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Hockey for Houston (again)?

It could happen.

It’s early, the initial talks have only been exploratory and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have to worry about slipping on the hardwood any time soon. But I can tell you this: [Tilman] Fertitta and Co. are interested if the NHL can make its end of the bargain work. And if Houston finally gets its long delayed Big Four, it could happen much sooner than later.

“I’m very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” Fertitta said Thursday in a statement. “But it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the city, fans of the NHL throughout the region and the NHL Board of Governors. We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but look forward to a thorough process.”

That’s Fertitta. Straight shooter. No cookie-cutter filter.

Barely a month after he was officially introduced as the Rockets’ new owner – I’m still seeing stars from all the camera flashes – he’s met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and reiterated the obvious: Pro hockey could make serious sense in Houston.

Fertitta has discussed his potential interest in an NHL team since he officially became the Rockets owner, so this is no surprise. If you’re wondering whether this is an overly optimistic view, it’s one that is shared by actual hockey people.

Why doesn’t Seattle have an NHL franchise yet, and why is Houston probably going to get one?

Because one didn’t pass the Gary Bettman Test when it needed to, and the other very well might when it has to.

The Bettman Test has been applied to a dozen markets throughout his tenure as NHL commissioner. The first phase of the test is the most obvious one: Does the NHL plan to expand? Does the league have a need to relocate a struggling franchise to a more viable market?

Spoiler alert: Houston passes the Bettman Test with ease. That doesn’t mean we will get an NHL team, but if the opportunity arises, we will be at the front of the line. I went to some Aeros games in the 90s, and it was a lot of fun – hockey is a great sport to watch live, because the action is basically nonstop. But that was paying minor league prices in the old Compaq Center, not NHL prices at the Toyota Center. I’d have to see what kind of financial commitment it would require. How interested would you be to attend an Aeros 3.0 game?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ching and the Dash

Good move.

A few weeks after he was sent into retirement with the first MLS testimonial match, the face of the Dynamo will attempt to build Houston’s new National Women’s Soccer League franchise.

Brian Ching will be the managing director of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. The role will be similar to a general manager’s position, but Ching’s duties will also entail being “the face of the team,” said Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canetti

“I’m excited about it,” said Ching, 35, who has an accounting degree from Gonzaga. “When I stopped playing, I didn’t think that I would be this excited about being in the front office. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to grow the Dynamo brand and make the Dash just as successful as the Dynamo both on and off the field.”

The Dash, who will play their inaugural season in 2014, begin preseason in March and play their season opener in April.

“He’ll work closely with me building this team from the ground up,” Canetti said of Ching. “I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity for him. He wants to be an MLS president one day. I think it’s awesome for the Dash as well.”

When the Comets debuted with the WNBA, they were owned by the Rockets – more specifically, by Les Alexander – but other than playing in the same building and occasionally having Rockets players attend games, there was no obvious tie in between the two franchises. The Comets wound up having enough star power on their own to establish themselves, but a little help from the better known brand never hurts. Having the most famous name from the Dynamo there in the beginning for the Dash makes all kinds of sense. I look forward to seeing who they hire to be their coach and who they get on their initial roster.

Crane sues McLane

This ought to be fun.

Jim Crane’s Astros ownership group filed a state court lawsuit Thursday against former Astros owner Drayton McLane, Comcast and NBC Universal, accusing them of fraud and civil conspiracy and accusing McLane’s corporation that owned the Astros of breach of contract in conjunction with Crane’s 2011 purchase of a 46 percent interest in the parent company of Comcast SportsNet Houston.

The suit accuses McLane, who sold the Astros and his CSN Houston share to Crane in 2011 for $615 million, of selling “an asset (the network) they knew at the time to be overpriced and broken.” It also says Crane was “duped” when he bought McLane’s network interest based on what have been proved to be “knowing misrepresentations” and “falsely inflated subscription rates.”

“Ultimately, fans of the Houston Astros have been injured because defendants’ misrepresentations leave (Crane) with an impossible choice: accept the broken network as is and deprive thousands of fans the ability to watch Houston Astros games on their televisions, or distribute the game at market rates and take massive losses out of the Houston Astros player payroll – thereby dooming the franchise for years to come,” the suit adds.

[…]

Crane’s suit alleges McLane and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander demanded in 2010 that Comcast charge a base subscriber rate for CSN Houston in Zone 1 – the area around Houston where Astros and Rockets games can be seen – that Comcast said was too high. In fact, the suit said, the rate was so high Comcast feared it could not convince other distributors to carry the network.

Comcast eventually agreed to the inflated base rate, the suit said, in return for a most favored nation clause, which ensured Comcast it would always pay the lowest base rate of any distributor.

