Saturday, January 31, 2015

Richard Sherman's next contract

This week's edition of Sports Illustrated featured an article written by Seattle Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman. In it, he spoke of a lot of things, but the first paragraph was an attention getter.

Addressing his up-coming contract situation, Sherman said Seattle GM John Schneider had posed an interesting question to him. "Who are you going to be when you get paid?"

To which Sherman replied, "I'm not playing football for the money....... I'll be the guy who has $50 million in the bank but plays like he has $5". Besides philosophizing on other matters, #25 made sure to mention several of his backfield teammates. There was the Lion, The Chill Guy, The Example, and even a dog. Taken out of context, this could sound like a side-show that P.T. Barnum would have been proud of.

Sherman failed to mention how the rest of his interview with Schneider went, so here's a make believe version that might have been appropriate.

Schneider. "OK then. I'll take you at your word about the money not being important".

Sherman. "Ummm...."

"As the GM, it's my job to keep track of player stats, and yours seem to have fallen off lately".

"Pardon me?"

"You only had 8 passes defended and 4 interceptions this year. In 2013 you had 16 and 8. The year before 24 and 8. It is what it is. Here's the stat sheet if you want to look at it".

"Yeah, but that's not fair. I'm the best cornerback in the league. Everybody except Darrelle Revis will tell you so. The reason my stats are down is because the other quarterbacks are afraid to throw in my direction".

"I'm not allowed to talk to opposing QBs to get their opinions on such things, but even assuming you're right, the fact remains your defensive teammates are making most of the plays while you're on cruise control".

"Something is seriously wrong with..."

"Hold up. You just told me it's not about the money, but in the same breath mentioned $50 million dollars. I'm not exactly sure what to make of that, but perhaps we can find some mutual ground".

"Such as?"

"If you'll play as hard as you said you would, then I'm prepared to offer you an incentive-laden contract. What could be fairer that that?"

"I don't think I like where this is going".

"Just listen, Richard. You're about to be a free agent, with or without another Super Bowl ring, depending on whether the Brady Bunch kicks your ass or the other way around. But I'm still the GM."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Remember what happened to Golden Tate after last year when he wouldn't listen to reason? He wound up with the Detroit Lions".

"OK, you have my attention".

"So here's the deal. I'll guarantee you the minimum salary, which will be around $500,000 next year".

"Hey, that's chump change".

"Hush. In your years here I see where you've been in on about 100 tackles a year. We'll pay you an additional $10,000 for every tackle the stat people credit you with being in on. Keep up the production and that's another million bucks right there".

"I'm not sure...."

"Hear me out. I'll throw in another $100,000 for every pass you break up and $250,000 for every interception. If you get your numbers back up, that could be another 2 or 3 million".

"But how can I do that if they don't throw my way?"

"We've been over that Richard. You're a smart guy, you'll figure it out. Further, I'll toss in another million if we get back to the Super Bowl any year you remain under contract to us in the future. If things work out, you could easily be making $5 million a year or more".

"I was thinking of a little more than that".

"Stop it. Did you take any math classes while you were at Stanford?"

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"If you had, you would realize that while a potential $5 million a year is only one tenth of the ridiculous $50 million figure you (LOL) mentioned, it is also one million times more than the five bucks you also mentioned in the same breath. And need I remind you millions of SI subscribers just read your own article where you said the money wasn't important?"

"I'll have to think about this".

"Please do so, but you might want to be quick about it. After the Super Bowl, the phones will start ringing around the league. It's always a hectic time of year for players, agents, and GMs trying to sort things out. And hey, given the fact you've been a west coast guy all your life, maybe a change of scenery would do you good. I hear the Lions are hard up for cornerbacks these days. You could reunite with your old buddy Golden and Detroit's such a lovely city".

"Whoa. I'm beginning to see the light".

"Thought you might and one more thing".

"What's that?"

