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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.

The Rangers and the Astros

Oh, come on.

The historic flooding in Houston caused by Tropical Storm Harvey will displace the Astros for at least three games and most likely the entire six-game homestand they had scheduled for this week.

For at least their three-game series against the Texas Rangers that begins Tuesday, the Astros will play as the home team at the domed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., home to the Tampa Bay Rays, MLB announced Monday. Their three-game series against the New York Mets that starts Friday also likely will shift to Tropicana Field, though no final determination was made Monday.

[…]

Although it would seem more logical for the Astros-Rangers series to simply be played in Arlington, swapping home series presented logistical challenges that apparently couldn’t be overcome.

The Astros offered flipping this week’s home series for their scheduled visit to Arlington on Sept. 25-27, but the Rangers declined. The Rangers offered to put on a series at Globe Life Park as the visitors with the Astros getting all revenue, Texas general manager Jon Daniels told Dallas-area media. The Astros declined that alternative.

“We didn’t think that playing six games in Arlington was fair to the competitive balance of the wild-card race, not to mention that if we’re not able to play our games in Houston against the Mets that we would be having another trip,” [Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan] told the Chronicle. “So we felt like getting out of Texas and going to a neutral site was in the best interest of our players and in the best interests for the integrity of the schedule this year.”

The Astros will now be on a 19-game road trip, thanks to the loss of the six games at home this week. One reason the Rangers declined the swap was because that would have put them on the road for twelve straight games. Understandable from a baseball perspective, but not very charitable.

In terms of both baseball and business, it’s a perfectly logical decision for the Rangers. But in terms of compassion, it’s pretty crummy. The quick takeaway here isn’t and won’t be that the front office made a measured decision about the welfare of their own team. It’s that they decided to shut out a club forced from its city by natural disaster, putting clear baseball needs over what might be seen as more abstract humanitarian ones. The Astros—with no major damage to their ballpark, their players physically safe, and the financial means as an organization to navigate whatever’s to come—are hardly an equal stand-in for thousands of suffering people in their region who have lost everything. But they still serve as a symbol of Houston, and so turning them away can only make the Rangers look insensitive and selfish.

At one point today, [Rangers general manager Jon] Daniels said he was “almost cringing” when he discussed the Rangers’ baseball-related needs in comparison to those of the Astros. That reaction is reasonable—which should have been enough to make him think that those listening might react the same way, too.

Yeah, pretty much. The Rangers are still chasing a wild card spot – yes, even after trading Yu Darvish – and they have a big advantage over the Stros in Arlington, which I’m sure was a factor in their decision. They’re playing to win, and I can’t crime them for that. But still, this was cold. And people will remember. Sleep well, y’all. Campos, Jenny Dial Creech, and Dan Solomon have more.

(To be fair, the Rangers are making a nice donation to Harvey relief, so kudos to them for that. Kudos also to the Cowboys and Texans, Steve Francis, JJ Watt, Amy Adams Strunk, and especially Les Alexander. We’re really going to miss that guy.)

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.

Bathroom bill or NFL draft?

Back to some familiar questions as the special session looms.

The Cowboys have made their pitch to host the NFL draft.

Whether that occurs depends, in large part, on what happens in Austin this summer.

NFL officials have no interest in drawing a line in the ideological sand heading into next month’s special session of the Texas Legislature. It’s better to work behind the scenes than publicly antagonize at this stage. But the conclusion lawmakers reach on what bathrooms people are allowed to use impacts the Cowboys’ opportunity to land the draft, multiple sources said.

Other factors and cities are in play for the event. But when the NFL does announce the location of the 2018 draft, the special session will be complete and where the state stands on transgender rights will be known.

“We expect to have a decision on the location of next year’s draft later this summer/early fall,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications.

The timing of the NFL’s decision isn’t tied to the Texas legislative schedule, which begins its special session July 18. The league has awarded the draft in August, September and October the last three years. But the timetable works to the league’s advantage by letting the issue play out without inserting itself into what has become a contentious public debate.

Again.

