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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.”

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!”

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?”


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.”

A New Type of Ballot for the Coming Presidential Election

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

When it comes to political discussions, it seems as though every time people say which candidate they’re backing, there’s somebody in the room who will question their sanity. Are you serious?” is the question they hear. “How can you be for him/her?” is the follow up.

Since I’m much more interested in people than politics, I enjoy listening to the answers much more than I do discussing my choice. Invariably, the answer and its justification – independent of which candidate they name – begins the exact same way. The first thing out of the person’s mouth, make it the first three things (after that, it’s obvious how they truly feel), is something negative about the opponent of whomever they mention as their choice.

If people say they’re for Donald Trump, there’s always someone in the room (assuming there are a minimum of four people in the room) who is incredulous anyone could vote for a guy who seems to only opens his mouth to change feet. Should those asked say Hillary Clinton is their choice (once again, assuming there are a minimum of four people in the room), there always is a person within earshot who will launch into how she has been less than truthful with the American public (putting it mildly). The reason for this is most likely because there are at least 25% of the people in the country who a) are fearful of what a Trump presidency would do or b) whose lives have gotten worse over the past eight years or, simply, who see the general mood in the country as less positive than is healthy – and attribute it to the Democrats.

Consider this statistic: The Libertarian candidate received 8% of the vote when people were polled – and almost no one knows who he is!

Here’s my proposal: have two ballots for every voter but only one is allowed to be submitted, depending on how strongly he or she feels about why that choice was selected. One ballot has the names Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and whoever else is running, as well as a place to write in a candidate). The person voting is to choose which candidate is their choice to be our next president.

The other ballot has only two names on it: Hillary & Donald. Except on this one, the voter chooses which candidate they do NOT want to see elected. From what I hear – and I’ve make it a point to listen carefully and not express an opinion (mainly because I don’t really have one), there are infinitely more people who fear a Trump presidency or loathe another four (probably eight) more years of what’s been going on (no matter how good the president is telling everybody things currently are).

I’ve never seen staunch party members at such odds with their candidate. Obviously, from the absence of so many influential party members at the Republican National Convention, it’s a natural assumption that there is unrest in that party. Similarly, not counting people who are prone to have an upbeat view of life (the number of whom are rapidly dwindling), the people who usually count themselves as Democrats aren’t as vocal for the former Secretary of State as they are appalled by Trump. Their comments are less and less about the virtues of Hillary Clinton than they are vitriolic toward the Republican nominee – possibly because there’s more of the latter than the former.

Donald Trump is seen as someone who will not only be at odds with someone who disagrees with him, but will attack that person. He says things that people wish they had the nerve to say – and gets away with it! But, in sensitive negotiations with foreign dignitaries, is that the guy you want? A guy who will call someone – who might have a finger on the red button – a derogatory, maybe even vulgar name? Or mock them for their beliefs?

Hillary Clinton is a far more polished politician than Trump. But isn’t that what the public is sick of and frustrated with? Too many politicians have been branded – and rightfully so – as lazy and entitled when it comes to performing their jobs, as well as having a propensity to lie and be immoral or unscrupulous.

While nobody can be certain of how an election like this would turn out, I’m confident that the greatest number of ballots would be the “against” version. Overwhelmingly so. I’ve lived 68 years, in nine different states and based on my observations of talking and listening to people, watching television (all outlets included), reading newspapers, magazines and, even, Facebook posts of friends (which can’t be anonymous) from all over the country, the one factor that rules is, unfortunately, hatred of a candidate.

While I truly believe many, many more people would vote against someone than for him or her, my biggest problem with this idea is . . . what do we do with the results? Maybe elect whichever candidate receives the most votes “for” or maybe elect whichever one receives the fewest “againsts.” One thing for certain, though, and that is that there is little doubt that this election has come down to one overriding question:

“Which candidate would you rather not have as your president?”

Good Intentions, Poor Results

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Every year, at the two sessions of Michael Jordan Flight School, there are stories that become camp classics. This past year, the second session of which ended last Tuesday, proved to be no different. The next few posts will deal with this year’s happenings.

