Charlotte Hornets

Hornets ceremony reminds us of Muggsy Bogues’ bigger-than-life impact on Charlotte

It was a small thing, easy to ignore – unless you were there.

Last Friday, at Spectrum Center, during halftime of the Charlotte Hornets-New York Knicks game, Muggsy Bogues walked onto the basketball court. Waiting were his family, officials of the Charlotte Hornets, and the two Hornets who played the most games with him – Dell Curry and Kenny Gattison. (We don’t hear enough from Gattison, who is such a good guy and was such a great quote.)

Also waiting were fans, thousands of them.

Muggsy is one of us. He made his name in Charlotte, played 10 seasons in Charlotte, and lives in Charlotte still. Fans might skip out on the game to make a concourse run. But they were not going to skip out on Muggsy.

Muggsy’s first official act of the ceremony, part of the ongoing Hornets’ anniversary celebration: remove the microphone from the stand to bring it down to his level. His second official act of the ceremony: joke about bringing the microphone down to his level. He’s still 5-3.

Muggsy spent his rookie season with the Washington Bullets (after playing collegiately at Wake Forest), and the Hornets selected with him with the sixth pick (their third) in the 1988 expansion draft. Some saw him as an oddity. Step up and see the shortest player in NBA history. The rest of us saw him for who he was and what he offered.

Never an outside shooter, Muggsy dissected defenses. Scorers would move into position where they most wanted the ball and, room-service like, Muggsy delivered it.

Armen Gilliam, who had two stints with the Hornets, averaging 18.9 points and 19.8 points, told me that the player we (the media) most failed to appreciate was Muggsy. Gilliam talked about Muggsy’s ability to control a game. I like Armen, but I think we (fans, media) appreciated Muggsy.

If you want to feel short, walk into an NBA locker room. And here was a player who, although shorter than most of us, was essential to his team’s success. He twice averaged double figures in assists and once in points. He ran that team, and teammates moved to his beat.

To become such a player, Muggsy had to be quick and he had to be smart and he had to be fearless. More than any quality, we admired his fearlessness. He didn’t care how big you were or how intimidating you thought you were. He was coming.

Muggsy was a player you want on your roster, in your locker room and in your town. His non-profit, Always Believe, works with at-risk youth.

I ran into Muggsy last month, and we smiled. He helped introduce Charlotte to the NBA, and he showed us all that was possible. I’m glad I got to watch. I’m glad he stayed.

NFL Picks: Week 16 in a season of split personalities

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) watches practice as he walks along the field on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. The Carolina Panthers announced today that Newton will sit for the next game, and possibly the remaining games of the season in favor of Taylor Heinicke. David T. Foster III

This is the next to last week of the regular season, and I’m not sure how it happened.

We waited for training camp and the new players, rookies and free agents, waited for the exhibition games (kind of), waited for the Sept. 6 season opener (Philadelphia 18, Atlanta 12), and waited for Sept. 9 and the first full Sunday of games (Carolina 16, Dallas 8).

Somehow, only two weeks remain in the regular season. Nationally, it has been the season of the pass and of points, of unstoppable offenses and defenses that try to get in the way. In and around Charlotte, it has been a season of extremes.

After eight games, the theme was: Why don’t the national media chronicle Carolina’s inexorable march to the Super Bowl and the MVP work Cam Newton is doing?

After 14 games, the theme is: Carolina coach Ron Rivera must go, quarterback Cam Newton must go (if only to the bench) and, well, everybody else must go also.

The season is condensed compared to other sports, and overreacting between games is inevitable. If you need to overreact, overreact to the Panthers, and not to my Lock of the Week.

Last Week: 10-6

Season: 137-85-2

Lock of the Week: New Orleans (minus-6½) over Carolina. I lost. The Saints won by 3.

Season: 9-6 Man, at one point, my Locks were 8-3.

If the Saints and Panthers played again, I’d still pick New Orleans to cover.

