Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Random Thoughts Leading Up to NBA Finals

Friday, May 26th, 2017

After an anticlimactic lead up to the Finals, most NBA fans (and ABC TV execs) get what everyone expected (wanted) – Golden State vs. Cleveland (the rubber match). The following are ideas that are currently being bantered about:

* The Warriors will win because as, TNT’s Kenny “The Jet” Smith pointed out, “The Warriors were up 3-1 last year and added, arguably, the second best player in the game.”

* What kept the Cavs from almost certainly going down in five last year was when Draymond Green, the self-proclaimed voice of the Dubs, aka their biggest trash talker, lost a battle with self-discipline. LeBron James, realizing his guys were about to go down 1-3, “showed Green up” by stepping over the prone Warrior. Rather than letting it go and begin preparations for a close out win – followed by another parade – Green reached up and took a swipe at LBJ’s privates. While it wasn’t a particularly violent move, i.e. not nearly so bad as the past two incidents in which kicked foes, it forced the league office’s hands. Dray-Dray earned a one-game suspension. The Cavs took the gift and, eventually, brought home Cleveland’s first championship since 1948.

* Another point for those who see the Western Conference champs winning it all is that Steph Curry will be completely healthy. Although he never admitted it during, or following, last year’s meltdown, it was later disclosed that Curry was quite a bit less than 100%. After seeing him perform in this year’s playoffs, there seems to be no health issues with GSW’s sharpshooting and ball handling whiz.

* In case you were ready to make other plans for the first couple weeks in June, hold on just a second. Experts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal (OK, Charles, we know “only God is an expert”) picked the Cavs to win it all again. Shaq, however, began his soliloquy by saying it was too early to make a pick, that he wanted to watch the first two games before making his selection. When told that, had he used that strategy last year, he certainly would have chosen the Warriors, he began pontificating (actually his comments sounded more like BS but, as anyone who’s ever watched Shaq knows, admitting he was wrong is not ever part of his make up). After Chuck picked the Cavs – and Kenny and Ernie Johnson went with the Warriros – Shaq joined Barkley’s side. Few fans would have been surprised if the Big Diesel had said he wanted to watch the first six games – and then make a prediction that Game 7 was a toss up.

*After all, Cleveland has the best player in the world (and, after last night, the player with the most playoff points in NBA history). In addition, Kyrie Irving looks unstoppable and, according to several talking heads, Kevin Love is playing the best ball of his career. Tristan Thompson is certainly as good as any center the Warriors can put on the floor. Two other thoughts to keep in mind are that the Cavs can match the Warriors when it comes to three point shooters and Cleveland’s bench is generally considered deeper than Golden State’s.

* How are we supposed to assess the Boston Celtics’ season? They played well enough to gain the #1 seed in the East (good), came back from dropping the first two home games against #8 Chicago (bad) only win that series (good) although without Rajon Rondo getting hurt most likely would not have (bad). They did get to the Eastern Conference Finals (good) but, once again, lost the first two home games (bad). Then, with the series having “sweep” written all over it, they rallied to win Game 3 (good) after being behind by 21 points in the third quarter (bad). Heading home in a close-out game, they allowed the Cavs 43 points in the first quarter (really bad), 135 for the game (ditto) and never led at any time in any of their three home games (pitiful). But … they do have the first pick in the upcoming draft (good – depending on which guy they take and how he turns out).

*Something to consider: With the abundance of talent that the Cavs have, Brad Stevens led the Celts to the #1 seed in the East. Taking nothing away from the three candidates, how is he not in the mix for Coach-of-the-Year honors?

* As for who most folks feel is the favorite, Golden State could easily have not even made it to the Finals had Kawhi Leonard (the most likeable MVP candidate) not injured his ankle – with the Spurs comfortably ahead in Game 1. The Dubs have had a great deal of luck with injuries to key players on nearly every team they’ve played in the playoffs for the past three years. The analysts all claim the Warriors are a fabulous defensive team. Offensively, they can be nothing short of sensational, although they can be careless with the ball. Those type of turnovers could doom them against a squad as formidable as Cleveland. Still, most feel they’ll regain the title.

