Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Happy Birthday To Me ... And LOTS of Others You Know and Love (or Loathe)

 ^

Normally, I wouldn't write about my own birthday - not even a milestone BD like this one - but let me tell you ... October 13 is the birthday of the stars! 

My most famous (or infamous) "birthday buddies" include ...

Glenn "Doc" Rivers, my Marquette cohort who went on to make a bit of a name for himself in basketball. Not only is the new Sixers coach one of my all-time favorite people in sports, but he also made my favorite basket ever when his heave from just inside half-court beat evil Notre Dame in 1981 (his freshman year, my junior year). Surprisingly, even though Glenn could jump out of the arena, he really sucked at volleyball in Charlie Nader's Team Sports class.

Jerry Rice, the best wide receiver any of us have ever seen.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose overrated "America's Team" has won all of 4 playoff games since winning Super Bowl XXX 2 1/2 decades ago. 

Borat alter ego Sacha Baron Cohen: "King of the castle!"

Baseball Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Eddie Mathews, Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, and future basketball Hall of Famer Paul Pierce.

Billy Bush, he of President Pussy-Grabber's Access Hollywood tape fame.

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in 2018 by the Saudi dictator (with the tacit approval of the U.S. president). Shameful.

Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan: "Why me?" (So unfair. She was a great skater, but she'll be remembered forever as Tonya Harding's victim.)

Tiffany Trump, or, as President Pandemic calls her, "Uh ... Who are you?"

A little bit country, Marie Osmond.

A lot of rock and roll, Paul Simon.

Caleb McGlaughlin -- Lucas of Stranger Things fame.

Kelly Preston, who had a memorable turn as Jerry Maguire's squeeze. (Sadly, she died earlier this year.)

Sammy Hagar, aka The Red Rocker!

The late great Lenny Bruce.

Hero or villain? With Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, it depends upon which side of the aisle one stands. At only 31, AOC has a lot of decades left to be loved and loathed.



But wait! There's more!

Actors Ashanti, Tisha Campbell, Lorraine Day, Melinda Dillon, Nipsey Russell, Kate Walsh, Matt Walsh, Cornel Wilde, Demond Wilson ... athletes/coaches Tim Brewster, Ryan Clark, Norris Cole, Brian Dawkins, George Frazier, Derek Harper, Del Harris, Brian Hoyer, Jermaine O'Neal, Lou Saban, Summer Sanders, Reggie Theus, Rube Waddell, Eddie Yost ... Politics' Ari Fleischer, Margaret Thatcher ... Musician John Ford Coley ... Sportscaster Tom Mees.

WOW!!

And lest I forget, my one-time Chicago sportswriting colleague, golf buddy and all-around great guy Phil Arvia - who loves to remind me that although we have the same birthday, he is WAAAAAAAAY (2 years) younger than I am.


And speaking of people younger than I am ...

That's a pretty large group these days.

Yes, today I turned ...

The Big 6-0!

Take away my aching back, tight hamstrings and bad vision, and I really don't feel that old. I mean, I'm still as immature as ever, and that's kind of a Fountain of Youth, right? I also golf every bit as well as I ever have!

I am the youngest of Rhoda and Jerry Nadel's 4 sons. By FAR the youngest! The baby!! I'll always be able to hold that over the heads of Al, Don and Lee - none of whom is even allowed to sing "When I'm 64" anymore.

I was 13 when I started high school, 17 when I started college and 21 when I entered the workforce in my chosen profession. (Journalism, silly. I only moonlighted as a Chippendale.)

I was a groovy, hip, happenin' dude.

When I was 24, I became the youngest full-time sportswriter in the AP, a distinction I held for about 5 more years. During that time, I was one of a handful of AP scribes dubbed "The Young Turks." (Mysteriously, Howard Ulman, who is 13 years older than I am, also was put in that group. Apparently, bribes work.)

On my 29th birthday, I noticed I was going bald. The Vikings had traded for Herschel Walker the day before and photographers took an overhead shot of the media throng around him. And there my head was: curly hair encircling a surprisingly large patch of skin. Yikes!

I was even young when I was put out to pasture - retired at 48 by the clowns at GateHouse Media, who couldn't afford to keep hundreds of their real employees but amazingly found hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus money for all their pencil-dick managers. (Not that I'm bitter or anything.)

I was a little worried when I got the heave-ho, but retirement has turned out to be pretty darn sweet. 

I learned how to invest, which led to writing about investing, which led to my freelance gigs at Daily Trade Alert and Seeking Alpha and Dividends and Income. (I especially recommend clicking on that last one and looking at some articles to see  amazingly cute photos of my adorable grand-twins, Logan and Jack.)

I coach basketball, I referee, I umpire, I pretty much do whatever I want (within reason). 

Of course, all that is only possible because of my beautiful bride of 37+ years, Robbie. It's great to have a Sugar Mama, and I strongly recommend every man get one (or more).

