Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

LA unFitness

I am a member of LA Fitness.  I most often use the facility at Universal City because it has a hardwood basketball court.

Although my recreational playing days are over – no semblance of speed left in me – I derive much fulfillment  from moving the ball around the court, going in for a layup and nailing a 3-pointer from the corner.  Actually, I still have a pretty good shot.

Overall, it amounts to an enjoyable form of exercise and loosens me up for the rest of my routine…..and I can pretend to be any guard in the NBA,  although delusion might better describe my thoughts on the floor.

My basketball activities are best suited for times when the court is not crowded, usually late Saturday and Sunday afternoons and early evenings; and that’s when I notice it.  It was particularly evident today.

The sidelines were lined with empty water bottle and energy drink containers,  with partially eaten food items, too- I saw two banana peels just today.  Based on the volume of refuse, I estimate about 30 people were responsible .

I have complained to LA Fitness about this before.

I did so, again, today.

This time I made a suggestion that the facility’s management place signs in the gym reminding players to clean up before they leave. Even then, there will probably be those who ignore the message.

If that doesn’t work, LA Fitness should threaten to close the gym for, say, a week. Then do it again, if necessary. Maybe then there will be some peer pressure by responsible members to get the slobs to perform the simple task of tossing waste in a trash can.  Even the worst players can make that shot.

I know this solution sounds like a form of parochial school discipline one might expect from the Sisters of Perpetual Abuse, but we are dealing with those who lack basic respect for other members, and especially for the maintenance crew assigned to clean it all up at the end of the day.




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The Rio Olympics is history.

The green water of the diving and water polo pools has been emptied into Guanabara Bay. The Brazilian Army’s deployment helped keep a lid on crime, but it could not prevent Ryan Lochte from creating an international incident.

In all fairness, Rio did pull off a mostly controversy-free Games, but there are lessons for Los Angeles. If we win the bid for 2024, our dirty laundry will be aired to the world.

No matter how hard a host city tries, it will be under the microscope.

Let me say, I believe LA can stage a financially successful Olympics. As skeptical as I can be about our city’s finances, remember: the mayor and city council will not be pulling the strings. Look for a Mitt Romney or Peter Ueberroth to run the show. Mitt should be available.

First, we have to secure the bid.

So, talk of who should light the cauldron at the Coliseum is way too premature.

But according to TMZ, Mayor Garcetti has expressed a preference for Caitlyn Jenner to do the honors.

While Jenner has garnered both Olympic and social preeminence, the highly publicized transgender personality wins, at best, a fourth-place medal as a candidate for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

While I hesitate to speculate who would best represent the nation and the region, since the mayor has prematurely opened the door, I’ll weigh in.

The gold medal winner in the race to light the flame belongs to someone who represents the best in America and a symbol of our Southern California lifestyle. Who better for that role than Kerry Walsh-Jennings.

When you think of LA, the beach…and beach volleyball…emerge as one of several symbols of our culture.

Walsh-Jennings is a model of sportsmanship, competitiveness and triumph. In a span that transcended five Olympiads (including one as a member of the indoor team at the Sydney 2000 Games), she won three golds and a bronze. She also had a sensational career as a player at Stanford. She earned her degree there, as well. Not too shabby.

Jenner, whose achievements are noteworthy and has shown personal courage, unfortunately brings to mind the Kardashian clan. I do not believe we want Kim, Kanye and company leveraging off the publicity – as if they need any.

Regardless, this is about selecting a role model all can admire; one who sets a standard for achievement with humility and grace.

Let the mayor know Walsh-Jennings can best represent us before the world.

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As I pointed out in an earlier article, there is potential for the 2024 Olympics to provide a substantial economic boost to the region.

The City Council will vote on a resolution to give the mayor power to enter a binding contract with the USOC. The contract would also make us responsible for any cost overruns.

I could accept such a condition if the organizing committee has broad powers to decide on the construction, renovation or repurposing of facilities. I accept the fact that the cost of security, traffic control and crowd management will be high, but the prospects of record-breaking revenues are high too, owing to a new TV contract after the current one expires as of the conclusion of the 2020 Games, and the likely mega-influx of Asian tourists – particularly from Olympic powerhouse China. But the cost of new venues could make or break the finances.

