Musings to Quiet the Crosby Crybabies

I might get a lot of jeers for saying it, but I’m still going to put it out there. Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, Sidney Crosby is one of the best hockey players on the planet at this present time.

I’m no hockey expert and I’m no professional scout. I’m not here to disagree with or challenge those who live the game and know far more than I do. But I am here to answer to the harsh Crosby critics who can’t seem to get over the kid’s status as an NHL poster player.

Without getting too into the statistics right now, let’s just look at his notoriety. With Crosby’s ongoing concussion-related issues keeping him from the game, the game has suffered. When Sid returned to hockey last month against the New York Islanders, his superstar status was as bright as the lamp he had lit on one of his first shifts back after almost a year without playing at that level. Television personalities went absolutely gaga over the kid and I lost count of how many people said it was “a good day for the NHL” to see him back on the ice.

That’s not to say it’s less important to see other players miss a lot of hockey for injuries. Chris Pronger was one of the latest concussion victims and was sidelined for the entire season. His return, like Sid’s, will be great for hockey. But let’s put this in perspective.

Crosby’s resume is not an accident. He is barely approaching his mid-twenties and has enough under his belt to retire on. He’s the youngest captain to ever hoist the Stanley Cup. He’s already made it to the finals twice. He scored his country’s game-winning goal in an Olympic gold medal game.

Since the day the kid was drafted, the NHL hasn’t been the same. His impact on the game is obvious and it’s etched all over anything having to do with professional hockey. So why hate on him?

There’s the typical “cry-baby” complains that usually follow Sid around the ice, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing. Sure, there are times that Crosby mouths off to a ref every now and then. But I can recall another certain hockey legend who also had a complaint or two every now and then who wore the number 99. And besides, a player of Sidney Crosby’s caliber has evidently changed the dynamic of how teams defend against the Pittsburgh Penguins and without a doubt could frustrate any player.

I’m no Crosby-fanatic. I’m not even a big Penguins fan. I’ve got my Crosby sweater hung right next to my Ovechkin sweater on my wall in my apartment. It’s because I respect the game and acknowledge its great players.

It’s a shame that Sid has been sidelined once again, even after his big return. But his short-lived comeback should show that he’s still Sid. In eight games, the kid scored two goals and tallied 10 assists for 12 points. His statistics speak for themselves and I’m not going to ram them down anyone’s throats. (Cough click cough.)

How you feel about Sid is your opinion. But you can’t dispute the facts, which point to his superstar status. Sidney Crosby is good for hockey and the sport is better with him being a part of it.

I’ll leave the Sid haters with this final question. Who wold you rather have on your fantasy team? Sid, or Rick DiPietro?


Winners and Losers: NBA Lockout 2011

The Time is Now. Photo Cred: Kevin Ding.

The 2011 NBA Lockout is over, and the preseason games have been played. Hooray! Now, it’s about that time for me to give completely random guesses towards who will win and who will lose this year. Just kidding, it won’t be completely random.

After all, this is the NBA, and certain teams will always have an advantage over others. This means that certain teams are guaranteed wins this year no matter what happens short of a major injury to one of their stars. Let’s start at the top.

Teams to Beat:

Miami Heat:

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Miami Heat has one of the best rosters in the game today, if not in depth, certainly in star power. This is the issue they addressed over the offseason adding as much as they could with their minimum wage additions. Despite their laughable addition of Eddy Curry, the Heat did manage to improve their roster with one of the best defenders in the Association, and one of my personal favorite players, Shane Battier. While there was some criticism over the Battier signing since it didn’t address the point guard and center vacancies, it’s still a solid signing because it adds flexibility for the lineup. Rookie Norris Cole showed some talent in the preseason this year, and adds some depth to their point position, which was sorely needed (see Mike Bibby 2011 playoffs). Even scarier, Curry is in shape for once, so is this the year he resurrects his career?

As for the core-three, Wade is a year older, and a little more battle-worn, but he’s still the go-to guy for Miami. Lebron will be Lebron, and Bosh is lighter and more willing to play center. They’re all still in their primes, and will continue to be the team to beat in the East until proven otherwise. Eric Spoelstra isn’t going anywhere with his shiny new contract, so expect more of the same from the Heat this year; lots of winning and lots of hating.