And now that I've got Ben's littles toddling around - and, exciting, exciting, exciting! - another cutie any day now from Katie, I'll have no choice but to stay young.

You know, I'm already looking forward to the next 60 years. Heck, by the time I turn 120, COVID-19 might even have disappeared "like a miracle."

As my favorite rocker, Roger Clyne, likes to sing: 

Here's to life! 

Wishing health, happiness, peace and love to all of my family, friends ... and, yes, to my birthday buddies everywhere.

^



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Trump is more than just human scum; his policies are reprehensible, too

^
Y'all probably have noticed that I've gone all rainbows and unicorns for quite some time here on TBT. I've been writing about my adorable grand-twins, my basketball team and other important but fun topics that give me personal enjoyment. There's enough angst and anger and fear out there without me piling on all the time.

But amidst the backdrop of our country burning due to the combined 1-2 punch of the brutal murder of George Floyd by racist Minneapolis cops, and a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and deeply hurt our economy, somebody said something to me today that made me feel I needed to go another direction this time. 

That person justified his support of the impeached Donald F. Trump by saying: "Yeah, he's no saint, but people need to focus on his policies."

OK ... let's.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts" IS policy. So was tearing kids out of their mothers' arms and locking them in cages. So was stealing money from military families to build a wall that he claimed 1,000 times Mexico would pay for. So was having to start an entirely new welfare program for farmers that he personally hurt with his trade wars. So is having his militia attack peaceful protesters just so he can have a photo-op. I could go on and on with his delightful policies.
Trump uses a bible as prop at the end of his march through Lafayette Square. 
He had just given a Rose Garden speech in which he said he was
"an ally of all peaceful protesters," but he had his militia clear the park
by force so he could have this photo-op. He has been roundly criticized, even
by many who had supported him, and religious clergy have called him
sacrilegious. 
How bad was it? Even Pat Robertson ripped him! (AFP Photo) 
Telling everybody to take an unvetted, dangerous drug because "what the hell do you have to lose?" IS policy. (The drug, hydroxycloroquine just failed a clinical trial, and the FDA has issued warnings about taking it for COVID-19.) Telling governors they have to re-open their states only hours after issuing guidelines for re-opening that none of those states had met ... that IS policy.

Just yesterday, his own defense secretary, Mark Esper, publicly rebuked President Bone Spur's most recent policy initiative: invoking the Insurrection Act, which would activate the military to use against those protesting systemic racism.

Also just yesterday, his first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, said: "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort."

Making a deliberate effort to divide our great democratic republic IS policy.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was praised by Trump
for 
years, but the Mad King is not very fond of Mattis
after being strongly 
rebuked by him. While Trump's biggest
sycophants and hate-talk-TV 
allies ripped into Mattis,
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) 
said, "I was really
thankful. Gen. Mattis' words were true and 
honest
and necessary and overdue." (brittannica.com Photo)
Everybody knew Trump's character before the election. He is a reprehensible human being with few (if any) redeeming qualities - a pathological liar who has spent decades chiseling contractors, stealing from his own charity, cheating on three wives, swindling college students, treating women only as sex objects, stiffing creditors and making racist statements.

He spent 8 years trying (and failing) to prove that a president who was elected in a landslide and re-elected in another landslide was not a U.S. citizen; it's no coincidence that the subject of Trump's obsessive attacks is black. During the campaign, he viciously attacked his GOP rivals, even going after their families; now, disgustingly and inexplicably, most of them kiss his rump.

I give him credit for signing the First Step Act. I'm not sure how Ivanka, Kanye and Kim Kardashian convinced him to do it, but he did, and it's good policy. Maybe I could find another one or two of his policies to like if I really put on my thinking cap.

Otherwise, as Jim Mattis says, we are seeing the effect of 3+ years of his cruel, inept, corrupt, self-promoting, hateful policies, of his ignoring the Constitution to enrich his ego and his personal wealth.

There is a reason Dems easily re-captured the House in 2018, a reason they made more inroads in state legislatures and governorships in 2019, and a reason Joe Biden - hardly an inspiring candidate - is beating him in most polls, even those taken by right-leaning pollsters like Fox News and Rasmussen.
(realclearpolitics.com)
Yes, it's because Americans abhor the Mad King himself, but it's also because the vast majority of his policies have been awful.

All right, I'll climb back down off my soapbox for now. 

Treat each other with love and respect. Be open-minded. Let's all remind ourselves often how fortunate most of us are while giving those who need assistance a helping hand, a receptive ear and a shoulder to cry on.

We'll get through these difficult times. We can make a difference -- together.
^

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hey, look who had more of a "starring" role in The Last Dance than at least a dozen Bulls players did

^
You know, it sure was nice that relative nobodies such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson could follow my lead so we could work together to give sports fans the awesome viewing experience that was ESPN's The Last Dance.

Here I am, about 43 minutes into Episode 3, standing on the periphery of a January 1998 locker-room scrum around Jordan, dutifully taking notes.

