Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

What Matters, What Doesn’t in Team Sports

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

After the media onslaught when the San Antonio Spurs beat OKC in six games for the Western Conference championship, so much was made of Tim Duncan’s remarks regarding the Finals. “It’s unbelievable to regain the focus after that devastating loss last year,” said the player dubbed “Old Man Riverwalk,” as he clutched the Western Conference trophy, “but we’re back here and we’re excited about it. We got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.” Later on, he admitted, “We’re happy that it’s the Heat. We’ll be ready for them. . . we’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.”

The media reaction was . . . well, it was conveyed immediately to San Antonio’s opponents to, hopefully, start a series of incendiary remarks between the Heat and the Spurs. If you haven’t realized it yet, that is one of the main ploys of the media, which only makes sense, because if they succeed, the stories more or less write themselves. I mean, why do all the work when the players, many of whom have no idea they’re being played, are only too glad to do the work for you? In this case, however, the best response the members of the fourth estate could elicit from Miami was a completely honest and appropriate quote from LeBron James. “His comments don’t bother me,” said James. “Once you get on the floor, you’ve got to play. We want them, too.” So it means playing is more important than talking?

Boo. That means the guys covering the games would actually have to work. For this Finals, the work turned out to be, time-wise, a great deal less than anticipated, as the Spurs made short order of the men from South Beach, winning the series in five games. So much for Tim Duncan’s bulletin board material. Fans who consider that kind of “smack” to be relevant to the outcome of the game (as long as it’s not in poor taste), don’t understand (elite) athletes or athletics, for that matter. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the best team wins (especially in a best-of-seven series) and the reasons they do so are talent, unselfishness, discipline and preparation, i.e. coaching. A little luck doesn’t hurt the cause, either (especially in the case of injuries and, maybe a key call or two). Of course, there have been upsets but in those cases, all of the above apply, with the exception of talent (which is why it’s regarded as an upset).

The coaches must be on the same page and the game plan must be repeated over and over - so the players are on that same page as well. It’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. Since so many of SportsCenter’s Top 10 highlights revolve around individual moves and high flyers, finding unselfish players is proving more and more difficult. I can’t recall even one of the numerous San Antonio possessions in which the ball was passed more than five times making that Top 10 list. Yet, if someone had asked any of the Miami defenders to rate the degree of difficulty between 1 and 10 (1 very easy, 10 extremely hard) that it took to defend such a possession, let’s just say no one should be surprised if the answer would be at, or very near, double figures.

There are t-shirts that have T-E-A-M spelled vertically on the back with the, now, familiar slogan T-Together E-Everyone A-Achieves M-More. In today’s world sometimes it seems as though the acronym stands for:

T-Today

E-Everyone

A-Applauds

M-Me



Is There a Chance American Basketball Coaches Change Their Philosophy?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Finally back from Tourcoing, in Northern France (pronounced Tour-quon’ - I think) and the 20 & under World Basketball Tournament. Our younger son, Alex, was a member of the U.S. team who, in their first game in Pool A erased a two-point halftime deficit to go up 11 with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter against Turkey (the team that would be the eventual runner-up to the home team). A couple of back-to-back threes by Turkey (within about 30 seconds of each other - one as the buzzer of the 24-second shot clock sounded) - put the U.S. guys on their heels and we eventually lost. This annual tourney has been going on the quite a while (this year marked its 25th edition). However, for the first time, the European teams used their 20 & under national teams, i.e. teams that had been practicing as a group.

As a former coach, I felt I had landed in the Bizarro World of Basketball. Like most basketball fans, since college hoops ended, I’ve been watching the NBA. Every game I witnessed in Tourcoing was similar to NBA contests. Our U.S. club was like the prototypical NBA team (not named the Spurs), i.e. offensively, we tried to either get the ball to a post up player or run pick & roll. The Americans, due to travel problems, had only one practice. Most of the kids on the team had a basic understanding of that type of offense. To attempt to install an offense like the Spurs in one practice would have been ludicrous. Every other team in the tourney, though, played the opposite - like the Spurs (of course, at a much lower skill level). Before I upset all the European readers - and who knows how many millions thousands hundreds tens (maybe) of them exist, let me explain that was a compliment. And - as basketball purists would have it - we finished last (8th out of 8).

