I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.
I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.
Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.
Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”
The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.
Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.
It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.
This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.
OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA …
I've analyzed Jaguars' drafts in Folio Weekly for the previous decade, and for the better part of that decade as a fan, so I have plenty of opinions. Along the way, I've learned an important lesson: Nothing is ever as it seems on draft day.
It all seems simple in late April. Some teams draft the best available player (BAP) more often than not, knowing that attrition and injury will require that potential to find its way onto the field. Other teams draft for need — a philosophy decried by some as too reactive, as if the so-called BAP is a sure thing or a known quantity. Still others emulate Bill Belichick and trade down, under the assumption that diversifying the portfolio and putting more bodies in camp is the smartest play — sort of like what Rumsfeld said about Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. … there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
There's something there that applies to more than Mesopotamia. We never truly know the outcome of a situation going in. Despite the ruminations of self-styled purists, all teams basically use a hybrid of those draft philosophies: sometimes need, sometimes best player, sometimes an aggregation of picks. The three philosophies were at work in General Manager David Caldwell's first draft, and the results are more promising than they've in years.
The first pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, graded out as the best tackle — indeed the best player — in many pre-draft projections, and if you saw him keep the heat off Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last season in the school's first year in the SEC, you'd agree. The obvious comparison to Joeckel is Tony Boselli — and though those are big shoes to fill, one hopes he'll be closer to that than the 2009 second-round bust pick Eben Britton, the discharged right tackle who talked a much bigger game …
The Players Championship was perfect, if you like redemption narratives. Tiger Woods found his mojo and his form, and his body looked better than it has in years. As someone who spent a lot of the 1990s watching athletes perform in everything from pro baseball to professional wrestling achieve these flawless physiques, I felt a stir of recognition. Woods isn't a young man anymore, but his pecs were impeccable, and his victory at The Players restored the sanctity of his narrative. Nike's new Tiger Woods shoes, for example, were hot sellers before the win. Now? Good luck finding them, even at $180.
America loves a winner. But what happens when winners don't win or stop winning? Things get real. That brings us to the story of Vijay Singh — one of the best golfers in the world at one point — who's making news these days more for scandal than for anything he does on the course. At 50 years old, Singh tied for 78th at The Players and came out of the event no richer than he went in.
Singh recently filed suit against the PGA for "violating its duty of care and good faith" regarding his recent deer antler velvet scandal. According to the lawsuit, the Tour "failed competently and responsibly to administer its own Anti-Doping Program. … As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour's actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught."
At The Players, he wasn't exactly ridiculed — except by a spectator who razzed him by wearing deer antlers the first day. Perhaps that's a measure of respect for a veteran with one of the most impressive résumés of all active professional golfers — or perhaps it's a measure of the Fijian's irrelevance. Golfers half his age, such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, are the present day of the sport. At this point, Tiger Woods is an old-guard figure himself. Singh? Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." He might be "ready for [his] close-up," but he …
Earlier this month, Jaguars owner Shad Khan voiced an interest in the Shipyards property. Not a moment too soon. For virtually the entire century thus far, there have been plans for the Shipyards — plans that have not come to fruition.
"I've said all along, Jacksonville has great potential. Developing the north bank of the riverfront would go a long way toward achieving our potential," Khan said in a statement. "A new life for the Shipyards would be good news for the Jaguars, EverBank Field, the Sports Complex and all of Downtown Jacksonville."
Indeed it would. As Jacksonville grows, it still faces the challenge of igniting Downtown, making it more than just a place to work, visit a club, go to a Monster Truck rally or see a concert at The Florida Theatre. To become the city that city planners, major stakeholders, many residents and visitors envision, we have to maximize the potential of underused parcels of land and resources. Certainly, Khan — comfortably ensconced on the Forbes 400 — has the resources and wherewithal to do that. And he has the motivation.
Consider the constant grousing in recent years about the Jaguars gameday experience. There are some who complain about the traffic to and from the game (and many of those folks have never tried to see the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium or the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, two spots where the commute can be prohibitive for a variety of reasons). I remember a sports blogger who said Shad Khan should build a stadium on the Southside because it would be better situated for Jags fans making the trek from Nocatee and other outposts. Such complaints lack merit and seem provincial. However, there are other, more legitimate issues with the Jaguars gameday experience.
Consider what there is — or isn't — Downtown. After a Sunday game, traffic patterns and local habits dictate that people are going to get the heck out of Downtown back to their suburban sanctuaries …
The NBA season ended with a thrilling seven-game series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. At any given time, a half-dozen future Hall of Fame players were on the floor. Up until the last game, it was impossible to figure out which team would win the series. The Heat were pronounced dead and LeBron called a fraud seemingly every day until the end; the Spurs, the underdogs, avoided such castigation.