ESPN
If you're reading this (and you are), you almost surely know that I was a newspaper guy back then. At the time of that 10-second cameo, I was a reporter for The Associated Press, but just a couple months later I started my columnist career for Copley Newspapers.

Anyway, still own that green Faconnable shirt, which is now older than at least a half-dozen players on the current Bulls roster.

I made two more "appearances" in the series ... which means I had more air time than Jason Caffey, Dickey Simpkins, Joe Kleine, Robert Parish, Bison Dele, James Edwards, Keith Booth, Rusty LaRue and David Vaughn ... combined!

About 42 minutes into Episode 8, as Jordan was just starting to sit down at his post-game press conference following the Bulls' 1996 Eastern Conference Finals sweep of the Magic, I asked the opening question:

"Was it extra sweet beating Orlando for you? That had been a motivating thing for you for over a year now."

Jordan's answer: "Because of last year, the number change, and (Nick Anderson saying) 45 didn't look like 23, and whatever. But we all were disappointed, and we came back to redeem ourselves as a unit. I think we did that - effectively."

And then about 16 minutes into the series finale, I asked Michael a long (probably too long) question after the Bulls won Game 4 of the NBA Finals to move within one win of Title No. 6:

"What are your thoughts, that it might not only be your last game with the Bulls but your last game ever? You know, you're sitting on a pedestal here, and obviously it's the thing that the world wants to know."

Jordan's response: "Well, I mean, the world basically is gonna hafta wait and see what happens. The job is not done, so let's not celebrate yet."

He ended up being right; the Bulls actually lost Game 5 at home and had to go back to Utah, where they clinched No. 6 after Michael stole the ball from Karl Malone, calmly dribbled down to the offensive end, found his spot, gave Bryon Russell a little shove, swished the championship-winning jumper and then held his follow-through extra long.



AllPosters.com

A few other random thoughts after having watched the series ...

++ What an undertaking it must have been to edit the hundreds of hours of film they had and to turn it into such a compelling story. I heard some criticism about the story jumping around some, but I thought they did a remarkable job.

++ Jordan had control over the series' release, and I was impressed at the breadth of information he allowed to be shown. The stuff on his gambling (including a late-night outing during the playoffs), his father's death, and his brawl with Steve Kerr especially resonated. He cussed easily and often. He often revealed himself as a bully and a tyrant and, to quote Will Perdue, "a dick." 

++ The scene in which Jordan defended his dickishness as necessary to foster a winning atmosphere was one of the most memorable for me as a viewer. Tears were starting to well up in his eyes before he called for a "break" and took off his microphone. Although it's hard to argue with the results, the fact is that plenty of great teams in all sports over the years did not have a singular star who treated co-workers the way Jordan did the Bulls.

++ Jordan's blanket dismissal of Gary Payton after being shown an interview of Payton saying he could defend Michael was classic.

++ Michael never got into his failings as an executive, first with the Wizards and more recently as the Hornets' owner. Also, his family and his love life were kept almost completely out of it, and I don't blame him.

++ I joked about me being in the series more than several Bulls players, including Bison Dele (aka, the late Brian Williams). But I think it would have been interesting had they done a little something about him. He came up huge during the 1997 playoffs, when Rodman went off the rails a little, and his life story (and the tragic ending to it) would have been a great subject. Having said that, I know they had only so much time to profile so many players.

++ The only playoff game I missed during the second threepeat was the infamous "food poisoning game" in Utah, in which a dehydrated, ill Jordan carried the Bulls to an amazing victory and then had to be helped off the court by Pippen. My Mom had died a couple of days earlier, and I had to fly to Philadelphia for the funeral. She was buried that day, and I watched the game on TV with my brothers that night.

AP Photos
++ One of the most quoted people in the series was Mark Vancil,  Jordan's long-time biographer, award-winning author, and the guy who ran Rare Air Media for nearly two decades. 

I got to know Mark when we were both young sportswriters in Minneapolis in the late-1980s: He covered the Twins for the Star Tribune, and I was the local AP guy. I always liked him, and I like to think the feeling's mutual. I also have to admit that Mark did a lot better job of advancing his career than I did.

++ No player in sports history was as good at finding "insults" to motivate him as Jordan was. He would use any and every slight - even if he had to invent it - to be so pissed off that he needed to get "revenge" on his opponent. It would have been comical ... except it worked pretty much every time.

++ I was glad to hear Jordan say in the final episode that the dynasty didn't have to end, and that the team would have had a very realistic chance at a 7th title ... but neither Jerry Reinsdorf nor Jerry Krause wanted to let them try.

Reinsdorf had bought into Krause's plan: Blow up the dynasty and then use the enormous space under the salary cap to reload quickly by signing 2-3 superstar free agents. Unfortunately for Reinsdorf, neither he nor Krause anticipated the players association being as resolute as it was, nor did they anticipate collective bargaining agreement changes that would offer significant incentives for players to not change teams.

