Blockbuster contracts – what they mean

By ED M. ODEVEN
HoopsHype Columnist
(July 9, 2002)

Earning a maximum salary in the National Basketball Association should be the reward for giving maximum effort, year in and year out.

Proven leadership, productivity, hustle and heart are aspects of a player’s game that front-office personnel should look at when deciding to offer a player maximum money for long-term deals.

Potential and youth are two other ingredients that should factor into the decision.

One up-and-coming player immediately comes to mind who fits this description: Mike Bibby of the Sacramento Kings.

Bibby is flashy, quick, confident and he makes his teammates better. And as he showed in the playoffs he has a knack for making big plays in big games. This is the kind of player you want to keep around for as long as possible, especially if a prime-time player like Chris Webber thrives on the hardwood when Bibby is in the game.

Blessed with arguably the best fans in the NBA, Sacramento would be foolish to not re-sign Bibby. By not doing so, the Kings would be sending the wrong message: We have already given up. We have already concluded that we can’t dethrone the Lakers in 2003. We blew our best chance at a title.

Another can’t-miss-long-term investment would be to sign point guard Baron Davis to a long-term deal. It says here he deserves a lucrative deal. The Hornets would be wise to re-sign Davis, and other teams would be wise to pursue Davis, too. Not only is he young (23), but he is maturing and becoming one of the league’s top point guards.

Davis has increased his scoring and assist totals in each of his three seasons in the NBA. Last season, he had averages of 18.1 points and 8.5 assists per game.

Remember, signing free agents is often a hit-or-miss deal. General managers must be careful. Once a player gets a long-term deal, a lot can go wrong. Motivation to work hard isn’t always important anymore, and with that a lack of commitment may be the evil twin.

And let’s not forget about injuries. A classic example is Anfernee Hardaway. A few years back he signed a blockbuster deal with the Phoenix Suns. The oft-injured, once-dominating player is now the Rolls Royce of reserve players. Teams are not willing to risk trading for him, because his knees have had more wear and tear than 20 typical players combined. This means the Suns are stuck with Penny.

When a team is stuck with a player, it also becomes stuck with a salary cap problem, i.e., a contract taking up too much of their allocated resources. So it’s important to sign a guy who’s going to remain a key contributor or who’s going to fill a void that existed the previous season.

One thing that never changes is a need for size. The league’s lack of true quality big men is nothing new. That’s why a mediocre center like Michael Olowokandi may actually be signed to a maximum free-agent deal by the Clippers or another team.

For a league that’s constantly looking at the next crop of free agents, 2003 is really the year. Superstars like Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan are all waiting to sign astronomical contracts. In short, this year’s talent pool does not match up to what’ll possibly be out there this time next year.

So, for the Bonzi Wells of the world, shoot for the maximum contract. But if you don’t get it, realize teams are slashing their spending now and playing a waiting game before going on an all-out spending spree next summer.

Advertisements

A day I’ll never forget

Tillman touched many
By: Ed Odeven
Arizona Daily Sun column
Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004 10:00 pm

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom,” Bob Dylan.

I never met a more responsible individual than Pat Tillman. I developed this opinion of him when we were both students at Arizona State University. Before he ever stepped foot into a classroom at the Tempe campus, he was told that it’d take him four or five years to earn a college degree, probably the latter. He earned his marketing degree in 3 1/2 years. With a 3.8 GPA.

As much as he hit the books with the gusto of a Rhodes Scholar — when he wasn’t studying the finer pointers of, say, advertising campaigns, he was reading lengthy philosophy books, sometimes a few at a time — the San Jose, Calif., native who was considered too small and too slow coming out of high school, became a dominant defensive force in the Pac-10 Conference and earned the league’s defensive player of the year award in 1997.

I never met a more heroic individual than Tillman. September 11th became the day that defined his life. Months later, he turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals and joined the Army along with his brother, Kevin, a minor league baseball player. Serving his country was what mattered to Tillman, not money.

