Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

The Next Rule that Might Be Implemented in College Hoops

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Usually when new legislation is passed in college basketball, there is a minor (or worse) uproar from either the coaches or the fans (usually the coaches). Yet, when the new rules (shortening the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, moving the restricted area arc a foot farther away from the basket and reducing the number of second half times out by one) were passed, nary a whimper was heard. As it should be.

Although shortening the shot will not have the desired effect of increasing scoring (it will increase the number of possessions, but not the number of points), there doesn’t seem to be too much complaining by coaches – probably because this change has been discussed for several years and was inevitable. Note: If you’re interested in why it won’t increase scoring, please check out my post from 3/26/15 (go to the Archives column to the right, to March 2015, click on it and scroll until you get to the desired date).

What coaches ought to be worried about is the next rule under discussion. Most likely, the proponents are the schools that have outstanding talent on a yearly basis, i.e. teams that rely on individual talent creating shot opportunities as opposed to executing an offense to produce a shot. If you haven’t figured out what this change is yet, it’s the elimination of the five-second closely guarded rule. As the rule is now, if a defender is within six feet of the ballhandler (“six feet” being an arbitrary distance depending on the official), a player has to either dribble, pass or shoot before five seconds elapse, or else the whistle blows and a violation is called, resulting in a turnover for the offensive team. However, if the player dribbles – and the defender stays within “closely guarded” range (in front of the dribbler), he (this rule does not apply to the women’s game) must increase the distance (possibly by backing up), penetrate the defense (meaning the defender is no longer considered to be “closely guarding” him) or pick the ball up before the next five seconds elapse. If the dribble is picked up, the player must now either shoot or pass within a new five second count. Adding up the time, this means that a player with the ball can be in possession of it for a maximum of 12 seconds before he must pass or shoot (four holding, four dribbling, four holding).

The proposed rule is what the NBA employs, the one in which a player can stand near midcourt, casually dribbling the ball – or worse, standing, holding the ball – staring at his defender who is more than happy than to stay in his stance, ready to defend once the player decides to do . . . whatever. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball, all too often the case is a player bends at the waist, ball in both hands, on his hip, knowing that everyone in the arena (and watching on TV) is focused on him – and he controls what happens next. The only problem is that, in his mind, he visualizes himself blowing by his defender and dunking on whomever is in his way or drawing another defender and dishing to a teammate for a “sweet dime” (assist). The reality is he can’t get by the guy guarding him and is forced to pull up and launch a contested three – which seldom hits its mark.

Another scenario that often happens is, as the shot clock winds down (usually too close to the end), the ballhandler will request a player set a screen for him. Unless the ballhandler has been taught how to properly run a pick and roll (or pop), what occurs is seldom considered good basketball. And that’s what the most talented guys do.

At the college level, similar to the NBA, the general rule is egos surpass abilities (except in the case of the student-athlete, while the ego tends to be a tad lower than his professional counterpart, the skill level is significantly so). Result? Possessions that end in bad shots more often than not. This rule change will make college basketball more like the professional game. The goal of the NCAA should be to try, at all costs, to keep the two games separate since both are experiencing peak interest.

Those who favor the college game will recite reason after reason why their feelings are what they are. The people who think the professional game is more interesting, exciting, better, will rattle off proof of the superiority of that level of play. Which is as it should be. Don’t force one to be like the other. They’re not the same. As it is, we’re not supposed to talk about money, politics and religion.

“Soon, there will be nothing left to argue.”

Brandon Spikes His Career

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Unless there’s some information that’s being withheld, it can be assumed that Brandon Spikes has made, quite possibly, his last mistake for quite a while. While all the facts are yet to be gathered, it appears Spikes might be trading in his Patriots uniform for an orange jumpsuit. A summary of the most recent events is, while there was some confusion that there had been an accident and that the driver had hit a deer, in fact, it was Mercedes’ own service, Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance, that alerted police. There certainly had been an accident but, not only was there no deer at the scene, there was no driver, either. The car was a 2011 Mercedes Maybach, a super luxury model that costs upwards of a half a million dollars. It is the absolute, top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz, the kind that’s in a class with the Rolls-Royce or Bentley. It comes with many added extras: a massaging, back-seat recliner, sheepskin interiors and its own signature perfumed air-filtration system. Apparently, it rats you out if you’re in an accident and don’t want anyone to know about it.

The “rest of the story” is that a family in a Nissan Murano said they were rear-ended, with the driver of the other vehicle fleeing, something repeated by another caller to 911. The family was taken to the hospital. While none of these incidents have been connected yet, the future for Brandon Spikes looks bleak. However, if it comes to be that the most meaningful accomplishment of his football career is that, due to his considerable missteps (see below), other players will be dissuaded from repeating such transgressions, his legacy will be a positive one.

