Sports Beat “St. John’s star is suspended”

The St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team is not known for their ability to hit outside shots so it was a jolt to learn last Friday morning that head coach Steve Lavin had suspended his team’s leading scorer, D’Angelo Harrison, for the rest of the season. Even stranger, no reason was for his removal from the team was given in the press release issued by the St. John’s sports information department.

There was speculation the next day that Harrison, who has a reputation for occasional attitude flare ups, had shown disrespect to one of Lavin’s assistant coaches. There was also a report that his teammates were upset with him for not taking part in a team huddle during a game timeout.

The timing of Harrison’s suspension could not come at a worse time for Red Storm fans. The Big East Tournament gets underway next week at Madison Square Garden, and St. John’s, under the best of circumstances would need a deep run in it to merit even remote consideration for the prestigious and lucrative NCAA Tournament.

Steve Lavin can be praised for his willingness to risk a quick and ugly end to the Red Storm season in order to make a point that no one individual, no matter how talented and vital to his team’s record, is bigger than his program. On the other hand, D’Angelo Harrison was one of Lavin’s first big recruits and you have to wonder if he was willing to overlook character flaws in order to reignite a moribund basketball program.

South Jamaica’s  own Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has had an interesting life to say the least going from pre-teen drug dealer to surviving nine bullets being pumped into him to being discovered by hip-hop legends Dr. Dre and Eminem and quickly becoming a platinum-selling artist. In recent years he has become a well-respected movie actor.

Curtis is now branching out to the world of boxing as he is now a manager to a small stable of fighters. Last Wednesday, he held a press conference in Manhattan with boxing promoter Lou DiBella to promote the fact that Billy Dib, an Australian fighter under his aegis, would be challenging Evgeny Gradovich from Russia, for the IBF Featherweight title Friday night at Foxwoods.

These days, “50 Cent” is far removed from his childhood roots as he lives in a mansion in Connecticut’s tony Fairfield County. I asked him if he would drive Billy Dib through his old neighborhood. Jackson laughed and thought that the neighborhood might be too tough for his fighter.

He may have had a point. In an upset, Dib lost a split to decision to Gradovich.

When the NBA season started there was tremendous speculation about how the Brooklyn Nets had become one of the league’s elite teams. That talk has quelled considerably. Last Friday night’s Nets’ loss to a mediocre Dallas Mavericks team at the Barclays Center was all too typical of how the team has struggled since the All-Star break. The Nets exhibited low basketball IQ as they turned the ball over countless times and constantly took off-balance, low percentage shots. Whatever magic interim head coach PJ Carlesimo had when he took over for the deposed Avery Johnson has dissipated.

Literally and figuratively the Nets are putting their worst foot forward as the regular season is heading for the home stretch. Point guard Deron Williams has sore ankles and that may be one reason that he has not come close to living up to his $20 million per year salary, while the team’s best shooter, Joe Johnson, has been battling a sore heal that caused him to miss four consecutive games.

The Nets have always had a history of rolling over and playing dead for any team that has a superstar. I am hard-pressed to think of the last time that Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks lost to the Nets. I don’t think that Shaquille O’Neal ever walked off the court a member of a team that lost to the Nets in his twenty-year career. LeBron James’ teams have beaten the Nets 17 straight times while I believe that Kobe Bryant’s clubs may have been on the short end of a score to them once in his so-far sixteen-year career. That is probably the same frequency that Michael Jordan’s Bulls lost to them. I am convinced that if Jordan, who just turned 50, would suit up for the team he now owns, the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, they would dominate the Nets as well.

Former Springfield Gardens High School star Charles Jenkins has unexpectedly moved back a lot closer to his family as the Golden State Warriors decided to deal him at the NBA’s trade deadline to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dennis Rodman always thought of himself as an outrageous entertainer even when he was a rebounding machine during his stellar NBA career. “The Worm” has taken some criticism for his recent visit to North Korea where he appeared to make a new BFF with the country’s basketball-crazy, and perhaps just plain crazy, dictator, Kim Jong-Un.

Rodman should be praised for his willingness to travel to a nation that understandably few Americans have ever visited nor would most want to. If he was able to make the bizarre Pyongyang dictator feel a bit more favorably about the USA then he truly did a wonderful thing.

Speaking of forbidden Communist places, President Obama has loosened the rules regulating travel to Cuba and Insight Cuba, a tour group that makes legal charter trips to Cuba, held a press event last week in Manhattan to promote their various Cuban vacation packages that include seeing the country’s various baseball teams. Cuba, incidentally, is taking part in the World Baseball Classic.

Leaving international politics aside, the tour packages are very pricy; the quality of the hotels are not up to Hilton, Hyatt or Marriott standards; and you cannot use American credit cards in Cuba.

Although in this post- 9/11 world the Castro government would appear to be a harmless Cold War relic, Americans who visit the island nation do face risk. Three years ago, Allen Gross, a sixty year-old native New Yorker was arrested in Havana for installing satellite phones and the Internet for some of the few remaining Jewish families there. Despite pleas from many US senators and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gross remains imprisoned in Cuba on charges of being a spy for the CIA.

Deidre Pujols, the wife of baseball slugger Albert Pujols, was in New York last month promoting her company, Pujols Kitchen Cookware. Pujols Kitchen donates cash, food and stainless steel cookware to the indigent all over the world so that they can enjoy the benefits of proper nutrition.

On a lighter note, Deidre told me that her husband, who is certain to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, enjoys cooking and could be a chef in a top restaurant. Visiting players coming to St. Louis, and now Anaheim, have long sought an invitation to the Pujols home to sample his cuisine.

Do you want to know why our legal system is overtaxed? Under Armour, the sports apparel manufacturer headquartered in Baltimore that aspires to be Nike is suing Nike for using the term “I Will” in recent commercials. Executives from Under Armour claim that because they use these two words prominently in their ads (“I will protect this house!”), Nike has no right to do the same. Sounds pretty trivial to me. I have a strong feeling that Nike CEO Phil Knight is not losing any sleep over this.

CNBC is one of the few television networks that gets far more viewers during the day than at night because of their live coverage of all things Wall Street. The Comcast-owned basic cable network has slowly turned its attention to prime time. Their “American Greed” documentary series about con men narrated by Stacy Keach (his best role since “Mike Hammer”) has been a ratings winner.

CNBC is now adding “Treasure Detectives” to its lineup. The show will send out experts to verify or dispute whether collectibles such as paintings, coins, stamps, and sports memorabilia are genuine or glorious fakes. One episode will deal with the legitimacy of the extremely rare Honus Wagner baseball card which has is the most valuable baseball card ever manufactured.

Late winter and early spring is when the cable networks announce their new programming to advertising executives and the media with presentations referred to in the trade as Upfronts. Nickelodeon, which battles it out with the Disney Network, for the “tween” demographic announced two live action comedies, “The Thundermans” and “The Haunted Hathaways.” The former deals with a middle class suburban family of super heroes while the latter deals with a family that moves into a home that already has a young ghost living in it. The snippets that Nick showed the audience won laughs because of its sharp writing that appeals to those older than the network’s target audience.

Nickelodeon suffered from ratings erosion last year. It was serious enough for publicity-shy CEO Philippe Dauman to address the audience at the Frederick P. Rose Jazz Hall; mingle with them afterwards at the post-presentation reception; and even interact on stage with actor Josh Duhamel where he poked fun at himself in order to promote Nickelodeon’s crown jewel, “The Kids’ Choice Awards” that will take place on March 23. Fortunately, the Viacom boss was not hit with green slime at the Upfront, a staple for celebrities who win an award on the show.

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