Archive for the ‘graduation (HS and college)’ Category

No Matter Our Situation, We Should All Be Thankful

Friday, November 27th, 2015

While it’s unfortunate that in this country there’s only one day a year that’s designated to acknowledge how thankful we ought to be for whatever we have, it does afford us at least some time to reflect. Whether we have a lot or a little, we could have less. Sure, we could have more but the holiday is called Thanksgiving, not Greedy Thursday. Phrase it however you like – “half-empty vs. half-full,” “grateful for what we have vs. upset over what we don’t,” whatever your station in life – Thanksgiving is a day (and night) to ruminate on how we got to where we are and to show appreciation to those who helped get us there.

As someone who worked in college basketball, I had the “pleasure” of moving quite often. Like 17 times since I graduated college. The first 12 of those relocations were before I got married and, honestly, being fully aware of how much of a transient lifestyle it can be, was the main reason I waited to get married until I was almost 39 years old. Once I became an adult, I had three goals: I wanted to be a husband, a father and a Division I head basketball coach. As the saying goes, “two out of three ain’t bad.” Plus, if I was told I could only have two of three, those are the two I’d have picked. Got married in 1987, became a dad in ’89, and again in ’93. As far as health goes, the one of us with the most issues is me – which, if I was told one of the four of us was going to have multiple surgeries and experience chronic pain, is the one I’d have selected.

Jane is the poster girl for good health. Her diet is borderline perfect (not counting those extreme folks, e.g. vegetarians and the off-shoots of that type). She loves her classes (Pilates, kick boxing, sculpting and possibly others that escape me at the moment) and attends them faithfully. In addition, she always manages to get in her daily walk (her FitBit reminds her if she doesn’t). She retired when I did (2012) and we’ve enjoyed a great deal of travel ever since, e.g. a couple of places she’d never been (Oregon and New England), our second trip to Europe and vacation resort destinations like the Cabo, the Big Island and beach cities on both coasts. We even managed a Caribbean cruise – a first for her.

In terms of the “parent dictionary definition” of a child, #1 son, Andy, has been textbook, i.e. graduated from college in four years (UC-Irvine) and got a J-O-B immediately thereafter. He has no student loans (working while he matriculated helped) and he’s employed at his third different company (as an account executive), each move having been of his own volition, as well as each one being an upward move in the software sales industry. Although he can’t claim membership in the top 1% of wealthy Americans yet, he is off of the “family scholarship,” is living the life of a bachelor in Orange County, CA and getting by quite nicely, thank you.

Our younger son, Alex, is a senior at Cal State Monterey Bay and is one of the captains of the Otters basketball squad. He’s been a positive contributor to the program and is in the top 10 in career leaders in ten statistical categories, including currently being the second leading scorer in school history. He had better will graduate in May with a degree in Business with a concentration in Marketing. Possibly, he’ll have a chance to continue playing basketball professionally overseas. If that doesn’t pan out (or when it finally does), a job in the business world (there are a couple opportunities he’s been angling for) should be waiting.

As I’m sure other every person with a mailing address experiences, I get 2-3 requests for donations daily. When I receive one that hits close to home, maybe a relative or close friend who has or has passed away from a dreaded disease, I’ll enclose a small gift. What’s annoying is that, in no less than two weeks, there will be another letter, from the same organization, asking for more money – and it seems that group has passed along my information to various other charities. If only the associations would give me some buffer time between overtures. And please don’t treat me as a target for their partners, mostly because I don’t know which organization is legit or which is a scam. There have been so many reports of “organizational or hidden costs” that are attached to some charities, well, I’d like to think that 100% of my donation goes to the charitable organization.

On Tuesday evening’s local news, I saw a story about an owner of a company who had one of his drivers deliver a truckload of turkeys to a homeless shelter. Great idea. First thing Wednesday, I went “shopping” for the biggest turkey I could find (you can’t believe how many people wait until the last minute to grocery shop for Thanksgiving dinner), paid for it and went directly to the Poverello House, a homeless center serving the hungry and homeless of Fresno and handed it to a very gracious worker there. When he asked me if I wanted a receipt, I declined. The reason, as flawed as any accountant will tell you it is, is that it seemed that getting a receipt would benefit me (albeit in a very small way) and I wanted the act to be completely for others less fortunate. If you think you have it rough, drive by one of those neighborhoods someday.

As far as our family Thanksgiving, only Andy could join us yesterday for a wonderful dinner prepared completely by Jane (hey, that right there was another thing for me to be thankful for). Alex was in Monterey practicing and enjoying Thanksgiving with the team. I give thanks for the three of them and, all things considered, how fortunate our lives have been. I certainly don’t mean to preach, but you should be grateful for your circumstance, too. No complaining. Why not? Well, here’s some advice I learned long ago (when I was a member of the National Speakers Association):

“Don’t tell people your problems. 80% don’t care and the other 20% are actually glad!”

