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Tilman Fertitta buys the Rockets

Meet the new boss.

Houston billionaire Tillman Fertitta has reached an agreement to purchase the Houston Rockets from Leslie Alexander.

The $2.2 billion sale price to break the NBA record sale of $2 billion from when the Clippers were sold to Steve Ballmer, according to the person familiar with the terms of the deal.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said in a statement. “This is a life-long dream come true.

“Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion. Lastly, out of respect for the NBA’s approval process, I can say no more other than I am overwhelmed with emotion to have this opportunity in my beloved city of Houston.”

See here for the background. I have no deep opinion on Fertitta – Jeff Balke makes the case for optimism in the Press, if you’re interested – but at least he’s a local and so hopefully won’t have some back-of-the-brain urge to move the team somewhere else some day. Mostly, what I have to say is 1) Don’t screw it up Tilman, and 2) the last time the Rockets changed ownership, they won the next two NBA championships. I’m sure that pattern will repeat itself. Deadspin has more.

Rockets for sale

The end of an era.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, among the longest-tenured owners in North American professional sports, has put the franchise up for sale, team president Tad Brown announced Monday in a stunning, hastily-called news conference after Alexander reached his decision.

Brown said Alexander, 73, has no health issues that led to the decision to sell the team nearly 24 years to the day after he purchased it for $85 million from Charlie Thomas. Brown said Alexander reached the decision that shocked the NBA, the organization and even those closest to him Monday morning.

“It’s something he’s been thinking about a little bit,” Brown said. “It can wear on you after so many decades. There are passions in his life now that are becoming more and more clear, his family and his philanthropic efforts.

“He made the decision. Once he makes up his mind, his mind is made up.”

Brown said there is no specific timetable for the sale of the team, but the NBA does have a list of prospective buyers that have shown interest in purchasing a team. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bid for the team in 1993, said he would be interested again. The price tag could run as high as the record $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers sold for three years ago.

Brown will oversee the effort to sell the team in consultation with the league. He said Alexander is committed to finding a buyer that will keep the team in Houston. It would be unlikely that any ownership group would seek to move the team to a considerably smaller market. The Rockets’ lease with Toyota Center runs through 2033.

Forbes in February placed a valuation on the franchise at $1.65 billion, though Brown said those valuations have typically been “very low” when teams have been sold. The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $850 million in 2015, the most recent sale of an NBA team.

Like most people, I am sorry to see Alexander go. Beyond the cachet he gets from being the owner for two championship teams – and though they are now long gone, he gets credit for four Houston Comets championships, too – he was just exactly the kind of owner a fan could want. He put the team first, he didn’t shy away from letting his GM make a big move, and he was a very good public citizen. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Rockets fan, and that’s something I can’t say about any other team I root for. Godspeed, Les Alexander. I can only hope your successor follows in your footsteps. NBA.com, ESPN, Yahoo, and the Press have more.

Athletes against SB6

From Athlete Ally:

Dear Texas,

The love of sport is in part what makes Texas great. The passion and competitive spirit that reverberates throughout the Texas athletic community is hard to match across the United States. It’s that passion – and the storied history of Texas athletics – that often makes the state a go-to destination for major sporting events and why we love to compete in the Lone Star state.

As members of the athletic community, we’re committed to upholding the very values that sport instills in each of us. Values like fair play, equality, inclusion and respect. We believe that everyone should be afforded the same access, opportunity and experience both in sport and under the law. This is why we’re joining together to speak out against Senate Bill 6 (SB6), and the dozen more anti-LGBT bills already filed, and the harm they would do to the state of Texas, to the transgender community, and to the sports we have come to know and love.

SB6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms based on “biological sex,” and would preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans and visitors to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Other bills filed would prevent same-sex couples from getting married, allow campus groups to reject LGBT members, nullify local non-discrimination protections, allow healthcare professionals and educators to discriminate against LGBT people, and more.

As long as bills like these remain a possibility, Texas is sending a clear signal that LGBT players, fans, coaches and administrators are not welcomed or respected, both on and off the field. This should worry Texas, as the athletic community has clearly stood by its LGBT constituents and against discriminatory legislation. We have seen this story unfold in North Carolina, and we do not want it to be repeated in Texas.

Over the next year, Texas is slated to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, the World Golf Championships, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, and many more. A recent economic impact study showed that the local San Antonio economy will receive a boost of $135 million in direct spending as a result of hosting the Men’s Basketball Final Four. Additionally, the study predicts an influx of 71,000 out-of-town visitors to the San Antonio area, resulting in a rise in spending at local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores and entertainment venues. Texas will likely not have the honor of hosting such prestigious events should bills like SB6 become law. This would be a shame for the state of Texas, but it can be avoided.

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Members of the Athletic Community

There are some 55 signatories, and if I have one complaint about this otherwise fine letter it’s that the large majority of them are not from Texas. Former Baylor star Brittney Griner is the most notable Texan, and I am delighted beyond words to see five people from my alma mater on there – three coaches, one administrator, and one current student. I wish there had been more, but let’s view this as a starting point and go from there. Link via ThinkProgress.

Of more immediate interest is this:

A top Republican in the Texas House has confirmed he will hold a public debate on the so-called bathroom bill, but he said he doesn’t see any reason for it to become law.

“In all the years I’ve been on [the House Committee on] State Affairs, we’ve never seen an issue that would indicate there’s a need to address a bathroom bill,” Byron Cook, the Corsicana Republican who chairs the committee that will next take up the measure, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “There’s no evidence of a problem.”

[…]

The bathroom bill has become one of the chief areas of disagreement this year between the House and Senate. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the measure one of his top priorities, just as [House Speaker Joe] Straus said it wasn’t one of his. The House speaker said it’s more crucial that lawmakers grapple with how to fund public schools and an ailing child welfare system in a tight budget year.

“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they’re discussing in the Senate,” Straus said last week when a Senate committee debated the bill.”They have their agenda; we have ours.”

Hard to know for sure what that means in practice. As the story notes, we don’t know when – or even if – Rep. Cook will schedule this for a committee hearing and possible vote. That’s what you need to keep your eye on, and it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the State Affairs Committee members and tell them what you think about SB6.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?

Again, there is no such thing as an acceptable bathroom bill

The current strategy for Dan Patrick in trying to round up support for, or at least blunt opposition to, his bathroom bill is to claim that it will contain exceptions for sports venues, so no one needs to worry about boycotts or other bad things. Unfortunately for Dan, no one is buying it, and the actual lived experience of North Carolina remains the prime piece of evidence why.

But in the shadow of the millions of dollars in lost tourism-related revenue in North Carolina, opponents of the Texas bill warn that perception trumps specifics when it comes to business and that the exemption may not prevent Texas from feeling the economic repercussions that riddled the Tar Heel State.

“We have discussed that with our meeting planners and sports organizers — they don’t care about the nuances,” said Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones, whose group is among a coalition of Texas tourism bureaus and commerce chambers organizing in opposition to SB 6. “Perception is reality, and if there’s a perception that there’s a discrimination taking place in Texas that’s sanctioned by the state as a result of this bill, they will bypass Texas.”

SB 6 would restrict bathroom and locker room use in public schools and government buildings to be based on “biological sex,” and it would override portions of local anti-discrimination ordinances meant to provide transgender Texans protections from discrimination in public bathrooms and other facilities.

But while the bill would require government entities to set bathroom policies for other public buildings, such entities that oversee publicly owned venues would have no say in the bathroom policies in place while sports leagues like the NCAA hold championship games at a stadium or during a performer’s concert at an arena.

[…]

Officials in North Carolina used a similar argument to defend their bathroom law, but it still cost the state millions in cancellations: The NBA moved an All-Star Game from Charlotte, costing the city $100 million in profits. The city estimated it lost another $30 million when the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled its football championship. Businesses scrapped expansions in the state, and performers canceled concerts. And the NCAA relocated seven championship games from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year.

In light of those cancellations, business and tourism officials in Texas say they are bracing for similar fallout, arguing that the stadium and convention center exemption probably won’t be enough to keep business from leaving the state.

“The really consistent message we get back is: Don’t count on it saving you,” Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said of feedback her group has received about the exemption from tourism officials in other states where similar legislation has been passed. Her nonprofit was recently set up to promote Texas businesses as LGBT friendly.

Associations holding conventions in Texas are already “expressing concern” over the legislation, tourism officials say. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has reached out to Patrick regarding the legislation, Patrick’s staff confirmed. And the Texas Association of Business, which represents hundreds of businesses and regularly sides with conservatives, is also opposed to the legislation, in part over concerns about it affecting the state’s ability to obtain business investments and recruit top talent to the state.

See here for some background. Jerry Jones is just another low level NFL adviser, so we don’t need to worry about what he has to say. Whatever you think about the NFL’s recent words, the fact remains that the NBA and the NCAA have shown with their actions and not just their words what they think of North Carolina’s bathroom bill, and if that state’s Republican-controlled legislature fails to repeal that law by the end of the month, they risk another demonstration of said opinion. There’s not enough lipstick in the entire Mary Kay collection for this porker. The only sensible thing to do is to leave SB6 in a back room somewhere, never to be seen again.

Super Bowl or bathroom bill?

Choose one or the other.

