Tag Archives: basketball

Think you knew sports in 2016? So why is Putin pictured?

The Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years and LeBron James brought an NBA title to long suffering Cleveland. You know that, but how much do you really know about the year in sports? Here’s a quiz to find out:

Who was happiest that the Cubs broke their 108-year drought and won the World Series?

A. Steve Bartman, who can finally show his face in the windy city.

B. Co-workers of Cubs fans, who no longer have to listen to their long suffering tales of woe.

C. Owner Tom Ricketts, who celebrated by raising ticket prices by almost 20 percent.

How did the Russians get the idea to switch doping samples in the Sochi Olympics?

A. Got tired of seeing Norwegians win all the medals.

B. Figured hacking urine bottles was just as easy as hacking emails.

C. Vladimir Putin knew someone in doping control.

Why did Ryan Lochte appear on Dancing with the Stars.

A. Thought a win would get him the respectability his Olympic gold medals didn’t.

B. Heard the show was big in Rio.

C. Knew that dancing around the cameras was easier than dancing around the truth.

What did they do with the golf course built for the Olympics in Rio?

A. Now the home of the swankiest favela in the city.

B. New practice ground for the Brazilian polo team.

C. Home course for the annual Brazil/Ecuador matches.

Why was the NFL so eager to get a team back in Los Angeles?

A . Jack Nicholson needed something to do after finally giving up on the Lakers.

B. Thought the nation’s second largest metropolitan area deserved the NFL’s second worst team.

C. Roger Goodell thought it might help him break into acting.

Why did Peyton Manning retire?

A. Said Omaha so many times he decided to move there.

B. Decided future better served by singing annoying jingles in TV commercials.

C. Knew he would never again be able to throw for 141 yards in a Super Bowl.

Penn State and Michigan were left out of college football playoffs, causing much consternation among their fans. Why?

A. School administrators mistakenly thought graduation rates were the main criteria for deciding who plays.

B. The Magic 8 ball came up “No” when playoff committee members asked about including them.

C. Both schools wanted their students out partying New Year’s Eve instead of watching football games.

Why do Oakland fans secretly want the Raiders to move to Las Vegas?

A. Because the losses that happen there will stay there.

B. They won’t feel out of place walking around Vegas dressed in studded leather and masks.

C. Heard Siegfried and Roy could come up with some magic for the team.

What did Ronda Rousey do after her shocking knockout loss?

A. Threatened to beat up any reporter who asked her a question.

B. Became co-host of the Ellen Show.

What did Tiger Woods bring as an assistant captain to the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team?

A. Excellent cart driving skills.

B. Great tales to tell about the old days when he actually played in the event.

C. His Gulfstream jet to get out of town quickly.

What did Joey “Jaws” Chestnut do after regaining his title by eating 70 hot dogs and buns in the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest?

A. Took a victory lap around Coney Island in the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.

B. Put some mustard on a hot dog.

C. Quickly excused himself.

Las Vegas got a new hockey team, the city’s first pro franchise. Why did they name it the Vegas Golden Knights instead of the Las Vegas Golden Knights?

A. Afraid city’s image of being full of drunken carousers would offend NHL fans.

B. Didn’t want Canadians to be confused and travel to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to watch their teams play.

C. Actually thought locals called it Vegas.

Why did Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey decide not to play in the Sun Bowl

A. Needed the extra time to bone up for the NFL’s Wonderlic test.

B. Thought team should have been picked for TaxSlayer Bowl instead.

C. Was upset that player’s gift bag didn’t include the souvenir game ball given out by the Dollar General Bowl.

Bucks president softens criticism of Milwaukee as ‘racist’

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he’s eager to work with Bucks president Peter Feigin to improve the city’s race relations after the NBA executive last week called the city the “most segregated, racist place” he has seen.

However, Feigin said this week in a statement that he didn’t intend to characterize the city as “overtly racist,” that it’s “a terrific community with wonderful people” and he is “proud to be a part of it.” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Barrett and Feigin, who is from New York City, had a “good conversation” on Monday, the mayor said.

“I hope we can change his feelings, but to do that, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Barrett said.

Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Feigin called Milwaukee the “most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life” during a speech in Madison.

“It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example,” Feigin was quoted as saying.

In his statement on Tuesday, Feigin said the comment came as he was “addressing a question about the social, economic and geographic divides that exist and how we can help address them.”

Barrett said that Feigin and the Bucks’ ownership team “seem to be a willing partner” to address the racial disparities in the city of 600,000 along Lake Michigan, which a 2012 Manhattan Institute analysis of census data found is the country’s most segregated metropolitan area, surpassing Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit.

