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The Business of Sports

Show Me The Money

When the infamous words “Show me the money!” in Tom Cruise’s blockbuster movie Jerry Maguire came out in 1996, Hollywood brought attention to the world of sports and entertainment agency. Since Cruise’s classic, Hollywood has highlighted the glitz and glam associated with that world – the big egos, flashy athletes and everything in between. America has seen Ari Gold in the HBO tv series, Entourage and most recently, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson in HBO’s comedy-drama series, Ballers.

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Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire), Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold (Entourage) and Dwayne Johnson (Ballers), all portray the hustle behind the glitz and glam of sports agency. 

 

It sounds fun, doesn’t it? Scouting and identifying talent, working with professional athletes, and getting paid millions of dollars in commissions on big 7-figure contracts … who wouldn’t want to do it? Oh and you don’t necessarily have to have a JD, MBA or PHD from a top 10 school to be qualified to do it … if you have the rolodex of contacts, the savviness to build those relationships, and fortitude to build a reputation of trust, and maybe a little luck, you’re right there.

So let’s cross from Hollywood into what the sports agency landscape looks like in reality today.

To a large extent, Hollywood is not far from the truth. The spots agency business is booming. Media right deals, salary caps and the size of professional athletes’ contacts are bigger than ever. In Forbes’ 2017  ranking of the “World’s Most Valuable Sports Agencies,” the firms featured have negotiated a collective $43 billion in current professional athlete contracts, netting over $2.1 billion in commissions, nearly a 10% increase from 2016.

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CAA, the number one sports agency in the world, lands 5 out of the 20 most successful individual sports agents. 

There is one agency that is head and shoulders above the rest. Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Their total in contracts managed is larger than the next three top agencies combined at $8.5 billion (equating to $318 million in commissions). CAA leads the way in football and hockey, and is only second behind to Excel Sports Management in basketball. CAA has 5 of the top 20 compensated sports agents:

  • #9, Pat Brisson – Hockey – $44.05m in commissions
  • #11 Tom Condon – Football – $42.17m in commissions
  • #16 Nez Balelo – Baseball – $28.92m in commissions
  • #17J.P. Barry – Hockey – $28.75m in commissions
  • #18 Todd France – Football – $27.95m in commissions

*Scott Boras (with Boras Corp) ranks #1, earning $108.33M in commissions via baseball.

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The world’s most lucrative sports agent, Scott Boras (right), sitting side by side his client Max Scherzer. Boras negotiated Scherzer’s 7 year $210 million contract. 

CAA’s biggest contracts include Matthew Stafford’s 5 year $135 million deal with the Detroit Lions, Robinson Cano’s $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, and Patrick Kane’s 8 year, $84 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Right behind CAA is Jeff Schwartz’s Excel Sports Management who may be the quickest growing sports agency company, acquiring an increase of over $300 million in contracts last year. Managing a roster of over 60 NBA players, including Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Andre Drummond, Excel has dominated the basketball space.

 

Behind Excel, is LA based, Wasserman, with about $2.7 billion in contracts. Wasserman recently acquired European soccer agency Mondial Partners, which makes them  the No. 1 ranked agency in soccer combined with its domestic soccer division.

Rounding out the top 5 is Independent Sports & Entertainment at No. 4 and Octagon at No. 5.

The sports agency business has traditionally had several barriers to entry. In fact, the top 5 conglomerated sports agencies in the world represent over one third of all professional athletes. While the top 40 agencies representing 3,6000 clients, this equates to about 60% of pro athletes in the top 4 US sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA).

Today, a 24 and a 25 year-old out of New York City are dispelling that stigma. Two years ago, Andrew Hoenig and Daniel Hazan became the youngest agents with a player on a NBA roster with the New York City Knicks Jameel Artis. Today they have 20 clients and have negotiated 11 contracts. Neither of them were certified agents when they started, nor did they have many contacts, so they networked organically by adding athletes on Facebook while taking them to D-League open tryouts, paying for their travel and they learned the business instantaneously on their own. And while they still consistently loose guys they recruited (many of times starting at the beginning of an athletes’ 4 year high school career) to the big agencies like CAA, Excel and Wasserman who come in at the last minute and scoop up the highly talented.

Hazan and Hoenig are trying to develop their own niche specifically within the NBA. They are starting to get guys after they leave Wasserman, or CAA, who want more personal attention. For Artis, it was exactly that, “With me, it’s not about the age of the agent, not about how many people you are representing … They were all focused on me. They were all about Jame Artis getting in the right position.”

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Andrew Hoenis (left) and Daniel Hazan (right) negotiated their first contract wiht the Knicks for client Jamel Artis (center). 

While the vast majority of agents’ income is made through commissions on their clients’ contracts, the other component to it is marketing and endorsement. Hazan owns his own marketing company called New Generation Management which promotes events and products for Jonathan Simmons, JR Smith and Charles Oakley. Agents typically earn 20-25% from marketing and endorsement contracts. Typically, however, these endorsement earnings just make up 1-2% of their overall player contract.

