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What my musings are all about...

Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.

The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.

The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I've noticed in the last couple of years that teams are going a long way towards honoring their team's history. Lots of attention being paid to their legendary players.

Therein lies a cautionary tale for the Sacramento Kings who yesterday fired their coach, Mike Malone giving as their principal reason a difference in basketball philosophies. General Manager, Pete D'Alessandro believes in an offensive/speed ball game while Coach Malone  embraces a defense first view.

In this morning's sports news, GM D'Allesandro stated he wanted the Kings to be more like the great King teams coached by Rick Adelman or the new look Warriors, or the San Antonio Spurs of the past couple of years. The NBA game today, he claims, is a fast paced one. He's probably right, but the Memphis Grizzlies might have something to say about that. Anyway, he's not wrong. The teams that run and move the ball unselfishly are the teams that win.

So what's the cautionary tale? Mr. D'Alessandro, in the process of remaking the Kings, must not forget how important lock-down defense was to those successful running teams, he wants to emulate. Yes, they run, but they don't allow their opponents easy looks at the basket either. And, when it comes to playoff time, it is the team's defense and rebounding that make the difference between a champion and an also ran.(pardon the pun). Running teams can only go so far into the playoffs before they succumb to a defensive mindset. Mr. D'Alessandro should k now, coming from Denver and George Karl's futile attempts to take the Nuggets beyond the first round.

There was nothing wrong with the Nuggets. They won way more than they lost, and I have a great respect for George against whom I coached during my short stint in the CBA years ago and whose brave struggle against and victory over cancer did him proud, But when it came to NBA championships, it was Miami Heat's suffocating pressure D that won for them. Same goes for the Spurs last year. Their D was the key, not their O. When Dallas won the NBA championship, it was Tyson Chandler's control of the paint that was the deciding factor. And since we're talking about NBA history and Legends these days, let's not forget, in the middle of this debate between Defense-minded coaches and Offense-minded coaches, a historic model, the great Boston Celtic teams of Bill Russell and John Havlick coached by the legendary Red Auerbach.

I submit that Red had it right from the start. He allowed his teams an enormous amount of freedom to run (which was a given with Russell's rebounding and outlet passes) and take quick shots. As someone who played against those Celtic teams as a Warrior, I can testify how often they were on the run. However, and the HOWEVER is a big one, for that offensive freedom Red extracted his pound of flesh. He demanded that his team play tough DEFENSE, simply stated: no easy baskets and no second shots.

So, as the Kings transition to an Offensive style of play, whoever they hire as coach should not forget that history has provided clear evidence that Championships are won on the defensive side of the court. Pure run and gun coaches, like Karl and Nelson have never won The Big One.

As this transition takes shape, I wonder how many players from this Kings team will remain? Mr. D'Alessandro and his staff surely realize that Rudy Gay comes out of the Memphis tradition, which emphasizes a half court game. Jason Thompson is not a run type player, neither are Landry, Evans, Hollins, and Cousins. Perhaps Cousins can run, but so far all I've seen him do is jog. No doubt he is a force in the paint, a little like Shaq. Using Shaq as the model, perhaps there is some hope for him as a trailer or if the break doesn't materialize, as the main "go to option" for the team's half court offense.

So, Kings' fans, let's see what the Ranadive/Pete D'Alessandro era will produce.

Here's a poem about a sport far removed from the world of money sports.

After A  Game of Squash   by Sam Albert

And I thought of how impossibly alone we were,
up in the room where the lockers are and the showers,
he with wiping the sweat from his face and head,
and I loosening the laces from my sneakers.

We had just finished this long game of squash.
Then, we were much closer, smashing the same ball,
lurching forward, out-maneuvering each other
hard down the sidelines, death to the opponent.

It was a battle, the killer's eye in the middle
of the round black ball, two men struggling
to find each other out, what made each one's mind work
and with what heart each fell to the long odds.

And when the game was over we thanked each other generously,
complimented one the other on his skill, his finesse.
And I though of how impossibly alone we were,
up in the room where the  lockers are and the showers. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Start of the NBA Season

I've held off talking about the NBA season in order to view a few games first before shooting off my mouth. I've seen enough, so on this Thanksgiving morning, as my wife is baking downstairs, a few things about the season come to mind.

