Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wait…I Thought Sports Were Fun





The Fab Five
I am finding the words above to be more defining of my sports experience than ever before.  Whatever happed to the joy, excitement…the fun?  I don’t remember the last time I had zero interest in the NFL Draft.  Yet, I was there last week not paying attention to or watching the first round of the draft.  The only thing I cared about during March Madness was the potential reunion of players from the Fab Five, a team that hasn’t shared a court together since 1993.  I live for the NBA, and I can’t bear to watch my beloved Nuggets as their playoff exit is imminent.  It isn’t sour grapes about the loss.  It’s the fact that I am dreading what follows…but I’m getting ahead of myself.


Kenneth Faried with Athlete Ally
I’ll be the first to admit that my frustrations in sports can be really quite odd.  I get frustrated when my team doesn’t play well, which is obvious as that is normal for every fan.  I’ve found myself more frustrated by the media and social networks coverage of sports.  We know too much in this 24/7 news cycle, but at the same time not enough.  I know what Kobe Bryant is tweeting about because it is scrolled all over ABC and ESPN.  At the same time, I have to dig to find out that Kenneth Faried is involved with the Special Olympics and Athlete Ally.  I fully understand that Bryant is a superstar, but why is there coverage on what movies he is watching while injured over another player working hard in his community?  In this day and age, the “larger market” argument is worthless.  Thanks to mobile devices and the online community, coverage is everywhere for everyone.  It’s simply what is being chosen to cover that frustrates me.  The Lakers were a mediocre team all year, as were the Houston Rockets, yet we were forced to hear about the Lakers every day.  I just don’t get it.


I’m angered by knowing the Denver Nuggets season is about to conclude unceremoniously.  It’s not that they will lose and not advance in the playoffs that angers me.  In truth, I could not be more proud of this team.  They are filled with good players that work hard and are easy to cheer for.  Just because the media doesn’t call them superstars, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.  Ty Lawson is a beast.  Kenneth Faried is fantastic.  Danilo Gallinari, prior to his injury, was becoming a go-to player in the fourth quarter.  I’m angered knowing that the “talking heads” in the sports media will continue their collective assault on what the Nuggets stand for; TEAM basketball.

Names on paper doesn't win games
I am so sick of hearing the nonsense that you can’t win without a superstar on the team.  The Nuggets won 57 games in the regular season and were the 4th best team in the league!  I understand it is the regular season and it didn’t translate to the playoffs.  They ran into a team in Golden State that matches up well.  That’s just basketball.  Don’t tell me, though, that a team can’t be good without a star because that is ridiculous.  Stars don’t equal wins.  Teams equal wins.  The Miami Heat, while star studded, are the best TEAM in the league.  The Lakers, while star studded, were more of a punch line this season.  Dirk Nowitzki didn’t reach the playoffs.  Kevin Love gets star treatment, yet he’s never seen the playoffs.  “Superstars” mean nothing in a team game, unless they are transcendent talent.  Let’s be honest, we’re only talking a few guys here.  The “must have” a superstar mentality will continue to be beaten by the media and the Nuggets will continue to be disrespected.  Can we all just admit, though, that guys like that are legitimately few and far between?

Additionally, I am tired of hearing about “small market” teams.  Seriously, it doesn’t make sense to me.  Is Green Bay a big market?  Absolutely not, but the NFL does a great job of marketing it.  Heck, Denver is a great market for the NFL.  Why can’t it be for the NBA?  I hate to answer a rhetorical question, but the reason that it isn’t for the NBA is because they don’t want it to be.  The Nuggets had “superstar” Carmelo Anthony for seven seasons, yet didn’t get near the publicity he has since being traded to New York.  That’s the NBA’s fault.  In the technology age we’re in, market size is irrelevant.


I discussed my conflictions previously, but it is a much deeper issue than just that one moment.  I’ve never been a fan of Peyton Manning.  I never will be.  I give the guy all the respect in the world, as he is an all-time great talent, but I just have a hard time cheering for him.  We all know someone who is a little too passionate (apparently I am the pot calling the kettle black here) about a team or player.  Sometimes that can cause those around them to cheer against them.  That’s what Peyton Manning started out as with me.

