Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Change nickname from Bobcats to Hornets? Sure

Change the Bobcats’ nickname to “Hornets”?

I’d be fine with that.

Contrary to my colleague Tom Sorensen, who wrote in Sunday’s newspaper that the team shouldn’t change nicknames but should simply win more, I have long advocated a name change for the Bobcats. Two years ago, I wrote in The Observer that since Michael Jordan had now become the Bobcats’ majority owner that he should wipe the slate clean and claim another nickname.

As I wrote in March 2010:

“The ‘Bobcats’ name has been irreversibly tainted by its association with [former owner Bob] Johnson, who more or less named the team for himself. Or at least that’s what most people think. In this case it’s the perception that matters.”

Back then the “Hornets” nickname – the one that the original Charlotte NBA franchise had before it moved to New Orleans – wasn’t available. It still isn’t, but could be soon. Once new owners buy the New Orleans franchise from the NBA (which runs it now in an obvious conflict of interest), it’s likely they will change the nickname to wipe their own slate clean.

And then the name that makes everyone nostalgic for the good ol’ days (although the good ol’ days weren’t always good, as Billy Joel once sang) could be on the open market.

There is a grassroots movement to change the nickname back to “Hornets,” although it is easy to advocate spending other people’s money (in this case it would cost an estimated $3 million to $5 million to “rebrand” the team, say the Bobcats -- who don't currently have this item high on their agenda).

But I thought it would be worth it in 2010, and I think so today. The Bobcats’ current team is horrid – it has the worst record in the NBA at 4-28. The team is trying to restructure itself in many ways – caring more about its own community, getting better players and on and on.

A name change would symbolize a lot. And the “Hornets” choice makes sense. I still hear people mistakenly refer to the Bobcats by that name, for it became so embedded in the Carolinas’ psyche.

And I still believe what I wrote in 2010 about the “Bobcats” issue:

“That name never has sounded very fierce. It has always sounded like the name of a middle-school team whose high school varsity is known as some type of bigger cat.

And now, with Johnson out of the picture, there’s just no reason to bob along in the water anymore.

Jordan should seize this chance to stamp his team with a new nickname. It would be powerful symbolism of Jordan literally taking ownership of the club -- well worth both the money and time invested."

Monday, February 27, 2012

10 classic NBA commercials (MJ, Grandmama and Bird)

This one's just for fun -- I ran across this link with 10 of the best commercials ever featuring NBA stars. Check it out.

Michael Jordan is in four of these, including one with Mars Blackmon, one with Larry Bird (the famous H-O-R-S-E game, check out the sweater MJ wears in it) and my favorite, which is the "Jordan vs. Jordan" ad. The reason I like that one so much is that it's the most authentic -- Jordan's trash-talking in it is far more genuine than the cuddly persona he presents in some of his other ads.

The Larry Johnson "Grandmama" ad seems a bit dated now, but still fun.

Friday, February 24, 2012

No.9, No.9, No.9 -- Panthers lose coin flip but it's OK, really

That old Beatles song with the disturbing "No.9, No.9" refrain is running through my head this morning after the Panthers lost a coin flip in Indianapolis with the Miami Dolphins, meaning Carolina will draft No.9 in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft (which begins on Thursday, April 26). They will then pick No.8 in the second round, ahead of Miami.

But hey, it's OK to lose a coin flip, as I wrote about in my last column. Previous recent No.9 picks have included Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor and Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams, and they all turned out all right.

The difference between No.8 and No.9 is ultimately pretty negligible -- you should be able to get a starter either way. The Bobcats had the No.9 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, incidentally, and ended up with Kemba Walker.

Now I haven't studied the draft to any great length, but I sure liked Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly when I saw him play on TV. He'd be a great possibility, as would LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. While defense is the huge need for the Panthers, you'd also have to consider Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon if he fell that far (I don't think he will).

Two other random notes on a Friday:

-- My friend, the talented sportswriter Bethany Bradsher, will be at the Barnes and Noble Arboretum to sign copies of her book "The Classic" from 1-3 p.m. Saturday. Bradsher's book is a rollicking history of the old Dixie Classic, which was a fantastic college basketball tournament in Raleigh 50 years ago that included all of the Big Four ACC teams until it was brought down by a gambling scandal. It's well worth your time and money.

