By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Last week's TMQ noted that NFL offensive philosophies, once distinctly different, have converged to the point that most teams use the same mish-mash of formations and tactics. This week we ask why all NFL defensive philosophies have not converged to the same tactics -- namely to the Tampa 2 defense, perfected by Tony Dungy. Last season, four clubs used the Tampa 2: Tampa, Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis. They finished first, second, 11th and 30th in fewest yards allowed, and that No. 11 finish for the Colts happened though Indianapolis was often way ahead and playing reserves on defense in the fourth quarter. Yet the Tampa 2 is still relatively rare in the NFL.

What's the essence of the Tampa 2? Both safeties usually play a deep zone against passes; all four defensive linemen try to disrupt rather than "fill gaps;" the linebackers need to be speed players. There's more to it, of course, but those are the basics. Almost every team sometimes uses tactics that would fit a Tampa 2, especially having both safeties deep. That's Cover 2, which some football announcers speak of in mystical tones, but simply means the safeties are playing a deep zone. (In most teams' nomenclature, Cover 1 means only one safety is back deep and Cover Zero, a rare tactic, means a double safety blitz.) But few NFL defenses have linemen disrupting at the expense of guarding gaps; most defensive philosophies emphasize that the defensive tackles, especially, dig in to prevent anyone from coming through their areas. And most NFL defenses seek linebackers with size, whereas the archetype of the Tampa 2 linebacker is Derrick Brooks, relatively small at 6-foot and 235 pounds, but wicked fast.

Why don't more teams go Tampa 2? Probably the main reason is that the defense requires really good players. Few NFL linebackers and defensive tackles are ideally suited to this scheme. A team with average defensive talent should expect an average result using a conventional 3-4 or 4-3, whereas average defensive talent would be likely to produce a below-average result using a Tampa 2. Basically, that's what happened with the Rams last season -- and note that new St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is switching to a new scheme. But if a team has top-flight defensive personnel, as Tampa, Chicago and Indianapolis did last season, the Tampa 2 is the cat's meow.

In other football news, three weeks ago TMQ had an item on a Connecticut high school coach named Jack Cochran who was so antagonistic about running up scores, the state athletic association threatened to suspend him. Cochran's New London High won four games in 2005 by more than 50 points, once winning 90-0. And New London wasn't an unstoppable state champion -- rather, just a team that relentlessly ran up the score against weak opponents. "Running up the score," the column said, "is bully behavior, while the desire to destroy lesser opponents is a sign of poor character. Coaches who practice bad sportsmanship and teach bully behavior aren't doing their schools or their athletes any favors." As pointed out by dozens of readers, including Stew Dunsmore of Groton, Conn., last week Cochran was arrested for allegedly punching the coach of a rival high school, and has resigned his coaching position. Did Cochran punch a rival? That's for the legal system to determine. But the association between running up the score and bully behavior has never been more clear.

Running up the score is a big problem in high school football, somewhat of a problem in college football and rare in the pros, which itself suggests that the more sophisticated the coach, the less likely to run up the score. Coaches who run up the score on a regular basis have character problems, their ideal being not sportsmanship but standing over a humiliated opponent and laughing. Coaches who play to humiliate others make their high schools or colleges look bad: New London High has gotten nothing but bad press from its displays of poor sportsmanship last season. More importantly, such priorities harm the education of students. Teaching young athletes to taunt and gloat places into their minds concepts that will hold them back in life, or spoil whatever success they achieve. (If you've got to win by 50 to be happy, you will never be happy.) Teaching good-natured sportsmanship places into the young athlete's personality a positive trait that will serve him or her well in far more than athletics.

Consider two possible sports events: One is a hard, well-played game against an equal opponent, in which you win by a single point and then embrace your opponent on the field and call him brother. The other is an easy blowout win, after which you stand along the sideline mocking the defeated as they slink off. The former is not only more impressive in sports terms and more satisfying for the victor, it's a constructive life lesson. The latter is the inculcation of bully behavior, and few bullies go far in life. We live in a society in which cooperative ability, tolerance of others and interpersonal skills grow steadily more important. Well-run athletic programs can teach these values, while bullying athletic programs actively harm students. It is time high school principals and college presidents pay attention to coaching behavior and sportsmanship as aspects of education.