I take back what I said about the league being more equal. It's not. There seems to be a growing divide between strong and weak teams. Some of the weaknesses come due to injuries like the Thunder's loss of Westbrook and Durant. Will they be better once they return? Certainly, but it will take some time for them to return to form, so I don't see them making a serious run at a Conference.

The same case can be made for other teams with star players rehabing or trying to make comebacks from serious injuries: D Rose from the Bull, for example.

Any road (that means anyway in Northern England) missing star players is not the principal reason in my mind that the NBA looks to be top heavy, with a few very strong teams and a great number of mediocre ones. I'll not mention the lousy ones as they are easily identifiable and not worth discussing.

So lets look at mediocrity. I have a theory about what's caused this mediocrity in the NBA this season. Here's the way I see it. A) If a team's starting five include players that would and should be bench players, that team has a problem that will lead to  mediocrity. Example: New York Knicks.
B) If a team's starting five includes a player or players that are not on their way up or at the top of their careers, but are on their way down, that team has a problem leading to mediocrity; The NY Nets for example.

Some NBA teams, unfortunately, are experiencing both problems A and B, a recipe for disaster.

And finally, C) if a team's bench includes players that are not talented enough to be bench players, that team will be suffer problems: Portland Blazers and the LA Clippers for example.

Let's take a quick look at the teams I mentioned.

Knicks: Dalembert is not a top tier center. Prigioni is not a starting 1 or 2 guard. JR Smith and Stodemire are on their way down, their best years gone. Acy and Aldrich??

Nets: Garnett is very on his way down. D Williams, I'm afraid, has lost it and is on his way down. He'd be a good player off the bench, but might gain too much weight in that capacity. Teletovic and Bogdonavic, although good players, are not starter material.

Clippers: The Clips are carrying a  bunch of players who're over the hill, trying to squeeze something out of their experience. Turkoglu and Davis, for example. Hawes is getting way to much playing time for a guy who is a backup center, and I know people will disagree, but I believe Crawford is on his way down.

The Blazers: So they upset the Rockets last year. They did it with a fabulous starting five, who couldn't sustain the intensity the rest of the way and won't be able to keep up the intensity this season either. Blake is definitely seen his better playing days. Kaman is over the hill and Freeland should be playing in Europe. Crabbe and Thomas are very average.

Granted that I'm a little prejudice, being that the Golden State Warriors is the team I played for, but the Warrior roster does not suffer from these problems, A, B, or C.  Barnes, Lee, Bogut, Curry, and Thompson are starters that could be and would be starters on any team in the league; The Flash Brothers are young and on their way UP. Lee is a vet  at the peak of his game, and Bogut is reborn after a long period of health issues, at the peak of his game. Green, Igodala (although one could argue that Igudala's best years are behind him), Spieghts, Barbossa, and Livingston (the comeback kid) are solid players off the bench. Ezili is on his way UP. So is the rookie Holiday on his way UP. The same could be said of Rush, trying to get back to the player he was two years ago, Up or Out? Kumic?

Check out my theory against the rosters of your favorite teams and see where it takes you. Be objective. Compare the starters and bench of the most successful teams, Compare players. There are more mediocre players in the League than there sould be, and too many good players whose best playing days are behind them in starter roles.

Since this is Thanksgiving, I'll skip the poem and simply count my blessings that I got to play in the NBA for ten years with and against some of the finest men I've ever met.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Start of the NBA Season.

I have nothing against baseball. I was thrilled to see the Giants win the World Series.   And it was enjoyable because the tension of the World Series overrides the intrinsic boredom of the game: pitch/strike/pitch/ball/pitch/popup/flyball.

I have nothing against football. It's a game uniquely suited to TV, and so am I, except of course that uniquely means it's perfect for advertising. What was the recent stat about actual minutes of viewing the game? 26% of the total TV time? I can't begin to tell you how annoying such a plethora of advertising is. Anyroad, (That's anyway in Scottish) I'm picking the Green Bay Packers vs Denver Broncos for the Stupid Bowl. Will Cheetos out slug Budweiser?