-- My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today. In this day and age, that's quite a number. Congrats to them!!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

5 best coin flips ever as Panthers prepare for flip vs Miami

I wrote a column today about the Panthers' upcoming coin flip with the Miami Dolphins, which will happen Friday morning and decide who will pick No.8 in the 2012 NFL draft and who will pick No.9.

One example I didn't have room for in the story as to how it may not matter much which place the Panthers pick: OT Jordan Gross was No.8 overall in 2003 when Carolina picked him. Then Minnesota went for DT Kevin Williams at No.9. Both have been NFL studs for most of their careers.

Not to be too flippant regarding flips, but I also researched coin flips as a whole and came up with this list of my favorite 5 coin flips ever:

5. HAKEEM THE DREAM: In 1984, the NBA conducted a coin flip between Houston and Portland to decide which team got the No.1 overall pick. Houston won and picked Hakeem Olajuwon. Portland lost and picked Sam Bowie. But Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the flip at all, really won by picking Michael Jordan at No.3.

4. THAT'S NOT QUITE WHAT I MEANT: Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck once correctly called an overtime coin flip in a playoff game, then brashly declared, “We want the ball and we’re going to score!” Hasselbeck then threw an interception that Green Bay returned for a touchdown.

3. HEADS-TAILS: On Thanksgiving Day in 1998, Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis called “heads-tails” while the coin was in the air to decide whether the Steelers or Detroit would get the ball in overtime. The coin landed on “tails,” referee Phil Luckett declared Bettis had called “heads” and a controversy ensued. Detroit won the game. That flip led to the NFL rewriting its coin-flip rule – you now have to call the flip before the coin is tossed.

2. TALE OF TWO CITIES: In 1851, two men founded a large city in Oregon together. One was from Maine and wanted to name it “Portland.” The other was from Massachusetts and wanted to name it “Boston.” A coin flip decided “Portland” as the winner.

1. THE WRIGHT STUFF: In December 1903, the Wright brothers were oh-so-close to flying. Their aircraft had room for only the pilot, so Orville and Wilbur conducted a coin flip.

Wilbur won. But his attempt on Dec.14, 1903, stalled out, lasted barely over three seconds and wasn’t successful. Orville, the coin-flip loser, ended up going for 12 seconds and 120 feet in Kitty Hawk, N.C., three days later to begin the aviation era with the historic “first flight.”

So I believe whether the Panthers win or lose the coin flip Friday, it won’t matter much. Because as Wilbur Wright could have told you, fate can be as fickle as a flying machine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thomas Davis must be cut or restructured; what about Clausen?

The Observer's Joseph Person wrote an eye-opening look at the Panthers' salary-cap issues in today's newspaper, including the fact that the team is a reported $9.6 million over the cap and must drop that number by the start of the new NFL fiscal year on March 13th.

The first thing the Panthers must do: Figure out Thomas Davis's contract, because it absolutely won't work in the current scenario. The Panthers have a club option to pay Davis $8 million for next season by March 14th, and if you think they're going to do that, I've got a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.

Davis is rehabbing hard and is one of the great guys in the Panthers' locker room. But the fact remains that he has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee three times in the past 22 months. That knee is, quite literally, damaged goods until proven otherwise.

The scenario that makes the most sense is the Panthers releasing Davis and then re-signing him later for an enormous discount compared to that $8 million. They are going to have to do something like that, because as much as everyone in the organization wants Davis to succeed, there's no way to say that he will. And it's a safe maneuver, too, because what other NFL team wants to pick up a linebacker who has had three ACL tears in the same knee?

The other really interesting decision: Will the Panthers pay Jimmy Clausen a $923,000 roster bonus or cut him to save almost a million dollars?

This one is not as cut-and-dried as the Davis scenario. Cam Newton spoiled the Panthers last season by starting all 16 games, but you can't count on that every year, especially the way Newton plays. Is Clausen a viable backup? Or will the Panthers go with a veteran like Derek Anderson and cut bait with Clausen, who was pretty horrible in 2010 (going 1-9 as a starter)?

