Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Enduring a Season of Relentless Pressure from the Media, Blatt Provides an Outstanding Analogy

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Other than the first and the fifteenth, NBA coaches don’t have the one of the more enviable jobs. Other than a handful of them, the employees they count on most make significantly more money than hey do. Often, what they know best, they can’t use because “higher ups” meddle. Sometimes the meddling even comes from the players. Unless a coach possesses an additional title, e.g. general manager or president, his fate is mostly determined by how the players perform or, occasionally, by a referee’s call (or non-call).

And, then, the (not-so) poor coach is mandated by the league to attend a post game press conference, where await for him a bunch of people who, in many cases (especially if the team lost – or worse, if it’s mired in a losing streak), seem to revel in posing questions that will make him look incompetent no matter what answer he offers. Of all the NBA coaches who had to go through this grind (plus, those who are still involved in the process), Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has had it worse than any of his colleagues (usually, the word “arguably” would be inserted but, for this year, that’s completely unnecessary).

What has turned into the nomination for soap opera of the year began innocently enough when Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert offered his vacant head coaching position to a guy who had experienced nothing but phenomenal success, over a long period of time, at the highest level of basketball (not called the NBA). People were lauding the move, especially fellow coaches from all levels of hoops, exclaiming Blatt to be a great choice, independent of the fact he had no experience on the NBA level. A former player at Princeton where he learned under the legendary Hall of Fame coach, Pete Carril, Blatt had to think he had hit the lottery.

Then, the Cavs made a move that was to thrust him into a job that even that no Hall of Fame tutelage nor Ivy League education could prepared him for – they brought back LeBron James. Blatt’s maiden voyage into the NBA coaching wars just gave him, arguably, the biggest weapon of all. Where the expectations of success changed from, “Go ahead, Dave, show ‘em what you got!” to “Whoa, does anybody think the new guy is ready for this?” Or as Sean Highkin of Pro Basketball Talk reported on January 15, “Talk of his being fired has been present practically since the start of the season.” Good luck, Coach.

Simultaneously adding to the strength of the team and the overwhelming pressure the new head man now faced, the Cleveland front office made some powerful moves. First, they acquired (supposedly with James’ overt gestures to make it known how much the team needed him and how much LeBron wanted him), Kevin Love joined the roster. When it looked like the title hopes were crushed after losing Anderson Varejao on December 23, they added big man Timofey Mozgov and traded for defensive stopper Iman Shumpert and sharp shooter J.R. Smith from the Knicks. A season of learning the NBA game, with all the nuances and idiosyncrasies that take coaches years to understand, the season became a season under the microscope. Reporters and writers (some of whom were in favor of hiring each one’s favorite son) were poised to scrutinize Blatt’s every move. Toss in social media and both pregame (first) and postgame (second) guessing took on lives all their own.

Blatt’s start was reminiscent of what Erik Spoelstra encountered following the formation of the Big Three in Miami, i.e. rocky. Probably because he had no other choice, the rookie coach (a term that was used ad infinitum) endured and the squad became to realize success. But nothing short of a trip to the NBA Finals at worst or, an NBA championship at best, will even approach silencing his critics. And, in this day and age of screwed up expectations, even those might not suffice.

In Game 4 of their series with the Bulls, a loss would have put them down 1-3, facing three straight elimination games (they hoped), the Cavs fell behind, only to rally and go ahead by five with under 30 seconds to go. As has happened, seemingly, the majority of the season, strange events occur. Summarizing, 1) the Bulls hit five points in a row, 2) the Bulls’ use multiple times out (as in all they had left) just to inbound the ball, 3) Blatt signals for a time out (that they don’t have), with a) he’s restrained and b) no referee noticing (had the Cavs been granted one, resulting in a technical foul and, most certainly, a Bulls’ victory, Blatt might have left the country – of his own volition, 4) James drives to the basket and possibly getting fouled – but no call, 5) the referees huddle to check the exact time left (thus, affording the time out they didn’t have to the Cavs, 6) resetting the game clock from 0.8 seconds to 1.5 and 7) LeBron James nailing a basket at the buzzer – tying the series at 2-2.

During the presser that followed, a reporter asked a question regarding James’ dominating the ball and trying to make (force) plays whenever he touched it. Pointing out that James had 8 turnovers, he asked the coach, “Do you want to live and die with LeBron?”

Blatt finally got a chance to put that Princeton education to use. The exchange follows:

Blatt: “When I go to dinner, I usually get the check. Do you know why?”

Reporter: “Because you make the most money.”

Blatt: “No. The reason is because I take it. LeBron, he takes the responsibility. He knows who he is, what he does, what he needs to do for this team and he takes responsibility.”

How Can Such a Small Man Have Such a Huge Ego?