In other sports news, Tuesday Morning Quarterback considers basketball roughly 1 percent as interesting as football. And so each year, in the doldrums of August, TMQ devotes one percent of the column's annual line length to roundball issues. This is an "up" year to talk basketball -- the NCAA men's and women's tournaments were both exciting as always, and in a shocking reversal, the NBA was pretty good too, especially the fantastic Dallas-San Antonio playoff series. TMQ had feared the NBA was locked in a cycle of doom caused by high school draftees, guaranteed contracts and me-first mania among players. Now I think there's a chance, at least, the NBA can be saved.

In other Tuesday Morning Quarterback news, reader comments will run as a separate column on Wednesdays, beginning tomorrow.

This Year's Big Basketball Complaint: OK, so traveling is legal in the NBA -- take as many steps as you want so long as you score. A player would have to carry the ball out of the arena, hail a cab, show his passport and board an airplane bound for Sweden to get called for "traveling" in today's NBA. In the second game of the Mavs-Suns playoff series, Dirk Nowitzki scored the key late basket. Nowitzki drove the baseline, then took SIX STEPS without dribbling before launching the deciding shot. No whistle. Traveling is now legal: Please, NBA, just make it official.

Isiah Thomas is set to offer this bunny a long-term guaranteed contract.

But something worse than runaway traveling has recently evolved: the "hop through." On a hop-through, the player drives the lane, jumps into the air, comes down and stops for an instant, then takes more steps and launches a shot. It's both traveling and up-and-down (which is a form of traveling) on the same play, and officials aren't calling it either. Against the Suns in the playoffs, Josh Howard of Dallas did so many hop-throughs he practically sprouted cute fuzzy rabbit ears. In the Dallas-San Antonio series, the Spurs made the incredible blunder of actually observing the rules, while Jerry Stackhouse repeatedly used the hop-through without being whistled. In the NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade used the hop-through so often the organist should have played "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" when Wade started down the lane. At one point in the Finals, Shaq drove the lane and stopped dribbling, then took steps, then jumped and came back down, then took more steps and jumped on his shot. No whistle.

Nobody hops like LeBron James, and his success is one reason other players are imitating the move. Watch tape of any James performance; half a dozen of his shots per game come at the end of a hopping move on which he has both traveled and committed an up-and-down violation. TMQ attended a Cavs-Whizzies playoff contest this spring, and was struck by two things about James. First, he almost always took possession of the ball outside the opponent's three-point arc. Michael Jordan came off picks and caught the ball close to the basket. James can't come off picks because Cleveland does not run picks, or any other kind of play -- James just stands outside the arc and someone hands him the ball, then he goes one-on-one. The second thing that struck me about James' performance was the sheer number of times he went down the lane, traveled, jumped into the air, came back down, then jumped again without being called for anything.

NBA offensive basketball continues to be ugly -- the Suns and Mavs were such joys this year because they were pretty to watch. If players are allowed to barrel down the lane out of control, traveling and committing up-and-downs and not being whistled, why should they take sensible shots or cooperate to set picks to get teammates open? Why not just barrel down the lane out of control and then heave the ball in the general direction of the basket? That players even call the new move the hop-through -- James coined the term -- tells you they know what they're doing isn't legal. But they will keep doing it until the officials enforce the rules. And the game will become more artistic when that happens.

Miami Heat dancers
Miami Heat
Needed: South Florida update on the Beach Boys' song "California Girls."