Spikes’ story is one of an extraordinarily talented football player (the “honors” section of his bio page in the 2009 Florida press guide had 45 items of either awards he’d achieved or recognition bestowed upon him – heading into his senior season). He was chosen in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft (62nd pick) by the New England Patriots.

In his pre-draft evaluation, under the category of “Weakness” the first statement was, “Can be overly emotional at times.” There was also mention made that he had been suspended and missed a game due to an on field incident during his senior season (he tried to gouge the eyes of a Georgia player). In addition, the NFL investigated a compromising video of him with a woman that was posted online. Also, near the end of the 2010 season he received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy.

There are several things that make up a player that can derail his career when left unchecked. Temper, as noted above, is one (these are in no particular order). Another one is ego. The next, quite often, a by-product of the ego – his mouth. In addition, there’s another part of his anatomy that can cause considerable complications – and those affect more than just the player (but that’s another topic for another time).

Right now, looking at the case of Brandon Spikes, we see a guy who was (and, undoubtedly, still is) in desperate need of some type of mentor. After four seasons with the Patriots, the team placed him on the IR for, what they claimed was a nagging knee injury. Rather than speak with club officials, Spikes went public, blasting the franchise. As an illustration of compounding a mistake, he interjected into the discussion another Pats’ player who he felt was mistreated. While the player, Aqib Talib, corroborated Spikes’ assessment, Spikes still needed someone to advise him of “proper complaining etiquette.” Another time he “came to a teammate’s defense” was when, following the conviction of Aaron Hernandez (a teammate at both Florida and New England), Spikes made a comment about the justice system which has served as just another example of, during the thought process, in most cases, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

It’s easy to place all the blame on Spikes but, looking at all of this through his eyes, he did sign a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Buffalo Bills, which must have boosted his theory that a player should simply speak his mind. Shortly thereafter he went on another rant against his former squad. Then, with all the history he’d had with New England, the franchise showed everyone – including the members in the Spikes’ camp, that the NFL truly is “just a business” when the Patriots offered him a one-year deal worth a maximum value of $2 million on May 16 (the only guaranteed money in the deal was a $25,000 signing bonus). If there is anybody out there who thinks he’ll see a penny of the $1,975,000 that’s left, that guy is also in desperate need of a mentor.

Oh yeah, this latest “incident” took place at 3:30AM.

The refrain of the old song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Where Have All the Flowers Gone wasn’t referring to some of today’s athletes and their decisions but it ought to be their theme song:

“Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

 

Flashback to a Memorable Experience

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

The following is a blog I posted over five years ago. The actual story occurred in December of 2004. After watching yesterday’s Triple Crown victory by American Pharoah, I wondered how many guys on the team (who are now 21-23 years old) that I accompanied to SoCal remember our quick stop at Santa Anita. Due to how it ended and the final remark of a Hall of Famer, my guess is all of them.

During my last year of coaching (2004-05), I scheduled an out-of-town tournament for the Buchanan (CA) HS boys basketball team in Glendora, CA. We split four games, but what I’m certain impressed the guys far more than the basketball were the side trips I arranged.

In addition to visiting the Rose Bowl and touring Cal Tech’s campus (if you ever wondered where the most brilliant high school students go to college, check out anyone enrolled at that institution), I cashed in a favor from a relationship I’d made with a member of the media. Larry Bornstein, of the Pasadena Star-News, was one of our beat writers when I was coaching at USC.

Although Larry was assigned to cover Trojan basketball, his first love was writing about the ponies. He knew everyone in the horse racing business. During my final two years at SC, we lived in Arcadia, in a house that was located a block and a half from Santa Anita, the legendary racetrack.  I asked Larry if he could set up a tour of Santa Anita for our players.

Not only did we get an insider’s view, complete with a visit to the jockey’s locker room – seeing the size of those little uniforms after having been in the world of basketball for 35 years was astonishing – but, while we were being given a “history of Santa Anita” presentation,  who should come walking down the track but the most recognizable white-haired man in the horse racing game.  Yup, the one and only Bob Baffert, the famous trainer who yesterday (5/16/10) posted his fifth Preakness win.

One of the hardest working and most honest, yet also one of the most naive players I’ve ever been around was intrigued by the gasps he heard from me and a couple of others who recognized the man heading our way. “What do we have here?” inquired the personable trainer. When our host said, “A high school basketball team,” Bob asked if there were any questions. Our young guy piped up, “What exactly do you do?”