So who’s my pick? I’ll take a page out of Shaq’s book and decide:

“Right after Adam Silver hands out the Larry O’Brien trophy.”




Which Side of the Zaza Pachulia Incident Are You On?

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Although comebacks happen all the time in the NBA, it’s a fairly safe statement that, had Kawhi Leonard not been forced to sit out the remainder of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, San Antonio would most definitely have upset Golden State and snatched away home court advantage. After all, the Spurs were up 23 points in the third quarter at the time.

Leonard came down on the Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia’s foot – which was placed there by the center who was closing out on the shooter. The question is: Did Zaza put his foot there intentionally? Many commentators, including former players, felt that was exactly the case – and the tactic (which is not uncommon in the league) should be deemed a flagrant foul. Others think it was a bad close out made by a clumsy 275 pound big guy.

On Inside the NBA, the three ex-players on the panel had different outlooks. Shaquille O’Neal was absolutely certain the move was premeditated (“When somebody with  big feet puts a foot out there, there’s a 50/50 chance the shooter is going to step on it”). Kenny Smith’s explanation was that big guys don’t spend time working on closeouts beyond the three point line, so it was a coincidence. Charles Barkley weighed in (no pun intended) saying he didn’t know enough about Pachulia’s past to call him a dirty player but the “it is a dirty play.” Sir Charles did admit that, in his day, he would intentionally foul players “hard” in the playoffs but that it was never his intent to hurt anyone.

Which begs the question – is this type of dangerous maneuver actually taught to players? If that’s going too far, could it be simply condoned by coaches? Or maybe it’s something that’s passed down through the years as a slick defensive ploy. The “Inside” guys made mention that the move isn’t intended to injure a shooter, merely to “get into his head” so that on every subsequent shot, the defender is making the offensive player think it might be coming. And there’s nothing worse for a shooter than to think.

It’s rather apparent that the play wouldn’t be taught for the simple reason that, with the way players change teams today, shooters would implore coaches not to instruct guys how to do it because, in the coming years, those cats just might be employing the tactic on them! As to whether it’s condoned, well, that would be more likely. Just as passing on such a strategy would be viewed as a “tip” from one vet to a younger guy.

Since there are paid positions in today’s world of “all video-all the time”, a couple other plays from the same game were posted on the internet a day later. They were illustrating first LaMarcus Aldridge (about a minute after the Leonard injury), then Pau Gasol closing on Golden State’s shooting phenom, Steph Curry. Another such play, a nearly identical close out to Pachulia’s, i.e. with the half body turn that Zaza made, occurred earlier in the playoffs when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Greek Freak, contested Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

Whatever the case, the Spurs, who were big underdogs before the series began, had their chances narrowed to “slim to none” since it looks as though they won’t have their best player (and MVP candidate) for at least Game 2. Their coach, Gregg Popovich, restrained from making a comment at the post game press conference but, after viewing the video, lambasted the Warriors’ center. For a guy who is known for his one-word answers, he strung plenty of them together the day after. “This is crap,” Pop began. “Because (Pachulia’s) got this history, it can’t just be, Oh, it was inadvertent. He didn’t have intent. Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing somebody, but you might not have intended to do that.

“All I care about is what I saw. All I care about is what happened, and the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.” To those present – or even those watching – it was apparent how perturbed the veteran coach was. Consider, too, that he isn’t just another NBA head man. Gregg Popovich has a great deal of credibility in the coaching world – the equivalent of such iconic coaches Bill Belichick in football or Joe Maddon in baseball. His opinion carries more cache – although the league said the incident will not result in any disciplinary action against Pachulia.

One thing that is quite ironic is Popovich’s reaction. As the names of past players who were known to use such a move were bantered about on “Inside” last night, Shaq pointed out that Bruce Bowen (a former Spur – and one of Pop’s favorite players, mostly for his defensive prowess) was the originator of the “move under a shooter” technique.

As far as the guy who was affected the most, when asked about the play, Leonard repeated the question, asking the reporter, “Did he step under it? Like, on purpose? Nah, he was contesting the shot.”

“And that’s why Kawhi Leonard has more respect than any other player in the league.”

