Ode To Chicago

I typically plan out my blog posts weeks, if not months, in advance.  I knew I would write about social image and the NFL in September, and that the election and the NBA would be topics in October.  After October, though, I basically hit a wall—I had no idea what any possible topics could be, no one thing that I felt passionate enough about to churn out a post on it.  Even as this year moved into November, I still had no idea what to write about.

It eventually came to me from a very common source—sports.  For the first time since 201, I sat down to watch the final game of the World Series, a match-up between my hometown Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.  I’m a White Sox fan, so watching the Cubs play so deep in the post-season had me a little salty, but since I have a lot of friends back home that support the Cubs (and two that support the Indians) and can appreciate a good game of baseball, I settled in to watch the two teams battle for supremacy.

Of course, the game didn’t just end up being a good game of baseball—it was a legendary game that will go down in history as one of the best championship-deciders in the sport’s history, and possibly in the history of American athletics.  As you all know, the Cubs eventually pulled out an 8-7 victory after 10 innings, winning their first World Series in 108 years.  In the aftermath of the victory, Chicago went berserk—there were celebrations virtually everywhere, culminating in Friday’s parade, which was reported to be the 7th largest gathering in the history of humanity.  Taking all of that in from my dorm room, I finally knew what I would write about.  I’d write about how Chicago is the best damn city in the country.

To counter me, some people might try to hold up more populous cities, like New York or Los Angeles.  They might hold up cities with a more rich history, like the one where I currently attend school, Boston, or Philadelphia.  They might hold up some popular regional urban areas—Atlanta or Charlotte, Miami or New Orleans, Houston or Phoenix, Seattle or Portland, Denver or Salt Lake City.  None of them can hold a candle to Chicago.

We’ll start with athletics, because that’s what inspired me to write this post.  In the last 25 years, big-four Chicago teams have brought home 11 championships—two more than any of the closest competitors—and that’s not even including the title brought home by the Chicago Fire Soccer Club in the budding MLS.  And these just weren’t any championships, either—these were dominant ones, in which nobody stood a chance.  The Bulls were the dominant team of their era, hauling in six titles in eight years.  The White Sox went wire-to-wire in the American League and only lost one post-season game.  The Blackhawks won three championships in five years and established themselves as a hockey dynasty.  The Cubs were favored to win it all this year from day one, and win it all they did, breaking a 108 year curse in the process.

One of the highlights of watching a game at the Cubs’ legendary Wrigley Field is enjoying the breathtaking skyline of the city from the seats.  Chicago was one of the pioneers of the skyscraper, and it has among the best, and most architecturally appealing, collection of them in the country, headlined by the Willis (Sears) Tower and its world-famous Skydeck.  Of course, these tall towers aren’t the only notable pieces of architecture that the city features.  There’s also the Old Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  There’s the multiple residential structures designed by the incomparable Frank Lloyd Wright.  There’s the cathedrals that not only provide Chicagoans with a place to worship, but a place to at which to marvel at their beautiful designs.

There’s more entertainment than just athletics, too—you can head to the Field Museum and see the first complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex to ever be discovered or head across to street to one of the largest aquariums in the country.  There’s also the Adler Planetarium, a National Historic Landmark, or the Art Institute that features Seurat, Picasso, and American Gothic, one of the country’s most “mainstream” pieces of art.  If museums aren’t your thing, you can head to a theater and catch a performance of the smash hit Hamilton, or walk over a few blocks and laugh your head off to a performance of the Blue Man Group.  For more outdoorsy folk, you can walk around the massive Millennium Park, or the equally large Grant Park, checking out the popular Cloud Gate or utilizing the outdoor skating rink, or take a walk along Michigan Avenue and marvel at the wonder of Lake Michigan.  The Magnificent Mile is also a fantastic place to go shopping, as it is lined with every brand name store that you could possibly imagine to cater to your every desire.  For a more family friendly option, you can visit Navy Pier, or enjoy one of the city’s 24 beaches.

Any great city also has to have some great food, and Chicago is a phenomenal place for that, as well.  The city is the home of deep dish pizza, and fostered the growth of some of the country’s best foods, like Italian beef, Cracker Jacks, and brownies.  There’s more than that, though—Michelin starred a record 26 restaurants in the city for the upcoming year, indicating that the quality and uniqueness of the Chicago culinary scene is constantly improving.

Chicago’s education system is pretty fantastic, too.  43 colleges and universities are proud to call the city home, educating hundreds of thousands of this next great generation.  The city’s high schools, both public and private, old and new, are renowned throughout the country for both scholastic and athletic excellence, and the middle schools and elementary schools that are scattered within local communities set the baseline for these high performing institutions.

This city has its flaws, there is no doubt—the high-priced living that is a feature of virtually every city.  The violence that has gotten the city into the national spotlight, and the false perceptions of both minorities and the police that come along with it.  The political corruption, from the alderman to the people trying to make something of the Chicago Public School System and all the way up to the mayor’s office.  The stressed infrastructure of both city streets and municipal airports that comes from heavy usage and is enhanced by a lack of proper funding.  The weather, which can fluctuate between all four seasons in a matter of hours and leaves you more annoyed with some clouds than you ever thought you could be.  Chicago isn’t anywhere close to perfect, and everyone that knows anything about it will tell you that.

But the best part of the city, its people, make sure that these things aren’t what define Chicago.  If you took the time to take a closer look at the Cubs’ parade—or any of our championship parades, really—you’ll see what Chicago is all about.  The diversity among the population, and the compassion among all of the various communities throughout the city.  The kindness that is shown to everybody, whether they are from the city or not.  The joy that people exhibit—not just for big moments like World Series championships, but for the little things, like getting a smile from a random stranger.  The organized chaos that embodies the unmatched passion of each individual person.  The love that every person has for the amazing city that they get to call home.

Since I’m still in college, I don’t exactly know where my life is going to take me yet.  For all I know, my future could lead me to a place I could have never possibly imagined.  Wherever I go, I know that in my heart, that my only real home, my only true home, will forever be the great city of Chicago, the best there is and the best there ever will be.

I’m a Conservative and I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton. Here’s Why.

As one gets older, encountering momentous occasions becomes less and less frequent.  This past week, however, I got to experience one of these moments: I cast my first ever vote in an election.  I had a chance to vote in the Illinois gubernatorial race when I was a senior in high school, but the voter registration line was so long that it would have caused me to be late for my Microeconomics class, so I decided to pass on registering.  Because of that choice, I have the privilege of casting my first vote in national election; a Presidential election.  Having a say in who is elected President is something I’ve looked forward to since age 5, when I first learned about the office on my laminated Presidential placemat.  I greatly anticipated the moment of joy that would overcome me when I would receive my mail-in ballot, open up the envelope, and finally get the chance to exercise one of the most heralded rights of American citizens.

Of course, some of that joy dissipated when the country’s two major parties chose their candidates for this year’s election.  Both of them are among the most unpopular nominees for this country’s highest office, and they both seem to have a major issue with dishonesty, which is not an admirable trait for a person running to be the leader of the free world.  There are also a couple of “third-party” candidates to consider, and their relatively high popularity warranted taking a look at them.  However, after a lot of research and meditation, I decided to vote, as the title of this post says, for Hillary Clinton.  Ultimately, my choice came down to one thing: respect.

I’ve made it pretty clear, on this blog and virtually everywhere else, that I am a conservative, and as such, I agree with a fair amount of Donald Trump’s policies, especially those that are expected to be handled by his Vice President, and my fellow Midwesterner, Mike Pence.  Trump’s tax plan is far more appealing to me than Secretary Clinton’s.  His focus on the domestic job market, and his plans to fix it, seem to be admirable.  There are even some more contentious aspects of Trump’s campaign—such as immigration reform—with which my own views are more closely aligned than they are with Secretary Clinton’s.

However, I realize that being President consists of a lot more than simply creating plans to help address problems that they believe to be vital to improving our country.  It involves working with Congress, people from both sides of the aisle, to get a variety of different agendas accomplished, the most prominent of which involves the setting of the country’s budget; Donald Trump has incited a great amount of conflict between himself and Democrats, as well as members of his own party.  It involves working towards the betterment of every group of people in the country, and allowing them to have the rights and respect that they deserve; Donald Trump has repeatedly bashed women, Hispanics, and Muslims, and many women have directed claims of sexual assault at Mr. Trump.  It involves establishing policy for, and helping guide the actions of, the military; Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State saw the military undergo one of its most effective, yet least deadly (in terms of American deaths) periods in recent history, leading to her having some of the highest support from members of the Armed Forces for a member of the Democratic party, while Donald Trump has repeatedly bashed veterans that have called for unity, including one-time Presidential candidate John McCain.  It dealing working with international leaders to prevent outsourcing of American jobs and securing better trade agreements with the country; the only leader that Donald Trump seems to respect, and the only leader that hasn’t openly come out and declared their hope that he is not elected, is Vladimir Putin.

In short: you can’t just have good ideas as President; you actually need to see them into action, and you do that while working towards your own interests while also honoring and respecting the interests of others.  This is why Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan are held in (relatively) high regard by people on both sides of the aisle—they may not have had policies that were viewed favorably by their ideological opponents, and may have put some policies into place that did more harm than they did good, but they were thoughtful and respectful towards their opponents, and that made them, and the country, significantly better.  For those looking for a modern example, check out the governor of Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker; Massachusetts has, as a state, has voted Democratic since 1988, and yet Baker has enough sway in the state government that a key vote involving charter schools (a vote supported by wealthy Republicans) may pass in large part due to his popularity with both sides of the political spectrum.

This country has some major issues that need to be addressed, and in order for anything to be accomplished, I feel like Hillary Clinton needs to be the one in office.  I admit, voting for Secretary Clinton is not something I’ve done with much glee.  I’m more than well aware of her dishonesty, evidenced in her handling of Benghazi and her own Clinton Foundation, as well as her carelessness, which has been highlighted by the multiple email scandals that she and her campaign have had to deal with.  I realize that there are many policies of hers that, if enacted, would see my future look a little less stable than it is today.  I am nervous by some of the failures that have beset some of her greatest crusades in her 30 plus years of service to the American people.  I’m sure that she, as it is with every other possible candidate, has some other flaws that could end up being major issues if she is elected.

I feel that moderate Republicans like John Kasich and Marco Rubio would be a much better fit, but they are not the Republican candidate (I could write a whole other blog post in concurrence with this about the chaos in the Republican party, but I’ll save that for another time).  Mr. Trump is, and the lack of respect that he has shown for so many important factions of this election process will cause conflict in our government the likes of which we have never seen, and our country will not be “great” again, but rather fall into greater disrepair than it is already in.  The third party candidates are good stories, too, but neither of them seems to have a clue about the magnitude a job like the Presidency (for more on this, watch this John Oliver video here).  Voting for them would be, in my mind, a waste of time, because it draws away votes from the person that is best positioned to actually get things done.

Therefore, I believe that a vote for Hillary Clinton is not only the best vote, but the only vote, to assure that our country keeps on moving in the right direction.  Her ideals, work ethic, dedication to the country and its people, and above all, respect for her peers and opponents, make it so, and I can only hope that my vote will help make history and elect our first ever woman President.

I know that this post will not sit well with some of my family, friends from my ultra-conservative hometown, and my fellow business students, and that it may surprise some other people.  Whatever the case, I would love to discuss this election, my more in-depth views on Secretary Clinton’s and/or Mr. Trump’s policies, or politics in general, with anyone that is willing to do so.  If you are up for it, contact me here.

Angels in the outfield? YES indeed!

just1mike's Blog

…Michael’s 17th birthday at Wrigley and the Cubs are going

to the World Series…

It’s happening and Michael wrote about it in his April 10th post after returning from Arizona where he took in two spring training games,

Growing up a Cubs fan, I have been used to heartbreaking baseball. It seemed like every year I would always say, “there’s always next year.” Well, I am glad to say that next year is NOW.

You are so right Michael, NOW is here and your Cubbies are headed to the World Series after a Game 6 impressive win at Wrigley Field.

