Do the Bulls’ First Two Playoff Losses Diminish Their Regular Season Record?

April 23rd, 2014

The Chicago Bulls entered the playoffs as the #4 seed in the NBA East. After a close overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, they’re now down 0-2, have to go to Washington and everyone is writing their epitaph. Is the majority right or can the Bulls come back?

Honestly, I’m not sure the guys from Chi-town can even win a game in this series but this team ought to be an inspiration to any group, or even individual, who faces adversity. In reality, there’s no way they should be a #4 seed. They lost their best player - and the go-to guy in Derrick Rose - at the outset of the season. This setback, following the same scenario last year, has to be devastating to the guys.

Then, as if to say, “We have no shot; let’s build for next year,” the front office traded away their best (remaining) scorer, Luol Deng, for draft picks (and Andrew Bynum, whom they immediately released). Independent of how talented those draft picks become, they can’t score a bucket this season. What could be left to play for?

In the old days, the answer was pride. Since the Bulls’ coach is Tom Thibodeau, a coach from the “old days” if ever there was one, there would be no quit in his team. He didn’t feel they should play for pride; his idea was to play for wins. So they scrapped and clawed their way to 48 of them (58.5% of their games) and barely lost out on the #3 seed by a tiebreaker to the Toronto Raptors.

If ever a team was mis-seeded, it was this collection of leftovers. Not to say the roster doesn’t have NBA caliber players, but taking away Rose and Deng and replacing them with nobody, well, take to top players off of any NBA club and my contention is the drop off would be even more drastic. While the Bulls didn’t overachieve (mainly because it’s impossible - you can’t do better than your ability allows), these guys played about as close to their potential as possible. When last night’s game went into OT, it spelled doom for the boys from Chicago. They simply have too many guys logging too many minutes (because they simply don’t have enough playoff caliber players - after losing Rose and Deng) and it was obvious they’d lost a step on defense and their legs on their shots. Critics will say that they haven’t had those two the entire season and still won their share of contests, but they’re disregarding one significant factor: it’s the playoffs. Every minute of playoff time - in terms of pressure and intensity - is like two (or maybe more) during the regular season.

In my eyes, whenever I watch the Bulls play, I’m in amazement at how they can win strictly with their defense. Many coaches preach D but no one gets buy in at that end of the floor like Thibs. Since basketball is the only team game whose defensive goal is not a shutout, e.g. football, baseball, hockey, soccer, teams have to ring up points - and the Bulls struggle mightily to do just that.

Going from performing as close to potential as possible to the opposite, check out the following two encounters from post game reporters. Just as teams need to prove themselves by finishing in the top eight in either the East or West to be included in the playoffs, so should reporters have to prove themselves in order to interview players and coaches post season. Two guys who should not have made the cut are the following. You figure out why.

A reporter actually asked Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich, who missed game-tying free throws with the Bulls down two and 2.4 seconds remaining in the game, “What were you thinking when you stepped up to the line?” In the studio, TNT’s Kenny Smith said, “What did she expect him to say, ‘I was really nervous?’ ”

During the media Q&A with Houston Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale, he was asked, “Are you going to do anything different defensively on LaMarcus Aldridge?”

“Yeah, we’re going to do something different. I mean, the guy had 46 against us. Sure we’re going to do something different but I’m not going to tell what. Watch the game!”

To show how Thibodeau and his main guy, Joakim Noah (who just was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year) are connected at the hip, here was the latter’s response to the question, “Is losing this one tonight in overtime demoralizing?” Noah’s answer was:

“Demoralizing? No, it sucks . . . disappointing.”

Boo, Pat Forde!

April 22nd, 2014

Yahoo Sports’ writer Pat Forde must have been trying to see how many people he could induce into spewing venomous comments after posting a column about black basketball coaches in the SEC leaving their jobs to take “lower” level (or lateral) jobs. Sure enough, there were 1235 comments. So far. While I can’t say all of them were negative toward what he wrote - I mean, you didn’t really think I was going to read 1235 comments - I did read somewhere in the neighborhood of the first 100 and they ranged from “I can’t believe Pat Forde played the race card” to nastier remarks about Forde to people disparaging the coaches. I’m sure none of those bothered him in the slightest.