The Cutbacks at ESPN Mirror Society

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

In 2015 ESPN laid off 300 employees, few of them household names. There was analysis of the situation but what was said didn’t resonate with too many people – other than those who closely followed such transactions. And, of course, the former employees who were forced to look elsewhere for a pay check. Sure, people felt sorry but, other than a few shows of sympathy, it was a pretty much a non-story.

Until a couple days ago when 100 more ESPN employees got pink-slipped. This time, however, many in the unfortunate group were highly visible. Checking out social media, some were quite popular with the fans. There was outrage. How could ESPN let (fill in the blank) go? Shame on “the Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

Apparently ESPN brought this disaster on itself. According to those who profess to know, there were three causes for this tragedy. One, as coaches have warned their teams forever, is that the people in Bristol started to read their own press clippings. There is no doubt that the company grew exponentially – until it became a major player in the world of communications. But then it decided to become even more of a presence. One was a commitment for an eight-year, $15.2 billion deal with the NFL back in 2011. Then there was nine-year, $12 billion NBA contract and another $7.3 billion spent on college football. Throw in the major league baseball deal signed in 2012 for eight years totaling $5.6 billion and, well, that’s a whole lot of billions. Of course that doesn’t even include deals with college conferences, selected bowl games, U.S. Open tennis and MLS.

Since all of this is a major story, there were people who felt the need to be quoted. As in many pieces ESPN shares with the public, none these individuals wanted to speak on the record because of the sensitivities associated with the layoffs. “It’s been a total mismanagement of rights fees, starting with the NFL renewal,” said one of the former employees. “We overpaid significantly when it did not need to be that way, and it set the template to overpay for MLB and the NBA.” Still another chimed in, “You can’t keep spending on rights at high levels when the business model and fundamentals have changed.” Looks like the group that is so good at second guessing wished someone gave them another.

Obviously, an awful lot of income needed to be generated. Which brings us to the second reason for the massive layoffs. ESPN is losing millions of subscribers. As in 12 million in the past six years. Most are called cable cord-cutters, customers who no longer feel it’s necessary to pay monthly for networks they didn’t watch (including sports channels). That’s gotta hurt.

Finally, ESPN deviated from its mission of providing sports news to viewers when it began airing and printing stories with more of a political bent. It seems that viewers and readers wanted more real sports and less social commentary. No, said people, Michael Sam is not the second coming of Jackie Robinson, nor is Colin Kaepernick the next Rosa Parks. Although many of the pieces were insightful and well done, it just wasn’t what viewers wanted to see when they tuned in. Many felt the stories had too much of a liberal air to them. Traveling “down the middle” more probably would have been the safer road to travel.

All of that aside, what was most shocking to me were the comments from the people who remained at the station. Certainly it was no surprise they would make supportive and empathetic statements regarding their former colleagues – and friends. That’s as anyone would expect. But when there were negative or, even, sarcastic posts on social media sites toward those who got canned, these people were appalled that fellow human beings would publicly say and print hurtful comments about others who had just lost their jobs.

“How can people say such awful things about those whose lives have just been turned upside down?” said an ESPN survivor. Really? This remark. from an employee of a network that, prior to a season, publishes and reports such items as “Coaches on the Hot Seat” and lists of the “Most Overrated Players.”

Maybe what these folks are saying is:

“Doesn’t feel so good when you’re on the receiving end, does it?”

CP3’s Retort Completely Understandable

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

After Russell Westbrook refused to answer – even allow – a reporter’s question in a post game press conference, media members excoriated him for his action. Former players applauded him.

The guy’s query was a legitimate question by a scribe who had a good angle on why one team was winning the series. Westbrook’s reply was one by a player whose team was undermanned and on the brink of elimination. As for the people who weighed in, some were more on the writer’s side; others favored the baller. Yet, for the most part, each could understand the other’s position.

Then came the post game presser following Utah’s upset of the Clippers at the Staples Center. The question seemed innocent enough. A sportswriter asked Chris Paul, LA’s point guard – and leader – “Chris, will the Clippers be back here playing a Game 7?”

