Basketball, Officiating, Sports Analysis, and the Journo Block on Twitter đź‘Š

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

I hail from a basketball family. My grandfather was an all-state player in Minnesota who would have played college ball had he not enlisted to serve in WWII (imagine a 6’4″ guy assigned to a sub – but that is a story for another time.) My dad grew up playing hockey (logically: Minnesota) but when he moved to LA his sophomore year, he picked up basketball. He was an all-city player in LA and led his Granada Hills High School team to a really impressive section title over Roosevelt HS, 71-68. He was just that good of an athlete – able to switch sports without missing a beat. He got a full ride to Whitman College where I imagine he would have had a pretty solid career had the late 60s, Vietnam, and other extra-curricular interests not led to the University suggesting he might be better suited elsewhere. Pretty much all of my early memories of alone time with my dad involve watching basketball – either watching him play in his men’s league, or watching the NCAA or the NBA on a crap little television. It was one of the languages we spoke early on – and how I was able to watch the Warriors win their championship way back when – and be conscious of the magnitude of the moment – then and now.

So, of course, growing up, I decided I wanted to be a gymnast.

I should have done a little more observational research because it was clearly not in my tall family future. But I was committed – until the bars could no longer be adjusted enough to accommodate my quickly growing frame. (Starting 7th grade at 5’2″ things seemed plausible. Started 9th grade at 5’9″ so something had to give.)

Basketball it would be.

It was a good choice and basketball would be something that would inform much of my life for the next three decades.

I learned a lot from playing basketball, and while not the most natural talent, I was one of the hardest workers you could find. My coach would still attest to this (shout out to Petaluma High’s Doug Johnson who knew I was the perfect size to be a college guard, but I was convinced at 5’10” I would always be a forward, because teenagers know everything right?) and along with my work ethic was a seriousness with which I approached the game. Everyday I wanted to learn everything there was to learn in order to be better the next day. I was a work horse, there is no other way to describe it. I was (am) still pretty strong for my size and I rebounded like crazy – bumping uglies as Coach Izzo would say, and clearly fouled. A lot. I’ll just say I got very familiar with all of the officials in our league. But they too taught me a ton.

One of my high school English teachers was a Pac-10 ref at the time. We thought this was pretty cool (not as cool as he did, btw, but still.) Mr. R would talk about his side gig all the time and throughout my high school career he was definitely moving up the ranks in big time college officiating. This was when I started learning about how the ref game worked, there was a lot of give and take in order to move up the food chain and this guy was playing it perfectly. We will return to Mr. R presently.

I opted to run track in college – in hindsight not the right choice – but whatever. I stayed connected to basketball in a variety of ways: playing in rec leagues, coaching youth leagues, NCAA pools (I still recall the first time I picked the Final Four – 1990, UNLV, Duke, Arkansas, Georgia Tech – it impressed the heck out of my neighbors, too bad I didn’t get in on a pool that year.)

When I eventually decided to go into education I knew I would coach. I was the Varsity Assistant my first year at Balboa HS in SF where we won the section along with the boys, under their famous Jet Offense (yeah, it was cherry picking: Winters Patterson to Marquette Alexander for the title) Twice is Nice for Balboa was the headline. And it was here that I began to get a better understanding of the nuances of the game, and in particular officiating.

As I progressed through the ranks working up to what would be a 15 year varsity coaching career – girls in the season and boys in the summer (the boy’s coaches that I worked with would coach my girls and I would take their boys in the off-season leagues so that we did not break player contact rules, and I always appreciated that those coaches trusted me enough to do that – not many women get a chance to coach men (HUGE shout out to Becky Hammon and my perennial favorite Coach Pop.) With my growing experience, knowledge and love for the game, my biggest learning curve came when I began officiating. To be fair I was only officiating fall and summer ball, but my goodness – it changed everything. I have always been a pretty savvy conversationalist with officials and definitely was not above trying to charm them from the sidelines. It mostly worked, though I certainly earned some choice techs along the way. However, the summer I started working as an offical was a watershed moment.

