Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. America and all ships at sea! My nom de guerre is “The Optimist” and if it’s Monday, that must mean it’s time for the big-budget cavalcade of whimsy we like to call “NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE”!
(By the way, that’s my standard “NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE” open. No international greetings during the summer. Union deal.)
Speaking of the international language, I think it’s vital that today’s update begins with the now-completed multi-national sporting spectacle that once again captured the imagination of the world – an event that once again saw America’s finely-tuned athletes taking center stage and collectively assuming the mantle of the best team on Plant Earth.
Of course, I am referring to the Little League World Series.
Behind the raw power of Tanner Tokunaga – who blasted a pair of taters in Hawaii’s 12-3 win over Mexico – Team USA took its fourth straight title. It was Mexico’s first appearance in the final since 1997, when Guadalupe beat Mission Viejo, California for the crown.
Mexico had another nice run in 2008, but it was not to be, as the Americans avenged that painful loss in ’97. In fact, I think I’ll call this Hawaii squad “the Redeem Team.”
The eyes of the world haven’t been this glued to the LLWS since a fresh-faced 27-year-old from the Bronx named Daniel Almonte captured a nation’s collective heart back in 2001.
Of course, as with any sporting event, there are always some rotten apples who try to ruin it for everyone. In the case of the Little League World Series, it’s Cavaliers Graphics Director, Mark Podolak. You’ve read about Podolak embarrassing the franchise in this column before – whether it was parading around San Antonio in a pink cowboy hat or mocking the Red Auerbach statue in Beantown.
But nothing gives this sad, sadistic individual more joy than watching Little Leaguers cry after a loss in the LLWS. As we’re glued to the TV during ESPN’s round-the-clock coverage, office personnel can only shake their heads in disgust as Podolak revels in the wee ones’ grief. He loves the waterworks.
I’d like to expect more from a father of two, but I guess that’s my fault for putting Mark on a pedestal.
Because of TheBron and Co.’s other victory for the States, I will once again have to skip some critical stories, like Shawn Kemp’s komeback with Premiata Montegranaro of the Eye-talian League, Wakanoho – the Russian sumo wrestling champion – and his lifetime ban for having a joint in his wallet, and the heroics of my man Syndric “Magic Shoes” Steptoe, who has single-handedly kept our beloved Brownies from almost not being winless in the preseason.
Captain America – If Tanner Takunaga – whose two-run double Saturday capped a miraculous sixth-inning comeback to send his club to the title game – was the United States’ finest athlete in international competition over the past few days, one would have to say that TheBron would be a close second. (Probably followed by Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant and Misty May-Treanor.)
Bryant and Dwyane Wade may have done the scoring in Sunday’s gold medal-winning 118-107 win over Spain, but TheBron proved once again – as he had all tournament – that he’s what makes Team USA tick.
The Chosen One set the tone defensively, stuffed the stat sheet without dominating the ball, and provided the rock-solid leadership that an American team hasn’t had in the past two Olympics. In Sunday’s victory over a stubborn squad of Spaniards, TheBron was 6-for-9 from the floor – including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc – with six boards, three dimes, three steals and a blocked shot.
Team USA had fallen from grace over the past eight years, and even TheBron had been (wrongfully) indicted for the country’s woes. After finishing third in Athens in 2004, you may have even heard the young King derogatorily referred to as “LeBronze” – which is French for “TheBronze.”
Unlike Larry Brown, Coach Krzyzewski realized – after watching Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury run the show in 2004 – that it’s not enough just to have the Chosen One on the team. You have to give the young man the keys.
Team USA’s reign of terror in the 2008 Games saw them wipe out the first six squads by an average of 32 points per victory. The Argentines gave the American team a harder time with Manu Ginobili actually in the locker room. And Pau Gasol’s Spanish team was down just four – 108-104 – with 2:25 to play.
