Friday, July 1, 2011

From the Estranged Dad at Summer League

By the sweat on your orange jersey, I can tell that it's halftime already.

Sorry I'm late,but I picked up some overtime at work.  I could use the extra money to pay your mom this child support. Plus your birthday's coming up and well...

Here. I brought you a Gatorade, the red one, just the kind you like.

Remember we'd go to the courts when you were nine and play ball?  You didn't like to use your left hand on the lay-up but I see you've got that down now. 

You told me "Paul" helped you with that.

I can see you're a little taller now.  Uncle Brian is 6'4 so there's a chance you'll get pretty big.  Michigan State, huh? I hear it gets cold there. You know I don't like to fly, but leave me a game ticket and I'll come see you.

Underneath the trees is a good spot to watch.  It's cooler here and besides, your grandmother still hasn't forgiven me.  You'll understand when you get married.

On second thought, I hope you never have to understand.

You jog up the court, handling the rock effortlessly.  I recognize the gait as my own.

I think you have all of my good traits; pray that you've none of the bad.

Traces of a mustache have formed on your top lip. I wonder if you're into girls yet. Plenty of time for that.  Stay focused on your books...and the ball.

A jumpshot rises, peaks, and tumbles through the net. A teammate slaps you five.

A tear forms in my eye.

Two minutes remain.

I hand the Gatorade to your coach as you run the lane on the fastbreak. "Tell him it's from his dad," I say.

I start back to my car with a chest full of regret. The disappointment you've suffered while rooting for me can only be known by Greg Oden fans.

I start my engine as the final horn sounds and drive away hoping that you saw me.

Nice game, son.

Monday, May 2, 2011

NFL's Slick Moves Fool No One

The National Football League didn't mind the lockout being temporarily lifted because it allowed them to proceed with one of the league's marquee events, the NFL Draft.

Before the event concluded, they had their lawyers on the phone and a judge in Florida ruled the lockout be reinstated.

Pretty slick, but I see what you guys did there.

More to come...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coaching From the Couch - NBA Playoffs 2011

Notes on games up to April 25th:

  • OKC has to trade Russell Westbrook if he can't play Robin to KD's Batman.  I don't know what that 30-shot performance was last night but it cost them the game.  Durant drained a 3 to make it 98-96, then Russ shoots a triple off the dribble. Brick. KD pops another three, cutting the lead to two pts with seconds remaining before Westbrook fires up an airball for the loss. Remember last year during the Lakers/OKC series when people were saying Russ was "The Best PG in the League?" Yeah, me neither.  Final point, KD had a chance to throw Westbrook under the Greyhound in the post-game presser but he deferred, saying that Russ's airball was a tough shot that had a chance to go in.  That's why he's their unquestioned leader and don't you forget it, Russell.
  • Denver won that game despite George Karl checking out.  Did anyone notice that they ran no offense in the second half? It was all pick and rolls with a big and either Ty Lawson or Ray Felton with some threes mixed in by J.R. Swish.  They got lucky.  That kind off ball can't win in the NBA, I don't care how good of individual athletes you have. 
  • Along the same lines, why did Karl take J.R. out with just about 2 mins left?  Right after the sub, OKC scored, cutting the lead to a comfortable margin.  Smith was hitting from the outside and they still needed some offense to secure the lead.  Unless Karl was thinking J.R. would shoot them out, allowing OKC to get possessions and regain the lead, that was a dumb move.
  • Does Gheorghe Muresan play for Memphis?
  • Lebron needs to let Dwayne Wade take the last shot when those situations present themselves.  Kyra Sedgwick is a better Closer than King James.
  • By the way, how come the league didn't address when Lebron called Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes a "bi*ch ass n*gga" (at about 0:29) following a hard foul late in game 4? They fined Kobe for using a homosexual slur.  I know why.  David Stern doesn't want to address any race issues, period - but especially not when a black man directs a term generally meant to demean blacks toward a white man.  That's just too confusing.  Know what though?  It's our fault that the word is generally accepted now. Many blacks use it in mixed company, creating a false sense of familiarity so there's not as much emotion involved as in the Kobe situation.  Where's the NAACP on this?  Thanks a lot black folks.
  • Everybody wrote Chris Paul off but now he's healthy and he's back.  I mentioned earlier that while he sat out last year's playoffs people had the nerve to say Russell Westbrook was the L's best PG.  That's crazy talk.  Some players are made better by the talent around them but look at the best current point men(Derrick Rose, CP3); they don't really have stellar players in their supporting casts.  Deron Williams faded this year with the trade and injuries so we'll see how he bounces back, but Chris Paul is setting the record straight.
  • Speaking of point guards, Derek Fisher needs to retire. That is all.
  • The Andre Iguodala Hate List: I hate his jumpshot, I hate that he never makes a game-winner, I hate his haircuts, I hate how he got so muscular it makes his hoop game look even more awkward, I hate how after watching his teammates make shots he jacks one up so it looks like he's doing something, I hate how he only talks with the bottom half of his mouth, I hate that he's paid like a marquee player but doesn't play like one.
  • The Spurs are done.  Tim Duncan is old.  I watched Greivis Vásquez and Darrell Arthur run P&R on two consecutive plays for two made Arthur jumpshots. It's more than 24 hrs later and not a single Spurs player has hedged the screen to defend the shot yet.  It's over.
  • Looking at Derrick Rose's ample protection during games, you wouldn't think he'd suffer ankle sprains.  Kobe on the other hand does. Rose wears hi-tops and ankle braces (I used to think he balled in ankle weights).  Kobe's signature shoes look like track spikes.  He's suffered two severe ankle/foot injuries this season.  Nike needs to come correct.
*Shout out to on the Lebron clip.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is Your Higher Education Paying Off?

