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.

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

My Evening With the G.O.A.T.

****Re-post in honor of The G.O.A.T / Original January 17 2012****

Upon hearing that today is the 70th Birthday for the (Greatest of All Time) Muhammad Ali, it reminded me of the evening that I was honored to spend with The Champ.  The year was 2005 and the occasion was “The Butterfly Ball” in Atlanta, Georgia.  The event was a fundraiser for The Ali Center, a museum dedicated to the career and humanitarian efforts of Ali that was being constructed in Louisville, KY.

Before I go further you have to understand what Muhammad Ali meant to me growing up in the 70s.  As a child there were two celebrities that I looked up to.  Muhammad Ali and then Sugar Ray Leonard.  At the time I was too young to understand Ali’s political and heroic defiant stand against participating in the Vietnam War, and I wasn’t necessarily a boxing aficionado.  But what I did recognize was Ali’s charm, confidence, star power and unapologetic boldness in public at a time when many black public figures wouldn’t dare.  Inwardly I knew he was making a place for me and his persona gave me a definite sense of pride.  Muhammad Ali to me was so significant that he was almost legend and unreal; An ethereal figure on television that may as well have been from outer space in terms of what I felt was my chance at ever seeing him face to face.  That feeling never left me even as I grew older and cried when he lost in humiliating fashion at the of his career.

Ali and Lewis

(Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Tom Joyner)

The event was star studded and included people like Cornel West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Tom Joyner, and many others including former Heavy Weight Champion Lennox Lewis, who gave $2 million of his own money because of the love he has for The Champ.  Brian McKnight had a trio set for the entertainment.  The week before making the trip to the ATL, I called Ali’s people and asked if there was a chance that I could meet The Champ and get a photo.  The woman on the phone told me that Ali hadn’t been feeling well as of late, but when he is generally he’s very generous of such request.  I hoped for the best.

After dinner and music, several speakers came up to talk about what Muhammad Ali has meant to them.  The most touching was probably Professor West who couldn’t hold back his tears as well as Ali’s daughter Lala who also tearfully recalled so many occasions where ‘daddy’  loved and cherished her and her siblings.  I was about 25 feet from the podium in awe.

Lala Ali

(Lala Ali, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali)

Finally when The Champ got up, he struggled to stand and speak but offered several jokes and took assorted pot shots and the people he loved.  Except for the laughs the room was totally silent as he spoke.  He was a total hoot.  When he finished and after he exited the stage I wanted to get a hand shake and possibly a photo.  The celebrities were getting theirs in and I was sort of intimidated to step in.  But then I thought to myself, “It’s now or never.  To hell with it man get in there!”

So I made my way through the big shots and tried to approach him.  He had a handler with him and I said, “Is it ok if I take a picture with The Champ?”  The handler said, “The Champ is tired and we need to get him out of here so he can rest.”  And this is what I’ll never forget…what gave Ali the beyond the universe status with me.  He heard me and pushed his handler away motioning me to come close to him.  I shook his hand and said my peace in his ear, then needed to get this photo taken quickly.  Over my right shoulder is Mayor Andrew Young.  I said, “Mayor would you mind,” handing him my camera.  He smiled with enthusiasm and said, “Sure.”  And there struggling to stand on his own The Champ made two fist and took that damn picture.

A few seconds later I looked at the camera hoping to God that the mayor didn’t screw up my photo and there it was.  I stared at it.  A photo of me and Muhammad Ali.  I thought back to my childhood and all that he had meant to me and thinking how untouchable I thought he’d be.  It was surreal as if time had stood still.  All I could think to myself was, “That’s freaking Muhammad Ali.  That’s freaking Muhammad Ali!”  Talking about ‘floating like a butterfly….’

If he had went on his way without taking the photo I still would have felt blessed.  It would have been all good and I would have understood.  But the fact that he pressed his way and didn’t “big time” me as just another cat he’s met out of millions, I will NEVER FORGET THAT!

For this reason as well as the many others are why he will always be The G.O.A.T. to me!

Happy Birthday Champ!

Me & The Greatest of All Time

(Me and the G.O.A.T.)

The Grinch, CP3 and the End of a Lifetime Love Affair

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My love for NBA basketball goes back 32 years, along with with my love for the Los Angeles Lakers.  I watched it flourish from the drug infested rep it had during the 70s, through the resurgence with the help of Magic, Larry, and Isaiah; the glory years of Jordan, Hakeem, and finally Shaq, Kobe, Duncan and D-Wade.  The current NBA has plenty of stars to peek the interest of old and new fans.  As bad as “The Decision” was for LeBron and The Heat, the NBA had its peak year of interest, and then like a hammer, the owners imposed another lockout!

