A Rocky road for Stallone

Rocky E-Mails: Thumbs Up

Happy holidays, Billy King!

The gift of picks

Tying up some other loose ends before we bang out the Week 16 picks and finish up some last-minute Christmas shopping …

Billy King

• Remember my initial prediction that Sixers GM Billy King would only get 50 cents on the dollar for Allen Iverson? Turns out I was wrong: Philly landed a decent point guard (who’s 30 years old, on his fourth team and makes $9 million a season, by the way), an expiring contract, and two No. 1’s that will be in the mid-20s and late 20s of next year’s draft. That’s actually 35 cents on the dollar.

If you don’t care, skip to the next part of the column. If you do care, allow me six comments on one of the most lopsided trades for a superstar in NBA history:

1. Maybe the 2007 draft is super-deep (by the way, they said that in 2001 and 2005 as well), but the fact remains, you know who will be making those late-round picks for the Sixers? One of the worst GMs of this decade … Billy King! How does this not get mentioned? What good are first-round picks if you have an incompetent GM who’s probably going to screw them up?

2. Philly should have traded Iverson last summer and stupidly held onto him when everybody KNEW they stunk and he’d end up flipping out before Christmas. What was the point of holding onto him? Well, other than to delude your season-ticket holders into re-upping for another season before dealing your best player and going into full-fledged “Tank For Oden” mode. Sleazy move to stick it to your fans like that.

3. If the Sixers’ ultimate goal was to swap Iverson for young players, draft picks and cap space, why not deal with Boston then? Considering how badly Boston wanted Iverson, they would have agreed to any trade not involving Pierce or Jefferson (even a trade with multiple first rounders) … but we’ll never know because Philly didn’t want to trade with someone in their own division. Which sounds good on paper, until you remember that Philly will be rebuilding for the next 3-4 years. Who the hell cares who’s in their division then? Ludicrous.

4. King made a point of saying that the trade will help Philly’s cap space problems this summer and down the road. First of all, you created those problems, Billy. You were the one handing out gigantic contracts and trading for Webber, right? Second, Miller (again, a decent guard, but certainly not an All-Star and someone who Denver was offering around for three years) makes $32 million over the next three seasons. That contract is helping your cap space problems? And third, who cares if you might help your cap space problems when you’ll just use the cap space to hand out another ridiculous contract? I want to throw up. And I don’t even like the Sixers.

5. Should an NBA team be allowed to give away its best player when it’s playing in such a sports-depressed city? For instance, reader Joe Klinicki felt obligated to send me this e-mail this week: “I just read your ‘Rocky’ review and realize you are a Rocky fan and all, but you don’t know what it’s like to be a Rocky fan in Philadelphia. It takes the whole sports movie thing to a new level. Couldn’t you have just told us that the new Rocky movie was the greatest movie of all time? Right now we’ve got nothing. A (hopefully) playoff bound team, but not a true Super Bowl contender, the worst team in basketball, the worst team in hockey and a baseball team whose major offseason upgrade to protect Ryan Howard was adding Wes Helms. We need the Rocky Balboa movie to be great. Without it, I don’t doubt that the whole city will eventually collapse upon itself when the Eagles are out of it. I’m sure of this. ‘Rocky Balboa’ is our only chance at ever seeing a winner. Next time, please just lie to us. Thanks.”

6. The timing of this trade was a little fishy, right? The NBA gets bad press for three straight days after the Knicks-Nuggets fight as the Sixers patiently hold on to Iverson and avoid rushing at the 35-cents-for-a-dollar deal on the table. Suddenly, Tuesday rolls around and King jumps on the same Denver offer that had been sitting there for 7-8 days, making the Iverson trade a top story, knocking the brawl off the front pages and changing all the Melo stories from “Is Melo a thug?” to “Can Melo and Iverson play together?” Hmmmmmmmmm. Did they get a little, um, nudge from the Commish? I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the old frozen envelope trick happens during the Oden lottery next spring.

(And yes, I’m kidding. Kind of.)