[…]

The NFL issued a release about inclusiveness and how its policies prohibit discrimination in the days leading up to the [Super Bowl in Houston]. A few days after the game in early February, when asked specifically about the so-called bathroom bill, McCarthy issued this statement on behalf of the league:

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.”

The question was asked in relation to the state hosting another Super Bowl, and that is how McCarthy’s response was applied. The headline became how Texas was in danger of losing out on future Super Bowls if the bathroom bill became law.

But the statement read “future events.” It didn’t limit the league’s response to the Super Bowl.

The draft, like the Super Bowl, is an event to be awarded.

We all know the drill here. I will note two points of interest. One, as the story indicates, the NFL is doing its work behind the scenes here so as not to provoke another hissy fit from Greg Abbott. And two, it would be awfully ironic if the NFL winds up showing more spine on this issue than the NBA did. Of course, for them to show that spine would mean that a bathroom bill did pass, so let’s hope they don’t get the opportunity. You can do your part to help with that by calling your legislators and letting them know in no uncertain terms that even the watered-down bathroom bill is bad for Texas. If even the NFL gets that, the Lege has no excuse.

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.

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 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.

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.

Sports betting

There may soon come a day when you can place a bet on your favorite team without having to travel, visit offshore Internet websites, or interact with people who don’t have necks.

[NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver, in a November op-ed submission to the New York Times, said he supports federal regulation creating “a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. … Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”

[Rockets owner Les] Alexander prefers to let Silver take the lead on what he describes as “a league issue, not a team issue.” But as NBA owners and players travel to New York for All-Star Weekend, Alexander continues to believe it’s time to amend the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 law that generally prohibits states other than Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon from authorizing sports betting.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Alexander said. “People are gambling now on sports teams and doing it through bookmakers, which is illegal. And they are going to do it anyway, so why not make it legal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s not something that’s going to hurt people.”

[…]

According to the Nevada Gaming Control agency, bettors wagered $3.9 billion on sports in the state in 2014, with the state’s 187 sportsbooks winning $227.04 million. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion is wagered illegally on all sports annually in the United States, and it estimated recently that illegal bets placed on the Super Bowl would total $3.8 billion.

That doesn’t include millions wagered in what has become the legal and, in many cases, league-authorized industry of fantasy sports. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 41 million people spent $3.6 billion playing fantasy sports in 2014.

The fantasy sports trade group emphasizes on its website that fantasy sports are games of skill and are not gambling. Alexander, however, cited fantasy sports as an example of the move toward more liberal attitudes on sports gaming.

“There’s so much fantasy sports out there, which is a form of gambling, and that’s legal now,” he said. “It (legal gambling on games) is really not a step up. It’s a step in the same direction.”

While Silver advocates changes in federal law, the NBA joins the other major leagues in opposing unilateral moves by individual states toward legalized gambling on sports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year signed a Sports Wagering Law that allows betting on games at New Jersey racetracks and casinos. The four major pro leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit in federal court, and a judge in Trenton, N.J., in November granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting tracks and casinos from taking bets on games. The state has appealed.

Accordingly, some analysts agree that even if the NFL and other leagues change their stance on gambling to match Silver’s approach, it could be as long as a decade, perhaps more, before the Texas Legislature will authorize sports gambling in Texas.

“Gaming is not a popular word here,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based consultant and lobbyist who has worked with Alexander and the Rockets. “The prospects for gaming regulations this session are minimal. It’s not rosy at all.

“I don’t think it’s from moral outrage. I think it’s a matter of fear from new members that come from conservative (voter) bases.”

That’s true enough, but I think there’s more to it than that. If Commissioner Silver managed to get Congress to authorize any state to allow sports betting – and remember, the NFL and Major League Baseball are not on board with this – there would be two distinct groups in Texas working to get that business. One is the horse racing tracks, which have been trying to get the Lege to allow slot machines at their sites, and one is casino interests, who would push for casino gambling to be legalized. Those two groups compete against each other, so neither plan ever makes any advances. If they ever worked together towards a common goal, they might have better chances. That just hasn’t been the case, and so here we are. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the over on that “decade or more” line. I’d give marijuana legalization better odds of happening in that time frame.