This was the first blow to my love for the NBA game.  Not that the owners wanted more cheddar; that’s just the American way.  But the way they went about it, with their various threats to cancel the season.  After a blockbuster year for everyone, they acted with an arrogance that clearly showed many owners cared nothing about the fans that pushed their popularity to where it is, so that their revenue could be as substantial as it’s been.

I had it in my mind not to care whether the season was cancelled or not.  I felt that for the sake of labor, the players should get a fair deal that reflected the value they bring to the franchises.  If the owners wanted to bluff or cancel the season, then let them.  And then see if the game ends up like the NHL.

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With Christmas and it’s primetime schedule looming, the players and the owners were able to get a deal done and cram a 66 game season in just a few short months.  Initially the stain of the lockout was still in my mind.  I knew it would take me a little while at least to become interested in the league again.  I was more excited to continue watching NFL football and college hoops.

Once the deal was agreed upon and the moving and shaking began where clubs and players would be changing places, the buzz peeked my interest a bit more.  Chris Paul to the Lakers?  Tyson Chandler to the Knicks;  Pau Gasol to the Rockets, Lamar Odom to the Hornets, damn!  Talk about blowing up some teams!  I knew the Lakers needed to make some changes but Odom and Gasol?  That sounds drastic!  (Unless they were going to gun for Dwight Howard but still that was no sure thing!)

I said to myself, Del Demps (the GM for New Orleans) is no joke!  He’s sitting with a team that is owned by the league and where no one seems to want to go, and yet he just set himself up to have a strong team for this season with Odom, (the reigning sixth man of the year), Luis Scola (a double-double man), and guard Kevin Martin! This core gives a potential owner a very competitive team to begin with.  The Rockets having Gasol would make them instant playoff contenders since Yao Ming retired.  And as I said about my Lakers, it helped our backcourt tremendously but left our front line very light with a heavy load being put on Andrew Bynum’s knees.

Del Demps

Ok, maybe I do want to watch on Christmas.  But then at the behest of so called small market owners like Dan Gilbert, The Grinch David Stern killed the deal!  WTF???

It seems that though Demps was told by the league that he had the freedom to make deals as any other GM would, The Angel of Stern at the behest of Gilbert and the likes decided that Chris Paul going to the Lakers under any circumstances was bad for the league.  Part of the owners lockout strategy was to restrict star players from choosing their own destinies.  The problem is that they can’t stop free agency.  If a player is in the final year of his contract and is not going to stay with the team he’s on, he’s going to have a certain amount of power in choosing his trade destination if he doesn’t agree to re-sign with his new team.  That is just the nature of the beast.  Most players in any of the major sports have but one chance in their careers to have serious influence on where they go and how much they can make.

Stern said that the deal was not good enough for the Hornets and that his decision to block a great trade didn’t have anything to do with other owners.  He also thinks Jerry Sandusky only likes to ‘horse around’ with young boys.  But I digress!  Phil Jackson the former Laker coach brought the Paul issue up a year ago with the league owning the Hornets which is a clear conflict of interest.  He was fined by the league for predicting the cluster f#@! that eventually panned out.

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Fast forward a few days later with trade proposals flying like bullets and players being amnestied left and right, the Lakers gave away Lamar Odom to the World Champion Mavericks for a 40oz.  Neither Stern, Gilbert or any other small market owners said a word about that.  Instead of Demps doing the negotiations going forward, Stern took over negotiations from New York rendering the Hornets GM a GM with no clothes.  Oh and this just in: Paul goes to the Clippers instead; the team with historically racist owner the the league has never addressed.  That makes a lot of sense!

I’m just disgusted with the NBA right now.  And I’m honestly not sure if there will be any coming back from it.  This is NOT about the Lakers not getting CP3 either.  Since Jerry Buss turned the team over to his son, the way they have treated many of their loyal personnel like Brian Shaw for instance has shown a total lack of class.  Likewise, not even telling Lamar Odom, a man who has taken a lesser playing role and less money for years as a sign of loyalty that the team was seeking to trade him is reprehensible.  That is a side issue that calls into question my respect for the Laker organization.