The Biggest Disappointment in the Lamar Odom Story

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The Lamar Odom saga is a terribly sad one. There’s one part of it that is so intriguing to me. Anyone who knows Odom, or just knows of him, realizes he was dealt a bad hand growing up. He overcame such a disastrous childhood because of his size and basketball skills. As far as a player, he was nothing short of amazing, considered by many to be the next coming of Magic Johnson. And, having seen him as a prepster, I can honestly say that the comparison wasn’t all that far off. However, while Johnson had a strong family support, i.e. people he could trust, the group guiding Odom might not have always had the ballplayer’s best interests at heart. Another major difference between LO and Magic lay in the area of academics (as in “attitude toward”). Although Magic left Michigan State early and never did graduate, reports of his academic work were positive, as opposed to Lamar, who truly took advantage of the “one-and-done” rule.

Full disclosure: I know neither man – so in other words this is a “two degrees of separation blog.” From what close friends of mine who know and/or have worked with each guy say, though, both were great “locker room guys.” In that regard, Odom and Johnson were near equals in that both absolutely loved the game and were loved by their teammates. Also, both players won NBA Championships, although, for lack of a better comparison of the two, Magic led his teammates while Lamar followed his. Each of them were extremely popular but, other than both guys being “big guards” and womanizers, the similarities ended there. Magic speaks out against such care-free, dangerous conduct (granted, he did experience a rather sizable scare), while Lamar continued to embrace such conduct (let’s see what path Odom takes from here on out, assuming he can continue with a relatively normal way of life). Ultimately, what separated the two stars was that Magic understood how to be a pro better than Lamar did. Or, at the very least, knew how to have fame and fortune work for him instead of destroy him.

As a player Odom had the reputation of competing at a high level – and partying at a higher one. Once, when asked if his wife, Khloe, was going to be joining the team on a road trip, LO allegedly said, “Why would I bring sand to the beach?” As is blatantly apparent now, Odom’s off-court habits included many activities that, while they were a helluva lot of fun at the time, were basically nothing other than destructive. What’s so shocking to me is that, of all the people who knew him, none of them were remotely astonished. His friends and teammates were well aware of the big fella’s lifestyle and the choices he was making – maybe not to the excess he was living, but no one expressed shock when he was found in that Las Vegas brothel. Grief-stricken, yes, but not shocked.

I was a member of the basketball staff at Fresno State when Chris Herren played for the Bulldogs. When we discovered he had his demons, we did what we could to get him help. After his return from a facility in Utah, we truly thought he’d beaten his addiction. The primary reason was, as Chris says now in the speeches he gives throughout the country, because he was such an accomplished liar. That was not at all the case with Lamar Odom. His lifestyle was transparent.

So here’s what I need someone to explain to me. With all the outpouring of love and the number of prayers that have been sent Lamar Odom’s way in the past week:

“Why didn’t SOMEBODY intervene to keep him from doing what, for all intents and purposes, everyone who knew him had more than a sneaking suspicion he was doing?”

NBA Goes Global – at Players’ Expense

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Heading out of town for a wedding party – in of all places – Monterey. This means we will get a chance to visit with younger son, Alex, as he prepares for his final basketball season as captain of the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters – and, not to be forgotten – graduation. This blog will return Tuesday, Oct. 13.

It can be debated that the best commissioner ever, regardless of sport, was the NBA’s David Stern. When it came to having a vision, no one came close. Stern presided over the league as it went from a sport of meager fan interest to the mega popularity it now enjoys. His right hand man, Adam Silver, who succeeded Stern, is continuing with his boss’ dreams. With progress, however, comes some hurt.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets will play two exhibition games in, of all places, China (October 11 in Shenzhen and October 14 in Shanghai). Why? China is the NBA’s largest non-American market. Silver has even broached the subject of changing tip times of regular season games to accommodate fans in that time zone. The most popular sports league in China is the NBA and basketball is the nation’s number one team sport – with 300 million people playing it, according to the releasesent out by the NBA. Take that, ping pong. Some may wonder why the Hornets and the Clippers? One is a contender for the championship; the other hopes to make the playoffs in the weaker division. Think advertising. The most exciting NBA team (remember “Lob City”)? And if you think Charlotte got selected for their style of play, players, coaches, uniforms, well, dig deeper. 300 million people in a country and there might be only 12 of them who wouldn’t recognize the Hornets’ owner.

“Basketball is more popular than ever, and Global Games China 2015 is part of our ongoing commitment to growing the game in the world’s most populous nation,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “These games will not only bring the excitement of NBA action directly to Chinese fans, but will also provide the league another opportunity to experience the rich history and culture of China.” Still, if anyone isn’t sure of why the NBA has been wooing China (as well as other foreign countries), you can start with reasons numbers 1-4: money.

