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After R.A. Dickey’s most recent performance on Monday, the phenomenon is no longer a fluke. No longer a stroke of luck. No longer a temporary fortuity of the erratic and eccentric knuckleball. Dickey is just that good. 42 and 2/3 innings without an earned run and two straight one-hitters with more than 10 strikeouts have vaulted him into the early pole position for the NL Cy Young Award, and all statistical indications (see: opponent’s batting average, BABIP, ERA, etc.) are that his domination will continue. The Mets knuckleballer has now punched his card to an exclusive cadre of pitchers — a fraternity consisting of legends such as Orel Hershiser, Don Drysdale, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson — that have not allowed an earned run for more than 40 consecutive innings. So, it’s now time that we acknowledge that Dickey has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, a ruthless mercenary whose dancing knuckleball makes major league hitters swing and miss not by inches but sometimes by entire feet.

The knuckleball is an illusory enigma. A mystical antithesis of what a pitch should be. A dark art of sport. Unlike other pitches that use spin from the pitcher’s hand to create movement, the knuckleball literally creates its movement by its lack of movement.Yes, it moves because it doesn’t move. That’s philosophically terrifying and sounds like it was written by some nihilistic, pot-smoking hipster. Because the knuckler turns less than a quarter of a rotation on its 60.5 foot trek from the mound to home plate, the vortices of the baseball’s seams latch onto invisible chutes and ladders in the air; unseen wind currents and airflow variations that conspire to shake, twist and turn the ball in an asymmetric motion as if in an earthquake. R.A. Dickey himself described it as “trying to hit a butterfly in a monsoon.” Each movement of the knuckler depends upon and is altered by the previous movement, essentially making it the sport equivalent of the butterfly effect. So, what happens when a knuckleball flaps its wings in Queens? Not a hurricane in Myanmar or a tornado in Oklahoma, but groundouts, flyouts, lots of strikeouts and many confused faces. Carlos Peña recently said, “With this, you have no idea what the ball is going to do. If it goes up, you think, OK, it’s going to come down. But no, sometimes it would sail way up. Another one would go up and then it would dive straight down and hit the dirt. It’s like a roller coaster.”

If thrown incorrectly, the knuckleball can also be the easiest pitch to hit in baseball. If it doesn’t knuckle, it becomes a 75 mph beachball. Basically the All-Star Game Home Run Derby in a real game. Imagine kidnapping a random, reasonably athletic man off the streets of New York and telling him to take the hill against the Phillies. Could he even get one out? Probably after a few balls get hit right to the defense, but not much more. That’s what it’s like for a knuckleball pitcher to throw a ball that doesn’t knuckle.

Much has been written recently about the life story R.A. Dickey, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail. But he’s survived a lot, including scourges such as sexual assault at the hands of a female babysitter as an eight-year-old and a brush with death in the undertow of the Missouri River. After becoming the #1 draft choice of the Texas Rangers in 1996, he was told he did not have an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and lost the vast majority of his signing bonus. I’ve read excerpts from his book, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, but cannot wait to read the text in its entirety. It’s an unbelievable story that Dickey discovered the knuckleball just in time to resurrect his career from the ashes of past failure. Undoubtedly, he’s intelligent enough to have found a career after baseball. But to be able to fulfill his dreams on the fluttering wings of a knuckleball is a story that is meant to be told.

R.A. Dickey has shown that pitchers on their last legs (or elbows, as the case may be) should consider learning to throw the knuckleball. It’s absolutely astounding that he, after the retirement of Tim Wakefield, is the only pitcher in MLB to throw the pitch, and his story could provide rationale for guys like Carl Pavano, John Lackey, Jeff Suppan or Mark Buerhle to take the leap. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work, but the potential reward could be another decade of pitching and making money. Even if there were 50 MLB pitchers who threw the knuckler, batters would never learn to adjust. The pitch is so unpredictable and dynamic that even major league hitters could not actually learn to hit it as they can a curveball, slider or splitter. You simply cannot learn something that changes on every single repetition. R.A. Dickey knows it, and he’s got one of the greatest runs in pitching history as proof.


