Basketball At It’s Finest

I love the game of basketball. It’s a great game; A game of strategy, intelligence, talent, athleticism and teamwork.

I started watching the pro and college games in 1980 when the Showtime Lakers won their first championship Magic Johnson’s rookie year. Though I am a Laker lifer, I’ve always enjoyed watching other good teams play. I remember the Milwaukee Bucks of old with Moncrief and Pressey, the 76ers with Doc, Toney, Moses and Bobby Jones, the Celtics of course and so on. These teams were fun to watch and watching them taught me how the game was played on the highest level.

The resurgence of the NBA was ushered in by the rivalry of the Celtics/Lakers series and of course the duality of Magic and Bird. Basketball came up again and drew many fans from many demographics. The Michael Jordan apex happened at a time when cable TV and the 24 hour sports expansion of media and marketing went to a new level. As great at Jordan was as a player, in so many ways the game itself suffered as many of the upcoming players only focused on Jordan’s individual one on one exploits. They rarely took notice of his all-defensive team selections, or the genius of the Triangle Offense. Those things are affective and essential to winning championships, but the NBA doesn’t market the game this way. They continue to focus on personalities and individual glamourized talent. They want us enamored with LeBron James, but not Tim Duncan. But you see Tim Duncan has four championships, and LeBron has none.

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This is what I thought of yesterday as I watched Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

For me the “Triangle,” when executed properly is probably the most poetic and fluent offense that I’ve witnessed. It gives multiple options to each of the five players on the court. But what I saw last night for the first three quarters from the Spurs was nothing short of basketball perfection!

You talk about mastering the pick and roll, spacing, dribble penetration, drawing the defense in, making the extra pass, then making shots to a point of making the game look like an award winning work of art.  The Spurs were like an orchestra owning the stage and captivating the audience. I was awed by what I saw.

What Tony Parker did to Russell Westbrook was a crime. It was an execution. Parker basically took Westbrook over his knee and spanked him for thinking he could compete on his level at playoff time. Watching Parker was like watching Pete Sampras and Roger Federer at Wimbledon during their hey-days. If it were a play they would have called it, “Murder at the Alamo!” Westbrook like the basketball child he is, failed to see the irony of what was happening to him and tried to dribble and one on one his way out of his whooping.

By the way… James Hardin is a way better basketball player than Russell Westbrook. I’m just sayin. But I digress!

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This is what basketball is up against. TEAMS win championships, but individuals are marketed and packaged to sell the game more than they should be. It’s not like I can’t appreciate the talent LeBron and others have. The problem is that they feel they have to rely on that talent alone to prove their perceived worth to those of us watching as well as those reporting.

I see this as a basketball official. At lower levels a talented individual can definitely win some games for you. But I witness more than I can count the number of teams that I see who can simply pass, shoot, rebound and defend as a unit methodically crucifies the teams with better individual talent.

Look at Spurs coach Greg Popovich; He’s been with the same team his entire career, has won, lost, and now is winning again. Unlike other coaches, his voice has never worn on his star veteran players. I think that speaks volumes for veteran guys like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. What about the job RC Buford has done with the personnel? They have managed to add Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw to a group of savvy veterans and ultimate team players to make this run. It’s amazing. Yet the league will not sell them to the public.

You need not be a rocket scientist to see what is going to happen here. The Heat and the Spurs will be in the Finals. And the Heat, even with the greatness of Wade and the talent of James, don’t have a chance!

I just hope that young people who play this game are paying attention.

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Submit, Listen, Learn & Advance

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. – Hebrews 12:6

We live in society where people are often defensive when it comes to receiving correction. A common phrase folk tend to use when approached with feedback designed to reveal a personal or professional flaw is that the person giving the feedback is ‘hating.’ Their first reaction is to defend, place blame, deflect responsibility, or simply rise up against what may be helpful advice.  There is a common saying, “Only God can judge me.”  Often that’s psycho–babble for, “Don’t say nothing about my ignorant or destructive ways.”

Most of us don’t like being corrected. It’s in our nature.  That’s not always a negative depending on the context.