“I can’t think of another conference that had four coaches make such surprising lateral-to-downward moves within the last seven years. Or within any seven-year period.” That was one of the lines by Forde which was challenged by someone who wrote that there were four white coaches who left the Big 12 to take lateral-to-lesser jobs. Coaches change jobs for a multitude of reasons but few of them don’t make a juicy enough topic as race does.

I truly believe that Pat Forde and the people at Yahoo were, and are, high-fiving each other after seeing the outrage his article had caused. The problem I have is, although success on the Internet is probably driven by the number of responses an article receives, the majority of the comments were related to how bad a job was done by the coaches he listed. Frank Haith’s issues at Miami have been discussed and he’s been punished. If he feels like moving to Tulsa is best for him, his career and his family, good for him to have the ability to get it (especially with all the coaches lined up for that job, given its lengthy history of success in hoops).

Same thing for the others (Cuonzo Martin, Trent Johnson and Tubby Smith) and their career moves. If Pat Forde wants to write something controversial, he ought to find a subject which doesn’t have the hidden agenda of driving “ratings” for lack of a better term, by eliciting comments that will be damning to others’ careers. Why do I think Forde had an agenda? Of all the comments I read, not one was pro-Forde. Not all were anti-Forde, many were directed at the coaches in the story, none of them positive. He basically threw them under the bus just so he could show his bosses he still could write a piece people would read. Even if they did loathe it.

Another couple lines from Forde: “The fact that all of them are black could be a Southeastern coincidence more than a reflection on the Southeastern Conference. But it also raises questions – and could create a perception – about the work environment for a black coach in the South.” Come on, Pat, how transparent can you be? Why set back racial progress so you can generate a thousand plus comments and keep your employer happy? Just so the reader is aware, Forde earlier wrote an article on the “lack of African-American coaches at big-time programs.” If he planned on being the flag bearer for racial equality, his latest attempt was quite hurtful to a certain few of those he allegedly is attempting to promote. According to the author, an unnamed African-American coach said his latest topic was part of a “worrisome trend.” What, that black coaches who may, or may not, have been on the hot seat had the ability to snare other desirable jobs? The places they wound up going to weren’t at the Division II level. In fact, each would probably be considered top 150 programs.

People similar Forde have lived by mottoes like “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” and “Any publicity is good publicity.” At the expense of four college coaches - each of whom happens to be black - Pat Forde decided to take a line from Oscar Wilde’s character, Lady Bracknell, from The Importance of Being Earnest:

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”


 

Two Players Stood Out Above, and Below, the Others

April 21st, 2014

After watching, on and off, eight NBA playoff games, you start looking for a “game within the game,” so to speak. For me yesterday, it was the play of a couple guys, one big, one not so, who really stood out. Maybe it was because they played in the final two games or maybe it was because their styles were so eye-opening. In any case, it was invigorating after all those hours (of sitting on my butt) watching Joakim Noah and Patrick Beverly work theirs off.

How impressive was their play? Each of their teams lost. Yet, for a longtime coach, there really is more to a game than winning and losing. The impact those two have on a game - any game in which they’re involved - makes you wonder why there aren’t more guys like them on NBA rosters. Until you realize - there simply  aren’t too many more like them.

Noah has been influencing the outcomes of contests for years. He’s considered a big man, so it’s understandable for him to rebound the ball above the rim, but it’s the loose balls on the floor he comes up with, and the “tip” rebounds he directs to teammates when he can’t grab the ball himself that made me shake my head in admiration. Whenever anyone sees Noah shoot, the most common remark is “How the hell does his shot ever go in? I mean, it spins sideways!” Although he’ll never be putting on shooting clinics anytime soon, I think I’ve finally figured it out. He wills the ball into the basket. Even though Noah got schooled by Nene yesterday, he still managed a double-double (triple-double if you count hustle plays). To lose the one-on-one battle and still stand out - in a positive nature - is a compliment few players ever receive.

