By DREW OLSON
With reaction to the Ryan Braun decision reverberating through the sports landscape, it was a nice change of pace to have a few diversions during the weekend that did not center on urine specimens.
Here are some non-Braun thoughts:
SHRINKING STAR? After paying homage to the Pro Bowl for roughly 40 minutes, the players in the NBA All-Star Game picked up the pace and made things interesting at the end. (Cynics may say that’s how the regular season operates in the league).
In the end, LeBron James was ripped for passing up a chance to take a winning shot at crunch time. Ripping King James is the most popular pastime among NBA observers. He’s a great player without a title. The Emperor has no clothes. Yadda, yadda, yadda...
I won’t rip LeBron for shrinking at the end of the game, because he played well enough to get his team back into the mix. He didn’t air-ball a three-pointer at the end (Looking at you, Deron Williams). I don’t think James’ turnover was further proof that he is a “choker” who will never “win the big one.”
Since I’m on record as saying that championships aren’t the best way to evaluate players (Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Dan Marino, Charles Barkley, etc..) I don’t jump on the King for that.
But, I’ll still rip him.
LeBron and his compatriots at the top of the pecking order of popularity -- Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose and others -- need to step forward and put the paddles to one of the marquee events of All-Star Weekend. The Slam Dunk Contest -- once a highlight -- has become a joke. With due respect to Jeremy Evans, kids across the country don’t tune in to see a second-round pick from Utah.
The big stars blow off the dunk contest, either out of fear of losing or simple laziness. The league lets them. The fans and viewers have to accept it. As a result, one of the best events on the NBA calendar has become a punch line that folks are looking for ways to punch up.
That’s a shame.
It’s time for the league to take a stand and put some pressure on players to participate. It’d be nice, too, if the players felt an obligation to do so.
I’m not holding my breath...
WEATHERING THE STORM: Until yesterday, I had no idea that the Daytona 500 had never been postponed. I feel for the FOX crew that had to fill time for five hours. And, I feel for the folks who traveled to Florida for the race or spent Sunday watching the track get wet.
They’re going to try again at noon on Monday. But, that makes me wonder -- why wouldn’t they run the race in prime time? The attendance at the track is going to take a hit. But, there has to be a bigger audience -- especially during February sweeps -- at night.
TAKE A SEAT: I thought it was great that Marquette coach Buzz Williams had the fortitude to suspend several players for half of the Golden Eagles’ game against West Virginia on Friday night. Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue missed the first half and Todd Mayo missed the second.
It was great that Buzz did that; it was horrible that the players -- at this point of the season -- did something that prompted the move.
This was a nationally-televised game, with Marquette holding the college basketball spotlight. I don’t know how the controversy played with fans and recruits. No doubt, the impact was lessened by MU’s impressive victory.
But, it impacts the perception of the program.
I don’t think, however, that Johnson-Odom can be considered a candidate for Big East Player of the Year. It was his second suspension for a team violation. To me, that’s a disqualification. Perhaps Jae Crowder will pick up the honor.
The talk of the post-game session was Williams’ impromptu two-step to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” -- which drove the Mountaineers student section insane and brought debris from the stands. Intentional or not, Williams’ dance moves took the focus away from the suspensions, which was probably a good thing.
Marquette now has a double-bye in the Big East and a legitimate chance at a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
TURN BACK THE CLOCK: At the risk of sounding like an old coot, I thought the Academy Awards broadcast last night was flat.
Billy Crystal, regarded by many as a Hall of Fame host, has lost his fastball. The writing was lame and whatever surgery or chemical peel he’s had in an effort to look younger and more vibrant has backfired. He looked waxy and a bit creepy.
Just before the show started, Chris Rock did a quick hit and I know I’m not the only one who wondered “Why isn’t he hosting?”
The Grammys -- which always was considered a lightweight ceremony and award -- has turned into the more compelling production.
The highlight of the night came hours after the stars left the “Chapter 11 Theater” (one of Crystal’s best one-liners, by the way). Jimmy Kimmel showed a bogus trailer featuring dozens of the biggest stars in Hollywood. It was hilarious, and almost endless. It was also better than just about anything that happened during the Oscars broadcast.
TRUE GRIT: I’ve been saying that it’s hard to have a meaningful basketball game in February, but the Badgers’ victory at Ohio State was pretty sweet. Wisconsin battled back, beat a tough opponent on the road and showed that on any given day they can beat any team in the country.
The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. The Badgers will need favorable opponents to get beyond the first weekend.
As usual, they won’t be a team that anybody wants to face.
