Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

Playing the “What If” Game With the 1984 Draft

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Welcome back. Here’s hoping the computer – which just got a clean bill of health – will function the way I, a techno-idiot, needs it to.

For the sake of argument (and this blog), let’s consider the following situation: The 1984 first two draft picks were reversed, i.e. Portland had the number one pick and Houston selected second?

Portland, obviously, would have selected Hakeem Olajuwon (since no one felt Sam Bowie was better than Olajuwon – and they had a rising superstar in second guard Clyde Drexler). Then, it would have been Houston’s pick. Houston – who had just finished 12th (last). Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes had just retired at the end of the 1983-83 season and although The Big E appeared in 81 of 82 games, the 6’9″ forward averaged a mere five points in only a little over 12 minutes a game. The Rockets had traded 6’9″ power forward James Bailey (and a pick) for 6’3″ point guard John Lucas (and a pick). In addition, 6’11” center Caldwell Jones had moved from the Rockets to, of all places, the Bulls, and Caldwell’s brother, 6’9″ power forward Major Jones, played the following season in Detroit.

The only size the Rockets had was 7’4″ center/power forward Ralph Sampson who won the Rookie-of-the-Year award after having been the number one overall pick (the Rockets had finished last the previous year as well). They returned 6’6″ second guard Lewis Lloyd who had averaged nearly 18 points a game during his second season in the league and 6’8″ small forward Robert Reid who was the team’s third leading scorer at 14 points a game. It’s already part of history that Houston loved the idea of a “Twin Towers.”

The big question, then, would be, did the Rockets know what the Blazers apparently didn’t, that Sam Bowie’s bones were worse than he was letting on? Or, did they truly feel that Jordan was the better choice? That is a subject that has never been discussed. Did the Rockets believe that Michael Jordan was destined to be the G.O.A.T.?

Even if they did – why has everyone given Houston a pass on not selecting the greatest player of all-time? Sure, they picked a guy who was voted one of the best 50 players ever and he did lead them to two NBA Championships but . . . they only won when Michael “retired” (please don’t count the mini-season he had). It’s hard to find fault with their taking The Dream but, the fact remains that they, as well as Portland, picked someone other than Michael Jordan – when they could have. Note: There is a school of thought (although I’m not too sure exactly how big that school is) that the championship Rockets’ clubs would have beaten the Bulls had MJ not gone to baseball. But that, too, is something that will remain talk for guys at the bar – or the ones who call in to talk shows (probably the same guys).

It probably will never be known what would have transpired had the order been reversed but there was a guy who not only knew, but is on record, as thinking MJ was the way to go. As the story had been told many times, Bob Knight, who’d coached Jordan in the ’84 Olympics told is good friend, Portland general manager Stu Inman, to take Michael with the second pick. When Inman explained to Knight that they had a budding superstar 2 guard in Drexler (who also was voted a Top 50 player of all-time) and desperately needed a center, Knight’s advice was:

“So take Jordan – and play him at center.”

Of Birthdays, Facebook and Doctor’s Appointments

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Yesterday was my birthday. It began innocently enough as I went for my once every six weeks haircut. My stylist is a terrific guy, I really enjoy visiting with him but I’ve noticed it takes half the time it used to to cut my hair. And costs four time what it did in the old days.

Otherwise, I spent the day like I do most days – going to doctor’s appointment(s), riding a stationary bike, doing yoga (mostly restorative), stretching, core strengthening exercises and fitting in some writing, e.g. blogging, research for future articles and speeches and, someday, a sequel to my book, Life’s A Joke. And, of course, eating. Some people eat to live, I live to eat. Sleeping 8-9 hours daily is considered a fun activity. That is pretty much my entire day.

My phone was blowing up yesterday and while I figured some people would wish me a happy birthday, I was stunned to get one message after another, all day (and night) long. Anyone who has been a loyal reader of my posts is cognizant of the fact that I am beyond technologically challenged. My entering the world of Facebook was moving into unchartered waters for me (I’ve never even attempted twitter, instagram, snapchat and whatever other “new forms of communication” I hear about from my two sons – both in their 20s). Still, when my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating – and it was going strong even as I began this blog – I thought it might have been experiencing seizures. I mean, over 125 (and counting) birthday wishes doesn’t exactly vault me into Oprah’s class but, for someone who’s been retired going on four years now, it was nice to know that many people would take even a couple seconds out of their day to send kind thoughts my way. Having lived in nine states, I’ve made a multitude of acquaintances. I heard from classmates (some I’ve known for over 60 years), former coaching and teaching colleagues, administrative and staff members, college players, high school students, radio and TV broadcast partners and, of course, friends. At my annual 10-day job as one of eight commissioners at Michael Jordan’s basketball camp in Santa Barbara, I’ll have to ask MJ how he deals with such unbridled adulation.

