Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

Lonzo Ball Knows What Pressure Is

Monday, February 27th, 2017

After coaching for 35 years, I can attest that a player’s parents are his biggest supporters (I imagine the same holds true for the distaff side but my entire experience was limited to boys). Even for superstars, the odds are against them. Although high school is so far away from the NBA, still, kids – and their parents – dream.

The collective bargaining agreement that was just signed means even the lowest paid NBA player will be a millionaire. Several times over. The problem is that – and these numbers are from years ago but you’ll still get the gist – there are 720,000 high school players, 18,000 college players and 450 NBA players.

Nearly every parent I dealt with during my three-and-a-half decade career thinks his or her kid is better than he really is. Hey, if you’re not going to be the president of your child’s fan club, who do you think is? Youngsters who get cut have parents who are flabbergasted a coach couldn’t see the, if not innate ability, then immense potential, their child has. Similar for the kid who doesn’t play as much, or doesn’t start, or starts but doesn’t get as many shots, or is the focus of the team but isn’t featured enough. These parents are appalled at the lack of respect shown for their child’s skills.

Then there’s LaVar Ball. Last season his three sons played for a high school that went undefeated, won the state championship and averaged over 100 points a game. In a 32 minute game, that’s pretty remarkable. LaVar’s oldest boy, Lonzo, signed with UCLA. If you’ve never seen him play, you’re missing a kid who, barring injury, ought to, not only beat the odds and become one of the aforementioned 450, but have a long and prosperous career – beginning next season because if there was ever a one-and-done, it’s LaVar Ball’s son. At 6’6″ he’s perfect size for a point guard (which is actually his best position) and although is shot is unorthodox, he shoots a good percentage and just might be one of those rare types whose technique, flawed as it may be, is better left alone. There are a score of shooting coaches (not nearly as many as there claim to be) who could remake his shot but, most likely, all of them would agree to simply give him a ton of repetitions and overcome the imperfection.

Lonzo’s shot might not be his biggest obstacle however. Just listen to LaVar and it’s apparent who Lonzo’s biggest fan is as well as, in all likelihood, his biggest impediment. The bravado displayed by his dad has no limits. Bragging doesn’t scratch the surface when discussing Lonzo’s future. For starters, after four games LaVar guaranteed that UCLA would win the NCAA Championship – and not because of Steve Alford’s ability to strategize. That wasn’t nearly strong enough. Last week he said, “I have the utmost confidence in what my boy is doing. He’s better than Steph Curry to me. Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

Now, did he mean that, if Steph Curry were on the current Bruins’ squad, he wouldn’t be good enough to have than solidly in third place in the Pac-12, behind Oregon and Arizona, where they currently reside? Or that, if Lonzo were with the Warriors they’d not only have the best record in the NBA but, … what? Does he mean that Lonzo would have been the two-time defending MVP (last season unanimous) and Golden State would have won more than 73 out of 81 games last year?

He’s admitted to telling his sons, “Somebody has to be better than Michael Jordan. Why not you?” Michael Jordan? Heck, he might not be the best point guard in his freshman class! Is the elder Ball intent on placing so much pressure on his son that he derails his career before it starts? Or does he feel he knows what buttons to push to get the most out of him? Not too many people would agree with LaVar Ball’s behavior. I, for one, think what he’s doing is beyond excessive.

Yet, the last time we heard a parent speak with such braggadocio about his children, his name was Richard Williams.

“How did his kids turn out anyway?”

Magic’s New Position Turns Him into a Mini-Trump

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

When the Lakers named Magic Johnson their president of basketball operations, the basketball community was split. As Donald Trump has divided the country into those who favor him and those who, let’s just say, don’t, Magic has had a similar effect in the world of hoops.

