Number 8 Will Always Be Number One To Me

There was a time when the NBA allowed high school basketball players to jump directly to the league without any college experience. There was no talk of “one and done” players joining University ranks before being drafted into the Millionaire Club.

One of the players who paved the way for the NBA of today came straight from Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A man who did exactly what I wanted to do, a player I admired for being the talent that everyone said he couldn’t be, a guy who created a legacy around one name: Kobe.

Say what you will about the 18 year old Kobe demanding to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe at times during his career he played with a swagger that certain fans did not like. His inauguration into professional basketball came at a time when Jordan was ruling the league. No one wanted to see the King dethroned – certainly not by some flashy teenager straight out of high school that could speak Italian fluently and signed with Jordan’s shoe rival Adidas.

But I did. I believed that 18 year old kid was just like me – wanting to live out a dream and I wanted to live out my dream of basketball through him. As much as I don’t like the Lakers I always wanted Kobe to win. When Kobe came out with shoes I got them – I’ll never forget the “spaceman” shoes – I still have them.

Now that the NBA has moved on from Kobe and my dream, the league is different. 20 years of Jellybean Bryant’s son and now he’s gone. Life moves on and as I watch Kobe as a man and not that 18 year old kid – I realize that I’ve grown too. I fight the feeling that I’m getting old, but seeing the years on Kobe’s face I realize we both have aged. It doesn’t matter to me about the championships or the awards or points. What matters is Kobe did the things I wanted to do at a time I wanted to do them. Kobe was me.

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Coaching- Is It Right For You?

Not too long after I learned to drive I took up my first coaching position. My friend and I volunteered to coach an 11 and 12 year old boys basketball team.  
At first, the organizers of the league refused our attempts at leading a group of young men. They were afraid that we would not take it seriously and the boys would be led astray. After some serious begging and pleading, we were handed the clipboards.
It’s amazing to think that a couple of teenagers drafted a team of kids that we had scouted. Prior to the draft we planned our strategy and who we would build around. We had seen this tall kid who we thought we could be our “5” and like Shaq, we believed he could dominate the paint. Another young man would play the role of Penny Hardaway and handle the ball up-court. From there we had others to fill in the roles.
All our plans and plots faded in the first practice . Our big man played more like Gheorghe Muresan and our point wanted to take three point shots every time he came down court. The role players weren’t happy being just side kicks in our experiment and even though we laughed and joked in practice it blew up on game day. We often wondered why that happened. We had planned so well, scouted and kept practice light but we did work them.
After years of coaching soccer I think about the first time I struggled with coaching defeat. How much it bothers me. I know no matter what happened we took it seriously and we wanted to win. However we had no idea that we were never going to be successful. In fact I’m not sure if I have the ability to be successful as a head coach.
The role of a head coach is to not just be a leader but to be a strong individual who dictates terms. Barking out orders or standing firm in the face of adversity- that’s what I think a head coach should do.

 
But when I think about myself I think of someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve and doesn’t yell much if at all. As a ref I let my whistle do the screaming for me. Sure I try to learn my players strengths and weaknesses but at the same time I want to give them the courage to grow. I don’t know that there’s a lot of fire in my belly. I’m certainly not going to scream at you for missing a pass. I will do my best to applaud you for your hard work – don’t think I don’t notice you because I do. Sadly I’m just naturally quiet. I don’t have a good voice. That hinders my development.
I do study your play and I can tell you what is going on. Maybe I’m just not suitable coaching material. No hall of fame directors will ever call me nor will any teams for that matter. I may be lucky to make it through this season much less this week. I can’t say I haven’t earned the right to wonder about my ability. I guess the mere fact I’m still out on the field means I’m not horrible but in a volunteer organization they always need coaches- hell some poor sap let me coach at 16, imagine the disappointment that was.

Messi’s Tax Case Proves We Need To Support Our Local Minor League Teams

Lionel Messi was sentenced to a jail sentence of 21 months in Spanish prison on July 6, 2016, although it is unlikely he will ever step foot behind bars.  It’s not what you are thinking though.  I know when I first saw that he would not be jailed, I thought it was because he was the superhuman Barcelona and Argentine football star who was getting away with it because of his prestige.  Spanish law says that if you are sentenced to a prison sentence of under two years for a tax crime you can serve that time through probation.  Voila!