One message was from a friend who asked if birthdays counted when you retired. My reply was they counted when you retire . . . until “they” retire you. Then, nothing counts. After responding to him, I left for, what else, a doctor’s appointment. On my way, my college buddy gave me a happy birthday call and I explained I was off to a doctor’s appointment.  When he asked what for, I told him I wasn’t sure.

The day prior to this appointment, while in my primary care doctor’s office, I mentioned to him that I understood why people are upset with the insurance industry. I told him that the following day (yesterday) I had an appointment with a doctor and had no idea what the purpose of it was. I’d seen the guy (referred to me by my doctor) months ago and had just noticed it when I entered this appointment in the calendar on my phone (pretty tech savvy, huh?) a few days ago. When he asked me which doctor I was seeing, I said, “Smith,” whose office is across the hall.

My frustration with the doctors and insurance companies stemmed from, among others, my previous visit to that doctor. I related that I’d seen Dr. Smith and explained about the problem I was having with my right foot. An emergency surgery (a diskectomy at T 10-11 – thoracic back area) had caused severe nerve damage that affected me from my mid-back on down. He told me he couldn’t feel anything wrong and sent me to get x-rays – which were also of no help. His suggestion was that he could “burn” or “kill” those nerves in my right foot and I wouldn’t feel anything in that area. When I asked if that would solve the problem with my right foot, he said it wouldn’t but it might make me feel a little better. However, he cautioned, it might exacerbate my situation. I asked what percentages would he put on the success of surgery.

“50% chance of feeling better, but 50% percent chance of feeling worse.” What?!? I know how bad I feel now and, although my life’s no day at the beach, I’ve learned to deal with it. Worse? I voted no. When I questioned him as to whether he’d do it “if he were me” (a question I’ve found helpful in getting a clearer answer), he said he would not. I thanked him, yet his office set me up with a “follow up” appointment three months later. I explained to my doc extra procedures that were added by another doctor I’d seen the previous week but, after hearing the results of my visit, my primary care doctor (who’s been our family doctor for 20 years and in whom we couldn’t have more faith) agreed with that doctor’s findings. “Your EKG results were showing him something different and anytime we see something different, we believe extra care should be taken.” That was not the case with Dr. Smith, however.

So, there I was yesterday, across the hall, signing in right on time at 3:00 for my appointment with Dr. Smith. The guy at the desk asked me if I was sure about this appointment because they didn’t have it listed. Once again I checked my calendar and, sure enough, there it read, 3:00pm doctor’s appointment with Dr. . . . Jones. I had seen Dr. Smith previously (he was of no assistance) but, hey, Smith, Jones, it’s a natural mistake. As is usually the case, I didn’t have Dr. Jones’ number, only that he was a neurologist. I asked another worker if there was a Dr. Jones in that building, hoping I’d catch a break (since I was already late) but, no, there was no Dr. Jones – only another Dr. Smith.

I called my wife, who takes copious notes, and asked if she could give me Dr. Jones’ number. She said she’d check and get right back to me. I headed home. When I got there, she asked if I had received her text with the number and address I needed. She said she sent a text because if she called, I’d have to either write the number down (while I was driving) or remember it (and, while I used to have a great memory, it’s still great, only much, much shorter). I didn’t hear my phone announce the text (I was listening to John Maxwell’s latest audio book) but wondered why it hadn’t vibrated. Turned out it had vibrated but it was constantly vibrating with birthday wishes.

I called the office and, of course, heard “If this is a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911” (like if I had a medical emergency my first reaction would be, not to dial 911 but to look up my neurologist’s number), then listened to voice mail. The lady returned the call and I explained my confusion between the two most common American names and said that, unless there had been a medical breakthrough in my case, that there would be no need for me to reschedule. If they needed to bill me for the missed visit, so be it.

My next move was upstairs to punish myself on the exercise bike for wasting a good part of the day – with which I could have been exercising, reading or writing. Or doing my favorite activity (now that I can no longer play tennis or golf) – doing sudokus. For the record, I’ve never encountered one – easy, medium, difficult, extremely difficult, whatever category – that I couldn’t do (one of them took me a couple days but after starting over a few times, I successfully completed that one). Life’s little pleasures take on new meanings as you get older – especially if you refuse to immerse yourself in new adventures).

