Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Berens' bare butt causes stir

Talk about a wardrobe malfunction.

Charlotte's own Ricky Berens has been splashed all over the Internet the past few days because of a swimsuit problem. Berens, in Rome for the World Championships, had his suit split right down the butt just before he swam a qualifying leg of the 4x100 relay in Rome.

Berens -- a rising senior at the University of Texas -- is a laidback sort. He just kind of went with it, swimming the event halfway in the buff. "I kind of freaked out for just a second," Berens told reporters in Rome afterward. "I felt like (the hole) was almost down to my knees. I felt like I was putting on a pretty good show."

These sorts of things aren't as uncommon in swimming as you might suspect. Because of the skin-tight, high-tech nature of suits these days, it can take 15 minutes to pull one on (and help from a partner, too). Several suits ripped to varying degrees at the Charlotte UltraSwim in June (although not Berens').

Here's a story I wrote about Berens, who graduated from South Mecklenburg and won a 2008 gold medal at the Olympics, from June.

You might also recall that Jake Delhomme had part of his butt hanging out of his uniform during a game before changing pants. But while that was a PG show, this one was more like PG-13.

It may ultimately turn out to be good news for Berens. It wasn't his fault, after all, and it sure is giving him a ton of publicity. (Check out the woman-on-the-street story CNN did here.)

Plus, Berens went ahead and swam the event. His relay team qualified and ultimately won the gold medal over heavily-favored France in the final Berens didn't swim that one, but still gets a gold because of his preliminary performance.

At only 21, he is considered one of America's best hopes for the future in swimming and is a possible qualifier for multiple events at the 2012 Olympics in London.

With a swimsuit that doesn't rip, of course.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tyson Chandler officially a Bobcat

With the Tyson-Chandler-for-Emeka-Okafor trade now official, Chandler had a teleconference with local media this afternoon. Not a whole lot notable to come out of it, except a little injury news: Chandler said he had toe and ankle surgery in early May, is trying to regain "confidence" in his ankle at the moment but has been rehabbing and has no doubt he'll be ready for the season.

Here's my column about the trade -- as I mentioned in there, I'm fine with this deal and think it's a worthwhile gamble as long as Chandler stays healthy. If not, Okafor (the quintessential good-not-great player) will start looking pretty good again if Chandler is on a suit on the bench.

Incidentally, I'm on Twitter now and have just started getting into it a little. If you want to "follow" me on that service, my username on Twitter is Scott_Fowler.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts on Okafor deal

A quick question for you: What do Gerald Wallace and John Kasay have in common?

Answer: Kasay is the last original Panther, and Wallace is now the last original Bobcat.

Assuming the Emeka-Okafor-and-Tyson-Chandler deal goes through Tuesday (and Chandler doesn't fail a physical due to his problematic big toe again), Wallace will be the only Bobcat left from that original 2004-05 team.

As I have written for Tuesday's Charlotte Observer, I haven't been a huge Okafor fan for the past several years. He's never been any better than he was as a rookie, when he was the NBA's Rookie of the Year (over Dwight Howard, which seems hard to believe now).

Okafor has never gotten worse since then, but he's never gotten much better, either. And he frustrated coach Larry Brown this past year because he doesn't have the sort of crazy basketball passion of a Wallace or a Raymond Felton.

Said Brown as the season concluded of Okafor: "I always tease that he has an 'A' in stretching, Pilates and yoga. I'd like him to have an 'A' in basketball.... He's got to work at his game. There's no better guy than him. I want him to have a passion (for basketball) because it ends so quickly.... He analyzes everything he does. I think he's just got to play."

The Okafor deal is a salary dump, certainly. The Bobcats just lopped more than $20 million off their future payroll. But that alone isn't enough reason to do this. Chandler also has to turn out to be healthy (he only played 45 games last season). He's 7-foot-1 and more instinctive than Okafor, who is a very mechanical player.

But that won't matter if Okafor is playing and Chandler is in a suit on the bench.

If Chandler stays healthy, I think this is a good deal for the Bobcats. Despite Okafor's numbers, they hadn't gone much of anywhere with him in the middle. Chandler has a chance to be a bigger difference-maker -- he won't score as often, but he can rebound about as well and can be more of an intimidator.

Vick is back; who wants him?

Just a few minutes ago, the NFL announced that it had reinstated quarterback Michael Vick on a conditional basis.

Vick will not be eligible to play until the final two preseason games for whichever team signs him, and after that he can't play until Week 6 in the regular season.

So obviously, Vick will be a backup wherever he goes in 2009. He's an unrestricted free agent now -- the Falcons have renounced their claim on him -- and can sign anywhere he wants.

There are many questions about Vick, but here, I believe, are the two biggest:

1) Can he stay out of trouble?
2) Can he still play at anywhere near the same level?

Vick is only 29, but his promising career was derailed by his involvement with (and subsequent jail time for) an illegal dogfighting enterprise.

Now, should the Panthers sign him?

