kid. Polite, well-mannered, intelligent, and always gracious. He made a point of talking about 9/11 last Saturday, because he knew he was in N.Y. He goes out of his way to praise Federer. He plays his rear off on every point, and plays incredibly passionately.

Nadal was the subject of the famous back-page Vanity Fair Proust questionnaire this month. Just listen to some of his answers:

Q: What living person do you most admire?
Nadal
: Just normal people from my hometown, from my country
Q: Which talent would you most like to have?
Nadal: Roger Federer’s ability to play tennis easily.
Q: If you could choose what to come back in (in the next life), what would it be?
Nadal: I would be me again. I am having a lot of fun, really
Q: What is your motto?
Nadal: To improve, be a better person and player, and to try my best.”

He’s really a great kid, and a credit to his sport. We’re so lucky to have both he and Federer on top right now, and don’t look now, but Nadal is starting to get into the debate of “Greatest of All Time” himself.

***Sometimes a four-minute video stands for itself. This is the nature of celebrity, 2010. I’m no fan of Kate Moss, but how can you not empathize with her after watching this disgusting piece of tape?

**The less I say about Monday night’s Jets game, the better. I waited nine months for another meaningful game, and this is what they produce? Nine stupid points in a 10-9 loss to the Ravens?

Everyone overreacts after Week 1. I’m not going to wildly overreact. Still …

– Mark Sanchez looked awful. He didn’t have a lot of time in the pocket, but when he did he did nothing.
– The Jets’ defense made so many stupid mistakes I couldn’t count them all. Penalty after penalty, and they couldn’t get off the field on third down at all.
– If Kris Jenkins is hurt again, they’re in deep trouble.
– What the hell is Braylon Edwards doing on the field goal block unit?
– Bad, bad loss. And the Patriots come in next Sunday. Jets could be looking at 0-2 very quickly.

An inglorious end for the Great Gretzky, and a hilarious Ricky Gervais rant

gretzky

Sports fans have been incredibly lucky over the last 30 years.

Let’s say you’re like me, and started to become interested in sports around 1983 or so. Just since then, we have been privileged to watch the greatest basketball player of all-time (Michael Jordan), the greatest tennis player of all time (Roger Federer) and, apparently, the greatest golfer ever (Tiger Woods. I say apparently because I loathe golf and refuse to care or pay attention to it).

Maybe you could get an argument on a few of those from people. Some will argue Rod Laver or Pete Sampras is better than Federer, and there was a golfer named Nicklaus who seemed to be pretty good once.

But no one, I mean NO ONE, argues that Wayne Gretzky is the Greatest Hockey Player of All Time.

Name a record in the NHL record books, and he holds it. I don’t know if I’m so into hockey because of No. 99, but he certainly had a big part of me loving the sport as a child (And yes, there will be hockey on this blog. That and college basketball are my other winter passions. )

I loved it that my beloved New York Rangers were Gretzky’s final team; I can still see him skating around MSG one final time after his last game in 1999, as the adoring masses cheered.

Fast forward 10 years, and Gretzky is hardly being adored. Thursday he resigned as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the midst of a truly messy ownership squabble, even by NHL standards. Gretzky may have been fired by a new ownership group, which is battling the NHL to own the Coyotes (why anyone wants such a pathetic franchise is beyond me, but hey, it’s not my money).

So instead of being pushed out, the Great One jumped. Truthfully, his stint at coaching was a disaster. In four years he had a 143-161-24 record, and Phoenix missed the playoffs all four years. Did he have much talent to work with? No. But he certainly didn’t make the talent any better.

Gretzky joins a long list of superstar players who were bad coaches. Magic Johnson. Ted Williams. Larry Bird. Bill Russell. These guys were legends, but they just couldn’t translate their brilliance onto others. I remember Magic vividly becoming angry after one Lakers practice, saying he just couldn’t understand why Point Guard X didn’t see that coming, or why he didn’t make that play.

The answer, of course, is that the guy wasn’t Magic Johnson, and Magic never could come to terms with coaching players who just didn’t have his gifts.

I hope Gretzky is back in the NHL at some point soon; he deserves a hallowed place in the game for as long as he lives.

