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Seeds Sown and Expectations Set for Success at L.E.A.D.’s Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic

The post below is a guest post from my friend, CJ Stewart. CJ and his wife, Kelli, are the founders of L.E.A.D., which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise and Direct. L.E.A.D. works to empower at-risk Atlanta male youth to lead and empower their city. 

“Today you are the primary celebrities out here…”

That is the message that Kelli Stewart will deliver to hundreds of at-risk Atlanta Public School students anxiously awaiting in the stands early morning November 20th at Turner Field.  They will be there to participate in L.E.A.D.’s 9th Annual Celebrity Baseball Clinic.  For the past 8 years in our capacity as L.E.A.D. co-founders, Kelli and I have counted on this message to get the attention of the young people attending our annual baseball clinic.  We know from years of experience that if the message gets through and we can get our young people excited about the game of baseball, then we will have a better chance to plant seeds of success in those young fertile minds. Consequently, this will allow us to set much needed expectations regarding how much we need them to not become successful, but most importantly significant.

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The proof is in the pudding as this year’s clinic will be facilitated by past participants who have gotten the message and have gone on to become L.E.A.D. Ambassadors.  They are now becoming celebrities in their communities, as more and more Atlantans become familiar with L.E.A.D. and our work.  The Ambassadors’ celebrity is valuable because it creates credibility with the new clinic participants.  Credibility is key for the Ambassadors to pull off an unforgettable experience for their young charges.

Through L.E.A.D., we currently serve 31 high school Ambassadors – the program runs from November through July of the next year. These are 31 young black males who attend Atlanta Public Schools and who are being groomed to lead Atlanta and the world.  By 2020, L.E.A.D. hopes to serve 100 Ambassadors annually.  The goal has always been to have L.E.A.D. Ambassadors set a good example for, and lead, their peers within APS high schools. They are being specifically trained to be influencers within their schools and inner city Atlanta communities, and for good reasons – the Ambassadors know their schools and communities better than any adult mentor could.  With 100 Ambassadors, L.E.A.D. will be able to provide peer leadership in 11 APS high schools, and continue to assist APS to realize its mission of creating “… a caring culture of trust and collaboration, [where] every student will graduate ready for college and career.


Not only are the young black males that L.E.A.D. serves being positioned as leaders in their communities, they are being groomed to be career ready when they graduate from college.  They will need three things along the way from their Atlanta community to guarantee their success in this regard:

  1. Access to other influencers and decision makers;
  2. Constant encouragement (time and prayers); and
  3. Financial investment

They will also need:

  1. Internships and shadow opportunities while they are in high school and college;
  2. Interview opportunities for open, and newly created, positions upon graduating from college; and
  3. A yes after the interview.  If L.E.A.D. does its job right, and the Ambassadors do what they are charged with, a “yes” will be inevitable.


Access to these necessities for success should be a no brainer, and L.E.A.D. should not have a difficult time finding opportunities for its Ambassadors.  After all, Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS and Chick-fil-A.  Additionally, the world’s newest athletic venue is being built in Atlanta and will bear the name of Atlanta’s newest corporate resident, Mercedes Benz.  Porsche has recently acquired an Atlanta address for its North American headquarters connecting its proximity to the world’s busiest passenger airport – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But . . . here’s why you must help:

  • ON THE DOWNSIDE:Youth from inner city Atlanta zip codes 30310, 30315 and 30318 grow up to represent 80% of Georgia’s State Prison population. About 60% of black males either will not graduate on time or at all from Atlanta Public Schools while the state of Georgia ranks 31st in education in America.  It takes an investment of $3,500 per young man annually for L.E.A.D. to develop an Ambassador, and it costs Georgia tax payers $100,000 per year to incarcerate one of them. Do the math!  And if the numbers don’t motivate you, maybe your sense of humanity will.  Did you know that Georgia is number one in America in incarceration and America leads the world in incarceration?
  • ON THE UPSIDE: According to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), if xx% of blacks graduate from college, there will be a $xxx economic return to the city of Atlanta.  Additionally, it follows that the higher the graduation and employment rate, the lower the incarceration rate.

It stands to reason that if we don’t participate in the lives of young black males and empower them to live a sustainable life of significance, then Atlanta will never truly become a world class city.  I recently stated this very sentiment to several of my Leadership Atlanta 2015 classmates at a CEO Roundtable discussion.  Woodruff Foundation chairman, Russ Harden, was there and he agreed with me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Ceasar Mitchell, Courtney English, Byron Amos, Vernon Jones, Herman Russell and Andre Dickens all achieved a high level of celebrity in their own right.  We have every reason to believe that given the right opportunities our young black men can hold similar careers, with the potential for even greater successes.  We fully expect by 2020, our Ambassadors will lead in positions such as Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, Atlanta Police Chief, Atlanta Fire Chief, Georgia College and University Deans and Director of Athletics, Atlanta Mayor, Atlanta based Fortune 500 Company Executives, L.E.A.D. CEO, Clergymen and Atlanta Public Schools Teachers and Principals, to name a few; and, we believe that it all starts with Kelli’s message to the eager young baseball clinic participants each year.

