Monday, May 11, 2015

LeBron throws coach under bus - then throws 21-footer into basket

The Cavaliers would be better off with no coach at all. The same might be true for the Rockets. As for my old Marquette classmate Glenn Rivers (we didn't call him "Doc" back then), he is showing why he is one of the most respected basketball coaches on the planet.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the NBA playoffs is watching the coaches. How do they handle the stress? Are they good punchers and counterpunchers? Can they deal with the egos around them?

Here's some of what I'm seeing ...


He is in so far over his head that he might as well be operating from the bottom of a grave --  which is where his Cavs would be had he not been saved from himself twice in the final 10 seconds of Sunday's victory over the Bulls.

With 9.4 seconds left, Derrick Rose scored on a drive to tie the game for the Bulls. Blatt immediately signaled for a time-out, which is normal procedure -- except that the Cavs had no time-outs remaining. Had the nearest referee seen Blatt's signal, the Cavs would have gotten slapped with a technical foul that very well would have delivered the game to the Bulls. Fortunately for Cleveland, alert assistant coach Tyronn Lue grabbed Blatt and reminded him of the situation before the ref saw the time-out call.

"Yeah," Blatt later admitted, "I almost blew it."

And then he almost blew it again.

LeBron James drove the length of the court for a layup but missed and the ball went out of bounds with 1.5 seconds left. As the refs watched the replay to make sure they were right in awarding the ball to the Cavs, Blatt drew up a play that had the world's best player inbounding the ball to somebody else.

"I told coach there was no way I'm taking the ball out," James said. "The play that was drawn up, I scratched it. I just told coach, 'Just give me the ball.'"

Matthew Dellavadova threw it in to James, who had worked himself free in the left corner. LeBron caught the pass, rose high over Jimmy Butler and drilled a 21-footer as the horn sounded.

Blatt almost surely will be fired if the Cavs don't win the NBA title. You don't bring in a Ferrari and let Mr. Magoo drive it.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the unlikely event that the Cavs do win the title, though. The guess here is that he'd still be canned, and for good reason. The coach can't lose his head when the game matters most. And when the best player totally and publicly disrespects the coach, the coach has got to go.


The Rockets' coach has turned the Clippers series into a farce with his Hack-a-Jordan strategy.

Did DeAndre Jordan miss 20 of his 34 free throws? Yes. But the Clippers still won by a zillion points because the strategy made McHale have to use his mediocre bench too much, gave injured Clippers point guard Chris Paul ample time to rest and ruined the flow of the game.

McHale said he wanted to "muck up" the game because the Clippers are an athletic, fast-breaking team. But the Rockets like to play with a certain flow, too, one that includes a lot of transition 3-pointers. The mucked-up game ended up hurting them.

The Clippers are 19-2 when teams try the Hack-A-Jordan. The strategy didn't work back in Shaquille O'Neal's day with the Lakers, either.

What the strategy does is make a game un-watchable. I'd be stunned -- and disappointed -- if the rules aren't changed to make it illegal before next season.


Some coaches might have panicked and taken Jordan out of the game when he was missing free throws, especially when the Rockets took an early lead while using the hack strategy.

But Rivers just let the situation take care of itself. For one thing, he knows the strategy almost always eventually fails. For another, he knows Jordan is the league's best interior defender and the Clippers are better with him on the court.

All series long, Rivers' Clippers have been the more physical, more hustling and more prepared team. And hey ... Rivers even gets bonus points for having fathered -- and traded for -- his son Austin, who has come up huge with Paul being banged up.


The Bulls coach always looks as though his dad just told him he can't borrow the car.

I guess I don't blame him for being permanently perturbed.

Despite wringing a fine season out of an injury-prone team, despite coaxing Pau Gasol into his best performance in years, despite helping turn Jimmy Butler into an All-Star, despite his team always playing hard and never giving up, Thibodeau is viewed by many as the guy who is holding the Bulls back from true greatness.

It's widely believed he will be fired unless the Bulls win the championship or at least advance to the Finals.

Maybe it would be best for both sides. Thibodeau certainly will get another job -- Cleveland could do a lot worse. And maybe the Bulls need a new voice in the locker room because NBA players do tend to tune out the coach after awhile.

