Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Nothing Has Changed in the Last Five Years

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Below is a blog I posted five years ago (with a few minor edits) regarding NBA players’ reactions to referees’ calls. Talk about lack of progress in the illustration of accountability to younger athletes. See if you agree.

While the NBA Playoffs are played by the best athletes in the world, and are unquestionably exciting and entertaining, as a parent, I have one major criticism. (No, it’s not the “hack-a-somebody” tactics). And while I’m not a fan of tattoos, the tats aren’t what upset me, either. Young players are tremendously influenced by those competing at the highest level, especially when the winner gets to be called World Champions.

My issue is with the amount of complaining done by (seemingly) every player on the floor! And of course, in a league where coaches’ jobs depend a great deal on getting along with, i.e. coddling their players, the guys in suits fit right into the “attack the refs” philosophy (so as to be seen as “having the players’ backs”). If a guy misses a shot, it’s almost like it’s his obligation to yell at the referee before running back to defend. But these guys complain on every play – even when they score! Maybe they truly feel that way, maybe they do it “to get the next call” (an act that couldn’t possibly work or else every other call would be a make-up), or maybe it’s a “save face” mechanism (“No wonder he missed – again – he got hit”). Or, maybe they’re just complainers.

What makes the player (or coach) look particularly bad is that the replays, so many times, show the right call (or non-call) was made (or wasn’t). Also, on the calls that are missed (keep in mind, referees don’t have the benefit of replay on most calls – and they see it live – often involving two or more of the most athletic people on earth), we never see the guy who got away with fouling admit he committed an illegal act. No, he (inwardly – or sometimes even outwardly) smiles, thrilled to having “stolen one,” e.g. how many times replays show a defender grabbing his man’s jersey, with no foul being whistled.

Although it’s next to impossible to find a fan who will admit it (especially if his team just lost), NBA referees are the best in the business. After all, there’s no higher league. So it’s either let them call the game or play “call-your-on-foul” like in pick-up games. Imagine the absurdity of implementing that idea. There are arguments at gyms throughout the country when that method is used – and those fellas are mainly playing to work up a sweat, not for the Lawrence O’Brien trophy (and all that comes with it, e.g. winner’s share, perks, adulation and, oh yeah, a ring).

What irks me, as a parent, is that this childish behavior trickles down (more like cascades) to the levels below. On any given day or night, in any game, at any level, anywhere, spectators see the participants (most of them haven’t earned the title of “player” yet) driving to the basket, taking wild shots and then, after the inevitable miss, looking at the officials, arms out, gesturing as if a crime had been committed right under the guy in the striped shirt’s nose. The ones they get away with, they don’t take ownership of, just the ones that (rightly or wrongly) go against them.

This behavior is so unbecoming – and its negative effect is compounded when the coach (head or assistants) scream at the refs. It used to be coaches would go to the stare (made famous by John Chaney – who actually was intimidating) but, in recent years, this method of disapproval has fizzled out. With the amount of money players make in comparison to their coaches (in nearly all cases), they (whether right or wrong) want to see support from the coach – and simply staring is no longer an acceptable form of protest from upper management. We must not forget, though, that all kids who are involved with a sport (independent of which one it is) aspire to play at the highest level, meaning the concept of “act like those who are already there” is paramount to their behavior.

I’ve always enjoyed reading good books, especially inspirational, motivational, self-help or auto- or biographical. In the book The Oz Principle  is a powerful quote which many in our culture need to adopt:

“Victimization holds that circumstances and other people prevent you from achieving your goals. . . Performance invariably improves when people take greater accountability and ownership for results.”

Chris Paul’s Critics Can Now Disappear – Forever

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Trip to Monterey for CSUMB’s post-season basketball awards banquet, followed by a couple of meetings. This blog will return on Thursday, May 7.

Fans listening to the TV/radio experts and reading the “far from experts’ comments” on social media don’t have to wait or search very long before coming across somebody criticizing Chris Paul. Even though the majority of people who possess a deep knowledge of the sport of basketball and the position of point guard are complimentary of CP3, he has his doubters. The biggest slam is that, while certainly considered one of the premiere point guards in the NBA, he can’t lead his team to victory in the playoffs. That talk should cease – effective immediately. In a series entirely too good for the first round, Chris Paul did what the average human being, e.g. all of his critics, might not even be able to dream of doing.

After last night it’s quite apparent that his skills clearly surpass those of his critics’. That’s not as obvious a statement as it appears. I’m referring to his basketball and leadership expertise compared to whatever their talent is (talk show host, sportswriter, whatever social media people do) that puts food on their tables.

