Does This Mean The Nets Are Turning Communist?

Earlier this week, we told you about the dire financial straits the Nets find themselves in, losing money at a pace of $50 million a year at last count. Considering the franchise itself was only $300 million when purchased five years ago, um, that ain’t good.

Brooklyn Nets logo Soviet colors
(You know who else thought those were nice colors? THE SOVIETS.)

So in a move that’s bound to piss off anybody who has ever screamed “GIMME BACK MY COUNTRY,” even - nay, especially when it doesn’t even make sense in context, Russia’s wealthiest man is set to swoop in and make a deal for the team. Russia! That’s where the czars are from! But his decision to pursue the Nets means that his wealth may be a stroke of luck, not good judgment.

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Alyssa Milano’s MLB Exes Finally Find Success?

• Has the Curse of Alyssa Milano finally been lifted from MLB pitchers?

Curse of Alyssa Milano

• What better way to kick off the college football season than by trading really bad rival-bashing songs back and forth?

• Green Bay Packers LB Nick Barnett shares his shopping habits - such as getting his wife a Thumper.

Tony Kornheiser talks about all the quivering he did during his “Monday Night Football” days.

• Chelsea FC will have to wait awhile before signing any new players.

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Chelsea Won’t Be Signing New Players For A While

Things should be good for Chelsea fans as the EPL season opens. Four games in, Chelsea are undefeated and tied for the top of the league with, of all squads, Spurs. That’s an issue for another time, anyway.

Gael Kakuta
(Hope this guy’s worth it, Chelsea!)

But for as well as the team is performing, they’d better be happy with the players they’ve already got. That’s according to FIFA’s “dispute resolution chamber,” which sounds like a euphemism for a room in Abu Ghraib; the international soccer federation just banned the team from signing any new players for two whole years after illegally signing a player in 2007.

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Did UEFA Fix The Champions League Semifinal?

Sundays are for topless photos of Lakers girls … and for football. So while there’s no football going on over here, there’s always “football” (cough, soccer) going on across the pond, and three days after a miraculous late goal landed Barcelona, not Chelsea, in the Champions League final, more and more evidence keeps popping up that the game’s referee — Norweigan Tom Henning Ovrebo — may have been under orders to do whatever he could to get Barcelona to the final.

uefa.com screen grab

As fully elucidated in THE SPOILER, not only did Ovrebo fail to call up to four clear penalties on Barcelona down the stretch of the game, UEFA also may have unintentionally let the cat out of the bag on its own official web site, posting a match report of the game (think an American game story) claiming a 1-1 draw before it had even been played.

There aren’t any visual screengrabs of the 1-1 report, but there have been multiple correspondents confirming its existince, and the fact that it called for Barcelona to score late to force a tie and advance to the Champions League Final on the competition’s bizarre away goals rule. Making the matter even stickier is the fact that it also said Chelsea stars Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Alex would all receive yellow or red cards … and all were in the second half.

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Speed Read: No One Is Shocked By Mannygate

It’s been said that either Manny Ramirez is incredibly dumb, or incredibly good at playing dumb, and his response to his 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program gives proponents of either theory plenty of fuel for the fire. On one hand, claiming that a doctor gave him medicine for a “personal problem” seems like a flimsy attempt to use ignorance to cover up cheating, especially since the drug in question (hCG) is primarily used as a fertility treatment for women.

Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez

But what the “personal problem” really was personal - like he was trying to get pregnant? Maybe he saw that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Junior” on a plane flight and thought that sounded like a great idea. I mean, come on: Manny’s so crazy, he doesn’t even know that men can’t conceive. That’s just Manny being Manny.

Junior

(The only thing inconceivable is Manny Ramirez’s story.)