Tragically Misplaced Network Priorities No. 1: The extremely aesthetically appealing Miami Heat Dancers danced in next to nothing during home games of the NBA Finals, their allure an indicator of a power shift -- the best-looking beach babes now congregate in south Florida, not California. But ABC aired only fleeting glimpses of the Heat Dancers. Today, prime-time television shows of all the major networks revel in graphic depictions of crime and violence, obsess about sex and glamorize infidelity, celebrating the tawdry and the vulgar. Yet when fit, athletic, beautiful women are dancing in public -- and want to be looked at -- this makes the networks get shy and turn the cameras away. Janine Thompson, the Heat Dancers' director, runs basketball's hottest dance squad; in this case the league champion and the league's best dancers come from the same franchise. Thompson has achieved the cheerleader trifecta: Her charges are glamorous, barely wear clothing and put on an impressive performance of complex hip-hop dance, rather than just jumping around. Television might not show you the Heat Dancers, but TMQ will.

First Amendment Purists Rally Behind Bryant Gumbel's Right to Be Wrong: You know it must be August since so many are taking in such seriousness that Bryant Gumbel of the NFL Network said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue should show his replacement, Roger Goodell, "where he keeps Gene Upshaw's leash," because "the docile head of the players' union" has become the commissioner's "personal pet." Hey everyone -- this was not a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, this was a comment about football on HBO. At the end of the summer there are always "August scandals," mini-controversies that become conflated because celebrities and politicians are on vacation and not producing gaffes at the normal rate. Gumbel's Grumble is an example of the August scandal, and was obviously the sort of opinionated speech that needs protection.

As to the substance of Gumbel's claim, he's way off. Tagliabue shot back that Gumbel was "uninformed," and that's exactly the right word. Baseball long-term has had the most confrontational labor relations of the major sports, so let's compare MLB player pay with NFL player pay since the onset of the NFL salary cap in 1994. Adjusting for inflation, the average pro baseball player's pay has risen 71 percent since 1994, while the average pro football player's pay has risen 132 percent. NFL player pay increases have dwarfed all other team sports, which hardly sounds like the union is on a leash. More, there's been no interruption of pay in the NFL, while there have been those unfortunate months in baseball and a full year in the NHL during which players received nothing at all. Gumbel further complained that the NFL Players Association has not won its members fully guaranteed contracts. This is true -- but the lack of fully guaranteed contracts is a reason football pay is rising so fast! Guaranteed contracts in the NBA have been a disaster for quality of play, since players can defy coaches, perform poorly and still receive full pay. If fully guaranteed contracts came to the NFL, the first few years would be golden for players. But then quality of play would decline, ratings would decline and raises would decline.

A running question about labor unions is whether they should make a theatrical show of confronting owners, or quietly work for the best possible deal for members. Manhattan media types tend to like theatrical confrontation, because it provides good broadcasting material. Quietly obtaining the best possible deal is what is in the members' interest, and at this the NFL Players Association excels.

NBA Prescription: More College, Less Influence for Shoe Companies: Pro basketball is in an "up" cycle partly because the new collective bargaining agreement forbids high school players from jumping directly to the NBA. The drafting of high school players was an unmitigated disaster for pro basketball -- it's no coincidence the league's decline in television ratings coincided with the arrival of high school kids. The high schoolers have immature games that drag down the quality of the sport: And never forget, quality is the essential feature of all products. With a few exceptions, the only style of play a high school kid knows is hey-look-at-me. Selfish basketball is far less entertaining than the ensemble version -- just consider the difference between last season's Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks.

Plus, by jumping directly to the NBA, 18-year-old prospects fail to go to college and become well-known players about whom fans would be excited. It's this second point that seems haunting, because it means the NBA has spent the past decade depriving itself of stars who might otherwise have come into existence. Yes, LeBron James was terrific in the NBA right out of high school. But James also would have been great coming out of college. The players who have made the high-school-to-NBA transition successfully (Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, a few others) always were bound to become stars. It's the players who did not become stars, because they jumped too young, the NBA has cheated itself of.