"Get a haircut. Out of your entire 10 man group photo in SI, you're the only one with girly locks. Good grief Richard, if you want to say you've matured, then start looking like it".

"Damn, I knew it was a business, but this is rougher than I thought......"

Friday, January 30, 2015

Katy the Pooh and Tig(g)er too

Well then. In her never-ending, and sometimes shameless quest for pub(l)icity, the Poohster girl, AKA Katy Perry, has done it again. Somehow she wormed her way into the pre Super Bowl hype wearing a "football" shirt that looked like it could have been worn at Woodstock after taking one too many hits of acid. Or perhaps a nouveau riche, but deranged sports fashion show. I'm telling ya -- that woman was showing off some serious balls. Ahem.

Ms. P, who likely doesn't know the difference between a field goal and field corn, nevertheless tried to "frame" her 15 seconds into a recent controversy. There would be nothing "deflated" about her, she quipped. Very (gag) cute, and entirely believable, especially when it comes to her ego. How many PSI is THAT at these days?

On another front, there's the one and only Eldrick Tont Woods, AKA Tiger. Sound the trumpets and bring on the legions of groupies to once again pay homage. His Highness is back out on tour.

Remember a few days ago when Tiger got a tooth or two accidentally knocked out by a cameraman when he showed up to watch his significant other in a snow skiing contest?

Now harkon back to all his years on tour, when he and his caddy would become highly indignant -- even outraged -- if a fan dared get too close to the action, or impede their progress through the "gallery" in any way. "Clear a path, you lowly peons, and know your place. Can't you see we're working here?"

But at the base of the ski slope, Tiger did exactly the same thing. He had to get "inside the ropes", replete with police protection no less, the better to embrace his beloved after her descent down the mountain. And guess what? A cameraman was just trying to do HIS job. Tiger got in the way and wound up going to the dentist for some work.

You know what I call that? Justice.

Now Woods is playing at a tournament sponsored by Waste Management. That seems appropriate, given his performances, or lack thereof, in recent years.

After only one round, Tiger is a whopping 9 shots behind. Incredibly, he's still front and center on the TV highlight reels. Reporters continue to flock to him for interviews. What is the matter with these people and how bad does this guy have to get before the spell is finally broken?

He's not going to catch Jack and his major record. Forget that. It's over. While Woods can continue to wallow in his sizeable endorsements, his immediate concern would appear to be merely making the "cut" in a tournament, let alone winning it. His driving is still erratic, and his short game at times embarrassing. But every once in a while, he'll pull off a great shot.

Tiger chalked up his dismal opening performance at Phoenix Open by saying this was only his second tournament in the last six months. True enough. But what's also true is that golfers don't exactly have to round back into "game shape" like NFL or NHL players, which only comes after facing "live" competition for a while. Last time yours truly looked, there was very little high speed contact amongst participants on the PGA tour -- though that would indeed make the sport infinitely more entertaining to watch. Can you imagine? Bubba cracks Rory in the neck with a 7 iron. Tweet. Two stroke penalty for high-clubbing. Phil sticks his putter where Jason's sun doesn't shine. Tweet. Personal foul. A 15 yard penalty to be assessed on the following tee for Lefty. The possibilities are endless. But how much fun would THAT be to watch? And talk about TV ratings going through the roof......

But back to Tiger and his "only second tournament" alibi. Horsefeathers. Any pro golfer will tell you they don't play against the competition, but against the courses themselves. Besides God-given talent, what does a professional golfer, especially one with the experience of Woods, need to get his game to the elite level? A few things.

A set of golf clubs. Lots of balls, no offense Katy, a variety of courses to practice on, and some serious time practicing on the driving range, chipping and putting greens, sand trap shots, etc. Woods had all of this at this disposal. Tell me he can't show up at pretty much any golf course he wants and play free all day, and I'll tell you I don't believe it. Hell, they'd probably pay him to be there.