Cubs postseason play kicked off on a very special day, and that was Michael’s 17th birthday on October 7th. That night was the first playoff game at Wrigley against the San Francisco Giants and Michael’s family was there to honor him and cheer on his beloved team. It was an emotional night…

View original post 279 more words

2016-17 NBA Preview

Last year’s NBA season was one for the ages- the game’s transition from a big man’s game to a perimeter player’s game continued, as shooting records fell left and right.  We said goodbye to three legends of the game in Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan.  We watched the Warriors break the record for the most wins in a season and roll through the play-offs, only to fall apart in the Finals and give LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers a very unexpected title victory.  So what will this season have in store?  Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

 

Eastern Conference

Atlantic

Celtics (#1)

Raptors (#3)

Knicks (#7)

76ers

Nets

The Warriors were the clear winners of this past off-season, having convinced Kevin Durant to come to the Bay Area, but I think that the Celtics came in a close second.  They had two departures from their roster last season- Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner- and replaced them with guys that I feel are better for the team in Al Horford and Jaylen Brown.  They also added Demetrius Jackson to an already loaded backcourt, cementing their status as the deepest team, and the best team, in the Eastern Conference.  That depth will be key to keeping the division title away from the Raptors, who have a very talented team themselves and pushed the Cavaliers in the conference finals last season, but have question marks at power forward and back-up point guard.  As for the Knicks, I don’t think they’ll be the super team that somebody envisions, but they have enough talent spread around their roster to snag a play-off spot in a conference that has a lot of talent, but not a lot of consistency.  The bottom of the division will see the Nets and the 76ers battle for the honor of being the worst team in the conference- the Nets have Brook Lopez and a bunch of role players, and Philly has a bunch of young, unproven guys and a frontcourt that doesn’t have enough minutes to accommodate all of their big men.  I have a little but more faith in the potential, so I think the Nets finish last, but neither team will be very good.


Southeast

Hawks (#5)

Magic (#6)

Wizards

Hornets

Heat

Both the Hawks and the Magic made some curious moves this past off-season; Atlanta signed Dwight Howard after seeing Al Horford leave for Boston, then traded away Jeff Teague for a draft pick in Baylor forward Taurean Prince.  The Magic, meanwhile, got fleeced by Oklahoma City- though they acquired a good player in Serge Ibaka, they gave up a potential scorer in Victor Oladipo and two versatile big men in the forms of Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova.  Nonetheless, these two teams are the best in their division- despite the strange transactions, they have some really good talent, decent depth, and fantastic coaches- and I expect both of them to be hovering around the middle of the pack when the middle of the season arrives.  The Wizards have the stars to be a middle-of-the-pack team in this year’s Eastern Conference, and Scott Brooks is a vastly underrated coach, but the discontent surrounding John Wall and Bradley Beal seems a bit more serious than what everybody is letting on, and I think that that will be enough to derail a team that was once on the verge of being counted among the elite.  Moving downward, the Hornets proved last season that they were basically just Kemba Walker, Nicholas Batum, and a bunch of adequate role players.  Both of those guys are good, but they would need all the role players to have great seasons for the team to even think about a post-season berth, and I just can’t see that happening.  As for the Heat, they seem like a team prime for a re-build: they lost their franchise player in Dwayne Wade, decided not to risk playing Chris Bosh, overpaid Wade’s back-up, and have a roster that centers around Hassan Whiteside, a seemingly disgruntled point guard, and a few versatile small forwards.  They have little depth and little top-flight talent, and I expect them to struggle.

 

Central

Cavaliers (#2)

Pacers (#4)

Pistons (#8)

Bulls

Bucks

The defending champions don’t really look all that different from what they did last season- if anything, they’re better, having added the wily veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. from the rival Bulls.  Their older roster isn’t as tailor-made for the regular season as Boston’s, but I think that they have more than enough talent to snag the #2 seed.  The Pacers, though, have a pretty good chance to give them a run for their money.  Firing their coach aside, I think they made some very smart moves in acquiring Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson, and getting Thaddeus Young and Kevin Seraphin ain’t half bad, either.  It gives them a more experienced, and more versatile (Jefferson’s signing means increased responsibilities for Myles Turner), roster, and the idea of Teague and Paul George running things in Indiana is a scary thought indeed.  Detroit doesn’t have quite enough firepower to match the two big-guns in the division, but with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson at the center of a very nuanced offensive game-plan, there will be enough offensive efficiency, and defensive strength, to push the Pistons into the post-season.  As for my Bulls, I think that the Wade-Butler-Rondo trio has potential, and I think that each of those guys will put up good numbers this season.  However, as a whole, this roster isn’t assembled to play coach Fred Hoiberg’s system, and after a while, other teams will figure that out and shut Chicago down enough to send them home early for a second straight season.  At the bottom, the Bucks are a team that has a very bright future, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker will be stars one day.  However, this league is very backcourt, and shooting, oriented, and that is where Milwaukee struggles the most, and unlike the Bulls, they don’t have enough team-wide talent to (somewhat compensate) for it.

 

Western Conference

Southwest

Spurs (#2)

Rockets (#3)

Mavericks (#8)

Pelicans

Grizzlies             

It will sure be strange to see the Spurs without Tim Duncan on the court with them, but this team has been Kawhi Leonard’s team since he won the NBA Finals MVP, and while Duncan’s defense and leadership will certainly be missed, Pau Gasol is one of the most ideal replacements for the legendary forward, and the rest of the Spurs’ core remains the same, so they’ll still be a dominant force in the West.  Houston was a relative mess last year, but without Dwight Howard around to provide a major distraction, James Harden should be able to function fairly freely, and that means lots of high scoring games.  And with the way that the Rockets are built, without Howard and with Mike D’Antoni as the head coach, high scoring is a good thing; expect the Rockets to get back into the conference’s elite.  The Mavericks were major beneficiaries of the Warriors signing Kevin Durant- it allowed them to acquire their new star, Harrison Barnes, and a center in Andrew Bogut that will allow Dirk to play the perimeter game he is more suited to without subtracting the team’s only paint presence.  These moves will allow the Mavs to sneak into the final seed.  Anthony Davis and the Pelicans have a chance at making the post-season if they can get some solid play from their guards, but with Jrue Holiday out as Lauren Holiday prepares for brain surgery, they’ll have to depend on an inexperienced Buddy Hield and the underwhelming duo of Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson, and that just won’t be enough.  The Grizzlies are kind of in the same boat as the Wizards- they have the talent to make it to the play-offs.  But instead of conflict bringing the Griz down, their style of play will- they depend too much on their frontcourt, which includes the injury-prone Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons and the slowing Zach Randolph, and that just won’t fly in a league that focuses so much on shooting and perimeter play.

 

Pacific

Warriors (#1)

Clippers (#3)

Suns

Lakers

Kings

It’s hard to imagine how anybody is going to stop the Warriors this season- their 4th option is one of the most versatile players in the game, and despite having a ton of money tied up in their best players, they still have some phenomenal depth, with David West and JaVale McGee being among the team’s more savvy signings.  They should be able to win the conference’s weakest division with ease.  The Clippers, too, shouldn’t really have a terribly hard time in winning a lot of games in this division- for all the claims of Blake Griffin’s inconsistency, Chris Paul’s decline, and the lack of bench depth, this team have one of the league’s best starting 5’s, and with one of the era’s best coaches at the helm, they’ll certainly be able to get the most out of their limited bench options and cruise to a high seed for the post-season.  I loved what Jeff Hornacek was able to pull off with the Suns in his first season, and I’ve had very high hopes for them up until this season.  They definitely have a good mix of young and veteran talent, but the type of talent that they have is very strong in specific areas- slashing guards that can’t shoot very well and big, strong frontcourt players- and very weak in others, such as shooting and small forward.  On other words, they aren’t very balanced, and in the West, you aren’t going to make it very far if your talent isn’t evenly balanced, and sadly, that just isn’t the case in Phoenix.  They still should be a significant amount better than the Lakers, though- the Lake Show will be playing without Kobe Bryant for the first time in forever, and they’ll have to adjust for so many things to compensate for his absence.  However, they are definitely a team on the rise, considering their bright coach and plentiful young talent.  That’s more than the Kings can say- outside of DeMarcus Cousins, there really isn’t much to look forward to.  They’ll be incredibly bad, and perhaps even worse than that if Cousins ends up leaving Sacramento.

 

Northwest

Trailblazers (#4)

Thunder (#5)

Jazz (#6)

Nuggets (#8)

Timberwolves

This is the best division in basketball, by a long shot.  I considered who to put in the play-offs for a few days, trying to find any way I could to put every team here into them, but I just couldn’t find a place for the T-Wolves.  Bringing in Tom Thibodeau will pay off in the long run, as he will help their very young and talented team develop into a very dangerous, well-rounded one, but that youth will come back to bite them just enough to keep them on the outside looking in for this season.  They’ll be held off by the Nuggets, who have seemed to be one piece away from being a solid play-off team since they acquired Danilo Gallinari and co. for Carmelo Anthony.  I’m a little worried about their backcourt, because a lot of pressure will be on 20 year-old Emmanuel Mudiay and 19 year-old Jamal Murray, but I feel like their veteran coach, Mike Malone, will help ease any fears of those guys failing to excel, and the team’s versatile forward crop, headlined by Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, will help Denver reach the post-season for the first time since 2013.  At the top of the division, I expect Portland and Oklahoma City to battle it out for the lead.  Ultimately, I think Portland will prevail- while I feel that OKC is slightly more talented, even after Kevin Durant’s departure (that Ibaka trade did them wonders), Portland is essentially keeping the same team it did last year and replacing Gerald Henderson with a better version of him in Evan Turner, and I think that consistency will be the difference in the regular season.  Sandwiched in the middle will be the Jazz, who added some veterans in the forms of George Hill and Boris Diaw, guys that not only improve the roster’s quality, but give their young players, like Derrick Favors and Dante Exum, guys to look up to in order to figure out how to get over the proverbial play-off hump, something I feel that team is capable of this year.

 

Playoffs

Eastern Conference

First Round

Celtics def. Pistons

Cavaliers def. Knicks

Raptors def. Magic

Pacers def. Hawks

The Celtics should be able to make fairly short work of the Pistons- Andre Drummond will cause them some problems, but I think a combination of Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk will do enough to allow Boston’s backcourt to get going, and Detroit will have no answer for that.  The Cavaliers are in a smilar boat- Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis will get theirs, but a strong defensive effort from LeBron, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson will be enough to allow guys like Kyrie Irving and JR Smith to get going and win the series.  The Raptors are simply too good, and have too much play-off experience, for the Magic to have any chance of beating them; that series could be the most lopsided one out of all the first round match-ups.  In the final series, I think things will get very competitive, especially with Jeff Teague going up against his old team, and I think that Teague still has enough in him to lead his new club past his old protégé and into the next round.

 

Conference Semifinal

Celtics def. Pacers

Cavaliers def. Raptors

The Pacers will give the Celtics a lot of trouble, because the C’s strength, in relation to many other teams, is depth, and Indiana is probably the best equipped to handle the different match-ups that Brad Stevens can throw at them.  That being said, Boston has four guards that are capable of being game-changers at any time, and I think that each of them has themselves a game, and those “games” will allow Boston to move on.  In the other series, a match-up of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, I see the result being perfectly similar to last year’s, as well- the Raptors use their explosiveness to give Cleveland some trouble, but in the end,      the talent of LeBron and Kyrie win out in the end.  The Cavs will move on.

 

Conference Final

Celtics def. Cavaliers

This will be the more competitive of the two conference finals, and could be one of the best pre-Finals match-ups in recent memory.  The Celtics have a talented array of guards, but the Cavaliers can counter with their strong batch of forwards.  The Cavs arguably have more star power, whereas the C’s have more depth.  Both teams have young, forward-thinking coaches at the helm.  It’ll be a back-and-forth series throughout, and for this one I’m going to lean against the way I have, and will, for rest of the play-offs, which is towards the depth.  Boston has just enough talent to negate Cleveland’s, and it’ll be the match-up issues caused by their versatile roster that will see them through to the Finals.

 

Western Conference

First Round

Warriors def. Mavericks

Spurs def. Nuggets

Jazz def. Clippers

Thunder def. Trailblazers

As much as I respect Dirk Nowitzki, I think that the Warriors will obliterate the Mavs- they’ll target Nowitzki on defense, and the team will either have to suffer watching the big German getting beat up on defense or pull him and sacrifice offensive efficiency.  A simple series for Steve Kerr’s men.  In contrast, the Spurs may have somewhat of a tough time with Denver- San Antonio plays a more controlled, methodical game, whereas Denver tries to utilize more of its athleticism, which could hurt San Antonio’s older team.  In the end, though, I think the Spurs have enough to pull it out.  The next series will see the first of two wins by lower seeds in the first round, as I expect the Clippers to continue their play-off woes and drop out early to the Jazz.  Utah has a nice mix of talent and athleticism, youngsters and veterans, and the different things they can throw up at a surprisingly defensive-challenged team will boost them into the next round.  The other first round upset will see the Thunder topple the Clippers.  As I’ve said countless times, talent (mostly) trumps depth come play-off time, so while the Blazers may have more players that they can throw at Russell Westbrook and company, OKC’s new face of the franchise will blow by Damian Lillard and lead his team on to the next round.

 

Conference Semifinal

Warriors def. Thunder

Jazz def. Spurs

Of course, it just makes perfect sense that there be a Kevin Durant Series in the play-offs, and I think that’s exactly what will happen (I didn’t mean to plan it this way, I swear!).  Even though the Thunder have more depth than they did when Durant was on the team, depth doesn’t matter as much as talent in the play-offs, and well, Durant, Stephen Curry, and their buddies definitely trump any of the depth that the Thunder added this year, and they should be enough to get the Warriors on to the next round in an emotionally-charged series.  In the other conference semi-final, the Spurs are going to run into a more talented version of the team that they played in the last round, a team that will ultimately be their play-off downfall.  However, I don’t necessarily think it will be Utah’s athleticism that will propel it to the next round- rather, it will be the shooting ability and veteran savvy of two of its most experienced players, Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson, that will allow the Jazz to pull off the upset.