Scoring was a problem (we were in the low 70s every game - 4 quarters, 10 minutes each) but of infinitely greater concern was trying to defend the offenses of the European teams, e.g. the one used by the Spurs to school the Miami Heat (and every other team they played on their way to an NBA-best regular season record - and their 5th NBA title). But for four missed FTs in Game 2, they might have swept the Heat. And, but for a couple missed FTs, a couple late missed point blank shots - and, of greater importance, one less rebound - San Antonio would now be the two-time defending champs with six championships.

With that result fresh in mind, will coaches in America at least look into changing their offensive philosophy? Coaches, except for the elite, love to play the copy cat game. It is certainly impressive to see a team, in a game involving a 24-second clock, pass the ball up to eight times on a possession. The Spurs’ O seemed to be indefensible as the ball always arrived one step (if not more) ahead of the defenders. A shot that might have been contested wasn’t taken. Instead, it was passed to an open teammate for what looked like “practice jumpers,” e.g. those taken in warm ups. On occasion even a player with an open shot would pass the ball because his teammate had a better one.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking the offense is the answer. Every perimeter player must have the ability to knock down those shots. The Spurs just make it look easy - very similar to listening and watching someone like George Lehman or Dave Hopla lecture on shooting. At the end of their demonstration you feel like you can walk onto the court and start knocking down shot after shot. Until you try. In the just completed Finals, the Heat had several open looks that didn’t go down as they had the past two years. However, if a team will swing the ball or will play inside-out or use skip passes, they’ll get open shots. Then their guys have to make them. The pick-and-roll must continue to be incorporated into an offense because that is the most difficult way to guard a ballhandler - as long as it’s not just a two-man play. Having all five guys involved makes for tougher rotations and cause close outs, creating opportunities for better shots. Combining P&Rs with European style ball movement makes for a more difficult offense as the defense is forced to guard the entire court.

Nothing is that easy. Today’s players aren’t used to running that type of system and with kids starting younger and younger, often with inexperienced, volunteer coaches, it’s easy to see the advantage European youngsters have with their system.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying another style. It’s not like plagiarism. In fact, if you can get it across better than whomever you “stole” it from, people will give you credit. As my late mentor, John Savage, one of the finest speakers in the insurance industry used to say:

“I’m not proud. I steal from the best.”

Coaches Search for Answers, Media Look to Blame

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

For the most part, reporters are an angry group, naturally, some worse than others. Bill Simmons and Stephen A. Smith absolutely blistered Mario Chalmers, each ranting - as well as trying to elicit a laugh - at the point guard’s ineffectiveness. It’s like Chalmers offended them with how poorly he played, like his missed shots were meant for them and they took it personally. Each reporter, and several of their colleagues, had similar criticism after the first two games of Kawhi Leonard. Tonight was Chalmers’ turn. When a team wins, today’s reporters are more prone to criticize the loser (and look for scapegoats) than praise the winner (and look for heroes). It’s not that they ignore the latter group; it’s just that they spend an inordinate amount of time - and, even, revel - in the former’s misery.

One guy was so obnoxious he got Erik Spoelstra to do an impersonation of Gregg Popovich. Later, he had similar “follow up” comments for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Bobby Ramos, representing Bottom Line (apparently, it’s a radio show) asked Erik Spoelstra (although it was more like he vented at him) shortly after the game his team lost, “Coach, you gave San Antonio the credit and you mentioned a couple times that you’re in the Finals. How does a team, in their fourth Finals, come out in the Finals, their first home game, and get beat to the ball, to get stomped the way they did, the kind of heart your championship team has, to come out tonight like they did mentally, has to be something that’s a problem.”