Dan Le Batard fired the first shot, claiming Magic “cut the line” because he’s famous and charming. Le Batard, who some claim ought to have an “s” strategically placed in his surname so it would sound like what it actually means in French (look it up), continued. “Magic Johnson was given a late night television show, because he’s famous and charming. Failed in 11 shows. Magic Johnson was given a head coaching job of the Lakers, because he’s famous and charming, failed in 16 games. Magic Johnson, not interesting as a broadcaster, given broadcasting opportunity after broadcasting opportunity, because he’s famous and charming. And now, he gets to run the entire Lakers organization because he’s famous and charming. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. He’s a very kind man, to be in his presence is to be awash in all the things people like about celebrity, he will make you feel special, but he wasn’t good at any of those jobs I just mentioned, and he got all of those jobs, bypassing a whole lot of people who are more qualified, because he’s famous and charming.”

Well, I can’t see anybody taking issue with the last part – nor should it be considered a negative. Heck, who doesn’t wish people would describe them as famous and charming?  Yet, I would seriously disagree that Magic was hired for his current job because of those two qualities. At least he didn’t land the job because he’s only famous and charming, even though those two traits will go a long way when it comes to luring free agents to the Lakers. Consider, many of the current free agents, and in the next few years, admittedly grew up idolizing Magic. As a free agent, being wined and dined by your idol – adding to the other “ancillary” benefits of living in Los Angeles, e.g. endorsements and business opportunities, weather and tradition, to name just a few – can be very persuasive to a young, impressionable (and highly talented) player.

Le Batard also made the statement, “His Twitter account should disqualify him from the job.” A legit shot, especially after reading some of the banal tweets Johnson has put out for public consumption – two in particular regarding his overall assessment of the Warriors: “With Steph Curry on the floor the Golden State Warriors are a championship team! Without him they are still a very good team!” and “When Steph & Klay are playing great together the Warriors are a hard team to beat.” His criticism of tweeting congrats to the Knicks for hiring Phil Jackson, however, is a low blow as Magic was far from alone in expressing that sentiment after Jackson’s hiring. His current duties, though, certainly won’t include being in charge of the Lakers’ social media account since that’s not what L.A. hired him to do.

Probably due to the fact that Johnson is famous and charming, Le Batard’s comments received immediate push back. Stephen A. Smith, who worships at the altar of Magic, prefaced his remarks saying he was a friend of Le Batard. He then vehemently took his friend, Dan, to task (as he is known to do to folks on a daily basis). Stephen A. applauded the move by the Lakers organization, calling Magic (another of his friends) “a basketball savant.”

Michael Wilbon’s response was based more on facts than emotion. Wilbon’s retort was, “So Le Batard bases Magic’s worthiness on a failed talk show and failed coaching career but not the 25 years since of success in business?” Point, Wilbon. Add to not only his mega success in business but his Hall of Fame career. Sure, that didn’t help him host a late night talk show nor be great on television – even when what he’s discussing deals with his own sport (think Oscar Robertson and Pete Rose). As far as the charge he failed as a coach, it’s almost a fact that superstar players don’t make good coaches.

But his success in running (numerous) overwhelmingly successful businesses? That takes leadership skills, hiring good employees, delegating and a multitude of other talents. If you want to say his role was just that of a front man, then he must have been a helluva front man. I choose to believe his companies thrived because he was more than “just a pretty face” or as Le Batard would have us believe, a “famous and charming” one. Too many successful enterprises.

Of course, another issue just had to be brought up. Keyshawn Johnson took his support of Magic a step further by “reading between the lines” and claiming LeBatard’s criticism was racially motivated. Jorge Sedano, Keyshawn’s broadcast partner on the show, jumped in and said, “No, I know Dan, that’s not true.”

Johnson’s reply? “I don’t know him, but that’s the way I look at it.” To that reasoning, we say, “C’mon, man!”

Isn’t it a shame, with all the struggles we face in America, that anytime someone who isn’t black (Le Batard is the son of Cuban immigrants) criticizes a person who is black, somebody will scream racism? Make no mistake, racism is a major problem in this country. Strides to correct it have been made but, in this case – and, full disclosure, I don’t know any of the people mentioned above - it’s unfathomable that Dan Le Batard could have risen to where he is in his profession (sportswriter for the Miami Herald and radio personality on ESPN) by making statements like he did about Magic Johnson with racial intent. And I don’t like Dan Le Batard! He’s a pompous know-it-all (a quality so many ESPN, and other TV, radio and print people possess in today’s media world) who is popular because of the controversial topics he (delightfully) talks about.