If that young guy – or any of the others who were with us –  don’t remember Baffert’s profound answer, I ‘d be shocked. In fact, I’d give the same odds (3:5) that were on American Pharoah yesterday.  Because Baffert simply looked at him, through his ever-present sun glasses, and said:

“I don’t do shit.”

Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson Has Impressive Rookie Season

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Heading to Stanford to check in with my pain management doctor, then on to LA to visit friends. This blog will return Friday, June 5.

18 players who did not get drafted last year played in at least one game during the 2014-15 NBA season. Talk about fulfilling a dream. I’m sure every one of those guys had, at the very least, hoped to have been drafted. Only 60 guys get picked. If you’re not one of them, what’s your next step?

Although I don’t know for certain, I’d guess each one must have had an agent. That is when the agent makes his money, however little it is. Find the client a job overseas (obviously, as lucrative as possible – and there are some high paying jobs across the seas), try to get him signed as a free agent, get him a spot on some team’s summer league squad, try to place him in the D-League.  Keep his dream alive.

A lot of it depends on the client. How badly does he want to play? Is he willing to relocate – maybe to somewhere they don’t speak English? What’s his ultimate goal – the NBA, to make as much money as he can, or is he the adventurous type who wants to see as much of the world while he’s young (on somebody else’s dime)?

Googling “Fresno State players in the NBA” the results show that the school has placed, to date, 21 players in the NBA, although a Fresno State release claims as many as 30 (for the record, Tark had 10 of the 21, not including one kid who transferred from FSU and eventually made it to the league). The Bulldogs’ latest entry is Tyler Johnson, a youngster who wasn’t very highly recruited and whose freshman year saw him average just over four points for a 14-17 club. He improved every year and during his senior campaign he averaged nearly 16ppg and scored at least 20 points in a game on 13 different occasions throughout his career.

Johnson was one of those 18 who went undrafted but earned a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad. Signed by the Heat in early August, only to be released in late October, he hooked on with a Development League team in Sioux Falls, SD. His play must have caught the eye of someone in the Heat organization because, in mid-January, he got what every D-League player dream of: a ten-day contract.

10-day contracts can lead to something – or they can simply tease a player. Some guys see action, others never even get to play during the 10 days. Most, then, get released – usually heartbroken. Johnson’s 10-day stats? One game, two minutes, two points (FTs). The release part happened to Tyler Johnson, but not the heartbroken. He returned to his D-League outfit, more determined to make it than ever. He had seen actual NBA basketball up close and knew he could hang. A couple weeks later, he signed another 10-day, and did well enough to merit another. Only the rule from the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is, “After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for the remainder of the season.” Johnson had done enough to merit another contract, this one for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. His salary was prorated for the remainder of the season but, still, he had made the NBA!

Although that’s not the way Tyler looked at it. He had not yet made anything (even though the contract he signed was for two years – for over a million per year. He was determined, more than ever, to earn every last dollar. By NBA standards, a million dollars a year isn’t earth-shaking. Not even a minor tremor. To put it in perspective, though, guess what the valedictorian of Fresno State’s graduating class makes? While my research, or nosiness, doesn’t extend that far, suffice to say #1’s salary is less than Johnson’s. Besides, Tyler had additional plans.

What might have play into his hands was that the Heat, a proud franchise with multiple championships in the recent past, were struggling just to make the playoffs. The buzz that used to fill the arena was not nearly what it had been when The Big Three were going to the NBA Finals on a yearly basis or when D-Wade and Shaq put up a banner. Some guys just “play it out” at that time, while others might be banged up from a long season and at far less than 100%. Why go all-out, man, you’re a millionaire?

No matter for Tyler. Bring it on. This was his dream – right there in the palm of his hands and he was going to, just as he did in every game he’d ever played, “leave it all on the floor.” Hustle plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, anything to show he belonged, he did it. The month of March was good to him as he first scored a career high 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, in a win over Phoenix and, five days later, he played 44 minutes, scoring 24 points, with six rebounds and six assists in an OT victory against Sacramento.

What many players don’t realize, especially at the end of the season when a lot of guys have already made vacation plans, is it’s not only your front office you’re trying to impress. You’re auditioning for your opponent as well. With today’s technology and staffs full of video people, every game is an audition for every team in the league. The way players are moved around today, Tyler Johnson’s performance for the Heat upped his stock so that somewhere, somebody will want him on their roster.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his evaluation of Johnson’s career to date: “. . . over the course of the years, undrafted players on average, there’s less then five a year that actually make it and have a role . . . (now the question is) can you sustain it.”

