Editor's note: There's a difference between the biggest sports stories of the year, and the most important sports stories of the year. Here, Scoop Jackson lets you in on the latter.
The deaths of Lee Richardson and James Dungy
One, the son of an NFL icon; the other, the brother of an NBA star. One a senseless killing, the other an alleged suicide. Both young, gifted and black men. Both had futures that they will not see.
Both deaths invalidated the ignorance that often forces us into believing that if you are successful, famous or rich, your life will be fine. No worries, no drama. Both Lee's and James' lives took backseats to the sibling and the father that made their deaths news. Both had lives of their own that many of us will never know. One was a promising (sometimes considered "gifted") music producer, the other a college student trying to decide which road to travel. Both should still be with us.
Death comes in all forms to all people, natural cause being the one we can handle the best. Unfortunately and sadly for Quentin Richardson and Tony Dungy, there was nothing natural about the turns their lives took this year at the expense of two of the people they loved the most.
The CBA of the NBA (G's Unit)
When does a corporate idea go too far? When does a tricknology become a mission of control? See, it wasn't the dress code or the age requirement that made these two issues issues in 2005, it was the way they were presented.
Knowing that, on their own, the implementation of a mandatory age of 19 and a code of ethics in clothing in the NBA for entry and participation would not pass go in the game of monopoly they like to play, The League (owners and commissioner) decided to "slide" two amendments inside a 43-article agreement that, if everything was not agreed upon, would have resulted in a lockout of the players.
|2005: YEAR IN REVIEW|
• Patrick Hruby: The Ignominious Effort Awards
• Jim Caple: A strange, strange year
• Paul Lukas: Uni Watch year in review
• Scoop Jackson: What mattered most
• Jeff Merron: Sex & Sports
Both parts of the deal caused a ridiculous (and justified) amount of public conversation. Both caused an unmatched amount of less-than-public anger. Both had racial overtones in them, regardless of what The League has to say.
What David J. Stern and the owners did was make the rules unchallengeable because of their placement. In making them part of an agreement that had the power to take the players' livelihood from them, The League forced the hands of the ones feeding them. And they knew this was high-end ghetto roulette with six bullets in the cylinder.
Think about it: How bad would the players and the players' union have looked if they had the entire NBA season suspended because of provisions of a dress code? How bad would the PR have been against the players if they revolted against an age requirement when Kwame Brown keeps being Kwame Brown? The League had the union in a no-retaliate position, checkmate. The owners basically put the players in a position to get as mad and upset as they wanna be without being able to do a damn thing about it.
As conniving, cutthroat and calculating as it was, we had to respect its brilliance. And as unfair as both items are, they showcased once again why DJS is simply called "G" inside of NBA circles. Some say it stands for Genius, others say it stands for Gangsta. In reality, both terms of disagreement are insights into who David Stern really is.
Stephen A. Smith's show
No one really got the magnitude of this. Not even at ESPN. When the deal went down and "Quite Frankly" was born, the first thing I wanted to do was write a column about it. Not happening. "Too self-promoting" was what I was told. But "QF" was bigger than that. It was bigger than ESPN.
When "Quite Frankly" aired on Aug. 1, 2005, it broke down a barrier that had been up for over a decade. And the following sentence is no disrespect to Bryant Gumbel, Michael Wilbon, John Saunders, Montel Williams, Orlando Jones or DL Hughley, but not since they pulled Arsenio Hall off the air in 1994 has a black man had his own talk show -- or been slated to host one with his name in the title. The fact that Stephen A. was given the format to do him -- to be himself, unscripted, unapologetic, unleashed -- was historical in the landscape of broadcast television.
For a target audience of several million that are forced to watch "Being Bobby Brown," in a Neilsen era when UPN stands for United Plantation of Negroes because it is one of the few networks where you find "quality" African-American programming, the "officialness" of Stephen A.'s hosting a daily sports talk show was bigger than anything Ron Artest or Terrell Owens did to push us a few steps back. Not only did Sports Illustrated recognize it, but so did David Letterman.