So when he comes back out on tour, his "rusty" alibi doesn't hold much water. Either he can still play at a high level, or he can't. And few would doubt Father Time isn't exactly working in his favor these days. The young guns keep coming and, in their minds, Tiger is no longer the fearsome presence he once was, but rather just another old famous dude they KNOW they can beat.

Now 39, Eldrick Tont Woods' crossroads will come at the Masters in a little over a month. This is the most prestigious tournament in the world, and there is ZERO doubt everything Tiger does from now until then will be geared toward him having his A-game in order for Augusta National.

If he wins it, Katy (there's that name again) bar the door. His legions will be delirious with excitement. Talking heads will spontaneously combust on the air. TIGER IS BACK!!!!. The replays will go on for weeks, months, years. The entire Middle East may well have long since settled their differences with everybody living in peace and harmony before the Tiger video clips stop. Let's just say it could be a while.

If he's competitive, but doesn't win, his fans will still hold out hope. Even making the cut, no given, could be considered a sign of progress. Perhaps better things await him in the future. Could be.

But if he totally crashes and burns on a course he is so familiar with and has spent weeks prepping for -- than that would present a whole different scenario, which could basically be summed up in five words.

Stick a fork in him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Marshawn Lynch (non)interview

"I'm only here so I won't get fined". Over and over again, Seattle Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch said the same thing to a throng of reporters on "media day" leading up to the Super Bowl.

Was what he did OK or not? There's two different ways of looking at it. Let's consider them both.

1) Most of us can likely agree with Roger Goodell on at least one thing. Playing in the NFL is a privilege -- not a right. Regardless of how good he might be, when a player enters the league and starts collecting those hefty paychecks and enjoying the perks that come along with it -- he also agrees to play by NFL rules.
Like it or not, one of those long-standing rules has been players will make themselves available to the media on certain occasions. After all, the beat writers, columnists and talking heads are just trying to do their jobs. Interviewing players gives the media an in-depth look into the sport which they can then pass along to the public. And who would dispute that the media has been instrumental in the NFL becoming as wildly successful as it is? If nobody wrote about, broadcast it, and provided the hype over the years, it's a pretty safe bet the league wouldn't have grown into the all-consuming monster it has become.
Along that line of reason, it's likely also safe to say the prices wouldn't have spiralled into the world of the absurd. This includes tickets, parking, concessions, and especially player salaries.
Guys like Marshawn Lynch wouldn't be making anywhere near the preposterous sum of $8,000,000 a year to run with a football if it weren't for how the media has propelled them (and the game) into "stardom" over the years.
So in that sense, one would think the least Lynch could do was talk frankly to reporters for an hour or so here and there, especially on Super Bowl media day. Snubbing the same people came off as Lynch being an unappreciative ingrate. Dare I use the phrases ego maniac, self entitled, and all-around smug SOB?
People that share this opinion have a valid point.

2) However, there's a flip side to this coin. It could certainly be argued that the NFL's mandate itself has not only been wrong all along, but egregiously so. Name the profession and in no other walk of life can one be compelled to talk to reporters if one doesn't wish to.
Sure, reporters can and will pry with their cameras and microphones to get a story here and there, but any individual certainly has the right to decline an interview, regardless of how "hot" the issue may be and the public craving for the news. Forcing them to do so would seem tantamount to a sort of Inquisition and isn't America supposed to be above such tramplings of basic human rights?
If someone doesn't want to talk for whatever reasons, then so be it. Good grief, even those accused of the most heinous crimes are afforded their right to silence under the long-standing Miranda ruling.
Yet jocks like Lynch face a choice of either making an appearance to answer questions he clearly doesn't wish to, or getting zapped with a hefty fine if he refuses to show. This, while knowing full well every word he utters will be dissected and spun to whatever advantage some would make of it. One misstatement and the media vultures will eat him alive and broadcast it to millions -- repeatedly. Certainly he should have a right to decline such an interview, considering the potential risks involved.
People that share this opinion have an equally valid point.