As for Iverson playing in Denver, I still say it’s the wrong team. He needed a team with an established star. Established stars are hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to win; younger stars are hell-bent on establishing that they’re the man. I just can’t see Melo deferring to A.I. when his professional career has centered around getting revenge on everyone who didn’t believe in him — Joe Dumars passing him up for Darko, everyone heaping praise on Wade and LeBron as rookies, Larry Brown burying him in Athens, last February’s snub from the All-Star Game, and even the media handing over last summer’s World Championship to LeBron and Wade and mentioning Melo only as an afterthought. Every time, he proved them wrong. And just as he’s emerging as a true superstar, he has to share the spotlight (and the ball) with Iverson? I’m not ruling it out, but it’s certainly not a slam dunk.

On the flip side, Denver HAD to make the trade. When you can upgrade from Miller to Iverson for the cost of some luxury tax dollars and two late first-rounders, you do it. I mean, if this trade had happened in my fantasy league, not only would I have protested it, I probably would have resigned from the league. In the past 25 years, this was the most lopsided trade involving a superstar other than Phoenix getting Charles Barkley for the Hornacek/Perry/Lang pupu platter. You should not be able to get a top-15 player at the tail end of his prime for 35 cents on the dollar. Period. And that’s why you’ll be watching Billy King sitting in Kiki Vandweghe’s seat on “NBA Fast Break” in about nine months. I just hope he’s sitting next to Theo Ratliff.

• You know how people recall e-mails that were mistakenly sent out? I’m starting to wonder if I should recall my “Rocky Balboa” review. Three things happened since I handed in that column to the magazine last weekend that made me wonder if I need to see the movie again.

1. Much to my disbelief, the reviews were surprisingly favorable. Seems like most people went in with low-to-no expectations and came out pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a complete train wreck. Now I’m reevaluating my own experience, especially since I saw the film in a tiny screening room with L.A. critics over a big theater with everyday people cheering and laughing. Plus, it DID keep my attention, and I DID get goose bumps a couple of times, and the fight scenes WERE good … there’s a chance this movie could be rewatchable, even if I’m still depressed that Sly made it in the first place. Now I’m wondering if I was too harsh and the fact that I never wanted to see this movie inadvertently prejudiced my review.

2. My buddy Gus (who’s tied with me as the biggest fan of Rocky 1-4) went yesterday and loved it. He thought it was great, said the crowd was into it the whole time and sounded positively giddy afterward. That gave me the biggest pause out of anything because we usually see eye-to-eye on sports movies, and he’s the only person I know who can break out Ivan Drago lines in any social situation. Gus also made a valid counter argument to my concerns about seeing an aging Stallone on a 50-foot screen: “We just saw him in ‘The Contender,’ it’s not like we didn’t already know his face looked different.” Good point. And after all the joy Stallone has brought to me over the years, I should have been more diplomatic, anyway.

3. Some friends out here are seeing it this weekend and asked if I wanted to come along. Keep in mind, I just saw the movie two weeks ago. My answer: “Yeah, absolutely.” I’m going for comedy’s sake, but still … would I want to see this movie again if I didn’t secretly enjoy it? Probably not. Was I trapped in denial the whole time? I don’t know. Was I enjoying myself and didn’t have the balls to admit it? I don’t know. Even rereading the column I handed in, it seems like there were parts when I wanted to admit that I liked it (especially the “see it for closure” part) and kept fighting it off. Maybe a second viewing will solve the mystery.

(Note: Another diehard “Rocky” fan, ESPN.com’s own Marc Stein, e-mailed me after going last night to express his disappointment with the movie and ended with the line, “I’m hurting right now.” So there’s also a possibility that this is a movie that just hits everyone differently. Hell, it could be the most divisive sports movie of all-time for all we know.)

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the first four movies, here’s my recommendation: Ignore my review, see “Rocky Balboa” for yourself and let me know what you think. We’ll even run some of the e-mails next week — please try to keep your thoughts to 2-3 paragraphs. I’m more than willing to admit my initial review wasn’t fair, assuming that a second viewing with a real audience changes my mind. Consider this a potential mulligan-in-the-making and your gift to me for the holidays.

