How in the World Did the Celts Win Game 3?

May 23rd, 2017

Our younger son’s girlfriend was in town. We had planned to go to dinner Sunday night but realized it would coincide with Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers had absolutely pasted the Celts twice – in Boston – so, with the series moving to Cleveland, we decided to watch the first half, then go to dinner.

It proved to be a wise move, as the Cavs continued where they left off – so we took off for The Cheesecake Factory. There was a 15-minute wait before we we seated. No mention of the game was made. While that might seem somewhat normal for four people, consider that I had a 35-year career as a basketball coach and Alex had played hoops from his fourth year on the planet, through elementary, junior high, high school, every summer in between, four years in college and a year professionally in Australia.

After we got to our table and were chatting it up while waiting for our soup, I noticed that, across the room, Game 3 was on the restaurant’s television. I wondered aloud how much of a blowout the game was when Alex’s sweetie looked at her phone and said, “The game’s tied.”

I gave her my best New Jersey response. “Get outta here.”

She held up her phone. Alex and I bolted across the floor to the TV and, sure enough, it was 95-95. No problem, though, the Cavs hit a three pointer and the earth remained on its axis. However, a couple Celtics’ buckets, sandwiched around a Cleveland turnover, and Boston took the lead – its first since the score was 5-3 one minute into the game.

As everyone is now aware, the Celtics, minus their best player, pulled off the most unlikely upset since Truman over Dewey. The talking heads finally had something to pontificate upon, other than how the Finals were going to be two teams that were undefeated heading into it.

So, how did this monumental comeback happen?

“I have no idea.”

And it took me two days to come up with that answer.

An Instance When Stat Heads Were a Little Too Much into Their Brilliance

May 18th, 2017

There are infinitely more people who want to be involved in athletics than are talented enough to do so. One way to become part of the sports world is to create a niche, preferably one that has yet to be “invented.”

Back when the Celtics dominated (1950s-60s), it’s common knowledge that Red Auerbach was the head coach/mastermind of the franchise. Less known is that, during that era, teams couldn’t afford a staff of assistants, scouts, conditioning coaches and a large front office. In fact, Auerbach held many other roles, e.g. general manager, head of scouting, personnel director and travel agent.

Not too long after the Celtics’ dynasty, assistant coaches were introduced to the league. Trainers and doctors obviously were necessary. Then, in the early ’90s, Tim Grgurich left UNLV and became the first “player development” coach in the NBA. In today’s jargon, players are referred to as assets. It only makes sense for professional clubs to improve the productivity and value of their assets. Soon, every team had one. Today, it’s commonplace for franchises to employ a couple player development coaches, along with interns who shag balls and bang against players outside of actual team practice sessions (to keep everyone fresh and decrease injuries).
Everyone I’ve ever met who worked for an NBA team falls in love with their job. It’s exciting, gives employees a certain amount of fame (ego for some who forget where they came from/who they really are) and the perks are incredible – especially now that so many owners are billionaires (unlike when Auerbach patrolled the sidelines). For those in the travel party, per diem is (I think) $135/day (it was $127/day in 2015 but, with the new collective bargaining agreement, how could anybody expect to get by on such a meager amount)? In addition there is usually food in the locker room and on the plane. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that life? There is also the swag – the gear, shoes, supplements, most everything imaginable.
Many players employ personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists (don’t forget agents) – and why not? When the new CBA kicks in next year, the average player salary will be $9 million per year, with superstars making upwards of $35-$40 million – over multiple years. With that much money, so few spots (approximately 450 – 30 teams, 15 players per) and a zillion guys trying to steal your job, it’s vital to be at the top of your game.
So the question is, how does a non-player get involved in this sweet business? Something called analytics is the way to go. Come up with different ways to evaluate performance – for a team’s current players as well as those it’s considering adding to the roster via trades, free agency or the draft – and a person becomes not only valuable, but indispensable. P.S. It works for radio and TV also, as more and more stations are employing passionate “stat heads”, i.e. guys who have no physical skill – we used to call them wannabes – but have memorized minutiae so now they have actually found a place in the sports world.
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is the pioneer of the fields of analytics, making the low budget Bay Area team competitive, while turning heads of other franchises – and not only those playing baseball. His counterpart in the NBA is most likely Houston’s Daryl Morey (with a honorable mention going to Sam Hinkie). Where there used to be just “stats,” there are currently advanced stats which predict much more than the old ones guys like me are used to, e.g. eFG% is a better version of FG% (just don’t ask me why but, in a nutshell, advanced stats are a much greater indicator of overall player value). Keep in mind, though, they can’t measure heart which is why putting a team together will never be an exact science.
I tell people “I’m not from this century” (by the way – I mean BTW – it’s not something I’m proud of). However, anything that improves the effectiveness and enjoyment of the game, for players, coaches and fans, is most likely a good thing. All that said, sometimes these guys go a tad overboard. The latest absolutely useless statistic fed to the listening and viewing public occurred following Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, in which the San Antonio Spurs blew a 25-point lead to the Golden State Warriors (see my last blog – Kawhi Leonard’s injury most likely had something to do with the outcome).

The analytics’ folks gave us this gem to chew on: “The Spurs were 316-0 when leading by at least 25 points under Gregg Popovich before today (regular season & playoffs).”

Fascinating! I have just one question:

“What is every other coach’s record when leading by at least 25 points (regular season & playoffs)?”

Which Side of the Zaza Pachulia Incident Are You On?

May 16th, 2017

Although comebacks happen all the time in the NBA, it’s a fairly safe statement that, had Kawhi Leonard not been forced to sit out the remainder of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, San Antonio would most definitely have upset Golden State and snatched away home court advantage. After all, the Spurs were up 23 points in the third quarter at the time.

Leonard came down on the Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia’s foot – which was placed there by the center who was closing out on the shooter. The question is: Did Zaza put his foot there intentionally? Many commentators, including former players, felt that was exactly the case – and the tactic (which is not uncommon in the league) should be deemed a flagrant foul. Others think it was a bad close out made by a clumsy 275 pound big guy.

On Inside the NBA, the three ex-players on the panel had different outlooks. Shaquille O’Neal was absolutely certain the move was premeditated (“When somebody with  big feet puts a foot out there, there’s a 50/50 chance the shooter is going to step on it”). Kenny Smith’s explanation was that big guys don’t spend time working on closeouts beyond the three point line, so it was a coincidence. Charles Barkley weighed in (no pun intended) saying he didn’t know enough about Pachulia’s past to call him a dirty player but the “it is a dirty play.” Sir Charles did admit that, in his day, he would intentionally foul players “hard” in the playoffs but that it was never his intent to hurt anyone.

Which begs the question – is this type of dangerous maneuver actually taught to players? If that’s going too far, could it be simply condoned by coaches? Or maybe it’s something that’s passed down through the years as a slick defensive ploy. The “Inside” guys made mention that the move isn’t intended to injure a shooter, merely to “get into his head” so that on every subsequent shot, the defender is making the offensive player think it might be coming. And there’s nothing worse for a shooter than to think.

It’s rather apparent that the play wouldn’t be taught for the simple reason that, with the way players change teams today, shooters would implore coaches not to instruct guys how to do it because, in the coming years, those cats just might be employing the tactic on them! As to whether it’s condoned, well, that would be more likely. Just as passing on such a strategy would be viewed as a “tip” from one vet to a younger guy.

Since there are paid positions in today’s world of “all video-all the time”, a couple other plays from the same game were posted on the internet a day later. They were illustrating first LaMarcus Aldridge (about a minute after the Leonard injury), then Pau Gasol closing on Golden State’s shooting phenom, Steph Curry. Another such play, a nearly identical close out to Pachulia’s, i.e. with the half body turn that Zaza made, occurred earlier in the playoffs when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Greek Freak, contested Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

Whatever the case, the Spurs, who were big underdogs before the series began, had their chances narrowed to “slim to none” since it looks as though they won’t have their best player (and MVP candidate) for at least Game 2. Their coach, Gregg Popovich, restrained from making a comment at the post game press conference but, after viewing the video, lambasted the Warriors’ center. For a guy who is known for his one-word answers, he strung plenty of them together the day after. “This is crap,” Pop began. “Because (Pachulia’s) got this history, it can’t just be, Oh, it was inadvertent. He didn’t have intent. Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing somebody, but you might not have intended to do that.

“All I care about is what I saw. All I care about is what happened, and the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.” To those present – or even those watching – it was apparent how perturbed the veteran coach was. Consider, too, that he isn’t just another NBA head man. Gregg Popovich has a great deal of credibility in the coaching world – the equivalent of such iconic coaches Bill Belichick in football or Joe Maddon in baseball. His opinion carries more cache – although the league said the incident will not result in any disciplinary action against Pachulia.

One thing that is quite ironic is Popovich’s reaction. As the names of past players who were known to use such a move were bantered about on “Inside” last night, Shaq pointed out that Bruce Bowen (a former Spur – and one of Pop’s favorite players, mostly for his defensive prowess) was the originator of the “move under a shooter” technique.