With that said, let’s raise the profile of over 50,000 Atlanta Public School students to celebrity status by sharing this blog, and come out on Friday, November 20 to Turner Field between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, to meet L.E.A.D. Ambassadors and join in the excitement with 300 new young celebrities.  You are also welcome to worship with the Ambassadors on Sunday, November 22nd at 12:00 PM at Elizabeth Baptist Church , 4245 Cascade Rd SW, Atlanta, GA  30331-7245

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Isiah Thomas’ Hiring: Women Don’t Even Deserve Respect In The WNBA

By:  Ashleigh Mattox, Ruling Sports contributor

It has been widely reported that James Dolan, Executive Chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), which owns and operates the New York Knicks and the WNBA’s New York Liberty, has hired Isiah Thomas as President of the Liberty.  This has sparked controversy because, in 2007, a jury awarded a former New York Knicks female executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, $6 million in punitive damages due to Thomas’ creation of a hostile work environment, which resulted in sexual harassment.  (An additional $5.6 million in punitive damages was awarded for retaliation against Browne Sanders.)  Despite proclamations of innocence and threats to appeal, MSG eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit for $11.5 million.  While MSG issued a statement on May 5, 2015 that it “did not believe the allegations [against Thomas] then and [it] do[es]n’t believe them now,” Browne Sanders’ allegations may have had a little something to them if MSG was willing to settle for over $11 million to make the case go away.

Dolan has put the WNBA in an impossible position in light of efforts made by the NBA, the NFL and even historically slow-to-evolve Major League Baseball to include women.  The NBA has partnered with Sheryl Sandberg for the “Lean In Together” campaign, which encourages men to become involved in order to achieve gender equality.  The NFL supports “A Crucial Catch” to raise awareness for breast cancer and “No More,” an organization focused on domestic violence and sexual assault.  Major League Baseball is getting into the mix with its Mother’s Day initiative “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” and Mo’ne Davis throwing out the first pitch before Game 4 of last year’s World Series.  While many may question the sincerity and effectiveness of these efforts, they all reflect some level of awareness by the major sports leagues that women are important to them in some way.  In this climate, how can the WNBA have a team lead by someone with Thomas’ history and keep a straight face?

Hiring someone found to have sexually harassed a woman to the tune of $6 million to run a women’s organization like the Liberty is embarrassing for MSG, Dolan, the Liberty and the WNBA.  The WNBA serves an important function by providing young girls with role models and encouraging girls to become involved with sports.  In the wake of the NFL’s initial two game suspension of Ray Rice for entering an elevator with a conscious woman and leaving it dragging an unconscious woman, shouldn’t sports welcome and encourage the involvement of women, whether as fans, players or executives?  Shouldn’t leagues send a unified message that women are wanted, respected and safe?  This is the opposite of the message sent by James Dolan with his obtuse hiring of Isiah Thomas to lead the Liberty.  Dolan’s message is that it is not important to treat women with respect even in our own league.

Ashleigh Mattox is a retired attorney living in Orange County, California, with her husband and daughter.  She was born and raised in Southern California and is a proud alumna of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Chapman University School of Law.  She loves all things sports, especially the NFL, and holds a special place in her heart for the New Orleans Saints, the Dodgers and the (currently lowly) Lakers.  

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How The Miami Heat Became The Greenest NBA Team

This Earth Day, it’s important to give credit to the professional sports teams who are making waves in protecting our environment.  One team leading the way is the Miami Heat, who for nearly a decade, has worked tirelessly to bring sustainable efforts to their team’s practices and arena.

The NBA arena with the highest level of LEED certification is the Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena. Home to All-Stars, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, earlier this year, AmericanAirlines Arena became the world’s first sports and entertainment facility to achieve LEED Gold recertification.

Becoming the first arena in the world to achieve LEED Gold recertification was no easy feat for the Miami Heat. According to the Heat’s operations and sustainability coordinator, Jackie Ventura, the performance of the team on a number of green and sustainability factors was considered over the five-year period between it achieving its initial certification and its recertification. “From becoming certified to the recertification, it was all about keeping up our own standards and maintaining those standards,” Ventura noted.

The impact of the standards that the Heat maintained over the five-year period are notable. For instance, the outfitting of AmericanAirlines Arena with efficient plumbing fixtures allowed for the saving of nearly 4.2 million gallons of water. Landscaping designs added another 190,630 gallons of water saved. Furthermore, recycling efforts during the 2013-14 Heat season alone resulted in 330,810-pounds of waste being diverted from the landfill.

For the Miami Heat, the team’s sustainability measures serve two important purposes: Protecting the environment of the community the team calls home and promoting the team’s business interests. “Our sustainability practices are definitely important to the Heat from a business perspective. I like to say, ‘Green equals green.’ When you are consuming less, you are being fiscally responsible, because it allows you to be able to hold onto money that you maybe otherwise would have spent on other projects and instead, create new initiatives within your organization. It’s also important for us to show our community that we care about the environment. Our economy in Miami is driven by tourism and tourists come here for our beaches, which is the environment. If we are hurting the environment, we are hurting our community,” Ventura explained.

In terms of why leagues should take their All-Star Games green and why teams should turn their arenas green, the National Resource Defense Council provides some guidance. In a 2012 report, “Game Changer: How The Sports Industry Is Saving The Environment,” the NRDC argued that greening is a wise business decision for teams and leagues. To make this argument, the NRDC pointed to examples showing that greening creates financial savings, attracts sponsors, strengthens community relations provides competitive advantages and attracts fans.

While all of the “crown jewel” events in sports, such as the NBA All-Star Game, World Series and Super Bowl, employ greening measures, there is still more that can be done by all teams and leagues in this regard. Teams whose arenas haven’t achieved LEED certification should be motivated to do so. Furthermore, teams and leagues must continue working towards creating zero waste and zero carbon emission footprints. Yet, as teams and leagues work towards those goals, the success they’ve accomplished in creating more sustainable sporting events should be celebrated.

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St. Jude Takes Its Fight Against Childhood Cancer To The Super Bowl

One Sunday morning while sitting at mass, then a struggling entertainer, Danny Thomas, put his livelihood on the line. Hard up for work and with a baby on the way, Thomas found himself sitting in a church pew. Moved by the words spoken at the service that day, he tossed the last $7 to his name into the collection plate.

Years later, after becoming a successful entertainer, that action led Thomas in part to create the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude, which treats over 67,000 patients free of cost annually, hosts the Legends for Charity event each during Super Bowl weekend in the city where the big game is played.

The Super Bowl presents the perfect opportunity to shine a light on St. Jude’s efforts in eradicating childhood cancer and disease. This is because, the NFL family is a second family to St. Jude. Thomas, who once found himself literally without a dollar to his name, would go on to become one of the first owners of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. “St. Jude has been intertwined with football for years. Danny Thomas was actually one of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins, so we have always had a history with football,” St. Jude’s chief marketing officer, Emily Callahan, said.

For the last 10 years, St. Jude has built upon its NFL relationship by hosting the Legends for Charity event. Hosted at the NFL Headquarters Hotel in the city where the Super Bowl is played, the event brings together some of the biggest names in sports broadcasting to celebrate the work of St. Jude and award the Pat Summerall Award for an individual’s significant contributions to the sports world.

This year, Fox Sports’ lead play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck, was honored by St. Jude with the Pat Summerall Award. “If you think about the people who have received this award, they are the biggest names in sports and sports broadcasting. They’re people who have had incredible careers that have spanned multiple sports. They’re also people who have good character. So many of them have a deep passion for kids and the kids of St. Jude,” Callahan remarked.

Although the Legends for Charity event is hosted outside of St. Jude’s partnership with the NFL, St. Jude is grateful for the opportunities the NFL partnership brings its patients. The NFL serves as the “Official Champion of Play” at St. Jude. Through its NFL PLAY 60 initiative, the NFL supports St. Jude’s Child Life program, which provides St. Jude’s patients with therapeutic play and other activities. “St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is very lucky to have a partnership with the NFL and its PLAY 60 initiative. The NFL brand is one of the most powerful brands in the world. It’s incredibly meaningful to associate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the NFL brand,” Callahan said.

For the children of St. Jude fighting life-threatening illnesses, the opportunity to play not only presents the chance to be a kid again, but a chance at living. “So many of our kids, when you talk to them, often all they want to do is get well and go back to playing the sports they love. Every day, I see stories about the power of sport, play and activity in helping a child feel vibrant and alive,” Callahan noted.

Callahan and St. Jude have countless stories of the ways in which St. Jude patients have been impacted positively by the ability to play sports. For many, the thought of taking the field again is a driving force in their recovery. “When I think about our partnership with NFL PLAY 60, I think about Shon Coleman. Shon went to play at Auburn and was one of the most talented kids there. Then, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. To get Shon well and back on the field to be part of the incredible season Auburn had was incredible. So many of our kids have been impacted by the NFL PLAY 60 partnership,” Callahan said.

