Thursday, August 25, 2016

Six years of Chicago in our rearview mirror

It has been exactly six years since Roberta and I bailed on Chicago. When we are sitting in the sunroom behind our suburban Charlotte home, enjoying the autumn breeze and a beer on a beautiful North Carolina night, I gotta tell you that we might as well be a million miles away from the Midwest.

Still, I miss plenty about Chicago, mostly the people we left behind. In honor of our six years away, here are a half-dozen people (and/or couples) that I dearly miss (in alphabetical order):

Phil Arvia ... My columnist counterpart (I was with the Copley Newspapers, he was at the Daily Southtown), Phil also eventually was chewed up and spit out by the brutal business known as newspaper journalism. He worked hard, he wrote wonderfully and he always had my back. Except when it came to golf. Then I was fair game, and he was quick to use his voluminous vocabulary to come up with ways to describe the delicate nuances of my game. (Shout-out to Tammy, as well.)

Darcia and Mike Brundidge ... They lived across the street from us on Bell Ave, their older son Troy was one of Ben's best friends, their younger son Chris used to shovel off our backyard basketball court so he and his buddies could play in the middle of winter. Good times. Even though the miles separate us now, we remain close to Darcia and Mike to this day.

Rick Gano ... My former AP Chicago colleague and one of my all-time favorite characters from the world of journalism. Funny, self-deprecating, poisonously sarcastic and far too hard-working (back when he was working). Also lovably neurotic. (Shout-out to Martha, too.)

Kristi and Jim Johnson ... I met Jim when I signed up to play softball in Minnesota about 1,000 years ago, and we became good friends. They moved to Detroit at about the same time we moved to Chicago, but eventually they came to their senses and joined us in the Chicago area. We didn't see them quite as often as we would have liked because they live in Grayslake, which I believe is just outside Winnipeg, but we do try to get together with them when we make the trip back.

Ben Nadel ... Yep, our little boy is still representin'. Except now our little boy is a fine 28-year-old man who makes us proud every day. He also has a great girlfriend, Sammi ... and if I'm not mistaken they're now past their 1-year mark together. Woo-hoo! What's extra cool is that Ben's presence in Chicago pretty much forces us to visit several times a year.

Zillions of Others ... I could have listed one more person, but then I would have been leaving out so many. And I'm too freakin' nice for that.

You also might notice that I didn't list a single Chicago sports figure. It wasn't my job to get close to the people I covered. I like to think most of us had mutual respect for each other. But for those who might not have liked me because of the stuff I wrote or the questions I asked ... to hell with 'em!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

One speaker the Dems forgot to invite ... and other DNC stuff

Sure, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine spoke at the Democratic National Convention. And yes, their testimonial speeches on Hillary Clinton's behalf were more than just OK.

And sure, also speaking in Philadelphia were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, numerous generals (including some Republicans) and Khizr Kahn -- the father of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier who challenged Donald Trump's patriotism and knowledge of the Constitution. In addition, Katy Perry provided the musical entertainment.

So yeah, the Dems flashed a little more "star power" than the Republicans had a week earlier, when the best the GOP could do was dig Scott Freakin' Baio up from under a rock.

But hey, if the Dems had any sense of humor at all, they would have located the troubled Erin Moran and let her speak for a few minutes.

I mean, I can't believe they missed the opportunity to counter Chachi with Joanie!


Never able to control his worst impulses, Trump has lashed out at the aforementioned Khizr Kahn. He told ABC that Clinton's staff wrote Kahn's speech and said it appeared as if Clinton's people wouldn't let Kahn's wife, Ghazala, speak.

Kahn, a Harvard-educated lawyer, went on MSNBC on Friday to say Trump was lying -- which of course is Trump's default action. And Ghazala told MSNBC that she was too nervous to speak at the convention and she was still too emotionally shaken every time she thinks about her son, Humayun, a decorated captain who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004.

During his MSNBC interview, Khizr praised the patriotism of Republicans. He called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "a decent human being" and a great leader, and also praised House Speaker Paul Ryan. But, Kahn added: 

"If your candidate wins, and he governs the way he has campaigned, my country, this country, will have constitutional crises. ... There comes a time in the history of a nation when an ethical, moral stand has to be taken, regardless of the political response. The only reason (McConnell, Ryan and others in the party) are not repudiating his behavior, his threat to our democracy, our decency, our foundation, is just because of political consequences."

I guess Hillary's people wrote that for him, too.

During the convention, Kahn ripped Trump for having never sacrificed anything. In his ABC interview, Trump responded: "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices," citing "millions of dollars" in donations for veterans.

About that ...

The Washington Post investigated those claims and found out that Trump hadn't donated a dime to charities for veterans. Shamed, Trump responded by finally cutting a check ... and banning Post reporters from receiving credentials to his events.


The three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate this fall will be must-see TV. Trump warmed up for them two months early with more Twitter bluster, accusing Hillary and the Dems of booking some debates the same nights as NFL games.

The only problem with that accusation is that the debates were scheduled 10 months ago by the same non-partisan commission that has run presidential debates for three decades.

Eh, but since when did facts ever stop Trump?


All the late-night comedians are razzing Tim Kaine for being boring, but I rather liked his speech -- especially when he was taunting Trump for punctuating his frequent lies with calls of, "Believe me!"

