Thursday, February 16, 2017

Common Denominator: 1984 NBA Draft

"Drafted 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 1984 NBA Draft, to be exact. Met up with Boston at some point in the 1985/86 season, with some drama."

That would be Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, and of course, Micheal Jordan. The Dream went first, to Houston, where he joined Ralph Sampson to form, The Twin Towers. Sam Bowie went second to Portland, and MJ to Chicago.

MJ took his team to the playoffs in 1984/85, but the Milwaukee Bucks beat 'em 3-1 in the first round, and that was the end of his first season in the league. His second season was sort of like Bowie's: Injured!

Bowie went down after 38 games. But Sam, who'd taken his team to the second round of the postseason in 1984/85, was showing potential. The Boston Celtics lost just one game at home that regular season, and Sam had something to do with it.

It was game number 20 on the season for Boston. They came in 17-2. Bowie's Portland Trail Blazers were just 12-10. Another win for Boston? Not in this contest on December 6th.

Not quite. Okay, Larry Bird had 20 points, 11 boards and 7 assists. But, his field goal percentage was bad: 9-26!

The ex-Trail Blazer, Bill Walton, who took 'em all the way back in 1976/77, played 18 minutes, and scored just 2 points, turning the ball over 5 times. Robert Parish, the man Walton backed up at centre, scored just 12 points himself. Parish shot 5-11 and Walton 1-3. The man guarding them was Sam Bowie.

All Sam did was score 18 points (8-15 from the field). Jim Paxon, who's younger brother John played with MJ in Chicago, poured in 16 and fellow back court man Clyde Drexler scored 19 himself. Steve Colter and Jerome Kersey (The other player Portland took in the 1984 draft) were the surprising game-high scoring leaders in this contest. By scoring 22 each for the visitors, they helped their team to a rather stunning 121-103 blowout!

MJ sat around that year, hurt. So it was up to The Ice Man to cometh! Well, the Minnesota Iceman. George Gervin played guard that year for Chicago. In Jordan's absence, he scored 16.2 points per game. The only game, out of 6, that Chicago actually beat Boston in that season was later in December, the 17th. Chicago won at home as Gervin scored 19.

Okay, so back came Jordan on March 15th. He'd played 3 games at this point. His minutes were to be limited, so his performance wasn't like what you'd expect of him. Remember, this was years before guys named Pippen, Grant, Armstrong and Cartwright (Centre for New York in 1985/86) would arrive. On the 21st of the month, he got 20 points in 16 minutes in a loss against the Celtics. Michael was back over 20 minutes a game by his seventh game back. He got 22 points vs. New Jersey on the 28th of March. He started 4 of the next 8 games, averaging 29.8 minutes and 28.0 points per game. A nice way to close out the season.

Try as he might, he couldn't propel his team past Larry Bird and company in the playoffs. Jordan scored 49 points in Boston in the first contest of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. His big game, though, was then next one!

The Bulls had lost 123-104. They also lost game two, on April 20th in Boston. But was MJ ever on fire! 22-41 from the field and 19-21 from the line! All this for an amazing 63 points! MJ enjoyed ribbing Bill Walton over the fact that The Redhead had fouled out in this contest, even years later. Jordan also dished out 6 assists and 5 rebounds. However, here we go again, Boston 135, Chicago 131. The Celtics had a more balanced scoring. But it was MJ's second of many great scoring games in the postseason! He'd arrived!

After sweeping Chicago, it was not long after that Boston was in the NBA grand stage again: The Finals!

Waiting for them were the Houston Rockets. You see, Hakeem and company eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, needing just 5 games. Hakeem got 30 points in the clincher, making the trip to the last stage in only his second season!

Olajuwon was outstanding in his first NBA Finals. Points? 24.7. Rebounds? 11.8. Blocks? 3.2. Sampson, however, wasn't up to the task, 14.8, 9.5 and 0.8. And though it went six games, Boston ended up having an easy time in all their wins except game four (106-103), en route to their third NBA Championship of the decade.