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Despite his #4 ranking, Tiger Woods proved in dramatic fashion on Sunday why he is still the greatest golfer on the planet. He birdied three of the last four holes at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village en route to his 73rd PGA Tour victory, which tied the career total of tournament host Jack Nicklaus. The defining moment came on the 16th hole when he launched a perfectly struck flop shot out of deep rough towards a downward-sloping green. For most, it would have been a prayer, one of those shots that you hit knowing that the most likely outcomes are leaving it short in the rough or blading it into the eagerly awaiting water. But when the ball dropped in the right side of the cup, it was blissful nostalgia for Woods’ fans, an affirmation of his incredible skill and a reminder that he still has the ability to dominate.

No doubt, it reminded the other players of the hegemonic reign of terror he presided over in the 2000s, a competitive dystopia of Woods’ creation that swiftly annihilated golfers’ dreams of victory and paid real-life homage to Curt Richter’s behavioral despair test, more commonly known as the forced swimming test. For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, the macabre experiment from the 1950s that I somehow remembered from 12th grade psychology class basically puts rats in an inescapable bowl of water and forces them to swim until they give up. The first time through, the animals swim for an average of 15 minutes before giving up and drowning. But, half of them are saved, only to be put through the same experiment a second time. These rats, having already been rescued once, now swim for much longer, some for up to 60 hours, before drowning. The experiment tells us that animals, and thus humans, exert more effort for something they think is achievable and give up when they feel beaten. There could not be a more perfect analogy for the hopelessness that Woods’ competitors showed for years. Watching challenger after challenger fade from the moment in the pinnacle of Woods’ career was eerily reminiscent of Richter’s perverse experiment and astonishing at the same time.

Count me among those who does not care what Woods did in his private life. I admire my father and grandfathers as strong men who devote themselves to working hard and loving and supporting their family. I admire Tiger Woods as a golfer. There’s a huge difference, and anyone who confuses the two may as well tell their father that he’s a failure because he’s not a professional athlete. It makes no sense and I could write a novel on the misguided notions that make people look up to athletes as authorities on life and morality. Despite Woods’ mistakes in life, he remains one of my all-time athletic idols and always will. But I digress. A lot.

Woods’ victory also made me think about the difference between a single victory and the pursuit of an all-time record. When you’re attempting to win a competition, a large part of your motivation is derived from negative feelings toward the opponent. But what happens when you have been so far ahead of your competitors for so long that you can no longer dislike them? Anger is an indecisive emotion. It can be a destructive, vitriolic force that turns even the most mild-mannered person into a heinous beast. It can also be a powerfully seductive weapon that narrows vision, increases focus and improves performance. Anger draws a fine line in the sand. It repels those who can’t control it and allows only the most savvy and disciplined athletes to breach its border and mine the potential gold that lies within. As a result, Woods’ pursuit of two nearly indelible records — Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories and Nicklaus’ 18 major wins — has to be difficult. Having mercilessly beat so many opponents in his career, Woods is now truly competing against only the all-time records. While he undoubtedly would love to have both of them, the motivation is no longer as immediate. Has that sentiment tempered his lust for victory? Only he knows. For my part, I don’t think so.

Woods’ hole-out on the 16th today was one of the greatest shots ever. Even Nicklaus called it “the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen.” And despite Woods’ many accomplishments through the years, he still has something to prove. He is not the traditional athlete that peaks and then fades into obsolescence. For a decade, he was the golf equivalent of Atlas, a celestial Titan who carried the golfing heavens upon his shoulders. But finally, he was crushed by its weight and his own infidelity. Because of this, Woods now has more critics to disprove, a renewed dedication to the game and more competitors to crush.

His opponents best take notice. The days of easy victories are over, and to win from now on, opponents once again will have to go through Tiger Woods. At the upcoming U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, just like Richter, he’ll throw them in the water and wish them luck. I hope they can swim.

