Random Pro of the Week: Darius Miles

Since the Clippers have become sexy again (thank you, Chris Paul), I remember the first time in my life when people actually began mentioning them as a potential playoff team.

It’s like the scene in Major League when everyone around town is talking about the Indians during a successful run and saying “These guys might not be so f—ing bad.”

Three rookies and two first-year players – Quentin Richardson, Keyon Dooling, Darius Miles, Corey Maggette and Lamar Odom – on the 2000-01 team followed up the next year by the addition of Elton Brand to go along with guys like Eric Piatkowski and Michael Olowakandi made the Clippers somewhat intriguing.

Turns out, the Asian groundkeepers from Major League were right. “They’re still shitty” as they said.

A lot of that falls on the Clippers as an organization. But, some of it should fall on Darius Miles.

After being compared to Kevin Garnett for making the leap straight from high school to the NBA – and being picked No. 3 overall – Miles seemed like he would be part of a Clippers core for plenty of years and playoff runs.

Turns out, he never really had a jump shot – or developed one – and at 6-foot-9 he should have been a better rebounder. Yet, because he weighed about 150 pounds (truthfully 210, but he looked as slender as a meth head) he couldn’t bang down low and because he couldn’t pass or shoot, he couldn’t sit on the perimeter.

Somewhat alike, but not really at all.

In his eight NBA seasons he averaged just 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. It’s not Adam Morrison (another No. 3 overall pick) statistics, but it isn’t Carmelo Anthony either. In two of Miles’ seasons he averaged – repeat, averaged! – a negative win share. That means that the team would have been better off not having him play a single minute.

What Miles did get known for was his head-pounding that he did on the court with Quentin Richardson where the two would turn their fists upside down and hit the top of their heads.

 

 

The move, known as “antennas up” in reference to people should pull up their antennas and pay attention to what we’re doing. The move carried on with each doing so when they were no longer teammates.

It did become hip enough that the move was featured in a Nike commercial, directed by Spike Lee where the best part is Miles’ block at the 0:09 mark that looks like a fourth grader is shooting the ball.

 

Being in L.A., Miles and Richardson also parlayed their shared fame into a small part in Van Wilder but that seemed to be the only highlight of Miles’ career.

He was arrested recently for carrying a loaded gun – repeat, a loaded gun! – in an airport and trying to get it through security. That followed up his arrest for pot (but, really, it’s the NBA so we shouldn’t be surprised and he was playing with the Jail Blazers at the time) and driving on a suspended license. I guess when you roll in a car pictured to the left, you might attract some attention.

It’s just that the attention Miles drew was rarely for what he did on the court. Except for the “antennas up” salute.

Random Pro of the Week: Muggsy Bogues

Growing up, if there was one basketball player that wasn’t a Laker that I admired, it was Spud Webb. If there were two, it was Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues.

As someone who wasn’t cut from his freshman team in high school because all I did was hustle despite the fact that I hadn’t really developed any basketball skills, guys like Webb and Bogues were inspirational.

Here was a guy who was no taller than my mother – Bogues is the smallest player in NBA history at just 5-foot-3 – yet was drafted 12th overall. The fact that he was part of the popular Charlotte Hornets (think Starter jackets and NBA Jam) with Larry “Grand Ma Ma” Johnson meant that people liked him even more.

Muggsy Bogues, the NBA's shortest player, and Manute Bol, the NBA's tallest player, were teammates in Washington.

Bogues, though, played for 14 years in the Association. Think about that in terms of a child: From birth through freshman year of high school, Bogues was playing in the NBA.

Sure, he’s only remembered for his height but he scored almost 7,000 points and had nearly that many assists. If there was ever a person who could inspire just by being on TV, it was Muggsy Bogues. He didn’t need any Tony Robbins speeches, or “The More You Know” videos. Just seeing him on the court, weaving in between the 6-foot-9 players was amazing.

Plus, he even blocked a shot by Patrick Ewing once.

And, he had one of the best names in sports. Although Muggsy is not his real name, no one knows him as Tyrone Bogues. Like Magic, Muggsy is just his name. Not Earvin. Not Tyrone.

While most weekend warriors try to envision themselves as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant – think of the hilarious Along Came Polly scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman yells “White Chocolate!” – I think that Muggsy Bogues inspired more people to take up hoops than any other professional player.

“Hey!” you’d say while looking at the TV, “If that midget can play in the NBA, then I definitely can play a little ball.”

Muggsy Bogues, plain and simple, showed people that adage – if you put your mind to something, you can succeed.

