There is a gentleman named Randy Galloway who works as Sports Journalist and radio personality in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. His show is also on ESPN radio. On Friday, Mr. Galloway went on a tirade against Kobe Bryant. His argument was three-fold:
1. Kobe Bryant is a ‘ball hog.’
2. The national media is giving Kobe a ‘free pass’ for the performance in Game 5 on the NBA finals
3. “They” are blaming the Lakers loss on the ‘soft’ European white players.
Mr. Galloway’s work on the NFL is noteworthy. His comments about the NBA are pedestrian, uninformed and baseless. Or, maybe that’s the ‘talk-radio’ world and I just don’t understand the scheme. Basketball deserves better than having personalities such as Mr. Galloway presenting uniformed opinions as facts. His work and commentary is especially deleterious in the DFW market because the fans here –for the most part—aren’t knowledgeable basketball people—they aren’t students of the NBA like they are of the NFL. The NBA is fairly new to the DFW area, as it compares to cities like Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Phoenix. As of yet, there isn’t a robust professional basketball ‘culture,’ if you will, that creates a fan base with an exceptional basketball IQ. It is for these reasons and more than Mr. Galloway’s superficial comments are deleterious to the game. People take his words as gospel.
Galloway diminishes the game by miscasting ‘toughness’ as some divisive racial ‘third-rail’ issue. Professional basketball is enough trouble with Mr. Galloway’s mystifying tirades, This is not an issue of race. In basketball, like in real life, there is a palpable disconnect between ‘perception’ and ‘truth.’ European players are regularly branded with the label of ‘soft.’ What, however, does ‘soft mean? Does it mean a player is unwilling to ‘drive the ball to the basket?” Does it mean players aren’t diving for loose balls?” Or, could it just mean that European players ‘cut their basketball teeth’ playing a different style. Even in this country, there is a perceived stylistic difference between “East Coast” and “West Coast” basketball. There are nuanced differences in style of play—and, socialization as it relates to learning the game.
When he speaks of European players is he speaking of players in the Euroleague or guys who grew up playing in Europe? In his Friday tirade, he was quick to let listeners know he wasn’t speaking of Mr. Manu Ginobli – who is an Argentinean. Since Galloway was quick to point out “white European players’, I wonder was he including Mr. Kirelenko (Ukrainian) and former players like Mr. Vlade Divac (Yugoslavia) and Mr. Arvadis Sabonis (Lithuania) into his analysis frame. No one would ever say these guys were ‘soft.’
I don’t understand this kind of commentary. Basketball, from its inception in 1891, has been inclusive. The game has always been about bringing people together. Less than 50 years after Naismith invented basketball, it was being played in more than 100 countries. Everywhere basketball is played, it breaks down borders and allows people to unite around its simple beauty.
I guess Mr. Galloway doesn’t see this. Instead, he trounces the inclusive spirit of the game by repeating the same tired, small-minded ideas that the game ‘cuts along racial lines.' Basketball comes closer to parsing along lines of class more than race—it always has. Often, rural white kids —growing up on farms and playing in ‘crackerbox’ gymnasiums—play a lot tougher than black kids from well-off suburban schools. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but an observable tendency related to socialization. But Mr. Galloway—who is less than a student of basketball—doesn’t get this. He clearly thinks having a journalists’ credential to sit courtside at the arena raises his aggregate basketball IQ. Sadly, it has not. I doubt if Mr. Galloway is even a fan of this great game.
And lastly, his comments about Kobe Bryant as a 'ball hog' is another example of shoddy thinking. I reviewed career playoff statistics for key ‘go-to’ players (either ‘shooting guards or small forwards.) Clearly, if Mr. Galloway’s analysis of Bryant lead to the ‘ball hog’ conclusion,’ then Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Jerry West and Michael Jordan would all deserve the same derisive comments from Mr. Galloway.Download playoff_fg_attempts.htm
Mr. Galloway, professional basketball is better served when you confine your exceptional analytical skills to football, baseball, golf and Jose Cuervo. The game doesn’t need journalists like you trashing it. In fact, for the next NBA season, lend me your journalist badge and I'll happily write your basketball stories for you. Use your bully-pulpit to advance the cause of the NBA in Dallas and Fort Worth, not set it back -- or, at the very least, be accurate.
Two essential truths about basketball:
a.) In a game decided by one point, the arbiter is luck--whatever side you're on.
b.) If the whistle blows, it's a foul.