What is bothersome is that in addition to the lockout, the league’s manipulation of team business is a huge turn off. I would much rather take my team to task for the way they manage, the way they play, Mike Brown’s coaching, etc. My team has been my team for over 30 years and we haven’t won the championship every year.  I’m good with that.  The issue is credibility!  I want to have the belief at least that the product that is NBA basketball is a legitimate institution.  Where if each team plays by the rules established that they can make or break their own clubs, their own seasons, and that I as a fan can watch the games and root from a fan’s perspective.

At best Christmas morning anticipation of the NBA should feel as if I am waking up to love I’ve known most of my life.  Now it feels like a dirty whore being shoved down my throat dressed with promos of players just recently cursed by owners. Where owners who have less skill and attract-ability can dictate to other teams what they can and cannot do.  Perhaps Stern will make Kim Kardashian an ESPN sideline reporter next.  It seems the league has not been less out of touch with reality.  I am a very educated fan and I won’t be given anything and told to deal with it.

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Perhaps it seems I’m taking this all too personally.  But I doubt it.  Even if we the normal fan cannot pay for NBA salaries, the fan base is the foundation that drives the revenues.  The time and dedication given by the average Joe in caring about what happens to his/her team gives the league the core value that the dollars and cents can be worth investing in.  Stern and the likes, have polluted that image.  Now it seems the games are played in boardrooms through conference calls to New York.

I’m not sure how this is all going to turn out for me as a fan.  Right now, it’s looking like the NFL will be the television featured in my house on Christmas Day.  And for that, I’m sorry.

 

SIDE RANT

*****If you examine Gilbert’s letter closely, he details how the initial trade may benefit the Lakers as they were to get Paul, while clearing salary from their books.  And by doing so make themselves eligible later for even more attractive free agents.  Under the rules mind you that the owners just agreed to.  What he didn’t say which is apparent, is that he (Gilbert) was not smart enough to do the same.  And that no attractive free agent will ever want to play for his team because of his ineptness not to mention the way he showed his ass after LeBron left.  What he was essentially saying is, “Thanks to me the Cavaliers ARE the Washington Generals.  Since I don’t have managerial smarts or the ability to make my team attractive so stars will want to play in Cleveland, let’s focus on making teams like the Lakers suffer so that my idiocy is not so apparent.”  I mean, what has he done to date thus far to improve his own situation?  

Cardinals, Hot Wings & Super Hooters

You have to know my great nice Trinity to love her.  An outgoing gregarious and supercharged 7 year old child with an opinion about everything, she has the personality of a gossip TV host.

Last night during the World Series my sister (her grandmother) took her to Hooters for hot wings.  The atmosphere was electric with excited beer filled fans anticipating a championship via 15 flat screen HD televisions.

The Cardinals were on their way to winning an 11th championship.  The entire town has been in an uproar for about a month now.  But when Trin (as we affectionately call her) walked through the hallowed doors of the famous sports bar/restaurant, none of that mattered.

What totally fixated Trin and changed the entire game for her was…………………… wait for it….. the Hooter girl scantly clad uniforms.

The conversation went like this….

Trin – Grandma, what do they have on?

Grandma – That’s their uniforms Trin.

Trin – Well, what, are they Super Women?

Grandma – No, that’s just their uniform.

Trin thinks for a few more seconds while looking at the ‘uniforms’, then offers one more question.

Trin – Well what do the BOYS wear?

I can’t imagine this experience traumatize the young child.  But I do wonder however if she now has dreams of being a Super Woman when she becomes of age.

Fantasy Football, Degenerates & In-Laws

Like most red blooded Americans I am looking forward to football season.  A baseball buff growing up, I had no particular love for football.  My first memories of the sport were my dad’s friends coming over to our apartment on Sundays to watch the St. Louis Cardinals football team.  They would shout at the TV and as I watched these gladiators of the grid smash and grab one another.  I had no idea what the point or the strategy was.   I also recall my dad and his friends were particularly thrilled the day Jayne Kennedy appeared on The NFL Today show as a host with Irv Cross , Brent Musburger and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder.  That was a really big deal.  I wonder why…

  Jayne Kennedy

Anyway, I got into football when my grandmother gave me a Pittsburgh Steelers schedule prior to the 1980 season.  The Steelers had won their fourth Super Bowl.  While visiting grandma as I did every summer in New Kensington, PA, (18 miles south of Pittsburgh) some friends took us to Latrobe to the Steelers training camp.  There I met Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Mean Joe Green, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, and so on.  While I didn’t enjoy or understand the sport, I knew the names and these guys were bigger than life to me.  I took the schedule home and watched the NFL games every week just so I could mark a ‘W’ or an ‘L’ next to the opponents after they played each.  This is when I learned how the game was played and what the rules were.

