Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

When What You Do Best and What You Love Happen to Coincide

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

This past Tuesday and Wednesday I attended a basketball coaching clinic event co-hosted by a couple of basketball dinosaurs, Kevin Eastman and Brendan Suhr. The description is meant as a comment. They have coached for a combined 80 or so years on the high school, college and professional levels. While that stat is what impresses the heck out of me (I did it for 35 years and when I look back on it, I have no idea how I managed to do it), what blows others away is that, between them, they have three NBA championship rings (Kevin as an assistant with the 2007-08 Celtics, Brendan in the same role with the Bad Boy Pistons of 1988-89 & 1989-90). They call it Coaching U and have been staging such events for six years. Suffice to say they understand what it takes to put on a first class show.

Somehow these guys manage to get not only the quality speakers other promoters only wish for, they get them in bunches. The cast for Tue-Wed was, in addition to the co-hosts, George Raveling (who invited me to be his guest), Shaka Smart, Lawrence Frank, Billy Donovan and Gregg Marshall. (The speakers for the July 15-16 session are just as formidable). Stop and think: Hall of Fame, Final Fours, NCAA National Champions, NBA Champions were all represented on this program and while all were sensational, this blog will discuss one coach in particular.

During the early to mid-1980s I worked at the University of Tennessee for a coach named Don DeVoe. For that particular era, Don was always mentioned as a guy who, if he was given a group of players he’d never seen before, and seven other coaches were given other groups of equal talent, and a tournament was held, Don’s guys would have as good or better a chance of winning a tournament. In today’s game, one such coach is Florida’s Billy Donovan.

This past Wednesday, Billy took five players from Indiana Wesleyan, the 2014 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Champions and, in 20 minutes taught them the Gators’ pick and roll offense. His comments were for the coaches in attendance but were directed to the players in such a manner that, incredible as it sounds, the five guys ran through the offense flawlessly. Every option, every set, every time. Some of the other speakers also worked with the players and did marvelous jobs, but none as seamlessly as Billy D.

As we watched, I made mention of this phenomena to George, who currently serves as the Director of International Basketball for Nike, and he just shook his head. “Jack, I saw him do the same thing at the U19 championships in Prague,” Rav said. “He hadn’t seen the team until they practiced (for two weeks) and won the tournament even though all the other teams were their country’s national team, composed of the best players in that age group. He’s amazing.”

Many people, including this writer, discuss how coaching salaries have reached unfathomable heights. Billy Donovan is making over $22 million for six years but, as incredible as it may seem, watching him work with those young college kids and see them respond to him so quickly and so impeccably, was infinitely more startling to me than his salary numbers.

To many, money is the ultimate reward. Make no mistake about it, I’m sure Billy (and his family) are thrilled he brings home a paycheck with all those zeroes but the fact that he is enjoying his work has to be fulfilling to him. Paraphrasing Bob Dylan:

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”


Defining Roles Leads to Spurs’ Success

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Leaving for LA and some more sessions with shooting guru Mike Penberthy. Plus, Alex will get to play with the college and pro guys who stop by Mike’s gym.

This blog will return Saturday, July 5th - so you’ll have something to do over the holiday weekend.

Now that the San Antonio Spurs won the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and did it so convincingly, everybody wants to know what their secret is. What’s so unfortunate is that the “secret” to their success is built upon years of practice. Head coach Gregg Popovich often uses the term “good to great,” talking about what type of shots that an extra pass would lead to. “Good to Great” is also the title of the book by Jim Collins that was the rage of the business world when it came out in 2001 (and obviously one Pop has read - probably more than once). The premise of taking a good company to great is getting the right people on the “bus,” the wrong people off of it and getting the right people in the right seats.

Why the Spurs have been so successful (one 2013 rebound away from a three-peat) is due to selecting the “right” - not always the “best” - people to make up the team, getting the wrong people off of it (although I can’t give examples of any) and having the right people in the right spots. Beyond that, it’s about getting buy in from an entire organization. The way the Spurs play is the antithesis of the way the game is played by nearly every team in the United States, i.e. high school, junior college, four year college and, especially, summer basketball. Possibly, that’s why the Spurs have only three players on its roster who were born in the U.S.

The style used by most every summer coach is, for lack of a better term, the “star system.” Team basketball is eschewed so that individuals are highlighted. Or so that individuals can highlight themselves. This flies in the face of what the Spurs believe. In the 6/23/14 issue of Sports Illustrated there’s an article on the champs in which Boris Diaw, who was waived two years ago by the 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats, suggested to the coaches that they hold morning “passarounds” as opposed to the usual morning shootarounds. While San Antonio hasn’t gone that far, they do have 5 on 5 drills in which players aren’t allowed to dribble. It would take some of today’s great scholastic and collegiate players quite a while if that rule was implemented.

