USA Today just released the most up to date financial reports for all 230 Division I athletic programs in the nation. In terms of total revenue, the University of Arkansas sits 14 spots from the top. Ten spots from the bottom you’ll find the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (the nation’s largest intra-university system disparity). In between sit three other Arkansas schools.
I’ll break down these numbers later, but for now, let’s simply celebrate in the splattering of them on the wall.
Take what you will:
No. 14 nationally ($99.77 million revenue)
No. 131 ($16.28 million revenue)
No. 194 ($10.77 million revenue)
No. 220 ($7.1 million)
(PS – Notice how the total revenue plummeted from 2010 to 2011. That’s what an NCAA Tournament appearance and win will do for you.)
How about you, cherished reader? Any numbers jump out as significant or worth extra scrutiny?
On Wednesday night, LeBron James had unquestionably his worst playoff performance as a Miami Heat. He bricked eight of his ten shot attempts, turned the ball over three times and mustered only four assists and two rebounds. According to a measurement devised by John Hollinger, the O.G. of basketball advanced statisticians, it was the second-worst playoff performance of James’ career. Not surprisingly, the four-time MVP’s struggles were a big reason Miami lost 93-90, failing to close out Indiana on the road.
This dud, of course, was an exception. Heading back home for Game 6 tonight, Miami is still a 7-point favorite according to the top books at sportsbettingpal.com. James, who has for the most part been superlative throughout the prime of his career,
is still expected to emphatically did lead them to a fourth straight Finals appearance. His success in May and June is a big reason the two-time NBA champion is at age 29 already considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
But is he the best?
We’ll have a good answer within a few years, and along the way every piece of evidence will add or subtract from that final verdict. So far, James’ career highlights have been just as impressive as other G.O.A.T. candidates. But lowlights should count, too. Here’s how James’ Hindenburg of a night compares to the worst playoff performances* of his rivals to the all-time throne:
Date: May 19, 1985
Line: 14 PTS (27% FG), 8 TOs, 7 REBs, 6 ASTs
Game outcome: Boston 104, Philadelphia 115
Series outcome: Celtics Won 4-1
If LeBron is to one day be widely considered the game’s greatest player, he needs to first lock down the all-time first team small forward spot. That means pushing aside Larry Bird, who won’t go down without a fight in more ways than one. LeBron already has more overall MVPs, but this season he failed to be the first player to pull off an MVP three-peat since Bird did it in 1984-86.
The worst game of Bird’s playoff career in his prime years wasn’t as bad as James’. Both men have excuses. On Wednesday night, James couldn’t stay on the floor and get into a rhythm, not with the refs blowing the whistle on him five times and a certain “Ron Artest-Stephen Jackson-Jamaal Tinsley Molotov cocktail” blowing into his ear. In 1985, with Boston up 3-0, Bird showed up for Game 4 with his right index finger badly swollen. The official stance was it happened in Game 3, but an unidentified eyewitness claims Bird injured the hand while throwing a haymaker in a barroom fight a couple nights before.
Whatever the case, the injury might have cost Boston a title. Bird shot 42% from the field after the apparent incident and in the Finals the Celtics fell 4-2 to the Lakers.
Date: May 11, 1989
Line: 15 PTS (41% FG & 25% FT), 1 TO, 8 REBs, 3 ASTs
Game Outcome: Chicago 97, New York 114
Series Outcome: Chicago Won 4-2
You can’t blame Knicks point guard Mark Jackson for sticking it to the crowd. He was feeling good. In Game 2 of a series in which New York was favored, he’d just stolen the ball from his Airness – so why not have a little fun and mock Jordan’s signature gesture? M.J., after all, was looking human as Jackson and “Jordan stopper” Gerald Wilkins were en route to limiting him to a career playoff low 15 points with their full-court press. Jackson couldn’t help but stick that tongue out.
Chicago head coach Doug Collins showed Jordan the tape of Jackson’s jauntiness, and that was all she wrote. Chicago wiped New York out 111-88 in the next game, and despite that Game 2 statistical black eye, Jordan ended up averaging 35.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and shooting more than 52% on field goals in the 6-game series. Talk about a bounce back.
