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InternetFM presents sports content from our partner site YourSportsFan.com including podcasts of “The Weekend Sports Report” with Les Grobstein, Steve Leventhal and Alison Moran, along with “Dorf on Sports” with Fred Wallin and Andy Dorf. YSF also features original sports articles.

cubs-logoJason Hammel’s struggles on Sunday only highlighted the Cubs need for a beefier rotation.  The young Cubs were swept by the MLB worst, Philadelphia Phillies.  Mr. Prolonged Relief, Travis Wood has been the temporary fix, certainly a good tool to have in the arsenal.  Operating with a four-man rotation, the Cubs are clearly in need of starting pitching, according to multiple reports, the Cubs are chasing Cole Hamels and David Price.  Considering how well Hamels pitched at Wrigley on Saturday, one might assume that the Cubs are even more interested.

With the inconsistencies coming from Lester, Hammel and Hendricks, combined with the empty rotation spot due to Tsuyoshi Wada, if the Cubs have any interest in pursuing a playoff berth, they should and will pursue a trade for some starting pitching before the deadline.

With this notion, comes questions as to who they would deal.

You likely wouldn’t get rid of pitching, for that is the main concern. It would be highly unlikely that any of the young new guys would go, the core that is.  That list likely includes Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, and Schwarber, especially with the catcher performing so well as of late.  He is creating an instant impact, even having Nola pitch around him in the fourth. While Castro seems like a logical choice to deal due to his propensity to groundout and less-than stellar fielding record, combined with the plethora of shortstops the Cubs have already playing elsewhere.  However, those same things that make him a logical choice are what make him less than a desirable candidate for any type of trade, even if it were a package deal.

Then one has to consider what the Phillies are in the market for.  The team with the worst record in major league baseball is likely going to be pillaging for prospects.  However, one can never underestimate the lengths to which a front office will go to make a “clever” move, especially one like the Phillies.

With the deadline looming, the series couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cubs.  Through the fortune of proximity, one might not be surprised if the two come to terms.  However, with each team getting an intimate look at each others’ lineup, it will likely come down to the asking price for Hamels.  With the front office’s efforts to stockpile prospects, there is plenty to choose from in blue. Whether the Cubs want to continue in that practice or really start dealing for major league talent will prove to be telling as to where in their progression plan the front office believes the Cubs to be. The question simply will be as to whether or not the Cubs are willing to part with as much as the oft-criticized Phillies front office is asking or if the Cubs still feel they’re in building mode and go with a smaller name pitcher for this season.

With the plethora of suitors though, it is easily foreseeable that another club is willing to part with more for Hamels.  The Cubs however, are apparently in talks about Zobrist and Price among others.

To a small degree, the important thing is not necessarily what move the Cubs make, but rather that they make one.  If one is to believe the “plan” of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, then the Cubs still are a year out of truly contending.  The important part then, instead, this season, is the distinct culture change from one of glorified mediocrity to one of competent management and exciting baseball.  Just ask Joe Maddon, as he likes “to believe the energy already exists here.”  An energy, any loyal North-Sider can easily describe as distinctly different.  There’s a culture change on Addison.  It’ll be interesting to see what steps Jed and Theo make to continue painting a new Cubbie Blue.

tagline: Cubs at the trade deadline

dwayne-wade-miami

Miami’s Dwayne Wade

on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

Jeff Rich talks NBA Free Agency and American League and National League Central with us, while John Poulter updates us on the Pan Am Games going on in Toronto this month, as well as his take on the American League East.  Plus, updates on the Green Bay Packers, and Big Ten football.

Don’t miss a cameo from NBC’s Bob Costas.

 

PSG manager Laurent Blanc post match

PSG manager Laurent Blanc post match

A hot, humid summer evening at Toronto’s newly expanded BMO Field was the site of the only game on Canadian soil in this year’s International Champions Cup, presented by Guiness.

This year’s event, the third such annual event is a little more world-wide than the 2014 event, as it includes games in the USA, Australia, China and England as well as the game in Toronto. In 2015 there are 15 teams participating, including teams from England (Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United), France (Paris Saint-Germain), Italy (AC Milan, Fiorentina and Internazionale), Mexico (America), Portugal (SL e Benfica) and Spain (AS Roma, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid) as well as three teams from MLS (LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes).

The game in Toronto featured the oldest, most famous, storied club in Portugal SL e Benfica (“Benfica”) and French Champions Paris Saint-Germain (“PSG”). Benfica was formed in 1904 and has won 72 domestic and international club trophies in its long history. PSG was formed in 1970 by the merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain (also formed in 1904) and has competed in that country’s Ligue 1 since 1974. It is owned by Qatar Sports Investments and as such is the richest club in France and one of the richest in the world.

