Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

Every Sport Has Different Levels at Which It’s Played

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

When I was an assistant basketball coach at Tennessee, one of my closest friends – and mentor – was UT’s tennis coach Mike DePalmer (a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame). Mike, as good a friend and giving a person as there is, and I played many tennis matches at 7:00 am – for seven years! One morning, I showed up to play and he had already given a lesson to a local youngster at 6. We began to warm up when his manager came out, telling him he had a recruiting call from South America. “Jack, I gotta take this call. I’m already warmed up from the lesson, why don’t you warm up with Paul?”

“Paul” was Paul Annacone, his #1 singles player at the time. For those of you who aren’t tennis fans, in 1984 (the year he and I “warmed up”), Paul proceeded to go 51-3 in singles and was the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Player of the Year (I steadfastly refuse to take any credit for helping him achieve that award). Following a successful professional tennis career (in which his highest ranking was #12 in the world), he turned to coaching. Among his pupils were Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

One interesting aspect of working at a major university is the number of world class athletes you encounter, not only the players you coach, but those in other sports. In my time at UT the coaches and players ate together in the dining hall of the athletic dorm, so I got to know some kids with amazing skills. That day, Paul walked to the opposite side of the court and we began to rally. After he and I hit the ball about 4-5 times a piece, I stopped and walked toward the net.

“How do you get the ball to jump off your racket?” I asked him. He was leisurely hitting shots and they were exploding back to me. Being a wise guy New Yorker (which he knew I could relate to), he deadpanned, “It’s called a hitting off the sweet spot. Your racket has one, too.”

Another close friend of mine is Mike Watney, the former golf coach at Fresno State (and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame). Note: My career in intercollegiate athletics was more known for longevity (30 years) and number of Division I schools that employed me (9) than for any personal accomplishments. However, as the reader can see, I was wise enough to form connections with the giants in their respective games (someday I might list all the coaches I worked with, if for no other reason than to show the “coaching education” I was exposed to during my time in the business). In fact, my last two bosses in college hoops are in the Naismith Hall of Fame – or will be soon. Jerry Tarkanian was inducted a couple years ago and George Raveling (I was his graduate assistant at Washington State from 1973-75 and associate head coach at USC from 1991-95)  will be enshrined on September 9.

In an earlier post, I told the story of winning a free golf lesson at the Fresno State Xmas luncheon and how Mike convinced me – someone who’d never really played the game – to take him up on it. I quickly became hooked and while my back surgeries have shelved my golf game (I’m hoping not permanently), our two sons (26 and 21) have been bitten by the bug and play whenever they can.

Mike called me about an opportunity he’d been given and wanted to bounce some ideas off me. When we were catching up with what was going on with our kids, I mentioned how into golf each of our guys were. Being the gracious guy he is (you’ll be hard pressed to find a more genuine, down-to-earth person – anywhere), he offered to give a lesson to the boys when they were in town. Unfortunately for Andy, who lives and works in Newport Beach, he couldn’t take advantage, but his younger brother, Alex, was home for another couple weeks before heading to Cal State Monterey Bay for his senior year – and he jumped at the chance.

My back is such that my pain level will never really get “better” but I do yoga, ride an exercise bike and work with a personal trainer so it doesn’t get worse. I’ve been working out with former Fresno State strength and conditioning coach, Steve Sabonya, since the beginning of July. Although I take the workouts seriously, I still manage to “chat it up” with Steve while he’s putting me through exercises to improve my flexibility and strengthen my core. Since he’s worked with elite athletes throughout his career (present company not in that category), we’ll talk about how good somebody has to be to make it professionally in a chosen sport.

Last week Steve asked me what I thought a 10 handicap golfer would shoot if he were to play in a PGA tournament. I told him how Mike had worked with Alex and, after their session, mentioned that he thought Alex had promise as a golfer – and if he wanted to get really good Mike would give him another lesson. Alex didn’t need to be asked twice. That second lesson was the day after my workout with Steve. When we showed up, I mentioned Steve’s question to Mike.