Texas’ next trip to the Super Bowl may hit a roadblock in Austin, where conservative lawmakers are pushing a bill to ban transgender people from the public bathrooms they feel most comfortable using.

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law (in Texas), that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email response to a Chronicle question about the bill.

It was the league’s first statement on the matter since the legislation was introduced in January.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” McCarthy added. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events, and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

[…]

The NCAA did not directly address the situation in Texas when pressed, but a spokesman noted the precedent it set in North Carolina.

The NBA, likewise, said it considers “a wide range of factors” in determining where to host events like the All-Star Game. “Foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally,” spokesman Mike Bass said in an email.

[…]

The NFL arguably represents the biggest threat. Houston’s NRG Stadium had barely emptied from last Sunday’s Super Bowl LI fans before civic boosters started talking about the next time the city would host the big game.

Former league official Frank Supovitz was quick to remind that the NFL in 1991 rescinded its offer to let the Phoenix area host a Super Bowl after Arizona legislators failed to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday.

The state policy was changed in 1992, and the 1996 Super Bowl was played in Arizona.

The NCAA has already moved championship events out of North Carolina, while sounding a very loud warning about future events. The NBA moved the All Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. You can make what you want of the NFL’s statements, but they sure look pretty clear to me. Meanwhile, Dan Patrick is over there swearing that nothing bad will happen if SB6 passes. Who ya gonna believe?

Also, too.

A coalition of faith leaders, including several reverends and a rabbi, offered a similar message Thursday at a press conference at First United Methodist Church near the Capitol, aiming to equate the “bathroom bill” and additional anti-LGBT measures filed this session to discriminatory acts that run contrary to their religions’ values.

“Today, there is a systematic effort underway to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in this state,” said Taylor Fuerst, a pastor at First United Methodist Church. “When such an injustice is done in the name of religion … faith leaders and people of faith cannot be silent. Our faith, our god calls us to stand up and speak out, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Fuerst also drew a parallel to the HERO debate and the current one over SB 6.

“They found what worked in Houston was to galvanize a certain branch of the faith community behind defeating [HERO] by using fear,” Fuerst said. “Those who are working for the passage of SB 6 and similar legislation found that approach worked and said, ‘Hey, we can use that.'”

The religious community had already entered the picture earlier this week, when Episcopal Church leaders suggested they could pull their triennial General Convention from Austin next year. In a letter Monday to House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has expressed deep reservations about SB 6, the leaders wrote they are “firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent.”

So that’s the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, the American Society of Association Executives (see the Chron story), the American College Personnel Association, the Episcopal Church, and who knows who else. (Actually, Texas Competes is tracking this sort of thing – see their spreadsheet for the details.) Anyone lining up to say they won’t come to Texas unless we do pass SB6? I didn’t think so. The Trib has more.

More on the cost of a bathroom bill

Whatever one thinks of the Texas Association of Business, you have to hand it to them for their lobbying focus on the great potty issue.

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a press conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

[…]

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

A copy of the report is here. We first heard about it a month ago. Here’s the bullet-point summary from the intro:

In summary, the studies demonstrate that discriminatory legislation could:

  • Result in significant economic losses in Texas’ GDP, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion
  • Result in significant job losses with estimates as high as 185,000 jobs
  • Substantially hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, especially among Millennials
  • Drastically impact convention and tourism industry, which has a direct economic impact of $69 billion, generates more than $6 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly and indirectly supports more than 1.1 million Texas jobs (Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Governor’s Office, 2015)
  • Serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business.
  • Alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League, which have opposed this amendment and similar ones
  • Allow for an expansion in discrimination, which is counter to prevailing public opinion and conflicts with corporate policies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As we know, Dan Patrick does not believe that passing a bathroom bill, which is one of his top priorities for this session, will have any negative effect on Texas. He finds it “ridiculous” and “more than offensive” that anyone would boycott Texas (as they have done in North Carolina) over it, and he says he’d consider losing the 2018 election over passing this bill to be an acceptable risk. He can believe what he wants, but the evidence is right there.

Patrick has shrugged off suggestions that major sporting events would stay away from Texas if his proposal became law. But those fears have been heightened in San Antonio, which is set to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

After North Carolina passed its version of a restroom law, the NCAA moved seven college basketball championship games out of the Tar Hell State, the NBA canceled its All Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew its college football championship and woman’s college basketball tournament, along with other events. Large companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank also dropped expansion plans in the state.

“I think the evidence is crystal clear that the NCAA will not host anymore championships in Texas if we were to pass a law similar to North Carolina,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t need anymore proof than seeing what they did in North Carolina. Why would they treat Texas differently? Whey would they give us a special pass?”

I don’t think it’s possible for them to make it any clearer that they wouldn’t. And by the way, there are a lot more events than just the Final Four – the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship finals will be right here in Houston, at BBVA Compass Stadium, this Friday and Sunday, possibly for the last time if Patrick gets his way. Which gets me back to the question I keep asking, which is at what point does the TAB take him up on that and work to make Dan Patrick the next Pat McCrory? Because losing an election is the only language Dan Patrick will understand, and the lesson he will learn if TAB rolls over and endorses him as usual in 2018 is that he is not accountable to them, or to anyone. Your windup is great, TAB. Now let’s see your follow-through. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Business owners tell Dan Patrick to back off on bathrooms

More like this, please.

Saying Texas Republican leaders are threatening jobs and the economy, more than 200 small-business owners issued an open letter Tuesday urging legislators to abandon plans for a state law targeting transgender bathrooms.

The letter described “a growing sense of dread” that Texas will follow the path set by North Carolina, where a backlash to a similar law enacted in March will cost its economy several hundred million dollars in canceled sporting events, conventions, concerts and corporate investments.

“That’s why we oppose any Texas legislation — broad or narrow — that would legalize discrimination against any group,” the letter said. “That kind of legislation doesn’t just go against our values to be welcoming to everyone, it jeopardizes the businesses we’ve worked so hard to create, and it threatens the jobs and livelihoods of everyday Texans.”

Unveiled in San Antonio, home to the Final Four of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the letter was a direct response to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s calls for legislation that he has dubbed the Women’s Privacy Act.

[…]

Tuesday’s letter not only sets the stage for an animated battle when the 2017 legislative session convenes in January, it underscored deepening divisions between social conservatives and many in the business community — a typically reliable GOP ally — on issues that include gay marriage and allowing transgender Texans to use bathrooms that conform to their gender identity, not the gender on their birth certificate.

The legislative priorities for the Texas Association of Business, adopted last month by its board of directors, calls for opposition to religious freedom bills that are “discriminatory” and would hurt the economy. The powerful business lobbying group also opposed similar bills in the 2015 legislative session.

Many business owners who signed Tuesday’s open letter — which was sponsored by Equality Texas, a gay- and transgender-rights group — said they rely on tourism or the ability to serve expanding corporations.

“Texas has always been a place of fierce independence and a great big pioneering spirit,” said David Wyatt with Wyatt Brand, a business-support company in Austin that endorsed the letter. “Companies, voters and political donors won’t stand for legislators dictating government overreach into individual liberties.”

Other Austin businesses listed on the letter include GSD&M advertising, Home Slice Pizza, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Bunkhouse, which manages Hotel San José, Austin Motel and Hotel Saint Cecilia, as well as hotels in San Antonio and Marfa.

Just remember, Dan Patrick is Donald Trump’s biggest fanboy in Texas, so you know how much he respects the ladies. This all comes down to the same question I asked before, when the normally Republican-aligned Texas Association of Business came out against any anti-LGBT legislation that Patrick and his buddies might want to peddle: How much damage does Dan Patrick have to do to Texas’ business interests before they decide that he’s not worth it to them? Putting it another way, at what point do the Republican members of these groups quit trying to reason with the radicals and work instead to defeat them? The definition of political insanity is to continue voting for people who oppose your interests in the hope that maybe this time they’ll listen to you. What’s it gonna be, fellas? The Rivard Report, the Chron, and the Current have more.

ACC makes it three

So long, North Carolina.

Just two days after the NCAA announced they were moving scheduled tournaments out of North Carolina in protest of the state’s anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2, the Atlantic Coast Conference—which includes North Carolina’s biggest Division I programs like Duke, UNC, NC State, and Wake Forest—announced it would also relocate several of their conference championships elsewhere.

“As members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the ACC Council of Presidents reaffirmed our collective commitment to uphold the values of equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination,” ACC officials said in a statement. “Every one of our 15 universities is strongly committed to these values and therefore, we will continue to host ACC Championships at campus sites. We believe North Carolina House Bill 2 is inconsistent with these values, and as a result, we will relocate all neutral site championships for the 2016–17 academic year.”

That includes the ACC football championship game, which has been played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte since 2010. In February 2014, the conference announced a deal to keep the football championship game in Charlotte through 2019. Men’s basketball, the ACC’s other preeminent sport, held its conference tournament in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and is scheduled to hold the tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next March. It was last held in North Carolina in 2015.

[…]

“It’s embarassing for our state, and it’s cost our state immense money and jobs,” said longtime Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “But even more so, it’s hurt our image.” When asked on Tuesday if he hoped the ACC would follow the NCAA’s lead, he told Bloomberg Markets that he “hoped that they would.”

