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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.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I Don't Get It

All around our country, school districts - ravaged by financial woes - are eliminating high school sports programs. Also going by way of the Dead Sea are art, music, creative writing, and theater programs for our youth.

Then, this morning in the newspaper I read that Amazon's Jeff  Bezos spent $24.5 million for a Beverly Hills compound; Sean Parker, of Napster and Facebook fame, dropped $55 mil to buy Ellen DeGeneres's Holmby Hills mansion, and Markus Person, a Swedish tech billionaire spent $70 million for an "epic" custom mansion in Beverly Hills, wow! and it's fitted with iPad controlled fountain, vodka and tequila bars. Double Wow!

Should I be impressed? Should anyone be impressed?

Bezos might have been able to find a pleasant little cottage for, say, two mil. I'm reasonable sure Sean Parker would have found comfort and happiness for 5 million, and, gee, isn't it possible that Persson could have found something in the range of 7 mil, maybe forgo the vodka bar? The three could have followed Justin Yoshimura's example, who spent a paltry 2. 04 million on his Santa Monica home that he only visits on - weekends.

I figure the accumulated savings at approximately 150 million could go a long way toward getting our sports and arts programs back on their feet.

But maybe tech folks don't like sports and art and theater and music and children and education. And how dare I, in a capitalist society, suggest they don't have the right to spend their hard earned cash anyway they want?

I don't get it. I'll never get it. How some people can live conspicuously obscenely consuming. As far as I'm concerned, if you've seen one 20 million dollar mansion, you seen them all. Shame on all of you. One caring high school coach is worth the lot of you put together.

Continuing with the theme of Spring Training:.

Couplet   by Donald Hall

When the tall puffy
figure wearing number
nine starts
late for the fly ball,
laboring forward
like a lame truckhorse
startled by a garter snake,
  - this old fellow
whose body we remember
as sleek and nervous
as a filly's -

and barely catches it
in his glove's 
tip, we rise
and applaud, weeping.
On a green field
we observe the ruin
of even the bravest
body, as Odysseus
wept to glimpse
among shades the shadow
of Achilles.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Greedy, Grubby Grab for Bucks.

Don't tell me there are 64 plus college and university basketball teams worthy of the Big Dance, the NCAA spectacle now taking place at various arenas around the country. Don't tell me, I don't believe it. Don't tell me Lafayette @ 20-12, or SMU @ 20--13, or Northeastern @ 23-11, or Texas Southern @ 24-12 or poor Hampton @ 17-17 (about to be throttled by Kentucky) have earned the right to dance with the best. The NCCA tournament is no longer a graceful waltz or an enthusiastic samba but has turned into a sleazy lap dance with Television execs and advertisers sitting around the stage slipping Big Bucks into NCAA g-strings. It is way past time to get back to 32 teams. Maybe then, the first round of the tournament will be worth watching again.

Allow me a NBA emeritus moment to talk about the Sacramento Kings. Sacramentans, don't despair. Those of us who've played the game or coached it can assure you that despite the losses, the Kings are a better team. My optimism is not based on wins and losses, but on the players' improved basketball smarts. Like high schools students, they are demonstrating progress in CORE areas of the game. They are not ready to graduate yet, but I suspect with a little summer school (ready a full training camp under George Karl) they will be ready for their senior year, perhaps even graduating into the playoff ahead of time.

I have a theory about what makes a winning NBA team. It goes like this. It doesn't matter how many super stars you have per team, what matters is if your team is comprised of consistent players. Super Stars as well as players off the bench must be consistently at their BEST (point production, rebounding, shot blocking whatever their particular fortes are plus, all out D and Energy) for every game. I submit that there are inconsistent stars and inconsistent bench players. Whether you agree or disagree, let me provide some examples. On the Mavericks: in my opinion, Chandler and Ellis are consistent stars. Parsons, Rondo and Nowitski are not. Off the Mavericks' bench Barea is consistent, the rest are not. On the Cleveland Cavs, for example, Kevin Love is an inconsistent star. JR Smith, off the bench is not consistent as well as others. The Wizards have two inconsistent stars Nene and Paul Pierce, Pierce because of age and Nene, because he can't be depended on to give the team a consistently strong performance each and every game. Right now, I'm afraid that the Spurs have a number of inconsistent players who were consistent last year: Belinelli, Green, Diaw, and Mills. On the Blazers, Afflalo and Batum, in my mind, are inconsistent. This is how I evaluate teams. The Hawks are a terrific team, but their bench is suspect. Bazemore, Antic, and Scott are inconsistent in my mind. I can name a whole slew of players that don't give it every single night. But you look through rosters and ask yourself, this season, who are the players you can absolutely count on? So, the team with the least inconsistent players has the best chance to win it all. In my mind, if you have two on your team, coach, you're in trouble.

