Thursday, June 27, 2013

Zeller pick gets booed by fans at Bobcat draft party

Since I am officially on vacation for the next week or so, I didn’t officially cover the NBA draft. But I did help increase the Charlotte Bobcats’ crowd by almost one percent at their free draft-day party, taking two of my sons (ages 15 and 12) and three of their teenaged friends to the main concourse at Time Warner Cable Arena.

There we watched the first few picks of the draft with probably 600-800 other fans. And the reaction from those diehards after the pick of Cody Zeller? Well, let’s just say they were underwhelmed.

No, let’s say more than that. Let’s describe it, because it was quite a scene.

As the No.4 pick approached, the crowd mostly wanted Kansas guard Ben McLemore or Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel. So when Zeller was announced by NBA commissioner David Stern, the immediate reaction from the Bobcat fans was a stunned “OOOOOHHHH” of disbelief, followed by a lot of booing, followed by at least one chant of “Bull----, Bull----.” I recorded it and just listened to it again on my iPhone, and the amount of vitriol was really amazing. It sounded almost like when NBA commissioner David Stern walked out to give the first few picks and the New York crowd booed him heatedly.

And the Zeller pick made a couple of people happy, too.

Was I one of the happy people? Well, no. As I wrote in the newspaper Thursday, I wanted the Bobcats to take Zeller’s teammate, Victor Oladipo. Unfortunately, he went at No.2. But I also wrote that Noel was the right choice if he were still there at No.4, and he was, and they didn’t take him.

Maybe we’re all very wrong. Maybe Zeller was a great choice and the Bobcats’ braintrust – particularly general manager Rich Cho, who seems out on a limb on this one -- will be proven right.

But the Bobcats certainly didn’t win the public-relations war Thursday night. Although the party itself was a nice and well-organized event, many of those fans filed out shortly after the Zeller pick, grumbling to themselves.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thomas Davis says Panther D could be best in NFL in 2013

Panther linebacker Thomas Davis takes a question from a fan Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte.

Panther linebacker Thomas Davis ended up as a last-minute substitution Wednesday for another former Georgia Bulldog – Herschel Walker.

Walker was supposed to be the Charlotte Touchdown Club’s luncheon speaker and was already in Charlotte. But he had to rush to Georgia when he got the sad news Wednesday morning that his father had died.

Davis had planned on just introducing Walker for his speech and then getting Walker to sign a jersey for him – Davis is a big fan of Walker’s. But instead Davis talked to the crowd of several hundred instead, mostly doing Q and A. Here are five interesting things from Davis’s public talk and his one-on-one interview with me afterward:

1. Davis told me after his speech that the Panther defense is good enough to “definitely compete for that No.1 spot in the league.” The Panthers finished 10th in total defense (based on yardage) in 2012.

2. Davis isn’t about to take out a full-page advertisement in The Charlotte Observer predicting a Super Bowl victory for Carolina like center Ryan Kalil did last year, but he is very confident about the team. “I definitely think we have all the potential in the world,” Davis said. He said quarterback Cam Newton has matured and that “we’re definitely looking forward to him going on and leading us to where we want to be this year -- and that’s the Super Bowl.”

3. Davis said the Panthers’ linebacker corps – paced by Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Davis himself – had huge potential for 2013.

“We have no doubt not only the opportunity to be not only the best linebacker group to come through Carolina, but we definitely can be the best linebacker group in the league,” Davis said. He said in particular that Beason looked “as fast or faster” as he was before his latest injury.

4. Davis, a huge Miami Heat fan, said there is no doubt that the Heat will win Game 7 Thursday night. He said he and defensive end Charles Johnson, who Davis said cannot stand the Heat, had been texting each other constantly during the rollercoaster Game 6 on Tuesday night until Davis finally got the last word following the Heat's late comeback.

5. The Charlotte Touchdown Club has been in existence more than 20 years and has had close to 200 lunch speakers at this point, organizers said. Amazingly, this was only the second last-minute cancellation by a speaker. The first came a few years ago, when former Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas simply didn’t show up, they said.

Walker had already been in Charlotte – he did an interview with WFNZ 610 AM Tuesday afternoon to promote the event – but then had to go to Georgia when his father (who had been in poor health) passed away. Walker will likely come back to speak to the Charlotte Touchdown Club in May 2014.

