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Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Hate mail from soccer fans and more

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

Based on the responses to the column I wrote about the U.S. women's soccer team choking in the World Cup final, it seems my faithful readers are contemplating whether I should be choked.

Reader Jeffrey Ellis wrote: "I read a lot of articles on ESPN and elsewhere, and rarely do I have as visceral a negative reaction to an article as I did to yours. You overstate at your convenience, overlook greatly and demonstrate your lack of appreciation (or naivete) for soccer."

Carlos Ortiz, another passionate reader, shared a similar sentiment: "Choke? Japan sent home Germany as well. Stop the nonsense and give Japan credit. We have a great team but they lost fair and square."

Yes, Japan deserves a lot of credit for its valiant run. And I won't deny that I don't cover soccer regularly. I covered the men's World Cup last summer in South Africa, which marked the first time I'd covered the sport since the late '90s. I've seen several matches since then, of course, but I won't pretend that soccer is my first love.

But fans who have an intense passion for a particular sport tend to absorb that sport with a special arrogance, and Soccer Fan -- yes, that's meant as a broad generalization -- is perhaps the snootiest of them all when it comes to boasting about knowledge of the sport.

Japan vs U.S.
From the perspective of many fans who wrote in, and from the perspective of Japan, the U.S. women's team did not choke in the World Cup final.

I get why. The appetite for soccer has increased considerably in this country, but the sport is still disrespected. If you love soccer, you grow tired of the only dialogue being about how the sport can't compete with the NFL, or be as popular as other major sports. Soccer doesn't have to be the NFL to be enjoyable. It doesn't have to be like anything else. It's unique in its own regard.

But my issue with Soccer Fan is that he believes those of us who aren't enthralled by a nil-nil tie and can't appreciate the technical aspects of soccer more than the final result are somehow unsophisticated dopes who probably think Usher is a better performer than Michael Jackson.

I appreciate sound fundamentals and technical wizardry in any sport. I love seeing a perfect pass into the post in basketball. I get excited when an offensive lineman pancakes someone and springs a running back for 20 yards.

But the U.S. women are established enough to be beyond platitudes. I admire how well they played (at times), and what they achieved, but I'm not fawning over how they "almost" met expectations.

On to the inbox …

The U.S. can't be blamed for a few unlucky near misses off the post in the first half. However, after both times they took the lead they should have kept pressing which had kept Japan on the verge of catastrophe and completely out of scoring position for the rest of the game. Instead, they became tentative and overly conservative which led to too many balls in front of their goal. On top of that, Hope Solo and her defensemen (women) seemed to be clumsily all over each other and obviously failed to clear a few critical balls.
-- Stephen Jones, Houston

Yeah, what he said.

Please don't say the U.S. women choked. They didn't. They played their hearts out. They gave so much of themselves and they inspired so many people. They never quit, they never complained, they never were overwhelmed by the stage or the pressure. Did Megan Rapinoe choke? Did Abby Wambach choke? Did Hope Solo choke? Did Alex Morgan choke? Who choked? Who broke under pressure? They had the misfortune of playing a team which had a historic drive which constantly gave them strength while also maintaining their ability to rely on technique and class when called upon. Teams like that aren't beaten easily. It's sad. It's sad for me. I left my local pub feeling so dejected because I could see how much they gave out there.
-- Cyrus

If you leave a pub feeling dejected, then I'd say your bartender choked.

I don't see the NBA lockout coming to an end yet. I do have a feeling that the players will end up giving in at some point and the owners will be getting what they want (more money). Am I wrong?
-- Enrique Rea, Los Angeles

David Stern
Fans believe commissioner David Stern and the owners will win the NBA lockout.

No. And frankly, David Stern's combative rhetoric during this lockout has been grossly overlooked. "I don't feel optimistic about the players' willingness to engage in a serious way," Stern told reporters after Monday's negotiating session.

The NBA struck pre-emptively and filed two claims against the Players Association on Tuesday, claiming the players are being uncooperative in negotiations.