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Egomania has long been the downfall of many, including some incredibly talented people. Those who have little and want more (or even just something) can be understood (and pitied) when they blow their own horn. The result is awful, if any, music being produced. For the skilled member of society, maybe it’s trying to go too far too fast, or overstating past accomplishments, or, as in the case of Bill Simmons, deciding to pull a power play. These actions often lead to a downfall. Whether that ends up being the case for the egomaniacal Simmons has yet to be seen, but if how he dealt with his superiors at ESPN (although it’s doubtful Simmons feels that’s the proper term for the ESPN hierarchy) is any indication, he could be creating a crash and burn mission for himself.

Lefty Driesell, who revolutionized recruiting in college basketball, was often criticized for being a poor Xs & Os coach (a false charge but that’s to be debated at a later date). During an interview, he was asked how he felt when people would tell him he was a bad coach. The lefthander responded, “No one has ever come up to me and told me I was a bad coach.” Of course not! That’s called human decency (with a dose of cowardice). While it’s easy to call in to a talk show and blast an athlete or coach (politicians, too, but let’s keep this athletically related), especially if the show’s host shares the caller’s feelings, face-to-face confrontation (assuming no “liquid courage” is involved) usually makes it uncomfortable for everyone concerned. Note: Jim Rome might have done it to Jim Everett on national TV but that was in Rome’s studio with plenty of people to make sure he was safe, as opposed to a back alley with no cameras.

Because of this human decency factor, celebrities often get inflated opinion of themselves. This relates to electronic and print media as well as players and coaches. Sure, callers may phone in to disagree, even going so far as being obnoxious, but the host can either shout them down or simply disconnect them. This means they get so many bouquets thrown their way, they believe their own BS (what a coincidence those are Simmons’ initials). Granted, with the anonymity social media gives to anyone with an email or twitter account, people feel more power to criticize, the majority of correspondence guys like Simmons get is from people who agree with him, e.g. fans who hear him say their team’s QB sucks or whose coach is a fool – and like what he says because he tells the world what they wish they could say but aren’t smart enough or possess the courage to say in their own name.

Simmons has had a laundry list of issues with ESPN management. He’s been with the “World Wide leader” for 14 years. His contract expires later this year and ESPN’s president John Skipper told The New York Times, “I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’s contract. We have been in negotiations, and it was clear it was time to move on.” Early on, Skipper and Simmons were thick as thieves, with the columnist considering his boss a mentor. Simmons last contract was worth around $5 million per year, making him the highest paid reporter at the network at the time.

Others at Bristol didn’t get along with Simmons, who showed no interest attempting to ingratiate himself with his colleagues, e.g. he once fired verbal shots at then-colleague Rick Reilly. What ultimately did him in was his sense of entitlement. That arrogance annoyed co-workers, as well as his disregarding rules, as if they only applied to others. Also lighting fuel to his self-inflicted fire was calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar (for which he received a two-week, unpaid suspension) and, later, lacking “testicular fortitude.” To illustrate how bad things became between Simmons and his employer, ESPN didn’t deduct any money from his paycheck, making him think the suspension was just for show, only to find the money deducted from the December paycheck. Kind of a reverse Xmas bonus. Ho, ho, ho. Ho.

Simmons more or less boasted of his edgy personality, better known to some as “little man’s complex.” An unabashed Celtics’ fan, he roasted Doc Rivers one season, only to have to eat humble pie when Doc coached Simmons’ beloved Celts to the NBA championship. He got over it, though, and returned to scathing criticism, showing his true feelings. Ironically, one point of contention with Simmons was that management was badmouthing him (how’s it feel, Billy?). The straw that broke the camel’s back was an appearance he made on the Dan Patrick Show, which everyone at ESPN knew was considered out of bounds. In the end, Bill Simmons had a lot – but wanted more – and was a star but felt he was bigger than life. With so many BS “clones” out there, i.e. small people who dream of being able to criticize big stars but lack “testicular fortitude,” Bill Simmons will probably be signed, soon, by some other entity and get even more money and power. Just don’t be surprised if his career follows the identical path.


My mentor, the late John Savage said it best:

“There’s no such thing as having no ego. Everybody has an ego. The key is to keep it in check.”

How to Shock a 70-year-old Jewish Grandmother

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

28 years ago today Jane and I were married in Knoxville, a month after I had been named associate head basketball coach the University of Toledo. Last night we were reminiscing about our “early years” and one story in particular that made us laugh. I’d just taken a job with the same title at the University of Southern California. The following anecdote is one of the over 200 narratives in my book, Life’s A Joke. Although didn’t seem all that funny to us at the time, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it – especially those of you who are parents.

We moved from Toledo to Pasadena when our son Andy was about three years old. We enrolled him in a private daycare where he immediately made friends with a little Asian girl who was also three. One weekend her mother dropped her off at our house for a “play date.”

