Author Archives: doncollins3

Dear Maya

Dear Maya,

Thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration. It goes deeper than basketball. I could talk all day about your career accolades. The rings, the stats, the awards. I could go on for days about it. But you already know that. As one of my favorite athletes, you have always captivated me with your abilities on the court. You represent something much more than basketball to me.

You’re hope. I think one of the most impactful things I’ve ever experienced was a sport and gender class last year. I learned so much more about the plight of the woman athlete. It was truly eye-opening, but it also made me more conscious than ever about what people say. I see the nasty things people say on message boards and comments. The Internet provides people the space to do so anonymously and without consequence. Yet you press on. It’s bigger than that.

I see the impact of representation. Your Jordan commercial was something to behold. The wave of kids you inspired from using your platform in such a way is uniquely special. Count myself in as well. I see visions of a world being shaped by our current-day athletes that will allow me to tell my children they can do anything. That nothing can hold them back. As athletes, whether you think it’s fair, you all have an enormous reach. I want to thank you for being a great role model.

I wrote an article a while back [See: “Why can’t I buy a WNBA jersey?” on this site]. I was griping about not being able to purchase your jersey that day. I should have been a bit more patient as the next day it was available on the team store. However, I am a man of my word. Today, I’ll be rocking one of my favorite player’s threads seeing her play for the first time in person. Please try not to give out too many buckets today against the Sky. They are still my hometown team.

You’re a walking legend. On and off the court. And for that, I thank you.

Sincerely,

Don Collins

Why Can’t I Buy A WNBA Jersey?

By Don Collins

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) season tipped off Friday night, May 18 at 10 pm ET. The match-up featured the Dallas Wings vs. the Phoenix Mercury, with the Mercury winning, 86-78. This year marks the 22nd year of existence for the WNBA. Let me be the first to say that last year’s Final was compelling and awesome. Here’s to another successful season.

If I have any gripes about the 2018 season, it is that I sought to purchase the jersey of one of my favorite basketball players of all time: Minnesota Lynx forward, Maya Moore.

maya-moore-lynx

Minnesota Lynx Forward Maya Moore

Let me clarify. I could not purchase an officially licensed jersey from the WNBA team store. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to order some poorly made jersey from eBay and hope that the stitching stays together. It wasn’t just Moore’s jersey that was unavailable. Almost every player in the league was missing their threads online, save for a few.

My problem became something I wanted to write about because I was curious and decided to make my way to the NBA G League page just to compare. Granted, there was an absence of replica jerseys there as well, but I could purchase a customizable jersey for the team I searched.

I’m not naïve, I know that the revenue for the G League and the WNBA isn’t the same as the NBA, but to be fair, I DON’T CARE. These are the premiere women athletes and yeah, I want the option to purchase a Maya Moore jersey. And Elena Delle Donne’s. And Skylar Diggins-Smith’s. And Candace Parker’s. I think you get it.

At the time of this writing, there very well could be a plan of action in place to create the apparel. If so, then alright, I’m ecstatic. But if not, I think Nike needs to get on it and expand the line. I’m talking jerseys, hats, t-shirts, etc. I’m going to one of the two games the Lynx play in Chicago this year against the Chicago Sky and even though my hometown team  is hosting (and I want them to be successful), I would much appreciate rocking my #23 jersey.

Did The Toronto Raptors Fix Their Problem?

By Don Collins

The Toronto Raptors have relieved Dwane Casey of his duties as head coach. The team made the move after the sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Another year of not advancing past James and company apparently was enough to hand the coach his pink slip. After winning 320 games in seven seasons, I wonder what Toronto is going to do to upgrade from Casey.

Look, I get it, you probably should not get swept by this current iteration of the Cavs, but this feels like a knee-jerk reaction. After posting 59 wins and being the number one seed in the Eastern conference, to fire your coach because his team succumbed to the greatest player of all time is not the course of action I would take. Is it not better to allow the team to learn from this most recent loss? Or is three years of falling to James enough? I don’t cut the checks, but some factors must be examined.

My concern for the Raptors is that they won’t find the greener pastures they are seeking. Recently, several franchises have experienced various degrees of success in replacing a successful coach with a new one to try to reach the pinnacle of the NBA. In this case, I see more of what the Chicago Bulls did with Tom Thibodeau than what the Golden State Warriors did with Steve Kerr.

