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The Weekend Bellow — May 31, 2013

LOS ANGELES — It’s not the superfight boxing fans had clamored for, but this one will do. And it should be simply put, fantastic. Late Wednesday, Floyd Mayweather announced on his Twitter feed that he’s agreed to fight fellow unbeaten champion Canelo Alvarez this coming September 14 in Las Vegas at 152 pounds, putting his own unblemished 44-0 record on the line. It will without question be Mayweather’s toughest bout  in years and should smash his own pay-per-view record for his new home, Showtime.

“I’m giving my fans what they want,” Mayweather said in the Twitter release, and there’s no doubt that’s the case. Since Alvarez defeated Austin Trout in late April, he’s been the hot name for Mayweather’s next hand-picked opponent. Most thought their matchup would be next year at the earliest, given Mayweather’s recent layoff and hand injury suffered against Robert Guerrero, but that was put to rest Wednesday.

The fight will take place at Mayweather’s Las Vegas home, the MGM Grand and will take place on the same day as two-time defending NCAA Champion Alabama Crimson Tide battles reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and arguably the man having the greatest Spring Break of all-time, Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. My calendar is already circled for that bound-t0-be epic sports Saturday.

If I was a betting man, I’d parlay the Aggies and Mayweather.

SPURS COAST, HEAT PUSHED BY PACERS
Tony Parker, in my mind, is the MVP of the NBA Playoffs to this point. The way he dominated the Memphis Grizzlies was remarkable and unexpected, especially considering how out-of-this-world Mike Conley had been playing in the first two rounds. Truthfully, I thought the Grizzlies would defeat the Spurs in 7 games and get blown out by Miami in the Finals, but now it looks like both maybe watching from their respective Italian leather couches. To the Heat/Pacers after one more point about Tim Duncan; what he’s been able to do this postseason has been remarkable. Talk about turning back the clock, applying the deer antler spray or whatever, to see TD just destroying the competition in the second season has been wonderful. And, it’s been reported, he’s been doing in all the while locked in a nasty divorce. Kudos.

Now, onto Indiana/Miami. Who saw this coming? Put your hands down. The Pacers are huge. Like skyscraper huge and it’s obviously posing seriously problems for Miami, whose biggest player (Chris Bosh) is a 6-11 jumpshooter (I’m not counting Birdman, I’m just not). When you get outrebounded by 19 in a playoff game, you have issues. And sure, that 6th foul on LeBron James in Game 4 was pretty dubious but you have to expect that kind of wishy-washy, make-everyone-think-the-game-is-rigged refereeing once in a while. I just can’t figure out the Heat. They should be rolling, and you saw that in Game 3 and then in Game 5 how badly they can dominate when running on fully cylinders, but it just seems like they coast too much. Though I really wanna see the Spurs dismantle them. Can’t get over how amazing San Antonio is playing. I think the Spurs are going to win the title, but I think they’ll end up losing Game 1 because of the long layoff, since it seems obvious to me Pacers/Heat is going seven games.

BLACKHAWKS ADVANCE, NO CLEAR CUP FAVORITE
I’ll be the first to admit I only pay attention to the NHL during the playoffs. I’m sure I’m not alone. And while I can name more than a few players on the Bruins, to say I’m a fan would be inaccurate. I was pumped when they won the Stanley Cup a couple years ago, and I want them to win again this year, but I don’t live and die with every line change and power play. I did get moderately into the Blackhawks/Red Wings series if only because my buddy Charlie is a die-hard Chicago fan, so it was nice to see them win so he could live a little longer only to have another heart attack when they go seven games against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings here. It would be nice if I could get to a game, but it’s looking highly unlikely.

Penguins/Bruins should be a fun matchup as well. Lots of good storylines with Sydney Crosby and what Pittsburgh has been able to do this season with their super-loaded team, and Jaromir Jagr facing his former team, the team he won a couple of Cups with when he was just a rookie. Now he’s on Boston trying to lead this team to a title for the 2nd time this decade. Read somewhere that the final four is the last four Stanley Cup champions. That’s pretty neat. Hope both series go seven games.

Rooting for Kings/Bruins.

EXTRA BUTTER SUMMER-MOVIE STYLE
I’m pretty disappointed in my movie reviewing the last couple years, and every time I pledge to bring back Extra Butter, I always fall short of my own expectations (lot of first person in that sentence). So here’s some seriously quick reviews of this Spring/Summer films that I’ve seen thus far. Please note, I have yet to go see Fast 6, which I plan on doing. So in the true spirit of brevity, here’s my one-line reviews followed by my ranking.