Rui Vitoria, manager of Benfica, speaks to the press

Rui Vitoria, manager of Benfica, speaks to the press

With Pan Am Games events taking place nearby, the atmosphere at BMO Field was noisy, with most of the announced crowd of 17,843 supporting Benfica as Toronto has a large Portuguese population. The majority of the crowd were wearing the famous cherry red shirts of Benfica and loudly cheered their heroes from the player introductions and for every move their favourites made.

For a preseason/exhibition fixture the game was lively and well played. Benfica controlled the play for most of the first half but the opening goal came from PSG’s Jean-Kevin Augustin in the 29th minute, totally against the play. Benfica answered fairly quickly with Talisca evening the score in the 34th minute. After re-grouping, Benfica seemed to get their confidence back after the equalizer and Jonas put the Portuguese side ahead in the 42nd minute. As we usually see in these games, half-time brought substitutions as both teams had extra players on hand. Benfica, with 30 players in uniform for the game made three changes but PSG stayed the course with their starters until the 66th minute. PSG brought a much smaller squad of 19 players.

Lucas Moura tied the game for PSG with a 64th minute penalty, which became a turning point in the game as PSG continued to gain confidence and that confidence was rewarded with Lucas Digne scoring the winning goal in the 79th minute when Benfica goalkeeper Paulo Lopes could not hold on to the ball. Digne was voted as the man of the Match. By the end of the game, Benfica had substituted all of its starters and PSG had used six of its eight available substitutes.

Both managers’ post-game press conference comments centered around the fact that their teams took the game seriously even though it was very early in their respective preseasons. Having seen many of these exhibition type games by top European teams in Toronto over the years, I would have to agree with both managers’ comments. PSG Manager Laurent Blanc was especially proud of his relatively inexperienced side, which included many young players who are considered key to the team’s future and who were brought along on the tour to gain experience.

The game was one of the better exhibition fixtures we have seen in Toronto over the years and a good advert for European soccer in Canada’s largest city.

tag: Benfica vs PSG – Toronto


cubs-logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

Mark Grote pre- and post-game host of Cubs baseball on WBBM in Chicago joins us to discuss how the Chicago Cubs are doing at mid-season.  The All-Star break is over and the pennant chase begins in earnest. Mark also tells us which are his favorite MLB stadiums to visit.

Jeff Rich chimes in with his thoughts on the mid-Summer classic, as well as the NL Central.

Steve and Dave kick off the show with a quick look at the Bears and Packers as training camp is weeks away.

As the South Siders head to 1060 W Addison this weekend, with them comes a clash of expectations.  Both teams pursued roster overhauls in the winter, both teams adding new starting pitching as well as some much-needed sources of run support. The Cubs focused their free agency search on a catcher and a starting pitcher. Securing the lefty batting Montero, the second-best pitch framer on the market, and a lefty ace in Lester, as well as re-signing Jason Hammel, the club felt that they had navigated the FA market well. As has been preached and preached though, throughout the Cubs organization, the primary source for talent for the North Siders would be through the farm system.  Bringing Kris Bryant up along with defensive specialist, Addison Russell, and relying on the likes of other young talents like Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, and an improved Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs appear to be exponentially better a couple weeks into the season, at least, that is how it appeared on paper.  Fans were citing Back to the Future, and this time, letting themselves maybe, just maybe, believe that they wouldn’t have to say “next year” in September.  The White Sox, very busy themselves in the offseason, looked as though they too, would be much better on paper.  Adding the former Cub, Jeff Samardzija to beef up the starting rotation, as well as signing the big bats of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera while also trying to address their greatest weakness, the bullpen, with the additions of Zach Duke and David Robertson, the White Sox appeared to be all-in on spending and winning.  The potential addition of rookie promising prospect hoping to become an ace, Carlos Rodon, tied the picture together with a pretty bow that made fans think…“the ten-year anniversary of their last World Series! It makes nothing but beautiful, poetic sense!”

And now, in perfect dramatic fashion, the two clubs face off immediately prior to the mid-point of the season and the all-star break.  Speaking of, the Cubs will have two members playing, Anthony Rizzo as a first base reserve, and Kris Bryant, starting in the place of Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom will also be competing in the home run Derby the evening prior.  The two young big-batted stars could likely face the White Sox only representative for the game: Chris Sale.  All three selections are well deserving. Sale tied the major league record for eight consecutive starts with double digits strikeouts, and holds a 2.80 ERA and a 7-4 record.  Bryant and Rizzo are the heart of the offensive power in the Cubs lineup.  Bryant, batting .275 has an on base percentage of .381 with 12 HRs and 50 RBIs. Rizzo is threat at every at-bat, with an average .296 and an OBP of .401 with 16 HRs and 48 RBIs.

