Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

How Can Such a Small Man Have Such a Huge Ego?

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Egomania has long been the downfall of many, including some incredibly talented people. Those who have little and want more (or even just something) can be understood (and pitied) when they blow their own horn. The result is awful, if any, music being produced. For the skilled member of society, maybe it’s trying to go too far too fast, or overstating past accomplishments, or, as in the case of Bill Simmons, deciding to pull a power play. These actions often lead to a downfall. Whether that ends up being the case for the egomaniacal Simmons has yet to be seen, but if how he dealt with his superiors at ESPN (although it’s doubtful Simmons feels that’s the proper term for the ESPN hierarchy) is any indication, he could be creating a crash and burn mission for himself.

Lefty Driesell, who revolutionized recruiting in college basketball, was often criticized for being a poor Xs & Os coach (a false charge but that’s to be debated at a later date). During an interview, he was asked how he felt when people would tell him he was a bad coach. The lefthander responded, “No one has ever come up to me and told me I was a bad coach.” Of course not! That’s called human decency (with a dose of cowardice). While it’s easy to call in to a talk show and blast an athlete or coach (politicians, too, but let’s keep this athletically related), especially if the show’s host shares the caller’s feelings, face-to-face confrontation (assuming no “liquid courage” is involved) usually makes it uncomfortable for everyone concerned. Note: Jim Rome might have done it to Jim Everett on national TV but that was in Rome’s studio with plenty of people to make sure he was safe, as opposed to a back alley with no cameras.

Because of this human decency factor, celebrities often get inflated opinion of themselves. This relates to electronic and print media as well as players and coaches. Sure, callers may phone in to disagree, even going so far as being obnoxious, but the host can either shout them down or simply disconnect them. This means they get so many bouquets thrown their way, they believe their own BS (what a coincidence those are Simmons’ initials). Granted, with the anonymity social media gives to anyone with an email or twitter account, people feel more power to criticize, the majority of correspondence guys like Simmons get is from people who agree with him, e.g. fans who hear him say their team’s QB sucks or whose coach is a fool – and like what he says because he tells the world what they wish they could say but aren’t smart enough or possess the courage to say in their own name.

Simmons has had a laundry list of issues with ESPN management. He’s been with the “World Wide leader” for 14 years. His contract expires later this year and ESPN’s president John Skipper told The New York Times, “I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’s contract. We have been in negotiations, and it was clear it was time to move on.” Early on, Skipper and Simmons were thick as thieves, with the columnist considering his boss a mentor. Simmons last contract was worth around $5 million per year, making him the highest paid reporter at the network at the time.

Others at Bristol didn’t get along with Simmons, who showed no interest attempting to ingratiate himself with his colleagues, e.g. he once fired verbal shots at then-colleague Rick Reilly. What ultimately did him in was his sense of entitlement. That arrogance annoyed co-workers, as well as his disregarding rules, as if they only applied to others. Also lighting fuel to his self-inflicted fire was calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar (for which he received a two-week, unpaid suspension) and, later, lacking “testicular fortitude.” To illustrate how bad things became between Simmons and his employer, ESPN didn’t deduct any money from his paycheck, making him think the suspension was just for show, only to find the money deducted from the December paycheck. Kind of a reverse Xmas bonus. Ho, ho, ho. Ho.

Simmons more or less boasted of his edgy personality, better known to some as “little man’s complex.” An unabashed Celtics’ fan, he roasted Doc Rivers one season, only to have to eat humble pie when Doc coached Simmons’ beloved Celts to the NBA championship. He got over it, though, and returned to scathing criticism, showing his true feelings. Ironically, one point of contention with Simmons was that management was badmouthing him (how’s it feel, Billy?). The straw that broke the camel’s back was an appearance he made on the Dan Patrick Show, which everyone at ESPN knew was considered out of bounds. In the end, Bill Simmons had a lot – but wanted more – and was a star but felt he was bigger than life. With so many BS “clones” out there, i.e. small people who dream of being able to criticize big stars but lack “testicular fortitude,” Bill Simmons will probably be signed, soon, by some other entity and get even more money and power. Just don’t be surprised if his career follows the identical path.


My mentor, the late John Savage said it best:

“There’s no such thing as having no ego. Everybody has an ego. The key is to keep it in check.”

How to Shock a 70-year-old Jewish Grandmother

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

28 years ago today Jane and I were married in Knoxville, a month after I had been named associate head basketball coach the University of Toledo. Last night we were reminiscing about our “early years” and one story in particular that made us laugh. I’d just taken a job with the same title at the University of Southern California. The following anecdote is one of the over 200 narratives in my book, Life’s A Joke. Although didn’t seem all that funny to us at the time, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it – especially those of you who are parents.

We moved from Toledo to Pasadena when our son Andy was about three years old. We enrolled him in a private daycare where he immediately made friends with a little Asian girl who was also three. One weekend her mother dropped her off at our house for a “play date.”

I was out of town recruiting. The two kids were in Andy’s room when, all of a sudden, it occurred to Jane that it was eerily quiet. Her motherly instincts kicked in and led her to the room where she saw the two little tykes in bed, giggling. Trying to keep cool, she said, “OK, what’s going on in here?”

When she pulled back the covers, Jane  “noticed” neither had any clothes on. Now, we’d always thought Andy to be a precocious child but this was pushing the envelope a bit too far. Jane got them dressed and made sure they were never too far out of sight for the rest of the day.

A week or so later, my mother, who was 70 at the time, came out from New Jersey to see her (at that time) only grandchild. As you can imagine, she was absolutely crazy about Andy who, like most three-year-olds, adored his “Granny.” She asked her favorite little guy, “Andy, do you ever play any games?”

“Oh sure, Granny, I play lots of games,” Andy replied.

The line of questioning continued, “What kind of games do you play?” she inquired.

“Well,” he said, “one game I play is called, ‘sex’.”

My mother figured she had to have misheard her cute, little, young grandchild. At least she prayed she had. Her next question was, “Oh, how do you play six?”

“Not six, Granny, sex,” he corrected her.

About that time my mother felt it would be a good idea to sit down. Feigning interest, my mother (meekly) said, “How do you play that game?”

Andy enthusiastically continued with his explanation, “First,” he began, you have to have a girl. Then, you get in bed and take off all of your clothes.”

Beads of perspiration were rapidly forming on my mom’s forehead and upper lip as the conversation had taken a turn she had not anticipated. Realizing she was talking to a three-year-old, she swallowed hard and, somewhat hesitatingly, asked, “And then what do you do?”

Andy looked at her and (thankfully) said, “Oh, that’s it. That’s the game.”

The word relief does not really do justice to the feeling that flooded through my mom. She began to regain her color and for the remainder of her visit, she and Andy played Chutes and Ladders and Go Fish.

Later, my mom confided in me:

“And I thought we had it tough raising you and your brother.”

Chris Paul’s Critics Can Now Disappear – Forever

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tark said, “What armband?”

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

“He does?” Tark asked.

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

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

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

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

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

The NBA Could Learn from the NCAA

Friday, May 1st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rondo Misunderstood; Should Have Taken an Alternate Route

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Far as Watching Sports on Television Goes, These Three Months Belong to the NBA

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Much needed trip to Stanford Pain Management for change in meds tomorrow. This blog will return on Thursday, April 30.

The NBA regular season is watched by a select group of true hoops junkies. During the post season all that changes. For one, competition with college basketball for TV eyeballs is over. Early season collegiate basketball games (arranged by the networks) have become more and more intriguing. Why? It’s an effort to steal some football fans. This is made easier because, at that time of year (mid-November through, nowadays, much of January), while football is at peak interest, games are almost always on Saturday and Sunday. Yet, that time of the year is for football – and after the national championship team is crowned, all eyes belong to the NFL. For someone who disagrees, 1) I imagine that’s why there are over 700 channels and 2) why are you wasting time reading this blog?

As the intercollegiate hoops regular season closes, along comes highly popular March Madness, an event all its own. After listening to One Shining Moment, people are clamoring for more. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the women’s championship game airs on Tuesday? People have become addicted to following the bouncing ball.

Even if Geno Auriemma is right, i.e. that men’s college basketball is a “joke,” viewers still want to be entertained and the fact of the matter is, although “style of play” might be a joke, basketball players are some of the most athletic people one can see on the tube flat screen. When the college guys are finished, those who enjoy sports on TV get to witness even greater athletes play the same game (for the most part). By then, one of the criticisms leveled at the NBA has been eliminated – that the players don’t always play hard (or, due to some coaches’ decisions, don’t play at all)! Once the NBA Playoffs get underway, all the gentlemen (and other players) start their engines. Compete is the most operative word at this time of year.