Excellent coaches are teachers of the game and fanatical 'purists.' I can't envision another path to embrace. I often told me players:" Don't look for officials to bail you out. Make shots. Make plays. that, my friends, is the concommitant equalizer. Every JUCO coach in Texas understand when you play on the road, you're down 15 points at tip-off. When I coached high school and ventured into area codes 940 or 903 (adjacent to the Dallas/Fort Worth area) to play road games, I accepted that the home team would be in the 'bonus' by the 6:55 mark of the second quarter. How do you overcome this: Make Shots.
I've said: "If you 'swat at an airbone shooter in an attempt to block the shot, consider this a foul.' There are some behaviors one mustn't allow to become habits. Sooner or later, you 'get got.' Basketball is a game of habits.
Such is the case with the ending of Game Four of the Lakers/Spurs series. For those who missed, I'll recap the final possession: The Spurs have a sideline 'throw-in' with 2.1 seconds remaining. Robert Horry is the inbounder. The play develops arouind three options-- but the primary is for Manu Ginobli. Horry cannot make the pass to Ginobli ecause of Bryant's defense. The pass comes to Brent Barry who is at the top of the three point arc. Derek Fisher, who is playing 'ball denial' on Michael Finley, rotates to Barry. As Barry makes the catch, he presents a shot fake and Fisher leaves his feet making contact with Barry. Barry absorbs the contact, takes one dribble to his right and launches a shot from roughly 28 feet. The shot missed and the game is over.
Because of Fisher's contact before the shot, many conclude a foul should've been called. Reflecting on the 'game with a game' basketball paradigm, one can see a different conclusion. This wasn't a game where incidental floor contact was going to rate a whistle. In the last four minutes, there were five possessions (three for Los Angeles, two for San Antonio) where a foul could have been called.
This game was going to be decided by players, not officials. And, given that officiating had already played a 'not-so-subtle' role in the game (29 shot attempts by Bryant and free throw attempts; no rest of the shot clock when Fisher's shot clearly grazed the rim) the non-call on the Barry play was proper-- and consisten with the established paradigm of that game.
Most discussions around last second wins and losses are analgous to the: "Was there another shoter on the grassy knoll?" This banter shrouds the central, essential question: "Why was the game lost?" If you're a Spurs fans, here's the reality: The Lakes netted 13 offensive rebounds, directly producing 20 first half points. The Spurs were a +7 in free throw attempts and +10 in made free throws. As the great Hubie Brown reminds us, in the Association, the team with the most free throw attempts wins with much more regularity.
At no level of basketball are games lost on a final possession. Often the most salient and influential play in a 'one-point' loss occurs at an earlier time (I thought the the foul on Vujacic's three-point shot from the corner --which became a four-point play-- ws the most detrimental event to the Spurs. My confusion about San Antonio Spurs basketball is the 'which came first, the chicken or the egg question? connundrum. Do the Spurs defend because they know they can't score. Or, are they unable to score because they expend their energy on defense.
I don't know which represents the truth. I do know that extended stretches without scoring --which is the Spurs modus operandi during the middle of quarters-- makes it difficult to prevail. The Spurs don't consistently score. That's the problem-- it has nothing to do with a whistle.
Boston is in trouble. And, I don’t think they need Paul Revere to let them know the Cavs are coming. Mr. Lebron James, with a dunk as memorable as John Starks over Scottie Pippen, sounded a horn so fiercely that Revere may have heard it. I’ll bet Auerbach did—God rest his soul.
As an L.A. kid, one learns to despise the Celtics during elementary school. I think its part of the sixth grade curriculum in the L.A. unified school district. Kids of my era—that matured on the basketball melody voiced by Chick Hearn and Len Shackelford ‘high above the western sidelines at the house that Jack built’ have no love for anything in Massachusetts—and that goes for Legal Seafood and Dunkin’ Donuts.
What the C’s did to the Lakers in 1960s was just short of an assassination of hope. I can relive nearly ever Lakers lost in the NBA Finals during that decade. The most painful, of course, was the shot made by Don Nelson in 1969. I can still see the ball striking the heel of the rim, flying up to rafters of the Fabulous Forum and falling into the basket. My little ten year old soul was sliced— every time I see Nelson I think of him wearing number ‘19’ and making that shot.
