The Warriors Coast to the NBA Championship If . . .

February 11th, 2016

Basketball season for the Otters has been fun. Another trip this weekend. This blog will return on Monday, February 15.

If ever there was a team sport in which just one great player can make it a big winner, it’s basketball. Add the right teammates and “big winner” can become champion.

In football, say a team has the best quarterback in the land. Unless he has receivers and people to block for him, there’s little chance to win many games. And even if he does have those pieces, the team still has to play defense. An un-hittable pitcher can throw only once every four games and the best hitter comes up only once every nine at-bats. A brilliant goaltender/keeper, whether in hockey or soccer, can assure a team of no more than a tie. Since the greatest goal scorers in both of those sports average less than one goal/game, there is no such animal as a “one-man team.”

Basketball, however, is different from the other team sports in that 1) only five people play at a time, 2) everyone plays both offense and defense and 3) the playing surface area (94′ x 50′) covers much less ground. One player can not only score but rebound, handle, pass and defend as well.

We have seen such players in NBA history, as far back as Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich. Give someone like that other good players and the team can become major contenders – even champions, e.g. Bill Walton, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Today’s ultimate superstar, the one who looks more like John Q. Public (as opposed to Hercules, Spiderman or some other superhero), aka Stephen Curry, has single-handedly taken over games and led his Golden State Warriors to victory on several occasions due to his plethora of talents. While others on the squad have turned in magnificent performances, none of them do it better, or more often, than Curry. His line for last night’s contest against the Phoenix Suns (26 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal and 1 block) propelled the Dubs to an NBA best ever (for the first 52 games) 48-4 record.

The question that is increasingly being discussed by fans, pundits and even players is can Golden State break the Chicago Bulls record 72-10 mark? Forget who’s going to win the NBA Championship. That’s become a given. Jeff Van Gundy, as knowledgeable an NBA insider as exists made the comment that, with the exception of the Spurs, the Dubs would win a seven-game series against anyone even if every game was played on their opponent’s home court. Since that is not the case, we can assume Van Gundy would pick Golden State – even if they only got to play a maximum of three games at Oracle (and that could only occur if San Antonio would catch them – and win the tie breaker). There is something, though, that can derail Curry and his teammates.

An injury.

Not just any injury. Plenty of those have happened this season, the latest being a broken right foot to Marc Gasol, the Memphis Grizzlies’ do-it-all big guy. This setback ends the younger Gasol’s season (and maybe his Olympics participation) in addition to any chance the Griz had to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Memphis is solidly entrenched in fifth place, four games behind the Clippers, three games ahead of the Mavs. This means that if the playoffs started today, LA would be their opponent, a series they would, by no means, be favored to win, however, if they fall, they’d have to beat OKC, San Antonio or the Warriors in a best-of-seven series – without Gasol. Good luck.

Alert: this next line is not meant to be a jinx of any kind (unlike most coaches, I have never had any superstitions). If Stephen Curry were to get hurt, Golden State would still be a major factor in the chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy but no longer would they be the favorite. One guy means that much to that team.

The Warriors are by no means a one man show – having three of their starters named to the All-Star team makes that fully apparent. Throw in the rest of their “rotation” players and they definitely remain a formidable foe. But a Curry-less Warriors club doesn’t summon near the angst for opponents that a Golden State team with its (for all intents and purposes, back-to-back) MVP.

Basically, the Warriors are a borderline great team without Curry, but a nearly unbeatable one with him. He draws so much attention, is unselfish, has as quick a release as any shooter in the history of the game (coupled with 30′-35′ foot range), yet can take a defender off the dribble – and finish, is a great free throw shooter and is, arguably, the best combination ball handler/passer in the game. Plus, although it doesn’t matter as much in sports as it should, his work ethic is unmatched and his integrity is beyond reproach.

The difference between every other player and Curry is when other starters are out of the lineup, coaches are fond of saying, “No one person can replace him; we’ll have to do it by committee.” Without Curry, there is no “committee” that can come close to providing for the Warriors what he does – including the 26-member Senate Armed Services Committee.

All that said, the Warriors would be the same overwhelming favorites if Curry was unable to play – and LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Demar DeRozen, Chris Paul (with Blake Griffin healthy) were also scratches from their respective teams. Still and all, Warriors fans better pray for one thing with their leader:

“Good health”


Has Cam Newton Ruined His Brand . . . or Strengthened It?