When it comes right down to it, rhetoric is just that. Whoever is right in this instance – and to people like Le Batard, Wilbon and Smith, being right is what really matters – will soon enough be evident because Magic has a job unlike that of media people. See, in Magic’s new endeavor:

“they keep score.”

Sometimes Wrong Is Just Wrong

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

As a parent, we always have to be on the lookout for “teaching moments.” The sports world usually offers many such opportunities. The most recent example is the case of Charles Oakley – what he did, how he was treated and how he reacted.

If you don’t know the back story of Oakley, you’ve probably tripped up and landed on this blog by mistake but, to sum it up, Oakley was a very good NBA player for, among others, the New York Knicks. Not a superstar, a la Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson or Bernard King, but a guy who brought it every game and earned his money, something that fans appreciate.

James Dolan, Knicks owner, has seemed to have done all in his power to destroy this proud franchise, making one awful move after another. Although I’m not sure which is which, the relationship between Oakley and Dolan is like that of oil and water. The facts are a little muddled but at a recent Knicks’ contest, Oakley may or may not have been drinking, may or may not have been spewing nasty comments to his former boss but, what is known is that he was asked to leave the Garden. He did not, however, leave peacefully, rather he confronted security and got into shoving matches with those attempting to do their jobs.

Fans have been overwhelming pro-Oakley in this situation, some because they love their Oak, some because they despise Dolan, many because of both. Whichever side you belong to, one thing is necessary for this discussion. Regardless of Dolan’s ineptness or fan reaction, Oakley’s actions that night were wrong.

About a week earlier, DeMarcus Cousins got a technical foul with 1.1 seconds to go. It was his 16th of the season, meaning he was suspended for the next one (and pay a fine of $4K but that means little for a guy making so much that the suspension will cost him $154,000, or 1/82nd of his salary). The game was lost. He couldn’t control his emotions one more second? So the people who shelled out dough for the next game are deprived of catching him in action because of a hissy fit.

Fans of Cousins, e.g. those who like unstoppable low post players who can play beyond the three-point line and also protect the rim at the other end, claim referees are against the big fella. After watching Cousins pick up his 17th T, they might have a point as replays showed it was nothing more than a flop. When asked about it postgame, Cousins’ reaction was, “It’s obvious I can’t be myself. Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to, you know, do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”

True to a point but the “Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am” comment shows the lack of maturity his critics have leveled at him since his career began. The axis of “right” goes through the top of Boogie’s head and out the other end. His world revolves around him, not unlike many folks. Whatever his beliefs, though, they don’t give him the right to be a boor.

In another basketball related incident, broadcaster Dan Dakich, known for – and proud of – his controversial commentary, stepped over the line while working the Michigan State-Ohio State game, calling the Spartans’ fans whiners and making the comment that one kid attends MSU because he couldn’t get into Michigan.

Funny line. I used to hear similar comments. When I worked at USC there would be signs at our home games against UCLA which said, “My maid went to UCLA.” Ha. Freedom of speech, right? So what’s the difference between that sign and what Dakich said? First and foremost, the signs are made by fans while he’s a professional, paid broadcaster who is on the air.

Next, Dakich’s son is a member of the Michigan basketball team (as a redshirt), making his tweet that much more inappropriate. Making the twitter war look worse for Dakich was the fact he deleted the tweet but, naturally, not until after somebody took a screen shot of it – so it lives forever. Dakich, enjoying his new career as enfant terrible, has been milking the situation, refusing any type of apology. He’s using what he created to his advantage, becoming somewhat of a role model for those who look up to him, similar to the way Jim Rome spawned a band of “shock jocks” in the sports world. It’s a way to be someone, for the first time as Rome and his minions are, or reinvent himself as Dakich, whose playing and coaching careers are over, is doing.

