By DERON SNYDER
Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs continue to make the rest of the NBA look bad.
That’s not the intention, though. It’s simply a result of doing their job to the best of their ability.
Overseas, the Spurs were at the forefront of international scouting, among the first organizations to capitalize on the vast, untapped potential in foreign talent. San Antonio broke its own record last season by employing 10 players born outside the U.S. They even made waves on the coaching staff last month, adding European legend Ettore Messina.
On the court, Popovich has built a well-oiled system that works beautifully with interchangeable parts. He was fined by former commissioner David Stern two years ago for sending four of the Spurs’ top five scorers home before a national TV game in Miami; the Heat needed a late three-pointer to eke out a narrow victory.
At the negotiating table, San Antonio has found a way to keep its Big Three happy and intact for more than 13 years. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli have signed multiple contracts to their liking, while the team reserved enough money for a solid supporting cast at a reasonable price, creating a culture of “we’re-all-in-this-together.”
There wasn’t much more the Spurs could do to separate themselves from fellow NBA teams … unless you’re talking about winning more championships.
But like it or not, the franchise moved further from the pack Tuesday when it added Becky Hammon to the staff, making her the first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history.
It would be fantastic if we could look at Hammon’s credentials as a six-time WNBA All-Star and consider nothing else. Clearly she’s got game, named one of the league’s all-time Top 15 players in 2011, ranking fourth in assists, sixth in games and seventh in points on the career lists.
Surely that’s all Pop took into account. You sense that he would hire the first Martian assistant coach if it helped the cause. He didn’t mention Hammon’s gender in a press release because it’s irrelevant to him.
“Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs,” he said in a statement.
By DERON SNYDER
Perception and reality are not always aligned, a fact that can lead to sweeping generalizations and stereotypes based on class, race and gender.
You know, like jocks are less-gifted in the classroom and fraternity members are hardcore drinkers. Both groups also have been known to display penchants for sexual harassment and/or assault.
They share that last trait with the military, which apparently creates a trifecta at the U.S. academies, where athletes form a fraternity-of-sorts amid their fellow future service members.
The latest case in point comes from an extensive investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette, revealing that Air Force Academy cadets, “including a large a core of top football players, smoked synthetic marijuana, drank themselves sick and may have used date-rape drugs to incapacitate women for sexual assault” at parties dating to 2010.
Students at the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy are supposed to be different. They’re supposed to adhere to honor codes and higher behavior standards befitting of officers in our armed forces.
It might not be the case on other college campuses, but “character” is supposed to be more than a cliché when you’ll don your country’s uniform upon graduation.
But according to the Gazette’s investigation – based on hundreds of pages of Air Force documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as dozens of interviews – the academy’s culture was so wild, “leaders cancelled a planned 2012 sting out of concern that undercover agents and confidential informants at a party wouldn’t be enough to protect women from rape.”
Academy officials opened an investigation that looked into 32 cadets, including 16 football players and several other athletes. According to academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, nine of the football players and 17 of the cadets overall never made it to graduation, either dismissed or resigning on their own.
Sad but true – we’d be less surprised at such a report if it came from a traditional football powerhouse in the Southeastern or Big 12 conferences.
We’re so accustomed to inappropriate and illegal activities at bastions of big-time college sports, we grow numb with each new tale. We have lumped and labeled the best athletes as walking time bombs, capable of going off at any moment and landing on the police blotter.
By DERON SNYDER
Did you hear the news?
Kevin Durant is coming home!
Two years from now!
Unless the rampant speculation and search for clues kills us first.
Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champ and D.C. native, made waves Tuesday at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas. All it took was speaking openly and honestly about perhaps joining the Wizards as a free agent in 2016.
“Kevin Durant feels tug to return home to Washington after LeBron James’ decision,” read a headline on Yahoo Sports.
USA Today wondered, “Could Kevin Durant be the next NBA star to head home?”
ESPN noted what Wizards fans hope is a telltale sentiment: “Kevin Durant: LeBron move ‘classy.’”
Bleacher Report put it all together: “Stay or go? Two years out, Kevin Durant is already weighing his options.”
Can we survive 24 months of this? Just another dozen would be excruciating. And we have the easy part here in D.C.; imagine Oklahoma City’s rising angst.
Such conjecture is unavoidable in today’s micro-instant environment. The continuous news cycle demands to be fed and it’s hardly a picky eater.
Junk food is just fine.
It’s not Durant’s fault that folks in D.C. and OKC are getting worked up about something that might or might not happen two summers from now. It’s not his fault that he’s asked to predict his feelings and thoughts in 2016, with no knowledge of events that will transpire before then.
And you can’t blame him for speaking on the unknown. Keeping his mouth shut wouldn’t quell the fire because everyone else is fanning the flames.
“It’s being talked about,” Durant told reporters Tuesday after Team USA’s practice. “Everybody is asking me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff.”
By DERON SNYDER
There is no magic eraser.