I was out of town recruiting. The two kids were in Andy’s room when, all of a sudden, it occurred to Jane that it was eerily quiet. Her motherly instincts kicked in and led her to the room where she saw the two little tykes in bed, giggling. Trying to keep cool, she said, “OK, what’s going on in here?”

When she pulled back the covers, Jane  “noticed” neither had any clothes on. Now, we’d always thought Andy to be a precocious child but this was pushing the envelope a bit too far. Jane got them dressed and made sure they were never too far out of sight for the rest of the day.

A week or so later, my mother, who was 70 at the time, came out from New Jersey to see her (at that time) only grandchild. As you can imagine, she was absolutely crazy about Andy who, like most three-year-olds, adored his “Granny.” She asked her favorite little guy, “Andy, do you ever play any games?”

“Oh sure, Granny, I play lots of games,” Andy replied.

The line of questioning continued, “What kind of games do you play?” she inquired.

“Well,” he said, “one game I play is called, ‘sex’.”

My mother figured she had to have misheard her cute, little, young grandchild. At least she prayed she had. Her next question was, “Oh, how do you play six?”

“Not six, Granny, sex,” he corrected her.

About that time my mother felt it would be a good idea to sit down. Feigning interest, my mother (meekly) said, “How do you play that game?”

Andy enthusiastically continued with his explanation, “First,” he began, you have to have a girl. Then, you get in bed and take off all of your clothes.”

Beads of perspiration were rapidly forming on my mom’s forehead and upper lip as the conversation had taken a turn she had not anticipated. Realizing she was talking to a three-year-old, she swallowed hard and, somewhat hesitatingly, asked, “And then what do you do?”

Andy looked at her and (thankfully) said, “Oh, that’s it. That’s the game.”

The word relief does not really do justice to the feeling that flooded through my mom. She began to regain her color and for the remainder of her visit, she and Andy played Chutes and Ladders and Go Fish.

Later, my mom confided in me:

“And I thought we had it tough raising you and your brother.”

We Just Might Be Living 1984 Thirty Years After Its Prophecy

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Quite some time ago, I read an article entitled, Ten Things That Will Disappear In Our Lifetime. I thought it particularly insightful but had forgotten it until a couple days ago when a friend emailed it to me (there are several versions and some differ by an item or two). The latest one I happened to open it right after watching a story about the Wells’ report on “Deflategate.” Apparently, information was found that implicated Tom Brady – contrary to his denial of any wrongdoing – although the language was more vague than a case that took 103 days and resulted in a 243-page report would warrant. The conclusion read:

For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”

More probable than not.” One thing for sure that will NOT disappear in our lifetime is the lawsuit. For the foreseeable future the three most popular letters will certainly be CYA. The the damning evidence was text messages between the officials locker room attendant and a Pats’ assistant equipment manager, and between the equipment man and Brady.

The first nine of the “Ten Things” article are the post office, checks, newspapers, books, land lines, corporate music, network television, “things” that you own and cursive writing (I recommend everyone to Google the article – whichever version – well worth the time). Most in that group are in the process of being phased out as you are reading this post, and they are understandable, although they still elicit feelings of nostalgia for us baby boomers. One hit home for me. My summer job in college – following my freshman, sophomore and junior years – was working for the post office. Great people and, considering millions of pieces of mail were processed daily, they had a pretty darn good success rate. Obviously, email hurt the post office badly. Also, FedEx and UPS deeply cut into their revenues, as well as so many businesses encouraging online payments. Today, most post office mail is either bills or junk.

What really got me thinking, after hearing about the Wells report and seeing its conclusion, however, was #10 – privacy. I can’t believe that anyone from the baby boomer generation and decades after hasn’t read George Orwell’s book, 1984. The central theme was about Big Brother and how he was watching everything people did.

Most people would think that if, in fact, he is guilty, someone as bright and thorough as Tom Brady would have at the very least deleted any such messages. But that’s just it – even though the parties involved might have deleted such texts – they’re never really deleted. They remain . . . somewhere in the cloud. That evokes memories of Big Brother – up there in the clouds – looking down on everyone, invading their privacy. Quoting from the article, “There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, on most policemen (and maybe soon everyday civilians will be wearing them) and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7, ‘They’ know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View.”

Goodnight, privacy. Hello, identity theft. For all of you new generation of technology lovers, just remember that there are people out there with skills superior to yours – and some of them might be hackers, using it not for the good of humankind but for illegal personal gain. Or, just to mess with you and screw up your life. I’m not so old that I’ve totally lost my memory. Of things we did when we were younger that, well, suffice to say I’m forever grateful that few, if any, people out there had a camera to record some of the foolish and nonsensical pranks and acts we did that seemed so cool or funny at the time. On the flip side, if citizens being armed with such equipment can video the picture on the cover of the 4/20/15 issue of Time, the picture of a policeman in shooter’s stance, gunning down a guy running away, maybe that will paint such a vivid picture in the minds of everybody that proper behavior is required to be a part of society.

