Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Is It Really an Advantage for a College Guy to Be the Olympic Basketball Coach?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Two-and-a-half week hiatus. Headed Down Under to visit younger son, Alex, and watch him play for a couple weeks in Darwin, Australia. Plane tickets? Check. Place to stay? Thanks to time share (for once, with no hassles), check. Rental car (remember, they drive on the other side of the road)? Check. House sitter? Check. See you around September 12.

Sure the USA won the gold medal in men’s basketball for the past three Olympics – which is what the goal was after coming home bronzed in 2004 but, in this country, we need some controversy. Talk TV and radio wouldn’t exist without somebody bitching – about success as well as failure.

So was it an advantage for Mike Krzyzewski to coach the Olympic team for the past three Games? Of course. But, it wasn’t like he was begging for the job. Jerry Colangelo sought out Coach K for a reason. Looks like Jerry knew what he was doing. Could Colangelo have selected another coach who could have produced three golds? Maybe, maybe not and that’s a question we’ll never know. OK, probably, but let’s analyze the positives and negatives of being the Olympic coach.

Number one positive for a college coach is recruiting. “Hey, young fella, how would you like to play for our Olympic coach?” is a pretty nice entree into a prospect’s home. Something no other school can say. Of course, this is assuming THE USA WINS! Can you imagine what rival coaches would say if the we lost? Really, they wouldn’t have to say much because the talking heads would be slaughtering the poor guy enough for everybody. Some might consider coaching NBA players a plus but, then again, have they forgotten all that was said and written about the joys of having Boogie Cousins and Carmelo Anthony on a squad? Well, we could ask their coaches. Each can be found in the unemployment line.

How about the money and first class travel and accommodations that go along with being the head man? OK, not the money (although there’s certainly a book deal in the future – oh yeah, he’s already done that) but the perks? Check what Coach K makes from Duke, Nike, other endorsements. With what he’s pulling in, he could own his own plane and hotel if he wanted. And Rio? If he asked Micki where her dream vacay would be, does Rio even medal?

Mike Krzyzewski is no fool. He knew the recruiting advantage that he and Duke would get with the job. Just as he knew the pressure that came along with it. As well as the time commitment. Which was added to the pressure and time commitment his “regular” job brought.Duke’s freshman orientation starts today. Nice break from the grind. Don’t forget, it’s not like for the past 12 years he only thinks about his “part-time” job in the summer.

Some people may scoff when he speaks of the duty to his country and the honor he feels as its head coach. Yet, one thing that can be said for him is that, when it comes to patriotism, he has a decent track record of walking the walk. I always told my kids that college would be the best four years of their lives. Not so at West Point, or any of the military academies. Their goal isn’t to produce graduates like other schools. Their mission is to turn out leaders. So, as far as taking classes, hanging out at the student union in between them, going to parties and enjoying a great social life – which is what “normal” college kids experience – well, that doesn’t quite happen at the academies.

Early wake up calls, marching (double timing for plebes), being continuously screamed at (in the name of leadership or seeing who can handle it and who will crack under the pressure), falling asleep studying at your dorm desk at night? Heck, fours years of playing basketball for Bob Knight must have been considered recreation. Then, there’s the military commitment of five years after graduation. Anyone who knows Mike Krzyzewski, or has heard him speak, understands what West Point and this country mean to him. Does anybody think the underlying reason he accepted the job was for recruiting? He certainly knew the residual benefit he would get from being the Olympic head coach and rubbing elbows with the best of the best (except for this year). But don’t think for a minute this job was a cakewalk. This year’s pool play results – and the criticism that followed (“Is Coach K the right coach for this Olympic team?“) – would be enough to question why somebody would undertake such a thankless position.

So, for the guys who are espousing the unfairness of it all, rest assured it’s over. Gregg Popovich is the next coach and, if the rumors are true, Doc Rivers after that. Which means one thing:

“The critics will have to find something else to complain about.”

The Ryan Lochte Situation Rang a Bell

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

After hearing Ryan Lochte explain to the world about how he and three swimmers were held up at gunpoint and robbed in the early morning hours after leaving a party. I wasn’t sure why, but my BS meter went off as I heard him tell his tale. My wife, Jane, and I were watching the interview. Immediately, I turned to Jane and said, “He’s lying.”

