The Lonely World of the Football “ITK”

I’ve been following European soccer/football/association football/the-British-invented-the-term-soccer-so-whatever since 2008, and last weekend marked my 5th season of English Premier League fandom. Through JLBSportsTV’s videos on football, specifically Liverpool FC, I’ve been engaging in the peripheral world of the sport for five years now. I’ve been actively using Twitter since 2009, and it’s become my one-stop shop for every piece of news I could possibly care about. It allows me to pick and choose what news I want to know. I don’t care about what Rush Limbaugh said yesterday, so I won’t follow a smörgåsbord of political journalists and media outlets. I do, however, care about what company makes Michael Vick’s rib plates, so I’ll follow ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell. Although I’ve been engaged in footy news via Twitter, I’ve never taken the interest that far. I like to keep my timeline clean, and my following count at or around 350.

When I opened up shop with this website, I also opened up a Twitter account for it, @JLBSportsTV49. I’ve used it to spread news, plug the website, and engage in friendly banter with other football fans. To help get the account going, I decided to follow back it’s first 200 followers for their early support. Because this site is built off the strength of the JLBSportsTV YouTube channel, which is almost exclusively viewed by football fans in the UK, most of the early followers were just that. With them on my timeline, I was introduced to an entire world of sports “media” I was previously unaware to: agents and front office personnel who share their “inside” knowledge with clubs about transfers. These ITKs (stands for “in the know) are giving us the scoop on the most surprising transfers of the summer market—a period that’s full of hysteria, anger, and the occasional triumph from fans, all of whom become more concerned with the check books of millionaires and billionaires than their own outstanding credit card bills. Why worry about keeping the lights on when Matt Jarvis is worth £11 million and Nuri Sahin thinks he’s Dwight Howard?

But the Jarvis transfer and the Sahin saga are all facts—stories that have been thoroughly covered by the BBC, The Times, and other reputable news agencies. The Twitter accounts of ITKs, insiders, and agents produce news like this, which is totally baseless, salacious, and fear-mongering to a hyper-sensitive fan.

(A day later, this same “agent” would backtrack on his Evra report, stating that the deal will be done in January. By then, everyone will have forgotten about this false news, and the person behind this Twitter account can continue to rack up followers.)

Every day, it at least one ITK or fake agent gets retweeted onto my timeline, and I block and report them as spam. “Kill them all and keep moving.” The problem is, people genuinely put their faith in them, because it feels good to get wrapped up in transfer talk. Evra to LFC? Time to start a Twitter rant about how that’s a crazy move for LFC. Did Suarez approve it? I should tweet my buddy and get his thoughts. It’s all part of a ploy to make you more social, and when you feel social, you feel good. You’ll probably remember who told you that Evra was going to LFC, and since that news made you feel good, you’ll give a follow to that Twitter account.

It’s clear, however, that these accounts are run by people who aren’t on any club payroll, and are certainly not agents. They spread false rumors, or just report on rumors that the mornings tabloids run, but with an inside twist, an inside ethos based on nothing. So why do people open up Twitter accounts to blatantly lie about transfers? Well to gain Twitter followers of course. But why does a person who hides behind the veil of a name like “agent_153″ and an avatar of a pair of hands shaking want to gain followers? Nobody will recognize them in person, and what good does 30,000 followers do you if there’s no sense of personal acknowledgement in the real world? And since there’s no money to be made off Twitter, where’s the personal gain?

These people are undoubtedly lonely, and all they have are their Twitter followers and hundreds of mentions a day to keep them cozy. Last night, @agent_153 and @FootballDave01 said they had received news about Edinson Cavani’s transfer and a striker Arsenal is after, but would only reveal the news if their tweet was retweeted—an obvious and pathetic attempt to gain mentions and followers to fulfill a late-night social desire.

The real-life image of a football ITK is this in my mind: a male in his 30s who is divorced, hates his middle-class job, and needs something to do. People to interact with. A sense of place and accomplishment in a single world. A few statistics back up my image. The average Twitter user is 39 years old, and 57% of all users are between ages 30-44. According to the Office for National Statistics in England, people who are 40-44 years old get divorced the most, and three of the four most divorced age brackets are from people ages 30-44 years old. Additionally, the largest cluster of English Premier League fans are 35-44 years old (or 1 in 3), are overwhelmingly male, and are non-season ticket holders who earn £31,000 a year. That unhappy divorced male 30-something who doesn’t make a ton of money seems to fit the bill.

The profile of people likely masquerading as ITKs, insiders, and agents is clear, and kind of sad. These people have had to create a character of important stature who spreads fake rumors to drum up a following built on lies (kind of like Rick Ross, but way less rich). It can’t get much lower than that in the football world, unless you’re an Arsenal fan this transfer window. And even then, at least you have your fellow fan to lean on—all @agent_153 has to keep him up are 43,000 followers and a timeline full of inventive fiction.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

EPL Recap Week 1: “It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!”

With the opening weekend of the English Premier League season behind us, it’s worth noting that the League Table is going to look very different in May compared to how it looks now. Yes, some teams got some very good results, while others faltered or disappointed. But it’s worth noting that this is a marathon of a competition, and even if you win big in your opening match, you could still play like shit in your next 37 matches and get relegated. The tortoise always wins over the hare.

There are two perfect quotes in my opinion to describe the Premier League. Both of them come from Brian Clough, who won the Football League with Derby County and Nottingham Forest back in the 1970s. When Clough was being interviewed by the BBC’s John Motson, he was asked what Nottingham Forest’s priorities were for the upcoming season, given that they were defending the European Cup and seen as favorites in contention for the Football League, FA Cup, and League Cup. Clough responded in a rather bold and hilarious manner:

“The Football League, always has been and always will be (our top priority). I would gladly go out of the European Cup, the Football League Cup, and the FA Cup, which we’re not even in yet. I would gladly go out of all of them tomorrow if you could guarantee me winning the Football League.”

