It's time for a little summer vacation, but before I depart (figuratively but not literally) for my staycation, I thought I'd leave you with a few thoughts from what was an interesting and eventful last five days in the sports world.
1. Has there ever been a worse sports break-up than LeBron James and Cleveland? The phrase, "I'm taking my talents to..." is now part of our pop-culture lexicon. How LeBron announced his decision Thursday night was disgraceful, disingenuous, and downright crass. It was the equivalent of dumping a fiancé or fiancée on national television while simultaneously making out with your new amour. Talk about a jilted lover, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert lambasted the King and accused him of quitting. Mr. Gilbert: Check the box score from Game 6. LeBron took a game-high 21 shots, 12 in the first half. He had a triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists) and nine turnovers. You're just as self-serving and self-centered as Gone Baby 'Bron. You two deserved each other.
For all the LeBron enablers in the NBA talking about how we should praise his decision because it was all about winning, read this excellent piece by Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in which it is quite clear that the Heat's willingness to accommodate LeBron's Boys and conversely Chicago's unwillingness played a role in the outcome.
In a weird way, the Hub is to blame for this hoops spectacle. Don't forget that the final time King James donned a Cavaliers uniform was on May 13 at TD Garden, as the Celtics ushered in the Summer of LeBron and ushered the Cavs out of the playoffs with a 94-85 victory. After losing twice to the Celtics in the playoffs in the last three seasons, LeBron felt the only way to beat the Big Three (plus Rondo) was to form a hoops holy trinity of his own with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
2. The Celtics' offseason plan doesn't look as good now as it did five days ago: So much for luck of the Irish. The carefully cultivated and meticulously executed offseason stratagem of the Celtics unraveled in four days. It was all aboard for Banner 18 last Wednesday after Danny Ainge lured Ray Allen back into the fold, and then things started to veer off track. On Thursday, the Celtics reached an agreement with/exhumed the remains of backup big man Jermaine O'Neal. Hours later, LeBron announced he was going to Miami. Then yesterday, reserve shooting guard Tony Allen moved to the Memphis beat.
Other than the Cavaliers and New York Knicks, the Celtics are the biggest losers in the LeBron Sweepstakes. If the Chosen One had chosen to go back to Cleveland or even signed with the Bulls, the Celtics still would have been regarded as the favorites in the East this year, and possibly next. Now, Miami has formed a triumvirate of its own that on paper trumps Boston's. The Celtics Big Three are in decline, Miami's is in its prime. Simple as that.
The caveat about the Heat is what kind of bench are they going to have? But you can ask the same question about the Celtics now that Tony Allen has defected and that O'Neal has been signed to replace the presumably retiring Rasheed Wallace. With very limited cap space, Ainge is going to have to get creative to replace TA. The Celtics signing Jermaine O'Neal is better than signing Shaquille O'Neal. That's about the only positive spin I can put on the move.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury is not getting a fair shake: Look, Ellsbury did himself no favors with his copious notes and detailed dissertation of the disconnect between himself and the Sox when it comes to the five broken ribs he ostensibly suffered in a collision with Adrian Beltre on April 11 in Kansas City. It helps no one to get into a he said-he said, but Ellsbury clearly felt he had to defend himself against the character assassination that has gone on since he got injured. It's tough to blame him.
While it's difficult to condone Ellsbury disappearing to Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona for a month, he has a right under the collective bargaining agreement to seek outside medical care, and the Sox signed off on it. Who among us hasn't sought a second opinion when they felt they were not being listened to by a doctor?
Last Saturday marked 36 days since fellow Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida suffered five fractured ribs in a collision with Beltre in Baltimore on June 4. At that same mark after his injury, Ellbury was making a rehab start in Pawtucket. No one seemed to mention that while throwing a parade for Hermida last week when he took full batting practice. This is not to diminish Hermida but to point out the two players seem to be on similar recovery paths.
After suffering his injury, Hermida actually played in a game, appearing against Cleveland five days later. He hasn't played since. That would indicate both the seriousness and the difficulty in recovery with this injury. Don't forget, Ellsbury, who said that in addition to the ribs he has a lattisimus dorsi strain and inflamed nerves, came back and played in minor-league rehab games and three major league games before the, according to him, previously undiagnosed broken back rib shut him down.
If Hermida returns to action and is able to play regularly, then the Ellsbury bashers have a point. Until then the jury is out.
4. Apologies to Nick Swisher and Tony Mazz: Before the season, I said that one of the reasons I wasn't as bullish on the Bronx Bombers as Mazz and others was that I thought the Yankees would miss Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and that Swisher would not be able to duplicate his 2009 performance (29 home runs, 82 runs batted in, .371 on-base percentage). Swisher's pinstripe premiere year was a fluke.
I was wrong. Swisher has been better than last year and earned an All-Star nod by beating out fellow "Moneyball" protagonist Kevin Youklis in the MLB All-Star final vote. Swisher is a deserving All-Star (although not more deserving than Youkilis). He is batting .298 with 15 home runs, 49 RBI and a .377 OBP at the break. His .901 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is higher than both Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira and tied with Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford.
5. Welcome reign for Spain: In a lot of ways Spain was kind of like the pre-2004 Red Sox of international soccer. They had a rich history, a ton of talented players, but they just couldn't win the Big One. That changed yesterday with the Spaniards' 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the World Cup final. Andres Iniesta's game-winner in the 116th minute was a magnificent strike following a great first touch to settle the bouncing ball. Think of a one-handed catch by Randy Moss. It was the type of magical technical skill the reigning European champions showcased all tournament long, and why La Roja deserved to return to Madrid as world champions. It also sent an important lesson to the rest of the world, including the US, that ball possession, pinpoint passing and pushing forward, not defensive shells and physical fouls, are rewarded.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.