It’s not just having shooters that makes the Spurs’ offense so effective but players who have a variety of skills. Not all have to be able to knock down threes, some are required to score inside, others to penetrate (whether to score, kick out or pass to a post player or a cutter), and still others to screen and rebound. The key to San Antonio’s success is not only the style they use but the understanding the players have of what their particular role is. Which is not as easy as it sounds when egos are involved.

Of course, everybody loves a winner and the Spurs are the latest winner. But as another winner, Scottie Pippen (someone who would know), said:

“Sometimes a player’s greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team.”


 

A Comparison of Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Clayton Kershaw is my favorite baseball player. He’s always been a great pitcher. In high school he posted a 13–0 record with an ERA of 0.77, and struck out 139 in 64 innings. Then, in his first assignment with the Dodgers’ club in the Gulf Coast League, he compiled a record of 2–0 with a 1.95 ERA while pitching 37 innings. He struck out 54 batters and walked only 5, with his fastball topping out at 96 mph. Fast forward to 2013 when he won the Cy Young Award, the second time he’s done so. In 2012 he was the runner up. Had he won it that year, he’d have taken home the top award for a pitcher three years in a row.

That’s only part of the reason he’s my fave. In fact I haven’t followed baseball closely since . . . well, since I began playing high school baseball. That’s the same deal with football and basketball. Once I was a member of a team, I pretty much rooted for the team I was part of. Once I stopped playing, I started coaching - and the same rule applied. Sure, I was always a Dodger fan (even after they moved to LA in 1958, a crushing blow to a young boy). The main reason Clayton Kershaw is my favorite player is because he reminds me of my favorite player of all time - when I had such a thing. Growing up as a Jewish kid in New Jersey (whose mother’s side of the family was from Brooklyn), I idolized all the guys: Jackie, Duke, Pee Wee, Campy, the Carl’s, Gil, Junior. But then came Sandy. I revered Sandy Koufax. One of our own had not only made it, he was the best.

The following is not meant to be blasphemous in any way, just the recollection of a young kid. Before I was even a teenager, we were told in Hebrew school that the major difference between Jews and non-Jews was that Jews were waiting for the Messiah to come while non-Jews were waiting for Him to return. When Sandy started dominating - and what he was doing was pure domination - I was so happy my mother’s side of the family had brainwashed me (at least according to my father who was a Yankee fan) into being a Dodger fan. Here was a guy hitters couldn’t touch, a pitcher who was so good, he never resorted to hitting opponents in retaliation. Instead, he humiliated them by making them look foolish. Then, one day in his prime, he retired. The rumor in my neighborhood was that he retired was because . . . Sandy Koufax was the Messiah. That made total sense to us. No wonder nobody could hit him. 

Of course that wasn’t the case. The real reason was, beyond the masterful skill he possessed, was that he worked at his craft, to the level of perfection. From what I’ve read about Clayton Kershaw, his situation is identical - pursuit of perfection. The two of them, Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw, are high character guys who were/are the ultimate winners. No matter how much they did/do, there was/is always more. That is why the term winner is attached to their names.

I recently read a post from Ryan Holiday, entitled “A Winner Does…” If anyone out there is looking to explain exactly what a winner is/does, go to ryanholiday.net and read that post from June 25. When I did, I realized the reason I respect and admire Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw, as well as a select number of people I have known and observed throughout my lifetime. While I’ve read other definitions of winning and winners, I think the quote from Aristotle that Holiday uses surpasses all of the others:

“Excellence is not an end but a habit. It is a series of standards and defaults that one must continually meet. In other words, just because you’ve won something, doesn’t mean you’re a winner. It just means you’ve won. There is still work left to be done.”

The Spurs Have Transcended the Negative

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Headed to France for what else but a basketball tournament. Younger son, Alex, was chosen to play on a select team of (mostly) college sophomores. Alex played in a similar tourney in Slovakia when he was in the eighth grade. Possibly because he played so well in that one (he averaged 35 ppg, with a high of 44 in the consolation finals, while making the All-Tourney team), the same coach asked him to play with his team in France. Full disclosure: the games in the tournament in Slovakia used NBA time, i.e. 12 minute quarters with stop time - or, basically, a high school game and a half, so statistics were inflated. Every player on this squad plays for a Division I team, except for Alex who plays at Division II Cal State Monterey Bay. He fully realizes it will be a challenge, and feels up to it.

This blog will undoubtedly return with stories from France and the tourney but not until June 26. I hope you’ll take some time to read past blogs. I’ve been posting since 2007. Scroll down the right hand side, past Archives until you get to Categories. Choose your favorite person or topic, click on and enjoy.

