#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

It's Simple Math, Just Join Us

By TERRY LYONS
Special to Digital Sports Desk

NEWTON, Massachusetts, April 21, 2014 -- The measurements of sports are etched in our memories so deeply and clearly, we don't need to look them up.

In football, there are three feet to a yard and ten yards for a first down. In basketball, it’s ten feet to the rim and a 15-foot shot for a free throw. The best has to be baseball, where they measure sixty feet, six inches from the pitcher's mound to the back of the plate and 90 feet between the bases.

We just love to measure and compare and the simple utterance of the phrase "sixty feet, six inches" seems so perfect, it would be unimaginable to suggest a change.

However, let us behold the metric system, far older and far wiser than we care to admit.  So, as the screwed up Americans we truly are, we tend to split the differences and try to make it up as we go along.

If we're at the Pub, we're a-okay with a pint of Guinness. That's 16 ounces of cool suds. Hey, that's still "our way." Grab that quart, half-gallon or gallon of milk at the local Tedeschi's and you are all set, but ask for a liter of Coca-Cola or seek directions from the barkeeper or counterman north of the border and you’ll hear about a few meters or kilometers of distance instead of a country mile and be baffled to the point when out comes the calculator with our smart phone conversion tables.

So with that in mind, today, I present to you - the Marathon.

You see, in 490 BC or before, good old Philippides took off with a message in his hand. He travelled on foot, we believe, from Marathon to Athens and, as fate would have it, old Philly was a very dependable courier and in pretty good shape as he swiftly covered some 42 kilometers of rough, rocky terrain to convey a message that would now be delivered in an e-mail instant. To pay tribute to the noble feat many years later, in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the founding fathers of the Modern Olympic games memorialized the great run when they staged the very first "marathon" where runners would travel the full 42 km to win a race.

It beats bobbing for apples, I guess?

As fans of the Olympics, we brought out our calculators and did the math, figuring the distance to be a hefty sum of twenty-six miles three hundred eighty five yards.

About a year later, in 1897, our forefathers in the great city of Boston took out their maps and drew a line out to the small town of Hopkinton, then turned around and ran to Boston. In doing so, they created The Boston Marathon, what is now the oldest, most famous and most prestigious athletic competition in American sport. The race is a test of an athlete's training, determination and endurance. It is run on the third Monday in April, so the conditions can vary greatly from one year or one minute to another. It is a glorious and wonderful event where everyday runners compete on the same playing field as the elite. That is the beauty of the marathon - any marathon, yes - but Boston is special.

If Madison Square Garden is the "Mecca" for hoops, then the streets of Boston are paradise for the long-distance runner.  The great Amby Burfoot, the 1968 winner of Boston, called it "the Carnegie Hall" of races, mainly because of the people who line the streets, the legions of fans, the knowledgeable spectators, the enthusiastic collegians, the families who gather all along the fifty-two plus miles of sidewalk to cheer and encourage the runners. That is what makes the Boston Marathon just a little bit different than any other road race of rodeo.

It's the people. The difference between Boston and all the other races is in the crowds of fans and volunteers at the starting line way out past I495, it's the small-town New England charm of Ashland, Framingham and Natick where families dust-off the patio furniture and cart it to the curbsides, or the co-eds at Wellesley College, celebrating another Patriots' Day holiday with their better-than-Bill-Raftery 'kiss and signs that light up the faces and spirits of the runners, even though they're only 20 km or barely halfway through the race. It's the front yard and backyard parties all along Commonwealth Ave. in Newton where the down slope from Wellesley turns into a series of four gradual elevations that are truly heartbreaking. It’s the hope gained by the runners when they see Boston College in Chestnut Hill and begin the quad-pounding downhill to bucolic Brookline towards Kenmore Square. This big city is a small community.

How do the runners endure?

One example is a 54-year old runner, John Caron, the proprietor of West End Johnnie's of Boston who was running and raising money for the Boston Bruins foundation. He felt he needed to do something for his community, for his city. So, today he found a way to endure a little more pain as a friend of some 20-plus years took out his calculator and figured the miles and kilometers from Hopkinton, past the 5K-mark, then the 10K mark, then consulted the tracker online, calculated the average splits per mile (rather than per kilometer), tossed them all into the old brain, then bee-lined it up to Commonwealth. He intersected and met his friend with five minutes to spare just as his buddy neared the statue of Olympian Johnny Kelley who once ran a record 61 Boston marathons. The smile on Johnnie's face was priceless, the hug of encouragement passed from one to another worth even more.

"Do you need some sun lotion," I asked?

"Nahh, I'm alright."

"How's the calf muscle," noting the strained leg I learned about when John was fiddling around with a downed tree just last week in his backyard.

Silence.  Then. "We're gonna need to shoot it up tomorrow."

Then, he was off.

"Take it nice and easy, man. You're doing great and you're going to finish. You've got this."

He vanished, first with a few steps walking, then into a nice trot.

A little ways further up Heartbreak Hill, the crowds were out on their front yards, shouting more and more encouragement.

Calling out to Johnny, one fan simply shouted, "You can do it Bruins!"

