It’s been a while since I’ve taken folks through a tour of the candy store of life (aka sports stories) and there’s a whole lot of things going in there these last few days.
John Wooden died yesterday at age 99. He was a Hall of Famer as both a player (Purdue) and coach. At the risk of being the skunk at the garden party however, let’s be careful about a couple of things. One of the dirty little "secrets" about the UCLA dynasty and run of championships was the role of Sam Gilbert as the overzealous fan. As a native of Kentucky and UK basketball fan, I’m all too aware of the role the overzealous fan can play and Gilbert made UCLA as dirty as any other school has ever been. If Wooden had wanted Gilbert out of the picture and not associated with the school, it would have happened. But Gilbert was along for the entire ride of championships and the school was never forced to disavow him, even as former players such as Bill Walton described what can only be violations that have caused other schools to spend years on probation and even vacate championships or Final Four appearances.
"UCLA players were so well taken care of — far beyond the ground rules of the NCAA — that even players from poor backgrounds never left UCLA prematurely (for pro basketball) during John Wooden’s championship years," Walton said. "If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny Jerry Tarkanian and his players have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national championships and be on probation for the next 100 years.
"… The NCAA is working night and day trying to get Jerry, but no one from the NCAA ever questioned me during my four years at UCLA."
In Major League Baseball news, I assume you have seen the reports on the almost perfect game from the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Gallaraga. I have mixed emotions on the calls to overturn the choke by Jim Joyce, the imperfect umpire who cost Gallaraga his perfect game. On the one hand, the play could be reversed by executive fiat (yeah, I know it’s Bud Selig but still…) since it should have been the twenty-seventh out and everything after would be wiped from the books. On the other hand though (and presumably this is MLB’s logic), it was not a "perfect game" due to the imperfect umpire. But a side note for Mr Joyce – the only person who saw this play as "close" was you. Most of us watching (thanks to ESPN’s cut-in) saw a base runner who was out by a full stride and the replays confirmed it was not that close. Umpires tend to get a lot of grief but the truly close plays confirm the umps make the correct call most of the time. Sorry Mr Joyce, you just choked.
Today is the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York. The Belmont is the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown for three year-olds and is the longest of the three races at a mile and a half. The race is not getting much buzz this year however since there is no potential Triple Crown winner and the winners of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness are skipping the Belmont. Nevertheless, it is still a good way to spend a late spring Saturday afternoon.
Even as I type this, the Women’s Championship of the French Open is being played with seventeenth seed Francesca Schiavone taking on seventh seed Samantha Stosur. Yeah, I’ve never heard of them before either. Tomorrow’s Men’s Championship has 5 seed Sweden’s Robin Soderling taking on number 2 seed Spain’s Rafael Nadal. If Nadal wins, he reclaims the world number one ranking. And in case you missed it, Venus and Serena Williams won their fourth consecutive major tournament Women’s Doubles Championship.
The NBA Championship is in progress with the second game scheduled to tip-off tomorrow night at 8PM Eastern between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. In the world of the NBA, this means the world is rotating correctly since these two franchises have combined for 32 of the previous 63 championships, 17 for the Celtics, 15 for the Lakers. This is the twelfth time these two franchises have met in the championship. Sports Illustrated has a ranking of the previous eleven meetings from worst to first. Not that it matters, but the rankings seem reasonable based on my sometimes spotty memories. LA leads 1 – 0 in the current series having dispatched the Celtics Thursday night.
The NHL Championship is also in progress though the teams are no where near as storied as the NBA. The Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks are tied 2 – 2 after Chicago beat Philly last night. The Blackhawks have not won a Stanley Cup since ’60-’61 (back in the Original Six days)(their third) while the Flyers have not won since their back-to-back championships in ’73-’74/’74-’75. Someone’s fan base is going to be happy after a long(ish) drought, that’s for sure.
Oh yeah, there’s something called the World Cup kicking off from South Africa next week as well. The USA is in the same group as England (who is picked by some prognosticators as the potential winner). Since I have no clue whatsoever about this sport, I’ll leave it at that.
And because I can: