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

Please Accept My Apology

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

There currently exist over 275,000,000 blogs, making it tough to keep up with all of them on a daily basis. Sarcasm aside, I fully realize that there are only so many hours in a day that someone will devote to perusing blogs. For that reason, on the days that I will not be posting, I have always 1) alerted readers there will not be a blog that day and 2) let it be known on which day readers can expect the next blog.  

My readership has grown since I started back in mid-April of 2007. The blogs actually began right after the NCAA Final Four but, due to my lack of understanding technology and having to rely on someone else (who shall remain nameless – because of his incompetence), several of the original posts have been lost (I imagine they’re somewhere up in cyberspace). You’ll have to take my word for it – they were really good – but that’s another story for another time.

Without sounding too dramatic, I feel it’s a kind of honor that someone would take time out of their day to read my opinion on a topic, be it sports, politics, life in general, whatever. That’s the reason I explain to readers, especially the loyal followers, at the outset of a post when to check back (if it won’t be “tomorrow”). 

Last Wednesday I gave my opinion on how sad it was that, when Supreme Court Justice Scalia died, that so many politicians’ initial reaction had to do with bickering about replacing him. Possibly because I found their behavior so offensive, I dove directly into the blog without first informing people I wasn’t going to post again until today. With so many blogs, it’s only a matter of courtesy to readers to give them a heads-up.

For those of you who are still reading this prolonged apology, here was my itinerary and reasons for the extensive time between posts. Many readers are aware I’ve had several major back surgeries and endure quite a bit of pain. This past Wednesday I had an epidural at Stanford Pain Management to attempt to ease some new discomfort I began experiencing. So far, results have been good.

Since my wife’s older sister was flying into Oakland on Thursday to attend our younger son’s last two home basketball games at Cal State Monterey Bay, I felt we might as well spend Wednesday night in the Bay Area rather than make the three-hour trip back to Fresno, only to have to drive back two-and-a-half hours to Oakland the following day. The plane arrived and, once again, we chose another day on the road instead of driving home, only to leave the following day for Monterey (the benefit of being retired and having saved some money while each of us worked for 40+ years). 

Friday night the Otters soundly defeated Cal State LA (Alex had 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal), followed by another wire-to-wire victory on Senior Night against Cal State Dominguez Hills (Alex pitching in with 19 points, another 5 boards, an assist and 2 steals). A final road game and the conference tournament are all that’s left of Alex’s four year college basketball career. Our older son, Andy (who just landed a sweet gig with Salesforce.com, a $49 billion company) turned 27 last month and Alex, 22, will be graduating from college at the end of May. 

One of the most well-known cliches of all time is about watching your kids grow up. Believe me, it’s entirely too true: 

“It all goes by so fast!”

 

Someone Must Be Looking Out for My Wife and Me

Tuesday, 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.”

Boykin’s Actions and Apology All Too Common

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Another weekend of college hoops, watching Alex play in SoCal. Also happens to be the 27th birthday of his older bro, Andy (who lives in Newport Beach). This blog will be back on Tuesday, January 12.

There have been some pretty stupid and selfish moves made by athletes throughout the years. Some have been criminal, derailing the player’s future (a couple as severe as murder cases), as well as missteps which, if not cripple, place the program in negative light. Most, however, are mostly immature errors in judgment than outright subversive acts. Over my 30-year career in intercollegiate athletics, I have been a member of coaching staffs that had to deal with, for lack of a better term, such acts of tomfoolery.

When it’s a player on your own squad, you invariably feel worse because you know the athlete in question. In fact, you may have recruited him, got to know his family and others who are closest to him. Maybe you just made his acquaintance since you got to the program but, quite possibly connect to him. Whatever the case, the athlete has  put you in an untenable position by violating a team or university rule or policy.

When you are not directly involved with the “wrongdoer,” your reaction can be like anyone else who heard or read about the transgression – and your immediate reaction is one of shock and incredible disappointment. Although the case I’m referring to happened over a week ago (when I was out of town), I made note of it so I could comment at a later date. Right now is that date – and TCU’s quarterback, Trevone Boykin, is that individual. As previously mentioned, I’ve been involved with my share of these acts of ignorance, but this one must have struck a chord I didn’t realize even existed.

To sum up Boykin’s indiscretion, which turned into a felony, TCU was in San Antonio, as a guest of the Alamo Bowl. Thursday night prior to the game, Boykin, who was in his room when coaches performed bed check, slipped out some time afterward, apparently looking for some extracurricular fun. What happened next almost any college football fan can tell you (even without knowing the circumstances of this case). The QB was at a bar, words were exchanged, a fight broke out, police were summoned and the entire scene escalated. Boykin was arrested and charged with a third-degree felony for assaulting a police officer.

