Top 8 Sports Stories, Events and Games To Watch for in the Summer of 2011

Matthew AaronContributor IIIMay 31, 2011

Top 8 Sports Stories, Events and Games To Watch for in the Summer of 2011

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 26: (L-R) LeBron James #6 and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat answers questions from the media at the post game press conference after the Heat won 83-80 against the Chicago Bulls in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 20
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The summer is all about burgers and beaches, swimming and sandcastles, babes and bonfires. But there is something that the summer season has in common with the other three seasons.

    That is: Sports fans everywhere need their dosage of sporting events to get through the day, week and season.

    Though most of the summer should be spent outside, there are plenty of events, games and sports personalities that deserve fans' attention.

    Here are the top 8 stories of the sporting world for the summer of 2011

8. Jimmy Johnson Looks To Win His 6th Consecutive NASCAR Championship

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    TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, poses in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Im
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    When you think of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, Bill Russell’s Celtics, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s or the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s, it is time to start thinking about NASCAR's Jimmy Johnson.

    NASCAR is difficult to compare to other sports, being that it is mostly an individual sport. Even so, Jimmy Johnson continues a historic run that deserves plenty of summer attention.

    Last year, he became the only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships. As the track heats up in the summer months, Johnson has no plans of stopping at an unprecedented five championship victories. He currently is in third place, sitting 37 points away from leader Carl Edwards.

    It might be worth paying attention to, because there is a chance NASCAR is the only major sport that has their weekly event mostly on Sundays in 2011.

    Of course, Parker Bohn III would take exception to that comment.

7. Free-Agency Frenzy and Draft Drama

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    NEW YORK - JUNE 24:  John Wall of Kentucky stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted with the first pick by The Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York, New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Free agency and professional drafts fill up a lot of the sports page during the summer. Unfortunately (or fortunately), there will not be a decision in the NBA for everybody and their mothers to scrutinize. That does not mean organizations cannot change their expectations drastically with this year’s crop of free agents.

    Jamal Crawford, Andrei Kirilenko, Tyson Chandler and David West will all warrant decent contracts. Plus, there is always a small chance—a really diminutive chance—that Tim Duncan opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent as well.

    The NHL’s version of free agency is more like a 100-meter dash. The second the gun is set off on July 1st, the news immediately starts flying in. Zach Parise, Christian Ehrhoff, Erik Cole and even Steven Stamkos and Shea Weber might find themselves in different sweaters next season. The latter two are highly doubtful.

    Unlike the NBA, there is plenty of depth in the NHL's free agents this year. Obviously, larger rosters contribute to that. The drama is only a month away.

    A week before NHL free agency, the NBA will conduct their yearly draft. It will take place on June 23rd this year. While this year's class is not as impressive as recent classes, the Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to want the second overall pick to go with the No. 1 overall selection. Nobody will replace LeBron, but potentially getting their point guard and big man for the next 10 years is a solid start.

    The NHL and MLB drafts are much different than the NBA draft. America gets to know the college basketball athletes, whether they are in school for one year or four years. It also helps that rookie basketball players have a legitimate opportunity to make an impact for their professional team once they arrive.

    That is rarely the case in the NHL or MLB. That does not mean their drafts are not just as important, because they certainly are.

    On June 6th, the Pittsburgh Pirates will lead off and have the honor of selecting first overall. Many experts believe that Anthony Rendon, third baseman out of Rice, is the most sure thing in the 2011 draft. With the Pirates selecting first, congratulations to Rendon on being selected second by the Seattle Mariners.

    A couple weeks after the MLB draft, it will be the NHL’s turn on June 24th. The Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers are slotted with the first three picks. It is a center-heavy draft with potentially 11 centers being selected in the first round, the best of the bunch being Ryan Nugent Hopkins out of the WHL. He will take his talents to Edmonton and could be seen in the NHL as soon as this fall.

    Three professional drafts and the drama of free agency is definitely worthy of keeping an eye on.

