I SPENT last week in the US. As I headed across the Atlantic, Division 1 of the National Hurling League was experiencing somewhat of a tsunami.
In Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork were giving a clear signal that they may have turned the corner and are heading in a clear upward trajectory. Defeating Kilkenny was no shock, but it was a surprise.
I always felt that the appointment of Jimmy Barry Murphy would reignite Cork’s hurling flame, and while it is far too early to predict a return to the glory days of the past, the signs look positive.
Waterford’s success in Galway was a surprise, given their recent form. With all backroom positions now sorted and absent players back on board, the Déise may, finally, have also turned the corner.
Kilkenny’s defeat in Cork was the county’s first of the year and was a reminder that no team is unbeatable. Over in Chicago 24 later another famous team was also suffering its first defeat of the year.
Basketball is huge in the US. I attended a game in the United Center in Chicago last week between the Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets. The mere mention of a team’s last name and Americans can tell you the home city of one, be that basketball, American football or baseball.
The Bulls are the star attraction in the NBA at the moment with a 40-10 record. They are hot favourites to win the title for the first time since 1998. Their opponents from Denver are not in the same class, and their 26-23 record leading up to this game was a clear indication of the form of the two sides in the current championship.
First NBA game
It was my first time at a major NBA game. The 25,000 capacity indoor arena was almost full. If you want showbiz with lots of top class basketball, then this is the event to attend.
The razzmatazz, music and hype all adds up to a great occasion and it was noticeable that many families were present. This was showbiz and sport meeting in unison to give patrons a night to remember. Well that was the way it was meant to be!
The Bulls are a Chicago institution and so too are many of their players, past and present. A statue of former Bulls player Michael Jordan is an imposing presence outside the arena.
The fans pay homage to the former star before every game and a photo in front of his statue is a must-have item. Jordan is seen by many as the greatest NBA player of all time.
Even if you know little about basketball, I am sure many readers have purchased Air Jordan footwear over the years. This is the same Mr Jordan who won six NBA titles with the Bulls (initially winning three, then retiring and returning three years later to win another three) and was five times the NBA’s most valuable player.
The big disappointment on the night was the absence of the Bulls key player Derrick Rose due to injury. This guy is the Henry Shefflin of the Bulls, but with one major difference.
Rose is on a contract of 20 million dollars per annum and he also has a 200 million dollar deal with Adidas over the next five years. By all accounts Rose is worth every cent of his massive earnings.
After all the early pre-match hype it was down to the serious business of winning an important basketball game. One felt all along that the Bulls were just toying with their Denver opponents and they would cut loose in the final quarter.
But just like in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the favourites at the United Center could not match the energy and enthusiasm of their opponents, losing on a 109-91 scoreline. It was also the first loss of the year for the Bulls.
Despite the best efforts of the stadium announcer and a range of activities during the time-outs, the mood of the spectators was sombre. Their favourites were clearly at loggerheads with their game and that was not lost on their Denver opponents, who grasped the opportunity to take a couple of precious points from the title favourites.
Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose are iconic NBA players with the Chicago Bulls, and both are exceptionally successful on and off the field. Dennis Rodman was also a hugely successful player with the Bulls, winning three titles in the nineties, but life has sadly gone downhill for a player who was once held in the same high esteem as Jordan and Rose.
Papers filed in a US court last week claimed Rodman owed more than $800K in child support. Oh how times have changed for the former NBA star!
Professional sport is good to many players. Sadly others are unable to cope, particularly when their careers are over.
As the crowd trekked out of the United Center, there was no recriminations that their favourite team had lost its first game of the year. They hope, like Kilkenny supporters, that their star player will return from injury as quickly as possible to reignite their title charge.