Article first published as What's to Gain from Higher Education? on Technorati.
"Don't believe everything your earlobe captures, it's mostly backwards."

As a longtime advocate of higher education, I've seen the model for achieving individual success change so drastically that today, I'd probably advise young people to consider other options before deciding to attend college.

From the lips of almost everyone around me as a teenager - parents, teachers, counselors - I was told that in order to get the lifestyle I wanted, attending college was a no-brainer.

It's been 11 years since graduation. As much as it goes against what I believe, I'm beginning to think that Sonny was right: "The working man is a sucker."

If I could choose again, I'd be an athlete or entertainer, most likely a rapper.

Why not?
The average salaries of working people with a college education hardly come close to the money actors and ball players make in contracts and endorsements. 

Furthermore, these people are provided all the opportunities I thought getting a degree would allow me.

Never mind the plush houses, expensive cars, and lavish vacations. Superficial things have never really turned me on. I'm talking about real opportunities to make important moves in business and education.

The golden ticket to convincing those above the glass ceiling to let you up is not how smart you are or how many degrees you have.

A proven track record is the key.

Folks with money and influence want to know what you have done before they decide to share the wealth.

Contrary to what many of us were told, graduating from college is not the best indicator that an individual has what it takes to become successful.

Think about it. Those of us who have degrees, for the most part, wasn't college easy? The hardest part was getting up to go to class. Once you figured out which professors to take and how to avoid that 8 a.m. lab, the rest was pie.

Going to college is the standard route. Most business pioneers tell stories of going the road less traveled and having to struggle a bit because they say it builds character.

Despite my education and work experience it's still difficult to command top dollar or get chances to show what I can do.

If I want to teach high school, they're going to ask me whether I have any advanced certification and do I meet "Highly Qualified" status.  In order to be a professor at a community college I need a Master's degree.

That stings when I know that rapper Jim Jones taught a class in the New York City schools during 2010 and fellow artist Bun B. has his own course at Rice University.

Their degrees in street knowledge are obviously more attractive than my explorations of Milton, Shakespeare and Tolstoy.

Probably the greatest example of how this alternative education trumps higher Ed. is the man who's song lyric inspired the opening line of this post, business mogul Shawn Carter, also known as the rapper Jay-Z.

Smart money says I will never own a minority share of an NBA team, never preside over a respected music label, and never give an address before the United Nations.

Jay-Z (a high school drop-out) has done all of these things.

My feelings around this shouldn't be considered jealousy or "hating" but quite the opposite.

I applaud their success. Many pro athletes and entertainers came from worse places with not as much of a support system as I had as a kid. Their chances of becoming "somebody" were much lower than my own. in some cases, finding stardom in their respective field was the only way out of a life of poverty.

We're in America where everybody loves the underdog. How much of a success story can a person really be if they didn't have to overcome any obstacles?

There is also a culture of celebrity worship where even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company can get a little excited by calling a top entertainer a business partner.

That means a lot of people who came from middle class families and can't sing or hit a home-run will have to make it the "hard" way.

