Monday, February 25, 2008

Enter The Tiger: Is the 'Grand Slam' truly in his sights?

Well ladies and gentlemen, we are all of 9 weeks into this PGA season and Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods seemingly has taken his dominance on the Tour to another level. With this past weekend's WGC Accenture Match Play Championship title, he has now won 6 straight events including his final 3 from the 2007 season (4 tour events, and 2 non).

Last year during the BMW Championship @ Cog Hill in Lemont, IL my friend Matt and I had the pleasure of watching Tiger paired up with 'Spiderman' Camilo Villegas during the 3rd round of the tournament. That was my first opportunity to see Tiger up close and personal, as we followed him for the round (minus bio breaks, food and beverage pit stops, or when we skipped ahead a hole to get a better view). We even stuck around and watched him get interviewed for XM Radio after his round. Everything I had seen on TV with regards to the size of the gallery that follows him, and the roar of the crowd when he makes an incredible shot was just magnified in person. It's a personal sports moment I won't ever forget, and it also marked the 1st victory in his current 6 event winning streak.

Seriously, is what he does tournament after tournament even humanly possible? I thought golf was a game that was made NOT to be perfected (think Robin Williams' stand up routine), and even though Tiger's game isn't 'perfect' by technicality (he doesn't birdie, or eagle every hole...), he could be the closest thing to perfect the golf world may ever see.

The PGA is made up of the top 150 golfers (Top 125 tournament money earners from the previous year, and 25 conditional tour cards. There are also exemptions given as well, but for the sake of this discussion let's call it 150), who are essentially the best golfers in the world. Any one of them on any given day, any time of day, could put anyone of us 'amateurs' (and I use that term lightly when it comes to my fledgling game) to shame on the links. I would hazard a guess that I'd be so demoralized that I probably wouldn't even want to play golf again if that were to actually happen.

Yet Tiger seems to be able to outlast, overcome, and many times overpower the field in a way that doesn't seem fathomable. He plays with that killer instinct mindset - he wants to win by as many strokes as possible. It's the "it ain't over 'til it's over" attititude to eliminate doubt and second guessing yourself at the end of the match.

Enter the blasphemous talk of capturing the Grand Slam...

When asked recently if Tiger thought it was possible to win the Grand Slam, he was quoted as saying "I think you can". As good as Tiger is, there definitely has to be some luck, timing, and good fortune added to that equation in order to pull off the "Triple Crown" of the golf world (that analogy doesn't QUITE work since there are 4 majors, but I'm sure you get my point). The most amazing part is the majority of golf and sports followers think it's possible that he can do it, and if not this season - eventually in his career.

As Tiger himself put it, "I had all four trophies on my mantle at the same time." Referring to the dubbed 'Tiger Slam' that spanned the 2000 & 2001 seasons where he won all 4 majors, but not all in the same calendar year. And as impressive as that was and still is, it's not the true definition of the Grand Slam. That will just have to be one more possibility for Woods as he enters the prime of his career. Just think about how absurd that last sentence sounded: "the prime of his career"??!! He just passed Arnold Palmer yesterday to become Number 4 on the 'Most Career Wins on the PGA Tour' list with his 63rd Tour victory, and he still has his best years ahead of him...Again, that doesn't even seem possible...

So, how will Tiger manage to continue to do the unthinkable? Maybe we'll get our first glimpse into that plan on April 10th in Augusta, GA.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Back in the day when I was young, I'm not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again"

Back in 1988, I was in Grade 7 (or 7th Grade for my American readers), and I was introduced to one of the biggest consumerism phenomenons of my lifetime. Since then my purchasing habits haven't been the same.

Just to be clear, I'm referring to the once modestly sized running shoe company in Beaverton, Oregon - Nike Inc.

To this day I can't tell you exactly why I have become the 'Nike Addict' I am. I know it's a combination of things - the fact that Michael Jordan wore them, and that they were the first sneakers with 'air' you walk on or see, like the Jordan III or the Air Max I. I thought they were the 'coolest' sneakers ever, and still do - haha. Maybe I'm just a sucker for good marketing? Although, I've never been this brand loyal to ANY other product in my life, and when you think about it - that says a lot.

