Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Magic’s New Position Turns Him into a Mini-Trump

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

When the Lakers named Magic Johnson their president of basketball operations, the basketball community was split. As Donald Trump has divided the country into those who favor him and those who, let’s just say, don’t, Magic has had a similar effect in the world of hoops.

Dan Le Batard fired the first shot, claiming Magic “cut the line” because he’s famous and charming. Le Batard, who some claim ought to have an “s” strategically placed in his surname so it would sound like what it actually means in French (look it up), continued. “Magic Johnson was given a late night television show, because he’s famous and charming. Failed in 11 shows. Magic Johnson was given a head coaching job of the Lakers, because he’s famous and charming, failed in 16 games. Magic Johnson, not interesting as a broadcaster, given broadcasting opportunity after broadcasting opportunity, because he’s famous and charming. And now, he gets to run the entire Lakers organization because he’s famous and charming. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. He’s a very kind man, to be in his presence is to be awash in all the things people like about celebrity, he will make you feel special, but he wasn’t good at any of those jobs I just mentioned, and he got all of those jobs, bypassing a whole lot of people who are more qualified, because he’s famous and charming.”

Well, I can’t see anybody taking issue with the last part – nor should it be considered a negative. Heck, who doesn’t wish people would describe them as famous and charming?  Yet, I would seriously disagree that Magic was hired for his current job because of those two qualities. At least he didn’t land the job because he’s only famous and charming, even though those two traits will go a long way when it comes to luring free agents to the Lakers. Consider, many of the current free agents, and in the next few years, admittedly grew up idolizing Magic. As a free agent, being wined and dined by your idol – adding to the other “ancillary” benefits of living in Los Angeles, e.g. endorsements and business opportunities, weather and tradition, to name just a few – can be very persuasive to a young, impressionable (and highly talented) player.

Le Batard also made the statement, “His Twitter account should disqualify him from the job.” A legit shot, especially after reading some of the banal tweets Johnson has put out for public consumption – two in particular regarding his overall assessment of the Warriors: “With Steph Curry on the floor the Golden State Warriors are a championship team! Without him they are still a very good team!” and “When Steph & Klay are playing great together the Warriors are a hard team to beat.” His criticism of tweeting congrats to the Knicks for hiring Phil Jackson, however, is a low blow as Magic was far from alone in expressing that sentiment after Jackson’s hiring. His current duties, though, certainly won’t include being in charge of the Lakers’ social media account since that’s not what L.A. hired him to do.

Probably due to the fact that Johnson is famous and charming, Le Batard’s comments received immediate push back. Stephen A. Smith, who worships at the altar of Magic, prefaced his remarks saying he was a friend of Le Batard. He then vehemently took his friend, Dan, to task (as he is known to do to folks on a daily basis). Stephen A. applauded the move by the Lakers organization, calling Magic (another of his friends) “a basketball savant.”

Michael Wilbon’s response was based more on facts than emotion. Wilbon’s retort was, “So Le Batard bases Magic’s worthiness on a failed talk show and failed coaching career but not the 25 years since of success in business?” Point, Wilbon. Add to not only his mega success in business but his Hall of Fame career. Sure, that didn’t help him host a late night talk show nor be great on television – even when what he’s discussing deals with his own sport (think Oscar Robertson and Pete Rose). As far as the charge he failed as a coach, it’s almost a fact that superstar players don’t make good coaches.

But his success in running (numerous) overwhelmingly successful businesses? That takes leadership skills, hiring good employees, delegating and a multitude of other talents. If you want to say his role was just that of a front man, then he must have been a helluva front man. I choose to believe his companies thrived because he was more than “just a pretty face” or as Le Batard would have us believe, a “famous and charming” one. Too many successful enterprises.

Of course, another issue just had to be brought up. Keyshawn Johnson took his support of Magic a step further by “reading between the lines” and claiming LeBatard’s criticism was racially motivated. Jorge Sedano, Keyshawn’s broadcast partner on the show, jumped in and said, “No, I know Dan, that’s not true.”

