Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

Keeping Adversity in Perspective

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Will be tied up with some family business for a few days. This blog will return on Friday, July 17.

Ronnie Carr made the first three-pointer in the history of the NCAA on November 29, 1980. I was a member of the Western Carolina University staff who, a couple years prior, recruited Ronnie to the Southern Conference school. By the time he made the shot, I’d moved on to the University of Tennessee. Unfortunately for Ronnie, a potential NBA first round pick, he was in a career-ending, life-threatening car accident during the summer between his junior and senior years. The wreck left him with a broken collarbone, two broken arms, broken ribs, punctured lungs, two broken legs, a fractured ankle and a fractured wrist. The impact of the wreck also forced him to undergo open-heart surgery to replace a damaged mitral valve.

The fault of the accident was that of a rogue cop who was in a high-speed chase (with no siren blaring) and ran a stop sign, broadsiding the car Ronnie was driving. He was laid up in the hospital for 6 1/2 weeks and was advised to sue. He did so but in a “back room deal” between his lawyer and the state of North Carolina, a deal was brokered that wound up giving nothing to Ronnie. In the early ’80s a young, black kid (even if he had made NCAA basketball history) had no chance winning a court case against a white cop.

Despite this tragedy and miscarriage of justice, Ronnie not only finished his undergraduate degree but his title now is Dr. Ronnie Carr, following completion of his master’s and PhD. He’s an ordained minister, runs a successful business, working with and positively influencing young people, and is about to publish a book. He has honored me by requesting me to write the forward for that book.

It is with that background information that I inform you of my weekend. I had planned to get my car serviced (75,000 mile check) on Friday but I was running behind, so I called my mechanic and set up an appointment for the next morning. Friday evening, I went grocery shopping (which I had also been putting off) and when I got home, I had just enough time to unload the groceries before leaving for my appointment with an acupuncturist. I had strained a muscle in my neck going through an exercise routine (in which I, apparently, did something I shouldn’t have done) – a month ago. I was hoping to see if acupuncture would give me some relief. After putting up the groceries, I got into my car – and it wouldn’t start.

Because I was in such a rush, I took my wife’s car, calling AAA on the way. They informed me that, unless I had somewhere to tow it to that night, it would probably be better to call Saturday morning. I did so and AAA came to our house, checked out my car, only to find the battery dead. He charged it and I let it run for a few minutes before heading to my mechanic. There, they put in a new battery, serviced the car and I was on my way.

When I got home, I checked my emails. I had five (5) consecutive emails from PayPal – all of them fraudulent charges. They ranged from a one-time $1.88 charge to $120 monthly transaction. As I’ve mentioned times in this blogspace, I’m not exactly “from today.” The main reason I have a PayPal account is as a convenience for customers who want to order and pay online for baby gifts from our company (CuteBabyNameGifts.com). I only use PayPal to transfer money from the that account to my business checking account.

I tried to contact PayPal but they were closed. I did see where, if a customer thought there was a fraudulent charge, they could forward the email to PayPal, they would look it over and send an email response. I forwarded the first one. While I was in the process of forwarding the second, I noticed I’d received an email – from PayPal. It began, “Dear, Thank you for being a proactive contributor by reporting suspicious-looking emails to PayPal’s Abuse Department. Our security team is working to identify if the email you forwarded to us is a malicious email.” It then went on to list what PayPal will always do, and what PayPal will never do. There was one “Always” followed by a whole lotta “Nevers.” Since it was after their business hours, I will be contacting them in a few hours.

While this was going on, I received an email from American Express with the subject line “Fraud Protection Alert.” Nice. It alerted me of a charge on my card and asked the question: “Do you recognize this attempt?” Below it, there were two boxes, one in bright green with a check mark and “Yes” inside, the other a fire engine red with an exclamation point and a “No.” Since I was becoming an expert on how to be a fraud victim, I clicked on the red box. A message came on, saying I’d be getting a call from Amex within five minutes but my phone rang as I was finishing reading the message. The representative on the other end couldn’t have been more helpful.

We discussed the charge, I explained that it was not made by me (which they’d expected, hence the email) and we took a walk down memory lane – going over each of my charges for the past few days. I was of assistance, being able to tell him when the last two occasions were that I’d use the card. He noted those – and several others made subsequently, none of which were purchases made by me. He deleted the fraudulent charges, told me he was cancelling that card (to make sure I didn’t use it), that he would be sending me a new one with a new number and would send me an email of all the companies that had automatic withdrawals on my card. What, he wasn’t going to contact them, too? While the news wasn’t great, the service was exceedingly so.

