Thursday, March 4, 2010

Olympic stars still shine

NOW THAT THE NHL is officially back in business following the two-week Olympic break, I wondered whether the players who stood out in Vancouver would be able to do the same once they returned to the nightly grind, away from the world spotlight, and whether they would be able to channel the same intensity and focus.

In many cases, they seemed to pick up right where they left off. On Tuesday, Ryan Callahan of the Rangers (pictured above) scored two goals in a 4-1 win over the Senators; Mike Richards scored a goal for the Flyers in a 7-2 victory over the Lightning, and Marty Brodeur, after losing his starting job in goal for Team Canada, returned to the Devils and had to make only 17 saves in a 4-3 triumph over the Sharks.

On Wednesday, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo -- who wore different uniforms during the Olympics -- both put on their familiar Canucks garb with positive results. Kesler scored a pair of goals and Luongo made 28 saves as Vancouver beat the Red Wings 6-3.

Not so fortunate, however, was the hero of Team USA, goaltender Ryan Miller, going in net for the first time since the Olympic gold medal game, played well and made 37 saves for the Sabres, but still wound up on the short end of a 3-1 loss to the Caps.

It was an interesting scene the night before in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins hosted Buffalo. Miller -- who didn't play -- got a louder ovation then hometown hero Sidney Crosby, who not only helped win the Stanley Cup for the hometown Pens last season but scored the OT goal that gave Team Canada the gold on Sunday. Guess national pride runs thicker than the local variety.


LeBron James has made it known he intends to change his familiar No. 23 to No. 6 next season -- whether he re-signs with the Cavs or not (the feeling here is that you'll be seeing plenty of No. 6 jerseys trudging around downtown Cleveland next season). It's no secret that King James has made it known he'd like to see the NBA retire No. 23 for posterity in honor of Michael Jordan, as Major League Baseball retired No. 42 for Jackie Robinson. There are several players in the NBA right now toting No. 23, with James easily the most notable.

A future Hall-of-Famer (I think we can safely assume that), James would wear his new number well, joining HOF residents Bill Russell and Julius Erving as superstars known for their No. 6.

Unlike collegiate and high school basketball, the NBA has no restrictions regarding what numbers players wear. Rules are in place at the amateur levels that only numbers in the ranges of 1-5, 10-15, 20-25, 30-35, 40-45 and 50-55 are to be worn, to make it easier for officials to signal fouls -- as there are only five digits on each hand. Thus, a foul on a player wearing No. 23 would be signified by the referee holding up two fingers on one hand and three on the other. Pretty simple stuff.

There have always been examples of oddball numbers in NBA lore. George Mikan, the league's first superstar, wore No. 99 with the Minneapolis Lakers. Ron Artest wore No. 91 at one point in his career as a tribute to Dennis Rodman. Artest has also worn Nos. 15, 23, 93, 96 and 37 as well, for reasons too convoluted and time-consuming to go into here. Drew Gooden donned No. 90 with the Mavericks to combine the No. 9 he wore with the Magic and the 0 he wore with the Grizzlies. Shawn Bradley wore 76 because he stood 7-6 and also happened to play for the 76ers. And the since-maligned Gilbert Arenas wore 0, because he was told that's how many minutes he would play while at the University of Arizona.

But I think my favorite example of sports numerology has to do with baseball, specifically Japanese baseball. Players there universally refuse to wear No. 4, pronounced "shi," the same pronunciation as the Japanese word for death.

Talk about a rally-killer.

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