Beverly is just now receiving the accolades his scrappy style deserves. Case in point is the article written about him in last week’s (4/14/14) Sports Illustrated, entitled The X Factor (not to be outdone, there’s an article in this week’s SI on Noah - so I guess I can’t take credit for recognizing their worth). In Beverly’s article it said he’s been compared to a mosquito and a gnat. If you watch him guard a ball handler (or, even, how he guards off the ball if the team wants to get it into the bh’s hands), you’ll understand there couldn’t be a better description. He knows it, too. In fact, he maintains the reason he tries to be so annoying on D is because he knows how much it infuriates him when an opponent turns the tables. I wondered how that was possible because, for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with another guard in the league who defends that way. And Beverly does it that way all the time. “Focus and intensity,” remarked TNT color commentator Chris Weber, who went on to say “You can look at the stat sheet but it won’t tell you the impact Patrick Beverly had.”

Coaches always talk about 50-50 balls. Noah and Beverly don’t just get more 50-50 balls than other players, they create them. They give all they have, all the time. Probably, the #1 complaint among NBA fans of its players, is they don’t always give maximum effort, especially considering how much money they make. Few people outside the league understand what a grind an NBA season is. Talk to players and coaches and, to a man, they’ll tell you it’s impossible to compete every game the way many fans expect. Joakim Noah and Patrick Beverly might just be the reason fans think that way.

It could be that Noah and Beverly agree with what Colin Powell said:

“Freedom to be your best means nothing unless you’re willing to do your best.”


Ruminations from Day One of the NBA Playoffs

April 20th, 2014

If the NBA Playoffs were the like March Madness, television executives would be tripping over each other on the way to the nearest cliff. Fans who criticize March Madness because the “best team” in the country seldom wins it ought to be thrilled with all of yesterday’s mulligans.

Of the three first upsets, i.e. the ones in which the lower seeds, or road teams, won, the one most easily dismissed was the Nets’ victory over Toronto. One reason might be that Brooklyn has Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett so how can they not be favored? Another could be that Toronto is in Canada where, to the natives, goals count for one - and they aren’t nearly as plentiful. The avid NBA fan has a tough time thinking a team from that side of the border would ever be favored over a team from the U.S., especially one from Brooklyn. You think a shot clock in any of the five boroughs would ever break down in an NBA playoff game, much less the back up shot clocks? Fuhgidabowdit. And by the way, Nets’ GM Billy King has two words for the Raptors - one is profane and the other is pronoun.

As far as the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Clippers contest, not much can be determined, mainly because the officials decided, after watching the 30 for 30 documentary on the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys, the game needed to be officiated as though the players all had contagious diseases. Analyst Jeff Van Gundy even suggested a rule that players can “buy a foul” in order to be able to keep the “star” players, i.e. the ones the fans pay to see play, on the court. I don’t think superstars should get “favorable” treatment but the fouls that were called yesterday shouldn’t have been.  These are the best players in the world. When in doubt, the officials ought to swallow their whistles and let the players decide which team should win it.

An embarrassing moment for the league occurred at a crucial time in the final minute when one of the officials awarded a ball that went out of bounds to the Clippers. Since it was late in the game, the officials were allowed to go to the monitors and review it. It was apparent the ball was last touched by CP3 but just as evident was the fact that the reason he lost it was because he was fouled. The rule on replays is the official must overturn the call if conclusive video evidence shows the initial call was incorrect. But this call was incorrect on two counts. The refs faced a dilemma, yet they didn’t face a dilemma. The ball was definitely off of Paul - but just as definitely, he was fouled. Unfortunately, only possession can be corrected. For now.

The next game was the one that was most anticipated because, since last season, the Pacers had a goal - to be the #1 seed. They desperately wanted home court advantage. Sure enough, they got it, but only after limping through the second half of the season, and then backing into it when the Miami Heat rested their “boys” during their final regular season tilt and lost. When Paul George was asked about the lackluster play of his team (and, make no mistake about it, the Pacers are his team), he remarked that they wanted the #1 seed and they got it - masking the innumerable problems their poor play suggested - including the thumping their opponent in the first (last?) round, the sub .500 Atlanta Hawks, gave them about two weeks ago. When the Pacers scored 23 points in the first half. In Indy.

The uncertainty in the Indiana Pacers was felt by the guys in the studio at ESPN. Bill Simmons stated Jeff Teague was the guy who killed the Pacers. His solution is to the put Paul George, the best perimeter defender in the league, on Teague. Jalen Rose’s idea is for his old team to “go small and put Paul George at the four. Talk about cross matching. Imagine George, at the four, scoring on a drive to the hoop, then trying to locate and pick up Jeff Teague while the ball is being inbounded. Now try seeing him do it after a miss.

Doug Collins, whom any knowledgeable fan would listen to, given the fact he actually coached in the league (as opposed to Simmons who remarked that, after seeing the Indiana-Atlanta game, Chicago or Washington ought to be thinking they have a good chance to get to the conference finals if they can win their series - talk about looking ahead when anyone knows their focus can’t be anywhere but on the first game - of their first series), made the statement that the Pacers needed to open the first game the same way they played all year, i.e. with Roy Hibbert at center and David West at power forward. Rather than blaming somebody for the loss, Collins mentioned how it’s now time to adjust since all the Hawks can shoot threes and it’s not reasonable to ask Hibbert or West to try to chase guys off the three-point line. After witnessing the opening game of that series, it is quite apparent Indiana has problems.

Problem #1 is their hideous offensive execution, made up of minimal passing, too much (one guy) dribbling and winding up taking bad shots. Their calling card has always been their defense but even that has been letting them down

Problem #2 is, maybe, guys are getting exposed, e.g. people claimed to be so surprised at how dominant Roy Hibbert had become, that, maybe, his career peaked last year or, maybe, Paul George, who had a breakout year and signed a contract that took care of any need he could possibly have, can’t use any of that money to buy him back to what he was earlier this season. After all, he showed no signs of future NBA stardom in his collegiate career at Fresno State. Now, Hibbert calls out teammates (without using names), throws out thinly veiled complaints about the offense, yet takes no responsibility for the “soft” rep that’s being attached to him and George calmly talks about it was only one game, dismissing the fact they got major issues. The coach isn’t immune, either. Larry Bird has made references to how he felt Frank Vogel, whose coaching skills were being lauded not all that long ago, needed to be tougher on the guys. That line seemed to be interpreted by the players that the Pacers’ collapse lay at his feet and not theirs. Not many of these guys have ever been told they weren’t anything but great. Misinterpretation of Bird’s remark if ever there was one.

Problem #3 is Mike Krzyzewski’s favorite topic: body language. More than any other team playing, the Pacers display the worst body language of any professional team (that has a good deal of talent). They can be seen complaining to officials (for calls they don’t deserve) at the expense of floor balance, slumping shoulders during opponents’ runs and hanging heads when on the bench. They just don’t appear to trust each other. That’s why you might just get better odds putting money on a Hawks’ sweep than the Pacers winning the series.

As far as the final game, the Thunder jumped out early, built their lead to 25, then allowed the Grizzlies to outscore them 31-13 in the third. Although Memphis cut the lead to two, OKC turned it on and won rather comfortably (although not as comfortably as the Hawks). They look like they are on a mission.

Following a playoff loss, the teams and their fans ought to remember the late John Wooden’s quote:

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

The West Playoff Picture Went Down to the Wire and the Clippers Might Have Caught a Break

April 17th, 2014

Heading to Orange County for dinner with a few college friends. Of course, going to OC also gives us a chance to check in on #1 son, Andy, and see how our 25 year old is doing. The fact he lives with a couple roommates, a block from the ocean in Newport Beach, is a pretty big hint that all is well. He’s working for Booker, a company that sells software - mainly to health clubs, spas and salons. I’ve been privy to a demo presentation and, while I’m from another century, even a novice like me can see what Booker is selling will result in increased income for businesses. It’s easy to see why Andy, who is extremely tech savvy, loves the field he’s in and, for parents, that’s really comforting.

This blog will return Sunday, April 20.