Johnson’s reply? “I don’t know him, but that’s the way I look at it.” To that reasoning, we say, “C’mon, man!”

Isn’t it a shame, with all the struggles we face in America, that anytime someone who isn’t black (Le Batard is the son of Cuban immigrants) criticizes a person who is black, somebody will scream racism? Make no mistake, racism is a major problem in this country. Strides to correct it have been made but, in this case – and, full disclosure, I don’t know any of the people mentioned above - it’s unfathomable that Dan Le Batard could have risen to where he is in his profession (sportswriter for the Miami Herald and radio personality on ESPN) by making statements like he did about Magic Johnson with racial intent. And I don’t like Dan Le Batard! He’s a pompous know-it-all (a quality so many ESPN, and other TV, radio and print people possess in today’s media world) who is popular because of the controversial topics he (delightfully) talks about.

When it comes right down to it, rhetoric is just that. Whoever is right in this instance – and to people like Le Batard, Wilbon and Smith, being right is what really matters – will soon enough be evident because Magic has a job unlike that of media people. See, in Magic’s new endeavor:

“they keep score.”

One Thing to Consider When Discussing NBA Trades

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

It just so happened that I had a couple of long distance trips the day before the NBA trade deadline and the day of it. Because of the timing, I decided to listen to sports talk radio. Hours and hours of it. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the reactions of both talking heads and fans whenever trades go down. Or are simply rumored to go down.

When a big trade doesn’t happen, it’s almost as if those guys are offended – as if the owners/decision makers of the franchises involved were mandated to shake up their rosters. One caller was indignant. “Danny Ainge better get up off his ass and do something with those draft picks he has!” Does this person really think Danny Ainge is sitting on his ass at this time of the year? If he is, the rest of him is engaged in a phone conversation trying to make the Celtics better. The caller wasn’t privy to any of the intel Ainge had nor what he was doing. Does anyone in the universe believe this jackass on the phone has more of a vested interest in the Celtics welfare than Ainge does? No one does - except, of course, Bill Simmons.

Having minimal knowledge on the inner workings of trades, especially when salary caps are involved, I don’t comment on trade rumors when they hit the airways, or make their way onto different versions of social media. There is so much that must be considered before pulling the trigger, it’s best to observe. Then, if fans want to speak from their hearts, hey, head to the nearest mountaintop. Just remember your comments are made with limited knowledge. Even the “anonymous sources” tend to be mistaken. Probably why they want to be anonymous.

Naturally, it’s intriguing to hear the various possibilities. After speaking with my friends who are actually in the business, I realize so many rumors are unfounded (I hope I didn’t shock anybody with that disclosure) or, even, impossible. I find it more prudent to wait until they’re actually reported before getting worked up.

To hear statements made following a trade, you’d think the people talking about them, independent of which side of the microphone they’re on, i.e. caller or host, are the ones who should have been in the negotiations. Recently, the biggest trade was made between the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans.

As difficult as it is to acknowledge, one thing is vital to any conversation regarding NBA trades. The people who made the trade, or decided not to make it, know a helluva lot more than any of the people offering their expertise. I listened to talk show hosts say the Pelicans got the best center in the game for a bag of donuts, got “garbage” for Cousins and that the Kings were victims of a heist. The Kings are not immune to criticism, however, as it’s been one of the poorest run franchises in recent years.

After excoriating the Kings for trading such an “asset,” the self-proclaimed experts do admit that Sir Boogie is, be kind, somewhat of a handful – to coach/play with/deal with – during games/practices/in the locker room/off the court. It’s easy to look at all the positives Cousins brings to the table – and there is a laundry list of skills he possesses that few, if any, other players his size are capable of – but, remember that he just as easily will knock over and destroy that table. Especially if you don’t have to deal with him on a daily basis.