February 10th, 2016

A commercial for Beats by Dre, starring Cam Newton, has been airing for quite some time now. The title of the spot is Cam’s Prayer, the text of which reads, “Dear God, people say you should be yourself, but they never considered me. I know you molded me different. You placed purpose on my shoulders. So now I come to you. Lord, give me the strength to finish this my way.”

My way.

Cam Newton began his college career at Florida but played behind Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. The next picture of him people remember was the mug shot after an arrest regarding the theft of a computer. A transfer to a small Texas JC was followed by a scholarship at Auburn. More unfavorable publicity, however, surfaced in the form of an allegation by Mississippi State that his father said it would take between $100,000-$180,000 for Cam to sign with them.

But his image hasn’t been solely dour. He’s also displayed some humor – a hilarious “interview” with Cooper Manning as they received mani-pedis, a cute Play 60 commercial in which a youngster asks questions about his future that Cam answers in the affirmative to motivate the little guy – until the kid asks if he can be the starting QB for the Panthers, have Cam as his back up and become Cam’s mother’s favorite player, and an ESPN spot about him winning an award for telling a joke about one of the station’s anchors. Last night on TV, a lighthearted yogurt commercial with three “Cam Newtons” was shown.

Yet, when he offered only terse comments before abruptly walking out of the Super Bowl post game press conference, Cam Newton was blasted by main stream America. Since today’s pro is not just a player but a brand, many people feel Newton, in effect, destroyed his.

What was expected next was, as we’ve been accustomed to hearing, the “sincere apology” by the athlete who spoke “out of frustration” and begged for the public’s “forgiveness.” Uh-uh, not Cam. His explanation? “I’m on record as being a sore loser. I hate losing. Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” This shocked a great many and he was criticized. So he described his attitude toward that criticism with the following statement. “If I offended anyone, that’s cool. I don’t have to conform to anybody’s wants for me. I’m not that guy. This is a great league with or without me. I am my own person.” Whoa!

As with all of today’s highly talented and highly visible athletes, behind the player is a group of advisers. Maybe that reaction was concocted by Team Newton, or maybe the group  cautioned Cam but he overruled them, simply wanting to be true to his beliefs. He’s been interviewed hundreds of times, as most Heisman Trophy winners, quarterbacks of NCAA national championship teams, #1 overall draft picks and NFL MVPs are. Anyone who’s heard him must admit that he, by no means, comes off as the dumb jock. He might just be employing a strategy unfamiliar to famous athletes in their prime.

And if you’re hurt by the way he expresses himself, consider his final thought in the Beats’ commercial:

“Guess what? Too bad they don’t make Band-Aids for feelings.”

Some Absurd Comments of Super Bowl 50

February 9th, 2016

C’mon, Cam, you won 17 out of 19 games – and celebrated wildly after most, if not all, of the 17. Couldn’t you give 10 minutes to people who also had a job to do? Sure, you were disappointed – you and your teammates picked the worst time to lay the proverbial egg but think about it – had Denver lost, do you think Peyton Manning would have acted like you did? Well, like it or not, the NFL’s new Peyton Manning is . . . you.

Speaking of Peyton Manning, he is not only an all-time great quarterback but, also, the ultimate pitchman. But don’t you think he crossed the line when, following the game, he was asked whether he would continue to play or retire (a question that “had to be asked” but shouldn’t have)? His response, on two separate accounts, was that 1) he wanted first to kiss his wife and kids and 2) he was going to drink a lot of Budweiser. Yet the post game video shows him embracing, not his wife and kids immediately at game’s end, but Papa John! Sure, his wife and kids had to make their way down to the field from their sky suite but how in the world did that joker get such instant access to Manning? Granted, the pizza chain was a Super Bowl sponsor but don’t think for a minute that Peyton owning 21 franchises around Denver didn’t expedite his appearance.

As for Budweiser, its parent company, Anheuser-Busch, made a statement that the beer giant did not pay Peyton to keep mentioning its product, but added, “We were surprised and delighted that he did.” Then came the disclosure that Manning owns a stake in two Budweiser distributorships in Louisiana. Had Peyton been that transparent in his passing game, he’d have set an NFL record for picks.

In another case of “the film don’t lie,” late in the game it showed Newton backing away from, rather than diving on, what became the final Panthers’ turnover. Although it was an obvious flinch, it’s way too much of a stretch (independent of what his personal feelings are toward Newton) for a late night host at Mad Dog (Sirius-XM) radio to float a theory that the reason for the Newton’s reluctance was that he’d seen “Papa John” on the sidelines. The radio personality, who will (and ought to anyway) remain nameless, claimed, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but in no way did this schmuck sound like he was kidding, that the quarterback’s inaction was due to him trying to avoid injury. His reasoning? With Manning (most likely) leaving the game, Papa John’s was going to need another QB (people don’t relate to J.J. Watt) as a pitchman. Really, you got nothing better than that?

Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, the station’s namesake, was on earlier and gave his opinion on the Super Bowl – from the lead-up through the post game. While Russo can grate on people, his commentary yesterday was quite even-handed. It sounded (at least to me) as if he was simply giving his take on every aspect, as opposed to, like so many of those talking heads do, placing blame on people for decisions or plays they made, or failed to make. In one instance, however, I found Russo to be too critical of Carolina corner back, Josh Norman, who gave a pretty solid performance. Video of Norman showed him openly crying after the game.

Russo’s remarks were to the effect that Norman should have waited until he got to the locker room before bawling. Who knows how people react to such a crushing blow? Especially following a magical season and anticipating going out a winner? So many players have said how difficult it is to even get to a Super Bowl that it’s difficult to blame a guy for not wanting to leave the stadium, yet not being able to bottle up his emotions. It’s doubtful Norman was shilling for a Kleenex sponsorship. However, if he does get something along those lines, all bets are off and I stand aligned with Doggie.

On the same station, prior to Russo’s show, Stephen A. Smith had his say and he, also, gave a balanced, albeit louder (only because Mad Dog was somewhat mellow yesterday) version of the game. While he sounded early on as a Cam Newton apologist, citing a horrendous “no catch” call which, upon replay was shown to be a catch (more on that later), receivers dropping balls, fumbles, poor special teams play, no pass protection, he then laid into Newton for the immaturity he displayed at the press conference, calling him, correctly, the face of the NFL.

Fans have their feelings, too, but one of them took it to the extreme when Cam Newton was being vilified for his immature behavior at the post game press conference. This guy, as some people unfortunately do, made it racial. His comment was people were killing Newton for his on field celebrations – during which he was just being human (insinuating that when Brett Favre would perform similar actions, he was not chastised). That observation was followed up with a statement that people were giving undue criticism to Newton for his post game presser, saying he couldn’t understand it when these same people were saying the public needs to show compassion toward Johnny Manziel when he needs support. Talk about comparing apples to . . . cattle.

In another show of prejudice (this one I’d like to believe is not of a racial nature), there were a slew of people (hosts and callers alike) who evidently dislike CBS “officiating expert” Mike Carey. Each and every one of them poked fun at Carey, a former referee, when he was brought in on a Panthers challenge on a pass ruled as incomplete. The “anti-Carey” crowd laughed at how Carey distinctly explained why the challenge would be upheld, yet was ruled confirmed as incomplete after replay review. The irony was that every guy who thought it was so great Carey was wrong, admitted they saw it the same way – complete pass.

Although Carey is African-American, I think people inherently dislike officials, e.g. when was the last time you heard someone say a referee was the reason your team won? Hearing an “expert” say the guys in the striped shirts got it wrong makes some people’s day, almost like all those times your team lost and you blamed it on the officiating, your foolish post game behavior was justified:

“See. I told you the refs suck.”


A Look Back at a Comparison Between Business and Sports

February 5th, 2016

Wasn’t sure of today’s blog topic until I watched back-to-back nights of Bernie Madoff. Since the shows airing somewhat coincided with college football signing day, I thought it would be interesting to post one of my archived blogs (12/17/08 It May Be a Bit of a Stretch But There Are Parallels in the Financial and Sports Worlds) – with some updates.

Another weekend of college hoops. This blog will return on Tuesday, Feb. 9. 

The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) chairman, Cristopher Cox, admitted his agency “repeatedly failed to pursue allegations of wrongdoing for at least a decade” by  Bernard Madoff, who has been operating a Ponzi scheme, in which BM (a derivative of which he’s now referred to) bilked numerous corporations, investors, friends, families and even charities out of FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS). Leaders of high profile companies, as well as individuals, considered it a privilege to be invited to invest with Madoff. His steady flow of high yield returns acted as the main bait. When questioned about his “business,” Bernie Madoff was quoted as saying it was impossible for a violation to go undetected. Here we have a borderline genius, obviously bereft of conscience.