Feigin has said the team is committed to helping Milwaukee. In May, the Bucks’ owners agreed to pay workers at the new $500 million downtown arena at least $12 per hour by next year, and at least $15 per hour by 2023. The agreement also includes provisions to protect workers’ ability to unionize and ensure that the team hires workers from Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods.

The deal is expected to apply to about 1,000 employees, including full- and part-time workers at the arena and the team’s practice facility and parking garage.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed bipartisan legislation in August 2015 that committed taxpayers to paying half the cost of the arena over the next 20 years in exchange for the team remaining in Milwaukee. The new arena is expected to open in 2018.

Milwaukee Bucks ink 30-year lease for arena

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed a 30-year lease with the public entity that will own the team’s new arena.

The Bucks will pay at least $1 million annually to rent the arena from the Wisconsin Center District. Those lease payments will total $45 million over the term of the lease. The district board approved the terms of the lease agreement Wednesday.

Construction can now begin on the $524 million arena that will be located just north of the Bucks’ current home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Groundbreaking is set for June 18, with the arena expected to ready for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The arena will also host Marquette University basketball games, concerts and other events.

A new ownership group bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl two years ago. The NBA had said that the team would need to build a new arena or run the risk of having the franchise moved.

“Personally I know we’re very proud to fulfill the commitments that we made to Sen. Kohl when we bought the team, to keep it in Milwaukee, to the people that are here,” co-owner Wesley Edens said before the Bucks’ season finale on Wednesday night against Indiana. “It’s an amazing day.”

The team will be responsible for operating, maintenance and capital repair expenses. The agreement called for the Bucks to deposit $60 million into a capital improvements fund for the arena during the term of the lease.

A public financing package approved last year covered $250 million toward arena construction, while current and former Bucks owners have already committed $250 million. The Bucks have agreed to pay for any cost overruns during construction.

The agreement also includes a non-relocation clause. Asked about a roughly $550 million penalty that the Bucks would pay if the team did move during the lease, Edens said, “I think it’s fair to say we’re not going anywhere … They built it with a financial penalty that is so punitive it would be not something you would consider, so it’s a firm commitment.”

Losses in 2015: Sports legends lost in 2015

The loss column is where to look in the standings. Those are the ones that can never be made up.

And losses, of a different kind, hit Philadelphia in 2015 with the deaths of two 76ers centers — backboard-busting Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone, who gave basketball a math lesson with his playoff sweep prediction of “Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” that fell just short. Joining them was Dolph Schayes, the Syracuse Nationals center who briefly played for and coached Philadelphia in its Wilt Chamberlain days.

There were losses in baseball of Joaquin Andujar, Dean Chance, Darryl Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Bill Monbouquette, Al Rosen. In hockey, the Islander coach Al Arbour and the great Canadiens winger Dickie Moore.

Losses of boxing champions Gene Fullmer and Bob Foster. And in football of Ken Stabler, quarterback of the renegade Raiders, and Garo Yepremian, whose slapstick field-goal attempt lives in Super Bowl lore.

Losses of those who cut a path for black players to follow: Minnie Minoso (baseball), Earl Lloyd (basketball), Pete Brown, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford (golf); and Mal Whitfield (track). And those while on the job: IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, struck by debris at Pocono and gone the next day at 37.

Other losses, lives that soared across the games:

ERNIE BANKS

Lots of players are in the Hall of Fame. How many bring a credo, a way of life, with them? “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” Ernie Banks wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ernie Banks, with a whip-fast swing and sinewy wrists, played 19 seasons and hit 512 homers. He made 11 All-Star teams and was MVP in 1958 and 1959. He was a Gold Glove shortstop before switching to first base. And all this for the Chicago Cubs, who have long crafted the art of defeat.

But the stats don’t account for the statue of “Mr. Cub” outside Wrigley Field. Banks, who died at 83, spoke to the transcendent joys of sports. He never was ejected and never argued with umpires. Why stoop to such pettiness?

Banks also never made it to the postseason, but Hall of Famer Al Kaline reminds Cubs fans of this: “They can always say they got to see the great Ernie Banks.”

FRANK GIFFORD

His was the golden life.

The All-American USC running back with chiseled looks who became the face of the great New York Giant teams of the 1950s and ’60s and then rode another wave of celebrity in the “Monday Night Football” booth and as husband of TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.

Frank Gifford played in five NFL title games and was league MVP in 1956. Giants co-owner John Mara called him “the ultimate Giant.” In 1960, a pulverizing hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik (who also died this year, at 89) left Gifford with a head injury so severe he didn’t return until 1962.

For many, though, Gifford was the calming center of “Monday Night Football.” On one side of Gifford was Howard Cosell, all bombast and grandiloquence. On the other was Don Meredith, ladling out heaping servings of country corn. It was left to Gifford to return everyone to Planet Football.

