Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Top 50 black athletes poll worth a look. ... and a drink

The first thought when reading The Undefeated’s announcement of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes was who came up with this list.

Then I learned it was done via polls of more than 10,000 adults by Survey Monkey, an online survey development cloud-based software company in San Mateo, CA.

Two questions were asked to garner a group of 200 athletes. Next it was pared to 60 and then 50. It’s the result of polls more than a list.

Hmm, Monkey, huh?

Then I thought back to the polling results that sent this country into a tailspin last November when I consistently read how there was no way Donald Trump could defeat Hillary Clinton.

My perception, without a poll but the experience of living in America and yes, as an African-American, Trump very much had a chance to win. Yes, I believed there were enough frustrated and insecure white (and perhaps some Black and Latino) men who couldn’t see turning over the presidency to a woman. I didn't realize there were enough dumb women to vote for a man who'd openly disrespected them.

Well, you see where we are today.

Perhaps my next thought was why Gallup, the company long used as the U.S.’s polling staple, never has once called me or anyone I know. OK, this was an online poll. Most people have online capabilities, but this poll did miss a group of those who, 1) don’t go online and 2) won’t take the time to do any type of survey.

How many times do you respond affirmatively when a company asks you to assess its performance in a brief after-call survey?

The Undefeated and SurveyMonkey attempted to use data from the census bureau to best compile an accurate depiction of race, gender, age, education and geography from those polled.

All of those factors are important in determining why people may have voted the way they did.

The Undefeated took on a nearly impossible task in attempting to establish an accurate and legitimate order. There is little doubt no matter how close I am with 10 of my best and oldest friends, we’d all have different lists.

Many of the same athletes, if not most, would be our lists, but the orders would be different. In some cases, the orders would be markedly different.

Enough of the foreplay, I’ll get to The Undefeated/SurveyMonkey poll results. Michael Jordan was chosen as the greatest black athlete in terms of dominance (20%), societal impact (20%), inspiration (20%) and overall rating (40 %).

Muhammad Ali would have been my No.1, and knowing what I know from knowing MJ, I think he’d agree. I could be wrong, but Ali made it fashionable to be black when American society blatantly was telling us it wasn’t.

Why do you think James Brown’s hit, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” was so popular? It was like a black national anthem. It didn’t take the place of “Lift every voice and sing,” often referred to as the Negro national anthem, but Brown’s cut was the anthem of the streets.

It’s important to check out the Undefeated/SurveyMonkey poll. The results lead ESPN’s sports page today. It’s beautifully laid out and the profiles of the top 50 are well-written by Justin Tinsley, Jerry Bembry and Aaron Dodson. I know Bembry well, and I believe Tinsley attended the alma mater, Hampton University (Institute). I don’t know Dodson.

The poll definitely is worth a look-see, even though I have major disagreements with many rankings. I mean Roberto Clemente at No. 40, Bill Russell at No. 36, Jim Brown at No. 30, LeBron James at No. 29 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at No. 13 means I must shake my damn head. And that’s just to name a few.

A case could be made for each of those five to be placed in the top 10.

However, it’ll be interesting to see the racial, gender and age breakdown of those polled. It only makes sense that Ali means more to me than to someone that may not have seen him fight or watched him endure the plight of living in racist society.

What's crazy is there is no Tiger Woods in the top 50. Sorry, Tiger, who may not roll with being black, but you are, blood. Now, where golfers are athletes can be debated as I've done before with Jordan. But Woods changed the face of an entire sport. I even watched when he played. He should be somewhere, perhaps No. 50, moreso for what he hasn't done than what he has.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ali's soul and spirit will live forever

If there are individual spirits that never die, even when the body is exhausted and cannot go on, Muhammad Ali’s is in the world’s upper echelon.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Arthur Ashe were other international folk to similarly impact me.

Certainly, there are others who partially shaped my thinking, feelings and direction, but Ali, Dr. King, Ashe and Mandela were so giving of themselves even a dope such as I had to recognize.

Ashe and Ali, who died June 3 at 74, may have touched me deeper because of their sports affiliations, but in many ways these four black men from different areas, experiences and trials and tribulations are alive inside me.

Like Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson, Ali reached the masses because of sports, but his true reach was incomparable to any who have the wherewithal and substance to feel.