GOLDEN EAGLES -- at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. Wednesday
BUCKS -- vs. Washington, 7 p.m. Tuesday
BADGERS -- vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m. Tuesday
PANTHERS -- at UIC, 7 p.m. Tuesday
TODAY’S ESPNMILWAUKEE LINEUPS
5 a.m. -- Mike & Mike in the Morning
9 a.m. -- Green and Gold Today
10 a.m. -- The D-List
1 p.m. -- The Scott Van Pelt Show
3 p.m. -- Homer and Thunder
6 p.m. -- ESPN Radio
Simulcasting 540 ESPN
5 a.m. -- Mike & Mike in the Morning
9 a.m. -- The Herd with Colin Cowherd
Noon -- The Scott Van Pelt Show
3 p.m. -- Homer and Thunder
6 p.m. -- The Badger Hour
7 p.m. -- ESPN Radio
Streaming FM 100.5
Broadcasting in Spanish
THIS DATE IN SPORTS HISTORY (FEB. 27)
1874 - Baseball 1st played in England, at Lord's Cricket Grounds
1927 - For 2nd Sunday in a row golfers in SC arrested for violating Sabbath
1955 - Betty Jameson wins LPGA Sarasota Golf Open
1959 - Chicago Cards trade running back Ollie Matson to LA Rams for 9 players
1959 - Boston Celtic Bob Cousy sets NBA record with 28 assists Boston Celtics score 173 points against Minneapolis Lakers
1960 - US Olympic Ice Hockey Team beats USSR 3-2 en route to gold medal
1963 - Mickey Mantle of NY Yankees sign a baseball contract worth $100,000
1973 - Dick Allen signs a record $675,000 3-yr contract with White Sox
1973 - White Sox slugger Dick Allen signs 3-year $750,000 contract
1977 - Judy Rankin wins LPGA Bent Tree Golf Classic
1982 - Dan Issel (NBA-Nuggets), hits on 63rd consecutive free throw
1983 - Jan Stephenson wins Tucson Conquistadores LPGA Golf Tournament
1987 - Mike Conley triple jumps world indoor record (17.76m)
1987 - NCAA cancels SMU's entire 1987 football schedule for gross violations of NCAA rules regarding athletic corruption
1988 - Ayako Okamoto wins LPGA Orient Leasing Hawaiian Ladies Golf Open
1988 - Bonnie Blair (US) wins Olympic 500m Speed Skating in record 39.1
1988 - Katarina Witt (GDR) wins 2nd consecutive Olympic Figure Skating
1992 - Larry Smith, named 9th Commissioner of the CFL
1992 - Tiger Woods, 16, becomes youngest PGA golfer in 35 years
1994 - 17th Winter Olympic games closes in Lillehammer, Norway
FEB. 27 BIRTHDAYS
1902 - Gene Sarazen, Harrison NY, PGA golfer (Masters 1935, US Open 1922, 32)
1933 - Raymond Berry, Texas, NFL hall of famer (Baltimore Colts)
1937 - L Jay Silvester, US, discus thrower (Olympic-silver-1972)
1952 - Dwight Elmo Jones, Houston Tx, basketball player (Olymp-silver-1972)
1961 - James Worthy, NBA forward (LA Lakers, 1988 Playoff MVP)
1966 - Chris Howard, US baseball catcher (Seattle Mariners)
1966 - Pete Smith, US baseball player (Atlanta Braves, NY Mets)
1968 - Loy Vaught, NBA forward (LA Clippers)
1968 - Mike Sullivan, Marshfield, NHL center (Calgary Flames)
1968 - Ron Cox, NFL linebacker (Chic Bears)
1969 - Greg Stevenson, Sherbrooke Quebec, rower (Olympics-11-92, 96)
1969 - Robert Massey, NFL cornerback (NY Giants)
1969 - Willie Banks, US baseball pitcher (Chicago Cubs)
1970 - David White, NFL linebacker (Buffalo Bills)
1970 - Kent Desormeaux, American jockey
1971 - Ivan Robinson, Phila Pa, US boxer (Olympic-92)
1971 - Rich Tylski, guard/center (Jacksonville Jaguars)
1973 - Terence Davis, WLAF wide receiver (London Monarchs)
1974 - Chris Dishman, guard (Arizona Cardinals)
1975 - Duce Staley, running back (Philadelphia Eagles)
1976 - Tony Gonzalez, tight end (KC Chiefs)
1978 - James Beattie, English footballer
1983 - Devin Harris, American basketball player
1984 - Lotta Schelin, Swedish female footballer
1984 - David Noel, American basketball player