Blog Update

Hello readers,

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything here in quite some time. I do apologize for that, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped writing.

I’ve actually been doing quite a bit of writing. I was fortunate to recently be selected for an internship with bleacherreport.com. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the world’s leading website for user-generated sports journalism. I’ve been posting all of my material on there and I encourage all of you to check it out. You can find it at http://bleacherreport.com/users/292844-dmitriy-ioselevich.

I will be posting my material there for the time being, though I may occasionally post something here as well. I’ll continue to write about sports PR at Bleacher Report, and about whatever else strikes my fancy. So enjoy and please keep reading.

Sincerely yours,

Your Sports Source

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JaMarcus Russell – Making Even Ryan Leaf Look Good

JaMarcus Russell, otherwise known as football’s favorite punching bag, was arrested Monday after authorities raided his Alabama home and charged him with unlawful possession of a controlled substance – codeine syrup.

The ex-Raiders quarterback and former #1 overall draft pick has seen his career spiral out of control in the last few weeks, and now is being declared one of the NFL’s biggest busts.

Russell was a star in college for a powerhouse LSU team. In three years as a starter with the Tigers, the 6’6″ and 260-pound Russell was 21-4 and was named MVP of the 2007 Sugar Bowl. He thrilled scouts with a powerful arm and fast legs, and elicited Al Davis to compare him to John Elway (Davis is delusional, but still). He was the consensus top prospect in the 2007 NFL Draft and was selected by the Oakland Raiders and signed a 6-year contract for $68 million.

That, however, is where the gravy train stopped. Russell only played in four games his rookie year, but still managed to throw twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2), all on the way to compiling an abysmal 55.9 QB rating.

He hasn’t been much better since, and many think he may have actually gotten worse. In three years with the Raiders, Russell managed to win only 7 of his 25 starts with a career QB rating of 65.2. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t that bad. Even Ryan Leaf isn’t that bad.

He was never a finished product coming out of college, just an enormous physical talent. According to ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, Russell “needed to work on his accuracy, his footwork, his penchant for locking in on receivers, his vision, his work ethic and his body language.”

But what did Russell do? He showed up to Raiders mini-camp weighing 290 pounds and prompted NBC Sports to call him “annually and incredibly overweight”. Two months later the Raiders released him, with 3 years remaining on Russell’s bloated contract.

Russell’s downfall may not entirely be his fault. Famed quarterback coach Tom Martinez said that nobody in the Raiders organization really wanted Russell in the first place. It was Al Davis who brought him to Oakland.

The situation for Russell was not ideal, said Martinez, who cited a poor offensive line and “receivers who don’t know how to get open, who don’t know how to separate.”

That judgment may be fair, but Al Davis wasn’t the one spoon-feeding Russell hamburgers while top NFL quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady spent extra hours studying film. Russell never did anything to inspire confidence in his teammates, and he didn’t devote himself to making himself better. He chose to rely on his natural gifts, convinced that they were enough to keep him in the league.

With this latest incident it’s more apparent than ever where Russell’s priorities lie. Instead of working out and perfecting his technique, Russell was spending his free time downing “purple drank”. Now he has a court date to look forward to and a possible league suspension.

Smile, JaMarcus! You can have all the 'purple drank' that you want now that you're unemployed.

His crime was minor, but his image mismanagement through the years has been off the charts. He was put on this planet to throw a football, and for whatever reason he never wanted to take full advantage of his gifts. Instead, he made bad decision after bad decision and opted to enjoy the NFL lifestyle. Well, he won’t be enjoying it much longer.

JaMarcus, good luck to you. I hope I never have to suffer through watching you on a football field ever again.

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Top 10 – America’s Athletes

In celebration of America’s birthday I have compiled a list of America’s most well known athletes. These are the most recognizable athletes in the country, and day after day millions of Americans watch them perform. They are ingrained in the public consciousness and are as popular off the field as they are on it. These are the athletes who we see in commercials, on the front covers of magazines, and on billboards all over the country. They are the ones who we most identify with and admire for defining what it means to be an American.

