Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The draft

Fantasy football by all accounts has become a very popular byproduct of the NFL season. I've never participated and, on the contrary, have found it peculiar to see people with computers in sports bars each Sunday cheering not for the Cowboys or Patriots in a game, but for both Tony Romo--a quarterback for the Cowboys, and Aaron Hernandez a tight end for the Patriots. 

Romo might throw a beautiful pass and the receiver goes out of bounds on the one yard line. Certainly the Cowboys will score. This will, nevertheless, disappoint a fan who appears to be rooting for the Cowboys because the fan does not "have the Cowboys" but "has Romo." When a running back takes the ball in for a touchdown on a subsequent play, the fantasy football fan loses credit for the score because Romo did not pass the ball into the end zone.

I still don't get either the enthusiasm or the nuances of the day game rules, but last night I attended a fantasy football league draft which was an interesting event. 

I'm not sure how universal this scene is, but I suspect that there are commonalities.  On the far side of a Cheers-like tavern, a group of players sit around with long sheets of paper on clipboards awaiting the start of the draft.  The sheets contain lists of quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, and kickers.  These guide the team "owners" when it is their turn to select a player for their team. 

The commissioner of this league was a big fellow with a more sad than comical case of plumber's pants apparent to every person in the joint except, you'd like to think, him.  He sat in front of a large sheet of paper that was taped down to a table.  There were about twenty men and women ready to make their picks. When the commissioner announced that the draft began, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady were picked nearly instantly.  The commissioner wrote down the draft picks on the huge sheet.  Then announced that "Bill and Shirley" were up. 

My pal who I accompanied as an assistant of sorts, did not pick until 7th.  When it came his/our turn both Drew Brees and Cam Newton were still available. We huddled and he took Newton.  There were some "good pick"s murmered by the others around the table. In the second round my friend had a chance to take the Bills running back Fred Jackson and he scooped him up. When we did so, a woman with a Bills shirt on wailed since she intended to take Jackson with the very next pick.  We were able to get Aaron Hernendez in the third round. 

After six rounds I had had it.  Perhaps if I played fantasy football on a regular basis I could get into this more, but the draft was to go 16 rounds and I knew I was cooked.  What I did enjoy watching was the enthusiasm of the players. They were very much into this draft--happy when they got the player they wanted and disappointed when someone else landed the player before their turn.  The commissioner ordered a slew of bar food appetizers for the players--nachos, sliders, chili dogs, pizza--real heartburn specials--and these platters were strewn along the long table where the drafters perused their lists.

As I wrote in the Madness of March, I think that it is a good thing for people to invest their emotional energy in some thing.  That fantasy football has taken off as it has would only be a negative if it had a detrimental effect on the game itself.  I'm not sure it does. I think fantasy football players can root both for their teams, and the players they have selected for the fantasy pool.  The gambling issue is not that significant. Players kick in 50 dollars at the start of the season, and the winner at the end wins the pot (minus the cost, I assume, for the chili dogs and pizza). 

Still, I think I will stick to my allegiance to the New England Patriots and not worry about how, say, Fred Jackson is doing for the Bills.  Patriots have their last pre season game tonight.  The NFL season opens in a week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

salad man

I'm reading a book now called Lucky Bruce, an autobiography by the writer, Bruce Jay Friedman.   I'm only a third through it, but I came across a section that made me laugh outloud drawing some curious looks from other patrons in the library where I sit.  Had they known what made me laugh and what notions it conjured up I think the looks would have been more scornful than serious.

The author is referring to his first wedding at which he was, as it turned out, appropriately--apprehensive since the marriage ended in divorce.  He writes:  "Before the ceremony, I recall charging down the halls of the hotel in a rented tuxedo, in a last minute search for some wise individual to advise me.  I was finally reduced to asking the salad man if he felt I was making a mistake."

(Since I am sitting in the library of the Culinary Institute of America, I am thinking that my loud laugh might have made patrons in the know think I was knocking the careers of salad men and women).

The line in the book amused me as the image, to me at least, is pretty funny.  But I also found it engaging because it reminded me of two people I knew who were "salad men" and two episodes that have stuck in my head for over forty years about them.