This is a team that, for better or for worse, must try to figure it out when it comes to LeBron James. They are not swimming in cap space so unless a trade comes, they will have to rely on the duo of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan to figure it out. I’m not too sure a leadership change from the most successful coach in team history was necessary. Allowing continuity to improve a team with a deep roster without clear on-the-court upgrades surely was an option and I wonder why it was not chosen. For the time being, LeBron is still the mental hurdle the group must overcome regardless of who is in charge.

In the past few days, the Raptors surely discussed how they could reclaim Toronto from the vice grip LeBron has on their prospects for a championship. Firing the coach is one way to try and fix the problem and it is common with a lot of teams. A new voice may be able to get better out of the same ingredients, but it’s a calculated risk that could be deemed unnecessary if the new coach experiences a decrease in success.

Casey did a wonderful job during his time in Toronto. His tenure is not defined by failed expectations but rather by exceeded ones. Championship or bust is a reality in the NBA, but that mentality can be the untimely demise of an entire era of a team.

The King’s Court?

By Don Collins

(Collins – below left, with Bre Moorer and Randy Norman)

IMG_0935

Sheesh. I was wrong. Not about LeBron James. He’s been his usual brand of excellence. You could argue this is the best he’s ever played. No, I was wrong for another reason: the state of the Cavaliers. I want to issue a public apology to the Indiana Pacers. On my podcast, Can’t Be Stopped, I was making predictions and I chose the Cavaliers (like any normal human being outside of the Hoosier state would) and I said they would dispatch them in the minimum four games. I never would have imagined what would happen next.

IMG_0904

Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

I was able to get a first-hand look at the Cavaliers’ first attempt to eliminate the Pacers. I was fortunate enough to be in Indiana for Game 6 and from the beginning it was clear that Indiana would not be going quietly. The mere fact that it was even in a Game 6 was unfathomable going into the series.

Indiana did not get swept. In fact, they were the better team the entire series. How is it possible, you ask? It was a continuation of what they had done all year. Indiana was 3-1 against the Cavs going in and I was blind to the fact that they had handled them up until LeBron used his powers to somehow will his team to victory.

I was able to see just how poorly this Cavaliers team can perform. Game 6 ended with a final score of 121-87. LeBron finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. The benefit of going to the game live was that I was able to see plain as day that no one else contributed statistically. On television, you often just get to focus on the bottom line. LeBron is producing, and they will show a graphic totaling the rest of the team’s stats. Being in person, I was able to see the whole scope of how Indiana attacked them and vice versa. Reading the program for the evening showed the disparity of the series: LeBron was averaging 34.8 points per game and the next highest was Kevin Love with 11.8. That is insanity.

The other thing that makes going to an NBA playoff game in person so special is just the atmosphere. Most 34-point blowout wins on television are causing me to change the channel. Being present changes so much due to the energy level of seeing the home team destroying the other team. I had never been to a Pacers’ home game and I can say that while I still love Bulls’ home games the most, Indy was an excellent venue.

LeBron did his job, however, in the long run and they sent the Pacers home for the summer, but I will not underestimate them in the future. I learned that just because a team isn’t in the regular rotation of TNT games doesn’t mean they can be taken lightly.

Indy coming to play for 7 games has repercussions going forward. I normally do not doubt LeBron but seeing how much energy he spent while getting hounded by Indy makes me worry about the chances he keeps his Finals appearances streak.

IMG_0999

Is LeBron getting beat up too much?

Lebron is functioning at the height of his powers and I don’t know if he can keep this pace up. Or if it would even matter as the teams get better. Especially with the Raptors looking legit this year. Time will tell.

2018 NFL Broadcasting Boot Camp Through My Eyes

By Don Collins

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is like my second home. Ever since I first set foot on campus, I have loved my time here. One of the deciding factors for my enrollment at BGSU was how much like home it seemed and this spring I had an experience that felt like Christmas to me.

Bowling Green was the host of the 2018 NFL Broadcast Boot Camp that was put together by the NFL’s Player Engagement department. I was absolutely honored to be chosen as an ambassador for the four-day event. The event was an opportunity for current and former players to practice and develop their skills in the world of sport media.

As an ambassador, I was tasked with assisting a group of players with getting to and from sessions in a timely manner (which I found out was wishful thinking!). I was assigned a group by way of randomly drawing from sheets of paper. Usually I have bad luck picking things randomly. Not this time.