I never realized how powerful Facebook is. These messages, some as short as “HB,” were very much appreciated. Already, I’ve sent two “happy birthday” wishes – one to a friend and his wife who had a C-section on my birthday and the other to a girl whose birthday is a day after mine. Sometimes we need to be reminded that:

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

 

 

How You Feel Toward the NBA Finals Reveals Much About You

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Now that the NBA season has finally drawn to a close, most fans will fall into one of two categories (P or N). See which one more accurately describes how you feel.

P – Golden State was truly a selfless team, had the #1 defense in the league, played with enthusiasm, was the best team all year, was the best team throughout the playoffs, then defeated a team in the Finals who had the best player in the world.

N – During the entire playoffs, Golden State never had to face a healthy point guard (Jrue Holliday, Pelicans; Mike Conley, Grizzlies; Patrick Beverly, Rockets; Kyrie Irving, Cavs). Note: They even avoided Chris Paul because of the Clippers’ collapse against the Rockets.

P – Cleveland had to overcome early struggles, e.g. chemistry issues between coach and players (one in particular), losing Anderson Varrejo so soon in the season, a rough first half of the season (technically, 39 games) leaving them with a 19-20 record at that point, then rallied to win the East and showed enough grit, with their rotation down to seven guys, to take the league’s best team to a 6-game Finals, despite losing two All-Stars.

N – Cleveland was the worst NBA Finals representative ever, the East was a terrible division, the Cavs were just a one-man team with a bunch of role players, they showed little heart and lacked focus in the elimination game – even their hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ran the headline after Game 6 that said, “NOT ENOUGH GRIT”.  

P – NBA players are the best athletes in the world; it’s amazing how often the referees are right, especially because basketball is the most difficult game in the world to officiate.

N – The refs sucked! Did you see how many times instant replay shows they blew calls?

P – LeBron James’ Finals performance was phenomenal: 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, I’m elated I got to witness it (as opposed to those I missed – West, Russell, Chamberlain and Walton, assuming you’re not old enough to remember); I mean in 1995, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists (leading the Rockets to sweep), LeBron’s stats are higher in each category – and his team lost!

N – Sure, LeBron posted big numbers – because he’s the only decent player on the team – and his record in the NBA Finals is now 2-4.

P – Steve Kerr made some savvy coaching moves, e.g. getting David Lee to realize his role would be limited after he’d been an All-Star, getting Andre Iguodala to buy into being the sixth man after NEVER having been a substitute in his entire 10-year career (getting him to sacrifice to make Harrison Barnes better and to make their second team better), getting Andrew Bogut to understand he was taking him out of the starting lineup following Game 3 of the Finals (and basically giving him no PT) because he thought they had to “go small” in order to win.

N – Steve Kerr was so lucky he didn’t take that Knicks job; he wound up with a loaded team – including the best shooting guard tandem EVER; Mark Jackson and the general manager should get the credit for the championship, not Kerr.

P – David Blatt stayed the course all season, under difficult circumstances (being named coach BEFORE the city’s favorite son decided to come home), he weathered many storms by media, fans and pretty much anybody who didn’t know (or care) about his credentials and prior coaching successes, he led them to the NBA Finals but when he got there, “big” or “small” it really didn’t matter for the Cavs because, as Doug Collins pointed out, “he didn’t have enough of either – if they go big, they can’t score; if they go small, they can’t rebound.”

N – What an absolutely horrible coaching job done by David Blatt in the Finals; he should have let LeBron coach the team like he had done up to that point; Blatt never responded to any of Kerr’s moves – which weren’t exactly brilliant.

P – It was a special, inspiring moment watching and listening to little Mariana VanHoose sing our National Anthem.

N – Sorry, if you didn’t appreciate little Mariana VanHoose’s rendition of the national anthem, you will never experience a true feeling of contentment while you are on this planet.

If you haven’t figured out the code,

P – You’re a Positive, happy person who enjoyed a hard fought, competitive NBA Finals and appreciates life.

N – You’re a Negative, miserable person who wouldn’t have been satisfied – unless “your” team won – in a sweep (and even then, you’d have found something to complain about, e.g. there weren’t enough FREE nachos at the sports bar where you were).

On the post game show, when the crew from NBA-TV asked him how he prepared to play in the Finals, MVP Andre Iguodala’s response shed perspective on today’s society:

“I didn’t watch SportsCenter, stayed off twitter, stayed off instagram.”

It Wasn’t a Happy Ending (That Night Anyway), But a Wonderful Salute Nonetheless

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Numerous stories have been broadcast as well as articles and blogs have been written and posted regarding the obscene amounts of money that NBA players make. Many people in this country play the lottery, throwing their hard earned money at the longest of odds in a pipe dream to live like . . . an NBA player. And not even a superstar. They’d take the mid-level exception and be happy to never be heard from again.