I never met a man I respected more than Tillman. And he earned every bit of it. He was humble, polite, quirky, athletic and brilliant. He was one of a kind.

Tillman died Thursday in combat in Afghanistan. He was 27. Lt. Col. Matt Beevers, an Army spokesman in Kabul, in an Associated Press story said Tillman died “after a firefight with anti-coalition militia forces about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. military base at Khost.”

I know I’ll never meet somebody I admire as much as Pat Tillman — unless Nelson Mandela invites me to sit down with him and have a cup of coffee. And while we as a society can bemoan the deterioration of values, the loss of old traditions and the like, someone like Pat Tillman reminds us that true heroes never go out of style.

The news of Tilllman’s death truly touched all Arizonans and many people across the country. On Friday, my e-mail inbox was flooded with messages from people who knew that I knew Tillman from ASU. They all expressed the same sentiment: how sad.

Across the state on Friday, tributes were paid to Tillman. At Bank One Ballpark, there was a moment of silence before the Diamondbacks-Padres game. Flags were flown at half-staff at ASU and all over the state.

Already, ASU and the Cardinals have made plans to memorialize Tillman. Among the projects in the works:

The two have teamed up to announce the establishment of the Pat Tillman Memorial Scholarship Award. It will be given annually to a marketing student at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.
The Cardinals will retire Tillman’s No. 40 jersey.

The Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza will be built at the team’s new Glendale stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2006.

Radio and TV programs Friday broadcast many live interviews with Tillman’s former teammates and coaches, classmates and colleagues who summed up their impeccable opinions of him.

“The words honor, integrity, dignity and commitment were not just adjectives with Pat Tillman,” said Dave McGinnis, the ex-Cardinals’ head coach, during a live TV press conference. “They were real in his life.

“Everything he did was with a sense of honor, a sense of dignity,” added McGinnis, who is now an assistant coach for the Tennessee Titans.

Before the D-backs’ series opener against the Padres, the home clubhouse was not filled with joyful braggadocio and macho nonsense — typical diversions before a game begins.

“It’s horrible,” Diamondbacks third baseman Shea Hillenbrand said of Tillman’s death in a chat with Daily Sun sportswriter Steve Rom. “It’s the ultimate sacrifice someone can give. It shows you that materialistic stuff, fame and everything, is not important.”

Added Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez, “I had the opportunity to meet him a couple years back. … What a phenomenal guy. … Here’s a guy, millions of dollars sitting on the table, and he decided to leave to pursue something that he believed in, which is fighting for his county. I think it puts a lot of things into perspective. It hits home to a lot of guys, and a lot of fans here in Arizona. If people didn’t have friends or family that are in the military, they can associate with Pat Tillman.”

I conversed with two Flagstaff residents Friday afternoon to gain an understanding of what locals are thinking about Tillman’s life and death.

George Moate, Coconino High School’s longtime varsity football coach, offered this perspective:
“It’s a tragedy, as are all the deaths. It reminds you of the sacrifices being made, just like the (Lori) Piestewa situation. All those veterans have all our prayers and thoughts with them. We are behind them 100 percent and we hope the rest of them get home safely.

“Being famous doesn’t give you character, but what separates Tillman was he gave up a million-dollar job to do it. That’s not an everyday occurrence. That’s a throwback to World War II when the movie stars were flying bombers and stuff like that. It was an amazing thing that he did it.”

Vietnam War veteran Dave “Bulldog” Turner, a sixth-grade teacher at Killip School and a Panthers assistant coach said, “When I look at Pat Tillman, I look at a man that exemplifies the true character of what an American was supposed to be.”

As I look back on Tillman’s athletic career, especially at ASU, I think most about his never-ending supply of energy, the Sun Devils’ No. 42 linebacker and his trademark long, wild locks of hair flowing out of the back of his helmet, the fact that he never seemed to miss a tackle or be out of position and that he became a darn good pro player by exhibiting the same qualities.

But what he did off the field is what he’ll always be remember by.

