CP3’s Retort Completely Understandable

April 27th, 2017

After Russell Westbrook refused to answer – even allow – a reporter’s question in a post game press conference, media members excoriated him for his action. Former players applauded him.

The guy’s query was a legitimate question by a scribe who had a good angle on why one team was winning the series. Westbrook’s reply was one by a player whose team was undermanned and on the brink of elimination. As for the people who weighed in, some were more on the writer’s side; others favored the baller. Yet, for the most part, each could understand the other’s position.

Then came the post game presser following Utah’s upset of the Clippers at the Staples Center. The question seemed innocent enough. A sportswriter asked Chris Paul, LA’s point guard – and leader – “Chris, will the Clippers be back here playing a Game 7?”

Now, I coached for 35 years (granted not a one was in the NBA) but I still knew what this guy was looking for. For the life of me, however, I couldn’t believe that he phrased it in the worst possible way. When I heard it, I wasn’t sure which was the bigger faux pas – the question itself or the timing of it. Here was a guy who is the captain of a team with the richest owner in the NBA who, after purchasing the franchise for a record amount ($2 billion, in case that figure has slipped anyone’s mind), held a press conference exclaiming his major goal was a “Larry.” Larry is short for the Lawrence O’Brien trophy which goes to the winner of the NBA Finals.

And here was that owner’s club, the one that had so much promise but, not only could they not win the NBA Finals, they couldn’t get even get close to their own conference finals. From blowing a 3-1 lead one year to having their top two guys go down with injuries during the playoffs in another, they stood on the brink of elimination in the first round. Once again one of their stars was hurt – and would miss the rest of the playoffs – and once again people were talking about blowing up the team. The core players (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and CP3 himself) are so good that the salaries they command almost puts the franchise into the luxury tax category with just those four.

So it was no surprise that Paul answered the asinine question with, “What? Whatchu think? I’m on the team. Whatchu want me to say? ‘Nah, it’s over.’ That’s what you want to hear? Yes. C’mon, man, you been doin’ this long enough. Seriously, right?”

Incredibly enough, the guy pressed on, saying, “Can you expand on that?” As if his response needed to be expanded upon. Did the cat not understand Paul’s message?

“No … I don’t know,” continued the Clippers’ star – who also happens to be the president of the NBA Players Association, so if there was one guy who could speak for the players, this reporter was face-to-face with him. “Everybody in here laughing for a reason,” a visually agitated Paul said.

What was shocking – at least to me – was the stance taken by media member Jared Greenberg on Sirius XM NBA radio. Greenberg blasted Paul – as he did Westbrook – saying the players were creating a us-against-them mentality. In that regard he might be onto something but Chris Paul is usually one of the most eloquent interviewees in the league. To use what occurred at the post game press conference after Los Angeles dropped pivotal Game 5 to Utah, thus surrendering home court advantage and forcing a must-win scenario in Salt Lake City – without Griffin – was absolutely the wrong example for Greenberg to use as an illustration.

For him to draw battle lines at that time shows a growing resentment between the professional players and the media. Taking a closer look, though, it’s not the entire media that’s upset. It’s more, based on their backgrounds, the non-playing, never-played kids who, nonetheless had the same passion for sports their more physically gifted classmates had. Their skill was in broadcasting and writing about sports. It’s just that, never really knowing the true meaning of winning and losing (particularly losing a heart-breaker), they struggle to understand the pain that the athlete is experiencing. During pressure situations and trying times, they often interject how they would react to the moment. Never does it occur to them that professional players are cut from a different fabric when it comes to such tense times.

These people, referred to by some as “jock sniffers” (updated to “compression shorts sniffers”), might just have that proverbial “chip on their shoulders” they so often label certain types of players. They’re thrilled to be a part of it all and desperately want to belong – but when a fellow sniffer gets embarrassed (this time deservedly so), they take umbrage. Especially if the guy who gets called out is a friend of theirs (I have no knowledge whether Greenberg has any tie to the reporter who asked Paul the foolish question).

There’s a time to ask the “tough” questions – and a way to phrase them – but, unfortunately, many haven’t been schooled in how and when to do it. Relationship between players and media members would improve dramatically if each side would take into account Rodney King’s remark:

“Why can’t we all just get along?”