Monday, June 17, 2013

NBA Finals are missing one key ingredient

I was on vacation this past week, which made it easier to watch almost every minute of the NBA Finals. I am pretty fascinated with the whole series but it is missing one key item:

Close games.

Can you believe two teams that are as evenly matched as San Antonio and Miami cannot get it together to play well on the same night? We've had five games now, with the Spurs leading 3-2, and only Game One was close. I was watching with my two oldest sons last night -- one going for Miami, one for San Antonio -- and they both bailed out with a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Spurs up by 11. I couldn't blame them. This is a series in which watching the final minute has only mattered once.

Two teams with a Big Three. Future hall of famers everywhere you look. And yet it's a series severely lacking in big late-game moments, because the two teams keep playing close first halves and then taking turns blowing one another out in the third quarter.

It's great theater in the first half and then a steady trickling away of drama from there -- a movie with a fine setup and an ending that makes you leave the theater with a frown.

The basketball gods need to give us a close Game 6 Tuesday night, to be won by Miami, and then a monumental Game 7. I don't care who wins that one, but it's got to come down to the final two minutes. Otherwise, this series to me will count as a near-miss -- the two best teams in basketball, combining for one mediocre game after another.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The day I met Deacon Jones

Deacon Jones, the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end, died Monday night. Jones was such an iconic pass rusher he is actually credited with coining the word "sack." But unfortunately for his career, the NFL didn't start keeping official tracks of sacks until 1982.

Jones haunted quarterbacks' nightmares throughout the 1960s and '70s, mostly as one of the headliners of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" (which also included Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy).

I met Jones only once, but it was a memorable conversation. This was in 2004, when the Charlotte Touchdown Club -- an organization that has done a ton in Charlotte to promote football and give out scholarships -- had Jones in as a lunch speaker as part of their annual speakers' series.

I talked to Jones before his speech. He was a legendarily tough player, and he told me flat-out that he had watched the 2004 Panthers (coming off a Super Bowl year, but in the middle of a disappointing 7-9 season) and that they weren't tough enough. In fact, Jones said, NFL players in general weren't tough enough anymore.

As he said when I interviewed him: "These girls who play the NFL game today ought to be ashamed of taking all that money!"

Jones said today's NFL players, although larger, are much softer.

"You see them taking oxygen all the time on the sideline, " Jones said. "They get tired after a series and have to come out. It makes me sick. "Football is a game of pain! Of suffering! What do these players know about that?"

A former 14th-round pick out of Mississippi Valley State, Jones also said he couldn't stand the NFL rules that protected offensive players and, in his view, made the game less violent and less entertaining.

"Fans today are getting less football, " Jones said, "and paying a lot more money for it."

In other words, along with being an incredible player, Jones was a heck of an interview. I remember him fondly, as does anyone who ever saw him play. He was 74.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The joys of a Game 7

There is not much like a Game 7 in sports, whether it comes in the NBA -- as it does tonight, when the Indiana Pacers face the Miami Heat at 8:30 p.m. on TNT -- or in baseball or hockey or any other extended series.

NASCAR's chief, Brian France, once explained the idea behind instituting a playoff system in his sport by saying NASCAR needed more "Game 7 type moments."

That's a worthy goal, although NASCAR certainly doesn't get there very often. A Game 7 -- when each team has beaten each other three times and knows very well the series hangs on a precipice -- is just great theater.

To beat Miami in Miami would be quite a tall order for Indiana tonight, but the Pacers are capable. They hold a 5-4 total edge in meetings this season. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have seen their roles shrink in the offense as LeBron James has been forced to go into "Cleveland mode," trying to win games almost by himself.

"I mean, we can state the obvious, they're both struggling," LeBron said of the other two members of the Big Three after Miami's Game 6 loss.

To win, the Heat will need Bosh in particular to step up and stop getting squashed by Roy Hibbert inside. The Pacers will need a big game from Paul George on both ends and not to get overwhelmed by the moment.

San Antonio should be favored over either team, as the Spurs have seemingly been waiting on the winner of this series forever. But tonight should be great stuff -- the sort of win-or-go-home game that the NCAA tournament provides us more than 60 times but which professional basketball doesn't give us often enough.