posted: Feb. 28, 2006  |  Feedback

My take on the Winter Olympics hasn't changed from four years ago. Back in the '70s and '80s, we watched because there wasn't anything else to do. Now? There's tons of stuff to do. Why would anyone watch tape-delayed sports programming in this day and age? I'm surprised the ratings were as good as they were. Imagine if March Madness games were tape-delayed by eight hours and you knew the results? Would you watch? Of course not.

(And by the way, the only thing worse than watching the Olympics is reading columns about why we shouldn't be watching the Olympics. Yawn. So I'm stopping here.)

But speaking of TV … what a TV extravaganza Monday night! The Sports Gal and I plowed through nearly 330 consecutive minutes of quality tube. A quick recap:

"Deal or No Deal" (8 p.m., NBC)
Maybe the best dumb-yet-riveting show in the history of television, and that's saying something. The premise: Models keep opening numbered suitcases with hidden money figures in them, and the goal is to keep opening suitcases until there's only one suitcase left with a whopping figure inside (like $750,000) over a tiny figure (like $40). And while you're opening the cases, you have family members giving you advice, as well as host Howie Mandel (unbelievable) offering you a deal for a lesser amount of money to walk away. It's like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," only for people with an IQ under 75.

Of course, we were riveted. (At one point, the Sports Gal even said, "Why am I nervous right now? It makes no sense.") Remember my "Would you turn the channel?" test for NBA players competing in a half-court shot contest during All-Star Weekend? For whatever reason, this idiotic show passes the "Would you turn the channel?" test. It's hypnotically moronic. I can't believe that the game show genre has deteriorated to the point that (A) this passes for a good show, and (B) I can't wait for the next episode tonight. Shoot me.

"24" (9 p.m., Fox)

Every good TV show is entitled to an off year from time to time. Fine. But there've been some inexcusable mistakes in this current season, starting with the teenager trailing Jack to the helicopter (really, a 16-year-old kid would be able to follow the great Jack Bauer without him noticing?) … That same kid just randomly noticing that terrorists were emptying out of a van at LAX and urging his mom to stop the car so he could warn Jack (come on) … President Palmer being assassinated in the morning, then Fox News dropping that as its lead story within four hours to concentrate on the riveting U.S.-Russia treaty (really, an assassination wouldn't carry the day?) … The current president acting so spineless and wishy-washy, it's simply impossible to believe he could have risen to any position above assistant manager at Carl's Jr. … Jack ending up with cracked ribs in one of the earlier episodes, then never mentioning them again … Sean Astin's completely improbable stint as the head of CTU (the worst casting job they ever did) … Jack returning from the dead and everyone at CTU acting like he just came back from a vacation (and where the hell are the Chinese, by the way?) … And the president's chief of staff getting involved in a confusing "We have to release nerve gas to terrorists so patriotism will improve or something" plot that ended up with him pulling a Vince Foster.

Everything has just seemed too far-fetched -- and this was the same show that once had Jack's daughter nearly mauled by a cougar, so that's saying something. Plus, aren't they just repeating stuff by now? How many times can CTU have a mole? How many times can somebody at CTU order Jack to come back to the office, followed by him knocking a co-worker unconscious and going out on his own? Five? Ten? Fifteen? And why aren't they sticking to the minute-by-minute approach anymore? For instance, last night Jack got tasered by the dude from "Robocop" and it was like they fast-forwarded three minutes -- suddenly, Jack was waking up from being unconscious and Robocop (who looks like he went to Jerry Jones' plastic surgeon over the summer) was holding a gun on him. Have we just abandoned the real-time gimmick here?

(Note: All of that said, wild horses couldn't drag me away from the TV for the two-hour extravaganza next Monday. Now that's a great TV show -- even during a C-minus season, it's still mandatory viewing. Which reminds me: When I was in Houston, we walked right by Tony Almeida while he was tearing into a hot dog before the All-Star Game. First of all, he's about 5-foot-6 -- he makes Kiefer Sutherland look like Stromile Swift. Second of all, I had to fight off the urge to scream in the Jack Bauer voice, "DROP THE HOT DOG, TONY! DROP THE HOT DOG! DROP IT RIGHT NOW! DO AS I SAY!" See, this is why the J-Bug needed to be in Houston -- he absolutely would have done the Jack Bauer voice and scared Tony into dropping the hot dog. Maybe I can work this into my next ESPN contract: "The J-Bug has to travel with me on every road trip.")


"The Gauntlet" (10 p.m., MTV)
I'll just say this: Beth refusing to battle Anessa in "Beach Brawl" could end up being the most disappointing TV moment of the year. If they had offered that battle on pay-per-view for $29.95, I would have ordered it. By the way, it's always fun when someone who once appeared in Playboy and has made multiple appearances on reality-TV shows plays the "I don't want to demean myself" card. That kills me. I love this show!

"How I Met Your Mother" (8:30 p.m., CBS)
We watched this on TiVo right after "The Gauntlet." I already covered this show in the "Take One for the Team" section of the mailbag two weeks ago, but wanted to add one thing: Neil Patrick Harris' comeback on this show has to rank among the most improbable show-business comebacks of all time. He carries this show. It's astounding. I always thought Zack from "Saved by the Bell" joining "NYPD Blue" could never be topped, but this tops it. Did you ever think in a million years that Doogie Howser could carry a watchable sitcom?

"The Bachelor" (9 p.m., ABC)
The season finale, via TiVo. As I mentioned before, I loved the contrast between the two finalists: "Cute, happy, functional, baggage-free, average-breasted and not even remotely sexy" versus "mysterious, crazy, dysfunctional, baggage-saddled, big-breasted and smoldering with sex at all times." No wonder Travis used the word "amazing" 437 times last night. It was an amazing decision to make. The Sports Gal and I were rooting for him to choose Sarah (the cute/happy chick), if only because we wanted to see Moana's meltdown in the limo afterwards, as well as the Us Weekly story six weeks from now in which Travis reveals he and Sarah broke up because "we realized we were much better off as friends," followed by him moving to L.A. and rolling through every D-list celebrity in Hollywood.

So what happened? He dumped Moana, leading to a limo breakdown that was even better than expected. The only thing missing was Moana's head doing 360s while she screamed obscenities in Latin. Reader Andrew Martin even compared Moana's meltdown to Ron Burgundy's "I'm in a glass case of emotion" meltdown in "Anchorman," wondering why she didn't start screaming, "That mean man! He punted Baxter!" In fact, she was so crushed that they're not even running one of those "After the Rose" shows next Monday because they're probably afraid she'll murder everyone in the studio.

I love this show. But not as much as …

"Flavor of Love" (VH1, 12:30 a.m.)
We TiVo'd this one on Sunday and broke it open late Monday night, almost like cracking open a special bottle of port. And you know what? I can't even write anything about this show. I refuse. It's too fantastic. It's too delightful. It's too spectacular. It's a once-in-a-decade television achievement. If they pay-per-viewed the final two shows, I would pony up $300 to see them. Maybe even $500.

(Actually, forget I mentioned this -- wouldn't want to give VH1 any ideas.)

posted: Feb. 28, 2006  |  Feedback

You knew it was coming … that's right, it's a special edition of the "I Can't Believe Isiah Traded For Steve Freakin' Francis!" reader rants!

