TOP DOG

Ken Hoffman on how Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest will look different this year

Photo by Getty Images.

Dear Coronavirus: I didn't mind when you interrupted the basketball season, or delayed the baseball season and may wreck the football season, but I've got a big problem when you mess with the single greatest sports event in America.

Because of the pandemic, the July 4 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest will not be held in front of 35,000 screaming, sweaty fans on the corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. Instead the annual gorging of processed meat will be conducted without fans in an antiseptic, undisclosed location in New York, with full COVID-19 safety protocols in effect.

There will be one more important change for the Independence Day food fight. Instead of 15 competitors, there will be only five superstars at the trough in both the men's and women's event. Twelve-time men's champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut will be back to defend his Yellow Mustard Belt, while ladies champ Miki Sudo will be shooting for her seventh-consecutive Pepto Bismol Pink Belt.

As usual, Nathan's Famous will blunt criticism for promoting gluttony as sport by donating 100,000 hot dogs to charity. By the way, the announced attendance of 35,000 fans is brought to you by the same accounting firm that used to claim that 400,000 people attended the Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston. A more accurate figure on Turkey Day: around 25,000, and that's being generous.

Chestnut, while admitting he will miss the fan support this year, says the sterile, climate-controlled conditions may help him break his own record of 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

"There's a little bit of a bonus 'cause we're gonna be eating in air conditioning and there are less eaters, so they're making less hot dogs, so they may taste better," he told TMZ. "If I'm in the perfect rhythm, 77 is possible."

Chestnut practically promising a new record ranks up there with Joe Namath guaranteeing a Jets Super Bowl win, Muhammad Ali predicting which round he'd knock out Sonny Liston and Babe Ruth calling his shot. Because of my personal admiration for Chestnut, I will overlook that he should have said "fewer eaters" and "fewer hot dogs." But Jaws isn't here for a grammar lesson, he's here to eat - like no one's ever eaten before.

I have personal history with the July 4 hot dog hijinks. I was a judge for both the men's and women's events for 10 years, making me the longest-running judge in the contest's 104-year history. I also was at the center of the biggest controversy in Coney Island history, but more on that later.

I worked my way up the ranks. My first contest, in 2009, they assigned me to count the hot dogs for a no-name rookie eater at the end of the table. As the years rolled by, I worked my way up the ladder, until 2015, when I opened my assignment envelop and saw the names Matt "Megatoad" Stonie and Miki Sudo. Fans of the gastronomical arts know that was the year Stonie defeated the legendary Chestnut. It's called the greatest upset in sports history.

After the contest, CNN asked to interview me, but I demurred because I had chunks of hot dog and wet buns on my shirt. It wasn't a fashion-forward look. CNN said, how about if you clean up and come to our studios near Columbus Circle in Manhattan? Fine. That afternoon I sat in a small room, wearing makeup, and stared at a robotic camera while anchorman Jonathan Mann interviewed me from CNN International studios in London. Let the record show that I may have made an R-rated joke, which Mann found funny, but was edited out during replays that night.

In 2016, I achieved the height of the hot dog judging profession – I was assigned to count Joey Chestnut's franks. Not only that, I was in front of Miki Sudo, too. They both won. I was back in charge of counting for Chestnut and Sudo in 2017 and 2018. They both won both times again. That made seven champions in a row for me. Hot dog historians call it the record that will never be broken.

During my 10 years judging the Super Bowl of Consumption, I noticed two eaters suffering a "reversal of fortune." That means vomiting. In both cases, the eaters ate their vomit, which almost made me vomit. I was there when vegan protestors threw fake blood on the judges. I was there when former champion Takeru Kobyaski was arrested for crashing the contest Clubber Lang-style.

The year of the great scandal and my personal shame was 2018. As usual, I was assigned Chestnut. Here's some inside baseball: each of the big-time eaters is assigned two judges, one to count the hot dogs, one to flip over the numbers so the crowd and ESPN can tell who's leading. On this day, I was the flipper. As hilarious emcee George Shea counted down 10-9-8, etc., my partner (the counter) yelled to me, "I can't see Joey!" It was true, the judges' platform was lower than in past years, plus ESPN had crowded the platform with its goon helpers. Plus Chestnut brings a coach who was screaming cheers for him next to us. It was a scene, all right.

With my partner unable to see Chestnut clearly, he was only guessing at the number of hot dogs the champ was eating. Whatever my partner yelled in my ear, that's the number I flipped over. When the final bell rang, I had 64 hot dogs on my scoreboard. Chestnut immediately leaned forward and yelled, "You f-'d up!" Emcee Shea let me have it, too. I wanted to holler back, "I was just holding up whatever the other guy told me!"

There was a 10-minute delay before ESPN reviewed the tape and Chestnut was credited with 74 hot dogs, a new world record. I took the heat for the mishap because my miscounting partner high-tailed it out of there. I think he was somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike by the time they announced Chestnut the winner with his correct total. That night, I was called a "weenie" on newscasts across the U.S. Newspapers were equally corny the next day. Weenie? That's the best you got? It's practically a compliment. I was interviewed on morning radio shows in New York and Washington D.C. John Granato interviewed me on ESPN 97.5 in Houston. He didn't stop at weenie.

The highlight for me, and which almost made the whole incident worthwhile, I was the guest on the Fink Beats the Stomach, the highest-rated podcast dedicated to the sport of competitive eating. It's also the only podcast dedicated to the sport of competitive eating. I'm on Episode 75, it's still online.

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The Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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