What's interesting is that there's still conflicting evidence about whether NBA owners are losing as much money as the league says. The crux of the tension is that owners want to decrease the revenue split from 57-43 (in favor of the players) to 50-50.

The NBA owners essentially want the players to be held accountable because they inked so many bad deals, including making Rashard Lewis the second-highest-paid player in the NBA last season. Owners have behaved irresponsibly, but the problem is the players are easy targets and haven't been vocal enough about presenting their case.

Stern is winning the public relations battle by a landslide.

How do you feel about Kwame Kilpatrick's release and do you think he'll make a run for some political office in the future?
-- Dion Byrd, Detroit

If you own a clothing store that sells 22-button suits and derby hats, then you're probably elated about the former Detroit mayor's release from prison. But even Marion Berry thinks Kilpatrick should find another line of work.

To me, a 25-year-old Detroit Lions fan, Randy Moss' legacy has four quarters. First is the freakish numbers in Minnesota. Second is his statue-like play in Oakland. Third was the renaissance in New England. And fourth was his disgraceful exit from the Pats to today. He was a stud with the attitude of a bratty child.
-- Jeremy Cudd, Flint, Mich.

Moss' legacy is indeed complicated. Someone on Twitter compared Moss' exit -- if indeed this is really it -- to how Allen Iverson "retired" from the NBA. That's fair. Both eventually wore out their welcome and in many ways cheated their incomprehensible ability. There's been debate about whether Moss was better than Jerry Rice, but there is no debate. Rice maxed out his ability. Moss could have really blown Rice's numbers out of the water if he would have given 70 percent in Oakland or hadn't mailed it in after the Patriots traded him last season.

But regardless of his inconsistent effort and childish behavior, Moss is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

I'm going to keep this short and sweet.
1. Your five favorite hip hop albums of all time (in order).
2. Your five favorite athletes of all time.
-- Brandon Lavoie, New Hampshire

Run-DMC
Run-DMC raps into Jemele Hill's Top 5 this week.

I hate being asked the music question because my top five changes all the time! On Monday, it might be Nas' "Illmatic." On Friday, it might be Jay-Z's "Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse." On Tuesday, it could be The Roots' "Do You Want More?" On Saturday, it could be Wu-Tang's "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)." So fine, I'll torpedo my inbox and give you my five favorite hip-hop albums of all time (in order). But it's only for TODAY.

1. Notorious B.I.G, "Ready To Die"
2. Eric B. & Rakim, "Paid In Full"
3. Run-DMC, "Raising Hell"
4. Dr. Dre, "The Chronic"
5. A Tribe Called Quest, "Midnight Marauders"

Favorite athletes is another question I hate. Again, it's fluid. And it's not the same now because I cover sports for a living. I don't have "favorites," so instead I'll reword your question and give you the five athletes I loved the most growing up.

1. Isiah Thomas. I'm from Detroit, so cut me some slack. He delivered a pair of championships to my beloved city. He's one of the best point guards in NBA history. Anyone who rates Steve Nash over Isiah Thomas is crazy.
2. Steve Yzerman. I remember when the then-lowly Red Wings drafted him. I always appreciated how, despite some really rough years in Detroit, he stuck it out and helped change the Red Wings' history.
3. Guillermo "Willie" Hernandez. The 1984 Detroit Tigers, which won the World Series, made me a baseball fan, and Willie was my favorite. He delivered a magical season in 1984. He won the Cy Young, MVP and had an Afro that would later inspire generations. He's still my favorite baseball player of all time.
4. Jerry Rice. Arguably the greatest football player ever. The 49ers remain my favorite team because Joe Montana was my mother's favorite athlete of all time.
5. Magic Johnson. I promise you the company didn't put me up to this. Magic put our alma mater (Michigan State) on the map in basketball. His rivalry with Larry Bird catapulted the NBA into a different age. Magic is one of the few athletes -- and I'll put Charles Barkley in this category as well -- whose post-career endeavors rivaled what he achieved as a player.

As a bonus, I'll leave you guys with a link. As a kid, I probably would have enjoyed church a lot more, if I would have been able to do this.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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