But at the midpoint, the records and standings reflect the reality of both clubs’ expectations.  The North Siders, at 46-38, are 3rd in the NL Central, the best division in the National League, and hold the second wild card spot by a 3-game lead on the Mets.  Though the team has struggled against the major-league leading and long-time rival Cardinals this season, it appears as though Maddon’s team has a real chance to compete against any team, any given day.  However, the White Sox, with a record of 39-44 are last in the AL Central and third worst in the American League.  Some blame the lack of clarity in the dual leadership front-office, others blame the big, brand new roster, that at times, appears they do all they can to give away close games, and others call for the head of “reluctant manager,” Robin Ventura.

Both offenses struggling as of late, it appears that the series will be a battle of arms.   The matchups are listed below:
Friday 3:05—–Hendricks (3.82, 4-4) v Rodon (4.18, 3-2)

Saturday 3:05-Lester (3.48, 4-7) v Sale (2.8, 7-4)

Sunday 1:20—Arrieta (2.8, 9-5) v Quintana (3.69, 4-8)

It feels as though Sale, when and if he pitches a complete game is unstoppable, and that the White Sox can beat just about anyone, while Lester who started the season struggling, has started to find his stuff for about 5-6 innings an outing.  While Quintana has been decent throughout the season, still battling the lack of run support, his opponent on Sunday, Arrieta, has proven to be the Cubs’ true ace.  So it appears, that if the last two games split, the series will come down to the two young guns in Hendricks and Rodon.  Game 1 would also likely be the day that big bats come into play.  Beyond that, the Cubs have an edge in their bullpen.  The White Sox have struggled in the category for the past two years, while the Cubs have surprised everyone, having one of the best in the game in the first half of the season.

With the reality of the MLB being a near total lack of dominant teams, outside of the Cardinals, and a plethora of fun, exciting baseball thanks to the likes of a crop of young, talented players flowing into the ranks and succeeding, and high-scoring, divisional races throughout both leagues, one could argue that the series is of importance for more than just pride and bar-bragging rights within the city limits for the first season in a number of years.  The South Siders, coming off a surprisingly successful trio of series against the Cardinals, Oriole, and Blue Jays, the White Sox could be beginning to turn things around pre-break in the league while only 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot.  The Cubs however, are looking to gain ground on both the Pirates and Cardinals going into the break, hoping to prove that indeed, “they can only get better.”

Though records and narrative point in opposite directions, the two clubs and their different strategies to overhauls could both still succeed.  Either way, one can be sure that this weekend will be one of the best Crosstown Classics in quite some time.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon

Cubs manager Joe Maddon

on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….we are pleased be joined by Mark Gonzales, Chicago Cubs beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who gives us a Mid Season report on the Northsiders, as they wrap up a dramatic series with the Cardinals and get ready to host the White Sox this weekend.

John Poulter checks in with a discussion of the Women’s World Cup, the American League East, and his upcoming assignment for the Pan Am Games hosted by the city of Toronto.

Also, we take a look at Wisconsin championship sports history, which is mostly Green Bay Packers, with some Badger hoops for good measure.

 

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brandon-saadon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….John Poulter joins us to dissect the trade of promising young Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad in a seven player deal with Columbus.  It’s no surprise that money was at the root of the deal.  The cap strapped Hawks had to make a move before the possibility of getting very little for the restricted free agent. John and Steve also analyze the two semifinal games in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Later, Steve and Dave discuss the rich sports history of North Carolina(not just college hoops), and  Jeff Rich talks to us with a mid-season look at Major League Baseball, and why hockey is struggling  in the Valley of the Sun.

Max Scherzer courtesy: MLB.com

Max Scherzer
courtesy: MLB.com

on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….Craig Heist from The Fan in Washington, DC joins us to talk about the surging Washington Nationals and pitcher Max Scherzer who lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth, yet still tossed a no-hitter.  He has now retired 54 of the last 57 batters he faced.  Heist also gives us his thoughts on the Redskins and the rest of the NFC East teams.

John Poulter and Jeff Rich tell us about Toronto and Cleveland sports history.  It’s been a long time since those cities crowned a champion, most recently the Blue Jays of the early nineties.


timmonen-with-stanley-cup-2015on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….John Poulter joins us to talk about how the Chicago Blackhawks win a third Stanley Cup Championship in six years, and Jeff Rich dissects the NBA Finals, as Stephen Curry’s Warriors Win the NBA title over LeBron James’ Cavs.

