The problem, they say, with asking people to pick sides in the current labor battle between NBA owners and NBA players is that it's hard to get people to choose between rooting for billionaires and rooting for millionaires. This, despite the fact that the difference between a billionaire and a millionaire is actually quite vast, as in a thousand times so.

But arguing that NBA players are The Downtrodden based on the mathematics of their relative poverty has as much chance of working as a kite made out of encyclopedias. Further contributing to the players' challenges in the court of public opinion is the propensity for image-eroding behavior like bringing guns to the workplace and, occasionally, changing their names to combinations of words whose meaning is opaque, if not downright nonsensical.

In spite of this rickety soapbox, the players are probably more "right" in the current battle to renegotiate the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because while the millionaires might sometimes commit acts that leave their fans wishing for the comparatively tame Roy Tarpley Years, at least they are honest about the nature of their jobs.

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Which is a lot more than we can say for the billionaires.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that during the 2010-11 season, NBA owners lost a combined $300 million. Reports on the veracity of this number are varied, but most agree that it is inflated. Forbes magazine, for example, questions the logic of a reported $300 million loss when, by its reckoning, the league made $183 million in 2009-2010. It is generally accepted that the 2010-11 season was far more successful than the previous one, making it hard to believe that the league's owners somehow reversed field by half a billion dollars.

But arguing over accounting methods is a diversion best left to people with more time than you and I. More important, I think, is something the owners have wisely kept out of the public eye. Two somethings, actually.

First, not all owners are created equal.

I once played (a term I use loosely) for the Phoenix Suns. At the end of a wildly successful season -- "we" went to the Western Conference Finals on the backs of Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion -- the team's owner, Robert Sarver, stood at the dry erase board at the front of the locker room and enumerated the financial options for the following year. He wrote three large numbers in a column on the left -- let's call them Big, Bigger, and Biggest -- and then, while pointing to each, wrote down the corresponding projected profit to the team if he (and his co-owners) spent each of those numbers on the team's payroll.

The profits were relatively small; for Big, it was something like $6 million, for Bigger, something like $3 million, for Biggest, a loss of a few million. (Forgive me for not recalling the exact numbers; Mr. Sarver didn’t seem like he would have appreciated note-taking.)

The thrust of the talk was that he knew very well how to predict what would probably happen the next year -- financially, at least. By his tone it was clear that he wouldn't be thrilled with spending anything more than the Big option. (His behavior proved his tone prophetic -- Joe Johnson escaped Phoenix soon after; the Suns have never really recovered.)

Sarver is the sort of owner that the public could, in theory, feel sorry for. (This would be easier if not for the widely-held view that he has ruined the Suns.) By the standards of an NBA owner, Sarver is a pauper, and one who is interested in running his team like a business. There are other owners like him; the Los Angeles Clippers's Donald Sterling has been squeezing profits out of a perennially-awful franchise for years -- unsympathetic character traits notwithstanding.

Contrast these men (and their motivations) with Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen (below), he of the $13.5 billion Microsoft nest egg. Or with the Orlando Magic's Richard Devos ($4.2 billion). Or with the New York Knicks' James Dolan ($3.3 billion). Or with the newest glamour-owner of them all, the New Jersey Nets' Mikhail Prokhorov ($18 billion).

Some NBA owners buy and run their teams because they’d like to make a profit, but many do so because they’re willing to pay (a lot) for the fleeting thrill of victory. (Or are bored, or would like to impress girls, or can only buy so many Lamborghinis.)

It is speculative, of course, for me to write that men like Allen, Dolan, and Prokhorov don’t care about the bottom lines of their respective franchises; they wouldn’t have amassed such fortunes without paying some attention to costs and revenues. But, based on the behavior of many of their number, it is reasonable to assume that some owners are in it less for the sake of their bank accounts and more for the sake of their egos. (Or ids, if they get to meet one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriends.)

That is to say that some owners plan to lose money -- whether as a tax write-off against profits made in their real jobs or because they think of their NBA teams like your friend Steve thinks of Sloppy Second-Down, the fantasy football team he’s piloted to no fewer than two championships (in eight tries).

Whatever their respective motivations, not all NBA owners view their teams as profit generators. Which makes the Owners’ (as a group) claim of operating losses all the more flimsy.

But let's say we assume that every owner is running his franchise like a business. There is a second dirty secret that owners don't want exposed: year-to-year operating profit is only one way to make money while owning a professional sports franchise.

Turning once again to my former employer ...

Jerry Colangelo was at the head of a group of investors who, in 1987, bought the Phoenix Suns for $44 million. In 2004, that group sold the Suns to the one directed by the aforementioned Robert Sarver for $404 million. This represents a tidy 478 percent return on investment, even after we account for inflation.

