Camden Yards Has the Best Left-Field

Everybody is mad—something beautiful has been ruined; the sacred is now the propane. This is a “travesty:” the left field at Camden Yards is totally borked. Just look at it! 

Once a neat parabola, the outfield fence now has the uneven pith of a preschooler’s first attempt at collaging. Over the off-season, the Baltimore Orioles pushed their left field fence back by about 30 feet and pumped its height up to 12 feet as a counter-measure to giving up a league-leading 155 long balls at home last season. So far, the Orioles have gotten the results they were looking for—there are just 1.3 homers per game this year at Camden Yards, compared to a MLB-high 3.4 per game last season.

And while teams have tinkered with their ballpark dimensions for years, no one has ever done so as hamfistedly as the Orioles. This is very silly and a little sad: the Orioles were so desperate to stop Gleyber Torres from launching mighty taters against them that they made left-field the same size and jagged shape of a post-Yugoslavia Balkan nation. 

“I feel like it ruins the park,” said Aaron Judge, the Yankees slugger who lost a homer to the gaping maw of left field, “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”

Conversely, this big, stupid renovation has made Camden Yards one of the best stadiums in the league, a monument to baseball’s inherent silliness. 

Beyond simply being the only sport that people play while wearing a belt, baseball is unique in that each stadium can be as weird as it wants to be. And yet, every team now seems to be trending towards luxury-box-friendly sameness. In the 21st century, 16 teams have built new stadiums, but can you remember a single notable thing about any of them? All the rough edges have been smoothed out. Houston tamped down their cool little hill in center field; the Marlins dismantled their South Beach-kitsch dinger sculpture; the Rockies store their balls in a humidifier to make their games less Mario Super Sluggers-y.  Whereas the sports century-old cathedrals (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park) have some differentiating weirdness like live vegetation or a giant green wall, the prevailing movement in modern ballparks is a drift towards an anodyne equilibrium.
In this sense, the reconfiguration of Camden Yards represents a return to more romantic version of baseball, one before the bloodless private-equitization of the game. Crucially, it gives the stadium A Thing, a quality that you can’t find anywhere else in sports. Although Camden Yards has been widely regarded as one of the nicest stadiums in baseball for the last 20 years, its niceness in turn spawned a wave of similarly faux-retro imitators in 11 other ballparks. Now, it has a defining feature so nonsensical that no other team would ever try to replicate it. A big empty space was chomped out of the stands in left-field because the Orioles felt like it. 

If second base can be in the wrong place for over 100 years, why can’t left field have a severe right angle in the wall? I mean, the Orioles couldn’t stop the other team from scoring—what else were they supposed to do? Get better pitchers?


Andrew Wiggins Does It All

By now, the Golden State Warriors are hardly breaking new ground. Whereas their offense felt radical when it was unveiled in 2015, it’s now an institution unto itself. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson running through split actions together, Draymond Green ricocheting around the court to guard all five guys on the other team at once, the face-melting scoring sprees that end the game by the first media timeout of the third quarter: this is just what springtime basketball has looked like for most of the last eight years. It’s this constancy that not simply allowed the Warriors to withstand the roster attrition and churn that naturally occurs over eight years, but what has turned Andrew Wiggins from a churlish gunner into an all-purpose dynamo. 

In the Warriors’ 112-87 dog-walking of the Dallas Mavericks in game one of the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins was the primary Luka Doncic-stopper. He acquitted himself well—Doncic easily had his worst postseason performance of his career, with just 20 points (on 6-18 shooting) and four assists. While the Warriors mixed in their usual array of blitzes and switches and pre-rotations to unsteady the Mavs, their defensive gameplan was predicated on the belief that Wiggins had the right cocktail of strength and quickness to bother Doncic. 

Unlike the Suns who let Doncic window-shop for his preferred matchup, the Warriors labored to prevent Doncic from dictating the terms of engagement. Instead of simply granting the switch, the Warriors hedged Doncic into oblivion, forcing him to retreat while Wiggins scrambled back into position. In total, Wiggins matched-up with Doncic for about 10 minutes of game time, holding Doncic to 12 points and forcing three turnovers. On a larger, more impactful level, the Mavs were able to squeeze just 39 points from the 43 possessions that Wiggins spent on Doncic—after averaging 1.14 points per possession in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Mavs could only muster .906 points per possession when Wiggins was sicced on Doncic. 

During the Warriors’ playoff run, Wiggins has been the unseen suture that’s held the team together. Although Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson are the offensive engines and Green is a one-man defensive game-breaker, the team has thrived because of the way that Wiggins can toggle between different matchup-specific roles. In the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins cosplays as a perimeter stopper; against Memphis, he attacked the offensive glass with never-before-seen vigor, grabbing 3.33 offensive rebounds per game despite averaging just 1.2 offensive rebounds for his career; for the Warriors’ first-round romp against the Nuggets, Wiggins was a capable floor-spacer and shot nearly 54 percent from beyond the arc. 

As a Minnesota Timberwolf, Wiggins was derided as a glory-boy monotasker who had internalized the shot selection of Kobe Bryant without any of Kobe’s competitive sicko-ness. People only cared about the delta between what he could’ve been—an epoch-defining superstar—and what he actually was (i.e. something far short of an epoch-defining superstar). But now, on a Warriors’ roster that’s devoid of much depth, Wiggins is so valuable because of his malleability; he can plug whatever gap pops open. Even if there was some initial consternation about how Wiggins would fit within the Warriors’ incredibly specific ecosystem, his fit now is clear: Andrew Wiggins is whatever you want him to be. 


Jimmy Butler Is Too Much for the Boston Celtics

Jimmy Butler traffics in excess. No one person needs a 6000-pound, boombox fish tank; there’s no earthly reason to show up to work seven hours early. Even more than Patrick Beverley or Dillon Brooks or Trae Young, Butler is the league’s primo shit-stirrer, an indomitable jerk who has no compunctions about masking his jerkiness. “Tobias Harris over me!?” he howled into the ether after the Heat thoroughly crunched the Sixers into a fresh wave of existential crises. “You can’t win without me,” he barked at his, uh, teammates and coaches in Minnesota. He’s too much, too much of the time—and now it’s the Boston Celtics’ turn to reckon with it. 

Against Boston, Miami reaffirmed their status as the NBA’s resident grinch; they don’t so much beat teams as exsanguinate them, draining the life-force out of their opponent and leaving only a grumpy carcas. After getting shelled by Jayson Tatum in the first half, Butler and the Heat ripped off a torrid 39-14 third quarter to seal a 118-109 series-opening win. During the third quarter alone, Butler contributed 17 points (on five shots) and three steals as part of the rabid Miami defensive effort that provoked six turnovers from Tatum. Overall, Butler chipped in 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. He was the best player on the court. For the game’s final 24 minutes, he was conceivably the best player in the world. 

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This is simply what Jimmy Butler does—in basketball talking-head parlance, he “controls the game.” More than his sturdy 6’8 frame or productive psychopathy, Butler’s superpower is his poise, his galvanizing clarity of purpose. Possessing an uncanny ability to function completely on his own terms, he doesn’t just bend the flow of his game to his will; he manifests his own vision for how the game should—and will—be played. He plays with a drummer’s understanding of tempo, setting the rhythm and cadence for the other nine players on the court. Sensing that the Heat needed a jolt after halftime, Butler stalked passing lanes and hunted for early offense in the third quarter; nursing a lead in the fourth, he iced the game by hunting matchups and getting buckets in isolation. 

On a Miami roster that’s broadly prioritized an institutional over hyperbolic individual skill, Butler at once transcends and fits within “Heat Culture.” Whereas his teammates are largely specialists —PJ Tucker is a chesty stopper, Tyler Herro is a zippy off-the-dribble shooter—Butler is the load-bearing figure in Miami’s offense, pacing them in both scoring and assists.  

While Butler won’t rummage through a Never-Full and pull out a complicated dribble combo, he gets sturdy. In Game One, Butler bullied his way to 18 free throws, largely because no Celtic was strong enough to withstand his drives without fouling. Whereas other elite offensive hubs have a kind of weightless ease to their game, Butler boasts a tremendous physical gravity, inviting contact which he can then power through. Nearly everything is off two feet; he’s never off-balance or out of sorts. Just watch him plow through Robert Williams’ chest with a jump-stop for a dunk or shed Jaylen Brown with a forceful last step for evidence. 

In these playoffs, Butler has leveled up into a nearly 30 point per game scorer by leaning on his strengths, both figuratively and literally.  For the postseason, he’s averaged 15.0 drives per game and scored 9.4 points per game from those forays, compared to 13.4 drives and 7.6 points during the regular season. He’s upped both his volume (6.7 possessions versus 4.3 in the regular season) and efficiency (1.26 points per possession vs .92) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Additionally, he’s even become a confident shooter, taking 4.2 threes per game after sandbagging through the regular season. 

As such, Butler is not dissimilar to Lebron James or Luka Doncic in function, if not form.  He’s a superstar, despite his general scruffy vibe. Most of the pre-series chatter was oriented around Jayson Tatum’s star-turn and place in the league, but that discussion is probably missing the real point. Jimmy Butler is the face—no, Big Face—of the NBA playoffs. 


Lil Keed Was At the Beginning of Something Special

The last song on Lil Keed’s 2019 album Long Live Mexico is called “Proud of Me.” Alongside his champion and artistic antecedent Young Thug, Keed peels off sticky, caramelized melodies about being too rich to slum it in Dolce and Gabbana. This is a triumphant song and rightfully so; it’s a coronation, a victory procession. It sounds like the beginning of something. But now it mainly scans as a document of stunning loss.

Early in the morning of May 14, 2022, Lil Keed, the Atlanta melodic rapper, died from unknown causes in Los Angeles. The 24 year-old is survived by his three-year-old daughter Naychur, his girlfriend Quana Bandz, and his brother and fellow rapper Lil Gotit.

“I did all my cries,” Gotit wrote on Instagram, “I know what u want me to do and that’s go hard for Mama Daddy Our Brothers.”

Born Raqhid Jevon Render, Keed first entered the public consciousness when he signed to Young Thug’s imprint Young Stoner Life (more popularly known as YSL) in 2018. The next year, his profile rose so quickly it felt like predestination. “Nameless,” his earwormy breakout single, went gold; his debut album Long Live Mexico had features from Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Gunna and Roddy Ricch. 

At the behest of Gary Vaynerchuk (the entrepreneur and Keed’s unlikely friend), Keed was one of the first rappers to harness the powers of TikTok—his singles “HBS” and “Snake” sparked some of the app’s original dance crazes. On account of his 2019 success, he was a member of XXL Magazine’s 2020 Freshman Class, appearing on the cover alongside the likes of Jack Harlow, Fivio Foreign and Baby Keem. 

As the most prominent YSL artist to not be charged in the wide-reaching RICO indictment against the label, Keed was poised to function as the avatar and proxy for Young Thug’s legacy. You can’t listen to Keed’s acrobatic yelps and Atlanta slang without noticing his mentor’s influence; fittingly, Keed was from the same Cleveland Heights apartments where Young Thug grew up. With Young Thug, Gunna and 26 other YSL affiliates in legal limbo, Keed should’ve been the standard-bearer for one of rap’s defining labels. 

Still, Keed was more than simply a reconstitution of his influences. While he was indebted to Young Thug’s free associative vocals, Keed was an innovative stylist in his own right. In his hands, boilerplate lyrics about violence and vulgarity morphed into something bright and vibrant. On “Snake,” he whispers the hook before launching into a tenuous, warbling falsetto on the verses. He occupies the lower register of his range to menace through “Blicky Blicky.” During “Anybody,” he practically squeals. His music possessed a big-tent openness; Keed was so variable that he could deftly accommodate features from a Detroit sparkplug like 42 Dugg, a crooner like Ty Dolla $ign or a Fortnite non-playable-character like Travis Scott all within the same project. 

As such, Keed represented the vanguard that defined YSL before the label became so enmeshed with the mainstream. Young Thug has cashed in on the martian weirdness of Barter 6 for features on Camilla Cabello songs; Gunna and Lil Baby are household names. The counter-culture is now the culture. 

Conversely, Keed was the rare young artist who seemed more inspired by slime than by commercialized drip. Although he declared an ambition to be a “megastar” and not just a run of the mill superstar, his music still maintained his unique sensibility. His final full-length project, 2020’s Trapped On Cleveland 3, certainly boasted some of his hookiest and most accessible songs, but it did so by refining his sound rather than resorting to out-of-place, Rap Caviar-pandering features. Accordingly, it’s easy to imagine a future where Keed could’ve pioneered a new mode of rap stardom, combining his oddball pitch with a knack for TikTok-friendly melody. 

