A Couple Weeks Off While I Work MJ’s Basketball Camp

July 29th, 2015

It’s that time of the year – Michael Jordan Flight School (MJFS) @ the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s the 20th year of the camp and if anyone wants to know how powerful MJ and his “brand” are – all these many years later – consider that not one of the kids has ever seen Michael Jordan play! His last year in the NBA was 2003, meaning that even the oldest kids (17-18), were only 5-6 years old when he played. And that was for the Wizards, not the zenith of his career.

There  will be approximately 800 youngsters at each session, the first one for boys only; the second co-ed – and for children from other countries, e.g. last year we had over 200 kids from China alone. The camp is split into eight leagues, with eight teams in each league (based mainly on age, but also ability). This is the first point of contention with which we have to deal. Parents want their boys and girls (mainly boys) to be in certain leagues – usually an older one because his (or her) advanced skill level – and let the league’s commissioner (I happen to be one of the eight commishes) know in no uncertain terms about their child’s prowess.

Since I worked with parents of players (or students) for 42 years, the issues can be resolved with a modicum of diplomacy. Not so shockingly, there is quite a chasm between the youngster’s actual skill level and the parent’s evaluation. Check-in is in the morning. Shortly after noon, followed by a quick orientation, leagues are formed, practice games played (with coaches doing the best they can to balance teams). Team selection is completed the first night of each session, in time for the second most treasured moment of camp – Picture Day. Michael takes a picture with every team (64), each coach (64) and commissioner (8). Also included in picture day are, the trainers, dorm people, food service people, equipment folks – and, somehow, MJ looks exactly the same in every one. Same smile, same sparkle in his eye. I have never seen him have to redo a picture in all the years I’ve been there. One of my colleagues and I marvel at how a guy can walk into a gym, wearing a t-shirt and jeans – and look like a million bucks.

Celebrity camps aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but MJFS is the standard. Jordan speaks to the campers a minimum of once a day, and often twice. He’ll give instructions on shooting one morning, free throws on another, run contests (in which winners receive shoes for themselves, their friends, occasionally for their whole team). Evenings are for competitions, sometimes MJ will select a camper as his partner. One highlight is the Q&A session at night which usually consist of the same ol’ questions, although very once in a while, he’ll have to field one from out of left field. (Somehow, during the day, he squeezes in 36 holes of golf.)

The greatest event for everybody concerned, with the exception of MJ, is the last morning when everyone connected with the camp gets an autograph from the G.O.A.T. We have calculated that on that final day, Michael signs upwards of one thousand autographs – with never a reported case of writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel. The cost for a session is in the neighborhood of $800 which, when the math is done, makes for . . . a whole lot of money. Since the camp’s inception, Michael Jordan has taken no money from it, i.e. his “share” is donated.

That is a major reason MJ is known by letters:

“G.O.A.T.”

This blog will return Wednesday, August 12.

 

Hate Is Such a Strong Word

July 28th, 2015

This just in: Bill Belichick is the most hated coach in the NFL and the New England Patriots are the most hated NFL team. What, exactly, does that mean?

From a 2014 article by Bill Bender of The Sporting News (“25 Most hated sports teams of all-time”), we were informed that the most hated team in the U.S. was the 2007 New England Patriots. That season, the Pats actually lost the Super Bowl but had entered the big game undefeated at 16-0. Last night’s ESPN and CBSSports story about today’s most hated team being the Pats claimed it was so because of its head coach, Bill Belichick. Spygate and Deflategate were also mentioned. However, upon further examination, there might have been a bit of jealousy involved. Research shows that since 2002 the Pats have been in six Super Bowls and won four.

While reviewing the teams mentioned in TSN‘s article, they either won championships (14 of them from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, college basketball, race car drivers) or lost in the championship contest (seven of them representing the NFL, NBA, college football, college basketball and, even, the 1980 Soviet Union hockey team – who was hated for a completely different set of reasons). 2014 Florida State football finished undefeated but lost in the semi-finals and the previous year the U of Alabama football squad lost in the Iron Bowl, eliminating a chance to play in the BCS final. The ’85-’86 Indiana basketball team (knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament) and the 2012 New Orleans Saints (Bountygate) were the only outliers. Therefore, we can conclude that the list seems to have one common denominator: hated teams are big winners.