As far as the guy who was affected the most, when asked about the play, Leonard repeated the question, asking the reporter, “Did he step under it? Like, on purpose? Nah, he was contesting the shot.”

“And that’s why Kawhi Leonard has more respect than any other player in the league.”

Predicting the Future

May 14th, 2017

One of the greatest learning tools – that can be done while driving for those of you who enjoy multi-tasking – is listening to audio books. I got into them during my four-year tenure at USC. And I’ve been continuing ever since.

As everybody knows, Los Angeles traffic can be as paralyzing to a motorist as any city in the world. When I was on the basketball staff with the Trojans, we practiced at 5:45 am. For the first couple years, we lived in Pasadena, about a mile straight up the hill from the Rose Bowl. I’d leave our house at 5:00 am and get to the basketball office at 5:25. On my way home, if I’d leave the office at 6:00 pm, it would take me an hour-and-a-half to get home. Audio books came to the rescue. I felt smarter when I got out of the car than before I got in – which seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Fast forward to my most recent selection, a tome entitled Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman. It was subtitled An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations and there were some gems I gleaned from it (although 16 cassettes left quite a bit of time in between lessons). One, in particular was his explanation of Moore’s Law. Over half a century ago, Gordon Moore predicted that every year the number of transistors that could fit on a single chip of silicon would double, meaning the consumer would get twice as much computing power for slightly less money (later, he changed the prediction to doubling approximately every two years).

When I taught freshman algebra years ago, here’s how I would explain exponential growth to our students. I’d tell them to make a deal with their parents. “Tell them you only want allowance for one month – and nothing after that ever again. Here’s how you’d like your parents to give you your allowance. One penny on the first day of the month, then double it every day after that until the end of the month. So on the second day, they’ll give you two cents, on the third day, you’ll get four cents, eight cents on the fourth day and so on. Give them a break and use a month in which there are only 30 days.”

I’d have a volunteer who had a calculator and would follow the command: “start with .01, then hit x2, then =, then repeat.” Following those instructions, you’ll notice that, halfway through the month, i.e. on the 15th, the number is only $163.84 – which doesn’t seem too bad considering it’s the last allowance the parents will ever have to fork over. However, when the pattern is continued, the parents will be paying over $5 million just on the last day of the month. Every student is astonished.

The way Moore’s Law is explained in Friedman’s book it is just as remarkable. It begins by saying that Intel engineers pointed out that if a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as the microchips, the numbers would be as follows: today its speed would be 300,000 mph, gas mileage two million miles per gallon and it would cost four cents! 

There are several stories and quotes throughout the book. One of the most telling is something the late Warren Bennis, former head of the Leadership Institute at USC, said:

“The company of the future will have two employees – a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to make sure the man doesn’t touch the equipment.”



Maybe They Should Have Stuck to Basketball

May 9th, 2017

A high school coaching friend of mine shared a story of taking his basketball team to a tournament in San Diego. Since it was a parochial school, a couple members of the clergy accompanied the squad. Needless to say, everybody was looking forward to spending time during the winter in such a beautiful area. They had a really good team so, the general feeling was, if they could just take care of business on the court, it would be a trip all concerned would be talking about for years.

And that’s exactly how it turned out – except not exactly how they anticipated.

They got there a day early and decided to take the boys on an educational trip to the Maritime Museum. The entire group took a tour of the facility. When they got to the dolphin exhibit, the guide explained to the travel party that many, many years ago, the dolphin was considered “the protector of seamen.”

Upon hearing that statement, one of the players (who happened to be standing in between the nun and the priest who made the trip), innocently – innocently? – made the comment:

I thought the condom was the protector of semen.”


Lavar Ball’s Name Is on the Lips of Many

May 7th, 2017

A couple days ago I got a call from long-time friend and former boss George Raveling. As is always the case, there’s always a little banter to our conversation. This time I was the one who initiated it, referencing his remark about Lavar Ball being “the worst thing that happened to basketball in 100 years.”

George told me the line came about when a reporter asked his opinion about the patriarch of the Ball family and his risky (foolish?) demand of a billion dollar endorsement deal with a shoe and apparel company. I told him that what shocked me more than anything was that, of every controversial statement I’ve ever heard anyone ever make, his was the only one in which there was no criticism of it – that not one person disagreed with the Nike executive’s assessment or took him to task for making it.