From then on it was all things Pittsburgh for me; though I did enjoy other teams.  I started watching college football and fell head over heels for Dan Marino when he was at Pitt… which made me a Dolphin fan though I couldn’t pull for them against my beloved Black and Gold.  (I don’t know who told Wiz Khalifa that it was black and yellow.  But I digress)

I’ve been satisfied with my outlook on football for the last 31 years.  The Steelers are still my squad.  And I’ve enjoyed a few more Super Bowl victories since 1980.  Everything is simplified.  Teams win, teams lose.  It’s close or a blow out.  I don’t gamble so I never cared about the point spread.

 #88 Lynn Swann

Then something crazy happened.  Something entered the fray called, “Fantasy Football.”   It started kinda slowly but I noticed it pick up year after year.  It seemed to be as big as the NCAA basketball brackets for March Madness.  I thought it was silly because it lasted more than a month.  Guys were having drafts, trading players, mixing and matching players and that didn’t make sense either.  How in the hell can Peyton Manning possibly be on the same team with Terrell Owens?  They don’t even play for the same team in real life!

I always avoided worrying about the logistics of it.  I wasn’t going to participate in that foolishness anyway.  Still this thing began to spread like a virus.  I’ve got a friend who I’ve talked football with for over 20 years.  We may only see each other maybe once a year.  But during the football season, we are sure to talk at least once a week.  We talk about the games, the players, what the Cowboys are going to do etc.  Sadly, last year I lost this dear friend of mine due to a tragedy.  Was it a car accident?  No.  Was he the victim of a henious crime?  No.  This friend of mine was infected by the fantasy bug.  We were talking about the games and I said, “Man, how about that Roethlisberger?  Didn’t he bring Pittsburgh back with his scrambles and ability to make something out of nothing?”  My boy said, “Man that dude pissed me off.  They ran the ball to run the clock out when I needed him to make 15 more passing yards for my fantasy team!”  I said, “But they won!”  Then he said, “But I lost.”  That was a wrap for me.  I can’t talk to this dude any more about football because all he wants to talk about is how his fantasy guys did from week to week.

I decided after that conversation once and for all, that fantasy honks are degenerates who take the fun out of the game.  They spend way too much time analyzing stats as opposed to the team concept of winning and losing.  They now have segments on ESPN where they talk weekly about who will be a good fantasy pick.  I immediately turn to another station during this period. 

I’ve also heard NFL players griping or bragging about their fantasy draft status.  This seems even more idiotic!  And why aren’t there any defensive players on fantasy list?  Don’t tackles, interceptions and quarterback sacks mean anything?  I guess not.  That would make too much sense!

 Let me be clear.  I hate fantasy football. 

Unfortunately, this year my brother-in-law Pete, all the way in Charlotte, NC begged me to get into his yearly pool this year.  “Cmac, its fun and it’s free!  Everything is automated so you don’t have to pick anybody it’s done for you.  Come on man.  It’s a family tradition.  We talk trash and have fun with it!”  I tried telling him I wasn’t interested.  I tried dodging his phone calls and emails.  I told my wife to tell him we were divorced so he wouldn’t think I lived with her anymore.  None of it worked.  He talked me into it.  Kicking and screaming  I signed up for, “Pete’s League of Disaster,” along with several other degenerates via Yahoo.  I hate it already.   I mean, surely I’m not going to get all Steelers players.  Am I supposed to root for Joe Flacco if he ends up on my fantasty team?  He plays for the Baltimore Ravens.   I HATE the Ravens.  They are a division rival.  (Though we win most of the time so it’s not really a rivaly.)  But again… I digress.

So I’m in.  Pete got me with the family peer pressure thing.  

Still I vow to care only about what the Steelers do this season and NOT get caught up in the stats of other players.  They will NOT reform me!  Right?

As for Pete, I hope he get’s stuck with Jimmy Clauson or Cam Newton as his QB!

Pete… You suck!

Blue Strikes Back, or If My Whistle Could Talk

Real Talk:  I love what I do.  Sports’ officiating is not only a fun job, it’s an important job.  Whether the games are played by little kids, teenagers, or adult men/women, the officials play an important part in managing games that mean a lot to its participants.  They uphold the integrity of live competition. 