We can only imagine if, in a related story, the SEC (Southeastern Conference) commissioner, Mike Slive (since retired, succeeded by Greg Sankey), admitted his league failed to pursue allegations of wrongdoing, as far back as a half a century ago, regarding its member institutions violating NCAA rules in the area of recruiting (especially in the sports of football and men’s basketball). Prospects considered it a privilege to be recruited by schools in such a prestigious conference. It was intoxicating for them because of the constant attention, flattery and possibly more tangible items. Did receiving a steady flow of what these youngsters never had (hint: it’s green and it folds, but you don’t put dressing on it) act as the main bait? When questioned by other non-SEC coaches, “members” (employees or supporters) of the institutions comprising this high profile, often dominant league, said violations were seldom detected, believing in some kind of “honor among thieves” mentality. These people, considered borderline geniuses in the procuring of players, were also sans conscience.

Regarding the Madoff case, the only real winners will be the lawyers (fees are reported to be in excess of a billion dollars). In the “fictitious” case of the athletic conference, the winners are the fans who, when watching their team win, can stick out their chests and say, “Sure, we may break some rules, but everybody’s doing it. That’s just big-time college athletics.”

As far as everyone involved in this business, and for that matter, all others as well, we turn to the wisdom of Elbert Hubbard, who said:

“Some men succeed by what they know; some by what they do, and a few by what they are.”

How Unnecessary Pressure on Players and Coaches Affects the Super Bowl

February 2nd, 2016

Some mid-week business to attend to, possible becoming a consulting position, takes me out of town. This blog will return (briefly) on Friday, Feb. 5 – then it’s off to watch college hoops. The next blog after Friday will be Tuesday, Feb. 8. No worries – with all the pre- and post-Super Bowl chatter, you’ll have plenty to consume your waking hours. Following the Super Bowl I imagine (I’d like to say “promise” but am a little hesitant to put my neck on the block) there will be some insightful reading right here in the space.

The Super Bowl ought to be the best game of the year, a send-off to fans, a “let us leave you with a game you’ll be talking about right up until next year’s preseason.” Sometimes it happens. Certainly, one of those times was last year when, arguably, the most controversial play call – maybe ever - occurred when the New England Patriots, and everyone else, were waiting to see if they could deny Marshawn Lynch, aka Beast Mode, one yard.

In one of the ballsy-est moves of all-time (or stupidest), Pete Carroll called for a pass play, hoping to cross up the Pats’ defense. Had it worked, Carroll would have been referred to as the ultimate riverboat gambler, a guy who wasn’t afraid to throw the dice in the biggest game of all, a guy with steel cojones. Alas, it backfired and the Seahawks were denied back-to-back titles. Anytime you hear people call Carroll a bonehead (or, usually, worse), check your fingers and see how many championship rings you’re sporting compared to Carroll’s. Chances are, unless you’re counting some pretty nondescript jewelry, you come up short. By much more than a yard.

Some people are amazed at how a game like the Super Bowl doesn’t bring out the best in players. Well, it’s much less about them not being able to handle the magnitude of the moment, and more because of all the extra distractions they don’t have to face during the regular season – or even in the playoffs. First of all, there are only two teams playing, meaning all the attention is being focused on them – a fact not lost on the participants. Next is the two-week break from playing. While the extra week off helps the injured get closer to 100% (by that time of the year, nobody is ever 100%) and allows additional time (and maybe some extra trickeration) for the game plan, the extended layoff between the divisional championships and the Super Bowl gives more time to the media.

No media member wants to put out the identical story as a peer, so journalists will be scrambling to either get it first or find something off the beaten track to write about. In either case the player’s routine suffers, i.e. having to choose between two, or more, media members to give an “exclusive” to or getting somewhat ambushed with something from the past (that he wished would remain there).

Add to the media crush the ticket mess. There’s no better way to refer to it. Lord help the player or coach whose hometown is anywhere near the game site. Personally, I’ve never been a member of a Super Bowl franchise, nor did I ever experience the enjoyment of being part of a staff who made it to the Final Four. That said, I know virtually hundreds of friends whose careers were awarded with that honor and the nightmarish stories that have been shared regarding tickets (some even including travel and room & board) are simply incredulous.

People from a player’s or coach’s past (way in the past) have absolutely no issue with getting in touch with the player or coach and requesting the impossible. Reminiscing about the great times that the player and moocher had, sob stories which, if they don’t immediately work, turn into unashamedly spoken guilt trips (it should come as no surprise that some of these leaches, should they score a ticket – or more – simply turn around and sell them for a tidy profit). Whether players or coaches fall for the tall tales is not as relevant as the imposition on the their time and preparation in what is the biggest game of their lives.