Duke Athletics Director Kevin White also issued a statement on Monday after the NCAA’s announcement, saying on behalf of the university that “we agree with the NCAA’s decision. Our position has been clear on this matter, which is that this legislation is discriminatory, troubling and embarrassing.”

This follows the NCAA’s decision to relocate all its 2016-17 championship games from North Carolina, which in turn followed the NBA’s decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game. You can whine about this all you like, but you can’t say you couldn’t have seen it coming. If Texas Republicans follow suit next year, they will have made the conscious decision to sacrifice these kind of events – and there’s more, of the non-sporting variety, where these came from – in the name of discrimination. Won’t that burnish our reputation as a “business-friendly” climate? The choice is theirs.

NCAA removes all championship games for 2016 and 2017 from North Carolina

Actions, they have consequences.

Based on the NCAA’s commitment to fairness and inclusion, the Association will relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year. The NCAA Board of Governors made this decision because of the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.

In its decision Monday, the Board of Governors emphasized that NCAA championships and events must promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans. Current North Carolina state laws make it challenging to guarantee that host communities can help deliver on that commitment if NCAA events remained in the state, the board said.

“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”

The board stressed that the dynamic in North Carolina is different from that of other states because of at least four specific factors:

  • North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
  • North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity.
  • North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community.
  • Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.

“As representatives of all three divisions, the Board of Governors must advance college sports through policies that resolve core issues affecting student-athletes and administrators,” said G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Board of Governors chair and Georgia Institute of Technology president. “This decision is consistent with the NCAA’s long-standing core values of inclusion, student-athlete well-being and creating a culture of fairness.”

These seven championship events will be relocated from North Carolina for 2016-17:

  • 2016 Division I Women’s Soccer Championship, College Cup (Cary), Dec. 2 and 4.
  • 2016 Division III Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships (Greensboro), Dec. 2 and 3.
  • 2017 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, first/second rounds (Greensboro), March 17 and 19.
  • 2017 Division I Women’s Golf Championships, regional (Greenville), May 8-10.
  • 2017 Division III Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships (Cary), May 22-27.
  • 2017 Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship (Cary), May 26 and 28.
  • 2017 Division II Baseball Championship (Cary), May 27-June 3.

Emmert said the NCAA will determine the new locations for these championships soon.

“The NCAA Constitution clearly states our values of inclusion and gender equity, along with the membership’s expectation that we as the Board of Governors protect those values for all,” said Susquehanna University President Jay Lemons, vice chair of the Board of Governors and chair of the ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusion. “Our membership comprises many different types of schools – public, private, secular, faith-based – and we believe this action appropriately reflects the collective will of that diverse group.”

Add that to the NBA’s decision to relocate the 2017 All Star Game, and you can see the consequences of that terrible law are starting to pile up. This was entirely self-inflicted, too, and after the blowback Indiana had gotten previously, North Carolina can’t say they couldn’t have seen this coming. Texas, if the Legislature insists on going on an anti-LGBT rampage next spring, has even less of an excuse. Surely even Dan Patrick can grasp the meaning of that first bullet point list above. The 2018 Men’s Final Four is in San Antonio, in case you had forgotten. All we have to do in order to avert catastrophe is to do nothing. Surely we are capable of that. ThinkProgress and the NYT have more.

NCAA lays down a marker on anti-LGBT legislation

Hope the Lege is paying attention, because they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

RedEquality

The NBA and NCAA may have just dealt a preemptive, one-two knockout punch to anti-LGBT bills in the upcoming Texas Legislature, which convenes in January.

First, the NBA announced plans to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which restricts restroom access for transgender people and prohibits cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.

Then, the NCAA responded to HB 2 by saying it will quiz prospective championship host cities about whether they protect LGBT people against discrimination. Texas cities hosted three of the last six men’s basketball Final Four tournaments, and the event, with an estimated economic impact of $75 million, is slated for San Antonio in 2018.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other GOP state lawmakers have indicatedthey plan to push legislation similar to HB 2 in next year’s session. However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones told the Observer that even if such a bill were to clear the Patrick-led Senate, he believes it would die at the hands of moderate Republican House speaker Joe Straus.

“In the House, it’s difficult to see any HB 2-type legislation making it out of committee,” Jones said. “The speaker isn’t going to let something through that would have a negative impact on Texas businesses and could result in the cancellation of sporting events.”

A spokesman for Straus, who represents San Antonio, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Patrick, who previously railed against“threats” of backlash from corporations and sporting events over anti-LGBT legislation such as HB 2, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and emails.

In defense of anti-LGBT legislation, Patrick has pointed out the men’s Final Four was held in Houston in April despite voters’ decision to repeal the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance last November. But the NCAA Board of Governors didn’t adopt new diversity guidelines for host cities until after the 2016 Final Four, and Jones drew a distinction between voters repealing a nondiscrimination ordinance and legislators passing an anti-LGBT bill.

[…]

Jessica Shortall, managing director for Texas Competes, said the announcements from the NBA and NCAA are part of a growing pattern in which the corporate sector not only sees LGBT discrimination as incompatible with its values, but is increasingly willing to stand up against LGBT discrimination.

“This trend isn’t going away, and it will continue to have deep effects on municipal and state economies,” she said. “The sports community is sending strong and unified signals on this topic, and that’s something that has to have the attention of economic development professionals who work to secure lucrative bookings, as well as of everyday citizens who care about economic health and jobs in their communities.”

The Current covers the local angle.

Here in San Antonio, City Council approved adding gender identity and sexual orientation to its non-discrimination ordinance three years ago, and has since hired a diversity and inclusion officer and built a dedicated website that’s supposed to be a one-stop shop for non-discrimination complaints. Part of the NCAA’s new bidding policy for championships includes a non-discrimination ordinance requirement. However, the NCAA announced in 2014 that San Antonio will host the NCAA Final Four in 2018 — two years before the association’s policy change.

That doesn’t mean that San Antonio won’t be required to prove to the NCAA that its policies don’t discriminate and provide “an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.” Last week, the NCAA announced it was sending questionnaires to all cities interested in hosting future NCAA championships but it’s also sending one to San Antonio, along with other currently awarded host sites, as first reported by the San Antonio Business Journal.

Mayor Ivy Taylor’s office didn’t respond to our request for comment on whether the mayor, who voted against the non-discrimination ordinance in 2013, thinks the city’s rule will pass that bar. However, it likely will. In basic terms, the NCAA wants to know whether a community even has a non-discrimination ordinance, whether it regulates bathrooms or locker rooms, and whether it has provisions that allow for the refusal of accommodations or services to any person.

Where it’s going to get hairy for San Antonio is that the questionnaire also wants to know whether state law clashes with the NCAA’s new criteria.

The NBA’s message to North Carolina was pretty clear. Like a child who’s been denied candy as an afternoon snack, Dan Patrick can pout and stamp his feet all he wants, but these are the rules of engagement. If Patrick and his brethren in zealotry want to propose legislation that would limit the ability of private companies to treat their employees with equality – because nothing says “party of small government” and “promoting a healthy climate for business” like that would – then he should go right ahead. This is all in character for Dan Patrick, who doesn’t handle entities that disagree with him well. Whether he likes it or not, he knows what the consequences for his behavior will be. What he does from here is entirely up to him. The Press has more.

NBA pulls 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte

Bam!

The NBA issued the following statement Thursday regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game:

“The NBA has decided to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte with the hope of rescheduling for 2019.

“Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change. We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.

“Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community — current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans. While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.

“We are particularly mindful of the impact of this decision on our fans in North Carolina, who are among the most passionate in our league. It is also important to stress that the City of Charlotte and the Hornets organization have sought to provide an inclusive environment and that the Hornets will continue to ensure that all patrons — including members of the LGBT community — feel welcome while attending games and events in their arena.

“We look forward to re-starting plans for our All-Star festivities in Charlotte for 2019 provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter.

“The NBA will make an announcement on the new location of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in the coming weeks.”

See here for the background. ESPN, which reports that the Mayor of Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets, broadcasters ESPN and TNT, and numerous players all supported the decision, suggests there could be more like this to come:

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford told ESPN on Thursday that as of now the league will keep its December football championship in Charlotte. He did say that the conference will revisit the discussion in October.

Other major sporting events in Charlotte next year include the PGA Championship in August 2017 and a Sprint Cup race in May 2017. State senator Joel Ford (D) of Mecklenburg County said he believes the NBA’s decision will have a trickle-down effect.

“I’m anticipating, from a lot of discussions I’ve had with executives and professionals, that the NBA was the tip of the spear,” he said. “If the NBA took the All-Star Game away, (it is) going to put pressure on other professional sports franchises.”

That would be big indeed. USA Today adds on:

Cyd Zeigler of Outsports told USA TODAY Sports, “The NBA set an example for other leagues to follow. This is a stark contrast to how the NFL has handled its issues, such as the Super Bowl in Houston or its owner meeting in Charlotte. The NFL prints money essentially, but doesn’t prioritize LGBT inclusion. The NBA, with its corporate culture and leadership, took a major stand against discrimination.”

North Carolina general assembly representative and executive director of Equality NC Chris Sgro fought to repeal the bill or change the law. He feared the NBA would relocate if the state did not make significant changes to the law.