Still, it's hard to say the scenario has been fair to Thibodeau, who repeatedly has overcome major obstacles to keep the Bulls in contention. And it's hard to envision the Bulls hiring anybody better.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fun With Numbers

Here are some of the more interesting statistics and numbers I've seen (or experienced) recently ...


Shaq Thompson, a linebacker from the University of Washington who last week was the Carolina Panthers' No. 1 draft pick, also once was enough of a baseball prospect to have been selected by the Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB draft.

In his very brief professional baseball career, however, Thompson arguably put up the ugliest statistical line in the sport's history.

In 13 Gulf Coast (Rookie) League games, Thompson went hitless in 39 at-bats -- with an incredible 37 strikeouts. He did draw 8 walks ... so in 47 plate appearances, he put the ball in play in fair territory exactly twice. Twice!

No wonder he's now an ex-baseball player. Michael Jordan was Babe Ruth compared to this guy.



That's the record of the mighty Sons of Pitches so far this season.

I'm not hitting squat (although I've got more hits than Shaq Thompson had), and I'll blame my bum shoulder for that (gotta have an excuse, right?), but I'm still having a blast being part of this talented and fun group of fellow 50-and-overs.

Maybe we'll do what Kentucky couldn't!



In his first game at Davidson College, Stephen Curry committed 13 turnovers. Folks had to be wondering if Wildcats coach Bob McKillop had lost his mind offering the skinny son of Dell Curry a scholarship. Winthrop had been Steph's only other Division I suitor.

I guess McKillop's decision ended up working out all right for Davidson, for Curry and for the Golden State Warriors. Steph was just named NBA MVP.

Here's what I wrote shortly before the 2009 draft:

NBA teams are in love with the potential of Spanish teen Ricky Rubio, who is expected to be either the second or third player drafted Thursday. 
Well, he might be the goods. Or he might not be. Nobody really knows.
Give me Stephen Curry. He can handle the ball, he's an excellent passer and he'll be a big-time 3-point shooter.
A stiff breeze could carry Curry into the next county, true, but we know he has a lot of game.
Can anybody really say as much about Ricky Rubio?

When healthy, Rubio has been a pretty good NBA point guard. Much to the chagrin of the Timberwolves and their fans, however, he hasn't been Steph Curry -- truly one of the great shooters ever to lace up a pair of sneakers.

Hey, even I get one right every now and then.



The amount of money I'm very proud to say I didn't spend to watch Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao paw at each other for 36 minutes.

For one thing, I wasn't going to give a serial woman-beater and reprehensible human being like Mayweather one dime of my money.

For another, I used to love boxing years ago but I can't get into such barbarism now. I guess I've gone soft, and not just in my belly.



That was Blake Griffin's box-score line in the Clippers' Game 1 playoff victory at Houston.

L.A. needed its all-star forward to come through big-time with Chris Paul being unable to play due to a hamstring injury, and he delivered as the Clips stole home-court advantage from the Rockets

Will this be the year Griffin and the talented Clippers finally realize their potential? I am rooting for them -- and my old Marquette friend, Glenn Rivers (we didn't call him Doc back then). I hope Paul gets back in the lineup soon.

Those who say they "hate" the NBA for whatever reason, and therefore refuse to watch it, recently missed an instant sports classic: Game 7 from the Clippers-Spurs series.

Playing on one leg, Paul was incredible. He scored 27 points, including a last-second circus shot to win the game (and the series) in a performance every bit as impressive as Jordan's "food poisoning game."

Yes, your average January NBA regular-season game can be a bore, but playoff basketball is often sensational. These guys very well might be the best athletes in the world. Add in the motivation of a possible championship, and it's pretty special stuff.



Thanks to good initial readership, and then to links imbedded in subsequent articles, my Dec. 17 piece for the investing Web site Seeking Alpha just passed the 60,000 page-view mark.

I used to reach hundreds of thousands of readers back in my sportswriting days, so I'm not getting overly excited about this milestone. Still, 60K is a pretty big number for a single article on most financial sites. It's almost twice as many as any other article I've written has received.

I get paid per page-view, and the money I'll get from that article will help fund the new siding I just found out our house needs.