The 1997 Heisman Finalists
During Manning’s senior season at Tennessee, he was the clear favorite to win the Heisman trophy.  However, Michigan star Charles Woodson stormed the regular season and led the Wolverines to a National Championship.  Woodson won the Heisman, which I agreed with.  Unfortunately my older brother strongly disagreed and was a tremendous supporter of Manning.  He was such a fan that the day after Manning lost to Woodson, he walked around our college campus with a black arm band out of respect for Manning’s lost Heisman.  This moment was the seed that grew into my distaste for Peyton Manning.

The underappreciated Jake Plummer
As his career progressed, Manning routinely embarrassed my beloved Denver Broncos and my distaste grew.  I would nitpick anything and everything Manning did; whether it was him throwing his teammates under the bus or any other little thing I found, I really could not like the guy.  Without question, the moment Manning signed with the Broncos, I was crushed.  While a great player was joining the team, it was someone I have cheered against for 15 years.  I’m not wired to just change because you put on a different jersey.

I’ll admit to buying in wholeheartedly to Tebowmania.  I was excited to see where it would go and how an offseason training with John Elway would help Tebow develop.  When the rug got pulled out for Manning, I really didn’t know how to react.  I had gone through something similar when Jake Plummer (personal favorite) was benched in favor of Jay Cutler despite a 7-4 record, but this had a different layer.  Tebow was replaced by a player I refused to cheer for.  Yet here Manning is; dressed in the orange and blue I love so much.

How do you cheer for your team when the face of them is one you want to boo?


Everything above has led me to this.  I still get excited for events, such as Jon Jones’ fight this past weekend or the NBA playoffs, but the fun isn’t there.  The events I always got excited for have seemingly lost their luster because shows like ESPN’s First Take have to take all joy out of them.  The constant dissection and ridiculous hyperbole of these shows take what’s best about sports out of the games.  We take them seriously because we’re fanatical, but at some point the media needs to dial it down a notch.  I just sit here in a place that I’m shocked at.  I never thought I would put a game on and simply not care.  I love watching Champ Bailey play, but his face and name aren’t on the marquee.  He’s not the face of the franchise I’ve always loved.  Instead, it’s a guy I can’t cheer for.  Manning’s presence in a Broncos jersey takes my joy away and makes me simply not care.  The media’s constant star-obsessed coverage of the NBA makes me not care as much.  There are no words that can accurately express this feeling.  I just know that it isn’t as fun as it used to be.

The downfall of sports journalism...

Maybe I am crazy.  Maybe I am too passionate.  Maybe I just care too much.  I just want to enjoy the games, the fights and not have such a visceral reaction to it all.  I just want to have the relaxation and “escape” sports can provide.  I wish I could figure this internal struggle out.  I wish that sports weren’t such a lightning rod within me and were just, you know, fun.  Alas, I will continue to tune in and hope the new feeling of apathy starts to dissipate.



Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NBA Playoffs: Round One…The Second Season Begins

The NBA Playoffs first round match ups are finally set after a spectacular regular season.  Now that we know the brackets, let’s dive into round one and examine the likely winners of each series.

Western Conference

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs # 8 Houston Rockets
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games

Be prepared to hear a week’s worth of “James Harden returns to show the Thunder what they are missing” stories.  In truth, this series is not likely to be close.  While Houston has improved offensively, this team is legitimately bad on the defensive end.  In the 3 regular season games against each other, the Thunder averaged a whopping 121 points per game.  You simply can’t be that bad on the defensive end of the court and win a series against the Thunder.  Westbrook will have no issue with Jeremy Lin and Kevin Durant will, well, he’ll be Kevin Durant.  Houston is bound to steal one on their home court but don’t look for this series to go too long.

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs # 7 Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: San Antonio Spurs in 6 games

There’s a lot to be concerned about if you are a Spurs fan.  They are stumbling into the playoffs, coming off of a 3-6 month of April.  The injury bug has not been kind to them, with it biting Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, at the worst time.  They are both expected to play but their effectiveness is yet to be seen.  Don’t forget, they also just signed an “insurance policy” named Tracy McGrady.  Does he insure them in case Ginobili goes down or does he insure them a first round exit?

