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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Top 10: Worst franchises in pro sports

Every fan wants to cheer for a team that has the championship history of the New England Patriots, New York Yankees or Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, many get stuck with a long string of bad luck, like the Chicago Cubs; thrifty ownership, like the now-defunct Montreal Expos; or a dim-witted front office that is unable to make logical personnel decisions, like the current New York Knicks.
Here is a list of the top 10 worst sports franchises currently in operation.

10. Los Angeles Clippers

Go ahead and clap, Donald Sterling. Your Clippers used to be a lot higher on this list. (Noah Graham / Getty Images)

Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a man of many adjectives. We'll start with thrifty. Not only does he have a multi-page resume of skimping on talent, but he also once asked head coach Paul Silas to film the players himself to cut video expenses. Most of the Clippers' struggles can be traced to Sterling. Their .365 franchise winning percentage is the third-worst in the NBA and the Clippers have only had two winning seasons since Sterling bought the team in 1981.

Puzzling personnel plays: Drafting Michael Olowokandi, Lamond Murray, Darius Miles, Melvin Ely and failing to re-sign Lamar Odom

Remember ... 1986-87: The Clippers posted one of the ugliest NBA seasons in 1986-87 when they finished 12-70, which was the second-lowest winning record in NBA history. All-Star Norm Nixon missed the entire season after being injured in a celebrity softball game. His team started the season 3-3, but went on a 9-67 run to make them one of the worst sports franchises.

9. Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies

The Vancouver Grizzlies were embarrassing in Canada and they haven't been much better since the move to Memphis. Vancouver compiled 56 wins throughout its first four seasons — a total that serious contenders top annually — and the team's downfall has been nightmarish draft days. From drafting role players and busts instead of superstars to drafting franchise players who don't want to play for their team, the Grizzlies have done exactly what's needed to become one of the worst sports franchises. Vancouver's draft-day trade of Steve Francis netted the team several players of no significance. Thankfully, drafting has improved since moving to Memphis.

Puzzling personnel plays: Trading Pau Gasol, Mike Bibby and Steve Francis, and drafting Bryant Reeves, Antonio Daniels and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Remember ... 1998-99: The thrill of reeling in Mike Bibby quickly died down, especially after Bryant Reeves suffered a season-ending knee injury 25 games in. A lockout shortened the season and the Grizzlies finished with eight wins.

8. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks, averaging 28 wins per season between 1999-00 and 2007-08, were the Eastern Conference's whipping boy until the Charlotte Bobcats entered the league. The good news is that the Hawks are chock-full of upside since they've been selecting at the top of virtually every draft over the last decade. On paper, the Hawks have more potential than most teams, but they haven't learned to win or remove themselves from the worst sports franchises list.

Puzzling personnel plays: Passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams while trading for Antoine Walker, J.R. Rider and Pau Gasol.

Remember ... 2005: The Hawks, desperate for a point guard, spent their second-pick overall on Marvin Williams. The good news: Williams was filled with upside. The bad news: he played the same position as the Hawks' last two first-round picks, Josh Smith and Josh Childress. The worst news was that the Hawks passed on Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton, two of whom will be All-Star point guards for the next 10 years.

7. Minnesota Twins

"Moneyball" is to baseball what frugal is to cheap; it's a creative way of saying, "we're not going to pay for our stars or reward our veterans who have earned their keep." Sabermetrics and scientific stats are used to evaluate players and give a better indication of their worth, but teams like the Minnesota Twins use this strategy to kiss their superstars goodbye at the trade deadline or the first day of free agency. The Twins constantly sell proven veterans for prospects and draft picks, but when those youngsters finally develop, they get shipped away to start the cycle again. The Twins incessantly look to the future and winning now is not a priority. Translation: the Twins care more about the dollars than about winning.

Ahh, to be young and innocent enough to believe the Twins have a shot. (David Sherman / Getty Images)

Puzzling personnel plays: Trading Johan Santana and failing to re-sign Torii Hunter.

Remember ... 2002: A year removed from a contraction battle, the Minnesota Twins (under first-year manager Ron Gardenhire) make it to the American League Championship Series. With a solid roster and a light payroll, 2002 would have been the perfect season to sacrifice some future players to add some veteran players at the trade deadline and make a serious run. Instead, the Twins entered the playoffs with the youngest roster in the league and never stood a chance in the ALCS after beating fellow cheapskates, the Oakland Athletics, in the first round.

6. Boston Bruins

To be blunt, owner Jeremy Jacobs seems to be stingy and only cares about profits. The Bruins are an Original Six team in one of the biggest American markets, but ownership only allows the front office to make enough moves to tease the fans into believing there is hope. Up until 1997, the Bruins made the playoffs in 30 consecutive seasons, but have zero Stanley Cups since Jacobs took over 33 years ago. That might be because Jacobs is more focused on making money outside of hockey: He owns the TD Banknorth Garden, running the concession stands and charging rent to the Boston Celtics (among others).

