Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Legend has it that in 239 B.C., Hamilcar Barca held his nine-year-old son Hannibal over a roaring fire in a sacrificial chamber and demanded that the preadolescent swear an oath of eternal hatred against Rome. The future leader of Carthage was soon given reason to be demanded of such a pledge. Hamilcar would suffer such a defeat at the hands of Rome that he was stripped of Sicily and required to pay an annual tribute of 66 tons of precious metals.
Young Hannibal was now forced to endure the constant degradation of his people, his mind teeming with gradual repugnance, solemnly resolute to one day avenge the humiliation. True enough, in his subsequent ascent to the throne, a fully grown Hannibal would make amends for his father’s failures at the Battle of Cannae, when he revived the rivalry and inflicted a whopping 50,000 casualties, at that time the greatest amount of carnage ever recorded against the once invincible Roman army.
While war can hardly be analogous to sport, the comparisons linger in popular culture, at least on a superficial level. This year might mark the genesis of a new dynasty sown from the seeds of vengeance.
On May 7, 1989, Michael Jordan turned an ordinary Sunday into one that will forever live in infamy in the hearts of Clevelanders. Floating to his left and burying a jumper at the buzzer over the outstretched hands of Craig Ehlo, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls eliminated James’s hometown Cavaliers from the playoffs in a manner that forebode a bleak future. Almost immediately after sinking “The Shot”, Cleveland was powerless to stop His Airness from emblematically punching holes into the city’s soul. A four-year-old from nearby Akron named LeBron Raymone James had ventured over to the television screen when the groans could be heard throughout Ohio.
“Take it hard?” he recently asked Ohio.com. "When was that? ‘89? I was [almost] five. I wanted to hit the same shot after he made it.”
For the next nine years following that fateful moment, Chicago earned the title of professional basketball’s evil empire. Cleveland, meanwhile, was relegated to no more than a footnote in the Bulls’ historic run.
That’s not to say that the Cavs didn’t field some good teams during this period. They did. Cleveland had eight winning seasons and made the playoffs in seven of them. Mark Price, Terrell Brandon, and Brad Daugherty had All-Star years during this stretch. But that kind of thing can get lost in the shuffle of Chicago winning seven Central Division titles, six Eastern Conference championships, and six Larry O’Brien trophies, not to mention the emergence of a player and supporting cast that transcended the sports section of the newspaper. Even guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr became household names.
All the while, the Bulls often enjoyed success at the Cavs’ expense. Having already succumbed to Chicago the year previous to “The Shot”, Cleveland would exit the postseason five out of six years in total thanks to none other than Jordan & Co., with each thrashing more disappointing and discouraging than the last one.
"It almost seemed like he was going for a career high every game against Cleveland," recalled a less-than-amused James.
Needless to say, this series of events inspired a young LeBron to practice tirelessly on his Little Tikes baby hoop. Over the years, the pre-schooler would soon develop into the type of player destined to take the torch from none other than Jordan himself upon his entrance to the league. As fate would have it, James landed in Cleveland’s lap on Draft Day. And eleven years later, he has an opportunity to settle the score, as the new millennium’s Cavaliers have been once again paired with an old playoff nemesis—Chicago.
While the Windy City can no longer be likened to Rome since Caesar in Size 13 Jumpmans departed the game, and the names on the backs of the jerseys are different, the specter of Jordan’s presence remains in the form of the lifesize statue bearing his likeness outside the United Center and the six world championship banners hanging from its rafters.
A rivalry is a misnomer if only one side wins, and with a win tonight up three games to one, LeBron James can do his part to write a new chapter in the ongoing battle between these two Midwest franchises. Eliminating Chicago can act as a symbolic springboard toward a reign of Jordan-like proportions if the Cavs can go all the way this spring.
However, one would be wise to learn from the mistakes of Hannibal. While he brought the Roman Empire to its knees after Cannae, he inexplicably chose not to take over its capital for good. Maharbal, his cavalry leader, famously told him afterwards, “Vincere scis, Hannibal, sed victoria uti nescis.” (”Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but you do not know how to use it.”)
The omission to act was a tactical blunder that led to Hannibal eventually falling short of his goal. Instead of mercilessly besieging Rome, he offered his enemy a peace treaty that was rejected. Buoyed by the extra time to recover, the Romans were able to rebuild their army, and Carthage was ultimately annihilated so badly that few remnants of the upstart North African republic exist today.