It was abundantly clear the amount of pain Paul was in midway through the first quarter. Allow me to present a brief lesson in pain. After my emergency thoracic back surgery (T 10-11) in 2004, I was in such agony, I was begging for a miracle. When the surgeon told me of an option called a spinal cord stimulator, I thought my prayers were answered. He explained how the device (which would be implanted in the left side of my midsection) would work. Pain, he explained, is simply a message – from wherever it hurts, to the brain – which, then, informs the body of the issue. The way the spinal cord stimulator is supposed to work is it intercepts the pain signal before it gets to the brain. I got one implanted but, unfortunately, the stimulator never worked for me.

Last night, somehow, Chris Paul summoned the ability to block out his pain. Have you ever tried to do that? Anytime you feel a shooting pain in the body, your first impulse is to automatically grab wherever the intense discomfort is. In that regard, CP3 is just like all of us. Unlike the rest of us, however, either he has a built-in stimulator (of course, I’m joking) or his brain is so strong he can make it reject pain signals. Maybe .01% of people (nearly all of them involved with UFC) have such a “strength.” Paul’s ability of being able to fully focus on the task at hand – ball handling, passing, defending (including all the pick & rolls he was subjected to) and, of course, shooting – while completely blocking out the sharp pain that is telling him to STOP!” is how legends are made.

Even CP3’s critics will admit it was his guttiest performance. (In my mind, similar to MJ’s “flu” game in Utah and bigger than Willis Reed’s limping on the floor for the Knicks – after all, following his two Js, Frazier took over). But, the critics will cling to the fact that it only came in the first round of the playoffs. Nonsense. These was the Spurs, the defending champs, a franchise that won five titles (with the basically the same core group) and, while it was on L.A.’s home floor, this was a Game 7, uncharted waters for the Clippers. Never, ever, should Chris Paul be criticized for not being able to lead a team, or come up big, in a pressure situation.

Paul was voted president of the players’ union. He commands respect – from everyone. He’s a great husband and father, and his reputation is beyond reproach, i.e. never on any page of the newspaper other those that make up the sports section. Yet, he’s admitted that when he gets on the floor and the game begins, he’s a totally different person. It’s simple, he claims, when he steps on that floor, winning is his only goal and he will literally fight anyone standing in my way. His behavior toward his (off-the-court) friends can get downright rude but, as he says, “After the game, we’re all cool.” But, no matter who it is, if his uniform isn’t the same as CP3’s, he’s the enemy.

Last night came down to defying “common sense.” What doctors usually tell patients who ask when they should limit exercise is, “Listen to your body.” During last night’s game, CP3’s response was:

“Sorry to disobey but I have a bunch of people I just can’t let down.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Component of a Title Fight that Is Guaranteed to Be Present

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

With the Mayweather-Pacquiao  fight being the sport’s biggest since . . . who can even remember, I rummaged through the “Jack’s Blogs” archives because of a story the late Jerry Tarkanian shared with his UNLV teams. The following (edited) blog was posted nearly six years ago but the story to his team is one that I’m reminded of every time there’s any monumental event.

Exactly how big is tonight’s fight? While he was being interviewed after the Clippers staved off elimination by beating the Spurs, Chris Paul mentioned it, saying the Clippers win gave fans something to watch in addition to the big fight Saturday night (tonight). When someone else’s sporting event is so colossal that the emotional leader of a team heading into a Game 7 references it directly after his club won a game to keep their season alive, that event cannot be overstated. What follows is an edited version of what Tark told his guys about preparation and focus for a big game.

Following last night’s Jerry Tarkanian Show (we just completed our fourth season of the radio show as host and star – I’ll let the reader figure who’s the host and who’s the star), Jerry and I talked about competition. Naturally, the NBA Playoffs was one of the major topics of conversation. My blog the previous night had been about how people close to Kobe Bryant spoke of the laser-like focus that he displayed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic – and of how Kobe intends on maintaining that focus until his personal goal of bringing another NBA World Championship to the City of Angels is accomplished.

Jerry told me of the stories he said he used to tell the UNLV players – of how he’d let them know when there was a big-time boxing championship match in Vegas and how they should watch the fighters as they entered the ring. His point was for them to watch the fighters’ “entourage” first (you know, their posses, troupes, whatever they’re called who walk into the arena with him) as the fighter entered the arena and began walking to the ring. These hangers-on would be yelling, semi-dancing, gesticulating, attempting to lather up the crowd for their man. Jerry’s advice to his UNLV players (since many of them had seen the boxers around town) was to “check out the faces of the boxers.”

His description of this phenomenon was that, during the mayhem going on as each fighter moved toward his respective corner, if you just zeroed your attention in on the boxers themselves, you saw guys, hoods of their robes up, acting as blinders against peripheral vision, staring straight ahead, thinking of nothing other than the impending fight.

In my book, Life’s A Joke, I related a story which made people realize how much total focus is also a part of a coach’s preparation (a great coach, not the one who’s going to use any tube time he can get as a recruiting tool – or as an interview for another job). The story was about a Bulldog booster club lunch meeting and concerned one of the Fresno State players.