I can tell you who the first kids in my school were to have the Air Revolution, Air Max Light, and the Jordan V, including the other two I mentioned above. It was like being the first kid on your block with Nintendo's NES system - except that you weren't letting anyone else play your kicks! Everyone just oooed and ahhhed, or picked up your pant leg for a closer look.

My ability to collect and wear Retro versions of those same sneakers gives me a chance to be nostalgic and re-live my adolescence in a small way - to finally get those pair of sneakers I wanted but was never able to own when they first came out. When I rock my Jordan IIIs now, I always have people say "Oh man, I used to have those", or, "I loved those back in the day", or "I had them in white". I guess it's a chance to reminisce without even really thinking about it.

Since it wasn't my hard earned money that were buying them (I wasn't lucky enough to have a paper route at that age - 11/12 years old), I was content with a pair of Air Pegasus @ $79.99. Keep in mind this was 1988/89...Nike had me drinking that magic Kool-Aid, and yep, I'm still drinking it. So thanks Mom, you put me in my first pair of Airs (among many others!) - I definitely won't forget it. :)

Socially & Environmentally Conscious:

Nike has come under a lot of fire over the years for their former practices (some self-admitted or proven and some alleged) of paying poor wages and over working employees in developing countries, allegations of underage labour, and using non-environmentally friendly materials to build their products, which endangered the people building the products and the environment itself once the product was worn out and ready to be thrown away.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, how can you support a company who has been associated with such social ills? Well, as with most major corporations there are positive initiatives and programs that they are involved in, but as we know - negative press is what sticks in our minds, even if those issues have since been addressed and improved upon, or eliminated altogether.

One of Nike's oldest initiatives, started in 1994, was P.L.A.Y (Participate in the Lives of America's/All Youth). The Boys & Girls Club I used to play basketball at on Sunday mornings in my hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was a recipient of charity from that very program around 1998. Nike donated a new basketball court to the Club that was manufactured from recycled rubber from used sneaker soles.

While I was living in Chicago, Illinois, one of the fields we played on in Douglas Park was also donated by Nike, U.S. Soccer Foundation, and FieldTurf in 2004. It cost $500,000 and was built from 75,000 pairs of shoes! The field plays really well, especially in poor weather. We were able to take advantage of starting our rec soccer leagues earlier by playing outside in March & April because of it.

Nike allows people to drop off old and used sneakers of any brand to certain stores and locations through their 'Reuse-a-Shoe' program which they use for creating the very type of courts, fields, and other playing surfaces like they did for the Dartmouth Boys & Girls Club and Douglas Park. The P.L.A.Y. initiative has since been re-named 'Let Me Play'.

I wanted to talk about a Wall Street Journal article that my friend Bryan sent my way yesterday discussing Nike taking their recycling concepts one step further by making an actual sneaker from recycled and environmentally friendly materials, right down to the shoebox. The first shoe in this vain is aptly named Nike 'Trash Talk', which will be worn by the Phoenix Suns' 2 time NBA MVP, and the shoe's spokesperson, Steve Nash. He wore the sneaker for the first time during a game this past Thursday night vs. the Dallas Mavericks (side note: The Suns won the game, and Nash's sneakers and ankles held up just fine - haha).

Even the latest Jordan Brand release, the 23rd signature shoe and rumoured to be the last (take that for what you will...), the XX3, was also created with a 'green state of mind'. Using Nike's 'Considered' Design ethos, it's concept is a shoe that reduces waste, is all hand stitched, and uses no solvent based cements/glues - but still a high end on-court performance functioning shoe.

Both the 'Trash Talk' and the Jordan XX3 in the 'All-Star' colorway editions were launched for sale today, during NBA All-Star weekend.

In the Wall Street Journal article, writer Nicholas Casey even details ways Nike is reducing and recycling the use of electricity and water in various factory and headquarter facilities to further their mission and vision of an increasingly 'enviro-minded' company.

Nike CEO Mark Parker appears to be leading the company towards an environmentally and socially conscious mindset that will not only help them improve their bottom line through reducing and re-using raw materials, but improving their societal image and hopefully positioning themselves as an innovator in environmentally conscious developments, such as their 'Considered' Design concept.

