Trying to Understand Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant is a lot of things.

He is a great scorer, a five time champion, and a legend. He still has the ability to completely take control of a game, even at the age of 36. Bryant is also a once in a lifetime talent because it will be hard for the Lakers to find someone like him for the next decade-plus. What seems to surprise the sports world is all of the things that Kobe Bryant is not.

As he passes the greatest player of all time on the NBA scoring list, Bryant is acting the same as he always would. He claims that he doesn’t think about putting up more points than Michael Jordan, but instead grills teammates in practice. “Shoot! Shoot!” he yells at Jeremy Lin during practice, “This m-----f----- don’t got s---.” NBA fans won’t see LeBron James and Kevin Durant acting this way. Later, in an obvious attempt to gain an endorsement from a certain paper towel brand, Bryant yells, “You m-----f------ are soft like Charmin,” at his teammates. Bryant concluded the act by telling general manager Mitch Kupchak, “These m-----f------ ain’t doing s--- for me.” Kobe Bryant doesn’t usually practice, but when he does he makes his presence known.

Despite an interesting practice, no one was calling out Bryant for what he was saying. It brings out the best in the practice when you’re going at it like that,” said Nick Young, who responded to Bryant’s trash talk with a bit of his own. Head coach Byron Scott didn’t mind either; “I just think he did a great job of getting everyone else fired up. He’s always fired up.”

Kobe Bryant is not normal. Many are passionate about playing basketball, but few live basketball. Bryant lives basketball. His obsession with victory is out of this world. Practices like this explain who he is. A normal viewer of that video could easily proclaim that he is an awful teammate. Not many others would contest that. Teammates that would say this would find themselves with a one way ticket to anywhere but Los Angeles. As Michael Jordan once said, “You don’t get no apologies in this business.” Bryant is constantly frustrated by not having teammates around him that want to win as much as he does. Jeremy Lin is not Derek Fisher. Jordan Hill is not Shaquille O’Neal. The times have changed, but Bryant still is inexplicably expecting a championship team.

Is Bryant what every basketball players should be? No. While he is a phenomenal player, too much about him should not be replicated. He does push teammates very well, but he is also selfish. He is not always a team player and this has caused the Lakers to struggle to bring in the right players in recent years. A younger Bryant was good for the Lakers and basketball, but something changed in the early 2000’s. It has seemed like ever since O’Neal was traded by the Lakers, things have been done by how Kobe has wanted them to be. This is not healthy for any organization. Things have gotten progressively worse in Los Angeles since they won it all in 2010 and Bryant is still on contract for next season.

It’s rare that players like Bryant come along but perhaps this is good. He has won five championships, but has placed the Lakers in a tough spot for the past few years with his declining health and play. Truth be told, it’s impossible to understand Bryant. Perhaps the only person that can do that is Michael Jordan. Fans and media have strived for decades to figure out who exactly Jordan is, but they cannot. No two players have been more alike in NBA history. 

Why Marcus Mariota Will Win the Heisman Trophy

By: Joel Norman

The candidates for the 2014 Heisman Trophy are Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper, and Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon. This competition could have one of the largest margins of victory ever. If Marcus Mariota does not win the Heisman Trophy, it would be a great shock.

The last four winners of the Heisman Trophy have all been quarterbacks as have twelve of the last thirteen (excluding Reggie Bush’s voided win in 2005). Mariota’s status as a signal caller immediately gives him an edge. Adding in his statistics from this year and it seems that he has no competition: 3,783 yards passing, 38 passing touchdowns, 68.3 completion percentage, and 2 interceptions. Mariota also rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns. In games that Mariota rushed for more than a single yard, Oregon was 11-0.

Many years, Heisman winners have been chosen from the best team in the nation. However, in recent years that has seemed to change with players like Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III winning. The College Football Playoff has changed up who the best team in the country exactly is, with four teams now battling to earn that title. This seasons’ candidates all play for teams that are ranked while Mariota and Cooper play for teams competing for the National Championship. If voters were looking at the best team in the country, they would see that Alabama holds that spot and that Cooper plays for them. This is Cooper’s only chance at winning, but due to the results of recent years, it seems unlikely to happen.

The competition is strong, but not quite good enough. Gordon had five games where he rushed for over 200 yards in a game on the way to 2,336 yards overall, best in the nation. Despite this, Gordon is at a disadvantage by not being a quarterback and playing for a team that lost three games. Cooper also leads receivers in the country with 1,656 yards, but he is more likely to win the Biletnikoff Award. Mariota’s play as a dual threat quarterback should be enough to give him the Heisman, but recent history also shows that he is the favorite. 

Bring Back the Backyard Brawl

By: Joel Norman

The weekend after Thanksgiving is reserved for college football rivalry games. Long time foes battle on the gridiron for bragging rights and sometimes, national title hopes. Games like Ohio State - Michigan and Auburn - Alabama capture the nation’s attention. However, one crucial rivalry was missing this year.