Is there any cause for concern? Any collateral damage, perhaps? Well, they’re taking two teams and placing them on flights (10 hours for the Clips, 15 for Charlotte) far from home. One complaint players have during the season is their bodies having to adjust to different time zones. Sure, it’s early and these are non-counting contests, but I’ve spoken to so many NBA players and coaches who have relayed stories of the wear and tear on their bodies (the coaches were talking of the wear and tear on the players’ bodies). While today’s NBA player enjoys an infinitely greater comfort level on planes than the stars of yesteryear did, that many hours cooped up in what amounts to a big room with a lot of chairs, has to take a toll on a person’s body – especially when that person is upwards of seven feet tall (are the bathrooms on those planes that much bigger)? Shhh, if you’ll listen, you can almost hear the fans screaming, “With the amount of money they make, they shouldn’t be complaining about anything!” And that’s a valid point because the salaries of NBA players doesn’t border on the obscene – it’s leaped way across that border. Note: check earlier blogs and you’ll see the reason salaries are so gi-normous comes back to us – the consumer.

Be that as it may, it seems as though each year, more and more injuries are occurring and that hurts the quality of the NBA Playoffs. How many references have been made to the fact that the Golden State Warriors didn’t have to face a healthy point guard from the beginning of their championship run through the Finals? Wouldn’t it have drastically changed the playoff picture had Kevin Durant not gotten injured, as well as a few key members of the Cleveland Cavs?

Stern had said on many occasions, while he was commish and after, to look for the NBA to eventually be a global league. Interest in hoops is a major reason. But, in this day and age, it still comes back to money. How much? To paraphrase the late Moses Malone:

“Mo’, mo’ mo’.”

A Sobering Experience

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

As readers of this blog know, I recently attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Springfield, MA, invited by 2015 honoree George Raveling. Two years ago I made the identical trip when another of my bosses, Jerry Tarkanian, extended an invitation for his enshrinement. The ceremonies cover a span of three days – a press conference on Thursday, a gala reception followed by the TV show on Friday (check out NBA.com to view it) and an event at the Mohegan Sun when the inductees receive their HOF rings.

The Friday affair, which begins at 4:30 pm, is held at the Mass Mutual Convention Center, a gigantic ballroom with a buffet in the center, bars in a couple corners, a dessert table in another and hors d’oevres constantly being served by strolling waiters. Not only are the new inductees present but every member of the Hall of Fame is invited back to the festivities (a majority of whom make it). Of all the events held HOF weekend, this reception is the one in which the “fan” finds it easiest to mingle with the stars from the past.

In order to allow the guests and Hall of Famers as much free flow as possible, the floor has very few tables – some which seat two people and a very limited number of bigger tables. Because I had been present in 2013 – and because standing is one activity my back finds excruciating – I told a couple friends of mine who were also going to the affair that we needed to get there early so we could find a table. They agreed to appease me and we got to the place 15 minutes before the doors opened. As we entered – the first three people to invade the room – Norm Persin (the third winningest high school coach in the state of Ohio) and one of the guys in our party spotted a table for eight which we immediately claimed. The third member of our “George Raveling group” was Mark Edwards whose claims to fame are numerous: 1) 35-year head coach at Washington U in St. Louis who’s won two Division III National Championships, 2) as of this past Thursday night, an inductee of the 2015 class of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and, not to be diminished by those massive accomplishments, 3) the other graduate assistant at Washington State during my two-year stay at Wazzou (1973-75) and 4) the subject of two of my best blogs (12/15/09 and 2/9/14). Both are well worth reading.

Quickly joining us at “our” table were Sam Jankovich (AD at WSU when Mark and I were there, who later moved on to the same job with the U of Miami before accepting the position of president of the New England Patriots) and his lady friend, Margaret, and one of our former managers at USC, now an executive with Time Warner, Dennis Johnson. I was speaking with Mark when I heard Norm, who has a voice that can certainly be heard above most crowds, bellow, “Hey, Bernard, there’s an open chair here.”

Who should sit down in the empty seat next to me but Bernard King, former Tennessee and NBA great who was enshrined two years prior in the same class as Tark. I mentioned I attended his induction, as well as the fact I was an assistant coach at his alma mater shortly after he left for the NBA. He became a little more animated when I told him I was leaving Sunday for Knoxville to meet with a few former players and coaches. My wife, Jane’s 50th high school reunion was the following Saturday and it would have been foolish (and painful) to fly back to California on Sunday, only to turn around a few days later and fly to Nashville. He mentioned he’d been back (although he admitted it took quite a while before he felt comfortable returning) and we tossed around a few names of mutual acquaintances.