Needless to say, the sports agency landscape is an interesting one … filled with big egos and lots of money. Whether you’re a young entrepreneur, a seasoned sports marketer, or even an ex-professional athlete, there is opportunity.

 

Soccer’s First American Superstar

I get asked every once in a while, “who is the best soccer player you’ve ever played against?” Having played Division 1 soccer at Georgetown for five years, semi-professionally with DC United U23’s as well as stints on trial with DC United and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, I’ve certainly played against several elite players. I’ve played against Herman Trophy winners Joseph Lapira and O’Brien White, International heroes like Andre Blake and Jaime Moreno, and MLS all-stars like Charlie Davies and Dwayne De Desario. The answer, however, is clear as day … that is, 19-year-old Christian Pulisic.

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Myself and Jaime Moreno (MLS’ All-Time Leading Goal Scorer) challenging for a header

At the time I played Pulisic, he was merely 15 years old … and needless to say it was a humbling experience. He was playing with the U17 US Men’s National Team down at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL against my amateur men’s team, the St Petersburg Kickers, a perennial men’s amateur powerhouse and national champion contender. Despite our Kickers team being made up of ex D1 college guys and ex pro’s in their “prime” (20’s and early 30’s), we lost to Pulisic and their group of 15 and 16’s year olds by a score of 4-1, with Pulisic leading the way with a few goals to his credit.

 

As difficult a score-line that is for me to admit; at the time, I’m not sure I would have readily said that the little 15-year-old center midfielder was the best player I had ever played against. He wasn’t running by anyone or muscling people off the ball (given his age and physical maturation), but his technique, vision and ball control were unquestionably the best on the pitch (despite being half the age of many).  And with a hat-trick and an assist in the stat sheet, he was clearly the man of the match.

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Christian Pulisic played on both the U15 and U17 US Youth National Teams while training down at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. 

Fast forward to today, about four years later. Before having turned 19 years old (which he did on September 18th), Pulisic has had 9 goals in 60 club games (regular starter for Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s 1st Division) and has 7 international goals in 18 games to his name for the US National Team. In comparison, before Lionel Messi turned 19, he had a similar 9 club goals in 34 club games but only 2 international goals in 9 international games. Nor was Christiano Ronaldo as dominant as Pulisic at that age, with only 6 club goals in 53 club games before the age of 19 and 0 international games to his credit.

 

Featured on CBS’s national “60 Minutes” last Sunday night, Pulisic has already become a celebrity and the face of American soccer. In fact, US Men’s National Coach, Bruce Arena, calls him soccer’s “first American superstar.” Despite the lofty words, it’s hard to argue. Earning $8 million a year with one of Germany’s top clubs, performing better than any other US National Team member at the moment, and having just turned 19 two weeks ago, I tend to agree with Coach Arena’s proclamation as the first American soccer superstar.

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Why is he different? What has allowed Pulisic to stand out this much in a country that is continuously ridiculed across the world for their lack of homegrown soccer talent. Before we talk about the play, I think it’s actually more important to understand the environment he has been put in (as well as removed from) to allow him to grow and mature as a player.

 

  1. US National Team Early – Pulisic started playing with the US Youth National Teams at the age of 14 where he played with both the U15 and U17 teams. He was a captain of the U17 team and scored 20 goals in 34 games through his 2-year cycle with them. This exposure at international events like the 2015 U17 World Cup in Chile where he had a goal and an assist put him on the radar for top international clubs and paved the way for him to Dortmund.
  2. No College Soccer – Despite both his parents playing collegiate soccer at George Mason, Pulisic did not go that route. While collegiate soccer is a great route for most (myself included), for the top 1-2% players in this country who will go on to play professionally and internationally, the game is oversaturated with under-talented players. For the most part, collegiate soccer promotes a direct, physical style of play that severely hinders the development of the more technical and skillful players and stunts their overall growth.
  3. Overseas – As much as the MLS has grown over the course of its 20+ year existence, the best soccer is still played overseas in Europe. Yes this is changing, but the reality is there is a reason why more people in this country choose to watch the EPL over the MLS … the quality.

 

As much of a team game that soccer is (more than any of the top 4 American sports – baseball, football, hockey and basketball), the importance of the playing environment a youth player acclimates too, is exponentially magnified.

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Pulisic’s combination of low center of gravity and speed allows him to dribble at a level that Americans ever never witnessed at his age. 

In looking at Pulisic’s actual game, there are really three attributes that he possesses that have allowed him to transcend the rest of the talent pool in the United States. And quite frankly, after Pulisic, should be weighted heavier when evaluating youth talent in this country. The first is God-given, and that is the combination of his low center of gravity (5’8’’) and speed. This allows him to dribble the ball more aggressively and effectively at defenders than any other player we’ve ever seen in this country at his age. Second … his technique. This may be his greatest asset. His touch, two-footedness, and range of pass, are the things that are immediately apparent when watching him play. His last attribute is largely environment-driven, and that is, his decision-making and vision. Pulisic plays as though he’s been playing at the international level for years (which he has, just not for very long with the US Men’s National Team). His 7 goals in 18 international games speak to his composure on and off the ball, ball speed, and decision making in the attacking third at the game’s highest level.