According to Forbes magazine, Messi makes $81.4 million dollars a year.  He has been an endorser for Pepsi, Adidas, Proctor and Gamble and Banco Sabadell – a Spanish bank – just to name a few.  The Spanish tax court claims that he avoided paying taxes from 2007 to 2009 on some endorsements by having his father, Jorge, who he claims he let handle his money, set up shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland as well as dumping money in Belize and Uruguay.

Sadly this case of tax fraud has been dragging through the courts since 2013 when the courts first decided to charge Jorge.  In 2014, the courts decided to step up against Messi by telling him that even though he claims he didn’t know he had to pay taxes because he didn’t understand the Spanish system that even when you go to school you understand you have to pay taxes.  The Messi duo did pay $10 million in taxes on endorsements in 2010 and 2011 and penalties on the back taxes.

What bothers me the most, is that this seems like another example of someone who is making millions of dollars trying to evade the system.  How can he use the excuse that he’s not from Spain so he doesn’t know he has to pay taxes?  Or that he let someone else handle his finances?  In February 2016, Javier Mascherano, another Barcelona player, was given a one year sentence for not paying his taxes.  His legal team didn’t want to pay $312,000 for overdue taxes.  I mean really?

Just the other day Andrew Luck, quarterback of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, signed a contract, 6 years-$140 million, which guarantees him $87 million no matter what.  He received $47 million of that as soon as the ink dried on his signature.  From July 1 to July 4, NBA free agents signed contracts around $3 billion dollars, you read that right, $3 billion dollars.  Guys who fill out the bench are getting paid millions – Cole Aldrich signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for $22 million over 3 years.  He averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds through 60 games for the LA Clippers last season.  Can you imagine?

Comedian John Oliver recently made a mockery of the New York Yankees and their Legends Suite tickets behind home plate on his HBO television show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”  For the opening week of baseball season he gave away two tickets to the fan who would go to the game and act the craziest.  These seats in the Legends Suites and Champions Suite that make up the lower section near the field cost upwards of $1,600 a game face value.  If you watch a regular season game in the middle of the season you will see these seats empty because average fans can’t afford these seats.  Tickets on the field at Rogers Centre in Toronto, putting you as close to the action as you can get, are $297 according to the Blue Jays website.  That’s a huge gap in cost.  It may be affordable for someone who wants to experience baseball, not that it’s cheap.

Many fans have been priced out of the professional sports experience altogether between the ticket cost, food cost, parking cost and souvenir cost.  With the amount of money that is going into salaries it makes sense why many choose to sit at home and watch it on television.  The best seat is at home right?

Although if you give it a chance, you may find going to a minor league game can be the best place to be.  The New York Yankees AAA minor league team the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders tickets are anywhere from $10-$15.  The park is small, 10,000 people capacity, and the stars of the future play there as well as Yankees who are rehabbing on the way back to the majors.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins experience is similar, they play in a 8,300 capacity arena and the tickets can be anywhere near $30 a ticket.  It is a small arena and you are right near the action, plus there were a ton of the young Pens who won the Stanley Cup that spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

It’s hard to be a sports fan and feel sorry for guys like Messi, I know I don’t.  It’s strange to see guys that barely average 5 points a game get over $20 million dollars considering the era I grew up in.  In 1997, Dee Brown was the highest earner on the Boston Celtics at $3.5 million dollars.  Aldrich’s contract would put him in the Top 20 of NBA contracts in 1997.

It’s tough to see a guy get $87 million guaranteed and not wonder where all this money is coming from.  That money is all coming from the fans who buy shirts, hats and video games.  We can also choose to support our local clubs, the ones that we can afford to go see.  The ones that don’t get the national attention but are the ones that we should be giving our attention.  The ones that put back into our local economies with jobs, donations and community programs.  It’s time to start choosing wisely.

