The Clippers Should Have Boycotted Game After Owner’s Racist Remarks

The distracted NBA team was steamrolled in its Sunday playoff game amid a national uproar over racist comments attributed to owner Donald Sterling


After TMZ released audio of what was purportedly Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments to his girlfriend, his team was scheduled to play a basketball game on Sunday. The circumstances — following wide attention to the audio in which Sterling is depicted admonishing her for associating with African Americans in public, including Magic Johnson — were unprecedented. The players, most of whom are black, had to represent an owner whose allegedly racist views — the team kinda, sorta questioned the authenticity of the audio — were now broadcast to the world. Even President Barack Obama, on the other side of the globe in Malaysia, admonished Sterling for his “incredibly offensive racist statements.”

The Golden State Warriors, to no one’s surprise, crushed the distracted Clippers, 118-97, to tie their best-of-seven playoff series at 2-2. “Watching that game, you just saw the lack of effort,” says former Clipper Marques Johnson, who played for Sterling’s team for three seasons in the mid-1980s, and is now a basketball analyst for Fox Sports Net. “Guys were slow on the defensive rotations. To the trained eye, there was a stuff out there you could see. Trust me, they played, but they really didn’t.”

The Clippers could have done themselves, and the country, a huge favor on Sunday afternoon, and boycotted the game altogether. They were in no mental position to win anyway. They wore their warmup shirts inside out, an admirable gesture of unity. But it didn’t go far enough. “Sometimes the severity of the situation supersedes the notion of ‘the show must go on,’” Johnson says. “Forget about all the sanitized statements. Show the ultimate balls. Don’t play the game. No one would have ever blamed them.”

A one-game forfeit would have sent a historic social message: we won’t stand for the racism that even Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who has famously dodged political discourse his entire career, called “sickening.” And the Clippers would have returned to Los Angeles for Game 5 riding a wave of emotion and nationwide admiration for their principled stance. “It was a missed opportunity,” Johnson says. “The timing was just perfect”

At least, Johnson says, the players should have demanded that Sterling meet with them face to face before the game and explain himself. If his apology seemed sincere, they could take to the court with more comfort. If they sensed insincerity, they’d have even more reason to back out. “The players had all the leverage here,” Johnson says. A five-time NBA All-Star who went to UCLA and spent most of his career playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Johnson says he did not experience any racism from Sterling directly. Johnson remembers the owner’s notorious frugality: during one training camp, Sterling put the team up in a tacky motel. “There was just this pervasive attitude about how he viewed his players,” Johnson says. “He thought of us as property.”

So the racist comments didn’t surprise Johnson, especially since he’s familiar with Sterling’s sordid past. The federal government sued Sterling for refusing to rent apartments to blacks and Latinos; he settled for $2.7 million. Former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor also sued Sterling for racial discrimination, though that claim was eventually dropped.

Now, in his first major test since taking over for David Stern in February, it’s up to new NBA commissioner Adam Silver to come down hard on Sterling. Expect a swift decision, and Silver won’t wilt: unless that tape was somehow doctored — an unlikely story — Sterling will be fined and suspended. Maybe Silver sets Sterling’s banishment from the league in motion.

Such a decision won’t set off much protest. But a Clippers walkout — that would have been remembered forever.

TIME College Sports

NCAA Hypocrisy Strikes Again: Michigan Star Forced To Go Pro

A "student-athlete" who wanted to stay in school now doesn't have that option

If you can stand 30 seconds of soft torture, please watch this advertisement from the NCAA:

The NCAA has been running such propaganda since last year, during big events like the March Madness basketball games. They’ve always bothered me, since they’re nonsensical. How exactly is bureaucratic sports organization headquartered in Indianapolis a “spirit-squad” for college athletes going on job interviews? I was an NCAA athlete back in the late 1990s. Where were my cheerleaders when I bombed several inquisitions? Well, that was a long time ago. So maybe this pom-pom thing is a new development.

Or is this some kind of metaphorical message? Since you played college sports, and learned teamwork and confidence and other qualities, you’ll be more prepared for real-life events like a job interview? Yeah, OK, whatever. A good ad should require no decoding.

But the key, really, is the end of the ad, when the narrator says that the NCAA is “always there for student-athletes.” We’ve got your back, the NCAA is saying. That’s a bold, strong proclamation.

Too bad it’s not true.

Consider the case of Michigan basketball star Mitch McGary. During the Wolverines’ run to the title game in 2013, the then-freshman emerged as a force, averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds in the NCAA tournament before Michigan fell to Louisville in the final. He had shed twenty pounds during the season, and had a kind of goofy, lovable-lug way about him. One of his teammates told a story: While heading to a shootaround in New York City before a game, everyone noticed that McGary wasn’t on the team bus. Turns out he got stuck in a hotel elevator, which gave the team more reason to razzle the rookie: His weight caused it to stop.

But McGary was able to laugh at himself, too. He was just a college kid. And despite his NBA potential, McGary seriously considered remaining in college next year. NCAA, dispatch the spirit squad. The whole point is for these “student-athletes” to stay in school, right?. Instead, McGary is off to the NBA, against his will, thanks to the draconian policies of the NCAA itself.

