Sports management, leadership, crisis control ...
My good friend, Rev. Bob Malsbary, is pretty creative. Anybody who can pull a sermon out of his hat every week that hits all pertinent targets, teaches a warm moral lesson and keeps his parishioners awake has to be good at what he does. So whenever Bob suggests a column idea, I’ve got to pay attention. In that context, I have to mention that Bob Malsbary is a huge basketball fan, particularly the Indiana Hoosiers and the NBA. Rooting for the Hoosiers proves that Bob lives up to the biblical lesson that nobody’s perfect, but he did have a keen observation this week when he noticed how many former Hornets players are still playing basketball.
Translated, players who left the local franchise for reasons of trades, free agency or termination were good enough to help their current teams get to the second round of the NBA playoffs and beyond. For the sake of brevity, I’ve limited the list to players whose teams were among the final eight playing, half of whom have been eliminated as the NBA is frothing over the conference championships that will determine which teams fight it out for supremacy. I’ll make that call in another column, although it doesn’t take Divine Intervention to see that Miami is probably headed for its second title in a row.
But back to the former Hornets, how about that Quincy Poindexter? The Hornets’ first-round draft choice in 2011 comes off the bench for Memphis these days and Tuesday night put up 17 in a loss to the Spurs. Poindexter has played in all 13 games, is playing 22.7 minutes a game during which time he has averaged 7.4 points and 2.7 rebounds. The Heat and Pacers matchup features two popular former Hornets. David West, one of the franchise’s all-time greatest players left New Orleans in 2011 to sign as a free agent with Indiana and is averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds over the 13 playoff games. The Birdman is back, this time with the Heat. Tattooed and mohawked as ever, Chris Andersen gives Miami some muscle and bonafide weirdness off the bench, averaging 7.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 14 minutes per game.
Several former Hornets are watching the conference finals at home, having lost in the elite eight. The duo of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry were valuable contributors to Golden State’s efforts to advance. Jack played 35 minutes per game and averaged 17.2 points and 4.7 assists in the playoffs, while Landry scored 11.8 and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per match. In Chicago, sharp-shooting Marco Bellinelli averaged 11.1 points as the undermanned Bulls put up a valiant effort against Miami. Former Hornets favorite Tyson Chandler gave the Knicks inside muscle during his 29 minutes per game against the Pacers, pulling down 7.3 rebounds and scoring 5.7 points per game.
An interesting footnote is that all the players mentioned with the exception of Andersen, were members of the 2011-12 Hornets team that went 46-36 and lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs to the Lakers. We would much rather see a column about current New Orleans players still playing in the NBA playoffs, but with the No. 6 pick in this year’s NBA draft, which could be parlayed with Eric Gordon for a productive small forward, maybe that isn’t as far down the road as we think.
Now, contrary to what Bob Malsbary might think, I don’t have anything against Gordon just because he went to Indiana, but let's take his premise one step further. Specific pockets of the sporting universe would be interested in looking at how many former Indiana Hoosiers made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs this year, compared with, oh, maybe Kentucky. For the record, five former Wildcats made it to the Elite Eight, and Pacers Coach Frank Vogel is a Kentucky grad. And the Hoosiers? Uh, well, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson played at IU, and then there’s, uh, well maybe that comparison is column fodder for another day.
Well, we won’t have a Triple Crown winner in racing for the 35th straight year, but we got something even better with Oxbow’s victory in the Preakness. It is the first time in 45 years that the most famous racing stable in history, Calumet Farm, is back in the winners circle of a Triple Crown race. Calumet Farm’s return to prominence is a true hearkening back to a time when life was predictable, proscribed and a helluva lot more peaceful. For those of us who voted for or against Nixon, Calumet in the winners circle is like the Rockefellers once again the epitome of wealth or General Motors being the symbol of our country’s economic strength, Muhammad Ali is heavyweight champ and the Celtics win the NBA championship. It just feels right, and it’s a good thing.
Prior to the Kentucky Derby, I suggested that nostalgia buffs should pick Oxbow simply because of Calumet Farm, 77-year-old trainer Wayne Lukas and 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens. However, at 15-1 odds, few suspected the colt could actually win, which it did impressively at Pimlico in a wire-to-wire romp over Derby winner Orb. Calumet now has eight Preakness winners, but Oxbow is the first since Forward Pass in 1968, its last triumph in the classics. In the meantime, the farm has been the subject of controversy and bankruptcy.
Calumet was recently sold for a reported $36 million to an investment group that in turn leased the property to Brad Kelley, a former tobacco magnate and current racing enthusiast. Kelley was nowhere to be found Saturday, which is his norm. The reclusive billionaire - 264th on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans - is rarely seen in public and almost never speaks to the press. And while Oxbow is listed as owned by Calumet Farm, the three-year-old raced in the black and gold silks of Kelley's Bluegrass Hall, a 200-acre farm across from Keeneland once known as Bluegrass Farm and formerly owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt. In fact, Calumet's legendary “devil red and blue” silks were sold at auction in 1992 to a Brazilian businessman for $12,000.