I read an important article written by Dave Zinn about Chris Borland after only one season and at the age of 24 choosing not to play any longer in the NFL. The article lauded his decision pointing out the intelligence of selecting the future over the financially beneficial present. Well and good for Borland, a university graduate in history, from a solid middle class home, with any number of prospects beyond sports. But what about the poor kids, stuck in some poddunk town or dangerous slum, perhaps from a broken home, with a parent working three jobs to keep the family, what's left of it, afloat? What if that kid is a heck of an athlete and football happens to be his sport? He's well aware of his talent. Most good athletes do at an early age. He looks at kids in his poor neighborhood, sees the dead-end jobs most of them are in or destined for, and suddenly comes along THE COACH from BIG TIME U. He offers a free education, but also the hope of big money in the NFL,maybe in as short a time as two years. Big money means helping Mom. Or Dad. Or a brother just out of jail. Or a pregnant sister. Does this kid think CONCUSSION? Not a chance. He thinks about being a good son.

This is not meant to be condescending to poor kids, a great many of whom find ways other than sports to get higher educations and to earn money and help their families. But reality dictates that for many young athletes, the modeling leads in the direction of a career in sports not in the direction of academics or business or some other life career. 

I love Chris Borland's intelligence, but in many ways I admire as much those kids who will risk their health to help their families. I wish it wasn't so.

To end on a more pleasant note. Recently my wife, Melanie, and I were watching a Warrior game on Television. I had to go to the kitchen for something, and called out to her to tell me what was going on. Here is the play by play she yelled to me: Steph Curry is dribbling the ball past midcourt, he passed to Klay Thompson, and Thompson passed it to Bogut, Bogut threw a pass into the corner to Harrison Barnes. Harrison is looking very handsome today.

This is the wife who told me this morning that playing to the crowd is OK as long as you don't lose.

It's Spring Training, so how about a baseball poem

The Extra-Inning Ballgame    by   Halvard Johnson

Wanting things to go on forever,
yet craving the apocalypse.
Reading the last few pages at one word a minute.
Waiting to teeter forever at the brink of the abyss.
and loving every minute of it.

The solid single lashed over second.
A shortstop's arm, just long enough to catch it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

George Karl

Welcome to the Kings, George Karl.The headaches the Kings are presenting you with will not go away with a couple of aspirins, but only with a lot of tough decisions. I'm sure you're aware of this. I'm sure you've already started making some.

Good luck, George.

When I was coaching the Reno Bighorns in the old CBA, we played George's Montana team. He beat the pants off of us. The Bighorns were a so-so team with a lousy coach; the Montana team was a so-so team with a great coach. Well, he wasn't great yet, but he was on a fast-track to greatness.

The Sacramento Kings' GM, Pete D'Alessandro, made a wise choice hiring George Karl. Why George remained un-hired up to now is a mystery to me and a gift to the Kings. I believe George belongs in that category of elite coaches which include Auerbach, Holtzman, Hannum, Sharman, Wilkens, Riley, Daly, Brown, Jackson, and Popovich, the defining characteristics of which is four-fold: basketball smarts, razor sharp instincts, the ability to teach, and passion.  Of all of these, I rank Passion the highest. The smarts, the instincts, the teaching goes sideways without passion.

George was passionate about the game, I suspect, from the first time he picked up a basketball, but I saw it first when I watched him play as a intelligent point guard at North Carolina. And later, as I watched him coach in the NBA.

If George has ever failed as a coach, it's been his inability to coach selfish players. Selfish players don't respond to coaching. I don't see any selfish players on the Kings. Some people have laid that accusation at the feet of Demarcus Cousins. Cousins, no doubt has his faults - brooding, complaining, whining, obstinacy, self importance to name a few, but no one watching the big fellow can say that he lacks passion.The fact is Demarcus Cousins has improved in the above mentioned areas of personal behavior, so George if fortunate to inherit a more manageable player to begin his tenure. .

We will see if the still young Cousins has matured enough to embrace the kind of straight talk he'll hear from Coach Karl. Carmelo Anthony couldn't, and still can't, his problem being a hard wired genetic case of selfishness. Gary Payton (known for being difficult and stubborn) could, and grew into a Hall of Fame basketball player under George's tutelage.

There is one other attribute that should be pointed out, not something George would emphasis, but I will and that is his battle and victory over two cancers: of prostate and throat. Having overcome three types of cancer myself, I'm in awe of my fellow cancer survivors. I'm not sure it makes one stronger, but it sure teaches one patience, the importance of a sense of humor, and how to live day by day, all of which George will bring to his coaching this year. The Kings may be lucky in that they nabbed George at the moment when he has reached the pinacle of his humanity and, as a consequence, the height of his ability to coach. 