Spoelstra looked at Ramos and replied, “Clearly.” It was the perfect response to someone who, quite obviously, was trying to evoke an emotional reaction from the head coach whose team had just given back the home advantage they stole from the Spurs in Game 2. While Ramos had chosen the perfect target (psychologically), Spo basically looked him in the eye and told him to take his question and throw it in the ocean.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James came out to face the media and, once again, Ramos attempted, for unknown reasons, to get under the players’ skin. “You have a great defense, they’re averaging 104 points a game, you have a lot of offense, you haven’t broke (sic) 100 yet. Is the problem your lackluster defense or is it the problem you’re having offensively? Lackluster offense?” Possibly because he couldn’t meet him in a dark alley, in the wee hours of the morning, one-on-one, James just laughed at a post game question put down.

And, as with his coach, D Wade offered a calm response. “The problem is we’re down two games to one.” Not sure why Ramos didn’t follow up with, “And I’ve watched your kids play. They suck, too.” Although, with that one, he would have been pressing his luck.

Even Mark Schwartz, of ESPN, asked the asinine question, “Why, in a Finals, would you come out with such a lack of urgency?” Exactly what do these guys expect players to say?

LeBron’s answer was the obvious. “It wasn’t that we came out with a lack of urgency, it’s that they came out so aggressively.” Maybe those questions are asked on the chance that, one time, one time, a player will say, “Because our coach told us to conserve our energy early” or “We had some party last night and we really blew it out. Frankly, I’m surprised we played as well as we did, considering the physical shape we were in just an hour before the game.”

It’s not that former coaches in the media don’t get angry; it’s just that they’re more analytical. They have to be. Naturally, after a 35-year coaching career, I’m more partial to comments and analyses from coaches than I am from media members (and, even, players). That’s why I appreciate hearing Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown do color commentary and Doug Collins in the studio. “That’s what the playoffs are all about,” said Collins, after hearing Simmons’ post game comments about how Miami was in trouble after Game 1, then how San Antonio was in trouble after Game 2, and now how the Heat are in dire straits because the Spurs torched them last night. “Managing the emotional waters,” is how Collins explained the coach’s job.

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if San Antonio could run their offense as easily and effectively as it did last night, that they would do it that way every game? Does anybody think the reason their offense ran so smoothly last night was because of adjustments Pop made after their loss in Game 2? We all need to keep in mind that these are the two best teams in the world. After the Heat lost Game 1, they did what all great teams do. They made adjustments and those adjustments worked. Why? Because they executed them properly, as well as raised their intensity level. Following that game, the tables were turned. The Spurs were the more desperate team. And now the Heat are under the greater pressure to win.

The difference between being a coach and being a media member is that media members are here to educate and entertain the fans (and they direct their commentary to them), while coaches are leaders and must focus on how to get their players to execute as close to perfection as possible and play as hard as they can. Coaches don’t have the luxury media members do because they have a record. Do you think reporters might act differently if, following every game they cover, their work was determined to be a win or a loss - and their jobs were as much on the line as coaches are? In a coach’s world, as with Spoelstra last night, it’s best to remember:

“Better outcomes occur when cooler heads prevail.”

Why Donald Sterling Should Be Pitied

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

The pendulum in the “Donald Sterling selling the Clippers to Steve Ballmer” deal has swung back to “not signing - suing.” The word from Sterling’s camp (which consists of Sterling and his attorney, Max Blecher) is, “I have decided that I must fight to protect my rights. While my position may not be popular, I believe that my rights to privacy and the preservation of my rights to due process should not be trampled. I love the team and have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization. I intend to fight to keep the team.”

While my position may not being popular?” Those words should dispel any notion that the owner, former owner, still-for-a-little-while owner is suffering from any type of dementia. A promising strategy for Sterling might be the section, “I have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization” because the Clippers are now one of the top franchises in the NBA after being, arguably, the poorest run professional organization in the world (including Eastman Kodak and the railroad). Maybe he thinks his investment is just now turning the corner.

“I intend to fight to keep the team.” Even though every one of the players, coaches, other employees and every Clippers fan desperately wants me to relinquish my role as owner and can’t wait to start the Steve Ballmer era which will undoubtedly prove to be infinitely more player-friendly, coach-friendly (Mike Dunleavy can attest to that), employee-friendly and fan-friendly. While that last statement might have been unnecessarily lengthy, so was my length of ownership. 

