From the moment he took over the moribund Toronto Raptors last month, Tim Leiweke vowed to make some significant changes to return the team to competitiveness in the Eastern Conference.
It didn’t take him long to show everyone that he means business.
Leiweke lured Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets on Friday, giving the Raptors the reigning NBA executive of the year and a rising star among the league’s front office ranks.
”We feel very lucky to have Masai in our organization,” Leiweke said in a statement issued by the team. ”He is a proven judge of talent and we look for him to be a big part of creating a winning atmosphere, leading us to the playoffs and, ultimately, delivering NBA championships for Toronto.”
It will be a homecoming of sorts for the 42-year-old Ujiri, a native of Nigeria and the first African-born GM in America’s four major sports. Ujiri was the assistant GM for the Raptors for three seasons before leaving for the Nuggets in 2010, where he quickly made a name for himself.
”To come back to the Raptors, to live in such a great city, and work in an organization that has committed all the resources necessary to win championships was a huge factor in the decision,” Ujiri said in a statement. ”I have already developed a great relationship with Tim Leiweke and I can’t wait to get back to Canada to build a team that is poised to take the next step in the NBA.”
Ujiri earned respect for his deft handling of the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York and his ability to assemble a relatively starless roster that still managed to be a formidable contender in the Western Conference.
With nary an All-Star this season, the Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home to finish third in the powerful Western Conference, helping Ujiri garner the NBA’s Executive of the Year honor to go with George Karl’s Coach of the Year award.
I am excited because I believe in Masai Ujiri but we all felt the same way when Bryan Colangelo came to the Toronto Raptors and we know how that turned out. The mediocre culture of MLSE does terrible things to sports executives and their teams. Let’s hope that Tim Leiweke can change that culture.
The Raptors announced Tuesday that while Colangelo’s contract as team president is being extended, a new general manager will be hired within the next 30 days.
The changes were announced by Tim Leiweke, who is the incoming CEO of team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Leiweke also said he is moving up his start date from July 1 to June 3.
”We have a lot of work to do in this organization,” Leiweke said. ”We’re not good enough. I believe Bryan can help in a lot of those areas.”
The Raptors were 10th in the Eastern Conference this year, finishing out of the playoffs for a franchise-worst fifth straight season.
”There is accountability here and we need a new set of eyes and a new thinking,” Leiweke said.
Leiweke was hired last month after a successful period in charge of Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS.
Leiweke said Colangelo fought ”like heck” to keep his role as general manager.
”Bryan’s probably ticked off at me,” Leiweke said, then paused to chuckle. ”There’s no probably. He’s ticked off at me. This isn’t his perfect world, either. But to his credit, he accepts it.”
Colangelo said he was ”a little disappointed,” but denied being angry at Leiweke.
”It’s a unique situation for me to be in,” Colangelo said. ”Not an ideal situation but I’m going to embrace it and make the most of it.”
Leiweke addressed concerns that keeping Colangelo around would complicate things for any new hire by stressing that the new GM will have complete authority on basketball matters and will report directly to Leiweke, not Colangelo.
”If anyone ultimately disrupts that process, then I’ll clean it up,” Leiweke said.
Colangelo said he understood the message from his new boss.
”The bottom line is, if I get in the way, I’m not going to be around,” he said.
Of course Leiweke wants Toronto to become Canada’s team.
Leiweke said he wants Toronto to celebrate its 20th anniversary as an NBA city by hosting the All-Star Game for the first time in 2016, calling the game ”a must-have.”
He also said he wants the team to build a new training facility and hinted at changes to the Raptors’ brand, acknowledging ”specific” conversations with the NBA about potential changes.
”We absolutely have had conversations about the color and the makeup of our brand, our uniforms and our image,” he said. ”To me, we should be all about the Canadian flag and Canada.
”We are Toronto’s team but I think we have to learn how to be Canada’s team.”
If you want to be Canada’s basketball team, win something. That is how the Blue Jays did it and that is what the Raptors are going to have to do. No one feels good about themselves wearing a Raptors shirt because the team is unstable and most often a team of losers. You want us to care, consistently win.
According to reports, Leiweke didn’t want Colangelo to be kept around and it doesn’t sound like Colangelo wants to stay around. In other words despite having new owners and a new CEO, MLSE is still MLSE which is bad news for sports fans in Canada.
Mark turned 13 on Sunday while we were at the cabin. He is now old enough to walk into an A&W and legally order a Teen Burger. It was a big day for him. For his birthday we chilled out at the lake but we did give him a new basketball, InFAMOUS 2, and a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. We also picked Oliver up a battery powered Super Soaker so he could shoot Mark (who was thrilled with that).