And finally, Reinsdorf had way too much faith in Krause's ability to attract free agents who would want to play for a blown-up franchise and an unproven coach. One of the saddest/funniest things to watch during the summer of 2000 was the way one free agent after another led Krause and Tim Floyd around on leashes in public dog-and-pony shows, only to choose other teams. After getting rejected by the likes of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Eddie Jones, the desperate Bulls ended up throwing piles of money at Ron Freakin' Mercer.

Reinsdorf, through Krause, badly bungled the Jackson situation. Even if you didn't want to keep him beyond 1998, publicly embarrassing the best coach of modern times due to a vendetta was horrible management.

Despite Jordan's insistence that he would have only played had Jackson stayed, the truth is that he almost surely would have stayed had Jackson been replaced by somebody he respected (such as John Paxson or Bill Cartwright) and had Pippen been taken care of. After speaking to somebody very close to Jordan, I actually wrote a column to that effect in 2002 during Jordan's comeback with the Wizards.

So all it would have taken for the Bulls to be favored to win another title or two would have been for Krause to have eaten his pride and for Reinsdorf to have been willing to spend the money out of the golden pockets that Michael had lined for him for years. Instead, Reinsdorf let Krause hire Floyd, watched the best player in basketball history walk away, and then saw his franchise spend the next several years as NBA laughingstocks.

Many organizations in all sports chase even one elusive championship for decades. I mean, just look at the Cubs for over 100 years. When you win as often as the Bulls did, however, sometimes you undervalue what it means to win titles. You also think that you easily can replicate the success if you start over because, "hey, we did it once so we can do it again." 

Reinsdorf made a big bet on Krause, and he's now a bazillion miles away from anything close to success happening for his franchise again for the rest of his life.

++ There is little doubt that Jordan had several great seasons left after 1998. He was still the best player in the league, still playing 82 games a year. When he came back in 2001-02 to the Wizards at age 38 after having sat out three full seasons, he was averaging 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists through the first 50 games. He personally had willed a bad Washington team into playoff contention and was a leading MVP candidate. 


Getty Images
++ So you keep Jackson and Jordan, you give Scottie the contract he deserved, you still have Kukoc and Harper, each of whom had a few good years left, maybe you get Rodman to accept another cheap 1-year deal, and you build around all of them with good role players, something Krause did very well. But Reinsdorf didn't want to pay them all, and Krause desperately wanted to prove he could win without Jackson and Jordan. Which he couldn't.

++ The baseball stuff involving Jordan was fascinating. I actually had moved to Chicago to work for AP shortly after Michael wrapped up his one minor-league season (1994), but my talented colleague Rick Gano handled most of the Jordan/baseball stuff. 

++ As I watched Kerr talking about his fistfight with Michael, my mind drifted back to the fall of 1995, when Kerr had an autograph-signing session at the Dominick's grocery store right down the street from where we lived in Chicago.

Ben, who was 8 years old, found a Kerr basketball card and begged me to take him. There were no fans there when we arrived, nor did anyone else show up as he talked with my son for several minutes, nor was anyone else coming up to see him as we left the store.

Kerr might as well have been Jud or Dickey.

Obviously, he ended up having some big moments for the Bulls after Jordan returned, including the title-clinching shot in 1997. 

NBA.com
Michael eventually made him a ton of money, as Kerr got a way-too-big contract from San Antonio. And of course Kerr has gone on to be a great coach, and he was an outstanding announcer, too.

But for 10+ minutes in 1995, nobody gave a rat's rump that Steve Kerr was signing autographs for free at Dominick's. Had he done the same even a year later, when everybody associated with Michael & The Bulls achieved rock-star status, there probably would have been a line out the door and around the block.

+++

So ... what was my relationship with Michael Jordan?

I'd be lying if I claimed we had a "relationship." I was never a daily beat writer, so I wasn't around him all the time, at home and on the road. Nor was I one of "his guys" in the broadcast media, such as Ahmad Rashad. I was always big on the separation of "church and state" when it came to writer/subject relationships, and it's not as if Jordan had time for or interest in that kind of thing anyway.

But I did have the advantage of having a recognizable face (and head), so he definitely knew who I was even if he didn't remember my name. Most importantly, I always felt he treated me with respect (as I did him). As the series showed, I also was pretty aggressive in asking questions early and loudly in post-game settings, because it was the only way to get heard over the hype. I think he recognized that, too.

+++

I was not a big autograph guy or memorabalia collector. Mostly, I liked saving snapshots of my sportswriting life, especially my press passes from big events. 

A few of my favorite keepsakes are newspaper clips of photographs in which I happened to be part of the scene.

For example, on the wall of my office, I have a framed edition of the New York Times sports section from March 29, 1995. The previous night, Jordan - who had just come out of retirement 9 days earlier - pulled off his famous "Double Nickel" performance, in which he scored 55 points in a win at Madison Square Garden.

Most of the Times' front sports page was a huge photograph of Jordan taking a shot from the baseline. And in the lower left corner of the photo, there I am on press row, my face seemingly right next to Jordan's airborne Air Jordans.

