The NBA Finals got off to an exciting start last night. Both teams had their best player hobbled a bit, but that only added some amazement to the game.
- Chris Paul (shoulder) had 32 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists for the Suns.
- Giannis Antetokounumpo (knee) had 20 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists for the Bucks.
The Suns have never won an NBA Finals and the fans in Phoenix Suns Arena were clearly hyped for this game and this series. From a TV vantage point, it appeared as if more than half the crowd was on their feet for the entire first quarter of the game.
The TV presentation of the Finals – on ABC – has an unhappy undertone. Rachel Nichols who has been a mainstay of ESPN’s coverage of the NBA for several years now (ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney) has been removed from the telecasts as a sideline reporter. That is not a big deal at all because the sideline reporters never make or break a telecast. The dark aspect of her removal is the basis for the action in the first place.
Over the weekend, the NY Times reported on an audio recording of Rachel Nichols disparaging one of her colleagues, Maria Taylor, who is Black. The recording was purportedly a phone conversation between Nichols and someone else and Nichols was unaware that she was being recorded. In that conversation, Nichols said that a plum assignment given to Taylor was because ESPN was “feeling pressure on diversity”. That plum assignment was as the host of the NBA Finals pre-game show that Nichols had done in the past. Here is part of that conversation:
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world; she covers football, she covers basketball. If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy long-term record on diversity (which by the way I know personally from the female side of it) like go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You’re not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Let me be clear here; I have no attraction to or animosity toward either Rachel Nichols or Maria Taylor. If ESPN promoted either of them to the role of “top dog on SportsCenter”, I would shrug my shoulders and change my viewing habits not at all. If ESPN decided to “go in a different direction” with either or both of them, I would shrug my shoulders and change my viewing habits not at all. I have no favorite in this kerfuffle. But I do have a problem with someone leaking that recorded phone conversation to the NY Times. In terms of trustworthiness, I trust that person as far as I can throw a piano with one hand.
The Azzurri – the Italian National Soccer Team – will be in the Finals for the European Championship on Sunday. They will face the winner of today’s match between Denmark and England. The Italian team has been a serious participant in international soccer over the years but in 2018, the Azzurri did not even make it to the World Cup tournament. To use a Biblical description of “disappointment”, that exclusion from the World Cup caused a significant amount of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Yesterday, Italy beat Spain (another international powerhouse) on penalty kicks. The score was tied 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and the score was the same after a 30-minute overtime period. That set up the penalty kick phase and Italy prevailed there 4-2. An Italian commentary on that victory putting the Azzurri in the Finals was:
- Gli Azzurri sono al loro posto
Google Translate says that means “The Azzurri are in their place”. They are where they belong.
The opponent for Italy next Sunday will bring an interesting story of its own to the pitch. Earlier in the tournament, the Danish player, Christian Eriksen, collapsed on the field and suffered cardiac arrest in a game against Finland. Only immediate and professional attention to his condition saved his life; he was lying on a soccer field with his heart stopped – – and he made it through. Eriksen has had surgery to implant a defibrillator in his body “to help prevent future heart episodes”. There are all sorts of storylines to be attached to a final game between Italy and Denmark.
Should the English prevail today and play for the Championship against the Italians, there will be a tide of history to confront. England is the home to the Premier League which has a fanbase that is as crazed as any fanbase anywhere. With the Premier League dark until mid-August, the English passion for futbol is focused on the National Team – the Three Lions. England is always a presence in international soccer but here is a sobering stat:
- Since England won the World Cup in 1966 – 55 years ago – it has never made it to a final game in a major international tournament.
People there have referred to this absence from finals competitions as “55 years of hurt”. Somehow, I think that narrative is going to express itself in today’s game no matter the outcome.
Moving on … I have tried to avoid commentary on the Aaron Rodgers/Green Bay Packers “feud” this summer simply because I think the story had been done to death about two months ago. Earlier this week, however, there was milestone that came and went without fanfare. According to an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA last year, players could opt out of either last season or this season based on concerns about COVID-19. Last year, 67 players took that option; the deadline for opting out this year was on July 2nd; according to reports on NFL Network, no players opted out for 2021.
There had been speculation that Aaron Rodgers would do that because – depending on which speculative report you read – he could “save” tens of millions of dollars in fines and clawbacks if indeed he does not play for the Packers this year because he is under contract to do so. Well, that did not happen so all those speculation pieces were of marginal interest and no value. The Rodgers/Packers situation remains the same:
- If Aaron Rodgers is to play NFL football this year, he will do it for the Green Bay Packers unless the Packers trade him elsewhere.
- Aaron Rodgers can choose not to play, but he cannot trade himself.
Finally, since I mentioned the English national soccer team above, let me close with an observation about the English people by author, Margaret Halsey:
“The English never smash in a face. They merely refrain from asking it to dinner.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………