Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

A Rather Harrowing Introduction for All Concerned

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

After I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke, I’ve had several people ask me when I was planning on coming out with another. The plans for a sequel, Life’s A Joke 2.0, has been in the works for a while and, since I am retired, there should be no excuse to not get it done. The piece that follows will be one of the hundreds of stories in it.

Following my emergency thoracic back surgery (T 10-11 for those readers who are unfamiliar with my past), I began my high school teaching and coaching career (making it full circle since high school math teacher and coach was my first job after graduating college). This time, however, my entrance was a little more dramatic – by walking into new teacher orientation meetings with the help of a cane. The shock the people saw was nothing to what I was about to experience.

At the first orientation meeting for new teachers, we were instructed to document everything, that ours (the Clovis Unified School District) was a litigious group of parents. Make sure there’s a paper trail – just in case. This mantra was repeated at all three sessions. I looked around at the others, all but one who were 20-30 years younger than I was, and saw all of them diligently taking notes.

In addition to my job of director of basketball operations at Fresno State (which had ended with the retirement of Jerry Tarkanian), I had gained membership in the National Speakers Association (NSA). One of the main topics I would speak about was team building – about how every relationship is built on trust. Companies hired me, at a considerable rate, and my message was that trust is the most vital, unifying factor in any workplace. Without it, well, just listen to what Stephen Covey (one of the most respected speakers and authors at that time) had to say. “When you have a no-trust culture, you live in memo haven.” While I would custom-make each one of my speeches, I used that line in every one of them. Now, I was working for an organization whose philosophy was diametrically opposed to this belief. Not exactly a banner start.

After hearing this same message for the third time, I felt compelled to, at least, present a different view. I raised my hand and said (probably not endearing myself to my new employer), “I’m a Clovis Unified parent and I haven’t ever thought of suing anybody. Do you mean that there is an extremely small group of litigious parents – and that we should be frightened by them because they might sue?”

Then, I concluded my remarks with this strategic plan:

“Wouldn’t a wiser strategy be to hire better lawyers?”

Hypnosis Helping to Determine Right from Wrong

Friday, July 24th, 2015

A close associate of mine recently underwent hypnosis for an addiction problem. I have been fascinated with hypnosis since the spring of 1972 when I witnessed – up close – a hypnotist at an assembly at Highland Park (NJ) High School, my employer at the time, as well as my alma mater. My friend told me about his visit which differed from what I’d seen occur on our stage.

In the assembly the hypnotist asked for volunteers from the audience (student body). With the innocence and curiosity that accompanies youth, i.e. before they learn from adults to obey authority and do what they’re told, several youngsters began waving their hands. One of the students selected was a freshman football player, who everyone called “Chippy,” a chubby little guy with a very engaging personality.

The part of the performance our footballer was involved in had the hypnotist hold up a shiny object which our young guy was instructed to stare at while the hypnotist spoke in a low, soothing voice about how sleepy the rookie was getting. Sure enough, soon his eyes were drooping until his head dropped and he was in “sleep mode.” Standing up. While our boy was in this condition, the hypnotist began explaining to the audience – and to Chippy – that his (the hypnotist’s) right index finger was a red hot poker and under no circumstance should anyone come near him because, if they were to be touched by that finger, they’d surely be burned. At that point, he turned to Chippy and “brought him back,” saying he’d awaken in “3, 2, 1, and . . . ” Snap.

Chippy’s eyes opened, he saw where he was and when the hypnotist began speaking – and gesturing with his hand, index finger waving back and forth, everyone could see how Chippy would jump away anytime the finger came in his general vicinity. Finally, the hypnotist thanked is volunteer and said he could leave. Just before Chippy left the stage, he was asked to stick out his hand. Being a trustworthy sort of fellow (as most 15 year-olds are – they haven’t yet been duped by society), Chippy held out his hand. As he did, the hypnotist poked him on top of it. Chippy squealed, began blowing on his hand and licking the wound. Rather than cross in front of the hypnotist, i.e. the same way he’d entered the stage, Chippy exited stage left, holding his “burned” hand.

