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(Originally posted on http://www.iamagm.com on August 29, 2011)

The sleepy-eyed Kyrie Irving’s unflappability displayed moments after being selected number one overall by the

Kyrie Irving will have to battle some New Jersey demons to succeed.

Cleveland Cavaliers at this past June’s 2011 NBA Draft will be tested because the future may be full of false hopes and unfortunate fate.

The 6-3 point guard didn’t face any summer scrutiny on the court as the rookie leagues were a victim of the lockout.  But cloistered away on the Duke campus attending summer school he may have some time to reflect upon what’s in store for him.

Not only does his surname sound reminiscently familiar to Julius Erving and Earvin Johnson but he has to follow LeBron James only one year after his exodus.

And although, not even a toe injury that limited his freshman season to 11 games would prevent the former St. Patrick’s (Elizabeth, NJ) star from being the first New Jersey high school player to be drafted with the No. 1 pick, the NBA, mysteriously, has not been kind to high-drafted Garden State guards.

The state has a rich basketball tradition such as hosting the first professional game in Trenton, NJ.  One of the first high school players drafted directly to the NBA was Bill Willoughby from Englewood, NJ.  And while many  New Jerseyans have made it to the NBA, the last great NBA player in my opinion who played high school basketball in the state is Rick Barry (Roselle).

Despite that annually there are a couple of high schools from the state rated at or near the top of the national rankings, many of the players’ All-American status has meant little to predicting pro success. Good coaching could be the reason why team success may outdistance the individual success. But the high esteem may also be the result of these generally North Jersey area teams and players getting a biased view from the New York metropolitan media hype machine.

Irving was born in Australia but he’s Jersey-bred much like sweet Jersey corn.  Down-under just happened to be the place where his parents were living at the time of his birth as his dad pursued his professional basketball career.  The younger Irving was reared in West Orange, NJ and as mentioned played his school-boy ball in the state.

Conversely, Shaquille O’Neal who wears his Newark roots as a badge of honor was first recognized overseas stationed with his military step-father and then playing high school ball in San Antonio, Texas.  And recently Hall-of-Fame enshrined Dennis Rodman born in New Jersey (Trenton) does not claim the state as home as he quickly left and grew up in Dallas, Texas.

Busts and disappointing players may not be regionally discriminatory but the spate of bad luck that has befallen Jersey ballers like Irving is eerie. His predecessors have met some Sopranos-like shit sidetracking their NBA careers.

Bobby Hurley, a six-foot point guard also from Duke born in Jersey City, NJ who played high school ball at the city’s St. Anthony’s was drafted 7th overall in 1993 by the Sacramento Kings. In his first 19 games, he was playing well for the Kings producing 7.1 ppg and 6.7 apg.

But on the way home from that 19th game, he was driving down a dark road without a seat belt when he had an accident that threw him100 feet into a ditch. His lungs collapsed and he had broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, a compression fracture of his lower back, a torn tendon in his right knee and soft tissue injuries.

His rookie season was done and the next five years he was in the league but only played a total of 44 games.

Another New Jersey and Duke point guard faced a more definite ending to his career. Jason “Jay” Williams from Plainfield, NJ played scholastically at St. Joseph in Metuchen. He was drafted third overall at the 2002 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and finished his first season on the All-Rookie Team.

However, that summer, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight. He was not wearing a helmet, nor was he licensed to drive a motorcycle and it was in violation of his contract. The accident severed a main nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three ligaments in his left knee including the ACL.

He never played another minute in the NBA.

Finally, DaJuan Wagner, 6-2 guard from Camden, NJ who played one college season at Memphis and was selected sixth in the same draft as Williams.  Wagner, as Irving, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers.  He missed the first few months of his rookie season with an injury but burst onto the scene scoring in droves.  He finished the year scoring 13.4 ppg.

After 11 games into his second season, he was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis and eventually had to have his colon removed.  His Cavalier career was over and a comeback with the Golden State Warriors was aborted when they brought out his two-year guaranteed contract due to his poor health after just one game.