Think about Kwame Brown, the high-schooler taken first overall in the 2001 NBA draft. Gifted with incredible physical talent, Brown is an embarrassing underachiever -- plus his personality appears stuck at his 17th birthday, lending him no marketing appeal. Now imagine an alternate path for the same young man. Instead of jumping directly from high school to the NBA, he goes to Kentucky or UCLA or any good basketball college. His game improves, he learns on-court concepts other than brooding selfishness, and off-court he matures in his ability to handle the world. Kwame Brown becomes a nationally known college star. When he's drafted first overall into the NBA, fans are excited. By now, people like me would be saying to my kids, "Wow, Kwame Brown is coming to town, let's get tickets and go see him!" Instead not one person has ever said, "Let's get some NBA tickets to see Kwame Brown," and it seems likely no one ever will.

This squandering of potential NBA stars is especially maddening because the pushing of too-young players into the NBA has been driven foremost by shoe companies. Somehow Nike and Reebok got it into their heads that teen sneaker buyers would identify more with 18-year-old unpolished NBA players enjoying instant wealth more than they would with mid-20s high-quality NBA players. I don't know how this idea arose, since by far the most successful sneaker endorser, Jordan, did not realize his marketing success until he was a mature player in his mid-20s. Perhaps thrusting high school players into the NBA maximized income for Nike and Reebok. But it was a disaster for NBA product quality, and hence hurt ratings.

Now the new league-union agreement mandates draftees be at least 19, a rule intended to require at least one year of college. And you'd hope that even gifted, NBA-bound athletes, after experiencing college for a year, might think, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get an education, maybe I should stick around." You'd also think the shoe companies would be aligning themselves with education over ignorance. Apparently you'd think wrong. According to this New York Times story by Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, a shoe company consultant has been making the rounds, suggesting to some teenage future NBA prospects that they skip the minimum year of college and play in Europe, then file for the NBA draft. To avoid the horror, the horror, of having to sit in class and think!

The Times didn't connect the dots on this, so allow me. Dot 1: Most players being encouraged not to attend college are African-American. If athletic shoe companies believe African-American males are incapable of handling college coursework, they should state this for the record. Dot 2: Shallowness is a core problem of big-deal athletics. The NBA, NFL and MLB create celebrity athletes looked up to by the young. A few do become role models for an informed, intelligent approach to life -- think Tiki Barber. But most celebrity athletes couldn't tell you what Ernest Hemingway wrote, or what just happened in the Mexican presidential election, if their lives depended on it. Now the NBA is taking the high road, urging its prospects back toward the educational system. The shoe companies are resisting, while street-hustler types have been steering promising basketball prospects to storefront diploma-mill "schools" that make no attempt to teach -- see the Thamel-Evans article on that. In their 2000 book "The Shape of the River," William Bowen and Derek Bok showed that in recent decades African-American career women have closed most of their degrees-earned and income gaps with white career women, while African-American males have made less progress compared to white males. One factor might be that many young black men look up to ill-educated athletes and pop stars, while young black women have role models such as Oprah Winfrey, who constantly emphasizes books and learning. Both the NBA and NCAA need to do far more to educate basketball prospects, if only for the role-model effect on young men. And while we're on this, thanks to Thamel, Evans and their editors for fighting the cultural assumption that it's OK for star athletes to be functional illiterates.

NBA commissioner David Stern is aware of the problems described in the above paragraphs. Recently he said it was wrong that college recruiters are highly restricted in their ability to talk to high school basketball prospects about attending college, but "street runners or shoe representatives" can promise tall teenagers the moon. For Stern to criticize the shoe companies is gutsy, given their business relationship with the league. Perhaps the commissioner has realized shoe firms and pro basketball have divergent interests. Shoe firms might do fine financially by glamorizing minimally-educated prodigy athletes, while the NBA needs to develop quality players and protect its image, lest the league become perceived as an opponent of learning. Stern is floating the idea of the NBA establishing a basketball academy for the top few hundred teen prospects in the United States -- essentially a private high school that would emphasize basketball, but enforce real classroom and graduation standards. This would be preferable to the current system, which actively discourages NBA-bound young men from seeking educations.

