Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dear Michael: Please Buy the Bobcats, and Do It Quickly


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It has been widely speculated this summer that Michael Jordan has an interest in buying the Charlotte Bobcats. Current team owner Bob Johnson has expressed a desire to sell the team due to sagging revenues and sponsorships, losses in the "millions,” and an overall failure to become a successful business entity. Considering Johnson paid $300 million to establish the franchise in 2003 and it is currently valued at $284 million, even the simplest financial minds can see that this relationship has not been ideal.

His Airness has been a part-owner of the team since 2006. Although his role of “managing member of basketball operations” has always been somewhat unclear, he has clearly been an instrumental voice in the front office staff of the Bobcats. He has the final authority in basketball-related decisions, but he is not the one picking up the phone fielding trade offers. After a failed relationship of similar nature with the Wizards in 2000-2003, MJ has been moderately successful at this overseer position, even after considering the failure of Adam Morrison.

Jordan agreed to drafting Adam Morrison 3rd overall in 2006 (his first with the team), however, he only had two weeks between being named partial owner and deciding who got drafted, so it’s hard to put the blame entirely on his shoulders. In retrospect, Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay would have been better and more logical draft choices. However, former head coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff was influential in bringing Morrison to the Bobcats. And although the Kwame Brown draft pick defines his legacy with the Wizards, the Morrison pick will not do the same for the Bobcats.

Morrison (in case you'd forgotten) has quite possibly been one of the worst players to grace a basketball court in recent memory. When looking at his 11.8 points per game as a rookie, he appears to be a serviceable NBA player. However, he shot an atrocious 37.6% and managed to grab only 2.9 rebounds. He somehow managed to play 29.8 minutes a game, which makes his numbers look even worse. He tore his ACL before his sophomore campaign and missed the entire season. Thankfully the Bobcats managed to trade him to the Lakers this past season, separating Michael from the unfamiliar stench of failure. 

But all past dealings aside, it has been very clear, however, that Michael has been spending more time on the golf course than doing work in the Charlotte front office. This February 10th article in the Washington Post by Mike Cranston states “Jordan, rarely seen or heard from in Charlotte, insisted he's committed to making the Bobcats a winner and would be interested in buying a larger stake in the team.”

This is exactly why Michael needs to become the majority owner. Those are not things that should be said about upper level management. Instead, they should be words that describe an owner.

The average NBA fan can name probably 5 owners. Mark Cuban [Mavericks], Dr. Jerry Buss [Lakers], James Dolan [Knicks], Donald Sterling [Clippers], Robert Sarver [Suns]. Only one (Dr. Buss) has been able to ever bring his team to the promised land and the title of NBA Champion, while the rest are either known for their frugality (Sarver), failings (Sterling), eccentricity (Cuban), or imprudence (Dolan).

The most successful team of the past decade has been the San Antonio Spurs, and 95% of NBA fans most likely have no idea who the owner is. His name? Peter Holt. Who knew?

With Michael operating behind the scenes, he could leave all player-personnel decisions up to other staff members. And play all the golf he wanted to no detriment to the team. He would of course have the final say on all decisions, but he would be better suited to use his fame and personage to gain more corporate sponsorships, free agents, and financial benefits for the team. Michael could use his immense fame to make the Bobcats more competitive and appealing using his own personal brand, which would ultimately lead to more wins.

Much has been made this off season of players campaigning for free-agents to join their respective clubs through Twitter and other various network means. Pat Riley flew to Los Angeles and Dwyane Wade made numerous Twitter posts trying to entice Lamar Odom to join the Miami Heat. LeBron James did his best to get Trevor Ariza or Ron Artest to join the Cavaliers. Ultimately none of these attempts were successful, simply because the suitors did not carry the necessary weight to lure the free agents.

Imagine the influence that Michael Jordan would have in courting potential free agents to join the Bobcats. In his current position he is seen more as a manager than as an ambassador. If he were completely devoted to being an emissary of the Bobcats considering he was the principal owner, his prestige would be of a greater value to the franchise.