Each week during the season, the booster club at Fresno State would hold a luncheon in which head coach Jerry Tarkanian would speak about the games we’d just completed, and give a brief scouting report on the ones coming up.  Then, the luncheon would end with a brief Q&A period for him.  One question to Jerry was how he felt about the armband one of the players was wearing.

Tark said, “What armband?”

The guy said, “You know, the black armband that he wears.”

“He does?” Tark asked.

To which the booster incredulously replied, “I can’t believe you haven’t noticed that he wears a black armband on his bicep.”

Jerry looked at the guy and simply said, “You know, I was married to Lois for 34 years before I knew what color her eyes were.”

I can guarantee you he knew how many turnovers the kid had.

One of the coaches whom Jerry greatly admires (and, if you’ll ask this gentleman about Tark, he’ll claim the feeling is mutual) is none other than the great John Wooden. One of the reasons Tark was so successful is because he also subscribed to the same philosophy of Coach Wooden:

“You can’t do anything about yesterday and the only way to improve tomorrow is by what you do right now.”

The NBA Could Learn from the NCAA

Friday, May 1st, 2015

When I broke into intercollegiate athletics at the University of Vermont in 1972, the NCAA was one of the most powerful and feared organizations in the nation. Right up there with the Teamsters. Walter Byers was the executive director of the NCAA but his title within athletics circles was referred to as “The Czar.”

If there was one common thread among the participating institutions it was, “No one can withstand an NCAA investigation. They were always going to find something. There was no such thing as major or minor violations. The rulebook was so vaguely written that the standard line among coaches was, “The NCAA doesn’t penalize you for those violations they can prove (and with so many rules, everybody breaks one, often without knowledge). The probation they place on the school is for violations they’re sure you committed but couldn’t prove.

The NCAA had sympathy from some people and media because their investigators didn’t have subpoena power. The governing body even had coaches and athletics administrators who felt bad for them because, at that time, there were some incredibly rogue programs, playing fast and loose with the rules but always seeming to be able to stay a step or two ahead.

As most fans are now aware, Jerry Tarkanian initially got into hot water with the NCAA when he was asked to write a column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He wrote what everybody felt – about how corrupt an organization the NCAA was, how it used selective enforcement and concluded the piece with the famous line, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it’s going to give Cleveland State two more years’ probation.”

Whether it got so frustrating for the people who headed up the compliance division when they saw how difficult it was to actually prove a case, or those same people “saw the light” and realized the methods their own investigators were using were less than kosher, a change was made that drastically changed the NCAA. The head of compliance and, later, one of his chief lieutenants, left the NCAA to represent schools which were being investigated by the parent organization, in NCAA parlance, they went over to the dark side. Since then, their won-loss record has flipped and their bank account balances have skyrocketed.

When the higher profile colleges (those that make money off of football and basketball) decided they had enough bullying from the NCAA, mainly allowing smaller institutions to vote on monetary issues to “keep a level playing field” (meaning pass no legislation the majority of schools couldn’t afford), they revolted. What was formed was the Power Five conferences who now can, for all intents and purposes, govern themselves. Thus, the “great and powerful Oz” (NCAA) had fallen, due mostly to its own ego and arrogance.

There is another major sports group which might just be following that same path of destruction. Namely, the NBA. The NBA is judge, jury and executioner for anything related to professional basketball in this country (as well as its Toronto affiliate). It levies fines on its franchises’ employees whenever infractions are committed. The amounts of the fines, which would be devastating to individual families, are seldom questioned due to the outrageous salaries made by players and coaches. In addition, the fines, especially those that seem unwarranted, are alleged to be paid by the ball club (whose owners’ net worths dwarf their employees). These exorbitant tariffs are excused because they go into a charity fund and donated to worthy causes.

There was no more flagrant example than the fine assessed Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach, Doc Rivers following some erroneous calls in Game 5 of the Clips-San Antonio Spurs playoff series.

“I don’t complain much,” Doc said. “I thought we got some really tough calls tonight, some brutal calls. The travel on Blake” (which video replay showed was in no way a travel), “the goaltend on Matt, which wasn’t a goaltend” (after viewing the replay, just as obvious a blown call as the travel call on Griffin). “You think about the playoffs, and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial. J.J.’s foul that got him out, J.J. didn’t touch anyone” (ditto). “It’s not why we lost, but those were big plays for us.”

