Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai terrorist attacks: Twenty20 Champions League tournament postponed

By Nick Hoult

Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the Champions League has cancelled Champions League tournament.
Postponed: Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the Champions League has cancelled Champions League tournament. Photo: AP

Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the Champions League, told the Daily Telegraph: "This was a very difficult decision to make but I am keeping in mind the problems the teams would have faced. The teams had all agreed to come but it was impossible to find another venue and get it ready in time.

"The tournament will now take place in the new year in India. It doesn't matter if it clashes with the international programme as this is a club level tournament."

Middlesex had earlier today put their trip on hold until given the all clear by the authorities.

The decision by Middlesex follows a similar move by Cricket Australia and the South African board, who also have teams due to take part in the competition.

Middlesex were due to stay at the Taj Mahal hotel today, where three people were killed by terrorists and a hostage situation developed.

The $6.5 million Champions League was due to begin on Dec 3 with Middlesex set to play Victoria, the Australian Twenty20 champions, in Mumbai.

Reports in India suggested the three matches in Mumbai had been shifted to Bangalore but the organisers were simply unable to clear up the logistics in time.

A spokesman from Cricket South Africa said: "The safety of our players is of paramount concern to us at all times. We will have to wait for guidance from the Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as the people on the ground in India before we take any decisions."

Two South African teams, the Dolphins and Titans, were due to arrive in Mumbai over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Shane Warne, the captain of IPL winners the Rajasthan Royals, is stranded in Singapore after cancelling his trip to Mumbai.

CA last night suspended all travel to India with two Australian teams set to compete in the Champions League and several other leading players, including Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey, due to play for Indian sides.

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Phoenix center Jokinen to miss at least two weeks with shoulder injury

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Phoenix Coyotes center Olli Jokinen will be sidelined for at least two weeks by a shoulder injury, ending his consecutive games streak at 397.

Olli Jokinen


Phoenix Coyotes


2008-09 Season Stats
21 7 11 18 3 29

Jokinen, the team's second-leading scorer with seven goals and 18 points, was injured in the first period Wednesday night at Columbus when he was checked hard into the boards by Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot.

Jokinen went to the bench apparently favoring his left shoulder, then went to the locker room for treatment and did not return to the game.

The Coyotes released no details of Jokinen's injury at Thursday's practice, but coach Wayne Greztky said Jokinen will miss Friday's home game against Colorado and "it looks like [he'll be sidelined] for two to four weeks."

Jokinen, acquired in a trade with Florida in June, last missed a game during the 2002-03 season while with the Panthers.

Meanwhile Thursday, forward Daniel Winnik was taken off the injured reserve list and will play Friday after missing six games because of an upper-body injury.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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Lions Prolong a Tradition of Futility

Duane Burleson/Associated Press
Justin McCareins made a first down catch before being tackled by Brian Kelly


DETROIT — Making fun of the Lions is too easy, like an ice fisherman casting his line into a drink cooler.

In a city that is home to auto executives who traveled in private jets to Washington to plead poverty, the Lions still provide the biggest laughs. Derek Richards, a stand-up comedian who grew up here, said: “You can make a Lions joke anywhere in the country and people get it. Everybody across the United States knows how miserable this team is.”

The Lions (0-12) looked like a vaudeville act masquerading as a National Football League team Thursday in a 47-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Ford Field. They turned the ball over three times, were 0 for 11 on third downs and allowed the Titans’ offense to roll for 456 yards on the way to their worst margin of defeat in a Thanksgiving Day game.

The loss to the 11-1 Titans represented another obstacle overcome in the Lions’ bid to become the first team in league history to finish 0-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 0-14 in 1976.

“In Detroit,” Richards said, borrowing a line from his act, “the only thing worse than the economy is the Lions.”

Nobody was laughing in the Lions’ locker room. “I think everybody feels embarrassed that we did that on national TV,” kicker Jason Hanson said.

In the television buffet served up to America on Thanksgiving, the Lions are the mincemeat pie. They are included as a nod to tradition — this was their 69th Thanksgiving Day game — even though the general population finds them wholly unappealing.

That is not to say that on a day given over for gratitude, the Lions have no place at the table. One way to look at them is as comfort food. Richards likened them to guests on “The Jerry Springer Show.” “No matter how bad your life is,” he said in a telephone interview, “you can look at the Lions and see something worse.”