We also preview the US Open Golf Championships from Chambers Bay in Washington State this weekend with Rory Spears from Golfers on Golf.com.  Lastly, we talk about the Women’s World Cup being contested in Canad, and the latest NFL news from minicamps.

Hear audio from Joel Quenneville of Chicago, John Cooper of Tampa Bay, Mike McCarthy of Green Bay, and John Fox and Martellus Bennett from Chicago.

Adrian Buckley with the gold bracelet and winning hand

Adrian Buckley with the gold bracelet and winning hand

Ever since The aptly named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003, part time and amateur players have been vying with experienced pros to claim some of the richest purses in a the game.

The folks that run the most popular poker tournament in the world added some new wrinkles in 2015 to boost the popularity of the game, which has dipped in recent years with the loss of access to most online sites for American players.

Two new events made their debut this year, one of which was the “Colossus.” It boasted a record field of more than 23,000 entrants who paid a mere $565, about half of the lowest buy-in at the World Series. That winner, Cord Garcia, walked away with over $600,000.

On Wednesday night, another part time player joined the ranks of Poker celebrities, when Adrian Buckley, a 27-year old electrical engineer from Colorado bested 7275 other players, who each ponied up $1500, and took first place for a cool $1,277,193 in the first WSOP Millionaire Maker. These were not all fellow amateurs, as there were several tournament tested professional players in the field, such Erick (E-Dog) Lindgren and Olivier Busquet. Even World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton was among those who made the final table, but did not take first place. Runner up, Javier Zarco, a Spaniard living in Atlanta, also realized his first WSOP cash. Zarco’s second place finish was good for $791,690.

“I came here this year with a limited bankroll. And I told myself I’m gonna play in ten events and see how I do,” Buckley said afterwards. “I’ve been playing every once in while since I was a young kid, just trying to get through school and pay for school. I’ve never really had the bank roll to actually play poker. I’ve done well in cash games and small tournaments. I’ve been a cash game grinder for a long time, but never had the money to play in some big events.” He added, “I didn’t expect to final table, I didn’t expect to make it super deep in any of the tournaments, but I knew I had the skill to at least do my best to make it as far as I could.”

It certainly didn’t  appear the Adrian was headed for a date with destiny. Entering the third day of this grueling tournament, contested over four days, Buckley’s chip stack ranked him 139th of the remaining 142 entrants. Even on the last day, he began as the smallest stack among

Buckley contemplates a hand during heads up play

Buckley contemplates a hand during heads up play

the remaining seventeen players.

By the time the field had been reduced to ten, and the live, online coverage began, Buckley was in seventh place. Then he steadily began to increase his chips, and before long, there were three left, Buckley, Zarco, and Busquet, a skilled heads up player who provides analysis and commentary for poker broadcasts. However, Busquet lost a large pot to Buckley, and was eliminated shortly after the dinner break, leaving the two rookies to battle heads up. That duel lasted slightly more  than three grueling hours, with the chip lead going back and forth, until Adrian’s pocket tens bested Javier’s two sixes.

Buckley at the table sat stoically, almost robotic in his actions. However, the cool, calm demeanor he displayed belied his inner turmoil.  “I thought I had a heart attack like twelve times. I’ve never been in this situation before, Adrian noted. “I’m just trying my best to take every single hand, one hand at a time. I didn’t let emotions get to me, but inside I was freaking out. But at  the same time it was just a regular poker game, as long as you win the poker game you do really well.”

In the post victory he was remarkably animated, in sharp contract to his quiet, and contemplative persona, at the table.

Asked what his future plans are, Buckley, a Colorado University grad, with a degree in Electrical Engineering commented, “I’m going to be in the poker community more often which is a great thing, because I thing I’ll be great face to the game, cause I have a really good time. But I don’t know what the plan is yet. I’ll pay off some student loans, which is huge, and then I’ll get myself out of debt. I’ll be able to start playing poker more. It literally the best thing I do during my days, play poker.”

Yet Adrian still plans to be at work on Monday.

This is one story that happens in Vegas, but won’t stay in Vegas.

 


bears eagles previewon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….legendary Chicago sports jock, and long time friend of SRN, joins us to give his take on the Chicago Bulls’ new coach and the Bears prognosis for the 2015 season. When Les gets on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Enjoy the lively discussion.