George, you will love Sacramento. The Capital City is on the rise, with an aggressive, future thinking Mayor, a beautiful new arena, a revitalized downtown, an energetic university and arts community, good schools, involved citizens,  a city with more trees in the world except for Paris. And lots more attributes too numerous to count.

Last Saturday I sat in on a poetry workshop run by Sacramento Poet Laureate Bob Stanley. I was there as his guest to talk about my recent collection of poems: Sweat: New and Collected Poems About Sports. One of the members of the group wrote a wonderful poem about basketball I'd like to share with a wider audience.

Roundball   by Stan Zumbiel

      I always dreamt of being a basketball player,
      A dream that only I believed in.
                      David Duchovny

I could shoot. Don't get me wrong
about that. Hours and year on the
driveway tossing the ball against
the wooden backboard and into the
metal net meant I was a deadeye.
Sometimes the balls were oblong
from being run over with the car
or worn completely smooth by
constant contact with cement and
the black-top of the street.But I could
shoot.  From the edge of the lawn,
guarded by the boxwood hedge,
from the complete backcourt of
the sidewalk, I would hear the
ringing song of the chain link net.

When I was a freshman, we had a contest
in P.E. For two minutes, we alternately
shot freethrows and lay-ups retrieving
our own misses. Two points for the
freethrow and one point for the lay-up.
And for the entirety of one lunch
period, I held the school record at
thirty-two points, was the talk of
the cafeteria. Until Bruce Lee,
the captain of the  freshman team,
got forty-one that afternoon.

I could shoot. There was no doubt
about that. But, let's not deceive
ourselves, I couldn't play. I was slow,
short, couldn't jump and hated contact -
worthless during a game.
But I could shoot, on my driveway
I could fill it up like mad.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mid Season Comments

A solid analysis of which teams have a chance to win the NBA title won't be possible until the trade deadline passes and all the lineups are in place. However, my picks up to this point are the following teams. In the West: Golden State Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Houston Rockets. In the East: the Atlanta Hawks, I hesitate to add any other teams from the East, but I'll hedge my bets by adding Washington Wizards, and, yes, Cleveland Cavs. The addition of Mosgov, Shumpert, and JR Smith creates a whiff of possibility. But, after last night's win against the Warriors, I'm sold on Atlanta's game. Like the Warriors, they can go deep into their bench for productivity.

About that game, it appeared to me, the Hawks bench was more physically aggressive than the Warriors' bench. During last night's game the Hawk demonstrated a slight edge over the Warriors in that bench play. I don't believe that will be the case come playoff time. The key will be the improved play of David Lee. Notice, I said "will be, not might be." Right now, I don't see Lee playing at the high level we're used to seeing. He seems reluctant to shoot that good mid-range jumper of his, and the banker in the paint, that was his bread and butter is a tad off the mark. Other than that, the Warriors have all it take to win the title. As an Old Warrior, it warms my heart to watch them play, the way they pass, cut, set picks, board, look to help each other.

One last comment. It seems to me that whoever wins the title, it will be because of the following: Paint protection (driving to the basket must be significantly curtailed and and an opponents' offensive rebounds virtually eliminated); a solid eleven man rotation (at this point in the season, there are only four teams that have eleven trustworthy players - Warriors, Grizzlies, Houston, and Atlanta. There are lots of teams with 8 or 9 solid players, but that won't cut it to win a championship.

I found a wonderfully funny and surreal sports poem. The title of the poem is the key to the humor. I'm sort of a history/political junkie, so that added to the fun.


                       after a newspaper headline

You can't buy baseball bats in Israel.
You can't bring them in, either.
(The batting gloves tucked in your belt give you away)
God forbid you could poke somebody's eye out.
Louisville feared in Mideast.

You can't make crime pay in Egypt
Egyptian justice will track you down.
Your cell has no windows, no telephone, no Reader's Digest.
They turn on the TV
NCAA basketball playoff.
Louisville feared in Mideast.

You can't predict the price of oil
With the tools of supply and demand.
The Arab oil ministers use their own tools
"And in today's results
Chiropractor ran last in the fourth.
While Stormin' Norman failed to show."
Louisville feared in Mideast.

Monday, January 12, 2015

NBA Review for the New Year

Looks as if Boston gave the Grizzles a New Year's present in Jeff Green, a very capable, border line All Star stretch forward/with power skills. For Dyshawn Prince? Definitely an upgrade. It gives the Griz fire power from angles they never had before. If Green pays off, and I can't imagine he won't, the Griz are going far in the playoffs. With the addition of Green, they're damn solid at every position, starter and backup. And they board and play tough D.

Rajon Rando make the Mavs a better team, not immediately but come March, watch out. They still might be a little thin off the bench come playoffs when things get nasty.

If Waiters can play some D, he' ll help the Thunder, but some intangible is missing from that team. It's not energy (a word I hate), perhaps a coherent offensive and defensive game plan. In my opinion, the team needs to incorporate some big-men-points into their offense (Adams and Ibaka). From my own experience as a player, it gets old if you're told to go out there and play D and grab rebounds and not have any touches. The Thunder needs to retool their philosophy.