It remains to be seen if LeBron James can thrust a stake through Chicago and consequently conquer the rest of the NBA. But while his lasting legacy has yet to be etched in the annals of sports history, at the moment, a victory tonight can right a lot of wrongs for the city of Cleveland—and for the four-year-old boy that still lives within the man who would be King.
How times have changed.
Robert’s wife Casey, who has been with him since he was 14, was diagnosed with leukemia. Soon after, he was embroiled in a contract dispute that resulted in a one-year period of inactivity and a new promoter. In a big opportunity to showcase his skills on HBO against Daud Yordan in March of last year, a clash of heads in the second round led to a controversial no-contest when the now 27-year-old Guerrero was accused of dictating the stoppage. Two months ago, after moving up to 130 pounds and taking his second IBF title in as many weight classes, he relinquished the belt upon the news that Casey would be undergoing a bone marrow transplant.
Hopefully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Casey’s leukemia has been determined to be in remission, and Guerrero, 25-1-1 (17) with two no-contests, returns to the ring next Friday.
I recently spoke with “The Ghost” as he aims to silence any doubts of ring rust as well as address the criticism about fighting through adversity, when he moves up to the lightweight division to face Roberto Arrieta, 35-15-4 (17), on April 30’s installment of Telefutura’s Solo Boxeo.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
What do Roc-A-Fella Records, the San Francisco Giants, and HBO have in common? Louis J. DiBella. The Mad Hatter couldn’t find enough lids to place atop the Harvard Law graduate’s head over the course of his illustrious career. He once struck a business partnership with hip-hop mogul Damon Dash. Currently, he sits in the president’s seat for the Giants’ Double-A affiliate in Richmond, but his expertise remains boxing. In an 11-year run with HBO Sports, he spearheaded programming and pioneered the “Boxing After Dark” series. Today, his involvement in the sport revolves around DiBella Entertainment as its CEO, cementing his presence as one of the top promoters in the business. In the midst of his recent signing of Celestino Caballero and upcoming world title bouts featuring Sergio Martinez and Paulie Malignaggi, I recently caught up with the Brooklyn native to talk about his current stable and what the future holds for DiBella Entertainment.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
The second half of my conversation with Jeff Mayweather shifts the topic from his new job training pound-for-pound fighter Celestino “El Pelenchín” Caballero to his nephew Floyd’s eventful year, both in and out of the ring. On MaxBoxing.com, we take pride in offering both sides to a story, so after my one-on-one exclusive with Freddie Roach last week, I thought it was only fair to get an opposing opinion regarding the unsuccessful state of negotiations between Floyd and Manny Pacquiao.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Part One: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/promo-lead/jeff-mayweather-gamboa-is-the-biggest-risk-at-126
Monday, April 5, 2010
In four hours, the Butler University basketball team of the undistinguished Horizon League and their 4,512 students will have the opportunity to jump off the water cooler into either sports immortality or sobering reality at the conclusion of tonight’s national championship game. With zero players on the roster who were rated four-star recruits coming out of high school and a 33-year-old coach who doesn't look like he's ever had a five o'clock shadow, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a run for the ages that will come to a close in their hometown of Indianapolis.
Their opponent, on the other hand, merely seeks to add to a winning tradition that already includes 14 Final Fours and three national titles. In fact, all but one of the scholarship players on Duke's roster was either a four or five-star recruit, with five of them former McDonald's All-Americans. Don’t believe Coach K when he attempts to beguile the media and fans with tales of illogica fantastica on how no one expected his Atlantic Coast Conference champion Blue Devils to make it to Lucas Oil Stadium in their office pools. (Because all number one seeds face an uphill battle, right Mike?). He is right about one thing, however; college basketball’s answer to the independent voter will be coming out in overwhelming numbers across America in support of the candidate from the Heartland.
But if you pull up the lid and look under the simple plot of David vs. Goliath, you’ll find that there’s much more at stake than a happy ending to a heart-warming story of a little guy who decided one day to damn the consequences and give his bully an ominous elbow to the throat.
For starters, the NCAA selection committee would come under amplified scrutiny regarding the way mid-major schools are seeded in the future. Won-loss record and RPI are main talking points when determining seeding. If I told you that the school in question was ranked No. 8 in the entire country by human polls (ESPN/USA Today) and No. 12 by computer polls (RPI), attained a 28-4 regular season record, was the only D-1 team to go undefeated in conference while riding a 20-game winning streak, and went 2-1 against the rest of the Top 25, where would you seed this team?