Although the sentiment of the author is more extreme than I would agree with, I have to admit I’m certainly leaning toward his conclusion:

“Glad we lived when we did.”







Nothing Has Changed in the Last Five Years

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Below is a blog I posted five years ago (with a few minor edits) regarding NBA players’ reactions to referees’ calls. Talk about lack of progress in the illustration of accountability to younger athletes. See if you agree.

While the NBA Playoffs are played by the best athletes in the world, and are unquestionably exciting and entertaining, as a parent, I have one major criticism. (No, it’s not the “hack-a-somebody” tactics). And while I’m not a fan of tattoos, the tats aren’t what upset me, either. Young players are tremendously influenced by those competing at the highest level, especially when the winner gets to be called World Champions.

My issue is with the amount of complaining done by (seemingly) every player on the floor! And of course, in a league where coaches’ jobs depend a great deal on getting along with, i.e. coddling their players, the guys in suits fit right into the “attack the refs” philosophy (so as to be seen as “having the players’ backs”). If a guy misses a shot, it’s almost like it’s his obligation to yell at the referee before running back to defend. But these guys complain on every play – even when they score! Maybe they truly feel that way, maybe they do it “to get the next call” (an act that couldn’t possibly work or else every other call would be a make-up), or maybe it’s a “save face” mechanism (“No wonder he missed – again – he got hit”). Or, maybe they’re just complainers.

What makes the player (or coach) look particularly bad is that the replays, so many times, show the right call (or non-call) was made (or wasn’t). Also, on the calls that are missed (keep in mind, referees don’t have the benefit of replay on most calls – and they see it live – often involving two or more of the most athletic people on earth), we never see the guy who got away with fouling admit he committed an illegal act. No, he (inwardly – or sometimes even outwardly) smiles, thrilled to having “stolen one,” e.g. how many times replays show a defender grabbing his man’s jersey, with no foul being whistled.

Although it’s next to impossible to find a fan who will admit it (especially if his team just lost), NBA referees are the best in the business. After all, there’s no higher league. So it’s either let them call the game or play “call-your-on-foul” like in pick-up games. Imagine the absurdity of implementing that idea. There are arguments at gyms throughout the country when that method is used – and those fellas are mainly playing to work up a sweat, not for the Lawrence O’Brien trophy (and all that comes with it, e.g. winner’s share, perks, adulation and, oh yeah, a ring).

What irks me, as a parent, is that this childish behavior trickles down (more like cascades) to the levels below. On any given day or night, in any game, at any level, anywhere, spectators see the participants (most of them haven’t earned the title of “player” yet) driving to the basket, taking wild shots and then, after the inevitable miss, looking at the officials, arms out, gesturing as if a crime had been committed right under the guy in the striped shirt’s nose. The ones they get away with, they don’t take ownership of, just the ones that (rightly or wrongly) go against them.

This behavior is so unbecoming – and its negative effect is compounded when the coach (head or assistants) scream at the refs. It used to be coaches would go to the stare (made famous by John Chaney – who actually was intimidating) but, in recent years, this method of disapproval has fizzled out. With the amount of money players make in comparison to their coaches (in nearly all cases), they (whether right or wrong) want to see support from the coach – and simply staring is no longer an acceptable form of protest from upper management. We must not forget, though, that all kids who are involved with a sport (independent of which one it is) aspire to play at the highest level, meaning the concept of “act like those who are already there” is paramount to their behavior.

I’ve always enjoyed reading good books, especially inspirational, motivational, self-help or auto- or biographical. In the book The Oz Principle  is a powerful quote which many in our culture need to adopt:

“Victimization holds that circumstances and other people prevent you from achieving your goals. . . Performance invariably improves when people take greater accountability and ownership for results.”

Chris Paul’s Critics Can Now Disappear – Forever

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Trip to Monterey for CSUMB’s post-season basketball awards banquet, followed by a couple of meetings. This blog will return on Thursday, May 7.

Fans listening to the TV/radio experts and reading the “far from experts’ comments” on social media don’t have to wait or search very long before coming across somebody criticizing Chris Paul. Even though the majority of people who possess a deep knowledge of the sport of basketball and the position of point guard are complimentary of CP3, he has his doubters. The biggest slam is that, while certainly considered one of the premiere point guards in the NBA, he can’t lead his team to victory in the playoffs. That talk should cease – effective immediately. In a series entirely too good for the first round, Chris Paul did what the average human being, e.g. all of his critics, might not even be able to dream of doing.

After last night it’s quite apparent that his skills clearly surpass those of his critics’. That’s not as obvious a statement as it appears. I’m referring to his basketball and leadership expertise compared to whatever their talent is (talk show host, sportswriter, whatever social media people do) that puts food on their tables.