I remember working in a payroll position.  And for eleven years I made significant contributions day in and day out. My boss, a great man, occasionally questioned a project I worked on or corrected me in my processes. I would listen and adjust my practices when instructed, but there would often be an intense conversation along the way. He said he liked that I was that way because he knew that I really cared about doing a great job. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be better, but I took pride in excellence.  The thought of not being perfect peeved me in the worst way. My motivation had merit. But the pride that drove me was at times my worst enemy.  I’ll get back to that.

Seldom does correction ‘feel’ good. But it’s a valuable tool that’s totally essential for growth. There are always opportunities to be critiqued because none of us are perfect.  Of course not all criticisms are valid. However, the way in which we handle critique say a lot about whether we are fit for promotion.

I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by a veteran official of over 35 years. He has worked multiple high school state title games in three sports. Obviously an older gentleman, his words are not always politically correct. His had a tough and disciplined upbringing by two stern parents in the segregated South. And his straight forward approach seldom has nuance.

I originally knew this man growing up as a teacher and sports official when I attended high school.  He officiated many of my own games.  I doubt that he remembered me.  The first time he saw me on the ball field as a young umpire, he eyed me from head to toe pointing out what was wrong with my uniform, and how I held my ball/strike/out indicator in the wrong hand.  He also tore into me for wearing a shiny watch (not good as it reflects in the sun) and on and on.  Inside I felt like, “Well damn dude, nice to see you again too.”

For some reason, I had the presence of mind not to let him see me sweat. Instead, I hung around and allowed him to make fun of me in front of the other guys. I shook my head in the affirmative, smiled and thanked him for helping me out. I bought a non reflective watch, and made every other adjustment per his instructions.

He kept in touch and hired me for a few high school games. Sometimes I got to work directly with him as his on the field partner. This was scary because I didn’t know how I would stack up or if I would meet his expectations. Needless to say, my trepidation was clairvoyant. At the end of each half inning he summoned me and asked me various question about what I was doing and why. I remember being on the bases and when a runner was tagged out I belted, “HE’S OUT AT THIRD!” I was told by the cagy veteran, “Us umpires are dumb! We only speak in one word terms. We say ‘out’, ‘safe,’ ‘ball,’ ‘strike.’ We don’t announce the game. You’re not Harry Carey!”

He gave it to me every time he had a chance. But I took it in and learned. I focused on not making the same mistakes over and over again. These lessons continued as we worked together more in the later months.  I began to improve.  As I got better he started giving me respect.  Instead of rhetoric exclusively geared towards instructions he started to speak casually, even making jokes.  Sometimes he’d even ask me about my personal life to get to know me better.

Last year this mentor of mine was inducted into the Illinois High School Activities Hall of Fame. My wife and I drove to the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to share in his honor with many of his family, friends, and fellow officials.

Now when we work together he still quizzes me sometimes.  He still gives instructions as he is always the educator. I am still a bit nervous, more so out of respect. I always learn something new when work together.  But I also noticed that he is proud of me. When we used to meet in the parking lot for pre-game he would tell me whether I was working the plate or the field. Now he asks me what my preferences are. One time he even said, “It’s my turn to work the plate Chris. I gotcha.” Now he looks at me like a partner not as a scrub.

You see the ‘drill sergeant’ has long retired from the sport. He’s received all of the accolades one can get from his profession as a teacher and official. But his motivation for me was to see me advance and be one of the people to carry the torch of my generation. He merely hangs around now to assign guys like me games and expose us to people and places because this business is very political. There was a time when Black American officials didn’t get much work if any from Caucasian assignors. It’s still that way in a lot of places. So his entire aim was never to demean or embarrass me. (Though at times I’m telling you he did.) He simply wants me to be the best at my craft.  I have to be on top of my game to succeed and reach my potential.  He told me recently, “I want you to be a state finals official.”

I love him for that.

Now, if I would have been a knuckle head and rebelled, ignored his advice, thought to myself the man is old, out of touch or hating, where would that leave me?