The camp is made up of nine leagues, divided by age and ability. Each league has a commissioner. Basically, there are nine “camps” and each commissioner runs his camp. My league (the Big 12) was the third oldest, made up of 14-year-olds. The camp is sold out year after year but, what’s changed throughout the years, is that more and more foreign youngsters attend – especially Chinese. Of the 95 campers in our league, 29 were from China – and every one of them spoke only Mandarin.

The camp is incredibly organized but, from a communication standpoint, the previous two years left much to be desired. The Chinese group that attended (around 200) brought “interpreters” with them. However, many of them barely spoke English (apparently, their buddies told them they could get a free trip to the United States so they just wanted to know where to sign up) and none of them understood basketball, meaning if a coach told them to “hedge” on a screen, they’d translate it as a hedge – like a bush – and nobody had any idea what was going on.

I called Pete Vaz, a coaching friend I met about 15 years ago at MJFS when he coached at camp. Pete worked at Mission San Jose High School in the Bay Area, a school that is rated the sixth best academic high school in California and the 76th in the nation – outstanding numbers considering it’s a public school. It has a high concentration of Chinese Americans. I begged Pete for help and he came through, finding one of his former point guards, Shou Chang (see blog from 8/14/15), who speaks fluent English and Mandarin. He saved us – and this year Shou brought four of his friends to interpret. In addition to a few summer school students from UCSB (where the camp is based) who spoke both languages, there was an interpreter for each league.

This year, not only did the Big 12 have 38 of our 91 campers who spoke Chinese as their first language, we had a group of 15 kids from Mexico – who spoke Spanish as their first language. After I would give instructions to the league, Shou would relay what I said in Mandarin, followed by one of our coaches who would speak Spanish to those ESL kids. Not surprisingly, with the attention span of 14-year-olds being what it is, a few of our youngsters didn’t end up at the location where I directed them to be.

Not to be discouraged, I went into motivational speaker mode. For several years at the end of last century and the beginning of this one, I was a member of the National Speakers Association. Companies and groups would pay me to deliver a positive, inspiring message to their employees and members. I appealed to the English-speaking kids’ empathy, asking them how they would feel if they were in a foreign country where only a smattering of people spoke English. If they were lost – and had no idea where they were – wouldn’t it be nice if someone from the host country “adopted” them, making sure they got to the proper place? “You don’t have to eat with them, hang around with them, text or “friend” them on Facebook – just latch onto them and make sure they get from where we are to where we’re going. Then, go back to your friends and they’ll go back to theirs.” I gave as rousing a speech as I could muster, certain they would take my message to heart. As a group, the American kids promised me they’d follow my instructions.

Then – at the very next roll call – we lost a Chinese kid.

During the second session, with 99% of the league composed of new campers, we made some tactical changes – and didn’t lose a single camper – which shows we learned from our mistakes. Everyone knows:

“It’s not how you start but how you finish.”


Great Day for the Fertig Boys

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

Readers will have to excuse me. Seldom do I enter a post that has solely to do with me or my family. The reason I’m doing so now is a coincidence that occurred one day I was working at Michael Jordan’s basketball camp.

First, our older son, Andy, an account executive with Salesforce, called to say that the deal he’d been working – since February – had finally closed. While I possess little to no skills or knowledge in the anything tech, he tried to explain what happened. It began as a big deal for his area, ESB (emerging small business). As he spoke to the company’s reps, they began to add more employees. Then, impressed with the product (for those readers who don’t know, Salesforce is a $9 billion company which Fortune 100 has ranked as high as the 7th best organization in which to work), Andy was able to upsell them on several items. Whatever, it became a six figure deal – the largest ESB deal in the west. Technically, at that point, it was an SMB (small & medium business) deal but, after some in-house negotiations (and the fact Andy had worked on it for six months), he was able to keep (most of) it. When it closed, it was reported he ran down the hall, whooping it up. One deal that accounted for 165% of his quota will do that to a guy.

A company-wide email was sent by his boss that began, “How do you take a 5 GE customer and upgrade them to 70 EE Service Cloud & 14 Knowledge? All you have to do is ask @Andrew Fertig.” It was followed by six bullet points his manager listed, none of which I fully understood. Still, it’s nice to have your boss tooting your horn to your colleagues.