John Motson quickly asked why Clough felt so strongly about the Football League being his top priority. Clough responded in a rather harsh manner yet again, but he did so with a lot of insight, making it clear how tough it really is to win a League Championship:

“Because that (the Football League) is the one that you have to have every single aspect of football management about you to win it. You’ve got to have endurance, you’ve got to have talent, you’ve got to be a little bit daft, you’ve got to have strength, psychology, you name it, and of course, you’ve got to have very good players, but it’s a real endurance battle over nine or ten months.”

That’s what makes this competition so special in my opinion. You could have the talent to win against the best teams in the league on your day, but over the course of nine or ten months, all of your results will be averaged out by the strength of your overall playing squad and how you’ve done throughout the season. To win the football league is an accomplishment that isn’t taken lightly. It’s always deserved by the winners. You can’t call it a fluke. Maybe injuries play a part, but it’s the responsibility of the team to keep playing and to ensure that the injuries don’t effect the results too much.

Every week, I’ll be writing a quick recap of the weekend’s games, highlighting the “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” action. We’ve labeled this “Title Contending,” “Mid-Table,” and “Relegation.” Now when teams or players are mentioned under these specifications, it doesn’t mean that they’re title contending or relegation sides, it just means that for that week, their performance was worthy of such a distinction. Although the entire league is a marathon, I’ll be highlighting the, um, jogs that happen every week that ultimately make up the race.

TITLE CONTENDING: Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Spurs sends Premier League the message: “We’re Here to Stay”

Last season, Newcastle floated around the Top Four in spite of making very few high-profile moves a year after selling Andy Carroll for £35m to Liverpool. Many thought they would fade away eventually, and while they didn’t finish Top Four, they stayed around & endured. They’re in a position to push forward from there and maybe make a run into the Top Four. Alas, they were being forgotten by a lot of pundits, with the likes of Spurs and Chelsea being picked to finish above them. With the likes of Demba Ba (16 goals last season) and Papiss Demba Cisse (13 goals in 13 starts last season), this strike force can carry Newscastle far. This huge win against Spurs at home does indeed send the message to the rest of the Premier League’s big dogs that Newcastle is here to stay, and St. James’ Park is a scary place to play.

MID-TABLE: Manchester United struggle at Goodison Park as Everton pulls off a 1-0 stunner on MNF

After losing the Premier League in the final seconds last season against city rivals Manchester City, Manchester United came out with guns blazing in the transfer market, looking to reclaim the top spot in the league and the city. United brought in Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie in the off-season, but it was Everton who started their Premier League campaign with a bang on Monday Night. The Blues dominated the majority of the night, with Marouane Fellaini scoring from a corner in the 57th minute to send Goodison Park into a rapturous roar. It was a deserved victory for Everton, with Robin van Persie’s Manchester United debut being a less-than-stellar performance off the bench.

RELEGATION: Norwich City and QPR each lose 5-0

On Friday, the mood around Fulham FC was one of nervous disposition given Martin Jol’s not-so-shocking admission that Clint Dempsey would not play for Fulham in their season opener against Norwich City and had requested a transfer to Liverpool. Fulham, minus Dempsey, went on to smash Norwich City in their opening match of the season, winning 5-0 at Craven Cottage, as Duff, Petric, Kacaniklic and Sidwell scored the goals in a nightmare debut for Norwich City manager Chris Hughton.

While Chris Hughton’s Norwich City debut was much less than desirable, Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City debut could only be described as a dream start, as his boys went on to crush QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road. If that sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of QPR’s Premier League opener last season, when they lost 4-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers. QPR had the last laugh, however, as they stayed up on the last day of the season, while Bolton were relegated thanks to numerous injury problems and other issues. It’s just a simple yet ever-so-true reminder of the fact that the league is not won and lost in the first week of the season.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

The Passion Of The Lucas

It’s been five years since Lucas Leiva signed for Liverpool from Brazilian club Grêmio. He’s lasted longer at Anfield than most of Liverpool’s current squad, three managers, and an entire ownership group. Brendan Rodgers will be Lucas’s fourth manager in as many years, but through all four of them, he’s been a first-choice option through and through. From Rafa to Rodgers, he’s been one of Liverpool’s most frequent members of the starting XI. He’s won the hearts of Liverpool’s endearing supporters (fans voted him as the Player of the Year in 2011), the trust of management, and the recognition of his country. Lucas is arguably Liverpool’s most important player, if not their most consistent.

It hasn’t always been this way though. Only three years ago, if you asked most of the Liverpool fan base whether the words “Lucas” and “Player of the Year” would ever combine in a sentence, they’d laugh you across the English Channel. Before his breakout 2010 season, Lucas was vilified. In a 2009-2010 season which saw Liverpool—a side that had nearly edged out Manchester United for the Premier League title the year before—crash out of the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Carling Cup, and out of the Top 4, Lucas was consistently blamed for the team’s poor performances. Rafa got the boot at the end of that season, and there would’ve been cheers across Merseyside if Lucas had too.

I participated in the public bashing of Lucas. On my YouTube channel, I blamed Lucas for everything that had gone wrong tactically. 2009 was the year Xabi Alonso departed for Real Madrid, leaving a gapping hole in midfield. Lucas was inserted to pair with defensive destroyer Javier Mascherano, and Liverpool struggled to score goals. In Rafa’s 4-2-3-1, Lucas and Mascherano were charged with holding down the fort defensively, allowing Steven Gerrard to link up with Fernando Torres up front. I only saw Lucas’s faults. Gerrard was leaving Torres isolated, seemingly to make up for Lucas’s inabilities in midfield. Any time Lucas received the ball, the pass was always either side-to-side, or back to the center back. He seemed nervous on the ball—an unsure dribbler. Or at least that’s all I remember of him—memories that are probably flawed. The Lucas-Mascherano axis proved to lack any eye in the attack, but instead of questioning the tactics of the partnership, I, along with many Liverpool fans, lay the blame at Lucas’s boots. It didn’t matter that he was in the starting XI every match as a 22 year old—fans had already passed judgement on a player before his time.

