Thursday, August 18, 2016

5 Observations from the Rio Games



Dirty water, robbery and doping scandals aside, these Olympic games in Rio have been a thrill to watch. And, with such a small time difference between Rio and the states, we have been able to actually enjoy them at a reasonable hour, sometimes even live!


With that said, here are five observations from the games:


#1: The Stars Help A lot


With golf, tennis and basketball stars backing out of Rio, it was easy to feel a letdown coming. But, with two of the greatest of all time – Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt – along with superstars Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Kerri Walsh Jennings, these games have been electric. 


The Olympics is supposed to be the stage for the greatest athletes in the world, and it most certainly has been that this year, especially for America! Approaching 100+ medals, USA has nearly lapped the country with the 2nd most current medals in China. 


Led by the greatest of all time, Michael Phelps, exiting the Olympics stage with insurmountable hardware and class, and the emergence of superstars Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles breaking records at just 19 years old, the stars have aligned for America, with the future looking as bright as the past. 


#2: International Basketball is More than Refreshing – It's the Right Way to Play


I thought the USA men's basketball team would steamroll the competition. And, when they didn't, I was reminded why the NBA has regressed, and the international game is poetry in motion.


Clich├ęs aside, watching these international teams play has been a breath of fresh air. The way they play the game, from their passing to their spacing, is how it should be played. The NBA has become way too much isolation one-on-one, and I believe that's a big reason for the disparity you see today. I'll take brilliant execution and team ball any day over superstars chucking it up. 

The Spurs are the exception here, but most NBA teams could learn a thing or two from the international strategy. Certainly, Team USA has by beating two teams, with much less talent, by just one possession. 


#3: The Less Mainstream Sports are the Best


When it comes to the Olympics, I've always been most fascinated and interested by the less popular American sports. Certainly, swimming and gymnastics come to the forefront at the Olympics, and our American stars have made those events must-see at the Olympics.


But, beyond that, I love watching table tennis, badminton and handball. And, believe it or not, the top stars in each sport have made in the millions for their careers. These sports are very popular in some rich countries, and I would love to see them televised more in the states. 


#4: Golf Needs to be a Team Event


After a 112-year absence, it was nice to see golf return to the Olympics. But, the format ruined it for me. Besides the fact that four of the top five golfers in the world – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy – backed out, the event would've been way better had it been in a Ryder Cup/team format.

Sure, it was fun that it came down to the 72nd hole between Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, two of the world's best. But, it would have been way more fun had it been a battle of the countries. Every player, and every shot, would carry so much more weight, and the camaraderie between countries and fan reaction would create much more excitement and buzz.


Honestly, with the Olympics being more than two weeks long, you could easily do both. Make it happen!


#5: Michael Phelps


Michael Phelps. Enough said. If he is, indeed, calling it a career, he went out in remarkable fashion, notching five more golds and one silver, to reach 28 total medals, 23 of which were gold.


But, this Olympics was more than his last hurrah; it was cementing his legacy and going out the right way. By Phelps standards, and his own standards, London 2012 was a disappointment. After going 8 for 8 golds in 2008, he had two silvers to his name in 2012. And, he told Bob Costas, "I basically did that off of pure talent, very, very minimal work. The last like year, leading up to London, I worked pretty hard. But, the other three years, I just joked around."


On top of that, as he acknowledged in the same interview, he went to very dark places, battled depression and even questioned his life. In doing so, his weight skyrocketed from 187 to 230. It wasn't until a DUI and subsequent rehab that he decided to return to the sport. 


And, so, the 2016 Rio Olympics was more than just the best ever giving us one last show for the record books; it was Phelps restoring his life, making an incredible comeback and going out the right way.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tim Duncan: Greater Than the Game



It's so rare that you find someone with a demeanor so calm and collected command that much respect, exude that much leadership and unquestionably rise to one of the best players in NBA history.

That was Tim Duncan in a nutshell. As great as he was a player, he was seen by his peers as an even greater teammate and person. What Duncan represents, along with the era he represented, is almost nonexistent today. And, here's why:

The Rivalries

What really made Duncan's era special, compared to today, were the rivalries. And, as a Mavs fan, Spurs-Mavs topped the list.

It was a true rivalry in every sense of the word. Both teams met a lot, both teams each won a lot and there were epic, storybook encounters throughout. Duncan and Dirk squared off six times in the playoffs, with Duncan winning 18 games to Dirk's 15. The rivalry featured very talented and deep teams, but what will be most remembered are these two mild mannered, all-time great power forwards that are champions and ambassadors of the game.