Googling the most hated NBA teams (a 2012 article by Sam Cooper of bleacher report), we find that the top three are #1 the 1988-89 Detroit Pistons, #2 the 1993-94 New York Knicks and #3 the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers. Once again, those Pistons and Lakers won the NBA Championship while the Knicks lost in the Finals in seven games to the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets. The Dream was impossible to hate and New York was . . . New York.

A year earlier, Ralph Warner wrote Haters Gonna Hate: The 10 Most Hated Teams in NBA History. Of the ten teams, eight of them played in the NBA Finals during their “season of their hatred.”

Some people will stand tall and say it wasn’t the winning that they despised but the manner in which they did it, the lack of class those winners (certainly, according to their records) displayed. These sanctimonious folks tend to be more forgiving when poor choices are made or infractions are committed by their favorite team. Americans tend to hold anyone in the “bright lights” – be they athletes, entertainers or politicians – to a much higher standard than they do themselves. This is especially true for people we don’t know and we can become extremely judgmental – until we find ourselves or our friends/loved ones in such a predicament.

What would be wiser is to follow the advice of Norman Cousins:

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.”

 

 

 

Life’s Become So Much Easier – and Ever So Much More Difficult

July 27th, 2015

When we of the Baby Boomer generation reflect on all the innovations that have come along throughout the years (a great many of which were designed, created or founded by us), it’s absolutely beyond belief how life has been simplified. My sons kid me every time I’m driving and have to make a sharp turn, usually out of a parking spot. One or the other, occasionally simultaneously, will say (in a mocking tone), “Do you guys know that when I was a your age there was no power steering?”

Forget power steering, windows and door locks, now we have cars that run on electricity, park themselves and even talk to the driver if the car drifts into another lane or onto the shoulder of the road – even tells drivers how to get somewhere they’ve never been. Stay tuned for more automotive changes that are, undoubtedly, on the horizon.

For those people who think shopping is wasting valuable time, most everything can now be purchased on a computer. Sometimes, it’s simply ordering and paying (credit card, check or PayPal), other times it’s more exciting, e.g. eBay, where you have to win in order to get what you (may or may not) want. When we were kids, “pay pal” meant you had a friend cover for you. Kindle used to be a way to start a fire. Today, it’s a method of reading books without turning the pages. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and would ask questions, we’d hear from our parents, “That’s why we bought the full edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.” Now, as parents, our retort is, “Google it.” Doesn’t take up nearly as much space.

So, hooray for modern technology. What I’ve found to be the case, though, is for every advancement in one area of life, there are mandatory adjustments that accompany them. Case in point: I’m a former player (for a brief period) and coach (for nearly a lifetime). I also majored in, and taught, mathematics. Numbers have always been a good part of my life – both as a hobby and professionally. Sudokus, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the greatest “inventions” of our time. I’ve never found one I couldn’t do – although a couple have taken me over a day to complete. I can’t say the same for “analytics.” Not that they don’t add value or explain the team’s and player’s performances but to many of us, they often confuse the fan (especially if the fan is older). How much they improve watching or playing the game hasn’t been proven yet, either.

Other aspects of our improved life that are conflicting have to do with our overall health. Yoga, pilates, kick boxing, body sculpting and boot camp are part of the vernacular today (boot camp was used years ago but for only a select group of people, none of whom were allowed the final word on when, or if, they were going to attend). Classes in all of the above currently exist, many for free on television. Nutritionists have advised us on what to eat, what not to eat and which supplements to take. What could be better?

Well, the question isn’t “what could be better” as much as “what could be worse?” Or maybe, are there so many “improvements” we need to prioritize them? Television, in particular, has drastically changed by leaps and bounds over the years. In the 1950s (am I really that old?) there were three stations: ABC, CBS and NBC. I had friends from North Jersey who were envious because residents of Central Jersey (where I grew up) not only got those three New York channels but the three in Philadelphia, too (even thought the Philly stations came in fuzzy). Now, there are, I believe, over 900 channels – everything from the “classic” programs and movies from our day to shows that wouldn’t make it anywhere near a live screen back then. The audio or the video.