 

Conference Final

Warriors def. Jazz

I feel bad for the Jazz.  They’ll have done so well to get this far, exceeding anybody’s expectations and giving off a very exciting vibe, only to meet a team that is just so loaded with ability from top to bottom that no amount of athleticism, or shooting, can outdo what Golden State has to offer.  Sure, Utah will give it their best shot, as they should, but this series may not be all that competitive, as far as conference finals go- the Dubs will move on to their third straight Finals.

 

NBA Finals

Warriors def. Celtics

Depth will have gotten the Celtics this far- of course, they are incredibly talented, arguably the best team, on paper, in the Eastern Conference- but the versatility of their roster, not their talent, will earn them a match-up with the vaunted Warriors.  The problem for the C’s, though, is that the Finals are a different animal than the rest of the post-season.  Golden State themselves are a perfect example of that- the Warriors steamed easily through their own conference and took an early lead in the Finals last season, but then the Cavaliers’ stars took over the series, the Warriors’ own big names faltered, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy was headed to Cleveland.  The Cavs did a phenomenal job of shutting down Stephen Curry and continuing Klay Thompson’s rough streak of games, but now with Durant in the mix, they’ll become even harder to stop than they were last year.  And remember, they set the NBA record for wins last year, and were only one win away from back-to-back titles.  Boston is good, but they aren’t on Golden State’s level- the Warriors will take it in 5, and all of the super-team haters can commence their groveling.

 

Individual Awards

MVP: LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers

Rookie of the Year: Kris Dunn, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, C/PF, New Orleans Pelicans

6th Man of the Year: Dante Exum, Utah Jazz

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan, Pacers

Derrick Rose and Abuse in Sports

I am a proud Chicago sports fan.  In many years, that is a quite disappointing fandom, this one included.  The White Sox drastically under-performed expectations.  The Blackhawks got knocked out of the play-offs in the first round for the first time in forever, and they’ve started this season very poorly.  The Cubs have been perennially bad for a very, very long time (though are good this year, which is a major conflict in my White Sox-leaning heart).  The Bears had a horrible 2015 season, and have started off this new-year on a bad note by losing in very ugly fashion.  The Bulls missed the play-offs this past season, too, but initiated a roster turnover this off-season to help improve, and the featured move of that turnover was the trade point guard Derrick Rose.

Back when the Rose trade was announced, I wrote a post honoring his time in his hometown uniform, about how great he was for the city, both on and off the court.  Now, I am starting to regret some of my words.  Part of that regret can be tied back to Rose’s comments about the city not “appreciating” him, or on how the New York team that he finds himself on now is the most talented one he’s ever been on.  But most of it stems from the current rape accusations that Rose and two of his friends are facing in Los Angeles.

For those of you unfamiliar with the case, a woman filed a civil suit against Derrick Rose about a year or so ago, with the complaint being that the point guard and two of his close friends drugged her, trespassed into her apartment and gang raped her while she was unconscious on Aug. 27, 2013.  The case has been in the trial phase for about a week and a half, and has garnered much national media attention for the drama that seems to be unfolding within the courtroom.  (For more in-depth information on the case, please click here).

Rape is one of the biggest problems in our society.  7% percent of all rapists are convicted, which is a very, very small number considering the seriousness of the crimes.  Many of those rapes go unreported, for a variety of different reasons from the understandable embarrassment that a victim might feel to the truly horrifying reason of being afraid of victim shaming (which, sadly, happens all too often).  Other cases are thrown out due to “lack of evidence,” or some other preposterous rationale that gets the criminals out of punishment.  Some stories are genuinely made up, sure, but jumping to the conclusion that the person accusing someone of rape isn’t telling the truth is a horrible, horrible mistake to make, considering how many of them are real cases and how many rapists do not end up with proper punishment.

When it comes to sports, many athletes, unless they are strangely reviled, are often given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making a major mistake.  People assume that because they are athletes, because they frequently in the public eye, that they can do no wrong.  When athletes are accused of committing a crime, no matter how heinous, many thousands of loyal fans will often leap right in to defend the athletes, and some continue to defend them for a long period of time, regardless of what evidence has been presented.  For all that I know, Rose may completely innocent of rape.  His accuser may be someone attracted to Rose who didn’t get her way but still wants to be in the spotlight.  However, I can’t find myself believing that that is the case.  There have been some very viable attempts by Rose’s defense team to discredit Jane Doe’s reason for accusing the point guard of rape, but considering the negative publicity that she is sure to be getting from many of Rose’s most vocal supporters, I feel that she is probably not in it for money or fame, but for justice.  Rose’s vagueness in answering questions concerning the night being brought into question is also pretty telling for me- he created more questions about the turmoil surrounding him.  Rumors about an out-of-court settlement of been floating around, as have rumors of when the grand jury in his case will actually convene; regardless, it really hurts to think that one of my hometown’s biggest stars may have just thrown away his career, especially deciding to engage in something is terrible as sexual abuse.

Sadly, many athletes besides Rose have been accused of some form of abuse in recent years.  Among them, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was filmed on tape hitting his wife in an elevator before dragging her out of it.  In December of 2014, professional basketball player Jeffery Taylor was suspended by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for 24 games after being convicted of domestic assault.  The following month, former pro baseball player Milton Bradley’s appeal of his sexual assault charges was dropped, meaning that he had to serve jail time.  In June 2015, retired NFL safety Darren Sharper pleaded guilty to drugging and raping three women in different cities across the country.  Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov faced deportation to Russia after being convicted of a misdemeanor violence charge against his wife last fall.  These cases, along with Rose’s, have received a lot of media attention.  Some people have complained that they have received too much attention, that the focus on the athletes takes away from attention that should be being paid to the people getting abused that won’t make the headlines.  While they are right, I think that there is something else that these people should be complaining about- why professional leagues, and their teams, are not going above and beyond to combat this abuse.

Professional athletes are some of the most prominent role models in the entire world.  For that, they are held to a higher standard when it comes to personal conduct.  To me, that means that the leagues that these athletes are a part of, and, as an extension, the teams in that league, must also commit to a higher standard of conduct.  Pro sports are a vehicle for many, many great things- the NFL is relatively racially sensitive.  Both the NFL and MLB have been big promoters of breast cancer research.  The NBA has NBA Cares, which runs many local programs for underprivileged kids.  The NHL is working hard at improving the safety of hockey players, from youth levels on up.  However, when many of these professional leagues have been faced with crimes involving abuse, many of them have not done the right thing.  Some leagues have made mistakes with punishment- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made comments denouncing the acts of Voynov and the (supposed) acts of Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks star who was accused of rape before last season, but Bettman permitted Kane to attend the Blackhawk training camp and allowed Voynov to practice with his team while being investigated (the fact that the Kings were open to Voynov practicing in the first place is bad in its own right).  NFL commissioner Roger Goddell’s punishment of Ray Rice was not properly considered and was eventually overturned.  A problem faced by all pro sports leagues, though, particularly the MLB, which has had many former players convicted of crimes involving abuse, is that, just like most major media/advertising entities today, they done poorly with condoning crimes involving abuse, and making awareness of abuse and abuse a major talking point.

That isn’t to say that sports leagues and teams have done nothing to combat the problem of abuse, but considering the seriousness of abuse, it’s one that hasn’t been addressed enough.  Chicago sportswriter Jon Greenberg made a fantastic point in his article on the situation surrounding Kane and his rape controversy last year.  He wrote, “The Blackhawks could help combat sexual assault before it begins by funding workshops, clinics and speeches for this age group. They can help talk to the kids about sexual assault when they’ll still listen.”  Obviously, with Kane’s case being sex related, Greenberg’s thought is a little more specific than targeting all forms of abuse, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a great idea.  D.A.R.E programs are instituted in elementary and middle schools across the country- including my hometown, a suburb of Chicago- to teach kids about the dangers of drugs.  So why can’t there be a more widespread, and more impactful, curriculum on abuse, better than the Robert Crown programs that have such limited influence?  And why does it have to be just one pro organization, a team that may happen to have a player under investigation for sexual assault- all professional sports leagues can make a point to prove that this is a major issue.  And shouldn’t adults be targets of a similar message, too?  Just like there are major campaigns involving not drinking or texting while driving, there should be more commercials, and more athlete spokespeople, speaking up about the terrors of abuse, and encouraging victims to seek help, and providing information on how victims’ friends can assist in efforts to make sure the victim recovers and the abuser gets his/her proper punishment.  Considering how big of an issue abuse is, and considering how high profile athletes are, bringing light to this issue will make people more vigilant, and more informed, about abuse, which is something that our culture, in or out of athletics sorely needs.

10 Bold Predictions for the 2016-17 NHL Season

The 2016-17 NHL season gets underway later tonight, with four games on the slate.  This season promises to be an exciting one, with tons of players on new teams and lots of young talent flooding the league.  For that reason, I felt I’d do my first ever NHL post.  I feel like I need to preface this before I start: I am not a super duper hardcore hockey fan.  When my dad, a former college hockey player, screams at the TV screen at players, one third of the time I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.  But I know enough about hockey to know what a good team looks like and what a bad team looks like, which players are on the verge of superstardom and which players are over the hill.  So, without further adieu, here are my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season:

 

  1. Neither the Penguins nor the Sharks will make this year’s finals

Of course, part of the reason that I can’t see this happening is because of how incredibly difficult it is to repeat great success the year after a Stanley Cup appearance.  There are other reasons, though, why last year’s two best teams won’t be duking it out come June 2017.  The Penguins got phenomenal goaltending from Matt Murray last post-season, and while I think he’s the real deal, his clutch play, along with that of Trevor Daley and Bryan Rust, are things I don’t think will carry over to this year.  As for San Jose, their aging core put together a phenomenal year, but with all the extra miles on their legs, from both their postseason run and the World Cup of Hockey, I see them fading out a little earlier this season.

 

  1. The Nashville Predators will win the Stanley Cup

This isn’t exactly all that bold, but considering that this is a team that has never won a division championship, and has never made a conference final, it kind of is.  Pekka Rinne is no longer elite, but he is still pretty good, and the strong defense in front of him got even better by replacing outgoing captain Shea Weber with PK Subban.  Ryan Johansen is a young, impressive number one center, with wily vets Mike Fischer and Mike Ribiero manning the lower lines.  James Neal is in his prime, and Filip Forsberg is about to enter his.  They have a coach in Peter Laviolette that has taken a team on the verge of greatness to a Stanley Cup final.  In short, I think the Preds are ready to finally break their play-off jinx and win their first Cup in franchise history.

 

  1. Max Pacioretty will win NHL MVP

This is where things really start to get… well, bold.  The Canadiens missed the play-offs last season, with Carey Price out injured for much of the season and controversy surrounding PK Subban’s place in the locker room.  With Price healthy and Shea Weber in for Price, things should be (relatively) back to normal, and Montreal will want to prove that last year was just a fluke.  Both Price and Weber will have something to do with that, of course, but it’ll start with the team’s captain, Pacioretty, to set the tone for the rest of the team.  The shifty left winger played in all 82 games last year for the first time in his career, and with improvements around him on multiple fronts, I expect Pacioretty to have a career year and help lead his club back where they belong.

 

  1. Todd McClellan will win Coach of the Year

The Oilers were the second-worst team in all of hockey last season.  They finished only one point above the lowly Maple Leafs, and that’s saying something.  However, it also doesn’t tell the full story- they were a young, rebuilding team missing its best player for most of the season.  Now, while they aren’t exactly going to be elite this year, they do seem to have a nice, balanced roster.  They have a couple solid defenders in Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, some great veteran wingers in Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle, some young up-and-comers headlined by Jesse Puljujarvi, and perhaps the best 1-2 center punch in the league in Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  It will be up to McClellan to put it all together, and considering his savvy at handling all the chaos in San Jose, I expect him to be up to the task.

 

  1. Dylan Strome wins Rookie of the Year

Patrick Laine and Auston Matthews are going to be the popular picks for this award- and why not?  They’re both going to be battling McDavid for the mantle of the best young player in the game over the next few years.  But picking them wouldn’t exactly be bold.  So I’m going to go with Strome, who will be getting some great advice from veterans Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan on how to make it in the NHL.  I realize that he didn’t exactly have the best pre-season in the world, but with the Coyotes not expected to do a whole lot, the young center will have time to develop his game and perhaps make the ‘Yotes slightly more dangerous than what they currently appear to be.

