Monday, August 18, 2014

Donald Sterling's Gone and a New Era Begins

The Clippers are hosting their Fan Fest today and seeing the images of celebration along the birth of the Steve Ballmer era has left me feeling a bit confused. Not that I'm not pleased Donald Sterling is finally removed from the NBA but because the team is going to have a change in identity.

I've grown up with the Clippers as the junior varsity team. They've had a year or two of success but it was never sustained. Even with this 3-year run they've been on, I had a feeling Sterling would find a way to screw it up because he always has. Whether it was by being cheap to pay quality coaches, free agents or running his mouth, he's been a poison to ruin any momentum.

Now that he's gone, I've wondered if the Clippers' new identity means that their old legacy isn't coming back and what that means longterm. I wrote about that last week over at Bro Jackson but I think to explain my confusion more, I can compare it to USC and UCLA.*

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NABJ14: Gratitude, Love and Growth in Boston

“It's so free, this kind of feeling
It's like life, it's so appealing
When you've got so much to say
It's called gratitude, and that's right” - Beastie Boys “Gratitude”

Last week was my third time attending the annual National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair. Yet this time was different than the last two. The first was a mix of nerves, blind faith and excitement to visit my father’s hometown of New Orleans. The second felt like taking the training wheels off a bicycle and riding more confidently in looking for jobs and networking. 

This year? I vowed to return with a job and I did. I said I would meet my great friend Sam for the first time in 8 years and I did. I knew what to expect and yet I was open for something new. But I felt as comfortable as my flight to Boston was and it’s a sign that I wasn’t a new guy anymore. 

That’s why I want to give back as much as I received. Express gratitude to people like Michael Smith, who told me last year to get better at being myself as much as my craft. Thank Yahoo’s Marc Spears for telling me to focus this blog on local content as much as I can. Thank former Sporting News editor Garry Howard for critiquing my resume (and thank him in advance for reading some of my clips).

I also wanted to reach out to younger journalists and offer any tips I could. There were a ton of college kids and I was happy to listen to them as well as share some of my experiences. Plus nothing says NABJ like friendly debates on the NBA/NFL with folks around the country.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Tony Dungy's Comments Reflect a Bigger NFL Problem

I respect Tony Dungy as a man, as a coach and as a figure worthy of respect. Yet his comments today saddened me regarding that he'd pass up drafting Michael Sam to avoid the circus. It didn't surprise me either, given what we've known about him for years.

Tony Dungy's been a no-nonsense guy for decades. He came up in the Steelers organization where that attitude was ingrained by the hard-hat, workman-like style of head coach Chuck Noll. Dungy coached his teams that way and his organizations provided that same structure. He's a man of courage and outspokenness on several pertinent issues such as race in coaching hires.

However, this is not a case of homophobia. This is not about Dungy's faith possibly as a factor*. This is not a case to lecture a Black man about the civil rights struggle he lived through and how Black athletes were once avoided**. It's about a culture in pro sports that is scared if guys appear to have something bigger than the game around them.

That's why I found his opinion on Michael Sam being drafted so cowardly. It's the cowardly, old-school line of thinking in pro sports that you want guys who'll put their head down and work, not be somebody who'll bring a lot of attention to themselves. It's why we overvalue "humble" athletes as opposed to "boisterous, loud" ones.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Selling the Melo-Drama (Why the Lakers should re-evaluate Carmelo Anthony)

I would’ve hoped the Lakers management learned from Dwight Howard to think wisely on which big names to chase. The Lakers need a new face but they need the right face and the right pieces around said face to work. That's why when considering Carmelo Anthony, I don't like it because it reminds me of the chase for Howard.

Howard is a great player but he wasn’t a good fit because 1) he didn’t have a role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, 2) he was coming off a back injury, 3) he didn’t solve the Lakers biggest problems. Defending the perimeter and point guard play. Plus the Lakers didn’t need size as much as they needed help in the backcourt and on the wing.

Enter Melo. A shooting star who can score from anywhere. A volume shooter who happens to play similar to one Kobe Bryant. Which is nice except Melo isn't a ballhandler or a good defender. I've seen him for 11 years and I don't see where he can lead any team to a championship with the way he plays. Yes he won at Syracuse but Jim Boeheim's system isn't the NBA and while he can you into the playoffs, he needs more help than just outscoring folks.

