Sunday, July 4, 2021

Was Marv Albert the greatest announcer ever? YES!

 ^

Watching the end of the Bucks-Hawks game last night made me a little sad. Not because I'm a Hawks fan, but because I've been admiring the work of Marv Albert for nearly 5 decades, and that was his last event as an announcer.

NBAE via Getty Images
When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, I was a huge Knicks fan, and I used to keep score of Knicks games as I listened to Marv's radio calls. (OK, I was a nerd; whatever!)

I'd check the box score in the paper the next day, and it was amazing how accurate not only the point totals were but also the rebounds and assists. Because Marv made it possible for me to "see" the game while listening to his radio call.

And even as he was accurate, he did add little flourishes that made games more enjoyable. Walt Frazier wasn't just fouled, he was "run into." Earl Monroe didn't just make a layup, "He drives and hits." Phil Jackson didn't just defend an inbounds pass, he used his long arms for "the windmill effect." And of course, there was Marv's trademark, "YES!" (And, as an occasional bonus, "YES ... AND IT COUNTS! He was fouled on the play!")

Marv Albert was no homer. When opposing players made great plays, he'd say so. And when the Knicks sucked, he'd say so. To this day, I have trouble listening to over-the-top homer announcers.

His dedication to objectivity and accuracy made him a natural to make the jump from local to national announcing.

Being a sportswriter, the Knicks fan got "beaten out" of me pretty early into my career. Indeed, as an AP guy, I -- like Marv -- strongly valued objectivity and accuracy. I didn't root for the teams I covered (nor did I root against them).

But even after I stopped being a Knicks fan, I never stopped being a Marv Albert fan. He was the best chronicler of live basketball games I've ever heard ... and I've heard a bazillion of them during the 55 years that Marv plied his trade.

Oh, and he was a gifted hockey announcer, too, and darn good at football and boxing.

So yes, last night was bittersweet. I'm glad I got to hear Marv one last time. But I'm sad it was the last time.
^

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Stone Cold Lock - My 2021 NCAA Bracket

 ^

Well, here's my 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket.

If you win big money betting on this, I get 50%.

If you lose big money betting on this, I never heard of you.

If you just use this for comic relief ... you're very smart.

(Click on the image if you actually want to see it.)

Some upsets in there because, well, ya gotta. Rutgers in the Sweet 16. San Diego State and Oregon in the Elite 8. And UConn in my Final Four.

What the heck, right?

In the end, I have the Fighting Illini cutting down the nets for the first time ever thanks to an exciting win over the Zags.

One thing I didn't pick were any 12s to upset any 5s. Everybody loves picking 12s, and three 12s did win in the last pre-COVID tourney. But in the previous four tournaments, 12s went 3-13 -- including 0-fers in 2015 and 2018. I'm feelin' another 0-fer coming. (So now watch the 12s go 4-0.) 

Anyhoo ...

Good luck, everybody, and may your March be as Mad as yiou want it to be.

^

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Honest, Abe -- You've been great to drive for a decade now!

 ^

Starting with the 1973 Plymouth Valiant my parents gave me during my senior year of college, I have owned 32 cars.

That's right ... thirty-two!

Many I owned for less than a year, as I had a problem or an addiction or ... I don't know what to call my inability to be satisfied with whatever car I had for longer than a couple of years (or, in some cases, a couple of months). 

What I do know is that if I had kept my cars for several years each instead of hopping willy-nilly from one to another, we'd probably be living on a private island by now.

Sometimes, we were victimized by bad luck. Our 1986 Mazda 626 was stolen about six weeks after we bought it. A few years later we bought a beautiful, blue 1990 Mazda 626 ... but a tree fell on it only 9 days after we got it home. 

No wonder Mazda no longer makes the 626 - it was cursed!!!

We had a few other mishaps, a couple of real lemons, and a car whose interior smelled faintly like smoke (not sure why we bought the dang thing in the first place, but we didn't keep it very long). 

Oh, and our poor 2007 Toyota Prius got totaled in an accident in a mall parking lot just a few months after we moved to Charlotte.

Back in 1992, I drove a 1981 Honda Civic that was held together by rust. Even though the kids and I lovingly called it "The Chariot," Robbie wouldn't let the kids ride in it. Bought that one for $350 and sold it 4 months later for $375!

So why am I in Reminiscence Mode about my 32 cars?

Because today is Abe's 10th birthday!

"Abe" is my 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe. He's still a beauty, no?


We gave him his name because his first license plate started with the letters ABE. He has been an outstanding car for us ... and we have had him longer - by far - than any other car.