Lastly, word on the street is they have a brand spanking new offense…

Oklahoma City Thunder:

With a younger core and a less maligned fan base, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t do much this offseason, not that they needed to. Kevin Durant was very visible this offseason playing games in Harlem and ballin’ for charity during the lockout.  Like Lebron, KD will be KD, shooting the roof off the stadium. They have a talented and deep roster in Kendrick Perkins, who was also slimmed down this offseason. James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and last but definitely not least, Russell Westbrook round out a formidable starting five.

They have their core in KD and Westbrook, their sixth man and third option James Harden, and their defensive anchor in Kendrick Perkins. If Scott Brooks can help Westbrook be more of a Point Guard and less of an “I in Team,” then there’s no reason why the Thunder can’t win the conference.

Chicago Bulls:

D-Rose, D-Rose, D-Rose. Derrick Rose recently signed a 5 year $94 million contract. He’s not going anywhere, and he loves his mama. Don’t expect him to win the MVP again this year though, as Sam Smith at says, expect D-Rose’s points per game to “drop as he has more reliable scoring options on his team this year.” Things are nothing but upside for this team and the signing of Rip Hamilton only makes them better. Rip Hamilton, though 33 years old, is reputed for having a very good conditioning program for himself. If the preseason game on Tuesday was any example, he’s going to fit right in. Can he put the Bulls over the top and help Rose win the first Bulls championship since Jordan?

Rookie Jimmy Butler also showed that he could shoot in his games, although good luck getting any playing time under Tom Thibideau’s reputed distaste for playing rookies early in the season. However, if Rip takes Butler under his wing, I foresee good things in the kid’s future. Combine that with a healthy season from Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, and the Bulls may be the best threat to the Heat’s run at history.

The Old Guard:

The teams in this section were all contenders in the recent past. However, are they contenders this year? They’re all aging teams, and some teams are going to need to be luckier than others.

Dallas Mavericks:

The loss of Caron Butler only runs skin deep for the defending champs since he was out during the playoffs last season. The truth is, the Mavericks will be a playoff team as long as Dirk Nowitski is still a 7-foot tall unstoppable monster.  The loss of J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler hurt the team, and only time will tell if the additions of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom offset that. The combination of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter should bring back memories of the days when they played together with the Nets.

The Mavs will still have great chemistry, but I don’t actually believe that they’re going to be able to win a second championship on their old legs. Jason Kidd will be 39, Vince Carter is close behind him even at 35, and Dirk is on the back-nine as well. They will be able to put up a respectable defense of their title this year, but won’t be able to repeat against the improved younger teams on the rise. Playoffs, yes. Two in a row? No.

Los Angeles Lakers:

This is Kobe’s team, and the success will hinge on how good Kobe can be. His two and three are still there with Pau and Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest. Kobe sustained a torn ligament in the preseason, and time will tell how that affects his play. But the early signs are good because he will be playing on opening day against the Bulls.

A long story short, the Lakers will be contenders. However, their days are numbered as the team continues to grow older. The departure of Lamar Odom hurts them as he was their sixth man off the bench. A couple minor free agent signings, and a new coach, ultimately the team remains all about Kobe Bryant and how far his shoulders can carry them.

Boston Celtics:

The previous Beast in the East has seen time take his toll. The Big Three in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will contribute. The lockout will even help them keep their bodies in condition for the rest of the season. They will do well. But there’s no one on that roster that can reliably keep the team afloat once they head to the bench.

The question for this team is how long can their old bodies hold up, and how much can the new guys contribute? Will it be enough to bring them back to the playoffs and beat the younger and faster Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls? Times are looking tough for Boston.

San Antonio Spurs:

Tim Duncan has maybe one or two more seasons left in him. Arguably he has been the force bringing the team into the playoffs, and when he faltered last playoffs, they were knocked out in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies. Waiting in the wings however is Tiago Splitter, touted by many as being one of the best young big men in the league.

The Spurs are getting older, and their chances of winning number five hinges on the health of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

"WAHOO-NOOCH!" Photo Cred: Nicholas Draney.