As the West Virginia Mountaineers were wrapping up a 37-24 win over the Iowa State Cyclones, the Pittsburgh Panthers were preparing to face the Miami Hurricanes 1,570 miles south east. No, the Cyclones and Hurricanes have never been rivals let alone played in a football game against each other. The Mountaineers and Panthers were playing teams that they have no rivalry with on rivalry weekend. Things used to be different.

From 1895-2011, West Virginia University and the University of Pittsburgh met 104 times on the football field to determine the champion of the Backyard Brawl. Morgantown is a little over an hour away from Pittsburgh and a strong animosity for each other brewed in each town. Proximity and intense games fueled the rivalry despite Pitt leading the all time series 61-40-3. At one point it took WVU 57 years just to get their tenth victory over the Panthers, but since 1947 both teams have an identical 31-31-2 record against each other. Despite Pitt’s early success in the series, the Mountaineers are actually 17-9-2 since 1983, overcoming having been ranked only thrice in the 76 previous matchups. There have been 27 times where the teams played and at least one of them was ranked and there have been 10 upsets. No game was more memorable than when the unranked Panthers defeated #2 WVU 13-7 in the centennial matchup in 2007.

The Backyard Brawl hits home for me. I grew up in Pittsburgh and while I never was a huge Pitt fan, I did cheer for them and go to my fair share of basketball and football games over the years. In 2008, I went to my first WVU football game and immediately felt a connection. Six years later, I’m a freshman at the university and went to every home game this year. I harbor no ill will towards Pitt despite participating in certain eating chants made at Mountaineer Field. In fact I went to the Pitt-Syracuse game only two days after I went to the WVU-Kansas State game this season. Despite the complaints from my WVU alumnus older brother, I cannot dislike Pitt as every other WVU student does partly because it was the only other school that I applied to. Each day I hope to awake to news that the rivalry has been renewed because I see that both schools need it. However, if the two were to begin playing again, I would absolutely cheer for WVU no matter the situation. I might like both teams, but I am not a traitor. A renewal of the Backyard Brawl would be important to me because it would be a battle of my two homes. I have extreme pride as both a Pittsburgher and WVU student and to see those two things come together would mean a lot.

After the 2011 season, WVU moved to the Big 12 and a year later Pitt joined the ACC. No games have been played since and none are on the schedule. Rumors have come and gone that it is close to resuming, but no definitive reports have come out. Both teams really need the Backyard Brawl, but Pitt does more so than WVU. In the Panthers’ seven home games this year, their highest attended game was on September 20 against Iowa when 48,895 flocked to Heinz Field. That same day, 61,908 of the Mountaineer faithful were at Mountaineer Field for their matchup against then #4 Oklahoma. The case can be made that West Virginia did play five ranked teams this year in comparison to Pitt only playing one, but WVU still finished with a better record than Pitt. College football means a lot more to a town like Morgantown that has no professional sports than it does to the city of Pittsburgh that has three distinct professional teams. That said, WVU has had a tougher schedule each year since leaving the Big East and Pitt has not. Adding WVU to the schedule gives Pitt’s fan base and schedule a jolt and will help them with attendance every other year. Neither team has a true rival right now either. WVU is trying to start a rivalry with Maryland, but it is in the very early stages. While Pitt does not boast a current rival, they will be resuming their rivalry with Penn State in 2016. Penn State would be Pitt’s top rival regardless of whether the Backyard Brawl is revived or not, but having two staple rivals on their schedule would provide a huge boost in attendance for the Panthers. West Virginia has shown that rival or no rival, fans will attend their games regularly, but reviving this rivalry would mean a lot to them as well and could only improve attendance. Both teams need the Backyard Brawl for their fan bases. Arguments are still made between the cities about which school has a better football team, but having a game to settle that debate every year would provide true closure.      

The Legacy of Carson Palmer

Last week the Cardinals defeated the St. Louis Rams 31-14 thanks to a 21 point fourth quarter. That win brought the Cardinals to 8-1 on the season and helped them stay afloat as the NFL’s best team and put them two games up on the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. Normally a fan base would be rejoicing at this point, especially one like the Cardinals who finished last season with a 5-11 record. The problem was, that 21 point fourth quarter was with Drew Stanton under center and not Carson Palmer.

Palmer had torn his ACL earlier in the game. While trying to avoid a sack from behind, Palmer took a couple quick steps forward and trying to plant his foot he fell to the ground in pain. It wouldn’t be until a couple days later when it was officially announced that Palmer had torn his ACL which would end his season. The Cardinals placed Palmer on the IR and Drew Stanton will now take over as QB for the rest of the season.

