July 14, 2005
Lance Armstrong:
Not only cruising through Tour de France, but just picked up "Best Male Athlete" award at last night's ESPYs (Annika wins "Best Female Athlete.")
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

The return of Curt Schilling triggers the biggest question of the second half of the baseball season:

Can the Red Sox repeat?

Schilling's sketchy effectiveness, his "TBD" role out of the bullpen and his as-yet-unknown emotional impact on the current fractious team chemistry all combine to make him THE key to the answer.

Things get interesting early, with the Yankees coming to Boston for a four-game series starting tonight (8 p.m., ESPN2) that could dramatically alter the state of the AL East by the end of the weekend.

Whether the Yankees can rally to make the playoffs is the second-biggest story line of the second half. Once again, we're back to Red Sox and Yankees.

Even with all the fantastic non-Boston, non-NY Story lines from the first half, drama between the Yankees and Sox is MLB crystal meth -- addictive and overwhelming, if extremely punishing.

You claim you hate both teams, but you know you love it. (See Big 5 for the rest of the Top-5 2nd-half storylines.)

NHL Deal
With the new deal in place, what can the NHL do to even begin to claw back to relevancy with mainstream sports fans?

Emphasize novelty of access: That means transparency, from the upcoming draft lottery to training camps and beyond. Let fans in.

Re-stake claims to fandom: Make the unprecedented upcoming mega-free agency a once-in-a-lifetime chance for fans to reconnect with a team.

Free! Free! Free! Give away everything that's not nailed down. That includes tickets, the more the better.

If there can be a single guiding vision, it's this:

"Fan appreciation."

(For more Quickie NHL coverage, see last Thursday's column.)

British Open
After the U.S. Open, it became apparent that the "Big Four" is really a "Big One, Plus Three Guys Who Try to Make It Interesting."

Beane-Epstein deals: Love 'em! Trade Bradford for Payton
Nats: Trade for CF P. Wilson, sign ex-Yankee RP M. Stanton
Bill Belichick: Confirms split from wife. (This is news?)
Pacman Jones: Titans rookie DB arrested for assault
FSU DB Antonio Cromartie: Out for 2005 season (knee)
NASCAR: Sued on antitrust grounds by Kentucky track
For those who recognize that blueprint, Tiger Woods' first round is good news: He finished at -6 and holds a tentative lead over the field.

Wie Watch
Clutch 15-foot birdie putt on final hole advances her to 2nd round of men's publinx this morning (with possible 3rd round this afternoon).

As expected, her huge gallery is a competitive advantage when playing these amateurs. And she seems to be taking to the head-to-head format, too.

L. Brown Saga
No decision: Gee, go figure. The team and the coach are going to talk again today. Let's just get to a resolution already. One way or the other, weary fans just don't really care as much at this point.

Kwame Brown Saga
Former No. 1 overall pick now reportedly the Lakers' problem, swapped to the Wizards for Caron Butler and scraps. (via LA Times)

It's an indication of Brown's impact in D.C. that the most you can say is that his era is over. Wow, Michael Jordan really blew that one.

Prediction: Like most ex-Bullets/Wizards, undoubtedly he will thrive in a new setting. But it's not like he has anywhere to go but up.

NBA Free Agency
Knicks sign James: Ex-Sonics C Jerome (5y/$29m) will have to suffice until they can land that other James in a few summers. NY fans will just love this James' inconsistency.

Clippers sign Mobley: So much for NBA shooting guards being dime-a-dozen. Cuttino will be getting $42 mil over 5 years to score his dozen points a game. NBA shooting guards are the new real estate bubble.

ESPY Awards
More evidence that fans as a group have a far better handle on sports awards than any "expert" cabal.

Which major sports league will be the first to follow ESPN's lead and ignore media-bestowed awards to give fans direct say in the "official" annual awards?

Unsurprisingly, the biggest ESPY winner was the Boston Red Sox, which took Best Team, Best Championship Performance (Schilling) and Best Game (ALCS Game 5).

In one other notable Boston win, Bill Belichick won Best Coach/Manager. Catch the broadcast of the awards on Sunday night.

South Carolina:
Welcome to Gamecock Country, Steve Spurrier! S.C. admitted 10 violations (5 major) under the Holtz Era to the NCAA. Punishment pending.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie live!
ESPY Winners
Neel on MLB
MLB 2nd-half Storylines:
Red Sox vs. Yankees
But they MUST get to ALCS
Barry Bonds' return
When? Or is it "if?"
Nats vs. NL East
Or will Braves march on?
White Sox legit?
Can they keep it up?
Clemens: Best ever?
Another Cy and answer: Yes.

WSOP Update (Spoiler Alert): Defending champ Greg Raymer is one of 27 players remaining after five rounds. Biggest story in the sport's history.

Another signature of the start of MLB's second half: Trade rumors heat up. By far, the biggest name being tossed around (by *everyone*) is Burnett.

Palmeiro 3K: Sitting at 2,998, Raffy's 3000th hit could come tonight in Seattle. Let's end any HOF debate about him already. He's in.

Say good-bye to a piece of your childhood: Bankrupt trading-card company Fleer to be auctioned off (when can I bid on individual card assets?)

How is it that the NFL hasn't made the supplemental draft some type of well-marketed "event" like everything else? Draft is today, if you care.

Maui Invt'l set: Arizona-Kansas winner playing UConn-Arkansas winner; Maryland-Zaga winner plays Mich St-Chaminade winner. Wow!

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