All-out hustle is not a new concept. Arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, Joe DiMaggio, when asked why he always gave maximum effort, replied:

“There might be somebody coming to the game today who’s never seen me play – and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

More on Thibodeau?

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

For the past (seems like) year, the firing by the Chicago Bulls of their coach Tom Thibodeau was one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA. How the actual dismissal was handled was even more of a blunder. As has been mentioned in this space (more than once), the Bulls’ front office, led by VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson and GM Gar Forman (who, allegedly, is so smitten by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, he might need counseling if the Cyclones coach rejects the Bulls’ generous advances), has made coaching the team next to impossible for their previous (now) three head men. Every Bulls head coach has to constantly be looking over his shoulder.

From telling the coaches which guys to hire and fire to how many minutes certain players should play, those two must feel their number one duty is to meddle.How someone hasn’t told those two how to get along – or to just stay out of the way – with the coaches they hire defies credulity. Skiles, Del Negro, Thibodeau – and never, never, have either Paxson or Forman taken an iota of responsibility.

Those who defend them say the coaches were hired over their protests. If that, in fact, is the case then the problem lies with someone higher up – and looking at the Bulls’ organizational chart that would mean the culprit would have to be named Reinsdorf. Either Jerry, the owner, or is son, Michael, the prez, would be considered Paxson’s and Forman’s boss(es).  Here are a couple unanswered questions: If the Reinsdorfs hire the guy, why don’t they tell Paxson and Forman to help them succeed? If the answer is they did, then why don’t the owners (including the son because he’ll probably inherit the franchise) see the (not so) hidden agenda, i.e. that those two are undermining the team?

I can remember Mike Krzyzewski talking about how fascinating it was watching the thoroughness and passion of Thibs when he was explaining defensive coverages to the U.S. Olympic team. Justin Farmer, who writes for isportsweb reported, “Thibs is a great coach and the next team he lands with, will get one of the best defensive minds in the NBA today.” Here’s a guy who averaged over 50 wins a year, including a strike shortened season and with Derrick Rose playing in less than half of the games (181 of 394) while Thibs was there. And he’s getting canned? And with a dishonorable discharge at that?

In addition to costing their owner several million bucks to pay someone not to work (a practice frowned upon by a guy like Reinsdorf), both Paxson and Forman have been accused of leaking negative information to the media – and, possibly, poisoning the players’ minds regarding the coaches. The report that at least three players were going to boycott and stay away from the Bulls’ facility if Thibodeau was brought back as coach is interesting. First of all, the three players’ names were, of course, anonymous, anonymous and anonymous – the most highly quoted source of any kind of dirt in an organization, team, company, government, whatever. Hey, if you feel that strongly about an issue or a person, don’t hide behind the cloak of secrecy. Number two, when the hell did individual players get the power to boycott? They’re under contract. Plus, does anyone think, for a second, that Thibodeau would have gotten the ax if the Bulls had won it all? The people who determine that are the ones in uniform. If you succeed (and if the rumors are true, they did), boycott at your own risk because . . . well, have you ever heard of Wally Pipp?

Lastly, if Paxson and Forman actually make the selection this time around – and the Bulls 1) don’t win as many games as they have had in the past or 2) don’t advance any farther in the playoffs, are the next heads to lopped off those of the meddlers. That begs another question, namely, how much will they be allowed to interfere with the new coaching staff? Or will there be a “meddling clause” written into the contract?

Some ground rules need to be set. By no means, will “injuries” be allowed as an excuse should the team not live up to expectations – which are relatively high in Chi-town. This unbridled optimism is due largely due to a very short list of men – Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only players to be on every one of the six championship squads (Jordan couldn’t win without Pippen; Pippen couldn’t win without Jordan, although each tried without the other) and coaches Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. That’s the total number of players/coaches who made up each championship in the Bulls “dynasty.” Without them, there would be a number of championship banners hanging in the United Center. The number is zero.

So don’t make the Bulls franchise out to be like the Lakers or the Celtics, both of whom won multiple championships in different decades, with completely different players and coaches. Sure, Forman can talk about the “culture” of their organization but, right now, their most recognizable culture is one in which the front office and coaching staffs come together (actually, “apart” is probably a better word) to create a form of “reverse synergy.”

Rumors have it they’re about to shell out $25 million for the next five years for a coach, whom everybody says only positive things about, yet one who’s never called a time out or run an NBA practice. With the track record of Paxson and Forman, Fred Hoiberg better have some magical personality, unless he can string five “Larry’s” in a row.

If you haven’t already, read Steve Rosenbloom’s piece in the Chicago Tribune (5/28/15) on this mess. If he had to choose between Steve and me for a recommendation, Paxson would ask yours truly.