“With the way they make the course so difficult for PGA events, from growing out the rough to making the greens so fast,” I asked him, “what would a 10 handicap golfer score?” Mike didn’t take long to respond. His answer was a 10 handicap would be fortunate to break 100.

All of this came to mind when I saw an article in which John Wall commented on his chances to make our Olympic team. “I’ll be out of the picture,” said Wall through a laugh and without any noticeable trace of resentment. “I’m just being honest. Chris Paul has already won one (Olympic gold medal). Steph Curry had an amazing last year and just won the World Cup. Kyrie (Irving) just won the World Cup. Russell (Westbrook) will probably be on the team. They’ll use him as a two-guard. So, I probably won’t make it.” Keep in mind that this admission was coming from a basketball player who is universally worshiped by the 21-and-under crowd.

It’s like Mike DePalmer told me after I informed him about Annacone explaining the sweet spot theory:

“The game of tennis” (and really ALL sports) “is played at different levels. There are beginners, you and I play at a better level, then there are additional levels, including college, professional and – the best of the best.”

Golf Is Undergoing a Metamorphosis

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Seldom am I glued to a golf tournament for an entire weekend but the recently completed PGA Championship had me 1) sitting on my La-Z-Boy, 2) lying on my couch or 3) riding the recumbent bike (hey, I needed to get some exercise). Heading into Saturday, Jason Day was the golfer who most everybody thought had the best opportunity to win (even though Matt Jones held a two-stroke lead on him, few people, Australians included, were on the Jones’ bandwagon). However, even with Rory (first name only necessary) being seven shots back (people crave dramatic returns) and Jordan (also first name only necessary) playing like he was the number one golfer in the world (which he wasn’t before the tourney but is now), there was a good bit of intrigue.

Adding to the suspense was that Day had come so close before in majors, only to falter due to subpar play or . . . vertigo. Maybe he was a sympathetic figure (with a ton of talent) or maybe it just seemed as though this was his time. In an interview after the victory, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi asked Day how he felt being matched with Spieth for the final round (a pairing that happened only because a number of golfers ahead of Spieth stumbled late on Saturday). The newly crowned champ remarked how difficult it was due to the way Jordan had been playing – and with the fans rooting for Spieth (Day admitted if he were in the crowd, he would be pulling for Spieth). He even mentioned that some people were yelling, “Choke!” to the Aussie. Whether that’s because they were Spieth fans or Americans pulling for “one of their own” he never said. While we shouldn’t brand an entire group of folks, keep in mind the tourney was played in Joseph McCarthy’s home state where the former senator made “love of country” (in)famous.

The remark Day did make in the Rinaldi interview was the amount of emotion he displayed prior to, as well as following, his tap-in for the victory was because of the childhood he endured, his thoughts that, as a youngster, he never felt like he’d be making a living as a professional golfer, his (pregnant) wife and little son, Dash, – and the amount of hard work he put into mastering his craft.

The golf world has a whole new bunch of stars. Tiger (who will always be a first name only guy, independent how poorly his career winds up, or down, – he’s now 286th in the world) has been trying to convince us and the media (himself?) that he’s continuing to improve, that all the changes made to improve (and because of his injuries) take a great deal of time, that he feels he’s hitting the ball better every time out, that he’s more and more pleased with his putting, yada, yada, yada. It seems as though, even for those staunch Tiger loyalists – and the number is dwindling exponentially to his scores increasing – if anyone believes a major can be won at age 46, like Jack (golf has to be the best for first name only guys), there’s a better chance it will be Phil (also no last name necessary) who turns 46 next year.

Get ready for some great golf (just with a different starring cast), because of the skills and confidence of the new guys – Rory, Jordan, Jason and a host of others. After winning it and posting the lowest score ever in a major (-20), Day’s statement about how he felt at the beginning of the PGA Tournament was all-telling. What he said was an example of the cool brashness of this new breed:

“No one was going to beat me this week.”


