In mid-May, every major league team is supposed to believe it’s still a playoff contender, but realistically, the Chicago Cubs are playing for the future rather than the present. Given that harsh reality, the Cubs’ admittedly welcome victories over Washington and Colorado pale in comparison to the importance of Sunday’s off-the-field accomplishments.
As reported by Fox Sports, the Cubs locked up first baseman Anthony Rizzo through at least 2019 with a massive contract extension. Factoring in various incentives and a pair of team-option years, the deal could be worth as much as $73 million.
Considering that Rizzo had been making less than $500,000 for the 2013 season—a bargain-basement figure that’s now increased as part of the extension—the new contract represents a titanic commitment to a player who's appeared in just over one season's worth of major league games. It also shows that Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office understand what they’re up against in trying to turn the Cubs into winners.
The Chicago Bulls trail two games to one in their uphill playoff battle against the top-seeded Miami Heat. If the Bulls want to extend the series beyond five games, Monday’s Game 4 at the United Center becomes a must-win.
Beating Miami is always going to take a healthy dose of luck, but the Bulls can maximize their chances by following this formula:
1. Play smart
The action after the whistle has gotten more attention in this series than what’s actually happening while the game clock is running. The Bulls have instigated much of that chippiness—witness Nazr Mohammed’s Game 3 ejection—and the refs will be watching the home team for any opportunity to assess a technical on Monday.
Tom Thibodeau will need to preach “do as I say, not as I do” after getting slapped with a fine for complaining about the officiating, but somebody has to convince the Bulls to keep their cool. Physical play is one thing, but all the pushing and shoving in dead-ball situations only serves to shorten an already thin Chicago bench.
2. Don’t get beaten by the supporting cast
With Sunday’s Mother’s Day festivities honoring women around the country for a traditional role, it’s a great time to look at a role that’s developing a great tradition of its own: women as sports stars. Although there have been celebrated female athletes for nearly as long as the men’s sports hype machine has been in place, women’s sports have never been more popular than they are now.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the greatest female athletes in sports history:
Margaret Court, Tennis
Most tennis players never even approach a career Grand Slam, but Margaret Court completed a single-year Grand Slam three different times (a record for any player, man or woman). In addition to winning all four major singles titles in 1970, she earned all four championships in mixed doubles (with various partners) in both 1963 and 1965.
In all, Court won or shared 64 championships in grand slam action, completing two so-called “boxed sets” by winning titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at each tournament at least twice. 92 of her 192 career singles titles came during the Open era.
Mia Hamm, Soccer
The Chicago Bulls survived a Game 7 on the road to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs and face the top-seeded Miami Heat. The injury-ravaged Bulls don’t look likely to pose much of a threat to the prohibitive championship favorites, but that doesn’t mean the series won’t be worth watching.
When Derrick Rose returns to Chicago’s lineup next season (barring a miraculous change of heart in the next week), the Bulls will be the Heat’s toughest competition in the East. With that future in mind, here are some issues to keep an eye on as Miami’s run to a presumed coronation continues:
1. Can Carlos Boozer keep up his high level of play?
For the first prolonged stretch since joining the Bulls, Carlos Boozer looked like his old All-Star self in the series win over Brooklyn. Boozer’s offensive aggressiveness and hard work on the glass gave Reggie Evans and company fits for seven games.
A short-handed Chicago Bulls squad fell at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday to set up Saturday’s Game 7 at the Barclays Center. With the status of two starters still up in the air, the Bulls face an uphill battle on the road if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference semis.
For Chicago to pull out the win, Tom Thibodeau will need his team to follow these four steps:
1. Let Nate be Nate
Nate Robinson can be an immensely frustrating player for a coach. He’s so emotion-driven that bad shots and bad fouls are just part of the package when he’s put in a significant role.
However, Robinson’s scoring has saved the Bulls throughout this series, and Chicago can’t hope to get enough offense to win without another big game from the little point guard. Thibodeau will need to show patience with Robinson’s antics in order to reap the benefits of his explosive three-point shooting.
2. Get as much as possible from Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich