Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
All Miami football fans have watched Cameron Wake find a way to get to quarterbacks, but most don't know how the sudden Pro-Bowler got into the NFL. It was a long road. For starters, he sat through the entire draft after graduating from Penn State as a linebacker in 2005 and never heard his name called. The New York Giants picked him up as an undrafted free agent but soon released him. Then, inconceivable as it may sound considering his enormous talent, Wake spent nearly two years out of football. What did he do? Well, he was a stockbroker, of course. He got a chance in the Canadian Football League in 2007, and it was immediately apparent he was meant to be not on the trading floor but the football field. Wake was 25 when he played in his first-ever professional game in British Columbia — and he quickly began to make up for lost time, getting 16 sacks and becoming the first player in CFL history to be named both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He repeated the latter award in 2008, ringing up another league-leading 23 sacks. Coaches in America, slow as they apparently were, began to catch on that this guy was special, and in 2009, he signed with the Dolphins. The rest is now part of the history of another place he clearly belongs — the NFL.
It's not just that the team has won a lot more games since he's been gone than when he was here. That wouldn't be fair — the Miami Heat is better for a lot of reasons. But one of those reasons is certainly the absence of Michael Beasley. And it's not that he's a bad player — he's young, and it's yet to be determined whether he's worthy of pro ball. But the six-foot-ten power forward wasn't a good player down here, that's for sure. He wasn't ready for South Florida, for the nightlife, for the attention that comes with being a number-two-overall draft pick going to a marquee franchise. When Chris Bosh and LeBron James came into South Florida, Beasley got shipped to Minnesota, where he's averaged more minutes, more points, and fewer embarrassing off-the-court incidents.
No, he doesn't have the quickest feet or the strongest arm or the most accurate passes. No, he doesn't always throw it to his own team, and he doesn't always make the best decisions — or any decision at all sometimes, staring blank-faced into a viscous blitz. As a matter of fact, Chad Henne really isn't a very good pro quarterback at all. But damn, can that boy stuff some balloons down his shirt and dance! In case you didn't see it, Henne took a little vacation to the Bahamas during the first few weeks of the NFL lockout, and while there, he was spotted dancing at a bar, using balloons to look like boobs. It was spectacular. If nothing else, Henne truly brings new meaning to the word bust.
Since the moment LeBron James made "The Decision" — an obnoxious, hourlong paean to himself (with profits going to charity) in which he famously told the world he was "taking [his] talents to South Beach" — his popularity has hovered somewhere around the Tiger Woods area. And he certainly makes it easy, what with the self-titled cartoons, the self-monikered "King" T-shirts, the commercials and ridiculous birthday cakes, and the overall sense of entitlement he has seemed to exude since he was a senior in high school. He misses shots at the end of games, he sends out Tweets that seem to mock his old team, and he has an entourage bigger than the cast of the show Entourage. But there's also this: LeBron James is already, at age 26, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He's a standout on a team of stars, an MVP candidate despite everything else. Watching him at his best — he defies the laws of physics the way Picasso defied the traditions of paint — is something akin to a religious experience.
It had never been done — three of the game's top players taking fate and free-agency into their own hands, joining forces to create a superteam right here in South Florida. And ever since, the Miami Heat, with a cast of characters that seemed almost Shakespearean, have been the most watched, most discussed, most reviled team in America. And to the delight of millions of sports fans, the team got off to an inauspicious start. Then, after a throat-ripping in Cleveland, came an incredible, nearly two-month run in which the team lost only one game. The way it swept into towns, created such a stir, then moved right along, LeBron compared the team to the Beatles. Then a Tweet about "karma" and — wouldn't you know it? — some injuries. There was a rough stretch, then another run of victories. Then five big losses in a row, some talk of crying, a solved custody dispute, a funny song about Chris Bosh, and another great run. And that's the story of this team: winning or losing, on the court or off, intentional or not, there's always something. Will the Heatles accomplish their stated goal of multiple championships? Only time will tell.
The Marlins might not have a recent history of winning, but the team sure can find sensational rookies. The Marlins had a terrific trio of first-year players in 2010. Mike Stanton, who has the makings of a superstar, was electrifying but inconsistent. Logan Morrison came on as the season progressed like a ton of bricks and may prove to be the best pure hitter of the three. But first-baseman Gaby Sanchez was the mainstay, hitting .273 with 19 home runs and 85 RBIs. His most memorable moment, though, had everything to do with his heart, which may be the Miami native's best attribute. When Phillies wild man Nyjer Morgan charged Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad on the mound late in the season, he clearly had designs of landing a haymaker on the side of Volstad's head. But just before Morgan could land his punch, a blur streaked to the mound and put the Philly on his back. The blur was Sanchez, who came from first base and clotheslined Morgan in one of the most memorable scenes of the entire baseball season. Sanchez has said he wants to be known for his playing rather than his fighting. That's a player with heart. That's Gaby Sanchez.