Pat Summitt Never Quit – Don’t Quit Remembering Her

A legend has passed and the world will never be the same without her.  Those who were coached by her know that their lives are forever touched by her.  Those who watched her coach know the intensity and passion that she possessed when she ran the sidelines for the Big Orange.  Not only did she make great basketball players but she made great leaders and women too.

Through her 38 years as the head of the Lady Vols program she recorded 8 National Championships, 18 Final Fours, and 1,098 wins.  Those 1,098 wins are more than any Division 1 basketball coach whether they are a man or a woman.  For all the talk of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Pat Summitt will always be the one that I admire.

Growing up in eastern Tennessee in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, the University of Tennessee ruled my life.  From the Big Orange football team to watching Summitt coach in the “House That Pat Built,” the Thompson-Boling Arena.  Summitt’s teams dwarfed the men’s basketball program and she wrote her own script as challenged the football program’s legacy as the most successful team on campus.

In Summitt’s later years she struggled with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the disease that would finally take her on June 28,2016.  I never wanted to write this post about the death of Summitt because for as much of a fan of Tennessee football I was always a fan of the way she coached.  Whether right or wrong, it wasn’t so much her pushing the players so she could win, it was pushing them so they could find something in themselves.  Sometimes the viewer’s focus could get lost on the way that she stared at the players after they made a mistake.

Some players are able to handle things like that and some aren’t.  Coaches know how to handle things like that and as someone who has coached before, you see different kids who have different buttons that you can push.  The best coaches know how to push the right buttons and obviously Summitt knew how to push buttons but she did it with the best intentions.  To make them better individuals and better players.  Summitt is famous for saying that “you can’t always be the most talented person in the room.  But you can be the most competitive.”  I hope that we never lose sight of those words no matter what we are doing.  May we never forget Summitt, I would hate to think she’s somewhere staring at us from the sidelines.

The Re-ignition of Duke Hate

I was looking for something to watch while I was working out and I found an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “I Hate Christian Laettner.”  Funny, I thought that someone was flashing a giant neon sign, “Watch me!”  I had heard about the documentary in relation to Jalen Rose and I knew from watching the 30 for 30 about the “Fab Five” that Rose couldn’t stand him.  He had no problem expressing his hatred for Laettner, bravo to Rose!

The documentary takes a look at five of the MANY (as far as I’m concerned) reasons why someone could hate Laettner and those are: Privilege, White, Bully, Greatness and Looks.  It goes back and takes a look at some of the bigger moments in his college career and how much of a big “villain” as Bobby Hurley called him he could be.

We need someone to hate?  At least that is something that we are told.  The documentary also suggested we hated the caricature, the person we thought he was and not really who he is.

In many of the interviews the only people associated with Duke basketball that stand up for his many types of behavior are Brian Davis and occasionally in a very politically correct way Grant Hill.

He makes no excuses for who he is and says he only wants the respect and admiration of “my siblings, my parents, my coaches.”  Well bravo son because you get nothing else from me.

He embodies a program.  He does have to be one of the best college basketball players ever.

It’s amazing looking back on it now, I remember how much of a basketball fan that I was then.  The funny thing is though, no one will ever be like him.  No one who is ever good stays I school for four years now.

You can look at it from two different sides.  I’m big on trying to see two different sides of the story, and trust me I saw something way different after watching this than anything I ever saw before.  I never knew Laettner was such an ass to Bobby Hurley before.  Considering Hurley grew up in Jersey, I would have thought he would have given it back to Laettner, but he didn’t seem to.  Laettner seemed to think in his conversation all these years later that he was doing what was best for the team and that if he didn’t push Hurley they wouldn’t have gone far.  He wanted to win so he had to push his buttons.

We are shown that Laettner had his buttons pushed by his brother, who beat him around in sports and made him such a megalomaniac on the court.  Yes I know he was great but before he was great he was just another in a line of Duke players that people hated.  After the many instances on the court from stomping to elbow throwing to “look at me in front of the camera” Laettner made himself the target of whatever negative attention he could find.  That’s not to say all of it was good.  Fans aren’t always good about their hate.  However, what I can say is that Laettner may be the last true college basketball player who spends four years at a program and truly becomes a symbol of that program and is hated for it.  If nothing else Coach K and Laettner made each other, and that deserves nothing less than bitterness in its own way.