The worst thing anyone has ever about the San Antonio Spurs is that they’re boring. Those of us who appreciate watching the game performed as it was intended - not meant to sound in any way, exclusionary, as we number in the millions - realize that any true fan who doesn’t like the way the Spurs play must either be someone of the “wow me” generation or someone who lost a bundle going the wrong way on gambling bets. As has been stated ad infinitum, the Spurs pass the ball to the open man, even if it means passing up an open shot (because a teammate has a better one), players are usually in motion every time down the floor, dribbling is strongly discouraged in favor of passing and they defend like everybody’s life is at risk, doubling when necessary, closing out with a vengeance (and a hand up), helping and recovering, always talking and rebounding - because if they don’t rebound the miss, everything else is wasted effort. To sum up the attitude the Spurs have, from the coaching staff to the team manager, is they trust each other and they respect the game.

Gregg Popovich gets away with acting like he does during interviews because he read what’s mandatory for a coach and does the absolute minimum. For the record, I fully agree with him when it comes to sideline interviews which are not only a waste of time (other than Craig Sager’s outfits), but an intrusion on the coach doing his job (besides, other than Pop, they all make the same trite comments, adding nothing to a viewer’s enjoyment of the game). To some, Pop might come off as a wise guy which I don’t believe for a second is a comment that would bother him. As a matter of fact, it would probably give him pleasure.

Another area the Spurs have avoided is xenophobia. With as many contrarians as there are in this country, people who would disagree with others just for the sake of being disagreeable, it’s shocking there hasn’t been more of an uproar from some horse’s ass group over the fact that, of the 12 players on the Spurs post season roster, only 3 were born in the USA. Maybe more hasn’t been made of that stat because it might show a couple of things that would embarrass Americans.

One would be that foreigners play a better brand of team basketball, the above mentioned moving, passing to an open man, covering for each other defensively - all skills that are considered unselfish, as opposed to guys who win slam dunk contests and “break guys ankles” - but not until they’ve used multiple dribbles and the majority of the shot clock. A great way to accumulate fans but not all that useful in close games when defenses tighten and look to help.

Another area that people don’t know but that they may not want to know is that, since Gregg Popovich’s title is not just “Coach” but “Coach/President” of the Spurs, their situation is unlike nearly every other NBA team (although that seems to be changing with Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy and Flip Saunders sharing essentially the identical titles with the Clippers, Pistons and T-Wolves, respectively). With General Manager R.C. Buford, his right hand man, Pop and R.C. have the final say on all their personnel decisions. Pop is a Renaissance man who has traveled all over the world - on several occasions. Could it be that, after having watched so many foreign teams play (and watching so many American teams play), that he feels the foreign athlete is more coachable? Or is it just a coincidence that 9 of 12 players hail from other countries (although Tim Duncan, Patty Mills, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes did attend US colleges)? Not sure if you asked Pop if he would give you more of an answer than he does with sideline reporters.

The only criticism San Antonio has not escaped is the rants by Charles Barkley, but those are directed at the Riverwalk and the women, not the Spurs because Charles knows a great basketball team when he sees one. The Spurs are a couple games away from a fifth NBA championship. They might just be the greatest example for all people and organizations who feel unappreciated. If you or your company is in that position, use the following quote as your mantra:

“Never stop doing your best just because someone doesn’t give you credit.”

Possibly, the Worst Job in the World

Monday, May 12th, 2014

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, I remember a survey that listed the worst jobs in America. I can only remember two of them. One, which has since been terminated due to it being a health danger, was sitting in a tiny, closed-in booth inside the Lincoln Tunnel which runs beneath the Hudson River, connecting NJ and NY - and is constantly filled with vehicles emitting who-knows-what. The other job on that list I can recall is that of being a coal miner. I think we all have heard of the risks of that occupation.

One trade that definitely was not on that list then, but ought to be near the top of it now, is the job of an NBA referee. Maybe even #1 on the list. OK, it’s not life threatening but think about it, whenever you blow your whistle, you will upset a number of people. Should you decide you want people to cheer you, again and again, you’ll get a reputation of what they call a “homer.” Then, when your job evaluation comes through, chances are high you won’t be employed for much longer. In essence, the NBA official (referee, or ref for short) must be willing to perform the duties without prejudice, meaning that there will be times, often several per night, that you will upset a lot of people, better known as the “home crowd.”

So far, the job description isn’t sounding too tempting. Another issue you must deal with is that a large percentage, as in 100%, of the people you’re in charge of are younger, bigger, faster and stronger than you are. They are among the greatest athletes in the entire world and part of your charge is you must keep up with them. Thus, positioning is an important aspect of the position.

Judgment is another major requirement of the job and, no matter how good yours is, odds are you’ll be called names, occasionally nasty ones, so you’d better have a thick skin. This job has been known to run off a rhinoceros or two.