Richards was in town the first weekend of October, when the Lions hosted their hated division rivals from Chicago. A friend offered an extra ticket to Richards, who looked at the game, a 27-point Lions loss, as a research outing. After all, he is always looking for new material.

“I can’t work them into the act enough,” Richards said.

The Lions have turned into a parody of a football team. They have one playoff victory to show for the last 51 years and have lost 19 of their last 20 and 34 of their last 44. The Buccaneers have won a Super Bowl since Detroit’s last postseason appearance, in the 1999 season. The expansion Carolina Panthers have risen, fallen and risen again in that time.

During the descent, the Lions have passed the Quebec Nordiques, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Tampa Bay Rays as pro sports’ symbol of ineptitude. Some fans have grown tired of the franchise’s being a punch line, good for an easy laugh. After the team lost its first four games by an average margin of 22.8 points, Gregg Daniels, a lifelong Lions fan, was commiserating with friends.

“I wish we could stop rooting for them and start rooting for another team,” Daniels remembered saying. But to be from, in or around Detroit is to be fiercely loyal, as evidenced by how few foreign-made cars or Bears jerseys are seen within city limits.

Daniels was stuck with the Lions for bitter and for worse. Or was he? Daniels got to thinking: what if the Lions left? His musings led him to create, with a little help from his friends, the Web site

“Our big joke,” Daniels said in a telephone interview, “is that L.A. hasn’t had football in 14 years and they have the same number of playoff wins in that time as Detroit.”

There are still a few optimists left in the Motor City: Lions fans who are as excited about New England quarterback Matt Cassel’s impending free agency as Knicks fans are about the availability of LeBron James in 2010.

But mostly there is despair, the defeats wearing on even the most die-hard fans. Jason Hochstein, who has had season tickets dating to when the Lions played in the Silverdome, is leaning toward not renewing his tickets in 2009.

“You keep thinking it can’t get any worse,” he said. “You keep thinking it’s got to get better. But there’s been no progress at all.”

Hochstein, who owns a boutique store in Royal Oak that sells jeans, was in the stands with his twin, Justin, when the Lions endured a 23-point loss at home to Green Bay. Early in the third quarter, Hochstein said, his brother abruptly rose and said: “I’m done. I don’t want tickets next year.” And then he left.

The other day at his store, Hochstein was talking with one of his customers. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the Lions. The customer told Hochstein she was a 30-year season-ticket holder but did not plan to renew. As she explained to him, “I can take that money we’ve been spending on tickets and go to Aruba every year.”

The game against Tennessee sold out Tuesday, after the N.F.L. delayed by one day its deadline for imposing a local blackout. It unfolded like a rerun. The Lions lost a fumble on the second snap from scrimmage and the Titans scored two plays later, on a 6-yard run by Chris Johnson, who was untouched.

As far as losses go, this one was pretty bloodless, with the Titans’ nine scoring drives averaging 5.6 plays. Daniels said, “0-16 needs to happen to the franchise, because the franchise has earned it with complete and utter mismanagement.”

Richards has a professional stake in the Lions’ futility. If they ever reach respectability, he joked, his gig might be up.

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Hanson's 53-yarder ties Andersen's record for most kicks from 50-plus yards

DETROIT -- Jason Hanson kicked a 53-yard field goal against the Tennessee Titans and tied Morten Andersen's NFL record for the most kicks from 50-plus yards.

Titans 47, Lions 10 Video

Radio calls and game highlights from the Titans 47-10 win over the Lions.

Hanson made his 40th field goal from 50-plus yards Thursday on the 74th attempt of his career, which started with the Lions in 1992.

Andersen was 40-of-84 from 1982 to 2007. He played for New Orleans, Atlanta, Kansas City, Minnesota and the New York Giants.

Hanson's record-tying kick early in the first quarter pulled the winless Lions within four points of the Titans. Then, Chris Johnson ran untouched for 58 yards to score his second touchdown of the game.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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Ultimate Fighting Is About to Hit Europe

By Maik Grossekathöfer

The sport of Ultimate Fighting has become more popular than boxing in the United States. Now the controversial spectacle, which has projected sales of around $250 million (€200 million) this year, is about to go global.