Carson Palmer is no stranger to injury. In January of 2006, Palmer tore his ACL in the same knee. It was one of the knee injuries his surgeon had performed on and there was talk about it being a career ending injury. His injury was during his 2nd season in the NFL where he was one of the best QB’s in the NFL. He accumulated over 3,800 passing yards and 32 TD’s to help build a 101.1 passer rating. He went through intense rehab and was able to return week 1 of the 2006 season. While his 2006 campaign was very successful throwing for over 4,000 yards for the first time and throwing 28 TD’s for a 93.9 passer rating, his career was never the same again. Then again in 2008 he missed the final 12 games of the season with a torn ligament in his throwing arm. It wasn’t until later in the 2009 season where Palmer was fully healthy once again.

Palmer entered the NFL with a lot of hype. The former 2002 Heisman winner dominated opposing defenses for USC in college. He started his college career as being only one of two true freshman to ever start at USC. He a very quality QB at USC, but didn’t break out until 2002 where he threw for 3,942 yards and 33 TD’s. His 2002 season helped solidify himself as one of college’s best quarterbacks. This ultimately led him to being chosen #1 overall in the 2003 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals where he would become the starter in his rookie season.

Palmer had all the talent and opportunity he needed to become a great NFL QB, but never lived up to expectations. More than likely it was due to an injury plagued career. Palmer was never a bad quarterback, but he never hit that elite status that many people thought he would get to. There are still many medical tests Palmer will need to go through so it’s too early to determine whether or not he will play another snap in the NFL, but the book about his legacy is almost finished.

What people say about his legacy may vary depending on who you ask. Ask a Bengals fan and they would probably be more positive than others. While he never brought the Bengals to the promise land, he helped turn around a franchise that was in shambles which has ultimately led them to the success they are having today. Ask someone else and their response may be less favorable. From 2007 until before this season, Palmer seemingly was a forgotten quarterback. Mainly due to being as average as you could be during that time. He was never talked about as one of the top QB’s, but he had pretty good job security. Despite never breaking out, Palmer has always been a starting quarterback. His teams were never that good, however. His teams are 0-2 in the playoffs with him as QB and he is 59-71 as a starter. That record is what will probably stand out the most in the end. While it’s unfair to blame Palmer for all 71 loses, many people will remember him as a QB who couldn’t win games. It wasn’t really all his fault either. Until this year he never really played on any great teams, but as the quarterback the blame will be put on him.

At almost age 35, Palmer finally may have been on track to be able to change his legacy. Even though he is not being named with the Manning’s, Brady’s, and Rodgers’, the surprise success of the Cardinals helped him be looked at as an above average quarterback. Too bad that just like the rest of his career, injuries have prevented him from continuing on that track. The way he played this season compounded with the 3 year deal he signed will give him another opportunity to change his legacy if he can come back healthy again. But being 35 years old and coming off another knee injury, his time is running out.

The Career of Paul Pierce

By: Tyler Heyl

Since being drafted 10th overall in the 1998 draft, Paul Pierce has had a storied career. He scored over 25,000 points, grabbed over 700 rebounds, dished out over 4000 assists, and has over 700 steals. Now as he starts his 17th season in the NBA, many wonder how much he can produce and how big of an impact he can have in a game.

After being drafted right after Dirk Nowitzki, it did not take Pierce long to show he was going to be a star in the league. By the 2000-2001 season, Pierce has started averaging 20+ points per season. In 2002 Pierce led the Celtics to their first playoff appearance in seven season, where the Celtics made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then in the summer before the 2007 season the Big Three was established in Boston. Already having Paul Pierce, Boston acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to establish a power house in the Eastern Conference. In the following season the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals to capture the NBA championship and Pierce was the Finals MVP but it was Pierce’s only ring. In the following seasons, the Celtics remained one of the top teams in the NBA, but were never able to return to the Finals.

Then, after the 2012-2013 season, Pierce was traded to the Brooklyn Nets along with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Pierce, leaving the city that drafted him, was now on the hunt for another NBA title. Pierce and Garnett led the Nets to the playoffs losing to the Miami Heat. Pierce averaged only 13.5 points per game that season, down from his 18.6 in his last season with the Celtics.

Pierce again changed teams to begin the 2014-2015 season. He signed with the Washington Wizards in hopes to lead their young talent, headlined by John Wall, to a NBA title. So far, Pierce is averaging 11.9 points per game and the Wizards have a record of 5-2. Pierce may not be the scorer he once was, but he can impact a team in a new way, bringing experience to younger players and getting open to knock down easy shots that Wall will set him up for.

Pierce will definitely end up in the Hall of Fame when his career is over. He is a class act and has always been a great role model. I project that Pierce will play one more season after this one with the Wizards. He will return to finish out his career in Boston, where the fans have embraced him ever since he was drafted.