To all members of the Class of 2011 who will graduate from high schools around the world in the coming weeks, I say choose wisely when figuring out your next move.

Four years of study at a top university may leave you in debt and wishing that you'd started gaining work experience and building your resume at 18.

Trading in that microscope for a microphone could be the best decision you'll ever make.

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Sadness: How to Fix the NCAA Tournament

By now, college basketball fans have chosen sides on whether this year's trend of upsets is a result of parity in the game or just certain teams getting hot at the right time.

With the latest Goliath (#1 seeded Kansas) going down at the hands of something called Virginia Commonwealth University, the detractors will complain that a lack of  marquee teams in the Final Four makes it unwatchable for the common NCAA hoops fan.

In addition, media pundits like ESPN's Skip Bayless still contend that VCU didn't even deserve an at-large bid to the dance because of their poor regular season finish (lost four of their last five contests).

An earlier jab at VCU was just a joke by this writer.  Make no mistake, though considered a mid-major, VCU has earned their stripes, having done their "Dougie" at the Big Dance during past seasons.

A 2007 Rams outfit, led by future pro Eric Maynor, knocked off Duke in a first round tournament upset.   As well, stalking the sidelines at the Richmond school has become a launch pad for coaches looking to obtain jobs at major level schools.  A young Jeff Capel stewarded VCU before earning a job at Oklahoma, followed by former Florida assistant, Anthony Grant, who's now the top guy at Alabama.

After this performance, big-named schools will be standing on line for a chance to lure coach Shaka Smart away from VCU. 

Anyone who's grown close to college basketball knows that reputation plays a big part in which teams get invited to the tournament.  Some years when a big school doesn't quite have a glossy record, past performance is used as a factor to punch their ticket.

In most years, a school like Duke, Kentucky, even Gonzaga, with maybe 19 wins will fair better in the dance than a mid-major with no national tournament pedigree.  Those aforementioned teams, who play in major conferences, are battle tested and that matters to the selection committee. 

People like Skip Bayless have to realize and accept that VCU has arrived as one of the programs that gets this special treatment.  Yes, they faltered late in the season, but they've proved on the floor that they belong.

Following the VCU/Kansas game, sports writer Jason Whitlock tweeted something to the effect that the basketball regular season is meaningless and that the college football BCS is a great idea.

Though largely impossible for this writer to agree with Whitlock, he was onto something with his statement about the regular season. 

Here's a simple idea to clean up the selection process and make for a more balanced experience.  Of course, no school "on the bubble" or diehard fan will ever be totally satisfied, but this would aid towards closing the gap:

  • Award automatic bids to the winners of the conference regular season.  There are 32 Division 1 basketball conferences.  Any team that wins its league has proven its worth over opponents within the conference.  The Ivy League has no conference tournament, thus the league champ gets its only bid. The bigger conferences see league tournaments as money makers so cash has become king.   It's not fair to penalize a school who got it done for five months, then loses in the league tournament, by keeping them out of the dance. Example: St. Mary's.  The Gaels won a share of the WCC title for the first time in 14 years but lost the the league tournament final to Gonzaga and were left out of the NCAAs.  

  • Award automatic bids to the winners of the conference tournament.  The NCAA currently does this and it's a good idea.  If a team strings together four or five wins and takes the championship, they might be able to carry that momentum into the Big Dance and go a few rounds deep.  This also benefits teams who are strong traditionally, but fail to win the regular season maybe due to player injuries or being unable to gel early.  Some teams don't hit their stride until after the New Year and it's more important to be playing your best ball later in the season.  Example: Hampton. Sharing second place in the MEAC, the Pirates sailed to a league tournament title and the automatic birth, leaving the regular season champs, Bethune-Cookman, out to dry.  
Again, with 32 conferences, inviting all the regular season champs gives the NCAA roughly half of the field. By awarding bids to the conference tournament winners, assuming there are no repeats, that equals 64.  2011 saw the addition of three teams, upping the total to 68 (they added a play-in game including a 65th participant in 2001). The remaining four slots would be picked by the current methods of RPI and strength of schedule, etc. This method would also be used if there are no repeat winners to fill all empty slots in the field of 68. 

An immediate criticism to this idea is, "What about the power conferences like the Big East?" They have up to 11 teams worthy of getting into the tournament during any given season, such as this year.

The response: Either you want a true tournament of champions or you don't.  True, this idea would certainly eliminate some teams with marquee names who might finish anywhere from 2nd through 10th in a tough league.  On the flipside, gone would be the complaints of favoritism and the criticism of a largely arbitrary selection process that currently exists.