 

Hyping youth talent seems to have become a sports media cliché in the modern era. But numbers don’t lie … this kid has been better than the best in the game were at his age. And on Friday night, the United States plays in their most important game since their 2014 World Cup elimination game against Belgium, when they take on Panama in a World Cup Qualifier in Orlando, FL. The United States currently sit at fourth in World Cup Qualifying while Panama sits at third, with only the top 3 advancing to the 2018 World Cup. A win secures the US greater than a 90% chance of qualifying, while a loss would dramatically decrease their chances to 44%.

SPI Chance to Qualify

 

We’re at an incredibly pivotal time for the game of soccer in this country and the US National Team. We’re at an equally pivotal time in Christian Pulisic’s career, as he attempts to qualify for his first ever World Cup.

 

The country will be watching on Friday night.

In Danny, We Trust

Three months after meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs and Celtics completed an unprecedented swap of All-Star Guards, sending Kyrie Irving to Boston and Isaiah Thomas to Cleveland. And while the Boston faithful had been asking General Manager Danny Ainge to pull the trigger on a deal for quite some time with the accumulated assets the franchise had, the blockbuster trade received some mix reviews. But in looking at Ainge’s track record and fully dissecting the deal itself, I firmly believe Danny and the C’s franchise have just struck gold … once again.

Let’s look at Danny Ainge. In a ranking of the NBA’s top General Managers and Presidents, ESPN gave Ainge a score of 8.54 out of 10 – third best only behind the Spurs’ President and GM combo of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford and Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers. Ainge is best known for landing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007, essentially building a championship team overnight and paving the way for their 17th NBA Championship. Most recently, he assembled a treasure cove of draft picks in the Brooklyn Nets 2013 trade, sending Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and their unprotected first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Ainge proceeded to slowly rebuild the Celtics into a contender through a series of shrewd deals, most notably adding Jae Crowder in December 2014 and Isaiah Thomas in February 2015. Fast forward to the 2016-2017 season, and the Celtics finished first in the regular season Eastern Conference and held the first overall pick entering the 2017 NBA Draft.

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Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are rated by ESPN as the 3rd best GM and Head Coach in the NBA respectfully. While Ainge has been a mastermind in maneuvering the Celtics’ roster, Stevens has proven that he can take whatever personnel in front of him and deliver results. 

Danny has held the keys to the Ferrari for a little while now. He had built a top 5 team in the NBA on the floor while behind the scenes maneuvering his roster to build enough cap room to sign 1-2 big free agents and masterfully stockpiling enough draft picks to single handedly draft an NBA All-Rookie team. Now the 2017-2018 Celtics team features 10 new faces and only 4 returners, with many projecting a starting line-up of Irving, Hayward, Brown, Morris and Horford.

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With a top 10 (arguably top 5) NBA player in Kyrie Irving, another versatile All-Star in Hayward, 2 above-average bigs in Horford and Morris who both averaged above 14 ppg last year, two of the best youth talents in the game with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and a deep backcourt with Rozier and Smart backing up Brown and Irving, this team in most people’s opinion is an improvement from last year’s group.

While the odds didn’t change who the favorite is to win the East in 2018 (Cavs 4/1 and Celtics 10/1), the trade made sense for the Celtics on almost every level.

First, the Celtics needed a super-star … and they got one in Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie’s and Isaiah’s number were very similar last year (Kyrie – 25.2 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.8 rpg / Isaiah – 28.9 ppg, 5.9 apg, 2.3 rpg), Kyrie was doing that with the NBA’s best player beside him taking the majority of shots. In the NBA Finals and much of the playoffs, many felt Kyrie Irving outperformed Lebron James.  3 years younger than Thomas, Irving has already been named the Rookie of the Year, an All-Star 4 separate times (including winning an All-Star Game MVP) and winning the most important accolade of them all, an NBA Championship.

Second, Isaiah has plateaued. While Isaiah surprised a lot of people averaging 29 ppg, he was more of a source of entertainment than a legitimate centerpiece to help a team win a NBA championship. Don’t get me wrong Isaiah will be forever remembered in Boston for his contagious smile and courageous swagger. He went from being the last pick in the NBA draft to a name that was uttered in MVP conversations. Having said all that, Isaiah was a huge liability on the defensive side of the ball, and is considered one of the weakest defensive point guards in the NBA. Moreover, we have likely seen the best of Isaiah Thomas due to his season ending torn labrum injury that has been the source of a lot of discussion. In fact Isaiah’s injury almost killed the deal as it has been rumored that he is suffering from arthritis and loss of cartilage that it will impact the rest of his career.