“The alarm bells have been going off for three months now at the incredibly economic harm of HB 2 and the NBA has expressed its concern over the safety, security and comfort of all fans,” Sgro told USA TODAY Sports. “We understand that concern, and I just cannot believe that Gov. McCrory is so negligent as to let to the city of Charlotte and state of North Carolina to lose the NBA All-Star Game.”

[…]

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “Enter the real world I would say to some states. I agree with the league and … everybody else who pulled out.”

Well, one of those states would be Texas. I wonder if having Coach Popovich testify in Austin next year against the likely onslaught of anti-LGBT bills would make a difference. If the NBA’s decision doesn’t do it, I don’t know what would. The Vertical, which broke the story, OutSports, and ThinkProgress have more.

What will the NBA do with Charlotte?

We are still waiting to see if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will follow through with a threat to move the NBA All-Star Game out of Charlotte after North Carolina passed its odious anti-LGBT law HB2.

RedEquality

Houston’s 2015 defeat of Proposition 1, an anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), could jeopardize future efforts to land NBA All Star events if the league views the Houston laws as similar to the North Carolina law that has the league considering withdrawing the 2017 All Star week from Charlotte.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, while enumerating again the league’s objection to holding its showcase event in Charlotte following the controversial passage of HB2, said Tuesday the NBA has specifically looked at laws in Houston and NBA cities while examining options in Charlotte.

“We’ve been looking closely at the laws in all the jurisdictions in which we play,” Silver said when asked if the league has specifically considered the laws in Houston.

[…]

Silver said in April that the NBA has been “crystal clear” that the league would not hold the All-Star events in Charlotte if the law remains unchanged. No decision about the 2017 game was made at Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting.

“We were frankly hoping they would take some steps toward modifying the legislation and frankly are disappointed that they didn’t,” Silver said. “Coming out of the legislative session, we wanted the opportunity to talk directly to our teams. This is a very core issue for us and we’re trying to be extremely cautious and deliberate in how we go about making the decision. We’re not trying to keep everyone in suspense. We realize we need to make this decision very quickly.”

Yes, they do. There are logistical issues with relocating the All-Star Game, as there would have been with moving the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston, which was a campaign issue during the HERO fight. I never believed the NFL would even consider moving the Super Bowl, as they stayed on the sidelines throughout the campaign and were highly likely to embarrass Bob McNair even if he hadn’t made and then rescinded a contribution to the anti-HERO forces.

The NBA on the other hand has publicly drawn a line in the sand, and now has to decide whether they really meant it or not, whatever the logistical challenges may be. My view as a parent is that if you threaten a consequence for bad behavior and then fail to enforce that consequence, the message you send is that you are tolerating said behavior. They could spin it however they wanted to if they choose to take no action – the logistics were too much to overcome, HB2 wasn’t in effect at the time they awarded the game to Charlotte, etc etc etc – but the message would be clearly understood by all. That includes the Texas Legislature, some of whose members are planning their own version of HB2 and who would have every reason to laugh off statements about future All-Star Games not just in Houston but also in San Antonio and Dallas if nothing happens to Charlotte.

I largely don’t care about the economics of this. One supports HERO and opposes HB2 because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any risk management decisions that some billionaires may be making. Polling data from the HERO campaign suggested that potential economic harm was something that affected people’s view, so it definitely needs to be factored in. If having the NBA All-Star Game yanked out of North Carolina gets people’s attention and makes it even marginally less likely that Texas adopts a similarly harsh and stupid law, it’s all to the good. Mostly, I feel that if the NBA is going to say they are going to do something, they ought to then go ahead and do it. We await your decision, Adam.

Tim Duncan retires

He will be missed.

By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA – Tim Duncan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14930160

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan today announced that he will retire after 19 seasons with the organization. Since drafting Duncan, the Spurs won five championships and posted a 1,072-438 regular season record, giving the team a .710 winning percentage, which is the best 19-year stretch in NBA history and was the best in all of the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB over the last 19 years.

Originally selected by the Spurs as the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, Duncan helped San Antonio reach the playoffs in each of his 19 seasons and became the only player in league history to start and win a title in three different decades. The Silver and Black won at least 50 games the last 17 seasons, the longest streak in league history, and posted at least a .600 winning percentage in each of Duncan’s 19 seasons, an all-time record for most consecutive seasons with a .600 win percentage in the four major U.S. sports.

The 40-year-old Duncan comes off of a season in which he led the NBA in Defensive RPM (5.41) and became just the third player in league history to reach 1,000 career wins, as well as the only player to reach 1,000 wins with one team. He helped the Spurs to a franchise-best 67-15 record and also became one of two players in NBA history to record at least 26,000 points, 15,000 rebounds and 3,000 blocks in his career (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Duncan totaled 15 All-NBA Team selections (tied for most all-time) and 15 NBA All-Defensive Team honors (most all-time), garnering both honors in the same season 15 times, the most in league history. The 1998 Rookie of the Year was named NBA MVP twice (2002, 2003) and NBA Finals MVP three times (1999, 2003 and 2005).

In his NBA career, the 15-time All-Star appeared in a total of 1,392 games and averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.17 blocks in 34.0 minutes. He shot .506 (10,285-20,334) from the floor and .696 (5,896-8,468) from the free throw line.

The Wake Forest graduate is the Spurs all-time NBA leader in total points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), blocked shots (3,020), minutes (47,368) and games played (1,392), as well as third in assists (4,225). In NBA history, Duncan is fifth all-time in double-doubles (841) and blocks, sixth in rebounding and 14th in scoring.

I was a Knicks fan as a kid in New York, but never followed them that closely; I’d say my interest peaked in the Bernard King years. After I graduated college and came to Houston, I began following the Rockets and attached myself to them. I feel confident saying that if I had stayed in San Antonio, I’d be a rabid Spurs fan now, and the lineage of Tim Duncan and David Robinson (drafted by the Spurs while I was still in college) would have made that quite a rewarding experience. Godspeed and happy retirement to you, sir. The Express-News and Five Thirty Eight have more.

No athlete should go to the Olympics if they don’t want to

Spare me.

It’s like a Draymond Green kick straight to your special place.

The world’s grandest athletic stage, providing a public platform for the greatest basketball stars alive to unite for a single cause.

Cherished history and untouchable names – Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – forever attached to your personal résumé.

The nation tuning in, a country coming alive and the summer of 2016 defined by draping a gold medal across your neck in Rio de Janeiro,instead of another boring offseason dedicated to free-agency rumors and daily tweets.

But Cleveland’s King won’t be there. Neither will the Rockets’ Weird Beard, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and a ridiculously self-absorbed collection of the NBA’s finest.

LeBron James gets a pass. He did what’s never been done. He returned decades of lost belief to the misnamed mistake by the lake. He can now do pretty much whatever the heck he wants until training camp.

The rest of the Association’s me-first, brand-second, country-third superstars could use a week-long reminder course in why they’re actually playing basketball for a living.

That’s as far as I got before my eyes rolled so far back in my head that I could no longer read what was on the page. I mean, gosh, can anyone think of any reason why someone might hesitate before getting on a plane for Rio this summer? Anyone at all? Just so Brian Smith – who mostly wrote this because he doesn’t like James Harden – knows, this was the first result that came up in Google for “rio olympics”. Yeah, yeah, Olympic ideals, representing your country, blah blah blah. I get that, and no doubt that is more than enough to lure plenty of athletes this summer. But good Lord, man. Have some perspective. And if you yourself go to Rio – are you going, Brian Smith? – I’d advise you to visit your doctor first and follow his or her advice to the letter. Maybe James Harden and Steph Curry and the rest of those NBA players did exactly that themselves.

The dry run for the Super Bowl

It went pretty well.

In less than a year, the Super Bowl is expected to draw almost twice as many as the 70,000 out-of-towners who flocked here for the Final Four. More than 1 million are expected to come downtown and to NRG Park from the Houston region, presenting even greater logistical and security challenges than those posed by the Final Four.

For Super Bowl planners, the NCAA Tournament was a test to see if, after 13 years, Houston is ready for the return of America’s most popular sporting event.

“We were helping them; they’re going to help us big time, make sure that we’re ready for our event,” said Ric Campo, chairman of the Super Bowl Host Committee, of Final Four planners. “There’s a lot of great lessons to be learned. You always can learn from on the ground in terms of what works and what doesn’t.”

Organizers said the Final Four affirmed Houston’s ability to host high-profile sporting events, with dozens of city and county agencies working together to manage traffic and crowds. Approximately 75,000 people attended the semifinals and the championship games, organizers said. About 165,000 attended the maxed-out Discovery Green concert. Organizers said the value in having a free concert outweighed the possibility of having to turn people away.

More than 55,000 went to a Final Four Fan Fast – featuring games and sports – at George R. Brown Convention Center.

“The surprise would be that for the most part, things went as we had planned,” said Doug Hall, president and CEO of the Final Four local organizing committee. “You never take that for granted in the event business.”

[…]

The Final Four also highlighted how the Super Bowl will be different. Instead of four days of activities, the Super Bowl likely will span 10 days, mostly focused on downtown, Campo said, including an expo in George R. Brown Convention Center with player and football events and Houston history and culture in the streets.

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president for events, said the NFL will release a more detailed schedule of events in the summer.

Campo said there will be 50 percent more street space available. While some 3,500 volunteers worked the Final Four, Super Bowl organizers are hoping to recruit up to 10,000 volunteers. So far they are about halfway to that total, but Campo said the window to sign up is closing.