But beyond the musical aspect, there’s the more immediate and more serious human aspect—none of the tributes to Lil Keed were about Long Live Mexico’s success on the Billboard charts. He was one of the most genuine and heartfelt human beings; he was a devoted father, brother, and son. He was at the beginning of something. He was only 24. 


Who is the Best Golfer to Never Win a Major?

Even as golf’s culture has changed, the four Majors maintain an especially prominent spot in the zeitgeist. The Masters, The Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship are the sport’s four tentpole events. Together, these tournaments create the indelible moments that even non-golf fans remember. While the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods cemented their respective legacies with huge performances at the Majors, the vast majority of golfers never get to slip on the green jacket or lift the Claret Jug. Here is a list of the players with an argument to be the best golfer to never win a Major. 

1. Lee Westwood
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More than any other golfer, Westwood is the reason that this article exists. During his career, Westwood has won just about everything a professional golfer can achieve. Across four decades, he won 44 professional tournaments. He was the #1 ranked golfer in the world for six months and won three European Tour Golfer of the Year awards. In total, he made nearly $24 million in career earnings. Still, despite 19 top-ten and 12 top-five finishes at Majors, Westwood has never been able to capture a Major title. At 48 years-old, he seems fated to end his career with the ignominious title as the best golfer to never win a major.

2. Rickie Fowler
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There are very few golfers who are more popular than Rickie Fowler—a Morning Consult poll has him as the 7th most popular guy on the whole PGA. In fact, he has arguably the greatest delta between his personal level of renown and his professional success. Additionally, his flashy style and legendary amatuer career, Fowler has been one of golf’s biggest stars practically from the moment he joined the PGA. To be sure, he’s had a hugely lucrative and celebrated career—nine career titles, $40 million in career earnings, a peak in the top five—but he’s never captured the ultimate prize, putting him in contention to be the best golfer to never win a major.

3. Matt Kuchar
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Matt Kuchar could be the best golfer to never win a major on the tour today. With over $50 million in prize money, Kuchar is certainly the highest earner to never win a major. Furthermore, the 43 year-old Amerian’s best showing at a major was at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in Scotland, where he finished three strokes behind winner Jordan Spieth. While Kuchar has never won a major, he won The Players Championship in 2012, which is considered a de facto fifth major and offers the highest purse of any tournament. 

4. Luke Donald
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Alongside Lee Westwood, Donald is one of only two golfers to achieve the world #1 ranking without ever winning a major. In 2011, Donald was undeniably the best golfer in the world, even as he wasn’t able to take home any of the biggest trophies. In 2011, Donald won the PGA Tour Player of the Year, the European Tour Golfer of the Year and rose to the top of the rankings on May 29th, 2011, a perch that he would maintain for the next 56 weeks. As such, outside of his five top-five finishes at majors, Donald’s biggest career results include a victory at the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Sadly, injuries have derailed his career and the Englishman hasn’t seriously contended for a Major since 2013.

5. Macdonald Smith
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One of the earliest stars on the PGA Tour, Macdonald Smith competed from 1912-1936. As a member of a famous Scottish golfing family, Smith was the youngest of three brothers and the only member of the trio to not win a US Open (Willie Smith won in 1899 and Alex Smith won in 1906 and 1910). Cruelly, Alex Smith’s 1910 US Open title came at the expense of Macdonald; Alex outdueled his brother in a three-man playoff to secure the title. During his 25 year career, Macdonald Smith won 25 PGA events, the most of any non-Major winner and giving him a case to be the best golfer to never win a Major.

6. Xander Schauffele
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Most of the other members of this list are either long retired or nearing the end of their career. Conversely, the 28 year old Schauffele is still ascendant, not even five full years into his pro golf career. In 2017, Schauffele was the PGA Rookie of the Year after winning the Greenbrier Classic and the Tour Championship. Seemingly on the precipice of getting off this list, Schauffele has finished in the top 10 in six of the last 12 majors, including runner-up finishes at the 2018 Open Championship and 2019 Masters. 

7. Tony Finau
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Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Finau only has two PGA wins of any kind. From 2018 to 2021, Finau finished in the top 10 at nine of the 15 Majors over that time span. Similarly, he’s been a mainstay at the top of the rankings, peaking at ninth in 2018. Although it’s disappointing that the 32 year old Utahan has never broken through at the highest level, pity him not. Finau has made over $26 million, with the bulk of that coming within the last four years. 

8. Colin Montgomerie
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One of the most decorated European Tour players, Montgomerie never quite translated that success to PGA Tour events; his 75 starts at Majors without a trophy are the third most of all time behind Westwood and Jay Haas. A five-time runner-up at Majors, Montgomerie came closest to winning the 1994 US Open and 1995 PGA Championships. Both years, though, both of which he lost in a sudden-death playoff. Over the course of his accomplished career, Montgomerie spent 374 consecutive weeks in the top 10 from 1994-2001. What’s more, he won the European Tour Order of Merit a record eight times and was inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame in 2013. 

9. Masashi Ozaki
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Arguably the greatest Japanese player ever, Ozaki won 94 tournaments on the Japan Golf Tour, 43 more than the next closest golfer. From 1989-1998, the hard-hitting “Jumbo” Ozaki was in the top ten of the Global Golf Rankings for nearly 200 weeks. Despite his massive success in Japan, Ozaki curiously never came particularly close to winning a Major. As a result, Ozaki’s case to be the best golfer to never win a major is hurt by the fact that he only amassed three top 10 finishes in the 49 Majors he played in. 

10. Steve Stricker
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Stricker sat in the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 10 for over 250 weeks in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2009, he peaked at a career-high #2 in the world. Moreover, he won 12 PGA events spanning from the Kemper Open in 1996 to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in 2012. Most notably, Stricker is one of the best FedEx Cup playoffs performers. Boasting the nickname “Mr. September,” Stricker has never finished outside of the top 25 in the FedEx Cup in his career. To wit, he’s an important member of the US team in the Ryder Cup. For the 2021 iteration of the competition, Stricker captained the American squad to a win. 


A Definitive Guide to All 30 NBA Team Owners

Over the last few years, no asset in the world is as valued and highly coveted as an NBA franchise. Accordingly, NBA ownership is a fiercely exclusive club that can only hold 30 members at once and rarely opens its doors to new members. The owner of an NBA team is one of the most important aspects of a team’s success, yet they largely operate away from the the limelight. Here are all 30 NBA team owners in 2022. 

How Much is an NBA Team Worth?