The coach prefaced his remarks by saying he doesn’t complain much (certainly meaning post-game because make no mistake about it, there is no NBA coach who doesn’t complain during the game – if for no other reason than to keep up with his counterpart). Rivers didn’t go on a rampage or attack the referees, just referenced three calls as “brutal” – and then, named them. After making those comments, he admitted they weren’t the cause for the loss (with so many other plays that could have been made but weren’t, or shouldn’t have been attempted but were, there’s never a call, or two, or three that wins or loses a game). Doc concluded by saying that those calls were “big.” There shouldn’t be anyone, including the employees in the NBA office, who disagrees with that observation.

For that, the NBA fined Rivers $25,000. Shades of the old NCAA. We’re the boss; don’t question our authority. On TNT’s post game show, Charles Barkley, apparently speaking for the “common man” (with his bankroll, he no longer qualifies) made the comment that “$25,000 is a lot of money!” Not in NBA circles.

But keep going NBA and soon you, too, might have your wings clipped (as has the NCAA). As George Santayana said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Rondo Misunderstood; Should Have Taken an Alternate Route

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

There’s no way to describe Rajon Rondo’s move to the Dallas Mavericks other than it was a fiasco. The trade that was to put the Mavs over the top never materialized – at either end of the floor. In addition, the relationship between the point guard and head coach Rick Carlisle was rocky at best. After being benched in Game 2 of Dallas’ first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, the former All-Star guard was “ruled out indefinitely” with a back injury.

Following the game Carlisle was asked, “Do you expect Rondo to ever wear a Mavs’ uniform again?” His response was “No, I don’t.” For fans who want brevity and honesty, Carlisle satisfied both needs.

This latest event (the entire year, not just that playoff game) means next to zilch in the NBA as far as teams that will reach out to the enigmatic Rondo. After all, he’s still a talented pass-first point guard, who, at least, used to be a defensive asset, and is only 29 years old. Owners, general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the league talk to each other – and probably more than the average fan realizes. While much of a Rondo conversation undoubtedly deals with his quirky (giving him the benefit of the doubt) personality and the problems it causes, talented players always seem to find a place in today’s NBA. Especially in a league in which you’d better have a highly skilled point guard if a team wants to win big. Look around. Every team still playing has one (although Memphis’ young man is out of action).

Where all the negative talk will affect Rondo is in the area of a max deal. GMs will be hesitant to stick out their necks and advise their owner, i.e. their boss (as in the one who signs the checks and decides whom he desires as his GM), to spend max money on someone who has had such a checkered past. Their belief might just be that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past performance. Coaches, especially one whose contracts are nearing their end, feel as though, “Sure, he’s had his problems, but I can get through to him.” The main reason for this is simple. Talent is far and away the determining factor in winning in the NBA and this is a guy who can get a double figure assist game, seemingly anytime he wants. At one time in his career, he performed that feat 37 games in a row. So the motto is, it’s better to have an ultra-talented pain in the ass than a wonderful kid you’d want your daughter to marry but can’t get into the paint and struggles to keep guys in front of him.

In an article entitled Good At Math, Bad At People, written by Baxter Holmes for ESPN The Magazine, the author posed the question, “Can you really build a franchise around a guy like that?”

In the article, Kevin Garnett, Rondo’s former teammate on the Boston Celtics’ championship club sums up his old buddy by saying, “He’s got that fire, man. That alpha fire. That’s that knuckle-down, I’m-not-afraid-of-anything relentless attitude, like, ‘I’m coming at you and if you’re not ready, then I’m coming through you.’ That’s what makes him who he is. I always told him, ‘Don’t ever apologize for that, because that’s your mojo, that’s what makes you who you are.’ But he’s got to be able to control it. ‘Let that be a part of you, but control it. Don’t let it control you.’ ”

Celtics GM Danny Ainge, who traded Rondo to Dallas in December was quoted as saying, “He doesn’t like to be told what to do. He wants to be coached, but when you coach him, you’d better know what you’re talking about. And even then, he still may challenge you. The question always was, ‘Is he a good enough player to behave the way he does?’ ”

Rajon Rondo was a precocious child, excelling in math. Anything that has math involved and that has a competitive edge to it, e.g. card games (poker, bourré, spades), the game Connect Four, Lumosity brain games are right up his alley. Former coaches, while not denying that coaching Rondo is no slice of heaven, marvel at his ability to be two or three steps ahead of everyone on the floor. Several of his coaches and teammates, as well as Rondo himself, claim he has a photographic memory. Yet, as with many people who possess brilliant minds, a flaw Rondo has is admitting when he’s wrong. Even though it might not be that often.

Doug Bibbly, Rondo’s AP Geometry teacher and high school basketball coach, explained it this way. “It’s not that he doesn’t want to do what you say,” Bibby says. “He just thinks he has a better approach.”

Rondo answer? “If there are two coaches on the floor, you’re not always going to be on the same page.”

Bryan Doo, the Celtics’ strength and conditioning coach, “If you can’t keep up with him up here,” Doo says, pointing to his head, “he won’t listen to you.” And, Holmes, writes, what happens if you provide him with bad information? “Your credibility is shot,” Rondo says.