This week, with the home team in CAPS:

TENNESSEE 9 over Washington

L.A. CHARGERS 2 over Baltimore

CLEVELAND 3 over Cincinnati

DALLAS 6 over Tampa Bay

Minnesota 7 over DETROIT

NEW ENGLAND 8 over Buffalo

N.Y. JETS 1 over Green Bay

PHILADELPHIA 2 over Houston

INDIANAPOLIS 11 over N.Y. Giants

MIAMI 7 over Jacksonville

L.A. Rams 8 over ARIZONA

Chicago 2 over SAN FRANCISCO

NEW ORLEANS 2 over Pittsburgh

Kansas City 2 over SEATTLE

Denver 2 over OAKLAND

Lock of the Week: Atlanta (plus-2½) 3 over CAROLINA

Is David Tepper strong enough NOT to fire Ron Rivera?

I don’t believe that Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera should be run out of town on the Norfolk Southern, which I guess makes me a candidate to be run out of town on the Norfolk Southern.

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera walks along the team’s sideline during fourth quarter action at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The Panthers lost to the Cleveland Browns 26-20 on Sunday, December 9, 2018. Jeff Siner

First-year Panthers owner David Tepper should give Rivera an opportunity to fix what has become a broken team. There are multiple repairs to make. Many young players have yet to develop, and many old players grew old at the same time.

Monday night’s 12-9 loss to New Orleans was tough to watch. The Saints were uncharacteristically sloppy on offense, the Panthers impressive on defense. Linebacker Thomas Davis ran around as if he was 25. Ah, that was fun to see.

It was another bad game in what has become a bad season. But the season is not characteristic of Rivera’s work. We know what he can do. The defense has improved since Rivera, twice a defensive coordinator and twice a linebackers coach, began to run it in early December.

Should he have taken control earlier? In retrospect, that’s obvious. But his defensive coordinators have characteristically been successful, the previous two now head coaches.

Perhaps he didn’t want to undermine then defensive coordinator Eric Washington. Under Rivera, the rush is less predictable and more effective. One reason Carolina’s defensive backs were perpetually burned during Carolina’s six-game losing streak is because quarterbacks were given time to burn them.

I believe, have to believe, that Newton showed Rivera enough during the week to continue to start. I have to believe that there’s a practice, a series or a play in which, with Rivera offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner watching, Newton looks like vintage Cam. Otherwise, why would they send Newton out there?

I absolutely don’t believe that the Panthers would play Newton if they thought he risked further damaging his right shoulder, and his career. But by sending Newton out, it’s Carolina’s offense that has been damaged.

It was time to sit Newton and, although this is a sentence rarely heard, entrust the offense to Taylor Heinicke.

When a team goes bad, many of us look for a villain. Whether or not the Norfolk Southern is involved, somebody has to be blamed.

Casting blame becomes an epidemic. It’s Rivera’s fault. It’s Newton’s fault. Everybody must go.

You’ve heard of pity parties. In sports, it’s a panic party. The weaker an owner is, the more likely he is to panic and placate fans by dumping a coach or general manager or both.

Fans want what they want when they want it, and they want their team in the Super Bowl. Now. But if you’re successful enough to buy an NFL team, you ought to be strong enough to ignore the loudest voices or the whistle of a train rumbling out of town.

A very good professional coach once told me that there comes a time when players stop listening. For Rivera, that time has yet to come.

Whether Eric Reid returns to Panthers shouldn’t be random

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Carolina Panthers strong safety Eric Reid (25) knells along the sideline during the National Anthem before the start of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) Mike McCarn AP

I’ve never called Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, but if I did I might get the following message: “Hi, this is Eric, and I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m taking a urine test. Leave a message, and between urine tests, I’ll get back to you.”

After Carolina’s loss Monday to the New Orleans Saints, Reid found on his locker a three-paragraph note.

The crux of the note is the first paragraph: “You have been randomly selected by the NFL drug testing program’s Medical Advisor to complete a urine doping test today.”

But the last paragraph is telling, too “A valid government or team issued photo identification is required.” What? Along with taking the drug test, Reid was going to attempt to vote?

Here’s the problem. Reid has played 11 games for Carolina and he says that seven times he’s been summoned for a urine test. The odds of this happening are about the same as the 6-8 Panthers making the playoffs.

You know the story. Reid played with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback who began the NFL’s take a knee movement. The knee was intended to, in non-violent fashion, call attention to racial injustice. Reid was soon at the quarterback’s side.

The anger and recrimination they encountered have faded, but in some quarters, still exist.

Kaepernick has not played since 2016. Kaepernick was a peripheral starter, but would be a prized reserve.