All of the favorite schools would not be included but the means by which teams were selected would make much more sense, adding some needed integrity to the process.  Awarding bids to teams who had actually played their way in would save everyone the trouble of watching selection committee chair Gene Smith try to explain how Virginia Tech and Colorado missed the cut. 

In the end, many players, coaches and fans would be upset by being left on the doorstep, but at least this way they could understand why.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Untitled Novel, Ch. 3.

Here are Ch. 1 and Ch. 2 if you missed them.

 “Baby, is that you?”
            “You know it,” I answered, “Unless you gave another dude a key.”
            With that, Bree bounced into the hallway from the kitchen to greet me at the door.  She hugged me tightly like we hadn’t seen each other in weeks.  Because of our many break-ups, I think she felt like she was always close to losing me.  She kissed me once on the lips and on the neck just below my ear. 
Breana Stanford was the oldest of three children, the daughter of a physician and a dentist from Uniondale, Long Island.  I’d dated some attractive women in my life, but Bree was the only one I’d considered beautiful.   She was just over five feet-tall, pecan complexioned, and maintained her athletic body with five days-a-week at the fitness club.  She’d recently added a blonde highlight to her auburn-colored tresses.  She had on the outfit I loved her in most: a white tank top undershirt and grey cotton sweatpants.
Bree was a former collegiate cheerleader who moved to Harrington after graduation to work as a State Capitol staffer.  I’d met her almost six years ago at a legislative rally up on Capitol Hill.  At first glance, there couldn’t have been a more unlikely pairing, but at the core, Bree and I were almost the same person;  kindred spirits.  Our completion of the other could not have been cultivated solely in the time we’d known one another.   It was as if we’d been king and queen, together ruling an African nation, centuries ago. 
            I loved coming home to Bree although I didn’t know how living together would work out at first.  I was a celebrated bachelor for years, so long that my friends had started calling me the “Black George Clooney,” because of the way I flaunted my single status. 
            “I’ll never get married,” I bragged on more than one occasion. 
            But being with Bree had altered my actions and my thinking.  I hadn’t slept with another woman in over a year.   This was an eternity for me.  I never considered myself a player or a ladies’ man, but I knew what most women needed – and was able to give it to them. 
            “Did you bring home those corn flakes like I asked you?”
            “Damn it!”
            I could usually give Bree what she needed, but with Weedie Bryant on my mind, I forgot to get the corn flakes.  Those were the special ingredient in her fried chicken that she made every Monday night. 
            “I’m sorry, I forgot.”
            “Aw, Winston!  Well I guess it’s sandwiches for dinner,” she said. 
            “I’m really sorry.  I got a lot on my plate right now.  I found out one of my old clients is in trouble and Talbot is all over my ass at school.  I just gotta relax.” 
            “Well…maybe I can help you with that,” Bree said coyly.
            I recognized the look in her eye as she danced seductively over to the taupe, microfiber loveseat where I was sitting.  I say seductively, but for a woman of just under thirty years-old, Bree didn’t look old enough to legally drink.  Her attempt at acting sexy was almost cute.   
            “You look like you want to get in some trouble,” I said.
            “You’re a teacher right?  Are you gonna give me detention?” she flirted.
            “That depends on how bad you can be.”
            “Oh I can be super bad, if that’s what you want, Mr. Winston.”
            I stood up and gave her a long, deep kiss.  Bree reached down and stroked my growing erection through my khakis.  I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom, where we made love twice before she passed out.  I laid there awake for over an hour replaying the love we’d just made, then trying to figure out how I could locate Weedie.  I didn’t have many connections in York, but there were a few friends I’d made during my time in the life.
            I closed my eyes tightly and tried to go to sleep, since I had to be to work in less than five hours – and I couldn’t afford to be late. 

“It is seven thirty-five Mr. Winston,” a voice called out from behind me.  I knew the voice.  It sounded like faux authority.  Like a child masquerading as an adult on the telephone. 
            “Yes?  Well, thank you,” I said, “With you here, I feel good about my decision not to wear a watch?”
            Ignoring my insubordination, he continued, his face forming the textbook definition of a “shit-eating grin.”
            “I am in a lightened mood because today is my birthday, so as a courtesy to you, we will consider this a verbal warning and take no further action.” 
            I mumbled, “Thank you,” as I walked away.  My left brain was angry with myself for not making it to work by my 7:30 start time, thus giving him another opportunity to get on my case.  My right brain was thinking about shattering his jaw and storming out of the building.  

