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Friday, June 6, 2008

Is playing for another country's Olympic team treason?

All Becky Hammon wanted to do was play in the Olympics.

The U.S. didn't want her, so she found another market that was interested - Russia.

Hammon, who has no Russian ancestry, and had never even been there until she signed to play professional basketball there last year, will suit up for the Russian team in Beijing.

Is Hammon a traitor?

"This is not life or death," Hammon said. "My patriotism isn't defined by basketball. My patriotism isn't defined in 94 feet of hardwood.

"I don't expect everybody to agree with my decision or understand my decision. But I know where my courage and patriotism lie. So I'm comfortable with it. I'd still do anything for my country."

But is it within the spirit of the Olympics that a country can buy the rights to athletes just to win medals?

Under league rules in Russia, where Hammon signed to play for a team in Moscow last year, a player who has not played for another country in a FIBA-sanctioned event is allowed to become a naturalized citizen. Once a person is a citizen, the Olympic team is an option.

The WNBA MVP runner-up a year ago, who scored 20 points against the Comets last night, was left off USA Basketball's list of players from which the 2008 Olympic team would be chosen.

"I didn't say no to USA Basketball," Hammon said. "The option for me to play for USA Basketball really wasn't an option.

"It was: 'You can go take part in the Olympics or stay at home.'"

Maybe it won't bother you as much because it is women's basketball, but J.R. Holden will suit up for Russian men's team. Holden hit the game-winning shot for Russia in the gold medal game at last year's European Championships. What if he does the same against the U.S. in Beijing?

It is not unusual for American citizens to be on foreign Olympic teams. Typically, though, the loophole for participation is some familial tie. More than half the Greek Olympic softball players in 2004 were Americans who met the special requirement of having at least one great-grandparent from Greece, which had never fielded a softball team in international competition.

Not only might Hammon and Holden further open a door for flimsy participation with other countries, it's Russia we're talking about. Many of us still have "Cold War" feelings about the former communist power.

"I don't think people would be as upset if I was playing for Switzerland," Hammon said. "God loves Russia just as much as God loves America."

What do you think? Is it OK for Americans to compete in the Olympics for other countries? Is it treason?

Or does the "this is basketball, not war" argument win you over?

• • •

Jerry Greene has two words for those of you who think the home crowd really matters: hog and wash.

• • •

Remember sweet little Pebbles from the Flintstones? Well, Ashley Harkleroad, who hails from Flintstone, Ga. Was known as Pebbles back in the day.

Harkleroad has decided to show her pebbles to us all, as she will be the first professional tennis player to pose nude for Playboy.

• • •

Joke of the Day:

From Jay Leno: "A lesbian couple in Seattle claims they were asked to leave a Mariners game for kissing in the stands after a mother and son complained. Well, the mother complained that they were kissing, and the son complained he couldn't see."

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Outrageous Tales of the Stanley Cup

Mike Bolt is the official keeper of the Stanley Cup. Where it goes, he goes. Here, he shares just some of the odder things that have been placed in or sucked out of the NHL's most cherished prize.
stanleyCupKeeper_article04.jpgWhat are the most common questions you get from fans?
"Is it the real Cup?" Yes. "How much does it weigh?" 35 pounds. "What happens when it fills up with names?" The rings at the top come off and go to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Then we put a new ring on the bottom. So this year's winner will be on the cup for 62 years.

What kind of action has it seen?
It's been used to chill champagne... Doug Weight [of the Hurricanes] made an ice-cream sundae in it with his kids... The Devils made a margarita in it at a nightclub—they even salted the rim... Guys have taken it fishing, putting bait in the bowl... [Former Ranger] Ed Olczyk fed a Kentucky Derby winner from it. But the best is when a player walks into a bar with this thing. It's like a major celebrity walking in. It only likes being hoisted by the winners, though—you have to earn the right to hoist it.
Ever had to deck a drunk fan?
Again, we're around bars and alcohol, and you do get the odd jerk who'll mouth off to you. But big deal, I can take it. As long as this thing stays safe, I don't care how much this guy's chirping in my ear. I'd like to smack them, but I can't. I had to push a fan away once because I thought he was going to urinate in it, but that's about it.

Speaking of which, is it true that Claude Lemieux took a dump in it on The Howard Stern Show?
No. I've heard two things: They put chocolate pudding or a chocolate bar in it. Personally, I don't know why someone would think that was funny; people drink and eat out of this thing. I would not have allowed it if I were around in '95 when it happened. I always say, you want to keep winning this, you respect it, because in 1940 the Rangers burned the deed [to the old Madison Square Garden] in the Cup and then urinated on it to put out the fire—and it was 54 years before they won it again. But 99 percent of the guys, if not 100, are very respectful around it.