From the onset, I did not want to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.” Someone, maybe Blecher, might want to clue Sterling in that “want to” never had anything to do with it once the now-famous “V tapes” were released. All indications point to the sale of the team, pending approval of the other 29 owners (wonder what odds Vegas is giving on the owners not approving the deal), although a court case is certainly a possibility. If Sterling were to testify, he would probably, at some point, admit his biggest mistake was not using the same head hunting firm that gave the Nixon administration Rosemary Woods.

Commissioner Adam Silver was quoted as saying that if Sterling sued, he’d actually be suing himself. Not quite sure what the commish’s point is. A possible mistake Silver is making (unless he’s holding it as a bargaining chip) is not rescinding the $2.5M fine against Sterling (that the commissioner, allegedly, claimed was still to be collected). Not only is #2.5M pocket change for Sterling, it’s pocket change for the league, every owner and Silver himself. Don’t flip on the “lifetime ban” for goodness’ sakes, but let the poor schmuck think he beat you on some count.

Many people can’t understand why Sterling, who is worth nearly $2B and would be getting another $2B from the sale, would fight such a seemingly losing battle. The answer lies in a line I read several years ago:

“Many people are so poor because the only thing they have is money.”


The Spurs Don’t As Much Margin for Error

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Game 1 was a two point contest late in the fourth quarter when LeBron cramped up. Well, you’ve probably heard what happened after that.

Game 2 had no air conditioning problems, but the Heat was overwhelming.

This year’s NBA Finals has given us the best two teams in the league - as is usually going to be the case when teams are playing a best-of-seven format. The Spurs and the Heat are teams with different styles but they’re remarkably equal and the reason is they each commit to their respective game plans. San Antonio believes the way to get a high percentage shot is to trust their offense, one that’s based on player movement using multiple screens and ball reversals. They are averse to ball stoppers so don’t look for them, even if they could clear cap space, to join in the bidding for Carmelo Anthony.

The talking heads maintain that Kawhi Leonard must play better, which includes staying on the floor. When it was mentioned that he is guarding LeBron James, the retort was, “Well, he had to defend Kevin Durant during the last series.” Could that mean LeBron is better than KD? Or just harder for Leonard to guard than James is? Whatever the case, I don’t see anybody jumping to his rescue with cries of, “Don’t worry, Kawhi, I’ll take LeBron.”

How is anybody supposed to defend LBJ anyway? In the first quarter last night he only had two points but a couple of his attempts were shots that normally go in so it was only a matter of time before he exploded. After all, this is the NBA Finals, meaning when it’s over he doesn’t have competitive basketball for a while. Has anyone ever heard about LeBron’s hobbies, what he does once the season is over - to continuing to make his life meaningful? Basketball is it. Nothing is a close second.

For the haters, he dispelled any myth that Game 1’s body cramps were going to do him in. Then, during the crucial possession last night, he drew defenders and threw to the right corner for Chris Bosh’s “dagger” three, the same play he made against Indy when he was criticized. It was like he was saying, “To all you people who criticize, look, I’m making the same play - because it’s the right one. Then, Bosh knocked it down to prove him correct.

From the Spurs’ point of view, head coach Gregg Popovich needs to have his post game comments listened to, filtering out the tone. It’s difficult to find fault with a coach who sounds more “up” after a win (even when he’s sitting in front of the media completely drenched shirt due to the air malfunction) than following a two-point loss which gave away the home court. He is wittier after a win; more direct and concise when they lose. Anyone who knows the least bit about Spurs basketball, recognized that Pop was furious with Game 1’s 23 turnovers even though he didn’t sound as upset as he did when asked about their offense breakdowns late in last night’s contest. The TO problem was straightened out in the fourth quarter last night but the lack of offensive flow chafed him all over - especially when comparing the two teams’ offenses.