As a fan of sport, and a former participant as a youth and adult, I understand the fun, the passion and the intensity when competing.  Often part of the art and drama of sports is the give and take between players/coaches and officials.  Some try to bully officials.  Some are more cunning.  I welcome some give and take because it’s a part of the game.  I expect players to gripe a little in the heat of battle.  I expect coaches to try to ‘work’ me into giving them the next call to their advantage.  Games are as much psychological as they are physical.  You have to have thick skin in this business to be successful as a competitor or official.

 

Still, every once in a while I find it funny how some of the players and coaches I work with take the give and take a little too far.   Most good officials take a lot more than they give in the first place.  We can’t get caught up in too much conversation even as we try to respect dialogue.  There are times when the chatter I hear is ridiculous.  The verbal assaults can clearly get out of hand.

While doing men’s basketball game recently one team in particular whined and bitched throughout the entire contest.  Several comments were made not only questioning our abilities as referees, but also our character.  Two of their players ended up being tossed from the contest.  And even after the game they persisted to make excuses for the ass whoopin’ they just endured.

But what if the tables were turned?  What if there was actually equal access to criticize?

I posed this question to one the whining players who kept at us as my partner and I were changing to leave the gym.

“You know what?   I can do what you do.  But you can’t do what I do.  You’re not qualified to do my job.  But what if I in the course of the game could talk to you the way you talk to me.  What if I critiqued your every move on this court, your missed shots, turnovers, every time your man scored on you?  What if I walked up and down the court saying, ‘What a lousy pass that was?  Your defense is shit.  You can’t shoot so why do you continue to try?  Coach, your game plan sucks and you can’t coach worth a damn!  Hang it up!’  Believe me I see it every week!  It’s not like I don’t notice.  But you spend so much time critiquing my every call or no call.  He had no answer for that. 

I’m umpiring a youth fall baseball league in a well to do area.  Some of the kids on the teams are sons of St. Louis Cardinals, Rams or Blues players.  Some of them are pretty good while others not so.  Some of them are good kids who love to play the game.  Some think they are automatically following in their father’s athletic footsteps. 

 

Anyway, I’m behind the plate and this one kid has Albert Pujol’s stance down to the tee.  (Not Albert’s son) He’s posin’ it real good but refuses to swing unless the ball crosses the middle of the plate.  I’m calling corner strikes and he’s huffin’ and puffin’ openly showing off his disapproval.  Later towards the end of the game, one of his teammates ducks out of the way of a pitch on the inside corner of the plate like it’s a missile.  (STRIKE!)  He turns and shows his frustrations with some grunts and rumblings under his breath.  Then he barks, “Hey – where was that blue?”  My response,  “It was in the strike zone that’s where it was.  Besides that, you are up 17-2.  Swing the bat and stop ducking the ball like you’re scared.”  He struck out and that was that.  But what if I said what I really wanted  to say.  It would have been pretty much the same except I would have added.. ‘Smart ass lil fucka!  Now shut yo punk ass up before I take my belt off and whip ya right here at home plate!’ on the end of it.  Here he was 11 years old trying to ‘big time’ me in front of his teammates and the fans. 

Fortunately, for the most part I’m good at holding my tongue while managing the game professionally.  Every now and then I still lose my tempter.  I’m working on it.  But I bet for those kids/adults who act a fool, if officials can just have one contest where the talking was equal, they would choose their words much more carefully.

First “The Decision,” Now There Needs To Be, “The Conversation!”

As  a true die hard Los Angeles Lakers man, in some ways I could care less about the debacle that is the Miami Heat these days.  In the whole scheme of things, this soap opera is just fodder, something to keep us talking until the playoffs start.  Champions don’t deal with such shenanigans.  And even with some of the sorry losses that Lakers have endured, my experience has always told me that in the NBA, it is after the All Star break where we begin to separate the men from the boys; the contenders from the pretenders.  Thus you see the two time defending champs clamping down on defense, moving the ball with superior precision, and rebounding with a vengeance on the way to impressive wins over OKC, Portland, and most notably a smashing of the league leading Spurs.  This is what I’m talking about.