All of the above leads me to my main point. With the body and all that natural athletic ability Rondo possesses, plus the competitive zeal (the alpha fire KG describes), what a marvelous individual sport athlete he could have been. He has all the traits that make for a great tennis player (hand-eye coordination, athletic ability, physical conditioning, quickness for court coverage – basically, a McEnroe with size), golfer (hand-eye, torque, ability to want all the pressure on him, competitive fire), swimmer (size, sleek body, physical stamina), track & field athlete (you can almost pick any event), wrestler (quickness, strength, refusal to give in), boxer (quick hands and feet, great reach, strength, outright rage). Heck, he might have been a great bowler, although the monotony of rolling strike after strike might just bore him to try trick shots.

Certainly at issue would be his fighting direction from a coach but in those sports, a good coach explains to the player what and how things need to be done and it’s up to the athlete – and no one else – to perform. If that instruction results in winning, as is the case, especially early in a talented athlete’s career, it would fuel the relationship. While we will never know, you can almost visualize Rondo playing each sport – and succeeding. Had he been directed toward an individual sport – where every outcome depends on the athlete alone – we might have been extolling the virtues of an Olympic gold medalist or Grand Slam event champion.

In essence, Rajon Rondo is a tremendously gifted athlete with both physical and mental skills surpassing those with whom he deals. Possibly he could best be described as a loner, someone whose life parallels former NFL running back, Ricky Williams, who said:

“I do feel like a loner but I think it’s because I look at things differently than other people.

It’s Not Unusual that There Is No Cut-and-Dried Case for NBA MVP

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

It’s late, my body has still not completely recovered from the cross country trip and ensuing cruise to the Caribbean (how old do you think I feel that I have to “recover” from a vacation)? Nonetheless, the following is a post from five years ago – and it sounds eerily similar to the conversation that’s going on today (although the 2015 version has some different characters involved).

An argument that has picked up steam recently – and seems to be gaining in momentum – is “Who’s the NBA’s best player?”

Although Kevin Durant, D-Wade, KG, CP3, Steve Nash, Amare, Brandon Roy, Tim Duncan, Dirk, Dwight, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and maybe some others hear their names mentioned, the discussion mainly centers around two players – Kobe and LeBron. The more the topic is brought up, the more it seems the vote is dead even.

Those for Kobe dismiss LeBron, explaining simply Kobe is the best of all time. In their minds, this means a comparison to MJ, not LBJ. It’s only natural. After all, Kobe and Michael are mirror images of each other, albeit years apart. Each is a guard (approx the same size) who can score, seemingly, at will; has/had the rep for taking and, way more often than not, making game-winners. Both Kobe and MJ are/were tough on their teammates, elevating the game of those with the internal strength to compete (and possibly crushing those who weren’t mentally strong).

During the Dream Team’s run, they scrimmaged a group of college kids, coached by my good friend, former boss and current mentor, George Raveling. One day the college kids actually beat the Dream Teamers. Allan Houston was on fire. The following day, as the guys lined up to scrimmage, MJ pointed to Houston and said, “I got him.” According to George, not only did Houston not score, he barely touched the ball.

A similar story occurred when Mike Krzyzewski coached this past Olympic squad and, prior to the first practice, Coach K was relieved when Kobe approached him and simply said, “Coach, I’ll play whoever the opponent’s leading scorer is.”  Kinda takes the pressure off of the rest of the match-ups.

The problem that fans have with comparing LeBron with Kobe is the problem fans have with comparing LeBron with anybody.  One reason is his 6’8″, 265 lb body.  People try to bring up Magic, but that’s only because of height and ballhandling skill.  Magic seldom iso’d as much as LeBron, nor can I ever remember Magic chase down a guy and block his shot.  Magic was more of a point guard, a distributor first.  While LeBron has vastly improved his passing skills, he is known for his explosiveness and emphatic finishes in a way that Magic just never attempted to do.  As far as championships, Johnson has it all over James, but there isn’t a fan with a brain (which eliminates all but a few contestants) who would deny that the teams Magic played on were some of the best ever in the league, while the Cavs . . .   Therefore, there seems to be no point in comparing those two.

Likewise, because of their different skill sets, it’s fruitless to pick one over the other when  it comes to Kobe and LeBron.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde:

“The best way to appreciate Kobe and LeBron is to imagine the NBA without either.”

Fast forward to today. While the differences between Steph Curry and James Harden (throw Russell Westbrook in the discussion as well) are light years away from Kobe and LeBron, I’ve heard media (all types) as well as fans make compelling pleas for “their guy” to be the MVP.