“LeBron, with the ball, did a great job at his end,” Pop explained, the respect he has for James so evident. “We had to be close to perfect and we (weren’t). We didn’t take advantage of things and made bad decisions. The ball stuck to us. We didn’t do it as a group. We tried to do it individually and we’re not good enough to do that.” Translation: They have a guy who can stand out there and dominate the ball because he’s so big, strong and talented that if you pressure him, he can get by you and head straight to the rim - and it’s going to be next to impossible to stop him. If you space on him - and he feels like it - he can rise and knock down a shot wherever he is on the floor, meaning 15′, deep two or a three. Try to double him and his height, strength, vision and understanding of the game will make you pay. That’s why we have to be close to perfect. For the record, there was a sound bite in which both coaches used the word “stick” when referring to their respective club’s ball movement but Erik Spoelstra is bright enough to know what he has in LeBron and has no problem putting the ball in his hands during money time.

No doubt, Popovich and his staff will try to figure what can be done (zone being the absolute last option, if that). When playing against LeBron James, the strategy might just be:

“Play D as well as we can but, for us to win, we’ve gotta outscore ‘em.”

What’s the Proper Balance of Respect Between Players & Coaches and the Media?

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

People get upset when athletes and coaches aren’t willing, much less excited, to talk about the BIG game(s). Yet, that’s exactly when reporters and fans want to know everything these “giants of sport,” who have often been placed on a pedestal, think about it/them. It’s just that, at that time, players and coaches must be so focused - or at least ought to be - that distractions are the last things they want to deal with (or tied for last with ticket requests). It’s so hard to just make it to the tournament/playoffs/finals/Majors/Stanley Cup/World Cup/World Series/Super Bowl that coaches (especially) despise anything that will take their players’ minds off the urgent challenge they face. The serious athletes possess identical feelings.

So it becomes a battle of wills, as in will the people involved in the game break down and speak or will those who write about it . . . break them down? The pivotal individuals will do what’s mandatory, according to league, conference or association rules (no one better at this than the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich). Rest assured, there are players and/or coaches who revel in chatting it up to the media, some on the record, others off, e.g. the famed anonymous source usually being the guys who won’t be delivering much impact to the eventual outcome (marginal players and coaches not truly engaged in the game plan or planning) or are the selfish bunch who are looking to gain a favor or two down the road (possibly, a complimentary piece on them or a bit of timely gossip).

Should the media not obtain enough from the former group, or if the latter aren’t significant enough to write a compelling story, often media members (granted, usually not the good ones) will fabricate a story or twist words so the reader can come to a conclusion not necessarily false, but probably nowhere near what is really the case. Add to that group another that has become increasingly popular through the years - the paparazzi - and stories and pictures will be marginally changed, just enough to be flat out lies.

Why would someone stoop to such tactics? Miranda Lambert, who has had more of her personal life disclosed to the public, said just a few days ago in an interview:

“There are people who, literally, their only job is to make other people miserable, and that’s a terrible way to live.”


How to Have a Successful NBA Season

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

On our way back to SoCal. Another session with shooting guru Mike Penberthy. Last week’s workouts were extremely interesting and productive. Alex picked up some tips that he believes can improve, if not totally revamp, his shot - a bit of a gamble, unless it works. Mike utilizes some drills that I admit I hadn’t seen in my 35 year coaching career. It appears to be true that if you keep an open mind, somebody might drop an idea in it.

This blog will return Saturday, June 7.

The name of the game in coaching, especially in the NBA, is winning. Considering that NBA coaches get fired after winning seasons, what all of them want to find is that special something that galvanizes a group of players so they’ll perform as a unit. Some people refer to it as chemistry and that may be it but, if it is, how do you get it? It turns out there’s no specific answer or formula. Does that mean there no hope for success if your doesn’t have it? Well, there have been teams who have won when their guys didn’t hang around together - or even get along off the court.

Imagine how tough it would be to go through a training camp and an 82 game season with a bunch of obnoxious divas who made life miserable - not only during losses but wins as well. Now, try to visualize that team losing 55 of those 82 games. How does that sound?

Mike D’Antoni was let go with a year left on his contract after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to, yup, a 27-55 record. But he was interviewed a week or so after he got the news, he said the reason they were able to get through such a tough season (one in which their two future Hall of Famers, in essence, didn’t play), was because they continued to maintain a positive attitude.  D’Antoni was proud of the character displayed by his team, saying problems would have occurred if they had bad guys. “But we didn’t have bad guys,” maintained D’Antoni, “and that’s why I was proud of our team.”