• Speaking of the holidays, I hope you get the following presents for Christmas:

David Letterman

1. Spy: The Funny Years
An entertaining account of the life and death of Spy Magazine, which had a viciously funny, astoundingly inventive run from 1986 through 1992 (then limped along for the next few years before finally passing away). Along with David Letterman’s NBC show and “Saturday Night Live,” no other book, magazine, movie or TV show had a bigger impact on me in my formative years from a creative standpoint. The book does a terrific job of explaining how the magazine started, why it was so different/edgy/funny/outstanding (they even loaded it with old excerpts and reprints of features) and why it eventually fell apart, even accentuating the chapters with features and pieces from old issues. To this day, I have never been happier to see a magazine in my mailbox than those days in college when a new Spy Magazine was sitting there. It bums me out that there’s an entire generation of people who have no idea what I’m talking about. Oh, well.

(Note: Another magazine retrospective that’s really good: the 20-year anniversary book about Spin Magazine. You cannot go wrong bringing this book on an airplane for a cross-country flight.)

2. Any of the books on this list
And for 2007, I promise to get the “Best Sports Books” series going again. We haven’t even tackled “Breaks of the Game” yet. Unforgivable.

Also, I’ve mentioned these before, but I thoroughly enjoyed two sports books from 2006 — “The Blind Side” by Michael Lewis, Love Me, Hate Me by Jeff Pearlman — and would also recommend “Seven Seconds or Less” — Jack McCallum’s firsthand account of spending a season with the 2006 Phoenix Suns. It’s a little uneven, and I’m not sure I agreed with his choice to jump back and forth with the narrative … but there’s so much inside NBA stuff in there that you have to read it if you love the league. The sections about the precarious dynamic of a coaching staff; the unique Nash-D’Antoni dynamic; Shawn Marion’s fragile psyche; D’Antoni’s ominous comment to Tim Thomas that he just wanted Thomas to play hard for a few months and snowball some other team into giving him a dumb contract (which actually happened); and Phoenix’s lack of respect for Kobe and the Lakers were especially interesting.

3. The Slingbox
Great for anyone who travels: You can hook it up to your TV (warning: it’s complicated), then access your TV through your laptop from anywhere in the world. For instance, let’s say I have to go to New York for business, and I’m staying in a hotel that night, but I want to watch the Celtics-Clippers game. If I TiVo’ed the game, I can watch the game on my laptop with the Slingbox. Not only is this incredible, I have no idea how it’s legal. But I hope you get one while it still is.

4. “The Wire: Season 1”
I know, I know, I’m like a religious fanatatic with this show. Just watch the first three episodes of Season 1. If you’re not hooked, I’ll leave you alone.

5. Five HDTV trucks and accompanying camera equipment
Note: That’s just for CBS.

(Seriously, CBS, you’re a major television network. Move into the 21st century and show all of your football games in HDTV. It’s almost 2007. Enough is enough. It’s embarrassing. You should be embarrassed.)

6. “Christmas with the Rat Pack”
The greatest Xmas CD ever, narrowly edging “Elvis Christmas”. You can’t go wrong with either.

• One more thing: I was going to make an iMix of my favorite Christmas songs and pass it along for the holidays before realizing that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” wasn’t on iTunes yet. Completely inexcusable, borderline unforgivable. I’m not making one out of protest.

All right, enough foreplay … let’s hit the Week 16 picks:


Chiefs (-6.5) over RAIDERS
Speaking of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” it’s the Raiders! Well, tonight thank God it’s them … instead of youuuuuuuuuuuuu!

(By the way, I’d like to nominate Aaron Brooks for the lifetime achievement award for “Worst Body Language by a Quarterback.” Have you ever seen a less inspiring QB? Every time I checked out the Raiders-Rams game last Sunday, Brooks was staring solemnly to the sidelines waiting for another play; he looked like Raymond Babbitt staring out the window during the final scene in “Rain Man.” Then they benched him and he spent the rest of the game with a towel over his head staring solemnly out onto the field. If the QB is allegedly a field general, imagine having Aaron Brooks leading you into battle? Yikes. The average Oakland huddle with Brooks must be more somber than a holding cell with all the guys caught by Chris Hansen.)