Just about that time, a huge man taps Bernard on the shoulder and asks if that last seat was taken. Bernard jumps up and gives his former teammate, Moses Malone, a bear hug. After they chatted for a while, there were introductions made around the table. I asked Moses if he remembered when he visited us at WSU. Mark added, “Moses, I picked you up at the airport.” Shockingly, to Mark and me anyway, he said he didn’t recall the trip. Back then, however, schools were allowed to offer official visits to as many prospects as they wanted and kids could take as many paid visits as they desired. Moses was, literally, gone every weekend of his senior year.

After a while, he got up and went to get something to drink. I told King that I saw Moses, when he was senior in high school, at the Five-Star Camp, which had the best high school players in the country and how he dominated everybody at the camp, like they were junior high kids. “He just toyed with them,” I said.

King turned to me and said, “I was at that camp. Moses and I graduated from high school the same year.” My first thought was “open mouth, insert foot,” until he said, “You’re exactly right. He did what he wanted to all of us. But let me tell you something about him. That guy was the most unselfish teammate I ever played with. I’d tell him to post up and I’d get him the ball. He’d just say, ‘Nah, B, you just shoot it.’ Never played with anybody like that.”

By now, you can see where this story is headed. On Sunday morning I got to the airport and heard a familiar voice. It was Fran Frascilla of ESPN. Franny and I go way back – to the ’80s when we were both assistants, he at Ohio U, then Ohio State and I was at UT. He was on his cell phone and when he got off, he turned to me and said, “Hey, Jack, did you hear? Moses Malone died.”

Talk about a slap in the face. I was stunned, saying something idiotic like, “What, I had dinner with him 36 hours ago!” as if that would render what he told me as untrue. Franny and I sat next to each other on the trip to Washington, DC where he was connecting to a flight to Dallas (his home) while I went to the gate for my flight to Knoxville. We had about 45 more minutes to catch up but no matter what we talked about, the conversation kept coming back to the fact Moses Malone – who, by the way, looked great at the reception – had passed away.

When I read or hear memorable quotes, I write them down or put them in my phone, whichever is more convenient at the time. Earlier that week I had come across a passage by Virginia Satir which seemed rather poignant:

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

 

How a Couple of Chinese Kids Saved the Day(s)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

As was mentioned in yesterday’s blog, there were over 200 Chinese youngsters in Michael Jordan’s basketball camp each session. Interpreters were scarce – as in none in the three oldest leagues (shout out to Shou Chang, graduate, and former point guard, of Mission San Jose HS in the Bay Area for bailing us out in session 2).

I quickly discovered last year there was a better chance of a camper being able to interpret not only English, but “basketball” than an interpreter. My main guy at that time was a youngster named John, who spoke fluent English, and was an absolute godsend. On Day One I was forced to use John as an interpreter for me – when I spoke to the adult who was supposed to be the Chinese interpreter. As soon as there was a problem regarding Chinese-English communication with a Chinese youngster or during our initial 5 on 5 practice games (played in order to evaluate players and balance teams), I would yell out, “John! Where’s John?” As polite as he was fluent in both languages (and possibly others), John would immediately come running over, saying, “Yes, Coach, what do you need?” After a few translation incidents, once again, a problem arose and, once again, the campers heard me bellow, “John! Where’s John?” Only this time I heard his, by now, familiar voice reply, “Coach, I’m playing!

When we finally broke for the final assembly of that first night, I felt so bad about putting poor John into the position of interpreter first – when he was looking forward to playing – that I called him up (while the rest of the camp was entering the gym) and gave him a $10 bill. His reaction was, “Oh, Coach, I can’t take this,” to which I replied, “John, believe me, if anybody ever deserved this, you do.”

Although his services were still needed throughout the session, I tried to make sure he was used during his down time, e.g. roll calls, when his team was sitting out or during fundamental instruction (when he was not involved). At the end of the session, our coaches voted John the “Michael Jordan Award” which went to a kid who, while he might not have been an all-star, was a model camper. In fact, we felt the award should have been re-named for John. I also bought him an MJ t-shirt and when I handed it to him, he tried to give back to me the $10 bill from Day One. I convinced him it was his.

After the second day of camp this year, one of the Chinese “interpreters” (who had been to camp the previous year) came up to me and, in broken English said (in essence), “Do you remember John from last year? He said to tell you ‘Hello’.” It drew a good laugh from both of us and I told him to tell my friend John “Hello.”

Luckily, for all of us, for the second year in a row in my league, there was a youngster who spoke fluent English. This year’s MVI (most valuable interpreter) was Henry. Every time we needed to explain a basketball drill or simple instructions like where to meet after dinner, our group would hear my voice, booming, “Henry! Where’s Henry?”