 

A Civil War of a Different Sort

April 25th, 2017

By now, every NBA fan has heard, if not seen, the post game press conference following the OKC-Houston playoff game. The first question was directed to the Thunder’s center, Steven Adams. The reporter wondered what happens to the team when Russell Westbrook goes to the bench. Before Adams could answer, Westbrook piped up, saying the question was divisive and he wasn’t going to let their team be split apart.

When the writer asked again, Russ continued with his tirade. The battle lines were drawn. The scribe was determined to get his question answered, the superstar dug in his heels and refused to dignify the query – or allow anyone else, meaning Adams, to respond. It got to the point of absurdity when the guy wouldn’t give up the microphone, claiming it was a legit question that deserved an answer. He went so far as to call out the big Aussie, saying the question was posed to him and he had yet to say anything. Finally, either the guy relented or someone simply took away the mic and sanity was restored.

Let’s list several points about this interaction. First of all, it’s rather obvious what happens to the team. They don’t play so good. If ever there was a question designed to elicit a plethora of negative remarks, that guy found it – and proudly posed it to Adams. When asked, coach Billy Donovan addressed it, saying that whenever any superstar leaves the game, it affects the team in an adverse way. Not exactly a stop the presses statement, i.e. when the best player leaves, someone not nearly as talented replaces him. The that fact it usually hurts the Thunder more than other teams most likely means the effect on OKC’s performance is greater than when other teams sub out their star.

Hidden in this scenario is that this writer has a history with some OKC players, framing questions in such a way that’s upsetting to the members of the very squad he covers. Sneaky is what players call such a sportswriter (among other, more descriptive, words).

The fact Westbrook took the mic away from Adams reminded many of the time former teammate Kevin Durant did the same when Mark Cuban dissed Russ. Recall Cuban making the statement that KD was the only superstar on the ball club. So, maybe a little deja vu, with Russ taking the cue from his (used-to-be) BFF, supporting his guys.

When TNT’s Inside the NBA show discussed it, each of the players/commentators raved about the manner in which Westbrook handled the reporter, Charles Barkley referring to Russ as his second favorite athlete. Ditto for the guys on the NBA channel.

In reality, there was no answer that wouldn’t demean the second unit. Although it might be looked upon as a compliment to Westbrook, nothing positive was coming out the whatever anybody would say. The following day, in the writer’s story, was printed what he was looking for – a veiled attack on GM Sam Presti. Did he really expect Adams to say, “Sam has done a poor job of assembling a second unit to maintain the level of play we bring.” Another criticism of the question was that it was asked of a starter, most likely meaning the scribe intended it for Westbrook.

On the flip side, it certainly wasn’t an inappropriate question, based on the Thunder’s continued poor performance when Westbrook is resting as opposed to when he’s on the floor. For that side of the argument, one only need to hear the folks who comprise the fourth estate.  Every true media member (meaning not former pros), from the guys on SportsCenter to talk show hosts to other sportswriters, to a person, lauded the writer for “a question that needed to be asked” and excoriated Westbrook for acting so unprofessionally.

In all, there was bitching aplenty going on. Callers to radio shows were basically split as well. Seems like some fans are anti-player, while others don’t like the media. Probably there are groups who don’t like either but, in this case, their animus for one supersedes that of the other.

If there’s someone, or rather something, with which we must take issue, I submit whoever decided on those two commercials that are shown ad infinitum. You know which ones I’m referring to:

“1) the Tina Fey goat cheese garden salad and 2) that obnoxious stupid-ass father who whines, ‘How did the Andersons get tickets to the games … but the game is sold out’ – only to ‘redeem’ himself with ‘your dad’s a genius.’ “

Now, disgust for those two insidious spots will unify any groups – independent of how much they disagree.

Many Will Disagree with this Blog But I Can’t Understand Why

April 24th, 2017

The NBA is at the height of its popularity. Yet, since so many people, especially young kids, are influenced by professional players, there’s one aspect of it that could help society – without taking away anything from the beauty of the game.

No More!” ought to be the mantra coming from the league office when it comes to trash talking after great plays. It’s used now after merely good plays. Trash talking is just that: trash. Sure, some guys use it to get into the heads of their opponents. Because of that psychological tactic, yapping on the court while the play is going on will always be part of the game. However, when embarrassing another competitor becomes a badge of honor – often more important than points scored, rebounds grabbed, assists delivered – it’s time to do away with it.