As I have gotten older and buy more and more products, I like to know more and more about the companies I am buying products from, how they run their organization, and what they are doing to improve the world we live in. These days I need to know that my $150-$200 for a pair of 'J's' is going towards something other than JUST a profit margin. Call it suppressing a guilty conscious if you will, but I like the direction 'The Swoosh' is headed. Run Nike Run!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"I'm not the run of mill, 'cause for the mill I don't run"

Post Super Bowl thoughts:

All the confetti has fallen and has since been swept off of the streets of Manhattan's 'Canyon Of Heroes' celebrating the Super Bowl XLII win by the champion New York Giants, but not before cementing itself as one of the most dramatic finishes and one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. My man Burnsy hosted a Super Bowl party I attended with other good friends and it was incredible! The atmosphere was just what you want for a game like that. The house divided by Patriots fans and the rest rooting for the Giants like my boy Scotty, who was the only true Giants fan at the party. The highs and lows through the game were nerve wracking! Every first down, every turnover, every sack, completion, incompletion...each subsequent and conceivably game changing play. They all added to the eventual jubilation of the Giants supporters and the shocked reaction of the Pats fans as Eli Manning eluded a swarm of defenders and got the ball to David Tyree who made the most clutch catch I've ever witnessed, as the drive culminated with Plaxico Burress catching the game winning touchdown, and again when it was official as the game clock hit triple zeros.

It's moments like that is what being a sports fan is all about! It didn't hurt that I had picked the Giants two weeks before the Super Bowl and then went as far as to pick the 3 point spread as well. Yeah, I'm still enjoying the bragging rights from that one! :) It was great to chat to three of my NY Giants fan friends, Ryan, Mike, and John (the latter who is a NY Giants season tickets holder), the next day just to hear how excited they were. John, thanks for all the games @ Giants Stadium I've been able to go to over the past few years - the good and the bad!

I watched NFL Network's hour and a half 'NFL Replay' of Super Bowl XLII just for an early taste of the exclusive sideline and on-field footage NFL Films managed to capture. I definitely plan to get a copy of the Super Bowl XLII DVD to hear everything that we didn't get access to during the game.

I really would like to spend a moment talking about Bill Belichick and how ungracious he was in defeat. His immediate post game comments and his post Super Bowl media conference call gave relatively no credit to the Giants for their victory. The stunt he pulled walking off the field with a second left on the game clock before the final knee was extremely poor sportsmanship. If you have the gall to put your starters BACK IN after you already took them out or 'run up the score' in Week 7 & 8, what else are you willing to do?? Hahaha - We already know the answer to that question don't we? I think it's safe to say his name will be in the sporting news this off season, and it won't be for what the Patriots plan to do with my 49ers' 1st round pick in this year's NFL Entry Draft as much as it likely will be for 'Spygate Revisited'...

Blockbuster NBA trades:

There has been a whirlwind of activity in the NBA since I last posted. Pau Gasol going to the LA Lakers to fill their void in the middle and beyond while Andrew Bynum is sidelined. And the latest blockbuster deal that has sent the 'Big Aristotle', Shaquille O'Neal, to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for 'The Matrix', Shawn Marion, and Marcus Banks.

The majority of people I've talked to about this deal are skeptical of it or flat out don't think it's going to help Phoenix get over the hump and into the NBA Finals. I can understand those thoughts - Phoenix plays at a frenetic pace that is too much for Shaq, he didn't do anything all season in Miami to this point, or he's simply too old to be able to contribute.

Personally, I think this trade can get Steve Nash and Co. to the land of Champions. Realistically it all depends on Shaquille's health, but he passed his physical which was mandatory in order for the trade to go through. Futhermore, he WAS hurt over the past few weeks and has been rehabbing extensively. The Phoenix Suns medical staff are the ones who helped revitalize Antonio McDyess' career after his potential career ending knee surgery. Off the court matters such as the impending divorce from his wife Shaunie, and his philosphical differences with Miami Heat coach, Pat Riley, on the direction of the team - namely the team not retaining proven outside shooters like Jason Kapono, could also ultimately lead to a renewed focus and an environment that Shaq could thrive in. Shaquille is also an excellent passer especially when he's double teamed, and with the shooters that the Suns have on their roster, this could prove to be deadly for the competiton once the Suns have built the chemistry they need to have going into the post season.