The Lakers are also playing better since the injury to Kobe Bryant.  This isn’t to say they are better without him but let’s not pretend this team isn’t loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.  The loss of Bryant allows the other players to play more their style, which has paid off so far.  The problem is they’ve only played at home since the injury.  Once they hit the road, bench players seemingly don’t play as well and this is what will be the Lakers’ downfall.  The games will be close, but San Antonio is a machine that seemingly steps up whenever you need them to.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs #6 Golden State Warriors
Prediction: Denver Nuggets in 5 games

Of all the first round match-ups, this is the one that can be looked at as a possible upset.  Golden State has been playing well the last month of the season and, with sharpshooter Stephen Curry playing well, the Warriors could pose problems in the first round.  The only problem is they are matching up against a Nuggets team that is arguably one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs.  Over their last 26 games, the Nuggets are 23-3.  That is an absolutely insane run.  Add in that they have not lost in Pepsi Center since January 18th, and you have a team poised to make a run.

The question with the Nuggets is health.  Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari is out due to a torn ACL.  Leading rebounder Kenneth Faried is coming off of a sprained ankle that could hinder his energy and effectiveness.  Ty Lawson is working through a torn plantar fascia, but has looked excellent since returning for the final three games.  Despite these woes, the Nuggets have received boosts from the deepest bench in the league by getting extended minutes for Wilson Chandler and rookie Evan Fournier.

The keys to this series will be the pace and points in the paint.  While both play at a high pace, Denver averaged 20.3 fast break points and 56.5 points in the paint against Golden State this season.  If the Warriors can’t slow down Denver, this one could get out of hand fast.  If the Warriors get the 3 ball dropping; we’ll have ourselves a series.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 7 games

In a rematch of last season’s classic, this one is destined for another seven game series.  There haven’t been many notable changes in personnel, minus the scoring of Rudy Gay for Memphis.  There are role players gone for both teams, but the absence of Gay is likely to loom large at some point during the series.

The Grizzlies are going to make this ugly and a grind.  It’s what they do best.  The pressure defense they play and slow down offense will take the Clippers out of their comfort zone.  However, the veteran presence of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups will come into play at some point.  The front courts of both teams are so close that I think the difference will be in the back court.  While Conley Jr has been playing at a high level, he just isn’t ready to take Memphis to the next level.  The bench of LA is also deeper, which will likely get them a game or two in LA.

Eastern Conference

#1 Miami Heat vs #8 Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Miami Heat in 4

While Ellis and Jennings can get hot for a game, they just don’t have the firepower to challenge the defending champions.  We all “witnessed” the elite level LeBron James stepped up in the playoffs last year and it is hard to imagine the Heat stumbling out of the gate.  The only thing that can beat Miami in this series is if they start to believe that this will be easy and look to the second round before finishing business.  I simply don’t see that happening, though.  This one will get ugly…and be done fast.

#2 New York Knicks vs #7 Boston Celtics
Prediction: New York Knicks in 7 games

This is the hardest pick to make in round one.  I said it a few weeks ago that I believed the Celtics were “resting” players in an attempt to get to the seventh seed to face New York.  I think they know how well they match up with the Knicks.  Additionally, the Celtics know how to rattle the Knicks mentally.  This should be an absolute battle.

For the Knicks, the health of Tyson Chandler is imperative to their defense.  If he’s not at least eighty percent, they could be in trouble.  They also need to rely on JR Smith, who has shown immense improvement this season, but is always on the verge of shooting a team out of a game.

For the Celtics, this series is huge for Jeff Green.  If he can continue to step up and play well, as he has over the last couple of months, the Celtics become very dangerous.  Avery Bradley is one of the top on ball defenders in the league and could seriously disrupt the Knicks’ offense.  Paul Pierce is a big game player and, even at his age, can step up and put up massive numbers on any given night.

The home court advantage is non-existent in this series.  Both teams can go on the road and win.  This series is going to come down to who executes in crunch time.  There is not a player in the league that I want taking more fourth quarter shots than Carmelo Anthony.  He is a pure scorer that, no matter how he has shot all game, can get buckets when needed most.  He’s going to be the difference and the reason the Knicks advance.