It is a very impressive piece of work. “Most teams are using spreadsheets or just using our reports,” says Brian Kopp, executive vice-president at STATS. “The Raptors go a step beyond that, which only a few teams are doing, and their visualizations are the best I’ve seen.”6
That does not mean it has been an easy sell to the team’s coaching staff, though Sterner and Nori are enthusiastic about analytics and have helped craft the ghost defense. Everyone likes the ghost system, but some of the larger analytics-related issues have caused friction between the front office and some of the coaches — even if everyone involved is mostly polite about it. “It’s always going to be a challenge,” says Ed Stefanski, Toronto’s executive vice-president of basketball operations. “A lot of high-level coaches have come out against analytics, but it’s the wave of the future, and you’ve got to jump on.”
Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors’ GM, had already set Toronto on the SportVU path before hiring Stefanski in the fall of 2011, and Stefanski credited Colangelo with pushing the Raptors in the right direction.
The coaches, even the most receptive ones, seem to view analytics and SportVU mostly as a tool to confirm what they already think and know. Some samples:
Dwane Casey, Toronto’s head coach: “It’s a good backup for what your eyes see.” Casey added, “It may also shed light on something else,” a sentiment both Nori and Sterner echoed at points. “But you can’t make all your decisions based on it, and it can’t measure heart, and chemistry, and personality.”
Sterner: “It helps reinforce your gut. Most of the time, your gut is pretty much right.”
Nori: “More than anything, it’s a tool to help confirm what your eyes see.”
The analytics team agrees that most of the new knowledge will be along the margins — that coaches leaguewide get most of the big, systematic things right — but that the analytics will nonetheless offer more in the way of new discoveries that might contradict what we think we know. “A lot of coaches will say how great it is that analytics confirm what they already see,” Boyarsky says. “The fact of the matter is, that’s not really true.”
An example: The analytics team is unanimous, and rather emphatic, that every team should shoot more 3s — including the Raptors and even the Rockets, who are on pace to break the NBA record for most 3-point attempts in a season.
So basically the Toronto Raptor’s computers are analyzing and second guessing the play and coaching of the Raptors. Amazing the amount of variables they are dealing with.
This royal court of kings, this blood-stained ground,
This city cauldron, this throne of Mars,
This street sanctuary, and combat zone,
A fortress, inside a citadel, raised to stand,
Against adversaries, jesters, pretenders,
Against true players and those who merely come, to play.
This fighting pack, this world all its own,
This game of hours, dark nights, threatening dawns,
Which serves as refuge, home and shelter,
Or as a rampart defensive to the squall.
Against the tyranny of outcasts and outsiders -
This square of dirt.
Give me my robe, put on my crown,
I have eternal longings to be king.
Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, the coach’s longtime friend, confirmed in a statement released through The Salt Lake Tribune that Majerus died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital. The coach had been hospitalized there for several months.
Players remembered Majerus, who got his start as an assistant under Al McGuire at Marquette, as a coach who was exacting and perhaps a bit unorthodox at times, but always fair. Majerus was known for assembling rosters with an international flair, and his final team at Saint Louis had players from Australia and New Zealand.
”It was a unique experience, I’ll tell you that, and I loved every minute of it,” said Saint Louis guard Kyle Cassity, who was mostly a backup on last season’s 26-win team after starting for Majerus earlier in his college career. ”A lot of people questioned the way he did things, but I loved it. He’d be hard as hell on you, but he really cared.”
At the postgame news conference following Saint Louis’ four-point loss to top seed Michigan State in the NCAA West Regional, Majerus and his players wept.
”Coach has done so much,” Brian Conklin said back then. ”Being his first recruiting class, he told me that we were going to help him build something special here. He’s a great coach. I couldn’t imagine playing for a better coach, a better person. He doesn’t just teach you about basketball, it’s about life.”
Saint Louis athletic director Chris May said in a statement that what he would remember most about Majerus ”was his enduring passion to see his players excel both on and off the court.”
”He truly embraced the term ‘student-athlete,’ and I think that will be his lasting legacy,” May added.
The school announced Nov. 19 that Majerus wouldn’t return to Saint Louis because of the heart condition. He ended the school’s 12-year NCAA tournament drought last season, and bounced back from his only losing season, with a team that won its opening game and took top regional seed Michigan State to the wire. The Billikens were ranked for the first time since 1994-95.