A back injury limited McGary to just eight games this season. He missed the NCAA tournament. After Kentucky knocked Michigan out of the tournament in the Elite 8, writes Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports: “McGary was contemplating whether to enter the NBA draft or return for his junior season. Coming back would allow him to prove his back was fine and continue enjoying life in Ann Arbor. His play could bolster his NBA draft stock. It was an attractive option.”

But then he got some news: McGary had failed a marijuana drug test during the tournament. And even though he did not play during any of the games, under NCAA rules, he would have to miss all of next season. As Wetzel explains, if Michigan had administered the test during the regular season, and McGary tested positive, he probably would have missed three games under Michigan’s punishment. But since the NCAA takes over the testing during the tournament, McGary is subject to the NCAA penalty: a full-year ban for a first-time offender. For using a recreational drug growing more legal and accepted by the day.

The NCAA denied Michigan’s appeal. But then, right after reaffirming McGary’s one-year ban, the NCAA itself changed the punishment for future first-time offenders, reducing it from a one-year ban to a half-season ban. “Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation,” the NCAA said in a statement. But the new policy goes into effect on Aug. 1. And the NCAA declined to apply the new standard to McGary.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”


In his interview with Wetzel, McGary took responsibility for his mistake. He smoked marijuana while hanging out with friends in March—usually, he says, he turns it down. He had passed every other drug test Michigan gave him over two years. McGary may have gone to the NBA regardless of this incident. But what should have been a minor, embarrassing suspension for next season turned into a ridiculous one-year ban, and left him no choice.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”

So if the NCAA refuses to apply common sense to its enforcement system, the least it can do is stop running those ads. Because they’re blatantly hypocritical. And I’d rather not throw a shoe at my television.


The 2014 TIME 100: The Athletes Matter

The five athletes on this year's list exemplify excellence, perseverance, and a pioneering spirit.

Whether you’re in the stadium cheering like crazy for them, or sitting on the couch screaming in disbelief because someone just pulled off the seemingly impossible, great athletes can inspire you. They can move you. Sometimes even to tears.

The influence of the five athletes in the 2014 TIME 100 extends far beyond the playing field. Jason Collins, center for the Brooklyn Nets, finished the 2013-2014 NBA season averaging 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. Despite the unimpressive stats, he’s a pioneer. This year Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in a major U.S. sports league. “Jason has always maintained that he’s first a basketball player,” writes Chelsea Clinton, Collins’ Stanford classmate, in the TIME 100 issue. “He is. But he’s also a leader and inspiration.”

Richard Sherman, of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, isn’t just the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL. His smack-talking rant during a post-game interview, immediately following the NFC championship game, sparked a national conversation about race, stereotyping, and sportsmanship. Critics were quick to label the dreadlocked star a “thug.” But Sherman, a Stanford grad raised in Compton, Calif., engaged in the debate — most athletes flee social questions — and wondered if that term is really today’s way of calling him the N word. In a heartbeart, Sherman altered the discourse.

Serena Williams is back on the list — she last made the TIME 100 in 2010 — which is a testament to her staying power. Williams is still the number one player in the world. Remember, years ago, when skeptics wondered if she was focused enough on tennis, given her passion for fashion and other interests? Plenty of tennis stars burned out. Serena remains a dominant force — and a joy to watch.

“Serena is a warrior,” writes her friend, Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. “An aggressive and competitive nature combined with passion, drive and skill make her a formidable and fierce opponent.”

The young golf phenom Lydia Ko, who turns 17 today, has the potential to help grow the women’s game around the world. “She is responsible for sparking increased interest in our sport not just in her native South Korea and adopted homeland of New Zealand but also among juniors across the globe,” writes eight-time LPGA player of the year Annika Sorenstam.

Around a billion people watched the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Soccer’s influence exceeds its beauty. This summer in Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal — the world’s best player — will try to lead his country to its first-ever appearance in the championship match. “I wish him the best this summer at the World Cup in Brazil,” writes Pelé. “But if Portugal goes to the final against Brazil, I’m sorry, Cristiano, but I want to Brazil to win.”

Pelé will be cheering. And the world will be watching, enjoying the kind of shared cultural experience that sports, and sports alone, can deliver.

TIME Athletes

Meb Keflezighi’s Boston Marathon Win Is a Victory For Us All

Meb Keflezighi crosses the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Jim Rogash—Getty Images

A year after the Boston Marathon bombings, the immigrant American's victory sends a strong, symbolic message to the perpetrators of that awful event

One year ago, two young immigrant men, fed up with the American way of life, allegedly terrorized the Boston Marathon. A year later, an old — by marathon-running standards — immigrant who has totally embraced his adopted country won the historic race, thrilling everyone in attendance. On the first running of the Boston Marathon since last year’s bombings, Meb Keflezighi is the perfect man for the moment.

The message this victory sends to the bombers is not subtle: Screw you. You squandered your opportunity, your chance at the American dream — which still exists, thank you. You blew it. This could have been you.

Keflezighi became the first American man to win a Boston Marathon since 1983. No one gave him much of a chance, given his age — he will turn 39 next month — and the reality that since 1991, a Kenyan has won the race 19 times.