Many first-timers have told me stories of regret, of how they wish they’d simply turned off their phones or let their agents deal with such issues. And how every last one of them, if fortunate to have the opportunity again, do exactly that.

It makes you wonder how much better the actual game would be if players and coaches could maintain their focus solely on the contest itself. It’s a nice thought but as U.S. Grant used to say:

“You’ve got to live life the way it is, not the way you want it to be.”

Getting Old Can Be a Shock to One’s System

January 30th, 2016

College basketball this weekend. Career winding down. This blog will return on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Last night my wife and I went to a watch a high school play. The reason wasn’t because we were dying to check out the scholastic version of Guys and Dolls – although the kids did do a sensational job. It was because the daughter of our close friends, Dave Severns (an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers) and his wife, Julie (an administrator with the Fresno Unified School District) was a member of the cast. Last night was either the fourth or fifth of Hailey’s (nine) plays we’d attended, each of her performances very professional. The young lady has talent.

The most amazing thing, though, about seeing the high school senior is remembering her when she was a tiny baby. For somebody who’s moved 16 times since graduating college, I’ve now lived in Fresno over 20 years. Once adults pass 30 years of age (give or take a few), as long as their health stays intact, nearly all, to me anyway, look basically the same. What is shocking is going years without seeing friends’ children. A youngster whom you last saw as a three-year-old who is now 12. It’s then that the old saw, “time flies” takes on a whole new meaning.

In my book Life’s A Joke, I related a story of aging from a different standpoint. In it I gave three examples of getting older virtually slapping you in your face. One is walking outside when it just begins to rain and feeling a drop make a direct hit on your scalp, when in the past, it was hardly noticeable because of your hair. A second sign of getting on in years is when you’re in a grocery store and somebody’s child refers to you as “that man,” when you used to be “that kid” or just “that boy.”

The third example I note is when your family doctor is younger than you. Doctors had always been older, wiser men in whom you had great faith. This experience happened to me when my wife and I had just gotten married and we moved to Toledo. As with most relocations, you ask for referrals for things like a doctor, dentist, financial planner, gardener, housekeeper, realtor, lawyer – whoever is necessary, depending upon your personal situation. I had recently turned 39 and it was my first visit to our new family doctor – one that will forever be etched in my memory.

I went in for a physical and when the doctor walked in, I was kind of hoping he’d say, “My dad will be with you in a minute.” Turned out he, in fact, was the doc and he had me strip down to only my underpants – back then, tightie-whities. He performed a thorough physical and, as we were concluding, he offhandedly posed the question, “So, any problems concerning your health?”

I gave what I considered the stock reply, “Other than being a little overweight, everything’s OK.” Upon hearing my reply, he turned his head toward a chart on his desk, not even glancing at the nearly naked patient who had just spoken, and scanned a chart.

“Hmm, let’s see. 5’11”.” He then subtracted the optimum weight on the chart from what the scale said when his nurse had me weigh in. “According to the table, you need to lose about 36 pounds.”

Now, even when I was in optimum shape, I always had a bit of a gut. However, to those readers who know me, you can realize how stunned I was. For people who have never made my acquaintance or seen me, let’s just say that if I were to lose 36 pounds, my eyes would be in single file. All I could manage was, “Are you serious?” Keep in mind I was standing not five feet from this guy – in my skivvies – and he has yet to glance up from that weight chart. Suffice to say, my confidence in this joker is rapidly waning.

At that point, his medical school training must have kicked in and he instructed me to “wrap your thumb and middle finger around your wrist.” I did so and, after finally looking up, saw there was about a 3/4″ gap between the two. “Oh, . . . big boned,” he remarked. “Well, that means to add another 10% to the optimum chart weight.” He did the calculations and concluded, “Yeah, you should lose 7 or 8 pounds.”

Since that time, every one of my doctors have been younger than I am and I’m pleased to report I’ve been happy and confident with each. That 7-8 pounds has morphed into 12-14 (according to his chart, I’m probably about 50-55 pounds over the limit).

As far as that doctor, let’s just say that I went home shortly thereafter, never to return. In other words:

“The last time I walked out of his office was . . . the last time I walked out of his office.”

The Blake Griffin Affair Might Actually Work Out for All Concerned

January 29th, 2016

If we didn’t know better, we’d think that there had to have been drug use involved in the fight between Blake Griffin and a member of the Clippers equipment staff. According to reports – including Griffin’s apology in which he states the person he beat on was “someone I care about” – his behavior was totally out of character for Griffin.