I think Kaine was a very good choice for Hillary's running mate. The Dems didn't need a "superstar veep." They needed a person with proven credentials and unimpeachable character.

You know you've got a good one when numerous Republicans are testifying how good a guy Kaine is.

No, he's no Barack or Bill or Biden in the speech-giving department, but he'll find his footing just fine.


Both Obamas were amazing at the convention. Michelle is a national gem. And if that was the president's last major speech in front of a national audience ... wow ... what a way to go out. 

Biden's passion practically jumped off the stage. His closing punctuation -- "Come on!" -- will be remembered for years. Booker's speech was outstanding but was overshadowed by Michelle's.

Still, I think my favorite convention yakker was Bloomberg, the Independent former New York mayor who is backing Hillary.

Bloomberg taunted, emasculated and humiliated Trump the way only somebody with MORE billions could. He called Trump a con man and a hypocrite, and explained with wit and energy why Trump isn't even a good businessman.

I don't agree with all of Bloomberg's policies from his three terms as mayor, but it's a shame we got the wrong Big Apple billionaire in this presidential race. I'm guessing Bloomberg would have defeated Hillary, and perhaps quite handily.


From all of the above, it's obvious that I think the Dems did a better job at their convention than the Trumpsters did in hosting Fear & Fright Fest 2016.

Nevertheless ...

Although Hillary's speech was better than I expected, she did fall back on cliches quite often. And she never really tried to convince Independents, disgruntled Republicans, Bernie Sanders followers and undecided voters why they should trust her, given her trail of lies and deceit.

Also, I didn't think Bill Clinton gave one of his better speeches. I was bored midway through it -- which wasn't the case as I watched Kaine's, by the way.

And there's still plenty of healing to do between Clinton and the Bernie Backers. Yet another email scandal made the party (and, by extension, Hillary) look bad. It played right into the "Hillary can't be trusted" narrative that the Republicans have wisely crafted.

White males, especially uneducated white males, are decidedly behind the macho, race-baiting narcissist at the top of the Republican ticket. So Hillary needs the Bernie Backers -- and they need to get over themselves. They might not like Hillary, but a Trump victory ends their "revolution," period.

Hillary also needs to handily win the black, Latino, female and young votes. I think she will, but I take nothing for granted. I admit I was among the millions who totally dismissed Trump's chances to win the GOP nomination. 

I underestimated him -- and the naivete of millions of Republican voters.


I'm trying -- and failing -- to understand why so many veterans and current soldiers seem to favor a draft dodger who belittled war hero John McCain for being captured and tortured.


North Carolina is a swing state, and Hillary got a major bump when an appeals court struck down the state GOP's restrictive voter ID law -- a law that also would have reduced the number of early-voting days, eliminated a weekend of early voting, tossed out a tradition of pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds, etc. 

The three-judge panel correctly ruled that the law "targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision."

The court ruled (and I agree) that Republicans who wrote and passed the law artfully got rid of all provisions that encouraged voting by blacks, other minorities and young people -- in other words, the Democratic base. When Pennsylvania powered through a similar law in 2012, one of that state's GOP leaders was caught on tape crowing that the law would give the election to Mitt Romney.

The courts have caught on, however. Just in the last two weeks, appeals courts have struck down voter-suppression laws in Texas, Wisconsin and now North Carolina.

The GOP laws in those and other states all were enacted in the guise of eliminating voter fraud. But the appeals court shot down the N.C. law as one that "imposes cures for problems that did not exist." Study after study has shown that in-person voter fraud is practically non-existent. 

For what it's worth, I thought the ID part of the N.C. law was about as close to fair as such a law could be. IDs would be free for those who couldn't afford them, and there was a chance to fill out provisional ballots for those who lacked ID. 

As usual, however, our wonderful state GOP couldn't stop there. They had to eliminate voting days, pre-registration for older teens, on-site registration, etc. They had to do everything possible to reduce voter turnout, because elections that have high voter turnout usually favor Democrats.

They targeted the black vote "with almost surgical precision" ... and now their own chances ended up in the sick bed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Donald chats about Melania

When Slovenia sends its women, they're not sending their best. They're sending women that have lots of problems. They're bringing daughters of Communists. They're bringing gold diggers. They're plagiarists. And some, I assume, are good people.

You have people coming in, and I'm not just saying Slovenians, I'm talking about people that are from all over that are plagiarists and college dropouts and they're coming into this country.

The Slovenian government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don't want to pay for them. They don't want to take care of them.

Well, somebody's doing the plagiarizing, Don! I mean, somebody's doing it! Who's doing the plagiarizing? Who's doing the plagiarizing?

Sadly, the overwhelming amount of plagiarism in our major cities is committed by Slovenians.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trump defends Melania: "Hey, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union ... "

Melania Trump obviously plagiarized two passages of her GOP convention speech from Michele Obama.

Predictably and hilariously, Trump and his people not only denied the plagiarism, they blamed the reaction to it on Hillary Clinton! (And, of course, the liberal media.)

Here's the main case of thievery. You be the judge.