My biggest takeaway was that perfection was not achievable, so consistency had to be the goal. I also became painfully aware of how officials can absolutely change a game – not necessarily through “bad” or “unfair” calls, but by inserting themselves too much into the game, by changing the pace of the game to something akin to pain for all involved, or simply by making the game about them.

I say all of this as a very long-winded way to say when a local sports journalist, who I am not sure has ever played or coached or officiated a game (if that matters), blocks me on Twitter (oh! The Horror!) because I make a snarky comment about the officiating assignment for a Warriors game (IT WAS SCOTT FOSTER FOR GOODNESS SAKES!) and suggests that I am some tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, I take serious issue with this.

Scott Foster and Tony Brothers are not good officials and I am defintiely not alone in this opinion. The two of them put far too much of their own ‘flavor’ (for lack of a better term) on a game. To be fair, they are consistent in their inconsistency, but they regularly make games unwatchable for me. And to be clear, I am not talking only about games that my favorite teams play in. I watch all the NBA games that are on tv. I watched all the NCAA games too – and any women’s games that the networks bothered to televise. I would never rarely say a ref cost a team (especially at the pro level) a game. Mr. R did not perform well on the largest stage I ever watched him officiate. Did he cost the Terrapins the game? Unlikely, although as they lost to Duke and I love Garry Williams and the Terps to the moon and back while simultaneously loathing the Blue Devils and their Grayson Allen culture, I would like to say this. But I do not say it because I know the game and I know better. However, I can still say Mr. R sucked that night.

And I can still say Scott Foster sucks on the regular. On Sunday Scott Foster was trending (why Brothers was not after the #TunnelTech is a mystery). Here is a quick peek at fans from across the country commenting on Mr. Foster.

 

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When I did a Twitter search I came across Tim Kawakami’s morning announcement of who would officiate game 4 of the Warriors-Spurs series. I retweeted his post with a comment: “Oh, this explains it. Had I had seen this I would not have rushed home to watch this game and stayed out to enjoy the weather” or something equally inane, and admittedly, not my most clever. (I later deleted it because I am not in the habit of trying offend, even the most sensitive on Twitter, although in hindsight that was dumb of me.) His response was swift.

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Now, I cannot say if Kawakami blocks people for breathing. But I can say I am well aware that these officials did not cost the Warriors the game (#AfternoonKlay). And I am still glad that I subscribe to The Athletic (Kawakami’s new gig) because I have been dying to see Ethan Sherwood Strauss‘ name back in the bylines and I rely on Marcus Thompson for good reporting. I am enjoying Anthony Slater quite a bit too.

What I can say is this: block whoever you want on Twitter – lord knows there’s enough heinous behavior out there to warrant it, And hey! Block me if it pleases you. But do not get it twisted and try to suggest that I am block worthy because I don’t know what I am talking about, or I am some conspiracy theorist. I love talking about basketball with my friends, my colleagues, my former teammates, and my former players – hell, with anyone, really,  who likes to talk about it. And we are allowed to be silly, sad, serious, contentious, outrageous, or whatever we want. I’d expect a journalist to know this.

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The Change Chronicles: Part 3

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So, in some fairly dramatic ways, it turns out the more things change, the more things change. This is not ideal.

The last few years have been a real roller coaster for my generation. For a while I was thinking, Damn, what is going on? Why are all these people dying/bad things happening/disconnects appearing TO US? Then it hit me – it was not “US” because we were particularly cursed or tragically unlucky. It was “US” because we are arriving at (upon?) a certain age.