Not so great for parents who might have had higher hopes for their children. “Fame” is something people (not all let’s be clear) want desperately to acquire. Yet rude or barbaric behavior shouldn’t be acceptable, whether the person believes it’s necessary or that the end justifies the means.

What much of this reminds me of is the line that’s become part of our culture – and upsets me to no end:

“He was speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment.”

Weighing in on the Charles Oakley Incident

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

By now every NBA fan, and many others who probably don’t give a flip about the Association, have seen the video(s) of Charles Oakley being escorted by a plethora of Madison Square Garden security members. No one really knows exactly what was, or wasn’t, said by Oak – or to whom he directed those comments.

It was a sad situation, seeing one of the warriors (small w) of some of the best teams that represented the proud franchise which is down – and trending lower. Possibly Probably Most definitely, because I’m a Jersey guy who vividly remembers the championship clubs, as well as those that battled fiercely but came up oh-so-close, I side with the New York fans who are fed up with the seemingly rudderless ship that is now the Knicks.

However, I can’t for the life of me understand how fans and former players can feel Oakley is in the right in this incident. He claims he didn’t say anything of a derogatory nature and couldn’t understand why security guards confronted him, although he has admitted to handling the situation poorly. Was it some kind of conspiracy that brought the cops to him?

Look, this whole ordeal is getting entirely too much play, mainly because it happened in the Garden. Add in the hopeless case that is the New York franchise, both current and future, and irrational behavior becomes the norm. To sum up the whole matter, look no farther than former Jeff Van Gundy for guidance.

Van Gundy wasn’t referring to this current mess when he issued the following statement but Oakley should still take it to heart:

“When you know better and don’t do better, you’re no better.”

UK Fans Have Been Known to Be a Little Much, But This Guy Tops Them All

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

In news that will surprise absolutely no one, Kentucky Wildcat fans are upset. After all, following an embarrassing blowout in Gainesville, their beloved hoops team had lost three of their previous four games (they bounced back with a convincing win over LSU). Let’s review UK’s inexcusable three losses during that time.

The last one was at Florida, against a team that had one of those days where they couldn’t miss. Of course, the arena was packed, loud and somewhat intimidating, i.e. a normal road game for UK. The second L was delivered by Kansas, at the time the #2 ranked team in the country. Second? So what? Wildcat fans don’t care who’s second because they’re supposed to be #1. Always. The game that was unpardonable was the first one of that “streak” – at Tennessee. Granted, the ‘Cats were heavy favorites. Could they have been looking ahead to the KU tilt? Well, let me tell you a little about the UK-UT rivalry.

I was an assistant at Tennessee for seven years (1980-87). During that time we beat them six out of seven times (in Knoxville). The game we lost was by two. After a time out, with seconds to go, we inbounded the ball and had a man-to-man play all set for our leading scorer (who happened to be the leading scorer in the SEC). Our point guard crossed half court, saw UK in a zone defense and we turned it over. For the record it was the only possession of man-to-man defense Eddie Sutton, Kentucky’s head coach, played all year!

Oh yeah, we were 0-7 against them in Lexington. One year we beat them by 17 – which was their biggest loss of the season. A month later they shellacked us by 25 – the biggest loss of ours. And there have been other cases of undermanned Vol teams beating the ‘Cats (in Knoxville) throughout the years.

Excuse me for the walk down memory lane – although I know Kentucky fans won’t. They are the most passionate and loyal, but far and away, the most entitled, group of supporters in the country. For exhibit A, I give you UK fan Patrick Stidham who, the day after the Florida beat down, posted this comment:

I love my Wildcats (fan since 1978), BUT, we might just have another “Tubby Smith” on our hands (“one and done”). Calipari is a “good” Coach and a great Recruiter, but, that’s about it. He seems to value players getting to the NBA over winning Championships. Sorry to tell him this, but, that is NOT what we want at Kentucky!!!

Let’s examine this fool’s post. Next to UCLA, the college with the most titles is Kentucky with eight. The coach for the first four of those was Adolph Rupp. During his first two championship runs (1948, 1949), the entire NCAA field was composed of eight teams, meaning the champion had to win only three games. In order to capture their next two trophies (1951, 1958), the ‘Cats had to win four games, the tourney expanding to 16, then to 24 entrants (they received a first round bye in ’58).