 

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To understand a Cleveland fan, or just the sports landscape of the city itself, out-of-town and national writers must feel obligated to offer up the preamble.  Before any success can be achieved or any praise be given, we must be reminded of the failure, or is it failures?  It seems like either could work, and we’ve reached the point where we’ve got a preamble to the preamble.

It starts along the lines of, “Cleveland fans don’t want to see this, but…”  Then, we’re reminded of our history.  It’s just the bad stuff, but that’s really only because all of the bad stuff prevented any of the good stuff from happening.  Such is life, with the 2015 NBA Finals, or so it would seem, but first, let’s get everyone caught up on what we’re talking about.

Sometimes, it starts in 1954, in Game 1 of the World Series, and sometimes they don’t go further back than 1980, when Brian Sipe called the dreaded Red Right 88 play in the huddle.  There are some legitimate takedowns, by legends of the game, and there are some really messed up things mixed in, the type of messed up things that only happen to Cleveland.

The Catch

Vic Wertz batted .500 in the 1954 World Series, and went 4-for-5 in Game 1, a home run shy of the cycle.  His first inning triple plated the only two runs the Tribe would score against the New York Giants, but the focus is always more about the one time he was retired in the game.  In the top of the eighth with runners on first and second in a tie game, he belted one to the deepest part of the Polo Grounds, high over the head of Willie Mays.

Of course, Mays made a historical defensive play.  Nobody scored in the inning, and Dusty Rhodes knocked a Bob Lemon pitch over the right field wall for a 5-2 Giants win.  They went on to get swept in the best-of-seven series, and the franchise would not make another postseason appearance for 41 years.

That was “The Catch”.

Red Right 88

I can’t really tell you the story of the 1980 Cleveland Browns, champions of the AFC Central Division.  Their quarterback, Brian Sipe, was the league MVP, and the team’s insistence of playing (and winning) close games earned them the nickname “The Kardiac Kids”.  In the coldest game ever played at Cleveland Stadium, the Browns trailed the Oakland Raiders 14-12 in the divisional round of the playoffs with under a minute remaining.

“Kick the field goal,” the hindsight advice of fans old enough to have lived it, for Sam Rutligliano, the Browns head coach at the time.  It wasn’t quite that simple though.  The Browns were a mess kicking the football; they’d left as many as ten points off the scoreboard that day, between missed kicks, a block, and a botched snap.  On the 13 yard-line they had time.  Legend has it the play, Red Right 88, was called with a specific stipulation that if Ozzie Newsome was not wide open, Sipe was to throw the ball into Lake Erie.

He didn’t throw it into the lake.  He threw it to Mike Davis, who unfortunately played for the Raiders.  Game over, and the Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl

The Drive, The Fumble

I’ll be brief.  John Elway versus the Browns, with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.  The first one was in Cleveland, in January 1987.  Bernie Kosar hit Brian Brennan for six, and the Browns led 20-13 with less than six minutes to play.  The Broncos fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Elway had to operate, starting at his own 2.  It took them 15 plays, and there were 39 seconds on the clock when he hit Mark Jackson from 5 yards out to set up the inevitable game-tying extra point.  They faced third down just three times, Elway scrambled twice for 20 of the 98 yards they had to cover, and though he was actually sacked by Dave Puzzuoli on the drive, he hit Jackson for 20 yards on the next play.  It was 3rd and 18 at that point, it was that kind of drive.

We know the pill as “the pill”.  This was “The Drive”.

A year later, the venue changed.  The Browns were in Denver with the same stakes, one year later.  The Broncos seemed well in control of this one, through the first 30 minutes of play, leading 21-3.  It didn’t look as though this game was destined for the type of dramatic finish we’d seen the year before.  However, Bernie Kosar, Earnest Byner, and the Browns came to life in the second half.  Byner accounted for 187 yards of total offense, and scored two of the team’s four second half touchdowns.

Near the end of regulation, Byner’s 15th carry of the day was a draw play from the Denver 8 yard-line.  He went left, where Webster Slaughter should have paved the path for Byner to get his third score of the day, but Slaughter decided to be an observer, instead of a blocker, giving Jeremiah Castille the chance to make a great play.  He stripped the ball, and if you weren’t pulling for the Browns, there was probably something poetic about Elway and the Broncos at their own 2, the spot on the field where history began the year prior.

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So, that’s “The Fumble”, but maybe not the ultimate fumble.  People in Philly might recall a game involving Herm Edwards at The Meadowlands.  The Browns and Broncos also met in the 1990 AFC Championship, but that particular Browns season-ending disappointment didn’t have a defining moment, not one worthy of a well-known nickname anyway.