Just as his predecessor, John, would do last year, our young camper/interpreter, Henry, would run up to the front of the group as if to say, “Reporting for duty, sir.” He would then either go team-to-team, explaining what was needed or we would have him call up all the non-English speaking Chinese kids and inform them of whatever it was they needed to know at that time.

And, just as I did with John, I gave him a $10 spot after the first night and, as John did (it must be a trait taught to young kids in China), Henry looked at me and told me he couldn’t take the money.

I said, “Henry, you deserve it – and we’ll be using your interpretation skills all session. Go treat yourself to something.”

The next day Henry came up to me with a big smile and said, “Coach, I bought something with the money you gave me.” I wondered what a young Chinese would purchase on his first night in the U.S., so I asked him. His answer?

“Pizza.”

 

A Rather Harrowing Introduction for All Concerned

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Then, I concluded my remarks with this strategic plan:

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

Kobe Thinks NBA Superstars Are Underpaid

Friday, July 10th, 2015

How many times have you heard a friend (certainly not you) say, “Man these NBA players have a lotta nerve – taking days off, not giving 100%, shooting under 50% from the free throw line, I mean, they’re making millions. You’d think they would be busting their butts all the time. Heck, I’d play for a couple hundred thou – and nobody would play harder than me!” The fallacy in your (friend’s) argument is a basic one: he has no talent. It wouldn’t matter if he was the hardest working baller in the league. Or if he paid the franchise a couple hundred thousand – or even a million. He has no place on an NBA floor.

A job in “the league” is a good one – if you can get it. Since there are 30 teams and rosters are limited to 15 players on a roster, the number of guys hooping in the Association is right around 450. The average salary is $4,383,232 – although that’s before taxes, so actual take home pay is quite a bit less. That number is skewed somewhat by the top earners who are pulling down upwards of $20-25M. The mode salary, i.e. the number that appears most often, is $2,380,440 (also before taxes but a salary that would afford someone a very nice life).

As you can imagine, there are a relatively large number of people vying for such high paying positions (relative, say, to the population of NYC). If someone is so lucky to land one, the following season he will find a whole new crop trying to take his livelihood away and claim it for themselves. Plus guys in the D-League and overseas. Also, unlike high school and college, none of the players graduate so, as far as the supply and demand are concerned, there’s a whole lot more supply than demand. Suffice to say, there are more one-and-dones from the NBA than there are each year from college. It’s a wonderful fraternity to belong to but, when it comes to money, some of the guys hauling in truckloads of dough think they should do better.

Kobe Bryant, for one, says players are underpaid (Note: this was part of an article on Kobe before he suffered last year’s season-ending injury – yet the topic is more relevant than ever, with the announcement that next year’s salary cap will be upwards of $70 million). He thinks that he and LeBron James (and others) should be getting closer to $75 mil. The Black Mamba believes it’s important to set an example in contracts. It bothers him to see superstars taking pay cuts. After all, which players are the fans coming to see? Whose jerseys are they buying?

Funny thing, he’s got a point – those guys really are worth that much dough. They are the ones responsible for the glut of money pouring into the league’s coffers. But how about players 8 or 9-12? They’re making over half a million (NBA minimum) and their contribution is . . . ? Sure, they practice and have to “stay ready” but why the inflated salary?

Hey, pay them $50-75K because that’s all they’re worth – until they prove otherwise. A couple questions for people who think that suggestion is ludicrous. If the guys who will fill out the rosters of the NBA teams were paid that amount (plus the per diem – which some families would trade their income for), 1) do you think franchises would have a problem finding willing – and able – players for those roles and 2) do you think the game would suffer? It’s a higher salary than an undergraduate commands straight out of school (naturally, with a few exceptions).

Kobe’s statement was, “Do owners buy teams for the love of the game?” His inference was that owners are in the business of acquiring assets with the goal of making more money. On this point, the Mamba and I think differently – about as differently as our games are. If he’s asking about whether owners buy teams as an investment, I’m not sure they do. In fact, I’m absolutely certain that they do not. Does anyone think Steve Ballmer forked over two billion dollars so he could add to his $20+billion portfolio – or because he wants to win a “Larry” (as he puts it)?

No matter how much money those guys have, there are some things they cannot buy. Does anyone think, for a second, that an owner would sell his team if someone offered double what he paid for it? A 100% profit. Remember, these guys are the world’s best businessmen and making wise business decisions is part of their DNA. Not a chance. Even the Nets’ Mikhail Prokorov, who allegedly has spoken of selling (he was one guy who thought he could actually buy a championship but found the team, indeed, has to win it), might only let go of part of the 80% of the club he owns. After all, would double the price he paid for the Nets make that significant a difference in his estimated $10.9 billion fortune? Currently, over half of the NBA owners are billionaires – and the others aren’t holding garage sales any time soon.