Reid, a solid starter who as a rookie was selected to the Pro Bowl, missed the beginning of the 2018 season, not working until the Panthers signed him. Reid has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL.

NFL rules state that every week 10 players per team will be randomly summoned for a drug test. Random is luck. Random is chance. Random is an absence of plan, pattern or purpose. That Reid has been randomly summoned for a drug test seven times in 11 weeks defies the concept of random.

The NFL offers the country’s most popular sports entity. Offenses fly around the field (unless the field is Bank of America Stadium on a Monday night). The league does so much right. But the almost weekly urine tests for Reid are an example of what it does so poorly.

The man filed a grievance. He protests. So what?

A factor we rarely talk about is Reid the football player. Reid, who last week turned 27, signed only a one-year deal with the Panthers, so when the contract ends he’ll be free.

The Panthers will need to replace safety Mike Adams, who is 37. Adams has had a great career. But if you’re playing safety at 37, it ought to be on special occasions. Reid, however, should stay.

There’s no reason not to offer him a multi-year contract. He’s proved his worth. He calls formations, covers adeptly, hits hard, and leads the league (probably) in urine samples.

Short Takes: Lunardi, Pro Bowl snubs, Booger and Furman

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In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, file photo, former NFL player and now analyst Jason Witten, left, and play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore pose for a photograph before their ESPN telecast of a preseason NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets in Landover, Md. Witten holds one of the most prominent television jobs in the sport as the lead analyst for Monday Night Football.” Witten is approaching his new role in similar fashion as he did his old one when his comprehensive film work made him the second most productive tight end in NFL history. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) Alex Brandon AP

You know it’s the holidays when you hear “Blue Christmas,” when you greet the bell-ringer in front of the store, and when you read ESPN’s Joe Lunardi predict his NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s nine seeds. …

Congratulations to guard Trai Turner and linebacker Luke Kuechly for making the 2019 Pro Bowl. In 2013, Kuechly was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. We talked at the following training camp, and I asked him if when he was alone, when nobody could see or hear him, he ever yelled, “I’m the best defensive player in football.” His answer came quickly. “No.” But Kuechly smiled when he said it.

Was Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey cheated out of a place on the team? McCaffrey had a Pro Bowl season. But so did Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley, the three running backs selected. …

There are sportscasters I like that nobody else seems to, among them Fox Sports’ Joe Buck. But while everybody liked Jason Witten as a Dallas tight end, except the fans who can’t stand Dallas, almost nobody likes him as a Monday Night Football commentator.

Witten has a tough job, and has to do it, as a rookie, in front of everybody. He works with two other MNF rookies, play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and fellow color man Booger McFarland.

I like McFarland, who doesn’t sit in the booth with the other two. He sits in the BoogMobile, which is similar to a crane, except larger. A former defensive tackle, McFarland played at 300 pounds. Early this season, the big TV on the back of the BoogMobile blocked the view of fans, so ESPN replaced it with Plexiglas.

McFarland might get cheated out of press box food, but he probably doesn’t. He’s funny, though, and has something to say. Finding three commentators who enhance the game, rather than impede it, is tough.

ESPN says the crew will return next season. Carolina tight end Greg Olsen is opinionated, and he’s smart, and he’s quick. If ESPN has an MNF opening when he retires …

One suggestion that would enhance MNF. Add a local radio personality to the telecast. Who better knows a team and town than somebody who lives and works there? I’d put the personality on a word count — you’re not auditioning or getting paid by the word. And maybe give him or her a crane. …

Running back C.J. Anderson, who was a Panthers player the way George Seifert was a Panthers coach, has a job. Anderson played five seasons for the Denver Broncos, rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season. This season, he played two months for Carolina and a week for Oakland. The Los Angeles Rams picked him up this week. …

I really want to watch Furman play basketball. The Paladins are 12-0 and ranked 24th, one place in front of Nebraska and one behind Iowa. They play Louisiana State Friday. Where’s the game? Come on. It’s in Baton Rouge. I knew so little about Furman basketball that when I read the scroll on the bottom of the TV screen — Furman beat Villanova — I thought ESPN had made a mistake. The mistake was mine.

I love Baton Rouge, but I want to see the Paladins on the Furman campus at Timmons Arena. Late in Furman’s victory against UNC-Wilmington, fans at Timmons began to chant, “We want Kansas!” That’s where I want to be. …

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