In one report in which the Kings were mocked for making the deal, another item was mentioned, almost as an afterthought. “There is some risk, aside from his volatile personality, that the Pelicans won’t be able to re-sign Cousins after next year.” Oh yeah, how will it look if Boogie boogies out of The Big Easy when it’s time to re-sign him. Will these same critics be as cynical about what Sacramento did.

As with most situations in life, there are pluses and minuses. In most instances, the pluses and minuses range between 3-7. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins, they’re more like 0s and 10s. As previously mentioned, his skills are a 10: not only his ability to score on the block (which might be better than anyone in the game today) but a terrific passer out of the post; add to that the fact that he can take his defender beyond the three-point line and be effective separates him from other big men.

The negatives are in the 10 category too (unless a higher number is allowed): the inability to display any type of self-discipline, (allegedly) the eggshells everyone in the organization has to walk on, the technical fouls, which lead to disqualifications, meaning game multiple game plans must be prepared, a (richly deserved) reputation of being uncoachable and, finally that, had he stayed, a down-the-road decision to pay him $209 million for five years. If he acts the way he does now, does anyone think his behavior will improve after signing that kind of deal?

When I’m asked about any trade, I give the same, boring, yet wise, answer:

“Check back in a couple years.”

Sometimes Wrong Is Just Wrong

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

As a parent, we always have to be on the lookout for “teaching moments.” The sports world usually offers many such opportunities. The most recent example is the case of Charles Oakley – what he did, how he was treated and how he reacted.

If you don’t know the back story of Oakley, you’ve probably tripped up and landed on this blog by mistake but, to sum it up, Oakley was a very good NBA player for, among others, the New York Knicks. Not a superstar, a la Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson or Bernard King, but a guy who brought it every game and earned his money, something that fans appreciate.

James Dolan, Knicks owner, has seemed to have done all in his power to destroy this proud franchise, making one awful move after another. Although I’m not sure which is which, the relationship between Oakley and Dolan is like that of oil and water. The facts are a little muddled but at a recent Knicks’ contest, Oakley may or may not have been drinking, may or may not have been spewing nasty comments to his former boss but, what is known is that he was asked to leave the Garden. He did not, however, leave peacefully, rather he confronted security and got into shoving matches with those attempting to do their jobs.

Fans have been overwhelming pro-Oakley in this situation, some because they love their Oak, some because they despise Dolan, many because of both. Whichever side you belong to, one thing is necessary for this discussion. Regardless of Dolan’s ineptness or fan reaction, Oakley’s actions that night were wrong.

About a week earlier, DeMarcus Cousins got a technical foul with 1.1 seconds to go. It was his 16th of the season, meaning he was suspended for the next one (and pay a fine of $4K but that means little for a guy making so much that the suspension will cost him $154,000, or 1/82nd of his salary). The game was lost. He couldn’t control his emotions one more second? So the people who shelled out dough for the next game are deprived of catching him in action because of a hissy fit.

Fans of Cousins, e.g. those who like unstoppable low post players who can play beyond the three-point line and also protect the rim at the other end, claim referees are against the big fella. After watching Cousins pick up his 17th T, they might have a point as replays showed it was nothing more than a flop. When asked about it postgame, Cousins’ reaction was, “It’s obvious I can’t be myself. Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to, you know, do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”

True to a point but the “Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am” comment shows the lack of maturity his critics have leveled at him since his career began. The axis of “right” goes through the top of Boogie’s head and out the other end. His world revolves around him, not unlike many folks. Whatever his beliefs, though, they don’t give him the right to be a boor.

In another basketball related incident, broadcaster Dan Dakich, known for – and proud of – his controversial commentary, stepped over the line while working the Michigan State-Ohio State game, calling the Spartans’ fans whiners and making the comment that one kid attends MSU because he couldn’t get into Michigan.