In most of these cases, the blame falls on a player that Cleveland wouldn’t have been there without.  Okay, nobody is blaming Vic Wertz for Mays making that miraculous catch, but that was the only time the Giants kept him off base all day.  He even hit a leadoff double in the top of the tenth, but they couldn’t get him home.  The Browns’ Dawg Pound defense had held Elway and Company to 216 yards, a number matching Cleveland’s primary area code, before yielding 158 yards between “The Drive” and overtime.  We’ve detailed Byner’s great game; it’s a shame that it’s always forgotten.

The Shot

File this one under “Made out to be a bigger deal than it actually is”.  The year was 1989; the Cavs were the 3 seed in the East, facing 6th-seeded Chicago.  Craig Ehlo had 24 points, but his final points came on a lay-up with 3 seconds left, which put the Cavs on top of the Bulls 100-99 in a decisive Game 5 (of the opening round).

Michael Jordan split through Larry Nance and Ehlo to receive the inbound pass from Brad Sellers on the right wing.  Ron Harper gave chase, but his momentum carried him towards the sideline, so it was up to Ehlo to stay with Jordan.  Jordan dribbles twice to his left, double-clutches, and hits from the top of the key.  Bulls win, 101-100.

Now, Jordan absolutely terrorized the Cavaliers his entire career, and I’ve seen enough Nike and Gatorade commercials to understand that was a defining moment for Mike, but for the Cavs?  Not really.  Chicago would defeat New York in the conference semifinals, but couldn’t get past Detroit.

Now, I’m one to get upset at anyone that automatically dismissed any chance the Browns would have been able to beat Parcells and the Giants in Super Bowl XXI, if not for the drive, but those Cavs weren’t beating the Knicks or Pistons.  No way.  That was “The Shot”, positively devastating in the moment, and obviously a great moment in Jordan’s career, but some perspective should remind us, this was an opening round loss.  It would be many years in the future before the Cavs would directly or indirectly stick the dagger in the heart of the Cleveland fan.

Jose Mesa

In Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Indians manager Mike Hargrove needed Jose Mesa to get three outs, to protect a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth in Miami. The Marlins plated the tying run, before Mesa could get the third out. He got the hook in the tenth, and then Edgar Renteria singled off Charles Nagy in the 11th, scoring Craig Counsell, and giving Florida their first World Championship in baseball.

The Move, The Decision

For four years, Cleveland connected Art Modell and Lebron James, as the names sat as 1 and 1a on the list of public enemies on the North Coast.  Modell took the one thing that Cleveland has always loved the most, their beloved Browns, to Baltimore in 1996, after a struggle with the city of Cleveland over stadium renovations.  James left the Cavs in Cleveland, but took his talents to South Beach, and he did it in a tasteless matter on ESPN.

Modell passed a few years ago, with a Super Bowl ring, but the clock ran out on any thought of redemption from the city where he spent 35 years of his life.  He was exiled from the area, when rumors of “The Move” began in November of 1995.

Photo credit: Cavs:The Blog

On July 11, 2014, in a very classy manner, Lebron told the world he was returning to Cleveland.  He didn’t promise a championship, something he did in first go-round with the team, and didn’t deliver.  When he left for Miami, he was called a quitter, both for his performance in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals and for leaving before making good on his stated goal.  When he announced his return, he charmed even the cynics who didn’t claimed they didn’t want him back.

Whatever This Is

So, he’s back, back in the good graces of the fans and back in the NBA Finals.  This is his fifth straight year in the Association’s championship series.  He didn’t do it alone, something that can certainly be said about the island he was on in his first seven years with the Cavs.  He replaced, perhaps even upgraded, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  Of course, David Griffin should earn some credit for convincing James that a team could be built for him, but it’s very likely that nothing, except maybe the Irving extension, happens without Lebron coming home.

They had their rough patches, but were able to recover and land the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  Then, it began in Game 4, with a tug on Kevin Love’s left arm.  Love, out for the remainder of the playoffs.  He was big in that Boston series; they might not have swept that series, against a really dismal Celtics team, if not for his contribution.

kevin-love-0-of-the-cleveland-cavaliers

As the playoffs went on, a lot of the regulars got banged up.  Iman Shumpert’s shoulder was a problem. James hurt just about everywhere, but promised there was no chance of him missing time in this postseason. Kyrie Irving had a foot injury, then a knew injury.  He was able to sit for a few games in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Atlanta posed no threat to beat Cleveland, even without Irving on the floor.