     What Michelle said in 2008:

 "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them.
"And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."    
What Melania said Monday:

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.
"They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

What's next? Trump opening his acceptance speech with: "Four score and seven years ago ..."?

Democrats are, of course, attacking with the same kind of gusto Draymond Green displayed whenever an opponent's groinal region was nearby. 

At the very least, the Dems say, Trump should acknowledge the plagiarism and do what he does best -- fire the speechwriter. The problem with that is this: Melania told Matt Lauer earlier in the day, "I wrote it, and with as little help as possible."

And we all know Melania is still at least a year or two away from being fired by Trump in favor of Young Wife No. 4.

Hey, as Trump-associated horrors go, this plagiarism thing ranks pretty low on the list. Besides, this is 'Merica, and freedom to do what we want is sacrosanct.

As I famously wrote just a couple of weeks ago ...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And I stand by those words, come hell or high water (another phrase I invented).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

He's Back ... And Balder Than Ever!

For the longest time, I thought The Baldest Truth only had tens of readers. But given how many folks have asked why I haven't written in such a long time, I now realize that I have many more than that.

Dozens, even!

So for you loyal TBT readers, here's some stuff to chew on ...


Hey, GOP! You're Focusing On The Wrong POTUS Candidate!

I'm not sure why the GOP is trying so hard to get Hillary Clinton in such deep trouble that she will have to quit the presidential race.

If the Dems were forced to replace her with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden or any number of other folks who aren't Wall Street-beholden pathological liars, the Democrat's margin of victory over the presumptive Republican nominee would be larger than Ronald Reagan's was over Walter Mondale in 1984.

The GOP should be thrilled that an unlikable, untrustworthy jerk heads the Dem ticket.

I mean, if the Republicans really want to win this presidential election, they'd work a little harder at getting rid of the anti-conservative racist on the top of their own ticket!


Sons of Pitches: Thisclose To Another Title

Our push for a second consecutive championship in Charlotte's old man's softball league fell one game short ... but not before we pulled off yet another spectacular comeback.

A few weeks ago, late in the regular season, we were losing 9-1 with two innings to play and came back to win.

In our first playoff game on July 5, with our coach (and pitcher and No. 3 hitter) Pat out of town and yours truly taking over in his absence, we blew an 8-2 lead and trailed 10-8 going into the last inning. We then scored 9 runs to win going away. (I had a single to start the rally but I also had a comical pratfall in my second at-bat of the inning -- I tripped over my own two feet about half-way down to first base, wiped out and gave myself raspberry burns on both knees. D'oh!)

Then, in our semifinal on July 12, we played an exciting, back-and-forth game with our opponent. We had a bad defensive inning, gave up 5 runs and trailed 13-9 going into the top of the last. But the Sons of Pitches do not quit, my friend. Again, the bottom of our order (which I am proud to be part of) got things going, and the big boys took care of business to finish off our 7-run rally. We got 'em out in the bottom of the inning, with the final play being a grounder to me at first base.

I saw the ball bouncing toward the line and took a step that way. I thought there was a chance it might hit the bag so I prepared myself for that possibility; it ended up bouncing over the top of the base. There was not going to be any Bucknering going on here, as I dropped to one knee and made sure the ball couldn't get through me. I fielded it and flipped to Pat covering -- a knee-high toss that made Pat work just a teeny bit before the celebration began!

Our opponents looked stunned as we high-fived each other, and I gave a thumbs-up to the other Mike -- a.k.a. "Good Mike" -- who suffered severe ankle and knee injuries during the season but still came out, walker and all, to support us. (Thanks to Mrs. Good Mike for getting him there and cheering us, too!)

After about a 10-minute break, the title game began. I was looking forward to the possibility of enjoying a "championship sandwich," with softball titles coming on both sides of the basketball crown my girls' team won last March.

We picked up right where we left off, with 4 runs in the first. But we promptly gave up 4 in the bottom of the inning and we never got the bats going again. Our opponent definitely outplayed us, pounding the softball on offense and making some incredible defensive plays to beat us decisively.

It was a sad end to a great season with an incredible group of guys. I'm already looking forward to fall ball starting next week. Yep, with softball in Charlotte, "fall" starts in mid-July. Should only be about 95 degrees with 80 percent humidity. But that's OK ... the Sons of Pitches are one tough bunch of old dudes!!!


What "Black Lives Matter" Means To Me

The correct response to a black person saying, "Black lives matter," is NOT "All lives matter." Why? Because it goes without saying that every human who has been born and occupies the planet "matters." Black people are trying to accentuate the special challenges they face in a country that still has many issues in dealing with race. To counter, "Black lives matter," with "ALL lives matter," is disrespectful and confrontational, and it certainly does not move the conversation forward in a positive way.

It would be like an activist saying, "End Darfur genocide," and me responding, "End ALL genocide." Or it would be like a non-profit group saying, "Prevent breast cancer," and me responding, "Prevent ALL cancer."

Yes, everybody wants to end genocide everywhere and to prevent all forms of cancer. But these folks are trying to call attention to THEIR issues and circumstances.

That having been said, there is no valid reason to incite violence in the name of Black Lives Matter. Doing so ends up weakening the message and pushing away the very people the movement should be trying to attract.