When St. Jude opened in 1962, the survival rate for childhood cancer patients was a mere 20 percent. Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of St. Jude, that number is an impressive 80 percent. Yet, as the doctors, patients and supporters of St. Jude know, the fight against childhood cancer will not end until the survival rate is 100 percent. Until then, St. Jude and the Legends for Charity event will continue championing the cause of ending childhood cancer over Super Bowl weekend.

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The FCC’s Elimination Of The Sports Blackout Rule Isn’t A Touchdown For NFL Fans

News out of Washington, D.C. today may have given NFL fans in San Diego and Buffalo a sigh of relief. NFL teams in those cities were the only two teams during the 2013 season to face local television blackouts of games. Today, the FCC announced the repeal of sports blackout rules that were enacted nearly forty years ago. While the word “repeal” coupled with the words “sports blackout rule” would seemingly signal good news for fans whose teams face television blackouts, such isn’t necessarily the case.

Under the FCC’s sports blackout rules, cable and satellite television providers were forbidden from airing sports events that were blacked out on local television stations. Notably, the rules had no reign over local television stations’ blackouts of sporting events. Rather, individual leagues–not the FCC–instituted rules related to when games for their respective sport would be blacked out on local television.

Arguably, the league with the most stringent and well-known local television blackout policy is the NFL. Under the NFL’s blackout policy, if a home team doesn’t sell out 85-percent of its stadium within 72-hours of kickoff, the game will be blacked out within 75-miles of the stadium’s radius. Notably, the NFL is the only league whose local blackout rule centers around stadium attendance. Under the NHL and MLB’s policies, local broadcasters receive broadcasting priority, unless a national broadcaster has exclusive rights to the game. As for the NBA, if a game is aired on NBATV, it will be blacked out from local broadcasting stations within a 35-mile radius of the home team’s market.

What, then, is the effect of today’s unanimous vote by the FCC to repeal its sports blackout rules? The result is that now, cable and satellite providers may air games blacked out by leagues on local television networks without interference by the FCC. The question becomes, though, what is the likelihood that networks will bite at the chance to do this? Due to current contractual obligations outlined between leagues and local networks and cable and satellite providers, the likelihood is slim. Add to that the fact that the NFL and other leagues’ lawyers are most likely renegotiating their contracts with cable and satellite providers to limit those parties’ abilities to air blacked out games after today’s FCC ruling, and the likelihood is nearly non-existent. Couple both of these factors with the bargaining power that the leagues have in negotiating television contracts and the likelihood evaporates.

So, then, was any victory gained by fans as a result of today’s FCC ruling? Perhaps. The FCC’s decision sent a clear message to the NFL and other leagues that the agency will no longer enforce rules to protect attendance figures at their teams’ stadiums. This is notable, as a consistent rationale the NFL has levied for its blackout rule is that without it, stadium attendance would decrease. The timing of the FCC’s decision may signal why the agency is suddenly unwilling to continue being a silent endorser of the NFL’s blackout rule. It was all the way back in January 2012 that the FCC announced that it was seeking comment on the petition which led to today’s decision. Arguably, the FCC could have issued its ruling much in advance of today. Thus, there perhaps exists an argument that the current climate surrounding the NFL–from the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson suspensions to the Redskins name debate and concussion litigation–finally motivated the FCC to pull the plug on its sports blackout rules.

Whatever the reasoning, though, the effect of today’s decision will be limited. That is, unless a cable or satellite provider is willing to stand in the face of the NFL and air blacked out games regardless of the NFL’s local blackout rule. However, given the high value of the NFL’s broadcasting rights–it’s three years into a $27-million, nine-year deal with Fox , NBC and CBS–and the league’s high viewership numbers–205-million fans tuned in during the 2013 season–the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. Thus, if fans in San Diego and Buffalo want to guarantee seeing their team’s home games, the best plan of action even after the today’s FCC decision is to buy tickets and head to the stadium.

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Three Years

Three years ago, I woke up and decided to change my life.

I was miserable at work and uninspired with my day-to-day.  I knew that the path I was traveling down wasn’t the path planned or even intended for my life.  I knew that I held the map to take me away from my unhappiness, and so, on July 1, 2011 I woke up and decided to travel somewhere new.  For me, at the time, that somewhere new was creating

The last three years have been a journey.  A whirlwind, a trip of amazement, a host of new opportunities.  To sum it up, it’s been amazing.  Really, really amazing.

I started with the intention of utilizing the platform it gave me to get out of the job situation I found myself in.  And it did just that.  About a year ago, I accepted an offer from the University of Miami to teach sports law and sports governance.  As I sit on campus to write this, overlooking Lake Miami, I know that I wouldn’t be here if not for the decision I made on July 1, 2011 to start has been so critical to my career success.  It was critical to my success for two important reasons:  First, it allowed me to be heard and second, it allowed me to connect with others.  This little website has served as a launch pad for me to make my opinions heard and relevant.  The website propelled me to new grounds and better opportunities, like at The U, and with Forbes, Sportsdigita and the Huffington Post.  These opportunities, in turn, led me to wonderful people.  Givers, leaders, movers, shakers.  The best of the best.