Head coach David Blatt gave Irving some minutes in Game 4 of the Conference Finals, where he logged 22 points in a 118-88 series clinching win over the Hawks, before an 8-day layoff, leading up to Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

In an Opening Night loss to the Knicks, the Cavs started James, Anderson Varejao, Love, Irving, and Dion Waiters.  James will play in Game 2 of the Finals.  Dion Waiters was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the middle of the season, and the other three will likely be in street clothes due to injury for the remainder of the series.

In Kevin Smith’s clerks, our main character tells anyone that will listen that he’s not even supposed to be here to day, and that’s how Cleveland has to feel after what went down in Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.  It was a game of runs, pretty much what you’ve come to expect from a couple of championship-caliber teams, but the Cavs had a golden opportunity with 24 seconds left and the game tied at 98.  With Lebron James on your side and an opportunity to score as time ran out, you had to like Cleveland’s chances.  Lebron had 42 at that point.

It was a bad possession.  James found himself pinned against the sidelines on the left wing, and took an ill-advised jumper with 3 seconds left.  Shumpert grabbed the rebound and heaved the rock at the rim, and we’ll tell you, it almost went in!  In reality, it missed and we got 5 minutes of bonus basketball in Oakland.

The extra period belonged to the home team.  They outscored the Cavs 12-2, basically shutting them out until a meaningless lay-up from James in the final minute.  Yes, Cleveland played a poor five minutes of basketball, but losing the game may not have been the top story, and that’s saying a lot for a championship series.  For a while now, Irving has been playing bent, but not broken.  Maybe he was broken, but just not broken enough to be a spectator, this deep into the playoffs.  Early in the overtime period on Thursday, he left the floor, in what can only be described as visually unbearable pain.  On Friday, it was announced that Irving was not only out for the series, that he’ll require surgery, and will be out for four months.

Down 1-0 in this series, a lot of people are looking at Game 1 as a blown opportunity, and without Kyrie Irving, many are ready to hand Golden State the Larry O’Brien Trophy already.  Man, if only that Shumpert heave would have found the bottom of the net!  In Cleveland, they’re already trying to figure what to call this episode of the Cleveland Sports Misery tale.

Done in by unworldly performances on the other side of the field, made to regret some gaffes that professional athletes just shouldn’t make, and slighted by damning personal and business decisions, that’s what fills up the misery montage in the present tense.  This is different, this is new.  You’d almost think it was funny, if it wasn’t so damn sad.

Never have I seen injuries derail a Cleveland team quite like this, and I can’t recall a contending team in any sport lose two of their three best players in a single postseason.  Vince Coleman’s tarp accident during the 1985 National League Championship Series comes to mind, but that comparison might be a stretch.  There might even be others, but we cannot recall anything as bad as whatever you might label the unfortunate events that have plagued these 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers during these playoffs.

There are a lot of reasons for Cleveland to very pessimistic about all of this, but they should remember #23 is still going to fight.  They should remember those years of rooting against him in Miami, and how upset we were when he inevitably got it done for the Heat.  He’s still the best, and might be able to will this squad to four wins.  To definitively say that will or won’t happen would be a mistake, but it’s hard to bet against Lebron.

It would be foolish to say it isn’t a possibility.  He lost twice in Miami, and he’s lost plenty in Cleveland.  We’ll tell you something else that is inevitable, we’re going to see a wincing Kevin Love and a limping Kyrie Irving in that montage, if Cleveland and Lebron can’t find a way.

If not, that montage is getting longer, and we already feel it’s too long.  Then, you know someone is going to name this latest fiasco.  Of course, the alternative is winning, and then we probably won’t see the Cleveland Sports Misery montage at all.  That’s a dream 51 years in the making.

Gar Forman and Fred Hoiberg

Gar Forman and Fred Hoiberg at the introduction press conference on June 2nd, 2015.

When you look at numbers alone, the Hoiberg hire makes tons of sense.

Though the Bulls had assembled a much better team come start of the 2014/2015 season with

  • the healthy Derrick Rose,
  • two promising rookies in McDermott and Mirotic,
  • the meteoric ascension of Jimmy Butler into a 1B guard,
  • the addition of the best version of the small, quick, journeyman guard yet under Thibs in Brooks,
  • and the surprising signing of the best available offensive free agent and double double machine in Pau Gasol (Melo did nothing but play in the All-Star game, Love had a very difficult year, and LeBron really wasn’t a free agent, but rather a Cleveland or Miami agent),

somehow the Bulls still struggled to score at times, struggled to rebound for much of the season, and most annoyingly to many fans, led the world in shot clock violations.

Though the Bulls had the star power, the tenacious defense, and a winning percentage of 65 during the regular season over the past five years, they went 23-28 during that same span in the playoffs.