Without further ado …

"Oh happy day! Isiah just made one of the worst trades in NBA history and I couldn't be more excited. The prospect of Marbury and Francis in the same backcourt could be its own reality TV series. I can't wait for Marbury to bring up the ball and The Franchise to start jawing at him, followed by Steph hurling the rock at Francis' head and a brawl ensuing. This is too exciting for words. LONG LIVE ZEKE!!!"
Nathaniel, New York

"I've gotta say, I'm totally in favor of the Knicks' trade for Francis. Larry Brown is a master motivator and a great coach, so if anyone can make the tandem of Francis, Marbury and Rose work, it's him. It's like the Fab Five at Michigan … all that talent in one place is destined to win. What? The Fab Five didn't win any titles? Oh.
Jeff, Seymour, Ind.

"Steve Francis to the Knicks -- unbelievable. I've been trying to think of an analogy that equates to what Isiah is doing to the woeful Knicks and I've got it. The Knicks are his scab and he keeps picking at it. He looks at it, knows it's not healed, picks it … and it bleeds again. Unfortunately, now it's infected, beyond repair, and it's time to amputate."
JCA, Richmond, Va.

"Isiah just brought Stevie Franchise to the Knicks. Has Isiah reached the point where we can't make fun of him anymore because it is too easy? I think he has joined two-man luge, Tori Spelling, Dr. Scholl's Gellin' commercials and Tom Cruise in an elitely pathetic group. Should there be a hall of fame for such people?"
Phil, Richmond, Va.

"Is there any team in the NBA who would take $120 million (roughly the Knicks' payroll) and the Knicks' first-round pick every year from now until Stephon Marbury retires to trade GMs with the Knicks? Would anyone really want Isiah running their team?"
Jared Dubin, Coral Gables, Fla.

"I think you should give an annual award for the biggest idiot in sports. The only problem is that Isiah Thomas would win every year. Seriously, does that guy even understand what a salary cap is? I'd like to thank Isiah and all NBA GMs for being ridiculously stupid and making me feel better at night. It's nice to watch the NBA and realize I could do a better job than at least half of the GMs in the league."
Andy, Milwaukee, Wis.

"I'm not a Knicks fan, so this is REALLY funny to me. Isiah takes on ANOTHER huge contract that has years left on it and trades away one that comes off the books at the end of the season. Not only that, he's traded for one of the top five selfish players in the league! It's incredible. You just gotta love this."
Mike, Long Beach, Calif.

"After witnessing Isiah's actions over the past three years with the Knicks, I demand that the SEC carry out some sort of investigation to figure out what the hell is going on. Do the Knicks' luxury tax payments go to an Isiah Thomas offshore account? There is no logical explanation for what he is doing. Is Stern just sitting in his office laughing his head off every time he sees a Knicks trade, or is he somehow involved with Isiah in a plot to destroy the game of basketball in New York City? MC Hammer, even in his prime, was more fiscally conservative than Isiah, yet he is currently unemployed. I demand a reality show involving Robert Downey Jr, Tom Sizemore, Kate Moss and Gary Busey, among others, just to prove that no matter how many drugs you consume, you are still capable of outperforming Isiah as a GM. In no other industry are you allowed to fail beyond comprehension so many times (CBA, Raptors, Knicks … God only knows what's next) and still be employed, nonetheless in a position of such authority. I need answers soon and I feel nobody could do a better job providing them to me than you. Please help me Sports Guy! This has to be a sign of the apocalypse."
Seth Collins, Dallas

"How can Isiah top trading for Steve Francis? He is like Jason and Michael Myers rolled together -- just when you think the carnage is over, he does something even more spectacular."
Kirk, Saskatoon, Canada

"My friend Ryan and I were talking about the Stevie Francis trade and we're pretty sure that some day we are going to find out how Isiah Thomas and the team owners are profiting from this, and it's going to retroactively become the great sports scandal in history. Our current theory is that it all comes back to MJ somehow. It all stems from the gambling ring Gretsky and Jordan started when they were doing voices for the "Superstars" cartoon show in the '80s. Miffed at the physical beating he would take in the playoffs from the Knicks, MJ set a diabolical plan in motion which has spanned decades. Each of his retirements somehow furthered this plan, but we're not sure how. Although the conspiracy was originally formulated for revenge the ring now has one ultimate result: the return of Bo Jackson. I mean, it sounds crazy, but not as crazy as actually wanting the most expensive worst team in the league. Bo knows conspiracies. Do you have any theories?"
Patrick McGuire, Washington, D.C.

"Is it possible that what Isiah Thomas is doing to the Knicks right now is really some kind of sick revenge that goes back to his playing days with the Pistons? I don't know, maybe the Knicks wronged him so badly that he has been scheming for the day when he can land the GM job and destroy any chance of them ever being competitive again. This Francis deal definitely has me thinking that he is just trying to do as much damage as possible before the ownership gets wind of his plot and fires him. This really is the only theory that makes any sense anymore."
Joseph McGowan, California

"So, here's the reason that Steve Francis will never succeed in New York: Stephon Marbury has his number. That means that the moment he gets to New York, ol' Franchise is going to have to wear a different number. Can't you just see the drama here? He'll be stealing shots from Marbury to prove that HE'S the real #3 in New York. Has there ever been an on-court brawl between two teammates over a number? It could happen. I'm going to TiVo all the Knicks' games now, just to see if this happens. Can we make this happen? It would make this whole trade worth it."
Cory, Raleigh, N.C.

"Hahahahaha! I think Isiah should trade for Jason Williams and Damon Jones so that the Knicks can become the first-ever team to start five despicable shoot-first point guards. Also, then New York could play their all-point-guard team against Atlanta's all-small-forward team and we could finally see which position is better."
Petey, Chicago

"At what point do you feel some random fan can waltz onto the court at Madison Square Garden, blow Isaiah Thomas' brains out, and there wouldn't be a jury in New York that would convict him. And how are they going to decide who is the Alpha dog on this team? Is Marbury and Francis going to have a cage death match before every game? And when, exactly, does Larry Brown snap? And how will that snap manifest himself? Will he start wetting himself and pretending he has bladder problems again? I really need to know these things. (Well, not so much the last one.)" Tom Fina, New York

"(Surely this is 1 of 10,000 e-mails on this subject, but ...) The Steve Francis trade: thoughts? Where does it rank in the pantheon of Isiah's Campaign to Kill the New York Knicks? First? Second? Is there some part of you that thinks IT pulled this trade specifically to lure you out into the open to criticize him so he can make good on his Stephen A. Smith show threat?"
Matt, New York

"A few weeks ago, you wrote about how Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis should be traded for each other every few months, since they both wear out their welcomes with new teams so quickly. Do you think Isiah Thomas read this and totally misunderstood it to mean that he should put them both in the same backcourt? I can't think of any other explanation as to why he would make this move. To that end, what do you think Isiah has to do to finally get fired? Can you imagine the ridiculous trade he will have to make to finally get the Knicks' front office to realize they have the worst GM in the history of sports? Because they seem to be the only people unaware of this."
Dave Sugarman, Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Does traffic in New York slow down as it passes Madison Square Garden so people can get a better look at the car wreck?"
Chad Watson, Prince Albert, Canada

"Sadly, I am an ex-New Yorker who is still a huge Yanks and Knicks fan. How long before Stephon is throwing bullet passes at Stevie's head for taking 15 shots in a row, followed by Stephon taking 16 shots in a row, followed by Eddy Curry walking off the court to grab some slices of pizza followed by Jerome James just laughing hysterically at the far end of the bench as he realizes for the umpteenth time he is making $8 million a year for the next 4 years. Dude, this might be "Lost" on a basketball court. There is something deeper behind this madness."
Jermaine, Eugene, Ore.