A Couple Weeks Off While I Work MJ’s Basketball Camp

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

It’s that time of the year – Michael Jordan Flight School (MJFS) @ the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s the 20th year of the camp and if anyone wants to know how powerful MJ and his “brand” are – all these many years later – consider that not one of the kids has ever seen Michael Jordan play! His last year in the NBA was 2003, meaning that even the oldest kids (17-18), were only 5-6 years old when he played. And that was for the Wizards, not the zenith of his career.

There  will be approximately 800 youngsters at each session, the first one for boys only; the second co-ed – and for children from other countries, e.g. last year we had over 200 kids from China alone. The camp is split into eight leagues, with eight teams in each league (based mainly on age, but also ability). This is the first point of contention with which we have to deal. Parents want their boys and girls (mainly boys) to be in certain leagues – usually an older one because his (or her) advanced skill level – and let the league’s commissioner (I happen to be one of the eight commishes) know in no uncertain terms about their child’s prowess.

Since I worked with parents of players (or students) for 42 years, the issues can be resolved with a modicum of diplomacy. Not so shockingly, there is quite a chasm between the youngster’s actual skill level and the parent’s evaluation. Check-in is in the morning. Shortly after noon, followed by a quick orientation, leagues are formed, practice games played (with coaches doing the best they can to balance teams). Team selection is completed the first night of each session, in time for the second most treasured moment of camp – Picture Day. Michael takes a picture with every team (64), each coach (64) and commissioner (8). Also included in picture day are, the trainers, dorm people, food service people, equipment folks – and, somehow, MJ looks exactly the same in every one. Same smile, same sparkle in his eye. I have never seen him have to redo a picture in all the years I’ve been there. One of my colleagues and I marvel at how a guy can walk into a gym, wearing a t-shirt and jeans – and look like a million bucks.

Celebrity camps aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but MJFS is the standard. Jordan speaks to the campers a minimum of once a day, and often twice. He’ll give instructions on shooting one morning, free throws on another, run contests (in which winners receive shoes for themselves, their friends, occasionally for their whole team). Evenings are for competitions, sometimes MJ will select a camper as his partner. One highlight is the Q&A session at night which usually consist of the same ol’ questions, although very once in a while, he’ll have to field one from out of left field. (Somehow, during the day, he squeezes in 36 holes of golf.)

The greatest event for everybody concerned, with the exception of MJ, is the last morning when everyone connected with the camp gets an autograph from the G.O.A.T. We have calculated that on that final day, Michael signs upwards of one thousand autographs – with never a reported case of writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel. The cost for a session is in the neighborhood of $800 which, when the math is done, makes for . . . a whole lot of money. Since the camp’s inception, Michael Jordan has taken no money from it, i.e. his “share” is donated.

That is a major reason MJ is known by letters:


This blog will return Wednesday, August 12.


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

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Return to the Links – Maybe

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Early in my career, there was an unwritten rule that if a young basketball coach harbored any hope of moving up in the profession, playing golf was taboo. While it was unwritten, it was not unspoken. Both Abe Lemons and Jerry Tarkanian used to say, when asked about their hiring philosophy, “I never hire any coach who owns an RV or golf clubs.”  In fact, of all the head coaches I worked for throughout my 30-year career (10), only two could be considered golf enthusiasts – and four of them didn’t play at all.

The first time I actually played golf was at a media event in the late ’70s. I “competed” in couple more of those outings but, as far as playing a sport, I enjoyed tennis a good deal more. It was a better workout, didn’t take as long and was a whole lot less expensive. Plus, I had more skill with a racquet in my hand than a club. It wasn’t until early in my stint at Fresno State – ironically, working for Tark – when I was properly introduced to golf.