The Big Fundamental

What's really missing from today's game that Duncan, Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon and many of the other historically great big men of the past had is post play. Duncan had the infamous bank shot, while Dirk had the one-legged fadeaway, and both brought out their bag of tricks in the post now and then to get easy buckets.

Post play is a glaring void in today's game, and it's unfathomable to me as an NBA fan. I argue that it's not only pathetic, but also a contribution to the disparity of the league. It's not being taught at a young age, with young players of all sizes falling in love with what they see on TV and jacking up 3s as a result. I have this discussion with friends a lot ... is the game more exciting with so many 3's taken and less post play, and more importantly, should the strategy be to take a ton of 3s every game because of the inherent value of the 3-pointer?

I say emphatically NO. Don't get me wrong, I love watching a long 3-ball, but I can't justify a 3 on 1 fast break ending in anything but a layup, unless you badly need a 3. I also can't justify how players are so much bigger and stronger today and have such awful fundamentals when it comes to post play. Sometimes, post play is nonexistent, and that's baffling!

How is a 3-ball smarter than an easy bucket/layup, especially for a big guy? And, it's not even exclusive to big guys! Guards like Jason Kidd, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton, and greats Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, all thrived in the post. But, while Duncan and Kevin Garnett are at or near retirement and represent the last line of great post-playing big men from their era, there is hope. Guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor all have strong post games.

Let's teach these talented kids better fundamentals and post play, and encourage them to practice that day in and day out. I strongly believe it can set them apart from their peers, improve the quality of the game and add some parity as well. Maybe Duncan will become a coach and instill that. If anyone knows about fundamentals, post play and leadership, it's him.

Going Out Tim Duncan Style

You can't fault Kobe Bryant for going out the way he did. He was always all about the spotlight, and gave the league and its fans something to get excited for one last time.

But, Duncan was a different kind of player and person. He was all about going under the radar, no trash talk and no media-driven swan song. His retirement decision resembled the way his whole career played out: classy, methodical and calculated.

Tim Duncan was greater than the game, and if some of today's players acted more like him and learned from all he offered, the game would be in a better place.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Series, the Aftermath and the Finals



Impossible season. Extraordinary comeback. Epic Series. That sums up the Warriors record-breaking season and classic battle with OKC in the conference finals.

For a crazy person like me, I can watch any regular season NBA game and find myself compelled. Yet, for most, the NBA regular season is of little importance. But, when a team breaks the Bulls record and does it with the brilliance and artistry of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and their cohorts, it's worth watching.

Fast forward to the Western Conference Finals game five. The once unbeatable Warriors faced the brink of elimination, staring down three straight wins or an epic debacle. On one side, the Thunder played out of their minds, and it came out of nowhere, much like the 3-seeded Mavs in 2011. Kevin Durant (KD) and Russell Westbrook certainly did their thing, but it was the emergence of Steven Adams, the skill set of Enes Kanter and the unexpected reliability of Dion Waiters that put this OKC team in unchartered territory. They not only proved the Spurs takedown wasn't a fluke, but they also took the basketball world by storm by going toe to toe with the Warriors.

Then, the Warriors pulled off the extraordinary comeback in remarkable fashion. It took their best at the end to hold off a game OKC team in game five, and then took jaw-dropping Klay Thompson 3s to keep the Dubs in it and ultimately steal game 6 to force the decisive game seven. And, of course, in game seven, the Dubs made a double-digit comeback to defeat OKC to move on to the finals. It was an epic series that may have saved an otherwise mundane postseason.

The Decision 2.0

Okay, so maybe Durant's decision will be far less dramatic than LeBron's. And, you can make the case this is more like decision 3.0, with LeBron going back to Cleveland. Either way, the aftermath of this series gets back to the storyline before it: what will Durant do?

The most likely answer is that he'll stay in OKC for one more year, when Westbrook's contract ends, and then make a bigger decision. But, what's particularly intriguing is that before the playoffs, OKC just seemed like another team that had little chance of realistic championship aspirations. The fact that they took down the Spurs, came moments away from taking down the champs, and saw the emergence of Adams and other key role players, makes you wonder if that was enough to keep KD, and Westbrook, in OKC.