Now, I coached for 35 years (granted not a one was in the NBA) but I still knew what this guy was looking for. For the life of me, however, I couldn’t believe that he phrased it in the worst possible way. When I heard it, I wasn’t sure which was the bigger faux pas – the question itself or the timing of it. Here was a guy who is the captain of a team with the richest owner in the NBA who, after purchasing the franchise for a record amount ($2 billion, in case that figure has slipped anyone’s mind), held a press conference exclaiming his major goal was a “Larry.” Larry is short for the Lawrence O’Brien trophy which goes to the winner of the NBA Finals.

And here was that owner’s club, the one that had so much promise but, not only could they not win the NBA Finals, they couldn’t get even get close to their own conference finals. From blowing a 3-1 lead one year to having their top two guys go down with injuries during the playoffs in another, they stood on the brink of elimination in the first round. Once again one of their stars was hurt – and would miss the rest of the playoffs – and once again people were talking about blowing up the team. The core players (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and CP3 himself) are so good that the salaries they command almost puts the franchise into the luxury tax category with just those four.

So it was no surprise that Paul answered the asinine question with, “What? Whatchu think? I’m on the team. Whatchu want me to say? ‘Nah, it’s over.’ That’s what you want to hear? Yes. C’mon, man, you been doin’ this long enough. Seriously, right?”

Incredibly enough, the guy pressed on, saying, “Can you expand on that?” As if his response needed to be expanded upon. Did the cat not understand Paul’s message?

“No … I don’t know,” continued the Clippers’ star – who also happens to be the president of the NBA Players Association, so if there was one guy who could speak for the players, this reporter was face-to-face with him. “Everybody in here laughing for a reason,” a visually agitated Paul said.

What was shocking – at least to me – was the stance taken by media member Jared Greenberg on Sirius XM NBA radio. Greenberg blasted Paul – as he did Westbrook – saying the players were creating a us-against-them mentality. In that regard he might be onto something but Chris Paul is usually one of the most eloquent interviewees in the league. To use what occurred at the post game press conference after Los Angeles dropped pivotal Game 5 to Utah, thus surrendering home court advantage and forcing a must-win scenario in Salt Lake City – without Griffin – was absolutely the wrong example for Greenberg to use as an illustration.

For him to draw battle lines at that time shows a growing resentment between the professional players and the media. Taking a closer look, though, it’s not the entire media that’s upset. It’s more, based on their backgrounds, the non-playing, never-played kids who, nonetheless had the same passion for sports their more physically gifted classmates had. Their skill was in broadcasting and writing about sports. It’s just that, never really knowing the true meaning of winning and losing (particularly losing a heart-breaker), they struggle to understand the pain that the athlete is experiencing. During pressure situations and trying times, they often interject how they would react to the moment. Never does it occur to them that professional players are cut from a different fabric when it comes to such tense times.

These people, referred to by some as “jock sniffers” (updated to “compression shorts sniffers”), might just have that proverbial “chip on their shoulders” they so often label certain types of players. They’re thrilled to be a part of it all and desperately want to belong – but when a fellow sniffer gets embarrassed (this time deservedly so), they take umbrage. Especially if the guy who gets called out is a friend of theirs (I have no knowledge whether Greenberg has any tie to the reporter who asked Paul the foolish question).

There’s a time to ask the “tough” questions – and a way to phrase them – but, unfortunately, many haven’t been schooled in how and when to do it. Relationship between players and media members would improve dramatically if each side would take into account Rodney King’s remark:

“Why can’t we all just get along?”


A Civil War of a Different Sort

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

By now, every NBA fan has heard, if not seen, the post game press conference following the OKC-Houston playoff game. The first question was directed to the Thunder’s center, Steven Adams. The reporter wondered what happens to the team when Russell Westbrook goes to the bench. Before Adams could answer, Westbrook piped up, saying the question was divisive and he wasn’t going to let their team be split apart.

When the writer asked again, Russ continued with his tirade. The battle lines were drawn. The scribe was determined to get his question answered, the superstar dug in his heels and refused to dignify the query – or allow anyone else, meaning Adams, to respond. It got to the point of absurdity when the guy wouldn’t give up the microphone, claiming it was a legit question that deserved an answer. He went so far as to call out the big Aussie, saying the question was posed to him and he had yet to say anything. Finally, either the guy relented or someone simply took away the mic and sanity was restored.