The last game of the NBA season meant nothing to nearly everybody so, naturally, KD still went off for 42 - half of them in the fourth quarter - when you thought he’d be resting. Sure, Oklahoma City needed to win to lock up the #2 seed in the West (or have the Clippers lose) but did they get what they really wanted? Now, because of the other game out West that had playoff implications (Dallas-Memphis), OKC gets the Grizzlies (who beat Dallas for the #7 seed, sending the Mavs to San Antonio for round one). Also, it means the Clippers host the Warriors who 1) they have a mutual “hate” affair with and 2) they get to play without Andrew Bogut. The two teams split their four contests this season.

The Mavs and Grizzlies were both assured a playoff series (and the playoff shares they get for it), yet the game was hotly contested, in fact, not being decided until OT. It came down to the final second when Dallas ran a great OB play to get a open look for Monta Ellis. His jumper fell off the rim, sending the Mavs to San Antonio and a formidable challenge (the Spurs swept the four games with them this season). The Griz, meanwhile, go to OKC which will be no slice of heaven but more of a do-able goal than playing the Spurs.

Had OKC lost and the Clips won, however, the Thunder would have played depleted Golden State and Memphis would have traveled to LA, a team they’d certainly be underdogs to, yet one they’ve played well against in the past, beating them two of out three this year. Recall, last year, the Grizzlies knocked out the Clippers, coming from a 0-2 game deficit to win four in a row.

Maybe the Thunder will dispose of the Grizzlies in short order and all of this will be moot. It just seems like OKC would have had an easier go of it against the Andrew Bogut-less Warriors than they will against Memphis. Additionally, wouldn’t it have been much tougher for the Clippers to get past Memphis than Golden State? It might never have happened even if the Thunder lost because the Clippers followed that game. Had they lost it (like they did), the playoff picture would be just as it is.

The Eastern version of the NBA playoffs will be interesting because of how the top two teams, clearly better than the others early on, struggled during the second half of the season. The West, on the other hand, will have its intrigue because of how good all its teams are. The goal, as always, is to win the last game of the year - although don’t mention that to the Lakers who actually did it.

Maybe the moral for them this year should have been:

“Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.”

Why Would Cuonzo Martin Leave Tennessee for Cal?

April 16th, 2014

Cuonzo Martin was never a good fit at the University of Tennessee mainly because no one would have been a good fit there. Not after Bruce Pearl - who was the perfect fit - was fired. Pearl had revived a moribund program. He was exactly what Vols’ fans had longed for - a successful strategist, a terrific recruiter with an effervescent personality and, to boot, he was a true showman. Then he broke (minor) NCAA rules. The university came out in support of him but after it was proven he’d lied to the NCAA authorities, they cut him loose. When the coach is beloved, that never matters to fans. Nothing does. I was an assistant coach at UT from 1980-87. Even got married in Knoxville - to a Tennessee graduate. Consequently, to this day, I have many, many good friends who are diehard Big Orange supporters. Quite a few told me Bruce Pearl reminded them of a certain former beloved Tennessee coach.

The history of Tennessee basketball, more or less, begins with the late Ray Mears, a coach from Division II power Wittenburg (see how the natives react if UT’s administration tries hiring a D-II coach, even one who won a national championship and whose record is 121-23 overall and 69-7 in conference like Coach Mears’ was). He blew into Knoxville and coached there for 15 years without a losing record, until he retired. Most importantly, however, he bucked the notion that the SEC was a football-only league. Back then, Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp was the bully of SEC basketball and the rest of the conference didn’t mind as long as UK remained a doormat in football.

This infuriated Ray Mears who felt his school, the others be damned, would fight and claw against the Wildcats. He turned everything in Knoxville orange during prospects’ recruiting visits - including the toilet paper. If ever a man was consumed by his job, it was this Ohio native. He had been thinking that although UT’s mascot was the Volunteers, he needed to separate his program from the others. One day while driving to work, he saw the giant billboard, advertising Marlboro cigarettes, proclaiming “This is Marlboro Country” and, eureka! he found his solution. Yeah, it was Ray Mears who coined the phrase Big Orange Country. He also proudly wore a flamboyant bright orange blazer on the sidelines. Battled Kentucky tooth-and-nail, too. The SEC is now known as a football and basketball conference because of Ray Mears.