If the Heat were a Hollywood sitcom they would be “Two and a Half Stars Men,” with Lebron James as Charlie Sheen.  And if Pat Riley can’t channel his inner Chuck Lorre, then Dwayne Wade needs to channel his Jon Cryer and step to his narcissistic side kick.  If Jame’s summertime presser was dubbed, “The Decision,” then Wade and James need to have, “The Conversation.”  I’m thinking it should go like this:

Wade: Hey King.  Real talk.  Enough of this heroic sh#!.  You trying to prove yourself at the end of every close game is hurting…

James: What?

Wade: Let me finish.  You trying to prove yourself at the end of every close game is hurting us.  Shooting threes and…

James: Hold on…

Wade: LET ME FINISH!  Every since you got here, if its a close game you act like you got to take the last shot.  We’re piling up L’s against the better teams and…

James: Wait a minute.  Do you know who the hell I am?  In case you didn’t know I’m King James.  Two time MVP!   Who else supposed to take the last shots?  If you didn’t know ask them clowns in Cleveland what I meant to them….

Wade: And in case you didn’t know that don’t mean sh#! to me!  I gotta ring!  Finals MVP – wanna see it?  Cause I can go get it for you.  When you get the ball at the end of the game, it’s because you have the ability to penetrate, and get to the basket if you can.  But that’s not where it ends.  I know about Cleveland but you forgot I ain’t Mo Williams or Boobie F’in Gibson!  I’m a stud!  A closer!  That was the point of you coming here in the first place.   We’re already thin up front, everybody knows what you are going to do at the end of games and you are playing right into their hands shooting bricks!  The first few months I ain’t said nothing to you.  I gave you space.  Enough!   F#*! your ego.  You better start finding me cause this ain’t working.  I ain’t going out like that!  I let you come to Miami.  But I’m still Tony Montana!

The two have to be separated.  James walks away angry and dismissive, cussing Wade under his breath.  His crew tells him Wade is full of sh#! and that it was Wade who begged “The King” to take his talents to South Beach in the first place.  But deep down inside, James eventually admits to himself what Wade says is true.  In his heart he knows its true anyway, but its not his fault that his teammates and management are cowards.  He won’t apologize.  But he will look to get Wade the ball in crucial situations.  In future close games James becomes the bait and Wade does what he does best.  Close games.  The Heat stay respectable able to beat anyone on a given night.  Riley works his magic and get more depth and size.  Udonis Haslem, Miami’s enforcer comes back healthy and the Heat stay relevant for several years to come.

Perfect right?

Except I don’t think Wade is going to have “The Conversation.”  He is too busy licking his own wounds to stand up to his bully buddy.  He won’t tell LeBrick that this the NBA, not AAU.

After Sunday’s loss to the Bulls, it was Wade who said, “the world is better now” because The Heat are struggling.  Cry me a river!

My message to D-Wade is that as fans we don’t give a bleep!  We saw the parade on TV a few months ago where you all acted and talked like championships were a wrap.  Now you want sympathy! Please!!!!  You brought all of this attention on yourselves!  Not merely because James went to Miami.  It was the way he did it and the way all of you acted!

Now Coach Spoelstra talks as if Cry-Gate is overblown.  Let me help him out too!  The NFL is in labor negotiations, Tiger is irrelevant,  most of us are waiting on March Madness to kick in and nobody gives a damn about spring training.   That means that for a short window the NBA is front page sports news.  Live with it.

They call me old fashioned but this much I know.  Nobody partied harder, and kicked it more than Earvin Magic Johnson back in his day.  It’s all been well documented.  But what separated dudes like him from some of these new cats is that he understood that the points of emphasis was on winning first.  If the Lakers lost, there was no party!  The parties were off the hook after wins and championships.  These new dudes got it backwards!  This is why the likes of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett will always beat them.  They’ve already learned this lesson.  Wade knows better.  But it doesn’t appear he has the heart to stand up to LeBully.

And so you have it!

Thanksgiving Sports Edition

Most of us can find something to be thankful for this time of year.  I enjoy watching sports and when I woke up this morning I started to think what if some of the more talked about sports figures in the nation needed some help in realizing what they should be thankful for.  So just in case they wonder, here it goes: 

NBA Edition: 

Chris Bosh should be thankful that his contract in Toronto expired at just the right time.  And that NBA GMs bought the hype that he was an important free agent pick up along the lines of James and Stoudemire.  Before his exposure as a soft pancake like small forward posing as a shooting guard, before Pat Riley found out that Bosh wanted to ‘chill’, he was able to ink the contract of a lifetime and live in the tax free state of Florida.   That is definitely an improvement from merely being Shaq’s Rupaul.