Gifford died at 84 and his family said he showed signs of degenerative brain disease and hoped he “might be an inspiration for others suffering from this disease.”

DEAN SMITH

If college basketball had a Mount Rushmore, a place in the mountainside would be carved for Dean Smith.

He was the soul of basketball at North Carolina and he died at 83. He led the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, won national titles in 1982 and 1993. He created the Four Corners offense, earned an Olympic title in 1976 and coached some of the best. Michael Jordan said he loved Smith for always being there when he needed him.

Smith would surpass Adolph Rupp for the most coaching victories in men’s Division I, a mark now held by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Smith was among the first to recruit blacks in the South and helped spur the civil rights movement.

Roy Williams, the current Tar Heels coach, called Smith the “perfect picture of what a college coach should have been.”

JERRY TARKANIAN

He was a sketch artist’s dream: the basset-hound eyes, the bald head, the forlorn look and, of course, the towel clamped between his teeth.

Jerry Tarkanian built a basketball power at UNLV, a dazzling piece of the Strip’s high wattage. His legal entanglements with the NCAA spanned his career at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State. Tarkanian long felt the NCAA pounced on small schools and let the big boys off easy.

He drew respect from coaches and love from players. But the NCAA sang no songs for “Tark the Shark.” He won a $2.5 million settlement in a lawsuit, but the sting remained.

Tarkanian preached fierce defense and an amped-up offense that at UNLV featured Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels played in four Final Fours and won the 1990 title.

Tarkanian died at 84, three days after Dean Smith, and Vegas dimmed its lights for a headline act.

YOGI BERRA

After all the tributes – his decency, his dignity, his wit (intentional or otherwise) – it’s important to never lose sight of this: What a player he was.

Yogi Berra played 19 seasons and was the American League MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955. He played on 10 World Series winners and made 18 straight All-Star teams. His leap into Don Larsen’s arms after the perfect game in the 1956 World Series is a moment frozen in baseball history.

Berra, No. 8, with that welcoming mug of a face, died at 90. He managed for the whirlwind that was George Steinbrenner, and Berra always had the right thing to say. He was the country’s everyman philosopher, a pinch hitter for Mark Twain and Will Rogers: “You can observe a lot by watching”; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”; “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Said Hall of Famer Cal Ripken: “When Yogi spoke, everyone was quiet and hung on every word. He owned the room.”

Wisconsin Assembly approves $250 million in public funds for Bucks arena deal

The Wisconsin state Assembly voted on July 28 to spend $250 million in public funds on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

No one spoke against the measure, which passed on a bipartisan 52-34 vote as Bucks coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin watched from the gallery. They made the rounds before and after the roughly hourlong debate, posing for pictures with both lawmakers and members of the public.

“The Bucks will not only remain home in Wisconsin, but we’ll soon begin a transformative economic development project that will help revitalize our community and region,” Feigin said in a statement issued by the team.

The bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 21-10 vote earlier this month, now heads to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. Walker, a Republican presidential candidate who was campaigning in Philadelphia at the time of the vote, has been working with lawmakers to reach a deal and was expected to sign it.

Walker called it a “good deal all the way around” while speaking with reporters at Pat’s King of Steaks, one of two Philadelphia cheesesteak institutions he visited Tuesday.

“For us, it’s what we’d hoped for,” Walker said. “A good, bipartisan vote. It had strong votes in both the Assembly and the Senate. A lot of hats off.”

Both Republicans and Democrats said the deal was good for Wisconsin because it would keep the Bucks and the income taxes paid by NBA players and staff in the state. Under the plan, taxpayers will be on the hook for $250 million initially, but that commitment will grow to $400 million with interest over 20 years. Current and former Bucks owners are contributing another $250 million.

There is also a $2 ticket surcharge.

Opposition crossed party lines just as did support. Opponents argue taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of a private arena, especially just weeks after the Legislature passed, and Walker signed, a budget that cuts funding for other public assets, including a $250 million reduction to the University of Wisconsin.

“Government shouldn’t subsidize professional sports facilities, particularly state governments,” said state Rep. Dean Knudson, of Hudson, one of 20 Republicans who voted against the plan.

Fourteen Democrats also voted against, but all of the opponents were silent during debate that came in an unusual summer session of the Legislature called specifically to pass the Bucks bill.

“I’m ready to go home,” Knudson said. “We’re here in the summer. It wasn’t going to change anything.”

Supporters said the deal would help Milwaukee and the state’s economy, while also ensuring the team doesn’t move elsewhere. Feigin told the Legislature’s budget committee earlier this month that if construction on a new arena didn’t begin this year, the NBA would move the team, possibly to Las Vegas or Seattle.