The Bulls Need to Fire Somebody But They Picked the Wrong Guy

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Full disclosure: At the turn of the century, I was attending a self-improvement clinic (that I helped originate in the mid 1980s), I happened to be sitting next to Tom Thibodeau who was there because he was Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant with the New York Knicks. Jeff had been coming to the clinic since he was a graduate assistant with Rick Pitino at Providence. Due to the proximity (and the fact we went for two days, ordering food in to make the most efficient use of our time, Thibs and I chatted it up quite a bit. At the time I was working at Fresno State for Jerry Tarkanian who had hired Thibs during his short stay as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. We are by no means “boys” but we did get to rekindle our friendship when I saw him at Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple years ago when Tark got inducted. I am definitely biased.

Let’s set the stage: 1993 NBA Finals, Game 6 in Phoenix, Bulls up on the Suns 3-2 in games but down 98-96 with time running out, John Paxson makes a (wide open) three-pointer with 3 seconds to go, allowing the Bulls to win their third straight NBA Championship and second three-peat in the ’90s.

Question #1: What is the shelf life of that shot in terms of Paxson’s golden boy status?

Question #2 Does Gar Forman have incriminating pictures of Jerry Reinsdorf?

In a game of “stare down,” the Bulls blinked first. Their intention was to either get compensation for their coach (with whom they haven’t spoken to for several months) or, because they badmouthed him so bad, no team was willing to give up a draft pick for a guy they knew was going to be fired anyway, let Thibodeau twist in the wind until all the open jobs were filled and, then, fire him. Even though, if he were to be hired by another team, there would be “offset” money, meaning whatever dough he was getting paid by his new employer, was money they could subtract from the considerable (uh, $9 million) they owed him. If that second option sounds childish, . . . you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Bulls’ management talks of the “culture” but I wonder if that culture wouldn’t be in Portland if . . . well, everybody knows about the 1984 NBA draft. What people, especially Jerry Reinsdorf, need to do is get into “today.” Chicago is a destination city for a coach – in terms of the market, fan base and good place to raise a family (at least everybody would learn how to survive those nasty winters). It’s just that it hasn’t been a destination job since . . . Phil left. Not only do Frick & Frack (Paxson & Forman, take your pick as to which is which) fire coaches, every time time they do, it’s nasty to the point of ugly.

Scott Skiles has a good name in coaching circles and might be back in the league as a head man next season. They pink-slipped him. Did he deserve to go? Hey, it’s the NBA – you get fired for not making the playoffs, making the playoffs but losing earlier than the front office thinks you should, not to mention,with everybody owning a camera, one slip up in your personal life (although that last one might be overlooked if you won it all).

Vinny Del Negro got the Clippers job and won 56 games in his final year (including 17 straight). Yet, F&F, allegedly, got rid of Del Negro because he played Joakim Noah more minutes than he was allowed – by F&F. They consulted with the doctors and asked how many minutes Noah should play. The only reason Del Negro played him more is because the game went overtime. It’s a Catch 22 – don’t play him and lose (do that enough and you’re canned) or play him to try to win and piss off the two guys who are power hungry.

How bad are they? They placed time limits on player this year and were upset that Thibodeau played guys too much. What is this pee wee hoops – everybody gets to start at least once and all the players get to play at least once each quarter? Hire your guy and let him coach. Apparently, in both cases, Reinsdorf overruled whichever coach F&F wanted. So they would leak information to undermine the coach (and the franchise). In the Del Negro case, Paxson threw a temper tantrum and began kicking the desk (does someone need a time out, Johnny?) There have been rumors that Paxson likes adult beverages . . . more than is healthy and that they may affect his behavior. Whether or not that’s true may or may not be discovered.

Steve DelVecchio’s story went as far to say, “The relationship between Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office is not functional…If the Bulls tried to screw Thibodeau in a childish manner, they’d also be taking themselves out of the running for any candidates that the New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are considering.” That’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” What’s come out is that Thibs is difficult to get along with. Yet, when asked how, it always comes back to F&F telling him they want the  team coached. Hey. hire a guy and let him work. You don;t like the results, then fire him. When Mark Jackson had that success with Golden State but couldn’t get along with the higher ups, they let him go. And look what happened. Maybe that plan works. It did for the Warriors. It hasn’t for the Bulls.

ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted, “More and more you hear Thibs’ admirers around NBA say they fear Bulls (were) determined to let all three open jobs get filled and then let Thibs go.” Would they consider that a “win?” Beyond childish.