It's a great debate. On one hand, it seems like the dynamic duo finally has a real supporting cast they haven't had since Harden. It also seems they are literally a spot up three point set shooter or two from an unstoppable offense. Think about it ... they really don't have a knock down, consistent three point shooter for when Durant gets doubled. That makes it hard for them to iso Durant at the end of games, when Westbrook ultimately seems to go on his turnover spree, as he did in game 6. But, if they just got someone reliable, perhaps Ray Allen, they might just be in business and too good for KD to leave.

With that crazy OKC crowd and the talent level around him, it might be hard for him to leave. But, there's still a feeling amongst the basketball community that he might go home to Washington. While I'm not opposed to him staying in OKC, I believe it would be far more intriguing for him to leave and battle LeBron in the east. Think about it ... not too long ago, these two met in the finals, and it seemed as though this would be a classic rivalry for years to come. Then came the Harden trade and injuries. But, they were very close this playoffs, and would certainly build a nice battle in the east. Maybe LeBron would finally have some competition, and make the east fun again. The NBA isn't ditching conferences any time soon, so this is the next best thing.

The Finals

On to the finals! A great rematch on our hands, and one many wanted to see with a healthy Love and Irving back in the fray. The problem for the Cavs is that they get a Warriors team that has not only won a title, but also had the best regular season in NBA history. It was one thing when this team had never won a ship before and weren't as amazing as this season; it's another to take on the world champs in a historic season.

That said, I expect a very good series. I think the Warriors top four defense, combined with their great depth, spacing and shooting, will be the difference. And, we will see why that Klay for Love trade rumor last offseason was not worth the Dubs time. Boy was I wrong for considering that one! Give me Warriors in 7. Enjoy the finals!


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Historic Night and a Fitting Farewell



Usually, the last night of the NBA is a formality. Well, for the Warriors, it was, and hats off to them. But, only one man in today's game could steal the show on this night, as he's done his whole career.

Kobe dropping 60 was anything but a formality. And, with so much pressure and emotion for his last game, few players, if any, could have this great of a game, carrying one of the worst teams all season to a comeback victory for the ages.

Kobe has always been my favorite athlete (on the court). His work ethic, ability to play through injury and clutch gene are second to none in my generation. So, how fitting was it that all of those qualities were on display last night, in front of a packed house of Lakers fans screaming to the rooftops for the first time in years?

I've never been a Lakers fan, and probably never will. But, that doesn't matter. Just like it doesn't matter if you don't even love the game. You still have to respect the Black Mamba. What an epic storybook ending for a legend. Thanks for everything Kobe!


Monday, December 7, 2015

College Football: The Final Four


It's hard to imagine a less top heavy college football season. While I have no issue with the final four teams selected, the discrepancy between those 4 and the rest of the top 10 is very minimal. 

Take Iowa, who played Michigan State to the brink, or Stanford, who dominated the Pac 12 and beat Notre Dame. Then there's Ohio State, who as much as it pains me to say it, lost once and then whooped buzzworthy Michigan. Or even Notre Dame, who had a sick schedule and lost two games by two points each, to the #1 and #6 team in the playoff rankings! You can't tell me any of these four teams couldn't beat any of the top four. We need an 8-team playoff now! 

But, I digress. We have a four team playoff, and that's better than the Big Cowards System, or the BCS. In the end, we have four very good football teams, who should give us plenty of excitement and competition on New Year's Eve (Yes, not New Year's Day! Why, oh why?). Here's my breakdown of the final four, and my predictions!

Clemson

People need to put the Clemsoning and the Clemson choking persona to rest. Clemson is 13-0, has three top 10 wins, a very good, if not elite D, and the best dual-threat QB in the land. People want to knock their conference, but FSU and UNC are 9 and 10 in the rankings respectively, and they beat them both. 

This team is incredibly balanced, well-coached with Dabo and has a fanbase ready to lose their minds. Did you see the 20,000 that packed the stands for Dabo's free pizza day during their playoff announcement? The fans are ready, and this team is ready to fight for it all!

Alabama

The SEC was pretty bad this year. And, as an SEC guy by default (a team I won't name who used to be in the Big 12), it does pain me to admit this. You have a bunch of underperforming teams, and then you have Bama. 

It's hard to evaluate Bama because they didn't schedule a big out-of-conference game (Wisconsin no longer counts). But, let's try! They certainly have the O line and the RB in Henry. No shocker there, and I think he gets the Heisman, although I'd love to see a co-Heisman with McCaffrey. You have a good Bama D, but not great. And, you have a pretty weak QB in Coker. 