#3 Indiana Pacers vs #6 Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Indiana Pacers in 6 games

The Pacers have looked inconsistent and bad the last couple of weeks.  If anything will cure that, it’s a series against the Atlanta Hawks.  Atlanta has established themselves as the ultimate fringe team over the past few seasons.  They are good enough to be a mid-seed in the playoffs and not do much once they are there.  They stay just good enough to avoid the lottery.  Unfortunately that puts a ton of pressure on their management to scout properly and bring in the right talent.  Given their lack of progress over the past few seasons, they haven’t done enough.

This series is Indiana’s to lose.  It’s that simple.  They are flat out better at every aspect of the game, with personnel that fits what they want to do.  Frank Vogel has a young and talented team, with the emerging Paul George leading the way.  This series will be heavy on home court advantage, but the Pacers will find a way to put the Hawks away in Atlanta in game six.  Then we’ll watch as Josh Smith leaves Atlanta and they may just finally take a step…backwards.

#4 Brooklyn Nets vs #5 Chicago Bulls
Prediction: Chicago Bulls in 6 games

If your playoff hopes hinge on Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, I’m betting on the other team.  Johnson, in his first season with Brooklyn, was part of the mediocrity that is the Atlanta Hawks.  While he can occasionally shine, consistency is not his strength.  I’ve seen too many games this year that he is just not present, and that does not bode well for the Nets.  Williams has playoff experience, and is seemingly stepping his game up lately, could help push the Nets in the right direction.  However, Chicago’s defense is spectacular and should be able to contain him.

Chicago, despite Derrick Rose’s absence, should be able to squeak some wins out behind the erratic Nate Robinson and underappreciated Luol Deng.  The “X” factor in the series could come in the paint.  On paper, the match-up of Joakim Noah/Carlos Boozer should beat Brook Lopez/Reggie Evans.  The problem facing Chicago is the health of Noah.  If he is not able to bring his usual energy and hustle, they could be in trouble as Reggie Evans is a nuisance.  Evans could be the key to Brooklyn’s chances, much the way he was against Memphis last season when he was a Clipper.  This series will not be pretty, and that’s exactly what Chicago thrives in.

There you have it.  The NBA playoffs will feature the best of the best and storylines to captivate us all.  Is it time to tip off yet?



Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @wahly22

Friday, April 12, 2013

The 2012-13 Wahly Awards...NBA Edition

As we enter the final week of the NBA’s regular season, we become inundated with projected award winners.  Not to be outdone, I wanted to unveil the 2012-13 Wahly Award winners!  Most categories have been locked up for a few weeks, but some late pushes in others may just surprise you.  Without further ado…The Wahly’s.

Most Valuable Player

1.     LeBron James – Miami Heat
2.     Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
3.     Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

It’s hard to imagine anyone else holding the hardware for the NBA.  LeBron James will lock up his fourth (should be five, but the media was a little too mad at him when he arrived in South Beach so congrats Derrick Rose) MVP in five seasons.  We all tried to put Durant, Paul and Carmelo in this category early in the season, but it is really not a question as to who the best player on the planet is.  I have a feeling he’ll lose out on a few MVP’s in the future, as voters will try to spread the love, but watching James control a team is pure art.

I also feel obligated to address the overly vocal pro-Kobe Bryant for MVP crowd.  While he is having a great individual season statistically, one key component in winning an MVP should be team wins.  In reality, how valuable are you when you flirt with 0.500 all season and possibly sneak into or miss the playoffs?

Sixth Man of the Year

1.     Corey Brewer – Denver Nuggets
2.     J.R. Smith – New York Knicks
3.     Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers

This award has been extremely to predict this season.  Jamal Crawford started out hot and was nearly a shoe-in before the All-Star break.  That momentum disappeared quickly as J.R. Smith seemed to figure out, after many years, what it takes for him to be great.  Jarrett Jack in Golden State was also playing so well, offensively, earlier this season.