It was abundantly clear the amount of pain Paul was in midway through the first quarter. Allow me to present a brief lesson in pain. After my emergency thoracic back surgery (T 10-11) in 2004, I was in such agony, I was begging for a miracle. When the surgeon told me of an option called a spinal cord stimulator, I thought my prayers were answered. He explained how the device (which would be implanted in the left side of my midsection) would work. Pain, he explained, is simply a message – from wherever it hurts, to the brain – which, then, informs the body of the issue. The way the spinal cord stimulator is supposed to work is it intercepts the pain signal before it gets to the brain. I got one implanted but, unfortunately, the stimulator never worked for me.

Last night, somehow, Chris Paul summoned the ability to block out his pain. Have you ever tried to do that? Anytime you feel a shooting pain in the body, your first impulse is to automatically grab wherever the intense discomfort is. In that regard, CP3 is just like all of us. Unlike the rest of us, however, either he has a built-in stimulator (of course, I’m joking) or his brain is so strong he can make it reject pain signals. Maybe .01% of people (nearly all of them involved with UFC) have such a “strength.” Paul’s ability of being able to fully focus on the task at hand – ball handling, passing, defending (including all the pick & rolls he was subjected to) and, of course, shooting – while completely blocking out the sharp pain that is telling him to STOP!” is how legends are made.

Even CP3’s critics will admit it was his guttiest performance. (In my mind, similar to MJ’s “flu” game in Utah and bigger than Willis Reed’s limping on the floor for the Knicks – after all, following his two Js, Frazier took over). But, the critics will cling to the fact that it only came in the first round of the playoffs. Nonsense. These was the Spurs, the defending champs, a franchise that won five titles (with the basically the same core group) and, while it was on L.A.’s home floor, this was a Game 7, uncharted waters for the Clippers. Never, ever, should Chris Paul be criticized for not being able to lead a team, or come up big, in a pressure situation.

Paul was voted president of the players’ union. He commands respect – from everyone. He’s a great husband and father, and his reputation is beyond reproach, i.e. never on any page of the newspaper other those that make up the sports section. Yet, he’s admitted that when he gets on the floor and the game begins, he’s a totally different person. It’s simple, he claims, when he steps on that floor, winning is his only goal and he will literally fight anyone standing in my way. His behavior toward his (off-the-court) friends can get downright rude but, as he says, “After the game, we’re all cool.” But, no matter who it is, if his uniform isn’t the same as CP3’s, he’s the enemy.

Last night came down to defying “common sense.” What doctors usually tell patients who ask when they should limit exercise is, “Listen to your body.” During last night’s game, CP3’s response was:

“Sorry to disobey but I have a bunch of people I just can’t let down.”







The NBA Could Learn from the NCAA

Friday, May 1st, 2015

When I broke into intercollegiate athletics at the University of Vermont in 1972, the NCAA was one of the most powerful and feared organizations in the nation. Right up there with the Teamsters. Walter Byers was the executive director of the NCAA but his title within athletics circles was referred to as “The Czar.”

If there was one common thread among the participating institutions it was, “No one can withstand an NCAA investigation. They were always going to find something. There was no such thing as major or minor violations. The rulebook was so vaguely written that the standard line among coaches was, “The NCAA doesn’t penalize you for those violations they can prove (and with so many rules, everybody breaks one, often without knowledge). The probation they place on the school is for violations they’re sure you committed but couldn’t prove.

The NCAA had sympathy from some people and media because their investigators didn’t have subpoena power. The governing body even had coaches and athletics administrators who felt bad for them because, at that time, there were some incredibly rogue programs, playing fast and loose with the rules but always seeming to be able to stay a step or two ahead.

As most fans are now aware, Jerry Tarkanian initially got into hot water with the NCAA when he was asked to write a column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He wrote what everybody felt – about how corrupt an organization the NCAA was, how it used selective enforcement and concluded the piece with the famous line, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it’s going to give Cleveland State two more years’ probation.”

Whether it got so frustrating for the people who headed up the compliance division when they saw how difficult it was to actually prove a case, or those same people “saw the light” and realized the methods their own investigators were using were less than kosher, a change was made that drastically changed the NCAA. The head of compliance and, later, one of his chief lieutenants, left the NCAA to represent schools which were being investigated by the parent organization, in NCAA parlance, they went over to the dark side. Since then, their won-loss record has flipped and their bank account balances have skyrocketed.

When the higher profile colleges (those that make money off of football and basketball) decided they had enough bullying from the NCAA, mainly allowing smaller institutions to vote on monetary issues to “keep a level playing field” (meaning pass no legislation the majority of schools couldn’t afford), they revolted. What was formed was the Power Five conferences who now can, for all intents and purposes, govern themselves. Thus, the “great and powerful Oz” (NCAA) had fallen, due mostly to its own ego and arrogance.