“You need to get involved before it’s too late,” he said.

I doubt that Houston will have any difficulty being ready for the Super Bowl. We’ve done it before, and several other major sporting events as well. The light rail system, which was brand new and had multiple issues with cars not knowing how to stay out of its way back in 2004, is mature and running mostly smoothly. Downtown is a lot more visitor-friendly than it was in 2004. Basically, as long as the weather cooperates, all should go well.

Sheryl Swoopes elected to Basketball Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Swoopes, who contributed to the Comets’ memorable run of four WNBA championships after the league was established in 1997, winning three league MVP awards, and who played on three Olympic gold medal-winning teams, said she was proud to be announced as a Hall of Famer in the state where she played high school and college basketball (at Texas Tech) and became one of the foundations of the women’s pro game.

Still, she said, she feels a twinge of regret that she no longer has a home team to call her own with the Comets’ demise after the 2008 season.

“I went to the Rockets game (Sunday) and saw the Comets banners, and it brought back so many memories,” she said. “My mom said, ‘I hate that there’s no place for you to have your jersey retired.’

“If the Rockets would decide to do something like that, it would mean a lot to me. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make this honor any less special.”

Swoopes also received high praise from [fellow inductee Shaquille] O’Neal, who said, “She could play with us. That is how good she was.” Val Ackerman, who was the first commissioner of the WNBA and is now commissioner of the Big East Conference, said Swoopes “helped form the identity of the league.”

Swoopes joins Yao Ming in this Houston-centric Hall of Fame class. I attended a lot of Comets games back in the day, and Swoopes was a joy to watch – she could do it all on the court, and she did it with grace and tremendous athleticism. It would be nice for the Rockets to honor her at a game, as I’m sure they will do with Yao, and to hang her jersey from the rafters. She’s a distinguished part of Houston basketball history, and a key component of a team that won four straight championships. 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of that first championship. Let’s take the opportunity to celebrate that.

Lots of people took the train to the games

Nice.

HoustonMetro

After handling more than a quarter-million rail trips over the four-day NCAA Final Four period, Metro is calling it a slam dunk.

“These are numbers are fantastic for us,” spokesman Jerome Gray said.

Metro said 255,700 rail boardings occurred from Friday until Monday. That’s roughly 87,000 more for the four days than the system would typically carry. The figure also does not include about 4,500 people who hopped buses from NRG Park that ferried them downtown to relieve rail demand after the basketball games on Saturday and Monday nights.

The totals are also significantly higher than Metro reported in 2011, prior to opening three new segments of light rail in the area. Five years ago, about 148,300 people used light rail for the four days of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

One reason riders reported a smoother trip to and from the basketball games that increased Metro’s ability to carry people is the light rail expansion, which meant the agency had more cars, Gray said.

In 2011, Metro would have owned 18 rail cars. Today, more than 60 were available, though Metro operates roughly three times as much distance via rail.

Metro’s press release has a bit more detail:

Major events located downtown helped increase ridership on the Red Line by nearly 50 percent. This year the Red Line saw 219,000 passenger trips compared to 148,000 for 2011.

“Seeing 255,000 boardings on rail during the four day event is very impressive and shows what can happen with an expanded system,” said METRO President and CEO Tom Lambert. “This success comes on the heels of record Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo ridership and it shows METRO is a key travel option.”

During the 2016 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, more than 1.5 million boardings were taken on light-rail, compared to 1.3 million last year, a 23% increase.

So that’s 36,000 boardings on the other lines as well. I’m not sure if that includes the North line extension or if that’s counted with the Red line overall. It’s pretty good no matter how you look at it. Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t take the rail to one of Houston’s stadia if it’s at all an option. Park near a station if you need to, or make like you would for the airport and have someone drop you off and pick you up, and ride the rest of the way in. It’s way cheaper than parking at the stadium, and you don’t get stuck in traffic at either end. It just makes sense. KUHF has more.

Final Four weekend was pretty good for Houston

We’ll take it.

Beyond the basketball court, the Houston economy appears to be the big winner of the Final Four.

Across the city, several restaurants, bars and hotels reported big boosts in customers and cash flow, as an estimated 70,000 out-of-town basketball fans arrived for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Organizers say those fans could spend $150 million in a city that could use a lift as a prolonged oil slump persists.

“I feel like it’s exceeded expectations,” said Rachel Quan, vice president of external operations for the Houston Final Four Local Organizing Committee.

Many local officials and business leaders said they view the Final Four as something of a test-run for next year’s Super Bowl. The city is sprucing up to accommodate the thousands of expected visitors with a slew of development projects – from road improvements around NRG Stadium and Hobby Airport to building the Marriott Marquis that will connect with the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The benefits of hosting major sporting events -weighing costs and crowds versus the visitor spending and promotion – have long been debated. At times, the city struggled over the weekend to accommodate the swarms of Final Four visitors. Concerts at Discovery Green in downtown were so busy that police were forced to turn people away, leading some to complain of poor planning.

The Final Four alone might not create a wave of economic growth, but is the culmination of events like the Super Bowl and the annual Offshore Technology Conference next month that have the greatest potential impact, said Barton Smith, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston.

“Collectively, it can be a very important part of the Houston economy,” he said.

I’ve made plenty of fun of economic impact projections for sporting events, but this at least is talking about something that has already happened, and whatever you think about those projections, it’s a different matter when a business like Phoenicia reports a big increase in sales during the period in question. As always, you still have to be careful about accepting numbers like these on their face, as some folks might have stayed home instead of going out or otherwise not spent money that they would have if there hadn’t been a big event crowding the streets and clogging up traffic. We also don’t know how much the city had to spend on maintenance, overtime, cleanup, and what have you – that figure is never taken into account in these stories. But overall it seems that local businesses got a boost from the weekend’s activities, and that’s always a good thing. Let’s hope we get more of the same from next year’s Super Bowl.

Yao Ming elected to Basketball Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Yao Ming

Ground-breaking former Rockets center Yao Ming has been elected for inductions in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a person with knowledge of the voting confirmed on Wednesday.

Yao, the first player taken in the 2002 draft who became a bridge to the NBA’s successful outreach into China, was an All-NBA second-team selection twice and third-team pick three times before foot injuries cut his career short after playing parts of just eight NBA seasons.

One of the world’s most popular athletes, Yao, 35, was nominated by the Hall of Fame International Committee, automatically making him a finalist. His selection, first reported by Yahoo Sports, will be officially announced on Monday, with Yao saying he considered the timing of his initial eligibility coming in the year the Final Four and Hall of Fame announcement are in Houston to be “destiny.”

“Of course I’m very excited and very honored to be nominated by the Hall of Fame,” Yao said during the All Star weekend in Toronto. “The Hall of Fame is a symbol for basketball people on the court or off the court. For myself, I’m so excited and (appreciative) of the committee for choosing me.”

[…]

“He’s truly a global basketball icon,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said said in February. “His career was cut short, and I think he didn’t achieve everything he wanted to the floor. But I have no doubt that over a long life, he’s going to end up probably having as great an impact on this game as anyone who has ever played.”

Here’s the Yahoo story referenced by the Chron. ESPN reminds us of Yao’s impact:

He was the league’s first Chinese star, and NBA merchandise sales and television ratings in China mushroomed during his career. In 2007, a game his Rockets played against the Milwaukee Bucks, featuring Yi Jianlian, was broadcast on 19 networks in China and watched by more than 200 million people in the country, making it one of the most-watched NBA games in history.

Here are Yao’s career stats. Hard not to imagine what might have been, if only his body had been a bit more durable. Congratulations to Yao Ming on this well-deserved achievement.

The Dream takes on The Donald

You tell ’em, Hakeem.

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim splitting his time between homes in Houston and outside London, England, on Saturday called the proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States “not worthy of a president.”

Olajuwon, who had returned to the United States on Wednesday, had heard of the proposal issued by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Dec. 7 that would prevent Muslims from immigrating to the United States.

“First of all, it’s amazing to see how many people came out to disregard that kind of stand, even internationally,” said Olajuwon, a naturalized United States citizen. “That kind of statement is not worthy of a president. I don’t think it was too wise a statement. It is a complex question. It is something so complex and that just gave it a generic answer to a complex question.”

[…]

“I do not believe that we have come this far that that kind of statement would come out when discussing that kind of issue today,” Olajuwon said. “I think we passed that a long time ago.”

Olajuwon, one of the most beloved figures in Houston sports history and a Hall of Famer considered one of the NBA’s greatest players, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1980 and became a United States citizen in 1993. He played for the 1996 United States Olympic team.

Olajuwon spoke often during his career about the importance of his faith to him and was open about his practices, from using a prayer room installed at the Rockets practice facility to following the dietary restrictions required during Ramadan. He has been a well-known participant in the large Houston Muslim community.

I’ll stand with Hakeem Olajuwon against Donald Trump any day of the week.

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

Darsh Preet Singh

Very cool.

Darsh Preet Singh

Basketball courts didn’t care that Darsh Preet Singh wore a turban.

Or that he is Sikh.

Hardwood is a great equalizer. The court’s 10-foot-high rim does not discriminate. If you can handle the rock, you’ve got a place.

Even better if you can dunk. Singh could do both.

And his turban always suited up with him.