KD's Not Even The Most Interesting NBA Free Agency Story

Kevin Durant is a wonderful player and a good teammate. He will fit in with the talented Warriors and help them achieve greatness again. And I don't think choosing to join a juggernaut makes him any less of a man, as Charles Barkley implied. (Yes, the same Chuck who whined and threatened his way out of both Philly and Phoenix so he could play with championship contenders is criticizing KD for taking advantage of free agency to improve his lot.)

I'm not amazed that Durant was coveted by every team. Nor am I amazed by the big deals signed by the likes of Dwyane Wade, Mike Conley, Nicolas Batum, Al Horford and Andre Drummond.

You want amazing? How 'bout these contracts:

Matthew Dellavedova, Bucks, $38.4 million.

Jordan Clarkson, Lakers, $50 million.

Ryan Anderson, Rockets, $80 million.

Jon Leuer, Pistons, $42 million.

Timofey Mozgov, Lakers, $64 million.

Mirza Teletovic, Bucks, $30 million.

Ian Mahinmi, Wizards, $64 million.

Tyler Johnson, Heat, $50 million.

Talk about a Who's Who of What The Hell?

Meanwhile, ex-Bulls Joakim Noah and Luol Deng each scored a 4-year, $72 million contract, Noah from the Knicks and Deng from the Lakers. That wouldn't be so crazy ... if it were 2011.

The Lakers, coming off their worst season ever, somehow came to the conclusion that the road to salvation was committing $186 million to Deng, Clarkson and Mozgov.

But I guess I understand. To win an NBA title you've got have three great players.

Jordan-Pippen-Grant ... Bird-McHale-Parish ... Curry-Thompson-Green ... James-Wade-Bosh ... and now Deng-Clarkson-Mozgov.


My Kind Of Camp: No Mosquitoes, No Sunburn!

A great group of girls, including four players from last season's championship team, participated in my third annual basketball camp at the Scholars Academy gym.

I give all credit to my assistant Sholeh, a recent Scholars graduate as well as our All-Conference, co-MVP guard. It's easy to stay humble when a 14-year-old girl can shoot 14 times better than I can!


Cubbies Stagger Into All-Star Break

The first month of the season, the Cubs looked like the 1927 Yankees. The last month, they looked like the 1962 Mets.

The real 2016 Cubs are somewhere in between those extremes, probably closer to being a very good team than a very bad ballclub. But it says here that, in the end, they will be only good enough to break their fans' hearts ... again.

Hey, Cleveland, you wanna talk about futility for the ages? Cubbie fans will show you futility for the ages! Give them a call when you get to 108 years (and counting).


Writing for $$$, Not For Giggles & Snorts

Although I haven't been blogging, I have been doing plenty of writing -- mostly for the investing Web site Seeking Alpha. My latest article, which has generated 25,000 page-views and nearly 900 comments, is HERE.

I'm especially proud of the gratuitous Trump reference. Hey, page-views don't grow on trees, and I get a penny per click!! I'm now the site's top-ranked writer in the Dividend Investing Strategy category, with almost twice as many readers as the No. 2 ranked author.

And you thought I was just another pretty face.

Speaking of which ...

I recently did a podcast with a Seeking Alpha colleague, my first venture into that medium. I always thought I had a face for radio.


That's all for now, kiddies. I'll try to return to these parts in less than 3 months.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Murderous CEO gets slap on wrist - what else is new?

Here's an article that made me sick to my stomach:

29 miners dead, the direct result of the CEO going for every last dollar at the expense of safety, and all he gets is a year in a cushy prison before he gets out to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars he "earned."

He also shows zero remorse and plans to appeal.

Here, in italics, are a few passages from the article. The bold-faced parts are my observations.

Donald Blankenship, who presided over his coalfields from a mountaintop castle, was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine, the maximum punishment after his misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to flout mine-safety rules. In December he became the first chief executive officer in U.S. history found guilty of a workplace-safety crime, prosecutors said.

Incredible, and scary, to think that he is the first CEO ever punished like this given how many incidents of negligence have led to deaths over the years. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, though, as these guys have the money to buy judges and politicians (as is later documented in this article) and of course to buy the best defense. So while U.S. prisons are filled with poor mopes serving life sentences for crack possession, these guys face next to no legal accountability for their heinous crimes. 'Merica!

Blankenship, 66, stood stone-faced Wednesday as U.S. District Judge Irene Berger handed down the sentence and then denied his request to remain free on bond while he appeals. The former Massey Energy CEO, who didn't testify at trial, denied Wednesday that he masterminded a scheme to evade mining regulations and speed-up coal production.

"It's important for everyone to know that I am not guilty of any crime," Blankenship told Berger. "There's no direct evidence that I committed any crime."

The courtroom was filled with family members of the deceased. If there is a hell, there should be a special place there for him. Sad to say, but the fact that guys like this are allowed to do what they do -- ENCOURAGED to do what they do, even -- makes me wonder what God is doing with his time.

A blunt taskmaster who bullied underlings and controlled virtually all of Massey's operations, Blankenship turned the mining company into the U.S.'s fourth-largest coal producer. 

Nice guys finish last, I suppose.

Blankenship, a Republican, spent heavily to back politicians and judges friendly to the coal industry, according to state reports.

There's a shock.