When every fashion trend you despise returns (high-waisted jeans I am totally glaring at you), every movie you grew up with is being remade (seriously, Footloose? That borders on sacrilegious), and your icons are leaving you at a pace that defies explanation (Leonard Nimoy, BB King, Dick Van Patten – was Eight really ever enough? – Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Morley Safer, Mohamed Ali, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson (I didn’t even have television growing up and I know The Brady Bunch is just My Three Sons without her), Fidel Castro (who made Che after all), Zsa Zsa, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore (“I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda!”), John Hurt, Chuck Berry, Roger Moore (nooooooooooo), Adam West… in only a few short years….), and the political landscape enters into the realm of Mad Magazine, one starts to wonder if they were born under a bad sign.

Turns out no… one was just born a long time ago.

Samantha “Sam” Baker wakes up on her 50th birthday. She reaches for the iPhone on the nightstand and immediately feels a tear in her rotator cuff. She heads into the bathroom to pluck the white chin hair that grew overnight.

I started noticing things were not as they should be about four years ago. My hair color regimen had to be bumped up to every four weeks – which is both costly and demoralizing. My aesthetic expenditures shifted from the lower half of my body to my chin. My skin began to look, well, like someone else’s I remember with love and warmth, the soft and slightly crepe-y feel of my grandma Joan but a grandma I am not (I am still spending money on Hanacure regularly like only a true believer would). Add to this that the creaky knee decided to announce substantial arthritis and then.. the hip. You know who has hip problems? OLD PEOPLE.

How did this happen? I am starting to sweat even thinking about it. #hotflash And just be glad I am not going to publicly regale you with the joys of the onset of “The Change of Life.” At least, not yet.

As the reality of turning 50 looms, it dawns on me that I actually didn’t realize I was getting old. I mean, I can read and count, and I understand through a very tenacious Facebook group (yes – I know Facebook is only for old people now… that is sort of the point here) that my 30th Class Reunion is coming to fruition, so I am clear on the whole passage of time thing, but looking around at my friend group and our lifestyles, I was deluded into thinking that things were not really changing. Not in some sad or pathetic way at all, but in a more authentic and unconventional way: we are doing what we want, how we want, when we want. But, we probably have to come home a little earlier (who goes out at midnight people?) And really, if it is not VIP it is not for me, I mean who can deal with all those people? (To be fair, VIP has always been for me, but at a certain age it is actually a requirement, and one we can afford.)

In some ways talking about getting older amongst ourselves in a jokey sort of way has been a way to own it – but outside of the peri-AARP circle, it just sounds a little sad and creepy. I happen to work around young people and this has a variety of effects: in some ways it keeps me a little bit more on the hipper edge of life, in some ways it accentuates the reality that I am so not hip, which can be it’s own quasi-cool characteristic and allows for a slightly more full embrace of the No Fucks Given position (although truth be told, that has been my life’s work). But mostly it just makes my view into the abyss of later middle age all that more clear.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the increased freedom to do/say/afford/act as I please, but really, I am not endeavoring to enter the realms of caricature. I just want my hip to stop hurting, to stop worrying about whether or not I actually could grow a full beard, and whether or not someone is looking at my resume and wondering, “How is someone this old looking for a new job?”

Because I am. And there is this thing going on where experience is not actually a sought after trait anymore across industries and institutions (how is that working out for you all in Washington you foolish lemmings?) These days experience translates as: conventional, inflexible, old-fashioned, and close-mided against a world where thinking of the un-thought-of is the goal. I think this is called agism by some. I definitely know that it is a conundrum for me because I am able to think quite far outside of the “box.” It just so happens that I am also old enough to know when relying what has worked in the past is the right thing to do. I mean really people, you still like the damn wheel right? The 60-second minute? Checkers?  Ancient Sumer gave you those around 3500 BCE – not to go all History Teacher on you.

I have no idea where the next stop on my professional journey will take me. I am confident it will be somewhere informative and significant and I know I have a lot more to offer creatively, intellectually, and through straight up hard work so I am excited about the potential of finding something really interesting and inspiring, and dare I say, different. But I am not wishing for anything, I am getting back out there and looking people in the eye with zero fucks, straight up honesty, and fearlessly keeping my chin up because I have a great electrologist.

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December 2017: In Lima at 47 with no make up, no fucks given, and a couple of Pisco Sours.

Sam replies, “I’m 50 years old, motherfucker. I don’t have time for wishes.”

Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right…

One of my recurring thoughts while I was living in Hong Kong was this idea that I was spinning my wheels. I remember – acutely – looking at my life and wondering what I was doing. I remember thinking to myself, “My goodness, all my peers are doing things. Like buying lots of houses, and having lots of babies, and accumulating lots of things and planning for lots of days lots of years down the road.” At which point I would look around at my life and say, “My god, how did I get here!?” I was not buying lots of houses, or having lots of babies, or accumulating lots of things, and I certainly was not planning for anything anywhere down the road. It seemed like I was doing something wrong. Maybe everything. But, so was everyone else around me. Of course, I judged these people, my friends and allies, equally as harshly: “Look at us, escapees all, avoiding the reality that is life in Manchester, Liverpool, Ontario, Paris, Melbourne, London, Sydney, Wellington, Seattle, and places far less interesting in between. What were we doing? Where were we going?

The wind in the willows playing Tea for Two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand
Everybody is playing in the heart of gold band
Heart of gold band

The reality I was doing tons (tonnes) of things. I was traveling and reading, and writing and taking endless snapshots of it all. It was not perfect, and there were bumps in the road, but I can say with confidence, I was on the road. My friends at home used to say to me, “Oh, I wish I could do…” And I would say, almost glibly, “Well, you can. Why not come over and just do it?” And they would say, “No, I can’t, I have to….”

As I was walking round Grosvenor Square
Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air
From the other direction she was calling my eye (note 1)
It could be an illusion, but I might as well try
Might as well try

Now I am back in the US… [You don’t know how lucky you are, boy… Back in the US, back in the US] and I find myself checking in on my friends in far off places, who continue to live the way I was living and it looks different now. Now I look longingly at the photos of the Chinese New Year holiday spent in Saigon, the weekend in Samui, the quick trip to Shanghai, to Tokyo, a little sun session in KK. And I say, almost audibly, “I wish I could do that… but I cannot because I have to…”

Have to what, exactly? When pressed to answer… I have nothing.

Well I ain’t often right but I’ve never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way it does in the song
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right

Right now we are studying empires and imperialism in World History class and we are focusing on the cyclical nature of things. How history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but if you pay attention, you can make fairly accurate predictions about how things might go – because once in a while you get shown the light. And it is not by accident that this unit of study coincides with the Lunar New Year, because that is a tradition I also like to share with my students and we talk about the cycles of the Chinese zodiac and the patterns and the pleasant predictability of certain elements that make the less predictable shit a little easier to deal with.

My students drew visual representations of cycles at one point last week. There was no limit on how they interpreted this. They could choose perpetual, repetitive cycles, finite cycles, patterns… here are some of the things I got:

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And in the midst of all this, while feeling a bit sedentary these days and frustrated at my go-to response falling somewhere between “I cannot do — because I have to do —” or “You can’t just —” I woke up to a beautiful New Year of the Snake feeling all pleased about my clean house and the wonderfully familiar sense of a new beginning it dawned on me in the most obvious way, I’ve been here before: When I was there I thought I should be here, in spite of the radness of my life (and it is important to acknowledge that the pull to live the life you feel you should and enjoying the life you are living are not mutually exclusive…) and now that I am here I find myself stymied by reasons why I cannot be there. But as the series of thoughts marched across my morning brain, they felt far less significant. After all, they were marching, after all. And truly, I had been here before, so it follows I will probably be there again sometime too.

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I glanced over at Max as he carefully un-straightened all the pictures I had equally carefully straightened the day before. The whole pattern played out in the sunshine, and then I got up and readjusted the pictures.

And reserved my rooms in Bali.

As I picked up my matches and was closing the door
I had one of those flashes I had been there before
Been there before…