A wrap up of my weekend: one dead battery, a painful neck – the acupuncture gave me fleeting relief, as did the six lydocaine shots from the doctor a few weeks ago and the massage therapy from a couple of different (both professional) people, five fraudulent charges on my PayPal account and several others on my American Express card.

As I began putting pen to paper for the forward of Ronnie Carr’s book which details his ordeal, I thought:

“Y’know, this wasn’t such a bad weekend after all.”


				

But Rory LOVES Soccer

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

On the surface, it seems a rather irrational decision on Rory McIlroy’s part to play soccer with friends at this time of the year. People who are criticizing him for getting hurt playing soccer, however, are not taking into account that pros have lives, too. Why is this any different than, say, Jason Pierre-Paul’s Fourth of July mishap (severe burns on his hand and possible nerve damage)? Here’s why and it’s simple. The reason is that McIlroy plays an individual sport while the New York Giants entire team depends on Pierre-Paul. Team sport athletes are paid by the franchise whereas golfers, tennis players, track & field competitors, etc. only get paid if they perform well enough to deserve to get paid, i.e. they are the franchise.

Where there is a similarity is with the sponsors who pay athletes, independent of which sport is involved. To cover themselves, i.e. if the companies want to limit what their pitchmen (and women) can and cannot do, they ought to have clauses prohibiting such activities, just like teams do in their player contracts. In his case, Pierre-Paul didn’t violate any such clause in his contract but the Giants have pulled the $60 million max offer. Shed few tears as he will, in all likelihood, earn $14.8 million this coming season - although he has yet to sign. His foolish handling of fireworks could have, in fact, cost him a great deal more. McIlroy’s injury will prevent him from playing this weekend – and probably throughout the summer, if not longer. His team, though, suffers much worse than the Giants. With individual sports, unlike what our team coaches told us, one man is indispensable. Women fall into this category as well. Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn once sliced open her right thumb on a celebratory bottle of champagne after a victory in the World Championships.

Whether or not Vonn loves champagne that much is unknown (at least it is to me) but it’s common knowledge that McIlroy has a passion for futbol and has played it with friends in the past during the “golf season.” It’s doubtful any of his sponsors will attempt to include a “no-soccer” clause (c’mon, I gave the other term a mention, a big concession for somebody from the U.S.) for no other reason than he just might decline their offer. “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage . . .” is the beginning of the text sent by McIlroy, informing his fans of his unfortunate situation. This news puts a real damper on the Jordan Speith-Rory McIlroy rivalry. Yet, no matter how much of a McIlroy fan you are, this definitely hurts him more than it does you. This includes all his sponsorships that would have been shown on television innumerable times when he plays.

Adversity doesn’t always mean losing, though. As creative as some agents are, the injured athlete might even wind up with endorsement opportunities because of the injury. McIlroy is probably weighing offers for the “boot” he’s wearing (assuming there’s more than one company making it). At least, then, fans would know he actually used the item he was pitching. I mean, does anybody really believe Shaq uses Icy Hot or Blake Griffin drives a Kia? Of course not, they’re just following their role models for (un)”truth in advertising” (as long as the price is right) – Ray Lewis for Old Spice, Karl Malone for Rogaine and Rafael Palmeiro for Viagra – an example of the extent guys will go for some extra income (possibly only surpassed by Jimmy Johnson for Extenze). If people only could understand that the reason celebrity pitchmen (and women) continue to line their pockets – with our money – is because we keep buying the product. Maybe the companies are the fools, e.g. their merchandise would sell equally as much if they didn’t pay celebrities. Then, again, if the public has it and continues to spend it, thus keeping the businesses profitable and putting their athlete endorsers further in the black, it’s a win-win for everybody.

Whenever bizarre incidents occur, like those with Rory and JPP, usually there’s an over-the-top reaction from professional franchises. As far back as when Bill Bradley played for the Knicks and the front office was alerted to an off-handed remark that their small forward made – that he heard sky diving was a thrilling experience – was a clause inserted into his contract prohibiting sky diving. And he’d never done it! Any player found to be in violation of such a clause could have his contract terminated. If you were bank rolling as much money with these guys as the owners are, you can bet you’d be just as protective of your investment. Ask any Patriots’ front office employee (or Pats’ fan for that matter) what his or her reaction was when video was aired of Tom Brady jumping off cliffs in Costa Rica, and a gasp would be the most likely response. Don’t be surprised if New England isn’t trying to amend his contract with a “no cliff diving” clause. Or any other potentially crippling injury to Brady – which the Pats feel by proxy.