Ultimately, I think this one isn't as simple as it may seem. Because if you're not going to pay Clausen money to stay, you're going to invest similar or more money in someone else. I would imagine that coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney will have to huddle up closely about this one.

But the Davis deal? That one is a no-brainer -- it has to be radically modified for Davis to ever play for Carolina again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gottfried jumps into the Karl Hess officiating fray

N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried won't make any friends among basketball officials or ACC higher-ups with his comments at a student rally prior to the N.C. State-UNC basketball game tonight, but he certainly has made some among the Wolfpack faithful.

Gottfried had played it fairly straight in the aftermath of former N.C. State stars Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta getting thrown out of their seats Saturday for protesting calls as the Wolfpack got hammered by Florida State.

But then Gottfried got taped, apparently by a student, saying this about official Karl Hess's decision and the ACC's reprimand of Hess for not following the correct protocol:

"I think it was weak. It was bad and I thought the official was completely out of line 100 percent. I'm disappointed, quite frankly, in the ACC, because not only did he throw out two of N.C. State's greats, he threw out two of the ACC's greats, and the league is supporting an official rather than supporting former great players.

"The former great players, in my opinion, were embarrassed and wronged when they shouldn't have been. I don't think you can have rabbit ears like that if you're a referee and start throwing people out. I was disappointed in the whole thing. So they gave a reprimand tonight to the official, but it was pretty weak in my opinion."

The ACC did reprimand Hess on Monday night for his failure to follow the proper protocol in ejecting fans, but that was about it. Hess also wrote in an email that Corchiani and Gugliotta were ejected for "excessive demonstration on several calls as they came right up to the scorer’s table."

Meanwhile, N.C. State AD Deborah Yow has seized upon this moment to the utmost, effectively meaning the run-up to the UNC-NCSU game has been about this moment and not the fact N.C. State has lost two huge games in the past five days. It's a wise decision by Yow, and Gottfried would be well-advised to let her handle this from now on.

So now Corchiani and Gugliotta will be honored, with the 1988-89 N.C. State team before tonight's game against the Tar Heels. Think that will throw the crowd into a frenzy? You're right. If there was ever a night where the crowd in Raleigh will be primed for an upset, this is it.

As for tonight's officials, I feel a little sorry for them. They'll get the blowback from the Hess incident big-time. I hope that the game itself is clean and well-played, because the night also has the potential to turn ugly with this much emotion seething on all sides.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jon Beason's Super Bowl prediction

The Observer's Joseph Person wrote an excellent, comprehensive story in Sunday's newspaper about the rehab work of Panther linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, who were both lost in an eight-day span last season due to injury.

You had to read all the way to the end to see the quote that really jumped out at me, though, when Beason said of the Panthers: "The pieces are in place to win the whole thing."

Now Beason and Davis are both incurable optimists -- a good trait in athletics, where believing is often half the battle. Davis thinks he's going to come back from a third ACL surgery on the very same knee -- something no football player has apparently done before.

And Beason? He thinks the Panthers would have a "weak year" if they don't make the Super Bowl a year from now. Check out the whole quote, reprinted below:

Said Beason: "It just feels good to know that I'm off the shelf. I'm back a part of the team and I'm in the equation of getting to the top. That's what it's geared for. No more playing for winning seasons or playing to make the playoffs or to go deep in the playoffs. The pieces are in place to win the whole thing, and that's really how I feel about it. Anything less than at least an appearance (in the Super Bowl) is a weak year."

Whoa. Really?? A 6-10 team one year, a Super Bowl team the next?

Of course, the Panthers of 2002 were 7-9 and they went to the Super Bowl in 2003. But the defense will have to get a whole lot better for the Panthers to make a serious run -- without Beason and Davis, the team allowed franchise highs in points and yards in 2011.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What N.C. State must do to close gap with Duke, UNC

I had an interview with N.C. State coach Gottfried recently by phone and he said the No.1 thing the program needed to do to catch up to Duke and UNC was "recruit, recruit, recruit." So far, so good -- the Wolfpack has three incoming freshmen for next year's class, and all three are McDonald's All-Americans.

