This past week was a tribute to team-first play with a dash of humility thrown in to boot. The Dallas Mavericks won their first-ever NBA championship, and the majority of America (and certainly all of Cleveland) rejoiced when they defeated the Miami Heat, as LeBron James turned himself into the league's biggest villain this year. Though they have a true star in Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks thrived by playing a selfless brand of basketball, and comported themselves with much more class and maturity than the Heat and their two stars, James and Dwayne Wade. Jason Kidd is the antithesis of a me-first player, and all down the line, from sparkplug J.J. Barea to Jason Terry, the Mavericks chipped in when they had to. And in crunch time, Nowitzki played up to the moment, while James shriveled -- and shrugged his shoulders at the end with an "oh-well" attitude.
Dallas played with inspiration and passion while Miami didn't show much heart at all, but did find time during the series to yuk it up at the Mavericks' expense. We all know who had the last laugh, though. And James had the nerve to make this now infamous comment when it was all over: "At the end of the day, all the people rooting for me to fail, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to love." And he wonders why people root against him?
Locally, the New York Yankees snapped out of the coma they were in against the Red Sox, by taking it to the Cleveland Indians, and standing up for each other at the same time. They got tired of continually getting hit by pitches, and finally stood up for themselves, rallied round each other and played with fire and energy. And now their roster is filled with fill-ins, with Derek Jeter (and a number of other key cogs) on the disabled list. Eduardo Nunez has already stepped up with a home run in his first game replacing the legendary shortstop, though, as have a few other call-ups and retreads. In Queens, Terry Collins has a team filled with no names and misfits (well, he also has all-world Jose Reyes), and he has them chugging along (Thursday night's gut-wrenching loss notwithstanding), slowly climbing up the standings. Chalk this week up to team chemistry, team spirit, teamwork and standing by one's teammates (though Osi Umenyiora is not on board with that sentiment). Every once in a while, it's nice to have the good guy win.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Old Man Jeter: The Yankee captain had to put his chase for 3,000 hits on hold for a while as he went on the DL this week with a strained calf. That's one of the pitfalls of getting old -- minor, nagging injuries. It at least gives the Bombers to take a good look at Nunez at short (though it looks like the Bombers will miss Jeter's steady fielding, as every ground ball to Nunez is an adventure). And now some are projecting that Jeter may get his 3,000th hit at Citi Field. But you never know how long this injury will take to heal. If Jeter were on the Mets, he'd most likely be on the shelf for two months.
How's That Bullpen Doing? All eyes are on the Yankee bullpen now that Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano have joined Pedro Feliciano on the DL. So we'll follow the Bombers' past week by tracking their bullpen. On Friday night, Kevin Whelan, Amauri Sanit and Lance Pendleton turned a blowout into a nail-biter, when they combined to give up five runs in an inning and 1/3 of work before Mariano Rivera had to come in and bail them out. The following day, David Robertson and Boone Logan pitched two and 1/3 scoreless innings for an easy 4-0 win, coming in for the injured Bartolo Colon. On Sunday, Logan, Luis Ayala and Whelan threw two and 1/3 scoreless innings keeping the blowout a blowout. Robertson relived A.J. Burnett on Monday and did his job, but the offense put up a doughnut on the scoreboard, as the Yanks lost 1-0. Tuesday saw yet another blowout, and Ayala and Pendleton pitched two stress-free, shutout innings. And what do you know, there was yet another blowout on Wednesday, with Ayala, Cory Wade and Jeff Marquez (who are these guys?) throwing garbage-time innings. But Thursday was the big test for the Yankee relievers (not to mention first-time starter Brian Gordon), and they came through in the clutch, with four relievers combining for six and 2/3 scoreless innings. For most of the week the offense made life easy for the bullpen, but in their first full week without Joba and Soriano (and of course Feliciano), they were a rousing success.
How About Those Starters? For the Mets, we'll track their starting pitchers since they've been the best rotation in baseball lately. Almost every game they've lost the last few weeks were very winnable due to the five starters they've been rolling out, but either the bullpen or offense didn't come through. On Friday, Dillon Gee was his masterful self, leading the team to a 8-1 victory. R.A. Dickey followed up Gee's performance with a tough-luck loss on Saturday, doomed by a Daniel Murphy misplay at third. On Sunday, Chris Capuano threw seven shutout innings, as the Mets rolled to a 7-0 win over the Pirates. The offense could only muster up one run on Monday, as Mike Pelfrey's solid performance wasn't quite good enough. Jon Niese looked like a veteran in his 4-3 win over the Braves on Tuesday, though he had some help from Tim Byrdak, who struck out Brian McCann and Diory Hernandez to get out of a jam. It was Gee's turn again on Wednesday, and he threw four shutout innings before being thwarted by a rain delay (it looks like the wrath of nature is the only thing that can stop the impressive rookie), but D.J. Carrasco, Bobby Parnell and Francisco Rodriguez picked up where he left off as they blanked the Braves, 4-0. And on Thursday, Dickey faltered, with the team's first bad start in a long time. The offense got him off the hook, though, but the end of the game turned into the Jerry Manuel Era, with a Lucas Duda fielding miscue and a game-ending balk by Carrasco. Sometime, with the Mets, all you can do is shake your head. Of course, four years ago, they won in the exact same fashion when San Francisco Giant Armando Benitez balked in Reyes in the bottom of the 12th (and that was after previously balking Reyes to second to boot).
Underdog in New York: Ruler on Ice, a 24-1 long shot, was the winner of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Neither Animal Kingdom nor Shackleford finished in the money. Ruler on Ice can now join the great underdogs in New York sports history, like the 1969 Miracle Mets, the Joe Namath Super Bowl-winning New York Jets and the 2007 New York Giants. There's no record of the horse sitting poolside on Friday afternoon and guaranteeing his victory, though.
A Riot of a Stanley Cup: Hockey by nature is always filled with teamwork, and the Boston Bruins worked together to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972, and they became the first team to ever win three Game Sevens in the same postseason. The Vancouver Canucks were overwhelmed by the Bruins from the moment Nathan Horton was decked. And while the city of Miami took the Heat's loss with cool indifference, as they went back to their lives of sunbathing and bottle service, Vancouver didn't take the Canucks' loss as nonchalantly. Cars were overturned, fires raged and riot police were out in full force. Apparently, hockey means a little more in Canada than basketball does in Florida.