He spent $3 million in 2004 to support a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The winning judge later helped overturn a $50 million jury award against some of Massey's units.

A rich CEO using influence to get richer and buy more influence? There's another shock.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the judge shouldn't have participated in the case.

Now, that ruling from the Roberts court really IS a shock!

A state panel concluded that Massey managers forced miners to ignore basic safety measures, such as controlling coal dust and ensuring the mine had proper ventilation, as part of a push to increase production. The company operated the site in a "profoundly reckless manner," the panel said.

But what we really need in this country is less regulation. Damn gubment, always getting in the way of job creators. So what if the jobs created kill the employees? At least the jobs were created, dammit!

The disaster should've sparked reforms on mine safety, said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America in Triangle, Virginia. But if changes didn't come within weeks or months of the deaths of the miners, Smith said he doesn't expect them to come now.

Darn union leaders. They think it's important to keep their members alive. What jerks!

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that in 2009 alone Blankenship made more than $18 million. He stepped down as Massey's top executive in 2010 with a $12 million retirement package.

"Mr. Blankenship gambled with the lives of miners all for the sake of money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby told Berger Wednesday.

I am stunned to hear that a CEO would do something like this! Stunned, I say!!

Even though Blankenship didn't take the witness stand during his trial, his own words came back to haunt him as jurors reviewed internal memos and listened again and again over seven weeks to recordings he secretly made of telephone conversations.

Blankenship said Massey managers should keep quiet about safety issues and focus on what "pays the bills," according to one memo. Their job, he said, was simply to "run coal."

Although I am not in favor of the death penalty, I would be tempted to make an exception for this murderous prick. But hey, at least he has to spend a whole year in a country-club prison at taxpayer expense!

It is likely the Bureau of Prisons will assign him to a minimum-security facility because of his short stay, said Larry Levine, who served 10 years in federal prisons and now advises on how to survive time behind bars.

Each day will start at 6 a.m. as a loudspeaker blares, "The Compound is Now Open!" Levine said. Blankenship will probably be assigned a demeaning job and may not get to pick whether he sleeps on a bottom or top bunk bed, the consultant said. Meals will feature beans, rice and tortillas.

Awww, poor baby! A demeaning job? Like what? Shoveling coal in a mine that's about to explode? ... He might not get his choice of bunks? Oh, the humanity! ... He'll have to eat Mexican food? Nooooo! If Trump finds out about this, he'll tear down that prison wall to save his fellow power broker!

I could go on, but I'm already ill. Have a nice day, everybody.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Greatness calls, and my Eagles answer

Our Eagles dared to fly high … and we kept soaring till we reached the mountaintop.

By early December, I was pretty sure our Scholars Academy middle-school girls' basketball squad was the best team in the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association. We showed it by going 16-2 during the season, and we clinched it by dominating our three playoff opponents. The combined score of those three victories: 103-37.

One year after going to the championship game for the first time in school history – but losing – we took care of our unfinished business. We won Scholars’ first regular-season conference title and then, on Tuesday, March 1, we captured our school’s first tournament championship.

Naturally, we celebrated on the court after our historic, satisfying victory. It was spontaneous and beautiful and even more joyous than I had imagined it would be. Hugs, high-fives and handshakes were plentiful as the 11 girls, their parents, their siblings, several students and many faculty members basked in the thrill of victory. The girls and I posed with the trophies as moms and dads snapped hundreds of pictures.

Because we had tied for the regular-season title and then lost a coin flip, we had to play the game on the road, and it was surreal celebrating our victory on “foreign soil.” There our opponents were, in their home gym, and they had to watch us carry on. I stole a few glances at the Countryside Montessori players, and I remembered the empty feeling we had a year earlier when we were the ones who had to force smiles as we posed with the runner-up trophy.

The 11 girls and I took a brief break from the on-court merriment, going into a conference room to celebrate in private. That, too, was a fun, rambunctious scene of table pounding and hoots. One of our captains, Olivia, interrupted the hollering with: “Guys … guys … I have something to say!” For a moment she got a serious look on her face and then she smiled and whispered: 

“We won the championship!” 

And everybody yelled and screamed and pounded the table again. Too much fun!!

We then went back onto the court to celebrate some more. Finally, players and families started filtering out of the gym.

My son Ben was visiting from Chicago, and he, my wife Roberta and I drove to a nearby restaurant. I had trouble winding down from the excitement, even as I enjoyed a craft beer from – appropriately enough -- Victory Brewing Company. Ben, who specifically timed his visit in hopes of seeing us in the title game, talked about the team and the season with me for about an hour. It was special to share this culmination of three years of hard work with my loved ones.

The warm glow of triumph continued for several days of congratulatory emails, texts and Facebook posts. Finally, on Saturday, we had our team party.

Compared to the wild post-game celebration, the party was relatively tame. Our gracious hosts (parents of our standout guard, Ritika) served up food and soft drinks. As the girls enjoyed hanging out together at their final team function, I chatted easily with their parents. Because I have been the coach since the 2013-14 season, I have gotten to know many of the parents quite well; three of their daughters (Ritika, Olivia, Celeste) were with me for all three years, and three others for two years (Sholeh, Beijul, Charlotte).