Tennessee had been searching for him ever since. And then Bruce Pearl appeared from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, fresh off of a 26-6, Sweet Sixteen year. His tenure at UW-M was preceded by nine years at Southern Indiana - and a Division II national championship (maybe UT ought to look at a D-II coach after all). He embraced football - and Pat Summitt (the best coach, male or female, regardless of sport, I’ve ever been around in 30 years of college coaching at 9 different schools). Pearl was smart enough to know that being third in Knoxville was better than being first most other places.

As far as Martin’s departure from Tennessee for Cal, “in-the-know” basketball people will claim that being the basketball coach at Cal is actually a better job than its counterpart at UT. Granted, money in Knoxville goes a heckuva lot farther than it does in the Bay Area - and there’s a lot more of it for the hoops coach. There are two major reasons for this: the schools in the SEC get more bowl and television revenue than those in the Pac-12 and there’s this structure in Knoxville. The football stadium at UT is named after General Robert Neyland, the former director of athletics and football coach who made the Vols a national football power. Ground-breaking was in 1921 and the stadium, which had an original capacity of 3200, has been expanded 13 times - to its present capacity of 102,455 (although the attendance record is 109,061).

There are season tickets available but the least expensive will average out to be over $100 per game (based on 8 home games), once the cost of the annual donation is included. Multiply times a whole lot of tickets and that will give you several million in revenue per game - just in ticket sales. Throw in concessions, souvenirs and parking (example: there are shuttle buses from Farragut HS, about a 30 min drive, for $15 so figure . . . a lot for parking/shuttles).

Yet, as the cliche goes, “recruiting is the lifeblood of college athletics” and I’ve held a strong belief that the more fertile recruiting base a college has around it, the easier it is to recruit (football is different due to UT’s gridiron tradition). My philosophy is not just that young kids want to play in front of their family and friends but that, if you don’t have a strong local recruiting base, you’re always in someone else’s backyard, trying to convince them to leave home. Oakland has a history of producing great players, plus the state of California sends more college players than any other. Sure, Memphis has more than its share of big-time basketball players but, while I can’t recall the exact number offhand when I worked there, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 32 Division I colleges that are closer to Memphis that the 300 mile distance that’s between there and Knoxville, so while they share the same state, Memphis is in many other’s backyard. On another note, UT has successfully recruited the Memphis area, keep in mind that the University of Memphis has always been at the bottom of the college feeding chain while their hoops’ squad is a perennial top 20 basketball team.

Martin was anything but loved - even after he took the Vols to the Sweet Sixteen - because he wasn’t Bruce Pearl. Now he doesn’t have to be. Nor does he have to be Mike Montgomery. Or Pete Newell. Or even Dick Edwards (who coached there in the ’70s). Although thousands of Tennessee fans signed a petition to bring Pearl back (while Martin was still coaching), they didn’t get him (Auburn did, further upsetting Big Orange Country). UT will hire someone (soon) and, if history is any indication, the fans will adopt the “Show Me” philosophy of one of their bordering states. Yet, the old adage will in all likelihood still remain true:

“Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”


This Article and Subsequent Interview May, or May Not, Frighten You

April 14th, 2014

Trip to Stanford Pain Management for my standard procedure. This blog will return Wednesday, April 16.

Just as I was about to blog on the upcoming NBA playoffs, I came across an article which looked interesting. I had Googled “NBA Standings” to see which match up(s) intrigued me most and when I scrolled down to the bottom of the page, I saw an article about the NBA draft, so I thought I’d do a little investigative work for future blogs. It was when I got to the bottom of that article, a headline caught my eye.

Meet the Bag Man: The 10 rules for buying college recruits was the title. Steven Godfrey is the author of the piece that was posted on April 10. It was limited to SEC football recruiting but he inferred that it was pretty much universal and included big-time basketball recruiting, too. Since I had recruited basketball prospects on the college level for many years (including seven of them at the University of Tennessee), I clicked on and started reading. At the end of what would qualify as a substantial book excerpt, there is an extended (over 42 minutes) interview with the author.

This piece isn’t about out-of-control boosters such as the U of Miami’s infamous Nevin Shapiro. It deals with an organized network of people who desire to see their favorite school win and how they go about obtaining players. Rather than post a synopsis of it here, I strongly recommend you clear about an hour from your schedule. It can be found @sbnation.com. First read the article, then listen to the interview - whether you want to read the 1355 (as of now) comments depends on how much time and/or how interested a fan of SEC football recruiting you are.