6. Tiger Woods Looks To Regain Top Form

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    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 12:  Tiger Woods reacts to his approach shot on the ninth hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship held at THE PLAYERS Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2011 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Woods withdrew
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Only a few years ago, Tiger Woods was much more than just a person. Tiger Woods was an entire sport. Tiger Woods was a brand. Tiger Woods was an icon.

    Oh how things have changed.

    After his well-documented “transgressions,” every aspect of his life seemingly hit rock bottom. He has changed coaches, dealt with numerous injuries and his intimidation factor has hit level zero.

    Woods was forced to withdraw from the Players Championship a couple weeks ago and currently remains on crutches. He plans to be ready for the US Open in which he will attempt to get one major victory closer to the great Jack Nicklaus.

    Will this current version of Tiger Woods be ready to compete for a major without any practice leading up to the US Open? Will Woods even be prepared to finish the tournament? It will be a daunting task for a struggling and injured player.

    After the US Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship will have Woods' interest. Two more chances to put a dent in Nicklaus’ four-major lead.

    Even today, Tiger Woods remains the most indispensable golfer in the world. Only the attention he current receives is drastically different than it was a few years ago. Many people are enjoying the demise of a man who was once on top of the world. At the same time, many people want Woods to regain top form and dominant a sport that he once had wrapped around his finger.

    Either way, the sporting world will be paying attention to Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

5. MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 12:  American League All-Star David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox towels off National League All-Star Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Florida Marlins after the final round of the 2010 State Farm Home Run Derby during All-Star Weekend at Ange
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona will host the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star game and preceding events.

    The game itself still, controversially, has a lot of implications to it. The American and National League must play to win the game. Many people, outside of Herm Edwards, disagree with that concept. Even so, the entertainment value remains prominent as the world’s best baseball players compete on the same diamond.

    As always, the opening act will be the Home Run Derby on July 11th.  In recent years, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreu have showered the night sky with hundreds of home runs combined.

    Will Jose Bautista compete? Will an active player with a home run derby championship under their belt compete for their second trophy? Will ESPN’s Chris Berman come up with a new catchphrase? There is always an incredibly high entertainment factor with the Derby.

    Keep an eye on the Midsummer Classic.

4. MLB Division Races and Other Baseball Storylines

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15:  Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees is caught in a run down against the Boston Red Sox during their game on May 15, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The dog days of summer are quickly approaching and that means baseball, baseball and more baseball. Division races will heat up and tempers are guaranteed to follow. Intensity with every pitch as the August days vanish as quickly as they come.

    Individual statistics always garner extra attention as the season unfolds.

    Jose Bautista is on pace for 60 long balls. Some say he is a clown, but Ronald McDonald never hit over 70 home runs in a season and two months. Albert Pujols will look to put together a historic second half of the season as he approaches free agency. Adrian Gonzalez will look to continue to utilize an incredible surrounding cast and hitter-friendly ballpark to compile potential Triple Crown-threatening numbers—that is if he can catch up to Bautista.

    The division battles will take center stage in the sporting world as most of the other major sports continue their offseason during the latter two summer months.

    The Yankees and Red Sox have plenty of competition in the AL East. The Cleveland Indians will always have something to prove during the 2011 season, as most experts predicted the Tribe to be one of the worst teams in the game. The Indians currently have the second-best record in all of baseball.

    The San Francisco Giants will try to learn what life will be like without catcher Buster Posey as they compete for a division crown. The Philadelphia Phillies have incredible expectations as their All-Star pitching staff will attempt to fight the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves. The always-volatile NL Central is certain to be competitive to the end as the St. Louis Cardinals look to emerge back on top of the National League.

    There are plenty of storylines and exciting players to watch this summer in baseball. That is, only if the majority of the remaining games are not washed out due to rain.