The next series against Detroit saw Jordan’s second-worst playoff performance thanks to a famously aggressive Pistons defense that left no shortage of bruises.
How tough was the defense Jordan had to score on?
Fast forward to the 52 second mark in the following film. Watch Detroit’s Dennis Rodman literally push Jordan to the ground after a shot attempt:
Jordan just lays there, becoming at one with the pain, while nobody seems to notice. No complaining. It’s playoff time – pain is to be expected. Contrast this with the way James tried to bait a foul from Lance Stephenson at the end of Wednesday’s game and instead ended up flailing wildly while airballing a three-point attempt that could have helped Miami knock Indiana out. James is a better passer than Jordan ever was, yes, but he’s also a far superior flopper.
Date: April 5, 1973
Line: 18 PTs (50% FT); Other stats N/A
Game Outcome: Milwaukee 97, Golden State 102
Series Outcome: Milwaukee lost 4-2
The nearly 7’3” Abdul-Jabbar is the most prolific scorer the league has ever seen. And with a baseline sky hook extending to 18 feet, he had the most unstoppable go-to move known to man. All the same, Abdul-Jabbar had his spots – and he usually preferred them to be closer to the basket. A defender who could push him off those spots gave his team a chance.
That’s exactly what happened during the 1973 Playoffs when Milwaukee, led by Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, were upset by a balanced Warriors squad featuring Rick Barry, Cazzie Russell and the 6’11” Nate Thurmond.
Throughout the series, Thurmond continually beat Abdul-Jabbar to his favorite spots on the floor and worked hard to to cut down on entry passing angles. As a result, he held Abdul-Jabbar to an “unheard of” 42% on field goals, 11 percentage points below his norm, according to Bob Ryan’s 1975 book “The Pro Game.” Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged at least 32 points a game in three of his first six postseasons, averaged only 22.8 in this one (along with 16.2 rebounds). After the series, the Bucks’ Jon McGlocklin said: “I think it’s disgusting. To me, we’re a better team than they are, but they played harder as a team. They were smarter in the playoffs than they had been in the regular season, and we weren’t nearly as smart or as hungry.”
Abdul-Jabbar said Thurmond was the best defender he ever faced.
James must leapfrog two active players in achievements before he is widely considered the greatest of all time. They are:
Date: June 10, 2004
Line: 11 PTs (31% FG), 4 TOs, 5 ASTs, 3 REBs
Game Outcome: Los Angeles 66, Detroit 88
Series Outcome: Los Angeles lost 4-1
After winning Game 2 of the Finals, Bryant and the Lakers arrived in Auburn Hills three games away from winning their fourth title in five years – a stint of success that would have surpassed even the Chicago dynasties of the 1990s. In a pivotal Game 3, though, Kobe didn’t exactly grab the bull by the horns. Instead, the long-armed Tayshaun Prince harassed Bryant into missing all four of his first half shot attempts. Bryant didn’t score until connecting on a third-quarter jumper to close Detroit’s lead to 54-42.
“He had a hard time shooting,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said afterward. “This is a tough background to shoot in, it’s a different one, and the basket, he had a few things that didn’t go down for him; didn’t get to the line too often.”
This game was the start of a miserable stretch run for the most talented NBA team to not win a title. The Lakers featured four future Hall of Famers, including Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone (who was hobbled by a knee injury in the series). The coaching staff featured two Hall of Famers in Phil Jackson and Tex Winter.
Date: April 30, 2005
Line: 11 PTs (26% FG), 11 REBs, 3 TOs, 2 ASTs
Game Outcome: San Antonio 86, Denver 78
Series Outcome: San Antonio won 4-1
Of course Tim Duncan would manage a double-double even in the worst playoff game of his prime. What more would you expect from a player who puts up excellence with such predictability that he’s bestowed the nickname “Death & Taxes”?