 Iron Man 3: Gwenyth Paltrow appears for a moment wearing a sports bra and Robert Downey is very polished now in his 4th go-around, if you count “The Avengers” but I thought it was a nice conclusion to the trilogy, however it made too much money not to make a 4th; as always, stay through the credits and if Jon Favreau happens to see this, eat a salad. 3.75/5

42: Harrison Ford was a little over the top as Branch Rickey, but it was a cool to sorta re-live” history” through this film, though it wasn’t as great as I was hoping it would be. 2.75/5

Pain & Gain: This film had 3 things going for it from the get-go with me: Marky Mark, The Rock and Michael  Bay, that meant there was going to be wicked awesome one-liners, probably some big dudes doing cool stuff, and shh blowing up with gratuitous sex where applicable. Check. Check. Check. Thrown in Ed Harris and University of Southern Maine’s own Tony Schalub and you got a success, despite its stupidity. 3.25/5

Olympus Has Fallen: The first of our “let’s blow up Washington D.C.” films this year featured Gerard Butler basically doing what he should be doing in all his movies: kicking ass and taking names later, but it was nice to see Dylan McDermott getting work again despite it being this insanly over-the-top, non-believable, there-must-have-been-1,000-body-count, flick. 2.5/5

The Great Gatsby: I went in thinking this was going to be a 2-hour rap video since that’s what the previews made me think this film was, and I left thinking that I could’ve done without the Jay-Z and Beyonce songs since they, ya know, weren’t alive in 1920, but I did enjoy it, and made me think for a minute that I wanted to read the book like I was in 10th grade again. 3.25/5

GI Joe: Retaliation: A movie that knows what it is, its audience and what it wants to accomplish; fun, explosive and wrapped up with the good guys winning and The Rock kicking some serious ass; it didn’t hurt that Bruce Willis made an appearance. 3.5/5

Star Trek Into Darkness: Hands down the best flick of the season thus far, and it’s so good I don’t even want to say anything about it, just go see it and then when it’s over, see it again. 4.25/5

Oblivion: Remember when Tom Cruise went insane and everything he made was tainted? Me too, and I hated that because I really like Tom Cruise and make it a point to see all his films, so with this one I really wanted to like it and the first half was pretty awesome and then it just got weird. But Morgan Freeman is in it, so there’s that, too. 3/5

NFL OFFSEASON IN FULL SWING
I was taking some heat on Twitter when it was announced that 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree would be missing most of the 2013 season after suffering an achilles injury, those blaming me for my line of questioning to him a couple months back on the Rich Eisen Podcast. While I stand behind my simple query, I wish injury on no man, let alone someone on the cusp of greatness like Crabtree. How this affects the 49ers offense in 2013 has obviously yet to be seen, but Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham now carry a larger burden than before. No question Colin Kaepernick was counting on heaving the rock #15’s way 125+ times this coming season and such will have to look elsewhere on fourth and goal in the Super Bowl.

Glad to see Charles Woodson land somewhere, though it proves that the one thing that drives these athletes is the all mighty dollar, as reports had C-Wood with several other offers with franchises with more favorable odds to advance in the postseason than Oakland.

Am I the only one who doesn’t hold Brian Urlacher in such high esteem for his middle linebacking of the last 13 seasons? Because it seems that way. Let’s say we give 54 his due for the Arizona “You Want To Crown Them?” game, because most seem to agree that was a seminal moment for him given how well he played in the second half against Matt Leinart and Co., but name me another quintessential Brian Urlacher moment that would beseech him such a title as Hall of Famer? I can’t think of one. He was a very good player for a considerable period of time who also seemingly was hurt more often than not. That’s how I’ll remember him. That and his flings with Paris Hilton and Jenny McCarthy.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

Reflections As Two-Three Turns Five-Oh

You know it’s funny what a young man recollects? ‘Cause I don’t remember bein’ born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.

– Forrest Gump

LOS ANGELES — I don’t remember the first time I ever saw Michael Jordan play basketball. I suspect it was sometime during the 1987-’88 season. I was living in Virginia at the time in Coast Guard housing, a development with other military families, and have a vague recollection telling one of the other kids – we were both in the elementary-school range – that Jordan was the greatest ever. That he never missed a shot. I may have been imitating his jumper on a mini hoop when I said this, tongue out. As luck would have it, I was onto something with my 7-year old assessment of Jordan. He was otherwordly that year, averaging 35.0 points per game to lead the league. He also was tops in the NBA in minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and steals, and shot 53.5% from the floor. He won the first of his five MVPs that season but the Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 5 games to the Pistons.

Since then, he was always my favorite player. It helped that, because our cable TV provider carried WGN, I was able to see nearly all of his games and listen to Johnny “Red” Kerr’s blatant homerism. Call me a front-runner, I don’t care. I was 10-years old, no one knows what that even means at that age, plus I don’t think I was alone in my open-faced loving of No. 23. I had every poster, basketball card and wanted every shoe. I recorded games religiously, imitated him on the playground (tried to at least) and wore black socks and baggy shorts.

Calling Michael Jordan an “icon” doesn’t really do the word justice. Sure, we all wanted to Be Like Mike, but there was so much that encompassed that. To write about just one Jordan trait didn’t seem right and how could I possibly pick from the lot? Jordan has given me some of  my greatest sports memories, decorated my walls to no end and been the name brand on my feet for countless miles traveled. As he turned 50-years old over NBA All-Star Weekend it only seemed fitting to think back on his life to this point, how impacted mine and reflect on some of my favorite moments.