I recently rewatched an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” from 2009 featuring an interview with former Chicago Bears quarterback and ’85 Super Bowl Champion Jim McMahon. In the interview, McMahon explained that effects of concussions sustained in his playing career were now affecting his everyday life, including walking into a room in his house and not remembering why. Playing through pain is a source of pride for football players, but McMahon now says that the players were not informed of the potential consequences of repeated head injuries. Other high-profile players have admirably come forward and admitted similar things, including Tony Dorsett and Terry Bradshaw. It’s scary to contemplate what it would be like to be lost in your own brain, caught in a violent maelstrom of confusion and uncertainty. Maybe the mind becomes a disjointed collage of past memories that don’t fit together as they should. Maybe it would be like waking up from a dream that you desperately want to remember but can’t. Maybe it’s much worse.

This morning, the sports world woke up to news that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been suspended for the entire season by the NFL for his part in the New Orleans’ bounty program. Hours later, the news was rendered irrelevant after news broke of Junior Seau’s tragic suicide. Still, the eerie juxtaposition of these stories must be acknowledged. Vilma’s former coach, Gregg Williams, was shamefully immortalized after audio leaked of him casually uttering the icy phrase, “Kill the head and the body will die…kill Frank Gore’s head…we want his head sideways.” Given attitudes like this, its no surprise that concussions are rampant in the NFL. At this point, opinions regarding Seau’s mental state are pure speculation. However, anyone who would be shocked if autopsy results show brain damage would be either naive, stupid, or Gregg Williams. As we continue to learn more about Seau’s untimely death in the coming days, it will be fashionable for NFL fans and television cognoscenti alike to condemn the NFL’s lack of attention to the subject. However, in the last few years, the league has undoubtedly heard the clarion call to protect its players from themselves. Most will still claim that it is not enough.

If Seau’s death is ruled as a suicide caused by depression or CTE, it will represent the first suicide of a player that starred during my life. This generational gap meant that the implications of the deaths of Dave Duerson, Tom McHale, Andre Waters, and more recently, Ray Easterling, mostly eluded me. I understood what it meant to older fans who witnessed those players in their primes, but the thought that it could happen to players who I grew up watching, for some reason, seemed unlikely. The signs of impending disaster were there, reflected in the frightening accounts of former players like Ted Johnson, but for the most part, the worst kind of tragedy had been confined to earlier generations. However, given that today’s players are bigger, faster and stronger than they were decades ago, the problem may get worse. As players I grew up watching and admiring retire and attempt to lead normal lives, their brains could be ticking time bombs.

The larger issue to address here is future accountability. Although former players like McMahon and the nearly 200 others who are participating in the lawsuit against the NFL have the right to demand accountability for the lack of action in the past, the more important concern is who will be responsible for prevention in the future. It certainly will not be the fans. Fans of the league champion the cause of concussion prevention in the offseason, but when September arrives, we all fall into the same trap, leaping up from the couch for every bone-crushing, brain-shaking hit. Of this, I’m as guilty as everyone else, so I certainly can’t suggest any sort of fan boycott. It’s so easy for fans to forget about destructive hits minutes after they happen, but for the players involved, the effects can linger for days, if not much longer. As I said, the NFL and its owners have taken some initiative to improve matters, including changing rules and imposing fines and suspensions. But, altering the foundation of the game too much could prove disastrous for one of the most powerful and influential brands in the world.

Both the NFL and its fans have too much to lose if the game is fundamentally changed. This leaves a simple line of logic to contemplate: who stands to gain financially by improving player safety? Riddell. The helmet manufacturer has provided head armor to the league since 1989 and currently has a contract in place that runs through 2014. In the last five years, it has shown a commitment to creating helmets better able to absorb the crushing pressure of a hit, and recently was awarded 5-STAR (Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk value) ratings for two of its newest designs by an independent Virginia Tech study. If Riddell continues to make progress, the game of football could retain its physical nature while providing players with the protection that they desperately need. If not, the NFL and its billion-dollar brand must take ownership of the problem by developing new technologies internally. The league has the financial resources to commission elite engineers and product designers yet continues to outsource the responsibility to Riddell. Although Riddell is a respected brand, at some point the decision must be made to go in a new direction.