Then it came time for my annual post-season speech. I said something about each girl, recapping her contributions to the team, and also handed out the awards.

Our Heroes

Celeste, an 8th-grade tri-captain, had the “monster season” I had predicted she would have. Tall and very athletic – a rare combination at this age – she developed a practically automatic 10- to 15-foot jumper from the high post. She led us in scoring in each playoff game and she dominated the championship contest, finishing with half of our 28 points. She was a rock on defense all season, routinely registering double-digit blocks and rebounds. Celeste scored 168 points, 100 more than in either of her first two years, and was our co-MVP.

Sholeh progressed rapidly from ex-soccer-playing basketball neophyte as a 7th-grader to All-Conference performer as an 8th-grader. Once she decided she loved basketball, she worked tirelessly to improve. She developed a picture-perfect jumper and outstanding layup form; the latter was especially useful because her aggressive defense at the top of our 2-3 zone created numerous layup attempts. Scholars doesn’t keep individual athletic records, but it’s hard to believe any previous girl had scored more than Sholeh’s 212 points this season. A tri-captain and co-MVP, she fought through a bad cold to score 8 points in the championship game.

Olivia, another 8th-grader, has gracefully grown into her height. She sported a nice outside shot and became a reliable interior defender and rebounder. Mostly, though, she was our calming influence on offense. Whether I used her at wing, on the high-post or at point, she had a knack for sizing up the defense, making good passes and minimizing turnovers. Because she made her teammates better, she had a major impact even when she didn’t score much herself. Olivia was our Offensive Player of the Year.

Charlotte, another 8th-grader, was a tiny but tough player two years earlier, and she thankfully returned to the team after taking a one-year break from basketball. She improved, oh, a bazillion percent from 6th grade and was no longer tiny. She was as good a defender as I have coached, equally comfortable playing man-to-man, hassling the opposition at the top of our zone or defending the baseline. Particularly lethal at the point of our devastating 1-2-1-1 press, Charlotte was an obvious choice as our Defensive Player of the Year.

Ritika, a third-year player who joined the program as a 5th-grader, is the best 3-point shooter in the league by a mile: 20 made treys the last two seasons. She also has become an outstanding defender with quick hands and a nose for the basketball. And she plays both wing and point guard equally well. Unselfish almost to a fault and respected by her teammates for her tenacity and intelligence, she received the Coach’s Award for Leadership.

Deirdre, a 5th-grader I call “Rookie,” was only supposed to be the team manager but she earned a promotion in December and quickly moved up the depth chart. She finished as our highest scorer off the bench, and I am very excited about her future … but I’ll probably have to come up with a new nickname for her next year!

Eighth-graders Beijul and Soenika and 7th-graders Kaylee, Emma and Jackie were valuable reserves. I gave everybody plenty of playing time during the regular season, but I did explain to them that the starters would get most of the court time in the playoffs. I asked them to be ready to give us short bursts of energy when they got into playoff games, and I’m thrilled to say that’s what each of them did.

At our party, I reminded the girls and their parents that we had lost our three leading scorers from the previous season, so we needed our returning players to improve dramatically. And did they ever!

Celeste, Olivia and Ritika each scored more points this season than they had in their first two years combined. And Sholeh, our top returning scorer with 72 points in 2014-15, nearly tripled her output. Add in the return of a vastly improved Charlotte and the outstanding work by our reserves, and we had so much going for us that not even the coach could screw things up! We outscored our opponents 706-279.

Not bad for a bunch of “highly gifted” kids at a small charter school that is tucked inside a business park down the block from Costco. We have only a small practice gym and play our games at a church several miles away. My first year, the top returning scorer quit the day before our first practice because she decided to join the Mock Trial team instead. In 2014-15, one player missed practices because of her involvement in Science Olympiad, and another missed games this season to compete in Robotics tournaments. All schools claim academics come first; at Scholars Academy, they really mean it.

I concluded my speech by saying this team had set a standard that future generations of Eagles will be hard-pressed to match. And I got a little choked up when I noted how strange it will be to look out on the court at our first practice next season and not see Soenika, Beijul, Charlotte, Sholeh and, especially, three-year starters Olivia and Celeste.

After I was done with my (too) long soliloquy, Olivia's mother Jen, our "Team Mom," presented me with a framed, signed team photo and said several nice things about how lucky Scholars was to have me. Obviously, I have been every bit as lucky, and more.

This is my first head-coaching job, and I was as green as most of the players back in 2013-14. I like to think they have learned a thing or two from me, yes, but I know I have learned a ton from them. We grew together, which is why reaching the mountaintop with them was such a special, emotional experience for me.

While I believe I will return for a fourth season at Scholars Academy, I honestly can't say with 100% certainty what the future holds for me in this crazy profession. I almost left for a high school JV job last fall, but the voice in my head said to stay with the Eagles and take care of unfinished business. I have zero regrets.

As for the six 8th-graders who have done so much for our program, I am supremely confident they will be stars in life and will contribute amazing things to society. It makes me feel good that we shared a mutual basketball experience none of us ever will forget.

Still, I admit I also feel a tinge of sadness. I am proud of my Eagles, and I am honored to have been their coach, but I hate having to say good-bye to these incredible champions.