Notice from his post, super (critical) fan, Patrick, has been a fan since 1978 – the year UK won its fifth national championship which (a 48-team field, UK getting a bye once again). Their coach was Joe B. Hall who worked for the Wildcats for 13 years. 1978 was his, in Patrick’s words, “one and done” season.

Another Kentucky “one and done” national championship coach was Rick Pitino (although he’s also won one leading UK’s rival, Louisville to the title). Pitino spent eight years as the ‘Cats leader and managed to get the to the Final Four on three occasions – but only won it in 1996, Kentucky’s sixth title.

During UK’s seventh national championship the head man was none other than Patrick’s object of scorn Tubby Smith – a man considered by everybody who truly knows him (I’m proud to be in that group) as one of the classiest coaches ever to walk a sideline. In his 10 seasons in Lexington he was named National Coach of the Year.

Which brings us to our ” ‘good’ Coach and a great Recruiter, but, that’s about it” current head Wildcat coach, John Calipari. While Cal did manage to win a national championship for Patrick and the UK faithful, it was for heaven’s sake. Meanwhile, “he seems to value players getting to the NBA over winning Championships.” For the record Calipari, in his seven years prior to the current one, has led his team to the Final Four on four occasions.

This blog is plenty long enough but, if you’d like further proof of Patrick Stidham’s lunacy, compare Calipari’s overall record, e.g. total wins, winning percentage, league championships, etc. against any coach Kentucky has ever had.

It seems like the only two solutions to this issue is to:

“Either allow Patrick Stidham to select UK’s next coach or have ol’ Patrick coach the squad himself.”

If It Weren’t for His Enablers, DeMarcus Cousins Would Be His Own Worst Enemy

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

The center position in the NBA has morphed into an entirely different animal. Gone are the days when two dinosaurs would slug it out on the block. Today’s best big guys still play with their backs to the basket (some) but need to be able to step out, stretch a defense, set screens (pick & roll is the new style of basketball – pretty much at every level of the game) and either roll or, and this is a skill fans never got to see Wilt, Russell, Kareem or Walton do, pop out for a jump shot. Sometimes a three-pointer. That strategy is so prevalent some teams are eschewing the traditional center and playing with a combination of two guards and three forwards or three guards and two forwards. And since those offensive skills are necessary, it’s also mandatory for “centers” to be able to defend that type of player.

The guy who best fills out the above description is the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins. He has the strength of the best pivot men of the 20th century, the low post game of Hall of Famers, yet can play away from the basket, shoot from beyond the three-point line, put the ball on the floor – and has the ability to guard inside and out as well.

That’s the reason there are constantly rumors of a trade. An all-star center whose team is struggling is going to peak interest in other clubs who dream about what a player like that could do for their franchise. Yet there hasn’t been a trade. General Manager Vlade Divac, who was one of the hybrid centers back in his playing days for has been quoted on numerous occasions, most recently yesterday, saying, “We’re not trading DeMarcus. We hope he’s here for a long time. We are going in that direction.”

Without dancing around the subject, the real reason no trade has gone down is because the seven-year NBA veteran Cousins is basically a 26-year-old superstar with the talent to lead a ball club to a championship, maybe multiple championships, but one who possesses the maturity of an eight-year-old. In 51 games, Cousins is averaging 27.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. If the Kings could receive anything resembling fair market value for their big guy/problem child, they’d be throwing a “re-branding” party before the ink on the deal was dry.

At the 2015 Hall of Fame induction show John Calipari was the final person recognized. He had every one of his former players in attendance and asked all of them to join him onstage. With scores of players behind him, he asked them, as he looked out over the audience, “Raise your hand if you think I held your game back?”