Later that day, I saw the young star and told him what a wonderful – and brave – gesture he made. He held out his hand and, I can remember this as though it happened yesterday (and, believe me, those moments are dwindling) – there was a blister where the hypnotist poked him! I recalled having read that the mind can’t separate a vividly imagined event from a real one, which is why when you dream about, for example, falling off a cliff, when you awaken, your heart is pounding and you’re sweating. The blister on Chippy’s finger told me all I needed to know about hypnosis.

Back to my associate and his experience. He said that, at no time, was he not completely aware of his surroundings – and that he was told that would be the case before they started the session. The hypnotist did speak in a soft, soothing voice, telling him to imagine himself descending in a glass elevator, all the while seeing a beautiful blue sky interspersed with fluffy clouds that looked like they were made out of cotton, putting him in a relaxed, happy frame of mind. Then, when the elevator doors opened there would be an escalator, heading down further, into complete tranquility with gorgeous scenery all around. Yet, he never lost consciousness.

My experience with hypnosis (30-35 years ago, unsuccessfully) was similar to his. I was completely awake during my session. However, the difference between our two incidents was that his hypnotist told him that our mind is composed of two parts: one side has a complete understanding of right and wrong, a fully mature outlook on life. The other side is like a spoiled 5 year-old, the kind of kid who begs and whines until he or she (since I have no reason to believe this phenomena is limited to males only) gets his or her way. That thought resonated throughout my entire mind and soul – like a eureka! moment. This explained why people make bad decisions. Not so fast, my friend. My guy told me that the hypnotist said that was not the point of hypnosis, that it was about the calm, peaceful feeling of the descent and that, as his body felt completely relaxed, that he should touch his thumb and index finger together. Then, whenever his craving came along, just put the fingers together and that peaceful feeling will keep him from giving into his addiction.

Bummer! What I took out of it, however, works as well. My belief is that when I am about to make a decision, e.g. ordering dessert on a day the scale said, “Too much.” What occurs, because I love most desserts, is my 5 year-old mind saying, “Who cares? I want that dessert. I want it, I want it, I want it!” Then comes along the rationalizing why I deserve it, all the great things I had done that day, how just one dessert wouldn’t be so detrimental, and even how “you promised!” So many parents, guardians, nannies, babysitters just feel, “It’s not worth the battle. You’ve worn me down. Go ahead and get it.” In the case of the individual, it does give immediate satisfaction, so what’s so bad? What’s so bad is what follows – consequences.

This philosophy can be expanded to, pretty much, any bad, wrong, illegal or immoral decision we make. I’m not referring to life-long criminals because, the ones who understand right from wrong, choose wrong for different reasons, e.g. they get off on the thrill of trying to get away with something. For a moment, reflect on some negative act you committed. Deep down, you knew you shouldn’t have done it, but you talked yourself into it anyway – maybe it wasn’t that terrible a choice (like dessert for many people). The 5 year-old won.

Consider the three Arkansas football players who recently got caught using counterfeit money. Certainly they knew it was wrong but chances are their 5 year-old mind was telling them how athletes don’t get enough money, how the school and the coaches make so much money and how they were getting screwed by the system. Or the athletes who are “juicing.” I mean, “everybody else is doing it.” That was supposedly the pushed, allegedly, Barry Bonds to use steroids. He was the best baseball player in the world but the media – and women (“Chicks dig the long ball” commercials) – were going gaga over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Or the rash of domestic violence in the news. The “provocation defense” just won’t hold up. Besides, does anybody, especially high profile people, think hitting their spouse is the “right” thing to do?

We could claim the immature (although somewhat older than 5) mind even made its way into the Oval Office. Don’t think for a second Bill Clinton didn’t know what Monica Lewinsky was up to, rather down to, was a bad idea. That the thought, “You’re the President of the United States, for crying out loud! Do you really think this is appropriate?” didn’t enter his head. You can almost hear what the immature side of the mind was saying. Unless he just enjoyed the risk, the danger of getting caught was monumental. The average guy, maybe. But Clinton is brilliant and, whatever the reason was at the time, I’d make a substantial wager he regrets now what took place.