“Noise” is what causes problems, the former coach contended. Noise which can come from friends, agents and media. That is what can destroy a team. Whether D’Antoni was taking the high road, or actually felt this way, his words explain life in a league which eventually has only one winner. Forget all the lottery teams, think about the Clippers, who had their own issues thanks to their (now former) owner (”Whew!” says the league and everybody connected to it). Yet, had that fiasco not happened, there would have been noise, noise about Chris Paul still not making it to a conference finals. Keep in mind that CP3 is one of the classiest players and leaders in the NBA. Yet he is still subjected to noise and if he isn’t immune, his teammates would have also been subjected to it.

The Pacers got to the conference finals - again - and “people” were calling for them to be blown up and their coach relieved of his duties. If the “people” yelling for all this weren’t media members, there were certainly media members reporting it. Noise. A similar situation took place in Oklahoma City where lives a dynamite basketball franchise. But they didn’t make the finals so . . . noise. Fans at OKC shouldn’t be despondent. Had they reached the finals - and lost to the Heat - it would have only prolonged the noise.

Everyone is shouting the praises of San Antonio and Miami. Until the series is over. Should the Heat lose, there will be talk of “has the team been together too long, have they run their course?” Should the Spurs lose, there will be talk of “has the team been together too long, have they run their course?” Noise.

Conclusion: chemistry (if you can figure out what it is and how to get it), good guys no bad guys, positive attitude, make sure the coach can be proud of the character of the team, eliminate noise (by winning it all). It looks like Henry Ford was right all along - with one caveat:

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Add to that, disregard noise and the map of success is complete.

Larry Bird’s Indirect Directive to Roy Hibbert

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Larry Bird is nothing if not concise in his language. It’s one of the many characteristics that have remained with him through all these years. He dealt with the media yesterday, answering their questions, many of which seemed to be designed to annoy him into making a nasty comment he’d regret an hour later (it must be the main topic of a new sports journalism course and judging by today’s breed of sportswriters, one which they’re mastering).

Larry Legend led off his remarks addressing those who floated the rumor that the Pacers were about to make a coaching change. Had they asked him, he claimed, he would have told them Frank Vogel’s job was safe. In fact, he mentioned that he actually did say that to the writers who asked but it seems as though, while some people are hard of hearing, those particular writers were hard of listening. Either that, or the answer wasn’t to their liking. Or didn’t fit the story they’d planned to write so they ignored it.

Other questions were given forthright responses, as well, including the fact that he did consider the season a success despite getting eliminated again by the Miami Heat in the conference finals and that he wanted to keep the enigmatic Lance Stephenson on the roster. When the subject of what should be done regarding Roy Hibbert’s epic collapse, Bird’s reply was that he thought his center should seek the guidance of two of the best centers of all-time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and/or Bill Walton.

When, or if, Hibbert will take the Pacers top exec’s advice is unknown at this time. Unfortunately, Hibbert doesn’t have (or at least doesn’t display) the drive Abdul-Jabbar and Walton had when they were players. Fortunately, he doesn’t have the interpersonal skills Kareem possessed when he played, nor the foot bones of Big Bill during his playing career, so it’s not a complete overhaul he needs.

If anyone ever wants to know how that situation is progressing, just ask Larry Bird. He converses in a similar manner of another Midwesterner, Harry S Truman, who, when he was asked about his “Give ‘em hell, Harry” attitude, famously said:

“I never gave anybody hell. I just told them the truth. They thought it was hell.”

Golf Has Hole in One of Its Rules

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Fans of team sports have witnessed how instant replay can help determine the proper winner more so than leaving it up to referees (although each sport needs to figure a way to incorporate instant replay without compromising the flow of the game. Momentum is interrupted, occasionally for a greater length of time than is reasonable. I heard there are surgeries being performed remotely by specialists who are in other parts of the country. Why can’t it be that way in interpreting instant replays? If a surgeon in one part of the country can operate on a patient elsewhere, can’t a guy in a booth at, say, NBA headquarters, be able to tell which player touched the ball last? Rumor has it that the professional leagues are looking into one centralized location for viewing close calls - and/or challenges made by coaches - and making the decision from there. Kind of like a Wizard of Officials.