While it can’t be written into a contract for athletes who participate in individual sports, common sense needs to be applied a bit more liberally. McIlroy and soccer is an example that straddles the border. On one hand, he truly enjoys playing and has done so, probably as long as he’s golfed. On the other hand, a bit more discretion – especially with the British Open almost upon us – might have been the more prudent move. After all, not only does Rory make his living at the game, he’s vying to be the best in the world at it. Tough decision.

Maybe in this case, Rory can learn from Thomas Edison, who said:

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

 

 

 

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Heading to John Wayne airport to pick up younger son, Alex, who just finished a week of hoops (and other interesting items) in Costa Rica. This blog will return on Monday, July 6.

No sooner had the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA Championship – in 40 years – than the talk began regarding back-to-back titles. The first order of business, because not only did the Warriors win it all, but they had the NBA’s best record to boot, was to make sure the team stayed intact. Last year Golden State had the highest payroll in the NBA at $83,433,316 which sounds like an awful lot of money to pretty much everybody, including the Warriors’ landlord, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, whose salary was a mere $78 million.

After picking up the $3.8 million team option on Marreese Speights’s contract and, yesterday, signing free agent Draymond Green, the total committed money for next year’s club (by my crude calculations) is hovering right at $80 million. For only nine players. But don’t panic, Warriors’ fans, that money is for the top nine players (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut, Iguodala, Livingston, Speights and Ezeli). Chances are, the defending champs will, once again, have the league’s highest payroll but, “Who cares!!!” scream the fans because if there are two things fans are great at they are 1) wildly supporting their beloved squad and 2) spending their owner’s money.

In all seriousness, why would owner Joe Lacob care about the money? It’s not like he’ll be on food stamps anytime soon and, when someone buys an NBA team, the goal is to win the NBA Championship. His bunch won it and (except for David Lee) has everybody back from a team that never faced an elimination game. In addition, it’s a young group (except for Iguodala who turned 31 this year, everybody else is in their 20s – between 25-29). The experience of winning a championship has got to make them stronger next year. Naturally, it goes without saying, that games lost due to injuries, especially to key players, must be avoided. (If it goes without saying, why did I say it?)

They have a coach in Steve Kerr who is wise beyond his years and certainly, with his one and only year of coaching completed, should be an even better coach (Xs & Os, strategy-wise and understanding nuances that occur throughout a game) next season. As far as people skills – mainly with the players – but also with the front office, other team personnel, the media and fans – few can match Kerr’s savvy.

According to Pat Riley – who would know – the Warriors need to beware of “The Disease of Me.” Google it and check out his six danger signals. Another coach who had experience in back-to-back (to back to back to back to back to back . . . ) championships, John Wooden, had the following belief on what is necessary:

“To win takes talent. To repeat takes character.”

 

Recruiting at the Highest Level

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

The clock struck midnight and July 1 was upon us, meaning the beginning of NBA free agency. With it came the wining and dining of guys who have no trouble wining and dining themselves. Instead of colleges wooing 18-year olds, NBA franchises are begging getting together with older guys (some in their 20s), but who are now more proven performers. Many of these are the same guys who, after graduating from high school (and holding all the cards at that time as well), had to decide on where to ply their trade – and continue their education (unfortunately, but realistically, in that order). Although there was a time period in between (called the NBA draft) in which they were being told who they’d be employed by), they have regained control of their respective situations.

The NBA free agency process is similar to college recruiting, only on a much more expensive level. People who have only read or heard about both would be shocked at how much work goes into trying to sign a recruit or a free agent. Because there are rules on each, e.g. a college official visit can be no longer than 48 hours and NBA teams have salary limitations they can offer, the presentations must be as personalized and creative as possible. As an example, let’s look at the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.

The main three competitors for Jordan’s services are the Clippers, Lakers and Mavericks. In my estimation, the Lakers have next-to-no shot because everything the Lakers can offer, the Clippers can at least match – unless he was a huge Lakers fan as a kid or is steeped in NBA tradition. For the purpose of this blog, let’s assume neither (or that he yearns to play with Kobe for a year, two max).

So, it’s down to a two-horse race. Here’s a list of positives and negatives (in no particular order, mainly because I’m not privy to what Jordan’s priorities are – beyond what has been reported, which is usually quite a distance from the truth). It usually comes down to the comfort level of the player – on, and off, the court. One point in Dallas’ favor is Jordan, a high character guy, is originally from Texas (Houston) and, undoubtedly, still has family in the state. However, the number of NBA players who live in Texas is dwarfed by the number who have homes in LA – independent of whichever NBA team is their employer. “Family” is something that doesn’t change, e.g. the Clippers can’t give him “better” relatives. Ditto when it comes to weather. Neither franchise can make a dent in the other’s strength – nor should they try.

