By saying friend, it may be construed that I was lunch-buddies or golf-buddies with him. That, clearly, is not the case. But, in my time in Lynchburg, I got to know Jerry really well. He was as imposing a figure as I ever knew (until I met Bob Knight), and yet, he made you believe that he knew you well, and never forgot your name.
I will certainly never forget the respect I gained for him after 8 years of close observation, at first wondering if he was a phony, like so many tele-evangelists of his era. I had a chance to see him many times with the camera off, and I will tell you that the guy may be many things, but a phony or a fraud isn’t one of them. Do I agree with everything he says? No. But, I do believe that he is as advertised. A man who believes what he says, and says what he believes. And he will most certainly tell it to your face – in a day when many of us who are religious find it much easier to say almost nothing.
I will never forget the moments in which he would sneak up behind me while I was broadcasting a basketball game and choke the voice right out of me for a few seconds, before releasing his grip and laughing while walking away. You would at first be angry, but then when you realized who it was, you couldn’t believe that a man that famous just pranked you and your anger turned to giddy excitement.
I will never forget his decisions to body-surf in the student section during big basketball games. While wearing his normal apparel, a blue suit, he would be carried on the arms of his students as everyone else worried that his demise could be found if the students drop his enormous body.
I had one uncomfortable moment with him when I was a student, when I found out that he had a problem with a column I wrote in the student newspaper – and therefore vetoed it (as he obviously had the power to do despite my disbelief). I protested to him directly, the next time I saw him, because I believed we had established such a relationship that I may speak freely. He answered my protest with a brief and direct answer. For reasons I still don’t understand, that wasn’t enough for me. I had to reword my protest. And that is when I looked at his face and realized he was losing his patience by his expression. I quickly abbreviated what I had to say, and ended the conversation before he had to say a word. I had crossed the line, and I knew it. I slinked away and from then on remembered my place. As a college Junior, it was not quite at a level where I could engage Jerry Falwell in open debate at his school.
Anyway, I am sure every reader has their own opinion of the man. I am not trying to change those opinions, but I did want to share a few memories about a man who I greatly respected, and like I said, counted as a friend. I had a chance to know him better than most people that are talking about him today, and wanted to tell you about it. He died yesterday, and I obviously felt sad in hearing the news. He had an impact on my life, for sure.
And, for you who care, he was a big Dallas Cowboys fan in the heart of Washington Redskins country. Thank Tom Landry for that.
Anyway, my thoughts and condolences to his family today.
Now, on to sport.
In Phoenix, believe it or not, they are not in favor of the suspensions …
Throw an elbow, break a limb and earn credit toward the all-NBA team. For a league that professes to be image-conscious, the NBA should be tagged with a flagrant foul.
San Antonio's Robert Horry checks Steve Nash into the scorer's table, and the Suns are slapped with a penalty that could cost them a shot at the title? If I'm an NBA general manager, I'm taking Oscar De La Hoya with my next draft pick.
The league goofed Tuesday by suspending Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for tonight's Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. The league erred by relying on the language of the law instead of the spirit of it.
"I feel we've been unjustly penalized for the fact that we just played a good, clean hard game," Suns owner Robert Sarver said. "I feel if any team should have been penalized in this series, it should be the Spurs, and I feel bad about it.
"I feel like I've just been punched in the gut."
Who knew an incident during Monday's Game 4 would turn into this? With 18 seconds remaining, Horry committed a hard foul that sent Nash flying into the scorer's table. It created the perfect storm. The crowd reacted. Nash became angry. The foul occurred close to the Suns bench, which is filled with players who are paid handsomely to have a competitive spirit.
They saw their universally loved point guard in pain. Their instincts got the better of them, and Stoudemire and Diaw ran onto the court.
"I just wanted to see how he was doing," Diaw said.
Stoudemire didn't throw any punches. Diaw didn't come out swinging. They were reined in with no damage done.
The problem: The NBA can't get past the language of its rule that says, during an altercation, "all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay."
The NBA likes to play the hard line, but the truth is this rule is open to interpretation. "Vicinity of their bench" can be anything the league wants it to be.
San Antonio's Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan weren't suspended for running onto the floor earlier in the game after Suns swingman James Jones unknowingly caused a dunking Francisco Elson to crash to the floor, because it didn't follow an altercation. But there was the presumption of an altercation, and is it really that different?