I, like many, worked as I was going through school as a waiter in various situations.   My first such stint was at a summer camp.  Compared to waiting jobs I had subsequently, this was easy work.  The kids stacked the dishes at the end of the meal; there was no real ordering as every kid got the same meal that had been made for the entire dining hall.,

In the back of the dining hall there was a kitchen where the chefs toiled, a baker baked, the dishwashers shvitzed, and the salad man made the salads.  Jimmy was the salad man.  The drill was you picked up the rolls from the baker the salad from Jimmy, and then waited in line to get the main dishes in the steamy kitchen.

Right in beginning of his stint as salad man, there was a day when green salad was on the menu.  Usually that meant that the salad man tossed greens and tomatoes in a huge bowl and we brought the concoction out to the campers.  This time Jimmy had gone to great efforts.  He had made individual salads for the kids that looked terrific. Each one with some cubed tomatoes and sliced cucumbers.  Well, this was a big hit for the campers.  However, the frugal owner/kitchen boss took one look at the salads and said, "we can't do that, here."  What she meant was that typically the whole table gets two tomatoes, not each kid.

Jimmy had this proud look on his kisser when he displayed his efforts.  That face sagged a bit when he was not credited for his industry and, essentially, scolded.  After that, Jimmy essentially drop kicked potato salad, cole slaw--whatever the greens were for the day into a bowl.  He had lost his enthusiasm, in much the same way I have seen and heard of workers lose their enthusiasm for innovation when a supervisor insensitively discourages the effort.

The second story regarding salad men just made me snort--as it typically does-as I thought about it once again.  I was now working in a hotel in the Catskills.  A fellow came to work there and called himself "A salad man".  This guy was no salad man.  He was a denizen of the Bowery who had somehow snookered the owner into thinking he had some culinary training.  He made a few salads that did not amount to much when the steward told him he was done as a salad man.  If he wanted to he could work the dishwasher.  Indignantly, this man who was likely more at home with a bottle of wine than a head of lettuce, remarked very loudly. "I am a salad man. That is my profession."  Well, after this speech, the next thing I knew he was washing dishes and seemed more comfortable and I thought not even aware that moments  before he had declared himself a salad man.

I've wondered today about why these two incidents came into my consciousness when I read the excerpt from the book.  In the first case, I think it is because of how the enthusiasm for excelling can be and often is doused.   It is the expression on the "salad man" in the second memory which, when accompanied by his ridiculous but adamant assertion "I am a salad man" that I see so clearly.  I guess if you say you are a salad man loud enough and long enough you can believe you are a salad man even if you know from nothing about salads.  In the kitchen it is relatively easy to remove a fraud's mask.  And then the dance may be over and you go on to be a dishwasher. In other occupations, even the professions, I think people can go a long way by declaring themselves a teacher, lawyer, a shrink, a doctor..before they have to acknowledge who they really are.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


A few weeks ago, I heard a local sports broadcaster wail and whine on topics related to the Red Sox.  After what seemed like a series of losses, the announcer opined that what the Red Sox needed was a mass team enema.

Interesting image that.  Purge the system of waste and start with a cleansed system.

Well, it seems as if the Red Sox brass thought similarly.  Yesterday, the Red Sox traded the pitcher they thought would be the ace of the staff--Josh Beckett- the hitter they thought would be a sure fire booster to the offense--Adrian Gonzalez--and an outfielder who the former general manager believed would steal bases and make catches appropriate for a speedster--Carl Crawford.  None of these three players had played to expectations. In addition. several insiders commented that Beckett and Gonzalez were problems in the clubhouse.

This is about as close to a team enema as one could imagine. These three players all were earning mega dollars and now they are gone.  Two other players of similar stature have been put on waivers, which means that they too may be departing the team.

Will the Red Sox be better, in the short term, with substitutes playing.  The stars were not delivering--pitching, hitting, or defending--as expected. They were not leading the team on or off the field.  It will be interesting to see how the players remaining react. Last night the team, sans stars, won 4-3.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Red Sox Omega

Before the beginning of the 2011 baseball season an article was written in the Boston Globe that essentially guaranteed that the Red Sox would win the World Series in October.  The article went through the opening day line-up and pitching staff and concluded, as if asking rhetorically--hands splayed and palms opened--"who could beat such a team."

For most of the 2011 season, the Red Sox were the best team in baseball. But then, a year ago, the team disintegrated--just began to lose in a way that was difficult to believe.  Somehow they squandered an insurmountable lead, and found themselves out of the playoffs.  The owners fired the manager, vowed to make changes, and resurrect the team that would be king.