Any other unusual Cup sightings?
I was in a bus with [Ducks forward] Corey Perry on the 401 to London, Ontario. There was a major accident, and traffic was not moving for like two hours. These kids outside were sitting on top of their parents' car and could see the Cup in the bus, so they were going like this [mimes lifting the Cup], like, "Hoist it! Hoist it!" Well, Corey goes a step further and takes it right out onto the highway. Next thing you know, we're having a tailgate party in the middle of Canada's biggest highway.

Who's downed the most booze from the Cup?
[Ducks forward] Teemu Selanne is the warmest, most sincere man you could ever meet—but he is also one hell of a drinker [laughs]. We were at his place in Anaheim, and he had eight to 10 of his buddies there. They went through about 12 bottles of Scotch, right out of the Cup. If I drink half a bottle, I'm going to fall down, and I have a tolerance. Not Teemu. No problem. One of the best drinking clinics I've ever seen.

Has the Cup ever put you in harm's way?
We went to Afghanistan this past March and had a missile attack our first night. We first arrived in Kandahar in flak jackets, the whole thing. Later on, I get back to the barracks and hear an air-raid siren, but I was dying for a shower, so I figured I'd just sit tight. I got into my room and—true story—sat down on the Cup case and read Maxim. I swear. I go into the shower, and when I get out a bunch of the guys are around going, "Mike, where were you during the missile attack?" I told them, "Sitting on the Cup case reading Maxim." And they said, "Holy crap, you're dedicated to your job!" [Laughs] Truth be told, if I had known better, I would have ditched the Cup and been like George Costanza pushing women and children out of the way.

So is it true that if a player keeps it at his house, you have to stay there, too?
We're there the whole time, yeah. People ask, "What if a player wants to sleep with it?" I say, "Move over."

Ever woken up to something you might have wished you hadn't?
We're sworn to secrecy on a couple of things… I don't care if it's Maxim, you're not getting it out of me. You can use your imagination.

Be sure to follow Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller's Playoff Blog.

Convicted steroids dealer who gave names to NFL found dead

Convicted Steroid Dealer David Jacobs Found Dead

PLANO, Texas -- A convicted steroids dealer who recently met with NFL security officials and gave them names of players he said bought steroids from him has been found dead in his home.

Early Thursday morning, Plano police made a welfare check and found 35-year-old David Jacobs and 30-year-old Amanda Jo Earhart-Savell dead. Both had been shot.

Officer Rick McDonald, a police spokesman, said the officers were making a welfare check after relatives of Earhart-Savell expressed concern about her whereabouts.

According to the Dallas Morning News, which first reported the story, Jacobs and Earhart-Savell had been in an on-again, off-again relationship, and at one point were engaged to be married.

Heather Bowden, also a spokeswoman for the Plano police, told the New York Times in a telephone interview, "At this point, it is a homicide investigation, and we have no reason to believe otherwise."

Jacobs was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $25,000 on May 1 after pleading guilty last year in federal court in Dallas to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute anabolic steroids.

According to ESPN the Magazine senior writer Shaun Assael, who had been in contact with Jacobs throughout May, Jacobs was reticent and nervous about the information he had and the people it implicated.

When explaining why he did not want to go public, Jacobs said: "The kinds of people I know about could put a bullet in the back of my head."

Jacobs's father, also named David, of Jasper, Ga., told The Times in a telephone interview that he received a call from an anonymous person, who told Jacobs to call the Plano police. Jacobs said police were unable to tell him much about what might have transpired.

David Jacobs

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

David Jacobs, seen after pleading guilty to steroid charges in 2007, recently met with NFL officials -- and according to his lawyer, gave them the names of players who had received drugs he had made. He was found dead on Thursday.

"I spoke with David through a text message about three or four days ago, and he said he was fine," Jacobs told The Times. "He has been trying to rebuild his life. He got crossed with some bad things and made some bad choices. At this point, I am just beside myself."

The Morning News reported it had spoken with Jacobs frequently and exchanged e-mails with him as recently as last weekend. Jacobs had sought to rebuild his nutritional supplement business, but he was experiencing financial problems and having trouble getting his old client base to work with him, according to the report.

On May 21, Jacobs met with NFL security officials in the Dallas area and gave them names of players he said bought steroids from him, according to Hank Hockeimer, his lawyer.