Plus, he made the hilarious crossover to Curb Your Enthusiasm  when we realized that Muggsy wasn’t small in every area.

Random Pro of the Week: Mark Bavaro

Best tight end in football right now?

Is it Antonio Gates? Rob Gronkowski? Jimmy Graham?

One thing is clear, the tight end position enjoyed by those three and many others would not have been as specialized if it wasn’t for Mark Bavaro.

The guy was a stud and was really one of the true pass-catching tight ends who proved to be a dangerous threat.

How do I remember that Bavaro was a stud? Tecmo Bowl, of course.

Aside from Bo Jackson, who is the greatest player in video game history, Bavaro and the New York Giants were the best overall team. Not only was the defense legit, but Bavaro was always good for 10 or so yards on Pass 2, where he ran an out and it was easy pickings.

The reason that Bavaro was so good in Tecmo Bowl was the fact that he was – at least in my mind – a groundbreaking tight end. And he just seemed like the tough football player you wanted on your team. Look at this, where he drags Ronnie Lott at least 10 yards after a hit:

Bavaro changed the game. Sure there were other tight ends who were revolutoinary, but a big, physical tight end like him who could catch and wasn’t afraid to go over the middle became the prototype for the guys who you want on your fantasy team right now.

He also seemed like a bad-ass. His nickname was “Rambo” partially for his resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, but also because he was a beast. If Bavaro had played during the Twitter era, we might have hashtagged him as #beastmode. He may have even been the first to be hashtagged as such.

When was the last time you saw a TE on the cover of the football issue?

Back when Bavaro played it was hand it off to a bruising back and pass to one of your two wide receivers. The passing game had not been revolutionized as it has been now (along with some handy rules in place to aid passing offenses) but Bavaro was on the cutting edge.

Like Al Pedrique, Bavaro was better-known in a video game. Unlike Pedrique, Bavaro was well-known for his ability to be a great playmaker and difference-maker in a video game.

Random Pro of the Week: Leon Lett

Even through the impending food coma and the pumpkin martinis – yes, you read that right; they’re delicious – on Thanksgiving, it was hard not to notice a lot of the attention being paid to former Dallas Cowboys lineman Leon Lett.

Lett, of course, is the buffoon who cost his Cowboys a Thanksgiving day victory in 1993 when he slid in the snow and kicked a blocked field goal attempt. That came 11 months after he tried to showboat into the end zone and had one of the best hustle plays of all time come back to bite him in his super-sized posterior.

It’s not really a shame that Lett is remembered for these two plays since they are so outrageous in trying to place them in a category.

(And, really, when something ridiculous happens in sports, we constantly bring that scenario up again. Look at Bobby Valentine. Just hired by the Red Sox and half the pictures shown of him are when he rocked that fake mustache and glasses combo. The same way Don Beebee is remembered as the guy who ran down Lett and knocked the ball out of his hands.)

Lett was a guy who played on one of the best dynasties in NFL history, winning three Super Bowls – and he wasn’t terrible either as he made two Pro Bowls. Not bad for a guy who was drafted in the seventh round out of Emporia State. (Yeah, try telling us where that is.)

His level of accomplishment for where his career arc should have left him is stunning.

But, he’ll always be remembered for those two plays. How many other athletes are routinely in the center of drama? Recently, we could only think of a couple; and their screw-ups are nowhere near the levels of Lett’s.

Ron Artest and A.J. Pierzynski came to mind first. Artest seems to always be in the middle of something on the court and his place in history as the only fan to run 15 rows into the stands to deliver a haymaker will always immortalize him.

Pierzynski is just a bad guy, often voted among the league’s meanest or dirtiest players, a guy who knows how to get under your skin. His teammates love him for that reason and his opponents hate him.

But those two are just pawns in the grand scheme of the Leon Lett Pantheon. They have a small place there, but nothing gaudy. You know who does?

Dammit! I'm lumped in with Leon Lett!

Alex Rodriguez.

Anytime there’s a scandal in baseball, the game’s richest player is somehow involved. The man tries so damn hard to be well-liked and it always backfires. His relationship with Derek Jeter is toast, he is linked to steroids, he has crossed the line with unwritten rules on the field (crossing the pitcher’s mound and yelling “I got it” while running the bases to prevent a player from catching a pop-up) and most recently he’s involved in the Dan Lozano allegations. Of course he is.

While we might be discussing all of this about A-Rod one day in Cooperstown, he should make sure to thank Leon Lett during his acceptance speech. If only because A-Rod’s bumbles have been frequent but not overwhelmingly memorable. Rodriguez will be remembered for a lot.