So Marshawn Lynch split the difference. He showed up, but only offered the same response to the variety of questions -- as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Like him or not, it was actually quite a brilliant tactic. Technically, he abided by NFL rules, but didn't allow himself to get caught up in the barrage of withering questions and follow-ups the media was after. This is no more or less than your average politician does during a debate -- with one notable difference. They won't answer questions either -- but they've perfected a way of convincing the idiots they have. Lynch was just more blunt about it. Maybe there's a reason after all why his salary dwarfs those of governors, senators, and the Prez. Well played, Marshawn.

Ah hell, he's probably going to get fined anyway. Goodell and company will figure out a way. And I, for one, didn't much care for his holier-than-thou attitude, so I hope he does.

Further, as long as the the NFL is into stupid rules, maybe they should make a new one. No pimp shades allowed during press conferences.

Is that too much to ask?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Bonehead Files. Detroit Lions' media and fans

Yours truly was a maniacal Detroit Lions fan for over 30 years. From a little kid until I was in my 40s. From Alex Karras and Tiger Stadium, to Barry Sanders' final game in the Silverdome. I really don't know how many games I attended and how much money I spent over that period in my loyalty to the Honolulu blue and silver, but it was a lot -- both ways.

But when Barry walked back in '98, I shared his epiphany. We paid our dues and tried as hard as we could, but enough of this nonsense. This clown franchise isn't going anywhere, so why bother? Turns out, the last 16 years have served as proof positive of that. Not a single playoff win, let alone getting anywhere near sniffing the Super Bowl. Sanders left untold millions on the table, and likely the all-time rushing record. Yours truly probably saved enough for a new car, or maybe beer money over those same16 years. Never did do the math on that and pretty sure I don't want to know anyway. And, of course, there's the matter of not having gotten my hopes up, only to be disappointed 16 more times. How much is that worth? So no, yours truly has never been to a game at Ford Field and has no desire whatsoever to do so, even though he's been offered free seats on occasion by season ticket holders that could't make it for one reason or another. Done is done.

Yet the madness goes on. In Detroit, every year is THE year as proclaimed by their media and gobbled up by the still gullible fans. Guess what? No, it's not. It never has been, wasn't last year, and a look around the league strongly suggests the Lions will remain mediocre in the foreseeable future.

As for who should be inducted into the Bonehead Files? Actually, there are several more worthy candidates.

It was breathlessly reported that Lions' QB Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards in the recent Pro-Bowl game. OMG, the second-most ever. Sounds great, until one considers the next to nothing defense in such contests. The D-line doesn't rush. They play patty-cake with their O-line counterparts. No blitzes allowed. The receivers can pretty much run wild in the secondary because nobody's going to hit them hard. Exalting Matthew Stafford for chalking up big passing yardage is like idolizing an NHL center/forward for scoring a hat-trick in their similar "no defense allowed" All-Star game (the last one had a score of 17-12). Welcome to the Bonehead Files.

The Super Bowl between Seattle and New England has yet to be played and the NFL draft is still months away. But already there are those in the Lions' camp offering projections. Who should they take with their first round pick, assuming he's still on the board when Detroit's turn comes?

The Lions have had mixed success over the years when it comes to the draft. They've grabbed some players that turned out well, but many others that were busts. The "Lions' brain-trust" could fairly be considered an oxymoron more years than not in their history. But never fear, there are also those in their media who will analyze things for the fans. One such story had a possible draft pick graded out as having "Pro-Bowl" potential. Nevermind this guy hasn't even been drafted yet, if the Lions even pick him, much less played a single down in the NFL. We're talking Pro-Bowl caliber in the future while the guy is still on a college campus? What's next? The Canton Hall of Fame possibilities of a kid on his JV high school team? Welcome aboard the good ship Bonehead.