Although most of the players I grew up watching are still functioning normally, it seems inevitable that many of them will suffer the same fate as their predecessors. However, if the NFL can make an unwavering commitment to helmet safety and technology, hopefully the next generation of football fans can enjoy watching their favorite players live a full life after football.

Jackie Robinson“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid? That is the only time a man can be brave.”                 – George R.R. Martin

At 1700 Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn, NY, a small plaque is barely visible on the corner of the blighted facade of a high-rise apartment building. It reads, matter-of-factly, “1962: This is the former site of Ebbets Field.” A cluster of overgrown bushes seems to intentionally shroud the marble plate, sheltering the simple reminder of the historical magnitude of the site from the class inequality, poverty and crime that today consume these blocks.

The phrase on the plaque is so terse, so abrupt, so unceremonious–almost an affront to the sacralized history of the ballpark. One wonders if a local petty thief stole an adjacent relief plaque bearing Robinson’s likeness and a longer version of the story. That didn’t happen, but perhaps such a memorial has never been erected precisely because it would be stolen.

In the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, there’s no cinematic end. No museum to commemorate the Brooklyn Dodgers. No reference to Jackie Robinson, who on April 15, 1947, broke the MLB’s color barrier at Ebbets. Not even a baseball field across the street. Just a low-rent high-rise epitomizing the urban decay of Brooklyn. flanked by more rows of the same–an infinity mirror of tenements and poverty.

Despite what some may say, it’s not shameful that the area has become this way. The site is of massive significance, but today’s residents have no duty to honor the site’s august past. Although today’s concrete descendant of Ebbets Field may not endow the proper respect that the site deserves, Major League Baseball has for years taken the initiative to remember the momentous victory that Jackie Robinson achieved that day – a day that occurred more than a decade before the Civil Rights movement even began to enter the consciousness of the public. When Robinson trotted out to 1st base that day in 1947, he entered terra incognita, embraced inherent danger, and overcame his own internal fears. The day occurred seven years before Brown vs. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks took a stand by taking a seat, 10 years before the Little Rock Nine were brought to school by a military escort, 16 years before “I Have A Dream,” and 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is simply astounding. His bravery was truly a symbol of racial comity and moral fortitude before its time. Robinson did not want to become a martyr, but accepted the possibility.

Robinson endured a fusillade of racially charged insults that would make a normal human being lash out. He never did. True to Manager Branch Rickey’s estimation, Robinson never cracked despite his insides boiling with resentment. It’s a profound story of heroism and something that needs no embellishment. It can be told without hyperbole to any child who asks why every player in baseball wears #42 for a day. One aspect of the story often glossed over is the role of religion. Rickey and Robinson connected over a shared passionate Christian faith. This faith led Rickey to not just look for a player to break the color barrier, but a player who could do so while adhering to a strategy of non-retaliation. The strategy was inspired by Gandhi’s model of nonviolent dissent and foreshadowed the role of peaceful, direct-action protests in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Rickey’s plan required more than athletic ability. It required a saintly arete and a willingness to turn the other cheek amidst fire –as Jesus put it, to “resist not evil.” In Rickey’s initial proposal to Robinson, he famously quipped that he was looking for “a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Robinson prayed every night for the strength to continue, endowing himself with the faith that God’s Providence would protect.

Robinson influenced society not only by wielding a baseball bat but also a pen. He maintained epistolary contact with every American president from 1956 to 1972, imploring each, sometimes combatively, to match his own courage and to seize the opportunity to intervene in the moral history of the nation. Perhaps his most explosive line was written in 1958 to President Dwight Eisenhower. It simply read, “17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait for the hearts of men to change.” Baseball provided Robinson with the pulpit to effect change, but only through his bravery, intelligence and perseverance did he truly give life to that potential.

Cultural diversity remains a defining aspect of Major League Baseball, but its survival now seems perilous. Baseball continues to lose traction with inner-city youth despite pouring millions of dollars into inner-city development programs. These programs provide salutary benefits to many children but are of a more participatory nature than their Caribbean and Latin American counterparts that actively recruit elite athletes. The programs do help some black youths reach high levels of the sport, but the intent is very different from the league’s goals in Latin America.