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IT captured Celtics fans’ hearts and earned the nickname “King of the Fourth.” Injured and having come off his best season ever, Isaiah found the fortune of his own fate as Danny Ainge capitalized at the perfect time to replace him with the league’s best one-on-one scorer and the C’s long awaited superstar in Kyrie Irving.

And lastly, what about the rest of the deal? The Celtics had to give up Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, their 2018 Nets Pick and their 2020 Miami Heat 2nd round pick. Jae Crowder’s value immediately went down when the Celtics traded for Marcus Morris from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Avery Bradley. Morris’ numbers were actually better than Crowder’s in 2017, and possesses a very similar type of physical game that compliments Horford’s finesse game well down low. Zizic is an unproven 7 footer commodity, who is at least 2 years away from making any sort of potential impact. And lastly, the draft picks. While the 2018 Nets pick is nice, the Celtics also have the Lakers’ 2018 pick, Memphis’ 2019 pick and the Clippers’ 2020 pick tucked away.

Most would argue that Danny is not done. This team currently assembled cannot beat the Warriors in the NBA Championship and may struggle with the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, given the future picks and the available potential cap room, many believe bringing in a Kristas Porzingis from the New York Knicks or an Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans would be the final piece of the puzzle to make the 18th banner a legitimate possibility.

Porzingis, at over 7 feet tall and only 22 years of age, may fit the best. He is a phenomenal interior defender, efficient rebounder and can shoot the ball from beyond the arch.

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Kristaps Porzingis is a 22 year old Latvian forward who can shoot, defend and rebound. 

Meanwhile, Davis can do everything that Porzingis can do, but better. The 24 year old former Kentucky star averaged 28.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, while shooting 50.5% from the field last year. This deal, if it were to happen, would likely come after the All Star break after the Cousins – Davis combo is given a little more time to develop and prove itself (although this experiment has not gone exactly as planned). Moreover, the Celtics would likely have to give up Horford, either Tatum or Brown and their 2018 Lakers pick which is certainly quite a bit. The last potential option that has made it’s run through the trade-mill is Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Anthony Davis is a human highlight reel, averaging a double-double last year with 28 ppg and 12 rbg. 

While Gasol is an aging 32 year old Center, and is owed an average of $22.6 million through 2020, the proven veteran (3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA selection, 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year) is coming off career highs of 19.5 ppg and 4.6 assists. The Gasol deal would also make the 2019 Memphis pick more valuable and add a much needed veteran presence to what is otherwise a very young basketball team.

 

Ainge and the Celtics have started to move their chess pieces with the blockbuster Irving / Thomas deal. And while the consensus is they are one final move away from molding a team that could resemble the Celtics of the 80’s and 90’s, the Celtics’ faithful have every reason to be as excited as ever for the immediate future.

Needless to say, in Danny – we trust.

 

 

 

 

Mayweather vs McGregor: The Hype Was Long, the Fight Will Not Be

When Floyd “Money” Mayweather faces Conor McGregor in the ring tomorrow night at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the boxing world anticipates all box-office records to be broken, with 50 million people expected to watch the fight and as much as $700 million to be grossed by the contest. With both fighters’ obtaining purses well into the nine figures, Mayweather and McGregor figures to be the fight of the century. It’s unlike any fight we’ve seen before, with the greatest boxer of his generation and perhaps of all-time in Mayweather, going up against someone who has never thrown a punch in a professional boxing match in McGregor. It’s bad guy versus bad guy, with Mayweather being criticized for domestic abuse and McGregor being knocked for his racism.

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Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision in 2015, outlanding his punches at a 2 to 1 ratio on the overmatched Pacquiao.

“Pretty Boy Floyd” or “Money Mayweather” boasts a perfect 49-0 record with 26 knockouts, as he attempts to overtake former heavyweight legend, Rocky Marciano, who retired at Mayweather’s current record of 49-0. Mayweather is widely regarded as the best defensive boxer of all time, with quick, evasive movements and tactful strategy that has given him his perfect record at the age of 40. His net worth is estimated at $350 million, while this fight projects for him to more than double that net worth, with a $400 million dollar pay day.

Conor McGregor is the natural fan favorite as the underdog who grew up in the slums of Ireland and has maintained the persistence to overcome many obstacles. He started boxing at the age of 12, before quickly transitioning to MMA at the age of 15. However, he has never fought in a professional boxing match. In the UFC, he has boasted an impressive 21-3 record, with 18 of those 21 victories coming by knockout. He is known as a quick and violent striker who prefers to end fights quickly with his punching ability. This vastly contrasting style to Mayweather has caused confusion among the betting world.

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Conor McGregor has revolutionized the UFC world. On Saturday night he is not only fighting for himself, his country of Ireland, but the sport of MMA.