Please don’t think I’m comparing these two cases in terms of severity but the comments that came out of the beating in Toronto were similar to the infamous O.J. Simpson case in this one respect. When the tragedy occurred in Brentwood, I was on the basketball staff at USC (in fact, the “slow speed car chase happened on my birthday). Nearly everybody was of the belief that Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend.

That opinion was not shared by several people who were long-time Trojan employees – and their feelings had nothing to do with any evidence. “He worked too hard at being O.J.,” was the common refrain by these folks. “He was so concerned about his image.” From his Hertz commercials and other endorsements to his acting career, O.J. was a guy who was going to one of a select few – athletes who continue to hear cheers from the public after they retire from their sport.

Along the same line of reasoning, Griffin has been working overtime on his image, as anyone who’s seen his Kia commercials would attest. Griffin also is endorsed by Nike and Subway, making for quite a bit of outside income. In addition, there is a rumor of a Space Jam 2 with Griffin replacing Michael Jordan (although LeBron James’ performance in Trainwreck might push Blake to an understudy role). So, to “go off” on a friend seems very much out of character for someone so conscious of “what people think.”

Another rumor, however, has also surfaced – that of a possible trade between the Clips and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant. Think about it. Other than the guy who got his face pummeled in the (one-sided) fight, everybody wins.

The embarrassing incident in Toronto has the Clippers taking several steps backward – after all the positive vibes they’ve been emitting since the humiliating Donald Sterling controversy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that the Clippers’ terse statement that was released was not only signed off by head coach and team president, Doc Rivers, but by owner, Steve Ballmer, as well. You don’t accumulate a net worth of $22.7 billion by tolerating tomfoolery. In the basketball world, Griffin has the reputation as a true diva, an act that can be condoned as long as he’s putting up massive numbers and the team is winning. Not to have him for an additional 4-6 weeks just when he was ready to return could be the proverbial straw.

The one team who would not only take Griffin – and his new image – but would welcome him would be Oklahoma City. “Prodigy returns to his roots” would be a welcome headline in OKC – the people there quite possibly have the same attitude toward Blake that the SC people initially did for O.J. Other than an incident in Las Vegas in which charges were dropped, this is the only other miscue to soil a pretty clean citizen. A pretty clean native Oklahoma citizen – with an incredible skills and a work ethic to match.

Couple this with the feeling that Durant could opt out after the season and the Thunder could lose him without compensation – a guy who is unequivocally loved in Oklahoma – and trading one beloved star for a guy who, prior to this recent off-the-court problem, many were calling the best power forward in the game, would make things alright in a hurry. Maybe even mean it could keep Russell Westbrook in a Thunder uni, assuming their games meshed. Ask any knowledgeable basketball person and you’ll undoubtedly hear there’s no doubt those two would get along fine alongside each other.

Although the Clippers have been playing very well recently, it’s fool’s gold to think they can make a run at a title without Blake Griffin. KD would certainly be a suitable replacement. Obviously, the Clips would want a guarantee that Durant would stay beyond the one year obligation he would have. However, if there was a franchise that could take a gamble, it’s the Clippers, due to 1 – location (LA serves as off-season residences for many NBA ballers, independent of which team is paying them – for apparent reasons), 2 – roster (changing partners from Westbrook to Chris Paul is more than palatable, after all CP3 is the president of the NBAPA in addition to being an elite point guard), 3 – coach (Doc is established, classy, has a championship on his resume – and is also the president, so there’s coaching stability) and 4 – owner (nobody boasts the combination of mega money, being a huge fan and not meddling than Ballmer).

When a situation like this takes place, the main concerns are for the players and the team. After all, that’s who fans root for. The victim – and, by all accounts, he was a victim, e.g. there have been no negative remarks attached to the member of the equipment staff – is often overlooked. With Ballmer’s compassion (after all, the guy is his employee too), believe that poor guy will be fairly compensated, so as long as he’s suffered no permanent damage, in this case:

“All’s well that ends. Period.”

The Major Differences Between MJ & Kobe, and LeBron

January 28th, 2016

Last season and earlier this one (at least prior to the Cavs firing David Blatt), the pundits were tossing around comparisons between stars of years gone by, e.g. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant (sorry, Kobe, your exploits are already being referred to in the past tense) and LeBron James. One of the theories I heard both on talk radio and TV made James out to be a different kind of teammate than MJ and the Black Mamba. The claim was that LeBron is too nice a guy when it comes to dealing with the other fellas on his squad.