"Does the Steve Francis trade put Isiah Thomas in a class by himself in terms of all-time front office incompetence? Can Isiah possibly trade any more picks and expiring contracts for any more me-first, undersized, no-defense, ball-hog guards with atrocious contracts? Is he just trying to give Larry Brown a coronary? If so, is the next trade going to be Mo Taylor, Channing Frye and a (sure to be lottery) first-rounder in 2010 for Baron Davis? If you were Isiah, wouldn't you beef up security when you're planning to be anywhere near Larry? Does the whole sports world owe a debt of gratitude to Isiah and Kobe Bryant for destroying the most hated basketball teams in the nation for a decade?"
Matt Ivaliotes, Chicago

"Please just be honest … is Isiah Thomas just trying to sabotage the Knicks and make things easier for his Pistons? He is looking pretty suspicious … taking away their biggest distraction, Larry Brown; trading for the highest-paid, most overrated backcourt in the WORLD … what else can he do?"
Matt Gordon, Chicago

"Remember your old column in which you renounced your allegiance to the Boston Bruins? Well, I want to thank you for inspiring me and helping me miss the agony of the Isiah Thomas Era. You see, I was once a Knicks fan -- and not just any Knicks fan. I had the California license plate NY KNIKS. I lived and died with that team. But, after living through the nightmare that was the Scott Layden Era, I nearly toppled over when I found out that Isiah Thomas would be replacing him. On that fateful day, I officially suspended my allegiance to the Knicks. Three years later, I think it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. My question is this, what is the movie-world equivalent of just walking away from something you love and feeling great about it for the next three years? I literally have not watched a single Knicks game since Isiah became GM."
Jonathan, Hollywood, Calif.

"Is Isiah Thomas now making ridiculous trades just to mess with you or what? It seems that every move he makes is to provide you with fodder for your next NBA column. Perhaps he's a closet SG fan and is paying you the ultimate tribute -- he's deliberately demolishing the Knicks so that you might write more hilariously scathing columns. Either that or you've totally gotten in his head now and he is totally incapable of making a sensible NBA GM move. Way to go, Simmons. You've turned Isiah into a head case."
Nitin Sharma, Raleigh, N.C.

"I was driving, listening to the radio, when the disc jockey was talking about the Steve Francis trade. The DJ is a Knicks fan and was on a rant about what a debacle the Knicks have become under your dear friend Isiah Thomas. He compared the Knicks under Thomas' reign to your first high school party. Parents are out for the night and you haven't figured out how to buy beer yet, so you raid your parents' bar. You think you are in heaven drinking some high quality alcohol, but in the end everyone is throwing up all over your house. I would say he is dead-on with the Knicks getting Marbury, Francis and so on."
Rob Findlay, Berkeley Heights, N.J.

"On behalf of all Knicks fans, and perhaps fans of the NBA, I would like to file a professional malpractice lawsuit against Isiah Thomas. Can anybody argue with the fact that he has committed errors in judgment that have no precedent when the entire pattern is considered? If the Knicks had a stock, I guarantee you that shareholders would do this by now … so why can't ticket-holders? Or anyone who pays for cable to watch them? Help me spread the word Sports Guy."
Paul, Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Why, for the loved of god, WHY???!!!"
Knicks Fan, Rochester, N.Y.

"Watching the Knicks is like watching your friend poke a sleeping animal with a stick to wake it up, only you know that it's actually dead. It's like Brown and Isiah are playing No-Limit Hold 'em and Thomas keeps going all-in on every hand and LB folds every time. I think Zeke has accidentally mixed his fantasy basketball account with his Knicks GM account."
Kevin Botti, Brookyn, N.Y.

"You have to write something about Steve Francis to the Knicks. I'm absolutely dumbfounded. I've got nothing. The stupidity of this is just mind-blowing. I'm not a big conspiracy guy, but something is just not right about this. No legitimate GM thinks, 'My team is crap, and my only hope is to shed these albatross contracts that have been killing us for the better part of a decade. I know, I'll trade an expiring contract so I can lock up a total head case WHO PLAYS THE SAME POSITION AS ANOTHER HEAD CASE WHO'S ALREADY ON MY TEAM.' And by the way, we're locked into Stevie Cancer's contract for four years. How does some person in the organization not drug this guy and stuff him in a broom closet in MSG until the trading deadline passes?"
Joel T., San Diego

"I know that you couldn't possibly explain the Francis/Hardaway and Ariza trade from the point of view of the Knicks. Isiah is clearly suffering from some sort of degenerative disorder that is affecting his reasoning. Perhaps the Knicks should have given him a physical before signing him?
Tony, Durham, N.C.

"Isn't the Knicks' acquisition of Steve Francis a little bit like what adding Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal to the cast of 'Walker, Texas Ranger' would have been like for viewers? The Knicks now have three guards who should probably never be on the court together because they need constant attention. Chuck Norris and the other two need the camera on them at all times as well, or else they'd probably pound the crap out of each other. Though judging by the faces Larry Brown was making at the press conference yesterday, maybe those three on the court at the same time will happen sooner rather than later. He realizes he took the Knicks home from the bar, slept with them, and now that it's morning, he doesn't want to cook them breakfast."
Joe, East Lansing, Mich.

"I know you mentioned this in your conversation with David Stern, but what more is required for the commish to apply the Ted Stepien Rule and seize control of the Knicks organization away from Isiah Thomas? Will he have to kill someone? No mentally competent executive would trade Penny Hardaway and his "I-can't-believe-it's-finally-expiring" contract for Stevie Francis! Apparently when Isiah said he wanted Larry Brown to help him with roster moves, he didn't mean this one. After about a week of working with the nightmarish tandem of Marbury and Francis, Brown will undoubtedly be feeling nostalgic about those stress-free days with Allen Iverson."
John M., San Diego

"Let me start off by saying that I am not a big pro basketball fan. I have never had any allegiance to a particular team. However, I have decided to become a New York Knicks fan for the sole purpose of hating Isiah Thomas. All week long sportswriters have been joking that Isiah is such a bad GM that he would trade for Steve Francis … and he did. What the [expletive]! I know nothing about how to run a professional sports team, or about how a salary cap works, but this is a completely brain-dead move. Is he trying to incite a riot in New York? Is he working for Bin Laden? There is no logical explanation. I honestly fear for Isiah Thomas' life. The entire city of New York should show up to every game out of pure protest and I'll be there as a new Knicks fan."
Justin Mattingly, Frederick, Md.

"Are you going to apologize to Isiah Thomas now that he has put together possibly the first backcourt in league history to regularly put up 50 shots and scream at each other on court every night?"
John, Atlanta, Ga.