To make the list athletes must be born in the U.S. (sorry Albert Pujols & Rafael Nadal) and currently active in their sport (sorry Michael Jordan & Brett Favre). As an added qualification athletes must have strong reputations, meaning no record of arrest or steroid abuse or crazy ex-girlfriends. These athletes are experts at personal brand management and their tax returns show it. So without further ado here is my list, and as an extra bonus a few athletes who fell short.

Notable omissions:

Hey Tiger, are you smirking because you hooked the shot or because you missed this list?

Tiger Woods – Any other year and he’d be #1 on this list. But cheating on your super model wife and ending up in sex rehab tends to knock your image down a few notches, perhaps irrevocably. He still makes twice as much as anybody on this list, though.

Kobe Bryant – He’s as well known as anybody on this list, but his career isn’t filled with just accolades. There are those rape allegations to consider, plus his feud with Shaq that drove apart one of the greatest teams in pro sports.

Shaquille O’Neal – I wanted to put Shaq on this list, but it’s hard to consider somebody who only contributed 3.1 Win Shares (less than Delonte West – 3.3) last season with Cleveland to be a “great” athlete. He sure had a good run though!

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – Do people even watch boxing?

Tom Brady – He was America’s sweetheart for a few years, but with the Patriots fading so is Brady. He also gets docked a few points for marrying Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen. Wait, isn’t that every American’s dream?

Derek Jeter – He is a role model for any future baseball player and brings an unrivaled amount of professionalism and dedication to the game. But he’s not even the most recognizable player on his team anymore. Sorry Jeter.

The NHL – Ryan Miller (aka “the best goalie in the world”) makes a compelling case after his heroic performance in the 2010 Olympics. But he plays a sport that nobody south of Washington D.C. really cares about. Maybe in another four years.

THE TOP 10

10. Landon Donovan – Hardly anybody knew who this guy was before he netted a game-winning goal against Algeria in the final minutes of America’s pool-clinching World Cup match. Since then the consensus best American soccer player in the world has never been more popular (including an appearance on the Daily Show). He’s near the end of his career but he makes the list for helping make soccer relevant again in the minds of Americans, at least temporarily.


9. Joey Chestnut – The highest ranked competitive eater in the world is now a 4-time champion at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. There are few things more American than hot dogs, and Chestnut once ate 68 of them in 10 minutes (2009 Nathan’s). He gets bonus points for knocking off former record holder Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi and returning the throne of competitive eating to the U.S. where it rightfully belongs.


A hot girl in a bikini driving a fast car. What's more American than that?

8. Danica Patrick – I had to have at least one woman make this list and who better than Patrick? She’s the the first woman to compete in the IndyCar Series as well as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and she’s pretty good too. She is also the spokeswoman for GoDaddy.com, the web hosting company that’s most well known for its raunchy commercials featuring eye-catching girls ripping their clothes off. Sounds American to me.


7. Dwight Howard – Howard is one of the funniest guys in the NBA and his warm personality has earned him wide acclaim among teammates, coaches, and writers. He is the best player on a very good Orlando Magic team, but he has yet to win anything. Maybe one day he can truly replace his predecessor – the real “Superman”, Shaquille O’neal.


6. Michael Phelps – He holds 14 Olympic gold medals, including a world-record 8 at the Beijing Games that earned him status as Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year. He is the greatest swimmer of all time and might be one of the greatest Olympians of all time too. There was that whole ‘marijuana’ thing, but we’ll give the human fish a pass this time. After all, he’s still an American hero.


5. Dwayne Wade – Not much separates Wade from another NBA superstar further down this list. He is as good as they get and he has a championship ring to boot. Plus, he does those adorable commercials with Charles Barkley. Go Flash!


4. Peyton Manning – He is the NFL’s best quarterback, the sport’s top endorser, and one of football’s most charitable players. His active presence in the South during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cemented his reputation as one of the country’s most popular figures.

You've earned yourself that smug look, Peyton. Lookin' good!


3. Phil Mickelson – With Tiger’s career shrouded in controversy, Lefty is now golf’s greatest star. He won the Masters this year and he is one of the world’s most heavily endorsed athletes with lucrative deals from Exxon, Rolex, Barclay’s, Callaway, and KPMG.


2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – His father was a NASCAR legend and after his death the entire country united in support of Junior, who followed in his father’s legacy by becoming one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and certainly its most popular (voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for the sixth straight year). He even drives a Chevrolet. Driving fast is a staple of American culture and nobody does it better than Earnhardt.