I know that’s how life works, especially in sports, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cam doesn't suck, and other Super thoughts

Some Super Bowl thoughts on a less-than-super night for my Carolina Panthers ...


Don't judge a jock by how he reacts in front of the media. I was a skeptic when the Panthers drafted Cam Newton back in 2011 because of his checkered past, but he has been nothing but an amazingly solid citizen in Charlotte. He gives big money and countless hours to altruistic causes -- way above and beyond what is publicized. He is especially fantastic with kids.

Cam also has grown to become an outstanding team leader. One example: During the preseason, when fans wanted WR Philly Brown to be sent to Siberia because he dropped a ton of passes, it was Cam who very publicly embraced him on the sideline after one particularly horrendous drop. Cam later publicly endorsed Brown. And Brown went on to have a very productive season, crediting in great part the faith his QB had in him.

In response to the one question Newton answered in full after the game, he talked about the team's many mistakes and included his own prominently in the statement. He didn't try to sidestep the blame.

There are many athletes who are very slick in front of the media but who are total scumbags. Newton is a notoriously sore loser. It is something he needs to get better at dealing with, but I would caution anybody against making knee-jerk judgments about a person's character based upon his deportment minutes after probably the most disappointing 4 hours of his life.

As for his play in the game, Cam obviously needed to take better care of the football under duress and he needed to at least try to recover that late fumble -- a play that no doubt will give a lot of fuel to his detractors for years to come. But considering how many passes were dropped, how poorly his line blocked, how many penalties his teammates committed, how his receivers couldn't get open and how poorly the running game did, I thought he did pretty well to account for 310 yards -- pretty much the team's entire total.

His fumbles occurred after complete blocking breakdowns, and his interception came on a pass that went right through Ted Ginn's hands, costing the Panthers a sure FG and possible TD.

Hell, if Jerricho Cotchery simply catches the early pass he bobbled, the Panthers have the ball near midfield and the Broncos' ensuing sack/fumble/TD almost surely never happens. It's a totally different game. 

Cam has become a lightning rod, in great part because of his celebrations during the season. I happen to have enjoyed them. They helped make a fun season even more fun for a Panthers fan. His giving footballs to little kids easily surpassed the Lambeau Leap for "cool factor."

But, as others have said -- and I have said myself -- if you are going to be so demonstrative in victory, you really should handle defeat with more maturity. And you absolutely have to expect to be mocked and derided when you fail.

Cam and his teammates dared opponents to keep them from celebrating: "If you don't like it, all you have to do is stop us." Well, the Broncos stopped them cold (when the Panthers weren't stopping themselves). Now Cam & Co. have to deal with the fallout.


Cotchery bobbled Newton's pass but then appeared at first to have hauled it in, only to have the officials call it incomplete. Coach Ron Rivera challenged the call, and I don't blame him. However, after seeing just one replay, I thought the call would stand b
ecause the ball appeared to have touched the ground when Cotchery first went down and then appeared to have shifted slightly before he could gather it in.

At the Panthers-watching party Robbie and I hosted, I was the lone observer among the 8 of us who thought the call would be upheld. That was based upon how I have seen the rules interpreted over the last couple of years. 

It was one of those deals where if it had been called a catch, the evidence wouldn't have been good enough to overturn it ... but because it was called a non-catch, the evidence wasn't compelling enough to change it to a catch. Rivera made this exact point during his post-game interview.

The rule sucks at it is written and interpreted, but the rule is the rule and everybody has to play by it. I actually get a lot more upset about the blatant interference and holding that refs let defensive backs get away with. Refs have no clue how to call interference, and they often are the biggest plays in games.

Finally, for all of my fellow Panthers fans whining about the call, all Cotchery had to do was make a clean catch of a perfectly thrown pass and we wouldn't be having this discussion. 

When the Panthers signed Cotchery before the 2014 season, my first thought was, "Why are they bringing in this fossil?" He actually became one of my favorites because he was the one receiver (along with TE Greg Olsen) who rarely dropped passes. 

Well, he had three drops yesterday, and each was huge. It was kind of a microcosm of the game for the Panthers -- just about everything that could have gone wrong did.


"Legacy" is one of the dopiest cliches in sports. Peyton Manning's positive legacy already was assured based upon his many achievements and his one championship. He didn't "need" this nearly as much as he "needed" the Super Bowl win over the Bears in 2007. 

He did next to nothing to help the Broncos win this game. They would have done no worse with backup Brock Osweiler or any of a dozen other NFL backups. Frankly, Newton had a far better game under far more adverse conditions. 

So kudos to Peyton for getting a second ring, and I highly recommend he get the hell out before he gets killed.


When my Panther buds and I talked in the days leading up to the game, I said my two biggest fears were that the offensive line wouldn't be able to keep Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off of Cam and that the receivers would revert to their pass-dropping ways. 

Unfortunately, both of those fears came true. 

Couple those problems with the multitude of other mistakes -- Mike Tolbert's fumble, Graham Gano's missed FG and the team's stunning failure to tackle a punt returner who was standing right next to 3 tacklers -- and the Panthers basically committed sports suicide.

Obviously, though, the Broncos' D deserves big-time credit, and Miller was an extremely deserving MVP.


The man is an absolute class act, and I'm thrilled to have him as Panthers coach. 