The athletics department had the annual Xmas party and the format was everybody donated something – so everybody won. Kinda like Little League. When my name was picked, wouldn’t you know it, my prize was a free lesson with golf coach Mike Watney, coach/uncle to PGA pro Nick Watney and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame. Mike and I shared a mutual respect for each other (me for him for obvious reasons, and him for me . . . because he told me so). He approached me after the luncheon and asked when we could get together. As I tossed the piece of paper with the “one free golf lesson” written on it in a trash can, I joked that if I was to take up golf, the worst golfer in the world would move up one notch. “No, c’mon, meet me outside my office” (where there was an open field) “and I’ll give you a couple pointers.”

By that time in his career, Jerry had relaxed his “no golf for coaches” rule. There were so many Fresno State tournaments in which boosters played, our AD, who was an avid golfer, wanted coaches to participate and mingle. While Jerry never swung a club, his son, Danny, a marvelous athlete, would represent the basketball department. I set a date with Mike and he had me swing a 7-iron. I gripped it like I would a baseball bat (a sport I was familiar with, had played in high school and loved). After a couple serious slices, Mike diagnosed (one of) my major problem(s). “Try turning your grip so the ‘V’ between your left thumb and index finger points, instead of toward your left shoulder, as it is now, toward your right shoulder. Same with the right hand. Point that ‘V’ to your right shoulder as well.”

I’m nothing if not coachable, so I followed his instructions and – how about that – the ball started straightening out. Not bombs, mind you, but at least shots I’d be easily able to find. Our beat writer happened to be there (at that time, he and I were extremely good friends) and even he, a total non-athlete, was impressed. That made two of us. Mike claims he was never in doubt. Kind of him to say.

Since there were so many others in the department who played and because the weather was always good, I began playing once the season ended. I admit I was hit by the bug and couldn’t wait to get on a course. In addition, one of my surgeries had resulted in nerve damage in my feet, causing neuropathy, a condition in which the feet tingle – like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep – so my tennis days were long gone.

After a few more surgeries, playing golf became impossible as well. I still loved the game – I mean, you’re playing with friends (the guys I played with weren’t bettors, so it remained a fun game), in a beautiful setting with green grass, sand, water, shrubbery and trees (I’ve spent more time in them than is recommended), in great weather (otherwise, I waited until it improved), riding in carts and, once in a while (more often for me than I was supposed to), you hit the ball. As a golfer, you play against the course. Even though I knew I’d never come remotely close to beating it, it’s the 120 yard 9-iron that I holed out for the only eagle of my life, or the sinking of a left-to-right 30-foot putt that would bring me back – even though my scores might have been in triple figures. I have missed playing tennis and golf (if I were a jogger, I’d miss that too). Now, yoga (no one will ever confuse me with Eddie George but my flexibility has improved) and 30-60 minutes on a recumbent bike have been the totality of my athletic accomplishments.

Maybe because I have learned to live with pain, maybe because I just have to give it another try, I’m thinking about playing golf again. I haven’t reserved a room at the hospital – and hope I don’t need to – but a person can do sudokus (there has never been one I couldn’t complete) only so long. Joni Mitchell was right:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”


Roger vs. Novak, Take 40

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Roger Federer is playing in his 10th Wimbledon Finals, an astonishing statistic, especially considering he’s played in only ten semi-finals. Tennis is so unlike any other sport in that you have to beat every opponent you play in order to be champion and you can lose two sets each match and still come out a winner. Golf is like its twin – I mean, how many people, especially athletes that played team sports – play both tennis and golf when their football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc. days are over? Unlike golf, you don’t have to beat the entire field in order to win the championship. In that regard, golf is more like wrestling – a sport that would never be considered its twin, or any other family member. Just beat your next opponent.

Upsets can help, especially when one of the top seeds in your bracket unexpectedly loses. Counting on that strategy, however, is frowned upon and usually reserved for players who can’t win anyway (except for any woman on Serena’s side of the draw – because if someone else doesn’t beat her, chances are you won’t either). Tennis is the another of the “survive and advance” sports.