Second on the longevity list was the 1986 Ford Taurus Wagon we bought new in '86 and kept for 6 years and 8 months. Third and fourth were the two Hyundai sedans we bought since moving to North Carolina. Robbie currently drives a 2016 Sonata Hybrid - a car we've had for a little over 4 years.

Abe's plate was replaced several years ago, first by one reading 16CHAMPS after the middle school where I used to coach won our first conference title (in 2016 - get it?), and then 2XCHAMPS after we repeated in 2017. I continue to wait for another of my teams to give me a reason to get a new plate!

No matter what the plate says now, Abe is still Abe, and he is still going strong. His "Pacific Blue Pearl" paint looks pretty darn good for a 10-year-old car. He has just under 85,000 miles - not many for a 2011.

Oh, Abe has had his share of bumps and bruises. During a 2013 visit to Chicago, he was minding his own business in a parking lot when some jerk smashed in his back window.


February is a big month for 10th birthdays and anniversaries. Back on Feb. 2, our loyal pup Simmie turned 10. And Feb. 11 was the 10th anniversary of us buying our one and only N.C. home.

Given the way I went through cars, though, I thought Abe's 10th birthday was especially notable.

Although I have started thinking about what kind of vehicle I might want to drive next, I plan to continue my relationship with good ol' Abe for a while longer.

I'll never be one of those guys who gets to brag about putting his 500,000th mile on his trusty 35-year-old pickup - that's simply not how I'm wired - but it's nice to know that I finally have kicked my car-buying addiction!

^


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Super Memories ... and this year's Super prediction

 ^

If you're a sports fan like me, you smile as you think about your favorite teams over the years.

If you were a Patriots fan the last 2 decades, or a Bulls fan in the 1990s, or a Yankees fan in the 1940s and '50s, you get to do a lot of smiling as you stroll down Memory Lane.

Most of us don't have that many happy highlights. Think of Cleveland fans, or Detroit fans, or Philly fans, or Buffalo fans. There's a good memory here and there ... and also a lot of torturous ones.

For me ... the Dolphins were the first pro team in any sport that I took a liking to, and I still can recite the entire lineup and uniform numbers of the 1972 undefeated champions and their (actually superior) 1973 successors. To this day, Larry Csonka is my all-time favorite athlete, and I'll be wearing my official replica No. 39 Dolphins jersey for today's Super Bowl LV. Although that was a lifetime ago, the memories obviously remain special -- almost like a first crush.



Then came the late-1970s Yankees of Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin and Thurman Munson and George Steinbrenner -- champions who also were a bunch of characters, many of whom hated each other. 

After that, I have cheered on some great teams but, ultimately, teams that didn't get it done at the end. The 1984 Dolphins, with a young Dan Marino setting record after record, were a thrill ... until they got crushed in the Super Bowl by the Joe Montana 49ers. 

The 2003 Marquette Golden (Warrior) Eagles, led by the incomparable Dwyane Wade and the clutch Travis Diener, went to the Final Four ... but they were annihilated by eventual champion Kansas.


And then there were the 2015 Panthers.

Doggone it, that was a fun year to live in Charlotte. The city was buzzing every week as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly & Co. dominated the league. With Cam's dabbin' fun personality, they were a bigger-than-life bunch who could really play football. 

Alas, they suffered an upset loss to the Broncos and their 106-year-old QB, Peyton Manning, in Super Bowl 50.

It's hard to believe it's been 5 years since that joyous season and that sad finish. Since then, the Panthers have changed owners, fired the GM (actually, fired 2 GMs), and replaced the coach and his entire staff. Only 4 players who were on that team are still on the roster. 

All of which brings me to today's Super Bowl between the Chiefs and Bucs.

A lot about this game reminds me of SB50. 

Like the Panthers, the Chiefs cruised through the regular season behind a dynamic quarterback (Patrick Mahomes). Like the Broncos, the Bucs are their conference's surprising survivor and are led by the league's oldest quarterback (Tom Brady).

Like the Panthers, the Chiefs have an incredible offense and a pretty darn good defense. Like the Broncos, the Bucs have some superb defensive playmakers who can make life difficult for even great quarterbacks.

I am sick and tired of Tom Brady winning. And I truly love watching Patrick Mahomes play. And yet I can't shake the feeling that Mahomes -- playing on a tender foot and behind an injured offensive line -- will spend much of the game running for his life, just as Newton did in SB50. And I can't shake the feeling that Old Man Brady will be smiling at the end, just as Old Man Manning was.