In any case, I’m using that argument to keep me from “losing.” It doesn’t mean I’ll never have dessert again. If the scale had a “pleasant message” or I had a great workout, I might indulge myself. It’s worked thus far. I can actually say I can hear that little, whiny, obnoxious kid anytime I’m not doing what I ought to be doing, like instead of watching TV, I should be getting on the exercise bike – and watching TV. Maybe it’s an unpleasant call I’ve been putting off but realize the situation won’t get resolved until I do. It’s called your conscience – and the more often you let it decide your course of action, the more fulfilling a life you’ll lead.

As Gandhi preached:

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”

Must See TV on HBO Tuesday Night

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

On my way to Stanford as it’s time for a pain pump refill. 10 years have gone by since my maiden voyage to Stanford Pain Management. The building has been not only upgraded but moved off-campus (to Redwood City) since my initial trip. If only its title was Pain “Elimination,” rather than Pain “Management,” . . . hey, I can still dream, can’t I?  Even still, life is much better now than it was after my 2002 thoracic disk surgery, so I’ve got to be thankful.

This blog will return on Thursday, July 23.

On Tuesday night from 10-11 pm, HBO will air a show about a philosophy that has pervaded the United States for 20 years. Or is it 25 years? However long this theory has been in existence, it desperately needs to be crushed. What I’m referring to is the attitude that “everyone’s a winner.” At the risk of sounding like one of those “back in the day” old-timers, allow me to present my case for the abolition of the “let’s build our children’s self-esteem” (at whatever cost) ideology.

During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, i.e. “back in the day,” kids who played sports got trophies – when they won. If there was an all-star team, the kids who were selected got jerseys (which they might have been allowed to keep) and, maybe, trophies. Some leagues would give awards, e.g. most valuable player, most improved, coaches’ award, etc. Those who didn’t win moved on – to the next sport or activity – as did those who won. The winners were congratulated and those who didn’t win . . . didn’t win. Did they suffer from an inferiority complex? If they did, well, back then (“in the day”), they were told to “get over it.” If they complained, their parents told them either to work harder or, if that answer didn’t appeal to them, to find something else to occupy their time during that particular season.

Parents were different then, just as the parents of those parents were different. Each generation is unique but here is something to consider. Many of the parents of today’s Generation Y children, aka the “Millennials” (the ones we’re discussing) were the children described above. Could it be they resented the way they were raised? Why did there have to be only one winner (individual or team)? Isn’t every one of God’s creatures as precious as each of the others? Maybe there were a greater number of inferiority complexes than we could ever imagine.

The result? Helicopter parents, those who hover over every move their child makes, who call the school when their little one doesn’t pass a test (or, in the most severe cases, when the parent-diagnosed little geniuses earn less than an A). And these parents don’t call the teacher. Nooooo, they go right to the administration and demand the grade be changed, their child be moved to another class and the teacher be disciplined. What could make them feel that way? One has already been discussed. They didn’t achieve to their potential (according to their own calculations) and their parents were to blame – for not “supporting” them. Another is they have been encouraged – by the administration – to go the administration, who commiserate with them and pass along the complaint to the teachers, putting them in an untenable position. Doesn’t matter, the administration did their job, i.e. placated the parents.

Somewhere along the way, people who subscribed to this feel good platform won over enough followers with their rhetoric. It wasn’t too difficult, given the Great American Dream, defined as “something for nothing.” (If you don’t believe it, have you ever wondered why the lottery payouts are so high? Something for [nearly] nothing). The “feel gooder’s” message is that our children’s self-esteem would dramatically rise if we only would recognize everybody as a winner! The fundamental flaw in this thinking is that, of course, everybody can’t be a winner. The word win contradicts that notion. If everybody wins, then nobody wins. Unless the goal is striving for mediocrity, there has to be a way to distinguish not-so-good from good, and from good from great.

After observing the results, i.e. the lack of work ethic and competitive spirit from much, although thankfully, not all this generation’s youth, the overwhelming majority of the people (at least the ones I know) agree with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. The coach is quoted on the show, explaining the problems with the current “everyone’s a winner” philosophy:

“It is a little harder to motivate kids I guess because they’ve been pampered so much. We’re in the trophy generation, give ’em a trophy for 23rd place, make ’em feel good. Make mom and dad feel good.”