One item that should make you sleep better at night is that there are multiple cameras which have shown that an overwhelming percentage of the time, the refs are right. An item that might cause you to lose sleep is . . . there are multiple cameras so, when you (inevitably) miss calls, they will be replayed on the giant, overhead scoreboard which is standard equipment for every arena. Furthermore, the blown calls will be seen over and over and over (although not nearly as many times as ESPN replayed the kiss that Michael Sam and his boyfriend shared after he got drafted - the counting stopped at infinity - and neither of them cost anybody a game). As your wrong call is repeatedly shown, your name might be mentioned. Then again, it might not - but all your friends will still know you blew it.

What’s considered good officiating? Here’s how play-by-play announcer, Mike Breen, analyzed the LA-OKC game yesterday: Officials need to know what to call and what to let go. These officials have done a good job of letting them play but not it’s getting a little out of control. It sounds like his advice is to “let the players play” (a common refrain) but don’t let the game get out of control. Good luck trying to figure out when to do which.

Jeff Van Gundy, Breen’s sidekick, and the best color analyst in the business had a pointer as well: These players are liars. They’ll turn and look at you like they didn’t do anything, but when you see the replay, it’s an obvious foul. What can be gleaned from that nugget is the less fraternizing with the players, the better. They’ll be sweet to you when they see you outside of the arena and even before the games as they warm up. But they’ll turn on you as soon as you accuse them of committing an infraction. Even if they’re guilty.

Coaches are another story. According to announcers, that nefarious group is always “working you.” Some are kinder than others but if one coach, however kind, thinks his counterpart is getting favorable treatment - even (or especially) if it’s from one of your two partners, all friendship is off, and he’s on your butt, too. I once heard a Hall of Fame college coach once admit, “I don’t want the game to be refereed fairly. I want all the calls.

As for the job’s degree of difficulty, take this latest situation: During these playoffs, there has been more “fouling the player shooting a three-point shot.” Everyone who’s ever played the game knows it’s a cardinal sin to foul a three-point shooter. Yet, in this day and age, with these elite players, that’s happening at a record pace. Why? The answer is simple. It’s the shooter who is initiating the contact by sticking out his leg as he shoots. The defender is attempting to avoid him but, inevitably, brushes - or runs through - his extended leg. Replay after replay shows this. Why aren’t the refs catching on? Breen and Van Gundy asked that question to retired referee Steve Javie (25 years an NBA official). His reply was, “The referee is looking at the release to see if there’s any contact. He’s also checking if there’s any body contact.”

Breen, jokingly, said, “Can’t they keep one eye on the release and the other down low?” That pretty much sums up the referee’s thankless job. Sometime, there is no right answer. Yet you’re expected to get the call right. So beware.

Beware because of two reasons: 1) This is the players’ livelihood and, although you might not exactly be taking food off their table, in some cases, they may see you as taking a ring off their finger. Or messing with the incentives their agents put in their contracts. 2) Some of these guys are the most competitive people in the world. The top of the top of that category push everything out of their minds but the task at hand. They want no one telling them they’re too competitive, i.e. that they did something outside the rules of the game - like fouling.

Two who come to mind are actually best friends - Chris Paul & Kevin Durant. Watch CP3 and what he does with his time away from the game - how he helps others who are less fortunate. Listen to KD’s MVP acceptance speech and how he thanked, seemingly, everybody who’d ever helped him.

Now, watch the two compete head-to-head. You’d think they despised each other. Both on and off the court situations are real. It’s how they operate. And it’s the referee who has chosen to mediate the game.

In summary, you have to be in excellent physical condition, have outstanding judgment, listen to people boo you - no matter what you call (or don’t call) - and in many cases, you’ll be blamed for a team losing. And, considering the clientele you’re assigned to manage, the pay isn’t at all comparable. Still want to sign up?

If anyone is considering becoming a referee, take to heart the quote of Hall of Fame baseball umpire, Doug Harvey, who was speaking for all officials of any sport:

“When I’m right, no one remembers. When I’m wrong, no one forgets.”

KD Is About to Experience the Ultimate Feeling of Ambivalence

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Tomorrow night Kevin Durant will receive the MVP award for the 2013-14 season. The ovation will be overwhelming because, if there is a segment of the population that appreciates its team, it’s the folks from Oklahoma City. There’s no other professional team (big three sports) in the state. They realize they caught a major break when the franchise from Seattle, another city whose fans truly understand the value of having a team, changed ownership and the new owners decided to move it to Oklahoma City.