1. LeBron James – It should come as no surprise that the basketball superstar is #1 on this list. The man who this summer will forever alter the basketball universe is also America’s most well known athlete. He led the USA Basketball “Redeem Team” to a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, he is the reigning 2-time NBA MVP, and he is only just now entering his prime. If the United States of America was a monarchy, then LeBron James would undoubtedly be its King.

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The Legacy of LBJ

Everyone and their uncle has an opinion on where LeBron James should sign this summer. Nobody, not even LeBron’s inner circle, really knows what the potentially greatest superstar free agent in NBA history will ultimately decide. But if there’s one thing we do know about LeBron, it’s that the one thing he cares about the most is his legacy in the pantheon of basketball greats.

Where should LeBron go?

He doesn’t care about the money – he has plenty of it and everyone’s offering the same max contract regardless. He doesn’t care about suiting up with his USA Basketball buddies and having a good time. No, all he cares about is winning. NBA greatness is measured in championship rings, and thus far LeBron’s fingers are completely bare. The next time he is a free agent will be in 5-6 years and LeBron will be past his prime with his legacy all but cemented. This is the biggest decision of his life and the greatest “changing of the guards” in recent NBA history. He can’t risk screwing this up, so let’s put the options on the table and see where LeBron should go.

Cleveland:

The start of LeBron’s NBA career almost had a storybook feel to it. The freakish athlete who grew up in Akron, Ohio gets drafted first overall by his hometown team and is immediately anointed as the savior of the franchise. He took the Cavs from basketball purgatory to heaven, making Cleveland one of the most powerful franchises in professional sports. His presence in the city alone generates $200 million for local businesses and $100 million in franchise value. One little problem though – he couldn’t win there.

He was the sole reason the Cavs were perennial contenders for an NBA championship, but he received little help in bringing the impoverished city its share of sports glory.

Byron Scott, the newly appointed coach of the Cavs, seems confident that LeBron will return to his hometown to play with likes of an under-sized Mo Williams and a 36-year old Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

“I think at the end of the day, he’s going to make the right decision, and he’ll be here in Cleveland for the rest of his career,” said Scott. “His legacy of winning championships in his hometown will be like nothing he’s seen in his life.

Scott’s right. If LeBron can win in Cleveland, his legend will be complete. But is the supporting cast good enough to help him?

Miami:

Reports of a super summit between LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh are intriguing. The NBA has never seen such a star-studded trio assembled in one place, and even with 9 minimum-salary players filling up the roster this team could still do some serious damage for years to come.

However, no matter what LeBron accomplishes in Miami, this team will forever be Wade’s after the Heat’s championship run in 05-06. Wade will get the credit and LeBron and Bosh will become the trustworthy sidekicks, which is not a role either superstar is eager to play.

Chicago:

There’s a lot to like about the Bulls, particularly that the team already employers superstar-in-waiting PG Derrick Rose and a very competent center in Joakim Noah. The Bulls also recently hired former Celtics assistant Tom Thibadeu to be their new head coach. Chicago could trade Luol Deng to add a player like Chris Bosh to the mix, building a team that could certainly be competitive for many years.

Most pundits believe that LeBron will land up in Chicago and from a pure performance standpoint it’s probably his best option. However, the problem in Chicago, as in Miami, is that LeBron will have to play under the shadow of another great – Michael Jordan. Comparisons to “The Great One” would haunt LeBron for the duration of his Bulls career, and it is almost inconceivable that King James would be able to match Jordan’s 6 championships and 5 MVP’s (not to mention various other NBA records). The best LeBron could hope for is to become the second greatest player who ever lived (an idea that cannot possibly appeal to the perfectionist player).

New York:

The Knicks are an enticing option only because New York is the largest market in the country and Knick fans are starved for a return to NBA relevancy. But the task of saving professional basketball in New York is beyond even LeBron’s mighty talents. You thought Cleveland’s supporting cast was bad? Try having a 300-pound Eddy Curry and a still developing Danilo Gallinari as your primary teammates. Moving on…

New Jersey:

This is an exciting team to watch with an impending move to Brooklyn and billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov signing the paychecks. But with only Devin Harris and Brook Lopez as capable starters, this team is more than just a superstar away from being legitimate contenders for an NBA championship. Sorry LeBron, you can still listen to Jay-Z on your iPod.