Here's another one I like from a post-practice press conference in Portland during the 1992 NBA Finals.

The Oregonian
Jordan is looking up at me as he answers my question. As always, I have my 4-color Bic pen in my hand. I also still had a decent amount of hair, though my future lack thereof is pretty easy to foresee.

+++

One of our family jokes was that if one of my kids' friends asked if their dad got to talk to Jordan, they were supposed to respond, "No ... Michael Jordan gets to talk to my Dad."

I'm not sure either Ben or Katie actually ever used that line, but thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.

+++

Gotta run now and collect my 7-figure royalty check from ESPN ...
^





Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Second stint as middle school coach: A fun first year, and hopefully the start of something big

^
Well, my first season in my second go-round as a middle school basketball coach is in the books.


Our Community House Cavaliers finished 7-7, tied for 4th place in our 8-team conference. Given that 8 of our 11 players had little to no basketball experience coming into the season, I'm pretty darn proud of what those determined athletes were able to accomplish.

Having been part of championship teams, bad teams and every kind of team in between, I'm not gonna try to fool anybody: Being a champion is special. 

Still, at this level, winning and losing really is secondary. My job at Community House is to give my players a fun experience, to grow their love of basketball, to help them improve, to show them tangible evidence that hard work is rewarded, to guide them in overcoming adversity, and other similarly high-minded concepts.

Each of our 11 players started at least one game, and most started multiple times. Every girl played in every game. I honestly believe that all 11 got better as the season progressed.

I'll take all that, and a 7-7 record. (Not that I have a choice - ha!)
We had a team outing to watch my former school, Ardrey Kell HS, play a game.
Community House is the middle school that feeds into AK.
Our season highlight was a 1-point victory at Crestdale in December, as we roared back after falling behind by 15 points. I haven't been part of many post-game locker-room scenes more joyous than that one was. 

When we played the same team at home in January, we again fell way behind (this time by 14 points). Again we rallied, tying it with about a minute to go. But this time, Crestdale made plays down the stretch and we didn't, and we lost by 3. 

As we got deeper into the season, it became obvious that our opponents included:

  • 2 deep, talented, tall, well-coached teams (Alexander Graham and South Charlotte) we simply couldn't beat; we were 0-4 in those games.
  • 3 less-talented teams (Southwest, Carmel and Quail Hollow) we couldn't have lost to unless we played really, really poorly; we were 6-0 in those games.
  • 1 team that was a little better than us (JM Robinson); unfortunately, we went 0-2 against them.
  • 1 team that was our absolute equal (Crestdale); we split our two games with them.

We finished last week with a decisive, satisfying victory over Carmel. Two players were out: Meniya, who had been our leading scorer, missed several games with health issues; and Allie, an 8th-grader with little experience but a huge heart, had to leave school early that day because she wasn't feeling well.

In her text telling me she was sick, Allie expressed sadness at having to miss her final game. I relayed that to the girls during my pre-game talk with the team. I encouraged them to appreciate this last opportunity to play with their teammates, and to show it by giving maximum effort on the court.

We then went out and played one of our best quarters of the season, building a 16-4 lead thanks to 9 points from our point guard, Skyler; 4 points and great all-around play from our other 8th-grade standout, Jalayah; and tremendous energy, intensity and defense by the other 7 players.


Jalayah inbounds the ball to Skyler
It was especially nice to see our 7th-graders, who likely will form the nucleus of next year's team, demonstrate how much they have improved by playing well in this season's finale. Emma and Bryson each finished with a career-high 5 points; Emersyn and Avery helped set the tone with their aggressive defense and hustle; Janita battled bigger players to grab several rebounds.

It was a great way to finish the season.

The next night, Community House held its winter sports banquet. My team, the boys team and the cheerleading squad were honored, and the three coaches got to talk about our athletes.


I praised my girls for their work ethic, toughness and resiliency. I talked about some of the challenges we faced and how we dealt with them. I joked about us scoring twice into the wrong basket -- including on our very first play of the season. That's some great coaching there! I said something nice (and true) about each player. 

I also gave out 3 awards: Coach's Award for Aggressiveness to Avery; Heart of a Champion Award, for going above and beyond expectations, to Emma; and MVP to Skyler.


Skyler ended up being our leading scorer, with 110 points. She was followed by Meniya (101) and Jalayah (78). Those three -- the only players who had returned from the 2018-19 team -- accounted for 81.6% of our scoring. 

Add in the three other 8th-graders (Chloe, Alyssa and Allie), and it means we have to replace 87% of our scoring. 

Eighty-seven percent!!

I told the girls, especially the 7th-graders, that it was time for them to do some serious recruiting. They need to talk up how much fun they had being part of the Cavs; they need to convince athletic 7th-graders and 6th-graders to go out for the team next season. I specifically encouraged them to point out how much playing time -- and how many shots -- will be available.