In 2002, several Sacramento Kings players rushed to the aid of Doug Christie after he was attacked in a tunnel by the Los Angeles Lakers' Rick Fox. The NBA excused the incident because it felt most players were unclear of what was happening to Christie.
The bottom line: The league has the ability to interpret the rules as it chooses.
Buck Harvey agrees that the commissioner should have mixed in some common sense …
The Spurs are no longer the team that America hates to watch. Now they are the team America just hates.
They are the team that bloodied little Steve Nash, kneed little Steve Nash and eventually slammed little Steve Nash to the floor. Somehow, they've hoodwinked the league at the same time and have benefited by their dastardly deeds. Their black road uniforms finally fit their persona. And if the Spurs beat the Suns tonight, most will stick an asterisk on Game 5 bigger than 1999.
And if they lose?
Given the sentiment in the air, that's a real possibility.
Two men are responsible for this. Robert Horry and David Stern. Horry could have grabbed Nash and avoided everything, and Stern could have grabbed some common sense.
Stern stayed true to his rules, when there was enough gray area to house Charles Barkley. Did Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw really do enough to warrant suspension? The league's stance is also not completely illogical, and the Suns' reaction Monday night said that. Why do you think the Phoenix coaches and players were so determined to stop Stoudemire and Diaw from entering the fray? Because they knew what the NBA would do.
This is the kind of hard line that players respect and remember.
That said, Stern also allowed the best playoff series of his postseason to be damaged, and he didn't do much for what has been one of his finest, most respected franchises. The Spurs, given this series of events, have never looked worse. At least no one is calling them boring anymore.
They are still the same guys who have been praised the past decade. They've won by being professionals and by avoiding off-court messes, and the current catcalls come from those who, well, don't like watching them.
Few in and around the league — from coaches to media — see the Spurs as anything but a league standard.
But they sure look dirty today. They are being rewarded because of a mess they caused, and, at first glance, it's as if the Spurs are getting a pass to the conference finals.
In exchange for their second man off the bench (Horry), they will get Phoenix without its leading scorer (Stoudemire) and the one who would normally replace Stoudemire (Diaw). Who wouldn't take that?
Dirk is MVP …
"Dirk" will forever be linked with all the other one-name wonders in NBA history after winning the Most Valuable Player award in a sizable victory over Steve Nash, who won it the last two seasons.
Nowitzki had 83 first-place votes to 44 for the Phoenix point guard and former Mavericks teammate. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant had the two remaining first-place votes.
Nowitzki and Nash were first, second or third on all 129 ballots.
And while he graciously accepted the Maurice Podoloff Trophy from commissioner David Stern, Nowitzki disarmed a potentially sticky situation the same way he took apart so many defenses this season.
On one of the greatest days in Mavericks' history, he deftly juggled the MVP with the extreme disappointment that came with "the debacle," which is what he called the first-round playoff flop against Golden State.
In addition to being the first European to win the MVP, he's the first since Moses Malone in 1982 to win it and be sent to the sideline after losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Nowitzki hopes the first-round collapse and ensuing questions about his MVP-worthiness will serve he and the Mavericks well in the long run.
"I understand there are a lot of stars in history and in the present who are great players who never won the championship," he said. "As of now, I'm in that category.
"The only good thing is that I'm 29 [next month], and I feel like I'm in the prime of my career. Hopefully, I have a lot of great postseason runs left like the one we had last year. But I understand it might never happen."
Last Night, The Mavs legacy was sealed, when Golden State was proven to be a brief flash in the sky. The Jazz pounded them in 5 tough games and now nobody can justify the Mavericks loss by citing that Golden State went on to upset other teams, too.
The end is only the beginning.
That's the newest and proudest company line after the Warriors' historic playoff run ended here Tuesday night with a 100-87 loss to an undeniably better Jazz team.
In what might have been the happiest locker room ever following an elimination game, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson were positively beaming as they spoke about their postseason exit.
"We're holding our heads up high," Richardson said. "Just two months ago, we were being counted out of the playoffs. We made it to the second round with a new roster, guys being hurt, dealing with the trade. We've got a lot to be proud of."