Joe Johnson should be thankful too that the Atlanta Hawks went old school Yankees and bid against themselves in giving him a max contract.  At least he knows how to act with it. 

Carlos Boozer is thankful that the Bulls are not pushing too hard to figure out how he really got hurt. 

The Washington Wizards: For John Wall.  How many rookies can do the Dougie for 20 minutes during player introduction AND put up a triple-double on the same night?

Donald Sterling for leasing  Blake Griffin for a few years:  Blake’s Shawn Kemp like athletically styled freaky destroy the rim dunks will definitely sell a few more season tickets for the Clippers.  Sterling can buy more real estate in Beverly Hills where he can discriminate against African-American would be tenants before Blake leaves the team that serves as the unofficial bitches of the Lakers.  Maybe he will even become a Laker! 

The City of Cleveland: Lebron is fool’s gold.  Now that he has taken his talents to South Beach, I guess the South and the Beach have affected his stamina as he’s already gone on record as wanting less minutes.  Cleveland stood in the spotlight and had the hope and aspirations of Chicago Cub fans in June for several years.  And you had James to thank for that.  He got his taste of free agency.  James is a physical beast with almost unlimited talent.  But his head ain’t right.  It may or may not ever get right.  What you see now is a player more interested in being famous for famous sake, not a winner who will do whatever it takes like a Jim Brown, or Kobe Bryant.  It may take a while, but if Dan Gilbert has the same commitment to the team as he did when James were there, Byron Scott will make sure they play smart and hard every night. 

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010, in Los Angeles.

NFL Edition: 

Vince Young: Thankful that Bud Adams loves him like Arthur Blank used to love Michael Vick.  And that he is willing to put up with his childlike and unprofessional behavior.  I guess if he doesn’t kill any animals or commit any other felonies he may keep that love and even get Jeff Fisher fired.  Adams drinks the Young Kool-Aid like ESPN talking heads drink Favre’s. He’s probably going to get Fisher run like Favre did Chili.  From what I hear, Young is as committed to putting in work during the week like Favre is in the pre-season too.  What similarities. 

Speaking of Favre and Kool-Aid; Favre should be thankful that Roger Goodell is a hypocrite and will not punish him for sexually harassing a former Jets employee including sending her text photos of his junk.  Roger is great at putting the Pac Man Jones’ of the world in check in laying down the law.  But the Old Gunslinger puts tape on his mouth.  Shhhhh!  Listen to that?  What’s that sound?  That’s the sound of silence from the NFL offices in New York.  The NFL cares about the NFL brand, not the players, not integrity.  As long as Favre is starting, you won’t hear anything else regarding Sterger-gate.  David Stern’s frozen envelope from 1985 is screaming conspiracy here! 

Sterger didn’t help her own cred by trying to get paid from it.  Getting paid is nothing I’m against.  But she stalled the NFL offices while trying to broker a hush deal.  That’s not on Goodell however.  He has the information and the self proclaimed sheriff of the shield is showing himself to be nothing more than politician.  

Richard Seymour: That his name is not James Harrison.  He’s going to get that $25 grand out of his chump change purse like Sweet Daddy from Good Times and still get to play on Sunday.  

And finally the City of Philadelphia:  That Jeffery Laurie and Andy Reed didn’t listen to YOU when you didn’t want to allow Michael Vick a second chance.  The listened to McNabb instead and now they have an MVP candidate, a player who can potentially take them to another Super Bowl.  

**Side Notes

The New York Yankees/Derek Jeter situation is getting ugly.  I think a couple things needs to happen.  First, management, especially Hank Steinbrenner need to stop putting their Captain on blast by giving him the, “If you don’t like my offer go get a better one somewhere else,” statement in the press.  That’s just disrespectful and unnecessary.  Jeter for his part needs to either, a) tell his agent to stop comparing him to Babe Ruth at 36, and b) perhaps take a more active role in his own final contract.  He believes he should get paid for ‘services rendered’ and the club believes he should get paid for ‘services currently performed.’  Conventional wisdom says it’s somewhere in between.  Jeter should retire in pinstripes.  And in this negotiation both parties should come away satisfied though not completely happy.  Jeter should get his respect, and the Yanks should not overpay by leaps and bounds if they choose not to this time.  I suppose Jeter wonders why they want to get fiscally conservative all of a sudden.  But The Boss is dead.  Hank is not Vito Corleone or even Michael.  He’s more or less Sonny.