 

 

Who Was in Charge at St. Andrew’s – and Why Did No One Help Him?

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Regarding yesterday’s blog: watching The Open, as the British Open golf tournament is referred to, I had to re-think how much fun the game of golf is. After Day 1, Tiger Woods (you remember him, right) made the statement that, due to his poor first round, he had to hope for nasty conditions on Day 2, forcing his competitors into subpar scores, then play some terrific golf himself.

Can you imagine hoping for bad weather? I can understand the Buffalo Bills wanting miserable conditions in upstate New York when they play the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers but football is a bit of a rougher game than golf. Like a shark is a bit more dangerous than a goldfish. I made my feelings known about golf yesterday when I said one reason golf was fun was because you got to play in wonderful weather (if not, just don’t play – there will be nicer days, especially when you’re retired – and live in California).

Well, the R&A outdid itself on Saturday in Scotland (even though it didn’t quite seem like Saturday yet out here). It didn’t take a meteorologist to figure the weather was brutal. I mean, golfers are extremely talented athletes (I do consider them athletes, certainly in terms of hand-eye coordination, strength and conditioning – for most in today’s game, anyway – and, certainly, mental toughness). But in no way does anyone consider them gladiators, as fans do, say, football players.

So, leader Dustin Johnson had to play three holes – while other golfers didn’t swing even once. At that time the powers-that-be decided that no sane person should be out in that kind of weather – and the only thing that was keeping them out there were . . . the decision-makers for The Open. The major problem with what took place at St. Andrews (pronounced sin-TANDREWS) was that it was just that – a major. Why should golfers have to play one of their four most important events in inclement weather when the rest of the game is so pure?

Don’t agree? Try sneezing or coughing (or even just taking a picture if it means there will be an audible “click”) during a golfer’s backswing. The Seattle Seahawks have their decibel meter. It gets so loud that opposing offenses can’t hear play calls and, often, teams are forced into penalties. The Golden State Warriors gave credit to their fans for making so much noise during their run to last season’s NBA Championship. Imagine having to play golf with the kind of distractions quarterbacks, place kickers and free throw shooters do? Because of that, golfers should never be forced to putt into 40 mph winds. Nobody practices putting into 40 mph winds, nor should they. That’s not skill and, if nothing else, golf is a game of incredible skill. Someone shouldn’t become a champion because he got to play in sunshine – after rain was coming down sideways for the guys playing earlier.

Talk about leveling the playing field. OK, so everything can’t be exactly equal. But to do what was done yesterday at St. Andrews definitely skewed the results, independent of who wins. Let’s face it, although power has entered the game more than it ever has, golf is still a finesse game, a great deal of it built on touch. What the answer is I don’t know but late Friday night (on the west coast) wasn’t even fun to watch. As fans, we’d like to think the games we witness are fair (WWE excluded). I’d imagine the players feel the same way.

“When stubbornness tops common sense, someone needs to step up and give the group a literal slap in the face – for everyone’s sake.”

Keeping Adversity in Perspective

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


				

DeAndre Jordan Decided What?

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

One thing I’ve tried to stay away from is self-aggrandizement. However, anyone who’s read my post from three days ago (7/6/15) on the DeAndre Jordan situation, has to admit that I nailed it squarely on the noggin. For those who haven’t yet read it, I implore you to do so.

The talking heads were all wondering if there has been precedence. Hedo Turkoglu’s name was bandied about, the position taken by Antonio McDyess way back in 1999, a coaching flip-flop from Billy Donovan all surfaced (you can bet many interns must have earned some overtime) – all were brought up. The real comparison, however, would be to college recruiting and young kids giving verbal commitments.

Does what happened in the DeAndre Jordan scenario, described as continued recruiting after a prospect gives a verbal commitment, occur in college recruiting? In a word, yes. Maybe not all that often but, yes. Discounting the fact that the schools that lose out have spent a great deal of time and money recruiting the prospect, there’s the feeling that you know the kid made a mistake and that, deep down, he knows it, too. Maybe it was a case of listening to the wrong people, getting bad advice. So, you make that last ditch effort. Most of the time, you move on but, in a very special case, you’ve just put in too much effort to go down without exploring every option.

