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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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't Do It.

A while back, Coach Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs said of the Spurs' policy regarding player acquisition: we don't take head cases or problem children. Listen carefully Sacramento Kings as you consider trading for Josh Smith. You already have a problem child, a large brooding, frowning one, in Demarcus Cousins. He is indeed a great talent and worth the risk you took signing him to big bucks. But, if you're smart, you'll do your best to surround him with emotionally stable teammates. Josh Smith does not fit that definition, a high school kid drafted into the NBA, his prior coaches never schooled him, never matured him, never provided him with the guidance.

So many years into the league, I'm afraid Smith's game is not going to change. Can the Kings' coaches stop him from pumping up ill advised 3's? Can the Kings' coaching staff make him a consistent defender and shot blocker and rebounder. I'm not impressed with 7.5 career boards a game and 1.5 blocked shots a game. He pouts and in some games he disappears. Enough said. Listen to Pop. I know the Kings need more at the power forward position. I get it. But the Kings say you want to change the culture. Smith will not help the Sacramento Kings do that.

Once again, let me weigh in on the Warriors hopes for acquiring Kevin Love. Barnes and Lee and a first round draft choice make sense to me. But the Warriors will lose too much if they add Klay Thompson to the package. A franchise can't trade away a backcourt of Curry and Thompson that is the envy of the their opponents and their opponents' biggest headache.  Every team's first consideration and consternation when playing the Warrriors is how to deal with the SPLASH BROTHERS. If you add Love to that powerful duo, the headache becomes a migraine. Eliminate Thompson and add Love, and things just return to headache mode. I grant that Love will add a defensive rebounding component to the Warriors that would help, but with the absence of Thompson the team loses an important backcourt defender, and the way the league looks today, controlling backcourt penetration is essential.

I saw in this morning's sports news that Bill Russell fainted while on a speaking tour. Let's pray this is not serious and Bill will be back on his feet soon entertaining people with his wit and intelligence. Here's a poem I wrote for Bill from my recent collection of poems.

Bill Russell

Once, in a poem I call him an eagle
with a bread. I was young and the poem
held promise that the writer might improve.
I always liked the image. It asked
the reader to see Bill with slightly stooped
shoulders, long feathery arms and talons
hovering above the paint protecting it 
like his nest intruders entered at their peril.
His beard was dark as was he, a shadow
that darkened our attempts to score.

I am older. As is he. I saw him recently
on TV still an eagle, giving an interviews
and tried picturing him as something else
and couldn't. I found it comforting
to think I got him right so many years ago,
that now, so close to both our dying
I hoped for the Hindu afterlife, Russell
as a real eagle. Then,came a troubling
thought, given what happened on the court,
catching us by surprise, the way he did,
appearing our of nowhere to slap our shots
away, what would our reincarnation be?  

  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

KISS

I'm going to Keep It Simple Stupid: The San Antonio Spurs' surgically precise dismemberment of the Miami Heat showed the rest of the NBA exactly how the modern pro game should be played. That even within the 24 second rule, there is no need to panic and go one on one, that there is plenty of time for the extra third or fourth pass.

The Spurs did a lot to bring back basketball fans, who have complained so often that they are tired of watching the selfish play of overpaid superstars bent on enhancing their egos. I do find such criticism a touch too harsh, but there's truth there the NBA and its teams need to take to heart. There's excitement and beauty and sportsmanship in a selfless game.

Even though the Spurs showed it could be done, I'm still lobbying for increasing the 24 second time limit to 30 seconds. Bound to get more passing if that happens. Inshallah.

Kudos to the U.S. soccer team for beating Ghana. With Alditore down, I bet the coach wishes he'd kept Landon Donavon on the team. Still think that soccer would be more exciting if they did away with or tweeked the off-side rule. I remember back to my days on the court. One guard was always responsible for seeing that no one cherry picked.

I'm finding it difficult to find a good soccer poem and I'm tired of basketball poems of which there are plenty to choose from. So as my son-in-laws are off fishing these days in the Sierras, here's a fishing poem that is both about romance and fishing, not that the two go together.

Catch  by  Ethna McKiernan

I imagine us dancing, a Mexican ballroom somewhere
(anything instead of fishing)
In faded, per-war elegance, tropically flowered wallpaper
(jigs, flies, speckled lures and mr. twisters)
Drooping lushly like the evening sea-breeze
(damn the wind, they won't bite now)
And you in sailor whites - a tuxedo, if I blur my eyes
(black, shiny, slimy leeches, grubs, chubs, fathheads. . . )
The band plays 40's swing, a dark man croons "Darling"
(I'm a rapid oxidizer." you announce, sweat streaming down your nose)
"Darling, Take My Heart. . . "
(walleye, pike, sunstroke, crappies)
And my red dress spins faster as you lift me off the floor
(jesus christ, a four pounder)
Its ruffled hem streaming round my knees
(landed)
Like a school of tiny iridescent fish
(darling, take my heart)
You sing at last.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Western Conference Championship and a small etc.

Part of me was trying to support my wife's Oklahoma roots by cheering for the Thunder. But the roots of my basketball psyche exalted when the Spurs won. I like the Thunder. They're a talented bunch of players, but it seems to me that they relied way too much on their athleticism and not enough on strategy. The Spurs understood that athleticism will not prevail unless there is a consistent strategy that will allow for your team to stay in the game if speed and attacking stops working. By strategy, I'm not talking about defense. Both teams played D damn well and bruisingly hard. In the end, the Thunder's propensity to rely on the quick shot, quick attack didn't work as well as the Spurs patient three to five pass patient attack. Is this Scott Brook's fault? To a certain degree, yes. He decided to use all his attack players at the same time. Guys like Sefolosha and Collison, reliable journey men, disappeared from the rotation. By the fourth quarter, he'd made his bed, and had to lie in it -  and pull the covers up over his head.