Golf has always been a sport which was self-governed. In today’s world, making sure the golfer who wins the tournament actually is the true winner is more difficult than in the past. Quite possibly, this is due to the lure of the exorbitant amounts of money that have become (a major) part of the sport. With purses upward of eight figures, the “no harm, no foul” concept is more tempting than ever before. Combine this with the person who lives to find flaws and the game has suffered - or not, depending on your true north.

Ever since a fan “outed” Tiger Woods for an improper drop, there are fans, whether viewing on the course or watching on television, who feel empowered to call in violations they’ve discovered. Their reasons might range from their ultra pure philosophy of golf to being able to finally realize their 15 minutes of fame to helping their favorite golfer by punishing (albeit justly so) a competitor.

First and foremost, the only individuals who ought to be allowed to call violations to the attention of those in charge are the people officially connected to the tournament and the golfers themselves. Here’s why:

1) Golf is, and has always been, a gentleman’s sport, based on the integrity of its players. In its past golf has seen its players call violations against themselves, sometimes causing a tournament to be forfeited or otherwise lost. Yet, we all know that people will cheat. The greater incentive, i.e. the money that’s made its way into the sport, the more enticing violating the rules become.

2) People who feel the need to be “a watchdog of society,” i.e. those whose lives are built around “making a better world” for everyone on the planet. Should any of this breed be golf fans, they’ll drop a dime on a pro if they think some type of infraction was committed. Good for them; unnecessary for golf tourneys.

3) The main reason for not allowing random people to call in violations of the rules is it’s not fair. Golf is built on fairness and, at the present time, certain golfers have appreciably larger groups of people following them. In that same vein, only certain golfers have cameras following their group. In other sports the officials tend to the entire game, i.e. both teams. Allowing fans to bring to tournament officials’ attentions an infraction committed by the golfer they saw would be akin to having more referees for one football team than another, e.g. five line judges checking to see if the visiting team holds on a play, while only one line judge calls holding penalties on the home team. In golf, sometimes that ratio is millions to none, depending on the players.

4) The rules should apply to every golfer equally. Until a tournament has every golfer videotaped and the tapes gone over daily, random fans ought not be allowed to affect a player’s score. If, however, someone does see a violation committed and feels necessary to report it, the video (if, in fact, does show a violation was committed) should be shared with the player only (and, possibly, the caddy). The player needs to be made aware of this behavior and should be given a chance as to explain why he or she felt it was not a violation of the game.

What should be made known to the perpetrator is that, unless there was a reasonable difference of opinion, i.e. not a strict black and white interpretation of the rules, people are following closely - and probably taking to social media, making life uncomfortable to say the least. Should the golfer admit to the error, it should simply be noted with no further action taken. Because of the nature of golf (and social media), one would hope these type of (usually minor) infractions will cease.

At that point, golf would return to the sport of integrity it was meant to be when it was created. Who could have ever envisioned this much money tempting mere mortals? It would be a wonderful world, a lot easier to live in, if only people subscribed to Alan Simpson’s philosophy:

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.

Comparing the Two Teams in the NBA Finals

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

First, the trivial: In 2013 Miami was the #1 seed in the East (and #1 overall, meaning Game 7 was in South Beach) with San Antonio #2 in the West; this year the Spurs are #1 in West (and #1 overall, meaning a potential Game 7 would be at the Riverwalk) while the Heat is #2 in East.

Four former NBA Finals MVPs  played in the series (the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James) - just like last year.

We may have the same teams as last season but there are some differences. It’s the first NBA Finals since 1984 without David Stern as commissioner (shouldn’t be a factor) and it’s the first NBA Finals since 1982 without Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (also shouldn’t be a factor). As far as rosters are concerned, each team has 10 of the 15 players listed on their roster from 2013 back this year but, as far as the main characters, all return. The format differs with last year’s 2-3-2 changing to 2-2-1-1-1. Whom that favors is in the eye of the prognosticator.