I began the year looking forward to a 2008 re-match between the Lakers and the C’s. Although I must admit that Magic Johnson’s ‘baby-hook’ in 1987 fully eviscerated the Leprechaun’s mysterious spell over the Lakers. Johnson’s field goal, to that generation of Laker fans, restored order in the basketball galaxy, putting the C’s down—it didn’t erase the pain of memory, but it certainly made the present seem ok. (Thanks, Magic!)
This year—as I told my son—was the year we fully pay the C’s back for all the Finals defeats in the 1960s.
I am, however, saddened because the C’s have but a sliver of a chance to get to the finals—at least this year. I want the Lakers to beat Boston…but, I have difficulty rooting for the C’s to win. It is only with the advent of L.A. native Paul Pierce that I can even bear to watch this team.
I won’t delve into the regurgitated analysis of the tactical problems with Rondo’s decision-making from the point-guard position, nor how mystifying it is that a team with Pierce and Allen can struggle offensively, nor how utterly lost the C’s can look in ‘end of game’ situations…instead, I’m going to explain how the Cavs can end this series in six games. Two words: Delonte West.
I’ve followed his career from St. Joes to Boston to Seattle and to Cleveland. This is a player with an exceptional basketball IQ. Though averaging only eight points and four assists in the series, he scored a game high 21 points in critical Game Three.
The Cavs offense strategy is designed to mitigate Boston’s primary defensive strength—their ability to defend on the ‘ball side.’ Boston is less effective when playing ‘help.” The Cavs prefer to execute a ball reversal pass (normally to LeBron James) and force the C’s to rotate defensively. Theoretically, this should allow James to make the catch as the defense is shifting, affording him multiple opportunities to ‘read’ the locations of gaps –thus enabling him to dribble penetrate. The problem is that James is taking jump shots instead of driving (and, shooting a low percentage). This means that it looks as if the C’s are defending better than they really are. The C’s aren’t stopping James—he just isn’t converting the poor percentage shots he’s taking.
Here are four pieces of advice to Delonte West:
1.) Get into the ‘painted area,’ engage two defenders and then pass-- instead of executing a ball reversal pass from the ’28-foot’ marker (which is where he is picking up his dribble.)
2.) Bring Ilguaskas to ‘ball-side’ elbow, enter the ball to him and have him ‘face-up’ the defender. This does a couple of things for the Cavs. First, it gives Ilgauskas more quality touches in area where he can attack; and second, he Ilgauskas is a effective enough jump shooter from that spot to bring his defender (either Garnett or Perkins) away from the basket. Once that happens, he can attack the basket using one of two dribbles. This guy, though, a post player, is very skilled and savvy with the ball. The Cavs can run the offense through Ilgauskas.
3.) Use Ilgauskas to reverse the ball to James—the simple action of throwing the ball to Ilguaskas at the ‘ball-side’ high post --where he is a threat to score —will open up dribble penetration opportunities for James when the ball is reversed to him.
4.) Delonte, you are more comfortable attacking from the corner than from the top—and, though you’re a lefty, you appear to be more comfortable playing from the right side of the floor. (This isn’t unusual because many right handed players are comfortable on the left side.) The Cavs can have a bushel-full of success against the C’s by playing screen/roll on the right side of the floor—thus enabling West to attack the ‘painted area’ going ‘left. And, if the screener is James, the Cavs can play ‘pick and pop’ or ‘pick and roll.’ The value with James as the screener in this wing ‘pick and roll’ action is that it completely opens the middle to dribble penetration. How does one ‘bum-rush’ any defense: Dribble penetration that is calculated, decisive and under control.
Although I’d love to see Lakers/Celtics in the Finals, I can’t bring myself to wish good fortune on Celtics. It’s Don Nelson’s fault—he shouldn’t have broken the heart of a kid.
The Game Matters: Many fans assert that from the beginning of NCAA March Madness through the NBA championship is the best time of the year...but some of who love the game know that 'Amazing Happens' everyday...because, The Game Matters.
The outcome of the Lakers/Jazz game was never in doubt. Even when Utah cut the lead to four points late in the 4th quarter, the game wasn't out of hand. Teams that erase 20 points deficits rarely come back and win; and, Boozer had five fouls. Once he was off the floor--which was inevitable given Utah's style -- the only matter in question was the final margin of victory.
The Jazz is a quality opponent, but the Lakers will prevail. Toward a broader explanation, I offer a quote from that great basketball coach and father of our country, George (Coach) Washington. He said, "Beware the surprise attack!"
