Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

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.”

 

Finally! A Method for Dealing with the Prima Donna

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

In case you haven’t heard – because, maybe, you had a son playing high school football or a daughter cheering (or, good luck to you, both) last night – and you were so into the game that you didn’t check your phone for up-to-the-minute sports news, then you went to bed, woke up and the first thing you did was check my blog, the Seattle Seahawks traded one of the most talented and exciting players in the NFL, Percy Harvin, to the New York Jets for no one. At least for no one who can help them this year.

Either the Seahawks’ front office has huge, huge cojones or Percy Harvin was/is such a “malignant cancer,” he had to be dealt with as any malignant cancer would be. Cut it out. When things are said such as was reported by ESPN’s NFL insider, John Clayton (who, like him or not, has proved to be a reliable, on-the-money source for NFL news), “They had to make him happy” and “Personalities on the team clashed,” and from ESPN.com’s Seahawks’ insider, Terry Blount, “He was too much of a disruptive force. He became more trouble than he was worth,” what happens is the team takes a back seat to the egomaniac and, independent of how talented he is, he simply cannot remain a member of the franchise.

Usually, a prima donna plays for a losing team. The reason is because, in team sports, there’s no place for a me-first guy. Individual sports are completely different, i.e. the only way someone can help the team is to win his or her event or match (track & field, golf, wrestling, tennis). In that setting, someone whom everybody on the team loves, who runs around and cheers like crazy for all the others, but who doesn’t win, is, unfortunately, of little or no value. In order to win consistently in a team sport, it’s not only necessary, but vital, to have everyone on the same page. From the same book. Teamwork makes the dream work, as the saying goes.

If only other head coaches, GMs, presidents, owners, administrators, i.e. decision makers, acted the same way, there would be infinitely fewer divas in sports, much to the relief of every other team member and nearly all coaches – at least assistant coaches. On teams in which the head coach is weak, often he (I can only speak from personal experience, so only the male gender) will bow to the “superstar,” feeling to rid the team of such a talent would leave the club too shorthanded. So, . . . the team continues losing – and the head coach loses the rest of the squad. And, usually, his job.

It puts the assistants in such a difficult position because 1) the rest of the players are going to the assistants because they fear repercussion from the head man if they approach him, putting the assistants in the awkward situation of being truthful or disloyal 2) the head coach knows how the assistants feel because they’ve told him and 3) the star knows he holds the power over the head coach and, subtly – or not so subtly – flaunts his position over everyone else involved.

What Percy Harvin needs to understand is a positive attitude in a team setting is mandatory or else, as Danny Cox, famous speaker from Orange County used to say:

“If you’re not fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired – with enthusiasm.”

Who Ever Thought We’d Be Pulling an All-Nighter at Our Age?

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

After spending last weekend in Monterey visiting our younger son, Alex, Jane and I are making the trek south to visit our firstborn. Andy also has chosen to reside in a resort location, Newport Beach, working as an account executive for Booker, a company that sells software to health clubs, spas and beauty salons (I’m sure I misrepresented something there, so suffice to say he’s gainfully employed in Orange County, CA).

While we’ve grown to love our life in Fresno, it’s hard to beat either of those two magnificent locations, so we usually overextend our stay a day or two. This blog will return Thursday, Oct. 2.  

Yesterday was “return to yester-year” for my wife, Jane and me. Earlier in the day, she mentioned to me that the Ryder Cup was going to be broadcast at 11:30 pm. At first I thought she was just making conversation. It wasn’t until late last night that realized she intended to (try to) watch the competition.

What shocked me about her revelation was she normally goes to bed early while I’m somewhat of a night owl, especially since I’ve retired. When we were first married, I used to tell people Jane and I went to bed after SportsCenter. She’d go to bed after the one at 7:00 and I’d go to bed after the one at 11:00.

Because I’m more of a night owl than a morning person, I blog at night. Another reason for doing so is that if I post after 11:00 pm (Pacific Time), the blog posts to the following day. So, last night, while I began to blog, there sat Jane, eyes (somewhat) open, ready for the Ryder Cup to begin. I looked at her and said, “Pulling an all-nighter is something we’d do in our 20s, although the reason was more for partying or studying than watching golf” (OK, probably more the former). In any case, there we were, glued to the TV, ready to check out the U.S. vs. Europe, not going to bed until 4:30 am.

Ryder Cup is such an interesting phenomenon, unlike any other sport, except for tennis’ Davis Cup. The following paragraph was written (by me) way back in a blog on 9/23/08 and it’s just as true today.