Later that very same day, younger son, Alex, called to say that he was finally selected to play for a team in Australia. He flew to Brisbane days after graduating from Cal State Monterey Bay (where he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer). The season had already started (in April) for teams in the Queensland League (a highly competitive league) but there was optimism that he’d be able to catch on with one of their clubs. Immediately, bad luck hit every one of the people who were going to help, e.g. a stroke suffered by the father of his host, the death of a family member of his trainer, a heart attack that slowed the guy who was going to place him (although, with a couple stents, he survived). All of this kept him from even touching a ball for four days. Not having practiced at all, a coach picked him up for a tryout – an hour and a half away. By the time he got out of the car, the odds were heavily stacked against him.

A week or so later, it looked as though he’d found a club when a player was sent home, but the coach decided the replacement should be a big man. Another such SNAFU occurred and, with the season winding down, Alex’s Australian hoops career seemed doomed before it ever started. He did impress his trainer enough that he was allowed to train with his South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) team. The SEABL & Queensland are the best two leagues in the country after the NBL (Australia’s version of the NBA). In addition to training with the team, he stayed in shape by doing cardio and lifting weights while scrambling to make enough money to get by. He refereed, worked out young athletes, put on clinics and, with two talented girls he had just met (the only two in the tournament), managed to finish second in a 3×3 tournament, splitting $1000 with his two teammates.

After receiving notice of selection to play for the Eagles of the Darwin League, a lesser talented division in the northern section of the country, Alex faced adversity in attempting to obtain the proper paperwork to allow him to be eligible. It wasn’t until the afternoon of his first game that he received notice he was cleared to play. That night he took out his frustrations on the opposition, leading his team to a 110-92 victory, scoring a career-high 53 points.

I called my wife later that night and when she asked me how I was doing, I quoted Larry David:

“Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.”

The Legend of Michael Jordan Grows Even Larger

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Michael Jordan Flight School (basketball camp) in Santa Barbara just completed its 21st year. There are two sessions, each composed of approximately 850 youngsters from 8-18 years of age. The first session is boys only, the second is coed. Each year there are “celebrity kids” and this year was no exception. During this year’s first session, sons of Chris Paul, Monta Ellis, Michael Finley and Matt Barnes (brought to camp by their mom and her boyfriend, Derek Fisher) all attended camp.

A tradition at the camp is each night MJ emcees shooting contests. One night the competition was a game called “Around the World.” The rules of the game are as follows: first, the shooter had to make a lay up. Miss and he was out. If he made it, he would move to the elbow, free throw line and opposite elbow. Miss any of those three and . . . game over. Then it was on to the three-point line. The player shot from five spots on the floor – each corner and wing, plus one from the top of the free throw circle (moving counterclockwise). If the contestant made shots from all five spots, he then had to make a layup – and then, to win it all, a free throw. On this night each shooter was given two “mulligans” (but only one per spot), i.e. a make following a missed three kept the contestant in the game. No second chances on the layups or the free throw. A player lost if he 1) missed either layup, 2) missed twice in a row at one of the three-point spots, 3) missed at three of the three-point spots or 4) missed the free throw.

After choosing several kids, he asked for volunteers from the audience (parents – both fathers and mothers). The shooter is under quite a bit of pressure, having to shoot in front of 900+ campers, coaches and staff. In addition that evening there was a crowd of parents, siblings and locals estimated between 500-700. In order to put even more heat on contestants, Michael told the youngster that if he won, he would score free shoes – for every member of his camp team (between 10-12 kids).

After going through an entire evening with not one winner (the second session saw three people – two campers and a dad – win), MJ called out Monta Ellis and challenged the Pacers star. Ellis made the layup but knocked down only the corner J before missing two in a row from the wing. Next up, Chris Paul. MJ decided to raise the stakes. He said, “If Chris wins, every camper (all 850) gets a free pair of shoes!” Much to the delight of the kid, CP3 buried shot after shot – until he go to the final corner, only to rim out both tries.

