A Step Forward For ESPN…?

With the exodus of Skip Bayless from ESPN’s program, First Take, the network needed someone to “debate” Stephen A. Smith on the program. Even though the “debates” are staged – it cannot be that Stephen A. and his partner disagree on EVERY situation – there need to be two people there to present two points of view. While I was away, ESPN resolved that problem by assigning Max Kellerman to the role of Stephen A. Smith’s “adversary”. I like Max Kellerman certainly more than I like Skip Bayless who normally could get me to change the channel in about 90 seconds of his monologues. Kellerman is bright and articulate; I think he will make First Take easier to take.

    [Aside: The woman who “hosts/sets up” the “debates” on First Take is Molly Qerim. The fact that she has been able for all of the time she has been in that role to sit there and not grab a baseball bat and do damage to either or both of the “debaters” speaks to her equanimity.]

The WNBA season began in mid-May and the final regular season game will be on September 18. In terms of the calendar, their season is half-over. Already, two teams in the Western Conference – the LA Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx – have clinched playoff berths. On a calendar basis that is equivalent to a team in MLB clinching a playoff spot right around now. League advocates might point to these two teams as examples of excellence in the WNBA; league detractors might say that the talent imbalance in the league is a joke. Take your pick – if you care enough to do so.

The LA Sparks’ record after 21 games was 20-1; they have hit a rough patch and have lost their last two games so they sit atop the West with a 20-3 record. During last year’s NBA season the Golden State Warriors started the year with a 24-0 record. By the time the Warriors were 15-0, they were a big enough story that they got lots of attention in the midst of the NFL season. The Sparks started their season similarly; so I ask you to stay away from Google and do the following:

    Name 3 of the starting players for the Sparks.

    OK, name any 3 players on the Sparks’ roster.

    Name the Sparks’ coach.

Last December when the Warriors were on their season-opening win streak, almost anyone could have aced that quiz. The WNBA has been around for 20 seasons now and it simply has gained no traction in the US sports assembly. In fact, for the regular season in 2015, the WNBA had its lowest average attendance in league history. In 2015, average attendance for a WNBA game was 7,318. Back in 2009, average attendance was just over 10,000 per game so the league has seen attendance drop about 27% in the last 6 years. Somehow, I do not think that the hugely unbalanced results to date this year are going to help those attendance numbers and reverse the downward trend.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that UFC fighter and WWE ‘rassler, Brock Lesnar, had failed a drug test proximal to his last UFC fight. A report yesterday said that his “B Sample” also came back positive so it would appear that there is not a “laboratory error” there. Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times viewed these circumstances through his customarily unique lens:

“USADA says rassler and MMA fighter Brock Lesnar might have violated the UFC’s anti-doping policy.

“Translation: They found a foreign object in his urine sample.”

In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett (UNLV) with the first overall pick. He lasted one year in Cleveland, went to Minnesota for a year and then on to Toronto for his third season. He was a free agent again this summer and the team he signed with was the Brooklyn Nets. That signing screams “Desperation” on both sides of the transaction.

    The Nets’ roster is a mess. Bennett is nominally a power forward and the other power forwards on the roster today are Trevor Booker, Chris McCullough, Thomas Robinson and Luis Scola. Let me be kind here; if Bennett as a former overall #1 pick in the draft cannot find a spot in the rotation for that team, he may need to call it a career at age 23.

    Here are Bennett’s stats over the past 3 seasons:

      Cleveland: 12.8 minutes/game; 4.2 points/game; 3 rebounds/game
      Minnesota: 15.7 minutes/game; 5.2 points/game; 3.8 rebounds/game
      Toronto: 4.4 minutes/game; 1.5 points/game; 1.2 rebounds/game

Any time a team has the overall #1 pick in a draft, it runs the risk of taking a player who does not live up to the potential ascribed to him. On rare occasions, the overall #1 pick contributes to the team the way a cadaver might. I am not going to spend the time and effort to look over the history of NBA drafts to look at all of the overall #1 picks but two really bad ones come quickly to mind:

    Michael Olowakandi – drafted sometime in the mid-90s
    LaRue Martin – drafted in the early-70s

At age 23, Anthony Bennett still has a chance to elevate himself off this ignominious list. However, the Brooklyn Nets may be his last serious chance to become a regular in a substitution rotation that will get him the time on the floor to do something with his game.

Finally, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that points out something I did not know – and would not have guessed:

“Numbers Crunching: Much was made this week over World Series results favoring teams with home field advantage – won again at the All-Star Game by the American League. But in the age of wildcards, isn’t the more dramatic trend that the team with the best regular-season record has won the Series only five times in the past 30 years?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports……..