Independent of how you’d cast your vote, what I found most fascinating is that, still in the conversation is LeBron – only now he has a couple championships added to his resume. Nearly every knock against him in the past has been answered (in the affirmative). So, it looks like for the immediate future (and possibly beyond), the road to the MVP goes through LBJ.

While some may claim, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” please be advised:

“The old one hasn’t left yet.”

Watching True Teamwork in Action Is Beautiful to Behold

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

The NBA is made up of the best athletes in the world – but when the playoffs begin, it’s about which team functions best. Individual awards for the season are being presented but what it’s all about at this time of the year is which team can come closest to realizing 100% of its collective potential. Recently, I witnessed first hand one of the greatest team efforts I’ve ever seen.

As I mentioned prior to going on my 12-day hiatus from the world of blogging, my wife and I were at a wedding party for the son of one of my college roommates, followed by a cruise to the Caribbean – on a monstrosity called the Oasis of the Seas, the biggest ship in the world. In the world.

Royal Caribbean, parent company of the ship, made the decision to go for it. The Oasis of the Seas accommodates over 6,000 passengers and nearly 2,400 crew members (the majority of whom are from countries other than the U.S.). The design of this bad boy (or I guess, gal, since ships are usually referred to as females) has seven distinct neighborhoods built for passenger enjoyment. Start with The Boardwalk, complete with its own carousel. There’s an amphitheater – and an indoor theater (where Jane and I saw several performances, including the Broadway hit Cats), a Youth Zone (although also a separate pool area for adults), a Sports Zone where you’ll find a full length basketball court, table tennis, rock climbing, surf simulators and zip lining (before you ask, the answer is, after nine back surgeries, no! – although I really would have loved to try).

Oh yeah, there’s Central Park, a garden lined with shops and fine restaurants (in all there are 25 eateries on board). Fortunately, the state-of-the-art fitness center kept me from leaving the ship two sizes bigger at journey’s end. While I worked out alone – recumbent bike, yoga and strengthening routines given to me by my yoga and physical therapy instructors – Jane did aerobics and core strengthening classes and walked around the track. I might have passed on zip lining but I did enjoy a seaweed massage, followed by one of the hot stone variety a couple days later. In the area of pampering, Jane outdid me (facials and every other sort of “relax & beauty mechanisms” were available – naturally, for a price). Speaking of “price,” there’s duty-free shopping at any type of store imaginable, plus a casino if you’re feeling lucky – or stupid. And, believe it or not, I’m forgetting something.

However, the reason for all of this information is not to elicit jealousy. The point is simply to help you understand the overwhelming necessity for teamwork for such a massive undertaking as we – and everyone else – experienced. Maybe it was due to all my years of playing and coaching but despite all the marvelous entertainment and coddling offered, I felt more gratification in marveling at the synergy of those committed to guaranteeing passenger happiness.

The first example was boarding. Prior to arriving at the pier, passengers printed baggage slips that were emailed and which had the deck (floor) you were on. Each person wrote name and address on each slip. Upon arrival, you’d look for your deck (ours was #10) and place your bags in that area. Then, when your deck was called, you showed your passport and boarded. 6,000 people and nary a line. Later that evening, like magic, your bags were placed outside your stateroom door. It was as though the ship had a mantra: Everyone has a job to do and each person needs to take ownership of that job.

This applied to the guy who I saw polishing the bannisters, those in charge of towels by the pool, the waiters and waitresses whose aim it was to always serve with a pleasant personality (even to the jerks whose goal seemed to be to complain about anything and everything), to the staff who always smiled when answering even the most inane question – no matter how many times they heard it, e.g. “If I buy a gift at a store in Cozumel, am I allowed to bring it back on the ship when we depart?” “No, stuff it in a bottle and throw it in the ocean” was not an acceptable reply.)

Observing the speed and efficiency with which the personnel turned over tables in the dining rooms was like watching the Spurs run their offense. The bus boy cleared the dishes immediately after the diners vacated. A new man swooped in, lifted the tablecloth, took the butter dish, salt & pepper shakers and put them on the table while he removed the dirty tablecloth. He, then, took the new cloth and shook it out so that it covered half the table, placed the butter dish, salt & pepper shakers on the side he just laid out and covered the other half of the table. Right behind him came the “settings” man, with however many of them there were seats for, withdrew the silverware from the already folded napkins, placing two forks on the left, the knife and spoon on the right with the dessert spoon and fork perpendicular at the top. The folded napkin was placed it in the middle. Each place setting had a bread plate to the left, with a butter knife on the plate. Although that might not have been accomplished in 24 seconds, it wouldn’t have been a shot clock violation in college.

Each room had a steward who made a point by the second day to know our names. When we left the room, we were instructed to place a “Make up my room” card where the key went and, when we returned, everything was clean – new sheets, made bed, bathroom spotless, floor vacuumed. Similarly, when we departed for dinner, the card once again went into the slot and, upon return, the bed was turned down and some type of animal – made out of a towel or two – was at the foot of the bed, e.g. a rabbit in child’s pose, a squid, a swan.