Money, which is a determining factor in the lives of so many humans, is not really a factor because the Clippers can offer 5 years and $110 million, while the Mavs can put a 4 year deal for $80 million on the table. However, Texas has no state tax while California residents pay an ungodly sum to the state – and, without getting too technical, it’s reported some of this season’s free agents want shorter deals because after a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, there will be – as if what they’re paying players now is chicken feed – unprecedented spending.

From a basketball perspective, it’s been reported that Jordan doesn’t want to be fourth or fifth option on offense (his current offensive role with the Clips). Dallas will undoubtedly paint a rosy picture of Jordan offensively, sharing center stage with Dirk Nowitzki (no player’s ego is so out of control that he thinks his offensive role will surpass that of the face of the Mavericks franchise). Since there are no stats to hold them to, Dallas can claim pretty much anything and, certainly, will point out the fact that when Blake Griffin was out with an injury, Jordan’s points per game jumped from 11.5 to nearly 15. There are many holes in that argument but most have to deal with DJ actually believing (which, apparently he does not) that his major role – with whomever he plays – is to rebound and block shots. Why is it that people who excel in an area of life seldom are satisfied with being the best at what they do? Oh, and rest assured, there will be no mention of “Hack-a-DJ” by either team.

Side story: One of the college teams I worked with had a guy whose role with our squad was identical to DJ’s – and, naturally, he wanted a bigger offensive role. One day he approached me and said that we had “plays” for each of our other four starters and questioned why there wasn’t a play or two for him. My message was, “We shoot 43% as a team. That means 57% of the plays are designed for you.” He laughed, not happy with the response, but understanding it.

The yin and yang of this story is the Clippers’ roster has a better chance of winning it all but the Mavs actually won one – and the guy who was the Finals MVP is still there. Doc Rivers couldn’t have promoted a player any more than he did DJ last year but there are rumors of a personality clash between Jordan and Chris Paul. Then again, who would you rather have as your point guard? Nowitzki is a bona fide All-Star; Blake Griffin is today’s superstar. But then you get into that third banana thing again.

Whoever wins the wooing of DeAndre Jordan will come down to which franchise will tug most at his heart strings/appeal to his ego. Also, will his decision be made by his head or his heart (or his agent, but that’s another story altogether)? Both owners are filthy rich (Steve Ballmer has a more money than Mark Cuban but once someone’s net worth exceeds $1,000,000,000, you figure, unless the fortune is inherited – not the case for either man – the person’s intelligence is not to be questioned).

It might just come down the strength of Los Angeles, e.g. Hollywood (that Dallas can’t come close to) versus the imagination of Mark Cuban. Listening to Jordan speak, and seeing his personality in action, he seems like he’d be a natural for TV or movies. And, unless there’s something we don’t know, it seems that those kind of roles would be very attractive to him. Endorsement opportunities abound in LA, but Cuban knows enough people “in the business world” to make comparable offers happen.

Rumor has it the Clips are putting together a kind of This Is Your Life, DeAndre Jordan presentation for their meeting with their center. What X factor will Cuban counter with? If I knew that answer, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be blogging at 2:30 am. Creativity and shrewd thinking are characteristics of Mark Cuban. He lives by the quote I read long ago:

“Did you ever go to a movie and laugh? Ever go to one and cry? You think it’s because of what they put in the seats?”

 

Why Not Give Analysts Won-Loss Records?

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

There is a thought that has been rumbling around in my head for quite some time (there’s plenty of room to rumble in there now that I’m retired). What might have finally got me to comment on it was watching Ryne Sandberg’s press conference announcing he was stepping down as the Phillies’ manager. The move was certainly one he’d never dreamed would happen when he took the reins at Philly. No coach ever takes a job and expects to fail, especially to the point where he steps down or is let go. When we listen to some guys after a big win or a championship, it often sounds like the coach might have “practiced” the comments. Yet, what coach would ever work on a speech after he lost – be it a game or his job? I mean, who goes into a job thinking anything but success?

Here’s my idea. There is so much commentary from the media about sports – and a large portion of it deals with the negative. Talking (and writing) heads have been saying either Phil Jackson is ruining the Knicks by drafting a not-ready-for-prime-time-player in Kristaps Porzingis (the next Darko Milicic) or he got the steal of the draft getting a guy with size (by the way, didn’t he look three inches taller than 7’0″ Frank Kaminsky?) and incredible skills who could be the next Dirk Nowitzki. Some media guys are saying Phil’s biggest mistake was overpaying Carmelo Anthony, someone who took the deal because he’s more interested in money than winning; others are complaining Jackson screwed over Melo by not consulting with him regarding the selection of Porzingis. Still others believe in Phil Jackson and are casting their “vote” for him. Let’s see how it plays out in New York and, then, “look it up” to see how those who weighed in with a comment fared.