Durant had an MVP year and you will hear no one deny it. But he will accept the trophy with his team, not at 1-0 in the series, as he and the rest of OKC - those working for the team and those cheering for it - believed they’d be on that date, but at 0-1. And coming off total annihilation at the hands of the LA Clippers. The fans will, no doubt, give him a salute befitting an icon. To them, he’s as much a superhero as anybody they’ll see on the big screen. For his part, he’ll have to acknowledge their fanatical reaction (and support), all the while thinking how much of a total superhero effort it will take (in just a couple minutes) - by everyone on his club - for them to return to OKC this season. Yeah, they were so overmatched last night, some “experts” are, if not calling for a sweep, whispering about it.

Obviously, the Okies have to figure it out. Fast. It’s nothing short of their responsibility for their loyal fan base. And the problem got more difficult when their “other best player” reverted to a pouting little baby - showing his ass during a time out when he left the huddle (he had been subbed for) and went to the end of the bench and sat down, in front of the thousands of fans who actually stayed ’til the (bitter) end. Whoever thought the immaturity issue Russell Westbrook had when he began his career was behind him, well, he must have just turned around and found it.

The Thunder will have a raucous crowd for Game 2. It’s up to Scott Brooks, his staff and, mainly, the players to figure out how to solve the multitude of issues they dealt with so poorly last night, e.g. not being able to pressure Chris Paul (forget his shooting rampage - that was out of character for him, especially the 3s, but the fact he got to anywhere on the floor he wanted) and being able to force turnovers/bad (or, even just contested) shots, finding a way to attack the Clippers’ defense so they’re a pass ahead of the defensive rotations (like the Clippers have done to their offense), as opposed to a pass behind it.

Otherwise, they’ll be saying the same thing Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said last after Game 1:

“We just had one of those nights.”

Really, How Important Is Home Court Advantage?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

According to most everyone who’s voiced an opinion, the first round of NBA playoff games - which concluded yesterday - was the most exciting of all NBA first rounds ever. At the beginning of the season, the Indiana Pacers made it perfectly clear they wanted to earn the #1 seed in the East because they thought they lost the chance to be World Champions (or at least represent the East in the Finals) because Game 7 was played in Miami (they did win Game 2 in Miami but dropped Game 3 in Indy). The got their wish - although the Heat could have put up more of a fight. Heading into the next to last contest of the regular season, with the top seed in doubt, Coach Erik Spoelstra chose to rest LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and limit Dwyane Wade’s minutes considerably. One on hand, the Pacers’ goal paid off; they used home court to beat #8 seed Atlanta in Game 7. Meanwhile, the Heat’s strategy worked as well as their rested bunch dispatched #7 seed Charlotte in four straight.

Maybe, however, Indiana is on to something. In the other six playoff series, four of them went to Game 7s with three of the home teams winning (the top three seeds in the West - San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers). The only road victory went to Brooklyn, who “dumped” their last regular season contest in order to avoid #4 seed Chicago and play #3 seed Toronto. Had they lost yesterday, they would certainly have regretted their plan as the Bulls were so depleted that, while they gave maximum effort, they dropped their series in five games to the #5 seeded Wizards who disposed of the “feared” Bulls, by beating them three times in Chicago. If all the Raptors fans who showed up for their historic Game 7 were allowed in the building, Toronto might have pulled it off. As it was, the Nets squandered a ten point lead in the fourth quarter and won 104-103 when a last second shot was blocked by Paul Pierce at the buzzer.

Home court played a big part in the eighth and final series as, by now every NBA fan knows, #5 seed Portland advanced on Damian Lillard’s three-pointer with .9 seconds in Game 6 on their home court. Had the Blazers lost, #4 seed Houston would have strongly considered selling tickets to Round 2 prior to Game 7.

So it looks as though home court does, in fact, rule. After all the excitement and statements regarding the fact no one could figure who was going to win, in the West seeds 1, 2, 3 and 5 moved on while in the East, 1, 2, 5, and 6 were victorious. As is usually the case, the home teams will be favored to win in the second round. In the first two home games of Round 1, seven of the road teams pulled off upsets. Ruling out the Heat who swept, that means every one of the home teams lost one of their first two games (the Bulls lost both). Four of them (Indiana, the Clippers, OKC and San Antonio) won Game 7s.

Other than sweeping, what we can learn from all this is that the Pacers were wise at the beginning of the season to set as their goal to get home court advantage all the way through the Eastern Conference Playoffs. It wasn’t just for the advantage of playing four home games (look at all the early home court losses) but, as they bluntly stated at the time:

“We want Game 7 at home.”