Funny line. I used to hear similar comments. When I worked at USC there would be signs at our home games against UCLA which said, “My maid went to UCLA.” Ha. Freedom of speech, right? So what’s the difference between that sign and what Dakich said? First and foremost, the signs are made by fans while he’s a professional, paid broadcaster who is on the air.

Next, Dakich’s son is a member of the Michigan basketball team (as a redshirt), making his tweet that much more inappropriate. Making the twitter war look worse for Dakich was the fact he deleted the tweet but, naturally, not until after somebody took a screen shot of it – so it lives forever. Dakich, enjoying his new career as enfant terrible, has been milking the situation, refusing any type of apology. He’s using what he created to his advantage, becoming somewhat of a role model for those who look up to him, similar to the way Jim Rome spawned a band of “shock jocks” in the sports world. It’s a way to be someone, for the first time as Rome and his minions are, or reinvent himself as Dakich, whose playing and coaching careers are over, is doing.

Not so great for parents who might have had higher hopes for their children. “Fame” is something people (not all let’s be clear) want desperately to acquire. Yet rude or barbaric behavior shouldn’t be acceptable, whether the person believes it’s necessary or that the end justifies the means.

What much of this reminds me of is the line that’s become part of our culture – and upsets me to no end:

“He was speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment.”

Monday, February 13th, 2017

During my stay at one of the (nine) universities I worked for, in addition to being on the school’s basketball staff, I was a member of the athletics director’s executive counsel (a group of around a dozen administrators from the department). We’d meet every Tuesday morning from 8:30-10:30 am. As I’ve stated many times previously – on this blogspace and in many conversations – my idea of a meeting clashed somewhat with that of the typical (or at least these) administrators.

During one meeting, I mentioned that I realized there was a difference between coaches and administrators. It was a meeting in which an idea was brought up and the discussion turned to trying to think of every negative impact it might have (mostly from a political correctness standpoint). It got so that minutiae was being talked about for at least an hour. I finally said if we thought it was a good idea and it would help solve a problem, sooner or later it was time to act. I was shouted down.

In a future meeting I recalled how my criticism toward their “lack of action” was received, so I decided to muffle my opinion this time. The looks I received in previous meetings were of a sympathetic ilk, their message conveying, “that’s the difference between coaches and the higher level of administration, i.e. the important decision-makers.” It was quite apparent that they believed that, “coaches were way too impatient, too quick to pull the trigger and, consequently, that’s why so many mistakes were made.” I could understand their feelings. Anybody who’s ever watched (and second-guessed) a coach could see that.

At the end of this particular seesion, surprise! we hadn’t finished. The athletics director asked each of us to see when we had a half hour available to wrap it up. One associate AD looked at his calendar and (proudly) said, “I have 26 meetings this week,” to which I responded simply:

Wow, when do you ever do anything?”

Weighing in on the Charles Oakley Incident

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

By now every NBA fan, and many others who probably don’t give a flip about the Association, have seen the video(s) of Charles Oakley being escorted by a plethora of Madison Square Garden security members. No one really knows exactly what was, or wasn’t, said by Oak – or to whom he directed those comments.

It was a sad situation, seeing one of the warriors (small w) of some of the best teams that represented the proud franchise which is down – and trending lower. Possibly Probably Most definitely, because I’m a Jersey guy who vividly remembers the championship clubs, as well as those that battled fiercely but came up oh-so-close, I side with the New York fans who are fed up with the seemingly rudderless ship that is now the Knicks.

However, I can’t for the life of me understand how fans and former players can feel Oakley is in the right in this incident. He claims he didn’t say anything of a derogatory nature and couldn’t understand why security guards confronted him, although he has admitted to handling the situation poorly. Was it some kind of conspiracy that brought the cops to him?

Look, this whole ordeal is getting entirely too much play, mainly because it happened in the Garden. Add in the hopeless case that is the New York franchise, both current and future, and irrational behavior becomes the norm. To sum up the whole matter, look no farther than former Jeff Van Gundy for guidance.