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.

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.

Enrolling the uninsured

This is going to be such a huge job.

Get Covered America

Fresh produce wasn’t the only thing you could find at the Farmers Market [last] Saturday.

Volunteers with the Get Covered America campaign were passing out flyers and letting people know that starting Oct. 1, American citizens can enroll for low-cost health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“Get Covered America is a national grassroots campaign to educate people about the enrollment opportunities made possible by the affordable health care act,” volunteer Ian Davis said. “The enrollment period will start in October and today marks the 100 day countdown, so we’re doing a national day of action.”

Davis, an organizer with Get Covered Texas, says it’s important Texas is included.

“Texas has the most uninsured of any state in the country, so this is ground zero of really solving the health care problem,” Davis said.

Musician Daniel Smith is someone who doesn’t have health insurance.

“It’s just kind of like, don’t get hurt or sick you know,” Smith said.

Davis says there are plenty of people like Smith who don’t know they’re eligible.

“Over half the folks that are eligible for those benefits are unaware,” he said.

There were kickoff events like this around the country last weekend. BOR was at the Austin event. There was an event in Houston on Saturday the 22nd, right here in the Heights, but the only information I saw about it was an email that same morning. I hope we can do a better job of getting the word out than that. This is the only thing I saw in the Chronicle, so when I say “we”, I mean them, too. They did have a story on the federal push to get people enrolled on Tuesday, so perhaps they’ll be on the case going forward. We’ll see.

The actual enrollment period for the health insurance exchanges begins on October 1, and the race is on to get the word out. Something like 2.6 million Texans may qualify for insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but they have to know about it and they have to know what to do to get the subsidies and enroll in an insurance plan. This is a massive national undertaking that will be done without the assistance of the state government here, for obvious reasons. One organization that may be helping to promote the exchanges will be the NBA, and I for one look forward to seeing what the Houston Rockets will do as part of that effort. (The NFL, and thus the Houston Texans are also in play.) Let’s hope we hear a little bit more about it between now and then.

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.

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?

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.

Houston to get 2013 NBA All Star Game

Assuming the lockout has ended by then, of course.

The game will be played Feb. 17 at Toyota Center, which also hosted the 2006 game.

“It’s a done deal,” a person familiar with the bidding process told the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “We’re just waiting for the NBA to make the announcement.”

There is no timetable as to when the NBA might formally award the game to Houston, although an announcement could be delayed until the end of the labor lockout, the person said.

[…]

The last time the All-Star Game was here it had an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million.

sigh How is it that after all these years, the Comptroller’s office can provide before-the-fact estimates of “economic impact”, but can never seem to provide after-the-fact sales tax figures so we can have some kind of objective data points? Yes, I know there’s more to “economic impact” than that, but it would be a nice starting point. And if the Comptroller’s office does provide this data, why is it that the reporters who write these stories never seem to be able to include it? This has been your regularly scheduled rant about “economic impact” estimates.

During the past decade, Houston has been host to some of the country’s top sporting events, among them Super Bowl XXXVIII and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 2004, the NBA All-Star Game in 2006, NCAA South Regionals in 2008 and 2010 and the Final Four this past April. Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, also will host the 2016 Final Four.

Before this busy decade, there was quite the long drought for such events. As the story notes, the last NBA All Star Game to be held here in 2006 was in 1989, at the Astrodome. The last MLB All Star Games was 1986, and the last NCAA championship game – there wasn’t a “Final Four” back then – was 1971, both also at the Dome. The last Super Bowl was 1974, at Rice Stadium. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to be in the mix for these things, but it’s nice while it’s lasting.

Yao retires

Godspeed, big guy.

Yao Ming, who became the face of China’s outreach to the West and the NBA’s growing popularity around the globe, has informed the Rockets and NBA he would retire, several individuals told of the decision confirmed on Friday.