It's a recipe for mixed results in a playoff format. More to come, but this isn't your typical Bama team. Saban "the devil" can only do so much. 

Michigan State

Aside from Connor Cook pushing aside Archie Griffin, there's a lot to love about this Sparty squad. Cook stuck around for his senior year and is very clutch, their D singlehandedly won them the Ohio State game and kept them in the Iowa game, and Dantonio is a whale of a coach. 

I love that Sparty was put at 3, and OU was 4. This will be the most debated part of the playoff, which is much better than the debate over snubbing a team like last year. Michigan State played in by far the best conference this year, and won it. Their only blemish was a one-point loss in Nebraska, but more than made up for it with the miraculous victory in the big house and a win at Ohio State without Cook, perhaps the most impressive feat in the entire college football season. Hats off to you Sparty!

OU

This team was the dark horse of some analysts. After the bad loss to Texas, things looked bleak. But, in college football, everything is about timing and results. OU's loss to Texas came nearly two months ago, giving them time to play their way back in the mix, with their three toughest tests coming at the end of the season. 

That said, the big 12 was stricken with QB injuries like I've never seen before. So, how do we evaluate this OU team? 

Let's start with the QB. If there was one thing I was most shocked about to start the season, it was OU's choice to bench Trevor Knight and start Baker Mayfield. We're talking about benching a guy who defeated Bama in the Sugar Bowl as a redshirt freshman. And, we're also talking about a walk-on in Mayfield! To even have a QB battle for the starting spot is gutsy by Stoops. At first, I thought it was just politics. Then, I couldn't believe it!

So, you have a warrior in Mayfield, a very good running back and a solid D. Top to bottom, I think OU is the second-best team in the final 4, but I think their ranking is appropriate. It just so happens that I think Clemson is the best team at the moment, and they're OU's opponent in the final four. 

The Picks

Let's start with Clemson-OU. As I mentioned, I'm higher on Clemson overall. This should be a heck of a game. I definitely don't see a blowout. I see Clemson taking it 30-27.

In the other semifinal, it's Bama-MSU. You may be surprised by my pick, but I'm going MSU. Bama's biggest strength is their running game, but that won't come easy against Michigan State. MSU's defense is for real. This game should be somewhat close, and it comes down to one thing for me: Cook is light years better and more experienced than Coker. Game on the line, one guy is making plays and the other isn't. Also, MSU might just have the better D. Give me Sparty 26-17. 

Now, to the final. This one is tough as nails. You have two of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the country. Dabo vs. Dantonio for all the marbles!

Can Sparty come out of nowhere and take the ship like Ohio State did last playoffs? Or will smooth and steady Clemson win it all? Rankings are subjective, but do I go chalk or do I go out on a limb? I'm going to pull a George W. Bush and take Clemson. I've been high on them most of the season, and there's no reason to back off now. Give me Clemson 30-22. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

NFL Week 1: 5 Things We Learned



Off the heels of an amazing sports weekend and ensuing two nights, in which the Cowboys pulled off a miracle, the Rangers grabbed first place and I won my 2nd straight basketball championship in the old farts rec league, it's time to reflect on week 1 of the NFL.

Without further ado, here are my 5 takeaways from week 1:

1. Coaching Matters

When you watch a lot of Jason Garrett, it's easy to devalue coaching. But, good coaching seemed to be the prevailing takeaway from week one. Look no further than former Seattle defensive coach Dan Quinn, now head coach of the Falcons. Quinn did a complete 180 with that Atlanta defense in week 1, which contained and even at times dominated the hyped Philly offense for much of Monday night.

Then, there's Eric Mangini, the defensive coordinator for the 49ers. A team with more retirements in an offseason than I can remember, Mangini's niners held an upstart Vikings team to 3 points on Monday night. Is it a coincidence that he was on those vaunted Patriots defensive staffs? I think not.

The last coach I want to give props to is Jeff Fisher. Often forgot about, and perhaps remembered most by my generation for his controversial situation with Vince Young in Tennessee, Fisher led the Rams to an impressive overtime victory over Seattle on Sunday. There's a reason this guy has been a coach in the NFL for 30 years. With an elite defense and finally some playmakers on offense, now might be the time for Fisher to get back into the spotlight and lead the Rams to future success.

2. Kansas City is the Future, and Maybe, the Present, of the AFC West

Over the last 3 seasons, everyone has wavered from picking the Broncos to 100% win the division to marking a certain season as Peyton Manning's downfall. As Manning gets older and older, it's hard to imagine he can keep up the pace of extraordinary stats and play on the field, but he has proved the naysayers wrong so far. That is, until maybe, right now.