Are you buying it? Me either. As the news spread throughout the baseball world, the most shocking aspect is just how not shocked anyone who wasn’t a Dodger fan was about it. His former teammates with the Boston Red Sox seemed to be more upset that they have to talk about Manny Ramirez again than anything else, with closer Jonathan Papelbon summing up most player’s thoughts:

“I just walked in the clubhouse today and found out about it. I haven’t really thought about it all. We’ve got more things to worry about on our club. Obviously, it’s a news story, blah, blah, blah. There’s so many more things we have to go get ready for. He’s not in our clubhouse anymore, so this is something that we’re not even worried about.”

Meanwhile, the debate seemed to come not about Manny Ramirez’s guilt or innocence, but about everything surrounding his presumed guilt. Such as Brooks’ question that if everyone is doing PEDs, then do we have to let Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame? Or if the Dodgers are going to symbolically tear down “Mannywood,” the section devoted to the team’s Cult of Personality.

Dodgers fans celebrate Mannywood

So how did the Dodgers react on the field without their leader? In a word: shaky. Oh, it started out good, jumping out a 6-0 first inning lead on the dreadful Washington Nationals. But then it all fell apart, although this had nothing to do with Ramirez’s absence.

Blame this on the Dodgers’ increasingly leaky bullpen, which allowed nine runs in the seventh and eigth innings en route to an 11-9 Dodgers loss - which stopped the team’s record home winning streak to start the season at 13. You also couldn’t blame Ramirez’s replacement in left field, Juan Pierre, who went 2-for-4 but did make the inning-ending out in the eighth with the bases loaded.

Meanwhile, back to Ramirez’s former team again … actually, let’s look at both of them, since his original team (the Cleveland Indians) just happened to be visiting his most recent team (the Red Sox) on Thursday night. And while it might be tacky after the events of yesterday to says that Boston’s offense was on steroids, it’s safe to say that they were at least jacked up on a six-pack of Jolt colas.

Scoreboard of Red Sox vs Indians

The Red Sox matched a major league record by scoring 12 runs in the sixth inning while drubbing the Indians 13-3. At least we can be sure that Jason Bay isn’t juicing, unless he tests positive for having too much maple syrup in his blood.

And speaking of blowouts, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Atlanta Hawks for making it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as they collect their parting gifts and head to the exits. Sure, they are only down 2-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they are returning home.

Cleveland Cavaliers bench

But anyone who saw just a few minutes of Cleveland’s 105-85 thrashing of the Hawks knows that this series has all the makings of a sweep. Cleveland lead by as many as 36 before calling off the dogs, and LeBron James was just toying with defenders. And oh yeah, Joe Johnson sprained his ankle and might be out for the series. Have fun at the golf course, Atlanta!

More news that you might have missed last night as you were slowly backing away from Kiefer Sutherland and avoiding eye contact as not to enrage the beast:

  • The Players Championship teed off in Florida yesterday, and of course Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson share the lead. Actually, that’s a lie: the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION says that while Ben Crane leads after an opening-round 65, Woods dealt with a balky putter while shooting a 71 and Mickelson was all over the place while putting up a 73.
  • Tiger Woods