In the end, I went with Brewer.  While integral parts of their teams, no one else on the list pushes the success of their team off the bench than Corey Brewer.  His stats may not blow you away, but simply watch this guy on the court.  He is a tremendous defender, routinely disputing offenses and initiating Denver’s lethal fast break.  He’s tremendously efficient shooting the three ball from the corner (42.5%) and attacks the basket with ruthless aggression.  His game has thrived in Denver and he has been the catalyst for many Nuggets victories this season.  They win on his energy alone on some nights.  He’s certainly a dark-house in the media, but he can’t be overlooked.  Sixth man always seems to be associated with a guy who comes off the bench and lights it up offensively.  While Brewer can absolutely do that, and does frequently, he adds the defensive energy that can push a second unit to lead their team to victories.  That is the reason he takes home the hardware.

Defensive Player of the Year

1.     Andre Iguodala – Denver Nuggets
2.     Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls
3.     Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs

The DPOY is an award that routinely drives me nuts when it is awarded.  It has been awarded to a big man for eight consecutive seasons, and while not always a travesty, wing defenders are largely ignored.  Last season, Serge Ibaka finished second in voting behind Tyson Chandler.  I was completely in favor of Chandler’s win, but why was Ibaka there?  Yes, he blocks shots, but what else?  There’s more to defense than blocking shots.  Larry Sanders seems to be getting a push for this year’s award and it completely blows my mind!  I want someone who can defend multiple positions.  If you’re a big man, I want you to dominate the glass.  I want you to fill up the stat sheet, but also do the hidden things on the court.

For those reason, I had to go with Andre Iguodala in a close race with Joakim Noah.  Iguodala’s defense is absolutely spectacular.  On any given night, he will be responsible for the best player on the opposing team.  He’s always active and in the right spots.  Most importantly, he is fifth-best in points allowed in one-on-one scenarios.  He absolutely locks people down.

Noah slightly loses simply due to injury.  He just hasn’t been out there as much as Iguodala, and when you’re in a race, you have to be out there.  Duncan slightly beat out Marc Gasol and Avery Bradley for third.  Duncan has been an elite defender his entire career and continues to dominate with his footwork and positioning better than any big man in the league.

Rookie of the Year

1.     Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers
2.     Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets
3.     Harrison Barnes – Golden State Warriors

This one seemed simple on draft night.  The award was Anthony Davis’ to lose.  He was coming in with a great reputation based on his National Championship run at Kentucky, followed by his gold medal at the Olympics.  Unfortunately, injuries derailed a chunk of his season and opened up the door for others.  Well that door didn’t just open, it was kicked in by Damian Lillard.  The four year starter from Weber State exploded on the scene in game one of the season when he posted an impressive 23 point, 11 assist win over the much-hyped Lakers.  He hasn’t looked back since.

Most Improved Player of the Year

1.     Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks
2.     Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic
3.     Chandler Parsons – Houston Rockets

Sometimes all a player needs is an opportunity to play.  It can take a change of scenery or simply just more minutes for someone to thrive.  What I always look at when looking for improvement is how the players’ stats reflect more court time.  If your court time doubles; your stats and output should likely double

Sanders’ minutes about doubled from last year to this year and his stats reflect that…and then some.  While averaging 3.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season, he has exploded since becoming the starter in Milwaukee.  He has jumped to 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.  His rebounds tripled.  His points almost tripled.  His blocks almost doubled.

Vucevic can make the same case so the tiebreaker is…team wins!  Sanders is a key piece to a playoff team.  It’s hard not to reward someone whose impact on the court is helping his team succeed.

Coach of the Year

1.     George Karl
2.     Erik Spoelstra
3.     Mike Woodson

I will admit to this being a sentimental pick.  George Karl is one of the best coaches the league has ever seen, yet is also one of the most underappreciated coaches in the league.  He has coached 21 consecutive non-losing seasons, tying Phil Jackson for that honor.  He has helped Denver consistently reach the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons (he has been there for 9 of them). He is part of an extremely exclusive list of coaches to win over 1,000 regular season games.  While he hasn’t won an NBA title, this award is for regular season accomplishments.

