Commentary

It's better to be lucky than good

Updated: June 16, 2009, 2:11 PM ET
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

When Tim Floyd resigned as the USC men's basketball coach last week amid accusations he paid $1,000 to the handler of former player O.J. Mayo, the biggest sigh of relief didn't come from the school's athletic department, NCAA compliance officials or Chicago fans still traumatized by Floyd's epochally awful tenure with the Bulls.

It came from the University of Arizona.

In early April, Arizona asked Floyd to replace retired Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson. Floyd declined, an embarrassing public rebuff that left Wildcats fans and boosters apoplectic until: (A) the school landed Xavier's Sean Miller, a highly regarded up-and-comer; (B) USC collapsed like an old, iron-heavy star.

The upshot? Arizona dodged a bullet. The moral? Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't make.

Big deals, blockbuster trades, bold decisions. Such is the stuff of progress, in sports and life alike. Only progress isn't always linear, and every opportunity to fly is also an opportunity to crash and burn. Or vice versa. Which is why failure -- stuffed by the rim, KO'd in Round 1, agony-of-defeat tumble down the side of a ski slope -- can be so fortuitous.

Take our government. The Founding Fathers designed it for gridlock, for not getting anything major done, lest we do something incredibly stupid. Such as putting Ricky Martin on the dollar bill in the summer of 1999. Or consider "Rocky." In 1976, producers winced when unknown actor Sylvester Stallone wouldn't accept $150,000 to let Ryan O'Neal play the title role; six movies and $567 million in box-office grosses later, they probably wouldn't wince even if forced to watch a doubleheader of "Get Carter" and "Judge Dredd."

Herein, Page 2 presents some of recent history's greatest bullet dodgers:


Los Angeles Lakers

Luol Deng
AP Photo/Jerry LaiThe Lakers certainly owe the Bulls a debt of gratitude for being overly enamored with forward Luol Deng.

Bullet: Kobe Bryant waving buh-bye

Situation: During the 2007 offseason, a disgruntled Bryant demands a trade via sports radio interview. The Lakers attempt to make a deal with Chicago, but protracted talks break down over the inclusion of -- yes, really -- Bulls forward Luol Deng.

Resolution: Los Angeles later burglarizes acquires star center Pau Gasol from Memphis; Bryant wins the 2008 MVP award, and the club captures the 2009 NBA championship.

What if? Bryant breaks his wrist and misses the 2008-09 season after tripping over a stack of articles comparing him to Michael Jordan; led by Deng, Lamar Odom and prized rookie Derrick Rose, the Lakers lose to Denver in a thrilling first-round playoff series that sees Kwame Brown fail to log a single minute of action.


New York Mets

Bullet: Manny Ramirez

Situation: Mets general manager Omar Minaya reportedly attempts to trade for Ramirez more than once during the slugger's tenure in Boston.

Resolution: Before the 2009 season, Minaya declines to chase the free agent Ramirez, who re-signs with Los Angeles and promptly earns a 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.

What if? The Dodgers play well without Manny; climatologists determine energy consumption due to print, broadcast and online media steroids outrage in the greater metropolitan New York area has produced a 3.1 percent increase in the rate of global warming.


University of Southern California football

Bullet: Dennis Erickson

Situation: After firing football coach Paul Hackett in 2000, USC is turned down by then-Oregon State coach Erickson.

Resolution: Ignoring alumni grumbling, the Trojans settle on former NFL coach Pete Carroll, whose subsequent tenure -- two national titles, seven consecutive Pac-10 championships, 25 first-team All-Americans -- slightly exceeds expectations.

What if? Erickson leads USC to blowout wins over Notre Dame and two BCS berths before bolting to the NFL; Carroll enjoys a lucrative career as a corporate motivational speaker; without Carroll's Trojans scratching their collective pro football itch, Angelenos petition the NFL for an expansion franchise; Al Davis rents a fleet of moving vans, just in case.


Gilbert Arenas

Bullet: Career suicide

Situation: A free agent in 2003, Arenas decides between signing with the Washington Wizards and the Los Angeles Clippers by flipping a coin 10 times.

Resolution: Even though Los Angeles' side comes up eight times, Arenas chooses Washington, where he becomes an All-Star. (He later claims he made the whole story up, but with Arenas, who really knows?)

What if? Arenas leads Clippers to playoffs, then suffers a career-ending knee injury while landing awkwardly after a missed wide-open layup; team owner Donald Sterling shrugs and counts his money; Washington, D.C. sports fans are too busy following the Redskins to notice.


Halle Berry

Bullet: The movie "Gigli"

Situation: Berry accepts the lead role.