I happened to be at the show (my former Washington State and USC boss, George Raveling was also in the HOF class) but can’t remember how many former Calipari players had their hands up. It was because Cousins was making a spectacle of himself, smiling and frantically waving his. At that moment, Cal dropped the punchline. “I don’t know how many hands are up but I can guarantee you DeMarcus Cousins is raising both of his.” It made for a good laugh for everyone but spoke volumes about what is must have been like to coach an 18-year-old DeMarcus. Had the one-and-done rule not been in effect, Cal would have started petition for one.

Last night against the Bulls, the Kings were down by as many as 27 but came back and made the game a nail-biter. Down two, with about 12 seconds left, Sacramento ran a side out of bounds play in which the ball was to be inbounded to Cousins. Replays showed that Dwyane Wade did, in fact, grab Cousins’ jersey as he stepped in front of him, stole the pass, dribbled down and dunked to secure the victory. With seven seconds left, the Kings’ big man shot a three-pointer, attempting to draw a foul. The shot went awry, no foul was called, the Bulls controlled the ball and the Kings fouled. 1.1 seconds remained.

Cousins was so upset about the no call on the side out play that he turned and displayed so much disdain toward the referee, no one in the building, including DeMarcus himself, was shocked another tech, his second of the game, meaning automatic ejection. What does that matter, you say – there was only 1.1 seconds left and the game was essentially over anyway.

Because it was also his 16th technical foul of the season. Forget the fine – he makes 17 mil a year. According to NBA rules, that magic number means his irresponsible behavior he’ll be suspended for Wednesday night’s game against Boston. At least season ticket holders will get to see Isaiah Thomas play.

While the Kings’ announcers were critical of Cousins’ behavior, “It’s the inability of him to control his temper” and, after viewing the replay, “you can’t do this” in reference his reaction toward the official with one tick left. In between those admonishments, most likely because they know who signs their paychecks, was the phrase, “He thought there should have been a foul, that Dwyane Wade held his jersey and I agree, DeMarcus is 100% correct, but …” DeMarcus needs more of what follows the “but” and less of how “right” he is.

When Cousins was asked about his techs? “It’s kind of unfortunate that it happened. I really don’t know what to say about it. If I say something I’ll get punished, and if I don’t say something I’ll get punished. I really don’t know what the answer is anymore. I’m highly disappointed in what just happened.”

It’s highly doubtful anyone who knows him is surprised at his response. He’s a guy who’s been enabled for so long, he believes he’s … right. All the time.

He’d possibly considered an all-time great if he’d take to heart some great advice that, apparently, no one as of yet has told him:

“Grow up.”

 

What Can Be Done About the Snubbing of Russell Westbrook?

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

People are incensed that Russell Westbrook is not starting in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. I mean, the guy is, and has been, averaging a double-double for the season. How can that not translate into a starting spot? Are there really two better guards than Russ? Well, the guys voted ahead of him are James Harden and Steph Curry. Selecting only two of them forces people to trash one of the three when attempting to passionately defend their choice.

Could Obama have pardoned it? If it’s too late, can Trump step in? He needs to ingratiate himself to NBA players and this would be a nice start. But does this oversight really need a presidential decree?

The main reason, really the only reason, Westbrook isn’t a starter is that players were separated into two categories – guards and big guys. The starting five is composed of two guards and three bigs. Long ago, a basketball team was made up of two guards, two forwards and a center. It became more specialized when the position designations changed into a point guard (1), shooting guard (2), small forward (3), power forward (4) and center (5). Although coaches are considered copycats, there is always an innovator who changes things up and revolutionizes an aspect of the game – if his teams win.

What followed were the designations: a point, two wings and two posts. Then, Don Nelson, an innovator if there ever was one, blew everybody’s mind when he created the “point forward.” Bringing thoughts of Nellie back, a couple nights ago, Kenny Smith argued with Charles Barkley when Chuck said James Harden was a point guard. The Jet claimed that Harden was not a traditional point, but a “point two.” Or did he mean .2, introducing decimals as a hoops position? Or “point to” as in a player who gives direction?

The point, er, aim of this post is that the game has gone through so many “position changes” that, to avoid embarrassing issues such as not starting a guy who is one of the two leading candidates for MVP, why not have the top five vote getters (however the votes are weighted – fan, media, player) be the starters?