"Can you please write a eulogy for all Knicks fans? I think after today's debacle of a trade, we are all going to commit a mass suicide by jumping off of the team's payroll stacked up in the air in all single dollar bills. Isiah has to be the worst GM in the history of sports. You couldn't pick two less compatible players in the league than Marbury and Francis. (Other than anyone and Kobe.) I feel like this is worse than not winning a World Series for 86 years, because at least the Red Sox had hope some years. Us Knicks fans know it's over. I have lost the will to watch, follow, and root for this team. If Isiah is still running this team when you're running ESPN6 I hope you refuse to play Knicks games on that channel because of his personal bias against you and his complete stupidity."
Jared Dubin, Coral Gables, Fla.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god, Isiah, oh my god, why? Why? Why? Why? Why? I can't even type anymore. I want to like my Knicks, I really do, but oh god, Steve Francis for three years and we still are stuck with Crawford? Oh god oh god … Bill help me!
Justin Touretz, Jericho, N.Y.

"OK, I'm officially on suicide watch at this point. I'm e-mailing you because I have no one else to turn to. I'm a lifelong Knicks fan. I remember being thrilled that we got Rory Sparrow to significantly upgrade the point guard position! Where, exactly, would you say Isiah falls on the list of incompetent sports executives? Should he get the Ted Stepien Award? And what would that award look like? Would they actually give you an Oscar or a Heisman trophy and offer to trade you a People's Choice Award, an Arena League MVP trophy and the rights to Bode Miller's next ESPY, knowing that you could never turn it down?"
Fred, New York

"Bill, Isiah Thomas acquiring Stevie Franchise is another in a long line of baffling moves. He continues to make trades that boggle the minds of any knowledgeable NBA fan. My only conclusion at this point is that he is involved in some secretive plot similar to the '80s late-night cable classic 'Brewster's Millions.' He is acting as a modern-day Montgomery Brewster as he continues to shed the expiring contracts of Penny and Antonio Davis, and take on the huge financial burden of the likes of Jalen Rose and Stevie Franchise, in an effort to bankrupt the team in exchange for some much larger prize. At this point, it is the only possible explanation. Your thoughts?
Derek Cuff, Baltimore

"Please tell me that Isiah Thomas has plans to trade for Antoine Walker. Please, for the sake of my amusement …
Chris Juvinall, Sacramento, Calif.

"I just read about the Knicks acquiring Steve Francis. Admit it: You are funnelling money to Isiah Thomas. You are giving him part of your salary (or, knowing Isiah, maybe your NFL picks) in exchange for him making incredibly dumb moves, which provides you with lots of material. His apparent beef with you is simply a cover for this arrangement. He gets cash, and you get the easiest columns money can buy. It's time to come clean."
Matt B., Alexandria, Va.

"I just read that the Knicks acquired Steve Francis from the Orlando Magic. Is it just me or do you wish that Isiah Thomas was the GM of all New York franchises? I think New Yorkers would be just a little more outraged if he was throwing unnecessary millions away to make the Yankees the highest paid 60-102 team ever. Imagine him running the Jets … trading away all their 2007 and 2008 draft picks, trading for Daunte Culpepper, signing Jamal Lewis to a ludicrous multi-year deal, then hiring Pete Carroll as the head coach. The possibilities are endless."
Josh H., Hamilton, Mass.

"My name is Josh and I'm 29 years old. I was a Knicks fan. Tell my parents that I love them and please make sure my cat finds a good home."
Josh R., Jersey City, N.J.

"Hey, I was just looking at the front page of with Isiah, Stevie Franchise, and Larry Brown as the picture for the front page story. It is really funny if you look at the facial expressions of each guy. Isiah is the only one talking, trying to explain having the two biggest shoot-first point guards in the NBA in the same backcourt on a 15-win team. Stevie's thinking, 'What am I doing here? Isn't Stephon on this team? Damn it.' And then there's Larry, who looks like he is borderline suicidal and he's got to be thinking, 'These two are both almost as bad as Iverson … but there's two of them. I hate myself.' Anyway, I just thought you would like that picture."
Patrick Forquer, Durham, N.C.

"My conspiracy theory is that Isiah Thomas made the Francis trade just so you could write another column about his complete ineptitude. It's almost like he's baiting you to take a shot at him so that he has a reason to kick your ass. Please don't fall for it, as it would suck if you were dead."
Drewby, Pittsburgh

posted: Feb. 23, 2006  |  Feedback

Wanted to follow up on my Houston comments from Monday's column. I thought they were pretty tame, but what do I know? For the past two days, I have been getting four types of e-mails from the residents there:

1) "Right on, I'm glad somebody said it. I don't know why Houston is getting all these sporting events, either."

2) "Stop playing dumb -- anyone who builds a new arena gets an All-Star Game or a Super Bowl. You know how this works."

3) "You can't judge Houston by downtown Houston, what are you thinking?"

) "Don't come back and go (bleep) yourself."

Let's take those one at a time.

1) "Right on, I'm glad somebody said it. I don't know why Houston is getting all these sporting events, either."

And that was my only point. Three major sporting events go up for grabs every year: the Super Bowl and the MLB/NBA All-Star Games. Here are the North American cities that could potentially host one of the three:

San Fran, San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Miami, Tampa, Washington, Boston, New York, Philly, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Toronto, Memphis, Nashville, Salt Lake City and St. Louis. That's 36 cities off the top of my head; I'm sure I left out three or four more.

So how could Houston end up hitting the trifecta in the span of 24 months with 1-in-36 odds for each sport? Houston doesn't have anything more to offer than any of the other 35 cities I just mentioned; like anywhere else, it has some plusses and some major minuses. Just because they built new stadiums/arenas for three sports, they get to host three major events in the span of two years (and I'm not even including the two World Series games)? How does that make sense? Nobody finds this strange?

2) "Stop playing dumb -- anyone who builds a new arena gets an All-Star Game or a Super Bowl. You know how this works."

You're right, I know how this works. And I think it's stupid as hell. The Patriots just built a new stadium two years ago -- does that mean that the 2008 Super Bowl should be in Foxborough? Puhleeze. Although it would be fun if this happened and Maxim was forced to hold its annual party at the Raynham dog track.

3) "You can't judge Houston by downtown Houston, what are you thinking? Why didn't you check out other parts of the city?"

Here's why: Because every single event, party and hotel was downtown. If you don't believe that your downtown represents your city as a whole, don't schedule everything downtown. It's that simple.

All I can tell you is this: It took 25 minutes to get from one part of town to the other without traffic; there weren't NEARLY enough cabs; everyone was telling us "don't walk around downtown at night unless you're in a large group"; and the three major places for the weekend were the Convention Center, the Toyota Center and the Houston Hilton (where the players were staying) ... all of which were located within 2 minutes of one another in the middle of nowhere. Plus, it was 35-40 degrees outside, so you couldn't walk anywhere, and again, there were never any cabs to be found. So if I'm a tourist for the weekend, what the heck am I supposed to do?

Which raises a larger point: What's the appeal of hosting these major sporting events if you can't handle them? I assume a city like Houston is hoping, "We'll attract all these tourists, we'll make a name for ourselves, we'll win over the media members, by the time this is over, we'll be considered a destination place!" Well, none of these things happened. It's nothing personal. For instance, I live in Los Angeles right now, and this city is just as big, just as sprawling, just as congested and just as poorly equipped to host something like the NBA All-Star Game (which happened two years ago). Some cities just aren't meant for this weekend. Houston is one of them. I don't know what else to tell you.