She asked how I knew – and I couldn’t tell her. Something had sent up a red flag. I remember just saying, “There’s a hint of . . . I’m not sure what but something makes me absolutely sure his story is bogus.” Lochte’s story was: “We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground – they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so – I’m not getting down on the ground.” He continued, “And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet – he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”

I recalled thinking, “Wow, how could anybody be so cool at that time? A gun was locked and loaded, leveled at his forehead and his reaction was, ‘Whatever.‘ Most people would be soiling their pants right about then.” Somehow there was a hint of deja vu in that scenario. Yet, I couldn’t come up with exactly what gave me that feeling. Was it that robbers would take money and wallets but not cell phones or credentials? I was stumped – but still certain Lochte’s explanation was pure fiction.

A couple nights later, I was on the internet and saw a related article about other athletes who fabricated stories to cover for transgressions – and I had my answer. As soon as I saw the name of one of the other athletes mentioned in the article, the riddle was solved. Josh Shaw – USC cornerback. If you’ve forgotten, allow me to refresh your memory – as mine was refreshed when I read it.

During the summer before his senior year, Shaw – whom his teammates had voted as one of their co-captains – suffered, not one, but two high ankle sprains that he incurred while jumping from the balcony of his sister’s apartment. Why would a guy with so much potential, in a sport that paid so well, jump off of a balcony? Well, he told the world, it was his only recourse when he saw that his nephew was drowning! Here he was, a college football player – and a damn fine one at that – risking his senior season at one of the most prestigious football colleges in the nation (one of the most prestigious colleges, period), and possibly a professional career as well, by reacting as, call it what it is, only a true superhero would have done.

Nearly everyone bought it – maybe because they wanted to buy it. What a great, feel-good story (except for his ankles). Few people thought it to be a lie. Shaw had begun his college career at Florida but transferred to USC – so he could be near to help his ailing grandfather and father with the family landscaping business. He was a leader, chosen by the SC athletics department to speak at the student-athlete graduation ceremony.

Similar to Lochte who is the second most decorated male Olympic swimmer (at one time, the first had his personal demons but he overcame them). People want to be their side. These guys stand for everything that’s good about athletics. Which is why fans don’t question cockamamie fables. They desperately want, no, need to believe their heroes.

Just as the real reason Ryan Lochte was detained by law enforcement was that he and his friends, basically, were drunk and disorderly, the real reason Josh Shaw jumped from a third story balcony was he was having an argument with his girlfriend, the neighbors had called the police and he knew he was about to be facing domestic violence issues.

“I would challenge somebody who doesn’t know me to seek those who have encountered me and find one person who has one bad thing to say about me,” Shaw said. “I’ve created this persona that I always do what’s right … and then, boom.” The truth was going to hurt his image, as it would have done to Lochte. They were fan favorites who, not thinking an embarrassing situation through and realizing that, in today’s world of social media, with everybody having a camera, that their getting exposed was pretty much a certainty. Coming clean would be the best strategy as well as elicit more sympathy from people. What these young guys failed to realize is that every one of us has screwed up at some time in our lives. Maybe not drunk and disorderly; maybe not domestic violence. But something of which we’re ashamed.

Shaw enlisted his sister to lie and say he’d jumped off her balcony to save his nephew who was drowning in the pool. Lochte got his teammates to buy into his version of what had really happened, too. And, in each case, as they usually do when the truth is being avoided, things began to unravel.

Whatever the reason, both Ryan Lochte and Josh Shaw found out what Buddha explained long ago:

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

 

Women’s Basketball Ahead of Men

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

The title of this post is deceptive in that women’s basketball is only considered to be ahead of the men’s game – at the same point in history. Some important dates in the history of basketball are: 1891 – James Naismith invented the game; 1936 – men’s basketball introduced as an Olympic sport (1976 – women’s game becomes an Olympic sport); 1939 – first NCAA men’s championship (1972 – first AIAW women’s championship, 1982 – first NCAA women’s championship).