Teams On The Rise

Minnesota Timberwolves:

The T’Wolves have long been the punching bag of the league, however they are poised to take strides towards winning again this season. New coach Rick Adelmen has been known to work wonders with his rosters, and is stocked with talented putty in Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, and J.J. Barea.

The key for this team is learning how to win. At the very least, they will be entertaining.

Denver Nuggets:

The Nuggets were a vastly superior team after the ‘Melo trade last season, leading the league in offense. So, can they continue their success? Well, bringing back Nene is a good start. Danilo Gallinari is ready to break out , and the two big guys Mozgov and Koufos, showed skill while Nene was off in free agency.

The key for this team is to figure out who is going to be The Man. It may be Gallinari, it may be Ty Lawson, or Aaron Afflalo. But whoever it is, they better figure it out if they want to beat the beasts.

Los Angeles Clippers: 

The freshly labeled Lob City has a shiny new addition in Chris Paul, plus the return of the athletic Deandre Jordan means that this is gonna be a fun season for all the new Clippers fans. Although they lost Eric Gordon, Chris Paul more than makes up for it. Look for this team to challenge the rest of the league. Health is always a concern, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have missed significant time due to injuries. Coach Vinny Del Negro is known for helping Derrick Rose along, but is he a coach worthy enough to bring a championship to the new-look Clippers?

The key for this team comes down to chemistry. Create it; challenge for Western supremacy. Fail to, well, who watches the Clippers anyway? Here’s hoping for the Showtime Clippers!

Memphis Grizzlies:

This team shocked a lot of people when they took out the first seed Spurs in the playoffs last year. The biggest shocker was that they did it without their biggest star, Rudy Gay. Talk about team chemistry!  This year, they’ll be without one of their big backups in Darrell Arthur, but they traded for Quincy Pondexter and Rudy Gay is back, so I don’t anticipate an issue for the Grizzlies.

The key for this team is if they can integrate Rudy Gay into the system without screwing everything up. If they succeed, they’ll be the favorites to win it all.

Sacramento Kings:

Like the Timberwolves, this is another team that has been a long time punching bag for the league. However the addition of fan favorite Jimmer Fredette has brightened the future for this team. But they have a lot of issues, as maturity has been a question of top prospect Demarcus Cousins. The health of Tyreke Evans is another serious question.

Can they bring it all together? The key for this team is to grow up, and do it now if they want to stay in Sacramento.

Utah Jazz:

The Jazz have a lot to sort out. They’re a overloaded at the four and five positions, which is a blessing for most, but not them. They have talented youngsters like Gordon Hayward on the court but they also have to play behind aging and expensive vets in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsapp. It’s unlikely they the two groups can coexist and form a winning team.

The key for this team is to figure out where the roster is headed.

New York Knicks:

They finally got their man in Carmelo Anthony and their ironclad defender in Tyson Chandler. It’s now or never for the Knicks to put it all together and bring the NBA Championship back to the Big Apple. But they need to prove they can work together and not just play isolation ball and expect things to fall in place. They have the star power to help the Knicks win this season, but it’ll be about the team chemistry that determines if they can make it into the finals.

They key for this team is to play defense, which has been the sole question mark of the Mike D’Antoni’s system.

Stuck in Purgatory:

The teams on this list are stuck running in place for one reason or another. The Magic are being held hostage by Dwight Howard until he finds a way out. The Hawks and 76ers are stuck with their big contracts and don’t have anywhere to go. The Blazers the Bucks are the hardluck cases of the league with injuries decimating their rosters; sad to see you go Brandon Roy. The Rockets got screwed on the deal with Chris Paul by the NBA and likewise no longer have a team that runs together. The Suns refuse to let go of Steve Nash, and while I admire their loyalty, the smart thing to do would be to trade him and start rebuilding. While none of these teams are bad enough to bottom-out, except the Magic if they lose Howard and The Suns if they lose Nash, they aren’t good enough to beat the teams on the top of the ladder.

Lottery Bound:

Ahh, the Lottery. Here we have the teams that don’t have any expectations for the next few years. All of these teams have their star players, with the exception of the Raptors who have nobody. The only team with a glimmer of hope is the New Jersey Nets who want to spend money this offseason to hopefully keep Deron Williams around however unlikely that may be. If Dwight Howard decides to join them then perhaps then they will be contenders, but I just don’t see the stars aligning for that scenario. Golden State may also surprise people under new coach Mark Jackson but the lack of a big free agency signing dulls that glimmer of hope.