While John Q. Public has come to the realization that the players are filthy rich, the net worth of each of the owners is so far beyond his comprehension, it’s never even a topic of conversation. Plus, most of the owners (except for, maybe, Cuban or Ballmer, or that other guy, you know, the one who used to play) are somewhat nondescript guys who stay out of the limelight.

Last Tuesday the owner of the Golden State Warriors, Joe Lacob (and if you’re not a Warriors fan, I’ll bet you didn’t know that – see what I mean by nondescript), chartered a plane for the franchise’s full-time employees so they could attend Game 3 in Cleveland. This gesture, coming on the heels of a disappointing 95-93 upset to the Cavaliers in Game 2, was, by all indications, a surprise move by Lacob. Although it might have been set up long in advance, still to do so after a crushing defeat has to earn the owner some big ups.

His beloved team (who won 67 games during a magical season) had just lost home court advantage after producing the best record in the NBA. What made the Game 2 loss all the more bitter was the Cavs lost their second All-Star (Kevin Love was lost earlier in the playoffs) in Game 1 to a devastating injury when point guard Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap in the overtime of Game 1, a 108-102 victory for the Warriors.

In addition to chartering the plane, Lacob also booked 155 rooms for his people. No luck. Golden State fell again, 96-91 to go down 1-2 in the best-of-seven series. With everyone safely back at work in California, the Warriors came alive and tied the series 2-2 with a 103-82 thrashing of the Cavs in Cleveland, thus reclaiming home court advantage for Golden State.

Sure, there will always be cynics who will say, “What else does he have to do with his money?” or “Well, if I had that much money, I’d do it, too.” To that we say – OK, but:

“Exactly what charitable act have you performed for someone else recently?”

 

 

The Next Rule that Might Be Implemented in College Hoops

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Usually when new legislation is passed in college basketball, there is a minor (or worse) uproar from either the coaches or the fans (usually the coaches). Yet, when the new rules (shortening the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, moving the restricted area arc a foot farther away from the basket and reducing the number of second half times out by one) were passed, nary a whimper was heard. As it should be.

Although shortening the shot will not have the desired effect of increasing scoring (it will increase the number of possessions, but not the number of points), there doesn’t seem to be too much complaining by coaches – probably because this change has been discussed for several years and was inevitable. Note: If you’re interested in why it won’t increase scoring, please check out my post from 3/26/15 (go to the Archives column to the right, to March 2015, click on it and scroll until you get to the desired date).

What coaches ought to be worried about is the next rule under discussion. Most likely, the proponents are the schools that have outstanding talent on a yearly basis, i.e. teams that rely on individual talent creating shot opportunities as opposed to executing an offense to produce a shot. If you haven’t figured out what this change is yet, it’s the elimination of the five-second closely guarded rule. As the rule is now, if a defender is within six feet of the ballhandler (“six feet” being an arbitrary distance depending on the official), a player has to either dribble, pass or shoot before five seconds elapse, or else the whistle blows and a violation is called, resulting in a turnover for the offensive team. However, if the player dribbles – and the defender stays within “closely guarded” range (in front of the dribbler), he (this rule does not apply to the women’s game) must increase the distance (possibly by backing up), penetrate the defense (meaning the defender is no longer considered to be “closely guarding” him) or pick the ball up before the next five seconds elapse. If the dribble is picked up, the player must now either shoot or pass within a new five second count. Adding up the time, this means that a player with the ball can be in possession of it for a maximum of 12 seconds before he must pass or shoot (four holding, four dribbling, four holding).

The proposed rule is what the NBA employs, the one in which a player can stand near midcourt, casually dribbling the ball – or worse, standing, holding the ball – staring at his defender who is more than happy than to stay in his stance, ready to defend once the player decides to do . . . whatever. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball, all too often the case is a player bends at the waist, ball in both hands, on his hip, knowing that everyone in the arena (and watching on TV) is focused on him – and he controls what happens next. The only problem is that, in his mind, he visualizes himself blowing by his defender and dunking on whomever is in his way or drawing another defender and dishing to a teammate for a “sweet dime” (assist). The reality is he can’t get by the guy guarding him and is forced to pull up and launch a contested three – which seldom hits its mark.

Another scenario that often happens is, as the shot clock winds down (usually too close to the end), the ballhandler will request a player set a screen for him. Unless the ballhandler has been taught how to properly run a pick and roll (or pop), what occurs is seldom considered good basketball. And that’s what the most talented guys do.

At the college level, similar to the NBA, the general rule is egos surpass abilities (except in the case of the student-athlete, while the ego tends to be a tad lower than his professional counterpart, the skill level is significantly so). Result? Possessions that end in bad shots more often than not. This rule change will make college basketball more like the professional game. The goal of the NCAA should be to try, at all costs, to keep the two games separate since both are experiencing peak interest.