To a fund-raising runner, "Hey there Children's Hospital, you're going to finish the Boston marathon!  How does that sound?"

If there were 36,000 runners, this one fan had to connect with 10,000 athletes just by her self. That's pretty strong.

Then, I stopped in my tracks and did the math. There were over a million spectators lining the course, so every runner in the race had an average of 27.7 fans. Or maybe, like Johnny, they had connected directly with somewhere between one and a million fans.

That is what the Boston marathon was all about in 2014.

It wasn’t about a slogan that makes some people feel a little uneasy. It wasn’t about justice being served up to two crazed idiots who victimized our town a year ago. It was about coming to terms with the fact they killed a little 8-year old boy, a son and brother. It was about mourning, still, for a wonderful Boston-bred friend and colleague to many.  It was remembering that they killed a promising young student who hailed from China and came to our democracy and our schools to study. It was realizing once again, they murdered a brave MIT security man and loyal first responder, on duty as he put in his time and trained to be a police officer in Somerville. The criminals fled to our neighboring town and hid cowardly in our backyards, bringing the crime from our favorite sporting event right into our driveways as we were told to shelter in place.

A million spectators and 36,000 runners today turned the page and brought some closure to this terrible tragedy which lives on in our hearts and souls and comes forth through our tears and broken voices.

Tomorrow, little Jane Richard will fasten prosthesis to the portion of her leg not lost to the shrapnel of the bomb. Jane, and hundreds of other survivors of a cowardly and senseless act of a year ago will start fresh again tomorrow when the sun rises again.

We'll mark the dates and measure the progress as the survivors carry on as we count another 365 days in a year.

Is it possible to heal?

Yes. It's time to move on, carry-on and continue to support our neighbors and fellow Bostonians, all lifetime residents of a wonderful city we love. It's a small-town community and you’re all are welcome to participate in any way you choose.

We proudly call this movement, this gradual and important healing process, "Boston Strong."

You are more than welcome to join us, as long as you can add it up.


Red Sox Rally (Again) at Emotional Time

BOSTON, April 20, 2014 -- A game that started with an emotional pregame tribute to the victims and survivors of last year's Boston Marathon bombings ended with the Boston Red Sox winning 6-5 in walk-off fashion on a Baltimore Orioles error in the ninth inning Sunday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox came back from a five-run deficit to tie the game with three runs in the sixth and two in the seventh.

With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Orioles reliever Darren O'Day got pinch hitter Mike Carp to line out to David Lough in left field. But with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia on third, Lough threw wildly to home as Pedroia went back to the bag on the catch, allowing him to score the winning run.

"They were in close. I broke real quick in case it fell," Pedroia said. "He had a chance to throw me out at home. It was just one of those things. It was great positioning on their part. Worked out for us. It was kind of a crazy deal."
Pedroia was moved by the pregame ceremony.

"It was unbelievable, to see everybody out there," he said. "It's a special place."

The Orioles committed three errors in the game, all leading to Boston's final three runs.

"You give a good team extra outs, they'll make you pay," said Baltimore's Ryan Flaherty, who committed an error in the seventh inning while playing shortstop. "And that's what they did to us."

The Orioles had a chance in the top of the ninth but center fielder Adam Jones was stranded on third when Edward Mujica struck out Lough to end the inning.

Left fielder Jonny Gomes' three-run homer in the sixth, which scored designated hitter David Ortiz and first baseman Mike Napoli, knocked Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez from the game. Jimenez had been nearly unhittable, allowing just two baserunners, both on walks, before Gomes' two-out double in the fourth.

"It was a hard-fought game," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We didn't cash in any at-bats late. We were able to get Ubaldo out of that game in that sixth inning. A big three-run homer by Jonny. "We were able to chip away two runs and tie things up. Just a heads-up play by [Pedroia] to get back and tag and just an errant throw in the end."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was happy with Jimenez, who went 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

"Good. Really good. I thought he was sharp," Showalter said. "Fastball was crisper. Had command. But not a whole lot different than his first outings, although I thought his tempo and fastball was a little better. "He was good. Gave us a chance to win. Probably one pitch he'd take back."

Jimenez agreed.

"It was a hanging breaking ball right there [to Gomes], a bad pitch," Jimenez said. "I shouldn't be making pitches like this, especially in this ballpark."

Brian Matusz (1-1) was charged with the loss, with Mujica (1-1) earning the win.

Left-hander Zach Britton replaced Jimenez, running into a jam in the seventh when his defense hurt him with two errors. Flaherty moved from third to shortstop to start the inning after J.J. Hardy left with a right hamstring strain. With one out, third baseman Brock Holt singled and center fielder Grady Sizemore reached on Flaherty's error. Pedroia's single loaded the bases for Ortiz, whose single scored Holt and ended Britton's outing. Right-hander Evan Meek entered, inducing a sharply hit grounder from Napoli to rookie third baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose throw home was off the mark, allowing Sizemore to score the tying run.