But Keflezighi has surprised skeptics before. He won a silver medal in the Athens Olympics marathon in 2004, and in 2009 became the first American to win the New York City Marathon in 27 years. That win kindled a tortured debate about “real” Americanism; a CNBC.com commentary, entitled “Marathon’s Headline Win Is Empty,” said that “the fact that [Keflezighi] is not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement … Nothing against Keflezighi, but he’s like a ringer you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league.” Comments on a running site included: “Give us all a break. It’s just another African marathon winner” and “Meb is not an American – case closed.”

Yes, Keflezighi was born in an Eritrean house with no electricity. But his family fled that country’s war with Ethiopia when he was still a young boy. “I ran my first mile here,” Keflezighi told me in a 2012 interview before the London Olympics, where he finished fourth in the marathon. “I didn’t know the sport was an option in Eritrea.” He ran cross country in grammar school and high school in San Diego, and at UCLA. He’s a product of the American running system.

CNBC.com, for its part, apologized after the flap. But all questions about Meb Keflezighi’s Americanism have surely been answered by now. Especially on this day. Last year, Keflezighi attended the race, but did not run: he left only about five minutes after the bombs went off. “When the bomb exploded, every day since I’ve wanted to come back and win it,” Keflezighi said afterwards, via USA Today. “I wanted to win it for the people of Boston. It’s beyond words.”

He doesn’t need them. A year later, Keflezighi’s win speaks louder than any bomb ever could.

TIME College football

A Coach Is Cleared of Child-Porn Charges, but His Ordeal Drags On

Minnesota State–Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner mostly observed practice and did not take an active role, April 18, 2014, in Mankato, MN.
Minnesota State–Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner mostly observed practice and did not take an active role, April 18, 2014, in Mankato, MN. David Joles—Zumapress

In 2012, Minnesota State-Mankato's head football coach Todd Hoffner was charged with two felonies for photos of his own kids after a bubble bath. Now, with his name cleared and his job back, things still aren't "normal"

Todd Hoffner, the head football coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, a Division II school, can still recall that night he spent in jail. It was August 2012, and he had been arrested and charged with two felonies: using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work, and possession of child pornography. That June, Jerry Sandusky had been found guilty of sexually abusing young boys while an assistant coach at Penn State. Colleges were on red alert, on the lookout for any sort of inappropriate contact between coaches and children.

But Hoffner knew his university—which had placed him on leave after a technician found videos of naked or partially clothed children on his Blackberry—had overreacted. And that the authorities had arrested him under false pretenses. “There was shock, fear, and I gradually worked myself towards resolve,” Hoffner says. “I set two goals for myself as I sat in that jail cell. I wanted to be exonerated from the criminal charges, and vindicated by my university.

“Now, it’s a clean sweep,” he adds. “Mission accomplished.”

Todd Hoffner is not a child molester. The videos on his phone were those of his own children. In dismissing the charges against him three months later, a judge labeled the videos “playful and silly.” They were taken after his kids, then ages 9, 8, and 5, had taken a bubble bath. And for the first time in two seasons, Todd Hoffner will coach the Minnesota State-Mankato football team this fall.

But Hoffner’s road to reclaiming his job, and reputation, was a borderline nightmare. And where Hoffner’s career—and the Minnesota State-Mankato football team—goes now will depend on how Hoffner, the school’s leadership and the players on the team react and adapt to circumstances that, even in the already weird world of college sports, are almost unprecedented in their awkwardness.

Because without Hoffner on the sidelines, Minnesota State-Mankato went 24-2 the last two years under interim coach Aaron Keen, and made two appearances in the Division II playoffs. Hoffner may be vindicated. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be embraced. “No doubt, there are a lot of emotions on both sides,” says Minnesota State-Mankato athletic director Kevin Buisman, who hired Hoffner in 2008. “I don’t think anyone knows what’s normal now. And it’s going to be a little while until we can define normal, or experience normal.”

Although the child pornography charges were dismissed, Minnesota State-Mankato suspended Hoffner for 20 days, then reassigned him to an administrative role. In May, Hoffner was fired for undisclosed reasons. The Mankato Free-Prees revealed that, according to an arbitrator’s report, the school accused Hoffner of viewing pornography on a work-issued computer and also allowed his wife to use the computer. Hoffner denied viewing pornography, and the arbitrator noted that other people could access the computer. The arbitrator also ruled that the use of the computer by Hoffner’s wife was not grounds for firing, and ordered the school to reinstate Hoffner as coach and repay him, with interest.

In the meantime, Hoffner had accepted a position as head coach at Minot (N.D.) State back in January. “We were down to our last few hundred dollars,” he says. “They gave us an opportunity to feed our family.” But the Hoffners had roots in Mankato, so they decided to accept his reinstatement. “The whole ordeal was the ultimate test of toughness,” Hoffner says. “Given all we went through, I think a lot of people would have surrendered.”