4) "Don't come back and go (bleep) yourself."

Now you're hurting my feelings.

And just for the record: I actually enjoyed my book signings in Austin and Houston; the people down there were cheerful and gracious. But let's look at a place like Austin versus a place like Houston. I LOVED Austin. Loved the downtown. Loved the pockets of bars. Loved the music. Loved how it was easy to walk around. It even reminded me a little of New Orleans. I was glad I went there. In just a single day, I feel like I have a better grasp of Austin than Houston, a place where I have spent 24 days over the past four years. There won't be a 25th. So you're getting your wish. Although I still haven't figured out how to (bleep) myself.

posted: Feb. 14, 2006  |  Feedback

What marquee event from the '80s has you less excited this week: The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, the Winter Olympics or the Slam Dunk Contest? For me, it's a three-way tie. Everyone keeps e-mailing me about the Winter Olympics; honestly, I haven't watched more than 45 minutes of it. How can anyone expect us to watch tape-delayed sporting events in 2006? Am I supposed to avoid the Internet and ESPN all day, then show up at 8 p.m. every night and say, "Come on NBC, take me for a ride?" Would you watch the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl on a 10-hour tape delay if you knew the result ahead of time? Don't get me started.

One thing I did see: On Monday night's show, the pairs figure skating contest wrapped up with a Chinese team gunning for the gold, only the girl ended up wiping out on one of those toss-in-the-air thingies ... I mean, she REALLY wiped out. When it happened, it had LT-Theismann potential. So she hobbled around for a few minutes, then it seemed like she was done, and suddenly, she sucked it up, skated back out there and finished the routine to a standing ovation. Not only was that cool to watch, it was the type of moment that made the Olympics such a must-see event back in the day. And if it happened live, I would have been going crazy. On tape? I shrugged my shoulders and tuned the channel to "The Colbert Report."

Anyway, I wanted to pass along a few e-mails from the past two weeks:

From Mitch Levy in New York: "You have to write a story about 'Grizzly Man.' It's supposed to be a serious documentary about a guy who lives in Alaska every summer with the bears (who eventually eat him). It's hilarious at every level from the absolute wing-nut bear lover, to the pretentious German filmmaker, and the wacky casts of friends that get interviewed and tell nonsensical stories about him. The message boards at are a fight between the naturalists who think it was a beautiful movie and those who think this was better than 'Spinal Tap.'"

Mitch, I'm with you: It's the first documentary since "American Movie" that ranks a perfect 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. First of all, it's directed by Werner Herzog, who (incredibly) decided to narrate the movie even though he sounds like he's auditioning for a Hans & Frans sketch. Second, the Grizzly Man guy is an absolute maniac and can't be described even remotely. You just have to see him in action. He's surpassed Mark Byars (from "Paradise Lost") and Mark Borchardt for me, and I never thought I would say that. Third, there are so many ridiculously funny moments (like when Grizzly Man claims that he lost out to Woody Harrelson as Coach's replacement on "Cheers," or when he's playing with the bear poop) that you can't even believe it's happening as it's happening. I kept thinking that this was like the "Blair Witch Project," some sort of elaborate hoax by the creators of "Mr. Show." But it's not. And fourth, this is the first movie that I can remember that glorifies someone who's completely insane. I mean, COMPLETELY. Utterly and totally.

(You have to rent this movie -- it's disturbing, hilarious, creepy, haunting, you name it. I won't even spoil the ending for you. Just see it.)

Matt from Michigan asks: "OK, just so I'm clear on something .. during your chat on 2/3, when asked how many Pistons should be Eastern Conference All-Star reserves, you wrote, 'I think all 5 should make it. Seriously.' Five days later, in your 'NBA Big Picture' article, you wrote, 'And while we're on the subject, the Pistons are only two games ahead of the Spurs and Mavs right now -- anyone who claims that they deserve more than three guys on the All-Star team needs to settle down.' Got it. Makes sense to me!"

All right, Matt, here's the explanation: When I did the chat, the Pistons were 39-6 and on pace for a historic season. After the chat, they blew two straight ... suddenly they were just two games ahead of the Mavs and Spurs. If you're not having a historic season, then you don't deserve four All-Stars, much less five. It's that simple. Ben Wallace is not more valuable to the Pistons than Michael Redd is to the Bucks. He's just not.

Tom A from Kansas writes: "Have you ever noticed ... that this season's Bachelor ... can only speak ... about five words at a time? I almost hate to point this out to you, this will now drive you completely insane. I noticed it last night and it nearly drove me to want to go hunting with Cheney. And is it just me or does this year's Bachelor bring absolutely nothing to the table? He seems like the most boring guy in the world. At least Robin's brother last year was goofy. Finally, when Susan got booted from the show do you think she asked Chris Harrison for his agent's name? Sorry for all the Bachelor questions, but most guys don't admit to watching this garbage."

Well, I'll admit it: There hasn't been a good "Bachelor" in like three years, not since the one with Andrew Firestone ... but this one has been working because of the talent level (some genuinely pretty girls) and the craziness level (probably a 9 out of 10). It's like they finally figured out the formula. I enjoyed this season for five reasons:

1. It kills me when the other girls turn on one of their own because "she's in it for the wrong reasons." Wait, what are the right reasons? You're on a freaking reality TV show looking for a husband!!!!!!!!! You're making out with someone while cameras are rolling! You're falling in love with someone after spending like 45 minutes with him! The hypocrisy is fantastic.

2. Poor Travis (the Bachelor) keeps trying to talk himself into Sarah because she's sweet and because they're both from Nashville ... only she's not nearly as cute as the other girls. So he's using all those code words like, "We have a great friendship" and "With Sarah, I'm interested to see if there can be a romantic connection as well," when the bottom line is that she's not nearly as hot as the other girls and he's really thinking about things like, "Is there enough money in my checking account to buy her a ring AND a boob job?" and "Um, could somebody dim the lights for me before we start making out?" Somehow she made the final two, and even better, he's probably going to pick her ... leading to the inevitable "Post-Bachelor" show when they reveal they broke up because they realized they made for better friends than anything, followed by his moving to Los Angeles and sleeping with every wanna-be model and actress in a 50-mile vicinity. I'm not even predicting this scenario, I'm guaranteeing it.

3. The best-looking/sweetest girl was Sarah B. from Winnipeg, who quickly won me over because I love all Canadians. And she had Travis in the palm of her hand ... right up until the home visit, when he found out (A) how small Winnipeg is, and (B) that she lived at home. This was hysterically funny for some reason -- the Winnipeg/home combo was right up there with her confessing that she had recurring genital warts, or that she used to date OJ. He couldn't vote her off fast enough. This show kills me.

4. He voted off Susan the Aspiring Actress Monday night, but not before she became the greatest Bachelor contestant ever: Not only did she admit she was moving to L.A. right after the show finished taping, not only did her mom come right out and say, "She's in this for the wrong reasons, she just wants the visibility of the show," but on last night's show, when stupid Travis finally confronted her about it, she argued that she came onto the show for the right reasons and that increasing her visibility was the last reason she would ever have come on the show. Really? That was the last reason? You're an aspiring actress and never thought, "Wow, if I win this thing, it could help my acting career?"