Alonso was gone, Lucas was in his place, and Lucas wasn’t Alonso. Fans joked that he was the “only Brazilian who couldn’t pass the ball.” Lucas had been signed in 2007 as an attacking, box-to-box midfielder. When the words “attacking,” “midfielder,” and “Brazilian” come to mind, people instantly think of Kaka—the best Brazilian midfielder the past decade. Lucas was no Kaka, no Alonso, and offered nothing going forward. So what was he?

It took Mascherano’s sale the next summer for Lucas to blossom. Although he featured in midfield with a rotating cast of either Raul Meireles, Jay Spearing, Christian Poulsen, or Steven Gerrard—whoever didn’t happen to be injured or ineffective at the time—Lucas was a beacon of light during Hodgson’s pitiful reign, and a straight-up superstar during Dalglish’s return. Lucas certainly got better from the previous season, but he wasn’t playing much differently. Lucas took Mascherano’s role in defensive midfield and made it a position of strength in his departure. Without Mascherano flying all over the park to foil the opposing offense, Lucas filled in, and did the same job with less recklessness and less yellow cards. He lacked Mascherano’s insane desire to fire at least one shot from 30 yards every game, while also possessing an intelligence in the passing game. He would single-handedly steal the ball, hold it, and spray it accurately to a more creative player all on his own. Last November, against an unbeaten Manchester City side, Lucas man-marked David Silva (the league’s most unstoppable creative threat) better than anyone had that season in a 1-1 draw that should’ve gone Liverpool’s way.

In 2009, people didn’t realize that Liverpool was playing with two defensive midfielders, neither of which had the passing ability to make up for Alonso’s loss. Instead of allowing Lucas to play his game, he was bemoaned for not playing Alonso’s. Our need for a scapegoat in a very trying season was filled by Lucas, who was unfairly casted as something he wasn’t. The blame cannot be placed on Rafa, who was simply making due with what he had given Liverpool’s dire financial times, and it cannot be placed on Lucas. Blame for that season can be placed upon Hicks and Gillett for running the club into the ground economically, but blame for the nasty, unwarranted scathing of Lucas lays at my feet, and the feet of many other fans. We unfairly judged Lucas, and all he’s done is go out and become a world-class player and a popular choice for the captain’s armband whenever Gerrard is injured. The mettle and drive of Lucas to prove fans wrong is admirable to say the least, and he’s been rewarded with love.

Fans would do well to learn from Lucas. Liverpool players like Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson have received the bulk of the criticism after their expensive fees netted an 8th place finish last season. Downing didn’t have the gaudy goal or assist numbers one expects of a £20 million player (he finished with an ugly zero in both categories), but he did finish top 5 among all Premiership wingers in “clear cut chances created” and top 3 at Liverpool (among remaining players) in “chances created.” As a team, Liverpool had a very poor chance conversion rate and finished with less goals than Norwich, Blackburn, Fulham, and Everton. Scoring was a team-wide problem, not just a Downing problem. Henderson was shunned out to the right side of midfield where he struggled for most of the season, eventually coming on strong once Lucas and Gerrard got injured, taking a spot centrally—his strongest area. There, he thrived in his role as a poised pivot player and a fine recycler into the attack, never really having the creative freedom he had at Sunderland.

In the case of Downing and Henderson, both have been scapegoated because fans weren’t satisfied on the surface. Eyes can be deceiving. They saw Downing’s lack of goals, assists, and man-beating pace as a “lack of confidence.” The same was said about Henderson’s lack of creativity in midfield, even though he was never tipped tactically to get forward. A “confidence” issue for a young player. (How “young” can Henderson be? He has the most starts of any 22 year old in the Premiership.)

Liverpool fans should learn from their mistakes in the handling of Lucas, and support Downing, Henderson, and the rest of the squad. It just takes a little bit of perspective to turn a “Lucas” into a “Leiva“—into “there’s only one Lucas.” To turn a scapegoat into a GOAT. From jeers to cheers. It’s easy to misjudge players when they’re misplayed, but it’s the Liverpool Way to dig deeper and encourage greatness in whoever wears the Red shirt. The same can be applied to any fan in any sport.

They hate what they don’t understand.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Sorry Josh Beckett, But We’re Breaking Up

Dear Josh Beckett,

This is going to be hard, but we believe that we have come to a crossroads in our relationship. We’ve come a long way. We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs. We’ve had good and bad. Recently though, it’s just been flat out bad. Everyone is miserable. You know we are and I’m sure you are too. We don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore. It’s like you’re not even pitching for the same team. So unfortunately, we’re going to have to end our relationship. Red Sox fans are breaking up with you.

When we first met each other in the 2006 season, we we’re overjoyed! We loved each others company and everything was peachy. You had a good first season with the sox and everything was right in the world. The following year in 2007, you blasted out a 20 win season, we made it all the way to the World Series, and won it! You earned the ALCS MVP award! You were amazing! We were on cloud nine together! I was so proud of you. Proud of us.

It was some of the happiest moments we had in Boston for 20 years. We had broke the Curse of the Bambino two years before you were there and your arrival seemed to help signal to us a decade of world class baseball for the Red Sox. After that 2007 season though, something seemed to change. We had gotten through the lust stage and entered in the next phase of our relationship. Unfortunately, I don’t think you were ready for the commitment. The Honeymoon was over, and the cobwebs set in.

During the 2008 season, you brought home a 12-10 record and a 4.09 ERA. Not spectacular, but respectable. I mean jesus, you can’t win 20 games every year. We know this. Times get hard. Shit’s just not poppin’ off. We made our feelings known and you returned in 2009 with a 17-9 record and a 3.86 ERA. THAT’S the Beckett we had fallen in love with. It felt right again. We had rekindled our love for each other. We felt loved again by you. We rewarded your hard work with a 4 year, $68 million contract extension. That’s around $17 million a year as a thank you! Then 2010 came around. Injury plagued and collapses galore, it was just a shitty year no doubt about it. You went 6-6 5.78 ERA and played 21 games due to injury. We forgave that, you were hurt as was everyone else. But damn. A 5.78 era? Your the ace! Like I said though: forgive and forget. The real reason I’m writing this is the 2011 season anyways.