Going forward, the league must not leave this problem to posterity. It should augment its current participatory model, begin to allocate a portion of inner-city expenditures to developing high-level baseball players and enable them to compete against other elites. It would be a tragedy if one day soon, Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day without a single African-American competing. Ebbets Field may have met a cruel demise, but with the proper attention and investment, Jackie Robinson’s great contribution to baseball will not follow the same path.

1991 was one of the most historically transformational years in recent memory. The USSR collapsed, creating a patchwork of 15 post-Soviet states, some so obscure that we shortcut-seeking Americans refer to them simply as “the Stans.” Operation Desert Storm was launched, precipitating the deterioration of U.S. relations in the Middle East. Stateside, Magic Johnson announced that he had acquired the HIV virus, sending shockwaves through the sports world and destroying his star like a supernova.

1991 also gave us the greatest World Series ever played. Kirby Puckett was immortalized after his epic Game 6 performance against the Atlanta Braves, which included a gravity-defying snare over the plexiglass fence of Ron Gant’s deep fly ball, and of course, the historic 11th-inning shot to left-center that gave the Twins a 4-3 victory and spawned Jack Buck’s iconic, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night!” call. As a sidenote, if you haven’t already seen this, check out the video of Joe Buck, in one of the most eerily serendipitous moments in sports history, honoring his late father by making the same call, in the same game, in the same inning, one day away from exactly 20 years later. Game 7 was just as memorable, with Jack Morris throwing a 10-inning shutout in one of the greatest and most clutch pitching performances ever.

Even though I lived in Minnesota at the time, I was five years old, and to put it simply and tragically, didn’t care. It wasn’t until about 1995 that I really became a Twins fan, which gave me the privilege to grow up in Minnesota during the glory years of Ron Coomer, Pat Meares and the briefly-promising Marty Cordova. Pure legends of the game. From 1993-2000, the Twins averaged 66 wins per year (would have been more if not for the 1994 and 1995 strike-shortened seasons). I distinctly remember attending a game with my grandpa around that time where we bought upper-deck tickets and immediately proceeded to walk to our new seats on the third-base line.

Another time, my dad and I went to an interleague game with the sole purpose of watching Mark McGwire in the midst of the great steroid-fueled home run race of 1998. When he stepped up to the plate, the venerable Bob Tewksbury began throwing what appeared to be fly balls towards the plate (which apparently is known as an Eephus pitch), forcing McGwire to ground out twice. Unfortunately, YouTube has no footage of this game, but here’s an example of how the pitch looked. In the past, Tewksbury has called this pitch “the dominator.” Needless to say, 12-year-old me was horribly disappointed.

Attendance dropped and interest waned so intensely that in 2002, the Twins were nearly contracted by Major League Baseball. Facing almost certain condemnation, stars like Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie resurrected the franchise by reaching the ALCS in 2002, a story which still gives goosebumps to dedicated Twins fans. The team went on to win five more division titles from 2003-2010, but each renewed hope brought more despair. All five post-seasons ended in the ALDS, four to appease the insatiable bloodlust of the Yankee gods, amounting to a grand total playoff record during that chimerical span of 2-15.

It could be worse. I could be a Pirates or a Royals fan. But then again, I’m not a believer in the old adage “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” To steal a line from Seinfeld, I would prefer a “barren, sterile existence that ends when you die” to repeatedly falling for the same old ruses of love and lust. The Twins making the playoffs qualifies for the same treatment. It may sound fatalistic, but every year that the Twins took the field in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Evil Empire, the inevitable was being cruelly postponed. Even my apotropaic attempts to change the outcome — mainly turning off the TV or putting on a new shirt — proved to be in vain.

The 2011 season began with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both nursing injuries. Morneau was still recovering from a 2010 concussion, and Mauer had “leg fatigue” or something like that. I really don’t remember, probably because I’ve tried so hard to forget. The season never looked promising, and it was punctuated by a torturous “20-year anniversary of the 1991 World Series” celebration. Reminded me of that part in The Hangover where Alan (Zach Galifianakis) says, “We don’t remember anything from last night. Remember?” Yes, I remember how I was five at the time, and I also remember how I don’t remember…but thanks for reminding me. Brutal.

