Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lloyd Daniels Story: The Legend of Swee' Pea

(A project TLSM LLC has been working on to assist filmmaker Benjamin May).

NEW YORK - The streets of New York have spawned a long list of playground legends, from Nate “Tiny” Archibald and Connie Hawkins to Earl “The Goat” Manigault and “Pee Wee” Kirkland. However, few have had the rise, the fall, and the rise again that Lloyd “Swee Pea” Daniels had in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. First time director Benjamin May now recounts that star-crossed story with “The Legend of Swee Pea,” which will make its world premiere at DOC NYC on Tuesday November 17 at the IFC Film Center in New York with a sold out screening, and November 19 at 7:30 pm at the Bow Tie Cinema at 260 W 23rd St, between 7th and 8th Avenues.

“There is perhaps no sport that creates legends like basketball does, and there was perhaps no bigger basketball legend in the 1980’s and ‘90’s than that of Lloyd Daniels,” said May, a Minnesota Neuroradiologist turned film director.

“As a fan of the game I was enthralled with Lloyd’s amazing story of tragedy, triumph and perseverance and we are proud to tell his cautionary tale to an audience who may be aware, but more importantly a legion of basketball fans of a younger generation who may not know the story. It is one for the ages, and frankly one that is probably not yet done.”

Nicknamed for the son of the legendary cartoon character Popeye, Daniels was one of the top college basketball recruits of the late 1980s, playing at five high schools and Mt. San Antonio Junior College before the University of Nevada Las Vegas won a massive recruiting battle to have him join the Runin Rebels and legendary coach Jerry "Tark the Shark" Tarkanian. Before he was able to play a single game at UNLV, he was arrested for cocaine possession, ending his time at UNLV before it began. Later shot three times in the chest at age 21 over an argument about an $8 dollar bag of cocaine, the man christened as the best high school player to come out of New York since Kareem Abdul Jabbar as well as the heir apparent to Magic Johnson was thought by many to have had a career end before it started, when in reality his story was just beginning.
Daniels managed to overcome all of those obstacles, and with remnants of bullets still in his body, and with years of crack addiction behind him eventually made it to the NBA, playing through the Continental Basketball Association and the USBL before embarking on a seven year NBA run and an overall professional career that took him from Italy and Turkey to New Zealand and China during a mythical 20 year run.

This film documents Daniels’ struggle to survive the perilous streets of New York, to navigate in the world of high stakes professional sports, and to overcome a lifetime of addiction. In addition, the film features one-on-one interviews with Tarkanian, David Robinson, John Lucas, and Avery Johnson, as well as Five Star Basketball founder Howard Garfinkel, legendary basketball talent evaluator Tom Konchalski, longtime  New York high school coach Ron Naclario and Newsday’s John Valenti. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DOPED: Looks at Sports' Anti-Doping Underworld

When world-class athletes suit up for competition in the Year 2015, is it just too much to expect an even playing field and the proper enforcement of the rules of their games?

Whether it is the integrity of the “game” officials or the competency of the “table” officials, such as the game timer and official scorer, the proper enforcement of the playing rules is always at the very foundation of sport. However, the findings of a new sports documentary, DOPED: The Dirty Side of Sports, clearly has surfaced the fact that the very foundation of sports as it relates to drug-testing is surely broken.

“We looked at what sports organizations are out there that say they are serving the interest of athletes but maybe aren’t doing their best to hold up their end of the bargain,” said Andrew Muscato, the producer and director of the documentary that premiered on premium tv channel EPIX on September 30.

“The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came to mind, since there was some ‘grumbling’ which questioned how effective were these rules, were they working and what say, if any, do athletes have in making these rules? We’ve all seen documentaries going after the athletes who have ‘doped,’ whether it be on Lance Armstrong or countless ’30-for-30s,’ but nobody has looked at the other side of this, looking at the people who are going after the athletes who supposedly have ‘doped.’ That was our main objective,” said Muscato.

Similar to his work exposing the NCAA in the 2013 sports documentary “SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports,” Muscato and his production team which includes the controversial former MLB manager and current Sacred Heart University (Connecticut) athletic director turned executive producer Bobby Valentine, “DOPED” is a no-nonsense and factual telling of the world behind the anti-doping establishment in sports, both on the world level through WADA and via the United States’ efforts by way of USADA.