So, before the Council authorizes the mayor to proceed, there must be strict limitations, perhaps defined as a cap, on infrastructure costs. Our current major facilities are good enough for professional sports and Division 1 NCAA contests, so there is no reason to spend on big ticket improvements. We need to ask if an Olympic village is even necessary, as opposed to dispersing teams to college dormitories or hotel complexes, the latter approach becoming more popular for nations with elite programs.

It is also critical for the Council to consider the impact the games will have on general infrastructure projects throughout the city.  It would not be wise to have the DWP tearing up streets to replace water mains in the months leading up to the competition.

It gets down to drawing a line in the sand with the IOC and USOC, organizations who have proven themselves incapable of exercising or encouraging financial common sense, and who,  because they are playing with other people’s money, bear little risk if a city goes bust.

If our terms are deemed as too restrictive, too bad.  In time, more and more cities will push back and the ruling Olympic poobahs will finally get the message that the world has had enough.

Of course, they could always rely on nations run by authoritarian regimes to cough up sums they cannot afford.

How would Tehran and Pyongyang appeal to the public as future regular destinations? Maybe we can leverage them by having some nuclear weapons inspectors pose as athletes. Our team mascot could be a geiger counter.

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The Olympic Games have been devolving for many years into a grotesque spectacle of over-spending, if not virtually pushing some cities and nations towards bankruptcy.

The Athens Games exacerbated Greece’s already strained economy in 2004 with a loss of $14 billion and produced a landscape dotted with crumbling facilities.

Beijing left China with little usable infrastructure to show for its $44 billion outlay.

Russia’s $50 billion spectacle in Sochi fared better than Beijing’s games in the sense it resulted in lasting capital improvements, but one has to wonder whether the location will ever pan out into a popular destination, one worthy of the massive investment.  It’s a lot to spend on a city of only 300,000 people far removed from the rest of the country. It does not help that Putin is doing what he can to isolate Russia from the rest of the developed world.

The two most successful Games in history were held in the United States – Atlanta and Los Angeles, although Atlanta’s was marred by an act of domestic terrorism.

The Los Angeles 1984 Games succeeded beyond any standard of achievement, making $250 million on an investment of around $500 million. It was the first Summer Games to turn a profit since 1932 when they were held in ………Los Angeles.

The only new sporting venues – the velodrome and aquatic center – were heavily financed by corporate sponsors.

The legacy of these games was not unsightly ruins and Olympic-sized debt, but an endowment that still thrives today.  I’m talking about LA84.

But times are different.

The cost of security alone would be a budget-buster for many host cities and their national governments.

Also, the IOC has done nothing to discourage the senseless splurge by some governments who view the Games as a  a testimonial to their autocratic and corrupt regimes.

Boston, the United States entry for the 2024 Summer Olympics, seemed to be heading down a path to financial suicide, but an alarm rang in the mayor’s office when the city had to sign a contract that would make it liable to pay for any losses.  Give Mayor Martin Walsh a gold medal for having the courage to walk from the deal.

Considering the history of excessive and unconscionable costs, should Los Angeles dare fill the void left by Boston?

If any city in the United States can stage a successful and affordable Games, it is Los Angeles.

Record-breaking revenue would seem to be certain. The location, pleasant climate, diverse entertainment venues and beaches will likely attract a record number of visitors, including many from Olympic powerhouse China, a nation which made its debut at the Games in 1984. Back then, it was impossible for Chinese to travel abroad in any significant numbers. I would expect an armada of charter and scheduled flights carrying PRC citizens will land here this time around.

A surplus would almost be certain, too, if we insisted on managing the event our way, and not the IOC’s.

Just as in 1984, corporate sponsors will come through.  Various government entities would have to provide most of the security and transportation control, for which they should be reimbursed off the top of receipts.  Security for London 2012 came to an equivalent of $800 million and ticket sales were around $1 billion.

Don’t forget about our share of television money, which may also set a record.  NBC’s current contract to cover the games runs through 2020, so a bidding war will be likely among the major networks.  Existing production facilities and available technicians in Los Angeles should create efficiencies that translate to lower production costs, a consideration which will not lost on the bidders.