I’ve always been a mentor myself so I get it.  When I see a person who consistently refuse the counsel I offer, I’ll keep my knowledge to myself. When people cease talking to us about our flaws and we are allowed to flail about aimlessly thinking that we are performing well when in reality we are not, that is actually a judgment upon our lives. It’s saying in effect, “There is no hope for you.  I will not waste my time, or my breath trying to dress a pig with pearls.”

As I said before every criticism is not necessarily valid. But listening never hurt anyone. The best thing to do, even if you initially disagree is to consider and reflect on what has been said first.  If you find it to be true, take heed and make change. If it’s not, keep it moving.

Unfortunately, pride keeps us from even contemplating and thus prevents us from promotion to our next level. But that great evangelist and teacher Marcellus Wallace said it best, “Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that shit.”

MW

The President and Gay Marriage

A few words on President Obama and same sex marriage:

First I don’t think it should be necessary for any president to have to speak on something so polarizing unless he/she plans on pursuing policy to either push for or fight against said topic. George W. pursued legislation against gay marriage.  So his personal opinion mattered.  Unless President Obama plans to push legislation, (and so far he hasn’t indicated that he would) I don’t find it necessary that he had to speak on it. 

That said the most important thing is how voters will respond.

I’ve heard much about how his stance one way or the other will affect the election.  Here is my opinion:

If a person were to make a decision to vote for a president or not for the sake of one or two social issues alone, that person is stupid.  First of all, it’s not a president’s primary job to lead social change, but to lead the country in terms of protection, preservation and advancement of the nation he/she leads.  If there are social issues that directly or indirectly affect the economy, our security, or prevent us from our best chance as Americans then the President should lead on those.  This is not to say that the gay rights issue doesn’t fit those criteria.  But again, it will only make a difference if The President pursues policy, not simply his opinion.  President Obama said he would turn back DADT in his campaign.  It wouldn’t have mattered if LBJ thought Black Americans should have a civil rights bill in his heart but refused to press the power of his bully-pulpit.

I’ve heard comments from Black Christian folk who say that they are either going to vote Republican this November or not vote at all simply because of this issue.   Again, that is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

Number one, regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, there are just too many variables that will affect everyone’s lives whoever becomes president.   Whether gays are allowed to get married or not, it’s only going to change the life of the gay community.  It won’t prevent a straight person’s ability to marry whom they want.  Meanwhile we still have the economy to deal with,  Supreme Court justices, foreign policy etc.  All of which will have a bigger impact on the country.  Gays getting married will not help nor prevent you from getting a job.

Number two,   I saw Roland Martin say on CNN last night that it will be interesting to see whether black conservative preachers will lean towards their “political or prophetic voices” when speaking to their congregations.  (Martin is an ordained Baptist minister)  I thought to myself, “WTF was that supposed to mean?  You mean to tell me that if the president is for gay marriage alone that is a deal breaker?

For all the biblical talk about Adam and Steve, Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  According to the Institute for religious research, Christianity and Mormonism differ on several central core doctrinal beliefs concerning the person of Jesus Christ. 

http://www.irr.org/mit/is-mormonism-christian.html

By their standards, this should trump anything above one moral issue. 

Also Romney was for gay marriage not long ago. He’s only changed his public opinion since courting the Republican nomination.

Does that mean that Christians should stay home and not vote for anybody?  Again that would be stupid.

Regardless of who you choose to vote for, you need to vote for someone as opposed to not participating in the process.  And it would be wise to not isolate anything in particular, but to look at the totality of the policies the candidate would pursue and based on those policies if the nation as a whole is going to be better off.

I challenge you not to be fooled by this idiocy no matter what a preacher says.  I mean what the hell is Eddie Long going to say about it?

We’re All Selling Something!

“A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” – Glengarry Glen Ross

Most who know me well know that I am a sports official by profession. After 27 years in management, project management, payroll and some form of customer support, I’ve spent the last couple years building upon a career path that I embrace more for the love than the money. Currently I work within 4 different kinds of sports and that number is expanding. I work with adults, high school students and even small children.