5. By the fifth episode, Travis broke Jesse Palmer's record for "Most times using the word 'amazing.'" Now he's like Wilt in the 1961-62 season ... we're reaching heights that nobody ever imagined. It's been amazing.

(And yes, I hate myself for watching this show. In my defense, I have three "take one for the team" shows with the Sports Gal: this one, the surprisingly watchable "How I Met Your Mother," and the just-canceled "Love Monkey," which could have been decent if they didn't resort to every possible cliché on the planet. After Bachelor ends, we're down to one "take one for the team" show ... which means I might have to start watching "Grey's Anatomy" to pad my numbers. Shoot me now.)

Finally, Liz from Milwaukee asks: "For your next book recommendation, will you please recommend one of Ralph Wiley's books. I saw a couple on Amazon and always enjoyed reading him on Page 2. I'd like to pick out a book from him, but have no idea which one. Thanks."

It's my pleasure. My favorite Wiley book was "Why Black People Tend To Shout," which I first read in college and really enjoyed. It still holds up. But the recent collection of definitive Wiley columns called "Classic Wiley" has his best pieces from the past 25 years, including some of his best boxing essays, the famous Doc and Darryl piece from Sports Illustrated, and his 2002 column about O.J. Simpson that remains one of the best O.J.-related pieces ever written. I re-read this book two weekends ago and forgot how much I missed Ralph's perspective on things. For instance, what would he have written about Kobe's 81-point game? Or the steroids scandal last year? Say what you want about Ralph, but he was always interesting, and when he played it straight, his sportswriting was as good as anything we ever ran on this Web site. Plus, he was one of the Remaining 20. I miss reading him.

Another good thing about those books: "Why Black People Tend to Shout" AND "Classic Wiley" are in stock on as we speak.

posted: Feb. 7, 2006  |  Feedback

Just a couple of quick things for today:

• Since I'm heading to Texas for next week's NBA All-Star Game, we managed to squeeze in a couple of book signings in Austin and Houston on Wednesday and Thursday. Here's the info:

Austin, TX: February 15, 7:30 PM
Barnes & Noble (The Arboretum)

Houston, TX: February 16, 7:30 PM
Borders River Oaks

• The good people at answered my question about Doc Rivers and whether A.) the Celtics used more subs/lineups than the average team, and B.) whether there was a correlation between over-subbing and a team's success. Well, I was correct on my theory (the Celts rank 3rd in "most lineups" and 4th in "most substitutions), but there doesn't seem to be too much of a correlation between success/failure because San Antonio has used the most subs per game of any team in the league (and they have the 2nd-best record in the league). Interesting stuff though. At least I know I'm not crazy. Thanks to

• I spent yesterday travelling for work and had another OUTSTANDING Delta Song experience. Like an idiot, I forgot to charge my laptop battery all the way, so I was stuck midway through the flight with nothing to do because I didn't bring a book ... so I ended up watching PTI, SportsCenter AND the Dominique-Bird shootout, which was just wrapping up when we landed. That may have been the first time in my life where I didn't want to get off a plane. By the way, I will never forgive Brent Musberger for screaming, "There is blood! There is blood on Dennis Johnson!" right after Bird brought the house down with the three in the final two minutes, and then it turned out that DJ only has a nick under his eye. That was the all-time botched play-by-play call in NBA history. Watch for this the next time it's on.

• Random Super Bowl note: Instead of blaming the refs, shouldn't Mike Holmgren be thinking about how him and his QB botched the two-minute drills in both halves? Or are we supposed to forget that happened? (Although I'm glad that poor officiating became such a major story in the playoffs -- maybe they will finally figure out how to fix it.) Also, I loved the SportsCenter discussion with the football guys where they blamed Jerramy Stevens's drops for the fact that he didn't trash-talk enough during Super Bowl Week. One of the guys claimed that the lack of trash-talking made him seem "timid," and that carried over to the game. He said this with full confidence. I think I am ready for football to go away for a few months.

• Wanted to mention something in the Super Bowl diary: I didn't realize that Aaron Neville and Dr. John were involved with the national anthem performance because of their New Orleans connections. My bad. Although I still would have made the Aretha Franklin joke.

• Final programming note: There's a column coming tomorrow ... and then I won't have anything new until next week. I'm sure you'll be fine.

posted: Feb. 2, 2006  |  Feedback

As you probably noticed from my Glory Road piece, ESPN Mag expanded the length of my magazine column starting with this issue (hitting newsstands this week). This might not be a big deal to you, but it's a big deal for me.

Quick backstory: When they gave me the column in the summer of 2002, I had a whopping 690 words. There's a good chance that they were intentionally trying to end my career with that length, although you can never be too sure about these things. Eventually, the column was expanded to 800 words -- 150 less than Reilly and Rushin and 300-350 less than any newspaper columnist, but a little more acceptable since I could make a coherent point with that space. Sure, the column wasn't always entertaining, but at least it was coherent. Still, I don't think a single week passed where I didn't ask one of my bosses, "Please, for the love of God, give me more words in the magazine."

See, I'm wordy. I like to go on tangents. I like using parentheses. I like babbling. I like taking a few paragraphs to describe something that could easily be done in one. Conserving words has never been a strong suit for me. As you know. And that's what I kept telling them. After 43 agonizing months, I finally wore them down; they threw me a bone and gave me 1,250 words. Good times! I knew I could leverage that offer from High Times into something substantial. Of course, after I passed in that Glory Road column, I was talking to my editor, Neil Fine, and half-jokingly said, "Come on, couldn't you tell the difference? That was the first magazine column I've ever handed in that actually seemed like I wrote it!"

Neil's response: "I thought it felt like every other column you ever handed in for us, only it was 450 words longer."

Hey, maybe he's right. Maybe my 1250-word magazine columns won't read any differently than my 800-word magazine columns. Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe I just like to complain about stuff. But I think there's a lesson here, and the lesson is this: Annoy a group of people for a long enough time and you have a good chance of breaking them, no matter how powerful they are. I couldn't be prouder.

Some other quick notes for today ...

• Remember my point about Peter King and Jerome Bettis on Tuesday, how reporters and columnists make the mistake of thinking that readers care whether an athlete or coach is congenial to the press? Check out this column from the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs from Monday. Sadly, I'm not allowed to make any further comments. • Three NBA-related links for you ...

1. On his blog, Scottie Pippen wrote about Kobe's 81-point game and how something like that is much more prone to happen these days -- he makes some interesting points about how the defensive rule changes have allowed pretty much any scorer in the league to spring for 40-50 points if they're making jumpers. I'm with Scottie -- scoring 50-plus against a good team in the early-90's was the equivalent of scoring 65-70 points now. MJ would have sprung for 80-plus against a bad team with these current rules. Anyway, it's worth a read. I would love to know if Scottie wrote this himself or had some help.

2. Over the weekend, I did an interview about the Celtics with, my favorite Celtics-related blog for now, at least until someone finally plows ahead with the "Actual Quotes From Tommy Heinsohn During Celtics Games" blog.