Let’s list several points about this interaction. First of all, it’s rather obvious what happens to the team. They don’t play so good. If ever there was a question designed to elicit a plethora of negative remarks, that guy found it – and proudly posed it to Adams. When asked, coach Billy Donovan addressed it, saying that whenever any superstar leaves the game, it affects the team in an adverse way. Not exactly a stop the presses statement, i.e. when the best player leaves, someone not nearly as talented replaces him. The that fact it usually hurts the Thunder more than other teams most likely means the effect on OKC’s performance is greater than when other teams sub out their star.

Hidden in this scenario is that this writer has a history with some OKC players, framing questions in such a way that’s upsetting to the members of the very squad he covers. Sneaky is what players call such a sportswriter (among other, more descriptive, words).

The fact Westbrook took the mic away from Adams reminded many of the time former teammate Kevin Durant did the same when Mark Cuban dissed Russ. Recall Cuban making the statement that KD was the only superstar on the ball club. So, maybe a little deja vu, with Russ taking the cue from his (used-to-be) BFF, supporting his guys.

When TNT’s Inside the NBA show discussed it, each of the players/commentators raved about the manner in which Westbrook handled the reporter, Charles Barkley referring to Russ as his second favorite athlete. Ditto for the guys on the NBA channel.

In reality, there was no answer that wouldn’t demean the second unit. Although it might be looked upon as a compliment to Westbrook, nothing positive was coming out the whatever anybody would say. The following day, in the writer’s story, was printed what he was looking for – a veiled attack on GM Sam Presti. Did he really expect Adams to say, “Sam has done a poor job of assembling a second unit to maintain the level of play we bring.” Another criticism of the question was that it was asked of a starter, most likely meaning the scribe intended it for Westbrook.

On the flip side, it certainly wasn’t an inappropriate question, based on the Thunder’s continued poor performance when Westbrook is resting as opposed to when he’s on the floor. For that side of the argument, one only need to hear the folks who comprise the fourth estate.  Every true media member (meaning not former pros), from the guys on SportsCenter to talk show hosts to other sportswriters, to a person, lauded the writer for “a question that needed to be asked” and excoriated Westbrook for acting so unprofessionally.

In all, there was bitching aplenty going on. Callers to radio shows were basically split as well. Seems like some fans are anti-player, while others don’t like the media. Probably there are groups who don’t like either but, in this case, their animus for one supersedes that of the other.

If there’s someone, or rather something, with which we must take issue, I submit whoever decided on those two commercials that are shown ad infinitum. You know which ones I’m referring to:

“1) the Tina Fey goat cheese garden salad and 2) that obnoxious stupid-ass father who whines, ‘How did the Andersons get tickets to the games … but the game is sold out’ – only to ‘redeem’ himself with ‘your dad’s a genius.’ “

Now, disgust for those two insidious spots will unify any groups – independent of how much they disagree.

Did I Miss Something?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Maybe my memory is better than others (although I seriously doubt that) but, to date, I have yet to hear any of the talking heads – or scribes – mention some last second playoff history that is extremely relevant to a recent playoff game.

By now, anybody and everybody (who’s an NBA fan) has heard Paul George’s statement about him being the one who should have taken the final shot in Game 1 of their series against the Cavs. He has somewhat backtracked his comments (most likely after someone in the organization – Larry Bird, perhaps? – had a chat with him). Video of the final play in that contest shows LeBron James doubling PG13 in an effort to ensure that the Indiana’s best player was not the guy who was going to beat them. What the replay did show players, coaches, commentators and fans was that the Pacers got an open look for a game-winner – that just came up a little bit short.

What I have heard is the refrain, “If the shot had gone in, nobody would be complaining about how it unfolded.” Beyond that, though, basketball is not like tennis where a player can decide to attempt a go-for-broke winner to end a match as opposed to just keeping the point alive. One is an individual sport where the one and only member of the “team” wins or loses based on his or her own merit. With a team sport, both clubs have something to do with that type of decision. Strategy differs between the two.