It's hard to beat that for a fun way to spend one's money! But hey, at least I didn't give any of it to Floyd Mayweather.



The number of declared presidential candidates for whom I want to vote.

If these men and women are supposed to be our best and brightest, that's pretty effin' depressing.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

THE JOY OF SIX: The Masters, the presidential race and the return of the Sons of Pitches

6. How 'bout that Jordan Spieth, huh? Every time Phil Mickelson or Justin Rose or anybody else drew within a few strokes of him at the Masters, the 21-year-old Texan would birdie the next couple of holes and re-open a commanding lead. He ended up breaking a bunch of records and tying Tiger Woods' mark for best Masters score ever. Pretty impressive.

I know that I'm looking forward to many years of him dueling with Rory McIlroy, the reigning king who is only 25 himself. Then again, I remember Tiger and Sergio Garcia going toe-to-toe as youngsters in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and thinking, "Wow, it's gonna be fun watching these guys go at each other for the next decade or two."

How has that worked out?


5. At one point, CBS showed a list of the last 10 Masters champions -- reminding me that the one and only Masters I ever covered (or ever will cover) was won by the "least good" (to borrow a phrase from former Bears coach Dick Jauron) champion in decades. Maybe ever.

Despite shooting a 75 in the final round, Trevor Immelman beat a field that never really showed up. Woods tried to rally but got no closer than 3 strokes. Immelman hasn't won since and, since 2012, he has missed the cut more than he has made it. In 10 starts so far this year, he has made the cut twice.

Trevor Freakin' Immelman won "my" Masters. But hey, at least the weather was perfect and I got to see a golf course that actually exceeded my very lofty expectations.


4. It seems almost impossible that the race for the GOP presidential nomination could top 2012 for sheer craziness, but the candidates are off to a running start.

Ted Cruz is an absolute loony, which is fitting because he was born in Canada (unlike our current Kenya-born president). Rand Paul is supposed to be a Libertarian but he already is sucking up to the far right. Chris Christie just came out with Social Security reform that looks suspiciously like a liberal re-distribution plan. Marco Rubio is backtracking from his compassionate immigration policy because to the party base, there is no room for compassion in an immigration policy.

I already miss Herman "9-9-9" Cain, Rick "Oops" Perry, Mitt "47 Percent" Romney and Newt "I Guarantee $2.50 Gas" Gingrich.

And isn't there anything anybody can do to get Michele Bachmann to run again? She just predicted that Barack Obama's Iran policy would result in the End Times and usher in Jesus' return to earth, saying: "I believe the Bible is true. And believe what the Bible says is  that our nation and the people of our nation will reap a whirlwind, and we could see economic disasters, natural disasters."

I don't remember any mention of the U.S. of A. in either testament, but I admit I'm no biblical scholar.


3. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton finally stopped delaying the inevitable and announced online that she would be running for the Democratic nomination.

She's a piece of work, too. She actually might be a bigger liar storyteller than her hubby.

It's gonna be a fun 17 months until November 2016.


2. The Cubs paid $155 million to a left-hander who gets the yips every time he thinks about throwing to first to hold the runner. In Jon Lester's last start, he threw one so far over the first baseman's head it almost landed in the stands. It's the damnedest thing. So Cubbie.

Fortunately for the Cubs, the right fielder chased down the baseball and gunned the runner out at third base.

Obviously, it was a set play orchestrated by Joe Maddon, the latest Savior Skipper who for sure will take the Cubbies to the pennant.


1. My over-50 softball league's season has begun and I'm thrilled to be back with the Sons of Pitches. Our manager/pitcher, Pat, traded for me because he knows I'm the ultimate softball stud. Either that or he just wanted to be sure he had somebody to drink with after games. (OK, I guarantee it's not the "stud" thing.)

Pat and I entered the league as teammates in 2012 and played one season with the Blue Thunder. He decided to become a manager the following year and traded for me. The Sons of Pitches capped a very nice two-year run by winning the '14 fall championship, but then in accordance with league rules, we (and all other teams) were broken up for the league-wide re-draft.