Like James in Indiana, Duncan was shackled by foul trouble in this one – a Game 3 on the road. After playing five first half minutes and scoring four points, Duncan was absolutely atrocious in the third quarter. The Nuggets’ Marcus Camby played a role in his missing all eight of his shots. In the end, though, Duncan’s teammates (i.e. Ginobili) picked up the slack and the Spurs rolled, winning the series and eventually the 2005 title.
While James never had the opportunity to lock horns with Bryant in the Finals, he and Duncan have gone at it twice. Both all-time greats have notched their belt at the other’s cost, and it looks like a deciding Series III could be in the pipeline for this June. Whichever player leads his team to victory in that series would have a big leg up on the other in future G.O.A.T. arguments.
In the end,
even if Indiana shocks the world and wins the series, James’ Game 5 clunker will be tiny asterisk on a glorious career. Even if he were to never play another game, James has already become a legit contender in the Greatest of All Time conversation.
Still, his accomplishments from here on out could clearly push him to the front of the line. Those achievements will boil down to the cold numbers: number of titles, gold medals and MVPs won; total number of points, rebounds and assists, as well as win shares and true shooting percentage.
As fans of certain players, we love to fixate on the good. But we should look at their worst of times along with the best when trying to paint a complete picture of that player’s overall greatness. Just because the lowlights are scarce doesn’t mean they should go unexamined.
It’s evident James’ playoff lows are worse than his rivals for greatest of all time status.
*I only looked at performances from ages 25 through 29. These are prime years in most players’ careers. Plus, I didn’t want to extend points of comparison past LeBron’s current age (although he has played more NBA playoff minutes than most other 29-year-olds).
Injuries are a major story-line in the semifinals of this year’s NBA Playoffs. Miami and San Antonio have been able to prevent significant injuries to their aging stars, Indiana rolled the dice by letting Paul George return to action after suffering a concussion and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka has unexpectedly bounced back from a plantaris strain that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the postseason.
As a result, the newly inspired Thunder have won two straight games in dominant fashion against the Spurs to tie that series 2-2.
Injuries are big news; They make or break champions and bank accounts. And whenever that news is broken in today’s mainstream media, it’s more and more likely that some of the analysis behind it comes from Little Rock resident Jeff Stotts.
Stotts, whose day job is athletic trainer for Mount St. Mary Academy, also works as the go-to injury analyst for RotoWire, a major player in the multi-billion-dollar fantasy sports industry. Stotts is likely the nation’s foremost injury analyst in fantasy football, basketball and baseball. In the last eight months, though, he’s started publishing analysis from his own NBA injuries database. The timely stats spewing from his spreadsheets are making him a go-to source in the world of real sports news as well, as I note in my most recent Daily Beast piece:
The 31-year-old Dallas native, after all, chose a hobby in injury analytics that just happens to be the next big thing in sports. “Injury is kind of the golden question that everybody wants to answer,” sports scientist Michael Regan told ESPN’s TrueHoop. “Because when you look at analytics in sports, the only thing that correlates consistently with elite performance and championships, is number of games played by your best players.”
Stotts calls his year-and-a-half-old database a “random, crazy idea,” but its premise is simple and straightforward. Each game night during the NBA season—often after watching some Mavericks basketball with his 3-year-old daughter and tucking her into bed—he fires up Excel. He then notes which players that night suffered an injury (or were kept out because of an injury) and what the injury was. Sources include news articles and databases and archives available through Rotowire, the fantasy sports company for which he writes. So far, he’s tracked the entire injury histories of 866 players dating back to the 1984-85 season.
The key, as any advanced statistician worth his spreadsheet knows, is to look beyond the box score. The official game report may list the reason a player was kept out as “Did Not Play—Coach’s Decision” but Stotts knows there’s often more to the story. After a little patience and some Googling, he’ll usually discover in news accounts a minor injury like a sore hamstring was the real culprit. “Well, it should have been noted as sore hamstring, but in the box score all it says is ‘DNP-CD.’”