The Orioles jumped on Red Sox starter Jake Peavy for three runs in the first inning. With one out, designated hitter Nelson Cruz hit the Orioles' first home run in five games. A walk to first baseman Chris Davis and consecutive singles by Jones and catcher Matt Wieters scored another run. Hardy followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. Meanwhile, the Red Sox could do little with Jimenez, who entered with 1-3 record and 10.27 ERA in five career starts against Boston. The first hit off Jimenez was a two-out double in the fourth by Gomes. The Orioles added a run off Peavy in the fifth when Wieters and Hardy singled with two outs and Lough's ground-rule double put Baltimore ahead 4-0.

NOTES: Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks, who has been on the disabled list since April 5 with a right calf strain, is scheduled to start a rehab assignment on Monday with Triple-A Pawtucket. He is expected to get Tuesday off and play for Pawtucket again Wednesday and Thursday. ... Boston RF Shane Victorino, who has been out all season with after suffering a right hamstring strain in the final spring training game, began a rehab assignment on Saturday with Pawtucket. He went 0-for-3, playing six innings in right field. He had a scheduled day off on Sunday and will resume his assignment on Monday, getting four at-bats in seven or eight innings and then nine innings on Tuesday. He could be activated after that. ... Red Sox OF Grady Sizemore led off and played center field on Saturday night. It was his third outfield position in as many games. ... Orioles 3B Manny Machado, on the DL all season recovering from left knee surgery, is scheduled to play seven innings at third base on Monday in extended spring training and serve as the DH on Tuesday. ... Baltimore LHP Troy Patton will report to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday to begin a scheduled eight-day assignment. Patton has been on the suspended list for a positive test for amphetamines. He will be eligible to pitch for the Orioles on April 30.


Emotions High as Boston Commemorates Bombing Victims

BOSTON, April 20, 2014 -- Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes called it a "tear-jerker" while teammate Mike Carp said he got a "choked-up feeling."

On the eve of the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox paid tribute to the victims and honored the survivors of last year's tragic bombings with an emotional pregame ceremony that preceded a stirring 6-5 comeback victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday night at Fenway Park.

"Another emotional roller coaster here at Fenway, tear-jerker there for a minute," said Gomes, the left fielder who started the Red Sox's rally with a three-run homer in the sixth inning and then watched as Dustin Pedroia pinballed back to third base before scoring on a throwing error by Orioles left fielder David Lough in the ninth on Carp's pinch-hit line drive.

"It really sunk home how much healing is still going on, a year down the road, and how important it is for us as Red Sox to help the healing."

It was reminscent of everything that was good at Fenway last season in the weeks and months that followed that dark day on Boylston Street. The Red Sox had 11 walkoff wins en route to making the playoffs, winning the World Series and helping to boost a city that just wanted to feel good again. Among the most poignant moments of the ceremony came when relatives of Lingzi Lu, one of the four victims of the Marathon attacks, appeared behind home plate to declare, "Play Ball!" They came all the way from China to mourn Lingzi's death this week, and Sunday night marked their first trip to Fenway.

"I got that choked-up feeling on a lot of points during that," Carp said. "It was a special day for a lot of people."


Bruins Strike Back vs. Red Wings

BOSTON, April 20, 2014 -- Boston abandoned the cautious approach against Detroit's speed and returned to the style that led the Bruins to the top record during the NHL's regular season. The Bruins appeared big and bad once again, outmuscling the Red Wings early and getting to the net often during a 4-1 win on Sunday that evened the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at a game apiece.

"I think it was just a little bit more determination from our group," Boston coach Claude Julien said.

The Bruins scored twice during a three-minute span in the first period, then further deflated the Red Wings with goals late in the second and early in the third while storming back from a shutout loss in the series opener on Friday. Boston frustrated Detroit into repeated penalties and power-play goals by forward Reilly Smith in the first period and defenseman Zdeno Chara in the third.

"It's been a strength for us throughout the season," said winger Milan Lucic, whose goal with 3:44 left in the second period gave Boston a 3-1 lead. "It's not always going to be pretty. It's going to be those goals when you have to chip away and get that second or third shot."

After being held without a shot for the first 7:38 of the game, the Bruins peppered Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard with 18 shots during the rest of the first period. It was the kind of aggressive play that Boston used throughout the regular season but was absent during Detroit's 1-0 win on Friday.

"They were engaged. Thy won the battles. They were quick. We were slow," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We weren't very good here tonight. Give them credit. They were better and we didn't respond."

The series now moves to Detroit for Game 3 on Tuesday.

The Red Wings utilized their speed and tight checking to win Friday, but could not stop the physical Bruins once they started pressuring on Sunday. Forward Justin Florek got Boston rolling with a goal on the Bruins' first shot of the game 7:38 into the first period when Howard's clearing attempt bounced off a teammate and right to the winger. Smith made it 2-0 on a power-play goal with 9:25 left in the first and the Bruins never let up.

"First goal usually dictates the game and usually ends up winning," Smith said. "So it was good to get those first two early and I think it just gave us a little more energy and added a little extra intensity to the game."

Detroit pulled within 2-1 with 6:40 left in the second period on a deflection by center Luke Glendenning off a shot by center Darren Helm, but Lucic restored the two-goal cushion on a give-and-go with winger Jarome Iginla with 3:44 left in the second.

The Red Wings gave the Bruins another power play early in the third and had nobody to clear Chara from in front, where he poked in a rebound off Iginla's shot and the lead was 4-1.