Principal Earl Talbot III was my archenemy.  He was The Joker to my Batman, Celtics to my Lakers, and the Marlo Stanfield to my Jimmy McNulty.
            Not only did Talbot resent me for personal reasons (I knocked him out at a school dance when we were teens and I slept with his high school sweetheart and former fiancé weeks before their wedding, which was subsequently “called off”) but he also hated that I had made it into the professional ranks.   He always assumed that this was one arena where he would best me – my street credibility would be useless against his starched shirts and advanced academic degrees.  So the surprise was imaginable when I showed up as a teacher in the school where he was now the principal. 
            I guess in a way, it was cruel irony for both of us.
            The fact is Talbot and I had been on a collision course for the past few years.  I truly felt like he and I were the superhero and the antithesis; the universe could not exist in its proper order until one of us destroyed the other.  The stage was set for our ultimate battle and Clinton High was ground zero. 
            Talbot knew things about my past, but none of it was a secret.  He hated that I was striving despite my history.  I was troubled in my teens and twenties before doing an about face and eventually graduating from Bridgeton University.  What Talbot feared most was that I had something on him as well.  I was just waiting until the right time to play my trump card.  But once things were set in motion, I would have two choices: report my knowledge to the cops, or kill Talbot myself.
            I was leaning toward number two. 

As the late bell rang, the stragglers from my third period class filed into the room and took a seat in desks situated in their customary circle.  My class was different on many levels, starting with the teacher, but not limited to the strange desk arrangement. 
            Contemporary Social Problems is what my class was called in the school district’s course catalog.  It was a one credit elective that could be taken as an English class with special permission.  For some students it was a class they took to fulfill graduations requirements.  For others it was therapy, confession, and it was home. 
            We spent much of the period discussing gun laws in the U.S.   Many of the kids couldn’t wrap their young brains around how the Vice President could get away with shooting his friend in the face during a hunting trip. 
            “He shot his boy in da face, and da nigga apologized to him,” said a student named Jzon Black, sending the other kids into an uproar. 
            I assigned them homework.  I wanted them to make a list of everyone they knew who had been affected by gun violence, just to see how many peoples’ lives had been touched.  I did this several years ago for a workshop I was leading.  Back then my number was twenty-two but I hadn’t gotten up the courage to update it yet.
            “Remember, if I don’t get your homework, it’s going to make you ineligible for the field trip, so I want to see everybody’s tomorrow.  Okay, class dismissed.  Hey Jzon, let me speak with you a real quick.”
            The skinny manchild shuffled up to my desk, pulling his oversized jeans up from below his hips. 
“What’s up, Mr. Winston?”
            “You used to live in York, right?” I recalled from his student file. 
            “Yeah, I stayed out there with my grandmom for my ninth grade year.”
            “What are some of the sets up there?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t be put off by my forwardness.
            “I ain’t in no gang, Mr. Winston,” Jzon said almost on cue.
            “Yes, I know,” I assured him. “A boy I know fell in with some guys in York and I’m worried about him.”
            “Oh, ok.  Well, I know about The Up Top Boyz, the Paper Chaserz, and yeah, GSP.  GSP used to mob real heavy when I was up there!  That’s about it though.”
            “Thanks Jzon.”
            “That’s cool, Mr. Winston.  You know I got you,” he said, slapping me five and exiting the classroom.
            GSP, or the George Street Posse, was known for drug dealing, car stealing, and generally tearing shit up, throughout the ‘90’s.  I wasn’t certain they were still around until Jzon confirmed my thoughts.  He put me on the right path, but now the legwork was mine alone. 
            Finding Weedie didn’t seem like such an arduous task now.  I just had to make sure I was ready to get my hands dirty after years of trying to scrub them clean. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random NBA Player Post #3 - Howard Eisley


Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Howard Eisley.  Howard was one of my favorite point "gods" during his 12 seasons in the L.  He played for several teams, shown here with the Timberwolves, who drafted him in 1994 with the 30th overall pick after a solid career at Boston College.  I really remember him as one of the only brothas besides Karl Malone on the Utah Jazz. He backed up John Stockton at the 1.  Howard is an assistant coach for some team in the NBA.  I saw him on the bench a few weeks ago. Salute Howard!