Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hail the US Women!

The US Women’s Soccer team has achieved unparalleled greatness in the 2019 World Cup.  Since the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, US Women have won 4 titles including the last two.  The Women’s National Team will have played in the finals in half of the eight Women’s World Cups. They have never finished lower than 3rd in the WC. They have displayed athleticism, passion and excellence on the field.  Their success has built the gold standard brand of a US woman soccer player.  The Yard was heavily invested in the 1999 Championship by the US Women. The championship game was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The original Yard HQ was in the flight path for the fly over on Championship Sunday.  We were almost at the game as we watched on TV and the jets buzzed our tower.  Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and the rest of the 1999 World Cup Champion tipped the paradigm for Women’s soccer.  They beat the Chinese on a 5-4 shootout.  The final kick has been replayed billions of times and it always ends up with Brandi Chastain at mid-field in her black sports bra.  That moment witnessed around the world set the stage for this next generation of female warriors now dominating at the highest level.  It has been a decade of unprecedented success.  Besides the WC Championships, the WNT has won four Olympic Gold Medals.  There is no better role model than the women on this team.  And thank goodness they ran Hope Solo off.  What a load.

For the 2019 WWC, the television ratings have been over the top in more ways than one.  Nearly 8 million people watched the UK-US match on Friday in the US.  11 Million watched in the UK.   Millions more have been following via streaming services on mobile devices. Raucous US crowds have been ever present at matches all over France. USW jerseys are flying off the shelves like Durant’s Nets jersey.   The US Men missed the last Men’s World Cup because they could not earn a tie with Trinidad and/or Tobago in 2017.  The US Men’s Soccer Team is making trying to defend their CONCACAF Gold Cup title.  It is a quaint inter-regional affair where the US and Mexico invite Central America and the Caribbean to provide foils before the they meet in the finals. The US Men will play Mexico for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tonight.  Check Google to see who won. The World Champion US Women will probably be partying on the Champ Elysees and might miss that one.
Pay inequality between men and women in the same profession has been a lightning bolt across corporate America.  Pay and financial discrimination between the traditional genders has been called out across many industries but apparently difficult to prove.  There are many subjective criteria that lawyers raise to protect the entitled against the less titled. The US Women’s National Soccer team has agreed to arbitration in their lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation USSF.  The USSF claims that, “the players on the Men’s and Women’s Soccer team receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate bargaining agreements.”  The Yard has always espoused our limited understanding of soccer nuances, but the game seems the same, right?  Different genders but same size field, size of the goal, duration, red and yellow cards, did I miss something?

The pay discrepancy between the men and women on the US National teams is dramatic.  The women’s average salary is $30,000 less than the men.  In addition, the women’s potential bonus per game is $15K, the men’s is $55k.  The bonus pool for the 2014 USMNT who went 1-2-1 and lost in the first game in knockout round was $5.4 million.  The USWNT won the 2014 World Cup championship and earned a total bonus pool of $1.5 million.  The Women’s game generates more viewers, more jersey sales and far superior results to the men but they are paid unspeakably less.  This team of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle are the next generation of dominant female athletes challenging for another World Cup.  They are memorable, iconic and winners.  Name one legendary US male player other than Landon Donovan. Show them the money!

Megan Rapinoe got in President Trump’s Twitter cross hairs when a quote attributed to her circulated last week.  She said to a magazine several months back that she would not be going to the F-ing White House if they won the World Cup.  Trump fired off that “Rapinoe should win first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Rapinoe doubled down on not going to the White House but apologized for the obscenity. Then with all of France cheering their favorite women’s team and Trump waiting on his Twitter trigger finger, Rapinoe scored both goals in the 2-1 quarterfinal victory over the French.  She came back from a hamstring injury to score the deciding goal today for the championship.  She won the Golden Boot for the World Cup.  She had a pretty good week.  Rapinoe finished the job and she won’t be going to the White House.

The 4th of July coming on a Thursday this week made for lots of bingeing Stranger Things, Wimbledon and Women’s Soccer.  There were the usual libations, fireworks and all things BBQ.  The Yard covered two out of the three with the fireworks on the tele.  President Trump also brought some fireworks to the National Mall with a display of military might.  The Donald brought out the military toys at his disposal including tanks, armored personnel carriers and multiple flyovers.  It was brought under Democratic scrutiny based on the $2.5 million cost to stage and Trump hijacking the celebration of our independence for political gain.  The Yard tries to steer clear of today’s politico except to poke fun at the absurdity of it all.  Trump NOT hijacking an event for political gain would be more newsworthy.  If the cost was $2.5 million, not sure why anyone is bitching about that given the money we piss away all over the dais. Also, Donald had to show Vladdie and the Kimster, that he has some cool toys under his command also.  Big military displays are not just for despots anymore!  He does not get to oversee it with their tyrannical power but not for lack of hope.

