First Cup: Wednesday

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Sometimes a city is lucky enough to have a professional athlete who's a role model in every sense of the word. That's what Yao Ming has been during these six seasons with the Rockets. It's hard to imagine anyone in sports caring more, working harder or being more admired by his teammates and coaches. Yao also was smart and funny, a people person in every sense of the word. Those things are among the many reasons Tuesday was so difficult for everyone who cares about the Rockets. Yao's season-ending injury isn't just about basketball."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "The news still stinks. The Rockets are not going to be the team they were. Yao is too good for that. But they cannot think that way and Tuesday they did not. The Rockets, however, refuse to doubt themselves. They held the Wizards to fewer points than any team has scored this season, and fewer in a half than they have ever allowed, or than the Wizards have ever scored. But the most impressive thing might have been the night's determination in the face of the morning's crushing disappointment."

  • John Hollinger in The New York Sun: "While it's too much to ask the Chinese to hold Yao out of the Olympics, one wonders if the Rockets can get some reasonable limits placed on his usage, especially in tune-up games against second-tier sides. Regardless, one presumes there's an increased risk of wear-and-tear injuries cropping up again next season. At this point, both sides would be best served by agreeing to limit his future national team participation after 2008. Yao is no longer an indestructible 23-year-old -- he's now 27 and has a history of foot problems. Obviously, having Yao play in summers for China isn't helpful to the Rockets' interests. But the opposite is also true. One hopes the Chinese eventually realize that running Yao into the ground every summer, thereby hampering his odds at NBA success, doesn't necessarily advance their country's cause for sporting glory."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Isiah Thomas wasn't among the standing-room only crowd at the Apollo Theatre on Monday for a private screening of 'Black Magic,' a film about basketball at historical black colleges. But of all the famous faces in attendance -- Howard Stern, Paul Simon, and David Dinkins -- two names in particular should concern Thomas and interest Knick fans. Madison Square Garden president Steve Mills attended Monday's screening with Kiki Vandeweghe, who is working with the Nets as a special assistant to team president Rod Thorn. That Mills asked Vandeweghe to be his guest wouldn't be noteworthy expect for the fact that Vandeweghe, who joined the Nets in December, signed only a six-month contract, which would make him a free agent around draft day this June, by which time the Knicks would want to have Thomas' replacement in place. Garden chairman James Dolan is expected to remove Thomas from power. A person close to Vandeweghe said it was a chance meeting between Mills and Vandeweghe, but the two did sit next to each other Monday."

  • Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Philadelphia is often called a basketball town, but it's difficult to tell by the way the Sixers have been supported over the years. Even when the Sixers won the NBA title in 1982-83, they averaged 15,775, which was about 2,700 shy of capacity at the Spectrum."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "The building is quiet, save for the bursts of canned music that have become the soundtrack of every NBA game. The most enthusiastic fans in the place are wearing Suns purple and orange. Just days ago, seats in this very same section were going for $200 a pop. Now the vast tract sits empty, as if in reproach. This is not about a city that prefers college basketball to pro basketball. This is about a city that has decided not to root for a laughingstock."

  • Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: "I don't see this working. I just don't. The youth movement, combined with the playoff push, combined with the integration of the Atlanta trade pieces, combined with keeping the core happy and the role players from getting restless. Something's got to give. And right now, it's the Kings' record. From two games under .500 to the current four, they slid when the to-do list just got too long. Ten Kings had played by halftime, and that was before Shelden Williams had even seen the floor to get his work in. That's telling in and of itself, as the new forward is seen as a fairly important project at the moment. Kings coach Reggie Theus has an unenviable position."

  • Ian O'Connor of The Record: "At 66, Rod Thorn still has a taste for the fight. It took some incredibly selfish behavior from his point guard to make it obvious, but damn it if Kidd didn't light a fire inside the executive who led a hoax of a franchise to two consecutive trips to the Finals and six consecutive trips to the playoffs. 'I was in a bad situation with Jason,' Thorn said, 'and I challenged myself. I said, 'OK, how are you going to make this work for the franchise? How are you going to get out of this?' ' -- Thorn got out of it with Devin Harris, a highly credible talent, and a far better deal than the no-win circumstances suggested he could get. Thorn can still can play big in the big leagues. His former aide, Ed Stefanski, ended up in Philly, and his current aide, Kiki Vandeweghe, could end up with the Knicks. But as long as Thorn stays engaged with the Nets, the franchise has a chance to be relevant, a shot to be great."

  • Jeff Caplan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Are the Mavericks better off with Jason Kidd? Like the Suns with Shaquille O'Neal, it's too early to determine. Clearly, they are different. 'That's Jason. He kind of forces his style on us,' Dirk Nowitzki said. 'He's running, he's pushing whenever he can and he's making some great passes.' The Mavs are in motion in half-court sets far more than before. They're fast-breaking, and everyone's looking to get into the passing act, both in the half-court as well as on long outlets, mostly to Jason Terry, who's streaking down court more than ever after opponents' missed shots. 'I think I'm faster than I used to be,' Terry said, laughing. 'But that's only for one reason, and that's because you know what's coming.'"

  • Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun: "T.J. Ford is one of the shortest players on the Raptors squad, but yesterday he stood quite tall. Ford, who is rounding back to his old form after missing 31 games this season because of injury, diffused a potential controversy yesterday regarding the Raptors point guard situation by announcing
    that his backcourt partner Jose Calderon should start every game at the point for the rest of the season, and not himself -- a fairly large sacrifice to make considering that, injuries or not, Ford has been a starter for almost his entire NBA career."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "Greg Oden endorsed Obama in the morning, then, later in the day, the injured center met with the senator's campaign crew and asked how the primaries work, and what else he could do to help, and in the end, Oden asked, 'How do these superdelegates work anyway?' Bill Sanders, the head of marketing for BDA, the sports agency that handles Oden, said of his client's political endorsement, 'It's not safe, but we're not worried about safe, and Greg's not worried about safe, and we're all right with that. It's exciting to see a young guy involved in his first presidential election get that fired up.' Oden is a terrific basketball player, but I'm more encouraged today by the growth we're seeing inside him. Oden still is trying to figure out who he is, and where he's going, but he's decided to take a stand that stretches the boundaries of his comfort zone, and maybe, too, our usual area of comfort with an athlete.'"

  • Ron Green Jr. of The Charlotte Observer: "Ask Curly Neal how many basketball games he played for the Harlem Globetrotters and he'll tell you it was more than 6,000. He'll tell you he's been around the world three times and played basketball in 97 countries. He'll tell you about playing in front of more than 75,000 people when the Globetrotters visited Berlin, and he'll tell about playing in front of one fan -- Pope John Paul II -- at the Vatican. 'He wanted it all for himself,' Neal said of his papal audience. 'We did the whole show. We even threw water on him, but it was holy water.'"