No. Let's just consider Vick just as a football player for the moment. He doesn't fit what the Panthers like to do. John Fox doesn't care about his quarterback running much. He does care about accuracy -- always Vick's weakness as a thrower. Jake Delhomme is well-set here as the starter. Vick at best would be a backup and while certainly an interesting alternative to Josh McCown (No.2) and Matt Moore (No.3), it's not a good fit overall.

Carolina doesn't need the circus Vick will bring with him, and Vick needs a team that didn't win 12 games last year and is more willing to take a risk by bringing him aboard. That team should be warned, however: You just can't count on that athleticism that used to set Vick apart, and without that, he's an average NFL quarterback at best.

Still, I hope Vick resurrects himself in the NFL somewhere. He has served his time. He's got Tony Dungy on his side now as a mentor, and that's a good thing.

Vick deserves another chance. As Goodell wrote to Vick in a letter: "Needless to say, your margin for error is extremely limited. I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Joe Gibbs' excellent new book

The cover of Joe Gibbs' new book "Game Plan for Life," which was co-written with Jerry B. Jenkins of the "Left Behind" series.

I did a little reading on my summer vacation, checking out Joe Gibbs' "Game Plan for Life."

Gibbs, of course, is one of the most famous residents of Cornelius. He has won multiple championships at the highest levels of both the NFL and NASCAR.

All that doesn't mean he's going to write a good book, of course, but in this case, he certainly has. "Game Plan for Life" is very thought-provoking and I can enthusiastically recommend it. Gibbs will sign copies of the book this Thursday, July 23, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Joe Gibbs Racing shop in Huntersville (704-944-5000 or for directions or more information).

“Game Plan for Life” delves into Gibbs’ deep Christian faith and he shares his own personal story in the conversational, self-deprecating way that makes him such a popular speaker. But what sets this one apart from other such books is that "Game Plan for Life" covers topics like finance, health and marriage with the help of 11 world-renowned experts whom Gibbs recruited to write a chapter apiece. The book is pointed primarily toward men, which makes sense since Gibbs has spent most of his adult life coaching men in one form or another.

Gibbs told me in an interview this week that this work was his "legacy" book -- a message he hopes to spread for the rest of his life.

Gibbs has some other signings coming up in the area as well, including one July 31st at a LifeWay store in Charlotte from noon to 2 p.m. More info:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Panther ticket info update

Hi, guys: Thanks for coming by. I'm back from vacation with some news about Panther tickets...

The Panthers don't play a real game until Sept.13 this year -- a few days later than usual -- but there's a much closer date that will mean a lot to Panther fans.

On Saturday Aug.1 at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster outlets, about 7,000 single-game tickets for each of the Panthers’ 2009 home games go on sale. (Lots of folks try to get online at and simultaneously call into Ticketmaster when buying, which isn't a bad idea at all).

Panther ticket guru Phil Youtsey told me today that he expects the hottest sellers to be the regular-season games vs. Philadelphia (the season opener on Sept.13), Washington (Oct.11), Atlanta (Nov.15) and Buffalo (Oct.25).

“The Buffalo one surprises me,” Youtsey said, “but that’s what I’ve been hearing. There are a lot of transplants out there who want that game. Plus, it's a 4 p.m. start in October, which a lot of people like.”

Last year four games were sold out or practically sold out on the first day of single-game ticket sales. The tickets that go last, of course, are the meaningless preseason games that all NFL teams insist on charging full price for (that's a crock, and another story entirely).

Anyway, back to Aug.1st -- customers will be limited to buying a maximum of four tickets per game.

The Panthers didn’t raise single-game prices this year, so most of the available tickets will be upper-deck seats at Bank of America Stadium for $51 apiece. (There will also be a few lower-level tickets available at $90 apiece, but not many). The other 60,000-plus seats in the stadium are already reserved for season-ticket holders.

Youtsey said the Panthers are “very fortunate” to have such a passionate fan base. Season-ticket renewals in 2009 have hovered around 98 percent, which is consistent with what they’ve been for the past six years. Of course, the PSL concept helps that renewal number a bunch, too, because if you don't renew, you forfeit your PSLs.

There will be 14 billboards touting the big ticket sale that will go up next week around the Charlotte area. The billboards play off the NFL slogan of “Own the Moment.” The team decided against featuring one particular player on the billboards, going instead with a team logo and a pair of Panther eyes.

If they had featured one guy on those billboards, though, I bet it wouldn't have been Julius Peppers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nike, LeBron mess one up

Apparently, LeBron James got dunked on in a pickup game by Xavier's Jordan Crawford at his basketball camp this week. And a couple of videographers were taping it. And then a Nike official (with LeBron's approval) demanded the tapes so it wouldn't get out on YouTube or something.

This is according to's Gary Parrish, generally a reputable source on basketball stuff. So let's assume it's true (Nike's excuse was that the session shouldn't have been taped in the first place). And assuming that, my response would be:

Oh, c'mon.

Is LeBron really that image-conscious? And wouldn't LeBron or the Nike folks realize that taking away the tapes quite likely would backfire into a bigger story, as it has now? As I write this, a version of this story sits on the main homepage of several of the sports world's most popular websites.