“Golf has become such a lucrative occupation, that when we see one of its competitors miss a shot which would have extended his lead or pulled him to within a stroke or two of it, we can almost see his thought process: ‘Damn, I really needed that one … but I’m still assured a pretty good paycheck.’  The last part of that thought is a rather presumptuous conclusion on my part, but the fact remains the only person who is affected by the tour golfer’s performance is the golfer himself (and those close to him, e.g. his family, caddy or anyone whose livelihood is dependent on his performance).”

Some former athletes I know can’t stand watching golf. Most of them played team sports. Golf doesn’t captivate them, mainly because it’s every man for himself (forget about bringing up watching the LPGA) and these guys were taught “teamwork makes the dream work.”

What makes the Ryder Cup (and Presidents Cup) so riveting is that you have individual athletes, taught (and sometimes pampered) that the only thing that matters is how YOU play. It’s all about you. Now, here they are in a team setting. So yes, you need to win but you’re now on a team, i.e. it’s not all about you. You’re part of something bigger.

It’s an interesting study, observing individuals who, for the most part, have only thought of themselves throughout their professional lives, deal with the pressure of playing for others – and how they react when they let people down. As one of the announcers said (in the wee hours, names of those other than players, escape me):

“There’s no place to hide at the Ryder Cup.”

SI Disappoints

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

For decades I’ve been a subscriber and avid reader of Sports Illustrated and many readers have mentioned to me that if it wasn’t for SI, I’d have to make this a weekly blog instead of a daily one. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, one of my aunts got me a year’s subscription to Sport magazine. I was so thrilled and told one of my friends at school the next day. He said that Sports Illustrated was the best sports magazine.

Naturally, he and I got into a heated argument, the kind only pre-teens can get into. You know, the kind that will never have a winner because, not only will neither admit defeat but because neither will even give the other credit for even one shred of truth. Eventually, I gave up denying the obvious – and my admission came well before the demise of Sport.

It’s not that I’ve always felt SI was right in every story they published but I did believe they always did a bundle of research and tried to report it fairly. Which is why I was so disappointed in Alan Shipnuck’s article on Anthony Kim in this week’s (9/22/14) edition. Until 4-5 years ago when my back issues became so bad I had to give up golf, I absolutely loved playing. I was so bad I’d never play for money and, for that matter, never even had a handicap. Had I been given one, undoubtedly, a record high would have been set. Yet, probably due to my coaching background, I thoroughly enjoy watching the guys on tour because I realized long ago how hard a game golf is and am fascinated with the strategy they use as well as the mental toughness they display.

When I saw the title of Shipnuck’s article (Where Have You Gone, Anthony Kim?), I was surprised. While not an avid fan, I often watch golf on TV. It wasn’t until after seeing the headline did I realize Kim had gone. I’m not so into golf that I knew what a party animal Kim is/was. I put present/past tense because the article doesn’t make clear if Kim still has the lifestyle he did when he was on tour.

That’s because, in that entire article – six pages (including pictures) – Shipnuck finds that almost no one wants to talk about Kim, e.g. Casey Wittenberg who said, “I’m not going to comment. He’s a great friend of mine. Sorry, I know you’re just doing your job.” Others (IMG & Nike) refused to comment. There are a few comments from a guy SI said was probably Kim’s best friend on tour, Colt Knost, but he admits he hasn’t seen much of Kim lately and no longer has his BFF’s phone number. The one guy in the entire article who will allow himself to be quoted is today’s favorite media source – “the anonymous friend.” Could there be more of a coward than somebody who wants to be a real somebody but doesn’t have the cojones to say, “It’s me.”

The author ties in “anonymous” and an insurance policy with quotes from past stories in a veiled attempt at making the story look current. Shipnuck dredges up Kim’s past unstable relationship with his father, along with the young golfer’s spendthrift social life and dislike among certain tour players (all of which happened more than two years ago) and adds a good deal of conjecture to make it into a juicy gossip narrative.

The insurance policy supposedly pays Kim somewhere between $10-20 million (more conjecture there) for a career ending injury (he hasn’t played in 28 months). Basically, he was a young American golfer who had a boatload of potential and played some phenomenal golf for a short period of time but, due to injuries, hasn’t been heard from since. He was 6th in the world – six years ago. For his career he has four wins (three PGA wins) and his best result in a major was third in the 2010 Masters.

Shipnuck went to find what happened to him, couldn’t and instead of leaving it alone, decided to make it a thriller about a guy who partied big, won a little and is now in hiding, trying to figure out if he can collect on an unimaginable insurance policy. It should be noted that Shipnuck did get someone famous to go on record and make nasty comments about Kim – Sergio Garcia. The same Garcia who lost to the 23-year old Kim 5 & 4 in the first match of the Ryder Cup Sunday single matches in 2008. Not like Sergio would be the type of guy who would have an ax to grind.