No money was exchanged (except for tips which, although they were included in the package, I felt compelled to give, if only as tuition for the course in esprit de corps they put on). Instead, each passenger had a card which served as a room key, ID and a “credit card” – for spa treatments, purchases at stores on the ship, etc. Each day passengers could check their balance on their TV screen, along with the day’s activities, TV shopping and, naturally, television shows. At each bank of elevators was an outline of the ship, including what deck you were on and what was located on it, as well as what was located on every other deck. This made it impossible to ever get lost which, when you’re traveling with someone who has a really bad sense of direction makes the trip so much more pleasant.

Finally, our seven-day cruise had come to an end. The disembarking was just as orderly as when we first arrived. All bags were to be packed with luggage tags that were left on the bed the night before docking. Leave the bags outside the door and, when your name is called, begin exiting. Bags will be at the designated area. We got a porter (one of the 72 ready to assist) and disembarked. He hailed a cab, took a tip and away we went.

And the Oasis of the Seas “team” turned right around and, in a few hours, repeated the entire process all over again for another 6,000+ passengers.

The moral of the story is:

“There’s nearly no limit to what can be accomplished when all involved are committed to their jobs – and each other. That’s the essence of a TEAM.”

Ryan’s Remarks the Result of Unfortunate Timing

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Following his team’s heartbreaking loss in the national championship, head coach Bo Ryan made some not-so-veiled critical comments regarding the officiating, as well as a remark about not using “rent-a-players” (fifth year guys who have graduated from their original institution but, due to redshirting during one of them, are allowed to transfer and be immediately eligible elsewhere). In other words, Bo likes to build his team from within, developing players from their freshman year until they’re seniors (the way it was done in the “old days”). Frank Kaminsky going from a six-minute a game man to National Player of the Year is his prime example.

Still, many will say, why couldn’t Ryan simply have been a gracious loser, congratulate Duke and hear the applause from fans everywhere? The reason was beautifully articulated by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, a former (as opposed to wannabe or “after the fact”) college head coach. Seth educated viewers 1) that in tournament games, the losing team and coach speak first at the post game press conference podium, 2) that this takes place only minutes after the final horn sounds and 3) that the realization is just sinking in that, not only has the season come to an end but so, too, has the player-coach relationship which, in Bo’s case has been 3-4 years. Just. Like. That. What Kaminsky said is true – it’s not like family, they are family. Emotions couldn’t be running any higher.

Consider that the Badgers won the Big 10 regular season championship and the Big 10 tournament (Duke accomplished neither, making the national championship an all-or-nothing proposition). Consider also that 60 out of 68 of Duke’s points were scored by their four freshmen and that Duke’s eighth man, frosh (what else) Grayson Allen had 16 points – a guy who didn’t even step on the court in the first Duke-Wisconsin game. Plus the fact that his club had a nine point lead with 13:17 remaining in the game with Okafor and Winslow in foul trouble (when, of all people, Allen, scores eight in a row on a three, an old fashioned three-point play and a deuce).

According to Bo, Wisconsin was “#1 in the nation in offensive efficiency . . . committed the least number of fouls during the year, a team that got to the free throw line,” evidently all areas of emphasis in his program. He felt none of this took place last night and UW lost. The national championship.

So, here’s Bo Ryan who, immediately after losing the biggest game of the season, has to go to the presser. He just lost what probably will be his best ever shot at winning a national championship. It’s not exactly like Wisconsin is an odds on favorite to win it all every year (except maybe 1942 when they could have repeated). At the press conference he explains the technique they teach at Wisconsin – which has led to his club committing the least number of fouls – yet last night fouls were called for using that same technique. Throw in two out-of-bounds calls, one which leads to a bucket in which Winslow’s foot is definitely on the line (but was outside of three minutes so it couldn’t be reviewed) and another which was inside two minutes. It’s just that the only three people in the world who mattered claimed they couldn’t see anything to overrule the original call . . . the one the play-by-play and his two color commentators had been thoroughly explaining to millions of people was off Winslow.

Possibly going through Bo’s mind was that, had they won, they would have done so in the most difficult manner: beating a #4 seed (North Carolina), a #2 (Arizona), a #1 (Kentucky) and another #1 (Duke). When your guys have gone through such an arduous path – and come so close – it’s just a hard pill to swallow.

There will be the Duke (and Coack K) supporters who will claim that Mike would have (and has) handled it better than Bo did. Is that because he’s classier than Bo or because it’s easier when you already have four of them? Maybe if he had a little more time to compose himself, his comments would have been tempered.