For the SoP's latest incarnation, Pat did a nice job of getting 5 of us back together, as Pat and I are joined by Bob, Spike (the other Mike) and Wayne. Our 8 teammates seem like great guys and fine players. Definitely a fun group. I'd list 'em all here by name but I'm still getting to know them.

Our season started Tuesday and we promptly gave up the maximum 5 runs in the top of the first inning. It was a delightful combination of booted grounders, errant throws, walks and other assorted miscues. We only managed one run ourselves and gave up a couple more runs over the next 3 innings to fall behind 7-1 going into the bottom of the 4th.

Pat, who fancies himself as quite the motivator, yelled, "Do you guys wanna win or what?" Duly inspired, we scratched out 3 runs to make it a 7-4 game. We held our opponent scoreless in the fifth and I led off the bottom of the inning.

While coaching third base earlier in the game, I had a brief conversation with the opposing third baseman. He had a great glove and a gun for an arm, but he told me he was having knee problems and wouldn't be able to move very well. I joked that I was going to lay down a bunt.

Now, bunting isn't allowed in slow-pitch softball ... but swinging bunts are another story. I took a mighty cut and the ball traveled all of about 15 feet down the third-base line. Using my cheetah-like speed -- I mean, there's nothing faster than a bald, slightly chunky, 50-something Jewboy -- I beat out the infield hit.

"Real" hits -- the kind that actually leave the infield -- followed, one after the other, and by the time the 5th inning was over, we had an 8-7 lead. The umpire's timer went off during the inning, meaning the 6th would be the last. Pat retired the first two batters before giving up a hit, but he stranded the tying run by inducing a come-backer. After he threw to first, it was time to head to the bar.

There's nothing wrong with winning ugly, because there's no such thing as losing pretty.

The Sons of Pitches are back, baby!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mike's March Madness Mulligan

Those who golf with me know I'm not a big mulligan taker. I mean, if I shank my drive into the woods, re-tee, hit one down the middle and make a birdie, who am I fooling? I know I didn't really get a birdie. So why bother? I'd much rather scramble after a horrendous drive and hack my way to a "good bogey" than pretend I got a birdie. But hey, maybe that's just me.

So even if I go 15-0 with the March Madness Mulligan I'm about to take, I promise I won't pretend I did anything special.

Before getting to the MMM, I'll allow myself a couple of back-pats ... but only a couple: Nice job on N.C. State and Wichita State. OK, that was quick. I'd have had more success with my bracket if I had let my pooch Simmie make predictions with tail-thumps.

Now, here goes ...


Kentucky easily over West Virginia ... Notre Dame's luck runs out against Wichita State ... The Wildcats chew up overmatched Wichita State.


Wisconsin survives a challenge from North Carolina ... Arizona crushes Xavier ... Bucky Badger beats Arizona in a thriller.


N.C. State pulls off another upset, this time against Louisville ... Michigan State keeps getting better and beats Oklahoma ... Sparty goes to another Final Four after a narrow win over N.C. State.


Duke struggles but holds off Utah ... Gonzaga finally gets a second-weekend win, beating UCLA ... The Dookies have too much firepower for the Zags.


So our new, improved Final Four is Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. Three No. 1 seeds and a No. 7 ... but not your run-of-the-mill No. 7. It's kind of funny that Michigan State is suddenly an underdog darling, no?


In one national semifinal, Kentucky and Wisconsin put on a sensational show, with Kentucky's superior interior defense prevailing. In the other, Duke has too much offensive balance for Michigan State.

One thing hasn't changed from my original bracket: Kentucky still ends up 40-0.

Translation: "Bet everything you have on West Virginia to beat Kentucky on Thursday night."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don't Bet Against Kentucky Going 40-0

In 1973, Secretariat was the 1-to-10 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes. It had to be tempting to bet on just about any other horse in the race.

Kentucky isn't a 1-to-10 favorite to win the NCAA basketball tournament; the Wildcats' odds are 6-to-5 according to online gambling site Bovada. Then again, there are 64 teams in the field (no, I don't count the losers of the "First Four" contests) vs. only 5 horses in the '73 Belmont starting gate, so 6-to-5 is pretty overwhelming.