Stotts attention to detail helped spark a friendship with national sportswriter Will Carroll, a Bleacher Report columnist who specializes in baseball injury reporting. The two writers have teamed to present an annual award for the best medical staff in Major League Baseball. Stotts said he also hopes to launch similar awards for NFL and NBA medical staffs, with his database helping decide the latter. Before getting to that point, though, he’ll need more data to track year-to-year improvement trends. “You don’t want to reward a staff for getting lucky. You want to make sure this is a little bit of a trend.”
To that end, Stotts plans to keep working on his database, hopefully adding three seasons’ worth of player histories this summer. The time won’t be as intense as it is on the busiest game days of the regular season— when his news scouring and recording takes about an hour per night—but it’s still an investment for a busy family man with a day job as an athletic trainer at a Catholic high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. He tries to work on his hobby when nobody’s home, but that’s not always possible. Occasionally, his wife Emily* will tell him “Are you really seriously getting on that computer again?” he said, chuckling.
I asked Jeff to what extent his work as an injury analyst influences his job at Mount St. Mary. “It’s made me a better athletic trainer,” he said, “because I have to stay up to date on all the info – not only statistically speaking, but the treatment options that are available.”
Nobody is tracking injury statistics for Arkansas’ high school programs, and it’s a safe bet that such a development is still many years away. But Stotts has been on the forefront of grading the performances of NBA medical staffs. He noted that Ibaka’s quick return is in line with Oklahoma City’s training staff reputation as one of the best in the league. The Thunder, for instance, have “only” lost a little more than 22.2 million dollars in the last five years because of injured players (Contrast that with the Lakers’ 28.24 million dollar loss due to Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injury – the highest single season loss to injury in NBA history).
Given Ibaka’s play in the last couple games, it’s whatever magic OKC’s trainers worked on his upper calf has hurt the Spurs’ title hopes. Whether Ibaka’s health ends up breaking those hopes altogether is yet to be seen.
*Stotts’ wife actually works in the same office at Arkansas Children’s Hospital as my wife, Susan. And before we’d met each other through company picnics and parties, Jeff and I played pickup ball together at Pulaski Heights united Methodist Church. He’s got a solid floor game.
Take the richest sports magnate outside of Jerry Jones Arkansas has ever produced. Add the “most brilliant con man” in American sports history. Then throw in some impressionable young soccer players from Europe.
What you have is a recipe for the strangest, most ambitious soccer tour the world has likely ever seen.
Dallas Tornadoes’ six-month world soccer tour of 1967-68 “consumed 25,000 miles, 19 countries, five continents, 45 games and a serious bite from a family fortune,” the Dallas Morning News’ Kevin Sherrington wrote. That fortune belonged to El Dorado native Lamar Hunt, former owner of the Kansas City Chief and Chicago Bulls and major investor in American professional soccer leagues.
Hunt and a fast-talking, dubiously credentialed Serbian immigrant from Canada named Bob Kap teamed up to gather 16 young men in Spain, slap “Dallas” on their shirts and send them around the world into some of the most politically charged environments of the late 1960s – Vietnam (including Saigon just before the Tet Offensive erupted), Afghanistan*, India, Iran – anywhere there were tens of thousands of natives willing to cram into a stadium and watch. The overarching goal was to show America could hold its own in soccer. On a smaller scale, Hunt knew this tour featuring mostly subpar soccer players could generate good will toward the city of Dallas even if it lost most of its games (which it did). The city was still trying to emerge from the specter of the Kennedy assassination less than five years before.
The fact that the majority of the young men who made up the Dallas Tornadoes had never actually been to Dallas was beside the point.
Here’s more about their trip, provided by the FC Dallas communications department:
The team began with training camp in Spain in August. After stops in Nice, Istanbul and Athens, the team took a side trip to check out the Acropolis and missed its flight from Athens to Cyprus. The Acropolis trip saved their lives** as their original flight was blown up in mid-air by a bomb, killing 63 people. The target was Cypriot leader General George Grivas, who coincidentally also missed the original flight and was on the second plane with the Tornado. On the tour, the Tornado played in Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus, Iran, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Costa Rica and Honduras. The highest recorded crowd on their travels was 47,000. They played 48 games from Aug. 24, 1967 to March 10, 1968. They returned to Dallas to open their inaugural NASL season on March 30, 1968 against the Houston Stars at Turnpike Stadium in Arlington.