Van Gundy wasn’t referring to this current mess when he issued the following statement but Oakley should still take it to heart:

“When you know better and don’t do better, you’re no better.”

UK Fans Have Been Known to Be a Little Much, But This Guy Tops Them All

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

In news that will surprise absolutely no one, Kentucky Wildcat fans are upset. After all, following an embarrassing blowout in Gainesville, their beloved hoops team had lost three of their previous four games (they bounced back with a convincing win over LSU). Let’s review UK’s inexcusable three losses during that time.

The last one was at Florida, against a team that had one of those days where they couldn’t miss. Of course, the arena was packed, loud and somewhat intimidating, i.e. a normal road game for UK. The second L was delivered by Kansas, at the time the #2 ranked team in the country. Second? So what? Wildcat fans don’t care who’s second because they’re supposed to be #1. Always. The game that was unpardonable was the first one of that “streak” – at Tennessee. Granted, the ‘Cats were heavy favorites. Could they have been looking ahead to the KU tilt? Well, let me tell you a little about the UK-UT rivalry.

I was an assistant at Tennessee for seven years (1980-87). During that time we beat them six out of seven times (in Knoxville). The game we lost was by two. After a time out, with seconds to go, we inbounded the ball and had a man-to-man play all set for our leading scorer (who happened to be the leading scorer in the SEC). Our point guard crossed half court, saw UK in a zone defense and we turned it over. For the record it was the only possession of man-to-man defense Eddie Sutton, Kentucky’s head coach, played all year!

Oh yeah, we were 0-7 against them in Lexington. One year we beat them by 17 – which was their biggest loss of the season. A month later they shellacked us by 25 – the biggest loss of ours. And there have been other cases of undermanned Vol teams beating the ‘Cats (in Knoxville) throughout the years.

Excuse me for the walk down memory lane – although I know Kentucky fans won’t. They are the most passionate and loyal, but far and away, the most entitled, group of supporters in the country. For exhibit A, I give you UK fan Patrick Stidham who, the day after the Florida beat down, posted this comment:

I love my Wildcats (fan since 1978), BUT, we might just have another “Tubby Smith” on our hands (“one and done”). Calipari is a “good” Coach and a great Recruiter, but, that’s about it. He seems to value players getting to the NBA over winning Championships. Sorry to tell him this, but, that is NOT what we want at Kentucky!!!

Let’s examine this fool’s post. Next to UCLA, the college with the most titles is Kentucky with eight. The coach for the first four of those was Adolph Rupp. During his first two championship runs (1948, 1949), the entire NCAA field was composed of eight teams, meaning the champion had to win only three games. In order to capture their next two trophies (1951, 1958), the ‘Cats had to win four games, the tourney expanding to 16, then to 24 entrants (they received a first round bye in ’58).

Notice from his post, super (critical) fan, Patrick, has been a fan since 1978 – the year UK won its fifth national championship which (a 48-team field, UK getting a bye once again). Their coach was Joe B. Hall who worked for the Wildcats for 13 years. 1978 was his, in Patrick’s words, “one and done” season.

Another Kentucky “one and done” national championship coach was Rick Pitino (although he’s also won one leading UK’s rival, Louisville to the title). Pitino spent eight years as the ‘Cats leader and managed to get the to the Final Four on three occasions – but only won it in 1996, Kentucky’s sixth title.

During UK’s seventh national championship the head man was none other than Patrick’s object of scorn Tubby Smith – a man considered by everybody who truly knows him (I’m proud to be in that group) as one of the classiest coaches ever to walk a sideline. In his 10 seasons in Lexington he was named National Coach of the Year.

Which brings us to our ” ‘good’ Coach and a great Recruiter, but, that’s about it” current head Wildcat coach, John Calipari. While Cal did manage to win a national championship for Patrick and the UK faithful, it was for heaven’s sake. Meanwhile, “he seems to value players getting to the NBA over winning Championships.” For the record Calipari, in his seven years prior to the current one, has led his team to the Final Four on four occasions.