Puzzling personnel plays: Signing Martin Lapointe and failing to hang on to Joe Thornton, Jason Allison and Bill Guerin.

Remember ... 2000: The Boston Bruins trade the heart and soul of the franchise, Ray Bourque, at his request. On March 6, Bourque was sent to Cup-contender Colorado, which suddenly inherited a slew of Boston fans who wanted to see Bourque hoist the Cup.

5. Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions are perpetually in a three-to-five year rebuilding plan, but they rarely get out of year one. The Lions have never played in the Super Bowl and have had just one playoff win since 1957. Part of the problem has been thrifty ownership, but don't discount their ability to make some of the worst personnel decisions in the NFL.

Puzzling personnel plays: Drafting Reggie Rogers, Andre Ware, Aaron Gibson, Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams.

Remember ... 2001: Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg benched starting quarterback Charlie Batch after he was sacked seven times in the season opener. Mornhinweg then put in Ty Detmer, who proceeded to throw seven interceptions against the team from which he was acquired, the Cleveland Browns — and Mornhinweg stuck with Detmer the next game. The Lions finished the season with only two wins.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Expansion teams are typically a laughingstock for a few years, but in the Rays' case it's been permanent. In fact, a perennial assumption is that the Rays will finish fifth in their division. The Rays' best finish was in 2004, when they climbed to fourth in the American League East. They have finished fifth every other season and have never won more than 70 games.

Puzzling personnel plays: Signing Jose Canseco and Hideo Nomo, and acquiring Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn.

Remember ... 2002: The Rays were going to have Jason Tyner bobble-head doll night on June 2, but there was one problem: the outfielder was demoted to the Triple-A team. On Sept. 8, it was supposed to be Toby Hall bobble-head night, but he was also sent down. Good thing his weren't fully built and the heads were reconfigured in time for Steve Cox bobble-head night.

3. Arizona Cardinals

So Bill Bidwill -- the guy sporting a bowtie here -- is ill-equipped to run an NFL franchise? Who would have imagined? (Gary Williams / Getty Images)

The Cardinals logo appears next to "loser" in the NFL dictionary. The Cardinals have made just four playoff appearances in 45 years since Bill Bidwill got his hands on the team. Bidwill is known as a cheapo, which explains why the Cardinals are always short on star power and talent. The closest they've come to success was when Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Rod Tidwell, in the movie "Jerry McGuire," wore a Cardinals jersey.

Puzzling personnel plays: Signing Emmitt Smith, and drafting Andre Wadsworth and Kelly Stouffer (when the team was in St. Louis).

Remember ... 2003: The Arizona Cardinals were abysmal, and it was head coach Dave McGinnis' second and last season. At 3-12, the Cardinals had the first pick overall in sight, but instead decided to play spoiler in Week 17 to the Minnesota Vikings. Cardinals' quarterback Josh McCown found Nathan Poole falling out of the end zone on the last play of the game to ruin the Vikings' playoff hopes and keep the Cardinals out of the first slot in the draft, which was Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning.

2. Kansas City Royals

Having a cheap owner is a shortcut to getting on this list. Royals owner David Glass plays the small-market victim card as frequently as possible, but he's always first in line to receive revenue sharing or any other type of financial aid that MLB is happy to toss into his beggar's cap. And if Glass plays the role, his team's roster looks like a charity case. They never re-sign their stars, opting to use unproven youngsters and expired veterans to compose a team. Under Glass, the Royals have averaged 96 losses per season.

Puzzling personnel plays: Trading Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye; and signing Juan Gonzalez.

Remember ... 2004: The Royals were fresh off an 83-79 season, which was their first winning season since 1994, and finally entered a season with high expectations. After notching 17 wins in 31 games, it was time to blow it up. It seemed like the Royals might become respectable again, but then a quick fire sale in a span of about a week, which included the trade of Beltran, sent the Royals back to the AL Central cellar. 2004 marked the first of three consecutive 100-loss seasons.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

Never mind championships, pennants or division titles, the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't even had a winning season in 15 years. One more losing season and the Pirates will tie the record for most consecutive losing seasons among the four major sports. They continually field one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in the league and are always rebuilding. The black and yellow team colors fit their plan of constantly being under construction.

Puzzling personnel plays: Signing Derek Bell, Jeromy Burnitz and Tony Armas, Jr.; and trading Aramis Ramirez.

Remember ... 1997: The closest the Pirates have come to 82 wins (otherwise known as a winning season) in the last 15 years was in 1997. They were expected to push 90 to 100 losses, but ended up as one of the league's irrelevant surprises when they finished with 79 wins. The entire team salary was $9 million, which was less than what Albert Belle made that season.

