Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in December of 1891.
The first game was played one month later at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass.
The sport developed over time and in January of 1896, the first college game using five players per team was played, when the University of Chicago defeated the University of Iowa, 15-12. It was believed to be such an exciting game that Nike swooped in the following week and began paying off AAU coaches, corrupted collegiate athletics, influenced recruiting and formed the basis of what we today call the, “NCAA.”
Or something like that.
Over 100 years later, the NCAA tournament begins this week in most of these United States. Georgia is not participating, I’m guessing because we’re still a little behind the curve. I did several minutes of research (it happens) and discovered that Atlanta was hit by a winter storm in 1896 that dropped six inches of snow on the city, and you know we just don’t react well to that sort of thing. Must’ve thrown our timing off. Embrace your office pool, because that’s as close as we’re getting to the NCAA men’s tournament in Georgia. We have something in common with Maine. Who knew? The Countdown . . .
Dr. Naismith nailed up a peach basket. You would think that would have given us some sort of advantage. I broke down the 65-team tournament field by states while only half-watching “24,” Monday night, because I had a feeling Jack was going to live until the next episode (again!). The schools are from 33 states, which leaves only 17 on the outside. That’s assuming we count Alaska and Hawaii, which I really don’t because they are less states than they are travel brochures. And are we even sure there’s even a hoop in Juneau?
Georgia Tech has missed the tournament three of the last four seasons. Georgia has played in one of the last seven. Georgia State last made it in 2001. Georgia Southern in 1992. No wonder spring football seems to get bigger every year — there’s nothing else to talk about. Among the other states Georgia has something in common with this tournament: Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Some how North Dakota State got in. There has been some talk of all four states being annexed by Manitoba. Wonder if that would improve our recruiting?
For what it’s worth, Ohio has the most tournament teams with five (Ohio State, Xavier, Akron, Cleveland State and Dayton). Massachusetts, where the game was invented, has only one (Boston College). Fascinate your friends with this bit of trivia. The 16 states that don’t have a team (other than us): Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Arkansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado. So the next time you hear a coach, athletic director, school president, governor or congressman push for the tournament field to be expanded to 128, pay attention they’re from. The heavy money is on Bangor.
We’re moving into the late stages of the WBC. Catch the fever yet? It’s probably a virus. Or a staph infection. So where are all of you WBC defenders now? Chipper Jones is out with a strained oblique muscle. The Braves can’t be certain he’ll be ready for Opening Day — and even if he is, he’ll be ready for Opening Day after coming off an injury (not good foreshadowing). Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia also has checked out of the WBC with an abdominal strain. Florida closer Matt Lindstrom is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun has some strain in his side. So far, nobody has lost a major organ. Just interest. The good news is that fans in Venezuela think this is really cool and T-shirt sales are going well in the Netherlands. Of all of baseball’s dumb creations, this one ranks second only to Bud Selig, but slightly ahead of the designated hitter.
6. And finally (I mean it this time)
I’ve got no problem with globalization in sports. Leagues need new revenue steams. I get that. But this isn’t the way to go about it — not in the spring and not in the U.S. Major League Baseball ultimately is supported by Americans, so that has to be priority one. Players are paid by teams and supported by fans for a season that is three weeks away. Players are getting hurt for something meaningless. The games are not being embraced here. The U.S.-Netherlands crowd in South Florida: 11,059. Selig is talking about how great attendance is in Tokyo. Great! That should help the Red Sox this year. Here’s an idea: Play exhibitions overseas with teams and stars NOT participating in the playoffs after the season. Or schedule exhibitions in the winter. But this isn’t the way to go about it.
The Thrashers have won a franchise record six straight games, including the last two without Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kari Lehtonen stopped 49 of 50 shots against Washington Monday night — all of which might mean something if the team didn’t still rank 26th in the overall standings and hopelessly out of the playoffs with 12 games left.
And I’m sure I know what fans are thinking: “Oh great. This means they’re not going to fire Don Waddell.” Hey, I stopped guessing. But you might be interested in this: The Hockey News is coming out with its rankings of NHL general managers in its next issue — and Waddell ranks 30th. Ken Campbell, who wrote the piece, said, “They’ve played well lately. But overall the results really speak for themselves. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to do a very good job. His draft record hasn’t been very good despite a lot of high picks. Player development hasn’t turned out a lot. He hasn’t found anyone to play consistently with Ilya Kovalchuk. One playoff appearance and no wins. It’s all kind if self-explanatory.”
The Arena Football League is taking one year off, which shouldn’t be confused with previous years, when they played and nobody noticed. The league has reached agreement with the players on a new CBA. It took a while but I believe the union finally agreed to the league’s wording: “We will pay you. Probably.” There are still 16 teams in the league, at least officially. One of them, the Georgia Force, is owned by Arthur Blank, who has more pressing concerns these days: 1) The Falcons’ payroll; 2) Falcons’ season ticket sales, suites leases and sponsorships; 3) building a new stadium; 4) Home Depot stock; 5) Home Depot stock. (I thought that was worth mentioning twice.) I’m purely guessing here but I don’t think he’s looking for another potential tax writeoff. Blank referred questions to team president Dick Sullivan, who said in an email: “We still have a number of issues to resolve, none insurmountable, but we need to work through the process over the weeks/months ahead to understand the complete financial model for the Georgia Force, as well as for the League.” I feel confident in adding this is the longest mention the AFL will ever get in the Countdown.
According to legend, and also a website, St. Patrick did not really chase the snakes out of Ireland, but, “It is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated. Spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.” Sure. Know why? Because they wrote history after four beers, seven shots and the mental exhaustion of trying to think of a hot Irish athlete for the Countdown.
Got one! Natalie Coughlin actually was born in Vallejo, Calif., but she is of Irish descent, somewhere back there. She’s also the most decorated Olympic athlete in the last two Games (11 medals) who is not named Michael Phelps, and has the added bonus of never once having been seen in Columbia, S.C., ordering 19 pizzas at 2 a.m. following several bong hits. As always, for equal time, also pictured is an Ireland Olympic high jumper, who prefers to be known only as, “Lucky.”
Mary McElroy, who surprisingly was fired as Georgia State athletic director and later reached a financial settlement with the school, didn’t take long to find another job. She has been hired by SMU as senior associate athletic director for compliance. Steve Orsini, SMU’s athletic director, worked with McElroy at both Georgia Tech (where he was associated A.D.) and Navy. McElroy? She’s not saying much. “I’d just rather not comment,” she said by phone. “I’m trying to move on to with my life. Have a good day.” Click. It was one of the nicer no comments I’ve ever heard.
OK, here are the winners. (Actually haven’t done my bracket yet, but I put at least 30 seconds of thought into this). Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina, Florida State (I’ve got man love for Toney Douglas). Final Two: Louisville, North Carolina. Final One: North Carolina.