When I was a youngster, in order to watch a TV show, you had better be near a TV. If not, the only way to find out about it was to ask someone who was. Now, shows can be recorded and seen at the viewer’s convenience. Live shows can be paused, then returned to, without missing any of the action (I still don’t understand how that’s done). In addition, nearly every sport has a station of its own, each music era is available for listening (and watching), stations in various languages, channels devoted to comedy, drama, action, science fiction, etc., etc, etc. Even the big three networks from my era have multiple channels.

So what’s the problem? Well, all of this makes life so much harder! The key to life today is discipline. Binge watching has become a past time. When people learn of a series they hadn’t been aware of, either from their friend who raved about it or a sensational review they read, they can watch the show for hours and hours. Exercise plans will help people – but only if they actually put in the work and for many, watching television is more fun than exercising – and infinitely easier.

“It’s a strange phenomena but even though I’m retired, I don’t seem to have enough time.”

A Rather Harrowing Introduction for All Concerned

July 26th, 2015

After I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke, I’ve had several people ask me when I was planning on coming out with another. The plans for a sequel, Life’s A Joke 2.0, has been in the works for a while and, since I am retired, there should be no excuse to not get it done. The piece that follows will be one of the hundreds of stories in it.

Following my emergency thoracic back surgery (T 10-11 for those readers who are unfamiliar with my past), I began my high school teaching and coaching career (making it full circle since high school math teacher and coach was my first job after graduating college). This time, however, my entrance was a little more dramatic – by walking into new teacher orientation meetings with the help of a cane. The shock the people saw was nothing to what I was about to experience.

At the first orientation meeting for new teachers, we were instructed to document everything, that ours (the Clovis Unified School District) was a litigious group of parents. Make sure there’s a paper trail – just in case. This mantra was repeated at all three sessions. I looked around at the others, all but one who were 20-30 years younger than I was, and saw all of them diligently taking notes.

In addition to my job of director of basketball operations at Fresno State (which had ended with the retirement of Jerry Tarkanian), I had gained membership in the National Speakers Association (NSA). One of the main topics I would speak about was team building – about how every relationship is built on trust. Companies hired me, at a considerable rate, and my message was that trust is the most vital, unifying factor in any workplace. Without it, well, just listen to what Stephen Covey (one of the most respected speakers and authors at that time) had to say. “When you have a no-trust culture, you live in memo haven.” While I would custom-make each one of my speeches, I used that line in every one of them. Now, I was working for an organization whose philosophy was diametrically opposed to this belief. Not exactly a banner start.

After hearing this same message for the third time, I felt compelled to, at least, present a different view. I raised my hand and said (probably not endearing myself to my new employer), “I’m a Clovis Unified parent and I haven’t ever thought of suing anybody. Do you mean that there is an extremely small group of litigious parents – and that we should be frightened by them because they might sue?”

Then, I concluded my remarks with this strategic plan:

“Wouldn’t a wiser strategy be to hire better lawyers?”

Now Is the Time for Optimism

July 25th, 2015

After yesterday’s marathon post, I figured readers’ eyes could use a break. So today’s entry will be much shorter, but still well-worth reading.

Sirius XM, channel 86 is NBA radio. The season, playoffs, draft and free agency (including the moratorium period) are all history, yet the talk and call-in shows still need to fill airwaves on a daily basis. One of the methods being used to fill up air time is breaking down each NBA team and speaking about the prospects for the coming season. Studio hosts offer their knowledge and fans of whichever team is being discussed phone in and express their opinions.

Just as with the college teams, the best time for every basketball team is now – when everybody is still undefeated (and healthy, always the X Factor). For supporters of a team, it’s human nature to seek the positive. Bad teams are spoken about in terms of improving, maybe even making the playoffs. Playoff teams are looking to improve their seed. And for the elite teams, maybe 5-6, the ultimate goal is spoken as a distinct possibility – even though it’s a fact that only one team can win it all. The major problem is that when the hosts and callers talk about the strengths of a particular club, they often get carried away. Glowing reports of how well draft picks played in the summer league (even though it’s just the summer league) or what a free agent signing (or signings) will bring to the squad that it was missing last year is refreshing, considering that when the season begins, there will be the inevitable losing streaks – and crushing injuries – that make bitching the favorite past time.