But Irving has already been through what most can not imagine. At the age of four, his mother, Elizabeth, died from Sepsis Syndrome and a multisystem organ failure. And he almost lost his father, Drederick, ten years ago when his dad witnessed the mayhem while narrowly escaping death at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 tragedy.

So, maybe these macabre musings pale in comparison to his actual experiences and he will remain unflappable.

Ending the NBA Lockout

(Originally posted on http://www.iamagm.com on August 11, 2011)

The NBA lockout is propelling toward a self-fulfilling prophecy of a lost season.  Most of what I’ve heard and read about the pending and now ongoing lockout was that it was sure to be long and hard battle.

The optimist opined that we’d be lucky to duplicate the previous labor impasse 50-game condensed season back in 1998-99.  The pessimist piled on and reported that the 2011-12 season is dead on arrival.

However, most of these speculations offer little analysis other than trying to figure out how many teams are losing money and how much.  And I’m afraid that the constant chatter that the sky is falling may prove Chicken Little right.

It’s very well likely that many teams are struggling.  But why are buyers lining up to recently purchase teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, and the players are almost universally expected to give up a lot?

The new owners are viewed as Warren Buffet acolytes pouncing on undervalued investments while the players have historically been savaged as spineless and short-term thinkers.  This is the case despite that during the past few collective bargaining negotiations in 1998, 2005 and now there is still a sense that they got too much and must give back what they negotiated.

The NFL lockout was resolved seemingly on a few big issues.  The football owners got back a few points in the split of the overall profits and hammered out a reduced rookie wage scale. The players got fewer training and practice sessions (that theoretically extend careers) and perhaps more guaranteed contacts.

The NBA lockout similarly can be reduced to a few issues.  All the other maneuvering is posturing.  The NBA suing on the grounds that players are not negotiating in good faith and the player statements about going overseas make the news but are not about to lead to a settlement.

We saw how the lawsuits entangled in the NFL labor dispute were seemingly easily resolved once the deal was near.  And, the NBA superstar is not really en masse willing to risk guaranteed millions playing in less than stellar conditions. Nor or there enough teams with spots to offer particularly considering they could potentially lose signing others players by “renting” the superstars who would return to the NBA once the lockout is over.

The first vital issue confronting the NBA is the owners figuring a better way to share revenue.  One reported discrepancy between what a top team can rake in for a home game versus a bottom earner is about $10 million dollars.  That over a 41 home game schedule is a significant difference of $410 million dollars.

The NBA is not willing to split the loot more “fairly” throughout the league like the NFL though and would rather resolve the matter of revenue capacity by reducing player salaries. The league proposes to offer the drowning smaller market teams a rope in the form of the mere chance to maintain star players with a hard cap and financially driven measures restricting player movement.

Those who argue that player movement has destroyed franchises point to how the Miami Heat took two players from smaller markets in Cleveland and Toronto who then sunk in the standings and financially. But it’s a fiscal ruse to use the animosity the Superfriends engendered to yoke rising costs as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took less money to make it happen.

The NBA has always been a league dominated by a few teams like an oligarchy; financially and with finals titles.  The Minneapolis Lakers dominated by fortunately having the first big man in George Mikan.  The Boston Celtics quickly followed with its dynasty led by Bill Russell acquired via a trade in part because the St. Louis Hawks were reluctant to employ a black player.

The Lakers, by now in Los Angeles, reclaimed the torch back in large measure to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forcing a trade from Milwaukee. He had a preference for his hometown New York Knicks but was just as eager to return to the city of his beloved alma mater UCLA. The Chicago Bulls acquired Michael Jordan’s right hand man Scottie Pippen through a draft related trade powering it to six rings.

Then, the Lakers did it again through free agency by snatching Shaquille O’Neal from Orlando and pilfering Kobe Bryant from the rest of the league with the help of threats that the high schooler only wanted to play for the Lakers.  Most recently, two former Celtics players in executive roles may have conspired to send Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett to Boston to swing the balance of power.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were acquired by their respective teams with slick moves.  Boston’s Red Auerbach  drafted Bird the year before he declared (since prohibited) and the Lakers traded an aging superstar for a number one pick that ultimately resulted in Magic’s selection.