This is just silly, and LeBron and Nike are both getting what they deserve on it -- more publicity than such a dunk, in a pickup game no less, would ever otherwise get. What, we don't know that LeBron is vulnerable? The Orlando Magic proved that in the playoffs, just as some NBA team has proved every year.

At this point, it doesn't matter whether footage of the dunk surfaces or not. Just the fact that it's out there, that people know about it, should be enough to make LeBron and Nike remember that image is NOT everything.

Act like a real person -- one with true vulnerabilities -- and people are going to like you better, LeBron.

A sports-related contest

Please take a look at this sports contest I'm running.

Instead of you reading my stuff, this time I'd like to read yours -- it's called "Show Me the Spot." That refers to a sports-related spot that is special to you for one reason or another. And yes, there are prizes. You need to send me your entry -- via e-mail at or regular mail at Scott Fowler, c/o Charlotte Observer, 600 South Tryon Street, Charlotte NC 28202 -- by July 19.

Here's the link.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Federer 15, Tiger 14

One byproduct of Roger Federer's instant classic of a Wimbledon win over Andy Roddick Sunday is that it puts him one ahead in major championships over his good friend Tiger Woods.

Federer now has 15 Grand Slam titles after a pulsating 16-14 fifth-set win Sunday over Roddick. The American played the match of his life in this one and still lost (with his wife Brooklyn Decker, the Sports Illustrated model from Matthews, watching nervously from the stands).

Tiger has 14 Grand Slam titles going into his next major -- the British Open, July 16-19. Tiger won the tournament he hosts in Maryland Sunday by one stroke over Hunter Mahan, fulfilling his hope of being a "greedy host."

The men dominate their sports in similar ways and have a running text-message teasing thing going about who has the most majors. It's the way they keep score these days. Tiger text-messaged Federer before winning at Congressional (a non-major event) Sunday, telling him "Great job: Now it's my turn."

Who will ultimately win the battle of major championships between these two?

I would say Woods, although it's not a sure thing. Federer -- who in my mind is already the best tennis player of all time -- now is No.1 in men's tennis Grand Slam victories (singles only). He surpassed Pete Sampras Sunday and has also won the career Grand Slam (Sampras never did, always falling short on the slow clay at the French Open).

Federer, 27, still has some very good years left in him. He's proven to be a remarkably durable athlete. Sampras thinks Federer may ultimately get to "18 or 19" majors and that sounds about right. It will be more than that, too, if Rafael Nadal's injury problems get worse -- Federer might get to 20 in that case.

Woods? He still is No.2 on the all-time major list at 14 (behind Jack Nicklaus's 18). He's now 33. But the arc of a career is so much longer in golf than in tennis, where running and fitness are so much a part and parcel of the best players.

Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at 46. Kenny Perry almost won the 2009 Masters at 48. Although Jimmy Connors was an exception, tennis players generally are done with winning majors in their early 30s. It's telling that Jim Courier's senior tennis tour that makes a stop each fall in the Charlotte area is a 30-and-over circuit, while in golf you have to be at least 50 to make the senior tour.

Barring injury, Woods surely will be a contender in majors for the next 15 years. That's 60 possible major championships (both tennis and golf have four "majors" a year). Even if Tiger only wins 10 percent of them -- and that's a low estimate -- he would win six more, which would put him at 20. I'd imagine he will get a couple more than that, and end his career at around 22.

Bottom line? Federer better enjoy this lead over his buddy Tiger. It may last a few weeks or even a few years, but it won't last forever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A man who knows what he wants

Give credit to Mike Krzyzewski for knowing what he wants and sticking to it. Coach K said Tuesday he will finish his coaching career at Duke, squashing the latest "Coach-K-to-L.A.-Lakers" rumor.

And why would Coach K leave? Well, he'd get to coach Kobe Bryant, of course (this is all assuming Phil Jackson walks away from the game eventually with his 10 NBA rings). He loved doing that during the Beijing Olympics.

I was there in China and K was absolutely loving his job, getting to interact with Kobe, BeBron, Dwyane Wade and everyone else on that star-studded team. You should have seen him after the wondrous gold-medal game against Spain -- he looked like he was going to levitate, he was so happy.

I fully expect Coach K to take the U.S. job again for the 2012 Olympics -- he hasn't said he would and an announcement won't come for a couple of weeks, but I think that's how he will satisfy his jones for coaching the best in the world.

But like many of the top college coaches, Coach K basically has his own fiefdom at Duke. He does what he wants when he wants (and, to be fair, has done it extremely well, and not just on the athletic side). He coaches players who still consider their coaches as demi-gods -- not like the NBA, where players often think of their coaches as either equals or expendable parts (often because the players make more than the coaches).

Leaving Duke would make no sense, really. Coach K has plenty of money already, and that's all a place like the Lakers could offer him that Duke could not. He can coach the world's best by taking the Olympics job again. Staying put -- forever -- is absolutely the right choice.