All in all, oh my, the Koolaid season seems to have started earlier than usual this year in Detroit with their beloved puddy-tats. And if their fans, goaded on by the above-mentioned media, REALLY think next year is going to be the one -- well -- jump on in -- again.

The Bonehead Files await you. It takes a little getting used to admitting you were an idiot all along, but after a while the truth always has a way of setting you free.

Cheaper too.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Coach K, Pat, and Geno

First of all, congrats to Duke hoops coach Mike Krzyzewski on winning his 1000th game. Yet it has been mistakenly reported that Coach K is the winningest college basketball coach of all time. Not quite.

That honor still belongs to Pat Summitt, long known for the dynasty she built while with the Tennessee Lady Vols. Amazingly enough, Summitt became the head coach of the Lady Vols while still only 22 years old. She had several players merely one year her junior. After 38 years of wildly successful coaching, Ms. S would have to step down from her duties, while only at the relatively young age of 59, due to early-onset Alzheimers.

Yet she had compiled a whopping 1098 victories. Had illness not struck, no telling how many more she could have racked up. To this day, still only 62 years old, given her love for the game/job, Summitt may well have coached many more years. Over her career at UTenn, her teams averaged 28.9 wins per year, and had an overall winning percentage of 84.1.

On the other hand, Coach K is closing in on 68 years old, though he looks much younger. He's coached for 40 years (two more than Pat) and is still almost 100 victories shy of her record. To be fair, there is little question that men's college basketball has been, and remains more competitive than the lady's version. Typically, there are only 2-3 teams of gals that are considered "elite" every year, while the guys side is usually much more wide open. Put another way, top ladies' programs have a lot of "gimme" games against far inferior competition, while the boys have to pretty much "bring it" in most games or risk being defeated. In that respect, Summitt enjoyed a distinct advantage for many years. Her Vols played a lot of games against schools that didn't even take ladies' basketball seriously. No scholarships were offered and they were mostly whatever rag-tag team of walk-ons they could cobble together.

Then again, Coach K doesn't show any signs of slowing down any time soon and, given his Duke program, it's not much of a stretch to imagine them winning 25 games a year for the next 4 or 5 while he remains head coach to surpass Summitt. Time will tell if he decides to hang around that long. Given continued good health, this will totally be up to him. It's not like he's going to get fired or jump to the pros.

Yet another gorilla will be entering the room soon. One Geno Auriemma, head coach of the UConn Lady Huskies. The diminutive Italian stallion could wind up being the best of them all -- actually by a wide margin. Yes, he's just closing in on 900 career victories, still a hundred behind Coach K, and two hundred back of Coach Pat. That's a lot of games still to be won.

But he has several things working in his favor. Summit coached 38 years. Krzyzewski 40 and counting. Auriemma has coached but 30 and is only approaching his 61st birthday. He looks like he's 45, maybe 50, and clearly still loves what he does. His career winning rate to date is an astounding 87%. Better than Pat, and far better than Coach K. And don't look now, but his team is -- again and still -- elite. They're currently ranked #2 and it wouldn't surprise many if Geno and his Lady Huskies won yet another national title this year. Even if not, 30 win seasons are almost a given to that program in the near future, considering how cream of the crop preps have to get in line to go to UConn. Winning breeds more winning, and the beat goes on.

Do the math. Auriemma's 7 years younger than Coach K and only 100 victories behind him. Coach Pat will forever be stuck at 1098.

Health allowing and the fire remaining, if Geno decides to keep coaching for another 10 years or so -- and his teams continue at the blistering pace they appear on track to do -- he could set the all-time win bar so high nobody will ever get close again.

After all, Coach K, Pat, and Geno all got head coaching jobs when they were quite young. That doesn't happen much anymore, particularly at top programs. And when they started, there wasn't much money in it. They did it for the love of the game.

Nowadays, guys and gals serve many years as "assistants" learning their craft before getting a shot at a head coaching job.