My group was awesome, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I must start at the beginning. The first day, I had to round up the troops prior to their first session. I can’t lie, I was a little nervous meeting 8 former players who all had on suits that made me feel like I needed a major wardrobe upgrade.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the course of the day, I was able to sit in on all the sessions but also get to know more about them. This part of the Boot Camp for me was one of the best in my opinion. So much of what we see as consumers of the media is filtered through somebody else’s viewpoint. Without getting too detailed, I feel like everyone has an expectation of what professional athletes are like due to what we’ve been told, not what we’ve experienced.

My number one goal prior to the Boot Camp was something I tend to always do: Treat people as people. Granted, the people I was with for four days were giants compared to my stature, but at the end of the day, pro athletes are people as well.

One highlight of the camp was getting to know the individual personalities that each player possessed. Particularly in my group, each guy had something that I thought would serve them well in their future careers. The camp offered them a chance to see what medium best delivered that side of themselves to the consumers of sport media

The actual Boot Camp sessions were cool too. I attended almost every session and took detailed notes since this is going to be my profession as well! If the NFL Player Engagement office ever reads this, I want them to know that every session was very informative, and I learned a lot. Hopefully that means that if I took a lot away from the camp, then so did the players.

Two memories stick out to me from the Boot Camp. First was sitting down with Jerry Porter, Fred Jackson and Joselio Hanson on the set and discussing the upcoming NFL Draft and other football tidbits. For me, I am very conscious of the fact that nothing is guaranteed and that may have been my only time to share a set with these gentlemen, so I cherished the opportunity.

My second favorite memory took place on the last day of the camp. Talking to the players throughout the entire process of their culminating color commentary of this year’s Super Bowl was awesome. Seeing how they applied what they had been learning was great, but also the fun time taking pictures and sitting in on some of the sessions was a treat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On a personal note, this semester has been a blessing because everything seems to be happening right on time and perfectly. Ignoring the bumps along the road that come and go during a semester of college, I have never felt more comfortable with my career path and outlook. The Boot Camp literally brought tears to my eyes when it was over. Not because I was overcome with sadness that it was over, but because for four days, I felt like I was right where I needed to be. I am forever grateful to the people who gave me this opportunity, but also to the players for being the good people they are. Finally, I must shout out to my mom and dad. They have taught me the lessons necessary to be ready when the opportunity arises. It won’t be the last time that I’ll be ready.

Defying Expectations

By Don Collins

The month of March has provided the upfront and in your face approach to shattering what conventional wisdom says is possible. Every year around this time, millions of brackets are filled out in anticipation of the annual tournament. Every year, the games provide thrills, chills, sometimes spills, but above all else, entertainment.

The 2018 version of the tournament has been difficult to describe in my opinion. On one hand, the lack of a clear-cut consensus team to pick as the favorite can make some deem this year a “weak” tournament. This sentiment was never more present than the impossible coming to the forefront of not just plausible, but reality when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County upset #1 overall seed Virginia. The better team doesn’t always win, but the advantage Virginia has over UMBC should have resulted in a 30-point victory for UVA. But it didn’t.

Instead, opening weekend was a tone setter for defying expectations. That brings me to the now solidified Final Four. This year it consists of Michigan, Villanova, Kansas and Loyola-Chicago. It is not hard to pick which school doesn’t belong with the rest. The Ramblers have been on a war path so far in the tournament, but they represent for me a very interesting scenario.

By all accounts, this magical run has been what I consider the greatest sporting story in the city of Chicago since the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. At a time when the winter teams from the area are the worst they’ve been in quite some time (looking at you Bulls and Hawks), Loyola has stolen the show. When a Chicago team goes on a run, the only thing for a native to do is to cheer for the hometown team, right?

Loyola celebrating.jpg

The Ramblers picked an awesome time to go on this run. This coincides with my favorite college basketball team making their run at the chip. Yes, if you didn’t know, I am a Kansas fan. My bracket every year has those Jayhawks winning it all. Yup, you read that right, every year since I filled out my first bracket and got every Final Four participant right along with the champion, I’ve picked them to win the whole thing.

Unwavering faith and belief in my team has become something of a running joke both in society and amongst my friends. Kansas is one of the few teams whose only goal in a season involves winning a title. Fair or not, anything less is seen as a disappointment. So, the future Hall of Fame head coach, Bill Self, has had his legacy called into question and many players leave “less accomplished” somehow because they didn’t survive until the very end in the past decade.