 

  1. The Devils will make the playoffs

The major news that the Devils were involved in this off-season saw them win one of the summer’s major blockbusters, picking up star scorer Taylor Hall in exchange for Adam Larsson.  Despite that, not many people have high hopes for this team making the post-season, especially because trading Larsson does leave them a little bare on the back end.  I understand those fears, but I also think that Corey Schneider is an underrated, and incredible, goalie that can make up for some of the defense’s shortcomings, and that adding Hall to a top-six forward group that includes Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Adam Zajac will make New Jersey a true offensive threat for the first time since Ilya Kovalchuk went back to Russia.  The Devils will make the play-offs as the number one wild card in the East and give the Lightning all they can handle.

 

  1. The Kings will not make the playoffs

I’m a Blackhawks fan, so perhaps I’m a little bit biased here, because the Kings have been the ‘Hawks biggest threat to establishing a true dynasty.  But there’s something that just feels off about this year’s Kings.  Their offensive core is aging, so much so that the team captain, Dustin Brown, was effectively stripped of his job because of his ineffectiveness.  It doesn’t help that Marian Gaborik is out for a while, either, or that their bottom two lines don’t seem to be all that good.  Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin form a very good top defensive pairing, but the people behind them are either aging or generally ineffective.  Jonathan Quick is starting to show a little bit of the reality that he is human.  Throw this team into a division with the best team in its conference, the defending conference champs, and an up-and-coming Edmonton team, and you’ll see that the Kings will have to fight with the Central teams for a wild card spot, and that’s a battle they cannot, and will not, win.

 

  1. The Wild will end up with a top-5 pick

The Wild have seemingly always had the talent to be a very good team in the extremely competitive Central division, but always seemed to be missing something, whether it be a definitive style of play, an elite goaltender, or a true number one center.  This year, they seem to have a lot of holes.  They signed Erik Staal to be their number one center, but he proved last year in New York that he might be better suited for a number three role at this point in his career.  Their number two center, captain Mikko Koivu, is aging, and was unproductive relative to his ability last year.  So was Jason Pomenville.  So was Ryan Suter.  So was Devan Dubnyk.  Their bottom two lines and defensive pairings are made up of relatively inexperienced or ineffective players.  I think that Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle are two of the most underrated wingers in the game, but two wingers alone aren’t enough to make a team, especially when they’re in a division that is beyond loaded.  They’ll have a steep drop-off this year.

 

  1. The Stars will not trade for a goalie; the Flyers will

Dallas has been in the market for a goalie since around 2009, when they ditched former starter Marty Turco in favor of Kari Lehtonen.  Lehtonen is a perfectly capable goalie, but he can be extremely inconsistent, and he isn’t at the elite level that recent Stanley Cup-winning goalies have been at.  The team brought in former Sharks and Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi to give Lehtonen some competition, but he seems over the hill.  Despite the position being the only glaring hole on an otherwise solid roster, the Stars don’t have as many young assets to flip as the Flyers do, and while I think that Steve Mason is better than Lehtonen, he, too, is inconsistent, and I can see Philly trying to grab Brian Elliott from the Flames or Tuukka Rask from the Bruins to help bolster their team’s defense-first mentality.

 

  1. Jonathan Drouin will lead the league in points

I felt that Drouin was being a little bit pretentious when he and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman engaged in a semi-public battle over the young winger’s place on the big club- I didn’t know much about him, but didn’t think that his game warranted his confidence.  While I still think his actions last year were stupid, he does have a phenomenal scoring touch, as he caught fire in the play-offs, helping carry the team in the absence of star man Steven Stamkos.  With Stamkos healthy again, the prospect of Drouin pairing up with him, or Tyler Johnson, or Nikita Kucherov, or a combination of those men, for a full season, is truly frightening.  As such, I predict that Drouin takes a huge leap forward and out-duels Joe Pavelski for the league-lead in total points.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic

Lightning (#2)

Canadiens (#5)

Panthers (#6)

Red Wings (WC #2)

Bruins

Senators

Sabres

Maple Leafs

 

Metropolitan

Capitals (#1)

Islanders (#3)

Penguins (#4)

Devils (WC #1)

Hurricanes

Rangers

Flyers

Blue Jackets

 

Western Conference

Central

Predators (#3)

Stars (#4)

Blackhawks (#5)

Blues (WC #1)

Jets (WC #2)

Avalanche

Wild

 

Pacific

Ducks (#1)

Sharks (#2)

Oilers (#6)

Flames

Kings

Coyotes

Canucks

 

PLAYOFFS

Eastern Conference

First Round

Capitals def. Red Wings

Penguins def. Islanders

Lightning def. Devils

Canadiens def. Panthers

 

Conference Semifinal

Capitals def. Penguins

Lightning def. Canadiens

 

Conference Final

Capitals def. Canadiens

 

Western Conference

First Round

Ducks def. Jets

Sharks def. Oilers

Predators def. Blues

Blackhawks def. Stars

 

Conference Semifinals

Sharks def. Ducks

Predators def. Blackhawks

 

Conference Finals

Predators def. Sharks

 

Stanley Cup

Predators def. Capitals

 

 

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

It’s been over 6 years since my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The very idea that someone so close to me would ever be stricken with cancer was, for a recently graduated middle schooler, completely unfathomable.  In order to deny the reality of what my mom was facing, about the massive amounts of strength and willpower that she needed to get through every single day, of the resistance to the cancer and the energy-sapping drugs that she was putting up with the support of our family and friends, I started to make whatever I could about me.  I made a point to never cry, so that I could be recognized as the strongest member of my family.

After my mom was declared cancer-free, and I became aware of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I furthered my selfish efforts.  I participated in a Barbells for Boobs weightlifting fundraiser, and I seem to have forgotten the amount of money we raised that day, but remember the amount of weight I lifted that day.  I wrote papers in school delving into the emotional turmoil that I felt during my mom’s battle.  I begged for my friends to write my mom messages of appreciation and encouragement, and looking back on it, the primary reason that I did was probably not what I claimed it to be in my Facebook posts- that I wanted ease some of my mom’s emotional burden in the aftermath of her fight- but rather, based on those posts’ forcefulness, was centered on my pride in coming up with a valuable gift after seemingly everyone around her besides me had managed to give her happiness or comfort in one way or another.

The fact that it took me this long to realize the truth of my thoughts and actions is, to put it frankly, depressing.  These things are not what this month is about.

This month is about offering information in crucial steps in the identification of breast cancer, such as self-examinations and mammograms.  This month is about supporting those that have been stricken with breast cancer by offering them love and care in any way that they could possibly given.  This month is about giving money to the foundations and hospitals that are dedicated to seeing a less invasive, less damaging, more effective cure to breast cancer be found, or to finding something that could possibly prevent breast cancer altogether.  This month is about honoring those that lost their battle with breast cancer and remembering the courage that they showed in fighting their disease.  This month is about awareness, sure, but also about love, respect, and compassion.

As such, I wanted to try to make my recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month less about me, and more about the brave men and women that have come face-to-face with breast cancer, that have poured, or are pouring, their entire livelihood into combating it, the fantastic communities surrounding them that help these phenomenal people in what are certainly the most difficult moments of their lives, and the doctors that are working to treat, research, and one day cure breast cancer.  I wanted to change my motivation for what I choose to post, and say, about this month, so that my intentions were much less selfish and far more… benevolent.

After taking the majority of my weekend to think it over, I decided to write this post- not to get views or draw attention to myself, but for the real purpose of this month, to develop awareness of breast cancer.  I changed my blog’s color to pink- not to seem in touch with the awareness movement that will be so prevalent this month, but to honor my mom, my sister’s best friend’s mother, and the countless other people that have fought breast cancer.  I started an online fundraiser, for which all of the funds will go to … and to which I personally donated $50, not to feel like I am finally making a proper effort to combat breast cancer, but to help the dedicated doctors that are working incredibly hard to find a way to cure, or perhaps prevent, breast cancer.

I am beyond proud of my mom for overcoming everything she did, and even more proud to be her son.  I was honored to meet many people who, like her, have courageously fought, and won, the battle against breast cancer.  I am thankful that my mom was able to overcome breast cancer, and resolve to pray for those people who have lost loved ones to it.  And I am hopeful, hopeful that throughout the country, that this Breast Cancer Awareness Month will help bring our society one step closer to eradicating the disease once and for all.

To donate to the fundraiser, please click here.

For information on the charity to which your money will go, please click here.

For information on performing a self-examination, please click here.

For information on getting mammograms in your area, please click here.

For information on the research that doctors are doing on breast cancer, please click here or here.

On Social Image

This post is a little bit shorter than what I normally write, and also a little bit more…  philosophical?  I’ve been struggling with these thoughts for a while, so if anyone has any thoughts on any of this, I would really appreciate discussing it with you.

I’ve had a Facebook account since I’ve been twelve years old.  All of the people in my class were starting to flood to the site, using it as a “go-to” for communication and such, so I decided to join them.  Since then, I’ve made a decent amount of friends, posted hundreds of pictures and “statuses,” and liked thousands of pages.  I’ve spent countless hours scrolling through my news feed, seeing, appreciating, and sometimes judging, what all of my friends are doing or “liking.”  They post about their accomplishments: personal, athletic, or academic.  They express their opinions on the latest social issue.  They display the photos they took of their most recent business outing, or their most recent vacation.  They share their blog posts (like me!) on one of their charitable endeavors.  Facebook, and other social networks like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, seemingly allow for people to be socially conscious, forward thinking, and to express themselves as their own unique person.

You might be able to see where this is going- that these social networks limit our social skills, causing us to lose prevent us from developing connections with people that we would if we were outside and off the internet.  That, to some extent, is definitely the case, but that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk not about social skills, but, as the title of this post says, social image.

The problem with social media, and other objective methods of judging popularity or success, such as a resume or the amount of money in a bank account, is that they give a false idea of what it means to be a good person, both to other people and to one’s self.  Perhaps that is why millennials seem to live in such… contrast to the rest of society, and vice versa- I, myself, am particularly guilty of giving these things credence.  I frequently find myself spending almost every waking moment perusing social media, oftentimes trying to find a place to insert a word or two of my personal experiences or opinions.  I’m paying too much attention to attaching myself to people, and to things, that I wouldn’t otherwise associate with were I not trying to conform to society’s standards.  I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my money so that I always have enough to look responsible.  My words and actions are dictated more by my need for recognition than they are for personal fulfillment.  As such, I struggle with my view of who I am.  I often consider myself to be fairly bland looking.  I feel that I’m so silly awkward, and often bordering on arrogant.  I sometimes even struggle with my the direction that I have chosen to take my future life- doubting my decision to go to a business school like Babson instead of going to a school to focus on liberal arts (that’s not to say that Babson’s liberal arts program isn’t good- a liberal arts class I’m currently taking inspired me to write this- but the focus of this school is definitely entrepreneurship).

Perhaps I’m the only person that is having an identity crisis in this fast-paced world we’re living in.  And if that’s the case, then maybe I need to reexamine how I’m approaching my life and make some drastic alterations to it.  But if I’m not, which I sense is the case, then maybe we need to have a change of focus in what it means to be a person.  What it means to be popular or successful. These aren’t things that can be simply organized by some chart or metric.  It marginalizes people that don’t deserve such a fate, and it glorifies people, like, say, Donald Trump, who is successful because of his immense net worth and has only recently become vastly unpopular as the Presidential race has revealed his character.  I’m at a loss as to how we can change our societal values so that the way that we view social image, both our own and that of our colleagues, but if anybody has any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.  Contact me here if you do.

On Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem Protests

Today marks the start of Week 2 of the NFL season.  In a few hours, the Bills and Jets will start off a week which I expect to have a lot of exciting, competitive games, just like last week.  I also expect there to be some pre-game protests of the National Anthem, just as there was last week.  The man that started the protests, who has been at the forefront of the controversy surrounding them, is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  This has become a polarizing topic of conversation throughout the country, and as a dedicated sports fan, I figured that this would be a conversation worth entering.

So I’m just going to come right out and say it: in the moments after I first heard about Kaepernick’s protests, I thought that I disagreed with them.  I thought that the initial explanation that he gave for his actions was shallow.  I felt that the movement that developed from Kaepernick’s actions did so in poor taste–protesting the flag and song of our country, especially on, and so close to, the anniversary of 9/11, felt like an insult to me.  I felt that Kaepernick, and the other players that followed his lead, should be suspended, or fined, or something- anything to convey the idea that disrespecting the Anthem and the flag would be deemed unacceptable.

The thing about this, though, is that who I am does not give me a real right to determine whether these protests are “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad.”  I am not a minority in this country.  I have never had to worry about to worry about being discriminated against based on the color of my skin.  I have never had to fight against drastic economic and social disadvantages.  I have never been called anything derogatory.  I have never had to face unwanted, and unwarranted, stereotypes of thugishness or violence.  I don’t have any fear of any type of interaction with a law enforcement officer.  There are many other struggles that I do not have to deal with on a daily basis, just because I was born white.  In short- my race, and my life experiences, do not make me qualified to judge Kaepernick and his colleagues for what they’re choosing to do.  The large majority of people that are lambasting Kaepernick for his actions- either publicly or privately- also have no rationale to go off of when they insult the quarterback.