“It is cheaper for us to pass this bill than defeat it and have the team leave,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said. He noted that there is no long-term commitment from the state to operate and maintain the arena and the Bucks and team owners are responsible for maintenance and cost overruns.

The $250 million initially coming from taxpayers includes $47 million from the city of Milwaukee in the form of a parking structure and tax increment financing. The rest of the $203 million comes from bonds to be paid off by state taxpayers, Milwaukee County and the extension of existing local taxes on hotel rooms, rental cars and food and beverage.

Several backers of the plan said it was better than Walker’s original proposal, which called for the state borrowing $220 million.

“This is really a very proud day, not only for Milwaukee but for Wisconsin,” said Democratic Rep. Christine Sinicki. “This will really, truly help put Milwaukee on the map.”

Money ball | Public financing for the Bucks arena entails hidden costs

Polling shows that voters strongly oppose public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena complex. Yet elected officials forge ahead with the project, which could put taxpayers on the hook in myriad ways that lie buried beneath piles of hype and denial.

New Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan have pledged $150 million to the project and former owner Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million. The new owners now are pressuring elected officials to contribute at least $250 million from taxpayers to complete the complex, which will cost at least $500 million, according to estimates.

But throw in financing costs, tax incentives, property-tax exemptions and other freebies, and the public could be on the hook for up to $1 billion in subsidies.

While the owners promise Milwaukee residents pie-in-the-sky rewards in the form of  increased economic activity and more jobs, the payoff equation is lopsided. The new venue would handsomely reward the Bucks, a for-profit business, with free rent and a large percentage of every dollar collected from all enterprises located within the expansive proposed complex (in 2014, the Bucks received 41.6  percent). But the taxpayers, who would bear the lion’s share of expenses, would receive no ownership stake in the team — a detail that belies the project’s billing as “public-private partnership.” This “partnership” entails  taxpayers investing in a rapidly depreciating asset (a building) that supports a greatly appreciating asset (a major-league franchise). 

City, county costs

The Bucks want the city and county to kick in from $50 million to $100 million in direct cash, free land and buildings and other subsidies. The county has indicated it would donate vacant Park East land. The proposed arena site, which is due north of the Bucks’ current home, is on vacant BMO Harris Bradley Center land, which already is owned by the public. (The Bradley Center owns almost all the land between North Fourth and Sixth Streets and State Street to Juneau Avenue.)

Mayor Tom Barrett recently proposed giving the Bucks additional land — the former Sydney Hih site — at Third Street and Juneau Avenue, valued at $1.1 million. He’s also proposed providing infrastructure support worth $17.5 million through a tax-incremental financing district and a block-long, multi-use parking complex.

That 980-space parking structure generated $920,000 in parking revenue last year for the city. It’s in a prime location — directly across from the new arena site and next to the tony Moderne residential high-rise and a dining/nightclub district. It includes two large storefronts. The city built the structure in 1988, reportedly for $25 million, and officials say it’s meticulously maintained and debt-free.

But a proposed Bucks plan shows the parking complex demolished and redeveloped. Replacement parking facilities would be built elsewhere, adding to arena costs.

The city would forgo the nearly $1 million in annual income that it currently receives from the existing facility.

The parking garage offers an excellent case in point of how ever-increasing taxpayer subsidies have crept into the project. The Bucks proposal encompasses 27 acres, nearly twice the Bradley Center’s current footprint. But the city-owned parking complex is not needed for an expanded arena footprint, when there’s vast undeveloped acreage both west and north of the proposed arena site, much of it already publicly owned by the Bradley Center. The value of that public land is not even mentioned as part of taxpayers’ contributions.

Gov. Scott Walker wants the new arena to follow the model of the Bradley Center — a state-owned facility managed by a  tax-exempt authority. That would cost an estimated $450 million over 30 years in  lost property taxes, according to a report by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee. The public also may well end up covering ongoing management costs and maintenance shortfalls. The city currently pays the Bradley Center $175,000 annually for its upkeep and state taxpayers have paid $10 million for arena repairs since 2009.

Lease terms give the Bucks a share of every concession, along with catering, suite leases and merchandise sales for all arena events, not just Bucks games. In fiscal 2014, the Bradley Center paid the Bucks $4.7 million on gross revenues of $11.3million. The Bucks also receive any Bradley Center surpluses, while the public authority struggles to cover deficits (and has not kept up).

As a mechanism for funneling state money into the project, Walker has proposed issuing $220 million in state bonds. Legislators believe the governor’s plan ultimately will cost $380 million after tacking on interest. They propose limiting bonding to $150 million.