So why go after him? Because he’s a big name? That’s a sign of desperation. You can’t convince me Carmelo is a great fit here with the team as constructed. When you need upgrades at point guard and defense, what on Earth makes you think he fixes those problems?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dee Gordon: A Comet Becomes a Star

If you asked me three years ago if Dee Gordon had the potential to be an All-Star, I would've said no. He had potential to be a great leadoff man and an exceptional base stealer but on first glance, I didn't see All-Star. All I was hoping for was him to develop into a better hitter so he could be a weapon.

Safe to say the guy my former co-worker called Speedy Dee back in 2011 has exceeded that. He's an All-Star reserve, a .300 hitter and the major league leader in stolen bases and triples that has helped galvanize this Dodgers offense. And I'm happy for him.

Yasiel Puig? Expected All-Star the minute he took MLB by storm. Clayton Kershaw? You've seen his last seven games right? Zach Greinke? Unquestionably the best "No. 2" pitcher in the National League. But Dee? A diamond in the rough who finally started to shine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On the Lakers and the 2014 NBA Draft (Get the Point, Not the Size)

For the first time in nine years, I'm watching the NBA Draft to see what happens to the Lakers. The three-year back slide since the 2011 playoff sweep by the Mavericks has led to this and I guess all year, we've been waiting to see what happens.

Mostly, I've been praying that with some of the questionable personnel moves that Lakers management have made, they do the right thing on Thursday. Avoid getting a big man and get a guard to finally move into the 21st century NBA. With no second round pick this year or any draft picks for 2015 as of right now, this pick means a lot which is why they need to go small than big.

The Lakers have lacked a great, young, dynamic point guard for 15 years. While Ron Harper, Derek Fisher, Gary Payton, Smush Parker and Ramon Sessions were solid, Nick Van Exel was really the last one they've had. In this era you need a strong lead guard to be able to do anything in the West.

That's why the Lakers need to pray Dante Exum or Marcus Smart are available.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clayton Kershaw: A No-No for the Young Prince

I was running Wednesday night with my crew and my phone died. So when I changed batteries afterwards, I got all the updates from ESPN. "Clayton Kershaw has retired the first 15 batters......Clayton Kershaw has retired the first 18 batters."

Naturally, I turned on the game on the radio. All I heard was the roar of Dodger Stadium and silence from Charley Steiner and Rick Monday. I started swelling up with hope and then all a sudden, Steiner started saying Kershaw was being embraced by his teammates as he threw the 12th no-hitter in L.A. Dodgers history.

All I could do was smile. A month ago, he had perhaps the worst game of his career as he was chased in the first inning. Now the Young Prince had the game of his life and it was even more special knowing we've been blessed to see such a wonderful talent grow and blossom into the best pitcher in baseball.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ready for the World Cup (How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love Soccer)

Let's go back 16 years. The 13-year-old me was ready to watch the Cup but with jaded pessimism. With Jim Rome's anti-soccer talk in my ears, I was raised to think soccer was a silly sport. I was an American snob in training and watching the 1998 American team finish dead last made it feel even more like I was right.

I knew the big soccer stars like Ronaldo and Zidane and I became a fan of the bald French goalie Barthez. But I wasn't about to dive deeper in soccer and there was no way I believed America would ever matter since I knew the best soccer talent was worldwide. So I stayed segregated in my growing hoop/pigskin/baseball world.

And here I am now. More geeked for the World Cup than I've ever been. Fully immersed in the previews (hat-tip to my Bro Jackson brethren killing those) and anxious to see Brazil kick it off, while praying the turmoil there doesn't get too overshadowed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heat vs. Spurs: A Rematch Hoops Fans Can Love

My good friend Keith and I talk a lot about hoops and one of the things we talk about is the science of hoops. We recommend pieces that discuss the science of the game without boring us with gossip or unnecessary hit jobs. We talk about the X's and O's and when I get away from the Twitter stream of consciousness, I see the game as more than just narratives and enjoy it.

Another friend, Paris, wrote an excellent piece about how he's stopped being a fan and becoming an watcher/observer of the game in reaction to over the top fan behavior. It's a freeing thing to enjoy the games, be passionate/excited and then break it down without losing much sweat or hyperbole. Of course some games will still hit you in the gut but life goes on.

I say all of that as an intro to this Heat-Spurs rematch that I'm excited to see. Two similar teams playing beautiful basketball. Two coaches who are masters of their profession in terms of strategy, preparation and adjustments. I'm ready to sit back and watch our first Finals back-to-back rematch in 15 years. Here's what I want to see.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Week of Good Work

It's been an eventful week for me but also a productive one. Even though jury duty abruptly changed some of my plans, I'm still amazed at the level of work I did in spite of it and my schedule being tight.