If anything, I feel like I, and more people like me, should be showing Kaepernick some more respect for what he is trying to do: what he feels is necessary to start a conversation on the systemic racism that permeates our society.  And, if I’m going to be honest, he’s probably doing it in the most effective way that he, in his position as a major public figure, possibly could- demonstrating during the National Anthem is having a much deeper effect than any statement he could make ever would.  For that, Kaepernick deserves recognition–even if he is trying to gain some personal attention for himself, which many of his critics claim he is, his willingness to stand up to the inequalities in our country, despite some very vicious backlash, deserves to be commended for the attention that he is trying to bring to such a major problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: there is a part of me that is still uneasy about the method of protest Kaepernick is pursuing.  I find some irony in the fact that the fact that he says that this country, as a whole, represses the minority population while the President is a minority himself.  I wholeheartedly believe that the majority of police across the country are benevolent people, doing their best to serve and protect the people of this great nation, and to disrespect them in pursuit of a goal when it doesn’t seem to be necessary doesn’t strike me as very smart.

Ultimately, though, I know that I need to work to get past my unease, because the reality is this: I know that there is a serious problem in our country in that people of color have to worry about so many different issues that white people like myself have never taken the time to consider.  I know that, despite measures put in place to prevent it, that racism is still a major problem, and that in many instances of interactions between authority figures, from the more obvious ones of police officers to the less obvious ones of prosecutors who push for longer sentences for people of color, judges that refuse to acknowledge such blatant displays of discrimination, and business professionals who prefer the “old white boys’ club” to hiring any minorities, even if they are more talented or qualified.  I know are problems that minorities face that I will never fully understand, problems that have a much deeper meaning to those that actually have to experience them.

So please: even if you disagree with what Kaepernick is doing, do not lose track of what he is saying; do not ignore it or brush it off, either, because what he’s saying is the most important part of his protest.  The problems that he is discussing cannot be denied.  Minorities in this country are too often shafted in nearly every facet of their lives.  So while I, personally, will stand and proudly sing the National Anthem whenever I hear it, for all that it embodies for this great country, we need some serious change to make sure that everyone can have a chance to feel that pride.

My opinion here doesn’t necessarily condone what Kaepernick is doing, but I think (I hope) that it doesn’t give much credence to his detractors, either.  Whether that makes this a thoughtful opinion or a weak one for being “indecisive,” I don’t know.  I also don’t know what I, myself, or anybody, really, can do to effectively initiate the change that I called for above- that’s why I didn’t specify what exactly can be, or needs to be, done to combat the issues Kaepernick presents.  So: if anyone has any opinion on this piece, any background on the protests or on the injustices that minorities face, constructive thoughts on how to address the issues at hand, or any other information to give relative to the situation, please, comment below or contact me here.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

2016 Champions League Preview

On August 25th, the draw for the 24th edition of the modern Champions League took place.  As usual, it was a drab affair, filled with smartly-dressed coaches, players, and executives closely scrutinizing little plastic soccer balls stuffed with the names of some of the biggest, and most ambitious, clubs in all of Europe.  Of course, it was just a precursor to what is the most competitive club soccer tournament in the world, in which victory is sweeter than every tournament except for the World Cup, that starts in just a couple hours.  So which team will pull off a victory in this year’s tournament?  Will Real Madrid be the first repeat champions since 1990, or will rivals FC Barcelona knock them off?  Will English giants Arsenal finally find some European success, or will their kryptonite, Bayern Munich, hoist the trophy?  Will PSG make their breakthrough, or will Juventus prevail?  Or will it be one of the underdogs that comes out a winner?  Here’s my prediction of what will happen in this year’s UCL:

 

Group A

PSG

Arsenal

Basel

Ludogorets

As much as I would love to see my beloved Arsenal place first in the group to avoid another round-of-16 loss, I have a lot of respect for PSG manager Unai Emery, and think that his astuteness in-game, combined with the dearth of talent he has at his disposal in the midfield, will allow the Parisians to trump the Gunners for first place in the group.  Arsene Wenger’s team should feel relatively safe in second place, though- Basel is still the toast of Switzerland, but doesn’t have the game-changers (Mohamed Salah, Breel Embolo) that it used to, and Ludogorets will have to overcome some unbelievable odds to make some real noise in this tournament.

 

Group B

Napol

Benfica

Besiktas

Dynamo Kyiv

Napoli lost its best player, Gonzalo Higuain, to Italian rivals Juventus, and that will greatly damage their prospects of being a true contender.  But the Blues, who are led by Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, have enough firepower to stay ahead of their Portugese rivals, who have a fantastic team spirit but lost their stars Renato Sanchez and Nicolas Gaitan.  Besiktas are fronted by the wily Ricardo Quaresma and the underrated Oğuzhan Özyakup- their tough style of play could cause some problems for Benfica, but ultimately, I think that the Black Eagles don’t have enough depth to move on.  Kyiv have one true stud in Andriy Yarmolenko but not much else- they’ll work hard, but will drop out of European competition without much of a whimper.

 

Group C

FC Barcelona

Manchester City

Borussia Monchengladbach

Celtic

This will be the best group, by far.  Celtic have bulked up by adding Brendan Rodgers and long striker Moussa Dembele to the fold, but they still won’t come close to matching the talent that is in the group.  Barca and Man City are pretty evenly matched on paper, and they both have strikers that have been on fire (Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero), fleet wingers (Neymar and Raheem Sterling), and some stars capable of producing magic (Lionel Messi and David Silva).  In the end, though, I think that Barca’s depth, combined with what I believe will be a strong desire from Luis Enrique to upstage his mentor’s return to Catalonia, will allow the Blaugrana to top the group with the Citizens tight on their tails.  ‘Gladbach is a dangerous team- I wouldn’t be surprised if they upset one of the top two teams and moved on to the knock-out stages, but on paper, I don’t think it’s super plausible.

 

Group D

Bayern Munich

Atletico Madrid

PSV

Rostov

Bayern are blessed with the deepest squad in all of football- any player that is from Germany, has played in Germany, or is an elite superstar has the potential to be reeled in by the Bavarian giants- and the immense talent that comes from this depth will propel them to the top of the group.  Atletico is in the midst of a slight change in its roster makeup and hasn’t looked super sharp to start the season, but Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann should pick them team up enough to avoid the Russian champs, Rostov, and move on to the knockout round.  As for the Dutch giants PSV, led by two De Jongs (Siem and Luuk), as well as Mexican star Andres Guardado, they are a good team, but better suited for the Europa League than this group.  Seeing Rostov move on would be a great treat for the country, and fans of the underdog, but their European inexperience will see them out quietly.

 

Group E

Tottenham

Bayern Leverkusen

CSKA Moscow

AS Monaco

Spurs landed themselves in a fairly tricky group- Leverkusen are a better team than people realize, CSKA is perhaps the most talented team in Russia, and AS Monaco add a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao to a team that knocked North London rivals Arsenal out of the knockout stages a mere two years ago.  That being said, Mauricio Pochettino has built a deep and dynamic squad which should have enough within them to top the group.  I see the Germans, led by Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, placing second on goal differential over CSKA, who have a solid team headlined by captain Igor Akinfeev, but the Russians have struggled in virtually every European competition as of late, and while this squad is exceptionally talented, I expect them to blow at least one game to cost them a place in the knockout round.  As for Monaco, I really like them, but outside of Joao Moutinho, I don’t think that anyone in their midfield can really match up to the other teams in their group.

 

Group F

Real Madrid

Borussia Dortmund

Sporting CP

Legia Warsaw

Los Blancos will be looking to defend their title, and with their two stars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, flying high after leading their teams to extraordinary performances in the European Championships, I expect them to be one of the major contenders.  Ronaldo’s old club, Sporting, and the German giants Dortmund will be left two fight it out for the second spot.  Both teams underwent some serious change in the transfer market- Sporting has upgraded their frontline by adding Joel Campbell and Bas Dost, but they lost their player of the year, Joao Maria, to Inter; Dortmund, meanwhile, have lost key cogs Mats Hummels and Henrikh Mkhitaryan while adding Ousmane Dembele and resigning Mario Gotze.  In the end, I think that Dortmund’s fast paced style while be enough the Portuguese, and they’ll move on.  Warsaw are far and away the best team in Poland, but they don’t have the talent or the depth to match up with some of the continent’s biggest teams.

 

Group G

FC Porto

Leicester City

Club Brugge

FC Copenhagen

The Portuguese giants lucked into having a fairly easy group, where their closest competitor is defending Premier League champions Leicester, who are making their debut in the tournament.  The Hector Herrera-led squad should make it to the next round with ease.  In my opinion, the Foxes should, too- a counterattacking style is perfect for the early stages of the Champions League, and I think that Claudio Ranieri’s team has more talent than Brugge, and therefore should be able to hold them off for the second spot in the group.  Copenhagen, who seemingly make the tournament every year but never make much noise, won’t simply be placeholders this year- in an easy group, they have a chance to move on- but I can’t see them really taking advantage of that chance.

 

Group H

Juventus

Sevilla

Lyon

Dinamo Zagreb

Despite losing one of their biggest names, midfielder Paul Pogba, the Old Lady has still managed to upgrade their squad, signing Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain from rivals Roma and Napoli, respectively, while also managing to snag young Croatian phenom Marko Pjaca.  They will certainly be the toast of this group.  Next up should be Sevilla, who have been better performers in the Europa League in recent years, but will manage to overcome the losses of Grzegorz Krychowiak and manager Unai Emery by relying on new signing Ganso and loanees Samir Nasri and Salvatore Sirigu to make it to the knockout stages.  Lyon, led by the fleet Alexandre Lacazette, have struggled in Europe in recent years, so while they have the potential to top their Spanish rivals, I don’t see them doing it.  Zagreb have a chance to advance if they can continue to make their home ground a fortress, but the rest of the group has too much talent for that to be a reality.

 

Strongest Group: Group C

I think that this is a tighter contest than people realize between Group C, which features Pep Guardiola’s return to his Catalan roots in Barcelona, and Group E, which is arguably deeper from top to bottom.  That being said, overlooking a group that has two of the giants from Europe’s two biggest leagues, an up-and-coming  German team, and the legendary Scottish champions, for the honor of being named strongest group would be just plain wrong.

 

Weakest Group: Group B

No offense to Benfica, who won the Portuguese championship last year over their arguably more talented rivals, Porto, but they are probably the weakest group winner there will be.  Combine that with the facts that Napoli aren’t really a force to be reckoned with outside of Italy (and sometimes that isn’t even the case), Dynamo Kyiv aren’t as strong as they used to be, and Besiktas has never really performed in Europe… well, let’s just say this isn’t the best collection of teams in the tournament.  Very impressive in their respective countries, but typically unable to translate that to European success; at least now they’ll all have a chance.

 

Dark Horse: Borussia Monchengladbach

They got placed in the toughest group of the draw, and will have to overcome the teams that I think are the champions-elect of the two toughest domestic leagues in the world in Barcelona and Manchester City, so their progression is unlikely.  But if Andre Schubert’s team is able to pull an upset over one of those two giants, watch out.  The Foals found form at the end of last season and seemed to have carried it over to this year, if their destruction of Young Boys is any indication, and their deep squad, led by the electric Thorgan Hazard, will be buzzing with confidence if they are able to move on.  This confidence could enable them to knock off one of the game’s giants.

 

Champion: Bayern Munich

Having already picked Manchester City as the Premier League champion in my preview of the EPL, I was tempted to pick them to cast off their European burdens and when The Trophy with the Big Ears; their form thus far has been delectable, and Pep Guardiola has vast amounts of experience in the legendary championship.  However, I expect Guardiola’s old club, Bayern, to walk away as champions- it seems like the German giants have a squad that is better suited for new manager Carlo Ancelotti’s style than it was for Guardiola’s, and they’ll have time to work out the kinks in the group stage, where only Atleti will give them problems.  Once they figure it out, I expect Ancelotti to use all of Bayern’s incredibly deep and talented team to pull out the 6th Champions League title in club history.