Some say the game has simply evolved. If that’s the case, will we ever see a time where it’s acceptable to run over to a guy who choked away a game – by missing a crucial shot or free throw or who turned the ball over or foolishly fouled at the end of a game, causing his team to lose? Note: I’m not talking about celebrating a great or clutch play (although some of those have gotten out of hand) but directing verbal blatant nastiness toward an opponent.

When I coached (1970-2005), I used to tell players who lacked confidence that every player whose career has lasted longer than 30 minutes has missed a shot or turned the ball over or fouled. Therefore, there’s no need for negative body language. Conversely, every player with a modicum of talent has made a shot or a hustle play. A few have even blocked a shot. So just as there’s no need for a player to drop his head after a mistake, there’s no reason to celebrate a positive play – with a gesture intended to demean an opponent.

Do any of us really believe that the game or its participants would suffer if acting in such a manner toward opponents was eliminated? Would it be an impossible adjustment for the players? For many it might be uncomfortable but for the true competitor? Any player who thinks it would has lost the meaning of why sports were invented. I’ve heard in players in interviews say that their own kids criticize them for acting in such a boorish manner. Or the younger ones ask why they did it – and they claim a sense of remorse.

The major goal of trash talking is to belittle people, to show somebody up. When did it become a mandatory part of the game? It’s basically a false show of power. And a temporary one at that. Somebody is bound to return the “favor” once the opportunity presents itself. It’s almost as if losing a game is assuaged as long as a player taunted someone publicly from the winning squad.

From a spectator’s point of view, would having to watch a game without outward displays of trash talking really devalue the product? I’m sure there’s a segment of society who’d answer in the affirmative – which is a sad commentary unto itself. While that kind of talk has become ordinary today, it can – and should – be curtailed. What benefit does it give – really? It becomes the responsibility of every coach to demand civilized and respectful language. And that goes for parents and teachers as well.

There are over one million words in the English language. Using the minority of belittling ones all too often has no place in the game. Some will say that while, “back-in-the-day” players would simply run back on D or down the floor rather than pointing or yelling at opponents after a made or blocked shot, a lot of those guys were also smoking in the locker room at halftime or drinking to excess. Bad habits don’t need to be replaced by other bad habits. The game has changed. What isn’t necessary is the changes shouldn’t be of the scummy variety. Disallowing smoking and drinking during the game ought to be viewed as positive changes. Not so much for trash talking or showing up others.

It comes down to the adage:

“There is no progress without change – but not all change is progress.”

Did I Miss Something?

April 18th, 2017

Maybe my memory is better than others (although I seriously doubt that) but, to date, I have yet to hear any of the talking heads – or scribes – mention some last second playoff history that is extremely relevant to a recent playoff game.

By now, anybody and everybody (who’s an NBA fan) has heard Paul George’s statement about him being the one who should have taken the final shot in Game 1 of their series against the Cavs. He has somewhat backtracked his comments (most likely after someone in the organization – Larry Bird, perhaps? – had a chat with him). Video of the final play in that contest shows LeBron James doubling PG13 in an effort to ensure that the Indiana’s best player was not the guy who was going to beat them. What the replay did show players, coaches, commentators and fans was that the Pacers got an open look for a game-winner – that just came up a little bit short.

What I have heard is the refrain, “If the shot had gone in, nobody would be complaining about how it unfolded.” Beyond that, though, basketball is not like tennis where a player can decide to attempt a go-for-broke winner to end a match as opposed to just keeping the point alive. One is an individual sport where the one and only member of the “team” wins or loses based on his or her own merit. With a team sport, both clubs have something to do with that type of decision. Strategy differs between the two.

A case in point occurred two decades ago, the 1997 NBA Finals, Chicago vs. Utah. Let’s set the scene. Game 6, the Bulls had just gone up 3-2 (after the famous Michael Jordan “flu” game), the series returned to Chicago.  The game was close and what happened in the Bulls’ huddle during the final time out was summed up by the following two quotes:

“When Phil drew up the play at the end,” said Jordan, who had 39 points and 11 rebounds and was named Finals Most Valuable Player for the fifth time. “everybody in the gym, everybody on TV knew was coming to me. I looked at Steve and said, ‘This is your chance,’ because I knew Stockton is going to come over and help and I’m going to come to you. Tonight Steve Kerr earned his wings from my perspective.”