Those who favor the college game will recite reason after reason why their feelings are what they are. The people who think the professional game is more interesting, exciting, better, will rattle off proof of the superiority of that level of play. Which is as it should be. Don’t force one to be like the other. They’re not the same. As it is, we’re not supposed to talk about money, politics and religion.

“Soon, there will be nothing left to argue.”

Brandon Spikes His Career

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Unless there’s some information that’s being withheld, it can be assumed that Brandon Spikes has made, quite possibly, his last mistake for quite a while. While all the facts are yet to be gathered, it appears Spikes might be trading in his Patriots uniform for an orange jumpsuit. A summary of the most recent events is, while there was some confusion that there had been an accident and that the driver had hit a deer, in fact, it was Mercedes’ own service, Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance, that alerted police. There certainly had been an accident but, not only was there no deer at the scene, there was no driver, either. The car was a 2011 Mercedes Maybach, a super luxury model that costs upwards of a half a million dollars. It is the absolute, top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz, the kind that’s in a class with the Rolls-Royce or Bentley. It comes with many added extras: a massaging, back-seat recliner, sheepskin interiors and its own signature perfumed air-filtration system. Apparently, it rats you out if you’re in an accident and don’t want anyone to know about it.

The “rest of the story” is that a family in a Nissan Murano said they were rear-ended, with the driver of the other vehicle fleeing, something repeated by another caller to 911. The family was taken to the hospital. While none of these incidents have been connected yet, the future for Brandon Spikes looks bleak. However, if it comes to be that the most meaningful accomplishment of his football career is that, due to his considerable missteps (see below), other players will be dissuaded from repeating such transgressions, his legacy will be a positive one.

Spikes’ story is one of an extraordinarily talented football player (the “honors” section of his bio page in the 2009 Florida press guide had 45 items of either awards he’d achieved or recognition bestowed upon him – heading into his senior season). He was chosen in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft (62nd pick) by the New England Patriots.

In his pre-draft evaluation, under the category of “Weakness” the first statement was, “Can be overly emotional at times.” There was also mention made that he had been suspended and missed a game due to an on field incident during his senior season (he tried to gouge the eyes of a Georgia player). In addition, the NFL investigated a compromising video of him with a woman that was posted online. Also, near the end of the 2010 season he received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy.

There are several things that make up a player that can derail his career when left unchecked. Temper, as noted above, is one (these are in no particular order). Another one is ego. The next, quite often, a by-product of the ego – his mouth. In addition, there’s another part of his anatomy that can cause considerable complications – and those affect more than just the player (but that’s another topic for another time).

Right now, looking at the case of Brandon Spikes, we see a guy who was (and, undoubtedly, still is) in desperate need of some type of mentor. After four seasons with the Patriots, the team placed him on the IR for, what they claimed was a nagging knee injury. Rather than speak with club officials, Spikes went public, blasting the franchise. As an illustration of compounding a mistake, he interjected into the discussion another Pats’ player who he felt was mistreated. While the player, Aqib Talib, corroborated Spikes’ assessment, Spikes still needed someone to advise him of “proper complaining etiquette.” Another time he “came to a teammate’s defense” was when, following the conviction of Aaron Hernandez (a teammate at both Florida and New England), Spikes made a comment about the justice system which has served as just another example of, during the thought process, in most cases, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

It’s easy to place all the blame on Spikes but, looking at all of this through his eyes, he did sign a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Buffalo Bills, which must have boosted his theory that a player should simply speak his mind. Shortly thereafter he went on another rant against his former squad. Then, with all the history he’d had with New England, the franchise showed everyone – including the members in the Spikes’ camp, that the NFL truly is “just a business” when the Patriots offered him a one-year deal worth a maximum value of $2 million on May 16 (the only guaranteed money in the deal was a $25,000 signing bonus). If there is anybody out there who thinks he’ll see a penny of the $1,975,000 that’s left, that guy is also in desperate need of a mentor.

Oh yeah, this latest “incident” took place at 3:30AM.

The refrain of the old song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Where Have All the Flowers Gone wasn’t referring to some of today’s athletes and their decisions but it ought to be their theme song:

“Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Some Inspiring Story

Monday, June 8th, 2015

After eons of misery, the future for the city of Cleveland is . . . well, let’s just say, it’s not as bleak as it usually is. If ever there was a source of inspiration, this year’s version of the Cleveland Cavaliers certainly qualifies. Following Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Cavs are 1-1 and heading home, having turned the home court advantage to their favor.