To assure a surplus, the Los Angeles organizers must stand firm against constructing new facilities. If our stadiums and arenas are good enough for UCLA, USC, MLB, NBA and NHL, they are good enough for the rest of the world.  Any costs related to sports infrastructure should be limited to clearing deferred maintenance and any technology upgrades to manage the events on the field or in the water. Temporary facilities will have to be constructed for certain sports and enhancements made to college dormitories to house the athletes, although the trend has been for many teams to stay in private facilities.

Our message to the IOC should be about financial sensibility.  Given the immense money pit forming in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC may be more receptive to the concept. If not, there will be fewer and fewer bidders for the Games in the years to come.

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Thank you, Mr. November

The moment is still etched in my memory.

The Yankees trailed Arizona by one game going into game 4, and it looked as if they would be down by two.

It was only through gutsy pitching in game 3 that prevented the Bombers from reaching the brink of elimination in the 2001 World Series.

The Yankees were down going into the ninth inning of game 4, but a home run by Tino Martinez tied it and set the stage for the first major league baseball game ever to slip into November.

Game 4 started on Oct 31st – the baseball season shut down for a week after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers on 9/11, pushing back the playoffs. Derek Jeter was having a dismal time at the plate against Arizona to that point.

As Jeter came to bat in the 10th, the clock chimed 12 times over the PA system to herald the historic chronological milestone.

He worked the count brilliantly against Byung-Hyun Kim after being down two strikes with two outs. It was 3 and 2. An out would push the game into the 11th inning. Mariano Rivera would have had to take the mound again. The ace reliever had already saved game 3 with two innings of work and had one more this evening.

After fouling off a pitch hard down the right field line, he was ready for Kim’s next offering.

Jeter, a right-handed hitter, took it to the opposite field again. This time, he straightened it out and lifted it higher. It sailed several rows back behind the fence. Game over. The rest is history. Mr. November was born….and my primal scream of victory could be heard throughout Valley Village. Just ask my wife. She was ready to call 911.

Jeter was a career 300 hitter. His stats in post-season play were even better. He tops most of the offensive categories for all playoff levels combined, and fares well in those limited to the World Series.

His calm and professional demeanor ranks with the best.

I was privileged to have followed the fortunes of the Yankees from the Mantle-Maris-Ford years, through the successful, but turbulent, years defined by Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Billy Martin, to the Jeter led class which included Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. The last group was one of the best to come up through the Yankee farm system. With the exception of Pettite, whose time with the Yankees was interrupted for a few seasons with Houston, the five played their entire careers in New York.

Jeter was named captain of the Yankees in 2003. He had the longest tenure of any in the franchise’s history. Don Mattingly preceded him, but had to retire in 1995 due to back problems. The position was vacant until Jeter was named to fill the role. One wonders how much better the Yankees would have been with both Jeter and Mattingly playing together into the late nineties.

It will be a few years before the Yankees can assemble another winning combination, but they will. History and tradition assures it.

And Jeter will serve as their model.

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It has been reported that the infrastructure construction for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio are in even worse shape than in the run-up to the Athens Games in 2004. Social unrest also grips Brazil as people question the nation’s priorities.

In a recent poll, only 48% of the population were happy playing host to the World Cup tournament in a country where futbol is a religion.

Olympic costs will far exceed those of the World Cup – a projection of $18 billion vs. $11 billion for the latter. The new stadium is about $100 million over budget.

Regardless of the costs, the IOC may have to make what might be the most controversial decision in sports history if it appears that the facilities in Rio will be largely unfinished by the opening ceremonies. It could move the Games to an alternate location.

Although everything would be done to avoid such an embarrassment, it is not out of the question, especially if major venues are not in condition to offer competitors and fans a safe experience. If public unrest grows, fears of riots could drive countries to pull their national teams from the Games.

The point of no return is rapidly approaching – say by September of this year. A go or no-go decision will have to be made.

So what city would be capable of stepping up?

Conceivably, London could, but the chances are virtually zero the IOC would allow the same city to host back-to-back Games.

The facilities used for Athens and Beijing are rotting away.

No city in the world can match Los Angeles for its combination of sports infrastructure, balmy weather, die-hard fans and, most of all, the entrepreneurial character of its business community. Add to that, you could have Mitt Romney manage the preparation and staging of the Games. He could go down in history as having been behind two financially successful Olympics in a world where it is an achievement for the host city to simply avoid bankruptcy. Put it this way, it offers a much better opportunity than running for president again.