And their salaries have gone through the roof once they get there. Even if they could, nobody's going to keep going through the rigors of coaching for 30-40 years when they have a bazillion dollars in the bank.

So Mike might pass Pat. And Geno might well pass them both before he's done.

And that will pretty much be that. Nobody else will get close again. Ever.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Maria Sharapova and the screaming

Maria Sharapova is a lot of things, not the least being the #2 ranked ladies' tennis player in the world. She seems bright, well-spoken, and humble enough. Also not too hard on the eyes, especially if one has a preference for tall, blond stick-girls with very large bank accounts.

But she's also a screamer and Sharapova is in full-howl mode at this year's Australian Open. Again. Every single time she strikes a tennis ball on the court -- she shrieks. Every serve, every fore and backhand -- it doesn't matter. At times when she hits a bad shot, she'll shriek when she first strikes it -- then again when it doesn't go where she wanted it to. A double scream in the course of less than half a second.

While yours truly definitely appreciates Ms. Sharapova's talents, it becomes extremely difficult to watch her play. I mean, what is a fan to do? We want to hear the sound of the rackets striking the tennis balls and the crowd reaction, etc., so the "mute" button isn't the best option. But who wants to be subjected to somebody shrieking every two seconds? This can get very old -- very fast.

Does Sharapova act the same way in real life? Without getting into the industrial strength ear protection that would likely be necessary in the boudoir for a male suitor, does she get that vocal when performing routine tasks? When driving a car, does she shriek every time she hits the brakes or signals a left/right turn?

Imagine her ordering breakfast at a restaurant. "I'd like a (SCREAM) glass of orange juice. One (SHRIEK) poached egg, a half order of (YOW) wheat toast, and a small side of (AIEEEE) hash browns." Chances are, the waitress would think she had a lunatic on her hands. "We have a problem. Security to Table 6."

But in the whole scheme of things it could be worse. Much worse, actually. What if, instead of shrieking, Sharapova had the same problem with flatulence? You know, farts.

Every time she struck the ball on the court, she ripped off a beauty. BRRRRRTZ. That would change everything. After a few hundred of those, forget the earplugs. They might have to evacuate the stadium and bring in a HazMat team to fumigate and decomtaminate it. This could definitely lead to longer matches. And who would want to pay big bucks to sit in the stands while having to wear a gas mask while some tennis player (and #2 would take on a whole different meaning) was soiling her nethergarments every 5 seconds or so?

It could even escalate. A squadron of fighter jets might scramble to check out the mysterious brown mushroom cloud rising above Melbourne. OMG, it's a terrorist attack. Fire at will. This could get out of control.

Yours truly once had a large outside dog. I built him a double-insulated two-room dog house, a regular canine palace to sleep in. I loved that boy, but he would bark -- all night long. The neighbors complained. Then I found a vet that did a "debarking" procedure. Quite painless, and it worked. My boy lived to be a ripe old age and enjoyed a lot of comforts and companionship along the way, but he had been muted. It was best for all.

It's probably not realistic to consider Maria Sharapova having the same procedure done because, after all, I'm pretty sure she would never settle for a two-room house, no matter how fancy it was.

But something really needs to be done about her incessant shrieking.

Are muzzles allowed on the pro tennis circuit while they're in action on the court? If not, they should be. In the case of some players -- mandatory.

With any luck John McEnroe would endorse them. Who better to be the poster child for such a product?

Just a thought.....

The amazing Atlanta Hawks

Many thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would zoom to the top of the NBA's Eastern Conference when Lebron James "went home". So far it hasn't happened. And the East isn't exactly stacked with great teams like the West. In fact, out of 15, only 5 are above .500 as this is written.

The Toronto Raptors have shown well, as have the Washington Wizards. The Bulls in Chitown remain an enigma. They have scads of "talent", but who knows how they'll play on any given night?

The rest of the conference -- all ten of them -- vary from mediocre to downright terrible.