Final Thoughts

It should be an entertaining season overall, especially with the Clippers on the rise. How will the Knicks adapt to their surroundings? Can the Bulls get over the hump? In the past the powerhouse teams have been in the West, but I think this season will bring the East back into the limelight. While a few teams will be competing for the conference championship in the East, the clear favorite to win the West is the Thunder.

Of Crosby and Concussions

this is your brain...

photo cred:

On Nov. 21st, just before Sidney Crosby made his triumphant return to the NHL after nearly a year on the shelf from dual concussions, I felt compelled to compose and send the following to Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski,

Sidney Crosby’s return marks the end of a worry for possibly millions of fans across the globe. A worry that the best player in the world today has been in a word, Lindros’d.

But for me, it only marks the beginning of a new worry; that this could be the worst decision of his life.

But who is this same-aged Rangers fan from Long Island? A guy who has been having the Ovechkin vs. Sid debate since the lockout and choosing Ovie each time. Why would I care?

I care because I know what it’s like to have your life literally trapped in an indefinite crippling holding pattern just to recover from Post Concussion Syndrome. I had to leave school and live my life through dark sunglasses, ear buds, and hardly being able to remember what I had for breakfast.

I know what it’s like when the doctor recommends that you shut everything down to “just let your brain heal,” by literally doing absolutely nothing for months on end. I know what the seemingly insurmountable despair and boredom your life’s utter nothingness does to you. It’s like you’re in your own personal isolation cell with your brain perpetually on fire. Constantly fearful of irritants that can re-spark intense migraines, crippling nausea and wild mood swings.

And the cherry on top; no one truly understands what you’re going through. No one can help you. There’s no AA. No meds. No distractions. Just burning pain, confusion and fear.

It was two years ago this past Halloween I suffered my fifth concussion (third major) in the past nine years. I still struggle with the ripple effects, and I don’t have any of the pressures of a Crosby, or even a struggling family. I just have me. And my struggles.

The Kid symbolizes a lot of things for me. He symbolizes the idyllic super star because he makes his mates better and outworks everyone.  He also symbolizes an utter lack of understanding for a devastating condition that I sincerely doubt he’s overcome. How does one overcome brain damage exactly anyway?

But, he, along with other players like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Patrice Bergeron and soon to return David Perron, give me hope that I too can break through and pick up where I left off if I just keep working hard.

For that, I thank each of you.

Wysh was kind enough to respond only a few hours later with a thank you and that he “may do a round up of Sid stuff later, and will pop this in.” He didn’t, and that’s fine.

Fast forward to today, Crosby’s return lasted just eight game over two weeks. And now his career is sincerely in question.

But, why is anyone surprised? As Wysh’s podcast-mate Jeff Marek of said so aptly last week, “Hockey is a concussion sport.” To wit, Lyle Richardson on Sunday clearly illustrates at his site, Spector’s Hockey, hockey is a sport that can’t not have head injuries.

  “As for finding one specific reason for the occurrence of these injuries, that may be unreasonable. Players on skates traveling at high speeds, encased in hard, plastic protective gear, clutching long, narrow sticks, playing in an enclosed space on a hard, slippery, unforgiving surface, surrounded by boards and shatter-proof glass run a significant risk of injury.”

Doesn’t that say enough about hockey when it comes to concussions?

When it comes to my decision as to whether or not to play (any form of) hockey, or any other contact sport, the answer still isn’t easy. I’m a person who feels more at ease competing in a game than almost anything else. But in the end, I still have in the back of my mind, “Hey, be careful. This isn’t worth it.”

Now try to imagine what it’s like for athletes who are on the cusp of making it to the show. Working their whole lives to realize their dreams, and potentially make some serious bank.

Now try to imagine what it’s like for those who have made it to the show, are established, and may be forced to reconsider what they’ve worked their whole lives for, achieved and still pursue to conquer. Save for a mad few, it can’t be easy.

I just hope no one ends up like this.