2016 NFL Preview

In less than an hour, the 2016/17 NFL season will kick off in a rematch of last year’s phenomenal Super Bowl match-up between the champion Denver Broncos and runner-up Carolina Panthers.  Each team was arguably the best in their conference the whole year through, and were that they played for the championship was very fitting.  However, some major defections from both teams- Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, and Danny Trevathan for Denver and Josh Norman for Carolina- has, perhaps, made it easier for some challengers to snatch the conference titles from the holders and battle for the big prize: a Super Bowl.  Who’s going to win that big prize this season?  Here’s my thoughts on how it will all play out:

 

Regular Season Standings

NFC

NFC West:

Cardinals (#2)

Seahawks (WC #1)

Rams

49ers

Last year, the Cardinals were only one game away from the Super Bowl, on their deepest play-off run since Kurt Warner was the quarterback, before running into the rampaging Panthers.  However, it seems like Bruce Arians and his staff seem to get the most out of his squad than anyone not named Belichick, and I expect them to do so again this season, holding off the rival Seahawks for first place.  The ‘Hawks will be pretty good themselves, but the uncertainty in the running game, and the corresponding increase in pressure on Russell Wilson, will cause Seattle to end up as a wild card team for the second straight season.  The Rams and 49ers, meanwhile, will again be two of the worst teams in the league- they both have star running backs and a couple of good defensive players, but also have limited talent throughout the roster and very inconsistent coaching staffs.  Los Angeles’s defense is a little better, so I give them the edge, but I don’t expect much from either of those two teams.

 

NFC North:

Packers (#1)

Vikings

Bears

Lions

The Vikings gave the Pack a real run for their money last season- second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Stefon Diggs provided nice compliments to star running back to Adrian Peterson, and Aaron Rodgers struggled without Jordy Nelson on the field.  Now, however, with Nelson back on the field and Bridgewater out for the year, and maybe longer, with a gruesome knee injury, Green Bay doesn’t have a team in the division that can compete with them on either side of the ball, which is why I think that they’ll claim the division, and the number one overall seed, with relative ease.  Minnesota will still fight for a play-off spot, but without Bridgewater, I just don’t see it happening.  As for the Bears and Lions, they are teams in the midst of transition.  The Bears massively upgraded their offensive line and front seven, while the Lions seem like they are still reeling after the sudden retirement of star receiver Calvin Johnson.  The Bears are on the up and the Lions are headed down, which is what I reflect in my standings.

 

NFC South:

Panthers (#4)

Buccaneers (WC #2)

Falcons

Saints

The Panthers were last year’s NFC champions by virtue of their explosive offense, helmed by MVP Cam Newton, and their ferocious defense.  Losing All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman will certainly sting, but Luke Kuechly and co. have enough talent to offset Norman’s departure fairly well, and with the offense gaining a new dimension with the return of the lanky Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers should be able to wrap up their third straight division title.  Beneath them, everything is a little bit muddled- every team has some positives and some negatives.  The Buccaneers have an up-and-coming quarterback and a solid front seven, but their secondary and running game aren’t very consistent.  Atlanta has an explosive offense and a very inconsistent defense.  New Orleans has Drew Brees and Mark Ingram, and the less that is said about their defense, the better.  I think that Tampa has the most talent, and that Jameis Winston will be good enough to lead the Bucs to their first play-off appearance since 2007, but the other teams will be hot on their heels until the regular season comes to an end.  Probably the deepest division top to bottom this year (in comparison to last year, when it was Carolina and under .500 teams).

 

NFC East:

Giants (#3)

Redskins

Eagles

Cowboys

Were Tony Romo healthy, I could see this division playing out to be a really interesting one- the Cowboys would be competitive and give every team a legit shot of making the play-offs if they could simply overcome their rivals.  However, as much as I like Dak Prescott, he’s no Romo, and knowing that, I think that this division is the Giants’ to lose.  They’ve bulked up their leaky defense by signing Oliver Vernon and Janoris Jenkins while drafting the dangerous Sterling Shepard to line up opposite Odell Beckham at receiver.  While the team’s closest competitor, and last year’s division champs, the Redskins, also improved their roster by jettisoning Alfred Morris and signing Josh Norman, I simply cannot see Kirk Cousins maintaining the pace, or big-play ability, that he flashed last year.  That isn’t to say that he’s a bad quarterback- far from it- but even a slight drop off from him, combined with the team’s relatively weak linebacking core, should keep them out of the top spot and out of the play-offs.  The bottom two teams in this division will both be starting rookie quarterbacks- Prescott for the Cowboys and Carson Wentz for the Eagles- and that’s pretty much the main reason that I can see both of these teams finishing in the bottom 4 teams in the conference.  I have slightly more confidence in Wentz than I do in Prescott, though, and that fact, combined with Philadelphia’s somewhat decent defense, gives them the edge over the ‘Boys, who will finish last for a second straight season.

             

AFC

AFC West:

Raiders (#3)

Broncos

Chiefs

Chargers

The defending Super Bowl champion has missed the play-offs the year after their victory only four times in the past ten years.  Of course, not every defending champion loses the two quarterbacks that have started every game for the team since the start of the 2012 season (Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler) and the anchor of their defensive line (Malik Jackson).  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Raiders drastically improved under Jack Del Rio, and seem poised for even bigger and better things this year- they bulked up the offensive line to better protect budding star Derek Carr and block for speedy running backs Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington while also adding linebacker Bruce Irvin to make the front seven even more ferocious than it already is.  Oakland will make the play-offs for the first time since their Super Bowl loss back in 2003 (!), leaving Denver’s ferocious defense and my boy Trevor Siemian, Denver’s new and unproven starting QB (who’s from Northwestern, which is about an hour from where I live), on the outside looking in.  The Chiefs have the potential to be pretty good, too, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in an aging Alex Smith, or in a defense that will be missing the pass-rushing monster that is Justin Houston for six weeks.  Oakland and Denver are just too good for them to overcome.  As for San Diego, I think that they are the laughingstock of the NFL- yes, worse than the Browns.  Spurned by Los Angeles, having engaged in fights with Eric Weddle and Joey Bosa’s representatives while throwing money at a receiver, with only one good year, that doesn’t fit Philip Rivers’s playing style.  As much as I don’t want to see it, for their quarterback’s sake, I expect to see them struggle mightily this season.

 

AFC North

Steelers (#1)

Bengals (WC #1)

Ravens

Browns

Even though Pittsburgh won’t have Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green to start the season, or Martavis Bryant for the whole season, the Steelers have perhaps the easiest schedule in the division to start the season, and once they get Bell back, Ben Roethlisberger will have an embarrassment of speedy riches to utilize on offense, and I think he’ll be able to do so well enough to claim the division and the conference’s number one overall seed.  Cincinnati will give them a run for their money, though- I feel the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will hurt them more than I think many people realize, but with a healthy Andy Dalton and AJ Green pairing, along with a gritty, hard-working defense, the Bengals will make the play-offs as the number one wild card.  Baltimore will be the best AFC team to not make the post-season- the return of Steve Smith and signing of Eric Weddle give them veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, and I have enough faith in Joe Flacco’s arm to get them to the play-offs.  However, against better run defending teams, I think the Ravens will struggle, and that will ultimately be their downfall.  Cleveland will continue to languish at the bottom of the division, but all hope is not lost- the front office seems like they’re on the right track now, and they should be in good shape for the future.

 

AFC South

Texans (#4)

Jaguars (WC #2)

Texans

Titans

The Houston Texans won the AFC South last year, but after an offensive implosion against the Bengals in the play-offs, they made it their off-season priority to get star receiver DeAndre Hopkins some new companions.  They largely succeeded in that quest, adding Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller in free agency and Will Fuller through the draft.  Now, the team feels like their offense is on par with their excellent defense, which should allow them to take the division without much trouble.  The battle for second place in the division should be interesting, though.  The Colts, long the division’s top dog, return Andrew Luck from injury but still have a suspect defense.  The Jaguars added a power runner and some studs on defense, but are still relatively inexperienced.  In the end, though, I feel like the Jags have more overall talent, and that talent will help them overcome said inexperience to make the playoffs.  At the bottom, while I don’t think that the Titans will be very competitive this year, the team is certainly on the rise; any team that is being built around exceptional talents like Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry definitely should be.

 

AFC East:

Patriots (#2)

Bills

Jets

Dolphins

The Patriots lucked out a little bit in terms of their schedule difficulty while Tom Brady is serving his suspension- only the opener against Arizona looks remotely tricky for Jimmy Garopolo, and even so, I have a lot of faith in the former Eastern Illinois quarterback to adequately hold down the fort.  After Brady’s return, though, I expect the Pats to click into another gear, pulling away to easily win their division.  All the other teams in the division are capable of bigger and better things, and perhaps even a play-off win or two, but each of them has a very inconsistent aspect of their team that I think will hold them back from making the play-offs.  For the Bills, it’s the offense- there’s a lot of good players in Buffalo, but the offense is mainly boom-or-bust, and that’s hard to maintain at a rate that’ll get you into the post-season.  For the Jets, it’s their defense- it alternated between being very good and very bad, but with nobody getting any younger, I don’t see them getting any better than they were last year.  And in Miami, it’s quarterback Ryan Tannehill- he has all the attributes to be a star, but just hasn’t put it together yet.  If any of these aspects of any of those teams finds consistency, they can make a play-off push- otherwise, they’ll be left out again.

 

 

Awards/Individual Predictions

NFL MVP: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

While Palmer is certainly not getting any younger, he still has his mind and phenomenal accuracy, and the supporting cast he has this year is better than ever- David Johnson is an up-and-coming star at running back, and the receiver trio of John Brown, Michael Floyd, and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald is the best in the league.  That gives Palmer, who is completely healthy to start the season for the first time in three years, a great opportunity to win the MVP while leading the Cards deep into the play-offs.

 

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

This is a fairly straightforward pick.  It’s not “sexy,” so to speak, but nobody will be getting the type of usage, especially with Tony Romo out, that Elliott will, and no running back is fortunate enough to run behind the best offensive line in the entire league.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this one was unanimous.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jaguars rookies Jaelen Ramsey and Myles Jack are more talented players than Spence, and probably more common picks for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but I think that Spence is the best pass rusher in the draft, and since most teams will seek to beat Tampa Bay through the air, I think that the former Eastern Kentucky man will get a lot of chances to show off his skills.

 

Best Acquisition: Eric Weddle, FS, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens secondary simply hasn’t been the same since Ed Reed’s departure.  Ladarius Webb hasn’t ever really seemed himself, and Jimmy Smith hasn’t exactly developed into the elite corner that everyone said he would be.  Enter Weddle, a wily All-Pro safety that will be hungry for wins after being stuck in turmoil in San Diego.  His presence and leadership should improve Webb and Smith’s performance as he continues his trend of dominating games, with all of this coming at a reasonable AAV of $6.5 million.

 

Worst Acquisition: Chris Ivory, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Look: I get that the Jaguars needed to spend their cap space this off-season.  I get that the free agent market wasn’t really all that plentiful in compared to previous years.  But signing a guy like Ivory, a running back that will steal carries for the young and underrated TJ Yeldon, a running back that isn’t much of a pass catcher, a running back that will cost over $6 million a year in a league that doesn’t value the run game as high as it used to, doesn’t seem like a bright move.

 

Coach of the Year: Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars

After all the put downs I’ve been giving Jacksonville, here’s a light in the dark- after many years of futility, GM Dave Caldwell and Bradley have done a good job of shaping this team into a kind of Seattle-lite through the free agent market (Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson) and the draft (Jaelen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson).  Bradley’s handling of Bortles has been especially admirable, and after he and Bortles lead the team to the play-offs for the first time since 2007, Bradley will be duly rewarded.

             

Biggest Surprise: Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell has struggled with injuries in recent seasons.  So has Ladarius Green.  DeAngelo Williams is aging, and Heath Miller retired.  Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year.  Somebody needs to step up to draw some attention away from star receiver Antonio Brown, and while Bell and Williams will still be important, I expect that all the uncertainty in Pittsburgh will give the speedy Wheaton ample opportunity to have a breakout season, and I’ll think he’ll take that opportunity and run with it.

 

 

Playoffs:

NFC

Wildcard

Giants defeat Buccaneers

Seahawks defeat Panthers

This is probably the most unheralded of all the play-off matchups, but I think it will be a pretty good one.  Neither team has a really good secondary, so I believe that it’ll be a relative shootout, but when it comes down to it, as good as I think Jameis Winston can be, he is still not at the level, in terms of both experience (duh) and ability (not so duh), as Eli Manning.  Manning and Odell Beckham will help the G-Men move on to the next round.

In a rematch of last year’s divisional matchup, the defending NFC champs take on the team from which they took their crown.  Seattle’s loss last year was down to uncharacteristic turnovers, but when they found their groove in the second half, they were nearly unstoppable, coming within a touchdown of the host Panthers.  As good as Carolina is, the Seahawks are better overall, and will be anxious to avenge their loss from last season.  Seattle moves on.

 

Divisional

Giants defeat Packers

Cardinals defeat Seahawks

The Giants-Packers match-up is a battle between two of the best play-off quarterbacks in the game, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning.  Both have the weapons and the know-how to pull this one out, so I think it will come down to who is able to limit the other team’s star receivers the best.  Unfortunately for Green Bay, I think that the trio of Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Leon Hall is good enough to prevent Jordy Nelson from really getting into the game, and we saw how much of a problem that was for Rodgers last year.  The Giants move on in an upset.