To be honest, I haven’t read or heard every comment made globally but, usually, when someone comes out with such a strong indictment on a topic or individual, someone, somewhere challenges it – especially with all that is posted on social media. Like I said, to my knowledge, that has yet to happen. George agreed that, in no time in his life was he in such a majority but did admit to me, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d revise the number of years – to about 30.”

Since everybody got the gist of his point, I laughed at his reflecting on it. “Yeah,” I said. “The Boston College point shaving scandal would be considered worse – and certainly the murder of that Baylor player by his teammate, and the subsequent attempted cover up, (which actually occurred only 14 years ago) – would qualify as worse, but I don’t think anybody felt your remark needed revising.”

At another venue last week, my close friend, Dave Severns, currently a scout for the Los Angeles Clippers, was one of the speakers at a basketball clinic held at the facility on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles. Dave has coached at every level – junior high, high school, junior college, Division II, D-I and the NBA, as well as Nike skills academies, Michael Jordan’s Flight School and camps and clinics throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Suffice to say he has a more than credible background in the world of hoops.

Following his introduction at Cal State LA, he displayed his quick sense of humor, too. He began his presentation … but abruptly stopped. He began looking around, pivoting a full 360 before looking at an administrator from the university and deadpanned a line about one of its former players:

“Where’s Lavar Ball’s retired jersey?”


The Cutbacks at ESPN Mirror Society

April 29th, 2017

In 2015 ESPN laid off 300 employees, few of them household names. There was analysis of the situation but what was said didn’t resonate with too many people – other than those who closely followed such transactions. And, of course, the former employees who were forced to look elsewhere for a pay check. Sure, people felt sorry but, other than a few shows of sympathy, it was a pretty much a non-story.

Until a couple days ago when 100 more ESPN employees got pink-slipped. This time, however, many in the unfortunate group were highly visible. Checking out social media, some were quite popular with the fans. There was outrage. How could ESPN let (fill in the blank) go? Shame on “the Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

Apparently ESPN brought this disaster on itself. According to those who profess to know, there were three causes for this tragedy. One, as coaches have warned their teams forever, is that the people in Bristol started to read their own press clippings. There is no doubt that the company grew exponentially – until it became a major player in the world of communications. But then it decided to become even more of a presence. One was a commitment for an eight-year, $15.2 billion deal with the NFL back in 2011. Then there was nine-year, $12 billion NBA contract and another $7.3 billion spent on college football. Throw in the major league baseball deal signed in 2012 for eight years totaling $5.6 billion and, well, that’s a whole lot of billions. Of course that doesn’t even include deals with college conferences, selected bowl games, U.S. Open tennis and MLS.

Since all of this is a major story, there were people who felt the need to be quoted. As in many pieces ESPN shares with the public, none these individuals wanted to speak on the record because of the sensitivities associated with the layoffs. “It’s been a total mismanagement of rights fees, starting with the NFL renewal,” said one of the former employees. “We overpaid significantly when it did not need to be that way, and it set the template to overpay for MLB and the NBA.” Still another chimed in, “You can’t keep spending on rights at high levels when the business model and fundamentals have changed.” Looks like the group that is so good at second guessing wished someone gave them another.

Obviously, an awful lot of income needed to be generated. Which brings us to the second reason for the massive layoffs. ESPN is losing millions of subscribers. As in 12 million in the past six years. Most are called cable cord-cutters, customers who no longer feel it’s necessary to pay monthly for networks they didn’t watch (including sports channels). That’s gotta hurt.

Finally, ESPN deviated from its mission of providing sports news to viewers when it began airing and printing stories with more of a political bent. It seems that viewers and readers wanted more real sports and less social commentary. No, said people, Michael Sam is not the second coming of Jackie Robinson, nor is Colin Kaepernick the next Rosa Parks. Although many of the pieces were insightful and well done, it just wasn’t what viewers wanted to see when they tuned in. Many felt the stories had too much of a liberal air to them. Traveling “down the middle” more probably would have been the safer road to travel.

All of that aside, what was most shocking to me were the comments from the people who remained at the station. Certainly it was no surprise they would make supportive and empathetic statements regarding their former colleagues – and friends. That’s as anyone would expect. But when there were negative or, even, sarcastic posts on social media sites toward those who got canned, these people were appalled that fellow human beings would publicly say and print hurtful comments about others who had just lost their jobs.

“How can people say such awful things about those whose lives have just been turned upside down?” said an ESPN survivor. Really? This remark. from an employee of a network that, prior to a season, publishes and reports such items as “Coaches on the Hot Seat” and lists of the “Most Overrated Players.”

Maybe what these folks are saying is:

“Doesn’t feel so good when you’re on the receiving end, does it?”

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.”