Because it’s an individual sport, it means there are no substitutions. So if you get tired or need to take a few plays off to regroup and calm yourself down, uh, you’ve chosen the wrong sport. Injury times out are allowed but not too often and you’d better have something legit wrong with you – as opposed to, say, soccer. In addition, at the end of the time out, you had better have recovered or the match is finito. Also, although there have been a few accusations to the contrary, there is no coaching permitted in tennis. Basically, you’re out there on an island (this post refers to singles tennis only).

Novak Djokovic is Federer’s opponent. In last year’s Wimbledon final, Djokovic beat Federer 6-4 in the fifth set. Should The Joker win, their head-to-head record will be even at 20 a piece. When I Googled “Federer vs. Djokovic head-to-head,” the site listed each of their matches and several categories. Three of the categories were: Winning Player, Losing Player and Score. For the 2015 Wimbledon final, it had Djokovic listed as the “Winning Player,” Federer as the “Losing Player,” with the Score listed as “Upcoming.” An oversight or is someone prescient?

I’ve always favored the “classy” tennis player, who usually shows little emotion, e.g. Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras. When I was asked which player I wanted to see win this year’s Wimbledon, my answer was well-thought out and succinct, with the deciding reason being obvious:

“I hope Federer wins because a lot of people think my son looks like him.”


But Rory LOVES Soccer

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

On the surface, it seems a rather irrational decision on Rory McIlroy’s part to play soccer with friends at this time of the year. People who are criticizing him for getting hurt playing soccer, however, are not taking into account that pros have lives, too. Why is this any different than, say, Jason Pierre-Paul’s Fourth of July mishap (severe burns on his hand and possible nerve damage)? Here’s why and it’s simple. The reason is that McIlroy plays an individual sport while the New York Giants entire team depends on Pierre-Paul. Team sport athletes are paid by the franchise whereas golfers, tennis players, track & field competitors, etc. only get paid if they perform well enough to deserve to get paid, i.e. they are the franchise.

Where there is a similarity is with the sponsors who pay athletes, independent of which sport is involved. To cover themselves, i.e. if the companies want to limit what their pitchmen (and women) can and cannot do, they ought to have clauses prohibiting such activities, just like teams do in their player contracts. In his case, Pierre-Paul didn’t violate any such clause in his contract but the Giants have pulled the $60 million max offer. Shed few tears as he will, in all likelihood, earn $14.8 million this coming season - although he has yet to sign. His foolish handling of fireworks could have, in fact, cost him a great deal more. McIlroy’s injury will prevent him from playing this weekend – and probably throughout the summer, if not longer. His team, though, suffers much worse than the Giants. With individual sports, unlike what our team coaches told us, one man is indispensable. Women fall into this category as well. Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn once sliced open her right thumb on a celebratory bottle of champagne after a victory in the World Championships.

Whether or not Vonn loves champagne that much is unknown (at least it is to me) but it’s common knowledge that McIlroy has a passion for futbol and has played it with friends in the past during the “golf season.” It’s doubtful any of his sponsors will attempt to include a “no-soccer” clause (c’mon, I gave the other term a mention, a big concession for somebody from the U.S.) for no other reason than he just might decline their offer. “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage . . .” is the beginning of the text sent by McIlroy, informing his fans of his unfortunate situation. This news puts a real damper on the Jordan Speith-Rory McIlroy rivalry. Yet, no matter how much of a McIlroy fan you are, this definitely hurts him more than it does you. This includes all his sponsorships that would have been shown on television innumerable times when he plays.