But could a Los Angeles Olympics earn a surplus?

The 1984 Games made a surplus of $232 million against $546 million in costs, a 42% return . Much of the surplus was funneled into an endowment – LA84 – that still contributes to sports programs benefiting local children and schools today.

We have much more riding in our favor these days. Besides the experience and lessons learned from 1984, we have a vastly larger commuter rail system, more hotel beds and key new facilities, such as the Staples Center, to complement older serviceable arenas.

We do not need new stadiums, only upgrades.

Beach volleyball anyone? I mean real beach volleyball.

Local colleges can provide housing for many athletes. Many residents would open their doors to athletes and team personnel as well.

Of course residents could benefit from one of the best tax breaks around – you can rent your dwelling tax-free for fourteen days no matter how much you charge. It would be enough to make many people leave town and reduce the traffic load.

Perhaps Mayor Garcetti and the County Board of Supervisors could quietly suggest to the IOC that Los Angeles stands ready if needed.

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If you followed NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympic Games, you would have barely realized there was a popular uprising against tyranny in neighboring Ukraine.

Had Bob “Pink Eye” Costas and crew been around for the 1936 Berlin Games, they would have presented them as “Springtime for Hitler and Germany.”

I could forgive NBC for barely mentioning the murder of protesting civilians in Kiev if the Games had been staged in Norway, but the slushy $50 billion spectacle in Sochi was being hosted by Vladimir Putin.

Bob Costas managed to make an indirect, passing reference to the bloodshed on the next to last night of coverage. A classic case of too little, too late.

Putin was the architect of the unrest in Ukraine. Since he assumed power in Russia, Putin has been bullying and extorting the nation that emerged in 1991 after 70 years of Soviet oppression. The last straw was interfering with Ukraine’s desire to align with the EU instead of a Russian-controlled economic bloc, an hegemony that would virtually set the calendar back to the Soviet era.

His lap dog in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovitch, condoned – if not ordered – the slaughter of demonstrators in Kiev by cowardly sniper fire. He has since taken refuge in the city of Kharkiv, on the border of Russia in eastern Ukraine, a section of the country sympathetic to Moscow.

Putin never showed an ounce of concern for the violence he helped foster as he made the rounds at Sochi. It was Mother Russia uber alles. Ukraine’s unwillingness to play along with Russia’s economic and strategic game plan was making him look weak at a time when instability in that part of the world, and even in the heartland of his own country, could undo his influence.

Dictators never like to appear weak. Although Putin is not a Joe Stalin, he is at least a mini-me version of Uncle Joe.

Russian allies Syria and Iran would probably feel a little uneasy, too, if average, everyday people were not afraid to challenge their benefactor.

NBC’s whitewash of the Ukrainian Revolution during the Games is the testament of the power of money. Were the suits afraid Putin would pull the plug if their broadcast team sought opinions from the spectators or athletes? Or was it fear that the IOC would blacklist the network?

This much I am sure of – the old Jim McKay-led ABC team would have at least made some fuss about the crisis and Putin’s hand in it.

McKay was the ABC anchor for the tragic 1972 Munich Games. He did not flinch from his responsibility as a journalist. He reported the murder of the Israeli athletes and the failed attempt to rescue them like a news professional in the tradition of Walter Cronkite and Ted Koppel.

But the 1972 slaughter occurred at Munich, not hundreds of miles away, so how can one compare the coverage of the two Olympiads?

While not a drop of blood was spilled at Sochi, save some cuts and bruises suffered by members of Pussy Riot, the man pulling Yanukovitch’s strings was ever-present for NBC’s cameras.

Matt and Bob pretended it was just another Today show.

Remember that the next time you tune into an NBC broadcast.

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A Six-Ring Olympics

The Olympic flag depicts five interlocking rings, each in a color used in the flags of the participating nations.

There is a sixth ring in this year’s event – the Ring of Steel.

Host nation Russia claims to have implemented a lockdown security plan to protect the Sochi site from neighboring terrorists. The resources devoted to preventing mayhem from intruding on the world’s largest stage is probably the most concerted defensive effort in that part of the world since the Red Army saved Stalingrad (now Volgograd). A side note: the presence of the German Olympic team will probably represent the largest organized penetration by Germany of Mother Russia since the Wehrmacht’s advance in World War 2.