‘Stars in their eyes’

Even when subsidies are disguised and direct taxes avoided, economists say that public financing is nearly always a losing proposition. Nonetheless, for myriad reasons, municipalities continue the handouts. 

Hope and hype that an arena will spur more nearby development were expressed when the Bradley Center was built in 1988. Mostly, that did not happen, although downtown development has been booming since the recession ended. 

Now Lasry and Edens, who are big-time real estate developers, say they will invest in private development, including a nearby team practice facility. A 2013 City of Milwaukee report noted that sports economist Andrew Zimbalist warns “professional sports have been historically unreliable when it comes to making such local investments.”

Although cities often provide tax incentives to businesses to encourage redevelopment, subsidies often take many years to be recouped. In contrast, huge sports-venue footprints exempted from property taxes deplete a budget permanently. And, it’s not uncommon for taxpayers to pay much more for a sports venue than is initially negotiated (as, famously, with Miller Park). Some cities are still paying for sports palaces when they’re being pressured to replace them.

Journalist Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, a book and website about sports-venue funding, reports that one reason governments keep giving sports teams sweetheart deals is that public officials are completely outmaneuvered when negotiating with pro-sports reps. Basically, teams ask for the moon, knowing they can always backtrack.

However, public officials often simply acquiesce, surprising even hard-bargaining owners. Jim Nagourney, a 30-year negotiator of sports-venue deals, told deMause that cities are “always poorly represented” and often “get stars in their eyes.”  In the “most scandalous” deal Nagourney helped negotiate, he told deMause, “We put in all these ridiculous things and the city (St. Louis) did not have the sense to say no to any of them.” Nagourney says this always happens, because cities use in-house attorneys to negotiate these deals. Team officials understand all the issues and where the money is — concessions, advertising, TV rights and so on — while city attorneys do not. 

Teams threatening to leave town has become a routine bargaining chip, even though teams rarely follow through with the threat, according to deMause’s decades-long research of sports venues. DeMause calls it extortion and says the gambit works very effectively, since cities do not call team owners’ bluffs.

In Milwaukee’s case, Bucks owners keep dangling the NBA’s threat of relocating the team. Seattle is reportedly eager to get another NBA team. DeMause says that politicians’ fear of losing a team usually trumps public opposition and empirical data by economists.

Politicians often go to great lengths to get new sports venues financed. For example, in a deal negotiated in 1996 by former Brewers owner and MLB Commissioner “Bud” Selig, the City of Milwaukee agreed to give $1 million annually to Miller Park. This payout continues, even though the city receives no property taxes from the stadium, the Brewers or any ancillary enterprises, including parking and franchised restaurants. 

Many economists assert that team owners should finance their own new digs. The owners of several teams, including the San Francisco Golden State Warriors, are doing just that.

Some NBA teams are now valued at $2 billion and stratospheric TV deals will reportedly make every NBA team worth at least $1 billion within a decade. With those numbers, why aren’t government leaders demanding that Bucks owners invest much more, if not the full freight? And why not ask Herb Kohl to donate more? He bought the team for $18 million in 1985 and profited from free rent and eye-popping revenue shares before selling it last year for $550 million. Other arena tenants, including Marquette University and AHL’s Admirals, pay hefty rent — in MU’s case, it’s $20,000 per game.

Mayor Barrett has offered to relinquish at least $1 million a year in parking and ownership of prime real estate. However, that lost revenue may soon be forgotten (out of sight, out of mind), and thus not become a source of annoyance to city officials who have to make up for it. As long as public subsidies are not paid outright in cash, they’re easier to rationalize and accept. But the public costs are the same.

A 2013 report by the City of Milwaukee’s Legislative Reference Bureau noted “proponents of public financing for sports venues have often abandoned the ‘economic impact’ argument and contended the value of sports venues is the added prestige gained by the host city from having a professional sports team in town.”

Just don’t try to take that warm-and-fuzzy feeling to the bank.

Thumbs-down on state arena funding

Only 17 percent of Wisconsin voters back proposed state funding of $150 million to support a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll. In the Milwaukee metro area, opposition to the funding stands at 67 percent, compared with 88 percent of residents outside of Milwaukee.

For the record

“The highest-cost (stadium) deals include Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, where the National Football League’s Colts play; Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, home of the Bengals; and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park in baseball. In those cases, the public share of costs, once ongoing expenses are included, exceeds 100 percent of the building’s original price tag.”

— Aaron Kuriloff, quoted in Bloomberg News reviewing Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilitiesby Judith Grant Long.

On Wisconsin: A great win has to be followed by another

The scene will bring smiles to many for a long time. Players chest-bumping and hugging. Fans on the fringe of delirium. A celebration perfect for highlight reels and posters.