A case in point occurred two decades ago, the 1997 NBA Finals, Chicago vs. Utah. Let’s set the scene. Game 6, the Bulls had just gone up 3-2 (after the famous Michael Jordan “flu” game), the series returned to Chicago.  The game was close and what happened in the Bulls’ huddle during the final time out was summed up by the following two quotes:

“When Phil drew up the play at the end,” said Jordan, who had 39 points and 11 rebounds and was named Finals Most Valuable Player for the fifth time. “everybody in the gym, everybody on TV knew was coming to me. I looked at Steve and said, ‘This is your chance,’ because I knew Stockton is going to come over and help and I’m going to come to you. Tonight Steve Kerr earned his wings from my perspective.”

Kerr, a shooting specialist, was giddy with excitement after clinching the title for Chicago. “He (Jordan) said, ‘You be ready, Stockton is going to come off you.’ I said, ‘I’ll be ready, I’ll knock it down. He’s so good that he draws so much attention. And his excellence gave me the chance to hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals. What a thrill. I owe him everything.”

So, Paul George, there’s more than one way for a superstar to win a game and, unless I’ve been listening to and reading the wrong people:

“Why wasn’t that immediately brought up following the game?”

An Overabundance of Confidence

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

To make an NBA team, a player needs to believe in himself. There’s not exactly a shortage of confidence in professional basketball players. Often, however, the confidence might be somewhat unjustified. Take the example of Game 1 of the Cleveland-Indiana series.

The favorites found themselves staring at a monumental upset with the Pacers needing only a bucket on their final possession. As is the philosophy with many teams, the Cavs decided that if they were going down, someone other than Indiana’s best player, Paul George, was going to beat them. So they doubled PG13 and he wisely gave up the ball. Unfortunately for the Pacers, although they got a good look, the shot came up short and the Cavs escaped with a one-point victory.

In the post game press conference, George candidly answered a reporter’s question by saying that, in such a situation, he needs to take that shot. While he passed the ball out of the double team, he said he immediately moved to get it back (video replay confirms that) and his belief is that his teammates have to look to him for the game winner. After all, George is the team’s only All-Star and, in fact, was a member of the U.S. gold medal winning Olympic team.

All of that sounds completely logical. Except for one item. Today is the age of analytics. Apparently, there are stat heads out there – obviously people who wished they’d played the game but I’d bet quite a bit of money never did – due to a lack of skill. With their passion for the game, combined with their extraordinary talent for technology and statistics, they have been afforded a place alongside the jocks. There are stats today that few people – outside of this “stat head world” – understand.

I might be way off base here but I truly believe that these folks were crunching numbers while others their age were playing. Whether or not that is the case, these guys have carved out a place for themselves in the world of professional (as well as intercollegiate) sports. In the case of Paul George, for example, prior to analytics, nearly everyone would have agreed with his sentiment that, in order for the Pacers to win in a scenario that occurred at the end of yesterday’s Game 1, the fate of the Pacers absolutely should have been in George’s hands.

Except someone disclosed that, in games decided by a shot in the last 20 seconds, Paul George is 0-15 lifetime. Not surprisingly, George is the worst NBA player in that situation (unless another player missed more than 15 such attempts – without having made even one of them). It’s highly unlikely Paul George knew that statistic – and even if he did, it’s more unlikely he would change his post game remarks.

In his 1957 book, The Goblins of Eros, author Warren Eyster made a comment that sums up Paul George and, probably, every other NBA player:

“Like all vain men, he had moments of unreasonable confidence.”

One Man’s View on Tanking

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Words and terms enter the basketball jargon as the years move on – words such as “analytics,” “off the bounce” and “score the ball” (as if anything else can be scored). Another of today’s catch words is “tanking.”

Theories abound regarding how to build a championship franchise. One is by judiciously trading, another is through free agency and still another is building a team through the draft. The current power squad in the NBA is the Golden State Warriors whose core group is made up of draft picks. That bunch captured a Larry O’Brien trophy and, arguably, would have a couple if Draymond Green had only kept his hands (and feet) to himself. Sure, they have since added a valuable piece to their fold through free agency but their initial strategy was to draft wisely.

