All sports fans are nuts about their favorite teams, but not only are we zealous about our teams, we are fanatics about the people who write about our teams. If you grew up in Boston, you lived and died by Bob Ryan. In Philadelphia, it was Bill Conlin. In New York, we have had plenty of memorable sports writers, from Dick Young to Peter Vecsey. Then there a few bad writers, the people who are homers for their teams, or write in cliché.
And then there's William Rhoden, a sports columnist for the New York Times, and the worst of the worst.
The Times, the nation's paper of record, is held to a higher standard than other newspapers. This is the home of Red Smith, Harvey Araton, George Vescey. Yet, the Times hands its valuable space to William Rhoden, who is to the sports section what William Kristol was to the op-ed page.
Let me give you some Rhoden flavor, before I get to his column today: I recall, a few years ago, that Rhoden once wrote that Michael Vick was the Michael Jordan of the NFL. Now, of course, this was before Vick's dog-killing habits become public. This was when Vick was a quarterback of great potential. Michael Jordan may be the best ever to play a game. Vick, again, was a quarterback of great potential. Not according to Rhoden, though -- Vick was the Michael Jordan of the NFL. The highest praise that could be heaped upon a player. Vick had not won anything yet. We still didn't know what kind of player Vick would become. To Rhoden, he was Michael Jordan. Wow. What 11-year old came up with that column?
More Rhoden: In the NBA, it was long believed that you need three superstars to win a title. This thinking became outmoded in the salary cap era, when teams could afford two or maybe only one superstar. But Rhoden's thinking was based on the old Magic-Kareem-Worthy Lakers, or the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics. While his concept for what it takes to succeed in the NBA was already outdated, let's give Rhoden the benefit of the doubt that three superstars were what it took to win a title. Let's also remember that there are very few superstars in the NBA (a superstar defined as players who transcend the sport and are household names). Sports fans often debate whether a player is or is not a superstar. As an example, Shaq is a superstar. Deron Williams is a star -- maybe one day he'll be a superstar. So Rhoden writes a column about the New Jersey Nets, who were about to tear up their roster. He writes that the Nets have three superstars -- Jason Kidd (correct), Richard Jefferson (a nice player, not even an All-Star) and Kenyon Martin (a nice player, once an All-Star). Here's what I'm telling you: no one who had watched basketball for 10 minutes would argue that Jefferson and Martin are superstars. No one. Not even Richard Jefferson's siblings would argue that he's a superstar. It's a dumb point to make -- the person reading your column then has to think you know nothing about basketball. Yet, to Rhoden, the Nets should keep their team together because they had three superstars (they had one).
Here's more: William Rhoden wrote a column stating that the NBA should give the Knicks a special dispensation to get rid of the bad contracts. This is a quote: "The N.B.A. should act like the World Bank and treat the Knicks like a developing nation. The league needs success in New York and there is only one way to achieve that: The N.B.A. has to forgive the Knicks' debt." Now, I'm a Knicks fan. I love the Knicks. But, two things: 1- the NBA does not need success in New York. The Knicks have had a few good years, and many bad ones, over the last 40 years. They stunk it up for much of the '80s. The league thrived. Two, could you imagine if the league awarded the Knicks special favors, favors that they did not give to other teams in the NBA, after the Knicks had made so many stupid moves?
As you can see from the previous statement, and as we all know, Isiah Thomas was to running the Knicks as George W. Bush was to running the country. His bad moves are what prompted Rhoden to write that the Knicks need a special dispensation from the league. Isiah was the absolute worst General Manager, an embarrassment, and it'll take years for the Knicks to recover. However, Rhoden wrote: "No coach in recent Knicks history was treated as harshly as Thomas. From the moment Thomas was named team president to the moment he was forced to coach the team he assembled, Thomas was the object of an intense dislike that, near the end, bordered on hatred." Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like William Kristol talking about W.?
Hold on, I'm not done. When the Knicks hired Donnie Walsh to run the team, and Mike D'Antoni to coach it, it was the New York hoops equal to when Obama became President. Yes, it'll take years to recover from the mess created by the predecessor, but now there's a plan, and the team is on the right track.
Knicks fans have been pleasantly surprised this season by how watchable the Knicks have become. They may not make the playoffs, but the team is fun, the players are young and improving, and there appears to be a bright future ahead.
The success started this year when Coach D'Antoni told Stephon Marbury, the Knicks cancer, that he basically would not play. This told the other Knicks players, young and impressionable for the most part, that good play and teamwork counted more than a zillion-dollar contract, and if you were a pain in the locker room, you were not playing. Message heard: the Knicks players, most of which seemed to dislike Marbury, instantly became more cohesive as a team. Finally, the coach asked Marbury to play in a game, Marbury said no, and the Knicks suspended him. Good for the Knicks.
What did Rhoden write after the Knicks suspended Marbury? "Didn't New York used to have a professional basketball team?... This is immensely entertaining but also amateurish: a tantalizing battle of wills, between whom I'm not sure. Marbury and James Dolan? Marbury and D'Antoni? Marbury and the franchise?
"I didn't call for this," Marbury said Friday. "I don't have any harsh feeling toward the Knicks at all. I just want to move forward. That's it."
Relax. Watch the sideshow. And wonder: Didn't New York used to have a professional basketball team?"