If the answer is fifth, which is what the committee ultimately decided, you would be doing a disservice to a Butler team which proved it was better than the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its region by eliminating both of them from the tournament. (Then again, the NCAA has made some menial strides compared with 2002, when the committee excluded the Bulldogs because they didn’t believe they were worthy of a 16-seed even after going 25-5! Look it up.) Do you think if a mid-major like Butler won it all this season that other small schools would be treated with more respect with seeding if they garnered the same credentials next season?
Second, the effects of a Butler victory would not only be felt across college basketball, but would also reverberate through the other college revenue sport—football. Can you imagine the Bowl Championship Series committee coming under more fire for perpetuating a non-playoff system where a mid-major team like Boise State can go undefeated again next season and still be denied at least a share of a national title? If Butler can prove they are the best team in the nation on the court, the media pressure on college football to have some semblance of a playoff system will rise to unprecedented heights.
Throughout the history of college football, schools outside of the Big Six conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC) have been excluded from multimillion-dollar payouts through the 1) the subjective and biased nature of at-large selections due to contracted Big Six conference pairings, e.g., the Rose Bowl’s ties to the Pac-10 and Big Ten; and 2) Rule 3B of Automatic Qualification portion of the BCS selection procedures, which states that “no more than one such team" from a non-Big Six school shall earn an automatic berth in any year, while the “remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.”
In other words, this rule is the equivalent to the NCAA selection committee having the wide discretion to exclude mid-major conference champions from March Madness. Just ‘cuz. Much like a Big Six conference that stands to lose a $31 million payday from losing a national title berth to the WAC or concede $18 million from losing a regular BCS berth to the Mountain West, the stakes are high for the aforementioned conferences to field additional teams in the über-lucrative men’s basketball tournament, albeit unfairly at the expense of a more deserving mid-major school.
Then, you have the big, bad NCAA hyperventilating through paper bags in hopes that Duke will maintain the status quo regarding the prevailing school of thought that it’s impossible for a true mid-major school to win it all. The last thing they want is for their proposal to expand the current March Madness field from 65 to 96 to be torpedoed by ammunition in the form of an upstart mid-major enforcing the current setup of four 16-seed regions as conducive toward parity, fairness, and maximum excitement. It’s no mystery that in the midst of economic recovery, and building pressure on athletic departments in Big Six conferences to be more self-sufficient, that increasing the field will allow more of these high-major athletic programs to acquire a share of the monstrous NCAA Tournament revenue pie to offset their individual mounting costs.
In addition, a tournament where the top 32 seeds would receive a bye would make it even more daunting for a school like Butler to survive a gauntlet that is already unevenly stacked against it due to its prejudiced, unfavorable seeding. The vast majority of the media and public have already voiced their displeasure with fixing something that isn’t broken, and if such a move were to go forward, Gordon Heyward cutting down the nets tonight would only exacerbate suspicions of the NCAA’s ulterior motives of a shameless moneygrab.
Let’s not forget CBS’s role in a 96-team tournament next year. The Big Eye is in the middle of an 11-year, $6 billion contract to televise the NCAA Tournament. According to Advertising Age, their coverage generates $4.76 per viewer offline and $4.26 per viewer online. If you take WPP’s Kantar Media research’s word for it, CBS expects to earn $37 million in ad revenues from its March Madness on Demand, and will probably surpass the $619 million in TV advertising and 130 million viewers that was generated by last year’s telecast. Now add another round’s worth of games to follow, and extending the mileage of "One Shining Moment" for one more weekend fattens the Golden Goose exponentially. With ratings in mind, however, I don't think Les Moonves and the rest of the CBS execs were salivating over the prospects of a Butler-West Virginia title game. I would think they would have a vested interest in keeping the Big Six schools at the forefront of their programming.
And for those of you who have been following the tournament through your iPhone, it's worth noting that your CBS March Madness application is double last year’s price at $9.99 and sits second overall out of all iPhone paid sports apps. It’s clear CBS stands a lot to gain from an extra 31 teams punching their ticket to the Big Dance in 2011, a move that might not happen if an upset tonight leads to fans and media circling the wagons to keep the current setup in place.
In summary, one would be hard-pressed not to root for Butler tonight, not just for sentimental reasons, but to keep alive the waning belief that not everything under the sun is for sale. Moreover, it would probably mark the only time in recent memory when the underdog has the means to elicit significant and sustainable change in the way we view the nature of high-stakes competition on a collegiate level.
Ryan Maquiñana is a freelance journalist whose articles have been featured on MaxBoxing.com, SecondsOut.com, and DoghouseBoxing.com, with contributing credits on the latest San Francisco McSweeney's Quarterly. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Thursday, April 1, 2010