Vikings (+3) over PACKERS
I have to admit … I’m kind of excited for the Tavaris Jackson era. I have a good feeling about this one. I’m also excited to see how the NFL Network tops last Saturday’s broadcast that featured Bryant Gumbel and a 70-year-old guy with laryngitis. For this week’s game, I vote for a three-man booth featuring Harvey Fierstein, Dikembe Mutombo and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

NFL By The Numbers
Through 14 weeks, against the spread:

Favorites vs. spread: 94-123-6
Home teams vs. spread: 111-106-6
Road favorites: 27-44-3
Dogs also winning outright: 89 of 123 (74 percent)

Redskins (+2) over RAMS
And this isn’t even the worst Fox game of the day!

Saints (+3) over GIANTS
Fast-forward to 2011: Watching TV, you flick to the channel with your cable channel guide … and there’s Tiki Barber, telling you to look out for “Law and Order” reruns on Channel 37 with one of those, “maybe I should have kept playing” looks on his face. That will be fun.

Titans (+4.5) over BILLS
A new low for me this season: In Week 15, I picked the Titans, wagered on the Titans, rooted for the Titans and took immense satisfaction in their upset win. Then I tallied up my picks on Sunday night and realized that, in the typo of typos, I somehow typed down “Jags (-3.5) over TITANS” as one of my picks in last week’s column. That’s what happens when you’re making picks at 2 a.m. after handing in a 6,000-word mailbag. You have brainfarts. (Note: I better not lose to the Sports Gal overall by one game. That botched Titans pick would be the handicapping equivalent of Grady leaving in Pedro.) Anyway, the important thing to remember here is that I never stopped believing in the fact that Vince Young just wins football games. Even if I’m a careless idiot. Glad we got that settled.

(One other note: It’s fun to have those trademark Jeff Fisher fist pumps back in our lives, right? He always looks like a pitcher celebrating a great catch to save a no-hitter or something. Fisher and Bill Cowher are the DeNiro and Pacino of fist-pumping coaches. We need one more huge playoff game between them before Cowher retires to coach high school women’s basketball or something.)

Colts (-9.5) over TEXANS
Letdown Game + Milton Berle Game + Obvious Pick + Favorite As An Obvious 3-Team Teaser Candidate + Underdog Coming off a Terrible Performance … and even with all this information at my disposal, I still can’t take the Texans.

(By the way, I loved Manning’s demeanor on Monday night. All business. Like watching an old Steve McQueen movie or something. I know he can’t ever carry that coolness over into January, but seriously, imagine if he could carry that over into January? If Manning played the playoff game of his life next month and his defense blew the game by giving up nine yards a run … well, that would be awkward.)
Sidney Crosby
STEELERS (-3.5) over Ravens
Good news: The 2006 Steelers team picture no longer has to be of a frozen turd at midfield. Anyway, here’s a random Pittsburgh note that I’m passing along courtesy of my friend Dave Dameshek, the only person I know who still follows hockey, as well as someone who simply won’t stop bothering me about his beloved Penguins. According to Shek, “not only are Sid the Kid and Geno Malkin for real, Sid the Kid will save the NHL and is in the early stages of doing just that.”

(Note: I’d tell you more, but I don’t know who these people are and still can’t find Versus on my cable system. Give me a couple more weeks to investigate.)

BROWNS (-3) over Bucs
Did you ever think they could have a Week 16 game devoid of NFL playoff implications, fantasy playoff implications AND “the loser has the inside track for the No. 1 pick” implications? Well, it’s about to happen. This could be the most apathetic NFL game of all-time. Do you think Matt Vasgersian and J.C. Pearson looked at the schedule about eight weeks ago and said, “Should we just make hotel reservations in Cleveland for Week 16 right now and get it over with?”

(Gambling tip of the week, courtesy of New Jersey reader Dave Ingrey: “Add this rule to your current Gambling Manifesto: Always pick the AFC against the NFC unless the AFC team is Houston or Oakland. Did you know that the 14 other AFC teams are a combined 37-18 straight up against the NFC? Furthermore, the Cowboys and Seahawks are the only NFC teams with records over .500 against the AFC.”)

Patriots (+3) over JAGUARS
You know it’s a strange Patriots season when Phil Rivers edges out Tom Brady for the Pro Bowl and I’m not even remotely furious.

