Winning: Not Just About the X’s and O’s…

Growing up I was an awesome baseball player.  I ate, slept breathed the game.  Most times my talents were head and shoulders above any other player on the field.  Those who know me you know I don’t say these words lightly or to brag.  Certainly there is a much larger point to this story.  Hitting, fielding and strategy came easy for me and my passion caused me to work really hard at it.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  A series of unfortunate events made that a challenge I did not overcome.  As an adult I took up the game of basketball.  There were two reasons for this. 

1) I wanted to compete like I did in baseball.

2) It was easier to get 2-20 guys to play hoops than it was 18 to play baseball on any given day.

I’d played hoops growing up on the playgrounds or in gym class.  But I never went out for the team.  I pretty much started from scratch.   The guys I hung out with played often. In the summer, we played 5 nights a week.  Some of those guys were pretty damn good too.  Most were better than me.  I hung around getting ‘next’ or lobbied to get myself on a team.  Most times I came early to make sure I played before the well known ballers got to the court.  If my team didn’t win, my other four teammates would get picked up but that may have been the end of my night.  Having that feeling of desperation, I had to figure things out pretty quickly. 

Coach Board

I started with what I had.  I was fast, intelligent and fiercely competitive.  Scoring wise I had a quick first step and got to the hoop at will with only a right hand.  But that wasn’t my focus.  I worked on my defense, passing and setting picks.  Furthermore, I did what nobody else wanted to do, took on the best offensive player on the other team.  I took plenty of licks too.  Sometimes the game was over with before it even got started.  As time went on I got better at it though.  I became that guy that no offensive juggernaut my size or slightly above wanted to see.  They knew I would be on them like white on rice.  My goal was to shut them down.  For the upper echelon players, my goal was to bide my time, play my role and make an impact at a critical point before the final score was decided.  For example; if the game went to 12, even if my man scored 8, my goal was to make him miss or make a mistake at 10 or 11.  If the game was close my team still had a chance to win.

This happened more times than I can say.  And yet, as my game grew my status seemed stifled.  A playground full of guys can see me dominate defensively, hit a few jump shots and still leave me standing on the sidelines if my previous team lost.

After a while, my intensity and almost hatred of sporting perceptions of disrespect increased.  Since I wasn’t from the area that I lived in at the time, some of the guys would pick lesser players than me just because they knew them better.  Being picked last when I wasn’t the 10th best player on the court drove me harder.  My quiet yet burning mantra would be: “I know my own captain don’t respect me.  But I ended up with this team.  So fine.  YOU (the other team captain) on the other hand are going to regret that you didn’t pick me.  I’m going to make your life hell!  And most of the time I did just that.  Nothing gave me more joy and inner satisfaction that winning those games.

Fast forward 20 some years later, that chip never left my shoulder.  Among ‘serious hoopers,’ talent wise I was a serviceable basketball player.  I never tried to be Jordan but I knew my role and I knew how to win.  By this time I could score too.  I spent years in high level competition and seldom had my confidence shaken.  At this time, my mindset was to take on whatever role I sensed my team needed to help us win.  In my late 30s I started going to this gym on Monday and Wednesday nights.  There were many hoopers and wanna-be-hoopers.  Most of them at least a decade younger than me.  The games were intense.  One of my most memorable hoops moments happened as a result of me getting my lunch handed to me.  In this particular game I was matched against a local legend.  He was major in college and played in the pros too. I competed against this dude as hard and as smart as I could.  He shook me loose once and after that he never took an open shot against me.  I was all but in his shorts.  None of that mattered.  He ate me for lunch.  Tore my ass to pieces scoring at will.  I may have been in his mix, but he disposed of me like a professional assassin.  I walked away feeling good.  I knew he earned every basket he got. I was beaten by a much better man that night.  Charge it to the game…it happens.

Playground

But what happened the next time out is what surprised me.  The same player that busted my ass two nights before picked me on his team.  Me!  Of all the guys on the court I was the FIRST one he picked.  Not only that, I brought that same intensity and confidence with me and we rolled off 6 straight games that night closing the gym undefeated!  Every time I shot the ball, my nemeses from two nights ago would yell, “BUCKET” or “That’s Three!” and start running back to play defense before the ball even went in the goal.  And he was right.  I was on fire.  I still played the same level of defense and brought the intensity the whole night.  I’m thinking to myself; ‘Now that this guy had showed me respect, I couldn’t let him think he was wrong about me.’  He laid back and managed his game.  Scored when he felt like it which wasn’t much. He had fun watching me do my thing.  It was a night I’ll never forget.