After all, why is it necessary to have designated groups for the voting when 1) it’s not mandatory the all-star coaches make certain there are two guards and three bigs on the floor the entire game and 2)

“The NBA All-Star Game is a joke anyway.”

Who Says Traveling Isn’t Called in the NBA?

Friday, January 20th, 2017

As many folks were, especially those of us on the west coast, I was watching the Warriors-Thunder game a couple nights ago. The NBA, as I’ve stated on numerous occasions, is composed of the best athletes in the world. In order to play in the league, everyone must be able to run, jump, dribble, pass, catch, rebound, defend and shoot. With people that skilled, it’s arguably the most difficult sport to officiate.

There was an incident during the game in which the ball was inbounded to Russell Westbrook and, facing no pressure from any defender, he turned and brought the ball up the floor. Only he forgot to dribble. The rule regarding traveling is that the player who receives the pass is allowed to take one step and, then, can lift his other foot but must either pass, shoot or dribble before that foot touches the floor (that explanation probably butchers the actual rule but you get the idea).

After Westbrook caught the ball and turned upcourt, he didn’t begin his dribble until his sixth step. It should have been an easy call if, for no other reason, than traveling is also referred to as “walking.” Anyone who’s seen the video – which has to have been viewed over a million times – can see that walking is exactly what the Thunder point guard was doing.

What’s funny is his action brought basketball full circle. When kids begin playing (4, 5, 6 years old), most of them, when they get the ball, start running around. During camp sessions it’s impossible to call every traveling violation, so usually, “referees” (mostly coaches and older players) won’t call it – or else nothing would ever get accomplished.

The thought that crossed my mind, after seeing the replays of it over and over was:

“Exactly how many steps was that NBA referee going to allow Westbrook to make before blowing his whistle?”

Apparently, the answer was six.

Two Different Ways to Give the Same Message

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

As the clock wound toward zero at the end of the Indiana-Rutgers basketball game in Bloomington – with IU comfortably ahead, one of the Hoosiers attempted to throw down a dunk at the buzzer. He missed, the horn sounded and, prior to joining the “handshake line,” Indiana’s coach Tom Crean, walked directly to his player and absolutely lambasted him.

The tongue lashing didn’t last long, most likely because Crean didn’t want to ignore the Rutgers’ coaches and players – since his message to the youngster was that the move was disrespectful to their opponent – and blowing off the post game handshake line would have been just as impolite. Although his reaction to the play was understandable, his delivery should definitely have been altered (I heard one talking head equate it to bullying).

Allow me to reflect to a game played around 20 years ago. I was director of basketball operations at Fresno State and we were beating our opponent by a significant margin when one of our players had a breakaway late in the game (although not at the buzzer) and, rather than simply dunking the ball, he made a more crowd pleasing move, also resulting in a successful dunk, a broad smile from him and cheers from our sellout crowd. Shortly after, the game ended, the participants shook hands and headed toward their respective locker rooms.

Many, maybe even most, people who know Jerry Tarkanian will say a negative quality of his was that he never berated any kid who ever played for him. One thing is for sure. If that’s your belief, ask anyone who was in the post game locker room that night and you’ll hear differently. Jerry wasn’t two steps beyond the door before he exploded on the “dunker” – whose smile quickly disappeared. Suffice to say no one else made a sound for the next minute or two – which to us seemed more like 30 minutes. To that kid it must have felt like a week.

“Don’t you EVER disrespect the game – or an opponent – like that EVER again! It’s an HONOR to play basketball and there is no place for that type of horse(bleep)! You’re a helluva player, _____, but if I EVER see you pull another stunt like that, you’ll never put on a Fresno State uniform again!”

That moment is so vivid in my mind that, if someone could produce an audio of it, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I nailed it absolutely verbatim. It also wouldn’t surprise me if someone else who was present that night were asked about it and told the identical story.