Or take the case of the Suns' Western Conference rival, the San Antonio Spurs. Purchased by Peter Holt in 1996 for $76 million, the Spurs are now (according to Forbes) worth $404 million. The Spurs lost $4.7 million in 2010 (again, according to Forbes), which was an aberration -- it was the first time in eight years that the team lost money. But Mr. Holt must have found solace in the fact that if he had sold his team at market value, he would have cleared around $300 million. On a 14-year investment. Or a little over $21 million per year. Even if his team had lost $4.7 million every year, Mr. Holt would not soon have been caught toting his bindle down the highways of America.

NBA owners are like investors who want their stocks to provide them with dividends and gain value over the long run, but who won't admit to such lofty desires. Instead, they focus public attention on the fact that this year's dividend hasn’t been up to snuff. (Which, as I established at the outset, may or may not even be true.)

The problem, for NBA players, is that NBA owners are far smarter -- and far more united -- than they are. The owners only number 29 (the NBA owns the New Orleans Hornets) while there are between 400 and 500 players. And despite the logic of the above, the case against the owners is a more intricate one than any case against the players, especially when those players are prone to regrettable comments in interviews (recall Latrell Sprewell's infamous remarks about his inability to "feed his family" on $7 million per year) and to spending sprees that leave their financial cushions far thinner than seems possible (the 1998 lockout is rumored to have ended mainly because players were running out of money).

NBA players will probably lose the battle over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This won't happen because the players are less right; it will happen because NBA players are like Congressional Democrats -- not very good at picking the battleground. Instead of pointing out why being an NBA owner isn't like running a soft-drink company, the players will squabble over the accounting methods. Instead of reminding the public that, to owners, some NBA teams are more like trophies and less like revenue engines, they'll bicker over percentage changes in revenue-sharing. And instead of bringing to light the insane capital appreciation an NBA franchise can sometimes generate, the players will argue about Bird rights and rookie pay scales and mid-level exceptions.

But the players' most egregious error will be to fail to remind people who have to pick between billionaires and millionaires that, while they may not be sympathetic characters, they are far easier to root for than men who aren't telling the whole truth about what it means to own an NBA franchise.

-- Paul Shirley is a recovering professional athlete who writes about sports and music. Check out FlipCollective.com, his website for writers, or follow him on Twitter @paulthenshirley.

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Lockout, NBA

During the Pittsburgh Pirates' gut-wrenching 19-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, I found myself shouting at the television. I was frustrated with Pirates first baseman Lyle Overbay -- "Overpay," I angrily called him after yet another out -- and livid with umpire Jerry Meals.

I pumped a fist when second baseman Neil Walker ripped a triple off the wall in right in the top of the first. I roared my approval when newly signed relief pitcher Jason Grilli extricated himself from a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 12th by getting the Braves' Julio Lugo to ground to third.

And I howled in protest when Meals called Lugo safe on a tag play at home in the 19th, giving the Braves a 4-3 victory that knocked the Pirates out of first place in the National League Central.

It was a frustrating, crushing loss for a Pirates fan of more than 45 years. Not long after the game ended and I realized I had sat through every pitch of the six-hour, 39-minute game, it occurred to me that there is something good happening in Pittsburgh if it's OK to get angry and shout at the television while watching a Pirates game.

It's fun again to be a Pirates fan.

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There are people who are now in college who have never been alive to see the Pirates finish a season with a .500 record. Even after that devastatingly difficult-to-swallow loss on Tuesday, the Pirates were still 53-48 and only a half-game out of first place.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and I never quit being a fan, though it was hard to get too excited when for the last 18 years, one of the most anticipated days on the calendar was always the Rule V draft. While teams like the Yankees and Red Sox began positioning themselves for the cream of the free agent crop, the best Pirates fans could hope for was to swipe an unheralded minor leaguer in the Rule V draft every December and hope he would amount to something.

I'd bet a lot of money that most Yankees and Red Sox fans have no idea what the Rule V draft is and when it is held. Believe me, though, Pirates fans know.

It hasn't always been like this, of course. The Pirates won World Series titles in 1960, 1971 and 1979 and also made it to the postseason in 1970, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Some of the game's greatest players have played for the Pirates over that time. When I was a kid, we used to fight over who got to be Roberto Clemente and who got to be Willie Stargell during our wiffle ball games. A normal-sized Barry Bonds won National League Most Valuable Player Awards with the Pirates in 1990 and 1992.

I've loved the Pirates, win or lose, for as long as I could remember. But I'll be honest: I thought it was all over on Sept. 29, 2009.

That day isn't significant in the lives of most baseball fans, but to me, it was a day I needed to reassess my loyalty to what had turned into a sad sack of a franchise.