The team Bovada assigns the next-best odds to is Arizona, which wasn't even given a No. 1 seed. Those Wildcats face 15-to-2 odds. The other No. 1 seeds and the odds: Wisconsin, 17-to-2; Duke,  9-to-1; Villanova, 10-to-1.

Anyway, I used this introduction to talk about my search for the team capable of running down the Secretariat of college hoops teams. Is it even possible? Let's go region by region ...

In the WEST, I really like Wisconsin. When I say that, I don't mean I actually like Wisconsin; as a Marquette alum and diehard fan, I'm prohibited by law from liking our instate rivals. But I have a tough time hating this particular Wisconsin team: intelligent, athletic, disciplined, experienced, unflappable, well-coached.

Here's how the West will be won: Wisconsin over Coastal Carolina ... Oregon over Oklahoma State ... Wofford in the upset over Arkansas ... North Carolina over Harvard ... Mississippi takes down Xavier ... Baylor over Georgia State ... Ohio State beats VCU ... Arizona over Texas Southern. In the next round, Wisconsin over Oregon ... UNC ends Wofford's dream ... Baylor is too tough for Ole Miss ... Arizona over Ohio State. Wisconsin advances to the Elite Eight by beating UNC, and Arizona gets there by downing Baylor. And Wisconsin's balance and precision will produce a victory over Arizona and a second straight Final Four trip.

Let's end the suspense about Wisconsin's Final Four opponent right now: It will be Kentucky. The Wildcats will dominate the MIDWEST Region the same way they dominated college basketball all season.

Kentucky over Hampton ... Purdue over Cincinnati ... West Virginia over Buffalo ... Maryland over Valpo ... Butler over Texas ... Notre Dame over Northeastern ... Wichita State over Indiana ... Kansas over New Mexico State. In the next round, Kentucky pounds Purdue ... Maryland handles West Virginia ... Butler takes down ND ... and Wichita State stuns Kansas. Kentucky moves on by beating tough but overmatched Maryland while Butler beats Wichita State in the battle of underdogs. In the region final, Butler is game ... but Kentucky is Kentucky. Game over!

In the EAST, so many pundits have chosen Northern Iowa as their "surprise pick" that it's no surprise at all. So, naturally, I'm going to pick UNI to get upset by 12th-seeded Wyoming in its first game. Take that! And that's not my only surprise in the region. After opening with a win over LSU, 8th-seeded North Carolina State will make Villanova the first No. 1 seed to exit stage right. Also, Louisville over UC-Irvine ... Providence over Dayton ... Oklahoma over Albany ... Michigan State over Georgia and Virginia over Belmont. Joining NC State in the Sweet 16 will be ... Louisville over Wyoming ... Providence over Oklahoma ...and Virginia over Michigan State. NC State pulls off yet another upset, this time over Louisville, and Virginia handles Providence. Going to the Final Four, it's Virginia with a tough win over ACC foe NC State.

I see the SOUTH as wide open, and I'm predicting premature defeat for the top two seeds, Duke and Gonzaga. Early on, it's Duke over Robert Morris ... San Diego State over St. John's ... No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over Utah ... Georgetown survives a scare against Eastern Washington ... SMU over UCLA ... Iowa State over UAB ... Davidson takes down Iowa ... and Gonzaga over North Dakota State. Then, I think there will be four close games, with Duke downing San Diego State ... Stephen F. Austin surprising Georgetown ... Iowa State beating SMU in a great game ... and Gonzaga getting past Davidson. Duke will end Stephen F. Austin's hopes and Iowa State will beat Gonzaga. And then 3-seeded Iowa State will beat Duke to advance to the Final Four.

So our Final Four is set: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia and Iowa State. 

Kentucky-Wisconsin is a rematch of last year's national semifinal, won 74-73 by a young Wildcats squad. Kentucky, not quite as young and even more talented, will prevail again in what should be another thriller.

In the other matchup, it's a great contrast of styles, as Iowa State likes to go-go-go and Virginia likes to milk the clock. Virginia, which fell to Michigan State by 2 points in the Round of 16 last season, will use its defense to reach the title game this time.