Given This, It's Amazing 100 percent of NCAA Basketball Players Didn't Get a 1600 on Their SATs: Another basketball-and-education problem is the incredible laxity of NCAA enforcement of high-school graduation and admissions-test minimums. Consider these passages from a recent Washington Post story by Mark Schlabach -- now with -- about Omar Williams, a starter on George Washington University's NCAA men's tournament team:

    "Williams was accepted at George Washington after failing to graduate in five years from his original high school and receiving no grades at three prep schools in the next two years, including one that burned down after he was there five days. The National Collegiate Athletic Association certified his transcript without any verification, making him academically qualified for a basketball scholarship. ... The NCAA's eligibility certification process is handled by a private company it created, Clearinghouse, which approves high school courses and transcripts of recruits. Under Clearinghouse policy, there was no requirement to check if any of the schools on Williams's transcript existed, if the grades were real or if he attended the schools, said Kevin Lennon, an NCAA official. The SAT scores of applicants, critical for certification, are allowed to be submitted in handwriting, instead of on an Educational Testing Service document. Those scores are not compared to official results, Lennon said."

Is there any accredited college or university in the United States that would admit a regular academic student based on a handwritten test score, rather than a form supplied by the testing agency? Yet the NCAA allows you to play Division I basketball if you simply make up a score. It's an intelligence test of sorts -- a test to realize if you can spot obvious NCAA loopholes.

Henry V
He beat the French, just imagine if the Arizona Cardinals had been on his schedule.

Aging Dictator Item No. 1: Henry the Fifth, victor at the battle of Agincourt, died of dysentery in 1422 at age 34. A short time before his death he had married Catherine of Valois, daughter of the king of France, and signed the Treaty of Troyes, which would have ended the Hundred Years War by making Henry regent over France. Had Henry become ruler of France, the history of Europe might have unfolded very differently. Instead, Henry died young. Following his demise, Joan of Arc inspired France to expel the English, thus preventing the union of the nations.

Why do I mention this? This is Tuesday Morning Quarterback -- I don't have to have a reason. But it bears on the "biological solution" the United States has been pursuing regarding Fidel Castro. In olden days, when lifespans were short, simply waiting for a leader to die was often an effective strategy, because leaders rarely lived long in power. With modern longevity, waiting for a leader to die doesn't work. Castro is 80 years old and has been in power for 47 years. Kim Il-sung was dictator of North Korea for 46 years, until he died at age 82; if his son Kim Jong-il lives as long as his father, he will be dictator until 2023. As longevity continues to increase, dictators stay in power ever longer. Whole generations suffer while waiting for their dictators to expire.

Aging Dictator Item No. 2: If you're going to be a dictator, at least be colorful. That's how the New York Times remembered Alfredo Stroessner last week, headlining his obituary: General Alfredo Stroessner, Colorful Dictator, Dies in Exile. Oh those zany, wacky Paraguayan dictators!

Dallas Mavericks dancers
They're beautiful and scantily attired, but too wholesome to be on "Desperate Housewives."

Tragically Misplaced Network Priorities No. 2: During games played at the American Airlines Center, we barely saw the Mavs Dancers, either. Now check this, the audition application for aspiring Mavs Dancers. The form includes a waiver granting Dallas' billionaire owner, Mark Cuban, nearly unlimited license to use the dancer's image for any commercial purpose, yet says nothing about pay. Being a Mavs Dancer requires two to five rehearsals per week, plus game performances; also, prospective dancers must take these classes at their own expense. So what's the pay? Across professional sports, cheerleaders are unpaid or receive only token amounts such as $50 per game, while the men at all levels of professional sports organizations are raking in money like crazy. There's a word for this: The word begins with "s," and it's not "sexy." Come on NBA and NFL owners, your leagues are multi-billion-dollar enterprises dependent on many kinds of public support and tax subsidies: Offer fair pay to the women who dance. Do this before some crafty lawyer files a pattern-of-discrimination suit that will cost you far more than simply paying cheerleaders fairly to begin with.