Laker nation had something to cheer about after Rob Pelinka finally got the deal done to bring Anthony Davis to Staples.  Pairing this young superstar with the aging Lebron James, will hopefully put the Lakers back in the title discussion.  It had been the season of the witch prior to that for the Lake show.  They are not the Knicks, but they were heading that direction.  That trade changed the trajectory and the resulting story lines. Yard is hoping a playoff berth in the top half of the draw for starters.  The Lakers have not been in the playoffs since 2012-13 season when they are swept in the first round by San Antonio.   There has never been a playoff drought this long in the franchise storied history.  Unfortunately, the Lakers had to trade most of their 2018-19 roster to secure the rights to AD.  The team does need some 2nd tier quality players to contend and there does not appear to be enough money or incentive to join Lebron, AD and company.

Kawhi let the Lakers twist in the wind while he instructed the Clippers to get a Robin for his planned Batman role.  Kawhi bought the Clippers some time to pull off the Paul George trade and they did.  Who is in the center of taking the Clipper’s legacy of irrelevance and flipping them to NBA title favorites in a 24-hour period?  The Logo-Jerry West.  West has been the nomadic genius who built the LA Laker dynasty, turned Memphis into a contender and showed the Warriors the way to repeated championships.  He gutted the entire Laker roster to lure Shaq out of Orlando in 1996.  That same year, he saw something in a 17-year-old named Kobe Bryant and traded up to get him.  Kobe with Shaq and then Gasol would win five titles in a ten-year span.  He foresaw the Buss children’s dysfunction and headed to the exit to let Mitch Kupchak go down with the ship.  Job well done.

It was shocking to see the defending World Champion Warriors lose to the Raptors in the NBA Finals.  They were prohibitive favorites at the beginning with the expectation of Durant returning to lead them to the title.  KD did come back for part of their needed Game 5 win in Toronto but tore his Achilles while playing 12 minutes and scoring 11 important points.  The Warriors could not overcome the loss of Klay Thompson to an ACL later in that same game.  Not only did they lose the title, they lost two starters to serious injury.  It might be the end of the dynasty or the beginning of the next one but 2019 would appear to be a transitional year for Golden State with Thompson out.  The Yard usually slams all things Nor CA, but we have huge props to Steph Curry in defeat.  He was gracious, candid and sincere in his post-game comments.  ABC was rolling tape as he walked off after losing Game 6 and the Series at home.  He is stoically walking down the tunnel when he sees Bill Russell in a wheelchair.  He snaps out of his funk and goes over to give the namesake of the NBA Final MVP some love.  True champion.  Warriors will be back, but Bob Myers is going to need to figure out on his own.  Jerry West is probably at his last stop on the tour.

19th Hole:  It was truly amazing to see Tiger rally and win the Masters this year.  Tiger is the best front runner in golf history.   He has only lost one time on the tour when he has had a lead after 54 holes.  On the flip side, he has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes before this years Masters.  Of his previous 14 Major Titles, Tiger was in the final pairing.  He could obliterate the inexperienced with his physical game and mental toughness.  When those traits were eroded through ego, infidelity, and back spasms, it appeared Woods would never recover.  But this year he did, and the sports world welcomed him back with open arms as did the television ratings and sponsors.  And not to be outdone, President Trump jumped into the moment and gave Tiger the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  We should embrace this moment.  Tiger may not pass this way again.  The Masters is the only major that is played on the same course every year.  Augusta National might add a tree or a bush but they do not trick up the course like the PGA tour does for the US Open and the PGA.  The British Open has 150 years of legend and the weather to crush a man’s spirit.  Tiger has played Augusta many, many times.  He has been in the lead on a Masters Sunday four previous times.  He knows the course and it showed as they played the back nine. Molinari slipped while Tiger stayed the course.  We loved it and we hope he wins another.