I don't want to make too much of week 1, but he looked mediocre against the Ravens. Now, some of that certainly is attributed to an inexperienced offensive line, but regardless, the man is 39 years old and doesn't have feeling in some of his fingers.

So, as we begin to think about who will be the future of the AFC West, many previously thought San Diego, with Rivers. However, the new prevailing thought seems to be Kansas City, and for good reason! Their defense has some big-time, All-Pro playmakers, their offense finally has some additional talent at the skill positions and they have a mastermind of a head coach. Alex Smith is good for this team and can certainly lead them to playoffs, but it will be tough for them to go very deep because he can't throw the long ball. However, they have the pieces in place to make it possible. Only time will tell, but their week 1 showing and recent progress in the last couple years lead me to believe that they the present and the future of the division.

3. Teams Still Cannot Figure Out Late-Game Clock Management and Play Calling

It's almost unfathomable to me just how often teams mess this up. You prepare for hours and days for a game, play almost the entire game, and then lose it on one poor decision or a complete screw up on clock management. Both happened for the G-men on Sunday night. It's usually my Cowboys who are doing the gifting, but not that night.

In just one play, the G-men saved the Cowboys very valuable time, points and yardage that allowed them to miraculously win by 1 point, when Romo connected with Witten for a TD with 7 seconds left.

In my mind, clock management and play calling is what separates the good from the bad, and even the good from the great. Some of it is human nature, but some of it is just flat out inexcusable.

4. AFC East is Truly Up for Grabs

Many will pick New England to run through the division again, and for good reason. But, watch out for the Dolphins, Jets and Bills. All won Sunday, with the latter two winning in blowout fashion. All 3 also improved by leaps in bounds in the offseason, just in terms of the stars and potential superstars they acquired.

Rex Ryan getting out of New York and going to Buffalo helped both teams. He is one of the league's best defensive minds, and he inherits a better, and dare I say, elite defense. On the other side, New York gets a fresh start with Revis and Cromartie back, and Ivory getting to run over people in volume, something Rex Ryan didn't allow for before. As for Miami, they didn't look great against Washington, but many believe they are the most talented of the three, and the best candidate to knock off New England.

This should be a very interesting division now, and for years to come!

5. Predictions are Just That

If Sunday proved anything, it's that predictions are just predictions. Maybe they come to fruition, or maybe we need to step off the gas. The hyped Eagles and Cowboys didn't look very good, and neither did Miami and Indy.

Week 1 proved that it truly is a new season, and maybe, not a predictable one. From Mariota playing well, to Buffalo upsetting Indy, to St. Louis shocking Seattle, and everything in between, it truly feels like a fresh start. And, hey, a little parity never hurts!

Here's to a great season!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Maccabi: More Than a Game

For those who don't know, the JCC Maccabi Games is an international Jewish sports tournament that sees teens ages 13-16 (12 if you're in an individual sport in your host city) compete in about a dozen team and individual sports every year, ranging from basketball to dance.

Having participated for four years, I was humbled and honored to be asked to come back as a coach this August, as Dallas was one of three cities to host this year's games. I had the pleasure of coaching a dozen kids/teens as the Star Reporters coach.

It was a full circle experience that brought back so many memories. As they played in my mind throughout the games, one prevailing thought kept entering my head: this week is really about everything beyond the actual games.

Sure, each sport competition is thrilling, and the pursuit of a medal through body-jolting athleticism is alluring, but this special week of Maccabi is really about everything else. And, I think my great group of star reporters started to catch on!

What Maccabi is really about is the friendships Jewish teens make during one week that can last a lifetime, the Midot Medal handed out to coaches or players for exhibiting great sportsmanship and Jewish values, and the incredible amount of time and effort put forth by coaches, volunteers, JCC staff and the community to create a bond that has to truly be experienced to be felt.

It's those stories that make Maccabi: the host families that take in a group of Jewish teens for a week, an Autistic boy I met who medalled in swimming, and for me personally, the way 12 teens responded to my guidance and how proud they were of the work they did.

With so many camps and options for Jewish teens, it's easy to not give Maccabi a second thought. But, I am here to tell you that Maccabi is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that everyone should experience.

To see all the great work that the star reporters did, click here! Make sure you also click on the printed versions at the bottom of the page.