'In our opinion' for December
Periodically we post short opinions about the topics of the day. They are collected here when they come off the ESPN Commentary index.
Dec. 30: Dallas done?
The Dallas Mavericks' championship can officially be called a one-and-done.
Three games into a season is usually too early to make a definitive call on a team's future, but not this year after two embarrassing blowout loses and a demoralizing buzzer-beater loss to Kevin Durant. The Mavs have proven they didn't just lose irreplaceable players at key positions in Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, but they also lost most of their identity.
I guess Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson's decision to save money (to possibly be in the running for Dwight Howard next season) was more important than maintaining the almost impossible-to-find championship chemistry.
It's not dumb in the long run, but it damn sure backfired for 2012.
-- Scoop Jackson
Dec. 29: Booing the boo birds
I'm really proud that I've never seen an episode of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." Not that I'm above low-brow reality television, but the Kardashian appeal has never grabbed me.
I know that I'm not alone in failing to understand why Kim Kardashian, a woman who is best known for being the star of some risqué tapes with R&B star Ray J, has become a cultural phenomenon, so I'm surprised to find that a recent survey revealed that Kris Humphries, the ex-Mr. Kim Kardashian, has become the most hated player in the NBA.
Hated, for what? Because he dared love a Kardashian? Hated because he went from being a marginal NBA player to a household name? Hated because Chris Paul's time as a Los Angeles Laker was longer than the Humphries-Kardashian marriage?
If there is anything to be hated, it's that some people have become so enraptured with the Kardashians that they've made Humphries a negative target. Humphries was booed during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden and in a season-opening win against the Washington Wizards. Booing a player for bad character or effort is totally understandable.
But for bad love?
People, move on.
-- Jemele Hill
Dec. 28: Not bowled over
Inflation cheapens everything it touches.
An economic truth seen in action today as we transit meaningless college football bowl game No. 11 on the way to meaningless college football bowl games No. 12 through No. 35 inclusive. The full calendar of hype, greed and mediocrity can be found here.
70 teams. 70. Fourth-place finishers from weak conferences playing seventh-place finishers from weaker conferences. And not yet even a third of the way through the annual grind of money printing, bad faith and terrible football.
The games have always been about winter tourism or sun belt real estate or the southern commodities exchanges -- sugar, cotton, orange, rose, etc. -- but they once bore the old-time charms of regionalism, exceptionalism and pride, too.
Now? Is there anything in sports worth less than a college bowl game?
-- Jeff MacGregor
Dec. 23: New York state of decline
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.
They have less money, for one thing. And a great deal less sense.
Such is the case anyway with the owners of the New York Mets, as evidenced by the slow-motion fire sale of shares in the moribund club.
To humans of moderate intelligence it beggars possibility that in The Age of Distraction someone might actually lose money running a big ticket sideshow in the greatest city on earth.
As I said here, having paid a billion for the ballpark, the people of New York should seize the team before the asset is robbed of any more value.
The very rich? F. Scott Fitzgerald would be surprised by the 21st century downgrade.
-- Jeff MacGregor
Dec. 22: Head shots
The NFL has hired independent trainers to sit in the press box and sleuth out concussions. A concussion, you ask, like the obvious yet un-sleuthed one suffered by Colt McCoy when James Harrison's Kevlar-covered head connected with McCoy's like a wrecking ball on a condemned building? Yeah, like that one.
It shouldn't have taken a parent -- the furious Brad McCoy -- to diagnose that one, but this is a necessary step in the right direction. And so is a reconsideration of the football lexicon. On Sunday one TV analyst said, "He needs to clear the cobwebs" as a safety wobbled off the field, taking me back to an innocent era, when CTE meant a cool car.
And while we're at it, maybe we should even listen to Harrison, who suggested his hit was no more serious -- or suspension-worthy -- than the Browns' decision to send McCoy back into the game.
-- Tim Keown
Dec. 21: Bill of goods
Last week's not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper announcement of a month's house arrest for super-villain Barry Bonds brought to a close the most expensive puppet show in history.
Turns out the evil genius of this story was neither Bonds nor his obsessive nemesis Jeff Novitsky, but MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Who but a bloodless mastermind could get the government to do baseball's dirty work at the expense of the United States taxpayer?
Whenever baseball is threatened by its own corruptions, it runs to Congress. It will not, cannot, clean its own (bawdy)house.
Half a century after steroids first appeared in sports in meaningful numbers; 25 years after they arrived in the clubhouse routine; 10 years and untold millions of dollars into the competing fictions of the "Steroid Era" and our "war" on performance enhancement, we get a shrug. And a bill. Because the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the rest of us to pay for it all.
-- Jeff MacGregor
Dec. 20: Lonely at the Top
That was "only" a Lakers-Clippers preseason game Monday night, but the sight of the Clippers and their re-made backcourt of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups underscoring that the battle for Los Angeles is really on during their 114-95 romp was no surprise. The really striking takeaway was how Kobe Bryant has never looked more like The Franchise -- or quite as alone as a Laker -- than he does right now.
