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Let's hope Gordon, Woods find their way back to the top

Rochester Business Journal
June 4, 2010

First of all, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Despite my Southern accent, I am not a die-hard, redneck NASCAR fan. I’ve never had a pickup truck with a rifle rack in it. Hey, I don’t even like grits.

I do have casual interest in stock car racing, but that’s about it. I’m not avid, not glued to the tube. Only once have I have watched the Daytona 500 from start to finish, and that was in 1999, when Jeff Gordon won it for the second time.

Still, auto racing is not boring. And yes, it is a sport.

Ah, yes, Jeff Gordon. When I’m channel surfing, I will stop wherever a NASCAR race is being televised to see how Gordon is doing—or not doing. I’m not riveted, so then I usually move on. And I always check out the results the next day, just as I check out the major-league box scores to see how certain teams and players did the day before.

When Gordon, now 38, was in his mid-20s, he was the Tiger Woods of NASCAR. From 1995 through 1999 he won 47 races, 33 of them in three years. He now has 82 victories, but since 2007 he has won only once in 90 races. Still, he has eight second-place finishes since 2009.

Now, those two have a little more in common. Gordon has had to deal with back problems, Tiger with knee and neck problems. And Gordon went through what has been described as a “high-profile divorce,” which Woods probably is about to experience. Gordon reportedly is happily remarried, with a 2-year-old daughter and a son on the way in August.

But his game, like Tiger’s, ain’t what it used to be. On the positive side, his wife didn’t come after Gordon with a golf club and he didn’t crash his vehicle into a fire hydrant.

Then there are the fans. In the golf world, Woods was idolized before his infidelities, but now that love and respect has dwindled. NASCAR fans, who reportedly cheered when Gordon crashed during a race in the mid-’90s, today are more accepting of him because he’s not the dominant “kid” he was back then.

NASCAR doesn’t need Gordon as much as the PGA Tour needs Woods, but let’s hope they both get back on their game.

On a totally unrelated subject, I am happy to announce that I have more than a casual interest in the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

And no, I’m not a fan—not in the true sense of the word—of either team, but the matchup has history written all over it. There was a time in my life, when Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were Lakers, when I would stay up until after midnight just to see if the Lakers won. Baylor was and is my all-time favorite player.

If you just asked, “Who are Elgin Baylor and Jerry West?” you may be excused.

In Game 5 of the 1962 finals, Baylor scored 61 points—a record for an NBA Finals game—and grabbed 22 rebounds. Not bad for a guy 6-foot-5. I listened to the game on the radio and remember him fouling out and the crowd at the Boston Garden giving him a standing ovation.

Of course, the Celtics defeated the Lakers in the seventh game to win the championship. I don’t have the numbers, but basically Baylor and West would score 70 or more points between them and the Celtics would have seven players with 16 points apiece.

That is a perfect example of why the Cleveland Cavaliers are scheduling tee times somewhere, or getting more tattoos. If LeBron James didn’t do it, it didn’t get done. A team can’t win a championship with little or nothing more than a 1-2 punch, let alone simply a 1-punch.

And that, as well as defense, is why I think the Celtics will win the NBA title, hopefully sometime before summer ends. Boston has four players averaging 16 points or more and the Lakers have five with double-figure averages, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant is the man.

It should be interesting, and I must admit that I’m probably going to watch some of it for the first time in quite a while—but because of the palming and traveling, probably not right after I’ve eaten.

Rick Woodson’s column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, “Words of Woodson,” is available at Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.3.

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