Ali brought the noise to America at a time when - the world’s greatest super power, land of the free, home of the brave and all that BS - didn’t want to hear it. Refused to listen and attempted to suppress.

As a black (yeah, we were just moving away from Negro and hadn’t yet gotten to African-American) child growing up in the 60s, I was trying to figure it out. Who was I, why was I and why does it seem as if a large portion of this country has an issue with me because of my skin color?

A skin color I quickly realized many racists sought to incorporate into their own bodies. What was this Coppertone stuff for, anyway?

I grew up in New York City and fell for the okey-doke. At one time, I believed people from the South were ‘country’ and ‘backwards’ and Northerners were more sophisticated and aware.

Yep, I was that stupid. If nothing else, attending the predominantly black Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia quickly opened my mind.

But before then, I was smart enough to quickly realize this young, country, backwards Cassius Clay was something special to watch as a boxer. This was before I really started hearing from him and listening to him.

Ali’s athletic gifts were beyond belief. His hand and foot speed, to me, were incomparable. Sure, my pops and others told me how fast Sugar Ray Robinson was, but Ali was 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Robinson was a natural welter-middleweight at most.

It’s funny now his footwork known as the ‘Ali Shuffle’ really was the ‘Clay Shuffle’ because he didn’t change his name to Muhammad Ali or his religion to Islam until 1964.

Ali’s black pride was so evident and real, it was impossible for me to ignore. I saw Ali and thought of James Brown’s song, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

I still do.

It always was cool to be Ali, but never universally popular. He dealt with an overwhelmingly racist white American media. Many of these media members, I feel safe to say, had little interaction with black people or an inclination to open their minds to a black experience.

In many ways, like the media didn’t understand who Clay was and how he became who he was, it’s impossible for me to understand how they saw his conversion to Islam and his linkage to a group then known as the ‘Black Muslims.’ Hell, my father, who was a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army until the arrival of my sister, didn’t understand and refused to call Ali by his name until years later.

He couldn’t understand how Ali could refuse induction into the Army or military. Joe Louis was in the Army and the Brown Bomber was his Ali. Louis was the man who sent blacks into Harlem’s streets for the inevitable party after listening on the radio to one of his victories.

It was years later when my pops relented and began to give Ali the respect of calling him by his adopted name. However, that was after Ali lost his first fight to Joe Frazier and legendary New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo depicted the man known as
‘the Louisville Lip’ with his mouth zippered closed.

My pops must have purchased 10 copies of that newspaper drawing and placed them all over the house for me to see.

Ali’s ability to talk a good fight and then fight a better one likely never will be matched. Perhaps former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson had it like that, but I didn’t hear or see him. I lived with Ali’s experience.

Many times Ali said he was not a saint and did and said things he regretted. He was human. He fashioned some of his braggadocio after wrestler Gorgeous George’s shtick. Ali admittedly took things too far during fight promotions with rival Frazier. He called Frazier and ‘Uncle Tom’ and compared him to a gorilla, unfair denigrations Frazier did not deserve.

They were depictions one would expect to hear from a hurtful person designed to do just that to another. Ali would come to apologize to Frazier long afterwards, but the damage had been done to the pride-filled Philadelphia champion.

I was lucky enough to meet Frazier in a Philadelphia Rite-Aid about 2:30 one morning and never have I been in contact with a nicer brother. Despite us both having a bit of buzz, or perhaps because of it, two strangers chopped it up in the drug store for a few moments talking boxing and more.

I was fortunate enough to meet Ali briefly at a mosque while covering the release of Mike Tyson from the Indiana Youth Correction Center, a prison in Plainfield, Indiana. There merely was a shake of the hand and a ‘What’s happening, brother.’ But I felt and still feel that I’d been touched by greatness.

I’d cried like a baby when Ali lost the first of three fights to Frazier. The only other time I remember crying behind a sports event was when Bill Mazeroski homered in the ninth to beat the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.

I didn’t know any better. I was 5. However, when Ali lost to Frazier in 1971, once again, I’d fallen for the okey-doke. It was as if Black America had lost even though two Black Americans had fought.

Damn, that was 45 years ago.

Ali remains an iconic figure, one whose place in time and indomitable character were so intertwined that he’ll never be matched. He was more than a superb boxer whose career had been unfairly been interrupted in what would have been his prime by a racist American power structure.