My point is that the flow of players whether team or player fueled has been the legacy of the league. Yes, the current owners coming into the league within the past five-ten years, unlike the more established owners who got in the game with a few million and have had team values rise exponentially, face higher purchase prices and the potential to lose more money and faster than ever before and in turn want more certainty.

But it seems that the NBA would not want to chance parity as although the league in the 1970s ushered in a transformative style of basketball with the ABA player and esthetic that resulted in multiple teams winning titles, very few seemed to care. The star-ship model won out and seems here to stay.

However, there is hope. The players need to as partners with the owners recognize the long term multiple year contracts have not always worked out for the better of the league. Often, teams handed out five and six year huge guaranteed money contracts that quickly turned bad with years of dead weight due to injury, non-incentivised players or just bad decisions.  The solution is having a maximum length of a contract as four years.  A bad contract would not burden a team for that long and the player would still have future opportunities to subsequent deals.

Only narrowing the scope of the issues rather than stagnating on minor obstacles will stop the doomsday reports for the 2011-12 NBA season.

(Originally posted on http://www.iamagm.com on July, 7, 2011)

Imagine it’s the early 1980s as hip hop, crack cocaine, the Big East and Reganomics have hit the hood, and you’re on a New York playground basketball court.   It’s your turn to ball and the guy who picked you up says, “I got him with the wave cap on.  You got The Truth.”

It might be time to tighten up the laces.

Last week at a ABS Sports & Entertainment Grouplaunch party for Better Baller Athletics at Riverbank State Park in Upper Manhattan, I ran into The Truth aka Walter Berry.

Before I get too deep into the truth let me sidetrack you all. Berry and I go a long way back.  When I was at NBA.com, one year our office fantasy basketball league decided that your team name had to incorporate a current or former NBA player’s name with a same or similarly named beautiful female celebrity.

Someone went esoteric; Suzette Charles Barkley (Suzette Charles was Miss New Jersey and runner-up to Vanessa Williams as Miss America until the photos).  Some went the combo route like Joakim Kardashian or Chris Paulina Porizkova.  Another went alliterative funky with Kerry Kittles Washington. Others went classic like Earl Marilyn Monroe.  I intertwined by acclamation a true beauty with the truth and came up with Walter Halle Berry.

Try this at home; you can come up with your own all day long.  But let’s get back to the truth.

Although philosophers ponder about what is truth, in the New York City basketball circles it was former St. John’s University star Walter Berry.

The 6-8, left-handed, power forward had a game that featured an array of almost unstoppable inside moves and shots from acute unique angles.  He finished fastbreaks with enormous efficiency or settled down on the block to splash the twine with short floating jumpers. All the time, he did it with a southpaw ease that seemed like he wasn’t trying.

Many also recognize Paul Pierce as The Truth after he dropped 42 points in a 2001 losing effort against the Los Angles Lakers. Shaq pulled a Boston reporter over and gestured toward the scribe’s notepad. “Take this down,” said O’Neal. “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfuckin’ truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.

A great story and even more special when you realize that Pierce was about a year removed from a knife stabbing attack that required lung surgery.  However, New York’s reverence for basketball is awash with colorful basketball aliases such as Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels or Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. But the Mecca anointed Berry with the most supreme compliment in The Truth.  Not “Truth” as the basketball bible, basketball reference.com mistakenly lists.  Then again, even the bible has human editors.

It may be futile to find a particular person to give credit or a precise moment he became The Truth.  At some point in time a mass of people believed he was it. Alas, I wonder how it is to live with such mythological expectations.  As you may have surmised, New York playground phenoms being accorded such proverbial nicknames seem less a blessing and more of curse to a successful NBA career.

And three decades removed from being declared as The Truth, Walter Berry is considered by basketballdom as a bust.  But ironically, that conclusion fails to actually consider many truths that emerge upon a further evaluation.