By the way, I’ve been getting a steady stream of e-mails (not many, but a few) from readers back home who don’t think I’ve been supportive enough of the front office moves by the local teams lately, including one reader who said, “You’re a bad dye job and a head injury away from becoming the next Steve Buckley.” That one hurt. Meanwhile, everyone else in the country continues to think that I’m a huge homer for the Boston teams. (The lesson, as always: I can’t win.) With that said, you can’t expect me to blindly defend dumb moves by my favorite teams. Bringing back Doc Rivers was dumb. Spending $70 million on J.D. Drew was dumb. Pretending there was a legitimate chance to deal Manny for more than 20 cents on the dollar when he has a 10/5 clause and would undoubtedly demand a crazy extension from any new team was dumb. Going into December with below-average receivers, $8 million in cap space and a $60 million QB was dumb. I don’t know what else to tell you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m dying my hair cherry-red and riding a moped head-first into a brick wall.

Bears (-4.5) over LIONS
I don’t even care that the banged-up Bears D gave up 31 points to Tim Rattay last week. All right, maybe a little. But here’s something fun: Five different readers e-mailed me last weekend to suggest that Devin Hester’s nickname should be Devin “Go Ahead, I F***ing Dare You” Hester (or some variation of that joke). I loved that. Devin “Go Ahead, I F***ing Dare You” Hester. I’ll give 10 bucks to the first Fox play-by-play guy who says it.

The Sports Gal Speaks
I used to really like Angelina Jolie. Ever since she starred in “Gia,” I admired her flawless natural beauty, as well as the many character flaws that made her more likable and less threatening overall. Maybe she was a recovering drug addict, a cutter, a brother kisser, and a blood vial-wearing skank who looked like she showered once a week, but she didn’t care what others thought and was totally comfortable going out in public without tons of makeup on. So that made her likable, at least to me. Even when she married Billy Bob Thornton, who’s absolutely disgusting, I didn’t hold it against her.

Then everything changed: She adopted Maddox, became a goodwill ambassador, started making normal movies and slowly made everyone forget that she was crazy. Next, she seduced and stole the husband of one of the most likable female celebs, adopted another baby with her stolen man, then had his biological child months before his divorce was even done. Now she travels all over the world in private jets wasting fuel and pretending to do nice things when we all know she’s really a husband-stealing witch. But what really turned me into a full fledged Angelina hater was this month’s Vogue article about her, with Angelina smugly pushing for peace talks between her and Jennifer Aniston, even having the gall to say, “That would be her decision, and I would welcome it.” If I were Jennifer Aniston, I would welcome it, too. Then I would meet Angelina for lunch and repeatedly smash a chair over her head.

Here are my Week 16 picks: GB -3; KC +6.5; Buff -4.5; NO +3; Rams -2; Texans +9.5; Steelers -3.5; Panthers +6; Browns -3; Pats +3; Bears -4.5; 49ers -4; Broncos -3; Seahawks +4.5; Cowboys -7; Jets +2.

Last week: 8-8
Season: 114-105-6

49ERS (-4) over Cardinals
I’m worried about the 49ers fans: They’re a little too excited for the whole, “We’re going to beat the Cards, and Seattle’s gonna lose, and if we win and they lose next week, we win the division!” scenario. You’d hate to see them get their hearts broken and have to drown their sorrows in Syrah on Sunday night.

(Speaking of the Niners, if you told me that ESPN News is reporting that a current NFL coach murdered two drifters at different rest stops back in 1997, and I had to guess which coach it was, I’d obviously pick Brad Childress, with Dick Jauron as the runner-up. … But Mike Nolan would be a good dark horse candidate, wouldn’t he? There’s something a little Mark Harmon-playing-Ted-Bundy-ish about him. I think this works in San Fran’s favor, actually. Gives them a sorely needed edge.)

FALCONS (-6) over Panthers
Like everyone else, I was startled to see that “Chris Weinke is now 1-17 as a starter” stat last weekend, so I did some digging on the STATS Inc. site. Did you know that Weinke’s only victory was also his first career start (Sept. 9, 2001 against Minnesota), giving him 17 straight losses as a starter? In those 17 losses, he threw 615 passes and completed 335 for for 3,327 yards, 11 TDs and 22 INTs. He was sacked 48 times and fumbled 7 times. His passing rating was 61.1. He attempted more passes with his team trailing by 15 points or more (146) then with his team leading by one point or more (130). In his past five starts, the Panthers were outscored by 133 points combined (162-29). I could go on. You get the picture.