Tonight, 10 of the 16 players will meet at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium in Frisco for the first reunion of this team. Many of the players have not seen each other since 1968, said Bobby Moffat, a Dallas Tornado in the 1970s who is writing a book on the defunct franchise. You’ll likely hear more about their adventures in the near future. The BBC will cover the reunion and a British production company is making a documentary about the trip, said Jan Book, a former Dallas player who went on that whirlwind tour so long ago.
* Afghanistan was scheduled as a destination but not followed through with, Sherrington points out. “According to Michael MacCambridge’s Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports, Waters wired his boss from Karachi to say Afghanistan was “a mistake.”
“YOUR REQUEST TO SKIP AFGHANISTAN OKAY,” Hunt wired back.
“PROCEED TO INDIA.”
**Sherrington says this claim may have a touch of apocrypha mixed in with hit. “Unfortunately for the purposes of this story, records indicate flight 284 left Athens at 4:30 a.m. on the 12th. Unless the boys were touring the Acropolis after hours, they were fast asleep when the de Havilland Comet settled at the bottom of the Mediterranean.”
When it comes to big-time college sports, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas rarely operate on a level playing field. The Hogs attract more fans, play in a bigger conference, get more national exposure and make more money. The UA’s athletic department pulls in nearly seven times more total revenue than Arkansas States’.
But there’s one place the state of Arkansas’ largest sports programs stand on equal ground. Each school’s head football coach has a contract demanding the same amount of money for cutting out early. If the Hogs’ Bret Bielema had decided to break his six-year contract last year – his first on the job – then he would have owed the UA $3 million. Three million is also the price the Red Wolves’ Blake Anderson would have to pay if he left ASU during his first year. This equality is all the more striking because Bielema and Anderson’s salaries aren’t even close to being in the same neighborhood: Bielema makes $3.2 million a year to Anderson’s $700,000.
How these schools got to this particular $3 million figure is part coincidence, part strategy, and all a matter of context. In the biggest conferences, a $3 million “buyout” provision isn’t all that high. Not with the likes of Louisville’s Bobby Petrino walking around with a $10 million buyout. In a conference as relatively small as the Sun Belt, though, a number like this is unprecedented – much like the situation in which ASU football finds itself on the whole. “When you’ve gone through what we’ve gone through the last few years,” ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir says, “you learn a little bit.”
Since 2010, ASU has hired four separate head coaches. The first of those – Hugh Freeze – had a first-year buyout of $225, 000. For succeeding coaches, that figure jumped to $700,000 , then to $1.75 million, and now to $3 million. Where it ends, nobody knows.
Still, fans can be certain of one thing for sure: in the world of coaches’ contracts, terms for parting ways matter every bit as much as the salary figures themselves.
Decades ago, things were simpler. Major college football coaches signed one-year contracts for amounts that didn’t always make them their state’s highest paid public employee. If they did a good job, the contract rolled over to the next year. But things started changing in the 1980s with the advent of bigger broadcast deals and the proliferation of cable sports programming. The best coaches started going to the richest schools which were also offering higher-paying, multi-year deals. But as multi-year contracts prevailed in the late 1980s and 1990s, “the institutions began looking for a commitment from the coach,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said. At first, “it was really a one-way street and now it’s evolved into a two-way street on the contractual buyout terms.”
Look at it in business terms: The institution is looking for security after investing in a risky asset – the head coach – that can add or lose a great amount of revenue. Too much of one of the other – for all programs but the very top ones – make the coach more likely to leave. That departure not only means a loss in investments until that point, but likely a substantial cut future returns, too.
For more, read the rest of my article as it originally published in Arkansas Money & Politics Magazine.
It’s on Page 27 of this digital version.
It’s a simple, really. You have a question. You go online. You type words into what is commonly known as a “search bar.”