2011 started off exciting. Everyone was rearing to go and ready to kick some ass. Everybody was well rested and feeling good. Then they started playing. Lackey and Dice-K went down, and by June 10th Dice-K had a season ending injury. Injuries were rampant throughout the lineup. We persevered though and by September 1st we held a 9 game wild card lead. We had shown our depth as a team getting through all the injuries and we were going into the playoffs. Then the wheels fell off. We started free falling at top speed, going 7-20 and decimating any chance we had at a wild card position. We were devastated by the end of September. This had never happened in major league baseball. Ever. What came next broke our hearts. This was the beginning of the end for us Josh.

News broke after the season that pitchers had been indulging in video games, fried chicken and beer during the games in the dugout and clubhouse. It also broke that YOU were at the helm of this activity. Really asshole? Our beloved Red Sox, the team that has loved you for years now and is paying you $17 million a year is on the tail of historical meltdown in the month of September, and your ass is eating fried chicken and throwing back brewskis? What the hell kind of loyalty is that? Did you even care? Your actions directly contributed to the departure of Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the game today. He was amazing and the Red Sox let him go because he couldn’t control you guys. Your a professional baseball player Josh, he shouldn’t have to control you! We were disgusted with you and I’m writing this letter now to let you know we still are.

The 2012 offseason was a prefect example of the type of drama that ruins a teams chances of winning. We had to bring in Bobby Valentine, who has no experience or loyalty with the team and must now patch up relations with a clubhouse that is completely fractured. You helped bring this clubhouse drama to the media and it spread like wildfire. We didn’t trust anyone anymore. How could we, after what the team did last September. In 2012, you’ve gone 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA just to throw salt in the wounds. The last game you played before we couldn’t stand you anymore, you gave up 8 home runs and didn’t even bat an eye about it. That’s why we’re done with you. Not because you’re not pitching well, but because you don’t give a shit that you’re not. That’s why were booing you. We want you to care that you’re doing poorly, like everyone else does. I mean, Big Papi slumped all season last season and we stood behind him. We understand slumps, we’re fucking RED SOX FANS. Your lack of concern for your performance and your attitude is why we’re calling it quits. The team is doing reasonably well and can still grab a wild card spot. So even though you’re yet again falling apart at the end of the season, the rest of the team will carry the load and get the job done. All we wanted was your respect and you showed us that it wasn’t worth your time. So sorry Beckett, you’re not worth our time. Have a good career, or what’s left of it.

It’s not you, it’s me. Actually, it’s just you.

Sincerely,
Red Sox Fans

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

The Magic Shit The Bed: Dwight Howard To The Lakers

Tonight is the night that the Dwight Howard fiasco/quagmire/Dwightmare/Dwigh-ietnam has officially ended. In a four team trade, the Los Angeles Lakers got their man in Howard, the Denver Nuggets got Andre Iguodala, the Philadelphia 76ers got Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, and the Magic got Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, and three protected 1st round picks.

The Magic had the biggest asset of the trade and most to gain, and made out the worst of all three of the teams. How does that happen? To understand how bad this deal is, it’s important to remember the trades that the Magic passed up last month.

SCENARIO #1: The Brooklyn Nets
The Nets were Howard’s preferred destination all along. Although he changed his mind about a trillion-billion-million-billion times, it was well-known that Howard wanted to join Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in Brooklyn. The Nets offered an underwhelming package, feeling that they had enough leverage through Howard’s desire to join them to force the Magic’s hand and pull off the deal. There were multiple, very complex variations of a potential Nets deal, but here’s the final one the Magic passed up:

Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, $3 million cash, and 4 future 1st round picks, plus another potential 1st rounder if the Nets could find a 3rd team to trade Anthony Morrow to. The Magic would send Howard, the contracts of (notice how the contracts are more valuable than the players themselves) Jason Richardson (3 years/$18.6 million), Chris Duhon (3 years/$11.25 million), and Earl Clark (1 year/$1 million). The Magic would be shedding over $47 million in salary, while only taking on Humphries (2 years/$24 million) and Lopez (something substantially less than the $61 million max contract the Nets ended up giving him). With some future maneuvering, the Magic could’ve traded Humphries and Lopez if they wanted. Best case, the Magic get substantial cap relief and a new long-term direction to work to.

SCENARIO #2: The Houston Rockets
The Rockets amnestied Luis Scola to make a Howard deal more likely. Straight-up, they’d be able to offer cap relief and 1st round picks, but no starting quality players. The Rockets could’ve taken on that $47 million of Howard, Duhon, and Richardson plus the remainder of Glen Davis’s 3 year/$19.6 million contract. Additionally, the Magic would’ve had their choice of the Rockets three 1st round picks this year (Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Royce White), plus future picks. It’s a bigger cap relief for the Magic than the Nets deal, but it returns no players to help win a few games now.

SCENARIO #3: Rockets+Lakers
All along, this was the deal that made the most sense for all teams involved. Howard would go to the Lakers, Bynum would go to the Rockets, and the Magic would be able to send the Richardon, Duhon, Davis cap flotilla while also possibly forcing the Lakers to take Hedo Turkoglu and the remaining 2 years/$23.8 million left on his deal. The Rockets would presumably give up one of their 2012 1st rounders too. This deal would provide the ultimate cap relief for the Magic, allowing them to completely hit “restart” with their franchise. They’d rip their team up and compete with interns and play for a high pick in a 2013 draft without a clear-cut franchise player, but this deal leaves the most options open for their future. They could now explore trades to take on contracts of franchise players or decide to build through the draft.

The Magic rejected all three of these trade scenarios, and for what? Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, a guy name Moe Harkless, some European no-name, and three protected 1st rounders, meaning three non-lottery picks. The only cap relief they got was shedding Jason Richardson’s contract. They were better standing pat until the trade deadline and getting a few months out of Howard than taking this deal. They’re taking on a combined $52 million in contracts in Affalo and Harrington for the next four years (Harrington’s $7 million per season contract comes off the books in three years). Where’s the cap restart that the Magic pursued for months there? Even worse, Pau Gasol was originally included in the deal, but the Magic didn’t want to take on his 2 year/$38 million contract. They were already shooting themselves in the foot with Afflalo and Harrington, so why not get Gasol too? To hell with it! The Magic had the best player in the deal and the most contracts to be wiped off the books, and they fucked up. None of the three other deals presented were particularly attractive, but this one was the ugly sister of the four.

