Sports Winners and Losers During Pandemic

10/28/95--Chicago's Michael Jordan (23), right, drives around Eric Piatkowski (52), left, of the LA Clippers Saturday night. (Photo by Anne Ryan, USA TODAY) ORG XMIT: 7

Winner – Michael Jordan

How can MJ ever be classified as anything but a winner, with his 6 championships (and 0 Finals losses). And with the sports world on hold, Jordan became the focal point in sports talk over the last 5 weeks with ESPN’s The Last Dance series. The show reminded viewers that Jordan truly is the greatest of all-time and debating this is a waste of time.

The show also turned Jordan into America’s #1 meme. For so long, “Crying Jordan” had been one of the top memes, but now his newest meme is laughing at an iPad.

Losers – Chicago Bulls

While Jordan comes across as a winner from The Last Dance, the Bulls, to me, come across as losers. What this documentary showed was the dysfunction inside one of the greatest runs in sports history – they won 6 championships in 8 years, yet the General Manager (Jerry Krause) had every intention of replacing Phil Jackson, refused to pay Scottie Pippen, and was willing to let Michael Jordan walk away because of those two. Just so that he could build a new dynasty around Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.

On that last note, this series also reminds fans of the never-ending rebuild the Bulls have endured. That’s partially due to horrible drafting. But after winning 6 titles in 8 years, the Bulls have won just 5 playoff series in the 21 years that have followed.

Winners – Los Angeles Lakers

At age 35, Lebron James is averaging 35 minutes per game. While it may hurt their momentum on the court, these 3-4 months of rest will be extremely beneficial to James as they begin the playoffs.

That, plus the fact that this team was suffering from significant mental fatigue. The death of Kobe Bryant no doubt impacted this team more than any other, because of the connections. For the Lakers players and coaches to take a step back and reflect and recover, will be important in the long run.

You can make a case for almost every NBA team, that they will come back healthier and mentally prepared, but given the pre-season expectations of this team and the obstacles they have faced, it’s fair to say they top the list of winners.

Winners – Houston Astros

Remember them? Astros were the talk of the town before the worldwide lockdown began. Everyone couldn’t wait to boo the Astros. Now, it’s possible (and likely) that the entire MLB season is played without fans, allowing the Astros to once again escape punishment. After suffering just a slap in the wrist from the baseball commissioner, fans won’t get the satisfaction of booing and telling Astros players how they feel.

Losers – Oregon Ducks

Unfortunately, I consider Oregon the biggest losers during this stretch, with the students and fans suffering the most (in a sports-sense).

First, due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, the women’s team lost out on the chance to do something special, led by Sabrina Ionescu. Ducks had the best year in program history and were poised to make a run to their second (straight) Final Four and contend for their first Championship.

The men’s team won the PAC-12 regular season and led by excellent coach Dana Altman, guard Payton Pritchard, and a depth of good shooters and defenders, the Ducks certainly would have been in contention for the Final Four, given the lack of truly dominant teams in the sport in 2020.

What happens with college football this fall is a huge question mark, but I think one thing that is certain is stadiums filled with 80,000 fans will not be happening. That takes some serious steam out of the highly anticipated Oregon vs Ohio State game at Autzen Stadium. These schools last met in the 2015 CFB Championship Game, and will have major playoff implications in 2020. Oregon fans lose out on a shot to see a potential classic, and players lose out on playing in a deafening home stadium.

Winners – NFL

College basketball’s championship was cancelled, NBA and NHL are on hold, while MLB, MLS, and WNBA are all delayed. The NFL, meanwhile, has dominated news outlets, not skipping a beat. Luckily for them, this pandemic has occurred during their off-season. Sure, the NFL Draft was different in it’s virtual setting and free agency was a little weirder since players couldn’t visit teams, but all the events still went off without a hitch. Outside of some cancelled practices and a lack of face-to-face interactions, NFL has been business as usual and has insisted they will play the 2020 season as scheduled.

Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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