Earlier that summer, media reports indicated that Miguel Angel Sano, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, wanted to sign with the Pirates. The word was that Sano would be a star. Some scouts were comparing his offensive potential to the great Albert Pujols.

But when Sano signed, it was not with the Pirates, the team that he'd said he wanted to play for and that he'd followed for so long. Rather, he signed with the Twins, who offered him a bonus of $3.15 million. The Pirates' top offer was reportedly $2.6 million.

To me, that was the day I needed to take a moment to assess whether I even wanted to be a baseball fan anymore. The Pirates had preached about developing their own talent and when one of the best young prospects in the game wanted to sign with them, they weren't able to get it done.

This wasn't Mark Teixeira or C.C. Sabathia they were chasing. Signing Sano was a no-brainer, and it was a sickening, sinking feeling to learn Sano had signed with the Twins instead of the Pirates because of a measly $515,000.

If you were a Pirates fan and had any hope after they failed to sign Sano, you're a better person than I.

It couldn't get any lower, until it did a few months later. The Pirates played a three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers in Pittsburgh from April 20-22, 2010. The Brewers won the opener 8-1 and took the second game 8-0. When they won 20-0 in the series finale, it was clear that this was worse than losing out on Sano.

The Pirates fittingly wound up 2010 with Major League Baseball's worst record. And given their luck, there was no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper available with the first pick, as there had been the two previous seasons, when the Pirates drafted fourth and second overall, respectively.

Pittsburgh entered the 2011 season with a mess of a rotation. Ross Ohlendorf was coming off a 1-11 season. Charlie Morton had a 7.57 ERA in 2010. Paul Maholm, the supposed ace, was 9-15 with a 5.10. Kevin Correira, the club's big free agent signing, was coming off a season with a 5.40 ERA.

But though all the trends pointed toward the gutter, the Pirates somehow have found their way into a pennant race. Sometimes, I say that, and I have to repeat it, as if I need to convince myself: The Pirates somehow have found their way into a pennant race.

It's been the most enjoyable baseball season I can ever remember. This isn't the best team in baseball. It's not the best team in the National League. It's not even the best team in Pennsylvania.

But they play hard. They compete on every pitch. They show an exuberance for the game that hasn't been seen in Pittsburgh for years.

Andrew McCutchen has developed into one of the best players in baseball. Neil Walker is among the game's elite second baseman and Joel Hanrahan one of its best closers. Jeff Karstens – yes, Jeff Karstens – is a Cy Young candidate, albeit a long shot.

They dive for balls and fly around the bases. They work the count and foul off an interminable number of pitches. They play every pitch like it's the most important pitch of the season.

The lack of talent is probably going to catch up with them over the final couple of months. The Pirates have a lot of outs in their lineup. It seems almost impossible for the pitchers to keep up this pace. The team can't keep losing guys to the disabled list and act as if it's no big deal.

They'll probably fade and the Cardinals, Brewers and the Reds will battle it out for the National League Central crown.

None of that matters, though. This enthusiastic band of misfits has made baseball fun again.

And I'm no longer afraid to admit I'm a Pirates fan.

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I always told Jeret "Speedy" Peterson that I considered myself a de facto Olympic gold medalist, based on the fact that he won silver at the Vancouver Games and that I had beaten him.

To clarify: I am not a freestyle skier, and the event in which I defeated him was a friendly indoor go-kart race. But never mind that. During some good-natured text banter over several weeks, I assured him my victory that day in San Diego meant I clearly had the mentality of an Olympic champ.

He would respond that I should always remember the day, as such a fluke result would never happen again.

Sadly, he was right on both counts.

Speedy Peterson was found dead in Utah on Monday night in what police are calling a suicide. He was 29. We were not close friends, but we had hung out a couple of times in California after being introduced by Yahoo! Sports editor Lisa Antonucci, who was one of Speedy's dearest friends and confidants. We would always exchange messages when he returned to his base in Utah. For those who don't follow the Winter Olympics, Peterson won silver in aerials last year with his trusted "Hurricane" move. The skiing world is in shock at his loss. So am I.

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In the months that followed that afternoon of go-karting, my mind would regularly flicker back to a conversation we had in a bar just outside Carlsbad, California.

We each had a beer -- mine regular and his the non-alcoholic variety. After repeated troubles with alcohol, he was staying away from the stuff as he tried to get his career back on track. But he didn't want to stick out. He picked the label from the beer and pulled it off, so that no one would see it was alcohol-free.

My girlfriend at the time was with us and the conversation was light and cheery. I was still in a buoyant mood after the karting, even though he had won most of the races and the primary reason for my lone victory was that I put him into the wall on the second corner.