But Hakeem had sure shown he was a force to be reckoned with. Although Jordan won three in a row from 1990/91 to 1992/93 (Beating Portland in the 1992 NBA Finals, who'd drafted Bowie because they already had a pretty good guard named Clyde Drexler), here came the big man from Lagos, Nigeria! His pal Sampson's career ended due to injuries, but the big man soldiered on. In 1993/94 it was the Knicks and Patrick Ewing that were the victims of the Houston Rockets' seven-game win in the finals. The next year, a kid named O'Neal of the Orlando Magic (Who'd beaten MJ's Chicago Bulls in the playoffs) felt the full force of Olajuwon's fury in the finals: 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and even 5.5 assists per game!

Four games, and it was all over. Shaq had 28.0/12.5/6.3 in a losing effort. His time would come, but not then. His team was swept by MJ's the next year, and the Bulls were back for another 3-peat.

Bowie wasn't quite so lucky. Beset by knee injuries even before being drafted, he hung around until 1994/95, and ending up facing Olajuwon a lot, no matter what jersey he was wearing. Although limited to just 512 games, Sam wasn't exactly the bust that so many made him out to be. On Boxing Day in 1991, now with New Jersey, Sam lit up Hakeem, outscoring him 2:1 (34-17). Sam averaged 15 points per game that year. He ended up in Los Angeles (Lakers) but didn't end up winning a ring like Jordan or Olajuwon.


References


Sports Reference LLC. Basketball-Reference.com - Basketball Statistics and History. http://www.basketball-reference.com/. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.

Bondy, Filip. Tip-off: How The 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007. Print.

Halberstam, David. Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan And The World He Made. New York: Broadway Books, 2000. Print.

Sachare, Alex. The Chicago Bulls Encyclopedia. Lincolnwood (Chicago): Contemporary , 1999. Print.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sure Could Have Fooled Me! 2001 French Open

All four losing men in the last eight of Roland Garros won at least two Grand Slams.


In 2001, you had Gustavo Kuerten on his way to victory over Alex Corretja of Spain. The man from Brazil ended up with his third (And final) French Open with a 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 win.

But getting was where the fun was.

The last eight also consisted of an American, a Russian, a Frenchman, an Australian, and another Spaniard. And some young Swiss.

Kuerten beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov for the third time at this stage of the French Open. The Russian went down 6-1, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4. Kafelnikov had the title at Roland Garros under his belt in 1996, and went on to add the 1999 Australian Open to his name. You also had the Spaniard, Juan Carlos Ferrero (Who'd be a finalist here the next two years, winning in 2003.) in the last eight, and there beating the young Lleyton Hewitt. This was as far as Lleyton would ever get, although he matched this in 2004. Hewitt had  no Grand Slams to his name at this point, but would go on to capture the US Open that year and Wimbledon in 2002 for good measure. Those two Grand Slams were a good start to his career. But one of the other quarterfinalist would prevent him from more in the coming years.

Ferrero then lost to Kuerten in the semifinals for the second straight year. Much to the delight of the crowd, it was Frances' Sebastian Grosjean subduing the 1999 winner, Andre Agassi, 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Agassi had some pretty good results here as far back as 1989. Ran into Grosjean, who prevented the 31-year old from going any further. But Corretja then denied Grosjean a spot in the finals with a straight set win.

Finally, and as it turns out, most dramatically, Corretja was able to advance to the semis for that meeting with the home player. But the man he beat was a still a teenager and playing in his very first Grand Slam quarterfinals. A few weeks later, this young man would upend Pete Sampras in the round of 16 to advance to another Grand Slam quareterfinals.

He was just getting started. That lad, Roger Federer. Lost in the quarters of Wimbledon, too. He had to wait another 2 years before he got going. But once he did, everyone in the tennis world took notice.


References


Collins, Bud. The Bud Collins History Of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia And Record Book. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: New Chapter, 2010. Print.

Infosys, FedEx, Peugeot, and LeSports. "Official Site of Men's Professional Tennis | ATP World Tour | Tennis." ATP World Tour. Emirates. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.  <http://www.atpworldtour.com/>

Monday, February 6, 2017

Common Denominator: Natasha Zvereva

"Double bageled by Graf in the 1988 French Open Finals. First player to win a set off her four years later."

That would be Natasha Zvereva. This poor lady was just a child in 1988 (Of 17 years old), as the great German Steffi Graf had all four Grand Slams and the Olympic Gold under her belt by the end of 1988. She wasn't in a giving mood that year.

