Where it all began

22 Dec

fullsizerenderMost people can trace their sports fandom to watching a game, whether live or in person, and being hooked. Maybe they were at a stadium when they were five. Maybe they were in their living room when they were seven.

Me? It all started in a swamp, nine days short of my 10th birthday. The Meadowlands and Continental Airlines Arena, specifically. The date? December 22, 2001. Fifteen years ago. There was a basketball game held in the arena that night. The Utah Jazz, featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton, were visiting the New Jersey Nets, featuring first-year Net Jason Kidd.

The box score from East Rutherford, New Jersey reads Jazz 104, Nets 90. Attendance: 12,960. And one new fan.

“Home”

20 Jun

Last night, amid the celebration of Cleveland’s first title in 52 years, LeBron James was asked what made the Cavs’ NBA title over the Warriors different from his other titles two titles, both with the Miami Heat.

“I’m home,” James said.

Ah, home. The meaning of home changes as people go through the different stages in life. Some people don’t grow up in a consistent place at all, and some people don’t like the place where they grew up.

But for James, he had the burden and desire to win a title for the Cavs, for Cleveland, for Akron and Northeast Ohio.

Those two titles in Miami were nice. But for him, they weren’t home. So finally, after being drafted by the Cavs in 2003, LeBron James brought home a championship to Cleveland 13 years later. It included some rough go’s from 2003-2010, The Decision, those up-and-down four years and Miami, and the return in 2014 to Cleveland, which included last year’s loss to Golden State.

But he did it. And he did it at home. Which makes it all the more special.

Because if you do appreciate your home, which for most of us is considered to be where we spent our formative years, then “home” always fills a special place in your heart.

LeBron went back home and fulfilled his mission. But you don’t have to live at “home” to appreciate the meaning. You just have to know that you will always have that place, no matter where you are.

And for LeBron, that place now has a championship.

Slashed Nets

21 Jan

The driving factor in why I like sports are the Brooklyn Nets. Though that statement is a bit misleading these days.

Fourteen years ago, the New Jersey Nets became the pillar of my sports fandom. I was sucked in by Jason Kidd’s fun, fast brand of basketball. To watch the Nets was an experience. Their games were never boring.

These days, it’s the exact opposite. The Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets, are one of the worst teams in the NBA. If I was a kid now, I’d probably pick the NFL as my favorite sport. The Nets, having gone all-in a few years ago, mortgaged their future and are stuck. Like, terribly stuck and probably won’t be good for quite some time.

They haven’t been 2001-2004 good in a while, but they’ve maintained a sense of hope. Not anymore. They’re a broken franchise that will take time to fix. They’re unrecognizable from the teams I grew up rooting for. I don’t care if they win or lose. It’s a sad state of affairs, with no light at the end of the tunnel ahead.

I am an unabashed Jason Kidd fan, and I will always give him much credit for the Nets’ back-to-back Finals runs. This year, Steph Curry has been as close to electric as I’ve seen since the Kidd days.

It’s a good time for the NBA. LeBron, Durant, Steph, etc. Just not for the Nets.

We always yearn for nostalgia. I suppose I could do that for the Nets of yesteryear. Or I could just check in on the Nets in 5 years and see if progress has been made.

Neither will make the present-day better for these Nets. I guess I’ll have to queue up some old fastbreaks.

Welcome to the DMV

18 Nov

I’ve always been a New York sports fan, which means that growing up in Maryland made me an outlier. I did not root for DC sports. Except for a couple exceptions. Save for the Nats’ first season in DC in ’05 when I cheered for them in addition to the Mets, my main areas of support for DC sports came in hoops. The DMV has always been an underrated basketball hotbed. New York, Chicago and LA get all the hype, but the DC/MD/VA region is loaded with some of the best players out there. A breeding ground of sorts. 

During the early 2000s, I gravitated toward the NBA’s Wizards as my second favorite NBA team behind the Nets. It was hard not to root for Gilbert Arenas and co. I went to American U games as a kid which were also great memories. But it was really Maryland and Georgetown that introduced me to big-time college basketball.

And they finally played each other in the DC area on Tuesday night for the first time since 1993. Michael Wilbon said on SVP’s SportsCenter after the game that it didn’t have the neighborhood brawl game-type feel of the past. And he said the agenda driven by television doesn’t include these sort of games. But we have a start now. WHY DOES THIS NOT HAPPEN MORE OFTEN.