Boy, was I wrong about the CAVS. But I'm not giving up on them. I watched them last night get absolutely whipped by the Kings, a team that is struggling to figure things out themselves, and I thought, they looked like a boat without a rudder, just going around any which way. I see no pattern, defensively or offensively. When James comes back, that will help, but its going to take a position by position overhaul to turn the season around. JR Smith? Really? Mosgov and Shumpert can help, but not without a plan.

Talk about being strong at every position, starters and off the benchers, the Golden State Warriors have got it covered. If all players are healthy, the Warriors bring five players of the bench that could be starters on at least four teams in the NBA whose names I'll not mention.

ERGO: To survive deep into the playoffs and/or to win the Championship, it is my belief a team must be solid at all positions ten players deep. There are other requirements, but personnel is a must. That means that bench players are not a huge drop-off from your starters.

Therein lies the problem for the Blazers, an excellent starting five (with Lopez), then a dramatic drop-off.
A team that could surprise in the first round like last year, but I doubt it.

The Clippers are 7 players strong. Not enough to take them too far into the playoffs. They may make it riding on their Four Horsemen: Paul, Griffen, Crawford, and Jordan. (If only Jordan could create a little offense?) Is Reddick or Barnes the fifth horseman? Maybe, maybe? Bench does not instill any confidence. A three point shooting backup center?

I'm a big Bulls fan, simply because I love teams that play tenacious and smart defense, but they too are thin off the bench. Butler, Gasol, Noah, Rose, Hinrich, Gibson, Brooks (meteoric right now, but capable of fizzling) and Mirotic. I've never been a Dunleavy fan. 

One has to believe that Pop has a strategy, so I'm predicting the Spurs will finish strong. Whether they win the Championship again, I think depends on getting all their players healthy by April. If that happens, the team is deep enough to do the job.

As much as I admire the Hawks, their bench is not dependable. Schroder is fine player but still a work in progress. Sefolosha can't produce any offense, and Antic is inconsistent. Inconsistency the rest of the way down the bench.

The Phoenix Suns is an interesting, go, go, go team. Mile D'Antoni would be proud of this offense. They're very deep. Their first round draft choice, Len, is starting to look like the real deal, so if he continues to grow as a player (able to produce some offense and block shots) and Plumlee can be a productive backup, that is cause some mayhem in the paint on D, the Suns with the firepower and speed they have could surprise the West.

The Wizards are also deep, but they can't quite match up player for player against some of the elite teams in the West. However, if a few of their players, like Seraphim, Butler, and Porter overachieve, they could win in the East. You have to have post strength to win in the playoff, and they do. Note, I didn't say height, but strength.

What is it about the Houston Rockets that doesn't quite measure up to Champions? On paper, they have 9 players that should be solid, but upon careful examination, are not. Smith is undependable and I'm not sure how smart. Pnikalau is inconsistent, Brewer runs hot and cold, So does Terry at his age. Harden doesn't play much D. Howard, given his physical talent, often under-produces. Beverly looks like a point guard, but really isn't. He should be coming off the bench. Montejunas is going to be an excellent power forward one of these days, but the Rockets miss Jones. Now, if the Mavs had signed Rondo??? With Beverly off the bench???? Oh, well, water under the Dallas Bridge.

If DeMar DeRozan returns, which it appears he will by February, the Toronto Raptors. With DeRozan back, the Raptors have seven excellent players. I worry about their bench and maybe shouldn't. For some reason, although he's playing well, I don't trust James Johnson's game. The same for Patrick Patterson, roaming too far away from the hoop where he could be of more use. Landry Fields is a question mark. What happened to his NY Knicks' game? And Hansbrough is a loose cannon. So, if my idea that you need solid at all positions both starter and benchers, I can't see the Raptors this year. Maybe next year if they can get their rookies Coboclo and Nogueira in some kind of shape. 

Anyone a horse racing fan? If you are, here's a sad poem about the sport of kings that made me think about athletes who play for the love of their sport, even though they know they're not going to be rewarded financially, who just keep trudging on, giving it their all. The poem was written by Ron Koertge.

A Jockey 

named Kovacs went down
at Pomona yesterday.
He was riding something
that was born to hold
one piece of paper
to another.

The crowd loves to hate
accidents and everybody
wanted to know who Ted 
Kovacs was. Like the
next winner, it was
a mystery.

This, then, is to set 
the record straight:
Ted Kovacs makes 14
thousand a year when
things go right.

His wife keeps a 
scrapbook that shows
the day he tripled,
the $9,000.00 Exacta
where he was second,
and all the times he
was in intensive care.

When he almost didn't make it,
the article ran to nearly
20 lines.