Zvereva had an interesting French Open in 1988. She actually pulled off a pair of upsets. She beat Martina Navratilova in the round of 16, then took out Helena Sukova in the quarters. Nicole Bradtke was then eliminated in the semifinals. But when she won the twelve game of the third set of that match, she probably had no way of knowing that was the last game she'd win. Graf just pummeled her next. 6-0, 6-0.

Zvereva went on to the Eastbourne tournament next. The French Open was on clay, this was on grass. She had the same result, as in the finals. Navratilova beat here in straight sets, however, 6-2, 6-2. Despite two more appearances in finals that year, Natasha then forged onto a successful doubles career. Oh, she still played singles. But was unable to achieve the same kind of results she had in 1988.

By 1994, she was pretty much labelled a "Doubles Specialist." Still, she found herself in the hot Florida sun having a pretty good tournament in march of that year. Except for the last two sets.

Graf was playing some amazing tennis still by then. Her Australian Open triumph in January was too easy to talk about. At Tokyo, she beat the aging Navratilova 6-2, 6-4 in the finals. Indian Wells saw her beat Gigi Fernandez in the round of 32, Tracy Austin 6-0, 6-0, next. Then, some more domination. Steffi dropped 13 games in the next three matches, overwhelming Amanda Coetzer 6-0, 6-4 in the finals.

Delray Beach saw Sabine Hack upended for the lost of just three games in the quarters, Helena Sukova 7-5, 6-4 in the semis and finally Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-3, 7-5. Okay, the sets were getting closer, but four tournaments and 22 matches in, Graf had won 43 sets (Kimberly Po-Messerli retired down 2-0 in the second set of their first round match Down Under). The opposition? None.

More the same at the Lipton (Now Ericsson) down in Miami, Florida. Graf was just sizzling in the sun! She lost 9 games in he first four matches. Lindsay Davenport lost the first set 6-0, then came close in the second. Steffi won it, however 7-3 in the tiebreaker.

So in the finals it was Zvereva. This time, no 6-0, 6-0 score. No straight sets. Natasha came out and took the initiative, winning the first set 6-4. Wow! This 28th match of the year for Graf was actually interesting! The 54th set was lost!

Graf, of course, just turned it up a notch. The next two sets went to her, 6-1, 6-2. Still. At least she'd lost a set. Surprisingly enough, Graf lost some matches that year, most notably to Mary Pierce at the French Open, Lori McNeil in the first round at Wimbledon, and finally Sanchez-Vicario at the US Open.

Still, this was another impressive display of dominance from Graf. She ended the year with 7 titles, and while not quite as dominating the next year, in terms of straight setting 'em, she added three more Grand Slams.

But for those first four tournaments of 1994, you had to ask yourself:

Was this even fair? What sport was Graf playing? Super tennis?


References


Collins, Bud. The Bud Collins History Of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia And Record Book. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: New Chapter, 2010. Print.

SAP, Dubai Duty Free, IQYI, and USANA. "WTA." WTA Tennis. Women's Tennis Association, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2017. <http://www.wtatennis.com/>.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

World Series: Did You Know?

Although one of the most prominent members of the fixing of the 1919 Fall Classic, Chick Gandil had the last RBI for his team in three games. I guess Chick knew someone was watching his every move, so he'd better come through on at least some occasions. Even if it helped his team.

Gandil's RBI in game one did little, however. Chicago was on the road, in Cincinnati and absorbed a 9-1 thrashing. Gandil drove in the run that actually tied the game, momentarily, in the top of the second. That run, however, was not only Chicago's lone tally, but unearned for good measure. Joe Jackson, of all people, had reached on an error. Gandil's hit scored him.

But in game two, which the Chicago White Sox also lost (4-2), Gandil didn't drive in any runs. Joe Jackson was on third in the top of the second, with just one out, but Gandil didn't deliver. Two innings later, Jackson was on second, and Buck Weaver was 90 feet away from the dish, at third. Gandil hit into a fielder's choice. Trailing 4-2 going into the top of the 9th, Gandil got a single to lead it off. A double play put the Reds one out away. Ray Schalk singled, but that lead to nothing, as well. Fred McMullin grounded out to end that.