This season has been Coach Karl’s masterpiece.  Despite not having a “superstar” or All-Star, he led the Denver Nuggets to their best regular season record in franchise history; all this with the third youngest roster in the league.  Karl is turning conventional wisdom on its head and utilizing, as he likes to say, “teamness” to win games.  While he never truly knows who is going to have a great game each night, he’s able to utilize lineups that provide match up nightmares for opponents.  He can kill you with small ball or battle big, if that’s what the game calls for.  He’s also been able to keep momentum going despite injuries to key pieces of his lineup, Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari.

Karl’s true value can be seen in the improvement of his younger talent.  Kenneth Faried has continued to grow his offensive repertoire.  Kosta Koufos has developed into a very serviceable big man, who is always in the right place at the right time.  Karl allowed Corey Brewer to get more minutes and thrive.  Karl has also utilized the energy and awkwardness of JaVale McGee, and turned him into a force off the bench.  Additionally with JaVale, he didn’t immediately throw him into the starting lineup just because he got a big contract in the offseason.  Coaches too often fall into that trap, but Karl knows what works with his team and has the freedom to do what is best.

Karl has taken a team of perceived “spare parts” and turned them into a contender.  Maybe he’s a genius, or maybe the players in Denver are better than you think.  Either way, this season has been masterful and should be rewarded.

Executive of the Year

1.     Masai Ujiri – Denver Nuggets
2.     Daryl Morey – Houston Rockets
3.     Chris Wallace – Memphis Grizzlies

The pieces that Masai Ujiri put into place have been nothing short of spectacular.  He took the puzzle of building an NBA roster and perfected it without the aid of a large market to draw players to.  He was able to lock-up Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos (the underappreciated starting center), JaVale McGee (key bench contributor), Wilson Chandler and acquire Andre Iguodala as part of the Dwight Howard to Lakers deal.  As previously written by Nuggets beat writer Chris Dempsey, the Nuggets are the clear winners of the four team deal.  In a league of superstars, the Nuggets GM has created a roster tailor-made for Coach George Karl’s style and it has set franchise records in wins, home wins and home wins in a row.  Pretty remarkable for a team that doesn’t get much press and attention.

Morey made some good acquisitions with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, but the handling of Royce White is a black eye that I can’t seem to look past.  While Wallace’s trade of Rudy Gay has been a success, this team doesn’t seem any better than it was two seasons ago when they were in the Western Conference semi-finals.

So there you have it.  Despite not having an All-Star or “superstar”, the Denver Nuggets (currently 3rd in the West) take some hardware back to the Mile High city.  Some of you may perceive this as a bias on my part, and maybe it is, but the fact remains that the Nuggets are the third best team in the league.  They are comprised of players and coaches that back up every point I make.  Whether you want to believe it or not, the points above have credibility.

While I’m sure there are awards you agree with and others you disagree with, it’s clear that the NBA is spilling over with talent.  This is probably the most talent-rich the NBA has been in a quarter of a century, and I can’t wait for next week when the second season, the playoffs, tip-off.




Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Joy of Sports Documentaries

I have always been a fan of documentaries, especially as it pertains to sports.  There’s something infinitely enjoyable about watching an athlete or team go through so much to hopefully accomplish their goal.  These glimpses into what it takes to be a high level competitor are both entertaining and jaw-dropping.  Witnessing struggle and sacrifice makes you truly appreciate what these individuals go through.

For fun, I wanted to countdown my all-time favorite sports/competition themed documentaries.  In all honesty, there are not criteria to be eligible for my list outside of needing some type of competition in the backdrop.  Hopefully you’ve seen them, but if not, I hope this provides you with an enjoyable list if titles to check out.

Honorable Mention

Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs the New York Knicks – From ESPN’s exemplary 30 for 30 series, Winning Time documents the heated rivalry during the 1990’s between Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller and the New York Knicks.  As told through the eyes of Miller and many of the key participants, it’s a fun look back at some of the more memorable moments of the NBA during that era.

More Than A Game – The story of LeBron James and his teammates as they journey through high school into superstardom.  It’s an amazingly crafted piece that not only shows the evolution of an international icon, but also shows what it is like to be in that shadow.  While LeBron jumps off the screen with his presence, it’s truly enjoyable to watch how this group is one unit.  No one was bigger than the team and that team was the epitome of family. It is a beautiful portrayal of sport, family, support and growth.