According to Forbes, the average NBA team is worth $2.48 billion in 2022, which is a 13% increase just from last year. Amongst the value of the franchises, though, there’s plenty of variation between the teams and the net worth of the 30 NBA team owners, with the likes of the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors are worth upwards of $5 billion while the Grizzlies are the least-valuable team at $1.5 billion.

While all 30 teams evenly split the league’s national TV deal (which could be worth upwards of $8 billion annually by 2025) and none of the NBA team owners teams are exactly hurting for money, the gradations of value between the teams can be explained by each franchise’s respective location and peripheral portfolio. The Knicks, Lakers and Golden State Warriors far outpace the rest of the league (all three are worth about $2 billion more than the fourth-place Chicago Bulls) because they own their arenas and have inked lucrative local TV deals; the Knicks own MSG Networks while the Lakers possess a 50% stake in Spectrum SportsNet (Los Angeles).

1. Wyc Grousbeck, Boston Celtics
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An entrepreneur and venture capitalist Grousbeck is the majority owner of the Boston Celtics. After seven years as a partner at venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners, Grousbeck purchased the Celtics in 2002 as the frontman of the Boston Basketball Partners, LLC. Since buying the team for $360 million twenty years ago, Grousbeck has presided over 17 playoff appearances, highlighted by a championship in 2008.

2. Joseph Tsai, Brooklyn Nets
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After acquiring a 49% stake in the Brooklyn Nets in 2017, Tsai became the franchise’s sole owner in 2019 when he bought out the rest of former owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s stake in the team. Beyond buying the team for $2.3 billion, Tsai also purchased the Barclays Center in a separate $1 billion deal. While these deals are undeniably costly, Tsai isn’t exactly strapped for cash: the Alibaba co-founder has a net worth of $8.4 billion.

3. James Dolan, New York Knicks
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Since Dolan’s dad bought the Knicks and made his precious little boy the chairman of the New York Knicks (as well as of the New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden), James Dolan has become one of the most hated people in New York City. Over the course of Dolan’s 25 year reign, the Knicks have been historically inept, winning only a single playoff series since the turn of the century. Although Dolan has moved on from his meddling, scandal-ridden management style of the mid-2000s, he still hasn’t curried more favor from the fanbase. Dolan is also the lead singer of his own band, JD and the Straight Shots, in case that’s your kind of thing.

Josh Harris, Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers are simply one asset in the growing sports portfolio of majority owner Josh Harris. Outside of owning the Sixers, the former Apollo Global Management co-founder is also the principal owner of the New Jersey Devils in the NHL and a general partner of Crystal Palace in the English Premier League. In the 11 years since Harris bought the team for $280 million in 2011, the Sixers have rebounded from their protracted rebuild to become one of the NBA’s best teams.

Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, Toronto Raptors
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The Raptors are the only team in the NBA without a single identifiable majority owner. Instead, they’re owned by Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, a joint venture between BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications, Canada’s two biggest media companies. Originally founded as a holding company in charge of the Toronto Maple Leafs, MLSE bought the Raptors in 1998 and have since branched out into the MLS and CFL as well.  Drake is a minority owner.

Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls
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Made infamous by his portrayal in the docuseries “The Last Dance,” Reinsdorf is one of oldest owner in the NBA at 86 years old. After making his fortune in real estate in the 1960s and 1970s, Reinsdorf bought the Chicago White Sox in 1981 and then the Chicago Bulls in 1985. At the time, the Bulls were a struggling franchise that played in mostly-empty arenas, but the team enjoyed unprecedented success soon after Reinsdorf took control. Led by Michael Jordan, the Bulls sold out every game from 1987 to 1999 and won six championships in the 90s. With the Bulls worth an estimated $3.65 billion today, Reinsdorf’s original $16 million investment in the team has grown by 22,712%. 

Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers
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Although he is most known to basketball fans for his comic sans screed in the wake of Lebron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in 2010, Gilbert is one of the richest owners in the NBA. By founding Quicken Loans in 1985, Gilbert has amassed a net worth of $51.9 billion. He purchased the Cavs for $250 million in 2005. During his tenure, the Cavs won the first title in franchise history in 2016. 

Tom Gores, Detroit Pistons
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Originally born in Israel, Gores moved to Michigan when he was five. After making a fortune in private equity in Los Angeles, Gores returned to Michigan in 2009 when he bought the Pistons for $325 million. While the Pistons under Gores haven’t reached their usual heights, Cade Cunningham and the rest of Detroit’s young core could soon usher in better days.

Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers
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Like Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago, Simon is another octogenarian real estate tycoon who owns a midwestern basketball team. The chairman emeritus of shopping mall developer Simon Property Group, Simon bought the Pacers for $10.5 million in 1983. In the process, he beat out a California-based consortium that wanted to relocate the Pacers to Sacramento. Today, the Pacers are worth upwards of $1.2 billion.

Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, Milwaukee Bucks
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When longtime owner Herb Kohl put the team up for sale in 2015, there was rampant speculation that the team was looking to move to Las Vegas. Instead, Edens and Lasry bought the team for $550 million. As part of the deal, Edens and Lasry pledged to keep the team in Milwaukee and build a new stadium. Recently, the Bucks have embarked on one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team to their first championship in over 50 years.

Tony Ressler, Atlanta Hawks
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Alongside Josh Harris, Ressler is the second co-founder of Apollo Global Management to buy an NBA team. Having bought the team for $850 million in 2015, Ressler has presided over an exciting period in Atlanta Hawks history. Last year, Trae Young catalyzed the Hawks’ best postseason showing in several years, carrying them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Funnily, Ressler might not even be the most famous person in his own household despite being worth over $6 billion; his wife, Jami Gertz, is a successful actress in her own right.

Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets
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You know who this is.

Micky Arison, Miami Heat
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After inheriting the Carnival Corporation from his dad, Arison bought the Miami Heat in 1995. Previously a mediocre team, the Heat have turned into one of the NBA’s premier franchise under Arison. Over the last 27 years, they have missed the playoffs just six times; they’ve made the Finals six times also in that time frame. While the team has rostered Hall of Famers like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, the triumvirate of Arison, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra has provided the stability and institutional knowledge that’s been an integral part of the team’s success.

The DeVos Family, Orlando Magic
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If you’re wondering where you recognize the name DeVos, Betsy DeVos (the wife of Magic chairman Richard DeVos) was the Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump. Famously, she once suggested that teachers should be armed to protect students from grizzly bears. The Magic went 22-60 last season.