Kansas, in a weird twist of fate, has become an underdog of sorts when it comes to March Madness. Not a true one, of course, because they have the talent to go on a run every year. No, they defy much different expectations: the impossible ones that deem your successes failure simply for failing to hoist a trophy.

kansas_loss.jpg

On a personal level, these two being in the Final Four is nothing short of exciting. My best friend, Gia, is a Loyola alum and to see her alma mater’s history altering ways bring pure happiness to her has been flat out amazing. Normally, anything that’ll put a smile on her face is pre-approved in my book. So, even though it’ll eliminate the team I had facing Kansas in the championship game, I’ll be pulling for Loyola to upset Michigan this weekend. But if Kansas then takes care of business against Villanova, a respected bunch of guys with championship pedigrees themselves, things get interesting.

The duality of the situation is so intriguing to me. Basketball is not the thing that Gia and I usually bond over, but here we are in the middle of March dedicating time to discussing this highly improbable event. Both of our teams, for wildly different reasons, aren’t supposed to be here. Loyola, an 11-seed, was supposed to be bounced a few games ago. And Kansas? Oh, they were supposed to choke around the same time, wilting under the pressure of March.

But, here we are. What was deemed the worst group Bill Self has had in the past decade is knocking on the doorstep of doing what none of his other teams have done since 2008. And the little team from Chicago is still on their path to making history.

Sports are truly one of a kind. They have the power to connect in ways you never thought possible. So, G, I hope that Sister Jean’s team continues this wonderful run. I also hope my team wins it all, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.

Lamar Jackson, Quarterback

By Don Collins

It’s officially NFL Draft season. No doubt every prospect will have every aspect of their game pored over in a manner like never before in their careers. There will be some risers and fallers at every position, but none will be more criticized than the quarterback (QB) position. Every QB comes with a perceived risk in this upcoming draft class and teams will be looking to see how to navigate their shortcomings and groom them to become franchise carriers.

My issue comes with how the media is handling one NFL prospect – Lamar Jackson from the University of Louisville. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe not. Just in case, here he is during his Heisman Trophy winning 2016 campaign. Surely, he deserved a shot to play QB in the NFL after this impressive campaign, right? Unfortunately, Lamar had to return to Louisville for another season to fulfill his required three years in college. What did he do to follow up his sensational season? He improved on it!

One of the rumblings circling through the media during the buildup to Day 2 of the Combine was that Jackson had been asked to switch to wide receiver (WR). This isn’t a particularly odd thing for teams to do for fringe QB prospects that have struggled with mechanics or inconsistent play. What’s odd is that Jackson is a bona fide prospect who even declined to run at the combine.

Take a second to let that sink in. A player who is projected to go late first/second round is being asked to switch positions after not catching a single pass in college. This narrative of denigrating an African American QB’s ability to do what he’s done his entire life is something that seemingly always lurks in football. The NFL has a documented history of slighting Black QB’s, but this is something truly strange.

Bill Polian, respected retired General Manager, has been adamant about his belief that Jackson is best suited at WR at the next level. In an ESPN appearance in February, Polian said “I think wide receiver. Exceptional athlete, exceptional ability to make you miss, exceptional acceleration, exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand and that’s rare for wide receivers. That’s *AB, and who else? Name me another one, Julio’s not even like that” (Lyles, 2018, para. 3). Polian continued by saying, “Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are. The accuracy isn’t there.” (Lyles, 2018, para. 4)

Are you serious??? Lamar was more accurate than consensus top 3 QB Josh Allen. He’s taller than Baker Mayfield. He is, in my opinion, the player who did the most ‘backpacking’ of his University in the past few seasons (Backpacking = putting the team on his back and carrying them further than they could have gone without him).

I am not clamoring for Lamar Jackson to be picked first in the draft. I’m simply asking him to be given the opportunity to continue playing his position.

*AB = Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

References

Lamar Jackson. (2018). Sports-Reference.com  Retrieved from https://www.sports-

reference.com/cfb/players/lamar-jackson-1.html

Lyles, H. (2018, February 19). Bill Polian has a bad opinion about Lamar Jackson (again!).

     SBNation. Retrieved from https://www.sbnation.com/2018/2/19/17027762/bill-polian-lamar-

jackson-nfl