Who was it who gave him the erroneous advice in the first place? Or, in some cases, who made the decision for him? You believe, that if you could talk with him one more time, after whatever it was that turned his head. The first move is to get him away from those influences who, quite possibly, convinced him to do something that wasn’t necessarily in his best interests. (Guess whose best interests the person had in mind?)

Here’s an example of a story that made the rounds back in the late ’70s. I was coaching at Western Carolina at the time and, since it was an instance of shady recruiting, the law of averages would say that it took place in the south. Since I was not directly involved, I’ll leave out the names but suffice to say, if you’re someone who enjoys following recruiting (and are old enough to remember), you’ll probably be able to figure out the principal figures.

I recall speaking with a fellow assistant who made the following comment to me when we were talking about the subject of recruiting. “We love it when a kid verbally commits. Then, we only have one team to beat.” In this particular situation, that line of thinking got them one of the best high school players in the nation. If you need a hint, he went on to have a spectacular professional career as well.

One school had finally got this superstar’s verbal commitment. Another school (yeah, the one referred to above, who was pleased with it) “kidnapped” this kid. Actually, lured would be a better word, convincing the prospect he ought to take a ride to campus (of the “other” school). Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. Once there, the second college’s staff convinced his that he would be much better served (read into that as you will) if he switched allegiances and matriculated right where he was at that time. He signed on campus, infuriating the kid’s original school.

A verbal commitment is not binding; a signed one is. Just as the NBA has a moratorium on when a player can sign a contract, the NCAA has a designated signing period. The NBA, apparently, needs the week to look over each deal to make sure it passes several criteria, salary cap among them. Nothing prior to that date is set in stone, similar to a prospect committing to a school.

As for retaliation by the Mavericks, maybe accusing that illegal tactics were used to “change DJ’s mind,” consider the post script to the story of our “kidnappers.” The coach of the school who “had” him but, then, lost him at the eleventh hour, called the player’s “new” coach and threatened to turn in the school to the NCAA for rules violations – of which they were oh so guilty. After hearing his rival’s rant, the coach said, “When you call the NCAA to turn us in, make sure you mention where he got this nice, new van he’s driving.”

What, no honor among thieves?

Good advice for DJ would be to show remorse and admit he made a mistake (which does not mean he has to throw anybody under the bus). Ours is a most forgiving country. “I made a mistake” is a powerful statement and draws empathy from most people for the simplest of reasons. Who among us hasn’t made a decision we regretted?

Take Bill Parcells’ advice:

“When you make a mistake:

1) admit it,

2) correct it,

3) learn from it,

4) don’t dwell on it,

5) don’t repeat it.

 

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recruiting at the Highest Level

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Larry Nance, Jr. Surpassed Frank Sinatra in One Tweet

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Way back in 2012, a young college kid tweeted, in reference to the case in which a female hotel employee claimed Kobe Bryant had forced himself sexually on her, “Gee I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time,” ending his message with “#rapist.” That college kid was the University of Wyoming’s Larry Nance, Jr. Fast forward to this past season and the younger Nance garnered the Player of the Year award in the Mountain West Conference. He also realized the dream of every young boy who grew up playing basketball – he was a first round draft pick in the NBA.

Yet, not everything went so smoothly on draft night for the younger Nance because of the team that selected him. Yup, the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe it’s not every youngster’s favorite squad growing up but it can’t be lower than third. Whether or not that was the case for younger Larry, the tweet changed everything. Frank Sinatra, in his mega-hit My Way, sang that the regrets he had were “too few to mention.” Larry Nance’s tweet would definitely not fit into that category.

Nance, Jr. understands what the NBA is about since his dad, Larry Nance, Sr., following a stellar career at Clemson, spent 13 highly productive years in the league for the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The elder Nance scored over 15,000 points, won the slam dunk contest (1984), was a three time All-Star and had his jersey retired by the Cavs. If he made any comments to his son at the time the youngster used social media to make a statement regarding Bryant’s behavior isn’t known, but there’s little doubt dad has since provided some wise counsel to his son.

