We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day

We can be (gym class) heroes, just for one day

Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
11:39 AM

By Joe Collins
CSNChicago.com

It's too bad we live in a world where Bears tackle Chris Williams can't play "Red Rover Red Rover." I'm guessing that the brass at Halas Hall wouldn't allow such a thing, despite the fact that he wears a lot of protective equipment and goes up against 300-pound guys all the time. They probably have a prohibitive clause in his contract, you know? It's also too bad that Juan Pierre can't be turned loose in a pickup game of "Steal the Bacon." Or that you won't see Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith as enforcers in an impromptu game of floor hockey. Or even dodgeball. But given what happened to former NFL running back Robert Edwards, I could understand why owners and general managers would frown on such acts of silliness outside of their day jobs.

The school bells will ring once again for every Chicagoland high school, middle school and grade school in the next week or so, if they haven't started already. And thanks to Illinois being one of only five states that require physical education in grades K-12, you can bet a few of those games will be played a little more often in the Land of Lincoln. And by kids who aspire to be the next Williams, Pierre, Seabrook or Keith, no less.

Gym class is always the most looked forward to or the most dreaded class of the day. There's hardly any middle ground. Kids either get excited about the chance to climb a rope or hate the fact that they have to change into John Stockton-esque 80's shorts for 45 minutes. What do you remember about being a gym class hero? Or what was it about gym class that gave you the creeps? Here a few bits and pieces you might remember:

The Presidential Challenge: Like the Pro Bowl, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or MySpace, the Presidential Challenge fitness test was a good idea for a year or two. Nowadays we all look back and laugh and say, "How could I ever take something like this seriously?" As you may remember, The Presidential Challenge focused on five staples of PE class dorkery: sit-ups, the shuttle run, pull-ups, the mile run and sit and reach. All five events reeked of potential disaster-- and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Remember how you always had to partner up with someone for sit-ups? If you picked a kid that didn't have the pork & beans with Cool Ranch Doritos for lunch, you were OK.

The shuttle run was always a torn ACL waiting to happen. Heck, depending on your gym teacher, the pull-up competition was a separated shoulder waiting to happen. The mile run always had that "if I drop before any one of you..." feel about it a'la Goldie Hawn in "Wildcats." But the sit and reach portion, where flexibility and unintentional comedy went hand in hand, was always my favorite. You had to sit and place your feet against a wooden box that looked like it was made by a D shop class student. Then, you had to stretch out your muscles (and dignity) toward a tape measure on the box. Woo hoo! What next? Can we square dance now? Fortunately, the tests were run by teachers who had to control 30 students all at the same time, so it was easy to bend the rules. "Wow Joe...87 sit-ups in a minute? I think that's a record!" Granted, these tests might set good health precedents at an early age, but where are all the Presidential Challenge winners these days? Point me in the direction of the Presidential Challenge Hall of Fame. Go on.

The Obstacle Course: This was an elementary school staple. Anybody else take part in this nonsense? Nothing says fun like turning a gymnasium into a ramshackle version of Double Dare for an hour. Usually, the PE class obstacle course featured some of the following:

1. Wobbly balance beams, three inches off the floor, getting you across an alligator lake (blue construction paper taped to the floor)

2. Having to tip-toe through the poison snake patchactually jump ropes, in the shape of snakes, strewn all over the place

3. A spooky cave contraption that was made out of soiled gym mats (which smelled like taco mix) all held together with duct tape

4. Rope swing across the canyon; in other words, a homemade staircaseplatform, a slippery rope, another platform...and a shattered femur

5. The Scooters : reckless kid doing 15 mph an unsuspecting pinky finger on another kid = a lot of screaming and an ice pack

(Random tangent: not sure if it was just my elementary school that did this, but why was every solution to a childs health problem an ice pack? Talk about a cheap fix. Headache? Ice pack. Blunt force trauma? Ice pack. Stressing out over the state achievement tests? Ice pack.)