Hoffner returned to Minnesota State-Mankato last Tuesday. But on Wednesday, his players refused to practice, as a show of support for Keen. “That took us by surprise,” Buisman says. “We definitely turned to crisis management mode.” Says Hoffner: “The players wanted to have a voice, wanted to be heard. They were showing their loyalty to coach Keen. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

On Thursday, the players held a team meeting with Hoffner. Keen has a more personable, player-friendly coaching style than Hoffner—and over the past two seasons, that approached paid off on the field. “The overriding question from the players was, are you going to adapt to us, or are we going to adapt to you?” Busiman says. “And coach Hoffner acknowledged that it would be foolish to upset the apple cart.”

The players have returned to practice, with Hoffner doing more observing than coaching. They’ve pledged their support for Hoffner, who says he plans to meet with each player one-on-one. For now, Keen is the associate head coach, though given his success leading the Mavericks over the past two years, he’ll be scooped up as a head coach elsewhere, at some point.

“The situation is still tenuous,” Buisman says. “There’s no guidebook how to handle something like this.”

It’s public record: Todd Hoffner got railroaded in the post-Sandusky era. Minnesota State-Mankato probably wasn’t on your college football radar screen for September. Now maybe the Mavericks should be. They’ll be an easy team to root for.

TIME FInal Four

The Shabazz Show Wins Title for UConn

Connecticut celebrates with the championship trophy after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game on April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.
Connecticut celebrates with the championship trophy after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game on April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. David J. Phillip—AP

Senior shooting guard Shabazz Napier's 22 points helped lift the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies to a 60-54 victory over the eighth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, bringing the team its fourth national championship since 1999

Thousands of basketball-obsessed kids, in schoolyards and backyards and barnyards around the country, may be trying a new kind of shot come Tuesday morning. It’s a deep one, and comes with a kick, literally: release, and kick your right foot out, like you’re also whacking an invisible soccer ball. Call it the Shabazz Shot. It just won UConn a national championship.

Shabazz Napier, the UConn senior shooting guard, scored 22 points, and hit four key three pointers — most with that signature kick — to lead the seventh-seeded Huskies to a 60-54 victory over eighth-seeded Kentucky in Monday night’s NCAA title game. His backcourt mate, junior Ryan Boatright, also had a fabulous game, shooting 5 for 6 from the field and finishing with 14 points. Napier and Boatright outscored Kentucky’s backcourt, twin freshman Aaron and Andrew Harrison, 36-15.

Just as important, Napier and Boatright used their size disadvantage to their advantage. The Harrison brothers are both 6-ft, 6-in. Napier is 6-ft, 1-in., and Boatright is listed at a generous 6-ft. Big guys don’t like being pestered by smaller, quicker players. UConn’s Kevin Ollie, a national champ in his first NCAA tournament as head coach, scripted a smart game plan: unleash the quickness of Napier and Boatright on Kentucky’s taller guards. The Harrisons turned the ball over 7 times. Both Napier and Boatright finished with three steals.

The game wasn’t a classic. But it was a chess match. In the first half, when Kentucky clearly couldn’t stop the quickness of UConn’s backcourt, Wildcats coach John Calipari switched to a zone. The move stalled UConn, which dominated Kentucky in the first half, but only had a 35-31 lead at halftime. Calipari admitted his team should have been down 20 points. The play got a bit sloppier in the second half: combined, both teams turned the ball over 23 times. Ollie made his moves in the second-half: almost all game, his team played man-to-man, but when he threw in the occasional zone, Kentucky got flustered. Kentucky’s James Young kept slithering into the lane, keeping the Wildcats in the game almost by himself. The freshman—all five of Kentucky’s starters are freshmen—finished with 20 points.

The game was also decided at the foul line: Connecticut, money from the line all tournament, shot a perfect 10-for-10. Kentucky missed nine shots, finishing 13-24. Calipari screwed up in the final minute, ordering a foul with 54 seconds left, with Kentucky down 58-54. All that did was give UConn a fresh 35-second shot clock, enabling the Huskies to run the time down the rest of the game.

No matter: the game was still the Shabazz show. Napier, who hails from Roxbury, Mass., returned to UConn this season instead of entering the NBA draft, and is on track to graduate with a sociology degree. He’s developed a social conscience: after telling reporters that he sometimes goes to bed hungry because his scholarship does not cover the full cost of attending college, Connecticut lawmakers started chirping about allowing UConn athletes to unionize. A bit of political pandering by the statehouse reps? Maybe. But at least he started a discussion. And after the game, Napier grabbed the CBS mike to deliver a message to the NCAA. “I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier told a national television audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us last year.” The NCAA kept UConn out of last year’s tournament because of poor academic performance by prior players. Napier used the national championship platform to publicly express his disgust with that policy.

You may not agree with Napier. But it’s still refreshing to see college athletes like him lifting their voices. And their feet. Start kicking, kids.


You Should Root for UConn Over Kentucky Tonight

UCONN vs Michigan State Elite Eight
Ryan Boatright of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after a turnover by the Michigan State Spartans in the second half of the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City. Elsa—Getty Images

It's all for glory tonight as Huskies and Wildcats square off in the NCAA title game. The backcourt battle between the two top-seeded teams is also a college hoops culture clash: The kids who stayed in school versus the ones likely off to the pros

Oh, you’ve got love this Cinderella* final. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, never before have two lower-seeded teams met in the national championship game. Monday night’s title game is a dream matchup between two underdogs* who have charmed the nation.