Pay the superstars mega-bucks (as if what they’re making now is sub-standard) because they are the draw? OK, but, as is heard ad infinitum on spots talk shows, “the NBA is a business.” Treat it like a business and pay the big earners what they’re worth. The others? Pay them what they’d make in the “real world.” If that were the case, one suggestion – step back when the doors open to avoid the stampede.

One thing for certain is there would be a lot fewer for him than against him if the following was proposed:

“Kobe for president of the NBA players’ association.”

 

Recruiting at the Highest Level

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

The clock struck midnight and July 1 was upon us, meaning the beginning of NBA free agency. With it came the wining and dining of guys who have no trouble wining and dining themselves. Instead of colleges wooing 18-year olds, NBA franchises are begging getting together with older guys (some in their 20s), but who are now more proven performers. Many of these are the same guys who, after graduating from high school (and holding all the cards at that time as well), had to decide on where to ply their trade – and continue their education (unfortunately, but realistically, in that order). Although there was a time period in between (called the NBA draft) in which they were being told who they’d be employed by), they have regained control of their respective situations.

The NBA free agency process is similar to college recruiting, only on a much more expensive level. People who have only read or heard about both would be shocked at how much work goes into trying to sign a recruit or a free agent. Because there are rules on each, e.g. a college official visit can be no longer than 48 hours and NBA teams have salary limitations they can offer, the presentations must be as personalized and creative as possible. As an example, let’s look at the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.

The main three competitors for Jordan’s services are the Clippers, Lakers and Mavericks. In my estimation, the Lakers have next-to-no shot because everything the Lakers can offer, the Clippers can at least match – unless he was a huge Lakers fan as a kid or is steeped in NBA tradition. For the purpose of this blog, let’s assume neither (or that he yearns to play with Kobe for a year, two max).

So, it’s down to a two-horse race. Here’s a list of positives and negatives (in no particular order, mainly because I’m not privy to what Jordan’s priorities are – beyond what has been reported, which is usually quite a distance from the truth). It usually comes down to the comfort level of the player – on, and off, the court. One point in Dallas’ favor is Jordan, a high character guy, is originally from Texas (Houston) and, undoubtedly, still has family in the state. However, the number of NBA players who live in Texas is dwarfed by the number who have homes in LA – independent of whichever NBA team is their employer. “Family” is something that doesn’t change, e.g. the Clippers can’t give him “better” relatives. Ditto when it comes to weather. Neither franchise can make a dent in the other’s strength – nor should they try.

Money, which is a determining factor in the lives of so many humans, is not really a factor because the Clippers can offer 5 years and $110 million, while the Mavs can put a 4 year deal for $80 million on the table. However, Texas has no state tax while California residents pay an ungodly sum to the state – and, without getting too technical, it’s reported some of this season’s free agents want shorter deals because after a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, there will be – as if what they’re paying players now is chicken feed – unprecedented spending.

From a basketball perspective, it’s been reported that Jordan doesn’t want to be fourth or fifth option on offense (his current offensive role with the Clips). Dallas will undoubtedly paint a rosy picture of Jordan offensively, sharing center stage with Dirk Nowitzki (no player’s ego is so out of control that he thinks his offensive role will surpass that of the face of the Mavericks franchise). Since there are no stats to hold them to, Dallas can claim pretty much anything and, certainly, will point out the fact that when Blake Griffin was out with an injury, Jordan’s points per game jumped from 11.5 to nearly 15. There are many holes in that argument but most have to deal with DJ actually believing (which, apparently he does not) that his major role – with whomever he plays – is to rebound and block shots. Why is it that people who excel in an area of life seldom are satisfied with being the best at what they do? Oh, and rest assured, there will be no mention of “Hack-a-DJ” by either team.

Side story: One of the college teams I worked with had a guy whose role with our squad was identical to DJ’s – and, naturally, he wanted a bigger offensive role. One day he approached me and said that we had “plays” for each of our other four starters and questioned why there wasn’t a play or two for him. My message was, “We shoot 43% as a team. That means 57% of the plays are designed for you.” He laughed, not happy with the response, but understanding it.

The yin and yang of this story is the Clippers’ roster has a better chance of winning it all but the Mavs actually won one – and the guy who was the Finals MVP is still there. Doc Rivers couldn’t have promoted a player any more than he did DJ last year but there are rumors of a personality clash between Jordan and Chris Paul. Then again, who would you rather have as your point guard? Nowitzki is a bona fide All-Star; Blake Griffin is today’s superstar. But then you get into that third banana thing again.

Whoever wins the wooing of DeAndre Jordan will come down to which franchise will tug most at his heart strings/appeal to his ego. Also, will his decision be made by his head or his heart (or his agent, but that’s another story altogether)? Both owners are filthy rich (Steve Ballmer has a more money than Mark Cuban but once someone’s net worth exceeds $1,000,000,000, you figure, unless the fortune is inherited – not the case for either man – the person’s intelligence is not to be questioned).