I Don't Care Whether Pluto Is a Planet or a Pluton, And Don't See Why Anyone Else Cares: Last week the International Astronomical Union issued a 3,472-word fact sheet about its epic struggle to define one single word, "planet." Check the tormented 124-word definition of the goofy neologism "pluton," verbosity that might have been boiled down to "any mostly round rock circling the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune." Check the tormented explanation of why the large satellites of Earth and Jupiter are just moons but Charon, the tiny satellite of Pluto, gets to be a pluton. The IAU says it took several committees two years to come up with the goofy word "pluton," and even that is not final -- the definition must be voted on at the IAU General Assembly now meeting in Prague.

Note the sessions at the IAU General Assembly -- one is "Near Earth Objects, Our Celestial Neighbors." Let's invite them in for tea! But don't you mean our celestial mortal enemies? While the definition of a planet, or agreement on the exact number of planets in the solar system, will never have the slightest bearing on anyone's life, that our world might be struck by a near-Earth object is a grave, pressing danger. About 10,000 years ago, something enormous crashed into the Argentine pampas, obliterating a significant chunk of the South American ecology with a force thought to be 18,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. In the year 535, multiple medium-sized meteorite impacts around the world caused a generation of crop failures and cruel winters that helped push Europe into its Dark Ages. In 1908, a meteorite or comet about 250 feet across hit Tunguska, Siberia, detonating with a force perhaps 700 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. Had this strike occurred in Tokyo or Paris instead of the Arctic Circle, millions would have died.

John Tierney of the New York Times proposes calling this a "planetino."

Estimates hold that 500,000 rocks roughly the size of the Tunguska object drift in the region of Earth's orbit, along with perhaps 1,000 asteroids big enough to cause global devastation on the order of the comet strike that did in the dinosaurs. Yet NASA is taking no action to protect Earth against space objects, while astronomers debate how many plutons can dance on the head of a pin. Space-object impacts are statistically unlikely in any one person's lifetime, but that is no assurance one will not happen tomorrow. Rock and comet strikes have caused mass extinctions in Earth's past. A large impact today could kill vast numbers, while causing frigid winters, global acid rain as bad as battery acid, and crop failures that plunge humanity into famine. Astronomers ought to stop wasting time on wordplay and sternly warn the world that space agencies should be researching ways to prevent something big from falling on our heads from space. If NASA stopped an asteroid or comet strike this would be, well, the greatest achievement in human history.

Edward R. Murrow
Do you see a corporate publicist in this picture?

Goodnight, and Good Grief: When Katie Couric sat last week for interviews with USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, she was accompanied by not one but two public-relations officers -- and USA Today reported she followed their instructions, rather than the other way around. A holder of the chair of Edward R. Murrow who can't speak or handle an interview without corporate minders present?

Clang! Clang! Clang!: At the NBA All-Star Game, Nate Robinson missed 20 of 22 attempts during the dunk contest -- which he won. In the game itself Ray Allen, Gilbert Arenas, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Rasheed Wallace combined to shoot 0-for-21 from the 3-point line.

Clang! Clang! Clang!: New Orleans missed 22 of its final 23 shots in losing to the Los Angeles Clippers 89-67. The Hornets also missed every 3-point attempt they took during the game.

Clang! Clang! Clang!: For the second consecutive year, Allen Iverson joined the small, elite group of basketball players who have missed 1,000 shots in a season. In 2004-05, Iverson took an NBA-leading 1,818 shots and missed 1,047; in 2005-06, Iverson took 1,822 shots and missed 1,008. But Iverson is staring at the tail lights of Kobe Bryant, who this season heaved an NBA-leading 2,173 shots in the general direction of the basket, missing 1,195. Bryant came within shouting distance of one of the few sports records likely never to be broken, Wilt Chamberlain's 1,592 missed shots during the 1961-62 basketball campaign. But Chamberlain also made 1,597 field goals that season -- that is, he hit more often than he missed. Bryant missed 217 more times than he hit. Though Kobe led the league in scoring, his shooting percentage didn't even finish in the top 50.

Dear NFL: Please Enact the NBA's Sunglasses Rule:The NBA now has a dress code. Here it is, along with Kevin Garnett looking classy in a pinstriped suit. Basically the dress code is business casual, and prohibits the wearing of sunglasses indoors.