It has to end in a hurry, though. There’s another game to be played.

Wisconsin has joined the list of teams which won a game of historical proportions only to be faced with a game that will decide how great the magnitude of the event will be.

The Badgers beat Kentucky 71-64 on Saturday night, ending the Wildcats’ pursuit of an unbeaten season and avenging a bitter loss in last year’s national semifinals.

Now, they face Duke on Monday night — 8 p.m. — for Wisconsin’s first national championship in 74 years. If the Badgers can’t find a way to beat the Blue Devils — a team they lost to by 10 points at home in December — how will the upset of the top-ranked Wildcats be remembered?

“We know we’ve got 40 more (minutes), as I’ve said a thousand times,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Sunday. “But we know we’ve got some work to do. I think last night’s game simply says, `OK, it puts you in position now to go after the championship.'”

Two teams that managed the great win only to have to follow it up days later with the game that decides a place in history.

Duke, the team that is trying to throw a wrench into Wisconsin’s dream weekend, faced the same situation in 1991, in the same city.

The Blue Devils beat UNLV, another team seeking the perfect season, in the national semifinals. The year before, the Runnin’ Rebels beat Duke by 30 points in the title game. The Blue Devils celebrated as the soon as the buzzer sounded. Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill were on the court enjoying a moment for a lifetime when reality set in in the form or coach Mike Krzyzewski.

He ran onto the court moving his arms in a “knock it off” motion. There was a title game against Kansas to be played in less than 48 hours.

“When you win a Final Four game, no matter who you beat, it’s huge,” said Krzyzewski, who is looking for his fifth national championship. “And we’re all human beings. You have to fight human nature of wanting to stay in that moment for a little bit longer before moving on to the next moment.”

It’s not just basketball either.

In 1980, in one of sports’ moments frozen in time, when an entire country confirmed it did believe in miracles, the U.S. Olympic hockey team stunned the world by beating the vaunted Soviet Union in Lake Placid, New York. The celebration of an entire team throwing their sticks and jumping onto a pile in front of the net is frozen in time. But the United States wasn’t done. They had to beat Finland two days later. A win meant a gold medal. A loss meant no medal, not even a bronze.

Ryan knows all about that from a player who starred on the team that had been humiliated by the Soviets just weeks before at Madison Square Garden.

“Mark Johnson is the women’s hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin. Won a lot of national championships. Great, great teacher, great coach,” he said. “I was reminded – I can’t tell you by how many people, `Hey, Bo, in 1980, you know after we beat Russia, we had to beat Finland.’ I don’t know a lot about hockey, but I knew about the `80 team. I said, `You know what, you’re right.’ Most people think that Russia was the gold medal game. I think it was Finland, wasn’t it? I’ve been reminded on a few text messages that Finland is Duke, both really good teams. Duke is a really good team. I think Finland was a good team because they got to the finals.”

Krzyzewski said it’s important to make sure the players stay grounded. The anecdotes flow from 24 years ago about Krzyzewski yelling at the team for the way they approached the Sunday practice, that they had already won something besides a semifinal game.

“It wasn’t just the emotion in the locker room. I thought we handled that well,” Krzyzewski said. “It was the emotion in the hotel, where our fans were literally delirious. It was so packed, they were right next to you. They didn’t think we would beat Vegas. We were the ones who thought we could beat Vegas. We had to make sure we didn’t go into their environment, into their place.”

On Saturday night Wisconsin faced the same problem when the Badgers returned to their hotel. What seemed like thousands of red-clad “Cheeseheads” were waiting in the lobby and anywhere else there was room for a few more people.

“You know you have to forget about the one you just played,” Ryan said. “The only thing that’s going to help you for that next game is what you learned for the 40 minutes during that (previous) game. Today, when we’re at practice, they’ll be reminded about a few things from last night, but it will be how we can get better.”

And how you can make a run at history complete. Duke had Kansas 24 years ago. The United States had Finland in 1980. On Monday night, Wisconsin faces Duke.

A win would mean a place in college basketball history. A loss would mean a win for the ages becomes a footnote.

Kenosha team lauded after standing up for bullied cheerleader

Kenosha’s Common Council on March 16 honored several middle-school basketball players for coming to the defense of a cheerleader who has Down syndrome during a game at Lincoln Middle School.

After hearing mean-spirited comments directed at cheerleader Desiree Andrews coming from the stands, three players confronted the opposing team’s fans. Seventh-graders Chase Vazquez, Scooter Terrien and Miles Rodriguez approached the bullies and warned them to stop ridiculing Desiree, whose nickname is “D.” The entire team stood behind them.