3. NFL Lockout and the Potential of No NFL Football in 2011

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 17: NFL lawyer Jeff Pash (L), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Art Rooney II (R), president of the Pittsburgh Steelers arrive for court ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on May 17, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As the NFL
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    What do professional football players, fantasy football geeks, popcorn vendors, sports television directors and millions of American men, women and children have in common? They all want professional football—specifically NFL football in 2011.

    Impatient employees and fans continue to get aggravated as each headline seems to be worse than the last. The forecast remains dark and gloomy, which is worrisome as the calendar is again about to turn over.

    NFL fans are the reason why football is played on Sundays. Despite what the fans are told, it is difficult to not rationalize this battle as millionaires versus billionaires.

    Training camps are scheduled to begin in July. The Hall of Fame Game is supposed to kick off the preseason. Most importantly, the regular season is set to begin September 8th, 2011.

    That leaves three months and one week for a resolution. Three months and one week for the National Football League to prevent the biggest mistake they could ever make. The NFL must solve this crisis and they must solve it this summer.

2. Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks: Battle for Lord Stanley's Cup

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 27:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins leads his team onto the ice in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Massachus
    Elsa/Getty Images

    It is the United States vs. Canada.

    The Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks drop the puck this week and embark on a potential two-week slugfest. These two teams have hovered near the top of the NHL for the entire season. These are two teams that are evenly matched, but convey different styles.

    The Bruins will bring their physical, straightforward style to the Finals. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will look to muscle a pair of twins down low. Nathan Horton will lead a physical group of forwards down low in a quest to trespass all over Roberto Luongo’s crease. Tim Thomas will continue to stretch his arms before each opening faceoff in order to potentially stand on his head like he has done so many times before.

    The Vancouver Canucks have the weight of a country on their shoulders. They are looking to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Canada for the first time in 20 years.

    They consist of an entire roster that is capable of providing an offensive spark at any time. Henrik Sedin, twin brother Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler have combined for 55 points so far this postseason. The Nucks blue line has three players that have at least nine points in the playoffs thus far. This team can certainly light the lamp.

    The fate of the Canucks might fall on the hands off their passionate fanbase. If chants of “Louuu” echo throughout British Columbia, there might be a parade in Canada’s future. If those chants end up being “boos,” then there might be a Boston Tea Party out of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

    The Bruins have been electric when the play is even strength. At the same time, their special teams have been atrocious. Which team will be able to minimize their mistakes and capitalize on their opportunities?

    Lord Stanley's Cup awaits the winner.

1. Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat: The Ultimate Battle of Good vs. Evil

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    DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks looks over at teammate Jose Juan Barea #11 late in the fourth quarter while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at A
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    It is the ultimate summer blockbuster. Good vs. Evil.

    Dirk Nowitzki, starring as the protagonist, looking to put an exclamation point on a historic postseason run. LeBron James trying to lead a gang of antagonists to the mountain top with an “us against the world” mentality.

    If Dirk is playing Batman, he certainly is not heading into the series alone: Jason Kidd, a wily veteran looking to assist Nowitzki just as Alfred would for Batman; Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion providing a defensive prowess underneath the bucket and along the perimeter that would make Lucius Fox smile.

    But despite an experienced squad with incredible bench depth, Nowitzki might need someone to jump in the front seat with him to take down the villains.

    LeBron James certainly does not want to see the world burn, but he is turning the heat up on the NBA and quite frankly, the sporting world. Dwyane Wade rarely took criticism before the arrival of James, but has been scrutinized immensely this year. Wade might look like Harvey Dent to James’ Joker aura, but he was the one that took down Dirk and elevated the Larry O’Brien trophy five years ago.

    Chris Bosh could not sniff the ultimate prize alone. Playing Scarecrow, Bosh has always caused trouble for his opponents, but never was a serious threat. Standing tall alongside Wade and James, the only thing scary about Bosh is when his jumper finds rhythm 15-feet out.

    Premiering Memorial Day week, the Dallas Mavericks look to destroy the sporting world’s biggest adversary. Will the dark navy blue knight rise over the king of the villains?

    The Dirk Knight, coming everywhere the summer of 2011

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