Ted Leonsis, Washington Wizards
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The CEO and founder of Monumental Sports and Entertainment (the holding company that owns the Wizards), Leonsis is functionally the owner of the Wizards. After longtime owner Abe Pollin died in 2009, Leonsis purchased Pollin’s shares to become the head honcho of the Wizards and Washington Capitals. Prior to owning the ‘Zards, Leonsis was an early tech tycoon who was a senior executive at AOL. 

Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Denver Nuggets
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Purchased for $450 million in 2000, Nuggets are piece of a larger constellation of teams that the Kroenke family owns; their other properties include the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL and Arsenal in the English Premier League. Stan Kroenke, the trophy husband of a Walmart heiress, heads Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. In this capacity, he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. Despite having MVP Nikola Jokic and making the playoffs, Nuggets posted the lowest local tv ratings of any team in 15 years because their games were blacked out across Colorado after the team failed to reach a deal with Comcast, the state’s largest cable provider.

Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, Minnesota Timberwolves
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The newest owners in the league, Lore and A-Rod sealed a deal for the Timberwolves this year. The two will gradually buy shares of the team from former owner Glen Taylor until they become the majority owners in 2023. The deal values the team at $1.5 billion. Lore is an e-commerce mogul who sold Jet to Walmart for $3.3 billion and then became the CEO of Walmart’s e-commerce division in 2016. Alex Rodriguez hit a ton of home runs and is the best infielder in baseball history. 

Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder
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A lifelong Oklahoman, Bennett was largely responsible for bringing NBA basketball to The Big Friendly. Bennett and his cabal of OKC businessmen bought the then-Supersonics from Starbucks founder Howard Schultz for $350 million in 2006 on the condition that Bennett made a “good-faith effort” to keep the Sonics in Seattle. Shockingly, Bennett didn’t. Just a year later, Bennett announced that the team was breaking its lease. By doing so, the team relocated to Oklahoma City for the 2008-2009 season and rebranding as the Thunder. In OKC, the Thunder have been a model for other small-market franchises. They posted a winning record for 11 straight seasons from 2010 to 2011.

Jody Allen, Portland Trail Blazers
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The sister of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Allen was named the executor and trustee of her brother’s estate. In 2018, she assumed ownership of the Trail Blazers as well as the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL and the Portland Timbers in the MLS. The Trail Blazers have been in the Allen family since 1988 when Paul Allen purchased the team for $70 million. With the Trail Blazers now worth upwards of $2 billion, it’s speculated that Jody Allen could look to sell the team.

Ryan Smith, Utah Jazz
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

A software tycoon, Smith is one of the richest Mormons in the world. Appropriately, he owns the team based in Salt Lake City. Part of the new wave of younger, more socially conscious owners that have bought into the NBA over the last few years, Smith agreed to buy the Jazz for $1.6 billion in October 2020. While Smith is the majority owner, he brought on Dwyane Wade as a minority owner.

Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors
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In 2014, Joe Lacob bought the scuffling Warriors for $450 million. Under the stewardship of venture capital titan, the Warriors grew into a legitimate dynasty. They made the Finals for five straight years and securd three titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018. In addition, Lacob spearheaded a slight relocation within the Bay Area. Last season, the Warriors left their old Oakland digs, Oracle Arena, to move to the Chase Center in San Francisco.

Steve Ballmer, Los Angeles Clippers
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Although the Clippers are a perennially moribund franchise, Ballmer—and crucially, Ballmer’s deep pockets—are endeavoring to change that. Following the Donald Sterling scandal in 2014, Ballmer scooped up the Clippers for a then-record $2 billion. With the world’s 10th-richest man at the helm, the Clippers built a super team around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the summer of 2019. They are also set to unveil their own new arena in 2024.

Jeanie Buss, Los Angeles Lakers
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Lakers have been in the Buss family since Jerry Buss purchased the team for $67.5 million in 1979; there’s a whole TV show about this that you can read about here. While Jerry Buss was known as a pioneering figure who helped grow the NBA to the behemoth it is today, his death in 2013 threw the franchise into disarray as his six kids squabbled over the team. In 2017, though, Jeanie Buss ousted her brothers and took over as the Lakers’ primary owner. Since then, she has lured Lebron James to LA and won the 2020 NBA championship.

Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns
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Sarver, a Phoenix-based banker, bought the Suns for $401 million in 2004 and has since built a reputation as a miser and sex pest

Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento Kings
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The founder and CEO of TIBCO Software, Ranadive is the first and only Indian owner in the NBA. His legacy in Sacramento is a complicated one. On one hand, he kept the team in Sacramento when he bought the team for $348 million from the Maloofs. On the other, the team has continued their 16 year playoff drought under his watch.

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks
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After selling for $5.7 billion in the early 2000s, Cuban has shifted into an amorphous entrepreneurial, professional rich person role. As such, he purchased the Mavericks for $285 million in 2003 and has been one of the most involved, forward-facing owners in the league ever since.

Tilman Fertita, Houston Rockets
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The brain-genius behind culinary meccas such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Rain Forest Cafe, Fertita bought the Rockets for a record $2.2 billion in 2017. During the early years of the Fertita era, the Rockets were a serious contender and the only team who troubled the Warriors dynasty in the slightest. Over the last few years, though, Fertita has plunged the franchise into a rebuild as he sought to cut costs and avoid the luxury tax.

Robert Pera, Memphis Grizzlies
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Pera isn’t just the NBA’s youngest owner, he’s one of the richest; the 44 year-old techie is worth approximately $10 billion, trailing only Ballmer and Gilbert. At the tender age of 36, Pera bought the Grizzlies in 2012 for $350 million.

Gayle Benson, New Orleans Pelicans
Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The widow of former owner Tom Benson, Gayle Benson became the principal owner of the Pelicans and the New Orleans Saints after her husband’s death in 2018. She is the first woman to be the majority shareholder of both an NBA and NFL team. 

Peter J. Holt, San Antonio Spurs
Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In 1993, billionaire businessman Peter Holt bought the Spurs for $76 million. Upon his retirement in 2013, he passed the team down his son Peter J. Holt who has run the team for the last nine years.


Make Match-Fixing Legal

In 1942, the United States Securities and Exchange commission issued SEC Rule 10b-5, a landmark rule that essentially prohibited insider trading. This was plainly and obviously a good thing; the rule was passed without any contention or debate. “We’re all against fraud,” said Commissioner Sumner Pike, “aren’t we?”

What if, dear reader, sometimes we weren’t.