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5 Sports Leagues That Didn’t Make It

At some point next year, the oft-delayed All American Football League might actually start playing games. With any luck, the upstart league will be able to carve away a little bit of the NFL’s massive market while giving players like Eric Crouch and Peter Warrick another shot at gridiron glory. It’s a tough proposition, though; history is littered with the tales of fledgling professional sports leagues that flamed out quickly. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. The National Bowling League

bowling.jpgMost people probably only think about professional bowling when they flip past ESPN on a Sunday afternoon. In 1961, though, professional bowling seemed like such fertile ground for fans that one league wasn’t sufficient. Enter the National Bowling League. That’s right: league. The NBL wasn’t going to be a bunch of solo hotshots out only for their own glory. Instead, the bowlers would play as teams from different cities, and at the end of the season they would compete in the World Series of Bowling. The bowlers really did work as teams; although the rules were largely similar to league bowling, at certain points of the game a bowler could swap himself out for a “wild card” sub to pick up a tough spare.

Unlike its main competition, the Professional Bowlers Association, the NBL didn’t have a television deal, so it had to make the bulk of its cash on ticket sales. Matches took place in specially designed arenas that allowed spectators to perch around the lanes. These arenas could only hold 3,250 spectators at the most, though, and the owners had spent millions building the arenas and paying bowler salaries.

And top bowlers didn’t want to leave the fledgling PBA to join the NBL. As a result, the mainstream sports media was largely indifferent to the league, and fans didn’t show up in the expected throngs. The league debuted on October 12, 1961, and by December 16, the San Antonio Cavaliers franchise had gone under. The rest of the league unceremoniously followed suit five months later.
Although it was short-lived, the NBL had its own scandals. Legendary PBA bowler Don Carter was allegedly offered a bribe to join the rival league. As you’d expect in bowling, the bribe itself was decidedly unglamorous; Carter was supposedly promised a pig farm.

2. The World Football League

world-football.pngMany secondary leagues suffer due to inferior player talent, but the WFL apparently sidestepped that problem by bringing in a number of big NFL stars for its inaugural 1974 season. By offering salaries well above the relatively low NFL wages of the day, league organizers lured stars like Larry Csonka (pictured below with Memphis Southmen teammates Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield) and Calvin Hill (Honolulu Hawaiians) into the league. Moreover, the WFL had several new rules that made the game more exciting. The league moved the goalposts from the front of the end zone, where they resided in the NFL at the time, to the back. Touchdowns were worth seven points instead or six, and in lieu of a kicked extra point after each score, teams played an “action point” from the five yard line. (Scoring on this play was worth a point.) The WFL seemed set to offer a fan-friendly alternative to the NFL.

WFL-csonka.jpgWith this star power and the novel rules, the WFL got off to a hot start in 1974. Teams averaged over 40,000 spectators for their first few games, and it looked like the NFL might have some real competition. The league’s organizers talked optimistically of expanding the league to Europe and Asia.

Unfortunately, though, much of this success was illusory; most the people in these booming crowds had gotten their tickets for free or at extremely cut-rate prices.

Actual full-priced tickets proved to be a somewhat tougher sell. While the league had brought in some high-profile stars, the rank-and-file players were mostly guys who weren’t good enough to make it in the NFL. The quality of play wasn’t terrible, but basically, fans were only willing to attend these games as long as they didn’t have to pay full fare for the experience.

By the end of its first twenty-game season, the league was teetering on the brink of insolvency. The lack of funds led to some pretty amusing stories: the MVP of the World Bowl (the league’s Super Bowl equivalent) was to receive a cash bonus. Why cash? Supposedly the league didn’t want sportswriters sneering that a check from the WFL would surely bounce. The money was piled on a table, and the game’s MVPs pocketed the stacks after the game. According to legend, local citizens fed the Portland Storm’s roster, and the Charlotte Hornets had their uniforms impounded for failure to pay a laundry bill.

Despite these dire financial straits, the WFL tried to make another run at the NFL’s throne in 1975, but its owners ran out of money midseason. The league folded, and the Birmingham Vulcans, owners of a 9-3 record, won the championship by default. Several WFL personalities found NFL success, though. Portland Storm linebackers coach Marty Schottenheimer had a long career as an NFL head coach, and Philadelphia Bell wideout Vince Papale inspired the film Invincible by catching on with the Philadelphia Eagles.