It sems as tough F&F have near autonomous power. They were overrules by Reinsdorf, who’s known as the biggest White Sox fan in the stadium and among the biggest fans of the Bulls. Regarding Thibs’ hiring, Joe Cowley, of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “The Chicago Bulls’ front office reportedly attempted to have Tom Thibodeau hire an offensive-minded assistant coach. The coach pushed to Thibodeau was Doug Collins,. . . (whom they) nearly hired as a head coach again in 2008.” If only. Then, they there was their win-win. If the Bulls won, Doug could snatch the credit; if they lost, they could fire Thibs and hire Doug. Apparently, owner Reinsdorf wanted Vinny Del Negro. So, is this how it works – Pax and Gar don’t get to pick the coach but they can fire him? Because he doesn’t coach the team and use the players the way they think he should?

Now they want Fred Hoiberg, who’s done a great job at Iowa State but has zero NBA experience and is coming off open heart surgery. Do they want him that badly? Even if the rumor is Hoiberg wants to coach in the NBA, didn’t they already hire a Iowa State coach (Tim Floyd) whose claim to fame is . . . he hired Gar Forman?

Sportswriter Darrell Horowitz wrote a scathing article, ripping Thibs. He was pretty much the Lone Ranger within his profession. Wonder what his relationship to F&F is? He wrote things an insider would know (assuming what he wrote is fact. What Thibs has going for him is the president (of the United States, not the Bulls – which happens to be Reinsdorf’s son – he probably nailed the interview) came out in support of him. Darell Horowitz (and F&F) are against him. And got Reinsdorf to belittle Thibs. Until then, people felt Jerry was a Thibs’ supporter – and probably was.

A claim can be made that every one of the Bulls’ championships begin and end with Michael Jordan. While MJ didn’t win those titles all by himself, the Bulls never won one without him. They three-peated, he left and they three-peated when he came back. None without him. Case closed.

Once again, to end the Bulls’ dysfunction, the answer is to have John Paxson and Gar Forman coach the damn team. Then maybe they’d fire themselves and let adults take over. After all, as Jeff Van Gundy said (in support of his man, Thibs):

“These are the same two guys who drafted Tyrus Thomas ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge.”

 

Some in the Media Have Limited Empathy

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

An elimination game is played and the team behind in the series loses. Season’s over. Just like that. Everybody, after exit interviews, will most likely, go their own way, possibly to reconnect with their family, possibly to “get away from it all.” After a long season (whichever sport), there’s a need for R&R.

Before any of that occurs, however, there’s the mandatory press conference. With a multitude of writers, none of whom desire to write the same, trite story, questions range from what happened, to why, to what’s next. Kevin McHale, did a masterful job considering injuries, got the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, after posting the second best record in the conference.

“What happened?’ was his greeting. The method he uses with the media is anti-Pop. McHale patiently answers every question with substance, e.g. we did a poor job of finishing at the rim, couldn’t keep the Warriors off the offensive glass and we turned the ball over too many times high in their offensive set which caused run-outs by Golden State. Perfect wrap-up – if someone was really interested in why Houston lost. Not enough. Questions about Harden’s poor performance (two days after he posted one of the best playoff games in history),  and “Is it good for the NBA to have new blood in the Finals?” (the Cavs have never won a championship; the Warriors won theirs 40 years ago).

McHale’s answers were wonderful. Regarding Harden’s 13 turnovers, he said, “Look, nobody goes into a game trying to turn over the ball.” His second answer was just as on point. “The Rockets haven’t won one in a while. I wish it was us.” In other words, “Look, we just lost. Do you think I’ve considered that question for one iota?” Can’t the media understand that, during the playoffs (or NCAA tournament, World Series, Super Bowl, whatever for that matter), that while they (the media) think about those things because they have to. Coaches are a different breed. They care who wins. And not because they’re a fan or have a wager on the game. And when they’re eliminated, many choose not to watch any further basketball.

Steve Kerr, on the other hand, felt it was terrific for the league to have “new blood” (same guy asked the question to Kerr after McHale’s presser ended). Because his team (and their new blood) are in it! But the media has to ask an asinine question to Kerr, too, or how fair would they be?

“What do you think of your match up with the Cavs?” was the query. Kerr seemed taken aback. His team had just won the Western Conference championship – in his first year as head coach. He answered as honestly as McHale when he said he hadn’t given it one thought – because they had been so focused on the Rockets. If Kerr had said something about the Cavs, no doubt, some time in the future when his team would lose a game in which they were favored, that writer, or one of his cronies, would accuse the coach of “looking ahead,” just like he’d done during the 2015 Playoffs.

One of the best answers to a media question was what Kerr gave to Doris Burke when she asked him a question about strategy at the end of the third quarter of either Game 3 or 4. Kerr looked at the sideline reporter and simply said:

“I’m not going to tell you that, Doris!”