Or, all the folks who feel the Lakers made a mistake by selecting D’Angelo Russell with the second pick (or those who praised it), should be on record for all to see (with modern technology, it doesn’t seem like there couldn’t be a link, constantly updated, where a fan could go to see D’Angelo Russell: super, good, average, poor – and which media member went which way regarding how the young guy would fair in the NBA his first (second, third, etc.) season.

All of that chatter makes for intriguing reading and listening. So why don’t we, in this “age of information.” keep accounts of which talker (or writer) made which claims. Coaches are usually paid (at least after a few years on the job) based on their record of success. Should the teams they lead win (which, like it or not, is why they get paid), they are in for bonuses and/or contract extensions. Since it’s become so easy for the techies to gather and store information, why not record prognosticators’ predictions?

If somebody hits on 90% of his opinions two or three years running, that guy ought to be lauded – and paid. If somebody’s selections (based on his research, experience and gut instinct) comes in at only 25%, that guy ought to be terminated – with, of course, some type of severance package. Then, those analyzing the draft (or who’s going to play in the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, whatever their “specialty” is), would understand what it’s like to be a coach. If the guy’s picks are continually low but he’s a “fan favorite,” i.e. he draws viewers and listeners or gets major hits, he can certainly be retained at the station’s or paper’s discretion – but at least his “won-loss” record would be public knowledge (doesn’t “the public’s right to know” apply to what comes out of a media member’s mouth or mind, as well)? My idea would be especially intriguing for the new breed of “stat heads” – guys who never strapped it on but who love to be part of athletics so they’ve memorized tons of sports minutiae, e.g. who the leading rusher was in Super Bowl XXI and how many yards he had.

Sure, there will be situations beyond someone’s control, e.g. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle get hurt before their careers even get started, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson getting suspended for actions no one could have (or, at least, did) predicted. There are others who fail drug tests, subsequently, losing games or, even, a season. We’d have to give a pass in those instances. But, consider what happens to a coach or manager. It makes winning exponentially more difficult and, almost always, the team’s performance falls off. It hurts the team’s chances for success immeasurably, putting the coach’s job at risk. Such unexpected situations would be the same with predictions so, if nothing else, the media (who’s record would likewise dip) would experience empathy – a trait that’s severely lacking in TV, radio and print comments.

TV and radio analysts, as well as columnists (and social media) tend to gloss over their inaccurate calls. Really, who wants to point out mistakes – especially if it occurs again and again (and, sometimes again and again)? Coaches don’t have that luxury because they’re held accountable for the team’s performance. My proposal is to give the mouthpieces “records,” too, so they can be held to the same standards. Think of the bragging rights that would go to the guys who, time after time, have their prophecies come true.

Unfortunately, it would never fly if the vote where left up to the talking and writing heads. It wouldn’t be agreed to by those people mainly because, while it might be a way to increase their earnings and, certainly, popularity, many aren’t nearly as confident, be it because they find having an opinon so much easier after the fact and because, face it, poor performance could lead to losing a sweet gig. Other than lewd and lascivious behavior – and, possibly, plagiarism – job security in that business is relatively stable (except for cutbacks which, will never be a factor in coaching). Falsifying a resume has caused several coaches their jobs but when media people exaggerate their accomplishments, it’s just a public embarrassment. And, then, only if exposed. What many of them say and what they actually did, often vary – by a quite a bit.

This proposal would mean more work (definitely for their interns if they’re so fortunate) and preparation would be necessary, as opposed to talking off the top of the head, which many find so much simpler, not to mention a heckuva lot more fun. However, it would be immensely popular with the fans. Studio analysis has become synonymous with games – pre, during and post (including days pre and post). In fact, game results (and accompanying strategies) are talked about more, in terms of actual hours and minutes, than the contests themselves. Anybody can pick an upset but for someone to do – and explain why - and then have it happen, that’s makes for serious credibility. As fans have their favorite coaches (to love or disrespect), this idea would give them media members to brag about – or call for their heads. On a personal note (as I’ve blogged so many times in the past), preparation and ability to call plays before they happen is why I believe Gary Danielson is, far and away, the best college football color commentator.

As Stephen Covey said many years ago:

“We judge others by their actions, ourselves by our intentions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”