Will the Heat be an official dynasty, like the Lakers and Celtics of bygone eras? Who really knows? Much changes in the NBA on a yearly basis. It's easy to imagine a key injury or two driving the Heat back to the pack. It's equally easy to imagine other franchises rising to take the Miami club's place.
Some franchises are closer to that goal than others. Two that don't seem especially close to championship glory — at least at this time — will meet in an October preseason tilt in Jacksonville: the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans. This will be the Magic's third preseason trip to Northeast Florida and the first since 2008, just eight days after the team opens training camp in Orlando. In discussing the initiative, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown was his usual restrained self.
"When the 2013 NBA preseason begins, Jacksonville will be getting a piece of the action," Brown said in a news conference. "We're very excited to be working with the NBA again … one of the strongest and most recognized brands in the world."
Brown said the game allows Jacksonville to show the world that it's a great destination for sports and entertainment.
"We want this to be a spotlight that helps fans everywhere get an interest in Jacksonville and in Jacksonville's story, because we have a great story to tell," he said, referring to a revitalized Downtown, parks, beaches and a "re-energized job market."
After his remarks, Magic representative and former star Nick Anderson and Jacksonville University hoops legend Artis Gilmore added a few …
In my years of writing this column, I've found that I write many more arrest/trouble-with-the-law stories than I'd anticipated when I was handed the keys to the Sportstalk franchise in 2005.
Athletes across the spectrum seem to have issues with law enforcement. I feel like I've written a few articles about various arrests and legal situations faced by pro wrestling legend Ric Flair.
But the bulk of my "athlete gets arrested, and in other news, the sun will rise tomorrow" stories have to do with college athletes — specifically athletes from the University of Florida. As good as their football team has been on the field, and their basketball team has been on the court, the school's student-athletes can't seem to go very long without being clotheslined by the long arms of the law.
Sometimes, we see basketball players running afoul of statute — consider Joakim Noah's bust a few years back for a double dribble: open container law violation with a side violation of marijuana possession. Usually, though — and perhaps not surprising, given how many people are on the roster in any given year — the offenders are football stars.
Quite often, those offenses involve guns. I remember writing about former Gators and Jaguars player Dee Webb and the unfortunate incident that happened when he and a couple of other players were present when an assault rifle discharged and fired into a neighboring apartment. Charges were dropped, that time, for what a Gainesville police rep called "an accidental shooting with incredibly poor lapses in judgment." I bet Marissa Alexander wishes she'd received that benefit of the doubt.
And then, there's the Aaron Hernandez story, which seems to involve a purposeful shooting, albeit one with more "incredibly poor lapses in judgment." Though it is said that he has been a model prisoner since he was locked up a few weeks back.
Not all lapses in judgment involve firearms and inconvenient corpses, of course. …
For Gator Nation, it's been a Bummer Summer. On the heels of the PR nightmare of Aaron Hernandez (one of the best tight ends of the Urban Meyer era) facing murder charges in New England comes the recent embarrassment presented by Riley Cooper, former Gators wide receiver, who got liquored up at a Kenny Chesney concert and torpedoed his career by tossing a racial slur at a security guard.
As with Hernandez — whom Tim Tebow accompanied to a bar at least once when both were Gators — there's a Tebow connection to Cooper: They were college roommates. It makes you wonder what Tebow's take on all this might be. However, the Patriots quarterback has yet to offer a response at press time; it's likely he never will.
In the hours after Cooper's drunken "I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro" comment, there was no shortage of instant analysis. There were some who felt Cooper's unfortunate incident signified a larger sense of entitlement, as a reasonably prominent member of the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps.
"According to a number of sources, Riley Cooper wanted to be treated as if he was Bradley Cooper at the Chesney concert," Joseph Santoliquito wrote on the Philadelphia CBS affiliate's website. "He was an unruly ‘drunk who wanted the red-carpet treatment and security to basically kiss his ass, because he was "Riley Cooper, an Eagle," from what I saw,' said someone close to what happened that night. Apparently, when Cooper pulled out the ‘Don't-you-know-who-I-am' card, it wasn't acknowledged. ‘Security wasn't having it,' and Cooper apparently had a snit-fit."
While he's not the first white guy to get drunk and go atavistic and hateful with ill-considered rhetoric, Cooper faces a problem that is specific to his line of work.
Former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe talked about it on "The Norris & Davis Show" on Baltimore radio station 105.7 The Fan.