 

So, Who’s the G.O.A.T. Now?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

One of the great American past times, the sports argument, is still alive. That is, among people born before 1985. The newer crowd doesn’t argue – mainly because they’re too busy looking at their phones. Or for the younger ones, their watches. Who has time to actually talk to someone?

Remember when Michael Jordan came off of a broken foot that sidelined him for much of the 1985-86 season to lead the Chicago Bulls into the playoffs against the heavily favored Boston Celtics? The Celts swept the series but in Game 2, MJ scored 63 points, prompting Larry Bird to say, “That wasn’t Michael Jordan. That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Even then, there was only a smattering of talk about whether Jordan was the greatest player of all-time. One problem is most people considered either Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the best player ever, and it was just too much of a stretch to compare a 6’6″ guard to seven-footers. Oscar Robertson averaged a career triple-double but he played  when Wilt did and nobody could threaten the Big Dipper as the sport’s #1 stud. Note: Bill Russell was thought of as, hands down, the greatest winner of all-time (still is) but no one ever mentioned him in “best player ever” conversation. Including Big Russ himself. Every time he was asked about it, he would always defer to the 11 championships. That was all he really cared about anyway.

The decade of the ’90s began and that was when Michael Jordan started winning championships, not just scoring titles. It was at that point that the G.O.A.T. debate began in earnest. Julius Erving had his loyalists but that debate didn’t last very long because so few saw Dr. J on the tube and so many watched MJ on television – and, each game, he would put on a spectacular show. While few considered Jordan a better pure shooter than Jerry West, in every other facet of the game – including defense, an area where West excelled – MJ was brilliant. He was perennially a First Team All-Defense selection. And the Bulls were three-peating. Then they did it again.

For a while there was the Celtics-Lakers argument between Bird and Magic Johnson as the best but they were so different; plus, the winner of the discussion seemed to alternate between the two, depending on whose team won it all that year. Not only did their styles differ from each other, they both were, as the new breed clucked, “no MJ.”

Kobe Bryant was a nominee, one, because his incredible work ethic matched MJ’s and two, especially after his Lakers won a couple championships without Shaq, but how quickly has his name faded from the discussion even though he won five championships (Finals MVP twice), was a 17 time All-Star (four times he was the game’s MVP), had five scoring titles, an MVP award, 11 times All-NBA first team, nine times on the All-NBA Defensive first team – and he’s still making over $30 million?

Now, all the talk is about LeBron James. In his favor is the fact that after last night, he’s taken a “bunch of castoffs” (as many refer to his current teammates) to the NBA Finals – his fifth straight. Physically, he almost dwarfs Jordan being two inches taller and a lot wider. While he’s not the shooter MJ was (unless, it seems, the game is on the line), he’s a much more willing passer. However, that could be because he doesn’t have the killer gene that the ruthless Jordan could so easily summon. Heck, he didn’t even have to summon it – it was always on display. And, yeah, there’s that 6-2 edge in championships.

The question could be asked, “Do either of them even care about which is considered the G.O.A.T.? Of course they do – just due to the competitive aspect. But they can’t do anything about it – and never will. So, argue away:

“Until the inevitable virtual reality game is invented.”

Unlike Sinatra I Have My Regrets

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

Recently returned from Los Angeles where George Raveling and I spent a couple hours doing additional Q&As for George’s website (see CoachGeorgeRaveling.com, video, JackAndCoach). Actually this idea was hatched by yours truly after George told me he had a guy build a website for him (see my 1/7/14 for  ore on the site and the “guy). As my last post explained – for those who know George Raveling even a little, this will come as no shock – the website is sensational, with all the bells and whistles (just using that term is an indicator of which generation I’m from – and granted, by choice – stuck in). Long story short (before it gets too late to make that claim), I suggested that in addition to interviewing famous ladies and gents (once again, a 20th century reference), he needed to have someone interview him. And immediately volunteered for the job.

The “guy” (technological genius would be more accurate) George selected to build his website came extremely highly recommended. Alex Cervasio is a proud (the word doesn’t come remotely close to describing how much of a Gator he is) University of Florida graduate. He owns the company CVASconsulting.com. I’ve had the occasion to be in Alex’s company on numerous occasions and am increasingly impressed every time we get together. His list of clients provides him with immediate credibility. When I found out he’s only in his mid-20s, I was absolutely floored. If ever there was someone who not only keeps up with what’s happening but helps create it, that someone is Alex.