The thinking was, sure Jordan and Bryant got results, but the mental and physical games they played on their own teammates, as well as the verbal use they subjected them to, bruised egos and crossed the line. It wasn’t in LeBron’s personality to treat guys he went to battle with in such a manner. I have no doubt that theory is is valid. But here’s the real difference between the elder duo and the younger phenom.

While it might not be in James’ make up to act so rudely to the guys from Cleveland and Miami (and Cleveland again) whom he walked onto the floor every night – even if the end result meant winning championships - that is exactly how he acted toward his coaches. From Mike Brown to Erik Spoelstra to David Blatt, James was the ultimate bully. It was no secret in the NBA how James disrespected Brown during his stint as head man (for LeBron’s first tour of duty in The ‘Land, as he – and his brand – refer to what others have called “The Mistake by the Lake”).

And need anyone be reminded of the unintentional, intentional “bump” he administered, one each, to Spo and Blatt at time outs – two men he both dwarfed and held in disdain at the time of the incidents? Too many sources have made mention of James meeting with Pat Riley and demanding suggesting Spoelstra being let go, only to have Riley, one person James did respect, tell him, in essence, to drop one into the ocean, i.e. that idea was not happening. Maybe LeBron recalled that Riley once did just that to Stan Van Gundy and won a championship, so the Chosen One felt, since he and Riles were boys (what, with him joining the Heat franchise and taking less than he was entitled), that it was time to reenact that winning scenario.

Rebuffed, LeBron tucked his tail between his legs, left the office and proceeded to, as Riley had mentored him, give the little guy a chance. Riley hand picked Spoelstra and the message got through to James. The result was four straight NBA Championships, winning two of them.

There are two other differences in LeBron James’ career compared to Jordan and Bryant. One is that in the latter two’s careers, their coach was Phil Jackson, a former NBA player, if not a star, someone who understood the game from a player’s perspective (although the Zen Master is quick to tell that, he learned as much, if not more, from coaching in the CBA). James’ coaches, on the other hand, were not former players.

The final difference was the the guy who called the shots in James’ past two franchises – Miami’s Pat Riley (former NBA player and five time NBA championship coach) and David Griffin (NBA career administrator and assistant coach – briefly – at Scottsdale Community College). Reports out of Cleveland are that a major factor in the decision to change coaches was that Griffin felt that Blatt didn’t hold James accountable. This brings to mind a famous quote:

“Something about a pot and kettle.”

Someone Must Be Looking Out for My Wife and Me

January 26th, 2016

Rare mid-week game. This blog will return on Friday, Jan. 29.

If you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you’ve already seen this, as I posted it yesterday. This version, however, is a little more detailed.

Unless you’re someone whose accomplishments transcend time, e.g. George Washington, Jonas Salk, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, etc., your legacy tends to be your kids. This past week our two sons made my wife, Jane, and I proud beyond words (although anyone who knows me realizes that what comes next will naturally be . . . plenty of words).

Our older son, Andy (27), has been gainfully employed ever since he graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2011. This statement sounds somewhat absurd (after all, isn’t that why you go to college?) but with today’s business climate, it’s actually quite a feat. His jobs have all been in the sales field, in particular, software.

He first worked at a company called cBeyond, “a provider of managed technology services to small and medium-sized businesses.” It was an incredibly tough job, but the perfect entry level position for a guy who was a new college graduate. He had quotas for both calls made and business cards obtained, i.e. inside and outside activity. It was a real grind. When inside, it was constant calling. Out of the office, Andy was instructed to walk past “No Solicitation” signs, enter businesses (small and medium-sized) and give a pitch, with the goal of getting business cards from the owners. While the job was extremely frustrating, the training was sensational – and has proven to be invaluable.

From cBeyond, he moved to Booker whose service was “Cloud-based business management” (whatever that means). He sold (inside only) software to beauty salons, health spas and like companies. When he left Booker, he had another inside sales position, this one at Kareo. His clientele were doctors and physical therapists. (Note: Don’t quote me on any of this as I’m sure I’m doing a disservice or misrepresenting exactly what the companies were or what his jobs entailed.) What I do know is that, for both jobs, each month he would have a quota and, nary a month would pass when he didn’t hit that quota – which, I would imagine, led to his being contacted for his next – and current – place of employment.

A week ago Monday, Andy moved up, way up, in the world of business when was hired as an account executive at Salesforce. For those of you who have never heard of Salesforce, it’s a $6 billion company which, this past year, was ranked 8th in Fortune magazine’s “100 best company to work for.” Nice.