In the championship game, the Cavaliers will hang with Kentucky for awhile. The pace will favor Virginia and the Wildcats will get too impatient at times. As the game wears on, however, Kentucky's superior talent will take over. The Wildcats will win by 10 to complete their 40-0 season.

Like Secretariat -- who won the '73 Belmont Stakes by a resounding 31 lengths to sweep the Triple Crown -- Kentucky is just too damn good to bet against.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

An unforgettable basketball journey, with the promise of more to come

On The Scholars Academy website, the most recent addition to the photo rotation is of my middle-school basketball players doing their famed, "Fly, Fly, Fly, Eagles!" cheer after our tournament semifinal victory.

I love this photo because, to me, it captures what sports for kids this age should be about. Look at the smiles on those faces. Can't you feel the joy, the love, the camaraderie, the spirit?

At that moment, these girls felt they could accomplish anything. They especially felt they could win the conference championship.

Unfortunately, in that title game, Back Creek Christian Academy simply played better than we did. They jumped on us early and we never really threatened to make it a game.

They defeated us three times, representing 75% of the losses in our otherwise amazing 15-4 season. Remember how dopey Patrick Ewing used to sound when he claimed his Knicks were better than the Bulls even after Michael Jordan & Co. repeatedly whupped 'em? Well, I'm pretty dopey, but I'm not that dopey.

Back Creek deserved the title, and we have no choice but to settle for having reached the championship game for the first time in our school's 15-year history.

A few days have passed since that defeat, and time is a great healer. On Saturday night, we had our team party. It was a festive event, filled with jokes, reminiscences, anecdotes, awards, gifts, laughs, hugs, photos and food. Oh, and it also was filled with a middle-aged bald dude rambling on about how special these last four months were for everybody involved.

We talked about Ruta, our Rookie of the Year and leading scorer, sprinting the wrong way toward a layup, realizing the error of her ways, and slamming on the brakes as if a deer had just appeared in the middle of the road. And we talked about Sholeh, winner of our Coach's Award for Aggressiveness, stealing the basketball and going in for the basket just a second or two after I told her, "I need a steal." (Now that, my friends, is great coaching!)

We talked about Olivia, winner of our Coach's Award for Leadership, being the classic "coach on the floor" by regularly noticing things I didn't so we could make critical in-game adjustments. And we talked about Sienna, our two-time MVP, playing every position in the lineup (and playing them well) these last two seasons.

We talked about Celeste blocking more shots than any other player in the league, including several resounding two-handers against our smaller semifinal opponent -- an example of how being a bully is sometimes OK! We talked about Beijul's transformation from timid lamb to fierce combatant.

We talked about Malika somehow being able to make baskets with that funky, feet-together, no-knee-bend, line-drive shot of hers. And we talked about how Susanna, the last player to make the team, went on to be an instrumental contributor thanks to her competitiveness, intelligence and unselfishness.

We talked about Ritika, our only sixth-grader, making nine 3-pointers -- many of them "daggers" that turned games in our favor. (It's quite possible that there weren't nine treys made by the other 100 or so players in the conference combined.) And we talked about our captain, Margaret, leading us in scoring down the stretch and then delivering a touching, heart-felt speech before the title game.

OK, so I did most of the talking. (That won't surprise my high school classmates who named me Most Talkative.) The girls and their parents did most of the listening and applauding and laughing and picture-taking.

There also was much talk - and not all of it from me - about the program we're building at Scholars Academy.

My first year we had an incredibly young team filled with players who had little or no experience. We quickly established our identity: We might not beat all of our opponents, but we were going to wear them out with our aggressiveness and effort. We flashed our potential with a stunning comeback victory in the playoffs before losing in the semifinals to the eventual champion.

This season, in Year 2, we brought back five good players and added two high-level athletes as well as three super-solid role players. We used our relentless defense, our quickness and our determination to finish the season with exactly twice as many points as our opponents (28.8 points per game to 14.4 points per game), but we fell one victory short of our ultimate goal.

We will soldier on in Year 3 without three valuable players in Sienna, Margaret and Susanna, but we should return seven -- including six 8th-graders. We will have experience and talent and height and speed. Our defense should be especially good. And it cannot be understated how the trust, respect and love the girls have for each other will translate into still more success.