Los Angeles Clippers:

The thought of basketball’s most recognizable athlete playing for basketball’s most psychotic owner (Donald Sterling) may seem laughable at first, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. The Clippers have a solid foundation for a team with C Chris Kaman, PG Baron Davis, SG Eric Gordon, and 2009 #1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin. Gordon and Griffin are two of the league’s up-and-coming young players, and Davis is still an enormously talented player that just lacks motivation. Adding LeBron to that mix would instantly make the Clippers into one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

The Clippers may very well represent LeBron’s best chance to win right now. The other perk of course is that once Kobe starts to decline, Los Angeles will become LeBron’s city. He will help steal the spotlight from Kobe and the Lakers and make the Clippers relevant for the first time in decades (which is no small feat). It’s seemingly just as likely that LeBron could blow out his ACL and never unleash his full potential, but the rewards of this scenario working out are through the roof.

Think I’m crazy? I’m not the only one. Raptors F Hedo Turkoglu recently went on Turkish radio and offered his thoughts on LeBron’s final destination.

“If I have to make a guess, I think LeBron will choose the Clippers.”

The Waiting Game

As each of these 6 teams takes its turn attempting to woo LeBron James, we patiently await his decision to see how he will transform the basketball universe.

Winning may be his primary motive, but it can’t be the only one. He cares about building the LBJ brand into a phenomenon unlike anything we’ve seen since perhaps the days of Michael Jordan. He wants little kids in far away countries growing up idolizing him. He wants to be the global icon that transcends the traditional boundaries of professional sports.

But which city offers him the greatest potential to accomplish all this and more? LeBron, the ball is in your court.

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Paul Pierce – 12 Years Later

I never quite thought it would come to this, but Paul Pierce’s recent decision to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Celtics and become a free agent could spell the end of his majestic career in Boston.

I grew up watching Pierce and he was a Celtic in every sense of the world, right there with legends like Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Red Auerbach. He will go down in history as one of the best to overplay the game and, although he was overshadowed in his generation by the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Allen Iverson, he is still a lock to one day join that triumvirate in the basketball Hall of Fame.

Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane and see just what Pierce has accomplished in his 12 years in Boston.

Pierce was drafted 10th overall out of Kansas in the 1998 NBA draft  (Vinca Carter – 5th, Dirk Nowitzki – 9th). He joined a mediocre Celtics team that also featured, at the time, star forward Antoine Walker. In 2002 the pair made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals, including a Game 5 win against the New Jersey Nets that is still today the greatest 4th-quarter comeback in NBA playoffs history.

The out-of-shape Walker was jettisoned soon thereafter and Pierce had to endure several years as the team’s only go-to player on an, at best, mediocre squad. Then after a 2006-07 season in which the Celtics went an embarrassing 24-58, Pierce was finally gifted with a couple of capable sidekicks in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen by Celtics general manager, Danny Ainge.

The Big Three, as they would come to be known, won an NBA championship in their first season together with Pierce leading the way – playing LeBron James to a stalemate and making Kobe Bryant look human as he cruised to a Finals MVP award. The team made two more runs but fell short each time. And now, Pierce may have played his final game as a Celtic.

It’s rare for one player to spend most of his career with a single team, and 12 years is a loooong time. If there’s any doubt about what Pierce means to his teammates and to the city of Boston, consider this. In 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back in a Boston nightclub. He was on the verge of dying and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The next season, Pierce was the only Celtic to start all 82 games.

The man is a WARRIOR. Off the court he runs a charitable foundation called The Truth Fund, which helps support children from the greater Boston area and California inner cities by keeping them out of gangs. On the court he is the team’s captain, emotional leader, and go-to crunch time scorer.

Now, barring an act of unexpected generosity in signing a contract below max value, Pierce will likely be gone (look for the LA Clippers to scoop him up – he’s from the area and they need a veteran presence). He will pass the torch to Rajon Rondo, the next Celtics star, and finish his playing days somewhere else. Paul, it’s been a hell of a ride. Thank you.