One vivid example occurred a couple days ago when the New Orleans Pelicans were the topic of conversation. After evaluating the roster, the comment was made that not only would the Pelicans be a playoff team, but they would sneak into the top six. When whoever it was who made that prediction was asked which Western Conference team would be left out of the top six, among Golden State, San Antonio, the Clippers, Oklahoma City (a healthy OKC), Houston and Memphis (not counting a few other teams), the guy was flabbergasted – and, even, semi-retreated in his prediction.

Although others may have more talent (assuming everyone is as healthy as everyone else), team executives, coaches, players, media members and fans can take solace in Jonas Salk’s words:

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

 

Hypnosis Helping to Determine Right from Wrong

July 24th, 2015

A close associate of mine recently underwent hypnosis for an addiction problem. I have been fascinated with hypnosis since the spring of 1972 when I witnessed – up close – a hypnotist at an assembly at Highland Park (NJ) High School, my employer at the time, as well as my alma mater. My friend told me about his visit which differed from what I’d seen occur on our stage.

In the assembly the hypnotist asked for volunteers from the audience (student body). With the innocence and curiosity that accompanies youth, i.e. before they learn from adults to obey authority and do what they’re told, several youngsters began waving their hands. One of the students selected was a freshman football player, who everyone called “Chippy,” a chubby little guy with a very engaging personality.

The part of the performance our footballer was involved in had the hypnotist hold up a shiny object which our young guy was instructed to stare at while the hypnotist spoke in a low, soothing voice about how sleepy the rookie was getting. Sure enough, soon his eyes were drooping until his head dropped and he was in “sleep mode.” Standing up. While our boy was in this condition, the hypnotist began explaining to the audience – and to Chippy – that his (the hypnotist’s) right index finger was a red hot poker and under no circumstance should anyone come near him because, if they were to be touched by that finger, they’d surely be burned. At that point, he turned to Chippy and “brought him back,” saying he’d awaken in “3, 2, 1, and . . . ” Snap.

Chippy’s eyes opened, he saw where he was and when the hypnotist began speaking – and gesturing with his hand, index finger waving back and forth, everyone could see how Chippy would jump away anytime the finger came in his general vicinity. Finally, the hypnotist thanked is volunteer and said he could leave. Just before Chippy left the stage, he was asked to stick out his hand. Being a trustworthy sort of fellow (as most 15 year-olds are – they haven’t yet been duped by society), Chippy held out his hand. As he did, the hypnotist poked him on top of it. Chippy squealed, began blowing on his hand and licking the wound. Rather than cross in front of the hypnotist, i.e. the same way he’d entered the stage, Chippy exited stage left, holding his “burned” hand.

Later that day, I saw the young star and told him what a wonderful – and brave – gesture he made. He held out his hand and, I can remember this as though it happened yesterday (and, believe me, those moments are dwindling) – there was a blister where the hypnotist poked him! I recalled having read that the mind can’t separate a vividly imagined event from a real one, which is why when you dream about, for example, falling off a cliff, when you awaken, your heart is pounding and you’re sweating. The blister on Chippy’s finger told me all I needed to know about hypnosis.

Back to my associate and his experience. He said that, at no time, was he not completely aware of his surroundings – and that he was told that would be the case before they started the session. The hypnotist did speak in a soft, soothing voice, telling him to imagine himself descending in a glass elevator, all the while seeing a beautiful blue sky interspersed with fluffy clouds that looked like they were made out of cotton, putting him in a relaxed, happy frame of mind. Then, when the elevator doors opened there would be an escalator, heading down further, into complete tranquility with gorgeous scenery all around. Yet, he never lost consciousness.

My experience with hypnosis (30-35 years ago, unsuccessfully) was similar to his. I was completely awake during my session. However, the difference between our two incidents was that his hypnotist told him that our mind is composed of two parts: one side has a complete understanding of right and wrong, a fully mature outlook on life. The other side is like a spoiled 5 year-old, the kind of kid who begs and whines until he or she (since I have no reason to believe this phenomena is limited to males only) gets his or her way. That thought resonated throughout my entire mind and soul – like a eureka! moment. This explained why people make bad decisions. Not so fast, my friend. My guy told me that the hypnotist said that was not the point of hypnosis, that it was about the calm, peaceful feeling of the descent and that, as his body felt completely relaxed, that he should touch his thumb and index finger together. Then, whenever his craving came along, just put the fingers together and that peaceful feeling will keep him from giving into his addiction.