There are still two hours left before the fight to determine the world champion in Ultimate Fighting. Randy Couture is sitting on a leather couch in his dressing room in the belly of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, eating nuts and chatting with his wife about the kids. He is the picture of calm, and yet his pale face and the beads of sweat on his forehead betray his inner unrest. Couture, his head shaved, has scars all over his body, on his chin, shoulders and calves. His cauliflower ears are the result of hematomas caused by the many blows and contusions already inflicted on his body.


Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (7 Photos)

The cutman walks in and starts massaging Couture's hands, starting with the fingers and moving up the back of the hand. Then he wraps Couture's hands in gauze bandages and secures the bandages with adhesive strips and two rolls of tape. Finally, he asks Couture to make a fist so that he can check the bandages one last time. The cutman is pleased. He has transformed Couture's hands into two weapons.

"The rest is up to you, brother," says the cutman as he leaves the room.

Couture puts on a jockstrap, a mouth guard and lightweight, fingerless gloves and begins to warm up. He boxes his shadow, takes a few jabs at the protective gloves his assistant holds up, wrestles on a mat with one of his sparring partners and throws another man over his shoulders. Loud rock music is already booming from the loudspeakers outside.

There is a full house waiting in the arena, 14,272 fans who have paid an average of $336 (€270) apiece, amounting to $4.8 million (€3.8 million) in total ticket sales, for the privilege of being there, surrounded by six video walls and the bluish glow of floodlights. While the fans include young men in pinstripe suits and well-dressed women who look like they work in PR, the crowd is mostly made up of tattooed men and buxom women.

The celebrities, sitting in front-row seats, include Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, actress Mandy Moore and New York gangsta rapper 50 Cent, who visited Couture in his dressing room before the fight. "Champ, kill him," 50 Cent told Couture. They are here to watch Couture defend his heavy-weight title in no more than five rounds against Brock Lesnar, in an eight-sided ring -- the Octagon -- surrounded by a black, wire-mesh fence 9.75 meters (32 feet) in diameter and 1.75 meters (5'9") tall. Running away is not an option.

"As real as it gets," the slogan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is a reflection of the reality of the blood that flows when the men combine various fighting disciplines: judo and Thai boxing, boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. At each fight, there are four doctors stationed around the ring and two ambulances waiting outside the arena, and the nearest emergency room and neurology department are always notified in advance.

Blood, in the case of the UFC, is anything but a deterrent. In fact, blood and gore are part of the reason that UFC television viewership has been growing so rapidly. Today's fight is also being broadcast live on Spike TV, a pay-per-view channel, and 1.2 million Americans have paid $44.95, before taxes, to watch the event. Boxing promoters can only dream of numbers like these.

The UFC has spread across the United States like a flu virus. Condemned as "human cockfighting" by Senator John McCain 12 years ago and banned at the time throughout much of the country, the UFC is expected to bring in $250 million (€200 million) in revenues this year. Experts estimate the value of the operation at $1 billion (€800 million).

Now that Ultimate Fighting has become established in the American market, the rest of the world is next. The UFC has already held six evening fighting events in Great Britain, all of them sold out, and championship fights are scheduled for Dublin in January and the Philippines in April. UFC comes to Germany for the first time in mid-June with an event in Cologne, and fights are also planned for China, India and Dubai.

The 'Legendary Warrior'

It is shortly before 9 p.m. when Couture steps onto the stage, to the music of Aerosmith, a gladiator entering the arena at a modern-day Circus Maximus in Las Vegas, lost in thought, oblivious of his fans shouting "Randy! Randy!" Standing in the Octagon, in the blue corner, his mouth guard visible between his lips, Couture is now a human pit bull about to attack his opponent. The announcer pronounces his name in a singsong voice, calling him "a legendary warrior."

Couture is the reigning world champion, but on this evening his chances of winning are not good. His opponent is three centimeters taller, 20 kilograms heavier and 14 years younger. Couture is already 45. Anyone betting $140 (€112) on Brock Lesnar can win only $100 (€80), and all it takes is one look at the man to realize why. Lesnar, a former wrestler from Minnesota, has the neck of a bull and arms as thick as trees. A tattoo of a sword with drops of blood clinging to its tip bisects his massive chest.