  • But if Tiger feels like he needs any help, he can call on Lee Trevino, as the DALLAS MORNING NEWS says that “Super Mex” has offered to teach him a power fade that will make sure that “he doesn’t lose any tournament.” At the least, he would like him to try an authentic salsa from Texas versus a competitor made in … NEW YORK CITY?!?
  • As usual, the Stanley Cup playoffs didn’t disappoint: the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES says that the Blackhawks relied on a late third-period goal to pull even and then scored early in OT to win 2-1 and level their series with Vancouver at 2-2.
  • Meanwhile, the DETROIT NEWS says the Red Wings also tied their series with Anaheim at 2-2 but were far less dramatic about it, playing some old time hockey on the way to a 6-2 blowout.
  • And as hockey attempts to shine on the ice, it continues to stumble elsewhere, as the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL says that a group of investors trying to buy the failing Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario are accusing the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman of “operating like an illegal cartel” in blocking the sale and move. Kind of like a more stupid version of the Mafia.
  • As the baseball world was reacting to Manny Ramirez’s suspension, the EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE says the Arizona Diamondbacks took the opportunity to relieve manager Bob Melvin of his duties while no one was looking. He’s being replaced by former major league catcher A.J. Hinch, because that’s apparently the only people who can manage the Diamondbacks.
  • YAHOO! SPORTS claims that Louisville coach Rick Pitino has made himself a candidate for the Sacramento Kings coaching job. It probably won’t have as much impact when he tells the local media that “Vlade Divac is not walking through that door.”
  • The WASHINGTON POST says there was plenty of hot disciplinary action in the NBA, as the Magic’s Rafer Alston received a one-game suspension for his head-slap on the Celtics’ Eddie House, while the Lakers’ Derek Fisher received the game punishment for his cross-check of the Rockets’ Luis Scola. There were no suspensions given to Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest or any pieces of furniture.
  • It wasn’t just Didier Drogba who was upset with Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo for several calls that didn’t go Chelsea’s way in the 1-1 tie with Barcelona that knocked them out of the Champions League semifinals. EUROSPORT says the ref had to be “smuggled” out of the country under police escort.
  • A football player at Chico High in Texas has been arrested for assaulting a 13-year-old girl in what WFAA-TV is referring to as a “sex game” gone horribly wrong, involving freshman girls “sexting” the popular football players to gain popularity.

What was your initial reaction when you heard about Manny Ramirez’s suspension?

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Speed Read: ESPN Pulls Its Punches With WWE

If you’ve watched ESPN for more than five minutes this week, you know that last night was the season premiere of “E:60″, ESPN’s version of “60 Minutes,” and the featured story was a “rare, behind-the-scenes” look at the WWE and a profile of Vince McMahon. Jeremy Schaap was sent out to watch as the organization prepared for Wrestlemania.

Vince McMahon at Chris Benoit special on Raw

The choice of reporters makes sense - McMahon is notoriously volatile with cable TV reporters and diminutive hosts alike, while Schaap is best known for not being as good as his Dad (in the opinion of Bobby Knight). And because of the controversy which always surrounds the WWE, there were a litany of hard-hitting questions that Schaap could have asked - questions that other reporters either didn’t know to ask or wouldn’t.

So what was the end result? If you guessed “a 13 minute long sloppy wet kiss to Vince McMahon from your friends at ESPN,” you win an autographed 8 x 10 of Mean Gene Okerlund. Because what Schaap and the E:60 crew put together was - at best - shockingly lax reporting bordering on the type of fawning, hands-off “journalism” you would expect from “Access Hollywood.”

Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself, and pay attention to all the times Schaap completely whiffs on asking a tough question, or when he does, how it’s set up as the perfect softball for McMahon to nail over the fence. I would suggest making a drinking game of it, but this is a morning post and I don’t want people to get too plastered to go to work today.

Apparently in ESPN’s world, Owen Hart’s death never happened, and the XFL was just a figment of my imagination. And even the “tough issues” they touched on were either brushed over or poorly handled.

For example, let’s look at the segment on Chris Benoit. First off, Schaap mentions McMahon’s federal steroids trial and his own admission of steroid use, but never actually asks him a question about it. And he doesn’t follow up on the WWE’s “Wellness Policy” - which has been highly criticized in the industry - other than to say “why do you need one at all?” and give McMahon a perfect opportunity to play the role of the caring boss who only wants the best for his employees.

Of course, getting sidetracked into steroid talk overlooks significant issues in the Benoit case, like how much Benoit’s history of multiple concussions might have rattled his brain to the point of no return, or how the WWE’s insane travel schedules with almost no time off can crack anyone. (They did briefly mention the WWE’s treatment of wrestlers as “contractors”, but again they didn’t ask McMahon directly about it, or any of his current roster.)

Which makes me wonder: just how much did ESPN have to give up in order to get the “exclusive” access to the WWE? It sure seemed like there was a whole list of questions that were off-limits, or at least not fully explored. I think the level of “exclusive” access ESPN received is best summed up by the fact that they were kicked out of the weekly WWE production meeting midway through because they were hitting on something Vince McMahon didn’t want to share.