Bummer! What I took out of it, however, works as well. My belief is that when I am about to make a decision, e.g. ordering dessert on a day the scale said, “Too much.” What occurs, because I love most desserts, is my 5 year-old mind saying, “Who cares? I want that dessert. I want it, I want it, I want it!” Then comes along the rationalizing why I deserve it, all the great things I had done that day, how just one dessert wouldn’t be so detrimental, and even how “you promised!” So many parents, guardians, nannies, babysitters just feel, “It’s not worth the battle. You’ve worn me down. Go ahead and get it.” In the case of the individual, it does give immediate satisfaction, so what’s so bad? What’s so bad is what follows – consequences.

This philosophy can be expanded to, pretty much, any bad, wrong, illegal or immoral decision we make. I’m not referring to life-long criminals because, the ones who understand right from wrong, choose wrong for different reasons, e.g. they get off on the thrill of trying to get away with something. For a moment, reflect on some negative act you committed. Deep down, you knew you shouldn’t have done it, but you talked yourself into it anyway – maybe it wasn’t that terrible a choice (like dessert for many people). The 5 year-old won.

Consider the three Arkansas football players who recently got caught using counterfeit money. Certainly they knew it was wrong but chances are their 5 year-old mind was telling them how athletes don’t get enough money, how the school and the coaches make so much money and how they were getting screwed by the system. Or the athletes who are “juicing.” I mean, “everybody else is doing it.” That was supposedly the pushed, allegedly, Barry Bonds to use steroids. He was the best baseball player in the world but the media – and women (“Chicks dig the long ball” commercials) – were going gaga over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Or the rash of domestic violence in the news. The “provocation defense” just won’t hold up. Besides, does anybody, especially high profile people, think hitting their spouse is the “right” thing to do?

We could claim the immature (although somewhat older than 5) mind even made its way into the Oval Office. Don’t think for a second Bill Clinton didn’t know what Monica Lewinsky was up to, rather down to, was a bad idea. That the thought, “You’re the President of the United States, for crying out loud! Do you really think this is appropriate?” didn’t enter his head. You can almost hear what the immature side of the mind was saying. Unless he just enjoyed the risk, the danger of getting caught was monumental. The average guy, maybe. But Clinton is brilliant and, whatever the reason was at the time, I’d make a substantial wager he regrets now what took place.

In any case, I’m using that argument to keep me from “losing.” It doesn’t mean I’ll never have dessert again. If the scale had a “pleasant message” or I had a great workout, I might indulge myself. It’s worked thus far. I can actually say I can hear that little, whiny, obnoxious kid anytime I’m not doing what I ought to be doing, like instead of watching TV, I should be getting on the exercise bike – and watching TV. Maybe it’s an unpleasant call I’ve been putting off but realize the situation won’t get resolved until I do. It’s called your conscience – and the more often you let it decide your course of action, the more fulfilling a life you’ll lead.

As Gandhi preached:

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”

The DeAndre Jordan Discussion Is Completely Irrelevant

July 23rd, 2015

DeAndre Jordan had spent his entire NBA career with the Los Angeles Clippers. This year, he found himself in an enviable position (at least according to Jamal Crawford) – he was a free agent. Jordan had a number of suitors but, mainly, his decision came down to his present employer and the Dallas Mavericks. Tough situation – two billionaires throwing gobs of money at him. The main problem was that he could pick just one. It was “decision time.” He could have booked time on television with Jim Gray but, wisely, concluded it probably wouldn’t be well-received by the public.

So, Jordan had to weigh his options. He could stay with his current team – and have a much better chance to win a championship (definitely), make more money (definitely) and remain in the city and house he loved (definitely). Or he could move to his home state of Texas (although not in his hometown of Houston), have an easier chance to become an all-star (maybe) and been a focal point of the offense (maybe).