Kerr, a shooting specialist, was giddy with excitement after clinching the title for Chicago. “He (Jordan) said, ‘You be ready, Stockton is going to come off you.’ I said, ‘I’ll be ready, I’ll knock it down. He’s so good that he draws so much attention. And his excellence gave me the chance to hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals. What a thrill. I owe him everything.”

So, Paul George, there’s more than one way for a superstar to win a game and, unless I’ve been listening to and reading the wrong people:

“Why wasn’t that immediately brought up following the game?”

An Overabundance of Confidence

April 16th, 2017

To make an NBA team, a player needs to believe in himself. There’s not exactly a shortage of confidence in professional basketball players. Often, however, the confidence might be somewhat unjustified. Take the example of Game 1 of the Cleveland-Indiana series.

The favorites found themselves staring at a monumental upset with the Pacers needing only a bucket on their final possession. As is the philosophy with many teams, the Cavs decided that if they were going down, someone other than Indiana’s best player, Paul George, was going to beat them. So they doubled PG13 and he wisely gave up the ball. Unfortunately for the Pacers, although they got a good look, the shot came up short and the Cavs escaped with a one-point victory.

In the post game press conference, George candidly answered a reporter’s question by saying that, in such a situation, he needs to take that shot. While he passed the ball out of the double team, he said he immediately moved to get it back (video replay confirms that) and his belief is that his teammates have to look to him for the game winner. After all, George is the team’s only All-Star and, in fact, was a member of the U.S. gold medal winning Olympic team.

All of that sounds completely logical. Except for one item. Today is the age of analytics. Apparently, there are stat heads out there – obviously people who wished they’d played the game but I’d bet quite a bit of money never did – due to a lack of skill. With their passion for the game, combined with their extraordinary talent for technology and statistics, they have been afforded a place alongside the jocks. There are stats today that few people – outside of this “stat head world” – understand.

I might be way off base here but I truly believe that these folks were crunching numbers while others their age were playing. Whether or not that is the case, these guys have carved out a place for themselves in the world of professional (as well as intercollegiate) sports. In the case of Paul George, for example, prior to analytics, nearly everyone would have agreed with his sentiment that, in order for the Pacers to win in a scenario that occurred at the end of yesterday’s Game 1, the fate of the Pacers absolutely should have been in George’s hands.

Except someone disclosed that, in games decided by a shot in the last 20 seconds, Paul George is 0-15 lifetime. Not surprisingly, George is the worst NBA player in that situation (unless another player missed more than 15 such attempts – without having made even one of them). It’s highly unlikely Paul George knew that statistic – and even if he did, it’s more unlikely he would change his post game remarks.

In his 1957 book, The Goblins of Eros, author Warren Eyster made a comment that sums up Paul George and, probably, every other NBA player:

“Like all vain men, he had moments of unreasonable confidence.”

One Man’s View on Tanking

April 15th, 2017

Words and terms enter the basketball jargon as the years move on – words such as “analytics,” “off the bounce” and “score the ball” (as if anything else can be scored). Another of today’s catch words is “tanking.”

Theories abound regarding how to build a championship franchise. One is by judiciously trading, another is through free agency and still another is building a team through the draft. The current power squad in the NBA is the Golden State Warriors whose core group is made up of draft picks. That bunch captured a Larry O’Brien trophy and, arguably, would have a couple if Draymond Green had only kept his hands (and feet) to himself. Sure, they have since added a valuable piece to their fold through free agency but their initial strategy was to draft wisely.

The draft order used to be done worst team first, second worst next, etc. Then the league to decided to use ping pong balls, the worst team getting the most balls and so on. The problem with that was, although the team with the worst record had the greatest chance of landing the first pick, overall the odds were stacked heavily against it since the majority of chances for them not to get it far exceeded their “ball” popping up. Throughout he years, the system has been doctored in an attempt to give the team with the worst record a more reasonable opportunity to get the number one overall draft pick. As of now, the team with the worst record can draft no lower than fourth regardless of how the balls bounce.

Independent of how great a chance the worst teams have of selecting 1, 2 or 3, it’s difficult to believe teams would intentionally lose. Here’s a laundry list of reasons why:

1) Athletes are competitive and to intentionally try to lose is tantamount to point shaving. But put all that aside. How about the simple fact that, if losing increases the team’s chances of getting a better player, are the players that stupid they don’t realize the guy the team selects might knock them out of a job? No one I’ve ever met in basketball is so magnanimous that he would choose to play poorly so his team could get better players – if it meant the better player(s) would be taking his job! Even if a guy is secure (whether due to his talent or contract), will he worsen his stats and lose bargaining power just so the team can add a (usually 19-year-old) talented player? Doubtful.