"We knew this was going to be a long series and they played a real solid game today," Howard said.

Detroit's frustration built after the first two goals and led to numerous scrums after the whistle. The first period ended with a pileup behind the Boston net and a shoving match between Brendan Smith and Chara that nearly escalated into a fight.

Smith, about seven inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than the Boston captain, continued challenging Chara as he laughed before having enough and throwing down his stick as a linesman charged in and broke it up.

NOTES: Boston F Jarome Iginla had two assists. ... Boston forwards Justin Florek and Reilly Smith and Detroit's Luke Glendenning scored the first three goals of the game two nights after making their playoff debut. ... Detroit D Brendan Smith, Reilly's brother, unintentionally had a hand in the first goal of the game when Detroit G Jimmy Howard's clearing attempt bounced off his calf and right to Florek.


Blazers Take 2OT Thriller vs. Rockets

HOUSTON, April 21, 2014 -- Asked to recall one moment that proved decidedly advantageous, Portland coach Terry Stotts rolled over the previous 53 minutes of game action and came to the same conclusion as anyone who witnessed the game would have reached: There were too many to count.

The Trail Blazers, knocked into the ropes on several occasions, rallied repeatedly until point guard Damian Lillard helped seal a wild 122-120 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of a Western Conference quarterfinal series on Sunday night at the Toyota Center. After teaming with forward LaMarcus Aldridge (46 points, 18 rebounds) to score the final 25 points of regulation for Portland, Lillard carried the Trail Blazers home after Aldridge fouled out with 1:04 left in overtime. Lillard converted a driving baseline layup through a foul by Houston guard Patrick Beverley for a three-point play and 119-118 Blazers lead.

Lillard converted two more free throws with 17 seconds left that put the Trail Blazers ahead to stay. Portland trailed by double digits in the second, third and fourth quarters before surrendering consecutive three-point plays to open overtime. The Blazers' resilience was remarkable.

"Our whole prep for this series we've been saying there are going to be ups and downs, and when we're down we've got to stick together and keep fighting," Lillard said after producing 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists. "We were able to do that. When we were down 11 (with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter), we still had confidence."

Game 2 is set for Wednesday night at Houston's Toyota Center.

Rockets guard James Harden missed a jumper as the buzzer sounded in overtime after doing the same to end regulation. He finished with 27 points but missed 20 of 28 shot from the field against the relentless defense of Trail Blazers wings Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum.

Rockets center Dwight Howard fouled out with 10.8 seconds left in overtime after delivering a line of 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. But Howard also missed four consecutive free throws during the Trail Blazers' 11-0 run that followed his giving the Rockets a 98-87 lead with two free throws after Stotts called for intentional fouls of Howard. After Howard and guard Jeremy Lin opened overtime with three-point plays, Portland responded with consecutive 3-pointers from Aldridge and Batum. Before he fouled out setting a screen on Beverley in the backcourt, Aldridge tortured every defender Houston sent his direction en route to establishing a franchise playoff scoring mark.

"I've been here. I've went through this process and I think I understand it," Aldridge said. "I just think that tonight was one of those nights."
Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, "He had points on offensive rebounds, he got to the line 13 times and he made 17 shots and a lot of them were to the middle. We were trying to take away a couple of things and we didn't do a very good job on him at all.

"He's been a handful for us all year long and we're going to have to come up with a couple of new ways to keep the ball out of his hands. We just didn't have any answers for him."

Forward Chandler Parsons chipped in 24 points and six rebounds for the Rockets but had just seven points in the second half.

Matthews finished with 18 points while Batum had 14 points and nine boards for Portland.

After Harden and Howard shot a combined 2 of 11 from the field in the first quarter, Parsons caught fire in the second, scoring 10 points, including the first five during an 11-0 run that propelled the Rockets to a 44-33 lead.
Harden drilled a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to close the first half, pushing Houston to a 49-48 lead and setting the tone for his 13-point third quarter. But for the Rockets, their leads vanished almost as quickly as they manifested, with their shaky defense and ball security their undoing.

"We just didn't get stops," Harden said. "When you're in the playoffs and you're up 11 at home with five or six minutes to go, you just got to close out games. We didn't make shots. We didn't get stops. It's a tough loss."

NOTES: Rockets G Patrick Beverley suffered a right knee sprain, the same knee that sidelined Beverley for eight games down the stretch of the regular season. Beverley is set for an MRI later Monday. ... While Portland features eight first- or second-year players with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews the lone Trail Blazers remaining from the team's last postseason appearance in 2010-11, the narrative suggesting that Portland is hamstrung by playoff inexperience is erroneous. "Six of our main guys have been in the playoffs, so even though we are a relatively young team ... six of the guys that we're counting on have been to the playoffs," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "I think we have playoff experience and we do have a solid core. And a lot of that core has been to the playoffs." ... Armed with the fifth-most efficient offense in the NBA, Portland has multiple scoring options able to cause the Rockets concern. However, Aldridge has been especially vexing for Houston, averaging 26.8 points and 15.5 rebounds in the four-game season series. "Aldridge is a tough case because he's a tough-shot maker," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "You've got to keep on taking his temperature. You don't want to give him open looks, you don't want to give him feet-set 17-footers looking at the basket. We want to contest him. Yeah, he's a tough cover."