Hopefully the Twins’ current 2-7 start will be a distant memory in a few weeks, but I’m not holding my breath. As the old saying goes, “Things may not be looking so good when Carl Pavano is your Opening Day starter.” Maybe I just made that up, I don’t know. One thing is for sure though, at least Minnesota fans can still count on Ricky Rubio…next year.

Luck is one of the most difficult concepts in the world to explain. At times, it can imply coincidence, fortune or destiny. Other times, it can signify adversity, hardship and cruel inevitability.

Good luck can be Cupid, a capricious but well-meaning trickster that arranges a chance meeting. Bad luck can be a Siren, a salacious femme fatale that tempts our emotions but ultimately betrays our trust.

It can be fickle, mercurial and whimsical. Above all, it is unpredictable. One thing I would like to see before I die is the face of someone who just realized that they won a huge lottery jackpot. It would be a tremendous mix of disbelief, shock and terror.

If I won, I wouldn’t leave the house for weeks to avoid anything that could potentially kill me. I wouldn’t even eat. The amount of paranoia I would have would make John Nash feel like a carefree hippie. I think that’s why it usually takes lottery winners so long to come forward. They’re not consulting wealth advisers or deciding whether to take the lump sum or annuity. They’re cowering in a corner in an instinctual effort to survive. Speaking of the lottery, this woman’s lawyer may be the most gullible man in the world. That’d be a great new series of commercials for Dos Equis.

The recent Mega Millions jackpot got me thinking about an annual rite of summer in the NBA; the team that defies the odds and moves up to the #1 or #2 pick in the draft. In the last decade, only twice has the worst team in the league actually ended up with the #1 pick, Cleveland in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando in 2004 (Dwight Howard). This fact lends credence to the NBA’s weighted lottery system, which has severely limited the effectiveness of late-season tank-a-thons. That being said, here is a list of the most fortunate teams of the last decade:

2002: Houston moves up from #5 to win the top pick, selecting Yao Ming and going on to some successful seasons before his 7-6 body gave out. The biggest storyline of this upset, in my opinion, was Golden State missing out on Yao. The Bay Area had an Asian population in 2002 of about 1.3 million. Yao would have ignited this fan base and created a revenue gold mine for the Warriors in California and Southeast Asia.

2003: Cleveland, with the league’s worst record, won the lottery and selected LeBron James. Detroit, who owned the rights to Memphis’ top pick, moved up to #2 from an expected #6, only to take Darko Milicic. Somewhere, Joe Dumars just woke up in a cold sweat.

2004: Terrible draft overall. #1, Dwight Howard, goes to the worst team, the Orlando Magic. The Clippers move up from #5 to #2, then trade it to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats for the #4 and the #33, which is turned into Shawn Livingston and Lionel Chalmers. Same Lionel Chalmers as this deal involving Marko Jaric and a certain unprotected Timberwolves 1st round pick in 2012 now going to New Orleans. Ouch.

2005: Milwaukee moves up from #6 to steal the top overall pick and takes Andrew Bogut.

2006: Toronto snags the #1 pick, moving up from #5. They select Andrea Bargnani, allowing Adam Morrison to fall into Michael Jordan’s lap at #3.

2007: In theory, the most improbable top two ever. Here’s the math: Portland (5.3% chance of#1 pick) x Seattle (9.7% chance of #2 pick) = .0051 = .51%, meaning that combination would happen approximately once out of every 200 trials. Greg Oden went #1 and perennial MVP candidate Kevin Durant goes #2 to Seattle. Any Blazers can now feel free to stop reading and drink a beer.

2008: The most statistically improbable top two ever, only because of the Bulls 1.7% chance of getting #1 affecting everything else . The Chicago Bulls channel the luck of the South Side Irish to win the Derrick Rose sweepstakes, taking pole position from the NBA-worst Miami Heat. Already with one MVP, the Rose selection could go down as one of the great heists in NBA history. We would all feel worse for the Heat if not for this bombastic monstrosity of a video.

