February 20, 2005
Dissing A-Rod
(a.k.a. "A-Ripping"):

Wells (Smack) and Schill ("It's ..personal") join cavalcade of critics in the hot new MLB trend. Way more intriguing: Where's the D from A-Rod's teammates? QUICKIE LIVE! 9-10 a.m.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Answers to your questions!

Grant Hill: Who will get the loudest ovation?

LeBron James: Who will make the most must-see play?

Any Nugget: Who is the most conspicuous absence?

Steve Nash: Who will be the ASG MVP?

No one: Who will play D?

Complete ASG weekend preview follows ...

ASG: The Celebs
Hilarity ensues when GMs Greg Anthony and Stephen A. Smith divvy up celebrities to play for "coaches" Andre Miller and Earl Boykins. (Friday, 7 pm, ESPN)

Ubiquitous celeb-hoops participants Mark McGrath and Roger Lodge tangle with headliners Nelly and Ryan Cabrera, best-known for being Ashlee Simpson's ex. R&B star Brian McKnight is better than all of 'em.

ASG: The Comps
JV Game: What does it say when the Soph starting 5 of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Carmelo and Heinrich could beat the REAL All-Star squad? Problems for the Rookies. (MVP Pick: Hometown fave Anthony)

Dunk: Is LeBron competing or what? What if he ran out of the stands and jumped into it? Best. Comp. Ever. These are the heirs to the Denver '76 ABA Dunk Contest? (Pick, without LBJ: Josh Smith)

3-Point: Still trying to figure out how reigning champ Vashon Lenard is healthy enough to defend his title, but not healthy enough to actually play for the Nuggets. Ominous karma signals. (Pick: Ray Allen)

Skills: Wait, where's "Brawling" and "Cursing?" Not even a "Pouting?" (Pick: Earl Boykins)

3-on-3 Shootout: An NBA player, a WNBA'er and an NBA legend walk into a bar ... (Pick: Team Nuggets, featuring Alex English)

ASG: The Shoes
The ASG is a peep show for shoe-heads; it's the Oscars Red Carpet show for kick fetishists. (For the record: Gray is the hot color for LeBron, Kobe and Amare.)

Headliner: Air Jordan XX. Watch the mania over the AJXX (Saturday release). Ray Allen is wearing them in the game.

As far as shoes go, I'd Superlatize the XXs as "Biggest. Conversation-Piece. Ever." Expect reactions to go love-hate, with no middle-ground.

Virginia Tech: ACC newbie pulls stunner, upsetting Duke
NBA labor negotiations: Using NHL as a cautionary tale?
Kevin McHale: Win No. 2! T'wolves drop ailing Bron's Cavs
Emeka Okafor: Top rookie will miss ASG JV event (ankle)
Suns: Lose to Mavs; Spurs finish with top ASG-break record
Overtime NHL negotiations: Rumors fly, but union denies
Others to watch: Something from the T-Mac/Duncan/KG adidas troika; the retro-return of the Reebok Pump (Dee Brown dunk not included); the ASG sleeper fave could be Jermaine O'Neal's Nike Shox "Bomber."

NBA Beer Crackdown
The league is releasing new guidelines covering sale (and size) of beer in arenas. (Wait: You mean "yes" and "lots" didn't cut it?)

Meanwhile, beginning formally this Sunday, fan behavior will also be monitored by a strict guideline: No PDA. Get a hotel, lovebirds. Wait a second ...

Reporting Friday:
Dodgers: Give DePo a break!
Brewers: Sheets trade bait?
A's: More Q's than A's
Padres: Pitchers, indeed

Reporting Saturday:
Twins: P's ain't the problem
Orioles: Who are these Nats?
Blue Jays: Lacking oomph

Royals: Where's the hope?

Bruschi Update
Rumors it was a stroke put his professional future into serious question, even as fans and foes alike wish him nothing but a quick and full recovery.

Only two options here, folks: Either he completes a recovery and stunning return to the game, or he prematurely ends what I'd argue is a Hall of Fame career.

Bracket Buster
Giving mid-majors a shot? Sure, you could consider Saturday's Bracket Buster marathon (all day, ESPN2) a vehicle for giving lesser-knowns a showcase for NCAA Tournament "at-large" aspirations.

But, really, the value is getting a look at the mid-major teams you know will be there (Pacific, So. Ill., Vermont), so you can have more info while filling out your office-pool bracket next month.

Daytona 500
In honor of the "D5C" this weekend, what key lessons of the success of NASCAR can teach the NHL:

Leverage "hardest-core" fans:
The NHL lacks casual fans, but its "red-meat" base rivals NASCAR for passion. Tap the loyalty of fewer, more intense customer connections.

Tighter sponsor integration:
The "sanctity" of jersey space is archaic; just ask NASCAR. Sell every inch of sweater available, and don't apologize.

Regional foundation:
Go back to basics; find the strongest areas of support (i.e., Original 6 cities) and restore interest with those fans. Let it flow from there.

Make "Game Day" special:
Like NASCAR weekends, the NHL needs to create two nights a week (one weekday, one weekend) where hockey can create an "appointment" following.

Kevin Harvick:
Mr. Popularity's bump tactics in the 150 cause big fender-bender, leaving many using backup rides -- forced, by the rules, to the back of the field.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live!
Bracket Buster
All-Star Hot & Not
Most Underrated ASG Dunks Ever
Kenny Smith '90
Backward bounce, off glass
Terence Stansbury, '87
Let Liberty prevail!
Isaiah Rider, '94
Hate player; love 'tween-legs
Steve Francis, '00
Had to reach waaaay back
Darvin Ham, '97
High degree of difficulty

Bracket Buster aside, the best top 25 games of the CBB weekend are a "prove-it" for BC vs. 'Cuse (Sat, 6, ESPN) and Wake at Duke (Sun)

55 percent of ESPN.com users think that Mike Greenwell deserves the retroactive '88 AL MVP over Canseco; talk about "People's Champ."

New "Dream Job": Ex-players compete to be NBA analysts. As usual, I'll file critiques (and praise of My Man, Al Jaffe) on Page 3. (Sun, 7, ESPN)

Got some time this weekend? Use your Insider subscription (you don't have one yet?) to check out the top 100 All-Time Fantasy Baseball Seasons.

No, seriously: Why won't any Yankees come to A-Rod's defense? That's SUCH a bigger story than the mere "A-Rips" coming from outside NY's house.

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