Lett is remembered for two things.

Random Pro of the Week: Tony Zendejas

By Ben Alkaly

My teenage years were generally a blur of hating math class, crushes on girls way outta my league and the occasional bout of acne.  But one memory – involving a truly random sports pro – stands out like a beacon of light.

One Friday morning circa 1992-93, I was flipping through the LA Times Sports section, and there on page 10 or so (when newspapers actually had 10+ pages of sports) was a two-inch tall, one-column ad reading “SATURDAY: MEET RAMS KICKER TONY ZENDEJAS AT CARL’S JR. IN CULVER CITY”.

Mainly because of its location – at a fast food restaurant many miles from Orange County – I was rather perplexed by this public appearance by a semi-celebrity, but also intrigued.  At that time in my adolescence I was a blossoming Raider fan, however I had a healthy respect for Tony Zendejas, who had previously booted balls for the LA Express of the USFL.  He was Mexican-American and a SoCal native, and I’ve always felt sports teams should at least somewhat reflect the region they represent, even in this era of high-priced free agency, luxury suites and corporate sponsorships.

Not to mention, Tony Z. was enjoying a nice little career with Los Carneros.  In 1991 he became the first kicker in NFL history to nail every field goal attempt on the season, however the fact that he only went 17-for-17 suggests the Rams’ offense was rather impotent that year.  Actually, their 3-13 record in 1991 confirms as much.

Anywho, that Friday at school I made a bee-line for my friends Allan, Larry and Eli – also fellow Silver and Black supporters – and could barely contain my bizarre enthusiasm.

“Dude, for some reason Tony Zendejas is signing autographs tomorrow at the Carl’s Jr. five minutes from here…we gotta go!”

It didn’t take much persuasion – they were all in for Operation Meet Zendejas.  Since we didn’t yet have our driver’s licenses, and nobody’s parents agreed to drive us to (and wait around at) such an absurd event, we took the bus down Venice Blvd.  We arrived early to beat the expected crowd, four Jewish boys chowing down on Western Bacon Cheeseburgers and fried zucchini (tangent: while dining at CJ’s, I always opt for zucchini over fries – it’s such a unique menu item among fast food establishments).

Sure enough, at the stated time of 1 p.m., in walks Zendejas and a Rams’ team handler.  He plops down at a booth in all its vinyl and linoleum glory, and a small-but-steady stream of football fans approached the proud Chino Hills High School alum who had emigrated here from Curimeo, Michoacán, Mexico (thanks, Wikipedia!).

When it was our turn to meet the man, all I could muster was “So, um, why are you out here all the way in West LA?” which was met with a reply of “The Rams asked me to be here.”

Our author still holds dear his autographed card.

That was that.  I left Carl’s Jr. with an autographed card that made its way into a Protecto sleeve and placed among my other sports collectibles, as well as lingering questions about why it was necessary for a 10-year NFL veteran to hold a meet-n-greet at a burger joint. There didn’t even appear to be a promotional tie-in to Carl Karcher’s empire.

Fast-forward to 2008, and while thumbing through that same LA Times Sports section, I was met with this dismaying headline: “FORMER RAM TONY ZENDEJAS ARRESTED ON RAPE CHARGE”.  Had I, 14 years earlier, exchanged pleasantries and a handshake with a sexual predator?  At his ensuing trial, I almost wanted to stand on the courthouse steps and re-enact the legendary (and mythical) “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” exchange from the Black Sox Scandal.

Without taking “Random Pro of the Week” too far to the dark side, let’s just say Zendajas was acquitted of all charges in 2009, and we at Throwback Attack hope the accuser has been able to move on with her life.

Meanwhile, the former Univ. of Nevada standout has clearly put the incident behind him.  Perhaps that Carl’s Jr. autograph signing left a lasting impact on Zendejas since he’s now a restaurateur himself, in that famous football-loving suburban enclave of San Dimas, Calif. Tony invites one and all to become his friend on Facebook, and on his behalf, I kindly request that any of you with HTML coding skills help bring the website for Zendejas Mexican Restaurant into the current millennium.

It’s been my pleasure to guest-blog “Random Pro of the Week” this Thanksgiving Eve, and I hope you enjoyed my tale of meeting a most random pro, in a most random location, one random Saturday in the early 1990’s.  I’ll never be able to enjoy a Six-Dollar Burger without the word “Zendejas” whispering through my mind …

Ben Alkaly has been a sports industry professional for over 20 years, dating back to working in a baseball card shop at age 14.  His Tony Zendejas “Drug Use is Life Abuse” autographed card remains the most valuable item in his personal collection.