DOPED quickly exposed the ground rules or basic “modus operandi” of WADA by having NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith tell of his first-hand experience when he sought some simple answers to questions he had as a representative of the athletes of the National Football League, which were being pressured to adopt what WADA and USADA officials referred to as the “gold standard” of drug testing.

“A contingent from the NFLPA went up to Montreal to meet with WADA, as DeMaurice Smith says in the film, and they were dismayed at the attitude of WADA in the fact that the NFL players were questioning the validity of the tests. The NFL players had some issues with the lack of transparency by WADA,” noted Muscato.

"The policies used in sports for the war on performance enhancing drugs overreach and underperform," said Muscato on the documentary. "Clean athletes are not only being harmed by these rules, but they have no say in how to improve what's clearly a broken system. In order for a global gold standard to truly work, athletes should be a bigger part of the process and that is how we can get to a better and more amicable solution for all."

Among the more interesting and lesser known points made in the documentary is the account of Olympic track and field star Adam Nelson, an American who was awarded the gold medal for the 2004 Olympic shot put on May 30, 2013, nearly a decade after the fact. Nelson’s 2004 silver medal was elevated to a gold after the IOC authorized re-testing of urine samples taken from Ukrainian Yuriy Bilonog. The tests were botched by WADA in 2004, and showed traces of Performance Enhancing Drugs when they were re-tested in 2013. The result for Nelson in between ’04 and ’13 was a severe loss of income, sponsorship and the ability to fund his training and competitions in the waning years.

 “Adam has a line in the film, that ‘they expect the athletes to be right 100-percent of the time,’ said Muscato. “The anti-doping agencies don’t have to be right 100-percent of the time and nobody pays much mind of that fact.”

“It’s been a decade since many of the rules for anti-doping were codified,” said Muscato, “so isn’t it time to review the rules to see what’s working and what is not?”

“It goes back to an inherit conflict of interest,” said the producer. “WADA likes to say they are an independent body, but they’re not, because of where their funding comes from.

“The only people who want true, clean sport are the athletes who don’t dope. But because of human error and, maybe, some political interests, not everybody is going to be following the same rules.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Moving Day Has a New Meaning for Jordan Spieth

By Terry Lyons @terrylyons @DigSportsDesk

NORTON, Mass - September 6, 2015 - The third round of every PGA Tour event is always referred to as “moving day.” The term simply describes the importance of the third round, coming a day after the cut is made and the tournament’s most noteworthy contenders buckle down to play their very best and frequently hurdle some of the pretenders on the leaderboard. Because of the Labor Day holiday weekend, “moving day” comes on Sunday, not Saturday, for the Deutsche Bank Championship, held at the Tournament Players Club situated halfway between Boston and Providence.
For Jordan Spieth, one of the top three golfers in the world today largely because of his victories at The Masters and U.S. Open this year, moving day at the DBChampionship, the de facto “quarterfinals” of the PGA Tour’s contrived FedExCup playoff system, came at its regular time on Saturday. Except, this week, the young talent’s move was to pack up his bags and return to his hometown of Dallas, Texas after missing the cut and a piece of the $8.25 million purse at Deutsche Bank.

Sunset at the 18th hole of TPC-Boston, site of the DBC Championship
“I’m going to take some time away,” said Spieth after his 75-73 opening rounds scorecard from Boston sent him on his way. “It’s probably going to be good for me to take at least four days and not touch a club. Maybe get back with (swing coach) Cameron (McCormick) and just go through a normal routine. Nothing is different.”

Nothing is different?  I beg to differ. Since August 16, when he finished an impressive second to Jason Day at the PGA Championship in Wisconsin, Spieth has now missed the cut in his last two tournaments, both FedEx Cup Playoff events in The Barclays (NJ) and here at the TPC-Boston. 

After missing the cut at The Barclays, Spieth chose not to return home to Texas and went back to the lab, so to say, by staying in New York on the weekend of August 29-30 and traveling the short distance to Boston from NYC, seemingly a very smart strategy to get back on track.

“I went to the city, played a round at (the prestigious North Jersey course) Baltusrol and then rested Sunday,” said Spieth to the Beantown scribes before the Deutsche Bank tournament teed-off. “I figured we’d come up here, versus anywhere else. To fly three and half hourse back, then four hours back up here, to be honest it was going to be a bit more of a pain.