This year, the Red Sox have not recovered.  And the wizards on the airwaves are shmoozing about why.  An issue that keeps surfacing is a lack of communication.  Another is clubhouse discontent.  The manager is cited as not being able to get the most out of players. The pitching coach has been fired.  Talk is that the manager is soon to follow.

As I drove back from the grocery store an hour ago, I heard another announcer wail about problems in communication and the fact that there just isn't cohesion among the players.

The reason the Red Sox are not winning has not much to do with communication or lack of cohesion.  I am a big proponent of the importance of communication and a positive team culture, but that is not the reason the Red Sox are--to use an expression my mother and father are wont to use--"from hunger."

The reason the Red Sox have gone from presumptive alpha to incontrovertible omega is because their players are not playing well, and many are injured.  Josh Becket, the ace of the pitching staff, is just pitching poorly.  Every game he gets rocked early. Jon  Lester, the second best pitcher on the team, has had a poor year as well, losing as often as he is winning.  So, the top two pitchers are not only not "stoppers" but not stopping anybody. (A "stopper" is a pitcher who can stop a losing streak, by pitching excellently and therefore ending a team slump before it gains momentum).

The best hitter on the team is out with a hamstring injury and has been so out since mid July. A shmeggeggi who was having a decent year got mad at himself after making an out during July so he smashed his hand into the clubhouse door, breaking it to put him out for the season. A zillionaire left fielder came back late and promptly showed that he was still injured and recently went out for surgery. The team traded its reliable third basemen so that a young phenom can play. As soon as the trade was made, the phenom showed himself to be quite ordinary and then had his hand broken a week or so ago.

The reason the Sox are losing is because they could not beat the Bad News Bears with the lineup they have. It is not about communication problems; it's because the catcher is not batting his weight, the cleanup hitter should be batting sixth, the third basemen is a 27 year old minor league pick up, and the pitchers could not strike out my paternal grandmother--now deceased since 1966.

It is amusing to listen to radio announcers blame the manager.   Casey Stengel once quipped that he got very smart once Mantle and Maris started hitting homeruns in the early 1960s.  Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox manager, would be Einstein if Beckett and Lester pitched like we thought they could and if David Ortiz was not injured.  If that were to occur, the communication in the clubhouse would be just grand.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

If all the paragraphs in this 700 plus page book that dealt with making, going for, or drinking coffee were eliminated then it would be about one hundred pages shorter.  Also, the author, Stieg Larsson, might have removed several of the detectives from the story as many were peripheral at best (superfluous at worst) and I was derailed occasionally by the sheer number of Swedish surnames necessary to recall.  To make matters more complicated the author varies when referring to the sleuths by their first or last names and, to boot, gives two of the more prominent detectives, nicknames.

That written, The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, is a genuine page turner and more so than its more well known predecessor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I had read about half of Fire intermittently while travelling last weekend. When I returned yesterday and still on vacation, I began reading the rest and did not get up from my chair on the deck until I completed it. I like to read but I raced through about three hundred pages yesterday.  It is indicative of the allure of the story that  this morning I went to the library to get the final novel of the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

I have not read much about Larsson, but it is clear certainly from this second book that he is a champion of women's rights and the need for society to be more sensitive to how women are mistreated by their mates and alleged guardians.  Fire is a powerful story in this way. It might be a bit offputting to some that many of the men on both sides of the law are bad guys, and none of the women characters have serious moral flaws. Yet I found the book to be powerful and likely empowering to any group that has been subjugated by cultural tolerance for reprehensible behavior.

This is not great literature and as I have written above, it was almost comical towards the end how every scene had to involve some reference to getting coffee.   But it will keep you sitting in your chair. A good book to take to the beach.  Bring the sunscreen.

Monday, August 20, 2012


On the morning after the reunion last Saturday night, a number of us gathered in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It is a testament to the success of the previous night's shindig, that many more people came to the breakfast than had been anticipated.  We essentially commandeered the entire restaurant moving tables around so that it was almost impossible for the good hearted waitress to navigate the rest of the place.

The breakfast was as much fun as the party.  Lots of pictures, stories, and laughter.  One fellow leans over to me and asks me who such and such was. When I tell him, he says to the woman, I know I know you and we must have had a class together but I can't quite place it.  In a graduating class of 700 plus, it would not be uncommon to be fuzzy about who is who, even for those who have good long term memory.  The woman's response brought on some laughter.  "Uh, Paul", she said, "you lived around the corner from me and we rode the bus to school together for years."