Adversity doesn’t always mean losing, though. As creative as some agents are, the injured athlete might even wind up with endorsement opportunities because of the injury. McIlroy is probably weighing offers for the “boot” he’s wearing (assuming there’s more than one company making it). At least, then, fans would know he actually used the item he was pitching. I mean, does anybody really believe Shaq uses Icy Hot or Blake Griffin drives a Kia? Of course not, they’re just following their role models for (un)”truth in advertising” (as long as the price is right) – Ray Lewis for Old Spice, Karl Malone for Rogaine and Rafael Palmeiro for Viagra – an example of the extent guys will go for some extra income (possibly only surpassed by Jimmy Johnson for Extenze). If people only could understand that the reason celebrity pitchmen (and women) continue to line their pockets – with our money – is because we keep buying the product. Maybe the companies are the fools, e.g. their merchandise would sell equally as much if they didn’t pay celebrities. Then, again, if the public has it and continues to spend it, thus keeping the businesses profitable and putting their athlete endorsers further in the black, it’s a win-win for everybody.

Whenever bizarre incidents occur, like those with Rory and JPP, usually there’s an over-the-top reaction from professional franchises. As far back as when Bill Bradley played for the Knicks and the front office was alerted to an off-handed remark that their small forward made – that he heard sky diving was a thrilling experience – was a clause inserted into his contract prohibiting sky diving. And he’d never done it! Any player found to be in violation of such a clause could have his contract terminated. If you were bank rolling as much money with these guys as the owners are, you can bet you’d be just as protective of your investment. Ask any Patriots’ front office employee (or Pats’ fan for that matter) what his or her reaction was when video was aired of Tom Brady jumping off cliffs in Costa Rica, and a gasp would be the most likely response. Don’t be surprised if New England isn’t trying to amend his contract with a “no cliff diving” clause. Or any other potentially crippling injury to Brady – which the Pats feel by proxy.

While it can’t be written into a contract for athletes who participate in individual sports, common sense needs to be applied a bit more liberally. McIlroy and soccer is an example that straddles the border. On one hand, he truly enjoys playing and has done so, probably as long as he’s golfed. On the other hand, a bit more discretion – especially with the British Open almost upon us – might have been the more prudent move. After all, not only does Rory make his living at the game, he’s vying to be the best in the world at it. Tough decision.

Maybe in this case, Rory can learn from Thomas Edison, who said:

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”




NBA Basketball Is at a Crossroads

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

It’s that time of the year when colleges let out for the summer. Jane and I will be heading to Monterey to help younger son, Alex, move his “stuff” back home. Naturally, his car isn’t big enough to accommodate everything he originally brought in the fall – especially with the addition of the golf clubs he took back after spring break – then include what he’s accumulated throughout the year. So . . . we’ll have a two-car caravan heading back to Fresno on Sunday. Or Monday, depending on the weather in both locations; it’s a shame to waste a trip to the coast.

This blog will return on Tuesday, May 19. Allow me to suggest you take some time to catch up on some of my earlier posts if you haven’t visited this site in a while. I’ve been putting out some thought-provoking and entertaining comments, and would love to get your feedback.

“The first year, they took my hand check away. The next year, they took our forearm away. And then, I retired. I was done. I was like, ‘I’ve got to move my feet? I quit. This is no fun anymore.’ ” That quote, from an article by TNT’s David Aldridge, was made by a player who, currently is one of, arguably, the two best coaches in the NBA. Glenn “Doc” Rivers made his “retirement” statement, leaving the game that was intent on increasing scoring. In addition to the no hand checking rule, there was no “bumping” cutters, a rewording of flagrant fouls, instituting an illegal defense rule and others that were implemented to make the game more attractive to the fans. Not all the changes were to the defender – palming the ball has been ignored for over two decades. And the accusation that the NBA allows for an extra step has been increased, on occasion, to a couple of extra steps.