Being in business for myself has brought me to realize some things. Like my friends and colleagues with the National Sales Network, St. Louis Chapter, my line of work includes selling. The product is me.

You see there are many sports officials out there. Every year there are a plethora of young men and women who venture into this business with different aspirations. Some do it for side income. Some want to stay active in the games they used to play. Some love being around the kids and helping them. Some take the craft of officiating quite seriously and want to be the best at it. Many want to go into the college and pro ranks. Some are what I call Official/Umpire/Referee mercenaries. Their sole motivation is to get as much money as possible; and that’s it.

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I have worked with all of these categories of officials. And from the beginning I plotted my own path step by step by understanding the basic principles of selling myself as a viable commodity among my customers.

The first step was in becoming qualified and certified by state standards. Currently I am certified in two states. Second is to learn the craft as well as possible by not only working as much as I could, but also reaching out and learning from other officials. As the saying goes, I’ve learned as much of what not to do as well as what to do.

Next I always show up on time unless I’ve arranged otherwise. Nothing aggravates athletic directors, coaches, players and parents more than some slacker holding up their games and treating them as if their event is not important.

There are many outstanding officials who are on in the marketplace. A major way that I’ve learned to shine and differentiate myself is to be engaging and show a lot of energy and enthusiasm while performing. I’m not afraid to smile or even joke when the tension get a little chippie. Everyone who sees me can recognize that I want to be there and am invested and involved in what’s going on. I hustle and get into position to make the right calls. I communicate with the players and the coaches. I answer questions with courtesy, though I am firm and not afraid to settle a conflict.

Most people can tell if their official is competent, engaged, and cares about what’s going on. The games we officiate are just games. They don’t save lives or change the world. But when I played it was important to me. Whatever the gender, age, or experience level the competitors deserves to have quality officials who gives them the chance to enjoy their sporting experience within the assigned set of rules and rules interpretation.

There are several officials related associations that I am a member of.  This makes for great networking opportunities.  No matter how good you are, you cannot make it without the help of others.  Through these organizations I benefit from the training and development they provide.  They in turn assign work to me all over the area.  However, most of my work and references have come through relationship building and word of mouth based on my performance, which includes my attitude.  My name is my brand. And when people think of me, my brand is what comes to mind as they decide who to hire for their sporting events.

These principles and skills are transferable to any line of business.  Remember we are all selling something every day.  Even in your personal life, when you go on a date, is that anything less than a  sales job?

No matter the product, your name, your brand, and your reputation is the first commodity people will consider first.

Umpire

Things of Faith, Man and the Search for Universal Truth

My faith journey has come a long way.

From a theological perspective, I was raised in the Judaea Christian traditions within various denominations. Through the years I have been taught by the church, inspired, motivated, fooled, disillusioned, angry, resentful, ashamed of, and even restored.

Regardless of my personal experiences with dogma and the organization of religion my faith in the Supreme has never diminished. My belief system is simple and complicated, spiritual and natural, scientific and unexplained.

I could never subscribe to the atheist belief that there is no Supreme Being. To me atheistic thinking dismisses a serious explanation for the origin for life. In other words, I haven’t seen evidence of any life form without their first being life to reproduce itself after its kind. Even if creationism from a religious perspective is not a viable option, just a look at the sun, moon and the stars, all of the living creatures, the way the cycles of the earth rotates, lives, nurtures, replenishes and sustain itself with its inhabitants; I find it illogical that all of that which we behold and witness is without thought, planning and design. In this way I don’t judge the concept of atheism. What I can say is that I don’t get it.

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As much as I like Bill Mahr and admire his political satire, I think he sounds like a fool when he arrogantly dismisses any possibility of a higher power. His brain is so creative, that he can actually talk himself out of acknowledging his own lack of having anything to do with it. He depends on air he breathes to live, and yet it does not keep him alive. Think about it. Oxygen is all around those dying every day. At some point everyone will take in their last breath. And all the oxygen on the earth can’t give you another breath once that last one has been exhaled. With all the riches, wealth and resources in the world one cannot give him more life. Nor does anyone have the power to ask and receive it initially at the beginning of a natural life.

