I have to admit that I was not happy with St. John’s University’s decision to fire Norm Roberts as men’s basketball head coach last spring and replace him with Steve Lavin. As you’d expect, Lavin promised to return St. John’s basketball to its past glory — though he did not promise a timetable.
Lavin has backed up his pledge probably better than even he expected. Two weeks ago, the Red Storm shocked the Duke Blue Devils 93-78 at Madison Square Garden. Last Saturday the Johnnies went to California to take on UCLA. They lost 66-59, but the referees sent UCLA players to the free throw line 34 more times than they did the Red Storm, which probably accounts for the loss.
What all this means is that barring a total collapse between now and the conclusion of the Big East Tournament at the Garden next month, the Red Storm have a reasonable shot at getting an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. That would have been a ridiculous dream just two months ago.
Proponents of a popular mixed martial arts league, Strikeforce, are going all out this week to put pressure on getting their sport legalized in New York State. Strikeforce is holding a big card at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ on Saturday night. In advance of that, the promoters held several press conferences and a fan festival in Manhattan.
Frank Shamrock, who was a very popular MMA fighter and is currently a broadcaster for Strikeforce on CBS and Showtime telecasts, told me that contrary to popular belief, there are both fewer blows to the head and serious injuries in his sport than there are in boxing. Shamrock also said that the popularity of MMA has skyrocketed over boxing because the best fighters always go up against each other.
“Nobody stays undefeated in this sport for long,” Shamrock said with a laugh.
There is little doubt about the popularity of mixed martial arts, based on cable ratings. Strikeforce’s main rival, Ultimate Fighting Championship, does quite well on Showtime. MTV2 will start airing its fourth season of Bellator Fighting Championship on Saturday nights next month. Mark Cuban’s HD Net airs a slew of smaller promotions, and its Friday night roundup of all the various MMA leagues is attracting many viewers.
Cuban was in town last week when his Dallas Mavericks beat the Knicks. After throwing some naive sportswriters a bone by saying that he would listen to any offers from the Mets’ owners (trust me, “limited partner” is not in his lexicon), Cuban railed against Time Warner Cable for dropping HD Net a year ago. “Our ratings are higher than a lot of the networks owned by Disney, Viacom and Comcast but we are the only true independent television network, and we lack the clout of the big boys,” he said.
I asked Darryl Strawberry at the annual Baseball Assistance Team fundraiser what he has learned so far from running Strawberry Sports Grill in Douglaston. “Business is a lot better when the Jets win!” he replied.