It might just come down the strength of Los Angeles, e.g. Hollywood (that Dallas can’t come close to) versus the imagination of Mark Cuban. Listening to Jordan speak, and seeing his personality in action, he seems like he’d be a natural for TV or movies. And, unless there’s something we don’t know, it seems that those kind of roles would be very attractive to him. Endorsement opportunities abound in LA, but Cuban knows enough people “in the business world” to make comparable offers happen.

Rumor has it the Clips are putting together a kind of This Is Your Life, DeAndre Jordan presentation for their meeting with their center. What X factor will Cuban counter with? If I knew that answer, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be blogging at 2:30 am. Creativity and shrewd thinking are characteristics of Mark Cuban. He lives by the quote I read long ago:

“Did you ever go to a movie and laugh? Ever go to one and cry? You think it’s because of what they put in the seats?”

 

Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson Has Impressive Rookie Season

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Heading to Stanford to check in with my pain management doctor, then on to LA to visit friends. This blog will return Friday, June 5.

18 players who did not get drafted last year played in at least one game during the 2014-15 NBA season. Talk about fulfilling a dream. I’m sure every one of those guys had, at the very least, hoped to have been drafted. Only 60 guys get picked. If you’re not one of them, what’s your next step?

Although I don’t know for certain, I’d guess each one must have had an agent. That is when the agent makes his money, however little it is. Find the client a job overseas (obviously, as lucrative as possible – and there are some high paying jobs across the seas), try to get him signed as a free agent, get him a spot on some team’s summer league squad, try to place him in the D-League.  Keep his dream alive.

A lot of it depends on the client. How badly does he want to play? Is he willing to relocate – maybe to somewhere they don’t speak English? What’s his ultimate goal – the NBA, to make as much money as he can, or is he the adventurous type who wants to see as much of the world while he’s young (on somebody else’s dime)?

Googling “Fresno State players in the NBA” the results show that the school has placed, to date, 21 players in the NBA, although a Fresno State release claims as many as 30 (for the record, Tark had 10 of the 21, not including one kid who transferred from FSU and eventually made it to the league). The Bulldogs’ latest entry is Tyler Johnson, a youngster who wasn’t very highly recruited and whose freshman year saw him average just over four points for a 14-17 club. He improved every year and during his senior campaign he averaged nearly 16ppg and scored at least 20 points in a game on 13 different occasions throughout his career.

Johnson was one of those 18 who went undrafted but earned a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad. Signed by the Heat in early August, only to be released in late October, he hooked on with a Development League team in Sioux Falls, SD. His play must have caught the eye of someone in the Heat organization because, in mid-January, he got what every D-League player dream of: a ten-day contract.

10-day contracts can lead to something – or they can simply tease a player. Some guys see action, others never even get to play during the 10 days. Most, then, get released – usually heartbroken. Johnson’s 10-day stats? One game, two minutes, two points (FTs). The release part happened to Tyler Johnson, but not the heartbroken. He returned to his D-League outfit, more determined to make it than ever. He had seen actual NBA basketball up close and knew he could hang. A couple weeks later, he signed another 10-day, and did well enough to merit another. Only the rule from the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is, “After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for the remainder of the season.” Johnson had done enough to merit another contract, this one for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. His salary was prorated for the remainder of the season but, still, he had made the NBA!

Although that’s not the way Tyler looked at it. He had not yet made anything (even though the contract he signed was for two years – for over a million per year. He was determined, more than ever, to earn every last dollar. By NBA standards, a million dollars a year isn’t earth-shaking. Not even a minor tremor. To put it in perspective, though, guess what the valedictorian of Fresno State’s graduating class makes? While my research, or nosiness, doesn’t extend that far, suffice to say #1’s salary is less than Johnson’s. Besides, Tyler had additional plans.

What might have play into his hands was that the Heat, a proud franchise with multiple championships in the recent past, were struggling just to make the playoffs. The buzz that used to fill the arena was not nearly what it had been when The Big Three were going to the NBA Finals on a yearly basis or when D-Wade and Shaq put up a banner. Some guys just “play it out” at that time, while others might be banged up from a long season and at far less than 100%. Why go all-out, man, you’re a millionaire?

No matter for Tyler. Bring it on. This was his dream – right there in the palm of his hands and he was going to, just as he did in every game he’d ever played, “leave it all on the floor.” Hustle plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, anything to show he belonged, he did it. The month of March was good to him as he first scored a career high 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, in a win over Phoenix and, five days later, he played 44 minutes, scoring 24 points, with six rebounds and six assists in an OT victory against Sacramento.