There is another major sports group which might just be following that same path of destruction. Namely, the NBA. The NBA is judge, jury and executioner for anything related to professional basketball in this country (as well as its Toronto affiliate). It levies fines on its franchises’ employees whenever infractions are committed. The amounts of the fines, which would be devastating to individual families, are seldom questioned due to the outrageous salaries made by players and coaches. In addition, the fines, especially those that seem unwarranted, are alleged to be paid by the ball club (whose owners’ net worths dwarf their employees). These exorbitant tariffs are excused because they go into a charity fund and donated to worthy causes.

There was no more flagrant example than the fine assessed Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach, Doc Rivers following some erroneous calls in Game 5 of the Clips-San Antonio Spurs playoff series.

“I don’t complain much,” Doc said. “I thought we got some really tough calls tonight, some brutal calls. The travel on Blake” (which video replay showed was in no way a travel), “the goaltend on Matt, which wasn’t a goaltend” (after viewing the replay, just as obvious a blown call as the travel call on Griffin). “You think about the playoffs, and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial. J.J.’s foul that got him out, J.J. didn’t touch anyone” (ditto). “It’s not why we lost, but those were big plays for us.”

The coach prefaced his remarks by saying he doesn’t complain much (certainly meaning post-game because make no mistake about it, there is no NBA coach who doesn’t complain during the game – if for no other reason than to keep up with his counterpart). Rivers didn’t go on a rampage or attack the referees, just referenced three calls as “brutal” – and then, named them. After making those comments, he admitted they weren’t the cause for the loss (with so many other plays that could have been made but weren’t, or shouldn’t have been attempted but were, there’s never a call, or two, or three that wins or loses a game). Doc concluded by saying that those calls were “big.” There shouldn’t be anyone, including the employees in the NBA office, who disagrees with that observation.

For that, the NBA fined Rivers $25,000. Shades of the old NCAA. We’re the boss; don’t question our authority. On TNT’s post game show, Charles Barkley, apparently speaking for the “common man” (with his bankroll, he no longer qualifies) made the comment that “$25,000 is a lot of money!” Not in NBA circles.

But keep going NBA and soon you, too, might have your wings clipped (as has the NCAA). As George Santayana said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Rondo Misunderstood; Should Have Taken an Alternate Route

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

There’s no way to describe Rajon Rondo’s move to the Dallas Mavericks other than it was a fiasco. The trade that was to put the Mavs over the top never materialized – at either end of the floor. In addition, the relationship between the point guard and head coach Rick Carlisle was rocky at best. After being benched in Game 2 of Dallas’ first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, the former All-Star guard was “ruled out indefinitely” with a back injury.

Following the game Carlisle was asked, “Do you expect Rondo to ever wear a Mavs’ uniform again?” His response was “No, I don’t.” For fans who want brevity and honesty, Carlisle satisfied both needs.

This latest event (the entire year, not just that playoff game) means next to zilch in the NBA as far as teams that will reach out to the enigmatic Rondo. After all, he’s still a talented pass-first point guard, who, at least, used to be a defensive asset, and is only 29 years old. Owners, general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the league talk to each other – and probably more than the average fan realizes. While much of a Rondo conversation undoubtedly deals with his quirky (giving him the benefit of the doubt) personality and the problems it causes, talented players always seem to find a place in today’s NBA. Especially in a league in which you’d better have a highly skilled point guard if a team wants to win big. Look around. Every team still playing has one (although Memphis’ young man is out of action).

Where all the negative talk will affect Rondo is in the area of a max deal. GMs will be hesitant to stick out their necks and advise their owner, i.e. their boss (as in the one who signs the checks and decides whom he desires as his GM), to spend max money on someone who has had such a checkered past. Their belief might just be that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past performance. Coaches, especially one whose contracts are nearing their end, feel as though, “Sure, he’s had his problems, but I can get through to him.” The main reason for this is simple. Talent is far and away the determining factor in winning in the NBA and this is a guy who can get a double figure assist game, seemingly anytime he wants. At one time in his career, he performed that feat 37 games in a row. So the motto is, it’s better to have an ultra-talented pain in the ass than a wonderful kid you’d want your daughter to marry but can’t get into the paint and struggles to keep guys in front of him.

In an article entitled Good At Math, Bad At People, written by Baxter Holmes for ESPN The Magazine, the author posed the question, “Can you really build a franchise around a guy like that?”