Notice the women’s game is between 35-40 years “younger” than the men’s version from a chronological standpoint. It’s my contention that the women’s game, due to “going to school” on the men, is more advanced than the men at a similar stage. Men’s hoops learned on the fly, e.g. the development of the jump shot, how to utilize a “big man,” introduction of zone defense and full court pressure, strategies involving the shot clock and three-point line, etc. These were brought into the men’s game and the players and coaches had to figure out the nuances – in terms of how to most effectively use (or disregard) them. Women had the benefit of seeing what the men had accomplished – and how they did it. This allowed them to avoid many of the mistakes men made – or make, and correct – them earlier. This holds true for all aspects of the contest, i.e. the women’s game – after, say, 20 years (1992) is played at a more sophisticated level than the men were after 20 years (1959).

This is not at all to say the distaff product is better in terms of, for example, dunking. There will always be a difference in what the bodies can physically do that will always make the games completely different. However, watch a video of a men’s game in 1970 and a women’s contest from 2003. See which one has more “trash talking” or outward displays of emotions – and you’ll see the profound influence the men have had on their female counterparts. The proliferation of female black players in the women’s game grew more rapidly also (a major reason, naturally, is they have had a much easier access to it). However, African-American girls have identified with the game much earlier and have had more role models than the men did.

Title IX was passed in 1972. At that time, the women’s coaches were almost always men. To make this point with my high school classes (between 2002-12), I would ask the girls in the class how many were involved in a sport. Never less than 25% – and often as many as 75% – of the hands would go up. I’d then tell them to ask their grandparents whether or not they participated in sports during their high school days. The next class period they would come to class and mention how shocked they were – not about their grandfathers bragging of their athletic exploits (all stories get better with age), but that none their grandmothers played. The family matriarchs had to explain to the girls that the reason they didn’t play was that sports were not offered to them.

One effect Title IX had was that the initial generation of girls’ coaches were males. This was because Title IX was passed in 1972, meaning the generation of girls growing up in that era were coached by men since the previous generation of women didn’t have a working knowledge of the sport, i.e. they had had no access to it.

Today, there is no debate about which game is more dominant on a global level. If they haven’t already caught up to the USA, the rest of the world is extremely close to catching us on the men’s side. The USA women, though, are virtually untouchable, having won six consecutive gold medals, including this year’s Olympics, by an average winning margin of a whopping 37.2 points. In addition, the women have won 49 consecutive contests. Which leads to the cheer overheard in many areas of the nation:

“You go, girl!”

Too Bad the Olympic Games Don’t Have More of an Effect on Us

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

Is it because the Olympics happen only once every four years or could people competing get along all the time? Or maybe just most of it? It’s been a wonderful couple weeks watching athletes who practiced for four years (many of them longer) actually congratulate others in the same event who just beat them – dashing their dreams, the ones they had envisioned for . . . ever?

No one likes a loser, yet during the Olympic Games, doesn’t everybody find it reassuring that other competitors or the athletes’ own coaches can console gymnasts who fell off the balance beam, divers who hit the board on their final attempt, long and high jumpers who fouled on their last try (putting an end to all chances, not only for gold, but for any medal), thus exhibiting what so many of us are, or at least, used to be thinking (“There but for the grace of God, go I”)?

Maybe I’m just from another generation and don’t appreciate how so many Americans seem to interact with each other today. Or maybe trash talking and self-aggrandizement ought to be the proper reactions for competitors to exhibit. After all, what kind of world would it be if people who trained hard at their crafts also displayed compassion for others who’ve done the same? Certainly in the areas of athletics and politics.

Then again, have no fear, those of you who think I’m from a different time (or planet) – because, even though her own teammates have distance themselves from her, you people of “today” will always have hope:

“As in Hope Solo.”

 

Note to the Four USA Swimmers

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Apologies to readers who checked in and saw no new post. Had an early morning appointment at Stanford Pain Management and needed to get to bed early. Appointment was scheduled for 9:30 am, left my house a little before 6:00 am and, due to traffic and accidents, the three-hour trip turned into me not showing up until 9:35 am. Did have the foresight to call ahead and warn them of the situation because they’re always on time and expect patients to be too.