The NBA has again changed the way referees officiate, only in this case, they’ve instituted “fact checking” to the officials’ duties. Flagrant Foul calls (1 or 2), clock malfunctions, whether a successful basket was goaltended, interfered with, or a 2 point or 3-point field goal (for old fans who just began re-watching NBA games after a prolonged absence, the answer is yes, your team’s score actually did decrease after you went to get a cold beverage because it was determined that the shot from a few possessions ago was a two and not a three, so don’t blame the beer). Also, restricted area replays are conducted BUT only during the last two minutes of the fourth period and during all of overtime

The NBA Replay Center, located in Secaucus, NJ (which used to be famous for pig farming – and the smell that created an ambiance indigenous to the area) has a Crew Chief whose decisions are final. This idea was created with good intentions. “Get it right” was the league’s goal. If you’re a loyal reader of the blog space, you are well aware of the number of times I have either mentioned instant replay or produced an entire blog on the subject but this one is different, i.e. it’s not about the interminable length of time the officials take – and then get it wrong, obviously wrong according to the broadcasters and replays that the viewers are shown.

This post is about the creative decision-making that is used when deciding exactly how much time is left during the end of a game, e.g. what the criteria seems to be is, as soon as the ball goes out of bounds, the clock is changed to what the clock inset on the video displays. The actual verbiage from the NBA’s Description of New Replay Rules is: The game officials are reasonably certain that a game clock malfunction has occurred during the play. (A game clock malfunction includes situations caused by a mechanical malfunction or human error, such as a clock starting too soon or too late or an inbound play, stopping during play (whether or not it is re-started), or running too quickly during play, but does not include discrepancies resulting from what the officials determine to be normal reaction time or reasonable anticipation in starting the clock (bold is mine).

Yet, time is always added. That’s because they do take into account the referee’s reaction to seeing the ball go out and the time it takes to actually blow the whistle. In addition, the time it takes for the timekeeper to hear the whistle and send the message to the brain to stop the clock. I have no problem with this method as it is a truer indication of the correct time that’s left to be played. Forgive me for not recalling which game it was (I believe it as the Cavs-Wizards from Tuesday night) when the official changed the clock from, I believe 1.2 or 1.3 to 2.0 seconds. The ball can be seen going out of bounds with exactly 2.0 seconds and no time for human instincts.

Where this new version of “let’s go to the replay” fails is that same action happens every time a whistle is blown! To be totally accurate – and fair – the officials would have to check the clock throughout the entire game. Maybe there is some sort of technology being devised to do just that since it’s blatantly apparent that is not a feasible answer. Games would take an eternity to complete and nobody (with the exception of concessionaires) would be in favor. Yet, are we really getting a true winner each game?

Without doubt, the NBA has good intentions for all involved – players, coaches, administrators, owners and, of course, fans. So, it looks as though the NBA has to decide: 1) leave the game as it now is (even though an inordinate amount of time is being “wasted” – until the referees, or Crew Chief, make a decision), 2) go back to the human element and let the games play out as they used to or 3) find some techno genius who can have the clock synched to the officials’ whistle (I recall an experiment done with NCAA officials, and possibly NBA refs as well, but there were far too many malfunctions).

If the NBA is intent on getting it right, maybe they should take the attitude that the greatest inventor of all time had. When Thomas Edison would try out an idea that did not produce the result he’d hoped for, he didn’t view it as a failure. He would simply say:

“Well, I’ve just discovered another way it DOESN’T work.”


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.

The Benefits of Yoga Are Unsurpassed

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Final basketball weekend for the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters. This blog will return on Tuesday, March 3.

When I was growing up, there were only three sports a true athlete played: football, basketball and baseball. If you were extremely talented in an event or two – and dominated it/them – track & field was an acceptable alternative. As long as you played at least one of the Big Three.

My, how times have changed. When the topic of raising kids comes up, nearly every father I know – who was even just an adequate high school athlete – makes the same statement. “The way to go is tennis and golf. You can play those the rest of your life.” And, now, we can add another – if not “sport” than “athletic activity” – that is not only for kids, but for people of all ages.

Although yoga has been around for thousands of years (evidence of yoga postures were found on artifacts that date back to 3000 B.C.), it has been continually increasing in popularity in the United States for the past 20 or so years (I imagine I’ll be hearing from serious yoga students who will claim it’s closer to 40 years – if not longer). One reason for “yoga-mania” is, while golf and tennis are often referred to as “lifetime” sports, yoga is an activity that is prescribed by doctors to actually increase quality of life.