In the article, Kevin Garnett, Rondo’s former teammate on the Boston Celtics’ championship club sums up his old buddy by saying, “He’s got that fire, man. That alpha fire. That’s that knuckle-down, I’m-not-afraid-of-anything relentless attitude, like, ‘I’m coming at you and if you’re not ready, then I’m coming through you.’ That’s what makes him who he is. I always told him, ‘Don’t ever apologize for that, because that’s your mojo, that’s what makes you who you are.’ But he’s got to be able to control it. ‘Let that be a part of you, but control it. Don’t let it control you.’ ”

Celtics GM Danny Ainge, who traded Rondo to Dallas in December was quoted as saying, “He doesn’t like to be told what to do. He wants to be coached, but when you coach him, you’d better know what you’re talking about. And even then, he still may challenge you. The question always was, ‘Is he a good enough player to behave the way he does?’ ”

Rajon Rondo was a precocious child, excelling in math. Anything that has math involved and that has a competitive edge to it, e.g. card games (poker, bourré, spades), the game Connect Four, Lumosity brain games are right up his alley. Former coaches, while not denying that coaching Rondo is no slice of heaven, marvel at his ability to be two or three steps ahead of everyone on the floor. Several of his coaches and teammates, as well as Rondo himself, claim he has a photographic memory. Yet, as with many people who possess brilliant minds, a flaw Rondo has is admitting when he’s wrong. Even though it might not be that often.

Doug Bibbly, Rondo’s AP Geometry teacher and high school basketball coach, explained it this way. “It’s not that he doesn’t want to do what you say,” Bibby says. “He just thinks he has a better approach.”

Rondo answer? “If there are two coaches on the floor, you’re not always going to be on the same page.”

Bryan Doo, the Celtics’ strength and conditioning coach, “If you can’t keep up with him up here,” Doo says, pointing to his head, “he won’t listen to you.” And, Holmes, writes, what happens if you provide him with bad information? “Your credibility is shot,” Rondo says.

All of the above leads me to my main point. With the body and all that natural athletic ability Rondo possesses, plus the competitive zeal (the alpha fire KG describes), what a marvelous individual sport athlete he could have been. He has all the traits that make for a great tennis player (hand-eye coordination, athletic ability, physical conditioning, quickness for court coverage – basically, a McEnroe with size), golfer (hand-eye, torque, ability to want all the pressure on him, competitive fire), swimmer (size, sleek body, physical stamina), track & field athlete (you can almost pick any event), wrestler (quickness, strength, refusal to give in), boxer (quick hands and feet, great reach, strength, outright rage). Heck, he might have been a great bowler, although the monotony of rolling strike after strike might just bore him to try trick shots.

Certainly at issue would be his fighting direction from a coach but in those sports, a good coach explains to the player what and how things need to be done and it’s up to the athlete – and no one else – to perform. If that instruction results in winning, as is the case, especially early in a talented athlete’s career, it would fuel the relationship. While we will never know, you can almost visualize Rondo playing each sport – and succeeding. Had he been directed toward an individual sport – where every outcome depends on the athlete alone – we might have been extolling the virtues of an Olympic gold medalist or Grand Slam event champion.

In essence, Rajon Rondo is a tremendously gifted athlete with both physical and mental skills surpassing those with whom he deals. Possibly he could best be described as a loner, someone whose life parallels former NFL running back, Ricky Williams, who said:

“I do feel like a loner but I think it’s because I look at things differently than other people.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Headed for another wedding. A couple of my college roommates’ sons wound up getting married within three weeks of each other. This one’s in Ft. Lauderdale and, instead of a week at Myrtle Beach, like we did after the March wedding in Charleston, we’re spoiling ourselves with a cruise to the Caribbean. Why not? What’s retirement for anyway?

I’m sure I’ll have plenty to blog about by the next post on Tuesday, April 21. 

The NBA draft is made up of two rounds. i.e. a total of 60 picks. If a player is selected in the first round, his contract is guaranteed. In other words, he gets his money – independent of how well (or poorly) he plays, if he gets injured, even if the team cuts him. A second rounder receives meal money during camp and a spot on the franchise’s summer league club. It’s incumbent upon him to make the (up to) 15 player roster if he wants a steady check.

Last year nearly 44 underclassmen declared early for the 2014 NBA draft, 29 got drafted, 18 of those in the first round – with 17 out of the first 23 picks being underclassmen. In 2013 the numbers of early entrants was 48, 28 of whom heard their names called. Two-thirds of the first round were underclassmen. How about 2012? The numbers are eerily similar. 49 put their names into the draft before exhausting their collegiate eligibility. Of those, 29 were drafted – 24 in the first-round (16 of the first 17). Every one of the 29 who were selected went in the top 45 picks.

Those numbers almost seem that it’s worthwhile to leave school early – or at least consider it. Maybe so, but only they can tell. 55 of them over the past three years gave up college eligibility to . . . do what? Maybe their academic situation dictated they “put their name in the draft” to, you know, save face.  On occasion I’ve heard, “Aw, it was time, I couldn’t have accomplished any more in college.” (Translation: “I didn’t feel like studying harder and spending extra time with the tutors the program had set up for me, knowing I was a ‘special admit’ and needed extra assistance just to stay eligible in the first place). Believe it or not, for some kids, they have a better chance at playing professionally than they do of earning a college degree. Whether this type of academic risk should have been admitted in the first place is for another blog.