Sochi is just a few hundred miles to the south of Volgograd, a short distance by today’s standards. Volgograd was victimized by a terrorist attack this past December, one of several such acts committed by Chechen rebels throughout Western Russia.

An attempted attack somewhere within the proximity of the Games is almost a certainty. Even if the ring of steel remains intact, the psychological damage to all present will be significant if violence erupts anywhere within reach of transportation corridors.

The Russians appear confident they can head off any threat to the Games. In a country where judicial due process is arbitrary, we can expect draconian tactics – overt or covert – to round up suspects. The security forces will have latitude to arrest or detain anyone who looks the wrong way or tarries too long in one spot. When you have a leader like Vladimir Putin, who cut his teeth while serving the KGB, what would you expect?

Is there such a thing as the Olympic spirit in this type of environment?

It is reasonable to push the envelope of precaution when a threat exists. Even if there is no apparent threat, measures must be taken whenever people gather for a highly publicized event. Just look at the precautions for the Super Bowl – Blackhawk helicopters and fighter jets. If there were a blimp there would be a contingent of SEAL snipers on board.

But when you apply extreme security in a country with a long history of xenophobia, homophobia and an aversion to human rights, the result is likely to shock the senses of the civilized world, even if no terrorist acts are committed. It is conceivable that more gays than Chechen operatives will be apprehended!

Whether Russia will go too far in dealing with the very real threat of terrorism, the dangers facing visitors, athletes and the Russian citizens themselves has been a frequent subject of discussions. However, the irresponsibility of the International Olympic Committee has been noticeably absent from media talking points.

The IOC put politics before safety. In an attempt to be inclusive and appease a powerful leader, thousands are being put in harm’s way. It wasn’t as if they were unaware of the region’s volatility when they awarded the Games to the rather obscure resort in the Western Cauausus.

What’s next? A summer Olympics in Nigeria? Well,at least e-mail service would be pretty good there.

We can’t – we must not – stop life in the face of terrorist threats.

But we need to apply common sense, too, especially when much safer options are available.

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As a life long Yankee fan, Mariano Rivera is one of the greats from a line of greats.

I was glad to see him pitch on Sunday at Angels Stadium. He was honored before the game.

It will be a sad day in Yankee Stadium when he ultimately takes the mound in his last appearance before his retirement. I only hope that will happen in the last game of the World Series.

Mo_Rivera_Announcement copy

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The one that got away

One NCAA football game that will receive national attention this weekend will be the University of Richmond vs. Old Dominion University.  The game, at Richmond’s Robins Stadium, is sold out – all 8,600 seats.  If the game were being played at ODU’s Foreman Field, a capacity crowd of over 20,000 would be there. 

Why the national interest?

It’s not because it is a quality matchup between two good FCS programs (admittedly, the last two years for Richmond have been devoted to rebuilding, although Aaron Corp added fireworks).It’s because ODU’s quarterback Taylor Heinicke set an NCAA record for passing and total offense. He completed 55 passes for 730 yards to lead his team to a 64-61 victory over New Hampshire.  It was a come-from-behind effort as the Lions overcame a 23-point deficit in the second half.

Heinicke has been torching his opponents since he became the starter last year.  I was there in person last season as he and Corp staged a shootout that ODU won on its home turf.

Corp has graduated, but his replacement John Laub, a redshirt senior, is having a pretty decent season, too. 

But there is a sad story for Spider fans.  Heinicke almost played for Richmond.  Had we offered him a scholarship the day he visited our campus he would be wearing red and blue today. But we were a day late and a dollar short, as the old expression goes.  ODU beat us to the punch.

The game promises to be a high-scoring affair, but it should not match the point production of the New Hampshire game.  Richmond tends to manufacture sustained drives – quite a contrast to ODU’s no huddle offense. Also, Richmond has a Taylor of its own.  Pro prospect Cooper Taylor is one of the best free safeties in the FCS.   He transferred to Richmond from Georgia Tech two seasons ago, but missed most of last year to injuries – including the ODU game. And did we miss him.

Despite the offensive potential of this contest, it could very well be decided by a couple of big defensive plays.

I’m sure ESPN will offer highlights on Saturday night.

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