Yao has played in just five games the past two season and has had five consecutive seasons ended or interrupted by bone injuries, most recently a stress fracture in his left leg suffered Nov. 10 in Washington. Yahoo.com reported that Yao officially informed the NBA of his decision in the past 48 hours.

Here’s the tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski that broke the story, and more from Yahoo and ESPN. All I can do is quote John Greenleaf Whittier:

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Enjoy the rest of your life, Yao. Thanks for all you did, and all you tried to do, while you were here in Houston.

“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.

Houston bidding for another NBA All Star Game

I wish them good luck with that.

Rockets CEO Tad Brown has often said that the Rockets have pursued another All-Star weekend since the 2006 event in Houston ended, but he said Tuesday that he was more confident than ever that the Rockets and the City of Houston would land the game and the events that come with it.

“Since last All-Star game, we’ve submitted to the league a proposal to host the All Star game again. We’re under consideration for 2014. We’re hopeful, but the NBA has not made any determinations. There are a number of cities bidding for the same thing. We’re working with the City and the Sports Authority to try to get the game.”

Like I said, I wish them luck. Far as I can tell from my archives, the only thing I wrote about that previous All Star Game was my usual harrumph regarding economic projections for it. I look forward to getting to do that again. Hair Balls has more.

“How much was that game worth?”, Dallas edition

The question of how much a big sporting event affects a city’s economy is one I’ve pondered numerous times over the years. With the Super Bowl coming to Dallas Arlington, following on the heels of the NBA All-Star game, it’s time to look at what the effect was, and what it will be, up there.

The projected $268.5 million economic impact of February’s NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium was overestimated for some cities and in some spending categories, a review of tax data and industry research suggests.

Michael Casinelli, the consultant who prepared the All-Star economic forecast, said he stands by his work.

But he acknowledged that city-by-city breakdowns of spending are less likely to be accurate than estimates for the entire region.

The consultant’s firm, Marketing Information Masters, also prepared the report projecting that next year’s Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium would generate $612 million in spending, a record for the game. Economics professors have said that number is too high, but the head of the local Super Bowl host committee said he was not concerned because the Texas comptroller’s office has verified most of the study.

[…]

But a hotel industry report provided to the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau raised questions about at least one of the economic impact study’s major estimates.

A report from STR Global said that on game day and the three days before it, $10.5 million was spent in the Dallas hotels that account for almost all the city’s lodging revenue. That’s less than half the $22 million the consultant’s study expected for Dallas.

The study’s projections also estimated All-Star-related rental car revenue at $13.5 million. But actual February spending on all car rentals at D/FW International Airport and Love Field was $21.8 million. That means the All-Star Game would have accounted for 62 percent of car rentals at the airports in February.

I’ll stipulate that projecting economic activity, especially in cases like this where there’s a big, one-time event that’s never happened before, is hard work. My problem with these projections, and the often breathless news stories that generally accompany them, is that they’re taken as gospel truth even though they’re basically guesswork. Even worse, they’re usually done via proprietary processes, so it’s impossible to substantively critique them. And as often as not, there’s little followup done afterward to see if the reality matched the forecast in any meaningful way. At least some of that happened here, which is all to the good. I wish something like that had been done for Houston after Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The Suns take a stand

I’m very glad to see this.

In an extremely bold move, the Phoenix Suns as an organization made a strong political statement in opposition to the recent Arizona immigration bill.

Discussions on taking action began last week after the bill passed, with an idea that came from Robert Sarver, Managing Partner of the Phoenix Suns.

According to Steve Kerr, the team discussed it internally before going to the league for approval to both wear the ‘Los Suns’ jerseys, but also to come out publicly in this way.

Kerr said both the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs were fully supportive of the Suns move.

Ultimately, the decision was left up to the players, but in a locker room led by Steve Nash, it is no surprise how that turned out.

“I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in,” Nash said of the bill. “I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

Sarver’s statement is here; judging from the comments – this is posted on a Suns fan blog – it was clearly a gutsy thing for him to do. Surely now the path is clear for Commissioner David Stern to take a stand. More here and here.