I believe Ali wouldn’t have been defeated by Frazier had his career not been interrupted for 3 and a half years. The fight still would have been a monster, but I believe Ali’s speed and ability to evade punches then would have been combined with his strength and power to make him nearly unbeatable.

He’d have lost at some point because everyone does. The day Floyd Mayweather truly thinks he was/is better than Ali, he should smack himself and beg for forgiveness.

There was the relationship with broadcaster Howard Cosell that never will be matched. Cosell also stood strong aside with Ali during the years in which his career was take away. It was a time in which Cosell received little respect for his support of Ali. It was an unpopular approach, but one that at the time Ali needed and respected.

I can’t think of Ali without thinking of one of my late friends, Ronaldo Heywood, who perhaps was the only person I’ve known who could do the Ali shuffle as well and as fast as Ali.

To see Ali affected by Parkinson’s Disease was to realize how things and life can change for us all. Ali may have been the best athlete I’ve ever seen, yet it became difficult to see him robbed of his mobility.

Ali’s simplicity – ‘I ain’t got no problem with them Viet Cong.’ He also said, “They ain’t never called me nigger.’

His decision to stay away from the Vietnam War was founded in that simplicity. It makes so much sense it must have been too deep for many to comprehend.

There’ll never be words supple enough to capture this man’s contribution to the world. However, I wish my man, the late Ralph Wiley, was here to break it down like none other.

Rest In Peace, Ali. The body is gone, but the heart and soul will live forever.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Scotty Stirling: The 5-foot-7 (maybe) Giant

I knew Scotty Stirling for more than 25 years, but only a couple of months ago when I went to visit him in a nearby nursing home, did I learn his given name, Gordon.

“Gordon?” I thought, “Who knew?”

Little did I know that visiting Gordon, as I kidded him, was the beginning of my education about Scotty Stirling, who at the age of 86 died Tuesday morning at UC Davis Medical Center.

Stirling, who may have stood 5-foot-7 on a good day, nevertheless was a giant of versatility. As you read about him, feel comfortable that you are like the rest of us.

If you live to be 100, you’ll never do as much as this humorous, witty, sarcastic and multi-talented man got in for a life’s work.

Consider he was the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, the New York Knicks and the American Basketball Association’s Oakland Oaks. He was an assistant to the President of the Golden State Warriors and the NBA Vice President for basketball operations.

For longtime NBA followers, he was Rod Thorn before Rod Thorn. Stirling joined the Kings organization and held a number of positions in the scouting department for more than 25 years.

Stirling also was a newspaper reporter for the Oakland Tribune, at a time in which he’s credited for helping start fantasy football. He also had one of, if not, the first sports talk shows in the Bay Area.

I was talking with Stirling one day during the World Series when a technical problem temporarily halted the game. Television briefly lost its feed and there was no means for the replay system for a few minutes.

I remarked to Stirling it reminded me of the ‘Heidi game’ between the Raiders and New York. The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final minute to overcome a 32-29 Jets lead. I watched that game in New York with my father, at least until the NBC telecast was halted and replaced by the television film, Heidi.

I thought for a second and said to Stirling, ‘”You probably were at that game, huh?” Stirling said, “Yeah, I was doing color commentary on the radio with (the late and legendary) Bill King.”

I’d never met anyone who was at the game, much less doing radio commentary.

Sounds like he did quite a bit, huh? Well, here’s former Portland Trail Blazers and Kings scout Keith Drum to add an intriguing piece of the pie.

“Scotty said he was in the military (Army) during the Korean War, but he never left the States,” Drum said. “His job was to accompany the bodies of those killed to their families.

“So on one occasion he had to go to Louisiana and notify a family about their loved one’s death. He said he was very apprehensive about going. He didn’t know where he was going and what he was walking into.

“He said he got there and didn’t know what to expect. He said the family was so nice and appreciative that he’d came personally with the body. They treated him so well he stayed for a couple of days.”

Drum gave Stirling’s overall description of the job. “He said he cried almost every time he had to do it.”

Drum told the story about how Stirling had to ‘babysit’ Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff in order to allow Oakland to sign him and keep the NFL away when the league was battling the AFL for talent.

Stirling was described as hard working and honest by former Kings Vice President Geoff Petrie.