After we emptied the breakfast buffet and all coffee in the hotel, we went out to a gazebo by the pool, where the breakfasters took some more photos. Then we were off.  A group suggested we go and take a walk by the old Plainview town park.  By the time my buddy Kenny and I got there, the group had dispersed, but the two of us enjoyed watching some basketball games on a court where we both had played often, and hearing what seemed like the same guys curse profusely as they played handball nearby.

We got in the car to return, I depressed the clutch, put the standard in reverse and backed up from my spot in the mostly empty parking lot.  Then, for an instant, I could not get the car out of reverse.  I stopped the car, shut down the engine, and started again,--still stuck in reverse.  Eventually Kenny suggested that I go in reverse for a few yards to see if it would unlock. And it did.  Easily I was able to shift, to first, and then through all the gears and we headed back.

Sometime at four this morning when recollections of the weekend were cascading through my head, I thought about that moment and the notion that there was a metaphor in there somewhere.  If you were inclined, or allowed yourself to, one could get stuck after such a weekend in reverse.  It was nourishing and joyous to be there for the weekend and when we do this again in five years, I will be there again.  But I think it is important to make sure you move forward again, once the weekend is over.  For nearly everyone or everyone who was there this weekend such forward motion will not be a problem. The partiers were for the most part very happy and successful, revelling in the past, but able to realize that it is our backdrop not the present.  Yet still, I think the moment in the parking lot was a good metaphor, for us all. Have to be careful not to be stuck in reverse.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

High School Reunion

Last night, a bunch of we baby boomers gathered and shmoozed about our fifth grade teachers, teenage cavorting, and the evolution of our lives.  I've been to these reunions before and am now used to it, but when I first attended I was surprised at how friendly even peripheral acquaintances were, and how much fun it was to spend an evening in the past.

Some folks who have not been coming to previous ones were there last night; one woman made the trek to suburban NY from Alaska, and several others came from the left coast.

Usually when I go anywhere now, hand held smart phones are omnipresent and you cant seem to have a conversation with anyone without people yanking out their mini computers to check on who might have reached them.  Last night the only times I saw one of those gizmos was when a buddy checked on the Jets/Giants score, and at another time when we were trying to remember the first name of one of our former teachers.

The list of the dead, very predictably, has not gotten any shorter.  A fellow who, very ironically always appears to be happy and up prepares this list each time we gather.  At the end of the night I was glancing at it and was startled to read about those who have passed in the last few years.  There were photos of clustered reunioners being taken all night. At one point a photo was taken of a group of us where the list and paper was in the picture.  One of the women in our crew insisted on another shot, where the list was not in evidence.

For the most part the people who attend these soirees are in good spirits and have sweet tales to tell about how they have evolved. It is a joy to listen to them talk, without pretention (often minimizing) professional and personal accomplishments.  A highlight last night was bumping into a couple who had met in 10th grade, married, and have stayed together with their many children and grandchildren over years spanning the Johnson and Obama administrations.

It seems to me to be a healthy thing now and again to stop your weekly patterns and place your life and activities in the context of your history.  For me these reunions not only are opportunities to reconnect and allow inaccurate but lingering perceptions of others dissolve, but also as a fuel for healthy introspection.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Johnny Pesky

If a player at Fenway Park hits a homer that barely makes it out near the right field foul line, an announcer--almost invariably--will say that the ball was hit around the Pesky pole.

It was before my time, but Johnny Pesky--a former Red Sox player--was well known for curling homers around that pole and touching them all--an expression for the uninitiated that means circling the bases after hitting a home run. So now the right field pole at Fenway Park is called the Pesky pole.

Yesterday, Johnny Pesky passed away at the age of 92.  It is an indication of how pervasive sport is to our society that even in a big city like Boston, the number one news story on the all-news-all-the-time radio station here, has been about the death of Johnny Pesky.  The Republicans have announced Mitt Romney's running mate, there have been a series of murders in the city, the economy, local, national, and international is in a precarious state, but the number one story for at least several hours this morning was about the death of Johnny Pesky.