The Clips had first shot and, allegedly, there were many bells and whistles to their presentation – but no players involved. Mark Cuban and his creative thinking group pulled out all stops, including bringing in the big guns – close Jordan buddy, Chandler Parsons, and, the face of the franchise, Dirk Nowitzki, who cut his vacation short to show how much he wanted the big man. Also rumored was that the Mavs’ strategy leaned heavily on Cuban’s close friendship with DJ’s agent, Dan Fegan.

Ultimately (or, for a while anyway), Jordan went with his heart and said Dallas was his destination – until his head intervened and realized LA was best for him. For his head, his heart, his long arms, his quickness and jumping ability, and the rest of his body. It’s just that he neglected to let the guy who’d offered him $80 million he changed his mind. It got uncomfortable – and then a little nasty.

When Jordan was introduced, along with the other free agent signees, he tried to explain what happened. The main thing he needs to understand is that the best approach from here on out would be to say nothing – even though he’ll have no shortage of folks trying to revive the entire scenario.

Here’s why. There are three groups interested in his circumstance. The first one is composed of DeAndre Jordan fans and nothing he says will change their minds about him. Similarly, there’s the second group, diametrically opposed to the first. The middle group aren’t sure where they stand, yet nothing he says matters because, now, it comes down to how the Clippers play. Not just how DJ plays, but his team.

If the Clips don’t win this season (meaning, at the very least, move further into the playoffs than they did last year, if not win the West – keep in mind San Antonio made pretty serious upgrades and the World Champs have everybody of significance back, not to mention a strong, improved Cavaliers squad), people will invariably link the lack of success to what happened during free agency. If, on the other hand, LA surpasses last year and, yikes, win it all, there will be many who will swear the reason was his return to the fold.

The NBA is a performance-based league. Unfortunately, what we’ve found to be the case in controversial incidents is:

“When all is said and done, more is said than done.”

 

Must See TV on HBO Tuesday Night

July 19th, 2015

On my way to Stanford as it’s time for a pain pump refill. 10 years have gone by since my maiden voyage to Stanford Pain Management. The building has been not only upgraded but moved off-campus (to Redwood City) since my initial trip. If only its title was Pain “Elimination,” rather than Pain “Management,” . . . hey, I can still dream, can’t I?  Even still, life is much better now than it was after my 2002 thoracic disk surgery, so I’ve got to be thankful.

This blog will return on Thursday, July 23.

On Tuesday night from 10-11 pm, HBO will air a show about a philosophy that has pervaded the United States for 20 years. Or is it 25 years? However long this theory has been in existence, it desperately needs to be crushed. What I’m referring to is the attitude that “everyone’s a winner.” At the risk of sounding like one of those “back in the day” old-timers, allow me to present my case for the abolition of the “let’s build our children’s self-esteem” (at whatever cost) ideology.

During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, i.e. “back in the day,” kids who played sports got trophies – when they won. If there was an all-star team, the kids who were selected got jerseys (which they might have been allowed to keep) and, maybe, trophies. Some leagues would give awards, e.g. most valuable player, most improved, coaches’ award, etc. Those who didn’t win moved on – to the next sport or activity – as did those who won. The winners were congratulated and those who didn’t win . . . didn’t win. Did they suffer from an inferiority complex? If they did, well, back then (“in the day”), they were told to “get over it.” If they complained, their parents told them either to work harder or, if that answer didn’t appeal to them, to find something else to occupy their time during that particular season.

Parents were different then, just as the parents of those parents were different. Each generation is unique but here is something to consider. Many of the parents of today’s Generation Y children, aka the “Millennials” (the ones we’re discussing) were the children described above. Could it be they resented the way they were raised? Why did there have to be only one winner (individual or team)? Isn’t every one of God’s creatures as precious as each of the others? Maybe there were a greater number of inferiority complexes than we could ever imagine.

The result? Helicopter parents, those who hover over every move their child makes, who call the school when their little one doesn’t pass a test (or, in the most severe cases, when the parent-diagnosed little geniuses earn less than an A). And these parents don’t call the teacher. Nooooo, they go right to the administration and demand the grade be changed, their child be moved to another class and the teacher be disciplined. What could make them feel that way? One has already been discussed. They didn’t achieve to their potential (according to their own calculations) and their parents were to blame – for not “supporting” them. Another is they have been encouraged – by the administration – to go the administration, who commiserate with them and pass along the complaint to the teachers, putting them in an untenable position. Doesn’t matter, the administration did their job, i.e. placated the parents.