What followed next could also easily be described by your average fan. Boykin either wrote, had help writing or had written for him, a three paragraph statement of pure remorse regarding his actions, in which he expressed his heartfelt apology to his family, teammates, school and community. What follows is Boykin’s statement (with my remarks in italics). My comments are probably too harsh (based on similar personal experience of a few former players). In this case, obviously, what started out as a prank got out of hand. It will be interesting to see where he winds up in the NFL draft after this all blows over (who am I kidding, as far as the NFL, it already has blown over – they saw video of that night – now, they’re poring over different, e.g. game video). Soon, he’ll be just another millionaire with a story to tell young kids about how they should obey team rules. Here’s his statement (with commentary):

“Words can’t describe how sorry I am (actions speak louder than words). I truly let down my family, teammates and the TCU and Fort Worth communities (and anyone else I may have missed) who have supported me so much. I have no excuses for my very poor decision, and I’m embarrassed about it (ya think?) My teammates are my brothers (and they understand brothers like to have a little fun). There’s nothing I wanted to do more than play one last game with my seniors (actually, there was one thing I wanted to do more but getting caught wasn’t part of the plan).

Having my TCU degree means more to me than anything (let’s hope having a felony conviction doesn’t hinder that goal). I’m going to do my best to restore every Horned Frogs’ confidence in me (how, with a speech at the post season banquet?). I love TCU and our football program (I just think the rules should be a little looser). With Coach Patterson’s leadership, our team is greater than any one individual (as their play showed). I have full confidence in my teammates when they take the field Saturday (how’d you feel at halftime?). I wish I could be there, but I won’t because of my mistake that I have no one to blame but myself (although, if I thought long enough, I could probably find somebody else to, at least, partially blame).

I sincerely thank TCU for everything it has provided me, including an opportunity to earn my degree which I will always cherish (laying it on a little thick now, Trevone). I will forever be a proud TCU Horned Frog, and I apologize to everyone again for my lapse in judgement (yeah, that’s a good term for it, “lapse in judgment”). I hope others can learn from my mistake (why, you didn’t – and surely you heard of an athlete doing something equally foolish?) I can assure you that I have because it took away the incredible honor and privilege it was to wear a TCU jersey (damn, I can’t believe I got caught).”

As the quote says, Boykin’s sincerity will be tested by the “third part”:

“Any good apology has 3 parts: 1)I’m sorry, 2)It’s my fault, 3)What can I do to make it right? Most people forget the third part.”

 

Clinton Portis Saga Simply the Next in a Series of Bad Decisions

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

It’s become a broken record, but one that no one seems to have any desire to fix. This time the tragedy is named Clinton Portis, a terrific football player – college and pro – who is filing for bankruptcy. I have written previously, and have preached to more people than care to listen, that if players are allowed to leave school early (which I believe is their legal right), then their college academic courses should prepare them for life after sports.

After signing with Duke out of high school, Jahlil Okafor told the Blue Devil fans his goal was to help his team win a national championship before heading to the NBA the following year. He came out and said he planned on attending college for only one year before turning pro. And this was Duke he was talking about!

Portis did not go to Duke. His college choice was South Carolina but a fight in high school resulted in his scholarship being rescinded. He wound up at the “U” – the University of Miami, a football program known for many things, discipline not being high on the list. His collegiate career can be summarized as: freshman year, great; sophomore year, dropped to second string; junior year, return to great. So much so, the Hurricanes won the national championship.

And, similar to Okafor, after copping that big trophy, Portis, too, declared for the (NFL) draft. His professional career had to be considered successful by even the harshest of critics. Financially, his nine seasons as a pro amassed quite a fortune – in excess of $43 million.

My aforementioned suggestion to the NCAA, or to the schools themselves, is since they know these guys aren’t going to be around to graduate (or even two years in some cases), why not put them in classes that will prepare them for life after they depart? That’s what the purpose of college is supposed to be anyway. Courses like how to select people who will shape your life, e.g. someone they can trust, investment strategies, how to deal with the media (including social media), how to live by yourself, even a course in proper decision-making. Use real world examples, maybe bring some people in as guest lecturers to explain the trappings of an affluent life.

These classes wouldn’t have to be exclusively for athletes. The typical freshman year course load is outdated. I mean, if a kids didn’t like, or do well, in world history in high school, why make them take it again in college? Same with the physical and social sciences. I admit to having a bias toward math because I majored in it and taught it, but I’m not so sure freshman algebra isn’t more of a torturous experience than one of value. So, other than English (although seeing what’s on twitter could make someone wonder the value of that as well), most of the freshman curriculum can be overhauled. Note: From a personal standpoint, I hated physics and world history in high school, yet had to take both in college. Guess what? I hated them in college too.

Sure, my idea is radical. But is there any way someone with the career earnings of Clinton Portis should be filing for bankruptcy – in debt to the tune of nearly $5 million? It breaks down to a half a mil to his mom, another half to an Entertainment Tonight correspondent and CNN contributor (what was she doing lending that kind of dough?), nearly another half to a couple casinos, $412K in back child support (to four different women – maybe there ought to be a college course that teaches that making a baby and being a father are not one in the same – and it’s an epidemic in this country), almost a million-and-a-quarter in mortgage deficiencies, $390K in back taxes (somebody, somewhere, somehow, needs to teach people who will be coming into big money about paying taxes) and various and other sundry items. Total tab: $4,857,659.50.

Did Clinton Portis fail himself? No doubt. Could his current financial mess have been avoided? I’d sure like to think so. Until somebody steps up to help these young people before they err, it would be a shame that their lives will be governed by Tiger Woods’ statement:

“I once heard – and I believe it is true – that it’s not what you achieve in life that matters, it is what you overcome.”

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?”