Majerus was undergoing evaluation and treatment in California for the ongoing heart trouble and the school announced he was on leave in late August.
”That’s a tough one for me,” Boston coach Doc Rivers, a former Marquette star, said after the Celtics’ loss in Milwaukee. ”He’s the one that gave me my nickname. I knew before (the game) that he wasn’t going to make it through the night. I don’t want to talk much about it.”
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher first met Majerus at a camp when Majerus was a graduate assistant at Marquette and Fisher was coaching at the high school level in Chicago.
”Rick would hold court at night with a case of beer in the basement,” Fisher said. ”Phenomenal coach, a better person, cared about family, cared about people. He will be missed by everyone.”
As Saskatoon grows bigger, more and more people have talked about bringing a pro sports franchise to the city. Hockey has been dreamt about since Bill Hunter tried to bring the St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon in 1984. We saw one group try to bring the Phoenix Coyotes here for at least a couple of games a season and there has been been some talk of a CFL franchise coming to Saskatoon (even if it meant that it would kill the Riders). A pro sports franchise would be fabulous in the short term. We would sell out Credit Union Centre and cough up money for some much needed renovations and capital improvements. There may even a new stadium built downtown, where Credit Union Centre should have been built in the first place. That is how it will start out but let me tell you how it will end.
Over the weekend, the Edmonton Oilers’ owner and senior management went to Seattle to tour the Key Arena in an effort to get the City of Edmonton to pay for an even larger part of a $500 million dollar stadium deal. After getting the city to pay for the entire stadium up front and then giving billionaire owner Darryl Katz a sweetheart loan for his portion (to be paid back over 35 years), he wants an additional $6 million subsidy to run the arena. Instead of paying back his portion back $5.5 million a year, Katz is now demanding that he gets a free half-billion dollar stadium and $500,000 a year to run it. Where do I sign up?
Katz isn’t the only owner to behave badly. For every responsible sports owner with deep ties to his community, there are numerous ones that extort their community to buy them things or as the threat goes, they will move their franchise. The threat works as there is an empty hockey stadium in Kansas City and Seattle is building a new stadium to lure back the NBA (probably the Sacramento Kings). Hockey is an excellent second tenant to make even more money. Seeing everyone else do it, enables even local billionaires to behave badly. Katz which has deep roots to the Edmonton area and is a very profitable market with a very loyal fan base is basically blackmailing the Edmonton city council to give him the deal that he wants or he will move a team that has spent its entire existence in Edmonton to Seattle.
Now that Seattle has reached out to him (and he has reached back), expect a Kansas City visit as well. Why not play multiple markets off each other until Edmonton City Council responds to the bullying. While it doesn’t excuse Katz’s behaviour, many other owners behave the same way. The NFL has an empty Los Angeles market where the threat of teams moving to Los Angeles has gotten it better stadium deals in almost every market where the NFL has a new stadium. It will be used for leverage in the upcoming years in Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland, and San Diego. While FedEx Field in Washington is only 15 years old and still cutting edge, owner Daniel Snyder has already declared it as “half-life” and wants a new downtown, stadium. Instead of wanting Washington to pay for it, he is willing, if they give him a big chunk of land to develop for free. So why does a 15 year old stadium that is the largest in the NFL need to be replaced after only 15 years? He wants to keep up with the Giants/Jets/Cowboys and maybe even the new Rider stadium. EIther the Washington taxpayers pay for the stadium or give him premium land for his own profit. Either way, taxpayers pay. Just watch, if he doesn’t get what he wants, he will move the team. Threats of moving teams got a new stadium built in Miami even when there isn’t a great market left to move to and this was after Jeff Loria had already proven that he is the worst owner in sports (he destroyed the Montreal Expos).
Heading back to Seattle, the Key Arena was completely renovated in 1995 and brought to NBA standards. NBA commissioner David Stern called it state of the art but less than a decade later, he was in town demanding that Seattle build the Supersonics a new team, invest another $220 million into the stadium or they would move. When the city said no, the team moved to Oklahoma and became the Thunder. In 2002, the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans because of their antiquated stadium that was built in 1988. The fans supported the team through 364 consecutive sell-outs but even that wasn’t enough to keep the team in town. The stadium didn’t make it’s 20th birthday before being demolished (it was 13 years old when Charlotte had their first referendum on building a new stadium).
This is what happens. Billionaire owners of profitable teams want more and the expectation is that taxpayers give it to them. It happens all over the place and as Saskatoon grows, it will happen here, whether it is a NHL team, a CFL team or even a AHL team; it’s great for a while and then all of us have to pay up for the right to buy tickets to watch a team. It’s a sick system and I feel bad for the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Oilers fans, and fans of sport in the city because it’s not right.