Showtime is long gone. The Lakers are a "show me" team now. Phil Jackson retired. Lamar Odom was traded. Pau Gasol knows he may yet be shipped, out and Lakers center Andrew Bynum is on another quixotic quest to stay healthy. Owner Jerry Buss's son has the team reins now, not the old man. Late last week, Bryant's wife said she's leaving him. Dwight Howard still hasn't come.
Tectonic shifts are happening all around Bryant. It's not just the Clips. He's a 33-year-old guard with 15 NBA seasons on his legs who is coming off off-season knee surgery. He could use more help, not less.
After the rout, Kobe said what The Franchise should: "We'll figure it out."
-- Johnette Howard
Dec. 19: Death sports
Policy and public relations cannot obscure the fact that the NFL and NHL in their current forms are doomed.
Sidney Crosby -- Olympic hero, Cup champion, transcendent star -- is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms. Chris Pronger? Gone. Colt McCoy played with an undiagnosed concussion in a sport that has four phases: offense, defense, special teams and watching guys get carried off the field.
The leagues can try to look responsible, but the physicality of both sports might have finally outpaced the athlete's ability to play them.
The players get paid and we keep watching, but it's happened right in front of our eyes: Bigger, faster, stronger has become Too Big, Too Fast, Too Strong. There are blood sports (boxing and MMA); but from the diminished life expectancy in the NFL to the growing link between concussions and dementia, we're living with death sports now, too.
-- Howard Bryant
Dec. 16: The Maurice Jones-Drew dilemma
Watching a great athlete's career waste away is one of the saddest experiences in sports. Thursday night, on display for all too see sadness.
Can someone please save Maurice Jones-Drew? Save his career? Get him out of Jacksonville and on to a meaningful team? Four touchdowns last week, 112 yards Thursday night. Meaningless. It's a shame that possibly the best all-purpose player in the game has nothing more to ball for than SportsCenter highlights.
MJD has three years left on his contract. By the time he reaches free agency in 2014, he'll likely be so broke down by carrying a bad team that he'll be less valuable than Chad Ochocinco is to New England. So Gene Smith (or whoever the next Jaguar GM is): Do MJD a favor and trade him to a contender. Or to a team that can become one with him on its roster.
'cause we've seen this movie before. It starred Barry Sanders. And we all know how sad the ending to that one was.
-- Scoop Jackson
Dec. 15: The Chris Paul trade
So Chris Paul has been paired with the human highlight reel that is Blake Griffin and now we're gonna rock on to Electric Avenue, with crazy dunk after crazy dunk just waiting in the wings. But before the excitement carries us off into the distance, remember this: We ain't seen nothing yet. Literally. We haven't seen anything happen yet. Let's not start counting the rings before the new Clippers play their first game.
The CP3 trade feels similar to how the NFL season started for the Philadelphia Eagles, whose flurry of high-profile transactions as soon as the lockout ended supposedly had them positioned to dethrone the Packers as Super Bowl champs. Then the ball was kicked and the wheels came flying off. That's the problem with looking good on paper: It's paper. Great for gift wrapping, but championships aren't gifts. They are the culmination of talent, hard work, great coaching and a whole lot of luck -- with the latter perhaps the most important ingredient.
So yes, I fully expect to hear the phrase "Paul lobs to Blake" quite often in the coming years. But it would be a mistake to start planning a parade.
-- LZ Granderson
Dec. 14: James Harrison suspension
Punishing football players for playing football is an extraordinary absurdity. The Harrison fine and suspension is at once too much and too little delivered too late. The NFL sells spectacle and it sells violence. And Mr. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers has long been one of its most reliable wholesale suppliers.
So to single out a specific collision in our weekly Armageddon of cumulative brain injury is the worst kind of pretense. The game itself is brutality. To act otherwise, as The League does when it is in The League's interest to be seen to do so, isn't stewardship, it's salesmanship. These punishments are as much about soothing audience conscience as they are about changing player behavior.
Football is violence. The futility of trying to control or shape that violence once summoned is neither noble nor sad nor sweet. It is a transparent hypocrisy.
-- Jeff MacGregor
Dec. 13: Paul trades stymied
The "Invisible Hand of the Marketplace" turns out to be the clenched fist of one David Stern.
Voiding and inciting a series of Chris Paul trades on behalf of the moribund
Charlotte New Orleans Hornets, the NBA commissioner reveals himself to be a ham-handed negotiator. Having decided you want this young star in Hollywood, how hard can it be to get him there? You're the league muscle, after all. Act like it. The feigned impartiality is an insulting fiction.
David Stern is a butcher with his thumb on the scale. That's why nothing about the conduct of the current NBA should surprise anyone. The commissioner makes it up as he goes along. Doing so, he creates a league so weak even he can run it.
-- Jeff MacGregor