This blog is plenty long enough but, if you’d like further proof of Patrick Stidham’s lunacy, compare Calipari’s overall record, e.g. total wins, winning percentage, league championships, etc. against any coach Kentucky has ever had.

It seems like the only two solutions to this issue is to:

“Either allow Patrick Stidham to select UK’s next coach or have ol’ Patrick coach the squad himself.”

The Best Story of the Wildest Super Bowl

Monday, February 6th, 2017

The coverage of every Super Bowl is exhaustive. This year’s was no different.

First was Deflategate – which, I believe, would have been a two week story had Brady admitted to telling his guy to let some air out & it just happened he took out a little too much. If you’ll remember (and it takes quite a memory now), no quarterback, past or current, thought it was a big deal – that every QB likes the ball at a certain pressure. If Brady said it was miscommunication or … whatever, he probably would have gotten a slap on the wrist – maybe a little more because it was Brady & the Patriots – but definitely less than a four game suspension.

A couple other story lines outside the game itself were Brady’s mother fighting cancer, having gone through chemo, yet showing up at the game and former President George H.W. Bush being wheeled on the field also after recently being released from the hospital.

Game stories including 25-year-old James White, a fourth round pick from Wisconsin, rushing 6 times for 29 yards, catching a SB record 14 passes for 110 yards and accounting for 20 points on two rushing TDs, one TD reception and a two-point conversion – stats good enough for MVP honors, except for Tom Brady having the game, er, second half + OT of every QB’s dream. Or the fact this was the first ever Super Bowl decided in overtime. Or that New England ran more than twice the number of plays Atlanta did (93-46). Or the second guessing of Atlanta’s play calling in the fourth quarter.

How about the debate regarding who the greatest QB ever is among Brady, Terry Bradshaw or Joe Montana or the one about who the greatest coach ever is among Belichick, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll or Bill Walsh? Even taking into account the emotion of the moment, it seems as though each debate is now put to rest.

Many will claim the Pates coming back from a 25-point deficit tops all stories and, for the football purist, it certainly was but, for my weird mind, Deion Sanders stole the show with his pregame anecdote discussing the distractions surrounding the players involved in the Super Bowl.

It’s the last game – for everything. Win, and the season was the ultimate success. Lose, and no matter how many preseason goals were set – and accomplished – nothing seems to matter, at least at the time. Asked to talk about the distractions a player has to deal with, Prime Time talked about what has been discussed so many times – tickets. He related his first time participating in a Super Bowl.

First he brought up his siblings which he told the national audience numbered in double figures. Then he talked about others and running around, scrounging up as many tickets as he needed, only then could he get back to his team and prepare for the biggest game of his career. Following the game, the first of two SB victories for him, Neon asked his family members about a couple of exciting plays in which he was involved. They all hesitated before answering.

He said, “Wait a minute. Were y’all even at the game?”

When he told of their response, it was almost as if he understood. They said to him, “Man, they were offering $3000 a ticket! We took the money and watched the game in a hotel room.”

“After all that work I put into getting them, my relatives scalped their tickets!”

 

When Having It All Isn’t Enough

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. The skills he possesses – at his size – as well as how he affects nearly every game he plays, has a significant segment of NBA fans (although most of those are under the age of 30) saying he’s the best who has ever played the game. So to hear that he’s in the news isn’t shocking – except for why. James, after his guys lost six of eight games, not surprisingly was quoted as being highly critical of the Cavs’ front office.

After winning last year’s Larry O’Brien trophy, storming back from a 3-1 deficit and keeping the Golden State Warriors from going back-to-back, LeBron is letting everyone know that the Cavs don’t have all they need to be the team they ought to be. He expressed his displeasure saying the team needed to add a playmaker. Last year he told management to fire the coach (although he denied it). Well, they did – and then won it all.