"What he did open was a can of worms for everybody …
Let's go ahead and blame (or thank) Alex Rodriguez. It seems to work for everything else.
The former Jacksonville Sun, Miami native and high school state championship baseball player has had a rough time of it lately. Rodriguez's link to Biogenesis of America, a Miami firm in the business of "enhancing" the performance of athletes, has been all over the news this summer — and the bulk of the coverage has been negative.
At this writing, Rodriguez is back playing for the Yankees. This quite likely might be his last stint.
With the threat of suspension from Major League Baseball for 211 games looming over his head pending an appeal from the union, any suspension would be a career-ender for the embattled 38-year-old third baseman and three-time Most Valuable Player.
Rodriguez once was widely heralded as one of the game's greats. Before the PED scandals hit, smarter minds than mine had him on the fast track to Cooperstown. Now? He gets booed. At home. Unless he's hitting home runs.
See, that's the paradox about performance-enhancing drugs. Everyone's against them — in theory. In theory, we all have unwavering moral codes, and we'd rather play fair and lose than cheat and win. Trouble is, for athletes, there's a limited window during which one can succeed. Success means many things — winning, cashing in, earning individual accolades. But if someone is giving his life to a sport, racing against time and attendant deterioration, it's rational to wonder, regarding cheating: Why not?
No one these days admits that Rodriguez is his favorite athlete. However, he's still influential — at least the much-lambasted mindset that drove him to performance enhancement is.
In July, a former Biogenesis employee, Porter Fischer, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that teen boys — high school athletes — would visit the clinic looking for that extra edge that included "[s]ports performance packages, which would include HGH, …
With summer's heat finally beginning to abate, fall sports are on everyone's mind. In Northeast Florida, pro and college football take pride of place. But as Jacksonville becomes more cosmopolitan, we're seeing other sports emerge — one of them being women's rugby, courtesy of the Jacksonville Women's Rugby Club.
Practices began Aug. 20 for the JWRC — whose team nickname is the Sinners — and this should be an exciting campaign for these lady ruggers. This season, they have coaches from South Africa who have 40 years of combined experience.
Team President Melissa Newkirk, who played college rugby at University of Central Florida, talked about the challenges of playing rugby on the club level in an email interview. She said the squad has 20 players but would like to have 30 to 45.
"We do not have tryouts and take anyone who wants to play, so we will take on all that are willing!"
Players come from all backgrounds — some with intense rugby backgrounds, others without.
"About half of our players did play in college, but we get lots who have never played before, and we teach them the game," Newkirk said. New players can learn the basics in about a month, but it takes three to six months to really feel confident, she said.
Newkirk played three years as an undergraduate — an experience that led directly to starting up this team.
"I started playing rugby in college. When I moved back home, there was not a team," she said. "I loved playing and wanted to share my passion for the sport with others. We also have an amazing local men's team that was and still is very supportive of our team; without their help, the women's team would not have been possible."
Many in our area might notice similarities with other more familiar sports; indeed, there are analogues to football and especially soccer.
"Rugby is a constantly moving game, like soccer; there are no downs or stoppage as in football," Newkirk said. "The main …
In recent years, it's been hard to muster up real enthusiasm for the on-field prospects of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That's not to say fans have not been loyal; even through seasons with many more losses than wins, the team has drawn at the box office, by and large avoiding blackouts. The same will hold true this year for all seven of the team's home games in Jacksonville.
Despite this, the national media has routinely lambasted Jacksonville and its fans. The team is subpar, they say, and the town isn't worthy of being an NFL city. And every time Shad Khan looks at a road atlas, someone seems to have a blog post or a column saying he's going to move the team. We saw it most recently when Khan bought the Fulham club in the English Premier League; certainly, went the logic, he's going to move the Jaguars to London.
How stale is that line of thought in 2013? How broken is that logic? Given that Khan in his short tenure has seemed more involved with the franchise than Wayne Weaver ever was, and that he's gone to great lengths to improve the stadium — everything from the public-private partnership for the scoreboards to the locker room and training facility upgrades — it seems ridiculous to play the "Jags Are Moving" card at this late date. Not to mention Khan's interest in The Shipyards and other Downtown properties similarly belies that meme.
The fact is, Khan didn't buy an NFL team so that it would lose 10 games a year for the next decade. Maybe change isn't coming quickly enough for some Jags fans, but what we are seeing is a concerted effort to remove the stench of defeat from EverBank Field and replace it with something we haven't whiffed in a long time: the sweet smell of success.
There are many reasons for optimism as the team enters the regular season.
Improved offensive line: It's been a long time since the Jaguars have had two tackles as good as Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel. We have to go back to the old days, when Coughlin …