Still, its recent controversies do nothing to tarnish the past majesty of Calumet Farm. As James C. Nicholson writes in his excellent book titled “The Kentucky Derby,” Calumet Farm dominated racing from 1941 to 1961. During that time, Calumet led all stables in annual purses won for twelve years and was never out of the top three. Overall, Calumet Farm owned eight Derby winners and bred nine. Those eight wins came in just twenty starts, but in the twelve races it did not win, Calumet had four seconds and a third.
Warren Wright inherited the farm from his father in 1931 and sought to convert the top saddlebred stable into a top racing stable. The Wright family was one of the richest in the country, having made a fortune from their popular Calumet baking powder. Wright’s efforts paid off as Calumet Farm burst upon the racing scene in 1941 with a long-tailed colt named Whirlaway. He would win the Triple Crown and break the career earnings record set by Seabiscuit. Whirlaway eventually joined his jockey Eddie Arcaro and trainer Ben Jones in racing’s Hall of Fame.
Calumet saddled Pensive to win the 1944 Derby, but past victories would be exceeded by another Calumet thoroughbred when Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948, the last to do so until Secretariat a generation later. The mahogany colored colt crushed the competition as a two-year-old and captured the Derby as an odds-on favorite, going on to win nineteen of twenty races. In 1949, Time Magazine ran a cover story on the farm and trainer Jones, affectionately known as “the man in the white hat.” Success continued with Derby victories for Ponder (1949), Hill Gail (1952), Iron Liege (1957), Tim Tam (1958) and Forward Pass (1968).
Calumet began to lose its luster as a racing stable in the 1970’s, although it won the 1990 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Breeder. In November of that year, details surrounding the death of 15-year-old Alydar - America's leading sire of the time - and the collection of a $36 million insurance policy brought a cloud of suspicion over the business. Under Calumet president J.T. Lundy, mismanagement and fraud left the farm with a massive debt load that led Calumet Farm to file for bankruptcy protection in 1991 as they were losing one million dollars a month.
A series of owner changes over the years followed, but now the stable appears, well, stable. If Oxbow’s victory is any indication, Calumet Farm is ready to resume its rightful spot in racing’s limelight, and a lot of us traditionalists will go to the $2 window and bet on their success.
Every sports fan in America who roots for a particular team is greedy. Greedy as sin! We all want our faves to corral all the good players, have the best coach, spend the most money just so long as we can revel in the reflected glory of a national championship or professional superiority like the World Series or Super Bowl. And, for the sake of full disclosure, I stand on a stack of Bibles readily admitting that’s the way I feel about Kentucky basketball. So, Jimbo, how do you feel about Andrew Wiggins’ decision to enroll at Kansas? Frankly, my dear, I’m okay with it, and here’s why.
If you believe the rankings and those people who spend their lives on such things, Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class already stands as the highest-rated ever. You will note I did not say the “greatest” ever, as many pundits have been gushing. They are just the highest-rated. Now, that might turn out to mean that they are the greatest class ever, but that would mean the Wildcats are going to roll through the 2013-14 NCAA basketball season undefeated, untied and unscored upon. They will win their ninth national title, all five starters and two or three reserves will be drafted in the first round by the NBA a year from now, and a new construction project will be announced to add rafters in Rupp Arena to hold all the retired jerseys that will be added. And, don’t get me wrong, that would be oakey-doke with me, too.
Wiggins, currently regarded as the top high school player in the hemisphere (after all, he is Canadian!), decided to play where his heart is, which is what he said when he announced his choice. You can’t throw rocks at a kid for that. Although the school he chose can legitimately challenge the Wildcats for supremacy, spreading the talent is good for the game. Hey, because I'm greedy doesn't mean I can't be magnanimous sometimes!
I was surprised Wiggins did not choose Florida State, the same school where his mother and father were star athletes. That would have shown he has great respect for his parents’ legacy, and that is commendable in any young person. Choosing the Seminoles or the Jayhawks might also mean Wiggins doesn’t want to share the stage with seven other McDonald’s all-Americans, which he would do if he had chosen to suit up in Bluegrass blue this fall. Sports Illustrated a month ago suggested Wiggins was not all he was cracked up to be, questioning his work ethic and intimating that he might even be a little selfish. That would never fit in with John Calipari’s coaching theory of “All for one and one for all.” It doesn’t matter who gets the glory so long as we win. That has been the mantra of Kentucky’s all-star signing class so far, that they simply want to play together to win a national championship.
But are they the greatest class of all time? It’s usually a bad sign when any team is listed as the greatest in its category before the season begins. We have all seen teams expected to win the big game as slam-dunk favorites somehow fall short. Many of us who remember when Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and the rest of Michigan’s “Fab Five” were predicted to sweep through three straight NCAA tournaments. They wound up winning zero. Nada. Zilch! But that is why they play the game. It doesn’t always follow the script penned by the so-called experts.
How the 2013-14 NCAA basketball script will turn out in the end is anybody’s guess, but as a Kentucky fan I am confident. Having Andrew Wiggins on board, willing to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team, would have been a great luxury. But I am certain that Wildcat fans are happy with the hand we have been dealt. It would have been nice to have one more Ace in our hand, but most poker players will take five Jacks to an Ace any day.