But I’m sure that Schaap would argue the point tooth and nail with me…except that I read this interview with him about his profile of the WWE, and he basically admits that this was a softball piece:

I think our interview is very different and it revealed a different side of him. I didn’t go into it and put him on the defensive. We asked him the tough questions - you have to ask him the tough questions and he addressed them but he didn’t get defensive or angry as you’ve seen him in previous interviews because he understood we were approaching it from a perspective of giving him a chance and treated him with the respect that you would treat Paul Tagliabue or Roger Goodell now or Gary Bettman or George Steinbrenner. I’ve seen George Steinbrenner interviewed over the years many times - not recently of course because he has not been well - but George Steinbrenner is a guy who, with all due respect, is a felon. A guy who was kicked twice out of major league baseball, once for committing federal felonies, once for hiring a known extortionist and ex-con to dig up dirt on his best player Dave Winfield and yet, have you ever hear anybody interview George Steinbrenner on TV or in a press conference or any situation as rudely as sometimes Vince McMahon has been treated?

Good lord…sounds to me like Schaap is angling for a spot as a guest ring announcer at next year’s Wrestlemania. Have fun with that. Simply embarrassing - someone wake the ESPN Ombudsperson from her slumber and have her try to explain this to me.

Knee injuries in girls

Also needing to do a better job of explaining things: sports medicine expert Dr. Robin West, who was interviewed by the NBC Nightly News for a look at the rise of knee injuries among young athletes (surprise - they are being pushed too hard too soon by overbearing parents). In a Web exclusive, Dr. West talks about why female athletes are especially at risk for ACL injuries, and why menstruation might be a factor. Or not.

This is about as confusing as Newt Gingrich trying to explain why women can’t serve on the front lines in the military because they get “infections” once a month. So having a period makes athletes more susceptible to knee injuries? Got it. And goes a long way to explain so much about Tom Brady. ZING!

(Also, I question giving anything the title “Knees: The Achilles Heel of Girls’ Sports.” Wouldn’t the Achilles heel be the Achilles heel of girls sports? Unless women don’t have an Achilles heel - let me check my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and get back to you.)

Lastly, the computer the NFL uses to create its schedules - which I suspect has a computing power somewhere between the evil machine from “War Games” and Hal from “2001″ - finally spit something out last night for the rest of us to ponder. Among the teams cursing the results, according to THE SPORTING NEWS, are the Bucs, Panthers and Dolphins, while somehow the Steelers wound up with a relatively pothole-free schedule. Go ahead and start the conspiracy theories now.

Other stories that happened last night as you tried to come up with a worse way to die than being crushed by a palm tree:

  • It looks like TBS has found its baseball version of Charles Barkley, as they have announced the signing of David Wells as studio analyst for their MLB coverage. Much like Barkley, he’s fat, frequently in trouble and has a loud mouth. I’m sure he’ll mesh well with Cal Ripken.
  • david wells dodgers