The referee blows the starting whistle, and Couture and Lesnar begin dancing around each other in the Octagon. There are two men in the midst of the screaming crowd who can hardly believe their good fortune: Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta.

White, a short, round-headed man wearing a skin-tight shirt and belt with a skull-shaped buckle, is the president of the UFC. He is 39, a former bouncer and a bellhop at a Boston hotel. He was found guilty of assault and, because he refused to pay the fine, wound up in prison. He became a boxing trainer and fled from the Mafia to Las Vegas, where he had grown up, and opened a boxing gym. White now owns a Range Rover, a Ferrari and two Mercedes, but he still has difficulty saying three sentences without the word "fuck" in at least one of them.

White is in charge of day-to-day business operations for the UFC, managing press conferences and fleshing out contracts with the fighters. He loves giving autographs, and a video blogger follows him around, filming him wherever he goes. The strategist in the background, the man who handles long-term planning, is Lorenzo Fertitta, the owner of the UFC. He and his brother Frank bought the organization seven years ago.

Fertitta, 39, is worth $1.3 billion (€1.04 billion) and was ranked 377th on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. He made his fortune -- where else? -- in Las Vegas, in the gambling business.

Fertitta's office is in a building across the street from the Red Rock Casino Resort on South Pavilion Center Drive in the western part of Las Vegas, where the city gradually gives way to the desert. It takes a numerical code and fingerprint to gain access to the third-floor office, where a Warhol hangs behind Fertitta's desk, and the rest of the room is decorated with paintings and sculpture by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst -- originals, not copies.

Fertitta is a boxing fan. He has seen Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson fight. Every morning from 7 a.m. he spends an hour working out in a gym in the basement. The gym comes complete with a boxing ring, six treadmills, five rowing machines, spinning machines, various strength training machines and four big-screen TVs that are always kept switched on. The gym can easily accommodate 10 people. Who else uses the room?


Fertitta, smelling of expensive cologne, speaks quietly and with a pleasantly deep voice. He is wearing a black knit shirt, jeans and wingtips without shoelaces. "What makes Ultimate Fighting so brilliant is the fact that everyone gets what it's about immediately: two guys beating each other up," he says, rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles. "But I would never have thought that it could be this successful."

The UFC was created in 1993 by three men: a martial artist, a film director and an advertising executive. Their idea was to pit martial artists from various disciplines -- sumo wrestling, kick-boxing, karate and boxing -- against each other to see who would win. There were no gloves and no referees, and only biting or poking one's opponent in the eyes were off-limits, the idea being that two men would step into the ring and only one would step out again. They borrowed the concept of the octagon from "Conan the Barbarian." In the film, the protagonist is forced to fight in an octagon, because there are no corners in which to hide in an octagon. The wire-mesh fence was a typically American touch.

The first fight, held in Denver, was so brutal that the fighters' knocked-out teeth went flying into the front-row seats. The fans loved it but politicians were horrified. One athletic commission after another banned the fights.

Fertitta and White are old friends. They attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas together, but fell out of touch after graduation. In late 2000, they ran into each other at a wedding. Fertitta visited White's gym, where he met two UFC fighters White was managing. They took jiu-jitsu classes together, and at some point White suggested to his old school buddy that he consider buying the UFC, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. Fertitta signed the contract a month later -- for a purchase price of $2 million (€1.6 million).

Why did he do it?

"No idea," says Fertitta. "I probably thought it would be a nice hobby."

The first three years cost him $40 million (€32 million). He introduced five weight classes, referees, drug tests, HIV and hepatitis testing, and brain scans. And he introduced 31 prohibitions. Prohibition number 29 is called: Fear.

A TV show was responsible for cementing the popularity of Ultimate Fighting. Four years ago, White and Fertitta hit upon the idea of locking 16 fighters into a house, where, isolated from the outside world, they could focus on training. Fights were held once a week, and in the end the winner was awarded a contract with the UFC. The reality show, called "The Ultimate Fighter," is now in its eighth season.

"The show is our Trojan horse," says Fertitta. "People were surprised to find out that the fighters work hard, that they're not crude thugs but great athletes, intelligent and with good manners." The show is broadcast in more than 100 countries, including Japan, Brazil, Canada and Germany, where the UFC is in talks with the ProSieben and Dmax television stations.