Resolution: Berry drops out in order to film the "X-Men" sequel; Jennifer Lopez stars with then-beau Ben Affleck in a film that breaks the record for the largest second-week box office drop (81.9 percent) while becoming the first flick to sweep Razzie Awards' top categories.

What if? Oscar voters demand return of Berry's 2001 Academy Award; "Catwoman" becomes the second worst movie in Berry's cinematic oeuvre.


Detroit Tigers

[+] EnlargeJuan Gonzalez
Getty ImagesThe Detroit Tigers have 140 million reasons to be thankful that Juan Gonzalez turned down their offer.

Bullet: Juan Gonzalez

Situation: Detroit acquires Gonzalez from Texas after the 1999 season, then makes the two-time American League MVP an eight-year, $140 million offer -- the most lucrative in baseball at the time.

Resolution: Gonzalez says no. He goes on to play one superlative season in Cleveland and three mediocre, injury-ridded ones in Kansas City and Texas before missing 2005 with a torn hamstring. Comeback attempts in 2006 (with the Long Island Ducks) and 2008 (St. Louis Cardinals) also were derailed by physical ailments.

What if? To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of "Terminator 2," Detroit management now knows why Albert Belle makes the Baltimore Orioles cry.


New York Yankees

Bullet(s): Albert Belle in pinstripes; Bernie Williams in Boston

Situation: When Williams ends a year of contentious negotiations by turning down the Yankees' five-year, $60 million offer after the 1998 World Series, the club considers signing Belle, a coveted free-agent slugger; meanwhile, the Red Sox reportedly offer Williams almost $90 million over seven years.

Resolution: Williams re-signs with the Yankees for $87.5 million over seven years, then hits a game-winning home run in Game 1 of New York's 1999 ALCS victory over Boston; Belle lands in Baltimore and suffers a degenerative hip condition, retiring two seasons later.

What if? Williams leads Boston to a World Series title in 1999, rendering the club's 2004 championship just another trophy for just another big-market, big-bucks team; apoplectic New York tabloids and distraught Yankees fans react by blaming the only person they can: Derek Jeter!


The movie "Speed"

Bullet: Richard Grieco

Situation: Grieco -- aka the guy who out-prettied Johnny Depp on "21 Jump Street," aka "Booker," aka the main attraction of "If Looks Could Kill" -- is offered the starring role that later went to Keanu Reeves.

Resolution: Grieco turns down the part, reportedly because he believes "the script sucks."

What if? Grieco + the two "Matrix" sequels = the heart of an immense darkness.


Indianapolis Colts

Bullet: Ryan Leaf

Situation: Blessed with the first selection in the 1998 NFL draft, the crummy Colts must decide between two highly-regarded college quarterbacks: a smarter, more mature Peyton Manning or a bigger, stronger, more swashbuckling Leaf.

Resolution: The Colts select Manning. The San Diego Chargers trade up to take Leaf at No. 2. Leaf declares, "I'm looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through downtown San Diego." A decade later, the parade route remains empty.

What if? The Colts move to Houston and/or Los Angeles after fed-up local fans refuse to fund a new downtown stadium; Manning leads the Chargers to a title (and a parade); Eli Manning ends up in New York after refusing to play for the Colts.


New York Mets (again)

[+] EnlargeBrian McNamee
AP Photo/Susan WalshThe Mets missed out on potential records and appendages when they didn't hire Brian McNamee.

Bullet: Brian McNamee

Situation: Mets manager Willie Randolph and hitting coach Rick Down reportedly recommend hiring McNamee as a batting-practice pitcher before the 2007 season, largely because all three individuals previously worked for the New York Yankees.

Resolution: GM Omar Minaya nixes the suggestion after other associates express concern; McNamee ends up at the center of the Mitchell report and embroiled in an ongoing legal and public relations war with Roger Clemens.

What if? Mets set single-season MLB records in 2007 for strikeouts, home runs and slam-dunked footballs; Mr. Met grows suspicious third ear.


Everyone everywhere who laughs at Brett Favre's expense

Bullet: A world without "Farv-ruh-ruh"

Situation: The Farrelly brothers reportedly ask Drew Bledsoe to appear in "There's Something About Mary."

Resolution: Bledsoe declines, Favre accepts. Thank goodness.

What if? Too horrible to contemplate.


Microsoft

Bullet: A gargantuan write-down

Situation: Desperate to put a dent in Google's near-total search-engine domination, Microsoft attempts to purchase Yahoo! in early 2008 for $44.6 billion, around $31 a share.

Resolution: Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang rebuffs Microsoft's offer, arguing his company is undervalued; six months later, Yahoo is worth $12.29 a share.

What if? When furious Microsoft shareholders demand an explanation, CEO Steve Ballmer follows Yang's advice and stuffs $100 bills in his ears.