“The best practice we could get is playing the course (for) that week,” he explained. “If I could get on these greens, versus in Dallas where it’s 110-degrees. It’s hard to practice a full day in Dallas at this time of year. Cameron came up and we worked all Monday and Tuesday and got a lot of good work it. There wasn’t much to fix.

“It was more what I was making up in my head,” said Spieth, as honest as a long summer day, but obviously fading just as it’s doing in New England as an early September morning thermometer read 48 today. “I was creating bigger problems than there really was. I wanted to get some speed work and putting work,” Spieth added about his pre-tournament practice strategy.

So what is Spieth’s frame of mind now, that he’s missed his second consecutive cut but will rank No. 2 in the important FedEx Cup points list when the tour heads to Conway farms GC in Lake Forest, Illinois September 17?

“It’s almost like a bad dream,” he said, again so honestly and soul bearing. “Again, I don;t feel like it’s that far off, even though my score is far off. I just (need to) wake up and get the putts to go in again. That’s where I feel it’s at.

“I had a really bad 'self-talk’ week, something I haven’t experienced in quite a while. It maybe heightened by everything that’s happened this year and just being so used to being in contention. I need to walk with some cockiness in my step these next two tournaments. I don't have to fix much in my game other than work really hard on my putting, going into Conway, and then, mentally, I can control that. I can control walking with the cockiness, whether things are going good or bad, and that’s what you have to have inside the ropes.

“I’ll bring it when we get to Chicago.”

If Spieth gets some rest in his own bed and can regain his mental toughness and putting stroke, both Dallas and then, Chicago, will be sweet home.

(This column was written for Digital Sports Desk (dot) com - Please visit and follow the site on Twitter @DigSportsDesk)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Seven Stories While You Were Gone Fishin'

(This column appears as part of my regular contributions to The Daily Payoff)

By Terry Lyons, Contributing Columnist for The Daily Payoff

Gone Fishin' (Photo by Andrea P. Martin)
There are several sure signs that summer is coming to a close. In the eastern USA, it’s getting dark at 7pm, not 8:30pm, the TV networks have concluded their endless broadcasting of meaningless NFL preseason games and, for you Steely Dan fans out there, the Wolverine is on its way towards Annandale. There’s been plenty of news posted on The Daily Payoff during the past two months but maybe, like me, you’ve been preoccupied, reading those trashy paperback novels, listening to the sounds of summer at the beach or watching the Red Sox stumble to another last place finish.

To be sure you’re up-to-speed, I’m shaking the sand out of the beach chair and my reporter’s notebook to review a few important occurrences which took place during the past two months while we were all Gone Fishin’.

1. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah took the track at Monmouth Park for The Haskell and did not disappoint a NJ record 60, 983 horse racing fans who turned out to see the horse continue his winning ways after a 58-day lay-off from the historic win at the Belmont Stakes. Pharoah then was saddled up for The Travers at Saratoga and the track’s reputation as the “Graveyard of Champions” remained intact as longshot "Keen Ice” upset the triple crown winner.  On October 31, all eyes will be on American Pharoah at the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland which is expected to be the colt’s last race before heading out to stud and a cool $150,000 per pop. What a horse! What a life!

2. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) declined jurisdiction over the plight of Northwestern University football players seeking to register as a union. The unanimous decision by the NLRB avoided involvement in the hot potato of “student athlete” rights as they pertain to the NCAA, but it noted the ruling pertained to State run universities and did not address private schools. The issue of paying collegiate players to play remains a possibility and the case it likely to be appealed to Federal Court.

3. Speaking of Federal cases, DeflateGate was resolved, at least temporarily, when Judge Richard Berman of the US Federal Court, Southern District of New York vacated Tom Brady’s four-game suspension while taking the NFL to task on various procedures of their flimsy Wells Report and subsequent hearing before “Cop-Judge-Jury” Commissioner Roger Goodell. Remember, it all began on January 18, 2015 and could have been resolved by January 20 with some foresight by the NFL and the Patriots. Overall, the entire process has been a colossal waste of time and, ultimately tax-payers money. While it’s now subject to the NFL’s appeal, the entire ridiculous fairytale was possibly a giant smoke-screen left to cover the NFL’s more problematic player image headlines, like Ray Rice and several other domestic violence cases.