#34 Paul Pierce

Career Stats

12 seasons, 8-time NBA All-Star, 3-time All-NBA Third Team, 1-time All-NBA Second Team

18.3 PPG, 4.4 RBP, 3.1 APG

45 FG%, 37 3P%, 80 FT%

1 NBA Finals MVP

1 NBA Championship

1 Legacy – “The Truth”

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FIFA FAIL!

After the latest series of “questionable” calls at the World Cup (see: England’s disallowed goal & Argentina’s offsides goal), the officials at FIFA have come up with an ingenious solution – censor the instant replays from fans.

Um, no. I know the referees may not have understood everything that the Mexican players were screaming at them following an obviously missed offsides call that gave Argentina a 1-0 lead, but I can assure them that it was most definitely not to censor the stadium instant replay.

Jermaine Craig, who is the spokesman for the South Africa World Cup organizing committee (the people responsible for operating the country’s 10 World Cup stadiums), admitted that they had made a mistake in showing the replay of Argentine forward Carlos Tevez heading the ball into the goal while standing 5 yards offsides.

“The goal was awarded and it happened relatively quickly,” Craig said. “In retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t have been shown. It was shown and unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that.”

Are we sure that the World Cup isn’t being run by Stalin? Did he somehow infiltrate FIFA and nobody bothered to tell us? Censorship is BAD, remember? Or is the governing body of international soccer just that inept?

Look, I understand FIFA’s resistance to using technology. They’ve been around since 1904 (with the first World Cup in 1930), and there’s a natural affinity to having the game played the same way it was played over a 100 years ago – complete with referee biases and blatant flopping. Some traditions should never change, but the absence of technology is not one of those traditions.

FIFA has to understand that the average soccer fan has changed a great deal since 1904. Technology is omnipresent in every aspect of our lives, and there is not a single other international sport that does not utilize technology at least to some extent. It may slow down the game a little, but isn’t it more important that the match be fair?

If FIFA is so determined against instant replay, then maybe they should take a page from Ultimate Frisbee. Take the referees out and have the players call their own fouls and goals. Don’t put the match in the hands of the referees, especially anybody named ‘Coulibaly’.

However, if the constant on-field and off-field skirmishes between teams are any indication of the capability of players to self-officiate, then maybe we need referees after all. Just give them the tools to do their job correctly! Please FIFA, before it’s too late.

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The Match that Wouldn’t End

There’s hardly a record that John Isner (USA) and Nicolas Mahut (FRA) didn’t beat when they finally laid down their rackets Thursday afternoon after the conclusion of the longest match in tennis history.

Isner and Mahut- warriors in victory as well as defeat.

6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68

Game and match to Isner, and all it took was 11 hours and 5 minutes, played over 3 grueling days. Twice the match had to be suspended because of darkness, and twice the two men returned to the tennis courts at Wimbledon to keep playing a match that couldn’t seem to end.

The world watched in awe as these two professionals battled it out, serve for serve and ace for ace. Millions tuned in to watch the historic event, abandoning temporarily the excitement of the World Cup. But no World Cup match could compete with the heroics of Isner and Mahut – nothing can.

It’s not just the records that make this match so incredible. It’s not the stage, and it’s not the result. It’s the players. Two men who in one fateful match transcended the moniker of being athletes and became, quite simply, warriors.

There are some people out there who are of the opinion that the world of sports is made up of nothing but a bunch of juiced-up angry men trying to kill each other playing a “game”. The stereotype is juvenile in its simplicity, yet there are too many instances of athletes acting childish (Manny Ramirez, Terrell Owens, etc) to discredit the notion entirely.

However, what Isner and Mahut accomplished is proof that there is more to sports than just “playing a game”. For the last three days court 18 became a battlefield and the two men became soldiers, engaged in a fight as ageless as any of the battles that shaped England’s history. But this wasn’t a fight to the death. No, it was a fight for self-enlightenment – a struggle that would put to question each man’s ability, commitment, and determination.

The sheer will power and strength of character required to keep going, to keep firing 100 mph serves and ferocious volleys, and to keep fighting when every muscle fiber screamed of pain and exhaustion – this is a testament in itself to what happened between the two men. For just over 11 hours they made tennis, and sports in general, more than just a “game”. Isner may have won the match, but both players ultimately won the war.

John Inser. Nicolas Mahut. We salute you.

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