But television rules and they want raw emotion. In addition, they need to get commercials in, as well as post game comments from those who called the game for CBS, the studio foursome at the game, the studio group somewhere else in – or outside – the arena, ESPN’s studio people, Dick Vitale and any unexpected, but certainly welcome guest, e.g. the President – but only if his bracket was leading the pool.

While there might be some sympathy for the losing coach and team members (recall Andrew Harrison’s remarks after his UK squad had just had their 40-0 dreams dashed, that they’d heard about every day of the season, something they worked for half a year to achieve – and were forced to face the press just moments later), there is, however, no empathy. What’s the difference between the two?

“If you tell me you’re seasick and I say I’m sorry, that’s sympathy. If I turn green, that’s empathy.”

Rest assured, Bo, that anyone who’s ever coached at that level is feeling green for you.

 

The National Championship Game: A Battle Between Two Schools of Thought

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Tonight’s national championship could be called the “old timers” vs. the “millennials” – an argument for how college basketball teams ought to be constructed.

Basketball fans from years gone by, i.e. “baby boomers” can’t understand how kids can be so doggone antsy to leave college (“the best years of your life” as many claim that atmosphere is – being “on your own,” having a great social life, mingling with friends, . . . even going to class). Slow down and enjoy college life because once you leave, they warn, it’s gone forever. And you’ll never experience anything like it again.

The new generation are “live in the moment” people – use what and whom you can to accomplish your goal(s). College is just a means to an end. Why stick around when there are riches to be made and other dreams to be fulfilled?

Wisconsin and Bo Ryan represent the “old fashioned way.” Build your program with players who’ve been evaluated well, have bought into the system, are willing to work their butts off and then, in many cases, still are willing to be patient and wait their turn. Have innovative ideas, e.g. his “swing” offense, and be able to transfer your knowledge to your players – so they will be able to perform flawlessly when the heat’s on. Translation: the phrase “coach ‘em up” is alive and well.

There are pundits who believe that philosophy was why the Badgers were able to defeat a young Kentucky contingent down the stretch. Before jumping to any conclusions, however, the incredible pressure that had been building on the Wildcats, all season, cannot be overstated. Still, Bo’s bunch did what was necessary and came through when their prospects looked bleak late in the contest.

Duke, of all programs, is the one with four freshmen in Mike Kzyzewski’s eight-man rotation. If ever there was a coach whose flexibility of his body (due to back surgeries and general wear and tear) was in inverse proportion to his evolution as a coach, Coach K is that guy. His first couple national championship clubs were upper class dominated squads. Having worked with USA Basketball and the NBA’s premier talent, Mike has witnessed firsthand the value in pure talent (combined with work ethic and character), i.e. it’s easier to compete when your team’s talent is equal to or better than your opponents. Translation: even at one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions, don’t turn down the “one-and-dones.”

Which approach is the better one? When setting betting lines, it’s remarkable how close the “wise guys” come to the actual spread. In this case, with these two vastly divergent styles, the statement they make is quite ironic. What does Vegas think?

“Pick ‘em.”

 

Fans Have It Easier than Players and Coaches Do

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Heard yesterday afternoon on the extremely popular ESPN show, Pardon The Interruption (PTI), Jason Whitlock answer the question, “If Kentucky were to lose to Wisconsin in the Final Four, would 38-1 be considered a successful season?”

Whitlock didn’t even pause before his reply. “No,” the fill-in host said, adding that the expectations were set early for this team and, so far, the year had gone as planned – although no one ever gave any consideration to how absurd a 40-0 season would be to achieve. I mean, a start-to-finish undefeated season hasn’t occurred for nearly 40 years. Granted, there have been some close calls, but none of them ending in storybook fashion – and that was before social media and all the distractions players and coaches have been forced to deal with.

Tony Kornheiser disagreed with his colleague – although that’s one of the basic premises of the show, isn’t it? In addition, saying that a 38-1 record in Division I basketball (at least on the men’s side, Geno) is, in fact, a major accomplishment, is not exactly sticking one’s neck out.

Fans of Wildcat Nation, however, will undoubtedly side with Whitlock in this argument. They would probably have been satisfied with UK going 39-1 – as long as the sole loss was during the regular season. And it wasn’t against Louisville. Or to an SEC opponent. Or in Rupp.

Supporters of other schools aren’t nearly so rabid (with the exception of Alabama fans – on the football side). That means a loss here and there – but nowhere else - can be tolerated. Loyalty is an overrated quality anyway. Do you think it’s possible fans have been spoiled just a tad?

The difference between fans and coaches & players is that, at any time during the season, fans are allowed to quit being fans without any negative consequences. Maybe they’ll receive a little verbal abuse but they know there will always be room on the bandwagon when the team becomes the type of winner they want to be associated with again. Unfortunately, that’s not an option that’s afforded to coaches and players.

“Even though there are times they wish it were.”