I managed to pick up enough math over the years to lose at blackjack, poker and stocks, enough to know that when Lenny Dykstra started paying bills out of son Cutter's Milwaukee bonus money, he was probably way beyond broke.
On one hand, the NFL is the giant goose of professional sports, laying golden eggs on command. But the roosters want a bigger share of the roost, better working conditions, more chickenfeed. The NFL wants to keep a traditional jackboot on the necks of the serfs, to limit further inroads by a historically weak players union.
But, they'll be playing football. The TV networks hold the hammer. Nobody inflicts a stoppage where so many billions are at risk, no matter how deep the owners' war chest or how many minor league games they can deliver to a public that is not easily duped. The 24-day strike in 1987 resulted in the loss of one regular-season game, the playing of three games featuring replacements and a 20 percent drop in TV revenue. A similar hit this time would produce losses neither side is willing to swallow.
My math skills are also sharp enough to know that more than half the NBA teams are losing money, some faster than it can be printed, thanks to unsustainable payrolls, salary-cap strangulation and the league's declining popularity. Too many teams have become faceless and starless.
The Sixers were a joy to watch when they had Doc and Moses and Mo and Bobby, players who even with the passage of time need no last-name reminders. A fan who shot quality photos from his courtside seat during that era sent me hundreds of classics. Viewing those photos of Chocolate Thunder, Darryl Dawkins, head high to the rim with mere mortals clinging to his tree-limb arms, about to throw down a mighty slam, gives me chills. Doc floating on one of those baseline drives where he seemed to drift through traffic like a snowflake . . . Bobby Jones finishing after a steal and court-length breakaway . . . Moses Malone shedding bodies with the ball held high over his head after an explosive rebound.
Right now, the NBA is a handful of teams dominated by ego-tripping superstars who play within their own stylized universes.
LeBron . . .
Kobe . . .
Carmelo . . .
The usual suspects.
Everybody else is the Washington Generals, punching bags for the inevitable showdown between the Heat and the Lakers or Mavericks. So, if you're not addicted to the gritty, well-coached but basically middle-rung Sixers, you poke through the embers of the interminable NBA season and seek out players whose styles would have worked back when the league was exciting and interesting: Teuton Tower Dirk Nowitzke, old-school guard Jameer Nelson, Paul Pierce and a fading Celtics lineup that has been around forever.
After baseball began to deal with free agency, Charlie Finley had a suggestion on how to keep salaries from escalating each year: Give 1-year contracts only and let everybody be a free agent after the season. "The Yankees could only sign so many," the A's owner reasoned.
Trouble is, the NBA's megacontracts stretch almost to infinity. The lockout might stretch almost as far. So enjoy the Big 5 team of your choice.
When I'm King of the World . . .
The All-Star Game Home Run Derby will decide the World Series homefield advantage . . . Why put something that important in the hands of a lot of guys who might care less. I love the idea of the defending champions - in this case, the AL's David Ortiz and NL's Prince Fielder - being captains and selecting the remaining three com-bat-ants from each league. The only thing lacking from a real longball joust in the best medieval tradition is chain-mail armor and a Lady Fair to award her garter to the winner.
Major league home-run leader Jose Bautista made the Americans the immediate favorite when he accepted Big Papi's invitation yesterday. The Blue Jays third baseman launched two epic bombs off Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee over the weekend. He is not a big guy in the Steroid Era mold, but has an incredibly big swing. He's a threat to hit 50-plus again . . . This is guaranteed to be the hottest All-Star Game since the 1966 inferno in St. Louis, when it hit 140 degrees on the turf. It was 104 outside Busch Stadium. July temperatures in Phoenix routinely hit 110 plus. But it's a dry heat - not. I assume the roof will be closed.
Thanks to the nimble fingers of Phillies Nation, Shane Victorino appears to be a lock to win his second straight Final Vote All-Star Game selection. He has been Charlie Manuel's position-player MVP the first half.
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