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows – In the incredibly scripted world of professional wrestling, this story documents the very real side of the industry.  Following 90’s superstar Bret Hart, we see the struggle of a man grasping for integrity, while losing focus on his reality.  The story culminates in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”, in which the script is thrown out the window by WWF CEO Vince McMahon and chaos erupts.  This is truly an outstanding look into a world most often ridiculed, but needs to gain more respect.

The U – Another entry into the 30 for 30 series, The U documents the rise and fall of the University of Miami’s football team.  Watching the team rise up under Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmie Johnson and Dennis Erickson is fun, but the meat of this story is the multitude of interviews by former players that really tell the tale.  For Miami fans, it is a must see to enjoy to great moments.  For the Miami haters out there, it’s likely a great reminder of why you hate them in the first place.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Probably the most unlikely inclusion on my list, King of Kong tells the story of an everyday man trying to break the arcade scoring record on Donkey Kong.  As simple of a story as it sounds, the characters and twists involved are absolutely surreal.  It is truly like watching an alternate universe of humanity.  Such an entertaining trek into an obscure world.

Now on to the top five favorites!

The ESPN 30 for 30 series set the bar for what sports documentaries should be.  The stories have been so well crafted and exposed so many aspects of sport.  The most intriguing and eye opening one, for me, was Catching Hell.  The story surrounds Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series between the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs.  While that may not tip you off, you may remember this game for the “Steve Bartman incident”.  As the story goes, Steve Bartman possibly interfered with a foul ball and started a chain of events that prevented the Cubs from reaching the World Series.

There are so many interesting stories in this film; ranging from other spectators in the crowd to the security guard who assisted Bartman out of the stadium that night.  What struck me most during the film was the usage of fan-made video from that night.  We were placed right into the stands at Wrigley Field that night and witnessed some of the more disturbing images of that evening.  The fan reaction, all pointed at one individual, was shocking.  Sports are taken extremely serious in this country, and unfortunately, that can be reflected in a negative way.  A bright light was shone on the ugly side of sports and really makes you evaluate how you conduct yourself at these events.  The mob mentality is a scary thing and is on full display during the film.

The only negative was the lack of Bartman himself.  However, he’s a man that has never come out to tell his story.  Despite numerous attempts over the years (including some very large monetary possibilities), he has never spoken out about the events of that night.  While I mention it as a negative, I can’t help but respect the fact that he has stayed true to himself and never capitalized on his fame…or infamy.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of professional wrestling, and have been since I was a kid.  While it isn’t considered a “sport”, the athleticism is undeniable.  The stories they tell, utilizing larger than life personalities, is simply a fun escape from everyday life.  It’s something fathers and sons can bond over, which is something quite meaningful to me as the proud father of a 3 year old son.  Not long ago, Marshall walked downstairs to see me watching WWE Monday Night Raw and saw the performer CM Punk.  He paused for a second, looked at the TV and back to me and said, “He has tattoos like you, Daddy.  I like him.”  You can’t beat moments like that.

There are millions of positive stories like that people can tell, but the greatness of Beyond the Mat lies in the storytelling of men all in different stages of their careers.  The story of New Jack, a hardcore performer in the now defunct ECW, as he explores possibilities outside of wrestling.  The heartwarming story of Mick Foley, whose years of hard work has paid off to become one of the top draws of the industry.  The heartbreaking story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who was working independent shows in small towns.  Broke, out of shape, drug addicted and estranged from his family; his life is out of control and there seems to be no hope in sight.

There are so many images of this film that stand out, but nothing will resonate more than watching Mick Foley’s family sit front row during one of his matches.  It’s almost painful to watch his family as they see the patriarch of their home bleed profusely after taking repeated steel chair shots to the head.

The tears are genuine.  The pain is unbelievably real.  The warmth, passion and love for family and business are unparalleled.  In an unreal world, we see the reality of what goes into their lives.

#3 – Tyson

The best stories can only be told by the people who experienced them.  In Tyson, legendary boxer Mike Tyson lets the world in on his history.  Almost presented like an interview, Tyson narrates his life growing up poor in a bad neighborhood all the way to the heights of his fame and fortune.