Random Pro of the Week: Todd Marinovich

Geez … where to begin on this one?

Sure, you could go with the star at USC. Or the first-round Raiders flameout. The drugs. The arrests. The flop of a career. The fact his father was a psycho. That Todd Marinovich never ate a Big Mac as a kid. That he’s a painter now.

How about that he is a Ginger?

Not only that, but he played on my two favorite football teams from my childhood – USC and the Raiders.

Needless to say, I had a mini-redheaded crush on Todd Marinovich.

The unfortunate thing was that as he was getting arrested, I was starting to read the newspaper on an everyday basis. When he was washing out in the NFL, I was cognizant of his shady character. I was no longer a kid who just cheered for a team or players. I was becoming a sports fan getting disillusioned with athletes that I had previously held in such high regard.

It was like living in Cleveland.

I liked Marinovich when he was at USC. He was Cali-cool. Claimed he surfed naked. That he was molded to be a quarterback. That he threw lefty and was the first QB I saw do that. I liked that he wore No. 13 and that he rocked a sweet redheaded mullet. As a Ginger, I liked that he was too. And he was successful.

Or so I thought.

Well, Mr. Peppery Nipples seemed to revolt against his overbearing father. (Whaaa?!) That Marv Marinovich (great name, by the way) put so much into his son becoming a quarterback that his son did drugs. In the locker room. He shot heroin, took painkillers, mixed a volatile cocktail of drugs into his body because he didn’t give a shit. (If you’d like, take a few minutes and read this exceptional piece in Esquire about Todd from 2010.)

It was around that time that I started to get so interested in sports that I would want to read a lot about them. I was subscribed to both Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated for Kids (huuuuuge difference in how sports are covered) and would religiously read the Sports section in the paper. I was more informed on sports than all of my friends.

Smile! You're in jail!

So, I knew exactly what was going on with Marinovich. Or Marijuanovich as he got to be known.

Marinovich’s career stunk. Too much pressure. Too many drugs to get away from the pressure. Too much revolting against The Man, which can easily be traced back to his dad.

It’s unfortunate. But in a way, it’s good. All kids need an athlete to let them down. It’s eye-opening. It’s more real that believing your favorite player is a good person when he clearly isn’t. It’s about pulling the curtain back a little bit and seeing what life has to offer. It sucks sometimes. Yet, it’s also an important lesson. I wish for all kids to have their own version of Todd Marinovich. Just to let them know.

Random Pro of the Week: Lonnie Smith

Bring up the following name to any baseball fan and I promise you will get the same response.

You: “Lonnie Smith.”

Other person: “That’s the guy who cost the Braves the World Series.”

Unfortunately, a pretty good and lengthy career was ruined by one moment in one game.

Alas, it was a huge game and a very big moment. So, we’re sorry Lonnie, but your 17 years in The Show, your second place in the 1982 MVP voting, your .288 career average, your solid outfield abilities, your first-round pick (No. 3 overall!) and your three other World Series titles are all forgotten by one instance.

You had one of the biggest baserunning gaffes in Major League Baseball history.

In Game 7 of the 1991 World Series – the greatest World Series ever, according to some and easily the greatest of my lifetime where I don’t have a rooting interest – Smith was deked by rookie second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and never scored what might have been the winning run.

Smith led off the eighth inning of a 0-0 game with a single against Jack Morris. Terry Pendleton, the National League MVP that season, followed with a double to left-center field.

Lonnie Smith slides into third base in the eighth inning after getting deked at second base.

As Smith, who was running on the pitch, got to second base, Knoblauch and shortstop Greg Gagne faked like Pendelton’s ball was hit in the infield and they were turning a double play. Smith hesitated at second base, then rounded and waited some more, before finally getting to third. This, despite Pendleton’s hit one-hopped the fence.

Morris got a groundout, intentionally walked the bases full, then got Sid Bream to ground into a 3-2-3 double play with Smith retired at home plate.

See the 4:18 mark of this clip here.

Morris pitched 10 shutout innings, the Twins scored a run and won the Series, leaving Smith to be known as a goat.

Nevermind the fact that you put together a terrific career by many standards, that you overcame a drug addiction and you convinced yourself not to murder Braves general manager John Schuerholz (oh, yeah, we forgot to mention that), but it’s been 20 years since you were badly fooled on the basepaths and you are in distinct World Series company.

If you consider Bill Buckner (1986), Mitch Williams (1993), Dennis Eckersley (1988), Nelson Cruz (2011) and umpire Don Denkinger (1985) as good company.