Though we’d love to blot out certain actions and periods from our past, history is written in indelible ink. Pretending that something never happened, or ignoring its existence, doesn’t lead to progress.
Changed behavior and better decisions lead to progress.
Baseball today isn’t the same sport I covered fulltime from 1991-2000. Neither slugging statistics nor sluggers’ bodies are as big. It took an act of Congress and a rare concession from the players union, but the industry has moved beyond the Steroid Era.
However, our recollections remain. Not to mention the records.
Barry Bonds’ 73 homers. Roger Clemens’ last four Cy Young awards. The 136 round-trippers between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the Great Home Run Race of 1998.
Some fans sneer at the mention of those names – Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa – the era’s Four Horsemen. They’re the players who ruined baseball while simultaneously making it more popular, the cheaters who disgraced the game while making everyone involved richer.
But their feats will never go away and we’ll never forget, no matter how hard baseball wishes. We can’t look back on the sport and don a blindfold from the late ‘80s to the late 2000s. That period is as much a part of baseball as the Deadball Era and Segregation Era.
If Bonds and Clemens don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (maybe McGwire, too), we’re fooling ourselves in attempting to punish them.
“Treat them all the same,” former manager Tony La Russa told ESPN last week, prior to his induction Sunday. “If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time.’
By DERON SNYDER
Not everyone is cut out to be a pioneer.
Thankfully, the role doesn’t require a horde of people.
Being at the forefront of unprecedented developments can be uncomfortable. The level of attention and scrutiny spikes like temperatures in July. Everywhere you go, the environment changes as soon as you arrive. Normalcy warps and cracks and becomes a distant memory.
After a while, though, firsts aren’t such a big deal.
Sure, they’re always honored for their roles. Their names are etched in stone and the history books. They are recognized for their feat as long as they live.
But as more folks follow suit, what once was considered bold, daring and shocking becomes the new norm.
By then, when the magnifying glass goes away and the spotlight goes out, it’s easier for the masses to join in and do the right thing, too.
So we shouldn’t be overly harsh in judging Tony Dungy’s comments that he “wouldn’t want to deal with all of it,” and therefore wouldn’t have drafted openly gay NFL player Michael Sam.
It turns out that Dungy’s heart really is in the right place.
He simply isn’t pioneer material.
“… I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team,” Dungy said in a statement released Tuesday, attempting to quell the firestorm he ignited by earlier remarks to the Tampa Tribune.
By DERON SNYDER
Year 1 of the Robert Griffin III-Jay Gruden Era is upon us. And like most newlywed couples, they look wonderful together.
Griffin is fully recovered from the knee injury that severely hampered his performance last season. He seems happier and more relaxed, partially due to the absence of a knee brace and partially due to the absence of coach Mike Shanahan.
Gruden is eager, energetic and enthusiastic, raring to start his first training camp as an NFL head coach. Son of a football lifer, brother of a Super Bowl-winning coach, Gruden is anxious to make his own mark under the family name.
Griffin and Gruden seem perfect for each other at this stage of their respective careers. They’re prime candidates to grow old and gray together – which is about 10 years for such duos – poised to join the ranks of Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin, Drew Brees-Sean Payton and Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin.
Many thought Griffin and Shanahan were in it for the long haul, too, thought they could re-create the synergy that existed in Denver when the coach and John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls together. Shanny was the old-school pro who would develop the budding star in RG3.
But Shanahan didn’t shape and mold the young QB.
He bent and nearly broke him instead. Shanahan might as well have been another defender delivering crushing blows as Griffin failed to slide.
By DERON SNYDER
This is more like it. This is what we expected from the Washington Nationals all along, winning a pair here and three-of-a-kind there, settling in at the table with one of baseball’s best hands.
They misplayed their cards last year and have spent most of this season with less than a full deck. But they’re beginning to roll now, picking up in the second half where they left off at the All-Star break.
The Nationals embarked on a nine-game road trip following Sunday’s thrilling, walk-off victory against Milwaukee. They opened the second half by taking two-of-three from the Brewers and improved to 26-15 since June 1, 18-11 since June 15.
We haven’t seen that sort of sustained success since the tail end of last season, when they mounted a too-little-too-late push and failed to reach the playoffs. The Nats had set us up with their “World-Series-or-bust” attitude and everyone was crushed at the end.
The crash – along with the Washington Wizards’ playoff run and the huge interest in World Cup soccer – might explain the Nats’ precipitous dip in local TV viewership. According to Sports Business Journal, ratings in the D.C. market through the first week of July were down 34 percent from the same point last season. Only the Dodgers and Rangers had bigger drops.
Last year, fans were still heady off the 2012 joy ride, anticipating a much better ending than Game 5 of the Division Series against St. Louis. Washington was a near-consensus pick to win the pennant in 2013 and former manager Davey Johnson seconded that notion whenever asked about it – if he didn’t bring it up on his own.