2) OK, forget the players intentionally tanking, how about the coach? In this day and age, coach’s jobs are tenuous. Lose, get the number 1 pick and you’d better win immediately. While there have been a number of extremely talented guys enter the league as a top 1, 2 or 3 pick, not since 2003 when the Cavs selected LeBron James first overall was there a true franchise changing player from a win-loss point of view. And, as far as making his team an immediate contender, San Antonio picking Tim Duncan number one would be the best earliest example – 20 years ago! Therefore, don’t expect a coach to intentionally dump games.

3) Let’s go to the front office, e.g. general manager or president. The way the NBA is currently run, even those positions, with the exception of the Chicago Bulls for some unknown reason, are replaced more quickly than ever in the history of the league.

4) So it comes down to the owner – and, really, if ever an owner directly mandated his players or coaches to intentionally lose, in this day of the “anonymous source,” does anybody believe for a second that conversation wouldn’t be leaked? Would any owner risk his legacy by blatantly disrespecting the game?

So it basically comes down to the fans and sportswriters who are talking up tanking and, as of yet, fortunately:

“Neither of those groups have that kind of juice.”

 

 

A List I’ve Yet to See Published

April 12th, 2017

Congrats to Sergio Garcia on winning the Master’s. As soon as he did, fans read the inevitable comment: who’s the best golfer never to have won a major?

The early leader is Rickie Fowler. How can a guy with all that talent not win a major? After all, he’s already 28 years old! As if winning a major – against an entire field of professionals – ought to be something that should be accomplished. At any age. It’s not as if players aren’t trying. Or guys who haven’t won majors but have a boatload of tour event championships can’t handle the pressure.

In the past fans have seen – and now that social media has become a part of our culture – have posted, their own version, independent of how uneducated, of the best to have never won a …

Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Karl Malone are always mentioned when discussing “rings” and uber-talented players who never earned one. The facts that 1) only one team per season can do so and 2) those guys played during an era when Michael Jordan and the Bulls had a stranglehold on NBA titles is often mentioned – as an afterthought – still doesn’t seem to let them off the hook.

Similarly for Dan Marino. Winning a championship in a team sport, when there are so so many teammates involved who have a large say in the success of the team, is simply something that even some of the most talented athletes are able to do. Just like winning one in an individual sport – when the competitor is going up against the whole field – is a cakewalk.

Women aren’t exempt from the list. During a recent tennis broadcast, I heard a commentator refer to Pam Shriver as the best female tennis player never to have won a Grand Slam event. Anyone who knows even a little tennis history understands that Shriver played in an era of a couple of competitors (Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova) who showed no mercy against their opponents.

Nor are coaches excluded from such scrutiny. Now that Mark Few was in the Final Four, Sean Miller has been anointed “best coach never to have led a team to the Final Four.” If you know anything about playing or coaching such mention ought to be a badge of honor more than an albatross.

Not surprisingly, the one list that has escaped the fans’ eyes is:

“The greatest sportswriter to never have won a Pulitzer.”

My (Most Likely) Unpopular Take on the National Championship Game

April 4th, 2017

The season of NCAA hoops culminates with the NCAA championship tilt. This year’s entry was a pretty brutal game to watch. One team shot 36% from the floor, 15% from three and 58% from the free throw line. The winning team. The University of North Carolina won their sixth national championship (third under its Hall of Fame coach, Roy Williams), denying Gonzaga their first which would have been a historic victory – a national championship by a school from a non-power basketball conference. Not since Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels managed the feat in 1990 has that occurred – and it may never. Gonzaga was not only a #1 seed (mostly due to their gaudy 37-1 record) but, for all intents and purposes, as strong a club as was in the tourney.

The biggest guy on the floor, the one the Zags relied on all season, had no points on post ups, even though he had several opportunities. The other two guys they count on also had subpar outings. It wasn’t much prettier for Carolina. The game’s most outstanding player shot 7-19 and their sharp shooter took a schneider from three, missing all of his nine attempts, some of them badly.