Today was the clearest opportunity Utah will ever have to beat the Lakers at Staples Center-- the 'surprise attack,' if you will. The Lakers weren't ready for Utah's relentless commitment to obtaining second shots. The Jazz took 22 more shots and out-rebounded the Lakers 25-to-8 on the offensive glass. That's 17 extra possessions! A significant statistic, rest assured. In basketball, a team must prevail when achieving an overpowering level of dominance in second shot opportunities. But the Jazz failed to get a 'W." They're averaging 90.5 PPG in the playoffs -- in six games, while giving up 88.5 PPG.
The Lakers were a 'plus 16' in free throw attempts (46 to 30) and I felt they could have shot eight more, The Jazz--given their style of play-- will put the Lakers on the foul line-- read: Bryant and Odom. And this isn't going to bode well for Utah's hopes to win a game in Los Angeles.
The Lakers, arguably, present the most problematic match-up for Utah for the following reasons:
1.) They lack a Bruce Bowen /Kenyon Martin defender who can waste five fouls on Bryant while not being counted on for scoring.
2.) Utah's team defensive scheme is more targeted at weak side shot-blocking (by Kirilenko) than an robust attempt at preventing dribble penetration. And that's where the Lakers excel-- attacking the painted area and looking for teammates on a 'dive' or a 'diagonal cut," or passing to an teammate on the perimeter. (This is a difficult style of basketball to defend when one has the best player on Earth attacking the paint and Vujacic, Fisher and Radmanovic as perimeter shooter.)
3. The players anchoring Utah's second unit-- Harpring, Milsap, et. all, won't score enough points to keep the game manageable. This means that Boozer and Kirilenko will have to play big minutes. Results: Foul Trouble for them and bad news for the Jazz.
The Jazz hurt the Laker half-court defense with back screens and quick, decisive cuts and curls. Utah executed this extraordinarily well -- and, similar to the relentless offensive rebounding, caught the Lakers by surprise. Still, Utah fell 11 points short. Although, I think the true margin of victory was closer to six points. (And remember, that's with 18 extra possessions.)
The Lakers should make a major adjustment for Wednesday's game: Play Zone on at least 40% of the defensive possessions -- here are two reasons why this is essential:
1. The Jazz are comfortable with a 'half-court' offensive scheme -- and they have two quality perimeter shooters (Okur and Korver). The other three-point shooter, Williams, is the primary ball-handler so his attempts are either in transition or off-the-dribble.--much more difficult shots. Should the Lakers go zone, the lion's share of the pressure to make shots will rest on Okur and Korver. This is a good news/bad news story because both players are counted on heavily for offense, but are potential liabilities on defense. Korver can't guard Fisher. Okur can't guard Odom. And no one in the 'Beehive' state can guard Bryant.
2. The zone will 'clog' the painted area, making it difficult for Boozer to attack the basket from the elbow (which is his strength) -- and, furthermore, the zone places Laker defenders at better angles to negate Utah's ball side cuts--which are ferocious.
If Game One is a proper indication, the Jazz are in a quagmire. They are a quality opponent for Los Angeles but will not win the series because they can neither outscore nor slow-down Bryant/Gasol/Odom to prevail four times.
They will, however, compete. The Lakers will have to earn this one. These aren't the Nuggets.
Last night, I didn’t quite understand what the Mavericks were doing so I switched from TNT to NBA TV. Around Dallas and Fort Worth, fans were guarded, but optimistic the series would return to the AAC tied. Sadly, Messrs. Paul and Stojakovic and the remaining New Orleans Hornets had other intentions. I decided to watch the Orlando-Toronto game and I’m glad that I did.
What a game!
I believe in the ‘two-foot jump’ stop—here’s my guidance to every player I’ve coached: “If you’re driving to the basket and there is any possibility for defensive contact—no matter how remote—execute a solid ‘two-foot jump stop,’ then violently ‘shot fake.’ The jump stop negates the ‘help’ defender while allowing one to retain balance and control. The violent 'shot fake' reduces the possibility of a blocked shot, while clarifying the 'landscape of the play' for the Zebras. (Zebras, often, are so focused on the hand/ball relationship that they miss the body contact—which, is more detrimental because to offensive player as it forces them into an off-balanced attempt.) Rarely, if ever, will a Zebra whistle a ‘player-control’ offensive foul after a ‘shot fake.’ The ‘shot fake’ freezes the moment in time for the Zebras. I've found that the best offensive players help the Zebras.