While it’s easy to gossip, Godfrey claims he actually experienced, first-hand, an encounter with a bag man and a prospect. Naturally, he names no names but makes quite a compelling case of rampant abuse. In no way does he violate the old Yiddish proverb:

“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.”

Past Blog Brings Back Fond Memories

April 13th, 2014

Yesterday I was with some friends and, as people our age enjoy doing, we started reminiscing. When the topic got around to baseball and who our favorite players were, I recalled blogging about mine. Here’s a reprint from 4/17/08.

If you were a kid growing up in New Jersey in the early ’50s, you rooted for one of three teams - the New York Yankees, the New York Giants or, my favorite, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Although my father was a die-hard Yankees fan, he was a good enough sport (and good enough dad) to take me to Ebbets Field, home of my beloved Bums (my father always claimed I was brain washed by my mother’s side of the family, all of whom hailed from Brooklyn).

The first time we ever went to Ebbets Field, I was four years old.  My father was a toll collector for the New Jersey Turnpike and my mother was a secretary so disposable income was tough to come by and, although my father scraped the money together for a couple of train tickets (by far the most economical means to get to the city) and two tickets, we were watching the game from the nosebleed section (which was totally fine with me - hey, I was at a Dodger game! - and, to be perfectly honest, Ebbets Field was such a bandbox, any seat was a good one - unless you got stuck behind a pole).

I can remember many of the fans in our section being black and one, when he saw me, asked, “Hey, little fella, who’re you for?”  Now, one thing you’re going to get from a four-year-old kid is an honest answer (lying doesn’t become part of a youngster’s makeup until a few years later), so I looked up, wide-eyed and said, “The Dodgers!”  This was shortly after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier and the country was still divided on the race issue.  “Hey, get this kid a Coke - and a hot dog.  Get his old man a beer.”  We were subjected to the royal treatment.

I didn’t know why, but I figured out I must have given the right answer.  We might have gotten a chauffeured ride back to Jersey if they would have asked who my favorite player was because Jackie Robinson was my childhood idol.  All I saw was a guy who could hit, field, run bases, was strong and handled himself with so much class and dignity.  I’m sure I had no idea what class and dignity were at that point in my life, but I knew I wanted to be just like Jackie.

Don’t get me wrong: Erskine, Newk, Labine, Black, Spooner, Campy, Hodges, Gilliam, PeeWee, Cox, Amoros, the Duke, Furillo, all had their baseball cards on my bedroom wall, but it was Jackie’s that was front and center.  Naturally, being a Jewish kid, Sandy Koufax soon jumped to the head of the class but not until years later.  These Dodgers were the guys who won the first ever World Championship for the Dodgers in ‘55 and I can still remember the ground ball to PeeWee Reese who threw to Gil Hodges for the final out in Johnny Podres’ 2-0 shutout of the hated Yankees in game 7 that resulted in a roar from my house (the neighborhood boys on either side of me and the twins across the street were all Yankee fans and I’d finally gotten my chance to bask in glory).

My aunt, a good athlete and pretty big fan in her own right, mailed a birthday card to the club requesting all the guys sign it for her nephew who “lived and died” with the Dodgers.  They did, I got it back, but somewhere in the 20+ relocations I’ve made since, it’s nowhere to be found.  I’m still sick about it.

At that time, as I mentioned, I completely idolized Jackie Robinson for his superior talent, the way he carried himself and because he was the best player on my favorite team.  As I read about his life, I found out about how remarkable an athlete (football, basketball, tennis and track) he was and how intelligent he was.  He’d attended UCLA and starred in numerous sports there.  Further research into his life explained his ultra-competitive and courageous nature.  What had impressed me most was that Branch Rickey, the president and general manager of the Dodgers selected him to be the first player to break the color barrier, not merely because of any of those traits listed above, but more so because he knew Jackie had the mental makeup to withstand all that was about to be leveled at him and, rather than physically fight back, retaliate by thoroughly defeating his opponents in the best way he could to make a point for all of mankind and especially, for his people.

