Random Rumblings: April 19th

After some travel time, I've returned to rumble randomly. The travel was to my alma mater, Syracuse University, for the chance to work with the next generation of media superstars. Joe Lee, GM of WAER, invited me to work with his sports talk department and it turned into an incredible 48 hours on the hill.

It's hard to accurately describe what the student media, both WAER and Z89, mean to and have meant to my career. The shortest version of an attempt is merely saying that I would've gotten nowhere without them. The reason those places are so special is because the alums are so generous in giving back. Not only have some of the best and brightest in our industry established and passed down a standard of excellence when they were students, but they've also made sure to continue to go back and ensure that standard is upheld.

The fact that Joe reached out and specifically targeted me to come back and work with his staff is an honor. I was more than happy to make the trip. What I found, not shockingly, is an incredibly talented and driven group that craved the feedback and want to get better and continue the tradition. There's a reason there are so many Syracuse alums in this industry and there's a reason we're obnoxious about where we went to school. It's worth being proud of and it was abundantly clear to me after last week that the next generation understands that and will continue to live up to the expectations of being "one of those Syracuse guys" (or gals!) in every corner of media.

Kobe

I left for Syracuse at 6 am on Thursday morning, making it an unwise decision to stay up and watch Kobe's final game Wednesday night. So I didn't. I watched the first six minutes, in which he didn't hit a shot, and went to bed knowing it was on DVR for me to consume later.

I woke up Thursday morning bleary eyed and looked at my phone AND KOBE DID WHAT?! No amount of coffee or IV dripped caffeine could've had me come to attention faster than seeing that Bryant scored 60 on his final night. I immediately went to the box score and saw he shot fifty times, but he still scored sixty points!!! However as I started to read some of the reaction from Twitter the night before, then listen as I hit the road, I understood that this wasn't some chuck-fest. This was an all-time moment.

I finally got to watch this morning and it was pure magic. Were there some bad shots? Sure. He shot fifty times. You think they were all awesome? However there were also glimpses of a Bryant we all, including Kobe himself, thought was long gone. Snakes to the rim, ending in crafty finishes accounted for a solid percentage of his points. The pull-up jumper that made him the NBA's best player for a solid stretch of the early 00's looked as sure as it ever had. I'd use another word, but magic is the proper description.

For a player whose reputation as a closer was typically overstated (his percentages in clutch situation were terrible), this close was literally perfect. While he often forced shots and missed, there was no denying that Bryant always wanted to take the final shot. He thought it was his duty, and he had no fear of failure. That's admirable for an athlete, even if at times he should've played the percentages better. Wednesday night wasn't a time to play the percentages. Wednesday night was time to put on a show. He did, in the most unimaginable way possible.

He's inarguably one of the best fifteen players ever. He's almost inarguably one of the best twelve. He's arguably one of the best ten. He's done things few others have done in the modern era and some (his 81 point game) that none have done. From a pure sporting context, it doesn't get much better than  his performance on Wednesday. Also, Mike Tirico said "fo shizzle" late in the game going to break as the telecast showed Snoop dancing which is as all-time of a moment as anything Kobe did.

However in an age where we know more about our athletes than ever before, I'd feel like a total hypocrite if I didn't at least mention that Bryant was charged with rape in 2004. It was largely not mentioned during the Kobe farewell tour until the final few days as I saw it appear a few times on social media. I was pretty young during the trial, so I went back and looked at some of the reporting from the time and it's certainly damning of Bryant. At absolute best, Bryant committed rape amidst confusion about consent. This is directly from Bryant's statement after the charges were dismissed:

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

It takes two to have consent. The woman not believing she had consented constitutes rape, even if Bryant was under some other impression. Other accounts paint a much darker picture in which there's no confusion at all, and that there may have been other similar instances with other women that went unreported. We have a legal system that often fails victims of domestic and sexual violence. There are no winners in any of this. The charges against Bryant were dropped after his legal team engaged in horrifying victim blaming.

There's no good way to make all this into some grand conclusion. It feels like there's grey area here. Bryant rehabbed his image in part by doing an extremely high amount of charity work. He saw hundreds of Make-a-Wish kids, never denying one of their requests. His work with the homeless of LA is awe-inspiring. Does any of that make what he was alleged to do okay? Of course not. I don't know what the "right" response to all of this is. Watching his final game gave me great joy as a sports fan. Writing the last two paragraphs about a horrifying thing he is alleged to have done makes me feel really guilty about that joy. That's really all I've got.

Trade That Pick!

Making as hard of a left turn as we can, the Browns should trade the number two overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft and they shouldn't think twice about it. It's pretty clear the Rams are taking one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft, either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz at number one after trading with the Titans last week. That leaves any other team who wants one of those quarterbacks needing to trade with Cleveland to ensure they get their man.

The Browns don't need either if they're committed to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. Even if they're not, they should trade the pick anyway unless they believe one of them is truly special. The reality is the Browns stink. They're not winning this year with anyone they can possibly acquire at quarterback. They need a lot of players. The only way to get a lot of good players is to draft a lot of players. The way to draft a lot of players is to have a lot of picks, which you can acquire in a trade for the number two overall pick pretty easily.

NFL Draft picks, no matter where they are, are like lottery tickets. The higher the draft pick, the better chance that ticket is a winner, but the real goal is to get as many tickets as you can. If you go 50% on your picks, but only have six picks, you've only developed three players. If you have 12 picks? Now you've got six NFL caliber players and are making headway towards becoming good again.

Since multiple teams are likely to want in on whichever QB is left (multiple reports say it will be Wentz stating that the Rams like Goff), the Browns can probably get a great return for their pick. Making a deal is all about leverage. The Browns have it. They should use it, and then be patient as their stable of players develops and maybe, just maybe, they'll have a winner in Cleveland a few years down the road.

Reads of the day:

This Seth Wickersham piece for ESPN The Mag on Robert Nkemdiche is great. It shines a light on one of the draft's bigger question marks and how questionable the draft process is: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/15159447/should-teams-worry-robert-nkemdic-nfl-future

NBA Player Wayne Ellington writes about his father's impact on his life and his cold-blooded murder for The Player's Tribune: http://www.theplayerstribune.com/wayne-ellington-nets-father/

If you want some great Kobe stories, Baxter Holmes has written some remarkable stuff for ESPN LA the past few weeks. This, on his shooting routine, is one of my favorites: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/15179469/kobe-bryant-famous-pregame-shooting-routine