T.O. and Drew
Obi-Wan Kenobi asked the question of life best: Who's the more foolish? The fool, or the fool that follows him? In the case of Terrell Owens and Drew Rosenhaus, the question has alternating answers based on the time in which the question is posed. More relevant questions? Where you wanna start?
Did Drew really think going to the media less than an hour after his initial meeting with the Eagles was going to work? Did Drew forget the meaning of the word "negotiations" in his quest to renegotiate T.O.'s contract? Did he forget a basic rule from Business 101: When dealing with restructuring existing contracts, the company line is always, "Hell No!" and then to begin the negotiations? Did Drew forget industry rule No. 4079: Real bad boys move in silence?
Did T.O. actually think that after months of publicly dogging the Eagles, they were going to "acknowledge" a personal achievement of his? Did T.O. actually forget about how he was hated before he got to Philly? Does T.O. now think all of this -- this public battle over $4 million to $5 million -- was worth the $40 million he's probably going to lose in the end?
And honestly, what in the hell made both of them think that: (1) their plan was going to work, and (2) the two of them working together was a good idea in the first place?
Bottom line: Never believe anyone in sports who tells you you are untouchable, invincible or irreplaceable to a team or organization. Especially when that someone wants to be a star too.
White Sox not getting the cover of Sports Illustrated
They said it wasn't on purpose. They said it was because of the way the World Series ended (on a Wednesday night) that it was impossible to put them on the cover of the issue. Whatever. Couldn't they have at least put them on the cover the following week?
But the slight was indicative of the way the media (and the North Side of Chicago) treated the Sox all along their improbable, impossible ride. From my own doubtful, bandwagon-sensitive column written right after the All-Star Game to Joe Buck's unforgettable omission of African-Americans when he mentioned the variety of cultures, races and nationalities that filled the South Side minutes after the Game 4 victory, the treatment of the White Sox shocking the world was similar to Toccara's treatment on "America's Next Top Model." Foul.
Because after giving the Braves (1995), the Yankees (1996, 1998-2000), the Marlins (1997, 2003), the Angels (2002), the Diamondbacks (2001), and the Red Sox (2004, and they got the cover of Time too) the cover of the bible of sports magazines, they decided a non-playoff Monday night football game featuring Peyton Manning and Tom Brady was a bigger story. A more important story. The sad part is (outside of Chicago), as wrong as SI was, it may have been right.
NFL and the N.O. Saints
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the NFL was sitting on the eve of the start of its 86th season. With New Orleans being directly hit by the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit America, the NFL and Paul Tagliabue chose not to do anything to give the Saints a reprieve. No time to recoup, no time to deal with their personal situations or loss. As far as the league and the commissioner were concerned, Katrina was a tragedy, but it's business as usual up in here.
Keeping the NFL schedule in place seemed to be the paramount issue. Because of that, the Saints had to operate on the same schedule as every other team, even though their lives were directly affected and impacted by the disaster. The NFL did nothing to adjust the season. Showing zero compassion for the people of New Orleans or the players of the franchise. Showing where their priorities really are. It almost made you wish Kanye West would have added the NFL to the comment he made about George W. Bush.
Notre Dame and the contract to Charlie Weis
When arrogance precedes racism, this is the end result. They act as if they never heard the comments. They act as if whatever was being said or written about the way they handled Ty Willingham's situation didn't apply to them. This is our world, you all should be happy to be living in it. That's their new Knute/NBC motto.
So when the University of Notre Dame extended Charlie Weis' contract to secure his services for 10 years just months after firing a coach who only three years ago was in the same situation with a better record (8-0 after the first eight games for Willingham, 5-2 for Weis at the time of his extension) during his first year, the validation of racism that so many people tossed at the university's feet in the wake of excusing Willingham last December was totally eclipsed by an arrogance unseen in the NCAA since Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant thought "negroes" couldn't ball.
But this is a university, not an individual. And although ND athletic director Kevin White is the man in charge, it's not about his making the decisions as much as it is about the institution putting on display a serious complex of superiority. Oh, don't get me wrong, their actions are racist to the core. But their arrogance spoke much louder in this case.