Faulty business plan

Crane, according to the suit, was not aware of these facts when he was negotiating to buy the team in 2011 and that Comcast, NBC Universal and McLane agreed to “conceal material information” about the network’s business plan.

The suit also accuses Jon Litner, group president of the NBC Sports Group, of making false and misleading claims the CSN Houston business plan was achievable, even though they were based on what the company knew were inflated subscriber rates.

Crane became aware of the 2010 demands by Alexander and McLane, according to the suit, during a December 2012 meeting in New York City, about a year after he bought the team and three months after the network launched.

The suit asks that McLane’s McLane Champions corporation be ordered to repay Crane’s group for losses that have resulted from alleged breaches of the group’s purchase agreement – including, presumably, more than $30 million in rights fees the Astros failed to receive in 2013 and what Crane says is the “artificially inflated price” he paid for McLane’s network share. Court testimony indicated CSN Houston was valued in 2010 at $700 million, with McLane’s share valued at $326 million.

I haven’t followed it here on the blog, but CSN Houston has been plagued with problems, mostly stemming from the fact that nobody other than Comcast carries it. That limits its reach to about 40% of Houston-area viewers, which also limits ratings and ad revenues. Mayor Parker has tried to facilitate talks between Comcast and other carriers to resolve this, but has had no luck. The infamous game nobody watched probably didn’t improve Crane’s mood about the station. The Astros have been trying to get out of this deal but aren’t on the same page as the Rockets, who are also stakeholders in CSN Houston. Four Comcast affiliates have filed for bankruptcy stemming from that action. It’s all a big mess, is what I’m saying. I have no idea what happens from here, but I’ll be watching. Sports Update and Hair Balls have more.

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.

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?

Les Alexander on the verge of buying the Dynamo

I like the thought of this.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on BBVA Compass Stadium, three officials with knowledge of the process said Thursday.

The deal is not complete, but the sides are close, said the three officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Anschutz Entertainment Group owns 50 percent of the Dynamo. Oscar de la Hoya and Mexican billionaire Gabriel Brener own 25 percent each. AEG president Tim Leiweke’s spokesman, Mike Roth, declined to comment on the negotiations with Alexander. Brener is scheduled to be in Houston for the Dynamo’s game Sunday against Columbus.

The Dynamo are a good team, and Alexander is a good owner. The Rockets have had their share of setbacks in their effort to claw their way back to the elite of the NBA, but it’s not been the result of a lack of determination by Alexander and his crew. While the Dynamo aren’t exactly in dire need of a change of direction (that would be the Astros, though their recent change in ownership seems to have them on a better, if long and slogging, path) they could do a lot worse than having Les Alexander writing the checks. On a tangential and somewhat tendentious note, having Alexander and not Phillip Anschutz in control would make me feel better about buying Dynamo tickets since then my money would not be going to bad purposes. A win all around, as far as I’m concerned.

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.

The bandwagon still has plenty of good seats on it

So hop on while you can.

Aramark, which manages the Go Texans shop at Reliant Stadium, reports sales have been running more than 10 percent ahead of last year and likely will set a record if Houston reaches the playoffs for the first time.

Aramark expects strong holiday sales of team gear and other souvenir items, including Christmas stockings and ornaments, Chris Inouye, retail division manager at Reliant Stadium, said in an email. Should the team finish first in the AFC South, Aramark will roll out division-championship T-shirts and hats immediately, he noted.

At Academy Sports + Outdoors, the Texans’ official sporting-goods retailer, sales have been running “significantly” ahead of last year as the team has gotten off to its best start in franchise history, spokesman Eric Herrera said.

The Academy chain has also started selling Texans gear in its San Antonio stores this season.

Everybody loves a winner, don’t they? I remember walking to the Foley’s downtown with some coworkers after the Rockets won the NBA title in 1994 to buy championship swag. I picked up an extra shirt for my friend Andrea, who was then living with her folks in South Carolina, because she knew she couldn’t get one there. (In 1994, you couldn’t do that online. You can’t imagine how much more difficult life was before the Internet, kids.) It was amazing to see so many normally suit-wearing people come to work in Rockets gear for weeks afterward. I can only imagine what this town will look like if the Texans make a playoff run.

There aren’t any [Matt] Leinart jerseys for sale yet, but consider this: There weren’t any [Arian] Foster jerseys before his breakout debut at the beginning of last season. It seems the goal for stores, as with the teams they promote, is to win, baby, win.

Oddly enough, I saw a fellow wearing a Matt Leinart Texans jersey a couple of weeks ago at the Christian’s Tailgate on White Oak. Either he managed to get a bootleg jersey, or maybe he’s a relative. Whatever the case, he was ahead of his time.

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.

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.

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.