Here is the end of game situation: Chris Bosh dribbles hard to his right and leaves his feet. Dwight Howard, who is beaten on the drive, elevates and initiates contact with Bosh. At this point, either Howard blocks the shot or Bosh loses the ball at the apex of his jump. Howard, clearly, delivers enough body contact with Bosh (by rule, an ‘airborne shooter’) to require that a foul be called. But, there is no whistle and Orlando obtains the rebound.
Toronto, however, after a mystifying 'illegal screen' call gets the ball back for a final possession with a credible opportunity to win. Bosh, however, misfired on a mildly-contested 17 footer from just above the elbow. Orlando escapes with a one-point win. (Bosh, on the last possession, hesitated ever so slightly when he caught the pass. He dribbled the ball—almost as if he were considering an attack move—but settled for a jump shot.
Although the Bosh/Howard ‘no-call’ occurred on the Raptor’s next-to-last-possession, I believe it was the pivotal play in the last two minutes. And moreover, if Bosh executes a solid ‘two-foot’ jump shot, he either scores or forces the Zebra to make a call. A decision, late in the game, to NOT use the ‘two-foot’ jump shot is very questionable. This is particularly true against individual shot blockers or teams that aggressively 'help.'
From where Bosh took off, a dunk wasn’t possible. But Howard’s body contact, against Bosh’s thin frame, was just enough to create a miss.
I don’t know whether Toronto would won the game or not (the Bosh-Howard ‘no – call’ occurred with 18.7 seconds remaining) had Bosh scored or been awarded foul shots—but, it is clear they would have had either one, two or three more points than they finished with. I like Chris Bosh’s game a lot. He’s going to have more success on ‘late in game’ dribble penetration moves if he goes with the ‘jump stop.’
The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy, all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows... you could even be discovered, become a movie star... or at least see one. Life is good in Los Angeles... it's paradise on Earth." Ha ha ha ha. That's what they tell you, anyway.
- Danny DeVito (as Sid Hutches in L.A. Confidential)
At 24, I worked at L.A. International Airport. My shift was 1930-0400. I’ve written before about how beautiful airports can be. Well, a lot of weirdness also happens at airports. One particularly hectic summer, every seat on every flight between New York-JFK and Los Angeles was $99.00. I think it was Eastern Airlines, now bankrupt that created this idea. What I remember about this summer, aside from all the overtime, was Flight 29. It arrived from JFK at 11:48 p.m. and every night eight to ten people--mostly younger than me-- would get off the flight and ask this question: "Which way is Hollywood? and "What's the best way to get there?"
Most were female--neither pretty nor ugly, just girl next door types, wearing Levis and carrying one soft-sided bag.
For those of you who thought it a well-worn Hollywood cliché about people 'just showing up in Hollywood hoping to get discovered,"allow me to tell you this is one myth squarely based in fact.
As a teenager, I spent my Friday and Saturday nights cruising Hollywood Boulevard. I regularly wandered into B.Dalton Pickwick bookstore and stopped at Love’s Restaurant or Two Guys from Italy. The Scientology proselytizers, back then, walked the boulevard giving out flyers and pleading with evereyone to come to their seminars.
Being from L.A. means you understand L.A. The city doesn't want you. You arrive there with your precious little hopes and fragile dreams and the city eats you-- not in the voracious, uncaring way that NYC finishes people off--no, not that way at al. In L.A., everyone just smiles, tell you what you want to hear as they systematically fleece you of your hopes and dreams. "Have a nice day," or “I’ll call you.” someone always says, right before the knife separates you from your hopes and dreams. "Do you know the way to San Jose" is more than a song, it's a secret code to maitaning your sanity.
If Miami is the capital of Latin America, L.A. is the capital of Pacificas (my term for the domain that reaches from the West Coast to Japan and South to Oceania. As L.A. goes,so goes the world. Everyone wants to be in L.A.
Except, of course, Kobe Bryant.
I have been an ardent supporter and apologist for Kobe Bryant. I believed--and still do-- that he is the finest player on the planet, embodying the best of what the game meant.
Now, I must say this: Kobe has disrespected the game by not giving his absolute best (during the preseason). And, for me, that is the abyss from which one cannot return. Disrespecting the game is sinful.
Kobe's complaints are legitimate. Since the great prophet of basketball Jerry West (peace be upon him), left L.A., Mr. Kupchak has been caught in a perfect storm that reveal his oppressive mediocrity.