Bruins Enter Playoffs as No. 1 Seed

BOSTON, April 14, 2014 -- The Boston Bruins rested many of their regulars and dropped their regular-season finale Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, but Boston still heads into the postseason as the top overall seed.

  •  

  • Boston, the Atlantic Division champion, opens the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings, who earned the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

    The Bruins captured the Presidents' Trophy by earning the most regular-season points, and the Bruins easily posted the league's top goal differential at plus-84.

    The other Atlantic Division playoff matchup features the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning against the third-place Montreal Canadiens.

    The Metropolitan Division champion Pittsburgh Penguins square off against the top wild-card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The New York Rangers, who came in second place in the Metropolitan Division, face the third-place Philadelphia Flyers.

    The top seed in the Western Conference, the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks, will face off against the wild-card Dallas Stars in the only first-round playoff matchup that crosses division lines. The second-place San Jose Sharks and third-place Los Angeles Kings meet in an all-Pacific series.

    The Colorado Avalanche, champs of the Central Division, will play the wild-card Minnesota Wild. The St. Louis Blues, who barely missed out on the Central title, will skate against the third-place Chicago Blackhawks, the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

    The winners within each division will meet in the second round, and then each division's playoff champion will square off for the conference championships.

    NHL FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF MATCHUPS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE

    ATLANTIC DIVISION

    No. 1 Boston Bruins (54-19-9) vs. No. 4 Detroit Red Wings (39-28-15) -- Regular-season series, Detroit 3-1-0

    No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning (46-7-9) vs. No. 3 Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8) -- Regular-season series, Tampa Bay 3-0-1

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7) vs. No. 4 Columbus Blue Jackets (43-32-7) -- Regular-season series, Pittsburgh 5-0-0

    No. 2 New York Rangers (45-31-6) vs. No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers (42-30-10) -- Regular-season series, tied 2-2-0

    WESTERN CONFERENCE

    PACIFIC DIVISION

    No. 1 Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8) vs. No. 4 (wild card from Central Division) Dallas Stars (40-31-11) -- Regular-season series, Dallas 2-1-0

    No. 2 San Jose Sharks (51-22-9) vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Kings (46-28-8) -- Regular-season series, Los Angeles 3-1-1

    CENTRAL DIVISION

    No. 1 Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8) vs. No. 4 Minnesota Wild (43-27-12) -- Regular-season series, Colorado 4-0-1

    No. 2 St. Louis Blues (52-23-7) vs. No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks (46-21-15) -- Regular-season series, St. Louis 3-2-0


Rapper Drake Could Cost Raptors $50 Large

(Special to the Digital Sports Desk)

DALLAS. April 6, 2014 -- The NBA's Toronto Raptors could be looking at a fine of $50,000 or more after Drake, their team's "global ambassador" took an opportunity to walk into the University of Kentucky locker room after the Wildcat's national semifinal win over Wisconsin Saturday night, April 5. The NBA recently leveled a $50G fine against the Brooklyn (then-New Jersey) Nets when team minority owner "Jay-Z" waltzed into the UK locker after an Elite 8 victory in 2011. The league can levy upwards of $250,000 in fines or dock a team of draft picks for "directly or indirectly" contacting basketball players with remaining NCAA eligibility.

On September 30, 2013, the Toronto Raptors officially named the popular rapper as the team's global brand ambassador with the goal "of making the Raptors cool again," according to Drake's self-proclaimed job description. Drake noted that he "would add everything he can" in terms of assisting the team. Recently, that job description was stretched to assist the Raptors' sister club, the MLS FC Toronto futbol team to recruit FC sriker Jermain Defoe. Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Tim Leiweke recently made an appearance on a Canadian talk show hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos and began his appearance discussing the fact Drake led the team's recruitment of Defoe. The blatant use of the rapper Drake to recruit players might make the NBA gauntlet come down harder on the Raptors than it did against the Nets three years ago.
 
The NBA private eye process likely will begin on Monday when the league office's legal and security squads can convene and begin the full investigation. However, the NBA gumshoes can fire-up their twitter accounts and search "Drake and Raptors" to find a slew of photo tweets of Drake shaking hands with UK freshman E.J. Floreal right in the NCAA locker room just minutes after Kentucky's 74-73 win over the Badgers. 
 
Inquiries to the NBA late Saturday night were not successful, but the league's track record of taking steps in the Nets-JayZ case clearly paint a problematic picture for the Raptors, a team destined to lose a cool 50-large (US).

March Madness: Final Four Saturday Review

Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73: Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left as the Wildcats defeated the Badgers to reach the NCAA title game in Arlington, Texas.

James Young scored 17 points and Julius Randle added 16 as eighth-seeded Kentucky (29-10) advances to face seventh-seeded Connecticut in Monday’s championship. Harrison scored just eight points but made the decisive basket in the final seconds for the second straight game when he drained a 3-pointer from about four feet behind the arc.