  • You might remember a few weeks ago when members of the Oregon basketball team were accused of some Duck-on-duck crimes. The EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD reports that as punishment for shooting at ducks at a local park, head coach Ernie Kent has ordered the players to work at a local humane society.
  • The SPOKESMAN-REVIEW says that Washington State might be done with football players Romeo Pellum and Micheal Willis, after they were arrested early Saturday morning on separate driving charges (suspended license and DUI, respectively). At least they were able to save head coach Paul Wulff having to drive over to the jail twice to pick them up - how thoughtful.
  • According to the AP, Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam threatened to “cut off the head” of the leader of the Korean Football Association in a recent interview, which sort of irritated the Koreans. I can’t imagine why.
  • Speaking of soccer, Chelsea and Liverpool had one of the craziest games in recent memory yesterday during the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, with the game ending in a 4-4 draw and Chelsea advancing on a 7-5 aggregate. The LOS ANGELES TIMES has the blow-by-blow.
  • Don’t really know much about Masters champion and now two-time major winner Angel Cabrera? This piece in the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE will change that, and give you a new appreciation of just where he’s come from - he’s no silver spoon, well-bred golfer.
  • New Jersey has just built a new state-of-the-art arena for the Devils and also upgrading the Meadowland’s Izod Center, the home of the Nets which is just eight miles away. As the NEWARK STAR-LEDGER notes, some people are wondering if this money could be put to slightly better use.
  • Apparently in Wisconsin, you can’t have junior hockey without booze, which is why the JANESVILLE GAZETTE says that Janesville City Council had to vote to allow the local ice rink to sell alcohol. The City Council did need to look up wine coolers online as part of their debate, making me wonder what self-respecting drunk hockey dad would be caught dead with a wine cooler?
  • The Mets opened Citi Field in ignomious fashion, with a 6-5 loss to the Padres. So it’s probably for the best that, as NEWSDAY reports, many fans weren’t able to see the game thanks to “obstructed view” seats.
  • Least surprising story of the baseball season so far: MLB.COM says Nomar Garciaparra left the Oakland A’s game against the Red Sox after one inning with soreness in his calf muscle.

What is the greatest prop in the history of wrestling?

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It Hurts Greg Oden To Be Hurt; USA A-OK In WBC

Greg Oden is on the shelf again with another injury, but what pains the Portland Blazers star more is the grief he’s getting from the fans.

greg oden depressed

• The Americans make it to the second round of the WBC. U-S-A! U-S-A!

• Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich ran out from the ruined Russian economy just in time.

Amos Zereoue: From Steelers RB to Manhattan bistro runner.

• Which video clip is cooler - a UFC fighter dropping an f-bomb, or a soccer fan having pseudo-sex with a sports reporter?

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Chelsea Owner Narrowly Escapes Financial Ruin

Roman Abramovich, one of the world’s richest private citizens and owner of London’s Chelsea Football Club (not to mention a handful of other sporting organizations) is typically portrayed as a shrewd business investor who dumps money into Chelsea to help him pass his time. Everyone knows he got his money from selling his post-Soviet oil empire — Sibneft oil — to Russian state-owned Gazprom for a whopping $13 billion. What few know, however, is how close he would be to bankruptcy or, worse yet, jail for failing to cooperate with a psuedo-authoritarian state if he hadn’t sold when he did.

Roman Abramovich Daria Zhukova

(The advantage of selling at the right time: Landing this woman)

It’s a shocking revelation considering the fact that Abramovich single-handedly changed the face of the world’s richest sports league, the English Premier League. By dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the Chicago Cubs of the EPL, Abramovich turned Chelsea into a household name, and set the stage for other oligarchical investors — Sheik Mansour at Manchester City, before all others — to snap up soccer teams before they got even more expensive. It’s now clear that getting Chelsea when he did is a credit to former Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as it is to Abramovich himself.

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Wild Week In Review: Sex, Swimsuits & Steroids

• Congratulations to Bar Refaeli for making the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Bar Refaeli Jeanene Fox

• And we already have a suggestion for next year’s cover girl - Rick Fox’s foxy sister Jeanene.

• But will we soon see full nudity in the sports mag’s annual edition? That could be a reason why the Laker Girls turned down a chance to pose for a SI photoshoot.

• We expected to A-Rod to come out sooner or later, but little did we know it would be about past steroid use. And who spilled the beans first? An alleged SI stalker? His ex-wife? No wonder he needed an escape to the Bahamas with two hottie companions.

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Caption Contest: Getting Behind Your Teammates

Hey there, readers! Before you head off for the delightful/dreadful (choose one) Valentine’s Day weekend, how about taking one more stab at another hearty SbB Clever Caption Contest!

Today’s photo is a touching one indeed, as Chelsea striker Frank Lampard stretches it all out while behind teammate John Terry:

Frank Lampard John Terry Chelsea

Really, what else can be said about such an astonishing image? Let’s find out! Submit your suggestions into the comments section linked below. Winner will be announced in the end-of-the-day recap.

Good luck and good writing!