* Never have the terms “Cinderella” and “underdog” been more of a misnomer. They’d normally apply to much lower-seeded teams. But when the seventh seed is UConn, a team that won a national title just three seasons ago, has won three national titles since 1999 and is a perennial power, and the eighth seed is Kentucky, the winningest college hoops program in history that starts five freshman who may all be playing in the NBA next season, let’s cease any and all pluckiness talk.

In tonight’s title game, homing in on the guards is key. They’re important for both the on-court result and what they say about the tensions surrounding college sports. Kentucky starts a pair of freshman twins from Texas, Aaron and Andrew Harrison. In back-to-back games, Aaron Harrison has hit two of the gutsiest three-pointers you’ll ever see, first stabbing the heart of Michigan in the Midwest regional final, then winning the national semifinal game against Wisconsin with another huge three-pointer in the waning seconds. To borrow a phrase from our pal Bill Raftery, the kid’s got some serious onions.

But UConn’s own backcourt, senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatright, have stepped up their defensive game during this tournament run: can these elder statesmen thwart the rookie twins from Kentucky? On Saturday night, Napier and Boatright shut down Florida’s two highly regarded guards, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbeken, the SEC Player of the Year and master of penetrating into the lane, scored just four points on 2-9 shooting, and recorded a single assist. Frazier, a three-point specialist in the mold of a Ray Allen, sank his first three of the game. It was his only one. He only got off two more shots from downtown, and finished with a measly three points.

The backcourt battle is also a college hoops culture clash — the kids who stayed in school (Napier-Boatright) vs. the ones likely off to the pros (Harrisons). Some experts are saying that Kentucky’s tournament run has really helped the brothers’ draft stock. Both Napier and Boatright considered heading to the pros after last season, but decided against it: the title game is a pretty sweet reward.

Boatright’s journey to the championship, in particular, represents college sports in all its craziness. I wrote a magazine feature on Boatright in 2007, when he was just starting ninth grade, because he was at the forefront of a disturbing trend: college coaches recruiting and offering scholarships to kids at younger and younger ages. Boatright was a curious case: USC coach Tim Floyd offered him a scholarship in eighth grade, even though Boatright was only 5-ft., 9-in., and 138 lbs. Boatright and his family gladly accepted the offer. It’s one thing to try to lock-up a man-child. But Boatright was a ninth-grader who actually, you know, looked like a ninth-grader.

Boatright picked his college before he even picked his high school. Recruiting experts scratched their heads. “What am I supposed to do?” Floyd, now the coach at the University of Texas-El Paso, told me at the time. “Should I wait until another school offers and then come in? I can’t do that. Because they’re going to say ‘Well, you’re late.’”

After meeting Boatright back in September of 2007, if you would have asked me to make a bet, right then and there, on his future, I would have wagered against him living up to the hype. He needed muscle, and some serious rotation on his jump shot. As I wrote, “Boatright [is] a bright, personable kid with a supportive extended family worth rooting for.” But gosh, he was so small — not surprising, considering he was 14. And all that pressure – failure almost seemed predetermined.

But Boatright came across unfazed. “I like the pressure,” said Boatright during our conversation, noshing on a chocolate long john at Dunkin’ Donuts before a Saturday-morning shoot-around. “I feed off it. I hear all the negative stuff, I just add another workout. I’ll make them feel stupid in the end.”

I’ve never been happier about being stupid. “He knew that, as a little guy, he had to work even harder,” says his grandfather, Tom Boatright, during a phone interview from Dallas, where he’ll attend his grandson’s championship game. Tom Boatright, who runs a track club in Aurora, helped train his grandson from an early age. Floyd resigned as coach of USC in 2009, after Boatright’s sophomore year of high school, amidst allegations that he gave $1,000 in cash to a middleman who helped steer current NBA player O.J. Mayo to the Trojans.

“After Floyd left, we just didn’t know if the new coach was even interested,” says Boatright. Ryan decommited from USC, but since he met, and maybe even exceeded expectations in high school, offers from plenty of big-time programs came pouring in. Boatright committed to West Virginia early in his senior season, but backed out after coach Bob Huggins signed another point guard. Eventually he decided on UConn, who went on to win the national championship.

In the end, Boatright, who now checks in at 6-feet, 168 pounds, was too good for USC. But his UConn career got off to a rocky start. The NCAA suspended him for six-regular season games for an infraction involving accepting a plane ticket while playing AAU ball. Then he had to sit three more games after the NCAA said he and his mother received additional improper benefits. When he was on the court during the 2011-2012 season, he and Napier, a year older, clashed.

“My freshman year, it was tough,” Ryan Boatright said on Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports reports. “I was used to having the ball all the time and making plays, and scoring the ball. Naturally as a kid, I was immature. You come in and you think it’s all about you. I grew up and, Shabazz will tell you, he wasn’t the best leader at that time. He had some stuff he had to work on. We bumped heads a lot. Both of us being from inner cities, and being tough guys, we ain’t back down to each other. We had some rough practices.”