Notre Dame could care less about how careless they were. They didn't care how this would make them look in the eyes of African-Americans, or any white liberals who fight for civil rights against actions such as this every day. To ND, anyone not down with their program -- and how they run it -- is meaningless. Show them the motto (again): This is our world, you (fill in the blank) should be happy to be living in it.
Danica vs. Leeann
Choose one. Even though they'll never battle each other on the track, the fact that the 2005 IRL Rookie of the Year and the host of "NASCAR Nation" are battling for wall space in bedrooms and basements across the country is, in and of itself, worthy of conversation. From her ESPN The Magazine Hot and Cool Issue cover with exposed lace teddy (Danica) to her 2006 spread-eagle Stuff magazine calendar (Leeann), these two female un-Playboy tainted pioneers became stars this year (almost) without chauvinistic overtones.
Beside their looks (both are unusually fine for their professions), both of them "did their thang" when it came to their professions. Leeann turned the show host game around in a way Jillian Barberie wishes she could, and Danica turned the race car game around in a way Marco Andretti couldn't.
Now the question is: Who's the hotness? Who's the Queenpin? It's like the Kournikova/Sharapova battle we never got to see. Does this battle have anything to do with NASCAR or Indy sports? Does this have anything to do with sports, period? Nope. And that's the sadness of the story.
KG and Oprah
How do you make Mother Moses cry? In a year when ball players were getting press for "str8 stupidness" it seemed strange that Kevin Garnett's written appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show went notice-free.
He wrote her a letter. They gave her the letter on-air as a surprise. In the letter, he said he wanted to donate something to her Angel Network, which was building houses for those who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. His pledge: To build one house per month for the next two years. That's 24 homes! Two seasons of "Extreme Makeover." Financially funded by one person with no commercial return on his donation. A gesture that should have landed him on the cover of Time alongside Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as Persons of The Year. A gesture that made Oprah -- read it again, Oprah -- break down.
But still, no member of the media wrote a story about it. USA Today scripted a blurb; ESPN.com made a mention. But overall -- nada.
Now, let Kevin Garnett or any other athlete run a stop light; let them miss a practice unexcused; let them miss a child support payment -- Bam! Lead story on "SportsCenter," forum discussion on "Rome Is Burning," breaking news on CNN.
In an era when it is too often publicly asked: "Where are our kids' role models?"; in a society that is starved for areas of positiveness to come from our professional athletes; in a world where we have been conditioned to believe that every one of these young superstars is unappreciative, ungrateful, undeserving and a void soul, a situation arose that could have shifted the entire perception of their existence. What Kevin Garnett did was just that big.
But guess who dropped the ball? Us. The media, for not saying anything about it, and the public, for not demanding that we do.
The moral of this story: How do you make the media not pay attention to you when you are a superstar athlete? Do something humane.
The Four Horsemen (the birth of LeBron, Inc.)
In the beginning there were questions. There were questions about their ability, and their experience. But no one questioned their motives, even though some of them -- if not all four -- felt some people were.
When LeBron James ended his relationship with the Goodwin brothers and GSM (Goodwin Sports Management), and plugged in his fam (Maverick Carter, Randy Mims and Rich Paul) to handle his Inc., many of us (including a Page 2 columnist uh, me) questioned whether or not this crew was capable of handling everything that is LeBron. And in six months since the takeover, they've taken over the world.
There've been no deals to broker, but their positioning of LeBron into the marketplace has been sick. Not only do they have the best commercial spots on television (Widen and Kennedy/Nike's "The LeBrons"), but they got LB on Oprah! And what's more important is the example they've set for young minorities, who are always told two things: (1) you don't have the knowledge to do this, and (2) if you do, don't do it with family.
If they stay on this path, in five years they could be the most powerful unit in professional sports. Which is all they wanted. Which it seems they're about to be.
But it's the personal sidebar to this that makes this important to me. Because this is now a friendship lost. A misunderstanding that happens when the media meet sports and there's a personal relationship in between. Can't write nothin', can't nothin' be said. A damn shame. Them four brothas have no idea how proud this brotha is of, and for, them. They think four letters flipped me. Never. Like I said, in the beginning there were questions. Just questions. Logical and legitimate questions. Not hate. Please, don't ever get it twisted.
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.