So, thank God, basketball season has arrived. And for me, that means the NBA. I'm excited because my Golden State Warriors look to be healthy and ready to surprise the league.

About the Warriors, Before the season started, I was able to watch one of their practices. Bogut is slim and ready to compete. Festus Ezili is back, still a little raw but looks to be the strong backup needed to spell Bogut. He'll get better as the season progresses. The Splash brothers will do what the do best, score. Klay will defend, so will Igudala. Harrison Barnes will have an improved season, starting now instead of Igudala - a smart move by a smart young coach. Green is "a ton of heart" kind of player every team needs. Two fabulous additions make the Warriors much stronger this year: Shaun Livingston, a solid backup pt guard and strong defender and Barbossa, the Brazilian Flash, as back-up for Thompson. The Flash can defend and score and he'll get easy baskets with break out speed. And finally there's Mister Consistency, David Lee, at the power forward whose performance will determine the difference between close games and blowouts.

As the cliche goes, all the pieces are in place and the first three games of the 14/15 NBA season is proving me right. 3-0, not a bad start. Is Klay Thompson worth the $70 mil? You bet. However, it will be fascinating to see how the Warriors handle the cap after next season. But that's decades from now, so why worry?

Here are my predictions and a few comments. Predictions depend on the teams' crucial players remaining injury free. For example, Bogut and the flash brothers must remain healthy for the team to reach the finals. Rose has to stay healthy for once for the Bulls and Kyre Irving of the Cavs must be injury free all year.

Warriors vs San Antonio for the Western Conference.

Cavalier vs Chicago Bulls for the Eastern Conference.

My surprise teams are the Kings and Dalles (with Tyson Chandler back in the post and Parsons, a great pickup from Houston) in the west. Since I live in Sacramento, I root for the Kings unless they're playing the Warriors. In the past I've disparaged DeMarcus Cousins, but for two out of the first three games, he's been playing under control, trying to be an All-Star. Good for him, if he can pull it off, since there's no question he's a force. The addition of Darren Collison will make a huge difference in stability - already proving true. And Rudy Gay is playing like the Rudy Gay of his Memphis years, although he continues to be a bit of a "ball stopper."

No surprises in the East unless you count Brooklyn and that will depend on Lopez staying healthy, an iffy proposition. I do believe Milwaukee will put up a much better showing than expected. Some folks are talking Charlotte, but in my opinion they hurt themselves by signing a headcase like Lance Stevenson. All in all, the East looks weak.

The emotions the following poem by Phillip Raisor evokes are wonderfully surreal about all sports. Sports lovers should get his book of poems entitled Headhunting and Other Poems about Sports from Turning Point Press.

The Photo-Finish Archive

The Tie

A cortisone injection after a blind-side hit
A blonde flashing the benched tight-end
A camera malfunctioning at the finish line
A free fall out of a sputtering stunt plane
A  knock-down with eight seconds left

The Defeat

When a voice is like a Malaysian caning
When your stomach is industrial waste
When numbness is your favorite color
When your mind is the scene of an accident
When remembering is today's exercise

The Victory

All at once you can speak five languages
All at once Mary Magdalene is at your feet
All at once you have sympathy for roadkill
All at once you own the secret of alchemy
All at once you are the Big Bang all at once. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why the shock?

It's time to take a step back from the recent problems facing sports and look at our society in general: Americans use drugs of all kinds. Americans drink, many to access, some to maintain, others minimally to socialize. A surprisingly high percentage of American men -  mostly whites, blacks, and Latinos - physically abuse their women, not to mention verbally abuse them. Many Americans are still racially prejudice.

So why are we shocked when our sports stars succumb to the same failures as the general population of the country?

Because they, like movie stars, are our nation's heroes? Is that a good enough reason?

Professional sports teams have a responsibility to clean up their organizations, (No tolerance? You bet!) but so do NBC, Exxon, Walmart, the neighborhood plumbing company, high schools, colleges, YMCA's, grocery store chains, the military, the United States Congress, and all churches.

The egregious acts of abuse and prejudice of some of our pro athletes, administrators, and owners only point to a national ethical and moral failure. We better get with it, folks. This is a wake-up call.
We can't sleep through another generation of children. With the very first breath of air, children should learn:

Men do NOT physically ABUSE women.
                                                             Drugs and booze are CRAP.
                                                                                                           Racial prejudice is EVIL.

