Sports Beat “Stop Dumping on Dolan”

By Lloyd Carroll

      Now that Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan has hired “The Lord of the Rings,” Phil Jackson to be the new Knicks president (he has six NBA championship rings as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls; five in the same role for the Los Angeles Lakers; and a pair as a bench player for the Knicks), and has promised to grant as much autonomy to him as an owner can, it will be interesting to see whether the media will finally stop bashing Mr. Dolan.

      At the Jackson press conference Dolan acknowledged that he has been far from adept at running a basketball team. The most obvious bad decision on his part was firing Donnie Walsh as the team’s general manager without having a suitable replacement ready to take his place. The reason for Walsh’s ouster was that he did not want to give up a king’s ransom to get Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. Given Anthony’s outstanding play since coming to the Knicks, it’s easy to understand Dolan’s desire to meet Denver’s asking price three years ago.


     Yes, James Dolan does taken barbs for avoiding the media but I’ve spoken with him a couple of times about his true passion, rock music. He was happy to discuss that since he’s a top-flight guitarist and fronts a terrific band, JD & The Straight Shot, that has opened for the Eagles and has had plenty of other high profile gigs.

     It’s funny how that man of the people, Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, loves to beat up on Dolan any chance that he and yet I can’t recall him writing  a negative word about Mets CEO Fred Wilpon or his son team chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon even though the Mets have not had a winning season in five years and that streak should reach six this year.

      Unlike the Wilpons, James Dolan has never been afraid to break open his checkbook to try to improve his team. He has also been front and center, literally, at Madison Square Garden, when the Knicks are not playing well. When New York City has been hit with disasters such as 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, it has been Dolan who has been front and center raising relief funds by organizing concerts at MSG.

      The St. John’s University Red Storm will not be playing again at Madison Square Garden until November. They proved to be a “one and done” team as they were beaten by Providence in the Big East Tournament costing them a berth in the NCAA Tournament and were then blown out by Robert Morris University at Carnesecca Arena last week in the first round of the NIT. The Red Storm played as if they couldn’t have cared less in front of a thankfully sparse crowd.


         Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who is rehabilitating from Tommy John arm surgery, incurred the wrath of Mets management by getting indignant at not being able to speak with the media. Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ legendary Vice President of Media Relations, was upset that he caught Harvey speaking with Daily News baseball scribe Andy Martino. Mets brass wishes that Harvey would not plead his case with the media about rushing back to pitch in 2014 when doctors have advised him to wait until 2015. Jay was rightfully concerned that other sportswriters would be incensed if they couldn’t access to Harvey.

      As a sportswriter I should be cheering for Harvey for wanting to talk to the fourth estate. Unfortunately from what I have seen of him in the Mets clubhouse his behavior is a variation of the old axiom, “He learns to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.” Last year when he was the toast of the town, I felt as if there was an electric fence around his locker when I deigned to talk to him. If he did respond to one of my questions it was with a halting two-word answer at best.

      This is the time of year when many destination tourism bureaus visit New York to pitch their locales to travel media. Sports has long been an important but rather quiet part of the tourism industry that is finally getting more play.


            The California Department of Tourism, better known simply as Visit California, brought a number of their many municipal convention and visitors bureaus with them. Huntington Beach, which has long called itself “Surf City” in honor of the #1 Jan & Dean 1963 hit, claims that American surfing began their literally 100 years ago.


           Just as the origin of baseball has long been in dispute, so apparently is that of surfing. A spokesperson from the Northern California town of Santa Cruz, which has the oldest  boardwalk in the United States, claims that the first surfer caught waves at its beach in 1885.


           With all due respect to picturesque and hip Santa Cruz, Huntington Beach will always be far more identified with surfing because it’s mentioned in the Beach Boys’ early hit, “Surfin’ Safari.” It also helps that Dean Torrance of Jan & Dean fame makes his home there.