Here's the column on Gottfried and N.C. State, too, that was published in Thursday's Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News and Observer.

In the column, Gottfried also talks about what he learned while coaching at Alabama and living in the shadows of the Crimson Tide's football program.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Please, no, not Moss (and Happy Valentine's Day)

Hi guys. A couple of things:

1) My friend and colleague Tom Sorensen advocates the Panthers looking seriously into Randy Moss for the 2012 season in this column. I think it's a terrible idea. Moss not only is the wrong age (35), but the speed that made him special isn't there anymore. Bottom line: Can't play. The Panthers already have David Gettis on the roster, remember -- he and Brandon LaFell should be the No.2 and No.3 wideouts next season, with Steve Smith No.1. This team could use an influx of veterans at a position or two, but not there.

2) Attention all N.C. State fans -- I'm writing a column for Thursday about the Wolfpack and coach Mark Gottfried, whom I interviewed recently and who has already had more ACC wins this season than Sidney Lowe did in any of his five years in Raleigh. We'll have a video to go along with this column and it will be posted a day in advance, on Wednesday. Please keep an eye out for that.

3) Happy Valentine's Day! Not to get all mushy on you, but I do very much appreciate all those who read this blog regularly and comment on its contents with thoughtfulness and passion. Thank you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chris Paul endorses Kemba Walker

Former Wake Forest star Chris Paul came home to North Carolina Saturday night, leading the L.A. Clippers to a fairly routine 111-86 whipping of the woeful Charlotte Bobcats.

Paul had 18 points and 14 assists in front of what he estimated was a "couple of hundred" family and friends, most from the Winston-Salem area where he grew up. Both his father and brother sat courtside.

I asked Paul a few questions after the game in regard to the theme of my column for Sunday's newspaper and online, which is that any NBA team -- including the Bobcats -- is just two great players away from contending for a championship. The Clippers were a league laughingstock for years -- they once had 29 losing seasons in a 32-year stretch -- but now they have Paul and dunking dynamo Blake Griffin. They can go deep in the postseason.

I mentioned to Paul that the Bobcats (3-24) don't have any superstars while the Clippers (17-8) have two. He then endorsed rookie point guard Kemba Walker (who had 19 points and four assists Saturday) without being asked.

Said Paul of Charlotte: "“They’ve just got to keep working. Kemba is a great young talent. When you’ve got a starting point guard like that, you’ll have an opportunity.”

The Bobcats, of course, once could have had Paul. In 2005, they had the chance to trade the No.5 and No.13 picks away for the No.3 pick, which could have been Paul. They passed on that move, taking Raymond Felton and Sean May instead, and it has haunted them since.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Absolutely incredible: Rivers' 3-pointer beats UNC at buzzer

Now that was truly unbelievable.

Duke freshman Austin Rivers just etched his name deeply into the Duke-UNC rivalry. His deep three-pointer at the buzzer (see video and analysis here) over Tyler Zeller gave Duke an amazing 85-84 win over UNC at Chapel Hill and will mean that Rivers' name will now become synonymous with one of the finest finishes this 233-game series has ever produced.

A quick list of some of the other best shots ever at the end of a game in this wonderful series:

-- Walter Davis's banked 30-footer at the buzzer that completed the "eight points in 17 seconds" comeback in 1974.

-- Chris Duhon's coast-to-coast reverse layup to beat Carolina in overtime in 2004.

-- Marvin Williams' old-fashioned three-point play in 2005 that erased the last of a nine-point Duke lead with 2:40 to go.

-- Jeff Capel's 35-footer to force a second overtime in 1995.

There are many more, of course, but Rivers just pushed his way onto a very short list. It's very hard to do what he just did. The outcome of the game ultimately turned on one shot, and Rivers knocked it down to stun the sellout crowd in Chapel Hill.