If the coach doesn't mess things up too badly, the 2015-16 Eagles just might end up fly-fly-flying away with the big trophy.

But enough looking ahead. I'm still basking in the glow of the season that was and of the unforgettable journey we all took together.

Look again at that picture, folks. It really is better than 1,000 words ... so I'll just shut up now and smile.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not champs, but still a special season

After a mild ice storm that forced the conference to re-schedule the championship game to Tuesday, my Eagles finally got to play the most anticipated girls basketball game in Scholars Academy history. Unfortunately, we didn't play very well, we didn't coach very well, our opponent did both extremely well, and we came up short.

It's never easy to smile while holding the 
Conference Runner-Up trophy
just minutes after a tough loss, 
but most of the girls managed to do it.

Despite the final outcome, it is impossible to call our season anything but a huge success. We finished 15-4 - recording more than twice as many victories as last season, my first as a head coach. All five returning players improved, and our five newcomers for this season - none of whom had ever played competitive basketball - got so much better from the first practice to the final buzzer that it's hard to describe in words.

We reached the championship game for the first time in the school's 15-year history and had a season filled with memorable moments --  some of which I'll chronicle in a later post, after the sting of Tuesday's loss is a little less fresh in my mind.

I'll wrap this up by saying I am so proud to have been associated with this group of dedicated, hard-working, smart and fun ladies. These last four months have been special, and I'll never forget them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Radio Shack is kaput, but my memories are not

When you get to be 106 years old like me, you sometimes get wistful when you hear certain news.

So it was last week when I heard that Radio Shack was going out of business.

I haven't stepped inside a Radio Shack store in years -- a fact that obviously doesn't make me unique, seeing as how the company has been bleeding red ink for years. And though I was a bit of a nerd as a kid, I wasn't really the kind of geek who frequented Radio Shack. My father was the electronics guy; my eyes glazed over whenever he talked about such stuff.

So what about Radio Shack's demise brought about my wistfulness?

Well, I credit the company's little TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computer with saving my sanity. Had it not come along when it did, I might be in a loony bin right now.

I first saw a TRS-80 in 1984 when I was a 23-year-old reporter in Madison, Wis. My AP colleague, Rich Eggleston, had just bought one with his own money -- more than a thousand bucks for the little 8-line device with precious little memory and limited editing capabilities. The machine had just been introduced a few months earlier.

When I covered a Wisconsin football or basketball game back then, I had two choices: dictate my story to an editor in the Milwaukee bureau or use a Teleram Portabubble unit when the Milwaukee folks made it available.

The Portabubble was an evil device that regularly ate copy and couldn't handle crowd noise. It weighed a ton but had a tiny screen that was difficult to read. It had no memory. I hated that freakin' thing! So the few times Rich let me borrow his TRS-80, I was in heaven. Unfortunately, he needed it both for work (he was one of AP's political reporters) and for personal use, so I rarely had it. I actually preferred dictating stories off the top of my head than using the Portabubble.

When I was promoted to AP Minnesota Sports Editor the following year, I was issued a Portabubble to use at Vikings, Twins, North Stars and Gophers games. It was the source of much consternation. The cord was frayed and the device sometimes would shut off, which instantly made the work go away forever. When I managed to get an entire story ready to transmit to the Minneapolis bureau or to AP Sports HQ in New York, I had to attach the phone into holes on the top of the machine. If the crowd noise was too loud, it would result in garbled text -- if the story managed to make it at all.

By 1986, AP had been issuing TRS-80s to many sportswriters but I still had the Portabubble. I was working the state high school hockey tournament at the old St. Paul Civic Center, about 12 hours into what would be an 18-hour day, when the machine ate a story just as I was ready to transmit it. I called my boss and demanded we buy one of the Radio Shack laptops. I told him that if I lost another story, I was going to hurl the Portabubble out of the press box onto the ice below!

My boss probably could have fired me for insubordination but instead, nicely, talked me off the ledge. He also promised he'd seriously look into getting me a TRS-80. Sure enough, within about a month, he made it happen.

And I lived happily ever after. The End.