It’s a greater accomplishment than it sounds. First of all, the franchise hired a coach who only true insiders knew had the necessary skills to succeed at the highest level of basketball, mostly because he’d had incredible success at the next to the highest level of basketball. The confidence the front office had in their decision to hire somebody named David Blatt, who wasn’t a former NBA player, assistant coach, front office employee, commentator (heck, a guy who didn’t even have experience in the video room) might have waned a tad when hometown favorite (turned despicable villain), LeBron James, decided to U-turn his career and become a Cavalier again. All was forgotten. LeBron was even more beloved than before. But what that new coach’s name again – and what was his plan for gaining LeBron’s trust? People would understand if “European” became “you’re a-peein’ ” in Blatt’s case.

Thoughts of “How will the rookie coach, who few fans ever even heard of, interact with the Savior?” must have entered the minds of the brass (as well as every other fan – Cavs or other). LeBron wasn’t consulted and didn’t sign off on the new head man because the coach was brought on board before the superstar was. Deep down, the front office personnel had complete confidence the transition would be fluid. After all, they’d acquired (more due to LBJ’s involvement than their new coach’s), All-Star “stretch four” Kevin Love, meaning that, with their own point guard phenom, Kyrie Irving, the Cavs now had the recipe for a championship, i.e. their version of The Big Three.There were so many positive vibes in Cleveland that, when franchise and fan favorite, Anderson Varrejo, went down for the year, there was no cause for panic.

Sure enough, the season was smooth sailing. . . until the squad lost three of their first four games (the only win coming in overtime). Then there was the 12-game stretch from Xmas until mid-January during which the club lost 10 contests, leaving them with a record of 19-20. The information super highway being what it is (“unforgivable” is a word that comes to mind), anonymous people (as well as some not so anonymous), felt compelled to weigh in on the coaching part of the equation. With the record as it was, Blatt could have been bracing himself for the unemployment line. Instead, he and the assistant coaches did what every solid coaching staff does – they kept their heads down, trying to figure out how to right the ship.

The front office came to their rescue, obtaining J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks – although there was some concern about bringing in guys who were accused of displaying a halfhearted effort for New York. The key move, one GM David Griffin had in the works for quite a while, was bringing in Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets. Mozgov is Russian and had played for Blatt in Europe which had to comforting for the coach during a season of constant criticism.

Fast forward through the season (Cleveland finished second in the East behind Atlanta) and through the playoffs (in which they lost the services of Love to injury against the Celtics – until, maybe, next year) to the NBA Finals. It would be a monumental task to ask such a club to win it all in LeBron’s (and Blatt’s) first season. James had even asked for patience as they went about creating the proper culture (of winning) and learning a new system. Yet, there they stood, albeit as major underdogs to a Golden State team who was setting all kinds of records, representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Somehow, they kept the first game close – and had a shot (which turned into a couple of attempts) to steal Game 1 from the Warriors.

The ultimate lesson regarding “how teams respond to adversity” occurred. Neither shot went down, the game went into OT and, not only did they lose the game, but the injury-stricken Irving – who had battled back from one problem after another – was lost for the remainder of the playoffs when he knee struck that of Klay Thompson’s who’d been guarding him.

A look at the stat sheet showed that in the second half of Game 1 the Cavs had only three players score – and, for Game 2 (and here on out), one of them wouldn’t be available.

When asked about how LeBron James willed the team to win, David Blatt’s comments were (close but not verbatim), “You’d be hard pressed to find a player who can give an all around performance and all around leadership like he does. That’s what winners do and that’s what he is – a winner.”

As far as LeBron’s remarks on trying to win the championship without either Love or Irving, “I don’t need any extra motivation. Our guys love it. They’re using it as motivation. I have some other motivations I won’t talk about . . . ” Whoa! Did LeBron let the media (and public) in on a little of his personal goals. What might they be? I’d rather not speculate, but do hope to live long enough to discover exactly what it is that’s burning deep in the belly of that beast.

It would be shocking if David Blatt didn’t also have some unspoken goals. Whether, as several insecure coaches I’ve known, he has a list of people who’ve “jumped off his bandwagon” (or who refused to ever get on it) is unknown. Revenge, however, would be, no doubt as sweet for him as it would be for LBJ. To the media, following Game 2, Blatt was frank as he assessed their chances:

“We’re without two All-Stars. I don’t know of another team who could do what we’re doing. What truly matters is what we have as a game plan and that we go out and execute it.”