My pal Sean Bennett, who graduated from ASU in 1995 and now resides in Texas with his lovely wife Aya and two young kids, sent me the following e-mail Friday night: “If Ford and Claire grow up to have the kind of character Pat and his brother have shown during our time of war I could not be prouder. In today’s world of 15-minute-Hollywood heroes I finally have another real hero to set beside my father: Pat Tillman.”

Rest in peace, Pat Tillman.

Hideo Nomo feature from spring 2000

By ED M. ODEVEN
(The Rafu Shimpo, Published in March 2000)

Lakeland, Fla.
After an injury-plagued 1998 season, Hideo Nomo re-emerged as one of baseball’s better power pitchers last season. But it wasn’t an easy ride.

In less than two months, Nomo was released by the New York Mets and then made three appearances with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa affiliate before joining the Milwaukee Brewers organization last May. And he had one tune-up start in Double-A Huntsville before joining the Brewers’ starting rotation.

In Milwaukee, Nomo led the Brewers with 12 wins and 161 strikeouts. He also proved he still has the stamina to be a durable hurler, working into the seventh inning in 18 of 28 starts.

Now, new Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner, Nomo’s skipper with the Brewers last season, expects Nomo to spearhead a youthful, perhaps unproven Tigers pitching staff.

Consider:
*The last Tigers pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season was All-Star Jack Morris, who accomplished the feat in 1986 and 1987.

*The last Tigers pitching staff to have a sub-4.00 ERA was in 1988 (3.71) when they went 88-74.

For a little perspective, Nomo has a 3.82 ERA in 151 major league appearances. Nomo has been named Detroit’s No. 1 starter, and he will be the team’s Opening Day starter on April 3 against the host Oakland Athletics.

“I’ve been impressed with Nomo,” Garner said after a recent game at Joker Marchant Stadium. “He’s disciplined, he knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s really organized. He’s as competitive as they get. I really like him.”

Nomo’s off to a impressive start this spring, too. In three starts, Nomo over 12 innings, Nomo has held the opposition to a dismal .222 batting average. He has posted a 2.25 ERA, while walking seven and striking out eight.

“He pitched great for me last year,” Garner said. “He’s been a good pitcher his whole career, and with the exception of one year, he’s been above .500. And that’s hard to find. I expect him to do the same for us (this season).”

Dan Warthen, the Tigers pitching coach, agrees.

“He brings leadership to this baseball club. He brings a lot of winning and he brings a work ethic that these guys do respect,” Warthen said.

Warthen also feels Nomo has regained the arm strength that made him such an intimidating presence in the past. “I’ve seen better stuff from him this year than I did last year or the year before,” Warthen said. “I think his arm’s stronger. The velocity is up and when his velocity is up, his best pitch — the split-fingered fastball — all is in order.”

This will not be Nomo’s first career Opening Day start. During his highly successful five-year stint with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, he pitched on Opening Day four times.

Despite his impressive showing so far in Grapefruit League action, Nomo said he was surprised Garner made this decision.

“First of all, I have no experience with the Tigers,” Nomo said through an interpreter. “And second of all, I’ve only thrown three games with the Tigers in spring training. I didn’t expect the anouncement this early.”

When asked by a reporter if this could be his best season yet, Nomo simply replied, “I have no idea.”

However, he said he welcomes the challenge of being Detroit’s ace. “I have more chances to pitch more games during the season,” he said. “So I hope to have good results.”

Nomo said he feels the elements are in place to have a successful season, especially the clubhouse atmosphere.

“The teammates, coaches, manager…everybody with the Tigers is very relaxed. I can concentrate better this spring,” he said.

According to Tigers hitting coach Bill Madlock, Nomo will be beneficial to the ballclub in more ways than one.

“I think he can make (reliever Masao) Kida more comfortable, and that’s one of the key things right there,” said Madlock, a four-time National League batting champion who played for the Lotte Orions in 1988. “When I was in Japan I was the only American on the team. It was absolutely tough, almost impossible to relax and be comfortable with the situation.”

DID YOU KNOW?
*Nomo became the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach 500 career strikeouts (444.2 innings) in 1997.