My single biggest surprise this season actually happened before we got started: Even though Community House is one of the largest middle schools in North Carolina, with about 600 girls in 7th and 8th grades, fewer than 20 tried out for our team. (By comparison, more than 120 tried out for the boys team.)

It wasn't what I expected after leaving Ardrey Kell High, where I had been an assistant for two seasons following my first 4-year stint as a middle school coach.

I've since been told that the CH girls program has been down for a few years -- and that we're trying to change the culture to make it a more fun and rewarding experience.

Hopefully, this season will have been a major step in that direction.

+++

Oh, and of course, I can't wrap up a post of The Baldest Truth without putting up a pic of Jack and Logan, my terrific (and terrifically cute) grand-twins.



Happy, 6 Month Birthday, LoJack!
^

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Mike's Oscar Picks: Everybody else takes a whack, so why not me?

^
I haven't seen Little Women, and I won't get a chance to see it today before the Oscars telecast. So as I look at the nominees for Best Picture, 8 out of 9 will have to do.

I also haven't seen several of the films featuring actresses/actors who were nominated for individual awards, though I do look forward to watching them as they become available on Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and the like.

So having delivered that disclaimer, here are my Oscar picks ...

Best Actress

It sounds like Renee Zellweger is a shoo-in for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy, and I definitely want to see that film. 

The only nominated actress whose movie I saw was Scarlett Johansson's Marriage Story. She was good, but I can hardly say it was a groundbreaking performance. 

I was disappointed that Ana de Armas, the young actress who shined in the underrated Knives Out, didn't get nominated.

Best Actor

I saw three of the five films in which an actor was nominated: Joker (Joaquin Phoenix), Marriage Story (Adam Driver), and Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio). 

Each was outstanding, but Phoenix, always a powerful force whenever he's on screen, was never better. He is expected to win, and I'm not surprised.

Adam Sandler was surprisingly good in Uncut Gems and George McKay great in 1917. Also, Roman Griffin Davis dominated nearly every scene as the 10-year-old protagonist in Jojo Rabbit. Each was snubbed, but I obviously realize that everybody can't get nominated.

Best Supporting Actress

I saw two of the five films with actresses in this category: Marriage Story (Laura Dern) and Jojo Rabbit (Scarlett Johansson).

The belief is that Dern will win here and I have no problem with that. It was a perfect role for her, and she clearly enjoyed doing it. Johansson also was very good.

I thought Julia Fox, making her acting debut as Sandler's love interest in Uncut Gems, might get nominated but she didn't.

Best Supporting Actor

My would-be favorite for this category wasn't nominated: Daniel Craig as the brilliant but quirky detective in Knives Out. Nobody will ever convince me that he wasn't significantly better than the two guys nominated from The Irishman: the OK Al Pacino and the underwhelming Joe Pesci.

I really liked Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (and he also was very good in, though not nominated for, Ford v Ferrari), so I'll be rooting for him. Based on what I've read, he has a decent shot at the trophy.

Best Picture

As I said, I didn't see Little Women. Two films I did see that I very much liked but weren't nominated: Knives Out and Uncut Gems

I preferred the latter two to The Irishman. I think I could have edited an hour out of it, I wasn't blown away by either the story or the acting, and if it had been directed by anybody other than Scorcese it probably wouldn't have been nominated. It was Goodfellas Lite - all of the blood, none of the fun.

The other Netflix nominee, Marriage Story, felt like a good made-for-TV movie. Like Ford v Ferrari, I liked it but it didn't seem Oscar-worthy. 

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood was a good Quentin Tarantino flick ... but not a great one in my estimation. It ranks well behind Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and Django Unchained.

Joaquin Phoenix was so good in Joker that he personally elevated the film, and at the time I saw it I thought it was the best 2019 movie I had seen. It since has been surpassed by a few others in my mind, but I wouldn't be disappointed if it does get picked.

The South Korean black comedy Parasite is a wonderful and sneaky-deep film that is hilarious in parts, grisly in others, and socially relevant throughout. Several of the actors could have been nominated (but weren't). I didn't see it until yesterday - the day before the Oscars - but I can see why it has gotten so much buzz.

Jojo Rabbit was my personal favorite of 2019 - the one I enjoyed most during my time in the theater. I don't think it has a prayer of winning, but it was an absolute delight from beginning to end. If you haven't seen it, do.

Although I expected World War I drama 1917 to be very good because it had gotten so much positive press before I finally got around to seeing it, it actually surpassed my expectations. One thing I went in thinking was, "Who needs another war movie?" As it turns out, I did! 1917 was not just another war movie. There actually was much less blood and guts than in most of them, the plot and premise were great, it was beautifully filmed, and the performances were superb throughout. Bravo to Sam Mendes for creating a borderline masterpiece. 

So while I might give Jojo Rabbit the "Mikey," 1917 was my fave of all the films that actually have a chance to win.
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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Hello, 2020! ... Here's hoping the rest of the New Year can live up to my first week

^
Just got back from a great (but too short!) trip to Chicago and Milwaukee.