The Stars shine this weekend in 'Nawlins:

This weekend is NBA All Star weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana - filled with all the fan favorites like the Sophomore/Rookie Game, Skills challenge, 3 point contest, the Slam Dunk contest, and then the actual All Star game on Sunday. Kevin Garnett has been ruled out of participating in the game because of his recovery of his abdomen injury. Rasheed Wallace has since been named as his replacement. I'm especially looking forward to the Dunk Off this Saturday night, all of the participants have been actively working on their dunks. Rudy Gay has even been gathering ideas from the fans for one of the dunks he plans to use. This should definitely be entertaining!

Here's the TV schedule of events:

Friday 2/15
9pm (EST) on TNT (USA), The Score (Canada)

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam

Saturday 2/16
8pm (EST) on TNT (USA), TSN (Canada)

NBA All-Star Saturday Night

Sunday 2/17
8pm (EST) on TNT (USA), The Score (Canada)

57th NBA All-Star Game

As always, lemme know what you're thinking - the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Cooler than a polar bear's toenails..."

Normally I don't post sports pictures I didn't I won't. :) Although, here's a link to one that David Cannon of Getty Images captured of Tiger Woods with his shades on during his round yesterday in Dubai. This is just a classic to me!

It's been more than a week since I've been able to fill this web page with any of my sporting world insight that I know you've all been dying to read (as you all collectively think: "Yeah, right who does this guy think he is?!"). Well the wait is over - so let's get to it shall we?

My man Austin in JoCy, TN sent me a New York Times story last week about Kenny George, a 7'7'', 360 pound hooper from 'The City of Wind' who's in his junior year with the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. Austin had a chance to see George first hand when UNC-Asheville were playing his alma-mater, the ETSU Buccaneers. The Bucs won, 89-87, in a match that came down to the wire but George didn't go down quietly going 6-7 from the field for 13 points, 9 boards, 4 dimes, and EIGHT blocks. He's averaging 4.4 blocks on the year, while putting up two separate 10 block efforts this season! I'll definitely be following the rest of Kenny George's college career and beyond now. Thanks for the knowledge Austin.

Golf season is in full swing again, at least professionally speaking. I know that's hard to believe, especially living in the Northeast, but golf is one sport that doesn't seem to really have an off season. For example, Tiger Woods' last 'official' PGA tournament for the 2007 season was 'The Tour Championship' that ended on Sept. 16th (which he won, along with the first ever FedEx Cup). He then played the Presidents Cup later that month in Montreal (USA beat the World team, but Mike Wier did beat Tiger in their head to head match up). After that he played in one of his charity tournaments, the 'Target World Challenge', which ended on Dec. 16th (he won that too). He's already played in the Buick Invitational that wrapped up on Jan. 27th (yes, you guessed it - he also won that!).

And now he's currently overseas playing in the European Tour event 'Dubai Desert Classic' where he's in 4th place going into tomorrow's final round (although he was leading after the 1st two rounds). Ernie Els, who is in the lead, is playing GREAT this tournament and has a healthy 4 stroke lead, but that's why they play the game. With all that said, this golf season is just heating up and the best is yet to come. I've made a conscious decision to hit the driving range and the links more this year - early morning style. I'm on the hunt for some Nike irons in the next couple months - I gotta fill up the new golf bag I got for Christmas :)

It's the eve of the Super Bowl and I really tried my best not to watch much of the "25/8/366" coverage they had on NFL Network, the local Boston affiliates we get here, and the regular sports channel outlets. I'm just not interested in seeing the same story on Wes Welker or Brandon Jacobs that I already saw on Week 6. Plaxico has been 'questionable' every week this year, and you know Belichick isn't going to give you a 'sound bite', so at this point I just want to watch the game. I've already come out and said in my first blog's entry comments that the Giants will win the game. So now I'm going to do my best Plaxico Burress impersonation. He predicted a 23-17 Giants win when asked by a reporter last week, I'm going with a 27-24 Giants win - the difference of a field goal. Your legs better be ready Lawrence Tynes!!