By now, the debacle created by Ryan Lochte and a few of his fellow swimmers is quite well known. The following are several useful quotes – and who they are credited to (with more to share) – for the boys:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.” Walter Scott

“Always tell the truth; then there’s not much to keep track of.” Mark Twain

“Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” Nearly everyone who’s ever coached

“Better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think you’re a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“While some people think being accountable is a hard thing to do, it’s still the right thing to do.” Bobby Unser

“The night air is poison.” Jerry Tarkanian

“Always tell the truth.  Then you’ll never have to remember what you said the last time.” Sam Rayburn

“Before you open your mouth to speak, make sure what you have to say is an improvement on the silence.” John Savage

“A good name is the most important thing you can achieve in this world.” Harry Kraft, father of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots

“When you’re in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.” Will Rogers

“Ethics is about character and courage and how to meet the challenge when doing right will cost more than we want to pay.” Michael Josephson

“Crisis builds character; it also identifies it.” Many people, originator unknown

“Better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think you’re a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln

“You thought you were a law unto yourself. Athletes get that way. All the adulation, the publicity, the hype. You get a false sense of your own importance. It’s called ‘How dare you turn me down?! Don’t you know who I am?!’ ” Jim Murray on Mike Tyson, LA Times, 7/3/97

“Becoming successful may mean you have to do things other people don’t do.  Being a responsible individual is one of them.” Bobby Unser

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” John Wooden

“When you make a mistake: 1) admit it 2) correct it 3) learn from it 4) don’t dwell on it 5) don’t repeat it.” Bill Parcells

“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.” Jewish proverb

And those are just a few. Maybe the most appropriate one is the quote uttered satirist Elbert Hubbard:

“Everyone is a damn fool for five minutes a day.  Wisdom consists of not exceeding that.”

 

 

 

 

The New Age of Criticism

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Issues with the computer freezing up. Trying to get a short blog in before it does again. Sure wish I knew more about these newfangled objects.

Last night I read an article which was highly critical of Mike Krzyzewski and what he’s done with this year’s Olympic basketball team. It was by a guy, , who quite obviously had a major issue with Coack K. The gist of the article is Mike’s not playing Draymond Green. Apparently, the writer is, or was, a beat writer for the Warriors and, most likely, developed a relationship with Green – a guy who’s always good for a powerful quote or two. The kind of player who, if left alone with a tape recorder going, will nearly author a story himself. The writer’s biggest problem then becomes editing.

With the last three games our squad has played, all wins – BUT close wins – now is the best time to question the coaching skills of Mike Krzyzewski. Since Coach K was named by Jerry Colangelo in 2005 as our country’s head coach, the USA men have compiled a 52-1 record. Some might think Mike should be lauded for taking the time and putting in the energy to do work in his “off season.” Note: I fully understand what Mike – and Duke – get out of the publicity, but it shouldn’t be overlooked how taxing it is to do all that needs to be done to continually face – and overcome – the challenges that go along with being the Olympic coach. For those who don’t, wait until a coach loses and you’ll immediately understand my point.

The current breed of writer is always looking to make a name for him (or her) self (but usually him). Imagine if the USA should fail to bring home the gold? Who wouldn’t want to be the first guy who warned he nation that Coach K screwed it up? Well, if you’re from my generation, the answer is “nobody.” But, today?  Nasty journalism has a cult following and all the spoils go with it – money, fame (the kind that appeals to that type of person), books, TV & movie appearances, you name it. I don’t think it’s completely a cynical attitude to say that journalism has changed and making a name for yourself, as opposed to accuracy, seems to be of greater importance business today.

In the early ’70s there was a self-help book entitled “I’m OK, You’re OK” which climbed its way up the New York Times bestseller list. Today, the title of that book would be:

“I’m OK, You’re Screwed Up.”

 

What If the Olympics Were Like Politics?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Imagine Michael Phelps in position to begin his race, or Usain Bolt in his blocks waiting for the starter’s pistol, or Simone Biles about to take off for a vault – and as they were about to start, rather than actually perform their event, they instead set their mouths in motion, spewing nasty comments about each of their opponents, saving the best quips (independent of whether or not they were true) for their closest competitor.

“Do you know how poorly my opponent swam in his last meet? He was a joke. Why is he even out here?”

“I’m the fastest person on earth and I don’t understand how anyone can think differently. How can anybody even consider giving that title to a person who has next to no (sprinting) experience?”