When I became a teenager and Jackie’s career was on the downhill side, his exit was the classiest move of all.  The Dodgers traded him to the Giants, and rather than play for the bitter rivals, he retired - he walked away and never looked back.  In my mind, he remains to this day without a peer.

If ever a line was appropriate for one person, Maxwell Anderson’s quote defines the legacy of Jackie Robinson:

“There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in that lifetime.”

A Short Synopsis Heading Into Masters Weekend

April 12th, 2014

Everyone knows that the biggest thing on a television executive’s mind is ratings. The almighty ratings. No one knows what the exact definition of totally devastating news to a TV exec is but you’d be hard-pressed to top “Hey, did you hear, Tiger won’t be playing in this year’s Masters.” There just isn’t enough Kleenex. Sharp objects are removed (except for those tiny pencils).

But no executive ever rose to that exalted position without being able to pull himself (or herself) together - whether through motivational sayings, meaningful affirmations or deep diaphragmatic breathing. Soon the thought process becomes, “OK, so Tiger’s not playing. Let’s give fans a great show. At some point we won’t have Tiger anymore and golf will still continue (Oh, God, I just hope it doesn’t happen until after I’ve moved up or retired . . . or died). Before long undoubtedly, there would be positive attitudes abounding throughout the studio. After all, wasn’t it an executive who coined the phrase, “The show must go on?” (Actually, I don’t know who said it but if I had to guess, it was probably the owner who sold out the house and didn’t want to refund all that dough).

Then, Friday’s play concluded. Golfers all over the country were wearing their thumbs out sending texts to their weekend playing partners, “Did you see Lefty fly the green from one trap to the other - and back again? I told you my game and his had something in common.” That line lost all its humor when Mickelson missed the cut - by one stroke. No Tiger, no Phil. Ouch!

“Is there any good news?” asked the executive. At this point it would take unbelievable job security, e.g. the owner’s kid or someone with compromising pictures of people really high up in the organization, to bring up the fact that Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson also missed the cut. Heck, no wonder Bubba Watson has a three stroke lead.

If ever a company line was heard, it was in the evening wrap up show with Jim Nantz and David Feherty when the affable Feherty made the statement (with a straight face), “I love this leader board.” When people speak of this Masters (barring anything other worldly happening during the weekend), “A Tradition Like No Other” will definitely not be what’s attached to it, but rather:

“Sometimes people don’t notice the things others do for them until they stop doing it.”

What’s the Chance the Pacers Regroup in Time for the Playoffs?

April 11th, 2014

During much of the year the answer to the question, “Who is the best team in the NBA?” was the Indiana Pacers. They had the best record, were playing lights out and seemed to be the standard at both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Paul George was starting to break through the conversation of who is the NBA’s best player. Roy Hibbert was the dominant rim protector every contender yearns for, while Lance Stephenson filled the role of sixth man as well as anyone in the league. David West was a difficult match up for everybody.

They started the season 16-1, then from Dec. 2-Jan. 8 they played at a .667 clip (down, but still solid) until they put together a five-game winning streak. They were on top of the NBA standings and their fans were on top of the NBA world. They even won six of the first seven games following the All-Star break. While they weren’t winning at the same clip, there didn’t seem to be anything to instill concern in Pacers-land.

But the issue wasn’t that they weren’t winning the way they were earlier in the season, it was that weren’t playing that same way. Now, they’ve lost 12 of their last 20 and play tonight at Miami, before hosting OKC and finishing at Orlando. Their struggles have been well-documented, e.g. too much individual ball, not as physically or mentally tough as they’d been and attitude questions, but their biggest downfall, one that has not only hurt teams’ chances in the past but, rather, destroyed them is one of the unwritten rules of any team: they let their problems out of the locker room and into the media. If it’s true “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” then it’s that times a million when it comes to team issues. As with any other team, group, club, organization or company, the key ingredient is trust.

It’s NBA playoff time which means “no excuses.” Maybe the best answer to the Pacers’ current problem is found in the quote from Charles Dubois:

“The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could be.”

Or, maybe, in their case, what they were.