FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya and this is News and Notes.
It is time now for a look at sports. And here to help us guide us through the year that was is NPR's Tony Cox.
COX: Hey, Farai. And what a year it has been. A few records broken, a few laws broken, and a whole lot for writers to write about. So with us now to talk about some of those stories is Greg Lee. He is online sports editor for the Boston Globe. And we are also joined by Justin Grant who writes for Alpha Blog Sports.
Gentlemen, Happy New Year. Nice to have you back.
Mr. GREG LEE (Online sports editor, Boston Globe): How are you doing?
COX: I'm doing great.
Mr. JUSTIN GRANT (Writer, Alpha Blog Sports): Happy New Year.
COX: Let's start with this one. In fact, Justin, let's look back - I want you to look back at your blogosphere for the year and the stories that you wrote and talked about. Tell us which one was the one that you thought was the best one that you did this year?
Mr. GRANT: Well, certainly being in New York, the (unintelligible) for me is going to be the Isaiah Thomas situation. I'm really proud of the way we covered his trial. Obviously, in New York, things get overhyped, overblown, and we just try to, you know, give our readers a sense to let this man have his day in court. Don't let yourself be swayed by the - this fantastic headlines on the cover of the New York Post and the Daily News. And we try to be real evenhanded and give people the facts.
COX: Well, there was a lot that happened. For folks who don't know, Isaiah Thomas, being the - I guess his title is president as well as coach. Is that right?
Mr. GRANT: Yeah. President and coach. Yeah, absolutely.
COX: And he was involved in a multi-million dollar sexual harassment suit which he lost and the Knicks lost and, of course, there were problems with the Knicks on the court because they're still continuing to lose. And in fact, let me ask you this before we go to Greg Lee. Since that was your big story of the year, Why does he still have his job and should he still have it?
Mr. GRANT: Well, to me, personally, I feel as if Isaiah Thomas - he needs to go. Yeah, I'm in his corner. I was a big fan of Isaiah. I do believe that the team is, in terms of talent, better off than they were when he took over. But this is too many - it's too much negativity surrounding his tenure.
You know, they're no longer the top team in terms of their salary cap -(unintelligible) has the highest number in terms of payroll. So I mean, it came down on that but it's just too much negativity surrounding that team. They need a fresh start, so I think he needs to go. But unfortunately, the Dolans don't see it that way. And I think if the way he managed the New York Rangers is any indication, they had, you know, about seven losing years before they went back to the playoffs. I think Isaiah might be in for the long haul.
COX: Well, we'll find out for sure.
Let's talk to you, Greg Lee. You're up in Boston. Now, you as a sport online editor, I don't know if that entails much writing for you, or if you edit the writers who work underneath you, but in any case, what would you say was the best piece of writing that came out of your part of the country this year?
Mr. LEE: Well, I think as a collective - our Red Sox playoff coverage I think was excellent. It was very - it was outstanding. You know, given the circumstances with a lot of volume, we had to write notes as well as you know, doing on deadline pressure trying to get off the next day's paper. I think the entire playoffs run that we cover, I think, was probably our best work we had this year.
COX: Well, now, let's talk about some of the other stories because there was steroid use, obviously, dog fighting, even murder. And we're talking about sports and all these stuff is connected. So Greg, you first. Was this a year that you think, when the negative sports story eclipsed sports overall.
Mr. LEE: When you think about looking at 2007, yes, you look at how, you know, off-the-field issues really dominated the sports news landscape this year. You had Michael Vick, you had the Bonds homerun chase, but more importantly, with his perjury, you know, in court. You know, there were the Mitchell report, Marion Jones, Tim Donahue, spygate, just a lot of - this year was more scandal than actually the conversations on the field.
COX: What do you say, Justin?