Sam Dekker and Ben Brust scored 15 points apiece for Wisconsin (30-8), which took a 73-71 lead with 16.4 seconds left when Traevon Jackson hit two of three free throws. Jackson scored 12 points and had a chance to atone for the free-throw miss but was off the mark with a 15-footer as time expired.

The Badgers used a 15-4 surge to turn an eight-point deficit into a 58-55 lead on Jackson’s basket with 10:52 left but Kentucky recovered and tied it at 69 on two free throws by Randle with 3:48 remaining. Alex Poythress scored at the rim with 2:16 left to push Kentucky back ahead before Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky – who was held to eight points – tied the game at 71 on a hoop with 1:16 remaining.

An early 10-0 burst allowed Wisconsin to lead most of the first half before taking a 40-36 lead into halftime. Dekker made a 3-pointer to start the second half before Young scored six points during a 15-0 run to give Kentucky a 51-43 lead with 15:33 remaining.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) sat out with the injury he suffered against Louisville on March 28. … Wisconsin was 19-of-20 from the free-throw line – Jackson’s crucial miss being the lone one – while the Wildcats were 14-of-21. … Kentucky held a 32-27 edge on the boards and committed just four turnovers, all in the first half.


Connecticut 63, Florida 53: DeAndre Daniels led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Huskies ended the Gators’ 30-game winning streak at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

Shabazz Napier collected 12 points, six assists and four steals and Ryan Boatright added 13 points and six rebounds for No. 7 seed Connecticut (31-8), which will face Kentucky in the National Championship game Monday. Niels Giffey scored 11 points for the Huskies, who shot 55.8 percent from the field en route to the school’s fourth championship game.

Patric Young scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half for top-seeded Florida (36-3), which suffered its previous loss at Connecticut on Dec. 2. Casey Prather scored 15 points but Scottie Wilbekin was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting for the Gators.

Napier found Daniels for a layup to make it a 51-41 lead with 5:37 left, part of a stretch of nine straight converted field goals for the Huskies. Young’s dunk cut it to 53-47 with just over four minutes to play but Napier and Daniels combined on a 6-0 run and Giffey’s transition dunk off a long feed from Napier provided an exclamation point as Connecticut closed it out.

Florida jumped out to a 16-4 lead just past the halfway point of the first half before the Huskies woke up with an 11-0 burst spanning 1:41 and surged to a 25-22 lead at the break. Connecticut scored the first six points of the second half and led 39-29 after Boatright’s jumper with 12:43 to play.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Connecticut improved to 7-1 all-time in Final Four games - the best winning percentage of any school with three or more games in the Final Four. … Florida’s 22 first-half points marked a season low for the opening period, and the 53 for the game matched a season low. … Wilbekin, who dealt with knee soreness early in the second half, committed three turnovers after totaling two miscues in the first four NCAA tournament games.


Tribute to Sports TV Director, Sandy Grossman

Sandy Grossman, the great sports director who worked the glory years of the NBA on CBS passed away on April 3, 2014 after a long bout vs cancer, the dreaded disease. Here is a story written a month or so ahead of Grossman's death.  His collegues at CBS Sports and FOX Sports assured me this story made his day in mid-February. This story was a tribute to Sandy amd his cohorts at CBS SPorts, Mike Burks and Ted Shaker.


By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Sports Desk

NEW ORLEANS, February 14, 2014 -- The last time the National Basketball Association tipped an All-Star Game without David Stern at the helm, we were "looking live" at The Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California where Showtime was certainly underway with the LA Lakers but the NBA's scope of an all-incompassing All-Star Weekend consisted of a few media pick-up games as the prelim to the Continental Basketball Association's All-Star Game on Saturday morning. The Saturday activities were scheduled adjacent to the East and West All-Star practice sessions and the general public was admitted free of charge, if they dared to spend a day indoors on a beautiful Southern California afternoon. The NBA barely had a sponsor signed and only the likes of Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn breaking through a Miller LITE advertising banner could be mistaken with anything close to sports marketing.

Little did anyone know, but the foundation for a league about to explode, "globally," as Stern often says, was being laid in quick-dry cement just a season after the NBA held its All-Star celebration at the brand, spanking new Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey when there were two franchise folders on former Commissioner Larry O'Brien's desk. Those franchise folders, assigned to the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, were destined to be merged into one back in 1982, as the Jazz franchise was damn-near belly-up less than a decade after becoming the NBA's 18th franchise, established in 1974 in this very Louisiana town.

The writing was on the wall and in the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times. The NBA was a league where some "75% of the players were on drugs," read the scandalous article which was picked up nationally and published after the next deadline passed because there was no such communication vehicle like the Internet available to fans. No Twitter, no Facebook, no USA Today, No TNT. Just a vast landscape of six and eleven o'clock sportscasts sprinkled alongside a start-up in Bristol Connecticut, called The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

Julius "Dr J" Erving and Kareem Abdul Jabbar ruled the roost. It was "still" their league as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird were yet to renew their rivalry from that memorable 1979 NCAA championship game between Michigan State and Indiana State. Yes, the Lakers had won in 1980 and '82 and Bird celebrated his first NBA Championship Series victory cigar with Boston's legendary GM, in Auerbach, back in '81, but there was a league to be saved and no one seemed to know how to begin the resuscitation process. Clearly, CBS Sports was not a factor, as the network reduced the NBA regular season to about eight broadcasts and the playoffs, as long as they didn't interfere with a Boom Boom Mancini fight of the week, the Daytona 500 or The Memorial golf tournament.