On the eve of the 2011 NBA Draft, held a few miles away across the Hudson River in Newark, NJ, Berry was present at the event as a mentor to the CEO and founder of the ABS group, Alexis Stanley.

“He is right behind me in the background telling me this is what I should do, this is who you should talk too,” says Stanley, a former NBA and New Jersey Nets intern and current law school and MPA student. “He’s like a godfather to me.”

This godfather is now living in Georgia, but he took the time to come up to New York to see this fledgling venture get off the ground.  “I’m working with providing low and moderate income housing in Atlanta,” says Berry.  “But I’m here for support.”

Berry reveals that he’s back in New York so often though that he never misses it but that coming home is always good.  He played all over the city’s playgrounds and went to two high schools in the Bronx (DeWitt Clinton and Morris) before finishing his school-boy career at Ben Franklin High School in Brooklyn.

All the transfers cost him credits and ultimately his degree was not recognized by the NCAA denying him the chance to play Div. I basketball.  A federal court upheld the NCAA’s position and that led Berry to attend San Jacinto Junior College in Texas.  But after one year, he was eligible to play for the big schools and they came hard.

“There were a bunch of other schools recruiting me like Duke, North Carolina and Georgia,” says Berry.  “But there was no question, I was coming home.”

At St. John’s, along with teammates Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson, he led the Redmen (since changed to Red Storm) to the 1985 Final Four.  The logos and signs around Adolph Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky may as well have read Big East Tournament rather than NCAA Final Four as joining the crew from Queens was Villanova and Georgetown. The next year, he averaged 23 ppg and 11 rpg, and was the best college player in the land winning the John Wooden Award and voted the AP Player of the Year.

In the infamous 1986 NB Draft, he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 14th overall selection.  However, he was shipped off to the San Antonio Spurs after just seven games. Yet, in his rookie campaign he averaged 17.6 points on a .531 shooting percentage (fifth in the league) while grabbing 5.4 rebounds per game.  He had just about the exact same production in his second season.

Almost mysteriously, his production declined in short stints with the Nets and Houston Rockets, and he was out of the league. What happened?

Rumors abounded that he couldn’t get along with this or that coach.  However, in his words, “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says the chuckling Berry referring to his 1989 signing with Basket Napoli (Italy).  He would play international basketball until 2002. His travels also took him to Spain and Slovenia but mostly in Greece where he learned to speak the language fluently.

Berry was earning about $300,000 in the NBA while he likely received millions per annum in Europe with the teams’ also paying taxes and living expenses. But there may be more to the truth of the matter than just money.

“Walt needed to be the man. It’s not like he was selfish, but Walt is not a role player,” says former NBA player Jaren Jackson (Georgetown, 1985-89).  Jackson, who was at the launch party, played against Berry in college and the NBA before earning a ring with the1999 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.

“The NBA was stifling to him.  They wanted him to be content with a limited role but that’s not Walt’s game.”

In other words, the truth doesn’t compromise.

Ron Naclerio, the legendary high school basketball coach at Queen’s Cardozo High, who was there supporting the Better Baller Athletics’ president, Melvin Robinson, a former player of his, more or less agreed with Jackson.

“Walt was a little stubborn and he didn’t want to change his game,” says Naclerio.  “But they didn’t seem to understand that the unorthodox way he played is what made him effective. And it’s hard to come back with all the success he had overseas.”

It may have been the good living in the Mediterranean as Berry looks happy and content.

He relishes in the recent success of former teammate Mark Jackson wishing him well in his new coaching endeavor with Golden State.  And he’s even contemplating being back in the game with Chris Mullin, his other college running mate, if Mullin lands another executive position with an NBA team.

Berry seems to have no regrets about how his playing career evolved and could care less about the bust label.  The Truth knows the truth.

Dear Future NFL Widows

Doom and despair are near.  The bible says that no man knows the appointed hour of his death.  However, you, the wives and significant others (to update Holy Scripture) of men obsessed by pro football will see the beginning of the demise of your mate as you know them Thursday, September 9 at approximately 8:30 PM ET.  That is when the defending Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints kick off the 2010 NFL season by hosting the visiting Minnesota Vikings.

