Every-Thing Sports

What are the Rockets?

As of this writing (Monday night around 8:30pm CST), the Rockets are in fifth place in the Western Conference. They're one and a half games behind the Utah Jazz for fourth place. The same Jazz team that beat them in Houston on a last second Hail Mary three pointer as time expired. They're also four games behind both the Nuggets and the Clippers, as well as seven games behind the Lakers. Needless to say, they're climbing up a hill lined with Vaseline.

This team is not where anyone thought they would be at this point in the season. 53 games into the season with 29 left to play and the Rockets have little time to make any waves. The playoffs are approaching, but this team looks more like a pretender than a true contender. Owner Tilman Fertitta, general manager Daryl Morey, and head coach Mike D'Antoni are looking more like the Three Stooges instead of three of the leading individuals in their respective fields. So what exactly are the Rockets?

Gimmick-ball Frauds

The small ball lineup, the analytics, threes over twos...all of this is cool when it works. When you trade away you center and decide to run a lineup out there in which the tallest player is 6'7, there's sometimes in which things will work, and there are times in which it goes down like the Hindenberg. Things have been a flaming disaster more than it's been a striking success. The small ball has been more hit than miss lately., but there's been more stumbles than stand ups lately, leaving me to think this team is a fraud.

Playoff-bound

​Despite the obvious hang-ups, they will make the playoffs. However, don't be surprised if they make an early exit. Living by the three means you'll die by it too. Whenever they aren't making their threes, they struggle big time. In a seven game series, their style may not hold up against tough competition. But what if the Rockets make the necessary adjustments? If they do, they'll make themselves the most annoying team to face in the playoffs and perhaps the toughest out.

All or nothing

Their playing style leads you to believe they could win it all, or lose in the first round. Either they'll win or lose by 20. Either they'll spend money and pay the luxury tax, or they'll make questionable moves to get under it. They remind me of the old school slugger in MLB named Dave Kingman. Kingman hit 442 homers in his career, but had a .236 batting average. He's the best example of what the Rockets represent.

This team is an enigma wrapped in a paradox that's been sucked into a black hole. Their best qualities are only shown when the perfect conditions present themselves. The difference between them being considered geniuses and idiots is a fine line called winning. When they win, they look smart. When they lose, they look like dumbasses. Morey and D'Antoni have laid all their eggs in the small ball basket. They're attempting to play with a lineup the league hasn't seen in over 50 years. They'd better be careful because Fertitta doesn't take too kindly to losing. We're talking about a guy who's won at just about everything he's done in life. This team is on a collective hot seat. I give them this season and maybe one more before Fertitta blows it up and starts over. Maybe his ego won't allow him to tank and/or blow it up like the previous owner did. If they don't show a significant enough improvement, D'Antoni is gone after this season and Morey may not be here too much longer. Until then, let's get our popcorn and enjoy the show. It'll be a beauty or a beautiful disaster either way.

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Chestnut finished with 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Photo by Ken Hoffman.

You were impressed by Tiger Woods playing 18 playoff holes on a broken leg to win the 2008 U.S. Open?

How about Muhammad Ali fighting 11 rounds with a broken jaw against Ken Norton in 1973?

Kirk Gibson limping around the bases on an injured leg after belting a game-winning homer in the 1988 World Series?

Or Cosmo Kramer taking over the wheel of a runaway bus, fighting off a mugger and continuing to make all the stops?

Sure there have been legendary displays of courage under pressure, but nothing will compare to the raw guts and intestinal magnificence that Joey “Jaws” Chestnut displayed Sunday while winning his 15th title in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.

Chestnut entered the event at a disadvantage with his foot in a boot due to a ruptured tendon. Competitors were salivating at the chance to face a hobbled champion. Or perhaps it was the aroma of freshly grilled hot dogs that got their digestive juices flowing.

Then, as Chestnut was grabbing for his 11th HD&B (hot dog and bun), a protestor wearing a Darth Vader mask and carrying a sign reading “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar” rushed the stage and bumped into Chestnut.

Smithfield is the biggest producer of pork products in America and has been accused of less than humane conditions on its pig farms in Utah. Chestnut reacted swiftly, grabbing the protestor in a rear naked choke that would make UFC champ Charles Oliveira envious.

The incident took only seconds, Chestnut barely broke his stride, and finished with 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes. His total was far below the record 76 franks he consumed last year, but still 20 dogs ahead of his nearest rival. It was Chestnut’s 15th title overall in Coney Island, a record that is unrivaled in major sports. Only Rafael Nadal’s 14 championships at the French Open tennis tournament is close.

Point of clarification and confusion. While the protestor referenced Smithfield’s pork production facility, Nathan’s hot dogs are 100-percent beef. Also, the Nathan’s skinless hot dogs you buy in supermarkets are not the same natural casing dogs you get at Nathan’s restaurant on the corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. Nathan’s brand does produce natural casing dogs for supermarkets, but they’re expensive and difficult to find. I settle for Boar’s Head.

I’ve had several up close and personal experiences with the mighty Chestnut. I was his official “judge” and hot dog counter at five of his Coney Island victories. Plus I was his assistant at the 2009 World Kolache Eating Contest at Minute Maid Park. I carried his jug of Kool-Aid to the field and made sure his contractual needs were met. Chestnut won the kolache clash, downing 45 sausage kolaches in eight minutes. It was a tighter finish than expected as Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti threatened Chestnut right to the bitter end by inhaling 42 of the bready breakfast pastries.

The day before, I conducted an exhaustive 2-hour interview with Chestnut on radio. I didn’t hold back with my questions. Yes, I went there. His answer was … around 3 or 4 a.m. and it ain’t pretty.

This year’s event wasn’t the first time there was civil disobedience at the Nathan’s Famous July 4 Hot Dog Contest.

In 2009, legendary Japanese competitor Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobyashi attempted to disrupt the event, considered the World Series of competitive eating, by challenging Chestnut to a showdown. Kobyashi had been barred from entering that year’s contest because he refused to sign an exclusive contract with the sponsoring Major League Eating group. With the crowd chanting “let him eat” Kobyashi went all Clubber Lang on Chestnut, yelling and screaming, questioning the champion’s courage and appetite for competition among other things.

Was it a publicity stunt? Did contest organizers know about Kobyashi’s plan? Nobody knows now and New York City police didn’t know then. They arrested Kobyashi for trespassing, resisting arrest and “obstructing government administration.” Police hauled his inexplicably skinny butt away kicking and flailing.

Before they could stuff Koby in the back of a paddy wagon, one of Kobyashi’s stray kicks struck my son who was watching in the VIP section. Prior to this, his favorite brush with celebrity was getting his hero Jeff Bagwell’s autograph at Minute Maid Park. Getting booted by Kobyashi was 10x cooler.

In 2017, animal rights protestors attempted to rush the stage. Thwarted by security, they threw red paint on spectators. I was on the stage during the disturbance. Later I learned that one of my entourage, wearing a souvenir Coney Island T-shirt, was splattered by the paint. He was not happy. I said, “Are you kidding? That shirt is a piece of history now. It belongs in the Smithsonian. Or in a Tide commercial.”

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