Mr. GRANT: Yeah, without a doubt. And that's unfortunate. You know, we missed out on - it overshadowed some of the better stories in a normal year with these - (unintelligible) the Patriots are doing would be the dominant story. These guys might make series history. The Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics. I mean, the story of Boston being the epicenter of the sporting world in the U.S. I think that would have been the dominant story this year. But unfortunately, you know, these bad things keep overshadowing what's going on the field of play.
COX: So on the field of play, what would you say was the biggest story of 2007, Justin?
Mr. GRANT: For me, that's an easy question. I've got to say Floyd Mayweather Jr. You know, he really - in terms of personality, he really came on to the scene. You know, my way of measuring whether or not an athlete is big or not is if my mother knows who they are.
COX: I've heard that before.
Mr. GRANT: And Floyd Mayweather - my mother knows who this guy is now. He had a great year, won two mega fights. He got robbed when "Dancing with the Stars." For me, Floyd Mayweather is the athlete of the year with Tom Brady finishing in a not too distant second place.
COX: Let me guess. In Boston, Greg, Brady is a bigger, huh?
Mr. LEE: Brady is definitely big. You know, he's a sports, you know, he was -you know, AP Player of the Year - AP Athlete of the Year. So, you know, Tom Brady is definitely the biggest story here with - along with the help of (unintelligible) Randy Moss and his team to a possible 19-0 run.
COX: But what if Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, if they go on to win the NBA next year, although it's another calendar year…
Mr. LEE: Yes.
COX: …would that story, by comparison, be as big or bigger than the Patriots, because of the history of the Celtics and…
Mr. LEE: Yeah. I think it'll be a bigger accomplishment for them. It would definitely be - it'll be out there. It definitely will be a big deal if the Celtics do come out in June with the Larry Brown (unintelligible) hoisted in the air.
COX: I have another question for you Justin, although I think I already know the answer based on what you've already said and that's this. The area of personal achievement, pound for pound, the single most dominant individual athlete of 2007.
Mr. GRANT: Tony, you do know the answer to that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GRANT: That's going to be Floyd Mayweather. There's a lot of doubt about whether he could beat Ricky Hatton. There was a lot of doubt about whether he would be - you know, fighting, it's common in the (unintelligible) of Roy Jones, meaning that he's kind of careful; he doesn't go for the big blow. He came into this fight, there was a lot of doubt about whether he could win and not only did he outbox this guy, he knocked him out. And, you know, for that, I have to tip my cap to Floyd Mayweather.
COX: Now who do you say, Greg?
Mr. LEE: Oh, I'm taking it to the tennis row, Roger Federer. He's won three of the last four - he won three of four grand slams this year and he's been in, you know, the finals of the last 10 grand slams. And this guy is just - he rise - rose to challenge in Wimbledon when he was - his supremacy was threatened by Rafael Nadal. And he rose to occasion in five sets. I think Roger Federer is probably was the most dominant individual athlete this year.
COX: Now, it's interesting to me - this is going to throw some stuff in the game - that neither of you mentioned either Tiger Woods or A-Rod.
Mr. LEE: You know, A-Rod had a great season this year. He was more frontloaded, but wasn't as dominant, you know - did he carry his team to a championship? No.
COX: No, he didn't.
Mr. LEE: Tiger Woods did win one major but he was challenged a lot this year. But Roger Federer, I still think that, you know, the guy who, you know, is being challenged by, you know, Rafael Nadal in a real deep men's field. So I think Roger's accomplishments this year outweigh those two.
COX: All right.
Mr. GRANT: Yeah. And A-Rod's accomplishments are more cosmetic. You know, he's a great player. He puts up the numbers. But he's just not viewed as a champion. There's always some kind of diva drama surrounding him. So, you know, there's no way we could pick A-Rod without him winning the World Series.
COX: What if we flip the script on that, the most disappointing athlete of the year would be who?
Mr. GRANT: Oh, Michael Vick, without a doubt.
Mr. LEE: Yeah.