In six seasons as a front-office manager Jordan has been unable to lead a team to the playoffs. If he gracefully stepped down as he assumed the role of the owner, he would be able to lead the Bobcats in a much different manner. By giving more power to current general manager Rod Higgins, while still being able to have the final input on all decisions, Michael would be happy and the Bobcats would be better.

The Bobcats have seemingly been one key player away from being a playoff team in the East for the past three seasons. They have been unable to draw in top free agents, secure enough of a consistent fan base, or draw in the corporate sponsorships (and money that comes with them), to make them a contender.

With Michael Jordan at the helm, and operating as an icon for the Bobcats, he would give them the edge they needed to make serious headway and become a legitimate challenger to the Eastern Conference Elite. If he were able to finalize the sale of the Bobcats and secure ownership of the Bobcats, it would be one of the most significant moves of the NBA offseason.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Idea So Ridiculous It Might Work


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Today, during my lunch break at work, I stumbled across this William Rhoden article in the New York Times, talking about soccer star Thierry Henry and his infatuation and love of America.

Who knew the French had it in them?

Henry, a 31 year old French striker who plays for FC Barcelona, spent time in the article joking about the difference between his fútbol and our football. He's convinced that we've got it wrong, because in American football, we don't use our feet.

However, he did not come across as a brash foreign soccer star. Instead, he showed his love for American football, specifically the New York Giants and Lawrence Taylor. He also did not hesitate to bring up American sporting icons Babe Ruth, Magic Johnson, and even Pistol Pete Maravich in discussing why his football has not had the same success as our football and other sports.

And that was the main premise of the article: Could Thierry Henry be the catalyst (à la Pelé) to bring professional soccer into the forefront of American sport and entertainment?

It was a role that was supposed to be filled by David Beckham and that has clearly not worked. And soccer, at least professionally, is still a second tier sport in the eyes of many Americans.

Thierry professes a love of American culture in the article and even expresses (in regards to playing in America), "It’s a wish, and I hope that one day it can be done. But I’m enjoying my time in Barcelona, I absolutely love it, but I wish that one day, it can be possible."

I began to think about this, and I really think that soccer can become a major professional sport in the US. However, no one man could bring soccer into the foreground of American culture. It seems highly unlikely in this day and age that one human could ever propel an entire sport.

So, I came to the conclusion that the only possible way for America to truly embrace soccer is to have a single American team, capable of playing against the top European teams.

I recognize this is a pretty radical idea, and I know what you're probably thinking - Impossible! That's ludicrous. No one would care. Have you heard of the MLS? It sucks. No one would watch. No players would play for us. The travel would not work. Etc. Etc. Etc.

However, I truly believe that the concept is not so far fetched.

Think about it.

First, the team would need an eccentric owner and a place to play. One name immediately catapulted to the top of the list: Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban.

Billionaire? Check. Famous? Check. Fan of the sport? Check. Stadium? Check - well, at least maybe.

I have a feeling fellow Texan Jerry Jones might let Mark and his fútbol players use the new 100,000 seat, $1.2 Billion Cowboy Stadium as their home turf.

With the city of Dallas having a strong love of sports, a large Latino population, an even larger general population, and location in the Central Time Zone (this would be crucial, so everyone in America could watch), the setting could not be more ideal.

If it were on the West Coast (Los Angeles came to mind), it would be too far behind the East Coast, and more importantly Europe. If it were on the East Coast (New York would be great too), prime time games would be played as people on the West sat in rush hour traffic. A game at 7:30pm in Dallas would be 8:30pm in the East and 5:30pm in the West. People would watch.

With the owner and the stadium out of the way, the next thing to address would be the roster.

The main reason professional soccer has not become an epidemic like the other major sports in America is because the quality of American professional soccer has quite frankly been awful. Americans only want to watch the best players playing the best game. It's why the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, and NBA Playoffs get the best ratings (and because of gambling - er...just kidding).

Watching a bunch of C-Level MLS players (sorry guys) simply does not excite Americans. However, if they had the opportunity to see top level competition, they'd show up in droves.