Then UConn was put on academic probation and barred from playing in the 2013 tournament. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun retired. Boatright, however, never seriously considered transferring. In January, Boatright’s cousin, Arin Williams, was shot to death in Aurora. They were like brothers.

“It’s just been such a long, tough journey,” says his mother, Tanesha, unable to hold back her tears during a phone interview from Dallas. “During the lowest moments, he was the one giving me encouragement.” When Boatright committed to USC in eighth grade, Tanesha was taken back by the criticism: that she was hungry for money, rushing her son into a major life decision. “After hearing the commentators and critics, it’s a relief to know I wasn’t a crazy mom,” says Tanesha, a single mother of four.

Boatright texted Tanesha just this morning, telling her to relax and smile. “Shouldn’t I be the one doing that?” Tanesha says. On offense, Boatright learned to accept his supporting role to Napier, the team’s top scorer. “Batman can’t function without Robin,” says Tanesha. “Even though Ryan’s not Batman, there are a thousand people in this world wishing they were Robin.” Boatright, who Tanesha says is on track to graduate, could still wind up leaving a year early for NBA riches. However, he’d probably benefit from a senior year of seasoning, out of Napier’s shadow.

But no matter what, Boatright conquered the early pressure, stayed in school longer than many pro prospects, and fought through setbacks and tragedy. If UConn’s upperclassman beat the hotshot frosh tonight, forgive this stupid spectator for giving a little cheer.

TIME March Madness

The Only Final Four Drinking Game You’ll Need Tonight

Patric Young
Florida center Patric Young dunks during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. David J. Phillip—AP

It's a good time to be a sports fan as we prepare for today's big Final Four games: UConn vs. Florida and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky. To celebrate, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but don't forget to drink responsibly

Final Four parties are super fun. The games are played on a Saturday night, so unlike, say, parties for the Super Bowl, you don’t have to worry about work in the morning. And they’re also a celebration of something more: the best few weeks of the sports calendar. College hoops is about to crown a champ, baseball’s getting into the swing of things, the Masters is coming up, the NBA playoffs are approaching, the NFL Draft is in the foreseeable future. It’s a good time to be a sport fan, tax season be damned.

So, to help prep for today’s big games — Florida vs. UConn at 6:09pm EST, and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky at 8:49pm, both on TBS — and celebrate your good sports fortune, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but please do so responsibly. Obey all local drinking age laws, don’t overindulge and take a cab ride home if need be.

Here are TIME’s rules for a Final Four drinking game:

1. The first time Florida’s Michael Frazier makes a three-point shot, imbibe. It shouldn’t take that long: Frazier can catch fire quickly. Against South Carolina in early March, Frazier sank a school-record 11 three-pointers: this season, he led the SEC in three-point percentage field goal percentage, shooting at a 44.7% clip. He also led the SEC in an even more important stat, true-shooting percentage, at 65.1% (true-shooting percentage is an efficiency measure that takes into account three-point field goals, two-point field goals, and foul shots). Frazier models his work ethic after Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers: on game days, he’ll launch upwards of 400 shots to get in rhythm.

2. Every time you hear the word “student-athlete” in an NCAA commercial during the games, drink. The NCAA has a habit of running propaganda ads during big events, touting how the organization is like a spirit squad for “student-athletes,” has the backs of “student-athletes,” etc. Drink now, cause that term may soon be disappearing. According to the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, “employees” is the more appropriate name for college athletes — at least for football players at Northwestern.

3. Every time UConn star Shabazz Napier makes an outside shot with a defender harassing him — the kind of shot that makes you say “noooo, what are you doing?” – and that shot goes in anyway, chug away. Napier’s an expert at making the “holy s–t” shot.

4. Choose which mascot TBS will show first in each game. Pick one, and drink if you’re correct. I’ve got Albert E. Gator and Bucky Badger.

5. The first time an announcer mentions that UConn coach Kevin Ollie played for 11 different NBA teams during his 13-year career, start double fisting.

6. For CBS, the Final Four has traditionally served as one big promo for its upcoming coverage of the Masters, which starts next week, on April 10. So even though the games are being broadcast on TBS this year, the networks are partners on NCAA tournament coverage. You’ll surely hear the soothing Masters piano – “ding, ding, ding, ding,” — that accompanies the Masters plugs. So each time you hear the Masters theme song, dream of azaleas and Amen Corner and all the mythical beauty of the Augusta National, and take a few soft sips. You’ll have a healthy buzz.

7. Sip every time TBS shows Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan scowling on the sideline. Like this. Or this. Ryan’s always been a first-class all-tournament scowler.

8. Kentucky has reached the Final Four with five freshman starters. Michigan, led by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, was the last team to win this much with five rookies, back in 1992. That Michigan team was christened “The Fab Five.” So during Kentucky-Wisconsin, the first time you hear a “Fab Five” reference from one of the announcers, you know what to do.