It could have been that they got bad advice from someone or maybe, as is the case among athletes, their egos exceeded their ability. Or, possibly, they were dismissed due to a legal issue (or issues) or they failed one too many “tests” – the kind administered by the training staff that’s impossible to study for.

In all likelihood, they’re playing overseas or in the NBA Development league, clinging to that shot they get called up for a 10-day contract in the “league.” And why not? If you can make a living playing a game, what better way to enjoy life? It’s not like someone can take a job in the business world and, when they turn 40 say, “You know, I think I’ll start that professional basketball (or whatever sport) career now.”

Hey, it’s a good job if you can land one. After all:

“It’s called, PLAY ball, not WORK ball.”

Ryan’s Remarks the Result of Unfortunate Timing

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Following his team’s heartbreaking loss in the national championship, head coach Bo Ryan made some not-so-veiled critical comments regarding the officiating, as well as a remark about not using “rent-a-players” (fifth year guys who have graduated from their original institution but, due to redshirting during one of them, are allowed to transfer and be immediately eligible elsewhere). In other words, Bo likes to build his team from within, developing players from their freshman year until they’re seniors (the way it was done in the “old days”). Frank Kaminsky going from a six-minute a game man to National Player of the Year is his prime example.

Still, many will say, why couldn’t Ryan simply have been a gracious loser, congratulate Duke and hear the applause from fans everywhere? The reason was beautifully articulated by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, a former (as opposed to wannabe or “after the fact”) college head coach. Seth educated viewers 1) that in tournament games, the losing team and coach speak first at the post game press conference podium, 2) that this takes place only minutes after the final horn sounds and 3) that the realization is just sinking in that, not only has the season come to an end but so, too, has the player-coach relationship which, in Bo’s case has been 3-4 years. Just. Like. That. What Kaminsky said is true – it’s not like family, they are family. Emotions couldn’t be running any higher.

Consider that the Badgers won the Big 10 regular season championship and the Big 10 tournament (Duke accomplished neither, making the national championship an all-or-nothing proposition). Consider also that 60 out of 68 of Duke’s points were scored by their four freshmen and that Duke’s eighth man, frosh (what else) Grayson Allen had 16 points – a guy who didn’t even step on the court in the first Duke-Wisconsin game. Plus the fact that his club had a nine point lead with 13:17 remaining in the game with Okafor and Winslow in foul trouble (when, of all people, Allen, scores eight in a row on a three, an old fashioned three-point play and a deuce).

According to Bo, Wisconsin was “#1 in the nation in offensive efficiency . . . committed the least number of fouls during the year, a team that got to the free throw line,” evidently all areas of emphasis in his program. He felt none of this took place last night and UW lost. The national championship.

So, here’s Bo Ryan who, immediately after losing the biggest game of the season, has to go to the presser. He just lost what probably will be his best ever shot at winning a national championship. It’s not exactly like Wisconsin is an odds on favorite to win it all every year (except maybe 1942 when they could have repeated). At the press conference he explains the technique they teach at Wisconsin – which has led to his club committing the least number of fouls – yet last night fouls were called for using that same technique. Throw in two out-of-bounds calls, one which leads to a bucket in which Winslow’s foot is definitely on the line (but was outside of three minutes so it couldn’t be reviewed) and another which was inside two minutes. It’s just that the only three people in the world who mattered claimed they couldn’t see anything to overrule the original call . . . the one the play-by-play and his two color commentators had been thoroughly explaining to millions of people was off Winslow.

Possibly going through Bo’s mind was that, had they won, they would have done so in the most difficult manner: beating a #4 seed (North Carolina), a #2 (Arizona), a #1 (Kentucky) and another #1 (Duke). When your guys have gone through such an arduous path – and come so close – it’s just a hard pill to swallow.

There will be the Duke (and Coack K) supporters who will claim that Mike would have (and has) handled it better than Bo did. Is that because he’s classier than Bo or because it’s easier when you already have four of them? Maybe if he had a little more time to compose himself, his comments would have been tempered.

But television rules and they want raw emotion. In addition, they need to get commercials in, as well as post game comments from those who called the game for CBS, the studio foursome at the game, the studio group somewhere else in – or outside – the arena, ESPN’s studio people, Dick Vitale and any unexpected, but certainly welcome guest, e.g. the President – but only if his bracket was leading the pool.

While there might be some sympathy for the losing coach and team members (recall Andrew Harrison’s remarks after his UK squad had just had their 40-0 dreams dashed, that they’d heard about every day of the season, something they worked for half a year to achieve – and were forced to face the press just moments later), there is, however, no empathy. What’s the difference between the two?

“If you tell me you’re seasick and I say I’m sorry, that’s sympathy. If I turn green, that’s empathy.”

Rest assured, Bo, that anyone who’s ever coached at that level is feeling green for you.