So much fun with our adorable grand-twins Logan and Jack (aka "LoJack"), and of course their parents Ben and Sammi.


LoJack loves Grandma! (And vice versa!)


Grandpa hangin' with da boyz

As they close in on their 5-month birthdays, the boys have gotten so big. Fun little personalities. A lot of smiling, as Logan demonstrates ...


The boys even are showing an affinity for TV (uh-oh).


Saturday was a darn near perfect day ...
  • Drove up from Chicago to Milwaukee with Robbie, Ben and Mickey (Ben's father-in-law) for the Marquette-Villanova game.
  • Found a free parking spot on the street within 3 blocks of the arena. I loves me some free parking!
  • Met Marquette buddies Tom and Jim at a local establishment before the game to share some great memories and laughs. Also shared some beverages, which in my case were New Glarus Moon Man and Spotted Cow.
  • Watched our Warriors play very well in defeating the No. 10 team in the country.
  • No trip to Milwaukee is complete without a dash to Leon's for amazing butter pecan frozen custard.
  • Went to Ben's in-laws' place in the northern burbs to eat deep-dish pizza and to spend a few hours with family: Ben, Sammi, Mickey, his wife Linda, Sammi's sister Lauren, various dogs ...  and, of course, the stars of the show, Logan and Jack.
  • Drove back to my son's place to tuck in LoJack.
  • Watched the end of the Patriots' playoff loss to Tennessee. Bye-bye Brady!
Hard to beat that!


Rob took this artsy-fartsy photo of 3 old farts:
Tom, Mike and Jim


Mickey, Ben, Rob and Mike up in the Fiserv Forum nosebleed section

Marquette's All-American guard, Markus Howard,
takes it right into the teeth of Villanova's defense
(Photo credit: gomarquette.com)

Leon's butter pecan ... The best treat in the entire world!
Naturally, we were sad to say goodbye on Sunday. And when we got home, we had a ton of work staring at us, as we just had both bathrooms renovated and the entire downstairs painted. 

On Monday, it was back to practice with my Community House Cavs, who just returned from winter break. We'll take a 3-2 record into our first post-break game on Thursday, Jan. 9.

I hope everybody had as great a start to the New Year as I did.

Oh, and here's lookin' at you, kid!


^

Friday, December 20, 2019

My Cavs: Good, with a shot at being Very Good

^
I don't want to leave folks hanging, so here's a quick update on my Community House Cavs ...

We split our games this week.

Fell behind early against our biggest rival, JM Robinson, rallied within 2 after three quarters, but ran out of gas and lost at the end. We got sloppy with the ball when we could least afford it, and also gave up two offensive-rebound putbacks on consecutive possessions. I'm already looking forward to the rematch next month!

Last night, we played well in the first half, and a half-court shot at the buzzer by our point guard Skyler gave us a 13-point lead. Her reaction was precious -- an absolutely amazed look on her face, arms raised as she ran back toward the bench, and she kept shouting, "I made it! I made it!" It was as if we had won the WNBA title.

But despite my stern reminder that we had come back from a bigger deficit just last week against Crestdale, we got a little full of ourselves thinking the game was over. The opponent, Southwest, didn't get that memo. They played harder and better than we did, and we turned the ball over several times as they pressured us a little. Just like that, we were up by only 2.

Thankfully, led by our experienced 8th-graders Skyler, Meniya and Jalayah, we took care of business in the 4th quarter and pulled away to win by 11. Meniya, whose pursuit of the basketball is relentless, finished with 20 points, the highest total by any Cav this season. I liked the defensive effort and hustle we got from our 7th-graders: Emma, Emersyn, Avery and Bryson.

So we take a 3-2 record into the break. Coulda been 4-1 if we hadn't run out of gas against JMR. But coulda been 2-3 if we didn't rally to win at Crestdale or even 1-4 if we also hadn't figured things out last night.

Yep, 3-2 is just about where we should be.

We are a good team, with the potential to be very good. We'll see if the girls (and their coach) are willing and able to make that jump in January.

Most importantly, it's a good group of kids, and a lot of interesting personalities. Very different from most of the girls I coached at my previous middle-school stop.

They do play hard, they want to get better, they want to compete. It's fun being their coach, and I'm excited about the 9 games on our schedule after break.
^

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A New Assignment For Coach Nadel

^
A couple of months ago, I received this text message from my basketball coach at Ardrey Kell High, Jeff Buseick:
Community House Middle School is looking for a girls coach. Do you know anyone that would be interested/good?
Community House is one of AK's feeder schools, and many of the best players I had the privilege of assistant-coaching during my two years at AK came from there. So it certainly was in Coach B's interest to get this filled with somebody he could trust.

