Pius Heinz of Germany holds up stacks of cash after beating Martin Staszko of the Czech Republic to win the championship bracelet and $8.7 million in prize money during the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas

Tonight in Las Vegas and (near) live on ESPN, the final table of the World Series of Pokers’ Main Event begins. Though the tournament began in July, the “November Nine” resume play after a three month lay-off – competing for more than $8 million in prize money. This concept – whittling the full field down to a final table of nine, determining the winner live on TV in November – is a relatively new one, an idea unthinkable even ten years ago. Why would anyone care about the outcome of a single poker tournament so much as to wait months to decide a winner?

A lot can change in a decade. In the world of professional poker, ten years is enough time for a tidal wave of money to crash across the landscape – establishing poker as a sports entertainment force and changing the game forever. It took ten years for the poker bubble to stretch and expand across the globe before it finally burst. Slowly, widespread interest in poker declined, receding like the flood waters which forever re-shaped this pop culture juggernaut.

There is still solid interest in the World Series and professional poker in general but nowhere near the incredible heights it once reached. Attention has turned elsewhere. But why? The same factors that contributed to poker’s meteoric cultural rise undercut its popularity and eventually relegated it back to the margins where, fairly or otherwise, it belongs.

Across the last decade, the factors that fueled the unprecedented growth of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) contributed directly to its ultimate flameout. A classic bubble that progressed through all the stages before bursting in spectacular fashion. Before the 2013 WSOP Main Event champion is crowned, look back on the poker world’s trajectory and how the game borne from smokey casino cardrooms ended up as an area-style TV special with lights, analysts and months of all – filtered through the lens of one man whose interactions with the game closely follow a nearly identical trajectory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Liptons 1991 Pic : Action Images  Jimmy Connors - USA
Hate is a strong word but it’s apt in this case. The tennis establishment hated Jimmy Connors. They hated his boorish on-court attitude. They hated how he treated his fellow players.

Connors didn’t come from the traditional tennis background. While the sport was dominated by country club folks with a lot of money and monocles by the box load, Connors was the outlier. A kid from East St.Louis that was coached by his demanding, task-master of a mom, Connors not only made it when he wasn’t supposed to, but excelled.

Read the rest of this entry »

the quazcast (1400 x 1400)

Welcome to The Quazcast – a weekly podcast that brings listeners a frank conversation between myself and a random person from the world of sports.

I might speak with a 90-year-old NFL kicker one week, the manager of a Major League Baseball team the next, and a bull fighter the week after that. The Quazcast is about digging deep and avoiding the cliché question and answers that too often plague sports interviews.

Today’s guest is Fred Claire, the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and author of “My 30 Years in Dodger Blue.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Red Bull Formula One driver Vettel celebrates atop his car after winning the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida

Whilst there’s a lot of people hanging their balls in the pool very early on Fridays, we’re still here working very hard and pushing very hard.”

- Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel doesn’t care how boring it looks. He doesn’t care that consistent domination isn’t exciting. All Sebastian Vettel does is win races. He’s the best driver in the world.

So why does everybody hate him so much?

Now using the word ‘everybody’ is a bit of a straw man. Vettel’s fellow racers have defended him from disgruntled fans. Singapore, Malaysia, wherever the circuit is on a given week, Vettel has been subjected to boos atop the podium.

On Sunday, the German captured the Formula One driver’s championship. It’s fitting that the race for the number one spot ended in India, a course that may never be used again by Bernie Eccelstone’s posse due to a myriad of political problems, including accusations of tax evasion and the bureaucratic nightmare that is clearing customs.

Read the rest of this entry »

USPW_753146 2Supporters of the St. Louis Cardinals are referred to as the best fans in baseball. The term is more often used ironically than genuinely, but even if it wasn’t, it’s not the type of moniker that should give rise to anger in anyone who possesses a healthy perspective on life.

There are far worse exaggerations over which one might be more justified in getting upset. For instance, Budweiser is not the King of Beers. Obviously, ales, lagers and stouts would never subject themselves to a sovereign monarch. Energizer batteries don’t keep going and going and going. Eventually, they’ll wear out, and that moment is most likely to occur when you’re a quarter of the way through shaving your face with an electric razor.

We all know this. That’s why “the best fans in baseball” is so often used in a derisive manner. It’s a joke.

Nonetheless, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates to gain entry into the National League Championship Series – which is big news – and because sports writers are typically of the unimaginative breed, there are several articles about St. Louis Cardinals fans being earnestly written and published.

Cardinals fans suck.

Cardinals fans are the best.

It reminds me of the time I went to a White Snake and Scorpions concert. In line for a beer, a fight erupted between two drunks over which was the better band. White Snake fan won the fight by TKO when Scorpions super fan missed with a punch, fell to the ground and puked all over himself.