By any measure, the Warriors' first postseason appearance in 13 years was a success. Golden State made history by becoming the first No. 8 seed to knock out a No. 1 team in a best-of-seven format with its six-game thrashing of Dallas in the opening round, then took a tougher, stronger Jazz squad to five games -- with chances to win all three at EnergySolutions Arena.
Game 5, in fact, signaled a return to the opening pair of classics in this series, and just like Games 1 and 2, this one was there for the taking. After going toe-to-toe all night, the Warriors and Jazz were tied with 61/2 minutes to play when Golden State ran out of gas for the second straight game.
The Warriors hit one field goal the rest of the way, missed five consecutive three-point tries at one point and were outscored 17-4 down the stretch. Baron Davis finished with a game-high-tying 21 points and eight assists, but it wasn't nearly enough to counter another three-point-shooting display by ex-Warriors guard Derek Fisher (20 points) and the power of Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur, who each posted double-doubles.
"We lost to a better team," said Jackson, who finished with 16 points, five assists and five rebounds. "We didn't win, but we learned a lot. ... We overcame a lot of odds, did a lot of things people said we couldn't do. We believed in each other."
If there's one thing the Warriors will be remembered for in these playoffs, however, it's their emotional Jekyll-and-Hyde persona. The same fire that led to their mastery of the Mavericks in the first round nearly overshadowed their second-round exit against the Jazz.
Raise your hand if you are growing tired of Greg Ellis’ act. He is back at it …
Ellis said the issue is simply a matter of economics and respect that goes back further than last year's disgruntlement over being moved to linebacker or the team's decision to draft linebacker Anthony Spencer in the first round of last month's draft.
Said Ellis: "It's been a slap in the face when you think about it."
To Ellis, his concerns can only be alleviated by the Cowboys doing something about his contract.
"A contract extension says you are our guy and we want you here," Ellis said. "It sets it straight with that guy. It sets it straight with the media. It sets it straight with everybody. I haven't talked to Jerry about it, and I am not going to. But it's understood, and Jerry knows it. I think Jerry should do something."
Jones said he sees no reason to discuss a contract with Ellis or any player who already has a deal in place.
Ellis will make $2.5 million this season and is signed through 2009.
Ironically, Ellis' current deal and how it came about is the root of his disgruntlement.
It started when the Cowboys and Jones encouraged him to do right by the team and take a $4.2 million signing bonus as part of a contract extension in 2003 rather than test free agency.
Making matters worse was that defensive end Grant Wistrom, who was taken two spots before Ellis in the 1998 draft, got a $14 million signing bonus to bolt St. Louis for Seattle that off-season.
Ellis wasn't blind when the Cowboys started opening their wallets in 2005, signing free agents Jason Ferguson, Marco Rivera and Anthony Henry to $8.125 million, $8.125 million and $10 million signing bonuses.
Suddenly the salary structure Jones and then coach Bill Parcells talked about when Ellis was at the negotiating table wasn't a big deal anymore.
"Going back to when we signed the contract, they said 'be a team guy,'" Ellis said. "I did it because I am a team guy and this where I wanted to be. I know Bill [Parcells] sold Jerry on me not getting a $10 million signing bonus. But I go for the $4 million. And then things changed."
Rangers lose. …They are about to get relegated to the bottom of every day’s blog – my way of Shunning them…
The Rangers held another team meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The question that lingers: Are meetings enough or do they need therapy?
After a brief meeting called by manager Ron Washington, the Rangers went out and scrapped for runs, played some defense and pitched well. And, still, apropos for their temporary surroundings at Disney's Wide World of Sports, they lost in storybook fashion.
Tampa Bay's Brendan Harris stroked a walk-off single to give the Devil Rays a 4-3, 10-inning win.
It was the Rangers' sixth loss in the last eight games and dropped them nine games below .500. In the AL, only Kansas City has a worse record than Texas' 15-24.
Afterward, though, the Rangers sounded like a team that had just left counseling pledging to continue to feel better about itself.
"Yes, it's frustrating to lose," catcher Gerald Laird said. "But if we continue to play the way we did tonight, things are going to come around. We played a good game. We need to play one good game after another. If we do that the next two days, we're going to end up winning two out of three."