$135 Million Buys You a Boeing 767 or One Year of New York Knicks Losses: The New York Knickerbockers will have a payroll of around $135 million in the 2006-07 NBA season, approaching the Yankees' current $194 million for highest payroll ever in team sports. The Knicks' 2006-07 payroll will be more than double the NBA's salary cap. (The NFL salary cap is a hard cap that can be fudged only in minor ways; the NBA salary cap is a soft cap that means nothing so long as a club is willing to pay penalties to the league, as the rolling-in-dough Knicks are.) And at $135 million, the Knicks are likely to be a terrible team!

Boeing 767
Would you rather have one of these or the current New York Knicks roster? Hint: Think resale value.

One reason the Knicks' player expenses are so high is the team's February 2006 acquisition of guard Steve Francis, who makes around $15 million annually. The Orlando Magic traded Francis, a three-time All-Star performer but a player with a bad reputation, to New York for a benchwarmer you've never heard of and a player Orlando immediately waived. That is, Orlando sent Francis to New York solely to get his guaranteed contract off the team's books. The week before, Detroit traded Darko Milicic, not long ago the second pick in the NBA draft, to Orlando for reserve Kelvin Cato; the point of the trade was to get Milicic's guaranteed contract off Detroit's books. By contemporary NBA standards, you're much better off with nothing than with an expensive failure like Milicic or a selfish gunner like Francis. Fans might want to look at the Knicks City Dancers but certainly not at the Knicks.

So Long Charlie: You are forgiven if you've forgotten the name Charlie Ward. He's left basketball after 11 mostly invisible years in the NBA, with career averages of 6.3 points and 4 assists per game. What a fabulous quarterback Ward was in college -- winner of the 1993 Heisman Trophy, quarterback of Florida State's 1994 national championship win in the Orange Bowl. The basketball-football salary gap is so great, perhaps Ward made more money as a journeyman in the NBA than he could have made as a star in the NFL. As reader Chris Monjoy of Valencia, Calif. points out, the Denver Nuggets just signed the basketball oddity Nene, with career averages of 11 points and only 29 minutes per game, to a fully-guaranteed $60 million contract, more than twice the guaranteed value of the deal signed by Mario Williams, first choice in the NFL draft. But I'll always regret we were deprived of seeing Ward run an NFL offense -- whereas seeing him run an NBA offense made me shrug.

Darko Milicic cover
ESPN The Magazine looks like "Published on Pluto: The Pluton" to Pistons fans.

So Long Darko: One ray of hope in the NBA is that the two overall best clubs of the new century, the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, play team ball. Consistent success by Detroit and San Antonio proves that team ball trumps the NBA's main offensive style, which is four guys standing around watching while who's got the ball goes one-on-one. Now that Ben Wallace has left the Pistons, Detroit might falter. Think what a multi-year champion the Pistons might have had, had they not blown the second overall pick of the 2003 draft on Darko Milicic. The three players selected after Milicic were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade! Maybe we should blame ESPN The Magazine ("Published on Earth: The Planet") for the Milicic blunder -- it featured him on its June 2003 cover, shortly before Detroit made the fateful pick.

He's Sure to Throw Another Pass At Some Point in His Career: During the NBA Finals, at one point Hubie Brown said, "That was a beautiful pass by Antoine Walker." This constituted the first time the words "pass by Antoine Walker" had ever been uttered.

This Year's Most Amusing Salary Cap Trades: Minnesota traded Brandon Roy, whom the Wolves had taken with the sixth overall choice, for Randy Foye, drafted seventh. Wait a minute -- if Foye was available when the Timberwolves drafted at No. 6, why didn't they just take him then? The trade dropped Foye down one slot in the NBA's rookie contract system. Going seventh rather than sixth meant Foye will earn about $1.5 million less per season, freeing salary cap space for Minnesota to sign a veteran. For all intents and purposes, Minnesota traded the sixth choice in the draft for the seventh choice plus $1.5 million in cap space. Philadelphia traded Lee Nailon and a 2006 second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a conditional second-rounder -- that is, a choice the 76ers might never receive. Philadelphia was paying Cleveland a second-round pick to accept Nailon's salary. Meanwhile Phoenix sold the 27th selection of the NBA draft to Portland for cash. The Suns thought there was no one at 27th who could make their team, and wanted to avoid getting stuck paying a guaranteed contract for someone they'd waive.