This game was so tough to call- I think that the Seahawks have more talent, but the Cardinals get more from their players.  Both coaching staffs are evenly matched.  Last year’s games saw each team win the game where they were the visitors.  In the end, though, I think that Bruce Arians and his staff will be better prepared than they were for last season’s finale, and without the threat of Marshawn Lynch, they can throw pass rushers at Russell Wilson and force him to make plays, which is a hit-or-miss type of thing.  I think he’ll miss just enough for the Cardinals to move on.

 

Conference

Cardinals defeat Giants

East meets West in a game to determine the NFC champ.  Both teams will come into this game coming off of relative upset victories, and emotions will be running high.  Because of that, I expect this game to be a very fast-paced one, and the team that can control the ball, and the clock, better will be able to move on.  In this case, I think that means that the Cardinals will win, since their tandem of David Johnson and Chris Johnson is better anything than the Giants can throw at them.  Bruce Arians and his squad advance to The Big Game.

 

AFC

Wild Card

Raiders defeat Jaguars

Texans defeat Bengals

I really wish that these teams wouldn’t meet in the first round of the play-offs, because it means that a team that has been in the dumps in recent years gets to make it to the post-season, only to lose their first game.  Unfortunately for Jacksonville, I think it will be them going home- the Raiders monstrous front seven will be able to limit the Jags’ running game and force Blake Bortles to beat him on their own, and while Bortles is very talented, it would be hard for any young quarterback to stand up to such a task, especially in the play-offs.  Jacksonville moves on.

Last year the Bengals absolutely tore apart the Texans, and it was mainly because Brian Hoyer could get absolutely nothing going on offense for Houston.  This year, the Texans are back and reloaded, and the offense they’ve formed is now on par with Cincinnati’s.  In the end, I think it’ll all come down to defense, and I believe that the JJ Watt-led Texans have a slight advantage in that department.  Houston moves on in a squeaker.            

 

Divisional

Raiders defeat Steelers

Patriots defeat Texans

When Derek Carr was drafted, I felt that Ben Roethlisberger was the NFL quarterback he should look up to- they are very similar physically (big, strong arms) and came into the league to very similar situations (mediocre team with great tradition, not necessarily expected to play right away but did anyways).  Now, Carr has a chance to top Big Ben.  While Roethlisberger is certainly a better quarterback at this stage of his career, Oakland’s strong defense and Pittsburgh’s weak one are the difference makers- the Raiders advance.

Bill Belichick comes up against his old protégé, Bill O’Brien, in a game to determine who makes it to the AFC championship.  I really feel like Houston can keep this one pretty close- Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller are dynamic enough to give the Patriot defense some trouble, and the uncertainty around New England’s offensive line situation is music to JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus’s ears.  However, this is the Patriots we’re talking about, and as competitive as the Texans can be, I just don’t think that their secondary has enough skill to truly limit Tom Brady.  The Pats will win in a low-scoring game.

 

Conference

Patriots defeat Raiders

A rematch of the infamous “Tuck Rule” game back in 2002, Derek Carr and the Raiders will have a chance to avenge the controversial win that the Patriots picked up en route to their first ever Super Bowl victory.  Alas, it just isn’t meant to be- Bill Belichick has Jack Del Rio’s number, having beaten him when he was the Jaguars head coach and Denver’s defensive coordinator, and if there’s any place where the Raiders aren’t excellent, it’s in the secondary.  That’s not a good thing when you’re facing Tom Brady.  The Patriots move on, perhaps with ease.

 

Super Bowl

Cardinals defeat Patriots

A battle between the oldest projected starting quarterbacks in the league (Brady and Palmer will be 39 and 37, respectively, at the time of the Super Bowl) and a Week One rematch.  While it’s hard to bet against Brady, especially coming off of his suspension and shocking loss to Denver last season, the Cardinal offense should have little problem picking apart New England’s secondary, and while Arizona’s defense isn’t of Denver quality, it was 5th overall in total yards allowed last season, and should be able to do enough to limit Tom Terrific to allow their offense to build a lead.  There’ll be a lot of points, and it’ll be close, but ultimately, I think Arizona will prevail, 34-27.

 

Criminal Minds and Replacing Major TV Show Characters

 

Since discovering the hit CBS show Criminal Minds, it’s safe to say that I’ve become a very big fan of it.  I’ve watched nearly every episode of every season, with the sole exception being the most recent one.  I follow nearly all of the show’s stars on social media (Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Dr. Spencer Reid on the show, is by far the most entertaining), refer to all of them by their first names, and know all of their backgrounds.  I have debates with my girlfriend over the quality of each episode (she thinks its going downhill) and the relationships playing out between on-screen characters.  While the show has had a pretty solid run of success- it is the fourth-longest running live-action scripted show in the US- it has had a pretty sizable chunk of turnover.

While the show has so far withstood all of the departures that the cast has undergone, the most recent ones could signal a turning point in the show’s history – Shemar Moore, who played the hunky Derrick Morgan, left in the middle of last season, and Thomas Gibson, who played the brooding Aaron Hotchner, was dismissed from the show after a physical altercation with one of the producers.  Both men were series originals, and their exits have created some uncertainty over the show’s primetime staying power.

This turnover is not out of the ordinary for major shows; however, the majority of the time that a character leaves a show, it is a choice that is first brought up by the showrunners, like the killing off of Nina Sergeevna in the show The Americans, or a mutual decision, like the death of Patrick Dempsey’s character in Grey’s Anatomy, Derek Sheppard.  A character leaving the show in this way allows for some sort of closure to be brought to the character’s storyline; sudden exits, like the ones by Moore and Gibson’s former co-stars, Lola Glaudini and Mandy Patinkin, cause a panic that induces a show to rush its casting process to replace the old stars, possibly diminishing the show’s quality in the eyes of its particularly passionate followers.

Glaudini, the show’s female lead for its first season, left early in season 2 because of her rumored preference to live on the east coast (the show films in Los Angeles).  Patinkin, the show’s biggest name and lead character, left abruptly in the middle of season 3, citing the show’s “dark” material as the reason for his departure.  Having such major characters leave the show so soon was completely unexpected, for viewers and CBS executives alike.  To ensure the survival of their show, the show’s producers had to put a lot of money and consideration to replacing these vital cogs.

Luckily, CBS managed to snag two phenomenal people to fill in for their outgoing cast members.  To replace Glaudini, they brought in Paget Brewster as Emily Prentiss at the beginning of Season 3, and to this day, she remains the strongest female lead the show has ever had.  To replace Patinkin, CBS chose the seemingly laid-back Joe Mantegna, who has played the team’s elder statesman, David Rossi, since Patinkin left. Both of these characters, along with the promotion of AJ Cook to a full-time cast member, made the show into the smash hit that it is today.

It seemed that everything was running smoothly until 2012, when Brewster, who had previously been undercut by the show’s producers, announced she would not be returning to the show for its eighth season.  Since then, Brewster’s role has been filled by three people, including current cast member Aisha Tyler, but none of them have, in the opinion of many fans, myself included, come to have the depth that Brewster’s character did.

And that’s what is so crucial about replacing a major character- showrunners need to develop the new characters with the same mindset that they did with the old ones while still managing to give them unique storylines that are different from their predecessors.  One of the many reasons that one of my other favorite shows, FOX’s Glee, struggled to continue in the aftermath of the horribly tragic death of the show’s male lead, Cory Monteith, is that they couldn’t come up with male characters that had enough depth to replace him.  Jake and Ryder, played by Jacob Artist and Blake Jenner, respectively, were put in a very shallow, very volatile love triangle that didn’t resonate with viewers.  By the time that the show figured out how to make the show exciting again, it was in its final season, which was shortened to 13 episodes instead of the 22 that four of the previous five seasons contained.

Criminal Minds successfully replaced Patinkin and Glaudini, but its failure to find a permanent replacement for Brewster, twice, has led to a show that has started to lose some followers- its ratings last season were the second lowest in its history.  Now, with Moore and Gibson leaving, there’s a chance that the show will lose its primetime TV spot, or worse yet, slink meekly off into the distance, a fate that Glee unfortunately met.  The show is not yet, in my opinion, on a big of a slump as the ratings, and my girlfriend, see- Adam Rodriguez seems like he could be a capable replacement for Moore, and after getting Brewster and Mantegna to join the show, I have faith that the show can figure out what to do with Gibson’s role.  However, if the show’s producers aren’t able to come up with solid storylines for its new characters, Criminal Mind’s time as one of the country’s most popular shows will soon be up.

EPL Season Preview- Part 1

After a dramatic off-season that included two major tournaments (three, if you count the Olympic tournament, which is currently in progress) and many big-named players switching clubs, the 2016 Premier League Season is finally upon us.  While the EPL is arguably the deepest league in the entire world, there have to be some teams that don’t get to experience finishing up at the higher end of the table, teams that have the guts but just simply don’t have what it takes to get the glory. Here is Part 1 of my projection for the upcoming season, starting at the bottom of the table:

 

  1. Hull City

Hull City have bounced back and forth between the Premier League and the Championship over the past few years, and you would think that they would have an advantage over the two other teams promoted with them because of their previous experience in staying up.  However, the club is currently in a state of disarray- they do not have a manager, with caretaker Mike Phelan set to start the season in charge after the resignation of Steve Bruce.  One of the team’s best players, Mo Diame, left for Newcastle in the Championship, citing the possibility of a better future.  They haven’t made any major signings, and their squad is woefully thin.  I just don’t see any way that they can stay up.

 

  1. Burnley

Sean Dyche is a fantastic manager, and his disciplined style of play, and his players’ typically flawless execution of it, will give the Clarets a chance to hang around the top flight next season.  However, outside of fleet striker Andre Gray and goalie Tom Heaton, the team just doesn’t have many Premier League-level talents, and like relegation rivals Hull, have not been able to secure any signings to help bolster their campaign to stay up.  The team will enjoy the money that the EPL will give them, and the experience of playing top-flight football, then they will drop back down to the second division.

 

  1. Sunderland

It seems like Sunderland ends up in a relegation battle every season, and I don’t expect this one to be any different.  The current players have shown that they are fully capable of stepping up their game to maintain their Premier League status, but I just don’t see it happening this year.  The club is transition between managers, and while both Sam Allardyce and David Moyes are fantastic coaches, the old manager, Allardyce, has a coaching style that is better suited to a relegation right than his replacement, Moyes.  Also, the squad is woefully thin- there are only 20 first-team players on the current roster.  The defense looks very weak after the departure of Wes Brown (released) and DeAndre Yedlin (returned to Tottenham), and could get weaker if Lamine Kone completes his move to Everton.  There hasn’t been anyone signed to help ease the burden on the aging Jermain Defoe.  I just don’t think the Black Cats have what it takes to survive another season.

 

  1. Swansea

Swansea have been very popular since their arrival in the Premier League back in 2011, when Brendan Rodgers was at the helm.  Their attractive, possession-based game won them a League Cup in 2012 and has helped them maintain their longest top-flight stay in club history.  However, teams started to figure out how to overcome the Swans’ possession domination last season, and the club struggled throughout the season.  They have made moves to upgrade last year’s faltering attack, but their defense will be sorely lacking after captain Ashley Williams inevitably departs for Everton.  The team is good, but they’ll be in for a season even tougher than the one they had last year.  They’ll have just enough to stay up, but they’ll need some serious improvements if they expect to recapture the success they had when they first arrived in the Premier League.

 

  1. West Brom

The Baggies are not blessed with overwhelming talent, but are blessed with hard-working players, embodied by the aptly-named vice-captain Chris Brunt, and a manager, Tony Pulis, whose direct style is well-suited to this roster and to a relegation battle.  The team could use a couple more signings to help settle fears over the possible departures of mainstays Jonny Evans and Sadio Berahino, but with or without them, I feel that the team has what it takes to hover above Sunderland and Swansea while staying in the league for next season.

 

  1. Bournemouth

The Cherries, like their promoted counterparts, Watford, weren’t expected to do anything last season; in fact, they were favored by many to drop back down to the Championship, especially after star striker Callum Wilson went down with an injury early in the season.  However, some great managing by the young Eddie Howe, and a few brilliant results mid-season, including back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, secured them a place in the EPL this season.  The club knew it needed to add more pieces to stay up this season, and it did so wisely by investing in solid youngsters Brad Smith, Emerson Hyndman and Jordan Ibe.  With a strengthened squad and a full season of Wilson up ahead, I expect Bournemouth to take a (small) step forward from last season.

 

  1. Crystal Palace

Alan Pardew’s Eagles got off to a flying start last season, and it looked like they may turn into real European contenders.  That was before the offense dried up, and the Eagles slumped so badly that they were close to getting really deep into a relegation battle.  The team has made some good signings- they inked Andros Townsend and Steve Mandanda to bolster a core that already includes Yannick Bolasie and Yohan Cabaye, but Bolasie might depart for Everton, and the team still doesn’t have a truly dependable striker to put an end to their scoring woes.  Palace won’t be relegated, but their year won’t be particularly exciting, either.

