A few sights, sounds and observations while wondering if the U.S. National Soccer Team is still bleeding from that beating at the hands of the Argentinians last night:
* Post-NBA Finals and post-Stanley Cup, we are now smack dab in the middle of draft week. The 2016-17 NHL and NBA seasons begin now, and there will undoubtedly be a flurry of activity over the next 24-72 hours.
At the center of it all, as usual, is LeBron James.
Let’s start by giving James his due. For all of the criticisms James has and will continue to take from those who regard him as something of an underachiever (ahem), he is the closest thing we’ve ever had to another Magic Johnson. Magic was more competitive and still has more titles, but James is more athletic and a better defender. Comparing the two was never outrageous, and it’s obviously even less so now.
So here’s the question we’d all like to know: does James really have it in him to leave Cleveland again?
And the answer is yes.
As we all know, LeBron is about LeBron. On the court. Off the court. Everywhere. And that’s fine. As has been noted by more than one person of late — Business Insider points this out again this morning — James penned a column for Sports Illustrated when he returned to Cleveland stating his objective to bring “one” championship to Cleveland.
You read that correctly.
Know what James is more than anything else? Smart, particularly in business. He agreed to only a two-year deal with the Cavs because the now rapidly increasing NBA salary cap put him in line for a big raise this summer if he were a free agent. Most assumed he would just re-up with the Cavaliers. But wherever James goes –and Cleveland is an obvious possibility — he will now command top dollar. And one must assume that he would again sign a short-term deal.
For James, this accomplishes two things. It will allow him to maximize his value, maybe even as soon again as next summer, when caps again will increase. And it will allow him to hold his new team hostage, giving him leverage in personnel decisions, to ensure that he gets what he wants.
* Nobody really cares about the Major League Baseball All-Star Game anymore — at least relatively speaking. But there are two developing storylines that could make this year’s at least a little more interesting. The first is the possibility of pitchers like Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta participating in the home run derby. And the second?
If you’re not a hardcore baseball fan and don’t know who Wright is, don’t feel ashamed. He’s 31. And he’s a knuckleballer for the Boston Red Sox. Right now, Wright leads the American in ERA (2.01), and he is one of the more unlikely, truly good stories in baseball this year. And like every knuckleballer, he must endure a good level of discrimination.
Fact: a knuckleballer has never started the All-Star Game. R.A. Dickey should have been an easy choice while pitching for the New York Mets in 2012, but he was skipped over in favor of Matt Cain. Traditional evaluators simply do not trust the knuckleball, a pitch with a well-chronicled history of inconsistency. But when it works, the pitch can be an invaluable weapon to a team in general and pitching staff in particular.
The Red Sox, of course, know this as well as anybody. Before Wright came along, the Red Sox had Tim Wakefield, who recorded more outs than any pitcher in team history. Knuckleballers typically have long careers, from Hoyt Wilhelm to Phil Niekro to Charlie Hough, Wakefield and Dickey, and so Wright just may be starting what could take him into his 40s.
For all of the nonsense that the All-Star Game “means something,” we all know it doesn’t. Last year, the Kansas City Royals went 2-1 at New York and clinched the World Series on the road. The year before, the San Francisco Giants won Game 7 at Kansas City. If MLB really wants to make the All-Star Game more interesting, they need to inject some uniqueness into the event without making it as silly as the NFL Pro Bowl (who’s on Team Deion this year?). And seeing things we don’t often see is one way to do that.
Like pitchers participating in the home run derby, for instance, or a knuckleballer starting for the first time in the game’s history.
* Don’t look now, but we should have an answer soon on whether the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals will grant an en banc hearing to Tom Brady on his four-game suspension from Roger Goodell and the NFL. Brady filed the appeal on May 23. That was a little more than four weeks ago. At the time, legal experts told us that the Second Circuit usually decides whether to accept a case in 4-6 weeks. We’ve just started week 5. Next week is week 6.
Undoubtedly, America is sick of Deflategate. And even if the Second Circuit rejects Brady, there is the expectation that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. Think about that. In a case that began with a debate over the amount of air in footballs, we are now a whisker away from reaching the highest court in the land,
In the interim, of course, New England stands to play the first four games of the season without arguably the greatest player in league history. Brady has been to six Super Bowls, won four. And something suggests that whenever he gets on the field this fall, he will be as motivated as ever.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.