What many players don’t realize, especially at the end of the season when a lot of guys have already made vacation plans, is it’s not only your front office you’re trying to impress. You’re auditioning for your opponent as well. With today’s technology and staffs full of video people, every game is an audition for every team in the league. The way players are moved around today, Tyler Johnson’s performance for the Heat upped his stock so that somewhere, somebody will want him on their roster.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his evaluation of Johnson’s career to date: “. . . over the course of the years, undrafted players on average, there’s less then five a year that actually make it and have a role . . . (now the question is) can you sustain it.”

All-out hustle is not a new concept. Arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, Joe DiMaggio, when asked why he always gave maximum effort, replied:

“There might be somebody coming to the game today who’s never seen me play – and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

The Biggest Issue in College Basketball Is Not the Shot Clock

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

While so many members of the media – print, TV & radio talking heads, even people on social media – are clamoring for a shortened shot clock, there are other aspects of the college game that needs to be addressed.

The main problem deals with transfers, e.g. 1) from one four-year school to another, whether the reason is due to homesickness, change of coach, lack of playing time, whatever, 2) the “double” transfer, i.e. started at one school, transferred to another, then left institution #2 (maybe played there, maybe not) to transfer once again or 3) the newest version of “good intention, bad result” – the kid who graduates from his original college and is allowed to go to another, and be immediately eligible, allegedly so he can pursue a master’s degree at his new location.

I’m not sure whoever thought of this “innovative idea” should be congratulated (although I’m 100% certain he fully believes he deserves accolades). My reasoning behind my skepticism is that in the “Information Age,” we get inundated with statistics, yet we have seen no numbers regarding 1) how many kids are actually receiving advanced degrees and, what’s worse, 2) how much legitimate academic work is being done by the guys who are taking advantage of this rule. My suspicion is that the moves are heavily weighted toward athletics decisions as opposed to academic ones.

As I’ve mentioned oh-so-many-times in this blogosphere, I toiled for three decades in college hoops, the final 18 as the assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee for the coaches’ association (in addition to my duties at whichever school was paying me at the time). One year all coaches were mandated by the NCAA to cut the number of recruiting calls to prospects to one per week per prospect. The thinking behind this change came about when student-athletes were polled about what they disliked most about recruiting and pressure came in first by about the distance Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

Because the NCAA so severely limited face-to-face contact between coaches and prospects, phone calls were the next best method of establishing a relationship with, and selling the school to, prospects. At one of our Recruiting Committee meetings a question was raised, “What happens if you make your once-a-week call and it goes to voice mail?” The general consensus was if the call didn’t last more than one minute (which could be verified by phone bills), that it wouldn’t count as the call for that week.

At a coaches’ clinic I attended shortly thereafter, one of the topics dealt with the new recruiting rules. When the one/week phone call was brought up, one coach proudly shared what his staff did. Prospects were allowed to call schools as often as they wanted, the feeling being that since the prospect initiated the call, the pressure would be self-inflicted. The coach who spoke prided himself on not breaking the rules.

He explained that he (and the other coaches on their staff) would call and as soon as the prospect answered, they’d say, “Hey, it’s ____ from the U of ____. We can only call you once a week so here’s our toll free 800 phone number” (remember which century this was). “Call me back as soon as I hang up.” Th prospect is caught between a rock and a hard place. Few kids have the nerve to tell schools they’re not interested. Or maybe he is interested but has to leave and really can’t call back. Now he’s been placed in a pressure situation of greater magnitude. It was a somewhat devious move by the coach but only a minor violation. Other coaches in attendance could be seen nodding heads as they took notes.

The new torrent of transfers is the modern version of the phone call rule, i.e. the intent of the rule is good but the ways it’s being used is based on deception. These “master’s candidates” have become more like mercenaries and, like the one-and-dones, although so many coaches do not want to recruit them, they feel as though they must if, for no other reason than if of they don’t, they’ll wind up playing against them, maybe losing to them and, gulp, losing their job. Coaches are allowing their competitive gene overrule their moral gene.

Given the choice, my conservative estimate would be that 85% of the coaches would rather be able to coach guys for four (or even five) years. Part of that group would include junior college transfers whom they could work with for at least a couple years. Develop their skills. The relaxed transfer rules have turned too many college basketball players into nothing more than free agents. Adding in the one-and-done player, and coaches are behaving in ways that in past decades would be unrecognizable.

The stat I heard that hit me like a sucker punch I never saw coming was: every point scored by the national champion Duke Blue Devils in the second half of the final game against Wisconsin was scored by freshmen, only one (the four) of whom is returning to Durham next season. 18-year olds using one of the greatest academic institutions as a mere stepping stone to a professional basketball career.

One has to wonder in college basketball:

“Is the tail wagging the dog?”