Fans Should Rejoice for What We Have Been Given

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

As we get older, our memories fail us somewhat. Yet, even if they were crystal clear, this year’s NBA first round playoff games have surpassed any other year’s first round contests. They’ve been so good we should send thank you notes to each of the teams. Except, maybe, the Bobcats - but even those guys had a season that showed the ball club has a future, which had been questionable for . . . since they were granted a franchise. And while the Bulls were eliminated, who would have given them a sliver of hope after losing (again) superstar Derrick Rose for the season. Certainly not their front office who reacted to Rose’s season-ending injury by trading away Luol Deng, their most reliable scorer, for, basically, draft picks. Tom Thibodeau made the higher ups look bad for that move - but good for hiring him - when he transferred his “refuse to use excuses” attitude and had his guys, behind Joakim Noah, competing in every contest - even though it was a major miracle for them to crack 80 on the scoreboard.

The East was supposed to be Miami and Indiana and a bunch of D-League squads. Miami seemed to be the only team to get the memo. Brooklyn played (or didn’t) like they wanted the Raptors rather than the Bulls in the first round. They got more than they bargained for, but in their last game, down 22 heading into the fourth quarter, they put up 44 points and, if not for a bad pass by Andray Blatche, might just have pulled out, possibly, the greatest playoff comeback ever. Should they pull out a victory at home tonight, there will be a Game 7 north of the border on Sunday. Some people might be disappointed by that series but disappointment is one word that can’t be applied to the Atlanta Hawks. After last year’s battle against the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers made the statement that, had Game 7 been in Indy rather than Miami, they might have been NBA Champions. The Hawks seem to care more about this year than they do about last.

Indiana’s Holy Grail was the #1 seed in the East. They started the year like gangbusters but limped though the second half. The did get the #1 seed (some may say the Heat forfeited it to them) and began the playoffs against #8 seeded Atlanta. Due to the Pacers’ poor play - and a move by President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird trading away the longest tenured Pacer, Danny Granger, for Evan Turner, a player who scored big for the 76ers (hey, somebody had to score points for them) but whose addition to the squad might have upset the Pacers’ chemistry - Indiana looked vulnerable. The team played awful (although they’ve battled back to host Game 7 Saturday), including bad losses at home. It took about 35 years but Larry Legend finally had a move of his questioned, showing no one is above the wrath of fans scorned. Jeez!

Out West the playoffs have been sensational. There’s been #1 San Antonio finding in-state rival #8 Dallas more difficult than expected, #2 Oklahoma City really being put to the test against #7 seed Memphis (only because the West was so strong are the Grizzlies a #7 seed). Just to show the Pacers’ fans they won’t be outdone, the headline in the newspaper in Oklahoma referred to the NBA’s MVP (although it is not yet official) Kevin Durant as “Mr. Unreliable” because KD hasn’t duplicated his regular season stats (32ppg, 7.4 rpg, 5.5 apg) in the playoffs (29.3ppg, 9.8rpg, 3.7 apg - so far). In reality, it’s because the Thunder hasn’t already advanced - although each of the middle four games went to overtime. Then again, neither have any of the other top four seeds, the Houston Rockets facing elimination in Game 6 at Portland tonight.

Of course, everybody in the world knows about the Clippers-Warriors series but for all the wrong reasons - which we’ll let rest for a day blog. Golden State staved off elimination last night by winning a war of attrition (injuries and foul trouble/disqualifications). Game 7 at Staples has become a scalper’s dream.

It’s obvious the playoffs are terrific thus far for one major reason: nobody’s fans are happy. Thinking about it in another way, we all should be thankful. Usually at this time of the year, fans are complaining about how boring it was watching a sweep or having to sit through 4-1 series victories by the favored teams. So, for the first time in NBA history there will be three Game 7s on the same day. Tomorrow. And, depending on tonight’s contests, we might have another triple serving of 7s on Sunday.

Rather than complaining about how your team is not yet in round two, how about showing appreciation for some nail biters, independent of whether due to sensational play or “less bad” execution. To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius:

“Dwell on the beauty of (the basketball). Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

Was There Ever Any Doubt the Lakers Coaching Job Was Going to Be Open?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Mike D’Antoni forced the hand of the Los Angeles Lakers when he kept pushing them to pick up the team option for 2015-16 on his contract. He didn’t want to be a lame duck coach (who does?) next season. When they hesitated, i.e. refused, he resigned - no doubt with a LARGE severance package. It’s always astounded me, admittedly an outsider, how professional sports teams seem to have no problem paying coaches not to coach.

After all the years I spent in athletics, granted none were on the professional level, you’d think I wouldn’t try to reconcile wasting so much money in a country that so desperately needs it to solve so many problems, e.g. the economy, advances in medicine, the homeless, education, etc. I’m not talking about the guy (or group) who will soon buy the Clippers for a billion. No, I understand that’s an investment. I mean the owner who gives a coach a 3-5 year contract, knowing (based on past history in their league) that the overwhelming odds are that they will fire him before the contract runs out. And then pay the next guy more.