Now, you may ask, was Rhoden paying attention the Knicks? What had happened when Rhoden was sleeping was that, as any Knicks fan will tell you, professionalism had returned to the Garden. Rhoden, paid to watch sports, was telling us the exact opposite of what was happening. It is as if I wrote a column today when I woke up this morning stating that, "It is night outside. The sky is dark all around me." Now, we know it's morning. But I'm saying it's night, and I write for the Times, so if I say it's night, it's night!
Now, here we go again with our Bizarro columnist. A little background: The New York Jets have hired a new coach, Rex Ryan, the former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. The Jets go through coaches quickly, and just gambled and lost on Brett Favre's comeback. They are a team in need of an identity. The team is rebuilding with Ryan's specialty, defense, and has imported tough players from those Ravens. The rebuilding has gone well so far, in fact, a Sports Illustrated writer wrote that the Jets have just assembled a championship-caliber defense.
Of course, with a new coach, you want to give him every opportunity to put his stamp on the team, to make it his own, to make sure the players who work for this coach understand that he's in charge, and a good General Manager does all he can to make sure the coach is not undermined and has all the tools he needs to lead.
With that in mind, last week, Dallas became the third NFL team to wave goodbye to Terrell Owens. Owens is a Marbury, a clubhouse cancer. Dallas purged themselves of Owens despite his enormous talent and a salary cap hit because Owens is too divisive of a figure for the team to keep. He criticizes his quarterbacks and coaches, and this has caused him to be ousted from San Francisco, Dallas and Philadelphia. Now, as you may imagine, the NFL has quite its share of characters. You really have to do something wrong to get booted from your team when you're such a talent. But, even his talent may be fading. Owens is 35 years old, on the downside of his career. He led the league in drops last season.
When Owens was let go by Dallas, teams could not state fast enough that they would not sign him. Even the spending happy Washington Redskins said there's no way they would sign the guy at this point in his career.
Yet, Buffalo, a team with little to lose, took a chance on Owens by signing him to a one-year deal. It's a good deal for the Bills; if Owens messes up, they won't re-sign him.
The Jets do not have a quarterback on the roster that is assured of a starting job, and the current QBs they have are very young. They have a first-year head coach. They are rebuilding the team with a hard-nosed attitude defined by their coach. Of all the teams in the NFL, the last team that would sign T.O. would be the Jets.
And here we have our man William Kristol, I mean, Rhoden: "Opponents Fear Owens, But Why Did Jets?"
Writes Rhoden: "Jets fans should be seething... Owens was signed by one of the Jets' division rivals." Why they should seethe. He was going to sign somewhere, and it's not as if their division rivals New England (great management) or Miami (great management) were willing to sign T.O. No, the Bills, the team with the least to lose, signed him.
Writes Rhoden: "Your Jets. A team that has not won a Super Bowl in 40 years hires a new coach who promises fans that the team is going to have an edge. They added significant defensive pieces... then passed on T.O. out of fear. Some edge." So, in other words, if the Jets were going to have an edge (meaning, they were going to be very tough) they should take a risk on the NFL's most notoriously bad teammate? With a new coach and a new philosophy? Why -- to keep him away from Buffalo, not exactly a dynasty in the making?
Writes Rhoden: "On Friday, a Jets official... explained why Owens wouldn't be, couldn't be, shouldn't be a Jet. Owens would poison the team. Tear up the locker room. Be too big of a risk. And, what exactly is the risk to an organization that hasn't won a championship... in 40 years? Success?" Well, no. The risk is that Owens undermines a new coach and a new philosophy, as well as a new quarterback. Those seem like pretty big risks.
Writes Rhoden: "Last season, Owens's performance slipped, and he led the (NFC) in drops, yet he still had 69 receptions for 1,052 years and 10 touchdowns. No Jets receiver had more yards or more touchdowns than Owens." Owens also led Dallas in receiving yards and touchdowns, yet they waived him. Why would they waive a guy who led their receiving corps? Hmmm..."
Rhoden then says this: "...many of Owens's teammates speak highly of him." He quotes two players from the Cowboys who speak highly of T.O. But here's a report from the Star-Telegram in Dallas: The Cowboys players..."knew what a pain in the butt (T.O.) was, and knew he had to go." Owens claimed that the quarterback Tony Romo was forcing the ball to the tight end Jason Witten. Just FYI, this is not much different than other criticism T.O. had of his quarterbacks over the years. Witten, in turn, hit back at T.O. Writes the Star-Telegram: ""A bunch of us were talking and a guy was like, 'Wait, we're talking about Witten. We know him. This is a good guy, a good teammate,' a player said Friday, "And you could see the light bulb go on."
Finally, here's Rhoden synopsis on what happened with T.O. in Dallas: "Owens became a scapegoat and was jettisoned. A chapter ended in Dallas, one has begun in Buffalo; no chapter at all with the Jets. (Jets fans) should be seething." Memo to Bill: I think most Jets fans would have jumped off the roof of the Meadowlands stadium if Owens was on the team.
Sports columnist for the Times. The nation's paper of record, the newspaper with the most incredible journalists. Yet: when I see Rhoden on the sports page, I think to myself, this paper doesn't care about sports. This is why I have to buy the Post or read the Daily News on-line. The Times is willing to foist William Rhoden on us, and by doing so, they insult sports fans. Please, Times, for your own good: take away this man's column and have him cover games. Give this valuable space to someone else. You took William Kristol's op-ed column away from him; please find someone better than Rhoden to take up your valuable real estate.