I tell people this a lot, but when I woke up on July 1, 2011, I had no idea what awaited me on this side of things.  I was so, so, so miserable in the months leading up to that genesis.  I wasn’t myself.  If I knew just how life could be–and would be–here on the other side, I would’ve eased up on myself.  I would’ve cut the universe some slack.  I would’ve relaxed.  I would’ve enjoyed.  Because, I would’ve known that with patience and hard work, anything is possible.

Perhaps what I’m the most grateful for in terms of the experiences I’ve been given over the last three years, is what I’ve learned.  Every day, because of my work with the University of Miami and Forbes, I am able to talk to brilliant people.  From these people, I glean ideas.  I learn tricks.  I see success.

If there’s anything I’ve learned within the last three years, it is this:  To stay relevant, one must continue to grow.  When I launched in 2011, all I intended it to be was a sports law blog.  Sports law was my bread and butter then.  Staying true to that platform was critical in the website’s infancy, because it allowed me to brand myself.

I’m grateful for that bread and butter, but it’s time for me to adapt and expand my horizons.  There’s more I want to do, and there is much more to me than sports law.  In the coming months, is going to take on a new look, a look that is more representative of who I am and where I am at now.  Sports law will still be part of the site’s focus, but it will not be its entire focus.  I have so much more that I want to offer the sports world that I am finally ready to share. I hope you will travel along with me!

Three years.  It went by in a blink of an eye.  This has been an amazing journey.  I told someone today, that there is little in life that gives me the thrill like covering a sports story.  I’m at my happiest when I am walking around the concourse leading to a team’s locker room, preparing to get a story.  It’s exhilarating for me.  The rush it gives me is like few other things I’ve experienced in this life.  When I’m on the sidelines or in the press box, life makes sense.  I truly believe I was put on this Earth to be a storyteller.  And I thank God that I realized this and pursued it instead of succumbing to the notion that it was a silly dream or unattainable goal.

What I would tell you, is to pursue your passion.  Believe in yourself more than anybody else.  Let go of the naysayers.  Remove the jealous people from your life.  Give something, just one thing, your all.  Whether it’s love, an education or a job.  Do something with the full belief that you will succeed in it.  Do not take “no” for an answer.  Don’t quit until you get there.

Because once you get there–which you will–it’s great.  So, so great.

Thank you all for an amazing three years.  Each of you has played a very special role in making this dream of mine–as crazy as it may be–come true.

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David Stern’s Last Christmas Gift As NBA Commissioner Comes In The Form Of Sleeved Jerseys

By:  Kris Colley, Ruling Sports Contributor (Twitter:  @KCMasterpiece52)

Christmas time is the season of giving, and the NBA has given us something to talk about for years and years to come. Many believe Christmas day is the day in which the sport begins to emerge from the shadow of the NFL and college football into the national spotlight.

Commissioner David Stern has made Christmas Day a super spectacle for his league. The biggest names across the league will clash on Christmas making for an excellent day of entertainment and basketball.

Since Christmas Day is so special, the teams often unveil unique and innovative alternate jerseys. This Christmas day it will be no different.  The Bulls, Nets, Thunder, Knicks, Rockets, Spurs, Clippers, Warriors, Lakers, and Heat will all be wearing new sleeved jerseys.

This fashion trend started in the NBA last season when the Golden State Warriors wore their pin stripped sleeved alternates. Although it is something new and increasingly more common for teams to wear the sleeved shirt, they are unsightly, odd, and veer from the traditional look. The traditional “no sleeves” look has been a hallmark of the league since its inception. 

These alternates make the players look like they are in a track meet rather than an NBA game. The elastic polyester fabric is tight fitting and the look of the league will definitely be modified, for at least one day.

 Website Ballislife voted the Golden State Warriors alternates the 6th ugliest uniform in league history.  So far this season the Warriors are 2-1 in the uniforms, but performance is not the issue; the sleeved shirt is just a startling eyesore. 

This will be David Stern’s last Christmas as NBA commissioner.  His 30 years as commissioner were possibly the best ever by a commissioner in any sport.  He took the sport to great new heights and opened the game to international markets like no other league.  But, he will have the final laugh, leaving the NBA World with this terrifically tacky “shirt-jersey”.

Commissioner Stern will leave putting on his jolly ole St. Nicholas suit and checking his list twice. With the unveiling of these new uniforms it is obvious that the NBA was naughty, and not nice.