As loyal readers will already know, since 1987 I’ve suffered through nine back surgeries (including four laminectomies – in order: C5-6, L4-5, C4-5, T10-11). I’ve had other surgeries as well but won’t bore you with those (as if, right)? Since 2005 I’ve been making several trips each year to the Stanford Pain Management Clinic. At the outset, all I wanted to know was, “OK, what do I have to do to relieve the horrible pain I’m in?” I didn’t care if I had to get in the gym for six hours a day and go through grueling exercises with physical therapists, I’d do it because I promised myself one thing – I refused to learn to live with pain.

It was during one of these visits, I had an epiphany. Not all promises can be kept. The name of the place I was in was the Stanford Pain Management Clinic, not the Stanford Pain Relief Clinic. The reason for the drugs and implants was to make the pain tolerable, not to make it disappear. When that reality sunk in, it was time for Plan B.

One of the doctors at Stanford told me I should take up yoga. She cautioned me that I didn’t want to wind up like the elderly folks we see who are hunched over, either from their shoulders or their backs. Believe it or not, I told her, I already had been going to yoga classes. She told me under no uncertain terms was I ever to stop.

Actually, I had started to go to a yoga studio a friend had recommended because my body was so inflexible. I was struggling through yoga classes when I was working on the basketball staff at Fresno State (around 2000). Then the T10-11 surgery happened (2002). It was by far the worst and most dangerous I’d had (my doctor told me the surgery kept me from being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life). However, nearly every muscle and joint from my mid-back down to my feet experienced excruciating pain. A regimen of pills were prescribed but the side effects were as frightening as the pain was severe.

Naturally, my yoga practice was put on hold. After a few weeks of physical therapy, I returned to the studio. My yoga instructor (the wonderful Katie Flinn, owner of COIL Yoga in downtown Fresno – OK, a shameless plug, yet one she doesn’t know I’m including, nor does her studio need,) looked at me with her sympathetic eyes and asked where I’d been, fairly certain of the answer (she had known of my previous back history). When I told her the gruesome details, she discussed the benefits of one-on-one sessions and I’ve been doing them ever since (with pre-tax dollars – and a prescription from the Stanford doc for therapeutic yoga – I was able to write off many of the sessions). That worked until I retired, but by then, there was no way I was giving up my yoga practice.

Initially, I saw Katie once a week and could only do stretches and restorative yoga. With the pain I was in, I, basically, had to start over, re-learning how to breathe properly – the essence of yoga. I’m still once a week with her individually but now I’ve graduated to “flow” sequences that she gives me – and try to do them at least five days a week at home or on the road. There are certain misrepresentations beginning yoga students need to overcome, especially if you’ve been an athlete.

One is there’s no competition in yoga. Put an athlete in a yoga class and he’s (I can only speak from a male point of view) looking around to see if he’s performing any better than the others. Is anyone looking at him? Forget it. Your yoga is about you, your breath and your body. An area in which yoga is similar to weight training is that you can see actual results. My hamstrings were so tight, I could barely get halfway down my shins when I’d try to touch my toes. I’m delighted to say that gap is no longer. That, alone, is an illustration that, as we say in New Jersey, “dis stuff woiks.”

Eddie George was the first athlete to extol the benefits of yoga (at least the first one to pose on the cover of a book). Today, there isn’t a strength coach in high school, college or on the professional level that doesn’t include yoga in the workout regimen. In the recent copy of Extraordinary Health magazine there is a story – with pictures – of 6’5″, 310 pound tackle, Branden Albert of the Miami Dolphins performing his yoga practice and in this week’s issue of SI, mention is made of how yoga, among other exercises, has made Gonzaga baller supreme, Kyle Wiltjer, into a first round pick.

For once, there is something that we all can agree on (and when was the last time that ever happened)?

“Yoga is for everyone.”