But no hockey fans in Phoenix are boo-hooing his departure today. As a coach, Wayne was a failure. Maybe that’s the real reason he left: He knew he wasn’t getting it done, and it was killing him.

***I know there are a legion of Ricky Gervais fans out there, but I’m not really one of them. The British comedian who starred in the original The Office”  in England just isn’t usually my pint of ale.

But I thought this was truly hilarious, a brief discussion of the terrible lessons we get from nursery rhymes:

A man called Bolt

bolt

Lots of things have happened in this sporting summer. Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which thrilled me. The Yankees pulled away in the American League East. Also good.

But I think the greatest phenomenon of the last few months is a 23-year-old Jamaican guy who right now is miles beyond everyone else in his sport.

We’ve become so immune to numbers in athletics. Some guy hits 65 home runs, and we yawn. A running back rushes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. Meh. A basketball player scores 50 points in a game? Pretty good, but … next.

What Usain Bolt is doing right now at the World Championships of track and field in Berlin is a rare and beautiful thing. Every generation, we get an athlete who takes his sport to the next level. Babe Ruth did it in the 1920s.

Muhammad Ali had the 1960s and ’70s. Jack Nicklaus was right there with him in his sport. Some kid from North Carolina named Michael Jordan brought his game into another stratosphere in the 1980s and ’90s, while Michael Phelps brought those in the water up on his shoulders into a glorious place.

What Bolt is doing, in smashing his own world records in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, is something remarkable. He’s destroying the idea that track records are broken in increments, hundredths of a second at a time.

He beat his own 100-meter record by .11, then broke his 200-meter by the same mark. Do you know how ridiculous that is? It’s like a halfback running for 350 yards in a game, or a baseball player hitting 81 home runs in a season.

It’s laughable, how much of a mockery Bolt is making the competition. Poor Tyson Gay ran the 100 this week faster than any American ever had, posting a 9.71. And he wasn’t even close to winning, as Bolt’s 9.58 blew him away.

His margin of victory – 0.62sec – in the 200 is greater than the sum total of winning margins of the five previous winners of the world 200 title.

As many have said this week, Bolt is simply redefining what the human body can do. Consider:

– His 19.19 in the 200, when broken down by 100-meter increments, were a 9.58 and a 9.61. So he equaled his own world record, and then missed it on the second 100 by .03 seconds. Nobody ever runs the second 200 that fast.

– We’ve always been told sprinters have to short and stride quickly. Bolt is 6-foot-5 and takes long strides. When he runs, he’s like a gazelle, attacking the pavement and the air around him like it owes him money.

– He can still get better. In both the Beijing Olympics and in the 200 this week, Bolt slowed a little in the last five meters. He can go faster. He can run a 19.05 200, and maybe a unbelievable 9.4 in the 100.

Listen to veteran track and field people talk about Bolt, and it’s like they used to talk about M.J. when he first started with the Bulls.

TV announcer Ato Boldon just keeps screaming “Oh my God!” when talking about Bolt. Michael Johnson, never known for humility, can’t get over how “ridiculous” Bolt is.

Is the kid a little cocky? Absolutely.  He says things like “I’m on my way to becoming a legend,” and talks about being up for knightood.

But wouldn’t you be a little in love with yourself if you broke the a world record in the last FIVE major meets you’ve competed at?

Now … the big elephant in the room here is this: Is he clean? So far, he’s tested positive for nothing more than excitement. Track and field has been plagued with so many superstars who flash on the scene, then are disgraced by drug testing results.

Ben Johnson. Marion Jones. Justin Gatlin. Just to name a few.

I don’t know if Bolt is clean or dirty. I pray that he’s doing all this legitimately, because it’s such a good story. But a fellow scribe of mine, Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle, wrote a great piece saying that Bolt is providing so much joy, we shouldn’t race to assume he’s guilty.

“You can’t rob me of my joy,” Solomon writes. “He is the most amazing, entertaining athlete on the planet.”

I couldn’t agree more. If it turns out he’s cheating, well, I’ll be sad because he’s such a remarkable runner.

For now, I’m just going to enjoy this Jamaican kid lift everyone higher, higher and higher.