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Analyzing The End Of The Dwight Howard Saga

By:  Kris Colley, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @KCMasterpiece52)

And the saga ends. No more: Where will Dwight Howard go? Will Dwight leave the Lakers? Does Mark Cuban have enough money to entice Howard? Will he go to the Warriors? Will the Rockets be a championship contender with Dwight next season? The saga has finally concluded.

Superstar center Howard has chosen to leave the overwhelmingly bright lights of Los Angeles and decided to join the dynamic James Harden in Houston. The Rockets immediately become a contending team out West with this acquisition. Landing the biggest free agent and adding him to an already young and explosive team, things look exciting.

Howard, while with the Lakers, averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Meaning his numbers didn’t show a decline, so why would he leave the place that is known for their legacy of great big men. Howard was upset for a majority of the season, and the chemistry was never there. Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system was not an ideal fit for the big man. Although the Lakers made the playoffs as an 8th seed, the season was considered an epic failure. The “nightmare” season for Howard is over and he did what many believe is blasphemous, and that is leaving the Lakers.

Next season will be the start of a new rebuilding stage in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant will be coming off of an Achilles’ heel injury and there is no timetable on his return. The Lakers will more than likely be a bottom dweller this season, but a frontrunner in the race to acquire stud college prospect Andrew Wiggins.  Houston will drastically get better, and hopefully Howard will finally be happy and satisfied with a team.

Now that the drama has ceased, the NBA universe can get back to business. Many teams have improved and many have abandoned ship and have started sailing to greener pastures. The irony of Friday’s events is that the Orlando Magic are in the best shape after 2012’s summer blockbuster trade that sent Howard to Los Angeles, former Lakers center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, and the 76ers’ superstar Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets; because Iguodala also signed elsewhere leaving the Nuggets to join the Golden State Warriors.  Although the Magic had the worst record out of the 4, they are the only team that has players from the trade on their current roster.

The saga has finally concluded. No one player’s indecisiveness has been the center of the sports world quite like Howard’s since Brett Favre. Now that this will no longer be an issue everyone can refocus on the sport and not the sideline antics of one of its biggest stars. 

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Two Years

Two years ago, I hopped in my friend Jak’s car as we headed to our friend Katie’s wedding in Orange County.  “I got bored yesterday and started a sports blog,” I said.  Other than my roommate, Alex, who sat up with me as I painstakingly processed name ideas for what would become, Jak was the first person I told.  A true sports fan, he said, “That’s really cool!”

“I have no idea what I’m doing, but I already have a radio show booked for tomorrow,” I replied.  “What?!” he said.

When I woke up on July 1, 2011, I had no idea that my life would change.  I had no idea that the little website that I would stay up all night creating and haphazardly designing would put my life on a path much different than the one I was going down.  I had no idea of the people I would meet or the places I would go or the happiness that I would find.  I had no idea that just less than two years after Jak and I took that ride, he would drive me to the AmericanAirlines Arena and drop me off to cover my first NBA Finals as a credentialed journalist.

The last two years of my life seem to have gone by faster than the 27 that preceded them.  They’ve been two of my favorites, though.

It always seems that the most exciting things of any venture come in its infancy.  I would have thought that things couldn’t have gotten any better than they did during my first year of launching, when everything was new and fresh and happening so fast.  But they did.  And this second year has been a gem.

It’d be safe to say that my favorite moment of the last year was the week I spent in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.  The people I met, the places I visited and the food I ate are memories that will last a lifetime.  Every morning when I woke up and walked to the media center or rode the bus to the SuperDome, I pinched myself.  I had been a “journalist” for just over a year, and there I was with that prized credential around my neck, interviewing Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and marching across the turf at the SuperDome.  I said a little prayer each day thanking God for the wonderful opportunity He gave me and wondering just what I did to deserve it.

The NBA has been pretty darn good to me over the last year, too.  Covering the NBA All-Star Game in Houston was a blast and it was nothing short of a privilege to be the only member of the media invited to the private ceremony when Team USA received their Olympic rings.  Attending the NBA Finals in Miami this year was also a bucket list item.  Standing in the hallway and getting hugs from NBA executives and having them personally guide me around the arena and make introductions made me feel at home, both inside and in the professional sacrifice I have made.

If there’s one thing that differed more this year than last, it was my travel schedule.  Beginning in January, I traveled seven out of nine weekends all across the country.  It was exhillirating, but exhausting.  I met so many great new people, saw so many interesting places and things, and was greeted which much hospitality.  But, at the end of the day, I was traveling alone.  And there were times where I would go back to my hotel room and the harsh reality of loneliness would hit me.  There might have been a pretty ugly sob fest in Virginia when I was exhausted, homesick, and still dressed in the clothes I put on two days earlier since Southwest conveniently lost my bags.  During this time, my friends in Colorado were back at home making memories together and I was building a life of my own on the road.  I was grateful for these moments, but traveling on a journey like this alone can get tiring, hard and lonesome.