Signs of the Apocalypse:I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. FCC Chairman Newton Minow May 9, 1961.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Redeeming Madness

The Yard has often effused that the NCAA Men’s basketball championship is the greatest event in all of sports each year.  This season has done nothing to dispel that notion.  The Yard knows that there is a Women’s championship as well.  But ladies, you are kicking our male asses all over the place, maybe you can let us hang onto The Madness!  Zion could not save the Blue Devils which their championship had been forecast in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is strange to have one named Zion leading a Devil of any color.  The Virginia Cavaliers have gone from being the biggest upset in tournament history to winning the championship in 388 days.  It is the most remarkable story in recent March Madness lore.  Tony Bennett is a class act.  He and his team owned their loss to the 64th ranked team in the tournament in 2018.  They went straight back to what they had been doing and won the whole thing this year.  Yard enthusiasm for the Cavs victory is because of their story and we picked them to win in the Yard pool.  Texas Tech and Chris Beard are a great story as well, but the Cavs are the champs.

In 2016, UNLV thought they had found a new head coach in this same Chris Beard.  Beard coached Arkansas Little Rock to a 30-5 record and an NCAA bid in his only season there.  He got a lot of attention and the Running Rebels were looking for a new coach and they hired Beard.  In another time and space, UNLV had hired Rollie Massimino to replace Hall of Famer Jerry Tarkanian.  Rollie had won an improbable NCAA title with Villanova and was thought to be the answer but there were many questions.  Unbeknown to the University Regents, Massimino had cut a side deal with the athletic department in addition to his main contract.  He essentially was getting paid an extra $375K per year that was “off the books” in addition to the $500K the Nevada Regents had agreed to pay him.  No one was the wiser until Rollie got canned and demanded the side deal be included in his severance package.  The ensuing feces fest lead to new requirements for Nevada Collegiate sports contracts.  The new vetting process extended and delayed the final contract that Beard was to sign to coach UNLV.  Texas Tech had fired Patrick Knight and swooped into the contractual purgatory and snatched up Beard before he coached even a single game.  The Yard is not sure Beard could have had the success if he had been stayed but it cannot get much worse for UNLV. UNLV still considers him a former coach.  Myopia is not just a Yard thing.

The Yard’s earliest narratives were to trash the San Francisco Giants and the USC Trojans with myopic prejudice.  There have been other targets of our praise and our disdain, but the Giants and the Trojans were our villains that drove our earliest key strokes of disdain.  Now traditional media outlets have usurped us because there is just too much shocking material blasting at the foundations of these two institutions. The Yard is left with mere table scraps of vitriol.  Giant President and CEO Larry Baer has been suspended for a viral video of a physical alteration with his wife.  The Giants have a first-place payroll and a last place record. As far as USC goes, just google “USC Scandals” and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date.  Larry Baer should weather his storm, do a mea culpa with Oprah and be back at the helm by the All-Star break.  USC alumni are not sure when their reign of terror is going to end.  No academic institution was more villainous than USC in the recent admissions scandal.  Dr. Dre stepped up and let everyone know his daughter got into USC without any bribes.  The rapper turned billionaire did donate $70 million to USC.  We are sure that did not have any influence on his daughter becoming a Trojan, right?  He should have just said he got her in the old-fashioned way.

Robert Kraft apologized for the shame he brought the NFL and his family for the events at the Orchid Day spa in Jupiter, Florida.  His attorneys then went on to plead not guilty and demand a jury trial.  The two sequences seem contradictory.  To apologize for something that you are legally contending did not happen is strange at best.  Kraft’s attorneys are fighting the legality of the video tapes of his activities inside the spa on those two fateful days. There certainly are some sketchy court orders that allowed the FBI to bum rush the spa and install cameras without their knowledge or Kraft’s.  Who knows how many times he had been there before that fateful weekend?  No one is denying Kraft was at the spa, they are contesting what happened in the spa.  A billionaire at a seedy day spa in a strip mall, what do you think was going on for the 30 minutes Bobby was there on Saturday and Sunday?  If the tapes are admitted, it is going to be like the Marv Albert trial a few decades back.  Marv vehemently denied that he had bit a woman while in the throws of passion.  Then she testified in open court about Marv wearing women’s clothes and singing show tunes before he bit her.  Marv ended the trial right then and took a plea.  If the video tapes are allowed, and we hope they are, Mr. Kraft will be on Oprah as well.

Ernie Grunfeld was fired by the Washington Wizards last week.  He had been the general manager of this moribund franchise for 16 years.  Owner Ted Leonsis said, “We did not meet our stated goals of qualifying for the playoffs this season and, despite playing with injuries to several key players, we have a culture of accountability and a responsibility of managing to positive outcomes”. Granted Leonsis inherited Grunfeld when he acquired the team, but Ernie has been one of the more inept President of Basketball Operations in the NBA for over a decade.  We are not sure when the whole accountability thing started in Washington, but it should have been before they signed John Wall to that ridiculous contract.  Grunfeld is the guy who gave Gilbert Arenas life.  And he is a doppelganger for Ron Jeremy to boot.