World champion Couture, a former Greco-Roman wrestler, was a three-time US college division champion and three-time Olympic alternate. He served in the US Army for six years, and for three of those years he was stationed with the 58th Aviation Regiment in Hanau, Germany, where he wrestled on a local German team, the TG Langendiebach, in the State of Hesse league. "What I liked about Germany was the woods," he says, "and the fact that you have three generations of a family living under one roof." Couture studied German in college. A friend introduced him to Ultimate Fighting.

He owns a gym in Las Vegas, where he trains and meditates. The gym is a dark, bunker-like building on West Sunset Road where the smell of sweat is in the air. A framed, blood-spattered T-shirt hangs on one of the walls.

Couture says that fighting is part of human DNA, and that Ultimate Fighting is "kinetic chess," with a defensive move to counter every offensive move. No one who spends more than five minutes in conversation with Couture can picture this eloquent, even gentle man as a fighting machine.

Men like Couture are what make Ultimate Fighting so unusual and set it apart from boxing. For many fighters, boxing is an opportunity to do something with their lives besides working as a bouncer or winding up in prison. But of the 202 athletes in the UFC, 164 are either college-educated or have learned a trade. They include an attorney, a psychologist, an IT expert, a math teacher and a former member of the Croatian parliament.

Many regard boxing as a corrupt sport but the UFC is different. "Our sport is honest," says Dana White. And Ultimate Fighting, he adds, is safer than boxing. The most serious injury to date was a broken forearm. The sport is now allowed in 48 of the 50 states.

A boxer doesn't get very far once he has given up the sport, and boxers feel betrayed when their trainers throw in the towel. But an Ultimate Fighter who gives up, which he can do at any time, earns respect. Randy Couture is considered one of the best fighters the UFC has produced. He has 16 wins -- and eight losses -- under his belt.

Seventeen Blows to the Head in 10 Seconds

Things do not go well for Couture in his fight against Lesnar at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The two fighters spend much of the first round wrestling up against the fence, two bodies locked together in a standoff, each of them trying to throw the other to the ground. Lesnar manages to knock his opponent down first, but Couture frees himself and the crowd yells: "Randy! Randy!" The fans' allegiances are obvious. Like in "Rocky IV," Couture is Balboa and Lesnar the evil Russian, Ivan Drago. The bell rings after five minutes, and the first round goes to Lesnar.

The Octagon Girl, a beauty in a blue bikini, announces the second round. Couture charges Lesnar, slugs him from the outside left and scores a direct hit, producing a laceration over Lesnar's right eye, which will require four stitches after the fight.

Then Couture makes a mistake. He is the smaller of the two men, but instead of keeping his distance he allows himself to become a target. Lesnar puts his full weight behind the blow, hitting Couture on his left ear and knocking him to the ground. The ensuing scene is something that raises doubts about Ultimate Fighting's right to exist.

Lesnar pounces on Couture, kneels over him and starts punching him in the head, doling out 17 blows in a seemingly endless 10 seconds, until the referee finally intervenes. After three minutes and seven seconds, Lesnar wins the fight by technical knockout. He climbs up onto the fence to reap his applause as the new world champion, but the audience boos him instead. Couture is lying on the floor, motionless, looking dead.

Seventeen blows to the head in 10 seconds, blows coming from a barely padded fist -- it sounds brutal. In fact, it is brutal, and it raises the question of whether Ultimate Fighting is a sport or simply assault.

A fight breaks out in the stands. Couture gets up, shakes himself and grins broadly, as if to prove that he still has all his teeth -- to howls of approval from his fans.

Two hours later, Couture is at an after-fight party in Studio 54. He has a split lower lip and swelling over his cheekbones. Drinking a beer, he says that he wasn't worried about his health. Dana White, standing next to him, admits that he was nervous.

But only for a moment. The two men are partners in a business that is supposed to look dangerous, that has to look dangerous to succeed. Looking dangerous is the whole idea.

Of course Ultimate Fighting is a sport, says White, and what a sport it is. "If you're on a field and they're playing football in one corner, basketball in the second corner and baseball in the third corner, and there's a fight going on in the fourth corner, what do you think people are watching?"