The draft order used to be done worst team first, second worst next, etc. Then the league to decided to use ping pong balls, the worst team getting the most balls and so on. The problem with that was, although the team with the worst record had the greatest chance of landing the first pick, overall the odds were stacked heavily against it since the majority of chances for them not to get it far exceeded their “ball” popping up. Throughout he years, the system has been doctored in an attempt to give the team with the worst record a more reasonable opportunity to get the number one overall draft pick. As of now, the team with the worst record can draft no lower than fourth regardless of how the balls bounce.

Independent of how great a chance the worst teams have of selecting 1, 2 or 3, it’s difficult to believe teams would intentionally lose. Here’s a laundry list of reasons why:

1) Athletes are competitive and to intentionally try to lose is tantamount to point shaving. But put all that aside. How about the simple fact that, if losing increases the team’s chances of getting a better player, are the players that stupid they don’t realize the guy the team selects might knock them out of a job? No one I’ve ever met in basketball is so magnanimous that he would choose to play poorly so his team could get better players – if it meant the better player(s) would be taking his job! Even if a guy is secure (whether due to his talent or contract), will he worsen his stats and lose bargaining power just so the team can add a (usually 19-year-old) talented player? Doubtful.

2) OK, forget the players intentionally tanking, how about the coach? In this day and age, coach’s jobs are tenuous. Lose, get the number 1 pick and you’d better win immediately. While there have been a number of extremely talented guys enter the league as a top 1, 2 or 3 pick, not since 2003 when the Cavs selected LeBron James first overall was there a true franchise changing player from a win-loss point of view. And, as far as making his team an immediate contender, San Antonio picking Tim Duncan number one would be the best earliest example – 20 years ago! Therefore, don’t expect a coach to intentionally dump games.

3) Let’s go to the front office, e.g. general manager or president. The way the NBA is currently run, even those positions, with the exception of the Chicago Bulls for some unknown reason, are replaced more quickly than ever in the history of the league.

4) So it comes down to the owner – and, really, if ever an owner directly mandated his players or coaches to intentionally lose, in this day of the “anonymous source,” does anybody believe for a second that conversation wouldn’t be leaked? Would any owner risk his legacy by blatantly disrespecting the game?

So it basically comes down to the fans and sportswriters who are talking up tanking and, as of yet, fortunately:

“Neither of those groups have that kind of juice.”



A List I’ve Yet to See Published

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Congrats to Sergio Garcia on winning the Master’s. As soon as he did, fans read the inevitable comment: who’s the best golfer never to have won a major?

The early leader is Rickie Fowler. How can a guy with all that talent not win a major? After all, he’s already 28 years old! As if winning a major – against an entire field of professionals – ought to be something that should be accomplished. At any age. It’s not as if players aren’t trying. Or guys who haven’t won majors but have a boatload of tour event championships can’t handle the pressure.

In the past fans have seen – and now that social media has become a part of our culture – have posted, their own version, independent of how uneducated, of the best to have never won a …

Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Karl Malone are always mentioned when discussing “rings” and uber-talented players who never earned one. The facts that 1) only one team per season can do so and 2) those guys played during an era when Michael Jordan and the Bulls had a stranglehold on NBA titles is often mentioned – as an afterthought – still doesn’t seem to let them off the hook.

Similarly for Dan Marino. Winning a championship in a team sport, when there are so so many teammates involved who have a large say in the success of the team, is simply something that even some of the most talented athletes are able to do. Just like winning one in an individual sport – when the competitor is going up against the whole field – is a cakewalk.

Women aren’t exempt from the list. During a recent tennis broadcast, I heard a commentator refer to Pam Shriver as the best female tennis player never to have won a Grand Slam event. Anyone who knows even a little tennis history understands that Shriver played in an era of a couple of competitors (Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova) who showed no mercy against their opponents.

Nor are coaches excluded from such scrutiny. Now that Mark Few was in the Final Four, Sean Miller has been anointed “best coach never to have led a team to the Final Four.” If you know anything about playing or coaching such mention ought to be a badge of honor more than an albatross.