Tony Kornheiser, TMQ Demand Earlier Start Times: Why have recent NBA Finals telecasts not begun until 9 p.m. ET? Yes, the West Coast doesn't get home from work until 9 p.m. ET. But the bulk of the American population lives east of the Mississippi; a 9 p.m. tip-off means the East Coast has gone to bed when the fourth quarter starts. Game 5 of this year's NBA Finals actually started at 9:16 p.m. ET and ended in swirling controversy at 12:33 a.m. the following day, with most of the East Coast already slumbering. Football games that start at 9 p.m. ET are bad enough -- note ESPN is moving up the start time of "Monday Night Football" this year to avoid games ending after midnight on the East Coast. At least in football, sometimes the first half is the best part. In basketball, the fourth quarter is usually the best part, and the late NBA Finals tip-offs mean much of the country does not see the best part. Plus, don't get me started on those Suns and Mavs' playoff games that didn't tip until 10:30 p.m. ET. The Suns and Mavs put on some of the NBA's most exciting ball this season, and unless you lived west of the Rockies, you missed it. The NFL plays night games in Arizona and Texas without them starting at 10:30 p.m. ET. Why can't the NBA do the same?

Groucho Marx
He said: "This product comes with my personal guarantee -- if anything goes wrong, I don't know what you can do about it."

Get Out a Magnifying Glass and Read the Fine Print on Your Home Warranty: Until recently I considered myself a smart consumer. For years I have been paying premiums on a home warranty. Home warranties cover repair or replacement of appliances, furnaces, air conditioners and so on. At least, that's what they are supposed to do. The compressor in the central air of my house needed replacement. No problem -- I'd read the fine print in the contract, and failure of central air was specifically covered. The company sent a representative, and announced it would pay nothing because, the insurer said, my A/C had not been adequately maintained. Buried in microscopically small type was a clause saying all coverage was voided by inadequate maintenance. But the contract did not define adequate maintenance. So I asked on what grounds the company claimed inadequate maintenance, and here was the answer: "Our representative determines whether the maintenance was adequate." I've been kicking myself for not realizing, years ago, that the policy was a con -- akin to Groucho Marx's sham insurance company which promised, "If you lose a leg, we'll help you look for it." I can't be the only one this has happened to. If you've got a home warranty, read the maintenance clause. You might be paying for nothing.

A Made 2-Pointer Counts More Than a Missed 3; There Seems Some Confusion on This Point: Tuesday Morning Quarterback has nothing against the 3-point shot -- it's a smart play when a good shooter takes one uncovered. On Final Four night in this year's NCAA men's tournament, both winners, Florida and UCLA, attempted more treys than the losers. But there's the smart 3 taken by an open player, and the silly feed-my-ego 3. The latter, already an NBA mainstay, has been spreading into the college ranks.

When No. 1-ranked Connecticut was upset by unknown George Mason in the men's tournament, at halftime UConn led by nine. In the second half, Connecticut began to hoist up hey-look-at-me 3s, surrendering its inside power advantage. Through the second half and overtime Connecticut shot 2-for-13 from the 3-point line, versus 13-for-25 on regular attempts. Had Connecticut simply attempted nothing but 2-point shots in the second half against George Mason, the favorites likely would have prevailed. Meanwhile in the Elite Eight, favored Memphis lost to UCLA by five points as Memphis missed 15 consecutive 3-points attempts. Had all those ego-feeding 3s simply been 2-point tries, Memphis likely would have advanced to the Final Four. Too many 3s in college last season were taken for player-ego reasons.

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Next Week: NFC preview, plus the NBA announces new carry-on baggage policies for traveling.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse," and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.