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Stoudemire: 'I want to be that guy'

LeBron loving ride on his magical free-agent tour

By Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – They should get used to it in Cleveland, because LeBron James has fallen wildly, madly in love with the courtship of LeBron James. He had come to Madison Square Garden sounding like a boxing promoter pushing a fight-night pay-per-view card. The date tumbled out of his mouth over and over – July 1, 2010. He loves the intrigue, the scenarios, the endless possibilities. Ask him anything about it. He’ll go on and on.

At this rate, James is threatening to become the first free agent ever fined for tampering with himself.

“If you guys want to go to sleep right now and not wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead because it’s going to be a big day,” James said with a smile late Tuesday. Most of his teammates had showered and gone to the bus, a 119-101 embarrassment of the Knicks complete. But James was still talking at the Garden. He started talking about 2010 on Tuesday and had so little interest in stopping.

There was the Knicks’ backdrop on the interview-room wall and a Knicks microphone next to his hands. James inspired the huddled basketball masses with a message of hope. He talked about his beloved Yankees and the need for them to sign his buddy, the ex-Indian, CC Sabathia, because they sure do need pitching. He bowed to the Garden’s history, the fights and concerts and championship basketball seasons.

“The Mecca,” James gushed.

As for LeBron leaping to the Knicks in 2010, he insisted, “You have to stay open-minded if you are a Knicks fan.”

He’s the little girl with a curl; just such a flirt, such a tease. He can’t get enough of New York clearing cap space for him, sacrificing its two top scorers and a shot at the playoffs for the chance to sign him. The Knicks haven’t just cleared space for the next Jordan, but enough to sign a Pippen, too. James can’t do this job alone, but the Toronto RaptorsChris Bosh and Phoenix SunsAmare Stoudemire could be the package deals to make New York’s leap of faith palpable.

This 2010 obsession isn’t a media creation, but a carefully orchestrated campaign that’s part hubris and part salesmanship. This way, James keeps the jerseys and the shoes flying off the shelves. That way James isn’t just a global phenomenon, but maybe the superstar on his way to your gymnasium.

“It’s not just New York and Brooklyn,” James warned. “It’s not just a two-team race.”

Detroit? Cleveland? Toronto? San Antonio? Hey, why not? This is the magical, mystical LeBron James Free Agency Tour. Clear your space, bow to the King and take him at his word that only the chance for multiple championships will influence his decision.

This free agent class of 2010 has turned into the sport’s most suffocating story. And it won’t go away because as franchises clear salary-cap space for James and Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Stoudemire, and a host more of star players, the lynchpin of it all, James, has his own fascination with transcending the sport’s landscape. He never did go through the recruiting process out of St. Vincent-St. Mary, but he is sure determined to milk national signing day in 2010. After Kobe Bryant made the Olympics all about him, King James has used his pending free agency to take back his throne.

“July 1, 2010 is going to be a very, very big day,” James said.

He loves Mike D’Antoni’s go-go offense, but insists that championships can’t be won without intense attention to defensive detail. James insists that neither he nor the Cavaliers pay no mind to the relentless stories about 2010, but he had to be dragged out of two sessions in the Knicks’ interview room on Tuesday night.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warming up before game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden November 25, 2008 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Getty Images - Nov 25, 8:38 pm EST

As much as anyone, David Stern should be grateful for what LeBron James and this story has done for his sport. No one is noticing that franchises in Charlotte and Memphis are bottoming out. No one is noticing the empty seats everywhere, the arena issues that are crippling Sacramento and New Jersey, the fact that somehow the NBA allowed the Seattle SuperSonics to turn into the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s all glossed over because the best two teams in basketball are the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, and everyone else is angling for the class of 2010.

One of the most intriguing dramas of this circumstance plays out behind the scenes, where those teams chasing cap space are waging public and private recruiting campaigns for James and his 2010 peers. The Cavaliers have been dealing with New Jersey Nets part owner Jay-Z’s access to James, as well his penchant for publicly discussing his team’s desire to sign him. Sources say Jay-Z had been told to knock it off in the past, but he’s done it again recently.

Now, Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has to hear everyone suggesting that his star, Bosh, is destined to join James in one of those cities – Cleveland or New York – that has room to sign two max-out players in 2010. He’s done a fantastic job surrounding Bosh with talent, but losing Bosh to the sweet siren of riding shotgun with LeBron is stiff competition. Colangelo just wants a fair fight, a chance to sell his program without tampering undermining his program.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass against Al Harrington #7 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden November 25, 2008 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Getty Images - Nov 25, 8:38 pm EST

“I think it’s incumbent upon the league to pay attention to the rules that we have and enforce them when necessary,” Colangelo said. “…There have been plainly visible examples where nothing has been done.” But make no mistake: Colangelo understands keeping Bosh begins and ends with the Raptors themselves.