The games so few in number and played just once per week compared to 5-6 games in the NBA and Major League Baseball create so much heartache and jubilation that there is little room for other evolved emotions.  That may help explain how you’ve seen the distance between you and your man expand as the autumn leaves fall.   Intimacy may be reduced to a grunt that indicates he wants you to pass along the dip for his chips. You may not be aware, but not surprised that the NFL ranks second behind money issues as the leading cause of divorce and yet ahead of sexual incompatibility.

The problem may only get worse.  Your mother’s generation did not have to deal with the proliferation of pre-game analysis programming and post-game pundits that can be viewed and heard on cable, the internet and satellite television and radio.  Now, over the past decade or so, fantasy football has mushroomed into a first-rate addiction requiring fans to watch more games and pour over stats to compete with friends and strangers alike in a close facsimile of football knowledge.     

And feeding the fiend has become much easier.  Beginning last season, the NFL Redzone channel was made more readily available providing the consumer – your lost soul mate – extended highlights on Sunday game days.  And the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is spearheading the almost inevitable expansion of the regular season schedule from 16 to18 games.  The assured result will be merely two more weeks of gridiron ghosts hovering around your home.

However, there is hope or at least measures you can take to ease into this phase.  Although he’s dead to you, the transition can be peaceful.  

Know the time of his favorite team’s game.  Most likely Sunday at 1 or 4 PM ET but there are Sunday and Monday Night games and the occasional funky Thursday and late season Saturday night games.  He assumes you know the schedule and thinks you have tacitly agreed to not interfere with his afternoon/evening of football.  A minimum of a two-hour cushion before and after game time of no scheduled events or the clearly defined option to attend such an event is required. 

Also, be a trial lawyer who is trained to not ask a question without knowing the answer. That means find out the score before asking. Although flippantly asking who is winning may seem innocent and even engaging, that question to a fan when his team is losing is at best benign neglect.  Your mate is left wondering – can she not see my pain over here.  Worse, it asks him to speak the unspeakable.  Saying aloud that his team is losing confirms it to the universe.   However, if his team is winning, he’ll be glad to banter not only about the game but discuss your relationship with co-workers (for a little while).

Similar but not the same, in games not involving his favorite team don’t ask him who he wants to win.  This presumes that he must have a rooting interest to watch a game and is irritating to entertain. Watching football is a compelling enough reason.

To be, or not to be

 In the aftermath of last night’s Boston Celtics 120-88 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night to go up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, both scribes and spectators  are questioning the basketball lineage of the King.   The basketball world is wondering if LeBron James deserves or will he ever reach the pantheon of the greatest of the great? 

Perhaps, the inquiries and lables of LeBrick, LeBronze or LeGon are justified as LeBron James’ poor shooting and all around inertia on the court in Game 5 has pretty much put his team on the precipice of not even making the conference finals let alone winning his first NBA title. Recently, Magic Johnson bequeathed the title of “the best player in the game” upon LeBron during an interview about his selection as this year’s MVP.  And this was supposed to be the year that LeBron would fulfill the prophecy.  His idol Michael Jordan copped his first ring in his seventh season, which LeBron is in now.

Within basketball and at its logical conclusion – the NBA – there is an eternal tension.

At its most harmonious, the game like jazz shares a fundamental form of individual improvisation with teamwork.  In both, there is the understanding that each player is functioning alone but in response to all the choices made by each other in real time. The game is based on rhythm and not a set formula or algorithm.

 

However, often, the game hinges on one player dominating the action.   The best player is expected to carry a team on his back and save the day like a comic book hero.  Ultimately, the game seems to require a great solo performer much like a virtuoso rapper spittin’ alone at the mic save a phat back beat (at least back-in-the-day pre auto-tune).   