On my drive home my thoughts wandered to my second year out of college. It was 1971 and I was teaching at my alma mater, Highland Park (NJ) High School. One of my colleagues in the math department (actually he was my geometry teacher only eight years earlier) had gotten donated one of those old IBM mainframe computers and he was going to give us a tutorial. Since I knew I was going to be a graduate assistant basketball coach (somewhere) the following year, I begged out of his sessions. Why in the world would I need to know how to operate something so complex? I was going to be a basketball coach. How could that knowledge help me?

When computers came along, I kinda hoped they were a fad. Believe it or not, omniscient has never been a word to describe me. Possibly because I didn’t jump in on the ground level (I am completely convinced that had I learned from him, I’d have developed a confidence that all people who are computer savvy have), I developed a fear of anything technologically related. Thus, I have to depend on the “Alex’s” of the world (which includes my younger son of the same name) to assist me in even the simplest of functions.

Alex Cervasio had no such issues. He had his first laptop when he was 10! For his 13th birthday (about the turn of the century), his parents asked him what he wanted for is  birthday. His request?

“100 shares of Apple stock.”

How do you think that worked out for him?

 

 

Random Thoughts Before I Head to LA

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

As of October 2014 there were over 1 billion websites (a milestone confirmed by NetCraft – who/whatever they are/that is). I am on record as stating that one of the most informative, as well as most professionally done, belongs to my friend/boss/mentor George Raveling. On it you can find, obviously, the man’s bio and guest articles on basketball and other topics. But that only scratches the surface of the site. There’s also a section with his suggestions of the best books to read (on various topics, not just basketball), another area entitled “Food and Travel” (throughout the world, not only the U.S.), one in which George interviews people of influence, e.g. David Falk (Michael Jordan’s agent), Oscar Robertson, Dr. Harry Edwards and John Calipari, to name just a few, and a tab called “Life Lessons” which is invaluable to young and old alike. 

After initially perusing the site and watching several of the interviews (for hoop junkies, the one with Hubie Brown is mesmerizing), I mentioned to George that, since it’s his site, someone should interview him – and added, “Who knows you better than I do?” (I was a graduate assistant for Rave in 1973 at WSU and joined his staff as associate head coach at USC in 1991, also serving as the assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee – he was chairman – for fifteen years in between).  The result is a Q&A (called “JackAndCoach“), with me asking questions designed to elicit responses that will enable the reader better understand this complex and fascinating man (who happens to be a member of the next, i.e. 2015, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame). I couldn’t recommend this website more highly.

All of the above was brought up because I’ll be in Los Angeles for the next couple days, filming (if that’s the proper 2015 term) more  “JackAndCoach” segments. This blog will return Saturday, May 23.

How great is it to watch the Western Conference Finals and see one guy from each team, of relatively normal size, dominate the game? One thing about last night’s game is that it did keep fans in their seats.

Nominee for greatest decision of the year (maybe longer, e.g. decade, this century, all-time): Steve Kerr choosing to accept the head coaching job with the Golden State Warriors in lieu of Phil Jackson’s offer to coach the Knicks

The trade most of America (at least the segment of it I deal with) is clamoring to see: ESPN’s Doug Collins to TNT for Shaquille O’Neal. And to make sure it gets done, even though they have plenty of their own, give some money (as much as it takes) to ESPN. Then, negotiate that all NBA Playoff games be on TNT. The quartet of EJ, Jet, Chuck and Collins would definitely be classified as “must-see TV.” Allow ESPN to add Bill Simmons (and Skip Bayless if they desire) to their group to make that show completely obnoxious and unwatchable.

The salute to David Letterman is wonderful but it seems like tonight we’ll be hearing his eulogy. It’s a show of love and respect by so many – celebrities and fans – that is so heartwarming but wouldn’t it feel better if Dave would at least give us a hint regarding his future plans? It’s almost like he’s going to Montana (or somewhere) to play with his son until his time is up. It would be soothing to all of us, including Dave (I’m guessing), if there was announcement of a “special” he’d be hosting a year from now. That would give everyone something to mark on their calendars. We’ve gotten used to having David Letterman as part of our viewing lives. Speaking for us night owls.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” How many people have ambivalent feelings over wanting the Cavs and LeBron to win it all but can’t stomach the thought of David Blatt holding the Lawrence O’Brien trophy? Or vice versa? 

When Charles Barkley brings up, which he does quite often, that what really upsets him about coming in second in the 1989-90 MVP voting (to Magic Johnson) is that he had so many more first-place votes than anyone else – but didn’t get any second- or third-place votes. Without ever saying it, he’s well aware why that phenomena occurred – and the moral of the story is:

“While it’s nice to be good, but it’s good to be nice.”