If it’s not apparent, one of my favorite things about the last year, is the people I’ve met.  There was Train, my favorite band, who sat down in a private room in New Orleans with this sports writer, answered every question with kindness and then invited me to be their personal guest at a concert in Aspen this fall. There was Rod Smith, the great former Broncos player, who gave me love advice (get a good enough job so you never need a man to support you) and business savvy.  There was then Houston Texans and now Philadelphia Eagles player Connor Barwin who, through a chance meeting at the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, went on to introduce me to some of Houston’s top chefs during my NBA All-Star visit.  There was Angelina Lawton, who when my flight out of Minneapolis got canceled because of snow, met me at my hotel bar late one night and said, “Ok, tell me everything about yourself.  I want to know,” and listened intently as I told my whole life story.  There was Claire Zovko, who on a trip to Colorado, made it a point to sit down to dinner with me and chatted about the careers we are building in this industry.  There was Jason Snelling, who I’ve loved talking business with and is the only Falcons player I’ll cheer for should they ever beat my Broncos again.  There was Kelli Masters, who I think God put into my life because He knew I needed a strong female role model who is led by faith and who I will always have memories of chowing down on pizza and rocking out at a blaring Lil’ Wayne concert with.  There was Matt Steichen, who I believe I was in the right place at the right time, when I was alone at the bar at a Super Bowl party and he strolled up and gave me the chance to learn about everything he is doing to help the lives of others.  There was Elika Sadeghi, who I don’t understand how our paths didn’t cross when we lived so close to each other in Orange County, but I am grateful to have in my life now as a sounding board and confidant.  There was Erin Charlton, who before running up a mountain, went out of her way to have lunch with me and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders.  There was Melissa LaCorte, who has served as an example to me of the great things women can do in this industry and has been gracious enough to open her network to me.  There was Joanna Hunter with the NFL and my friends Kim Mandara, Amanda Thorn and Rick Pendrick at the NBA, who have gone so far out of their way for me so many times and have done more than I could ever ask to make me feel welcome as I travel along this new journey and go to these new places.

And then there are the people who we there with me last year, who continue to travel with me and support me.  The Kristi Dosh’s, Mark Sullivan’s, Rachel Baribeau’s, Ryan Peck’s, Preston Wages’, David Cohen’s, CJ Stewart’s, Carmen Hawkins’ and Charlie Grantham’s.  When I woke up that morning and decided to start a sports website, I don’t think I ever thought I would create real and lasting friendships through it.  If that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.

And then there are those of you who I have never met in person, but who are so important to me nonetheless.  Social media is a powerful thing.  The people you can meet and the stories you can learn are so widespread and phenomenal.  My real friends think it’s crazy that I have friends whom I only know through social media.  But, this is the 21st century, and this is how things work.  Many of you have sent me notes of support.  Many of you have responded to my requests for help.  And I’m so grateful for every single one of you and the role you have played in making my life better and helping my dreams come true.

One of my favorite things about this year, is that I now have a folder in my Gmail inbox entitled, “Good Emails.”  It’s filled with things that people, most of whom are strangers, have sent me.  In that folder, are sentences like this:

“I, too, rely heavily on my faith, and dreaming bold dreams has been a big part of my life and how my parents have raised me. Listening to you speak, however, inspired me even more–not necessarily in a sports law career aspect, but more so in a life inspirational aspect.”

And this from SI’s George Dohrmann, who I emailed two days after starting “Seems like you have really gotten things rolling since we last talked.  Nice work.”

And this from someone who stumbled upon my blog:  “Your words ring true, and your writing has given me additional inspiration at a time when I often feel like I am not in control of my own life.  The world needs authenticity.  Thank you for yours.”

My favorite email in that folder, though, is from Kathy, the mother of a recent Colorado School of Mines graduate, Jessica.  The subject line was “A different sort of request,” and in her well thought out and kind email, Kathy explained how what I’m working toward mirrored dreams she had for her own life and asked if I’d be willing to sit down with her daughter to talk about making plans for life.  I loved that she used the word “serendipity” in the email, because I think it was serendipity that caused our lives to enter one another’s.  That email confirmed the power of words and the power of a life well lived.  It instilled in me the complete belief that I can do good things in this world and make a difference.  And, most importantly, it helped me make a new friend.  I wore the beautiful silver bracelet that my new friend, Jessica, gave me for my birthday last night, inside of which is inscribed, “…and she lived happily ever after.”