In adding Hoiberg to the mix, who led the Cyclones to three consecutive tourney bid, 23-plus win seasons, scoring an average of 80 points per game over those three seasons, you get the pro-, offensive-minded potential conductor to get the band to play in a fast, fun, and upbeat rhythm (one that leads to an increase in Big Mac consumption within the Chicago metro area).

When you listen to Hoiberg, the hire makes a lot of sense.

When trotted into the Advocate Center and bombarded with questions from the Chicago media, the reserved and young, but subtly nervous Hoiberg had every right answer.

Do you plan to retain any of the current assistants on staff?

With Adrian Griffin hiding in the very back of the gym, hidden from view, and surely some of Hoiberg’s staff in Iowa State listening, he responds:

“I wanna try and get accomplished here relatively quickly, but I wanna make sure to get the right guys that are gonna be on board with the way that we’re gonna approach things. I have actually met with a couple assistants here already today. I’ve got relationships with some of them. I played against Adrian…just the way he competed; I think he’s terrific. Ed was in Minnesota when I was there. I have a very good relationship with Ed.”

At Iowa State, the Cyclones struggled on defense. How do you plan to address that here?

“I wanna get a veteran assistant in here that can really help me through things. Whether it’s a head coach or whether he’s been around the game for a long time, that’s gonna be very important with that hire.”

Already up on Thibs, he is looking for help with something he admits in which he is deficient.

He said things like “I love this roster, I absolutely love this roster,” instead of “we have enough to get the job done.”

He even answered the boldest question of the day with grace:

“Obviously the last five days, it’s been pretty much out there as far as where the Bulls stand with the last couple coaches, was there any reservations on your part that there’s not a lot of job security here?”

Pregnant pause filled with about a hundred “did he really just say that?” ‘s floating in the air, he responded calmly,

“I’m not. I’m very confident in my relationship with these guys. I’ve known them for a long time…I’m very comfortable with my relationship and I’m excited about this moving forward.”

When you get a feel for whom Hoiberg is, and whom/what Chicago is, the hire makes a lot of sense.

He introduces his entire family to the Chicago media, his wife and daughter tastefully dressed, his sons with red and blue polos on, buttoned all the way up.

A Midwestern guy who brought a program back to life, he clearly understands what it means to be to always be the dog in the conference of LeBron.

Referencing decisions he makes with his wife, his hometown sweetheart, and talking about how his twins are “coming home” to Chicago, he proves how he’s a family man.

Cracking jokes about finding his office, he grabs a laugh from the spectators.

 

However, the less than funny and happy reality is that the Bulls front office picked a very unfortunate time to make the hire. The source of that misfortune stems from the inevitable comparisons of Hoiberg to the other big-name former Bull coaching in the league right now: Mr. Steve Kerr.

Both turned down a number of coaching offers from other NBA teams while comfortably sitting in their previous positions, waiting from a team on their short lists to give them a call. Both follow a really good, though flawed NBA coach. Both are young, vibrant, and bring character along with run and gun offenses (the deficiencies of their predecessors) to the league.

But he feels like he is able to handle the pressure. Hoiberg cited that taking the job at Iowa State was pressurized, as everybody loved him there, held him in high esteem and thus, likely had high expectations.

“I wouldn’t take this job if I wasn’t confident.”

Kerr is favored to make it all the way to the top of the mountain in his first crack. Will Hoiberg be able to do the same? Or will he achieve only normally in a world completely (and somewhat unfortunately) focused on exceptional results? Will the comparisons eat him and the Bulls front office alive?

 

Only one thing is certain: Hoiberg looks great on paper.

 


blackhawks_logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

…. Steve Kohn, an original cast member of the Bears-Packers Showdown, and former editor of “The Blue Line” joins us along with John Poulter for a discussion of the Stanley Cup Final game one between Chicago and Tampa. Our show includes audio from both team’s head coaches.

Jeff Rich is here to discuss Cleveland’s overtime loss in the first contest of the NBA Finals.

Don’t miss a cameo from Dan Patrick.

 

stephen-curry

Stephen Curry, courtesy: nba.com

on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

Ryan Leong of CBS Sports in San Francisco joins us for a Warriors-Cavs preview, while John Poulter checks in with his thoughts on the NHL Western Finals game seven between Chicago and Anaheim. Steve and John also discuss the indictment of six FIFA soccer officials this week.

SRN assistant sports director Phil Meyers offers his take on why the Bulls fired coach Tom Thibodeau after taking the team to five consecutive playoff berths.

Don’t miss a cameo from former Saturday Night Live cast member Tim Meadows.