A study of the massive sophistication and depth of DNA alone should prompt one to believe that this world, this universe, even our humanity was intentional. This is why I believe the atheist argument comes up horribly short. There is just too much genius around us that we had nothing to do with to call it all random.

What Mahr and I share along with others who believe as he does however, is the disdain for those seeking to validate and promote ‘God’ only as they see Him in such a fashion that it boxes his breadth and scope down to moral, theological and geo-political bents. I too scoff at the limitations and lack of critical thinking skills people subject themselves to in order to follow a bunch of laws and standards written by mortal, flawed, and often agenda driven men. I can resonate with his frustration of people who refuse to observe and work through critical issues with a reality based point of view as opposed to choosing to hide head-in-sand and quote scripture so as to eliminate the need of such deeper or even more simplistic considerations.

I get it. But that doesn’t answer the questions of life, the potential and capabilities of the human mind and body, the spirit world, and the universe. The fact that in the wild a lion and a deer will drink from the same water brook and if the lion is not hungry, not only will he not so much as bother the deer, but that the deer instinctively knows it. Man, in all of his ingenuity, intellect, skill and passion have only learned and understood so much of it. He certainly hasn’t been able to define it.

My basic understanding of myself, my surroundings, my instincts, makes me curious, and awestruck on the subject of the Supreme Being. Though I have identified my beliefs through Christian lenses most of my life, I have studied various religions and beliefs among men. Lessons from Christianity as well as other faiths have helped me greatly. Still I’ve rejected many pieces of doctrines. Through it all here I stand; still seeking, still desiring, and still stretching to find the source of my own significance.

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As of now I don’t really claim any specific religion. Though if you pushed me, I would still lean towards a very loose and selective portion of Christianity. Not for any special reason. This is simply the environment I was brought up in and therefore most familiar with. It’s second nature. I love gospel music and can often find myself blissfully swept away in its messages of worship, submission and hope. One of my mentors the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a Christian man who lived the most dedicated and faithful life I have ever seen in a human. Yet I admire and respect the life of Malcolm X especially after he split from The Nation of Islam and went in a direction that he believed was more beneficial to his perspective of the way he saw his Creator. Am I to say that Shuttlesworth knew God because he called him Jesus or that Malcolm’s aligning himself with Allah did not? There is hardly no religious sect that does not have within it members who believe and have evidence that their prayers have been answered. There are unexplained ‘miracles’ happening everyday regardless of faith type. Thing begs to question, “Does the Supreme have an exclusive name?” Only religious people think so. Or is He so awesome and self-assured that He is not hung up on and limited by that kind of thing? – Man actually giving Him a name that will sum Him up. Even as I write this I only say ‘Him’ as a reference point. I don’t know that The Supreme has a gender.

This proves that the biggest hindrance to understanding The Supreme is defining the revelation of His presence and purpose solely through a religious bent.

I have learned to settle in and take what I believe one step at a time; one lesson at a time; one experience at a time. And with those I focus on that which I am comfortable with. Which are a basic set of principles that I live by. (At least try to live by most of the time.)

Faith

Faith is first just an acknowledgment and recognition of a centralized presence. I don’t believe He/She/It needs to be called Jesus or any other religious or secular name. I believe in this Power that is so brilliant beyond measure, beautiful, and peaceful. The Universe has been created in such a way that it would take perhaps a million lifetimes just to scratch the surface of what is really going on out there. Names are too limited to describe The Ultimate. That is about as far as I am willing to take it as of now.

Do I believe this Universal entity cares about what happens to me personally? Yes. This is because I don’t believe all of this is by chance. If I’m correct then there has to be a purpose. Anyone who is aware of his purpose cares about fulfilling that purpose. With that I am able to give thanks and blessings many times per day to The Supreme for all that I am blessed to behold.  Sometimes, I even submit a few prayer request along the way.