9. Ever since the NBA set a rule in 2005 essentially mandating that players spend a year playing college ball before entering the pros, Kentucky coach John Calipari has done a better job than any coach in the country of recruiting a collection of talented freshmen, molding them in to a championship-caliber team, and shuttling them to the NBA. So the term “one-and-done” is now stuck to Calipari’s suit. When the TV cameras show Calipari, and someone says the words “one-and-done,” you will drink.

10. Wisconsin’s most intriguing player is seven-footer Frank Kaminsky. His game, and personality, are a little quirky: Kaminsky can fool you with his awkwardness, as he’s just as comfortable firing threes as he is posting up around the basket. And he was always a bit of a class clown, earning the nickname “Frank the Tank” a decade ago, in homage to Will Ferrell’s character in the movie Old School. So when someone mentions “Frank the Tank” on Saturday, you may have to pull a Frank the Tank yourself.

But seriously, be careful. Don’t end the night like the original Frank the Tank did. Because on Final Four Saturday, you don’t want to miss the drama. If we’re lucky, Florida-UConn and Wisconsin-Kentucky will treat us to two classics. Let’s all raise our glasses to that.


What The Northwestern Football Union Means For College Sports

Kain Colter, Ramogi Huma
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, right, speaks while College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma listens during a news conference in Chicago, Jan. 28, 2014. Paul Beaty—AP

On the surface, a union for football players at Northwestern seems like a limited development. But thanks to new precedent, and some union-friendly state laws, college athletes could start banding nationwide.

A collection of college football players at Nothwestern University and other high-profile schools, fed up with a system that enriches people involved with the game but not the actual talent on the field, started a solidarity movement last September. They wrote the initials APU — All Players United — on their wristbands during that week’s games. Just six months later, that seemingly quaint gesture could go down as a milestone in the escalating fight over how to define and compensate big-time college athletes.

On March 26, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees of the university and thus have a right to unionize and fight for better health care coverage, larger scholarship funds and other benefits (Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback leading the school’s union charge, says ”pay-for-play” salaries are not on the agenda). “The players now have moral high ground, and momentum,” says Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “This was a landmark decision for the future of college athletics.”

And it was an easy one. NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr reached a logical conclusion: a prior ruling disallowed Brown University graduate teaching assistants from forming a union due to the academic nature of their work. Thus, football players — who don’t read books in front of 80,000 delirious fans on Saturday afternoons — have full-time jobs, Ohr decided. Coaches aren’t professors. You get no course credit for sweating through practice.

The ruling, that scholarship football players recruited to Northwestern are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, is limited in scope as it stands. The NLRB only regulates private institutions, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I teams are dominated by big state schools. In this year’s Sweet 16, for example, only two schools – the University of Dayton and Baylor University — are private. Of the 128 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), just 17 — or 13.2% — are private. And since the NLRB is treating scholarship aid as player compensation, should a cut of player scholarships go to the government?

Northwestern will appeal the ruling to the full NLRB board in Washington, but experts say the ruling is likely to stand. “I think the regional director’s decision is a sound one,” says William Gould, a Stanford law professor who chaired the NLRB from 1994 to 1998. “I expect the board in Washington to uphold it.”

Expect the union movement to expand. Athletes at public schools are subject to state labor law, and Gould points to California as a union-friendly state for athletes. California’s student-employee test, for example, asks: are the services rendered related to the student’s educational objectives? As the NLRB ruling — and common sense — point outs, scholarship football players aren’t tackling opponents in a classroom. The services rendered are related to a school’s economic objectives. So players may be called employees.

Players at, say, UCLA, could make a strong case. “There’s definitely an opening in California,” says Gould. “I think athletes at public schools there would have an easier case than the Northwestern students.” The bigger question, says Gould, is whether more players want to unionzie. Northwestern’s players have yet to officially vote to form their union.

Players in Michigan and Florida can also make strong claims for employee status and the right to unionize, according to a 2012 paper published in the Buffalo Law Review, “A Union of Amateurs: A Legal Blueprint to Reshape College Athletics.” Historically, Michigan has been favorable to student-worker unionism. Paper co-authors Nicholas Fram and T. Ward Frampton write about Florida:

As a “right-to-work” state with only a 3.1% unionization rate in the private sector, Florida might seem an unlikely candidate to pioneer collective bargaining in college sports. But the Florida Constitution enshrines collective bargaining for public employees as a fundamental right under Florida law, and in the public sector, a full 27.8% of Florida workers are covered by union contracts. The robust constitutional and statutory protections afforded public workers under state law, coupled with the dramatic profits earned from Division I football in Florida, create a favorable playing field for college athletes seeking to unionize. But perhaps most importantly, the idiosyncratic history of disputes over the “employee” status of students on Florida campuses has established legal precedent extraordinarily favorable to student-workers. As a result, “the rights of graduate assistants to bargain collectively — and perhaps, by analogy, the rights of college athletes to do the same—“are now more secure in Florida than in any other state.

And if athletes at Florida negotiated more favorable benefits, officials in Alabama, which currently gives college athletes no constitutional or statutory right to collectively bargain, could face pressure to tweak state law in order to compete for recruits. The potential ripple effect, state by state, is real.

For college athletes, finally, that’s a pretty sweet deal on the table.