News media around the globe reported the incident, which provided a welcome contrast to the tragic endings that too often accompany bullying stories. Desiree’s father Cliff Andrews told the Kenosha News that his phone rang “nonstop” after the story went viral, with calls from individuals, as well as from talk shows and news outlets. He said Desiree was “on cloud nine” from all the attention, but he added that the story is really about the boys taking a stand against bullying.

Lincoln Middle School principal Star Daley said that people had been calling the school and sending letters of congratulations.

The Kenosha Common Council publicly thanked the basketball team and presented a special video message to Desiree and the team from the actress who plays Becky, a cheerleader with Down syndrome, on the TV show Glee. Desiree told WiG that she got the idea of becoming a cheerleader from the show.

Team members described the incident as a spontaneous effort to protect someone they care about.

“We just jumped in right away,” said Miles Rodriguez. “We didn’t have time to ask what was happening.”

“It was spontaneous and I don’t know how to explain it … it just happened,” agreed team member Austin Carrana. 

“We felt like we had to stand up for somebody like her,” said Martin Lopez. “We were just saying it wasn’t cool what they were doing and they needed to stop.”

The young men said they’re happy about the way the world responded to what they did and proud they could show their city in a positive light.

“To do this for Desiree shows that this town has some character and young gentleman who are nice and polite,” said Scooter Terrien. “You see a lot of stories about crime, but not stories like this coming from a small town. “

Team member Harrice Hodges said he believes Lincoln’s anti-bullying program deserves credit for making students more sensitive about the feelings of others. He said it seemed as if bullying at the school has gone down “a whole bunch” since the program began.

Daley said she’d like to think the program, which began last year, had something to do with the basketball team’s actions. The program helps students develop positive character traits, including “caring about self and others,” she said.

Kenosha has adopted a districtwide campaign, dubbed “Stand Up, Kenosha,” Daley added.

Since the bullying incident, the gym at Lincoln Middle School has been named “D’s House,” in Desiree’s honor.

March madness: Breaking down the brackets

President Barack Obama fills one out, so does just about everyone you know. Yes, the NCAA Tournament begins this week and that means it’s bracket-picking time. We’re here to help make sense of March Madness.

We want to provide you some insight on the 68 teams — including Wisconsin — that were slotted into four regional brackets for the annual sports spectacle that culminates in Indianapolis on April 7. However, be advised that most people win bracket contests by picking the better mascot or team color, so use the following information with caution.

And good luck.

MIDWEST REGION

FAVORITE: Kentucky gets to open with either Manhattan — coached by Steve Masiello, who played for the Wildcats — or Hampton, which got in by winning the Mid-Eastern title with a 16-17 record.

UPSET WATCH: Many will pick 12th-seeded Buffalo over 5th-seeded West Virginia, with good reason. First of all, the Bulls are coached by Bobby Hurley, who went 18-2 in NCAA Tournament games when he starred at Duke. Plus, it’s only a five-hour drive from Buffalo to Columbus, Ohio, so Bulls fans will travel well. (Then again, Ohio State made that same drive to Buffalo last year and lost to THE University of Dayton, prompting one of the greatest front-page headlines in Dayton Daily News history.)

THEY MIGHT DO IT: Butler was picked seventh in the Big East, changed coaches unexpectedly and then gave Chris Holtmann the job on a permanent basis. They’ll have to beat two big-name programs in Texas and (probably) Notre Dame, but why not?

WORTH NOTING: Wichita State won’t be happy about its No. 7 seed. Indiana will be ecstatic to just get in as a 10th-seed. Upset watch here, too.

SEMIFINALISTS: Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland, Butler.

TITLE GAME: Kentucky vs. Kansas. It’s a rematch of a game from Nov. 18, when Kentucky won 72-40. This one will be closer, but not much.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Kentucky.

EAST REGION

FAVORITE: Villanova, which opens with Lafayette in an all-Pennsylvania matchup. Villanova and Lafayette are barely an hour apart, and they play in Pittsburgh – basically 4-1/2 hours from both schools.

UPSET WATCH: Take a flyer on 13th-seeded UC-Irvine (and 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye) against fourth-seeded Louisville. One, it’s cool to always pick teams with nicknames like Anteaters. Two, Louisville is only 5-5 in its last 10 games and just doesn’t look as good as it did a few weeks ago, for many reasons.

AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE: The Great Danes will have fans from Albany (their city) to Australia (which may as well be their adopted country). Peter Hooley left the team for a few weeks to go back to his native Australia and spend as much time as he could with his mother, who died of cancer. He then returned to Albany … and hits the 3-pointer with about 2 seconds left to put his team in the tournament. It’ll be daunting to face third-seeded Oklahoma, but New York’s Capital Region loves NCAA magic (see Siena).