Not surprisingly, the one list that has escaped the fans’ eyes is:

“The greatest sportswriter to never have won a Pulitzer.”

The Two Sides of Lavar Ball

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

One theory is that Lavar Ball is one of the most polarizing people on earth. That can’t be true because in order to be polarizing, there needs to be folks on both sides of the issue and it appears one side so heavily outweighs the other, that annoying is a better description that polarizing.

During the past 20 or so years of my life, I have taken pride in trying to see both sides of an argument or a person. Nobody can be all good (with the exceptions of Gandhi and Mother Teresa) and nobody can be all evil (Adolph Hitler and Charles Mason made/is still making a good run at proving that assumption invalid). Most people have both decency and discourtesy somewhere in their DNA. Lavar Ball, for all his LOUD brashness and inappropriateness, should be congratulated on several accounts.

As a Caucasian, I need to step gently when discussing the shortcomings of my black brethren but, it’s my firm belief – and I imagine others of all races will agree – that the biggest problem in the black community that they have in their power to correct is the absentee father. They can’t solve poverty, crime, lack of opportunities or certainly, racial profiling without assistance from other groups, most notably whites. But the high rate of fathers not being in their children’s lives is well within their capability to correct.

And on that subject, Lavar Ball should be applauded. As opposed to being absent, he has been a dominating presence in the lives of his three boys. In a world in which there seems to be a story on domestic violence (within all races) on a daily basis, his and his wife’s marriage seems to be one of mutual love and respect. In addition, he has provided a beautiful home and life for his family, as well as being a powerful factor in all their lives. Some may say a little too powerful but the fact remains his is as tight knit a group as any family.

Not only has Ball been a strong influence in his kids’ upbringing, he has truly had quite an impact in making them the talented young men they are. Beginning with his “choice” of spouse – many times he’s (jokingly, we think) referred to his selecting his wife because of her genes – to the fact that he didn’t want to cease control of their basketball fortunes to someone else. Independent of one’s beliefs regarding summer basketball – and there are altogether too many horror stories – he decided the best person to train and coach his boys was him. He didn’t complain about the coach(es); rather he formed his own team. Many parents complain, few take the drastic, costly and time consuming task of putting together a squad. Some might criticize his charging other youngsters to be a part of his team but, judging from his three, he has produced a trio of good players (one of which might be the overall #1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft).

Now, he’s never going to be compared to Ozzie Nelson but that was never his goal. Unquestionably brash, with an ego as big as all the outdoors, people say he is putting too much pressure on his sons yet that remains to be seen. Judging from the eldest son, Lonzo, he doesn’t seem to be adversely affected at all. His less than stellar play in UCLA’s loss to Kentucky was more due to injury or just a bad game than to someone wilting under the pressure of a brazen dad.

Of course, Lavar Ball is by no means a saint. His pomposity has been chronicled ad infinitum – which he appears to relish. He is either living vicariously through his children or is a master marketer. He has been called obnoxious (with good cause) but, in his defense, he says that people who’ve known him realize he hasn’t changed his manner; it’s just that he now has a podium. He maintains he has always been true to himself – which ought to be considered an admirable trait.

No one can contest his making some of the most asinine statements (no need to list them here as they’ve received as much coverage as any topic in March Madness). In the end, he needs to live with all his braggadocio. Whether his act actually sells merchandise (other than him, I have yet to see anyone wearing his apparel) or his brand takes off, is yet to be determined. The negative pub he’s brought upon himself is well-deserved. One example is when Stephen A. Smith asked him why a company needed to give him a billion dollars up front, that every player who has a brand performed to a level to deserve it first, so why not show a reason someone should fork over that kind of cash, his reply was to shout over Smith, yelling, “Up front, that’s right – up front!”  He never answered the question and the only reason he stopped was because the show’s host moved on.

Rating individuals’ qualities from 0-10, 10 high, most people are 3’s and 4’s (bad qualities) or 7’s and 8’s (good ones). Lavar Ball’s qualities are 0’s and 10’s. In all:

“Lavar Ball is outspoken – by no one.”