3. Roller Hockey International

Remember inline skating? Vaguely? Back in 1993, it wasn’t a fad; it was a new youth movement that was never going to die. And thus, the RHI was born to capitalize on it. The league had teams across the U.S. and Canada, and played with rules that were subtly different from the NHL’s. Aside from the obvious lack of ice, teams had four skaters and a goalie instead of the NHL’s five, and games consisted of four 12-minute quarters rather than three 20-minute periods. Teams competed for the Murphy Cup, which the Anaheim Bullfrogs won twice, cementing their place as the Red Wings of roller hockey.
rockin-rollers.jpg

The league operated from 1993 to 1997, took a year off in 1998, and then returned in 1999 for a final season/death wheeze. Like most leagues, it produced some quality players; Saint Louis Blues goaltender Manny Legace put in some time with the Toronto Planets.

4. International Volleyball Association

volleyball-mag.jpgIt’s tough to find many specific details on this short-lived volleyball league. Teams competed from 1975 to 1979, and the IVA was revolutionary for being a coed pro sports league. The league’s teams were all located in the western United States, although the El Paso-Juarez Sol made good on the “international” part of the association’s name by paying tribute to the Mexican side of the border.

By all accounts, some truly world-class volleyball players spiked and set in the IVA, including Polish Olympic gold medalist Edward Skorek. The most famous player in league history, though, was undoubtedly former NBA star Wilt Chamberlain, who played for the Orange County Stars in 1977, possibly because of the coed rules. Chamberlain also served as the IVA’s president and was enshrined in the IVA Hall of Fame.

5. The XFL

homer-xfl2.jpgThe NFL may have good football, but does it have attitude? Pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon thought not, so in 2001 he launched the XFL, an alternative, rougher football league. Almost everything about the eight-team league was designed to be edgy, unlike that stodgy old NFL. Who needs a coin toss to determine possession when you can throw a ball on the ground and have players scrap for it? Why not let the public-address announcers trash talk the opposing team and its fans? Why not just let defensive backs push receivers at any point until the ball is thrown? And can’t we finally let football cheerleaders play up their sex appeal after centuries of confining them to shapeless burlap robes? The XFL sought to answer all these questions.

Unfortunately for McMahon, the answers weren’t quite what he anticipated. Having a pre-game scrum to determine possession is a fantastic way to injure players, trash-talking PA announcers are incredibly obnoxious, and receivers generally can’t catch passes if they’ve been pushed to the ground. On top of that, there are certainly many reasonable complaints one could make about NFL cheerleaders, but “not skanky enough” doesn’t appear anywhere on that list. The second-rate talent, combined with the rule allowing defensive backs to eviscerate receivers, kept scoring low and games excruciatingly boring. Even after the “you’re allowed to bump receivers” rule was changed four games into the season, things didn’t get much better. Grammarians everywhere turned up their noses at the league’s rampant, inappropriate overuse of the letter “x,” particularly in the names of the Memphis Maniax and Los Angeles Xtreme.

he-hate-me.jpgThis wrestling-style attitude did little to bring in fans, and after the Xtreme won the inaugural season’s Million Dollar Game, the league ceased to Xist. League MVP Tommy Maddox spent some solid years as the Pittsburgh Steeler’s quarterback, and league icon Rod “He Hate Me” Smart enjoyed some success as a kick returner for the Carolina Panthers. Perhaps the league’s most enduring effect, though, was introducing the flying Skycam to football coverage. The aerial camera has since become an integral part of NFL and college football broadcasts.

Why did Mr. Smart put “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey? Here’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2004:

“Basically, my brother’s my opponent. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is. It’s a saying I was saying when I’d feel something wasn’t going my way. For example, (when) I was on the squad in Vegas and coach was putting other guys in, (if) I felt I’m better than them, you know, hey, ‘he hate me.’ See what I’m saying? Give me a chance. That’s all I ask. It came from the heart. Within. The way I felt.”

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet’s undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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Bryant, Garnett, Paul, Howard, James voted to first team

NEW YORK -- Kobe Bryant added another honor Thursday to go with his MVP award, becoming the only unanimous selection to the All-NBA team.

Chris Paul

Paul

Kobe Bryant

Bryant

The Lakers star was voted to the first team for the third straight season and sixth time in his career. He led Los Angeles to the best record in the Western Conference and was presented with the MVP trophy Wednesday before helping the Lakers to a 120-110 victory over Utah in Game 2 of the conference semifinals.

Joining Bryant on the first team were New Orleans guard Chris Paul, who was three votes shy of being a unanimous pick, along with Boston's Kevin Garnett, Cleveland's LeBron James and Orlando center Dwight Howard.

Garnett was a first-team pick for the fourth time and James made his second appearance. Paul and Howard were first-timers.

Kevin Garnett

Garnett

Dwight Howard

Howard

LeBron James

James

Voting was done by a panel of 127 sports writers and broadcasters, with points being awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.

Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash of Phoenix were voted to the second team along with San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Utah guard Deron Williams and Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki. The third team consisted of Houston's Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, plus Utah's Carlos Boozer, Boston's Paul Pierce and the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, the league's top sixth man.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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