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Sheldon Hirsch - January 27, 2015

When the Chicago Bulls slumped recently, Coach Tom Thibodeau berated the team for lack of effort: “We’re going to have to bring a lot more intensity. And the only way you bring a lot more intensity is to work a lot harder… . There’s no shortcuts. If you don’t play with an edge you’re in trouble. There’s a serious price to pay… . We have to get that fight back in us.”

Following Thib’s lead, Bulls player Kirk Hinrich added, “We have to fight like our life depends on it.”

Thib’s explanation of the Bulls’ losses omitted Mike Dunleavy’s absence due to injury. He also did not mention Joakim Noah’s ailing knee. Or the effects of Derrick Rose missing several seasons; Jimmy Butler’s shooting slump; Aaron Brooks’ poor defense; Pau Gasol’s slow feet; Nikola Mirotic’s inexperience; Hinrich’s age, or the difficult process of incorporating three new rotation players.

Thib’s comments did not surprise folks in Chicago. He attributes every Bulls loss to poor effort. While he addresses other issues behind closed doors, he clearly fixates on effort.

Most NBA coaches seem to share the view that basketball games measure character, with the tougher guys usually winning and the losers needing to try harder. Coaches commonly ascribe losses to not getting loose balls, not getting back on defense, not competing, not meeting the victor’s effort, not fighting for your life. Few coaches speak about less talent. One refreshing... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - January 21, 2015

Kobe Bryant recently stated that European basketball players are “way more skillful” than American players and that American AAU basketball is “horrible, terrible …stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all ….” Bryant sounded an ominous note, “It’s something we really have to fix.” Many fans and other observers agree.

Kobe merely resurrected an old idea originally inspired by losses the USA national team suffered at the 2002 FIBA World Championship tournament and the 2004 Olympics. European excellence at fundamentals, combined with American lack of the same, supposedly had ushered in a new basketball era with Europe (or more broadly, foreigners) assuming the historical American position of dominance.

In other words, the doomsday prediction for USA basketball has already been proposed and tested for over a decade.

It turned out completely wrong.

In retrospect, the USA losses derived from a subpar selection and training process, and not lack of skills. USA basketball returned to dominance after revising those strategies. Under director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski, the USA won 72 of its next 73 games (the single loss took place in the 2006 FIBA semifinals) including the last two Olympics and the last two World Championships.

At the 2014 FIBA World Cup the USA won nine consecutive games by an average of 33 points, defeating Serbia in the final by 37. And the Americans ran up those scores without most of their best players. Bryant, LeBron James,... read more »

Robby Brumberg - January 19, 2015

It’s once again time for that perfunctory annual farce, that dreadful spectacle of Hawaiian non-competition known as the NFL Pro Bowl - and this year it's not even in Hawaii! It’s an event that draws yawns, eye-rolls and apathy from even the most avid football fans. The game is meaningless, everyone’s afraid to get hurt … the whole thing is just thoroughly uninteresting. 

Why can’t we figure out how to make the all-star game of our great land’s most popular sport something worth watching?

I’m here today with a robust proposal I believe can inject new spice and meaning into the Pro Bowl, and make it the meaty season-capping extravaganza we all deserve. I’d like to begin with a focus on three critical words: fat guy touchdowns.

Who among us does not enjoy seeing a gigantic lineman rumble into the end zone? We disagree about many things in this country, but watching an XXXXL left guard jiggle his way to the house is something just about all 318 million of us can agree on.

Which brings me to the first of my three-point plan for creating a Pro Bowl we can all be proud of.

1. Make the game linemen-only. I say we scrap the obligatory pseudo-game that no one wants to play in and no one wants to watch, and replace it with a high intensity flag football matchup between the game’s biggest linemen. Not the game’s best linemen; simply the largest. I don’t want to see anyone under 340 pounds out there. This sort of matchup would serve the dual... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - January 16, 2015

The controversy over Dez Bryant’s amazing “no-catch” in Green Bay’s recent 26-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys obscured a bonehead decision made earlier by Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Davante Adams late in the third quarter, narrowing the Cowboys’ lead to 21-19. Inexplicably, McCarthy chose to kick an extra point rather than attempt a two-point conversion. A successful two-point conversion would have tied the game. Failure would have left the Packers down two points instead of one (with the extra-point kick); a distinction of minimal significance. Had the game ended at 21-20, or had both teams subsequently scored equally (also leading to a one-point Cowboys win), the failure to go for two points would have made McCarthy the goat. As it happened, Rodgers’ fourth-quarter touchdown pass saved the Packers and his coach.

We should give McCarthy a bit of a break. His errant thinking occurred in the context of widespread under-utilization of the two-point conversion by NFL coaches. They attempted only 59 all season.

Two-point attempts over the last five seasons succeeded 48.1 percent of the time, and that includes aborted kick attempts. Thus, intended two-point attempts may have equaled the efficiency of the point-after-touchdown kick. 

Moreover, teams could achieve better than 50 percent success with two-point conversions by running more often, as the success rate with runs significantly exceeds that with passes. 

In any case, game situations... read more »