Mr. GRANT: Yeah. And for me, it's a big tragedy. You know, if any - if there's any career I could compare Michael Vick's to, it's almost Mike Tyson. He had a brief run of dominance and you awed the viewing public for a short period of time. But unfortunately, this drama is going to outweigh anything he could have or should have accomplished on the field. It's a tragedy. This guy is not going come back for probably three years, which effectively might end his career in NFL because, obviously, now, teams are becoming more concerned about public relations.
Who's going to want to take on the drama that surrounds this guy when it's time to come back? Who's going to want to have PETA, you know, protesting at every game and every practice. So this guy who threw his career away over dogs, over dogfighting, over an inability to separate yourself from the hood - big time tragedy. It's the most disappointing.
COX: Would you agree with that, Greg?
Mr. LEE: Totally. Michael Vick is definitely the most disappointing athlete of this year.
COX: All right. The best sporting event or the greatest sporting event of 2007 was what, in your view, Greg?
Mr. LEE: Well, I think, personally, mine was Super Bowl, watching, you know, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith go for history. And, of course, Tony Dungy being the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. I think that was, to me, personally, that was my biggest sporting event this year, just to watch Tony Dungy who's for years been on the cusp of getting that championship and just with his dignity and grace and his quiet leadership and his demeanor, I really think -to me, that was my greatest sporting event this year.
COX: Do you think he can do it again? You're in Boston; you're up there with the Patriots.
Mr. LEE: That'll be tough. Yeah. They've a lot of injuries on the difference of lines so they need to rush, you know, Tom Brady. If they don't have, you know, the horses to do it, I don't think they can do it this year. So it should be Patriots this year.
COX: Let me ask Justin what he thought the greatest event was and I suppose it might - is it a fight - let me just ask you that before we answer…
Mr. GRANT: You know and I'm really wracking my brain here to find that one thing that might have got tapped in my imagination. But I got to go back to Floyd Mayweather. There was just a tremendous energy. In every hood in America, there's a tremendous energy among the people (unintelligible). I really feel like that fight captivated a lot of people. So, again, I'm going to have to come back to the Mayweather-Ricky Hatton fight. It was a great fight. Hatton put out the best of Mayweather. And now, we got see the crowning of probably the greatest boxer of the current era. So I got to go with Mayweather again. Sorry about that.
COX: Do you think though that - that's okay, that's okay. Do you think though that that fight helped bring boxing back - and this is a presumption on my part - bring it back to a point where it could compete more successfully against the rising of mixed martial arts?
Mr. GRANT: Yeah. I really believe that. And I believe it because of the knockout. People want to see violence. They want to see knockouts. They don't want to see guys getting in the ring and poke at each other. Because frankly, that's boring. They want to see guys getting it mix it up. So I think that combined with the HBO 24/7 series which combined that reality TV aspect, which is so popular now, those two factors, I think helped bring boxing back.
Plus, you know, a lot of good match ups, Taylor against Pavlick, and obviously, Mayweather against Hatton. Yet Mayweather gets De la Hoya early this year. You have Cotto against Zab Judah. So a lot of great fights this year and a lot of action.
COX: We do agree with that - I've got about 30 - I got less than 30 seconds for you Greg on that, is boxing coming back now because of Mayweather?
Mr. LEE: If there are more fights that come out well, like, you know, Mayweather and Hatton, you know, Mayweather, if depends upon if do they have enough depth to try to match along with the mixed martial arts. If there are more fights come out like they bring the excitement like Mayweather boxing, we'll have, you know, a promise of rebirth. But we have to still to see if that happens.
COX: All right. I appreciate your having it. Something else big happened this year. That was the creation of the Sports Bloggers Roundtable. Thank you, guys, for being a part of it.
Justin Grant, writing for Alpha Blog. Greg Lee, online sports editor for the Boston Globe.
Mr. LEE: Have a Happy New Year guys.
COX: Happy New Year.
CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox.
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