I certainly think he’s a good basketball player, in fact I think he was great basketball player I will certainly give you that.  I’m not sure how many hearts he broke with last minute shots and he wasn’t afraid to be a huge douche by talking smack on the court.  At a time when the Fab Five was taking heat for wearing baggy jerseys and shorts, no one was saying anything to him about how he played the game.  He still seems to have disrespect for Jalen Rose and the rest of the Fab Five which is great as far as I’m concerned.  You’ve gotten all the applause from me you’ll get.

It’s possible that the documentary stopped short of one big thing.  Had he been ejected for stomping on Aminu Timberlake ‘s chest in the 1992 NCAA Tournament game (I still remember that shot at the buzzer like it was yesterday), would Duke and Coach K go on to be who they are today?  If it wasn’t Rick Pitino on the other sideline would they have tossed Laettner (we all know the NCAA isn’t always kind to the trendsetters in basketball).  Jalen Rose said if it was one of the Fab Five who did the stepping they would still be on probation in 2015 and while maybe not this long I still think he has a point.  College basketball seemed to miss all of Laettner’s antics because he could hit shots, because of his supporting cast, because of his coach, because of his school and because of that perception of him.  That All-American, it must have been a mistake,  nope he won’t get tossed.

Sorry I know they tried to sell me on Duke hate but it turned into Duke Love.  No thanks, I’ll pass but Laettner surely won’t, more self promotion!

Why Not Pink?

Narbonne High School girls basketball team wore white uniforms with pink numbers and letters in their recent victory in the Los Angeles city championship tournament game. Narbonne was wearing them in tribute of former North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, better known as the Play4Kay Campaign. Kay Yow died of breast cancer in 2009 and she was a well known coach for the Lady Wolfpack.
While it is very brave and noble of the Lady Gauchos of Narbonne to wear pink for Kay, what happened to them is not. The officials of the city league decided that Narbonne should have to forfeit their win because they did not file a request to wear pink in advance. Oh dear. What will we all do? Because wearing pink to honor a woman who lost her life to breast cancer is giving them an advantage over another team?

As someone who works with a cancer support organization this kind of thing is ridiculous. Yes I understand rules are there for a reason and I can understand if they decided to wear a uniform that was gaudy and outlandish, but pink? They weren’t wearing to rub 24k gold in someone’s face. They weren’t rubbing an athletic companies’ products in someone’s face. They were changing their color to support awareness for a disease that more than likely will affect them or someone they love. According to cancer.org, In 2013 39,620 women were expected to die from breast cancer and even 2,240 men were expected to be diagnosed with it. What are we telling our young women when they can’t be exposed to the truth about cancer? Organizations like Relay for Life and Play4Kay are there to educate the public that this disease is there and that early treatment can save lives.

John Aguirre from the Los Angeles City Section says that they are on probation because they illegally used a player who received two technical fouls in a game last season and should have been disallowed.  Now that they broke the rule about not submitting the request they have been found to have broken probation and will have to forfeit this game.  Aguirre is quoted as saying, “It had nothing to do with the color pink as far as regulation.  What it had to do with was that they did not submit a request for wearing uniforms other than school colors. They just did it. And at the same time, they’re on a probationary status for violation of rules for this past year.”

Mr. Aguirre fails to mention the fact that they wore the uniforms earlier in support of the campaign and did not address it with them then.  We are at a critical juncture in sports.  Young women growing up watching sports and wanting to get involved but having themselves held back by petty rules such as this.  You don’t see this happening in boys basketball.  It’s a shame for these young women and I think more organizations need to get involved to help them out.  They won the game because they were the better team not because their uniform had pink on it.  They did it as a symbol of someone who was an inspirational leader in their sport and by being a champion for younger girls they can be inspirational leaders themselves.