Somewhere along the way, people who subscribed to this feel good platform won over enough followers with their rhetoric. It wasn’t too difficult, given the Great American Dream, defined as “something for nothing.” (If you don’t believe it, have you ever wondered why the lottery payouts are so high? Something for [nearly] nothing). The “feel gooder’s” message is that our children’s self-esteem would dramatically rise if we only would recognize everybody as a winner! The fundamental flaw in this thinking is that, of course, everybody can’t be a winner. The word win contradicts that notion. If everybody wins, then nobody wins. Unless the goal is striving for mediocrity, there has to be a way to distinguish not-so-good from good, and from good from great.

After observing the results, i.e. the lack of work ethic and competitive spirit from much, although thankfully, not all this generation’s youth, the overwhelming majority of the people (at least the ones I know) agree with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. The coach is quoted on the show, explaining the problems with the current “everyone’s a winner” philosophy:

“It is a little harder to motivate kids I guess because they’ve been pampered so much. We’re in the trophy generation, give ’em a trophy for 23rd place, make ’em feel good. Make mom and dad feel good.”

 

 

Who Was in Charge at St. Andrew’s – and Why Did No One Help Him?

July 18th, 2015

Regarding yesterday’s blog: watching The Open, as the British Open golf tournament is referred to, I had to re-think how much fun the game of golf is. After Day 1, Tiger Woods (you remember him, right) made the statement that, due to his poor first round, he had to hope for nasty conditions on Day 2, forcing his competitors into subpar scores, then play some terrific golf himself.

Can you imagine hoping for bad weather? I can understand the Buffalo Bills wanting miserable conditions in upstate New York when they play the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers but football is a bit of a rougher game than golf. Like a shark is a bit more dangerous than a goldfish. I made my feelings known about golf yesterday when I said one reason golf was fun was because you got to play in wonderful weather (if not, just don’t play – there will be nicer days, especially when you’re retired – and live in California).

Well, the R&A outdid itself on Saturday in Scotland (even though it didn’t quite seem like Saturday yet out here). It didn’t take a meteorologist to figure the weather was brutal. I mean, golfers are extremely talented athletes (I do consider them athletes, certainly in terms of hand-eye coordination, strength and conditioning – for most in today’s game, anyway – and, certainly, mental toughness). But in no way does anyone consider them gladiators, as fans do, say, football players.

So, leader Dustin Johnson had to play three holes – while other golfers didn’t swing even once. At that time the powers-that-be decided that no sane person should be out in that kind of weather – and the only thing that was keeping them out there were . . . the decision-makers for The Open. The major problem with what took place at St. Andrews (pronounced sin-TANDREWS) was that it was just that – a major. Why should golfers have to play one of their four most important events in inclement weather when the rest of the game is so pure?

Don’t agree? Try sneezing or coughing (or even just taking a picture if it means there will be an audible “click”) during a golfer’s backswing. The Seattle Seahawks have their decibel meter. It gets so loud that opposing offenses can’t hear play calls and, often, teams are forced into penalties. The Golden State Warriors gave credit to their fans for making so much noise during their run to last season’s NBA Championship. Imagine having to play golf with the kind of distractions quarterbacks, place kickers and free throw shooters do? Because of that, golfers should never be forced to putt into 40 mph winds. Nobody practices putting into 40 mph winds, nor should they. That’s not skill and, if nothing else, golf is a game of incredible skill. Someone shouldn’t become a champion because he got to play in sunshine – after rain was coming down sideways for the guys playing earlier.

Talk about leveling the playing field. OK, so everything can’t be exactly equal. But to do what was done yesterday at St. Andrews definitely skewed the results, independent of who wins. Let’s face it, although power has entered the game more than it ever has, golf is still a finesse game, a great deal of it built on touch. What the answer is I don’t know but late Friday night (on the west coast) wasn’t even fun to watch. As fans, we’d like to think the games we witness are fair (WWE excluded). I’d imagine the players feel the same way.