In today's Boston Globe there were pictures of fans, half the age of Pesky, who spoke about him as if he had been a personal chum of those who were interviewed.  Broadcasters were asked to relay their favorite Johnny Pesky story. A major sports writer for the Globe dedicated his column today to the passing of this icon.  Sport is so central to our society that a person who we know only from the sports pages can be mourned as if he was a beloved uncle.

 I remember several years ago after a Boston manager was fired that I walked into my health club and by the time I had gotten to the locker room three acquaintances asked me "if I had heard the news"  Already in August the locker room is abuzz with worried discussions about whether the "line will be able to protect Tom".  This is shorthand for whether the New England Patriots offensive line will be able to protect quarterback Tom Brady--Tom to those of us whom he would not know from a server in McDonalds.  In a furniture store on Sunday I was sporting a New England Patriots tee shirt.  A salesperson--not even the one attending to the purchase--said, "What do you think?"    The fitness trainer in the gym stopped me as I was leaving the other day wanting to know what I thought about the trade.  I knew he was referring to the basketball trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Celtics' rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Our teams and the players on them become part of our discourse in a way that few other current events do.  Johnny Pesky was a member of the family in Boston--even though you might never have met him 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hop, Skip, and Jump

What is now called the triple jump in Olympic competition was often called the hop, skip, and jump when I was a kid.

Yesterday at the conclusion of the men's basketball gold medal game I saw an Olympic hop, skip and jump of a different sort.  Near the end of the game, with the Americans up by nine points, Chris Paul made a nifty move to the basket leaving his defender behind him.  Paul drove and sank a spinning shot to put the US up by 11 with less than a minute to play.

At that point, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, hopped, skipped, and jumped into the air.  He knew that the Spaniards would be unable to come back from an eleven point deficit in the remaining time and his team had won the gold medal.

Coach Krzyzewski is often a subdued sort.  He has won four NCAA national titles. He began coaching at Duke more than thirty years ago and since then has earned a winning average close to .700 competing in the extraordinarily competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.    Most recently his Duke team won the national championship in 2010 holding off Cinderella Butler University.  Fans of college basketball will remember that  an earlier Duke team defeated a heavily talented and favored UNLV team in a semi final game before going on to win a national championship.  In 2008 Coach Krzyzewski led the Olympic team to a gold in Beijing as well.

If you have read this blog, you will see that I thought that the US team in this Olympics was outcoached in a number of games. What the hell do I know?  All Krzyzewski does is win.

So, you might think if a man just wins and wins and wins, he will not get excited about winning.  The hop, skip, and jump after Chris Paul's shot on Sunday suggests otherwise.  I think in these games, the pressure to win was enormous.  We were so talented that anything short of a gold medal would be a blemish on his record.  Yet, I think that the dance Krzyzewski did on Sunday reflects the excitement and importance of athletic competition.

After winning the games the US players hugged like long lost lovers..  The celebration had nothing to do with money. These players are all millionaires. There is no meaningful monetary incentive for winning the gold medal games.

Those who watched the games across the country probably did a hop, skip, and jump as well when Chris Paul made that shot.  Nothing tangible on the line for the spectators.  I have written before in this blog that our emotional energy fuels our enterprise.  When you start assessing behavior on the basis of what makes sense (often what makes dollars and cents) you are following the wrong track.  If you want to understand behavior, start with examining why the hop, skip, and jump is a natural reaction to winning a game for which there is no monetary compensation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Kevin Durant had thirty points.  Kobe Bryant shut down the main stud for Spain in the second half, and Chris Paul made a beautiful driving shot in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory. However, the player who was the essential component of the gold medal victory today was Lebron James.

This was an exciting contest.  Unlike the preceding games with the exception of the close Lithuania match, the US did not go on a run of three point shooting that pulled them away from their opponents.  This gold medal contest came down to a fourth quarter in which  Lebron James made the first basket, then another important driving slam dunk, and finally a three point shot with a seven footer in his face.

After the notorious "decision" broadcast, Lebron James was reviled.  His stock, for anyone who has followed these games, should be bullish today.

A shout out to Pao Gasol who played today like the class act he is.  Almost singlehandedly, Pao kept Spain in the game during the third quarter.  Had it not been for an inadvertent scraping around his eye which caused him to leave the game for a spell, the game might have had a different outcome.  But my sense is that as long as James did not foul out, the US was going to find a way to win.