The change of scenery meant Chicago needed to win at home. They did, but needed some fine pitching from Dick Kerr to win, 3-0. Gandil singled home Jackson and Happy Felsch. Gandil led off the fourth by making an out. Swede Risberg tripled and scored on a bunt single for the contest's last tally. Another two hits for Gandil.

But he was needed in the next two games as Chicago's bats went to sleep. Cincinnati won them by scores of 2-0 and 5-0. Chick had just one hit. The White Sox had three, total in each of the two losses. The 1919 World Series was best of nine, so Gandil's team was still alive.

Still, it was a tall order to come back. Game six was back in Cincinnati, and the Reds were determined to settle it. They raced out to a 4-0 lead in the sixth contest. The White scored rallied, and had a chance to take the lead in the eight inning. Jackson and Gandil drew walks, but were both stranded. Dick Kerr, as he had in game two, kept the Reds at bay (Although he allowed four runs). In the top of the tenth, Buck Weaver got it all going with a double. Jackson bunted him to third. Gandil's stroke of the ball didn't leave the infield, but Weaver crossed the plate. Down went the home team in the bottom of the frame. The 5-4 Chicago win narrowed the World Series score to 4-2.

The White Sox won game seven, as well. This time, a little bit more decisively. The final score was 4-1, but the game was never that close. Chicago raced out to a quick 4-0 lead and didn't bother looking back. But Gandil was 0-4, and could have widen the lead with some hits.

And the next game was also decided quickly, but against Chicago. It was 4-0 for the visiting Cincinnati Reds before the home team could even send one man up. And the Sox didn't make it on to the scoreboard until the bottom of the third. The 4-1 lead was soon widened to 10-1 by the bottom of the eighth. Chicago soon plated two runners, but when Happy Felsch was retired, it was two down. Gandil then was at the plate, and he rewarded with a triple, as the Reds' right fielder Greasy Neale couldn't make out where the ball was. The sun blinded him. Joe Jackson, on second, scored to make it 10-4. Gandil then scored when Edd Roush, in centre, made an error on Swede Risberg's fly. Gandil scored. 10-5.

Chicago put another two men on in the bottom of the ninth, but did not get any closer. The Reds, with this win by a margin of five runs, took the 1919 World Series 5-3. Gandil held out the following season, but joined seven other White Sox players banned for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis not long after the latter's anointment. He would die in California in 1970. And probably, despite collecting five RBIs all told, never lived down the "Black Sox" label.


References


Frommer, Harvey. Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. Dallas, TX: Taylor Pub., 1992. Print, pp. 183.

Gropman, Donald. Say It Ain't So, Joe!: The True Story Of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Revised ed. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1992. Print.

Neft, David S., Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft. The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, 1992. 12th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. Print, pp 49-124.

Neft, David S., and Richard M. Cohen. The World Series: Complete Play-by-play of Every Game, 1903-1989. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. Print, pp. 76-81.

Nemec, David et all. 20th Century Baseball Chronicle: A Year-by-year History of Major League Baseball. Collector's Edition. Lincolnwood, Ill: Publications International, 1993. Print, pp. 84-91.

Sports Reference LLC. Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. Web. 04 Feb, 2017.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Commond Denominator: Bouchard And Raonic

"Semifinals of the Australian Open. Finals at Wimbledon. Next year, quarterfinals Down Under. Canadian"

That would be Eugenie Bouchard in 2014-15 and Milos Raonic in 2016-17. The two Canadians have really made believers out of Canadian tennis fans. Someday, Canada might get a singles grand slam under their belt. But maybe, "Not so fast," alas.

Bouchard, took the women's tour by storm in 2014. Well, at least until after Wimbledon. Storming past all opposition in the first five rounds Down Under, she beat a formiable top 10 player, Ana Ivanovic in the quarters and then finally lost to Na Li in the semifinals. Not a bad start to the season.

She didn't exactly take the pedal of the metal from there. For a while.

Some early round exits followed, but by May, she had her very first WTA title, in Nurnberg, beating Karolina Pliskova in the finals in three sets. And she had another grand slam semifinals up her sleeve!

May ended with Bouchard into the second week at the French Open. And she gave Maria Sharapova all she could handle in the semifinals, the Russian prevailing 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Two grand slams played in 2014, and two semis! Could it get any better?