Blessed with a 6-foot-4-inch frame and a 6-foot-8-inch wingspan, he was a lock-down defensive specialist at Trinity University from 2004 to 2008. As such, he was also the first turban-wearing Sikh to play in the NCAA.

And now, the Smithsonian Institute is displaying his No. 32 jersey in its “Beyond Bollywood” exhibit, which showcases contributions of Indian-Americans. It opened last month and lasts through August 2015 at the National Museum of Natural History.

That his jersey is in the halls of one of the world’s most famous museums baffles him. He said his parents and other first-generation Sikh Americans sacrificed and contributed much more.

“When I reflect on the accomplishments of the Sikh community in the United States, I don’t feel like I did much. I was just playing basketball,” he said. “I didn’t think I was doing anything special other than doing what I loved. … I think I was just at the right place at the right time.”

I’m just delighted that it was my alma mater where this trail was blazed. I salute you, Darsh Preet Singh, as a fellow alum and as someone who respects what you accomplished. Here’s the Smithsonian‘s page about the exhibit, a WaPo review of it, and a nice interview in Faith Street with Singh. Well done, sir.

Can we really measure the economic impact of sports events?

I don’t know, but they’re going to give it a try in Dallas.

Spending in the region on mega sporting events since the Dallas Cowboys moved to Arlington could top $1 billion when next month’s Final Four and next year’s college football championship are played.

Those numbers — a combination of spending projections for eight past and future events — are highlighted by boosters and treated with suspicion by some scholars. But supporters and skeptics partly agree on the long-term benefits of events from the Super Bowl to NBA All-Star Game. They conclude it’s extremely difficult to quantify, if that’s even possible.

John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., said he’s certain there’s a lasting and significant benefit to hosting these mega events, one after the other. But he said the only research he’s seen focused on short-term effects.

“I’ve never seen anything to quantify the indirect returns on investment,” he said. “I don’t even know how they would go about doing that.”

[…]

Victor Matheson, economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said researchers pursued these types of questions without much luck.

“A lot of people have tried to look and see whether there is any long-term impact [of sports mega events],” he said. “We’ve never been able to pick up any. … I can’t even think anecdotally of an example about a business that relocated a corporate headquarters because the CEO had such a great time at the Super Bowl or Final Four.”

Officials in Dallas and Arlington said they couldn’t point to many specifics. However, the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau hopes to fill that research gap.

Decima Cooper, a bureau spokeswoman, said the bureau is talking with unnamed Arlington partners about conducting extensive research on the impact of large tourist events. If possible, they want to look at everything from mega events at AT&T Stadium to the much smaller Art on the Greene festival and calculate the benefits beyond the initial spending.

“What we’re trying to find out is exactly the impact of the events that happen in our city, not only the obvious impacts,” Cooper said.

She said she couldn’t be more specific since this is still in the planning stages. The scope of the research is expected to be finalized this year.

The CVB previously looked at the overall economic impact of tourism on Arlington but did not specifically single out AT&T Stadium events.

Matheson said any benefits would likely be so small that they would be lost in the region’s huge economy.

“No one has been able to identify these lingering impacts, especially from these short events where you don’t build anything new,” Matheson said. “It’s bad enough when you’re trying to quantify a bunch of people coming to town for one weekend. But then looking two or three years and seeing if you can see a bump, that’s a really small needle in a really big haystack.”

As you know, this is a subject that has long been near to my heart, going back to the halcyon days of the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston. It’s easy enough to visualize what a short-term economic effect of a big sporting event is – number of visitors, money spent on things like hotels, bars, taxis, etc – even if it’s difficult to separate it from normal activity. As Prof. Matheson says, I have no idea how you’d define, let along measure, a long-term effect. But I’m glad they’re trying! More data is good, even if it’s little more than fodder for mockery. Maybe the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau will find something interesting, even if it’s not what they were looking for. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. ThinkProgress has more on a related matter.

Anyone remember the Comets?

Not much to remember them by.

I remember them

Five years ago Sunday, the Comets played their final game.

There were no balloons, no confetti, no celebration. There weren’t even fans.

The final game the WNBA team played was at Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos, where it was moved after Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area. It was the latest setback in a string of them for the Comets that season.

Six weeks before that game, the team was put up for sale and its operations were taken over by the WNBA.

Despite their troubles, no one in the organization thought the Comets were folding. So when they played their final game in the Texas State University gym, worried about their friends in hurricane-ravaged Houston, they never thought it would be their last.

But three months later, the league suspended team operations and the franchise that won the first four WNBA titles was no more.

“We knew there was trouble,” former guard Tamecka Dixon said. “But it never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be playing in Houston the next year. We understood that there would be new owners and that the league would run the team for a while, but I never thought it was over.”

[…]

The Comets won the league’s first four championships from 1997-2000. No other team has won more than two. The team’s average attendance was a WNBA-high 11,442 from 1997-2002, then fell to 9,592.

[…]

“No one saw it coming,” former Rockets guard John Lucas said. “No one. And it’s too bad, because they were a big part of Houston basketball. When the Rockets weren’t playing, you had the Comets. It was an important part of the sports cycle for the city of Houston.”

So when the Comets traveled from Chicago to San Marcos for their last game of the regular season Sept. 15, 2008, no one on the team knew they would be on the floor for the last time.

“It’s sad to think that there was no celebration for the Comets, nothing,” Dixon said. “We weren’t even in Houston. The fans didn’t get a chance to have a real goodbye, a real celebration. And Houston had such loyal fans. That is a franchise that deserved a real sendoff.”

The Comets did indeed have a loyal fanbase, with fans as rabid and dedicated as any you’d see at a Texans game. But it was a dwindling fanbase, and if we’re honest with ourselves we will say that it hadn’t been treated very well towards the end. Speaking as a many-year Comets season ticket holder, the move from the Toyota Center to Reliant Arena for that last season would have killed hardier franchises than that. Reliant Arena, to put it delicately, was a dump. You could probably find a dozen high school gyms, and likely a few junior high gyms, that offered a better fan experience for watching a basketball game. Dark, dingy, lousy sight lines, worse acoustics, few amenities – it was a depressing way to watch a game. Had the team continued to exist, I doubt we’d have renewed our tickets for another year – the kids were too little to enjoy the games, and unlike the Toyota Center where you could at least walk around the outer corridors with them in some comfort and with some awareness of what was going on in the game, there was nothing at Reliant for the fan with small children. For a franchise that won four straight championships, something very few teams in any league can claim to have done, they deserved better. Speaking for their once rowdy fans, so did we.

Sebastien De La Cruz

You da man, Sebastien.

A soft-spoken boy with a big voice isn’t about to let obnoxious online remarks bring him down — especially when he has so many positive ones in his virtual corner.

Fans of Sebastien De La Cruz have rallied on social media to support the young mariachi, whose rendition of the national anthem Tuesday at the Spurs game against the Miami Heat set off a flurry of racist tweets criticizing the 11-year-old.

“On the positive remarks, I just want to thank everybody for their support,” Sebastien said at a hastily organized news conference Wednesday. “With the racism remarks, to be honest, it’s just the people how they were raised. My father and my mother told me that you should never judge people by how they look. You should judge them on the inside. And the saying that I go by is never judge a book by its cover.”

On his Twitter account @selcharrodeoro, he said, “Please do not pay attention to the negative people. I am an American living the American dream. This is part of the American life.”

Mayor Julián Castro offered his own words of support on his Facebook page, telling Sebastien “don’t let a few negative voices get you down. You are a true talent and you represent the best of our nation’s future!”

[…]

Sebastien, who has appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” was a last minute replacement at Tuesday’s game, subbing for former Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker.

Sebastien’s mom, Stacy De La Cruz, said her son knew of the harsh remarks and told her not to cry about them, but instead to save her tears for joy when he sings.

“I’d rather shed more happy tears than sad tears,” she said. “But I will say this: As a mom, a parent, I’m going to be overprotective. I’m going to look over my shoulder, over their shoulder. We have four children. I’m going to be looking over all of them. (But as for those negative) words, it’s always that saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt.’”

More grace and guts in his little finger than all the racist idiot cowards out there put together. Hell of a singer, too:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, also a class act, has it exactly right:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered words of encouragement for Sebastien De La Cruz, the young San Antonian who drew a flurry of racist comments on Twitter after singing the national anthem Tuesday at Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“I would like to say I would be shocked or surprised by the comments,” Popovich said about an hour before tipoff of Thursday’s Game 4 at the AT&T Center. “But given the fact that there’s still a significant element of bigotry and racism in our nation, I’m not surprised.

“It still plagues us, obviously. And what I was surprised by was how proud these idiots were of their ignorance by printing their names next to their comments.

“(De La Cruz) is a class act. Way more mature than most his age. And as much as those comments by the idiots saddens you about your country, he makes you feel that the future could be very bright.”

Damn right it does. Good on the Spurs for bringing him back for Game 4.

You keep doing what you’re doing, Sebastien. We need as many people like you as we can get. Lisa Falkenbergand Think Progress have more.

The Hall calls for Guy Lewis

Long overdue.

Guy Lewis and friends

Former University of Houston coach Guy V. Lewis, who won nearly 600 games, was the architect of the high-flying, rim-rattling Phi Slama Jama dynasty of the 1980s and helped integrate college basketball in the South, will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a person familiar with the selection process said Thursday.