There were 44 fouls called, 22 on each team. Although both teams played incredibly hard, possibly the pressure of all that was riding on the outcome of the game made the participants perform in a manner uncharacteristic to what everyone had come to expect after watching both throughout their sensational seasons. Naturally, in a contest with so much on the line – even with the play less than stellar – there was criticism of the officiating crew. ESPN’s Jay Williams claimed, “That was one of the worst officiated national championship games I’ve seen in a long time.” Yeah, in about a year. When the game is poorly played, blame the referees.

Besides the announcers and commentators, others chimed in via the internet. Notably, the (arguably) best basketball player in the world posted what has come to be the refrain heard whenever there are an excessive amount of whistles in a game. “Man I can’t watch this anymore man! I would like to see the kids decide who wins the game! I mean Bruh!! Smh,” said none other than LeBron James. His former BFF posted this remark. “Let these kids play. Put the whistles away,” said Dwyane Wade. Just the advice regarding referees we need – two NBAers bitching about the officials. Check those two the next time they drive to the bucket and the refs don’t call a foul. In fact, check any NBA player when he takes it to the hole and there’s no fouled called. Or when a call goes against him. Make the NBA game one of “call your own fouls” and let’s see how pleasant that scenario would be.

When all was said and done, the players were the ones who decided the game. Check out the foul calls. If someone was truly impartial (OK, that group seldom exists in a game), the foul calls were legit. Many were of the foolish variety, but fouls nonetheless. Sure, some might be argued but, had they not been blown, people would be complaining the officials were losing control of the game.

There actually was a play – late – that will be discussed for years. During a scrum under the basket, a tie-up was called. The referees missed that the Tarheel player had his hand out of bounds while the ball was touching him prior to the whistle being blown. However, let it be known that none of the three man broadcast crew mentioned it – even after showing two replays! Also, with the less than stellar play by nearly every player on both squads, can we not allow one blown call by the trio of officials? The other judgment calls? Either way the guys in stripes would catch hell. And this commentary is coming from someone who is no big fan of referees (check precious blogs).

Could it just be the feeling of disappointment everyone (minus the UNC supporters) has is:

“Why couldn’t the season’s final game been better played?”

 

 

A Year When “Co-” Is the Way to Go

April 2nd, 2017

Tony Kornheiser, on the award-winning PTI show, went on record as stating that this year’s NBA rookie-of-the-year award should be vacated because no one is deserving, whether the reason be lack of production or lack of games played. Kornheiser also feels that, under no circumstances, should the NBA have co-MVPs. Yet, if ever there was a year that the difference between two guys was oh-so-razor thin, this is it.

Unless Russell Westbrook completely flames out down the stretch, he will average a triple-double for the season. Oscar Robertson did it. No one else has. Westbrook is currently at 31.8 points (best in the NBA), 10.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists (third in the league) with six games to go. He’s had 39 triple-doubles thus far. In order to beat The Big O’s record of 41, he’ll need … (I won’t insult you, you do the math). Recently, Russ posted one in which he had 13 rebounds and 11 assists – to go along with 57 points - for the most points in a triple-double in NBA history. By far, this is best season any Thunder player has ever had, and in all likelihood, the best any Thunder player will ever have. Maybe the best numbers any NBA player will put up from here on out.

After losing Kevin Durant to free agency, OKC has a 43-32 record, sixth best in the Western Conference. An impressive statistic, especially for those skeptics who feel Westbrook simply chases stats, is that the Thunder win nearly 80% of the games in which Westbrook has a triple-double but only a third of those when he falls short of that mark.

Another NBA baller, also playing in the Western Conference, is putting up ridiculous numbers. James Harden, a former teammate of Westbrook’s (think OKC’s brass doesn’t regret not locking up Harden – when they also had KD in the fold), is crushing it this season, posting per game averages of 29.2 points (second in the league), 8.1 rebounds and 11.2 assists (first). The Beard has had a couple triple-doubles this season with 50+ points, one a 53/16/17 performance and another, about a month later, in which he accumulated 51/13/13. So far this season, Harden has posted 20 triple-doubles.

What’s more impressive is that Harden has completely made over his game. Head coach Mike D’Antoni took over the reins in Houston and brought his mega-offense philosophy with him, telling Harden he’d be the club’s point guard, a la what he did with Steve Nash when the two were in Phoenix. The word is Harden questioned his coach but was willing. The Rockets climbed the standings – from last season’s eighth place finish, having split their 82 games – to this year’s 51-25 mark, third best in the entire NBA.