“He used to cover the Maui Invitational and the pre-season college basketball matchups in Anchorage every year,” Petrie said. “He covered the summer league in Las Vegas and had his own seat. Everybody knew it was Scotty’s seat. It didn’t really matter because he always got there before everyone else anyhow.”

Kings Broadcaster Jerry Reynolds said of Stirling, “I used to call him the Grand Puba. I’d kid him and say any young scout had to come by and kiss his ring if they really wanted to be a scout. He had his own seat because nobody else would be there to see every minute of every game.”

Reynolds said of Stirling, “He was just a real pro who loved basketball. He had a really diverse background and always was happy to do what he did. Everybody can’t do that.”

Stirling had the ability to appreciate life more so than most.

Petrie said of Stirling, “The guy had a great run. Everybody only could wish to have such a run.”

Stirling also found time to earn a B.S. from the University of San Francisco and an M.A. in Sports Management from Adelphi University in New York.

Stirling is survived by his wife Pam, sons Gordon, Donald and Kevin, Sister Helen Boak, brother Archie, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kings, Cousins have work to do, but should be fun

Man, I hope DeMarcus Cousins reads this. The Kings should e-mail it to his address. Tape a copy to his locker. Make sure his partner Andrew Rogers gets it to him.

It’s just some real for his butt to read.

It only was one game Wednesday night, between the Detroit Pistons and the Kings, but the pre-game tension was palpable.

In the end, talk that Cousins and Coach George Karl hate each other might be true, but didn’t make a difference. Cousins scored a game-high 33 points and dropped four of five three-point attempts. Rudy Gay had a breakout 19-point first half on the way to 26 points.

Add point guard Rajon Rondo’s 48-minute triple-double of 14 points, 11 rebound and 15 assist performance and there was a group of Kings that played its best defensive game of the season and led close from start to finish during a 101-92 victory

Many of the folks who comprised the announced crowd of 17,317 at Sleep Train Arena were anxious. Those folks unknowingly felt just like former Kings center Vlade Divac, who doubles as Vice President and General Manager.

“I’ve never felt better after one win,’ Divac said as he walked with fellow team executive Mike Bratz to the team’s locker room just after the breathe-easy victory.

For once, the team he played a major role in assembling performed admirably. The drama that accompanied his crew on the court and the fans into the Arena mattered not for a few minutes.

Certainly, it may soon matter again. Neither Karl nor Cousins spoke to the specifics that led the center to go off on his coach after Monday’s loss to San Antonio.

I’d really like to know how a cat plays his first game in a week following an injury, makes five of 20 field-goal attempts, gets 15 free-throw attempts and then REPORTEDLY cusses out the coach.

Say what? Much was made about it occurring in front of the team. Would it have been better if Cousins did behind closed doors in a room with Karl? No. He REPORTEDLY cussed out his coach. It’s not supposed to work like that in the NBA or any other business.

In no business, should an employee be permitted to cuss out one of his bosses. In my opinion, those bosses shouldn’t be allowed to cuss out an employee.

However, that’s not the real world. The NBA is a different version of the real world. Both sides have been known to release frustration upon each other. REPORTEDLY, Karl wanted to suspend Cousins for a couple of games and was not permitted to do. REPORTEDLY, Karl has attempted to trade Cousins. Yeah, if I ‘m Cousins, I’d forgive him for that, but never forget.

Personally, I believe the coach should have been allowed to suspend his player as long as the collective bargaining agreement permits.

The Kings didn’t refute reports that Cousins verbally boogied his way down cuss word alley against the coach. The Kings opted not to speak on it. Nevertheless, I’d like to know how it actually went down. To me, it seems like Cousins cussed out the entire team, not just Karl. Did any of the players say anything to his temporarily uncontrollable ass?

Did the organization punish this 25-year-old, who REPOREDLY has cussed out at least three prior coaches? It damn sure should have.

Yet, while watching the game, I noted I wouldn’t trade him. He could cuss me out everyday if that’s what floated his boat. But there would be repercussions.

We’d be the NBA’s best conditioned squad because the team is running suicides every time he pulled disrespectful behavior. But that’s only if no player actually steps to Cousins and socks his big ass in the eye.

He’s big as hell, but who knows if he actually can fight or even will fight? REPORTEDLY, he and former Kings forward Donte Greene threw hands, but I remain unconvinced. Homeboy may not have had a real fight since the fourth grade, for all I know.