4. Although dozens of popular and admirable athletes, executives and administrators have passed away in 2015, some taken far too early, it’s important to recognize the passing of former NY Giants star Frank Gifford, known to so many as the chiseled and competent anchor of Monday Night Football from 1971, MNF’s second year, to 1998. Gifford passed away from natural causes on August 9th, a week before his 85th birthday. He was lauded for his pioneering role in transitioning from athlete to broadcaster. Rest in Peace to Giff.

5. Before the 2015 NFL season kicks-off, the two industry leaders of Daily Fantasy Sports, Draft Kings and Fan Duel, will have spent a combined $110 million dollars - just on TV ads, with a reported $86.2 million attributed to Draft Kings, according to combined reports by and Kantar Media. Those figures do not - repeat NOT - include the millions spent on radio, digital and traditional billboard and print advertising deals. As the popular and DFS friendly NFL season kicks-off on September 10 and continues with its full schedule on September 13, the barrage of advertising done by Draft Kings and Fan Duel, already ubiquitous, will reach spending levels only approached in prior years by the beer companies. Jason Robbins, CEO of Draft Kings, and Nigel Eccles, the head of Fan Duel, can both be crowned as the most powerful men in sports in 2015.

6. On August 25, the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the State of New Jersey to upheld prior verdicts that NJ’s plans to authorize sports betting were a violation of the federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The court’s ruling points any future movement in the legalization of sports betting to Congress. Vocal NJ State Senator Ray Lesniak will need to ramp up efforts at the Congressional level, not via his own’s state government, to make any further progress. In the past, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who opposed the efforts in NJ, has written that he and the league support a federally legislated and regulated law to allow sports gambling. The late August ruling will shelve the issue for years to come, unless you believe Congress can actually get something done?

7. Boston 2024 is no longer. Since I dedicated an entire column to the issue on July 8, I will spare readers from past details of Boston’s inept bid and the politics surrounding every decision. Instead, I must note the lost opportunity of hosting an Olympic Games has most Boston and Massachusetts residents singing “Hallelujah,” while some of us wonder if our generation will accomplish anything of significance or just continue to complain about everything and do nothing? The US Olympic Committee and the City of Los Angeles quickly moved forward and have plans to nominate LA as a potential host of the 2024 Games, but the City of Angels will face very stiff competition from the likes of Rome and Paris for the IOC’s blessing to host the youth of the world in 2024. My money is on Paris.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Games of 2015 & 2024

(This column appears as part of my regular series of sports commentary on The Daily Payoff).

By Terry Lyons (Twitter: @terrylyons)

BOSTON - A dangerous game with the highest stakes in the entire sports world is playing out this summer, and about a week ago, the United States Olympic Committee doubled down on its weakening hand. The USOC is gambling with the battered reputation of the United States of America in the international sports community, and the organization’s wager is a “Boston in 2024” bet that has a doubting New England community yelling “CRAPS!”

On January 8th of this year, the USOC surprised the elite followers of the Lord of the Rings with the announcement that Boston was selected over Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles as the USA’s choice to put forth in the high stakes poker game of landing the rights to host a future Summer Olympic Games, targeting the next available Olympiad to be held way in the distant future of 2024. With the fact that the Summer Games have not been held in North America since the ill-fated, domestic terrorist bomb-laden Atlanta Olympics of 1996, the Pundits of the Rings all believed the United States entry had a better-than-average chance at landing the ’24 Games. Since ’96, the better part of the universe has had its hands in the Olympic cookie-jar, including Sydney (2000), Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), London (2012) and all-too-soon-to-be Rio (2016). After that, Asia will host the XXXII Olympiad, with the 2020 events in Tokyo.

That left Olympiad #33 up for grabs, and what better way could there possibly be to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the great Larry Bird’s dual NBA & NBA Finals MVP season than the Summer Games right behind the Fourth of July on the Esplanade?  So the USOC acted on this notion back in January, and all the local Boston politicians and civic leaders jumped right on the bandwagon, figuring there would be much rejoicing. All was fine and wonderful in Beantown, for about as long as it took the New England weather to change.
The cruel winter of 2015 dumped 108.6 inches of snow atop the golden dome of the State House, the worst winter snowfall since 1872, some 24 years before the ancient Olympic Games of 1896. What the politicians and USOC members did not count on during that snowy winter were the two things every Bostonian can claim as his or her own - crankiness and complaining.