Startling moment of this game was when Spain went to a box and one on Durant.  Some kind of respect for  Durant leaving James and Bryant relatively free. Doug Collins commented that he wondered if Kobe Bryant ever faced a box and one, when the one defender was not on him.

Another shout out to the Olympic basketball network which kept the cameras on the action throughout the games.

Friday, August 10, 2012

predictable pattern

The semi final game today between the US and Argentina has followed a predictable pattern.  The game was relatively close until two things occurred. (1) Lebron James demonstrated why he may be the best basketball player ever. (2) Players from the US hit, in rapid succession, three  point goals.

I did not like how this game started out. Manu Ginobli, a truly a great player, stole the tap and made a quick hoop. The US seemed to be caught off guard as if they had not thought how to play the tip.  Then the first half ended similarly. The US made a good play with 8 seconds remaining to score a basket, but seconds later they left Ginobli open at the buzzer for a three point shot.

The second half unravelled in a way that is very similar to how the preceding games, with the exception of Lithuania, played out.   The US opponents wore done some and then LeBron James made some moves to the basket which were nearly impossible to stop.  Doug Collins, the color man for the broadcast,  is now in his early 60s.  He opined that the Argentinian opponents had as much of a chance as he did of stopping Lebron James.

After LeBron James did what he does, then Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony went on a three point shooting burst.  Anthony--who did not have a good first half--hit three threes within a minute to put away the Argentinians.

The US played aggressive defense for the entire game, but still the opponents worked hard to get excellent looks and convert them.   Eventually, Argentinia succcumbed to greater talent.  I am not a big fan of hoisting up three point shots, but what do I know. The Americans have won using that approach throughout this tournament.  

Spain could be a different story. The two Gasols will provide an NBA level challenge. On the basis of what I have seen thus far, it is difficult to believe that the Americans will be cold for an entire game, but if they are--and the game comes down to an inside slow it down game, the Gold medal will be difficult to capture.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

one on one

The United States, moments ago, defeated Australia in the quarterfinals of the Olympic basketball tournament. Next up is Argentina, a team the US defeated on Monday.

Still, despite the victory and as I have written before, I think the US could be in jeopardy and has been outcoached.  Australia was in the game until the fourth quarter.  At one point during the third quarter in the game against Argentina Kevin Durant got hot and started hitting one three after another. Today, against Australia, it was Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter who hit three or four threes in a row during a stretch when the US created a lead that was insurmountable.

The Americans are playing one on one basketball. Their opponents, today Australia, are moving continuously in an attempt to free a player for a shot.  And they are often successful.  What happened today and what has happened throughout the tournament, is that the individual talent disparity between the US and the opponents is so glaring that eventually a scoring spree occurs from which the opponents cannot come back.

However, I do not like the way we are playing.  And against deeper teams like Russia or Spain and perhaps even Argentina despite Monday's game, I wonder if we will prevail.  So many open shots for the opponents. Each time the US comes down the court whoever has the ball goes one on one.  Eventually, that has to be a problem.

Even if we are to prevail in 2012, I think the US teams and coaches might benefit from seeing how these international opponents are moving the ball and freeing players for easy shots.

Also, it would be nice if a team composed of millionaires so enriched because of their basketball prowess, could make a free throw. The US missed ten of thirty two free throws today.  I know that when it really mattered I could hit mine. You're making a million dollars a year and playing for your country, make your free throws Messrs Love and Anthony and James.  I am inclined to give Lebron some slack as he has been the one consistent player in the tournament who has played big when the US needed it.

Next up, Argentina.  It would be sweet if we have an opportunity to play Russia in the Gold. Something attractive about having Doug Collins doing the play by play forty years after his team was robbed of Olympic Gold in 1972.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Argentina, like Lithuania, played the United States intelligently and tenaciously in the first half. The US led by only one point going into the intermission.

If you look at the score today you will see that the United States won by nearly thirty points.  The final is misleading.  Except for the third period when Kevin Durant and LeBron James played brilliantly, the game was close.

I'll write what I did after the Lithuania game. Some of our opponents seem to be better coached.  Offensively, Argentina was cutting and picking like a continuous motion machine.  Some of their shooters are every bit as good as American sharpshooters so if they are sprung free because of strategic picks and screens they can score easily.

On offense the US played and plays a lot of one on one basketball. Fortunately for those cheering for America the individual talent of the US players is greater than the individual talent of the opponents, with the exception perhaps of Manu Ginobli who is as good as anyone on the court.