I was thinking of my many coaching colleagues, and even called one to see if she knew anybody who might want to do it. And then I started thinking ...
Hmmm. I loved coaching that age group during my four wonderful years at Scholars Academy. And I want to be a head coach again. And I don't think I want to be a high school head coach because of the time commitment, especially with all the visits we have to make to our new grand-twins. ... I don't know about the "good" part, but darn right I'm interested!
I told Coach that and he thought it was a great idea. He sent out an email of recommendation, I set up an interview with the Community House AD for the next day, and the offer was waiting for me in my email inbox by the time I got home from the interview.

So I'm a middle school basketball coach again. This conference is a considerable step up from the one that housed Scholars Academy, so I knew it would be a challenge -- but a fun one.

Even though Community House is one of the largest middle schools in North Carolina, with nearly 1,800 students in grades 6-8, not all that many girls showed up for tryouts. (Only 7th and 8th graders are eligible to play.)

Our Cavaliers ended up with an 11-player roster that included 3 girls who were on last season's team (Jalayah, Meniya, Skyler) and 8 of various experience levels -- from some rec ball to having barely ever played (Alyssa, Avery, Emersyn, Emma, Chloe, Allie, Janita, Bryson).

Our season started last week and we were crushed in our opener by South Charlotte MS, whose outstanding point guard will almost certainly be a varsity starter in high school a year from now. We tried man, zone and box-and-1, and we never could corral her. Offensively, we committed too many turnovers and missed too many layups. The Cavs simply were out-played and out-coached. 

Oh, and the first points of my second go-round as a middle school coach were scored in the opponent's basket after some confusion following the jump ball. Yep, we made the layup ... and we were down 2-0.

Thankfully, one of the great things about sports is that you get a chance to play again soon. This past Monday, Dec. 9, we went to Quail Hollow MS and rolled to victory. 

Our energetic 4, Meniya, dominated defensively and on the boards; our do-everything wing, Jalayah, smoothly navigated around defenders, scoring and setting up teammates; our point guard, Skyler, ran the offense efficiently; everybody contributed; and 8 of our 11 players scored. It was rewarding to see the girls execute the things we had been working on in practice.

The boys coach snapped this photo of me in my CHMS polo during the Quail Hollow game. (My wife was like, "What? He couldn't have gotten any of the team in the photo? You look like some random bald guy standing in a gym.")



Then came Thursday, Dec. 12. We went to Crestdale MS and fell behind 20-5 midway through the second quarter. Skyler had 3 fouls. We couldn't make a shot. We were missing defensive assignments, leading to numerous layups by our opponent. 

Then a little life ... we finished the half with an 8-0 run that included Meniya's 3-pointer and much better defense. Down only 20-13, I told them at halftime that we were right in the game but needed to turn up our defensive intensity.

I started Meniya and Skyler in the second half even though each had 3 fouls. We outscored Crestdale 11-6 in the quarter to make it 26-24. It was a game now.

We finally caught them midway through the fourth quarter ... but both Meniya and Jalayah fouled out. Our role players, who had done well all game, really stepped up. Emersyn made a huge 17-footer, Chloe hit a free throw for our final point, and Emma grabbed the clinching rebound. 

Community House 35, Crestdale 34

Our bench exploded with excitement and I pumped my fist. After the handshake line, the girls went to the locker room to wait for me. I gave them a minute to let it sink in and then I burst through the door, clapping. The girls followed suit, clapping and hootin' and hollerin'. It was an incredible scene of exuberance that lasted a couple of minutes. You gotta love youth sports!

I told the girls how amazing that was: down 20-5 to a good team but battling back, never quitting, showing heart, showing skill, a complete team victory with so many contributing. I told them how proud I was of them, and that wasn't just coach-speak.

I left the locker room completely energized. It doesn't matter what level it is -- from Biddy Ball all the way to the WNBA or NBA --  a comeback like that feels awesome. 

Hey, here's an interesting aside ...

I got back to the bench to collect my things before the boys game would start, and the refs were talking to the scorer's table. It seemed the final score on the board (36-35) didn't match the one in the official book, which is always kept by the home team. I looked at the book my manager kept and noted the discrepancy: We still won, but it was actually 35-34. 

The refs signed off on it, and it was all good ... but can you imagine if they had determined that the game was tied, or that we had lost? I don't know what they would have done ... and I'm glad I didn't have to find out!!!!!!

Look, winning is not my main mission in this assignment. I want to give these kids a great basketball experience, help them improve as players, maybe even teach a life lesson or two along the way. I play every girl in every game -- all have made the commitment and all work hard in practice; they all deserve to play. I already have started 9 of our 11 players, and the other 2 will get a start soon.

Nevertheless, the scoreboard does have numbers on it, and at the end of the game one team's number will be at least 1 point higher than the other team's. So we might as well endeavor to be the team with the higher number, right?
^
^
I know I hadn't posted on The Baldest Truth in several months. A lot going on. And when I had posted, it was all about "LoJack" -- my beautiful grand-twins, Logan and Jack.

I figure I shouldn't hit the button on this without showing a few of the latest pix of these 4-month-old wonderboys.


Happy Jack
Laughing Logan


LoJack at 4 months

Life is good, folks!!