This will be the most bet boxing match in Nevada when the fight happens on Saturday, August 26th. But even the Las Vegas oddsmakers, with decades of experience, have been surprised by the betting patterns and where the lines may still go. After McGregor beat Eddie Alvarez at the UFC 205 in November, and speculation of the Mayweather/McGregor fight started, most books had Mayweather starting as a -2250 favorite with McGregor coming back at +950. When the fight became official, Mayweather dropped down to a -800 favorite, with McGregor coming back at +500. On Thursday, multiple 7 figure bets landed in Vegas on Mayweather which now, on Friday morning, has the fight at Mayweather -570 and McGregor at around +400.

Well, what does McGregor have going for him? To start, he’s younger, he’s bigger, and he’s fresher. It will have been 714 days for Mayweather between his last fight and this one against McGregor. McGregor is in his prime at 28 years young, with Mayweather being 12 years his senior at 40 years old. During their “World Tour,” McGregor thoroughly verbally abused Mayweather in attacking his age. Talented in his own right at promotion, McGregor talked a big game in predicting a huge victory for himself, and seemingly won over the majority of the world in rooting for the Irishman.

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Defense versus Offense. Experience versus Youth. Black versus White. America versus Ireland. Boxing versus MMA. Mayweather – McGregor is the most anticipated boxing match of all-time.

 

At the end of the day however, you cannot overlook the fact that the best boxer of his generation and arguably of all-time, is facing someone who has never competed in the sport. Is Conor McGregor a great athlete, an unrelenting competitor, and one of the best “fighters” the world has ever seen … yes. Does that mean he can quickly transition into the sport of boxing and beat the best in the sport … absolutely not. Boxing is a sport that requires finesse, skill, and experience. If you look at the training videos between the two fighters and listen to the boxing experts, Mayweather and McGregor are in two different hemispheres and I anticipate that to be exposed on Saturday night.

While Money Mayweather is not a knockout boxer, the discrepancy of skill between these two in the sport of boxing simply cannot be overlooked, and I believe point to a very one-sided affair. One in which will result in a quick end to the fight. The rich get richer, and Pretty Boy Floyd knocks out McGregor to capture the coveted perfect record of 50-0.

 

The Greatest Dynasty of All Time

sports dynasty is defined very concisely as a “team or individual that dominates their sport or league for an extended length of time.” Or more broadly defined by Merriam’s Webster Dictionary “a powerful group that maintains its position for a considerable time.”

The very nature of a dynasty evokes a physiological sense of envy. If you’re looking up from the bottom, “they’re cheaters!” … and if you’re at the top looking down, “they hate us cuz they ain’t us.” This lofty term could not ring any more true than it does with what now can be considered as one of the greatest professional sports dynasties in the modern  sports era … the New England Patriots.

Their story is one from a fairy tale … their star QB Drew Bledsoe going down against their hated rival (the New York Jets) in 2001, only for their 2nd year, 6th round draft pick QB Tom Brady to survive a snowstorm and invent the “Tuck Rule” against Oakland and go on to lead his team to their first ever Super Bowl win in 2001 as a -14 point underdog to the St Louis Rams. Since then, they have not had one losing season, they’ve won 15 divisional titles and played in 12 AFC Championship games, been to 7 Super Bowls, and are attempting to win their 5th Super Bowl title next Sunday. They’ve won 196 times (average of 13.75 wins per season) in the regular season since 2001 (next closest is the Colts with 166). In the playoffs, they have 24 victories (9 more than the next closest in the Steelers).

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Brady celebrates after defeating Oakland. The birth of the “Tuck Rule” allowed the Pats to maintain the football on a critical drive, setting the stage for Adam Vinatieri and the Patriots to win their first ever Super Bowl Title.

Undoubtedly, there has been controversy … whether it was “Spygate” in 2007 where Head Coach Bill Belichick was disciplined by the league for videotaping the Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from an unauthorized location, or it was “Deflategate” in 2015 where Tom Brady was accused of tampering with footballs in the AFC Title game against the Colts. $1 million dollar fines, loss of draft picks, and the suspension of their superstar players.  Most recently, there was a rule change surrounding Belichick’s deceptive offensive substitution methods which “unfairly” confused defenses. Oh and mixed in there, one of their star players was charged with murder and sentenced to life.

Before we digress any further, what this conversation should naturally lend itself to is the discussion of whether this Patriots franchise is truly the greatest dynasty in the history of sports or, perhaps more specifically, of the modern sports era?

Comparing dynasties is hard because you’re not comparing apples to apples … and thus there is some wiggle room based on how you evaluate league structure, salary cap constraints, league competitiveness and a number of other variables relative to the number of titles won over a period of time.

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Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are probably the most comparable modern sports dynasty (5  Titles in 17 years from 1999-2014) to the New England Patriots.