The pressure supposedly rises exponentially as championships are won: back-to-back extremely difficult. As for a three peat, well, only three franchises have ever done it: Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Shaq’s/Kobe’s LA Lakers (each not only three-peated but did it twice), while Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics eight-peated (don’t think anybody has copyrighted that phrase but pretty sure there’s no need). Since the season ended, experts have been telling us that this year’s Heat squad is the worst of the three (this year and the past two championship teams) while the same guys have been saying the old Spurs are getting older.

So do the elder statesmen of the hardwood, led by the older of the two coaches, take this year’s NBA title or can the Heat take the heat and grab this year’s David Stern Larry O’Brien trophy?

Both teams are stable, i.e. no Lance Stephenson-type shenanigans. Although he’s a true “baller,” occasionally (OK, maybe more than occasionally) he becomes a guy who can be “more problem than player” and create unnecessary distractions.

The team concept rules for both clubs, i.e. no Russell Westbrook who, while he’s fearless and comes up big, has the tendency to have too many possessions in which no one else touches the ball but him (example: in Game 4 when he went for 40 and 10 - and OKC won, there were 19 times in which he was the only Thunder player to touch the ball during the entire possession). That said, there probably will be moments in the finals in which each of the teams would love to have Westbrook.

Since each won in Game 6 of the conference finals, there’s no advantage from a “rest” factor. Erik Spoelstra has been closely monitoring D Wade’s minutes all season and hasn’t been reluctant to go deep into his bench. LeBron gets rest, maybe for show, but if (or when) push comes to shove, bet on him being on the floor, fresh and ready to make whatever play - at either end - that needs to be made, no matter how many minutes he’s logged. To find out Gregg Popovich’s philosophy on player rotation, pick up a copy of this week’s (6/2/14) Sports Illustrated. This year’s rotation plan worked more efficiently than any other - if the goal is to keep the main guys as fresh as possible for the finals run. According to a graphic flashed on the screen at the end of the TNT telecast, this is the first NBA Finals in which none of a team’s five starters have logged more than 30 min/game.

Each contest may come down to which team can guard the three-point line best. Since it’s hard for some to visualize a “line” being guarded, let’s use the term that ought to be easier to comprehend - which defenders will best be able to “run the three-point shooters” off of the three-point line.

No matter how much improvement there is in the fields of strength, conditioning and nutrition, the ball will always move faster than the player. Maybe due to aging, maybe due to philosophy drilled into Pop by his coaches and mentors but that is the basis of the Spurs’ offense. As far as the defensive end of the floor goes, athleticism is much more difficult to cover for than it is on offense.

The NBA has become a league symbolized by pick-and-roll basketball. Other fads come and go but defending the pick-and-roll/pop is what the teams that want to score employ. It’s the most difficult offense to guard, one reason being the incredibly physical toll it takes on the defender on the ball. The offense has evolved from a two-man game to one in which all five players are expected to fill certain spots. At the highest level, the problem for coaches trying to figure ways to defend it is that, on the championship level NBA teams, all five “Os” need to be guarded. Trapping, or “blitzing” the ballhandler is a gamble because, when the ball leaves the trap, it eventually finds its way to a player who can score - often with a three.  While there are a multitude of ways to guard the pick-and-roll, a well-executed offense will put points on the board - or at least get a quality shot - more often than the defense will shut it down, keeping in mind that shutting it down entails rebounding misses, or in coachspeak, “a defensive possession isn’t successful until the ball is secured.”

Creating turnovers (in Miami’s mind) or taking care of the ball (from the Spurs’ prospective) will be a major factor because the Heat are incredibly effective in the open floor. For the games in Miami, it will positively impact the heat to a point that the players can almost feel an energy surge.

Where will coaching come into this series? A lot is based on which guy blinks first - and being first is not entirely bad. If it comes down to which guy makes a move following a loss, immediately he’s behind because both of these guys have weapons and it’s usually best to bring out the big guns early. Forget all that. Between them, they have six championships - and, for those born after 1990 - the rings that the team gets for winning the championship, so there’s reason to believe each knows what’s necessary to be done.

As far as which team will win? I’ll take the view spoken so eloquently by one of the two greatest speakers of all-time (MLK being the other), Winston Churchill, who stated (a belief that most sportswriters subscribe to):

“I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”