It did at Wimbledon.

Racing through her first six matches, Genie found herself, at 22, one match away from a grand slam title. Carling Bassett had reached the semifinals way back in 1984 at the US Open, but Canada finally had their first singles grand slam finalist! Alas, Bouchard was simply ushered out of the finals in swift and efficient manner by Petra Kvitova, who lost just three games. All of them, in the first set.

It seemed that here is where the wheels came of the chariot for Bouchard, however. She came back to here home, Canada, and lost in the first round in Montreal. Same in Cincinnati. She lost in the second round at New Haven. How about the year's final grand slam?

It was better than a round or two. In fact, Bouchard managed to win three matches. But instead of getting to her fourth quarterfinals (And maybe, fourth semifinals) of the year, she was simply dismissed by Ekaterina Makarova. It was straight sets again, but closer: 7-6, 6-2.

A finals appearance in Wuhan followed, and Bouchard was back on track. But only temporary. She won only one more match. Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, and Serena Williams just thrashed her at the WTA finals in Singapore. It wasn't pretty: 6-2, 6-3, followed by 6-1, 6-3 (Ivanovic got some revenge for the Australian Open with that straight-setter!) and 6-1, 6-1.

Oh, well. The year was over. 2015 started out pretty good for Eugenie. She only did one match worse in the Australian Open, making it 4 out of 5 quarterfinals reached at the slams. Maria Sharapova opposed her again in her fifth match there, and again Bouchard put enough enough resistance to take the second set before dropping the third.

But what has happened since to Bouchard? Struggles have followed. There's been injuries, including quite a bizarre one you've all probably heard about at the US Open. Her results really slipped at the grand slams and all over the place in 2015. 2016 was not better as her results were actually worse at the Grand Slams.

Eugenie started 2017 off on the right foot. In 2016, she'd reached the finals at Hobart. While she lost her first event this year at Brisbane (First round), Bouchard made her move at Sydney. She won three matches before eventually falling to Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the semifinals. Down Under for the year's first Grand Slam, she won two more matches before Coco Vanderwegh 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. However, Bouchard wasn't the story of Canadian tennis anymore at this point. No, someone was making some serious waves on the men's side.

Milos Raonic had fallen to Roger Federer in the 2014 Wimbledon semifinals. But when the two met at an event just before the first grand slam tow years later, the Canadian came out on top! At the 2016 Australian Open, he had Andy Murray where he wanted him: 2-1 up in sets! The Scottsman rallied from there, alas. And they'd meet again under dramatic circumstances later that year.

You see, Raonic beat that guy, Federer in the semifinals in five sets at Wimbledon, three years after falling to him. Murray awaited him in the finals. It wasn't too bad, although straight sets. The last two, went to tiebreakers that Andy managed to pull off! Murray continued his strong play that year, especially against Raonic, sadly. He beat him two more times: In Cincinnati and the Year-End Championship. But this time, Milos pushed Andy in the best-of-three match, narrowly losing a third-set tiebreaker.

So as 2017 dawned, things were looking up for not only the new #1 player in the world, Murray, but also the Canadian, Raonic. He was now ranked third in the world.

But as Brisbane, he lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round after beating Rafael Nadal in the second. The Spaniard was looking at a rematch at the Australian Open. This time, it was Nadal the winner of the quarterfinal encounter. And in straight sets. Nadal went all the way to the finals, losing to his great rival, Roger Federer. Both Federer and Nadal seemed to have regained their old form.

So can Bouchard get into contention in 2017? Can Raonic win a slam this year (Preferably Wimbledon, I would think!) and get the #1 ranking? Time, will provide an answer for both.


References


"Eugenie Bouchard's Tournament In Doubt." CNN.com. Cable News Network, 05 Sept. 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/05/tennis/bouchard-injury-us-open-2015/> International Edition.

Infosys, FedEx, Peugeot, and LeSports. "Official Site of Men's Professional Tennis | ATP World Tour | Tennis." ATP World Tour. Emirates. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.  <http://www.atpworldtour.com/>

SAP, Dubai Duty Free, IQYI, and USANA. "WTA." WTA Tennis. Women's Tennis Association, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <http://www.wtatennis.com/>