In a league where you want to either be maxing out and “going for it” or shedding contracts and tanking games for a shot at landing a superstar or a high draft pick, this trade does not allow the Magic to pursue the desirable 2nd option. Acquiring Afflalo and Harrington still makes them bad, but not bad enough to top the Bobcats in the lottery next year. Taking on those contracts gives them less cap flexibility than they need. Being an average team with no lottery prospects and no cap flexibility (the Knicks the past decade), is not attractive, but that’s what the Magic are tonight.

On the other side of the trade, the Lakers got the dominant, athletic big-man they needed to clean up Steve Nash’s defensive mistakes and receive his alley-oops, the Nuggets got cap relief and a faux franchise player in Iguodala, and the 76ers got the inside presence and size they needed in Bynum, who might just sign an extension. After all, he’s now the best center in a wide-open East (wide-open 2 seed, that is), and his hometown is an hour outside of Philadelphia. Everyone won except for the Magic.

(I’m also disgusted with the Lakers ability to reload decade after decade despite all salary cap and financial restrictions imposed upon NBA teams today. Last decade they lured Shaq out of Orlando and fleeced the Bobcats into gifting them Kobe, and now this. At least we’ll get that LeBron-Kobe NBA Finals Stern we all wanted years ago.)

Somewhere in the NBA’s NYC offices, David Stern is removing a loaded colt .45 revolver from Magic GM Rob Hennigan’s temple and whispering “Good boy, good boy” while Hennigan whimpers and hangs up with the Lakers. Somewhere in London, Kobe is thanking Iguodala for being “a good sport” while also shitting on Durant, Harden and Westbrook. Literally climbing into their beds at 5 AM and pooping on each of them. Sorry for putting that image in your mind.

This leaked text message from Stern to Lakers owner Jerry Buss has also landed on the Internet:

This league will drive men crazy.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Newsroom Briefing: We Got Em

“5/1″ took place on May 1st, 2011.

I had forgotten the significance of the date 5/1. There are many dates we all have in mind: birthdays, anniversaries, Super Bowl victories, holidays, and dates of historical importance. I had forgotten that 5/1 was the follow up to 9/11. It’s the date Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces.

“5/1″ began with a Charlie taking a mysterious call from someone who informed him that he’d be getting an email from the White House press secretary in an hour and a half. That someone didn’t identify himself, but right on que, Charlie got that email. Charlie, along with the rest of the “News Night” staff was at a party at Will’s apartment. They were celebrating the one year anniversary of “News Night 2.0.” Although we’re only seven episodes into the series, a year has passed. Mackenzie is still the EP, Will’s still busting balls for an hour a night, and relationships are continuing to progress.

Right now, there are two shifting plot lines on the show. There’s the Love Front, which covers the Will-Mackenzie struggle and the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle. There’s also the Corporate Cold War, which deals with the political games News Night and network CEO Leona Lansing are engaging in. There were minor developments on each front tonight. Don is over-analyzing every aspect of his relationship with Maggie out of paranoia, Maggie continues to hide her feelings for Jim, and Jim keeps pursuing Lisa, because he’s not the homewrecker type.

Near the end of the episode, Charlie got a call from that someone again. He revealed that he works with the NSA, and has been tracking ilegal electronic monitoring within the network. Could Lansing be tracking Will to try and find a smoking gun to fire him? We’ll see.

Although “5/1″ dealt with the most important news story since 9/11, this episode was by far the driest. Reliving coverage of important news events with The Newsroom has proved to be less than exciting. Were it not for the strong characters Sorkin has crafted, the show would be more of a dud than advertised. “5/1″ didn’t get entertainment points, but it certainly got nostalgia credits.

I can remember where I was for only a few specific events in recent memory, and all of those memories start with 9/11. In fact, I can only remember a few things prior to 9/11. It’s like that when my adult consciousness began. During 9/11, I was in elementary school gym class, and a school nurse came out and whispered something in my gym teacher’s ear. She shrieked, started sobbing uncontrollably, and ran into the building. That was the first and last day she was our gym teacher. I always assumed she knew someone in the towers. I was only in 3rd grade, and it’s taken many years to fully understand what happened. I don’t have any emotions registered from 9/11, since I was so young, and so naive to the severity of everything.

I remembered where I was on 5/1 too. I was in my kitchen, and I stood the whole time. I remember thinking, “Oh cool,” but nothing more than that. In many ways, my generation will deal with the aftermath of 9/11. In US history class, we always analyzed the economic, political, and social ramifications of watershed event. I can only imagine what students will draw from 9/11 decades from now. We’ll probably go down in history as the first post-9/11 generation to emerge. We were old enough to remember, but young enough to not feel the tragedy, unless a close family member or friend was lost. Seeing an actors portrayal of how people reacted on 5/1 was weird. Men shook hands and hugged, adults cheered, and everyone had a look of relief on their faces. Charlie told everyone to “take three seconds” and remember where they were on 5/1.

“5/1″ was an episode of emotional remembrance. Everyone knows someone who was affected by 9/11. We all have different degrees of separation to that point, but we all know a victim.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Notebook dump: Why did that wrinkle of Will being high while broadcasting the news have to be added in? Kind of random. For someone who ate two weed cookies, he was pretty responsive. That was more unrealistic than Jim’s girlfriend having the foresight to break up with him before Jim did with her. What girl gets into a man’s head like that and does that?