The apology from Larry, Jr. was immediately sent to Kobe. After its contents became public, it showed someone who displayed a great deal of remorse. The 2012 tweet, and subsequent letter of apology, should serve as exhibit A when kids anyone decides to use social media to criticize another person. The charges in that case were dropped after the woman refused to testify, a civil suit was settled and Bryant, while never admitting guilt, publicly apologized. Yet, at that time, Nance’s feelings were shared by an abundance of others throughout the country. Once his name was called on draft night, however, had he had the power to go back in time to that particular moment, you can bet his choice would have been different.

As far as Kobe’s reaction to the apology? “The kid figured it out himself,” Bryant told him. “Dude, listen. We’ve all said things and done things that we regret and wish we could take back.” Kobe Bryant is known for his elephant-like memory but, maybe, time – and maturity – have mellowed him. Still and all, when the two play together, it would be a wise suggestion to the rookie that he’d better not blow an offensive or defensive assignment.

In what might be the leading candidate for top understatement of the year, Larry Nance, Jr. said:

“It was definitely something I’ll learn from.”

What’s All This Talk About the “New” NBA Trend?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

During the NBA Playoffs I listened to the NBA station on Sirius-XM. The various shows would give different perspective regarding strategies, interview players and coaches (both current and former), take callers (some of whom are really out there) and discuss all aspects the game. When a station is 24 hour pro hoops (somewhat deceptive because shows are rerun throughout the day – still, it’s all NBA, all the time), much gets discussed. And when much is discussed, there’s bound to be controversy.

Often the comments aren’t as controversial as they are nonsensical, especially when they’re made by one of the “stat heads” (see yesterday’s blog for the definition). Some of the remarks make you do a “double hear ” (it’s like a double take but with listening). One such comment came a couple days ago and, while I can remember who said it (host or a guest being interviewed), I do recall it was a former player.

His statement was that today’s NBA is trending toward “small ball” – and actually has been for quite a while. He referenced past champions to prove his point, even including the style employed by the Spurs. “And don’t tell me Tim Duncan is a big man,” is how he concluded his theory.

No one on this or any other planet will ever argue that the Warriors philosophy is anything but small ball. While the Spurs offense is based on player movement (call it “old time” ball if you want – or “non-hero” as some have labeled it), to say Tim Duncan isn’t a big man is a bit of a stretch, mainly because . . . he’s the epitome of a big man. Coaches at all levels show videos of Duncan to their big men, explaining how to run the floor to create deep position, how to locate the defender before making a back to the basket move, how a plethora of moves is unnecessary as long as you can perfect two or three, how to have patience so if a double team comes, you can find open teammates – not to mention how to defend on the low block. To make the claim that small ball is trending because the Warriors won it all using it is one thing, but . . . even disregarding the Spurs, small ball wasn’t what won champions in the recent past.

Prior to San Antonio’s victory in 2014, four of the previous five winners were led by either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, who were voted Finals MVP twice each. What a person can conclude from that “trend” is the team with the game’s best player has the best chance of winning it all. The biggest argument at that time among fans was, “Who is better, Kobe or LeBron”? Because he was hurt nearly all of last year, some fans’ minds, as they are wont to do, have forgotten the brilliance of Bryant’s shot making, defense and maniacal desire to win.

The other championship team during that time, i.e. the one that was in between the Lakers two championship squads and Miami’s pair, was the Dallas Mavericks – whose best player, and Finals MVP (we learned this year that those two are not necessarily the same), was Dirk Nowitzki. Seven foot tall Dirk Nowitzki. Although it is difficult to refer to him as a “big man,” small ball doesn’t include seven footers.

Face it, as long as the hoop is 10 feet in the air, size will always be a factor in basketball. But, just as the recent draft is no indication that teams will draft centers first, small ball has not taken over the NBA. At least the trend will have to occur for a few more years.

A very close friend of mine, upon hearing of this small ball sensation, said if fans really wanted to see small ball, i.e. if they wanted to eliminate the big man or not have size matter, all the NBA needs to do is change one rule:

“Raise the basket to 15 feet. Then, it’s all about skill.”