TIME Baseball

Here’s Why Baseball Will Be More Exciting This Year

In an era where star pitchers are allowing fewer big hits than ever, teams must squeeze out runs any way they can — and that means baseball's runners will be stealing the show

Another Opening Day has arrived, and baseball’s 2014 story lines are set.

Among them: The Red Sox going for a repeat. The Los Angeles Dodgers outspending the New York Yankees — the New York Yankees! — and counting on a transcendent star, Yasiel Puig of Cuba, to carry them to their first World Series appearance in over 25 years. Speaking of the Yanks, this is Derek Jeter’s last go-round. You may hear a fair amount about this development throughout the season.

But here’s why I’m more excited about the 2014 baseball season than any in recent memory: we’re going to witness a much quicker game. N0t quicker in the sense of two-hour finishes. Baseball will always be languid, take it or leave it. Pitchers aren’t getting a shot clock.

Here, I’m talking about speed as in really fast players on the base paths, looking to roll the dice and swipe a base or two. Stolen bases create great theater. Will he or won’t he go? Is the pitcher playing some kind of mind-game? The runner’s off … the catcher throws to second, bang-bang. Safe or out?

If a stolen-base threat stands on first, you don’t want to leave your seat.

Back in the 1980s, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals built championship teams around speed. Hits pinballed around turf fields, and players like Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines and Vince Coleman flew across the carpets. The 1982 Cardinals led the National League in stolen bases, with 200. (They would have led the majors, but the Oakland A’s had 232, because Henderson himself stole 130 bases in 1982, still a major league record). The Cardinals hit a league low 67 home runs.

They won the World Series.

But during the 1990s, base-stealing started becoming a lost art. More teams built bandbox ballparks. So instead of signing a speedy corner outfielder, they got a guy who could just knock it out of the park. And oh yeah, players also started juicing. In 1998, Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals slugged 70 home runs, three more than the entire 1982 Cardinals team. (The 1998 Cardinals did not win the World Series).

Meanwhile, the fledgling analytics movement figured out that as home runs became easier to come by, the risk of stealing wasn’t worth it. Between 1983, one of the peak years of the speed era, and 2000, the peak of the steroid-fueled home run era, stolen base attempts per game declined by 26%. Home runs per game rose 50%.

But now, steroid testing, and some pretty outstanding pitching, has popped the power bubble. Home runs per game are down 18% since 2000. And last year, teams scored the fewest number of runs per game since 1992. Players struck out at a record rate. Teams must squeeze runs any way they can.

So that’s why the Cincinnati Reds — a team that has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons — have handed their leadoff and starting centerfield job to rookie Billy Hamilton, a player who stole 155 bases in the minors two seasons ago, a new professional record. Hamilton’s mission is simple — get on base, and run wild. He’s not the only fleet-footed player worth watching these days. Eric Young of the New York Mets and Michael Bourn of the Cleveland Indians will swipe their share of bases. As if Mike Trout of the Anaheim Angels wasn’t talented enough, he can also burn up the basepaths. Two seasons ago, he led the American League in stolen bases. Delino DeShields Jr., son of another standout of the bygone speed era, swiped over 100 bases in the Houston Astros organization two seasons ago. He’s another prospect worth watching.

Coleman, now a baserunning instructor in the Astros organization, was the last player to steal over 100 bases, when he swiped 109 for St. Louis in 1987. In fact, he exceeded the 100 stolen base mark in each of his first three major league seasons. “It takes a certain individual to be a base-stealer,” Coleman says. “You have to be egotistical, daring, alert — all in one package. You have to be the kind of guy who likes trying to break into somebody’s house, and not worried about being caught.” So, Vince, ever burglarize someone’s property? “Hey, that’s just the example I use when I give my baserunning seminars,” Coleman says. “You can’t be scared.”

Coleman has some advice for Hamilton. “He has to get his PhD in pitchers,” says Coleman. “Go to school. That’s no B.S. That’s real.” Coleman would keep a notebook, his bible, scribbled with a pitcher’s tendencies, his tells. He can still recall some to this day. When Bruce Hurst, Jim Deshaies, Zane Smith and Rick Honeycutt set their feet shoulder-length apart, they were going home. And Coleman was headed for second. “Dissect all the pitchers,” says Coleman. “Find their flaws. It was my craft.”

Hamilton, who is the subject of a profile in this week’s issue TIME magazine, says he’s heeding Coleman’s advice. “I study a lot of pitchers, now more than I have in the past,” Hamilton says. During his call-up to the big leagues last September, Hamilton relished the additional resources available to him. “When they had those scouting reports laid out, it was like, Wow, this is amazing,” Hamilton says. “We didn’t have this in the minor leagues. You were mainly on your own.”

Right now, baseball’s in a pretty healthy state. (Must be, if the Tigers can give Miguel Cabrera a 10-year, $292 million contract). Revenues have reached record levels. For small market teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, coming off their first winning season and post-season appearance, since 1992, and the Kansas City Royals, who also had a rare winning record last year, there’s more hope than usual. But to me — and more importantly, a younger generation of fans — there’s still something missing. Some kind a cultural buzz around the game.

To correct that, a little thievery will go a long way.

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