Derek Fisher followed CP – only this time, Michael announced he was shooting for every person in the building. If Fish won, aside from the fact that Nike would be mailing out somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 pairs of shoes, the staff would have to deal with the logistical nightmare of getting names and addresses of everyone in the stands. The kids’ information would be in the camp data bank but how would we get names, addresses and sizes of all the people in the bleachers, e.g. beyond the obvious, how would we keep someone from circling back and giving their neighbor’s or relative’s name?

Fisher, using one of his mulligans, made all the way around the world. He then made the second layup. Only the free throw stood between a memorable event and chaos. Much to the dismay of the group, D-Fish missed. Camp higher ups breathed a sigh of relief.

Chris Paul, one who understands how to seize a moment, grabbed the microphone and said, “Michael, how about you shoot for the campers – but with the opposite holding true – meaning, if Michael does not win, everybody gets a pair of shoes.” Talk about walking the walk.

Michael made the layup and each of the three shots from the free throw line, as well as the first corner three-pointer. However, he missed his wing three, only to knock down his mulligan to stay alive (and keep the Nike execs from experiencing heart failure). The shot from top of the circle was another miss but he followed up with a wet three. Now, he was out of do-overs. He made the next two threes and the layup – all with Chris Paul talking (G-rated) trash, rolling the ball so MJ had to bend over to get it. As if that wasn’t enough, Chris had the ultimate challenge for his friend.

“This morning, when Michael was lecturing on free throws, he told y’all that how important practice was and how he practiced so much, he could make a free throw with his eyes closed. So, it’s only right for him to shoot his final free throw . . . with his eyes closed.” The one thing about Michael Jordan that everybody knows is how competitive he is. So, he accepted the dare – with over 1,500 pairs of shoes on the line. CP even put his hand over MJ’s eyes as he shot. The ball not only went in but the net barely moved. The shot went straight down the middle.

What shocked me – and made Michael Jordan human – was what the camp’s host admitted to the group after he had just “disappointed” everyone in the building:

“That’s the most nervous I’ve been in the last 20 years.”


Could Police Violence Be Thwarted?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

As stated in yesterday’s post, most of what I comment on is limited to the sporting world. Maybe it’s my version of “staying in my lane.” However, after thinking about the police killing of minorities (mainly young black men) and, conversely, young black men killing policemen, I had an idea. After reading this, you may suggest I get back in my lane.

For my last ten years of my working life (full-time, anyway), I worked for, arguably, the greatest politically correct school district in the nation. It also is one of the only (the only?) school district without a teachers union (which, in my opinion, worked fine for us – give or take a few instances) but that’s another story. Prior to that decade of my life, I worked as director of basketball operations at Fresno State, the school that had to have set records for gender equality lawsuits. In fact, I was a member of the Gender Equity Monitoring (GEM) Committee. It was a real gem, too.

Therefore, my thinking has become guarded, whether deciding what to say, how to say it, what to do, whatever. In some ways it was a refreshing look at how to approach issues. Gone were the days of “good ol’ boy” thinking, e.g. the one that always tickled me, “What’s good for football is good for the university.” First of all, it was modeled after the saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” That statement came from, not surprisingly, the head of GM. The football take off on it came from, duh, the football coach. Off color jokes weren’t as welcome, or tolerated, as they were in the past century.

That’s more than enough of a introduction toward what struck me a couple days ago as a potentially good idea. One problem with hiring these days is none other than political correctness. When someone applies for a job, no longer can an employer require information regarding race, religious or sexual preference, or anything of that nature.

After the brutal slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, which occurred as retaliation to black men who were killed by policemen, a thought crossed my mind – which I initially dismissed as being “politically” impossible. Here’s my idea – and maybe some reader out there can tell me whether it’s possible or illegal.

Aspiring police officers have to go through the police academy. How about if part of the police academy agenda was a polygraph test, in which the officer-to-be had to answer blatant questions like, “Are you a racist?” and “Are you anti-gay (or other groups)?” and “Do you feel some women are to blame in domestic violence cases?” In a “normal” job interview, any such question would attract lawyers near and far but, when hiring a police officer?