 

  1. Watford

Last year, the Hornets were promoted to England’s top league for the first time since 2007, and they weren’t expected to do all that much.  However, the Pozzo family had built this team up to be the crown jewel of their portfolio of three pro teams, and the club ended the season in an impressive 13th place.  The team has managed to hang on to its biggest names- forwards Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo- and have a deep roster, with numerous players capable of filling multiple different roles and playing in different formations.  I worry slightly about overall defensive talent, and also about new manager Walter Mazzarri, who has a style of coaching that is more defensive than pragmatic.  This is why I feel that Watford will finish slightly lower than they did last year.

 

  1. Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough have been on the verge of regaining their place in the Premier League since manager Aitor Karanka took over back in 2013, and this past season finally saw the former Jose Mourinho confidant lift his team to the big show.  The team had a decent, but seemingly below Premier League quality core upon coming up to the first division, but Karanka invested wisely in some players to bolster his squad.  He got Victor Valdes and Brad Guzan to fight for the #1 goalkeeper spot, Marten de Roon and Gaston Ramirez to upgrade the midfield, and Alvaro Negredo to join the underrated Jordan Rhodes up top.  I still think they could add another defender or two to bolster their back line, but otherwise, I feel this team has enough to stick around for another season.

 

  1. Southampton

The last three years, the Southampton team has been purged of its core.  2014 saw Nathan Clyne and Rickie Lambert leave, while last summer, Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin left for Manchester United.  Both of the corresponding seasons, though the Saints responded with a fantastic finish in the league.  This year, though, with manager Ronald Koeman leaving along with Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, and Victor Wanyama, I think the team from St. Mary’s will finally drop off a little.  They’ll still be good enough to hang with the big boys in some games- Claude Puel is a very good manager, and his top players, defender Jose Fonte, midfielder Jordy Clasie, and striker Shane Long, are no slouches, but they don’t have the true game-changers, or the depth, to finish as high as they have the last two years.

 

  1. Everton

The Toffees are an interesting team.  They have a solid core to build off of with Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, with some solid veterans like Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines in support of them.  However, over the past couple seasons, they have played below the overall sum of their parts.  They have a new owner, Farhad Moshiri, that is ready to spend, and a new manager, Ronald Koeman, that seems perfectly suited to this kind of team.  The defense seems a little shaky after the departure of John Stones (enforcements are expected, but they won’t come close to matching Stones’s talent), and I think it will take a while for Koeman to get the squad to play his style instead of the more possession-based game of his predecessor, Roberto Martinez, and because of that, I feel the blue side of Liverpool will have to slog through another mediocre season before things change around.

 

  1. Stoke City

This season will be Mark Hughes’s 4th season at the helm of the Potters, and he has drastically reshaped the team’s image from what it was under Tony Pulis.  Led by Swiss dynamo Xherdan Shaqiri, the team is incisive and attack-focused, yet disciplined at the back.  The have the talent to make a run at a spot in Europe, but sometimes too much is forced on either Shaqiri or fellow winger Morgan Arnautovic, and that makes Stoke a one man team that is easy to stop.  They need to discover cohesiveness as a team in order to really make a push towards the top, and while Hughes has assembled a very solid squad from top to bottom, with their current team balance, I just don’t think they have that yet.

 

You can check out Part 2 of this preview on my new soccer website, gunnerupdates.com

Prom!

A lot of the times that I post on here, I post things that people can talk about, or relate to, even if I sometimes write so much about some things that it gets very, very boring for readers (like, I assume nobody read my entire NFL Free Agency post- it was fun to write, but very tedious to research, and I’m sure it was very tedious for everyone to try and get through).  This is one of the few exceptions, because it’s something that I’m super, duper excited about: I got to go to prom!

I was unable to go to my own high school’s prom last year- those of you that know me know why, and for those of you that don’t, I’ll just send you here.  After all the crap that went down last year, I never anticipated that I would get a chance to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience that prom is.  But God works in mysterious ways, I suppose- I began dating a lovely girl named Ariana, who is currently a senior in high school, and her prom, which was on May 14th, happened to fall after my college finals were over (for perspective, my high school’s prom was the weekend before my finals, and the other school in our district had it the week before that), so I would be able to go!  I was unbelievably overjoyed, and really, I still kind of am now, so I, uh, ramble a little bit in this post.

Of course, there was a lot of stress in the lead-up to the event- I first had to accept the fact that we weren’t going to my prom, but my girlfriend’s, so my excitement, and desire to do this and that, had to take a backseat to whatever she wanted.  There was drama over my girlfriend’s dress- we had made an agreement prior to her going dress shopping that I wouldn’t be able to see the dress until prom, but I was really anxious to see how amazing she would look, so our friends and family made a concerted effort to keep photos of it from me.  There was a minor seating fiasco- I wanted to be closer to the food, but Ariana wanted to be closer to the drinks, so we debated over that for a bit (she won, of course).  There was also the matter of dressing up- as someone that thinks wearing jeans is going fancy, I had to build up some major mental resolve to get into “prom” mode.  Of course, prior to this whole thing, I had never worn a tuxedo, and I was worried that my tendency to sweat, like, a lot, no matter the temperature, would make wearing a tux beyond miserable (for anyone that cares: it wasn’t all that bad).  I also had to settle some of my girlfriend’s fears- that she wouldn’t look pretty, that the whole thing would be a dud, things like that.

Of course, we got through all of the “trials and tribulation,” and the big day came.  I got into my tux and felt neither suffocated nor sweaty as hell.  I went over to her house to take pictures with my girlfriend and her family, finally getting to see her dress for the first time (with her in it, of course).  And boy, let me tell you- she was an absolute knockout.  She told me prior to prom, countless times, that she thought the dress made her look like a real princess, but I thought that the line was just cliché.  It definitely wasn’t- she was… beyond dreamy.  I was way out of her league (I still am, but was especially so on that night).

Anyway.

After some glam shots of the two of us, and another brief photo session at her best friend’s house, her mom brought us to her school to await departure to the dance.  Waiting there was just a little bit awkward for me- since I didn’t go to the same high school Ariana did (Hinsdale Central for life!), I knew exactly one person there besides the small group of four that we came with, and that was only because he was from Central.  For a quiet person such as myself, having to go around and be introduced to so many people, meaning that I actually had to talk to them, wasn’t all that enjoyable.  Thankfully, we didn’t stay at the school long, and soon enough, we were off.

The event was held at the Navy Pier Crystal Garden; while there was nothing in the room that, in my opinion, remotely resembled anything crystal, it sure was a nice place- there were lots of majestic plants, some cool water features, and the setup was really nice, allowing everybody to get to the important things, like the food, drinks, photo booths, and dance floor with relative ease.  The food that the staff prepared for us was also pretty good, considering that it was mass produced at a facility that isn’t exactly known for its food.

The dance itself was a bit awkward for me- considering that I’m super quiet and have the dance moves of a wooden board (I’m stiff and don’t move much), that makes some sense- but it was an absolute blast.  My girlfriend got me out onto the dance floor for a couple of the more pop-y songs, as well as for both of the slow songs, showing me a dance move or two.  We got to take some really funny photos in the photo booth with her and her friends.  We went outside to the porch of the Garden and spent some time enjoying the city skyline (while trying not to freeze our butts off in the high 40’s weather while wearing thin dress clothes).  We talked about really random things in really loud voices, straining to hear each other above the noise of the music.  Best of all, we got to really revel in each other’s company, enjoying a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience with the person that we would most want to experience it with.

We finished the night relaxing next to a bonfire in my backyard, reliving the funny moments of the night while chowing down on s’mores, pizza, and cinnamon sticks, happy to be out of our very-fancy-yet-very-constricting clothes and into sweatpants and sweatshirts.  The night didn’t last very long- from the time that I put on my tuxedo to the time that I went to bed, it was maybe 9 hours, tops- but it was a night that I am beyond grateful I got to spend with the best girlfriend in the world, and a night that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Oh, and here are some pictures, in case you want to see how goofy I look in a tux and how gorgeous my girlfriend looked.  Enjoy:

 

1.jpg                                                           Hand pose!

2.jpg       The group

3.jpg                                          I need to learn how to smile…4.jpg        My mom and me5.jpg           “The good one”

6.jpg            She looks gorgeous.  I look bleh.

A Tribute to Derrick Rose

Wizards v/s Bulls 02/28/11

I’ve underestimated Derrick Rose for a long time.

When the Chicago Bulls were lucky enough to land the number one overall pick back in 2008, the majority of people seemed to favor the team taking Rose, who had just finished a phenomenal freshman year under Coach John Calipari at Memphis, with that pick.  I was in the minority that believed that Kansas State forward Michael Beasley should have been the Bulls pick.  Both players were young, with high scoring totals and high ceilings, but I felt that Beasley’s versatility would make him the better selection.

Rose won the Rookie of the Year award with 111 first place votes; the next highest vote getter got 5.  Beasley got 0.  Rose led his underdog team to within one game of defeating the defending champion Boston Celtics, tearing through a strong defense headlined by wily veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with a quiet confidence; Beasley did not start a playoff game that season.

Even after the amazing playoff performance Rose put on, I still did not have a lot of faith in him; he had shown some top-level athleticism, no doubt, but it seemed like he was a little bit selfish with the ball, especially for a rookie, and I didn’t think that his shooting numbers would be any greater than mediocre, at best, and that those two things would hold him back.

Rose made his first All-Star game in his second year, and in his third year, absolutely blew up, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to win the MVP Award while leading the Bulls to the league’s best record and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the great Michael Jordan had donned a Bulls jersey.

When Rose suffered his first major knee injury as a pro, crumpling to the ground in a play-off game against the Philadelphia 76ers, I felt horrible for him; I also felt that his life as a starting point guard, much less an elite point guard, was over, that the injury, which kept him out for over a year, would rob him of his trademark explosiveness and turn him into a run-of-the-mill backup, struggling to hit 40% of his shots while occasionally finding a moment of brilliance.

He may not have come back as strong as many had expected, but by averaging almost 16 points per game in his first month of playing competitive basketball in roughly 18 months, Rose proved his toughness and determination were beyond incredible.

After he sustained his second knee injury, tearing the meniscus on the knee opposite to the one that he had previously injured, I thought that his fate as a star that burned bright, but burned fast and faded out faster, was essentially cemented, that two major knee injuries for a guy that lived and died by his ability to be shifty, whose shot was still nothing special, would end Rose’s career with a whimper.

Of course, I was wrong again.  Rose returned at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, and he showed that he still had the ability to take over games, as evidenced by the 32 points that he dropped on the Washington Wizards midseason.

Shortly after that game, Rose injured his knee, again, putting myself and other Bulls fans everywhere back onto an emotional roller coaster.  This injury, I felt, would be the one to truly destroy the point guard’s confidence, to undermine all of the hard work that he had put in recovering from his previous two injuries and make him into a shell of his former self.

Of course, Rose came back two months later, putting in a couple of clutch playoff performances, including a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer to defeat LeBron James and the archrival Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now, Derrick Rose is gone.  Traded, that is- to the New York Knicks, in a package deal that sends center Robin Lopez and two point guards to Chicago.  In my opinion, the trade looks like it could be a good one for the Bulls- the team was able to get Rose’s astronomical salary off the books while getting a starting center (Lopez), a potential stud at point guard (Jerian Grant), and a steady veteran guard (Jose Calderon) in return.

Of course, the one way that this trade could really blow up in Chicago’s face is if Rose, whose seemingly constant injury problems and perceived lack of effort have made him a divisive figure in the recent years, completely rejuvenates his career with the Knicks.

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t think that it’s going to happen- I feel that Rose’s knees, which have taken tons and tons of abuse, just won’t hold up well enough for him to re-establish himself among the upper echelon of point guards in the league.  I also believe that Rose might be the third option, at best, on a Knicks team featuring Anthony and upcoming big man Kristaps Porzingis, and that won’t give him an opportunity to really showcase his talents.

But then again, I’ve underestimated Derrick Rose for a long time.

Regardless of what the ultimate result of this trade is, I’d like to give a big thanks to Derrick Rose for a phenomenal 8 years with the Bulls.  If Dwayne Wade put Chicago basketball back on the map, Rose made sure everybody knew it was back; he made the Bulls exciting, into real contenders.  He put in a lot of performances that were truly awe-inspiring, making seemingly impossible plays seem almost normal.  His dedication to Chicago was unbelievable; he became a role model for children throughout the city and the state, especially to fellow Chicagoans Anthony Davis and Jahlil Okafor, who followed his path from the inner city to the NBA.  His impact on the organization, and on the entire game of basketball, cannot be understated- though I hope my hometown team makes out better in this deal, I wish Rose the best in the Big Apple.