Now these thoughts were with me before Cousins included me last night. A simple “What’s up, Dawg,” from me turned into him saying, “I ain’t your dawg”, or something like that. I didn’t hear exactly what he said so I asked him what he said. He repeated it, I believe, with a few cuss words included.

Cousins and I have cussed at each other before. Probably virtually every time we’ve spoken. One, because there’s no way his mouth could be a foul as mine. He’s too young to be on my level of cuss-ability. And yes, I made up that word, so what?

So he talks trash to me and I talk trash to him. No biggie. I wrote a story on him for the Sacramento News and Review after he signed his current contract. Per normal, I didn’t write the headline, “$64 million-dollar baby.”

Cousins’ big, sensitive ass, who I’m guessing did not read the entire story, soon thereafter told me he wasn’t (messing) with me anymore. Yeah, so what? I went more than year covering the Kings, seeing Olden Polynice every freakn day, and walking past each other. If someone doesn’t speak to me, I don’t speak to them.

Cousins and I also went more than a year without speaking. Life goes on. I see him at a Sac High game one night and he walks up to me, extends his hand for some dap and laughs. We dap up and I say, “Oh, so you are (messing) me now?” We laughed again and that was that.

Silly me, I thought we were good before he started talking garbage last night. He said some funny stuff as he often does and I said some funny stuff as I often do. Yes, most of it included cuss words and it was our customary conversation.

Cousins wants to be a hard guy, but he isn’t. Like many big dudes, he can try to punk you. Still, he hasn’t realized I’m un-punkable. (That’s right I made up another word). He’s not going to scare me with words. He’s not going to whup my ass, 1) because he’s not stupid and 2) I’d take that whuppin because my family would be set forever.

Cousins likely is unaware I’ve been dealing with Karl five years longer than the youngster has been alive. I’ve see Karl do things he may not even remember. I’ve seen Karl do things Cousins never could imagine. But just like Cousins is on the way to becoming a star (he’s not there yet), Karl, and his issues, is employed because he’s won 1,144 games.

Cousins said before the season he was going to the NBA’s best big men. He has that ability. All he needs is consistency. The league’s best produce nightly, AND they lead their respective teams to victory.

At 25, he’s not nearly a finished product and shouldn’t be. He’s not yet reached his prime. Yet, once he proclaimed that would be the best big, now it’s time to prove it. Part of that is leading. It’s a big part and Cousins needs to understand what that entails.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Kings are improved and we'll soon see how much

It seems like it has taken a long time for the Kings Season Opener to get here, but really it’s just another opener.

So that it is a remodeled squad playing its final season supported by a fan base filled with hope before moving into a sparkling new downtown arena will have nothing to do with tonight’s outcome against the Los Angeles Clippers at Sleep Train Arena.

The bottom line is this is one game after which 81 will follow. And regardless of what anyone and everyone thinks and feels and think it knows, we must wait and see what this team becomes.

No need to listen to me. Check out Coach George Karl, who by the way will start his first full season at the helm. He was asked if these Kings are similar to any of his previous squads.

“It’s tough right now,” he said. “I think it’s a team whose personality is evolving. I’m hoping I’ve got enough of it where I can coach’em and win some games. I think 20 games into the season; we’re still going to be evolving. It’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be fun to see (Rajon) Rondo and (Darren) Collison together.”

Listening to Karl, and he and I go back to Golden State in 1986, can be very interesting. He usually tells you something more even when it is not the focal point of his comment. No doubt, the Kings you’ll see tonight likely won’t be the same crew a month or two months.

It’s a team that first has to learn what IT is about before it can figure out how to get what it wants. Unquestionably, with nine players who weren’t on last season’s roster, the Kings must see how individuals react to certain situations and each other. Under game pressure, they may find their early thoughts were exactly right, totally wrong or somewhere in between.

Yet, when Karl spoke of the Rondo-Collison combo, it likely means that pair, at least early, will get consistent time together. And it makes sense. Both are smart and athletic enough to make plays at each end of the floor, although neither is a prototypical shooting guard. The game always has been about making plays. Good teams make key plays to win games. Struggling teams make them to lose games.

Karl sounded as if he believes it will be hard to keep Collison off the court.

“I think people forget Darren Collison had a great year last year before he got hurt,” said Karl, who was named Kings coach 10 days after the guard began missing games with a core muscle injury. “He’s had probably the best camp of anybody. He had one bad game in Phoenix.”