1. O'Neal's departure
2. Questionable player personnel moves
3. Emergence of Phoenix and Dallas as powerhouse teams
Mr. Kupchak's draft choices, though intently safe, have been decent; (Bynum, Farmar, Turiaf and Vujacic--although drafting Brian Cook ahead of Josh Howard is questionable.) But, the personnel choices (Brian Grant, Kwame Brown, the inability to obtain a perimeter shooter to give the 'triangle offense legitimacy have made Mr. Kupchak’s decision-making seem irrelevant.
An objective analysis reveals the Lakers have not improved at a commensurate level with the remainder of teams in the Western Conference. The Lakers, with the best player in basketball, are (at least on paper) barely the eighth best team in the Conference. And that, violates a inviolable basketball law: Respect your stars by surrounding them with other talented players. (Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Ainge, he has surrounded Paul Pierce with legitimate players.)
The Lakers will be competitive this season--they will be fun to watch because they'll play hard and make shots. Fisher, Walton and Odom are consummate professionals and the Lakers are going to take a lot of teams late into the fourth quarter. Cook, Bynun and Farmar bring energy and fan appeal.
Fundamentally, however, they're going to struggle against top teams in the West because these teams have better players--and, a legitimate inside presence. The Lakers lack of post defense will translate into few, if any 'stops' late in games against San Antonio, Utah and Dallas.
Without Bryant, the Lakers are probably a 35-47 team missing the playoffs. With Bryant, the Lakers are probably 42-40 (same as last year) with an eighth place finish--depending upon how well Golden State plays and the kind of season that Durant has in the ‘Emerald City.’
So, tell me again why L.A. fans are begging Bryant to stay.
The Lakers glory days are over. I watched the Jerry/Elgin/Wilt era sunset; then the Magic/Kareem rose, then fell -- and the Kobe/Shaq era imploded leaving shrapnel inside everyone within a fifty-mile radius. And now, the Kobe era is done. I, for one, am glad.
Let Kobe go gently into that good night--be it Chicago, Washington or Dallas-- let him take his amazing talent to a place where he can be happy..a place where he wants to be.
The Lakers leadership team is at fault for this. Who knows what promises these people made to one another over Dom Perignon, Chateuabriand and Havana cigars. Kobe feels betrayed--and, probably was.
But that doesn't excuse Kobe's actions. There is no excuse for not playing hard--for not showing up every night and playing the game the way is should be played. Kobe is a player and 'players show up and play hard and smart.' Disrespecting the game is VERBOTEN -- and that goes goes for both coaches and players.
This isn't the same Kobe Bryant who rose from obscurity to spending eight hours a day working on his game out at Pauley Pavilion. No, this Kobe has become a typical 'Hollywood Type." He has allowed the actions of the Lakers leadership to turn him into an "Entertainment Tonight" clip-- fodder for the "The Colbert Report" -- perceived as an impetuous superstar caring only for personal needs. He has allowed the Lakers to define him. (And, shame on the organzation for taking this fight public.)
If the Lakers weren't so much a part of my life -- I used to sneak into the Sports Arena to watch them play...way before the Fabulous Forum opened-- I'd side with Kobe on this one. But, I can't. The Lakers are bigger than Kobe Bryant. For all my great memories of the Kobe/Shaq era I have just as many from the 1960s and and 1970s. Had there been ESPN in the 1960’s, everone would understand why Jerry West was called Mr. Clutch. (You had to have been there, my friends.)
But Kobe Bryant deserves to have a General Manager/Leadership team that can evaluate players like the Spurs organization; develop them like the Bulls organization; and treat them with the level of deep respect that the Maverick organization does. This current Laker organization--as defined by their actions-- are not overly competent in player personnel matters.
Everyone wants to come to L.A. But Kobe wants to leave. The greatest franchise in the history of the game can't treat the greatest player in the game with enough respect to encourage him to remain. This is crazy.
New England is now the mecca of sports excellence; the President of France is Hungarian; people care more what happens to Britany Spears than the fact 1,000 people are dying every month in Darfur. And, I won’t even bring up the Congo.
And Kobe Bryant wants to leave L.A. Yes, the end really is near.
The Tournament of the Americas placed the world on notice: CUJO is back. And he is hungry for gold (and, perhaps, Mr. Michael Vick.) I’m reasonably certain that the divisions of FIBA (Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania) watched with glee and cups of Earl Grey as USA Basketball executed ‘Shock and Awe’ a the Thomas and Mack Arena.
These games, indeed, represented the worst possible denouement for USA Basketball. The domination will allow those associated with our sport to take a deep breath and exhale, thinking: How do you spell domination: USA Basketball.