Happiness is a good word to describe where I’m at right now.  Sure, there have been some tough moments over the last year.  Like people on Twitter telling me to “die in a fire” or others creating fake Twitter accounts impersonating me.  There have been tough moments with friends, too, as I’m away from home more often and my life gets more hectic.  Two of my best friends admitted that they unfollowed me on their Facebook newsfeed, as to them, “all I do is brag.”  That was probably the most hurtful part of this entire year, as I would never intentionally throw the opportunities in my life up at someone to brag, let alone my best friends.  The fact of the matter is, that what I am doing here is no better or more important than what anyone else is doing.  Rather, I have worked hard for these opportunities, am so grateful for them, realize they could be gone tomorrow and want to share them with my friends.  This is my life.  And the way it is now, involves a lot more travel, a lot more different people and a lot more sporting events.

I’ve found support in the strangest of people.  Complete strangers ask to chat with me on the phone and are so congratulatory.  Friends that I just thought were “on the fence” friends have been some of my greatest cheerleaders.  Friends’ parents go out of their way to encourage me.  My favorite judge in the courthouse where I work asks me every time I see him, “What are you writing about this week?” and makes it a point to read whatever it is that I do write about.  People who I have asked favors of have met my requests with responses that were so far above and beyond what I needed that I was shocked.  Messages from successful people doing what I want to do telling me they are proud of me give me hope that I am on the right path.

My parents, though, are my biggest supporters.  My mom has driven me to the airport over 20 times this last year.  She helps me come up with smart responses when people tell me to “die in a fire” or when my feelings are hurt.  My dad, who doesn’t have a Twitter account of his own, reads every single one of my tweets.  He is the first person I call when something exciting happens in this journey.  Sometimes that means I call him five or six times a day.  He picks up every time and is always excited to hear about whatever it is, no matter how crazy it is.  They know that this makes me happy, and I think for that, they are happy.

It’s been a great second year.  I sat down a couple months ago with a man who has been a sports journalist for 20 years.  He looked at me encouragingly and said, “Alicia, you are going to do anything you want.  This world is your oyster.”  I pinched myself when I got in the car and drove away that night.  I didn’t have that kind of belief the day before July 1, 2011.

This next year holds great things.  I’m going to continue on with, Forbes and The Huffington Post.  I’ve been asked by CNBC to begin doing TV work for the network.  And I’m hoping later this week, that I can make official a big announcement that I’ve been sitting on.

What I can say, looking back at the last two years, is to go after your dream–no matter how crazy it is.  The only way to not achieve a dream is to not pursue it.  Be brave enough to make mistakes, but learn from them.  Be amenable to change and willing to transform the definition of your dream.  Be kind to everyone and listen to what advice they have to offer you.  Go out of your way to help others, even if they can never repay you.  Make it a point each night that when your head hits the pillow, you know that you gave that day your all.  Wake up each morning knowing that the day holds new possibilities that you could never even expect.  Be hopeful.  Be grateful.  Refuse to quit on yourself.  No matter how hard it gets.

Thank you all for joining with me or sticking with me on this journey.  It’s been magical and I have you to thank for keeping that magic alive.


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The Keys To Game 4 of the NBA Finals

By:  Kristopher Colley, Ruling Sports Intern

Not showing up has been the consistent theme of the 2013 NBA Finals thus far. The disappearing act performed by both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals has made them as irrelevant as they have ever been.  The days of LeBron James scoring 30-plus points have vanished, Tony Parker has been in-and-out with a minor injury, and Manu Ginobili has not frequently played well.

This means that the unusual suspects have had to step up and take control of the series. In Game 3, Tuesday night, Spurs role players Danny Green and Gary Neal combined for 51 points. The Spurs also connected on 16 three-pointers, which is a new Finals record. Once the Spurs shooters get going, they are difficult to stop; the Spurs were a 38% three-point shooting team during the season, and when they hit, they become very dangerous.

Game 3 was the first game of three games to be held in San Antonio, where the Spurs won 35 games this season. If the Heat plan on stealing a game outside of their home court, like San Antonio did, it will take a lot of momentum by their star players. James must have one of his superstar games. James has yet to have a 20-point game.  If the Heat are going to have any chance at winning, that chance goes through him, like it has throughout the season.

Like the Spurs in the Game 2, the Heat failed to execute on their game plan and got routed because of it.  If Miami plans to bounce back they have to once again play their game. Eleven fast break points is not Miami basketball.  The Heat needs to get back to the customary high-octane, high-flying, energetic basketball that the team is known for.

Games 2 and 3 have been blowouts for both teams. Many experts predicted that this would be a close series, lasting either six or seven games.  Save for the length of the series, it the series overall has not been close nor exciting except for Game 1.  Yet, the one thing that has come to be expected in the Finals, is the unexpected.  And in Game 4, it can be expected that fans will see even more unexpected surprises arise, as how Parker plays with a reported hamstring injury and what change-ups Heat coach Erik Spoelstra executes will likely determine the outcome of the game.

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