A modest proposal: it should be legal to fix sporting events. With the rise of legalized sports gambling, there’s paranoia that the crooked, mob-tied scandals of the past will once again rear their head; match-fixing has never been easier or more lucrative. Gambling through your cell phone is a detached, impersonal experience, so limits on individual bets have been relaxed—whereas the ticketer at a Vegas sportsbook or an old-timey bookie would grow suspicious if you threw a bag on a regular season Sun Belt women’s basketball game, an app will take that action without compunction.

Similarly, the demand for more gambling options has encouraged sportsbooks to allow bettors to wager on an ever-widening menu of games beyond the mainstream options. Accordingly, there’s an almost boundless supply of athletes and games along the periphery of professional sports that are practically begging to be corrupted; the lower bound of the ATP tennis tour is a den of iniquity to the point that a doubles player got arrested at last year’s French Open.

But, the thing is, match-fixing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For starters, sports betting is an inherently zero-sum game—the very nature of the beast is dependent on there being a winner and a corresponding loser. Moreover, the mechanisms that undergird whole enterprise work to evenly distribute the amount of money and number of bettors across both sides of the line. This is how sportsbooks turn a profit—they rake in money from the “vig.” As such, their main concern is limiting their exposure to risk by ensuring that the amount they have to pay out to the winners doesn’t trump the amount of money that they’ve taken from the losers. In this sense, match-fixing and point-shaving produce no excess harm. Even in the absence of any nefarious interference, one team/player will lose and one team/player will win; roughly half the people will lose money and roughly of them will make money.  

Now, this is where the whinging sports-cops will clutch their pearls about the integrity of the game. You see, there’s nothing more important than the integrity of the game. But that’s not my problem! And, unless you’re the commissioner of a league, it’s not your problem either. To be sure, leagues have the means and the capacity to punish match-fixing if that’s their prerogative; for example, Rob Manfred can suspend or fine or ban a player, much in the same way he’s suspended Trevor Bauer or Robinson Cano. Since each league has their own disciplinary arm, it’s ludicrous for the federal government and the FBI to police whether a team is playing sufficiently hard, just as it would be ludicrous for some J. Edgar Hoover wannabe to crouch behind home plate to call balls and strikes; there’s a reason a SWAT team doesn’t descend on Xander Bogaerts every time he strikes out. 

And here’s an open secret: games are already being rigged. Across every sport, franchises have realized the team-building virtues of not trying. The Oklahoma City Thunder are functionally a draft-pick ponzi scheme at this point; Phil Castellini, the fail-son scion of the Cincinnati Reds, has publicly announced that he has no intention of ever winning a baseball game; the Cleveland Browns awarded thinly-veiled tank bonuses to former coach Hue Jackson, lest he accidentally succeed. Every night, games are played by teams and players and coaches that face external pressure and incentive to be as shitty as possible. Ensconced in their luxury boxes, team owners and executives manipulate the outcomes of games without consequence. It’s only a crime when you benefit from it too. 


Nikola Jokic is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player

Nikola Jokic won MVP last season because somebody had to win it. Joel Embiid and Lebron James missed too many games to realistically claim the trophy; Stephen Curry won the scoring title, but his team crapped out in the play-in tournament and no MVP has ever missed the playoffs; everybody was sick of Giannis Antetokounmpo winning. Jokic was outstanding, but he won MVP as much through the atrophy of the other candidates as he did because of his own brilliance.

This year, though, Nikola Jokic repeated as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, beating out Embiid and Antetokounmpo simply because he was the best player in the world.

No matter how you slice it, Jokic is a singularly great player. Watch him sling no-look passes that seem to suddenly apparate into the hands of streaking teammates or slouch backwards into another goofily devastating post-up and he looks like an engorged Larry Bird. His profile of advanced metrics paint a picture of a player who’s in the midst of a historic run. His basic on-off numbers show that no player was as integral or responsible to their team’s success as his was to the Nuggets.  

Granted, most MVPs hail from title contenders while the Nuggets were the sixth-seed in the Western Conference. In the playoffs, the Warriors decisively bounced the Nuggets in five, untroubled games. Still, the very fact that the Nuggets made the playoffs is proof positive of Jokic’s impact. Without Jamal Murray (torn ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (severely janky spine and like three cases of COVID), the Nuggets were not an especially good roster. In fact, it was an almost-bad roster—outside of Jokic, no other Nugget averaged more than 15.1 points per game, 6 rebounds or 4.4 assists per game.

And yet, Jokic had the capacity to transform this kludge of blah role players into an occasional powerhouse—when Jokic was on the floor, the Nuggets had a +9 net rating per 100 possessions, compared to a -10.5 net rating without him. In the most elementary terms, the Nuggets were the equivalent of the best team in the NBA when he played and the worst team in the league when he sat. 

While this season’s MVP race was outwardly the most closely contested since at least 2017, Jokic ultimately distanced himself as the clear winner; he received 62 first-place votes in an ESPN strawpoll of 100 media members and he topped 37 of the 56 ballots that have been publicly revealed so far.

All year long, people have been resistant to recognize Jokic as the MVP because of his general weirdness. There’s never been a player with his lumpen, odd-ball cocktail of inventive playmaking, labored breathing and efficient scoring. He has no antecedent—even many years into the Reign of Jokic, giant Serb who passes like he can see the future is a hard archetype to wrap your head around. By winning MVP, Jokic represents a triumph of a more evolved way of thinking about basketball, one in which a player’s holistic impact takes precedence over any superficial aesthetic qualities. Jokic doesn’t look the part of an NBA superstar, but the beauty is that he doesn’t have to. 


The 10 Most Underrated College Football Players of All Time

Part of the fun of college football is its sheer breadth. There are over 120 teams that compete in the FBS, which means that storylines and hidden superstars abound. Naturally, it also guarantees that some of the best players in the country get overshadowed and forgotten in the sport’s warp-speed news cycle. Here are ten of the most underrated college football players of all time.

BJ Symons, Texas Tech
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  • Position: Quarterback
  • Born: November 19th, 1980 (Houston, Texas)
  • High School: Cypress Creek (Houston, Texas)
  • NFL Draft: 2004 / Round: 7 / Pick: 248
  • NFL Career: Houston Texans (2004), Chicago Bears (2006)
  • Career Highlights: Sammy Baugh Trophy (2003), Second-team All-Big 12 (2003), 10th in Heisman voting (2003), NCAA record for single-season passing yards (5,833)

BJ Symons is the posterboy for the transformative powers of the Air Raid offensive system popularized by Mike Leach. After serving as Texas Tech’s backup for his first two years, Symons exploded in 2003 once he was elevated to the starting job. In his first and only year as Tech’s starter, Symons tossed for a record-setting 5,833 yards (since surpassed by Bailey Zappe in 2021) and 52 touchdowns, which at the time was second highest single season total of all time. Despite his historic productivity, Symons was never really appreciated, finishing 10th in Heisman voting and going 248th in the NFL Draft that spring; he never played in an NFL game.