Tyson tells his story with such an understated energy.  He’s not boasting, nor is he humble.  He’s simply Mike Tyson and the stories he tells are told in a “matter of fact” way.  That’s what makes this such an interesting watch.  It’s not just a peek behind the curtain, it a complete view behind the scenes of a man once considered the “Baddest Man on the Planet”.  By the end of the film, you feel like you have watched Tyson grow and evolve as a person.  He has learned some hard lessons; lessons that seemingly beat him down, but in the end, couldn’t knock him out.

Redemption stories are fun to watch, and when this was released, his complete story had yet to be finished.  Since the release, he has appeared in the Hangover films and made various appearances (including Broadway) making over his once frighteningly rough exterior.  Tyson is the ultimate story of redemption.  He had it all, lost it all and is regaining the most important part…himself.

I grew up a fan of mixed martial arts and, specifically, the UFC.  When the first UFC event took place a stone’s throw away from me, I was immediately hooked.  The basic premise was simple back then, which fighting style was the best?  Was it karate, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing, etc.?  The UFC set out to prove that, and would eventually evolve into the amazing combat sport it is today.

The Smashing Machine tells the story of Mark Kerr, a Division I wrestling champion who had taken the MMA world by storm.  He, along with film co-star Mark Coleman, popularized the “ground and pound” style in which they took their opponent down and brutalized them with fists and elbows.  Kerr’s story is sad, though, as he struggled with addictions that derailed his promising career.

The thing that makes this film special is the dichotomy between Kerr and Coleman.  Kerr seemingly relied on natural ability while Coleman worked harder than others.  Kerr focused on a volatile relationship with his girlfriend while Coleman was happy with his wife and daughters.  Coleman’s maturity burst through the screen while Kerr’s immaturity was shown in stark contrast.  These differences are never clearer than in the last tournament they were to compete together.  While Kerr’s life seems to collapse around him, Coleman’s thrives.

The stark differences between these two competitors shine during the film.  That’s what really stands out during the film.  Kerr struggles through addictions and his life, which while sad, are an indicator that not all elite athletes possess the internal drive it takes to be a champion.  Physical gifts can only take you so far.  The mental make-up of athletes is almost more important, and it is on full display in The Smashing Machine.

#1 – Murderball

I can’t recall being moved by a film as much as I was for Murderball, the story of the United States Paralympic rugby team.  Wheelchair rugby is a full-contact sport, specially designed for competitors with disabilities.  The sport itself is covered and central to the film, and is clearly an intense competition.  However, the sport is simply a backdrop for the amazing stories of the participants themselves.

When seeing someone confined to a wheelchair, the regular reaction is one of sympathy; almost a pity of what that individual has to go through.  This film takes that feeling, that stereotype, and shatters it.  There’s no pity needed.  These are just regular people, living their life in an extraordinary way.  You get to watch them interact as a team, interact with their rivals and overcome adversities.

The greatest aspect of this film is getting to know the players as people off the court.  You get to take a journey with them and understand why they are who they are.  The most recognizable of the group is Mark Zupan; the outspoken, tattooed breakout star of the film.  Zupan is wheelchair bound due to an automobile accident from when he was in college.  While passed out in the back of the truck, his friend behind the wheel got into the accident that threw Zupan from the bed of the truck.  During the film you see the two of them together, although there is distance between them that comes through the screen.  Watching them together during the Paralympics is so powerful, as the feeling of forgiveness and acceptance radiates through.

The film also contains the story of a man recently injured and wheelchair bound.  While attempting to cope with everything and the changes his life is faced with, he discovers wheelchair rugby.  As low and defeated as he seems, you can see the light in his head pop on the moment he gets in the custom rugby chair.  You can see his journey has just started, but that simple chair pushes him in a better direction.


I hope you take the chance on these films, if you haven’t had the chance previously.  They encompass the joy of sport, but moreover, the power of the human spirit.  They display resilience, pain and obstacles that need overcome.  No matter what the reason you watch, I just know inspiration is right around the corner.



Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com