In the world of sports, 2017 was an eventful year in the Kingdom, in the Bay Area, in the White House, in the sticks. Heck, Charles Barkley even pulled his weight in his native Alabama, campaigning for weeks for the takedown of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Don’t appreciate the way politics has crept into the sports landscape? Sorry, but that’s unlikely to change in 2018. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Stan Van Gundy have the open microphone and are advocating up a storm. And while we don’t make all the rules, here are some thoughts, opinions, observations, pokes, questions about the most compelling local and national stories of these past 12 months.
Dive right in. It’s crazy out there …
Colin Kaepernick is in his physical prime, more experienced than most NFL backups, more talented than many NFL starting quarterbacks, and was unable to find gainful employment. Any doubts that he was blackballed because he took a knee during the national anthem the previous year to protest social injustice and police brutality have hereby been obliterated.
But it gets even better (or worse). Donald Trump urged NFL owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field” – a reference to all players who kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick and his causes. Who would do this, say this? The president of the United States. The leader of the free world. This is absolutely terrifying. So maybe Kap will be motivated to vote in the next election? Just saying.
DeMarcus Cousins huffed and puffed, and after almost seven seasons, earned a ticket to New Orleans in a trade for Buddy Hield and a No.10 draft pick that GM Vlade Divac turned into Justin Jackson (No. 15) and Harry Giles (No. 20). It remains to be seen whether Jackson and Giles (he of the bad knees) develop into significant contributors, or in the case of the uber talented Giles, an elite performer. But for all the blowback, it is pretty obvious the Kings needed to start over. After outlasting numerous coaches, front office officials and teammates, Boogie perceived himself as the CEO, president, prime minister, and GM of the club, when in reality, he is a monster talent in need of boundaries, comparable surrounding talent (Anthony Davis), and a change of scenery. The year 2018 should represent his inaugural postseason appearance.
The offseason of 2017 was a veritable swap meet of NBA All-Stars. One year after Kevin Durant defected to the Golden State Warriors, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony went to Oklahoma City. Chris Paul was traded to Houston. Jimmy Butler joined Tibs in Minnesota. Paul Millsap arrived in Denver. Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving pair up in Boston, where in the heartbreak hoops story of the past few years, Isaiah Thomas saw his 2 1/2 year stay in Boston end in tragedy and trauma. Only months after leading the Celtics revival, he lost his sister in an auto accident and then was traded to the Cavs. And Isaiah is absolutely right about one thing. The NBA can be a nasty business. The next time Durant or LeBron James jump from one team to another, remember Isaiah.
KD’s decision to leave Oklahoma City for Oakland worked out perfectly – for Durant, the Warriors, music buffs everywhere. The team that plays a symphonic brand of basketball blitzed through the regular season, the postseason, and dispatched the Cavs rather easily in the championship series rematch. The real beauty of this beast is that it just gets better. And to avert the onset of boredom, Draymond Green continues to tweak the arrangements by adding a little Jay-Z, Kanye, Drake to the nightly notes of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart.
For all the attention Tom Brady received for his mastery of football pumps and air pressure, the ingredients of his gluten-free whatever diet should be required eating in NFL locker rooms. The GOAT’s most recent Super Bowl victory was just ridiculous – one for the ages, even the old ages.
Within a matter of a few weeks, Jimmy Garoppolo reminded 49ers fans that it’s safe to come home again. All those losses, all those empty seats, all that front office bungling of recent years has been kicked to the Levi’s Stadium curb like a pair of cheap jeans. The dashing QB even made life more miserable for the Raiders and Derek Carr. Whither did Carr’s strong arm, swashbuckling persona, those fourth-quarter heroics go? Now I’m no doctor, but the way Carr is moving, my gut tells me this is about ailing body parts, not a sudden loss of intestinal fortitude. The Raiders certainly hope so, or that $125 million salary will inflict massive pain.
Major League Soccer once again rebuffed Sacramento’s attempts to become one of four remaining expansion franchises, opting instead to award Nashville a team, and, in the next few weeks, quite possibly tabbing Cincinnati. Or maybe not. MLS officials are about as consistent as the Kings’ rebounding, which is to say, not very, not even a little. Expansion fees and assorted costs continue to rise, and the criteria/competition continues to change, which has sent Republic FC millionaire owner Kevin Nagle off in a desperate search of financial whales. Meantime, Nagle and his investors better hope that San Diego remains the beautiful coastal city that is totally incapable of collaborating on a pro sports arena/ballpark/stadium unless a billionaire drops one in its lap. (See John Moores and the Padres of decades past). If Landon Donovan, Rolf Benirschke and their pals somehow are successful in their deep-fishing expedition, San Diego outleaps Cincinnati, Detroit, San Antonio, Sacramento, and all those other cities bidding or preparing bids for a club. The demographics, weather, location (borders Mexico), fan base, and dearth of competition would be hard to beat.
You don’t have to love Houston or hate the Dodgers to appreciate the Astros’ World Series victory. This was a classic example of sports as escapism. While residents were still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Astros felled Clayton Kershaw and the mighty Dodgers, who were making their first Series appearance since Orel Hershiser dominated in 1988.
Speaking of Houston. Women in the 1960s and 70s who loved sports probably remember exactly where they were when Billie Jean King dispatched Bobby Riggs in the exhibition in the Astrodome. (In the rec room, nervously watching with my brother, pacing between sets). We had Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Bart Starr and dozens of other male sports heroes, but there was only one Billie. So thanks to Emma Stone and Steve Carell for their portrayals of the two tennis stars in the 2017 film, “Battle of the Sexes.” King, who turns 75 next November, founded the Womens Tennis Association and the Womens Sports Foundation, and while advocating for human rights, gender equality and social justice, remains a source of inspiration and encouragement for women throughout the sports industry.
Setting pro sports aside for a moment, let’s not forget that the UC Davis men’s basketball team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance, Folsom High School captured another state championship and Placer High lost the final by a field goal. Additionally, Sacramento State’s football team just missed a playoff berth, but Jody Sears earned Big Sky Coach of the Year honors and a contract extension.
So back to the Kings. While the youth movement continues, with the younger players expected to receive the bulk of the playing time after the All-Star break, my New Year’s wishes include: a healthier Fox; a consistent jump shot and physical strength for Jackson; continued progress for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield; a passion for rebounding for Willie Cauley-Stein; a trade for Kosta Koufos; more classy mentoring and locker room maturity provided by Garrett Temple and Zach Randolph. And, OK, it would be cool to see a little bit more of Big Papa.
Peace, and best wishes to all.
Editor’s note: This story has updated to correct the school attended by Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.