The US players were selected mostly because of their offensive prowess. So far offense in spurts has been sufficient to defeat opponents who have moved better and played more intelligently. Doug Collins made a comment in yesterday's game that I think is right on.  What will win the gold for America is not the offense, but defensive intensity.  If the Americans play defense aggressively it will make up for cold spurts and will force opponents to work their schemes harder to get open shots.

I have watched basketball Olympics since 1960 when Jerry West and Oscar Robertson destroyed all opponents.  Fifty plus years later it is clear that Olympic basketball has become very competitive.  It is no guarantee that the US will win the Gold medal in these games.  And in future Olympics I think that basketball gold for the men will be even more meaningfully contested.  America will no longer be able to cherry pick twelve NBA players and assume that the skill level will exceed those from other countries or that skill levels themselves will be enough to defeat well drilled opponents.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Charlie H

Outside my office, on my route to go most places is a tree that has a plaque beneath it.  It reads "In Memory of our father, Charles H".  I'll leave out Charlie's last name here.

The placement of the plaque and the tree is such that I see that sign almost every day as I go and come from where I sit when I am not coming and going.  I knew Charlie, not real well, but when I first arrived at Northeastern he was in charge of room scheduling.  I would go to see him if I needed a different classroom for one reason or another.  He was also a regular racquetball player and, at that time, I was as well so I would see him as we got ready for our noon "lunch" matches.  Affable, humble, a young guy--maybe early thirties when I met him.

A few years after our initial encounters, I ran into another acquaintance and asked if Charlie was still in charge of scheduling. This fellow somberly told me that Charlie was "very sick." The way he said it, I knew that whatever he had would end his life prematurely.   I was not surprised when I read a notice in the internal university newspaper about his passing.

I can still see the guy clearly and it is his image that flashes into my consciousness whenever my beat takes me by that tree.  Sometimes, irrationally, I say "Hi Charlie" when I pass by.  Most times seeing the sign is a sobering reminder as he was such a young man when he succumbed.

So I wonder what Charlie might say to me from the base of that tree where the sign from his daughter sits.  "Seize the day" would be the short version, I am sure.  But more specifically, what would he say?  Play more racquetball? Eat good food?  Root for the home team?  I don't think he would waste his time with such suggestions.  I think he would talk about love and friendship.

 Find your true love, never let your true love go.  Never. Rule number one.

Stay close to your family. Flood them with affection.

Find time to spend with the friends who you know you can depend on and make sure they know they can depend on you.

Remember, we are all connected.

As I got ready for work this morning I turned on the Olympic basketball channel 930 on your comcast system--a concept, 930 channels, that Charlie H, could not have comprehended.  I was watching Tunisia play Lithuania and Tunisia, inexplicably was winning.  Eventually, they succumbed but for most of the game Lithuania who played the United States evenly on Saturday almost lost to Tunisia a team that had lost to the US by about thirty points.

When Lithuania played the US they laid it all out on the line. They played with emotion, intelligence, as if the forty minutes of the game had to be realized because afterwards, there would be no other opportunity to play with emotion and use its collective intelligence.  It was a brilliant display of basketball. Today, playing Tunisia, they did not bring it--until the end when they began to play with energy.

If Charlie H could talk to me each time I walk by his tree, I think he might say:  Listen up, there is no tomorrow. Play like Lithuania played against the US on Saturday and you will die without the regrets of someone who provided themselves with rationalizations to not give it all.

In his poem, "If", Rudyard Kipling wrote:  "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"

 I think Charlie H would never tire of reciting this line to every person who passed by his tree.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Coaching Lessons

The United States Olympic basketball team is coached by one of the greatest coaches of all time, Coach K.  His assistants are no slouches either.  Jim Boeheim who annually makes the Syracuse Orange contenders in the NCAA dance.  Mike D'Antonio who, despite his recent resignation from the Knicks, is a coach who made the Phoenix Suns winners and fun to watch for most of the preceding decade.

So, it was something to see today when Lithuania nearly beat a superior US team in "pool play."  As fond as I am of Coach K, Boeheim and D'Antonio, the Americans were outcoached.  Had it not been for LeBron James making superman shots at the end, our dream team would have succumbed to players who would not be able to start on any NBA team..