“We need to make it difficult for Chris to leave,” he said. “We can only control what we can control and that’s to run a first-class organization that’s always professional and that helps to establish a winning culture.”

Colangelo has to be vigilant watching for the pre-July 1 backroom deals that will conspire to bring James and Bosh together – never mind the public proclamations out of rival owners and general managers coming across his laptop.

Colangelo had nothing to say about it, but rest assured that a passage in a New York Magazine story on Knicks GM Donnie Walsh didn’t go unnoticed. Walsh told the magazine, “You know what’s interesting to me? What year do you think [Chris Bosh] is a free agent? …And that kid’s a great player. But nobody talks about him. It’s all, ‘Oh, you’ve got to get LeBron!’ Look, I understand that. But you look at that free-agent class, and there’s a lot of really good players in it.”

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) reacts after a play during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008, in New York. James scored 26 points as the Cavaliers won 119-101.
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron Ja…
AP - Nov 25, 10:13 pm EST

Around the league, there’s a belief among smaller-market owners that the league office doesn’t want to penalize the New York teams for their blatant public lusting of free agents. The NBA’s president, Joel Litvin, has a monumental task of keeping order over the next 19 months because the process will ultimately turn nasty and accusatory among front offices. With superstar package deals inevitably being orchestrated well before July 1, 2010, this free-agent courtship is ripe for rules violations.

“There are things we do to monitor salary-cap circumvention and tampering, but there’s only so much we can do,” Litvin said. “We don’t tap phones, but we do investigations that aren’t always made public.

“Teams shouldn’t be commenting publicly about their interest in a player for another team who’s becoming a free agent down the road.”

With James becoming so smitten with his courtship, there will be no limits to recruiters’ overtures between now and July 1, 2010. James does not dismiss the magnitude of his pending basketball freedom, nor the frenzy that it’s inspiring. Truth be told, he’s embracing it. Perhaps Kobe has the best team these next two years, but James is controlling the biggest story.

As LeBron James said, “No team LeBron James is on will ever be under the radar.” James doesn’t want to be under the radar, he wants to be in the middle of it all. He has a big talent and a big capacity for multitasking. No one is playing better basketball in the Eastern Conference, which is some accomplishment considering that James has one eye on a ring and one foot out the door.

Whatever Cleveland thinks will happen, LeBron James will make that city, that franchise, sweat this out. And he’ll do so gladly. He had a wonderful time at the Garden on Tuesday night, and it seemed like he never wanted to leave. The candidate just talked and talked and talked, insisting that those forlorn New York fans had reason to believe a savior could be on his way. LeBron loves this saga and leaves everyone with the idea that he almost wishes it could go on forever.

“July 1, 2010,” he would say again, “is going to be a very, very big day.”

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Dodgers owners need a huge reality check

Bill Plaschke

Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times
Frank and Jamie McCourt, photographed at Dodger Stadium in July 2006, announced Tuesday that the club's charitable foundation will help build 42 youth fields around Southern California. Jamie McCourt said Wednesday, "Building a team and helping the city is not an either-or thing. We want to do both.’’

So it wasn't exactly a free turkey.

To enjoy it, you had to buy a newspaper or own a computer.
But as Thanksgiving gifts go, this season the Dodgers owners were downright philanthropic.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jamie McCourt gave every fan something so awkward and ill-conceived, it bobbed its head and gobbled.

The turkey was dressed in quote marks and stuffed with outrageousness. While Dodgers fans will certainly have fun chewing on it, they will never, ever swallow.

n speaking to The Times' Dylan Hernandez at a news conference to announce the Dodgers' charitable building of youth fields, McCourt wondered if fans would rather see their money used for these projects than for free agents.

"If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?" she said. "That's what we're trying to figure out. We're really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We're really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?"

Then, later in the conversation, she acted as if the Dodgers couldn't afford to pay the big free-agent contracts that are always guaranteed.