The point of this entire story is this: Sports are often a reflection of life.  Sometimes it’s not about the Xs and O’s.  Its about NUTS!  Who’s got them, who doesn’t.  Playing basketball this way served as one measurement of my manhood.  Basketball in itself is just a game.  But it wasn’t about the game or whether I won or lost.  It was about testing my abilities and my will to overcome challenges and shortcomings.  It’s survival of the fittest.  Like rams butting heads or a pack of lions in a pit duking it out for respect and pissing all over to claim a piece of territory.  I’ve played lesser and greater players than myself over the years.  But my most satisfying victories came against guys that on paper I had no business being able to compete with.  For them, perhaps it was just another game.  For me, it showed me that I had what it takes to make it in the world.  That meant I could survive competition and adversity in the workplace.  That one day, I could be happy and live my dreams in life.  I too can be a winner!  I don’t think as men, we really know who we are and what we have within till we get into that den and see what we are made of.  My parents weren’t able to instill a winning attitude in me growing up.  Playing sports was partially how I gained that extra inner confidence.  I never saw myself owning my own business, but now I do.  And I am just getting started.

To have skill and expertise is great!  Education is priceless!  Connections are essential.  However, we can never underestimate the basic qualities of sheer effort, heart, desire, determination. There is a difference between winning and being a winner, losing and being a loser.

A man who won’t quit, cannot be stopped!  He’s just going to keep on coming till he get’s what he came for!

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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.

Sports and Politics Intersect Retro Style

I was only an infant when Tommy Smith and John Carlos threw up the black fist in Mexico City; a young pup when Muhammad Ali refused to participate in the Vietnam War.  There was a time when many African-American sports figures and icons took to the streets and spoke out for social justice.  They were not afraid to lend their voices and their fame to give attention to important issues they cared about.  They were courageous enough to risk their careers if necessary to stand up for what they believed was right.

Unfortunately that was a long time ago.  Rarely do we see black superstar athletes stand up for anything having to do with more than their latest contract negotiations.  The money guys like Ali, Smith and Carlos made pales in comparison to the astronomical millions today’s athletes bank above their predecessors.

Our most successful and marketable black athletes too often stray as far away from civic issues as they can.  I will always remember Michael Jordan’s refusal to support a progressive African-American candidate Harvey Gantt for state senate in his native North Carolina.  Not because he agreed more with the politics of the infamously racist Helms, but because, “Republicans by sneakers too.”  Jordan was the symbol and poster child of the New Crossover Negro who believed it far more important to hawk product and filling his own coffers rather than possibly alienating potential buyers with moral controversy.   Tiger Woods has picked up the baton running that race with ease by denying all things black whether it be per his own heritage and identity as well as the women he chooses to marry and fool around with.  Woods is as vanilla as the ice cream in my freezer and as close to anti-black as one could be with deference to Justice Thomas.

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Whether it was the Rodney King beating, presidential races, supreme court decisions or 17 year old children with candy and a drink, sadly Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe are not walking through these doors.

This is what makes the tweeted photo by LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates in support of justice for Trayvon Martin an eye opener for me.  The Heat players live in South Florida.  Perhaps they feel the intensity of emotions even deeper than the rest of the country.  Perhaps some of the players have had their own issues with being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) with even more emphasis because they drive the finest cars money can buy.  I don’t know.  But I respect James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for being a part of a symbolic show of solidarity to Trayvon’s family as well as every other young black male in the United States.  I respect them especially because they are the faces of their franchise and the league that so many Americas pays attention to.

Former NBA players Etan Thomas and Craig Hodges were no strangers to standing up for unpopular beliefs.  Hodges so much so that he was literally blackballed from the NBA after presenting former President Bush a list of social issues he thought The President should address when the Chicago Bulls visited The White House.  If Jordan makes that move, it carries more weight and no way is the biggest revenue generating player the league had ever seen pushed out the door.

So big ups to LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rest of the Heat players.  You didn’t have to march like the old school.  But you did use the most powerful and significant tool given your generation which is social media.  And for me, that speaks volumes!

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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?  

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!