*Nomo and Dwight Gooden are the only pitchers to fan at least 200 batters in their first three big league seasons.

THE LAST WORD
“Nomo will give you a solid start every time out. He’s the kind of guy you want out there in big games. He gets out of jams. He’s good for young pitchers. He’ll do nothing but have benefits for this club.” –Tigers bench coach Bob Melvin.

Football in Scandinavia: a fun summer job

From Flagstaff to Finland …

By ED ODEVEN
(Published July 5, 2005, in the Arizona Daily Sun)

You’ll probably work for 40 years before retiring. But who says you gotta have one job, in one locale, for that time span?

John Perrigo certainly didn’t.

The former Northern Arizona defensive end is playing football for the Seinajoki Crocodiles of the Finnish American Football League this summer.

He graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in health promotions. He plans to become a physical education/health teacher and a coach in the near future. For now, Perrigo’s content to play football, experience a new culture and delay getting a “real job.”

“I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do, because I have never been to Europe,” Perrigo said of his post-college plans. “To (also) play football, it sounded like an experience I would always remember.”

As of Saturday, the Crocodiles were 4-0 with Perrigo playing rush end and serving as a defensive line coach. In that span, he collected 22 tackles, including 12 for a loss, and six sacks. He also expects to see some time at linebacker and wide receiver or tight end before the eight-game regular season ends. (After the season, the top four teams advance to the playoffs.

The winners square off Sept. 10 in the Maple Bowl.)

The language barrier hasn’t been a big deal.

“Every player and coach speaks English,” said Perrigo, who was tops among NAU defensive lineman in tackles for three straight seasons, 2002-04. “Some just speak it a lot better than the rest.

“…When I have trouble understanding I just nod my head and smile, and it seems to work perfectly so far.”

Perrigo is one of two Americans on the squad — the other is former Wagner and Florida Atlantic quarterback Dave Bateman. A Canadian player, linebacker Ian Williams joined the squad recently. He has dual citizenship (Canada-France); teams are only allowed two non-Europeans on the roster.

The Crocodiles are comprised of players ranging in age from 20-39.

There’s another big distinction Perrigo and Bateman share: “Only the Americans get paid to play football,” Perrigo said.

“The players on the team all have jobs other than football,” he continued. “So they show up whenever they can to practices and/or games depending on what they have to do for work.

“Over here you can play on a team as long as you like, still being able to fulfill your needs of having a family and/or job.”

All the coaches are volunteers.

“They do it for the love of coaching,” said the Montana native who initially posted his football credentials on Europlayers.com. The rest of the process: Perrigo sent a tape of his game highlights to Finnish teams and NAU defensive line coach Bill Smith put a good word in for him. Then he signed a contract — he got the call during Christmas break.

When he’s teaching defense, something he learned from Smith, NAU defensive coordinator Corey Batoon and Jacks head coach Jerome Souers, Perrigo tries to stick to the basics.

“With the time restrictions of everyone,” he said, “we don’t have time for meetings or films, so the focal point of practice is mostly practicing the plays we anticipate the other team will run.

“…I try to teach the other defensive linemen some of the finer techniques that many have not learned over here in Finland.”

Of course, some players need more coaching than others.

“One of our defensive tackles told me he has been taught to attack and kill, never focusing on any fundamentals,” Perrigo said.

The talent level of players in the Finnish American Football League is wide-ranging.

“I have seen players who would not be successful in high school (in America),” Perrigo said, “and others who would be successful making Division I-AA or Division II (teams.”

Again, the lack of salaries affects the talent pool.

“On some teams it is so hard to get players to play, since they get no income, that anyone they do get usually plays two ways, anywhere they can put them,” Perrigo said.

What about the fans? What are they like?

In this land of countless lakes, where ex-Edmonton Oiler Jari Kurri is a star, where javelin throwers are treated like kings, where little ski jumpers want to emulate the artistry and grace of the legendary Matti Nykanen, a few hundred fans for an American football contest is considered a big crowd.