This was no more evident than when over 420,000 people went to 7 games involving premier European teams in the United States this summer in the World Football Challenge (including the friendly between Barcelona and the LA Galaxy that saw 93,000 people in the Rose Bowl). Also the US National Team garnered unbelievable support as they took down Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup and nearly pulled off the upset against Brazil in the finals.

With Mark Cuban at the helm of the team, he'd be willing to shell out hundreds of millions to bring some of the best talent across the pond. If the team was able to secure a deal with one of Europe's upper echelon leagues and become a member, the players would see it as a practical alternative.

Players like the aforementioned Henry and Beckham, as well as Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko (rumored to have an interest to playing in America) would headline the squad. Although they would all be past the apex of their careers, they would still bring valuable name recognition and skill. Recruit star Americans Tim Howard in goal and Landon Donovan in the midfield, and then there are 5 bona fide stars to market.

Add a Mexican star like Giovanni Dos Santos and then there would be two countries that followed the team religiously. Incorporate some reliable starters and reserves and this team would be able to at least compete with some of the better European teams.

If the team had a large number of the best Americans playing on it as well, it would have "hometown feel" to it. Sign American players like DaMarcus Beasley, Brian Ching, Sacha Kljestan, and Ricardo Clark, and the team would look a lot like America.

It would be diverse, it would have players of all skin colors and backgrounds, and most importantly, every person would have their favorite player. This would be the way for the team to form an attachment to the general American populace, especially the youth.

If the youth of America believed that it was "cool" to play soccer because they had stars to emulate that also looked like them, the best American athletes would begin to play it more, and the quality of the American soccer player would improve.

Instead of kids pretending to be LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Derrick Jeter, or Sidney Crosby in their backyards, they might try and pull off their best Jozy Alitidore impression.

It would give rise to an entire generation of youth that had players that they wanted to grow up and be, and a team that they wanted to play for. Ask any male 35 and under and they probably dreamed of playing on the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, at least one time in their life. The same cannot be said about the Houston Dynamo or any other team in the MLS.

The success of the team would ultimately have to be driven by the youth. As Tupac once said in Keep Ya Head Up "They say there ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is / It ain't no hope for the future."

Little did Shakur know that his words could also be used to profile the downfall of the "Great American Pastime." Because baseball did not cater to a younger generation and televised its World Series games at 9:30pm Eastern, their market share has almost become a nonentity to people under the age of 25. The popularity of baseball will begin to precipitously decline in the next 15-20 years. (But that's for a different post).

If this team were to exist, it could not afford to make the same mistake that baseball did, and would have to make a concerted effort to cater to people born after 1998.

Also if the team was able to work a deal with ABC/ESPN in which all of their games would be nationally televised, and their coverage would be abundant, they would eventually force themselves into the vernacular of the everyday sports language. There would be commercials for the games during Desperate Housewives, they would be a lead story on SportsCenter, and their information would be proliferated on blogs throughout the world.

There is already a solid base of professional soccer fans in the United States, and they would carry the team initially. Although they may have loyalties to their respective club teams (Liverpool, Chelsea, AC Milan, and Manchester United all come to mind), they would at least watch the new American team.

They would talk about it at work or at lunch or in the classroom, and then the outsiders who were not watching, would begin to watch the games in an effort to not be left out. Soccer is a beautiful game when it is played well, especially on HD, and the followers would grow as they watched more games. Slowly but surely the viewers and fans of the team would increase, until it became a national phenomenon and the growth became exponential.

If the team had an owner like Mark Cuban, a stadium like current Cowboys one, a roster with recognizable top pros (albeit older ones), a presence of American players, a deal with a top European league (Premiership is a possibility), and a network TV deal, simply put, it would succeed.

Those are of course a ton of variables, but if they all somehow were able to come together, there would be a viable professional soccer team in the United States.

European teams might have an aversion to traveling all the way over to the United States to play a single game, but with the luxury of today's airlines, they could certainly manage. Even the NFL is going global with a match up of the Patriots and Buccaneers in London on October 25th of this year. Travel would be a minor issue.