Let’s start with the NBA. You have the Boston Celtics who won 11 NBA Championships in the span of 13 years from 1957-69 led by Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. You have MJ’s Chicago Bulls who won 6 titles in 8 years (1991 – 98). And most recently the San Antonio Spurs, who have taken 5 NBA Championships in the last 17 years (’99, ’03, ’05, ’07 and ’14) under Tim Duncan. The difference between basketball and football is there are 5 players playing at one time for a team versus 11 in football. Historically it has been a sport that has catered to superstars being able to carry their team and thus much easier to dominate, just ask Lebron, MJ, Russell or Magic.

 

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Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics won 11 NBA Championships in 13 years from 1957-1969.

The MLB of course belongs to the Bronx Bombers, where the New York Yankees rattled off 16 World Series from 1936-64 in what started with the rise of Joe DiMaggio and ended with the twilight of Mickey Mantle. The caveat here was there weren’t any playoffs back then; rather, it was simply the team with the best record who went right to the World Series.

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Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees won 16 World Series titles from 1936-64.

The NHL’s best dynasty was the Montreal Canadians who won 16 Stanley Cup Finals from 1951-1979 … although at the time there were only 6 teams in the league and thus simply not comparable.

Two of the greatest dynasties in sports came from college basketball. John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins to 13 Final Four appearances and won 10 national titles from 1962-76,  and on the women’s side, Geno Aueriemma has led the UConn Lady Huskies to win 11 of the last 21 national championships. The Lady Huskies have been to nine straight Final Fours and have two separate win streaks of 90 or more games. While these are respectable in their own right, college athletics is simply not comparable to professional sports. The NCAA actually lends itself to “dynasties” by its very structure. There is no draft or salary cap, and so when a team wins a championship, they’re able to attract the best recruits in the country and consequently you see “rich get richer” phenomena … look at John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats and Nick Saban’s Alabama Tide.

 

The salary cap, the draft, numerous penalties (loss of draft picks, fines, suspensions), countless personnel changes … and through it all Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have built, what should be considered the greatest sports dynasty of the modern era.

If you live outside New England you hate them – the star QB is a little too perfectly polished, he’s a little too pretty, he has the supermodel wife, and has been accused of facilitating the deflation of footballs in one game; while the mastermind coach wears ragged hoodies, says absolutely nothing to the media, and has been accused of filming opposing coaches to gain a strategic advantage.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one cannot ignore the magnitude of what this New England Patriots team has accomplished over the last 16 years. An empire, a dictatorship, a dynasty …  you can call them whatever you want. They win.

And while their diehard fan-base loves coining commandments like “Do your job”, “In Belichick, We Trust” and “The GOAT” … if in fact this Patriots team does beat the Atlanta Falcons and Roger Goodell has to hand them their 5th Super Bowl trophy in 16 years next Sunday, there will be little doubt that this dynasty is the “Greatest of All Time.”

Best Opening Weekend of College Football Ever?

While many Americans prepare for their fantasy football drafts this weekend before the NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 8th, Christmas has come a week early for football fans with what ESPN is calling the “greatest opening weekend in college football history.”

 

When you look at these opening weekend match-ups, you’ll understand the hype. #1 Alabama vs #20 USC (Arlington, TX), #18 Georgia vs #22 North Carolina (Atlanta), #2 Clemson at Auburn, #5 LSU at Wisconsin (Green Bay, WI), #10 Notre Dame at Texas, #3 Oklahoma vs #15 Houston, #11 Mississippi vs #4 Florida State (Orlando, FL), #16 UCLA at Texas A&M, and Kansas State at #8 Stanford. Just a half decade ago, this would have seemed like an impossible dream as virtually no coach in the top 25 (or near the top 25) would gamble so early in the season. Traditionally, the opening weeks of the college football season have been riddled with blowout after blowout as coaches of top teams would schedule “cupcake games” to prepare their teams for their tougher conference schedule.

LSU
Leonard Fournette is one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Fournette and the LSU Tigers rumble with the Wisconsin Badgers at Lambeau Field this weekend.

Not anymore. The college football playoff selection committee has made it very clear that the strength of schedule will play a major role in the selection process for the four-team playoff. Scheduling philosophies changed seemingly overnight as athletic directors and coaches shifted focus.

 

In the old Bowl Championship Series that relied purely on mathematical formulas that favored undefeated records, teams had little incentive to schedule tough non-conference games. The key was getting to 12-0 or 13-0 with little consideration for fans, players or entertainment value. The tables have turned for the better.

 

To get a better picture of how incredible this opening weekend is; consider that this weekend has four non-conference games between preseason ranked teams; now consider that in 2009 there were four of those … the entire season. In the 2010 season there were only 5.

 

Another unique factor of the first weekend of college football is the simple economics of big neutral site games with USC and Alabama playing at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX; Georgia and UNC playing in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA; LSU and Wisconsin playing at Lambeu Field in Green Bay, WI; and Ole Miss taking on Florida State in the Orlando Citrus Bowl. The big, professional venues provide huge opportunities for both teams and conferences to cash in on these Labor Day Weekend matchups.

Alabama
The defending National Champions, the Alabama Sooners (led by Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin, left, and Nick Saban, right, Head Coach) will take on the USC Trojans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX on Saturday night on ABC.