The atmosphere of a game is quite different, too.

“The players do not get as excited before a game and at halftime as we would at NAU,” Perrigo said. “We really have no crazy players on our team.”

But when the game ends, Perrigo has been treated to a new ritual.

Both teams select a game MVP, sometimes it’s a gift certificate to a local pizzeria, other times it’s a few towels.

“The captains meet in the middle, point to their team and all together give a ‘hey, hey, hey’ as loud and deep as you can,” Perrigo explained.

“The opponent does the same, and then the lines go around the end and everyone gives each other a high-five.

“I do not know really what it means, but I just kind of go with the flow, a skill I have learned helps you out a lot here.”

In Seinajoki, a city of around 30,000 in Southwestern Finland, there are 22 hours of daylight in the summer, giving Perrigo plenty of time to pursue outdoor activities.

Perrigo has gone fishing in the Baltic Sea and toured the countryside by bicycle. He also rents a ton of movies and video games during his spare time.

And he’s enjoyed barbecues at his coaches’ homes. It is there where he’s gotten accustomed to one aspect of Finnish culture: hanging out in the sauna, the Finnish indoor steam bath.

“Everyone here has a sauna,” he said. “And it’s a ritual when you hang out, you sauna together.

“The weird part for me was the (cultural norm) over here is you sauna naked. They are not co-ed. But the saunas are refreshing if done right.”

Eating out, according to Perrigo, is quite expensive in Finland, but he has enjoyed tasting numerous Finnish dishes, including boiled potatoes and casseroles.

When he’s not hanging out in Seinajoki, Perrigo visits Tampere, the hometown of ex-Phoenix Coyote Teppo Numminen, and Helsinki, the nation’s capital.

“Both have a lot of cool, old buildings,” he said.

Perrigo also enjoyed a recent sojourn across the Gulf of Bothia.

“I took a boat over to Stockholm, Sweden,” he said. “That town was amazing. … I then went to Estonia and visited the remains of an old medieval town.”

Sounds like Perrigo is content to hold off on getting a full-time job for now.

In fact, he might go back to Finland next summer to continue his playing career.

My ambition

Reading a terrific tribute to Tom McEwen, the longtime sports columnist and editor of the Tampa Tribune who passed away recently, I was reminded of what I want to accomplish above all in this business: to write stories that make people think, to chronicle the sports scene wherever I am in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

A few lines from Joey Johnston’s June 5 story in the Tampa Tribune highlight this point. They are simple reminders of the value of prolific reporting on any subject, doing so with passion while holding nothing back.

Johnston wrote:

“Tom didn’t look to create dirt,” said former Bucs executive Jery Angelo, now general manager of the Chicago Bears. …

“He saw a bigger picture. He knew he had to be critical and analytical, bu the didn’t believe in piling on and hurting people. He’s an icon. We were the lowly Bucs a lot of those years, showing his face, doing his job and doing it with class and fairness.”

I have no interest in being an icon, but the other qualities that Angelo used to describe McEwen are ones I hope people see in my work as a sports writer and columnist.

Covering the bj-league has been an incredible challenge, what with eight teams  the first season I was in Japan in 2006-07 to a projected 20 (depending on the Tokyo Apache’s status) for 2011-12. Nothing has stayed the same. Which hasn’t meant that it’s time to stop asking tough questions and covering the league with thorough reporting, writing on all facets of its operation.

When a reader told me “The Japan Times is the only paper showing people the truth about this league,” it brings a smile to my face. Satisfaction.

And it’s motivation to keep doing what I’ve been doing.

 

A reminder that games matter

Wade finds solace on gridiron

Published Sept. 24, 2004

By Ed Odeven

(Arizona Daily Sun sports column)

It’s easy to forget that football is only a game. We become so passionate about rooting for our favorite players and teams that we can get so caught up in the emotional highs and lows of a game and its outcome that we treat it as a life-or-death situation.

It isn’t.