Later Thursday, Lewis’ wife, Dena, said the 91-year-old legendary coach received the news of his election after years of being passed over.

“We think it’s great,” Dena Lewis said. “Long overdue. I cried when I heard.”

Asked how Lewis, who retired in 1986, reacted, she said: “He said, ‘That’s great.’ ”

[…]

Despite his on-court success, Lewis was presumably bypassed from consideration – only making it as a finalist one previous time in 2003 – for never winning a national championship. Word of Lewis’ making the Hall came on the 30-year anniversary of his most stunning loss – North Carolina State’s 54-52 upset of the heavily favored Cougars in the 1983 championship game.

Lewis failed to receive enough support in recent years and was removed from the ballot for five years from 2008-2012. He became eligible again this year and joined a group of 12 finalists announced during NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston in February.

“The coaches I hated coaching against were the real good ones, and Guy was one of those,” legendary UCLA coach John Wooden told the San Antonio Express-News in 1998. “I think Guy took a bum rap because he never won a national championship.”

Here’s Lewis’ Wikipedia page, which includes his yearly record as UH coach. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is a bit of an odd duck since its MLB and NFL counterparts it incorporates all parts of the game – NBA, ABA, college, women’s, and international basketball. There is longstanding criticism of the backlog of worthy entrants, including very loud protest over Guy V’s exclusion up till now. It’s great to see this oversight get corrected while the very deserving recipient is still with us to appreciate it. Congratulations, Coach, on the long overdue honor. Mean Green Cougar Red and Hair Balls have more.

How cursed is Houston as a sports city?

What curse?

So another Super Bowl is history, and as you might have noticed the Houston Texans were not be playing in the game. This continues an unbroken streak of Houston football teams not making it to the Super Bowl, some in particularly heartbreaking fashion. The Astros have never won a World Series, having only won one pennant in fifty-plus years of existence. Were it not for two NBA titles by the Rockets in the 90s, the city of Houston would be completely championship-free for the major sports. You may be wondering how Houston compares to other big league sports cities in this department. I was, so I did a little research to find out. I limited myself to the last 40 years, mostly because ancient history is only of so much comfort to most fans. (For what it’s worth, Bill Simmons uses a 35-year period for assessing true wretchedness.) With that in mind, here’s what I found. Let’s start with the cities that have had nothing to celebrate in that time span.

Cleveland

Franchises – Browns (two versions, NFL); Indians (MLB); Cavaliers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Buffalo

Franchises – Bills (NFL); Sabres (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

San Diego

Franchises – Chargers (NFL); Padres (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Seattle

Franchises – Seahawks (NFL); Mariners (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – SuperSonics (NBA), 1979

Any discussion of cursed sports cities has to start with Cleveland. Their last title of any kind was a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship by the Browns in 1964. Since then, they’ve had The Drive, The Fumble, the relocation of their team to another city where it then went on to win a Super Bowl a few years later plus another this year, and all that is before we discuss the Indians (last World Series win 1948) or the Cavaliers. See here, here, here, and here for more. Really, there’s no question about it. No other city is in Cleveland’s class when it comes to sheer sports misery.

Buffalo is first runnerup, though I doubt anyone in Houston will offer much sympathy to them. Besides the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls, not to mention the Music City Miracle, the Sabres are oh-for-two in Stanley Cup finals, with the most recent loss being as controversial as it was gut-wrenching for their fans. They’re not quite in Cleveland territory, but they’re closer than anyone else. San Diego has lost two World Series, both times getting swept by teams of the ages (1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees), and one Super Bowl, but it’s hard to think of anyone in San Diego as being cursed. Seattle managed to never win a pennant despite fielding teams that featured as many as four future Hall of Famers plus Jay Buhner; I include them here since their one title was won by a franchise that has since relocated.

And here are the teams that have won one or two titles, thus putting themselves in a similar class as Houston:

Atlanta

Franchises – Braves (MLB); Falcons (NFL); Hawks (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Braves, 1995

Phoenix

Franchises – Cardinals (NFL); Suns (NBA); Diamondbacks (MLB); Coyotes (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Diamondbacks, 2001

Kansas City

Franchises – Royals (MLB); Chiefs (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Royals, 1985

Indianapolis

Franchises – Colts (NFL); Pacers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Colts, 2007

New Orleans

Franchises – Saints (NFL); Pelicans (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Saints, 2010

Minneapolis

Franchises – Twins (MLB); Vikings (NFL); Timberwolves (NBA); Wild (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Twins, 1987 and 1991

Tampa

Franchises – Rays (MLB); Buccaneers (NFL); Lightning (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Buccaneers, 2003, and Lightning, 2004

Milwaukee

Franchises – Bucks (NBA); Brewers (MLB); Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Packers, 1997 and 2011

Houston

Franchises – Astros (MLB); Texans (NFL); Rockets (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Rockets, 1994 and 1995

Out of that group, I’d probably rank Minneapolis and Kansas City as more cursed than Houston. The Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls, with several other heartbreaking playoff losses, the Twins can’t get past the Yankees, the North Stars won the Stanley Cup after relocating to Dallas, and the Timberwolves watched Kevin Garnett win two NBA titles with the Celtics. Both Kansas City teams have been poorly run for years, though the Royals are a little better these days. New Orleans would have had a decent claim to superior cursedness before their Super Bowl win; as long as Drew Brees can play at his level, they’ll have a chance. The other cities for the most part don’t inspire much sympathy. Atlanta may have the hapless Hawks and the feckless Falcons, but they also had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Indianapolis replaced Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck and rebuilt a contender after one season. Tampa and Phoenix haven’t been big league long enough to inspire real misery. No city that roots for the Packers can truly be cursed.

So, putting it all together, I’d probably rank Houston as the sixth most cursed city, following Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see it. How would you rank the losers?

The Big East is imploding

I never really believed that the reconstituted Big East was going to be viable in the long term, but I didn’t see its demise happening in this fashion, nor this quickly.

The Big East is headed for another break up. This time, the seven prominent basketball schools that don’t play FBS football are planning to break away from the ever-changing conference.

The divorce is expected to be complicated, maybe even contentious, with millions of dollars and possibly the future of the league at stake.

The Big East’s non-football members decided Thursday to separate from the conference, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press on a condition of anonymity because officials from those schools are still sorting through details. No official announcement is imminent.

The seven schools that don’t play FBS-level football are St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova. Officials at those schools have concerns about the direction of the conference and feel as if they have little power to influence it.

[…]

One of the many things that will need to be sorted out is who owns the rights to the name Big East. Will it stay with new members or go with the old? Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and St John’s were among the original members of the conference when it was formed primarily for basketball in 1979. Villanova came in a year later. Marquette and DePaul came in 2005, the Big East’s last previous major expansion.

Most importantly there are of millions dollars that both sides will likely claim at least some ownership of, including NCAA Tournament money that is paid out every five years based on appearances, about $70 million in exit fees the Big East has collected from the recent departures and future possible exit fees from the latest members to announce they are leaving – Rutgers and Louisville.

What would happen to the current and future football members also is unknown. They could simply stick together and continue on the path they are headed. But if the basketball side of the Big East is weakened it could decrease the value of the conference to television networks. The league is currently trying to negotiate a crucial TV contract, but instability has made it impossible.

See here and here for more on the original story, and keep an eye on places like CBS Sports Eye On College Basketball and ESPN College Sports for late-breaking updates. If the Big East goes kaboom, the big question is what happens to the schools that were planning to join it? To say the least, things are unclear.

Maryland to join the Big Ten

The dominoes have resumed falling.

Maryland is joining the Big Ten, leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference in a shocker of a move in the world of conference realignment that was driven by the school’s budget woes.

The announcement came Monday at a news conference with school President Wallace D. Loh, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and athletic director Kevin Anderson.

“The membership of the Big Ten enables us to guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time,” Loh said.

Loh added that Maryland athletics has been living “paycheck to paycheck.” The school had eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year.

“The director and I are absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate,” Loh said.

Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member starting in 2014.

“Really in the last year it’s become so obvious that major conferences are expanding outside of their regions,” Delany told the AP in an interview before Maryland’s news conference on campus in College Park. “You have multiple major conferences all in multiple regions.

“It seemed to us that there was a paradigm shift occurring around us. And therefore the question is how do you respond to that in a way that stay true to yourself, but is also only responsive not to the world you want but the world that you live in.”

And Rutgers will apparently join them, meaning the Big Ten will technically be the Big Fourteen. Connecticut is now reportedly going to join the ACC to fill Maryland’s slot, meaning that the Big East will at the very least have to redo its divisions before a single game has been played. Did you think we were done with all the conference-hopping? Yeah, me neither. Now we wait to see who’s next. Again.

Beren

Though they fell short at the end, the boys of Beren Academy had a remarkable and unforgettable basketball season, and I congratulate them.

They rested. They reflected. And once the sun set on the Jewish Sabbath, the Beren Academy Stars rushed to Nolan Catholic High to play the biggest basketball game of their lives.

The only thing promised the Stars was opportunity granted better late than never. Given the chance to measure themselves in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 2A state championship game, the Stars came up short 46-42 against Abilene Christian on Saturday night at Hartnett Arena.