Prediction (and I actually hope I'm wrong):

Bucs 27, Chiefs 24

^





Wednesday, November 25, 2020

It's Turkey of the Year time again ... and for 2020, it's the Bigliest Turkey ever

 ^

I've been choosing the Turkey of the Year since 1998. Sometimes the selection was difficult because there were so many losers, louts, liars and/or lowlifes from which to choose ... and sometimes it was easy because the choice was obvious to me. 

This year's pick falls into the Obvious category because he's a Loser with a capital L (as well as an infamous liar, lout and lowlife). 

Although there were others who would have been a fine top turkey pick in a more normal year, there's nothing normal about 2020. And there really was no other choice in a terrible year most of us wish would JUST FREAKIN' END ALREADY!

But before we talk about him, here's a look back at my selections throughout the years ...

  • 2019 -- Antonio Brown
  • 2018 -- J.R. Smith
  • 2017 -- Kyle Shanahan
  • 2016 -- Pat McCrory
  • 2015 -- Derrick Rose
  • 2014 -- Roger Goodell and Ray Rice
  • 2013 -- Alex Rodriguez
  • 2012 -- U.S. Ryder Cup Team
  • 2011 -- Joe Paterno (and his Penn State enablers)
  • 2010 -- Mark McGwire
  • 2009 -- Milton Bradley
  • 2008 -- Choking Cubbies
  • 2007 -- Charlie Weis
  • 2006 -- Aramis Ramirez
  • 2005 -- Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker
  • 2004 -- Sammy Sosa
  • 2003 -- Sammy Sosa
  • 2002 -- Dick Jauron
  • 2001 -- David Wells and Frank Thomas
  • 2000 -- Bobby Knight
  • 1999 -- Jerry Krause
  • 1998 -- Mike McCaskey

Alert readers will note that up until 2010, each of those gentlemen did his turkeying in Chicago and/or the Midwest because that's where I was based. The "award" actually got its start under my Copley Newspapers predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

Additionally, on this Thanksgiving, I will be fondly remembering two beloved Copley colleagues who died this year: Bill Rood, a great guy who hired me as Chicago sports columnist back in 1998; and Barry Locher, my supervisor most of my Copley tenure, one of the best journalists I've ever known, and just a tremendous human being. They will be missed.

+++

Without further ado, here's the 2020 Turkey of the Year countdown ...

12. RUDY GOBERT. Years from now, when we're looking back at the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Jazz center will be the answer to the question: What NBA nincompoop mockingly touched every microphone at a press conference just 48 hours before revealing he had the virus, leading to all sports in the United States getting shut down almost immediately?

11. JIM HARBAUGH. Failing to beat Ohio State is now only one of the Michigan coach's many problems, as his program has become a national laughingstock.

10. ROBINSON CANO. Juice much? His second PED-related suspension will cost the Mets second baseman the entire 2021 season -- and a cool $24 million. 

9. MIKE LEACH. In April, the Mississippi State football coach retweeted an image of a woman knitting a noose, undermining the school's attempts to continue making progress on racial issues. That and other woes led to at least a dozen Bulldogs leaving the program, part of the reason Leach's team is 2-5 this season.

8. GREGG MARSHALL. The Wichita State basketball coach resigned under fire less than two weeks before the start of this delayed season after it was learned he had been abusing players physically, verbally and mentally for years. Nice guy.

7. MINNESOTA TIMBERBABIES. They traded for Jimmy Butler in 2017 because they sucked and they desperately needed a veteran leader. But the kids weren't all right, whining about having to play with such a demanding teammate, and Butler ended up in Miami -- where he led the surprising Heat to the NBA Finals. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, sucked again.

6. CODY BELLINGER and ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ. It's hard to get on their case too much, because they were major contributors to the Dodgers' title run, but they might want to tone down their home-run celebrations. The massive forearm slam they gave each other after Bellinger's NL Championship Series-deciding HR against Atlanta ended up dislocating Bellinger's shoulder so badly he needed offseason surgery. 

5. KEVIN CASH. At least Bellinger, Hernandez & Co. had reason to celebrate -- unlike Tampa Bay fans. Cash, the Rays' manager, took out ace Blake Snell after 5 1/3 stellar innings of Game 7 of the World Series. After TB's bullpen coughed up the lead, the Dodgers and their fans have an extra reason to be thankful this year.

4. BILL O'BRIEN. In May, the Houston Texans coach and GM traded away the team's best offensive player, DeAndre Hopkins. Predictably, after an 0-4 start, O'Brien became the team's ex-coach/GM. A few weeks later, Hopkins made the best catch of the entire NFL season for the Arizona Cardinals.

3. CLIPPERS. Paul George -- the self-ordained "Playoff P" -- choked again. And this time he helped bring Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers down with him, as a team built to win a championship instead had to watch the other L.A. squad take the NBA crown.