Graham Harrell, Texas tech
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  • Position: Quarterback
  • Born: May 22nd, 1985 (Brownwood, Texas)
  • High School: Ennis High School (Ennis, Texas)
  • NFL Draft: Undrafted (2009)
  • NFL Career: Green Bay Packers (2010-2012), New York Jets (2013)
  • Career Highlights: Sammy Baugh Trophy (2007), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (2008), second-team All-Big 12 (2007), Super Bowl champion (XLV)

Another product of Mike Leach’s assembly line of prolific quarterbacks, Graham Harrell might’ve been Leach’s best. Forming one of the best quarterback-receiver batteries with star wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Harrell became the first quarterback in college football history to rack up multiple 5,000 yard seasons. Although Harrell was overshadowed at the time by conference-mates Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, he might’ve been the best of the trio setting a since-broken NCAA record of 134 touchdown passes. Despite his collegiate brilliance, Harrell went undrafted in 2009 and threw for a grand total of 20 yards in the NFL, but did manage to win a Super Bowl in 2010 as Aaron Rodgers’s backup.

Keenan Reynolds, Navy
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  • Position: Quarterback
  • Born: December 13th, 1994 (Antioch, Tennessee)
  • High School: Goodpasture Christian School (Madison, Tennessee)
  • NFL Draft: 2016 / Round: 6 / Pick: 182
  • NFL Career: Baltimore Ravens (2016), Washington Redskins (2017), Seattle Seahawks (2018)
  • Career Highlights: AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2015), First-team All-ACC (2015), Third-team All-American (2015), James E. Sullivan Award (2015)

The triple-option is perhaps the oldest offensive play in football, but nobody has ever run it better than Keenan Reynolds. During his four year tenure at Navy, Reynolds did most of his damage on the ground as the point-man of Navy’s rushing attack. By doing so, he amassed 4,559 rushing yards and 88 rushing touchdowns, both of which are the most of any quarterback. Since Navy’s triple-option offense doesn’t require the quarterback to pass very much, Reynolds transitioned to wide receiver in the NFL Draft since he possessed NFL-caliber athleticism but not NFL-caliber passing ability. In 2018, he made his NFL debut, appearing in two games for Seattle but not registering any stats.

LenDale White, USC
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  • Position: Running back
  • Born: December 20th, 1984 (Denver, Colorado)
  • High School: Chatfield (Littleton, Colorado)
  • NFL Draft: 2006 / Round: 2 / Pick: 45
  • NFL Career: Tennessee Titans (2006-2009), Seattle Seahawks (2010), Denver Broncos (2010)
  • Career Highlights: All-American (2005), National Champion (2005)

The mid-2000s USC teams are some of the most iconic college football teams in recent memory. Although Reggie Bush claimed most won the 2005 Heisman Trophy, LenDale White was the Trojans’ most consistently good running back. As the “thunder” half of USC’s vaunted Thunder and Lightning backfield, White set a school record with 24 touchdowns in 2005, Over the course of their overlapping three years in LA, White only rushed for 10 fewer yards than Bush (3,159 vs. 3169) but more than doubled Bush’s rushing touchdown total (52 vs. 25). In the NFL, White continued to be a bruising, physical runner and rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2007.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
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  • Position: Running back
  • Born: January 19th, 1999 (Salem, New Jersey)
  • High School: Salem (New Jersey)
  • NFL Draft: 2020 / Round: 2 / Pick: 41
  • NFL Career: Indianapolis Colts (2020-present)
  • Career Highlights: 3x Consensus All-Big Ten (2017-2019), 2x Unanimous All-American (2018, 2019), 2x Doak Walker Award (2018, 2019), PFWA All-Rookie Team (2020) FedEx Ground Player of the Year (2021), Bert Bell Award (2021), Pro Bowl (2021), First-team All-Pro (2021)

It’s weird to say that a player as celebrated as Jonathan Taylor could be one of the most underrated college football players of all time. Still, even his long resume undersells his dominance. In college, he earned the 6th most rushing yards in NCAA history despite declaring early for the NFL Draft and forgoing his senior season. He finished in the top ten of Heisman voting in all three years he played at Wisconsin and averaged well over 2,000 yards per season. As a result, Taylor was the best college running back of the last 25 years so it’s time to give him the recognition as such.

Peter Warrick, Florida State
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  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Born: June 19th, 1977 (Bradenton, Florida)
  • High School: Southeast (Bradenton, Florida)
  • NFL Draft: 2000 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4
  • NFL Career: Cincinnati Bengals (2000-2004), Seattle Seahawks (2005)
  • Career Highlights: 3x First-team All-ACC (1997-1999), 2x Consensus All-American (1998, 1999), Sugar Bowl MVP (2000)

Warrick was a great player who put up great stats. But that’s almost beside the point. I mean, just watch these highlights. He was awesome.

Trevor Insley, Nevada
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  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Born: December 25th, 1977 (San Clemente, California)
  • High School: San Clemente (San Clemente, California)
  • NFL Draft: 2000 / undrafted
  • NFL Career: Indianapolis Colts (2000)
  • Career highlights: 2x First-team All-Big West (1998, 1999), Second-team All-American (1999)

Statistically, Trevor Insley is probably the best wide receiver that college football has ever seen. In 1999, he earned 2,060 receiving yards,  an NCAA record that still stands nearly a quarter century later. When he graduated from Nevada in 2000, he did so with 5,005 receiving yards, which also a then-record in the NCAA (Corey Davis broke the record in 2016, bumping Insley down to 2nd on the career leaderboards). Surprisingly, Insley never really got much of an NFL opportunity, lasting only a single season on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad and never appearing in a game.