Also playing Tuesday night: Duke-Kentucky and Kansas-Michigan State. Mehh. Those aren’t city hoops. UMD and G’town are.

The Terps were the “it” DC-area team growing up. They won the title in 2002, and were generally pretty good throughout the early 2000s. Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, etc. It was during the mid-2000s that I gravitated away from UMD and toward Georgetown. UMD had a down time, but I knew if they could reclaim the glory of the early 2000s their fans would come back. And they have now. But I did root for those mid-to-late 2000s Hoyas. Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, etc.

Then I went to Syracuse, and stopped rooting for Georgetown. And I love Syracuse. I no longer root for UMD and G’town, but they set high standards that Syracuse upheld.

I’m watching SportsCenter right now, and it’s taking place on the court at UMD, and there’s so much attention on Maryland. And DC. And basketball. You always feel a connection to where you’re from. And even if my favorite sports teams are the Nets, Mets, Giants, the Rangers and Syracuse, the DMV will always have my heart. 

How it feels to be a sports fan

2 Nov

I don’t think anyone chooses to be a sports fan to be miserable. We are inherently sports fans for the fun, the joy. I’ve been thinking a lot about how sports make us feel this past month, as I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions as the Mets made their payoff run to the World Series, a run that ended painfully last night. After being cautious and for fear of being let down for most of the playoffs, I decided to just have fun with Game 5. And it was. Until the ninth inning on, of course.

Last night was sad, and part of today will be too. I tow the line of being proud of all this year’s team accomplished, and disappointed we couldn’t win the whole damn thing. But I will find the time to be appreciative. My internal celebrations of when the Mets finally clinched a playoff spot and when they made the World Series just have to dwarf the sadness. 

Whenever one of my teams goes on a run, such as the Giants’ two Super Bowl wins, the Rangers making the Stanley Cup Finals, or Syracuse making the Final Four, it always feels like the greatest sporting accomplishment ever. Each sport is different. I hadn’t really experienced success with baseball, where there is no clock. Just pitch by pitch. It’s a different animal.

This year’s Mets team was fun at the start, worrisome in the middle, and fun at the end. Only the Cubs seemed to have as many youngsters and rookies step up so big. I’m excited for the future. Nothing is given for that future, but this coming Mets season will have me pumped.

Anyway, back to my thoughts about how sports make us feel. How much of these playoffs were fun and how much were stressful? And do the negatives outweigh the positives? Is it worth it to get all worked up about sports? It’s just sports, right?

Well, some may say that. But for some of us, sports are our life. They dictate our emotions, our schedules, our lives.

I’ll take the sting of a loss if it means experiencing how great it felt when these Mets won big games throughout the playoffs. Because that is pure happiness. It’s important to remember why we are sports fans. It’s for those special moments. Gotta grab them while we can.

Mets magic is…back?

30 Sep

When the Mets clinched the NL East title on Saturday for the first time since 2006, it felt like a lot more than a spot in the playoffs. Probably because it was.

Nine years without the playoffs is a long time. It’s not the longest ever, or the Mets’ longest drought ever. But this felt like a huge gap in time.

Nine years ago, the Mets rolled into the playoffs as arguably baseball’s best team. The team featured the likes of David Wright (the lone holdover on this year’s team), Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Paul LoDuca, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner. That squad lost in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Beltran infamously stood pat and stared at a called strike three. And now it’s taken nine years to return to the playoffs.

That Mets squad is up there with my favorite sports teams of all time. They just won and had so much talent. They never let up.

So in 2007, I expected more playoffs. But the Mets collapsed to end the season and the Phillies overtook the NL East. Dreadful. Another collapse followed in 2008. And from 2009-2014, the team simply lost. And lost. They were in an abyss of mediocrity, unable to escape. An embarrassment. Until, of course, this year.

This year’s team has been built over the years. It is not as smooth and talented as 2006. But the pitching is better, and the grit and sudden offensive firepower carried them to a mid-season revival.

Yoenis Cespedes is magical. David Wright makes me nostalgic (and he’s still good, too.) Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are aces. And Bartolo is Bartolo. Jeurys Familia has stepped up in the role of the closer. Lucas Duda is mashing, Daniel Murphy is hitting, Michael Conforto is some rookie, and who can forget Wilmer Flores. I could go on about all the special players on this team.