But when the girl took a bathroom break he made a statement that will long stick with me. We were talking about his career, about the mentality of a champion and the feeling of euphoria that comes with success.

His comment which followed broke my heart, and does even more so now.

"My problem is that every time I win something, I think of everything bad that has happened in my life," he told me. "I think of it in a good way I guess -- like having overcome something or proven someone wrong -- but it feels more like a punishment than a reward. I don't have any nice memories that don't make me think of something bad."

Peterson was reportedly sexually abused as a child and led a tortured and tumultuous adult life. In a haunting and beautifully written article by Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan in 2010, Speedy detailed how a friend had committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head while standing just feet away from him.

Speedy had some problems -- not that you would know it from his warmth of personality and winning smile.

But that comment ate at me. Imagine every successful moment, those snapshots of glory that every athlete strives for, being tainted by memories he fought at every other time to suppress.

To me it was one of the saddest things I had ever heard.

Police revealed a suicide note had been found next to Peterson's body on Monday, but the details are being kept private. What I believe is that his memories simply never left him, that no amount of sporting success could rinse those images from his mind.

Not even that special night in Vancouver, when he took silver and tears of joy streamed down his face.

Speedy Peterson is in a better place, a more peaceful one. His finest hour was a second place finish, but given everything he overcame to become one of his sport's very best, he will always be a champion to me.

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Only days after Michael Vick came to Capitol Hill to speak out against cruelty to dogs, Sunday brought a report on a series of acts against dogs that is arguably just as heinous as the dog fighting ring that landed the NFL quarterback in jail.

ESPN's Outside The Lines aired an investigation Sunday into the killing of 100 sled dogs in British Columbia last year after a post-Olympics drop in tourism.

According to prior reports done by Canadian outlets, the killing of the dogs was done for business reasons, and it was not carried out humanely.

"In most cases," reported CKNW radio, "dogs were shot more than once, or had their throats slashed before they were pitched into what is described in the documents as a mass grave. Some were still alive."

But in contrast to Vick's dog fighting ring, which was for sport, the tour company manager who killed these animals apparently did so for purely financial reasons.

"To put down even a single animal is heart-wrenching," a friend of the man told ESPN, "and he didn't want to subject anyone -- he didn't want anybody else to have to go through it."

Most North Americans consider dogs as companions, but there are still communities and even cultures where dogs are thought of as tools -- for fun, for business, and even for food.

Vick has done an admirable job of raising awareness of cruelty towards animals, but to chip away at perceptions built up over centuries, he and others will need to keep speaking out for decades to come.

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It's easy to read into a gesture. After all, simple innuendo is all that's needed to get an indictment these days. The charge doesn't seem to matter, nor do a person's words. There just needs to be some kind of pose to make people respond.

Like Michael Irvin's pose for the cover of Out Magazine. It's provocative, to say the least. It's also quite timely. Irvin works for the NFL Network and the National Football League needs some positive press right about now. The cash talks are coming to an end -- I'll call it a "lockout" when actual games have been cancelled -- but the damage is done. Both players and owners, through egotistical largesse and squabbles over obscene sums of money, have confirmed a chasm-like disconnect from the real world that the rank and file fan has long tried to ignore.

Now is the time for gestures of the most magnanimous kind.

The Playmaker delivers on a real world issue. I applaud Irvin's words, too. His declaration that he would support a gay teammate is heartfelt, I think. Sure, it comes long after the fact, but such a declaration carries weight for the current generation of athletes. Irvin's words are given additional heft by his own brother's homosexuality.

A person's station is inevitably shaped by the intensity of his exposure.

I've had residence in New York's West Village, San Francisco and now in Asheville, N.C. Each of these places is known for its gay community. But that's one of those shallow descriptors that eclipses the true value of a community. They way I see it, the place that proudly flies the rainbow flag is the place that embraces various points of view. That's the place I want to raise my family.

But that's not the only reason I'm writing today. I really wish to discuss Michael Irvin's pose on the cover of Out Magazine. The tiny shoulder pads sitting atop a bare torso, the pursed lips, and the open trousers are suggestive. Exactly what is suggested lay in the eye of the beholder. A willingness on Irvin's part to be perceived as a member of the gay community? Perhaps. A clear display of Irvin's tolerance? Certainly. Or is it just the photographer's whim? My experience in publishing leads me to believe this last one is just as likely as the first two.

Nonetheless I don't think its necessary for a person of one persuasion to co-opt the sensational mannerism of another persuasion in order to be considered credible or sincere. For instance, I wouldn't expect someone like Tom Cruise to demonstrate his support for the black community by agreeing to be done up in black face for the cover of Ebony magazine. Not every black man has African features and not every gay man is overtly effeminate.