Elvis Dumervil, Louisville
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  • Position: EDGE
  • Born: January 19, 1984 (Miami, Florida)
  • High School: Miami Jackson (Miami, Florida)
  • NFL Draft: 2006 / Round: 4 / Pick: 126
  • NFL Career: Denver Broncos (2006-2012), Baltimore Ravens (2013-2016), San Francisco 49ers (2017)
  • Career Highlights: Unanimous All-American (2005), Big East Defensive Player of the Year (2005), Ted Hendricks Award (2005), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (2005), 5x Pro Bowl (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), 2x First-team All-Pro (2009, 2014)

Granted, sacks have only been tracked since 2005, but Dumervil’s 20.5 in his first and only season at Louisville are still tops in recent history. Moreover, he carried over that knack for bringing down the quarterback in the NFL, where he thrived with both the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens.

Scooby Wright, Arizona
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  • Position: Middle Linebacker
  • Born: August 28th, 1994 (Windsor, California)
  • High School: Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa, California)
  • NFL Draft: 2016 / Round: 7 / Pick: 250
  • NFL Career: Cleveland Browns (2016), Arizona Cardinals (2016-2017), New England Patriots (2019) 
  • Career Highlights: Unanimous All-American (2014, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2014). First-team All-Pac 12 (2014). Bronko Nagurski Trophy (2014), Chuck Bednarik Award (2014)

Scooby Wright might be a one-season wonder, but that 2014 season was incredible. As a sophomore in 2014, Wright stuffed the stat sheet: 164 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, five forced fumbles. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and undersizedness prevented Wright from making his mark in the NFL.

Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
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  • Position: Cornerback 
  • Born: March 29th, 1999 (Cleveland, Ohio)
  • High School: Glenville (Cleveland, Ohio)
  • NFL Draft: 2022 / Round: 4 / Pick: 109
  • NFL Career: Seattle Seahawks (2022-present)
  • Career Highlights: Jim Thorpe Award (2021), First-team All-American (2021), 2x First team All-AAC (2020, 2021)

Coby Bryant may not have been quite as elite an NFL prospect as his teammate “Sauce” Gardner, but he was arguably even better in college. One of the defensive leaders on a loaded Cincinnati team that became the first Group of 5 school to make the College Football Playoffs, Bryant was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, which is awarded to the best cornerback in the country.


What’s Next for James Harden and the 76ers?

For the last two years, James Harden has grown tired of being James Harden. In Houston, he didn’t merely drive the bus; he was the bus. With the ball in his hands, he practically turned basketball into an individual sport, distilling all the ball and body movement that you would ordinarily expect into a single one-on-one matchup against his defender. Despite all the mewling that he was a flopping eyesore, he was great at this—his 2015-2021 stretch ranks as one of the single greatest offensive runs in basketball history. Sizing up his guy for eight seconds, watching the help defenders gird themselves to help at the rim, somehow creating a coherent offensive attack from nothing more than his own savvy and talent like Zeus sprouting Athena from his forehead: James Harden is so sick of that shit. 

Since his radical micro-ball Rockets team was bounced from the Bubble, basketball’s preeminent soloist has been in search of a band. Once spend-thrift owner Tilman Fertita axed just about every smart person in the organization to raid the franchise’s coffers to pay off his Rainforest Cafe debts, Harden strong-armed his way into a trade to Brooklyn. There, he imagined, he’d be able to play a less taxing style of basketball alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He was right, kind of: during Harden’s 16 games alongside Durant and Irving, the Nets went 13-3 and scored 129.1 points per possession. And then Kyrie Irving did his own research. And then Kevin Durant got hurt. Once again, Harden was tasked with single-handedly hauling a threadbare supporting cast towards respectability and demanded a trade to Philadelphia, where MVP candidate Joel Embiid would presumably allow Harden to kick his feet up a little.

Now, Embiid is hurt and Harden is the begrudging lodestar for the Sixers. This is objectively funny—Harden has morphed into basketball’s Karl Havoc, gleefully creating situations for himself only to later realize he doesn’t want to be around anymore. Still, the problem isn’t so much that Harden has to temporarily revert to a previous super ball-dominant version of himself; it’s that he can’t. 

Whereas Harden was a bursty, untamable ball-handler as recently as last season, he now moves with the urgency and speed of a dad playing Marco Polo with his kids. He can’t beat defenders off the dribble; he can’t jump high or far enough to earn clean looks at the rim. The thing that made Harden such a singularly dominant scorer wasn’t just that he was a tricky player who could outsmart refs and defenses alike, but that he was able to combine that guile with the strength and athleticism of a more traditional two-guard. In this sense, Harden has reached the current-day Rudy Giuliani stage of his career, having lost the power that made people care about him in the first place; there’s nothing left for him besides the grift. 

To be sure, Harden is still a great player. He exists within that special stratosphere of stars where averaging 20ish points and 10ish assists per game is disappointing. In Game One against the Miami Heat, Harden was completely unable to assert himself, putting up a quiet 16 points and five assists. Worse, Harden managed a meager four points and two assists in the second half, thoroughly stumped by the Heat’s army of long, physical wings.

He couldn’t glide backwards into a step–back three because his defender was sitting on that move and denying him a clean release; he couldn’t punish overaggressive perimeter defense by exploding to the rim because his legs don’t work that way anymore.  A basketball genius, Harden consistently made the right play in response to Miami’s defensive tactics; it was just that the right play was often to passively cycle the ball to a teammate rather than do stuff himself.

The playoffs have always been cruel and revealing for Harden, but his struggles feel distinctly different than his previous flameouts. Previously, Harden has lost in the playoffs because he’s unable to seize on the same marginal advantages that he could reap in the regular season—the defenders contest his jumpers just a little more tightly, the refs become ever more reluctant to give Harden a friendly whistle. Now, though, it feels like the end—or, alternately, the beginning—of something.

The defining tension of his next few years will be how gracefully he handles the transition from being the guy to simply being a guy. As part of a larger constellation of talent, Harden is the kind of passer who can have a multiplicative effect on the talents of his teammates; despite his individual shortcomings as a scorer, Harden still boosts Philly’s offense by more than 12 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court. In particular, he’s empowered Joel Embiid to become a serious pick-and-roll threat for the first time in his career. 

There’s no doubt that Harden will continue to be a very good player for a long time, but there’s uncertainty of what shape or valence that goodness will assume. It’s not possible anymore for him to Norman Bombardini his way through games, consuming so many possessions that he eventually transforms into an offensive universe unto himself. But it’s also probably a waste for him to recede into the background and take a backseat to Tobias Harris. Philly won’t lose their series because of Harden’s awkward fit—they’ll probably lose no matter what if Embiid is out. But the fate of the franchise and all the outsized narrative importance that accompanies it will be determined by James Harden’s ability to reconcile no longer being James Harden.