Which leads me to the following set of questions: Whenever the topic of “the worst QBs of all-time” comes up, why isn’t Chris Weinke automatically mentioned the way we would mention MJ in a “greatest NBA player ever” discussion? How could you do worse than him? How could the Panthers keep bringing him back? And how great is it that he’s starting again this weekend? Gentleman, start your teasers!!!!!!!!!!

BRONCOS (-3) over Bengals
Someone In The Know once told me, “Bet against Chuck Bresnahan (Cincy’s defensive coordinator) against any good coach. He stinks. Smart coaches and smart QBs always have a field day against him.” Of course, last week I ignored the advice and picked them over the Colts. No way I’m taking them against Shanahan. By the way, here’s a direct quote from a buddy of mine who loves the Broncos: “I’m not ready for 15 straight years of Jay ‘Veal’ Cutler references. I’m really not.”

SEAHAWKS (+4.5) over Chargers
Sorry, this line is absurd. If the Seahawks fans don’t show up for this game, I’ll be astounded. Anyway, Jim from Richmond, Va., points out, “How is it that LT has OUTSCORED the entire Raiders and Bucs teams and no one has discussed this?” Excellent point. I’ve had the good fortune of having Tomlinson on my West Coast fantasy team (the STD’s, owned by me and the T-Man) and for 9-10 straight weeks, we’ve been penciling in between 30-40 points every game for him. It’s been surreal. I feel like we should be giving him a cut of our winnings. I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to having normal fantasy running backs again. It’s like getting to drive a brand-new Aston Martin for four months, then having to give it back.

(Follow-up note just because there’s a 95 percent chance you’ll read this paragraph and spend at least 20 seconds trying to figure out who will win, and only because that’s what people do when they read paragraphs like this: We’re starting Brees, LDT, MoJo, Harrison, Gates, Furrey, Muhammad, Elam and the San Diego D in the finals against my buddy Hench’s team of Manning, Tatum Bell, Stephen Jackson, TO, Mark Clayton, Chris Cooley, Alge Crumpler, Nate Kaeding and the Bears D. Our Web site’s “Guru” has us favored by 10. You might feel differently.)

Eagles (+7) over COWBOYS
My vote for 2006 Sports Blog of the Year: The one where “Drew Bledsoe” posts about his ongoing hatred for Tony Romo. Sadly, I can’t give you the link. But people started e-mailing me the link at the end of October; I remember thinking, “Wow, this is totally inspired”; and two months later, it’s still funny as hell and hasn’t gotten old. Great work by the mystery writer. That blog kills me. Even the URL is high comedy. Anyway, remember when I mentioned my tentative plan to change the Ewing Theory to the Bledsoe Theory if Romo won the Super Bowl? That drew an immediate protest from the creator of the Ewing Theory, the honorable Dave Cirilli. Here’s the e-mail he sent me:

“I am disappointed in your recent grumblings and mumblings about wanting to change The Ewing Theory to the Bledsoe Theory. As creator of The Ewing Theory, I feel it is my duty to defend its honor and make sure that it retains its place amongst the greatest theories of all time. Would Elvis suddenly change ‘Hound Dog’ to ‘Ground Hog’ and then basically sing it the same way, but with a different title? Would Francis Ford Coppola release a new ‘Godfather’ box set on DVD for Christmas and call it ‘My Big Fat Italian Family Volumes I, II, and III’? Would Sylvester Stallone make ‘Rocky VI’ and call it ‘Rocky Balboa’? Ummm … don’t answer that. Anyway, the point is this: there is only one Ewing Theory, so don’t mess with success. Just ask the people who brought the world New Coke.”

(Done and done. We’re never changing the name. And that’s that.)

Jets (+2) over DOLPHINS
You’ll always remember the Christmas when you bet against Joey Harrington. And on that note, happy holidays, Merry Christmas, thanks for reading and best wishes to the troops overseas. Back with another column next Thursday.

Last week: 6-10
Season: 110-109-6

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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