Not to be outdone by his older brother, our only other child, Alex (22), achieved a significant milestone. Alex is a senior co-captain of California State University, Monterey Bay’s basketball team and, this past Saturday night, he broke the school record for points scored in a career – with nine games to go (not including post season play). He already holds the record for most steals in a career.

Cal State Monterey Bay is the newest Cal State school, thus without a whole lot of hoops history. In fact, Alex could end up in the top five of nearly every major statistical category (points, rebounds, assists and steals) other than blocked shots – which would be quite an accomplishment.

What separates Alex even further is that he is also the record holder for career points scored at his high school (Buchanan HS in Clovis, CA). In fact, Alex left Buchanan as the sixth all-time scorer in California’s entire Central Valley. His mark of over 2,200 points is the highest total for any male player from either the Clovis or Fresno Unified School Districts.

Count us as two very fortunate parents. As any parent will tell whoever is listening:

“The most difficult job, yet most rewarding, anyone can have is that of raising children.”

What Does the NFL Have Against Defensive Backs?

January 22nd, 2016

Another weekend of watching college basketball. This blog will return on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

On a number of occasions in this space I’ve offered up the reason why professional athletes make the grandiose amounts of money they do. Absurd ticket prices, exorbitant cost of “team gear” and ridiculous cash deals that television makes with the leagues. It all comes down to us – the consumer. Because we’ll pay the ticket prices (unless we can cop some reduced rate ducats or, even, freebies) and then still dump a boatload of dough for parking, concessions and souvenirs. Sure, the advertisers back up the truck to pay for commercial time but, think about it, they didn’t become giant, successful conglomerates by overspending on TV ads. They do it because advertising works, i.e. we buy what they’re selling.

Other than the satisfaction the guy on the street gets by wearing a jersey with someone else’s name on it (by the way, that ought to be illegal for anybody over 25 years of age), the consumer actually does have some clout. If you don’t believe me, ask NFL defensive backs. Check the rules that have been legislated over the past decade or so.

Defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers used to be able to waylay quarterbacks, on a good day (for them), even if the hits came a beat or two after the whistle. Now, the passer might as well wear those white tops with the red cross on them (the kind they wore in practice during the ’60s), meaning they were completely off limits. On game day, however, guys could pin back their ears and . . .

In today’s game, it no longer takes a superhero to stand up in the pocket because there’s a strike zone the defense has to abide by, i.e. nothing above the shoulders or below the knees. Worse than that – as far as the defense is concerned – are what the rules makers have done that affect “cover guys.” Contact is allowed at the line of scrimmage but not too much further, or else a flag will be thrown. The term, “defenseless receiver” has made its way into football lexicon – wisely so – but for a defensive back, the slow motion replays are for the officials’ use. The game DBs play is in real time.

Players have become faster, stronger, shiftier – you name it – and sometimes, if a DB slows up, that ball carrier or receiver is long gone and you’re left standing, wondering when the game changed from you making a play without regard for a penalty, ejection, suspension and/or fine. And you know how much you’re gonna hear about it in the film room.

What’s more frightening is the team, or teams, that have an ultra-talented/competitive quarterback and receivers to match. Or the QB alpha dog who will demand his receivers spend extra practice time to get their timing down – to the point you don’t have a chance because the guy’s throwing the ball before the receiver makes his cut. Did you see that part of Ride Along 2 when Kevin Hart is told to keep one eye out for a guy and another out for something else? He tries it while he’s in the police car and then says something to the effect, “No, I can’t do it. It’s impossible. You do it” (to his partner). That is how a cover guy feels when he’s told to keep one eye on the receiver and the other on the QB or in the backfield. Add to that the fact it’s automatic pass interference if the defender doesn’t turn his head, i.e. no longer can  a defender face guard a guy by reading his eyes.

Why is there all this extra work being put in by QBs and receivers? Because a-they’re making huge money and would like to keep doing so, b-their quarterback is accurate as hell, so he’s become a timing freak (sometimes known as a fierce competitor), c-their offensive coordinator desperately wants a (deep run in the) playoffs check, followed by a head coaching gig somewhere so he will make so much money he won’t fret about a playoff check or d-any combination of the above.

All this means that balls will be thrown before a guy comes out of his break and balls will be thrown so that the only person who will have a chance to catch them will be receivers. And why does the NFL make the rules that so unfairly penalize the defense? Right. Because fans want to see scoring (I still maintain that is the main reason soccer isn’t as big in the U.S. as it is elsewhere in the world). Americans are fascinated by scoring. So, when it comes to rule-making?

“Finally, the consumer wins.”