3. In case you missed it, after my Doc Rivers column, the good people at attempted to answer some of my questions in the column. Very cool read. So here's my next challenge to them, which I e-mailed them this week:

"I have a task for you guys if you're interested. I am convinced that Doc makes more substitutions per game and uses more lineups per game than any other coach in the league except possibly the Knicks. Is there any way to figure this out? And is there a correlation between a team's success and the frequency/infrequency of substitutions during a game? It just seems like the smarter coaches figure out their five best players, play them as much as possible, spell them when they get tired with bench guys, then make sure those same five guys are playing the last 7-8 minutes of the game. I don't think this is rocket science. But Doc shuttles guys in and out like an NHL coach. Please figure this out if this is detrimental to an NBA team or not. Thanks."

• After Tuesday's Cowbell, some Pittsburgh fans/readers pointed out that Bettis struggled in Denver because his asthma always kicks up in the high altitude. First, I have asthma, so I don't need to be lectured about it -- there's a thing called "an inhaler" that protects athletes from having asthma attacks when they play sports. I know this because I use one whenever I play any sport. So does anyone who suffers from asthma. Second, Bettis had 5 carries in the first half and 15 carries overall in Denver -- this wasn't exactly one of those 42-carry games out of the Earl Campbell Playbook. Third, and most importantly, he's noticeably overweight for a professional athlete (much less someone playing a skill position in the NFL). This is why he needed an oxygen mask in the second half. Jerome Bettis is very, very heavy. He's extremely large. When large people exert themselves physically, they tend to have trouble breathing and keeping their body at a normal temperature, as we found out during every Blues Travelers concert in the early-90's. If you suffer from asthma and playing in thin air, carrying extra weight makes any breathing problems you may have had about 10-20 times worse.

The bigger issue: He's a professional athlete, which means he only has three jobs: Show up on time, listen to his coach, stay in shape. Because he's a great guy who happens to be retiring after the season, these facts obscure the fact that he's not even remotely in shape anymore. For example, what if Super Bowl XL goes into overtime and the Bus can't play anymore because he's laboring like Chris Farley at the tail end of the Chippendale's sketch, so Cowher has to use Verron Hayes on a 3rd-and-short? Would this be acceptable? Or should we overlook it because he's a good guy? You tell me.

• Hey, remember that Celebrity Fantasy League that I'm participating in despte the fact that I'm not really a celebrity? After 13 weeks, I'm 11-2 and breathing down Bernie Mac's neck (he's 12-1), thanks to Mamba's heroics and the efforts of Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and some others. I haven't lost in nine weeks. Well, apparently Bernie is sufficiently frightened because A.) he stopped talking trash on the message board, and B.) he tried to pull off the shadiest trade in fantasy history this week. Check this out:

1. Bernie is 12-1, Kenny Smith is 1-12. Have you ever heard of a league where a 1-12 team can trade with a 12-1 team? Me neither.

2. Bernie offered Richard Jefferson, Rashard Lewis and Kenyon Martin for Gilbert Arenas, Andrei Kirilenko and Keith Van Horn. Basically, it's a 3-for-2, with Bernie getting the best 2 guys in the trade (including Arenas, who's a top-10 guy) without giving up either of his top two guys (Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade).

3. Even though he's 1-12 and already eliminated from the playoffs, Kenny accepted the offer.

Now everyone in the league has to vote on whether it goes through. Obviously, I protested, but I'm relying on people like Star Jones and Pamela Anderson to A.) do the right thing, and B) care in the first place. Geez, how do you think this is going to turn out? Did you ever think you would see a shady trade in a league where the profits go to charity? Me neither. If this trade goes through, I'm writing a 2500-word review of "Mr 3000." And it won't be pretty.

• Finally, it's time to get the "Best Sports Books" series going again. Since it's Black History Month and all, I thought I would concentrate on sports books by black authors in February. Here's the first one: "Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man," written by Bill Russell and Taylor Branch (the same guy who just finished the epic trilogy about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). It would have been a thoughful, well-written biography even without the chapter called "Champions," the single-best thing ever written by a great player about the process of winning. It's just an amazing piece, with Russell dismantling his 13-year run with the Celtics and explaining why they won and kept winning -- not the game details, but how the personalities meshed, how they kept themselves motivated, how different players assumed different roles, how everything was about the team. Just the section on Sam Jones alone (how Sam would only occasionally take over games because he didn't want the responsibility of being the best player every night) is worth the read. And I loved how he messed with Wilt Chamberlain's head, among others. Nobody meshed the process of playing and thinking like Bill Russell did; there's a reason he has 11 rings right now.

Re-reading this book over the weekend, I was also struck by Russell's anger in the "Starting Points" chapter about black-white relations, certain racial stereotypes with athletes, even how he was treated by whites in Boston when he played there, culminating in the famous part where he jokes that if Paul Revere lived in Boston in the 60's, he would have ridden around screaming, "The niggers are coming! The niggers are coming!" Even 27 years later, you can still feel him bristling.

It's an affecting, important book, and if you were ever going to read it, this should be the month. Of course, it's impossible to find, so you'll have to resort to the usual suspects -- either your local library or leftover copies on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, E-Bay or any of those used book sites. Good luck.

posted: Feb. 1, 2006  |  Feedback

I'm saving my Super Bowl thoughts for Friday, but I did want to mention the unfortunate two-week break. The NFL season has a certain rhythm: 17 weeks of the regular season, cresting with three playoff weeks and the Super Bowl. When you get snapped out of that rhythm, it's hard to bounce back into that "Are you ready for some football?!?!" mentality the following week. I don't have a problem with the matchup, just the break itself. I actually like this Steelers-Seahawks matchup. It's a good one.

• Take it from someone who's covered three Super Bowl weeks: Except for the location and the teams, it's the exact same week every year. Same events, same schedule, same people, same everything. If you're new to the column and wondering about my take on certain Super Bowl Week events, here are some relevant columns from New Orleans, Jacksonville and Houston (you need ESPN Insider access to read them).

Queasy in the Big Easy (2002) -- This one got me in deep doo-doo in New Orleans. Bad times.

Why is the Super Bowl in Jacksonville? (2005) -- This question has never been adequately answered.

Running diary of media day (2002) -- Here's what it's like to be there. A little long, but I liked how this one came out. At least it was original.

Media day photo blog (2005) -- You don't just get to see what media day was like, there's even a photo of my Jason Priestley-like beard!

Attack of the super blog (2004) -- To my knowledge, the first-ever super blog of its kind. Somehow I wrote 25,000 words in eight days without having a conniption -- it remains one of the highlights of my career. You can catch the links to each day on this page, but if you missed it the first time around, there are stories about blowing a chance to sit next to Jaclyn Smith on an airplane (Monday, 4:30); the ridiculous NFL Experience (Tuesday, 11:00); messing with John Kasay on media day (Wednesday, 5:00); and a phenomenal video game battle between Troy Brown and Steve Smith (Thursday, 12:45). Crazy city, crazy week.

• One Super Bowl related e-mail from New York reader Ben Reynolds: "It's the Monday before the Super Bowl and the number of TV analysts and sportswriters who mock the fact that 'EVERYONE is doing an angle on Jerome Bettis being from Detroit' has officially surpassed the number of sportwriters/analysts who have actually brought up the Jerome Bettis/Detroit homecoming angle. Complaining about the story's oversaturation has become even more oversaturated than the original angle. It's like in their hurry to call out the rest of the sports media for being unoriginal sheep, they all proved themselves to in fact be unoriginal sheep. Someone has to call out the sheep who were calling out the sheep. Hopefully, this isn't the 500th e-mail you've received on the subject, making me one of a group of sheep calling out sheep for calling out sheep."