ETC: What the FBI was thinking approaching Phil Mickelson at the Memorial? Were they intentionally trying to rattle him while he was participating in a golf tournament?  That is such a cheap shot. I can't imagine when I was playing in the NBA, what something like that, FBI agents coming into the locker room or to my hotel room before a game, would have done to my concentration. I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't have been able to go out on the court and play at the right level. So, unless the news article was incorrect, the FBI owes Lefty an apology, but I don't suppose the men in gray do a lot of that.  Phil, let's hope you're not an inside trader. If you are/were, as an athlete you should have known better. Athletes don't cheat.

The World Cup is soon upon us from Brazil, the home of the greatest soccer (football) player that ever was, Pele. I remember watching him in a match in North Africa when I was on a coaching trip in the summer of 1965. The bicycle kick? You've all heard of it, but Pele, in that match, did it the opposite way, somersaulting forward and kicking the ball into the goal with the back of his heel. Insane move.

Here's a poem about soccer

A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball  by   Christopher Merrill

   after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back,
   to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding
   it on his thigh, as he twists
around in a circle, until it rolls
   down the inside of his leg,
like a tickle of sweat, not catching
   and tapping on the soft
side of his foot, and juggling
   once, twice, three times,
hopping on one foot like a jump-roper
   in the gym, now  trapping
and holding the ball in midair,
   balancing it on the instep
of his weak left foot, stepping forward
   and forward and back, then
lifting it overhead until it hangs there
   and squaring off his body,
he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge
   of his neck, heading it
from side to side, softer and softer,
   like a dying refrain,
until the ball, slowing, balances
   itself on his hairline,
the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes
   as he jiggles this way
and that, then flicking it up gently,
   hunching his shoulders
and tilting his head back, he traps it
   in the hollow of his neck
and bending at the waist, sees his shadow,
   his dangling T-shirt, the bent
blades of brown grass in summer heat;
   and relaxing the ball slipping
down his back . . . and missing his foot.

   He wheels around, he marches
over the ball, as f it were a rock
   he stumbled into, and pressing
his left foot against it, he pushes it
   against the inside of his right
until it pops into the air, is heeled
   over his head - the rainbow! -
and settle on his extended thigh before
   rolling over his knee and down
his shin, so he can juggle it again
   from his left foot to his right foot
- and right foot to left foot to thigh -
   as he wanders, on the last day
of summer, around the empty field.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Analytics and etc

When I was a 3rd grader, my teacher at Grant Elementary School in San Francisco, Mrs. Rosen, lined all of her students at the chalk board (yes, real black chalk boards) and had us do addition and subtraction problems that she called out to us in her gruff voice to write on the board. She would time us, then walk down the line observing our figures. If a student got a problem wrong, she'd take her hand, gently place it on the back of his or her head and slam said tiny head hard into the chalkboard. Ouch! That's me, yelling as I inevitably did my sums wrong. From those days on, I have never been good at math or any subject related to mathematics.

Which leads me to the subject of analytics in basketball. It's math. Okay, so it's statistics. That's just math in disguise. I've done some research, and I guess I get it. Useful, but only in the right hands. By that I mean in the hands of people who have the sport in their blood and can "see" "feel" a player's skill and enthusiasm for the game. If it were up to me, evaluating a player, I would only take into account how that player performs in the fourth quarter of tight games, in playoff/championship games (high school, college, or pro). I've seen too many players in the NBA who play well in the first three quarters and disappear in the crucial fourth.

And, I would definitely pay as much attention to my instincts as to the analytics. For example, I don't need stats to tell me that Carmelo  Anthony, no matter what he does, will never be a winner. And I don't need stats to know young Kawhi Leanard of the Spurs, not nearly as gifted as Carmelo, will always be a winner.

The ETC

Stick Aldon Smith in jail for a year, so he can sober up and meditate on how close he is to losing his chance to live the decent life of an athlete. It's high time high schools, colleges and the pros start practicing Tough Love.

While the NBA playoffs are exciting, let's not forget there's a good chance the State of California might soon have a Triple Crown winner, in California Chrome.

Here's a little poem about horses: A traditional Navajo song.

My horse has a hoof like a striped agate
His fetlock is like a fine eagle plume.
His legs are like quick lightning
My horse has a tail like a trailing black cloud.
The Holy Wind moves through his hair

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Steve Kerr

Congratulations to the Warriors for selecting a smart basketball mind to replace Mark Jackson, who I never thought possessed a particularly smart basketball mind, not dumb by any means, but nothing that had me standing up on the edge of my seat like the cartoon movie critic, clapping and cheering.

 Jackson did a good job for the Warriors, but good is not excellent. As a retired English teacher, I'd give Jackson a solid B. However, what the Warriors need is a coach who will earn an A. Kerr might be that guy.

I only hope that Coach Kerr understands the significance of Coach Phil Jackson's choice of assistant coaches when Phil started his first season with the Chicago Bulls by wisely selecting Tex Winters and Johnny Bach, two of the brightest basketball coaches in the business with tons of roundball experience.

I've already used this excerpt from a longer poem by Edward Hirsch, but I'll use it again, since it is profound and is at the heart of good coaching.

". . . a constellation of  players
Shinning under his favorite word,
Execution . . . "