Things Overshadowed By The Olympics

The Olympics end next Sunday, and by now, we’ve all had enough Gymnastics, Water Polo, Archery, Swimming, and Darts to hold us over for the next four years. The only marquee events left are the Basketball and Soccer Finals, and the 100 meter mens race. The Summer Games have taken up all of NBC’s programming across five networks, and a considerable amount of SportsCenter time (it’s a shame that they can only devote 8 minutes to talking about Tim Tebow being a backup quarterback instead of the usual 12). Looking back on the past week and a half, I’ve realized that many things in my life have taken a back seat to watching 24 hours of Olympic coverage. Things like:

Showering. I’m home all day watching NBC, and see no reason to leave my house. Why bother to be groom and primp for people I’m not going to see? (Interesting side-note: I attended a panel discussion featuring ESPN executive John Walsh last semester. He said that NBC outbid other networks for the Olympic contract by billions. ESPN’s reason for not ponying up $4.38 billion for the rights? It’s a lot of money to devote for only two weeks of content. Makes sense.)

Baseball. I’m not a huge baseball guy like I used to be, but exactly zero fucks were given about the Trade Deadline (even though my Yankees hotly pursued a needed starting pitcher) or all of the VERY tight pennant races raging.

Work. I don’t have a summer job or internship. Instead, this website, it’s YouTube channel, and my other website have been my “jobs.” I’m self-employed and living off Google AdSense pennies. Content across the Justin Block family of networks has slowed recently, because the Olympics are the perfect procrastination tool. I think, “Oh I’ll write that article after this soccer match is over.” Then another match comes on. Then another event comes on. And another. And another. And because NBC tape delays all the good events, I watch their replays of the live streams from earlier because NBC’s tape delay coverage gives the event new life. With all of the added graphics and commentary, I was able to relive Phelps’s last race last night with the same Olympics-level joy. Before I knew it, it was midnight and no work had gotten done, thanks to 12 hours of Olympics watching. For people who work in an office all day at a computer, I’m sure NBC’s online streams of every event has killed productivity.

Diet. Because I don’t leave my house, I haven’t been able to make trips to the grocery store. I’m currently on my last bit of canned and frozen foods. Marie Callender, Abraham Stouffer, and Mr. Trader Joe have prevented starvation. Domino’s delivery deserves a shout-out as well.

NFL training camp. My Packers are apparently ready to start Charles Woodson at safety, and their first pre-season game is this Thursday. I learned all of this information three seconds ago after a quick Google search. Thanks to SportsCenter though, I’m an expert on Jets and Broncos training camps. Those two teams who have no training camp stories but ESPN is hell-bent on talking Tim Tebow starting into existence.

Fantasy Football. The NFL kicks off in a month and I don’t have my fantasy shit together. Aside from Arian Foster and Ray Rice I don’t know who else is a sure-thing at running back. Help!

Other television endeavors. I have yet to start Breaking Bad, and I need to catch-up on three missed years of The Office and House. I still, however, frequent Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Newsroom. Clearly my television judgement has been impaired thanks to the 30th Olympiad. Oh, and I haven’t even begun to anticipate HBO’s Hard Knocks either.

Chelsea’s John Terry. Shortly after a court found him not-guilty of racial abuse, England’s Football Association has charged him with the same thing. He’ll likely be convicted by the FA, because their legal burden of the “balance of probabilities” is significantly less than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a court. England’s former captain, and the current captain of London’s biggest club and the reigning champions of Europe is about to be deemed a racist, but the entire court case and FA charge has been totally swept under the rug thanks to the London Olympics. Andy Carroll’s failed transfer from Liverpool to West Ham caused more of a stir than Terry’s racism.

Great Britain’s Xenophobia. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, competing for Uruguay, was booed throughout the Olympics for reasons stemming from his own racism charge last season. British fans even booed during Uruguay’s national anthem. (Short run-down of why they were booing: In a match against Manchester United, Suarez called United defender Patrice Evra a “negrito.” In South America, “negrito” is actually a term of endearment. Patrice Evra himself said he didn’t think Suarez was racist. The FA and their “balance of probabilities” handed Suarez an eight match ban anyway, because even referring to another player’s skin is enough for a charge. In their next match, Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand in the customary pre-game team handshake—a poor decision on Suarez’s part.) Meanwhile, John Terry continues to be cheered when he wears an England shirt and isn’t jeered across England when he plays for Chelsea. This is an Olympics story, but it got little attention because it was overshadowed by the larger Olympics at hand. It was a black-eye that wasn’t, but for myself and other sensible fans, this was the low-light of the Olympics.

Click to enlarge. Proof that England’s media has been less than fair about the whole situation.

Shark Week. Shark Week promo and reruns of past Shark Week shows have been nonexistent in my life. Shark Week actually starts the day the Olympics end, but who’s going to remember? This is a legitimate problem.

Rick Ross. His hotly anticipated 5th solo album was released last week, but I’ve only had time to take a few cursory listens. I have, however, taken the time to remove Rick Ross from “Sixteen” so it’s just Andre 3000′s verse. Thank you Garageband cut tools.

My Amazon seller account. I’ve been flipping old books and DVDs for a few dollars on the Amazon marketplace, but I haven’t kept up with my recent orders. I’m late shipping out seven different items. RIP to my Feedback Rating.

Bills. Actually, let me call the NYU Bursar Office now so I can figure out how to pay my $28,595 first semester bill. I should have Sallie-Mae conferenced in too. This USA-Turkey women’s Volleyball match is about to end anyway.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

January Madness???!! Taking the College Football Playoff System Further

Let’s go back to September 1st, 2007, to the great state of Michigan (Whoo!). The fifth ranked Divsion (1-A) Michigan Wolverines are pitted against Division (1-AA) Appalachian State Mountaineers. The Wolverines are heavily favored by 27 points. After a hard fought game, the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines 34-32, capping off what many deem to be the biggest upset in college football history. Never had a Division 1-AA school ever beaten an AP ranked team since the NCAA split itself into two divisions in 1978. To this day, even mentioning Appalachian State to a Wolverine fan brings up feelings of hatred and regret (being a Michigan State Spartan, I do it every chance I get!). Now imagine if this had been a championship game instead of the first game of the season. Imagine if this was the crowning achievement of a Mountaineer team that had fought with all it’s might all the way to the top and was finally crowned National Champions. Cinderella is in the building. The new four team playoff system that is being implemented in college football got me asking myself: Why can’t we just bring “March Madness” to college football?