What does management think of his comments? First of all, the Cavs have, by far, the highest payroll in the NBA, which cost owner Dan Gilbert a ton in luxury tax dough (proving LeBron is just like the rest of us – good at spending other people’s money). So it might not stun anyone to hear the front office’s response (keeping in mind they have to make sure nothing is said that can give LeBron reason to flee Cleveland again). “We believe in this team at a deep level, and we need to get better from within and play better, quite frankly,” GM David Griffin remarked. “We need to have a greater sense of urgency and start to develop a championship identity. I think it’s clear we have not been doing that.”

What do his teammates think of his remarks? One of them, Tristan Thompson, gave his assessment. “I just got to keep playing better. We got to keep playing harder. He’s right. We got to all play better. It’s simple,” said the Cavs big man. “This is the team we have right now. That’s how you got to approach the game. You can’t go out there hoping somebody is coming to walk through the door. Play with whoever the hell we got right now, and let’s win some [bleepin’] games.”

What does the media think? Not speaking for anyone but himself (to which many media members say, “Whew!”), Hall of Famer Charles Barkley chimed in, ripping LBJ. After mentioning the Cavs have a “Big Three” of their own with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Barkley launched into his own tirade. “They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted (Iman) Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. (LeBron) is the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t wanna compete?”

It’s probably not so much that “he don’t wanna compete” as it is he just wants better players to compete with – especially after their western rivals added Kevin Durant to their squad. Yet, with the exception of those squarely in his camp, many folks believe he has something in common with actor Peter Krause (who?) who famously said:

“At this point, I’m spoiled. I’ve actually had a really blessed career.”

Two Different Ways to Give the Same Message

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

As the clock wound toward zero at the end of the Indiana-Rutgers basketball game in Bloomington – with IU comfortably ahead, one of the Hoosiers attempted to throw down a dunk at the buzzer. He missed, the horn sounded and, prior to joining the “handshake line,” Indiana’s coach Tom Crean, walked directly to his player and absolutely lambasted him.

The tongue lashing didn’t last long, most likely because Crean didn’t want to ignore the Rutgers’ coaches and players – since his message to the youngster was that the move was disrespectful to their opponent – and blowing off the post game handshake line would have been just as impolite. Although his reaction to the play was understandable, his delivery should definitely have been altered (I heard one talking head equate it to bullying).

Allow me to reflect to a game played around 20 years ago. I was director of basketball operations at Fresno State and we were beating our opponent by a significant margin when one of our players had a breakaway late in the game (although not at the buzzer) and, rather than simply dunking the ball, he made a more crowd pleasing move, also resulting in a successful dunk, a broad smile from him and cheers from our sellout crowd. Shortly after, the game ended, the participants shook hands and headed toward their respective locker rooms.

Many, maybe even most, people who know Jerry Tarkanian will say a negative quality of his was that he never berated any kid who ever played for him. One thing is for sure. If that’s your belief, ask anyone who was in the post game locker room that night and you’ll hear differently. Jerry wasn’t two steps beyond the door before he exploded on the “dunker” – whose smile quickly disappeared. Suffice to say no one else made a sound for the next minute or two – which to us seemed more like 30 minutes. To that kid it must have felt like a week.

“Don’t you EVER disrespect the game – or an opponent – like that EVER again! It’s an HONOR to play basketball and there is no place for that type of horse(bleep)! You’re a helluva player, _____, but if I EVER see you pull another stunt like that, you’ll never put on a Fresno State uniform again!”

That moment is so vivid in my mind that, if someone could produce an audio of it, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I nailed it absolutely verbatim. It also wouldn’t surprise me if someone else who was present that night were asked about it and told the identical story.

In a blog I posted close to a decade ago, I reminisced  about a conversation I had with Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and an assistant coach on the Oregon basketball staff when I was a graduate assistant, I remarked to Jim that a big problem in the college game was that coaches were making too much money, i.e. forget “they’re paid what the market will bear” there are innumerable coaches who would take head coaching jobs for much, much less – because they loved coaching. And they would do just as well, if not better, than whichever coach was eventually selected. What had prompted our discussion had to do with some mind boggling, illegal and immoral decision-making by one of the NABC members (a story that won’t be regurgitated here but was national news).