Isn’t it great that actual performance is how the winners are chosen?

Well, what about the events that aren’t measured – like gymnastics, diving and boxing? How awful would the Olympics be if the people who voted for the winner has to do so based on negative blather and insults?

“By now, it ought to be oh-so-obvious that no one can touch me in anything that has to do with gymnastics. To my opponents, I say to you, ‘Don’t even waste our time with your dumb ass routines.’ People know who the best is.”

“Did you see that last dive? Sad effort. The country should be frightened if the judges were to, somehow, choose my opponent over me. It’s readily apparent his lack of experience will doom the entire Olympic Games. Basically, he’s not trustworthy.”

Naturally, choosing a politician to lead our cities, states, country isn’t based on 10 seconds, several minutes or routines over a few days. Because of the competition among news sources (being first trumps – no pun intended – being right) and the irresponsibility and complete disregard for factual information on social media, combined with the general feeling of so many citizens that their lives, to use the most popular word in today’s vernacular, suck, the majority of information the public receives is of personal flaws of the politicians.

Is everybody in politics unfit for office? We can’t have grown so cynical to, deep down, believe that. There most likely are people who would enjoy serving who are qualified and have no skeletons but, in today’s world, political strategists will dig up (or make up) something to cast negativity on a candidate. Even with that, there are people who would run because they feel they can make a positive difference and can handle personal attacks. Yet, they choose not to run because they refuse to subject their families to such vile intrusions.

The Olympics is about realizing dreams, so maybe the motto for political elections ought to be:

“We can dream, can’t we?”

 

Olympics Dream a Lot More for Some than Others

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Imagine you’re a gymnast or a swimmer, practicing (a minimum of) four years for a chance to be an Olympian. And if you’re good enough, a chance to medal. Dare you to dream to be the best of the best? For a couple U.S. swimmers, domination was the name of the Game(s), leaving everyone else to do their best – and hope for silver. For the French gymnast who worked for four years for these Olympics (and who knows how long from when he started), one vault ended his dreams – and, quite possibly, his career. Bad break indeed.

Then you have sports in the Games like golf and tennis. Many of the top golfers declined to play in the Olympics. One reason was for health concerns. Don’t the gymnasts and swimmers care about their physical well being? The answer is, of course they do, but that is what separates true Olympic athletes (gymnasts, swimmers, track & field, others who are mentioned in passing, e.g. if someone from the U.S. wins a medal) from the “professional” sports (golf, tennis, basketball). The most important thing in an Olympic swimmer’s or gymnast’s life (or an archer’s, fencer’s, badminton player’s, etc.) is an Olympic medal. Gold, if that’s even in the realm of possibility. And if it doesn’t happen, it’s another four year commitment to . . . try again. I may have missed it but I don’t believe anyone in those sports turned down the trip to Rio for health concerns.

Justin Rose won the gold medal in golf, beating out Henrik Stenson (silver) and Matt Kuchar (bronze). At the post game press conference, each was extremely gracious and claimed how much of an accomplishment it was and how proud it made them to medal for, not only themselves, but their respective countries. This is in no way overlooking their fine play (Kuchar’s 63 was outstanding), but consider that year-to-date Rose has made $1,955,591, Stenson $3,365,923 and Kuchar $3,271,732. Their next practice will be to compete in a tournament with a seven-figure purse.

Serena Williams uncharacteristically lost, as did men’s tennis superstars Novak Djokavic and Rafael Nadal. Each looked disappointed following their loss. But, in their cases as well, there will be a “play-for-pay” event in the near future. There’s a difference between being disappointed and devastated.

The USA men’s basketball team is being looked at sideways because although they’re winning, the games are “too close.” Should they win gold, it will be more a sense of relief than exhilaration.

This post is by no means meant to question the efforts of those who make “big bank” as professional athletes, just to point out the magnitude of the pressure that’s on the “traditional” Olympians and for us to consider what winning – and losing – means to them.

Watching the athletes whose main goal in life is to be an Olympian reminds me of a quote I recently read:

“Commitment is the difference between goal and a wish. Anybody can have a hope and wish, but what matters most is the resolve to make it happen.”

Who’s the Greatest Athlete Ever?