Rookie manager Matt Williams is much more low-key, just like in his playing days, when he circled the bases with his head down after homering, as if embarrassed for the pitcher.
This skipper is less colorful but the Nats arguably are more compelling. Their enhanced competitiveness should result in more victories as well as viewers down the stretch. Considering that they reached first place in the NL East despite having their Opening Day roster intact for less than one month, they should pull ahead if health doesn’t derail them.
By DERON SNYDER
Emmanuel Mudiay was projected to be a diaper dandy, one of those freshman phenoms who shine in college hoops’ spotlight momentarily before cashing out as a lottery pick.
Widely considered the nation’s top guard entering next season, Mudiay first sent shockwaves by choosing SMU over bluebloods Kentucky and Kansas. It was a tremendous coup for coach Larry Brown and positioned the Mustangs as a Top 10 preseason team.
But now, Brown joins John Calipari and Bill Self in lamenting the 6-foot-5 point guard as another who got away.
“Emmanuel Mudiay has decided to pursue professional basketball opportunities,” Brown said Monday in a statement. “This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue.”
Mudiay assuredly isn’t the only top-rated recruit facing economic “hardship.”
The Supreme Court used that term while ruling in Spencer Haywood’s favor and allowing underclassmen to turn pro in 1971. Five years later, the NBA decided anyone was eligible for “early entry,” regardless of financial status, before the league instituted its current policy in 2001 and mandated that players be at least 19 and one year out of high school.
Your family has trouble staying above water and making ends meet? Too bad. NBA teams will pay you millions to begin a pro career right away? Tough. You have absolutely no interest in college and won’t take it seriously if you attend? Fake it.
Or go directly from high school to the NBA D-League and pull down a cool $18,000-$30,000.
By DERON SNYDER
If you’re irritated by the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour, weary of the accolades and tired of all the gift-giving, then you shouldn’t watch the All-Star Game. It might be downright sickening.
Then again, something’s wrong with you anyway if you begrudge these tributes for an all-time great player and ambassador.
We don’t know how, we don’t know who and we don’t know when. But the New York Yankees shortstop will be honored Tuesday night in his final All-Star Game. The players just have to think of something different than last year, when former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera wound up taking the field by himself and basking in a long round of applause.
Whatever recognition is bestowed on Jeter for his remarkable career, he certainly has earned it.
Time is catching up to the 40-year-old, who no longer resembles the tremendous player he’s been for two decades, but time can’t erase his five World Series championships, .311 career batting average and 3,407 hits. Selection to his 14th All-Star Game is based on lifetime achievement, not his pedestrian last go-round (.271 average).
Tuesday night will be the last chance for goodbyes on a national stage if the Yankees miss the playoffs again. There might not be another occasion to celebrate Jeter until his Hall of Fame election in 2020.
Hating the Yankees is a fulltime job for some fans, and this lovefest can’t be easy for them. They argue that Jeter’s legend is inflated due to his New York address. They contend that the fistful of World Series rings is due to the late George Steinbrenner’s checkbook. They insist that Jeter can’t be as angelic as the media portrays him.
There are grains of truth in those stances, but they’re washed away by a sea of evidence to the contrary.
By DERON SNYDER
I’m neither a Baylor University alum nor a fan of the Baylor Bears. But I know what I’d say to outsiders who oppose Robert Griffin III’s upcoming statue outside the school’s new stadium:
Mind your business.
This isn’t just college football we’re talking about. It’s college football in Texas, a state with 12 FBS schools spread across five conferences. If their babies can’t grow up to be Cowboys, parents cross their fingers and hope for Longhorns, Red Raiders, Horned Frogs, or Aggies at the very least.
Only recently have Bears cracked the wish list and they’re rising quickly. The $260 million, 45,000-seat McLane Stadium will help.
So will the 9.5-foot bronze sculpture of RG3, whose role in Baylor’s resurgence is bigger than anyone not named Art Briles.
RG3’s immortalization doesn’t have a thing to do with his nascent NFL career. He has played only 28 games for the Washington Redskins. His record as a starting quarterback is 12-16. He ended last season on the bench after his team lost five straight games.
Folks in Waco reply: So what?
Griffin’s accomplishments at Baylor are substantial and permanent. There’s nothing he can do to tarnish his legacy or diminish his role in reviving a moribund program. Even if he goes from NFL Rookie of the Year and NFC East division champ to injury-plagued bust and perennial loser, it won’t change a thing on campus.
Baylor is preparing to play its 109th season of intercollegiate football. It had won 10 games in a season only once before RG3 led the Bears to a 10-3 record in 2011, including an Alamo Bowl victory.
He lifted the program while improving his completion percentage each season and helped put butts in seats. Home attendance increased in each of his four seasons, rising from 34,124 per game to 41,368 in his final year.
Critics say that’s well and good, but it doesn’t necessarily warrant a statue.
They’re absolutely right.
So here’s the trump card, the fact that should end any debate and shut-up every detractor: