Published August 06, 2012
Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are two of the most dominant Olympians ever. Is either the greatest Olympian of all-time? Time to answer everything from the weekend, except that, in the Monday Morning Jones.
So Usain Bolt, perhaps the most delightfully -- and justifiably -- cocky athlete at the Summer Olympics, decimated his competition...but did have the most dominant performance of the weekend? Or the most talked about victory celebration? Yeah, it was that kind of weekend. Let's get into the Monday Morning Jones.
Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian of all-time? I don't know. Neither do you or anyone who claims to. It's hard enough to figure out who's the greatest football player of all-time, given all the difference specialized positions, but somehow we're supposed to compare Phelps to Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, Alexander Karelin, Téofilo Stevenson or Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Yes, Phelps has more medals than anyone in history. He also participates in a sport where competing in so many events -- and starting one's Olympic career at 19 -- is possible, which few non-swimmers can say.
But here's the best part -- it doesn't matter if Phelps is the greatest. All that matters is, for three Olympiads, he dominated. He demonstrated a strength, versatility and resilience few will ever forget. And after Phelps' victory lap in London started off looking like it could taint his legacy, he recovered and fortified his resumé with four more gold medals. Without question, he's the greatest swimmer who ever lived. Adding hyperbole to his already unbelievable feats misses the point. We'll never forget him. There's no need to overthink that, because nothing else really matters.
Plus, there's Usain Bolt. In spite of all Phelps' achievements in Beijing, it took Bolt just 9.69 seconds to become the biggest star of the ‘08 Games. It too just 9.63 seconds Sunday to remind us that the next week of the Games belong to him. He dominated the greatest 100 meters field in history, avenging his loss to Yohann Blake at the Jamaican Olympic trials and breaking the Olympic record he set four years ago. It didn't look as easy as it did in ‘08, when he may as well have moonwalked across the tape. This year, he simply blew the field away with his eyes on the clock the whole time.
The scary part? The 200 meters has always been his best event (remember, he began running the 100 in 2007), meaning Bolt's week will probably get better. Unless something significant happens, Bolt will leave London with another three gold medals. That will leave us with four years to wait and see whether he'll try to be the first man to win gold in the 100 meters three straight times, or whether he'll shoot at becoming the first to win gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. And maybe then that'll put Bolt in this "greatest Olympian ever" debate, too.
He'll always have London...sorta. Let's be clear -- Andy Murray's gold medal in tennis is not a substitute for a Grand Slam victory, even though he trounced Roger Federer to avenge his loss at Wimbledon this year. But man, could anyone ask for a more reasonable facsimile than what Murray got Sunday? He took Federer apart, losing three games in the first two sets. Though the crowd -- and everyone who's ever watched Murray in a big match -- couldn't count this as a victory until "God Save The Queen" started on the medal stand, he never lost his cool or confidence against one of his nemesis. And, duh, he did it in front of a hometown crowd that's been thirsty to see one of their own win at Wimbledon. It finally happened on Sunday and, even if only for that day, it didn't matter that it wasn't really Wimbledon.
But by next June? Yeah, it'll be like this never happened. Soak it up today, Andy. They won't care about it tomorrow.
Oh Serena... The women's final featured two of the six women to win the career Grand Slam in the open era. But after what Serena Williams did to Maria Sharapova on Centre Court, it was clear there was just one all-time great on the lawn. Williams was done with Sharapova in a little more than an hour and delivered a beating that left spectators feeling legitimately feeling sorry for third-ranked player in the world. In case anyone forget who the best player of her generation was, she brought home that gold and another in doubles with her sister Venus. She has carried the banner for American tennis for more than a decade, and now she's done it at the event where such things are said to matter most. But...
...then she did that dance. I wasn't bothered Serena did the Crip Walk -- or, maybe, the Blood Walk -- at the All England Club, largely because there mere thought of such mischief brings a smile to my face. However, I fully understood why Reid Forgrave of FOXSports.com expressed disapproval in his column, and why L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke did the same on Twitter. Sure, one could say kids in the suburbs do the same thing, but Williams isn't a kid from the suburbs. She's from Compton, and she knew damn well what she was doing.
Thing is, we don't know what she was doing, as is typically the case when someone does anything gang-related in sports. As much as people would love to only see gangs through the prism of crime and violence, they mean many things to many people. Where folks like Plaschke saw Serena promoting violence, others could see her simply showing love to where she came from. Right now, none of us know what it really was.
This shouldn't start a controversy (though, given that the cable news folks already picked it up, one will probably come). It could be a way for sports to start an interesting conversation about gangs that could teach sports fans a lot about the players they're so quick to demonize. Unfortunately, if the issues aren't simply black and white, too many fans and media members aren't interested. But, I'll try to do my part and share this interview I did with Jim Brown in 2008 on a very similar topic.
Don't get your hopes up, Argentina. Team USA had its first Murphy's Law sort of game against Lithuania Saturday, trailing in the fourth quarter before pulling out a 99-94 win. Kobe Bryant was invisible. As a team, they shot 19-for-31 from the free throw line and 10-for-31 from 3-point range. Lithuania dared the Americans to shoot jumpers as they packed it in defensively, and the U.S. obliged with brick after brick.
After their video game performance against Nigeria, a letdown was predictable. And given the nature of basketball, it stood to reason there would be at least one night this team wouldn't be able to buy a basket. Those happened at once, and Team USA still won. They're still the best team in this tournament and, unlike chief rival Spain, they're still undefeated. No matter what anyone says, USA Basketball remains the surest bet to earn a gold medal in any sport at the London Games. And their next opponent, Argentina, will probably wish the Americans weren't facing them with something to prove. It could get oogly.
Preseason football is here, and the refs will be soon. The replacement NFL refs looked a lot like what they are -- guys who aren't even good enough to officiate in college. The missed holding call in the first quarter on Levi Brown -- worth two points for the Saints, since it happened in the end zone -- was the sort of egregious mistake that almost ensures that the officials' lockout won't last long. When the players were locked out, the league could withhold its entire product, cut players off from paychecks and trust the public would back management over labor. With the refs? The show doesn't stop, and it's quickly made clear the league needs the best men it can find to maintain order on the field. Just like the last officials' lockout in 2001, that took just one game. Ed Hochuli's gun show will resume soon.
It got heavy in Canton. This year's Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony will be marked by Curtis Martin's remarkably candid speech, a graphic look at the torment of his abusive father, the toll it took on his mother, and how it's driven him as an adult. At times, it was too much, especially when ESPN's cameras showed his mother's face while Martin talked about her devotion to such a horrible man. But if there was anything viewers could take from Martin's words, it's how little we truly know about the men we cover, demonize and idolize.
So many see athletes as being entitled and spoiled, but few know how much even the most fortunate stars have to do to reach those heights. And many are blissfully unaware of how many are driven and dogged by demons, fighting like hell to make sure they never have to go back to whatever and wherever they came from. They make their livings giving the appearance of indestructibility. But they live their lives as men. Saturday night, Martin overshared. But thank goodness that, in spite of having so much to say, he made it to that podium in Canton to tell his story.
Black and yellow, black and yellow... The Pirates helped cool off the Reds, splitting four at Cincinnati this weekend. The Bucs remain 4.5 games behind Cincy, but this weekend did plenty to solidify their places as a real-live threat to win the National League. St. Louis, with its league-best +107 run differential may still catch Pittsburgh and take one of the two Wild Card spots, but pay close attention to the rest of the Pirates' schedule. While they struggle on the road -- their 28-30 mark is the worst of the top three Wild Card contenders -- they've played nine more games on the road than they have at PNC Park. At home, they're the best team in the NL, meaning this will probably be the year Pittsburgh finally gets over losing Barry Bonds in 1992.
R.I.P. Garrett Reid. There's no worthwhile sports angle to this death. Maybe one might wonder how this will affect his father, Andy, as a coach, but I can't get far enough past what happened to think of that. Forget how Andy Reid will coach. How does he even get out of bed tomorrow? I lost my best friend my junior year of college, and the memory of his parents staring at the open casket at the wake remains one of the saddest of my life. Burying their children is one burden parents should never have to endure. Please join me in wishing the best to all those who loved and knew Garrett Reid.