In the post tape-delayed universe of the NBA (since 1980, the last time an NBA Finals due to poor ratings was broadcast on tape delay) there have been several players deemed great because of winning multiple championships.   Magic and Isiah Thomas could be defined as those who operated mostly within the kumbaya jazz realm.  Oh, you might not think of Isiah like that but he truly sublimated his game for the benefit of the team.    Jordan and Kobe Bryant stand out as players most aligned within the hubristic hip hop mode.

Now for sure, none of the above mentioned is totally within one category as then you would at one become Jason Kidd or Dominique Wilkins at the other.  And every player has flaws in their game or personal fault lines that could crash and dash thier championship dreams. 

But the King at this very moment seems torn at which way to play.   The hpnotiq basketball mix of Magic and Mike is playing schizophrenic.  I don’t see a plan. One half he’s Magic but the other he’s Mike.  One game he’s Kobe then the next he’s Isiah.  It works sometimes but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Beyond his own faults, he must overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a suspect coach, a crappy supporting cast and playing in a town that has not won a professional sports title since 1964.  

It’s time for LeBron to welcome the chance to define his legacy.   Confucius (my fortune cookie from my Chinese dinner tonight) said: Adversity is the prosperity of the great.

He is a self-made man, who worships his creator.

Larry Merchant, the long-ago former sportswriter and longtime boxing analyst almost surreptitiously dropped this definition of Floyd Mayweather Jr., during the boxer’s prize fight this past Saturday night against Shane Mosley.  Mayweather won the contest quite convincingly and although Merchant pilfered the quote originally delivered by one 19th century British statesman addressing another, the line was classic Merchant – funny, cunning and contentious. 

The line rings true as it does seem that Mayweather unseemly loves himself.  Mayweather is a loud and proud show-boating boxer in the lineage of Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. And he also revels in his transformation from Pretty Boy Floyd which he used earlier in his career to the current moniker of Money Mayweather.

However, although there’s no such thing for a boxer to be born with the equivalent of a silver glove on one’s hand, it’s a stretch to call him self-made.   

The son of the Bronx-born boxer Floyd Mayweather Sr., Junior got his braggadocio attitude and defensive skills from the former middleweight contender.  The transference of talents and gifts like that is an enduring endowment for any future fight champ.  Mayweather may be more akin to Donald Trump who turned his father’s successful real estate company into a global empire and who also craves the spotlight like a moth to a flame.   

In another way, the younger Mayweather reminds me of the professor/activist and TV political analyst Marc Lamont Hill.  Mayweather is usually attacking with left jabs and hooks while Hill is attacking the status quo from way left of center.  But Professor Hill does facially favor the pugilist and they share a fast-paced staccato speech pattern as well.  I thought that I was singularly onto this resemblance until discovering that upon an approaching Mayweather fight, the tweets invariably rise on Hill’s twitter page about his body double.    

But back to the Mayweather family fighting tree that includes his uncle Roger Mayweather, a former super featherweight and super lightweight champ, we find a great deal of dissension damaging its roots.  Any boxing fan worth his saliva in the spit bucket knows this but let me double-up on my punches so to speak.

The father was the former trainer and manager but he was fired and replaced as trainer by Roger.  The break-up was the son’s call as emboldened with age and success the role of a controlling father made for an embattled working and familiar relationship.  The bitter fall-out prompted bickering between brothers’ Floyd and Roger and years passing before father and son were on speaking terms.

Yet, the Mayweathers do not seem any different than all the other family businesses fueds.  However, the infighting may have reached a truce as the elder Mayweather is now back in Money Mayweather camp as a proud parent. The father on an episode of HBO 24/7 to promote the fight said, “I don’t need to train my son, I need a relationship with my son.”       

On that same show, Mayweather’s impending challenger Mosley nobly claimed that he doesn’t fight for the money. Mayweather incredolously responded that the loot is his primary motivator.  Although he is known to flash and flaunt his earnings from boxing, Mayweather plays it close to the vest inside the square circle.  

In his latest fight as in all of his fights, this student of the sweet science repeated the same experiment. He starts out slow in the first few rounds while he analyzes his adversary. Then his quick hands score with blows to the head and body of his foe while his own punching surface remains elusive.