If you're a UNC fan, of course, you're thinking it never should have come to that. UNC led by 9-12 points for almost all of the second half and still had a 10-point lead (82-72) with 2:38 to go. Seth Curry traveled just before a crucial three-pointer late and Kendall Marshall had a critical turnover.

And Zeller? What a fine 39 minutes he played and what a bad final minute. He accidentally tipped in a Ryan Kelly airball for two Duke points while trying to get a rebound -- that was just unlucky. But then Zeller missed the second of two free throws with 14 seconds left to give Rivers a chance to win the game instead of tie it with a three-pointer.

And then Zeller didn't close out on Rivers and force him to drive and at least not beat the Tar Heels on the last three. It wasn't like Rivers hadn't been hitting 3s already -- he had been deadly for most of the game from out there. You can't let Rivers get off a squared-up three in that situation.

If you're a Duke fan, of course, you are jubilant -- and rightly so. Duke ended the game on a 13-2 run, on the road, and it was legit. The Blue Devils made every big shot. They kept competing and fighting when most people thought it was over.

Hey, the refs didn't call the traveling on Curry, just like UNC got the benefit of a few other calls during the game. And when the biggest moment of the game came, Rivers noticed Zeller wasn't going to come all the way out on him (after Zeller had to switch off a pick-and-roll that got Reggie Bullock out of the play) and went ahead and decided to try the "make-it-or-lose" three instead of driving and hoping to send the game into overtime. A gamble, but hey -- it ended up in what Rivers told ESPN's Erin Andrews was "the best day of my life."

One last point: I wrote a column Wednesday and made a video (you can see links to both in the blog post below this one) that Duke-UNC was the best rivalry in all of sports. I got a number of emails from college football fans in Alabama and Auburn and Ohio State and Michigan and South Carolina and Yankees and Red Sox fans and so on, all saying their own rivalry was the best.

I think we just saw another example, though, of why UNC-Duke is unsurpassed.

And guess what? They'll do it again in early March, and maybe one more time in the ACC tournament. But whatever happens the rest of the year, we just saw one of the best shots of this college basketball season -- and one of the most memorable moments of the series. Depending on which shade of blue you wear, that shot will either haunt you or dazzle you for a long, long time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Duke-UNC -- brutal, gorgeous basketball

Here's my column about Duke and UNC's wonderful basketball rivalry.

I think sometimes we take this rivalry for granted, since it comes around like clockwork 2-3 times every year in February and March. But we shouldn't.

It's an extraordinary rivalry, really, affected so much by geography (Chapel Hill and Durham are so close to each other that Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith once used the same piano teacher for their daughters). But it's also affected by the fact that the two teams are so great so often -- one or the other (or usually both) have been nationally ranked for every meeting since 1955.

I wrote in this column I believe it to be the best rivalry in all of sports.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Richardson tells Panther fan that helmets will change, uniforms won't

Panther owner Jerry Richardson has long been known to pick up the phone and call a random fan or three that has either written him a letter or written into the "feedback" section of the website. Richardson is like that -- anyone who has met him on one of his pregame golf cart rides knows he likes to talk to fans directly.

The Panthers owner apparently did that late last week with a fan named Mike (who didn't want his last name used) from Winston-Salem after Mike wrote to the Panthers website that he really wanted the Panthers to change their uniforms since the team already has altered its logo for the first time since its inception. Mike is a fan of the "Scott Says" blog and had read this post about the uniform situation, which prompted his letter.

Mike says Richardson told him, however, that the owner was a traditionalist and that the uniforms wouldn't be changing in Richardson's lifetime, as Mike wrote to me in an email and reiterated in a later phone conversation we had.

However, this is interesting. Mike said Richardson also told him that the Panthers' helmet would change in 2012 but that he wasn't going to go into specifics about that.

As Mike said: "He stated we will see some changes in the helmet but wouldn't go into detail."

Now, the Panthers' helmet must change some -- the new logo dictates that. But will the helmet color change? Will anything else change besides the logo on the helmet?

That's the latest -- and maybe the only real remaining -- question about what the Panthers will wear in 2012. Forget about the uniforms -- they aren't going anywhere.

