By Mark Bechtel
April 13, 2005

Idiot of the Week: Gonna have to be the Inter Milan fans who starting throwing flares onto the field during yesterday's Champions League game against AC Milan after an Inter goal was disallowed. One hit Milan keeper Dida in the shoulder, missing his face by about 6 inches.

While failing to maim the Brazilian, they did succeed in getting the game abandoned, and there certainly will be calls to ban them from European competition for a year or so. (In fact, there was one from an irate Tommy Smyth on ESPN2 right after the game.) A good look at the incident and its backdrop can be found here.

Apparently, three years ago Inter fans tried unsuccessfully to launch a burning scooter from the upper deck. How they got a scooter into the game is something of a mystery to me, as is the thinking behind their decision to immolate it.

A few weeks ago Chucky Atkins made a crack about Kobe Bryant being the true GM of the Lakers. There's no denying Bryant has a ton of influence, and purists look at that as further proof that sports are heading straight down the ol' commode. "Why can't these guys just go out and play, like they did in the old days?" they'll lament. "Back then, guys never tried to play front office." Maybe that's true, I don't know. (Perhaps they were too busy going out and bedding 25,000 women to meddle in personnel matters.) But face it: In this day and age, an owner would be remiss if he didn't let a superstar at least think he's calling a good number of the shots.

Look at Cleveland. Without LeBron James the Cavs are a 15-win team, if they're lucky. Zydrunas Ilgauskas would be triple-teamed every time he touched the ball, freeing up Drew Gooden to shoot 53 times a night. They'd draw absolutely no one -- would you pay to see an Ira Newble-Eric Snow backcourt if you weren't also getting to watch the next Jordan?

Dan Gilbert paid $375 million for the Cavs a few months ago. Take LeBron out of the equation and that team is worth barely half that. (According to Forbes, the team was worth $223 million before LeBron showed up.) You're telling me he's not listening to what the kid thinks? I can't believe Gilbert fired Paul Silas without knowing that LeBron would be okay with the move.

If we are to believe the New York papers, LeBron is unhappy with the way things are progressing in Cleveland and if they don't shape up soon, he'll look to engineer a move to, perhaps, the Big Apple -- a move that would force Nike to pay him even more money. (Apparently the swooshers have to pony up more cash if he plays in New York, L.A. or Boston.) Do I believe LeBron is thinking of leaving? No. It's a bit early for that. John Paxson is all but gone as GM when the season is over, and the new guy is going to have to find LeBron some perimeter scoring help.

The team has become almost unwatchable. Brendan Malone's idea of an offense is having four guys watch while LeBron shoots off-balance 24-footers. James spends way too much time with the ball in hands. Why play Snow if he's not going to bring the ball up the floor? So we can watch him clang 14-foot jumpers off parts of the rim the ball should never touch?

As for the identity of the new guy (and the new coach), you'd better believe they're both going to be wearing the LeBron James Stamp of Approval. If it takes hiring his mom as GM to keep him happy, I say do it. Gilbert would be stupid not to listen to him -- if he loses James, his investment is ruined. Say what you will about players meddling in front office affairs. It might not lead to the best moves, but if it helps avert one terrible move (namely, losing a franchise player), it's worth it.

I took interest in Jermaine O'Neal's comments that the NBA's desire to introduce an age limit is racist. He was on ESPN2 Tuesday night clarifying his remarks, and it was a bizarre interview. A large part was Greg Anthony putting words in O'Neal's mouth then saying something along the lines of, "Is that what you meant?" And then O'Neal would say, "Exactly."

O'Neal, who said his original remarks were overblown, doesn't believe David Stern's desire to implement an age limit is racially motivated; but he did point out that the overwhelming majority of players who would be affected by it are black. He said that sports such as baseball -- sports with more white players -- go after young kids all the time and no one says boo about it.

An age limit effectively would force kids to go to college and, to put simply, some kids -- white and black alike -- just aren't cut out for school. So an age limit is putting them at a distinct disadvantage. What the league needs is a place for kids like that. The NBDL should, in theory, be just that, but it doesn't work out that way. The league needs a true minor-league system, like baseball's, in which the NBA teams stock a farm team or two with players. If that were to happen, there'd be a way into the league for an 18-year-old who isn't as skilled as, say, LeBron.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of respect for O'Neal for taking the league to task and for going on TV to defend his position, even if he skirted a question or two.

I'm watching Baseball Tonight as I write this, and John Kruk and Harold Reynolds are breaking down Albert Pujols' swing. They're standing on their fake home-plate set; Reynolds has a bat and is mimicking Pujols as Kruk stands by and explains it all. This one of the more peculiar trends in sports broadcasting: the interactive studio host. NFL and NBA guys do it, too. I don't know if it's something about former players having trouble letting go of their pasts or what. But whatever the reason, it's kind of strange. Maybe if it happened with media coverage of other industries, like entertainment, it wouldn't seem as jarring.

Perhaps E! could have a show on which Kevin Dillon and Eric Roberts broke down actors' styles. They could review The Ring Two, with Dillon standing there with his eyes wide open like that little kid as Roberts goes, "He lives and dies with that look. And look how an occasional full-body shudder can convey an extra touch of spookiness." Or they could break down Brando in The Godfather, with Dillon telling us, "See how Eric's putting cotton in his cheeks. That's what Brando did to nail down Don Corleone's speaking style." And Roberts could make some crack about how on more than one occasion he's awoken after a night out feeling like he had a whole bale of cotton in his mouth, then throw it back to the desk.

Stay classy.

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