Thus, Cruise could make an equally effective statement by merely standing in place as Tom Cruise and saying something like "Some of my most cherished and lasting friendships are with people of color, so their concerns are my concerns."

But sometimes gestures matter more than words, especially when addressing the jock domain.

Football is for some, for many even, the final frontier of manhood. I've spent a lot of time in the company of non-athletic men so I'm loathe to say athletes are any more intolerant than non-athletes. It does seem that athletes are, in general, more uncouth and less subtle about their feelings. But to suggest that athletes have a monopoly on homophobia is at best, a lazy argument.

Besides, Michael Irvin makes the most salient point of all when dealing with sexuality in professional sports: Business trumps all.

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Irvin says when he heard the swirling rumors about Troy Aikman's sexuality, his focus was still on the bottom line. "All I cared about was him being on time with the bang 8," says Irvin. In this context that's a fittingly colorful reference to the skinny post, or "8" route -- the route which was Irvin's bread and butter during his days in Dallas. But he's right. Sometimes it's not about what you can prove, it's about what you know. If you know a guy will always come through at crunch time, this is all the knowledge you need.

Irvin says African Americans should be especially sensitive to the gay rights movement. Where there's shared struggle there should at least be some empathy. Once again he makes a valid point.

But this is where gestures can be confusing. I’m sure that Michael Irvin knows that some people will see the cover and say: "Michael Irvin looks gay." I'm also sure that Michael Irvin knows that while some folks are threatened by homosexuality, there are other folks who are intrinsically threatened by large, black men. As such, both groups need to be made more "approachable" to those who fear them. Humor seems the most popular vehicle to accomplish this. But sometimes, even the best intentions may get lost in translation.

Did you happen to see I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry. For those of you who did not (and consider yourselves lucky), the story is about two firemen played by Adam Sandler and Kevin James, who in order to qualify for insurance benefits, must pretend to be a married couple.

When Larry approaches Chuck with the idea of pretending to be gay, Chuck's response, delivered without humor or irony is: "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." I mention this because this particular level of discourse is aimed at the kind of audience that is lost without such base explanation.

That's not the worst part, though. The worst part is Ving Rhames' character. For those who don't know, Ving Rhames is a very large, dark-skinned black man who often portrays characters who are large, dark skinned black men. This role is no different. Except Rhames is seen by his fellow firefighters as somewhat mentally unbalanced and prone to snap at any moment. Thus they keep their distance from him.

But at the film's conclusion, during the "hey let's accept people for who they are moment," it is disclosed that Rhames' character is indeed a gay man who has led a tortured existence because he was never free to be himself.

The Fire chief, played by Dan Aykroyd -- it still amazes me how they got so many quality performers and big names to agree to such garbage -- says with great relief, "thank God he came to grips with his sexuality before he killed someone."

The message -- aimed at the more frightened members of the audience -- is yes, your fears are justified. The big black, scary man may indeed want to kill you. But it's not because of your refusal to accept the fact a big, black man may also be a dignified human being with complex thoughts and emotions. No, that couldn't possibly frustrate him. That rage you perceive is nothing more than his repressed homosexuality. Why, he's really just a big ol' gay teddy bear. Why, there's nothing to fear after all!

Michael Irvin is a big, dark skinned black man. His open jeans and open mind add another layer to his aura. The folks at Out Magazine have scored on a very significant front. They got a very well-known athlete, one who personifies machismo, to deliver a powerful, unobstructed message of tolerance. There's some artistic license involved, but that's not the worst thing, I suppose.

I’ve seen much worse.

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At 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, six hours behind the medieval burg of Sandwich in County Kent, England, I shall arise in the pre-dawn silence of my Austin home, tiptoe through a sleeping house of golf agnostics and renew my favorite summer TV ritual.

With the illicit delight of a child spying on Santa, I will fire up the glorious high-def at a volume audible only to our border collie. Then I’ll sit in a Moonie-like bliss for four days watching ESPN’s images of blonde, waist-high sea grasses billowing across Royal St. George’s Golf Club, home to the 140th British Open.

No sight in golf, not Pebble’s crashing surf, nor Augusta’s heaving fairways groomed like a Manhattan poodle’s butt, quickens my heart like the first televised moments of ancestral links golf and what the Royal & Ancient would prefer we call the Open Championship. Watching golf’s most intriguing and unpredictable major in the wee-hour darkness feels like the pre-internet days of my childhood, like watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon in black and white. It all feels so distant, old and un-American in the best of ways, even though I’ve now been lucky enough to witness a few Opens and play several of the venues.