The coach said the team’s new personnel have changed the team’s personality changed.

“Kosta (Koufos) and Marco Belinelli, Willie Cauley (Stein) add personality to a team that needed more personality,” he said. “And then you’ve got Rudy (Gay) and (DeMarcus Cousins), who I think are searching to be winners and all-stars. We need them to have the best years of their careers.

Karl was asked if being winners and all-stars was something he has focused on with Cousins.

“I’m not a big fan of all-stars,” Karl said. “I’m a big fan of winners. For me, the game of basketball is fun when you’re on a winning team. The best coach in basketball is a winning team. And losing is the exact opposite. Losing is heavy. Losing is frustrating (and) difficult.

“I think Rudy and DeMarcus want to move on from what has been here the last three years and put it in a better place. I thought they had a little bit of a nightmarish year because of injuries and the way the flow of the season was last year. I’m hoping they can let that go and (kind of) start fresh and ready.”

There is no doubt one of the keys to any success Sacramento has this season is the performance of Rondo.

Monday I was part of a group of reporters interviewing Rondo after practice. It was the first time I’d spent any time speaking to and listening to him. It was enjoyable. The first impression is he’s smart enough to know how smart he is without telling you.

He’s a natural leader who understands the game. For a team that basically has been rudderless, Rondo is in a perfect position. It’ll be interesting to see if this team is mature enough to handle what he can bring.

He was the point guard on the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics and the 2009 crew that lost to the L.A. Lakers in the Finals. Rondo knows winning and knows a team’s path to winning begins at the defensive end.

“I don’t think offense will be a problem,” the pass-first point guard said.” Obviously, you win championships with defensive stops. So our communication as a team has to get better. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to progress during the season and (start with) our transition defense running back.”

Rondo wants his teammates to become more vocal, but said he likes where the team’s collective head is – now.

“I think we have a positive vibe. A lot of guys are pretty positive people. A lot of (them) are quiet as well, but for the most part we continue to encourage each other and play for one another.”

Rondo, who will turn 30 in February, is an unabashed motor-mouth. Cousins joked Tuesday Rondo talked so much sometimes he wants to tell him to shut up. The center added though Rondo’s constant talking is a good thing for the team.

“I talk the most on the team by far,” Rondo said. “I try to make it contagious and I’m trying to talk positive… (Keeping) after my teammates, letting guys know where they should be on the floor, both offensively and defensively. I’m trying to get big Cuz to talk because he’s the back line of our defense, him and Kosta. If we can continue (to talk) we’ll be a better team.”

Rondo said he feels fine after having his first training camp in two years. Gone are any remnants of a January 2013 ACL injury.

“I was 26 years old when I tore my knee up,” he said. “I’m 29, about to turn 30, so it was a while back and I don’t actually think about my knee.”

Rondo was asked about his defensive abilities after the knee injury, among others.

“I was a decent defensive player,” said the two-time first-team and two-time second team all defensive selection. “It was our (Boston) team concept. We were all for one another and if I can get our team to buy in and believe that, they are going to make me a better defensive player and vice versa.”

I have no idea how many wins the Kings will get this season. I’ll wait to see what the team looks like in good times and bad before projecting what it will become.

The Kings clearly are more talented than last season’s edition. How that translates into wins and losses will be revealed. Barring major injury, I believe they’ll contend for a playoff berth. That’s saying a mouthful for a 29-win team last season.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Kings, Rondo use preseason as learning experience

After watching NBA training camps and preseason games for more than 30 years, it remains a struggle to totally capture the true value of this annual exercise.

Surely, the major goal for all teams, first and foremost is to survive with good health. The comes season preparation on both mental and physical levels. However, a breakdown of those goals are different for players and franchises.

Players want to find and develop a rhythm to their individual games, while coaches basically hope to find upon whom they can depend to perform in given situations. That can mean who will execute offensively and defensively. The preseason also provides opportunities to learn how close a team's off-season player projections are to the ability to perform in a given system.

Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena, in the first of only two home preseason games, veteran Kings coach George Karl used 12 players in a 95-92 victory over the representatives of the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs were playing their first preseason game and were without Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich. The players reportedly remained in San Antonio for rehabilitation and rest.

These guys must have had exemplary off seasons.