The Lithuanians played brilliantly. Packing the zone so tight that it was nearly impossible to drive, boxing out efficiently, running well, and probably most impressively, running an offense that often resulted in open looks which the players took advantage of.  The opponents shot over 50% for the game.  And I don't believe the US defense was bad as much as the Lithuanians played so cleverly.

The US did not come out asleep as they did against Tunisia.  Chris Paul was hustling as was Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest.  The big guy Tyson Chandler might have made some more foul shots and Love, an 82 per cent foul shooter, could not drop the ball in the ocean from the line.  However, the US came to play, but they were outplayed by a team that used its collective sechel better than the Americans. 

Very exciting basketball and fun to watch--if I had not been cheering for the home team.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Running it up

It seems as if Coach K is taking some heat for beating Nigeria by seventy points yesterday.

How to respond to such an accusation? What could the Americans have done to stop the differential from being so great? Should the Americans have done anything?

The answer is that the US could not have done anything more than what it did.

I watched the first quarter of the game when it seemed as if no player from the US could miss a three point shot.  The coach could not have put in weak benchwarmers, because on this team every player is an all star. Carmelo Anthony played less than 15 minutes and still scored thirty something points. 

Should the players have not played hard? If you have ever played the game you know that if you do not try hard you can, in fact, get injured when playing opponents who are working relentlessly regardless of their talent level.

Two things the Americans could have done were to stop pressing and not go for fast break baskets unless they really had no other choice.  I have not seen the whole game, but I understand that the Americans did in fact stop pressing and breaking after the first half. 

You can't tell players to miss shots.  If you don't take threes, then you are taking twos. Twos are easier to make than threes, so by driving to the hoop or pulling up for short shots you run the risk of being perceived as running it up.

Basketball does not have a mercy rule like little league baseball.  The US and Coach K could not bring people from the stands into play. The weakest player on the team was the first pick of the NBA draft.

It might be time to substitute for the pundits. Bring in some second string experts as the first team "experts" are not working hard enough at their craft.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

basketball gold--Doug Collins

Doug Collins did the color on yesterday's United States--Tunisia Olympic basketball game broadcast.

If you are old enough to remember the travesty of the 1972 "loss" to the Soviet Union, you remember that Doug Collins,  well before he became an NBA coach, and prior to his stint as an NBA player, was the hero of that game.  Yet that well deserved accolade has been lost not because it is ancient history, but because what became the story was not the heroics, but that the game was stolen.

The US had a foolish game plan for that 1972 final.  You would not know it judging from how even a team like Tunisia plays, but basketball opponents in the Olympics prior to recent years played like robots. Very stiff and mechanical. The Americans had never lost a single game in basketball in the Olympics prior to 1972. We were more athletic, but that day the US played right into the hands of the Russians in that final.  Instead of racing up the court and pressing the opponents, we played just as stiffly and were in jeopardy of losing.  Down at the half and down by several points with six minutes to play.

The US started playing aggressively and came back.  With only a few seconds to go, the US was down by only one.  Then, Doug Collins, a college kid from Illinois State (all US players were amateurs before the 1992 dream team),  made a terrific steal.  He drove the length of the court for the go ahead layup and was taken down by an opponent who undercut him sending Collins smashing into a temporary wall.

Collins was unconscious for a few seconds.  He got up wobbly, but with all the pressure of the US never having lost a game, playing against a cold war rival, Collins hit two free throws--nothing but net--to put the US up by one with only three seconds left.

Then came something I will never forget. The Russians took the ball out of bounds chucked up a desperation heave and missed. Game over.

Not game over.  The officials said that the Russians had called a time out.  The Americans were stunned but hey three seconds left, it is only three seconds.  Again the Russians take it out, and again no basket. This time the Americans celebrate jubilantly. Game over.

Not game over. Again the officials came out and said that there were three seconds left. Apparently the clock had not been reset to three seconds before the prior play.

This time the Russians heave the ball the length of the court.  A big guy from Russia grabs it and puts in a layup.  Game over.

Game over. Yes. The game had been stolen from the Americans.  And Doug Collins whose head had been concussed yet made two free throws to win the game became only a footnote.

The US players refused to go to the medal ceremony and to this day have not received their silver medals, knowing that they had won the gold.  One player has put it in his will that no descendant shall ever pick up the silver medal.

Forty years since the Munich Olympics and Doug Collins is doing the broadcast in London. He should never be forgotten as the hero of the 1972 Olympics.