Tim Duncan

Bullet: Grant Hill's ankle

Situation: Having won his first NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs a year earlier, Tim Duncan considers joining Grant Hill in Orlando, as the cash-flush Magic stage a full-court free-agent press: a trip to Disney World, laser lights reading "Grant Us Tim" on the Epcot Ball, a fifth-hole meeting with Tiger Woods in which the golfer promised to switch his allegiance from the Lakers to the Magic if the duo signed with Orlando.

Resolution: Spurs center David Robinson cuts short a Hawaiian vacation and persuades Duncan to stay in San Antonio, where he wins three more championships and anchors a dynasty; the Magic land consolation prize Tracy McGrady, but Hill's recurring ankle injuries limit him to 58 games over four seasons and the duo never advances past the first round of the playoffs.

What if? Tired of being a great player on a mediocre team, Duncan retires from the Magic to pursue his first sporting love, competitive swimming; NBA Finals ratings for the current decade get a boost, as the Spurs are no longer involved.


Steven Spielberg

[+] EnlargeMagnum P.I.
CBS Photo Archive/Getty ImagesTom Selleck's "Magnum P.I." obligations might have altered Hollywood and, ultimately, history.

Bullet(s): Tom Selleck and his ridiculous moustache

Situation: Selleck offered the lead role in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Seriously.

Resolution: With Selleck unable to take role because of a previous commitment to "Magnum, P.I." the part goes to Harrison Ford. The rest is movie history. Well, except "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." That never happened.

What if? Ford stars in "High Road to China," then spends the next two decades signing movie posters at "Star Wars" conventions; Selleck becomes Hollywood royalty and scoffs at the notion of guest-starring on "Friends;" flowing Keith Hernandez-style moustache becomes the iconic symbol of 41st president Geraldo Rivera.


The American moviegoing public

Bullet: "Beverly Hills Cobra"

Situation: Sylvester Stallone is given the lead role in action-comedy "Beverly Hills Cop," which he immediately rewrites into a darker, more violent bang-bang pic.

Resolution: Stallone's changes push the film's budget into the no-fly zone, forcing producers to recast Eddie Murphy in the lead. Phew.

What if? If you've seen "Tango and Cash" -- mercy on your soul -- you have a pretty good idea.


Philadelphia Phillies

Bullet: Kip Wells, Kris Benson

Situation: In 2004, rumors have the Phillies sending Ryan Howard to Pittsburgh for Benson; one year later, the club supposedly wants to trade Howard for Wells.

Resolution: The Pirates refuse both deals. Howard captures the 2006 MVP award and helps Philadelphia win last season's World Series, while Wells and Benson labor as journeymen.

What if? Upon making Benson swap, Pirates sent Howard to Boston for the exclusive draft rights to India's Lakshadweep territory; Philadelphia fans add another chapter to ignominious history by pelting Anna Benson -- dressed up like a naughty Santa for a team Christmas party -- with snowballs.


Apple Computer, Inc.

Bullet: Commodore

Situation: Way before the iPhone -- think 1982 -- Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak reportedly approach computer-maker Commodore when they can't afford to produce their Apple II machine on their own.

Resolution: Commodore balks at the Apple II's price, instead releasing the low-cost C-64. By 1994, Commodore folds; by 2009, Apple isn't going out of business unless the world runs out of (A) money; (B) electricity.

What if? C-Pod digital music players become wildly popular, even though users have to keep them positioned underneath oscillating desk fans at all times, the better to prevent overheating.


James Cameron

Bullet(s): The most ironic cinematic casting decision of all time; eternal association with the phrase "life imitates art."

Situation: O.J. Simpson considered for lead role in "The Terminator."

Resolution: Part goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger, in part because Cameron and casting directors feel Simpson seems too nice to portray a convincing killing machine.

What if? Johnnie Cochran works "I'll be back" into a courtroom soliloquy; late-night talk-show hosts fire monologue-writing staffs because the Simpson jokes write themselves.


University of Southern California basketball

Bullet: Rick Majerus

Situation: Struggling Trojans fire basketball coach Henry Bibby four games into the 2004-05 season and hire Rick Majerus the following offseason.

Resolution: Majerus resigns five days after taking the job, and a 2008 Sports Illustrated profile notes that the coach gets naked "in practice, watching film, at meetings and during interviews"; meanwhile, USC offers job to Tim Floyd, who lands prep superstar O.J. Mayo and leads team to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

What if? Mayo decides against attending USC after recruiting visit culminates in steam room heart-to-heart with Majerus; Floyd secure as losing (but cheap) coach of Clippers; spurned by Jim Harrick, Arizona offers vacant basketball coaching job to Larry Eustachy.


Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.