I don’t know what the playoffs will hold. Being a cautious fan, I’m, well, cautious.

The playoffs are so hard to make in baseball, harder than any other sport. Out of all of my favorite teams, the Mets provided me with the longest drought, and there were times when I was ambivalent toward them and baseball. But my interest is as strong as ever this year.

It could be another nine years after this, you never know. Have to enjoy the moment.

As for my age, I’m not 14 like I was during the 2006 playoffs. High school and college have passed. The Mets are back in the playoffs and I’m no kid anymore. But I certainly felt like one Saturday night.

The rise and fall of the RG III empire

2 Sep

Because there hasn’t been enough news and analysis regarding the Redskins, specifically RG III lately, I feel compelled to add my take.

Now, I’d hope my take isn’t like everything else you’ve read or heard. I’m not an outsider, having grown up in Redskins country. Nor am I a fan, having grown up a Giants fan (thank goodness). Do I harbor a little bit of dislike toward the Washington Redskins? Of course. The Giants fan in me doesn’t like any NFC East team.

With that being said, here’s not just my opinion on the situation, but a bit of a reflection, some of it firsthand, some of it from afar.

Let’s start in the fall of 2011. I was a college junior, and RG III was tearing it up (no pun intended…wait…maybe a little) at Baylor. Life was a college bubble. And, on the heels of his Heisman campaign that year at Baylor, RG III was a top-rated prospect heading into the 2012 NFL draft, with Andrew Luck of course.

There was debate over who would go 1 and who would go 2. Not super surprisingly, the Colts took Luck No. 1. And the Redskins traded the kitchen sink to the Rams for the No. 2 pick (RG III).

When you invest so much in a quarterback, he better damn work out…

That first season was an interesting one. He started with a bang, then fluttered off for a bit for a 3-6 start. But then…the resurrection. The RG III the Skins traded up for. Seven straight wins and off to the playoffs.

Now, like I said, I grew up in Maryland. Even though I was in college at Syracuse for RG III’s rookie season, I still kept up on DC sports because I guess I’m a sadist and it makes me feel better about growing up an outlier as a New York sports fan in Maryland.

So I saw the highs and lows (mostly highs until the unspeakable part I will get to) of that season. I’ve seen Skins fans go crazy about a “good” team before. Mark Brunell had his moments. There was that Todd Collins playoff win. How ’bout that 14-13 comeback win over the Cowboys way back when. Santana Moss, anyone?

The Redskins of my lifetime have had more lows than highs, so the highs were cherished.

Anyway, one of the high points of that season was the Thanksgiving day victory over the Cowboys. RG III looked, well, elite.

The Skins were on their way to the playoffs.

Where everything would fall apart.

I was home for winter break and that playoff game. I watched RG III go down. Watched him come back. Watched him go down again. I read the papers the next day. Probably 20 articles on it. I’m not sure if any other city and paper would have more.

He is a polarizing figure, and anything he did was scrutinized (and usually hated). His image took a hit. Times were not good.

Anyway, his knee was not in a good place. At all. But he got the surgery, rehabbed, and for the two seasons after that it’s been a mix of injuries and losses.

His downfall has been unreal. You can blame injury, the coach, the system, whatever. And while I’m not a Skins or RG III fan, the football fan in me doesn’t like how a guy can be magic one year and never reach his full potential after that.

Now, RG III isn’t done. Kirk Cousins is replacing him as a starter (remember when everyone freaked after the Redskins took him in the same draft as RG III? Barring disaster, Cousins was to be a backup or a trade chip).

So now RG III is a backup. Key word “now.” Could be traded to another team.

He could recover his career. For football reasons, I hope he does. In the meantime, he will be one of the NFL’s biggest stories. Just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

There’s a common opening scene in movies and tv shows, where something crazy and unbelievable happens, and you’re like, “How did we get to this point??” Then a new scene will flash and will say “____ hours/days/weeks earlier.”

And you learn how things got to that dire point.

With RG III’s benching, we really need a flashback to “two years earlier” to see how it all went downhill.

Now we’ll have to see if Griffin has a sequel in store to redeem himself.

Gotta feel a little bad for Redskins fans. Ehh, never mind.