With all the seamy side of professional sports that’s been reported in the past few months, was it really necessary to chronicle a “maybe it’s a story, maybe it’s not” piece? It’s not like he’s Bison Dele who disappeared. Paraphrasing what Mark Jackson used to say as an NBA commentator:

“C’mon, SI, you’re better than that.”

Only I’m not sure if they are anymore.

When a Youngster Is Forced to Attend Michael Jordan’s Camp

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Recently returned from the 18th version of the Michael Jordan Flight School basketball camp. The camp is held on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. This year there were record numbers of participants: 2 sessions, 9 leagues with 8 teams in each, 12 players on a team – approximately 1650 campers. And, yes, there was a waiting list, meaning some kids who wanted to attend weren’t afforded the opportunity.

On the first day, the kids are placed on teams, initially by age, i.e. the oldest league is composed of 16-17 year olds, the next oldest league housing the 15-16s. The league of which I was “commissioner” was the third oldest so, mostly, we dealt with the 14-15 year old range. Our next move is to identify two groups: one of which are campers who are talented enough to “play up,” i.e. he (the first sessions is limited to boys only) could play with the next higher age group and be effective as well as have a more enjoyable and productive four days. Unless the camper is exceptionally talented, we try to limit those from our league, going “up” to the next league, to the 15 year olds. All leagues operate in a similar fashion.

The other group is, naturally, those youngsters whose skills are (significantly) below those in their age group. While it’s a little trickier, mainly from an ego standpoint, we try to explain that playing in the lower age group, i.e. “down” would be more fun as the age difference isn’t much of a factor for a 14 year old (playing with 13 and 14, as opposed to 14 and 15), yet the experience wouldn’t be as overwhelming as it might be if he stayed.

Occasionally, the “phenom” might be 14 yet it’s apparent he needs to be with the 15-16 group. Of a more sensitive nature is the 15 year old moving down to play with the 13-14s. We try to avoid this scenario as much as possible. However, such was the case I faced on Day 1 – although the kid our coaches unanimously felt should be moved was a big (overweight as well as tall) boy whose effort and attitude mandated his departure from our group. I spoke with him and he agreed to make the move, only to change his mind an hour or so later. While we make our best case for a move (up or down), we never force a youngster to move and we’re especially careful with kids who are two years junior or senior to the new group.

So, when our 15 year old changed his mind, I accepted that he’d be in our league and hoped it worked – for his coach and teammates as well as the kid himself. The first actual game (Day 2) proved disastrous as the big fella showed absolutely no interest when he was in the game. His own teammates were on his case when, down by two, the big guy’s group entered and their opponents proceeded to go on a 20-0 run, thus effectively ending their chances for a win.

I called the kid over and said, “I watched you and you gave zero effort in that game. What’s the deal?” After he shrugged, I asked him, “Why did you come to camp if this is how you were going to act?”

His answer was enlightening. “Because my parents paid the money and made me go.” I couldn’t quite understand his answer, so I pushed a little further. Finally, he said, “My father said he never had opportunities like this when he was a kid so he was going to make sure I did. He’s living his life through me.”

Right away I realized this was no dummy. I lit into him. “Just because you’re mad at your parents doesn’t excuse the lack of effort you put out today. This isn’t an individual camp. It’s not golf or tennis or swimming. You have four other guys depending on you when you’re on the floor. It’s not fair to those kids who are trying their hardest to get beat because when you’re out there, they’re playing 4 on 5.

“Additionally, you have 11 guys who are counting on you to at least try. Plus your coach who’s doing his best to help the team win. All of them deserve more from you than the pitiful performance you gave.” I couldn’t tell but it looked like what I’d told him was something he hadn’t considered.

Each night we give out a “Camper of the Day” award in each league. It’s given to a youngster who will probably not be an all-star nor will he win any of the shooting contests. That night’s award in our league had already been chosen but when I asked our coaches for a nominee the following day, the lazy guy’s coach nominated his “opening day slug.” His coach said, “I know you’ll never believe it but he really put out an effort – and, surprisingly, he’s got some skills. I mean, he’s never going to vie for the MVP but he actually helped us win one of our (two) games today.”

I submitted his name as our Day 2 Camper of the Day. Since the night’s winners are announced from youngest to oldest, our league is the seventh league to be awarded. When the camp director called out his name, his entire team gave him a standing ovation.

When he went up to get the medal, he was smiling and when he turned to see his teammates standing, I had a hunch he realized what his dad was trying to tell him by sending him to camp. As we often discover in life:

“Sometimes it’s the small victories that mean the most.”