Protect The Pin: If you see any news segments about social unrest on TV, say, on a college campus or in a city plaza, I am willing to bet that the highly motivated ones in those stories earned their stripes in games like Protect The Pin. Not sure if you had a game like this in the K-12 days, but this is what put my Tinley Park grade school on the map. Protect the Pin is like dodgeball meets handball meets a government revolt. I can't imagine that this game exists now with the push for "friendly" games in schools. Anyway, two teams are placed on opposing sides of a gymnasium. The midcourt stripe is the Mason-Dixon line. Six or seven foam rubber balls (about the size of small basketballs) were in play. Your goal was to knock down a bowling pin on the other side of the gymand doing so by staying behind the midcourt stripe. If you didnt think you could throw a ball and knock down the pin immediately, you could always peg (read: knock the living daylights out of) opponents via the thrown ball. If a member of the opposition caught the ball on a fly, you were out of the game. However, if your thrown ball was good enough to knock someone's glasses off --and the ensuing ricochet took out two more Z Cavaricci-wearing snobs-- all three were out. Fun stuff! Every Friday afternoon, the decibel level in our gym was tantamount to the old Chicago Stadium during a great Bulls or Blackhawks playoff run. See, throwing a punch in class to get even with the kid who stole your crayon was frowned on in the classroom. But you could always get even if that same kid was on the other team in Protect the Pin. All you need is a foam rubber ballor five. (Note: CSNChicago.com does not advocate violence or throwing foam rubber balls at your coworkers).

What we really need is to have some of our old gym class games on TV. Wouldnt that be fun? You knowget a bunch of free agent athletes in their prime, or even legendary athletes with a few screws loose (Tyson, Rodmanetc) and start up a 12-city dodgeball league. The Chicago Pinheads for starters. The public would never take a thing like that seriously, so you put the games on Saturday nights at 2am when people are just getting home with their steak burritos.

Hey, at least it would be a step up from a food dehydrator infomercial.

Or something like that.

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

It's too bad Nikola Mirotic never played college basketball in the United States. He would have been fun to watch during March Madness.

For some reason, Mirotic has saved his best basketball for the month of March over his three NBA seasons. During his rookie season in 2014-15, Mirotic took advantage of injuries to a couple of the Bulls key players, and averaged 20.8 points a game with expanded playing time in March, leading all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring.

Last season, after rehabbing from two surgeries following appendicitis, Niko averaged just over 13 points a game in March, shooting better than 53 percent from deep.

And this season, Mirotic is averaging 14.2 points on 47.9% shooting from the field during his favorite month. Since he re-entered the rotation back on March 13, Mirotic has been even better, averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point land.

It appeared Mirotic's time with the Bulls was coming to an end when Fred Hoiberg held him out of three straight games earlier this month, including a spot on the inactive list in Boston on March 12. At that point, Mirotic talked openly of not knowing why he had been taken out of the rotation. Now, he might be the key to the Bulls' playoff hopes.

Mirotic has scored a season-high 28 points each in two of the last three games.

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, "The big thing with Niko is he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Anybody who's a shooter, they play with confidence, the game's a lot easier. He's not hesitating at all with his shots. He's taking good shots in the flow of the offense. When Jimmy and Rajon get in the paint, and Niko's spacing the floor, it's a great look and right now he's knocking them down."

So, right now all is good for the 26-year-old native of Montenegro. But it's hard to look past the inconsistency that's marked his NBA career. Mirotic is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his three NBA seasons, shooting  41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. Not exactly the numbers Bulls' fans expected from the guy considered to be one of the best prospects in Europe when he was drafted in 2011. 

Now, as Mirotic gets ready to head into restricted free agency this summer, the Bulls are faced with a difficult decision. Are they willing to pay more than $10 million a year for a player who's been so inconsistent in the NBA? Or, do they let Mirotic walk and risk the possibility the light will suddenly come on for a 6-foot-10 stretch forward that every team in the league could utilize?

The Bulls have 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis under contract for next season, and Paul Zipser and Joffrey Lauvergne also could be in the mix for playing time at the power forward spot. And, there's always the chance the Bulls could get in the bidding for big name free agents Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.