UPDATE: More from Fanhouse.

Not just MLB

Basketball writer Bethlehem Shoals argues provocatively that NBA Commissioner David Stern should take a stand on the Arizona “Show me your papers” law.

Enter the NBA’s éne-bé-a campaign, launched at the beginning of this season in attempt to capitalize on and expand all manner of “Hispanic” interest in the league. There were web pages in English and Spanish; promotion of players and just plain promotion of the sport in certain neighborhoods; and most controversially, “Latino Power Rankings” that made absolutely no sense.

What exactly “Hispanic” meant was up for grabs, since they brought in both English-speaking Melo and non-Latino Rudy Fernandez. The distinction between Afro-Latin players like Nene and the Italian-by-descent Manu Ginobili has always been sticky, and rarely so — sorry for this one — black and white. But as tone deaf as the éne-bé-a effort may have been, it showed the NBA — not the Players Association — had an undeniable interest in this demographic, just like the MLB union.

Here’s the massive irony, one bigger than Nash the hostage do-gooder, or LeBron and burden of greatness. The Players Association just isn’t going to touch this issue because of another racial element in this equation. The league doesn’t have enough Latinos to make a union statement look like an act of solidarity. It’s not truly diverse enough to appeal to notions of universal justice. This league is still seen as African-American, and from a public relations perspective, nothing’s scarier than a bunch of black men who stake out a strong political position.

[…]

David Stern is notorious for being a ruthless capitalist who, on his own time, lends his support to Democratic causes to a degree that would put Steve Nash to shame. For once, the two seem to match up well. Strange as it is for the league to show more political gumption than its players, in this case, Stern’s the one whose hand is being forced. And, you’ve got to figure, he’d be more than a little happy to take the bait.

The NBA may not be heavily Latino, but it does have a lot of foreign-born players in it, some of whom may have a few thoughts about this issue. Maybe if someone like Yao Ming said he thought this law wasn’t such a hot idea, it might get some people’s attention. I don’t mean to single him out, I just think there would be value in reminding people that “immigrant” does not necessarily mean “Latino”. Even in Arizona, as the Canadian-born Steve Nash could attest. But I agree that Stern is more likely to speak up, and may be a better fit for it anyway. And regardless of that, more sports leagues and teams should be a part of this conversation as well.

Will the Rockets suck this year?

Maybe not, say the statheads at the Wages of Wins Journal, who note that seven of the eight top players for this year’s team all measure above average by their Wins Produced metric. By that metric, the Rockets are already about a .500 team, and that’s without considering the possibility that some of these guys may kick it up in their expanded roles. If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting test for their system, and a reed on which to hang one’s hopes for the upcoming season.

Mutombo says his career is over

Aw, rats.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of Dikembe Mutombo’s career came during the 1994 playoffs when he was lying on the floor holding a ball in the air in joy after leading the Denver Nuggets to a titanic playoff upset of top-seeded Seattle.

Mutombo found himself lying on the floor again Tuesday night, this time pondering the end of his career.

Mutombo, 42, was carried away on a stretcher in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 107-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 with what he said was a career-ending left knee injury.

“It’s over for me for my career,” said Mutombo, who will be examined by team doctors when the Rockets return to Houston today.

An eight-time NBA All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Mutombo is one of the game’s great humanitarians and had a distinguished 18-year career with Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Houston.

“It’s not something that I planned,” he said. “All I can say right now is I had a wonderful run of 18 years and stayed injury-free. I thank God a lot for all this blessing and putting such great people around me for all of my career in the NBA. I’m just happy.

“I have to go out with my head high and not be disappointed and have no regrets. I have so many things I can be so thankful for over my 18 years.”

Tiffany was a student at Georgetown while Mutombo played there for John Thompson. She says he was as popular and beloved then as he is here and as he has been at every stop in his NBA career. Thanks for all you’ve done, Deke. We’ll all miss having you as part of the Rockets. ClutchFans has more.