“When stubbornness tops common sense, someone needs to step up and give the group a literal slap in the face – for everyone’s sake.”

My Return to the Links – Maybe

July 17th, 2015

Early in my career, there was an unwritten rule that if a young basketball coach harbored any hope of moving up in the profession, playing golf was taboo. While it was unwritten, it was not unspoken. Both Abe Lemons and Jerry Tarkanian used to say, when asked about their hiring philosophy, “I never hire any coach who owns an RV or golf clubs.”  In fact, of all the head coaches I worked for throughout my 30-year career (10), only two could be considered golf enthusiasts – and four of them didn’t play at all.

The first time I actually played golf was at a media event in the late ’70s. I “competed” in couple more of those outings but, as far as playing a sport, I enjoyed tennis a good deal more. It was a better workout, didn’t take as long and was a whole lot less expensive. Plus, I had more skill with a racquet in my hand than a club. It wasn’t until early in my stint at Fresno State – ironically, working for Tark – when I was properly introduced to golf.

The athletics department had the annual Xmas party and the format was everybody donated something – so everybody won. Kinda like Little League. When my name was picked, wouldn’t you know it, my prize was a free lesson with golf coach Mike Watney, coach/uncle to PGA pro Nick Watney and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame. Mike and I shared a mutual respect for each other (me for him for obvious reasons, and him for me . . . because he told me so). He approached me after the luncheon and asked when we could get together. As I tossed the piece of paper with the “one free golf lesson” written on it in a trash can, I joked that if I was to take up golf, the worst golfer in the world would move up one notch. “No, c’mon, meet me outside my office” (where there was an open field) “and I’ll give you a couple pointers.”

By that time in his career, Jerry had relaxed his “no golf for coaches” rule. There were so many Fresno State tournaments in which boosters played, our AD, who was an avid golfer, wanted coaches to participate and mingle. While Jerry never swung a club, his son, Danny, a marvelous athlete, would represent the basketball department. I set a date with Mike and he had me swing a 7-iron. I gripped it like I would a baseball bat (a sport I was familiar with, had played in high school and loved). After a couple serious slices, Mike diagnosed (one of) my major problem(s). “Try turning your grip so the ‘V’ between your left thumb and index finger points, instead of toward your left shoulder, as it is now, toward your right shoulder. Same with the right hand. Point that ‘V’ to your right shoulder as well.”

I’m nothing if not coachable, so I followed his instructions and – how about that – the ball started straightening out. Not bombs, mind you, but at least shots I’d be easily able to find. Our beat writer happened to be there (at that time, he and I were extremely good friends) and even he, a total non-athlete, was impressed. That made two of us. Mike claims he was never in doubt. Kind of him to say.

Since there were so many others in the department who played and because the weather was always good, I began playing once the season ended. I admit I was hit by the bug and couldn’t wait to get on a course. In addition, one of my surgeries had resulted in nerve damage in my feet, causing neuropathy, a condition in which the feet tingle – like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep – so my tennis days were long gone.

After a few more surgeries, playing golf became impossible as well. I still loved the game – I mean, you’re playing with friends (the guys I played with weren’t bettors, so it remained a fun game), in a beautiful setting with green grass, sand, water, shrubbery and trees (I’ve spent more time in them than is recommended), in great weather (otherwise, I waited until it improved), riding in carts and, once in a while (more often for me than I was supposed to), you hit the ball. As a golfer, you play against the course. Even though I knew I’d never come remotely close to beating it, it’s the 120 yard 9-iron that I holed out for the only eagle of my life, or the sinking of a left-to-right 30-foot putt that would bring me back – even though my scores might have been in triple figures. I have missed playing tennis and golf (if I were a jogger, I’d miss that too). Now, yoga (no one will ever confuse me with Eddie George but my flexibility has improved) and 30-60 minutes on a recumbent bike have been the totality of my athletic accomplishments.

Maybe because I have learned to live with pain, maybe because I just have to give it another try, I’m thinking about playing golf again. I haven’t reserved a room at the hospital – and hope I don’t need to – but a person can do sudokus (there has never been one I couldn’t complete) only so long. Joni Mitchell was right:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”