Forgive me for sounding like Dave Chappelle’s ‘Negrodamus,’ but I remain nervous and worried. Not because of Messrs. Krzyzewski, Kidd, Bryant and Colangelo-- but, instead for what I know about International Basketball’s elite. These are wily, clandestine operatives who are, as we speak, devising a protocol to uncover the ‘Achilles Heel’ of USA Basketball. To wit:
1.) We are, as a nation, possessors of Short Memories.
2.) Team USA’s core will not practice together again until just before Beijing.
3.) Jason Kidd’s knees will age one year for every 33 games he’ll play this season.
4.) The 2007 performance notwithstanding-- the only Olympic qualifiers afraid of Team USA are in the ‘just glad to get an invitation’ category.
The medal round--like March Madness-- is an asphyxiating ‘one and done.’ That means the most talented team doesn’t necessarily win. The best team ‘on that day’ wins. Team USA, just three scant years ago, caught an inferior Greek team (from a talent perspective) on a night when that team ‘made it rain.’ In a best-of-seven series, Team USA beat the Grecians 4-to-2. But, there is no best-of-seven cushion in the Medal round...it is the full-on expression of ‘all we have is right now.’ Italy and Spain are for real-- and, Argentina without Ginobli and Nocioni (as they were in this tournament) are like a rum cake sans the rum.
A rotating collapsing defense preventing dribble penetration and dunks-- combined with a ‘hard-deny, no catch’ tactics on Michael Redd-- followed with concomitant shot-making -- and, guess what: Team USA is in a close game.
Now, what do we know about basketball? IT IS A GAME OF HABITS. Moreover, all players revert to dominant habits in moments of anxiety. A two possession quarterfinal game--down by five with 0:44 remaining-- defines anxious.
And, there is another variable: Officiating. In the eyes of the men and women who call the Olympics, the NBA is to basketball, what “Ice Road Truckers’ is to “Ice Skating.” (There is a layer of ice beneath you, and that’s where the similarities end.)
Team USA’s Bronze medal in 2004 was -- to me at least- a source of pride. I am amazed at how often that accomplishment is derided and scorned. Team USA fought and competed for that Bronze medal. It meant something.
Now is the time for USA basketball to work harder-- to be earnest in their committment to not ‘let-up.’ The Achilles Heel is ‘HUBRIS,’ with equal parts comfort. Fans, coaches and and player should spend the next 12 months studying the nuances of the International game and understanding how well the Big Four (Italy, Spain, Argentina and Lithuania) make plays when it matters.
No squad will will lay down for Team USA. I am concerned that we’re being hoodwinked and aren’t wily enough to know it. The rest of the world will say: “We may as well concede the gold to the Americans...they are unbeatable,” or, “Let’s face it, we’re all playing for second place.” Note to USA Basketball: “When you hear such cries from the rest of the world, DON'T BELIEVE IT. It’s a setup.
The gold medal is an accomplishment to be earned, not the divine right of USA Basketball. Let’s rally around USA basketball now-- and prepare ourselves -- as a country-- to win the gold. It’ll be sweeter.
I should be paying royalties to Lute Olson for all the times I've used his sayings-- and. I've never met him. Having coffee with him would be a highlight of my life (even though I am a UCLA guy!) This is a wise man. Here is an Olson quote that each of my former players has heard: "The most meaningless statistic in basketball is the half-time score." That line has peppered many locker room speeches because we were behind a lot. Here is another: "The last great innovation in basketball was the jump shot." The wonderful Hank Luisetti (of Stanford fame) brought the jump shot to basketball in the 1930s-- if, indeed, that is the last great innovation-- what an indictment! But Innovation requires 'thought leadership and basketball, sadly, is often bereft of this. That is why Mark Cuban is a gift to the game-- what he has brought to basketball is a willingness to challenge, if you will, basketball's establishment and use his influence and largesse to force a dialogue about the game. in honor of him, I am going to write a series of essays entitled, "What Would Mark Do."
The introductory essay targets this: As March Madness is now history, I must ask: Where are the black coaches in NCAA Division 1? An insightful report revealed that roughly 57% of the players at NCAA D1 levels are black; but just 25% of the coaches. (On the women's side, the numbers are even more striking (9.3 % of the coaches. 44% of the players.)
Is there a simple answer, or is something more insidious and complex at work?