It wasn’t that D’Antoni was a bad coach - although if you tune into 710 AM in LA you’ll find a whole slew of folks who’ll swear he was worse than their kid’s youth coach (except when they’d bitch about him because their kid, who is a natural, wasn’t used properly) - it was there was no way to tell. Most people are rational and realize when the best players can’t play because they’re injured, the team’s record is going to suffer. That’s just an excuse - and it’s lame in a big city like Los Angeles (or New York).

At the beginning of the season Lakers fans would chat it up at the water cooler, telling everybody who’d listen that Nash, Kobe & Pau had to be the best 1-2-3 combination in the NBA (even though they weren’t, taking account their age and the fact other teams had trios who could match, or even, outplay them). Nah, defense wouldn’t be a problem because if worse came to worst, the Lakers could outscore people. How . . . you get the idea. But then it became apparent that Steve Nash, who’s played years and years beyond what I’m certain his doctors advised due to his bad back, wasn’t going to be able to be a full-time starter. When he was, it wasn’t going to resemble the last time he and D’Antoni hooked up.

Still, there was optimism in the Lakers camp because of . . . tradition. “We’re the Lakers, we’ll figure out a way to make it to the playoffs, then pull out some Lakers magic. Like Kobe always does. Then, Kobe missed the first 19 games. And the last 57. C’mon, fans, that’s got to put a downer on any season. And it did - but the season still went on.  And the Lakers lost and lost and lost.

When you’ve been the King, others wait for you to falter. When you do, the “peasants” will enjoy watching your demise. And they did. “Well, just because we’re not as invincible as we used to be, it doesn’t mean we have to endure your ridicule. We will do what every other once proud (big city) franchise would do.” Start finding others to blame. And who better than the coach. Hey, he ain’t injured.

For his part, D’Antoni didn’t do much to ease the pain. There were records set for largest margins of defeat (to those lowly Clippers, no less) and other displays of ineptitude. General Manager Mitch Kupchak took hits from the fans as well. After all, wasn’t it his job to put the team together? The same players the fans wanted, no matter the price, he was now criticized for bringing in at such exorbitant salaries.

Kupchak was reasonable when looking at next season, realizing that, even with a healthy Kobe Bryant (healthy but who knows at what percent of “the real” Kobe he’ll be), the team doesn’t have the ability, meaning cap space, to be competitive.  Kobe has his “I’ll do anything to win” mentality - except when it comes to restructuring his contract (he’s on the books for $30 million). Nash has already said he’s not leaving his money on the table, which is admirable for a guy who’s played in so much pain throughout the years but not so for a GM (since his salary next year is $9.7M). Kupchak knew nobody could coach the team to “Lakers expectations” so, he figured, why fire Mike?

But D’Antoni pushed for the following year - no doubt knowing they didn’t want him AND that he didn’t particularly want to coach the Lakers again, especially not next season. Shrewd business move. It would have created quite a scenario had the front office agreed to his demand. D’Antoni might have passed out - along with a good portion of the fan base, and many of the players. Now, though, it’s expected the Lakers will bring in whomever Kobe wants because, although they have no chance to win (even though Kobe’s competitive desire will always feel he can find a way), that front office move will appease their superstar.

One early candidate is Byron Scott whose coaching record doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of Western Division foes. Then again, since Dr. Jack Ramsey passed, Scott probably is as good a choice as any. For next year, the best advice for the Los Angeles Lakers may just be what the late, great Arthur Ashe once said:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


As If We Needed It, Another Donald T. Sterling Story

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Adam Silver came down hard on Donald Sterling as everyone was expecting him to do - as he should have done - but don’t think for a minute that the situation is anywhere near resolved. Donald Tokowitz, who legally added “Sterling” to his name when he was an adult “to give himself an aura of success,” according to David Suissa’s article in the Jewish Journal, is used to spending time inside a courtroom.

Silver was so upset with the (for now) Clippers’ owner that the lifetime NBA ban he imposed on Sterling, along with the max $2.5 mil fine he levied, wasn’t enough. The new commish let it be known that he was doing everything in his power to work with the other 29 owners to force Sterling to sell his basketball empire. The newly banished owner has already told people he has no intention of selling his franchise, even though the club he purchased for $12.5 million might be able to find a bidder who’d gladly fork over a billion dollars. In any case, the opening round bid is rumored to be $700 mil (especially after the Milwaukee Bucks just fetched $550 million for a franchise nowhere near as attractive).

Many people questioned why it took so long for the NBA to sanction Sterling. After all, it’s not like he didn’t already have a history of racist actions. First, there was a Justice Department suit in which Sterling said he didn’t want to rent to black people because they “smell and attract vermin.” To show he wasn’t prejudiced against blacks (at least not only blacks), he also made derogatory statements against Hispanics. This came out of a 2009 column (yeah, five years ago) by Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times. In other words, we’ve known Sterling was a racist for some time now. Undoubtedly, people who’d known him longer figured it out way before then. What may have mixed us up was that it was in 2009 that Sir Donald received the NAACP Lifetime Award. Or maybe because that same organization was about to give him a second Lifetime Award this month. With the sanctions Adam Silver laid on the old guy, he’s going to need another lifetime.