Neither guy might never have such sensational statistical years again. To Tony Kornheiser and all those fans who share his view, I say, put yourself in their shoes. If you had a season doing whatever it is you do – and your profession gave an award for the best in the field – wouldn’t you be crushed if, after the season-long effort like either Westbrook or Harden has had, you didn’t win that honor? And, if you did win, unless you have no heart at all, wouldn’t you feel an incredible amount of empathy for the guy who came in second?

After two such record-breaking seasons:

“Would it really be so awful to buck tradition and have co-MVPs this year?”

The Two Sides of Lavar Ball

March 30th, 2017

One theory is that Lavar Ball is one of the most polarizing people on earth. That can’t be true because in order to be polarizing, there needs to be folks on both sides of the issue and it appears one side so heavily outweighs the other, that annoying is a better description that polarizing.

During the past 20 or so years of my life, I have taken pride in trying to see both sides of an argument or a person. Nobody can be all good (with the exceptions of Gandhi and Mother Teresa) and nobody can be all evil (Adolph Hitler and Charles Mason made/is still making a good run at proving that assumption invalid). Most people have both decency and discourtesy somewhere in their DNA. Lavar Ball, for all his LOUD brashness and inappropriateness, should be congratulated on several accounts.

As a Caucasian, I need to step gently when discussing the shortcomings of my black brethren but, it’s my firm belief – and I imagine others of all races will agree – that the biggest problem in the black community that they have in their power to correct is the absentee father. They can’t solve poverty, crime, lack of opportunities or certainly, racial profiling without assistance from other groups, most notably whites. But the high rate of fathers not being in their children’s lives is well within their capability to correct.

And on that subject, Lavar Ball should be applauded. As opposed to being absent, he has been a dominating presence in the lives of his three boys. In a world in which there seems to be a story on domestic violence (within all races) on a daily basis, his and his wife’s marriage seems to be one of mutual love and respect. In addition, he has provided a beautiful home and life for his family, as well as being a powerful factor in all their lives. Some may say a little too powerful but the fact remains his is as tight knit a group as any family.

Not only has Ball been a strong influence in his kids’ upbringing, he has truly had quite an impact in making them the talented young men they are. Beginning with his “choice” of spouse – many times he’s (jokingly, we think) referred to his selecting his wife because of her genes – to the fact that he didn’t want to cease control of their basketball fortunes to someone else. Independent of one’s beliefs regarding summer basketball – and there are altogether too many horror stories – he decided the best person to train and coach his boys was him. He didn’t complain about the coach(es); rather he formed his own team. Many parents complain, few take the drastic, costly and time consuming task of putting together a squad. Some might criticize his charging other youngsters to be a part of his team but, judging from his three, he has produced a trio of good players (one of which might be the overall #1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft).

Now, he’s never going to be compared to Ozzie Nelson but that was never his goal. Unquestionably brash, with an ego as big as all the outdoors, people say he is putting too much pressure on his sons yet that remains to be seen. Judging from the eldest son, Lonzo, he doesn’t seem to be adversely affected at all. His less than stellar play in UCLA’s loss to Kentucky was more due to injury or just a bad game than to someone wilting under the pressure of a brazen dad.

Of course, Lavar Ball is by no means a saint. His pomposity has been chronicled ad infinitum – which he appears to relish. He is either living vicariously through his children or is a master marketer. He has been called obnoxious (with good cause) but, in his defense, he says that people who’ve known him realize he hasn’t changed his manner; it’s just that he now has a podium. He maintains he has always been true to himself – which ought to be considered an admirable trait.

No one can contest his making some of the most asinine statements (no need to list them here as they’ve received as much coverage as any topic in March Madness). In the end, he needs to live with all his braggadocio. Whether his act actually sells merchandise (other than him, I have yet to see anyone wearing his apparel) or his brand takes off, is yet to be determined. The negative pub he’s brought upon himself is well-deserved. One example is when Stephen A. Smith asked him why a company needed to give him a billion dollars up front, that every player who has a brand performed to a level to deserve it first, so why not show a reason someone should fork over that kind of cash, his reply was to shout over Smith, yelling, “Up front, that’s right – up front!”  He never answered the question and the only reason he stopped was because the show’s host moved on.

Rating individuals’ qualities from 0-10, 10 high, most people are 3’s and 4’s (bad qualities) or 7’s and 8’s (good ones). Lavar Ball’s qualities are 0’s and 10’s. In all:

“Lavar Ball is outspoken – by no one.”