Good point, Ben. It's like a merry-go-round. The problem is that Bettis is overweight and friendly and happy and cuddly, teammates and reporters love him, and this is clearly leading to at least 45 overproduced TV pieces showing Bettis walking around Detroit with Springsteen's "My Hometown" wailing in the background. And since everyone else can sense what's about to unfold here, it's easy as hell to mock. But isn't that what Super Bowl week is all about -- beating story lines into the ground, then mocking those same story lines as they're being beaten into the ground? Why even have Super Bowl week then?

One more Bettis note: Peter King wrote on yesterday, "I'm really happy for Jerome Bettis. He's a sportswriter's best friend."

With all due respect to Peter, this stuff drives me crazy. Reporters and columnists always protect the players who take care of them and stop analyzing them objectively. For instance, in Bettis' case, the dude let himself go in his farewell season -- he was clearly laboring during the second half of the Broncos game, for instance -- but has anyone dared to criticize him (because he's a good guy and all)? Well, what if the Steelers needed a first down to clinch the game, and Bettis was dry-heaving into an oxygen mask because he's roughly the same size as Hurley from "Lost" at this point? Would this have become a story? Or would everyone have made excuses for him again like they did after the Colts game, when he carried the ball with one hand on the Nick Harper play and nearly blew the season for Pittsburgh?

On the flip side, when Jim Rice's Hall of Fame merits are discussed every January, you can always count on writers and columnists to mention how Rice's résumé shouldn't be tainted by the fact that he was notoriously unfriendly to reporters during his career. Oh, really? You think so? So we should just judge the guy by how he played on the baseball field? What a novel concept! Seriously, who the hell cares how someone interacted with sportswriters when he played? How does this affect my life? If a player lacks the patience to answer uninspired questions after games and practices, and he doesn't deal with a group of complete strangers in a congenial manner, why should this affect the way we evaluate his career as a player? I don't get it.

(Note: I have nothing against Bettis, one of the most genuine guys in any sport and a mortal lock to evolve into a Barkley-type studio guy when he retires. Just playing devil's advocate here. If Brandon Jacobs was the one fumbling on that Nick Harper play, every NFL writers and talking head would have been screaming "How could this dummy not have two hands on the ball?!?!" for the next 96 hours. And you know I'm right.)

• Following up on the Crisp-Marte section in Monday's Cowbell, Dow from Chelmsford wonders, "Wait a second here, whatever happened to when you wrote in the Beckett column, 'I never get bummed out about trading prospects for established guys -- if anything, I much prefer this route over rolling the dice with could-bes and would-bes.' I've been spouting that belief for years now, and finally felt like I had a credible media ally, only to have you backtrack on that same point two months later. Have you already forgotten Kevin Morton and Brian Rose?"

Two big differences. First, Marte is a position player, a much safer bet than a pitching prospect since pitchers can break down at any point. Second, Marte wasn't just any prospect -- Baseball Prospectus ranked him the No. 1 prospect of 2005. Again, I'm not saying that the logic behind the deal was wrong. I just believe that Marte for Crisp was a fair deal in itself, that the Red Sox overpaid to fill a need position, and the only reason Sox fans weren't more upset was because they had no real history with Marte as an elite prospect. Those were my only points.

• Josh from Boston adds, "Don't worry about the Sox losing Marte. There isn't a shrewder evaluator of minor league talent than John Schuerholz, and he was willing to trade him for a d-u-n done Renteria. The Epstein-era Red Sox are also superior minor league talent evaluators, but they were willing to trade him. And the Red Sox and Braves are both in need of a long-term third base solution. If he was the second coming of Rolen, one of those two teams would have held on to him. At least, that's what I keep telling myself."

• A counterpoint from Thomas in Richmond, Va.: "After reading your Cowbell wondering if trading Andy Marte was the right thing to do, I am forced to comment. I was extremely excited when the Red Sox acquired him a few weeks ago. I've watched him play here in Richmond (Atlanta's AAA affiliate) the past couple years, and this kid is good. Not A-Rod "I'm a cheater" good, but Nomar-in-his-prime good. A great hitter, great baserunner, great range at third, someone who is going to hustle out every play. In fact, I almost wrote you when the Sox got him to simply tell you that you should be as excited as I was, something along the lines of Kirstie Alley discovering a new diet which allows her to eat an entire pound cake every day. I too fear that this trade may end up like the next Jeff Bagwell. Here's hoping our new center fielder is worth it."

• One NBA note: The best and worst of the league was on display Monday night. In Miami, "Heat 118, Clippers 114" was the best game of the 2005-2006 season. There have been more entertaining games (like Phoenix's triple-OT contests, or the 152-149 game between Seattle and Phoenix, or even Kobe's 81-point game), but I can't imagine two current teams playing at a higher level at the same time. The Clippers shot 54 percent from the field, made 17 of 18 free throws and 7 of 11 3s ... and lost. Miami shot 55 percent and made 11 of 20 3s. There were only 62 rebounds in the entire game. The talent pool was off the charts. And there was some genuine drama down the stretch. What a battle. Just two of better teams in basketball bringing the best out of one another.

Meanwhile, the Celtics and Wolves met three days after their big seven-player trade ... and an "inspired" Mark Blount exploded for a 20-10, hustling on both ends, skipping down the floor and mocking the Celtics bench after two baskets. Here's a guy they overpaid (six years, $40 million) who immediately decided to take the next 18 months off -- stopped smiling, stopped working hard, bitched behind the scenes, zoned out during timeouts, tried to undermine the coach, did everything he could to force a trade, basically ran up and down the floor and shot 18-footers and that was it -- and when they finally traded him, he gave 110 percent and did everything he could to show them up. Good guy.

Wait, that's not all! In the same trade, they also traded Marcus Banks, who stopped trying this season because (a) he was being buried by the coaching staff, (b) the team didn't pick up his 2007 option, and (c) he was coming back from a stress fracture in his leg. Knowing he had nothing to gain by trying in Boston, he mailed in the next few weeks and played at 3/4 speed so he didn't get hurt again. Then they traded him. Well, now Banks has a chance to make an imprint in Minnesota and possibly get a new contract! Last night, he was flying around like T.J. Ford, beating guys off the dribble, guarding his guy for 94 feet, driving into traffic and making plays ... he was a man possessed. In this case, the situation wasn't nearly as loathsome as Blount's situation -- after all, Boston's coaching staff buried Banks for two years and Doc Rivers turned the Delonte West/Banks situation into a "good son/bad son" thing. That's why Banks needed a new start somewhere else. I just think it's interesting that, when an NBA player was faced with the choice of ...

Option A: Busting his butt to get minutes and prove the coaching staff wrong.

Or ...

Option B: Going on cruise control, getting paid every two weeks, waiting to get traded, then busting his butt as soon as he finds a new team.

... Banks chose Option B.

(The NBA ... it's fannnnnnnnn-tastic! I love this game!)

February 2006