Magic Johnson stepping down from the Lakers needed to happen sooner rather than later.  The Yard is thrilled he realized his full hearted, half assed efforts to turn around the Lakers was an abject failure. Rob Pelinka should be next to the curb.  Luke Walton is the least of this dysfunctional franchise’s problems.  DeAngelo Russell is thriving in Brooklyn.  Julius Randle put up big numbers with NOLA this year.  They are the pieces that could have worked with King James this year, but they were dispatched to wait for this summer’s free agents.  Magic knows it is not going to be pretty and whatever he promised James when he lured him, he no longer wants to face. Magic has a multitude of business interests including the Dodgers.  He has projects all over the US and he is involved with the Lakers because…?  Jeannie needed a familiar shoulder to lean on when she was throwing her brother out the door.  No one does not like Magic including Lebron, but he was more ceremonial rather than the operational requirements the job demands.  Ernie Grunfeld may have failed in Washington but at least he was 100% committed to that failure.  Johnson is about 20% committed to a Laker team that has become second fiddle to the Clippers in LA.

Overtime: The DNA testing revolution that is happening is interesting and terrifying.  In dystopian novels, subjugated humans are forced to provide their genetic data to control them.  In 2019, people are paying to give up this information to unknown data sources.  Cold cases being solved is being heralded as a benefit of this unprecedented disclosure of personal data.  We are not certain on how we feel about it and we are double helix curious for sure.  The Yard is no fan of the Kardashians and keeping up.  But we would watch the episode where the girls, mom and any of the other unsavory characters take the test and share the results on television.  It will be the highest rated episode in their history.  Kris, set it up.  Your ratings are down and there are only so many men your daughters can bang into the show.

Double Overtime:  NBA players, stay away from the Kardashians.  Your marriage could end in 31 days, you will still want to cheat on them, and you could end up in coma in a whorehouse in Pahrump.  Consider this a PSA and it will keep you off Oprah.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Day at the Spa

The Yard just picked this one up of the airwaves.  What do you call a Blue Bentley in a Florida strip mall for 12 minutes on a Sunday?  A Kraft job!  I thought it was clever and lord knows we have been waiting for a long time to kick the Patriots while they are up.  They have not been down too much in this century.  To the outrage of many outside of New England, the Patriots have put together one of the most remarkable championship runs in professional sports history.  Sure, the Yankees have four times as many titles, but the Pats have done their damage in this time and space.  The Yanks won half their titles before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  The Yankees have won two WS this century.  New England is the leader in the clubhouse between the Red Sox and Patriots titles this century.

Which brings us right back to Mr. Kraft and his visit to the Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, FL.  The Yard should state clearly that these are merely allegations and Bobby the dope has pleaded not guilty to these charges.  The facts are murky but the fact the Jupiter PD had video cameras in the facility documenting activities might give Kraft and his legal teams pause.  From reported accounts, the New England Patriots owner arrived at 11:00 AM in his chauffer driven $220,000 blue Bentley to the spa in question on Sunday January 20.  Kraft entered the spa and was back in the Bentley within 15 minutes and then straight to the airport.  He was whisked in his private jet to the AFC Championship game in KC where the Pats prevailed on their way to another Super Bowl victory.  Kraft knew the spa because he had been there the day before for a similar servicing chauffeured in the white Bentley.  It was a twofer weekend in Jupiter for the billionaire, allegedly.  The advertised services at the spa apparently are $79 and Kraft flipped the workers a Benjamin on top.  He may be stupid, but he is no cheap skate!  Bobby, Elliot Spitzer was on a NY Attorney General pay plan and he could afford the Four Seasons hotel room and the $2500 coed independent contractor doing it under her own free will, as misplaced as that sounds.  We do not think the Orchids of Asia provide the same freedom of choice to their workers or comp plan.

The Yard only has friends who have relayed stories of the activities at certain spas that provide enhanced services to their clientele.  If Mr. Kraft had a chance to re-think it, he might want to reconsider that the cops do have his Blue Bentley in the parking lot that morning and the white one the day before. Law enforcement had four cameras inside the spa as well.  Video has him walking into the spa on Saturday and Sunday.  He could have been getting a mani-pedi but these are not typical 15 minutes services.  If the allegations are true, it is an impressive performance by a 77-year-old juggling the pressure of getting a happy ending with a plane to catch!  In the end, the din of these transgressions will not subside in his lifetime.  These allegations will forever be on Kraft’s Wiki page.  Superbowl Titles and team success will always be in the forefront but the personal tab will always bear a footnote about Kraft’s Days at the Spa.