Back in '83, before Commissioner Stern made the decisions, the NBA pretty much rolled out the ball racks, emblazoned with the Wilson (not Spalding) basketballs with O'Brien's signature etched in black ink. That Sunday game was just a regular part of the weekend programming on CBS but there was a very important aspect of the NBA's glorious history being hatched in those very CBS Sports production trucks parked deep in the ramp at The Forum. There was a groundswell of enthusiasm in those trucks, led, believe-it-or-not, by the color commentator hired by CBS, the same guy cracking open those "old school" LITE cans, alongside Red, and the Jones boys, Sam and KC. Yes, Tommy Heinsohn was teaching the nuances of the NBA game to the great CBS Sports director Sandy Grossman and his young counterpart, Mike Burks, the lead producer for the NBA on CBS.

Their boss, a guy named Ted Shaker, saw the same thing Stern saw in the discarded gem the NBA property had become. The game needed a little polish, a fresh coat of paint or luster and it needed someone to give it a chance.

Shaker, Burks and Grossman saw it and helped polish the stone. They saw it better, maybe sooner than anyone before them. Heinsohn taught them what to look for and he coached his play-by-play partner, the great Dick Stockton, to play it straight. The game plan - to let the game speak for itself and let the players - play. Burks liked to plot and plan and he placed the cameras as close as physically possible and he fought for more and better equipment to be loaded into his trucks. He "made it Kool" to work on the NBA and the many talented technicians and cameraman drank the Kool Aide.  In fact they partied with it and embraced the game, like never before. The foundation was being poured and CBS Sports was laying the cables right into the very Super Slo-Mo cameras that would now capture, "The World's Greatest Athletes."

That '83 All-Star Game came well after the memorable rookie debut of Magic Johnson, aired on late night tv. It came well after the amazing performances by Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes in the '80 championship series when magic jumped center to fill-in for the injured Jabbar. It came a couple of years after Bird and Cedric Maxwell schooled Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets. But it came right into your living room with the hip, back-beat sound of Marvin Gaye crooning a live version of the U.S. National anthem that will never, ever be equaled. It came after Grossman had his cameras zooming in to the faces that sports fans already knew on a first name basis, but had somehow forgotten when it came to viewing choices, albeit the few they had at the time. Grossman relied on his main game cameras, but he often cut to those low courtside cameras to show viewers the sweat dripping off of those ever-so-familiar aces belonging to athletes who were as physical as boxers but as versatile as acrobats or ballet dancers.

When it came time for a commercial, the advertisers started to jump on the band wagon and along came major league marketers shopping razors and blades and airline tickets. When it came time for a public service anouncement, the NBA began telling fans that "The NBA ... was Fan-tastic," and the league showed the highlights to prove it. Kids and adults, alike, stampeded back to their tvs from a halftime bathroom break just to see the 30-second spot, created by NBA Entertainment's very first employee, Paul Gilbert, who was stolen from CNN Sports, by one David Stern.

Grossman's cameras during that February, '83 All-Star game captured one of the most entertaining NBA All-Star openings ever staged. After a turnover or two to start the game, the play-by-play typist (yes, typist), could barely keep up with the action when guards like Johnson and Gus Williams pushed the ball at a pace nearly impossible to the weekend warrior. Erving and Bird countered and the likes of Maurice Cheeks, Bernard King and Sidney Moncrief displayed their athleticism and pure desire. The play cotinued until a time-out, mandated by tv, brought the opening salvo to a halt.

The memory runs so clear, because that night, late after the game, in a hotel hospitality room at Century City in LA, Grossman had a three-quarter inch tape of the All-Star game that he had recorded and he played the sequence again-and-again as a small gathering watched in awe. Grossman re-wound the tape to Gaye's national anthem and hit "play,"much to the delight of every person who walked into the room.  If you were new and missed the previous showtime but had heard the oohs and aahs from a roomful of the congregation already converted by Heinsohn's wisdom, old Sandy played it again.  And again.

While there were obvious first steps to the NBA's renaissance, including CBS' very own pounding of the drum for NCAA March Madness, the glorious Doctors of Dunk from Louisville, the drafting and subsequent success of Magic and Larry, then the whole Michael Jordan phenomenon, it was that '83 game that started the NBA's full monty of a comeback. It started in a CBS truck and carried into a hospitality suite, then a boardroom at 51 West 52nd Street - Blackrock - to those who know it. The NBA had become must-see tv.

O'Brien would pass the baton to Stern on February 1, 1984, and as we know from the recent wave of publicity brought to you on a half-a-dozen 24-hour sports channels and hundreds if not thousands of sports radio stations, brought to you online via Twitter and Facebook and 1,000 other IPO wanna-bes, brought to you from 215 countries and territories in three dozen languages spoken by people in every corner of the globe, Stern passed the baton to his protege, Adam Silver, just a few days ago. Happily, the names of Grossman, Burks and Shaker came up at Stern's small, classy, dignified retirement party in late January, and, thankfully, Shaker was there to shake the outgoing Commissioner's hand and welcome the young Commissioner Silver to an NBA world that no one could've ever imagined 30 years ago.