 

Flashback to a Memorable Experience

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

The following is a blog I posted over five years ago. The actual story occurred in December of 2004. After watching yesterday’s Triple Crown victory by American Pharoah, I wondered how many guys on the team (who are now 21-23 years old) that I accompanied to SoCal remember our quick stop at Santa Anita. Due to how it ended and the final remark of a Hall of Famer, my guess is all of them.

During my last year of coaching (2004-05), I scheduled an out-of-town tournament for the Buchanan (CA) HS boys basketball team in Glendora, CA. We split four games, but what I’m certain impressed the guys far more than the basketball were the side trips I arranged.

In addition to visiting the Rose Bowl and touring Cal Tech’s campus (if you ever wondered where the most brilliant high school students go to college, check out anyone enrolled at that institution), I cashed in a favor from a relationship I’d made with a member of the media. Larry Bornstein, of the Pasadena Star-News, was one of our beat writers when I was coaching at USC.

Although Larry was assigned to cover Trojan basketball, his first love was writing about the ponies. He knew everyone in the horse racing business. During my final two years at SC, we lived in Arcadia, in a house that was located a block and a half from Santa Anita, the legendary racetrack.  I asked Larry if he could set up a tour of Santa Anita for our players.

Not only did we get an insider’s view, complete with a visit to the jockey’s locker room – seeing the size of those little uniforms after having been in the world of basketball for 35 years was astonishing – but, while we were being given a “history of Santa Anita” presentation,  who should come walking down the track but the most recognizable white-haired man in the horse racing game.  Yup, the one and only Bob Baffert, the famous trainer who yesterday (5/16/10) posted his fifth Preakness win.

One of the hardest working and most honest, yet also one of the most naive players I’ve ever been around was intrigued by the gasps he heard from me and a couple of others who recognized the man heading our way. “What do we have here?” inquired the personable trainer. When our host said, “A high school basketball team,” Bob asked if there were any questions. Our young guy piped up, “What exactly do you do?”

If that young guy – or any of the others who were with us –  don’t remember Baffert’s profound answer, I ‘d be shocked. In fact, I’d give the same odds (3:5) that were on American Pharoah yesterday.  Because Baffert simply looked at him, through his ever-present sun glasses, and said:

“I don’t do shit.”

More on Thibodeau?

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

For the past (seems like) year, the firing by the Chicago Bulls of their coach Tom Thibodeau was one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA. How the actual dismissal was handled was even more of a blunder. As has been mentioned in this space (more than once), the Bulls’ front office, led by VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson and GM Gar Forman (who, allegedly, is so smitten by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, he might need counseling if the Cyclones coach rejects the Bulls’ generous advances), has made coaching the team next to impossible for their previous (now) three head men. Every Bulls head coach has to constantly be looking over his shoulder.

From telling the coaches which guys to hire and fire to how many minutes certain players should play, those two must feel their number one duty is to meddle.How someone hasn’t told those two how to get along – or to just stay out of the way – with the coaches they hire defies credulity. Skiles, Del Negro, Thibodeau – and never, never, have either Paxson or Forman taken an iota of responsibility.

Those who defend them say the coaches were hired over their protests. If that, in fact, is the case then the problem lies with someone higher up – and looking at the Bulls’ organizational chart that would mean the culprit would have to be named Reinsdorf. Either Jerry, the owner, or is son, Michael, the prez, would be considered Paxson’s and Forman’s boss(es).  Here are a couple unanswered questions: If the Reinsdorfs hire the guy, why don’t they tell Paxson and Forman to help them succeed? If the answer is they did, then why don’t the owners (including the son because he’ll probably inherit the franchise) see the (not so) hidden agenda, i.e. that those two are undermining the team?

I can remember Mike Krzyzewski talking about how fascinating it was watching the thoroughness and passion of Thibs when he was explaining defensive coverages to the U.S. Olympic team. Justin Farmer, who writes for isportsweb reported, “Thibs is a great coach and the next team he lands with, will get one of the best defensive minds in the NBA today.” Here’s a guy who averaged over 50 wins a year, including a strike shortened season and with Derrick Rose playing in less than half of the games (181 of 394) while Thibs was there. And he’s getting canned? And with a dishonorable discharge at that?

In addition to costing their owner several million bucks to pay someone not to work (a practice frowned upon by a guy like Reinsdorf), both Paxson and Forman have been accused of leaking negative information to the media – and, possibly, poisoning the players’ minds regarding the coaches. The report that at least three players were going to boycott and stay away from the Bulls’ facility if Thibodeau was brought back as coach is interesting. First of all, the three players’ names were, of course, anonymous, anonymous and anonymous – the most highly quoted source of any kind of dirt in an organization, team, company, government, whatever. Hey, if you feel that strongly about an issue or a person, don’t hide behind the cloak of secrecy. Number two, when the hell did individual players get the power to boycott? They’re under contract. Plus, does anyone think, for a second, that Thibodeau would have gotten the ax if the Bulls had won it all? The people who determine that are the ones in uniform. If you succeed (and if the rumors are true, they did), boycott at your own risk because . . . well, have you ever heard of Wally Pipp?