– I never saw Michael Jordan play in person. It’s probably my biggest regret as a sports fan along with having never been to Old Yankee Stadium. I never went to the Old Boston Garden or saw Joe Montana play in person either, but I wasn’t of true sports intellectual conscious during their respective heydays. But I didn’t need to see him play in person to appreciate his grace and power, domination and competitive drive, and the impact he had on his teammates with a single death stare. Basketball fans of this generation think Kobe invented that move, but he just copied all of Jordan’s. Only he doesn’t do them as great. I’ve seen hundreds of games on TV but seeing him in person just once would’ve been enough. Thankfully, I’ve been able to see some of the current greats but I’ll always regret never seeing 23.

– My birthday is the 23rd and for this reason I always felt a kinship to MJ, and whenever I’m playing roulette I always load up the chips on 23 Red.

– When my family lived in Alaska, my friend Jared Burdette-Gross had a pair of Jordan 5s, the ones with the purple trim, and he let me wear them once and it was the greatest thing my feet had ever had covering them. I knew I had to have some someday. So I saved. And saved. And finally bought some 10s at the Ocean City, Md. mall. It was summer and we were visiting my grandparents at their condo and I saw them. It was love at first sight. That was my first pair. I’ve bought 4 others. Hope to buy at least lots more some day.

– For the “Shrug Game” against the Blazers in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals, I had a Little League game. We lived in Alaska at the time and I played for Coastal Tire. I was 11 and either pitched or played shortstop that day, but I never got to see it live because of the game. But my dad had to work and then came later and told me all about it. It was amazing. I must’ve watched SportsCenter a half dozen times that night and morning. Dan and Keith killed it, I’m sure. Always get goosebumps seeing that clip and it conjures up that memory.

– When Jordan retired for the first time we had just moved to Maine and were living in a cottage-style hotel in Scarborough while we waited for our house to be ready to move in to. It was freezing cold in that place. And then Jordan retired. Held the press conference. Sold the story of when he has nothing left to prove in the game basketball, it’s time to move on. I was crushed. I still have the USA Today from Oct. 6, 1993; it was a thing I did as a kid, collect newspapers and clippings from big stories. I don’t know why, but I always had to have them. And they’re all in a tupperware at my mom’s house. I once made a Rickey Henderson posterboard after he broke the stolen base record. That was fun.

– Of all my Jordan posters, and there have been many – Jordan with all his rings, one with him, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the ’88 dunk contest slam from the free-throw line –  my favorite has to be “Wings.” I used to have it hanging above my bed at my mom’s house. It was like sports jesus blessing me before I went to sleep each night. I bought it for around $12, which was twice as much as posters went for in those days, and while I thought it was steep (it’s doubtful I had a “job” at the time) clearly it was worth it. Do kids even have posters on their walls these days? The poster rack was always the first place I went to at Wal-Mart and when a Prints Plus opened up in the Maine Mall, I’d spend an hour in there browsing the racks.

– On March 19, 1995 Jordan made his comeback to the Bulls official with his fax that simply stated: “I’m back.” He took to the court against the Pacers and I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only do I have the game on VHS tape somewhere, but I even kept stats and have that sheet somewhere as well. What can I say, I was an enormous nerd back in the day.

– I learned to really play basketball on the playground of my elementary school in Ketchikan, Alaska; Valley Park Elementary. A group of us, when not playing football or kickball or some other form of ball sport, would play hoops. The nets were chain link and it was a struggle to get shots off on the full-size rims, but I always remembered these games because our friend had a Michael Jordan red and black ball that we used. I loved that ball and desperately wanted one of my own. Never found it, though.

– I was a sports card collector. And that’s putting it lightly. From the ages of 8 til about 14 I was into it as much as you could be and accumulated a vast collection. Every Saturday as a kid I would make my way to the grocery story or Wal-Mart or even the card shop on the main drag when we lived in Ketchikan and scope out new releases and decide what packs to spend my money on. I’d trade with friends and even had a subscription to a couple price guides to check the value of my investments. Of course, the bottom fell out of the sports card market some time ago but I’ve still held onto everything. They’re all neatly tucked away at my mom’s house in Maine, and among them are 50+ Jordan cards from as far back as, I think, 1988. I even have a few of his Upper Deck baseball cards when he played for Birmingham. I remember exactly where I was when I opened the pack to find those, now that I think about it. Right next to the light by Sam’s Club on the Holmes Rd. in Scarborough, Maine. Yes, ladies, I am available.

I could go on and on with insignificant, yet specific memories I have of Jordan, like where I was for his Game 6 winner against Utah in the 1998 Finals (my upstairs living room jumping up and down like a mad man) or his infamous Hall of Fame Speech in 2009 (watching streaming online in our tiny ass apartment in West Hollywood), but simply put, I’m a fan and always will be. In opinion he’s the best basketball player who ever lived and the game’s ultimate competitor. No one wanted it more and no one pushed his teammates to levels not even they thought they were capable of. Jordan trusted them and they trusted him and his teams won because of it. It’s not something you see often in today’s sports landscape.

I’ve never met Michael Jordan  him and not sure I want to. Often when you meet your hero you leave disappointed. I’ve read everything there is to read about the man and so far, that’s been good enough for me. Maybe someday our paths will cross and you can bet I’ll remember it.