Two days after TAPPS amended the schedule to work around the Sabbath, the Stars couldn’t shake loose from a relentless Panthers defense. Senior guard Daniel Austin scored 10 points in the first nine minutes after halftime, allowing the Panthers to pull away from a 19-19 stalemate. Austin scored all 14 points of his points in the second half for the Panthers, who also got 14 from guard Ben George. All-tournament selections Zach Yoshor and Isaac Mirwis had 15 points apiece for the Stars (24-6).

Beren’s belated admission into the proceedings drew attention national attention, with a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by three players and three parents convincing TAPPS to revisit the matter. Stars senior point guard Isaac Mirwis noted after the semifinals that it would be different Sabbath than most, but that was to be expected: “It’s not a normal weekend.”

There’s an understatement. A quick review of how they got here:

The quest of Beren to get a chance to participate had drawn the attention of an array of public figures and politicians ranging from Mayor Annise Parker to former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis and Dan Patrick had begun a bipartisan effort Thursday to pressure TAPPS into making accommodations. State Rep. Al Green was at Nolan on Friday without his trademark “God is good” lapel pin, having given it to one of Mirwis’ sisters.

“They’re representing more than Houston, Texas,” Green said. “They sort of represent the spirit of what this is all about. That is, children having the opportunity to compete and to excel. But more important, just having the opportunity to be the part of an organized effort. I’m proud that they were able to overcome one additional obstacle.

“And in doing this, it really represents the notion that you should never give up. You should always believe that if your cause is righteous and just, you will receive a just conclusion. And I think this is a just conclusion.”

Three parents and three players forced the issue with TAPPS by filing a lawsuit Thursday in district court. One of the parents was Etan Mirwis, whose son, Isaac, scored six points and dished out an assist during a 2:36 stretch of the fourth quarter after Dallas Covenant had whittled an 18-point lead to 10.

“As a parent, to know your child is given the opportunity to play to be the best, without qualification, period, words can’t explain it,” Etan Mirwis said. “It’s exhilarating.”

My first thought when I heard about this was that Beren knew going in that TAPPS was not going to make accommodations for them, and they agreed to that stipulation. The school and their students have displayed a commendable level of maturity and equanimity throughout this story, which has greatly impressed me. But in the end I was persuaded by Jerome Solomon that this whole thing was a tempest in a teapot that never should have been a problem. There were no logistical or procedural obstacles to reschedule the game – it’s not like they had to work with a TV broadcsat slot, or find a new venue, or pick an unworkable time – and there was no real principle at stake, especially since TAPPS had previously juggled a schedule to accommodate a Seventh Day Adventist school in a soccer playoff. Surely it made the most sense to do what was ultimately done and let the kids who earned the right to keep playing decide the championship on the court. I’m glad that’s how it turned out.

Why salary caps suck

In a sane world, the Houston Texans would not have to worry about whether they have or can free up the cap space to re-sign Mario Williams as well as whichever else of their free agents they would like to retain. They would be free to negotiate with him and try to work a deal that makes sense for both sides, with the financial limitations on them being their valuation of Williams and their own cash flow. But NFL owners decided long ago that they couldn’t trust themselves to make sensible, rational decisions about payroll, so they successfully bargained for a salary cap with the NFLPA. The angst over Williams, the Texans’s former #1 overall pick, is the direct result and comes at the inopportune time when the franchise finally has all the pieces it needs to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl, but now may be forced to discard some of those pieces because they have to under the cap. There’s no level on which this makes sense.

You can also see the effect of cap madness in the fact that the Rockets cut Jeremy Lin in the preseason; specifically, in the reasons why they dumped him instead of one of their other point guards.

Would Linsanity have taken hold in Houston? That is doubtful, but had that trade gone through, my guess is that in short order Lin would have shot past current third-string point guard Jonny Flynn on the depth chart. He played better than Flynn and at least as well as Dragic in camp practices.

Head coach Kevin McHale wouldn’t have hesitated to play Lin with the second unit. We might even have had Sage Rosenfels-like loyalists calling for the personable whirlwind of a player to start ahead of Kyle Lowry. But when it was time to make the decision, Flynn’s expiring contract at $3.4 million for this season was too valuable a commodity.

Emphasis mine. Jonny Flynn has played a total of 81 minutes for the Rockets over seven games, scoring 22 points. That’s less than Lin’s scoring average so far. The sole reason Flynn has value to the team is that when he departs via trade or the end of his contract after the season, the Rockets will have an extra $3.4 million in cap space, with which they can continue their pursuit of a game-changing free agent. Now, the Rockets may have passed on Lin regardless, and even if they had kept him he might be basically occupying Flynn’s space on the bench, getting only garbage-time minutes. But the fact that a player’s contract is more valuable to a team than an actual player who might be superior, that’s just screwed up. This is a ship that has long since sailed in both leagues, but these are the kinds of things I think about whenever I hear someone advocate a salary cap for Major League Baseball. While I admit I can see the advantage from an owner’s perspective, I have no idea why any fan would want their team to be forced to operate under those conditions.

2013 NBA All Star Game officially awarded to Houston

Yay, us!

Source: Chron.com

Seven years after last hosting, NBA commissioner David Stern announced Wednesday that the All-Star Game and weeklong festivities will return to Houston in 2013 at Toyota Center.

“Houston is a spectacular sports city, and for one week it will be the basketball capital of the world,” said Stern, who made the announcement, attended by city leaders and nearly a dozen former Rockets players, during a news conference at Toyota Center. “I want to thank the city and the Rockets for welcoming us once again.”

The three-day event will be held Feb. 15-17. Among the events planned are the NBA Rising Stars Challenge and NBA All-Star Saturday night, which features the 3-point shooting contest and popular slam-dunk contest.

The NBA All-Star Jam Session, an interactive fan experience, will begin earlier in the week a few blocks away at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

An estimated 200,000 fans are expected to attend the three-day event, Rockets and NBA officials said.

It should be noted that Houston was reported to be in line for the 2013 game last August, but as that was during the lockout it wasn’t made official. Now it is, so go ahead and book those plane tickets.

You know what’s coming next, right?

City officials estimate that the economic impact on the region could be $100 million.

It always gives me a warm feeling inside to read an economic impact estimate for a sporting event. I note that the story from August said that the 2006 All Star Game had “an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million”, which compares quite favorably to the NBA’s before-game estimate of a “total economic impact up to $79.6 million”. Not that we have any actual, after-the-fact data to back any of it up, but I think I’m mostly over that by now.

NBA lockout to end

Glad to hear it.

The NBA will be back on Christmas Day, pending approval of a tentative settlement of a lengthy, combustible lockout that came closer than ever before in league history to swallowing an entire season.

A 66-game schedule beginning with a triple-header — likely the originally intended season openers centered around a Finals rematch between Miami and Dallas — will begin Dec. 25 once the agreement is finalized, vetted by an army of attorneys and approved by the players and owners.

“We expect our labor relations committee to endorse this deal, this tentative agreement, and we expect our Board of Governors, at a meeting we will call after that, to endorse the deal,” commissioner David Stern said Saturday at a 3:40 a.m. ET news conference that followed a 15-hour negotiating session at a Manhattan law firm. “And we expect that a collective bargaining agreement will arise out of this deal as well.”

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, which will be reconstituted as a union after disbanding Nov. 14 and taking its fight to the federal courts, estimated that the process — including a vote by the union membership — could be accomplished in three days to a week.

“I think it was the ability of the parties to decide it was necessary to compromise and to try to put this thing back together some kind of way and to be able to put an end to the litigation and everything it entails,” Hunter said. “And we just thought that rather than try to pursue this in court, it was in both of our interests to try to reach a resolution.”

Both sides will meet with their attorneys later Saturday and begin the process of withdrawing the lawsuits each has filed against the other. After convening at least twice by phone during the negotiations Friday, the owners’ labor relations committee will be briefed on the details of the agreement Saturday. At the same time, details of the broad agreement will be refined and B-list issues resolved, leading to a frenzied run-up to a shortened free-agency period — which could be so compressed it may coincide with the estimated start of training camp on Dec. 9.

“We’re confident that once we present it, [the players] will support it,” Hunter said.

Players gave ground on their share of revenue, which everyone expected, but apparently did a little better in the end than what had been offered previously. I think the key to this lies in this winners and losers compilation from ESPN:

LOSERS: The middle class

As owners and the league have spent a year obsessing about player costs, one clear factor has emerged: The poor-value contracts are the big deals for middling players. With or without stiff taxes, you can expect more teams to catch on to the idea of paying for stars and filling in the rest of the roster cheaply.

WINNER: The D-League

As more teams seek bargain players, more teams will invest effort in getting the most out of the NBA’s little brother.

LOSERS: Superstars

They have long made far less than they are worth, and that’s not going to change now.

NBA owners are going to need to learn something that MLB owners have finally started to understand: It’s not paying for stars that kills you. Star players by definition can’t be overpaid because they can’t be replaced. Indeed, star players are often underpaid by the metric of what they could be earning. It’s overpaying for replaceable players that kills you. Too many NBA teams are comprised of fungible talent locked into multi-year multi-million dollar deals, and that’s not sustainable. The adjustment to more of a stars-and-scrubs market is going to be painful, but it was inevitable. I’m just glad it didn’t take a fully lost season to start the process.