I'm also sure that I'm missing a ton of other objections (travel can surely not be the only one), so if you can think of one, let me know in the comments section. I know the ridiculousness of the proposition, however I think it is certainly feasible to believe that it could happen.

And at least for the time being, I think that this could be the impetus needed to grow professional soccer in American, and it could be a pretty effective.

The only thing left to do is come up with the name.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Silly Moves by the Braves


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As you probably know, I'm a big Braves fan. As such, I was elated to see that they were able to snag the Sunday night baseball spot on "The World Wide Leader."

I was watching the game (and still am as I write this), and I noticed a familiar face playing first base, Adam LaRoche. I knew they traded for him a few days ago, but seeing him again got me thinking (a scary proposition, I know).

I began to wonder "Why did we get rid of this guy in the first place?" and more importantly "How did we turn Mark Teixeira into a player we already had?"

Those thoughts led me to doing a little research about a recent string of pretty odd, as well as poorly planned and orchestrated moves by the once illustrious front office of the Atlanta Braves.

It all started on January 19th, 2007, when the Braves traded first baseman Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh for reliver Mike Gonzalez in an effort to bolster their bullpen. The left handed LaRoche was coming off a season in which he hit 32 homers, drove in 92 runs, and had a .298 average.

Then on August 1st, 2007, the Braves traded the farm (literally) to acquire first baseman Mark Teixeira from Texas, to fill their gaping hole at first base and need for another left handed bat in the lineup. The cornerstones of the deal were minor leaguers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (catcher) and Elvis Andrus (shortstop) as well as three other minor leaguers. Andrus and Salty are now both starting for the Rangers.

The trade did not give the Braves boost that they needed to make the playoffs as they had hoped. This was mainly due to a lack of quality players in their bullpen, as Mike Gonzalez went down in May with a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery.

Then 363 days later on July 30th, 2008, the Braves traded Teixeira away to the Los Angeles Angels knowing they would not be able to sign him as a free agent in the upcoming off season due to his high price tag (he ended up getting a contract for 8 years $180 million from the Yankees). They traded him for first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek.

366 days after that on July 31st, 2009, the Braves traded Casey Kotchman to the Boston Red Sox for Adam LaRoche.

So essentially, they've traded away two top tier prospects into, well, nothing. They haven't made the playoffs since 2005, and are really in no position to do so this season.

I guess the most frustrating thing about all of this, is that it they're right back where they started, except all of their players are now 2 and a half seasons older.

When they traded LaRoche, they clearly did not get enough value for him, and they needed his bat in the lineup from the outset of the season. Then they traded away two great young players for Teixeira in an effort to replace the things that LaRoche gave them.

[Now don't get me wrong here, I totally agree that Teixeira was an upgrade over anything LaRoche could have given them. But if they had kept LaRoche, they could have used their assets in a more efficient manner.]

Then instead of keeping Teixeira for the rest of 2008 (which would net them two first round picks when he left in free agency), they traded him for Kotchman and a pitcher who has a 5.66 ERA in minor league play this year.

I just look at those moves and think that they could have turned them into something more valuable. If they didn't trade LaRoche in the first place, they probably could have turned Elvis, Jarrod and other prospects into an all-star left fielder (Matt Holliday or Manny Ramirez come to mind, both of whom have been traded in the past 2 seasons) or a top-flight starting pitcher (Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, or even CC Sabathia, all of whom have been traded in the past 2 seasons).

CC led the Brewers into the playoffs last year, same with Manny for the Dodgers. And Holliday and Lee look like they will be doing the same for their new teams this season. Whereas the Braves moves are simply exercises in futility that result in third place (or worse) finishes in the National League East.

Maybe this is all a learning process for new General Manager Frank Wren. However, if these types of miscues and trades are a recurring problem and the Braves continue to lose ground in the NL East and miss the playoffs, Wren will have to stop learning and start producing. Or else he may be out of a job altogether.