Without even seeing the TV you often can hear that this is not typical American golf. Flagpoles are clanging so loudly in the gales they almost drown out the buffeting British trousers and waterproofs. It’s the only golf tournament with its own soundtrack – constant wind. And that’s why I watch.

In good years, with an angry ocean beside them, battered players will limp off a Carnoustie or Turnberry like Vikings returning from a seal hunt. Sergio may even cry!

How does any mortal golfer even sniff par in such conditions? I always marvel at why guys like Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, after playing a lifetime in vicious wind, don’t come to our comparatively tame country clubs in America and shoot fifty-nines with their eyes closed. It must throw them off to be able to hear their nosehairs rustle.

But one would never want to only hear the Open.

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Unless you have experienced the British Isles’ radiant high latitudes – St. Andrews sits about even with Goose Bay, Newfoundland -- it’s difficult to appreciate the invigorating quality of sunlight and air at a Muirfield or Troon. I’ve seen hardened pro photographers all but weep like Sean Connery when describing how their work leaps from the lens at a British Open.

I’ve sat on the stone steps of the Royal & Ancient for hours at a time, mesmerized by simply watching the sky above the 1st and 18th holes at St. Andrews go from Cancun blue to seething mountains of coal, then back again within the hour. (Let’s not discuss the rain just now.) At dusk their luminous storybook towns seem backlit by Hollywood. Rows of red and green pubs – now finally smoke-free from Belfast to London – stand in the pristine light like new boxes of Crayolas.

Unlike in the States, the British Open is often played in a true golf village, a wee dip in the road like Gullane (population 3,700; next to Muirfield) or Sandwich (pop. 6,800) that might vanish were it not for eons-old dunesland between the ocean and the farms that some genius architect like James Braid or George Lowe Jr. turned into a golf sanctuary. I’ve been to high school basketball games that had more people than some of these legendary golf company towns.

On one of my first journeys to Scotland, I teed off at Gullane’s revered championship course, known to locals simply as No. 1, and to my utter dumbfounded glee a young mother, well within her rights, crossed directly in front of the tee box down a communal path with her baby stroller.
“Splendid day for the golf,” she chirped to our enchanted group of Yanks.
We waved and smiled like it was a Macy’s Day Parade, giggling at the thought of the SWAT-team response such a trespass would have caused at a private American golf cathedral. Many of the world’s consensus top-ten links courses are not only open to the public, unlike our Oakmonts and Seminoles, but their trails and dunes are shared with joggers, surfers and mums on a stroll.

Over there golf is more deeply woven into middle-class culture. You see happy mall-deprived teenagers walking to the courses with golf bags over their shoulders. In Ballybunion, Ireland, I once stood in a grocery check-out line and listened to two middle-aged women fervently discuss their golf grips. Top that, Cialis.

I was fortunate to witness one of the most infamous British Opens, the now-legendary Van de Velde Train Wreck of 1999 at Carnoustie, where the humble Frenchman kissed away the title with an epic meltdown on his 72nd hole. Yet, I remember that Open as much for a simple act of kindness. Screwed out of my hotel room just hours before the tournament, an Aunt Bee-like retiree let me sleep in her cozy B&B basement and insisted on making me a splendidly unhealthy breakfast each day, all for a tenth of what the hotel would’ve charged.

The tournament itself is brilliant, from the sing-song introductions by the beloved starter, Ivor Robson, to the iconic blue-and-yellow scoreboard rising above the 18th hole, the refreshing TV commentary of the BBC’s Peter Alliss on ESPN and the eternal quirkiness of evil burns and pot bunkers.

But best of all, though curmudgeons like Dan Jenkins decry their insufficient pedigrees, I love watching the life-changing victories and tragic flameouts of nondescript wonders like Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, Van de Velde, and last year’s surprising winner, South African Louis Oosthuizen.

That they often do not go on to legendary careers means little to me. I like to think that only the British Open’s primal qualities could ever summon up those once-in-a-lifetime performances, that somehow playing on golf’s most natural landscapes, bathed in history, helps even the meek find their inner giant.

Bruce Selcraig is a former writer for Sports Illustrated. Email him at selcraig@swbell.net.

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In Sunday's storybook match between the U.S. and Brazil, it was only logical that Abby Wambach headed in the equalizing goal in the final minute. Not only is Wambach a veteran leader on the team and one of the best American soccer players of all time, but she has a career that perfectly exemplifies the never-give-up attitude the U.S. team has shown historically against the Brazilian squad.

Wambach exploded onto the international soccer scene in 2003 and was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete
of the Year in each of her two first seasons with the national team. In the 2004 Olympics, her extra-time header secured the gold medal for the U.S. team in a win -- over Brazil.