Bostonians, and New Englanders, in general, love to complain. They complain about the weather, the weather forecasters, the politicians, the sports teams, and their coaches. Even when the coaches deliver championships, the next season the fans complain. You can ask Red Sox manager John Farrell or Bruins coach Claude Julien, and they’ll tell you, if they still have jobs next week. And, that’s just sports!  When it comes to REAL complaining, Bostonians have three favorite topics: the Big Dig, the traffic, and the transit system, known to all as the T, probably since its formation in 1897, only a year after the inaugural and ancient Olympics in Greece.

Now put this perfect storm together, and you won’t need a PhD in Mathematics from MIT to frame the equation:

IOC + USOC + 2015 + 108.6 (snow) + Big Dig - (new Governor + new Mayor) = Boston - 2024

What is the answer to that problem?

A resounding, “No."

Faster than a politician can flip-flop, the grand plans of Boston 2024 were called into question, and the pronouncement of Boston being the USOC’s city of choice as fact was denounced by civic groups, claiming the 2024 Games would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions. While the snow fell, Bostonians did what they do best and started to complain to their elected officials to the point where all hell broke loose, and the original head of the Boston Olympic organizing group, prominent construction magnate John Fish, had to step down and was replaced by Steve Pagliuca, known to most as managing partner of Bain Capital investment group and co-owner of the Boston Celtics. 

In recent weeks, Pagliuca has done what any newfound co-chair of a committee would do. He called for a “players only” team meeting, re-shaped the Boston 2024 bid specs, and launched version 2.0 in order to appease the inquiring minds of “No Boston 2024” and a public still complaining about the Big Dig, the snow (and the resulting parking and traffic woes), and an ancient, failing transit system. One thing is for sure: in the world of politics, investments, public opinion, and even sports, team meetings, re-launches, and versions 2.0 are not good, although Pagliuca has assured all who will listen that the premise of Boston 2024 will not come at the cost of taxpayers of the Commonwealth and the Summer Games will actually fuel a much-needed rebuilding of two Boston neighborhoods while the city works to finance its aging and decrepit infrastructure.

To that point, Pagliuca and Boston 2024 are right. The failing “T” and the aging roads are not going to fix themselves, and by 2024, they will be nearly a decade older.

So the question remains - Should the USOC put forth a bid to the world for Boston to host the 2024 Olympics?

With world class cities like Paris and Rome amongst the competing cities, a successful Boston bid is a long-shot, at best. Even Hamburg and Budapest might be more viable candidates to the IOC. But the influence of the North American audience (a.k.a. NBC/Comcast television money) might be enough to influence the IOC hierarchy to vote for the USA candidate city, either in 2024 or no later than 2028. The people of Boston need to recognize the fact that the old fashioned way of “complaining and doing nothing” is only a mantra for the GOP, not a city in dire need of modernization.

While the bid-specs detail the use of existing facilities and champion a new approach, tagged as "Olympic Agenda 2020” by the IOC, seeking to cut down on the growing excesses of prior Olympiads, the secret sauce for Boston 2024 is to seek new and better sources of revenue generation. One idea, totally lost in the shuffle of all noise generated this spring, is Boston 2024’s original bid idea to “farm out” some of the events - such as the preliminary round of basketball. In such a plan, two groups of six teams could play to large audiences in cities such as New York or Chicago before coming to Boston for the medal round to be played after artistic gymnastics folds up its tent and TD Garden reverts back to the parquet floor.

Another idea - ripe for the times - is to factor in potential revenue or licensing from all-out sports gambling on certain events of the Games. Properly administered, global wagering from authorized sports books and even daily fantasy sports could add tens of millions to the Boston 2024 coffers, and that would be just for the sponsorship or official licensing rights to the likes of William Hill or Betfair. Affiliate fees and a portion of the take might net enough cash to appease the Boston 2024 naysayers while paving the road for additional fees to further insure possible cost over-runs. The Mass Lottery might like it enough to begin the program as early as the Summer of 2016, when wagering or a DFS lottery on the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots could mint millions, just as the Rio Games are planning to wager their Olympic reputations on the likes of win, place, and show bets on gold, silver and bronze medalists.

Let the Games begin.