For many players, coaches, fans and media members, football is an outlet for fun, a once-a-week shindig that becomes an integral part of their lives. Sometimes it’s much more than that. For Northern Arizona junior receiver Simirone Wade, football has become a respite from tough personal times he’s encountered in 2004.

Wade’s maternal grandfather, Elmer “Bud” Daniels, recently passed away in Albuquerque, N.M. Daniels’ passing marked the seventh death in the last eight months in Wade’s family. He’s also mourned the deaths of aunts, uncles and cousins this year.

Though he has practiced, Wade didn’t play in NAU’s first two games of 2004, road games against Arizona and Stephen F. Austin.

“We had some important games that we had to play but I couldn’t be there,” Wade says. “It burned me but I’m back now.

“I went through some personal things that brought me away from football. I had to make some challenging decisions in my life. That’s when I was dealing with my family. I was going through some bad times.”

Through it all, Wade remains committed to being the best college football player he can be.

Wade says he practiced “to keep my mind off it, because if you just sit and think about what’s going on in your life it’s just going to bring yourself down. My antidote was just to come to practice and be with the team … the family that I’m here with.

“This is the thing I love to do: play football. Even though I couldn’t play in the games, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t practice and be with the team. That’s why I was still practicing.”

One may naturally wonder if Wade, a 2001 graduate of Glendale Ironwood High School, is ready to step onto the field this season, starting with today’s Big Sky Conference opener against Weber State, but he says leaving school was never an option.

“I never contemplated really quitting,” he says, “but my mind was in all different places and it came down to my parents. They are my heart. When they suffer, I suffer, and that was drawing me away from football.

“My No. 1 priority is God and then my family and then football, of course, so when my family’s hurting that affects me and that affects me on the field. … I had to take care of my family before I can take care of what’s on the field.”

Football is “just a talent that I have, but my family’s my backbone. They are there when I haven’t played and they are there when I play.”

Together, the Wade family supported one another through these hard times. But death after death took an emotional toll on all of them.

“We couldn’t heal,” Wade says. “We were just getting off of one death and then another one would pop up unexpectedly and we were just … going through a time in our lives that was a black hole.

“We are healing right now, and life goes on and life doesn’t stop for nobody.”

There’s a biblical passage Wade recites — “We may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.” — that comforts him through times of grief.

“We may go through whatever the devil’s trying to put on us,” he says, explaining the passage. “He may take us through all these trials and tribulations, but it’s like a storm and storms pass over. They never stay.

“For the time being, while … it’s pouring, people are like, ‘It’s raining. Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for the sun to come back.’ But eventually the sun does come back and we are all happy again.”

It’s quite clear Wade understands the value of life and is wise beyond his years.

“This has definitely humbled me,” he says. “It shows me that everything on this earth is material, and material things can be replaced but your family can’t.”

Simirone’s parents, Thomas and Cynthia Wade, will be at today’s game. His brother, Edwin “B.J.” Bell, and sister, Talya “Shay” Wade, many cousins and a large group of friends, ex-teachers and ex-classmates from Phoenix and Tucson, where he was born, will be there. And Wade’s beloved grandfather will be at the Skydome in spirit.

“This game is dedicated to him,” he says. “And I know that he’s going to be hearing me in the stands. I’m going to show up not only for everybody in the stands but … him, too.”

Maybe today’s NAU-Weber State clash isn’t just a game. For Wade, it’s become a source of solace and inspiration.

Thoughts on Shaq

By Ed Odeven

Oh yeah, the big fellow was a dominating force, an impossible matchup for teams in the low blocks. But force him to stand at the free-throw line and he was often his own worst enemy.

Imagine if he could’ve been a 75-percent free-throw shooter for his career. Other giants have done that, many in fact.

Would it have been unrealistic, then, to think that Shaquille O’Neal could’ve scored 40 points a game over a 10-year span? I don’t think so.

He made millions laugh and played a starring role in the NBA for 19 seasons. That’s impressive.

He’ll be remembered as one of the all-time greats, but he’s not THE greatest center of all time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, in any order you choose, are the top three.