Why is it, knowing what a racist and jerk one of their own was, did the owners put up with his inhumane actions? That answer is less complicated than you’d think. Keep in mind, the NBA is a highly competitive business. Independent of David Stern’s remark, prior to the last negotiations, that several (or was it most) teams were losing money, the value of every franchise has continually skyrocketed. The owners are all multimillionaires, or better. They’re not in this business to make money. That’s what all their other ventures are for. The NBA offers something they desperately want but they can’t buy: an NBA Championship. 

Who gives a damn if one of the club members is a racist as long as he’s the least threatening and most incompetent owner when it comes to obtaining what they really want? With the built in advantage of being situated in LA (certainly one of the four most desirable locations for young, virile, wealthy men), do you really believe the other owners wanted another businessman like themselves owning the Clippers? While it’s not that simple (it never is), the recording made by Sterling’s girlfriend/mistress/hooker, and its timing, just couldn’t be overlooked. The point is, if someone really wanted him out years ago, the ethical challenge he exudes today has been part of his moral being for quite some time.

Whatever the case, this entire ordeal has produced some amusing questions, statements and thoughts. Of course, there were the asinine ideas - and self-serving ones - to go along with some zany notions. Here are some examples:

One person came out and said he thought last night’s game between the Clippers and Warriors should have been cancelled. Let’s take a (brief) look at this suggestion. If the game was cancelled, no one wins. Then again, there is one winner: Donald T. Sterling.  Believe it or not, a talk show call-in fool said he thought the Clips should have forfeited. Probably a guy who bet the Warriors on the money line.

Another absurd remark, although because it was by Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach, we’ll consider it gamesmanship: Play the game with no fans. He might have a point. There would be no worries about distractions or demonstrations and the game would be pure basketball, yet I wonder if that would be his feeling for Game 6 - at Oracle?

There were also a couple questions that popped up in the past couple days.

Retroactive query #1: How did Doc Rivers feel when he was playing for Sterling? The simple answer to that is, in general, players don’t play for owners. Do fans ever cheer for the owner? Only at the parade. Or possibly, for guys like Mark Cuban or Mikhail Prokhorov, i.e. the new Jacks. The players know these employers better. Yet when it comes down to it, as far as non-basketball issues, a player deals with his GM (and most have their agent do that for them) rather than the owner. Owners are much more insulated. Does anyone think for a second that any of the guys currently on the Clippers’ roster had an agent who brought up Sterling’s racist views during negotiations? 4% of more is better than 4% of less - even if it means your client has to play for a racist. It’s not like he’s having his kids frolic around the owner’s mansion alone.

Retroactive query #2 (two parts): Wonder what David Stern thinks of squashing the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade now? And, wonder what CP3 thinks about it (he was pissed when Stern pulled the plug on it)?

Retroactive query #3: it was Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander (although Charles Barkley claimed it was originally Jeff Van Gundy) who threw out the idea that every one of the Clippers ought to be declared a free agent. If anybody thinks that such an edict would shut the team down, they probably believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny. There are guys who are unhappy with their current situation; others (possibly even stars) on other NBA rosters, and still others in the D-League, who would jump to the Clippers in a second. If it meant money (and, in many instances, it wouldn’t even have to be that much more money), relocating to LA and having a chance to play in SoCal, you can bet there are players who would play for Satan’s team .

Finally, I heard both Steve Kerr and Ernie Johnson say that, surely, the owners will unanimously favor Adam Silver’s plan to request (force) Sterling to sell his ball club. On the surface, that’s exactly how it might appear . . . BUT, let’s stop and analyze that line of thinking. Every owner is pressuring Sterling - a racist and overall bad guy - to sell his “baby.” There isn’t a person in the group who doesn’t have money to burn. How certain are we that there isn’t another Donald T. Sterling?

Maybe not a racist but, when someone has so much money that they can buy whatever they want, could Silver be opening up a can of worms? Make no mistake about it, everybody has skeletons in his closet. In today’s world of the Internet, texting, emailing, sykping, instagram, tweeting - even electronic surveillance - will Donald T. Sterling become just another footnote?

As far as a wrap on this, later on in his article, David Suissa summed up the Sterling saga:

“We can’t legislate decency, but we can shame bigotry like never before. In a digital world, where millions of sound bites can spread in seconds and never go away, unleash your bigoted impulses and watch your legacy go down in shame.”