Hockeimer told the newspaper on Thursday he had not yet been briefed about the situation at Jacobs' house.

The NFL requested the meeting after Jacobs was sentenced to three years of probation on May 1 for a single count of conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids. He had cooperated with federal authorities since his arrest last year.

"We offer our sympathy to the families of David Jacobs and Amanda Jo Earhart-Savell," the league said in a statement. "As we have previously confirmed, our security representatives interviewed David Jacobs on two occasions. We are reviewing the information to determine if there is documented evidence establishing any violations of our program and will follow up on any other information that is provided.

"It is premature to comment on any specific player at this time. Anyone found to have violated our policies will be subject to discipline, including suspension. We will continue to be responsive to any needs of law enforcement on this matter."

Neighbors who were still gathered at the scene about 12 hours after officers arrived said they became aware of Jacobs through television news reports, but didn't know him well. They said they didn't see any suspicious activity or hear any gunshots.

One neighbor who reached out to Jacobs after his guilty plea by asking him to warn children about the dangers of drugs said she didn't believe police when they told her he was dead. "Knowing somebody died this way, it's hard to take," Yeharerwerk Gashaw said. "I was shocked."

By his own account, Jacobs was a prolific salesman, moving 1,000 bottles of anabolic steroids a month and an equal number of growth hormone kits that he obtained illicitly from China.

Hockeimer had said that league officials seemed "genuinely interested" in what Jacobs had to say, as well as in canceled checks and e-mails that he provided.

Jacobs has publicly acknowledged that he dealt primarily with two NFL players and earlier identified one of them as offensive lineman Matt Lehr.

Last month, Jacobs told the Morning News that Lehr purchased tens of thousands of dollars of steroids and growth hormone from the spring of 2006 to the spring of 2007. He also told the paper that Lehr agreed to have boxes of raw steroid powder from China shipped directly to his Georgia home.

Lehr served a four-game suspension while a member of the Atlanta Falcons in October 2006 after he tested positive for a banned substance. He spent last season with Tampa Bay and was acquired by the Saints in the offseason.

Lehr's attorney, Paul Coggins, has said the player hasn't used banned substances since he was suspended and has since passed NFL drug tests. The attorney has also said Jacobs' allegations are retaliation because Lehr wouldn't pay Jacobs' legal fees.

After his sentencing, Jacobs told The New York Times that he hoped to tell league officials about "loopholes in their program." He also said he'd advised about 10 players to use finasteride, a drug to treat balding, because it masks steroid use.

Information from ESPN the Magazine senior writer Shaun Assael and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Celtics top Lakers ... in NBA 2K8

Don't feel like staying up late tonight to catch Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers? We've got you covered. Utilizing NBA 2K8 for the xBox 360 console, we ran a computerized simulation of this year's championship series.

The result? This series won't be easy on Celtics' fans hearts. In the end, however, Boston prevailed in seven games in our simulation.

Check out the video above to see highlights from Game 1, where the Celtics watched a double-digit, second-half lead evaporate before rallying to emerge with a 106-99 triumph at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The Lakers ultimately came back to win Game 2 (in lopsided fashion no less), then took two of three in Los Angeles (the Celtics winning Game 4). Undaunted, the Celtics returned home to win a pair of nail-biters to capture virtual banner No. 17.

Here's what you'll find in the highlights from Game 1:

Boston, which led by 11 at the half and seven at the end of three quarters, watched the Lakers pull ahead, 84-83, on a Pau Gasol dunk over P.J. Brown with 7:56 to go in the game.

Kevin Garnett, who finished with a game-high 36 points and 17 rebounds, soon re-entered and took over. With the Celtics clinging to a 98-95 advantage with 2:09 to play, Garnett swatted a Vladimir Radmanovic offering on the defensive end, then backed down Lamar Odom for a bucket at the opposite side of the court as the Celtics prevented Los Angeles from making a late run.

Even still, the Celtics were only up three with under a minute to go when Paul Pierce effectively slammed the door by hitting a shot-clock beating jumper from just inside the arc for a 102-97 advantage. The Celtics made their free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

In the simulation, Kobe Bryant poured in 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting, while Radmanovic chipped in 23 points and seven rebounds. Gasol added a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards, while Odom came a bucket shy of a triple double (8 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists).