In 2007, she again was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, thanks to an impressive World Cup run during which she scored six goals in six games. What makes the feat even more impressive is the fact that Wambach had to play through pain. In the first game, she had a collision that earned her 11 stitches to her head. Gushing blood, she was screaming minutes after sustaining the injury, not out of pain, but out of frustration that the doctor was taking too long. Within ten minutes, the doctor had stitched her up without local anesthetic and Wambach sprinted back onto the field to help her team recover from the two goals that were surrendered while she was busy receiving medical attention.

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Her physical toughness faced an even larger challenge the following year. In the national team's final match before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wambach collided with a defender, fracturing both her tibia and fibula -- against Brazil.

Fortunately, Wambach learned to be tough at a young age. Raised in upstate New York, Wambach, the youngest of seven children, was often relegated to playing goalie in makeshift pads during family street hockey games. In a Washington Post article, she recalled her four older brothers firing slapshots at her endlessly as well as other torturous scenarios in a variety of sports and roughhouse events.

Despite her incredible durability and courage, Wambach admitted to doubting if she would ever completely recover from her leg injury. Of course, nine months after breaking two bones in her leg, she was back on the pitch. She went on to score her 100th career goal near her hometown in Rochester soon after her return.

Now, she is back on top of the world following her spectacular stoppage-time goal Sunday's match that forced penalty kicks and helped the U.S. earn a spot in the World Cup semifinals. While her recent heroics would have made a fitting cap to Wambach's remarkable comeback, she knows her work isn’t done yet.

Now 30, Wambach is still looking for her first World Cup trophy, and, she entered this tournament nursing an Achilles injury. But as she displayed Sunday, as well as many other times, she still doesn't have any problems throwing her body around to get the job done.

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Headlines scream: Deron Williams signs to play in Turkey! Kobe next?

Are you kidding me? Do you know what these numbers are? 9, 13, 8, 23, 16, 19, 12, 22, 0, 7, 5, 21, 23, 23, 10. Those are the 211 playoff games Kobe has played in the 15 seasons since he came into the league. Add them up, that's more than 2.5 extra NBA campaigns. Throw in preseason affairs (I should say games), a little international competition, and Kobe has played the equivalent of over 18 NBA seasons. He has bad knees, and recently flew to Germany just to secure special treatment from some witch doctor.

And sportswriters/bloggers/broadcasters are buying into this? You've got to be kidding me. The story is dead on arrival. It's a carcass. The vultures have come and gone because there is no meat on the bone.

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Here are 38 things that will happen before Kobe signs to play on a team in Turkey, or anywhere else abroad, for that matter.

1) Istanbul gets an NBA franchise ...
2) Mel Gibson becomes a rabbi ...
3) Obama caught in a love nest with Michelle Bachmann ...
4) Fox News throws a free Prius at every staffer ...
5) Phoenix dust storm proven to have come 14 minutes after Sir Charles ate Tex Mex (totally irrelevant to the 38 things, but still was incredible)…
6) Roger Clemens gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, his name engraved by a syringe…
7) Tim Tebow caught naked on UPorn…
8) Exxon Mobil admits they f%#^$d up again…
9) NHL awards every seventh game of any series to Vancouver ...
10) Celtics, Lakers hold co-family reunion…
11) Eighty percent of NBA players demand marijuana edibles as part of pre-game meals in new CBA ...
12) Phil Jackson returns to coach the Timberwolves ...
13) Tiger Woods fires Steve Williams, hires a stripper to carry his bag…
14) The A.L. wins another 425 straight All Star Games, or was it only 424?
15) "Hallo, my name Inigo Montoya ... you killed my father ... I'll let you go on time served and good behavior" ...
16) Tom Brady goes to the Agassi 'do' ...
17) Terrell Owens becomes a U.S. ambassador, hopefully to a country far, far away without a web connection…
18) Drew Rosenhaus goes with him ...
19) David Stern admits he fixed the Patrick Ewing lottery…
20) Fans swarm preseason NFL games because, you know, there’s no better entertainment value in sports…
21) Al Davis admits he died nine years ago ...
22) Rupert Murdoch admits he tapped Abraham Lincoln's voice mail back when they played AYSO together ...
23) New York realizes it's already sick of Larry David, takes him to dinner with Jimmy Hoffa (okay, this could happen soon) ...
24) Carmelo gets a stop ...
25) Dirk goes Old School, changes his name to Dirk E. Fresh…
26) Kobe decides the whole "Vanessa thing" was a mistake, asks Roy Williams to help him get his ring back ...
27) Sportswriters stop making incredibly tired references about "taking their talents" somewhere ...
28) Dan Snyder of the Redskins stops painting his toenails (yup, he really does, I know someone who's seen it) ...
29) Scottie Pippen changes course again, says Steve Kerr was greatest player of all time ...
30) Frank McCourt wins for Best Owner at the Espy ...
31) LeBron hires me to help him craft grand, all-encompassing mea culpa ... then asks what mea culpa means ...
32) Nancy Grace reveals she was teased relentlessly as a teenager…
33) Kevin Love breaks the high jump record ...
34) John Calipari runs a completely clean program (sorry, Cal, not buying it) ...
35) Jim Buss can't remember hiring Mike Brown, says it must have been a bad dream ...
36) Mitch Kupchak says he loves working for Jim Buss, because Jim deserves to be running the greatest NBA franchise of the past 30 years ...
37) AEG admits they are trying to sell the Los Angeles Kings (take my word for it… they have approached someone I know… but they won’t admit it publicly… YET)…(Parentheses Part 2! Did I actually sneak a news story into this column?) ...
38) Kobe becomes a flight attendant for Turkish Airlines ...