It was my belief that salaries had escalated to such a point (and this was over a decade ago when coaches’ were a mere fraction of what they are now) that some of the choices coaches were making were being negatively affected by how much money they were making because if he were to lose his job, he would find it nearly impossible to land another that would reward him so handsomely.

However, with such exorbitant salaries comes equal (or greater) expectations – and what follows that is more and more pressure – until the ultimate – a national championship is won. And even that will only appease the “faithful” supporters for a few years. Anyone who is a fan of college hoops, and especially Indiana’s program, will attest to the excessive admiration Hoosier fans showered on Tom when he patiently resurrected the proud, but probation-riddled IU program he inherited. When the team’s success didn’t continue its upward ascent (remember, this is a school with a long tradition, as in five national championships between 1940-1987), fans became disgruntled (shocking, isn’t it?) and turned up the heat on coach Crean.

Maybe because I consider Tom Crean a friend (even though it’s been years since we’ve been in contact), I truly believe his behavior that night in Bloomington had to do with pressure - and it caused him to forget a major tenet of leadership – the same one Tark displayed that night and throughout his storied career:

“Praise in public; criticize in private.”

It’s the Fans’ Favorite Time of the Year

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

College football is down to its championship game, the NFL’s playoff season is beginning and college basketball and the NBA are deep enough into their respective seasons that drama is front and center (Grayson Allen, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins). Fans are beside themselves. The activity they all agree on is in full swing: criticizing, and ultimately, firing coaches. One invention that has made talking about firing coaches so much more enjoyable – as well as make the fan sound like an expert – is analytics.

Black Monday has come and gone and with it, several NFL coaches. Others are treading on thin ice. Or on they on the hot seat? Coaches get it from both ends of the thermometer. This year, as with every other, many, many college coaches received pink slips (although not nearly enough to satisfy the fans). Close games that were lost were proof that the coach choked, while close victories were either due to luck or should have been blowouts.

This NBA season might set the record as far as disappointing its followers, as there are some pundits currently claiming that this year will see no – as in zero – NBA head coaches dismissed. Seems as though the new coaches will be given at least another year to try to turn around the mess they inherited. Chip Kelly must be wishing he’d gone into hoops.

Wait, won’t there still be 14 teams not make the playoffs? So shouldn’t at least two-thirds of those teams change head men? Plus at least a quarter of those who made the playoffs? Every true fan can name 3-4 teams that would have done better with different guys leading those teams (even if those 3-4 teams change depending upon which fans you ask).

College is a little different. People aren’t nearly as close to pro coaches, so it’s easier to criticize someone who’s making a ton of money and not winning (or getting his team to cover for those of you who watch games for more than just the purity of the sport). College coaches are different. Fans may actually know the coach, or at least have met him at a function (alumni, service organization) where the school forced requested him to speak. Having shaken a person’s hand, looked him in the eye and either told him you thought he was doing a good job or wished him luck, makes the coach human – and (nearly) everybody has some empathy. I mean, one-and-dones have drastically changed coaching strategies – and expectations. This makes speaking about firing him all the more difficult – until you get to a place where the majority of the people are calling for his head. Then, joining in becomes much easier – and, even, fun.

Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once wrote, Nothing is ever so bad it can’t be made worse by firing the coach.”

How about we update Jim’s quote (since some might dismiss by saying it’s become outdated)? Here’s one I heard while listening to a podcast with Doc Rivers. Doc is a guy with a ton of security because he has so much credibility – a coach with an NBA championship on his resume and one of the most highly respected guys in the business (plus he’s got such a gimormous contract). When the question was posed to him about winning a championship. His answer was simplistic, but telling:

“People don’t appreciate how hard it is to win.”