2009: The Los Angeles Clippers move up from an expected #3 to take Blake Griffin at #1. Memphis moves up to #2 from #6 and take James Harden. Wait, they took who? To make things worse, here’s a video of James Harden dunking on Hasheem Thabeet. I bet Thunder GM Sam Presti immediately sent a postcard of this image to Grizzlies’ GM Chris Wallace, simply saying “Thank You.”

2010: Third-most statistically improbable top two of all-time after 2007 and 2008. Washington (10.3% chance of #1 pick) x Philadelphia (6.0% chance of #2 pick) = .0062 = .62%. Washington selects John Wall and Philly takes Evan Turner. Right now, it looks like this luck won’t impact the franchises as much as the 2007 picks.

2011: Not much significant movement, with Cleveland moving up to #1 from #2 and selecting Kyrie Irving.

As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” As a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have dropped in the lottery three consecutive years, I couldn’t agree more. I prepare myself to lose the lottery, and look forward to the opportunity to complain about it afterwards. This year, however, I will not be forced to succumb to the annual vagaries of the ping-pong balls. Thanks to the aforementioned Marko Jaric deal, the Timberwolves have no 1st round pick and will thus spare me the malcontent of another disappointment. Good thing too, because, as one of the deepest drafts in the last decade, Murphy’s law would have struck will unparalleled evil and no remorse.

On Easter Sunday, millions of people around the world watched the world’s best golfers battle for the green jacket and title of Masters’ Champion. Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne even boasted that viewers watched in more than 200 countries worldwide, eclipsing the generally accepted number of 196 nations and meaning that despite the club’s antiquated stance on female membership, it does officially recognize Palestine as a country. Seems to be a step in the right direction…sort of.

The only thing more inflated than Payne’s geographical musings was the stunning length of eventual winner Bubba Watson’s drives. Not only did he prove that he is one of the best players in the world, but also disproved the male notion that pink has no place in the hyper-masculine world of professional sports. While the matte-pink Ping G20 driver that Watson swings may be more evocative of “Hello Kitty” than of toughness and victory, there is more to it than meets the eye. Ping will donate $300 to cancer-related charities for every 300-yard drive that Watson blasts in 2012, and with his current driving average sitting at a tour-leading 309.9 yards, the eleemosynary tee shots could prove to be quite lucrative for the beneficiaries.

Watson’s initiative draws attention to the vastly underappreciated benevolence of the PGA Tour and its players. In the world of sports philanthropy, the PGA seems to take a back seat to other major organizations, but a quick look at its recent history shows a deep commitment to charity on the part of the PGA and its individual players. There are too many examples to list here, but overall, the PGA has given more than $1.6 billion to charity and donated $110 million in 2010 alone. The tour’s operational paradigm makes all this possible. Each event operates independently, which allows the tour to donate millions in net proceeds. The players also support their own, as they prove in this New York Times piece. Maybe most impressive is the story of Ryo Ishikawa, who in 2011 agreed to donate his ENTIRE winnings to earthquake relief in his homeland of Japan. Every single cent…plus $1,000 for each birdie he made, resulting in a grand total of more than $1.5 million.

Still think these guys are a bunch of rich, indifferent country-club types with bulging wallets and vacuous hearts? While the PGA certainly promotes these efforts, the coverage pales in comparison to the other major sports leagues. If LeBron James serves up a plate of spaghetti at a Miami soup kitchen, ESPN sends reporters to cover it round-the-clock. The PGA doesn’t throw its initiatives in our faces, but rather engages in charity out of a sense of altruism, not as an ephemeral corporate strategy to drive viewership. These values are refreshing in today’s world, and make me believe in the PGA and its mission. But, do I believe enough to buy a pink driver if Ping brings it to market? Probably, even if only for the calming effect after another slice into the woods.

Update (April 10th): Ping has announced that 5,000 limited edition pink drivers will be sold starting June 1st. Read more about it on Ping’s website here. I’m envisioning some sort of Wal-Mart on Black Friday scenario. I’ll be the one pushing children out of the way for the 9.5º club.