How sad writing this blog left me. Sportsmen should be better than this, a cut above. There in lies the rub. We're not. Charles Barkley had it right when he said (I'm paraphrasing), he didn't ask to be any one's moral compass. So that just leaves the sport, the act of playing, how we athletes are purified by the noble acts of our bodies.

It doesn't get more pure than running. Here's a poem about the simple physical pleasure of a boy running the bases.

            By Richard Wilbur

1. 1933
(North Caldwell, New Jersey)

What were we playing? Was it prisoner's base?
I ran with whacking keds
Down the cart-road past Rickard's place,
And where it dropped beside the tractor-sheds

Leapt out into the air above a blurred
Terrain, through jolted light,
Took two hard lopes and at the third
Spanked off a hummock-side exactly right,

And made the turn, and with delighted strain
Sprinted across the  flat
By the bull-pen, and up the lane.
Thinking of happiness, I think of that.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prejudice Deep in the Soul

The first  published comment attributed to Danny Ferry seemed to me a tasteless and mean-spirited attack against  Luol Deng. But, today, I read Ferry's entire comment describing Deng as someone who "has a little African in him (sic) "He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."

As an NBA player (retired) who traveled extensively in North and West Africa and made tons of wonderful African friends, I was horrified. This was no longer a slam against Deng the person, but against Deng, the African and, by not so subtle implication, all Africans and all descendants of people from Africa.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject of racial prejudice, but my experience over my adult years leads me to believe that once one is prejudice against a race, it is damn hard to nearly impossible to rid oneself of the prejudice (This may or may not be true of all types of prejudice against religions, women, gays). Certainly, Ferry's prejudice will not disappear after a couple of months of "personal healing" as  Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koomin suggests.

Not only is Danny Ferry's prejudice disgusting, it is also steeped in ignorance of Africa and the African people The continent of Africa is divided into many countries that are made up of many races. Of the races that are Negroid, there are hundreds of different tribes exhibiting hugely different cultural and social constructs. I am sure there are a great number of psychological factors that create a racially prejudiced person, but Ferry's ignorance of Africa is proof that stupidity is one of those factors.

I wonder how all my African-American friends and fellow NBA players feel about Ferry's comment, for surely they all have "a little bit of  African in them." Just as all my Irish-American friends have a little bit of Irish in them, and being a Russian-American, I have a little bit of Russians (not to mention Tatar) in me.

Danny, you need to take a couple of years off, not a couple of months off, and go live in Africa among people whose live are no less worthy than your own.

I know one thing for certain, if I was a black player for the Atlanta Hawks I would not trust Danny Ferry or any person he hired. And based on CEO Koonin's slap on the wrist discipline of Ferry (long process of healing, my buttinski) I would not trust him either.

Bottom line: there is no room for prejudice in the NBA.

Speaking of Africa, here's a poem from my recent collection: Sweat: New and Selected Poems About Sports. 

In the Summer of  1963, 64, and 65 working for the United States Information Agency, I traveled to a  number of West African Countries to coach their basketball teams. I returned in the fall and winter of 1983.

Liberia, 1963

For Enid Buchanan

I remember thinking back that this was  country 
of hot dog stands and transistor radios playing 
rock and roll, and that the palm trees must have been
imported from Los Angeles, and the tin roofs
were like umbrellas over a beach of slums,
with open sewers, and the streetlights in Monrovia 
worked only if the spirit moved them and evil spirits
were at work to make the poor poorer and the rich richer

But, what the hell, I was young and in love 
in this land of poverty with one of the rich girls,
with a beautiful set-shot, who played on the Women's 
National Basketball Team. Her house was like the one
in the movie Mogambo, white pillars, wrap-around
veranda. Her father was the Secretary of the Treasury.
Much later, back in the States, already retired
from the NBA, I read that her father  had been shot
along with others by Sergeant Doe and his gang.
I refused to believe she too had been shot,
so I told myself that she'd escaped and was living
in Switzerland on the money her father had embezzled
from his poor country and that she was still beautiful.