Since dumping Rivera so he could promote his incompetent buddy Bob Babich to Bears DC, Lovie Smith has been fired twice to cement his "legacy" as a loser. Karma's a bitch.


Led by Newton, Luke Kuechly, several fine defensive linemen, WR Kelvin Benjamin and many other outstanding performers, the players who make up the Panthers' core are either young or in their prime. I like to think they'll be back, hopefully as soon as next season.

Still, one never knows in sports.

Eons ago (it seems), I was a huge Dolphins fan. My boys lost their first Super Bowl in 1972 but Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and the No-Name Defense came right back to win the next two -- including the one that capped the only undefeated championship season in major U.S. pro sports history. 

A decade later, Dan Marino followed up his record-setting second pro season by losing the Super Bowl to the 49ers. The loss stung, but Dolphin fans were sure Marino would lead them to many future titles. Reality: Marino never even got to the Super Bowl again.

So while I happen to think the Panthers do have a championship in them, they still have to prove it and, obviously, still have to improve.

As I have gotten older, I have become much better at enjoying the journeys rather than obsessing about the destinations. I try to remind myself of that with the basketball team I coach as well as in several other facets of life, and I definitely did enjoy this Panthers season. 

I have faith they will keep pounding. But even if it turns out that this was as good as it gets for this particular group, the 2015 Panthers gave me many memories that I will recall fondly for the rest of my days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two super teams, one Super prediction

In late December, after the Panthers lost to the Falcons to fall to 14-1, my son Ben asked who I thought would lose next: the Panthers or the girls basketball team I coach, the Scholars Academy Eagles.

"The Panthers," I said.

Ben was surprised by my response. I'm a huge Panthers fan and a second loss would knock them out of the playoffs. Did I really think that would happen before my team, which was only 5-0 at the time, would lose?

"Yeah," I said. "I'm guessing the Panthers will lose one game next September or October before my girls start our 2016-17 season."

Even my son, a tough critic, had to admit that was a pretty good answer.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong answer.

On Tuesday, we put our 12-0 record on the line and pretty much got run out of the gym by a quicker team. It was the same team we had defeated in last year's semifinals, but this time our outstanding center, Celeste, was home sick with a cold. Without our shot-blocker -- not to mention one of our best shot-makers -- we wilted in the second half.

Of course, I'm not certain we would have won even if we had Celeste, as we did lose to that team by a single point last season. We are a very good shooting team for this age group but made hardly anything Tuesday, and that very well might have doomed us even if our center had been healthy.


Meanwhile, the Panthers have not lost again since their setback in Atlanta. They ended the regular season by crushing the Bucs -- sending Lovie Smith into the coaching abyss -- and then scored impressive victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals, teams many regarded as the two most dangerous in the league.

All of that good work has put the Panthers into the Super Bowl against the Broncos. Oddsmakers have established my heroes as 5 1/2-point favorites ... and although I won't place any bets, I certainly would side with the Panthers if I did.

Yes, I'm a fan, but I'm pretty objective as fans go. (Three decades of sportswriting does that to a guy.) I simply see Carolina as the superior all-around team: far more dynamic and balanced offensively, and every bit as impressive defensively. While Cam Newton has matured into being the best quarterback in the league, 106-year-old Peyton Manning hopes to keep his body in one piece for one last hurrah.

The Broncos' strength is their outside pass rush, but even that could end up working in the Panthers' favor. If DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller get caught a little too far upfield trying to get to Newton, he will run wild into the middle of the field. If the Panthers can do a decent job of keeping those great linebackers off of Cam -- and I think they will -- it could end up being yet another lopsided Super loss for the Broncos.


As for my Eagles, we got to experience one of the things I really like about sports: the quick turn-around.

Wednesday, one day after having a less-than-stellar performance and suffering our first loss, we played extremely well in a dominant 36-10 victory.

Celeste was back to anchor our defense, our leading scorer Sholeh found the touch that had abandoned her the day before, our top outside shooters Ritika and Olivia each swished a 3, and our defense was active and effective.

Plus, the 5th-grader we affectionately call "Rookie" had her best game -- stealing the ball several times, setting some great picks and scoring on three confident, aggressive takes to the hoop. On the third, she used a hesitation dribble to beat her defender, drove, scored and got fouled for an "and-1." The girls on the bench went wild, not just because Rookie made such a nice move but because we had worked on hesitation moves just two days earlier in practice. Which made the bald, old coach pretty happy, too!


So I was wrong about which team would lose next. But if you ask me the question again ... I'll STILL say next season's Panthers.

I'm not a big believer in an undefeated team "needing" to lose in the regular season to be more psychologically prepared to win in the playoffs, but I do agree with my athletic director that sometimes a loss will re-focus a team.

We have 7 games to go -- 4 in the regular season and then, hopefully, 3 in the playoffs -- and I'm confident this group will run the table.

And the Panthers ... well, a loss Sunday ain't gonna happen.

Yes, I know most of America is rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion, but he's got his ring. The Bears helped assure him of that. It's our turn, now.

Panthers 30, Broncos 16.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Super Panthers, Super Bowl!!!

I'll keep this one short and sweet ...


Soon-to-be Super Bowl 50 Champions!