A unifying aspect of sports is that it brings people together in a way politics and religion do. Except it’s OK to speak about sports. And people love to discuss their favorite (or least favorite) teams and players. At this time of the season, you need to add to that list coaches because in the post season, teams get eliminated and if someone’s beloved squad is knocked out, there has to be somebody to assume the blame.

Another factor that makes the NBA playoffs so intriguing is the method of choosing a winner. To win a four-out-of-seven series, most likely you have to have the best team. No one complains about that format because another single elimination tournament among all 30 teams – just after March Madness – would be too nerve-racking. It would end the season for too many players fans want to see (imagine if the Warriors got upset and we couldn’t see Steph Curry or Klay Thompson until next season) too soon. Plus, what would the rest of the week be like if there were only games on the weekends like during March Madness?

Although baseball has begun, so few fans know which guys are playing for which teams, time is needed for some story lines and controversy to develop and spice up the season. The NHL Playoffs are also going on but I can count on one hand (with a couple of fingers left over) the number of fans I know who love basketball and hockey. As far as the NFL draft is concerned, outside of college coaches, players and their relatives, its appeal is mainly for nerds or geeks (I’m never sure which group is which but I’m pretty certain that one, if not both, apply here).

The NBA Playoffs are a fabulous way to wind down until summer (although if they drag them out any longer, the final Game 7 might just be a week before Labor Day. Plus, the NBA Playoffs provide a vital ingredient of life. Without them, we’d be bored. And, as the famous author, Gustave Flaubert, wrote:

“Isn’t ‘not to be bored’ one of the principal goals of life?”

The Biggest Issue in College Basketball Is Not the Shot Clock

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

While so many members of the media – print, TV & radio talking heads, even people on social media – are clamoring for a shortened shot clock, there are other aspects of the college game that needs to be addressed.

The main problem deals with transfers, e.g. 1) from one four-year school to another, whether the reason is due to homesickness, change of coach, lack of playing time, whatever, 2) the “double” transfer, i.e. started at one school, transferred to another, then left institution #2 (maybe played there, maybe not) to transfer once again or 3) the newest version of “good intention, bad result” – the kid who graduates from his original college and is allowed to go to another, and be immediately eligible, allegedly so he can pursue a master’s degree at his new location.

I’m not sure whoever thought of this “innovative idea” should be congratulated (although I’m 100% certain he fully believes he deserves accolades). My reasoning behind my skepticism is that in the “Information Age,” we get inundated with statistics, yet we have seen no numbers regarding 1) how many kids are actually receiving advanced degrees and, what’s worse, 2) how much legitimate academic work is being done by the guys who are taking advantage of this rule. My suspicion is that the moves are heavily weighted toward athletics decisions as opposed to academic ones.

As I’ve mentioned oh-so-many-times in this blogosphere, I toiled for three decades in college hoops, the final 18 as the assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee for the coaches’ association (in addition to my duties at whichever school was paying me at the time). One year all coaches were mandated by the NCAA to cut the number of recruiting calls to prospects to one per week per prospect. The thinking behind this change came about when student-athletes were polled about what they disliked most about recruiting and pressure came in first by about the distance Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

Because the NCAA so severely limited face-to-face contact between coaches and prospects, phone calls were the next best method of establishing a relationship with, and selling the school to, prospects. At one of our Recruiting Committee meetings a question was raised, “What happens if you make your once-a-week call and it goes to voice mail?” The general consensus was if the call didn’t last more than one minute (which could be verified by phone bills), that it wouldn’t count as the call for that week.

At a coaches’ clinic I attended shortly thereafter, one of the topics dealt with the new recruiting rules. When the one/week phone call was brought up, one coach proudly shared what his staff did. Prospects were allowed to call schools as often as they wanted, the feeling being that since the prospect initiated the call, the pressure would be self-inflicted. The coach who spoke prided himself on not breaking the rules.

He explained that he (and the other coaches on their staff) would call and as soon as the prospect answered, they’d say, “Hey, it’s ____ from the U of ____. We can only call you once a week so here’s our toll free 800 phone number” (remember which century this was). “Call me back as soon as I hang up.” Th prospect is caught between a rock and a hard place. Few kids have the nerve to tell schools they’re not interested. Or maybe he is interested but has to leave and really can’t call back. Now he’s been placed in a pressure situation of greater magnitude. It was a somewhat devious move by the coach but only a minor violation. Other coaches in attendance could be seen nodding heads as they took notes.