Then there are the Atlanta Hawks. Who saw them coming? Currently, they far and away sport the best record in the East at 36-8, including having won their last 15 in a row and counting. And it's not like they're just beating up on weaklings. They have a 14-2 record against teams from the mighty West. Just last night they easily dispatched the Oklahoma Thunder who have been on a roll themselves since getting a couple of their superstars back from injury.

What's somewhat unusual is the Hawks don't have a single superstar on their entire roster. Out of the 15 members of the squad, the highest paid is making $12 million. Sure, that's a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to "superstar" contracts elsewhere. Kobe Bryant made twice that much this year and he's a shell of the player he used to be. Plus, he hasn't even been able to stay healthy in recent years. He's out again with another season-ending injury on a terrible team to begin with.

For that matter, fully 10 of Atlanta's 15 earn less than $5 million. So how can it be that the Hawks have the best record in the entire NBA, not counting the Golden State Warriors? (The GSW are also somewhat surprising, but not that much. While others have received most of the hype, they've quickly and quietly assembled a formidable squad themselves.)

Quick question: Who's the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks? The majority of people don't know. Turns out, it's a guy named Mike Budenholzer. Hardly a household name like many of his peers.

Budenholzer was a typical high school and small college jock. Very good, but not good enough to make it to the "big leagues". So after graduating, he played and even coached for a pro team in Denmark for a couple years. Then he made the best decision of his life. Somehow he got a job with the San Antonio Spurs as merely a video technician. A couple years later, he was promoted to assistant coach. And for the next 16 years, he would learn under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. He was there when the Spurs won 4 World Championships. That was one helluva long apprenticeship, but few would doubt Coach Pop has proven himself a master of developing the ultimate in team play. Who better to learn from?

It appears to have rubbed off because the Hawks now play in much the same way. Unselfishly. Everybody knows their jobs and are expected to do them. While the Spurs had their fair share of "stars" over the years, none ever had an "I" problem. It was always about the team. It remains so to this day. That could squarely be attributed to Popovich. He would settle for nothing less and every player got treated the same.

Budenholzer has brought the same philosophy to the Atlanta Hawks, and look where they are now. The players have "bought in" and, so far, remain humble. Though they lack superstars, they have enough talent that, when playing hard as a cohesive unit, can get the job done -- against anybody. Winning 28 of their last 30 can hardly be chalked up to a lucky streak. Further, they seem to relish doing the "dirty work", sometimes known as playing hard-nosed defense. It takes a lot of energy and comes with few accolades, but any coach from preps to pros will tell you having a team willing to work as hard on the defensive end for stops as on the offensive one for stats, is a huge asset. It takes the right kind of coach to sell it, and the right kind of players to actually do it.

Perhaps the last team we've seen like this were the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Their motto was "going to work". And it paid off. They defeated the heavily favored Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. The Lakers had "star" power, but for the most part the Pistons were a bunch of guys that were cobbled together after other teams failed to see their value as individual players and let them go for little in return. But given the right coach, one Larry Brown at the time, who could get them to come together with a collective "junk-yard dog" mentality and -- well -- the rest is history.

Since then, only 5 teams have won the NBA title. The above-mentioned Lakers (2) and Spurs (3). The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics grabbed one apiece. And we all remember the Miami Heat's two-peat just a couple years ago. Actually they won another one back in 2006 before Lebron and Chris took their talents to South Beach for a total of three.

So can the Hawks win the title this year? It's possible, but not likely. Though it's a given they'll make the post-season, they also have little battle experience when things get down to the nitty-gritty dog-eat-dog world of the playoffs. Even if they make it out of the rather weak East, whoever emerges from the slaughterhouse of the superior West will be a formidable opponent indeed.

But here's rooting for them. After all, when's the last time Atlanta was able to celebrate a world championship in any sport? I don't remember either, but it's definitely been a while.