I coached at the high school varsity level for ten seasons. One college coach (who shall remain nameless)-- a brilliant guy -- said this to me: "Black coaches just aren't 'x's and o's guys; they don't know the game. I need them to recruit. That is what they are good at."
He was stating his opinion matter-of-factly. I found his comment intensely revealing, but just as prejudiced as using the word 'articulate' to describe a person of color when that same adjective is rarely used to describe non persons of color.
I don't believe this Coach is racist or in any way a bad apple-- he is simply presenting an opinion from his life's experiences. An opinion that is most probably held by a lot of influencers who have the power of hiring and firing.
Which leads me to...what is coaching? I see four broad skill sets:
1. Game Management-- Tactical bench coaching
2. Practice Management-- The teaching, learning and player development component
3. Interpersonal Abilities-- Interacting with and motivating others toward achievement and excellence
4. Politically Savvy-- Dealing judiciously with the Administration, parents, media, boosters, alumni, et al...
The above is in order of external appearance, not importance.
What, on that list, cannot be learned? Based on character traits, experiences and preference, each coach has a natural tendency or inclination toward one or two of the skills sets-- but no one person is 'naturally' proficient at all four.
I've known many coaches who are diligent students of the game (x's and o's guys, so to speak), but haven't the patience required to ensure players learn to play the game correctly. I've seen other coaches who are master tacticians, but possess limited appetite for the day-to-day repetition of practicing. And, then, there are others who are master basketball politicians--glib, erudite and funny-- who are just marginally interested in games and practices, but the school administration and alumni worships them. And you know what? There is nothing wrong skill #4 (though I sorely lacked it.) As a high school or college head coach, one ignores basketball politics to their own career peril.
This is why teams need several assistant coaches-- to borrow from Senator Clinton, " It takes a village.'
The situation with black coaches is analogous to black pilots during WWII. Conventional wisdom stated, "Those Negroes just aren't smart enough to fly airplanes in combat." (As if piloting an aircraft was as esoteric, high-brow skill that elevated skin color above intellect--- one can learn to fly in a shorter period of time than it takes to become a quality basketball coach.)
The black aviators needed this: an advocate and an opportunity. Eleanor Roosevelt became the advocate; the Tuskeegee Airmen provided the opportunity. And presto, before you know it, there were black fighter squadrons escorting B-25 bomber groups and wreaking general havoc on the Lufttwaffe in the skies over the Mediterranean. Key words: opportunity and advocacy.
The reason there are so few black coaches in the NCAA is because there is little opportunity and no forceful advocate for change. The larger circle of reasoning, as I see if, is there is no financial imperative to make a change. The imperative is moral, not financial. And from what I see of the NCAA-- an operation with revenues and a balance sheet rivaling that of many small countries-- their business is business.
A lot of people draw their sustenance from this gravy train. Read: No one wants to upset the delicate balance by being perceived as taking an overt risk. And, if hiring a black head coach is considered a 'risk,' who is going to do it? Certainly not the short-sighted AD-as-Bureaucrat.
So what would Mark do if he ran the NCAA 'working group on diversity?' I think he'd challenge the conferences to replicate his model that created an environment for Avery Johnson be successful: 1. Find an exceptionally bright person. 2. Have them serve an apprenticeship with gradually expanded accountability and responsibility. 3. Compensate them generously. 4. Encourage and support them --publicly and privately. 5. Require they serve as a mentor to others to complete the circle.
Cuban accomplished this in the NBA-- where the imperative is, shall we say, a bit less altruistic --therefore, with the lofty platitudes offered by the NCAA (whose obtuse commercials leave me shaking my head) this should be a more than reasonable consideration.
But this is based on an assumption which says, "We're all interested in diversity of thought." Are we, really?"
Basketball, as a game, is inclusive and diverse. Basketball, as a business, is not. The NCAA PR engine would have us believe in the beauty and elegance of amateur athletics (maybe NCAA D-3 and NAIA; but a $6B TV deal invalidates this at the D1 level.) Those at the top levels of decision making... well, I'll offer insight via a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The rich, they are very different from you and me..."
Black coaches deserve far more opportunity than they've been given..because it is good for the game. Quotas are a fool's answer (and serve to inflame and obscure, not encourage the dialogue. Let us dialogue on this truth: diversity of thinking makes the game better-- and acting from this knowledge base is the flash-point to ignite both change and innovation.
I realize this is a qualitative argument, not a financial one. That's the problem with my idea.
The question is who will become an advocate-- you know who my choice is.