What did Woody Allen say? Ninety percent of success is showing up? Whatever it is, Weiss seems to live by it, because his sheer perseverance as a Panther is turning him into the face of the team. What does Weiss do? He serves as captain and the guy who keeps coming back for more (and in the case of the Panthers, he might qualify as an abuse victim). Weiss isn't quite a star, more like a classic role player, but he's also the team's leading scorer. This team needs more talent before it really lights up Sunrise again, but have no doubt: In Weiss, the team has a championship-caliber player. The Panthers just need another leading man or two.
While expectations keep rising for the Florida Atlantic University football team under Howard Schnellenberger, it's the FAU basketball team that actually seems to be on the upswing. There to anchor the Owls' resurgence has been Greg Gantt, a sophomore guard who knows how to drop buckets. The six-foot-two-inch Gantt is a sharpshooter with the versatility to score in all kinds of ways. Gantt is the team's rock, the shoulders that often carry it. But this could have just as easily gone to fellow sophomore Ray Taylor, a lightning-quick point guard who makes the team go. Add to that combo a surprisingly notable coach in Mike Jarvis, a former Boston University, George Washington, and St. Johns coach who has a lot of NCAA tournament experience. The way things are coming together, it's a good bet they'll get to the Big Dance next March together.
At Jonathan Dickinson State Park, it's $16 for a single kayak, $21.30 for a double, and that gets you two hours of paddling on a river wider than I-95. It'll likely take you a couple of hours to reach Trapper Nelson's, an old camp available only by water. A clearing in the jungle reveals a wood cabin that was the former residence of a trapper who lived off the land. Wander past his old bunk, animal cages, and the building where he dried fur pelts to sell. "Tarzan of the Loxahatchee River," they called him. But, as signs dotting the property explain, his reputation wasn't enough to save him from death by shotgun in 1968. They say it was suicide, even though suspicions pointed to land developers eager for Nelson's land. Before heading back downriver, have a picnic, take in the shade under the slash pines, and just try to resist the urge to search the camp for clues.
If the tobacco-stained walls of the Dania Beach jai-alai stadium could talk, they would likely tell of the sport's glory days in the '60s and '70s, when celebrities and local movers and shakers would pack into the cavernous stadium to watch the "game of a thousand thrills." The seats are now well worn and have that overly broken-in feeling of an ancient movie theater; row upon row of them sit mostly vacant. The halls are studded with art deco posters advertising long-past games and hinting at the elegance and glamour of the jai alai of yesterday. One good thing about all this throwback: The price of a plastic cup of domestic beer seems to have frozen somewhere around the Clinton administration (Wednesday nights, a 12-ounce beer costs 99 cents). The players, meanwhile, remain youthful and spry, wielding their cestas with vigor and passion, particularly when considering the humble size of the crowd typically gathered to watch their live games. Only a handful of frontons continue to host professional jai alai in the United States, making Dania's stadium a requirement for a truly inclusive tour of South Florida's singular attractions.
Let's assume that you haven't tried paddleboarding before, because you probably haven't. You saw someone off the beach the other day looking like they were walking on water, and now you want one. This is the right place then, because here they'll set you up with a demo day. Try out a few of them. Rent one later if you want. Then figure out the board for you — a big floaty one for cruising the canals or a short surf style for cutting through the waves. They'll size you for them, figuring out the board for your weight and height and cutting a paddle based on the length of your arms. And then there's appearance, of course, because these things ought to be works of art. They are here, where you'll find the bamboo Suplove, the badass-looking Rogue, or the ocean-blue Roberto Ricci. You can even have it custom-painted. And soon, with a board that's just right, you'll be walking on water too.
The Florida Marlins' position players ain't got nothin' on the Marlins' 2011 opening-day starting pitcher, Josh Johnson. Sure, Dan Uggla had a great 2010. Thanks, Dan. But did you lead the league in any statistical categories? Nope. Johnson's 2.30 ERA was the lowest in the National League last year, and no one in baseball gave up fewer home runs per nine innings. Now, it's a little early to call Johnson the Whitey Ford of the Marlins, but the righty's .672 career winning percentage is pretty unfuckwithable. Also, he's signed through 2013, so he's a safer bet than most to still be a Marlin after the trade deadline.