Three games into the six-game preseason schedule, Karl likely knows to whom he'll turn in the regular season. He used 10 of those last night and also gave a little run to David (son of John) Stockton and Seth (brother of Stephen, son of Dell) Curry.

Given the option, Karl would take the performance levels of Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Darren Collison, Marco Belinelli right now. Each appears on schedule to provide consistent production.

If point guard Rajon Rondo consistently provides anything close to the eight-point, eight-rebound, 10-assist, two-steal, 25-minute night he had Thursday, Karl and the organization will feel exceptionally well about paying him less than $10 million this season,

Rondo is a natural playmaker and I'm interested in watching him on a nightly basis in part because of where he's been, what he's gone through and what has been said about him in the media.

While covering the NBA since 1978, Rondo is the only player, much less an integral piece on a championship team, to my knowledge about whom it's been said he played selfishly to build his assist total. I didn't believe it then and don't believe it now.

Rondo has a knack for getting to the basket and helping to create shots for players. His penetration draws defensive attention and his first thought is to pass to the open man.

Rondo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Jan. 25 in 2013. So we're talking less than two years since the surgery. Only now is he likely approaching whatever his peak physical condition will become.

At his best, Rondo thrived on quickness and his ability to disrupt defensively. If he can approach that form, the Kings will have a steal.

In the minds of many, Rondo must overcome last season's stink. He was traded to Dallas and then sent away from the Mavs after two playoff games and a beef with coach Rick Carlisle. I haven't yet spoken to Rondo about the situation, however, I'm not as high on the coach as most. I believe he's lacking in the player relation category.

Like Rondo, many facets of the Kings must be developed and learned. The educational process should be quite enlightening one way or the other.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Twitter: A mind-altering experience

The Twitter world has opened my eyes to people, places, scenarios and situations I could never have imagined.

It's a tremendous information tool I treasure after initially avoiding in-depth use like I would a viral infection. Now, it's one of the first sites I check daily. And that's after seriously only using it since late April.

Perhaps the most revealing facet of Twitter has been an exposure to an amazingly passionate group of Sacramento Kings fans, whose mpact constantly shocks and surprises.

It may just have been my naivete or focus, rather than sheer blindness or stupidity. Yet, I was so unaware of the depth and involvement the community has with this team. And that's after covering the team 24/7 and virtually 10 months a year for more than 14 years.

In retrospect, I admit I took for granted seeing ticket-holders in their seats when I entered what now is called Sleep Train Arena. It'll always will be Arco Arena in my mind. I knew folks were 'riding and dying' with the team's fortunes, but I had no idea of the true scope.

I was fortunate enough to cover the team exclusively from 1992 thru 2005. I saw the Kings struggle, become competitive enough to make the playoffs, again fall by the wayside and then execute an amazing transformation into an NBA title contender before beginning a slide from which they've not yet recovered.

There were three ownership changes, numerous coaching/player transactions and the legitimate possibility of franchise moves to Anaheim and Seattle. It's apparent the constant surrounding the Kings has been an undying, unyielding dedication and love. Yet, I again admit I truly hadn't felt the pulse of the fans until I committed to Twitter.

It almost has been akin to a religious experience where I now can feel the passion and desire of the fans to see the Kings win a championship. I can feel the never-ending quest for national respect, as a franchise, as well as a city. The satisfaction derived from knowing a world-class entertainment center is being constructed in downtown Sacramento for their team is palpable.

However, the most surprising and intriguing characteristic Twitter has uncovered is the number and intensity supplied by female fans. The knowledge, dedication and fire these ladies bring to the dance inspires smiles as well as a feeling of an unbelievable personal awakening and awareness.

This female fan group takes nary a backseat to any comparable faction of Kings fans. They are passionate and as defensive and protective as any group of males, if not more so. They possess a sensitivity born of a team, franchise and city that has withstood repeated body blows and still stands strong.

They aggressively promote their belief the Kings finally are headed on a path to respectability with the ability to compete with the NBA's best. They refuse to listen to any position suggesting otherwise.

Once again, that stance results in a smile in my belief and confidence of a mind opened and exposed to new horizons. All this was a result of taking advantage of Twitter for more than merely alerting the masses of another blog written.

So I thank Twitter for providing the vessel I have used to learn, touch and internalize emotion, commitment and passion I once missed, overlooked and took for granted. It will not happen again.