OK ... not quite The End. The TRS-80s had their own issues, including having to send through "accoustic couplers" that also could be sensitive to crowd noise. Within a couple of years, though, I was upgraded to a TRS-80 Model 200, which had a flip-up screen and more memory, and it came with a "direct connect" cable that made accoustic couplers unnecessary. Wow!

Eventually, AP started investing in "real" laptop computers for all of its reporters. More than a decade later, however, many sportswriters -- especially those at smaller newspapers -- were still using TRS-80s. Those little suckers were durable!

So although Radio Shack soon will be gone forever, I always will have fond memories of its little laptop that saved my sanity -- and very possibly saved the life of a high school hockey player who might have been killed by the Portabubble I'd have thrown out of  the press box.


And speaking of wistful memories of bygone days ...

Remember when Tiger Woods was good at golf? Now he chips like me ... and believe me, that's no compliment.

But I digress. That's a different blog post for a different time. Like maybe when he's shooting an 86 at Augusta National.

I sure hope his career doesn't go the way of the TRS-80, because golf needs Tiger a lot more than the rest of us need Radio Shack.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One wonderful week guarantees that there will be another

All I wanted was one more week with my fun, fabulous Eagles ... and I'm thrilled to say they gave it to me!

We won two tournament games this week, including Thursday's victory over a team that had beaten us just 16 days earlier, and now we are the first Scholars Academy basketball team ever to reach the league championship game.

My girls -- 8th-graders Sienna, Margaret and Susanna; 7th-graders Ruta, Malika, Sholeh, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul; and 6th-grader Ritika -- are peaking at just the right time. Until a couple weeks ago, we had been struggling a little on offense. We made a few tweaks to our attack and we haven't lost since, playing progressively better each game.

We take a 15-3 record into the title game next Thursday (2/19). Two of our losses were to the team we will play for the championship, including a gut-wrenching 2-point loss in our most recent meeting. They haven't seen our new offense, which should do well against their defense. I am not worried about our defense -- it is the best in the league, IMHO -- or our effort. Nobody out-works or out-hustles my Eagles.

As satisfying as it was to win our semifinal game, I now find myself mostly thinking about other stuff.

Like how much fun we have together. And how much the girls love and support each other. And what nice kids they are. And how much they have improved since January and December and November ... not to mention since early last season, when I honestly wondered if we would win a single game!

My daughter Katie is visiting from Seattle this week and she served as my assistant for both games, as well as two practices. As we drove to Thursday's game, I confided in her that I was more nervous than I had been in a long, long time. I also told her my primary motivation for wanting to win so badly was this:

I wasn't ready for the season to end!!!

And thanks to Ruta, Ritika, Malika, Margaret, Susanna, Sholeh, Sienna, Olivia, Celeste and Beijul, the season has one more wonderful week to go.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ex-Cubbie Ted Lilly... A Felon?

Ted Lilly made more than $80 million during his 15-year MLB career. Nevertheless, rather than reach into petty cash to repair his damaged RV last year, the former Cubbie left-hander allegedly tried to scam Progressive Insurance Co. out of $4,600.

As detailed here, Lilly has been charged in California with three felonies: filing a false insurance claim, filing a false statement in connection with an insurance claim, and concealing a material fact in connection with an insurance claim. He faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison -- which would be even worse than his 3 1/2-year sentence in Cubbieland.

No matter how the case turns out, however, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly will not be remembered for this. Not by me, anyway.

On Oct. 4, 2007, in the second inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, Lilly gave up a three-run homer to Arizona's Chris Young. As the ball cleared the fence, Lilly ripped off his glove, spun around on the mound and whipped his mitt to the ground. It was a classic Tanner move from The Bad News Bears.

Sitting in the press box on that warm Phoenix night, I laughed my arse off. And every time they showed the replay, I laughed harder.

It was funny and goofy and dopey and oh-so-Cubbie.

The Cubs went on to lose that game and get swept in the series. They won the division the following season but got swept out of the playoffs again, this time by the Dodgers. They haven't been to the postseason since, and Lilly was traded midway through the 2010 season.

And now, Ted Lilly is accused of being a felon.

Apparently, it isn't any easier to sneak a bogus claim past the folks at Progressive than it was to sneak a mediocre fastball past Chris Young.