2. TOM BRADY. 2020 began with the 42-year-old Patriots QB throwing a pick-6 that sealed New England's first-round playoff loss to Tennessee. And last week, the 43-year-old Bucs QB sealed a Tampa loss to the Rams with a horribly thrown INT. Oh, and in a loss to Chicago, Brady forgot which down it was in a crucial situation; he later lied about his error and criticized teammates for making mistakes. History will say he's one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, maybe even the greatest, but Father Time stops for nobody.

And now ... The 2020 Turkey of the Year ...

DONALD F. TRUMP

It is sad (and more than a little scary) that more than 70 million Americans let themselves be conned so thoroughly that they voted for a deranged, racist, inept, dangerous, immoral, unethical, indecent, impeached liar who has shrugged his shoulders while 260,000 Americans have died on his watch.

Nevertheless, there still is much to be thankful for, namely ...

The Worst President Ever "inspired" more people to vote against him than any candidate in the nearly 250-year history of our great democratic republic. So the bigliest cancer will officially be cut out of our national body in less than 2 months.

It is no secret that I do not care for the person I call, among other things ...

President Pandemic ... President Super-Spreader ... Donnie Covidseed ... the Liar In Chief ... the Charlatan In Chief ... the Racist In Chief ... the Criminal In Chief ... the Narcissist In Chief ... Individual-1 ... the Emperor Wannabe ... Comrade Trumpsky ... Putin's Puppet ... The Worst President Ever ... and many more!

My favorite nickname for him, though, is the most recent one: LOSER IN CHIEF.


I could go on and on about all the ways he has hurt our nation -- and is still hurting it weeks after the election, desperately trying to subvert our democracy by disenfranchising tens of millions of American voters, mostly minorities. But it would take me until Thanksgiving 2023 to list all of his heinous words, deeds and policies.

When I told my wife -- who has a stronger disdain for the Loser In Chief than any person I know -- that he was going to be my Turkey of the Year, she asked, "Great ... but what does he have to do with sports?"

It's a legit question, and the legit answer is: "Plenty."

The former owner of the USFL's New Jersey Generals, he infamously drove that league to an early demise by insisting they challenge the NFL in court; the result was a $1 jury award, and the collapse of the USFL. Brilliant strategy by a guy who somehow managed to bankrupt numerous casinos.

But hey, at least that $1 award was tripled due to antitrust laws. Never has the simile "as phony as a $3 bill" rung more true.

An overt racist, the Loser In Chief has viciously targeted Black athletes over the years ... and 2020 has only amplified that, as racial tensions swept the country following the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. 

On June 1, right after delivering a speech in the Rose Garden in which he called himself "an ally of all peaceful protesters," he ripped athletes for saying they would take a knee during the national anthem.

Whether or not one believes athletes should take a knee in such situations is beside the point. I like to think everybody can agree that form of protest is, indeed, peaceful. But the Loser In Chief is a pathological liar and a racist, so of course he contradicted his own words. 

Hell, the very hour he lied about being an ally of peaceful protesters, he had his militia attack peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square just so he could stage a photo-op of himself holding a bible upside-down -- an event so evil and depraved that even Pat Freakin' Robertson ripped him for it.  

There's plenty more.

The Liar In Chief actually took credit for the Big Ten deciding to play football this season, resulting in this reaction from the president of one Big Ten university:

“President Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations. In fact, when his name came up (in conversation among the 14 league presidents), it was a negative, because no one wanted this to be political.”

The Racist In Chief also ripped Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR, for something Wallace did not do.

The Emperor Wannabe is so disgustingly racist that many of America's highest-profile Black athletes have refused to go to the White House to be honored for winning championships. For that matter, entire teams have declined the invitation to give the Narcissist In Chief a chance to bloviate and lie in their presence.

And then there's golf ...

After relentlessly criticizing his predecessor for playing too often, the Liar In Chief has teed it up more than any president ever. Rather than working with experts to do something about a virus that he himself called "more deadly than even your strenuous flus," Donnie Covidseed has kept burying his head in sand traps.

Not surprisingly, the guy who has been trying to cheat his way to a second term is an inveterate rule-breaker on the golf course, as documented hilariously by author Rick Reilly.

So there are plenty of sports-related reasons to explain the obvious:

In this, one of the worst years ever, there was no other possible choice for Turkey of the Year than The Worst President Ever.

Jan. 20, 2021, Inauguration Day for Joe Biden, can't get here soon enough.

^

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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gotta run now and collect my 7-figure royalty check from ESPN ...
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

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

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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.

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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!
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