Said Washington: "I thought they really had a good approach tonight. If we can play consistently like we did tonight, I think we can come out of this thing."
Washington had called the meeting after a tumultuous four-day weekend in which the Rangers lost three of four to AL West-leading Los Angeles. The Rangers were thoroughly beaten in the series, leading at the end of two of just 36 innings. Los Angeles jumped out to early leads in three of the four games and led by five in each of its three wins.
After a brief meeting with owner Tom Hicks following Monday's game and a restless trip to Orlando, Washington sought to reaffirm all that he had preached to the team during spring training. The message: Stay the course. Trust one another. Have fun.
Red Wings spank Ducks in Game 3 …
Tomas Holmstrom finished with two goals, an assist and 13 stitches.
Holmstrom scored in each of the first two periods and the Detroit Red Wings took control early on the way to a 5-0 victory Tuesday night over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
Dominik Hasek made 29 saves, and the Red Wings scored three times on 13 shots against Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and regain home-ice advantage.
Game 4 is Thursday night in Anaheim.
"I think we were successful with all the four lines going," Holmstrom said. "We started scoring from lots of guys, too. We had lots of speed.
"We played a really, really solid hockey game. Anaheim will come out and play a better game next game for sure."
Holmstrom left the game at 11:40 of the second period after the Ducks' Rob Niedermayer and Chris Pronger simultaneously slammed him into the glass. The Detroit forward, who lost the puck just before he was hit, spent several moments lying on the ice with the team's trainers tending to him.
Holmstrom finally got up and went off to have two cuts on his forehead stitched up. He returned to start the third period and assisted on Detroit's final goal.
"I got run into the boards, got hit again," he said. "I never saw the guy come from behind."
Money B’s jam …
In honor of Dirk, ESPN looks at worst MVP’s ever …
Mark Moseley, Washington Redskins, 1982 NFL MVP
You know why nobody cares much about the NFL MVP vote? Because a kicker won it! The hands-down lamest MVP of any sport, any year, and it's not even debatable. Fine, the Redskins went 8-1 and Moseley made 20 of 21 field goals (he missed three extra points). He was second in the NFL in scoring. Still, there had to be, oh, 100 players more valuable than him. Or maybe 200. This is what happens when you give out awards in strike-shortened seasons.
Chuck Liddell is featured in ESPN the Mag …
For the past six years, Liddell has been known as a badass, the best fighter in the world bar none. He's the UFC's current light heavyweight champion. In his 10-year career, he has lost only three fights and has gone on to avenge two of them. The third, his 2003 loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, is set for a rematch on May 26.
"The plan is to knock him out in the first round," Liddell says in a voice devoid of bravado. Unlike some fighters, he does not boast. He wears his professional record with a shrug. His talent is a gift from birth, or God.
"I've been fighting people since way back," he says with a smile. "At parties. In clubs. I always say I never started a fight. But looking back, I made it real hard for you to get out of one."
Even before he got paid to kick and punch, Liddell liked brawls. Not backing down was a means to an end. "Fighting was a competition for me," he says, "something I happened to be really good at."
Liddell is 37 years old. He is 6'2", 220 pounds. He has a round, boyish face, with piercing eyes and a sharply defined, Val Kilmer mouth. He's not small, but he doesn't block the sun like many athletes. His body is one of supreme use; every muscle serves a purpose. And generally that purpose is to put other men in a world of pain. "I'm not conflicted about it," he says. "I don't mean to hurt ya. I just want to prove I do it better."
What Liddell means is that he isn't psychotic. He describes himself as "mellow, laid-back." He doesn't derive pleasure from inflicting pain, and the fact that you enjoy watching him do it says a hell of a lot more about you than him. "Chuck looks like an ax murderer," says UFC president Dana White. "But he's the nicest guy in the world."
Even so, being an ultimate fighter has very little to do with being nice. It's about being an incomparable athlete. You must excel at boxing, martial arts and wrestling. You must possess depths of fortitude and a willingness to stand alone. And you must be accountable for yourself in a way that few sports require. Liddell knows this, having played virtually every other sport with the exception of tennis.
Click Here for this week’s unintentional comedy…
Watch the Amazing Break Dancer
Duncan on the floor – Suspend, Suspend!!!