But as they had in seven games before, Team USA exerted its will on an opponent, and Wade’s three-pointer guaranteed gold for the Good Guys. They finished a perfect 8-0 with Wade leading the team in scoring. TheBron finished second at 15.5 ppg.
Not all of Team USA had a stellar run in Beijing. Carlos Boozer – Utah Jazz forward who you may remember once played in Cleveland – averaged a team-low six minutes per game. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Chinese fans nicknamed him “Fan Gu Zai,” which translates as "Betrayal Skull Dude."
With the Gold medal, TheBron – whose Chinese nickname is “Xiao Huang Di,” or “Little Emperor” – now adds a little more hardware to his trophy case.
He’s reached the Olympic ideal, and now the young King will set his sights on NBA Gold – and lip-locking the Larry O’Brien Trophy’s bulbous head in June.
What Did You Say Your Name Was? – Two weeks ago, Cavaliers GM Dan Ferry traded Damon Jones and Joe Smith to Milwaukee in exchange for electrifying point guard, Mo Williams. The Bucks then turned around and shipped Joe Smith and former All-Optimist Second Teamer Desmond Mason to Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma City team has an arena; I just saw a report about their ticket prices. We know their team is actively making moves because it traded for Joe Smith and recently released an all-time Optimist favorite – Donyell Marshall. But what we don’t know is who they are. Oklahoma City’s team has not yet been named.
Sure, by the time you read this, OKC officials might have made a decision. And it’s a big one. Young NBA fans today will consider the “Seattle SuperSonics” as antiquated as the Muncie Flyers or the Kenosha Maroons.
Early reports have them being called the “Thunder.” Other names under consideration were “Twisters,” “Heroes,” and “Mustangs.” Personally, I think they should go with the cowboy motif and go with “The Team with No Name” – just like Clint Eastwood’s bad-a** character from the spaghetti westerns. Sounds kind of tough and ominous.
Croat Poached in Phoenix – Now that the Earl of Boykins has jumped from the NBA to play for a lucrative contract in Europe, I have been scanning the defection list carefully, and I’d like to keep you filthy Americans up to date.
Recently, Croatian guard Gordan Giricek bolted Phoenix to play for the premier club in Turkey, Fenerbahce.
"There is a new sense in Europe," said Giricek’s agent, Marc Fleisher, "that anyone is available. It used to be that they would only go after certain kinds of NBA players. They would make offers to unrestricted free agents or to players who were at the end of their careers. But now they sense that there is an opportunity, thanks to the way the collective bargaining agreement is set up, that they can go after and get NBA players. It's a whole new world.”
It can be a little unnerving for NBA teams, exspecially if they have international players who are vital to their interests. Or you can take solace in the conventional wisdom of Charles Barkley, who said, “I’ve been on TNT for years, and no one’s ever asked me, ‘Who won the championship in Greece last year?’”
Death of a Titan – Before I leave you guys and dolls, I think we would be remiss to overlook last week’s passing of a local legend – Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
Irregardless of your political disposition, it’s important to recognize and remember one of Cleveland’s finest human beings. She went from Glenville to Case Western to County Prosecutor to the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from the state of Ohio. Back at Case, she once gave Mohammed Ali a ride to his own speech on campus. And she became quite a fighter herself, from those days forward.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones suffered a cerebral aneurism and passed away at the age of 58. If you’re too much of a Republican jerk to keep quiet during this Moment of Silence™, I’d like it if you not be here when the rest of us get back to wrap things up in a second …
That’s all we have for this week’s NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE.
Now go outside and take on the rest of this week, brimming with jingoistic, patriotic red-blooded American pride. Puff out your chest and high-five your fellow countrymen, knowing that the Cavaliers’ resident Olympian is bringing the Gold medal back from Beijing to Bath Township, and that our Little Leaguers can make other country’s Little Leaguers cry like little girls.
It doesn’t get any better than that, friends.
Choose faith, Cleveland