A YEAR AGO: Thoughts from a Terrible Afternoon of the Boston Marathon, 2013

By TERRY LYONS (Editor-in-Chief, Digital Sports Desk)

BOSTON, April 16, 2013 -- I am sick of giving my thoughts and prayers.  I am sick of standing for a moment of silence. I am sick of it all. Whether it was the catastrophic events of September 11, 2011 or the lone-wolf criminal acts of Oklahoma City in April of 1995 or bombing of Centennial Park in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics, or so many, many others, I'm just sick and tired of it all.

When I feel like this, my writing always comes up empty, because I just can't reach for my feelings.  It hurts too much.

It hurt too much this past December 14th, as a senseless act took the lives of 20 young children and six brave adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, a town I literally drove through that very morning when returning from my native New York to my new hometown of Boston. That crime hurt so much because of the little children robbed of their lives and taken from this earth in the years of their absolute innocence.

Now, here in Boston, we mourn again.  We were enjoying a wonderful holiday in the Commonwealth and we were all celebrating in a day where the Boston Marathon weaves its way from Hopkinton through Wellesley and up the hills of Newton right on through Brookline and into Boston.  The day was aptly described by weathermen everywhere as "perfect."

The elites ran off at 9am for the women, leading some 11,000 fellow females on to one of the most challenging marathon courses a runner will ever see. The elite men ran off at 10:00am and they chased the women and the physically challenged runners all the way toward Copley Square, some 26.2 miles away on a glorious spring day when the very best of Boston was on display under a clear blue sky.

Out in Lexington and Concord, tributes were paid to the men and women who fought for the American Revolution.  They are the Patriots we hold forth and celebrate each year on Patriots' Day in Massachusetts and even though I'm only a newfound Bostonian, Patriots' Day is in my blood.  I wake and I feel it every year.  It is part of the fabric of the Boston community and we feel it.

And talk about fabric, like non-other, the Boston Red Sox are this community and the Red Sox toss the ball out at 11:00am on Patriots' Day every year and it is the toughest ticket in town, especially on a glorious spring day when the temperature pushes 55-degrees fahrenheit and the Sox are off to a great start.  To be at Fenway on Patriots' Day is as good as it gets, unless you have a front row seat for the Boston Marathon.

And guess what?

We ALL have that!

Whether you make your way out to Hopkinton, as I like to do, or you take your lawn chairs up the block to Commonwealth, as I have done many a time, or you head downtown to take in the sights along Mass Ave or in Brookline, it just doesn't get any better than cheering on the runners.  Runners like 66-year old Amby Burfoot who I had the pleasure of working with all this past week as he prepped for the 45th anniversary run of his 1968 Boston Marathon victory.  Amby - nobody calls him Burfoot or Mr. Burfoot - was quite the story this year and he made the rounds on all the radio and TV circuits, he spent time with the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe and he was a gracious guest on all of the shows, inviting the average guy, the average runner to join him and his family as they ran the race with two things in mind - to have fun and to finish healthy.

Amby was stopped short of that goal on Mass Avenue in Boston because there was a terrible disturbance in the force, the force that guides all runners and marathoners.  The force of sportsmanship, competitiveness and the force of reaching deep into the human spirit was ransacked by a cowardly criminal act.  As some of the thousands of runners were crossing the finish line at Copley, two bombs detonated and the world changed again, sadly to the extreme far opposite side of righteousness and into the depths of hell where the cowards will exist in the afterworld.

The terror was extreme and the death toll rose from two to three souls overnight, and the police and authorities worked every waking hour to try their very best to restore order and to track down the criminals responsible for this act, but overnight the worst of the worst of the worst news surfaced.

The face of this act is that of an innocent eight-year old boy and his family.

Why?

At this early point in the criminal investigation, we do not know why.  We lash out against why, we try to figure out why, but we just don't know why.

Runners and fans, athletes and their families are as far away from political figures as you can get. They compete and they entertain us.  They are sportsmen and, ever increasingly, sports women. They are global citizens, especially at a world class marathon where people from all over the world come to celebrate their sport and test their endurance in a race where they must qualify to do so. Boston is history, it's the Wimbledon of running.  It is classy and it is beautiful, even on a 96-degree day like last year or a 32-degree day like so many before.

Hundreds of innocent people stood in Copley Square, many smiling and celebrating as their loved ones crossed the finish line.  Then, like New York in 1993 and 2001, like Atlanta in 1996, like countless other cities and towns - in the USA and worldwide - we experienced the cowardice of crime and terrorism inserted, once again, into our daily lives.

Why?

That is the question my little girl looked up and asked of me yesterday afternoon when she didn't know an 8-year old was murdered. Now, with the (even more) terrible news of an 8-year olds fate, that is the question every parent is being asked again today, many by a youngster who will relate to the late Martin Richard.

None of us have an answer and unfortunately, there's a good chance we never will.