Every-Thing Sports

Houston Sports: From national afterthought to most hated

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Sports fans everywhere have their hang-ups. Some are insufferable, some are idiots, some get violent. Others are dumb, humble...you get the point. Remember when Houston sports fans would be upset over lack of national media attention? They would whine and cry that they weren't get any respect or enough love or too little coverage. It wasn't that the national media had a biased against Houston sports, they simply weren't as interesting.

That all changed when the Astros won the 2017 World Series. They were a homegrown, fun-loving bunch of guys that played with swag. Deshaun Watson was in the midst of his rookie season with the Texans and was taking the league by storm. The Rockets had the NBA's best record at 65-17 behind league MVP James Harden and were a "hamstring away" from defeating the Warriors and going to the Finals. From those highs to now, what and where did it go wrong?

The Astros Cheated

This was low hanging fruit. The Astros had a reputation around MLB for being off-putting, specifically Jeff Luhnow and the environment in his front office. Sure, people may not like Alex Bregman's act, but you can't deny his talent. Jose Altuve and George Springer have awesome stories of overcoming obstacles. But when Mike "el soplón" Fiers decided to break an unwritten rule, it all went to hell in a hand basket. The commissioner asked teams to stop stealing signs and the Astros refused. It was stated in his report that their failure to comply was the impetus for their punishment. Now, the floodgates have opened and the hate is flowing freely. It's all deserved given what they did, but some is over the top and emotionally driven.

Harden And Morey Aren't Likeable Guys

Daryl Morey is very good at what he does. He's one of the top general managers in the NBA. James Harden is very good at what he does. He's one of the best players in the NBA. They've been a pair since Morey traded for Harden in 2012 and haven't won anything but some individual awards. This despite having paired Harden with Dwight Howard first, then Chris Paul. When those experiments failed, Morey made a move for one of Harden's childhood friends and fellow former MVP Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is another guy who's not very likeable. Whether it's his antics on the court or his handling of the media, he seems to fit right in. Now that "small ball" is in full effect, the national media is trying to find a way to poop on it, but are getting turned away because of the Rockets' play as of late.

Bill O'Brien Is A Powerful Dumbass

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Bill O'Brien is a prime example. The Texans were in a good spot. They drafted Watson and he brought them some credibility, as well as fulfilled their franchise quarterback role. However, O'Brien has managed to turn this team into a laughingstock. He's assumed so much power and control as GM and head coach, that the only people capable of firing him is one of the McNairs and they're the ones who've given him this much power! It's utterly ridiculous! After the playoff loss to the Chiefs, the national media finally picked up on the stench the local media has been smelling for years. Now, O'Brien and the Texans are facing the scrutiny nationally they've faced locally and it's well earned. He's turned this organization into a punchline.

Where does Houston go from here?

The only thing Houston can do from here is to lean into the bad guy role. I wrote about this concerning the Astros a few weeks ago. Looking at how the Rockets and Texans have been talked about nationally, it's time for them to embrace it as well. Harden shot back at Giannis Antetokounmpo when he threw shade his way. It was refreshing to see some fight out of him instead of the usual safe answers. Too bad the Texans don't have that in them. They need to start winning and winning big before they can talk big. As far as the fans are concerned: support your teams, wear their gear, but beware. The Texans won't give you any ammo in which to defend them with because they have an affinity for being mediocre. The Astros were caught cheating so there's not a whole lot you can do to defend them. The Rockets haven't been to or won a title since OJ was found not guilty. Look at the bright side Houston. You still have the Roughnecks.

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The Houston sports fan has long lamented that their teams do not get enough love from the national media. In the past year, however, local teams and athletes have been in the news. The good news? The national media has taken notice. It might be for all the wrong reasons, but the city is now on the national map, giving the hot take artists and talking heads no shortage of ammo. Not everyone has become hated; the Roughnecks aren't old enough, and the Dynamo have not won enough recently. Kelvin Sampson has been a good story with UH basketball and has built a nice program, so that one is a positive. But let's look at the ones who have made headlines in the wrong ways:

5) Bill O'Brien

Texans Bill O'Brien Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

O'Brien has had a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Houston media for some time. The national media always questioned why he was so disliked. Then in a short span he yelled at a customer, blew a 24-0 lead in a playoff game, and the national sharks went into a frenzy. His weird play calling, clock management and general small man's syndrome has been the bane of Houston for years. The national media got to see it on the biggest stage, and immediately started piling on. Don't fret for O'Brien, however. He reacted by getting a promotion.

4) Daryl Morey

Daryl Morey Rockets.com

This is more of an international hatred thing, since he angered all of China. But he also got both praise and heat around the country after his "stand with Hong Kong" tweet. The incident has cost the NBA millions and sparked a worldwide controversy. Morey has been quiet since and his re-tooling of the Rockets roster has made a lot of the controversy disappear, but for a short time, this was a monster story.

3) Jim Crane

Jim Crane Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

The Astros owner got off light on the sign stealing punishment, and much of the national media and many of the players on other teams were critical of that. He didn't help himself with his spring training "apology," which was never going to be good enough for some people, even if he had not botched it. What Crane did or did not know will remain a mystery, but even if he had no knowledge of what was going on, the national media is out for blood. Crane's players, however, will likely bear the brunt going forward (more on that in a minute) and the Crane hatred will likely fade, but it was a dominant story earlier in February.

Interestingly enough, the two management guys who got punished by losing their jobs - Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch - have dodged most of the bullets, probably because they were the two who paid a price.

2) James Harden

James Harden.

This has always been an odd one. Harden has won an MVP, leads the league in scoring, and has put up some historic numbers. But his playoff failures coupled with a style of play that rubs some people the wrong way has always made him a target. It doesn't help that he has the personality and charisma of an old shoe. He also gets some love nationally, but overwhelmingly it is dislike. Winning a title would probably only make it worse. Most players become disliked because of fatigue of seeing them in the championship so often. Duke basketball, the Patriots, the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. Harden has done it without the title. It will be interesting to see what the narrative is if he and the Rockets can hoist a trophy.

1) The Astros star players

Astros Jose Altuve Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa and even Justin Verlander - who did not cheat - have been the most hated men in the national media over the past month, because none of them were punished. While the story was completely overblown, nationally very few came to their defense. It became a daily dose of who criticized them next. Bregman and Altuve seemed to take the brunt, because they were the ones who were part of the "apology." And rest assured, this won't go away anytime soon. The players will likely face boos and will have to answer the same old questions with every road trip. Is it fair? No. But that's how the media world works these days. Plus, the hatred far transcended the traditional media. Housewives who never watched an inning of baseball weighed in on social media. So no matter what they do, there will always be a fair amount of disgust for them.

The epilogue

The truth is, locally, most of these guys are beloved, other than O'Brien and to a much lesser extent Harden. But the view of the national media is a different thing, and Houston sports figures have put themselves in the crosshairs with tweets, cheating scandals and more. The good news is Morey seems to be getting past it, O'Brien can still prove he deserves his promotion by winning big, and maybe Harden will start winning more people over, because he does have some supporters. The Astros might never win back the media, and who cares? If they win back the title, people in Houston will be just fine.

And hey, embrace the fact that the national media has noticed, even if it is for negative reasons.

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