This past weekend, Mosley buckled Mayweather’s knees in a second round rally.  But he recovered quickly and true to form, his sharp stinging blows began leaving an impression on Mosley.  And he again eschewed pressing for the knockout while being content with out pointing his opponent.  This conservative approach combined with his ability to avoid punches makes it a frustrating task for fighters to beat him but also for the fans and media alike who want spectacular closure. 

Mayweather’s victory left him undefeated at 41-0 but almost immediately after the decision was rendered, Merchant in questioning Mayweather agitated for a match-up with Manny Pacquiao.  Manny is rated by most as the best pound-for-pound boxer and seen as a heroic man of the people in his native Philippines.  But Mayweather repeated his position that he would only agree to a fight if Pacquiao, as he is willing, submits to more stringent blood testing to verify the absence of illegal performance enhancing substances.    

The demand for the bout rests in the notion that clash of styles will be dynamic. The big unanswered question is will Pacquaio’s pressure force Mayweather to come out of his comfort zone or will Mayweathers tactics once again stymie even a great active fighter.

The result of that almost inevitable bout will do more to shape Mayweather’s legacy than any one-man description.

Sugar

The writer and essayist Gerald Early once said that “when they study our civilization two thousand years from now, there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. They’re the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created.”

The movie “Sugar” drizzles over all three with a subtle savoring.

It’s a mellow movie written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck that follows the story of Miguel Santos aka (Azúcar) Sugar, a Dominican pitcher with a sweet secret pitch and personality. In his homeland, he hones his skills and English at a baseball academy. But on visits to his neighborhood, the local star arrives with a salsa Afro-Cuban beat to warm welcomes and wishes that he make it to “the States,” which is synonymous with Major League Baseball.

Released in April of 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, the film went direct to DVD with no other theatrical releases. Now, the movie made by the studio of HBO Films can be seen on HBO. While just grossing a little over $1 million, the box office receipts may have sealed its theatrical fate.

The deeper issue of how Hollywood and the movie-going audience treat the nuanced and subtle stories of black folks is examined by the Notorious Ph. D, Dr. Todd Boyd. On theroot.com, the good doctor discusses the lack of love for film adaptations of the works by the great playwright August Wilson.

Boden and Fleck don’t present a stereotypical sports movie riddled with clichés of obvious game and life changing moments but instead they allow you to discover, along with Sugar, played by a former baseball prospect turned actor Algenis Perez Soto, the pros and cons of the pursuit of happiness.

Soto seems natural on and off the field so much so you might start to feel you are watching a documentary that is truly chronicling his path. The film’s narrative, cinematography and editing provide a peaceful yet stimulating pace akin to watching a pitcher masterly using speed and location.

Sugar before leaving home to pursue his dreams in the States in the minor league is humble and noble wanting to provide for his family. Yet, he’s cocky enough to assure his girlfriend that he will return for her in a Cadillac that can cross the waters. However, while in Single A ball, he crosses paths with Midwestern youth evangelicals where it’s not sure if he is being saved or delivered into temptation.

There is also a US-born black Stanford educated player and Sugar sharing a strange relationship due to the language barrier. But ultimately, they find solidarity when the college boy ironically introduces Sugar to the Latin American baseball demigod Roberto Clemente and he finds they have more in common than a language and baseball.

The bond seems unlikely if you take the position that the comments of Torii Hunter, the US-born black Major Leaguer, about MLB masquerading Latin-born black players as the same as blacks born in the United States were aimed to attack those players born outside the US. Hunter, although not truly grasping that these players are often “black”, clarified that he views Latin-born players as baseball brothers while merely expressing the notion that there is an economic incentive to use them at the expense of US-born black players.

Sugar’s rise in the minor leagues en route to the majors may be temporary much like a sugar-high. The let down comes in the form of an injury and seeing older compatriots cut while even younger phenoms stalk his mound. On the outside, Sugar moves through the trails with grace but inside he is unsure. The long-distance calls back home change in tenor as his troubles mount.

As reality sets in, Sugar wonders if there is more to the States and himself than Major League Baseball.