The lingering Bryce Harper free agent saga got settled suddenly last Thursday.  Sports media everywhere blew up with the historic signing by the Philadelphia Philles of Harper.  It was a ridiculous thirteen-year deal for Harper.  It will take Harper to his 39th birthday.  The Phills are getting him on the cheap for an average salary of $25 million.  There are several players making more than $25 mil a season, but no one has it guaranteed until they are almost forty!  There is no opt-out clause and there is a no trade clause.  It almost sounds like Bryce has been sentenced to thirteen seasons in Philly at a prevailing wage.  God Bless him if he and Scott Boras can shake down that deal.  The Phillies are on the verge and Harper could be the guy to take them over the top or blow the top off the place.  Harper does not have a good understanding yet of Phillie fan expectations and the vitriol that comes when not met.  It is not always a fun place to be if you are the high paid performer who is not performing in the moment.  Ask Pablo Sandoval how his days in Boston were as the high paid bust.

The Yard was hoping that the San Francisco Giant’s blinked and pulled the trigger on Harper.  The Giants did not want the Dodgers getting him. The Dodgers were playing the same game with the Giants.  The Giants anxiety was displayed with their 10-year $310 million offer. With one of the highest payrolls in MLB, adding $30 million for an outfielder in a ballpark that does allow many home-runs seems foolish.  The Dodgers tried to flip the game board and offer the $45 million for 4 years.  Biggest annual contract ever but only taking young Harper to age 30 and not almost 40. The Giants attendance dipped last year to 2006 levels with average ticket prices up over 50% since 2006.  The product on the field has dipped to 1996 levels.  Harper might have provided a reason for another couple hundred thousand to pass through the turnstiles and keep the hope alive for a few years in the bay.  Well done, Zaidi, dodged the bullet that hit the Phillies square in the forehead like Jimmy Hoffa leaving the Red Fox restaurant in 1975.

Golden State is 14-7 since Boogie Cousins has started to play a significant role.  For his first ten games, the Warriors were 9-1 and rolling but 5-6 over the next few weeks.  The excitement of Boogie wears out early for most teams.  He is averaging 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds for the team by the back bay.  He is also averaging 2.4 turnovers and 3.6 personal fouls.  He is a huge liability defensively in pick and roll plays and is not a good perimeter defender.  The Warriors are talking a good game that bringing back 34-year-old Andrew Bogut was part of the master plan.  Bogut last played for Lakers for 24 games in 2017.  Since then, he has been playing for the Sydney Kings in Australia. He has been performing well for Australia. Bogut is a superior defender to Cousins which is not saying much.  It speaks more to Golden States desperation as the final days of the dynasty may be looming. Clay Thompson is a free agent at the end of the season and Kevin Durant can opt out and sounds like he might.  Everyone is saying Boogie is happy about the move.  We will see how he manages his happiness when he sees his playing time diminish from 25 down into the teens.

UCLA women’s gymnastics is the most exciting program at the University right now. We hope football and basketball rebound in 2019-20 but the women’s gymnastics team is surging. After, winning the NCAA title in 2018, they are back in top form this year.  They did lose this past weekend at Oklahoma by 2 tenths of a point.  The match was nationally televised on ESPN.  The Sooners Men’s basketball team was playing West Virginia that same weekend in a big game.  The basketball game was attended by 6100 fans.  The women’s gymnastics had over 10,000 fans cheering the Sooners to victory. 

UCLA men’s gymnastics used to be the gold standard.  Tim Daggett, Mitch Gaylord and the legendary Peter Vidmar won Olympic gold.  Title IX lead to the closure of several non-revenue men’s sports in the 1990’s and men’s gymnastics was among the first.  The women’s team has carried the torch for the U winning seven titles since 1997.  These Bruins are not the Olympic waifs that have been on the Olympic podium and in the news the last 18 months.  These are strong collegiate women who have been rocking Pauley this year not the basketball team that got the place built.  The lady Bruins are outdrawing the Bruin hoopsters by nearly double although the matches are generally free of charge.  If you have not seen Katelyn Ohashi’s floor routine, you have not been on social media or watching television.  She has recorded four perfect 10.0 and is undefeated this year on the floor.  She is exciting and brings a spirit that is fun to watch.  You Tube her if you have been in a cave.