         San Francisco civic officials appear to be taking the departure of the NFL’s 49ers in stride. This fall the Niners will begin playing in a new stadium just outside of San Jose which is about an hour south of the City by the Bay. “You can easily get there from San Francisco on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit trains),” San Francisco Travel Association media relations director Laurie Armstrong told me. She admitted that the NFL is cushioning the blow by awarding the 49ers the 2016 Super Bowl with the lion’s share of the activities taking place in San Francisco as was the case here with the 2014 Super Bowl even though the game was played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.


         Before the term “one percenters” became a synonym for the very wealthy there was Beverly Hills, an exclusive enclave surrounded by Los Angeles, which has long been celebrated by the entertainment industry though films such as the Eddie Murphy “Beverly Hills Cop” films and on television through the “Tonight Show” monologs of the late Johnny Carson, the ‘60s CBS comedy series, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and the 1980s and early ‘90s Fox teen soap opera, “Beverly Hills 90210," is celebrating its centennial this year.


          Not to be outdone by their West Coast rival, the New York State Department of Tourism held their own promotional event for the press. The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown will celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer. In addition to its big induction weekend at the end of July that will see such legendary players as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas and retired managers Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre get their plaques, there will be a baseball film series in the fall.


         Craig Muder, who was representing the Hall of Fame at the press event, reminded the media that Derek Jeter is a near certainty to be honored in July 2020. He also felt optimistic that former Mets catching great Mike Piazza will be entering the Hall soon as well. “He has been trending up in the voting,” he said with a smile.


          Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau officials claim that they will be instituting a Citi Bike-style bicycle rentals on its beaches. The difference is that these will be “fat bikes” (overinflated tires) that can be ridden on the sand.


           Nearly every sport has a Hall of Fame as does rock & roll (the annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies return to New York April 10 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center) so it makes sense that comedy should have one as well. That oversight will be corrected in 2016 when one will open in Jamestown, New York which was the birthplace of Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame.


          The annual GLBT Expo took place this past weekend at the Javits Center. As the various barriers to gay people have rightfully been dropping over the years, this trade show has becoming more and more like any other at the Javits Center although there is still a Mardi Gras-like fun feel to it even with many Fortune 500 companies and well-known resort areas as exhibitors.


        The Gay Games 9, an Olympics-inspired competition will take place in Cleveland from August 9th to 16th. The WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, who play their home games at the Mohegan Sun Casino, and the New York Liberty, who will be returning to Madison Square Garden for the first time in three years now that the building’s renovations have been completed, had booths at the Expo.

     Although the Ladies Professional Golf Association did not have a presence at the Javits Center last weekend, nowhere is the change in attitude towards the gay consumer noticeable than at the Kraft Nabisco LPGA Championship that will take place April 2-6 in Palm Springs, California. The original name for this tournament was the Dinah Shore Championship. For years both the professional golf world and Palm Springs officials seemed embarrassed that the majority of ticket-buyers for this sporting event were lesbians and tried every way to downplay that indisputable fact.


        That was then and this is now. Both the LPGA and Palm Springs are putting out big welcome mats for them and their economic power by scheduling a whirlwind of parties and other events besides golf.


         Three cheers to Time Warner Cable for finally adding the premium movie cable network, Epix, which competes with HBO, Showtime, and Starz to its channel selection. Epix broadcast the terrific 2012 surfing movie “Chasing Mavericks” over the weekend.


         Epicureans will be happy to know that the annual Taste of Queens celebration will take place at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing on April 29. The event is run by the Queens Economic Development Corporation and its organizers promise that more restaurants will be participating at the Sheraton than were at the event’s former venue, Citi Field.      


         On a sad personal note, my cousin Robert, succumbed to a heart attack last Saturday. I will miss the myriad of great times we enjoyed such as catching Phillies home games as well as their South Atlantic League minor league affiliate, the Lakewood Blueclaws. I think of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said to New York Post columnist Mary McGrory right after President Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago. “We’ll laugh again but we’ll never be young again.” I am already missing you, Rob.