The details that are coming through about the playoff system that is to be implemented in 2014 got me wondering what was to become of my beloved college football now that things are changing. The BCS is bullshit, it always was. The results of the polling and computer analysis always pissed off more people that it made happy. It wasn’t like the NFL, where the reason a team made the playoffs was obvious and easy to follow. In the BCS, teams were chosen based on a multitude of different reasons and factors which led to a large amount of confused fans, players and coaches. It was never as simple as a win-loss record.

The NCAA has finally heard everyone’s cry and has officially adopted a playoff. While I’m all for this, the playoff they intend to adopt falls short of the mark. A four team playoff is not enough to help ensure that a team from every conference has a fighting chance to make it to the National Title game. Essentially, conferences with historically less competitive schools still have no chance of making it to the Title game due to the perceived lack of competitiveness of their conferences. There are six automatically qualifying conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East, PAC-12) that get BCS bowl games bids because these are considered BCS conferences. The  remaining conferences (Conference USA, Mountain West Sun Belt West Atlantic Conference) are not considered BCS conferences, and basically have to go undefeated for a shot—just a shot—at a BCS bowl. Even an 8 or 12 team playoff would still leave a large field of teams that played really well, but were deemed not good enough to compete for the national championship. An easy way to remedy this would be to simply adopt the NCAA basketball playoff system, or the “March Madness” system. Seeds would be taken from every conference and an ensuing playoff structure would emerge and whittle down the field until a champion is crowned.

The system in which teams are selected would be essentially a clone of the current college basketball system. Separate schools into regions and mix and match teams based on quality, which would help equalize the skill level of each region. Then develop a 64 team bracket (68 if you include the first four) with 31 of those teams being chosen automatically by winning their conference championships (there are 32 separate conferences in college basketball. The football teams of each school can organize using the same conferences, with the extra one conference being used for the independent schools such as Notre Dame. The easiest table of all the conferences can be found on Wikipedia. The remaining 37 teams would be chosen by a selection committee. The selection committee would be fair because every team had the opportunity to win their conference and be guaranteed a position in the tournament. Any concern about biased and unfair treatment would be history. Of course, there’d be snubs like there is every year in college basketball, but compared to the outrage that the BCS causes every year, no tears would be shed.

The number of games played would increase drastically. This would greatly increase the amount of money flowing into college football programs. It’s estimated that with the four team playoff there would be an increase of roughly $500 million profit each year on television rights alone. Going by the 12-year contract, that could be $6 billion dollars in profit. Now imagine if we used the 64 team tournament which would end up being 64 more playoff games instead of just four (64 teams playing 32 games and on down the line until the national championship game=64.)

The NCAA has a contract with CBS worth $10.8 billion over 14 years for the March Madness television rights. That contract makes up 95% of the NCAA’s revenue. The BCS games averaged a 8.9 television rating last year, while March Madness averaged a 5.3. College football, and football in general, is much more popular than basketball. It’s unfathomable how much a network would pay for the rights to broadcast a “January Madness” for college football, but it’s a safe bet that it would be over the $10.8 billion CBS deal.

Overall, this four team playoff is a giant leap in the right direction. Unfortunately, the four team playoff will never stand. It will have to be expanded. Any change to the BCS is good, but after a few years teams and conferences will begin to question the fairness just as they did with the BCS system that is currently in place. Eventually it will need to be expanded to accommodate all the teams and give everyone that has the ability to earn a spot a fighting chance.

Some will argue that the tournament would add too many postseason games and make the season drag on too late, but in actuality, most teams wouldn’t play more than they already do as half the teams wouldn’t even make it into the tournament. College football currently has 35 bowl games following the regular season and they begin in the first week of December. By forgoing the break in between the end of the season and the first week of december, you’ll have ample amount of time to complete a complete tournament bracket in roughly the same amount of time it currently takes the entire football season to end. If you play a 64-team tournament and play one round each week starting the first week of December, you’d be down to 32 teams by the second week, 16 teams by the third week and eight by the fourth week. The following week would be the quarterfinals, followed by the semifinals and then the national title game, so the season would wrap up by the second or third week of January. Problem solved.

This system would ensure that every team has a fair shot and making a run at the National Championship. The Championship would become more fluid and exciting like March Madness is, and it would be done in a completely fair manner. College football needs a dramatic make over if we as fans are legitimately concerned about the fairness of the game. Coaches polls and computers shouldn’t decide who get to compete—wins should determine who get to play for the Championship. This system would ensure that the team who wins when they must get the recognition they deserve. Couple the added fairness and competitive nature of the tournament with the astronomical level of financial benefit and it would be foolish not to implement this new playoff system.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You: LeBron James

LeBron James is in a good place right now. For the first since the 2008 Olympics, he’s got reasons to. An Olympic Gold this year would bookend the four most most tumultuous—but ultimately rewarding—years in the career of any American athlete. In that time (let’s just go ahead and assume he’s winning a Gold medal this year), he’ll have notched two Gold medals, three MVP awards, four All-NBA and All-Defensive Team appearances, an NBA Championship and subsequent Finals MVP award. (Can’t forget the engagement ring either. He’s taking the hand of his high school sweetheart—an admirable courtship.) Through all of the accolades over those four years, he’s single-handedly pissed off every non-Heat fan for a laundry list of emotional and irrational reasons, ruined the economy and hopes of Cleveland, and had his sneakers infiltrate streetwear culture. He’s the most polarizing basketball player since Wilt, the most universally hated American athlete in recent memory (I would say of all-time, but my sports consciousness only goes back a decade), and was ranked last year as the tenth most unpopular American, up there with the likes of Mel Gibson, Donald Trump, and Paris Hilton. But once the summer has passed and the NBA season kicks off again in October, will we (“we” qualifies as all non-Heat fans who follow pop culture) hate LeBron just as passionately as we did in June? While you explore your feelings for LeBron now, which are probably softer because he’s dunking on Tunisians for our freedom (MURCIA!), it’s important to revisit how we got to this point.