The arguments over how great/terrible of a fan base there is in St. Louis is actually worse. At least the two metal fans didn’t have a large platform from which they could spew vomit on all of us.

No fan base is better than another. “Oh, but we don’t chant racist slurs like those soccer supporters in Italy.” Congratulations, the best that you can say about a group that you belong to is that you’re not as racist as another group. You must really be so proud.

Any sample of sports fans is nothing more than a cross-section of humanity. Some good. Some bad. But mostly grotesque specimens searching for something to belong to that’s bigger than themselves.

A football helmet's health warning sticker is pictured between a U.S. flag and the number 55, in memory of former student and NFL player Junior Seau, as the Oceanside Pirates high school football team prepares for their Friday night game in Oceanside

League of Denial is as much a documentary about warning signs as it is about concussions in the National Football League. The two-hour Frontline investigative report premiered Tuesday night on PBS, and like any significant study, it brought forth as many questions as it answered.

Given the lead up to the airing of the documentary – most notably ESPN’s opting out of its original partnership with PBS publicly due to a lack of editorial control, but reportedly due to pressure from its already existing partnerships with the NFL – the content wasn’t surprising. It presented a convincing mix of anecdotes and research to build a case against the league for what appears at first to be a simple ignorance to the dangers of head trauma in football, but ultimately transforms into willful negligence. Somehow, the tone of the documentary is rarely accusatory, and almost always educational. The feature program leads viewers to ask their own questions rather than overwhelming them with its own conclusions.

While the format created an engaging program, it also created something about which it’s difficult to write. I don’t want to merely summarize what led to Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster’s death in 2002 or create a bastardized version of a white paper on how chronic traumatic encephalopathy affects the brain. A compacted amalgamation of the documentary would trivialize the issue more than add anything.

Read the rest of this entry »

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has had a disappointing start to his junior season. Well, as disappointing as two sacks and a dozen tackles over four games – all while garnering more attention from offensive lines than protein shakes and calorie intake – will allow.

Given the size of the hype caboose attached to Clowney coming into the season, it seemed that the only footage of college football recorded from the previous year was his hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith at the Outback Bowl.

Quickness. Toughness. Power. A helmet sent flying. A fumble recovered. Never mind that it set up a go-ahead touchdown on the very next play, it remains the Mona Lisa of highlight reel plays.

The video clip became so popular that nanas were sending it in email forwards to their grandchildren. Of course, it contributed to unfair expectations on Clowney, causing many of us to imagine something right out of – pardon the dated reference – The Waterboy, with opponents relinquishing offensive possession just to avoid having to face Clowney on the field.

We might have gone a little bit overboard with that outlook, perhaps lacking a proper perspective. It’s a condition that seems to be chronic when it comes to Clowney.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old reportedly surprised coaches when – shortly before kickoff against Kentucky – he informed them that his bruised ribs (later found to be a strained rib muscle) were too sore to play. Following the game, head coach Steve Spurrier, expressed no uncertain measure of frustration.

I will just say he told me he couldn’t play. That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said ‘I can’t play’. I said, that’s fine, you don’t have to play. We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to.

Spurrier has since admitted to handling the situation poorly, but the cadre of college football pundits – whose realm of influence doesn’t consider subtlety a virtue – offered up no such mea culpa for their own hot takes criticizing Clowney.

It verges on profound how horribly mistaken and overwhelmingly myopic the aim of their criticism is. It represents a failure to consider anything beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the false violation of a misinformed principle: that student athletes should embrace their own exploitation to the point of risking their future ability to earn as much money as possible.

Clowney, at 6’6″ and 275 lbs is projected to be a top pick in May at the 2014 NFL draft. As such, he stands to sign a large contract with whatever team selects him. After two-and-a-half years of not only raising his draft stock, but also helping the South Carolina football program gain ground in the highly competitive SEC, thereby improving the university’s bottom line, the player – who has never received a salary for his services – doesn’t owe anything to anyone in college football.

Never mind the enormous assumptions one would have to make about Clowney’s injury to question his commitment to the team, it’s completely erroneous to expect him to risk anything at all given his current status. The school should be immensely grateful he hasn’t chosen to sit out the entire season.

It’s a strange bit of reflex that makes us champion certain causes over others without thinking. In the case of criticism being heaped on Clowney, we’re ultimately championing an unpaid young man risking his future earning potential to serve an enterprise whose revenue depends on that risk being taken. We want the sacrifice from the individual while asking nothing of the organization, nor the system that allows such exploitation.

Perhaps we ought to take a page from his coach’s playbook and realize that being on any side other Clowney’s lacks the proper perspective.