The new torrent of transfers is the modern version of the phone call rule, i.e. the intent of the rule is good but the ways it’s being used is based on deception. These “master’s candidates” have become more like mercenaries and, like the one-and-dones, although so many coaches do not want to recruit them, they feel as though they must if, for no other reason than if of they don’t, they’ll wind up playing against them, maybe losing to them and, gulp, losing their job. Coaches are allowing their competitive gene overrule their moral gene.

Given the choice, my conservative estimate would be that 85% of the coaches would rather be able to coach guys for four (or even five) years. Part of that group would include junior college transfers whom they could work with for at least a couple years. Develop their skills. The relaxed transfer rules have turned too many college basketball players into nothing more than free agents. Adding in the one-and-done player, and coaches are behaving in ways that in past decades would be unrecognizable.

The stat I heard that hit me like a sucker punch I never saw coming was: every point scored by the national champion Duke Blue Devils in the second half of the final game against Wisconsin was scored by freshmen, only one (the four) of whom is returning to Durham next season. 18-year olds using one of the greatest academic institutions as a mere stepping stone to a professional basketball career.

One has to wonder in college basketball:

“Is the tail wagging the dog?”

With All Shaq’s Other Talents, Why Is He Being Allowed to Ruin TNT’s Studio Show?

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Wilt Chamberlain aside, it’s my opinion that Shaquille O’Neal is the most multi-talented seven footer anyone has ever observed – on the court and off. The LSU grad, one of the NBA’s most dominant centers, has also displayed an ability to dance (especially break dancing, no small feat for a guy of his proportions) and while his acting skills might not be Academy Award worthy, he has been cast as a leading man. In addition, his show “Shaq vs.” was quite entertaining, pitting the big guy (plus a handicap of some sort) against athletes who are/were world-class in their sport (Michael Phelps, Oscar De La Hoya, Serena Williams and Albert Pujols, among others).

With all those endeavors to his credit, why in the world did the people at TNT feel it necessary to add to the trio of Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson for their award-winning Inside the NBA television show? When those three originals were providing pre-game, halftime and post-game commentary and analysis, the viewer was privy to a couple of former NBA stars explaining the game and how professionals prepared for it, thought about and responded to various situations that would arise in an NBA contest. E.J. proved the perfect host, keeping the show on track, yet allowing for some good-natured banter between the other two.

Maybe some higher up at TNT had a (man or woman) crush on Shaq, maybe Shaq’s agent called in an overdue chit, maybe Shaq has pictures of somebody – who knows? – but for some asinine reason, it was decided to add a fourth mouth to the mix and the show has become more annoying and offensive than entertaining and educational. He feels it’s his turn to speak anytime, destroying the wonderful chemistry the other three used to have. His comments are predictable, e.g. “You gotta feed the big man” or “It all starts with the big fella,” independent of the strengths of the teams involved in the game that night. He drones on in his all-too-often pantomimed monotone or looks as though he’s at ventriloquist tryouts (except for when he gets really animated and scrunches up the left side of his face to make some mundane point). That is, unless there’s a joke at Barkley’s expense. Last night he laughed louder and longer than necessary at a, granted, funny remark directed at Chuck’s slaughtering the English language, rendering the rest of the segment useless.

Other than that, he can be heard serving up nonsensical remarks (“bar-be-qued chicken”) or feeding his massive ego, making a remark of how great he is (or was) at some area of the game (or life) and challenging anyone, especially his foil, Barkley, to refute it. If Chuck takes the bait, the audience is then subject to listening to his bravado, which drags on until a “showdown” is arranged or, thankfully, a commercial break comes to the rescue. His behavior is so unprofessional that viewers are left to wonder why the station is so committed to his presence on the program. It’s almost as if TNT  had a Rembrandt – and decided that it could be improved by allowing someone to draw on it with crayons. Finally, they realized it was no longer a masterpiece and resigned themselves to riding it out and continue the coloring.

Possibly, O’Neal took the gig in an attempt to set a record for how many different methods he can employ to increase his net worth. He’s endorsed any and all products, no matter how implausible his use of that item might be (really, Arizona Beverages – Soda Shaq & Shaq Fu Punch? Buick?) Does anybody think for a minute that, when Shaquille O’Neal’s muscles ache, he reaches for the Icy Hot?

As Variety‘s author, Brian Lowry, declared in his July 24, 2014 piece, TNT Made a Mistake by Signing Shaq (he recognized the network’s blunder almost immediately):

“The bigger they are, the harder they can be to listen to.”

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

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The old one hasn’t left yet.”