But after trading Doug McDermott at the deadline, the Bulls are painfully short on 3-point shooting threats, and that might lead the front office to decide they'll need to overpay to keep Mirotic around.

It's just one of the tough decisions the Bulls front office faces in what promises to be a fascinating off-season.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It's been another tough season in Phoenix. Despite adding a number of lottery picks in recent years, the Suns currently own the third-worst record in the league. Maybe that's why the players were celebrating with so much energy during a loss in Boston last Friday, watching second year guard Devin Booker explode for 70 points.

Booker becomes only the 6th NBA player to hit the 70-point plateau, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor. The baby-faced 20-year-old shooting guard connected on 21 of 40 shots from the field (only 4-11 from 3-point range), plus 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

With the game hopelessly out of reach in the 4th quarter the Suns kept feeding the ball to Booker to see how high he could push his point total. It might not have pleased basketball purists, but it sure was fun for the Suns' players during their 51st loss of the year.

Phoenix added a pair of young big men in last year's draft, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, and they have a deep backcourt with Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. So, is there a chance they could enter the bidding for Bulls' star Jimmy Butler this summer?

Would a top-3 pick and Bledsoe be enough for Butler? Or would the Bulls prefer a couple of the Suns' young frontcourt players, Bender, Alex Len or T.J. Warren to go along with the pick?

With seven or eight elite prospects at the top of this year's draft, the Bulls will have some options if they decide to go the total rebuild route.

If the Bulls do go shopping for a Butler deal, don't count on Boston still being interested this summer. In case you haven't noticed, the Celtics moved ahead of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East earlier this week, and Danny Ainge might decide he can build a championship team without making a major trade.

The Celtics already have two All-Star caliber players on the roster in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and if the pick they have coming from Brooklyn remains in the top 3, Ainge will be able to add an elite young player like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. After holding on to those Brooklyn picks for so long in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, it's hard to imagine Ainge changing direction now.

Plus, the Celtics also will have enough salary cap room to go after a top free agent, and they've long been linked to Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. It's possible the Celtics could come back next season with a lineup of Thomas and Fultz/Ball in the backcourt, with Horford, Hayward and Jae Crowder up front. Maybe not the star power to match Cleveland, but certainly a team that could contend in the East for a number of years to come.

Former Bulls' All-Star Joakim Noah met with the New York media to discuss his 20 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over the counter supplement he was taking. 

"I made a mistake. It was a tough year for me, for this team," Noah told reporters after returning to practice Tuesday. "... I let a lot of people down. It was a mistake. And I gotta learn from it and bounce back. This is a tough moment and I'm going to learn from it."

Noah said he used the supplement to try to help him bounce back from a hamstring injury he suffered in early February. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year then had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on February 27 to remove loose fragments.

The Knicks are hoping he can get medical clearance to serve part of the 20-game suspension this season, with the remaining time served at the start of the 2017-18 season. Noah still has three more years left on the four-year, $72 million contract he signed with Phil Jackson's Knicks last summer.

Kevin Durant continues to work his way back from the sprained knee he suffered on February 28th in Washington. The Warriors released a statement on Wednesday saying Durant has made very good progress in his rehab and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. The hope is to have Durant play a few regular season games over the final week to get him ready for the playoffs.

Durant has been traveling with the team, going through pre-game workouts monitored by the medical and training staff. The plan is to increase his level of movement over the next few days to see how the knee responds.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Even though the Bulls haven't won back-to-back games since February 24 and 25, the players continue to remain confident about their playoff chances.

This from Mirotic following practice on Wednesday, "We have to depend on just ourselves and pray basically. Hopefully we can be there...... I think we deserve it. The attitude of the team is great right now. We're sticking together even after that tough loss against Philly, we bounce back against Milwaukee. So, right now, we've got another chance."

The Bulls probably need to go 5-3 over the final eight games to make the postseason. After a season of ups and downs, it's anyone's guess if they'll be able to put together a stretch of solid basketball during the final two weeks.