With controversial (actually, a better word would be misunderstood) movements like Black Lives Matters, tension is high around the country. Although it occurred a while ago, let’s not forget about the Ray Rice situation and the controversial, OK misunderstood, comments by Stephen A. Smith. Any “incorrect” answer would disqualify, and justifiably so, the potential candidate. Can anyone imagine, if in any of the the instances when black men were struck down by policemen, that the officer had answered Yes to such a question – independent of how passionate the officer was toward the job? Supposedly, there are ways to beat polygraphs but this idea would certainly reveal something sinister in a candidate’s character.

My first thought was, bad idea, politically incorrect and probably illegal. Then again, why not? Whether we like it or not, being a police officer is something that needs serious scrutiny. My question to everyone out there is:

“Could it be that easy?”

Competitive Balance vs. Super Teams

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Although great players have joined forces in the past, the signing of Kevin Durant by the Golden State Warriors has pushed the topic to the forefront and elicited more opinions than ever before. People are in different camps on this subject, with strong beliefs on both sides. As far as my feeling, I’m not really sure. Here’s the information I’ve gathered which probably is the reason I can’t make up my mind.

One reason for my indecision is that I’m starting out completely neutral, in that I have no team in particular that’s my favorite. I used to pull for players from the programs where I coached. Now, since they’re all retired, I root for coaches I know. My college coaching coaching began in 1972, ended in 2002. Many of the guys I “grew up with” in the business wound up in the NBA. I remain in touch with several of them and that’s where I get some pretty good insight into why teams make the decisions they do. Their take on the professional game, be it strategy, practices, trades or free agency enlightens me beyond my personal feelings.

My assessment of the Durant deal has many parts. A caller to one of the talk shows made the statement that when the Heat put together their super team, they didn’t exactly dominate, winning only two championships. Unless he was comparing Miami to Red Auberbach’s Celtics’ teams, I’m not sure he understands what dominance is. After all, the team played four years together and went to four NBA Finals. Would they have had to go 4-4 to be considered a super team? When one team goes to the Finals four straight years, that’s not competitive balance. As far as the current rosters of the NBA are concerned, competitive balance is nowhere to be found, unless we’re talking about the teams that come after the top 5-6. Sure, the “on any given day” theory still is true over an 82-game season but the only reason some of the bottom 2/3rds of the teams in the league will be in next year’s playoffs, is because 16 teams (out of 30) have to be.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the statement that he didn’t think the Durant signing was good for the league because the NBA needs competitive balance. Give credit to Silver, though, who, after an impromptu meeting with Durant’s mother and hearing what she had to say, came to the conclusion that KD’s decision was different. In fact, every situation is different, admitted the commish. The Durant-Warriors case is not at all like what LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh did forming the magnificent trio in Miami mainly because those three colluded for, supposedly, a year. KD is joining a team that has been put together through the draft. The pre-KD Dubs are a collection of first round draft picks, with the exception of Draymond Green – who obviously should have been one.

Does that now make the Warriors a “super team?” Of course it does. Silver said he hopes the new collective bargaining agreement will address competitive balance. Should OKC lose (or be forced to trade) Russell Westbrook, it will be highly unlikely a team in such a small market will ever recover. Indiana, Orlando, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte, Memphis and others fall into the same category. San Antonio has been the outlier.

One topic I’ve not yet heard (although I imagine it’s been discussed) is the fact that Joe Lacob, owner of the Golden State Warriors (and the rest of his front office staff), did exactly what an owner is supposed to do. The signing of Kevin Durant was certainly in the best interest of the franchise and its fan base and he (and his people) should be applauded for their presentation and ultimate victory. Independent of what any owner says, any one of them would have made the same move given the opportunity.

Now, on to something that’s bothersome. While I do believe talk radio is over the top – and is intended to be that way – the comments of the Warriors being the team everyone (other than their faithful) will hate is a bit much. The word hate should be reserved for issues like cancer. Or rape. Or the killing of innocent people. But a basketball team? Sure, they will be villains, but hate?

“Leave the word hate for the political world.”