The summer of 2008 sparked a career evolution for LeBron. Coming off another disappointing season with the Cavs, he played with the best basketball team assembled since the Dream Team, and probably thought, “Holy shit I need team up with one of these guys.” That thought, however, had been implanted (it was done Inception style by David Stern. There’s proof. Watch Inception backwards and you’ll notice things that weren’t there before) in 2006, when LeBron’s agent, who just also happens to be Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade’s agent, all got them contract extensions until 2010. But in the summer of 2008, that cute 2006 thought of playing with Wade and Bosh was realized—LeBron actually was playing with them, and it was fun. After playing with, and working out with a great team (Kobe’s work ethic infected LeBron), he started counting down the days until free agency 2010.

The following two seasons with the Cavs were MVP campaigns, but once again, ended in disappointment. The scope of what we expected out of LeBron was much less though. While 30-8-8 nights were expected, he was forgiven for not winning a championship. He still had an excuse: his team. The Cavs surrounded him with Delonte West (motherfucker), Mo Williams (carried bags for Chris Paul last season), a past-past-past his prime Shaq, and Antawn Jamison (scored five points in the season-ending/LeBron-endng loss to the Celtics in the playoffs). (Sidenote: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for trading for Jamison instead of Amare Stoudemire because they didn’t want to trade J.J Hickson to the Suns. Guaranteed LeBron gets to the Finals with Stoudemire instead of Jamison.) Needless to say, LeBron never had a good second-banana throughout his seven seasons in Cleveland. (Sidenote #2: I’ll never forgive the Cavs for botching the Carlos Boozer re-signing in 2004. Boozer and Stoudemire aren’t Pippen or 2000 Kobe, but they’re still miles better than whoever else the Cavs were plugging in next to LeBron.) The Cavs had seven years to put acquire help for LeBron, and they never did. So LeBron took the lifeline in the summer of 2010.

That lifeline came in the form of Wade, Bosh, and Miami’s tax-haven waters. This was the summer that everyone got pissed off—an appropriate middle point between the universal love we all had for LeBron in 2008, and the weird feeling (getting to that) we have for him now. With The Decision, he shamed an entire city, turned his back on basketball immortality (the option the Bulls and Knicks represented), and for any NBA fan who preaches purity and loves watching the Spurs play, ruined the NBA as we knew it. He took the easy way out. There’s no way Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe would’ve willingly teamed up with conference rivals. He’s putting superstar hero ball over teamwork. LeBron is a pussy.

Here, the hate that’s followed LeBron for the past two years was born. In our insatiable desire to anoint a new Jordan, we felt betrayed when LeBron, the greatest player since Jordan, did the most un-Jordan thing possible: He became neighbors with his best opponents instead of vanquishing them. (So far, we’re 0/4 in finding the next Jordan. High school O.J Mayo, Kobe, Wade, and LeBron have all failed, which isn’t a bad thing.) We wanted LeBron to follow our script towards Jordanism, when really he’s Magic 2.0: a power-point guard who can play any position and do any task on the court. Our disappointment that a talent like LeBron is not, and would not, be Jordan transformed into pure hatred for the man, when all LeBron did was live his life. We ripped on LeBron for being condescending, when in fact, we were the ones who felt high-horsed enough to feel obligated to determine what LeBron should do with his career. This all feels immature and sick when written out and fully-realized, but believe me, at the time it all felt so right.

In June, the will of millions wanting LeBron to fail was trumped by LeBron himself. Usually the best player in any sport is championed and marveled at by all. We all tip our hats in appreciation of their talent. More people got satisfaction in seeing LeBron fail than seeing him succeed. When was the last time the best player in any sport could say that? Maybe A-Rod in 2007? Ronaldo in 2008? Or Tiger 2010? Even then, those three were either successfully torn down or another player trumped them as the best. LeBron was clawed at in attempts to tear him down before it was too late. After he won his first championship, it became too late. LeBron escaped it all with his career in tact, and a championship notched.

With a brief history of LeBron hate rehashed, it’s easy to see why the cultural damning of LeBron was stupid. It was based on our own desires, and our own view of LeBron as an object of entertainment rather than LeBron as a guy who just wants to win ball games. With a championship, the wide-array of LeBron jokes are dead, criticism of his lack of clutch/a winning instinct is invalid, and the notion that he won as Wade’s second-banana is just false. LeBron won as the alpha-dog playing 45 minutes a night with Wade playing on one leg, Battier and Miller shooting inconsistently, and Bosh injured for almost two rounds. LeBron had more help than he had on Cleveland certainly, but it wasn’t like he was playing with Pippen and Rodman.

Where does this leave us? As a self-proclaimed Colonel in the army of LeBron haters, I suspect to see a mass of deserters. Unless you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference team or from Cleveland, there’s little reason to dislike LeBron, and almost no reason to hate him to the degree that we saw a few months ago. It’s never fun to root for something that feels preordained (as was the case with LeBron’s 2012 championship run), but it’s less fun to root for a losing cause, which is where we stand at the moment.

When I heard that LeBron asked an Olympic swimmer if she “Would you like to come eat with me at the dining hall?” and got turned down, I found myself saying, “Awwww, LeBron.” It was such a cute question that reminded me of middle school dating days. Want to get pizza with me after school? Can I walk you to class? LeBron didn’t fake thug it and say “Yo you tryna come grab food with me shorty?”. He approached her with the innocence of a 13 year old. Who would’ve thought that the diabolical LeBron James could ask a girl out in nerd glasses with his tail between his legs like a kid?

LeBron with the woman he was rejected by.

The moment I found myself laughing, “Awwww”ing, and feeling bad for LeBron’s dining hall rejection, I hung up my Colonel fatigues and handed in my hater pistol. I’ll still dislike him with the passion of a Knicks fan, but hate? Now that’s a strong word. LeBron didn’t silence the haters, but instead won them over. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I still hope he chokes next year though.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49