Ray Allen shot the Celtics back into the game after Boston found itself behind after the first quarter. Allen was only 1 of 5 beyond the arc, but scored 29 points overall and hit some key jumpers when Boston desperately needed points. Pierce chipped in 18 points and six rebounds, while Rajon Rondo directed the offense with 14 assists to go along with 10 points and two steals.

Read on after the jump to find out more about how we set up the simulation.

How we did it: With permission from 2K Sports, video game junkie Chris Forsberg set up a simulation between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers on the xBox 360 console. The latest rosters were downloaded from 2K Sports' servers and all pertinent changes were made to each team's roster (including updates to each team's rotation, based on average minutes played in the postseason).

The xBox 360 version allows a computer vs. computer option, so a human player did not control a team at any time. Only one single simulation was attempted per game in the best-of-seven series and all footage was recorded for inclusion online. Additional simulations could produce different results.

Want more?: Check out our Patriots posteason simulations utilizing EA Sports' Madden 2008, including our take on Super Bowl XL II (Hint: It turned out better for Pats' fans than the actual Super Bowl).

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Pau Gasol Googles 'Lakers + Celtics + Rivalry'

LOS ANGELES—Claiming he was unaware of the existence of a Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry until numerous media outlets suggested their 2008 Finals matchup would revive it, curious Lakers center Pau Gasol researched the topic Wednesday by entering "Lakers + Celtics + Rivalry" into the Internet search engine Google.

The All-Star center expressed surprise upon finding that search results yielded nearly 75,000 websites about the topic, including a Wikipedia entry devoted solely to the Celtics-Lakers matchup.

"I guess these teams go way back," Gasol told reporters, adding that he was also intrigued to learn that the Lakers themselves have a history that precedes their 1996 signing of Shaquille O'Neal. "Apparently, before I was born, the Lakers and Celtics used to play each other all the time, and the games were intense. It seems to have been a really big deal."

"Listen to this," the visibly impressed Gasol said before reading from a printout of the Wikipedia page. "'The rivalry originated in the 1960s, when the Celtics defeated the Lakers six times in eight years to claim the championship. The classic matchup featured greats such as Bill Russell and Bob Cousy for Boston, and Elgin Baylor, Joe Montana, and Jerry West for Los Angeles.'"

"Man," Gasol added, "I wish those guys were still alive. I would love to talk to them about it."

Gasol's Internet search history confirmed that the information gleaned from the initial Wikipedia page spawned a number of related Google searches, including those for "Kevin McHale," "Magic Johnson," "Bill Russell," "Red Auerbach," "Kobe Bryant + sexual assault," and "Pau Gasol."

Gasol said his interest in the topic was first piqued after being repeatedly asked to compare his potential matchup against Celtics center Kevin Garnett to that of "Chamberlain vs. Russell." Though Gasol said he was happy to eventually learn the Chamberlain to whom reporters were referring was former Los Angeles Lakers star Wilt Chamberlain, and the Russell was former Boston Celtic Bill Russell, Gasol admitted he was still struggling with the question's relevance to the actual 2008 Finals.

When asked if this newly acquired information about the rivalry had further inspired him to beat the Celtics, or had created a deep-seeded hatred for the Boston team, Gasol responded, "No, not really. It's all very interesting though."

Gasol's teammates echoed that sentiment, saying that though it was worth knowing that the Celtics and Lakers had played one another 10 times in the Finals over 75 years ago, they now they considered the San Antonio Spurs or the Dallas Mavericks their biggest rivals.

"I don't remember this because it was years before I was born, but I was reading that at one time the Lakers had guys with crazy names like Kareem and Magic," said Gasol, adding that the player photo of the latter reminded him of a thinner "Mr. Johnson," an eccentric local movie-theater owner who often hovers around the Lakers locker room, tells the team "good job," and always offers advice. "He's a nice guy and doesn't mean any harm, so we let him stay."

"But apparently that rivalry between that Magic guy and Larry Birdman [sic], who my dad said was a pretty great shooter, saved the NBA," Gasol added. "I don't know about that. I'll tell you, though, on those YouTube videos, that Lakers coach with the fancy suits and the slicked-back hair looked ridiculous."

Gasol said that his teammates were equally interested in learning more about the rivalry's history, with the exception of guard Kobe Bryant. According to Gasol, when the Lakers star was informed that his name was not mentioned in the initial Wikipedia entry, an angered Byrant walked away without saying a word. Upon revisiting the page several minutes later, Gasol said the header "Russell vs. Bryant" had been edited into the site, and a rudimentary Wikipedia page for a 1988 Nintendo video game titled Bryant vs. Bird now existed.

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