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

With Michael Phelps winning his 23rd Olympic goal medal (and 28th overall), the argument begins anew regarding the greatest athlete ever. If he were a country, Phelps would rank as 32nd all-time in medal count. Since he won his first gold (in 2004), there are only 12 countries that have won more, meaning he’s ahead of 193 others. Following what is fairly certain to be his last race ever, NBC announcers referred to him as “perhaps the greatest athlete in history.” His fans say that no one has ever dominated a sport like Michael Phelps did his.

His detractors simply say, “How can he be the greatest athlete ever when all he does is swim.” Plus, those in the anti-Phelps camp (as far as this argument goes – I can’t believe anybody would truly be against Phelps as a man), “It’s an individual sport, no one ever plays defense against him.”

The counter to that is that relays actually are a team sport, in that your teammates can put the squad in such a deep hole, no one could get out – and yet, he always did. In addition, he doesn’t just swim, he swims five events – the four individuals and the medley (combination of all four). This equates to being a five-tool baseball player (hit for power, hit for average, field, throw and run) or a complete basketball player – score, assist, rebound, defend (steals) and block shots. Football players who are called great athletes have to do fewer skills well, e.g. if a guy has speed, power and can catch, pundits marvel over his athleticism. For those who play the game, they’ll tell anybody who wants to hear – and those who don’t – that blocking and tackling take athletic ability as well. As a former kicker, don’t think that area of the game doesn’t take athleticism.

As far as pure dominance of an event, Usain Bolt not only has consistently won his sprints, he runs away from the competition – and has been doing so year after year. Yet, he only runs. Well, his supporters claim, that’s all he’s supposed to do. It’s not simultaneously sprinting and juggling. While maybe not the world’s greatest athlete, his is title is “world’s fastest man.”

No debate about the greatest athlete ever could take place without mention of Michael Jordan. Six NBA titles, six Finals Most Valuable Player, five NBA MVP awards, 14 time All-Star, nine time NBA All-Defensive team (including one Defensive Player of the Year) and many more individual and team accomplishments.

Wilt Chamberlain was not only, arguably, the most dominant basketball player (all aspects considered – minus free throw shooting) but was a sensational track & field star as well as a tremendous volleyball player. He claimed to have records in another indoor sport (one that’s not supposed to have spectators) but no official statistics have been recorded in that one.

Technically, the world’s best athlete is whoever wins the decathlon. It’s ten events, composed of four running, three throwing and three jumping events. Probably the reason the Olympic decathlete winner is no longer acknowledged is because no one knows who it is. Marketing has become as important as performance and the Olympics come around only every four years. Too bad. If anyone has a right to the title, it’s the guy who wins the Olympic decathlon.

If I had to pick the most dominant player in any sport, however, my vote would go to Babe Ruth. And not only because he hit more home runs than anyone. During his era his total number of homers, compared to every other baseball player, was Phelps-like, i.e. when he retired, he had more than twice as many HRs than the player who was second (teammate Lou Gehrig). He also hit for average (.342 for his career) and had ridiculous analytic numbers (which he didn’t even know about). The reason I feel he dominated his sport more than any other was because he was an untouchable pitcher before his career turned into an everyday player.

That said, checking out his body and off field training methods:

“It would be impossible to call him the greatest athlete of all-time.”

Instead, I just prefer to appreciate excellence in others – independent of which field (athletics, education, business) they excel.

 

The Day I Experienced True Ambivalence

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about my decision to write the book all coaches talked about writing. When coaches would get together, usually after a summer recruiting event or at the coaches’ convention (held annually in conjunction with the Final Four), one thing that was certain was that there would always be a plethora of stories. Coaches are usually good story tellers and also “excel” at one-ups-man-ship. The stories would get better and better (many apocryphal) until it was time to call it a night. At that point, the one line that could always be heard was, “We ought to write a book.”

As I explained yesterday, when I became director of basketball operations at Fresno State and had more family and personal time (because, by NCAA rules, that position is restricted to recruiting only on campus and by phone), I made the decision to write that book. I’ve been told on many occasions – by a numerous people – that I have the ability to tell stories. And I really enjoy writing – a  love affair that occurred right after I graduated from college. Whatever the case, I began my quest to put together a bunch of funny stories that could possibly, just possibly, win me a Pulitzer.