The most watched game of the weekend should be the USC-Alabama matchup Saturday night at 8pm on ABC, which should challenge the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech season opener a decade ago as the most watched Saturday Night college football opener ever. While the best matchup of the weekend on paper will come on Monday night with #4 FSU and #11 Ole Miss.

 

Undoubtedly, the best opening weekend in college football in quite some time … if not, all time.

 

 

Historic Month of April Basketball

On Wednesday, the nation witnessed the most historic last day of the NBA regular season in its 70th year of existence. Not only did Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors break an NBA best regular season record with its 73rd win to top the 95-96 Chicago Bulls 72 win season, but Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points in his last ever basketball game. Oh and if that wasn’t enough action, the Boston Celtics overcame a 26-point deficit in a playoff-impacting game against the Miami Heat.

 

Not many people believed that the Golden State Warriors were going to top the season they had last year … well that’s exactly what they did. They added the exclamation mark on Wednesday by surpassing Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls with the best ever regular season record of 73-9. Steph Curry hit yet another milestone, hitting 10 three-pointers to cross the 400 mark … the first player to ever do that. While Curry is the engine that makes the Warriors go, the other half of the “Splash Brothers” duo, Klay Thompson, finished the year with 276 of his own threes, giving them the best two shooters in the league.

 

There is a saying that goes “records are meant to be broken.” Well, many experts thought that 72-10 record held by the ’95-’96 Bulls was one of those records that never was going to be broken. The fact that the Warriors did it in their last game, at home, made it all that much more special. Any sport fan, basketball fan or not, should appreciate the level of which Steph Curry and the Warriors are performing … it has never been done before and may very well, never happen again.

 

On the very same night, Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba, ended his career in historic fashion, dropping 60 points on the Utah Jazz. Easily considered one of the best ever to play the game, Kobe played 20 great seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. Announcing his retirement prior to the season, every game was a farewell to Kobe when he travelled to opposing arenas. Wednesday was the epic finale to the season-long Kobe farewell in true LA / Hollywood fashion. Twitter blew up with Kobe appreciation tweets, SnapChat had a geo-filter announcing it Black Mamba day … StubHub was selling tickets at $27,500 (and $900 to just get into the stadium).

 

Kobe’s career was eventful to say the least. From being one of the first players to be drafted right out of high school, to being accused of sexual assault, to winning 3 consecutive NBA championships, to being named an 18-time NBA All-Star … Kobe Bryant made a name for himself. He certainly had his critics who spoke out against his sexual assault allegations, to the way he conducted his retirement announcement, and even saying his 22-50 shooting performance in his last game was average. No matter what your view of Kobe Bryant is, what cannot be disputed is his impact on this generation of basketball fans, as he will forever be remembered as one of the best to ever play the game.

Kobe Bryant said good bye to the Los Angeles faithful, after completing his 20th and final NBA season on Wednesday night. He went on to score 60 points on 22-50 shooting.
Kobe Bryant said good-bye to the Los Angeles faithful, after completing his 20th and final NBA season on Wednesday night. He went on to score 60 points on 22-50 shooting.

Needless to say it’s been a very exciting month for basketball fans everywhere, as the college basketball season ended in dramatic fashion on April 4th, when Villanova upset UNC on a buzzer beater 77-74 in what was considered one of the best NCAA Championship finals ever. And today, the highly anticipated NBA playoffs begin.

 

While it is hard to imagine the NFL being replaced as the most popular league in this country, the NBA is certainly on its heels.

Why America Loves Steph Curry

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my college dorm room at Georgetown, watching this slender, baby-faced sophomore put a cinderella #10 seeded Davidson team on his back and upset my #2 seeded Georgetown Hoyas in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament in 2008. Stephen Curry scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half and rallied little Davidson from 17 points behind, past the Hoyas. While this upset would start a trend of early NCAA tournament heartbreak exits for the Hoyas, never would it be done in single-handed fashion as Curry managed to do it against JT III’s group in 2008.

 

A star was born.

Davidson's Curry celebrates after a three-pointer against Wisconsin during their NCAA basketball game in Detroit
Overlooked by each ACC school, Curry was given a shot by Davidson and he went on to break virtually every single NCAA 3-point record while leading Davidson to the Elite 8 in 2008.

Stephen Curry was overlooked by just about every power conference school in the country. Many ACC schools would not even invite him to walk on to their rosters, and Virginia Tech (where both of Steph’s parents excelled as student-athletes) didn’t even take a look at him. The beanpole guard out of Charlotte Christian School (NC) went on to Davidson, who took a chance on him. He proceeded to become the all-time leading scorer in Davidson basketball history (in just 3 years), was the 2009 NCAA Division 1 scoring leader, and the year before, broke the NCAA record for most 3-point field goals in a single season with 162.

 

People finally knew who Stephen Curry was.