I know I've been neglectful in sharing my stories here but I hope you'll indulge me for sharing after this week. (Here's a quick link to my non-sports thoughts from Monday on last week's Game of Thrones ep, which I think shows how my TV critiques are getting better)

Tuesday, for Bro Jackson, I tag-teammed with fellow scribe Courtney Cox to tackle the ignorant, lazy comments of Chris "Mad Dog" Russo regarding the lack of Black journalists on his station. As I've written before, media and new media are glaringly White and when comments like these are said, you can't leave them alone because they are dangerous. Courtney set it up so well with her takes that I felt like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman closing this out in style.

Later that night, I was at a volleyball game with a league title at stake. A three game sweep for El Segundo against South Torrance. 2 straight Pioneer League titles and 2 straight without losing a set.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lakers Fans vs. Kobe Fans

Losing reveals a lot of things. It tests your character and it exposes a lot things. In the case of the Lakers, it exposed a lot folks stooping to desperate levels.

For the first time, I heard Lakers fans and fan sites talk about tanking - that silly concept I debunked earlier this year. I settled for accepting a team that was competitive and moral victories meant giving up less than 100 points. I dealt with Nick Young being the West Coast JR Smith except not as destructive. And then there’s the Kobe conundrum.

If this season exposed anything, it’s the great divide between Lakers fans and Kobe fans. One group of folks know the Lakers way and respect the franchise as much or more than one player. The other group believes in Kobe Bean Bryant and can sometimes forget the realities of the game.

Yes, Kobe's opinion and actions matter considering he's given half his life to the team. But at the same time, resting the hopes of next year solely on him is a fool's errand. Yet there are fans who do this and I can't figure out why they can't balance their love for Kobe with the same reality check other superstars have.

Andy Kamenetzky did a great job laying this out and to add on to it, here’s things I notice.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Requiem for Wichita State (And Other March Madness thoughts)

Wichita State finally lost their first game of the year, as most expected.  There have been some voices who feel vindicated because WSU didn't survive the first weekend. I'll politely say that those folks are idiots who want to feel smart because this plucky mid-major didn't deserve the attention they got.

So Wichita State didn't play a tough schedule. Do folks realize how hard it is for teams to win every single game? Only two teams in my lifetime have gone perfect through the regular season (1991 UNLV, 2004 St Joseph's before the conference tournament).

2008 Memphis - maybe the best team I've witnessed since 1999 Duke - lost one game prior to the national title game. 2012 Kentucky lost one before they lost again in the SEC title game. I don't care who you are, to win every game is not easy regardless of schedule. One bad game and that's a wrap.

I compare it to watching the No. 1 high school team in California this weekend. Mater Dei is 34-0 and heading to their fourth straight state final appearance. They've played through a tough nonleague schedule, a league that included a fellow state finalist in St. John Bosco and one of the toughest playoff roads in the nation.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weekend Links (Best of My Recent Work)

I've been silent here for the most part. Mainly because the newspaper has been keeping me very busy and I couldn't be happier. Basketball/football season has given me a lot of work and I could not be happier.

Just so you know what I've been up to, I'm presenting a few links of my best work starting with today. Plus sharing a few behind the scene tidbits

Bishop Montgomery guard Justin Bibbins is only 5-9 but he dominates every game he's in. He's a leader, well-spoken, thoughtful and a future Long Beach State 49er. Here's my feature on him.*

Speaking of features, my last football feature was on Narbonne defensive end Owen Roberts. The kid they call "Boogie" became one of my all-time favorites to cover because he was fun, quotable and friendly. He's heading to San Jose State and for this, I was happy to talk to his coach and several old teammates.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marcus Smart Reminds Us Fans are Entitled

Saturday night, I watched the reaction to Marcus Smart pushing a Texas Tech fan. Naturally my first thought was what did the fan say? Obviously Smart will be suspended for perhaps the first major blemish on his college career but more important is what provoked it.

Smart was told "Go Back to Africa" by Jeff Orr. Where I come from, you say that to somebody it's hurtful. I was told "Go Back to Compton" as an adult at Newport Beach - a lillywhite area in SoCal - and even though it was silly, I was hurt that it came at a beach. Orr knew what he was doing reaching for a racial insult and deserved what he got.

Also naturally, folks were quick to say "But he shouldn't have done it" or whatever excuse they needed to justify being thrown a racially coded insult. In 2014, why are we still doing this? Have we not evolved to think deeper? Is it all knee-jerk reaction without any analysis?