Lastly, if Paxson and Forman actually make the selection this time around – and the Bulls 1) don’t win as many games as they have had in the past or 2) don’t advance any farther in the playoffs, are the next heads to lopped off those of the meddlers. That begs another question, namely, how much will they be allowed to interfere with the new coaching staff? Or will there be a “meddling clause” written into the contract?

Some ground rules need to be set. By no means, will “injuries” be allowed as an excuse should the team not live up to expectations – which are relatively high in Chi-town. This unbridled optimism is due largely due to a very short list of men – Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only players to be on every one of the six championship squads (Jordan couldn’t win without Pippen; Pippen couldn’t win without Jordan, although each tried without the other) and coaches Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. That’s the total number of players/coaches who made up each championship in the Bulls “dynasty.” Without them, there would be a number of championship banners hanging in the United Center. The number is zero.

So don’t make the Bulls franchise out to be like the Lakers or the Celtics, both of whom won multiple championships in different decades, with completely different players and coaches. Sure, Forman can talk about the “culture” of their organization but, right now, their most recognizable culture is one in which the front office and coaching staffs come together (actually, “apart” is probably a better word) to create a form of “reverse synergy.”

Rumors have it they’re about to shell out $25 million for the next five years for a coach, whom everybody says only positive things about, yet one who’s never called a time out or run an NBA practice. With the track record of Paxson and Forman, Fred Hoiberg better have some magical personality, unless he can string five “Larry’s” in a row.

If you haven’t already, read Steve Rosenbloom’s piece in the Chicago Tribune (5/28/15) on this mess. If he had to choose between Steve and me for a recommendation, Paxson would ask yours truly.

Some in the Media Have Limited Empathy

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

An elimination game is played and the team behind in the series loses. Season’s over. Just like that. Everybody, after exit interviews, will most likely, go their own way, possibly to reconnect with their family, possibly to “get away from it all.” After a long season (whichever sport), there’s a need for R&R.

Before any of that occurs, however, there’s the mandatory press conference. With a multitude of writers, none of whom desire to write the same, trite story, questions range from what happened, to why, to what’s next. Kevin McHale, did a masterful job considering injuries, got the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, after posting the second best record in the conference.

“What happened?’ was his greeting. The method he uses with the media is anti-Pop. McHale patiently answers every question with substance, e.g. we did a poor job of finishing at the rim, couldn’t keep the Warriors off the offensive glass and we turned the ball over too many times high in their offensive set which caused run-outs by Golden State. Perfect wrap-up – if someone was really interested in why Houston lost. Not enough. Questions about Harden’s poor performance (two days after he posted one of the best playoff games in history),  and “Is it good for the NBA to have new blood in the Finals?” (the Cavs have never won a championship; the Warriors won theirs 40 years ago).

McHale’s answers were wonderful. Regarding Harden’s 13 turnovers, he said, “Look, nobody goes into a game trying to turn over the ball.” His second answer was just as on point. “The Rockets haven’t won one in a while. I wish it was us.” In other words, “Look, we just lost. Do you think I’ve considered that question for one iota?” Can’t the media understand that, during the playoffs (or NCAA tournament, World Series, Super Bowl, whatever for that matter), that while they (the media) think about those things because they have to. Coaches are a different breed. They care who wins. And not because they’re a fan or have a wager on the game. And when they’re eliminated, many choose not to watch any further basketball.

Steve Kerr, on the other hand, felt it was terrific for the league to have “new blood” (same guy asked the question to Kerr after McHale’s presser ended). Because his team (and their new blood) are in it! But the media has to ask an asinine question to Kerr, too, or how fair would they be?

“What do you think of your match up with the Cavs?” was the query. Kerr seemed taken aback. His team had just won the Western Conference championship – in his first year as head coach. He answered as honestly as McHale when he said he hadn’t given it one thought – because they had been so focused on the Rockets. If Kerr had said something about the Cavs, no doubt, some time in the future when his team would lose a game in which they were favored, that writer, or one of his cronies, would accuse the coach of “looking ahead,” just like he’d done during the 2015 Playoffs.

One of the best answers to a media question was what Kerr gave to Doris Burke when she asked him a question about strategy at the end of the third quarter of either Game 3 or 4. Kerr looked at the sideline reporter and simply said:

“I’m not going to tell you that, Doris!”