Kobe Bryant will not play for any team in Turkey. Kobe is the Brett Favre of the NBA. He loves the attention. He wants the courtship. He loves the global headlines. It's both narcissistic and strategic. More global headlines translate to more ancillary revenue.

The very accomplished Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports writes: "Bryant loves the European game, loves the culture, and is far more inclined to explore signing overseas than most of the NBA's superstars. Bryant has his arthritic knees of a soon-to-be 33-year-old body to deal with, but he planned to work hard in the gym this summer, and the fairly sparse schedule of a EuroCup League team could hold its appeal."

Operative word "could." But even Adrian must know it will never happen.

At most, Kobe will gather a group of guys and barnstorm a bit to make some money and stay in shape. Play a few games in China, maybe even Japan to raise money for earthquake victims. That would make for a nice story. But Kobe knows if he's ever going to get that Jordanesque sixth ring, he'll need the rest. In fact, a shortened season could help the Lakers immensely, and Kobe knows that better than anyone. He doesn't need the money, and even if he just wants some time away from home, it won't be under contract.

We'll all be eating shish kebob on Thanksgiving before Kobe follows Deron Williams to Turkey, or anywhere, for that matter.

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To many of us, July 4th means a day off, sunshine, the beach, cookouts and fireworks.

To Orlando Cabrera, July 4th means something different this year than it ever has before.

It means a little blue book he takes everywhere he goes: his U.S. passport.

The 36-year-old Cleveland Indians infielder celebrated his first Fourth of July as an American citizen after getting sworn in only a few weeks ago in his home state of South Carolina.

"I love to travel around the world," Cabrera said by phone Sunday from Cincinnati. "I don't need permission anymore. I can go anywhere I want and be welcome. I feel I'm enjoying something this year that is bigger than anything else in the world -- to be a part of this wonderful country."

Cabrera was never ashamed of his native country of Colombia, but traveling was a hassle in ways most Americans can't fathom. It went far beyond the annoyances of dealing with the TSA.

"Being from Colombia, with all the problems and the stuff you hear about drug wars, they're always skeptical, looking for stuff," Cabrera said. "You can never understand why. Why do they have to treat me this way? I wanted to become a U.S. citizen and see how they treat me."

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Cabrera studied hard for his citizenship test in the spring, even practicing the Pledge of Allegiance in the Indians clubhouse before games.

"Even before I took the test," he said, "my interest in U.S. history was great. I read a bunch of books about it. And the story of July 4th, it's incredible. A bunch of guys got together and fought for what they believe. The meaning of signing the Declaration in 1776 -- right now we still believe in what those guys wrote."

Cabrera was granted two games off in late May so he could travel to take the test. He passed. But he said the accomplishment didn't hit him until he was back in Cleveland and that little blue booklet arrived.

"Indescribable," Cabrera said about seeing his name in a U.S. passport. "You get that feeling that the world is yours. That's when everything sinks in."

His first chance to flash his new credentials came on a team trip to Toronto. He said the story of his citizenship status was so widely known by then that the custom officials in Canada knew about it and greeted him warmly when he got to the front of the line.

"It was awesome," Cabrera said.

He worked on July 4. The Indians were home against, of all teams, the Yankees. They beat the visitors from the Bronx, 6-3, with Cabrera getting a couple of hits. So there was no cookout. But Cabera's two daughters, ages 16 and 13, flew up from Miami to watch their dad and be with him afterward. They are already permanent U.S. residents, but Cabrera needs to go through the process of getting them passports as well. That starts this week.

"The opportunities in life are going to open up," Cabrera said of his daughters. "It's going to be incredible for them. I can tell them, 'You can go anywhere you want. Any school, anywhere. It's your future.' "

"I'm really proud, man. Really proud."

Eric Adelson can be reached at adelson@yahoo-inc.com.

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