Presto – you just did what every other American has been doing for most of the last 15 years.
Most every other American, except for a certain mother of a soon-to-be Princeton University student-athlete who – when subjected to an unfamiliar word – did what comes so naturally to .0013% of us: pen a two paragraph-long missive to a nationally syndicated advice columnist.
The result is the below masterpiece.
Read it and marvel. It is as if Miley Cyrus’ spandexed, gyrating ass were magically transported to 1958 and dropped in front of June Cleaver and Abigail Van Buren to ponder:
OK: It’s a fake. Princeton doesn’t even give athletic scholarships, after all.
But, oh, what a glorious fake it is.
Yesterday, Miami’s Shane Battier shed insight into the difference between the two best small forwards in New York City:
“There’s not a lot you can take away,” he said of Joe Johnson’s offensive ability. “I’m not saying you can take away…but Carmelo Anthony, he’s so left-hand dominant. So if you make him put it in his right hand, he really struggles. Joe, you can’t really do that. You really just have to fight him, play him honest, make him work for catches. Don’t let him get any free catches, because once he gets a free catch, he’s got multiple options.”
Battier isn’t the only Heat player praising Johnson’s abilities as Johnson’s Nets get set to clash with the Heat tonight, according to Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report. Dwayne Wade first realized just how talented Johnson was in the 2006, when the two players joined a star-studded cast including Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard in Japan for the FIBA World Championships.
From afar, I knew he was good,” Wade told Bleacher Report after Wednesday’s Heat practice. “But we were practicing, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know he was this good.’ And we were all, like, ‘Joe, you know how good you are?’ He was like, ‘Whatever.'” That team didn’t win the gold medal, falling to Greece and settling for bronze. But Johnson won the respect of his peers, tying with Howard for fifth on the team in scoring.
That trip was likely also the start of a close power circle that almost made Johnson a teammate of Wade four years later. Johnson, James and Wade planned to discuss their free agency plans in spring of 2010. Fast forward yet another four years, and Wade and James, of course, have gone on to win two NBA titles together and establish one of the great mini-dynasties in NBA history. Johnson, meanwhile, has lost 13 of the 16 second round games he has played in and has yet to deliver a signature NBA playoff series win. Beating his old friends would certainly qualify.
“He’s talented, man,” Wade told Skolnick as Miami prepared for Game 2 of the Brooklyn-Miami series. “But his personality, he’s so quiet. And no one’s ever pushed him.”
Johnson must push himself if his Nets will have any shot whatsoever of dethroning the champs.
For more on Johnson, check out my Sporting Life Arkansas article comparing his playoff plights with Sidney Moncrief.
The greatest Razorback NBA player of the 20th century never made it to the Finals. Blame injuries and the best small forward of his era. By 1986, 28-year-old Sidney Moncrief had transformed his Milwaukee Bucks into perennial Eastern Conference contenders who won seven straight divisional titles. But they got over a hump in the 1986 playoffs only to run into a mountain.
In the second round, the Bucks won that franchise’s first seventh game of a playoff series, beating nemesis Philadelphia 113-112 at home. Moncrief, who had missed four games in the series due to plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the foot, gutted it out for 35 minutes in the pivotal contest. He “played as brave a playoff series as anyone since the Knicks’ Willis Reed hobbled onto Madison Square Garden floor against the Lakers in 1970,” Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum wrote.
Moncrief’s left heel and chronically sore knees weren’t the only ailments afflicting Milwaukee heading into the next round. Its other star, Terry Cummings, had a dislocated finger and scorer Ricky Pierce had sprained his ankle. But the Bucks’ most formidable obstacle came in the form of their next opponent’s 29-year-old, six-feet-nine small forward. Larry Bird had already won two consecutive MVP awards and led his team to two NBA titles. What resistance could Moncrief and the Bucks hope to put up as he steamrolled to another?
Fast forward to 2014, and now Joe Johnson – this century’s greatest Razorback NBA’er – faces another 29-year-old, six-feet-nine force of nature.