In a blog I posted close to a decade ago, I reminisced  about a conversation I had with Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and an assistant coach on the Oregon basketball staff when I was a graduate assistant, I remarked to Jim that a big problem in the college game was that coaches were making too much money, i.e. forget “they’re paid what the market will bear” there are innumerable coaches who would take head coaching jobs for much, much less – because they loved coaching. And they would do just as well, if not better, than whichever coach was eventually selected. What had prompted our discussion had to do with some mind boggling, illegal and immoral decision-making by one of the NABC members (a story that won’t be regurgitated here but was national news).

It was my belief that salaries had escalated to such a point (and this was over a decade ago when coaches’ were a mere fraction of what they are now) that some of the choices coaches were making were being negatively affected by how much money they were making because if he were to lose his job, he would find it nearly impossible to land another that would reward him so handsomely.

However, with such exorbitant salaries comes equal (or greater) expectations – and what follows that is more and more pressure – until the ultimate – a national championship is won. And even that will only appease the “faithful” supporters for a few years. Anyone who is a fan of college hoops, and especially Indiana’s program, will attest to the excessive admiration Hoosier fans showered on Tom when he patiently resurrected the proud, but probation-riddled IU program he inherited. When the team’s success didn’t continue its upward ascent (remember, this is a school with a long tradition, as in five national championships between 1940-1987), fans became disgruntled (shocking, isn’t it?) and turned up the heat on coach Crean.

Maybe because I consider Tom Crean a friend (even though it’s been years since we’ve been in contact), I truly believe his behavior that night in Bloomington had to do with pressure - and it caused him to forget a major tenet of leadership – the same one Tark displayed that night and throughout his storied career:

“Praise in public; criticize in private.”

It’s the Fans’ Favorite Time of the Year

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

College football is down to its championship game, the NFL’s playoff season is beginning and college basketball and the NBA are deep enough into their respective seasons that drama is front and center (Grayson Allen, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins). Fans are beside themselves. The activity they all agree on is in full swing: criticizing, and ultimately, firing coaches. One invention that has made talking about firing coaches so much more enjoyable – as well as make the fan sound like an expert – is analytics.

Black Monday has come and gone and with it, several NFL coaches. Others are treading on thin ice. Or on they on the hot seat? Coaches get it from both ends of the thermometer. This year, as with every other, many, many college coaches received pink slips (although not nearly enough to satisfy the fans). Close games that were lost were proof that the coach choked, while close victories were either due to luck or should have been blowouts.

This NBA season might set the record as far as disappointing its followers, as there are some pundits currently claiming that this year will see no – as in zero – NBA head coaches dismissed. Seems as though the new coaches will be given at least another year to try to turn around the mess they inherited. Chip Kelly must be wishing he’d gone into hoops.

Wait, won’t there still be 14 teams not make the playoffs? So shouldn’t at least two-thirds of those teams change head men? Plus at least a quarter of those who made the playoffs? Every true fan can name 3-4 teams that would have done better with different guys leading those teams (even if those 3-4 teams change depending upon which fans you ask).

College is a little different. People aren’t nearly as close to pro coaches, so it’s easier to criticize someone who’s making a ton of money and not winning (or getting his team to cover for those of you who watch games for more than just the purity of the sport). College coaches are different. Fans may actually know the coach, or at least have met him at a function (alumni, service organization) where the school forced requested him to speak. Having shaken a person’s hand, looked him in the eye and either told him you thought he was doing a good job or wished him luck, makes the coach human – and (nearly) everybody has some empathy. I mean, one-and-dones have drastically changed coaching strategies – and expectations. This makes speaking about firing him all the more difficult – until you get to a place where the majority of the people are calling for his head. Then, joining in becomes much easier – and, even, fun.

Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once wrote, Nothing is ever so bad it can’t be made worse by firing the coach.”

How about we update Jim’s quote (since some might dismiss by saying it’s become outdated)? Here’s one I heard while listening to a podcast with Doc Rivers. Doc is a guy with a ton of security because he has so much credibility – a coach with an NBA championship on his resume and one of the most highly respected guys in the business (plus he’s got such a gimormous contract). When the question was posed to him about winning a championship. His answer was simplistic, but telling:

“People don’t appreciate how hard it is to win.”