Mike, meanwhile, still wishes the uniforms would change, although he now recognizes that is a lost cause (all those Panther uniform prototypes on the Internet, incidentally, are fake). But he's a huge Panther fan and loved talking to Richardson. Mike said that Richardson's phone call "made my day, my week, my month and my year."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What a Super Bowl!

I didn't really care who won this Super Bowl. I had picked the New York Giants to win in the newspaper, so I kind of wanted that to turn out correctly, but mostly I just wanted to see a great game.

And that's what we got Sunday night, with the Giants edging New England 21-17 in a game not decided until Tom Brady's Hail Mary bounced to the ground as the clock went to zero.

I thought the commercials were disappointing as a whole, I liked Madonna's halftime show more than I thought I would and I loved the game itself.

Having hall of fame quarterbacks on both sides -- and yes, I think Eli Manning just punched his eventual ticket to Canton -- makes such a difference. It means every play seems to have more weight because each QB can burn the other defense at any time. Here are 5 things I loved about this Super Bowl:

1) The "No-I-Don't-Really-Want-To-Score" Touchdown. Bill Belichick made a good move in the last two minutes. Knowing that the Giants were down 17-15 but inside the 10 with a chip shot field goal coming with only 15-20 seconds left if the Patriots played regular D, Belichick allowed the Giants to score instead.

But Ahmad Bradshaw didn't want to score. He got to the 1, realized he shouldn't go in, and then sort of fell over into the end zone anyway. That gave Brady the final shot, which made the game more dramatic anyway.

2) The way the Giants got to 21. If you looked at the score without knowing anything, you'd assume it was three touchdowns. Instead, it was a safety, two touchdowns, an extra point, a missed two-point try and two field goals. Those sorts of 21s are usually the way the casino beats me in blackjack.

3) Charlotteans playing well. Both the Giants' Hakeem Nicks (Independence High, UNC) and Chris Canty (Charlotte Latin) made key plays, and Nicks was especially effective.

4) Brady's drive just before the half. I'm not a big Brady fan personally, but I appreciate the excellence. He completed a startling 10-for-10 for 98 yards and a TD on that drive, and that was basically without TE Gronkowski, who could barely run and was hardly a factor.

5) Eli's throw to Manningham. On that final Giants' drive, Manningham's gorgeous sideline catch of a perfect Manning throw was the longest -- and best -- play of the game. It turned the momentum entirely and set up a great last two minutes, which is what you hope for anytime the Super Bowl is played.

Cam, Katy Perry and Super Bowl week

Two unsurprising things happened Saturday night at Indianapolis:

1) Cam Newton won the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award (getting 47 out of a possible 50 votes).

2) Katy Perry flirted with Newton -- mildly -- in front of photographers.

Does either one stun anyone? It shouldn't. Newton easily deserves every rookie of the year award out there -- as I wrote earlier this month after doing a lot of research, his rookie year was the best any rookie has ever had at the NFL level.

And Perry? She's a masterful entertainer in that she always seems to be in the spotlight, which is what the Madonnas and Lady Gagas and Perrys of the world do. They either have a hot song, or they're hosting "Saturday Night Live" (Perry did that a few weeks back) or they're doing some world premiere of their latest video or they are mildly flirting with whoever else is hot at the moment.

And Cam is hot. It's a different sort of thing for the Panthers, who have never had a player as nationally recognized (although someone like Steve Smith or Julius Peppers has obviously done a lot more in his NFL career than Cam has of yet).

The key for Cam after all this attention?

Keep his eye on the prize. This postseason he has been in the headlines a lot. And it's fine to play (not very well) in the Pro Bowl and take a picture with Katy Perry and win a few individual awards, but there's a bigger goal out there. Newton wants to play in this game one year; not just be in the same city, looking photogenic.

He has kept his focus very well so far. Let's hope that doesn't change.

Video on Jim Beatty's world-record mile

I wrote a long column today about Charlottean Jim Beatty, who was the first person ever to run a sub-4-minute mile indoors 50 years ago this week. I've also had a few reader requests about thisblack-and-white video for the race.