WORTH NOTING: Tom Izzo’s seventh-seeded Michigan State team could see second-seeded Virginia this weekend. Never count out Izzo in the NCAAs, ever. … Dayton gets a home game in the play-in against Boise State.

SEMIFINALISTS: Villanova, Virginia, Northern Iowa, Providence.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Villanova.

WEST REGION

FAVORITE: Wisconsin, which could see Oregon in its second game (a rematch of a 2-7 game last season, won by the Badgers 85-77) but should escape the first weekend pretty easily.

UPSET WATCH: 13th-seeded Harvard over fourth-seeded North Carolina is tempting, but we’ll go really off the board. Kevin Ware (you remember the young man who broke his leg playing for Louisville) is in the field with Georgia State, a 14th-seed taking on third-seeded Baylor. If you believe in made-for-Hollywood stuff …

NEVER YIELD: Arkansas is probably the best No. 5 seed in the tourney.

WORTH NOTING: BYU has the triple-double machine in Kyle Collingsworth, with six of them already this season. The rest of Division I basketball – combined – has 11.

SEMIFINALISTS: Wisconsin, Arizona, Arkansas, Xavier.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Wisconsin.

SOUTH REGION

FAVORITE: Duke. The Blue Devils might see North Florida in their first game; North Florida won the Atlantic Sun, the team whose champion (Mercer) ousted Duke last year in Game 1.

UPSET WATCH: UCLA was maybe the most questionable pick of all the at-large teams. Watch the 11th-ranked Bruins now knock out sixth-ranked SMU … coached by Larry Brown … who used to coach at UCLA. Of course.

MAGIC MCCAFFERY: Fran McCaffery has done a fine job at Iowa this season, and gets rewarded with a opening game against Davidson in a 7-10 matchup. But if the Hawkeyes survive that one, they figure to have a shot – even in Seattle – of taking down second-seeded Gonzaga. The Zags have been two-and-out in the NCAAs in each of the last five years.

WORTH NOTING: Duke’s opening game will be the Devils’ 22nd in North Carolina this season.

SEMIFINALISTS: Duke, Iowa State, Utah, Iowa.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Duke.

FINAL FOUR

Yes, we picked four No. 1 seeds.

Kentucky over Wisconsin, Villanova over Duke.

Your national champion: In an all-Wildcat battle … Kentucky.

Jason Collins: Common ground and conversation

I feel that we can all help start more conversations in regard to leadership, diversity inclusion and respect. The old adage never judge a book by its cover applies to all walks of life. I remember when I first went to Stanford University, I participated in a group activity with my entire freshman dorm. All of us were apprehensive about this new chapter in our lives. The leader had us stand in a straight line and would pose a question to the group. Students would either take a step forward or stand still based on their individual response.

I took a step forward. I looked around the room and saw a group of people of different religions, races, genders, you name it. And they all answered the same way I did. The actual questions that brought us together weren’t important; the questions and answers that followed were. All of a sudden, a group of strangers realized a collective common ground, which served as a jumping off point for conversation.

A lot of times it’s just a lack of exposure and awareness that is holding people back. Conversation and interaction help erase the lack of understanding by challenging people to discuss different things; share and appreciate new points of view. Eventually, we are able to accept and grow.

I’ve always found basketball to be a great vehicle to bring people together. It’s such an easy sport to understand. It’s just two hoops and a ball. You can play it indoors or outdoors and there is something about five people coming together — and finding common language.

What sports can do is create a safe space for children. Some kids are going through some really difficult circumstances and dealing with adversity. But when they are on the court for a few hours, there is a safe space and a safe environment to play, interact, talk and hang out. It’s so important to know that someone else out there cares about you, that someone is trying to help and is on your team.

When you see guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and many other players in the sport showing this level of care to work with young people, it’s pretty telling how important that type of work can be.

I’d invite people of all ages to be an ally to someone who is less fortunate. You might be in the midst of a good situation—but take the time to be a counselor, a mentor or just a positive role model because it’s a great thing to do and you never know when the person who needs the help could be you. At some point, you’ll be going through that tough time and you’ll appreciate the support.

There are so many ways to get involved. Last year, I was thrilled to work with the league to donate the proceeds of my Brooklyn Nets jersey to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and GLSEN. They are two organizations that do tremendous work to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.

Your gender, religion, race or sexual orientation has no effect on your ability to lead conversations. You can help others recognize the common ground and ultimately, you can change hearts and minds.

Jason Collins is an activist for LGBT civil rights and an advocate for improving the climate for young people in sports. He came out as gay at the end of the 2012-13 NBA regular season. When he returned to the court with the Nets, he made sports history.