Personal Purpose/Destiny

This is a tough one. Because most people either believe that they have a specific purpose on earth that a higher power has in mind or they don’t. Others believe we make our own decisions no matter what. I fall in the middle of both world views. For example, none of us had anything to do with us being here. That includes when we were born, where we were born, or to what family. We couldn’t decide what color we were going to be, whether male or female, and so forth. There are so many things that were not in our original control.

And yet as the species on earth we call mankind, we have the ability to create, build, reproduce, expand, grow, and it goes on and on. Our decisions shape the direction of not only our lives, but those around us as well as those who come after us. Decisions made by only a few throughout history have led to generational worldwide rewards and consequences.

With this I believe that many, but not every aspect of my life has been fully intentional. I am thankful for my time, my space, and my opportunity to do whatever it is I am supposed to do. I am abundantly grateful for everyday believing that my universe is saying something to me and beckoning me to respond for my own benefit, and the benefit of others. I believe that if enough of us do that, we will experience even greater awakenings, recognition, and access to this Universe.

            Islam7

Morals

Morals are a very subjective from person to person. I believe that morals must come from within, not just what is taught within a society to preserve order; though order is necessary. Some people are comfortable with doing things and living by certain principals that others are not. My morals are a combination of what I have been taught as a youth, as well as what I have grown to understand as an adult. Since I am still growing, segments and pieces of my moral code are still being refined. What has remained consistent is to live by a standard in which my conscious remains clear of guilt and that my life is one of freedom and not bondage. I believe that many of the unhappy, unsatisfied and destructive people on earth are ones whom live against their own conscious. I can’t speak for those whom seem not to have a conscious at all. Still I have to live by my own. I desire that my life continues to project that which is less harmful but more liberating to me as well as my environment.

Who is The Supreme Being/God?

I absolutely don’t know the answer to that. I believe that God is spirit as I am though much greater. I don’t believe God is fixated by what we call he/she/it like most organized religions i.e. Christianity, (Jehovah, Christ) Islam (Allah) and so forth. I believe that mankind has had various reasons for wanting to segregate God into something they are comfortable with. Certainly having a book such as the bible for instance, makes following God or expressing faith more focused. For now I choose experiencing and receiving whatever it is I may learn and absorb whether it be from a religious context or not. My trust is that The Supreme knows how to get a message to me when it’s time. And that I will receive it as long as I stay open. I’m not afraid to fail at this. I embrace all of the possibilities and resources imaginable at this point.

Organized Religion

In spite of my critique, I am not down on organized religion as a whole. I believe that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zen, and many others has served millions well over the centuries. Organized religious morality has influenced many peaceful societies as most of them promote treating one another in a loving and civilized way. Most promote growth and spirituality. Most promote submission to a higher authority and less self-seeking. Most emphasize sacrifice and giving towards something much bigger than the individual person who claims its faith.

Most have had their downfalls as well. So many wars, forms of oppression, and crimes against humanity result from religious beliefs and zeal. This is not only true of Christianity and Islam. Human sacrifices for instance took place long before Columbus set foot on the shores of the Americas. Nobody’s hands are clean. There has been and continues to be both good and bad.

            Tian Tan Buddha

Afterlife

Since I don’t believe that our lives are our bodies, I don’t believe that life ceases without the body. I believe our bodies are Earth suits. With them we move about upon the land or the sea. The earth is our bodily home. We live here for a time and season. It is here that we eat, sleep, love, share, learn etc… Perhaps our earthly time is training for something else that has nothing to do with our bodies. I just don’t know. And I don’t know that anyone really does.

I know many people whom I trust said a relative who have died or have been released from their natural bodies visited them in a spiritual form. Perhaps those who are ‘dead’, in body, help watch over us who remain. Perhaps there are differing dimensions that continue in cycles past our earthly lives. I don’t have a clue!

But I’m OK with that right now. For now I want to concern myself with the form of life I am experiencing now. And I will have to let the other work itself out. It’s definitely outside of my pay grade. If I can make this one count for something good, then I trust things will work out in the end… well, if there is one.

In Faith, Me