StephCurry1
Steph Curry ended a 40 year NBA championship drought for Golden State after having an MVP season for the Warriors in 2014-15. 

Taken 7th by the Golden State Warriors in the 2009 NBA Draft, Curry has electrified the NBA. Obviously his MVP and title-winning season last year followed up with unworldly 24-0 winning streak to begin this 2015-16 NBA season has highlighted his unprecedented NBA career. Yesterday, Steph Curry was named the 2015 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, beating double major winner Jordan Spieth and Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah.

PicPlayPostPhoto
American Pharoah (top) and Jordan Spieth (bottom), were the runner-ups in the 2015 AP Male Athlete of the Year voting after their own respective record breaking years.

While his stats, records and awards document his greatness, his immense popularity is far less tangible. Unlike most NBA greats (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James) who commonly rely on their height and athletic ability, Curry’s game relies on skills that he has developed: shooting, dribbling, and passing. His underdog story of not receiving any major scholarship offers coming out high school, being the third point guard taken in the 2009 draft, and a below-market contract extension three years ago, speaks to his perseverance and grit.

 

America likes rooting for the underdog.

 

His jersey is now the bestseller in the league. His team’s games get record television ratings at home and in opposing markets. He has built Under Armour into a $3 billion sportswear company. His 3-year-old daughter, Riley, has become a star in news conferences. As ESPN analyst Jalen Rose puts it, “Steph allows us into his living room. [America] is watching him on a national stage be a son, a dad, a husband, a father, a brother. And he does all of it while continuing to improve.”

StephCurryAndRiley
Steph Curry and his 3-year old daughter, Riley, at a playoff postgame press conference. 

Steph Curry is human and that is why America loves him.

Signs Support Super Bowl Showdown in Santa Clara

I really do not like to hype up major sporting events, but when I do, there is usually a good reason. I understand it’s only the day after Christmas, but it’s not too early to start looking at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. And if everything goes as planned in the AFC and NFC playoffs in January and the best teams in the NFL “hold serve”, the biggest sporting event in America will pit the undefeated Carolina Panthers against the defending champions, New England Patriots.

Super Bowl 50 will be the first Super Bowl logo not to have roman numerals in it. It will also be played in the league's newest, most technologically advanced venue, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.
Super Bowl 50 will be the first Super Bowl logo not to have roman numerals in it. It will also be played in the league’s newest, most technologically advanced venue, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

The storylines would be innumerable. On what will be the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, you would have the NFL’s biggest surprise (and quite likely undefeated) in the Carolina Panthers against the team who has owned the NFL for the last 15 years in the New England Patriots. You would have the League’s two best quarterbacks and front-runners to win the MVP in Cam Newton and Tom Brady. The cocky “Dabbin’ Superman” versus the humble “Golden Boy.” You would have a rematch of Super Bowl 38, in which the Patriots narrowly won 32-29. You would have the northeast part of the country rooting for the Patriots to win their 5th super bowl in 15 years, while just about everyone else (including Roger Goodell and the NFL)  rooting for the Panthers, who have not won a Super Bowl in their twenty seasons as an NFL franchise.

Cam Newton, and his infamous "Dab", has taken the NFL by storm this season by leading the Panthers to an undefeated record.
Cam Newton, and his infamous “Dab”, has taken the NFL by storm this season by leading the Panthers to an undefeated record.

Of course, many people will say “it’s way to early to predict a Panthers and Patriots Super Bowl.” First, you have the Pittsburgh Steelers who are coming off impressive wins over both the Bengals and the Broncos. The red hot Steelers will likely get their chance at a rematch of their season opener against the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round. In the NFC, the Seahawks currently look better than when they won the NFC the last two years. If the Panthers manage to get past them in the NFC Divisional Round, they’ll likely have a very good Arizona Cardinals team in the NFC Conference Championship. Moreover the Panthers have been miraculously holding on in games against the Packers, Saints and most recently the Giants, which suggest an eventual fourth quarter collapse is inevitable. The Patriots, meanwhile, have been devastated by injuries to Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung, Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower, not to mention Julian Edelman. A major question mark remains whether or not this team will be healthy in the playoffs.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls in the last 14 years ... they will be going for number 5 in the next 6 weeks.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls in the last 14 years … they will be going for number 5 in the next 6 weeks.

Having said all that, Vegas still favors the Patriots and the Panthers to win Super Bowl 50, with the Patriots at +333 odds of winning it all and the Panthers at +400. The next most likely team to win the whole thing is the Arizona Cardinals with odds of +650. At least at the moment, all signs point to a showdown in Santa Clara, CA (where Tom Brady grew up) between the perfect Panthers and the despised Pats.

The NFL season started with Brady and Goodell butting heads in “Deflategate” and it could very well end with Goodell handing Brady and the Patriots the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Brady’s hometown. Needless to say, the very confident Cam Newton will undoubtedly have something to say about that. It is only December, but all signs point to Super Bowl 50 being one of the best ever.

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