Let's call it what it is. Media and other sports fans are quick to judge athletes when they don't judge fans for their behavior that's gotten worse and worse over time. Don't believe me, consider the recent evidence.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl Hangover: All Hail Pete Carroll

Congrats to the best football coach of the 21st century in Pete Carroll. I know it sounds crazy but after that defensive demolition his Seahawks laid on the most prolific offense in NFL history, I think he's made his argument easy.

He's the third coach to win a college and pro championship (Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer). He built two championship caliber teams from the ground up a la Jimmy Johnson. More importantly, he changed their identities. USC became attractive to more high school players and the Seahawks are having the best run I've ever seen them have.

He and Jim Harbaugh have changed the idea that college coaches can't succeed in the NFL but their past lives at NFL lifers prepped them for this. Carroll's failures with the Jets and Patriots taught him how to Win Forever and have fun while coaching some great defenses.

I never thought he'd duplicate his USC success in the NFL but now, he's done just that. I saw Carroll transform a culture and he's shaped what the Trojans want in a coach now. He shaped what UCLA looked for in Jim Mora. It's not about wins or losses, it's about culture change and getting people to buy in your system.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Anti-Tanking Manifesto (Why it's Misdiagnosed, Useless and Shameful)

Bill Simmons was maybe the first person I heard it from. The concept of "tanking" - where teams intentionally lose to help themselves in the upcoming draft. It was back in college when Simmons was busy writing columns that would influence me and a generation of future bloggers/sports websites.

It used to be something I frowned upon. Teams trying to lose? It sounded pathetic and limp. Who dare intentionally try to sabotage a season for the hope for getting a player who won't singlehandedly turn a team around. It sounded more like a private idea before Simmons announced it and promoted it every year.

A decade later, here we are. Tanking is a full-blown public term of endearment. Fans openly root for tanking. It's discussed at the beginning of a season. Now that it's hit home with the Lakers, it's made me even more vocal about why it's such a ridiculous concept.

Maybe it's because of how I'm wired. I'm a competitor and I have been since Day One. Get the best grade on a test. Do your best in athletics. Bring your A game and don't settle for less. I root for my teams to show effort all the time and win or lose, I'll respect it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Farewell to the BCS: A Symptom of Bigger NCAA problems

Props to Jameis Winston becoming the second freshman QB (and 1st redshirt) to win a national title. Props to Florida State's defense coming alive in the second half and special teams changing the game. Props to Tre "Lil Maseo" Mason for balling out once again for Auburn in defeat.

Now that Florida State can celebrate a national title after one of the best national title games I've seen, it calls for us to throw the BCS into a coffin and quickly bury that monster. Yet not before we take one more look at why it resembles the best of college football (and the NCAA's) and its hypocrisy.

I vented my personal beef with the BCS earlier this season and this week, I helped bid farewell looking at the highs and lows of the era. As we lower it into the grave, let me provide some last words.

The BCS started out with good intentions. Yes, it got a few games right here and there and for the most part, the national champion was deserving. However, let's not forget what it revealed as it devolved into a mess.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Brett Hundley Returns: A Smart Decision UCLA's Celebrating

As I said above, Brett Hundley made the right business decision staying at UCLA. You can praise him for his loyalty but Hundley isn't risking his career for that alone. He's doing it to grow as a quarterback and a leader. Applaud him for realizing that he could improve his skill set as well as contribute to something special at UCLA.

For every Matt Leinart, Jake Locker, Matt Barkley or others who come back to get burned, there’s guys like Johnny Manziel and Vince Young who improved their stock by getting better on the field. So what does this mean for the Bruins? Let's break it down.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Welcome to 2014: Links and Stuff

So I have a 2013 recap post planned here but in the meantime, I have good links to share from the last of my 2012 and the beginning of this year.

From last night, I had the great privilege of being inside Staples Center for the Downtown Showdown, hosted by Torrance High School. The hosts swept both games for the first time and here's one video interview of several I did following the games. (Daily Breeze)

My Top 10 games of the year. Done before Texas A&M had their excellent comeback against Duke on New Year's Eve. (Bro Jackson)

Earlier this week, two of California's best teams faced off in a battle of locals. Redondo defeated Bishop Montgomery in a thriller. (Daily Breeze)

I'll be at the Paul Pierce Winter Classic this weekend at Inglewood High School for two days of great hoops. Also, for my Southern Cali folks, check out Redondo High School for their Take Flight Challenge on Saturday. Two great hoops showcases.