After the two-and-a-half years of jotting down notes and coming up with 265 vignettes, I mentioned the pursuit of my goal to a father of one of our older (at the time, 12-year-old) son’s soccer teammates. He was a doctor who said, not only that he would loan his dictaphone, but that he was certain his assistant would transcribe it for me (at the rate of $18/hour). Things were moving right along.

After having the contents of the book transcribed, I had to edit it. The doc’s gal did a fantastic job but, being a California native, didn’t quite understand my New Jersey version of English. Although this was a surefire all-time best seller (we’ll never know because of the lack of ISBN number and bar code – see yesterday’s blog), I knew I needed professional help to get this work published, so I called Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN’s brilliant sports correspondent, who had been USC’s basketball beat writer for the LA Times when I was an assistant coach there. Gene didn’t only give me encouragement but told me of a former sports information director at the University of Illinois who had left the Illini to start a publishing company. The definition of a millisecond was the time it took me to make that call after ending the one I was on with Gene.

The guy was nice enough, told me they actually did publish books of amusing sports stories and said I should go by Barnes & Noble to peruse their works. One was called, Tales from the Dugout, obviously a baseball book. The others were a series of golf books. I can’t recall the exact names but something like Then Arnie Told Jack, Then Jack told Gary, Then Gary told Chi Chi – you get the idea. After checking out some of the stories, my initial reaction was, “My stories are funnier than these.” I called my new BFF and he suggested I send him 2-3 stories from each chapter of this masterpiece, which I decided to call Life’s A Joke. I got off the phone, put them together and overnighted it to him. I mean, just in case your business is struggling – have no fear, help is on the way.

About two months later, I got my reply – in the form of a rejection letter! It said, besides some positive comments (let the poor guy down easy?) that my book was too “regional” – that their audience was broader. Could it have been the chapter entitled, Family, which was stories about me, my parents, my wife and our sons? While their stories might not have been as hilarious as mine, they were about Babe Ruth and Ben Hogan – whom, I had to admit, people had heard of, as opposed to the narrative of my five-year-old son screaming at his female teammate who had just kicked the ball into the wrong goal. It was the I had an epiphany. Stephen King got somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 such letters for his first literary attempt – and, no matter how colossal a hit my book was destined to be – Carrie was a heckuva lot better than what I’d written.

So, it was on to Plan B, i.e. visiting the young, talented girl in our (Fresno State’s) sports information office, one of whose jobs was “formatting” – taking text and putting it into book form. I walked into her office on a Wednesday and asked her how much it would cost and when could she finish the project. She told me it would cost $500 and would take a week. Because everything I could do was finally completed, I was borderline frantic to see this project come to fruition. I countered with, “Can you get it done by Friday at noon if I pay you $1,000?” I knew she was recently married and could use the extra money. It was the perfect win-win. I wanted to expedite the project; she needed the dough. A deal was reached. By Friday afternoon, I delivered it to a friend of mine who owned a printing company. I ordered 3,000 copies to be printed. Of course, this was just the first printing. He told me he could deliver them in two weeks.

But I was in the role of the expectant father. I called on Monday. “Harry, is it done yet?” He was incredulous. Did I really think they would get it done over the weekend? But he understood my anxiety.

“Maybe next week,” he said. So, of course, I called back Wednesday. Harry assured it was coming along and promised he’d call as soon as it was done. The next Monday, my cell phone went off. It was Harry. “Jack, I can have 500 copies for you by Friday, the remaining 2,500 by next Monday.” This was perfect. At the time, I was in a member of the National Speakers Association and was speaking to a group on Saturday night. I was elated. Until the next day. Tuesday. September 11, 2001. Talk about bad timing.

As I watched the Twin Towers falling, the thought that went though my head was, “In three days I’m coming out with a book called, Life’s A Joke.” Believe me, I understood the real tragedy, but coming out with a book – with that title – at that time – it was like I wanted to . . .  apologize. One thing that helped – a little – was an order I received, off my website, from a lady in New York City. She wrote:

“I just ordered a copy of your book. Please ship it immediately. We desperately need something to laugh about.”