LeBron, Harpo and Dan Gilbert’s Huckleberry!

In the midst of LeBron-A-Thon ending with the TV non event of the year, let’s just start with Cleveland Cavalier’s majority owner Dan Gilbert’s letter to Cav’s fans:

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Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.

The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.

There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.

You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”

You can take it to the bank.

If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our “motivation” to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.

Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that’s simply not how it works.

This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown “chosen one” sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And “who” we would want them to grow-up to become.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called “curse” on Cleveland, Ohio.

The self-declared former “King” will be taking the “curse” with him down south. And until he does “right” by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland.

Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day….

I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:

DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue….

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Ouch!  I suppose that felt good to old ‘Danny Boy’.   But by responding in this fashion, he’s made himself look even worse than “King Prince James.”

Make no mistake about it.  This LeBron-A-Thon which started around the same time as the NBA Finals with LeBron going on Larry King, Nightline, and any other show short of Oprah, (I’m sure they called her) was a farse to begin with.  The Celtics were playing the Lakers for godsakes.  Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher were going against Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.  Doc Rivers was trying to win his second NBA title in three years as Celtics coach.  Phil Jackson was in the midst of winning his 11th as coach.  At that point, personally I didn’t give a damn about what LeBron was going to do.  His team was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.  Still he couldn’t resist but to move the attention on to himself.

The primetime ESPN special was also a joke.  How vain can one get;  Especially since the “Chosen One” that hasn’t won in the NBA?  Sure I watched it!  It was the ultimate train wreck.  I rubbernecked from start to finish and watched James sit uncomfortably as Jim Grey threw James softball after softball questions that he could not seem to hit out of the infield.  To hear James tell it, Cleveland wouldn’t be Cleveland if it were not for him.  In reality, he didn’t do more than Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper and Larry Nance for the Cavaliers franchise.  And two consecutive MVPs or not, the difference between he and Kobe Bryant isn’t even close.  Bryant is clearly more concerned about his historical basketball legacy in which greatness is clearly defined by championships.  James is more concerned with branding, merchandise and ego.  For all of his talents, he thinks more highly of himself than he should.   He was created to be that way since he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated while driving that Hummer around in High School.  And yea, the story is marketable in a summer where there is nothing but baseball and a boring soccer matches hardly anyone cares about.

That being said: Dan Gilbert’s self-righteous victimized rant came off as if LeBron slept with him for a night but didn’t stick around to cuddle the next morning.  This is the same man who would have given his chosen one $130 million for 6 years had James decided to stick around in C-Town.

Gilbert wants to rant on LeBron about loyalty?  Hell last I heard James was a free agent as of July 1.  This was indeed his time to choose whatever team he wanted to chose.  The real issue is that with James’ departure, the value of the Cavaliers franchise dropped faster than a bad stock.  Last night may as well be called Black Thursday as far as Gilbert is concerned.  Still I’d like to ask him about loyalty when it came to coach Mike Brown who won the most NBA games this past season.  I’d like to ask him about his courting of college coach Tom Izzo as if he were going to take the Cavaliers anywhere let alone have the respect of James as well as other NBA players.  LeBron never went to college so why would he respect a college coach?  I’d like to ask him why he ran out one of the best GMs in the league in Danny Ferry. 

Is Gilbert the pot or the kettle that’s all I’m asking here.  Now he’s barking off about how LeBron quit in the playoffs throwing the guy under the bus.  And any of this talk about leaking more of LeBron’s tresepasses I’m sure has been shut down by a phone call from David Stern.

My favorite quote of his entire letter is this one:

“The self-declared former “King” will be taking the “curse” with him down south. And until he does “right” by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.”

Are you serious?  Were you just watching The Color Purple Thursday afternoon because it sounded very much like what Celie told Albert:

 “Till you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna’ fail.”

The Color Purple - 11 x 17 Movie Poster - Style A

Gilbert’s eagerness to court James and willingness to give him a max deal, then slamming him as James headed to South Beach is tantamount to a thug who pursues a woman at the club.  After being turned down several times finally fires back with something like this: “F’-U then!  I didn’t want your number anyway.”

As much as James is a self-glorified egomaniac, the fact of the matter is that he did indeed give the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland seven exciting years.  He made the team and the city a lot of money.  It was an even trade-off.   Now that the affair is over, it’s over.  Gilbert should turn the page.  And if he can’t, he should touch himself and think of the memories.