"I think, oddly enough, if things weren't guaranteed, then maybe we could pay for it," she said.

Finally, she finished her Leno-worthy monologue by implying that high salaries were bad for the neighborhood.

"Whatever money they are guaranteed could be money that we could otherwise have given to the community," she said.

Reaction? Where do I start?

No, No, No, No.

No, $30 million is not weird, it's the price of competitive baseball.

No, fans should never be forced to choose between a charity and a championship, that's absurd, is this a baseball team or a telethon? The fans want their money to go to one field only, the one occupied by the Dodgers, anything else is unethical and even immoral.

No, guaranteed contracts are not the deal of the devil, they are common baseball business.

No, fans should not have to worry that signing CC Sabathia means some poor child doesn't eat that night, that's beyond belief. Who runs this team, Charles Dickens?

(Should a columnist in a town that has had major league baseball for more than 50 years even have to write those last four paragraphs?)

There is only one affirmative in this mess.

Yes, these quotes now place the Dodgers in an even more impossibly hotter and tighter spot this winter.

If they spend the right money and make the smart moves, fine, everyone will forget about these Horn O'Ugly quotes.

If they don't, fans will remember nothing else.

"We already own all the pressure," Jamie McCourt said Wednesday. "Nobody can put any more pressure on us than we already have."

When I called the Dodgers' president for an explanation, she brightly responded with, "Happy Thanksgiving!"

I told her if she really believed her quotes, Dodgers fans wouldn't be having one.

She laughed.

"I always forget how a nice conversation can be so misconstrued," she said.

OK, so clarify.

Do you really expect Dodgers fans to accept a lesser team for the greater community good?

"Of course not," she said. "Building a team and helping the city is not an either-or thing. We want to do both."

Then why did you say it?

"It was a philosophical discussion, not a literal decision-making process," she said.

So, philosophically, you think it's wiser to invest in charity than championships? If you really believe this, should you even be owning a baseball team?

"What? We love owning the Dodgers more than ever, that has nothing to do with it," she said. "I was just talking about how buying players for high salaries seems insensitive when you contrast it with buying these dream fields. The difference is so stark, so vivid."

Dodgers fans can understand the contrast. What they will not understand is if the Dodgers use that contrast as an excuse to not spend the money needed for this team to improve.

"We would never do that, that's just silly," McCourt said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to win, that's our No. 1 mission, whatever it takes to get a world championship."

Then why did you even imply otherwise?

"In these tough times, with so many people losing their jobs, isn't it fair, philosophically, to at least ask about the dollars?" she said.

Oh. There it is. That's the reason for the quotes. That's the thinking behind the nonsense.

In all her statements Tuesday, Jamie McCourt was dropping a line, testing the waters, fishing.

She wanted to see if fans would view the Dodgers off-season dilemma -- many holes, much money to fill them -- through the prism of this country's tough economic situation.

She wanted to see if fans, understanding their own obscenely tough times, would forgive the Dodgers for not emptying their wallets for players asking for obscenely large money.

She used charity as her bait, but her desired catch was something much bigger.

She wanted to know, will Dodgers fans judge their off-season performance by connecting the real world to the baseball world?

The answer is, again, no, no, no, no.

The reason fans will not forgive their lack of spending is the reason those fans spend money in the first place.

Sports is not a reality show, it's a fantasy world. The Dodgers are not a business, they're an escape.

Fans don't want to hear millionaire owners complaining about costs, they want to watch baseball players winning games.

Fans are paying big money to believe that the cost doesn't matter. Fans are devoting long hours to believe that success can happen overnight.

If Babe Ruth could thrive in the Great Depression, then the Dodgers can field a championship team in 2009, no economic excuses accepted.

As large as the Dodgers are doing things like charging $90 for a spring-training seat, they will receive not one iota of monetary forgiveness from the fans, nor should they want it.

Judging from the overwhelming negative response from Tuesday's quotes, Jamie McCourt probably knows that now. And, to be fair, the Dodgers' ownership should only be judged on what happens next.

The McCourts have spent loads of money on building this team, and should be judged only on whether they will continue to spend it.

They made the moves to give the Dodgers a playoff series victory for the first time in 20 years, and have earned the benefit of the doubt that they will use this winter to take the next step.

And, yes, they can even wish us all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Just, please, no more turkeys.

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