Will the same thing happen in Saskatoon? If pro sports come to Saskatoon in a real way, of course it will. We will tell ourselves that it won’t happen, we have local owners, and we are a growing market in a booming economy; just like Edmonton told itself when Katz bought the team. It’s only a matter of time.
This history of the 1992 US Olympic basketball team might only be interesting to those who watched all those games.
Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.
You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.
I watched everyone of those games and they were incredible. Hearing the story behind those games is a lot of fun.
Pitino’s Cardinals had a new trick for every defensive possession, putting his team into position to get key stops and turnovers despite being clearly outmatched. The Cardinals switched between man-to-man and zone defenses in the halfcourt and showed an array of different full-court presses. On one possession, after a foul shot, Pitino’s guards denied the inbounds pass, forcing a Kentucky timeout. On another possession, they trapped in the halfcourt, surprising Kentucky into a quick shot. Over the course of the game, Pitino used his scrappy perimeter defenders, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Chris Smith, to spearhead pressure and force Kentucky into mistakes. It was a masterful, if ultimately doomed, effort that required both precision and coordination.
Calipari’s approach was the opposite. Aside from token pressure after timeouts, his Wildcats stayed in the same man-to-man defense the entire game. The Wildcats’ offense consisted mostly of keeping good spacing and going one-on-one or setting ball screens; the type of offense a team might run in a pickup game, not the Final Four. He did not manufacture stops or attempt to play chess with Rick Pitino. Calipari recruited the best players on the court and let them play.
It would be simple to say that Pitino outcoached Calipari, but it wouldn’t quite be correct. Calipari has the luxury of letting college basketball’s best players take over the game; a luxury of which he took full advantage late in the game against Louisville. With a team of freshmen and sophomores, Calipari doesn’t attempt complicated game plans. He doesn’t need to. He keeps his Xs and Os simple, makes sure his guys play unselfishly and gives them the opportunity to show their overwhelming talent. Against Louisville, that was enough to win.
Some are even suggesting it be pulled off the air. I mean, come on. This was one of, if not the greatest moments in the history of college basketball. Do Kentucky fans simply want us to forget it ever happened? According to them, we must never speak of this again.
Excellent article on the NCAA in The Atlantic
“I’M NOT HIDING,” Sonny Vaccaro told a closed hearing at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2001. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is buy your school. Or buy your coach.”
Vaccaro’s audience, the members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, bristled. These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.
“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
Vaccaro did not blink. “They shouldn’t, sir,” he replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”
William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory. “Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently. “I never will forget it.” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.
But what Vaccaro said in 2001 was true then, and it’s true now: corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it. In 2010, despite the faltering economy, a single college athletic league, the football-crazed Southeastern Conference (SEC), became the first to crack the billion-dollar barrier in athletic receipts. The Big Ten pursued closely at $905 million. That money comes from a combination of ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise, licensing fees, and other sources—but the great bulk of it comes from television contracts.
For me, NCAA football and to a lesser extent basketball is my passion. I started playing football the year that Notre Dame went undefeated and won the 1988 National Championship. Tony Rice, Lou Holtz, Michael Stonebreaker, Andy Heck, Rocket Ismael all became heroes of mine as Notre Dame steamrolled over amazing opposition that year. I still love watching an option offense being run.
It pains me to see age old rivalries destroyed, conferences falling apart, and the nature of the game being changed all for more lucrative television contracts worth billions of dollars and yet athletes aren’t paid a dime.
Don Curtis, a UNC trustee, told me that impoverished football players cannot afford movie tickets or bus fare home. Curtis is a rarity among those in higher education today, in that he dares to violate the signal taboo: “I think we should pay these guys something.”
Meanwhile football coaches average $2 million a season (plus shoe contracts that are generally paid to them), speaking gigs (which they are often allowed to use the private university jet), and endorsement fees, all because of the success of the athletes that play for them. It’s a sick system.
I can’t help but wonder if the issue is not football but money starved universities desperate for television revenue to pay the bills, cover buildings, and keep on going through recessions. Underfunded universities and tapped out state governments put university administrators in the tough situation if keeping tradition means the cutting of programs.
I don’t know what the solution is but it’s hard to even pretend that big time college football is anything but a professional sport when you see universities like Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, the Pac-10, Oklahoma, Syracuse, and others all go crazy for the money and care about very little else. As a fan of sports, it’s sickening to say the least.